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The Master of Death

Chapter Text

"Death talking"

Also, other stuff is written in italics (You will know if it's Death or other things that need some kind of emphasis, same thing with Parseltongue and Articles, etc.)

"Parseltongue"

"Newspaper Articles/Letters/etc." 

'Thoughts'

- - - - - - - - - - - - - 

Snape's memories. They had changed everything. One hour was left. One hour or Voldemort would kill everyone, he'd ever cared about.

Numbness and anger fought a battle inside Harry's mind. All these years Dumbledore had been a mentor to him, had helped him almost like a grandfather. The anger which had built up in the past months only increased. He had known all the time that Harry housed a part of Voldemort’s soul...
Seventeen years. He wouldn’t have any more. A laugh bubbled up in Harry’s throat as he caught the irony of the situation. Dumbledore’s subtle manipulation had even lasted past the headmaster’s death.
By destroying Voldemort’s Horcruxes, he didn’t only destroy the strings that kept the Dark Lord alive, no... With every destroyed Horcrux he walked further towards his own death. Voldemort at least had the decency to be open about his intentions... Harry wouldn’t let another person die for him and Dumbledore had known that. Of course, because the headmaster had had the nerve to get to know him before he sent him towards his death. Fred was dead. Tonks and Remus... Little Teddy, an orphan like him.
Harry now laughed hysterically, tears streamed down his face. Dumbledore’s betrayal paled in comparison to what was to come. As he had gathered himself, Harry looked at the golden Watch the Weasley’s had given him on his birthday. About thirty minutes were left. Harry felt the exhaustion taking over. With heavy limbs, he stood up and left Dumbledore’s office.

The castle was ghostly silent. Here and there he could see the remains of a spell gone wrong and burned tapestries. He grabbed his invisibility cloak and barely evaded meeting his friends. They knew what they had to do. Harry felt strangely reminded of his first time seeing the school as he walked past the empty portraits and stairs. It had been such a beautiful sight. A part of him wanted to be stopped by someone, something. But the invisibility cloak was too good, too perfect.
Harry didn’t meet a soul till he reached the entry hall. Neville and Oliver Wood were carrying someone. The corpse of Colin Creevy, pale and cold. Pictures flooded his mind. Of Colin walking through the halls of Hogwarts, following Harry like a puppy always with his camera. He would never take a photo again. Neville stayed back, while Oliver continued his way towards the Great Hall, shouldering the cold body.

Neville seemed exhausted. He looked like an old man as he was leaning against the wall. A sudden thought invaded Harry’s mind. Looking left and right, he pulled down his cloak. “Neville...”

“Harry! You don’t think about sacrificing yourself? We’ll fight, you know!”

“No...,” Harry lied. “Look Neville, Voldemort got this giant snake, Nagini.”

"Yes, I’ve heard about her.”

“She has to die Neville. Hermione and Ron know, but...,” The thought of them dying tightened his throat, “I’ve got to go now.”

Neville couldn’t even respond before Harry pulled up the invisibility cloak again.

Outside, the air was thick with tension. Every step towards the forbidden forest felt like a lifetime. He saw Ginny, but he couldn’t bear talking to her. He feared that he wouldn’t be able to leave. Finally, after climbing over the remains of spiders, walking across giant weapons, corpses and pieces of the castle and burnt grass, he reached the edge of the forest.
Between the tall trees, the air got colder. Fog and darkness told about the horde of Dementors not far away. Harry turned around to look at the castle. From the distance, it stood proud and tall. This was the last time he would see the building which had been a home to him for almost seven years. But this was the end. The game was over, the snitch had been caught.

The snitch...

'I open at the close.'

He fumbled with the cord around his neck. Opening the pouch Harry pulled out the golden ball. “I am going to die...,” he whispered, lips brushing the cold metal. And just like this, it revealed the space within. “Lumos.
Harry’s breath caught for a moment, as he saw what the snitch revealed. It was the stone. The third Hallow.

It glinted darkly, even when Harry let the light of his wand expire to take the Hallow from its container. He gasped when the stone touched his hand, his eyes fixated on this little thing that had caused so much bloodshed.

Suddenly, he felt strangely detached from the people in the castle. It was as if he was walking through fog and at the same time not.
Now, that he was about to face his own demise, nothing seemed to matter anymore and yet he saw the world in such vibrancy that his body was brimming with it. Every detail stood out in stark contrast. He felt like a part of the forest. Living and breathing like every plant and every insect. Everything seemed so clear. And yet he didn’t feel a thing as he turned to walk towards the man, who he had hated for the greater part of his life. Harry wasn’t afraid. Not anymore.

He would die. It was something he had to do. There was something deep inside him, a piece of his soul that knew that he had to face death.

So, when he spotted Dolohov and Yaxley, he followed them. As they walked through the dark forest Harry could hear them talk in hushed voices. They didn't believe that he would show up. Harry wanted to laugh at the irony.
They followed an almost invisible trail snaking through the trees and suddenly they stopped and the foliage grew lighter. An opening between the treetops revealed a dark night sky dotted with stars. Suddenly Harry recognized the place. It was where he and Ron had faced Aragog. There were no spiders - their den laid abandoned - but the place was unmistakably the same.

Giant spiderwebs were hanging in the trees, trailing like veils above the Death Eaters' heads. They moved ghostly in the wind - some reflecting the golden light coming from the fire that was burning in the middle of the clearing. 
The flames lightened up the faces of Voldemort’s followers, painting eerie shadows onto their skin.
Curiously Harry took another step forward.
Some of them still wore their masks while others didn’t care to hide their faces anymore. Two giants sat not far away, throwing big shadows over the scenery. Fenrir Greyback restlessly bit his nails, eager to fight again. His arms were drenched in blood. Tall, blond Rowle had a split lip and purple bruises grew more visible on his grim face with every second, while Lucius Malfoy was surrounded by an aura of fear, so different from the arrogant way he used to carry himself. In comparison, Narcissa appeared calm. She was next to him, silent but cautious, her eyes carefully watching.

And there, almost otherworldly stood Voldemort. Pale and tall, his hands folded over his wand as if in silent prayer. Every face was expectantly pointed towards him. He oozed dark power and Harry found himself fascinated by the man, more so than he was afraid. The snake, Nagini was still floating inside her magical cage, distorting the air around her while her heavy body writhed slowly.
When Dolohov and Yaxley joined the crowd, Voldemort opened his eyes and he raised his head to look at them, despite no sound having told of their arrival. “No trace of him, Milord”, Dolohow exclaimed, his voice brittle and rough. Voldemort’s expression didn’t change. His red eyes were almost glowing in the dark. Slowly he pulled the wand out of his long fingers, every pair of eyes fixated on the movement.
It also caught Harry's attention and his gaze was inevitably drawn to the Deathstick in the spindly hands.

Harry's palm tightened around the stone in his hand. It burned cold. 

“My Lord,” Bellatrix began, but Voldemort cut her off with a gesture of his hand. He started to talk. It was almost a whisper.

“I thought he would come...” Voldemort looked into the flames. “I expected him to come.”

Nobody said a word. Harry wanted to laugh at how they all were so afraid, whereas he'd lost all his fear the moment he had accepted his soon-to-be death. Harry pulled the invisibility cloak from his shoulders and stuffed it beneath his shirt. His wand followed shortly after. He wouldn't need it. “It seems that I was... mistaken,” Voldemort added.

“You weren’t,” Harry interrupted loudly and he walked towards the snake-like man. Nothing mattered, apart from them. Hagrid bound to a tree somewhere to his right started to shout. He hadn't noticed him before.

“NO... HARRY!” But Harry didn’t answer. He ignored the laughter and screams coming from the Death Eaters and stopped not far from Voldemort. The dark Lord tilted his head. Curiosity sparked in his eyes, but Harry knew it wouldn't save him. 

“Harry Potter,” the dark Lord said, and his lips curled into a cold smile as he spoke what would be the last words Harry would ever hear, “The boy who lived...” Almost gentle, Voldemort lifted his hand and pointed the Elder wand at him. Harry saw his lips moving. Then nothing.

 

 

Harrryyyy.....

 



Harrrryyyyy......

 

Harry opened his eyes. Bright light was assaulting him from all sides, till he blinked and his surroundings took on a blurry shape. He found himself in a white room. It was very long and high, pillars rising towards the ceiling, which appeared to be wholly made out of glass. The longer he looked, the more things he found. Oddly enough it reminded him of Kings Cross. Suddenly he spotted something pinkish beneath a bench. It was moving. 
Just as Harry wanted to walk towards it, he heard a strange sound which caused him to whirl around.

"Harrryyy..."

Like a gust of wind, but wind didn't talk. It was a voice. It sounded hoarse and his name was stretched oddly by it. “Who is there?” Harry turned his head to find the source of the noise, but he couldn't see anybody.

Suddenly he felt as if there were hands touching his back, roaming up to stroke his shoulders, through his hair, his face, only to come down to his ribs again, enveloping him from behind.

"Harry"

Someone was whispering directly into his ear now. Harry almost felt hair tickling his cheek. It felt like a hug.

"I’ve waited for a long time..."

“Who are you? Show yourself!” Harry demanded and he swallowed hard. Almost as if this being was reluctant to let go, he felt the presence pulling back. Instead, the air in front of him grew thicker and foggy. The dark cloud grew, took on shape and like the piece of Tom Riddle from the diary the fog started to resemble a human. Once it had fully formed, the being flashed its too sharp teeth in a predatory grin. Harry gaped. Because in front of Harry stood, well ...Harry.
But not quite.

The figure had the same slim face and slender built. The hair was as wild as Harry’s, but it’s seemed even darker. Pitch black, like a dark hole and the strands, floated as if they were underwater. The skin of the figure was waxen, too perfect to belong to a real human and the lightning-shaped scar on its forehead was also missing. But the biggest difference were its eyes. They were white, like the eyes of a Thestral. No pupil or iris disturbed the glossy surface.

“My Masssterrr...,” it drawled.

“Your Master?” Harry stared at his doppelganger with a bewildered look.

“My Master,”  the being confirmed, eyeing him hungrily, “You collected the Hallows.”

“The Hallows..." Harry's eyes widened in fear. "You are Death?!” 

“That'sss what some people might call me,” it said still grinning. 

“Am I dead?” Harry asked oddly composed, even though he was dreading the answer.

The creature tilted its head. “Yes and no. You have left the world of the living, but you haven’t reached the world of the dead. You are in a place with no name... but I think one could best describe it as ‘in-between’,” the figure said after a moment.

“What about the Horcrux?” Harry asked, remembering his purpose, the reason for him being here in the first place.

The other Harry tilted its head in the other direction in a birdlike motion. He was watching Harry intensely. "It's no longer with you. It’s ...waiting.”

“Waiting?”

“For the other pieces to join."  The predatory grin on Death's face was replaced by a frown. "It suffers. A frayed piece of what should be whole. It can’t go on without the others.”  Harry squirmed under the piercing gaze, not quite grasping what emotion befell him at these words, yet the gravity of the statement touched something within him. 

“But Voldemort is still alive?" he asked to breach the heavy silence.

“Yesss.”

“I have to go back, don’t I?” Harry asked it and he looked at the empty train tracks.

“You could go on," Death said, following his gaze. It didn’t sound very happy.

“What if I did go on. Where would I go?” Harry questioned.

“On,” it simply said.

“But I could go back.”

“Yessss.” The being grinned again and leaned towards Harry.

“I could defeat Voldemort,” Harry said and determination found its way into his voice.

“You could."

And yet the being confirming his words only took away his confidence and the task at hand seemed so much bigger. It claimed that he could go back and defeat Voldemort. But how? And after all, Nagini was still alive. Then a thought invaded his mind. “You said I am your Master,” Harry asked.

“You are.
The being let out a strange vibrating noise. It reverberated in the room, filling the air from all sides like a deep rumble and Harry suddenly realized that it was purring. The creature in front of him was purring. A sound that didn't match at all the human shape it was wearing. But then the meaning of its words hit him. He was Death's master!

“Could you bring back Fred, Tonks and Remus?” Harry asked, a spark of hope flaming up in his heart and he almost stumbled over his words. “Sirius?” The image of his godfather falling through the veil was burning behind his lids.

“No.”

“Oh,” Harry said. His chest clenched painfully. He kept silent, while Death seemed content just to be in his company, judging by the continuing rumbling that was going on. “But what is the meaning of all this?” Harry suddenly burst out.

“You are my Master,” it purred and Harry felt frustration building in his chest

“But what does it mean?! Why would Death even need a Master?” he loudly voiced his thoughts. 

“Death doesn’t need a master. I created the Hallows because I wanted to. Not many would be able to collect all of them. Even if somebody united them before, I could simply choose to not follow them. But you...”  It came close, its nose almost touching Harry’s. “You are mine. Mine to obey, mine to protect.”

Harry was confused. Apart from the strange fixation the being seemed to have on him, it really sounded like the being wanted to obey him. But what was the use of being Death's master if he couldn't even get his loved ones back?! “What do you get out of this?” Harry questioned, suddenly suspicious.

“I was alone. I was bored. But now I am not....”

“If I go back, could you help me defeat Voldemort?”

“Yesss,” The being seemed eager. “Though, I should warn you. If you accept to be my Master, I will be you and you will be me."

“I won’t be killing people, will I? I won’t become Death?” Harry asked suddenly afraid at the cryptic words. He remembered how Quirrel had died. What if he would kill Ron or Hermione just like this?

“ A part of me will merge with you, just as a part of you will merge with me. If you accept to be my Master, you command death. You collected the Hallows. There will be a change. It already started when you picked up the stone.” 

Harry recalled the feeling of detachment and suddenly he wasn't so sure that facing his death was the only reason for it. "Can I stop it? The change?"

“You could choose to go on."  The creature smirked. Harry felt anger brimming in his stomach.

Voldemort was still out there. His friends, his teachers. All of them were still fighting. Harry gritted his teeth. He disliked that the creature was forcing his hand like this. Either let down his friends, leave them to die at Voldemorts hands or agree to something he didn't know the outcome of. “If I accept to be your master, am I still me?” he asked with clenched fists. The creature seemed amused, but it nodded.

“You’ll have your memories, your feelings, but there will be a part inside of you that knows Death. That is Death. And Death doesn’t know good and bad.” Death smirked like a distorted reflection of his.

Harry exhaled shakily. This was at least something. But what if he came back like Voldemort? Not able to love, not remembering what it was like to be friends or how it was to be in love? The being in front of him seemed hesitant. Something flashed over its face. Suddenly it spoke again. 

“Go back if you want to. I have waited for a long time. If you need time to think about it, I will give you time.”

“Will I be able to defeat Voldemort without you?” Harry asked uncertainly yet thankful all the same.

“You have always been strong Harry...” The first genuine smile seemed to appear on Death's face. 

“Are you able to bring me back, then?” Harry asked.

“Yesss,” it said, its white eyes staring into Harry’s.

Harry swore that he felt a hand touching brushing his cheek, but his surroundings were already fading.

 

Chapter Text

About seven years had passed since that faithful night, which was now known as the “Battle of Hogwarts”.

After the war, Harry had taken on the offer of Kingsley Shacklebolt and joined the Aurors together with Ron, while Hermione went back to Hogwarts to finish her education.
Ginny and he had been dating for some time, but after Ginny had started to play Quidditch and Harry had begun his training as an Auror, they slowly drifted apart. It didn't help that the public eye observed each and every one of their steps and in the end, their break-up had been a mutual decision. They decided to stay friends and while there had been much crying on Mrs Weasley's side, both were glad that it was over.

Harry still didn’t know if his meeting with Death had really happened or if it had been a strange dream. The blurry memory had only increased his interest in the three Peverell brothers. What was true and what was the legend? But as the being had predicted, he felt different for the living. Something within him had changed.

At first, he hadn’t realized it. He pinned it on the war. It was like Harry was walking through fog, while everyone else continued their lives like before. Of course, the first years after the war had been hard for everybody. They needed time to rebuild their lives. Harry had done the same as the others. He tried to do what was the most logical thing to do. Joined the Aurors and dated Ginny. But after a while, he realized that he felt stuck. Everybody seemed to move on while he was sleepwalking through his days.
Harry had thrown himself into work just to occupy himself. He had finished his training with brilliant grades and after three years of hard work finally joined the Aurors.
It was a great shock to the public when Harry announced that he would leave the Department. There was an article in the Daily Prophet gossip section - of course - even if it only scratched the surface of the truth.

The Headline had taken over half a page next to the other gossip and an ad for a reissue of Celestina Warbeck's latest album.

 

POTTER RETIRES!

 

Mr Harry J. Potter (Defeater of You-Know-Who) came out with a shocking announcement last weekend. After only four years into the Auror corps, Mr Potter announced his early retirement.

According to anonymous sources, Potter quit after taking part in a mission to find and detain Death Eaters (followers of You-Know-Who) on the run, during which his Auror colleague W. Hopkins was greatly injured.

Mr Hopkins was not available to comment as he is currently still in St. Mungos, receiving treatment. 

“Personally I think he (Mr Potter) might feel responsible for Hopkins injury, even though he is not the one to blame. No one says it out loud, but were it any other team of Aurors they might have both ended up dead. If you ask me, Hopinks owes his life to Mr Potters quick reaction,” our source told us.

According to an unconfirmed statement, the attacker was was none other than Walden Macnair (Believed to have maimed/killed more than twenty Muggles/Wizards/Witches under the Dark Lord's reign; responsible for five (known) death's during the Battle of Hogwarts).

Macnair’s body had never been found, and he was supposedly on the run after You-Know-Who’s defeat. This would be the first big news after a series of smaller captures during the last months.

Since speaking at a press conference, during which Mr Potter announced his retirement he has not been seen in the public, although rumours state that he plans to become more active in politics and considers candidating for a seat in the Wizengamot.
(Continuation on page 6)

 

Only thanks to Kingsley, Harry was able to keep the details under the wraps. Not that he really cared what people were thinking about him. It sometimes frightened him, how little he cared about anything nowadays.

He and Wayne had indeed encountered Macnair. Usually, these traces were only rumours. Following them mostly meant a night out, observing the same place for hours and waiting. Normally they gained nothing from it but sore feet and a cold.
Harry gladly left that to the younger Aurors who thought that being in the Department meant exciting cases and duelling.
But that time had passed.
Most of the Death Eaters had been caught by Harry and Ron - when he hadn’t worked in Weasley’s Wizards Wheezes yet - and a few others. Survivors of the battle, Aurors who still remembered the first war.  
Even as a trainee, they had partaken in these hunts. Curse-to-kill had been common these first two years following the battle. Afterwards, dark magic had been banned, but a well-placed diffindo could cut through skin just as easy as any illegal curse.

Harry had earned a few strange looks from his friends, when he hadn’t once hesitated as he’d encountered Travers, or Rowle, or the older Lestrange brother, only to name a few examples. But these times were over. Not many of the captured Death Eaters were alive today and those who were could hardly be described as such. Empty shells rotting away in their cells in Azkaban.  Better to have Dementors float around a single island than have them roam the country. It was an open secret in the Department that even Kingsley thought that way, despite all promises to the public that they were working on replacing the creatures with human guards.

And yet they hadn’t had a real case for ages. The Auror Department was mostly occupied with helping the Obliviators. Harry could count the weeks the statute of secrecy hadn’t been breached on one hand. Only last week, they’d had a case, when some muggle-born wanted to brag and enchanted a table at a party while she’d been out with her muggle friends.

It had been a massive thing, only barely they’d been able to hide everything from the public eye. Muggle and magical world. Despite the fact that most purebloods were being shamed as Death Eaters nowadays, some of them still held influence in the Ministry. There was already pressure to tighten the laws regarding the breaches of the statute of secrecy. The only reason there hadn’t been too much of an impact yet was that no wizard or witch had been hurt after the recent breaches.
But the girl had been victim to a violent beating thanks to her own stupidity. Because of that, each and everyone involved in the clean-up of the case had to sign a magical contract that ensured their secrecy. And of course, the Auror Department was responsible for it.

Glad to leave some of the monotony behind, Harry had offered Wayne his help. Hopkins had found the barest hint of a trace after weeks of researching, and even then, it was more of an accident that they found the Death Eater. They were checking out a warehouse, which was known to regularly house black markets where people could acquire various magical items as well as creatures and illegal potions. During the downtimes, it was housing all kinds of filth living on the streets.

They entered through a backdoor, dust whirling up beneath their feet as they sneaked through the warehouse. The scent of piss and alcohol was permeating the air as they walked past a few wizards leaning against the wall. Harry gestured for them to leave and they quickly complied as they were not too keen on being confronted by the Aurors.

As soon as they spotted Macnair amongst a group of people who would've given Mundungs a run for his money, Hopkins immediately announced his presence, following the Auror protocol as he tried to arrest the wizard.  While the other people scattered and disapparated, Macnair had ducked behind a stack of boxes and started to throw some nasty curses as a response to Hopkins foolishness. The Death Eater didn't waste his time by insulting Harry like so many before him and instead focused more on actually killing them. Harry could see why he hadn't been captured yet.

Wooden boxes turned into dust and Harry ducked behind a pillar, but Wayne was soon enough hit by a very familiar cutting curse. He fell to the floor choking and coughing, bleeding from a vicious wound.

The sectum sempra. 

Harry hadn’t seen the curse since the Battle. He stopped to defend himself and ignored the hexes thrown by Macnair, but instead watched the dying human. Because that was what was happening. Wayne died, and Harry stood there, drawn in by the sight of Wayne's life force leaving his body. Red blood seeped into the space between the rotting floorboards. For the first time in years, the chains that kept Harry in place seemed to loosen and he could breathe while Hopkins was choking on his own blood.

Only the sound of Macnair's disapparating pulled Harry out of his stupor.

 

After Harry had called for help, Hopkins had survived. Barely, but he had made a full recovery, even if he was scarred for the rest of his life.

He'd told Kingsley the truth. It was a long conversation and while Kingsley had pulled a few strings to be able to pin his hesitation to act on shock, it was either a psychological evaluation or break from his work on the open field. Harry knew there were already rumours about his cold behaviour towards Death Eaters and this would only add to the heap of questionable things surrounding him. And since neither of the two options appealed to Harry, quitting was the next best thing. After all, there was more than enough money in his vaults to afford to live without a proper income. He itched for something he couldn’t quite name and sitting in his office in the Ministry wouldn’t change that.

 

Harry started to go out in the evenings, but that quickly escalated. Every other week, another article in the Prophet told about his newest adventure with a witch or a wizard. But the feeling that something was missing, the emptiness inside him couldn’t be filled with alcohol or sex.

One day he woke up and realized, that without meaning too, he had withdrawn from everyone who meant something to him.

And while Harry couldn’t shake off the feeling that he was sleepwalking through his life, he had built up a certain plan to make it work.

He reconnected with his friends. When Hermione asked him to help her with her new fundraiser for what-ever-it-was, he helped her. When Mrs Weasley invited him over for dinner he came. He laughed smiled and made jokes. Harry visited Teddy once a week and tried to keep up with his friends on the weekends. There was even the occasional tea at Malfoy Manor, thanks to Narcissa's insistence.

But when he got home, he felt empty. The monotony of his life weighing him down like a heavy blanket. Something was missing and Harry didn’t know what it was.

 

Salvation came in a strange way. When he walked through Diagon Alley a few months later, he heard a commotion, but before he could turn around a green flash took away his sight. Harry didn't feel how the spell hit his ribs, didn't notice how his knees hit the ground and didn't hear the screams of the onlookers. All that he felt was somebody touching his cheeks. Invisible hands cupped his face, so gentle as if Harry was a long-lost lover. He exhaled the last time when a cool breeze grazed his lips as if someone was breathing against them. Harry’s eyelids didn't close as the world faded away.

 

Harryyy...

 

When Harry came to, he knew exactly where he was. A long, familiar room, the high glass ceiling and the empty train tracks. Everything so white. And a figure looming over him.

"Welcome back..."

"Hello Death," Harry said as he sat up. The being looked just the same. White eyes, pale skin and the darker-than-black hair flowing around his head like the mockery of a halo.  

"Harryyyyy...." the creature said. It was grinning widely, showing its sharp white teeth. It moved back when Harry stood up and looked at his surroundings.

"It hasn’t changed," he stated, his eyes returning to Death, who was still the mirror image of his younger self.

"Apparently."   

When Harry started to walk around, Death followed him but didn’t comment.

"I can’t go back, can I?“ Harry asked after a while. Their surroundings didn't change much. The place seemed to repeat itself in an endless loop. It was almost ironic how much it resembled his life during the last seven years.

"Do you want to?“ Death asked instead of answering.

Harry kept quiet. He knew the answer to this question, knew that there were only two things of which he could choose. Seven years of staying in limbo. A gift of Death. Seven years he was granted to make up his mind, to pick an answer to the question that was still unanswered. "I could choose to go on,“ Harry said after some time. 

Death paused. “But there is something you want more than that, don’t you?”

“What do you mean by that?” Harry demanded to know, somewhat fed up with the cryptic words Death was throwing into his direction. It was Dumbledore all over again.

"A second chance,“ Death said. Harry stopped in front of a bench and turned to look at the being.

"A second chance at what?" 

"Life."

Harry laughed bitterly. "Because that has worked out so great the first time?"

Death tilted its head. It smirked. "You've changed," it stated.

"Life does that to you," Harry said and his mind felt clearer than ever, "Or should I say the last seven years. You might have thought you would do me a favour by granting me more time, but all it did was prolonging this state of not belonging anywhere. I never really left this place, did I? Stuck between two places, everywhere and nowhere... Not quite dead and not alive either," Harry spat. 

"I know how you feel," Death said after a moment, grinning.

"Oh, do you," Harry retorted and pierced Death with a look. The creature's grin widened as it leaned closer. 

"Bored." 
Harry's jaw dropped.
"Moving on doesn't sound as appealing anymore, does it?"

Harry stared at the creature in silence. It was right. He had always imagined he would be reunited with his mother and father and everyone else whom he'd lost. But now the thought didn't possess the same allure it had in past days. It was almost like he had developed a disinterest in the notion. He looked at the tracks next to the train station and they were just as empty as they had been the first time. 

"You asked me once, to bring your loved ones back. I cannot simply bring back the dead. But if you were my Massster - I could bring you back to the dead.”

Harry turned the thought over in his head. “Does that mean Fred, Remus... They would be alive?” The creature only grinned. But then Harry scoffed. "Of what use is this, if the outcome is the same."

"Who said the outcome has to be the same," Death said. "You feel bored. You don't have to be."

Harry stayed silent. "Alright," he whispered after a moment, "Do it."

Death grinned. "As you wish, Master..."

When his surroundings faded away, Harry was under the faint impression, that Death was laughing.

 

Chapter Text

Harry woke to the feeling of an old sheet sticking to his sweaty cheek and sharp pain in his head. He pressed a hand against his scar in a useless attempt to keep it from aching. Forcefully, he opened his eyes to escape the lingering nightmare. His hands were shaking. Fear of Voldemort was coursing through his veins. Vaguely he became aware of a familiar scent surrounding him. Slowly the realization of what had happened washed over him. Despite the adrenaline still pumping through his body, a part of him recognized what was really going on. Harry grinned, while the image of Cedric's dead body had barely started to fade.

For the first time in years, he felt alive.   

Pulling himself together, Harry shoved the irrational fear of Voldemort aside. He hadn't remembered the night on the graveyard so clearly in years. He felt incredibly young and old at the same time. Despite the darkness, Harry knew exactly where he was. The sickly moonlight falling through the only window illuminated enough of his surroundings to get a good grasp of his location. But even then he was quite certain that he wouldn't have needed to see the shabby wardrobe in the corner, the bookcase full of dusty books that Dudley had never bothered to read and the familiar bedside table, to realize that he was back in his old bedroom.
Back with the Dursleys in little Whinging.

Harry wanted to laugh. Out of all places, Death had to bring him here.
His creepy twin was sitting on his desk on the other side of the room, letting his legs dangle from the edge. Harry swore it was darker where he sat.

Out of habit, Harry wanted to adjust his glasses but he realized that he wasn’t wearing them at all. He spotted them on the bedside drawer. But as he reached to grab them he paused. Curiously he stared at his hands. They were smaller. Skinnier. And they lacked a familiar scar. Suddenly confusion, at why he expected a faint line in his own handwriting scarring his skin, pushed to the forefront of his mind. Harry shook his head to rid himself of the weird sensation. He had the strange feeling of two opinions clashing in his mind.

 

“Harryyy...” 

 

A whisper from the other side of the room caused him to turn his head and once more his brain seemed not able to choose which emotion it should settle on.

 

“Death,” Harry said eventually, while simultaneously trying to convince himself that he wasn't hallucinating this other version of himself in his bedroom. Perhaps this was dark magic and- Harry forcefully shoved the notion down. He had been a damn Auror for half a decade. He knew what dark magic looked like. Meanwhile, the creature smirked at him, seemingly waiting for Harry to regain control over his brain. 

Harry raised an eyebrow. "So this is what your version of fun looks like?" he asked.

Death's smirk broadened. "Would you have wanted two versions of yourself running around?"

"That's easy for you to say. I'm currently fighting the urge to pack my things and call Dumbledore because this looks awfully like something caused by Voldemort to mess with my mind."

"Your soul will get used to it."

Harry scoffed. Death continued to watch him and suddenly Harry realized that the creature was wearing jeans and an ordinary shirt. The whole idea of it was so bizarre that he couldn't help but snort amused. Oddly enough, it was this image that eradicated the fear, which a part of him had still felt while looking at Death.

The being still seemed weirdly out of place, but more real. Its hair wasn't flowing in the air anymore and the clothes made it appear rather normal. Even as Death started to purr, the sound was no longer echoing from the walls but rather resembling the noise, a kneazle would make.

“Are you visible to other people too?” Harry wondered out loud and he looked at Death curiously.

“For now,” it answered cryptically, all attention fixated on Harry.

A creaking sound downstairs suddenly pushed a wave of anxiety through Harry. Someone was in the house. His first thought was that somehow Death Eaters had found him. At least the Dursleys had left earlier this evening.

He needed his wand!

As soon as the thought had fully formed in his mind, a wand appeared on top of the ratty blanket on his lap. Innocently it laid there as if it hadn't just appeared out of nowhere. But while a part of him was still confused, Harry recognized it immediately. This was the Elder Wand. The one he'd put back in Dumbledore’s grave after the war. 

He hesitated for a moment but then reached for it. As soon as Harry touched the smooth wood, the wand grew cold. It was so icy it almost felt like fire and yet Harry held on. He watched with widened eyes how the famous Death stick dissolved into a dark fog. Like smoke, it hung in the air for a moment and then slowly sank into his skin. Harry stared in shock. After he had finally comprehended what had just happened, he turned his hand to inspect it, eyes searching for a trace that wasn't there.

His eyes narrowed as he looked at the unblemished skin stretching over his palm. There were no burns nor a black stain of ...something like he had expected. 

A thought wormed its way into Harry's head. The Elder Wand was a hallow after all.

I didn't take much effort to make the invisibility cloak appear in a similar manner. Soon it was laying in front of him right next to the stone of resurrection. And when he touched the hallows - just like the wand - they too melted into his body after his skin made contact. When Harry finally looked up, Death watched him curiously.

 

“You are their rightful owner,” the creature explained, "So they returned. Their power connected to you as soon as you arrived."  Death's inhuman voice echoed through the room like wind.

 

Before Harry stood up, he found his own holly wand beneath his pillow. A familiar warmth filled him when he grabbed it, causing a smile to appear on his face. But then the part of him that was brimming with anxiety won over. The strange sensation of someone coming closer had his hairs standing up. Harry crossed the distance to the hallway in a few steps. When he tried to open the door didn’t budge. The rattling of a lock on the other side explained the malfunction.
With a frustrated sigh, he let his head drop against the barrier.

How could he forget his loving relatives? Three days ago he had been locked in by Vernon. His gnawing hunger reminded him that yesterday noon had been the last time he had eaten something. Petunia had pushed a little bit of soup through the cat flap...

But no. This had been years ago.

Harry gave it up to try and separate the foggy memories. Instead, he focused on the present. He knew that he would be able to open the door with the smallest effort of magic, but he was in his younger body. The room and the size of his hands made that clear. The ministry would probably still trace his magic. Harry turned around to look at Death. “Can you open the door for me?”

The being still sitting on the desk seemingly melted into the darkness of the room before it materialized right next to Harry. It put its left hand on the wood of the door and Harry could hear the clicking of a lock. When he tried to open the door again, it worked without resistance. “Thank you,” Harry whispered before he walked out into the hallway. When he turned around, he was reminded that Death still looked like Harry's strange twin, with the addition of an eerie aura surrounding its whole body. Harry looked at him for a moment. He hesitated before he opened his mouth.
“Can you, I don’t know, make yourself look more ...inconspicuous?” Harry whispered and gestured at their bodies.

The creature tilted its head and then turned into foggy smoke once more. It swirled around till it settled on the form of a gigantic skinny dog, with short fur and impressive teeth. The exact copy of what Professor Trewlany would probably describe as the Grim. Harry suppressed a laugh. Of course, Death looked like a hound straight out of hell.

“Okay, maybe try another animal, something smaller?” Harry asked it, while he listened to the sounds coming from downstairs.  Once more the creature reshaped itself until it resembled a slim black snake with white eyes.

”Do you like this better?” it said and Harry realized that the voice of the creature sounded very different than it had before. Almost like... Ah yes. Harry smirked. He was able to speak the language of the snakes again.

Had he ever not been able to understand snakes?

“Come on,” Harry hissed in Parseltongue and he knelt down while he extended his arm. Downstairs a door was opened. His Auror training had him on the edge. The black snake slithered towards his hand and Harry lifted the creature up to his shoulders. He could swear that Death tried to strangle him the way its snake form slithered beneath his worn t-shirt.

The being settled with its head just over his collar bone, the other parts of its four feet long body firmly wrapped around Harry's torso and left arm.

There was shuffling coming from down the stairs, almost as if someone was walking through the house.
Harry frowned, dismissing the faint voice in the back of his head, still warning him about a possible Death Eater attack. There had never been Death Eaters in Privet Drive No. 4. That he would remember. Perhaps somebody was trying to break in? The sound of voices echoed through the building. Harry pictured the way the invisibility cloak had always hidden him and just like this, he could no longer see the hand that was holding his wand. Apart from a slight tingle running down his spine, he hadn't felt anything and it had taken no effort at all. It was like an instinct to become invisible. As easy as breathing. Even the snake on his shoulders could no longer be seen. Determined Harry raised his head. He smirked. 

Perhaps Death hadn't been so wrong with him being able to have fun. What these intruders would think when they realized that ordinary Harry Potter could rely on the experience of an active Auror?

Harry exhaled, then he slowly walked down the stairs - carefully avoiding the step that creaked - until he reached the hallway downstairs. Years of sneaking through this house to avoid Petunia's wrath enabled him to move through the dark house without having to think about it. A beam of light was falling through a gap where the kitchen door stood ajar, illuminating a stripe of a picture frame on the wall and the beaming face of a pudgy 3-year-old Dudley.

“What do you mean he isn't here?” Harry could hear a deep voice say. A familiar voice. With a drawn wand he continued to approach the half-opened door at the end of the hallway. 

“I don’t know ...goddamn thing, isn’t working right since the bastard wore it,” somebody grumbled.

There was just enough space for him to squeeze through without having to move it.

Harry’s breath hitched and he stopped as soon as he had entered the room. He was faced with a memory - or was it a vision of the future? - because here, in the middle of Petunias scrupulously clean kitchen, stood a bunch of strangers and yet Harry knew exactly who everyone was. 

Nine people. Alive and breathing. All of them members of the Order. Harry couldn’t believe it. Death had really sent him back in time. He swallowed a laugh and instead walked further into the room, his eyes taking in every person.

Apparently, now that the cloak had merged with his skin, Moody was no longer able to look through it. On Harry's left, Remus shifted his weight, unknowingly moving close enough to touch. Something was different about him. Harry frowned as he examined the crowd. There was no breath-taking relief to see Remus and Tonks alive as he had expected. There was just a mere curiosity as he looked at the people he hadn’t seen in a long time. Or perhaps hadn't met yet?

Harry knew these people, he remembered them... but there was no emotional attachment. Memories of feelings clearly in his mind, but a distant echo of what they had been. If one of them would try to attack Harry, he wouldn’t hesitate to defend himself with all means possible.

It was bizarre. As if all of his relationships had been reversed. Set to zero.

But something else caught his attention. Because the longer he stared at these people, the clearer he sensed something else, surrounding them. 
It was like he was developing a sixth sense. Harry could almost taste their aura, the magic surrounding the members of the Order. It was a sensation that couldn't be described and yet it was there. All of the people in the room were surrounded by their own individual energy. It was nothing that was physical, nothing he could see and yet colours were the best comparison he had.

Dedalus Diggle for example. His was light and bright and what could only be his magic surrounded him, curiously bubbling up and then retreating into his body. The greater part of people in here had magic like this. Light and glowing it swirled around them, some in slow spirals others more like veils moved by an unnoticeable breeze.
But Moody’s magic was darker. Harry had to think about an old oak, gnarled wood with its roots deep in the ground, a brewing storm on the horizon darkening the sky.


Tonks magic acted similar to Dedalus’, but it differed from everybody else' in the room. Somehow more colourful, it swirled around her happily, ever-changing, one time dark then light again. Harry guessed, that this had something to do with her abilities as a metamorphmagus. But even while Tonks' magic was probably the most unique out of the group, Remus stood out the most.


Harry saw him like he never had before. It was not the fact that his brain tried to compare the two images of a teacher he didn't really know, even though he'd liked him, and the man, bled out by the war, dead and cold next to Tonks in the Great Hall.
But this Remus was someone else entirely. Because he was surrounded by something that was outright dark. His magic reminded Harry of blood and chocolate. And for the first time in his life, Harry could feel the wolf in Remus. Like a split personality, there was a second being under his skin. And the creature within him knew something was wrong. Unconsciously, the beast felt that there was something else in the room, something that smelled of death. Harry could see the hair in Remus' neck rising, his wolf twisting nervously.

The younger part of Harry was afraid, but another found himself deeply fascinated by this. And the latter won out. Harry took a step closer and Remus' shoulders tensed as his magic simultaneously jerked in a fluid motion. Like a wolf whose fur stood on end.

Harry observed it intrigued.

He knew he had to reveal himself eventually, why not now? But could he risk it to act like his twenty-four-year-old self? Probably not. Hell, so far even he himself had a hard time keeping his clashing personalities apart.

Perhaps for now it would be wise to keep his head low for a while. At least till he had sorted himself out.

Besides, if he acted like someone who had fought in a war, the Order was more likely to believe that he was a Death Eater in disguise than discovering that he was whatever you could call ...this.

His future self and younger self at the same time?

Better to play dumb for now. 
Harry tried to recall what he knew. For everyone else, this was the summer just after Voldemort had regained his body. He vividly remembered how angry he had been with Ron and Hermione because they hadn’t written one real letter all summer while he had been attacked by dementors. Merlin, he would have to endure Umbridge again. Harry groaned inwardly. That whole year, he had acted rash and well - like an angry teenager. Sirius had died because Harry had rushed into the ministry.

Although... Perhaps some of the horrid things that had happened could’ve been prevented if he’d been given more information.

But that was something he could deal with later. For now, he would simply see how things would turn out.

Surprised Harry also realized that he was more annoyed than afraid at the thought of confronting Voldemort. Apparently, the knowledge that he could defeat him did wonders to his younger self's mindset. He almost didn't care what Voldemort was doing, although sooner or later he would most likely have to deal with him. Dumbledore wasn't the only one believing in a prophecy, after all.

The first time around he had been sent into a war by adults, who weren’t able to fight for themselves. Harry smirked. Good luck to them. This time, he didn't plan to do anything just to please the men which were pulling the strings. Although for now, it would probably be best if he stuck to the role that everyone expected him to play.

Besides, his fifteen-year-old self had met Voldemort by now, had seen how Cedric died. Surely, he would be able to slip some changes into his personality without raising suspicion. Dumbledore hadn’t wanted to look into his eyes this year anyway, afraid of the connection with Voldemort in his mind. Now that he thought about it, it would be interesting to know if it was still there... the Horcrux.

 

“Somebody should go upstairs, and search Potter,” a black-haired witch said, pulling him out of his thoughts.

Harry's lips twitched amused. While it was probably better to keep his head down for now it would be so easy to overpower one of the members of the order...taking one by surprise - only to show that he was capable of fighting... Harry's eyes wandered through the room. Moody would be the most impressive, but Kingsley was closer...

Remus turned around, when Harry casually strode past him, to get closer to the corner where the Auror stood. He was really the best target. There was only a wall behind him. Nobody would be able to attack Harry from behind and he could use Kingsley as a shield. Kingsley was taller than Harry, but he had the moment of surprise on his side. A hard kick aimed towards the knee and Harry would be able to grab him by his throat. Then he could easily point his wand at the Auror.

A part within himself was horrified at his thoughts but he calmed himself down with the fact that a shattered knee could be easily healed with a few spells afterwards anyways. Nonetheless, he discarded this notion. It was a stupid idea anyway.

And yet Harry wondered over his lack of guilt at the thought of going through with this plan.

 

"You are my Massster. Good and evil... these are human concerns. Your soul was marked as mine, you are no longer a mere mortal,“ Death hissed.

 

Harry didn't dare to answer as he wasn't sure he could safely use a silencing spell, but he frowned at the snake which was writhing slowly under his shirt. It was as if Death had plucked the thoughts straight out of his mind.

Perhaps accepting to be Death's master came with more repercussions than he originally anticipated. They would have to have a serious conversation about a few things in the near future.

The fact he didn’t care as much as he felt he should have would also have to be addressed...

But even if he considered all his - apparently - lack of morals, Harry had gained a new unique perspective on his life. So far, it promised to become interesting.

His train of thought was cut off by a loud shattering noise. His head snapped up and his gaze landed on Tonks, just like anyone else'. The witch had accidentally shoved a plate from the counter. All attention was directed at her and Harry grew aware of the opportunity that presented itself.

He shed his invisibility like a second skin with a mere thought and quickly pointed his wand at Kingsley, who was standing closest to him. “Who are you?” Harry asked, mostly to keep up appearances even though he didn't have to play a part of his confusion. The whole crowd turned around and Tonks' sheepish look turned into suspicion.

In the end, it was Lupin who spoke up after the first shock had worn off. “It’s me, Remus. We are here to pick you up."

“Prove it,” Harry demanded.

"Alright, we'll do it," Kingsley added in his dark soothing voice. The man looked down at him with amusement in his eyes. Harry huffed. Of course, being threatened by a fifteen-year-old wouldn't leave much of an impression on an experienced Auror like him. Oddly enough the part that appeared to be his younger self seemed more miffed by the fact that he was not being taken seriously than the other. The mix of wanting to make up for seven years of boredom and feeling offended at being dismissed had Harry going through with his earlier plan. At least partly.

He moved quicker than anyone anticipated, using his smaller frame to his advantage as he dodged the arm raised by Kingsley in an instinctive attempt to defend himself and he snatched the untouched wand from the Aurors holster as he placed himself behind the man.

Eight wands were pointed at him. But Kingsley had lost his mirthful expression being now faced with two wands pressing into his neck.

Harry had a hard time suppressing a grin. He even got the impression that Death was amused.

"Alright Harry," Remus began again. "Calm down." He was trying to keep his voice low, making himself sound as amicable as he could. Harry had to admit that he was good at it. Probably owed to the many years the man spent worrying about how him being a werewolf would influence other people's opinion of him.

Harry's eyes followed Lupins' movements as he slowly lowered his wand, but he kept his attention on everyone in the room. He ignored the part of him that was panicking and used his years of experience in the Auror Department to keep himself calm. As much as he was able to at least.

But the thrill of this moment alone made his decision to go back here seem like the right one. He licked over his lips while his eyes flickered - seemingly nervous - from one person to the other. Harry revelled in the adrenaline. He felt Kingsley's muscles tense and immediately increased the pressure of his wand against the man's neck. A drop of sweat rolled over the man's dark skin.

Everyone stood with bated breath in Petunias brightly lit kitchen. The only sound was the loud ticking of the single clock hanging above the sideboard. Harry watched with fascination how everyone's magic seemed to draw tighter around their bodies.

A gruff snort pulled all of them out of their stupor. "Y'all shitting your pants facing a fifteen-year-old boy. He's a bit sharper than Remus let us believe, but we're just wasting time standing around like a bunch of tooting bandicoots." Mad-Eye Moody's gnarled figure seemed to fill out the whole room as he barked these words. "Now let's get over with this." Moody turned to face Harry. "Come on. Ask Lupin a question only he can answer. And then the other way round. It'd be a nice lookout if we bring some Death Eater impersonating Potter to the headquarters."

Harry threw a last look at the people staring at him before he turned to look at Remus. “What was the first memory I tried to use when you taught me my Patronus?”

“Flying," Lupin replied after a moment. “The first time you rode a broom.” Harry's mouth twitched into a smile. He nodded and put down his wand. The tension in the room immediately eased and Kingsley turned around to take back his wand which Harry offered him with an open hand. "No hard feelings," Harry said.

Moody still eyed him suspiciously, while the others had also lowered their wands. "Your turn, Lupin," he said gruffly.

Remus was smiling. "Ready Harry? Then It’s my turn. What is the shape of your Patronus?” Lupin asked him and a fond expression rested on the werewolf's face.

Harry reciprocated the smile. “It’s a stag,” he replied.

Lupin nodded at Moody and afterwards a moment of awkward silence followed.

“Why do I have the feeling, that you didn’t tell us everything about Harry, Remus?” Tonks asked cheerfully. She was already moving towards Harry, her eyes drinking him in, curiously, the broken plate forgotten on the floor. “Nice move by the way. Where did you learn to do that?”

Slightly taken aback by having the - currently blonde - metamorphmagus invading his personal space, it took him a moment to find an answer.

“I didn’t do nothing all summer, you know. While I couldn’t practice doing magic, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to learn some other things,” Harry replied. His eyes flicked to the side where his gaze was reciprocated by Moody who hummed and grunted something unintelligible before he turned around and headed for the kitchen table. Harry was certain, that his magical eye was still fixating him. Some of the Order members followed the Ex-Auror, but everyone shot him quick glances then and now. Tonks appeared to have spotted Death and leaned forward to take a closer look at the snake, which was curled around Harry's neck. Harry had almost forgotten about him.

"Your snake is wicked,“ she said, "I’ve never seen one like that. Where’d you get it?“

“I was wondering the same thing,” Remus interjected from the sidelines.

Meanwhile, Tonks reached out with her hand and expanded a finger as if to pet the snake. Before she could do so though, Death raised its head and hissed threateningly. Tonks immediately pulled back.

"Don't mind him," Harry said quickly. "He can be a bit of an ass."

The witch didn't seem to be afraid though and looked at Harry with curious eyes. Death seemed to use this opportunity to hide beneath Harry's collar again.

"So, where'd you get it?" she asked.

"Well, I kind of found it,“ Harry replied.

"You found it?“ Remus asked with a raised brow, a scar cutting through it wrinkling at the motion.

"Um, yeah. At the playground,“ Harry said, vaguely gesturing out of the kitchen window.

"Would you mind, if I took a quick look at it, only to check, that it’s not an Animagus? You can’t be too careful these days," Remus said with a hint of bitterness streaking his voice.

"Sure,“ Harry replied, hoping that the spell wouldn’t have any effect on Death. He dug under his shirt to pull out the snake. "You don't mind, do you?“ he asked, suddenly remembering that it was perhaps a smart thing to ask the being itself about the matter before he realized that he had unconsciously used the language Voldemort was famous for. The whole group flinched, Moody being the only exception, but his head had snapped towards Harry.

Death didn’t answer but instead slithered alongside his arm into his hands. Harry offered Remus the snake, which was now partly wrapped around his forearms and resting in his palms. Remus pointed his wand at the black-scaled being and murmured a spell. Harry gasped in surprise as he could feel the magic wash over his hands as well.

"Nothing,“ Remus muttered more to himself than Harry. Harry smirked and draped the snake around his shoulders once more, his fingers trailing over the smooth scales. Not because Death was slipping from his grasp but because a normal snake would’ve never been able to hold this position. It was as if Death wasn’t bound to obey gravity at all.
"Where are your glasses?“ Remus asked him and nodded towards his face.

Harry blinked at Lupin stupidly. Only now he grew aware of the fact that he hadn't been wearing his glasses at all, not having picked them up as he was too distracted by the unfamiliar sight of his hands. Though it wasn't too hard to figure out why he hadn't noticed. He could see perfectly without them. “Um, they are upstairs," Harry uttered distractedly.

“You are probably wondering where we are going,” Remus began, changing the topic and he directed Harry towards the kitchen table. Moody was already sitting there, taking big gulps out of his flask.

“If you could tell me, you would've already,” Harry replied, while he took a look around Petunia's kitchen. Tonks was repairing the destroyed plate with magic while the others talked in hushed voices or listened to their conversation. He hadn’t been in it for ages but at the same time, he remembered talking to Vernon and Petunia in there just days ago.

“You're not wrong,” Remus said, smiling kindly although Harry saw that he eyed Death suspiciously. The snake lazily lifted its head to meet his gaze.

Harry raised an eyebrow at its behaviour.

“Well, but at least I can tell you the names of all these people,” Remus said after a short staring contest with the creature. “This-” he pointed at Moody who just squeezed his magical eye out of its socket - “is Alastor Moody”

“Ew, you know that this is gross Mad-Eye,” Tonks said, but her fascinated look betrayed her words.

“This is Nymphadora Tonks-" she stared at Lupin - "who wants to be called Tonks rather than Nymphadora,” Remus continued. “Kingsley Shacklebolt; Dedalus Diggle-”

“We already know each other,” the wizard squeaked, and his purple hat fell from his head.

“Elphias Doge, Emmeline Vance, Sturgis Podmore and Hestia Jones,” Remus finished after every name had been called.

“About fifteen minutes and we are clear to go,” Moody said, “If you want to bring something, you better get it now. And Tonks could you get me a glass of water?” he asked while the electrical blue eye danced in his rough palm. It stared directly at Harry. Remus was still waiting expectantly so he got up and walked out of the room. Lupin followed him.

 

“Many things have changed over the summer, huh?” the werewolf asked as they were heading up the stairs. Harry nodded and looked at the man.

"How are you, Remus? What have you been up to?“ he asked with honest curiosity. A new interest in his former professor had sparked in his mind.

The werewolf seemed to be taken aback by the question. "I can’t complain,“ he said after a while. "I didn't do much during the summer. A lot of cleaning. But the details you're gonna find out about, once we reach the headquarters. I can't tell you much more for now."
Finally, they reached Harry's room. Remus with no word commented on the mess of clothes, dust and paper cutouts. They collected Harry’s things in silence and with Remus' help, all was quickly packed.

Not even five minutes after they had arrived downstairs, they were clear to leave. Broom in hand, Harry followed Mad-Eye outside. He took a last look at the house behind him and then they took off.

Chapter Text

Unlike the last time Harry remembered, he didn’t freeze half to death till they reached London. Instead, he mostly enjoyed the feeling of flying, cold wind tugging on his clothes as they made their way through the night. Not a word could be heard because of it. Moody had to shout for everyone to understand his commands to change directions every so often. Faint starlight illuminated the clouds but more eye-catching than that were the small lights on the ground. Unknowing Muggles sitting in their own houses, unaware of the group of Wizards flying overhead. But eventually, they rose to a height where clouds blocked their view and the last traces of civilisation gave way to the night.

This was the perfect opportunity to ask Death some questions. Its snake form was still wound tightly around his torso and neck and so Harry gave it a try. "Death?“ he asked in parseltongue. Even if somebody should be listening in, they would only hear a strange hissing almost identical to the wind.

 

"Masssster ...“

Harry felt the snake beneath his shirt dissolve into nothing and then there was a presence next to him, which couldn't be described by words. Harry felt like he could hear the air shift and the wind itself seemed to grow quiet in face of the entity at large. He swallowed hard and for the first time, he really thought about the fact that it was Death who'd brought him here.

He suddenly felt incredibly small. He'd wanted to ask what had happened to his mind, his memories. But his words got stuck in his throat. He couldn't find it in himself to speak out loud. With wide eyes Harry blinked into the darkness, unseeing but feeling what lurked there. His heart was fluttering like a bird in a cage, beating like wings against his ribs. His cold hands tightened around his broomstick.

As if it had heard his panicked thoughts, the overwhelming presence reduced itself to a faint whisper. Harry flinched when he felt the echo of a touch on his skin, but then it pulled back till there was only a slight breeze playing with his hair. A tingle went down his spine and a wave of comfort engulfed him. Harry exhaled shakily.

"Don't be afraid..." the inhuman voice whispered, words barely distinguishable from the wind tearing on Harry's cloak. It sounded as small as Harry had felt mere moments ago.

"I'm okay," Harry said. "I'm okay. I'm sorry." He didn't know why he felt the need to apologize.

After a moment had passed, Death spoke up again. "Ask," it said, "What you wanted to ask."

"Alright," Harry said. He swallowed. "I just... In one moment I know, feel and think as if I am twenty-four; I remember my whole training as an Auror, my life after the war - the life during the war... but in the next second, I feel like a spooked fifteen-year-old who never lived past this day and fears Voldemort attacking any moment. A part of me is certain that I haven't been in Little Whinging for years and yet I know that I was staying in my room for the last few days and that Aunt Petunia pushed a tomato soup through the cat flap of my door just this noon."

"I pulled your soul into your younger body. Your recent memories are linked strongly to this time, more than your older self. But the lines between your personalities will blur with time. It will sort itself out. For now, you might have to deal with a somewhat split mind."

"But wouldn’t my older personality simply cease to exist as soon as I change what will happen in the future? I mean, I can’t know things that never happened, right?“

"Two souls have merged, two souls of different times. You were remade by coming here into someone new. A clean slate. Everything that you are now is bound to me. And Death is beyond time."

It took a moment for Harry to let that sink in.

"Is this also the reason for me feeling so disconnected from everyone else? Remus, Tonks, Moody - I remember what I feel for them, what I should feel, but in the end... It's more of an echo that remains."  

"Your memories dictate your emotions, but you have shed your old skin. You died the night you chose to accept the title as the Master of Death. And if you command Death, you are Death, become Death. And Death doesn’t judge."

Harry faintly remembered an evening in his third year in Hogwarts after Trewlaney had predicted his soon-to-come death. Hermione had immediately begun reading about the different meanings of Death. Back then it hadn’t really reassured him, but she’d told him that Death usually also meant change, transformation and the need to start over. Perhaps she wasn't all that wrong then. He asked himself how much more Death knew than him.

"I don't know what will be. You are changing but you are human still," Death whispered. "I only know that we are bound. I influence you just as you influence me."

And for the first time, Harry got the faint sensation of a feeling that he didn't quite recognize as solely his. It was electric and tingly, like the fluttering of his stomach as it pulsed through him.

It took a moment till Harry knew what it was.

Excitement.

 

After that Harry lost himself in his thoughts. Eventually, he was pulled out of the depth of his mind when someone pointed out lights shining in the distance. They had reached London.

 

At this point, Harry didn't even try to wonder why he was still able to see the dirty old building that was Grimmauld Place No. 12. He looked upon it with wonder in his eyes and at the same time dismissed the sight as familiar.

Only when Moody gave him a small piece of paper, Harry realized that he shouldn't have been able to see the house yet and quickly looked down. He knew what kind of words would be written on the paper, but before his eyes could flicker over the parchment, Death's voice pulled him out of it. The creature had materialized under his cloak as a snake as soon as they had landed. And now only the slight distortion of the words told Harry that it was parseltongue that he was hearing.

"If you look at the words, you are bound by its magic. It's your choice but you will be able to enter anyway." Harry felt its smugness more than he could hear it. "Nothing can hide from Death."

"I know a story that would beg to differ," Harry muttered under his breath, oddly amused by the childish emotion the creature displayed.

But when he turned his attention back to the piece of parchment, he knew that Death was right. He could sense the magic around the paper. It was harder to detect than the auras surrounding the people next to him, but it was there.

After a moment of contemplation, Harry settled on the opinion that evading a magical contract sounded like the wiser thing to do. So Harry quickly looked down to appear like he was reading the words written in Dumbledore’s narrow handwriting, but instead, he inspected a dry weed that had fought its way through a crack in the concrete. After a few seconds, he raised his head and looked at the black door with the snake handle again. Harry let his mouth drop open dramatically and faked a surprised gasp.

"Come on,“ Remus said after Moody had burned the paper and he touched the door with the tip of his wand. The rattling and clicking of locks could be heard behind the door. The sound was familiar and new at the same time.

They entered quickly and Remus reminded them to stay quiet. Tonks was carrying Harry's broom and Elphias Doge his suitcase so Harry was free to step through the door without a hindrance.

As soon as he had entered, Harry inspected the long dark entrance hall.
With every spotted piece of furniture, every crack in the wall which his brain categorized as a new sight, old memories resurfaced.

He had lived in this house till he reached his twenties and the press hype had died down a bit.

Living here hadn't even been so bad once he'd learned how to deal with Mrs Black and Kreacher had started to clean out the building. But only when he'd moved into a flat in London, Harry had realized how much the house had drained his energy. A certain heaviness had taken hold of him, a weight that he couldn’t explain.

Split memories or not... Just like Remus had surprised him, the sight of Grimmauld place made a similar impression.

And it had Harry staring in awe.

Of course, there was the rotten smell, the dust and the cobwebs, which hung from the high ceiling. But the longer he looked at the walls, the more he sensed what was woven into the space between the bricks.

Fascinated Harry touched the wall closest to him.

He could feel the magic pulsing behind the mouldy wallpaper, almost like a hidden heart. There were wards over wards threaded into the masonry. Old, like the blood they were made to protect. Ancestor after ancestor having added what they knew. Some weaker some stronger and yet they supported each other like the roots of a tree.

The longer Harry focused, the more he could distinguish the different parts of it.

The most noticeable spells pulsed heavily with magic. Powerful and bright they were the first layer of defence, but they felt like they didn't really fit. Recent in their age, too light and too close to the surface to be cast by someone connected to the house of Black. These protections weren't deeply rooted like the others, although they were strong.

Dumbledore, Harry guessed.

Apart from the headmaster's protection, there were other light spells woven into the magical tapestry, but the oldest magic of the house was dark. Some wards felt like tar. Similar to a swamp, they would consume everything that would dare to cross through. There were some that were sharp like blades and others that were only there to hide. Harry noticed the fidelius charm. It was a sensation similar to a thin veil coating the building, running through the outer walls.
And while the old wards were still there - combined even more powerful than the headmaster's protection - they felt weakened.

Dark and promising they may have called out once, but now it was tainted and foul, black and hungry, devouring everything it could reach. It was impressive that the magic was still intact despite its weakened state and considering its age.

Harry got so distracted that he didn't even notice Moody till the man tapped his head with his wand to lift the desillusionement charm. He flinched violently which earned him an amused snort from Mad-Eye.

Some of the portraits shot him curious glances and they whispered about a newcomer.

Hasty steps could be heard from the other end of the entrance hall, and Mrs Weasley appeared in the door, that led down to the kitchen. "Oh Harry, it’s nice to see you!“ she whispered and tried to pull him into one of her bone-crushing hugs. Death hissed threateningly. Harry couldn’t say that he was disappointed when she pulled back immediately.

"Oh, you’ve got a new pet, Harry?“ Mrs Weasley looked like she didn’t know if she should immediately throw the snake out of the house, or if she should smile at it for Harry’s sake. She settled on the latter but it turned out looking more like a pained grimace.

Eventually, she settled on a topic that was safe and on which she knew exactly what to say. "You are so skinny,“ she fussed and patted Harry's cheek, "You need to eat more, but I'm afraid that you’ll have to wait a bit till dinner is ready.“ Turning to the group of wizards behind Harry, she added, "He’s just arrived. The meeting has started.“

And while the others started to whisper, Dumbledores name like a prayer upon their lips, Harry used the moment of distraction to quietly slip out of Mrs Weasley's reach. While the younger part of him - whose last human contact were the hugs he had received from Hermione and Ron at the beginning of summer - didn't really mind her fussing, his older self was less than impressed with her overbearing nature. Despite her probably meaning well.

Soon, the hushed conversations around Harry had his own thoughts wander to the famous headmaster.

This time it was his younger self that won out, his resentment of the man like an open wound, his emotions as vibrant as the memories of picking up newspapers from trashcans to find out at least something that was going on. His older self had long forgiven Dumbledore for his faults, but being thrown back into the hot kettle - so to say - changed things.

Harry wasn't in the mood of being a pawn in the headmasters game. Dumbledore might have had his reasons to keep some things to himself but Harry wasn't naive. He wouldn't blindly trust the headmaster, not like a part of him still wanted to, despite the echo of anger sticking to his thoughts like glue.

Dumbledore was just a man. And he had his faults. He was just like Slughorn in a way. Both collected people, but unlike Slughorn, Dumbledore didn’t focus on the famous and influential ones, he focused on the outcasts. He was the one to forgive them and to offer them protection, a second chance, demanding nothing more than their loyalty. And who was there to deny the great Dumbledore something - being a spy in Voldemort’s ranks, persuading giants to choose the right side or infiltrating the werewolves - after all, he had been the one to help when no one else was there.

Dumbledore himself might be of the opinion that he was doing good, but some may have fared better without his influence. Harry snorted. Wasn't he the best example of this?

Dumbledore had sent him towards his death solely for the greater good. But what good had it done to Harry? Of course, no one could've anticipated that collecting the hallows would actually turn out in his favour. But that aside...

Sure, his death had saved people. But Voldemort wasn't the only murderer out there and of what use would Harrys death have been to him, personally? None. None at all.

If Voldemort had been just a tad saner and Harry a bit more selfish, the chance of coming to an agreement that would've benefited them both - and in turn causing Harry to live an objectively happier life - would've been considerably larger.

Harry didn’t doubt that it had hurt Dumbledore greatly to send him towards his death, but that hadn’t stopped him from going through with it.
Knowing that the headmaster already suspected the Horcrux in Harry and thus considered his death, he would try to rely on the man as little as possible. Besides, getting to play on Voldemorts side for a bit sounded like way more fun. And if he insisted on killing Harry, well, he had a few tricks up his sleeve. Seven to be exact.

 

Harry was pulled from his thoughts when the people around him slowly started to move towards the door at the end of the entrance hall. Knowing that he wouldn’t be allowed at the order meeting anyway, Harry turned around and asked Mrs Weasley where Ron and Hermione were.

"Of course," Mrs Weasley nodded, "Come on dear, I’ll show you.“

Harry followed Mrs Weasley upstairs, the cut-off heads of the former house-elves throwing eerie shadows on the wall. "There look, the right door is yours. I really have to go now, but Ron and Hermione will explain everything. I’ll call you when dinner’s ready." Then she turned around and quickly walked downstairs.

 

"Masterrrr...." Death hissed, causing Harry to pause, his hand hovering mid-air on its way to open the door

"Death?" Harry replied.

"You wanted to know about the Horcrux...“

"And, is it still there?“

"Yes, but I can remove it if you want."

"You can remove it anytime?" Harry asked, his mind already weighing the opportunities this factor would grant him. On the one hand, he would be able to spy on Voldemort if he wanted too and being a Horcrux was certainly a unique kind of leverage but on the other hand... He didn’t want to be this vulnerable. What if Voldemort used legilimency on him? Or Dumbledore...

"You alongside your mindscape has begun to change since you accepted to become my master, thus making what you're fearing more difficult as time goes on. But right now you are still vulnerable," Death answered the unspoken question. "Though I can reap it whenever you ask me to."

Harry hummed thoughtfully. "In that case, I’ll keep it. For now. If it turns into a nuisance we'll deal with it."

With that he turned the doorknob - it was formed like a snake - and opened the door.

Chapter Text

"HARRY! Ron, he’s here.“

"Let him breathe, Hermione,“ Ron grinningly said to the girl, who tried to hug Harry with such force that he could barely avoid falling to the ground. Hermione started to bombard him with questions.

"Oh shit Harry, is that a snake?“ Ron interjected, his blue eyes wide.

Harry used this little breather to look at Ron and Hermione. While they technically still were the same people, those two weren’t the friends he knew. A part of him was still angry with them, the memories of useless letters echoing through his mind while another part compared them to the Ron and Hermione they would probably never end up being. A headache was building behind his temples and Harry forced himself to focus on the present. It was exhausting to keep track of his emotions at all times. Just as he was contemplating what he could use as an excuse to get some air, something white flew down from the wardrobe and landed on his free shoulder.

Harry’s eyes widened. He had almost forgotten about her...

"Hedwig!“ Harry petted the white owl, who just ignored the snake wrapped around him and graciously turned her head. Death hissed. Harry smirked at their behaviour.

"She was acting really odd. Almost picked us dead, when she brought your last letters. Here look,“ Ron said and extended a hand and showed him a deep cut in his finger. It was just the opening that Harry needed.

"I’m sorry, but I am also not,“ Harry said after a moment, letting himself sink into his younger mindset, which was way better equipped to deal with this situation. It was like sliding into a hot bath at the end of the day. Still, Harry didn’t feel the same connection to them as he probably had a few weeks ago. A faint memory of their relationship when he was older flashed up in the back of his mind, of Ron jokingly calling him his future brother in law.

It was odd to think of Ginny and him as a couple. He hadn’t even kissed anyone at that point in time, although his memories told him something different. Embarrassment overpowered everything else when countless encounters with various witches and wizards rushed to the forefront of his mind. Harry couldn't keep the blood from flushing up his skin. He hadn’t even been aware that men were an option too.

Harry swallowed and focused on what laid in front of him. He remembered this summer and Voldemort’s resurrection vividly and how much he had hated the past few weeks. While his anger now was only an echo of his former frustration it was probably best to not pretend that this hadn’t happened.

"I was left, rotting in Privet Drive for weeks,“ he said coldly. Hermione and Ron paled. This seemed to scare them even more, than if he had been screaming and a part of Harry found himself amused. "I didn’t expect much from Dumbledore. Did he really think, that I wouldn’t notice being followed?“ Nobody said a word. "But you guys... I expected more of you-“

Somehow this turned more into a stern scolding than an angry shouting match.

"Harry we are sorry, we wanted to tell you something, really... but Dumbledore let us swear-“ Hermione interrupted him.

"Oh, Dumbledore yes..." Harry let the words roll from his tongue. The flashes of future knowledge added a whole new layer to this summer's memories. While his past emotions seemed to no longer carry the same weight, Harry apparently still possessed the ability to get angry by simply reviewing some events from his current perspective. "I get kidnapped in a supposedly safe environment, which leads to Voldemort’s resurrection, see how Cedric gets killed and Dumbledore simply parks me at Privet Drive with not a word of encouragement. Nobody even mentioned a thing that was going on... Dumbledore let you swear, yes. But there are ways to contact me, other than letters or do you think Voldemort monitors my phone calls now?“ Harry asked pointedly. With a casual motion, he sent Hedwig back onto the wardrobe, "I understand why you did what you did... but you have to admit that this was messed up.“

"Harry!“ Hermione exclaimed after a shocked pause, but Harry shook his head.

"I don't think-"

"We can explain, what's been going on. Really mate, we didn't mean to keep anything from you," Ron interfered.

"Exactly!" Hermione added as she saw that Harry paused. He contemplated it. It couldn't hurt to brush up on what was going on.

"Alright," Harry said. "Tell me everything."

 

Twenty minutes later, Harry was sitting on the edge of a bed, facing Ron and Hermione who had finally had finished their whole story. They stared at him with twin expressions dominated by a mix of concern and hopeful anticipation. Harry had barely spoken a word during their speech.

"I think I need some time to think this over," he finally stated out loud.

"Sure, mate," Ron said while Hermione simultaneously began with, "We could-" She paused and threw Ron a questioning look. Harry stood up.

"I guess I'll see you when dinner is ready," Harry said and turned to leave the room. The last thing he heard before the door behind him fell shut was Ron saying, "He just needs some space, Mione...

Harry walked down the stairs, massaging his throbbing temples. It was exhausting to deal with so much new information. Besides, it was better if he kept his distance for a while.

He was just reaching the hallway of the first floor when Kreacher walked past him. The elf stopped and looked at Harry strangely. When Harry stared back the house-elf turned and walked away. "Huh what was that about?“ he wondered out loud.

"You once owned this house. The magic inside these walls still recognizes you as a Black, so does his," Death said. Harry perked up fascinated. Magic apparently always managed to surprise him.

"Do you think he would obey me?" Harry asked curiously.  

"Perhaps, but he is bound to another Master.“

"Sirius," Harry muttered, thoughts coursing through his mind till he had reached the entrance hall. He suddenly realized that the portraits on the walls had started to whisper.

"A parselmouth?"

"-old line of Slytherin-"

"-here in the ancient house of Black-"

"-honoured, dark Wizard-"

"-a Black?"

Harry hadn't even noticed that he had slipped into the infamous language. He could only pick up on bits and pieces of the portraits' conversations. Their inhabitants ogled him curiously.

All of a sudden, he didn’t know what to do. He didn't know which rooms were occupied and he wasn't in the mood to try and listen into the Order's meeting. Somewhat lost, Harry sat down on the lower steps of the staircase, exhaustion taking hold of him. His headache prevailed and the silence was a welcome distraction.

Unconsciously, he started to pet the scales of Deaths reptile form, when suddenly the weight turned into dark fog and the snake vanished from his shoulders. Harry watched fascinated how it materialized again and there was Death, back in his familiar form - the eerie version of Harry himself.

Death sat down next to him and this caught Harry's attention. He could swear that Death had made himself a bit taller. Perhaps it was just the fact that he had chosen to sit down on a step above Harry’s... Harry hummed thoughtfully. Maybe both, he decided.

"What are you going to do, now that you are here?" Death asked after a while. He sat eerily still.

"I don’t know. Prevent the deaths of Remus, Tonks, Fred and Sirius, I think... Probably." He looked at his bony hands. It was a good question. "Try to not get bored again?" Harry added after a few moments. "Not biding to the wishes of one side if a more interesting opportunity presents itself. It depends, I guess..." He paused for a moment, his mind lingering on the previous question before he raised his head and looked at Death."You don’t have to stick with me all the time, you know."

The creature looked at Harry before it slowly reached out with its hand. The creature seemed curious about its own actions and Harry froze when the hand made contact with his scalp. Carefully Death started to comb his fingers through Harry's hair. The creature seemed surprisingly caught up in this motion, completely focused once it had begun. Its eyes flicked towards Harry. Be he didn't know what to think of it either and yet he slowly he relaxed into the touch.

His headache bled like poison from an open wound and he fought the urge to lean into it.

"Maybe not as a snake," Death announced in its inhuman voice, surprisingly gentle and Harry blinked lazily as his mind was pulled from the relaxed state he had found himself in. Death was awkward in his movements, his behaviour. Like a deer taking its first steps. Despite the creatures oddness - perhaps just because of it - Harry couldn't help but smile.

He felt an odd flutter in his stomach, which he couldn't place but suddenly there were steps in the distance and Death vanished without a trace.

A moment later the door at the other side of the room opened. Apparently, the meeting was over and people started to populate the entrance hall. Many of them unashamedly stared at Harry as they walked past him, curious eyes looking him up and down. A few of them nodded in acknowledgement before they left - Harry liked those better - others lingered and talked in hushed voices as to not disturb the portraits' slumber.

Then, Harry spotted Snape.

The man had died at the battle and it was - not quite a shock - to see him alive but interesting nonetheless.

The energy surrounding him was just as unique as everyone else' Harry had seen so far. There were no playful swirls, no rough spikes to his magic. Just even layers, tightly stacked and all moving in different directions in a nearly hypnotic way. It almost seemed like his aura was split into various planes, every one opaque and only together they resulted in the dark swirls that slowly moved around his body.

There was the echo of resentment as well as respect that Harry felt for the man. His clashing memories made it hard to place him.

He may have been an asshole during the time Harry had known him, but he couldn't deny that he owed Snape his life. A future version of him at least.

How the man had been able to survive as long as he had was impressive. Snape had managed to walk the narrow line between life and death as a spy. Even Voldemort hadn't known of Severus’ betrayal.

Sometimes Harry had thought, that not even Dumbledore knew where the loyalties of the man really resided. Was it Harry’s dead mother?

What was his motivation? Love, a wish for revenge or simply his own sense of good and bad? If there had been another alternative to Dumbledore, would Snape have still chosen the path he was walking now?

Snape was a mystery and Harry put his chin on his folded hands as he watched the man closely. It would be interesting where his path would lead if he made some different decisions.

His former Professor snorted derogatorily when he spotted Harry on the stairs and rushed past him, black robe billowing as if this whole thing was beneath him.

Harry sighed. All fascination aside, there was still the factor that Snape wasn't very fond of him with which he'd have to deal.
The corners of Harry’s mouth twitched with amusement. At least, he wouldn’t have problems with potions anymore. The studying his twenty-four-year-old self had done was certainly an advantage.

 

In the end, only Remus, Tonks and Mrs Weasley remained in the entrance hall. Tonks and Remus locked the door magically, while Mrs Weasley approached Harry.

"Harry, dear. Would you mind calling the others? The meeting is over and dinner is ready," she whispered, "Fred and George should be a floor above your and Ron’s room.“ Harry nodded and was about to turn around when he heard a loud 'clonk'.

Tonks had knocked over the umbrella stand.

With a bang, the curtains of Mrs Blacks portraits opened, and the screaming began.

Tonks apologized over and over again, but the curses of Mrs Black were just too loud, for her to be heard. "I’m so sorry- “

"MUDBLOODS! SCUM!“

"-the second time I fall over this-“

Mrs Weasley hurried out of the room, down the cellar, most likely looking for help.

“FILTH-“

Tonks clumsily picked up the umbrella stand.

"-so sorry"

"-SULLYING THE HOUSE OF MY ANCESTORS!"

 

When Harry had moved to live in Grimmauld Place, Mrs Black had been the same screaming bitch she had always been. Even when Kreacher obeyed him, she would still scream and shout as if she was being tortured when some"mudblood“ dared to cross the Hall.

Harry had looked for a way to remove the portrait. He had searched the Black library for weeks. There were curses over curses, but not one could have helped him with that task. He had even read the dry tomes, which told about pureblood education and behaviour, only because there were notes written inside by some family member of the Blacks.

But apart from a few spells for sealing marriages, binding contracts and some curses to ‘properly discipline’ a misbehaving child, he found nothing. He had given up after reading "Lord’s and Ladies of noble blood - the proper representation of the family“ for the third time.

Harry didn’t trust himself with using fiendfire to just destroy the damn thing, so he begrudgingly accepted that he had to live with it.   

But one day - during one of her screaming sessions - Harry had remembered that Kreacher had talked to the portrait, even received some orders. She had to be able to act normal. Maybe he would be able to persuade Mrs Black to stop by simply talking to her.

To his immense surprise, it had worked. Maybe not in the way he had imagined, but after that very incident, her screaming had been reduced to occasionally quiet grumbling and well-chosen insults. But right now, she was still shouting and very loudly so. The pain in Harry's temples acted up once more. He gritted his teeth in frustration.

And so when she was proceeding to scream, "WORTHLESS BASTARDS! HALFBLOODS! FREAKS-“ Harry stood up and turned to face the annoying witch.

"PATHETIC!" Harry shouted back at her. Surprised she shut up, when he treated her with the same courtesy she granted them. "SHAME ON YOU! YOU ARE A DISGRACE FOR THE HOUSE OF BLACK! SCREAMING LIKE SOME WITCH WHO DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO BEHAVE HERSELF! YOU COULD AS WELL BE THE SPAWN OF A MUGGLE!" Still standing on the stairs, it was easy for Harry to look down at her. A treatment she didn't at all appreciate.

"HOW DARE YOU-“ she roared, but Harry cut her off.

"I?! HOW DARE I!? HOW DARE YOU DISRESPECT THE HEIR OF YOUR HOUSE BY EMBARASSING HIM IN FRONT OF HIS GUESTS! HOW FAR THE HOUSE OF BLACK HAS FALLEN BY CALLING YOU ONE OF THEIR OWN! HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN YOUR EDUCATION JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE NOW A PORTRAIT?! YOU ARE NO LONGER THE HEAD OF THE HOUSE! IT IS NOT YOUR BUSINESS WHO ENTERS ANYMORE! KNOW YOUR PLACE, WITCH!" he finished.

Everyone stared at him.

Harry's heavy breathing was the only sound disturbing the silence.

Walburga Black had left her frame, dark space empty and the other portraits seemed embarrassed enough. She would probably return, but right now it should be enough.

Silence at last. With a small satisfied smirk, Harry walked down the remainder of the stairs.

Remus stared at Harry, seemingly too shocked to do anything and Tonks' mouth stood wide open.

A movement in the corner of his eye caught Harry’s attention and when he turned, he found himself face to face with a baffled Sirius Black.

"I- I don’t know what to say, really," Sirius said, half shocked half grinning. "I guess I should've brought you here years ago.“

Harry’s mind was blank. He could only look at the godfather who suddenly seemed so much younger. While being an Auror, Harry had formed loose friendships with colleagues older than Sirius. It was surreal to see him standing in front of him. On the one hand, there was the part of Harry, who viewed Sirius as a father figure while another tried to match blurry memories of a deadly veil to the man he was facing. The confusing personalities in his mind clashed once more and since focusing on the present instead of trying to match memories to people had turned out to be a good coping mechanism so far, Harry proceeded to do just that.

Which turned out to bring forth another revelation. Just like Remus, Sirius appeared younger to Harry, but Sirius, he was - well - handsome. He was skinny and unhealthy looking, probably because of the years in Azkaban, but Harry could see the attractive person he'd once been. Even now the ruggedness didn't lessen his appeal and the smirk on Sirius' face could almost be described as mischievous.

"How about ‘Hi’," Harry said, grinning widely. Somehow it was easier now to ignore the part within him that wanted to be embarrassed by the sexual notions that an older part of Harry was able to reconcile with this man in front of him, but a slight blush still crept up his collar. Perhaps Death was right. The lines really started to blur.

Sirius threw his head back and laughed. His dark hair fell graciously onto his shoulders. "Yes, that would certainly be a start," he chuckled, his dark eyes shining with mirth, "Hello Harry," he said and suddenly Harry found himself engulfed by two sinewy arms, a musky scent of sweat, dust and alcohol wafting into his nose as Sirius pulled him into a hug.

It wasn't ...unpleasant.  

Harry petted his godfather's bony back when he could feel Death's dark presence spike abruptly. Like the scent of a poisonous flower, it permeated the room. Dark and ominous, sickly sweet with an icy coldness spreading over the walls. Harry felt an incisive emotion prickling in his chest and he pulled back with a sharp inhale.

Harry caught himself before he could rub his chest on instinct, the sensation of the foreign emotion so physical that he'd wanted to soothe the ache from the outside. The others stood, not quite knowing what had happened, confused about their unease even though Death's presence had shrunk down to a looming darkness in one of the corners.

Harry's eyes found said corner and with a glare that hopefully conveyed the meaning of, "What the hell has this been about?!" and "We will talk about this!", he reduced the presence to a faint shadow, though he was meticulously aware of the heavy feeling weighing in his stomach, that wasn't his own.

Sirius cleared his throat and Harry's head snapped back to his godfather.

The magical aura of the others had shrunk, pulling tightly around their bodies as if to hide from the creature, they had felt lurking there just a moment prior.

It also caused Harry, for the first time, to pay close attention to Sirius' aura. It was still fascinating and Harry asked himself if there existed something comparable to the ability that he had developed. Hadn't Dumbledore once said that every piece of magic left a trace? But the old headmaster had never mentioned that it was something visible, nor that it stuck to people just as strong.

Sirius' magic was dark, just like Remus’. But where Remus was subtly lurking - perfectly controlled, Sirius’ magic had a crazy edge to it. It was wild and untamed like a storm. Its swirls were moving in unpredictable patterns and curiously seemed to poke everything in its reach.

But something seemed to be wrong with it. The edges of his energy were frayed, strands of it bleeding into the surroundings as if it was just leaking out. Harry frowned. Magic shouldn't just disappear. It could be locked in, sure. Concentrated in spells, which used their energy to turn stuff. He threw a look at where he guessed Death was still hiding, but this time he wasn't so certain that it was the being causing this drain. He looked around the room, eyes scanning the furniture till suddenly something clicked. It wasn't just one thing, the whole room seemed to absorb the magic! But why?

Sirius meanwhile, had regained his causal confidence and a smirk had once more appeared on his face. This whole moment had passed within only a few seconds so it wasn't surprising that it was easily dismissed.

"Come on, let’s go downstairs before she comes back," he said and nodded towards the painting of his mother, indicating the empty space which was usually occupied by Mrs Black. Sirius took Harry by the shoulder and led him towards the door to the cellar. Harry ignored the needles prickling in his guts as he followed after his godfather, while Death's presence crawled along like a spidery sea urchin. Remus quickly caught up to them, while Tonks hurried to match his long steps. Her hair had regained some of the vibrancy it had lost earlier.

But Harry paid no mind to them. He was too caught up in trying to understand why the house seemed to drain Sirius' energy. His eyes scanned over the mouldy wallpaper as the frayed edges of the man's magic bled into the pulsing walls.

"I know it's not the prettiest house," his godfather said, misinterpreting Harry's thoughtful expression. "I'd rather stay anywhere else either..." Harry slowed down his walk as they approached the door at the other side of the hall. 

"I was just wondering“, Harry said, "If the magic of a person can be connected to a house.“ Sirius looked at him surprised.

"Mhm, many old families have tied their magic to places. Though it's not really common anymore. Dark bloody stuff, if you know what I mean." Sirius stopped and his eyes wandered over the walls. "It can last a few decades..."

"That's actually quite interesting," Remus suddenly interjected. "How are things in your case? Are you connected to the house?"

His amber eyes shone with curiosity and Tonks tried to squeeze past his shoulder to also take part in the conversation.

Sirius turned around to face them, pushing his hands into the pockets of his worn jeans. He shrugged...

"I guess. It's been a while since I thought about it. Family history - boring as fuck if you'd asked me." A grin appeared on Sirius' face and his eyes took on a distant glow. "Skipped those lessons more than once. The thrashings I got afterwards though..." He shook his head and then his eyes fixated Remus." But overall it was worth it. I'd never discovered the club down in Oxford Street otherwise." Something flashed over Lupins face and Sirius grin widened, the laugh lines under his eyes accentuating his mirthful expression. "You know," Sirius drawled, "That former cinema, where you tried to pierce your-"

"Alright," Remus cut him off and raised his hands, "That is enough storytelling for today!"

"You can't just leave us hanging there!" Tonks intercepted and Sirius watched amused how Remus squirmed under her look. "What did he try to pierce?" Tonks insisted and with a smirk, Harry jumped to her aid. "Yeah," he said while he threw Lupin an equally amused look, "Tell us!"

Sirius already opened his mouth but Remus jumped to get ahead of him. "Sirius, I was his professor! At least let me leave this situation with some dignity. Harry is fifteen, for god's sake."

"You weren't much much older-"

"Sirius!"

"Fine." Sirius rolled his eyes. Tonks was bouncing on her feet, brimming with curiosity.

"Why don't we get back to our previous topic?" Remus asked and Sirius sighed but complied.  

"If I remember correctly I'm probably holding the wards since I'm the head of the house. There are some spells I could probably reactivate, which would alert me of intruders, but it's probably a kind of magic Dumbledore wouldn't be very appreciative of and how I've heard it's also not too pleasant. Besides, who knows if those spells still work after all that time...."

"But that's impressive defensive magic," Lupin continued. "Is there a conduit leading from the outer walls to the holder or how does it work?"

"I don't know. I only remember that it's more of a system of spells. They are locked into the walls in a way. Perhaps I should've paid more attention to that part." Sirius jerked his head towards his mother's painting. "Who knows if I could've gotten rid of that thing by now if I had."

Remus was turning to look at the walls, his hands sliding over the old wallpaper. "You don't mind, do you?" he asked Sirius over his shoulder. He shook his head.

"Nah."

Harry joined the werewolf in his endeavour. He closed his eyes, and let his fingers run over the surface again. The magic sang beneath his fingertips.

 

"HE pierced WHAT? With a safety pin?!" Tonk's voice pulled Harry out of his task and just like Remus he turned around. Apparently, Sirius and the metamorphmagus had resumed the earlier conversation.

Sirius raised his hands in defence. "You didn't say that I couldn't tell her."

Remus pinched his nose with a sigh. After a moment he fixated Tonks with a deadpan look. "It didn't stay in. It bled like hell. And it earned me a night of free drinks. Can we declare this matter finished now?"

Tonks stared at him with wide eyes before she shook her head and a slow smirk appeared on her face. "That's all I wanted to know," she announced. "Actually, I'm impressed, Remus. There's a whole other side to you, apparently."

Suddenly Harry could see how Sirius and she were related.

"Oh yeah," his godfather added in the same tone of voice. "Moony over here was a real punk. You know, one time-"

"I suggest you shut up, Sirius. I know more embarrassing stories to tell about you than anyone else, believe me."

"See," Sirius said, nudging Tonks' shoulder, "Openly blackmailing me in front of you guys. Like a true rebel."

Remus sighed and simply turned around. Harry shared an amused look with Sirius, whose attention was soon demanded by his cousin who whispered another question into his ear, so Harry turned once more to watch Remus, who was inspecting the wall, murmuring spells as he tapped it with his wand.

Harry observed him for another second before he turned his attention to the pulsing wards that pulled on Sirius' magic.

There was the fidelius spell, Dumbledores protections which hummed continuously, like a thin blanket covering what laid beneath. And that was what Harry was interested in. This network of spells, interwoven like the roots of a tree, running through the house like veins.

He vaguely noticed Death's presence approaching as reached out to shift through the different layers of protection. Harry ignored the feeling in the back of his head which told him to just let it go. It was a suggestive nudge of emotions shoved towards him and yet nothing like the Horcrux which had dominated his mind for so long. But the topic at hand was way too fascinating to just leave alone.

Blood magic was fickle. Harry didn't know much about it, nothing more than the everyday Auror was taught during their training.

He pressed his whole palm against the cracking wallpaper, fascinated how he was sensing the individual offshoots branching through the masonry, floors and doors. It shouldn't have been possible and yet... They brushed against him, not his body but his energy. His own aura of which he only now grew conscious of. Like strands of seaweed, they lazily touched him as he inspected them.

Harry hummed thoughtfully. If the Black's had really tied their protection to the blood...

Wards that were made to last needed to be grounded. Preferably through runes, Bill had told him once. It was how many ancient wizarding societies had protected their tombs. But without it, they would bleed out. Not unlike they now bled out Sirius' magic.

Then Harry found the wards he had been sensing from the beginning. The most insistent ones, hungrily asking for attention.

In hindsight that should have been his first warning. The second one, when Death's presence spiked as he reached out to poke one of the wards which felt like a swampy forest.

It clicked in Harry's brain. Nobody had lived in this house for years. They had been slowly rotting away with nothing anchoring them. The wards were trying to restore themselves and it worked. Slowly but it did. They were feeding on the energy of the one they were connected to.

Satisfied Harry tried to pull back to question Sirius if he knew more about this topic, but he suddenly found that he wasn't able to.

His hands didn't leave the wall. It was as if a sticking spell hat glued them together.

"Um, a little help here," Harry said over his shoulder. He felt an odd sensation like something was tugging on his insides. Angrily he gritted his teeth. Like leeches, the wards had attached themselves to his magic and he had been stupid enough to enable them. It began to hurt. Needles seemed to enter through his palm, travelling through his arm when he tried to pull back with more force.

Remus stopped and looked at him in confusion, as did the others.

Meanwhile, Harry began to feel a little lightheaded and he tried to shake it off. "I'm stuck," he pressed out between gritted teeth. The suction of the wards turned more insistent and anger was slowly replaced by fear.

"What..." Lupin began but he trailed off.

A worried expression appeared on Sirius' face and he took a few steps towards him, Tonks right behind him.

Stars were dancing in front of Harry's eyes now exhaustion spread through all of his limbs. "Merlin help us," Remus said. His voice sounded as if he was underwater. With heavy lids, Harry followed Lupins amber gaze and was met with the sight of his own hands slowly sinking into the wall, black tendrils like tar climbing up his veins, already covering his fingertips.

Hot pain was now coursing through his body. His insides were turned outwards and Harry felt his muscles spasm in a useless attempt to keep whatever was sucked out of him within. His legs grew weak. Fire was licking up his veins. Then Death's presence surrounded him like a heavy blanket, muffling the pain and his fear slowly bled out of him. It was oddly comforting.

Harry forced himself to take a rattling breath.

"I'm here Harry..." A hoarse voice whispered into his ear. "Don't be afraid..." 

His vision went dark.

 

Then nothing.

 

 

"Do you feel it?" Death's voice echoed within his mind. It was everywhere, the presence engulfing him, deep and dark like an ocean. And was it dark, wasn't it? He didn’t know.

Ice could burn like fire too if it just got cold enough. Pure and alluring it flooded through his body, promising sweet sleep and peace like the sweetest poison. And then icy like a blade, so sharp you didn’t even feel it enter till it was too late. Inconceivable in all its might. He felt a space within him being taken up by it. Death was everywhere, there was no end and no beginning. No saying where he began and it ended. Harry was drowning and yet he ached to sink deeper. It was beautiful and horrific and he revelled in it.

Then, his heart started beating again, and his magic returned, slithering lazily and unfamiliar, coating him like a new layer of skin.

 

Harry's lungs burned. He sat up in one go as he eagerly sucked in the air which turned into a coughing fit. It was as if his body had been hit by a freight car. He breathed and breathed and yet it felt like he didn't get enough air. Something was missing. He felt empty and the tears building in his eyes were no longer only caused by his irregular expansion of lungs. Without his conscious approval, his hands dug themselves into his chest, clenching around the worn fabric of his shirt, feeling only skin where he was so sure something had been ripped out of him. His fingers began to tingle.
Harry gasped for air.
With unseeing eyes he stared into nothingness, a horrible feeling of loss dominating his mind. Dust particles danced in front of him and the blurry shape of his own old sneakers on a colourless carpet took shape. He blinked and the image of black feathers in a white train station flashed behind his lids. And when he opened them again, his eyes were immediately drawn to the black snake curled up next to his thigh. Before he even noticed what he was doing, Harry reached for the creature and relief flooded through him, the ache in his chest receding even though he could still feel where he had dug his nails into his skin.

Only then he realized that he was sitting in the middle of the entrance hall, looked down upon by the worried faces of Remus, Sirius and Tonks.

Chapter Text

Sirius was white as a wall, Remus trembled and Tonks' hair had taken on a shocking platinum colour.

"Harry, are you alright?" Lupin asked.

"Thought we'd almost lost you here," Sirius said, but the tremble in his voice betrayed his weak attempt at a joke

"Yeah, I think so," Harry uttered absentmindedly and he stared at the black snake in his hands. They were trembling.

With a conscious effort, Harry slowed his breathing. He was still shivering. But not only of fear. His body was brimming with energy. He had just died, hadn't he? And Death had tried to warn him, but who could've known these walls to be so damn dangerous?

A hysterical laugh was building in his chest.

He had died. And yet he was living.

"Third time's the charm..." Harry muttered, crazed thoughts cursing through his mind. A chuckle broke over his lips.

"Can you walk?" Tonks asked, successfully distracting him and keeping him from giving in to the breakdown that had been about to happen. Harry looked up and into her concerned eyes. He needed to gain back some control. He exhaled and then consciously let a grin flash over his face. It was surprisingly easy to ignore the feelings rising within him and to pull up a mask of emotions.

"Only one way to find out, huh..." he said. He ignored the hand he was offered to pull himself up, not ready yet to let go of Death, bringing the creature closer to his body as he stood up. Back on both feet, Harry took a moment to find his balance and Death proceeded to snake its way under his shirt.

The creature curled around his torso in a strange mix of a hug or a death grip, but Harry was grateful and he folded his arms, unconsciously putting up another barrier between Death and the others. He was still shaking, but other than that, he showed no outward sign of his disturbed state of mind.

"Come on, let's try to get over here,“ Remus said and Tonks guided Harry to a chair not far away, while Sirius was hovering over them in concern. Harry sat down, wiping the sticky mess of spit and tears from his face.

"Do you feel dizzy, or tired?" Lupin knelt down and took his face in both his hands to look into his eyes. He felt Death pull tighter around his body, almost in a painful way, but he could only feel grateful at the weight curled around his body. Then Lupin's words slowly began to sink in and Harry truly thought about how he felt. On a physical note - albeit sore - he felt ...great. In hindsight, it had been a miracle that he hadn't been bouncing with every step on his way over.

The werewolf tilted Harry's head to get a better look at his pupils.

Harry was suddenly reminded, that Lupin had been the most competent teacher in Defence against the Arts he’d ever had over the course of his school years. "Maybe we should call Severus," Remus said, turning to Sirius.

It meant something, that Sirius didn’t complain. He only nodded, pale faced and concern in his eyes.

Making a decision, Harry brushed Remus hands aside. "I’m fine, really," he said firmly. His decisiveness seemed to unsettle the others earlier impression.

"If you are sure," Sirius said uncertainly. Remus stood up. The werewolf was suddenly frantic.

"I don't know how this could happen. I mean how- I just used a few detection spells, nothing serious, it shouldn't have-"

"It's not your fault, Moony." Sirius put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "It's this house."

"I still think that we should call Severus. Just to be sure," Tonks said. "I’ve never seen something like that."

"Really, I'm fine!" Harry insisted. The thought of being examined by Snape wasn't very high on his bucket list. Harry himself didn't really know what exactly had happened and if Snape found something off the norm, it was likely that Dumbledore was immediately there to hover over him. It would only draw attention. Playing it down was the best he could do.

"Should we call Severus, what do you think?" Remus said and turned to Sirius. "Or do you have an explanation of what happened?"

The latter turned to look at Harry. "Perhaps it's just some old curse sticking to the walls and it was just some irregularity and now there's nothing to worry about. Some of the wards have the tendency to drain energy if they consider something as a threat, it's not unthinkable that they could knock someone out," Sirius said. "That at least was their purpose some decades ago."

"You talk of them as if they were sentient," Tonks said with a frown.

