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Kali Black and the Goblet of Fire

Chapter Text

Monday, June 27th, 1994,

United Kingdom, England, London,

Freyja Morrigan,

 

The legal profession was seldom as glamorous as Muggle television made it out to be. There was a lot of paperwork involved, even more reading, and very few grand, heart-wrenching speeches presented to an awed jury. In fact, many lawyers never get the opportunity to argue in a courtroom, settling their client’s case before it ever reaches trial for a number of reasons, mainly because it’s faster, less expensive, and less risky.

Sorting out the Sirius Black case, however, would not be so easy.

The wizarding community of the United Kingdom had a reputation abroad for being conservative. That was the nicest way to put it. Their legal system reflected their overall mentality: jury trials were practically unheard of; legal representation was limited, and the practice of the defendant having a spokesperson with legal knowledge was rare; trials were brief and concise, and were decided by popular vote rather than legal reasoning. Trials were overseen by the Wizengamot, which served as both high court of law and parliament in wizarding Britain, and many of its members held high-powered positions within the Ministry, leading to a complete lack in terms of separation of powers, and classifying the British wizarding government as an oligarchy.

It was for this reason that Freyja had insisted on a jury trial for Sirius’s case. Few governing bodies were to be trusted completely, especially when they had so much to lose. The Wizengamot would never have found Sirius innocent, no matter how much proof Freyja could dig up, because if they had, their reputation would have been ruined, and the entire Ministry would have become a laughing stock. Not to mention the legal precedent it would have created, and the thousands of galleons worth of compensation that Sirius would have been entitled to. The court would have slammed Sirius with that guilty verdict without listening to a thing Freyja had to say in his defence.

Her only hope was that the jurors wouldn’t be so quick to judge, but she wasn’t holding out much hope for that either. Wizarding Britain was a small community, and finding a group of people who’d never heard of Sirius Black and had not already developed an opinion on the case was impossible. And the media wasn’t helping. The Daily Prophet was publishing an article a day about the upcoming trial, meaning that anyone who wasn’t previously aware of it certainly was now. Newspapers all over the country were broadcasting information – verified or not, but mostly not – to the masses, and doing a very good job of swaying public opinion with its use of loaded language to describe Sirius and the crime he was being tried for, and by interviewing criminal ‘experts’, all of whom seemed to work for the Ministry, and who were all too eager to weigh in on the case and provide their ‘professional’ opinion.

This case was turning out to be any defence lawyer’s worst nightmare, and the trial hadn’t even begun yet.

“No known or suspected pure-blood supremacists,” said Freyja.

She was currently sitting in an office deep within the Ministry of Magic, trying to decide on jury members alongside Cornelius Fudge, Minister for Magic; Amelia Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement; Gary Keyne and Richard Davies, members of the Wizengamot who would be acting as prosecuting attorneys; Alfred Mott, Court Scribe; and Theodore Nott, one of Kali’s school friends who was interested in following a career in Magical Law.

“Why not?” asked Keyne. He was an elderly man who had some radical ideals for punishing criminals, which included torture - although the term he used was reconditioning - and the Dementor’s Kiss for all but the pettiest of crimes.

“Because Mr. Black is being charged with crimes relating to pure-blood supremacy ideals,” she said as though she was talking to a particularly dim-witted child whom she didn’t like very much. “If he was indeed in league with Voldemort, then those who supported him will want Black to be freed. If he was not, and qualifies as a ‘blood traitor’, then those supporters are going to want him locked up in Azkaban for the remainder of his days.”

Everyone in the room had flinched upon hearing Voldemort’s name; she would need to remind herself not to use it during the trial, undue fear would not be helpful to Sirius.

“No one who knew the defendant personally,” said Davies. He was the smarter of the two, although Keyne was unaware of this in his assumption that age trumped actual intelligence. He was in his early forties, making him the second to youngest person in the room and one of the youngest members of the Wizengamot, suggesting he was both clever and ambitious.

“No one who works for the Ministry,” said Freyja. “Nor anyone whose sole household income is perceived by means of Ministry employment.”

“Madam Morrigan, surely that’s unreasonable,” simpered Fudge. “Most of the wizarding community works for the Ministry.”

“I will not have the fate of my client decided by men and woman who are economically reliant on the Ministry, and thus on you, Minister, in case you are tempted to act dishonourably.”

Fudge sputtered and his face reddened. “That’s quite enough of that. First you refuse to let the Wizengamot serve its purpose, now you accuse me of corruption. I won’t have it.”

“I did not accuse you of anything,” she said, as indifferent to this outburst as she had been to the four others he’d had in the past few weeks. “I am merely refusing to let you be tempted.”

Fudge was not happy that this trial was taking place and had started taking everything relevant to it as an affront to his authority. Again the media was partly to blame, painting him as a pushover who’d been outwitted by a deranged madman by folding to Sirius’s fruitless desire for a trial. It was obvious to everyone who met Fudge that he was a fair-weather politician: so long as things were easy and convenient he faired relatively well, but throw a wrench into his smooth running system and his feathers became very ruffled, and the case of Sirius Black had been the biggest wrench Fudge had encountered thus far.

Their meeting finished late, which was no surprise with Fudge and Keyne questioning Freyja’s every decision, but her day was far from over. She made sure Theodore got home safely, before Apparating to the Lake House. She was impressed with the boy; she hadn’t expected his attention to remain unwavering for the entire length of the meeting, thinking that his passion for law was born of delusion, but he was remarkably grounded and driven for someone his age. He would make for an excellent lawyer someday if he stuck with it.

She was not surprised to find the house quiet when she arrived. Sirius and Remus had spent the past two weeks haunting the estate like angst-ridden ghosts. The did not speak except to exchange the most minimalistic civilities; they avoided each others company when possible, and when it was not, they stood or sat in awkward silence. It made for a very uncomfortable atmosphere filled with the tension of what was being left unsaid. Kali’s return from school a couple of days ago had alleviated some of that strain, but even she could not dispel it all. There was history between Sirius and Remus - a long, convoluted, intense history that weighed on them and was tangible in the air around them. They had spent over twelve years apart, and in that time they had changed, but while Remus had grown, Sirius had been damaged beyond repair. Neither was the same as they had been when they’d last known each other, and now neither was sure how they fit together, or even if they still did. So they tiptoed around each other, speaking only in hushed voices if they spoke at all, and acting as broken men do.

Dinner was waiting for her in the dinning room, and, per her request, the other members of the household had not waited for her; she could only handle so many awkward meals. She worked as she ate. With the trial only a week away there was no time to relax; the next few days would be crucial in preparing not only herself but Sirius, also, for his appearance in court. Juror selection would take place on Friday, Freyja and the prosecutors will need to agree on six witches and six wizards chosen from a pool of people that will have been approved by both the Minister and the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Until then, Freyja would need to teach Sirius how to behave like an innocent man, which would have been a lot easier had Azkaban not thoroughly ruined his psyche. The poor man’s default expression now was a horrible, vacant stare that did not belong on anything with a pulse. The trauma of what had happened to him had stolen the light from his soul, and had left it cracked and vulnerable, but the deadness in his eyes would only frighten the jurors and make them see him as a beast, something barely human, and not as the severely wounded man that he was. It would not earn him their sympathy, yet it was their sympathy that this entire case was banking on.

She found Remus in the study when she went looking for the witness list. He was sitting in front of the fire, book in one hand, a glass half-filled with amber liquid in the other, staring into the flames, looking faraway and lost. This was not the expression he wore when he was worrying about Sirius; rather, it was the one he put on when he was worrying about himself.

The event that had brought on his resignation from Hogwarts, his co-worker's slip of the tongue, had had foreseeable consequences. A general cry of outrage from concerned but uneducated people had been all the incentive the Ministry had needed to draw up new werewolf legislation. It had yet to be voted in by the Wizengamot, but it would be, there was no doubt about it, and when it was, being affected by lycanthropy in the United Kingdom was going to become unbearable, especially for those whose affliction was publicly known, as Remus’s now was. Being discovered had been one of his worst fears; he’d tried so hard for so many years to hide what he was, but it had been for naught.

She poured herself a glass of Scotch and sat beside him. She was not sure how one went about comforting someone in this situation, or in any situation, really; the ‘soothing shoulder to cry on’ was not a role she gave herself terribly often.

“Everyone knows, and the world didn’t come crumbling down.” She said it dispassionately, as though she were commenting on the weather. But Remus didn’t mention her lack of inflection, he never did, and she’d stopped faking one with him.

“No, it didn’t,” he agreed, “but I can’t go to Platform 9 ¾, or Diagon Alley, or Hogsmeade or anywhere else with a high concentration of witches and wizards, without having to see fear in their eyes. They all hate me.”

“They don’t all hate you. Some do, yes, but their opinion is only as important as you let it be. Their fear is born from a lack of understanding, and their hate from a lack of tolerance, if they are not willing to learn to accept people who are different, they are not worth your time. You have people who love you, Remus, who would do anything for you. Anyone else is irrelevant.”

Remus didn’t respond, but she had imparted all the wisdom she could think to impart, and she had a case file to finalise. She found the witness list on the large desk and left with it, pausing at the door only to say one last thing:

“You are loved unconditionally, not everyone has that. Goodnight.”

She did not fit much sleep in that night, but this was something that she was used to, and she soldiered on.

Kali was the first up the next morning. She didn’t interrupt Freyja’s work, just sat quietly at the table, ate a light breakfast, and set some hot coffee and toast next to Freyja’s opened briefcase before wandering off outside for a run, or a swim, or a hike, or whatever else caught her fancy, despite the pouring rain.

Remus was the next to make an appearance. He only popped his head into the dinning room to say good morning and didn’t wait for a response as he headed into the kitchen to make breakfast. Breakfast time had become a lot more involved since Sirius had come home, as had every other meal, as an attempt to fatten him up so that he was no longer so skeletal. Remus was still in the process of learning how to cook; before Nahele had died it was he who’d done most of the cooking, but with him gone someone had had to pick up the slack. It had been a surprise to discover that Remus, who was a disaster at Potions, was a fairly decent cook – an awful baker, though, Freyja still had flashbacks to that birthday cake he’d made for her last year – but savoury dishes he did well. He always blushed at the compliment, claiming that it was that wolfish part of him that gave him the nose for flavours and spices. If that was true, it was nothing to be ashamed of, at least something good could come out of his lycanthropy.

The smells wafting through the open door were enough to draw Freyja away from her finalised opening statement and into the kitchen where Remus was humming an old David Bowie song under his breath while hovering over the stove – he refused to cook with magic, said it didn’t taste as good – with a spatula in hand and a dish towel thrown over his shoulder. She went to get plates as he used the dish cloth to wipe away the grease that was spitting out of the frying pan onto the counter. The kitchen was the one room Remus always kept clinically clean, everywhere else was cluttered and homely, but any place where food was to be prepared had to be spotless.

She turned to head back into the dinning room, plates in hand, and spotted Sirius loitering in the doorway to the living room. He wasn’t moving a muscle, poised like a predator ready to pounce, and staring at Remus with a hunger in his eyes that had nothing to do with the eggs and bacon Remus was tending to.

Sirius had put on weight in the past two weeks; he was still too thin, but he was no longer just skin and bone. Freyja remembered that first day, when she’d brought him home like a stray dog picked up off the streets. He’d been so jittery and nervous, jumping at every sound, tensing whenever she’d come near. That had been the worst part: seeing Sirius ‘no sense of personal space’ Black flinch away from human contact. She’d fed him and fed him again, and he’d wolfed it all down. Washing away every trace of Azkaban and his year on the run had been more difficult. She’d steered him into one of the bathrooms, leaving the door open in case he needed anything, but he hadn’t moved, and eventually he’d asked for her help. He’d been a proud man, before Azkaban and even now, disinclined to ask for help unless he truly needed it, so she’d put aside her deep-seated aversion to physical touch and she’d helped him. After two thorough showers with enough scrubbing to remove a couple of layers of skin, she’d let him soak in the tub and had cut his hair, it would have been faster and easier to shave it all off, but the old Sirius had been so attached to his hair that she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Only when his fingers had started to prune did he start to talk. At first he’d only asked about Kali; she was a safe topic. Then he’d blundered through questions about hotels and the business market and Freyja’s career, staling while he’d worked up the nerve to ask what had happened to Asherah and Nahele. He hadn’t managed to bring up Remus, not even after a few more square meals; that subject was apparently as far from safe as could be.

Remus felt the intent stare that was burning through his back, glanced over his shoulder, and promptly knocked the frying pan to the floor. Freyja had anticipated this and already had her wand in hand, she levitated the skillet and its content back onto the stove before any damage could be done and accepted Remus’s sheepish apology with a mere nod.

Sirius slipped into the kitchen, taking the long way around Remus to get to the coffee maker. He’d regained some of the grace and presence of his youth, no longer slinking through rooms as quietly as possible, sticking close to the walls, and going unnoticed. It wasn’t the same energy as he’d once had, back when he’d exuded the kind of vitality that had turned heads in any given situation; this was quieter, tamer, yet possessing a raw quality that was perhaps more gripping than the clean finish he’d flaunted before.

“Is Kali not back yet?” he asked. His voice had lost the hoarseness of disuse, but had gained a monotone pitch that was only getting more pronounced as the trial approached. They’d have to work on that.

“She should be back soon,” said Remus, his own voice taking on a note of forced calm and joviality that made the strain all the more apparent. “I hope you’re hungry. We’ve having eggs, bacon, pancakes, and omelettes this morning.”

“You don’t have to do all this, Remus,” he said quietly. His gaze was glued to Remus’s face, but Remus had developed a habit of avoiding any and all eye contact with his old friend.

Freyja may well not have been there for all the tension zapping between the two, so she left them to their awkward battle of desires, praying that when she won this trial – because she could not let herself imagine a scenario in which she didn’t – the air between the two men would settle into some semblance of normalcy.

Kali returned shortly thereafter, and had just enough time to shower before joining them at the dinning table. Freyja left all of her notes and files on one end of the table, forcing the four members of the household to sit in a cluster at the other; she was not sitting through another meal with Sirius and Remus on opposite sides of the long table, she just wasn’t. Kali supplied most of the conversation, and Freyja was grateful to have her home; two weeks of uncomfortable silence and awkward exchanges had been more than sufficient to make her wish that she had better social skills.

After breakfast, began the process of preparing Sirius for the trial. Kali and Remus stayed for moral support, but Freyja quickly forgot they were there. A lot of human communication was non-verbal; body language was something most people picked up on without realising it, small factors that could paint someone as trustworthy, sketchy, or downright guilty. Freyja did not possess this gift naturally, but had learned it from books and observation, which made it much easier for her to teach it to others.

When people lie, they will shrink in on themselves, slouching and slumping to subconsciously protect their body while they are deceiving you; they will tend to lean or face away from you to distance themselves. Eye contact is also an important factor; a lack of it is one of the first non-verbal signs that someone is being deceitful, although it may also indicate a form of neurodivergence, which is why one indicator alone is not enough. False displays of calm that are overdone in an attempt to trick whomever they’re lying to, is also typical; they will keep their hands at their sides, sit extremely still, speak slowly, and keep their facial movements to a minimum. Arms crossed over their chest may indicate defensiveness or disagreement; nail biting is a display of stress, nervousness, or insecurity; drumming fingers shows impatience; touching of the face and hair is a gesture used to calm oneself…. There were many others and Sirius needed to unlearn the ones that would make him come across as guilty, as well as learn to mimic the ones that might convince the jury of his innocence.

But the most important advice she could give was this:

“No matter what, do not look bored. Not only does it make you look guilty, it will also make the jurors think that the crimes you’re being tried for don’t bother you, that you aren’t affected by the deaths of all those people.”

Freyja had a feeling that this would be where Sirius would have the most difficulty doing as he was told, through no fault of his own. It was unfair to ask victims of horrendous trauma not to disassociate during a trial when said trauma was being reviewed with a fine-tooth comb, but that coping mechanism had painted more than a few innocent people as cold-blooded murderers who weren’t human enough to show remorse, and she would not let that happen to Sirius. She had one tool that might help him in that regard, arriving that afternoon on a jet from Norway.

Kali was running around the tarmac of the private airstrip with Pan, each jumping into puddles to splash the other. Sirius had taken to staring at her, also. When he looked at her, it was with both fondness and sadness, and a melancholy that came from years of absence. While Sirius watched the daughter he barely knew, Remus took advantage of his diverted attention to glimpse at him out of the corner of his eye, and Freyja was left to wonder how two people could possibly be so oblivious to one another whilst simultaneously paying each other so much attention.

Kali ran back to the shelter of the air plane hanger as the jet touched down on the runway, and out walked a woman who was one hundred and thirteen years old, but didn’t look a day over seventy. The rain did not touch her as she made her way across the asphalt, walking as though it were a completely different kind of runway. Her hair fell down her back in a long sheet of grey, barely a strand flying out of place, despite the gusts of wind that had delayed her plane by an hour. Prominent, low cheekbones splattered with freckles gave her an air of innocence that had served her well over the years. Kali ran out to greet her, and Freyja took a step back, feeling that old, familiar tension curling around her spine, and she held her breath as she double-checked that the reinforcements of her mind were strong and sound.

Sirius and Remus received greetings just as warm as Kali had, with special attention paid to Sirius, then the woman turned to Freyja. They matched each other’s heights, despite both of them wearing heels that were two inches taller than the ones they usually wore; the woman’s smile did not falter, but she did not make the first move either, it was always up to Freyja to do that, which was something she’d long since resigned herself to.

“Mother.”

 

***

 

She’d been loath to ask her mother for assistance with the case; it was something she’d never done before. But circumstances were dire and her family hung in the balance, so she’d put aside her pride and made the call.

Lilith Morrigan had been born with the gift of Empathy, capital ‘e’. Empaths, like Seers, were incredibly rare, and not everyone believed in their abilities. Many assumed that their capacity to read people came from an affinity at Legilimency, but with real Empaths this was not true. They could not read thoughts, only emotions, and the powerful ones could learn to control the emotions of others, and Lilith was nothing if not powerful. Her abilities made her more efficient than every anti-depressant and mood-enhancer on the planet, and her skill gave her a dexterity that limited the chances of her patients creating a co-dependence with the relief she supplied. It was a fine art, and it was how she was going to help Sirius.

The minute Lilith locked herself and Sirius in the living room for their session, Freyja poured herself a shot of Whiskey.

“Aren’t you the one who implemented the rule that there would be no alcohol consumption during the day while Kali was home?” said Remus, stepping into the study behind her.

“My mother is here.” That was reason enough to drink. Besides, Lilith had brought Kali a new book of spells which ought to keep the girl occupied for a few hours at least.

He poured her another glass.

She’d told Remus about the issues she had with her mother a long time ago. He was very approachable, a very good listener, and just as broken as she was: he, from the toll of his lycanthropy and the loss of war; she, from years of emotional abuse that she hadn’t registered as abusive at the time. They’d bonded over the damaged parts of their souls, and he’d become the only friend she had who knew the extent of the hurt that had been inflected on her by others and by herself.

Lilith had apologised to Freyja a few times now for her parenting techniques, and there was real regret there, but it couldn't change the fact that Lilith’s attempts to ‘fix’ her daughter, had only made Freyja’s emotional detachment worse, as well as causing a medley of other problems, including an insurmountable mistrust between parent and child.

Freyja still believed that playing with the emotions of others, especially against their consent, was deeply unethical. But if this was Sirius’s only chance, they had to take it.

Chapter Text

Monday, July 4 th , 1994,

United Kingdom, England, Oxfordshire,

Kali Kalakaua Lupin Morrigan Black,

 

Kali woke with a start. The upcoming trial had her so on edge that it had started plaguing her sleep. She’d dreamed that all of the members of the jury were Dementors, and every time she’d opened her mouth to give her witness statement, they’d tried to administer the Kiss. She took in a deep breath and tried to calm her beating heart before her panic woke Pan who was still curled up on the pillow next to hers.

