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Leo Inter Serpentes: Fourth Year

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Harry sat down, careful not to sit on the grass snake's tail where it disappeared into the long grass. “Still finding plenty of prey here?

Yes, human boy. We've eaten most of the mice, but there are some very stupid birds that have started coming here,” the snake said happily.

Harry frowned. “Don't go eating any white owls, you hear me? I don't think you're big enough to eat Hedwig, but I'll be angry if you try.”

The snake whipped its tail closer to its body. “You ask a lot, human boy.”

Harry laughed. “You know that's not true.”

Perhaps,” the snake said non-committally.

Hey, I made you really popular when I told you about this field. The least you could do is not eat my owl.”

I have enjoyed telling the story of your defeat of the King of the Serpents, this is true,” the snake conceded.

Harry grimaced, not wanting to talk about the basilisk. “I better go, my boyfriend will be here soon. I'll see you next year.”

The snake hissed a farewell as Harry stood up and brushed his shorts down. “Don't get into trouble this year.”

You can't talk, human boy,” the snake replied.

Harry laughed as he left the field. He headed back to Privet Drive in a good mood. Draco and Narcissa would be there in an hour, and then he wouldn't have to deal with the Dursleys for an entire year.

When he walked through the front door he could see the Dursleys huddled the kitchen table, clearly nervous about the Malfoys' impending visit. Harry couldn't blame them. Their interactions with Narcissa had not turned out well for them so far. He stifled a laugh as he headed upstairs to his room. He was fully packed already, with Hedwig sleeping in her cage, so he decided to finish the Beatrix Potter book Narcissa had given him last Christmas.

He somehow managed to become so wrapped up in the children's stories that the sound of the doorbell startled him. Harry dropped the book on his bed and ran down the stairs, jumping down the last two just as Uncle Vernon stepped out of the kitchen.

“At least they're punctual,” he grunted.

Harry ignored him and opened the front door to reveal a beaming Draco and a composed Narcissa.

“Hello, Harry. Draco, run along and help him with his things. I'd like to leave as soon as possible,” Narcissa said, eyeing Uncle Vernon with icy disdain.

Harry grabbed Draco's hand and pulled him up the stairs, eager to leave. Once in Harry's room, Draco tugged Harry towards him and gave him a kiss.

“I like it when you come and rescue me,” Harry said as they pulled apart.

“Me too, even if Mother has forbidden me from having any fun with your cousin,” replied Draco.

“Fun with Dudley?” Harry stared at him.

“I was going to bring some Dungbombs and leave them in his room, but she refused to let me leave the Manor without emptying my pockets,” Draco complained.

Harry laughed. “You mum knows you too well.”

“Yes. It's rather annoying, isn't it?”

As Harry picked up his book and added it to his trunk, Draco opened Hedwig's cage and gently woke her up. “Go to Malfoy Manor.”

Hedwig gave a chirp as she took off through the open window. Harry slammed his trunk shut and checked under the loose floorboard.

“All set,” he said.

He dragged his trunk down the stairs, with Draco carrying Hedwig's cage and the Firebolt. They found Narcissa standing in the kitchen, looking curiously at the kitchen appliances and completely ignoring the Dursleys, who were clustered at the far end of the table. She turned at their entrance and smiled.

“Allow me,” she said, and shrank down Harry's things. As he put them in his pockets, she turned back to the Dursleys. “I suppose I should thank you for treating Harry in a humane fashion for once. You have managed to exceed my low expectations. I shall probably see you the same time next summer. Do have a good year.”

“Now just wait a minute,” Uncle Vernon said angrily.

Narcissa paused. “Yes? Do you have a problem with me collecting Harry in the first week of holidays again?”

Uncle Vernon shrunk down a bit. “I just don't see why you have to wait a week at all. Can't you lot just keep him?”