"It's your call," Remus began hesitantly, "You know this house best, but..." The werewolf shared a look with Sirius.

"Yeah," the Animagus said after a while, apparently giving it to their silent conversation, "Just because he seems alright it doesn’t mean that there wasn't some nasty curse hidden within these walls. If it means to call Snivellus-" Remus scowled - "to better be safe than sorry, I'm all for it," Sirius said. He sounded reluctant but the gravity of the situation seemed to outweigh his dislike of Snape.

He shared a look with Tonks and the Auror whispered two words, conjuring her Patronus. A glowing bunny appeared and sniffed her hair before it hopped through the air and disappeared through a wall.

It didn't take more than three minutes till the locks at the door clicked and the chain rattled.

"This must be him," Tonks said, looking over to the entrance. And she was right.

Sirius expression darkened when Snape entered with all the dramatics that came with wearing a black cloak to every occasion. The man spared Mrs Black's empty portrait a brief look but nothing else indicated what he was thinking. Only then turned to fully face them. His black eyes fixated Harry.

"I'm gone barely ten minutes and you already got yourself in trouble, Potter! I wonder why I still find myself surprised."

"Nice to see you too," Harry replied sarcastically as he reciprocated the man's look. Snape proceeded to overhear his comment and turned to look at Remus instead. Death shifted beneath his shirt and Harry quietly hushed the snake. The thought that Snape would somehow scrutinize the being like he would Harry had a bitter taste climb up his throat. Harry shifted till his wide shirt fell in a way that it no longer showed the odd bulges where Death was curled up beneath.

"Did someone inform the headmaster?" Snape asked the werewolf.

"You were our first call. We weren't sure if it's something that's to be taken seriously. Sirius mentioned it could be the wards," Remus replied.

"What happened?" Snape inquired as he moved closer. "Out of the way Black. Some people have to work." Sirius grimaced but shuffled aside. "Now," Snape continued as he stopped in front of Harry, "Don't spare me with the details. I don't want to have to ask you to repeat yourselves. One time listening to Potter's failures will be enough."

Harry's upper lip twitched in distaste. Always nice to reconcile with old acquaintances...

"We came about the topic of if a house can be connected to the magic of a person, or vice versa if you will," Remus began. "Sirius mentioned blood magic might be at play so I asked him if I could take a look at it-"

"You used spells?" Snape questioned.

"Yes," Lupin said. "Nothing too complicated. A few variations of the revelio charm, but before I could do anything else, Harry was asking for help. Nothing indicated anything..." Remus' frown deepened and guilt was taking over his expression. Snape watched him like a hawk before he finally turned to look at Harry.

"What happened, Potter?" he asked, a strand of oily hair falling into his eyes.

"My hands were stuck," Harry said, crossing his arms as much as was possible with Death hiding under his shirt. Snape shot him an unimpressed look. Harry stared back.

"Something black was creeping up his arms," Tonks added. "But it disappeared when he fell unconscious." The dark-haired professor tore his gaze away.

"He stopped breathing for a bit," Sirius supplied. He still sounded shaken. Harry's head snapped up. The statement shouldn't have surprised him as much as it did. Death hissed quietly beneath his shirt.

Snape hummed. "How long was he out?"

"A minute maybe?" Tonks guessed.

"Not more than two," the werewolf added.

The ongoing questioning while he was pointedly being ignored grated on Harry's nerves. "The wards in here were weak," he said prickly. He wanted to get over with this and if that meant he would have to speed this up himself, he was not objecting.

Snape sneered his dark eyebrows rising. "I wonder how you found out, Potter," he snarled and Harry's mood took a turn for the worse.

"Don’t you-," Sirius started to defend his godson, but in this situation, it was misplaced. Harry shuffled further back in his chair while a silent conversation seemed to take place between Remus and Sirius, the former having silenced Sirius with a look.

"I do some reading in my free time you know," Harry retorted, his eyes scanning Snape's lean figure.

"I hadn't noticed," the man stated nonchalantly.

Harry scowled. "If your insides feel like they are being sucked out of your body, you tend to connect some dots," he snapped annoyed.
Snape shot him an odd look.

Tonks gasped, and Sirius said, "Harry!"

"Why didn't you say anything?" Remus asked and while Harry began to already regret his impulsive statement.

"Do you have Black blood?" Snape questioned and Harry couldn't keep his confusion from showing on his face.

"What?"

"Black blood. Are you related to the Black's, however distant it might be?" Snape elaborated impatiently.

Sirius took a step forward, interfering. "Dorea Black. My great-aunt married a Potter," he said and his eyes narrowed as they lingered on Snape. "But why would that matter? Where are you going with this, Snape?"

"If your ancestors, Black, used blood magic to tie their wards to their family members," Snape explained as if he was talking to a little child, "It is a reasonable approach to consider this a cause for Potter being attacked." He pulled out his wand and Sirius' hand twitched, but the potions professor fully ignored him as he turned his back.  

Somewhat tense, Harry looked up at Snape who began to make some complicated movements with his wand before a wave of dark soothing magic washed over him.

Snape frowned and made another movement, repeating his actions, before he asked, "Where did it happen?" He barely let Tonks finish as she answered before he was already sliding towards the spot. The next few minutes no one spoke while Snape moved alongside the walls, his fingers trailing over the rough wallpaper while he muttered various spells.

Some tension bled out of his body and instead of being annoyed, Harry found himself intrigued.

To the others, it probably didn't look like much, but Harry observed closely everything that Snape did.

He could see how the network of wards in the walls reacted to the man's subtle inquiries, his dark oily magic slipping into the cracks like fog. Whenever they pulsed or spiked under his scrutinization, Snape pulled back, turning to another spell to continue his examination. The tightly stacked layers of his aura shifted every time there was a change in the wards' reaction to his spells.

While it was taking much longer than Harry's exploration of the wards earlier, it made his own attempt look like the equivalent of poking a snake with a stick.

Perhaps he should've been a bit more careful, but in the end, he'd come out of the encounter relatively unscathed, hadn't he?

Eventually, Snape put away his wand and with a thoughtful look on his face returned to them. "Indeed, just like I suspected."

"What?" Surprisingly it was Sirius who addressed him first.

"The wards Black are tied to your blood. It's a double-edged sword, blood magic. Your ancestors had probably never considered that all their heirs would either end up dead or in Azkaban." The pointed look directed towards Sirius did not go past without reaction. The Animagus bared his teeth in an almost animal way. "The wards - only linked to the blood of heirs that were absent - were not grounded in any other way. These aren't banal spells that simply lose their strength and fade when time takes its toll. The kind of magic used to erect these wards was made to last. With nothing to stabilize them, they shrivelled away, weakening with time," Snape elaborated, "But one of your late relatives, apparently thought to weave in a distinctive feature that enables them to recover and reach their former state. It's a delicate piece of work. Very subtle, but strong. I doubt any of you would be able to perform it, even if instructions were accessible. Most likely they have been drawing from your strength for weeks now in an attempt to slowly recover what was lost." Snape stared at Sirius. "But that being said, if you idiots hadn't tried to do whatever you caused with your incompetent wand-waving, they would've probably never latched onto the boy." Remus seemed to shrink back with guilt but a wilder part in his aura expanded unnaturally. The wolf apparently, didn't agree. "Potter here had just enough blood in his veins to be picked up upon by whatever spells were used back then. And unlike you, Black, he wasn't recognized as a member of the family and they saw fit to drain him."

"And what happens now? Could they become dangerous again?"

"I doubt it," Snape said and his black eyes flashed, "A few simple charms from your side, Black, and it would've never happened. Now it's too late either way, but it won't repeat itself."

"How are you so sure?" Tonks interfered from the sidelines. Probably a good thing, as Sirius looked ready to jump the man in front of him.

Snape scoffed. "Look at the boy. Is he breathing? Then it won't repeat itself. Or do you think wards as ancient as these wouldn't be able to drain someone's life force if they needed to? From what I've seen it looks like they will recover their former strength. Fainting though," Snape looked at Harry, "Seems like a less than justified reaction, but we are already used to that Potter, aren't we?"

A prickling heat built in Harry's stomach at the thinly veiled insult. The irony of Snape accusing him of seeking attention when he truly had been dead for a few minutes was unbelievable. And while Harry was looking at Snape with a distasteful look, the ground beneath his feet creaked.

"I will inform the headmaster about this incident," Snape announced while out of the corner of his eye, Harry noticed spindly cracks in the floorboards as the wood under his shoes slowly began to rot away. For a second Harry's mind was wiped empty. He hadn't had a bout of accidental magic in years... This was worrying, but his annoyance at Snape outweighed his concern. Quickly he pulled himself together and as he shifted in his seat, Death began to slither up his torso and even the wide shirt couldn't hide the creature's presence any longer.

"Death," Harry greeted the snake intentionally as it began to peak out of his collar. A smirk flashed over his face when Snape flinched away and while the others weren't spared either, it was Snape who had paled noticeably.  

Meanwhile, the snake settled happily upon Harry's shoulders and he leaned back, trying to hide his satisfaction.

Apparently, it didn't quite work, as Snape's dark eyes pierced right through his. "Have you experienced recent memory losses? Strange thoughts invading your mind-" the professor started, but almost immediately Remus interrupted him.

"Are you saying that Harry is possessed?" he asked.

"It is indeed a possibility."

"Just because I got a snake, I am now Voldemort incarnated?" Harry asked and crossed his arms. Tonks gasped silently at the name. Snape’s eyes meanwhile snapped to Harry’s.

"Stupidity seems to run the family I see. No Potter-," Harry raised an eyebrow, an icy calmness bleeding through his limbs. But then his attention was caught by a sound that almost resembled a growl. Sirius was about to leap at Snape. He looked like not even Lupin would be able to hold him back now. Any other time, Harry would've appreciated some much-needed entertainment, but right now he just needed some peace and quiet to mull things over. He stood up, stepping between the two men who glared at each other.

Harry shot Sirius a look and the Animagus stopped reluctantly. Something in his godson's expression seemed to have told him that this wasn’t his fight.

Harry turned to look at Snape and he kept quiet for some time, thinking about what he would say. Death slithered slowly around his neck, the weight already having turned into something familiar.

"I am not my father," Harry said quietly, but with a steely edge to his voice. "Actually I’m quite sick of being compared to my parents. The first thing I get to hear when I meet new people is that I look like James except for the eyes, which look like Lily’s. It was nice to hear that when I was eleven. Mostly because nobody ever told me about them. Surely not Petunia or anybody else I met before Sirius or Remus.
Hearing about them made them real. But they are dead, nothing will change that," Harry looked into Snape’s eyes and beneath his expressionless mask, there was a spark of fear. While it should be impossible for Harry to know that he had been in love with his mother, Snape had never been stupid. "If you hate me, do so because of me and not because of my father."

Snape's eyes had widened and his gaze lingered a fraction too long for it to seem like the speech hadn't affected him before he turned away.

"I couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary," Snape stated into the room. "But I would keep a close eye on him. If he shows signs of being cursed, call me immediately."

Harry exhaled relieved. At least that interrogation was over.

They all stood there, awkwardly, until Remus said, "We will, Severus. Thank you."

Snape looked at him for a moment before he nodded sharply and headed for the door. Just when it slammed shut, Harry caught a movement above him and he thought to have spotted a slim, fleshy string which quickly disappeared.

 

Barely five seconds later, the first flaming mop of hair appeared on top of the staircase, confirming his suspicions that they have been listened to.

"Hey Harry, we thought that we heard a commotion," George said, coming down the stairs. "Not even a day here and already making trouble." A mischievous smirk split his freckled face.

Harry couldn't help but grin. He had almost forgotten how different George had been when Fred had still been alive. "Snape mentioned something similar," Harry said while Fred appeared behind his brother.

"Quite the competition, George," the other twin announced, faking a serious nod, "We gotta step up our game, can't let ourselves be out-shined by some scrawny run-along now, can we?"

"But seriously," George began, "Why are you're all looking like a crying ghost flew through your guts while you tried to take a dump on their toilet?" He shook himself. "An experience I don't recommend by the way."

"Perhaps it was the sight of that dungeon-bat's enormous nose that is responsible for their troubles. After all, it caused more than one good wizard to take flight," Fred said to his brother just as they reached the end of the stairs.  

"A frightening sight to behold, indeed," George added and Sirius barked a laugh. Even Remus gave in and a small smile appeared on his face.

"The wall tried to eat Harry," Tonks helpfully supplied and the curious faces of the twins immediately clung onto her.

"The wall tried to eat you?" George asked interestedly as his gaze eagerly jumped over to Harry.

"Why?" Fred added, piercing Harry with a look that was just as curious. Apparently, this was exactly the topic they had been waiting to ask about.

"You won't be the only ones interested in hearing the story. The others are long waiting for us to come down as dinner is ready," Remus said. "If you would be so kind as to fetch the others and tell them, then we'll have enough time to discuss the topic."

The twins obliged, though reluctant, their eyes lingering as Harry made no move to accompany them.

"Let’s go downstairs," Remus suggested, "Any longer and we'll have to face Molly's wrath."

Tonks made a face that showed exactly what she thought of this notion and they all started to head for the basement.

They walked through the door at the end of the entrance hall and at the end of the narrow staircase they had already been caught up by the twins, Ginny, Ron and Hermione who looked like they had sprinted down the stairs. They exchanged a fleeting greeting and then moved to walk downstairs.

When they reached the big kitchen, Harry had come to the conclusion that he would fare better if he pushed some things to the back of his mind. For now at least. Once their group trickled into the room, his eyes moved to scan the new area in an old Auror-habit. Smoke was hanging in the air just below the narrow ceiling, Bill and Mr Weasley sat on the other side of the table and Mundungus was sleeping in his chair.

"Harry! Nice to see you," Mr Weasley said after he had jumped up and shaken Harry’s hand. "Molly sent Sirius to deal with the portrait, I know it must have been not the best first impression of this house."

Harry snorted and with a dry smile he said, "Considering that the house tried to eat me, as Tonks would say, the portrait wasn't the most concerning thing."

"WHAT?!" As if the words had summoned her, Molly Weasley was suddenly standing next to them. "Remus, what happened?!" She looked at Lupin who had the misfortune of just passing by Harry as the crowd behind them descended onto the table. A small smirk flashed over Sirius' face when Harry caught his eye. He walked past them and let himself fall into a chair at the end of the table.

Meanwhile, Tonks had been swarmed by the teenagers and appeared to be just telling the same story.

"Nothing too concerning Molly," Remus said and Harry wanted to laugh as just a few minutes before he seemed to take the topic rather seriously. "There was an issue with the old wards in the house. They happened to pick up on Harry, but he's alright now. Snape came by and looked him over-"

"Severus was here?" Mrs Weasley turned to Harry. "Harry, are you feeling alright?!"

Harry sighed, not too keen on being fussed over and pestered with questions. "I'm fine, Mrs Weasley," he said and put on a smile which seemed to do the trick and appeared to have her calm somewhat.

That was until Ron - who had been listening to Tonks version of the story - turned to them and said, "You stopped breathing Harry?!"

"Remus!" Mrs Weasley exclaimed shocked and turned to face the werewolf, who as someone she'd considered responsible had failed to mention this small detail.

Ron shot Harry a sheepish look, realizing his mistake while Harry used the opportunity to slip past Molly and Mr. Weasley who was also staring at Lupin with wide eyes.

He quickly moved over to where Sirius was watching the whole situation with an amused expression.

"Sit down Harry," Sirius addressed himi once he'd crossed their distance and pointed to the empty chair next to him. "You know Mundungus?"

"Somebody said my name? Fully agree with Sirius," the other wizard said groggily lifting a hand as if he wanted to vote for something.

"The meeting is over Dung, Harry’s here," Sirius said while everyone sat around the table.

"Huh," Mundungus said gazing through his red-brownish hair. "Merlins pants, is he? Yeaahhh ...everything’s ‘lright with ya ‘Arry?" He pulled out a black pipe and soon he sat in the middle of a smoky cloud. "I owe you an apology."

"For the last time Mundungus!" shouted Mrs Weasley, who had now turned to Tonks who she now apparently deemed the more reliable storyteller while occasionally questioning Remus. "Stop smoking that herb in the kitchen!"

"Sorry Molly," Mundungus said sheepishly. "Listen, I wouldn’t have left, you know, but there was this one-time deal." It took a moment till Harry remembered that Mundungus was supposed to watch him while he was attacked by dementors. The memory flashed into his mind vividly, before he pushed it back.

"It’s okay," Harry said absentmindedly, while he was eyeing Sirius. His godfather seemed deep in thought about something.

Mundungus cleared his throat. "What kinda snake is that?" he asked once Harry looked at him, his watery eyes fixated on Death who was curled around Harry's shoulders. "Looks like it's worth a few Galleons." The man leaned forward in interest a hand already reaching out to touch the black scales.

White hot anger sank its claws into Harry's guts, flashing between his bared teeth as he hissed, "Don't even think about it." His eyes still narrowed, while unreasonable fury burned through him, Harry glared the rascal down who pulled back and raised both of his hands in defence.

"Hey, relax, I wasn't trying to offend you, or whatever," Mundungus said defensively. Death hissed quietly and he slithered down Harry's shoulders and over his arm till he was fully resting on the table. Immediately Harry moved his hand so it was covering a part of the smooth body of the snake. Death curled around his wrist, pupil-less eyes fixating Mundungus whose gaze flickered between him and the snake. The man moved to lean back in his chair, occasionally throwing them a weirded-out glance.

Apparently, Sirius hadn't paid much attention to Harry's and Mundungus' conversation. But the silence seemed to cause him to shake off his sombre mood and he turned to Harry. "And how was your summer?" he asked, while he eyed Death almost as reserved as Mundungus, though probably for different reasons.

At Sirius' question, two sets of memories came to Harry's mind. On the one hand, there were the weeks with the Durselys, spent on hard soil to listen to the news and on the other hand - just as lacklustre - the recollection of days blurring into months, lived in monotonous indifference before he'd re-encountered Death. "Miserable," Harry replied.

"Well I don’t know why you are complaining," Sirius said and a weak grin appeared on his face, "Personally, a Dementor attack would have been a welcome disturbance of the boring life in here. I haven’t left the house in months. Thanks to Wormtail, Voldemort knows that I’m an animagus. I’m not much use to the order right now, at least that’s what Dumbledore thinks and if I get captured again...." He trailed off and shadow seemed to darken his face.

Harry watched him attentively. He could relate to Sirius more than ever. Only encountering Death for a second time had freed him from the sensation of being stuck in a place where every meaningless day had bled into the next which felt just the same.

Like his endless walk next to the empty train tracks in that purgatory-like place, his life had felt like an infinite loop. Nothing being able to get rid of the feeling that settled inside his brain, like an itch he couldn't scratch nor numb, whatever he tried.

And Sirius experienced the same thing Harry had, namely being stuck in a place where nothing eased the boredom that was slowly bleeding into every crack. "Well then-" Harry found himself say as he looked into Sirius' face - "to hell with that!"

"Harry!" Mrs Weasley exclaimed and Harry briefly turned his head. If her tone of voice was anything to go by, Remus had successfully managed to downplay the earlier issue with the wards latching onto his magic.

"Well, it’s true," Harry muttered and looked Sirius once more. Meanwhile, Lupin left Mrs Weasley to her devices and walked over to them, while the witch headed for the stew that was cooking in a big pot over the fire. "He can’t keep you from leaving the house from time to time," Harry continued, addressing his godfather. "Go get some cigarettes, walk around as a dog. Hell, go to a bar. This is your house! You choose if you leave it and you choose who you want to stay here," Sirius watched him as if he never had seen him in his life. In the meantime, Remus had crossed the distance and sat down next to them. He caught the end of Harry's speech and had been listening with a frown on his face. Harry's fingers absentmindedly petted over Death's scales while the snake lazily pressed into the touch.

"It’s not like I tell you to walk through Diagon Alley," Harry added. "Visit a muggle club for all I care. You could change the way you look, there are enough spells for that." With a brief glance at Remus who still wore a torn expression Harry added, "And take Lupin with you, he looks like he could use some fun!" The werewolf gaped at Harry who grinned. Sirius had raised his eyebrows. "Kingsley leads the division against you, he can easily continue to lead everyone in the wrong direction. And if you are spotted, well that’s bad luck," Harry said grimly. "But you can always start to hide again, though I think if you are holed up in this house for another four months, you’ll probably do something that is easily more reckless than going out on the weekends."

"Knowing Sirius, you may be right," Remus said eventually.

"And you could really use some fun," Sirius added with a smirk. The werewolf smiled and Sirius' laughed as he reached to pat Remus' back.

Harry watched their interaction with a raised eyebrow. There was something going on that a younger version of him had apparently failed to pick up upon. But before he could dig deeper, he was interrupted by Fred and George who had charmed the giant pot filled with stew, a chug of butter-beer and some knives, that now directly shot towards them. Sirius and Remus ducked under the table, but Harry stopped. Panic flooded his senses when he saw where one of the knives was going.

In the blink of an eye, Harry plucked it right out of the air. Barely an inch above where Death was curled up in his snake form.

Thankfully nobody seemed to have noticed, because Mrs Weasley had instantly started to shout, "JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE ALLOWED TO USE MAGIC, DOESN’T MEAN THAT YOU HAVE TO USE IT FOR EVERY SINGLE THING-"

Only now Harry felt the sting in his hand where a faint red line ran down his palm. Blood. Quickly he let go of the blade and picked up Death. Relieved he let out a shaky breath. His fingers trailed over the scaly surface of Death’s skin. The black snake darted its equally black tongue in and out, scenting Harry’s bloody palm. After the first few calm breaths, Harry’s look fell upon the bloody knife. How the hell had he been able to catch that so easily? Even with his seeker reflexes, it was an almost impossible feat. Frowning Harry looked at the black snake which innocently slithered closer to him.

"Merlin- Harry!" Sirius said after he showed up from under the table and saw the cut in his palm.

"I must’ve nicked myself when I pulled it out of the table," Harry lied.

"Here, let me take a look at your hand," Remus said and he touched the wound with the tip of his wand. A murmured episkey later the cut was gone.

Mrs. Weasley was still going, "-DIDN’T HEX EVERYTHING IN REACH; PERCY-" she stopped dead in her speech.

Awkwardly they began to eat. Vaguely Harry remembered that Percy hadn't been too keen on his family for quite some time. Eventually, the tension bled away, and conversations started to pick up. Bill was talking to Mr Weasley and Lupin about the relationship between goblins and humans, Tonks entertained Ginny and Hermione by changing her appearance and Mundungus told a story to the twins and Ron.

Harry turned his head when Death slithered up his arm, settling around his neck and partly beneath his shirt. "I’m glad you’re alright," he found himself whispering, not quite knowing why, but feeling the truth ring in his words. 

"I'm Death," Death said and Harry got a vague sensation of amusement. "I can't be killed."

Harry huffed, somehow embarrassed and irritated at the creatures response. "Fine. I'm not gonna mention it again." Harry stopped, when he noticed Sirius watching him curiously. Fortunately, just this moment, someone else addressed the man.

"Sirius," Mrs Weasley began with a strained voice after she looked away from Mundungus and then shot Sirius an equally dark look, "There might be a boggart in the desk in the drawing-room. Maybe we should let Mad-Eye take a look at it. And the curtains in there are full of doxy’s, you know. I thought we could start cleaning it tomorrow.“

"Looking forward to it," Sirius said sarcastically and pushed his empty plate away. His gaze lingered on Mrs. Weasley for a moment before he turned to look at Harry. "Actually Harry, you surprise me. I expected you to ask thousands of questions about Voldemort as soon as you got here."

The mood in the room turned icy.

Harry looked at Sirius and a small smirk appeared on his face. "I was kinda busy, trying not to get killed by your house, Sirius." His godfather's mouth twitched amused and Harry continued, "But now that you mention it-"

"Harry is too young for that," Mrs Weasley interjected. Her hands were clenched, her knuckles white.

"Since when do you have to be in the order to ask questions?" Sirius retorted daringly, his grey eyes wandering over to the red-headed woman. "He has every right to-“

"Hey how is it, that Harry gets to ask questions and we don’t?!" Fred asked angrily.

"You are too young, you aren’t members of the order!" George imitated Mrs Weasley, "Harry isn’t even seventeen yet!“

"It isn’t my fault, that nobody told you, what the order is doing. That was the decision of your parents. Harry on the other hand-," Sirius started.

"It isn’t your choice to decide what is good for Harry," said Mrs Weasley, a dangerous glint to her eyes as he stared at Sirius.

Meanwhile, Harry leaned further onto the table, crossing his arms. He was following the conversation with raised eyebrows. Death hissed quietly. "You didn’t forget what Dumbledore said, I suppose?" Mrs Weasley said. Harry snorted.

"What exactly do you mean Molly?" Sirius asked and Harry was impressed with the dangerous undertone in his voice.

"That Harry only hears, what he has to hear," she said.

Ginny, her brothers and Hermione looked from Mrs Weasley to Sirius and back again. Remus' eyes were fixated on his friend.

"I don’t intend to tell him more than he has to know, Molly," replied Sirius. "But as the one witnessing Voldemort’s return, he has the right, more than most-"

"He isn't a member of the Order of the Phoenix!" said Mrs Weasley. "He is only fifteen and-"

"And he managed to go through more than most of the members of the order. And with more than some of them can claim about themselves."

A grin flashed over Harry's face when he thought about Moody.

"Nobody doubts what he has done!" Mrs Weasley said her hands clenched into fists. Death was curled around Harry’s arm now. "But he is still-"

"He isn’t a child anymore," Sirius said roughly.

"But his isn’t an adult yet!" Mrs Weasley said her voice raised, "He isn’t James, Sirius!" Mrs Weasley said. This seemed to have hit a certain spot and Harry was now more than aware, why Sirius had been this thoughtful earlier.

"I am very aware of who he is, Molly. Thank you," Sirius said icily, and Harry couldn’t help but compare him to an older version of Draco Malfoy. The boy had also been able to stare someone down this coldly. His mother had been a Black after all.

"I am not so sure about that. Sometimes you talk about him as if you were thinking, that you’ve got your best friend back! Harry is not his father, as similar as they may be," Molly said with a glance at Harry. The twins shared a look. Harry was suddenly wondering if they caught his little argument with Snape earlier. Lupin shifted uncomfortably in his seat and shot him a glance. "He still goes to school," Mrs Weasley continued - "And the adults who are responsible for him, should not forget that!“

Harry was quite aware of the irony that during his school-years there had probably more attempts been made on his life than during half a decade of Auror duty.

"Are you saying, that I am an irresponsible godfather?“ Sirius’ magic twisted angrily, developing sharp spikes all over.

"I am saying, that you are known to act rash, Sirius, which is why Dumbledore always tells you to stay at home and-“

"Dumbledore’s orders for me have nothing to do with this, if I may say so!" Sirius replied. As the argument went on, Harry felt himself leaning more towards Sirius and his frustration seemed to bleed over to him. He liked Sirius. In the few hours since his arrival with nothing more than echoes of former feelings connecting him to the people, he'd found someone whose point of view he could understand. Death apparently seemed to sense his dropping mood as he could feel the body of the snake tensing, eyes too intelligent as its head was pointing into the direction of Mrs. Weasley, quietly hissing in concurrence with Harry's darkening thoughts.

"Arthur!" Mrs Weasley said turning to her husband. "Arthur, say something!" Mr Weasley stayed quiet at first, and Harry was impressed by his calmness. He took off his glasses, cleaned them with his robes and then put them back on. Only then he began to speak.

"Dumbledore knows that the situation has changed, Molly. He wants that Harry, now that he is at the headquarters, gets told some things to a certain point."

"But that doesn’t mean that one invites him to ask everything he wants to know!"

"I, personally -" Remus began quietly while Mrs Weasley turned to look at him in hopes of finding a supporter -"I think that it would be best if Harry hears about the facts - not all of them - by us and not some twisted versions from others." He glanced at Fred and George.

"Well," Mrs Weasley said heavily panting, "Well... I see, that I get outvoted. I just want to say something: If Dumbledore doesn’t want Harry to know too much he has to have his reasons and as someone who only wants the best for Harry-"

"He is not your son," Sirius said quietly.

"But as good as!“ she replied. "Who else does he have?" Mrs Weasley said.

"He has me!" Sirius retorted outraged and Death hissed. And Harry could see that surprisingly not only Sirius was angered by that statement if he was to go by the inwardly growling he sensed coming from the wolf within Remus skin.

"Yes," Mrs Weasley said, "the thing is, that it was very hard for you to care for him while you were sitting in Azkaban, wasn’t it?“ Sirius jumped up and Harry felt the need to step in. It was time that he spoke for himself and listening to this conversation slowly lost its appeal.

"That’s enough," Harry said coldly, but he wasn't yelling. But perhaps this was just the frightening part because Sirius sank back into his chair and Mrs Weasley paled. Everyone looked at him. "With all due to respect Mrs Weasley. It isn’t your decision either to decide what I get to hear, just as much as it isn’t Dumbledore’s." The whole room was listening now. "I find myself siding with Sirius here, and not because of the reasons you all may be thinking," Harry said and looked at Ron's mother. "Mrs Weasley, you have only known me about two more years than Sirius. You let me stay with you at the holidays, fed me and even given me presents for Christmas - and I appreciate that - but that doesn’t give you the right to choose over my life." Harry looked at his folded hands and back up again. He spoke slowly but pointedly now. "Sirius knows that I am not my father. But I don’t judge him, if he confuses me with him or if he acts rash. Because he lived in Azkaban for twelve years, which would leave everyone a little bit crazy!" Mrs. Weasley paled even more and the others stared at Harry. He turned to talk to everyone now. "But most of all, I won’t sit here, while you talk like I’m not even here. You are supposed to be the adults here and until you have decided what you are actually willing to tell me, I am going to bed."

Harry stood up. He extended his hand and mostly to see everyone flinch once more he said, "Come on,“ to Death.

Harry had the feeling that the creature was amused. Its snake form slithered into his hands and Harry lifted it up until it was once again settled on his shoulders and walked away from the table. He hesitated for a second when he had reached the door and then turned around. Everybody stared at him. Suppressing a grin he said, "You know, it's actually quite bold of you to assume that I don’t know anything about Voldemort’s plans. After all, I have a vault full of money and an owl that is able to deliver letters." At the confused faces, he was met with a sharp smile appeared on Harry's face.

And before anyone caught on to the meaning of his words, he left the room.

Chapter Text

The door behind Harry fell shut and he was surrounded by darkness. Walking up the narrow steps he mused whether he should have said all of this. But seeing Sirius again reminded him of another problem. Bellatrix Lestrange wouldn't be in Askaban forever. But the Order members most likely already knew that Voldemort would try to break his followers out of Azkaban. They wouldn’t be able to prevent that anyway. The portraits in the entrance hall shot Harry some looks but didn’t say a thing. He was somehow thankful for their lack of comments. Harry continued to climb the creaking steps till he had reached the floor in which he shared a room with Ron.

The dementors would change sides, Harry was certain of that. Dumbledore surely suspected it, but the ministry wouldn’t remove them from Azkaban. That was equal to admitting that they didn’t have them under control anymore and the attack on Harry would only support this statement.

Just when Harry had stepped into the old bedroom, the door behind him slammed shut on its own and he felt Death's presence materializing behind him.

Harry sucked in a mouthful of air. In comparison to Death accompanying him as a snake, this form - whatever he had chosen - felt much more like something one would associate with Death.

A cold shiver went down Harry's spine, his limbs tingling as his presence rolled over his body like a wave.

Almost as if it was contracting again, the presence pulled back and Harry knew that Death was standing right behind him. A soft touch pulled him out of his thoughts and then there were long fingers carding through Harry’s hair once again. Warmth bloomed in Harry's chest, spreading outwards down his limbs and he felt the indefinable urge to press into the touch. Instead, he forced himself to turn around.

Harry felt a blush creeping up his collar when Death didn’t stop but instead pushed some dark strands of hair out of his face. It was weird, but he couldn't find it in himself to pull away. It was rather the opposite. It was as if a part within him urged him to get as close to the being as possible, needy and possessive at once. Trying to save himself from the embarrassment of going through with that notion, Harry stared at Death. "Why do you look like me?" he blurted out, the first thing that came to mind.

Death stared down at him. Apparently, the creature had really made itself a tiny bit taller. "I like this form," the creature said, "But I can change it if you want."

"Oh. Um no," Harry said, awkwardly shifting under the affection the being placed upon him, while at the same time trying not to lean into the touch too much. "You can look however you want."

"You don’t have to worry about me," the creature suddenly began, "No mortal weapon can harm me. I am Death. I can’t be killed.“ 

That statement managed to return Harry to a more coherent state of mind and he became aware of the oddness of this interaction. He took a step back. Harry cleared his throat. "Well, in hindsight catching a knife so that it doesn't stab you sounds kinda silly," he said and carded a hand through his hair where he could still feel the lingering tingles of where Death had touched him.

The creature smirked widely. Harry huffed, "I guess we all learned something. If you insist, I'll let you get impaled next time," he added with a shrug. He wanted to turn away but Death's intense stare pinned him in place.

Harry felt oddly exposed. "I-" Death began after a long pause, almost hesitant - "liked it."

"What?"

Death had tilted his head, almost as if he was confused, trying to figure out how to express what it had felt. "You didn't want me to get hurt. That was ...nice."

Harry stared at the creature in front of him. Death had to be so unbelievably old and yet stumbled to express the most ordinary human feelings. It was almost as if it had never experienced thankfulness. It was oddly endearing and Harry tried to drive away, the spark of fondness that rose in his chest. He bit his lip to keep himself from smiling.

Now finally finding the strength to turn away, Harry had a hard time not feeling disappointed but it helped that he was suddenly reminded of something he hadn’t even thought about until now.

Cursing under his breath he began to pace through the room. Vaguely he was aware that Death was observing him curiously.

The dementor attack. Harry's younger self had used a Patronus charm to defend himself and Dudley. He'd almost forgotten about it until now. Harry would have a trial. He frowned as he recalled the events of this time. Pigwidgeon chirped loudly and fluttered excitedly through the room. Hedwig on the other hand gracefully turned her head and ruffled her feathers on top of the wardrobe. When Death extended an arm - more elegant than Harry ever could have managed himself - the little owl happily settled inside its palm.

Harry paused for a moment, watching intrigued before the urgency of the matter at hand returned to the forefront of his mind.
Last time when he'd had his trial, the ministry had changed time and location of his hearing. At least this time he was prepared for that.

Besides, when he'd been an Auror, he had witnessed the one or other trial - a fact which could only play out to his advantage.

While he had never really cared about politics, he should be doing well enough. After years working in the ministry and visiting many of their official events, he knew how to handle these people.

From what he remembered of his trial, Dumbledore had acted in his favour by naming Arabella Figgs as a witness. The headmaster would certainly do this a second time. But Harry would be damned if he would let Dumbledore take this matter in hand.

Unwittingly Harry's eyes were drawn to Death. Apparently, the creature had even started to pet the small owl. Harry didn't even notice that he'd begun to smile, but then Death raised his head to look at him and he felt his breath catching in his throat. He didn't quite know why.

Pigwidgeon fluttered back up the wardrobe next to the empty portrait and while Death was still staring at Harry, the notion that someone was coming up the stairs grew more insistent within his head.

Not able to shake the feeling off, Harry pulled back and switched off the lights before he slipped under the covers of his bed.   

And really - barely three seconds later, Harry could hear someone approaching.

The muffled voices of Ginny, the twins, Ron and Hermione reached him through the wall. He pretended to be asleep when Ron entered. Harry heard a bit of shifting and he knew that he was being stared at. Ron locked the door and Harry remembered, that Kreacher possessed the creepy habit to walk into your room at night if you didn't lock it. He listened to how Ron went to bed, quite loudly though, probably hoping that Harry would wake up, but he didn’t move.

The redhead still rustled with his blankets for quite some time but finally, his breathing evened out, telling Harry, that Ron had fallen asleep.

Harry laid in the dark, eyes open and not tired at all. The energy entering his body after he'd dropped more or less dead earlier this day in the entry hall was still coursing through his body.

Death materialized and Harry gasped when the air was pressed out of his lungs as the creature simply appeared atop of him, straddling his stomach. Death grinned at him, his black hair blurring with the darkness of the room as he leaned closer.

"And how was your day?" Death asked leaning forward. Harry was reminded once more, that Death really didn’t seem to know the concept of personal space. Harry strangely found that he didn’t mind it as much as he should have.  

Harry tilted his head as he looked at Death, something unknown flaring within his chest.

"It was strange to see everyone again," Harry eventually began, "They are so much younger than they used to be and ...different."

"They are still the same as they were then," Death stated and Harry threw a look in Ron's direction. The boy was sleeping soundly.

"Maybe..." Harry turned to look at Death again. "It’s me who is different, perhaps older. But it's not like I can tell them, can I?“

"It’s your decision," Death said and then grinned. "We could always kill them afterwards," the creature suggested. Despite the macabre offer Harry laughed.

"That’s true I suppose. But wouldn’t it be a bit suspicious, if people around me just began to drop dead?“ Harry said smirking. Strangely enough, he even considered it for a moment.

"What are they going to do about it?" Death replied, "They cannot harm you and I won’t let them if you don't want them to, Master." Death came even closer and bared his teeth provocatively. Harry wondered if he ever blinked. Although there was no visible pupil, Harry always knew when Death looked at him. It was odd. "Besides," the creature continued in that strange voice - not quite a whisper but also never too loud, "I could always do it for you." 

"That... is nice of you to offer," Harry replied not knowing if he should be disturbed or flattered. Yet the notion of killing someone didn't seem that hard a barrier to overstep anymore. A deep rumble, almost a purr seemed to emit from Death's throat. Harry could feel the vibrations echo through the air. It drew an unwitting smile onto his face. Ron groaned in his sleep and turned to the other side.

"Harrryy..." Death began, when Harry kept silent. He pressed a pale palm with fingers too long and too slender to really match Harry’s against Harry’s ribcage. "Can you feel it now? Your soul has accepted us."
Death almost sounded excited and Harry frowned. The memory of waking in the entrance hall flashed through his mind but then all thoughts were wiped away when a sensation grew under the creature's palm. A warmth inside him surfaced, reacting to Death’s touch. A strange feeling rose in his chest and he felt a tugging towards the being in front of him. It wasn’t unpleasant, and Harry gasped when he suddenly felt a link to the being atop of him. The part he had been missing, that had been ripped out of him after he had been drained by the wards was suddenly whole. His magic swirled over and through them in pleasant waves. Death grinned and the air surrounding seemed to darken even more. Harry noticed fascinated the pulsing of life, that surrounded the two owls and Ron, who was still sleeping. Even the portrait on the wall had a similar glow to it.

Suddenly everything was too much. The glow, the magic, the overwhelming sensation of his own feelings being linked to something that was so much more! He stared into the darkness and countless eyes seemed to stare back. Harry arched into the touch and at the same time, he had to pull back. Then the hand on his chest disappeared.

The magic surrounding them faded away and Harry was breathing heavily. It was still there, in the corner of his eye and yet seemed to disappear when he tried to catch a better look.

The thoughts in Harry's mind tumbled like a churning river. Something significant had happened after he had woken in the entrance hall. Something that had changed him in more than one manner

"Why don’t I feel tired?" Harry asked suspiciously, the question only the tip of the iceberg peaking out of the water.

"You can sleep if you want to," Death replied lightly.

"But I don’t need to, that’s what you are saying?“ Harry replied.

"Death doesn’t need to sleep, to eat or rest."

"And that includes me?" Harry asked and he pushed himself up on his elbows, but Death didn't pull back as he expected.

"Yessss," Death replied, the longest strands of his hair tickling Harry’s forehead. The creaking on the other side of the room alerted Harry. Ron had sat up in his bed.

"Did you say somethin’ ‘arry?“ the red-head asked groggily. Death smirked dangerously. It was probably too dark for Ron to see the being, but still...

"Nothing, I was just dreaming. Go back to sleep Ron," Harry said, hoping that Ron wouldn't question him.

"If you say so...,“ Ron yawned and laid back down again, "G’night.“

"Night," Harry said and glared at Death who only smirked.

“Why didn’t you warn me?!“ Harry hissed when Ron’s breathing started to even out once more.

"I was going to show you something," Death said instead and then he leaned forward, forcing Harry to lay down again. The creature intertwined his pale fingers with Harry’s next to his head, and just like this, Harry felt a strange pulling. It was like he was melting away. Right in front of his eyes, he saw Death dissolving into the strange dark fog and then his own body started to dissolve as well. Panicked Harry watched, but while he was melting away, he realized that it wasn't fog, it was shadows.

He felt like he was floating for a moment and then he could suddenly feel his body again.

Harry found himself at the foot of narrow stairs, in front of the door that led to the Kitchen.

He could sense something, almost like an invisible bubble shielding the door.

Probably an imperturbable charm. Nothing would pass through it. Death stood next to him.

"Make yourself invisible...“

Harry curiously did as he was told, calling upon the power of a familiar cloak. "Watch," Death said, and he intertwined their fingers once more, his other hand pressing against the solid wood of the door...

Nothing should have been able to touch it or even pass through, but once again, Harry saw, how Death turned into fog, but not to the extent, he normally would. Only the parts of Death’s body that were touching the door disappeared. First the fingertips and the palm of the hand all the way up to his elbow. And then Harry was pulled with him. Death guided him through the door as if it was made out of thin air.

Standing on the other side, Harry was met with the sight of some order members gathered around the table. Holding his breath he looked at Death and then back at the table. No one saw them. Not even Death. The creature simply grinned.

"We are connected, Master. You can see me when they cannot," Death rasped.

Only the adults were still seated at the table. Mrs Weasley was still very pale and Mr Weasley cleaned his glasses, but he listened attentively to the conversation taking place. Mundungus was nowhere to be seen.

Mrs Weasley had most likely thrown him out as soon as the kids had gone to bed. Harry imagined she wouldn't be very keen on having him around for the night.

But Tonks was still there, absentmindedly letting a sickle wander over her knuckles. Remus seemed deep in thought, the parallel scars in his face prominent in the dim lightening of the fire, which now had almost burned down. He sat next to Sirius who was lounging in his chair, his dark hair falling into his face, hiding his expression as he was listening to Bill who had everyone's attention. "-could he write to?" the oldest Weasley-boy just announced, "There aren’t many people who know what Voldemort is planning to do. Even Dumbledore is mostly guessing.“

Mrs Weasley opened her mouth but Tonks spoke before her. "It is fairly obvious that he does have the means to contact people. He pointed it out himself," the metamorphmagus said gesturing, the sickle in her hand flashing silvery.

Bill scratched his jaw." But Harry is fifteen. It would be quite impressive if he managed to find some informants on his own," he said and Mr Weasley hummed in agreement. Tonks tilted her head thoughtfully, the sickle flashing silvery in her hand.

"He has changed over the summer," Remus said in a low voice. Everyone turned to face him with the same sombre expressions. Sirius though didn't appear to be struck by the same mood.

"Of course, he’s changed!" Sirius announced loudly and his chair creaked as he abruptly leaned forward. "He saw how a schoolmate of him was killed and how Voldemort came back." Some of the people around the table seemed to shrink back a bit. Sirius turned to Lupin, who was the only one who didn't seem too affected by that statement.

"You misunderstand me, Sirius," Remus said, "Of course this has to be taken into consideration. But I don’t mean that. Have you seen the way he walks and looks at things? He's very... aware-“ A strangled noise escaped Sirius and Remus shot him a look -"conscious of his surroundings," Lupin added more pointedly but the silent exchange went past most of the people around the table

Bill shrugged. "A couple of dementors tried to suck out his soul barely a week ago. Everyone would be a bit jumpy after that."

"And considering he was almost killed by the wards when he entered this house I wouldn't blame him for it," Mrs Weasley voiced and her brown eyes fell onto Sirius judgementally. The man only scoffed. 

"But is he 'jumpy'?" Remus put the question in the room. "He doesn't appear high-strung like someone who expects to be attacked any second, does he?"

"He kinda reminds me of Mad-Eye," Tonks interjected.

"Mad-Eye?" Mr Weasley asked and he put his glasses back on and the others seemed similarly intrigued by her comparison.

"Yeah. I mean now that you guys mentioned it. The guarded walk, the way his eyes scan a room-“ Tonks began but Sirius' muttering caused her to stop.

"...ror.."

"What did you say?“ Bill asked, leaning over the table.

"He acts like someone, who has fought in a battle. Like an Auror would," Sirius said slowly as if he was only now comprehending his thoughts but gaining more confidence in his words as he spoke them out loud.

"But that is ridiculous!" Molly Weasley said, breaking her silence. "He is just a boy."

"I don’t know Molly, is it?" Mr Weasley turned to her.

"He is just as old as Ron. He shouldn’t-" Mrs. Weasley sobbed - "he shouldn’t have to live like that." Mr. Weasley patted her back reassuringly. Sirius looked at her as if he wanted to say something, but he restrained himself when another sob shook her.

"But do you really think that he knows something or that he’s bluffing?" Tonks asked curiously, reviving the earlier topic.

"We’ve already been over this," Remus said.

"Yeah, but I don’t know," Tonks said and she turned to Sirius."It appeared like he was very informed. Why would he have left the room if that weren't the case. It almost was as if he didn't care about the information you were offering."

Sirius seemed to mull it over. "Well it's not really common knowledge what Voldemort is planning. But Dumbledore is only guessing either. Perhaps Harry has figured some things out for himself."

"Or at least thinks he has," Remus added.

"Harry has talked to you-know-who himself, hasn't he?" Bill intervened. "Who knows what they were talking about. Apart from the Death Eaters, Harry was the only one there."

Remus hummed thoughtfully, a shadow falling over his face.

Sirius suddenly perked up and he shot Remus a meaningful look. Tonks watched their exchange curiously and Harry was once more reminded, that despite her clumsiness, she was an Auror.

Lupin seemed to have gotten the hint, because he turned to all of the people. "It's been a long day. Perhaps we should call this a close and continue tomorrow."

"Yes, I think Remus is right," Mrs. Weasley agreed with a sigh. "We've got enough work ahead of us tomorrow." Mr. Weasley nodded and helped her up.

"Let's just clean-" Mrs. Weasley started when her eyes fell onto the dirty dishes on the table.

"No, Molly. It’s alright. Sirius and I can tidy everything up," Lupin said and she shot him a grateful look.

"If you are certain, Remus..."

"Yeah, Molly."

"Goodnight then," Mrs. Weasley said to Lupin, and with a look at the others she added, "Tonks; Sirius. Don’t stay up too long Bill. You need your sleep." A few more 'goodnights' echoed through the room before Mr. and Mrs. Weasley headed for the door. Harry had to step aside to make place for them, watching, still fascinated, that no one appeared to realize that he and Death had been listening the whole time.

"Finite," Mr. Weasley murmured and swished his wand to end the charm Mrs. Weasley had put on the door earlier this evening.

When Harry turned to look at the table again, he noticed that Remus' eyes lingered on the space he had just occupied a moment before. But then, the werewolf shook his head and turned away.

"I think, I’ll head home too," Tonks said and yawned. She stood up. "Goodnight Remus. And Sirius I look what I can do. I’m sure that Mum kept some of your old records," she nodded towards the long haired Weasley, "’night Bill“

"I’ve a meeting with the Goblins tomorrow morning," Bill said. "It’s probably better if I head out too."

"Goblins... right“, Remus said, not looking up but smiling.

"Are you sure, Bill, that it is only the Goblins? Isn't Miss Delacour working tomorrow?" Sirius added grinning.

"Shut up," Bill said and a faint blush spread on his cheeks. He made a gesture towards Sirius and Remus, that Mrs. Weasley would've hardly approved of. "Fuck both of you," Bill said, but now he was grinning too.

He followed Tonks through the door and left. With mirthful expressions Sirius and Remus watched him leave. Silence took hold. After a while Sirius looked at the ceiling as if to detect if Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had already reached the ground floor.

All of a sudden, they could hear a familiar and distant ‘clonk’. Harry grinned at the way Sirius flinched and Remus sighed. Tonks had once more encountered the umbrella stand. But the expected shouting didn’t come. His godfather shook his head with a disbelieving grin.

"I’ll have to thank Harry for that. Never had I thought that beating her with her own weapons would be the solution," he said silently laughing.

"Well, what is it, that you wanted to tell me?" Remus asked instead of giving an answer. A serious expression appeared on Sirius' face as he turned to Lupin.

"Kingsley. Harry mentioned Kingsley earlier. That he is the one responsible for my capture. You didn’t tell him, did you?"

Remus frowned. "No, and I don’t think I heard somebody else mentioning it to him. The children don’t know either. So, Ron and Hermione couldn’t have told him. Only the order and people working in the ministry could’ve known."

"So he really wasn’t bluffing. He knows some things," Sirius said. A smirk flashed over his face. "Tonks was right after all.“

"We know that he knows something. That doesn’t mean, that he knows things about Voldemort or about his plans in the ministry," Remus countered.

"But he knows something," Sirius replied and then suddenly he smiled. "You know, Harry was right. We both could use some fun.“

"You don’t think about leaving right now, do you?“ Remus asked, his eyes widening.

"No. At least not now. I’m not stupid,“ Sirius answered and stood up.

"I never said that," Remus said.

"Well you thought it often enough," Sirius shot back, as he walked over to a shelf. He pulled out one of the dusty bottles filled with a golden liquid and two cut crystal glasses.

"Never without having my reasons," Remus said. "You remember the one time in our sixth year? James dared you to swim in the lake butt-naked...“

"I did it, didn’t I?“ Sirius replied grinning.

"It was January Padfoot!"

"Well yes. And all it took was a blasting spell and the ice was gone," Sirius said as he sat down. Remus was laughing quietly and shook his head, while Sirius put the glasses in front of them.

"At least he didn’t specify that you had to do it as a human. If you hadn't been able to change when McGonagall arrived...“

"I would’ve done it for less than the five Galleons he bet me." Sirius grinned as he leaned back in his chair.

Harry was quite fascinated by their behaviour. He had never really seen how they had acted around each other when they were on their own.
"And after all, I warmed up quite nicely afterwards," Sirius added and shot Lupin a look. To Harry’s interest, Remus stayed suspiciously quiet and his eyes didn't meet Sirius'. Padfoot side-eyed his friend but he didn’t push the topic.

"My father would turn in his grave, if he knew that I drank his good Whiskey," Sirius voiced instead and poured some of the liquid in the glasses. "He complained often enough about Muggles, but he always liked their taste in alcohol. It’s already open but it should still be good."

"Cheers," Remus said and downed his in one go. Sirius followed but he pulled a face.

"You could always hold your liquor better than me or James," Sirius said, but he filled their glasses once again. They sat in silence for some time, sipping on their drinks while the only sound was the crackling fire that slowly burned down..

"It was wrong of Molly to say these things to you," Remus said. Sirius only grumbled. "You know, I thought Harry was James the first time I saw him after, well..." Lupin didn't finish the sentence. "It was the year you escaped from Azkaban. Dumbledore was kind enough to let me teach defence against the dark arts in Hogwarts. It just seemed right to me, to take the train. I fell asleep, the moon had just passed and I didn’t notice when they entered. Dementors caused the train to stop and I woke up and the first thing I see is a boy with wild black hair and glasses.“

"I know," Sirius began, "I know Harry is his own person, really. But there are these days when I forget that they are dead. That I was in Azkaban. And then, just for a second he looks like James. The way he turns his head or how he laughs. It only ever lasts a few seconds and it’s gotten less, the more that I get to know him...“ Sirius paused and took a sip. He waited a moment before he continued. "Harry is very different from James. He reminds me of my brother sometimes...“

Harry stared at his godfather surprised. He hadn’t known that. Vaguely he sensed Death approaching him from behind and then a weight appeared on his shoulder. But he was too caught up in the conversation taking place to pay it much mind.

"In a way, Regulus was very similar to him I think," Sirius continued and took big sip of his Whiskey. The somber mood seem to fall off of him when he shook his head and then he snorted. "Here we are, deciding to have some fun and yet we're sitting on this table and sulking."

"Well, that’s true. But there isn’t much to talk about, besides Voldemort and this house," Remus added and also took a sip.

"I think little Nymphadora may have come to like you," Sirius said wriggling his eyebrows.

"What Tonks?" Remus spluttered. "She is at least ten years younger than me!"

"And?" Sirius said, "I don’t think that age is a problem," Sirius looked at his glass and then at Remus again. "Do you like her?" he asked casually and yet. Intrigued Harry noticed that his magic contracted tensely as he waited for an answer.

"You don’t really think that she has a crush on me?" Remus asked instead of answering.

"Well, why wouldn’t she?" Sirius replied in a strange voice and he finished his glass before he filled it again. Remus ogled him curiously.

"Does she know that..." The werewolf trailed off.

"What? That we were a thing back then?" Sirius snapped, "I certainly didn’t tell her. I don’t even think that anyone here knows. Dumbledore probably. The man seems to know everything and Minnie. Hell, we didn’t even tell James officially until seventh year."

This was something Harry really hadn’t expected. He'd always thought that Remus had gotten together with Tonks this late, because Lupin was under the impression that he was way to old for her and because he was a werewolf. But now it seemed that he'd had other reasons too.

"Hmm," Remus hummed and looked at Sirius, who didn’t meet his eye and instead nursed his glass of whiskey. "I do like her, but not in this way," Remus said and watched Sirius closely.

"But you could," Sirius added. He licked over his chapped lips, but didn't look up.

"Perhaps... Under different circumstances," Remus replied slowly.

 "Ah." Sirius' eyes were still fixated on his glass, but Harry could see how his magic had settled and lost a bit of its tension.

"But what exactly did she say, to have you think this way?" Remus asked, honest curiosity in his voice. His amber eyes were focused on Sirius while he took a sip.

"Well, she thinks the beard makes you look handsome," Sirius said with some reluctance.

"But Sirius," Remus laughed,"That doesn’t mean that she has a crush on me."

"And the likes your laugh," Sirius cut him off and Remus blushed. If only faintly. Sirius raised his head and stared at his friend when there was no answer. Suddenly he spoke up, "I think it looks kind of ridiculous. The moustache."

Lupin almost seemed offended, but Harry could tell that he was amused too. "You rather fancied Freddie Mercury if I remember correctly. And you thought he looked good.“

Sirius finally met Remus gaze. His eyebrows were raised. "That was Freddy Mercury! And the thing, that you call beard-"

"Are you sure you want to finish that sentence?" Remus asked, but he smiled.

Sirius raised his hands in defeat. "Well if you insist on that choice of fashion, I won’t stop you," he said grinning.

"I think, I’ll need more alcohol," Remus said and he filled his almost empty glass. "Fashion tips from Sirius Black. I didn’t have to put up with this since our last year in Hogwarts." Now it was Sirius’ time to look offended.

"Put up with?!" Sirius said. "You should feel honoured to get to know my admirable sense of style!“

"Sense of style?" Remus eyed Sirius’ outfit. "If that isn’t the same shirt you’ve worn for the past week, I'm a Puffskein.“ The werewolf leaned closer to Sirius, inhaling. "Smells like it too," he added with a smirk.

"Hey you don’t have room to talk, Mr. I-wear-a-sweater every day,“ Sirius retorted, playfully shoving the other man away.

"At least I change my clothes," Remus said with a grin and he leaned back into his chair, "And wash them," he added with a pointed look at Sirius' shirt.

"Ever heard of a cleaning charm?" Sirius replied leaning forward. By doing so, he spilled most of his whiskey.

"And have you ever used one on this shirt?" Remus asked, "I doubt that." Sirius pulled his wand out of his pocket and made a quick movement. A few stains on the shirt disappeared.

"I have now," he said smugly.

"You are unbelievable," Remus laughed. Sirius grinned and wanted to take a sip of his glass. As he noticed that half its contents had vanished, he turned to the bottle to refill it. But it was empty.

"Well, I think that was the sign for us to head upstairs," Remus said and with a swish of his wand, the plates and goblets floated towards the sink.

"We could always open another one," Sirius said, "And you didn’t even finish yours.“

"Molly is going to wake us early enough tomorrow.“

"Don’t remind me," Sirius groaned.

"Come on," Remus said smiling and he pulled Sirius up.

"Carry meee," Sirius said and let himself fall against Remus dramatically.

"Sure," Remus said, "Your crown - should I carry it too, or can you manage oh mighty king?“

"Well," Sirius said brushing imaginary dust from his clothes, "I may walk on my own tonight, but only because you asked so nicely, my handmaiden." Remus laughed when Sirius winked at him. They put out the few burning candles and the dishes in the sink stopped to clean themselves and floated back into the shelves. Remus let the empty bottle vanish and then they left the room, leaving Harry alone with Death.

Chapter Text

Death turned to Harry after they had closed the door. The fire had almost burned down but even in the dim light, Harry could still see perfectly fine.

So, Sirius and Remus had been together once. That was something he hadn’t known. Harry wondered if they'd had the same conversation in his first life here.

And Tonks mentioned that he reminded her of Moody. That was interesting. And amusing. Harry would've never compared himself to the gruff Auror. He hadn't even considered that people could notice changes in the way he carried himself. After all, he barely noticed that he was doing it.

He had always been observant in his own way. And oblivious to other things. But the war had changed him greatly. It was probably true that he acted like Moody in a way. Being on the run for a year when they hunted Horcruxes had left him paranoid. And the years after that, he was still trying to run from various so-called fans of his. It had turned into second nature to scan his surroundings. And the walk of an Auror was drilled into Harry from the first day of his training.
Not that the people who had lived through the years of Voldemort’s reign had needed much help. Always keeping one’s wand close, ready to deflect a curse was everyday life for them. But Harry had to admit that he'd probably started to waver a bit in his demeanour after he had quit his job as an Auror. Coming here had let him fall into his old habit like it was the easiest thing in the world. Harry guessed that Death had also something to do with it. At that thought, he turned to the being that watched him in silence.

"I thought, you might want to know some of the advantages that come with turning into my master,“ Death said after a while.

"You mean, I can do that myself? Dissolving into shadows, walking through doors?" Harry asked surprised.

"Yes. But it will probably take some practice to do it on your own."

An Idea formed in Harry’s head. He needed to find a strategy for his trial and if he was practising moving like this anyway then this was the perfect opportunity. Death smirked as if he knew what Harry was planning. Harry grinned back and Death closed his fingers over Harry’s wrist.

“Come on. Try it.“

Harry focused and tried to remember the feeling when a slight pulse and a tugging in his chest reminded him of Death. He let himself be pulled into the dark embrace and then, he felt himself melting away and turning into shadows and darkness again.

He reappeared in a dark room three floors above the basement. It may have been a study once, or a personal library. Harry hadn’t really explored this room until he had moved into Grimmauld Place himself in his twenties.

In here he had searched for a solution for the problem with Mrs Black's portrait. There were cobwebs on the ceiling, the walls and shelves. Dust was literally everywhere. The room would be cleaned out by the order in the time between the summer holidays and Christmas, but this time had yet to come. Death let go of his arm, and Harry strode through the room. He spotted some books that were long gone when he had lived inside this house. Books - if Mrs Weasley had already known about them - would have been removed weeks ago, before curious children could have found them. Thank Merlin Fred and George were probably too busy spying on the order to have given this room more attention. Death followed Harry silently, but unlike him, the being didn’t leave any footprints on the dusty ground.

Harry walked past the first two shelves. He knew exactly which book he was searching for. If he was lucky it was still in the same place. He stopped in front of the third shelf and looked at the books close to the floor. Harry brushed some dust off the old tomes. There it was. Printed in bold silver letters on black leather was the title of the book. "Lords and Ladies of noble blood - the proper representation of the family“
Harry grinned at his luck, but the next one would be trickier.

There was another tome he would need. Last time he had found it on a stack of books in a corner, but right now everything was still on the shelves. Harry had probably read half of the books in here thanks to Mrs Blacks screeching and his boredom, but where was the one he was looking for? Harry's head snapped to the door when the sound of muffled steps and a voice reached him.

"...is sneaking around...the old... only the master. Kreacher can hear- ...filthy twins, blood-traitors and bastards they- ... Kreacher is going to look-“
Harry turned around when he heard Death’s hoarse voice.

"You are searching for this one,“ he said and pulled out a book from a shelf on the opposite side of the room.

"Let’s go,“ Harry whispered. He could hear the doorknob being turned and Harry tried to reach for the bond between him and Death. A familiar feeling connected them and all of a sudden it was the easiest thing to disappear into the shadows.

Harry saw how Death was fading away too and then he found himself back on his bed, just next to the being, with two books on his lap. Harry looked at Death who was grinning.

"You did well,“ the being said and the echo of a warm feeling that wasn’t his own filled him.

Harry smiled and he leaned down to hide the books under his bed. "I think I’ll try to sleep now,“ he said. Death looked at him with an expression he couldn’t quite read, but then the being turned into a snake again and Harry couldn’t wonder about it much longer. Death settled on his chest and Harry smiled. A fuzzy feeling at Death’s protectiveness emerged and warmed him just where the bond was connecting him with the being settled on his chest. “Goodnight,“ Harry whispered petting the snake.

It turned out, that even if you didn’t need to sleep, being woken up was still as unpleasant as always.

When George had apparated into their room Harry had almost cursed him on instinct. He already his wand pointed at the redhead before he'd realized who it was. After George's announcement that breakfast was ready and that Mrs Weasley wanted to start cleaning the drawing-room afterwards, he vanished with a crack.

 Ron groaned. "This is going to be hell. The drawing room is the biggest room here! You won’t believe how filthy this house is. You might think you know it but this dust isn’t even half of it,“ Ron said. Then he looked at Harry as if he wasn’t quite sure if he could talk to him like that and if he was still angry.

"I know,“ Harry replied and Ron seemed to be reassured.

 "You can use the bathroom first, I’ll just stay here, "Ron yawned, "Only five more minutes...“

Harry thought that it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to brush his teeth and headed for the bathroom. While he was walking through the dark hallway, he remembered something.

The drawing room... Right now, Slytherin's locket should still be in there. Harry wasn’t sure what to do about the Horcrux. He hadn’t really thought about it. Should he just let it be? Harry locked the door and walked over to the sink. Even the tap looked like a snake. While he brushed his teeth, Harry looked at Death through his reflection. The being was sitting on the edge of the bathtub in his human form. He felt oddly attached to the being. Every so often, he found himself searching for the being with his eyes, only to feel a wave of relief rolling over him when it was still there.

Just when Harry had spat out and was rinsing his toothbrush the inhuman voice echoed through the room once more.

"What are you thinking about?“ the creature asked.

Harry snorted."Can’t you just read my mind?“ he questioned and turned around after putting his toothbrush away.

"I can," the creature lightly admitted. "But I prefer talking to you...“

Harry stared at Death who looked at him openly, considering what to say.

"I’m thinking about the Horcrux," Harry eventually began, "I don’t know what to do about it... Should I just grab it? But with everybody in the room, it will be hard to stay unnoticed,“ Harry mused. Death only grinned. The creature graciously extended his arm and opened its closed fist. And on Death’s palm was the locket. He twisted his hand and when his palm was facing downwards, the locket had vanished.

Harry stared at it with an open mouth.

"You can summon it too."

"But isn’t it warded against every summoning?" Harry eventually asked after he had regained his voice. "At least human summoning, after all, it’s a Horcrux...“

"That factor should be making it even easier for you to locate. There is after all a piece of soul inside." Death crossed his ankles and continued, "And as I said, you are no longer only human. You are able to summon every object you desire, as long as you know where it’s located. With a bit of practice that is. The Horcrux here should be easy enough to summon since the piece of soul inside is connected to you and you know where it is."

"The Horcrux inside me," Harry said baffled. So, he was able to summon every Horcrux, whenever he wanted. It didn’t even matter under which protection or wards a certain object was. Harry grinned. That made things so much easier.

"Want to try it yourself?"

Harry nodded. "Alright." He pushed himself from the sink. "What do I have to do?"

"Close your eyes."

Harry exhaled and did as he was told.

"Focus. Feel it."

Harry squinted at Death from under his lashes. "Wow. Thanks a lot for the detailed instructions," he said sarcastically.

Death still grinned. "You haven't even tried it yet."

Harry sighed. "Fine," he said and closed his eyes again. He tried to do what Death had told him. Focusing on the Horcrux. He already knew where it was and it wasn't too hard to picture it in the glass case in the drawing room. A frown appeared on his face. Nothing happened.

"Don't focus on the object. Focus on what's in there. What you are connected to," Death rasped right into Harry's ear. Harry shivered at the proximity and he longed to reach out, to touch the being, but then he inhaled and focused on the Horcrux.

"You have to know, that every soul wants to be whole...“ Death whispered. It made something click within Harry's mind. He didn't try to picture the locket again. Instead, he tried to find the piece of soul in his own head. The part that connected him to Voldemort. And in the depth of his mind, he found it. And he felt it.

Strange and familiar at the same time. In his previous life, he had never been that aware of the piece of soul intertwined with his and now it was so prominent he didn't know how he could've ever missed that it was being there. There was a pull... one most prominent, but there were others. And then he found the one he had been searching for. When he opened his eyes, Harry knew exactly where the locket was and what he had to do. It was just like the accidental magic as a child or apparating. The intent had to be there and the determination to get it. Harry felt his magic gather around his hand and then, suddenly, it was there. Slytherin's locket. Dark and luring it pulsed in his hand.

Harry stared at the Horcrux which gleamed in his hand in the sickly echo of a living being. He felt an incredible sadness wash over him and confused he looked up and his eyes found Death who stared at the Horcrux in his hand with a lost expression.

"Hey Death, what happened to the other Horcrux, to the one in the ring?" Harry asked, simply to get the being to stop acting so strange. He didn't like it.

"It has merged with its other part." Death extended his hand once again but didn’t open his fist this time. An unearthly glow emerged from it. Harry gasped at its beauty.

 "Is that... a soul?" Harry remembered how he'd stabbed Tom Riddle's diary and yet he couldn't connect it to what Death was showing him.  

"A piece of it." The glow vanished when Death opened his hand. It was gone. He looked at Harry and then at the locket. "Nothing really vanishes, but not many can retrieve what is lost."

"Sometimes you are really cryptic," Harry said and rolled his eyes at Death. The being only grinned, but Harry guessed that he understood what Death wanted him to know. He looked at the locket and gathered a bit of his magic. But the Horcrux didn't disappear. Vanishing and conjuring it again was apparently out of his pay grade.

"Let me," Death said. Gently he picked the locket from Harry's hand. Harry's palm tingled where the being's fingers had touched him. When Death closed his fingers around the locket, it was gone.

"And, can you retrieve it again?" Harry asked. Death grinned and when he opened his other palm, the Horcrux was dangling from the long chain.

"You done yet?"

Harry's head snapped towards the door. Ron's muffled voice died away at the other side. Harry's eyes flickered back to Death. The locket had vanished from his hand.  

"Yeah, coming," Harry answered over his shoulder hurriedly dried his hands on a towel before he opened the door.

He shared an awkward nod with Ron when they were passing each other and then headed for their room. Death followed without a sound while Harry was caught up in his thoughts.

In only three days he would have his hearing. Harry was pretty confident regarding the outcome, but going there simply to relive what he had experienced sounded rather boring. Perhaps this hearing was an opportunity to spice things up a bit.  

He would need to write some letters. Today was Saturday. His hearing was on Thursday. He just needed a few more days. Harry smirked as he entered his bedroom. Being bored most of the time came with the advantage of having much time. And thankfully Hermione wasn’t the only one who could read. Harry would have to consult the dry books from the Black library again, but hopefully, it would be worth it.

Absentmindedly, Harry filled Hedwig’s and Pigwidgeon’s bowl with water, the empty portrait on the wall breathing quietly, when Ron came back into the room.

"Come on, let’s head down, or mom is going to get us on her own."

They dressed quickly - well - Ron did. Harry had slept in his clothes. He put on a fresh shirt and then they headed down, Death once more in his snake form hiding half beneath his shirt. Ron eyed the black snake suspiciously.

"When did you even get it?" he asked.

"A few weeks ago," Harry said while petting Death. A normal snake would probably hate being carried all the time, but Death seemed to enjoy it.

"What’s its name?" Ron asked curiously.

"Um," Harry almost stopped in his tracks at the surprising question. Nobody had asked him that yet. He couldn’t really tell him that he’d called his snake ‘Death’, could he? "Grim," Harry said after a moment. It was probably fitting. Ron scrunched his freckled nose as he looked at the dark snake. "You called your snake Grim?! Isn’t that a bit... over the top?" he inquired, as they headed down the stairs.

Harry shrugged. "Probably." He bit back a grin at the irony of Death being named after an omen of death.

"Is it venomous?" Ron asked curiously.

"Actually, I don’t know."

"You don’t know? And then you just brought it with you?!“ Ron exclaimed in shock, "You kept it in a room with me! All night!"

"Well, I could always ask him, I suppose," Harry said. From the corner of his eye, he noticed that Mrs Black had returned to her frame but she didn’t meet his gaze.

"Please do," Ron said. Harry looked at Death.

"Well?"

"I can be if you want," the black snake hissed, baring its fangs.

"I take that as a yes," Ron muttered. His face had lost quite a bit of colour and he shuddered.

"Well yeah, but he won’t do anything," Harry said.  

"Won't do anything," Ron muttered absentmindedly and shook his head.

On the way to the kitchen they encountered Ginny who was heading upstairs, her red hair pulled back in a ponytail and there was a smudge of dust on her cheek.

"You better hurry up, mum is already stressing around," she said as she shuffled past them. Ron grunted something unintelligible before he opened the door to the kitchen with a creaking sound.

Sirius sat at the table, in front of him a cup of coffee. He appeared to be in a bad mood, staring at his cup with a gloomy expression.

"Morning. Where’s Remus?" Harry asked. Sirius raised his head while Ron walked over to the shelf to get some plates.

"Order business. Dumbledore called him in the middle of the night, something to do with the werewolves.“

"He will never be able to keep them from following Voldemort," Harry expressed and sat down next to his godfather.

"Why’s that?" Sirius asked and shifted in his seat to face Harry with a mildly interested expression.

"Well, there are probably some packs and a few other people who don’t want to be involved," Harry theorized, "They'll stay neutral as long as they are able to. They won’t follow Voldemort and certainly not the ministry. But most of them will at least consider supporting the dark side. Because, unlike the ministry, Voldemort can give them something they always wanted and he doesn't appear to have misused their trust yet."

"What could they possibly want?" Ron mentioned disparagingly as he sat down next to Harry, shoving a plate with scrambled eggs and some toast over to him. Sirius gaze pierced Ron.

"He promises them acceptance," Harry said. "A place among wizards and witches without hiding or being afraid of being hunted down. Of course, he doesn’t think too highly of werewolves and they aren't stupid. Not all of them are like Greyback. He and his pack are the only ones actively supporting Voldemort on his raids but there is always the chance that Voldemort keeps what he promises," Harry continued.

Ron's eyes widened. "But there haven’t been any raids," he objected.

"Yet," Harry replied with a sharp smirk on his lips. "Nobody really believes that Voldemort is back. This factor has a good and a bad side. On the one hand, nobody will be prepared if he decides to attack, but on the other hand, there haven’t been many deaths. He has power over his followers and their actions. But should it become common knowledge that he has returned-"

"He has no reason to keep them from killing everyone in his way," Sirius finished, a dark look on his face. In silence, they began to eat and Sirius sipped on his coffee.

Chapter Text

After breakfast, they walked up the staircase to help the others cleaning the drawing room. Death had slipped away unnoticed and was now following Harry in his human form.
When they entered the drawing room, Ginny, Fred, George, Hermione and Mrs Weasley were already battling the Doxy’s in the green curtains.

"Ah good that you are here," Mrs Weasley panted, her voice muffled by a piece of cloth that covered half her face. "Grab a spray and if you got them, throw them in one of the buckets."

It was somewhat odd to have Death follow him around, unseen by everyone but him, but soon Harry was too caught up in their chore to worry much about it.

It took at least an hour until the crowd of doxy’s grew thinner and even then it was still hard work. But to Harry’s delight, he didn’t feel exhausted at all. Death had been right. Harry's eyes found the being, who stood a few feet to his left. An already familiar warmth bloomed in his chest when his gaze fell upon the creature, a mix of relief at seeing him and something else, he couldn't quite name. The being's attention seemed to be occupied by the Doxy's, as Death observed the black fairy-like creatures buzzing through the air before he reached out to touch one mid-flight.

It dropped to the floor as if it had been hit with a spray but Harry saw that there was no life force in the little body left. As if he'd known he'd been watched, Death turned to look at Harry, a sharp grin on his face.

Harry couldn't help but smile. At least one of them had fun. Maybe it was thanks to Death, but they had cleaned out the curtains way faster than Harry had expected.

The time passed quickly and after an incident involving Mundungs trying to hide stolen kettles in Grimmauld Place and a shouting Mrs Weasley, Harry stood in front of a showcase and curiously eyed the artefacts that were displayed.

When he had lived in Grimmauld Place, these things had all been long gone.

There were a few rusty blades, a curled in snakeskin, claws, a few silver cases with interesting warding runes on them and a crystal bottle filled with blood. Vampire, if Harry's guess was correct.

While eyeing the objects behind the glass, Harry mused whether the curses would affect him still in the same way. It was obvious that something had changed within him once he agreed to become the Master of Death and not for the first time he wondered if it had been a deal with the devil.

At this moment the door swung open and Kreacher shuffled inside. He entered the room, side-eyeing Harry for a bit, but ignoring him once his attention seemed to be caught by something else. The house-elf scuffled alongside the wall, murmuring insults and indistinguishable words. „...smells like shit and is a criminal, just like the rest of the pack blood-traitors, werewolves and their bastards. Oh poor Kreacher, if his Mistress knew...“

"Hello Kreacher," Fred snapped with a loud voice and kicked the door shut.

"Kreacher didn’t see the young master," the elf said and bowed before Fred, "Filthy little bastard of a blood-traitor that he is," he hissed while facing the carpet.

"Sorry, what?" George said, "I didn't get the last part.“

"Kreacher didn’t say anything," the house-elf said and bowed in front of George, "...and there is his twin, strange freaks altogether," Kreacher murmured, "...and there is the mudblood, disrespectful she stands, oh when my poor Mistress only knew... and there is a new boy. Kreacher-“

"Kreacher," Harry interfered, having watched the whole scene. Kreacher’s eyes widened at being addressed and something within him seemed to recognize the odd echo of a bond between them.

"This is Harry, Kreacher," Hermione began gently.

"The mudblood talks to Kreacher, if Kreacher’s Mistress saw him in such company, oh what would she say-“

"Don’t call her a mudblood!“ Ginny and Ron exclaimed at the same time and both very angry.

"It’s okay," whispered Hermione, "He doesn’t know what he-“

"Don’t lie to yourself Hermione, he knows exactly what he does," Fred insisted and shot Kreacher a disgusted look.

"Is that true, is that Harry Potter?" Kreacher muttered while he was looking at Harry. "Kreacher can see the scar-"

"Kreacher," Harry cut him off in a sharp tone.

"What can Kreacher do for the young Master?" Kreacher said begrudgingly and bowed down. The others looked at Harry strangely. Not one time Kreacher had asked them if he could help them. Harry looked at the house-elf considerately. It wouldn't hurt to gain the loyalty of Kreacher. After all, he'd been the one talking to Bellatrix and Narcissa, his betrayal having at least partly attributed to Sirius’ death. And Harry had to admit that he'd taken a liking to his godfather once again.

"Kreacher, I will help you finish what Regulus asked you to do," Harry promised quietly. The others gaped at him and Kreacher's eyes widened comically. They didn’t understand what he was talking about, but they all saw how Kreacher suddenly threw himself on the floor and grabbed Harry’s legs before the old elf started to cry.

"Kreacher, couldn’t! Kreacher couldn’t! Kreacher tried but-," he cried out between his sobs. Then he started to bash his head against the floor, dust whirling up from the carpet which still couldn't muffle the thuds of the elf's forehead meeting the ground.

"What- how?“ Fred uttered.

"Harry make him stop!“ Hermione cried, "This is barbaric.“

Meanwhile, Sirius had appeared in the doorway and he stared at Harry with an odd expression, eyes wide and shaken. Harry swallowed. He didn’t doubt that his godfather had heard what he said. Only when Sirius tore his gaze away, he seemed more like himself again. "Kreacher, stop that!“ the man snapped. Kreacher stood up and wiped his eyes, but he glared at Sirius.

"Kreacher," Harry addressed the creature once more and the elf looked at him. "I will keep it safe until then. Tomorrow evening, alright?“

"Of course Master Harry," Kreacher said and bowed down ridiculously deep pressing his nose against the floor.“ Harry glanced at Sirius. He didn’t know if he would approve of what he would do next, but it was probably for the best.

"I want you to pick three items you want to keep from this room, but you won’t disturb us when we throw out the rest. Then you can go.“

"Thank you, Master Harry," Kreacher said and he hurried through the room, seeming much livelier than a few minutes earlier. He walked back to the door, carrying two moving pictures and a signet ring. Kreacher stopped looking at Harry as if he waited for approval.

"I might need the ring," Harry said after a second. Sirius watched it all with a grim expression, his hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans.

"Of course Master," Kreacher said and brought it to Harry, who pocketed it under curious glances. Kreacher seemed happy enough that it wasn’t thrown away and wanted to go, but Harry interrupted him.

"You may take another thing because you lost the ring.“ The house-elf almost started to cry again and he bowed down deeply and then picked a golden pocket watch. Then he walked out of the door, happy with his small treasures.

"How the hell did you manage to do that?" Ron asked him, breaking the silence.

"Turns out the portraits actually talk to you, if you are a parselmouth," Harry lied smoothly. The others seemed to take it as an explanation, but Harry looked at Sirius and he knew that his godfather didn’t believe him one second.

 

Under Mrs Weasley’s attentive eyes, they eventually continued to clean out the shelves. Nonetheless, Fred and George managed to sneak some of the artefacts out of the garbage bag. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry noticed that Sirius approached him while everyone’s attention was on Mrs Weasley who had discovered the sneaky theft. "-PUT THIS BACK ON AN INSTANT, GEORGE!“

"You didn’t really talk to the portraits, did you?" Sirius asked watching the contents of the showcase with the knives and the snakeskin.

"No," Harry answered and then paused for a moment, watching Ginny shiver violently when she walked past Death. Strangely everyone seemed to avoid the spot where Death stood even if they couldn’t see him. "I will tell you tonight," Harry expressed quietly when he spotted Mrs Weasley, who walked over to them, her lips pressed tightly together.

"Everything in this shelf will have to go to," she demanded and gestured at the wall, "The more we get out today, the less we’ll have to do tomorrow.“ Sirius tensed at her tone. Harry was once more reminded that Sirius had left this house to escape a demanding mother and was now treated like he didn’t even have a say in this. It irked him.

"Mrs Weasley," Harry began, "Maybe Sirius wants to keep what’s inside that showcase. You should probably ask him first.“ Harry of course knew, that Sirius had been happy to leave all of this behind, but Mrs Weasley’s tone had ignited a spark of anger within the Black and Harry's had only added fuel. Curious as to what would happen next, Harry watched their exchange.

"Yes Molly, I actually just thought about keeping this... bottle," Sirius said coldly, pointing at the first thing that came into his view.

"But, that looks like ...blood," Mrs Weasley voiced, leaning closer to take a look at the dark liquid. "You really want to keep that?“ Even Sirius didn’t know what to answer, but Harry came to his rescue.

"It’s worth at least forty galleons," he stated. Three years of Auror raids in Knockturn Alley and other gloomy corners in London had really equipped him with the most ridiculous knowledge concerning such things. Mrs Weasley stared at him and so did Sirius.

"Forty galleons...“ Mrs Weasley uttered. Harry felt almost sorry for her. The Weasley’s had never had much money but they'd always been nice. But since Harry had met Death his empathy wasn’t really something he could rely on. He'd taken a liking to Sirius because the man was perhaps even worse off than he'd been and was experiencing something similar to the constant state of apathy Harry had lived through after the war. But Mrs Weasley... most of her actions so far had been a nuisance to him.

So Harry didn't feel guilty when he said, "Of course. Sirius just told me that the dark almost blackish tendency of the liquid and the fact that it’s still red indicate that this is the blood of a vampire. Depending on the amount on the market right now, it is worth from 40 to 100 galleons." Inwardly Harry shook his head at this statement. It really must've been a miserable few years, if he still remembered the contents of the dry reports on his Auror desk. His eyes flickered over to Death almost automatically, the being that had dragged him out of this hellhole that was those empty seven years.

Meanwhile, Sirius stared at the bottle with vampire blood, a surprised look on his face, but he quickly changed his expression and looked at Harry.

"As I just wanted to tell you, Harry, before we got interrupted-" Sirius glared at Mrs Weasley, who blushed slightly - "Vampire hunts are illegal nowadays - which doesn’t keep people from trying - but that should make the blood very rare at the moment. Dung could probably sell it, but I don’t think, we would get the full price if we'd let him do the selling.“ Harry hummed in agreement, trying to hide his amusement at Sirius' bullshittery.

"What about the other stuff?" Mrs Weasley asked snappishly trying to cover up her previous embarrassment.  

Sirius raised a hand to his chin, humming thoughtfully as he looked at the displayed item. "It’s after all family heirloom of centuries. Maybe I should ask Andromeda if she wants some things. What do you think Harry?“ he inquired.

Harry bit back a smirk.

"Well, do you mind the tapestry on the other side then?“ Mrs Weasley said.

"Oh no. You can rip it down if you want," Sirius responded and Mrs Weasley turned around, "I would be surprised if they get it off the wall," Sirius muttered to Harry. Both then turned around to watch Mrs Weasley’s fruitless attempts to get rid of the old family tree. Spell after spell hit the old piece of fabric but nothing appeared to harm it.

The following hours passed quickly as they cleaned the room. Death had reappeared as a snake after some time and Harry was pretty sure that he was currently napping upon his shoulders.

They had dinner and on the insistence of Mrs Weasley, they went to bed immediately. The others didn’t complain. They were all tired. The day had been exhausting but Harry didn’t feel in need of a rest at all.

Sirius shot him some glances but there was no chance to speak without raising suspicion.

Harry still heard Mrs Weasley’s demanding voice echo through his head as he was curled up on his bed, waiting for Ron to fall asleep.

Eventually, Ron’s breathing evened out, but Mrs Weasley could still be downstairs. But Harry could always catch Sirius in his room. It was better to wait a bit longer, but there was something else he could do.  

With a glance at Ron's dark shape upon his bed, Harry sat up. Slowly he moved through the room, inhaling with a hiss when the floor beneath his bare feet creaked loudly. Walking over to his suitcase, he pulled out a quill and some parchment and began to write two letters. Death stood right behind him, looming over his shoulder. Both were short, barely more than a few sentences, but this was the first significant part of his plan.

Hedwig silently flew on his shoulder, when he called her. "Good girl," Harry whispered smiling and petted her moonlit wings, "Bring that to Gringotts, will you?“ Harry tied the first letter to her leg and after instructing her to deliver the second letter to Flourish and Blotts and fastening it to her as well, he opened the window. With an affectionate nip of her beak, she took off. "Well," Harry said as he closed the window and around to face Death, "Now we wait.“

 

Half an hour later, Mrs Weasley was still downstairs and Harry was in his bed once more.

"What are you going to tell him, Master?" Death asked in his hoarse voice. Harry hadn’t found the will to complain when the being had settled right next to him in the bed but had mostly ignored him. But at the words, he turned to the side to look at Death's face. Mere inches were separating them now and Harry could feel his breath hitching. He hadn't realized how close the being had been. Something was buzzing under his skin, urging him to get closer, drawing him to the being.

Harry shrugged and forced himself to look away. He really didn’t know at the moment. "Probably the truth.“ Death’s gaze was fixated on him. There was surprisingly much life in his pupil-less eyes. "Would you mind if I told him about you?“ Harry inquired curiously. Death grinned widely. Harry had the feeling that Death was more than happy to be able to scare somebody else for once.

"No," Death said. All of a sudden, he tilted his head, as if to hint at something.

"What?" Harry whispered, but then he stopped. The faint steps of somebody walking up the stairs could be heard. "Is that Mrs Weasley?“ he whispered.

"Yes," Death replied, his unique voice drawing out the word like a gust of wind as he was lurking over Harry. The being reached out with his hand, fingers spreading out over Harry's heart. His touch meant everything and Harry gave in to the urge to press closer. His eyelids fluttered shut as he pushed his head against Death's shoulder and something within him purred at the sensation of that contact which he still denied himself for some unknown reason. "You know her magic, her soul. Feel it," Death whispered and it took everything for Harry to focus.

He exhaled, mentally reaching for the already familiar place in his mind that was no longer his own. A warm feeling bloomed in his chest, feeding his magic when he nudged against the foreign presence. And then something changed. Harry was aware of every single being in and around the house. Their life was pulsing like candles in a dark room. No way he could miss them. Of course, there was Ron in his bed and Pigwidgeon on the Wardrobe, but they were in his room.

Harry couldn’t exactly see past it, but he somehow just knew.

Kreacher was walking through the attic, Mrs Weasley was still coming up the stairs and Sirius was downstairs in the Kitchen. The longer Harry felt for them, the more he saw. The people who were sleeping felt different. Their life force was calmer, their breath steadier. Harry even noticed the faint glow of the spiders, which occupied each room. There were some rats in the attic and a few Doxy’s seemed to have survived the cleaning. Harry could even sense the people who lived in the house next to them and some moths fluttering around the street lamps outside. 

There was the magic thrumming in the walls, around the portraits, even the magical artefacts in the cellar. Harry was overwhelmed by this. He had experienced something similar when Death had shown him their bond but this had only been a tiny glimpse of what he was experiencing right now. Fascinated Harry observed the strands of magic so deeply connected to their soul and life force. A comforting warmth connecting them and every particle of their surroundings.  

Harry gasped when he focused on himself.

Nothing.

There was no energy, the glow, that every other human in this house appeared to be surrounded by. There was no sign of life at all. Even the walls had more life in them than the thing that was Harry.

His head seemed suddenly so clear. In a violent motion, Harry he pulled back from the creature next to him and he scrambled to the other side of the bed with fearful eyes. An icy coldness spread through him, a conflicting mix of fear and longing to get closer to Death once more. His fear won out, but his eyes flickered over to the creature who had also sat up, mirroring his own pose and was watching Harry with a tilted head.

Harry tore his gaze away and stared at his hands, the fading magic still marking him as negative space within all the lively energy. That’s what Death had meant with all of this. Harry was no longer only human.

Fuck that! Somebody, who was partly human should have at least some kind of life in him! His hands were shaking. He was dead. Had he been dead since the first time Voldemort had killed him? Or the second time...

Hysterical laughter rang in his ears. The killing curse wasn’t able to harm him. Nothing was. Of course - because he was already dead! Harry sucked in raspy breaths, but no air was reaching his lungs. He panted heavily but he couldn’t breathe. He was dead, a living corpse. What had Death done to him? He shouldn’t even be here... Maybe he had never left the white place that looked like Kings Cross and he was still laying in the forbidden forest with Voldemort looming over him.

Harry’s mouth was opening and closing like a fish on dry land he was trying to breathe.

A gentle touch on his cheek pulled him back into reality. Two hands cupped his face and Harry blinked away a few tears he hadn’t noticed were there. The laughter had stopped a while ago and Harry realized that he must’ve been the one responsible for the sound. His eyes focused and he looked upon Death.

If Harry had thought that he was dead then Death was the same and more. A dark hole absorbing the life around them. Somehow the panic Harry had felt mere seconds ago bled away as if it had never been there. Death wasn’t grinning or smiling like so often, instead, he looked at Harry with a frown.

Harry felt the bond that was connecting them more consciously than ever.
It happily swirled around them, buzzing beneath his skin and most prominently where Death's hands were touching him.

Harry's thoughts clashed in his mind, conflicting emotions blurring in his head. Something within him was changing. Nothing could've prepared him for whatever this was. Earlier this day, he'd compared this whole thing to a deal with the devil. An analogy that didn't seem too far off anymore. Death had given him so much more than anyone had ever been able too but what if it was for a price he wasn't ready to pay?

Without thinking, Harry extended his hand, whose sight had frightened him so much, barely seconds ago and mirrored Deaths motion. He drew his fingers over Deaths white skin the cheekbones and the face that was more perfect and beautiful than Harry’s could ever be and just as inhuman and different as it was similar to Harry’s.

Death closed his eyes and a familiar rumble echoed through the air. He was purring again. Harry smiled a conflicted smile.

He knew nothing of Death. What made the being to what it was, what its motivations were. And yet he knew that Death was his. And that he would do everything in his might to keep him.

Chapter Text

Harry was pulled out of his thoughts, once Mrs Weasley passed their door. He was reminded of his original plans and then he waited for five minutes in silence, just to be sure that he wouldn't be disturbed. Harry looked at the door and then at Death. This had to be long enough. The being seemed to read his mind and reached out to touch his arm. As soon as Death's hand landed on Harry's skin he was whisked away into the shadows. It felt like he was moving through water for a moment and then he found himself on a chair in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place No. 12.

Harry blinked, disoriented, realizing that he was sitting on a chair opposite to his Godfather, a bottle of Whisky standing between them.

Death stood looming behind him, his hand slipping from Harry's shoulder. Harry missed the contact.

Meanwhile, Sirius was staring at a glass in his hands. He didn’t look well. The flickering light from the fireplace had his eyes appear deep in their sockets, unkempt strands of hair framed his face which was dominated by a sombre expression. Harry could see the similarities between him and Bellatrix. She had the same dark hair and just like Sirius, she possessed the high cheekbones every Black seemed to inherit. Even Malfoy, the prick.

From the corner of his eyes, Harry spotted a sleek, black snake slithering up the chair next to him. But just at that moment, Sirius flinched heavily and bumped into the table with his knee. In the last second, Harry was able to grab the bottle which wobbled dangerously in its place.

"Merlin’s balls, Harry!“ Sirius pushed the hair out of his face. He seemed pretty calm, but most of the whisky from his glass was now forming a puddle on the table, "How did you get down here?“

Harry smirked. "You know, it’s not good to drink on your own,“ he said and pulled the bottle towards him.

"Are you going to scold me now too?“ his godfather asked and the scent of alcohol wafted over to Harry.

"No, it’s more of a proposal, really," Harry replied. He licked his lips and fixated a shelf not far from him. Death had told him that he could summon any and everything if he just knew where an object was. A glass a few feet from him should be a good enough starting point and the ministry would hardly trace him in a place under the fidelius charm, would it? Focusing on one of the cut whisky tumblers on the shelf, Harry tried his best to visualize it in his hands. When it actually appeared out of the blue within his palms, Harry was so surprised he almost dropped it. Yet he grinned victoriously as he put the glass onto the table. It didn't even have a chip. Sirius raised an eyebrow.

"You know, it’s also not good to drink if you are underage and I’m not even asking how you did that thing with the glass. But please be my guest,“ Sirius said and made a wide gesture with his hand, "You are lucky that I don’t care too much about rules right now. This is a bourbon. It’s been rotting in this house for years. It's pretty decent but I doubt you want more after the first sip either way.“ Sirius took the bottle out of Harry’s hand and poured some of the golden liquid into Harry’s glass before he refilled his own.

He watched with a half-smile when Harry tipped the glass to his lips, probably awaiting a reaction that didn't come. Once the familiar burn of the alcohol sliding down his throat had passed, Harry addressed his godfather. "I promised you I'd tell you everything you want to know, but there are some conditions. There are things you can’t tell anyone else and I might ask for a favour.“

Sirius expression became more serious. Turning his own glass in his hands he looked at Harry contemplatively. "You know some things, don’t you? More than everybody thinks you do," Sirius stated and he stared at Harry. There was not a trace of the drunkenness from a few seconds ago. Harry nodded, before he looked at the glass in his hand, the golden liquid sloshing as he contemplated how to go about this.

"I think it’s better if what I am telling you now doesn’t reach Dumbledore’s ears," Harry voiced and looked back up. Sirius raised his eyebrows and leaned forward.

"You didn’t do something not quite legal, did you?“ Sirius asked and despite the serious approach, a smirk tugged on his lips. 

"What do you think of Voldemort?“ Harry asked instead of answering. Sirius sat back in his chair, visibly confused but also a bit suspicious.

"Why are you asking me this, Harry?“ Sirius inquired an odd expression on his face and fingering the glass in his hand. "The answer is obvious, isn't it? I mean he is responsible for so many deaths. He killed your parents...“ Sirius' voice trailed off.

"And you've never killed somebody, have you?" Harry said casually while he watched Sirius closely. He felt Death slithering over his thigh while Sirius’ knuckles grew white as he gripped his glass tighter.

"I have," he said, but quickly continued, "But you have to understand, Harry. These were different times. It was war. The people were afraid. Both sides used curses that were able to do more than simply capture the enemy. But the things Voldemort did, or his followers... They were feared almost as much as he was. The Longbottom boy, he is in your year in Hogwarts?“

Harry nodded. "I know the story. His parents were tortured to insanity."

"Then you know what they were capable of. What they are still capable of," Sirius replied.

"I won’t justify their doings," Harry said, "But you have to admit, that the light side wasn’t much better.“ Sirius opened his mouth and shut it again.

"Dumbledore was never a friend of the usage of dark curses," he settled on eventually.

"That doesn’t mean that members of the Order didn’t use them," Harry said. "And I am not even talking about the Aurors. This is not about light or dark magic. By all means, I don’t care. A simple diffindo cast with enough force can cut through skin as any dark curse can. War is war and both sides weren’t saints in this.“

Sirius looked at Harry as if he was seeing him in an entirely different light. Harry noticed how his godfathers' hand had reached for his wand.

"Merlin Sirius, I am not possessed or something," Harry voiced with a brief laugh. 

"Well, you have to admit, someone who is possessed would say the same thing," Sirius retorted with a dry smile, which somehow made him appear like a shark in dangerous waters. The expression on his godfather's face made Harry pause.

After a moment he began to talk with what he hoped was an earnest expression on his face. "Sirius, I'm not the same boy I have been a few months ago and not only because Cedric died in front of me.“

"I kinda thought of that," Sirius replied with the same dangerous smile, but he was still gripping his wand tightly. Harry thought about the best way to explain the situation - at least partly - and what he was going to tell Sirius. Harry hoped that this wouldn't end badly. Too much and Sirius would probably try to pull him in front of Dumbledore, even if his godfather wasn’t fond of the headmaster right now.