It was still dark outside, the light of predawn just barely peaking over the mountain top on the Eastern side of the valley. It wasn’t even 6 o’clock yet, the trial wasn't for another three hours; she couldn’t decide how she felt about that. On the one hand, she wanted it to be over, she hated having this uncertainty hanging over them all, and she could tell herself all she wanted that they had a solid case, and that she was going to get her father back, but until the verdict was given there was no way of being sure. On the other hand, she wanted more time, because if they didn’t get the verdict that they wanted, Sirius Black would be dragged out of her life again, only this time it would be so much more painful. She’d gotten a taste of what it might be like with him around and she wasn’t ready to give that up. But time had run out.

She slipped out of bed, changed into a swimsuit, grabbed a towel, and padded downstairs. She needed to clear her head.

The lake was freezing, it had been hours since the sun had last touched its surface and all warmth was gone from the water. Kali didn’t mind, she’d been known to swim in the lake in the middle of winter; it wasn’t nearly as cold now as it was then. She swam to the centre, went around the small island a few times, and floated on her back as she watched the sun rise, listening as the world woke up around her.

It was only when the smell of waffles reached her nostrils that she made the trek back to the pier. When she got back to dry land, she towelled off, slipped her shorts and t-shirt over her swimsuit, and followed the smell of food.

“Hey, sweetheart,” said Remus, handing her a cup of tea as she came into the kitchen. “I figured the smell would get you back inside. You okay?”

“I’m good,” she said, hopping up onto the counter next to where Remus was slaving away over the hot stove.

Remus scoffed. “I’ve known you long enough to be able to tell when you’re stressed.”

“Likewise,” she said, sipping at her scorching tea and eyeing the barely perceptible shake of his hands as he mixed more batter.

“I don’t know what we’re so worried about. Your Gran’s smarter than every member of the Wizengamot, and she’s got more experience with this, and Amelia Bones is a fairer Head of Department than that last guy was.”

“Fudge will still be pushing for a guilty verdict, though. He may be a bumbling idiot, but he does have power.” This was what was bothering her the most, not that Gran wouldn’t be able to make people believe that Sirius was innocent, not that the entire jury would turn into soul-sucking Dementors, but that the game was already stacked against Sirius, and that no matter how innocent he was, power and influence would win out over truth. “If the world sees that there was one unlawful imprisonment, they’ll start wondering if there haven’t been more. It’ll be like opening an old wound. People won’t be happy.”

“But justice will be done,” said Remus, keeping one eye on her and one eye on his breakfast preparations.

“People don’t want justice, they want tranquillity and safety,” she said. “They just say they want justice to make themselves feel better.”

“When did you become so cynical?” he asked, arching a brow at her.

“When I started reading up on old Muggle Court cases,” she said. “Did you know that more often than not the winning side is the side with the more expensive lawyer? And that the more expensive lawyer is generally charming and manipulative? They’ll spin the truth to make their client seem like the victim, even if said client committed atrocities, and they’ll either make the opposition look vapid and confused, or they’ll paint the opponent as a monster.”

“Are you worried that the prosecution will do that?”

She snorted. “No. Keyne has less the charisma than a brick wall, and he won’t let Davies get a word in edgewise. Based on skill alone, Gran will win. My worry is that the members of the jury are so closed-minded that they won’t even consider her version of the facts a possibility until we’re half way through the trial, and Gran will have to fight for that lost ground until the very end. She’s at a disadvantage and I don’t like it.”

“Don’t let her hear you say that, she might think you’re doubting her.”

“Where is she?” Since she’d gotten back from Hogwarts, Kali had grown used to waking up and finding Gran bent over legal documents in the dinning room, but she’d been conspicuously absent this morning.

“I don’t think either she or Sirius will be joining us for breakfast this morning.”

“They should eat.” It was going to be along day, and they more than anyone were going to need their strength.

“I’ve put some aside for them.” He set a plate stacked high with waffles on the kitchen island and waved her toward the stool. “Dig in.”

She felt Pan wake up as she started eating, felt his stomach rumble at the smell of food, and she counted down the seconds until a small blur of spotted fur streaked into the room.

“How long have you been up?” he asked as he jumped up onto her lap.

“A few hours,” she said, handing him some strawberries as he hopped onto the counter and turned into a diamondback turtle.

“You do get that sleep is good for you, right?” he said, digging in and getting it all over himself.

“I dreamed that the jurors were all Dementors.”

“The human mind is a weird thing. Like you don’t already have enough to worry about, and it throws that at you.”

Kali gave a mental shrug as an owl flew through the open window and dropped the Daily Prophet on top of her plate. She swore these bloody birds did it on purpose sometimes. She went to get five Knuts from one of the drawers, and slipped them into the pouch that was tied to the owl’s leg. The owl flew away and Kali picked up the newspaper. A large picture of her father covered the front page; his mugshot. It wasn’t the most flattering of photos to be sure; he looked insane, very much like the kind of madman who would get his best friends killed and then go off on a murder spree.

She stopped reading after the first two paragraphs. None of the paper’s writers were on Sirius’s side, and when they weren’t framing him as a psychopath, they were writing odes to Pettigrew, the real murderer. The whole wizarding world believed that Sirius Black was guilty, and that plus her mounting stress was making her reconsider Sirius and Gran’s odds.

“Anything good?” asked Remus, still flipping waffles.

“Not really,” she said. “The Daily Prophet is attached to the Ministry, it doesn’t report the news as much as it spreads propaganda.”

“You’re a real ball of sunshine today, aren’t you?” he said, casting her a worried glance.

“I don’t like how the world works sometimes,” she said, chucking the paper down on the counter. “It doesn’t quite live up to my ideals.”

“It’s not perfect, but it’s what we’ve got.” He more than anyone knew about the unfairness of life. “We just have to grin and bear it.”

“Or completely destroy everything we don’t like about it,” she thought.

“I prefer that option, it’s more proactive,” said Pan, going after a strawberry which kept rolling away from him.

Kali checked the clock, an hour and a half to go.

“I’m going for a shower,” she said. “Is Sirius up?”

“Yeah, last I check he was picking out his outfit,” said Remus.

“How long ago was that?”

“About an hour ago,” he said. “His room is going to look like a bomb site.”

Kali chuckled and took the steps two at a time. She stopped at her Sirius’s room and knocked.

“Come in,” Sirius called out in a ragged voice.

Kali pushed open the door, but could only get it open so far before it stopped moving and refused to budge. She slipped through the gap, and found a pile of clothes blocking the door. Muggle and wizard garments littered the floor, spilling out of the walk-in wardrobe and the dresser. The bed wasn’t even visible anymore from all the clothes piled onto it.

“You look like you’re having a fashion crisis,” she said, taking in her father’s improbable outfit. He wore khaki dress slacks, the AC/DC t-shirt he slept in, a billowing, bright purple cloak, two different ties, and only one loafer.

“I’ve never been to a trial before,” he said, sounding a little panicky. “I don’t know what to wear.”

Kali smiled and made her way through the mind field toward him.

“First things first, comfort,” said Kali, removing both the ties from around his neck. “You need to be at ease. We’re going to be in that courtroom all day and you’re going to need to keep the fidgeting to a minimum. So the first decision to make is: will you be more comfortable in wizard robes or a Muggle suit?”

“Freyja’s wearing Muggle clothes, right? Should I match her?” he said, chucking off the cloak.

She rolled up the ties and put them back in their draw in the huge closet. This had been the room Sirius had claimed as his own back when he used to visit the Lake House, before Azkaban. All the stuff in here was his own; after the Ministry had finished raiding his apartment for dark artefacts twelve years ago, everything that had survived their indelicate hands and excessive spellwork had been handed over to Mum, and she’d put it all in here.

“She is, but mostly because she doesn’t like robes. Plus it’ll help sell the whole 'Sirius Black doesn't hate Muggles' thing.”

“So I should wear a Muggle suit.”

“Only if you can be comfortable in it. That’s what will be more important.”

Sirius nodded. “I’ll wear a suit.”

He went over to the hangers and took down the first suit jacket he found, the fabric was pitch black with swirling silver patterns. It was beautiful.

“No,” said Kali with a shake of her head. “Wearing dark black gives the impression of high authority and dominance, as a defendant your aim is to demonstrate humility and compliance, and that starts with what you wear. Also, no patterns, that way you’ll seem more conservative and, well, serious.”

“People are really going to pay attention to the colours I’m wearing?” he asked, putting the jacket back.

“It’s a subconscious thing, they won’t even realize they’re doing it,” said Kali, leaning against a shelf full of watches. “Whether we like it or not appearance matters. The minute you set foot into that courtroom, the jury are going to be looking at you, and they’re going to start forming an opinion on you from that moment onward. That first opinion can make or break a case, so how you present yourself matters, that includes body language and what you’re wearing.”

“Did I miss that part of Freyja’s speech?”

“No, that I got from reading some of her books.”

He smiled. It wasn’t the facial expression that was easiest for him because his muscles weren’t used to it anymore, but it was the one that suited him the best. “You’re making me look bad.” He clapped his hands, and looked around at the mess he’d created. “Okay, so what colours am I allowed?”

“Charcoal, dark grey and navy, for the suit,” she said. “Choose a crisp white dress shirt, and for the tie go with blue.”

“Why blue?” he asked as he found a dark grey suit.

“It sends messages of innocence and purity, trustworthiness, dependability, honesty, that kind of thing,” she explained. “You would be amazed how many Muggle politicians wear blue ties for that very reason. Also go with black dress shoes, they’ll match any suit colour.”

“Kali?”

“Hm?” She handed him the pocket watch the Potters had given him for his seventeenth birthday. He’d been carrying it around with him wherever he went since he got back.

“Thank you for this,” he said. “For everything you’re doing… it means a lot.”

“For helping you pick out an outfit?” she said, knowing it went deeper than that, but also feeling that the mood was in need of lightening. “You’re welcome.”

He stared down at her feet and took an uncertain step toward her, then another, then stopped. He was unsure of his welcome, so she decided to make it perfectly clear to him. She flung herself at him, squeezing him tight as he held onto her with a surprising amount of strength given what Azkaban had done to his muscle density.

“I love you, Kali, so much,” he said into her hair.

“We will win this,” she said, because his tone was tipping dangerously close to that of a last goodbye, and she wasn’t having that.

“If anyone can make sure of that, it’s you and your grandmother,” he said, pulling back to look her in the eye. “But listen, if this doesn’t go the way we want it to… you did everything you could, and I couldn’t be prouder.”

“If this doesn’t go the way we want it to, I have seven backup plans,” she said with a smirk. “You aren’t going back to Azkaban.”

“Even if we have to cheat to make sure of it,” said Pan.

“Even if we have to maim or seriously injure to make sure of it,” said Kali. “I will not lose him again.”

“Fat lot of good that’ll do if you get caught,” muttered Pan. “If you get us sent to Azkaban I will make your life hell, I will.”

“When have I ever gotten caught? Besides, only backup plans number six and seven require the more drastic measures, and they’re the last resorts .”

“You’re incredible,” said Sirius.

“I know,” she said, kissing him on the cheek. “Remus is making waffles, you want to get down there before he and Pan finish them all off.”

“Alright, I’ll head down once I’m dressed.” said Sirius, and Kali left him to it.

When she was showered and dry, she got dressed. She’d already chosen what she’d be wearing for the trial last night when she couldn’t sleep, in fact she had the entire week planned out, although she hoped it wouldn’t last that long. If all went according to plan, it would only last a day, really stressing the ‘expedited’ part of the trial. Today was black slacks, a white blouse, a light pink blazer, and black shoes. Nana had suggested that she wear heels, stating that she was already at a disadvantage being a teenager in an adult environment, she didn’t need to be shorter than everyone else too, but the pumps had squeezed her toes and were too uncomfortable to walk in, so she’d dismissed the idea.

With half an hour left on the clock they used the Floo to get to the Ministry of Magic, one by one stepping out of one of the many gilded fireplaces which lined the walls of the Ministry’s Entrance Hall. It was a very long and splendid hall with a highly polished, dark wood floor, a peacock blue ceiling inlaid with gleaming golden symbols that kept moving and changing like some enormous heavenly noticeboard.

Halfway down the hall was a fountain. A group of golden statues, larger than life-size, stood in the middle of a circular pool. Tallest of them all was a noble-looking wizard with his wand pointing straight up in the air. Grouped around him were a beautiful witch, a centaur, a goblin and a house-elf. The last three were all locking adoringly up at the witch and wizard. Glittering jets of water were flying from the ends of their wands, the point of the centaur’s bow, the tip of the goblin's hat and each of the house-elf's ears, so that the tinkling hiss of falling water was added to the pops and cracks of the Apparators and the clatter of footsteps as hundreds of witches and wizards, most of whom were wearing glum, early-morning looks, strode towards a set of golden gates at the far end of the hall.

Kali, Gran, Nana, Sirius, and Remus barely had time to dust themselves off before they were swarmed by photographers and journalists. Security quickly pushed the raptors away and led Kali and her family toward the front of the hall. Protesters shouted all around them, holding up signs bearing slogans like ‘Black is bad!’ and ‘No more trial!’, and, most alarming of all, ‘Death to the murderer!’. A hundred cameras flashed in Kali’s face as the photographers and journalists muttered excitedly and shoved each other out of the way. Voices called Sirius’s name from all sides.

“These can’t all be from the Daily Prophet,” Pan said.

“Nope, it would seem as though this is a matter of international importance,” Kali thought, unsure whether this was a good or bad thing.

“You’re worried.”

“More than a little.”

“I’m here for you, I’ve got your back,” he said, moving around in her pocket so that she could feel him there.

“I know you do, thank you,” she said, stroking him through the fabric.

There was a line of Aurors who stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the elevator bank to stop the uninvited from getting in. They parted just long enough to let Kali, Gran, Nana, Sirius, Remus, and their escort through, before going back to their initial formation.

It felt as though they’d crossed to a different dimension. They were no longer being swarmed from all sides, the flashes of the cameras no longer reached them, even the voices of the protesters and journalists seemed muffled.

Kali glanced over to Sirius who was looking very pale and gave his hand a squeeze. He latched onto her and she tried to send every comforting vibe she had his way.

“How long have all those people been there?” Remus asked their escort, a hulking big man with a kind smile.

“Most of them showed up last night and this morning,” said the big man, Serge, according to his name tag. “But some have been camping out here for about a week. We’ve been trying to get rid of them, but they won’t budge.”

“How many?” asked Kali. It had been hard to count when they were being rushed from all sides.

“A couple dozen protesters, and just as many journalists and photographers,” said Serge.

“The hearing is open to the public,” said Remus. “If these people are so interested in the trial why aren’t they in there?”

“Because the courtroom’s full to bursting, standing room only in the gallery. Over here, your wands need to be checked before you can go down.”

They stepped out of the stream of Ministry employees heading for the golden gates who’d all stopped to stare at Sirius. Seated at a desk to the left, beneath a sign saying Security, a badly-shaven wizard in peacock blue robes looked up as they approached and put down his Daily Prophet with a glower directed straight at Sirius.

Gran went first. The wizard held up a long golden rod, thin and flexible as a car aerial, and passed it up and down Gran's front and back, standing a bit closer to her than was absolutely necessary.

“Your wand, please,” the wizard said, putting down the golden instrument and holding out his hand.

Gran handed him her wand and the wizard placed it on to a strange brass instrument, which looked something like a set of scales with only one dish. It began to vibrate. A narrow strip of parchment came speeding out of a slit in the base. The wizard tore this off and read the writing on it.

“Ten inches, made of snakewood, basilisk horn core… that’s… interesting,” the wizard said uncertainly. “Been in use for fifty-eight years.”

Nana went next: ten inches, blackthorn, dragon heartstring core, in use for one hundred and two years. Remus: ten and a quarter inches, cypress, unicorn hair, in use for twenty-three years. Kali: ten and a quarter inches, beech, manticore hair – that one made him pause as well – in use for two years. Sirius didn’t have a wand to weigh, his had been destroyed after he was sent to Azkaban and he was banned from purchasing another until the verdict - if he was deemed innocent, that is.

They fit themselves into the crowded elevator and rode it down to its last stop, then had to take the stairs to get even further below ground. The trial was being held in Courtroom Seven, which was the biggest of the ten. It was a large circular room, with gallery seating on the main level, as well as a balcony that circled the entire room, and above that, box seats, and every square inch of it had someone in it, and they all hissed and booed when Sirius entered the room. The jury box was to the right, next to where the prosecution’s witnesses were sitting, next to it, behind a tall podium, sat Amelia Bones and Cornelius Fudge.

Kali, Remus, and Nana headed to the left side of the room where the rest of the defence witnesses sat, and Gran and Sirius took their seats in front of the podium.

A gong sounded, although there didn’t seem to be one in the huge room, and the large double doors they’d entered through closed with a loud creak.

Kali counted a dozen Aurors fanned out around the periphery of the room, probably more among the crowd.

That seems a little excessive,” she thought snidely.

“They’re trying to make a point, making Sirius look guilty and dangerous will make it easier to get that verdict.”

There were no magical chains binding Sirius to his chair, Gran had made sure of that, and as the gong rang out, Sirius smiled and relaxed into his chair, looking for the entire world as if he was precisely where he wanted to be. This behaviour was clearly upsetting to the audience who were still cursing and muttering in Sirius’s direction.

“Does this remind you of those court rooms in the period dramas Uncle Oke likes, where the spectators are all acting like demented chimps getting ready to throw their faeces at the suspect?”

Kali nearly sniggered out loud, which would undoubtedly have angered the demented chimps further.

Bones stood and tapped her wand against the podium, and the room fell silent.

“Mr. Sirius Black,” she said. “Do you swear to speak only the truth in this courtroom? To reveal your soul so that it may be judged justly by your peers?”

“Yes,” said Sirius simply.

“Very well,” said Bones. “You are charged with the murder of -” and she read out a list of thirteen names, twelve of them Muggles and the last belonging to Peter Pettigrew. “You are also charged with being a follower of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named at the height of his power, and with being an accessory in the killing of two members of the magical community, James and Lily Potter.”

At the mention of the Potters, screams and yells of outrage erupted from the crowd and Bones tapped at the podium again.

“How do you plead?”

Sirius shrugged. “Innocent,” he said. “I wouldn't be here if I wanted to prove otherwise would I?”

A few people sniggered, and so, to Kali's surprise, did Remus.

In that case, we shall proceed. I call the Head of the Prosecution to the stand.” As predicted Keyne was the one to stand, not Davies. “Would you like to give an opening statement?”

“I would, Madam,” said Keyne, unrolling a long piece of parchment. “At the request of Freyja Morrigan, Grand Sorceress, and Albus Dumbledore, Grand Sorcerer, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, the Department of Magical Law Enforcement has reopened the Sirius Black case. Black is a known and dangerous felon. He comes from a family that has a reputation with the darks arts. During his years at Hogwarts, he was a bully who was quoted as being ‘reckless, immature, and downright irresponsible’. After school, he joined You-Know-Who…”

Keyne kept droning on, but Kali stopped paying attention, as did quite a few other people by the looks of it.

“Is he going to detach himself from his notes at some point, or is he going to force the jury to stare at his greasy forehead and the back of a piece of parchment for this whole trial?” asked Pan.

“He’s never presented a case to a jury before. He’s too used to the Wizengamot, where every member is old, and has sat through hundreds of trials. The dynamics with a jury trial are different and he knows it, but he doesn’t know how to adapt.”

“He isn’t passionate enough. He’s never going to convince them of anything if he sounds so detached.”

“Good thing for us.”

Keyne’s speech lasted over an hour, and even Bones and Fudge had lost interest by then. Most of his arguments revolved around the fact that Sirius 'came from a bad lot’, he’d even brought along a list of every infraction ever committed by a Black, and he'd read it. Every. Single. Page. She and Pan had to play ‘I spy’ to prevent themselves from dosing off, and she hated that game.

Finally Keyne gave his conclusion. “The trial is a waste of everyone’s time. Sirius Black is a vicious, cold-hearted killer, that’s all there is to him.”