Narcissa's eyes flashed angrily. “Believe me, I would take great pleasure in not having to inflict your presence on Harry. But I do believe Dumbledore has explained the concept of familial blood protection to you, or at least to your wife. If you've any problems, you may contact him about them. Good day.”

She whirled around and swept out the door with her skirt billowing behind her in a very Severus-like manner. Draco followed her with a grin. Harry looked at the Dursleys, who were all looking a little stunned.

“See you then, I guess,” he said before he followed the Malfoys outside.

Narcissa was fuming by the time Harry joined them.

“I'm sorry about that, Harry, but I felt it prudent to leave before I hexed the whole sorry lot of them,” she said. “They are some of the most disgusting people I've ever had the misfortune to meet, and I've met more than my fair share of Death Eaters.”

Harry shook his head. “It's fine, really. I'm just glad to be out of there. One week a year is nothing.”

Draco took his hand as they began walking down the footpath. “Are you hungry? Mother was thinking of taking us to Amesbury for lunch.”

“Starving. Dudley's been put on a diet by his school nurse, and Aunt Petunia decided the rest of us had to join in to make him feel better,” Harry said.

Narcissa raked her eyes over him sharply. “They haven't actually been starving you, I hope.”

“They tried. But they didn't know about all the sweets I brought back from Hogwarts with me. I've been living on them all week. Don't tell Hermione.”

“You don't want a lecture on dental hygiene?” Draco asked slyly.

“Not really, no.”

Narcissa led them to the laneway they'd Apparated out of last time they'd picked up Harry. “In light of that, I think we shall take lunch at home. Something very healthy.”

“Mother -”

“I think you can forgo a milkshake in order for Harry to have a proper meal, darling. You may ask the elves for dessert afterwards, if you wish, but right now I think Harry needs some vegetables, don't you? Now, take my hands.”

Narcissa Apparated them to the gates of Malfoy Manor. She released their hands as they walked through. “Lunch will be in an hour, Draco. Why don't you help Harry get settled?”

“Yes, Mother.”

Harry looked around him as Draco pulled him up the drive. The Manor looked the same as it had last time he'd visited.

“I thought your mum redecorated,” he said.

“She did the interior. I think she's planning on doing the gardens this year,” Draco said.

As soon as they stepped into the foyer, Harry could see the changes. Gone was the black wallpaper, replaced with a cream and gold floral patten that brightened the room and made it appear even larger. Two large vases of flowers stood on either side of the staircase. The hallway upstairs had the same new wallpaper on it, with a cream rug running the length of the floor. The portraits of Malfoy ancestors that had lined the walls had been replaced with Asian prints of flowers and streams, leaving the hallway far cheerier than it had been.

Draco caught Harry staring at the walls. “She had the elves put them all in my father's study. She didn't want to be reminded of him, and neither did I. Now come on.”

Harry smiled in relief as Draco led him into the Green Bedroom. It looked exactly the same as it had the last time he'd stayed here. “I'm glad this room's still the same,” he said.

Draco smiled. “You can change it if you want.”

“What? I couldn't do that,” Harry protested.

Draco shrugged. “It's not like we can't afford it, and it's your room now. No one else is going to stay in it; Mother and I are agreed on that.”

Harry smiled crookedly. “Thank you.”

“Don't get sappy on me, Potter,” Draco said warningly. “Tilly!”

Tilly popped into the room at once. “How can Tilly be helping Master Draco?”

“Can you unshrink Harry's things and put them away, please?”

“Of course, Master Draco. Tilly is happy to be helping Harry Potter,” she squeaked. She gave a little curtsy and held her hands out.

“Thanks, Tilly. How've you been?” Harry asked as he handed her his things.

“Tilly is good, sir! Tilly is glad that sir is visiting again.”

“I forgot to mention the last time I saw you that I like your new pillowcase,” Harry said. It was true; unlike the old, filthy pillowcases the Malfoy elves had used to wear, this one was clean and pressed. With its light blue checks, it looked more like a dress on the elf.