Harry opened his mouth but didn’t really know how to start. "I’ve gained possession of a few artefacts," he said eventually.

"What artefacts?" Sirius asked suspiciously with a tinge of worry in his voice, "You don’t feel differently because of what happened with the wall, do you?“

Once more Harry was surprised by Sirius' perceptiveness. "Yeah, no. It’s not because of that," he replied. He hoped that what he was trying to do next would work. 'Nothing is ever really lost...' Death's words echoed through his mind. Harry closed his eyes and when he opened them, the objects laid in front of him. Sirius gaped.

"This is James' invisibility cloak," his godfathers said and he let his fingers run over it.

"Yeah," Harry said, "It’s one of three,“ he elaborated, not sure if this was a good idea.

"Three..." Sirius looked up and his hand fell from the cloak. Only now he seemed to notice the other two hallows. "This is a wand... but it’s not your wand, although I know it from somewhere.“ Harry nodded and pointed at the stone.

"And that is the last one.“

"A gem?" Sirius said and picked it up to inspect it further, "With Grindelwald’s symbol?" Sirius stared at Harry, the whisky forgotten on the table.

"It has more than one meaning," Harry scoffed, somehow slightly offended. "First of all, it's the Peverell coat of arms. I’m distantly related to them through the Potter line. The cloak was originally owned by Ignotus Peverell."

"Ignotus Peverell? But that should be impossible. He lived centuries ago; the cloak should've stopped working after all these years," Sirius rationalized but then his eyes widened, "This wand, I remember it now. You didn’t steal him from Dumbledore, did you? Is that the reason I shouldn’t tell him about this?“ Sirius stared at Harry, "As much as I am impressed if you managed to steal it, are you aware of what you have done if that is Dumbledore’s?!" the man said with a serious expression. Harry smirked.

"This isn’t Dumbledore’s original wand. He won it when he defeated Grindelwald." Harry had to admit that it was more fun to watch Sirius putting things together than telling him outright what he wanted him to know.

"Why are you telling me all this?" Sirius asked.

"The stone once belonged to Cadmus Peverell and the wand was owned by Antioch Peverell, the oldest of the three brothers. It is the most known of the hallows." Harry grinned when he saw how realization hit Sirius.

"No..." Sirius gaped, disbelievingly looking from Harry to the three Hallows and back, "It’s just a children's story...“

"It isn’t," Harry said with some satisfaction, "It’s true." He took the stone from Sirius' hand and instantly it melted back into his skin. The same thing happened when he touched the wand and the cloak and this time Harry used the opportunity to observe the way the objects trickled into his body.

"But... how? It’s not like I don’t want to believe you, but..."

"-but what?" a hoarse voice interjected and Harry saw out of the corner of his eye how a very human Death appeared behind him. This time not invisible, judging by the reaction of his godfather. Sirius jumped up and threw his chair over in the process. He was frozen where he stood. His shaking hand was pointing his wand at Death. Silent terror was written all over his face.

Harry turned around to face the being. Death was smirking a sharp smile, his eyes this time fixated on Sirius. Harry turned back to his godfather.

The man was now stumbling backwards, wand slipping from his hand. With a clattering sound, it hit the ground. Sirius' face was drained of all blood. His eyes had widened to the point that they were showing more white than anything else ...yet his pupils were like black holes as he fixated something that - to him - appeared to be pure horror. He opened his mouth in a silent scream.
Harry observed confused yet curiously how Sirius was sinking to his knees, his eyes still focused on Death.

Confused Harry turned around to look at the creature. The being looked like he always did. Okay, maybe he had made himself a tad taller and he smiled his predatory smile... but that still didn’t explain why Sirius was now rocking back and forth, silently mouthing words that made no sense.
Harry watched him, feeling both disturbed and fascinated. The heavy silence was only interrupted by Sirius’ quiet whispers. After more than a minute of Harry observing his godfather, he remembered that it was probably not a good idea to leave Sirius in this state. His current fondness of the man overpowered his curiosity and - even if he wasn’t ready to admit it to himself yet - a certain thrill at the fear permeating the air.

"Death," Harry said sharply and the being turned to look at him. Sirius’ head snapped up and his eyes wandered searching through the air. Harry realized, that his Godfather was no longer able to see the creature. "What happened to him?"

Death still smirked, and the feeling of deep predatory satisfaction pulsed through the bond. Even Harry grinned. He couldn’t deny that he didn’t understand it - that he wasn't at least partly responsible for the feeling they were sharing.

"I showed him what I really am, or what you may call a glimpse of it. Ordinary people can’t comprehend Death, in this pure form. Not when they are alive. He won’t even remember what he saw. He isn’t able to. It will vanish like a nightmare. He will remember that he was terrified, but not why."

Maybe Death had not lied when he said, that he was lonely the time Harry had asked for his reasons behind creating a Master of Death. “But I have seen you too. I mean I see you all the time and don’t fall to the ground screaming for help. And when you appear as a snake, the others are also able to see you," Harry voiced his thoughts.

"I could also choose to appear in my human form and be visible for the others.“

"So, you are hiding your true self all the time that I don’t end like Sirius over there?" Harry asked and gestured in the direction of his godfather.

"No, I don’t. You are an exception. You have always been the exception. Even when your soul was ready to go on, you didn’t shy away. Most souls are afraid of me even after they have died, but not you. It was ...intriguing."

"But I’m not really dead anymore and you still look mostly the same…"

"No, you aren’t. But you don’t remember what I looked like. What I really looked like, when you encountered me for the first time and you don’t try to look past my surface form… You are my Master. You could look further if you wanted to." Uncertainty flowed through the bond and the echo of what was …excitement?

Sirius blinked and stood up on shaking legs. "What the- What the Hell just happened?" Harry turned to his godfather, who picked up his wand and gripped it tightly.

"It’s okay. He’s gone," Harry lied and he stopped grinning even if he was still amused.

"He?!" Sirius said, "That was a he? This thing- What… I don’t-," Sirius gripped the back of his chair.

“Yeah well, I don’t think that he’s a he exactly," Harry said. Death stepped closer.

“What- What did I just see?" Sirius asked, still pale and slightly shaking.

“You caught a glimpse of Death," Harry stated.

"Death…" his Godfather uttered. Harry pushed the bottle over to Sirius.

“You could use a drink now, I think."

Chapter Text

Twenty minutes and several drinks later, Sirius' hands were still clasped tightly around his glass. “Death, you are the Master of Death?!" he asked Harry for the third time now.

“Yes," Harry replied, slightly annoyed at that point, “And you asked that already."

Sirius shook his head. “I know, I know," he said while Harry sipped on his whiskey, "It's just a lot to take in." Sirius paused for a moment, “I always thought Death was something that was there, a part of the whole life cycle... and not a conscious being or whatever that was.” Sirius took a sip before he looked back up. "And it just leaves you alone, if you want it to?” he questioned after a moment.

“Hm..." Harry paused in contemplation. "I think he would if I asked him to," he replied eventually and he chewed at his lip as he glanced at Death, "But I don’t think that I..." Harry trailed off.

Can? Want?

Whatever the answer was, it came down to the same thing in the end.

Meanwhile, Death leaned even closer if that was possible and Harry’s mouth twitched with amusement when he heard the slightest rumble coming from Death. But then it stopped abruptly as if he didn’t want Harry to hear it.

"How have you been hiding that thing?" Sirius started and Harry sucked in air between his teeth.

"About that... You know the black snake, I brought with me?" As if on cue, Death materialized on his shoulder and slithered down his arm. Sirius immediately shifted back in his chair.

"So Death..." Sirius began before he stared at Harry. "The whole time?!"

"Yup," Harry openly admitted, not without some amusement in his voice.

"But," Sirius looked from Death to Harry, "It's so small…” Harry raised an eyebrow.

"Okay, okay. I’m not saying anything,” Sirius said defensively when he saw Harry's expression. His eyes flicked back to the snake. Despite his wariness, he appeared relatively calm. 

“See… he doesn’t remember," Death hissed as if he'd read Harry's thoughts. A smirk tugged on his lips.

Meanwhile, Sirius had come to his own conclusions. He gestured between Death and Harry. "And ....this, is the real reason for why you know more than anyone expected you to know, isn't it?"

"Yeah, basically," Harry confirmed, all the while he was looking contemplatively at his godfather. "You know, Sirius," he voiced abruptly, "That you can't tell anyone about this."

At that, the man snorted. "It's not like someone would believe me anyway."

"No, I'm serious," Harry countered and leaned forward. "If you want the whole story, you'll have to swear an Unbreakable Vow."

Sirius set his glass onto the table. All amusement was wiped from his face as he looked at Harry, who kept silent. A minute ticked by. 

"Okay,“ his godfather eventually said.

"You won't be able to reveal anything we spoke about," Harry elaborated, while he observed the Animagus closely, "Including our previous conversation. Anything relating to Death or the Hallows."

Sirius only hesitated the briefest of moments. "I’ll do it... But who is going to be our witness?“

Harry stopped. He hadn’t even thought about that. His eyes fell upon the black snake. "Can you do it?“

"Of course," Death hissed.

When Harry turned back to look at his godfather, a simple nod was enough to confirm the answer to his question. Sirius took a deep breath, eyes briefly flicking to the snake. But the man had never been one to back out of something. He stood up and extended his arm. Harry gripped his hand. Green eyes met grey ones.

"Well then, let’s start," Sirius said, a daring grin on his lips. If it weren't for his whirling aura, Harry would've almost believed it to be genuine. Nonetheless, he began to speak the words. 

"Sirius Black; do you swear to keep what I tell you now a secret?“

"I swear," Sirius said. His eyes widened when Death slithered down Harry’s arm and curled around their joined hands, but he didn’t pull back.

"Do you swear, to not tell a soul about what I am to reveal and what I have revealed about my identity as the Master of Death, other than gaining my permission first?“

"I swear.“ Death wound tighter around their joined hands and snaked even further around their wrists. The skin that was touched by the black scales burned coldly.

"Do you promise, to not use this knowledge in a way that goes against my wishes? “

Sirius hesitated. "I swear,“ he said eventually.

"Then Sirius Black, be bound," Harry finished.

"So mote it be," Sirius said solemnly. The inside of Harry’s arm started to burn. Sirius hissed when Death turned into dark smoke.

Harry gasped, a pleasant feeling suddenly washing over him. Sirius on the other hand shivered violently and then clutched his arm. Death reappeared behind Harry, sitting on the back of his chair. Yet judging by the lack of the Animagus' reaction, he was once more only visible to Harry. The being's hoarse laughter echoed from the walls.

Harry stared at Sirius' arm. It couldn’t be... but Harry could sense it. His own words echoed through his mind. 

Then Sirius Black, be bound...

Death's chuckle grew silent but Harry could almost feel the sharp grin.

...be bound...

Not be bound by this oath. ....be bound.

Harry gripped Sirius' bony wrist and pulled it towards him rather quickly. He knew where to look.

“Hey, what-" Sirius started to protest, but he stopped when Harry stared at his arm.

"No..." Harry whispered without conscious thought. And yet, the irony of the situation was unmistakable. Slowly, a macabre kind of amusement took over and Harry couldn't help but snort at the image he was confronted with.
Because just below the spot where Lord Voldemort would brand a follower with the Dark Mark, something had appeared on Sirius’ skin. A black triangle - not bigger than a bottle cap - enclosing a circle and a line.
The symbol of the Deadly Hallows.

“Well, this is going to be harder to hide from Dumbledore than I thought," Harry voiced out loud. With a sigh, he let go of Sirius’ arm but to his surprise, the symbol slowly faded. The dark ink bled into the surrounding skin, leaving nothing behind but an unblemished surface.

Sirius who appeared just as surprised rubbed his arm and sat down again. Harry glanced at Death, the being having claimed the back of his own chair, but in the end, decided that he didn’t care that the being was sitting there. He sunk back onto his chair, feeling Death’s legs pressed against his back. It was strange, how he was both invisible and corporal at the same time. "Your mark holds the power of Death. Of me...“ Death rasped, "You could easily force him to obey you...“ The corners of Harry’s mouth twitched amused.

"But where would be the fun in that?" he responded quietly.

“So what happened?” Sirius interrupted their quiet exchange. Harry snorted at the rather rough outline of the question.

“I already had the cloak," he eventually said. "The other two hallows just appeared.”

“They just appeared? Don’t you think, that that's a bit suspicious?” Sirius inquired.

“Yeah, but I trust him,” Harry said and to his own surprise, he realized that he meant it.

“Who, Death?” Sirius laughed.

“Yeah, Death," Harry confirmed, petting the black snake which stared at Sirius.

“What-" Sirius swallowed once - “What do you know?”

Harry paused, contemplatively. “When I first united the Hallows, I got glimpses..." he eventually - unashamedly - lied while also pertaining some truth, "Like memories, and I- I saw you dying at the end of the following summer," Harry stated with faked hesitance. Inwardly he was grinning. At least at this point in time, he hadn’t yet had any visions from Voldemort or else this wouldn’t go this smoothly. Otherwise, he would have to convince Sirius, that he wasn't being influenced by a dark Lord of all things.

“The following summer…" Sirius murmured and looked up a pained expression on his face. He didn’t have to ask.

"The Ministry... Voldemort lured me into a trap. I was stupid, I fell for it. The order came and saved our asses and you thought it was a good idea to follow them to the fight. To be fair, I think it was the most fun you had all this year. You had been locked up in this house for months at that point. Bellatrix hit you with a blasting hex and you fell through the veil in the Department of Mysteries.”

Better to leave out the part where he tried to hit her with a crucio for it, even if it didn’t quite work the way he intended, back then. There was no knowing how Sirius would react to his godson turning to unforgivable curses... “In the end, even Voldemort showed up. He and Dumbledore duelled in the middle of the Atrium.” Harry grinned. “At least that way, Fudge couldn’t really deny that he was back much longer.”

Sirius kept silent for some time.
They sipped on their drinks and Harry waited for him to comprehend the information.
The question Sirius eventually asked to break the silence was not the one Harry expected.

“And then, what happened to Remus?”

“He was devastated," Harry responded truthfully, once he'd overcame his initial surprise, "But I honestly didn’t see much of him afterwards. Dumbledore shipped me off to the Dursley’s again, and that was it,” he said and shrugged. "That's all I remember."

“And what are you going to do now? This whole thing with being the Master of Death is a little strange,“ Sirius said. "You getting visions of the future-"

"A possible future," Harry corrected. "And only once. I'm not a seer, Sirius."

"But you know things about Voldemort, don't you?"

"Yes," Harry nodded. "Some."

“Anything that could help us to win?” Sirius began hopefully and that was the turning point. Harry sat up straighter in his chair. It was critical that he wouldn't drive away Sirius with what he was about to reveal or else Dumbledore would be breathing down his neck in no time. And he liked Sirius. It would be more fun to have him on his side.

"Yeah. I do," Harry replied to Sirius. "But after all this, I decided that I don’t really care what Voldemort is doing, as long as he doesn’t bother me.” And wouldn’t that be a miracle? Out loud Harry continued, “And I’m thinking that there might be another way.“

"What would that be?“ Sirius asked while eyeing him suspiciously.

"I’m not a fan of Voldemort’s pureblood bigotry, but the wizarding world could use some changes...“

"Harry, how-" Sirius said shocked and almost jumped up, but when Death hissed threateningly he sat back down. "Harry, this is Voldemort we are talking about!“ he repeated more pointedly.

"Why do you think so many people are following him?" Harry asked and Sirius stopped in his rant, confused by the sudden change of topic. "For real, Sirius."

"Bigotry, cowardice, fear...“ Sirius immediately responded, a cold expression in his eyes.

"Maybe now, but it was more than that. When he first started to gather followers, do you think he was like that? He's lost his sanity. And by what he's done to himself, it’s really no wonder."

"What are you talking about?" Sirius inquired, his grey eyes fixated on Harry.

"Your brother found it out on his own," Harry said with a smirk and leaned forward, curious as to Sirius' reaction. 

They stared at each other in silence. Harry waited patiently, the lack of conversation grinding away Sirius' barriers. 
Unprompted, Death began to comb through Harry's hair. His scalp tingled pleasantly and the bond connecting him and Death pulsing happily around them. For the first time, Harry fully let himself engulf by the sensation. It was oddly freeing. His eyes almost fluttered shut before he realized that his godfather was staring at him intensely.

"What do you know about my brother?“ Sirius asked. 

Harry cleared his throat. "Regulus... yeah.“ Awkwardly, he looked down at the golden liquid inside his glass, slightly embarrassed, that he had been so easily distracted. He sensed Deaths amusement more than he saw it.

Prick.

Yet the inward insult was thought more fondly than anything else.

When Harry raised his head, he was met with Sirius' steely eyes.

"Okay," Harry began. "I'll try to summarize it." Sirius nodded which Harry took as a sign to continue. "I think it started sometime after he joined the Death eaters. Regulus was the descendant of a highly respected pureblood family and loyal. Despite being so young, he was a trusted member in Voldemort’s ranks." Harry paused and looked up at Sirius to confirm who listened intently. "There came a time when Voldemort needed a servant for an important task. And of course, he volunteered...“

"Regulus..." Sirius breathed.

"Yeah," Harry confirmed. But as it turned out, Voldemort didn't need a human servant. And that's a reason why Regulus was picked for the task. Because he had a house-elf at home... Regulus did what he was told. He ordered Kreacher to go with Voldemort should the dark Lord require his services and obey him. And after the finished task, he should return.“

"And Kreacher knew all-," Sirius started enraged, but Harry cut him off before his anger would take him any further.

"Kreacher only did was he was told. He went and returned, just like his Master had ordered him. Perhaps Regulus was already doubting his choices. He was young, the Death eaters were different than he thought, Voldemort was cruel-" Sirius snorted. Harry smirked. "But perhaps only his discovery changed his mind. We will probably never know... You must know Voldemort always prided himself on the knowledge that he had gone further with magic than any wizard or witch ever did. And it’s true. When Voldemort was young, he was brilliant. Highly intelligent and cunning. Fascinated by magic. He knew how to use his charm. Anyone who knew him thought that he would be the next minister of magic. He had the looks, was ambitious and maybe a bit of a sociopath-“

"A bit?“ Sirius asked but he didn’t seem to expect an answer.

"And he feared death more than anything else,“ Harry continued. "He is a master of the dark arts. There are ways to prevent that.“ Sirius' eyes darkened. "I think you already know, what I’m hinting at,“ Harry suggested subtly. “Come on. You may deny it, but you were raised in a dark family. If Regulus knew it then you do too.“

"He made Horcrux...“ his godfather whispered.

"Cheater..." Death rasped next to Harry's ear, commenting on the dark lord's deeds. Harry grinned at the honest betrayal that he felt rolling from Death at the act of splitting one's soul. He couldn't deny that the being grew on him.

Turning back to Sirius, Harry nodded. "That's exactly what he did. He found a way to do it. And just like you, Regulus knew or at least suspected something. But Voldemort would never outright tell anyone his secrets. He may be a bit crazy, but he isn’t stupid.“

"And my brother was killed for his knowledge,“ Sirius said grimly.

"Not quite," Harry objected. "Kreacher was in a miserable state when he returned. And when Regulus asked him what happened, Kreacher told him a story about a hidden cave, a lake full of bodies and a basin made of stone. It was filled with an impenetrable potion, to protect something that lies at the bottom of it. A magical barrier, which can only be lifted if you drink the potion. I even think Voldemort invented it himself. He ordered Kreacher to drink it, to be able to put something inside. A locket to be exact,” Harry said and at his words, Death leaned forward, reached over Harry's shoulder and when he opened his closed fist over Harry's hand the Horcrux dropped into Harry's palm. To Sirius, it must've looked as if the locket simply appeared out of nowhere.

Harry stared intrigued at the green piece of jewellery and felt the piece of soul shine through the metal, more prominently than the last time. It pulsed wantonly, feeling another part so close to itself.

Sirius’ eyes widened as he recognized it. “This was in the drawing room, wasn’t it?”

Harry nodded. “I took it before someone could throw it away. Back then, Voldemort left Kreacher in the cave to die. There are enough inferi in the lake and the whole place is warded against apperating. But elven magic is different from ours. Regulus had ordered Kreacher to come back, so he did. It's a feat no wizard could've achieved. Once Kreacher had returned, your brother asked him to show him the cave.

Regulus himself drank the potion and put a copy of the locket in the place of the original. He didn’t expect to survive. He ordered Kreacher to destroy the locket because he himself was no longer able to do it. The potion does things to you, you see. There was only one problem." Harry motioned at the Horcrux in his hand. "Kreacher doesn’t know what this is. While powerful in their own right, elves can’t destroy a Horcrux,” Harry elaborated, while he was watching the emeralds on the locket shine in the dim light.

Sirius' eyes shimmered wetly, but he didn’t cry. “He died a hero... he died, trying to defeat Voldemort. Reggie was always smart. He was eighteen when he died, you know?“ Sirius laughed a short laugh. "Yeah... yeah. You already do, huh?“ Sirius wiped with his hand over his face and sniffed. When he looked up again, his voice had lost the shaky undertone. “So Voldemort can’t die, as long as this thing, this Horcrux is still there, right? We just have to destroy it and he is mortal again.”

“Well, yeah. Not really,” Harry replied, "This isn’t his only Horcrux."

The statement seemed to hit Sirius like a sledgehammer. He was one of the few people who apparently knew what making a Horcrux really entailed. "He made more than one?! Is he insane?!“

At that Harry smirked. "I thought we'd established that already. But yes. He made more than one.“

"How many?“ Sirius asked, a fearful look on his face as if he didn't quite want to know the answer.

Harry leaned forward, and he had the faint impression that he was resembling Death at this moment, grinning his predatory grin. "Seven."

Sirius stared at Harry. He then sunk back into his chair, looking at his whisky before downing it and refilling his glass. He sipped on it for a while before he eventually regained his voice. "Seven,“ he muttered with a broken voice.

"It’s kinda impressive, isn’t it?“ Harry said, his mood in stark contrast to Sirius'. But it was an impressive feat if you looked at it from an objective point of view, "That he managed to do it and still lives.“

"Seven...“ Sirius repeated and he carded a hand through his hair. "They could be anywhere…“

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. Inwardly he was grinning.

Sirius looked at him. “Harry, I know that I took this oath and I won’t tell anyone." A dry laugh spilt over his chapped lips. "Hell, I can't even... Harry, you have to listen to me. You have to tell Dumbledore," Sirius said intently and a spark of hope appeared in his eyes.

“Do I?” Harry said with a raised eyebrow, yet Sirius didn’t seem to notice, too frantic in his plans.

"He could inform the order, gather people, we could finally do something!” Sirius ranted, full of zest for action.

"Yeah,“ Harry shifted in his chair, "I don’t think so...“

"I understand if you don't want to do it. Why you don't want to tell him," Sirius said, “But I could tell him that I found old notes of Regulus. We don’t have to mention that thing with ...the hallows.”

"You only have to ask, and he whimpers on the ground again,“ Death commented from the sidelines, leaning forward and staring at Sirius like a hunter at his prey. The other man shivered despite not being able to see him.

"Oh, no. It’s not that," Harry said to Sirius, amused by Death's suggestion yet overhearing his statement for now.

"But then why?“ Sirius asked confused.

"There are a few reasons.” Harry leaned back in his chair and took a sip of his drink. “First of all, Dumbledore already knows that Voldemort made a Horcrux, or at least suspects it.”

“He knows about it?” Sirius said and his magic swirled wildly, “And he didn’t tell us?”

“I think that he believes that this information would spread panic. Right now everyone still puts their hope in the illusion that Voldemort can easily be killed. Okay, maybe not easily... But at least everyone thinks that he won’t come back if someone kills him. Most of the time, Dumbledore knows more than he lets on. No one beside him, you, me and Voldemort himself know about this.”

Sirius still seemed enraged, but his attention seemed to be directed inward as he contemplated his own thoughts.

"Everything to this point and concerning this topic falls under your oath, Sirius," Harry reminded him.

Sirius nodded, but he didn’t say anything. Harry sipped on his drink.

It was a few silent minutes, the air tense and eventually, Harry took to break the silence.

"This is a good whisky," he mentioned casually. Sirius hummed in agreement and lifted his glass to take a sip. "Actually, no," Harry said after two more sips, "That was a lie. Why do people buy this stuff? I can’t taste the difference between this and a cheap one."

Sirius choked on his drink. He coughed, but then his coughing turned into laughter. Harry smirked. "I would have paid the person, that said this to my father,“ Sirius said.

"Um, actually there was another thing, I wanted to ask you. It’s because of my trial,“ Harry said, “I need a way to defend myself and I could use your help."

“Sure,” Sirius replied, the previous tension still noticeable but he was eager to jump onto another topic. “I’ll help where I can.” Then he looked at Harry with concern. “Are you alright? I mean it must’ve been much to get used to this summer, and now there’s your trial...”

“Yeah, I’m okay. Being the Master of Death also comes with some advantages,” Harry said and he smiled at Sirius.

Harry tried to summon the books, he got from the Black library, but apparently making something he didn't see appear in his hands wasn't something he was able to yet. In the end, Death took pity on him and the books ended up on the table between him and Sirius.

“I’m a joke in the ministry right now," Harry said. "The boy, who isn’t right in his mind.” He leaned forward and grinned. “But I think, I will use that trial to my advantage. It’s more of a long-term investment. They will soon have to deal with more than a boy, who claims that Voldemort is back.”

“You can be outright scary, you know that?" Sirius said, but he grinned. “What did you have in mind?”  

"I intend to take advantage of some old laws no one bothered to change. And luckily, we have these books.“ Harry pushed them over to Sirius.

"The honourable Code of the Wizengamot. From 1597 till 1850,“ Sirius read when he inspected the title of one of the tomes.

"Yeah. Most of it isn’t very interesting. These are the original laws and what changes have been made. But what’s interesting is this part.“ Harry leaned over the table and flipped through the pages. "There...“

"A lord shall claim his seat, whenever he wants if he can prove that he shares blood or name of a family, that has the right to claim a seat," Sirius read out loud.

"Look at the names," Harry said. "These were the founders of the first Wizengamot.“

 

 

Abbot

Avery

Black II

Bulstrode

Burke

Carrow

Crouch

Fawley

Gaunt

Greengrass

Lestrange II

Longbottom

MacMillan

Malfoy II

Nott

Parkinson

Peverell

Potter

Prewett

Rosier

Rowle

Selwyn

Shafiq

Weasley II

Yaxley

 

 

"All the old pureblood families...“ Sirius said once he had glanced over the lines.

"Yeah. Basically, everyone who shares the name through marriage, or who's related to one of the families can claim a seat in the Wizengamot.“

"But why are some of them scored out?“ Sirius asked.

"It was an old custom, to gift your seat to another family to pay a life debt. There, the numbers behind some of the names are the ones who own these now. You can still claim the seat like you can claim the seat of a family you are related to. But the claim of a member of the family who owns it carries more weight. They can always demand, that you give it up. But that’s all on the next pages," Harry said, and he pointed at a paragraph in the book. "Here it says, that a Lord can choose someone to speak in their name. One seat is equal to a vote and you as head of the Black family..." Harry leaned back in his chair, letting the silence speak for itself.

"You want me to choose you, to speak in my name," Sirius said and Harry nodded.

"Basically, yeah."

His godfather stayed silent and flipped through the pages. "But Harry... Not that I wouldn’t do it, but I don’t know if this can work the way you intend it to. These laws are old and I am still hunted by the ministry. Not even speaking of the fact, that I've never claimed a seat in the Wizengamot nor am I a Lord. I think the last Black to hold this title was my great-grandfather and he died in 1952.“

"But you could reclaim this title," Harry suggested mischievously, "And I could be in possession of a letter, which states that - should you ever not be able to speak for yourself - I as your godson would be entitled to speak in your name. And that all-“ Harry pulled out the ring Kreacher wanted to save from the drawing room and put it in front of Sirius - "is verified by the seal of the Blacks.“

Sirius stared at Harry with wonder. "Sometimes, as much as I hate to state it, I think that you would’ve done well in Slytherin," he said.

"The hat thought so too," Harry replied grinning, "It’s mostly Draco Malfoy’s fault, that I convinced it to put me in Gryffindor.“ Sirius laughed and then smiled at Harry.

"Yeah, the hat does listen to you if you are determined enough..." Sirius said. And Harry gained the distinct impression, that maybe, he wasn’t the only one, who'd asked the hat to be placed in Gryffindor.

Death leaned forward once more, a pale hand on Harry’s shoulder."There are different kinds of ambition. For some it’s the hunger for power, others want to be loved by everyone and some only want to prove, that they are better. Different," Death said and answered Harry’s unspoken question as he watched Sirius taking a sip of his whisky. Harry smiled at Death as a silent thanks and then turned back to his godfather.

"But I should mention that there is another aspect, that might be dangerous and somewhat illegal," Harry said but it only drew a grin on Sirius' face. "You need to claim your title as a lord, for this plan to work. It can only be done in person," Harry elaborated, "And that means sneaking out of Grimmauld Place.“

Sirius grin widened and there was a spark in his eyes, that had been missing since Harry had arrived here. "You already had me at 'dangerous'.“

They chatted for some time more, until Sirius looked at a silver watch which he pulled out of his pocket and declared that they should now really head to bed if they wanted to survive the next day under Mrs Weasley’s care. The only thing Harry regretted was that he wasn’t able to see the face of his godfather when Death pulled him along into the shadows to reappear in his room.

Chapter Text

The next day was quick to come and when Harry woke up, it was because of Hedwig, who picked on the window shortly after dawn. Next to her sat a particularly big exemplar of a tawny owl with a package from Flourish and Blotts. He opened it, while Ron was still groaning into his pillow. Hedwig nipped his ear affectionately when she landed on his shoulder.

"Hello girl," Harry said and petted her wings. A small note was attached to her foot. It was sealed with wax. Probably magical, to prevent the wrong people from reading it. Harry took the note and Hedwig graciously flew over to the bowl with water. Meanwhile, the tawny owl had a hard time getting in and Harry helped her by relieving her of the hefty weight pulling her down. Pigwidgeon chirped excitedly, which led to Ron groaning once more.

"Shut up pig," Ron mumbled under his blanket before he fell back asleep.

Meanwhile, the tawny owl expectantly stretched its foot with a small leather bag attached to it. Once Harry had checked the price scribbled onto bill stuck to the package, he rummaged through his suitcase, till he'd gathered the right amount.

Once the owl was paid it also made its way to the water bowl where Pigwidgeon excitedly fluttered around them before it took off and left.

Harry first opened the large package, ripping away the brown paper to reveal three books.

All of them seemed used, their edges worn and the pages yellowish from age. Harry didn't look forward in the slightest to read them, but if he wanted his plan to work he needed to do some research first. The cover of the biggest read, "A constitutional and legal history of magical law in Great Britain (i. e. England, Scotland & Wales) from 1847-1881" while the other two were titled, "Law reports and commentary, Wizengamot 1876" and "Consequences: The effect of magical Law and its complexity on wizarding society by A. Bodwick - 1880".

After briefly checking the books and flipping through their pages, Harry put them aside, shifting his attention to the letter. His mood visibly improved once he had broken the seal and read what was written onto the parchment.

 

Dear Mr Potter,
you wanted to be informed as soon as possible. Preparations have been made and we await you today. If your attendance is being prevented for some reason and therefore shan't be possible, please inform us per owl.

Sincerely Gringotts Bank

 

With a grin, he put the letter aside. Outside the sun had barely risen, fog still heavy over the city. Sighing Harry pulled one of the old books towards him. If he was already awake, he could at least use the time and begin his research.

About half an hour into his reading, Harry had resorted to using some basic spells which helped him find the pages in the books which were of interest to him. Meanwhile, Death had materialized in his human form, lounging on Harry's bed and lazily watching him as he flipped through the books.

Ever so slowly, the house came to life and Harry could hear muffled voices as the first people went down to get to the kitchen. Shortly before Ron woke, Harry shoved the books under his bed where the other two from the Black library were already collecting dust.

When they eventually headed down for breakfast, he'd already gained a pretty good overview of what he had to know.

Once they had eaten, Harry subtly discarded the evidence of his correspondence in the big fireplace, as he wasn't very keen on being bothered with unnecessary conversations consisting of annoying questions.

Something that turned out to be rather useless, as Ron and Hermione had apparently decided that now was the perfect time to confront him about his outburst regarding their lack of communication during the summer. Thus, the first half of his day mostly consisted of him dodging their attempts to talk to him, Death being surprisingly helpful in alerting him of their presences and stepping between them, whenever they spotted an opening.

Sirius showed up somewhere around noon in a wrinkly shirt, yawning and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, but when he spotted Harry he grinned at him, probably still elated by what had been discussed during their late-night conversation.

Even Mrs Weasley’s demanding nature didn’t seem to darken his mood while they cleaned out the showcases in the drawing room, although the glass-fronted shelf with the vampire blood and the daggers was left untouched.

When they were almost done, Sirius announced that whoever threw one of the blades at the old tapestry and was able to hit one of his relatives would be free of further cleaning for the next day.

Despite Hermione's worries, this was the highlight of their cleaning hours.

Of course, this new sport was soon prevented by Mrs Weasley, who came back with a plate of self-made sandwiches. Fred later claimed, that he should've been declared the winner because he managed to hit Sirius’ scorched name, which technically had to count, while Ginny countered that Sirius explicitly said that they had to hit one of his relatives and not himself. Their argument was still ongoing when they headed downstairs for dinner. It was also when Harry intercepted their heated discussion by stating that he was the only one beside Sirius to even manage to get the dagger to stick in the tapestry, which automatically should entitle him to take at least half a day off from cleaning.

"Kreacher will be devastated when he discovers the scratches," Hermione said empathetically when they had almost reached the entrance hall. She was shaking her head.

"If it’s not a dark spell you use, it repairs itself on its own," Sirius said, side-eyeing Death’s snake form, which was curled around Harry’s neck and shoulders, "And as far as I know, the blades weren’t cursed. The least you could find on them was some poison.“

"Poison?!!" If on cue Mrs Weasley’s had materialized at the foot of the stairs.

"Oh no, the dragon approaches," Sirius whispered under his breath and Ginny in front of him snickered. "No Molly, that was just a joke," Sirius said louder while smiling a crooked smile and lifting his hands in defence. But Mrs Weasley didn't buy it.

"IRRESPONSIBLE, letting children throw with KNIVES-," she exclaimed, already starting her second tirade today. Harry noticed how Sirius expression fell and almost comically changed to annoyed.

"Technically they are daggers, Molly," Sirius replied in a cool tone and used the opportunity to rush up the stairs in a perfect pureblood manner, while Mrs Weasley was still too shocked to say something in return. Fred and George were also gaping, but they seemed more impressed than anything else.

Harry had the feeling that through Sirius’ involvement with him, some of the old arrogant attitudes of the Black family resurfaced. He couldn’t say, that he didn’t find it amusing. As Harry saw Sirius walking away, he realized that this was the perfect opportunity. He turned away from a speechless Mrs Weasley and looked at Ron and Hermione.

"Hey, I think I’m going to talk to Sirius about something for a moment.“

"Harry," Hermione said and held him back, "I-" She hesitated, "-I just wanted to say, that you can talk to us too. We are really sorry what happened, but ignoring us isn’t going to change anything."

"I know," Harry said, "I’m not angry. It’s just, that I talked to Sirius yesterday, and he promised, to help me with a few things. It’s because of my trial.“

"Oh Harry," Hermione said, worry shone in her eyes. "Are you nervous? I mean they can’t really do anything, I spoke with Tonks and Moody, you see? And they said that wizards are allowed to use magic if they are in danger, even if they are underage," she ranted to reassure him.

"Yeah, I know," Harry said, "And I’m not really nervous, but I would like to be prepared.“ He smirked.

"Harry,“ Ron whispered with a suspicious look, not assured by Harry's speech about 'being prepared' while he side-eyed his mother, who was fussing over Ginny. "You aren’t planning something, you didn’t tell us?“ Harry only smirked.

"Harry, you can’t... With Sirius-" Hermione whispered, but Harry interrupted her.

"Sorry, I have to go," he said cheerily and rushed up the stairs.

"HARRY!" Hermione shouted when Harry had already reached the Hallway. Harry heard Ron cursing, Mrs Weasley shouting, "RONALD!“ and then quick steps following him.

Harry smirked at Death and he started to go faster. While he wasn't too bothered by the thought that Ron and Hermione knew something was up, he didn’t want to deal with them right now.

"It seems Death, that we are able to get to Gringotts earlier, then I thought," Harry hissed. The impression of a grin passed through his mind.

Just around the corner, he caught up to Sirius. Slightly panting, Harry grinned at him. "Sirius, hey. What do you think, if we hurry up with our plans? You know, sneaking out and so on.“

Sirius smirked. "What time did you have in mind?“

"Like, right now?“ Harry suggested with a shrug.

Sirius raised an eyebrow. "Sure, just let me grab som-“

Harry quickly scanned Sirius’ clothes. A worn band-shirt reading ‘Sex Pistols’, black jeans and battered pair of boots. "Nah, it will work like this," Harry said and without a second thought, he gripped Sirius' arm and with a little help of Death pulled him along through the shadows.

They reappeared in a lively street in Muggle London. Harry immediately started to walk, following the masses and pulling his godfather along. Sirius was breathing heavily.

"What the hell?“ he uttered and with his hands, he felt his torso. His head snapped to his left and right, quickly scanning the area. Then he turned back to Harry. His magic was swirling violently. Probably caused by panic, Harry guessed. "I think one time saying it, won’t be enough," Sirius exclaimed, "So, what the fuck Harry?!“ Sirius was almost edging on hysterics and he looked around nervously. "You know that I am a wanted man!" he hissed under his breath, "Muggles still search for me, not to speak of wizards. And you chose to bring me here, in the middle of all these people?!“ Sirius started to laugh. Harry couldn’t tell if it was hysterical or because of the ridiculousness of the situation. Maybe both. "And they say I am risky..." Sirius muttered as he watched the People carry their shopping bags as they were walking past them. A few threw curious glances at Harry.

"I think it’s better if you go invisible for now,“ Harry whispered at Death. The black snake disappeared and the being in his familiar human form started to walk next to him. Harry's gaze stuck to him for a moment longer. Suspiciously he eyed the being.

He got the vague impression that Death didn’t look exactly like him anymore. Of course, they were still very similar but Death appeared taller and somewhat older. His hair was longer and he was way paler than Harry. It was as if he changed the way he was looking almost unconsciously to resemble something that was more unique and not a copy of something else.

When Death didn't say anything, Harry turned back to Sirius. "Hiding in then masses. You don’t look like the ghost they were shown on television after you broke out of Azkaban anymore. And I think, you'd fancy some shopping.“

"Shopping?" Sirius inquired taken aback. His magic appeared to have calmed somewhat.

"Yup. Shopping. When was the last time you were able to pick your own clothes or stuff in general?“ Harry said with a shrug.

"Ages," Sirius replied, "But I think, I just want to walk a little through the streets - or do you have any money on you, that isn’t a golden coin?“

"No," Harry replied, "But I have to practice some wandless summoning anyway. So, if you could tell me when you spot an ATM, that would be great.“

"What about the trace? In my-" Sirius coughed, the fidelius charm not allowing him to reveal the location of Grimmauld place - "In the headquarters, it's another thing. It's protected. But out here in the open? You already got a hearing sitting in your neck and the ministry will keep a close eye on you. They'll probably show up immediately if you fuck up." The 'and lock us both up' was implied.

Harry paused. He hadn't really thought about that. Most likely, he would be monitored more closely than anyone else right now.

"It won't be an issue," Death suddenly interfered from the side. Harry looked at him surprised. "You died," the being simply stated at his silent question. "No magic placed upon you before that lingered after you were reborn."

"Huh," was the only thing Harry could say. Apparently, he was free from the trace. A development that was as interesting as it was useful. Harry turned back to Sirius who still looked at him questioningly. "Apparently it won't be an issue," he told him.

"Apparently?" Sirius inquired but Harry waved him off while they continued to weave their way through the crowd. After a moment Sirius addressed him once more. "What does an ATM look like by the way?"

"It's a machine that spits out money. Muggles use them to..." Harry explained, but he paused mid-sentence. "Don’t bother, I found one.“

Five minutes later, Sirius stared at the money that had appeared in Harry’s hand. Apparently the smaller the distance to the object he wanted to summon, the easier it was.

"Basically you just robbed a bank in front of a witness," Sirius stated after he had recovered from the first shock.

"What are you going to do? Report me?" Harry said and Sirius grinned.

"Sure. Just let me send a Patronus with the message 'Hello is this the Auror Department? My name is Sirius Black, and I witnessed Harry Potter rob a Muggle bank," his godfather joked.

"I think after they've arrested you, they would even be willing to listen. Imagine the headline: 'Harry Potter stealing from innocent Muggles', right after 'Black in chains - the ministry strikes again',“ Harry answered grinning.

"Yeah," Sirius laughed as they continued walking through the streets. "And Kingsley would have to give an interview and explain how he finally managed to capture me.“

"I would bring you a paper clipping after I'd bought myself free with my stolen money," Harry said grinning.

The next hour, they walked through the streets and Harry watched how Sirius relaxed more and more. They picked up some clothes for Sirius' which he shrank to a manageable size for easier transportation and eventually, they ended up buying some ice-cream cones and paused to sit on a bench.

Harry had stopped chatting with Death sometime earlier because Sirius paled every time he started talking to the invisible being or responded to a comment Death had made, which Sirius couldn't be aware of.

Currently, the creature was curled around Harry’s neck in his snake form, which strangely seemed to calm his Sirius somewhat. According to him, knowing where the being was, was a relief as he would no longer worry that he could accidentally 'run' into him.

Harry refrained from mentioning that no one ever ran into Death and that his presence had been an easy way to get around, as the crowd almost automatically parted in front of them. But for Sirius' sake, he gave up on that advantage and instead took comfort in the weight around his shoulders, even if his godfather didn’t really approve. After they had sat down on the bench, Sirius cast a privacy charm, which enabled them to talk freely.

“Can you even eat chocolate, I mean with your Animagus being a dog?" Harry asked curiously after a while of watching his godfather eating his ice cream.

"Hm?" Sirius looked up from his cone to Harry. "Oh yeah, as long as I'm in my human form. I once ate a bar of chocolate as a dog. I'm telling you, it wasn't funny even though your father and Remus thought so at the time. I had to listen to their jokes for weeks, even after the whole ordeal.”

Harry smirked. Once they had both finished their ice cream, Harry found that it was time to do what he originally had in mind. He turned to his godfather.

“I think we should head to Gringotts now," Harry suggested. Death slithered down, over his thighs.

“Gringotts?” Sirius asked, "That’s where you wanted to go?” Harry nodded. "Do we have a plan for my disguise?” his godfather inquired further.

“I don’t know," Harry said truthfully. "The goblins are very discreet and we have enough gold to ensure their secrecy. As long as they stay neutral, we don’t have to worry. But the question is, how you get past the wizards and witches.”

“I could go as a dog," Sirius said.

"Yeah, but you would have to reveal yourself in front of the goblins. Voldemort might know that you are an Animagus. There is the chance that a Death Eater spots you and gives the hint that you are in London. It’s your decision in the end, but I don't have a better idea right now either.”

“Well, a good plan is always a little bit risky," Sirius said grinning. He looked much younger than he had a few days ago.

“Then why are we waiting?" Harry asked. Sirius' eyes scanned the people around them. Thanks to his charm nobody noticed them. He stood up and turned into a gigantic black dog, quite similar to Deaths first attempt at disguise. He barked once. “I take that as the hint to go," Harry said and he dug his fingers into Sirius' fur. It was Death's hint to pull them along through the shadows.

They reappeared in a dark alley, which Harry soon recognized as a lesser-used connection between Knockturn Alley and Diagon Alley. He looked down at Sirius who met his gaze and licked once over his snout.

"I think the best way to go about it is if you follow me in some distance. It's the first time I'll be seen in public after the things that happened last summer during the tournament. I'm guessing that people will stare, so a dog a bit behind me won't draw as much attention." The black dog tilted his head and wagged his tail. "I take that as a yes," Harry said. He messed a bit with his hair, so it didn't cover the lighting bolt scar on his forehead till he was satisfied. "Alright. Let's go."

Almost as soon as Harry took a step into Diagon Alley he was noticed and whispers filled the air.

"...Harry Potter-“

"- Dumbledore -“

"- you-know-who is back“

"Nonsense, I know...“

"-ave you seen it? Do you see the snake?“

"-next dark lord...“

From the corner of his eye, Harry saw Sirius slip out of the narrow alleyway and then to not draw further attention to him began to head for Gringotts.

Harry walked past all the onlookers, his head held high while Sirius followed him in some distance. As he had predicted, the people were way too curious to pay much attention to a dog and instead proceeded to gape at Harry.

The prophet had done a good job pulling him through the dirt during the whole summer but now this only turned to his advantage.

Harry simply drew up an unnerving grin which he had seen on Death's face more than once and stared at the people who looked too long.

Those individuals froze like deer in front of a headlight, a feat to achieve fulfilled Harry with an unreasonable satisfaction.

They reached Gringotts without problems, and if somebody saw a giant dog entering the bank, they didn’t mention it.

The entrance hall was impressive as always. And the Goblins didn’t shower him with accusing looks as they had done some time in the future, which was probably due to the intact ceiling.

Right now he wasn’t yet infamous for breaking into Gringotts and escaping on the back of a dragon which could only help him in his relation with the goblins.

A few witches and wizard talked to the eerie-looking bankers, but no one had noticed them yet. They were spotted by a goblin, who was just inspecting a bar of gold. He quickly informed the colleague next to him in gobbledegook, who stood up and approached them.

"Mr Potter," he greeted Harry as he came to stand in front of him, about a head taller than Kreacher with pointed ears and a cunning spark in his beady black eyes. "I wasn’t aware, that you own a dog," he added with a piercing look at Sirius, his long ring-adorned fingers twitching.

"He is more of a guest than a pet," Harry replied and bowed slightly, glad that Death was hiding under his shirt.

"Ah, these things are better spoken about elsewhere," the goblin said, all businesslike now and turned around, "Follow me,“ he snarled over his shoulder.

They traversed through the large entrance hall, entered a hallway and then walked through a heavy door, which fell shut when the goblin leading them snapped his fingers.

"Take a seat," he said and pointed at two chairs in front of a heavy wooden writing desk, which - although fitted for his size - was elevated on a marble platform as to bring him eye to eye or perhaps even a tiny bit higher than his customers. It was crowded with stacks of parchment, magnifying glasses in various sizes, a balance scale with matching weights, a candelabra, multiple inkwells of different colours and a few quills.

Harry sat down at the offer, but Sirius stayed next to the closed wooden door.

The room was mostly taken up by high drawers of dark wood and the heavy desk, which would've presented every occupant with a slightly oppressive atmosphere, were it not for the jewel-adorned chandelier, which threw sparkling lights on every surface. The only wall without any shelving was the one on the other side of the desk. At least fifty strings hung there, disappearing through small holes close to the ceiling.

"My name is Gornok," the goblin introduced himself once he had sat down. "Now Mr Potter, I already know your name, but your guest… I suppose it’s the person you mentioned in your letter?“

“It is,” Harry confirmed and looked at his godfather. Harry hadn’t told the goblins who Sirius was, but he had mentioned the possibility of another person accompanying him. A person whose identity was not to be revealed to anyone else, should they come with him. Turning back to the goblin, Harry said, "I can count on your discretion, can I? Should the identity of my ...friend come to light, it would put us both in an awkward position."

"Ours is the trade of gold, Mr Potter, not secrets. I can assure you, that the identity of your friend doesn't concern us."

Harry stared at the goblin for a while before he turned to look at his godfather, who got the hint and changed back into his human form.

"Sirius Black," Sirius said and greeted the goblin with a nod in a sophisticated manner. It stood in stark contrast to his appearance, with his old 'Sex Pistols' shirt and the worn jeans.

“Ah yes,” the goblin acknowledged him after the short moment in which he didn't speak. It was the only outward sign of surprise he showed. "Sit down Mr Black," Gornok said in a professional tone and Sirius took the seat next to Harry. The goblin folded his hands. “Mr Potter, you approached us because you want to claim your title as a lord?”

“Yes," Harry said.

“That request is rare nowadays," Gornok responded and he shuffled through the papers on his table. "It is no longer custom like it once was. Ah here," he said and then pulled a parchment scroll out of the stack. "Since you are not of age yet, the things are a bit more complicated. It is explicitly stated that the lordship title can only be claimed by someone who is of age.”

A moment of silence followed and Harry noticed that Sirius threw him an uncertain glance. Sirius was about to speak up when Gornok continued. “However, since you are the only Potter left, the things are a bit different. The laws regarding the lordship are old. Back then the term ‘of age’ did not only denote a wizard who has reached their seventeenth year of life. Considering these circumstances...” Gornok dove under the table and pulled a silvery case out of a drawer and set it onto the table. "As the head of your house, you are - in those terms - officially treated as an adult and thus, able to claim the title. Congratulations.” Gornok smiled a broad smile, baring his sharp teeth at Harry.

Through the whole monologue, Sirius’ expression had shifted from worried, to surprised and now he was grinning at Harry like a maniac. Once more Harry was avidly reminded of the fact that Sirius was indeed related to Bellatrix. Who else but a Black would've treated him still mostly the same, after learning that Harry was indeed the master of a very real Death.

“I've taken the freedom to retrieve this scroll from your vault. If you would sign here with your full name please," Gornok said and pointed at an empty space on the parchment. The document was covered in names, written in dark brown ink sometimes almost black. And every single one of them was a Potter.

With his long claw-like fingers, Gornok opened the silvery case and pulled out a quill. It was pitch black.

“A blood-quill?" Sirius asked with furrowed brows. The goblin looked at him.

“This is to ensure the validity of his identity," he explained pointedly. Turning to Harry, he added, "Unless you aren’t really Harry Potter, there should be no magical backlash." He looked at Harry - with what should probably be a threatening grin - but compared to Death, this was nothing. Harry mirrored the expression, smirking back at the goblin who paled somewhat.

Harry noticed that even Sirius shivered. And this time it wasn’t because of the being that was disguised as a snake. Harry picked the blood-quill out of Gornok’s hand.

“Then I don’t have to worry," Harry said sweetly and restrained his own magic which threatened to spill out of his skin. The tension in the room faded noticeably.

When Harry signed, his hand stung for a moment, but there were no visible wounds. As soon as the last letter of his name was written, Harry felt old magic wash over him.

“Now, Lord Potter," Gornok addressed him with a sneer and pulled another thing out of a drawer. It was a small jewellery box and when he snapped it open, it revealed a golden signet ring, which was fastened to - what appeared to be - a pocket watch chain. "The claiming of this title has opened up the technicality of you being considered an adult-" The goblin pierced him with a knowing look - "in certain aspects, not by law. Contractually though I'm therefore required to present you this ring. It was last worn by one Corvus Potter, who hadn't claimed Lordship but of whom I assume received the ring in common wizarding tradition-" Gornoks face showed very clearly what he thought of common wizarding traditions, but he continued anyway - "by it being handed down from his father.” Harry, who only had the vaguest notion of his own family reached out to take the offered ring, inspecting it with mild curiosity. It seemed to be in pristine condition and Harry looked at - what could only be - the Potter family crest. 

Sirius surprisingly snorted.

"What?" Harry asked him.

"I had forgotten about it," Sirius began, "But there was a story, a family legend if you so will, about Dorea Black, my great-aunt who married Charlus Potter. Apparently she was so outraged that all the family heirlooms ran through the main Potter branch, that she insisted on creating one herself. It was said that she had a signet ring fashioned, rather fitting, as one of the oldest Black heirlooms is one as well. From the name, I imagine that Corvus Potter was her son. I never saw the ring on James or Fleamont - your grandfather - so I never put much credit into the story." When there was no reaction from Harry, Sirius shrugged. "It's kinda funny that her attempt died with her son."

Harry shook his head amused, though more entertained by Sirius than the actual story. He looked at the signet ring once more. It was rather pretty. And apart from the invisibility cloak, he'd never possessed anything that had been passed down through his family. But the cloak as it had been was now gone. A physical reminder of the ties to his family might be nice. On a whim, Harry pulled the ring off the chain and slipped it onto a finger. 

My godfather would also like to claim his title," Harry mentioned when he raised his head. The goblin leaned over the table and looked at Sirius, who'd watched Harry incredulously.

“Is that so?" Gornok snarled and hummed thoughtfully.

“Yes," Sirius replied hastily and turned to look at the goblin. Gornok nodded and wrote something down. “This might take a day or two. We will write you, as soon as the preparations have been made," he said and now he almost sounded bored. "Is there something else I can do for you?“

“There is once more thing," Harry said. "I would also like to lay claim on the Peverell title."

“Peverell? " the Goblin repeated slowly. Now his interest seemed roused. “Well there is no official heir left, as we know. You can lay claim on their title, as long as you can prove that you have a right to do so."

“Ignotus Peverell’s granddaughter Iolanthe, married Hardwin Potter, who is an ancestor of mine," Harry said and Death moved for the first time, since they had entered Gringotts. He slithered over Harry’s shoulders. If he didn’t know it better, Harry would’ve guessed that Death had been napping. The goblin only spared the snake a small gaze.

“A simple heritage test will certainly clear us from all doubts," Gornok said. He opened a drawer at the bottom of his desk with a small key. Harry could hear glass clinking and then the goblin pulled out a vial not bigger than a finger. Inside was a liquid that reminded Harry of Dumbledore's Pensive. "If you would be so kind," the goblin said and held out his hand. Harry stared at him in confusion. "I need some blood," Gornok added at his questioning look.

"Oh." Harry extended his arm. Gornok used the blood quill to slice into Harry’s finger, pressing the vial against the wound. He let go of Harry's hand, when his blood had coloured the liquid a light pink.

"Excuse me for a moment," he announced and walked through a small door, which Harry hadn't even noticed until now.

"It’s a charm, similar to the one my family used on the tapestry in the drawing room," Sirius explained out of nowhere and he leaned back in his chair, stretching out his legs. "New-borns appear magically on the Black-tapestry. Of course a heritage test is much simpler because you actually have the blood of a person, but it’s the same principle. It shows your ancestors, but the blood can only be used on a charmed surface. That's the complicated part. I guess they have a special scroll of parchment somewhere," Sirius ended.

A movement on his shoulder drew Harry's attention. “You really can do something else if you want," he hissed in parseltongue. The sound caused Sirius to look at him, but he paled when he realized who Harry was talking to.

Meanwhile Death said nothing, but curled tighter around Harry.“It’s a miracle you aren’t bored," Harry continued after a moment, "Because I am, kinda. All the time the cleaning in Grimmauld Place... I think we should visit Voldemort sometime in the future. It could be fun.” 

At that, Death materialized in his human form. He grinned predatorily. “I would like that," Death said and he moved past Sirius, who shivered violently.

Harry smirked. “You like to tease him," he observed, as he watched Death interact with his godfather.

Sirius looked at Harry half offended half terrified. His eyes searched for Death and Harry was suddenly reminded that his godfather only heard half of the conversation.

“I might," Death admitted with a shrug and moved closer. Harry’s eyes snapped up to the being, who was still grinning. “He is the only one, who knows about me. I could kill him if we don’t need him anymore. I know that you are curious," Death stated.

Harry felt the thrill for a hunt echo in his own mind. And Death was right. He was curious and he wanted to know what it was like to kill somebody as the Master of Death.

He had killed as an Auror. Not often, just in those cases when it had been really necessary. When it had been justifiable.

In the beginning, there had been many Death Eaters on the run. In his apathy it hadn’t been difficult. The use of the killing curse had been legal for a year or two after the battle, to 'clean the world from that filth staining the wizarding community as the Head Auror had liked to put it.

The ministry apparently, was always a bit fucked up. But Harry had to admit that he didn’t really have room to talk, considering that he just pictured Death tearing apart Sirius and didn't feel horrified at the image. It was rather a morbid curiosity that slowly spread through his mind, causing him to wonder about the ifs and hows of this notion.

Something was really wrong with him.

He'd known for some time that some of Death's personality - mainly his lacking morals and empathy - had begun to bled over to him and it wasn't hard to figure out that it was the same way with the being's emotions.

Was just to hope that it worked vice versa, because in this moment, Harry had a hard time telling whether it was Death or him who was eager to kill.

Objectively it was a terrible realization and yet when Harry looked at Sirius, he could only think about how lucky his godfather was that he was fond of him. As his gaze was lingering on Sirius, he sensed a second layer of emotions - not quite his own - but a echo of what he was feeling himself.

“Curious perhaps," Harry repeated his thoughts out loud, "But I don't think either of us would be too happy about that solution." Grinning Harry looked at Death, who tilted his head at being called out like that.

Besides, killing someone just for the sake of it and on top, someone within his immediate environment was just plain stupid.

And Dumbledore was way to suspecting for his own good.

Meanwhile Sirius followed their conversation with a frown and although he could only hear half of it, it was apparently enough to have him worry.

“He's alright," Death said with a glance at Sirius and a small shrug. A motion, which Harry intriguingly noticed, Death must've picked up only recently. Perhaps he wasn't too far off with his guess that he impacted Death just like the being was influencing him.
Meanwhile Death stopped behind Harry. “We can wait," he rasped in his inhuman voice and after a moment, his fingers found their way into Harry's hair.

A pleasant tingle went down Harry's spine and he sighed at the touch. Suddenly he grew aware of Sirius, who watched him with an odd look. Harry awkwardly cleared his throat while Death smirked.

Altogether, they waited for fifteen minutes till Gornok reappeared. "It seems like everything you said was correct, Lord Potter," he declared. "As there are no conditions to claiming the title of the Peverell family, you are now also officially Lord and head of the house Peverell.“

"Alright. I guess this would be all then," Harry announced and was already about to stand up when the goblin interrupted him.

"Not so fast. Of course, you were aware that claiming a Lordship comes with a price," Gornok said. "Additionally there was the heritage test, which is 10 galleons. But as a Potter, this shouldn’t be a problem, am I right?" Gornok said and he grinned slyly.

A muscle in Sirius' jaw jumped while Harry’s eyes narrowed dangerously. The goblin was right, money wasn’t a problem, but Harry didn’t like the way Gornok had sounded.

"I’ll cover the costs," Harry commanded, "Take everything from my vault and double it. I don’t have to repeat, that this should be handled with the uttermost secrecy." Harry leaned forward and stared at the goblin and he felt Deaths smirk next to him. The being seemed to find this whole affair amusing. Gornok took a step back as Harry’s magic spilled over, his aura expanding around him like poisonous fog. "I pay my debts. That's for sure," Harry hissed. And as he stared at the goblin, he really felt the part of him that was stemming from Death. "But don't try to cheat me. You wouldn’t succeed."

With that, he turned around and left, Sirius followed him, already shifting back into his animal form.

Chapter Text

Once they had been whisked back into Grimmauld Place No. 12, they found themselves in one of the old bedrooms upstairs. Sirius peaked into the hallway, but nobody was there although they could hear noises from downstairs. "I’m going to look after Buckbeak, I haven't had time to feed him yet," Sirius said and when they parted ways on the stairs he added, "Take care, Harry."

Surprisingly enough, when Harry entered the drawing room he wasn't confronted by Mrs Weasley about why he'd been missing, but Ron and Hermione stared at him and pulled him aside as soon as there was an opportunity. Apparently, they had covered for them, telling everyone that they were preparing a strategy for the trial. Which really wasn’t a lie considering their visit to Gringotts.

"Where were you?“ Hermione whispered while they pretended to clean dust out a shelf.

"Why are you asking? You know I was with Sirius," Harry responded, slightly amused.

"We looked all over for you. We even knocked onto Sirius' door," Ron intercepted, pausing in his scrubbing of a - particularly - nasty spot.

Harry stopped for a moment, contemplating what he should tell them. “Sirius and I, we visited Gringotts today," he said eventually.

“Gringotts?" Hermione parroted shocked, “But Harry, how could you do this?! Sirius is a criminal on the run! Do you know how dangerous this was?! What if someone saw you?!”

“I hate to say this mate, but Hermione is right. This is outright crazy," Ron replied hesitating.

“It was necessary for my strategy," Harry answered, amused at how the vagueness of his statement increased Hermione's and Ron's curiosity even more.

“What are you planning, Harry?" Hermione asked him.

“I claimed a lordship title.”

“A title?! What does that mean? That you're a lord now, or what?" Hermione questioned, “How would that even be valid-“

“I thought this wasn’t done anymore," Ron said, interrupting Hermione.

“Oh, it is," Harry replied. “It's just seen as outdated. And it wasn't that cheap either..." Harry muttered the last sentence, grudgingly reminded of Gornok.

“So you bought yourself a title. That doesn't really make much sense, does it?" Hermione inquired.

"It's a requirement you have to fulfil to be able to claim a seat in the Wizengamot," Harry stated.

Unsurprisingly, Hermione picked up on the meaning of it first. "You enabled yourself to vote on your hearing!" she exclaimed, before Ron - with a look over his shoulder - hushed her. "But Harry," she continued whispering, "One vote won't make much of a difference in the overall outcome."

"It's more of a backup plan anyways," Harry deflected, all too well aware that him claiming a seat in the Wizengamot might as well be the start of a chain reaction.

"And how does that even work?" Hermione added after a moment. "From everything I've read about the Wizengamot, members are unanimously voted into their positions and all of them are of age."

"It's a loophole I'm trying to exploit. Some old laws no one bothered to change after people no longer cared whether they held a title or not. At some point in time, even the Ministry started a campaign to support families who were giving up on their title. From my research, it wasn't that conclusive why they did it, but I know that it was under the guise of closing the gap between the 'not so established families' and the 'long established wizarding families'."

"Speak muggle-borns and purebloods," Hermione concluded with a tight expression.

"There was certainly an overlap," Harry agreed. "But since it was seen as rather old-fashioned and anti-government, most families saw no need to hold onto a useless title."

"Why useless?" Ron asked curiously and Harry indulged him by telling him what he knew.

"Just like in the muggle world, titles were stripped of most rights that came with them. For example, the power of exercising capital punishment, wardship, etcetera. And those families, who held a title were already established in the Wizengamot. I guess at that point in time it was more beneficial to go with the flow of time' so to say. I can see how it was seen as a smart move, politically spoken. I'm guessing that there weren't many Lords out there and by letting go of that title they would certainly gain the favour of the broader masses and earn them the support of people who otherwise would've seen them as privileged. Though I can only guess. This all went down over a hundred years ago, but either way, some old laws still stand."

“Harry this is-," Hermione started.

“- bloody brilliant," Ron said and he looked at Harry in wonder. Harry smirked.

“Harry," Hermione said, “This all sounds pretty speculative. Are you sure this works out the way you intend it to? Some laws are really tricky.”

“From what I read," Harry said, “They can't change them unless every Lord in the Wizengamot votes in favour of it. And to my knowledge, this issue has never been addressed.”

“But Harry, one vote isn’t going to get you declared free of all charges," Hermione repeated.

“No, but it’s a start," Harry replied. He paused and with a serious look he added, “Nobody knows about that and I hope that it stays that way.”

Hermione and Ron shared a look. “We won’t tell anybody," Hermione said eventually, though she and Ron looked at him with concerned expressions.

“Come on guys. Do you really think, that Dumbledore doesn’t also have a plan?" Harry said to ease their worry. Inwardly he was grimacing. He didn’t plan on Dumbledore having a say in his trial at all. At least as far as was possible.

“Yeah, you’re right," Ron said, “But why did you go with Sirius? Why not with somebody else?”

“He could use some fun, going out," Harry said shrugging.

“And he is the only one who would bring you to Diagon Alley without asking questions, am I right?" Hermione retorted in a scolding tone.

Harry grinned at that, suddenly remembering that he shouldn't even know how to apparate on his own.

"Harry," Hermione said hesitantly, "Sirius might not see it this way, but by asking him to take you there, you put him in danger, not to speak of what could’ve happened if a Death Eater walked through Diagon Alley.“

"Sirius is an adult. I told him about the risks and he decided to help me anyway," Harry said already knowing that this conversation would run into nothing.

"Hermione, Sirius isn't stupid," Ron interfered, "And do you think that any of the others would have helped him?“

"Fred and George would probably be the first to jump to Harry's help with an idea as risky as this," Hermione shot back.

"Fred and George don’t-" Ron started, then he stopped and turned to Harry - "Yeah, why didn’t you ask Fred and George?“

"It didn’t cross my mind, I guess.“ Harry shrugged and his eyes flickered to Death, who killed some of the remaining doxy’s hiding in the walls by simply reaching through and letting his fingers brush over their nests.

"It- It didn’t cross your mind?" Ron questioned, sounding like he couldn't believe that Harry had forgotten about Fred and George in his plans. He was shaking his head.

After that, their conversation slowly died down and the next few hours, they were kept busy by Mrs Weasley who always found a new spot that needed some attention.

When it was time for dinner, they finally headed downstairs. Once they entered the kitchen, they were greeted by the familiar sound of Sirius' barking laugh. Harry didn’t need long to figure out the reason for his good mood. Next to Sirius sat Lupin, who seemed exhausted but otherwise fine. The man was grinning at Sirius.

“Hey Remus," Harry said, when he let himself fall down on a chair opposite to them, Death in his snake form slithered down his arm onto the table.

“Hello Harry," Lupin said and turned his head to greet him.

“Got tired of your beard?” Harry questioned, only now noticing that the werewolf had apparently decided to remove his tell-tale moustache, which he had sprouted since Harry had known him as a teacher. This also caught the attention of Ron and Ginny who eyed the former professor curiously.

Meanwhile, the werewolf raised a scar-marred hand to scratch over the day-old stubble covering his jaw. “Oh, somebody told me that it looked stupid," he answered with an uncertain smile.

“I think it looks good," Ginny surprisingly interjected, “I mean without the beard.” She blushed.

Meanwhile, Sirius leaned over to Remus and mumbled something in a low voice. Curiously, Harry watched the exchange and how Lupin opened his mouth to answer and yet closed it without having replied anything.

He seemed surprised and his amber eyes flickered towards Sirius in a curious way, but the Animagus had already turned away and was taking sips of his wine. After a moment, Remus also shifted back to turn to his meal, a faint smile on his lips.

It was then, that Harry caught Remus gaze. He let his eyes flick from Remus to Sirius and back again while raising his eyebrows in a questioning manner.

Lupin took a big sip of his wine and broke eye contact. Nothing indicated what he was thinking, but when Harry focused a bit, he could sense the wolf under Remus' skin. Curiously enough it was lingering on the side that was facing Sirius, agitatedly pulling in that direction

Hermione shot Harry a curious look when he leaned back in his chair, smirking over his discovery.

Half an hour later most of the people had finished their meal and had resorted to chatting about various topics. Some of them talked in hushed voices, like Bill and Mr Weasley, which told Harry that it was most likely something regarding the order.

Sirius and Tonks were involved in a heated discussion about the bands of the ’70s, while Harry idly listened to Ron - who told him about the latest game of the Chudley Cannons - and petting Death who lazily slithered over his hands.

He was lucky that this younger version of Ron didn’t know about the losing streak of his favourite team that would last for years to come. The redhead was currently completely caught up in explaining an almost-catch by their seeker.

“But didn’t they lose?" Harry interrupted his rant, while his eyes scanned the people around the table. His attention had been caught by the fact that the conversations seemed to have quieted down significantly, most people having silenced completely.

“Yeah, but that’s not the point. I mean, Gudgeon was so close. If it wasn’t for that stupid bludger he would’ve-“ Ron stopped, when he finally noticed that Harry wasn’t listening anymore.

Every member of the order was staring at them.

The other teenagers shared confused glances. Harry leaned back in his chair and waited. Death scented the air, quietly hissing every so often.

"What?!“ Harry said eventually when nobody said anything. He did have a vague idea of what was going on, though. Sirius cleared his throat and looked at Mrs Weasley. The others followed his gaze.

"Well, fine," she began, "We - and while I still think that it isn’t a good idea and in my opinion, you are way too young and even-“

"Molly," Mr Weasley said, interrupting patiently. She sighed. Apparently, it was an argument they'd already had.

"We have decided that you are old enough to hear about some of the things concerning the order.“

Ron, Ginny and the twins shared excited looks. Hermione frowned. She seemed to be the only one who thought that there might be a catch. As if on cue Mrs Weasley turned to send her children to bed. Immediately a heated discussion followed, the twins arguing that they were of age and Ron remarking that Harry would tell him everything anyway.

In the end, it was only Ginny who was sent to bed. Her magic surrounded her in fiery sparks as she violently slammed the door behind her before stomping upstairs, Mrs Weasley following shortly after, to make sure that she wasn't listening by the door.

This time it wasn't Sirius who led the conversation but instead, Mr Weasley began with an - obviously - rehearsed speech about how dangerous it was to let them in on too much.  

"So, what do you want to know?" Lupin asked him afterwards.

Harry sat in silence, somewhat baffled. He'd never thought to be in this position again. He had to admit, that he'd ever only had a vague idea of what the order was doing and on the other hand he knew of things they hadn't even an inkling of. It was quite the irony.  

He made an effort not to meet Sirius' eyes while he thought about what to ask. In the end, he settled for the obvious.

"What is Voldemort up to?" he asked, ignoring that the majority of people shivered at the name. Recalling the summer his younger self had experienced, he added, "From what I've seen there haven't been any reports of strange murders yet."

"Cause there haven't been any," Lupin responded.

"As far as we know," Sirius added. "And we know a lot."

"More than he believes us to know, at least," the werewolf said. Every teenager was listening eagerly.

"How come, he's stopped killing people?" Ron intercepted.

"He doesn't want to draw attention," Harry said before anyone else could reply. Lupin nodded.

"His return didn't work out quite the way he expected," he continued. Harry nodded and bit back a grin. His survival after the ritual on the graveyard was certainly not one of Voldemort's greatest feats. Not to speak of him telling Dumbledore. He must've been furious at that.  

"So, what exactly does the order right now?" Harry asked.

"We're trying to keep Voldemort from going through with his plans," Lupin added vaguely.

"What plans?" Harry asked. Lupin didn't squirm under his piercing gaze but instead answered calmly.

"He wants to rebuild his army. He will try to recruit wizards and witches as well as dark creatures and giants. Those that have supported him the first time around."

"And you try to keep him from reaching that goal," Harry concluded.

"Which is harder than you think, considering the Ministry's position in all this," Tonks interjected. Over the course of the dinner, she had changed her hair from long blonde curls to a short and spiky purple look, her eyes now matching her hair colour.

Once again it was Lupin, who elaborated on her statement, telling them about the pressure the Ministry was putting on the Daily Prophet and how Dumbledore was being discredited in every possible way since Fudge felt threatened him.

"But how come you know what he plans?" Harry eventually asked, leaning forward while Death climbed up his elbow and back upon his shoulders. Many on the table followed the eerie display that was snake and Master. No one had really gotten used to the being yet and Harry was somehow enjoying the unease, which spread whenever Death did something that wasn't all that animal-like.

"Dumbledore's got a vague idea," Lupin said, his eyes wandering back from Death to Harry. "And Dumbledore's vague ideas usually turn out to be true."

Harry snorted and he looked down at the snake wrapping itself around his arm. "So all you're currently doing is based on a guess."

"A very educated guess," Mr Weasley said.

"You're telling me, you've got no idea, none at all what Voldemort is currently up to? You don't have a spy in his rows, no informant of any kind?" Harry questioned and he glanced up from under his lashes. The last thing he'd only asked for his own amusement, curious as to what they would answer.

Sirius met his gaze with a frown, while the other's sat in uncomfortable silence, exchanging awkward looks.

"Right now, we're mostly trying to get as many people as possible to believe us that you-know-who has returned," Mr Weasley said after a pause that lasted way too long. "Being prepared is the best thing we can do. And we've even had some success so far. For example Tonks here. She was way too young the first time around to be in the order. She and Kingsley are a real win. Especially since Kingsley leads the division against Sirius."

"Thanks to him, they think I'm currently hiding somewhere in Tibet," the Animagus interjected with a grin.

"But Voldemort won't do nothing, even while laying low, will he?"

"We know that Voldemort has other plans. Plans he can follow through without drawing attention," Sirius said.

"What exactly do you mean with that?"

"He wants something he didn't have the first time."

"What?" Ron asked curiously.

Sirius shifted in his chair. "For example a weapon." He didn't get to elaborate any further.

"That's enough!" Mrs Weasley had returned and with an authoritative look, she sent them all to go to bed, despite Fred's complaints.

Sighing Harry followed them upstairs, but he'd already known from the beginning that it wasn't likely that he would get to hear anything substantial.  

Despite Mrs Weasley's control walks past their room, Fred and George still apparated into Harry's and Ron's room, to speak about what they'd learned. Harry kept rather quiet, although amused by the wild speculations they brought forth.

Eventually, though, they left and Ron fell asleep.

 

Almost two hours had passed since then and Harry had used the time to continue reading the books, which were hidden under his bed. Suddenly a quiet pop startled him. Kreacher was standing right at the foot of his bed, an expectant expression on his wrinkly face. Harry had almost forgotten about his promise to the house-elf.

"You are here because of the locket, aren’t you?“ Harry asked and snapped the book shut after marking his page.

"Yes," Kreacher started, "Or won't the Potter boy stand true to his word... Maybe he is just a filthy blood traitor like the other brats," the last part was muttered under his breath, but Harry didn’t doubt, that he knew what he was saying.

"I don’t think, that this room is appropriate for this. Is anybody still up?“ Harry asked Kreacher.

"Master Black is in the kitchen, with the wolf and a few of the blood traitors," Kreacher replied.

"And is somebody in the drawing room?“

"No, young Master.“

"Then let’s head there," Harry said. Kreacher grunted and Harry followed him, sneaking out of the room.

Kreacher led the way. Death walked silently beside Harry. The house-elf seemed to feel uneasy even if he couldn’t see the being.

Once they had reached their destination, Harry closed the door and cast a silencing spell, just to be sure.

Inside the drawing room, Harry looked at Death, who dropped the locket into his open hand. Kreacher stared at it, his widening eyes gleaming in the dark.

Harry placed the locket on the floor. There weren't many ways to destroy a Horcrux. The only one he could now consider was fiendfire.

He'd never used the spell before and he felt a bit nervous. Dark magic wasn't something he'd dabbled in much. Apart from the unforgivables which was quite ironic, if he thought about it now.

Death, meanwhile sat down on the floor, crossing his legs just a few steps from the locket, which pulsed on the ground in the mockery of a heartbeat.

The being seemed to pick up more human habits the longer he spent time in Harry's company, but when he turned his head to face him, there was something unnerving about the motion.

He provided neither encouragement nor did he try to keep Harry from going through with what he planned.

Death just looked at him with an eerie grin.

Harry could feel the being's curiosity as if it was his own and he refrained from sticking out his tongue at the being, knowing that Death eagerly anticipated the outcome, indifferent to whether Harry would manage to destroy the Horcrux or if he would burn down the house alongside every inhabitant.

Kreacher's eyes had followed Harry's seemingly empty look and the elf shuddered before he eventually directed his gaze back onto the Horcrux.

He couldn't use his own wand. With Death in snake-form as an everyday companion, he would be scrutinized even closer and who knew if someone would try to use 'prior incatato' as a means to check which spells he had used?

But the wand with the phoenix feather wasn’t his only option. Harry smirked as he willed the Elder wand to appear in his hand.

“You might want to keep some distance," Harry told Kreacher while taking back a few steps himself. "I’m going to use fiendfire to destroy it.” The words came out with more confidence than Harry felt he could muster, but Kreacher looked at him in awe and shuffled towards the wall.

It was the first time, Harry consciously wielded the elder wand and it sang in anticipation of what was to come.

He didn’t even need to say the words. As soon as his mind had finished forming the thought, flames in various shapes and sizes burst out of its tip as if they had waited to be released from an invisible prison.

He saw a thestral beating its flaming wings, dragons taking shape only to dispel into a flock of crows, collapsing into themselves and reemerging as a Basilisk.

Harry felt the heat when the fire roared up, much higher and more violent than he ever imagined, painting the room in orange light.

The skin on his wrist blistered by the sheer proximity. It took all his self-control to bend the flames to his will, keeping them from the walls, curtains and ceiling they threatened to devour.

And there, amidst the inferno sat Death - laughing, when the raging flames overturned in front of the invisible barriers Harry had set, seemingly whispering words of a language long forgotten.

Restive and hissing they piled up and collapsed in an endless cycle and yet they obeyed.

Sweat was pearling on Harry's skin as he directed them towards the locket.

Hungrily they hurried towards it, flaming creatures toppling over each other, burning nothing but their intended target as they rushed over the ground.

The Horcrux screamed and a part of Harry felt rattled to the core as he heard the sound.

His knuckles were white, when he ended the spell with a flick of his wand, darkness crashing down upon them like an avalanche.

Panting, Harry stared at the empty vessel, which laid open and vulnerable on the ground, barely illuminated by the moonlight.
Adrenaline was pumping through his body.

The shard of Voldemort's soul within the locket had died but never before had Harry felt its counterpart so vividly in his own head.

Despite himself, he felt the need to soothe its worries.

It pulsed in distress at the faint trail of smoke circling above the smouldering remains of its former twin, whose edges had melted into a shapeless mass.

Yet, at the same time, the power of the forbidden magic was still thrumming in his veins, a dark rush - addicting and exciting - flooding his mind with ecstasy, lifting him to never known heights. With a trembling hand, Harry wiped over his mouth the wand still in hand. He could taste his own sweat, when he realized - that for a brief second - he had felt what Voldemort was too numb to notice. The death of a piece of his soul.

And while it couldn't be compared to the bond he shared with Death, it was still odd to dive so far into the mind of someone else.

Impassively, Death rose from his spot and began to walk over to Harry, who only now grew aware of Kreacher's presence, where he had pressed himself against one of the walls.

Harry listlessly gestured towards the destroyed Horcrux. “You can go and check if it’s really destroyed”, he said to the house-elf with a croaking voice.

Kreacher hesitantly crept closer and inspected the locket. After a moment he kicked it which drew a hoarse laugh from Harry's throat. Only then the house-elf looked up at him. His whole demeanour had changed.

“Young Master kept his promise," he uttered shakily and then he bowed so far that his nose almost touched the ground.

Death came to a stop right next to Harry, watching silently as he cleared his throat. “I said I would help you with it. I keep my word," Harry replied before he glanced at the locket. The soul inside it was gone. No life pulsed in there. It was only a piece of metal now.

Meanwhile, Kreacher began to mutter praises, mumbling about what a worthy heir Harry would've made. He insisted on leading Harry back to his room, but Harry dismissed the elf, who respectfully bowed before he disapparated with a quiet sound.

Harry remained where he was, the elder wand melting back into his skin without him noticing. Eventually, he moved to pick up the remains of the Horcrux, shoving it into one of his pockets. Only a scorched spot on the floor told of what had taken place in this room.

When Harry turned around, he was facing Death, who simply looked at him. There was no need for words.

Harry didn't even know if he could describe his inner turmoil if he wanted to.

In the end, he simply stepped into Death's space, letting his head drop against the being's chest, wrapping his arms around him in a loose embrace.

Harry could feel their bond hum, a familiar warmth washing over him, slowly soothing his churning mind.

The taller creature gently began to card his fingers through Harry's hair, another hand hesitantly brushing over his Master's back.

After a while, a soft rumble disturbed the silence and Harry smiled into Death's shirt where he could feel the soft vibrations.

Eventually, Harry pulled back.

"It's time to go back," he voiced quietly, not really expecting an answer.

He lifted the silencing charm from the room before he left it behind, Death following him into the hallway.

They had almost reached Harry's room when Death spoke up. "I can mend Tom Riddles soul if you want me to."

Harry stared at him.

"I know you can sense its despair. It screamed in your head."

Harry's mouth opened and closed like that of a fish. He couldn't deny that it was bothering him, still. Even now that the piece of soul had once more returned to a state of dormant slumber within his mind.

Now that he was more aware of the small and foreign presence, he felt oddly responsible for it. "You would do that?" Harry asked eventually. "For me?"

"Yes. And I think you could do it yourself one day too."

Harry looked upon the being in wonder.

"You are powerful. Way more than you think you are. The things I’ve shown you so far are only a small part of it. It will take time, but one day you could walk between the planes of existence," Death said in his inhuman voice.

It took a while for this statement to sink in. After a moment though, Harry's thoughts began to circle once more about what Death had told him previous to it. They could restore Tom Riddles soul. The notion seemed to have burned itself into his mind.

Considering that he'd just destroyed a part of it, this was certainly an odd plan. But it wasn't like the piece was lost to them. Death was Death. And as long as it hadn't moved on he still could retrieve it.

That notion of mending what Voldemort had torn apart made Harry feel unexpectedly giddy.

"How things are now though, I fear that there's no guarantee that he won't simply rip it apart once it's given back to him."

Death's words pierced Harry like a knife and his mood dropped in an instant. He didn't know why the notion of tearing a soul apart hit him so hard now. It wasn't like this was the first time he heard about it, nor had discussed the topic.

Perhaps, it came with the job description.

With a deep frown on his face, Harry entered his room.

Ron was still sleeping soundly, but to Harry sleep just didn't want to seem to come. He laid in his bed, staring at the dark ceiling, while thoughts were coursing through his mind as the hours went by.

Voldemort's soul could be repaired. Mended. This notion didn't leave his head. It stuck to him like glue and in an endless circle his thoughts always returned to it.

He was both impressed and deeply disturbed by the fact that this man had split his soul into seven different parts. Eight, if one counted the part that had embedded itself in Harry the day Voldemort first tried to kill him. A factor of which the dark Lord himself wasn't even aware of.

He could feel it in his head. Since the moment Harry had destroyed what remained of the locket, he was painfully aware of the foreign piece of soul that despite everything still felt familiar.

Harry had spent almost two decades with the Horcrux in his head. It was a long time to get used to it, but now he could feel the soul.

And not as a channel to Voldemort's emotions. He felt the fragment itself. How it hung on to every thread connecting it to its counterparts. How it had slowly woven itself into Harry's mind, clinging to it like ivy to a tree only to find some kind of support.

The thought of tearing apart a soul in so many pieces simply felt wrong.

It wasn't right.

It was like an itch he couldn't scratch.

And Harry could feel that Death shared the sentiment in a way.

Although, unlike Harry, Death appeared to experience a range of emotions for the acts that Voldemort had committed. Harry had a hard time telling them apart, but he knew there was some resentment too, sadness and eagerness and something that was outright predatory.

Restlessly, Harry shifted in his bed. Outside of his window, he could see how the stars had begun to fade away and the sky was greying in the first morning light.

Death was still somewhat of a mystery. Currently, he was lounging on the windowsill, sitting perfectly still. Although, Harry had noticed that the being seemed to become more human in some ways. The way he moved from time to time and the way he talked seemed to change. It was as if Death had become more comfortable in developing his own - somewhat disturbing - personality.

He observed the being for a moment before he finally sat up and leaned against the headboard of his bed.

Suddenly wondering, Harry addressed the being, "Uhm, Death. You said, that I had already seen how you truly looked like, but that I wouldn't now... What do you truly look like?”

Death turned his head. His pupil-less eyes pierced Harry's. Slowly he stood up and walked over to his bed. “If you really want to see my true self, you need to let go of the restrictions of the human consciousness. You have to forget what is possible and what not. I can’t force you to see me, I can only help you. You have to look for yourself.”

Thoughtfully, Harry looked at the being when it came to stop on the foot of his bed. At age eleven Harry had been thrown into a world of wonder and magic, at age seventeen he had died and come back. And he remembered a life, a life he had lived until he was twenty-four. He had never thought that magic had its restrictions like others had. Magic wasn’t logical.

It was easy to believe in the unbelievable.

Closing his eyes, Harry breathed deeply as he focused on the bond that connected him and Death. He felt the bed dip, when the being closed some of their distance, sitting down right next to him. He felt Death's hand brushing over his face. Power thrummed through him, their shared energy washing over them both.

And when Harry opened his eyes, he saw.

Death was… incredible. With an open mouth, he stared at the being. He was endless and at the same time only in this room. Death was there but not. He could see Ron’s bed, the sleeping owls on the wardrobe and at the same time his whole vision was filled with feathery wings, giant wings which took up the whole room moving through furniture and the walls, not even bothered by them. Harry counted twelve until he was distracted by thousands of eyes watching him. He extended a hand, and he was met with one. Their palms touched and Harry felt his connection to Death stronger than ever. A part of him was Death, was this mass of feathers, dark light and eyes. Harry watched in awe when the wings moved slowly as if they were floating in water. And he should be called Master of such an eternal being? A warmth spread through him and fondness washing over him. He couldn’t describe what his emotions were, as he connected with the being in front of him.

My Harryyyy… my Masteerr…

Death’s voice spoke in his mind. With time, Death’s true image faded into the background and he sat in front of Harry, looking like he'd always looked like.

And Harry realized that this human form was just another part of him and yet so incredibly different compared to his other face.

Harry could still see Death’s true form. Like a play of light, there was a shadow of wings in the corner of his vision. There was the sensations of eyes watching him and a comforting presence filling the room.

Harry hadn’t realized that he was crying and smiling at the same time until his eyes focused back on the familiar face of his almost-twin.

He felt the incomprehensible need to hug the being only to distract him from the feeling of loss, now that everything was back the way it was before.

But how could such a pathetic gesture compare to the intimacy they had shared just a few moments ago. But like always Death knew what he was thinking. The being cupped Harry’s face and brushed his lips against his forehead. Harry felt invisible hands carding through his hair. Harry sniffed and smiled.

Chapter Text

It was early in the morning when he met Sirius in the hallway.

Harry had woken once he'd accidentally shifted in his sleep and the injury on his wrist had flared up full force. Unfortunately, there was nothing he could do to mend his burnt skin. Cursing, he had eventually dragged himself out of his bed, looking for bandages and a long-sleeved shirt, which would hide his blisters for now. He doubted that there was something he could do as most injuries caused by dark curses had to heal on their own. Groggy and somewhat pissed off, Harry had just finished his task, when he'd encountered his godfather.

Harry hadn’t thought that anyone was already awake and appropriate for this early hour, Sirius still looked very ruffled.

A short conversation later, Harry had learned that his godfather had just been on the way to get some coffee. Apparently, a very insistent owl had woken him up. He'd received a letter from Gringotts, telling him that everything was ready. Despite Sirius’ grumpy complaints and Harry's lack of motivation, they decided that it was probably best if they went to Diagon Alley while no one was around yet.

And thus it came, that half an hour later they sat inside the same office in Gringotts they had the previous day, with the walls covered in drawers and lines of strings behind the carved desk.

“Very well. Only to be formal, what is the title you want to claim?“ Gornok asked from behind a high stack of parchments.

"Lord Black," Sirius answered as they watched the goblin sorting through the papers. He still had dark rings under his eyes and he was fidgeting with the old signet ring Harry had taken from Kreacher sometime before. It had rather surprised him to see Sirius wearing it. 

"Mhh.“ The goblin nodded and after a few moments, he stood up and determined walked up to the wall of strings that hung from the holes near the ceiling. He pulled on one, which to Harry didn't look any special and then sat down as if nothing had happened.

They sat in awkward silence, Harry petted Death who once more accompanied him in his snake form, while Sirius’s frown deepened with every second. Gornok did nothing to help their confusion. But eventually, Harry heard someone approaching.

The door behind them opened shortly after and another goblin entered. He was smaller than Gornok and apart from a silvery pocket watch, he wore no jewellery.

"Sirius Black. I need everything required," Gornok demanded. The other goblin nodded and then disappeared.

They waited for some time. Next to Harry, Sirius’ fingers drummed on his thighs. Death slithered slowly over Harry's arm. Eventually, the door opened again. The goblin carried a few documents and a box made of shiny black wood. He walked over and put it on the table, while Gornok took the parchments. He started to shuffle through them before he briefly raised his head and dismissed the other goblin with a nod.

Gornok hummed as he looked through the papers. Sirius on the other hand stared at the black box, and Harry followed his gaze. It was decorated with different patterns. On top of it was a beautiful carving showing the Black Family crest. Harry couldn’t detect an opening, but the artefact pulsed hungrily with dark magic.

"Hm... mhhm... yes this should all be correct," Gornok muttered and raised his head, "Now, Mr Black. You seem to fulfil all conditions. You are of age, listed as an heir in these documents and current head of the house.“

"Well then," Sirius said and already reached for a quill.

"Oh, not so fast," Gornok said, "Every family has different conditions. While with Mr Potter, the simple confirmation of his identity through blood was enough, the Black family states that only someone able to open this box is worthy of this title.“ The Goblin pointed at the carved box with a long spindly finger.

Sirius groaned. "Typical," he muttered while he took the box in his hands. As soon as he touched it, Harry could see how the artefact consumed a tiny bit of his magic. Sirius seemed to have noticed it too. He frowned and pushed some more magic in the box.

Harry guessed that only someone affiliated with a darker kind of magic could cause this reaction. His godfather turned it in his hand, but nothing else happened.

Sirius traced the lines with his fingers. "I wouldn’t be surprised if this thing would kill me as soon as I were to do something wrong," he said to Harry, "Maybe it's cursed...“

They were sitting in front of the box for about forty-five minutes when Harry decided that he would need appropriate dress robes for his hearing. Also, this was becoming kind of boring.

He looked at Sirius. "Would you be okay with me going to buy some things, while you try to open it? I will come here when I’m finished.“

"Hmm," Sirius traced some of the wooden patterns with his wand. Gornok had started to shuffle through his papers again. "Yeah, I think this could take somewhat longer," Sirius said.  

And while his godfather was dealing with the goblins, Harry withdrew some money from his vault and paid Madame Malkin’s a visit.

Not even half an hour later, he was the proud owner of a simple but elegant suit - the latest wizarding fashion - if one could believe Madame Malkin and a matching black cloak with silver stitching.

"It needs a few changes in length, but if you would come back in a few minutes it will be ready," Madame Malkin said.

Harry decided to pass the time by sauntering through Diagon Alley. He didn't buy anything from the various shops, because his cloak wasn’t cheap and he still needed a pair of fitting shoes, but he was tempted to stop by at 'Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour, just for old times sake. Also because Florean was still alive at this point in time and Harry was curious as to whether the quality of his ice cream had suffered through it.

In the end, he decided to head back to fetch his new attire. He bought his shoes - finest dragon leather, for the modern wizard - a few shops further down the road and then went back to Madame Malkin’s.

After all, he had been away for quite some time and Sirius was probably already waiting for him.

Harry exchanged a few words with Madame Malkin, while she waved her wand to have his cloak wrap itself before she reached over the counter to give him the tightly tied package.

Harry turned to leave, while Madame Malkin was already scurrying to the other side of the shop to help some customers.

He had made a few steps towards the exit when the door was opened from the outside and a pale blond figure entered.

Harry stopped dead in his tracks. From the pointy nose to the somewhat arrogant look, there was no mistaking who this person was. While Harry remembered an older and wearier version of him, this was Lucius Malfoy at the peak of his life. His reputation wasn’t ruined yet, he was influential and wealthy and he stood in favour of Voldemort - was his right-hand man even, if Harry remembered correctly.

As soon as Lucius spotted him, he also stopped. A few customers turned around and stared at them.

"Mr Potter. What a surprise to meet you here," Lucius began, "Where did you leave your guard-dog? It didn't get lost, did it? It would be a shame if someone caught the mutt and locked it up," Malfoy drawled casually as if he hadn't just told Harry how much of a mistake it had been to take Sirius to Gringotts.

And yet Harry smirked sharply. It was almost funny how much Lucius reminded him of an older Draco. The Malfoy’s had always been a little arrogant, but they could be charming if they wanted to. They had wormed their way into the ministry like the snakes that they were. A certain idea came to Harry's mind and his grin broadened even further

As an Auror, he'd been pretty good with charms and with the power of the Deathstick merged into his skin... He barely had to think to make it appear in his hand. With a subtle flick of his wrist, Harry threw up a privacy charm. It was as easy as breathing to have the Elder wand vanishing as soon as the charm had been cast.

Lucius raised an eyebrow when the people who had been watching them turned their backs with confused expressions on their faces.

The charm was way stronger than Harry had intended. He was lucky he didn’t try a blasting hex.

But he didn't care about it now. This was the perfect opportunity to sow some of the seeds that would most likely cause some interesting changes in the timeline.

"Actually, it’s Lord Potter now," Harry said. He met Lucius' look with his chin held high and just as arrogant as the blond man. Mr Malfoy’s eyes widened a fraction but otherwise, there was no sign of surprise on his face. A perfectly schooled Slytherin.

"…Lord Potter. Well, that is certainly new," Lucius said and Harry could almost see his mind working his way around the new information.

"It’s an old custom, Mr Malfoy. I am surprised, that you haven't heard about it," Harry jibed, although he spoke in a polite neutral tone which almost bordered on boredom. Inwardly he was smirking.

 Malfoy’s mask slipped slightly at the unexpected insult. But in this moment Death raised his head from where he had been wrapped around Harry's neck beneath his jacket and Malfoy stopped. His eyes flicked from the snake to Harry and back. Harry could hardly keep from laughing.

"I'm going to give you an advice, Mr Malfoy," Harry eventually began. He leaned forward and lowered his voice. Something, which was mostly unnecessary because of the privacy charm, but it caused Malfoy’s eyes to snap back to his face. "Let’s just call it a favour... from a possible future ally. You should gather some information. ...what it means to be a Lord and so on. After all, your family can also lay claim on such a title,” Harry said and he straightened his posture. With a smirk, he added, “If you act fast enough, you may be even able to witness my hearing. I know you must be incredibly curious as to the outcome of it and I wouldn't mind you attending it."

Harry could sense the confusion that quickly turned into interest. Malfoy was intrigued, even if he didn’t quite show it.

"But I would be thankful, if you were to forego the ...obvious way, for now at least," Harry continued with an afterthought. "Dolores Umbridge, she is the one responsible for the two dementors which attacked me this summer. Of course, this isn’t common knowledge. She is the undersecretary of the Minister and should this information reach the public, it would probably destroy her career. But who would believe me?" Harry continued, "I'm only a child."