It took Bones a minute to draw herself from her boredom induced stupor. “Does the defence wish to present her opening statement?”

“I do, Madam,” said Gran, rising from her chair.

“Here we go,” said Pan.

Can you try to make sure Sirius doesn’t disassociate too much while she’s talking? He needs to at least look alert,” thought back Kali.

“You really think people are going to be able to look away from your grandmother?” said Pan with a smirk.

“They might glance over at him from time to time.”

“Don’t worry, Kali. She’s going to rock this.”

And with those final words of support, Pan turned into a gnat, flew from her pocket and made his way into Sirius’s. Sirius gave a startled little jump when he felt something moving around inside his jacket, but pretended he’d just been shifting in his chair when he realised it was just Pan. Gran began her opening and Pan was right, the chances of anyone looking anywhere but at her were slim. She took on a whole new persona when she was in court; her cool, standoffish nature melting away into something so charismatic it was nearly impossible to tear your eyes away from her.

“On the 1st of November, 1981, the entire wizarding community of Great Britain received excellent and terrible news. The excellent news: He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had been vanquished, the war was won, good had prevailed. The terrible news: the victory had come at great cost with the deaths of Lily and James Potter. The Potters were brave people, Gryffindors through and through, who’d fought for what they believed in. They'd wanted a better world, a world devoid of the darkness that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and his followers were spreading. As such, they became a target worthy of You-Know-Who’s personal attention; a dangerous spot to be in, so they did what any reasonable person would do: they took their infant son and they hid using the strongest magic available. But something went wrong, because on the night of Halloween that year they were brutally murdered. The sole survivor of the attack was the young Harry Potter, not even He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named got out of there alive. What this case is all about, is finding out how the darkest wizard in recent history found the Potters, despite the fact that they thought they couldn't be safer.”

She set her notes down on her and Sirius’s desk. It wasn’t like she needed them; she could recite every word of every text she’d ever read off by heart if the desire struck.

“This is a story worthy of a Shakespearian tragedy, complete with loss and heart-break, as well as betrayal and gross injustice. This is a story of good versus evil; of a man wrongly accused of a crime committed by another; of innocence lost, and time unjustly stolen. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of Sirius Black. But make no mistake, this isn’t fiction, this is the life of a real man who has been to hell and back to finally see justice be done. His life and that justice are in your hands, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. You are the randomly selected representatives of the entire wizarding community of this country, and throughout the entire duration of this trial you will be the deciders of law. You will be the bringers of justice. You will be the guardians of equality. It is your voice, as you the people, which rules this Court, and I am grateful to you for sacrificing your time to do so.”

Gran dipped into an elegant curtsy, and the jurors all sat up a little straighter and held their chins a little higher, they all puffed out their chests, and preened.

“Nice touch,” said Pan, just a little snidely.

“Most of the jurors are middle class, over-worked, parents,” said Kali. “They go day to day being completely under-appreciated. Having a woman who was so clearly born with a silver spoon show them respect is going to earn her some serious brownie points.”

She’s relying on manipulation to win this? What happened to the truth will out?” asked Pan.

“This is in case the truth needs a little help.”

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I would like now to introduce to you my client: Sirius Black. I would ask you, please, to clear your minds of everything you think you know about this man, so that your judgement may be unclouded as I tell you his story.”

Her voice rang clear through the large room, and there wasn’t a whisper to be heard from the crowd. She spoke directly to the jurors, unlike Keyne who’d been focused on Bones and Fudge when he’d dared to glance up from his notes.

“Sirius Black is complicated. All human beings are. It isn’t as simple a matter as saying that he is a ‘vicious, cold-hearted killer’, as the prosecution claims, because no human being can be summed up with a total of two adjectives and one noun. So who is Sirius Black? He is the disinherited son of Walburga and Orion Black, heir of the House of Black. Every one in this room has heard the Black name, and the huge majority of what you’ve heard has not been good, because the prosecution is correct regarding this matter, they were a nasty bunch. But he’s wrong to generalize it to everyone who bears that name. Sirius disagreed with his family’s belief in blood purity, and defied tradition when he was Sorted into Gryffindor House instead of Slytherin at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. From childhood, he has been the odd one out in that family, which he has proved time and time again. And as Sirius’ relationship with his relatives deteriorated, he forged lifelong friendships with his fellow Gryffindor dorm mates, James Potter, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew.”

The mention of Pettigrew had both Sirius and Remus tensing, but no one else noticed, their rapt attention being held by Gran.

“At the young age of sixteen, Sirius finally broke away from his family and took refuge with James Potter and his parents. The Potters generously adopted Sirius as a son, and Sirius’s outraged mother blasted his name off of the family tree. He was disowned, because he dared to stand against his family, he dared to believe that blood purity was wrong, and that equality should win out, and in doing so he defied and left behind everything he had ever known.”

She gave a thoughtful pout and glanced around at the gathered crowd, and stepped into the very centre of the room where everyone could see her.

“How many of us would have had that strength of character, I wonder? How many of us could have looked clearly at the way we were raised, at what we were taught to believe from the minute we were born, and said: ‘No. This is wrong’? How many of us could have turned our backs on our entire family, our oldest support system, our source of care and income? How many of us would have had such an intense sense of right and wrong that we could have walked away from everything we’ve ever known?”

She paused to give the crowd time to consider her questions as she looked to be considering them herself.

“Walking away from something which you know is wrong, but which is your entire life, is no little thing, and Sirius Black did it when he was sixteen-years-old. He could have stopped there, he could have wiped his hands of the matter, and gone on to live his life. But he didn’t. Instead, upon graduating from Hogwarts, he joined a resistance movement to oppose He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and his followers. Sirius is true to the ideal of a Gryffindor student. He is true-hearted and brave, as shown by his participation in the war, and his willingness to die for those he loves.”

She glanced over at Sirius and smiled at him fondly. The jurors and audience members followed her gaze, and seemed to be seeing Sirius in a new light of uncertainty. Gran had won their trust and was starting to get through to them. Fudge realised this too, but he could do nothing other than stare wide-eyed as she spoke, hoping with everything he had that the prosecution would get its act together and find a fault in Gran’s story, some blatant error that could not be overlooked. This case could do serious damage to his career if Sirius was deemed innocent.

“We could offer him a deal if we’re feeling charitable,” said Pan. “Make it look like he’s some kind of a hero who heard the plea of justice and righted a wrong that happened before he had the power to stop it.”

“I’m not feeling particularly charitable toward him.”

“Sirius Black was acknowledged to be one of the most brilliant students Hogwarts had ever seen, both in terms of intelligence and magical prowess. But he is not without fault. He’s also an arrogant and mischievous troublemaker. He could be viscous towards those he hated, and yes, he has made some bad decisions, I don’t deny that and neither does he. However, through it all, he had good intentions. His need to protect his loved ones, his selfless nature, great sense of loyalty, and his need to be part of something bigger than himself, such as when he joined the fight against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, all illustrate the kind of person Sirius Black is. He is passionate and impulsive, but he also possesses a superb mental control which allowed him to completely resist the psychological effects of the dementors for so many years, suggesting that he has an unusually strong sense of self. He withstood long periods of emotional torture and despair. The fact that he is not a drooling mess right now attests to his strength of character. Sirius Black is all those things I have told you, and he is so much more. But what matters, here, today, is that he is innocent.”

Sirius had slumped in on himself at the mention of the dementors, and Pan had to wiggle around in his pocket to draw his attention away from whatever dark thoughts were plaguing his mind.

Nana must have done a wonderful job soothing the rough edges of his psyche; this was the first time all morning he’d almost zoned out. Looking at him now, his time in Azkaban wasn’t apparent at all: he was clean-shaven with an ivy league haircut; his suit hid the extent of his thinness; Gran had put a thin layer of make-up on him to mask his pallor and had whitened his teeth. He didn’t look like the man from the Shrieking Shack; he looked whole and human, and, thanks to Nana, his eyes were bright, his facial expression was relaxed, and his posture was perhaps a tad too casual given the circumstances, but it only served to show everyone in the courtroom that he was not the raving madman from the front cover of the Daily Prophet.

“Some time before January 1981, the resistance movement received word that the Potters were in danger. Following this news, the young couple and their baby confined themselves to their house in Godric's Hollow, a quaint little village with narrow roads, bordered with homely cottages. Ignotus Peverell himself is buried in the village’s graveyard, behind St Jerome’s Church. It’s a lovely place to live, and despite the dangers of war, the Potters did a wonderful job at living.”

Kali had only seen Gran in a court a handful of times, and it always surprised her how good a storyteller she was, she knew exactly what details to add to paint the picture she needed in the audience’s mind.

“It wasn’t until mid-October of that same year, that an urgent warning was relayed that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was about to strike. The Potters reacted quickly, and by October 22nd the Fidelius Charm was cast and they went under deep cover. For those of you who don’t know how the Fidelius Charm works, it is an extremely difficult, multifaceted and potent charm which can be used to conceal a secret inside an individual's soul. The witch or wizard who houses the secret is known as the Secret Keeper. A dwelling whose location has been protected by this spell is then invisible, intangible, Unplottable, and soundproof. Once a Secret Keeper is selected, the person who told them the secret will find themselves unable to pass the information on again, and the Secret Keeper becomes the only person capable of revealing the secret. The Secret Keeper can tell as many people as they like, but they must do so voluntarily; the secret cannot be blackmailed, bewitched or tortured out of them. What this means is that the Potters’ Secret Keeper, of his own accord, sold them out to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”

The tension in the room was mounting as everyone held onto Gran’s every word. The jurors were all leaning toward her waiting for her to tell the rest of the story.

“So who was the Potter's Secret Keeper? The obvious answer is Sirius Black, James Potter’s best friend, his brother in all but blood. That is the obvious answer. That is the answer which for years no one questioned. But someone should have questioned it. Then and there, someone should have thought to themselves that there was something off about that answer. Because, yes, Sirius Black was the most obvious choice for the Potter’s Secret Keeper, but when your family’s life hangs in the balance of a well-kept secret, are you really going to pick the most obvious choice? Or would it not be wiser to add in that extra layer of protection by making everyone believe that Sirius was the Secret Keeper when in fact it was someone else? Would it not be safer to send He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and his followers on a wild goose chase as they concentrated their search on a decoy who couldn’t tell them the Potters location even if he wanted to?”

This was the crux of the story: convincing everyone here that Sirius could not possibly have been the Potter’s Secret Keeper, and presenting them with a more likely culprit.

“It would have been a brilliant plan, and had it worked no one would ever have caught on. But it didn’t work, because there was one thing that neither the Potters nor Sirius Black had thought possible: that the real Secret Keeper was one of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s spies. And in there lies the betrayal. Not with Sirius Black, who would have died rather than sell out his friends, but with the real Secret Keeper: the person Lily and James trusted theirs and their son’s lives with; the person Sirius Black believed could protect his best friends and his godson; the person no one would ever suspect. Quiet, loyal, trustworthy Peter Pettigrew.”

The hall erupted in gasps, and mutterings.

“Pause for dramatic effect,” said Pan, as Bones called for order.

“Opening statements are about theatrics,” said Kali. “It’s about playing the crowd, and getting them invested in the story your selling.”

“It’s working,” he said. She’s got them hooked.”

“Now she just needs to keep them that way.”

“Order in the Court,” Bones bellowed, and the hall fell silent once again. “Madam Morrigan, please continue.”

“Thank you, Madam. You all know Pettigrew as one of Sirius Black’s supposed victims, some of you even knew him from before then, back during his student days at Hogwarts. A Gryffindor like Sirius, James, and Lily, but not as exceptional as they were. He was average in every aspect of his life, physically, intellectually, magically. He was nothing special, but he was completely devoted to his friends. Or so everyone thought. In his youth, he latched onto James Potter and Sirius Black, who were more talented and popular than he, idolising them and living vicariously through their accomplishments. Due to the huge difference in terms of talent, bravery, and popularity, Peter was considered by others as more of a hanger-on than an actual equal. James and Sirius never saw it that way, though, they loved Peter as a friend and brother, which made the pill that was the eventual betrayal all the more difficult to swallow.”

The sadness shining through Gran’s eyes looked so real that basic human empathy had a large number of people in the room mirroring it. She could make for one hell of an actress if she ever decided on a career change.

“When Pettigrew’s life was threatened by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, he defected from the resistance movement and betrayed his closest friends, proving that selfishness and disloyalty grew from the core of his being. Pettigrew was an opportunist, who allied with the side that seemed strongest and appeared to be winning — thus becoming friends with James and Sirius in school, and then leading him to become a Death Eater when the opportunity arose. He was loyal only to himself and acted in whatever his best interest was at the time. Imagine how thrilled a man like that must have been when the Potters decided to make him their Secret Keeper. Finally, he could truly prove his worth to his new master, he could hand over the Potters. He expected to be rewarded for this, and he probably would have been had things gone according to plan. But they did not, as Pettigrew quickly deduced upon arriving at the wreckage of the Potters' home and finding his master dead.”

Fudge was fidgeting nervously, eyes darting around too quickly to follow, taking in the expressions on the faces around him, and finding that the audience was being far too receptive to Gran’s version of events.

“Apart from James and Lily, Sirius Black was the only person who knew that Pettigrew had been their Secret Keeper. When he realised what Pettigrew had done, he tracked him down hoping to avenge his friends. When he closed in on him, Pettigrew screamed that Sirius had betrayed the Potters for everyone to hear, and before Sirius could draw his wand, Pettigrew swiftly pulled out his own and proceeded to kill twelve Muggles by blowing up the street with a Blasting Curse that was strong enough to create a crater large enough that the sewer pipes were showing. He then faked his own death by cutting off a finger and leaving it behind as he transformed into a rat and fled. Because, unbeknown to all but a few, Peter Pettigrew is an unregistered Animagus, just like James Potter was, and Sirius Black is. The three friends acquired the skill during their fifth year at Hogwarts.”

The sound level in the hall rose once again with muttered disbelief, and Bones started shouting for everyone to be quiet again. Once silence reigned, Gran continued.

“Madam, I’m aware that generally physical proof is to be presented after the opening statement, but as my entire explicative rests on Pettigrew being an Animagus, would you allow Sirius Black, who became an Animagus along with Pettigrew, to transform?”

“Madam Morrigan, you are aware that Animagi are required to submit themselves to the Animagus Registry once they acquire the ability to turn into an animal, and failure to do so results in imprisonment in Azkaban?” Bones asked her uncertainly.

“I am aware of that, Madam.”

“Mr. Black’s name is not on that registry. You’re asking me for permission so that your client can confess to a criminal act and prove it.”

“Madam, this trial ends one of two ways, either the jury deems that my client is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in which case he’ll be going back to Azkaban for the rest of his life anyway. Or they decide he’s innocent, and thus has spent twelve years of his life in Azkaban undeservedly. The punishment for being an unregistered Animagus is two years maximum. Those two years can be deduced from the twelve he should never have endured.”

“Very well,” said Bones, keeping her piercing gaze on Gran. “Mr. Black if you could show the Court your Animagus form, please.”

Sirius rose from his chair and moved to the centre of the courtroom.

“At least they’re not booing at him anymore,” said Pan.

“No, but there are still some very unhappy faces in the crowd,” said Kali.

Sirius glanced over at her, she smiled at him, and he returned it, before turning into a huge black dog. There were some gasps and a lot of staring as Padfoot bounded over to Gran and she started scratching him behind the ear as he enthusiastically wagged his tail.

“I think you’ve proven your point, Madam Morrigan,” said Bones. There was a smile barely visible at the corner of her lips, which Kali saw reflected on multiple other faces. There was definitely something endearing about a dog the size of a bear behaving like a puppy, and people felt it, even if they didn’t want to.

“Thank you,” said Gran, and Sirius morphed back into a man.

He went back to his seat, as Gran went back to telling her story.

“There you have it ladies and gentlemen, the best proof I can give you right now that Peter Pettigrew was an Animagus, further evidence will be provided during the presentation part of the trial. It turned out that he was a better wizard than anyone knew or gave him credit for. It’s always a surprise what people can do when they’re properly motivated.

Because in spite of others claiming that Pettigrew was a ‘weak, talentless thing’, he was at least cunning enough to escape Sirius after He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s defeat, frame him for his crimes, and fake his own death while killing twelve people with one curse, and living for years in his Animagus form to hide from the law. His ruse didn’t end there, for he chose to be adopted by a wizard family, the Weasleys, so that he could keep track of the news in the wizarding world and could rejoin his master should he return to power. Positioned as he was, he could also bring Harry Potter, who is a close friend of Ronald Weasley's, as a welcome-back gift, so that no Death Eater would dare claim him a traitor. However, he never took action during his time as Ronald's pet, because He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named wasn’t around to protect him.”

That would be the part that the prosecution would use to dismantle her claims: if Pettigrew really was alive, if he really was a spy for Voldemort, why not kill Harry and have done with it? By addressing the issue so early on, she was setting a solid foundation for the arguments she’d be providing later on.

“On July 15th 1993, the Minister for Magic, Cornelius Fudge visited Azkaban for a routine inspection. While there he encountered a shockingly normal Sirius Black. Most everyone else in Azkaban has had their sanity taken from them by the constant presence of dementors, but not Sirius Black who asked the Minister if he’d finished with his newspaper, telling him that he missed doing the crossword. It was that newspaper that changed everything, because within it was a picture of the Weasley family on holiday in Egypt, and on the shoulder of one Ronald Weasley, was his pet rat, Scabbers, a seemingly ordinary rat, who’d coincidently been in the family for twelve years, the same number of years Sirius was in Azkaban for, and who was missing a toe on his front, right paw, his index toe. Peter Pettigrew cut off the index finger on his right hand. It all fits far too well together to just be a happy accident, wouldn’t you say?”

Keyne was riffling through his notes, angrily scribbling down bits and pieces of Gran’s speech, but Davies never took his eyes off of her, he didn’t look convinced by what she was saying, but he certainly looked interested.

“On the 27th of July 1993, Sirius Black escaped from Azkaban, filled with concern for Harry Potter, his godson, who was in danger so long as Peter Pettigrew was around. Sirius took his Animagus form and, thinned from malnourishment, was able to slip through the bars of his cell and past the dementors. He swam across the North Sea back to the mainland and to freedom. Sirius took refuge around Hogsmeade and the Forbidden Forest waiting for the opportune moment to strike and rid the world of the traitor who’d caused so much pain. But on the 31st of October, the anniversary of Lily and James’s deaths, half-crazed from grief and desperation, Sirius sneaked into Hogwarts and slashed the Fat Lady’s portrait when she refused him entrance to Gryffindor Tower, sending the entire castle into lock down.”

That had been a setback for Gran’s case. It wasn’t easy to prove that a man wasn’t an absolute lunatic when that’s exactly how he was acting. But it was all a matter of perspective and wording.

“Eventually, Sirius was able to enter the Gryffindor common room in February. He shredded Ronald Weasley’s bed curtains in his search for Scabbers the rat, but Pettigrew was nowhere to be found as Sirius's escape had prompted him to once again fake his own death and hide.”

Which had caused all kinds of grief for Hermione whose cat Ron had blamed for the rat's sudden death; not to mention Neville who’d been blamed for letting Sirius into the Tower, although, it had been inadvertent.

“In June, Sirius caught Ronald carrying Scabbers, after the rat had been discovered hiding in Rubeus Hagrid’s cabin, and dragged both boy and rat through the tunnel under the Whomping Willow to the Shrieking Shack using his Animagus form. Harry Potter, Kali Black, and Hermione Granger ran after him. Admittedly not the smartest move given that the Whomping Willow had woken up and it has some very violent tendencies. It tried to flatten them to death, and they had no idea where the tunnel led, they did know, however that there was an escaped convict on the loose. But in the heat of the moment it seemed like the only option.”

Kali had gotten an earful about that when she’d gotten home, but as it had all worked out well enough in the end, she wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about.