Tilly beamed. “Thank you, sir. Mistress is giving all elves new pillowcases last year!”

Draco rolled his eyes but smiled all the same. “Mother disagreed rather strongly with how my father used to treat our elves. Everyone in the Manor is happier now that he's locked up. Except possibly the peacocks.”

Harry laughed at the image of the albino peacocks pining after Lucius Malfoy. “Your mum doesn't like them?”

“She just doesn't care about them. He used to look after them himself because he didn't trust the elves. So now that they're left alone, they've gone a bit wild.”

“The peacocks is liking to chase us elves, sir,” Tilly said. “They is not nice birds.”

“They don't hurt you, do they?” Harry asked.

Draco laughed as Tilly shook her head, making her ears flap. “Oh no, sir. Mistress is letting us elves fight the peacocks if they is being mean to us.”

“The elves can more than take care of themselves. I don't think I've ever seen anything funnier than a sulking peacock,” Draco said. “Wait, no. I nearly forgot about putting that spider on Weasley's face last year. But this is a close second.”

They spent the remainder of the hour chatting on Harry's bed as they watched Tilly put away Harry's clothes. Just as they were thinking about heading downstairs, Dobby Apparated into the room.

“Hello, Harry Potter!” he said excitedly.

“Hi, Dobby,” Harry said, trying not to laugh.

The last time he'd seen Dobby, he'd been wearing one of Draco's old suits. Draco had told him that Narcissa had given Dobby permission to choose his own clothes after that, with disastrous results. It still hadn't prepared him for the sight before him.

Dobby was wearing what looked like a pair of child's pyjama shorts with cartoon cars on them and a red t-shirt, but he'd chosen to accessorise those with a silky silver scarf and a plastic tiara. On his feet he was wearing the sparkly gold jelly sandals that Draco had told Harry about last summer.

Harry smothered a grin. “Nice outfit.”

“Thank you, Harry Potter! Miss Narcissa is giving Dobby the scarf last night!” Dobby smoothed the scarf down proudly.

Draco rolled his eyes. “Was there a reason you're here?”

Dobby let go of the scarf. “Yes, sir. Miss Narcissa is wanting to eat on the balcony today. She is liking the sunshine and is thinking it will be pleasant to be viewing the roses as you is eating.”

Harry smiled in bemusement to hear what must be Narcissa's phrase filtered through Dobby's speech patterns.

“Tell Mother we'll be down in a minute,” Draco said.

“Yes, sir.”

After Dobby Disapparated away, Draco turned to Harry. “Do you have to encourage him with those clothes of his? It's bad enough that Mother does so.”

“What? I like his clothes. You agree with me, don't you, Tilly?”

Tilly looked up, startled. “Tilly is liking her pillowcase, sir,” she said diplomatically.

Draco laughed. “Come on, before you start trying to corrupt Tilly.”

Narcissa was sitting at a small table on the balcony when they joined her. There was a large chicken salad in the centre of the table, and a jug of iced water. She shaded her eyes against the sun and smiled up at them.

“Hurry up while it's still fresh. I expect it will wilt in the sun.”

Harry had to admit it was a relief to have some healthy food after a week surviving on old cakes and sweets from Honeydukes. He had two servings before Dobby appeared to remove the emptied salad bowl. He returned ten seconds later with a platter of fresh fruit.

Narcissa delicately selected a strawberry and straightened up to look at Harry. “I have something of a more serious nature to ask you.”

Harry wasn't surprised. Up until that point they'd been discussing Dobby's clothes. Pretty much anything was a more serious topic than that.

“I've been making inquiries within the Ministry to see if I could secure you a visit with Sirius. Would you like to see him?”

“Sure. I didn't have a chance to talk to him in June,” Harry said eagerly.

Narcissa nodded happily. “People locked in the Ministry's holding cells aren't usually allowed visitors at all, but I've some rather useful contacts within the Ministry who have agreed to let us see him. I think they're looking to minimise the fall out once the whole affair goes public.”