The smirk that followed his words already stripped his statement of all credibility. Harry asked himself, whether Lucius would use this information to get a place in the courtroom. "Well, if you would excuse me now," Harry walked past Malfoy, but stopped right next to him, "I don’t want to read in the papers that my dog is running free. I might not be able to ruin someone's reputation right now, but I do have connections, Mr Malfoy. And I know things... I guess your Lord wasn’t pleased to hear that a certain diary was destroyed, was he?“ Lucius paled and he tightened the grip around the handle of his cane. "Have a nice day Mr Malfoy,“ Harry said.

"Have a good day Mr Potter," Lucius said, his eyes following Harry as he left the shop, with a smug look on his face.

"I think that this is a relationship, we should maintain," Harry hissed to Death, savouring the appalled reactions around him. Death curled tighter around his neck and Harry felt the ghost of a touch on his shoulders and the echo of Death’s deadly grin.

He smirked.

He was already discredited in the papers, what were a few additional theories that he was going to be the next dark lord?

Sirius was indeed already waiting for him in Gringotts. "And, have you solved it?" Harry asked him with a grin.

"Yeah, but I better not tell you about the nature of the spell to open it. After that, I only needed to let some blood drop into a hidden compartment beneath the family crest. To be exactly beneath our family motto 'Toujours pur'," Sirius said, the aversion clearly audible in his voice. Shaking his head he inspected the signet ring on his finger, which he still didn't appear to be quite used to. 

This time, Sirius was the one who brought them back to Grimmauld Place. Harry found that apparating was way more uncomfortable than his way of travelling.

"Before I forget it. This is the letter in which I am claiming the seats in the Wizengamot. You are declared holder of them, should I be absent.“ Sirius offered him a sealed letter. The imprint on the wax mirrored that of his ring. Harry looked at it and then at Sirius with a thoughtful expression.

“I will be honest with you Sirius," Harry began. "I’m going to make some decisions in the future you may not agree with. And if you give me this, I have only more power on my hands.” Harry watched Sirius frown in confusion but his godfather kept quiet as Harry continued, “On the other hand, if I am in the Wizengamot I might be able to prove your innocence..."

 It wasn’t very nice. He knew that he was manipulating Sirius into saying yes and despite its crudeness, it worked. Sirius hesitated, but then he gave Harry the letter.

“I trust you to do the right thing," Sirius said.

“Proving your innocence might take some time and I can't promise you anything. Hell, I have to win my trial first," Harry said while he took the letter.

"I have the feeling that you will," Sirius replied and he stuffed his hands into his pockets. Then his smile turned into a smirk. "And hey, maybe I can accompany you. We even went to Diagon Alley. A dog shouldn’t attract too much attention.“

"It’s very risky and I don't think it's a good idea, but I won’t tell you what to do. Decide for yourself," Harry said.

 

During the next few days, they started to clean the dining room. Ron was almost choked to death by some cloaks and Kreacher confused everyone by acting like Harry was the only worthy wizard in the house.

Throughout the whole time, members of the order went in and out. Remus helped them to fix a grandfather clock that spat screws at every passer-by with exception of Harry, which was a mystery even to him. The burn on his arm had slowly begun to heal, but after the initial blisters had started to vanish, Harry was still quite sure that it would leave a scar.

During that time, Harry noticed more than once how Remus' eyes followed Sirius’ every move and his godfather wasn’t much better. Every time the werewolf left the house to go on a secret mission, it was more common for Sirius to snap at Kreacher or walk aimlessly through the house.

“I don’t get it. Did you hex Kreacher so that he would worship the ground on which you walk? You have to tell us your secret," Fred asked him jokingly almost a week after Harry had encountered Lucius Malfoy. Harry himself just shrugged, as if he didn’t know it himself. "Mom found some expandable ears this morning, but she forgot to look under the bed. We haven’t hidden something under it in ages, so she doesn’t bother to look there anymore.“

"Put it right in front of her nose and she won’t see it," George said grinning.

"By the way, did you hear anything new?" Ron asked his brothers. Harry sighed.

Not a day passed, without the younger inhabitants of the house speculating about the mysterious weapon Voldemort wanted to get his hands on. At first, Harry found it amusing, but he soon grew tired of it. He didn’t bother telling them, that it was most likely the dementors, Sirius had talked about or the prophecy. The others blamed his lack of input on the matter on his approaching trial. As if Harry didn’t notice them whispering behind his back. But somehow he was even glad that he didn’t have to find an excuse of his own.

And before he knew it, the day had come and it was the evening before his trial. Ron, Hermione, Fred, George and Ginny got quiet when Mrs Weasley leaned over to him and said, “I ironed your best clothes, Harry, and I want you to wash your hair this evening. A good first impression can do wonders.”

“That's really nice, Mrs Weasley, but I actually got a cloak for my trial," he replied.

Oh," Mrs Weasley said and she looked uncomfortable. “Harry, don’t you think that the outfit from the Yule Ball-“

“Oh no.” Harry laughed. “It’s not from the Yule ball. I asked Madame Malkin for help in this matter.” Mrs Weasley seemed relieved.

“I’m glad to hear that," she said, but Harry saw how Remus frowned.

“Harry, when exactly did you buy your robe?" Lupin inquired casually.

“During the holidays," Harry replied, a smirk on his lips. Considering that it wasn't really a lie, Remus still looked far too suspicious, while Mrs Weasley shot Mundungus an accusing look as if it was his fault that Harry had gone to Diagon Alley while he was supposed to watch him.

Meanwhile, Sirius winked at Harry with a mirthful expression, but unfortunately, Remus caught it. That meant nothing good for Sirius. His godfather hadn’t told anyone about Harry's secrets yet. Considering that he would die if he did so was a whole other department. But their trips to Diagon Alley didn't really fall among the oath.

But the question now was, whether Remus would tell Dumbledore... Harry tilted his head and watched them. If the latter was true...

He put his hand under the table and summoned a pen and a little piece of parchment from across the room. Remainders of the weekly order gatherings.

Quickly he scribbled a few words on it. Harry noticed, that George was watching him curiously. He sat next to Sirius and probably knew more than he let on.

It was something Harry had never tried before, but considering that he was able to make things appear in his hand if they weren't too far away, it wasn't hard to imagine that if the distance wasn't too far, it could work the other way round.

Harry put his hand over the note. He looked George dead in the eye and smirked. Fred and George now both stared at him and then Harry lifted his hand. The note had disappeared.

The expression on their faces was hilarious. He looked at George and jerked his head towards Sirius, so they would get his attention. The freckled Weasley got the hint and tapped the man's elbow before motioning towards Harry.

Sirius, apparently glad to escape Remus' piercing look turned to his godson. At that, Harry lifted his goblet and pointed at the table. Sirius frowned but he raised his own cup. Fred and George's heads snapped to him simultaneously when the note showed up beneath Sirius’ goblet. Harry just sipped on his drink with a grin, while Sirius read the words.

 

You can tell Lupin about everything that falls under the oath.

But if he tells Dumbledore or anyone else, you will still be held accountable. 

 

He hoped that he didn’t make the wrong decision - writing that note and allowing Sirius to tell Remus about his secrets. Because while he might have stated that Sirius would be held accountable if Remus messed up, that didn't mean that the oath would recognize it as a violation. But it wasn't like he couldn't deal with it were it ever to come out.

Sirius casually burned the note, which earned him some curious glances, but nothing more. Fred and George still stared at Harry, soon delving into a discussion consisting of fast whispers.

"Harry, You will come with me tomorrow morning, when I go to work," Mr Weasley said, not having noticed their little exchange.

"Okay," Harry replied and turned back to Sirius when Molly interfered.

"Professor Dumbledore doesn’t think, that it’s a good idea if Sirius accompanies you, and I must say-“

"-that he is absolutely right," Sirius ended Mrs Weasley’s sentence, with a bitter look on his face.

Harry leaned back in his chair and unconsciously raised his brows. Dumbledore, huh? He wondered what the next day would bring.

They went to bed shortly after dinner, because of Molly's insisting that "Harry needs his sleep." He did wash his hair though because Mrs Weasley was right. A good first impression could do wonders.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Harry left a sleeping Ron on his bed and went down to the kitchen, wearing his new outfit and Death around his shoulders. Mr and Mrs Weasley, Sirius, Remus and Tonks were all sitting at the table. Tonks whistled and wriggled her eyebrows. Today she was blonde. "Harry, you look like a fancy pureblood heir. I hope you don’t try to act like one now.“

Meanwhile, Remus looked at him with an odd expression on his face. Apparently, Sirius hadn't thought too long about whether he should share some stuff.

"Nah. We already have Sirius, I think that’s enough drama for us all," Harry joked.

Sirius gasped dramatically and stuck his nose into the air. Remus grinned. "How dare you Harry James Potter," Sirius said in a fake offended voice, "Insulting the head of the noble and ancient house of Black. This won’t do your future connections any good. I know who isn’t going to be invited to my next soiree.“ Now it was Harry’s time to look offended. Tonks was curling with laughter. In his best impression of a young Draco Malfoy, Harry snorted pretentiously and rushed past him without a second glance.

After breakfast, everybody wished him good luck and then he followed Mr Weasley. “Harry, why don’t you leave-“Mrs Weasley gestured at Death as if she didn't quite know what to call him -“Your snake-”

“Grim," Harry told her and Sirius raised an eyebrow.

“Why don’t you leave Grim here. I don’t think that it’s a good idea to take him with you. What if he gets lost?”

“Yeah, sure," Harry turned to Sirius and smirked mischievously. “Can you look after him, as long as I’m gone?" he said and stretched out his arm. Harry felt Death’s amusement echo in his mind when Sirius leaned as far away from Death as he was able to.

“Ah, know what? I’m just going to put him on the floor. He’ll find his way.” Death remained on the ground for a few moments and then slithered into the shadows, just to appear next to Harry in his human form. If Harry wasn’t mistaken, he looked even more different now. Older again, more similar to Harry in his twenties and he had changed his nose. Also, he wore a different shirt and trousers. Probably the oddest of all things.

After they had used the long and awkward Muggle-way to go the ministry, they finally arrived in the atrium. “Well your trial starts at 9 am, so we’ve still got a little over an hour left," Mr Weasley said, as they walked past a group of busy looking witches.

Unlike Mr Weasley though, Harry knew that the ministry had moved his hearing to 8 am. They only had about fifteen minutes left to be on time.

How could he do something about it without raising too much suspicion? Harry closely observed the witches and wizards passing them. When they stopped in front of an elevator, a few more people joined their group to wait.

“Everything ‘lright Arthur?" The voice had come from a bearded wizard who was carrying a box. Harry held his breath for a moment. This was the sole opening that he needed. He wanted to laugh at the irony of what he was going to do. He used the same trick, he had when speaking to Mr Malfoy. He hid his hand in the folds of his cloak and called the elder wand to his hand. He looked at the man and then cast an imperius.

A dark rush took hold of him as a warm feeling trickled down his hand. For the slightest second, the eyes of the wizard stared into nothingness. Thankfully Mr Weasley was busy as he was inspecting the box with a curious look.

“What do you have here?” Mr Weasley asked.

“Oh, nothing in particular. An experimental charm gone wrong, but Arthur?”

“Hm, yes?" Mr Weasley said raising his head.

“Don’t you have to go downstairs?”

“Why’s that?”

“The trial of the Potter boy you’re with. I overheard a few people talking ‘bout it. Time and place were changed, weren't they? An hour earlier in the old courtroom.”

“What?!” Mr Weasley looked at his watch. “Harry! If that’s true we only have about five minutes.” He pulled Harry out of the elevator. “Thank you, Bob," he yelled over his shoulder.

“No problem, Arthur," the bearded wizard shouted back.

They hurried through the rooms, but luckily they didn’t have to run this time. They stopped inside a gloomy hallway. Torches on the wall were the only light illuminating his way. Hushed voices could be heard from the room at the end of the hallway. The door stood wide open. At least this time he wasn’t late.

“I can’t come with you," Mr Weasley panted and he stopped and leaned against the wall for support.

“You’ll have to go on your own. Good luck Harry," Mr Weasley said, “Now go.” Harry smiled at him and then turned to the door. He raised his chin and straightened his posture as he walked. Death was moving next to him, like a silent shadow.
Harry kept every emotion from his face, as soon as he passed the door. The voices grew silent when he entered. Every face turned to him. Fifty people in plum-coloured robes, Percy Weasley in the front, Fudge in the middle next to Umbridge and Amelia Bones. He even spotted Lucius Malfoy in a row, close to the door. 

The spot he was occupying marked him as a visitor. Apparently, he wouldn't be allowed to vote, but blackmailing Umbridge had obviously worked in his favour. Lucius looked at Harry stoically, when he raised an eyebrow.

After a moment Harry walked over to the chair in the middle of the room. The chains rattled when he sat down, but he willed them to stop, his magic flowing over his fingertips almost freezing them in place.

Death loomed over him, a sharp grin on his face daring everyone to come closer, even if they couldn’t see him.

Fudge didn’t seem very pleased with Harry being on time. With tight lips, he shuffled through some papers in front of him before he eventually cleared his throat. “Well, then let’s start, since the accused has arrived," Fudge said before he looked down to his left. "Are you ready?”

“Yes, Sir," Percy Weasley said.

“Disciplinary hearing at August twelfth, regarding violation of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage sorcery, as well as the international statue of secrecy-" Fudge began, while Percy’s quill scratched over the parchment .- “By Harry Potter, residing at Privet Drive No. 4, Little Whinging, Surrey... Interrogators; Cornelius Oswald Fudge, Minister of Magic; Amelia Susan Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement; Dolores Jane Umbridge, First Undersecretary of the Minister; Court Scribe, Percy Ignatius Weasley-“ The door behind Harry opened and Dumbledore walked in, billowing robes and beard.

"Witness of Defence-"

Harry stood up and interrupted Dumbledore like the headmaster had interrupted Fudge.

"Myself."

Shocked whispers filled the room. A somewhat appreciative expression on Mr Malfoy's face. The man leaned forward, intrigued by Harry's surprising action. It was one of the rare times, Harry ever saw Dumbledore speechless. But he soon had gathered himself.

"Well this is certainly surprising," Dumbledore said as if his plans hadn’t all been thrown overboard by Harry. "Mr Malfoy if you would be so kind," Dumbledore said and walked over to him. Malfoy looked like replying to him was beneath his dignity, nevertheless, he made space for the Headmaster.

Fudge smiled gleefully, because of the unexpected turn. Excitedly he shuffled through his papers. The room grew silent when he started to talk again. "Yes... the accusation.“ The murmured words faded into the background, while Harry stared at Dumbledore, who avoided meeting his eyes.

"-Potter!“

"Pardon me, if you could repeat your question," Harry said turning away from Dumbledore. Fudge seemed annoyed.

"You are Harry James Potter, living in Little Whinging surrey?“

"I am,“ Harry said calmly.

"You received an official warning of the Ministry regarding unlawful sorcery, is that correct?" Fudge said.

"It is," Harry said and leaned back in his chair.

"And despite that, you cast a Patronus charm two weeks ago?“

"I did," Harry said. And he watched Death who was starting to stalk through the room.

"Knowing, that you aren’t allowed to cast spells outside of school till you are seventeen?“

"That is wrong," Harry stated. Fudge already opened his mouth to continue, but he stopped surprised when he realized that Harry hadn't given him the expected answer.

"How is that wrong? You admitted it yourself. You were warned before, therefore you must know of this law," he said as if Harry was stupid.

"The law explicitly states, that a wizard or witch, who is underage is allowed to use magic in certain situations. Situations in which life or well-being of themselves or others are threatened and I found myself in such position," Harry replied carelessly, almost as if he was bored.

"And what was the threat that caused you to act like this?" Amelia Bones asked.

"Dementors," Harry said and didn’t look up. The slightest hint of a smirk on his face, he side-eyed Fudge when the whole room grew quiet. When Fudges and his eyes met, Harry was looking at him with an expressionless face. This only seemed to rile the minister up more.

"Dementors?“ Madame Bones asked, her eyebrows raised high. "What does that mean, boy?“

"I would appreciate it if you would refrain from using the term boy, but yes. Two Dementors attacked me and my cousin that night," Harry said.

"Ah!“ Fudge sneered. "Yes, sure. Dementors. Really smart, really smart. Telling us that Dementors are responsible for this, when everyone clearly knows, that they are invisible to Muggles.“

"There is another witness, beside Dudley Dursley. But I suppose I could also just show you my memory of this evening," Harry said casually.

"We don’t have time to listen to your lies, boy," Fudge said. Harry’s eyes narrowed, but then his expression changed. He stood up and smirked at Fudge, whose eyebrows furrowed with confusion. It was the first real emotion Harry showed since he’d entered the courtroom. Malfoy who had grown bored over the time of the questioning, now leaned forward, once again mildly interested and Dumbledore seemed worried. Harry had hesitated to claim his seats. It would be risky and would probably cause more problems than it being useful.

It made more sense to claim them after the trial. He already had played into Fudge's hands, by distancing himself from Dumbledore and therefore his supporters, but to Hell with it. Even if he was declared guilty, what were they going to do about it? Break his wand? The thought was laughable. And was life without a little risk? Harry just wanted to see their reactions.

"As you very well know, Minister," Harry said while he started to move through the room, "The accused is allowed to present as many witnesses as they want to prove their innocence. But I won’t play that game you are playing. This whole trial is a farce," Harry stated, while he settled behind his seat before he put his hands onto the back of the chair. "A hearing because a little bit of underage magic...“ He snorted. Approving murmurs went through the crowd before Harry continued. "But well, while I am already here, I might also invoke my right to claim a seat in the Wizengamot.“

Fudge spluttered. Voices were raised and the people started to whisper until Fudge finally got the others to grow quiet. His first moment of surprise was replaced by a mix of anger and a mocking expression. He clearly thought that this whole situation was ridiculous. “PLEASE-" he said loudly to drown the other voices - “This is absurd. With what right?”

“With my right, as a Lord," Harry said. Dumbledore frowned as if he tried to recall the law and Malfoy sat up with a newfound interest. Next to Fudge, Umbridge cleared her throat with the familiar “Chrm chrm.”

The sound alone managed to draw various feelings to the surface. While Harry had lost his previous hate towards her, he was already becoming thoroughly annoyed simply by knowing what he was going to have to deal with again.

“I probably didn’t understand you quite right. Silly me. Did you just say, that you – a fifteen-year-old boy – wants to claim a seat in the Wizengamot? This is your own interrogation, you can’t vote even if you weren’t underage," she said as if she was speaking to someone who was stupid.

“If you paid attention, Dolores, you wouldn’t have to ask twice.“ Harry said sweetly and bit back a laugh when he saw her offended face. A few people in the purple robes snickered. "Apart from that, the honourable Code of the Wizengamot of 1597 states that a Lord can claim his seat in the Wizengamot at any time he wants, as long as he is related to one of the families mentioned," Harry elaborated, "Meaning that I can claim my seat during my hearing.“ Fudge raised his voice once again, while Amelia Bones had swished her wand. Books floated towards her. She snatched it out of the air and immediately flipped through it.

“These laws are surely outdated by now," Fudge said, trying to calm the people in the room, who were still talking in hushed voices.

“Oh no," Harry said smirking with a glance at Malfoy. “It was seen as indecorous to claim a seat this way or a lordship generally after the 18th century. The people stopped doing it after a while thus the Wizengamot never bothered to change the law even though it can’t be changed without all the current Lords in the Wizengamot agreeing to it," Harry said and then straightened his posture. “I, Lord Potter, heir and head of the noble house Potter claim my seat in the Wizengamot.” As soon as the words had been spoken, Harry felt ancient magic gathering in the room.

"He is right," Madame Bones said and snapped the book shut, "A Lord can claim a seat in the Wizengamot," she said and looked at Harry sharply, "If the Lordship is validated by a neutral party, recognized by the international confederation of Wizards, such as the Ministry.“

"Well Mr Potter, I don’t remember seeing a letter with a request like this on my desk," Fudge said smugly.

"A neutral party... Well, of course, the Ministry. Hmm, why didn’t I think of this?" Harry said sarcastically, "If there was another neutral party like - I don’t know - ah yes, the only wizarding bank of the world. Oh well, there is." Harry looked at the people. Everyone was staring at him. He heard them whisper and question if that was even possible. But there was still Sirius' seat and the Peverell seat. With a glance at Dumbledore, Harry decided that it was better to keep some things hidden for now. Dumbledore had probably noticed that the elder wand had vanished. He didn’t need to confirm his suspicions further. Harry turned back to the court members. "Additionally," Harry pulled out an envelope from the inner pocket of his suit. He broke the seal and threw the letter into the air. It stopped, floating a few feet over Harry’s head so that everyone was able to see it. The whispering grew louder. Harry smirked. They were really underestimating him, even now. "In the name of my godfather, I am claiming the seats of the ancient and noble house of Black, speaking for the heir and head of this house, Sirius Black.“

Someone in the room squeaked with fear when he said Sirius’ name. Fudges face was red with anger, he was fuming. "This- this is unacceptable," he pressed out between clenched teeth. Meanwhile, Madame Bones summoned the document that was floating in the air with a swish of her wand. She read it, eyes solely fixated on the piece of parchment.

"What he says is right," Madame Bones said, still looking at the letter. Fudge turned to her with a swelled chest. Obviously, he was hoping for confirmation of his opinion. "Mr Potter's claiming is entirely legal.“ Fudge sucked in air. Harry sat down on the chair with the chains and crossed his ankles, satisfaction written on his face. Even if he should be declared guilty, this had been worth it. Death stood once again behind him, and Harry felt his hand trailing over his neck. Everyone seemed to wait for Fudge to continue. Even after the voices had gone down, the minister was still shuffling through his papers grinding his teeth. Percy looked torn and nervously chewed on his feather. His eyes snapped from Harry to Fudge and back.

"I name Arabella Figg as my witness," Harry said eventually when no one made a move to continue the questioning.

"Arabella-" Fudge spluttered before he collected himself. "We don’t have the time to search for this person," he started, the vein on his forehead pulsing dangerously.

"Ah, well," Dumbledore interfered. "It might be a lucky accident, that Mrs Figg accompanied me here today. She is waiting just outside of the room.“ Fudge gaped. Dumbledore looked as calm as ever, but Harry could tell that the thoughts inside his head were spinning. Dumbledore’s bright magic was restless and the eyes behind his glasses eyed him suspiciously without even once meeting his gaze.

"Weasley, you go and get her," Fudge said when he had gathered himself.

"Of course Minister," Percy said and he rushed outside to follow the orders of the Minister immediately. Harry almost pitied him, stuck up as he was. He came back after a moment, followed by Mrs Figg. She eyed the empty chair and the chains nervously, as Harry stood up and stepped to the side.

“Full name?" Fudge snapped and his hands were wrinkling his papers. He was obviously trying to pretend that everything was alright.  

“Arabella Doreen Figg," she said nervously.

“And you are?”

“I am a citizen of Little Whinging and live close to Harry Potter.”

“We don’t have an entry reading that there is another Witch or Wizard living in Little Whinging, apart from Harry Potter," Madame Bones said immediately. "This area is strictly monitored given… given the events in the past.”

“Right," Harry muttered with a deadpan look, but loud enough to be heard.

“I am a Squib," Mrs Figg replied, "I guess you won’t have an entry about me," she said clutching her purse tightly.

“A Squib, yeah?" Fudge said and stared at her. “We will check this. You can leave the details of your ancestry with my assistant Weasley. Can Squibs even see Dementors?”

“Yes we can," Mrs Figg replied offended.

“Well then," Fudge said patronizingly. “What is your story?”

“I went out to buy some cat food at the corner store. That was about nine on the evening of the second of August. Then I heard noises coming from the alley…” Mrs Figg sounded like she had rehearsed everything she said. Harry looked at Dumbledore. He asked himself if the headmaster had asked her to lie. Maybe Squibs really couldn’t see Dementors...

An amused smile tugged on Harry’s lips when Death started to fixate Fudge, who paled, even if he didn’t know what was bothering him. He gripped the table until his knuckles were white. Harry grinned when Fudge's eyes passed him. The minister swallowed hard, while Madame Bones interrogated Mrs Figg. Harry’s attention only went back to Madame Bones when Mrs Figg was dismissed.

“She wasn’t a very convincing witness," Fudge said immediately.

“Oh, I don’t know," Madame Bones retorted, "She described the effects of a Dementor attack very well. I can’t imagine why she would be lying.”

“But Dementors strolling through a Muggle-town and accidentally meeting a wizard?" Fudge snorted, "That should be highly unlikely. Not even Bagman would bet on this-“

“What makes you think they were there by chance?" Harry said and he sat back down on the chair in the middle of the courtroom. Umbridge shifted uncomfortably. What a bitch.

“I think if somebody would order two Dementors to go to Little Whinging, we would have a report over this!" Fudge snapped and stared at Harry.

“Well, I didn’t say that these Dementors were ordered there by the ministry," Harry said casually, but he watched Fudge's reaction attentively. A year later the bastard had begged for his attention. “I think Dumbledore told you all about his opinion on the matter.”

“Indeed, he did. But these ideas are more than ludicrous. The Dementors are in Azkaban and do only what they are told.”

“Well, then I gotta ask myself, why somebody in the ministry wishes me dead," Harry voiced. “It’s almost like people are afraid that I might spread my opinion. But that would be ridiculous, right?" Harry finished and leaned back in his chair, "After all, I am only a child," he added with a sarcastic undertone.

Satisfied, Harry watched how Fudge tried to find gather some words. Umbridge even had the nerve to look offended. After a few moments, Harry leaned forward again. “Of course, there is always the possibility that these two Dementors were out of control of the Ministry.”

“There are no Dementors out of control!" Fudge immediately fired back; the vein on his forehead pulsing.

Harry raised his hands. "Well if you say so. I didn’t want to imply anything. You are right. The theory that somebody inside the Ministry tried to kill me is way more plausible." Fudge spluttered once again.

Harry briefly glanced at Lucius Malfoy. The man could barely hide his amusement and a few wizards and witches also smiled. Dumbledore on the other hand looked at Harry strangely.

“We- I-," Fudge spluttered. “We are not here to discuss the behaviour of Dementors-”

“No," Harry said. “We are here to hold a trial because of a simple case of underage magic, which is also perfectly normal," Harry said. The witches and wizards in the Wizengamot started whispering again, while Harry watched them.

“May I remind the people present, that Harry Potter already violated this law by using a floating charm three years ago," Fudge almost shouted.

“That was a house-elf," Harry retorted casually. He noticed amused how Malfoy shifted in his chair.

“A house-elf, what a joke. Two years ago you blew up your aunt-“ Malfoy raised his eyebrows. This man was Harry’s lifeline in this endless conversation. At least he was somewhat entertaining.

“Which was dismissed, by you personally," Harry said. An awkward silence followed. “Before I wait for your verdict, may I say one more thing?” Harry asked. Madame Bones nodded when Fudge opened his mouth - certainly to deny him his wish.

Harry stood up and spoke to the whole Wizengamot. “Dear Wizards and Witches of the Wizengamot. Before you vote, please remember that we had a witness confirming my statement that two Dementors attacked me and my cousin. The law explicitly states that an underage wizard or witch is allowed to use magic in situations, in which the life or well-being of oneself or others are threatened. A Dementor attack will surely count as such situation.” Harry turned to Fudge and bowed mockingly. "Minister.“

The witches and wizards started whispering again. Harry sat back in his chair and waited, till they had made a decision.

"Who votes guilty?" Fudge said and raised his hand, and others followed his example. Harry stared at Umbridge as she raised her hand, eyes fixated on him. She looked away soon enough as if something in his gaze unnerved her. Half the courtroom raised their hands.

"Who votes for the accused to be declared free of all charges?" Madame Bones said with a loud voice. Arms were raised. Less than the last time Harry had been here and not enough. He knew that. Fudge already grinned victoriously. He had obviously forgotten about the fact that there was another person who was able to turn the verdict around. Casually Harry raised his arm. Fudges left eye twitched. Umbridge leaned forward.

"You cannot vote. This is your own trial, boy," she said in her girly voice.

"I can," Harry explained. "If a Lord claims a seat, he has the unchallengeable right to vote at every trial he wishes.“

"It’s true," announced Madame Bones, the book she’d summoned earlier was still laying open in front of her. Fudges eyes wandered over the raised hands.

"With your vote, it’s still not enough boy," Fudge said gleefully and clicked his tongue.

"I also vote in the name of Sirius Black," Now it was Harry’s time to grin. "The Black family holds claim to two seats, which means, my second vote counts double.“ Madame Bones leaned over to Fudge and whispered something, while he did nothing, but stare at Harry. He was shaking.

"Well then,“ Fudge started, voice strained with suppressed anger, "...declared free of all charges.“ The tension slowly started to dissolve, but Harry wasn’t finished yet.

“As I am here and allowed to speak in Sirius Black’s name, I demand a trial in his case," Harry said and caught the attention of the witches and wizards, even the ones who were already standing, to go their ways. "I will know if I am not informed about the hearing.“ Then Harry turned around and left, Death on his trail.

Outside a pale Mr Weasley was waiting. "And how did it go?“

"Free of all charges," Harry replied.

"That’s great!" Mr Weasley said and gripped Harry by his shoulders. "They couldn’t declare you guilty not with all that evidence-“ The door to the courtroom opened and people came through. "Merlin's beard, was the whole court gathered here to decide over your case?“

"Yeah," Harry said. A few people looked at him strangely. Others didn’t even take notice of him but greeted Arthur instead. Dumbledore nodded at Mr Weasley and walked past them with furrowed brows. Minister Fudge and Umbridge were one of the last people to leave the courtroom, next to Malfoy, who talked to Fudge. The Minister rushed past Harry not giving him a second glance but Malfoy stopped him. "I’ll see you later Minister?“ Fudge looked between him and Harry.

"I’ll wait in my office Lucius," Fudge said and left, the pink toad following him. Lucius turned to Arthur with a derogatory look but then his grey eyes fixated Harry. There was the slightest hint of curiosity in his gaze. Harry wasn’t backing up but instead stared back. Mr Weasley stiffened. He had just spotted Percy walking past them.

"It is really exceptional how you manage to worm your way out of the greatest difficulties ...like a snake, indeed," Malfoy said.

Harry tilted his head and smiled a dangerous smile as he watched Malfoy. "Four weeks is enough time to change. You are only scratching the surface, Mr Malfoy," Harry whispered while Mr Weasley stared at Percy. "I thought I might be a little more active, politically spoken. Exchange a few words with some old friends. Maybe even Tom, an old acquaintance of mine. He has some interesting ideas, but I think you wouldn’t know him. He is named after his father, a Muggle you see. I don’t know if you ever experienced something like our connection. It’s like we are soulmates," Harry said, grinning at the thinly veiled irony, "But I'm digressing. The Minister is probably already waiting for you, Mr Malfoy. I wouldn’t want you to seem disrespectful by letting him wait for too long.“

"Yes Potter, thank you for the insight into your love life," Malfoy said his eyes lingered for a second on Harry’s neck, where Death had materialized and slithered out of his collar, the black scales swallowing the light. Then Lucius looked at Mr Weasley. "Weasley.“

"Malfoy," Ron’s dad replied with an equally disgusted look.

"What are you doing here Weasley?" Malfoy asked.

“I work here," Arthur said.

"But not here, are you. I thought you were on the second floor, smuggling Muggle artefacts home and charming them," Malfoy said.

"No," Mr Weasley hissed. He gripped Harry’s shoulder tightly until Malfoy had disappeared. "Was Malfoy at your trial?" he asked still sounding kind of angry. Harry nodded.

"By the way, who was this Muggle boy you mentioned?" Mr Weasley asked when they had reached the Atrium, "Tom, I mean.“ Harry grinned.

"Oh nobody. I just wanted Malfoy to know where I stand in this war. I am not stupid enough to tell a Death eater about the people I like. Who would know what Voldemort would do, if I told him about a real person I don’t want to get hurt?" Harry barely hid his laughter.

"That was probably very smart of you," Mr Weasley said. Harry grinned alongside Death. Not one of the two men had really gotten the hint. For Mr Weasley, it sounded like he had told Malfoy about a close - imaginary - friend who was a muggle or at least muggle-born. Malfoy probably thought, Harry was a lovesick teenager and that he was still a supporter of the light side. There was to be hoping, that Malfoy cared enough about this information and would tell Voldemort about a new ‘weak spot’ of Harry Potter. The only one able to tell what he was really talking about was Dumbledore and Voldemort himself.

When they arrived at Grimmauld Place everybody was grinning widely, when Mr Weasley announced, that he was declared free of all charges.

"I knew it, Harry, it was the only possible outcome," Hermione said, obviously relieved and with shaking hands.

"He is free, he is free, he is free," Fred and George sang, as they started to dance around the table.

"...it’s obvious after Dumbledore came in, they just couldn’t declare you guilty," Ron said over the noise. Harry raised his eyebrows, but kept quiet and resisted the urge to laugh. "Maybe he’ll even come and party with us," Ron said.

"He is free, he is free, he is free...," the twins sang, now followed by Ginny.

"I doubt that Dumbledore has time for that," Mrs Weasley said, putting a plate with a giant chicken in front of Harry, Ron and Hermione. "He is very busy at the moment.“

"HE IS FREE, HE IS FREE, HE IS-"

"SILENCE," shouted Mrs Weasley. Harry grinned. There was to be hoping, that his plan worked. Voldemort needed people in the Ministry and by inviting Malfoy to his trial, he had handed them a way to invade the Wizengamot on a silver platter. Almost every old pureblood family was able to claim a seat. Now he only had to wait and see how it would play out.

It would certainly be an interesting change.

Chapter Text

Throughout the next few days, Harry noticed that Sirius was in a bad mood. Harry didn’t know if it was because he wouldn’t live with Sirius now that he was allowed to go back to Hogwarts, or because Remus was once again absent to work for the order.

"Hey Sirius," Harry addressed him when the holidays were almost over. He met him in the hallway, after he, Ron and Hermione had finally finished scrubbing a mouldy wardrobe clean.

Thankfully nobody noticed Harry using his magic to keep the smell away from him and to clean some of the harder stains. "On the way to lock yourself up with Buckbeak huh?“ Harry asked, "Never leaving your room anymore, are you?“ Sirius shrugged grumpily and mumbled something. "Wanna get out of here for a while?“

Sirius's eyes lit up a little bit. "Yeah. What did you have in mind?“

"Dunno," Harry shrugged, "We could visit Remus.“

"Remus is on order business," Sirius said, "He is undercover with the werewolves. It would take days to locate them apart from the fact that visiting him would threaten his mission.“

"I don’t get why Dumbledore is still sending him there," Harry said. He somehow doubted that finding Remus would be a problem.

"I know. He hates it," Sirius said, "...to be there, with the other werewolves.“

"Well he isn’t too fond of his own wolf either.“

"His wolf?" Sirius asked.

"Yeah," Harry replied, "Mostly he ignores him.“

"His wolf - you mean his werewolf form?“

"Mhm. I can sense him. The wolf grows stronger with the approaching full moon. It’s a bit like a split personality. Generally, they are the same person, like two sides of the same coin. I think it would be better for Remus if he gave in to his wolf sometimes."

"Going around and biting people or pissing against a tree to mark one's territory?" Sirius asked. "Don’t laugh, I’ve seen him doing it. He also wags his tail if he is happy.“

Harry smirked alongside Sirius. "No. But if he would listen to him more, he wouldn’t put up with so much bullshit. He would’ve long quit going on missions, that he deems pointless anyways.“ Sirius hummed in agreement.

"Harry, the letters from Hogwarts are here!" Ron shouted from downstairs. Sirius sighed.

"You should go. We can go out some other time," he said. Harry was already turning away but stopped to face him once more.

"Sirius, I know it’s not my business but are you and Remus a couple?" Harry asked curiously. Sirius seemed surprised but then sighed once more, as he leaned against the wall.

"It’s- It’s complicated. We were a thing once, you know? Now..."Sirius laughed a dry laugh, "We haven’t really talked about it since I escaped," his godfather said and pushed his long hair out of his face.

"If it bothers you do something about it," Harry suggested. "He likes you and you like him.“

"I don’t know," Sirius said. "Sometimes it's more complicated than that. He thought I was a traitor for over ten years and I can't blame him."

"Sirius, the guy shaved his beard because you said it looked stupid!“ Harry insisted. "You will regret it if you do nothing," Harry said and with a last glance at Sirius, he left.

In the evening, Harry found himself sitting in the kitchen underneath a banner that read, "Congratulations to the new prefects, Ron and Hermione". Mrs Weasley was ecstatic and her good mood seemed to be contagious as everyone was for once forgetting about the reason that had all led them here. The whole fuss about it was slightly annoying, at least in Harry’s opinion. In any case, Sirius had found some peace after Remus arrived in the late afternoon and Harry soon picked a seat near them, as they didn't shoot him pitying looks. Even Kingsley questioned Dumbledore's decision to not choose Harry as a prefect. The latter, perfectly content not having to deal with that load of unnecessary workload.

Harry busied himself by wondering about whether Sirius had heeded his advice in regards to Lupin. But eventually, even this lost its appeal and after a short conversation with the twins about their 'more illegal' purchases enabled by Mundungus, he found himself in a chair next to Ron, who explained every feature of his new broom to Tonks as Mrs Weasley had bought him one, as a reward for him being declared perfect. "...yeah, zero to seventy in ten seconds, in comparison to the old..."

Harry turned away from the conversation and looked at the other people in the room.

Fred and George sat in a corner and still talked to Mundungus, Moody took a bite of his chicken leg after he had analyzed it for about five minutes - Harry had felt his gaze on him throughout the whole evening - and the others were engrossed in their own conversations. Eventually, Mrs Weasley yawned loudly.

"I think I’ll get rid of that boggart before I’ll go to bed... Arthur, I don’t want the kids staying up too late. Good night Harry," she said as she walked past him.

Harry nodded and then turned back to the table and his gaze passed Sirius and Remus. Harry grinned at the werewolf when their eyes met. He raised an eyebrow. Remus stared back and he seemed slightly confused. From his point of view, Harry shouldn’t be able to see what was going on. But Harry was the Master of Death. His perception had changed and in this case... Harry shot a pointed look at the table, under which Sirius had placed a hand on Remus thigh, the energy surrounding their bodies betraying them.

Harry smirked at Lupin, who suddenly raised his head, listening attentively when there was a noise coming from upstairs. Nobody else seemed to have noticed that Mrs Weasley’s fight against the boggart wasn't going very well.

She had been gone for about ten minutes, but Harry hadn’t really cared. Remus dismissed the sound and turned to talk to Sirius.

Harry knew that Moody was watching him. The bright blue eye had been staring at him during the whole evening, apart from a few glances here and there. Mad-eye raised his head when Harry pushed back his chair with a scratching sound and stood up. He didn’t see a reason to stay any longer. He could as well go to sleep and wait for tomorrow.

Harry left the table when Moody’s eye rolled towards the ceiling. He could hear Mad-Eye grumble. “Molly seems to have some problems with the boggart..."

"Don’t worry Arthur," another voice interfered when Harry was already halfway up the stairs to the entrance hall. Probably Remus. "I was thinking about going to bed anyways. I'll take a look.“ Harry could hear the scratching of chairs being pushed back, as he continued his way. He knew what was waiting for them when they would reach the second floor. The hollow clonk of Moody’s wooden leg was audible as well. Harry sighed. Now he had to go to Mrs Weasley if he didn’t want to raise too much suspicion. Even more so after his trial. Death watched him silently as he made his way upstairs.

"You know, if you hadn’t invaded my mind, I would not have to think about going in there or not," Harry whispered when he reached the door to the drawing room. Quiet sniffles could be heard from behind it.

"You seem fairly okay with it," Death replied grinning.

"Yeah, cause I don’t really care,” Harry replied. “And the part that should worry me even more, is, that I don’t care, that I don’t care."

"And yet you like me anyway," Death said. Harry shot the being a curious look. He hadn’t expected this answer. Their influential connection really appeared to go both ways.

When he sensed Death’s smugness, Harry shook his head, quietly laughing. "Alright, alright. You are a right bastard, you know that?“ Harry pushed the door open. "Now, come on," he said over his shoulder.

Harry wiped the grin off his face when he entered the room. Mrs Weasley was sitting on the floor, weeping and weakly swishing her wand. "Ri-Riddi-," she started hiccupping. On the ground in front of her was the corpse of Ron until it changed into Percy’s a second later. Or at least the thing, pretending to be him. It radiated darkness. Suddenly it changed into Mr Weasley. His glasses were slipping from his face and a trickle of blood ran out of his nose. Molly sobbed loudly. "Ri- Riddikulus," Mrs Weasley stuttered. A dead Harry was laying in front of her. "Riddikulus.“ The twins sprawled out next to each other. "Riddikulus-“ It changed into Bill, eyes wide open, his arms spread like he was trying to fly.

"Come on Mrs Weasley," Harry said and took her at the elbow, "Get out of here.“

Harry pushed her into the direction of the door where Remus was just entering, followed by Sirius and Moody. The werewolf couldn’t even react when Mrs Weasley stumbled towards him.

“It’s only a boggart Molly," he said, the arms full of a crying Mrs Weasley. Harry turned around when Moody stared over his shoulder. The boggart had turned its attention towards the closest person available, and in this case, it was Harry.

Harry stared into the warping mass, that turned into the first shapes of a Dementor, but it changed not even fully formed. Red eyes on a face without a nose replaced the black hood, hiding the slimy face of the Dementor and vanished back into the masses until it turned once again. It didn’t know what to do. Harry tilted his head, curious as to what the creature would become. Honestly, he had no idea. The thought of a Dementor didn’t scare him and he had lost all fear of Voldemort a long time ago.

Except for the short moment of panic when a knife had almost pierced Death as a snake, Harry hadn’t been afraid. Not truly. And Death couldn’t be harmed. Harry was sure of that now that he had seen his true form.

Meanwhile, the boggart seemed more desperate with every change. They happened quicker and quicker.

It turned into one of the inferi Harry had seen in the cave with Voldemort’s Horcrux. Its guts were falling out of a bloodless wound in its stomach. Harry heard a shocked gasp behind him, but a moment later the boggart was falling and changing. The organs retreated back into the body, which was now clothed, but three more gashes formed, and blood was streaming out of them.

Draco Malfoy, gasping and choking - bleeding to death on the ground, just like he had when Harry hit him with the 'sectum sempra' in his sixth year. Bricks of old stone grew out of the body until it had vanished completely and a veil hiding an archway and whispering voices had replaced it.

Harry was under the impression, that the boggart was trying to turn into everything, Harry had ever feared in his life.

The archway started to move and expanded until it was a giant Basilisk, with bleeding holes where the eyes should be. Already shrinking, it grew fur and turned into Fluffy who promptly lost two of his heads and changed into a vicious version of aunt Magda’s dog Ripper. A shouting uncle Vernon approached Harry shortly after, "I’m going to teach you a lesson, boy!" and changed into aunt Petunia trying to hit him with a frying pan. Harry showed no reaction, besides watching it with a curious look on his face. Just before she could land a hit, Boggart-Petunia lost all her features and turned into a blurry, gender-less figure. Seemingly out of nowhere, a panicking man started to shout.

"Lily, take Harry and go! It’s him! Go! Run! I’ll hold him off-“ High pitched laughter echoed from the walls. Then, for a moment they couldn’t hear a thing until a scream cut through the silence followed by the voice of Lily Potter.

"...not Harry, not Harry - Please, I’ll do anything-“ The blurry shape flickered and the voice grew weaker. It sounded like it came from a great distance.

 "-stand aside - stand aside, girl-“ Then, there was silence. The boggart had vanished from existence.

Harry hummed thoughtfully. So he didn’t have a boggart anymore. He didn’t know if he should be pleased or if this should worry him. Harry turned around. Moody stared at him with an unreadable expression, both eyes piercing him.

He really would have to keep an eye on the Auror.

Meanwhile, Sirius was gripping the doorway. His knuckles were white from the blood-loss, just like his face. He was shaking. Remus didn’t look much better. Mrs Weasley was still leaning against Lupin and hid her face on his shoulder.

"I guess it’s gone now," Harry said to breach the silence. Mrs Weasley turned around and pulled him into a bone-crushing hug.

While Harry tried to regain his ability to breathe, Remus managed to find his voice. "Harry, I- I never-“

"This were James and Lily, who we heard... Right before they died," Sirius uttered.

"Yeah," Harry said, his arms uncomfortably pressed against his sides.

"-oh Harry, I am so sorry," Mrs Weasley said in a teary voice.

"Mm-hm," Harry replied, finally slipping out of her grasp. He glared at Death when the echo of amusement pulsed through the bond. Moody’s eyes darted from Death to Harry. Of course, the Auror couldn’t see Death, but his perceptiveness was still impressive. Harry bit back a grin when Mad-Eye fixated him with a suspicious look.

He was under the impression that he himself was affected the least by this encounter, apart from Moody maybe. Luckily nobody seemed to have noticed that Malfoy's mirror image had been older than he actually was. Or that Harry had feared for Malfoy's life at all. An inferius he could explain by having it seen in a textbook before, but the veil was a whole other thing. Mrs Weasley was sniffing again.

"I can’t imagine what you are thinking of me now," she said, still shaken by her experience, "...can’t even deal with a stupid boggart....“ Lupin offered her a handkerchief, still staring at the place, where the boggart had been. Mrs Weasley blew her nose. "It’s just- I worry so much. It would be a miracle if we all walk out of this unharmed... A- and P-p-Percy isn’t talking to us-“ She wiped away some tears. "What if something h-h-horrible happens and we never got to reconcile? ...and what happens, if Arthur and I die, who i-i-is going to care for Ron and Ginny?“

"Molly, now it’s enough," Sirius said sharply. He seemed like Molly’s worrying was the least of his problems right now.

"It’s not like last time. The order is prepared, we have the advantage, we know what Voldemort is planning-" Remus began, but he was interrupted by Mrs Weasley, who shrieked at the name.

"Oh Molly, come on, it’s time to get used to hearing that name - look, I can’t promise, that nothing is going to happen, nobody can, but this time we are better off than last time. You weren’t in the Order back then. Last time, twenty Death Eaters stood against one of us and they snatched one after the other...“

"Don’t worry about Percy," Sirius interfered, "He is going to come back to us. It’s only a matter of time when Voldemort is going to show himself. As soon as he is doing that, the whole ministry is going to fall on its knees and ask for forgiveness. And I don’t know if I accept their apology yet," he added bitterly.

"And about Ron and Ginny... Do you really think we would let them starve if something happened to you or Arthur?" Lupin said.  

Mrs Weasley smiled weakly. "How silly of me," she said and wiped her eyes.

Harry just wanted to leave. He tried to sneak past the group to his bedroom, as long as everyone was still standing around Mrs Weasley.

"Harry.“ Sirius had called out his name. Harry suppressed a sigh and turned around, only to see his godfather approaching him. "Could I talk to you for a moment?“

"Um, sure," Harry replied. Sirius shot a look over his shoulder and when no one was really watching them - Harry knew that Moody’s eye was still fixated on him, despite the Auror standing with the back to them - Sirius pulled Harry into the next room. It happened to be an old bedroom. Probably the one Ginny and Hermione used. "So what did you wanna talk about?" Harry asked, "Is it because you told Remus about all this?“

"I haven’t told him much by now, only that you found the hallows. I can’t really tell him that your snake is the Grim Reaper without him questioning my sanity, but that’s not it,“ Sirius hesitated. "I wanted to ask you if the things that we saw... The boggart, if they really happened.“

"Essentially yes," Harry said. He wondered if Sirius would ask him about his parents or the veil. Maybe even the Basilisk. The question that came instead was unexpected.

"Do the Dursley’s abuse you, Harry?“ Sirius asked. Harry was taken aback. Never had someone asked him that. Neither his fifteen-year-old nor his older self had ever thought about it.

"No. I mean- I don’t..." Harry started, but then he stopped. Now that he was connected to Death, he had a different view of his life. He had never wanted to live there. Living with the Dursley’s had always been more of a punishment than anything else, but never had he asked himself the question if he had been abused. Not getting food, if he did something that they didn’t like, had been a fact. It hadn’t really mattered. There had been worse things out there. Maniacs trying to kill him for example. But Petunia had hit him with that pan and Vernon had choked him more than once. The words 'Freak' and 'boy' still made him feel uneasy, even now that he lost the emotional attachment to his so-called relatives. Only magic had given him some kind of power. The cupboard under the stairs had been his bedroom for so long, he never even questioned it. And when Harry looked at Sirius, he was once more reminded, that Sirius ran away from this home when he was a teenager. Hadn’t Harry done the same when he was thirteen, but Dumbledore decided that he had to go back the year after?

"I guess they did," Harry replied. "But it’s not something I can’t manage," he added with an afterthought. Harry didn’t plan on going back anyways.

"I’m going to kill them!“ Sirius muttered and his eyes blazed dangerously. He paced through the room. "I’m going to kill them!“ Harry remembered Moody and with a thought cast a strong privacy charm.

"Really I’m not joking. I am already on the run, so why the fuck not? They need my house, so no one here would dare to throw me out.“ Sirius laughed maniacally - a sound, Harry rather associated with Bellatrix than his godfather. Death stood calmly next to him and watched with a grin. Harry sensed his eagerness. Sirius pulled out his wand and stopped in front of Harry. "I'll go right now!“ It would be a lie to say, that Death was the only one who found the thought appealing.

"Sirius, last time you tried it that way, you got locked up," Harry said instead, but he smirked.

"I don’t care," His eyes widened. "Last time I didn’t tell Remus where I was going. That was the mistake," Sirius said in sudden realization. "He can help us, we just have to tell him.“ Harry laughed. It would be interesting to know if it was true though. Lupin had been all for killing Pettigrew, maybe the Dursley’s were the same... The wolf inside of him couldn't be the only reason for the darkness surrounding him. "And Dumbledore," Sirius rambled on, "He knows. There is no fucking way that he doesn’t." Sirius was already halfway past the way to the door.

"Sirius," Harry said, trying to stop him, a grin on his face.

"Oh no Harry, I am going to have a talk with Dumbledore now!“ Sirius said and his magic swirled wildly.

"Sirius!" Harry snapped and the smirk slowly vanished from his face. His godfather was already reaching for the doorknob. Without a thought, Harry made a grabbing motion with his hand. Sirius’ wand fell to the floor with a clattering noise. A surprised shout escaped his lips and Sirius jumped back from the door, grabbing his forearm. The symbol of the deadly hallows flared upon his arm. It burned golden almost like fire.

"What the-“ Sirius started and Harry released his grip on Sirius.

"Sirius. What do you think is going to happen, if you confront Dumbledore?“ Harry said and made a step towards his godfather. The now black mark was already fading again. Sirius turned from his arm to Harry. "I’m going to tell you. Nothing. Don’t you think, that I didn’t already do that? Approached Dumbledore about it, asked him to stay at Hogwarts or with the Weasley’s? He thought it was the best solution, to live with the Dursley’s. Voldemort can’t come past the blood wards, that’s the reason why he sends me back there. Objectively spoken he wasn't wrong," Harry said and stopped in front of his godfather, who stared at him. Harry’s voice softened a little bit. "Sirius, you have enough problems already, don’t try to solve mine too. I’m not angry with Dumbledore for thinking that he is doing the right thing.“ Harry’s expression changed. "But what annoys me is that he still interferes with my life, trying to control me in a way, I don’t approve of. And I won’t let him do that anymore," he said and licked over his teeth. Sirius shuddered when Harry’s dark magic brushed against his. "The Dursley’s are my problem, and when the day comes that they die, you won’t be the one responsible for it," Harry said. He grinned sharply and Deaths amusement echoed through the bond. Sirius stared at him with wide eyes.

"Harry, don’t-," his godfather started.

"What," Harry snapped and almost laughed at Sirius concern. "Think about killing them? Like you tried to do three seconds ago? Don’t be a hypocrite Sirius," Harry said. "You are dark, don’t deny it. Try and pretend just like Remus that you are good little sheep, but sometimes you just thirst for blood.“

"We aren’t like the Death Eaters. We aren’t bad-," Sirius spat and anger sparked in his grey eyes.

"I never said, you are bad people or evil," Harry interfered, "But even you can’t deny that you loved having Pettigrew in front of your wand. You would’ve killed him if I didn’t stop you and Remus in my third year.“

"That was different," Sirius said and backed up, "He is responsible that James is dead!“ Harry didn’t pity him. Not now.

"You bullied Snape mercilessly even before that. Of course, he wasn’t a saint either, but that doesn’t change the fact, that you almost got him killed once and you don’t regret it. Stand true to who you are, Sirius. Don’t back down, just because you think I’m a little child, who isn’t able to grasp this side of you. Pretend as much as you want, the others might believe you. But don’t try to lie to me. I see who you really are. You have always been a little bit crazy, even before Azkaban.“ Sirius swallowed hard. "You know it, and Remus knows it. He is just as dark as you, or he wouldn’t have forgiven you for telling Snape where he could find him on a full moon.“ Harry smirked. "Let me tell you a secret Sirius," Harry said. He leaned forward and when he continued his voice came close to whispering. "Since I am connected to Death, I am darker than you can imagine. Darker than you or Remus and maybe even Voldemort, but despite all this, I haven’t gone on a killing spree," Harry said. He smiled and took a step back, towards the door. "I don’t know if it’s because of this, but I like you, Sirius. More than any other person in here and I would hate to see you in Azkaban, just because you do something, that isn’t even your problem. Don’t worry about me. Try to keep Remus from being killed, because of Dumbledore’s stupid orders," Harry said. With that, he walked past Sirius and left. He won’t be able to win this war anyway...

Chapter Text

Ten minutes later Harry was back in his room. He had finished feeding Hedwig and let himself fall on his bed. Resting his head on his arms, he closed his eyes. Even if he couldn’t see anything, he knew that Death was watching him. "I wonder what Sirius is going to do now. He may deny it, but he is a Black even if he tries to escape it… and tomorrow we are going to Hogwarts," Harry said after a few minutes of silence. "I honestly have no idea what to expect..."

"You could always choose, not to go," Death said.

"I know." Harry sighed and they kept silent for a moment. He smiled, when felt the phantom touch of feathers on his skin. "I have been wondering for a while now... Did our connection change you too?" Harry asked after a moment and opened his eyes. Death was sitting next to him on the bed, leaning against the headboard. He hummed and seemed to think about it for a moment.

"It did. I expected it to happen, but it’s," he paused for a moment, "...different than I thought."

"Different, in what way?" Harry asked.

"Oh, I can feel things. I always have-" Death answered Harry’s unspoken question -"Or else I would’ve never created the hallows." He carded through Harry’s hair with his fingers. It appeared to have become a habit for them both. "I have existed for a long time, longer than you can imagine…" Death paused and continued to comb through Harry’s unruly hair, searching for the right way to explain it.

Harry sat up when Death didn’t start to talk again. The hand slid from Harry’s head and Death stared at him. An overwhelming mix of emotions pulsed through the bond.

"You feel alive," Harry observed. Death seemed stunned for a moment and then threw his head back and started to laugh. Harry watched, drawn in by the strange sound until it died down to a silent chuckle.

"For the lack of a better word...let’s call it alive," Death said in his raspy voice and grinned at Harry, who grinned back. Shared amusement still flooded the bond when Harry focused on it, but there was also gratefulness. A possessive edge going hand in hand with an unspoken want. Harry had a hard time telling what his own feelings were in the whole mix. There was fondness and shared fascination. But all of this was overshadowed by another feeling. So subtle and at the same time everywhere. Harry’s eyes widened. Death still grinned. It was there without a doubt flowing back and forth through their connection.

Love.

Death was in love with him.

Harry exhaled. He hadn’t realized that he'd held his breath for the last few moments. He stared at the being in front of him. There were these gigantic wings, this never-ending creature being everywhere and nowhere, but at the same time only here in front of Harry. Here for Harry, because he wanted it. Like a warped mirror image of Harry himself, Death sat there, casually grinning as he did so often.

How was he able to miss that emotion... Death was in love with him. With him. But was he in love with Death?

With wide eyes, Harry looked at the being. He knew, that he would rather die than leaving the being out of his sight. Possessiveness and obsessiveness were what connected them both. If it was love that Harry felt, he couldn't say at that point.

But what did it matter? What had really changed between them? Nothing. Just because he only now realized what had been there all along... and what weight held time for two beings like them? What was the point in questioning things, which didn’t need to be changed?

Hesitatingly, Harry reached out. Death tilted his head, simply observing when Harry's palm drew over his cheek. Exploring, feeling the cool skin.

Shakily Harry inhaled. The bond thrummed between them, warm and vibrant.

And then, Harry leaned forward and kissed Death. Familiar fingers twined into Harry’s hair as his lips touched their counterparts. Harry pulled back, panting as he looked at the being.

And then he found himself sitting in Death’s lap, kissing again, his tongue reaching the insides of a surprisingly cool mouth. The being reciprocated with gentle force. Harry kissed back, his tongue gliding over sharp teeth, sliding against Deaths. Eventually, he pulled away, hungrily sucking in air, only to be pushed even further back by Death a moment later. Harry’s hands reached out to keep himself from falling and they wound around the being's neck and shirt. Harry grinned into the kiss when his hands touched the fabric. "Why do you even bother with clothes?” Harry inquired, amused at the ridiculousness of it, his lips brushing Death’s as he spoke.

"I like them, just like I like this body," Death said grinning. Harry laughed again and his left hand sneaked underneath the copy of a worn shirt, that Harry himself had once inherited from Dudley and hadn’t seen for ages. The tip of a tongue slipped into Harry’s mouth again and he felt Death’s sharp teeth nipping on his lip. A quiet moan escaped him.

The kiss was wet and hot and everything Harry thought he would ever desire from now on. He gripped the front of Death’s shirt and pulled him closer, while his other hand felt cool skin and muscles rippling on Death’s back. A deep vibrating noise escaped Death’s throat. Harry smiled into the kiss, which had been interrupted by the sudden purring.

Cool hands brushed over his back. Arousal curled in Harry’s gut, hot and fluttering, as he was pressed against Death’s body. Pleasant shivers tingled up his spine, trailing after Death’s touches. Harry arched into it. Like a trick of the light, he saw feathers, pairs of wings slowly moving, like long weeds on a windy day. Just moments later the image was gone once more, and he panted when a hand glided down, counting his ribs until it settled on his hips.

The friction almost was too much for Harry, and his hips rolled without conscious thought. The kiss wasn’t really a kiss anymore, just lips brushing over each other, harsh breaths and quiet moans.

Harry felt Death’s hand sliding over his back, pushing up his shirt. It fell down when Death let go of it and twined his hand into Harry’s hair. Death pulled and Harry thrived in the pinpricks of pleasure-pain, as he followed the movement. Harry looked at Death through half-lidded eyes, his throat exposed in a way that had him shiver. Death stared at Harry with a hungry expression. Never had he been more aware of how predatory this grin could be. Harry’s eyes fluttered shut when he felt teeth grazing over his neck, nipping and teasing.

Possessiveness pulsed through the bond and Death’s tongue painted a wet stripe just beneath his yaw. The cool air hitting the wetness brought Harry right to the edge. The friction between them increased when Harry was pulled closer once more, hips grinding against each other, his pants painfully tight. Death sucked on the place, where his shoulder and neck met. When he bit down hard, Harry came with a shaky moan, his hips twitching a few times, until he came down from his high.

Dazed, Harry pushed his hair out of his face and looked at Death, who smirked at him. Harry reached for the spot where Death bit him. The skin wasn’t broken, but Harry hissed when he pressed down on it. This was going to bruise for sure.

Death didn’t seem very sorry, judging by the smugness radiating from the bond. "Hey," Harry started slightly embarrassed, only now noticing the wetness inside his pants. He blamed his teenage body for the rather short time period he had needed to come, "Did- did you even... um, come?" He bit his lip. "I mean, can you even come?" he asked, still out of breath.

"I can feel what you feel," Death said and pleasure trickled through the bond. "This body is just how I choose to appear. I can make it feel whatever a human feels if I want to."

Harry grinned at Death. "We should do that again sometime."

"We should," Death said and cupped Harry’s face with his hands. Harry’s eyes fluttered shut when he was pulled in for a kiss once more.

The floorboards in the hallway creaked. Harry pulled the blankets over his shoulders, just when Ron entered the room.

The next day, Harry was glad, that he stood up early. He packed his stuff with a little bit of magic, while Ron was still sleeping. When he heard Kreacher shuffle past his door, a thought invaded his mind.
Since he had claimed a seat in the Wizengamot, he should be informed every time a trial was held. But who knew if a letter meant for him somehow got lost; just like the one, which should inform him about the time and change of location of his trial.
What he needed was a spy and who was more suited for this job than a house-elf. Dobby was working in Hogwarts and would surely agree to help him. But the headmaster was not stupid. He would have an eye on Dobby, that was for sure.

After all, if the house-elf who is friends with Harry Potter – who might be possessed by Voldemort at the time – disappears, one should notice. Kreacher on the other hand was neither indebted to Dumbledore nor did he even like him.
Harry walked out into the hallway. Kreacher had already vanished around the next corner, but when Harry called his name, he appeared.

"What can Kreacher do for the young Master," the old elf said and bowed deeply.

"I need a spy inside the Ministry," Harry responded bluntly.

"Master Black ordered Kreacher to not leave the house," Kreacher replied, his nose almost touching the floor.

"You are bound to me aren’t you, Kreacher?" Harry asked the elf.

"I am," Kreacher said and finally raised his head, "But Master Black is the head of the house."

"Let me deal with Sirius. I’ll tell him to give you permission."

"Yes, Master Harry," the elf croaked.

"Since I have claimed my seat in the Wizengamot, I need to know about every trial that is held as soon as you know about it. Any other information that might be interesting to me or of value is also appreciated," Harry said. "I want you to keep a close eye on Malfoy and Yaxley. Everyone with influence inside the Ministry, who supports the old way. Supporters of pure-blood supremacy. You are the house-elf of the noble and ancient house of Black." At that, Kreacher straightened his posture and his face took on a proud expression, his bat-like ears twitching. "I trust you to know what kind of information I appreciate."

"Of course, Master Harry," Kreacher said and bowed deeply.

"You are dismissed," Harry said and Kreacher disapparated. Harry sighed and watched the dust floating in the empty hallway. Death grinned.

Half an hour later, Harry watched calmly while the whole house was buzzing with life. Death, once again as a black reptile was snugly curled around his torso. Everybody was searching for their stuff. Owls were screeching in their cages, Mrs Weasley was shouting at Fred and George for accidentally pushing Ginny off the stairs when they enchanted their suitcases to fly down on their own. Even Mrs Black in her portrait was screaming for the first time since Harry had silenced her. Through the chaos, it was no wonder, that no one besides Harry noticed a very ruffled looking Sirius leaving the room that Remus was usually occupying.
Harry couldn’t help but feel smug about it. He shot Sirius a look and his godfather froze. A strange tension seemed to hang between them, but then the moment was gone, and Sirius grinned at him. Though Harry had the feeling that the smile wasn’t all that honest. The werewolf, who just wanted to exit behind Sirius, groaned when Harry smirked at him knowingly. While Harry walked downstairs, he still heard their muffled voices.

"I swear, sometimes he is just like James,” Remus said. Sirius barked a laugh.

"But Harry is way more perceptive. James told me that he had the suspicion that I was seeing someone back then but he didn’t know who. Every time I disappeared, he looked at the map. James walked in on us twice, until he realized that we were actually having sex.”

"Twice? I thought he knew after he caught us in that secret passage. What did he think we were doing?” Remus asked curiously.

"Hiding from Filch, which was by the way what he was thinking every time he spotted me and you on the map together."

"ALL OF YOU COME DOWNSTAIRS NOW PLEASE!" Mrs Weasley shouted through the house. Hermione rushed past Harry, Crookshanks in her arms and a suitcase following. In the end, they were all standing in the entrance hall, Mrs Weasley shouting over the sound of the screaming portraits.

Moody claimed that they couldn’t go until Sturgis Podmore appeared because otherwise there was one bodyguard missing.

"Bodyguards?" Harry asked, inwardly groaning.

"Yeah. Moody insisted," Hermione said. Harry sighed.

"I don’t need an escort", he said and recalled that someone of the order was under the "imperius" around that time. It was possible that Podmore had been the one. Either way, it didn't look like he would appear anytime soon.

"...Sirius! Dumbledore said no," Mrs Weasley argue, and Harry turned around. A giant black dog was sitting on the ground and wagging its tail. "...fine. On your responsibility!" The dog barked.

Finally, they left when Moody announced that Podmore probably wouldn’t show up. Harry was accompanied by Tonks, who looked like she could be his grandmother today, with her wrinkles and grey hair. Sirius ran in front of them, his tail wagging. He jumped up on Remus a few times, who seemed to blush when Sirius tried to lick his face. Laughing, Lupin pushed him away, the second time he almost fell over. Harry sensed the wolf part of him twisting happily and urging Lupin to follow when Sirius jumped forward.

Nothing noteworthy happened until they reached King’s Cross. At least if one didn’t ask Mr Weasley, because every few minutes he pointed something out that thought was fascinating. Eventually, they were all gathered at Platform 9 3/4.

Moody grumbled something about telling Dumbledore that Sturgis hadn’t shown up the second time this week, while Harry knelt down to say goodbye to Sirius. "I wasn’t lying when I told you all of this yesterday. I do really like you, and I hope you don’t try to hex me, next time we meet. Although I really meant what I said." Sirius stared at him with a tilted head, as if he was considering something. "Sirius,” Harry said seriously and cast a "muffliato" around them. "I need to ask a favour of you. I know we aren’t on the best terms right now, but I need you to allow Kreacher to leave the house. Just tell him that he is allowed to follow my orders." Harry couldn’t say anything more when Remus turned to him. The marauder would certainly notice the spell. Thus, Harry dissolved the charm and stood up. Remus patted Harry’s shoulder.

"Be careful," his former professor said with a serious look on his face.

"I will be." Then Harry smirked. "Nice hickey by the way," he added quietly motioning for Remus' neck which was hidden by a sweater, but nevertheless a hand snapped up to cover it. Sirius barked, which sounded suspiciously like his laugh and Harry grinned.

"It was great to get to know all of you," Tonks said cheerfully. Mrs Weasley tried to hug them all, but Harry was able to dodge it by quickly entering the train. The other teens followed him when the last warning whistle could be heard. Everyone still lingering on the platform quickly entered the train. Kisses were exchanged and owls hooted in their cages.
All the noises faded into the background when the door closed behind them. Fred and George soon left them to find Lee. "He shouldn’t have come with us," Hermione said with a glance at Sirius through a window.

"Come on Mione, he hasn’t left the house for months," Ron said. Harry ignored their bickering and instead tried to find an empty compartment. Ginny followed his example, red hair trailing behind her as she followed him.

"Um, Harry," Hermione said and bit her lip. "We need to go to the other prefects," she voiced as if she was afraid that Harry would shout at her for leaving him alone.

"It’s okay. You can always find us later," Harry said, while Ron didn’t want to meet his eyes. They were really concerned about Harry’s opinion on that. It was almost laughable.

"Yeah, there is no rule against it. After all... we have to - I don’t even wanna go there. I’m not Percy!" Ron stated and Ginny snickered. While Ron and Hermione went to the front of the train, Ginny and Harry turned in the other direction to find a place that wasn’t already occupied.
As they had reached the last wagon, they met Neville, who was struggling to carry his suitcase and his toad Trevor at the same time. Despite Neville’s insistence that there was no compartment left, they settled inside the one, the other Gryffindor boy had avoided till now. Inside sat Luna Lovegood.

Just like the first time Harry had met her, she just seemed different in a way. There was the wand she kept behind her ear and a necklace made of butterbeer corks. Her pale blue eyes flicked up from the magazine she was reading upside-down. Luna's aura pulsed around her in kaleidoscopic patterns, only emphasizing her oddness. She stared at Harry for a long time and didn’t waver in her gaze, even when Ginny asked her about her holidays. Harry wasn’t bothered by it. He watched Death slithering over his hands and listened quietly.

"You are Harry Potter," she said eventually.

"Yeah," he answered. Luna turned to Neville.

"But I don’t know who you are."

"I’m nobody," Neville said.

"No, you are not. This is Neville Longbottom," Ginny started while Harry zoned out of the conversation. He was already bored. Harry turned, sideways, resting his head against the window and closed his eyes. He soon was lulled into a sleep-like state, only feeling the cool glass on the back of his head and Death’s occasional flick with his tongue.
The only noteworthy interruption of his state had been Neville when he poked the mimbulus mimbeltonia, which he got for his birthday. A cactus-like plant that pulsed and tried to cover them all with a bad-smelling liquid as soon as the tip of Neville’s quill was forcefully shoved against it.

It was like a reflex, that caused Harry to flick his hand to deflect the horrid slime. This time, he hadn't even summoned the elder wand to his hand, and yet he was the only one to evade being covered by it.

Shocked, Harry himself stared at his own hands. Thankfully nobody noticed he hadn’t used his wand in the chaos. Cho Chang opened the door not even five seconds after the incident.

She had obviously been looking for him. She stared at the scenery with an embarrassed look on her face. It was probably a mix of the image of these people covered in slime, the smell and Harry’s lack of interest that made her leave. She closed the door to their compartment after she uttered, "See you later Harry."

An hour had passed, when Ron and Hermione let them fall onto the seats next to them. Harry had been asleep by then but was violently ripped from his peaceful slumber when an indignant Ron complained loudly about Malfoy being prefect of the Slytherins.
Harry groaned and lifted his head from the window.

"And what do you want to do about it? Complaining certainly won’t help," he said slightly annoyed and still somewhat drowsy. Ron stopped in his tirade.

"But it’s Malfoy..." he said as if this was explanation enough. And maybe it was. Ron’s attention was suddenly caught by something else. He looked at Luna and noticed that she was still reading her magazine upside down.

"And? Something useful written in there?" he asked after he'd stared at her for a while. Apparently, he wasn’t sure what else he could say. Before Luna could answer Hermione interfered.

"Of course not. The Quibbler is rubbish, everybody knows that." Harry had to pull himself together as to not grin at what mistake these words had been. Hermione's embarrassed face, when Luna announced that her father was the managing editor of it was just short enough of breaking him. Just when Harry started to relax again - Death slithering halfway into his shirt - the door to their compartment opened once more.
Irritated, Harry looked up, but then a smirk appeared on his face. Pale and blond, with a pointy face just like his father, he stood in the doorway. Draco Malfoy, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle.

"How’s it going?" Harry asked and grinned at the intruders.

"Behave Potter, or I’ll have to punish you," the Slytherin said with a smug look on his face. Merlin, he was so young. And arrogant. Harry had almost forgotten about it. Harry remembered his older version much clearer than the younger counterpart, but seeing Draco in front of him like this was certainly a reminder.
In his older years, Harry had thought about a few things and he was now very sure that in all his hate for Malfoy, there had been a certain attraction too. But his confused teenage self had never really gotten past obsessively stalking the Slytherin.
Malfoy, unaware of Harry’s amused thoughts, continued. "You see, I - unlike you - was chosen as Prefect this year, which means that I am allowed to discipline you," he said smugly. Harry’s amusement grew, while Ron, who sat next to him was steaming.

"I’m impressed," Harry said. Malfoy gaped. This was something he certainly hadn’t expected. "And all the effort you made, to tell me that... wow. After all, you searched the whole train to find me. Admirable, that you hold on to your traditions. I was already worrying you wouldn’t show up this year." Harry smirked at Malfoy.

Draco spluttered and his cheeks flushed pink. "In your dreams Potter!" Malfoy said when he had gathered himself. Then his gaze fell upon Death. "You and a snake? I thought you were more into dogs. After all, you brought your mutt with you to the platform. Shame if he was reported," Draco spat to save his dignity, but his sneering mask couldn’t quite cover the lingering embarrassment. Harry was more amused than anything else, but Malfoy threatening Sirius wasn’t something he could approve of.

"Oh Draco-" Ron, Ginny, Hermione and Malfoy all stared at him with an equally shocked look, as he used that name, while Luna continued to read the Quibbler undisturbed - "you don’t know what is waiting for you if you can’t keep some things to yourself. I’m sure your father told you to keep your mouth shut," Harry’s eyes glinted dangerously, "...and if he didn’t, well that’s his problem then." Harry smirked at Malfoy. Death’s tongue flicked against the skin just beneath his jaw. Shared amusement pulsed through their bond when Malfoy swallowed hard, but then he clenched his teeth.

"We’ll see about that, Potter." With a last degrading look at Ron and Hermione, Draco turned to leave. Crabbe and Goyle followed him with matching looks of confusion on their faces. Ron on the other hand, seemed like he didn’t know if he should congratulate Harry, for making Malfoy leave this easily or declare him crazy. But while Ron didn’t seem to have understood what Malfoy had been saying, Hermione shot him an uneasy look. She knew that Malfoy probably knew about Sirius and also that he was an Animagus. But with Neville and Luna inside their compartment, she didn’t dare to speak about it. When Ron started to loudly chew on a chocolate frog, Harry decided that it was probably the best decision to sleep for the rest of the train ride.

When Hermione woke him up, the sun had set and bright stars lightened up the sky where no cloud was hiding them. "You should change, we are almost there," she said. She was already wearing her cloak, the badge indicating her status as Prefect shimmering on her chest. Harry noticed that Ron inspected his reflection in the window, smoothing down his cloak just beneath his own badge.
Harry yawned and stretched like a cat. He caught a glimpse of his own image on the dark window, which caused him to comb through his hair with his fingers. He gave it up when it only got wilder than it had been before. He asked himself why he was still bothering with trying. Maybe he should cut it the way he had when he'd been an Auror.

Harry suppressed the urge to pull a face at his own reflection and instead brushed over Death’s smooth scales with his fingers and turned to the others.

Ron and Hermione disappeared when the train slowed down to supervise the people when the usual chaos started. Everyone was gathering their stuff and leaving their compartments.

"I can carry that owl," Luna offered helpfully when Harry was left with two cages, while Ginny was carrying Crookshanks. Harry gladly accepted, while Neville gently put his toad Trevor into a pocket of his cloak. When they left the train and stepped onto the platform, Harry noticed, that, unlike Luna, Ginny or Neville, he didn’t have a problem walking through the masses of chatting people. The crowd unconsciously seemed to part in front of him. Like a forgotten instinct to avoid Death, they kept their distance. Well, he certainly wouldn’t complain about it.
The scent of pines which were growing down by the shore of the lake filled the air. Harry closed his eyes for a moment and forgotten memories invaded his mind, of tournaments and dragons, snowy winters in Hogsmeade and warm fireplaces. While he might have lost the connection to the people in his life, Hogwarts was still his home.

Chapter Text

An unexpected voice drowning the noise of the crowd caught his attention. "First years in two rows, please! First years here," a very female voice shouted. Harry spotted Professor Grubbly-Plank; her familiar wrinkly face with the prominent chin lit up by a lantern.

The street was still wet from the rain and Harry was surrounded by the squelching noises of countless feet walking through the mud towards the carriages. After a while, he noticed that Ginny and Neville had been swallowed by the crowd. A fluttering feeling rose in Harry's stomach when he spotted Hogwarts in the distance.

The towers cut through the black night-sky like blades, its windows were golden lights matching the stars. Hogwarts pulsed with magic. Even in the distance, Harry could see the swirls intertwined with the building, surrounding the castle like a glowing halo in the dark. With a smile on his face, Harry turned away and let himself be carried along by the faceless crowd.

Only when he reached the carriages, he stopped a little offside in the shadows. Death materialized behind Harry, tall and inhuman as ever. Harry smiled when he felt Death’s chin on his head and hands sneaking their way around his torso in a protective way. Possessiveness pulsed through the bond, and Harry knew that Death was grinning. He continued to watch the people entering the carriages, chatting with their friends laughing and trying to escape the cold.

Without a word, Death drew Harry’s attention to the closest carriage. The Ravenclaw girl, who had just wanted to lift her suitcase inside squeaked when it moved on its own. Well not on its own of course, but it was enough for the girl to snatch her suitcase and to join her surprised friends.

The reason for the strange behaviour of the carriage were the two Thestrals pulling it. With a horse-like curiosity, they came closer, clouds of steam coming out of their nostrils matching the rhythm of their breathing. Harry was reminded of small dragons.

The carriage leaving the usual row had raised some interest, but the pupils were eager to leave the cold. No one investigated further other than sparing them a few glances. Most of them quickly turned to the other carriages, which left Harry to inspect the skeletal horses. He hadn’t seen Thestrals in ages and he watched them curiously as they approached him. Harry laughed when one of them nudged his shoulder. Death extended an arm and began to pet one of the creatures while the other one licked Harry’s hand affectionately.

"They are close to the afterlife, Thestrals. Only visible to the ones, who saw someone die..." Death elaborated. Harry was surprised to see that they weren’t really dark. The magic connected to their life force was neutral. Harry smiled at the creatures who started to nip on his clothes, perhaps searching for treats.

"Harry!" someone shouted, and he turned his head. A mop of red hair emerged from the crowd and Ron came closer, followed by a dishevelled Hermione a few moments later. "Where is Pig?" he asked.

"Luna’s got him."

"What are you doing?", Hermione asked and looked at him strangely. To her, he was probably standing alone in the dark, an abandoned carriage in front of him. Of course, she wasn’t able to see the Thestrals nor Death, who - when Harry’s attention was no longer on him - took pleasure in sneaking his hands under his shirt and he teased Harry with light touches. When a finger traced a line right over his waistband, Harry couldn't suppress a shiver. After he shot Death a dark look, the being even had the audacity to grin at him, smugness echoing through their connection.

"I can see the beings who pull the carriages now," Harry said, turning to Ron and Hermione. Both stared at him as if he’d grown a second head. "The Thestrals," he added helpfully and understanding reached Hermione’s eyes, a pitying glance following right after.

"Only people, who saw someone die can see them," Harry repeated Death’s earlier words. Ron’s eyes widened and he stared at the Thestrals, or the – for him – empty space. All of a sudden Ginny left the crowd, an angry Crookshanks in her arms. Luna appeared behind her, Pigwidgeons cage in her hand.

They all entered the same carriage. Ron tried to sit as far away as possible from Luna - to Harry's endless amusement - once she'd asked him if he’d noticed the wrackspurts following him.

"Have you seen Grubbly-Plank?" Ginny asked into the silence. "What is she even doing here? Hagrid can’t be gone, can he?"

Harry knew fully well, that Hagrid was still trying to keep the giants from joining Voldemort, but he kept his mouth shut while the others discussed the topic. The ride wasn’t long and soon they passed the two pillars with the winged boars on top and stopped in front of the school. Harry petted the Thestrals as a last goodbye and then he joined the people, walking up the stairs to enter Hogwarts.

The great hall was illuminated by hundreds of candles floating beneath the dark ceiling, which was resembling the cloudy sky outside. Luna split from their small group on the way to their house-tables and Ginny joined a few fourth years who were greeting her loudly. When they sat down, Harry noticed the odd looks he was receiving. And not only the humans, no. The ghosts also stared at him strangely. When Sir. Nicholas floated past their table, Harry stared at him and the ghost immediately brought some distance between them. Even he seemed like he wasn’t sure what caused his newfound unease at coming close to Harry. Maybe they sensed his connection with Death. After all, ghosts were the imprints of souls who feared the afterlife.

Meanwhile, Ron and Hermione were scanning the table of the teachers for Hagrid. "He isn’t there," Ron concluded, and Harry let his eyes wander over the empty seat before he spotted the pink menace.

"Who is that?" Hermione asked, following his gaze.

"Umbridge. She was at my hearing. She’s the undersecretary of the Minister." Their conversation came to an abrupt end when McGonagall placed the sorting hat on his stool. The whole hall listened when the hat started to sing his song about the founders and how they parted. He warned them about history repeating itself.

"Missed the topic this year, did he?" Ron said while he was eyeing the empty plates on the table longingly. But with his statement, he wasn’t the only one. On every table, voices were raised, and the people started to whisper.

"Did the hat ever warn someone before?" Hermione asked, but she got no answer.

"Unite inside... yeah right. I’m not going to befriend Slytherins, that’s for sure," Ron said and shot Malfoy and his little horde of followers a disgusted look.

McGonagall’s glare silenced them and then she read the first name. "Abercrombie Euan." A shaking first-year stepped forward and when the head shouted Gryffindor, he almost ran to their table with a shy smile on his flushed face, while the next kid was already walking towards the stool.

The sorting was over as quickly as it had started. Dumbledore clapped his hands and food appeared on the tables. The hall was now filled with the sounds of cutlery clinking and teenagers eating and chatting.

When everyone was sitting on their benches, satiated and sighing, Dumbledore stood up. Harry listened absentmindedly to the headmaster giving his usual speech. Harry had yet to decide what to do. If he continued to act as carelessly as he had during his time in Grimmauld Place it would certainly raise some suspicions. Sirius wouldn’t betray him, but Dumbledore was already suspecting that the Horcrux was influencing Harry. His strange innuendos and the information that he gained a new pet-snake over the summer would’ve already reached Dumbledore’s ears. Not to mention his trial. And while the headmaster had only been at Grimmauld Place twice, or maybe three times while Harry stayed there - in Hogwarts he would be under constant surveillance. One couldn’t even trust the paintings in here. Maybe it was time to lay low for now.

Harry’s attention snapped to Umbridge when she interrupted the headmaster. Harry watched her with narrowed eyes. There was just something about her that annoyed him.

Umbridge’s magic surrounded her in sickly swirly strands and only increased Harry’s growing dislike of her. Her magic was light, but it looked weak in comparison to the pulsing aura surrounding Dumbledore. More than once, Harry felt her toad-like gaze fixate on him. This year would probably start even worse, now that he had embarrassed Fudge during his own hearing.

Ron and Hermione had to show the first years where the common room was and therefore, Harry was left to go there on his own. He joined the crowd, which was slowly leaving the hall. Death accompanied him as a snake and curled around his arm beneath his cloak. Harry noticed that many students side-eyed him with fearful looks. He smirked at every single one of them. The previous weeks of hateful articles in the Prophet hadn’t been without an impact.

When Harry reached the portrait of the fat lady, he realized that he didn’t know the password. All of a sudden Neville showed up behind him. The Gryffindor panted heavily. "I know it, Harry. I know it," he said excitedly. "Mimbulus Mimbeltonia," he panted, and the portrait revealed the entrance to the common room. When Harry climbed through the hole, everyone's attention was immediately directed at him. Most of the first years seemed scared, while the older Gryffindors pointed at him and talked in hushed voices. Harry snorted disparaging and walked past them. He nodded at Fred and George, who were pinning something on the blackboard.

Harry let his hands glide over the old wall when he walked upstairs, tracing the magic-interwoven bricks with his fingers. He smirked when he felt the powerful wards pulse under his touch. Harry hadn’t even noticed that he'd reached the door to his dormitory until he stood directly in front of it. Dean and Seamus were already inside and pinned posters and photos on the walls.

When he entered, awkward silence ensured and Harry was certain that the others had just been talking about him. Harry walked over to his bed and opened his suitcase to change.

"Hey Harry, how was your summer?" Dean asked while he was putting on his pyjama and Neville walked through the doorway. Harry smirked.

"The last few weeks weren’t too bad," he replied. "Yours?"

"Yeah, they were alright," Dean chuckled. "Better than Seamus’ for sure, he just told me."

"Why what happened, Seamus?" Neville asked and put his cactus on his drawer.

"My mum didn’t want me to come back," he said after a moment of hesitation.

"Ah, yeah. The Prophet?" Harry asked and casually threw his cloak on his bed. Seamus stared at him as if he was expecting him to continue, but Harry didn’t answer. Instead, he let Death slither onto his bed and changed into a more comfortable shirt.

Eventually, Seamus had gathered the courage to ask what everyone was already speculating about. "Listen... what actually happened in the night, when... you know... the thing with Cedric Diggory…" Even Dean listened interested but tried very hard not to seem like he was.

Harry paused a moment in consideration. What would happen if he told them the truth? At the moment, he wasn’t very keen on interfering with Voldemort’s plans. At least as long as he wasn’t really sure what he was going to do. And Voldemort tried to stay hidden. But no. What would be the difference? If no one was believing him, why should they consider the opinions of a few teenagers that were friends with Harry Potter? Maybe it would soothe Dumbledore’s worries to an extent if he tried to spread this knowledge. And the first time around Fudge had managed to deny that Voldemort was back until he literally appeared in front of his nose.

Harry sat down on his bed and sighed.

The anticipatory faces of the three Gryffindors were still fixated on him.

On the other hand, if he told Seamus and Dean the truth, he would need to go through with it. It would be exhausting to act like his fifteen-year-old self again, but the thought of Umbridge’s satisfied face when she talked shit was even worse. Riling her up would be worth it. He raised his head and looked at Neville, Dean and Seamus.

"You are sure that you want to know?" he asked them. They shifted uncomfortably for a moment but then Seamus nodded.

"Yeah. We deserve to know." Harry raised an eyebrow, but he complied.

"Cedric and I fought our way through the maze and all of a sudden we met. We could already see the trophy. He was faster but there was another monster. I helped him out instead of gripping the trophy. We decided to touch it at the same time. A mutual win for Hogwarts. Turned out though, that the trophy was a portkey. We found ourselves in a graveyard. Voldemort and a Death Eater - Peter Pettigrew - were already waiting for us. Voldemort ordered him to kill Cedric. He was hit with the killing curse and I was captured. My blood was used in a ritual, to give Voldemort his strength back. Then he wanted me to duel him, which was nothing more than a joke. Mostly for his own amusement. I managed to grab the trophy... and Cedric’s body. I was lucky that the portkey still worked. Then you all know what happened," Harry finished without emotion. He spared them the details of Voldemort gaining a new body. While Harry doubted that they would find out about the Horcruxes, he still didn’t want to take a risk in that matter. The teenagers stared at him even Ron who showed up at the doorway. "Of course, you can always believe the Daily Prophet I guess but that’s your choice," Harry said and slipped under his covers. Awkward silence ensued.

"I believe you. My grandma says that everything that is written in the Prophet is rubbish. She doesn’t read it anymore," Neville said when they all were laying in their beds. Nobody added something.

The next morning Harry was woken by a scream. "Holy shit Harry! There’s a snake on your bed!" Dean shouted. Harry sat up, still dazed.

"What the hell, Dean," he muttered and wiped over his face with his hand. He picked up his glasses from the bedside drawer. It was more of a habit than actual need. Strangely his eyes seemed to adjust every time he slipped them on or off. His vision had been improving from the day he had met Death. And now it was great either way. Harry regretted having forgotten to close the curtains on his bed last night. "If you hadn’t noticed, he was already there yesterday," Harry said and looked at Death, who was splayed over his legs.

"Huh?" Dean seemed confused. The others stared at the scenery. Ron seemed like he had still been asleep two seconds ago. Neville didn’t look much better. Seamus was already on his feet, halfway out of his pyjama. Ron stared at Harry and then at Dean. Groaning, he let himself fall back on his pillow when he realized what must’ve happened.

"That’s Harry’s pet," he explained. "Why couldn’t you tell them yesterday Harry? It would’ve spared us this wake-up call."

"You’ve got a pet snake?" Seamus asked as if he didn’t quite know what he should think of it.

"Yeah, what about it," Harry asked him and stood up.

"Nothing, it’s just..." Seamus started.

"What, evil?" Harry asked while he put on a clean shirt and trousers.

"-like you're a Slytherin," Dean added.

"Yeah, he’s not wrong mate," Ron added, and Harry laughed to the red-heads confusion.

"You know, if Malfoy hadn’t been such an arrogant bastard when we were eleven, I would’ve landed in Slytherin," Harry revealed while he put on his tie. "You coming?" Harry asked Death in parseltongue - mostly to mess with the others - and extended his arm. Death slithered towards him, till Harry picked him up. He left his roommates with stunned looks on their faces.

When Harry walked through the common room someone approached him from the side. "Hey Harry, how was your summer?" Angelina asked him and continued without waiting for an answer. She didn’t even notice Death, which caused most people in the common room to distance themselves even further. "Listen, I am the new Quidditch Captain since Wood is gone," Harry froze. "We need a new keeper. Try-outs are this Friday at five pm. I expect the whole team to be there. We’ll see how the new guy fits in, okay?" She smiled at him and turned around.

He had all forgotten about Quidditch. Harry hadn’t played for ages. After the war, there hadn’t really been much time and then ... he had just lost his interest in it. But quitting Quidditch was something, his fifteen-year-old self would’ve never done. He had made his decision, which meant, that he would have to go through with it if he liked it or not.

As Harry was aimlessly walking through the castle, he was thinking about skipping breakfast and visiting Sirius instead, but then he recalled that it was the first day of school, which meant that they would be getting their timetables. He sighed and turned around, Death like a shadow behind him.

Chapter Text

Harry exhaled and closed his eyes for a moment. A cold wind was blowing through his hair, messing it up even more. He breathed the cool air and tiny raindrops hit his face. People were hurrying over the Hogwarts grounds, heads kept down and scarfs wrapped around their necks, to protect them from the windy weather. For the last hour, he’d been listening to the monotone voice of Professor Binns talking about the giant wars. Being outside was a relief. Harry was one of the few people who hadn’t pulled up their hood to protect their faces from the weather.

High above their heads, a Thestral was flying towards the forbidden forest. Harry turned his head and looked at Death, who was standing next to him. The cloudy sky and the cold didn’t seem to bother him at all, even less than Harry. He stared into the distance, but Harry knew that Death was aware of him and his thoughts. Gusts of wind pulled on the scarfs and cloaks of the students hurrying over the place. Death’s clothes weren’t moving at all but nonetheless, his hair seemed like it was.

Harry had learned to associate the movement with Death’s wings, which he sometimes noticed from the corner of his eyes. The weather seemed to fit Death in a way. Harry watched a small group of chatting Hufflepuffs walk past them, only to look at Death’s profile once more. Harry ached to touch him right now. But trying to approach an invisible being? Harry would look like a maniac if he did so.

Death turned his head and smirked at him knowingly. Harry repressed the urge to stick out his tongue when he felt Death’s amusement. "You are an idiot," he muttered into his scarf. Death’s smug smirk didn’t vanish, but he pressed a kiss on top of Harry’s head. Fondness pulsed through the bond, when Death’s arms snaked around him. Harry had to keep himself from smiling, but he didn’t quite manage it and the corners of his mouth twitched upwards. His resistance broke entirely when Death’s nose was still buried in Harry’s hair and the being started his familiar purring.

"Hi Harry," someone said all of a sudden. Death raised his head and stared at the person. Harry also turned his head. Possessiveness pulsed through their connection when was faced with Cho Chang.

"Hey Cho," Harry replied and felt Death looming over his shoulder, an icy coldness spreading over his back where the being touched him.

"Um, hey," she said and bit her lip. "Did you have a nice summer?" she asked and shivered. Harry got the vague impression that it wasn’t only the weather, but Death’s stare that had something to do with it.

"It was okay," Harry said. "How was yours?" He had a hard time dismissing the spiky emotion spreading through their bond.

"Alright, I guess," she said and blushed slightly. Harry suddenly remembered their awkward kiss and date his younger self had endured. The crush he’d had on her since the fourth year had vanished entirely after the day in Madame Puddifoots. All of a sudden Harry could feel Death breathing just next to his ear and neck and a shiver went down his spine. The image of Cho with a slit throat flashed behind his eyes.

"Listen Cho. I know this might come out of the blue, but I’m not interested in you the way I was last year," Harry said hoping that she got the hint. Another breath let his skin tingle. The bastard didn’t even need to breathe. Harry was sure, that Death only did it to mess with him.

"Oh," Cho said. Her shoes seemed very interesting to her now. "Okay"

Harry had to admit that he didn’t pity her. He should probably pay more attention to Cho since he was trying to keep up appearances.

"Over the last summer, a lot of things have changed, you know. I just wanted you to know. It wouldn’t be fair to keep that from you," Harry said inwardly cursing Death, which caused him to pick up on a flash of amusement. Not that he was complaining, when Death nipped on his skin right beneath his ear. The possessive bastard.

"Yeah. I mean, I understand that. I mean I’ve thought about it a lot too," Cho said. Harry watched with growing dread, that tears started to well up in her eyes. "I mean, w-with Cedric and..."

"Harry!" a voice called him from behind and Ron bumped into his shoulder. Harry couldn’t express his gratefulness at Ron’s timing and lack of observation skills. A minute longer and he wasn't sure whether he himself would've gone through with killing Cho, the way Death's emotions had bled over to him. "-the Hell mate, you can’t just run off all the time-" Ron stopped when he noticed Cho, who was staring at the red-head with a baffled expression, eyes still glassy but too surprised to cry. "Is that a Tornados badge?" Ron asked her after a moment. Cho looked down and there was indeed a white and blue pin on her cloak. Then she raised her head and looked at Ron.

"Yeah," she said still sounding confused.

"I think we should head back. Snape won’t take it too kindly if we are late," Harry interfered.

"Yeah. You’re probably right," Ron added and already started to walk away.

"See you," Harry said to Cho and then he turned around and followed Ron.

 

In the queue in front of Snape’s classroom, Harry stood next to Hermione and Ron, who were loudly arguing about the incident with Cho. "...but Ron, she clearly wanted to talk to Harry..."

"How should I know? It’s not like she said that I should go away. And that stupid badge. I bet she's just a fan of the Tornados because they won the cup last year."

"Sometimes Ron you are just so dense."

"What? And you are perfect-" Harry ignored their bickering and instead walked through the door, which creaked when it opened. Neville seemed like he wanted to be anywhere else but here. Ron and Hermine didn’t even notice that he was gone, still too focused on their argument. Harry went to a table in the back, located in a more shadowy part of the room. Hundreds of vials on the walls sparkled in the gloomy light. Slowly the other pupils trickled into the room. Small groups of Slytherins and Gryffindors gathered around the tables.

The door opened once again and Severus Snape entered, his robes billowing behind him. "Now silence," he demanded and stopped in front of his desk. "Before we start with today’s lesson, I think it would be wise to remind you that you are taking an important test this June, where you can prove, how much you learned about the brewing and usage of potions. As stupid, as a part of this class definitely is, I am still expecting you to receive at least an Acceptable for your OWL’s, otherwise, you are going to feel-" Snape stared at Neville - "my discontent." He turned away from the frightened Gryffindor and continued. "After this school year, many of you will certainly no longer study with me. I’m only teaching the best, which means that some of you will certainly say goodbye.” Harry didn’t look away when Snape’s eyes fixated him.