“In the Shrieking Shack the giant black dog revealed himself to be Sirius Black. Sirius tried to explain himself, but was interrupted twice, once by Remus Lupin, Hogwarts’ Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor, then by Professor Severus Snape, Hogwarts’ potions’ master. Through an accidental miscast on the children’s part Professor Snape was knocked unconscious, and Sirius was given the opportunity to tell his story. He and Mr. Lupin managed to reveal Pettigrew’s true form, and Pettigrew shamelessly begged for mercy, despite having used and betrayed.”

Remus started to shrink in on himself, knowing what was coming next, having given Gran explicit permission to tell this part of the story, despite her reassurance that she could work around it. But if the truth was going to come out, he wanted it to be the whole truth. Kali took his hand and squeezed, and he held on tight.

“After that they left the Shrieking Shack, with an unconscious Professor Snape in tow. They planned to hand Pettigrew over to the dementors and prove Sirius’s innocence, but the plan was upset, when the full moon rose, and Remus Lupin, who had forgotten to take his Wolfsbane Potion in his rush to get to the four out-of-bound students, transformed into a werewolf. Sirius was forced to take on his Animagus form to protect the children, and Pettigrew took advantage of the chaos, cursing Ronald with Mr. Lupin's wand, transforming into his rat form, and fleeing.”

Remus’s condition had already been outed by Snape, and the Daily Prophet had written an article about it the next day, complete with a photo and some rather nasty words and claims, but by the way the muttering had renewed, it was plain that people still weren’t over it. Bones had resorted to threatening the audience as though they were misbehaving children,saying that if they didn’t get their act together they would be asked to leave. Gran waited patiently for everyone to calm down.

“Peter Pettigrew looked up to strong, courageous people, but he was not one himself. He valued bravery, but he was not brave. He was, and still is, a coward who would sacrifice even his closest friends to save his own skin. It was he who betrayed Lily and James Potter, not Sirius Black. It was he who killed those twelve Muggles, and he who condemned an innocent man to rot in Azkaban for twelve years.”

It was easy to paint someone as a villain when they weren’t around to defend themselves, but in this case, Pettigrew’s presence would definitely have helped clear the suspicious and disbelieving looks that some of the jurors and audience still wore.

“You can say a lot about this case. You can say that it’s a waste of your time; you can say that it’s open and close; you can say that you think Sirius Black is guilty. But what you cannot say nor think is that he does not deserve this trial. Because this is not an appeal, ladies and gentlemen, how could it be when this is the first time my client has seen the inside of a courtroom? Sirius Black was sent to Azkaban without a trial; he was sent to one of the worst places on this Earth without being given the fundamental right of having his side of the story heard. Because at first glance, and only at first glance, does this case appear to be open and close, and because of its apparent simplicity, and the state our government, and our entire community, was in after the war, the Ministry held in contempt someone’s basic human rights.”

Fudge’s eyes were bulging from his skull and he started sputtering, but a firm glare from Bones quieted him. Gran kept talking to the crowd as a whole, but her gaze stayed fixed on the Minister.

“The Ministry was reticent for this trial to take place, because if it turns out that Sirius Black is innocent, then that means they made a mistake, a mistake which cost a man twelve years of his life, and tore his family apart. I can’t help but wonder: if the Ministry was absolutely certain that Sirius Black is guilty, why the reticence? Why the smear campaign led by the Daily Prophet to sway public opinion?”

She turned back to the jurors. Twelve in total; six wizards, six witches; two pure-bloods, three Muggle-borns, seven half-bloods; an astronomer, a broom maker, a genealogist, a housewife, a trainee healer, a tutor, a pianist, a reserve Quidditch player, a tree farmer, a shop keeper, and an arithmancer.

“The prosecution is going to tell you that our government would never commit such a wrong. I disagree. Do you remember how it was when we were told we’d won? Everyone was out on the streets celebrating; flocks of owls flew to deliver the news all around the world. But as the wizarding world rejoiced, the Ministry still had some things to clear up. Anyone caught within a week of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s undoing; anyone who was so much as rumoured to be affiliated with him was thrown into Azkaban without a trial and the paperwork was buried. That is unless they could pay their way out of it, be it with gold or the names of Death Eaters. The Ministry wanted an easy, clean finish, and to get it they acted with a ruthlessness which bordered on inhumane. The prosecution will try to defend that, he’ll call it a necessity. I call it a gross betrayal of our trust. I trust this system, we all trust this system, but if this system is going to imprison anyone who looks even remotely guilty without given them the chance to defend themselves then this system is broken, and is unworthy of our trust. It’s why I requested that it be the people who judge this case, because I believe that you will be fair, and that you will not trust everything the prosecution tells you merely because his title is longer than mine. Titles are meaningless here.”

Another smart thing to say to soften up the jurors, known of whom had any title to speak of.

“The prosecution will try to debunk my case, claiming that I have no evidence that Peter Pettigrew is still alive, but, ladies and gentlemen, six people saw that very man, alive and well, in the Shrieking Shack only last month. And let me ask you, what proof does the prosecution have that Pettigrew is not alive? Some witness statements from Muggles who were present at the time of the explosion? But none of these Muggles knew how magic works, when asked none could have told you who of Peter Pettigrew or Sirius Black was holding the wand that fired the curse, because they thought it was just a stick, an irrelevant, inconsequential stick, not worth their notice.”

None of the Muggles who’d witnessed the incident would be making an appearance today for obvious reason, and their witness statements were unreliable at best. They were one of the first things that Gran had gotten dismissed from the evidence file.

“Perhaps the prosecution will use the severed finger as proof of Pettigrew’s death. The index finger of Pettigrew’s right hand, the biggest part of him they could find – the only part of him they could find. A perfectly undamaged finger, save for the fact that it was no longer attached to a hand. There wasn’t a scratch on it. Now, I wonder, how could that finger be in perfect condition, if the rest of Pettigrew was blown to bits with such violence that it obliterated every part of his body, except for that one miraculously convenient finger. And I ask you, what does it say about our law enforcement who found a man’s finger and immediately closed the investigation, declared him dead, and concluded that the only possible explanation for why they only found that one finger was that he was killed so hard that the rest of him just vanished. Sloppy work if you ask me.”

It was the Aurors’ turns to look uncomfortable now, shifting uncomfortably as the weight of the crowd’s stares fell on them as Gran slowly but surely discredited every argument and lead the prosecution could possibly hope to call upon to win this trial.

“In the chaos of winning the war rules were disregarded and violated, evidence was contaminated, souls were compromised and corrupted, and an innocent man suffered the consequences.”

That about summed it up.

“The bottom line, ladies and gentlemen, is that the evidence will show that the defendant never betrayed Lily and James Potter, that it was in fact he who was betrayed and framed for murder by someone he called friend. We have an important responsibility. Yours is more important. You are sitting in judgement in a case where, at the end of the trial, you will conclude that a man has been falsely accused of a serious felony. You asked for it. You could have been excused. You said you would be fair. We trusted you then, and at the end of the case we will trust in your verdict. At the conclusion of this trial, I am going to ask you to do what no one at the Ministry has ever done for Sirius Black. I am going to ask you to protect him. I am going to ask you to rescue him from the harsh half-truths of the prosecution. I am going to ask you not to leave him any longer at the mercy of our government.”

She stood directly in front of the jury box, where none could shy away from the pleading look in her eyes.

“That, ladies and gentlemen, is the great calling and the great function of a jury. That’s what we’re here to do today – to do justice. The defence will therefore ask you at the close of the evidence to find Sirius Black not guilty of treason and murder. Thank you very much.”

Chapter Text

Monday, July 4 th , 1994,

United Kingdom, England, London, Ministry of Magic,

Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore – Order of Merlin (First Class), Grand Sorcerer, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards,

 

Things were not going as he’d anticipated.

He’d thought he’d set it up perfectly: Harry and Hermione would use the Time-Turner to rescue Sirius; Sirius would fly off on the back of that hippogriff, and go somewhere far away; Albus would hold his standing with the Ministry for his cooperation on the case, all the while Remus, Kali, Harry and their friends would be grateful for the help he’d been in insuring Sirius’s escape. He hadn’t counted on Kali intercepting Sirius before he could get away; had underestimated her ability to convince people to do what she wanted; hadn’t thought that Sirius would gamble his freedom because she’d told him to. When she’d shown up at the hospital wing and had used her own father as a bargaining chip to ensure he would get a fair trial, Albus had been flabbergasted. She’d outmanoeuvred him and he’d had to think fast to regain his footing; agreeing to this trial had seemed like the wisest choice at the time. Because what other option did he have? Fight her on it? That wouldn’t have gone down well; it would have pitted him not only against her, but also against her entire family and Harry as well. This had been his only choice, and the minute Sirius was acquitted, Albus would have to reap the consequences.

There was no question in his mind that Sirius would be acquitted. Freyja may have been out of practice, but she still knew how to capture her audience and keep them under her thumb long enough to get what she wanted. She was spellbinding to watch, and Keyne was decidedly not; Davies would have stood a higher chance of winning this trial, but it still wouldn’t have been high enough. Even without Freyja's fabricated charm and with a more competent prosecutor, Sirius’s case was not nearly as simple as the Ministry and Albus himself had made it out to be thirteen years ago; there were a lot of holes and inconsistencies and they would all be brought to light today.

At the start of the trial, it hadn’t mattered to any of the jurors whether Sirius was guilty or not. Goodbye and good riddance had been their watchwords, believing that if he were to get off, that would put their families in danger and their homes at risk. It had been safer to believe that this was all just a farce put on to humour a madman. But then Freyja had stood up with her silver tongue, and she’d made them doubt, and she’d continued to spread that doubt through the procession of witnesses that the prosecution had brought forth, be it school yard rivals who’d had the misfortune of crossing wands with Sirius, but who, when pressured, had admitted that it seemed unlikely that Sirius would ever betray James; or Aurors who’d done a rather poor job of following basic procedure:

“Did you check Mr. Black’s wand to be sure it was he who had cast the spell which blew up half a street?” she asked Mr. Shaw, the first Auror to have arrived at the scene of the crime on November 1st, 1981.

Shaw fidgeted nervously under Freyja’s intense gaze. “Well… not exactly….”

“Not exactly?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Is a wand check not basic procedure?”

“Well, yes, but I thought someone else had done it.”

“But you were the first on the scene, were you not?”

“I – I was.”

Freyja turned to the jury box. “Procedure states that once a crime scene is secured, all wands involved are to be confiscated and Priori Incantatem is to be cast on each one to determine who cast which spell. If proper procedure is not followed, not only does the negligent Auror risk losing his job, but all evidence collected at the crime scene becomes inadmissible in court.”

“There were witnesses! They all saw him do it!” shouted Shaw, his panic seeping through.

“Muggle witnesses, whose grasp of magic and wand-work in non-existent,” said Freyja. “Muggle witnesses who had just experienced a traumatic event. You are the professional wizard who was meant to keep his head.”

“Objection,” said Davies. “She’s treating the witness as hostile.”

“Sustained,” said Bones.

But Freyja didn’t mind. “No further questions.”

As it turned out, there was very little concrete evidence acquired following procedural standards and admissible in court that could prove that Sirius Black had killed those Muggles, which was something she got Rufus Scrimgeour, Head of the Auror Office, himself to admit.

Sirius had been the first to be questioned after the opening statements. His story had been fraught and emotional, and it had brought him, and a few others Albus had noticed, to tears. He’d regained his composure quickly, though. Sirius had never enjoyed vulnerability. Keyne had been particularly harsh in his line of questioning, delving into every painful event in Sirius’s life like a blunt axe trying to dissect his story. It had gotten to the point where Freyja had had to put a stop to it, and Bones had let her.

After that they'd moved on to the rest of the testimonies and the expert opinions.

All of the prosecution’s witnesses were either Aurors or members of the Magical Law Enforcement squad or of the Department of Magical Catastrophes. All of them told the same tale of how they had captured Black after Peter Pettigrew had been ‘murdered’. Every time it was the same story with no variation. It was clear that the prosecution was trying to saturate everyone's minds with so much information they couldn’t think straight anymore, repeating the same facts over and over and hoping that was enough to make them believable.

It was all getting very boring, until Sirius broke out in a very loud and very obvious yawn.

Keyne glared at him. “Do you have something to say, Mr. Black?”

“No, no,” said Sirius with a pleasant smile. “You carry on getting your witnesses to repeat the same tale over and over, and the rest of us will try not to die of boredom.”

Keyne went an angry red colour, but the jest got a positive reaction from the crowd. It was the first entertaining thing to have happened in hours.

Remus, who was seated in front of Albus, groaned. “He’s going to be put on trial for verbal abuse after this, I can feel it.”

They broke for lunch then and returned an hour later. Now it was Freyja’s turn to parade her witnesses and experts in front of the court, starting with her own mother.

He’d been surprised to see Lilith here. She and Albus had been friends a lifetime ago. They’d lived in the same village; had gone to Hogwarts together; had been Sorted into the same House; they’d been named prefects together, then Head Boy and Head Girl. They’d all but grown up together, and it would be a lie to say that he didn’t still look up to her, and even emulate her at times. It had been years since they'd last seen each other, though. Their falling out had happened long before Freyja was born, but he had kept an eye on her, and had noticed that her relationship with her daughter was fraught to say the least. For Freyja to ask her to step in and speak during this case was unexpected. Albus did not know the ins and outs of Lilith and Freyja’s quarrel, but he could make an educated guess as to the source of their ever-present conflict: Freyja's resemblance to her father. This was never more obvious than when she found herself in a courtroom, all eyes on her, waiting for her to spin her web and ensnare them.

Lilith was an expert at psychotherapy. Her abilities gave her an edge in the field, and wizard kind and Muggles alike flocked to her for her help and guidance. She was here to give her professional opinion regarding Sirius’s mental state and to explain away Sirius’s untimely bout of laughter as he’d been carted off to Azkaban. Apparently the notion that laughter only occurred when someone was happy was incorrect. Laughter could become a human being’s default reaction when something unexpected happened, it was what happened when the brain was stalling and needed more time to process a situation. She gave some relatable examples and the jury was sold on the idea.

It became obvious early on in the afternoon, that Freyja’s witnesses were more diverse, less stiff, and, all in all, more likeable than any of Keyne’s. But something else also popped out after the first three: they'd all agreed to take Veritaserum, as did the next two.

Veritaserum was not normally used in trials, not only because it was a controlled substance, but also because it was not infallible. There were a number of spells that could be used to prevent its effects, especially by a sufficiently skilled person who was made aware beforehand that it would be administered. It was an unreliable tool, but Freyja had managed to convince Fudge and Bones that Sirius was still too weak to protect himself from the serum and that Kali who, along with Albus and Remus, was Freyja’s key witness, was too young to know how to fight the effects. Albus believed only half of that argument to be true. Indeed, Sirius looked far healthier than he had a few weeks ago, but he was still worryingly thin and although his eyes were no longer glazed over, they were not nearly as bright as they had once been. He was evidently in no fit state to fight the effects of such a potent potion. Kali, however, was an entirely different matter. Albus had seen first-hand what she was capable of, and regardless of her age, she was already more magically skilled than many of the adults in this room. That wasn’t to say that he believed that she would lie, though, she didn’t have to.

All of Freyja’s other witnesses were taking the potion as a show of good faith, and it did seem to be winning over the jury.

To Albus’s surprise, Freyja saved his, Remus’s, and Kali’s testimonies for last.

It was a well-known fact that as the day wore on a person’s ability to focus faded, and he was not naive enough to believe that Freyja was unaware of this. It was only when he was called to the stand, that he figured out her reasoning: she’d questioned all of her experts first, while the audience was still fully paying attention, and had kept her key witnesses up her sleeve because she’d known that no matter what time it was or how long they’d been at it, the jurors would perk up when the more interesting people were given the stage. And interesting was the right word for the final trio: the well-respected headmaster of the school they’d all attended, a known fighter of the dark arts; the recently outed werewolf who was old friends with the defendant; and the defendant’s daughter, a pretty little thing with a winning smile and a charming personality.

Albus’s testimony was short and to the point. Freyja asked him to relate the events that happened on June 9th, asked him to attest to Sirius’s character before and during the war, and she asked him if he thought Sirius was innocent. He answered each truthfully, not fighting the effects of the Veritaserum just yet. When Freyja was done, Keyne brought up the evidence Albus had provided against Sirius thirteen years ago, Albus quickly dismissed it in light of new information. Then Keyne asked him why he’d been so certain of Sirius’s guilt at the time. That was when Albus negated the effects of the serum and told the same story he'd told many times before: all of the evidence had seemed to point to Sirius, it had been a shock to find out that he was the traitor, but some people were just born excellent liars. The truth was that he’d never believed Sirius to be guilty of betraying Lily and James. Sirius was loyal to a fault, always had been for as long as Albus had known him. He would have died for his friends without a second thought and he would have gone down fighting rather than throw his lot in with Voldemort. Albus had never doubted any of this, but when he'd heard what had happened, he'd seen an opportunity too great to turn down, and to seize it, he’d needed Sirius out of the way. It was regretful, but Harry’s safety had to come first for everyone's sake. The good of the many had to outweigh the good of the few, regardless of the toll it took on his conscience.

Remus was up next, and Keyne fixed him with a disgusted sneer. He wasn’t a fan of werewolves and had argued strongly against having Remus appear as a witness, if Freyja hadn’t insisted, he would never have had the opportunity to testify.

“We’re trusting the word of werewolves now, are we?” said Keyne loud enough for the entire auditorium to hear. The remark was met with the mutterings of people agreeing with him.

“Is that prejudice I hear?” Freyja asked, her voice cutting through the chatter like an icy blade.

Keyne scoffed. “No, it’s common sense.”

“'Common' being the appropriate word for it,” she said, and Keyne’s face reddened once again. “Need I remind you that prejudice is not permitted in court?”

Keyne tried to hold her gaze, but it was like staring straight into the eyes of a basilisk: unwise and dangerous. He caved and she moved on with the trial. She asked Remus the same questions she’d asked Albus, although Remus’s retelling of what had happened that night was fact rather than hearsay. When he got to the part about his transformation, he looked nowhere but at Freyja, blocking out the presence of everyone else in the room. He looked exhausted by the time he was done, but managed to pull himself together when Keyne was given the floor.

The cold disgust was practically oozing out of the prosecutor, but Remus did a remarkable job of acting as though nothing was amiss.

“Why do you believe that Sirius Black is innocent?” he asked with a sneer.

“Because Peter Pettigrew is alive, I saw him, I spoke to him. He admitted to framing Sirius.”

“Say that’s true, how sure are you that who you saw was really Pettigrew, not some imposter aiding Black under the effects of the Polyjuice potion?”

“I had to use a spell on Pettigrew to make him regain his human form. The Polyjuice potion would not have allowed for an Animagus transformation.”

Keyne scoffed and turned to Cornelius Fudge. “Do you not see how ridiculous -”

“Objection,” Freyja said, sounding half bored. She must have been expecting this lame attempt to discredit Remus.

So, apparently, had Bones. “Sustained.”

“How do you explain the Potters deaths?” asked Keyne whipping back toward Remus.

“Pettigrew was their Secret Keeper, it was he who sold them out to Voldemort.”

The entire room flinched at the name, and Keyne lost his bearings, forgetting to remind himself that he was in a court of law.

“Preposterous! What next? The Potters are also alive and have been hiding away as rats for the past thirteen years as well.”

“Objection,” said Freyja.

“Sustained.”

Keyne looked like he was about to explode under the pressure of all the inappropriate things he wished to say. “No further questions.”

Kali was the last to go up, and she smiled shyly at the jury, despite the fact that shy was not an adjective that had ever been used to describe her. Again Freyja asked for a recounting of the facts, and Kali could say more than most, although she did leave out the part about the Time-Turner and how Harry and Hermione had broken Sirius out of Filius’s office. It wasn’t so much a lie as it was an omission.

“What have your impressions of Sirius been since meeting him again after thirteen years?” asked Freyja.