“What's happening with his trial? I still haven't gotten a subscription to the Daily Prophet.”

Narcissa dabbed her mouth with a napkin. “I believe it is scheduled to take place shortly after you return to Hogwarts. The Ministry is hoping certain other events will overshadow the trial.”

“What other events?” Draco asked peevishly. “You keep hinting at something.”

“And I shall tell you eventually, darling. Do you want all the facts, or rumour and hearsay?”

“Fine,” Draco muttered sulkily, scooping up a peach.

“Do you think he'll be freed?” asked Harry.

“Yes. The Ministry wouldn't be so worried if they still thought he was guilty. From what I understand, it is Severus' evidence that is the most convincing.”

“Snape? But he hates Uncle Sirius,” Draco said.

“Exactly. And yet his testimony and his memory of the events in the Shrieking Shack both support Sirius' story,” Narcissa explained. “Think of it from the Ministry's perspective. If someone who has that much animosity with Sirius is saying, however grudgingly, that Sirius is innocent, surely there might be some truth to it? Not to mention that Dumbledore is a member of the Wizengamot that will be conducting the trial.”

“Have Draco and I been asked to be witnesses or something?” Harry asked.

“Thankfully not. There isn't anything new that you could say in Sirius' defence, and Dumbledore's word carries a tad more weight than either of yours could,” said Narcissa.

Harry nodded in relief. “So when are we seeing him?”

“Whenever you like, although we need to give two days' notice due to some bureaucratic nonsense I don't care to understand,” said Narcissa.

“Is Saturday okay?”

“Perfectly. I shall contact the Department of Magical Law Enforcement later today,” Narcissa said.


On Saturday morning Harry walked down into the foyer a little nervously. Narcissa had told him over breakfast that he should wear his robes to the Ministry, and he'd also tried unsuccessfully to get his hair to lie neatly.

Narcissa was already waiting by the fireplace. She ran her eyes over Harry before nodding approvingly. “Those will be fine for today, although you'll need to buy new ones at some point over the summer. Those are getting a little small for you.”

Harry looked down at his wrists, which were poking out of his sleeves. “I probably need new school robes as well.”

Narcissa nodded. “Draco does too, along with some new dress robes.”

“Not that I'm complaining, but why do I need new dress robes?” Draco asked as he walked down the stairs.

“You'll see, darling,” Narcissa said with a secretive smile.

Draco narrowed his eyes. “Is this to do with those events you keep not telling me about?”

Narcissa's smile widened. “Perhaps.”

Instead of leading them out the front door like Harry had been expecting, Narcissa reached up to the mantle and picked up a pot of Floo powder. “Draco, you may go first. Watch closely, Harry.”

Draco gathered up some powder, threw it into the fireplace and stepped into the green flames that burst up. “Ministry of Magic.” He spun on the spot, getting faster and faster, before disappearing into the flames.

“Enunciate clearly, and try to keep your arms close to your body,” Narcissa instructed, holding out the pot.

Harry picked up some powder, cast it into the fireplace and stepped into the warm green flames. “Ministry of Magic,” he said. He squeezed his eyes shut tightly in the smoke and shoved his hands into his pockets. He spun around quickly before he began to slow, and then stumbled out of the fireplace. Luckily Draco was there to catch him.

“Coordinated as ever,” he smirked.

“Shut it,” Harry grumbled good-naturedly.

Narcissa stepped out smoothly and brushed down her robes before doing the same to Harry's. “Stick close to me boys, it will be busy in here with the lead up to the Quidditch World Cup.”

She set off across the vast hall they were in. Harry followed in silence, too busy looking around him to speak. They'd emerged from one of a number of fireplaces that lined the walls, and there were witches and wizards coming and going from them steady streams. Narcissa exchanged greetings with quite a few of them, but didn't slow down to talk to anyone.