Harry used to practice brewing a lot during his time as an Auror trainee since it had always been a somewhat weaker subject of his. He was sure that he was able to brew a decent potion now. After all, the good grades he’d finished his Auror training with, didn’t come out of anywhere. Snape broke their eye contact and turned to the class. "But till that happy moment of farewell, we still have a year ahead of us," he said with a silken voice, "If you are taking your NEWT’s or not, I advise you to focus your attention on keeping the high level I am expecting from my OWL students," Snape continued. "Today we are going to brew a potion which often asked for in the O.W.L.’s and is known as Draught of Peace. It lessens fears and dampens nervousness, but beware… One wrong move and your draught will trigger a deep slumber, of which some won’t wake.” He swished his wand and words appeared on the board behind him. "The necessary instructions are listed on the blackboard and you can find the ingredients in here," Snape said, and the door to the storeroom sprang open when he flicked his wand a second time. "You have one and a half hours… begin.”

Immediately everyone scrambled up and started to collect their ingredients. It was a difficult potion, at least if you didn’t have the memories of someone who went through Auror-training. With ease, Harry cut the ingredients added some of the required moon-stone powder. Every so often regulated the heat of the flames with a flick of his wand. Somewhere between Seamus messing up his charm for the heat-regulation and almost setting Dean on fire and Snape snapping at Neville when he accidentally pushed a vial of hellebore syrup off the table, Harry rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and took off his glasses. Otherwise, the steam had him see the whole room through a foggy veil. In the meantime, Death had begun to stalk through the room.

Brewing as it turned out, was mostly about accuracy and the right recipe. Snape’s company might not be very pleasant, but it had its reasons that he was a potions master. With Snape’s improved instructions on the blackboard, Harry had no problems with brewing the draught, unlike Ron whose caldron sprayed green sparks.

"Silvery steam should now rise from your potion," Snape announced when they had only ten minutes left. Hermione’s potion matched Harry’s, but not many people seemed to have managed to brew a flawless potion. While Snape slowly started to slide through the room and inspected every cauldron, Death materialized curled around Harry’s arm, cool scales pressing against his skin. Snape walked past Hermione, only glancing at her cauldron and he wrinkled his nose at Ron’s, but when he reached Harry’s cauldron he stopped. He stared at the potion with unblinking eyes and an unreadable expression. That he didn’t say a word, could only mean one thing. There was nothing wrong with it. Harry grinned. Snape’s dark eyes snapped to Harry’s face. He seemed somewhat taken aback, seeing his face without the glasses but then his attention was caught by Death. He sneered. "Five points from Gryffindor, for bringing a pet to my class," he said with an oily voice. Ron’s jaw fell, and he stared at Snape with an unbelieving look. Harry on the other hand wasn’t too bothered by it. He smirked and lifted Death onto his shoulders.

"He is just angry that he couldn’t vanish my potion," Harry hissed at the snake. He watched with undeniable satisfaction, how Snape paled. To Harry’s amusement Death even raised his head, hissing and baring his fangs. The reaction caused Snape to take a step back. Harry followed the potions teacher with his eyes when he stoically walked over to the next table and inspected Zabini’s cauldron.

During the lunch break, Harry mostly ignored Hermione and Ron, but they were arguing again and didn’t even notice Harry’s lack of input. Earlier Hermione mentioned that she hoped that Snape would be nicer to them, now that he was in the Order. Ron insisted that there was no real evidence that he ever stopped working for Voldemort. It would actually be an interesting discussion if it wasn’t held by two teenagers who barely knew what was going on, so Harry focused on his food instead.

The next subject would be Divination. And by what Harry remembered about it, he wasn’t very keen on it.

While Hermione grabbed her stuff to go to Ancient Runes, he and Ron moved towards the north tower where Trelawney’s classroom was located. As soon as they’d climbed the rope ladder and entered through the trap door Trelawney fixated on Harry. She pressed a hand against her heart and shook her head dramatically. "Oh, my poor, poor boy. You are surrounded by an aura of Death." Harry snorted with amusement. With Death accompanying him, she didn’t even know how right she was. This lesson was fairly relaxing, all they had to do was to sit on their pillows and interpret each other's dreams. Harry didn’t remember dreaming at all last night, therefore Ron told him about a made-up dream of his. They were assigned to keep a dream journal for the following month and while they walked through the castle to go to Defence against the Dark arts, Ron bemoaned their extensive homework load.

"…the essay for Snape and now we have to keep this stupid journal. It’s only the first day, and who knows what this Umbridge is going to do," Ron said as they walked past the portraits of a giant wolf-like dog and a chubby witch, who seemed to be tipsy from the wine in her painting.

Harry sighed when they saw the first students already entering the classroom, for what would probably be the most boring lesson they ever had. Umbridge was already standing in front of her desk, a black bow on her head and solely clad in pink. She smiled sweetly when everyone was finally seated.

"Good afternoon class," she started. When scattered murmurs were the only reply that she got, she clicked her tongue.

"That wasn’t very convincing. I would ask you to greet me by saying 'good afternoon Professor Umbridge'. Let’s try again. Good morning class," she said.

"Good afternoon Professor Umbridge," the class said in unison, a few of the pupils rolling their eyes.

"That wasn’t too difficult was it?" Umbridge said. "Put your wands away and get out your quills please," Umbridge said. Harry hadn’t even bothered to pull his wand out of his pocket. The pink toad tapped the board with her surprisingly short wand and the chalk began to write.

 

Defence against the Dark arts, a return to basic principles

 

"Well then. Your previous education in this subject has been sloppy and fragmented at least, hasn’t it?" she turned around with carefully folded hands. "The continuing change of teachers all the time... Of which obviously none of them bothered to teach, following a curriculum that is approved by the ministry. This certainly led to you being vastly beneath the standard of OWL students expected this year..." Harry was already bored to Hell. "You’ll be pleased to know, however, that these problems are about to be rectified. We will be following a carefully structured, theory centred, ministry-approved course of defensive magic this year." And while the sounds of quills scratching on parchment filled the room - Umbridge had them copy what was standing on the blackboard - Harry was already regretting his decision to stay low for a while.

"We can kill her," Death suggested grinning and Harry sighed. Killing Umbridge would certainly be satisfying even if it was a bad idea, as long as he was planning to stay at Hogwarts. Who knew what Fudge was going to do when the pink toad disappeared? Probably sending Dementors again or maybe even try to arrest Dumbledore. On second thought, this might not be a bad idea at all. But no. For now, she would need to stay alive, if Harry didn’t want to attract attention. At least for now. Harry didn’t bother to start reading, instead, he looked at Hermione, who hadn’t opened her book either and was raising her hand. "Yes, my dear," Umbridge said when the whole class stared at Hermione and she could no longer pretend not to notice her. "Do you have a question about this chapter?"

"Not to the chapter, no," Hermione replied.

"Well we are reading it just now," Umbridge said sweetly. "If you require other information you can ask after the lesson."

"I have a require about your course aims," Hermione said.

"And your name is?" Umbridge asked with raised eyebrows.

"Hermione Granger."

"Well Miss Granger, I think the course aims are completely clear if you would read attentively "

"Well, not to me. Nowhere it says how to use defensive magic."

"Using defensive magic?" Umbridge laughed in her high girly voice. "Well, I can’t imagine a situation inside my classroom, which would call for the use of a defensive spell, Miss Granger. You aren’t really expecting to be attacked in my classroom, are you?" Harry snorted at that.

Death grinned, seemingly sharing his amusement. He sat down on the table located to Harry’s left. Parvati unconsciously leaned back.

"We won’t use magic?" Ron asked loudly.

"My students raise their hands if they want to say something Mr-?"

"Weasley," Ron said and stuck his hand into the air. Umbridge stared at Harry for a moment, when he didn’t raise his hand but instead leaned back in his chair to watch. He wouldn’t allow her the satisfaction of having power over him, even if it was only the decision of when he was allowed to talk and when he had to be silent. Umbridge turned to Hermione.

"Yes, Miss Granger did you like to ask something else?" she asked.

"Yes. Isn’t it the point of defence against the dark arts to have us practice defensive spells?"

"Are you a ministry approved educational expert, Miss Granger?" said Professor Umbridge with her too sweet voice.

"No, but-"

"Then I fear, that you are not qualified to decide what 'the point' of teaching is. Wizards who are way older and smarter than you developed our new study program. You are going to learn something about defensive spells in a safe way, without any risk. Yes, Mr-?"

"Dean Thomas."

"Well, Mr Thomas?"

"If we are attacked, I mean it won’t be without a risk."

"I repeat; do you expect to be attacked during class?" Umbridge asked.

"No, but-" Dean answered but Umbridge didn’t let him finish.

"I don’t want to criticize the way this school was led until now," A false smile appeared on her toad-like mouth, "But you were exposed to some irresponsible wizards in this subject, really irresponsible - not to mention dangerous half-breeds." Harry tilted his head and thought that killing her by putting her in front of Remus on a full moon would certainly be interesting.

"If you are talking about Professor Lupin, he was the best we ever-" Dean began angrily.

"Hand, Mr Thomas! As I was saying, you have been introduced to spells, that have been complex, inappropriate to your age group and potentially lethal. You have been frightened into believing, that there are going to be dark attacks every other day."

"No, we haven’t-" Hermione started.

"Your hand is not in the air," Umbridge cut her off once more. Hermione raised her hand and the professor turned away.

"It is my understanding, that my predecessor, not only performed illegal curses in front of you, he actually performed them on you."

"Yeah, well and yet you are insisting, that we won’t need to learn spells to defend ourselves, despite us being attacked in our classroom already," Harry said loudly, "Who knows that this won’t happen again. I for my part, expect to be attacked."

"Mr Potter," Umbridge said. "Who do you think is going to attack children like you?" she said sweetly.

Harry tilted his head and started to count on his fingers. "Hmm yeah, okay let’s see. Quirrel tried to kill me in my first year in Hogwarts and in the second one... Apart from the fact that Lockhart tried to obliviate Ron and me, he managed to vanish the bones in my arm. Then there was Lupin, who was really nice, but he had to lock himself up every full moon. Then the year when a literal Death Eater taught us," Harry elaborated. Everyone was staring at him. "And oh yeah, this summer I was attacked by two Dementors, but the Ministry managed to keep it out of the papers just like..." Harry pretended to be thinking very hard, "What’s his name? The maniac who tried to kill me as a baby... Oh yeah. Lord Voldemort," Harry finished. He grinned inwardly. Ron gasped; Lavender Brown shrieked; Neville fell from his chair, but Professor Umbridge didn’t move at all. She stared at Harry with dark satisfaction.

"Ten points from Gryffindor." The people in their class stared either at Harry or Umbridge. "Now let me make a few things quite plain," Umbridge said. "You have been told, that a certain Dark Lord was raised from the dead and is at large once again. That is a lie." Harry almost laughed at that statement.

"Yeah, I’m sure Cedric Diggory would agree with you," he said sarcastically.

"Detention Mr Potter. Tomorrow afternoon in my office. 5 pm," The students were awfully quiet when Umbridge turned back to them. Her magic swirled angrily. "Cedric Diggory’s death was a tragic accident."

"Yeah," Harry said and smirked sharply, "I know the feeling of accidentally casting a killing curse. It’s not like you have to want it to work," he said sarcastically. Harry bit back a grin when Umbridge looked at him as if she’d shout at him every second.  

"Come here Mr Potter," she said and Harry knew that she had been so close to losing self-control. Harry pushed back his chair and casually walked over to Umbridge. He watched her smirk, as she pulled a small pink roll of parchment out of her purse and pulled out a quill. No one was talking. Harry knew everyone was watching him. The only sound was the scratching of Umbridge’s feather on the parchment. "Bring that to Professor McGonagall," she said with a voice like honey after she had sealed the letter with her wand.

"Gladly, Professor Umbridge," Harry said mockingly and then left. Harry already knew what the note would be saying and McGonagall only confirmed his suspicion. Detention, every day of the following week. He left McGonagall’s office with a biscuit in his hand and the words of her warning lingering in his mind.

Chapter Text

The next day came soon enough. As much as Harry liked being in Hogwarts, he had to admit that he was bored. The highlight of the morning had been a small article in the Daily Prophet deeming him the next Dark Lord, which caused the pupils to whisper and stare even more than usual these days. During charms, Flitwick had them repeat summoning charms and later McGonagall introduced them to a vanishing spell.

Harry - of course - managed to vanish his snail on the first try, which earned him ten points for Gryffindor and a strange look from Hermione. After Transfiguration, they grabbed their stuff and left for Herbology and in the afternoon they headed towards the forbidden forest. Professor Grubbly-Plank was already waiting for them to study Bowtruckles with the Slytherins.

When Draco loudly announced that his father had been talking to Fudge about the school, Harry’s interest was piqued. But as much as he had hoped for interesting news, the Slytherin didn’t exploit the topic further.

Harry was almost relieved when he was finally sitting in the great hall and dinner was served. Next to him sat Hermione. She had been reading a book while she was eating, but now she stared at Ron with a somewhat disgusted look. The redhead seemingly inhaled his food, while at the same time he was discussing Quidditch with Seamus. The ghosts were still avoiding Harry and so did nearly Headless Nick when he floated past them. He greeted them with a nod but otherwise kept his distance. Too involved in avoiding Harry, the ghost floated right through Neville’s body and caused the Gryffindor to flinch violently. Parvati shrieked when his cup toppled over and pumpkin juice dripped all over her cloak.

During lunch, stripes of light had still illuminated the old stones. Small particles of dust had been visible as they floated through the air, but now the ceiling of the great hall was turning darker with every passing minute and the first candles magically started to light themselves. Harry spotted Malfoy on the Slytherin table, but then his attention was caught by something else. He sighed when he noticed a familiar dark-skinned girl stomping towards him. A very angry Angelina approached him and snapped at Harry for managing to get detention during the Quidditch try-outs. Harry endured her speech without complaints. When Angelina was finally storming away, Harry found that he would be glad when the day was over.

At least Death had never left his side. He was wrapped around his arm in his snake form for most of the time. Half an hour later, he followed Harry like a shadow when he was on the way to Umbridge’s office. And he still had to figure out what to do with the toad. Killing was no option and outright telling her to shove off... Harry sighed. Trying to lay low was more difficult than he had imagined.

He entered the office without a plan. It was just as pink and overwhelming as he remembered it. No portraits on the walls, but china with the moving kittens on them, pink pillows on equally pink chairs and tea service on her table. Harry immediately spotted the black feather and the empty piece of parchment. It was the only thing inside the room, that wasn’t round, pink or disgustingly cute.

"Good evening Mr Potter," Umbridge said and looked suspiciously like a toad who had just caught a fat fly.

"Good evening Professor Umbridge," Harry replied and smiled back with an equally sweet smile. It seemed to disturb her somewhat, but she continued without a pause.

"Please, take a seat," she said and pointed at the chair opposite her. Harry sat down in front of the empty parchment. "Well, Mr Potter. Before we begin with your punishment, let’s repeat why you are here." Umbridge looked at him expectantly "Why do you think, you are here Mr Potter?" she asked him eventually when Harry just looked at her with a deadpan look.

"Honestly?" Harry started, "Because you don’t like what I had to say." Harry leaned back in his chair and glanced at Death who loomed over him. The being stared at Umbridge with a smirk that promised nothing good and Harry could sense a thirst for blood echoing through the bond.

"No Mr Potter," Umbridge continued sweetly. "This is your punishment, for spreading evil, attention-seeking stories." When Harry just stared at her she smiled. "Well, apparently we are learning to restrain ourselves, aren’t we? You are now going to write a few lines for me, Mr Potter" She offered him the Blood-quill. The feather was long, thin and black and pulsed viciously with dark magic. "I want you to write; I must not tell lies," she said sweetly.

Umbridge watched with glee when Harry put the sharp end of the quill onto the parchment. Bloody lines appeared on his skin, parallel to the writing and a sharp pain came with it. Harry wrote, not a muscle in his face telling what he was thinking. Death frowned as he watched Harry. Uneasiness pulsed through the bond, alongside confusion. But Death didn’t try to keep Harry from what he was doing. Slowly the parchment was filled with words and it shone red in the light of the candles. Death was sitting right next to Harry and his eyes were fixed on the mark carving itself into his hand with a dark expression. Harry knew that the being didn’t like what he was doing.

Umbridge started to squirm in her seat after some time. Harry had the feeling, that it had something to do with Death’s dark presence growing stronger and more noticeable with every line. And while it might be a comfort to Harry it certainly didn’t make Umbridge feel better. The minutes passed by and finally, Harry had written a whole page.

He stopped and leaned back in his chair.

Umbridge stared at him with a pinched look. "I don't believe that I've given you permission to stop, Mr Potter."

A corner of Harry's mouth tugged up. "Oh, but I think that was more than enough," he drawled.

Umbridge stared at him, expression turning into anger.

"Mr Potter! I think another detention will serve yo-" but she wasn't able to end her sentence, because Harry had summoned the elder wand and stunned her. No wand meant there was no trace they could follow. Dumbledore was the only wizard that Harry knew was powerful enough to sense magic and he doubted that he would just walk into Umbridge’s office without a reason. Harry stared at the unconscious toad. Her mouth stood open and her head had fallen onto the back of her chair. The bow on top of her hair slowly slipped from its designated place.

Harry's gaze didn't linger much longer. Pointing the elder wand at her, he began to modify her memories. She would believe that she had fallen asleep after he had left. Then Harry turned his attention to the parchment that was stained with lines of his own blood. Grimacing he picked it up. It had been a pain in the arse to write these lines, but it was hard to conjure something that appeared so real. But to duplicate it... Harry traced the bloody lines with his fingers and cast a strong spell on it and the single parchment exploded into a whole stack. Casting a slight glamour on the parchment which would hide their similarities, he spread out enough papers that would make it seem like he had written for hours. The remaining ones he stuffed into his bag. After he had put the black quill back on Umbridge's desk, he left without another look.

As soon as he reached the common room, Harry headed for their dorm. He changed and went to bed, carefully closing the curtains. He didn’t want to repeat a scene like the first morning. When he had just settled on his pillows, Death materialized right on top of him. The being was sitting on Harry’s stomach, hands caging his head as he loomed over him. "We should just kill her," Death announced and Harry missed the familiar grin on his face, which usually came alongside these suggestions.

"We can’t kill her, I decided to stay low," Harry countered and added a privacy ward around his bed. Better not having someone overhear their conversation.

"That was a stupid idea," Death declared and Harry chuckled.

"Perhaps. Perhaps not," Harry said smirking and stared at Death. "Tomorrow I will use that time better," he promised.

Something that felt too close to relief instead of solely satisfaction echoed through the bond and Harry squinted his eyes at Death, trying to figure out what had bothered him so. 

Death's face which hovered over him was so close that his hair was almost touching Harry's nose. Surprised he noticed, that Death’s eyes weren’t purely white like he had always thought. Almost unnoticeable, there was the slightest distinction of colour. Just where the iris of a human would be, his eyes were darker. Not by much but enough to be noticed when one paid attention. Harry wondered if it always had been this way, or if it was one of Death’s unconscious changes in appearance. He must’ve stared for longer than he thought because after a few moments he noticed the smirk on Death’s face. Under the intense gaze, Harry suddenly felt like prey. His mind was wiped blank, arousal sparking deep in his gut and buzzing through their connection.  

Harry’s breath hitched when the being leaned closer and he noted that his throat seemed rather vulnerable in this position. He could feel Death breathing against his lips and a hand gliding over his neck. Like a choking hold only without pressure, but then Death’s fingers went on. Over his jaw and cheek, always a sharp grin on his face. Harry’s mouth parted in anticipation. The moment seemed to stretch endlessly. But then - finally - Death closed the gap between them and kissed him.

Harry arched into the touch when a hand was gliding over his ribs and another one twined in his hair. He gasped when Death deepened the kiss and he was pressed closer. This time, there was no frantic chase for release, no. Harry fell apart under teasing touches, nips and slow kisses.

That night Harry fell asleep curled up against a purring Death, invisible wings around him and thinking that perhaps he was in love.

 

It was still dark in the dormitory when Harry’s eyes suddenly opened. He sat up and knew immediately that the others were still asleep. Death materialized at the foot of Harry’s bed. The being stared at Harry with a grin on his face. It took a second, for Harry to realize what caused him to wake. He pulled back the curtain from his bed and stared at the empty spot next to his bed. The air seemed to part and the wards pulsed. Two seconds later Kreacher appeared with a plop. The elf bowed deeply when he realized that Harry was awake.

"Master Harry," he said and after a moment he continued, "I did not realize that you were indisposed."

Harry blushed and a hand wandered automatically to his neck. All of a sudden, he realized, what he had to look like. His hair was probably even wilder than usual and his neck and collar bones were covered in hickeys if he could trust his memory. And that didn’t even include the lack of clothes he was wearing.

"Okay just gimme a moment," Harry said and with his right hand reached down the other bedside to find his pants. Death just sat there and smirked entertained, till Harry put on his shirt. Eventually, Harry combed through his hair with his fingers and then dismissed his appearance with a thought. This would have to do. He looked at the house-elf who was still staring at the floor.  

"Okay, you can stop your bowing now Kreacher," Harry said and greeted him with an acknowledging nod after the elf raised his head. Harry hummed thoughtfully and turned, so that he was facing Kreacher, legs dangling from the edge of his bed. Sirius hadn’t left him hanging. "What made you come here?" Harry asked.

"I have information about the ministry," Kreacher said and bowed once more, while a smirk appeared on Harry’s face.

"Tell me," Harry demanded and Kreacher raised his head.

"Sturgis Podmore was caught sneaking around in the Ministry. He is a filthy half-blood, sometimes he is visiting-," Kreacher’s talking slowed down and it seemed to be hard for him to utter the next words, "-with the other blood-traitors and speaking abou-" Kreacher stopped all of a sudden and grabbed his throat. He gagged as he tried to voice what he wanted to say, but obviously, he was not able to. Apparently, the command to keep everything about the order a secret was still active.

“I know, just continue," Harry said and freed Kreacher from further explanation.

“The Wizengamot is going to hold his trial on Thursday, 9 am," Kreacher said.

“Thank you Kreacher," Harry said, "Anything else?"

“Young Master also ordered Kreacher to keep an eye on the Malfoys.” Harry nodded.

“Go on.”

“Lucius Malfoy tried to lay claim on the seats in the Wizengamot, which are owned by the Blacks.” Harry raised his eyebrows.

“Tried? He didn’t succeed though, that’s what you are telling me.”

“Yes," the house-elf said. Now Harry was curious

“What were his reasons for laying claim on the seats? Do you know?”

“He argued, that his son – Mr Draco Malfoy – was the only male descendant of the bloodline of the Blacks. The Minister was eager to comply, but he wasn’t able to. I overheard Mr Malfoy talking... His wife Mrs Cissy Malfoy was also not able to lay claim on the seats. She asked the goblins in Gringotts. But since Master Sirius is still alive, despite him being a filth-" Harry’s eyes narrowed and Kreacher stopped before he continued once more. “Despite Master Black having escaped Azkaban, he is still head of the house. He named you to represent the noble and ancient house of Black. As long as he isn’t dead, his word holds true." Harry smirked. So, Malfoy really lost no time. He turned his attention back on Kreacher.

"Well done, that was good work. Thank you, Kreacher." The elf bowed deeply.

"Thank you, Master."

"You can go home now if you want," Harry said.

"Of course, young Master," Kreacher said and disapparated. Harry stared at the empty spot thoughtfully. How many Wizards and Witches hadn’t bothered to ensure the loyalty of their servants and treated them like dirt? If he had learned something in his life, then it was that these beings were way more complex than many people thought.

The next two days passed without a noticeable interruption. Ron could barely hide that he wanted to play for the Quidditch team, even if he tried very hard to keep it from Harry. Daily he sneaked out to practice with his new broom. Meanwhile, Hermione started knitting hats for the house-elves to free them. She left them under garbage inside the common room even trying to get Harry to support S.P.E.W. by starting to knit hats. Harry indulged her for an evening, never having tried knitting before, to the twins' endless amusement.

Ron always removed the trash covering them, insisting that the elves should at least be able to see what they were collecting.

Harry exceeded in all his classes apart from Defence against the Dark Arts, thanks to Umbridge’s dislike of him and Harry’s sarcastic remarks. During the day, she continued to be the same annoying toad as ever. But sometimes she seemed strangely uneasy around Harry, who smirked every time it happened. In the afternoon, she greeted Harry with her disgustingly sweet smile and asked him to write lines. But Harry didn’t plan on doing that.

He hit Umbridge with a stupefy as soon as he entered the disgustingly pink office. The thud with which her head had hit the wooden desk was certainly satisfying. Harry modified her memories and used the duplicated parchments he had filled with the bloody lines during his first detention. He always put it on her table before he left. Harry mostly used his spare time to do his homework, which was still an extensive load. Although, he had to admit, that he'd rather come to enjoy these evenings away from everyone. After all that time the glances and hushed whispers turned out to be more annoying than he had expected and unconscious Umbridge wasn't that bad of a company. Although the pink slowly started to grate on his nerves.

Death accompanied him even during the most boring sessions of Binns monologue about the giant wars and Harry was glad to have him around.

It was Wednesday when Harry had to listen once more to Hermione scolding the twins for testing their products on volunteers. Harry casually watched them argue, while he was lounging in an armchair next to the fireplace. Death was sitting on the back of his chair and nuzzled Harry’s neck and hair, long fingers tracing patterns over his skin. Occasionally the creature possessively nipped the side of Harry’s neck which sent pleasant tingles down his back. Harry’s potions book was placed on his lap. He had long stopped pretending to read it. Harry had been staring at the page about antidotes and poisons for at least half an hour, while he was trying very hard to resist the urge to just turn around and kiss Death. It was then when his attention was caught by the twins and Hermione.

Harry hadn’t really been sure what to do when Podmore would have his trial. Should he stay in Hogwarts, or just skip the first few classes on Thursday without giving a damn and go to the Ministry? But a new thought invaded his mind. Begrudgingly, Harry left Death and his seat by the crackling fire and walked over to them, after Hermione had succeeded and Fred and George were packing their stuff under her watchful glances.

"Hey," Harry said.

"Oh no," Fred replied with a fake scared voice after he'd turned around. "It’s the next Dark Lord."

"Have you seen his snake? It can only be ‘you-know-who-junior," George added dramatically and then he smirked. Even Harry grinned when he was reminded of the latest article in the Daily Prophet. Their interpretation was actually a very good representation of the current situation, with students whispering and pointing at Harry every time he walked through the hallways.

"Are some of your products already working?" Harry asked.

"Yeah, the fainting fancies seem to work quite well," George replied while he was picking up a bag with purple and orange pieces of candy.

"We are also working on the Nosebleed Nougats," Fred added and pointed at the bag, "But we still haven’t found a good way to stop the bleeding afterwards."

"As your sponsor, you surely wouldn’t mind me borrowing one of the fainting fancies, would you?" Harry asked with a mischievous grin. The twins shared a look.

"George," Fred said and his eyes widened comically, "The day has come."

"The new dark Lord asked us to join him," George replied and bowed deeply.

"Of course, everything our mighty saviour desires shall be his," Fred added and joined his brother by bowing even deeper, while Ron entered through the portrait hole.

"Do I even want to know what is going on?" Ron asked and stopped next to his brothers.

"Finally finished with your duties as a prefect?" George said and turned around.

"Or did you skip it to do something else? "Fred added with a look at Ron’s dishevelled look, his hair still wild and sweaty from his secret Quidditch practice. Ron's face flushed red to the tip of his ears.

"I… no- I just wanted to do my - I forgot something...my trunk... just," Ron stammered and rushed towards the stairs to their dormitory the lingering glances of his twin brothers following him. It was obvious that they didn’t buy his lie.

"Mind telling us, what you are planning?" George asked curiously after he turned back to Harry.

"Nah, I just need to skip some classes tomorrow morning," Harry replied.

"Mmhh," Fred said and nodded.

"That can be arranged," George added with a look at Hermione. The girl was now focused on knitting one of her house-elf hats. As if she’d noticed the looks, she raised her head and stared at them suspiciously. "But it’s probably better if we go somewhere else," George said and lowered his voice. "Merlin knows, what Hermione is gonna do to us when she finds out what we're talking about." Harry grinned. This night he went to bed, his pockets filled with fainting fancies and a plan on his mind.

Chapter Text

On Thursday morning, Harry was sent to go to Madame Pomfrey immediately after he fainted during Divination. He reminded himself to compliment Fred and George on their inventions. Professor Trelawney was thrilled at first and was certain that he’d had a vision. Eventually, Harry managed to convince her that he had really fainted, but that it was probably caused by the heavy scents inside the classroom and nothing too severe. Ron’s worried look followed him when he left through the trap door.

When Harry had reached the hospital wing, Poppy Pomfrey examined him from head to toe, but couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary. After Harry incidentally mentioned the lack of sleep he was getting since Umbridge’s Detentions, she insisted that he went to bed and ordered him to rest till he felt better. Harry smirked when he heard Madame Pomfrey’s angry muttering through the door, about "having a word with this irresponsible toad".

Harry quickly changed into the clothes he had worn on his trial. There wasn’t too much time left. Of course, he wouldn’t really be able to hide that he had been in the ministry. That much was obvious, but for the next hours, no one would bother to search for him just because he wasn’t attending his classes.

Harry had thought about just leaving it be. He was certain that the trial would end just like the first time around. He recalled that Sturgis had ended up in Azkaban for one reason or another. But despite Harry knowing how the whole story would end, showing Fudge that he was able to storm into the Ministry even though they didn’t bother to invite him was something he couldn’t resist. With a last look at the curtains of his dorm, Death pulled Harry through the shadows.

He reappeared inside the ministry, unhurriedly emerging from a dark corner. The flickering light of the torches didn’t reach the edge of the corridor where he was standing. It was just the same, which led to the courtroom where he’d had his trial not long ago. While walking through the hallway, Harry realized that he didn’t really know where Sturgis’ trial would be held. But the luck was on his side. A wizard in a plum-coloured robe rushed past him, cursing under his breath about being late. Harry followed him silently. He walked through a door not too far away from Harry’s courtroom.

A few people raised their heads to look at the newcomers. Some of them shot Harry suspicious looks, even more so, when they noticed Death who was wrapped around his neck. But most of them were still talking in hushed voices and took no notice of him. To Harry’s interest, he wasn’t the only ordinary Wizard inside the courtroom. Harry easily spotted Lucius Malfoy with his blond - almost white - hair, his familiar magic surrounding him in silvery swirls. He was clothed in a similar fashion to Harry. A black suit and equally dark cloak. Every time he shifted, the light of the torches illuminated the exquisite pattern which was woven into the fabric. Probably very expensive, just like one would expect from a wealthy pureblood. His hands were curled around a walking stick with a silver handle, which was shaped like the head of a snake.

Malfoy was chatting with the man next to him. Harry frowned. He recognized the other wizard from somewhere.

Suddenly Harry recalled a vision he’d once had, in which Voldemort had been torturing a Death Eater after he had given him the wrong information. This was Avery, the Death Eater who had told Voldemort about the shelves with the prophecies, only that he forgot to mention that not every person was able to pick up a certain one.

Harry smirked when he recalled what would be waiting for Avery as soon as Voldemort would learn about that fact.

There was also a guy with a visitor’s badge and if Harry guessed correctly, this had to be a journalist of the Daily Prophet. He was quite young and had brown hair. He seemed bored but didn’t look too bad in his simple suit. Probably a Muggleborn. He was twirling a quill in his hand and stared at his notebook. As if on cue, the journalist raised his head.

His eyes grazed the newcomers, undoubtedly hoping for the whole trial to start. He took a double-take when he spotted Harry. His eyes widened, wandering from his scar to Death in his snake form and back. Harry shot him a glare. The journalist flinched and lowered his eyes.

"Just great," Harry muttered under his breath when the wizard eagerly started to scribble something down. He hadn’t expected to be able to keep his attendance of Podmore's trial a secret but having it announced in the Daily Prophet was something else entirely. He sighed and turned away from the man.

Not far away from Lucius and Avery, Harry spotted a lean man with dark brown hair and pale skin. His chin was raised high and his piercing eyes wandered through the room with an imperious expression. The similarities to his son were uncanny. It had to be Theodore Nott’s father. There was another wizard, who - despite him wearing a purple cloak - stood out of the crowd of members of the Wizengamot. And even while Harry wasn’t really sure, something told him that this had to be Selwyn. Also, one of Voldemort’s followers if he remembered correctly.

Harry smirked as he sat down next to an elderly witch, who - as soon as she noticed who he was - put some distance between them. Harry ignored her and continued to watch the Death Eaters with smug satisfaction.

The old pure-blood families really hadn’t lost any time to increase their influence. If it was for their personal gain or on Voldemort’s orders, either way, Harry’s plan had carved a path, which had them gaining even more influence in the ministry. A smirk tugged on his lips. This small factor promised a very interesting future...

Meanwhile, many people were staring at Harry, but he ignored them and instead started to talk to Death in parseltongue which only freaked them out more. Selwyn, who sat closest to him of Voldemort’s followers paled when he noticed what Harry was doing. Harry smirked when their eyes met, and the Death Eater quickly looked away.

To Harry’s disappointment, Fudge didn’t show up, nor did Dumbledore rush to Sturgis’ defence.

But Podmore was led in soon enough. Two Aurors held his arms in firm grips, and his hands were bound by a chain. It fell to the ground and rolled itself up when one of the Aurors flicked his wand. The rattling noise managed to silence even the last whispered conversation that was held, and the room grew quiet. They forcefully shoved Sturgis towards the middle of the room and he stumbled over his feet before he caught himself. Madame Bones began with her interrogation, but Harry didn’t listen. He watched Podmore instead. Sturgis Podmore was an ordinary guy. At least it seemed that way at first glance.

"…hearing at August 31, regarding trespass and attempted robbery at the Ministry of Magic.”

He was a wizard in his early forties with blond hair and a square jaw. His eyes darted around the room and let him seem somewhat paranoid. This impression was only enhanced by his magic. It encircled him in sharp spikes retreating and curling in on itself. Sturgis’ eyes seemed to linger on Lucius Malfoy for a moment, but Harry doubted that someone besides him noticed. Podmore flinched when he was interrupted by the authoritarian voice of Amelia Bones. "You are Sturgis Podmore, of number two, Laburnum Gardens, Clapham. Is that correct?”

Sturgis kept his mouth shut. He just stared at Amelia Bones and occasionally his gaze ran over the crowd. Harry leaned forward and rested his chin on his hand. Yeah. He was certain. No words would come over these lips. And Harry was right. During the whole interrogation, Sturgis Podmore didn’t speak a word. Harry had no doubts of how this would end.

Sturgis wasn’t even trying to defend himself. And if he were, there was still evidence that he had been in the Ministry that night. There was even a witness.

The man was called Erich Munch. A man working in the Ministry, who – when asked how he caught Podmore – told a story that sounded more like a scene from one of the action films Dudley used to watch, not like the actual truth.

Madame Bones had to interrupt him twice, to tell the watch-wizard to keep to the facts and Harry doubted that the stocky man had been able to chase Sturgis through various departments as he had just told. And watching the other people in the courtroom, he wasn’t the only one. Nott openly snorted and rolled his eyes, which earned him a few offended looks, but Harry’s mouth twitched with amusement. It was likely that Podmore had been cursed. And by what Harry had seen, the Death Eaters also knew more than they let on.

It was all over in less than an hour. If Mr Munch hadn’t exaggerated everything, it would’ve probably taken even less time.

Despite all that, when it came to voting, no one was doubting that Sturgis was guilty as charged. Even Harry raised his hand alongside the crowd. Not that it would’ve made any difference if he had voted innocent.

Podmore was led out of the courtroom, shaking and pale. He was obviously no longer aware of what was going on around him. His stoic look had vanished right after his sentence had been announced. Harry saw his mouth moving, unspoken words of denial coming over his lips. Podmore looked like he couldn’t believe the extent of his punishment himself.

Six months in Azkaban. And they hadn't even mentioned which door he wanted to go through. It was truly an odd case if one didn't know that something was going on.

Suddenly, somebody bumped into him. Harry already prepared to glare at the person in a way that only Death could master when he noticed that it was the young journalist rushing past him. An old wizard behind him was cursing about "the young wizards of today” and "no manners, whatsoever”. Apparently, Harry wasn’t the only one the journalist had passed without a second glance. With a twist of Harry’s hand, however, the elder wand peaked out of his sleeve and every memory of Harry at the trial had left the young man’s mind. It was trickier without being able to move. Harry wasn't used to directing his magic this subtly and if he underestimated his power while using a privacy charm, changing memories was a delicate thing to do. There was a reason why the Ministry had a special group of trained people for that.

The Journalist stopped in his tracks, seemingly confused and some people shot him annoyed glances, while Harry summoned the notebook of the wizard. With a thought, he had materialized the elder wand and then it didn't take more than a second to have the notes about his presence vanishing from the paper. When the notebook was once more safely stashed in the pockets of the brunette wizard, he shook his head and walked away. If his mind was now a little more messed up, well, that wasn't Harry's problem, was it?

Harry smirked, and continued to follow the other members of the Wizengamot - they all kept a respectable distance – and he had almost reached the end of the corridor when he heard his name. But not in a hushed whisper, like they were all present in the conversations around him, no. Someone obviously wanted to speak with him.

When Harry turned around, he found himself face to face with Avery. "Lord Potter, I suppose," he said mockingly. Harry threw a glance over Avery’s shoulder. Malfoy was standing next to Nott, but Harry knew that they were listening. They had stopped their conversation, as soon as Avery had approached Harry.

"Lord Avery," Harry said and bowed his head in an equally mocking manor.

"Aren’t you a little young to participate in such events?" the man said, obviously surprised that Harry knew his name.

"Well, I am wondering how you were able to make it," Harry said nonchalantly. "After all, you’re probably very busy figuring out what you’re overlooking." Harry lowered his voice and leaned forward with a lopsided grin. "The plan with Podmore didn’t turn out the way you thought it would, did it?" Harry smirked at Avery’s enraged face. Harry felt Death moving around his neck.

"Try to play tough as long as you can Potter," Avery spat, side-eyeing the people passing them. "I can’t wait to see you writhing on the ground like you did last summer," he whispered between clenched teeth, his eyes focused on Harry and a hard look on his face. Harry could feel Avery’s magic dancing around him, dark and viscous, like honey and roses. Harry felt his own blood pumping through his veins. He licked over his teeth almost tasting the challenge of Avery’s magic, Death’s predatory nature a tugging sensation in the back of his mind. The urge to show Avery who would be the one writhing on the ground was almost too tempting, but instead, Harry straightened his spine and snorted. If Avery wanted to remind him of the day on the graveyard, Harry could do the same.

"If I recall the events correctly, I wasn’t the one kneeling on the ground and begging Voldemort for forgiveness," Harry said quietly, drawing out the last few words of his sentence. "If you’ll excuse me, I have classes to attend," he added and left Avery where he stood.

The snake around his neck disappeared and Death materialized next to Harry in his human form. Amusement pulsed through the bond in a way that was familiar, but there was something slightly different about it. And he couldn’t tell what it was. Harry frowned, trying to figure it out. He side-eyed Death and the being smirked to himself.

He wouldn’t tell him what the emotion was, that much was obvious. "You are laughing at me, aren’t you?" Harry said slowly and turned to look at Death. He tried to sound offended, but his own amusement betrayed him. A smile tugged on Harry’s lips, but Death just offered him another silent grin. Then it dawned on Harry. "You thought it was cute! Me dealing with Avery!" Harry exclaimed and stared at Death.

"I might have," Death just said with his never-ending smirk on his face, as they were walking towards the Elevators. "You can be quite endearing when you threaten people," the being added when they left the crowd unnoticed and walked down a dim corridor.

"Oh, shut up," Harry muttered, not quite being able to hide the blush creeping up his neck. Death laughed hoarsely. Harry almost stopped, staring at Death in awe, once more fascinated by seeing him laugh. Death looked at him, mirth echoing through the bond and Harry smiled. They only walked past the next corner before they disappeared into the shadows.

 

Harry was pacing through the castle deep in thought. Dumbledore had to know that he'd left Hogwarts, so why hadn’t he asked Harry about it yet? It was Friday and a whole day had already passed since Podmore’s trial. It was a nagging feeling in Harry’s gut, that Dumbledore didn’t seem to mind at all what he was doing. Or could it be that Dumbledore really didn’t know that Harry had left the castle? Harry shook his head. He doubted it. If he didn’t know it, he would hear about it sooner or later. But maybe the headmaster was facing worse problems right now. After all, a member of the order had just been sentenced to six months in Azkaban only for wanting to break through a door... And he still avoided Harry, thinking that Voldemort was influencing him. Harry snorted at the thought but with newfound interest, he inspected the piece of soul within his head. It was rooted in his being like a tree. It pulsed at the contact after all this time. The thing stretched curiously like it had been awoken from slumber and oddly enough Harry felt like he was observing a cat.

Suddenly Harry felt it.

Emotions echoing through his mind and it wasn’t the bond between him and Death. This was different. Invasive and strange, but nevertheless Harry could sense confusion and fear but also curiosity. At first, it was faint, but then it grew stronger. Harry barely evaded the pull and slammed up his meagre occlumency walls, but for a split second, he had been sure that Voldemort had been aware of him. Harry exhaled. Hopefully, that wasn’t the case. Having a dark Lord prod inside one’s mind wasn’t very pleasant. The portraits on the wall followed him with their eyes, but Harry ignored them.

Soon he would reach Umbridge’s office for his last detention.

"You have plans for today, haven’t you?" Death asked him in his inhuman voice when they had reached the door.

"I don’t really know what I am going to do by now," Harry said. "I guess we’ll see spontaneously," Harry grinned at Death. The rest was left unspoken. Harry suspected that the portraits were still watching him. But Death knew exactly what Harry was thinking. Just because he decided that he wouldn’t kill Umbridge, didn’t mean, that he couldn't do anything else to her. Umbridge might think, that Harry had to endure a few torturous hours with her as the only company, just like the last days. What she hadn’t thought about, was that not only Harry was alone with her - she was alone with Harry. With a dark smile, he entered Umbridge’s office.

After the familiar greeting, Harry took the black quill. He let it hover over the parchment but then he put it down. "I changed my mind. I don’t think that I will do that."

Umbridge’s confused expression changed and she stared angrily at Harry. "Mr Potter, you are going to listen-"

"Oh no," Harry said and grinned at Umbridge. "You are going to listen to me now."

Umbridge paled with anger, and she opened her mouth. "How dare you-"

It was only a thought, he hadn't even needed to materialize his wand, but Umbridge had been silenced. Curious about himself, Harry approached her desk. "You know, on Monday I still thought I would have to endure the detentions with you, since cursing you might be a little too suspicious. But well, I guess we were both wrong with our expectations of how it would turn out." Harry smirked. "I never really had the chance to take revenge on someone, but it might be fun, so why not," Harry said and Umbridge’s eyes widened. Harry stood up and turned around. He looked at the painted kittens and froze them in their frames, just to be sure. While they might not be able to talk, he didn’t need any witnesses. When he turned back to Umbridge again, a wand was pointed at him. Harry grinned and Umbridge mirrored his expression.

"Attacking a teacher, Cornelius was right. You deserve to be punished," she said fearfully but also angry.

"Oh, I don’t think so," Harry said. "Imperio," he whispered. It wasn’t like he needed to say the words, but he wanted to see the expression in Umbridge’s face and maybe a little for the dramatics. Her eyes widened a fraction, but then a glazed expression appeared on her face.

"I want you to tell me about you," Harry said with a grin. After all, who knew what kind of blackmail material he could get out of this? With a dazed expression, Umbridge started to talk.

When darkness started to creep over the sky, chasing the last reds and oranges of the sunset away Umbridge had finished. Now she was sitting in the chair opposite Harry a lethargic expression on her pale face, her wide mouth barely tense enough to keep her from drooling. Apparently, little Dolores Umbridge wasn’t the pureblood she always pretended to be since she had reached a position in the ministry. As the daughter of Orford Umbridge - a Wizard, and Ellen Cracknell, who was a Muggle, she was just like one of the half-breeds she hated that much. She had a brother who was a Squib and whom she hated for not being able to do magic. And despite all her stupidity, she had reached a high position in the ministry by talking to the right people at the right times.

"That was all very interesting," Harry said, "But I can hardly have you remember this at all. But we still have some time left, what do you think? Harry looked at her and then at the empty parchment. "Sit down Dolores," Harry said. "I think we’ve reached the point, that we can call each other by our first names." Umbridge stared at him, already seated in the chair behind her desk. "Oh but, not there," Harry said and pointed at the empty parchment. "Here," he said with a smirk and Umbridge did as she was told. In the meantime, Harry sat down on the pink chair, she usually occupied. Death stood next to Harry and stared at Umbridge with a predatory look. Harry could tell that he wanted nothing but to kill her, Death's desire already bleeding over into his own mind.

"Now-" Harry began and leaned forward to pluck the wand out of Umbridge’s fat fingers. She had been holding onto it until now - "I want you to write some lines for me," Harry said and leaned back with a grin. "You are going to write; I must not tell lies just as long, as you would’ve made me write these words tonight." With a dazed expression, Umbridge took the blood-quill and wrote the first sentence. "It's a shame you won't be able to remember it. But perhaps it can linger on the edge of your mind, like a dream," Harry added and the expression in Umbridge’s face changed. She looked at him with a mix of both anger and fear, but she wrote, still under the influence of the curse. She finally stopped close to midnight, the skin on her wrist red and tender, but there were no scars or open wounds. Harry stopped playing with the elder wand in his hand and leaned forward.

Humming thoughtfully, he took the parchment that was glistening with red lines and traced them with his fingers. He still held his wand in the other hand, but when he took his hand away, the girly curves and lines had changed to resemble his own handwriting. "After I leave, you are going to think that we both stayed here and that I wrote lines with the blood-quill till you let me go. You will forget I ever hexed you," he said and stood up. "Goodnight Professor Umbridge," Harry added and left with a grin on his face.

Chapter Text

When Harry entered the common room, he was surprised to see everyone cheering and partying till he remembered that he was supposed to witness the Quidditch try-outs, instead of spending his whole evening in Umbridge's office. Ron emerged from the crowd, a goblet of butterbeer in his hand as he rushed over to Harry. "I made it, Harry! I’m the new Quidditch keeper!" he said with a huge grin on his face and he spilt his chest with butterbeer from the excitement. Obviously, he had all forgotten about the fact that he never told Harry about his plan to try out for the team.

"Congratulations," Harry started, but Ron was already being pulled into the crowd by Fred and George. Soon Angelina approached Harry and started to talk about the try-outs. Harry pretended to listen, but he was distracted by Death, who just turned into a snake and slithered up his sleeve.

"-obisher and Geoffrey Hooper did fly better than Ron, but Hooper is a real sissy. All the time he is complaining about this and that, and Vicky is in a lot of clubs. If the training were to take place on the same days as the charms club, she would rather go to the club, she told me so herself. Well, it doesn’t matter now. Tomorrow is our first training, around two. So, try to be there, okay? Just do me a favour and help Ron as much as you can, alright?" Angelina said and Harry nodded. And while the dark-skinned girl went back to Alicia, Harry approached Hermione who was sitting in an armchair, seemingly asleep.

When Harry let himself fall into the seat next to her, she woke with a start.

"Oh, Harry... It’s just you," Hermione said and yawned. "Good for Ron..." she muttered, "I’m just so tired..." She yawned again before she continued. "I stayed up till one and made hats. Insane how they all disappear!" Hermione said happily and Harry hummed in agreement while grabbing a butterbeer from the table in front of him.
Only two hours later - Hermione had gone to bed not long ago - Ron managed to fight his way through the crowd. "Hey Harry," Ron said with a grin on his face as he found him. His face was flushed, and he seemed a little drunk. "Lee smuggled a few bottles of firewhisky into the castle. But don’t tell Hermione that I drank some of it," Ron added in a hushed voice, his eyes wandering over the crowd. Then his expression sobered. "I almost forgot to ask you why you fainted that morning," Ron started concerned, "It was just - with the Quidditch try-outs..." He rubbed his neck and his face grew red with embarrassment.

"It’s okay," Harry interrupted him.

"I didn’t tell Hermione since Fred and George said-" Ron stopped and lowered his voice, "It wasn’t because of your scar, was it?" he asked.

"No," Harry responded immediately, and Ron seemed relieved. When the redhead asked Harry what he had done in his free time, Harry used the same excuse he had told Madame Pomfrey. He blamed Umbridge and the detentions, saying that he was so far behind with his homework, that skipping Divination was a price he would gladly pay to finish Snape’s essay. Ron seemed to get his point; despite being somewhat upset that Harry didn’t ask him to join. But thankfully the joy over being declared the new keeper of the Gryffindor-Quidditch team predominated his disappointment. And soon he proudly showed Harry his new cloak, which Wood had been using when he'd still been the keeper of their team.

On Saturday during breakfast, Ron started to stare longingly at the high ceiling that showed the grey sky outside. Harry sighed. Today was the first Quidditch training. A distant fluttering announced the arrival of the morning post. And soon hundreds of owls were flying through the air, screeching and stealing small pieces of food from the plates of their owners. Everywhere people were showered with letters and packages from their homes, magazines or the Daily Prophet.
A ruffled looking barn owl landed next to Hermione and dangerously close to Ron’s scrambled eggs. The bird stretched out her leg, a small leather pouch was tied to it. After Hermione took the Daily Prophet, she paid the owl with a Knut. As soon as she’d put the money into the pouch, the bird stretched its wings and took off, but not without stealing a piece of toast from Hermione’s plate. The bushy-haired girl was already looking at the pages of the Daily Prophet, too invested to notice the little theft.

"And, something interesting?" Ron said while he was chewing on his bacon.

"Not really," Hermione said and flipped pages, "Only an article about the wedding of the bassist of the weird sisters - wait for a second," her eyes widened. "Oh no... Sirius!" she gasped. Harry looked up from his breakfast.

"The Ministry of magic was informed by a reliable source, that Sirius Black, infamous mass murderer -" Hermione skipped a few lines and continued - "Currently hiding in London!"

"Malfoy..." Harry muttered and rolled the knife he was holding between his fingers.

"What?" Ron said loudly, "You didn’t-" Hermione hushed him and continued.

"...Ministry warns, that Black is very dangerous... killed thirteen people... escaped from Azkaban."
Hermione put the Daily Prophet onto the table. "The usual rubbish," she concluded, but a worried look passed her face. "Well, now he just isn’t able to leave the house anymore, that’s all. Dumbledore warned him after all." Harry shook his head. Sirius wouldn’t like that, that was for sure.

"Do you mind if I borrow that for a moment," he asked Hermione.

"No, not at all," she replied, and Harry took the paper. He noticed a small article about Sturgis Podmore’s trial, almost hidden by a giant ad for Madame Malkins self-ironing cloaks.

 

Sturgis Podmore, 38, of number two, Laburnum Gardens, Clapham, has appeared in front of the Wizengamot charged with trespass and attempted robbery at the Ministry of Magic on 31st August. Podmore was arrested by the Ministry of Magic's Watchwizard Eric Munch, who found him attempting to force his way through a top-security door at one o’clock in the morning. Podmore, who refused to speak in his own defence, was convicted on both charges and sentenced to six months in Azkaban.

 

At least there wasn't a notification about his own attendance. Harry’s eyes rushed over the page. "MINISTRY SEEKS EDUCATIONAL REFORM," was a headline right on the top and just beneath the section, he found the article about Sirius. Next to it was a picture of the day his godfather had been arrested. It showed a maniacally laughing man, restrained by two Aurors. Sirius had been twenty-one at the time he was brought to live in a prison cell surrounded by Dementors. He had spent a third of his life in Azkaban and now he was once again locked up at a place he hated.
Harry put the Prophet down.

He stared at the picture of a newlywed Donaghan Tremlett for a moment, but he didn’t really see it. His mind was occupied otherwise, and the bassist of the Weird Sisters was the last thing he focused on right now.
Harry doubted that Lucius had been stupid enough to ignore his warning, was he? He raised his head and his gaze fell upon Draco Malfoy on the other side of the great hall.

Maybe...

But even if Draco had been the one to tell the papers about Sirius’ whereabouts-

"Harry," Ron said, interrupting his thoughts, "Do you think that we could practice a little bit, you know, before the training?" he asked hesitantly.

Quidditch training. Right. Harry plastered a smile on his face.

"Sure," he replied. Under Hermione’s scolding looks – You two should really think about your education or did any of you already write the essay about the difficulties of conjurations for Transfiguration? - they headed for the Quidditch-pitch.

On the pitch, Ron gripped his broom so tightly, that his knuckles stood out white, his freckles more noticeable than ever.

"Come on, relax. You’ve been flying before," Harry said. Ron laughed a little shaken, but then he took off. Soon after he left the ground the tension seemed to leave him.

Harry watched him for some time. Ron was a decent flyer but Harry could see why Angelina had thought Hooper had been better. He exchanged a look with Death, who was standing next to him. "I guess it would be a little strange to take a snake up in the air," Harry said and Death smirked at him.

"I could turn into a crow," he suggested, somehow amused.

"Yeah, and I fly over the Quidditch pitch with a bird following me," Harry said, snorting at the image. He looked up in the sky, where Ron was circling the pitch. When Harry turned his attention back to the ground, Death smirked at him. "Fine, I know. I can’t avoid it anyway," he said eventually.

Harry swung a leg over his broom and took off. He rose from the ground and when he looked down, Death had disappeared. Harry stared at the empty spot with wide eyes, suddenly panicking but an indeterminate sensation in his chest had him raise his head. He spotted Death sitting on one of the Quidditch stands and the being smirked at him. Obvious amusement echoed through the bond.

After the first spark of relief had passed, Harry decided that he was rather offended by the stunt the being had pulled off. He was just about to pull a face at Death when Ron’s voice interrupted his antics.

"You coming Harry?!" he shouted from the other end of the pitch.

"Yeah!" Sighing Harry turned his broom around and flew towards Ron.

Contrary to his expectations Quidditch was fun. Harry didn’t realize how he’d ever been able to grow tired of flying. Every time Ron managed to deflect one of his attempts to throw the Quaffle through one of the goalposts, Harry chased after it, his Firebolt shooting through the air.

Time was passing by without them noticing and behind the clouds the sun reached its peak.

Ron panted, sweat glueing his red hair against his forehead. Exhausted he picked up the Quaffle and flew to one of the stands to rest. But Harry didn’t feel tired at all.

Like an arrow, he darted towards the sky, higher and higher until he reached the point where time was standing still. Harry closed his eyes and breathed the cool air as he was floating, sunbeams were breaking through the clouds and the earth seemed to have stopped moving for a moment.

The air reached his lungs and then - gravity made itself known, stretching its claws to pull Harry back to the ground where he belonged. He felt the wind on his back and shoulders, his head pointing towards the grass, fingers loosely wrapped around the handle of his broom.

Harry was falling.

He cut through the air like a knife, faster and faster.

The ground coming closer with every second, inevitable and deadly. And Harry laughed. It was exhilarating.

"Harry..."

Harry opened his eyes and Death stared at him. He fell, just like Harry did. A warped mirror image with a smirk on his face. For the slightest of seconds, Harry could surmise the wings of this being in front of him and Death looked like something ancient and forgotten, like a falling angel. And then Harry was pulled back into the present.

He suddenly grew aware of the ground, which he was approaching rapidly.

"It’s time Harry," Death said with his sharp smile. Harry smirked at him and then he gripped his broom and pulled himself out of the fall.

And not a second too late. His muscles ached and his feet were brushing the grass for a moment when he eventually managed to evade the collision with the ground.

"Harry! What the-" Ron was flying towards him and stumbled once as he was landing and immediately running towards him. "Merlin’s balls," he uttered between loud breaths and he looked at Harry like he was a maniac. "I thought you were about to die! Holy shit..." Ron panted until his breathing had somewhat normalized and then he grinned and a laugh bubbled up his throat. "That was awesome," Ron exclaimed. "It was crazy and suicidal, but awesome. But don’t you dare to ever scare me like that again." Harry smirked.

 

Two hours later, when the actual Quidditch practice started, Ron was still talking about Harry’s ‘stunt’ as he called it.
"I mean, I’ve seen him doing nosedives before like - no big deal - when everyone else would’ve already backtracked, but this... He was so close to the ground, I swear," Ron said and gestured at George, while Fred and Alicia were fetching the balls. Despite Ron being totally wrapped up in telling his story, it didn’t take long till he noticed the unwelcome visitors. He paled immediately when he spotted the Slytherins on the stands.

"Just treat them like they’re not even here," Angelina said and brushed her braided hair out of her face. In the end, her advice didn’t help much. Harry doubted that Ron would catch a Quaffle while the Slytherins were cheering mockingly and curling with laughter every time he messed up. But when Ron finally managed to catch the red ball, he threw it so hard that Katie was hit in the face and blood started to trickle out of her nose. They continued because she insisted that she was alright.
Harry was hunting for the snitch - it turned out to be much easier if he followed the magical signature of the golden ball - when Angelina declared that the training had ended since Katie’s nose was bleeding so much that Fred and George had to escort her to Madame Pomfrey.

They didn’t talk much when they were back inside the castle. Ron stomped towards the showers with a grim look on his face and when he came back to do his homework, his mood hadn’t really improved.

 

The next day started out mostly the same. Ron was still awfully quiet during breakfast, but after they had headed for the common room to do their remaining homework, he broke his silence. In Harry’s opinion, it wasn’t much of an improvement, because now he had to listen to Ron’s complaints about the extensive workload they were facing.
For hours they sat in the castle. Sunbeams shone through the windows, painting a bright stripe of light on the wall opposite to Harry. The common room was mostly empty since most of the students enjoyed the last warm days on the school grounds. Besides them, only a few second years remained inside.

Apart from their quiet conversations, one could only hear the crackling of the fire, quills scratching on parchment and a slight clinking noise since Hermione knitted a woollen hat for the house-elves. Ron was writing his essay for Professor Sinistra which Harry had already finished during his detention on Thursday. Harry yawned and stretched in his armchair, sharing a look with Death. "I think I’m going to take a nap. I didn’t sleep much during the last week." Ron hummed in agreement, too focused on his essay to even hear what Harry was saying. Hermione on the other hand looked at him with a frown.

"Don’t worry. I’ve already finished my essays," Harry said, while he stood up. He could still feel Hermione’s gaze in his back when he crossed the common room. He had barely reached the spiral staircase, only just walked up a few steps till he was no longer visible, when he heard someone say his name. It was very quiet, but nevertheless, it made him pause.

The faint fragments of a conversation wafted up to him from the common room.

Harry stopped in his tracks and leaned against the cold stone wall. Death stood in front of him, mirroring his posture.  

"Do you think that he’s alright?" Harry heard Hermione whisper, while he stared at the dust floating through the air. The particles were illuminated by the light shining through a window a little further up the stairs. He could almost imagine Hermione turning her head to check that he was really gone.

"Who, Harry?" Ron said and the scratching noise of his quill stopped.

"He doesn’t really talk to us anymore, does he?" Hermione replied.

"I mean, he’s grown quieter this year," Ron mused.

"Yeah, I noticed it too. But there is more, isn’t it? He zones out sometimes as if he doesn’t even listen to our conversations or other times he just wanders off and we have no idea where he has been," Hermione said. "It’s just that- I just can’t shake off the feeling that there is something he doesn’t tell us. That he’s hiding something."

"I," Ron hesitated, "I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to worry, and before you say anything - Harry assured me it was fine - but on Thursday morning, during Divination, he fainted-" Ron said.

"He fainted?! Not because of his scar, right?" Hermione sounding shocked.

"No, no," Ron immediately interfered, "I mean, at least I don’t think so. Fred and George told me that they asked them for some fainting fancies."

"Are you sure?" Hermione said doubt straining her voice, even too worried to complain about Fred and George.

"Yeah," Ron replied, "But it’s no wonder he’s changed," he added after a moment with more confidence, "After everything that happened. The tournament, Cedric’s death and you-know-who..."

Harry heard a sigh.

"I know. You’re probably right," Hermione replied after a short pause. "And now the article about Sirius..."

Nobody said a thing until Hermione’s hesitant voice cut through the silence once more. "At first I thought he was still angry with us because of the letters... when he first arrived at Grimmauld Place. I

didn’t think too much of it, but now-"

"Hermione," Ron interrupted, "I know you think there is something going on… but give him some time. Perhaps there isn’t even anything wrong and you’re just over-thinking things," Ron said.  

"It’s just..." Hermione stopped and sighed.

"You worry too much," Ron said. After some time, the scratching of Ron’s quill started once more. And when nothing was added, Harry pushed himself from the wall. Thoughtfully he continued his way upstairs and Death walked behind him.

Hopefully, that wouldn’t become an issue in the future... Harry shook his head. There were other things that deserved his attention right now. More important things. After all, there was still the fact that Sirius’ hiding location had been reported to the news. He knew exactly to whom he would need to pay a visit. Inside the boys-dorm, Harry closed the curtains of his bed and cast a privacy charm on them.

All it took was a look at Death and they both disappeared.

Harry materialized right out of the shadows, stumbling over his own feet, which caused amusement to spike in Death's and his' bond. He quickly straightened up, while glaring at the being who had apparently decided that Harry didn't need as much help anymore during travelling and almost had dropped him halfway to their destination.

Although Harry was satisfied to notice that he'd slipped through the wards as if they weren’t even there. Grinning, he took in the interior of Malfoy Manor's entrance hall.

Marble everywhere. Even the floor seemed white as were the carvings on the board atop the huge fireplace.
Curiously enough, Harry could somehow pick up on the presence of one Lucius Malfoy. The whole house seemed to reek of him. Harry raised his head. But there was also someone else, someone familiar. Harry frowned in frustration, trying to figure out who the person was. Maybe Narcissa... But no, he hadn't once met her yet since he had arrived in this time.
Death watched him, tall and grinning like so often.

"You are not much help, you know that?" Harry snapped though the being only smirked.

"Remember Sturgis Podmore’s trial?" he said in his inhuman voice. Harry paused and then he groaned.

"Don’t tell me, that it’s the journalist," Harry voiced. "What is he doing here?"

"Probably interviewing someone," Death stated dryly.

"I figured that much," Harry replied, but his lips twitched, almost breaking into a smile. Calling upon the powers of the invisibility cloak, Harry turned to the staircase to his right, somehow gaining the impression that this was where he should be headed.

Eventually, Harry stopped in front of a shiny wooden door. It was enchanted with some kind of spell, but Harry could make out two voices. Using the same trick Death had shown him once, Harry put his palm against the door. In Hogwart's he hadn't had much opportunity to practice it, but now he was determined to try it on his own. He pushed through the solid form slowly, his hands turning into shadows, not as easy as when Death was helping him, but it worked and suddenly too well. His body dissolved and he almost fell through the door, having a hard time gathering all of him back together to materialize next to the frame.

Harry found himself inside an office, the afternoon sun illuminating the room with long stripes of golden light. Lucius Malfoy and his guest were seated on opposite sides of a large desk next to the big windows. The previously muted voices had now risen to their full volume, but apparently the interview or whatever this was had just ended. The journalist was tapping his parchments with his wand. And while the notes were magically arranging themselves, Harry looked around the room.

There was a large fireplace, the light of the dancing flames reflected by the glass doors of a cabinet next to it. Harry noticed two portraits on the walls, both showing men with pale blond hair, who undoubtedly had to be ancestors of the Malfoy family. "Septimus Malfoy" and "Brutus Malfoy" were the names written on silvery plaques attached to the picture frames. Both of them sneered at the interviewer, who now was snapping his briefcase shut after he had gathered all his stuff. Malfoy stood up and so did the journalist. The brown-haired wizard extended his hand and Lucius shook it over the table. "Thank you for your time, Lord Malfoy."

"It was my pleasure," Malfoy said with a winning smile on his face. "Are you sure you don’t want to stay for a drink Mr Limus?" Malfoy asked, and the younger man smiled weakly.

"Thank you for the offer Lord Malfoy, but I fear that I have to decline. I still have important business to attend to, but another time I would gladly accept your invitation," the young journalist said, arrogance bleeding through his voice. Harry almost found it laughable, how nettled Malfoy seemed to be by the man. Lucius silvery magic twisted with a frequency that didn't quite match his calm demeanour. It was something that Harry had observed more than once on people that were annoyed. Nevertheless, Malfoy's face showed nothing of his true emotions.

"Of course," he said instead, his voice smooth as he took the information in and Harry had the feeling, that Lucius had known exactly that the journalist would decline and just asked to meet the required niceties. "You are free to use the floo if you want to," Malfoy said and pointed at the fireplace.

"Ah yes, how very considerate of you, Lord Malfoy," Mr Limus replied and grabbed his briefcase and a hand full of floo powder. "A pleasant afternoon," he wished, while threw the powder into the fire. The journalist stepped into the green flames and as soon as he had disappeared the smile was wiped from Malfoy’s face. He fell back into his chair and sighed.  

Amused Harry watched how Malfoy massaged his temples for a moment until he swished his wand and a whisky carafe floated from the cabinet over to the desk. Malfoy put his wand down and after he had poured himself a glass, Harry decided that he had waited long enough.

He walked towards the desk and as soon as he was seated in the chair which the Journalist had occupied just minutes before, Harry allowed himself to become visible.

At first, Malfoy didn’t even notice him, but when Harry conjured a glass for himself and pulled the carafe over the dark polished wood, Malfoy’s head snapped up.

"Didn’t expect me, did you?" Harry said grinning while he poured himself a whisky. Death walked over to stand next to Harry.

A mask of nonchalance appeared on Malfoy’s face and replaced his shocked expression. The only other person audacious enough to enter like Harry was probably the Dark Lord himself.

"Potter," Malfoy voiced and casually swirled his drink. But his violently pulsing magic betrayed his intention to appear unaffected. The man was afraid.

"Malfoy," Harry replied amused and copied Malfoy’s motion before he took a sip. He could almost taste the man's emotion in the air.

"Tell me one reason, why I shouldn’t hand you over to the Dark Lord," Malfoy said and his grey eyes fixated on him. Harry put his glass down.

"Because of this," Harry said and summoned Slytherins locket. It was an empty piece of metal now, but with a tap of his wand, the melted vessel looked like it had before fiendfire had burned through its core, even if the piece of soul was no longer inside. Harry let it dangle from its chain and Malfoy stared at it, his eyes wandering from Harry to the former Horcrux.

"What should I do with this, Potter?" Lucius said and his eyes focused back on Harry. His fingers twitched next to his wand.

"Well," Harry said smirking and his eyes blazed, "I remember mentioning to you that I don’t want to read Sirius’ name in the papers, but guess what I had to discover yesterday morning," Harry said and carelessly traded the locket for the glass on the desk. "Sirius Black sighted in London. What a coincidence." Harry leaned back, took a sip of his drink and thoughtfully looked at the thing that had once been the container for a piece of Voldemort’s soul. The emeralds embedded in the locket gleamed in the sunlight, as did the metal. Tiny points of colours - the reflected light - illuminated the ceiling. Like a poke with a needle, the soul-shard in his head seemed to project its misery. Sighing Harry had to admit that it affected him more than the average human emotion he was confronted with.

"What makes you think it was me?" Lucius asked and Harry turned away from the locket. He stared into Lucius’ eyes, considering.

"I don’t think that it was you," Harry said after a moment. "You don’t know if I am a threat yet, or if I am just a child that’s talking big. You would want to find out, but you wouldn’t provoke me in such an obvious way since you aren’t sure yet if I am able to back up my threats. You are smart enough not to do that. At least I hope that you are."

"Then what are you doing here?" Malfoy asked and his magic gathered around him.

"While you might be smart enough to avoid making a mistake like that, that doesn’t mean that Draco is," Harry retorted and Lucius swallowed. "And I consider you responsible for that. I’m angry, but since I don’t believe that you were the one to break your promise, I will give you a choice." Harry pointed at the locket. "I could’ve just hidden that inside your Manor, without you noticing. But instead, I will leave the locket with you. Try and hide it for all I care. Or give it back to the owner."

"And who would that be," Malfoy asked in a disinterested tone.

"Lord Voldemort," Harry said with a vicious grin. Lucius paled when he realized whose property Harry had stolen and he stared at the shimmering pendant. "It’s your decision," Harry said and took another sip. "If I might give you a piece of advice. Don’t try to hide it from him, if you aren't sure that he isn’t going to find it. Because if he does - and he will find out that it's missing-" Harry smirked - "...it will be a bloodbath." He took another sip and put down his glass. Malfoy visibly clenched his teeth and Harry stood up, eyes lingering on the former Horcrux he hesitated. Somehow the thought that someone - anyone - but he would destroy one of the pieces irked him. Especially since he knew who was most likely to do it. "There is one more thing," Harry found himself say. "If you give it back to him... tell him that Dumbledore knows." Then Harry grinned. "Though better try not to be in the room after you said it," he added. Only then he turned around and walked towards the door without sparing another look. Harry could almost feel Lucius wand pointing at him, but before the man could cast a spell, Harry had vanished.

Chapter Text

Lucius stared at the door where Potter had been standing a second ago. It shouldn’t have been possible for the boy to disapparate. He was only fifteen and even then, there were wards to prevent intruders from leaving. Slowly he lowered his wand. But had Potter really disapparated? He had vanished in a swirl of darkness. For a moment it had seemed like the shadows in Lucius’ office had been growing, creeping over the floor till they reached their peak just before Potter was gone. And then, nothing.
Everything looked like before and the room was once more dominated by the golden light shining through the windows.
Lucius’ fingers traced the carved pattern on his tumbler, which he had gripped so tightly. He could pretend that this whole affair was a hallucination of his overworked mind. Let the evidence disappear and never speak of it again...
He stared at the second glass on his desk and the accursed locket. Innocently it reflected the light of the afternoon sun, spots of it dancing on the walls. As if this thing hadn’t just made his life much more difficult. He would rather be told to tame a dragon than dealing with this. But Lucius – unlike the Minister – had never been a man of ignorance. He downed his glass and stood up. It was time to speak to his wife.

At the same time, Albus Dumbledore was sitting in his office, surrounded by his many strange and delicate devices, which to the untrained eye might appear like a waste of space. The portraits of his predecessors watched him seemingly disinterested. He looked at an instrument on his desk similar to a clock, but instead of pointers, it possessed nine circles, which moved at various speeds around the middle.
Ten minutes had passed. It wouldn’t take much longer for him to arrive. The headmaster hummed amused when his look fell onto the letter which was lying next to his other notes. The Minister had once more not been able to hold back and had written him concerning - as Cornelius had put it so nicely - "a necessary distribution regarding power inside the school“ as well as "the end of his presumptuous way of leading Hogwarts“ and "habits of meddling in affairs that weren’t of his concern“.

But Albus amused humming soon turned into a sigh.

No, this wasn’t really a laughing matter. While Cornelius sending Dolores Umbridge to work - or rather spy - in Hogwarts was a problem, it was a trifle in comparison to the threat out there. The ignorance of the Minister regarding Voldemort’s return didn’t do much to improve the situation.
The headmaster sighed once more. He could already feel another migraine approaching.

There had been traces of Death Eaters moving in the south. But that had been two months ago. Now it was quiet. Too quiet for Albus’ liking. Since Bertha Jorkins kidnapping last summer there hadn’t been any other mysterious disappearances. At least none that he was aware of. The only thing Albus could be sure of was that Voldemort was still focused on acquiring the Prophecy.
And Death Eaters were gaining influence inside the ministry with every new member infiltrating the Wizengamot. Now it was no longer only Lucius Malfoy using his connection to the Minister who they had to deal with. It had been predictable, certain even, that Voldemort would try to strengthen his influence inside the ministry, but it had happened much faster than Albus had anticipated. And it worried him.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t all of it. There were still other things. Things he couldn’t explain but troubled him further. Like the disappearance of the elder wand in August. And maybe the most worrisome thing of all-

The sound of a knocking on the door interrupted Albus’ string of thoughts and he raised his head. "Come on in."

The door opened and the man he had been waiting for entered. "Severus," Dumbledore said his eyes sparkling behind his glasses.

"Headmaster," the professor replied, reciprocating the greeting with an unreadable expression. Albus had long given up on brushing his mind against Severus’ to pick up on the thoughts floating on the surface. Severus was a master occlumens. He could hide his mind just as well, as he could prevent his true thoughts from showing on his face.

"Good evening Severus," Dumbledore said and motioned for the potions master to sit down, yet the

man remained standing. It was mostly a habit nowadays, to offer the potions professor a seat.

"You wanted to speak to me?" the black-haired man said instead.

"Yes," Dumbledore replied and folded his hands. He looked at them for a moment till he raised his

head, blue eyes fixating black ones. "I worry about Harry," he said seriously. Severus snorted at that.

"Potter. Of course. What did he do now?" the man asked.

"Why must you still harbour that hate, Severus. He’s just a boy," Albus said to his former student.

"Yes, and just as arrogant as his father," Snape shot back.

Albus sighed in defeat. He hesitated only for the briefest of seconds, till he started to talk again. "Now that he has returned, I fear that the influence Voldemort has on Harry is far greater than I ever dared to assume."  
The potions professor raised an eyebrow. Dumbledore stood up and walked towards the window, his back facing Severus. The grounds of Hogwarts were spread out in front of him. The water of the lake was still and peaceful, like a mirror reflecting the golden sunlight. Some of the trees growing on its shore - foothills of the forbidden forest - were already turning a slight shade of different browns and oranges, telling of the approaching autumn. Only when he turned back again, he continued. "I must ask you for a favour Severus. Keep an eye on him. You are aware of his connection to Voldemort. You are the only one I can ask."

"Why me? Why not you?" Severus said.

"I can’t. If he is really possessed by Voldemort, what do you think he will do, once I come near him?" Dumbledore answered. When nothing was added, Severus spoke up once more.

"Was that all?"

"Yes," Dumbledore said and turned to look out of the window again. He only heard a rustling of clothes and the door falling shut. Then he was once more left alone inside his office.

This time Dumbledore refrained from sighing.

Did he ask too much of Severus? He was already risking his life by infiltrating Voldemort’s ranks. The man carried great burdens... But didn’t they all? Everyone would need to make sacrifices in favour of winning the war. Some to greater, some to a lesser extent. Even now people already spared their time to work for the order. Voldemort was recruiting again. Acting quickly was now everything they could do.

Remus was once more with one of the bigger werewolf packs in Scotland. They lived as outcasts, even maintaining their hierarchy after and previous to the days of the full moon. Only a few of them lived in cities or towns and returned there after the monthly transformations. They were likely to join Voldemort if they thought that they would gain something from it. But there was still hope. Unlike the giants, they hadn’t joined the Death Eaters yet.

With Lupin away and the beginning of the school year, Sirius was once more alone at Grimmauld Place. It was a dangerous situation. Albus hoped that the man wouldn’t do something foolish. The article in the Daily Prophet only proved that Voldemort knew about his ability to turn into a dog. And yet Sirius seemed to be the only adult Harry really trusted...
Yes, Harry... Dumbledore paused for a moment and watched the peaceful landscape. The sun sank with every minute, painting the sky in beautiful pinks and oranges. A flock of crows emerged from the treetops - six silhouettes standing out against the light of the sun - probably startled by one of the many creatures living inside the forbidden forest.

Harry had changed after he had witnessed Voldemort’s return. It was nothing unusual and Albus would have worried more if the boy was acting as he had before. But there was a new edge to Harry, a darkness he couldn’t quite pinpoint. Not long ago, he'd heard about Harry’s attendance at Sturgis’ trial. It had been a shock to Dumbledore. Just like the incident with the boggart, this was another question he had no answer to. Phineas' observations within Grimmauld Place, the unusual choice of his pet...

Well, there was a possibility, but he didn’t dare to think about it too much. He had long considered that Voldemort had insured his survival by far more gruesome means than most wizards would even dare to think about. But a new theory had wormed its way into Dumbledore’s mind - and for once, he hoped that he was wrong - but if he wasn’t, then Harry was the one to probably carry the greatest burden of them all.

Ron sighed and looked up. During the last hour of writing his essay for Professor Sinistra, he had noticed that Hermione was staring at him constantly. "What?" Ron snapped eventually when he saw her looking at him from the corner of his eye. "I’m trying to finish this here, Hermione. Aren’t you the one always insisting that it’s best to work without a distraction?"

"What? I wasn’t saying anything," Hermione deflected.

Sighing Ron put his quill away. "But you obviously want to. So come on, spit it out."

"I mean. I- there’s another thing."

"Is this also about Harry?" Ron asked and Hermione bit her lip.

"It’s just, I remembered something. And it would fit Harry’s behaviour. That he is hiding something and that he disappears from time to time, that he doesn’t seem to be listening because he is thinking about something else... it would make sense," Hermione said, probably mostly to reassure herself, but with every word, she seemed more confident.

"What are you talking about?" Ron asked with a frown.  

"What did he tell you, after he fainted during divination?" Hermione asked the redhead once more.

"He wanted to finish his essay for Snape," Ron replied confused.

"Hmmm," Hermione said tapping her mouth with her index finger, a sly smile on her face and her knitting project forgotten on her lap.

"Would you mind telling my, why this seems to excite you that much?" Ron asked and leaned forward.

"Do you think that Harry is seeing someone?" Hermione voiced and Ron spluttered.

"What- Harry?!“

"I wasn’t really sure before, but now I swear that he had a hickey on his neck when I talked to him at Grimmauld Place," Hermione said.

"Nooo..." Ron's eyes grew big. He stared into the distance. Could it be...? He thought about his friend. Harry was just... Harry. "Who- who would he be seeing?" he accidentally said out loud.

"Maybe he met someone during summer?" Hermione mused. "Or it’s someone he already knew... and he wrote to that person…" Ron’s mouth stood open when he remembered something.

"Didn’t he have a crush on Cho last year?" Ron said.

Hermione snorted. "I didn’t think you’d notice."

"Hey, Harry’s my best mate. Of course, I’d notice," Ron said scowling and crossed his arms.

"And didn’t you tell me that when Harry walked out of potions before we could follow him, he was talking to her?" Hermione inquired, ignoring his mood.

"Yeah..." Ron said slowly as he remembered. "But she didn’t seem very happy."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Of course, she didn’t seem very happy, Ron! After all, you just interrupted them, didn’t you?"

"Oh," Ron said and looked down. But that only let his gaze fall onto his essay. His shoulder slouched even more, while Hermione continued to talk.

"...we should keep an eye on them. There is still the possibility that Harry is seeing someone else..." Hermione’s exited expression vanished, and she looked at Ron who stared at the scribbled words. She hesitated and then she sighed. "Come on. I’m going to take a look at it," she said. Ron raised his head and looked at Hermione with a grin. New life seemed to have replaced the defeated look on his face.

"You are the best, Hermione," he said, and the girl blushed.

"Oh, shut up," she mumbled and took the parchment.

 

Lucius’ fidgeted with the sleeve of his suit. As soon as he noticed what he was doing, he stopped. The sun had long set, taking the golden streaks of light with it and making room for the darkness which had settled not long ago.

He was sitting in an armchair in the sitting room, the fifth glass of whisky standing in front of him on the table. It was untouched. He wouldn’t lose his dignity by drowning his problems in alcohol. Narcissa was residing on the sofa next to him. She was wearing a blue dress and her blonde hair fell down her back in soft waves. Not a muscle on her face showed what she was thinking, while she sipped her wine. They had just finished their discussion about what to do with the locket. It was laying on the table, half-hidden behind a piece of black cloth he had conjured earlier. Who knew what kind of curse the locket could bear?

He hadn’t touched it with his bare hands, but his wife had. After thoroughly examining the pendant - Narcissa was far more experienced with the essence of dark magic, thanks to her being raised as a Black - she had announced that the piece of jewellery was just that. An old but simple locket, probably a family heirloom with no magical abilities. There once might have been a spell interwoven with the metal, enabling the owner to hide something inside. But now the magic had already faded away.

"Are you sure that it really belongs to the Dark Lord?" Narcissa had asked him after she had sat down. The answer was no. He wasn’t. Even more so, after it turned out that there was nothing magical about the locket.

Lucius eyed the pendant with distrust. There was just something about it… alone the way it had gotten here.

They had talked about the possibilities they had. They didn’t know if the locket really belonged to the Dark Lord. If it did, hiding the pendant would only buy them some time. Potter had mentioned that the Dark Lord would notice that it was gone. And Lord Voldemort was an accomplished legilimens. It was almost impossible to hide something from him. And why should Lucius do that? He wouldn’t betray the trust of the Dark Lord in that filthy manner.

Either way, their Lord would be interested in hearing about the fact that Potter had broken into Lucius house only to give him a locket. Lucius stared at the pendant on the table for a few more minutes. He raised his head and determined he stood up. Narcissa put her glass down and her eyes were fixated on her husband.

"You are calling him," she stated.

"Yes," Lucius replied. His wife didn’t waver in her gaze, an unspoken question hanging in the air. "You don’t have to stay awake," Lucius said. Narcissa looked at him for a moment, clearly considering. Then she stood up and walked towards him. She put her slender hands onto his shoulders and a fond smile appeared on Lucius’ face. "I will be fine," he said to reassure his wife. 

"If you insist," Narcissa said and she kissed his cheek. Lucius didn’t doubt that she saw right through him. Narcissa pulled back and then turned around and left the room. Lucius’ gaze lingered for a moment. He didn't doubt that she would stay awake till he would return.
Then he turned his attention towards his left arm. He rolled up his sleeve to reveal the Dark Mark, his symbol forever burned into Lucius’ skin. He touched it with the tip of his wand and hissed when it started to burn, the black snake under the skull writhing as if it was alive.

 

The man - or was it a being? - was sitting in an armchair inside a dark room. Lonely stripes of silvery light breached the gaps of dirt on almost blackened windows. Flames were dancing in the fireplace and illuminated the waxen figure. It hadn’t moved for hours, unaware of the time passing and deep in thought. A giant snake was curled up in front of the fire, cherishing the warmth. But all of a sudden the mood changed.
The being hadn’t changed its posture, nor had the snake. The crackling of the fire and the occasional creaking of the walls - which wasn’t unusual for an old building like this - were still the only noise. But there was an alertness in the room, tension was hanging in the air.
Pupils had narrowed to slits, revealing more of the unusual colour of the eyes. They flashed a dark red in the dim light of the fire. Nostrils flared and the man raised his head. A tug in his gut, a dull burning had alerted him, ripped him from his thoughts and forced him to turn his attention away from his mind and to something else.

It took a second for Voldemort to locate the origin of the call. Long spindly fingers felt for the smooth wood of his wand, considering. After a moment, he looked at the snake. 

"Nagini, come here. We are going to leave for a while," the man hissed almost soothingly. The snake raised its head and then lazily slithered towards its master leaving traces on the dusty floor. When it had reached Voldemort, he petted her head with his long fingers. Shortly before he apparated he looked once more into the orange flames.

Lucius better had a good reason to summon him like this.

A second later and the Riddle house stood empty once more.

 

Voldemort didn’t bother to announce his presence. The wards pulsed disapprovingly when he forced his way through them. The dark Lord spared a fleeting glance at the furniture and snorted at the pompous decorations. Moonlight shone through the windows and illuminated the entrance hall in an eerie way. It made the walls look like they were made of bone rather than marble. The man turned his attention to the cold fireplace. With the slightest move of his wand, newly awoken flames started to lick on the remaining wood, lightening it once more.

Lucius better be greeting him soon, if the man already dared to call him at this hour.

 

Lucius rushed down the stairs to the entrance hall, but as soon as he'd reached the even ground, he stopped. The dark Lord was already there. He stood in front of the fireplace; his spidery hands were folded around his wand in a position similar to someone who was praying. The fire illuminated his waxen features and put a golden shimmer to the almost white skin. A movement on the floor, and Lucius noticed Nagini.

The Death Eater kept his distance from Voldemort as well as the giant snake, not daring to step closer without being asked to do so. He stayed there for almost a minute, but when his master didn’t move nor acknowledge his presence Lucius spoke up.

"Mylord-" Lucius started and bowed, his words cutting through the silence like a knife. But before he could carry on further, the other man had raised his hand and he shut his mouth. The dark Lord still stared into the fire like it was the most fascinating thing he'd ever seen. Lucius swallowed hard, frozen in his place. The only one moving was the snake which writhed slowly, winding its massive body around the legs of its master.

"Lucius," Voldemort began eventually. His voice sounded almost gentle, but he was still facing the flames. "I hope you have a good reason for calling me here," he voiced and turned towards his servant.

"Yes milord," Lucius quickly replied.

"Go on," Voldemort said when Lucius didn’t immediately continue.

"Potter was here this afternoon..."

"Potter?" Voldemort said and for the first time that day, his attention seemed to be focused on Lucius.

"Yes Mylord, Potter. He just showed up in my office, it shouldn’t have been possible."

"And what did he want?" Voldemort said and looked at Lucius intently.

"He gave me something... something that, according to him, belongs to you, Milord"

"Hand it over to me," Voldemort demanded and he stretched out his arm. Lucius quickly pulled out the locket, which was wrapped up in the black cloth. He gave it to his Master and then again put some distance between them, taking a few steps back. "Potter also said, that I should tell you, that Dumbledore knows. Whatever he meant with that."

"Say, Lucius," the dark Lord said, as he slowly began to unwrap it. "Why didn’t you call me earlier?"

"I didn’t want to bother you if this was just a minority Mylor-"

 

Crack

 

Lucius flinched as if he was hit, when a loud noise, cut through the room like a whiplash. With widening eyes he watched how dust was trickling into the fire. Nagini hissed affronted. A giant crack split the wall from the fireplace to the ceiling. Even the chandelier was swinging dangerously. Voldemort wasn’t even looking at Lucius anymore. Yet the dark Lord also ignored the damage his magic had done to the wall when it had lashed out.  

He only stared at the Locket, but with a look, Malfoy had never seen on his face. He didn’t dare to name it. But as sudden as the expression had come, it disappeared and Voldemort’s eyes flashed dangerously, a red streak of colour in the dimly lit room.

Lucius expected to be hit with a cruciatus curse or maybe even something worse. He already mentally prepared himself for the excruciating pain, so his confusion grew all the more when nothing happened. His Lord just continued to stare at the pendant, until he gripped it tightly as if he wanted to crush it.

And then, he raised his head.

It took all of Lucius’ self-restraint to not take a step back. He shivered at the fury he saw burning in the eyes of his Master. But there was also a spark of something else. Lucius could feel the dark magic gathering in the room, till he was almost drowning in it.

"You won’t speak of this. To nobody Lucius, did I make myself clear!" Voldemort hissed between clenched teeth. Lucius could only nod. And then, the Dark Lord had disapparated, leaving him alone in his damaged entrance hall. Lucius would never dare to say it out loud, but he swore that the Dark Lord had been afraid.

Chapter Text

Cursing, Harry appeared in the middle of the scarcely illuminated kitchen of Grimmauld Place No. 12, his ankles full of scratches and a bloody gash on his forearm. Death was right next to him, amusement evident on his pale face. Harry was just about to heal the still bleeding wound near his elbow when a voice pulled him out of it.

"Harry!" Sirius was staring at him from the other end of the table, where he'd been brooding over some notes. His initial smile had been replaced by a frown. "What happened to you?"

Harry's green eyes flashed once his skin was knitting itself together once more. "You try travelling cross-country by your own," he snapped, throwing a dark look at Death who still appeared incredibly entertained. "Someone didn't think it would be necessary to help me along."

"You wanted to try it on your own," Death voiced hoarsely and he smirked at Harry.

"At that time I wasn't aware of the risks that came with it," Harry hissed.

"Um," Sirius began confused and he gestured at Harry, "You've got a leaf in your hair, I think."

Growling under his breath, Harry ruffled through his hair, pulling out the sole remainder of his crash in a forest near Wiltshire. He barely took notice of how it crumbled to dust in his fingers while he was stomping over to Sirius where he let himself fall into a chair. Sighing, some of the tension left him. "Hello, Sirius," he finally greeted his godfather.

The man in question was eyeing him in a mix of confusion and worry. "Not that I'm not happy to see you, Harry. But what are you doing here?"

"Visiting you," Harry promptly retorted. "I guessed that you perhaps were in need of some company. Even more so after the article in the Daily Prophet."

Sirius dismissed the statement with a wave of his hand. "They always speculate where I am, it’s nothing new."

Harry shrugged, tracing an old scratch on the table. "If you say so," he replied and his eyes flicked to Death who had started to roam through the room. Forcing himself to not give in to the feeling that always drew his gaze towards the creature he looked at the notes and sketches scattered all over the table. "What is all of that stuff?" Harry asked and gestured at the parchments.

"Plans and information collected by the Order," Sirius admitted freely and then he shivered when Death walked past him. Despite himself, a smile tugged on Harry’s lips but he banished it a moment later. He didn’t doubt that Death had done it simply to mess with his godfather. "You shouldn’t even be aware that these exist, at least in the opinion of the others," Sirius continued, "But you also shouldn’t be able to appear out of thin air, so there goes my iron will to treat you like a small child," he ended jokingly.

"How are you?" Harry inquired curiously.

"I’m fine," his godfather said and pushed a few strands of his dark hair out of his face. He sighed. "Bored most of the time. I haven’t really seen anyone in three days. Not even Kreacher keeps me company. Not that I’m complaining," Sirius added with a smirk. "By the way, why did you want me to allow him to leave the house?"

Harry smirked. "I needed a spy in the Ministry and nobody notices a house-elf. Most of the time, people just forget they are even there. And Kreacher likes me."

"Yeah and this is by far the strangest thing that happened during the last months. And, are you already regretting it?"

"No, not really. Thanks to Kreacher I knew the time and day of Podmore’s trial. Although It wasn’t very exciting."

"You were there? Didn’t go too well for Sturgis... six months, the poor guy," Sirius said with a haunted look and Harry hummed in agreement.

Both of them stared at the notes in front of Sirius for a moment. The thing Sirius had been looking at, was a map with small drawings and scribbles in every corner. Circles and arrows marked various places all over the landscape. "I also visited Lucius Malfoy today," Harry began casually while he studied the map.

"Malfoy?" Sirius said surprised.

"Yeah."

"Why?" his godfather asked him and Harry finally looked up.

"Not long ago, I told him that I don’t want to read about you in the papers. More specifically about where you are currently hiding," Harry said. "I can hardly let him think that I’m some kid whose threats he can easily dismiss."

Sirius looked at Harry and frowned. "What did you do?" he asked.

"I might have given him one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes, that doesn’t hold a piece of his soul anymore. I told him that he can try to hide it or that he can give it back to his Lord," Harry said smirking.

Sirius barked a laugh but then his expression changed, and guilt sneaked into his gaze. He was obviously torn between the two emotions. "Hey what is this map?" Harry said to distract him from his thoughts.

Sirius’ grin turned into a sigh. "The current movements of the werewolf packs." He pointed at various points and traced a line between them. "Or at least that’s our best guess. As long as Remus isn’t back, we can’t really tell..."

"Why is he still going there?" Harry asked, "Dumbledore?"

"Dumbledore," Sirius grumbled.

"But he must know that the werewolves will never join the light side," Harry said. "It’s stupid to believe that."

"He just wants to have an eye on them. Even if they won’t join us, they might stay neutral. Or they join the enemy. It’s better to know what is waiting for us," Sirius said without real emotion as if he was reciting a speech that he'd heard countless times already. Empty words that had stuck, even if he didn’t believe them himself.

"If they think they have to join a side to survive, they will probably choose Voldemort," Harry mused. "There is too much discrimination in the wizarding world. With Voldemort, they at least know where they stand."

"Yeah," Sirius sighed, "Sometimes, I almost wish that they would join someone already, even if it was Voldemort... Then we would at least know what we’re dealing with."

"...and Remus wouldn’t have to spy for the Order anymore," Harry added with a look at Sirius, who sighed.

"Knowing Dumbledore, that wouldn’t stop him from asking Remus to go there," Sirius said and looked at his hands. They were still slender, but not as skinny and skeletal as they had looked right after he escaped Azkaban. He was fidgeting with the silver ring he was wearing, which caused the Black insignia to shine in the light whenever he twisted it in another direction.

Harry caught a glimpse of Death, who reached inside the wall and touched a rat, whose life force flickered and then faded away.

"But what if they had another option," Harry started thoughtfully and broke the silence. He turned his head and looked at Sirius again. "Someone who they can join and stay neutral for now..."

"Like who?" Sirius asked suspiciously. Death had eventually given up on walking through the room and joined their circle, stopping right at the opposite side of the table where Harry was currently seated.

"Well, I’m the master of Death, I’m very neutral," Harry voiced and looked at the being with a slight grin, but Sirius didn’t seem very convinced.

"Dumbledore already offered them protection. He didn’t even ask them to fight, but they declined. Many werewolves are afraid that their status will be revealed when they openly join a side. And by what Remus tells me, the packs who live as outcasts don’t want to follow anyone."

"Maybe they’re just not a fan of Dumbledore," Harry added with a smirk, but Sirius' expression stayed solemn.

"Harry, last time Remus came back with two infected bite-wounds and someone tried to stab him. And he told me it went well," Sirius said. "What do you think, they will do to a fifteen-year-old, who isn’t even one of them?"

"I am more capable than you think," Harry said.

"Harry, this is not a question of capability," Sirius insisted adamantly and leaned forward. "Even Moody wouldn’t simply go there without backup. It has its reasons that Remus is the only one able to do the job," Sirius urged.

"I think I could manage it," Harry responded stubbornly. Meanwhile, Death casually sat down on the chair right next to Sirius.

Said man leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. "Okay. Fine. Let’s say you find them. You just walk into their territory and then what? Talk?"

"Yeah," Harry admitted shrugging. Sirius shot him a look and raised an eyebrow. "Hey, in my defence, I didn’t really think about it before coming here," Harry added and lifted his hands defensively. "It was just a suggestion."

Spoilsport.

But the longer Harry thought about it, the better he liked the idea. School on its own didn't pose that much entertainment and visiting a pack of werewolves certainly sounded like it could spice things up a bit. Harry looked at Death, an unspoken question in his mind.