“Well, at first I thought he was crazy. He looked crazy, you know? He had a lot of unbrushed hair,” she said, sharing a conspiratorial look with the jury, all of whom smiled back at her fondly. “But then, he was just sad, and upset, and angry, and afraid.” She locked eyes with Sirius. “He’d endured something that no human being should have to endure, and then he was thrown into Azkaban without being given the right to defend himself, and that wasn’t fair.” She looked back at the jurors and there were tears in her eyes as she smiled sadly at them. “He told me he was proud of me this morning. I helped him choose what to wear, and it was nice. Spending time with him was nice.”

Albus couldn’t decide if the tears were real or fake, but they were having the desired effect, they were making the jurors see Sirius as a father, as someone who was loved and who loved in return. Sirius had eyes only for Kali, and her tears were reflected in his eyes.

“No further questions,” Freyja said quietly.

Bones had to clear her throat before speaking. “Does the prosecution have any further questions for the witness?”

Keyne jumped to his feet immediately. “I can’t help but notice that your mother isn’t present here today, Miss Black. Why is that?”

A tear slipped down her cheek as she stared at the man and his abrupt question. “My mother died five years ago.”

A few people in the crowd gasped and clutched their hands over their hearts, Keyne stuttered an apology. “I’m sorry to hear that… hm… Did your mother ever talk about your father?”

“On occasion.”

“What did she say?”

“She would tell me that he was a good man, that he loved me, that there was no way he betrayed Lily and James.”

“Need I remind you that you under oath, Miss Black?” He had the tone of a man trying to speak gently but not quite managing it.

“You think I’m lying?”

“I think it highly unlikely that your mother, who refused to marry your father when she found out she was pregnant, would not speak ill of the man.”

“Her refusal had nothing to do with his character.” His sexuality might have put her off, though, Albus thought. “She didn’t believe in marriage.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Keyne scoffed, forgetting that he was trying to be gentle. “How can you not believe in marriage?”

“Quite easily actually. Marriage is a contract, and like all contracts it restricts personal freedoms -”

“No it doesn’t.”

“Yes it does. It is a commitment that comes with obligations. You’re no longer free to date whomever you please, there is a duty of shared intimacy, of reproduction, of support, and a whole list of other tasks. My mother wanted no part in that.”

“But to not marry when she was with child…”

“Marriage isn’t necessary to raise a child. Her parents weren’t married, and there’s a long tradition of the women on the maternal side of my family not marrying. We’re very big on independence. But she did love him, and she always knew he wasn’t capable of murdering innocent people, let alone betraying his friends. She wrote to the Ministry quite often demanding, at the very least, that he get a trial or that she get visitation rights for me, so that I could see him. If your archive system is any good there should be a few of those letters being stored somewhere down there.”

Keyne cleared his throat. He'd been hoping to dredge up some small titbit that might slander Sirius's reputation. That was the only line of offence left to him now. The trial was coming to a close; there was not enough solid evidence to guarantee a conviction; Freyja had succeeded in painting Sirius as a victim, shattering the monstrous image that the Ministry and the Daily Prophet had forced on him. All Keyne could hope to do now was to make Sirius out to be so unsympathetic that the jury would feel no qualms in flippantly condemning him to a lifetime in Azkaban. It was a desperate man's strategy, but one that had been known to work on occasion.

However, using Kali's mother to achieve his ends was a fool's errand. Asherah Morrigan had been equal to Sirius in terms of loyalty. It had been she who had barged into Albus's office only a few hours after Sirius's arrest to demand his release. It had been she who had pleaded his case; she who had begged that he get a trial; she who had asked after Harry and sought guardianship of the boy; she who had punched Albus in the face, worsening the break of his nose, when he'd refused her requests. He'd had to resort to threats to get her to drop the matter and leave the country; an act he was not proud of.

Keyne must have realised the pointlessness of his line of questioning for he tried a different approach. “Why did you return to Great Britain, Miss Black?”

“I came back because my father had just escaped from a high security prison, and a group of Aurors had broken into my my home in New York at an ungodly hour and had very rudely demanded to check the premise.”

“What was your goal in returning?”

“I wanted to make sure he got a trial.”

“Surely that was none of your concern. You were barely old enough to walk when your father exited your life, you couldn’t have remembered him. Why would you care whether or not he got a trial?”

“Justice,” she said simply, cocking her head and frowning at him. “I would have though that would be obvious to you, sir...” Her frown turned into a thoughtful pout. “Although, given your support of the Ministry’s horrifying trial-optional policy at the end of the war, I suppose not.”

Keyne's eyes narrowed into a glare and he stood straighter, tilting his head back to look down his nose at her. “You want to be minding your tone, child. Your father didn’t deserve a trial, he’s a monster.”

“He’s innocent.”

“That isn’t up to you to decide. He committed an atrocity and was rightfully imprisoned for it. Then he escaped and spent a year eluding the Ministry, that alone is a felony. He hasn't acted like an innocent man.”

“How do innocent men act?”

“They don’t run.”

“He didn’t run twelve years ago and look where that got him,” said Kali.

Freyja still hadn’t raised an objection, despite Keyne veering off-topic for the past five minutes. She was leaning back in her seat, watching the back and forth with an amused quirk to her lips.

“Your father is a monster,” Keyne said, all but growling now. Bones looked about ready to intervene, but Kali wasn't done with him yet.

“I don’t think you understand what a monster is,” she said quite calmly. “Monsters cannot love, but Sirius can, so he isn’t a monster.”

“You’re his own flesh and blood he has to love you,” Keyne spat.

“That is very untrue, most child abuse is committed by a member of the child’s family.”

Keyne looked ready to debate the subject further, but Bones cleared her throat and he barrelled back on track.

“Did you hope to be reunited with your father?” he asked.

“Of course.”

“Even though he’s a murderer?”

Suspected murderer, that detail is important.”

“Miss Black, your father has spent twelve years in prison for those murders. We’re well past the point of suspicion here.”

“If that were true we wouldn’t be having a trial now. His first trial I might add, because he wasn’t given that fundamental human right thirteen years ago when he was chucked into the most inhumane prison on this planet.”

“You disagree with our prison system now? You disagree with a lot of things don’t you, Miss Black?”

“Yes, I do, it’s quite a common by-product of thinking for one’s self.”

The crowd sniggered, Keyne’s eyes bulged, and he went of the offensive.

“Did you help your father escape from the room he was being held in at Hogwarts after his capture?”

“No, I did not.”

“But you did hide him after he got out while you went to make that deal with the Minister? You harboured a fugitive, that’s a criminal offence, Miss Black.”

“Which I’ve been pardoned for, or didn’t you read the transcript? The Ministry made an unethical judgement call by ordering the administration of the Dementor’s Kiss. An innocent man could have lost his life. I kept him away until the deal was made because I knew full well that the Ministry wouldn’t have given him the chance to explain himself otherwise. Or am I wrong?”

Keyne was spluttering, and Albus had to hand it to Kali, she was tough to undermine.

“Why are Miss Granger and Misters Potter and Weasley not present here today to support your statement?”

“Because the Minister didn’t feel the need to involve any more children than absolutely necessary, and he figured there was no need to hear the same statement four times.” There was more to it than that, of course. Albus had made certain that neither Harry nor his friends would appear on the stand today, because as much as he trusted in Kali's ability to fabricate de truth and undermine authority figures, he knew that he could not expect the same from his other students. If any one of that little Gryffindor trio had been called to make a statement, he did not doubt that the Time-Turner incident would have been brought to light, and that was one scandal he could do without.

“Am I to understand that other than the word of a child and that of a werewolf, you have no physical evidence that proves your father’s innocence?”

“Other than several eye-witness accounts and multiple testimonies as to the accused’s character, no I don’t suppose I do.” She waited until Keyne turned away looking triumphant before she continued, “However, I think you’ll find that the burden of proof lies not with the defence, but with the prosecution, and you have far less evidence than I.”

Keyne made an unhealthy sputtering noise. “I beg your pardon? Have you had your head in the clouds since the beginning of this trial? The prosecution has so much evidence that a trial was deemed a waste of time thirteen years ago. The only reason we’re having one now, is because a spoiled child demanded it and weak-willed men allowed it. And now we’re having to continue this farce, and the final verdict is to be given by ignoramuses who don’t know how the bloody law works.”

“Mr. Keyne!” Bones shouted. “You have just insulted the members of the jury, the Minister, the entire administrative system of the Ministry, and a witness. I think apologies are in order, don’t you?”

Keyne was wheezing and glaring at everyone, and it was Davies who spoke. “Madam, I would like to apologize to all insulted parties on account of my colleague’s actions, and would ask of you a short break with the defendant’s approval.”

They took the break, but Davies had to know that it was too late to salvage this case now. The damage had been done and it was plentiful. Even Keyne ought to be able to predict the jury’s verdict at this point.

Keyne did not return after the break, and it was Davies who made the prosecution’s closing statement, but he lacked conviction in what he was saying. Freyja’s closing statement was as well-thought-out as her opening was. She ended it by thanking the jury profusely and asking for justice.

The jurors were barely gone ten minutes, and when they came back, they informed Madam Bones that they had reached a unanimous decision: not guilty.

They words rang through the courtroom. They were repeated over and over. Someone ran out to tell the mob that was waiting in the Atrium. Kali ran to her father and hugged him tight. Remus joined them at a slower pace, and was dragged into the embrace. Freyja was smiling as she watched them and shook hands with Davies.

That was it then. Sirius Black was a free man.

If circumstances had been different, Albus would have rejoiced. People filtered out of the courtroom, many detouring to congratulate the newly acquitted man and his family, but Albus was in no rush to leave. He desperately needed to figure out an alternative course of action, one that would keep Harry safe without alienating Albus from the Morrigans and their allies.

“It’s nice to see them so happy,” said a voice beside him, drawing him out of his planning as he realised that Lilith had sat in the vacated seat next to his.

“They deserve it more than most,” Albus agreed. He’d been keeping his mind and emotions guarded by Occlumency ever since he’d first seen Lilith this morning, but he checked his defences again, just to be sure.

“Kali has lost enough family, I do not wish to see her lose anyone else.”

Albus watched her out of the corner of his eye. Her gaze was fixed on her family and a genial smile played on her lips. It was a smile he knew well, he’d learned to copy it over a century ago. “Why do you assume she would?”

“Because I still know you, Albus, and you never did learn from your mistakes.”

He did not miss the allusion in her tone and he felt his composure shudder under the blow of her words, but he held it together. He knew the consequences of breaking down in front of her and that was not an experience he wished to repeat, not ever. So he straightened his spine and held his smile, and no one looking on would have imagined the terse words being exchanged. “I’m not the only one who’s made mistakes here, Lilith. Some might argue that yours were worse.”

“They were,” she agreed. “But I never made mine again.”

“Do they know?” he asked, looking back at her family. Sirius had his arm thrown over Kali’s shoulders, Kali was gripping Remus’s hand, and Freyja was trying to fix Sirius's tie. None of them had yet managed to wipe the huge grins from their faces.

It was her turn to hesitate, and it was enough to answer his question. “You will not tell them,” she said, the warning clear in her tone even if she did not voice the underlying threat.

“I wouldn’t do that.”

She scoffed; only the most absurdly unbelievable claim could make her do that. “Yes, you would. As I recall that’s one of your specialities: collecting secrets and trading them in when it best served your interests.”

He couldn't help but tense and had to force himself to relax. No one on this Earth knew him as well as she did, there were few people he'd ever been closer to. As such, nobody could hurt him the way she could. “That was a long time ago.”

“Is that so? I find that rather hard to believe.”

“I'm not the man I used to be, Lilith. I do learn from my mistakes.”

“The sad part is, you actually believe that to be true,” she noted with a touch of indifference. “You haven’t changed. You still think yourself incapable of making mistakes. You still believe everything you do is for the greater good.”

“You’ll recall that you used to believe in that notion also. At times even more firmly than I.”

“How could I forget?” she said distantly. “But I will pay the price for my mistakes someday. As will you.”

He shook his head. “I paid for my youthful indiscretions in blood. My penance is fulfilled.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” She finally looked at him and he remembered a time when those darkly coloured doe eyes of hers had made him feel safe. But that had been a long time ago and they were not children anymore. “There is no atonement for what we did.”

She stood and folded both her gloved hands over the carved ebony swan’s head of her cane. He’d teased her because of her Patronus, once upon a time. He'd thought that his was far more impressive and had counted it as a win in the endless competition that their friendship had been built on. After all, how could a black swan compare with a phoenix? It hadn't mattered to him at the time that hers had always been brighter, despite its dark colouring.

“Before you decide to meddle with my family again, remind yourself that you are not the only one who knows secrets,” she said calmly. “Goodbye, Albus.”

She left him there and joined in on her family’s celebrations before gently herding them out of the courtroom, leaving Albus to mull over her warning.

There must be something in the pumpkin juice that the Morrigan women drank, he decided, that made them all so particularly troublesome.

Chapter Text

Saturday, July 9th, 1994,

United Kingdom, England, London, Ministry of Magic,

Kali Kalakaua Lupin Morrigan Black,

 

They’d won. The words repeated themselves over and over in Kali’s head like a symphony complete with harp, trombone, and bass drums. There had been a mob of photographers and journalists waiting for them in the Atrium, and Gran had stayed behind to release a statement while Kali, Sirius, Remus, and Nana had gone home.

The next morning the Daily Prophet had plastered a new picture of Sirius on its front page: one taken as he’d been leaving the elevator bay, his brilliant grin flashing brighter than all the cameras that had clamoured for his picture.

Nana had had to go back to Norway, but had promised she’d see us all again soon, and Gran had about a year’s worth of business meetings and paperwork to catch up on and would be flying back to New York next week, after things had calmed down a bit.

In the meantime, they had an important list of things to do, and although Sirius wanted to start with getting custody of Harry, Gran wanted to let things cool down a little bit first while they worked through the finer details of Sirius’s acquittal, namely the Ministry’s official apology.

Gran had made it clear that a ‘what are you going to do about it’ shrug and a throwaway line of ‘these things happen’ wasn’t going to cut it. Sirius had spent twelve years being used as a soul snack for hungry dementors, that was no little thing, and she was demanding compensation for every year of wrongful imprisonment. The total sum was exorbitant, more than most people made in a lifetime, and still it wasn’t enough to make up for what had happened to him. The Ministry paid up, though, despite its reticence to do so; they weren’t willing to suffer the blow of losing another trial over this. Their written apology took up the entire second page of the Daily Prophet the day after the trial. Fudge signed his name at the bottom, although, Kali was pretty sure he wasn’t the one who’d written it. They were also throwing a party in Sirius’s honour, which Kali, Sirius, and Remus were tempted not to attend, but Gran insisted. Although she did give Remus an out after they got into an argument and he pointed out: a) his lack of an invitation, and b) the fact that the other guests would only spend the entire evening avoiding him.

The party was held in the Ministry's Atrium, and it was very, very dull. It was like the Yule Balls Gran organised every year, they were meant for networking, not for fun, and Kali had stopped going to those years ago. At least at Gran’s parties there were always a few people who were around Kali’s age, but here she was the youngest person by no less than a decade. After the ninth person asked her some variation of the question ‘how’s school going?’, she decided to separate herself from the crowd.

Do these people not know how to interact with their young?” asked Pan, slithering further up her arm.

In the past nine years, he’d grown used to humans, but large crowds still made him nervous, and he became very clingy when he was nervous. So she currently had a western hognose snake wrapped around her upper arm, and she’d had to borrow Gran’s wrap to prevent anymore people freaking out – the first old lady who’d spotted him had swooned, Kali had never seen anyone swoon before, it was very dramatic.

School’s their go-to conversation topic for teens, I guess.” She slipped down an empty corridor, heading away from the music and chatter. The elevator bay was closed off to avoid people wandering around where they shouldn’t, but she had free range of Level 8. That didn’t leave much to explore, but it was a more favourable way to spend her time than among all the brown-nosing going on back in the Atrium.

“Right, because all fourteen-year-olds just love talking about school.”

She sniggered, but drew to a stop when she heard the sound of frantic pacing behind a half-open door. The long marble hallway was completely deserted save for Kali and Pan, and every other door they’d passed had been locked shut.

Don’t be nosy,” said Pan.

If they wanted privacy, they’d have closed the door,” she said, edging toward it.

“And if you believed that, you wouldn’t be sneaking.”

“You have no sense of adventure.”

He scoffed, tightening his hold on her arm. The last adventure we went on started with a tree trying to kill us and ended with you running through a very dangerous forest being chased by a werewolf. Forgive me if I’m not a fan.”

All’s well that ends well,” she thought, peaking around the crack and blinking back her surprise when she saw who it was.

It was Sirius. He was walking circles around a small office, clutching the back of his neck and taking in deep gulps of air. Kali pushed open the door and he spun to face her with wild eyes. It took thirty seconds longer than it should have done for him to recognise her and for that mad look to fade from his face.

“Why aren’t you at the party?” he asked.

“Because it’s duller than Keyne and Professor Binns combined,” she said, stepping into the room and closing the door behind her. She wouldn’t let his Azkaban induced idiosyncrasies frighten her; she couldn’t expect him to be fine after everything he’d been through, and she wasn’t about to make him feel guilty or self-conscious because he wasn’t perfectly alright regardless the trauma he’d endured. “Fudge wants to make a big announcement, though, and I can’t see Gran letting us leave before that.”

She hopped up onto the desk, swinging her legs back and forth against the wood panelling.

“Has she mellowed?” he asked, that empty look finally leaving his eyes. “Your grandmother. She seems… less terrifying than she used to be.”

Kali chortled. “I guess she kind of has, yeah. When Mum…” Her laughter died down, and she felt her eyes start to sting. “When Mum died, she took it hard. Losing a child, and… well, there was a lot there that she regretted. They didn’t have the smoothest relationship at times.”

“But they loved each other. Ash would have done anything for your grandmother.”

“I know, and I think Gran does too, but… guilt-tripping over the things we can’t change is par for the course, isn’t it?”

He ducked his head and stared down at his shoes. “Yeah, it is.”

She noticed it every time he looked at her. When he wasn’t in zombie mode, his eyes were so expressive, you could see everything he was feeling, and there was a lot of feeling there when he looked at her, but the one constant was guilt.

“You know I don’t blame you for any of it, right?” she said. “None of it was your fault.”

“I should have been there for you.”

“You’re here now.”

He glanced up from his shoes and bit his bottom lip, before chuckling nervously and looking away from her again and running a hand over the top of his head. “There is so much I want to say to you, so much I don’t know about you….”

“The good thing about this not guilty verdict, is that now we have all the time in the world to get to know each other. We could start right now, if you want?”

He smiled. “Alright.” He came and sat next to her on the desk. “What’s your favourite colour?”

“Starting with the basics, smart.” He laughed and knocked shoulders with her, and she leaned into it. “Green, like ‘forest during the summer’ green. What’s yours?”

“Red.”

“Gryffindor red?”

“I’m not already that predictable, am I?”

“I do have an unfair advantage,” she admitted, “I saw your old room.”

She felt him tense beside her, and she really should have thought it through before bringing up Grimmauld Place. “When did you see that?”

“Gran didn’t tell you?” She’d assumed he’d known. “A little while after I turned two, Walburga showed up in Hawaii and demanded visitation rights.”

“Ash gave them to her?”

“She had something on Mum, and she knew about Remus too, somehow. It was only for three weeks during the summer, and it only lasted a few years.”

“Did she hurt you?” he asked very quietly, barely above a whisper.

She hesitated in answering that one. This was about as far from basic get-to-know-you questions as they could get.

You have to tell him,” said Pan.

I didn’t expect I’d have to do it so soon.” But he was right; no time like the present to lay all the cards on the table. “She slapped me. Once. I was mouthing off, and when that didn’t shut me up, she started threatening Mum and Remus, and I had a power surge,” she said slowly. “It threw her off her feet. She hit a wall pretty hard, and her heart gave out. I was five.”

He didn’t react for a long time, and she held her breath, waiting, until finally he let out a breath of his own. “I am so sorry.”