"Sounds like fun," Death said, apparently sharing his opinion.

Meanwhile, Sirius stared at his godson, unaware of their silent conversation. "Good," he said. "Because I don’t want to be the one, who has to tell the others the reason for why you died, so they can pick up your pieces."
Sirius's eyes began to wander through the room, lingering on a half-empty whisky bottle on the sideboard.

"Technically," Death began, his hoarse voice echoing through the room, while Sirius yelped and almost fell from his chair - Harry would’ve laughed if he hadn't shared his surprise, "…he won't die, since he is a part of Death.” 

"What the hell," Sirius uttered, but Harry didn’t listen to him. He was too involved in processing that – for the first time – Death had made himself visible in his human form. And that he had basically just announced that Harry was a part of him, which was kind of ....messed up? Endearing? He didn't know. But then it hit him.

"I can't die?" Harry asked in the same moment that Sirius repeated his previous statement. Because, whatever the mess with the wards in Grimmauld Place's entrance hall was when he first arrived, sure as hell didn't feel like something one could survive. He had of course expected that something was off, but Death openly admitting that he couldn't die was something else.

Death, who was still smirking at Sirius turned his head and looked at Harry. "Not really."

Harry stared at him. The being had once admitted, that Harry was no longer human. Harry had questioned whether that made himself immune to some curses, maybe even the most feared of the unforgivables. But never had he dared to think of himself as immortal.

"But what if - I don’t know - a building would fall on me," Harry asked Death.

"It would take some time, but eventually you would return.”

"But my body would basically look like a bloody pancake at this point, wouldn’t it?" Harry asked oddly engrossed in the topic. Strangely the discussion of his own death didn’t phase him that much. He felt rather apathetic in regards to it. Something that became even more evident, considering that it hadn't been long ago when he’d had panicked solely by noticing his own life force – or rather lack of it, in comparison to other people in his environment.

"I would fix it for you," Death said and smiled. Something warm fluttered up in Harry's stomach at the fondness that he could sense coming from the being alongside that statement. He mused if he was the only one who could differentiate Death's scary grin from a genuine smile.

Only after a few moments, Harry realized that the being's smile had broadened to a full-blown smirk, directing his attention to the fact that his eyes had lingered on Death’s lips a tad longer than appropriate.

Harry swallowed, briefly clearing his throat in embarrassment. He tore away his gaze, only for his eyes to catch sight of the being again, unwittingly tracing over the sharp jawline and lingering on the familiar smirk that always managed to make him shiver in one way or another. A desire to simply cross the distance sparked within his mind.

Meanwhile, Death tilted his head in the slightest of ways and stared at him knowingly. Harry was already considering if he should just reach over the table to kiss the teasing bastard when another voice interrupted them.

"Okay, just shut up for a moment, will you!" Sirius snapped. Death and Harry both turned their heads. Harry had almost forgotten about him. His godfather had straightened up in his chair and was staring at them. "Are you telling me-" he looked at Harry - "that this-" he pointed at Death- "is Death."

"Yeah," Harry said somewhat confused as to why Sirius would point out something so obvious.  Sirius stared at Death and the being met his gaze with unblinking eyes.

Harry observed them, a smile tugging on his lips when neither of them backed down nor wavered in their stance. It was like two dogs meeting each other for the first time.

"But he looks so..." Sirius finally broke the silence.

"What?!" Harry interfered, and he stared at his godfather his chin raised high, "So much like me?!"

"Actually," Sirius began, his eyes still fixated on the being, "I was going to say, not as scary as I remembered him," he finished while loomed over him.

Harry could tell that Death was amused. It spilt over through their bond in a familiar way. To Death, this first 'meeting' was the equivalent of someone who sat and endure the curious inspection of a kitten. A metaphor in which Sirius was the latter. "…-but now that you mention it… You two do kinda look like you could be related. But the eyes..." Sirius shuddered.

"You do realize, that you can talk to him too, you know?" Harry said laughing.

"The question is; do I want to?" Sirius replied and turned to look at Harry. He jumped when Death responded instead of his godson.

"Rude," the being said, his hoarse voice echoing through the room like a gust of wind. He was smirking. Harry shared Death's amusement while Sirius's face went through a set of emotions as if he didn’t quite know what to think of the unexpected reply. His face eventually settled on something that clearly resembled a ‘What the fuck’ expression and Harry turned to look at him.

"Well, Sirius. Are you in?" Harry asked expectantly.

"What?" his godfather replied, shaking off his stupor, yet still side-eyeing Death.

"Visiting Remus of course," Harry clarified and smirked.

"Like now?" Sirius asked and seemed quite startled. "And they say I am the crazy one," he muttered and shook his head as he stared at the map in front of him.

"Of course. Or did you have any plans?" Harry said. He crossed his arms and looked at his godfather enthusiastically.

Sirius raised his head and looked at Harry. "We don’t even know where they are. And even then..." He sighed, "I dunno."

"Come on Sirius," Harry said and leaned forward. Death who had been staying on the opposite side of the table materialized behind him. The being now sat on the back of Harry’s chair in a position a regular person wouldn’t have been able to maintain for long. Either because they felt uncomfortable or simply fell off the chair. But Death didn’t seem to be bothered. He lurked above them like a hawk. "Never had I thought, that persuading you to do something dangerous would be this hard," Harry said.
And even Sirius couldn’t suppress an amused snort at the statement. "We could use some company," Harry added.

Sirius seemed to really think about it for a moment, then he looked at Death.

"You make sure that I don’t die," he stated. Death leaned forward and stared at the Black heir. There was no trace of the previous grin that had been residing on his face. Not a word was spoken. The tension in the room grew heavier with every second. Sirius swallowed hard. He seemed to shrink back into his chair under the intense gaze. His grey eyes started to wander through the room just to avoid meeting Death’s unnerving look.

Harry observed the situation with great amusement until Sirius seemed ready to flee the room at any minute. Only then Harry broke the silence.

"Come on," Harry said and turned around to look at Death, "It's just for a few hours anyway." The emotions vibrating through their bond told him exactly how offended Death was at Sirius’ request. A bit nettled by the daring demand, but mostly amused. Although Harry didn’t put it behind Death, to resort to some drastic measures if someone else had dared to ask him a question like that. The being paused its staring and looked at Harry.

"Fine," Death gave in and then a smirk appeared on his face. Harry snorted.

Of course, Death would like the idea to take Sirius with them, if only because this bid the opportunity to mess with the man a little longer. Deservedly, if what he caught from Death was anything to go by.

The tension that had been hanging in the air was gone and Sirius slumped into his seat. "You are an asshole," he said and looked at Death, who simply raised an eyebrow. Harry couldn’t suppress a laugh. "I’m in," Sirius announced.

Chapter Text

Dry leaves rustled beneath their feet with every step they took. At least when Harry or Sirius moved.  Despite Death being corporal, his steps were silent as he followed Harry like a shadow.

"You know, if I had known that you didn’t really know where they are either, I would’ve thought twice about coming with you," Sirius started somewhere behind him.

"Hey, it was you who demanded that we approach them by foot," Harry stated over his shoulder. "And by the way, I don’t think that it’s going to take that much longer."

Harry had found out the hard way, that locating someone you were connected to didn’t compare in the least to searching someone else. It wasn’t like he hadn’t tried to find Remus.

While Sirius had looked at the maps and notes the Order had left in their headquarters to narrow his position down, Harry had tried to reach out with his senses.

But there'd been just so much going on around him... He could feel the moths swarming the streetlights outside, the sleeping neighbours, rats inside the walls and the wards of Grimmauld Place which had been pulsing with energy.

Harry was drowning in all the different life forces surrounding him. He hadn’t even known how much he tuned out on a daily basis till he really opened his senses. His mind had snapped back and forth, but without a line - a thread to guide him, he wouldn’t be able to find Remus. Harry had had to accept, that - while he could cover a certain distance - nowhere near he would be able to find someone on the other end of the country.

During his whole attempt of finding Remus, Harry had sensed Death’s amusement growing alongside his own frustration. With an annoyed huff, he had opened his eyes and shot Death a glare. He still was a bit miffed about their earlier fiasco, regarding how he'd tried to leave Malfoy Manor without Death's help.

The bastard had only smirked, probably laughing about Harry’s pitiful attempts to get hold of anything that wasn’t located within a mile. Harry had simply ignored the feelings buzzing through their bond and turned away to face his godfather.

Sirius had been still analysing the notes and maps scattered on the table at that point, unaware of their wordless exchange.

After a few moments of silence, Harry felt a gentle touch on his back.

Death’s amusement still hadn’t subsided, but long arms snaked around his torso and Harry’s frustration melted away into nothingness. He could feel the being leaning against him and soft lips brushed over the skin on his neck. Harry bit his lip to suppress the content sight that was about to escape him. Death pressed a kiss on the spot behind his ear and Harry reacted without conscious thought, baring his neck to offer better access. Harry’s breath hitched when he felt teeth grazing his skin and Death started to nuzzle his neck. He could nearly feel the vibrations in Death’s breath when a pleased rumble left the being’s throat.

The noise seemed to startle Sirius out of his thoughts. When his godfather had lifted his head, he was met Death’s pointed stare over Harry’s shoulder.

In the end, it was Death who offered to just take them to the location of the werewolf pack. Unlike Harry, the being didn’t have any problems locating Remus.

Sirius had insisted, that they would approach them on foot. Just simply apparating into their territory could equal a death sentence, if one could believe him. Apparently, most of the werewolves out there weren’t too fond of wizards. During their whole discussion till the moment when Death had finally taken them to the place, Harry could feel Sirius’ curious eyes resting upon them.

There was a rustling behind him and Harry snapped back to the present. Sirius had quickened his pace to catch up to them. Soon enough his godfather was walking side by side with Harry once more.

The calming scent of the forest washed over them, as they continued to pave their way through the woods.

The sun had set not long ago and had been replaced by an unusually bright night. The first stars illuminated their way. Not that it made any difference. Harry wasn't quite sure if it was thanks to his connection with Death, but somehow, he was still able to perceive everything fairly well despite the lack of colours. Even at the darkest parts of their surroundings, where the shadows of the trees prevented the pale light from reaching the ground, Harry could still distinguish the shapes of rocks and branches upon the leaves.

Sirius on the other hand wasn’t that lucky. He sighed heavily as he walked next to Harry.

"I shouldn’t have picked up smoking when I was a teen," Sirius complained. "My lung is killing me."

Harry grinned amusedly. "I think it’s more likely the fact that you didn’t stop talking since we arrived here."

And it was true. During the last fifteen minutes, Harry felt like he'd gotten a glimpse of what his godfather might have been like in his teenage years. Before he'd been locked up in Azkaban and was subjected to the continuous company of Dementors. And who could blame him if he experienced a throwback in time? After all, sneaking around in a forest at night to visit a fellow werewolf sounded quite familiar. Harry smirked when he noticed that Sirius had stopped dead in his tracks.

"Sometimes you really remind me of your father, you know," Sirius uttered between two breaths, as he started to walk again. "Somewhere in the afterlife, he is probably high-fiving himself because you turned out to be as much of a little shit as he was."

Harry laughed. "Maybe. But to my genes also comes environmental influence. If you consider this, your own presence has probably influenced me more than my father ever could. By now I’m just an altered version of you," Harry joked.

"You wish," Sirius replied, "Being me comes with having glorious hair and you can hardly claim that for yourself, can you?"

"Oh, now that was unnecessary," Harry said, trying to sound offended. A sensation in his chest caused him to look at Death. The being seemed fairly entertained by their exchange.

"You can’t deny it though," Sirius pointed out. Harry snorted and shook his head. His reply was drowned out by Sirius’ cursing, as his godfather fell once more victim to one of the branches on the ground. "Fucking hell! How do you not stumble over everything in our way?!" he asked - more rhetorical than anything else. "I mean he-" Sirius pointed at Death - "That I can understand... but you?"

Harry shrugged. "Don’t blame me," he replied. "You were the one who insisted that we use - and I quote - ‘as little magic as possible’ when we approach those werewolves."

Sirius only made a grunting noise. He couldn’t argue with that statement and for some time, the only thing one could hear were leaves rustling on the ground and their steady breathing. Again, it was Sirius who breached the silence.

"Hey, did you-" Sirius stopped mid-sentence to let out a groan of desperation. Apparently, he'd once more gotten caught in some kind of thorny bushes. He sighed loudly before he finally started the attempt to free himself. After a minute of useless struggling, he threw up his arms in defeat. "Oh, fuck this!" Sirius said and he just pulled back his leg, not caring whether his jeans ripped or not. Which they did.

A circular movement with his wand later and Harry got to witness the same spell that Lupin had used during his third year in Hogwarts.

Now, a soothing light illuminated their surroundings and Sirius appeared to be holding a handful of flames. "Much better," he stated and inspected his leg for a second. A few bloody scratches peaked through the ripped pieces of fabric.

"What about the danger of meeting werewolves who aren’t too fond of magic?" Harry said with a smirk, referring to Sirius’ earlier speech.

"At this point, I don’t care if it’s a stray root or a shape-shifting puppy," Sirius said, his face illuminated by the flames, "I just don’t wanna die, knowing that I could’ve evaded the thing leading to my demise if I had put on a fucking light." Harry chuckled, but then his attention was caught by something else.

He didn’t know what it was that told him that something had changed, but he just knew that Death’s focus had shifted. Harry looked at the being which stared into the distance.

A bloodcurdling howl cut through the night.

Harry’s mouth opened in a silent 'o' and he stared into the darkness. Streaks of silvery light fell through the crowns of the trees surrounding them, illuminating their faces in an eerie way. When they looked at the sky, the moving clouds revealed a perfectly full moon.  

"Well," Harry said after a moment, "Talking to the pack might be a little trickier than we thought."

And when he turned his gaze back at Death, he found himself grinning.

 

About two hours earlier there were still streaks of sunlight falling through the branches of the tall trees surrounding the small clearing.

Remus sat not far away from one of the few campfires that were still burning. Two pits were nothing but glimmering coals by now. At least if one didn’t count the occasional bone hiding in the ashes. Nobody bothered to put another log into the shrinking flames, instead, most people waited in silence while the dark smoke hanging in the air slowly dissolved into nothing.

Remus had been here for about a week. Long enough to recognize a few familiar faces and to be known by them. Absentmindedly he scratched his arm when a sharp sting reminded him of the barely healed cuts next to the purple bruising on his wrist. He looked at his dirty hands. There was still dried blood mixed into the earth staining his fingers. The skin over his knuckles was raw and open.

Beside Remus, not many werewolves sat on the ground; only the ones who seemed more relaxed than restless. Most of the others were standing in small groups or pacing around. Over the course of the last days, the tension had slowly reached its peak. By now, only the people who'd been werewolves for the longest time were still chatting and making jokes. They'd barely two hours till the orange sky would be replaced by a dark night and the woods would once more be haunted by vicious beasts - howling and searching for prey, the full moon hanging over them like a curse.

It was a big pack, bigger than Remus had originally thought. If they were to join Voldemort, it would be a harsh blow for the light side.

He'd counted seventeen members, maybe eighteen. Every other day somebody would leave and return a few hours later with money or food. Sometimes even bringing clothes or - what earned the loudest cheers - cheap liquor and cigarettes. Today they were twenty-four people if he included himself and the others who appeared to be strangers to the pack.

There would’ve been another one. A guy, who'd arrived shortly after Remus. He was popular at first. He told some good stories, but then the man had chosen to show off. He'd bragged about a wand which he'd brought with him. A few comments later and he was no longer known as the funny guy, but the one who had unwisely chosen that carrying a wand made him better than some of the people here.

Now his body was left to rot in the woods. Tossed away just far enough so that the smell wouldn’t attract any unwelcome animals.

During the whole fight, Remus had palmed the handle of his own wand which was hidden in a pocket on the inside of his coat. Otherwise, he'd done nothing but watch the confrontation, trying to hide how much it affected him.

The following night he had barely slept at all.

A laugh breached the silence when somebody made a crude comment about the nervous-looking bloke, who was sitting not far from the main group. He clearly didn’t belong to the pack. He twitched anxiously and his eyes jumped around like he didn’t know where to go. The guy acted like a scared animal.

There was another lone wolf. A wiry woman with messy hair, who would probably leave tomorrow. It was common for some people to join a pack and leave after the full moon had passed. Even Remus had to admit that running with others left the beast inside his chest more content than staying on his own.

Remus' eyes wandered back to the man who they had commented on earlier. He was probably in his mid-twenties and had joined them yesterday just before the sun had set. Nervously fidgeting with his sleeves, he had lingered behind the trees for at least an hour.

As if nobody could smell him.

Eventually, he had approached them, wary and with staggering steps.

Since then, he hadn't dared to look anyone into the eyes anymore, as he'd been fiercely shut down just minutes after he had entered the clearing.

He had made the mistake to stare at a pack member for too long and said werewolf hadn’t taken it too kindly.

Remus could tell that the newcomer had never experienced a full moon before, nor did he know how to act around other werewolves. He seemed rather scared. Sometimes he scowled with disgust when another werewolf did something unexpected or bared his teeth in an inhuman way. It was a miracle that the man was still alive with all his disrespecting behaviour, even if he wasn’t aware of himself doing it most of the time.
He would have to rearrange his mind. Soon he too would’ve to endure the judging looks of ordinary wizards, who thought all werewolves were filth.

Remus' eyes lingered on him. The newly bitten wizard flinched whenever someone came close to touching him. He was the epitome of innocence, at least in comparison to some of the other people here.
His clothes didn’t seem very worn and there was no visible scar staining his skin.

The pack had deemed him their new plaything. Someone who belonged to the group next to the fire turned his attention towards the anxious werewolf. The pack member clicked his tongue and wriggled a cracker in his hand as if he wanted to feed a pet. The wizard twitched on his spot when the werewolf leaned forward and made another noise, prompting him to come closer. A few strands of filthy brown hair fell into his eyes, while he continued to mock the younger man. The pack member closest to him cheered him on, amused by the exchange and took another drag of his cigarette. Finally, the werewolf laughed and threw the crumbled pieces at the rookie, before he turned back to the fire.

Remus couldn’t help but pity the wizard and yet there was a small part inside of him that was glad,  that the man had been shown his place, once he'd scowled at their scars for too long.

Despite the constant mockery and the suggestive comments uttered from time to time, Remus had the feeling that the man would stay. Abandoned by his family after he had been turned, he had nowhere else to go. Even the lowest ranking members were protected - plaything or not. Sooner or later he would be the omega of the pack. At least here they wouldn’t look down on him for being a werewolf.

Remus’ attention was caught when one of the pack members stood up and walked towards the trees. Probably to take a piss. His thin face was hidden beneath a layer of filth and dirt - Remus imagined that he himself didn’t look much better - but underneath, the guy was young. Barely eighteen, but he already wore some scars.

He was walking past a small group of people, who stood a little offside near the trees and Remus focus shifted and he tried to recall what he'd learned about them.

The group consisted of three people. Two of them were brothers and they had obviously known each other when they arrived. The third one had emerged from the woods shortly after, tall and full of confidence. They were searching for a new pack to join, but maybe they would leave to form their own after tonight. Remus eyed them warily.

One of them possessed an angry red scar that covered half of his shoulder. It looked like somebody had once tried to rip a big chunk out of it. Currently, he was listening to his brother, who was in the middle of telling a story. A gruff laugh echoed over the clearing when he gestured to emphasize his tale about a rather gruesome beating if one could believe the movement of his hands.

Earlier Remus had seen how he'd performed a few tricks with a stack of gambling cards. They weren’t magical in any way, but Remus doubted that the man was a muggle.

Not many of them survived being bitten.

The third man in their group stood out. He was older than most people here and his dirty blond hair was streaked with grey. He didn’t look as sick and thin as the average werewolf, despite the bruising in his face and the split lip. The werewolf was tall and his shoulder width was fairly impressive.

Remus was able to suppress the growl that built in his throat, but his lips curled upwards to reveal clenched teeth when the other werewolf turned his head and stared at him from the distance. Remus could feel the beast twisting beneath his skin and it howled in dark satisfaction when the other man squirmed. Some part of it seemed to show on his face because the tall werewolf broke their eye contact.

Remus noticed that he was smirking.

He pushed his fingers into the cold ground, while he recalled the events which had occurred the previous night.

Shortly after his arrival, Remus had managed to claim a place close to the fire. It was September and with every passing day, the nights grew colder.

Last Wednesday had been the first morning when they'd woken up to a thin layer of frost coating the trees and grass surrounding them. At this point, a place by the flames was viciously protected. Even the pack members snapped at each other when someone did as much as accidentally invade another one's space. If an outsider were to challenge a pack member for their spot, they would certainly find themselves next to the corpse in the woods, their mauled body bloody evidence of their own audacity.

The woman with the messy hair knew the unspoken rules. She had only dared to approach a fire once.

A few werewolves had returned from a close town and brought some food. She had snatched a piece of bread when nobody had been looking and then quickly returned to her place next to the roots of a big tree. Remus had seen her shiver during the night. Her knees had been pulled up to her chest, arms wrapped around her body which was pressed into a small hollow on the ground next to the tree. Remus didn’t help her. Even if she were ready to accept his help - which he doubted - kindness had no place out here. Not among strangers.

Some werewolves had grumbled in disapproval when Remus had approached the fire for the first time, but they didn’t do anything about it. Remus didn’t come close enough to bother them and since the moon wasn’t quite full yet, not many werewolves stayed at the camp during the nights. There was still enough space for all of them.

And more important, Remus wasn’t like the freshly bitten man, who'd allowed himself to be mocked and used however they wanted.

He may be quiet, but they could see it in the way he was walking, how he was carrying himself. The wolf shone through and as long as he didn’t overstep his boundaries by bothering anyone, he was left alone.

Remus didn't really chat with any of the others if he didn’t have too and even though he sat close to the fire, he kept enough distance to not attract too much attention. He was dismissed easily. Just another werewolf, who was in search of a pack or wanted to stay for a few days till the full moon had passed.

It wasn’t unusual. Most werewolves lived a nomadic lifestyle. Jumping from town to town, working dirty jobs to earn some money. The ones who knew how to do a little bit of magic used it to their advantage. But not many werewolves possessed a wand and only a small percentage of them knew more than a few basic spells. A magical education like Remus had been granted despite him having been bitten as a child was almost unheard of. But of what use was it? Many employers turned him down as soon as they knew what he was.

There were many who took part in illegal affairs. Remus couldn’t hold it against them. At least there they were not restricted to hide that they disappeared every full moon. Mundungus would know his fair share of werewolves even if they would never admit to it.

Whenever the Ministry investigated a crime - the fact that you were a werewolf made them suspect you all the more - guilty or not. In the dirtiest of alleys, no one cared what you were as long as you kept to your business. But there was no real loyalty. If it meant to save their own skin, they would rat you out without a second thought.

There were others who kept away from the wizarding world entirely. Living from pickpocketing, theft or they begged in muggle towns.

Some formed packs, small groups of werewolves developing close bonds. They moved together and together they transformed on a full moon. Some lived in their own houses, returning to their pack once in a while and then they left again only to reunite during the next full moon.

Here the dynamics were very similar. People were coming and going. The number of werewolves who were staying overnight grew with the upcoming full moon. Remus was fairly accepted by the pack, though if an outsider wanted him gone, nobody would bother to interfere.

At least that way, Remus was able to listen to the conversations without anyone really acknowledging his presence.

When they weren’t cracking jokes or telling stories, they talked about the things that were important for their survival. They talked about food, clothes, where they would stay when the nights would get colder and possible jobs they could work. But every now and then, they were speaking about different things. A pack that was recruiting. Speculating voices questioning whether ‘he-who-must-not-be-named’ had really returned, or if it was all just delusional talking. Hushed whispers telling about Greyback gaining more influence in the northern parts of the country. Even here he was feared and maybe even respected, though his methods were mostly viewed as extreme, despite violence being a part of their daily life.

Those were the pieces of information, which Remus collected in his mind, repeating them over and over to be able to report them when he would return to the Order.

Yesterday had been a day like any other day. Then, nobody had tried to mess with him yet but that had changed quickly. Remus wasn’t a member of the pack. He wasn’t protected by them and the newcomers had noticed that too. Thus, when the shadows had begun to grow longer and the first stars had appeared on the dark sky, the newly formed group had started to shift in their place.

 

This night was cold, colder than the nights before. Remus hadn’t dared to cast a warming charm. Not after the incident with the other werewolf a few days before. Instead, he crept closer to the fire while still keeping a respectable distance from the chatting pack members.

He doubted that any of the people here carried a wand, even though most of them were probably magical. Too many of them despised regular wizards. Remus felt the exhaustion in his bones taking over, but the beast beneath his skin let him grow restless. It caused him to stay on the edge, never quite able to find sleep. The uneasy feeling in his guts grew, till Remus couldn’t take it anymore. He pushed himself from the ground and he noticed that somebody almost stood right next to him. Straightening his posture, Remus was faced with the older werewolf, his two companions still lingering by the trees, watching the exchange. The werewolf in front of Remus wore a baffled expression as if he hadn’t expected him to still be awake or even notice his approach. It didn’t take long for Remus to analyse the situation.

"What do you want?" Remus asked calmly, using his voice for the first time in days. He kept his stance casual, but not once did his eyes leave the blond werewolf. At least the brothers were cautious enough to keep their distance. They seemed like they wanted to stay away from trouble. For now at least. He could sense the tension in the air, the wolfish part of him twisting and pushing outwards. The conversation next to them had died down, and the pack members now turned to look at them with barely concealed interest. The freshly bitten werewolf, who was sitting on the ground not far from them shuffled nervously.

"’tis a nice coat that you’ve got here," the older werewolf said. His greyish hair shone in the light of the flames as he flashed his teeth in a cocky grin. The closest thing he could do without plainly baring his teeth. On the outside, Remus didn’t bat an eye at the barely concealed threat, even though a growl was about the break from his throat. The strain was high so close to the full moon and he could almost taste the tension on his tongue.

"What do you want?" Remus repeated but the other werewolf simply ignored him.

"You know, this place by the fire seems quite comfortable," he said and then he stared at Remus with unblinking eyes.

"I don’t want any trouble," Remus pressed forward between clenched teeth. He went against every instinct in his body daring him to fight.

The other guy took a step forward and the grin disappeared from his face. "Move," he said. Remus stood still like a statue; his hands trembled. The wolf in him wanted to claw and bite, till all he could taste was blood, but his conscious thoughts kept him at bay. Remus couldn’t afford to get into a fight. He had promised it.

Last time he had returned to Grimmauld Place Sirius had paled when he’d noticed the new scars on his torso and arms. Bite-marks and scratches, not to mention the scar next to his ribs, caused by a rusty knife which Remus had thankfully been able to heal with magic, otherwise he would’ve probably died of the blood loss. One look at him and Sirius knew exactly how close it had been, even though Remus had played it down. It probably didn’t help that he had stumbled over his own feet twice, till he had finally been able to sit down. Sirius hadn’t spoken a word during the whole Order meeting. But his eyes hadn’t once left his friend.

When Remus had finished reporting to Dumbledore, he'd fallen into his bed like a dead man. He'd woken surrounded by darkness, the smell of cigarette smoke and the scent of a familiar shampoo lingering in the air. Only then, he'd realized that Sirius had to have slipped into his bed. He'd been asleep, but even then he'd hugged Remus tightly as if to make sure that he was still alive.

Remus had sworn to himself that he would make sure to avoid danger as much as possible. They only had each other. He couldn’t do that to Sirius. Should he die, Remus doubted that Sirius would stay sane. He'd banned every thought about a situation where it was the other way around from his mind.

Nevertheless, it took all of his self-restraint to take a step back. Noises of disappointment accompanied his action. The group next to the fire jeered and booed as they were starting to lose their interest. The grey-haired guy in front of Remus sneered and he looked at the two werewolves lingering at the trees, while Remus turned around to leave his former sleeping spot.

"I knew it. Just like I said; he’s backing down like a little bitch. I don’t even think he is a real wolf. Look at him. Acts like he was bitten by a little doggy..." He continued to mock Remus accompanied by the cheers of some pack members. "Yeah go and fuck off. Hide by the trees..." Remus could barely pay attention. It took all of his self-control to keep walking. He promised…

"Good dog," the man said and imitated a bark.  

The beast inside Remus snarled and his skin prickled like it was on the verge of breaking free.

"Ohh, not so fast..." The other werewolf drew his sentence out as if he had just remembered the most important thing. "I think you forgot something," the blond man said and Remus could almost feel the smirk that had to be plastered onto his face.

The wolf inside him fought against the restraints put on him. Remus didn’t even realize that he'd slowed down in his pace while the man continued to talk. "This coat of yours- "

Remus didn’t hear the ominous oohs and hisses when the other man extended his arm to grip his shoulder, attempting to keep him from walking any further.  

The man didn’t get to finish his sentence. The moment Remus felt a hand on his shoulder, he snapped. The wolf howled in victory. With a flash of something primal in his eyes, Remus spun around. A feral snarl ripped through his teeth and he crashed his knuckles directly into the face of his opponent. When his action was rewarded with a sickening crunch, Remus felt his lips pull back in a dark grin.

The other werewolf was too surprised to do anything about it, but when the first spray of blood hit his face, he bared his teeth in an inhuman manner. Remus didn’t wait for him to recover. The crowd cheered when he threw another punch. This time Remus could feel the skin over his knuckles split with the impact. It didn’t lessen the satisfaction he felt.

The blond werewolf had finally gathered himself and he lunged for him.

Moving on instinct, Remus evaded the first blow. An angry growl cut through the air. The next punch hit its aim.

A fist collided with Remus’ mouth and hot pain exploded in his face. He staggered backwards. The taste of blood hit his tongue. And Remus laughed. His voice was still hoarse from the infrequent use. He spat on the ground, the metallic liquid still staining his teeth.

The wolf inside him thrived on it.

It wanted more.

The blond werewolf gnashed his teeth. Remus could see the muscles beneath his jacket rippling. He ducked just in time to dodge the punch. He threw out his hand, instincts driving him to go for the throat of his rival. And when his opponent gripped his wrist to block the next punch, Remus just switched to his other arm. It caught the other guy off guard, but he was stronger than Remus. The sheer force used to squeeze Remus’ arm eventually forced him to turn his attention towards freeing the bruised limb. As soon as he stopped punching, he received a harsh blow into the ribs.

 

Crack

 

All air left his lungs. Remus couldn’t prevent the next hit from reaching his head. He reeled backwards. And with the following punch to his face, he lost his footing.

For a moment time seemed to stand still. There was only silence. Then he hit the cold ground.

Remus hadn’t thought that there was any air left to be knocked out of his lungs but he was proven wrong. Yet with the impact, his senses returned.

The howling and shouting of the people watching their fight rang loud in his ears. When he finally got to inhale, the scent of earth, blood and smoke filled his nose.

Remus blinked once; his pupils expanded as he stared at the dark night sky. Constellations of bright stars filled his vision and for a split second, all he wanted to do was give up. Being able to stay on the ground and never stand up again. Then his survival instincts kicked in. The sky blurred into a dark surface in the distance and his focus shifted towards the blond werewolf looming over him. The guy was grinning and looked at the people to his left, obviously enjoying the attention he was given.

‘Stupid,' was the only thought that crossed Remus mind. Then he went for the leg. He kicked hard. While he didn’t manage to shatter a knee, it was enough of a distraction. The other guy cursed and jerked back. Remus tried to grab the next best thing which turned out to be a stick, but before he could get hold of it, he had to roll to the side to evade being stomped on.

The blond werewolf had miscalculated. Apparently, Remus had aimed better than he'd thought.

His opponent was still cursing over his injured leg when Remus pushed himself from the ground and in the same motion, he jumped forward. With the weakened leg, it was easy for Remus to knock the other werewolf off his feet. Remus didn’t even notice that he was bleeding, till he saw the blood running down on his arm when he threw the next punch. But that didn’t stop him.

His next actions were a blurred memory of wanting to rip and tear, till he finally came to realize that he had pinned the other guy down.

 A knee over one arm, his right hand fixating the other one while his remaining fingers were curled around the blond guy's throat. Remus was squeezing so hard that his fingers turned white. The older werewolf finally stopped to squirm under his grip. Remus loosened the iron hold the slightest bit and his opponent immediately took the chance to take a few rattling breaths, even though there was barely any air reaching his lungs.

Remus licked over his dry lips, tasting blood. He didn’t know if it was his own. He didn’t care.

Slowly he loosened his grip, but then he could see anger flashing in the eyes of the pinned man.

Oh, this wouldn’t do.

Remus leaned forward, till his face was almost in biting range of his rival. Then he lowered his voice and spoke without a care as if he was doing regular small talk. "You know, I wouldn’t refer to Greyback as a little doggy," Remus said and put some distance between their faces. The other werewolf wore a look of confusion till his eyes widened when he remembered his earlier words - ...acts like he was bitten by a little doggy - and realization dawned on him.

As soon as Remus pulled back, the older guy didn’t bother to linger on the cold ground any longer. And when he started to walk away, battered and bruised under the jeering shouts of a few other werewolves, Remus couldn’t hold back. "Good dog," he muttered, taking deep satisfaction in the short pause the other guy made before he continued his way.

 

Remus pulled his hand from the ground, earth crumbling between his fingers. He hadn’t bothered to mention that he'd never actually run with Greyback. The rumour that he'd once belonged to Fenrir's pack had spread like a wildfire since yesterday's fight. They viewed him differently now. Wary, but with an odd kind of fascination. They didn’t dare to ask him about it though. Remus was glad that they kept their distance. He even allowed himself to heal his ribs with a whispered incarnation. With his wand hidden inside his coat, he was able to do it without drawing too much attention. Twenty hours had passed since then. He left his other injuries how they were. There was a still strain in his face. His mouth felt swollen and his bottom lip was split. It didn’t bother him too much. At least now when he took a breath, he didn’t feel like someone stabbed him with a burning iron anymore.

He stared at the sky as it grew darker with every passing minute. It wouldn’t take much longer. He could feel it. Remus trusted his senses. The wolf was as much a part of him as his human side. It had taken a long time for Remus to accept that. He still struggled with it sometimes, but over the duration of the last months in which he had infiltrated various packs, he'd learned to listen to his wolfish side. He hadn’t always ignored it. As much as Remus wanted to deny it, Greyback bit him when he was just a child. He was barely five years old when it happened. Back then he hadn’t thought about suppressing the wolf. Even during his years in Hogwarts, when he'd been afraid that someone would find out his secret, he had still trusted his instincts.

That all had changed after the horrible Halloween night in which James and Lily had died. Gone were the times when he had barely been able to tell the wolf and his human mind apart. After all, how could he trust the creature that hadn’t once warned him about Sirius' betrayal? Remus smiled in bitter irony and flexed his dirty fingers.

Back then he had felt more doomed than ever. He had cursed himself for even daring to listen to his instincts. How in the world had he trusted his wolf enough to avoid Peter?

Who cared now that his scent had just been wrong? Who cared that the wolf beneath his skin had growled every time he came close? Who cared about the subtle changes in Peters behaviour? It was war, they all were different now. But then, all of a sudden, they had been dead. James. Lily. And then Peter.

Their friend, who'd possessed so much more courage than they had ever imagined and had died. Innocently. By the hand of the person, Remus had trusted more than anyone else in his life. What had it mattered then, that the wolf in his chest had howled with anguish over being separated from the only remaining member of its pack? The one formed in bright starlit nights, filled with laughter and the scent of firewhisky drenching their dormitory. When they had carved their names into the wooden posts of their beds…

 

Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs. And Remus the only one left to remember...

 

How far away had been the evenings in the common room where secrets had been traded and a whispered ‘mischief managed’ had erased any traces of their nightly roaming. He had grieved for the mornings in the shrieking shack when Sirius had been the last to leave, barely evading Madame Pomfrey when she'd collected Remus to bring him to a bed in the hospital wing, only for him to wake up to the scent of sweet candy and surrounded by the faces of his friends. The day Sirius had been imprisoned was the day he had sworn himself to never trust his wolf again.

Things were different now. Remus had started to listen again, to loosen the chains he had put on this dark part inside his core. Twelve years was a long time... It was difficult – old habits die hard – but at the same time, it was freeing.

At first, Remus had felt like he was about to explode when he'd allowed the wolf to come through. It had been such a long time since he'd last enabled the beast to have this much control. But he needed his wolf to survive, just like the creature relied on Remus.

Remus hadn’t even realized how much he’d missed it. They were slowly working as one once more. The beast was eager to be let loose after this long and it lingered just beneath Remus skin, waiting to be finally free once more.

There was a part that still resented this dark piece of him, that wanted nothing but rip and tear every time someone wronged him. But while he was scared, it also was familiar. Remus had been a werewolf for so long that he didn’t even remember what it was like before. He knew how to control it, to ignore even the most basic instincts. But there was no need for it. Not out here where everybody had a beast beneath their skin.

During the last week, Remus had found it harder to see the wolf as a separate being. With every hour closer to the full moon the borders in his mind blurred. Right now, every part of his body yearned for a hunt, instincts for once not drowned by the wolfsbane potion. With every passing moment, the wolf grew more and more eager. They thirsted for blood.

Darkness was settling. It was only a matter of minutes till the moon would appear in the sky. Remus stripped off his clothes. There was no place for shame. He stood naked just like the others.

Shivering.

But it wasn’t because of the cold. He was radiating heat. The moon hung in the sky like a silvery sphere. And the heat inside him grew. It expanded, melting through his bones like lava, till it burned him from the inside. Remus opened his mouth in a silent scream. The pain was unbearable. There was the cracking of bones, whimpering and snarling and then a howl echoed through the night.

Then, he no longer knew his name.

 

As soon as the howl had faded away, Sirius’ whole demeanour changed like someone had flipped a switch. Stripped of all masks, his previous attitude melted away as if it had never been there at all. His whole attention was now directed at the spot from where the eerie noise had come from. Like a dog who had detected its prey and only waited for the command to hunt, he had blocked out everything else. There was a flicker of something in his eyes, but then Sirius turned his head and it was gone. He looked at Harry.

"We should go," he said and the previous tension left his body. "There is no point in staying here. It won’t take long for them the smell us."

Harry didn’t reply. Instead, he turned to look at Death. The being was grinning, teeth too sharp, white eyes in stark contrast to the darkness surrounding him. Death already knew what Harry’s answer would be. And as Sirius watched their exchange, he seemed to get it too.

"You are unbelievable," Sirius groaned and threw his head back in defeat. He closed his eyes and sighed. It was probably a sign of his craziness that he didn’t do anything else to stop Harry from staying here. "You-" he pointed directly at Death - "You make sure that no one harms him," he demanded with all his seriousness and he gestured at Harry. Death’s smirked widened and the darkness surrounding him was more present than ever. His whole presence seemed to swallow up the pale moonlight as he leaned forward.

"Oh, If I were you, I would rather worry about myself," Death responded, his pale eyes directed at Sirius, who only now seemed to grasp whom he was facing. Death’s hoarse voice appeared to be echoing itself when he said his next sentence. "They tend to go for humans."

Chapter Text

Its consciousness rose slowly, instincts taking over till no human thought remained. The wolf whimpered when it registered the pain within its body. Bright and hot it coursed through its veins, till the last waves of it slowly subsided. It licked over its muzzle, cold air hitting its wet nose. The beast stretched its sore muscles, stiff joints popping - newly formed - just like the bones, they were connecting. Only after shaking its thick fur it took in its surroundings, curiously scenting the air.
Soil and rotting leaves were the first things it noticed. Disgruntled it flicked its ear as it felt the scent of smoke invading the cool air. But it was faint enough to dismiss it. Then its attention shifted onto the more immediate threat. There were others of its kind.
The smell of sweat and blood still lingered and it shifted warily, fur in its neck slightly rising at the unknown beings around. Its lips pulled back to reveal sharp teeth.
When another wolf tried to come closer the being growled.
The other creature smelled foreign. Wrong. Not like its pack.
But despite the growling, the interloper didn’t back down.
The werewolf snarled again and snapped at the other wolf; jaws connecting with a clicking sound as they closed around nothing but cold air. A warning.

The other wolf lowered its head.

Not satisfied yet, the werewolf stared at the other one till it whimpered submissively. Pleased, the being snorted, a cloud of steam forming around its snout. It turned away and absentmindedly nosed the pile of fabric on the ground. It smelled like itself. Dismissively it raised its head and walked towards the shadows of the treeline. It relished in the feeling of its muscles moving beneath its skin. Never taking its eyes off the other wolves, it tried once more to scent the air.

The restlessness inside it grew. There was not a trace of its pack. A confused whimper left its mouth as it circled the other wolves.

Hunger for something gnawed in its core. Like fire, it burned through its veins, the need to run, to fight and claim. It licked over its teeth, made to rip and tear.

An image of bones snapping beneath its jaw.

The need to hunt overwhelmed the urge to find its pack. It needed prey. It wanted blood.

A wolf not far from it howled.

It stopped dead in its tracks, head-turning, ears pointing forward. It shivered with anticipation. An invitation to join. Shared need for a hunt.

After a moment of silence, there were others who joined in. Howls after howls cut through the night, till eventually the wolf itself joined the chorus.

Paws dug into the earth as they made their way through the forest. The sounds of their voices echoed through the woods, announcing their presence to anyone who'd dared to enter them tonight. They ran as one. Mindless minds, snarling and howling at first. They snapped and growled at each other, till everyone had learned their place.

Then there was silence, no noise besides the dull sounds of their paws hitting the ground and their breath as they ran.
Like water they parted when their way was blocked by trees, jumping over rocks and thorny bushes till they ran next to each other once more. They moved like a river as they wound their way through the woods in search of prey.

Sudden alertness let them slow down. Like a wave it hit them and one after the other raised their heads. A howl breached the silence. Then the wolf caught it too.
The whiff of something familiar in the air. The scent of something it knew. But the need to stop and protect was overridden by its instincts to follow the others. Because while it was familiar, it also smelled like prey.

Sirius ruffled through his hair; his expression unreadable. He hadn’t talked much since Death's earlier announcement. After staring at Harry for some time and he'd taken a few steps leaned against a tree. At Harry’s questioning look, he'd just said, "They are going to find us anyway. So, we can just as well wait for them to come to us, instead of walking through this goddamn forest."

Harry had shrugged. "Fine with me," he had replied and sat down on the earthy ground, legs crossed and Death next to him.

"What do you even want to do when they find us. Fight them?" Sirius asked.

Harry tilted his head. He didn’t really have a plausible explanation. He could hardly say that he felt Death’s craving for entertainment pulse through his own veins as well. "I guess I’m just curious about what is going to happen," he eventually said. It was as close to the truth as it got.

Sirius stared at him.

"You can always go home if you want to," Harry added. His godfather shook his head.

"And leave you here?" He snorted and turned away.

Since then, Sirius hadn’t spoken a word. Harry watched his godfather, as he stared into the darkness. He didn’t really move besides the occasional twitching when he heard a noise in the distance. The flames in his hand had long disappeared, but there was a newfound tension in his stillness. Like a rubber band that was about to snap.
The ghostly howls that had filled the night like an eerie song had expired not long ago. Sirius twirled his wand between his fingers, eyes never stopping to scan their surroundings. The hoot of an owl breached the silence and his eyes flicked towards the source before turning back.

While Sirius was here to protect Harry and to a large part also because he wanted to see Remus – maybe even for the thrill – Harry had other reasons.

Mainly he was here for his own entertainment, but having these werewolves as allies equalled telling Voldemort and Dumbledore to fuck off at the same time. If the pack was to join Harry, it would be an unknown factor to both the light side and the Dark Lord. It would certainly be interesting to see the outcome of this.

Till now, Dumbledore hadn’t appeared like he had noticed Harry’s change in character.
But who was he kidding? The headmaster knew always more than he let on. But Dumbledore had to depend on his forebodings. Voldemort on the other hand…

Harry had left enough hints for him to know that something was up. If Lucius Malfoy had done what he was supposed to at least.

If one could believe the pieces of information Harry had gathered over the last few weeks, Voldemort was recruiting. Currently, he had Death Eaters talking to the giants and Greyback alongside his pack were roaming the country.

A big pack like the one Remus was currently invading could make a great impact. Nevertheless, talking to them on a full moon was hardly possible. Harry wasn’t stupid. But he was curious.   

Besides Remus when he'd been thirteen, he had never seen a werewolf on a full moon. Even during his time as an Auror, he had only ever dealt with the aftermath of such nights.

After the fateful day of the battle of Hogwarts, werewolves had still been viewed as dangerous and maybe even filth, but their reputation had slightly improved thanks to Remus being awarded the Order of the Merlin. Even if the man himself had - at that point in time - already been dead. Buried in a cold grave, never knowing how his life had impacted the wizarding world.

It had been unheard of – awarding an Order of the Merlin to a werewolf. Outrageous for some. Had not others of its kind slaughtered their children and loved ones? Greyback’s pack ravaging the country under the leadership of a madman till he finally fell on the day of the battle…
After Harry had spoken up, those who had raised their voices grew quiet. After that, the awarding of the Order of the Merlin had only been viewed as an act of kindness to grant an overlooked hero the recognition he deserved.

Harry saw it like it was. A gesture of kindness and tolerance to society, but a shallow one. If Harry hadn’t insisted, it would’ve never happened. 

Oh, how the Ministry had tried to repair the damage done after it had been revealed that the darkness had not simply snuck up to them like a Lethifold to digest them in their sleep, all the while they had been unaware of what was going on...
No, in their ignorance it had invaded their insides and bloomed there not unlike a sea of flowers.

Just like someone's reflection in a broken mirror, the Ministry’s image had lain in shambles. But a simple ‘reparo’ wouldn’t do, to piece the broken shards back together. Harry could’ve demanded anything from them. No one had wanted ‘Voldemort’s vanquisher’ to be on their bad side at that time.

He had only wanted his peace, but that had been an impossible task. The weeks after the battle was a blurry mess of days filled with meetings and press conferences, flashing lights and headlines in the papers. And while he'd been hiding from the cameras - weeks of staying away from society - the Ministry had slowly rebuilt itself. Harry remembered Hermione throwing herself into work to accomplish what she wanted, pushing through new laws while he'd been sitting in Grimmauld place not knowing what to do with his life…

In the end, all of his decisions had brought him here. Back to when he was fifteen.

Harry didn’t even know that his gaze had wandered till his eyes fell upon Death. Him being corporal - or whatever one may call Death’s visible state to other people – didn’t change the strange air that was surrounding him. Harry didn’t doubt that Death could blend in if he wanted to, but right now he seemed like a part of the woods. The being was sitting on the ground next to Harry, looking as if he belonged here. Like an old god - predatory and ancient - the moonlight never touching him, while his pale skin stood in sharp contrast to the dark. The shadows around him almost seemed to move. But he didn’t seem out of place... Here in this moment, Harry and Sirius were the ones invading this forest.
For a moment Harry got a glimpse of his giant wings floating right through the trees, hovering over them like a dome. But then he blinked, and the image was gone. When his eyes found Death’s face, the being was smiling. It was a fond smile and it echoed through their bond. Harry found himself reciprocating the gesture, a pleasant fire warming his chest from within.
The barest hint of feathers brushed over Harry’s back and his eyes fluttered shut for a single moment.  

When he looked at Death once more, he felt the phantom touch of a hand stroke through his hair. Death grinned from afar. A fond smile tugged on Harry’s lips and he tilted his head, goosebumps forming on his skin where the invisible appendages touched him.
No words were spoken, but their bond was whirring with emotion.

Minutes passed and the moonlight was breaking through the clouds. Then Harry noticed it.

At first, it was more of a feeling than a sound. A thrumming in the distance, dull and muffled like a beating heart. Harry felt their souls pulsing with life yet burning with hunger, like a ravenous fire devouring the forest.  

They were like shards of a mirror, each one reflecting a small piece of the darkness that also resided in Harry. But while they were dark creatures - compared to Death - they were bright.

If they were to be stars, the being was the void surrounding them.

Then Sirius’ head rose in a quick motion and he pushed himself from the tree, which he'd been leaning against.

The thrumming was now no longer only one of souls. They could hear paws hitting the ground, twigs snapping beneath them and when Harry stood up, he could see their bodies moving in the distance.

 

The wolves were finally here.

 

But they didn’t attack. They stopped not far away, hidden by the darkness and the trees surrounding them. Harry’s eyes followed their movements curiously. Why had they stopped?

Death stood up gracefully and took a few steps till he stood next to Harry. He sounded like the forest itself – wind and rustling leaves – when he replied to Harry’s unspoken question. "They sense death. They know what is residing here," he said quietly and they both watched the wolves in the shadows. "If I were to desire it, I could make myself imperceptible to them. Their minds are running on instinct. What they don’t sense they won’t fear. In this corporeal form, I’m already suppressing the main part of my natural aura. Otherwise, your godfather would probably not talk so lightly in my presence…" 

Death grinned as he looked at Sirius, who was standing a little farther, his back facing them since his whole attention was directed at the threat out there. His eyes lingered for a moment before he continued. "Right now, they hardly care about me… But you-" Harry felt Death’s breath as the being leaned even closer and spoke right next to his ear - "Your body, your magic… Everything to your very core... Massster, you reek of death." The being almost purred the sentence, while he nuzzled the spot behind Harry’s ear. As soon as his words had faded away, a real rumble made its way from Death’s throat.

Harry turned his head. He was looking into Death’s eyes, their faces so close that he could feel the vibration in Death’s breathing. Harry’s own breath hitched as he looked up to this beautiful creature, and he couldn’t help but lean in for a kiss. Death’s purring intensified and their bond flared up with fondness when Harry was pressed against him.
He felt sharp teeth bite his lip in a possessive way before they eventually pulled apart. The feeling still lingered even after he ran his tongue over his lip. Harry smirked.

Eventually, Death started to talk again.
"They are too cautious to approach us for now," the being said and stared into the woods. "But they hunger. For prey. For blood." He grinned at Harry, their bond still buzzing with happiness. "There is fear, but in the end, their hunger will win."

As if on cue there was a dull growling coming from the trees. Harry stared at the werewolves hiding in the darkness. There was a glint in the shadows there and then. Every time their eyes caught the light.  

They didn’t dare to come closer. Nonetheless, the beasts paced restlessly, their body’s blurring into their surroundings. Moving shadows in the greater dark.

"Why won’t they attack?" Sirius asked in a hushed voice, his eyes never stopping to scan the shadows between the trees. Unlike Death’s inhuman voice, his words cut through the silence like a knife. As soon as they had left his mouth, Sirius knew that this had been a mistake. As if a spell had been broken, Harry sensed the tension spilling over. It only took a second for Harry to notice the beast, that would be the first to give in to its hunger.

It moved hesitantly at first, its pacing turning into a small step towards them. But then it left all hesitation behind. Harry saw its muscles moving when it leapt forward at full speed.
The moonlight revealed a massive wolf; its pale fur almost silver in the light.
There was no doubt who it was heading for.
Sirius slid back a foot to improve his balance.

Harry frowned.

Sirius had made a deal with Death. He wouldn’t die tonight, Harry was sure of it. Death would keep his word... would he?

Somehow Harry doubted that the being would interfere if a werewolf came close enough to bite Sirius. A slight tinge of worry fluttered up in Harry’s chest, but it died down quickly. This wasn’t his fight. He wouldn’t tell Sirius what to do. If his godfather didn’t want to turn into his Animagus form to avoid being bitten, then it was his decision. And after all, Harry was curious. And so, Harry simply watched.


The wolf was snarling, baring its teeth and Sirius mirrored its expression. A threatening grin had appeared on his face and his eyes glinted madly. To Harry, he appeared like a feral animal himself. His magic was as wild as ever. It whirled around him like a hurricane and for once Sirius didn’t restrain it. He shifted his weight.

The wolf leapt forward. Threads of saliva connected its teeth. In the last second Sirius made a wicked movement with his wand. He slashed it through the air like a dagger, the same time he jumped out of the way.
The wolf howled as it fell to the ground. It slid forward with the momentum of its attack, leaving a trail in the dirt before it came to a halt.
Its whimpers turned into snarling and it staggered back to its feet. Dirt and blood stuck to its pale fur. The wolf growled dangerously.
Sirius' eyebrows furrowed as he watched it baring its teeth again. Apparently, he’d expected his spell to make more of an impact. But then his expression was replaced by a feral grin at the challenge. It only widened, when the wolf made a move to charge again.
While the werewolf had been getting back to his feet, there had been a shift between the trees. The others could smell the blood. Harry saw the wolves that had been pacing before grow even more restless. They came closer. Not all of them. There was still hesitation and they were careful. Calculating. For now, they would leave the fight to the reckless wolf. But nonetheless, he could see their thirst for blood.

Sirius on the other hand didn’t seem to notice. He was wound up in his fight with the werewolf, a mad spark in his eyes. He was playing with it, never striking to kill, but Harry wasn’t complaining. He wanted the werewolves as allies, therefore killing them would be rather counterproductive anyways. He could only hope that Sirius wouldn’t be too reckless. Though he had to admit, that even after all this time in Azkaban and holed up in Grimmauld Place, Sirius’ duelling skills were still remarkable. Sometimes he almost failed to keep the werewolf at bay, but this was more likely attributed to Sirius’ decision to draw out the fight and less his lack of skill. Apart from that, it only seemed to increase his excitement. Sirius’ grin never wavered as spell after spell was fired from his wand. Death seemed rather indifferent to the fight after a while. He wandered over to a tree, leaning against it and he watched the scene like a bored emperor might watch his gladiators fight.

The other werewolves grew rather restless, Harry noticed while he scanned his surroundings.

A pulse of interest that wasn’t his own spiked up in his chest.

At the same time, there was a string of curses coming from Sirius.
Harry turned, only to see how Sirius barely avoided getting bitten by the werewolf. He stumbled back to his feet and made a messy movement with his wand. Whatever Sirius had wanted to do was thwarted by the wolf, who already started another attempt of attack. Sirius dove out of the way. With gritted teeth, he fired another spell and the wolf was pushed back. Only now Sirius had room to breathe once more.

Flashes of light illuminated the darkness. They painted the night in vivid colours as Sirius fought the werewolf. The fight went on and when the wolf once again almost got Sirius, Harry snapped.

"Merlin’s balls Sirius! If you won’t change into your Animagus form at least quit playing!" Harry ranted when his godfather didn’t make an attempt to stop the beast. "Death might keep you from dying but keeping you from getting injured or turned isn’t his job!"

Sirius seemed surprised. His grin vanished and with a blank face, he pointed his wand at the ground. Roots on in front of the - once more - attacking wolf started to hiss and move like snakes, strangling the werewolf and keeping it at bay. For now at least. He turned to look at Death, his anger now directed at the creature.

Death just raised an eyebrow. It was more of a feeling than really seeing it, but Harry was sure that the many eyes of his true form were piercing Sirius. His godfather still glared at Death, unaware of the predatory attention he was receiving. Harry decided to ignore their antics. His gaze was focused on the shadows moving between the trees. Groups of wolves came closer. They were now on every side, surrounding them in a generous circle. The sign of weakness Sirius had been showing had encouraged them. Their eyes glinted in the dark. Harry didn’t doubt that Death could keep them at bay easily, but for now...
"Try not to kill them," Harry said and looked at his godfather, "Or there won’t be any werewolves left to be allies." Sirius looked him in the eyes and nodded. After a moment of consideration, Harry added, "And for god sake Sirius. If you don’t want to be turned, transform into a dog!"
Behind them, they could still hear the werewolf fighting against the snakelike roots. Next to him, Sirius grinned.

The beasts, which Harry had deemed the most restless charged simultaneously. Harry could feel Death’s gaze in his neck as the being watched.

Now his curiosity was aroused, but the creature wouldn’t interfere. Not yet at least.

The trees were an advantage, insofar that not many werewolves could attack at once. They needed to weave their way past them, but so did Harry and Sirius.

Hyper-aware of Death’s attention, Harry called upon his magic. He glanced at the being for the last time before turning around. Death only smirked. Harry inhaled, then he let himself melt into the shadows.

He reappeared between Sirius and two approaching werewolves. The beasts only increased their pace when they spotted him. His magic was flowing freely beneath his skin. Shadows thick like water slithered between his fingers. Harry tilted his head and focused on his magic. The elder wand in his hand nothing more than a stick. Like fog, he directed it over the ground. Light and luring he let it slither over the werewolves like a cloak.
They hadn’t even noticed what was happening. They ran towards Harry, red tongues hanging out of their mouths, a wild glint in their eyes. They howled in victory. Harry could feel their darkness and he returned their look, shadows in his eyes. They were beautiful in their hunt. Predatory beasts and yet they were outmatched. Harry grinned.
He followed them with his magic. Only when the wolves had almost reached him, Harry gave up all subtly. He tightened the invisible nooses around their necks and chests till he could hear the joints of their rib-cages crack. They came to a halt, stumbling and falling, gasping for breath. They snarled and growled as they snapped and clawed at the invisible death traps.
Harry released them when he felt their minds slip. Unconscious but alive.
Soon his attention was demanded by other werewolves approaching from the shadows. Now Harry also turned to use spells. Even if he didn’t speak the incantations aloud it was easier than directing his magic in the way he had before.

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry spotted Sirius, who was fighting three werewolves simultaneously.

"How is it going?" Harry shouted over the noise of exploding wood – Sirius’ had just used a blasting hex and missed – and the growling of the werewolves.

"Honestly? I don’t think I had this much fun in weeks," Sirius replied, and he grinned madly. But after a moment his expression wavered. "I’m more worried about you than about me," Sirius added when a wall of purple flames erupted from his wand.

Harry couldn’t help but laugh. "I can’t die, remember?" he added with a chuckle and he sent a silent ‘stupor’ towards a werewolf who was about to jump. But it didn't stop him. The red streak struck the beast but it shook it off without much fuss. Harry barely was able to jump out of the way.

They were trying to separate them, stirring them in different directions.

With a thought, Harry melted into the shadows and reappeared next to his godfather. Sweat was pearling on his face. There was a spark in Sirius' eyes when he heard the werewolves howl. He was grinning as he fired another spell.
Harry smirked when he realized that Sirius was just as crazy as any Black.
It was in his blood. While Bellatrix might top anyone else, the same insanity also lived in Sirius. He was just better at masking it. Maybe being surrounded by other people one might consider sane also added to that factor. Their temper was after all quite similar.

"Yeah, I would rather not rely on that-" Sirius interrupted his thoughts as he referred to Harry’s supposedly immortality.

He ended his sentence rather abruptly to evade another attacking werewolf. Sirius disapparated with a crack and reappeared behind a tree.

Harry shook his head in amusement.

Hell, Sirius was just as loyal as Bellatrix. She was fixated on Voldemort and Sirius… Well, he had his friends. Besides, the Order wouldn’t be very happy to see Sirius going around and torturing people, unlike a certain snake-faced wizard. But Sirius’ friends weren’t really there to ground him anymore, were they? One of them was dead, the other one a Death Eater and Hell, if Remus wasn’t at least somewhat crazy too, Harry would write a love letter to Umbridge.


It didn’t help that both Black’s had been locked up in Azkaban for years. Or still were in Bellatrix’ case. Somehow Harry couldn't help but look forward to meeting her once more. He wouldn’t be surprised if her magic was just as wild as Sirius’.

But while Sirius focused on another threat and Harry was lost in thought, a cold tingle went up his spine. Harry whirled around. The werewolf was already too close.

Harry’s mind was blank. He reacted on instinct. His arms snapped up to shield his head, while the beast already charged. At the same time, his magic lashed out.

 

Crunch

 

The sound of a body hitting the ground. Harry exhaled shakily as he slowly lowered his hands. He heard the wolf’s shallow breathing.

In.

Out.

All he could do was stare; surprise etched into his features.

A wet gurgle. Blood trickling from its mouth.

Adrenaline pumped through Harry’s body.

Blood was staining the fur around the beast's muzzle. The ground was dark where it was slowly spreading, too thick to be absorbed by the earth. The werewolf was dead. Every bone inside its body seemed broken. Harry could hear his own blood rush through his veins.
A movement in his peripheral vision. He flinched. All sounds returned, and with it the realization of where he was.

He whirled around.

"Death..."

The being stood in front of Harry.

It had only been a second. The barest moment of hesitation and yet the werewolf had almost ripped him into pieces. Anger at his own reaction, or rather lack thereof threatened to rise in Harry's throat like bile. But he swallowed it down.

"Harry..." There was no judgement in Death’s voice. Harry breathed in deeply. Death’s dark presence grounded him immensely. The invading wave of emotions was gone as soon as it had come.

"I really thought this would be more fun," Harry stated after two shaky breaths.

"Oh, I am entertained," Death said grinning and he tilted his head. A flutter of something made a place in Harry’s stomach and he grinned back. He had the faint impression that Death had really liked to watch him. Liked to see him kill.

"This whole fighting thing might not be the smartest idea," Sirius said, panting heavily as he dove behind a tree.

"-and that’s coming from you," Harry added and Sirius snorted while he fired another blasting hex. The wolves were wary of them now. They circled them at a greater distance, only charging when they detected an opening. Right now, they had time to breathe.

"I’m not the one who wants to run around in a forest full of werewolves on a full moon. And me thinking that I should try to act like the one with the impulse control, is saying something about you," Sirius yelled with a pointed look at Harry.

"Okay fine. Point taken," Harry replied. "But pretending that you are only here for my sake is an outright lie," he shot back.  Sirius stared into the darkness. He didn't reply to Harry's statement, but instead, a question of his own spilt over his lips.

"Moony…?" 

Chapter Text

Harry followed his godfather’s line of sight. He was right. There between the trees stood a wolf, cautiously watching them. Yellow eyes glinted in the dark like coals. Its soul was burning with hunger. But there was something different about its behaviour.

Harry wondered why he hadn’t noticed him earlier.

The werewolf had been keeping his distance, but now that he’d been detected, he slowly moved towards them.

Remus aura was unmistakable.

Yet there was a new edge to it. The wilderness that was usually so contained within his core had taken over.

Unlike Sirius, Harry would’ve had trouble identifying Moony only by his looks. It had been ages since he’d seen Remus’ werewolf form.

But even though his godfather was barely able to make out the wolfs silhouette in the darkness, he had recognized him.

It was interesting to see Remus like that. His magic wasn’t swirling around him, nor did it interact with his surrounding like it usually did when he was human. Harry could still sense it, but it was focused more inward. Confined. Like the blood pulsing in his veins, it ran through his body, moving slowly, almost as if it was asleep. Though it made sense. After all, werewolves didn’t need their magic to kill.

Then Remus left the shadows.

He was big.

As a human Lupin was already tall. Even here he was one of the bigger wolves, although he appeared to be leaner than most of the others. Nonetheless, Harry could see his muscles rippling under his brownish fur. Moony was creeping forward with smooth but hesitating steps. His amber eyes were fixated on Sirius. There was wariness visible in his every movement.

If Harry didn’t know it better, he would say that the werewolf might even be confused. But that didn’t make him seem less dangerous.

Sirius stood like he was frozen. Clouds of steam formed with every exhale as he stared at the wolf. Six feet of cold air was the only thing separating them.

A low growl erupted from Moony's throat.

Sirius swallowed. He had fought against the other werewolves without holding back, but Harry somehow doubted that he would do the same to Remus.

Harry leaned forward without conscious thought. His breath hitched with anticipation. Moony still hadn’t attacked, but his stance was clearly that of a predator.

"Sirius, I think it would be better if you changed into a dog," Harry said quietly, his eyes not leaving the werewolf. Nothing indicated what was going to happen. He felt Death’s dark presence behind him, his own curiosity mirrored in their bond. Other wolves that had already retreated a bit earlier, now moved closer once more. Harry didn’t dare to blink.

The sound of a snapping twig broke the silence.

Moony’s ears twitched and for a second his eyes strayed from Sirius. Another werewolf emerged from the shadows behind him. It came closer, angry lines interrupting the pattern of the grey fur covering its muzzle.

While Moony was still distracted, Sirius tried to put some distance between them. Remus attention snapped back to the Animagus before he could even finish his second step.

A snarl ripped through Moony’s teeth. Sirius stilled. The other werewolf tensed, and its muscles bulged beneath its fur.

It all happened in the blur of a moment. The foreign werewolf jumped. Moony charged. And where Sirius had been standing was now a black dog.

There was snarling and biting. Teeth digging into flesh. A red smear staining the leaves on the ground. The grey wolf whimpered.

Harry stared at the scene. His mouth stood open in surprise. Next to him, Death was grinning.

The grey werewolf had jumped for Sirius. Moony followed barely a second later. But he wasn’t going for Sirius. Instead, he went after the other beast, jumping at its throat and he dragged the wolf to the ground before it could reach the Animagus. Moony growled at the grey werewolf. His opponent was baring its throat, the fur there sticky and wet with blood.

Sirius seemed just as stunned as Harry - if one could tell that much from a dog.

Moony had placed himself between Sirius and his opponent. Eventually, the other beast retreated but Remus kept his stance, still baring his teeth. He bristled when his eyes found Harry.

Lupin growled, his lips pulled back to reveal even more of his bloody canines. Harry stared at the werewolf, Death standing right behind him.
Their eyes met.
Moony turned away.

Now that Sirius had changed into his dog-form, Moony seemed more at ease in his company but he was still cautious. He stalked towards Sirius, eyeing his surroundings warily.

Harry grinned when he saw that the Animagus had started to wag his tail and his ears perked up.

The black dog took a step towards Remus who promptly growled.

Padfoot whined pitifully. After a moment he tried once more to cross the distance between him and Moony. This time the werewolf didn’t protest.

Sirius approached the wolf with careful steps, his body lowered to the ground and still wagging his tail. Eventually, Moony scented the marauder and the tension in his posture bled away. Padfoot licked over Remus' muzzle. Harry could barely hold back his laughter when both started to yip excitedly.

A movement behind the trees reminded Harry that there was still something to be dealt with. He looked at Death.

No words needed to be spoken. Harry sighed when he felt Death’s presence wash over him. Sweet and sharp it permeated the air, like the scent of a rotting carcass upon the snow.

Harry thrived in it, yet he was by far not the only one who sensed the danger of this other predator.

There was a growling coming from the woods. The wolves were afraid.

The shadows around them seemed to waver and grow the further Death’s influence went. It was nowhere near the feeling which Harry had experienced as he'd witnessed Death in his true form, yet he shivered at the pure presence. Their bond sang with their shared magic and Harry revelled in the sensation of its darkness, which was spreading with every second.

The werewolves didn’t feel that way. What had been growls and snarls became whimpers. Their souls flickered and the burning hunger reflected in them made room for something else. Something that wasn’t less carnal, but almost unknown to these creatures.

Fear.

It made them dangerous.

Harry could see it in their glinting eyes, in their nervous shifting and postures. But in the end, they didn’t lash out.

Their silhouettes blurred into the shadows as they retreated. Slowly one after the other turned around. The light of their souls grew smaller with every step that brought them further away. To places where they would once more be the beasts to silence the creatures of the woods. They would hunt in other corners of the forest, for their hunger was not yet stilled and their thirst for blood followed them like a shadow.

Harry’s eyes wandered till they rested on Sirius and Remus once more. Moony seemed tense and even Sirius’ posture was stiff, although Harry was sure that Death had spared them from his powerful aura.

Then the darkness surrounding them snapped back like a rubber band and the night was once again calm and light. The moonlight - Harry hadn’t even realized that it had been gone - returned with the retreating of the shadows.

Harry’s attention was caught by Death. The being watched Sirius and Remus and then he turned his head. He motioned Harry to follow him.

Not one sound was made as the being started to walk towards the shadows. He stopped and leaned against a tree, waiting. Harry looked at Moony and Padfoot and with a whistle, he caught the attention of his godfather. Sirius’ ears perked up and he raised his head. Harry nodded towards Death, who disappeared between the trees. Without checking what Sirius would do, Harry followed the being.

It didn’t take long for him to catch up and soon he was walking next to him.

"Where are we going?" Harry asked while he stepped over a rotting tree trunk.

"I figured you might want to talk to the werewolves when they have returned to a somewhat more lucid mindset. What better spot to wait for them, than the place where they will have to return to collect their belongings?" Death said with a smirk.

Harry didn’t object. As they continued onwards, a werewolf and a black dog didn’t stay too far behind.

 

Leaves rustled beneath their feet as they walked through the forest. More and more light fell through the branches overhead and eventually, the trees gave way to open space. Harry realized that this had to be the place where the werewolves had waited for their transformation.

Death stayed at the edge of the moonlit clearing, while Harry started to examine the improvised camp.

Piles of clothes were laying on the ground, some folded in careful consideration of the state they were in, others bunched together next to ratty blankets and worn bags. Empty bottles littered the ground surrounding the cold fire-pits. A broken log had been pulled towards one of the burnt spots, probably to be used as a bench. Fresh carvings stood bright against the rotting wood. A hint of amusement caused Harry’s mouth to twitch when he noticed a tic-tac-toe game etched into the wood right next to the initial "G". But his eyes didn’t linger much longer, instead he proceeded to look at the remains of a campfire. A few coals were still giving off heat and the barest hint of smoke invaded the air. Small bones protruded from the ashes, most likely leftovers of a sparse meal.

With a flick of his wand, branches and twigs rose from the ground and floated towards Harry. They stacked themselves till they somewhat resembled a shape he was satisfied with. Another movement and a fire was burning.

Death appeared next to Harry while he kicked a few stones and pine needles out of the way to be able to sit down more or less comfortably, next to the crackling flames. The creature followed suit ever so gracefully and dropped to the ground in a fluid motion.

They both looked at the edge of the clearing when a noise betrayed their followers. Soon enough, Padfoot and Moony appeared between the trees.

When the werewolf spotted them, he seemed reluctant to go any further. Even Padfoots playful nipping couldn’t stop Moony from growling. But eventually, Sirius’ efforts paid off and the werewolf turned away. Apparently, Harry and Death had proved that they were no immediate threat.

After a while, Moony and Padfoot started to play. They chased each other into the forest, only their silhouettes visible as they darted past the trees.

Harry felt the heat of the fire on his face when suddenly gentle hands found their way onto his scalp. He leaned into Death’s touch; his fingers started to comb through his hair.

The time passed slowly. Moony and Padfoot had disappeared into the woods an hour ago, their shapes no longer visible behind the treeline. The fire next to Harry was still burning, although the flames were getting smaller.

An owl was hooting in the distance. Harry stared at the sky. Stars vanished and reappeared behind the moving clouds and he watched them shift in their positions with every passing minute.

A noise caused Harry to turn his head. Halfway between the trees and the fire, he spotted Moony and Sirius, who had apparently returned. They laid down next to each other, the werewolf’s snout firmly resting upon Padfoots neck.

Eventually, Harry’s head also found its way onto Death’s lap whose hands were still carding through his hair.

They stayed that way for a long time.

The flames next to them slowly burned down, until the night was almost over. Only a few stars were still visible when the first colours bled into the darkness above the horizon. The moon had vanished behind the top of the trees and birds were singing in the distance.

A whimper coming from Moony caused Harry to sit up. Sirius had also raised his head and he jumped up. Restlessly he moved in front of the werewolf who was still whimpering.

There was a crack, followed by another one and Harry saw how the bones beneath Remus' skin shifted.

It was alien to watch the beast become human. Fur retreated, bones cracked and shifted, while Moony was squirming and whimpering. His magic was swirling wildly, warping and changing, the wilderness retreating till a familiar aura had replaced it. The whimpers finally stopped and on the ground was a person, naked, curled in on himself and breathing heavily. Remus was back.

Sirius quickly changed into his human form; his transition much smoother than Lupins. He crouched down in front of Remus, who pushed himself from the ground and sat up. Harry could see how his arms trembled. Remus blinked, disorientated. He flinched when Sirius reached out to cup his face with his hands, but then the touch pulled him back into reality.

"What-" Remus asked, his voice hoarse.

"Moony, it’s me," Sirius said with a gentle voice.

"Sirius?” Remus blinked again and then realization hit him. "Sirius, what the hell are you doing here?!" He stared at him with unbelieving eyes. "What were you thinking- coming here?! Out of all places you came here?!" Remus hissed; his voice hoarse from the strain. He pulled out of Sirius’ grasp and turned his head, scanning his surroundings for threats, when his eyes reached Harry and Death.

Harry grinned at him. Remus’ eyes flicked from Harry to Death and back again.

"What the-" Remus started, confusion visible on his face.

"I think I might owe you an explanation," Harry said. Remus just stared at them, while Sirius picked up a blanket from one of the piles on the ground. He walked back to Remus and let it slide over his shoulders. The motion seemed to ground Lupin somewhat and a determined look found its way onto his face.

"Yes. Yes, I think you do," Remus said and with these words, he stood up and quickly examined the clearing. "But not here," he added as he walked over to a pile of clothes laying on the ground. He dressed quickly, not caring about his nudity. It was a too familiar motion for him to worry much about it.

When neither Harry nor Sirius made a move to stand up Remus stared at them. "I am not the only reason that you are here, am I right?" he asked grimly, "You want to talk to the werewolves,"

Harry nodded. The lines in Remus' face hardened. He walked over to the scarcely burning fire without addressing them. Sirius frowned as he watched Remus crouch down next to the pit while he patted down the inside of his coat. Moony’s hand pulled back to reveal his wand. He summoned more wood, not unlike Harry had done earlier and stacked it over the burning coals. A little bit of magic to help the heat to spread, then his wand disappeared once more in the pocket of his coat. With a sigh, Lupin sat down next to the fire.

Hesitantly Sirius dropped down next to Remus, probably afraid that he would get shouted at again. But Harry saw Lupin leaning against Sirius' shoulder - for comfort or support - he didn’t know. They stayed silent for a second and Harry used the opportunity to look at Remus.

The werewolf shivered in the cold air, despite being so close to the dancing flames. Remus was thinner than the last time Harry had seen him. His eyes were underlined by dark circles and a layer of dirt seemed to coat him everywhere. Not to mention the remnants of a fight that were clearly visible in his face. Lupin’s lip was split, and a colourful bruise painted his cheek all the way down to his jaw beneath the scruff that had grown there over the last weeks. Overall, he seemed exhausted, but his gaze was sharp and focused. The scars on his face were more prominent than ever.

Harry’s eyes wandered to Death when he felt a hand sliding over his lower back. Then Remus’ voice breached the silence.

"What happened? Why are you here?" the werewolf asked silently, but his words carried weight and urgency with them that had even Sirius sitting up straight. "And who is that?" Remus added after a moment.

"You don't have to worry. Nothing happened to the Order if that is what you are thinking. No one even knows we are here," Sirius said, but apparently, it was the wrong thing to say because Lupin stared at him with burning eyes.

"No one knows you are here, and you tell me I don't have to worry?!" Remus hissed. "A pack of werewolves is about to show up here every moment. I don't know if you got the memo, but not even a week ago they killed someone for bragging too much about his wand. You better give me a good reason for being here or you go home on an instant!"

Harry watched the exchange calmly. "I’m guessing Sirius already told you that I am in possession of the three deadly hallows," he invoked, and Lupin turned his head. The werewolf nodded.

"He told me, though I still find it quite unbelievable," the former professor replied and licked over his chapped lips. His eyes snapped to a place over his shoulder and he scanned the tree line before they focused back on Harry.

"Well, what he said is true," Harry added and then looked at Death. "This is Death.” The creature grinned and stared at Remus while Harry turned back to face the werewolf. "He might look human right now, but I wouldn’t ask about his true form. Sirius only got a tiny glimpse of it once and I doubt he would recommend it to anyone.”

His godfather paled at the words. Remus took it all in with a stoic expression. He stared at Death, but his face revealed nothing. Harry couldn’t tell what was going through his mind, but Death leaned forward.

"He doesn’t believe you, Master…" the creature said in his inhuman voice, and a sharp smile revealed his teeth. Remus stayed silent. His eyes were fixated on Death. Sirius watched the situation with a concerned look on his face. Even though Death’s look had already rested on Remus, now all his attention was equally focused on him. The impression of countless eyes staring at the werewolf flared up in Harry’s mind. It was gone as soon it had come.

"But we already met," Death’s grin grew. Harry followed the exchange curiously. "Don’t you remember?" the being asked and tilted his head. The werewolf paled. Sirius seemed confused, but Harry had a hunch of what Death was driving at. The sinister meaning of Death’s words tore through assumptions that had been formed way back in Harry’s past and which had never been questioned before. Not until now.

"You welcomed me with open arms, but the beast in you didn’t want to let go. It fought for the things it had to live for."

Panic was visible in Remus' eyes now. A frown had appeared on Sirius' face and he looked at his lover, fear slowly replacing the confusion resting there. But Death hadn’t finished yet.

"I didn’t take you, for your time hadn’t yet come. Your soul wasn’t ready to go on." Death’s stare was unwavering. The being straightened his posture and the grin had vanished. He just watched, and Harry could sense his curiosity in the bond. 

Realization had now fully dawned on Sirius and like a storm, it wiped away the confusion clouding his mind. He looked at Remus with shock in his eyes.

"Moony…" he whispered, his magic pulsing in distress at the revelation.

The scars in Lupins face stood prominently against the whiteness of his face. "I…" he swallowed hard. "I just couldn’t… I just- " A shaky breath made its way into Remus' lungs. "They were dead. They were dead and you were in Azkaban. What was I supposed to do?”

Everything was quiet.

Remus stared into nothingness. He seemed so lost in this moment. His mind was elsewhere, wandering through a maze of shadows and repressed memories. While Sirius had endured the Dementors, Remus had had other demons creeping through his mind. Ironically the beast he’d resented for years had been the one to keep him from dying.

"Remus…" Sirius’ voice sounded broken. With gentle hands, he motioned Lupin to look at him.

The werewolf rested his forehead against Sirius’ and his hand gripped the Animagus’ shirt tightly. If Harry would’ve still cared about ethics, he would’ve probably looked away at the intimacy this moment brought.

Remus breathed in deeply and then pulled back.

"This is in the past." Moony’s eyes were still locked with Sirius’. A silent exchange seemed to be happening because the werewolf spoke once more. "It hasn’t happened since then and it won’t... I promise."

Sirius’ magic settled a little at the statement, but his anxiety was still very visible to Harry.

"As to why we are here," Harry eventually continued to break the heavy silence, "I want to have this pack on my side. Or to clarify, I want to keep them from joining Voldemort as well as Dumbledore." Harry said.

"You want a pack of werewolves as allies? This pack nonetheless?" Remus said, and he shook his head. "They will rip you into pieces. You have nothing you can offer them.”

"I’m more worried if they are willing to listen. During the night we killed one of theirs."

"You were here during the whole night?" Remus asked, concern once more taking over his face.

"Nothing happened," Sirius’ quickly interfered. At Remus look, he quickly continued. "Okay, nothing too severe happened. We are all still alive-"

"You brought Harry with you-" Remus started but Harry interrupted him.

"It was actually me who brought Sirius’ along," he replied, and Remus turned to face him. He looked like he was about to say something but then his eyes found Death and he stayed silent.

"Why are you here? What do you want to achieve by gaining this pack as allies?" Remus eventually asked. "Where are you going with this?"

The question was expected and yet Harry found himself unprepared. He hesitated. Harry doubted that Remus would accept, 'for fun' or 'to spite Dumbledore' as an answer, thus he went with a statement that wasn't an outright lie. "I think the Wizarding world needs a change. There are too many things going wrong. Look at the ministry! It’s a pile of incompetent biased wizards, who don’t give a fuck about what is going on!" Harry said and it wasn't hard to conjure some bitterness in his voice. At Remus shocked look he laughed a joyless laugh. Sirius stayed silent.

"Look at how they treat you. Look around!" Harry pointed at the piles of clothes scattered all over the clearing. "This is how they treat werewolves. This is how they chose to live because of all the hate going on. The ministry rather swipes their problems under the carpet than dealing with them! You can’t deny that."

Remus' face was set in stone, yet Harry could see the bitterness in his eyes. Harry knew that he needed to choose his words carefully. Unlike Sirius, Remus still trusted Dumbledore. Despite all the wrongdoings from Dumbledore’s side, there was still deep-set gratitude residing within Remus and an obligation to stay with the headmaster.

Harry licked over his lips before he continued. "I don’t want to lie to you. And I won't. But let me say this; I won’t let myself be used. Neither by Voldemort nor Dumbledore. I’m making my own decisions, and in this case, that involves talking to this pack," Harry said.

"Harry," Lupin started and he spoke slowly, his voice taking on a soothing tone that was betrayed by his swirling magic, "It's okay to feel that way. But this? Talking to this pack? This is a bad idea. There has to be another solution. We should go. I'd rather inform Dumbledore that my mission has failed than knowing you will stay here."

"No," Harry said calmly. "My decision stands. You can stay here, or you can go."

Nothing could be heard but their breathing and the sound of birds. The sky was slowly turning pink and the remaining stars got paler in the light of the morning.

"Sirius, you can't agree with that," Remus said when the shock had worn off. "He is fifteen!"

The snapping of a twig caused everyone to turn their heads. A woman had appeared on the edge of the treeline. Her hair was long and matted. Scars littered her wiry body. She stood like a deer caught in headlights when she spotted them. Her eyes widened, a feral aura surrounding her. After a second, she snatched a bag from the ground and disappeared into the forest.

Lupin breached the silence, with an urgent look on his face. "You said you killed a werewolf tonight. If they return, there is no guarantee on what they will do."

A movement next to him caused Harry to look up. Like so often Death had directed Harry’s attention without speaking a word.

A flock of crows fluttered up, startled by something moving in the woods beneath them.

"I don’t think it is going to take long for others to show up," Harry said, ignoring Remus' attempts to change his mind and he pointed at the birds rising from the treetops. Lupin seemed defeated. Harry shared a look with Death and obliging to his unspoken suggestion, the being bled from human sight and switched to the strange state of being there and yet not, like a shadow moving in the corner of your eye.

Once more only visible to Harry, Death’s presence stretched and expanded, turning into a more familiar form even though to Harry his appearance hadn’t really changed. Nonetheless, he could feel the unseen restraints Death had put upon himself in his corporal form fall off. A deep rumble rose from the being’s throat. Harry smiled. The sound only intensified when he reached out and put his hand on Death’s chest where he could feel the vibrations. Their eyes locked and Harry found himself captured by the intense gaze. Death raised a hand and pushed his fingers through Harry’s unruly hair. Harry’s chest lit up with fondness.  

When he turned back to the others, he was met with strange looks from both Sirius and Remus. Lupin was scanning the area with a frown, whereas Sirius wasn’t fazed by Death’s sudden 'disappearance'. He was more likely wondering about Harry’s interaction with the - to him - invisible being.

Harry just returned his stare with a raised eyebrow.

It didn’t take long before dark silhouettes had separated themselves from shadows, till they resembled the shapes of people walking towards them.

There was cursing and gruff laughter, but it all stopped abruptly when the werewolves noticed Harry and Sirius next to Remus. The silence weighed like a heavy blanket until a tall man with filthy brown hair falling down to his shoulders started to cross the distance between them with determined steps. The others followed him shortly after and as they came closer Harry noticed that they were covered in bruises and scratches. One of them was limping and clutched an injured shoulder with shivering hands. Two others had dried blood smeared all over their faces and chest. And while the guy with the filthy hair was still walking towards them, others appeared between the trees and entered the clearing.

Remus stood up, a grim look on his face. Sirius and Harry followed suit.

Most of the people went to various piles of clothing on the ground and started to dress, but the guy approaching them didn’t seem to care.

"What the hell, Fletcher?! Who the fuck are these guys?" It dawned on Harry that Fletcher was probably the name, Remus had used to introduce himself to the pack. The werewolf was now standing right in front of Lupin and he seemed furious. "Either you talk now, or we’ve got a problem."
His teeth were bared. Harry noticed that his upper left front tooth was chipped. Death just grinned.

"Calm down, Hastings," Remus said, subtly shielding Sirius and Harry by shifting his weight and taking a small step to his left.

"Calm down?!"
The guy took a step towards Remus and stared over his shoulder. He was so close that Lupin could probably feel his breath on his skin. Sirius’ hand twitched next to the wand in his pocket. Hastings’ nostrils flared. He inhaled deeply, then his eyes locked onto Sirius and Harry. "What are they? People from the Ministry, Death Eaters?" he hissed between clenched teeth. The werewolves, who had just finished putting on their clothes came closer.

Meanwhile, a threatening grin appeared on Hastings' face. "Know what? It doesn’t matter. I’m gonna carve into their faces either way."

A low growl erupted from Remus’ throat.

Suddenly another man appeared next to Hastings. His expression was grave and he looked Sirius and Harry up and down before he addressed the man in front of Remus. "Lincoln, get dressed," he ordered quietly.

Hastings retreated, but not before he glared at Lupin another time. The man who was now standing in front of them seemed to be in his thirties. The hair on both sides of his head as well as all the back of his skull was cut short, while the rest of it was worn as dreadlocks, kept together by a single strand around them.

"Do you know these people?" the guy asked Remus and nodded towards Harry and his godfather.

"Yes," Lupin replied. The other man stared at Sirius for a moment. He seemed deep in thought. Then he looked at Remus once more.

"Five minutes. Then we are going to talk," he said and stomped away.

 

Lupin let out an audible exhale. A few people around them began to whisper. Most of them had put on the last items of clothes by now and a circle was slowly forming around them.

"That was Conall," Remus said quietly and he looked after the werewolf with the dreadlocks, who grabbed his clothes and a bottle, which still had some kind of clear liquor in it. "He is the one you want to talk to. He is the closest thing to a leader they have. Try not to piss him off. If he wants us dead, there is nothing holding them back."

And while this werewolf was putting on his clothes, Harry looked around.

 

A guy with a mohawk caught his eye, but soon he noticed an older werewolf lingering in the distance. The man was glaring at Remus but was soon distracted by a frantic looking man with a big scar on the place where his neck and shoulder met.

Hastings hadn’t gone too far away. He was rummaging through a bag on the ground, till he found out a lighter and gave it to a man next to him. The other werewolf lit a cigarette with it, the small flame illuminating his dark skin. He gave the lighter back and while doing so he noticed a scared looking guy staring at him. "Whatcha looking at, pretty boy?" he snapped. The other werewolf flinched and quickly averted his gaze. "Yeah, that’s what I thought..." the man muttered and took a drag of his smoke.

Just on the other side of the fire, a lanky looking guy was trying to wipe dried blood from his face.

"Hey Nash, what did you get between your teeth last night?" an equally young man asked with a crooked grin.

"Fuck off, Phineas!"

"Spencer, what do you think?"

"Probably a deer," a werewolf who was tying up his shoes commented dismissively. When he looked up, Harry saw the scars running through his face.

"Doesn’t taste like human, that’s for sure," interfered another man standing further away. He was cleaning the space between his teeth with a sharp knife.

"Nobody asked you for your opinion, Gunner," the werewolf named Nash snapped. He was now frantically trying to clean off the blood. The man with the knife giggled.

A whistle caught Harry’s attention. Conall - now fully dressed - was sitting on the log next to the fire, the bottle of liquor still in his head. The first real sunbeams reached over the trees and they painted the foggy clearing in bright light.

Remus motioned Harry and Sirius to follow him. They took a few steps till they stood in front of the werewolf.

Conall looked at them for a moment, then he gestured at Sirius with his bottle. "You are Black, aren’t you?" It wasn’t really a question. The people around them started to whisper. Harry caught snippets of a heated discussion on his left. Sirius opened his mouth, but Conall had already turned to face Remus. "And your name isn’t Fletcher either, is it?" he asked. Lupin said nothing. Conall took a swig of the bottle and wiped his mouth. "We all know where this is going," he said, "So let’s be honest-"

A growl caused everyone's head to snap around. The man with the scar on his neck broke through the crowd and stormed forward. Conall jumped up. Sirius moved so fast; it was almost a blur. A slash of his wand, the werewolf stumbled. Bloodstained his chest. Sirius stood with an iron gaze; his wand pointed at the attacker.

The crowd roared. Their eyes flashed with anger. The werewolf - despite his injuries - tried to charge once more. "You KILLED him!" he growled as he lunged forward.

The blond werewolf, who had been talking to him earlier had made his way to the front.

"Stop it!" Conall's angry voice cut through the noise, just as the man gripped the other werewolf by his shoulder to hold him back.

The man with the scar trembled with fury, but the rest of the pack was stunned to silence. "Do you have any - ANY idea what you have just DONE?!" Conall yelled.

"I don’t care-"

"SHUT UP!"

Conall was furious. "Let me rephrase it for you," the alpha said and pointed at Sirius. The liquor in his bottle sloshed dangerously close to the edge.

"Black is a known follower of you-know-who. And he-" another violent gesture towards Remus - "openly admitted to being bitten by Greyback. And you have nothing BETTER IN MIND AS TO ATTACK THEM?!" Conall shouted.

Fear flashed in the werewolf’s eyes. He was trembling from the adrenaline. But the fear was soon replaced by anger. "THEY KILLED MY BROTHER-"

"I DON’T CARE IF HE IS DEAD OR NOT!" Conall’s eyes burned with anger. "You," he gestured at the guy holding him back, "Get him out of here!"

The werewolf with the scar on his neck meanwhile snarled. "Pull your shit together," the blond werewolf hissed at him.

"Wilson is dead. I’m gonna kill them!" the other guy shouted, and he tried to break free.

"NOW!" Conall demanded.

The danger in his voice hit everyone like a whiplash. The blond werewolf seemed to notice it too and he pulled the other man away. The crowd parted silently to let them through. Dragged along by his companion, the man with the scar left, but his eyes burned with hate.

Nobody said a word till the two had disappeared between the trees. Conall was pacing in front of the fire.

"Conall-" someone started from the sidelines.

"Shut up!" He threw his bottle to the ground. It exploded next to the fire, droplets of liquor vaporizing in the heat of the flames. Shards of glass were everywhere. Conall stood like a statue before he sat down on the log. He stared at the shattered bottle for a moment.

"Let’s cut the bullshit," he said quietly. When he looked up, he seemed like a man who had accepted a doomed fate that couldn’t be avoided. "Are you here to recruit us, or not?" he asked.

Harry had been watching the whole thing play out from the sidelines, but now he took a step forward. He pushed past Remus who made no move to hold him back but was clenching his teeth so hard it almost looked like it had to hurt. "They aren’t," Harry said. Surprise was etched into the alpha's features. "I on the other hand-"

"And who are you, if I may ask?" Conall interrupted him.

"My name is Harry Potter."

The mood changed instantly.

"Harry Potter..." Conall repeated. He raised his eyebrow A few whispers could be heard. "Well if that isn’t curious..."
The werewolf looked at Remus and Sirius intently. "I take it, you are not sent here by you-know-who then, huh?"

There was a new edge to his voice and the danger was audible, but there was also curiosity.

"Let’s get to the point," Harry said and Conall's attention snapped back to him. "I want you as my allies," Harry stated.

Conall snorted. A mocking smile appeared on his face. "Just to be clear," Conall said with a sneer. "You want to recruit us?" Gruff laugher echoed through the clearing. "To do what. Tie your shoes?" the werewolf continued. The laugher increased. Conall smirked till the crowd had quieted down. "No, but seriously. Why in Merlin’s name should we follow a kid?"

Harry flashed a grin. "I think I can give you a few reasons."

Behind him, Death stretched his wings.

Chapter Text

Harry’s words echoed through the air. The werewolves were still grinning, and the occasional chuckle could be heard. Nobody was taking him seriously. "Well," Conall gestured widely with his hand, "Enlighten us then," he demanded and leaned forward with a smirk.

"My name carries weight. Both sides want me, in one way or another," Harry said. Sirius shifted nervously.

"And in what way would this be a reason for us to follow you? "

"The side that gets me is going to be the side that wins."

Some people laughed, but others had stopped grinning altogether.

"That is an awful lot of confidence that you have there, kid," Conall said. A werewolf next to him spat onto the ground.

"You can’t deny it though, can you?" Harry said with a smirk.

"Well, in that case, I figure that by giving your corpse to the dark Lord, one side would certainly win much faster. I guess that this should also give us some kind of advantage, don’t you think? And in addition, we wouldn’t have to deal with a fourteen-year-old wannabe leader," Conall drawled. A small scar running through the scruff on his face wrinkled when he licked over his canines. The crowd shifted.

Sirius gripped his wand tightly and the other Marauder bared his teeth.

"We should go. Immediately," Lupin hissed quietly. "That was a bad idea," he mumbled, more to himself than anyone else, "This was a bad idea from the beginning… "

Harry ignored Remus’ muttering and stared at Conall. Death leaned forward predatorily. "Touch me and you are dead," Harry said in a calm voice, but his grin was icy.

"Oh, come on Conall," someone said not far from the Alpha, "You still want to listen to this kid?" It was the werewolf who had cleaned his teeth with a knife not long ago.

Conall said nothing. The only thing one could hear was a quiet scratching sound, as his hand was stroking over his beard. Something in the way Harry had spoken, seemed to have made an impact.

"Raoul?" Conall lifted his head as the words left his mouth. His eyes were locked onto a tall man with dark skin. He had been silent the whole time. Grey streaked his hair and Harry noticed that a chunk of his ear was missing as he turned his head. "What do you think?" Conall asked the other werewolf.

The man was silent for a moment. Everyone was listening. His voice was hoarse when he started to speak. "We should consider what he has to say… before we act."

The reactions to his statement varied. Some of the werewolves groaned in disagreement, a few people nodded solemnly, but there was also growling and even someone shouting in the back.
Conall silenced them all with well-placed stares. When it was once more quiet - besides the occasional grumble and the birds in the trees - Conall looked at Harry.

"So, what is it that your offer then?" he asked, "What can you give to us, besides a good position in the war and the chance to be on the winning side," he almost spat in a demeaning manner, "Because how things are right now, we have a good chance to achieve that without listening to you."

"Protection," Harry simply said.

"What makes you think we need protection?" Conall asked him.

"Even a pack like yours can’t stay neutral forever."

"Why not? It has worked until now," Conall said and he looked at Harry expectantly. Harry was sure that Conall knew exactly what was going on, but the werewolf wouldn’t waste time by talking to some ‘kid’ as he had put it, that didn’t even know what it was talking about.

"Oh, come on. Greyback’s pack is roaming the land like it hasn’t in years. You know as well as me what that means. Voldemort is recruiting. It is only a matter of time till his people are going to find you. And then you will have to choose a side," Harry said.

Conall ground his teeth. A serious expression had replaced the sneer on his face. Harry continued.

"But that’s not all, is it? The ministry doesn’t believe that he is back. But there are a few people who know and they will not hesitate to fight. They will attempt anything they can to keep you from joining the dark side."

"Well, neither of them have been here yet," Conall said.

"I wouldn’t be too sure of that," Death commented dryly, with a look at Remus. An amused smile tugged on Harry’s lips.

"Besides, all these empty promises won’t change which side we are going to pick in the end," Conall continued. Harry snorted.  

"Because some of you like to choose where and who they hunt on a full moon, am I right?" he said sarcastically.

Conall snarled. Others took a step forward.

"Harry-," Lupin hissed, but he grew pale when Harry grinned sharply, causing his presence to resemble Death in a way it hadn’t before. The creature purred.

"How I see it, you only have two options in the end," Harry said and lowered his voice, "And we all know; what Voldemort is offering, is more than the light side will ever be willing to give you. And even if his promises are empty, a chance is a chance, no matter how slim."

A grim silence had settled over the clearing. The truth had cut through the tension like it was nothing. For a moment they only listened to the birds twittering in the trees, while the golden spots of sunlight slowly won in size with the ever-rising sun.

Conall was once more stroking his jaw with his dirt-stained fingers.
"Your speech was really nice and all that," he started eventually, "But you still didn’t tell us what your offer really entails." Approving murmurs went through the crowd. Conall’s mouth curled around the next word as if it had a bad taste to it. "Protection," he drawled and licked over his lips, "Who are you going to protect us from? Who can you protect us from? "

"Death Eaters… the light side. Maybe even the Ministry," Harry said. "Sooner or later you will have to pick a side. That much is clear. But what I am offering you is a third option. You like your freedom. The idea of Greyback showing up and demanding that you follow his command appeals to you just as much as locking yourself up on a full moon – which is probably what Dumbledore will request if you choose the light side." How things were right now, Dumbledore most likely couldn’t care less about this part if it only meant the werewolves wouldn’t join Voldemort, but Harry wouldn’t dwell on the details too much. Instead, he continued. "I offer you a solution to this. The option to stay neutral. If someone forces you to choose, I will help you stand your ground. I won’t keep you from fighting or joining either side. But if you do, you are no longer my responsibility. In the end, I will be part of this war too, therefore there are no guarantees. But I can help you to remain neutral for probably longer than you can without me."

"You are a kid."

"Well, what do you lose by trying?" Harry said.

"And what would you gain from this? There is always a reason, so what is yours?" Conall retorted.

"Mostly I do it out of spite," Harry stated, "Your pack is big; a valuable asset in this war. If neither Dumbledore nor Voldemort gets you, well…" Harry smirked and shrugged, "Let's just say it would please me greatly. The only condition I have, is that – should you accept my offer – you don’t tell either side about me. I don’t care if you mention our deal, but I don’t want my name flying around."

Conall looked at the ground. He seemed to consider it. The pack around him talked in hushed voices. It was clear that they would support whatever decision Conall would make.

It wasn’t like the outcome would change much, but Harry couldn’t help but feel a little bit nervous. He had no idea how the werewolf would decide.
Eventually, Conall raised his head, "Let’s ignore for a moment that you came here with a convicted mass-murderer-" Sirius flinched - "On your side. Merlin knows where you got to know him," Conall nodded towards Remus, "But you are telling me, that you came here on a full moon - knowing that there was a big chance you would end up dead - only to keep us from joining either side… out of spite!?" The werewolf snorted and a crooked grin split his face. "You are insane you know that?" Conall said but he smirked at Harry.

Harry shrugged. "Well, I can’t deny a fact…" he said and grinned back. Most of the werewolves also wore amused expressions.

"Fine," Conall said after a moment of silence, "You've got yourself a deal."

Harry could almost feel Remus’ surprise. Conall stood up and took a few steps towards Harry. He extended his hand and Harry shook it. Harry was about to pull away when the werewolf held on. He stared intently; his eyes glowing in the light of the morning. "To be clear, I don’t think you can keep your promise. You are a kid. But as you said, we’ve got nothing to lose. A deal is a deal. We won’t mention your name and will even keep the identity of your company a secret – as long as you don’t disappoint us," Conall said, a wolfish grin on his face.

Harry smirked back. The hidden message was perfectly clear. Should he not be able to keep what he promised – which Conall had stated perfectly well he didn’t believe anyway – they would not hesitate to use the information they had gained against him.

"That’s all I wanted to know," Harry said, "But should I hear something about me or my …company outside of this pack, you will regret it."

"Alright," Conall said and let finally go of Harry’s hand.

"You still need a way to contact me," Harry suddenly remembered. Conall stared at him with a raised eyebrow. Harry thought for a moment then he looked at his godfather. "You don’t mind if I ask Kreacher to help me with this, do you?"

Sirius seemed surprised but then he shook his head. "Nah, you can ask him if you want "

"Kreacher," Harry called out and with a sudden pop, the house-elf appeared. The noise caused many members of the pack to jump and even Conall flinched back when the small creature appeared in front of Harry. Bowing deeply, Kreacher started to speak.

"What can Kreacher do for you, Master Harry?" When he looked up his expression changed, and the elf sneered at the werewolves. "Filthy half-breeds," he muttered under his breath, but Harry cut him off with an urgent look.

"Kreacher, if one of the werewolves here asks for you, to deliver a message to me, would you do it?" Harry asked him.

"Kreacher would if Master Harry asked him to," the house-elf said and bowed once more, with a pained expression on his face.

"Then I ask you to," Harry stated.

"Very well young Master," Kreacher replied.

"You can go now "

Kreacher disapparated immediately. Apparently, he didn’t want to stay in the company of "filthy half-breeds" any longer than he had to. He may obey Harry now without complaints but other than that, his character hadn’t really changed.

"So, you heard it. If you call for Kreacher he will appear, and I will see how I can help you," Harry said.

Conall nodded.

"Then I guess, I’ll see you around… if the circumstances call for it," the werewolf replied with a wild smirk.

"We’ll see," Harry said. Then he looked at the pack. "It was my pleasure," he added and grinned. As soon as the words had left his mouth, Remus grabbed both Harry’s and Sirius' arm and whisked them away in an apparation.

Harry barely had the time to get used to the feeling of being pulled along and squeezed through a straw before they were already standing on the doorstep of Grimmauld Place number twelve.

Harry sucked in a deep breath and he exchanged a look with an equally stunned Sirius, while Remus tapped his wand onto the door with a grim look on his face. Death materialized next to Harry, seemingly unfazed but Harry knew that the being wasn’t too thrilled by Remus action. A rattling of chains and the door swung open. The werewolf entered without looking at them and as soon as Harry and his godfather had also stepped into the entrance hall, Sirius opened his mouth. "Moony-" he started.

"Shut up Sirius!" Remus turned around. He still appeared to be tired and he was deathly pale, yet his eyes flashed wildly. "What the hell were you thinking?!" he asked Sirius and Harry. "You are lucky, they didn’t rip you into pieces. Do you know what they can do with this kind of information? You gave them access to Kreacher for fucks sake. Have you any idea, of how easy it is for them to get in contact with Voldemort? They know where Sirius is currently hiding- "

"They don’t know that," Sirius interfered.

"They know you are with Harry Potter, where the hell would you be other than England? It only confirmed the article in the Daily Prophet…" Remus whirled around. "Fucking Hell," he muttered.

Lupin stomped towards the door that led to the kitchen. "What was I thinking? I must’ve been out of my mind to let you speak to them," he muttered under his breath.

"Don’t you want to lay down, maybe sleep-" Sirius began, but Remus cut him off while he was still walking away from them.

"I need a drink first," he said, and he opened the door leading to the basement so violently that it slammed against the wall. It stood wide open when he disappeared on the stairway.

The paintings on the walls seemed shocked and they talked in hushed voices while they stared at the open door.

Harry patted Sirius’ shoulders. His godfather wore an expression that resembled a kicked puppy. "It’s gonna be fine," Harry said, "He's probably just tired and a little overwhelmed."

"Well, I think it could’ve gone worse," Sirius stated and shook off his stupor. After a moment of hesitation, he walked towards the kitchen and Harry followed.

Downstairs they were greeted by the sight of a worn-down Remus who was sitting on the table and who had just finished pouring some whisky into a glass, the bottle still in hand. When he looked up, he sighed but the anger seemed to be replaced by simply weariness. Lupin pushed the bottle in their direction. Sirius reached for it while sitting down and Harry walked over to the opposite side of the table and pulled back a chair, Death right next to him.

They sat in silence while Sirius summoned two additional glasses and poured some of the liquor into them. Remus spared the second glass with a look of disapproval when Sirius pushed it over to Harry, but in the end, he didn’t say anything.
Quietly they sipped on their drinks. Harry went as far as to offer his to the invisible Death, but the being ignored it in favour of nuzzling Harry’s neck.

Eventually, Remus shook his head and he snorted. "You were really lucky," he said. "Actually, I was surprised how well they handled it. I don’t think I or Dumbledore could’ve reached the same result."

Harry shrugged. "Well, they have nothing to lose by choosing to be my allies."

"Yeah, but they were willing to listen. I think your boldness impressed them. Don’t let Conall fool you though. They will talk about it now and probably discuss if they should really take on your offer. Many will want to hand you over to Voldemort. They think that it will be the best deal they can strike."

"Well they are not wrong," Harry said, "But they won’t succeed." He glanced at Death. The being would probably kill them all if Harry wished so. Apart from the fact that he would probably do the same if they ever pissed him off.

Remus rested his head on his hand. His exhaustion was obvious. Sirius leaned over and put an arm around Remus’ shoulder.

"Come on," he said quietly. Harry watched them curiously. It was rare to see Sirius this gentle; his usual forwardness and loud personality were nowhere to be seen. "It’s what - six am? And we are drinking," Sirius said with a chuckle, "I never deemed you the type, Moony…"

A tired smile appeared on Lupin’s face.

"You need to sleep, and Harry needs to go back to school," Sirius said. Remus nodded without raising his head.

The Animagus looked at Harry, an unspoken question on his mind.

"Oh, I can handle myself. Go, get some sleep," Harry said and with an afterthought, he added, "Both of you." Sirius’ exhaustion hadn’t really stood out to Harry, since in comparison to Remus he almost seemed well-rested, but the dark circles under his godfathers’ eyes reminded Harry that his newfound freedom regarding sleep didn’t apply to everyone.

Sirius smiled. "All right Harry. Feel free to visit, okay?" With that, he hoisted up Remus, who already seemed half-asleep.

"I will," Harry replied. Lupin now stood upright next to Sirius and he looked at Harry for a moment.

"I won’t even ask…" Remus said, probably wondering how Harry managed to even come here in the first place. Then he looked at Sirius, "But we are going to have a talk." The werewolf wiped a hand over his face, not even flinching when his fingers met his split lip, "Not today though," he added. He looked at Harry once more. "Take care Harry, and stay out of trouble for a while alright?"

Harry smirked. "Of course," he replied, an obvious lie if one considered his plans.

Lupin shot him a knowing look – he was a Marauder after all – but he didn’t seem to find the energy in himself to care. He just sighed, while Sirius was smirking. With a last goodbye, they left the kitchen.  

Meanwhile, Harry leaned back in his chair. He looked at Death. "Sirius was right in what he said earlier. It could’ve gone worse."

Death smirked. "Indeed… but wouldn’t it have been more fun then, too?"

"Maybe, maybe not," Harry said, "I ask myself if the werewolves would still be alive, had they really tried to kill me…"

Death tilted his head, "A question to which we will never know the answer to…" the being replied cryptically. He raised a hand till it rested on Harry’s head. Sliding it through Harry’s hair, he leaned closer till his nose was almost brushing against Harry’s temple, "But If I was to choose… Had they succeeded, no breath would climb through their throats any longer, as they would be carcasses left for the crows."

Harry shivered. "Even though I would come back?"

"Even though you would come back," Death purred.

"And if I wanted you to spare them?" Harry asked with bated breath.

"Then they would live," Death said, "Though I would hope that, should the time ever come, you change your mind. I don’t interfere as long as you don’t ask me to, but this is a situation where I might feel my self-control would slip."

Harry snorted and he turned his head to look at Death. "It wouldn’t really slip though, would it? Since honestly, you would enjoy every second of killing them."

Death smirked. "I just might…"

Harry laughed. A deep rumble made his way from Death’s throat and Harry leaned forward to capture Death’s lips with his own.

"We should head back soon," he said as he pulled back. The being smirked.

"Soon… That implies that there is still some time left," Death retorted. Harry raised an eyebrow and his eyes followed Death's gaze to the kitchen table.

"What did you have in mind?" Harry asked innocently, although a spark of arousal was making itself known. If Death's predatory smirk had ever been a touch filthy, it would have been now.

Chapter Text

About half an hour later Harry found himself back in the dorm in the Gryffindor tower. He was walking down the stairs leading to the common room, hoping that no one would ask about the purplish bruise beneath his jaw or his dishevelled state. It wasn’t the only bruise, but the only one that was currently visible since it wasn’t covered by Death who was curled around Harry’s neck in his snake form. The being writhed slowly, smooth scales sliding against Harry’s skin and he flicked his tongue out then and now to scent the air.

"Harry!" As soon as he had entered the common room, Hermione already rushed towards him.

"Where have you been all night? We looked all over for you," she said eagerly, but before Harry could reply she already waved him off. "It doesn’t matter anyways-" she stopped mid-sentence; her attention seemingly caught by something behind Harry. "Ron! Look who finally showed up," she said over his shoulder.

When Harry turned his head, he was indeed faced with the sleep-deprived Gryffindor. Ron’s head resembled a red bird’s nest and he ruffled through it with a yawn. "Where've you been mate?" he asked just like Hermione had earlier. Then he blinked at Harry and his gaze fell onto the hickey on his neck. His eyes widened.

"It’s not important right now, Ron," Hermione said dismissively, seemingly not aware of Ron’s discovery. "Show him the letter!"

Ron’s eyes lingered on the bruise for a moment till he noticed that Harry was looking at him. "Yeah, the letter," he said. "But I need some food first, besides, we can’t miss the article," he added with a meaningful look at Hermione.

"Right," Hermione said. "Let’s go. Ron can explain it to you on the way."

And indeed. While they went down to the Great Hall to get to breakfast, Ron told Harry all about the letter he’d apparently received last night.

"…I can’t believe that Percy sent me that," Ron ranted angrily. "Here-" he rummaged in his bag and pulled out a wrinkly piece of parchment- "I wanted to rip it into pieces, but Hermione told me to keep it, to show it to you first." He handed Harry the letter and continued with his rant. "Dolores Umbridge, a delightful woman…" Ron said as if to imitate Percy, while Harry smoothed out the wrinkles of the parchment. "Yeah Right. Just like Malfoy is a joy to be around. All-important he thinks he is since he's working for the ministry. That slimy…"

A faint memory surfaced in Harry’s mind. He recalled that Ron had once received a letter from Percy and as soon as he read the first lines, he remembered what it had been about.

 

Dear Ron,

I have only just heard (from no less a person than the Minister for Magic himself, who has it from your new teacher, Professor Umbridge) that you have become a Hogwarts prefect.

I was most pleasantly surprised when I heard this news and must firstly offer my congratulations. I must admit that I have always been afraid that you would take what we might call the "Fred and George" route, rather than following in my footsteps, so you can imagine my feelings on hearing you have stopped flouting authority and have decided to shoulder some real responsibility.

But I want to give you more than congratulations, Ron, I want to give you some advice, which is why I am sending this at night rather than by the usual morning post. Hopefully, you will be able to read this away from prying eyes and avoid awkward questions.

From something the Minister let slip when telling me you are now a Prefect, I gather that you are still seeing a lot of Harry Potter. I must tell you, Ron, that nothing could put you in danger of losing your badge more than continued fraternisation with that boy. Yes, I am sure you are surprised to hear this - no doubt you will say that Potter has always been Dumbledore's favourite - but I feel bound to tell you that Dumbledore may not be in charge at Hogwarts much longer and the people who count have a very different - and probably more accurate - view of Potter's behaviour. I shall say no more here, but if you look at the Daily Prophet tomorrow you will get a good idea of the way the wind is blowing - and see if you can spot yours truly!

Seriously, Ron, you do not want to be tarred with the same brush as Potter, it could be very damaging to your future prospects, and I am talking here about life after school too. As you must be aware, given that our father escorted him to court, Potter had a disciplinary hearing this summer in front of the whole Wizengamot and he did not come out of it looking too good. He got off on a mere technicality if you ask me and many of the people I've spoken to remain convinced of his guilt.

It may be that you are afraid to sever ties with Potter - I know that he can be unbalanced and, for all I know violent - but if you have any worries about this, or have spotted anything else in Potter's behaviour that is troubling you, I urge you to speak to Dolores Umbridge, a really delightful woman, who I know will be only too happy to advise you.

This leaves me to my other bit of advice. As I have hinted above, Dumbledore's regime at Hogwarts may soon be over. Your loyalty, Ron, should be not to him, but to the school and the Ministry. I am very sorry to hear that so far Professor Umbridge is encountering very little cooperation from staff as she strives to make those necessary changes within Hogwarts that the Ministry so ardently desires (although she should find this easier from next week - again, see the Prophet tomorrow!). I shall say only this - a student who shows himself willing to help Professor Umbridge now may be very well placed for Head Boyship in a couple of years!

I am sorry that I was unable to see more of you over the summer. It pains me to criticise our parents, but I am afraid I can no longer live under their roof while they remain mixed up with the dangerous crowd around Dumbledore (if you are writing to Mother at any point, you might tell her that a certain Sturgis Podmore, who is a great friend of Dumbledore's, has recently been sent to Azkaban for trespass at the Ministry. Perhaps that will open their eyes to the kind of petty criminals with whom they are currently rubbing shoulders). I count myself very lucky to have escaped the stigma of association with such people - the Minister really could not be more gracious to me - and I do hope, Ron, that you will not allow family ties to blind you to the misguided nature of our parents' beliefs and actions either. I sincerely hope that, in time, they will realise how mistaken they were and I shall, of course, be ready to accept a full apology when that day comes.

Please think over what I have said most carefully, particularly the bit about Harry Potter, and congratulations again on becoming Prefect.

 

Your brother,

Percy


Harry stared at the cursive lines for a moment longer. Percy was in for a rude awakening if he continued to believe so blindly in the words of others…
Harry couldn’t help but think of Percy as naïve, if not stupid for writing something like this letter.


…the people who count have a very different - and probably more accurate - view of Potter's behaviour…

What an idiot! Percy knew him. They had even shared a tent at the Quidditch world cup. Harry’s personality couldn’t have changed that drastically in a year to be described as unbalanced and violent… Well, it was a logical conclusion after he had witnessed the death of Cedric to think of him as unbalanced, but on the other hand, the Ministry denied any involvement of Voldemort. If the rumours went on, there would soon be an article about how Harry had killed Cedric himself, as a personal vendetta against the Ministry…

Harry snorted dismissively and gave the letter back to Ron.  

"You know, if you want to ‘sever ties’ with me, I won’t get violent," Harry said sarcastically.

Ron didn’t seem to think it was very funny. With a dark look, he pulled out his wand and pointed it at the letter.

"Incendio," he muttered, and the parchment caught on fire.

A group of first years walking next to them shrieked when the letter went up in flames. Ron put his wand away in grim satisfaction, just before they entered the great hall.

"Ron that was really unnecessary," Hermione said, but she didn’t seem too upset. Soon after they had sat down on the table, Ron nudged Harry with his elbow.

"Hey, now that we talked about the letter, what did you do last night?" he asked.

"Um-" Harry started trying to find a good excuse, but he was saved by the morning post arriving. The swooshing of hundreds of owls soaring through the air, delivering letters and packages for the students filled the great hall. Hermione basically ripped the daily prophet from the affronted owl’s leg after she’d paid it. The owl stole a piece of bacon from Hermione’s plate before it took off, but Harry doubted that she’d noticed it.

She took one look at the paper and gasped.

"What is it?" Ron asked with wide eyes and he tried to get a look at the front page, but Hermione already smoothed it down in front of them. A giant picture of Dolores Umbridge was smiling at them sweetly.

"MINISTRY SEEKS EDUCATIONAL REFORM:

DOLORES UMBRIDGE APPOINTED FIRST-EVER " HIGH INQUISITOR "

The Headline could not be overlooked. And while Harry stared at the picture, Hermione began to read out loud.   

"In a surprise move, last night the Ministry of Magic passed new legislation giving itself an unprecedented level of control at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. 'The Minister for Magic has been growing uneasy about goings-on at Hogwarts for some time,' said Junior Assistant to the Minister for Magic Percy Weasley. "He is now responding to concerns voiced by anxious parents, who feel the school may be moving in a direction they do not approve."  

This is not the first time in recent weeks Fudge has used new laws to effect improvements at the wizarding school. As recently as 30 August Educational Decree Twenty-two was passed, to ensure that, in the event of the current headmaster being unable to provide a candidate for a teaching post, the Ministry should select an appropriate person.  

'That's how Dolores Umbridge came to be appointed to the teaching staff at Hogwarts,' said Weasley last night. 'Dumbledore couldn't find anyone, so the Minister put in Umbridge and of course, she's been an immediate success, totally revolutionising the teaching of Defence Against the Dark Arts and providing the Minister with on-the-ground feedback about what's really happening at Hogwarts.' It is this last function that the Ministry has now formalised with the passing of Educational Decree Twenty-three, which creates the new position of Hogwarts High Inquisitor.  

'This is an exciting new phase in the Minister 's plan to get to grips with what some are calling the falling standards at Hogwarts,' said Weasley. 'The Inquisitor will have powers to inspect her fellow educators and make sure that they are coming up to scratch. Professor Umbridge has been offered this position in addition to her own teaching post, and we are delighted to say that she has accepted.' The Ministry's new moves have received enthusiastic support from parents of students at Hogwarts.  

'I feel much easier in my mind now that I know that Dumbledore is being subjected to fair and objective evaluation,' said Lucius Malfoy, 41, speaking from his Wiltshire mansion last night. 'Many of us with our children's best interests at heart have been concerned about some of Dumbledore's eccentric decisions in the last few years and will be glad to know that the Ministry is keeping an eye on the situation.' Among those 'eccentric decisions' are undoubtedly the controversial staff appointments previously described in this newspaper, which have included the hiring of werewolf Remus Lupin, half-giant Rubeus Hagrid and delusional ex- Auror 'Mad-Eye' Moody.

Rumours abound, of course, that Albus Dumbledore, once Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards and Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, is no longer up to the task of managing the prestigious school of Hogwarts. 'I think the appointment of the Inquisitor is a first step toward ensuring that Hogwarts has a headmaster in whom we can all repose confidence' said a Ministry insider last night. Wizengamot elders Griselda Marchbanks and Tiberius Ogden have resigned in protest at the introduction of the post of Inquisitor to Hogwarts.  

'Hogwarts is a school, not an outpost of Cornelius Fudge 's office,' said Madam Marchbanks. 'This is a further disgusting attempt to discredit Albus Dumbledore.' (For a full account of Madam Marchbanks' alleged links to subversive goblin groups, turn to page 17)."

Harry raised an eyebrow. That would explain the Journalist he’d encountered when he had visited Malfoy Manor. But then another thought found its way to the forefront of his mind. The article mentioned that the members of the Wizengamot had to agree for Fudge to be able to pass the legislation. Harry absentmindedly thumbed the edge of his knife. Good to know, that Fudge still didn’t invite him. He continued to stare thoughtfully at the plate, while Hermione folded the paper.

"Now we know why Umbridge is here. Fudge managed to get his legislation passed and now she’s even got the power to inspect the other teachers!" Hermione ranted. "I can’t believe it! This is atrocious!"

"I know," Harry agreed, but his thoughts were elsewhere. His eyes scanned the teachers' table. The pink menace was nowhere to be seen, just like Hagrid whose place was still empty.  

Ron grinned.

"What?" Hermione asked.

"Hey, I’m interested in how she is going to inspect McGonagall," he said happily. "Umbridge won’t know what hit her."

"Hermione jumped up. "Oh quickly. If she’s inspecting Binns’ lesson, we shouldn’t be late…"

It turned out, that Hermione’s worries were unfounded. During History of Magic, the toad was nowhere to be seen, nor was she there during potions with Snape, who handed out their moonstone essays that he’d graded.

"I graded you as if you’d handed your work in for your O.W.L.’s," he said with a sneer while he walked through the rows. "This should give you a rough overview of what the exam requires of you."

Harry stared surprised at the ‘A’ that was scribbled into the upper right corner of his essay.
An ‘Acceptable’ was better than he had expected because while he might know how to brew a decent potion these days, writing essays wasn’t really a skill that Harry could brag about.

Meanwhile, Death was creeping through the room, invisible to everyone but Harry since Snape probably wouldn’t take it too kindly if he spotted Harry’s ‘pet’ in his classroom again. The professor had now returned to the front and he continued with his speech.  

"The general outcome of this homework was pathetic. Most of you would’ve failed if this had been your exam. This week’s topic for your essays are the different kinds of poisons and antidotes and I expect a lot more effort or I will start to hand out detentions to the idiots who got a ‘D’"

Malfoy giggled. "Did someone get a ‘D’? Ha!"

Harry sighed. He missed the older version of Draco. He had been a lot less annoying, and they even had some decent conversations from time to time.
Harry got distracted when he noticed that Hermione was trying to subtly peek over his shoulder to find out which grade he had gotten on his essay. Without another look, he put it away and focused on the strengthening potion they would brew today.

After the lesson, they headed to the great hall to grab lunch. Throughout the whole way, Hermione only spoke about the essays and their grades, till Ron – who had grown increasingly irritated with every minute - admitted that he’d gotten a ‘P’ and if she’d wanted to know what grades they had she should’ve just asked. Hermione had blushed with embarrassment at the statement, but in the end, it didn’t keep her from speculating about their O.W.L.’s.
During Lunch on the Gryffindor table, their conversation was hijacked by Fred and George, who told them about a class inspection they’d had.

But it turned out that they weren’t the only ones Umbridge would visit today, because an hour later after Harry and Ron had sat down on the comfy cushions amidst the heavily scented air in Trelawney’s classroom, the head of Professor Umbridge rose from the trapdoor on the floor.

Thus, a very cringeworthy lesson with Trelawny began, followed by another boring hour of Umbridge having them read the next chapter of Slinkhart's book on Defence and even another class inspection with Umbridge, which had Harry massaging his temples to keep the approaching headache in check.

During the whole week, Umbridge was seemingly everywhere. Walking through the hallways, inspecting classes and not to mention teaching her own class, till suddenly on Thursday evening Hermione jumped up from her chair and started to pace through the empty common room. "She is a horrible woman," Hermione said, "Horrible."

"Who? Umbridge?" Ron asked and looked up from his potions essay.

Hermione nodded. "We need to do something."

"How about we poison her?" Ron said dryly. Harry snorted amused.

"She is just an awful teacher," Hermione continued, ignoring Ron’s statement. "And we don’t even learn how to defend us!"

"And what do you want to do about it?" Ron asked, while it slowly dawned on Harry. He already knew where this was going.

"Well," Hermine started, "You know I already thought about it, and maybe-" she hesitated - "maybe it’s time that we take matters into our own hands. That we learn Defence against Dark Arts ourselves…"

It didn’t take long till Harry found himself once again confronted with the question if he wanted to teach Defence Against the Darks.

He frowned as he was faced with the expectant looks of Hermione and Ron. "Look," he said slowly, trying to ignore the throbbing in his temples. "I will think about it okay."

Hermione grinned at him. "That’s all I was hoping for," she declared beaming and then continued to focus on her knitting project.

Harry stood up and headed towards the dorms. He couldn’t share Hermione’s excitement. Did he even have the time to teach the DA? Originally, he had wanted to focus on Sirius’ trial. The article in the Daily Prophet had reminded him that there were still things that needed to be done. And dealing with Fudge was certainly a priority on his list. The werewolves had stayed quiet since he had visited them and neither had he heard something from Sirius or Remus.

Death materialized in his human form and started to walk up the stairs next to him.

And what was this goddamn headache that had been nagging him for the whole last week?! At first, he’d thought Umbridge was the reason for the constant throb in the back of his head but now he wasn’t so sure anymore.

"It’s the piece of soul," Death suddenly said.

"What?"

"The piece of soul in your head. It channels his’ emotions."

"Voldemort’s?" Harry asked, and he cast a silent privacy charm around them. "But shouldn’t I be protected from it?"

"You are connected to his soul. It isn’t like a mind you shield yourself from. A soul is much more complex," Death explained while they entered the dorm. "If his emotions are strong enough you may feel their echo. Also, I think you might have grown more perceptive in regards to sensing the state of the fragment of the soul itself," the being said and stopped, which prompted Harry to do the same. The being looked at him. "It is rare, a connection like this," Death said and touched the scar on Harry’s forehead. "I find it rather fascinating," he added grinning and his hand slid down to Harry's cheek.

"And that’s why you didn’t bother to tell me what was going on, huh?" Harry said with a raised eyebrow and pulled out of Death’s touch. "You wanted to watch it before I would find out what was going on and asked you to remove it."

"Well you could’ve just asked me if I knew something about your headache," Death said smirking.

"You are a twat, you know that?" Harry snapped irately while he turned around and walked towards his bed. His temples were still throbbing. He put his glasses onto the bedside table and when he looked up, he saw that Death had materialized on his bed and was watching him. The being wasn’t grinning. Harry stared at him for a moment. The sensations in their bond had dropped and something icy undermined his annoyance.

"Are you sulking?" Harry questioned, but the spike in their bond was enough. He laughed when he realized why the being acted that way.

Death just shot him a look.

Harry chuckled and he climbed into the bed, shooing Death over. When he had covered himself with his blanket, Harry noticed that Death was still sitting on the edge of the mattress, surrounded by only shadows.
"Come on," Harry said and pulled the being towards him, till he was able to curl comfortably against Death’s chest, who slowly put his arms around Harry. "You know that I love you," Harry murmured into the shirt that Death was wearing. Ridiculousness in itself.  
Death started to purr loudly, and Harry smiled at the feelings pulsing through their bond. Death’s nose was buried into Harry’s hair and Harry could sense the dark mass of eyes and wings that was Death’s true form gather closer around him, blanketing him in comfortable shadows.

"I’m keeping it by the way," Harry began after a while. "If you were wondering. The Horcrux. So you can spy on it a little longer," he added with an amused smile, but it was also for selfish reasons. He wasn't quite ready to give it away yet.

He could feel Death’s grin.

"I guess you could block it out to an extent if you wanted to," Death murmured into Harry’s hair. "You would need to focus on it first for some time, but I don’t think it would be a problem."

"You haven’t seen something like this before either, have you?" Harry asked.

"Not in this way, no. And you are my Master. That changes things further."

Harry hummed. Sleep started to extend its tendrils and reached for his mind. But before it was fully there, he could feel the brush of lips against his forehead.

"Sleep well, Harry…"

 

Lord Voldemort was surrounded by darkness. The flickering light of the few candles illuminating the room didn’t quite reach him. The shadows resting upon his face seemed to push his eyes deeper into their sockets, carving his features down till they appeared to be thinner than they already were. Dark irises were hidden behind closed eyes.
The creaking of a chair cut through the silence.
The Dark Lord didn’t react.
He was like a statue. Unmoving; eerie perfection and yet… Dark magic had blurred his once handsome features, melting away the humanity left in its creation - a sacrifice in order to reach its artistic goal. If it weren’t for his spindly fingers caressing the smooth surface of his wand he could be dead.

Dust was whirling through the air. Unseen in the dim light but its smell permeated the air just like the fear which hung heavy in the room. The slit-like nostrils on the pale face widened slightly as the dark Lord inhaled. Breathing in, as if he could scent the anxiety residing within these walls.

The dark Lord opened his eyes.
The silent gasp echoing through the room could as well have been a thunderclap.
Pupils narrowed, revealing more of the dark irises as he let his eyes wander over the faces of his followers.
There was a flash of red every time one of the candles managed to hit the eyes with their light. Otherwise, Lord Voldemort’s face showed no sign of the cold fury that was burning through his veins, fuelling thoughts that were the reason for this gathering.
The diary was gone. Destroyed. A mistake foolishly made by Lucius Malfoy.
The blond man swallowed hard under the dark Lord’s lingering gaze before the red eyes continued their journey.
Had he been someone lesser, he would share the fate of the muggle who'd been recently added to the sea of corpses protecting a now empty place. The dark Lord closed his eyes once more to control his anger. He’d had to make sure. But the locket in the basin had been worthless. A piece of metal accompanied by the note of a dead man. Its original counterpart shared this pitiful fate. An empty shell without soul, having nothing to offer but the infamous name of its long-gone owner clinging to it.

He opened his eyes. The slightest hiss told of Nagini whose massive body writhed under his chair in slow movements. Avery squirmed in his place.
She wouldn’t be allowed to leave his side. Not how things were right now.
The ring had also vanished without a trace, leaving only the wards which should’ve protected it in its place…
This left only two. Their state in both cases a mystery. The one in Hogwarts was out of reach, the cup on the other hand… but no. Going there would only direct attention towards its location and he had other plans already.
Either way, he would give them something to focus on…
For now, the Department of Mysteries had shifted to the back of his mind. The circumstances demanded it.
Dumbledore might know about his Horcruxes, but he needed time to find them. This time was precious. He would simply give Dumbledore something else to do. Two months was all the dark Lord needed. Two months and Dumbledore would have much more to worry about than only his Horcruxes.
Lord Voldemort’s eyes wandered over the rows. About thirty Death Eaters were waiting to be told the reason for their summoning and the time to act had come. His gaze lingered on the places that were left empty before he finally began to speak.

"My friends," he began quietly and yet all attention was on him in a second. Nagini hissed quietly. "It is time, for our brothers and sisters to join us… Those, who have been waiting for years - loyal in their suffering."
Lord Voldemort stared at the faces of his followers. They averted his gaze, shame and guilt resting upon their features. The dark Lord’s eyes lingered for a moment before he continued.
"We will end their misery and free their minds and bodies from their prison. We will not rest until the time comes when we can raise our wands in victory and we will once more fight side by side."

Chapter Text

The weekend following the article in the Daily Prophet, Harry decided that he would write a letter to the Ministry regarding Sirius’ trial.

Two weeks had passed since then. And nothing had come from it.

No answer from the Ministry, no noteworthy occurrence whatsoever if one didn’t count Hermione’s and Ron’s whispering behind his back. Every time Cho greeted him in the hallways - she did it more often nowadays - they exchanged meaningful glances.

Harry couldn't care less.

But during the whole time, Umbridge was a pest. Now that she was High Inquisitor, nothing kept her from punishing students for the most ridiculous things. Only one day after she had been promoted, the first Educational Decree was introduced. It punished students found in possession of a spell check quill. And it wouldn’t be the last.
Umbridge handed out detentions as if they were candy. After Educational Decree Number Nine was created – it expelled students found in possession of sweets from "unauthorized suppliers" – Harry spotted Fred and George more often than not plotting in a corner, grim looks on their faces. Not that the Decree could keep them from testing their inventions.

So, when Hermione asked Harry if he had thought about teaching Defence against the Dark Arts, he agreed to do it just to spite the pink toad.

It was the first weekend in October when they were allowed to go to Hogsmeade. It was the date Hermione had set as the first meeting of interested students.

"Where are we even going?" Ron asked after they had just left the grounds of the castle. "The three broomsticks?”

"Oh – no," Hermione said. "No, it’s always so busy and loud. I told everyone we would meet in the Hog’s Head, the pub you know. It’s not on the main road. I think it’s a little, well… seedy… but usually, there aren’t any students in there, so I don’t think anyone is listening."

Harry raised his eyebrows. A group of students would attract way more attention in the Hog’s head than in the Three Broomsticks.  

They walked down the main street, passing the post office where owls after owls rose into the air and then they spotted the twins together with Lee Jordan in front of Zonko’s. Shortly after weaving through a crowd of students, they left the busy street and walked through a small alley until they finally reached the Hog’s head.

The building was old and small, and its sign creaked in the cold autumn wind. Harry entered first, while the others hesitated for a moment.

He knew the Hog’s head. When Harry had been an Auror he’d sometimes met informants there. In addition to that, it was also a good place to get a drink without attracting too much attention, since someone not showing their face wasn’t too unusual in there. At least if one wasn’t acting too suspicious. Usually, Harry would’ve covered his face with the hood of his cloak by now, but today it wouldn’t matter.

After he’d stepped through the entrance, Harry walked past the dirty windows until he had reached the very corner of the room. Barely any light fell through the filthy glass. The whole pub was illuminated by candles that were stuck to the rough surface of the wooden tables. Wax was dripping onto the wood and the years of use were clearly visible. Harry quickly got used to the smell that was permeating the air. Something akin to a goat. Hermione was wrinkling her nose as she took in their surroundings.

Harry leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. Death in his snake form was peeking out from under his scarf, while Ron stopped awkwardly next to him. The redhead started to fidget nervously with a loose thread dangling from the worn sleeve of his cloak. Meanwhile, Hermione was still lingering in front of the door. The room was almost empty.
A man was standing at the counter. Harry didn’t think he was fully human. His whole head was covered by dirty grey bandages and he was drinking some kind of smoking liquor. The energy surrounding him was weirdly foggy and he hadn’t even looked up when they’d entered.

However, the two hooded figures sitting next to the window had briefly stopped their conversation. After a fleeting turning of heads, they continued to talk with a strong Yorkshire accent.
On a chair in front of the fireplace sat a witch who was covered head to toe by a black veil. And while Hermione was walking towards the counter with determined steps, Harry took a double-take at the witch.
A faint memory surfaced, of someone listening in to their first meeting in here... But it was the aura surrounding the person, which had Harry realizing that the witch next to the fireplace was actually the very manly Mundungus Fletcher.

Harry stared at the man until he shifted uncomfortably on his chair.

"Harry," Hermione hissed when she came back, three butterbeers in his hands. "I don’t think it’s a good idea to stare at the people in here." She motioned for them to sit down on the table closest to them and Ron handed Hermione the sickles he owed her. Harry also searched the pocket of his cloak until he found two silvery coins.

"I don’t know Hermione. Maybe someone we know is hiding beneath that veil," Harry said, trying to keep a serious expression while he pushed the money over the table.

Hermione frowned and stared at the ‘witch’. "Umbridge is smaller if that’s what you are thinking," she said. She handed them their butterbeers and Ron inspected the dusty bottles with an uncertain look on his face.

The man with the bandages knocked onto the counter and the bartender - Aberforth, Dumbledore’s brother - appeared and poured him another drink, that the guy promptly downed.

"Know what," Ron murmured after he had raised his head, and he looked excitedly at the counter, "In here we could probably buy anything we want. I bet, this guy would sell us anything, he wouldn’t care. I always wanted to try- "

"You are a Prefect," Hermione interfered with a glare.

"Oh,” Ron said, and his smile vanished. "Right…”

Meanwhile, Harry blew some of the dust off his bottle and opened the rusty cap.

Suddenly a beam of light parted the room, accompanied by the creaking of the door. Neville stepped into the room and he was followed by Dean, Lavender, then Parvati and Padma Patil together with Cho and one of her friends - Marietta, if Harry remembered correctly.
Then Luna Lovegood entered, her magic swirling around her in calm pastels, right behind her appeared Katie Bell, followed by Alicia Spinnet, Angelina Johnson, Colin Creevy and his brother Dennis, Ernie Macmillan, Justin Finch-Fletchley, Hannah Abbott and another girl with a Hufflepuff scarf. The door barely closed, when a hand pushed it open once more and Anthony Goldstein entered, accompanied by Michael Corner, Terry Boot, who was followed by Ginny, then Zacharias Smith and lastly Fred, George and Lee Jordan.

It took its time till everyone was seated, but after they had gathered around the table - every person now in possession of a butterbeer and a chair - the group fell silent. All of them stared at Harry expectantly. He just leaned back and met their looks with an unwavering expression. Eventually, Hermione breached the awkward silence.

"Well… um… yeah, you know why you are here. Um… well, Harry had the idea-" Harry raised an eyebrow and Hermione quickly corrected herself- "or to clarify, I had the idea, that it would be good if people who want to learn Defence Against the Dark Arts, and I mean really learn, you know, not the rubbish, that Umbridge does. Because no one can call that Defence Against the Dark Arts.”

Anthony Goldstein agreed loudly, which had Hermione gaining some confidence in her words.

"Well, I thought it would be a good idea if we would take matters into our own hands. With that I mean, that we learn how to really defend ourselves, not only in theory but by using spells…”

"I bet you want to pass your O.W.L.’s in Defence too, am I right?” asked Michel.

"Of course-" Hermione said, and she inhaled audibly - "but I want more. I want to be really trained because… because Lord Voldemort is back.”

Marietta shrieked and butterbeer went all over her cloak. Terry Boot flinched, Padma shivered, and Neville tried to mask his yelp as a cough. Overall though, they stared at Harry eagerly.  

"Well, that’s the plan," Hermione stated, oblivious to the reason why most of the people had really come to this meeting. "If you want to be a part of it, we need to decide how we- "

"Where’s the proof that You-know-who is really back?!" Smith interfered in a pompous way.

Harry absentmindedly started to peel the yellowish label off his butterbeer, while he suppressed a sigh. There it was.

"Well, Dumbledore believes that- " Hermione started.

"You mean, Dumbledore believes him," Zacharias said and nodded towards Harry, who hadn’t even looked up.

"Who are you by the way?" Ron interfered pretty aggressively.

"Zacharias Smith," the boy said, "and I think we’ve got a right to know why he claims that

You-know-Who is back."

"Look," Hermione said, "This meeting shouldn’t be about that..."

For the first time Harry looked up and the motion caused Hermione to stop. She watched him, anxiously at what he would do. Harry leaned forward, pushing his butterbeer aside with the movement and then he stared at the blond Hufflepuff. He looked at Smith considering. It was probably the best if he stuck to the truth. Mostly.
Everyone seemed to hold their breath. Zacharias squirmed under his gaze and Harry lingered for a moment before he leaned against the back of his chair once more. "I won’t waste my day explaining to you what Dumbledore already explained to you last year. If you don’t believe him, you won’t believe me either," Harry said.

"Dumbledore only told us that Cedric Diggory was killed by You-know-who and that you brought his body back to Hogwarts," Smith said defensively. "He didn’t tell us any details, he didn’t tell us how Diggory was killed and I think we all would like to know- " Zachariah continued, but he stopped abruptly when he noticed that Harry stared at him intensely.

"You all would like to know what it was like, huh?" Harry asked after a moment with a raised eyebrow. Zacharias swallowed hard."You want to know details," Harry continued.
Most of the people were oblivious to the tone that had found its way into his voice. They were too eager to finally get to know the whole story. Zacharias on the other hand seemed to regret having asked. Harry’s eyes were still resting on the Hufflepuff when he paused. "Fine," Harry said.

Hermione and Ron gasped, and a surprised expression had found its way onto Smith’s face. The tension in the air was electrifying. Harry leaned over the table, the dim light of the candle illuminating his features.

"Did you know that a cruciatus curse depends on the caster?" They stared at him with wide eyes. Even the bandaged guy on the counter had stopped his drinking. Harry licked over his lips and smirked. "That is something Crouch didn’t talk about - or Professor Moody as you remember him probably. The more powerful the caster, the more powerful the spell. But you also have to really want it to work. Now imagine someone as powerful as Voldemort casting it on you," Harry said. Death moved around his neck. Neville was white as a sheet. "It hurts," Harry said. And his grin turned icy. A bittersweet feeling rose in his chest because what now followed wasn’t a lie. "God it hurts more than anything you ever experienced. Breaking a bone is nothing compared to it. You feel like you are on fire and at the same time, there are thousands of knives piercing your skin. Your flesh is getting boiled from your bones while your head is cracking open. There is nothing you can do about it. Maybe you can scream but that’s all. You can’t run, you can’t move away and the only thought running through your mind is how wonderful it would be if you just died."

"Harry," Hermione whispered with a shocked expression. Harry’s eyes wandered over the faces of the people surrounding him. His pupils widened. Blood pumped through his veins and a strange excitement had taken hold of him, as he sensed the emotions, that were dominating the room. All these people were like prey in this moment. They stared at him with wide eyes, frozen like a deer in headlights.

"Anything, just to stop the feeling that has you thinking that your limbs are getting ripped from your torso," Harry continued with a sharp smirk, chasing after the thrill of these sensations.
This was how Death had to feel when another soul met his true form. Fear spiking the air, helplessness at what they were confronted with. Death had told Harry that he had been lonely- rejected because of it… Harry didn’t doubt that the statement was genuine and yet…
A creature didn’t do what it was made to do without a certain enjoyment. He had the proof. It echoed through their shared bond. Glee at the fear they caused, triggered by the thrill of being a predator surrounded by prey. Had Death been in his human form, his expression would’ve been a slightly darker reflection of Harry’s.

"Harry stop," Hermione pleaded.

Harry stopped.

The girl looked like she was about to throw up and others around them wore similar expressions. Neville looked even worse. Harry leaned back and took a sip of his bottle, a smirk still playing around his lips. Death’s amusement pulsed through their bond and the snake hiding under his scarf writhed slowly.

"I thought you wanted details," Harry stated after a while to breach the silence. When no one spoke up he continued. "Cedric was lucky in a way. The killing curse is simple. As soon as it hits you, you are gone..."

No one said a word.

"Oh, and by the way- "Harry added- "it wasn’t Voldemort who killed him. Peter Pettigrew, a Death Eater cast the killing curse. Voldemort was the one who demanded it. In the end, it doesn't really matter, does it? Dead is dead," Harry said. The others around him were still too shocked to react.

The only sound was the hushed talking of the people next to the window. Someone's chair creaked. Air popped loudly in the fireplace and the guy with the bandages gestured with his hand for another drink.

Harry put his bottle down. "Well, does this count as proof? Or do you want to hear more?" he asked.

"No," Anthony eventually uttered. He cleared his throat. "I think – I think we heard enough," the boy continued with a slightly steadier voice.

"I thought so," Harry replied amused. "So how about we return to the topic we are actually here to discuss?”

No one objected.

In the end, their gathering didn’t last much longer, and they decided that they would all think of a place where they could hold their future meetings before they would pinpoint a date.

Soon they had left the old building and were once more wandering through the busier streets of Hogsmeade.

"-was really insensitive, Harry. Didn’t you see Neville? He was white as a ghost," Hermione said, while she inspected a quill that was displayed in a window.

Harry shrugged.

"Who was this Michael guy?" Ron suddenly asked, and Hermione sighed. She turned to face him.

"Honestly Ron-"

Since Hermione had mentioned earlier that Michael Corner was Ginny’s boyfriend, Ron was bombarding her with questions. Harry stopped listening when his attention was caught by something else. Because not too far behind he noticed a familiar presence.

Mundungus...

Apparently, Dumbledore still had people watching him. Harry huffed into his scarf. Well if that wasn’t a delight. But fine. If the headmaster wanted to have a constant eye on him, then good luck. Harry managed to ignore his steady follower by focusing on another problem. Namely the inevitable question of where the DA should meet. The room of requirement was their best solution and yet Harry was hesitant. The room was a great asset. Right now, it was barely known and also the hiding spot of one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes. Using it would only lead to Dumbledore paying more attention to it. But the only alternative was the Chamber of Secrets. Harry doubted that a room holding the remains of a giant basilisk would be the perfect fit and a group of pupils all disappearing in the same bathroom was also kind of suspicious...
Harry hummed into his scarf. He would have to think about it. 

Saturday turned into Sunday and the good weather caused everyone to feel somewhat elated. After they had finished their Homework, Harry decided to write another letter to the Ministry regarding Sirius' trial. Now the only thing he could do was wait.

The remaining day passed quickly and with the new week came another Educational Decree. The students were horrified. Umbridge’s most recent invention had led to all clubs and most importantly the Quidditch teams being disbanded until further notice. The newly formed DA had even more to worry about and yet Harry couldn’t care less.

He had other things on his mind. Mainly the Ministry, which continued to be a pain in the ass. There had been no answer when he’d asked about Sirius’ trial. And even if they were to listen, they would probably lock Sirius up as soon as they got their hands on him, or even worse; have a Dementor kiss him. Harry also wouldn’t put it past them, to simply refuse because Harry was the one demanding it.   

All in all, he was pissed. And while this whole affair probably had to be handled very carefully, Harry's state of mind had him on the edge. For now, he had to focus on the problem of even having a trial happening in the first place.

During the following week, Harry barely paid attention to his classes, but even he noticed that the teachers were just as annoyed by Umbridge as he was. And their bad mood affected the whole school.
Harry was under the impression that Umbridge was someone Snape might even despise more than him. After Umbridge’s inspection of his potions class, the professor had even snapped at the Slytherins. It wasn’t a good week for Neville.
Even Flitwick was quicker to take points.
McGonagall was teaching her class like always, but every time Umbridge passed her in the hallway she wore an expression as if she’d just stepped into hippogriff-shit. Most noticeably of all were Trelawney’s lessons though. She was an emotional wreck since the moment Umbridge had put her on probation. Sometimes Harry spotted her wandering through the halls, a slight scent of sherry trailing after her just like one of her colourful scarves.
The only one happy during that week was Angelina, who had managed to re-establish their Quidditch team. The second they were allowed to fly, she sent them out in the most horrid weather to train. A pointless hour later they returned to the castle - soaked to their bones and mud staining their feet.
Mr Filch’s angry muttering still echoed through the hallways half an hour later.

In the end, Harry had chosen to tell Ron and Hermione about the room of requirement. With its equipment and ability to offer things that were needed, it was superior to the chamber of secrets. And there was also a tiny part of Harry, who wanted the chamber to remain a secret, more so than the room of requirement. He didn’t know if this was attributable to the Horcrux or if it was a part of his own twisted mind causing these thoughts.

The first meeting of the DA – which was finally also officially called that way - took place on Wednesday. Overall it went better than Harry had expected.
His headache on the other hand never vanished completely. Out of curiosity Harry had more or less poked the shard of soul, to get a small glimpse of Voldemort's emotions. As soon as the Horcrux was no longer slumbering, the dull throbbing gave way to a flash of anger and impatience.
Apparently, the dark Lord was quite …busy. But he wasn’t the only one who felt like something didn’t happen fast enough.

Harry was thinking a lot about proving Sirius’ innocence. But the Ministry had ignored his letters. His irritation grew the more he thought about the situation and the reverberation of Voldemort’s emotions in his head didn’t help either. Death was mostly amused by the whole thing. The entire week he smirked at Harry’s grumpy remarks. But simply walking up to the Ministry and demanding that his godfather should get a trial was also no solution.

"Why not?" Death had asked him Saturday morning, while Harry was once more brooding over his breakfast.

The words resounded in Harry’s mind.

Why not? 

He looked up from the Daily Prophet which he hadn’t been reading anyway. Another article about Fudges revolutionary Educational System was decorating the front page. Yeah, why not?

Harry had thought about it the whole week, and no solution had suddenly graced his mind with its presence. So what did he have to lose?

Chapter Text

Twenty minutes later Harry found himself in London. Death was once again curled around his neck in his snake form. After they appeared next to one of the many fireplaces, Harry took a quick look at his surroundings.

The Atrium wasn’t very busy. It was Saturday after all. The golden symbols on the high ceiling glowed faintly while they moved over the blue surface in mysterious patterns. A familiar sound told of the departure and arrival of people as they stepped in and out of the green flames. When Harry spotted the elevators, he walked towards them with determined steps.

He ignored the security stand where visitors usually had to have their wand registered, instead he moved as if he belonged here. It was probably because of this, that he didn’t draw too much attention.

It was easy enough to fall back into old patterns. He had worked here as an Auror after all.

Or rather would work here? But that time would probably never come, now that he had merged with his younger self…

Harry moved with purpose, quickly weaving through the groups of people but when he passed the fountain, two wizards standing next to it shot him disparaging looks as soon as they recognized him.

One of them was about to open his mouth, probably to make a comment of some sort, but the look Harry shot the wizard caused him to rethink his decision very quickly.

And while Harry continued his way towards the elevators, the black snake which had been curled around his neck dissolved into smoke. Like a waterfall, the shadowy mass sank to the ground, yet only to materialize in another form. In the blink of a moment later, Death was walking next to Harry.

"Where are we heading?" the being asked grinning.

"To the Minister."

Death’s smirk widened at the grim look on Harry’s face.

The elevator ride was not a pleasant experience. At least not for the people sharing their space. Harry was apparently still interesting enough to be stared at and while he'd been thinking about other things – mainly about what he would tell Fudge – Death had cared a little more. Even invisible, his presence could be very …intense. When they had only moved two floors and the doors opened to "Level Six, Department of Magical Transportation, incorporating the Floo Network Authority, Broom Regulatory Control, Portkey Office and Apparition Test Centre," - as a monotone voice announced - everyone they'd still shared the elevator with had left.

Harry gnashed his teeth. Sirius would have his trial. That much he owed him. After his godfather had offered him his seats in the Wizengamot, he had the right to get something back. Fair was fair. But Fudge, that bastard was still in denial over Voldemort’s return. Well, it wasn’t like Harry cared what the Minister did about Voldemort, but right now this factor was certainly a pain in the ass.

Finally, they came once more to a rattling halt. The elevator doors opened to reveal the last floor; ‘Level one’. Now there was to hope that the office of the Minister was still located where Harry remembered it to be. With a look at Death, he left the elevator.

Harry walked past the other offices of the administrative staff. No-one stopped him. A door to his left opened, but Harry’s pushed it close. He couldn’t deal with this now.

Reaching Fudge's office, he didn’t bother to knock. His magic had the wooden door ripped open in a second and Harry entered only a moment later. "Hello Minister," he said with a dark grin, a part of him finding that he really should take a look at these random outbursts of accidental magic.

Fudge was frozen in his seat. He stared at Harry as if he’d seen a ghost. But he wasn't alone. In front of the heavy walnut desk sat another person, who was just turning around. Lucius Malfoy...

The man seemed equally startled, but after a moment he was already schooling his expression to display a more neutral emotion.

"Get out," Harry hissed between clenched teeth. There was a flash of fear in Malfoy’s eyes.

He reached for his snake-handled cane and stood up. Harry could feel Death’s amusement as the being watched from next to the door. Meanwhile, the Minister seemed to have regained his voice. He also rose from his chair.

"What in Merlin’s name-" Fudge started.

Harry cut him off with a gesture of his hand. He spoke to Malfoy, but his eyes pierced Fudge. "I and the Minister have something personal to discuss."

Lucius didn’t miss the dangerous note in his voice. Fudge on the other hand seemed indignant. He stared at Harry like a fish sitting on dry land and his face took on an angry shade of red.

"Cornelius, it was a pleasure, but I think it is better if I return another time," Malfoy said smoothly. Fudge’s head snapped towards him.

"Lucius," he started, trying to keep his composure and he took a step towards him. "Certainly, you won’t be bothered by this child," he added in a condescending way.

Malfoy waved him off. He was already halfway out of the door. "I have matters to attend to, things, that need my attention anyways. We will continue our discussion some other time…"

Harry didn’t miss the curious look on Malfoy's face before he left, but now his focus returned to Fudge. "Minister," Harry began, "I am here because of some letters I sent. They didn’t seem to have reached their recipient." The door behind him slammed close.

Fudge flinched. "I don't know what you are talking about," he started.

"Then let me remind you," Harry replied. "Sirius Black - I'm guessing that name rings a bell – he never had a trial. I demanded one after my hearing."

Fudge laughed. "Black is a known criminal and fugitive," he said while turning around. He reached for a carafe standing on a shelf behind him, before pouring himself a glass of whatever alcohol was in there.

"He is innocent-" Harry started, but the Minister whirled around. He knocked the glass onto the table, effectively cutting Harry off while spilling half its content.

"He killed thirteen people," the Minister stressed enraged, "That is a FACT!" Fudge had slammed his hand onto the table and small droplets of spit sprayed over the paperwork in front of him as he shouted the last words. For a second, the vivid image of Vernon Dursley had replaced Fudge in Harry's mind. The older man breathed heavily and Harry's jaw tensed. Fudge exhaled once more before he straightened his posture and collected himself. He looked Harry up and down and his expression changed while he did so. "Black was the only one there - the only suspect. Even a boy like you should be able to comprehend that," the Minister said patronizingly.

A sound that was almost a growl rose in Harry's throat. Fudge reached for his nearly empty glass, but before he could dismiss him once again, Harry's hand shot out and closed around Fudge's throat. With the other hand, he materialized the Elder wand. The Minister made a sound that was a mix of a surprised yelp and a choking noise. Harry shifted his grip to pull Fudge closer by his collar. He was meeting him halfway over the desk.

"Now listen here, you piece of shit," Harry hissed between clenched teeth and pressed the tip of his wand against Fudge's neck. All blood drained of the Minister's face. A bead of sweat rolled down his temple. Harry could almost taste Fudge's fear permeating the air. Death materialized right next to him. He was smirking widely. In the corner of his eye, Harry saw a flash of feathered wings amidst a sea of darkness. Thousands of eyes staring from a void that was there and yet not, because all that he could really see was a too sharp grin on a face, that - while resembling one - wasn’t really human. But Harry was too focused on Fudge, to pay more attention to Death right now. He could hear his own blood rushing in his ears, yet his senses were sharp like never before. "Either he gets his trial, or you die. Simple as that. It's your decision." Harry grinned dangerously. He could feel Fudge's heartbeat increase under his fingers. The hairs in his neck were standing up. The minister spluttered.

"Let's kill him," Death interjected from Harry's right with his raspy voice and he leaned closer. The being looked at him hungrily, excitement buzzing through their bond. Harry didn't know if the feelings were his' or Death's. But in that moment, it hardly mattered.

Harry tilted his head, never taking his eye off his prey. Fudge's sweaty skin was pale where the tip of his wand was resting. The pressure increased when the Minister swallowed hard. Harry stared into his fear-filled eyes. "Yeah, I think you are right. We should kill him. The outcome would certainly be interesting…"

A dark purr vibrated in Death's throat. Harry stared at Fudge with a hungry look.

"No- No," Fudge uttered and he raised his hands as much as he dared to, "You can't kill me. I am the Minister!"

Harry increased the pressure of his wand.

"Lucius..." Fudge suddenly stuttered between his gasps for air. His magic spiked and spun rapidly. Harry gritted his teeth.

"What?!" he asked. His pupils were blown wide as he stared at Fudges fear-filled face.

"Lucius, he has seen you. There are witnesses. They will know it was you! You will rot in Azkaban if you kill me!"

Harry's smirk widened. "I doubt that."

Fudge's face took on a greenish colour. But then his fear turned into anger. "I demand you let me go. I AM THE MINISTER!" Harry didn't budge and when the man struggled, he only tightened his grip. Fudges emotions clashed in one big outburst, as he realized that he wouldn't be able to escape. "They will send Dementors after you! This time they will do their job. All that you are is a liar, just like the whole batch! Dumbledore sent you, didn't he?! He finally goes through with his plans to replace me!"

All of a sudden Harry felt disgusted by the man in front of him. By his ignorance. His paranoia, how he clung to the last strings of the power, he thought he still possessed. He was pathetic. Weak. Harry looked at Death, who stared back. Their unspoken exchange lasted for a moment longer before Harry exhaled and forced a smile.

"Unfortunately, he is right," Harry said, successfully interrupting Fudges ranting before he pulled back, "We can't kill him," Harry added and his smile wasn't so fake anymore, when he silently added the words, 'not yet' inside his mind.

The Minister gasped for air and his hand wandered to his throat.

"Pity," Death rasped. He knew what Harry was thinking. Killing him now would only lead to problems. And they needed him. For now. A pink circle on Fudge's skin still showed where Harry's wand had rested.

"DON'T even try it," Harry snapped when Fudge was attempting to subtly reach for his own wand. Reluctantly the Minister pulled his hand back. He glared at Harry.

"I demand a trial," Harry said, stating once more the reason why he had originally shown up here.

"After all this, you think that I will grant you that wish?!" Fudge retorted angrily.

"Yes," Harry said and he leaned over the desk once more, his hands resting on the smooth surface. Fudge unconsciously took a small step back. "Yes, I do think so, because you don't want me to give an interview to …let's say, Rita Skeeter," Harry licked over his teeth, "I will talk about all the incompetence the Ministry has shown throughout the last years. I will tell them about the Dementors this summer, that the Ministry slowly loses control. I will tell them that Sirius Black is still on the run and why the Ministry won't do anything to find him and most of all I will tell them about Voldemort…"

"They will never believe you!" Fudge shot back. Harry pushed himself from the table and straightened his spine.

"Well, maybe not. But they will know about it. And they will think about it. And if they think about it, it slowly takes over their mind. There is doubt. And doubt can lead to so. Much. More," he finished. Satisfied Harry saw that it had hit a nerve.

"There isn't even a guarantee that Black shows up," Fudge said defensively.

"That isn't something you have to concern yourself with," Harry replied, "Just make it happen."

"You are insane," Fudge exclaimed, while Harry was walking towards the door.

Harry turned around. He smirked. "Well, but keep in mind dear Minister… I could've always put you under the imperio, and no one would've been the wiser." Harry's smirk vanished. "And by the way. Don't underestimate me by attributing my actions to Dumbledore."

Fudge clenched his teeth.

Harry bowed mockingly. "It was my pleasure. I guess I will hear from you soon…"

As he left, he could still hear the Minister mutter to himself. His words echoed through the open door. "Insane… completely crazy…"

Harry smirked.

 

Hours had passed. The fire in the Gryffindor common room was throwing flickering shadows onto the walls. It was almost midnight. The common room was empty apart from Harry who was sitting in a comfy armchair in front of the fireplace. Death was residing in a seat opposite to Harry, his presence swallowing the light surrounding him.

"Do you think he is going to tell somebody about my visit?" Harry asked while he stared into the flames. Without looking, he knew that Death was tilting his head.

"Maybe. But Harry Potter walking into the Ministry and threatening the Minister to kill him sounds rather insane, don't you think?"

Harry hummed absentmindedly. It was quiet for some time after that; the only noise was the crackling of the fire.

"What are you thinking about? Something is distracting you," Death said, abruptly interrupting the silence that was dominating the room.

"You always know what I am thinking about. You can read my mind," Harry stated absently, while he continued to watch the dancing flames.

"It's gotten harder. You are still changing. You are so deeply caught up in your mind that if you aren't projecting your thoughts; I only get a vague sense of it."

Harry raised his head. He looked at Death who stared back. A small grin appeared on the creature's face. "We will be equals someday. After all, you can’t be a Master if you don’t have the ability to understand what you are commanding." Death smirked at Harry's stunned expression. "Don't concern yourself with that. It will take a few centuries at the least."

"Oh, only a few centuries, nothing to worry about," Harry said sarcastically after he had regained his ability to form words.

Death grinned at him. "Now, what were you thinking about?"

"Fudge, I really wanted to kill him," Harry said.

"Is that what's bothering you?" Death asked.

Harry shook his head. "I don't know. No."

Death smirked as if he'd already known what the answer would be. "You were delighted by it," he stated in his hoarse voice, his eyes the only thing visible in the growing shadows. "The thrill..." Death materialized right in front of Harry, who shivered at his tone of voice. "The fear..."

"I was so close to going through with it, but then he was so..." Harry paused. He had trouble finding the right words. "...weak... not worthy to even be considered prey. At this moment it would've been like squishing an annoying bug..."

"Well, what else could he be?" Death stated as if it was the simplest conclusion in the world. As Harry was about to stand up, he moved closer, caging Harry with his body. The being leaned forward, his face hovering mere inches in front of Harry, "After all, he is weak in comparison to you." Death smirked and then he added amused, "The residual part you were feeling is just personal dislike..."

Harry laughed. He looked at Death with mirth in his eyes and the being smirked at him. Something changed as the moment went on. As if a heavy blanket had settled over the room, dulling everything, but each other's presence. Harry's breath hitched and he wetted his lip with the tip of his tongue. He blindly reached out, till he could feel Death's torso. Absently he started playing with the hem of Death's shirt and dipping beneath, till he could feel cool skin beneath his hands.

Death's smirk had lost some of its sharp edges, yet something else had replaced it, something not less hungry.

The being lifted a hand and pushed Harry's hair out of his face. He continued the motion, combing through the black strands with his fingers, till he tightened his grip at the back of Harry's head. He tugged slightly, causing Harry to expose his throat as he was directly looking at the being that was hovering over him. Harry breathed shallowly; he could only look. Death's free hand was now resting on his face, his fingertips tracing invisible lines on his cheekbone. The being leaned forward and Harry held his breath, his hands motionless on Death's stomach and hipbone before the distance was finally breached and they were kissing.

Harry pulled Death close, spreading his legs wider to make room for the being. Death started to trace his spine with gentle movements, the other hand still tightly interwoven with Harry's hair.

There was an almost inaudible hiss in the fireplace, just as Harry had let his hand wander on Death's chest, pushing up his shirt alongside the way. The hint of something akin to irritation was coming from Death's side of the bond, but it was the sensation of a presence in the fire that had Harry turning his head.

"Sirius," Harry uttered surprised. The head of his godfather was residing in the dancing flames and he smirked at Harry.

"Hey, Harry. I thought you might still be awake," Sirius said energetically.

Harry sighed. "Obviously." Sirius was apparently not able to see Death, who was still very much limiting Harry's moving capacity, but now the being pulled back to give Harry more space, letting go of him as he did so.

Sirius squinted his eyes. "Uhm, were you …busy with something?"

Harry glanced at Death. "Kinda, actually," he said as he slowly sat up in the armchair.

"Well, I thought you might want to hear about the news I've got," Sirius stated, blissfully unaware of the stare he was pierced with by Death. "The ministry sent a letter today - Merlin knows how their owl managed to deliver it - but I'll have a trial!"

Harry ruffled through his hair. "That's great Sirius," he said not very enthusiastically. Instead, he looked at Death who was now fully standing in front of the armchair. Harry could feel his irritation, even though he tried to hide it.

Sirius' smirk shrunk a little. "You don't have to come over-"

Harry waved him off. He pushed himself from the armchair with a sigh. "No, no. It's fine. Just- just gimme a sec."

His attention alone was enough to have Death turn his head and Harry stepped closer till he could press a kiss against the being's throat in a silent apology. Death purred and then his hand was once more in Harry's hair and Harry was arching into another kiss. He almost didn't feel the shift in the air, but the reaction it caused pulled him back into the present.

"Oh," Sirius was staring up from the fireplace. The way his eyes flicked from left to right told Harry that he wasn't the only one being able to see Death. "Oh," Sirius repeated as the realization of what he had been interrupting fully hit him. Death smirked. "I, um I guess I'll see you later," Sirius said, before his head disappeared from the fire, leaving only the glimmering coals and the orange flames.

Harry stared at the empty fireplace in stunned silence. Then he broke into laughter. Death grinned contently.

Harry punched Death's arm. "You knew exactly what you did there," Harry said. Death only grinned. "Don't smirk like that. It's your fault that I have to explain a lot of things now. And it won't be much fun," Harry continued. He couldn't bring himself to sound like he cared much and after all, Death was able to sense his amusement.

"I don't regret it," the being rasped, "He was the one interrupting after all."

Harry laughed. "You are an idiot," he said. Then he stretched and pressed a kiss against Death's lips. "Come on. Sirius was here for a reason after all."

Chapter Text

They materialized in the hallway of Grimmauld Place No. 12 shortly after Sirius' departure. Harry noticed that Mrs Black had returned to her painting. She wasn't shouting despite the curtains being wide open, but she ogled Harry with a disgusted look. Harry smirked at her and saluted as he walked past the frame, which Mrs Black only commented with a degrading snort.

He made his way to the kitchen, where Sirius was probably residing. Curiously, Harry found that he could sense Kreacher roaming through the house, a floor further up as well as someone else sleeping in a room upstairs, but it was probably only a member of the Order recovering from a mission or something.

Opening the door at the end of the stairs to the basement, Harry spotted his godfather who was sitting at the table. He seemed rather lost. When he heard the squeaking of the door, Sirius looked up. He stared at Harry and then at Death who was standing behind him.

Harry shared the being's amusement. He tried to hide it for his godfather's sake, but shortly after he'd pulled back a chair opposite to Sirius and sat down, Harry was already grinning again. Death cared even less, and he openly smirked at Sirius as he stopped next to Harry.

There was a piece of parchment laying in front of Sirius. Harry guessed that it was the letter, which had caused his godfather to call Harry.

"Well," Harry said with a badly concealed smile and he cleared his throat. "So, is that the letter you were talking about?" he asked and nodded towards it.

Sirius stared at him for another moment in silence. Two seconds passed before he opened his mouth,

"What the Hell, Harry?! You are fucking Death?!"

Harry snorted amused.

"Close but no," said being interfered.

"It's kind of the other way 'round," Harry added, "Though I wouldn't be opposed to trying," he continued with a smirk.

Sirius groaned. "Merlin, why did I even ask?" He wiped his face with both of his hands. After a moment he raised his head. Harry reciprocated his stare before Sirius eventually started to speak once more. "You are fifteen and he is like…" Sirius looked at Death, "You can't tell me that the age difference here is healthy. Did you even - before that, I mean-" Sirius groaned again. "Merlin, I never pictured myself to be forced to give this talk."

Harry laughed. "You don't have to if you don't want to. I guess that'll spare us both a lot of awkwardness."

Sirius' eyes flickered from Death to Harry. "Doesn't it bother you, that he kinda looks like you?" he asked. Harry looked at Death. The being did still resemble him in a way, but it was nowhere near the similarity that had existed at the beginning. Death was taller than Harry and his features were sharper. He looked like an adult, whereas Harry still had to deal with his teenage body every day. He didn't have a scar and there were no glasses – not that Harry would need them himself nowadays – and his nose looked different, not to mention the eyes. Death was building his own body now, and he seemed more comfortable in it with every passing day. There was a predatory air around Death, that was so natural, so easily incorporated in each of his fluid movements that no one – not even Harry - would ever be able to ever match it.

"I don't care. He can choose to look however he wants," Harry eventually said.

As if on cue, Death's features blurred and all of a sudden there was another version of Sirius standing where Death had been. Harry could still sense his true form lingering behind what he was now resembling, but for Sirius, there was probably no difference between them, apart from the eyes and the eerie perfection in Death's mirror image of him.

"As he said, I can choose whatever form I want," Death rasped.

"This," Harry began and looked at his godfather, "This on the other hand creeps me out," he said while he pointed at Death, who - with a look at Harry - changed back to his more familiar form.

Sirius swallowed. "Yeah, I get that."

"And after all, you can't be that surprised, can you? It's not like we were very subtle," Harry added and leaned back in his chair.

Sirius stopped and Harry could basically see his mind revisiting all the small signs that he had witnessed. "You have been …together, like all that time?"

"Well, we first kissed in the last week of the summer holidays, so you could say that," Harry said.

"Wait," Sirius said, "You were here during that time, weren't you? Does that mean – I mean... have you ever… like here?"

Without his conscious approval, Harry's eyes wandered to a spot further down the table, before he could restrain himself and focus his look back on Sirius. His godfather stared at him with a deadpan look. "In the kitchen. On this table..." Harry's restrained laugher made the answer more than obvious. "Aw, come on!" Sirius stated while he threw his hands into the air. "You know we eat here!"

Harry burst out in laughter and Death smirked at Harry's amusement. He wiped a tear out of the corner of his eye while Sirius shook his head. "You have to admit-" Harry said, between gasps of air - "that you wouldn't mind Snape having sat there..." Sirius' mouth twitched, and he snorted at the thought. "...or-" Harry gasped for air - "or Dumbledore," he added and now Sirius joined him in his laughter.

"You are evil," Sirius uttered, "Outright evil." They continued with their laughter, till Harry restrained himself.

"Okay, okay," he said and took a deep breath. "We should talk about the thing you really wanted to talk about."

"Alright," Sirius replied, "But I want you to show me the exact spot, so I know where I have to use a cleaning charm, okay?"

"Deal." 

Fifteen minutes later they were already deeply engrossed in the topic of Sirius' trial.

"It's a long time till then," Harry said. "The letter stated that you are expected on December 23rd. That's over two months."

"Maybe they don't know where I am. They want to make sure I show up. After all, it could take weeks till the letter reaches me."

"Maybe," Harry said, "But maybe it's a trap. Maybe they are preparing. Your capture would put Fudge in a very good spot. The public opinion would add to his favour."

Sirius hummed in agreement. "I know," he said with a dark look. "But at least I've got more time to prepare."

"Most importantly they need to be kept from sweeping everything under the rug. If it isn't known that you get another trial, the Ministry will certainly claim that they captured you themselves," Harry said.

"I can already see the headline, 'Sirius Black, infamous mass murderer finally caught'," Sirius replied grimly, "But you are right. Any ideas how we can manage to change that?"

"Well, I might have one or two. Though revealing that you get a trial now, would only lead to mass panic. The people would try to burn you alive. We need to be cunning in what we are doing, so you at least have a chance at winning this," Harry said.

Death snorted amused, and he raised an eyebrow as he looked at Harry. He was probably remembering exactly how subtle Harry had been in order to have a trial happening in the first place. Harry shot him a look.

"How optimistic of you," Sirius said sarcastically as he watched their exchange.

"Hey, you know I am right," Harry said and turned to his godfather, "They think you've been a follower of Voldemort for over a decade now, what do you think will happen? Your whole trial will be a farce if we don't do that right."

Sirius sighed. "This will be harder than I thought." Harry nodded. "And what is your plan?" the man asked.

"I don't want you to raise your hopes in vain. I have a rough idea, but you should focus on the other stuff first."

"If you think so," Sirius replied grumpily.

"Hey, where is Remus by the way?" Harry asked the already familiar question. He couldn't feel the werewolf anywhere nearby.

Sirius sighed. "He told Dumbledore that his last mission failed."

"And, what does that have to do with anything else? After all, he did stay with this pack for some time, didn't he?" Harry asked confused.

"He told Dumbledore that he couldn't stay any longer or his life would've been threatened. Originally it was planned that he would return there the next full moon."

"Well, he could've done that," Harry said. "I don't think that they would kill him without a reason. He

did well there. They respected him."

"What for?" Sirius stated, "He wouldn't have gathered any information."

"Is he still so devoted to Dumbledore's cause?"

Sirius raised his eyebrows at that. Then he sighed again. "I think he wanted a break. He needed one, that's for sure."

"And yet another mission."

"Yeah. Dumbledore came by a few days ago. Apparently, there is word out there that another werewolf wants to join the light side."

Harry looked up. "That certainly sounds interesting."

Sirius nodded. "Another werewolf in our ranks would mean another force to negotiate with the packs. Or someone to have Remus' back if he is undercover."

"And of course, he went."

Sirius nodded.

"And that's why you felt the need to pop up in the common-room fireplace and ask for my company in the middle of the night," Harry concluded with a smirk, to get his godfather out of his dark mood.

Sirius groaned. "Oh, don't remind me. I don't even want to know."

"You are lucky that Death wasn't visible to you, huh?", Harry teased, and he looked at the being, who had been silently watching their conversation for most of the time.

Sirius buried his face inside his hands.

"Someone is coming," Death said. Harry called upon the powers of the cloak just in time, because there was a hiss in the fireplace and a red-headed Tonks stumbled from the flames, dragging ashes onto the floor as he did so. Sirius raised his head and he scanned the room, but of course, there was no sign of either Harry or Death. Meanwhile, the Auror stopped her half-hearted attempts to brush the dust off her shoulders and instead fixed her - currently - red hair. It was probably thanks to her exhaustion, that she didn't notice Sirius immediately. She blinked tiredly till her eyes focused on the man sitting at the table.

"Oi, Sirius. Still up that late?" she stated surprised.

"Tonks. I thought you were still in the Ministry," Sirius said and she yawned.

"Well, my shift actually ended ten minutes ago. Hestia took over. I didn't want to wake mum and dad." Tonks yawned again, "I thought I might just sleep here if that's alright." The woman made a few steps and Harry quickly materialized on the other side of the room, to avoid being sat on. Travelling through the shadows was almost as easy as apparating now. Although, long distances were still something Harry didn't dare to mess with. Tonks sank onto the chair that Harry had been occupying just seconds ago and Sirius watched her with raised eyebrows.

"Of course," Sirius said. "Mundungus is also here. He needed a hideout for a night. Apparently, he angered some 'half-troll' of a man, like he said."

"Ah," Tonks replied, probably too tired to actually pay attention. She could've been Ginny's sister, the way she was looking tonight.

"You can use the bedroom on the second floor. You know which one."

"Mmhm," she said.

"Do you think it's a good idea if Andromeda doesn't know where you are?"

Tonks shook her head at the same time as she waved him off. "I just need to get home before she wakes up tomorrow."

"Alright, whatever you say," Sirius replied.

"Is Remus around?" Tonks asked out of the blue and Harry was once more reminded, that his godfather had been quite jealous of her crush on Moony.

"No," Sirius replied curtly. "Order business."

Tonks nodded. "I'll probably head upstairs to hit the hay," she said, pushed herself up and made her way to the door.

"'night Tonks."

"Goodnight Sirius," Tonks uttered and she left the room. Harry waited a few moments before he made himself visible again.

"Well that was close," Harry said from the other side of the room.

Sirius jumped in his chair. "Merlin's balls, I thought you were gone," he said.

"No," Harry replied with a grin, "As I said, being the Master of Death comes with some advantages. But I should probably head back soon. I still need to finish an essay for Snape."

"Sometimes I really forget that you still go to school."

Harry shrugged. "Well, you try and focus on your trial and I will see what I can do."

"Alright. And Harry, thank you."

"What for?"

"Well, the Ministry wouldn't have sent me this letter without someone pressuring them," Sirius said, "And I can't shake off the feeling, that you had something to do with it."

"Fair is fair. I owed it to you, " Harry said and he smirked, "And it wasn't like I didn't enjoy it." Sirius raised his eyebrows.

"Do I want to know?"

"It's probably better if you don't know. Should they ask you, if you knew of the illegal means with which your trial came about, you should better be able to answer with no," Harry said.

"If you say so," Sirius said curiously.

"I'll swing by next week to see how things are going. Oh, and Sirius?"

"Hm?"

"Try to better avoid the floo. Umbridge has an eye on it."

"I'll take it into consideration," Sirius said with a smirk. "I guess I'll see you then."

"Goodbye Sirius," Harry replied before the shadows swallowed him.

Harry reappeared on the same spot where he had left. In front of the fireplace of the common room. Death materialized right next to him. The flames had mostly burned down and two cats had settled on the armchair that Harry had been occupying about an hour ago. Somehow staying here didn't seem as appealing as it had then, and he turned to look at Death.

"Care for a walk?" Harry asked and Death smirked. He thought about taking the Marauders map with him, but while sneaking into his shared dormitory wouldn't have been a problem, Death could probably warn him about every approaching person anyway.

The fat lady muttered something in her sleep, as he climbed through the hole behind the portrait. Hogwarts at night had always been strangely peaceful. Though it was weird, hearing no one talk or walk in these corridors. Like watching from the other side of a mirror.
And yet so many Hogwarts students before him had to have been sneaking through these hallways at night. It was strange, imagining a young Tom Riddle walking the same paths to discover Hogwarts' secrets, or Marauders themselves...

Dust was floating through the air and Harry walked aimlessly, letting his feet dedicate the pace as he took a familiar path. Harry and Death moved in silence for some time. Most of the portraits appeared to be sleeping, as no light disturbed their rest. Harry didn't have to rely on spells anymore, to see in the dark, though the world around him was oddly colourless. 

"Fudge was right ...earlier that day," Harry said, and his voice echoed from the walls and a few portraits muttered grumpily at the noise. "Who else but Sirius would've been able to commit these murders?"
Harry realized that he had to decide where to go now since they had reached the grand staircase. "We need another suspect, which in turn means we need Pettigrew," Harry said as he stepped onto the staircase in front of him. He felt a slight breeze as he left the - in comparison - narrow hallway and stepped into an open space that was literally a tower as high as seven floors connecting each and every part of the castle.

"We can easily kidnap him," Death rasped.

"You do realize, that we need him alive," Harry joked.

Death grinned. "Alive for now. In the end, he'll meet me either way."

"Oh," Harry said with honest surprise in his voice, "I actually never thought about it that way."

"I am Death," the being stated.

"Yeah, well obviously," Harry responded with a smirk and continued his way.

"And yet you seem to forget it sometimes…" the being added somewhere behind him. Harry stopped dead in his tracks. Something underlying buzzed through their bond. Above him, he could hear the sound of stone sliding against stone, as the staircases moved lazily. He turned to look at Death, facing the familiar human form, that was only a fraction of the being that Harry knew as Death.
A predatory presence, tall and thin, sharp edges blurring into the darkness. The usual grin was missing, but if it had been there, his teeth would've seemed sharper than humanly possible. His hair was darker than shadows, as it was swallowing the light around him like a reverse halo.
The black strands moved in a way, that Harry had learned to associate with Deaths wings even if he couldn't really see them. There was a soft glow to his pale skin, not unlike moonlit bones sticking out of a dug-up grave. He was motionless, his catlike movements replaced by a stillness that was just as fitting. 'A timeless being,' Harry mused before eyes returned to his face. Death stared back; his expression unreadable.

Somehow what Death had said was important.

"I want to see you. All of you," Harry said quietly. Death's expression still hadn't changed, but Harry could feel his emotions. His words meant more than any listener could ever grasp. But they could communicate without words. They were connected in a way that was humanly not comprehensible. But Harry had been a human for such a long time. It was hard – difficult to understand it. But there was a part inside of him, that started to understand.

…I will be you and you will be me

They bled into each other, like the sky and the ocean on some days do. Two different things, yet the horizon not visible in their fluid transition of colours. Harry was still changing, adapting. He was connected to Death, and a part of him was death, however small it was right now. Harry knew it would grow. He was changing, but so was the being.

There was a shift, a ripple through the planes and Harry saw Death. And he understood some more.

The end just was – had always been. Just like existence, it was nothing one could grasp and yet Harry knew the being in front of him.
Because there was a being.


The end is neither big nor small. It is everywhere and nowhere, and it will be, as long as there is existence. But somehow in its endless circle of existing and ending; death, dying - the end itself had developed a consciousness, a mind on its own. Death was caused by death and yet the being was the cause of death. It was like asking what had been there first, the phoenix or the ashes - the personification of death or the act itself. A paradox of existence.
And this being, older than time had chosen to bind itself to a tiny human. Out of boredom, out of loneliness, but most of all to be seen, to be understood. A craving for companionship.


And Harry wanted to understand. He wanted to know this being. All of this was new to Harry, for his existence had been so brief in comparison to the being that simply was.
But to Death, this was new too.
By binding them together, Death had irretrievably turned itself into a being that had gained another layer of awareness of its conscious self. That had gained a soul.

Death had told Harry, that he'd been able to feel emotions before but as they bound themselves to each other, the being had - for the first time - learned what it felt like to experience emotions by human definition, which in turn had made him human in a way. And it was frightening and exhilarating at the same time.

And while death was everywhere as long as existence was, the consciousness - the being born out of death, was here with Harry.
Eyes and wings and shadows, endless and gigantic, filling the tower from the ground to the ceiling. Not restricted by this room - by these dimensions, Death was just as big as the space he had chosen to take up.

Death wanted to be understood, to be seen. And the being was afraid, just like Harry was afraid of what was to come. All of this was new, but Harry saw Death. And he started to understand the being. And someday - as frightening as the thought might be right now - someday they would be equals.

It was a realization, that they wouldn't talk about. Harry knew that much. At least not right now. Years would pass, maybe even decades till they would mention what they had experienced right now, what Harry had started to learn. This was only the beginning. The beginning of something so big that Harry couldn't yet wrap his mind around. But there was a spark. And that was enough.

Harry smiled. He laughed as he caught his own thoughts, deeming Death so very human in this moment. Which was a strange thing to think, considering that he was surrounded by this being that was solely the darkness residing in the tower full of staircases. Harry could no longer see the hundreds of portraits on the walls. There were eyes, countless eyes looking at him and black feathered wings and shadows, which weren’t really shadows. It didn't matter which form Death took.

Harry reached for the being that was everywhere surrounding him, with his hands, mind, soul and magic.

There was a pulsing that was physical and yet not as Harry made contact.

"I love you, you know," Harry whispered and he couldn't help but feel a little silly. But if the ripple running through Deaths form wasn't any indicator of what he was feeling, the happiness pulsing through their bond certainly was. Harry inhaled and as soon as the air had left his lungs again, Death was standing in front of him, in his very familiar - human form.
Harry realized that this body now was just as much a part of Death, as his wings and his eyes that he had always considered his true form. But just like Death had said during their conversation with Sirius earlier that day; he really could look however he wanted.

And if he had put a little bit of effort in, to find a form that resembled Harry's in the way that he appeared human... who was there to judge him? He was Death after all.

Harry smirked when Death stared at him. Not even half a second passed before he could feel Death nuzzling his neck with a purr and he could only hold onto the being's shirt as his back was pressed against the bannisters. There were teeth grazing his skin and Harry gasped as a shiver ran down his spine. The sudden movement of the staircase had him realizing where they were. He gripped Death's shirt tighter and he hadn't yet tried something like this, but the intention alone seemed to be enough. He melted into the shadows pulling Death along, or maybe he was being followed but he didn't care.

--

Harry was met with an amused snort when they reappeared beneath one of the stands on the Quidditch pit, a very popular spot to make out and the only place Harry's distracted mind had been able to think of where they might for once be undisturbed. "Stop laughing," Harry said when Death continued to smirk at him, but the fondness in his voice betrayed his words. "It was the first thing that came to my mind," Harry added, but Death didn't seem to mind that much, since he leaned forward and let his nose run over Harry's neck till he reached the spot behind Harry's ear. A deep rumble left his throat.

Meanwhile, Harry started to let his hands wander beneath Death's shirt. He liked the feeling of skin on skin, had always loved touching, but this was something else entirely. He could feel Death's emotions reverberating in their bond just as he knew how his own feelings were pulsing through.

Harry felt a hand sliding up his neck, intertwining itself with his hair and tugging. He followed the movement like so often. There was a pulse of possessiveness every time he bared his throat that way. A deep predatory satisfaction that Death found in Harry's vulnerability was sparking through their bond and another emotion that Harry couldn't quite name yet.
But then his eyes met Death's.

It was awe. Pure and simple.

Harry couldn't breathe. Or maybe he could, but he didn't notice if he did so. There was only the being in front of him. He could feel the rumble, that had Death's chest vibrating and there was another hand taking hold of his waistband in the front, while sharp teeth ran over the spot, where his blood was pulsing. And then Harry was being pushed against a wall. Heat started to build deep in his guts as Death licked over his exposed skin.

Harry tugged Death closer till there was no space separating their bodies. He wanted - he needed to feel more, and he let his hands wander over the being's skin, till Death pulled back and Harry was able to get the shirt off the being's body. Then there were hands holding Harry in place, fingers pressing against his hipbones as Death nuzzled against his stomach and ribs, pushing Harry's own shirt up, before he playfully nipped his skin, leaving an imprint of teeth for a second, before the blood could return to its spot. Death eventually pulled Harry's shirt over his head, letting his hands run over his chest along the way before he let the piece of clothing drop to the ground and he cupped Harry's cheeks.

Harry didn't feel the cold like he used to, but even then, he didn't think that he would've cared if he did. Cool wood was pressing against his back as he was kissing Death while a hand found its way beneath his waistband. Harry arched into the touch and he wasn't able to do much more than to meet Death in open-mouthed kisses.
He breathed heavily against the other's lips, as fingers wrapped themselves around his hard member. Something sparked deep in Harry's stomach with the pressure against his skin and the cadent movements. But suddenly this wasn't enough. "Please...," Harry managed between gasps. "I- I need..."

Death slowed his motion till it matched the rhythmic pulsing of Harry's blood. 

"Harry..." he whispered grinning, his lips brushing against Harry's and then he nudged his lover's cheek with his nose. "What do you need, Harry?"

The Gryffindor gasped. "Fucking tease," he managed to utter against Death's jaw in hot breaths and the being sped up the movement of his hand with a predatory grin. Harry's breath hitched and Death licked over his cheek. 

"Harry...," Death continued. Harry's eyes fluttered shut, while his head fell back against the wall, meeting the wood with a dull thump. He held onto Death's shoulders as the spark of pleasure slowly started to build.

"Come on Harry..." Death rasped and Harry panted.

"Need you..." Harry gasped, "Please..." His eyes snapped open when the hand pulled out of his trousers. The smouldering heat that had already started to spread through his stomach retreated, till it was once again a low fire coiling in his guts. Harry couldn't keep a whine from spilling over his lips, at the loss of contact. Death purred loudly against Harry's throat. He pressed closer and his hands slid over Harry's ribs.
"Come on," Harry began, "Come on..." his sentences more gasps than actual words. He reached out and tugged on Death's pants before he remembered that he had magic. The remaining layers separating them were banished to a pile on the ground and a pulse of amusement went through their bond.
Harry's feverish eyes focused on Death, who was still mostly pressed against Harry but did nothing to end his misery. Instead, he watched him with an amused smirk. The teasing bastard. Well, two could play this game. Harry slowly leaned forward, but instead of kissing Death, he buried his face in the being's neck, nuzzling the spot beneath his jaw, not unlike Death did so often when he was focusing on Harry.
What should have been payback to finally get Death to move was actually quite nice and Harry hummed as he nosed Death's skin. He breathed in deeply, taking in the scent that had already become so very familiar. The motion took some of the frantic need for release out of Harry. And while it was still there, the want was more of a slow burn heating up his insides, which he ignored in favour of continuing to rub his nose against Death's neck.

Therefore, it took some time for him to realize, that Death hadn't moved at all since Harry had started to nuzzle the being's neck. After he did notice this particular factor though, Harry pulled back. "Are you alright?" he asked slightly confused and maybe a tiny bit concerned.

All of a sudden, their bond was flooded with astonishment, love and adoration. Harry gasped at the intensity of it. Death leaned forward to kiss him and Harry's eyes fluttered close once more. After a few seconds though, their kiss grew more heated and Harry licked over Death's teeth, pushing back and he wrapped his legs around the being's hips as he was hoisted up.

Harry thanked Merlin for his magic because it was only a thought that separated him from getting what he wanted, even if it only was lube and finally Death breached him. It was still tight, and Harry's breath got knocked out of his lungs, till his hips were flush with Death's and his member had fully settled inside him. And then the being began to move.

The wooden wall roughly scraped against Harry's back, but he couldn't care less. Death was starting to lick over Harry's collarbone. The steady movement caused his breath to hitch, but it was a gentle nip on his jawline, followed by a slight changing of angle that had Harry moaning loudly. The pleasure that had never fully disappeared came back with a new intensity and the stretch alongside the pressure against that bundle of nerves, punched little moans out of Harry's lung. The heat began to spread beneath his navel and Harry could only pant as the tension in his muscles increased. Blood rushed in his ears. A purr climbed up Death's throat when Harry let out another whine as the being sped up his movements. There was a hand back in his hair and Death was licking over Harry's throat. Teeth scraped against his skin before they bit down sharply and then the tension reached its peak in a mix of pain and pleasure.

The heat inside Harry's stomach exploded, and he came with a whimper. His muscles clenched rhythmically, and his hips jerked without conscious thought, as he rode out his orgasm before Death also stilled after a few continuing thrusts.
Harry could still feel the aftershocks of the feeling wash over his body in lazy waves, as well as his rapidly beating heart. His lips found Death's after a little bit of idle searching and he pressed a slow kiss against them that was soon reciprocated.
Now that the heat of the moment had passed, Harry's limbs started to feel stiff with the uncomfortable position they had been forced to keep. He suppressed a strangled noise when he felt Death slide out of him, and then he was standing once more on his own feet.

--

Death looked at him with a smirk and Harry grinned back. He stretched his stiff limbs and a distinct tiredness started to settle in his bones. While Harry didn't need to sleep, he couldn't deny that he did miss his bed right now.
Harry lifted his hand to his neck and pressed into the tender skin, where Death's actions would undoubtedly leave another mark. He looked at Death with an amused expression when he felt his possessiveness bleeding through the bond.

Harry let his hand fall from his neck and with a sigh, he turned to face the scattered clothing on the ground. After a moment of consideration, he just slipped into his underwear and pulled his shirt over his head. Then he let the elder wand materialize in his hand and with a wave, the remaining pieces vanished from the ground. If he was correct in his assumptions, then they should be waiting next to his bed in the castle.
When he turned around, Death was also wearing his clothes again. Harry glanced at the being, trying to find out if he looked slightly more dishevelled than before or if this was only his imagination. Death smirked at him as if he knew exactly what he was thinking.

"We should probably head back," Harry said after a moment while he was looking at Death.
An owl hooted in the distance, as he disappeared into the shadows.

Death was already there when Harry reappeared on his bed inside the Gryffindor tower.

"Show-off," he muttered as he made himself comfortable. Death smirked and Harry couldn't keep the smile off his face -nor did he want to - when the being settled beside him and wrapped his arms and whatever invisible appendages he possessed around Harry as he drifted off to sleep. 

Chapter Text

Sunday was pretty uneventful, and Harry mostly used the time to sort through his ideas of how to make Sirius' trial public knowledge without causing people to burn him on a stake. The remainder of the day, he and Ron went to the Quidditch pitch to train the red-heads abilities as a keeper. He wasn't as skilled as Oliver Wood had been, but played decently enough if he wasn't too nervous.
Death was watching from the bleachers and even sat on top of the hoops for some time, which caused Harry to have half a heart attack at first.

It was Monday during the third lesson – Harry was sitting in front of his cauldron which contained a spotless potion – when he was forcefully reminded that he had forgotten to finish his essay for Snape. The professor towered over him threateningly. Not that Harry was intimidated, but he had a hard time suppressing the groan that was about to leave his lips at Snape's words. "Detention Potter. Maybe that will teach you some discipline. Seven pm," and with a sneer, he added, "I've got a few toads that need to be disembowelled. Don't be late."

"You couldn't have reminded me, could you?" Harry hissed at Death after Snape had turned away. The being met Harry's glare with only a smirk.