“What for?”

“That should never have happened to you.”

“Me? Did you miss the part where I killed someone?”

“Did you mean to?”

“I can’t remember.” It had happened so long ago, it was all just a blur. She couldn’t differentiate the reality of that day from the nightmarish scenarios her mind had come up with afterwards. She couldn’t remember.

“It was self-defence,” he said, and his voice quietened. “She was a very cruel woman. It’s no great loss.”

He was retreating into the bad place in his mind again, she could tell from the vacancy creeping into his eyes. “What’s your favourite dessert?” she asked off the top of her head.

The question was brusque enough to draw him back. “Chocolate cake. Is yours still ice cream?”

“Yeah.”

“Have you finally picked a favourite flavour? Or do you still ask for a spoonful of everything and mix it all together?”

“I did that?”

He smiled at the memory. “Oh, yeah. It wasn’t ice cream anymore by the time you were done with it. It was either mush or soup, depending on how long you spent mixing. You always ate every drop, though, no matter what state it was in or what colour it became. So long as your Gran wasn’t around, you’d like the bowl too.”

“Well, I don’t mix flavours anymore, but I will admit to occasionally licking the bowl.”

They spent over an hour in there, asking each other questions, some would lead Sirius to reminisce about a time before Azkaban, others would have Kali filling him in on what she’d been getting up to during the twelve year gap of his absence. The party was completely forgotten until it came bursting through the door.

“If you could only take five things with you to a deserted island, what would they be?” asked Sirius.

“Depends,” she said. “There are a lot of factors to take into account: is there shelter on the island? What’s the weather like there? How long am I there for? What do I do for food? Can I use magic”

“You’ve been spending too much time around Remus,” he said fondly. “There is shelter on the island, as well as plenty of food, the climate is tropical, you can use magic but no transfiguration to get yourself more objects, and you’re there for a month. What do you bring?”

“Surfboard, broom, a really long book, my wand, and a radio – so long as it gets a signal.”

“Your wand’s only fourth on the list?”

“I didn’t know I had to prioritise. But yes, if I did, my wand would be fourth. What would your five things be?”

But before he could answer, the office door burst open and a very drunk couple stumbled in. Kali and Sirius had heard their fair share of inebriated giggling coming from the corridor while they had their conversation, but they had yet to be interrupted, until now.

“I told you one of ‘em would be open,” slurred the pot-bellied man with the receding hairline.

“I think this one’s already occupied,” said the pretty blonde, who was about half his age and way out of his league.

“Aye,” said the man, far more loudly than was necessary, when he spotted Kali and Sirius. “You’re that Sirius Black bloke. Congratulations on the trial!”

“Thanks,” said Sirius.

“And you’re his daughter,” the man bellowed, lurching forward and peering at her. “You’re going to be a pretty one, you are.”

“Alright, honey,” said the blonde, hooking her arm with the man’s and pulling him out the room. “Lets leave them to it.” She looked back at them over her shoulder with a cheery smile. “Have a lovely evening, and congratulations again.”

She closed the door behind them, and Sirius started laughing, it was a contagious sound and Kali thought she’d never tire of hearing it.

“Someone’s been taking advantage of the open bar,” he said.

“That was Arlo Hawkworth, he’s a member of the Wizengamot. He owns a bunch of properties in Diagon Alley, but he’s in huge debt because of a gambling problem. The woman is Missy Fawley, soon to be Hawkworth, she’ll be his fourth wife. He trades in for a younger model every decade or so.”

“How do you know all that?”

“You remember the morning of the trial, I mentioned I had seven backup plans to keep you out of Azkaban? One of them was blackmail.”

He was giving her a funny look like he couldn’t quite believe she was real. “You were serious about that?”

“I meant it when I said I wasn’t losing you again. Hawkworth’s managed to keep his debt a secret from the Wizengamot, but if his addiction to games of chance ever came out, he’d lose his seat, his reputation, his fiancée… He would have folded like a cheap suit if I’d threatened to tell. A lot of the Wizengamot would have if I'd made them the same deal. Powerful people have some very dark secrets, and their reputation is everything. It’s a precarious situation to be in -”

She was rambling, but he was still looking at her like that, and she wasn’t sure what to make of it. He scooted off the desk and she bit down on her lip to stop the flow of words that was spilling out of her mouth.

“You would have blackmailed people for me?” he asked. He had his back turned to her, and she slipped off the desk also.

“It wasn’t my most ethical idea.” She could admit that; her moral compass might have been a bit skewed at times, but she did understand the socially accepted definition of right from wrong.

“You could have gotten into trouble.”

“Only if I got caught.”

There was an unsteady exhale that might have been a laugh, and he turned to face her with a smile on his face, and what might have been pride in his eyes.

“Thank you.”

She had to swallow past the ball in her throat. “Any time.”

“We should probably get back to the party, shouldn’t we?” He cast a reticent glance at the door, then smiled over at her. “Maybe you can tell me what other dirt you’ve dug on people to pass the time.”

They did just that. She told him about the man who claimed to stand for family values and was petitioning against divorce, but who had two mistresses on the side; the woman who had a sealed record for shoplifting; the man who’d been suspended from Hogwarts for attacking a teacher; the woman who was rumoured to have quite the collection of dark artefacts hidden away in her house… All career ending titbits that had been far too easy to find out merely by asking the right people the right questions using the right amount of childish charm.

Fudge gave his big speech, and again there was a definite feeling in the air that he hadn’t written it himself. He called Sirius up on stage at the end of it and offered him three tickets to the Quidditch World Cup Finale in August.

Gran finally let them go home after that, although she herself stayed a while longer. Kali, Pan, and Sirius took the Floo home, and Kali's stomach heaved unpleasantly upon landing. The minute she returned to Hogwarts, she was going to get straight to work on that new teleportation spell she'd discovered at the end of last term. The sooner she had it perfected and mastered, the sooner she could forgo having to use the Floo or Apparate ever again.

“How was the party?” asked Remus. He’d been sitting in the living room, in his favourite armchair, book in hand, cup of tea on the end table beside him, acting as though he hadn’t been waiting up for them, despite the fact that he never stayed up this late if it wasn’t a full moon.

“Awful,” said Kali, collapsing on the sofa, and Pan finally released his choke hold on her arm. He hated using the Floo network almost as much as she did.

Sirius edged into the room and perched himself on the arm of the sofa. Things were still unbearably awkward between him and Remus. Kali and Gran had both hoped that after the trial, the air between the two would clear, but it hadn’t. If anything it had only gotten worse. Before the trial they’d struggled to hold eye contact with each other for more than a few seconds, now they couldn’t even look in each other’s general direction. Their conversations had become short and to the point, monosyllabic when possible, and it was rare to find them within ten feet of each other. It was ridiculous, and Kali was tempted to lock them both in a small room together until they sorted out their issues. The one problem with that plan, though, being that Remus was very good at unlocking spells, and he was perfectly capable of blowing a door off its hinges if those failed.

“Are we still going to the Ministry on Monday to sort out the papers so that Harry can live here?” she asked. Then at least she wouldn’t be the only person caught in the middle of whatever was going on between Sirius and Remus.

“We are,” said Remus, his eyes darted to Sirius then down to his shoes almost too quickly to catch, “and I was thinking that we could go to Ollivander's while we’re there.”

Sirius was also looking at his shoes. “Sure.”

“Cool. I’m going to bed,” she said, before the awkwardness swallowed her whole.

“Good idea,” Sirius and Remus said simultaneously, both jumping to their feet in a hurry to make sure they weren’t left alone together.

She didn’t say anything, but she was sure that the look she threw them said plenty.

 

Monday, July 11th, 1994,

 

Ollivander's was a very narrow shop; the only piece of furniture was a spindly chair in the corner which looked like it might break apart with a mild gust of wind; thousands of narrow boxes each containing a wand were piled right up to the ceiling, and everything was covered in dust. The dust, combined with that tingling sense of magic that always permeated wand maker-shops, had Kali holding back a sneeze and rubbing at the goosebumps that covered her arms.

One spell,” she said. “It would take one spell to get this entire place cleaned up.”

Maybe the owner likes the dust,” said Pan, he’d jumped out of her pocket and was now leaving tiny little oncilla paw prints in the dust between the rows of boxes.

Just then the owner appeared. He was an old man with pale eyes and unkempt white hair.

“Good morning,” he said softly. His unfocused gaze found Sirius. “I’ve been expecting you.”

Sirius cleared his throat, doing a remarkable job not to fidget under the man’s intense stare. “Hello, Ollivander.”

“They always snap the wands of the people who are sent to Azkaban. Barbaric practice, it’s not the wand’s fault. I remember the last one I sold to you. Twelve and three quarter inches long, springy, made of sycamore. Excellent for charm work.”

Ollivander had yet to blink, it was a little creepy, and he turned his large, owl-like eyes on Remus.

“I remember your wand also. Ten and a quarter inches, pliable, made of cypress. A good wand for defence against the dark arts. But you,” and that probing gaze landed on Kali, “I haven’t sold you a wand.”

“I already have one.” Two actually: the one she got in Japan when she turned eleven, and the one she'd had made a year later after a Manticore related incident in Israel.

“May I see it?” He held out his hand, and she only hesitated a minute before taking it out of its sheath and giving it to him. He fondled it with great interest. “Fascinating. Who made it?”

“Ellie Stone.”

“A relation of Victoria Stone? The San Francisco wand-maker?”

“Her granddaughter.”

“Interesting. Ten and a quarter inches, firm, made of beech. And the core… a manticore hair. Wherever did she get her hands on one of those?”

“I got it,” she said, and his fixed stare incited her to go on. “I came across a few of them a couple of years ago, one of them gave me a hair and told me to use it for my wand.”

“Manticores are violent creatures, how did you convince it not to kill you?”

“I rescued its young from a poacher’s trap, it earned me some brownie points.”

She carefully avoided looking at Remus; he had berated her for that one incident more than any other. It wasn’t like she’d known the big one was around, she’d only seen the two babies, mewling pitifully, stuck in a man-made pit. She hadn’t had the heart to leave them there, and manticore cubs were relatively harmless, their tail might sting a bit, but they lacked the potency to kill yet, the worst she’d though she'd be risking was a few scratches. Then the big one had shown up and, admittedly, he’d very nearly killed her. But they’d cleared it all up, and although, he had threatened to eat her if he ever saw her again, there was no harm done, and she got a really awesome wand core out of it.

“Curious,” said Ollivander, the word rolling off his tongue so quickly she almost didn’t understand it. “I’ve only heard of one wand with manticore hair core, a Middle-Eastern legend. It is said to have made for an exceptionally powerful tool for the witch who found the hair, but refused to work for anyone else, even blew off the hand of a man who tried to steal it. Phenomenally good at defensive spells, I imagine, lending the invincibility of the beast to the bearer. Tell me, does it cast a shield charm of its own accord if it senses danger?”

“I’ve yet to find myself in a situation where I might find out.”

Ollivander hummed and twirled it between his fingers, examining it from all angles.

“Do the strands of inlaid silver have a purpose beyond the aesthetic?”

“They increase conductivity and act as a stabilizing agent to neutralize the core’s more wicked tendencies.”

“Very clever.” That was an understatement. Ellie was a bloody genius, even her grandmother hadn’t though to add the silver. “Difficult to master, but if paired with the right witch or wizard, an unstoppable weapon, capable of the most ferocious magic, and not likely to shy away from dangerous work. You’re lucky to have it.”

She felt a certain amount of relief when he handed it back to her, and she slipped it back in its sheath, away from his hungry gaze.

“Well, now, Mr. Black. Let me see.” He pulled a long tape measure with silver markings out of his pocket. “Hold out your wand arm. That's it.” He measured Sirius from shoulder to finger, then wrist to elbow, shoulder to floor, knee to armpit and round his head.

Ollivander had Sirius try out a number of wands, until finally one that was thirteen inches long, flexible, made of ebony, with a dragon heartstring core produced a bunch of brightly coloured sparks when he waved it around. He paid seven gold Galleons for his wand, and Mr. Ollivander bowed them from his shop.

“Getting back to this run in with a manticore business,” said Sirius the minute they got outside.

“I have been lectured about it by a dozen different people,” she cut in before he could go any further. “I know that it was very foolish and I will never do it again.”

He chortled at her tone, and almost shared a look with Remus before stopping himself. “So what happened?”

She told him the story, and to her surprise he smiled the whole way through, even chuckled. Every other adult who’d heard it had had this dawning look of horror twisting their faces that had only worsened as the story had progressed. Sirius’s reaction even managed to draw a smile from Remus who had been the first and most frequent to lecture her on the subject.

When she got to the end of the story, Sirius said, “That’s my girl.”

She nearly fell flat on her face.

Remus caught her and steadied her, and she tried not to let the rush of feelings overwhelm her. The three of them had stopped in the middle of the street, and the flow of morning traffic had to part around them, she didn’t pay them any mind, not even to the ones who were gawking. Sirius was frozen still, a pink blush creeping up his neck, and a horrified look spreading over his face.

He cleared his throat awkwardly. “We should keep going… Don’t want to miss our meeting.”

“Right,” she said, ignoring Remus’s concerned look. “Yeah. We should do that.”

Sirius led the way, head bent low and shoulders hunched as though fighting off the cold. Kali almost found herself imitating him. Remus kept casting her worried glances, but she wasn’t quite sure what had just happened, she certainly wasn’t capable of explaining it. Someone wasn’t getting the message, though.

What was that all about?” asked Pan.

“I don’t know.”

“You made Sirius feel bad.”

“Yes, I’m aware of that.” She gritted her teeth against the unpleasant clenching her stomach did at the thought. “He caught me off guard.”

“Aren’t parents supposed to say stuff like that to their kids?”

“This is hardly the usual kind of situation.”

“And it never will be if you get all clumsy and uncomfortable every time he tries to act parental.”

“Yes, I know that, thank you.”

Trust Pan not to sugar-coat things. Whoever had said that daemons were benevolent creatures that guided with a gentle and encouraging hand, had clearly had a very limited subject pool. She supposed that most of the daemons that those magizoologists had known had been centuries old therefore wiser and more patient. Whereas Pan was a year younger than Kali; if he hadn’t bound himself to her, he’d still be considered a toddler by his species. But by linking his life to hers, he’d chosen to match her lifespan, which now made him just as much of a hopeless teenager as she was.

He wasn’t wrong, though. Making Sirius feel self-conscious whenever he tried to act like her parent was the last thing she wanted to do, but that casual comment of his had brought out a bunch of different emotions in her, none of which she knew what to do with. It wasn’t a turmoil, because that made it sound too negative, but it was new and confusing; it had made her feel warm and light, and the feeling had come so suddenly out of nowhere that it had made her physically stumble.

Sirius was still slumped in on himself, dragging his feet, and looking downcast. Kali matched her pace to his, walking close enough for their arms to brush, and when he looked down at her, she smiled at him. He returned it hesitantly.

The Ministry of Magic was possibly the worst place to be on a Monday morning. It was far too crowded; everyone was in a rush to get to wherever they were going; some were rather rude about it – elbow-jostling as far as the eye could see – and they all wore the gloomiest expressions which wouldn't have been out of place at a funeral. If this was what having an office job entailed, she wanted no part in it.

The Social Service Headquarters were down at Level 2, tucked away in a far corner of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. The hall leading to it was very narrow and was cluttered with paper-filled boxes on either side. The oil lamps flickered dimly over three closed doors; there were no secretaries or assistants to sign in with, nor to tell them which door was the right one. They were about to pick one at random when the one furthest down the hall opened and a haggard looking woman in her mid-thirties stepped out, a stack of boxes stacked precariously in her arms.

“You must be my nine o’clock appointment,” she said when she spotted them, and the boxes swayed dangerously as she shook each of their hands. “Step on into my office, I’ll be right with you.”

The office wasn’t any tidier than the corridor. In fact, it was messier: there was a clear path from the door to the desk, but the rest of the floor was covered with even more boxes; the surface of the desk couldn’t be seen beneath all the open case files; filing cabinets stood open, content spilling out; there wasn’t enough room on the small bookshelf for all the books, and many of them were piled haphazardly all over the room. If there was a filing system of any kind, it was not immediately obvious. There was a large machine behind the desk; it looked like what you’d imagine a printer would look like, if the person who’d built it had never seen a printer before in their life and was quite a fan of Gothic architecture. It was made of dark grey stone, covered in intricate tracery and stained glass, and the builder had added as many pointed arches as they could fit in. Brass pipping wove in and out of the machine, spiting out smock and sometimes whistling. A slot at the front of it occasionally spat out a sheet of parchment covered in odd symbols.

“It detects magic,” said the woman, who’d returned to find her guests all staring at the bizarre contraption. “It’s how the Ministry finds Muggle-borns and monitors underage magic.”

“How does it work?” asked Kali. She was still staring at it, trying to dissect it in her mind.

“I’m not sure on the inner workings, but it has receptors that are attuned to magic, so whenever someone casts a spell on British soil, it knows and it documents it. The data is then sent off to the archives where someone studies through it for anomalies, and I’m left with the pages documenting magic that’s happened in an area with no known adult wizards living in it, which indicates either a Muggle-born coming into their powers or underage magic. If it’s the latter, I send it off to the Improper Use of Magic Office, and if it’s the former, I monitor it and inform Hogwarts.”

“So kids born into magical families can do magic at home without raising any flags?” said Kali. “Isn’t that a bit unfair?”

“Well, yes, but we expect some responsibility from the parents.”

As far as perfect systems went, this one wasn’t even close.

“What language is that?” asked Remus, nodding toward the sheet of parchment still sticking out of the machine.

“Not one you’ll have heard of before,” said the woman, “it’s unique to Gert.”

“Gert?”

“It’s what we call her,” she said, giving the machine – Gert – a little pat. “And I’m Maria Reyes, I’m the social worker in charge of families, kids, and school. What can I help you with?”

“It’s regarding Harry Potter,” said Sirius and Reyes sat up a little straighter. “Before his parents died, they wrote a will and instructions in case anything happened to them. I -”

Before he could finish, Reyes swished her wand through the air and a file flew into her hand, knocking over a few books and boxes on its way.

“Ah, yes,” she said, reading through it. “‘In case any unforeseen events were to prevent both James Fleamont Potter and Lily Evans Potter from raising their son, Harry James Potter, guardianship of the child is to go to Sirius Orion Black.’… I see.”

“I’ve been acquitted, I have a home with plenty of room and more than enough money to support a family, and Harry would like to come and live with me,” said Sirius.

“I’m afraid it’s out of my hands,” said Reyes with an apologetic smile. “I was only interning here when the war ended. The Harry Potter case was a big deal, but it never reached this desk. As I understood it, the Wizengamot dealt with it. For security reasons, I think.”

“The Wizengamot doesn’t have jurisdiction over the placement of children,” said Remus.

“Which is what I told my old boss, but he wasn’t inclined to get into an argument with the entire High Court of Law. The boy ended up with his aunt and uncle, didn’t he?”

“That’s right.”

“Usually when a child’s parents are no longer in the picture, the child is placed with their closest living relative, preferably of magical blood, but Muggles will do in a tight spot. The Potters' will has a long list of people with whom they’d trust their son, starting with Sirius Black, then Remus Lupin, Asherah Morrigan, Freyja Morrigan, Peter Pettigrew, Marlene McKinnon, Dorcas Meadowes, Mary Macdonald… A parchment’s worth of names, and the aunt and uncle don’t feature anywhere on it.”

“So what do we do now?” asked Sirius, sounding mildly panicked. “We can’t just take him. Can we?”

“You would have to discuss it with the Wizengamot,” said Reyes. “You cannot 'just take him'. He’s too young to give consent, so it would classify as kidnapping.”

“What if we got permission from his aunt and uncle?” asked Kali.

“They’re Muggles, their legal standing within the wizarding community is practically non-existent. If I had to guess, though, I’d say that Mr. Potter probably has a representative, of sorts, in the wizarding world. Someone who’s responsible for him should he ever get into any trouble.”

“Trouble?” said Remus.

“Either at school or with the Ministry. Muggles cannot enter Hogwarts, nor can they get into here, making a magical representative necessary.”

Kali had questions. She had a lot of questions. She’d never given a thought to the mechanics of social services in the wizarding community before, but now she wanted to know everything.

For the time being, though, there was a bigger issue at hand. It could take months to get a meeting with the Wizengamot, and they were unlikely to be terrible helpful and sympathetic after their crushing defeat during the trial. Going directly to this representative was their best option, except Kali had a niggling feeling she already knew who that was, and he would not be any easier to sway than the Wizengamot if he had an ulterior motive for wanting Harry to live with his aunt and uncle.

 

Wednesday, July 27th, 1994,

 

Dumbledore spent two bloody weeks dodging them. First he was busy, then he was out of the country, then he was busy again. It got to the point where Remus was no longer pushing himself to moderate Sirius’s mounting temper, and the letters Sirius sent thereafter went unedited. She wasn’t sure what he wrote in them but Dumbledore was quick to set up a meeting after the first two.

They met in the Headmaster’s office at Hogwarts. It was a large and beautiful circular room with many windows and many portraits of old headmasters and headmistresses, and it was full of funny little noises. A number of curious silver instruments stood on spindle-legged tables, whirring and emitting little puffs of smoke. There was also an enormous, claw-footed desk, and, sitting on a shelf behind it, a shabby, tainted wizard's hat – the Sorting Hat. Kali paid it little mind, too focused on the incredible collection of books which lined the shelves, as well as the phoenix that was standing on a golden perch behind the door. She couldn’t decide which was more fascinating.

“I understand you’re here to discuss Harry,” said Dumbledore with his ever so benign smile.

“Yes,” said Sirius, and there’s was a definite growl to his voice.

“Sirius is Harry’s godfather,” said Remus, cutting in before Sirius could say anything inappropriate. “James and Lily appointed him as Harry’s guardian should anything happen to them.”

“Yes, I am aware of that,” said Dumbledore, and that was all he said. He either wasn’t catching on to the hint, or he was purposefully ignoring it. Having read a lot of his published articles which gave a reasonable idea as to how clever he was, Kali was going to bet on the latter.

“Social services do not have a file for Harry,” Remus explained patiently. “He was placed in the care of his aunt and uncle by someone else. We believe that person is you.”

“That is correct.” He really was going to make them work for it, wasn’t he?

Remus would not be deterred. “As Harry’s representative in the magical world, you can allow him to come and live with us.”

“That is also true.”

Sirius did not have Remus’s patience, as his snappish tone was quick to prove, “Well will you?”

“I’m afraid not,” said Dumbledore and he had the decency to drop the smile in favour of an apologetic frown.

“Why not?” asked Kali, hearing the sharpness of her own voice and being forcefully reminded of Gran. Good.

“You must understand, I have only Harry’s best interests at heart. As such, I think it is best if he remains at his aunt and uncle’s. He has been kept safe there for nearly thirteen years, and these are dark times that we are approaching. It is more prudent to stick with that which is tried and tested, don’t you think?”

“No,” Sirius scoffed. “Harry wants to come and live with us, and we can keep him safe just fine.”

“Harry is a child, I’m sure he wants a great many things. It does not change the fact that Voldemort still has supporters out there, as we all discovered only a month ago, and many would seek to harm the boy. If you care about him at all, you will put aside your selfish need to make him a part of your family, and you will do what is best for him.”

“Selfish?” snarled Sirius. “We want to give him a home. And don’t tell me he already has one because I saw how eager he was to get away from his aunt and uncle’s when I offered to take him in. Harry is James and Lily’s son, he’s already family and we’d die to protect him. Can you say the same about Lily’s bitch of a sister?”

“Language,” said Dumbledore as though he was talking to a misbehaving teen. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but you never met Petunia. You should not be using that kind of language to describe someone you do not know.”

“I don’t need to have met her,” spat Sirius. “Do you know how many time I found Lily crying somewhere because of something her sister had said or done? It gave us plenty of opportunities to bond over our crappy siblings.”

“Sirius,” Dumbledore rebuked. “Your daughter is present, please mind your choice of vocabulary.”

“I already know all those words, it’s fine,” said Kali, and Dumbledore threw her a look, an actual look .

“That is not the point -”

“You’re quite right,” she said before he could get into the ins and outs of behavioural mimicry. “The point is that James and Lily meant for Sirius to be their son’s legal guardian. Harry dislikes his aunt and uncle and would much rather live with us, and we would do anything to keep him safe, yet you insist on being unreasonable.” Then, because he was still the headmaster of the school she was attending, she added, “Sir.”

He placed his elbows on his desk and steepled his hands together, watching her steadily over them. She didn’t look away; she was very good at staring contests.

“You think I’m being unreasonable?” he asked calmly when it became clear she wasn’t backing down.

“I think you’ve yet to give a single convincing reason as to why Harry ought to stay with his aunt and uncle, sir.”

“It is in his best interest.”

“So you keep saying. But why? If it really is a question of safety, then surely he’d be better off with us. No offence to his Muggle relatives, but unless they own an AK-47, if Death Eaters show up at their door, they’re as good as dead.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“It’s a gun. A very efficient, very scary gun.”

“A Muggle weapon?” said Dumbledore, and there was a hint of something that was either incredulity or scorn in his voice.

“Easier to use than the Killing Curse. I doubt Harry’s aunt and uncle have one, though.”

He was looking at her funny, but he shook it off. “Be that as it may, there is a reason no Death Eater has ever found him. If he moves now, and especially if he moves in with someone who was recently released from Azkaban, everyone in the wizarding world will know, and you will have a stream of Voldemort’s old supporters at your door threatening the boy.”

“Good,” she said, and the three men all looked over at her in surprise. “That way we can have every last one of them sent to Azkaban once and for all.”

Dumbledore was staring at her disbelievingly. “You want to use Harry as bait?”

“He can’t live at his aunt and uncle’s indefinitely. He will move out eventually, and before he does, I would rather all Death Eaters be dealt with by adults instead of forcing him to do it.”

“You would put your family at the mercy of Death Eaters?” said Dumbledore slowly.

She scoffed. “These two,” – she nodded over at Sirius and Remus – “have already fought in a war and know how to handle a few Death Eaters, and I am more than willing to lend a hand.”

“You’re underage.”

“Yes, thank you, I had noticed. But I’ve watched Home Alone, and, yes, I was taking notes.” It was a joke, sort of – that movie had actually given her a couple of ideas – but it fell short with all but Remus who’d watched it with her and who was now rubbing at his mouth, hiding a smile. Sirius and Dumbledore both looked very confused, though, and she rolled her eyes. “Never mind.”

Dumbledore was staring at her as though she’d just grown a second head. “I take it that cultural reference was Muggle?” Kali nodded. “You have an interest in Muggle culture?”

“Cultures,” she corrected.

“Come again?”

“Muggle cultures. Plural. Saying that there’s only one is vastly inaccurate.”

His brow creased into a slight frown and it appeared that she’d stunned him into silence, a feat she’d been certain was impossible.

“Back to Harry,” said Remus after a few minutes of total silence. “The Lake House has centuries’ worth of spellwork protecting it; its connection to the Floo network is restricted to close family and friends, limiting the chance of getting any surprise visitors, and there are perimeter charms that will warn us of the approach of uninvited guests, giving us ample time to get Harry somewhere safe while Sirius and I deal with the threat. Harry’s safety and well-being is our priority too, Professor.”

Dumbledore managed to tear his eyes away from Kali and looked over at Remus with an expression that fell short of sympathetic and landed right into pitying.

“I’m afraid that isn’t enough,” he said. “Can you imagine the uproar? The Boy Who Lived in the care of a man recently out of Azkaban and a werewolf? There would be a riot.”

It was a low blow and it got Remus’s back up. He didn’t back down, though.

“He isn’t the Boy Who Lived, he’s Harry. A kid who’s already suffered through enough pain to last him a lifetime. He deserves to be happy and we can give him that, regardless of popular opinion.”

“It isn’t enough,” said Dumbledore again.

Sirius exploded. “What do you mean ‘it isn’t enough’? What more is there?”

Dumbledore sighed. “I’m sorry.” As though that changed anything.

“You can’t do this,” said Sirius with a firm shake of his head. “You’re not his legal guardian, we could take you to court.”

“You could do that,” said Dumbledore as calm and composed as ever. “But who do you think would win? I am an upstanding member of the Wizengamot and you are the reason that the Ministry is currently being harassed by international media. It would be best if you kept a low profile, at least for the time being.”

“But Harry…”

“Is perfectly safe at his aunt and uncle’s. I’m not suggesting that you should not play a role in his life, Sirius. You are his godfather. But you must consider what is best for Harry, and right now that is a stable, safe home. Perhaps next summer, when your situation has settled a fair bit, we can discuss this further.”

Sirius deflated and Kali could have jinxed Dumbledore for putting that crestfallen expression on her father’s face.

“Can we invite him over for a visit?” Kali asked.

Dumbledore smiled. “I’m sure he would like that very much.”

“And we’ll reopen the possibility for permanent guardianship next year,” she said it firmly, not so much a question as an affirmation. She stood and the men followed suit.

“That’s right.” Dumbledore shook Remus’s hand, but Sirius didn’t offer his and neither did Kali.

“We’ll be back next year then.” She led the way of the room without a backward glance.

She got the feeling that when the time came for them to return, Dumbledore would just come up with another excuse to push back their request, but she’d worry about that closer to the time. For now, he’d given them visitation rights without mentioning a maximum duration for said visit, and that which was left unsaid was up for personal interpretation.

Chapter Text

Sunday, July 31st, 1994,

United Kingdom, England, Surrey, Little Whinging, 4 Privet Drive,

Harry Potter,

 

Harry’s fourteenth birthday started off as many of his other birthdays had over the years: with a sharp rap at his bedroom door and an order to get dressed and get downstairs to get breakfast started. At least now he had a bedroom, he thought, a few years ago all he’d had was a cupboard under the stairs.

He complied to Aunt Petunia’s high-pitched demands having learned a long time ago the price of insubordination.

Biting back a yawn, he crawled out of bed, blindly stumbling until he found his glasses on the nightstand. The world came into focus and as it did Hedwig swooped in through the open window, dropped a small pile of letters and parcels onto his bed and landed on the perch in her cage. Harry perked up instantly. He checked that the snowy white owl had enough food and water before throwing himself onto the delivered post. The first letter he opened was from Ron Weasley, the first friend he could ever remember having.

He’d met Ron on the Hogwarts Express nearly three years ago, but he could remember it like it was yesterday: the gleaming scarlet steam engine; the excitement spawned from getting away from the Dursleys and being told that he was a wizard, and, most importantly, the gangly, freckled redhead who’d asked to sit with him in his compartment.

 

Dear Harry,

Happy birthday!

Mum’s spent the past few days baking (that’s what’s in the big parcel) and she can’t wait to have you over for the end of the holidays, something about fattening you up.

Dad’s still working on getting the tickets for the World Cup, but even if he can’t get them, you’re still coming over, can’t leave you at the mercy of those Muggles for too long!

I’ll keep you up to date about the tickets,

See you soon,

Ron.

 

Mr. Weasley wasn’t trying to get tickets to the football World Cup, but to the Quidditch one. Quidditch was a wizarding sport played on broomsticks and it was the most popular and well-known game among wizards and witches. Harry loved it. He played the Seeker position on his House team at Hogwarts; his job was to catch the Golden Snitch, a tiny, little ball which flew very fast and was very difficult to see, before the other team’s Seeker did, and whichever Seeker caught it won their team an extra hundred and fifty points.

This year’s Quidditch World Cup was taking place in England, and since Mr. Weasley worked for the Ministry of Magic, he figured he could get some tickets.

Harry tore into the big parcel and found a basket full of cakes and muffins courtesy of Mrs. Weasley, as well as a brightly wrapped jar of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans that was bigger than Harry’s head from Ron.

The second letter was from Hermione Granger, his other best friend. She was a Muggle-born in the same year and House as Harry and Ron; she was also the only thing keeping the two boys from flunking all of their classes. They owed her a lot.

 

Happy birthday Harry!

I can’t believe we’re already halfway through the holidays. I can’t wait to go back to Hogwarts. I hear Fourth Year is much more challenging than Third Year and then next year we’re going to have O.W.L.s. to prepare for and those are supposed to be really hard. I went to Diagon Alley last week to get school supplies , and I got some extra books so I can start studying right away.

Ron’s invited me to the Burrow for the last couple of weeks of the holidays. I hope your aunt and uncle will let you come too.

Love,

Hermione.

 

With the letter, she’d also sent a large birthday cake and an illustrated copy of Best Quidditch Moments of the Twentieth Century. Illustrated wizarding books weren’t like illustrated Muggle books, because wizards and witches had developed a way to make their pictures move, and Harry couldn’t resist flipping through the pages to watch some of the best Quidditch players of the century perform their most impressive feats.

Hagrid, the Hogwarts gamekeeper and Care of Magical Creatures teacher, had also sent him a birthday cake: it was huge, and lopsided and ‘Happy Birthday’ was written on the top in uneven pink icing.

He’d never before received so much food over the course of the holidays, but desperate times had called for desperate measures.

The entire Dursley household was enduring a strict, new diet routine which was brought on by Dudley’s end-of-year report card. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had explained away his bad marks, as per usual, and they’d barely even skated over the accusations of bullying. But one thing they couldn’t ignore was a comment at the bottom of the report card from the school nurse. Apparently, the Smeltings school outfitters didn’t stock knickerbockers big enough for someone of Dudley’s size, and no matter how much Aunt Petunia wailed that Dudley was big-boned, and that his poundage was really puppy fat, and that he was a growing boy who needed plenty of food, it had become evident that far from needing extra nourishment, Dudley had reached roughly the size and weight of a young killer whale.

Dudley had not accepted this new diet without a fight, but when the school nurse had mentioned the health concerns that Dudley could eventually face without it, Aunt Petunia had put her foot down as gently as she possibly could. The diet sheet that had been sent by the Smeltings school nurse had been taped to the fridge, which had been emptied of all Dudley's favourite things – fizzy drinks and cakes, chocolate bars and burgers and filled instead with fruit and vegetables and the sorts of things that Uncle Vernon called ‘rabbit food.’

There was nothing to say that the whole family had to follow the diet too, but Aunt Petunia had insisted on it in a desperate attempt to make Dudley feel better about it all. The moment Harry had got wind of the fact that he was expected to survive the summer on carrot sticks, he’d sent Hedwig to his friends with pleas for help, and they had risen to the occasion magnificently. He now had a stack of forbidden snacks hidden under the loose floorboard in his bedroom, and that was where he hid the three birthday cakes, the muffins and the sweets.

He tried not to feel a pang of disappointment when he noticed that neither Kali Black nor her father had sent him a card. He shouldn’t have expected one, really, but he had hoped.

He’d met Kali ten months ago at the start of their Third Year. She’d transferred to Hogwarts from a wizarding school in San Francisco, and they’d hung out a few times, but it was different with her than it was with Ron and Hermione.

For one thing, she was in a different Hogwarts House than him. For another that House was Slytherin, Gryffindor’s – Harry’s own House – main rival. Most Slytherins, as far as Harry could tell, were untrustworthy bullies, but Kali wasn’t like that. She’d admitted to him once that the Sorting Hat – the system devised to choose which House a person belonged in – had had trouble picking the House which suited her personality best and had spent a long time debating between Gryffindor and Slytherin until it eventually chose the former. Harry thought, though, that Kali would have fit in perfectly in Gryffindor.

As for her father, Sirius Black was Harry’s godfather. Harry had been unaware that he even had a godfather until a few months ago and at the time Sirius had been an escaped fugitive whom many had suspected wanted Harry dead. Yet Sirius had been innocent – the murders for which he had been convicted had been committed by Peter Pettigrew, one of Voldemort's supporter, whom nearly everybody had believed to be dead. It was Kali who’d made sure that her father got a trial and she’d written to Harry frequently to keep him up to date.

For one glorious month before the trial took place, Harry had believed that he was leaving the Dursleys for good, because Sirius had offered him a home once his name was cleared. But not long after Sirius had been declared innocent, he’d sent a letter to Harry telling him that he would have to stay at the Dursleys for just a little bit longer, that there was a problem of some kind with Harry going to live with him. He hadn’t explained what the problem was, and Harry had had to wait over a week to find out. This time the letter had come from Kali, and Harry could feel her anger radiating off of the parchment. Apparently the problem was Dumbledore. The Hogwarts Headmaster had categorically refused to let Harry leave the Dursleys. Why Dumbledore had a say in any of this was beyond Harry and he’d spent the entire day cursing the headmaster, then had felt guilty for doing so because he owed Dumbledore so much already. The next day Harry had received another letter, this time from Professor Lupin, the man who’d taught Defence Against the Dark Arts last year at Hogwarts, who also happened to be the man who’d raised Kali while her father was in prison. Lupin had explained the situation much more calmly than Kali had, stating that he was sure Professor Dumbledore had a perfectly good reason for not allowing Harry to live with his godfather.

And so the home Harry might have had had been haunting him since the beginning of summer. It was doubly hard to put up with the Dursleys knowing that he had so nearly escaped them forever.

He dressed quickly, his small frame drowning in the baggy clothes which were now far too small for Dudley but still far too large for him, and padded downstairs.

The upside of this new diet was that it cut breakfast preparations down by half. All he had to do now was make the coffee, pour the tea and do the dishes. Aunt Petunia had already finished cutting up the various fruits and had laid them out on the table. She didn’t glance up when he entered the kitchen, but she did purse her lips over her horselike teeth and busied herself by setting out the cutlery. Dudley and Uncle Vernon soon joined them, neither acknowledged Harry’s presence. Uncle Vernon quickly disappeared behind the morning’s Daily Mail and Dudley glowered at the healthy breakfast laid out in front of him, he always looked furious and sulky during meals now.

None of the Dursleys wished Harry a happy birthday, but that was the norm so it didn’t bother him. Breakfast passed without incident: Dudley grumpily stuffed pieces of grapefruit into his mouth; Aunt Petunia tried to keep up a steady flow of chatter to lift Dudley’s spirits and Uncle Vernon grunted on occasion. Harry stayed quiet and ate quickly.

He was about to sneak up to his room to grab a proper breakfast and to hide out for the rest of the day when the doorbell rang. Aunt Petunia scurried out of the kitchen and Harry heard her open the front door.

“Can I help you?” she asked in a tight tone usually reserved for door-to-door salespeople or Jehovah’s witnesses. Harry could perfectly imagine her suspicious squint as she glared down at whoever was disrupting her family breakfast.

“I hope so,” said a girl with a slight accent that gave her voice a lilting melody. He knew that voice. “Is Harry in?”

He was on his feet and in the front hall before Aunt Petunia could answer. At the door stood Kali, Sirius, and Professor Lupin. Aunt Petunia was gripping the door handle tightly as though seriously considering slamming it shut; her suspicious squint had turned into wide-eyed shock as she stared at the surprise visitors. She almost looked like she was about to faint. Harry thought this might be because of Sirius who’d appeared on the Muggle news last year as a wanted criminal. But Sirius was almost unrecognisable from the man who’d had everyone double checking the locks on their doors for an entire year.

When Harry had last seen Sirius, his godfather’s face had been gaunt and sunken, surrounded by a quantity of long, black, matted hair. But now his hair was short and clean, his face was fuller, and he looked younger, much more like the only photograph Harry had of him, which had been taken at his parents’ wedding.

Although it was unlikely that Aunt Petunia recognised him, he could still be the cause of her obvious distaste. Indeed, she could have been taking offence at his outfit. He was wearing muggle clothes, but the leather jacket and tight, dark trousers made him him look like he belonged in a rock and roll band. He looked good, but Aunt Petunia disapproved of that kind of thing.