A few tables further down, Draco sniggered. "Oh, fuck off Malfoy," Harry said loudly over his table. It was time that the guy grew up a little bit. Ron next to him snorted.

"Ten points from Gryffindor," Snape retorted smoothly without even looking up as he inspected Parkinson's potion.

"Harry," Hermione hissed. Ron grinned at him.

Harry rolled his eyes as he was met with the dark stares of the other Gryffindors.

After Potions followed Divination, during which Professor Trelawney predicted that Harry would die a gruesome death and that he would soon meet a dangerous stranger, who – what surprise – also wanted to kill him. It didn't help that she was still on probation.
Defence against the Dark Arts was even worse. Umbridge watched him like a hawk and she pressed her lips together when Harry did nothing, that would justify inviting him to another detention. He even kept his mouth shut, when she made a few comments about Diggory's death that had people whisper in shock and Dean Thomas jumping up from his chair, and yet Harry was simply staring at the dry pages of his DADA book. It didn't keep Umbridge from trying though. Even after the lesson had ended, Harry still found himself in an ongoing state of irritation.

The ghosts of Hogwarts - who were already avoiding him - turned around as soon as they saw him and during Dinner, Neville obliviously declared that the bench on which they were sitting had to be really old if it already had started to rot.

Only then, Harry reigned his magic in and he went to the common room to finish his potions essay before he went to face Snape for his detention.

It turned out, it wasn't Snape waiting in front of his office but Filch, who promptly went and led Harry to the trophy room. The awards and medals in there always caught some dust and it was a regular punishment for Hogwarts students to have to clean them without magic. After Filch had put down a bucket with cleaning utensils, he confiscated Harry's wand. "I'll be back in one to two hours. And I will know if you didn't clean anything," he said, while a purring Mrs Norris rubbed herself against his legs.

Harry watched Filch turn his back and disappear in the dim-lit hallway.

Mrs Norris' eyes were like torches as she stared at Harry. But a look from Death and she hissed, before following her owner.

"Well, it could've gone worse," Harry said and turned to Death, who was leaning against a wall.

"Better than disembowelling toads, at least." The being watched amused as Harry materialized the elder wand and cast a "scourgify" over the whole room. "Now the question is, what was so important that Snape can't handle my detention himself?" Harry said. Death raised an eyebrow.  

Five minutes later Harry was walking past the portrait of Brutus Scrimgeour, that was hiding a passageway to the fourth-floor corridor. He had to evade a few students, but with the power of the invisibility cloak on his hands, it wasn't really a problem. Soon enough he reached the dungeons.

Harry materialized in a shadowy corner of Snape's office and Death appeared a little further to his right.

Not far from them sat the professor. He was bent over his desk, dark hair hanging down as he was grading the essays that he had collected earlier that day. Apparently, Harry had overestimated Snape's hate for him. The satisfaction of watching Harry disembowel toads was evidently no match for his current workload.
Harry was about to leave again, but a small movement caught his attention. Snape's eyes had flicked to a clock standing on his desk. It was probably nothing, but since Harry didn't have anything else to do anyway, he decided to stay for some time. Maybe the man was busy after all?

Death had already started to inspect the room and after a minute Harry followed him. Shelves upon shelves lined the walls. Mostly they held jars, which contained all kinds of macabre things. All of them were labelled scrupulously in familiar handwriting. There were vials holding different poisons and natural antidotes as well as potions and other stuff. Right in front of Harry was a jar with pickled Murtlap-tentacles and next to it one, that was containing fully intact Mooncalf eyes. They stared at Harry motionlessly as they floated in their potion. Others contained plants and one jar held something, that Harry recognized as a fully preserved Doxy. He walked alongside the wall, till the rows of jars abruptly ended because an old wooden door with a heavy iron handle and lock took up that space. Snape's private storage closet. Another doorway was located on the opposite wall, the wood of the door a little smoother and Harry guessed that it was probably leading to his private quarters.

He wondered how the man could even read the handwritten papers in the gloomy room since the fireplace was the only thing illuminating it. And yet, the many glass jars reflected the light in a way that could almost be described as pretty.
Harry turned his attention to the shelves on the other side of the room where Death was already lounging around. He let his fingers run over the labels as he inspected their contents. Harry had gotten so used to the quiet shuffling of papers and the scratching of a quill that he nearly shattered one of the glass jars when Snape sighed loudly.

Death chuckled amused and Harry shot him a glare before he turned his head and looked at the professor. When nothing more happened, he continued to examine the jars on the wall.

After a few uneventful minutes of walking through the room, Harry eventually turned his attention back to Snape. The man pinched his nose as he was reading through a passage of an almost unreadable essay. "Hopeless," Snape muttered as he crossed out the whole paragraph and scribbled something next to it. "Utterly hopeless."

Harry repressed an amused snort. Then, without a warning, Snape stood up. He tapped the stack of papers with his wand and while they organized themselves, he extinguished the fire with another silent spell before making his way to the door leading to the dungeons. Harry vanished from the – now – dark room and appeared in the hallway, just to see Snape exit his office from the other side. Death had followed his example and they watched the professor locking the door with his magic. Curiously Harry followed Snape.

"Where do you think he's going?" Harry asked Death after he had silently cast a spell that was frequently used by Aurors to disguise their presence during an observation. It was harder to keep up while moving and Harry had to focus quite a bit. Though Snape didn't turn around after he'd spoken and thus Harry guessed that he'd had to have done it alright. 

Death tilted his head and he stared at Snape for a moment. "The headmaster's office," he said. And indeed. Shortly after, they stood in front of the gargoyle that guarded its entrance.

Harry cancelled the silence spell that had allowed him to move without making any noise. Who knew whether Dumbledore could sense his magic just like the hidden spells Voldemort had used in his cave full of inferi.

Despite the fact, that Harry didn't know how obvious a simple spell would be inside a castle full of wizards and witches, he didn't want to take a risk. Only relying on his cloak, Harry materialized in Dumbledore's office, while Snape had yet to tell the gargoyle the password. Death appeared somewhere behind Harry as he started to take in the room.

It was cluttered with strange devices, some of them whirring others standing still and reflecting the last beams of autumn sunlight falling through the window. His eyes wandered over the cabinets on the walls. They lingered a little longer on the closet in which the Pensive was currently hidden from sight before they landed on Fawkes who was grooming his feathers on a bird perch in a corner of the room.

Most of the portraits seemed asleep, but some of them watched the door and one wizard was scratching his nose. Eventually, Harry's eyes fell onto the headmaster.

He hadn't really seen Dumbledore since the speech at the beginning of the school year. The man was currently seated by his desk, writing a letter with furrowed brows. His wrinkles were deeply engraved in his face and his beard was tucked into his belt. He seemed weary, Harry thought. Exhausted. Then there was a knock on the door.

Dumbledore raised his head and alongside the change of posture, the tired expression vanished. "Come in, Severus," he said while he put down the quill and pushed away from the letter.

"Headmaster," Snape replied after he'd entered, acknowledging Dumbledore with a nod.

"Severus," the older wizard greeted him, "Right on time. Have a seat," he added, as he folded his hands in a familiar way. Snape stayed where he was, but the headmaster didn't seem to be bothered by this and simply continued. "How is Harry?" he asked after a moment.

Harry raised his eyebrows at that.

"Potter?" Snape snorted, "That is the reason why you called me here?" He stared at Dumbledore. When the headmaster only reciprocated his gaze, he started to talk, yet only after another dismissive snort. "Nothing seems out of the ordinary. He walks to his classes with Granger and Weasley. Most of his free time he plays Quidditch or spends time with his friends of what I have seen. According to a conversation between Weasley and Granger, he appears to have withdrawn from them, yet that was to be expected after the unfortunate events of Mr Diggory's death last summer." Snape looked at Dumbledore, but the man showed no sign of wanting the professor to stop. "His potion skills this year appeared to have improved, yet the short-lived impression that he might be able to pass his O.W.L.'s was thoroughly ruined by the lack of effort he puts in his work," Snape continued and Harry noticed a hint of sarcasm in his voice. He seemed to think of this whole 'interrogation' as ridiculous.

Dumbledore gestured for him to stop.

Harry watched them attentively while tracing the shapes of his teeth with his tongue. So Dumbledore had asked Snape to have an eye on him. What a delightful turn of events... Harry glared at the headmaster. What a sneaky old man. Not that it was a surprise though.

"I doubt that this is the only reason why you asked for my presence," Snape said.

'More like refuse to believe,' Harry added in his mind, but he couldn't help but agree with the professor. He stared at Dumbledore curiously, just as eager as Snape to get more information. Dumbledore sighed and he looked at his hands before raising his head once more.

"The Minister visited me in today." Harry perked up at that.

Snape's raised eyebrow was the only indicator of his surprise, but Harry knew that he was just as stunned. "I thought he was rather …fond of ignoring this whole situation," the black-haired professor conveyed eventually.

"He wasn't here to talk about Voldemort."

"What did he want?" Snape asked. Harry bit his lip thoughtfully. He already had a good grasp on what this was about.

"He threatened me," Dumbledore said over his half-moon glasses. Despite the bad news that Fudge had gone to the headmaster shortly after Harry's own 'visit' in the Ministry, he couldn't help but feel amused. Harry turned to Death, wanting to know what he thought of that matter, but now he literally had to bite his lip to hold back a snort.

He hadn't paid much attention to Death since they had materialized in this room - too engrossed in what was being discussed. And yet his attention had completely shifted. Death was still standing somewhere behind Harry, but his gaze was focused on the other side of the room. He glared at Fawkes with a mix of disdain and spite. The expression was something so unusual, that it had taken Harry a moment to comprehend the amusing sight. Unfortunately, Harry couldn't linger on it because Dumbledore had continued with his speech.

"-wasn't his visit that worries me. It was what he said." Snape's eyebrow seemed to have risen even higher, but apart from that, his face remained emotionless. "I could now list the insults he used and some very foolish - if creative - conspiracy theories of his, all describing various plans of mine to undermine his authority in the Ministry... yet if I leave all of this out, one obvious fact remains." Snape's dark eyes pierced Dumbledore. "Someone was in the Ministry and threatened Cornelius Fudge. Someone, who he thinks I have sent to him."

Snape was silent until he realized what Dumbledore was implying. "And you think that person is Potter," the professor stated deadpan. "He is a fifteen-year-old boy. He can't even apparate."

"There are other means to travel," Dumbledore said calmly.

The professor sneered. "The knight bus?" he offered sarcastically.

"Someone could've taken him with them."

Snape seemed to think about that for a moment. "...Black would certainly help him if he asked," he began slowly. "But why should Potter threaten the Minister?"

Dumbledore hummed and nodded as if he was pleased by Snape's conclusions. "Why was Harry present during Sturgis Podmore's trial?" he added after a moment.

Snape only stared.

"Many unanswered questions, Severus…" The headmaster took off his glasses, "Things I can't explain… and it worries me," Dumbledore said as he polished them with his sleeve. The potions professor watched silently before they sat once again on Dumbledore's crooked nose. "How things seem, he is much further gone than we ever dared to imagine. I fear, that if Voldemort continues the way he does, Harry Potter might forever be lost to us. Keep an eye on him, Severus," Dumbledore said.

As Snape turned to leave, Harry looked at Death. The being was now no longer glaring at Fawkes but reciprocated Harry's gaze.

"I should've known," Harry said as soon as they had left Dumbledore's office. "It was pretty obvious that Dumbledore would hear about my attendance of Sturgis' trial, but I hoped that at least Fudge would be sensible enough to realize that Dumbledore wouldn't send a fucking student to the Ministry to threaten him. His paranoia concerning Dumbledore is even bigger than I thought," Harry rambled as he walked past a corner and ducked into a secret passage behind a curtain. "God that man is stupid... You can't even call that ignorant anymore."

Harry stopped in the middle of the narrow passage and turned around. "And what was this with you and Fawkes?" he asked curiously. Death simply stared back as Harry smirked at him.

"I don't like them," he rasped after a moment.

"What, Phoenixes?" Harry said with a snort and he leaned against the wall.

"They are an anomaly. They don't die. Not like they should, anyway," Death replied. Harry grinned amusedly.

"And what am I then?" he asked and licked over his lips.

"You are my Master," Death replied and he took a step closer, his face hovering over Harry's.

Harry stared at him with a smirk. "I think you just don't like them, because you can't scare them," he said. "Fawkes didn't seem to be very bothered by your glare."

The being huffed. Harry reached out and put his hands against Death's chest, tugging him a little closer. He leaned forward and pressed a kiss against the being's lips. Harry smiled when a familiar rumble climbed up Death's throat. He placed another kiss on Death's throat - a spot that was easier to reach since that bastard still chose to make himself taller than Harry - before he buried nose in Death's neck. "We should head back soon," Harry said, his lips brushing the being's skin as he nosed Death's neck. "Officially I am still cleaning trophies." Harry could feel Death's hands moving over his spine. He lingered for a moment longer, before he pulled back with a sigh.
"Come on. If I don't show up, I'll probably have to really disembowel Snape's toads for the rest of the week."

Filch did show up about twenty minutes after they'd arrived back in the trophy room and the Squib eyed Harry suspiciously when he saw how clean it actually was. In the end, Harry argued how he should've magicked the dust away if he didn't have his wand and Filch reluctantly let him go.  

Harry had finished his homework around eleven o'clock and he happily headed to bed afterwards, glad to leave that day behind.

The following school day passed quickly and afterwards, they held their second meeting for the DA. Harry had them practice the basics and while there was a lot of groaning and complaining, it became evident that most of the members didn't even know how to do a passable shield charm. The objections turned into quiet grumbles and soon they took turns in trying to disarm each other as well as deflecting the spell. "That was brilliant," Creevy said with a flushed face as Harry oversaw all of the DA-members leaving the room of requirement. He nodded absentmindedly, while Lee, George and Fred walked past him before he closed the door to the now empty room. It was time to make good on his promise to Sirius. He gestured towards Ron and Hermione that he would catch up later and as soon as he'd walked around the corner he disappeared into the shadows.

The entrance hall of Grimmauld Place No. 12 was not empty like Harry had expected when he appeared in the dim room. Instead, he was met with the surprised stare of Dedalus Diggle who stopped dead in his tracks when Harry appeared right in front of him. In hindsight, it had been pretty foolish to not expect something like this to happen eventually since he'd continued to barge in like that.

"Mr Potter!" the man exclaimed and promptly lost his purple top hat. The buzzing of voices was audible from the basement. Apparently, Harry had arrived just while an order meeting took place.

"Well this is unfortunate," Harry stated. From the corner of his eye, he noticed Death looming over his shoulder. The being smirked at Dedalus threateningly. The smaller Wizard flinched and the way his eyes widened told Harry, that he was able to see the being.

"Pity," Death rasped with a smirk. "Now we have to kill him." 

Dedalus Diggle eyes flicked between Harry and Death. The mix of fear and confusion was probably the only thing that had kept him from shouting for help by now. The portraits on the wall watched curiously, some of them had sat up eagerly as soon as Death's words had left his mouth. Crazy bunch of Blacks that they were.

Harry smacked Death's shoulder. "Yeah right. Not suspicious at all, no…" he said with an amused smirk. Death, over time, had acquired a strange sense of humour, and Harry had to admit that he liked it. Though he wasn't quite sure if this particular statement had been genuine or not.

Diggle seemed to have finally decided that he should act. He grappled for his wand and opened his mouth, but before he could do anything, Harry's head had snapped back to him. He had materialized the elder wand and was pointing it at the small wizard.

"Oh no, I wouldn't do that if I were you," Harry said, and for good measure, he cast a 'silencio' on the man. Death seemed to find the whole situation very entertaining. Mrs Black watched from her portrait and for the first time she regarded Harry with a look that wasn't outright disgust but rather a hint of curiosity.

Harry stared into Diggle's wide eyes. "Obliviate," he said after a moment.
A dazed look appeared on Dedalus' face and before he could realize what was going on again, Harry materialized on the stairs one floor above the wizard. Death stood once more next to him and Harry leaned forward to watch the order member over the railing.

"Wha-" Diggle muttered and he looked around confused. After a moment he picked up his hat and walked towards the door that was leading to the kitchen. The eyes of the portraits followed him. Harry waited till he had disappeared and then made his way back down to the entrance hall. He turned to the portraits, mainly Mrs Black, who was staring at him with thinly veiled interest. Harry reciprocated her gaze for a moment.

"I hope this stays between us," he eventually said, addressing the images of witches and wizards hanging on the walls. "I don't want Dumbledore sticking his nose in stuff, that isn't his issue." Harry's eyes wandered to a particular wizard, who was loitering in a frame that was certainly not his. Phineas Nigellus Black was looking around indifferently. Harry stared at him. "Don't think I can't burn both of your portraits till they are nothing more than dust." He casually flicked his wand and a wall of fiendfire roared up behind him. Harry could feel the sizzling heat on his skin, but the flames didn't touch him, unlike the first time which had marked him with a pale scar on his wrist. Its many shapes were roaring and hissing, angry because they weren't allowed to devour anything. The former headmaster paled in his portrait. Harry turned to Mrs Black, "That goes for all of you. I doubt your sticking charm would survive that either," he said before he once again addressed all of the – now affronted looking – wizards and witches. "Family affairs stay in the family."

"You are no Black," Phineas spat, "We don't owe you our loyalty."

"What a pity," Harry said and the flames crept forward.

"Alright, Alright! Fine," the former headmaster shouted. The fiendfire behind Harry vanished.

Harry sighed. "Well, I have to admit that what you said is true. No one here owes me anything. But Sirius is the head of the house. You owe him your loyalty-" Harry stared at Phineas - "first and foremost. Apart from you, no one has pledged allegiance to anyone else." The former headmaster just stared. "Keep in mind that Dumbledore did nothing to help Sirius Black to prove his innocence when he needed him back then, but now he happily uses this house as his headquarters… Let's just call it a favour. I will help to reinstate the House of Black by proving Sirius' innocence and you will keep my secret. Certainly, you wouldn't want that all that remains of your legacy are a bunch of crazies, who rotted in Azkaban."

Phineas had grown quiet and he seemed to consider Harry's words. "Why would I care, if some foolish wizard gets obliviated anyway," he said eventually. "If Albus Dumbledore asks me outright though, there is nothing I can do," Phineas added and he turned around and left the frame.

"I guess, we've come to an understanding," Harry concluded. Mrs Black snorted.

Harry took a deep breath before he made himself invisible and walked towards the stairs leading to the kitchen below. This agreement was still better than having the portrait of Phineas vanish entirely from Dumbledore's office in Hogwarts. There was no way the headmaster wouldn't notice if it were to suddenly disappear.

Chapter Text

The sound of voices grew louder with every step he took and soon Harry could make out the words that were spoken. "-can only guess. Last we know they were close to Fort William."

There was no charm blocking him from listening today, unlike the other times during the holidays when a whole bunch of teenagers had been staying at Grimmauld Place.
When Harry had reached the foot of the stairs, he reached out with a hand and as soon as he'd pressed his palm against the wood of the door, he went through it. 

"But that was weeks ago," Kingsley said in his soothing voice, just as he entered. Harry shook off the weird feeling of moving through solid matter and looked at the group gathered around the table. Next to the dark-skinned Auror sat Dedalus Diggle – who thankfully showed no sign that he'd been obliviated just minutes ago - instead he was twirling his hat in his hands. Minerva McGonagall was occupying the chair to his left but her head was turned in the other direction, eyes fixated on Dumbledore who sat at the end of the table. The headmaster was stroking his white beard while he listened to the conversation, nodding thoughtfully from time to time. On his right was Moody, of whom Harry could only see the backside of, but the Auror’s appearance was just as uncanny as Tonks’, who sat next to him with her signature pink hair, followed by Molly and Arthur Weasley. Harry spotted Sirius on the opposite end of the table, a grim expression on his face, as he was residing in his usual seat next to the fireplace. Close to him sat Mundungus who didn't seem to be listening at all, instead, he was loudly rummaging through his pockets. On Sirius' other side stood Bill Weasley. He was hovering over a map.
Harry had already seen it, shortly before he and his godfather had visited Conall's pack.
A few strands of Bill's hair had left his ponytail and fell into his face, dangling over the map just like his earring with the fang attached to it. Harry briefly wondered if his brother Charlie had given it to him. Arthur’s gaze was also trained onto the scribbles and he leaned towards his son, looking at the spots that Bill was tracing with his fingers.

Remus was absent, probably still on his mission. But Severus Snape was there, although the man seemed like he didn’t want to be here at all. He was looking at Kingsley, clearly ignoring his left where - apart from an empty chair – Mundungus was the only thing separating him from Sirius.

"It's the only trace we have right now," Dumbledore said calmly.

"Well, we know Greyback is heading towards the south," Bill said, eyes on the map. "We only know of two areas in which werewolves run in packs big enough to be of interest to him."

"Then he is probably going to the one that's residing around Aberfoyle," Tonks mused. "That one is closer if their last location is still anything to go by."

"But we shouldn't only focus on the big packs," Kingsley said. "Smaller groups might be actually more inclined to join a side."

Dumbledore nodded thoughtfully, but Sirius snorted. "Isn't that why Remus is out there, searching for this supposedly lone wolf who wants to join the light side?" There was a hint of bitterness in his voice and by the way, the other's reacted, Harry could tell that it was a topic, which had already been discussed more than once.

"Another werewolf on our side is a great asset. You know that just like anyone here," Moody started in his usual gruff tone.

"We don't even know if the rumours are true," Sirius resumed, anger spiking his voice and he leaned forward. "Maybe we are just wasting our time-"

"Black, I would be thankful if you could reduce your whining to a minimum," Snape interjected and Sirius' head snapped around. "We are here to actually discuss matters of importance... Just because you are emotionally-"

"If we could return to our actual topic, perhaps?" Kingsley suggested. The potions professor actually seemed inclined to let it rest, but then Sirius opened his mouth. 

"Yeah, shut up Snievellus," he said after he had processed Snape's comment. Mundungus sniggered, but he immediately put some distance between him and Snape, when he saw his thunderous expression.

Dumbledore sighed.

Meanwhile, the potions professor collected himself. The fury that had been visible on his face just seconds ago, was replaced by a mocking smile.

"It was already pretty obvious that you can't keep your personal relations out of the order business," the man sneered, while Sirius on the other end of the table was fuming. "Perhaps you should just give up on taking part in these meetings. If I think about it, there is no point in you attending anyway," Snape proceeded, "After all, how useful can you be to the order, if all that you do is staying in that house all-"

Sirius' chair scraped over the floor as he jumped up.

Death smirked.

"Please," Dumbledore began, but Sirius simply ignored him. There was a mad glint in his eyes as he stared at Snape who also didn't seem very inclined to stop at this point. Mrs Weasley shook her head and many people at the table wore similar expressions.

"I dare you to finish that sentence," Sirius pressed out between clenched teeth. His magic was spiking all over.

"Well, what is it that you actually do you do to help the order?" Snape said. "Have you ever considered that even Lupin doesn't want to put up with your moods anymore-" Even before the professor finished, Harry knew that this was a low blow. Whether Snape knew of what kind Sirius' and Remus' relationship was or not. Harry’s theory was soon verified by Sirius himself, who pulled out his wand at the same time as Dumbledore rose from his chair.

"That is enough!" the headmaster said determinedly.

This was the moment Sirius lunged over the table. No one seemed to have thought that this was even a possibility. For the blink of a moment, everyone was stunned, but before Sirius could reach Snape, Bill had moved quick-wittedly and grabbed the Animagus to hold him back.

"Oh, I would love to show you some of the curses my mother taught me-" Sirius spat, his eyes full of anger while he strained against Bills hold.

Death eyed him with interest.

"SIRIUS!" Dumbledore yelled, and only then his godfather seemed to realize what he had actually said.

The Animagus went white as a sheet. He sat down without another word after Bill had let him go.

Snape stared at Sirius with a strange look, while the others on the table didn't seem to know what they should do. Harry had to admit that he was equally surprised. For a moment, there had been actual fear in Snape's eyes.

Meanwhile, the man in question summoned a whisky bottle as well as a glass from the sideboard, not without causing some of the order members to flinch as he flicked his wand. Sirius poured himself a drink, his eyes daring anyone to say a word.

An awkward silence had settled over the room. Harry noticed that Dumbledore was looking at his godfather with concern.

"Well," Kingsley said and cleared his throat. "Have there been any news from Hagrid?"

Dumbledore's eyes left Sirius and he turned to the Auror.

"Not yet, but after my last correspondence with Madame Maxime I'm confident that he will return soon," the headmaster said. His casual tone seemed to have brought some of the normalcy back and the people sitting around the table visibly relaxed.

Harry chewed on his lip as he looked at his godfather. The man was staring at his drink with an unreadable expression. While Sirius hadn't been innocent in this whole argument either, this confrontation with Snape seemed to have hit him harder than anticipated. After a moment of hesitation, Harry left his spot next to Death and moved towards his godfather.

"Bill, did the goblins mention anything about a possible alliance?" Dumbledore asked.

"Well, they will probably do what will benefit them the most. Right now, staying neutral is probably their best option and they are careful not to promise too much. Though I've got a contact in Gringotts..." Bill began while Harry crossed the distance to the other side of the room. He was careful not to brush against the oldest Weasley-brother as he walked around the redhead, who gestured to emphasize his report.

"Sirius," Harry whispered right next to his godfathers' ear, as he'd reached him. The man flinched and almost spilt the contents of his glass, but he quickly regained his composure.

Mundungus didn't even look up, but Dumbledore's blue eyes fixated Sirius, his gaze lingering for a moment. Moody's magical eye also changed its direction. Harry was lucky that Moody hadn't paid much attention to the upper floors a few minutes earlier. Otherwise, this visit would've taken a whole other direction by now. After a few moments, Dumbledore's focus returned to Bill.

The curse breaker was still talking, so Harry didn't worry too much about being listened to. "Sirius," he repeated quietly, "It's me, Harry."

He had to take a step aside when Sirius stood up abruptly, pushing his chair back with the movement. The conversation on the table stopped at the sound of wood scratching over stone.

"What?!" Sirius snapped when all eyes were directed at him, "Can't a man go to the toilet?"

The faces slowly turned back to Bill, who - after another moment of hesitation - continued with his report. Anxious glances trailed after Sirius, while he walked past the pantry to reach the staircase. Harry quickly followed him. From the corner of his eye, he saw how Death disappeared in the shadows of the gloomy kitchen. But only a second later, Harry himself left the room by slipping through the door right after his godfather. When it fell shut, Sirius started to talk.

"Harry?" he asked quietly, after having only taken a few steps up the stairs before stopping.

"Yeah," Harry replied.

"Where are you?" Sirius asked.

"Right behind you," Harry said, startling his godfather as he nudged him forward. "Come on, Moody's probably going to have an eye on you. I shouldn't even be here, so I won't give him the shock of his life by starting to make myself visible now."

"Alright," Sirius said and he continued his way upstairs. "What are you doing here?" he asked after a moment.

"I said, I would come by and pay you a visit, didn't I?" Harry responded.

"I suppose," Sirius grumbled.

"God, your mood is really not the best right now, is it?" Harry stated, staring at Sirius' back as they walked up the stairs. The Black's magic twisted sharply at this proclamation.

"Not in the way Snape meant it. Merlin..." Harry said. "You know that he had to say something to rile you up after you provoked him. I think he even was afraid of you for a moment."

"Probably deserved it," Sirius muttered grumpily, "Slimy bat." He pushed the door open to the entrance hall.

"How is it going with the preparations for the trial?" Harry asked, trying to change the topic while he left the narrow stairway. His attention briefly focused on something else when he spotted Death, who was already waiting in the entrance hall.

"Well, how do you think it is going?" Sirius replied grimly and he turned around in the dimly lit entrance hall.

"Not very well then, I guess."

Sirius stared vaguely into Harry's direction, but after a moment he gave it up and turned back around. There was no use in trying to spot an invisible person. "You guessed right," he replied with a sigh.

Death joined them as they made their way to the staircase. The severed heads of former house-elves hovered over them like the parodies of gargoyles as they walked upstairs. Empty eyes watching, witnessing and having witnessed the insanity taking hold of their masters over the years, while they were guarding their rotting residence.

"I would need at least one witness to prove that it wasn't me who killed all these people," Sirius started, "But anyone who might have seen something is either dead or was obliviated. The only person that could prove my innocence is Wormtail. And he is hiding beneath Voldemort's cloak like a coward. Which he is. And capturing the traitorous rat is as likely as spotting a demiguise in a jungle," Sirius continued. His bony fingers twitched uneasily. After they had reached the first floor, he opened the door in the hallway that led to the closest bathroom. Sirius waited a moment longer before closing it so that Harry was able to slip in after him.

"I thought that maybe, I could attempt a similar approach to you though," Sirius said and he leaned against the sink. There was a crack running through the porcelain, right beneath his fingers and the mirror on the wall was old and tarnished.

"What do you mean?" Harry asked, his eyes leaving Sirius when they fell upon Death who entered the room by simply walking through the wall.

"Well, Death Eaters aren't the only ones who are able to claim seats in the Wizengamot."

"You are thinking about the Weasley's," Harry stated after a few moments.

"Yeah." Sirius raised a hand from the sink to brush his long hair out of his face.

"That might even work," Harry contemplated, "Though they are probably not able to buy the title."

"I thought of that already. I would lend them money. Bill could take it from my vault if I gave him permission."

Harry nodded, but then he realized that he was still invisible. "I think it's a good idea," he said out loud, "Bill could do the whole claiming thing. It would be pretty subtle since he is working in Gringotts anyway. The Ministry won't be able to undermine the claiming of their seats if they don't know what's going on." 

"There are a few other light families who are able to claim titles, though I doubt that they would be of much use," Sirius added.

"The Longbottom's?" Harry suggested. Sirius shrugged.

"It's not like I could simply pay them a visit and ask them if they would like to vote on my trial."
Harry hummed in agreement. "I thought about asking Dumbledore," Sirius added after a moment.

Harry frowned.

"You don't like the idea," Sirius stated even before Harry could open his mouth. The man had a good grasp on what Harry was thinking.

"I don't like that it involves Dumbledore," Harry began slowly, "He is already engaged in so many things that aren't of his concern. Why add another one?" The recent conversation between Snape and Dumbledore was still replaying in mind. "You could send Remus," Harry suggested.

"Remus is on an order mission," Sirius retorted. "And Augusta Longbottom doesn't know that I'm innocent. I doubt she would believe Remus or anyone else in that matter. But she is loyal to Dumbledore. I'm sure, she would listen to him."

Harry had to admit that Sirius was probably right. He sighed and looked at Death for a moment. The being was sitting on the edge of the bathtub. He seemed rather dismissive of the topic. His fingers trailed idly over the snake-shaped faucet of the tub. The steady sound of leaking waterdrops hitting the porcelain disturbed the silence.

"You know, this whole 'you-being-invisible' thing is kinda strange. I feel like I'm talking to myself," Sirius began suddenly. "Who knows, maybe I'm only hallucinating," he said with a strange laugh.

Harry looked up with a smirk. "Nah, don't worry. You handled it rather well if I can say so."

"Well, we used to hide beneath the invisibility cloak all the time during my school years…" Sirius gaze grew distant - his mind caught up in memories of the past.

"Maybe we should talk another time," Harry suggested. "When there aren't that many people here and you aren't pretending to use the toilet while we have our conversation," he added with a smirk. Sirius blinked distractedly before he wiped over his face with his hand and sighed.

"Alright," he said and pushed himself from the sink. "Hey, before I forget it… How is your thing going?"

"My plans regarding your trial?" Harry asked.

Sirius nodded."Mhm."

"Actually, I didn't have much time to think it through yet," Harry said.

"You still don't want to tell me, what this is about?" Sirius asked, "Because somehow, I've got the feeling that even you don't know what you are actually planning."

Death raised his head and stared at Harry, smirking sharply. Harry huffed. "Maybe the details aren't something I thought of yet," he said.

His godfather raised an eyebrow and he stared pointedly at a spot over Harry's shoulder, probably intending to look at Harry's face. Nevertheless, pretty accurate for someone who didn't see the person they were talking to. "I will though," Harry continued. "Your trial takes place in a few months; we've still got time."

His godfather replied with a sigh. "Yes, but I don't know if I'm lucky or not. Right now, I just wish it would be over," Sirius added.

Harry didn't know what he could say after that statement. For some time, the leaking faucet and its water droplets were once again the only sound in the room. "Alright," Harry began eventually. "Let's meet up another time. When it's less busy here and you can actually see me. In a few days maybe? After the weekend?"

Sirius hummed. "Yeah, alright," he agreed after a moment.

"Maybe we've both made some progress then," Harry said with a smirk.

"Hopefully," Sirius added. "Though I don't look forward to reading through these dry books that are laying around in this house."

Harry snorted. "Yeah, I know what you mean. Maybe you can ask Tonks about a few case files to find some strategies for your trial."

Sirius shrugged. "Maybe."

"Well then… I guess I'll see you next week?" Harry said.

"Yeah," Sirius sighed. "Goodbye Harry."

"Bye Sirius." With that, he vanished into the shadows.

 

Back in Hogwarts, things were a little bit different. Now that Harry was aware of Dumbledore ordering Snape to keep an eye on him, he could basically feel the eyes of the professor following him around.

But with thinking about Sirius' trial, school, homework and Quidditch practise, Harry was too busy to do something suspicious anyway.

Before he knew it, a week had passed and Harry appeared once more in Grimmauld Place to visit Sirius.

 

His godfather had actually taken Harry's advice and he'd asked Kingsley – not Tonks – if he was able to get a few documents that could help him, should he ever have a trial.
The Auror - if confused - had obliged and thus Harry and Sirius were able to look through all the papers that had something to do with the "infamous mass murderer Sirius Black" and his escape from Azkaban.

The documents were scattered all over the floor in Sirius' bedroom, which the man hadn't seemed to have left in days, besides feeding Buckbeak and the occasional walk to the bathroom, judging by the state of it.

The fact that Remus was still absent, might have played a part in that. "Apparently he has the best chance to find this rogue werewolf, according to Dumbledore that is," Sirius said, while Harry eyed the empty bottles next to the bed with a frown. The stench of whisky was still lingering in the room.

"How much are you drinking, Sirius?" Harry asked his godfather, as the man picked up a file from the bed and started to flip through it. He didn't even care about his close proximity to Death, who was sitting cross-legged by the headboard, watching attentively.

Sirius waved him off, without looking up. "You sound like Remus," he said.

"Well but he is usually right, isn't he?" Harry said. Sirius huffed and he finally turned to look at Harry.

"You don't have to worry about me. I'm fine."

Harry snorted.

"Alright. Maybe a little more, now that Remus is gone," Sirius said and he closed the file and sat down on the mattress.

Harry pushed himself from the ground where he had been sitting and he took a few steps towards his godfather. "I know that it's hard. There is your trial, that you are worrying about and Remus is on a mission…"

Sirius ruffled through his hair. "It's not that," he interrupted Harry suddenly, "Well not only that..."

Harry stared at him. His godfather stared back. Harry could see his adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed. When Sirius continued to talk, it was barely louder than a whisper. "I get nightmares."

"Oh," Harry replied, inwardly cursing himself for his eloquent choice of words. 

"I dream of the Dementors," Sirius said quietly. "Of Azkaban." Harry stood motionlessly. "It messes with your mind, being there," Sirius said and he looked at Harry with his grey eyes. "The ones who come in new, they still scream. Mostly during the night. They scream and cry and kick the walls, scratch the bricks till they are bloody… but eventually they grow silent. Empty shells… all of them. I don't know what was worse. The screams or the silence…"

"I'm sorry," Harry said after a moment. Sirius shook his head.

"You don't have to be sorry. It's alright, I mean I'm dealing… But since Remus is gone… I could talk to him about it you know. It helped. Him, being here…" Sirius stood up; the file forgotten on the bed.

"And now he is once again on a bloody order mission."

Sirius began to pace, his voice drenched with growing anger. "I mean he can do what he wants, he's a grown man, but it's just so stupid!" He stopped and turned to Harry, who still stood on the same spot on which he had stopped earlier. "He didn’t even want to go on another mission! But Dumbledore asks and he jumps," Sirius snorted with frustration, "I mean, it was different with the packs. I was worried, but at least I knew that he could handle himself, you know. But now? He is looking for a werewolf, who – for all we know – might not even exist! The people he has to talk to, the spots where someone like that will hide or live - they are dangerous. Knockturn Alley is only the tip of that filth!" As if this rant had drained him of all energy, Sirius posture fell and the fire in his gaze vanished. He sighed. After a moment, he turned and picked up the file from the bed.

 

"I kind of worry about him," Harry said to Death a few hours later, after they were back in Hogwarts. It was already pretty late but sleeping hadn't sounded very appealing to Harry.
Because of this, he and Death were sitting beneath the open sky on one of the Quidditch stands. It was a dark and cloudy night. Not many stars could be seen and the autumn wind tugged on their clothes. It smelled like snow.

"Sirius Black," Death stated.

"Yeah," Harry said, "Remus being away… I don't think that it's very good for him."

"Dumbledore takes a great risk, if he sends the only werewolf he has on his side to look for a mysterious stranger," Death said. Harry looked at him confused. "Maybe he would rethink his decision if someone told him of their concerns…" 

Death smirked and then Harry realized.

In hindsight, it was pretty easy to alter Snape's memories. It might be attributable to the fact, that Harry was in possession of the elder wand. Or that the man had been sleeping when Harry had pointed said wand at him. Either way, Harry just hoped that it would work out.

If Snape was the one to approach Dumbledore, the headmaster would at least not think that the man did it to soothe Sirius' worries.

Chapter Text

The next afternoon, Harry returned to Grimmauld Place. As soon as he'd arrived, he got a vague sense of Sirius' presence somewhere on a floor above him.
Death writhed slowly on his shoulders and a silent hiss could be heard when the being's tongue flicked against Harry's collar bone.

Nowadays Harry was so used to seeing Death in his human form that he'd almost jumped at the sudden weight appearing on his shoulders.
He had stopped dead in his tracks then - forgetting for a moment that he was on his way to Herbology - which in turn had caused Ron to release a string of curses since he barely avoided knocking into his friend. In the end, they'd managed to make their way to the greenhouses without another incident.

During their walk there, Harry had smiled when he noticed that Death had crept further under his shirt as soon as they'd stepped outside.
The change of seasons couldn't be ignored any longer and the few warm days they'd still been granted at the beginning of the month, had been chased away by the icy wind that swept over the Hogwarts grounds. Snow could be spotted on the mountain tops surrounding the castle, grey clouds hanging over them. The cold autumn air had the younger students researching warming charms and the Quidditch players slowly started to resent their captains for the rigorous training in the chilly weather.

Even inside the walls of Hogwarts, students had started to wear their dragonhide gloves.

Harry doubted that Death was also affected by the change of weather, but even now – hours later – the being was still curled around his shoulders. He wouldn't ask Death to change back if he didn't want to, however, the fact that the being had yet to get bored of it only confirmed Harry's growing suspicion, namely that he enjoyed being carried around that way.

Said being was now slithering down Harry's arm, defying gravity in a way that shouldn't be possible, while the dusty air of Grimmauld place's entrance hall whirled with their arrival.
Harry's gaze wandered over the rows of portraits before his attention shifted. The magic that had once belonged to the invisibility cloak snapped back. Harry could feel it retreating into his core in time with his exhale. Accompanied by the scrutinizing stares of the portraits he made his way upstairs.

He didn't quite know where Sirius was and so he kept his eyes and ears open. But apart from a few spiders and Buckbeak, he didn't pick up on anyone else's aura. The only sound reverberating through the gloomy house came from the hippogriff behind the closed door of Mrs Black's former bedroom.

Eventually, he'd reached the topmost landing, where his godfather's room was located.

Reaching the door with Sirius' nameplate - a relic from the Black's youth - Harry knocked. He could hear some shuffling and then there was silence. Harry frowned as there was no answer and he knocked again. Another minute passed and then Sirius finally opened it.

He looked - for lack of a better word - terrible.

Dark circles underlined his eyes, his face had taken on an even unhealthier pale shade and day-old stubble decorated Sirius' jaw. Carding through his messy hair, he blinked at Harry with a sour look on his face. Though when he saw that it was his godson, his expression softened a little bit.
One peek into the room confirmed Harry's suspicion that not much had changed. He sighed and then pushed past his godfather and the small gap between the door, not bothering to wait for an invitation.

It became apparent that Sirius had most likely been holed up in his room since Harry had left the previous day.

Immediately Harry was overwhelmed by the stuffiness. Velvet curtains blocked the sunlight from entering and the state of the room didn't seem to have changed at all.
Files were still scattered all over the floor, alongside scribbles that hadn't been there yesterday and the bottles next to the bed had gained new company in form of a cheap firewhisky.

At least this one didn't seem to have been emptied completely. Altogether it was a mess, but it wasn't the state of the room that worried Harry.

When he turned around, Sirius was still standing at the door and he met Harry's gaze with tired eyes. The man pushed his long hair back while his other hand was resting on the door frame. His wrinkly clothes had also seen better days and judging by their state, he'd probably slept in them.

Harry simply looked at Sirius. Not a word was spoken.

"I should probably take a shower," Sirius eventually said, his voice raspy as if he'd just been sleeping.

"Yeah, I think you should," Harry replied with a nod. A cleaning charm could after all only do so much.  Sirius rubbed his neck and with a quiet sigh, he turned and disappeared from his sight.

Harry listened to his steps in the hallway till he could only hear a muted shuffling. There was the sound of a door falling shut and Harry turned around to face the depressing room once more.

"For his sake, I hope Remus returns soon," he absentmindedly muttered. The being that wasn't really a snake flicked its tongue against Harry's skin. "I mean look at this. He's a mess without Lupin... "
Harry kicked an empty bottle over the floor. Its journey ended at one of the bedposts with a clinking sound.

Death writhed slowly as Harry stepped over the scattered papers. Reaching the window, he pulled the curtains apart.
Only now it dawned on Harry why Sirius had used his wand to open the drapes the previous day. Particles of dust rained down upon him and he had to squeeze his eyes shut to avoid getting something in there. He could feel Death's amusement and a snippy retort was already resting on his tongue when the weight from his shoulders suddenly disappeared. Death's snake form dissolved into smoke and then a human hand brushed through his hair, getting rid of the dust that had settled in the black mop.
Harry looked up and he had to blink a few times to get used to the harsh light invading the prior darkness of the room as he let go of the curtains. Death was standing next to him, tall, imposing and an air of obscurity surrounding him. Harry could sense his fondness and a mirthful expression was resting on the being's face.
Harry smiled.
His eyes lingered a little longer, tracing the sharp features of the Death's face. They differed ever so slightly from how he had appeared a few weeks ago. Still changing, just like Death's height seemed to vary from time to time. Yet he was always tall.
There was a certain androgyny to his face, a sharp jawline and a predatory smirk that didn't help to lessen the unsettling effect that his eyes had to have on someone who wasn't Harry. Slightly darker where the iris of a human would be, but nevertheless unnerving. His hair was the only thing that was still the same.
Harry had always thought that it was an exact copy of his own. Perhaps though, it had been the truest of Death's features right from the beginning.
Darker than black, swallowing light and yet reflecting it when there was no source of illumination around. Sometimes moving, floating around in what Harry knew was a resemblance of dark wings. Always there, always present and yet unseen.
Harry's gaze wandered further. His smile turned into an amused grin when he took in Death's casual clothes. Furthermore, clothes, that the being seemed to change every so often. To be fair a hooded cloak would only play into the cliché and Harry had yet to see him wear a shirt that wasn't a shade of black or white, but then again… Witnessing the being wearing one of Mrs Weasley's knitted jumpers might be too much for Harry. The image alone had him grinning.

Death who still standing in front of him looked at Harry as if he'd followed his whole train of thought and he raised an eyebrow. Harry shook his head, amusement still evident on his face as he turned his attention back to his current mission.

He opened the old window and was immediately met with a cold draft, that while chasing away the stuffiness also managed to scatter the papers on the floor even more apart. With a wave of his wand, Harry prevented the documents from following the whirling air. He could hear the dull gurgling of pipes and then water running as he stepped away from the fluttering curtains. The house was eerily silent otherwise.
For a moment Harry stood awkwardly in the chilly room not knowing what to do. He vanished the empty bottles next to Sirius' bed and then sat down on its edge. He was soon joined by Death who leaned against the carved headboard just like the day before.
Minutes trickled by, the silence only disturbed by the dull sound of running water and a car passing by. The bed creaked and then there was a shift on the mattress before Harry felt a hand carding through his hair. He smiled, a warm feeling spreading through his chest.

When Sirius reappeared, he had shaved and was wearing fresh clothes that Kreacher had probably brought him. He stepped into the room barefoot, commenting Death's presence with a snort as soon as his gaze fell upon him.

"I hope there was no funny business going on in my bed as long as I was gone," Sirius stated with a look at them.

Harry snorted amused, while Death leaned towards him and nipped on the juncture of Harry's neck with a sharp grin. Sirius stared uncomfortably before he cleared his throat and turned towards the window. Harry could hardly contain his laughter.

"How long was that open? It's freezing in here," Sirius asked, and Harry swung his legs over the edge of the bed.

Harry didn't answer his question. "I see you've been busy," he commented instead with a nod at the new notes on the ground after his godfather had closed the window.

Sirius ruffled through his hair. The tips were still wet. "I thought it couldn't hurt to write some things down."

Harry looked at his godfather and the dark circles under his eyes. It dawned on him that maybe Sirius had tried to find another way to find his sleep. Recalling the half-emptied bottle of whisky and the lethargy in Sirius' voice, Harry guessed that his nightmares had prevailed after all.
With another look at Sirius, Harry decided that he wouldn't ask. Instead, he pushed himself from the bed and rubbed his hands. "Well then, let's take a look at what we've got."
Tension that he hadn't noticed earlier seemed to bleed out of Sirius' stance while Harry watched him.

Hopefully, Remus would return soon.  

 

Harry visited Sirius every day after that. Even if it was only an hour, just to keep him company.
He used the excuse of Sirius' trial and while it was the truth that they had to prepare, it wasn't his only reason for visiting. His being here seemed to distract Sirius somewhat.
They read through dry books depicting the wizarding law - old and new – as well as the information the Ministry had gathered about Sirius. It was their luck, that Kingsley was responsible for the manhunt after the Animagus, yet Harry was under the impression that this whole researching didn't really lead to anything. He didn't dare to admit it out loud of course, but sometimes he spotted a similar expression on Sirius' face.

There had to dig through a whole lot of fake information about Sirius' whereabouts and there were passages of interviews with people, who had supposedly spotted "Black" during the last two years.  
It was as if Kingsley had just grabbed a bunch of documents from his desk that wouldn't be missed and had given them to Sirius.
But then there was also stuff from before. Information about the time previous to Sirius' imprisonment.
School records, jobs, family history…

The man scoffed at the photographs of Bellatrix and Rodolphus and he paused for a moment when there was one of Regulus Black amidst the Slytherin Quidditch team. Harry watched how he folded it carefully and put it into his pocket.

It was then when Harry had asked what he'd been like. Regulus. And Sirius had told him. How proud Regulus had been when he was chosen for the Quidditch team. How one time, his brother had accidentally coloured their mother's hair blue when he didn't want to wear a certain cloak. And how different it was when they were in school. When the first paperclips of Death Eater raids had found themselves on the walls of Regulus' room.
They talked about many things after that. Sirius told him about the Marauder's Map, how they had found a spell that would draw paths onto paper if you just walked them.
Harry then told Sirius about the secrets they hadn't found. He told him about the chamber of secrets, the Basilisk that had lived there and that there is a room in Hogwarts that the house-elves call Come and Go room and that can give you everything you need if you just know where to look.

With the stories that had found their way into this daily routine, the time passed rather quickly.

After a week, they had a pretty good grasp on what the Ministry knew about Sirius, but that didn't change the fact that he would be questioned about the murder of 13 people. Or twelve, if Harry could do anything about it…

Just like Sirius, Harry knew that they needed Pettigrew if they wanted to win this trial. And after a few days, he admitted that much to his godfather.
But Harry didn't elaborate his plans any further than telling Sirius that they somehow involved Peter. Better the man wasn't involved in any illegal activities concerning his trial.

Because Death was right. They could kidnap Wormtail easily. And yet, doing it now wouldn't make much sense.
Voldemort would probably send Death Eaters to search for Pettigrew as soon as he'd disappeared. Not out of concern for the man, but he'd want to keep his return a secret. And even if Voldemort thought that Pettigrew had fled on his own, he wouldn't allow a traitor to live.
And then there was the question of where to keep the man till the date of the trial. Grimmauld Place? And risk Sirius killing the man before the trial had even begun?
Additionally, Harry's resentment towards Dumbledore had grown to the point, that he wanted the man as little involved as possible. And keeping Pettigrew's presence in Grimmauld Place a secret was an impossible task.
Harry had thought about the chamber of secrets. It was pretty secluded after all but having to care for the prisoner...
No, kidnapping him now would really not make much sense. It would only lead to problems.

But speaking of problems… It was not only Sirius, Harry had to deal with.

Over the course of the week, he had also noticed that Umbridge seemed to hate him even more than before. Harry lost points for the stupidest things and he knew if he made only the slightest mistake, he would have to serve another week of detention. Maybe Fudge had told her to be cautious around him after the "incident", or maybe it was just the foggy memories of their detentions resurfacing.
Alongside Snape's continuous spying and Ron and Hermione's concerned glances, Harry was glad to get out of Hogwarts from time to time, not counting the Hogsmeade weekends during which he appeared to be trailed by various order members.

 

On Saturday when Harry appeared in Grimmauld Place, it was no longer only Sirius who was greeting him, but also Remus.

"Apparently, since my last mission 'has failed', Dumbledore thinks that it might not be the best idea for me to be the one looking for this werewolf," Lupin explained, as they were all seated at the table in the kitchen. "The werewolves know now, that there is a traitor among them, a werewolf who infiltrates packs and spies on them. Dumbledore fears that they might have been the ones to spread this rumour. Though he doesn't think that it is likely, it is still a possibility according to him," Remus finished.

"Really," Harry said, inwardly grinning. He exchanged a quick look with Death. Apparently, Snape had talked to Dumbledore about his "concerns", and quite successfully so. He turned back to Lupin and his godfather. 

Remus seemed a little worn down. He was wearing a sweatshirt, that Harry was fairly sure belonged to Sirius. The werewolf appeared to be freshly showered and shaved, but he was still a little thin. He was smiling though, and Sirius seemed to be more than thrilled that the man was back.

"You are glad," Harry stated as he looked at Remus, "That you no longer have to look for this guy."

Remus shrugged. "I have been on missions a lot lately."

"Dumbledore asked Mundungus to take over," Sirius said with a smirk.

"He has connections," Remus added at Harry's expression. "If he puts some effort into it, he has a better chance in finding that man than I do."

Harry hummed. "Did Sirius tell you that he is going to have a trial?" he asked after a moment.

Remus nodded. "But without Wormtail he has only a small chance at winning this."

"Yeah. We are working on that," Harry said.

It was this way, that Remus joined their small group in their researching and working through files that Kingsley had brought.

Soon, Halloween came and went, but the death of Harry's parents was no more than a ghost of his past.

All the while he still continued to visit Grimmauld Place, but since Remus was back, Harry used the opportunity to spend more time with Ron and Hermione's again, to soothe their increasing worries about his absences.

A few days into November - he didn't know who was more surprised, he or Ron – Hermione bluntly asked him who he was seeing.
Rain hit the windows of the common room and thunder was rolling in the distance, while they were sitting in a corner of the common room since their usual spot in front of the fireplace was occupied by some second years playing Gobstone. The room was buzzing with life, which was almost certainly attributable to the Weasley twins, who were promoting their new inventions by testing them on themselves in front of an entertained crowd. Angelina was also sitting in a corner, brooding over a notebook that had once belonged to Oliver Wood.
With the oncoming Quidditch game Slytherin against Gryffindor, the tension was high. Even under Umbridge's watchful glances students were hexing each other in the hallways and more often than not, Harry had to dodge a jinx while walking to his classes. His Auror training was really put to use these days.

Harry looked up from his sketch for Grubbly-Plank when Hermione closed her Arithmathy book with a heavy thud. Ron also raised his head.

"Alright Harry," she said. Harry looked at her with a frown, while Death's black snakehead was peeking out from under his collar. "I'm giving it up."

Harry glanced at Ron with a "Do you know what she is talking about?" look, but Ron simply shook his head as Hermione continued.

"We've never asked you since we thought you would eventually tell us about it yourself, but two months have passed and I just-" Hermione pushed her book aside. She leaned forward and looked at Harry intensely. "You know, I've kept a close eye on every girl in Hogwarts, I even spoke to Greengrass." Ron raised his eyebrows. "Hell, not even Lavender could tell me something and she and Patil usually know everything that is going on, so I'm simply going to ask," Hermione looked at Harry with an almost desperate expression. "Who is she?"

Harry looked at her confused.

"The one you are seeing. And don't bother to deny it, the hickeys on your neck are a dead giveaway," Hermione added with a nod.

Unconsciously Harry raised a hand and his fingertips brushed over the purplish bruise on his neck. He smiled. Ron and Hermione were now facing him with equally curious looks. Harry stayed quiet for a moment and looked at them. It was only logical that they had stuck to the conclusion. Harry had barely spent any time with them and during the last week even less.
Eventually, he sighed.

"You're not denying it then?" Hermione asked. "You are really seeing someone?" Harry shrugged. Ron and Hermione grinned.

"And, who is she?" Ron asked.

"Have you ever considered that it might not be a she?"

Ron and Hermione stared at him. Harry began to casually pack his stuff after finishing his sketch with a few additional lines.

"But I thought you and Cho…" Ron uttered eventually. Harry shrugged.

Hermione leaned forward. "So, you are," she lowered her voice, when she noticed that the third year that was walking past them had slowed down in her walk, "…gay?" she whispered.

"I like guys and girls. If you want to put a label on it, feel free to research." Harry said. While it been a revelation to realize that he was attracted to both men and women, he had been too apathetic at the time to care enough to look further into the topic. Besides, who cared if from now on the occasional hook-up had been a guy? Harry had long accepted that he wasn't normal, but what was normal even? The Dursley's concept of perfection was something he had deemed bullshit a long time ago. And after finding out that he was a wizard at age eleven, the fact that he felt attracted to guys as well could hardly faze him.

"Bi. It's called bisexual," Ron blurted out and Hermione's head snapped around and Harry stared at him surprised. Ron's ears went pink as he blushed furiously. "Charlie, you know… um, he- he likes neither… Mom, she always asked him if he would get a girlfriend or so and then she said it would be okay if he - um - if he liked blokes, you know but Charlie said he didn't… and Mom cried at first because he would never get married-" Hermione stared at Ron as if she'd never seen him before and Harry knew that he probably didn't look much different. Ron's face took on an even darker tint when he realized that he was rambling and he caught himself, "Anyway, he explained that stuff a little bit."

Harry regarded Ron with a curious look, while Death hissed quietly. Not only Hermione saw Ron in a new light.

Chapter Text

As hilarious as Harry had deemed Ron and Hermione's reactions at first, he still caught himself being relieved when they didn't treat him any differently after the revelation that he wasn't straight. Dealing with this on top of everything else was hardly something he would've looked forward to. It was difficult enough to pose as an ordinary student and even though their curious inquiries slowly started to grate on his nerves, it was still better than adding to Dumbledore's concerns by distancing himself from his friends.

Days after his revelation, Hermione still beat herself up because she didn't consider his mysterious girlfriend being a guy, while Ron was not so subtly trying to get a name from Harry.

And yet this was nothing compared to the rumours about Harry's secret lover which began to spread like a wildfire. It appeared as if the entirety of Hogwarts didn't seem to have another topic to talk about.

It wasn't like Harry wasn't used to the hushed whispers following him everywhere, but it was annoying nonetheless.

Even the DA meetings were streaked with a strange mood, but for now, no one had outright dared to ask if the rumours surrounding him were true. He was torn about continuing to teach them. While occasionally, it could be quite fun, it was just a bunch of extra work. In the end, he found, that he was petty enough in regards to Umbridge to continue it.

Keeping up the charade of an ordinary Hogwarts student slowly turned into a hassle. Going from class to class, Harry felt the eyes of the portraits following him everywhere, not to speak of Snape who was probably just as thrilled to have been ordered to keep an eye on him as Harry was fond of being monitored.

Whenever Harry took a step out of the castle to visit Hogsmeade, there was always someone trailing him. Harry didn't know whether Dumbledore had had him being observed this closely the first time around, but as a former Auror, Harry had a hard time ignoring the person which always seemed to hang around just barely within the range of his vision.

Harry himself had begun to make it a game in which he would try to shake off his persecutor, only to appear right next to them whenever they thought they'd lost him. It made for some really hilarious moments and he had a hard time biting back a sharp grin when his so-called guardians startled.

But despite this occasional game of cat and mouse, boredom slowly sunk its claws back into Harry's mind.

Visiting Grimmauld Place didn't bring much excitement either, as reading the same files over and over again had really lost its appeal to Harry. And there wasn't much else they could do to prepare for Sirius' trial.

It was then, that Harry's thoughts circled back to the Horcrux in his head. He inspected it more frequently now. He wasn't diving into it, wasn't looking for Voldemort, despite the occasional flash of emotions. It was the soul itself which he was trying to sense. Every time, he could feel the frayed edges of the piece, could sense its misery.

The wrongness of it all got to Harry.

Yet somehow the fragment became oddly placating with his increasing scrutiny.

It began to pulse to life just about every time Harry directed his attention inwards. Almost like a pet of some sorts.

A thought of Harry's which seemed to amuse Death quite a bit.

But even with the Horcrux in his mind, there wasn't much else going on.

 

The only notable incident that came up was on a Thursday in November, when Harry once more showed up in Grimmauld Place and found his godfather, drunk, in the rooms that had already been cleaned out before Harry had ever even stepped a foot inside of the house.

It was a smaller room, with a dusty carpet on the floor, dark wood panels lining the walls and some high shelves which stood skeletal and empty - apart from a few books. A pair of armchairs had been pushed against the wall and the sole portrait - a plaque on the frame depicting the man as Sirius Black II - on the wall stared disapprovingly at his namesake.

Harry's godfather himself was lounging in an old leather chair, his feet resting on a heavy ornate writing desk - the centrepiece of the room. He was smoking, the scent permeating the air and the crystal ashtray on the table betrayed that it hadn't been his first cigarette. A half-empty bottle of whisky stood next to it.

Sirius looked up when Harry had entered, his eyes briefly flicking to the black snake wrapped around his shoulders before his gaze snapped back to his godson's face. He stared at Harry over his cigarette, before he motioned for him to get a seat.

Once Harry had settled in one of the heavy armchairs, pulling it from its spot on the wall, Sirius pushed the bottle over the desk. It left a trail on the dusty surface.

The Animagus took another drag of his cigarette before he made a wide gesture. "The gentleman's room. My father used it as an office," the words were slurred, and suddenly a dry smile appeared on his face. "And now I sit in this chair..." Sirius looked downs, his fingers trailing the leather armrests. "That damn chair..." he muttered. After a moment, Sirius' eyes dropped to the bottle of whisky. He seemed to regret that he'd pushed it out of his reach. His magic surrounded him in dark sluggish streaks.

"What is going on, Sirius?" Harry asked. The Animagus sniffed and in a sudden motion, he pulled his feet from the table and sat up to face Harry.

"What didn't happen?" Sirius said and with a dry laugh, he combed his fingers through his hair, the elbow on the desk.

"Where's Lupin?" Harry questioned, suddenly wondering why Sirius was alone. Remus had basically lived in Grimmauld Place once he'd been exempt from the search for that one werewolf.

"New mission," Sirius responded curtly, taking another drag and then putting the cigarette out in the ashtray. "You'd think there are fewer werewolf packs around," he said and then leaned forward to pull the bottle of whisky towards him. "You're too young to drink anyway," he added when he met Harry's gaze.

The weight from Harry's shoulders suddenly disappeared when Death dissolved and reappeared in his human form right next to him. Sirius' eyes found the creature. "Ah, the mighty Death. My greetings," he said to the being while unscrewing the whisky. "Have you come to reap me, or are you just here to accompany Harry?" Sirius questioned before he took a sip, the liquid in the bottle sloshing.

"The latter," Death rasped in his hoarse voice.

"Pity," Sirius responded. "Perhaps another time then."

Death's smirk widened.

"If you've stopped your flirting, would you get to the point," Harry found himself say, slightly irritated by the fact that he was being ignored?

Sirius inhaled deeply before he pushed the air out in one go. "My trial; it's a farce," he said, turning to Harry.

"What?!" Harry sat up and Death turned to look at him. "How come?"

Sirius put the bottle on the desk and shook another cigarette out of a crumpled pack which he pulled out of a pocket. "Kingsley," he said with a shrug as he put the cigarette in his mouth. When he raised his hand to light it, a small flame was hovering over his fingers.

Sirius, who'd followed Harry's interested gaze blew out the smoke. "It's a neat trick I taught myself in school," he commented. "I can show you if you like."

"Sometime, maybe," Harry said and his eyes snapped back to Sirius' face. "But first tell me what happened with your trial."

Sirius leaned back in his chair. "A few days ago, Kingsley brought it up in an Order meeting. Dumbledore wasn't too thrilled that I kept the news from him." He took a deep inhale of his cigarette. "Apparently the info of my upcoming trial reached the Auror department. From what Kingsley has gathered - which is mostly gossip he overheard from some Ministry workers - it's an elaborate trap, an attempt to get my attention..."

"But that's just plain stupid. I mean you would never fall for that if it weren't a real trial," Harry said.

Sirius shrugged. "How would I know if it was real?" Harry sank back in his chair, realizing that his godfather had a point... Anger at Fudge started to boil in his stomach.

Sirius blew out a cloud of smoke and followed it with the eyes, as it trailed towards the ceiling before he continued. "Anyways... The Minister himself showed up in Kingsley's office, admonishing that this whole thing should be kept under the wraps and if someone were to ask about it, they should just state it was a top-secret mission about which they couldn't talk. Even they don't really know what's going on."

"So this whole thing is just a farce? It was all for nothing?!" Harry exclaimed irately.

Sirius shrugged his shoulders once more. "Dumbledore thinks it's a bad idea to go there. Kingsley said, he was gonna look into it, but according to him it doesn't look too good either."

"Fuck."

"Yeah," Sirius replied. Growling under his breath, Harry reached over the table and snatched the whisky bottle from the table. Sirius watched with raised brows how Harry took a sip. "Adopting my healthy coping mechanisms?" he inquired.

After the familiar burn down his throat, Harry wiped his mouth. "What can I tell you?" he said to his godfather with a half-hearted smirk, "You're a bad influence."

At that, Sirius laughed.

 

Since that day, the preparations for the trial had come to a standstill. Sirius was moping around in Grimmauld Place and even Harry was of the opinion, that only Lupin was able to lift his mood from time to time. In his mind, the whole fight wasn't over yet, but his time to find a solution to this problem had been cut quite short. Because additionally to visiting Sirius at night, Umbridge and schoolwork, Angelina had decided that every free minute should be spent on the Quidditch pitch until the coming game against Slytherin had passed.

Fred and George even contemplated if they should pretend to be sick to skip some of the worst training hours they spent in the grisly weather and Harry was tempted to agree.

When the day of the game finally came, Harry didn't quite buy into the hype the whole school seemed to give off, although he had to admit that he did kind of look forward to it, in a way.

Less than thrilled on the other hand was Ron, who woke up an emotional mess - a state which hadn't improved even after breakfast.

Somewhat discouraging were also the crown-shaped "Weasley is our King" badges, which most of the Slytherins were wearing.

At least the weather conditions for the game were good. It was cold but there was no wind. The frostbitten grass sparkled in the few beams of sunlight breaching through the cloudy sky and it crunched beneath their feet as they followed the steady stream of people heading towards the Quidditch pitch.

Half an hour (and a long speech from Angelina later) they were already in the air, facing off against the Slytherins.

To Harry's disappointment, he spotted the snitch almost immediately. Well, to be fair, it was hard to ignore its magical signature while he was constantly looking for the golden ball, but a little challenge would've been nice.
It took a surprising amount of focus, to block out any magical signature and while Harry was waiting for the snitch to fly into some unknown corner, he hovered above the teams, watching the players who were shooting through the air.

Montague had replaced Flint as the Slytherin-Quidditch captain. He seemed to take after the latter in terms of choosing his players, as Crabbe and Goyle - the new beaters - were obviously not chosen for their brains but more likely because they shared some physical traits with their predecessors.

Lee's comments were barely audible over the noise of the roaring crowd.

Harry grinned when George managed to hit Montague with a Bludger.

"-CHASER DROPS THE QUAFFLE… AND KATIE BELL CATCHES IT. KATIE BELL FROM GRYFFINDOR AND SHE PASSES IT TO ALICIA SPINNET – ALICIA ON HER WAY TO SCORE-"

The wind howled and the green mass down at the Slytherin stands cheered when Bletchley caught the red ball before it went through one of the hoops.
Ron seemed like he would fall from his broom at any moment, his freckles standing in stark contrast to his pale face when the Slytherins started their counterattack.

"-WARRINGTON WITH THE QUAFFLE! WARRINGTON ON THE WAY TO THE GOAL –"

Harry only saw how Ron tried and failed miserably to fend off Warrington, who scored the first points in the game.

The Slytherins went wild. Their collective voices rose, chanting their new anthem. "Weasley cannot save a thing, he cannot block a single ring, that's why Slytherins all sing: Weasley is our King."

Lee's voice echoed through the stadium, trying to drown out the chanting.
Ron looked like he wanted to puke.

Lazily Harry began to circle the pitch, mirroring Malfoy's movements. Meanwhile, Slytherin scored three additional times, Pansy Parkinson directing the silvery-green mass that was roaring and moving like one giant creature, their chanting swelling to excruciating heights.

Harry smirked when he spotted Death, who was sitting on top of the highest hoop, legs dangling casually over the deadly abyss.

"Harry, what are you doing?!" Angelina shouted when she noticed that Harry was once again not paying attention. "Come on!"

With a sigh, Harry pushed himself in a straighter position and lazily scanned the air. He had planned to wait a little longer to go after the snitch, maybe till they had scored some goals for Gryffindor, but with a look at Ron, he decided that it was probably better to rescue the boy from this situation. He didn't seem like he would hold up a lot longer.
Then Harry's eyes caught onto something on the other side of the pitch. There - barely three feet over the Ravenclaw stands - something shimmered over the crowd.

Harry didn't hesitate any longer. He leaned forward. His firebolt shot through the air like a cannonball. From the corner of his eye, he saw Malfoy, who followed him.

"-POTTER SEEMS TO HAVE SPOTTED SOMETHING! AND DRACO MALFOY IS RIGHT BEHIND HIM-"
Harry grinned. Now that was finally a challenge. But Malfoy was too far behind. Wind was pulling on Harry's clothes as he cut through the air.
The golden ball was right in front of him.
Harry stretched out his arm.
A quiet whistle was his only warning. Instinctively Harry made a sharp turn. He didn't care about the Bludger that shot past him. It would've certainly hit him if he hadn't dodged it when he did, but what was bugging him more was the fact that the snitch was gone.

"OH, THAT WAS A CLOSE MISS BUT THE SLYTHERIN SEEKER IS USING THAT TO HIS ADVANTAGE… TOO LATE THOUGH," Lee's magically enhanced voice bellowed, echoing Harry's thoughts.

Luckily Harry only needed a moment to locate the golden ball again. It was zapping towards the Slytherin side of the playing field, but then again, Malfoy was now right next to him.

"-THE CHASERS HAVEN'T BEEN LAZY, KATIE BELL – oh no – THAT WAS SIMPLY MISCALCULATION, THAT CAN HAPPEN TO EVERYONE… COME ON KATIE AND THERE IS PUCEY WITH THE QUAFFLE-"

The crowd cheered - somewhere in the background Lee announced that the Slytherins had scored another goal, but Harry was too focused on the snitch. As soon as he went after it, Draco was right beside him.
He could see it now. Nothing more but a distant gleam weaving through the goalposts – changing direction and soaring towards the sky.
Harry spared Malfoy a quick look.
The Slytherin had a better broom, but Harry didn't plan on losing. Their shoulders brushed as they tried to follow after the snitch.
"Come on," Harry muttered under his breath. He needed to go faster. Draco was still right next to him. "Come on…"

If they continued like that, it was questionable if Harry would win.
But there was a thought, something in the back of his mind…
Draco had a better broom, that was a fact. And yet the Slytherin didn't go faster, instead, he was still following Harry's lead. This could only lead to one conclusion; Draco hadn't seen the snitch yet. If Harry was right with this assumption…

Harry dove down. Malfoy followed him.

Harry grinned.

"-THE SEEKERS ARE RIGHT NEXT TO EACH OTHER – THERE IS NO WAY TO SAY WHO WILL GET TO THE SNITCH FIRST-" Lee shouted.

The ground was coming closer.

Fast.

Adrenaline pumped through Harry's veins.
They plunged down, wind rushing next to their ears, drowning out every other noise.

Harry turned to look at Malfoy, who was still right next to him. As if he'd noticed Harry's gaze, Draco turned his head.

One second.
Harry smirked at the Slytherin.

Two seconds.
Malfoy frowned, confused eyes staring into Harry's.

Three.
Harry pulled out of the nosedive, leaving Malfoy with a look of panic on his face as he realized that Harry had been bluffing.

CRUNCH

A collective gasp tore through the crowd when Draco collided with the ground. Harry laughed victoriously. Cold air rushed past him as his eyes zoomed in on the snitch.
The spectators were stunned into silence.
The golden ball took a turn.
Then the outraged voices of the Slytherins clashed with the cheers of the Gryffindors.
"Time-out! We want a time out!" Montague shouted over the noise.
Harry's fingers closed around the snitch.
The game was over.
A whistle and the crowd exploded, noise doubling in volume. Cheers and hoots - cries of rage and howls of victory colliding in one big soundwave that rolled over the stadium.
When Harry reached solid ground, he saw Madame Hooch landing about 50 feet further down the field. Next to her, a heap of silver and green on the grass as well as Snape, who had crossed the pitch in quick steps.
Then Harry was swathed by ecstatic Gryffindors who blocked his view.

"Brilliant Harry," Fred said, sounding a little out of breath.

"-that Wronski Feint," George finished as he appeared right next to his brother before he threw an arm over Harry's shoulders.

"That ferret didn't know what hit him," Fred added and Angelina walked over to them, broom still in hand.

"If you can pull off that performance every game, the Quidditch cup is going to be ours in no time," she said with a grin. Harry grinned back. The snitch struggled weakly inside his hand. Katie landed next to them; cheeks flushed from the chilly air but beaming.
Ron was nowhere to be seen but no one seemed to notice. Meanwhile, Angelina launched into another speech with such passion that she almost seemed to rival Oliver Wood in his obsession with sport.

"Hey!" A shout had the Gryffindors turn their heads. The red wall in front of Harry parted and gave way to Montague, who stomped over to them. Even the Weasley twins took a step back at the murderous look on his face.

"What the fuck was that!?" the tall Slytherin started furiously. "My Seeker is going to be in the hospital wing for at least a week because of your stupid stunt!" Harry looked at him with a raised eyebrow, but then Angelina took a step forward, hands on her hips.

"That 'stunt' as you put it, is perfectly legitimate according to the rules - as you very well know." Katie joined Angelina and the twins glared at Montague, while Angelina continued, "Besides, you are just pissed because you lost!"

Montague took a step forward, but Warrington appeared behind him and pulled the captain back by his shoulder. "Come on, Graham. Someone has to write to Draco's parents - tell them what happened…" The Slytherin Captain looked over his shoulder and nodded curtly. Warrington left them but Montague stayed for a moment longer and stared at Harry.

"You are going to pay for that Potter," he spat before he joined the other Slytherins.
Fred and George glared daggers into his back and Angelina shook her head in disbelief.

When they eventually headed for the showers, no one paid the crimson-stained patch of grass any attention.

Ron hadn't been in the changing rooms and even an hour later, he was still nowhere to be seen. But when Harry stepped into the common room, he noticed Hermione on an armchair amidst the partying Gryffindors. Her heavy bag was resting next to her feet and the girl herself was knitting one of her elven hats.

Harry had to weave through the crowd, beaming faces congratulating him on his win before he reached Hermione.

"Hey." The sound of Harry's voice had her looking up. "Have you seen Ron?" Harry asked her, while he absentmindedly scanned the crowd. He combed through his damp hair with his fingers, when he spotted Fred and George emerging from the crowd. Maybe they knew where their brother was.

"Oh god, Harry. Why did you do that?" Hermione blurted out. Harry turned to stare at her confused. Her brown eyes were wide with concern and only then Harry realized that she was talking about Malfoy's crash. And apparently, he wasn't the only one. George had joined them, and he opened his mouth before Harry could answer.

"That's the sport Hermione," the Weasley twin said with a smirk, "It's brutal."

"Besides," Fred added, appearing on Harry's other side, "he didn't have to follow Harry down there."

"It was horrible," Hermione said, but her words were drowned out by a group of cheering Gryffindors, who were loudly greeted by the twins.

When Harry looked at her aghast face, he was surprised by how little he cared. With something akin to a shrug, he turned to join the ecstatic crowd, on the lookout for something stronger than butterbeer.

And indeed, the Weasley twins didn't disappoint. While they had all been showering, Lee had run an errand in Hogsmeade. Thus, Harry found himself quite drunk when he eventually stumbled up the staircase to the boys' dormitory around midnight.

After he'd slipped out of his clothes and under his covers, Harry's thoughts somehow circled back to Sirius.

The lack of a decent trial for his godfather was an injustice, which he wouldn't allow to go through. But openly threatening Fudge again... It certainly wouldn't happen as easy as the first time. The Minister would be prepared. There had to be a better solution.

But while Harry was mostly pissed at the lack of a trial, the damning news had hit Sirius even harder. And with Remus simultaneously back on monthly order missions, his godfather dealt even worse.

Harry hadn't been in a much better state before he'd come here. The memories of the seven years, which had taken place between his first and second encounter with Death, were like fog. Now that he was neither his old nor his younger self, they were even stranger to grasp. The memories of a life he wouldn't live...

He remembered the countless hours of Auror training, the time he had invested in this job so shortly after the war and yet... They had felt pointless. It hadn't been something he enjoyed. Not really. He had been good, yes. And yet it had merely been a distraction.

Something to do, something so that he hadn't had to deal with the things going on around him. And hunting down the remaining Death Eaters had been a good pastime, but even their numbers had to dwindle eventually.

And then what was left to distract him from realizing that maybe the reason that he couldn't love Ginny the way he had before, wasn't the war, but something that was running much deeper?

A change that had already begun and wouldn't be completed till a choice was made. A choice that was never meant to be postponed...

The thought had Harry pause.

For seven years he'd been stuck between two sides, unmoving, separate from the living but also not dead. He had been like a ghost. Never changing, halfway on his way to become the master of a being that had granted him time. Borrowed time.
He had searched for something that wasn't there then, but at least he'd had something to do during these years. But after the first few had passed - after his resignation…

Months ruled by apathy until he'd finally gathered enough strength to at least pretend…

Returning to this - the time in which he was fifteen had been like breaching the surface after years of living underwater. A first breath after a lifetime of aimless floating, only surrounded by dull sounds and gloomy light.

Go on… or become the Master of Death. This choice had always lingered in his mind as something he had to make.

But what if it hadn't been as much of a choice as something he'd been lured into.

Harry's eyes fell onto the snake spread out over his legs.

What if not only Sirius' promised trial had been a farce?

It was that thought, which followed him into his sleep.

 

The Slytherins hated Harry. There had always been a certain dislike, but now their eyes burned with fury every time he passed by one of them. Harry was being bombarded with hexes on the hallways every time he took as much as a step out of the common room. It soon became something of a habit to expect an attack on his way to class.

And so when Montague outright smiled at him over the house tables two days later, Harry couldn't help but wonder what the Slytherin was up to.
Though he didn't have to wait long for the mystery to be solved.

Because right then, a frightened second year appeared in front of him, delivering a note that demanded his presence in Umbridge's office.
Montague watched him with a smug expression all the way out of the great hall.

The same evening Harry was sitting in an armchair, chin resting on his hands and staring into the fireplace of the Gryffindor common room. Death was watching him silently from afar.

"This is bullshit!" Ron exclaimed and his voice pulled Harry out of his thoughts. Harry could hear him jumping up from his seat and he started to walk up and down agitated. "They can't ban you from the Quidditch team! You did nothing wrong. Malfoy that slimy snake-"

"Is still in the hospital wing," Hermione said coolly and snapped her book shut. At Ron's offended look she deflated a little bit. She sighed and turned towards Harry. "Look, if it's so important to you why don't you ask McGonagall if she can help?"

"Angelina already talked to her," Harry replied motionlessly. Shadows danced on his skin, the warm light smoothing down his features. "She can't do anything. And frankly, I don't care."

Somewhere behind him, he felt how Hermione's magic twisted angrily.

"You don't seem to care about a lot lately," she hissed. Harry closed his eyes with a sigh.

"Hermione, you can't say that," Ron declared shocked.

"Oh yes, I can!" she continued, and Harry could feel her eyes on him. "Because if you cared just a little, you would've already noticed that Hagrid is back," Hermione said, referring to the fact that the half-giants hut had been inhabited for almost two days by now.

Harry opened his eyes and stared into the flames. The accusation hardly fazed him. "But I did already, didn't I?" he replied quietly. "And that's the real problem."  

No-one stopped him when he stood up and went to bed.

As soon as he reached the dorms, Death materialized in front of him.

"You are upset," the being stated while Harry walked past him to change into his sleeping attire. 

Harry snorted dismissively. When he opened the curtain to his bed, Death was already sitting on his mattress. The being stared at him with a frown.

"I don't want to talk about it," Harry snapped and slipped under his covers.

He tried to push away the ill feeling that echoed through his chest when Death pulled back. Instead, he closed his eyes, hoping to force himself to sleep.

 

A full day had passed since his short conversation with Death and Harry had never felt more irritated.

He was standing at the shore of the black lake. The first traces of ice could be seen on the water.
He was fed up with the mess Fudge had started.

He was annoyed by the constant monitoring he was subjected to.
He resented the words that had reminded him of something.
And he was angry at Death for being the cause of this in the first place.
Harry wanted to scream. 
At least here no one would bother him. Icy wind pulled on his clothes as he stared at the smooth surface, trees stretching towards the sky right above him. It was only a matter of time till it would start to snow. Darkness settled over the land. Other students who'd been outside had long headed back towards the castle.
Harry was finally alone.
Well, almost.

"Go away," Harry said. His breath formed small clouds in the cold. He could feel Death's presence shifting somewhere behind him.
It was a halfhearted attempt. The being hadn't left him the first time he had asked him to leave, he wouldn't do it now that it was the third time. Death was silent. When Harry eventually turned and walked towards the castle, Death was following him.

In the distance, there were lights illuminating Hagrid's hut.

 

The next day didn't turn out any better.

Nor did the next.

 

Harry carried anger in his core, drowning every other feeling that dared to invade his mind.

There were no longer people who tried to curse him in the hallways. They avoided him, whispering behind his back as if he didn't hear the words they said.

It was second year all over again.

Harry hissed at them between clenched teeth. They took a step back anyway, so what was the point in pretending that he cared? Why was he still even bothering? Dumbledore probably thought he was possessed by Voldemort anyway, judging the number of eyes following him anywhere.

It couldn't help that his desk had started to rot beneath his very fingers during the last Defense lesson when he was once again confronted with Umbridge's smug and annoying grin.

Even Ron kept his distance after Harry had snapped at him, probably joining Hermione in whatever she was doing.
Harry didn't try to look for either of them.
Instead, he headed out of the castle, towards the black lake. The only place where he could somewhat ground himself.  

The tall pine trees rustled quietly in the wind as he walked beneath them. Harry gritted his teeth when he sensed Death following him. He didn't acknowledge the being and instead buried his hands deeper in his pockets as he stomped towards the forbidden forest. He couldn't be near the being right now.

"You are angry," Death said, breaching the silence. The being hadn't talked since Harry had asked him to leave for the first time.

"Well detected," Harry replied, his eyes firmly focused on the path in front of him.

"Do you really want me to go?" Death asked and Harry stopped, trying to ignore the hint of emotion that wasn't his.

"Why so considerate all of a sudden?" he asked snappishly.

"I don't want you to be unhappy," the being said.

Something snapped inside of Harry at these words. He whirled around. The trees creaked. For the first time in days, Harry looked at the being that had followed him around for more than three months now.

"Then maybe you shouldn't have lied to me about a few things before I became your Master!" Harry shouted.

The fire burning through his veins couldn't hide the twinge, he felt echoing through the bond connecting him to Death.

"I didn't lie to you. I told you that you would no longer be human," Death said eventually, utterly still.

"Well, because that paints the right picture! But you know exactly that's not what I meant!" Harry began, "Although, now that you bring it up, why not talk about it too?!" There was a feeling like ice crawling up his guts, but Harry pushed these emotions aside. "You think I had any idea of what I would become?! People I used to care for, I hardly even look at anymore. The feelings that I knew - gone! I EVEN ASKED YOU IF I WOULD STILL BE MYSELF!"

"And you are. Just because you are changing doesn't mean that you won't be the same. You still have all your memories-"

"Empty memories," Harry cut him off, "Hollow! Devoid of something I don't even recognize! You make it sound like I only gained things from this!" Harry stood in silence for a moment before he yelled, "You took so many things from me! But the worst thing of all, I didn't even have a CHOICE in it, did I?!" Harry kicked against the trunk of a tree. The wind howling above them seemed to take on in force. "DID I?!"

"Why now? You didn't care about similar things before that," Death asked instead of answering. Harry's head snapped back up at the audacity. His eyes pierced Death.

"I always knew that I failed to ask a few fundamental questions before I agreed to your deal of bringing me back," Harry voiced, "I knew that it might not have been the wisest option, to pick what I picked. But I could deal with it because I thought it was my own damn decision to become your master!"

"It was," Death said.

A joyless smirk appeared on Harry's face as he stared at the being, "But the seven years you so generously granted me to make that choice," he drawled before his voice took on a sharper tone, "They were nothing more than a lie, were they? Seven years, not quite living, not quite dead... And what for?! So that I would yearn for something different?! Something that would make me feel alive, so that I would agree to your deal more easily?"

"The change had already begun..." Death's voice blurred with the wind.

Harry laughed a harsh laugh. "You said that to me back then too, didn't you?" He stared at Death. "Tell me, were those years even real?"

"As real as you and I are."

"Then why didn't it feel like they were?!"

"You collected the Hallows; the change went on. You weren't who you once were."

Harry scoffed. "I feel more alive now than I did then! So don't you dare and stand there, pretending that you didn't have a hand in it!"

Death didn't deny it. But his next words made no sense. "I never lied to you."

The words reverberated in Harry's head. While he couldn't - didn't want to make sense of the words that contradicted every assumption he'd made - namely that Death had purposefully cursed him with seven purgatory-like years so that Harry would happily agree to his offer at a second chance - the emotion that came with the statement was honest. Panting, Harry stared at the being as an awful realization slowly crept upon him.

Death had never lied...

"You said you'd give me time to think about it..."

Death tilted his head.

"But you never said this time would be to think about whether to become your master or not," Harry voiced.

"There was always a choice," Death said, "Go on or return."

"You simply failed to mention that it was a one time deal," Harry whispered. He briefly breathed a laugh, looking towards the sky, unshed tears burning in his eyes. After a few moments, Harry wiped a hand over his face and he looked at Death. He didn't know what prompted him to do it, but he walked towards the being, frozen leaves crunching beneath his feet till he was standing right in front of him.

"Be honest," Harry began quietly, "The second time around... Could I have gone on? Would you have let me go on even if I'd wanted to?"

"No."

Harry stared at Death, silent tears finally dripping down his cheeks. Having expected the answer didn't make it easier to deal with it. "This whole charade of granting me time... Why? To give me the illusion of a choice? A choice I had already made?"

Death kept silent.

"You manipulated me," Harry whispered as he looked up at the being. It wasn't a question. Death's eyes met his.

"I don't regret it."

At the being's words, Harry smiled a painful smile. "I know," he simply said.

After a moment, pale hands cupped Harry's face and Death leaned forward, his nose brushing against Harry's hair. "I'm sorry," the being rasped.

A noise escaped from Harry's throat and he didn't know if it was a laugh or a sob. Judging by the tears blurring his sight, probably a mix of both. "Why?" Harry questioned the being. Because as much as he'd like to believe it right now - and despite all the emotions spilling over and clashing in his mind - he still couldn't find it in himself to regret the choice he'd made. Being manipulated into making it or not.

"Because you're hurt, still," Death replied.

Harry closed his eyes as tears rolled down his cheek.

It was true.

He'd gotten used to having Death by his side, sharing his emotions with the being and simply falling into a feeling of familiarity, that he had never even considered, the being exploiting his trust.

"I'm sorry," Death repeated. And while his voice was blurring with the sound of the wind, Harry cried.

Chapter Text

After he had wiped off his tears, Harry had taken a step back. "We're going to have a talk," he announced, his voice leaving no room for objection. "This is long overdue." 

Leaves crunching beneath his feet, he made his way over to a nearby tree stump and sat down. He ignored how the dampness of its surface made its way known through his clothes and put his arms on his thighs. He looked at Death who remained standing. 

"I have questions," Harry said after a few moments of silence. "And you're going to answer them."

Death remained silent, but both knew that Harry wouldn't accept anything but an agreement to his demands. 

"I've gone into this blind..." Harry began. "Being- becoming your master. I want to know what will happen to me."

Death shifted. His voice echoed with the wind. "I don't-"

"Oh, cut the crap," Harry interrupted, feeling some of his prior feelings stir deep in his guts. "You know something. More than I do at least." Death seemed a bit lost. With a small sigh, Harry elaborated. "So, now tell me, Death. What does being your master really entail?"

The silence between them lasted for a long second before Death's inhuman voice began to cut through the icy air. "You united the Hallows, you didn't fear death, nor did you seek out the end of your life or what came after it. You mastered death. But that doesn't equal being the Master of Death. Yet there is no doubt that this title belongs to you." The being paused. He seemed to think about how he could best express himself. "There are ...not quite rules, but there is a balance to things. When you burn a log, it doesn't vanish. There is smoke and heat and ashes. When someone dies, their body decays and their soul goes on."

"That's basic theory McGonagall taught us during first year," Harry interjected impatiently, "The whole spiel about how magic isn't a finite source and so on. What is it that you really want to say?"

"There was always the potential for a Master of Death, but there didn't have to be one,"  Death explained. Harry unconsciously shifted on the log, listening. "The end - the concept of death itself would've fulfilled its role on its own. But my becoming sentient and subsequent interference with the hallows opened up the possibility of it. Or perhaps the possibility formed, which led to me creating the hallows. Perhaps me coming into existence was a precursor to there being a master in the first place."

"The phoenix and the ashes," Harry muttered.

Death tilted his head in agreement. "Me adapting to allow for the possibility of there being a master shifted the balance to the point where the possibility turned into fact. The same thing could be said the other way round. The fact that there would be a Master of Death led to me adapting for it previous to it happening. It was in my nature to change as it was in yours to fill the role for the Master of Death." 

"So you're saying this was ...fate?" Harry asked sceptically and partly intrigued.

"Or coincidence." Death shrugged, which made him look surprisingly human. "I changed so there needed to be something to balance it out. And you are this factor. You adapt to balance what I have become."

"That sounds a bit one-sided to me," Harry voiced dryly.

"I in turn am adapting to what you will be."

Harry snorted at the dramatics when he summarized a conclusion similar to one he'd already come to times before. "So basically what you're saying is that you'll become more human and I turn into an eldritch creature?"

Death frowned. The comparison to an eldritch creature seemed to miff him. "As to what will come... I didn't lie to you when I said that I couldn't tell the future. But once in a while, I get ...notions. The closest human concept to it would probably be an epiphany or an intuition. I cannot tell for sure in what ways you will change. But I think that you will grow to fill this space. And I don't know how much of this lies within your own choosing - or my influence, on that matter." "

"So what you're saying is that I'm the result of the Universe trying to balance itself out?" Harry asked resignedly

"That's one way to put it. Although I'd probably consider it still an ongoing process."

Harry could've grown angry. He could've shouted and yelled. But instead, he just felt drained. Sighing he wiped over his face. Almost apathetically he asked, "And how exactly is this affecting me right now?"

"Some of your actions might seem ...irrational to ordinary humans."

"So you're saying I'm what - turning insane?"

"I'm saying that just like I know how someone's time is up, a part of you is leading you down the path you have to go to become my Master."

"Great, simply great," Harry voiced, monotonously. 

"Though your brain severing and forming new connections to adapt to our bond might also play into this," Death added as an afterthought.

Harry stared at him, disbelievingly. "Excuse me - did you just tell me that my brain is literally restructuring itself?" he pressed out between his teeth. Harry didn't recall when he'd last craved a drink as much as he did right this moment. 

"Your body is still human, but you're turning into something akin to me. But my existence isn't bound to a body or a soul in this sense... How else do you think your human mind would arrange itself with the new expansions of your own being? I told you your mindscape would change..."

Harry's jaw opened and closed. He found himself at a loss for words. "But how the hell should I've known that you meant that literally?!" he eventually burst forth. "Merlin help me..." Eventually, Harry stood up. "I think I need a break from this right now." He hesitated for another moment before he decidedly turned around and headed back the way he came from. He didn't bother to check whether Death was following him. 

 

 

In the end, both had returned to the castle in silence. And they hadn't talked since. Overall, since their confrontation had taken place, Harry had barely been able to look at Death.  

Harry knew it was irrational to still avoid the being, as he knew that he'd eventually return to him anyway. But he just couldn't help it.
But with acceptance and resignation slowly replacing the anger, he grew painfully aware of just how much Death had been impacted by this confrontation as well.
Most of the time Death sat quietly just a few feet from him, always keeping his distance.

Sometimes, Harry thought that he picked up a hint of something akin to melancholy, but it wasn't enough to be really sure. Harry was worried. Now that their bond was no longer clouded by incoherent feelings, he'd expected to once more be able to feel the full range of Death's emotions.

But instead something cold had settled inside his chest.

Meanwhile, Ron had decided that there wasn't anything wrong with Harry at all. Apparently, he'd come to the conclusion that being thrown out of the Quidditch team was excuse enough to explain his sour behaviour and thus he had just tried to avoid the fallout.
Though Hermione had always been too smart for her own good.
Harry doubted that Malfoy's crash had prompted her to confront him the way she had. Most likely, the bluff on the Quidditch field with the addition of him not caring about Hagrid's return had just been the last puzzle piece falling into place of something, that had made her suspicious from the very beginning.
Harry knew that she wouldn't let go of that topic till she knew exactly why he had changed that much. Even if it meant countless hours in the library. If Harry could believe the conversations he'd overheard, Malfoy had gotten away with a few broken bones and a severe concussion. Nothing Madame Pomfrey hadn't been able to fix, but the Slytherin was still in the hospital wing - sleeping most of the time because of his "horrible injuries". At least according to Pansy Parkinson, who loudly announced it every time someone seemed even remotely interested.
But Hermione wasn't the only one who was worried about the incident on the Quidditch pitch.

Harry felt Snape's eyes following him wherever he went, which told him that Dumbledore was equally alarmed. Despite all this, nothing prepared him for the letter, which openly requested his presence in the headmaster's office the following afternoon.

As much as these things bugged him, in the end, none of them came even remotely close to the horror that was the distance, which had begun to spread like ice between Death and Harry.

Harry shifted uncomfortably before he knocked on the door leading to the headmaster's office. He glanced at Death, who was still accompanying him. Silent and unmoving. The voice of the headmaster asked him to come in, but it still took a moment for Harry to tear his gaze away from the being.

Then he pushed the door open and stepped into the room. The quiet whirring of the many instruments filled the air as soon as he'd entered. Harry spared the portrait of Phineas Niggelus a quick look and the Black sneered at him before he pretended to be asleep like all the others.

Dumbledore was sitting behind his desk, his eyes hidden behind his half-moon glasses. "Ah, Harry. It's a pleasure to see you again." Harry exhaled through his nose. The headmaster wasn't even trying to meet his gaze. "Take a seat, Harry," Dumbledore said and pointed at the chair opposite to his desk. After Harry had settled, the man continued. "Tell me, how have you been? I've heard that you had quite a disagreement with your friend Hermoine Granger recently."

This time Harry had a harder time keeping his emotions in check and he had to force himself not to make some disparaging noise.

If one could even call it a disagreement. Hermione had simply begun to avoid him.

A development he'd barely thought about since his fight with Death.

Funny, that this lack of care had been the subject of it in the first place and now it hardly mattered to Harry anymore. "I think that the rumours surrounding this topic are slightly exaggerated," Harry retorted after a moment, with as much emotion as he could muster.

Dumbledore's brows furrowed at his words, but then his expression shifted into something more neutral. "You are certainly wondering why I asked you to come to my office tonight," the headmaster began while he firmly inspected his own folded hands. It was because of this, that Harry didn't hide his frown at the sudden change of topic. "And before you ask, it is not because you are in trouble," the old wizard added with a smile.

Harry watched him silently.

Dumbledore's eyes flicked up as his expression turned serious, but instead of looking at Harry's eyes, he fixated his scar. "You've certainly noticed Professors Umbridge presence within these walls."

"Noticed?" Harry raised an eyebrow. "You should fire her," he added for good measure.

Dumbledore sighed. "Unfortunately my boy-" Harry ground his teeth at the expression - "it isn't that easy."

"Because the Ministry wants her here."

Dumbledore nodded. "Cornelius' paranoia has taken on a new level of severity. And yet he still chooses to ignore that Voldemort has returned."

Harry, getting the hint that he should at least put some effort into playing the part of the angry boy he'd once been, raised his voice. "This is just stupid. Why won't he see what is obviously happening right in front of him?!"

"He is afraid of the responsibility that comes with acknowledging the threat that is out there."

"Then maybe he shouldn't hold this kind of power," Harry said, "if he can't deal with it."

Dumbledore hummed. Harry saw the tension in the way he was holding himself. Something about Harry's statement seemed to worry him