Kali was the first to spot him and she beamed his way. She had the kind of contagious grin that made it impossible for him not to smile back despite his confusion and their sudden appearance. Had Dumbledore changed his mind? Were they here to take him away?

“Happy birthday,” she said, rocking forward onto the balls of her feet and back again as though she was barely holding back from bouncing into the house regardless of the stiff set of Aunt Petunia’s shoulders.

“What are you doing here?” he asked as chairs squeaked against the kitchen floor and Dudley and Uncle Vernon came to see what was going on.

“We came to take you out for your birthday,” said Sirius with the same blazing grin as his daughter.

“With your aunt and uncle’s permission, of course,” Remus added.

Harry bit back the stab of disappointment. He wasn’t free of the Dursleys after all.

“What’s all this?” demanded Uncle Vernon, barrelling past Harry and nearly shoving him into the wall.

Kali’s smile vanish and she frowned expectantly at Uncle Vernon as though waiting for him to apologize to Harry. Harry wanted to tell her not to hold her breath. She looked about ready to say something when Remus put a restraining hand on her shoulder and she settled for throwing a cool glare at Uncle Vernon instead.

“We’re old friends of Harry’s parents,” said Remus, his polite smile fading fast, “and we’d like to take him out for his birthday, so long as you don’t have any other plans.”

Uncle Vernon snorted at the very idea that they might have planned something for Harry’s birthday and Remus’s gaze clouded further.

“I’m Harry’s godfather,” said Sirius. “I’ve been… away for a few years. But I’m back now and I’d like to spend time with my godson.”

Uncle Vernon looked about ready to snap at him for his less than friendly tone when he froze. Harry could guess why. He’d only mentioned Sirius in passing to his aunt and uncle, but the words: “convicted murderer who’s broken out of wizard prison and is now free,” had come up, and the glare that Sirius was levelling on Uncle Vernon wasn’t doing anything to ease his worries.

Uncle Vernon floundered. Mouth opening and closing soundlessly as he tried to work out what to say. “Where are you taking him?”

“Out,” said Sirius with an unmistakable growl.

That was all it took for Uncle Vernon to grab Harry by the shoulder and propel him out the door, slamming it shut behind him.

Kali was the first to break the stunned silence, “He’s unpleasant.”

Harry nodded, glancing over his shoulder. He was lucky he had shoes on. “Tell me about it.”

She pounced on him then, and he didn’t even have the time to stumble backward or flinch away before he was being hugged enthusiastically. It only took him a second to return it, and she released him not long after that only to be replaced by Sirius.

“I’m sorry this has taken so long, Harry,” he said.

“That’s alright, it’s not your fault,” said Harry.

Professor Lupin clapped him on the shoulder. He had swapped his shabby wizard robes for muggle clothes but even these looked old and frayed. Back at Hogwarts he’d had a sickly and tired complexion due to him being a werewolf and going through an excruciating change every full moon, but standing on the Dursleys’ doorstep he looked almost healthy and definitely happy.

“Are you ready for a day out?” he asked with a kind smile. And so started the best birthday Harry had ever experienced.

They went bowling in the morning – Kali and Remus had played before so they taught Harry and Sirius some moves, and Kali beat everyone by over 80 points. Even so, Harry felt she may have been holding back.

Next they went to lunch in a nice little Italian restaurant, and Harry broached the subject of Dumbledore’s refusal to let him leave Privet Drive. The second he brought it up, he saw both Kali’s and Sirius's eyes flash with barely contained anger, and Lupin quickly changed the subject. Harry didn’t mention it again for fear of ruining a perfectly nice day.

After lunch they visited an amusement park, and they went on all of the rides at least twice. Harry was sure he was going to throw up a few times, but thankfully he didn’t. They had dinner in another restaurant, and then went to the cinema, which they were almost kicked out of because Sirius kept talking throughout the movie.

It was the greatest day Harry could ever remember experiencing, and he was so caught up in it that he barely noticed when Lupin pulled up in front of the Dursleys’.

“Sirius and Remus want to have a chat with your aunt and uncle,” Kali told him as they slid out of the car. “Why don’t you show me your room while we wait for them?”

“What do they want to chat to them about?” he asked as Professor Lupin knocked politely at the front door.

“Stuff,” she said, and there was a definite twinkle in her eyes.

It took Aunt Petunia a while to open the door, and Harry was almost convinced that she wouldn't; she certainly looked like she regretted it when Sirius invited himself in. Harry wanted to stay and listen to what the adults were going to talk about, but Kali tugged him up the stairs instead. Dudley stood in the doorway of his bedroom, and he started gaping at Kali like a very large, very ugly fish the minute his eyes caught on her. She ignored him.

“Do you need help packing your suitcase?” she asked once inside Harry’s room.

“What would I need to pack a suitcase for?” Harry frowned, and her face burst out in a grin so bright it was blinding, and he understood. “But I thought Dumbledore said…”

“Dumbledore said you couldn’t live with us permanently, so you’re just going to be visiting for an entire month. Sirius and Remus are arranging it now with your aunt and uncle.”

He felt tears well-up in his eyes, and suddenly she was hugging him again. “This is real?”

“This is real,” she confirmed, squeezing him tighter. “So, need any help packing?”

Chapter Text

Friday , August 5 th , 1994,

United Kingdom, England, Oxfordshire,

Kali Kalakaua Lupin Morrigan Black,

 

Kali grew up wanting siblings. Not because she’d seen the commercials on TV and believed in that ideal of a blissful family life; she had enough friends with brothers and sisters of their own to know that ‘blissful’ was not a word any of them would use to describe it. She grew up wanting siblings because it would mean having people around who shared her life experience, and who would always there to offer a bit of stability in a very unstable life.

Pan was the closest thing to that that she had, and she was grateful for his presence, but with Harry here, she was getting the real ‘sibling experience’. The more pleasant parts at least; there was no bickering, no arguing, nor fighting. Harry was far too polite for any of that; not to mention that he had yet to make himself at home here. He acted like a guest rather than a member of the family, and every morning, Kali saw him edge into the dining room, his gaze downcast and wary, as though he doubted that he would be accepted at their table, not trusting that he was truly wanted in this place. So every morning, Kali bounded out of her seat to greet him and drag him further into the room.

It felt like having a skittish friend over for an extended sleepover. But Kali knew that she would wear down his defences eventually.

The Lake House was any child’s dream locale to spend their summer holidays at. Nahele Kalakaua, Kali’s stepfather, had made sure of that years ago.

Kali’s yearly trips to the UK when she was younger had caused a lot of mixed feelings. On the one hand, she’d had to endure her paternal grandmother’s corruptive presence; on the other, she’d gotten to see where her father had grown up and visit his cousin Andromeda and her family – the only close relatives of her father’s whom she could stand. Nahele had wanted the good to outweigh the bad, so he’d turned the Lake House into a summer camp, of sorts. He’d bought canoes and kayaks; built an archery range and a diminished Quidditch pitch; created an obstacle course and hiking trails; set up rope courses in the trees and a climbing wall by the base of the mountain. So long as the weather cooperated, there was no better place to spend one’s summer, and the weather was indeed cooperating.

The blazing sun and sweltering hot-spell was nothing new to Kali who was used to temperatures far higher than this, but for the Brits in her company, the heat was likened to one of Dante’s nine circles of Hell. Sirius and Remus were locked away indoors and refused to step foot anywhere the sun might reach them; possibly because they were both still horribly sunburnt after Kali had insisted that they eat outside a couple of days ago. Harry’s darker skin protected him from most of the sun’s wrath, but she figured that if she weren’t constantly wandering off outside, he would also stay inside the house where it was cool and shaded.

It wasn’t that he wasn’t comfortable hanging out with just Sirius or Remus; he seemed to enjoy their company as much as she did. But he still called Remus, ‘Professor Lupin,’ and treated him as he would a Hogwarts teacher: with too much respect to allow for a close friendship. As for Sirius, Harry adored him; there was none of the awkwardness there that Kali’s relationship with her father held, and she was unwilling to let herself feel any jealousy over that. She wanted them to be happy, and so long as they were, she would be happy too. But Sirius did still, on occasion, fall into forlorn silences during which he would tend to Buckbeak and not utter a word, leaving Kali and Harry to amuse themselves.

“Do you want to go to the island?” she asked Harry on one such afternoon. They were on a small stretch of sandy shore next to the pier, watching Pan splash around in the water as he turned into one aquatic animal, then another.

Harry squinted at the small speck of land in the middle of the lake. “How?”

“By swimming to it,” she said, and he stared at her wide-eyed. “You can swim, right?”

She hadn’t considered the possibility that the answer might be ‘no.’ Having mainly grown up on an island, she tended to assume that everyone could swim.

But he shook his head. “The Dursleys never felt the need to teach me. Probably hoped I’d drown, or something.”

The dispassionate statement barely shocked her at all. It wasn’t the first time he’d said something that gave her a glimpse into what his life was like with the Dursleys, and the image she saw was not a pleasant one. She’d known after her first proper conversation with Harry that the Dursleys were far from the loving and supporting family that he deserved, but she was only now realising how bad they truly were. It hardened her resolve to get him away from them permanently and to make Dumbledore regret ever forcing him to live with such people.

“I’ll teach you,” she said, standing brusquely before she could let the anger curdle in her stomach. “It’s easy once you know how.”

She gave him a hand up as he looked out over the vast expanse of water uncertainly. “I’m not sure about this. I’d hate to give my aunt and uncle the satisfaction of me dying.”

“I’m not going to let you die,” she said, giving him a light shove for even suggesting it. “Do you trust me?”

“Completely,” he said without missing a beat.

She only paused for a second at his unhesitating show of faith before stepping out of her sneakers and pulling off her t-shirt. Seeing more bare skin than he was used to, Harry quickly turned away, and she noticed a blush creeping up the back of his neck. She couldn’t help but laugh.

“It’s just a bathing suit, Harry,” she said teasingly. “It’s nothing obscene.”

Slowly and reluctantly, he turned back to face her, very carefully keeping his eyes on her face and refusing to let them creep downward as his blush deepened.

“Unless you plan on swimming fully dressed, you’re going to need to lose a few layers,” she said with a smirk as she slid out of her shorts.

He gladly busied himself with removing all excess clothing, happy for the distraction. She was already halfway down the pier by the time he was done, and he ran after her, catching up just as she dived into the water, slicing through it so smoothly that barely a ripple pinged across the glassy surface.

She found a sense of freedom in the water that she experienced nowhere else, not even on a broom, and she revelled in it. The water cooled her skin and played with her hair as she kicked her way back to the surface, loving every second of the pressure squeezing in around her and the strain of her muscles as she fought against it.

“Come on, then,” she said when she noticed that Harry was still standing atop the pier.

“You want me to jump in?” he said, his uncertainty back in place. “Did you miss the part where I said I don’t know how to swim?”

She trod water to stay afloat as he peered over the edge of the jetty, staring into the depths as though they may swallow him whole. “Fastest way to learn is to jump in at the deep end. It might also be the most traumatising way, but I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

He glanced over at her and gave her a look. “Please tell me you don’t ever plan on becoming a teacher.”

“Ha ha,” she mocked, splashing water at him. He was too far away to get a face-full, but the cold droplets that hit his chest were enough to make him jump back and almost topple over into the lake. He caught himself, though, and she started edging toward the pier. “You can either jump or be pushed. It’s up to you.”

He watched her move steadily closer, matching her, step for stroke, to keep a safe distance between them until she’d herded him to the very end of the pier where there was nowhere left for him to go.

“You’re afraid of the water because you’re afraid of drowning,” she said, making no move to get any closer or force him back any further. “I won’t let you drown, and neither will Pan.”

On cue, Pan broke through the glassy surface as a dolphin, flying gracefully through the air.

Kali swam away from Harry so that he wouldn’t feel rushed, and waited as he psyched himself up for the leap. It didn’t take him long before he was removing his glasses and catching her eye as he jumped in.

There was a large splash and a lot of flailing before he realised that he could float, then the waters calmed, and she swam over to him.

“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” she said as his arms and legs beat frantically against the water. She got close enough to still his movements, guiding them so that they followed a calmer pattern. “The human body is naturally buoyant, meaning that even though you don’t know how to swim, you will float.”

His breathing went back to normal soon enough, and he started to relax. “This isn’t so bad.”

“Ready to learn how to swim?” she asked.

He squinted in her general direction, half-blind without his glasses. “I thought that’s what I was doing.”

“You’re floating, not swimming.”

“There’s a difference?”

She scoffed, unwilling to honour that question with an answer.

They spent the entire afternoon in the lake. She’d expected him to tire out eventually, but his Quidditch training meant that his stamina could almost match hers. He was a fast learner, and by the time they pulled themselves back onto the pier as the sun started its descent, he could do the breaststroke, backstroke, and front crawl.

“I can swim,” he chirped with the enthusiasm of a young child as he put his glasses back on and regained his sight. “Thank you.”

“Any time,” she said, ringing the water from her hair. “We can’t have you being the only person in Hawaii who doesn’t know how to swim.”

Harry’s gaze snapped away from the lake and onto her. “Hawaii?”

She couldn’t help but smile at his dumbfounded expression. “We’re leaving next week to visit my family.”

“But I don’t have a passport.”

“You’re a wizard,” she reminded him. “You don’t need a passport to travel. We’ll be taking Gran’s jet, so she can transfigure something into a passport for you.”

“I’ve never left the country before.”

“Which is why I plan on taking you to all of the tourist attractions that Hawaii has to worry. You’ll love it.”

Harry went back to staring out over the water. He looked a tad overwhelmed, so Kali went on to change the subject.

“Pan likes you,” she said as the daemon curled up in Harry’s lap.

He glanced down at the small oncilla and stroked the spotted fur. “I like him too. At the start of last term, Hermione wouldn't shut up about him. She couldn’t believe that you had an actual daemon.”

“It’s a common reaction. Daemons are on the brink of extinction. Most people go their entire lives without ever seeing one, while others already believe them to be mere myths.”

“How come they’re going extinct?” Harry asked, his eyes widening at the news.

“Deforestation, mainly. Plus infrequent and short breeding seasons.”

“Can’t we do anything to help? We could relocate them or something.”

It was a very sweet idea, one that didn’t surprise her at all coming from him. She hated that she had to disappoint him. “Even if we could find them, they wouldn’t let us help them. Most have a very deep-seated disgust for humans.”

He frowned. “Why?”

“Because we’re slowly but surely destroying their natural habitat.”

His face cleared with understanding, and he glanced down at Pan, who was snoring away quite happily. “What about him?”

“He was too young to have learned to hate humanity when I found him. He was wary and fearful, but that was it.”

“But why did he stay with you? Why didn’t he go back to his family?”

“Daemons are territorial. But when their territory has been tainted by a human presence, they will immediately move on and find somewhere else to settle. His pack’s territory became overrun with poachers overnight. He made the mistake of wandering off while his family slept. He got caught in a trap, and by the time I set him free, his family had already left.”

“Without him…”

“They don’t value their young the way they should, choosing to worship age and wisdom instead. Even if we’d found his pack, they wouldn't have taken him back.”

“Why not?”

“To bond with a human, is to take on that human’s lifespan,” she explained.“Pan gave up his immortality when he chose me, and most daemons look down on anything that doesn’t live for thousands of years.”

“They’re immortal?”

Kali shrugged. “Long-lived may be more accurate. They do age when they’re not bonded, but they do it at a slower rate, living for centuries if not longer.”

The oldest daemon ever recorded had been over two-thousand-years-old. She might have lived longer, but she’d bonded herself to a Magizoologist who’d gone on to become one of the rare daemon experts in the world.

Pan chuffed in his sleep and snuggled in closer to Harry.

“Wouldn’t bonding with a human save them from deforestation?” he asked, staring down at Pan with a concerned frown.

She raised an eyebrow at him. “That’s not a very Gryffindor thing to say: the enemy is winning so quick, let’s abandon our morals and change sides.”

“It’s what Pan did.”

“Because he was young, alone, and didn’t know any better. We both were.”

His gaze snapped up to hers. “Do you regret it?”

“Gods no,” she said emphatically. “I wouldn’t be able to do half the things I can do today if it weren’t for him. Probably wouldn’t have survived this long either. He’s my best friend.”

“What do you mean you wouldn’t have survived this long?” he asked, and she would have laughed at his tone had he not looked so panicked.

“I inherited my dad’s reckless streak and my mum’s impetuous one. It’s a troublesome combination. But Pan has become that little voice in my head, always there to tell me when I’m being a dumbass. Most of the survival instincts I have come from him.”

Harry’s shoulders relaxed, and she was glad he didn’t ask for more details. She could rival him in terms of misadventures, but the difference was that he was often thrust into his, whereas she actively sought hers out. There was a reason the Sorting Hat had considered putting her in Gryffindor; she could match the boneheadedness of even the most foolhardy little lion.

“It must be nice for you two to have each other,” said Harry with a sense of longing that was barely concealed in his voice.

He wasn’t wrong. The friendship she had with Pan was the kind that most people could only dream of. He knew her every thought just as she knew his, and his emotions could influence hers and vice versa. There was no lying, no secrets, and although some have argued that there was a rather unhealthy co-dependence between them, it wasn’t like they had much choice in the matter. Co-dependence was kind of the whole point.

It hadn’t always been all unicorns and rainbows though. Suddenly being bonded to a creature they’d known nothing about had been quite an adjustment for the both of them. The mind meld, in particular, had come dangerously close to causing a few near-fatal accidents before they’d learned to control it. Kali had ended up with a lot of scraped knees before she’d learned to focus on more than one thing at once, and Pan had had to be taught that attacking everything and everyone that was mildly threatening was not the way to go in what passed as a polite society. They’d gotten there eventually.

“Can he communicate with animals?” asked Harry, watching a bird swoop overhead.

Kali shook her head. “He can make the right noises, but to animals, it just sounds like gibberish. Daemons communicate telepathically with each other, and with the human they choose to bond with. If they choose to bond. And their vocal cords aren’t really designed for anything overly complex. He could turn into a parrot, but he’ll never be able to mimic a human voice. At most, he’ll sound vaguely human.”

“But he can understand us, right? I’ve seen him react to things people say.”

“He understands human speech because I do. He uses our connection to translate the things he hears.”

“So if you can understand Japanese, so can he?” he asked, and Kali nodded. “But you’re a Parselmouth, does that make him one too?”

“Theoretically, yeah. He should be able to understand snakes, but he’s so antisocial and snobbish when it comes to coming into contact with animals that he often goes out of his way to avoid them. I can’t recall a single time that he's been around a snake, or anything remotely snake-like.”

“Is that common? For daemons not to like animals?”

“Like I said, anything that doesn’t live for centuries is beneath them. They’re a species that like their isolation.”

“Hermione would kill to know all this,” he said, smiling at the thought.

“She’s already grilled every bit of information I have out of me.” It had been their second or third conversation, and Hermione had been frighteningly thorough. “She probably knows more about them than I do.”

“That’s Hermione.”

Kali hummed her agreement. The frizzy-haired witch had been a source of endless fascination last year. Her strong will and quick mind had drawn Kali in, in a very new, but not entirely unexpected way. The attraction had eased somewhat, though, in the past few months, after she’d caught onto something.

“What’s the deal with her and Ron?” she asked as casual as she could.

Harry’s eyebrows shot up. “What do you mean?”

She wasn’t sure that her nonchalant shrug did anything to mask her interest. “It feels like they have an odd relationship. They’re always arguing and bickering, but she values his opinion more than she cares to admit, and he’s always keenly aware of when she’s not around.”

She’d lost count of how many times Ron had asked her if she knew where Hermione was when the other girl had momentarily disappeared. And while they were preparing for Buckbeak’s trial, Hermione had been at her most attentive whenever Ron spoke. It was little things, barely noticeable. She’d been willing to assume it was probably nothing until she’d started seeing Remus and Sirius doing those same small things, and she was well aware of how they felt about each other.

Harry shrugged it off though, thinking nothing of his friends’ strange behaviour, and Kali was left with her dilemma unresolved.