Straight ahead of him was a fountain with golden statues in the centre of it, depicting a witch, a wizard, a house-elf, a centaur and a goblin. Narcissa led Draco around it, but Harry stopped to read the sign.

All proceeds from the Fountain of Magical Brethren will be given to St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.

There were a handful of coins glinting up from the base of the pool. Harry threw in a Galleon and made a wish that Sirius would be freed soon before hurrying to catch up with the Malfoys.

They were stopped at a security check point, slightly off the side from the stream of Ministry employees hurrying through a large golden gate. A bored looking security guard was sitting there, and had placed Draco's wand on a brass plate. As Harry joined them, a strip of parchment slid out of the plate.

“Ten inches, unicorn-hair core. Been used for three years?”

Draco nodded. The witch gave him back his wand, impaled the piece of parchment on a receipt spike, and held her hand out for Harry's wand to repeat the process.

“Eleven inches, phoenix-feather core. Used for three years?”

He nodded and got his wand back. The security witch waved a long, thin, golden rod in front of Harry and Draco before jerking her head towards the gates. They walked through and came to a row of old-fashioned lifts behind golden grills. They joined the shortest line, and a few minutes later they were squeezed into the lift.

“Hold onto a rope, boys,” Narcissa said.

Harry looked up to see golden ropes hanging from the ceiling of the lift. He had to almost stand on his tiptoes to grasp his, and just in time. The lift gave a violent lurch as it ascended, making Harry stumble into Draco.

“Level Seven, Department of Magical Games and Sports, incorporating the British and Irish Quidditch League Headquarters, Official Gobstones Club and Ludicrous Patents Office,” announced a smooth female voice.

The lift doors opens onto a very busy corridor. People were rushing past, carrying stacks of paper, dictating to floating quills, having shouted conversations and generally looking harried. A wizard staggered onto the lift, muttering about Bludgers and carrying a crate which kept making thumping sounds. A broomstick went shooting past, making people duck out of its trajectory with startled shouts before Harry heard a dull thud followed by a groan. He shared a nervous giggle with Draco.

A pair of witches got onto the lift. “The merpeople have finally agreed,” the first one said.

“Took their time,” her friend replied.

“Well the language barrier didn't help...”

Draco snorted quietly. “Mermish is really easy,” he whispered when Harry looked at him.

One of the witches overheard him. “Know a lot about it, do you, kid?” she asked with a smirk.

Draco raised an eyebrow and made some screeching sounds. There was silence in the lift as everyone turned to stare at him, then the two witches burst out laughing.

“Nice accent,” the first said in surprise.

“What did you say?” Harry asked.

“A common Mermish insult. I'm not repeating it in front of Mother,” grinned Draco.

The second witch glanced at Narcissa. “No, best not to, I think.”

“I sincerely hope you've learned something other than insults in that language, Draco,” she said.

“Of course, Mother.”

They stopped talking after that, as the lift had become crowded with Ministry workers, most of whom were discussing the World Cup. At least the press of bodies prevented Harry from swaying under his rope as the lift jerked upwards.

“Level Two, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, including the Improper Use of Magic Office, Auror Headquarters and Wizengamot Administration Services,” said the cool female voice.

“Come along boys,” Narcissa said.

They squeezed through the crowd and found themselves in a corridor that was slightly less busy than the ones they'd seen so far. They walked through some thick wooden doors into an open plan office. The cluttered cubicles were low enough for the red-robed Aurors to talk to each other over the walls.

An Auror spotted them and came over to greet them. Harry recognised him as one of the Aurors who had arrested Mr Malfoy, the one who had wanted to use sniffer dogs to find Harry in the Chamber of Secrets. A glance at Draco told him that he'd recognised him too.

“Mrs Malfoy, right on time. Welcome to Auror Headquarters,” he said in his slow, deep voice.

“Thank you, Mr Shacklebolt. This is Harry, and my son Draco.”

Shacklebolt acknowledged them with a nod. “Mr Potter, the prisoner is ready to see you. I will have to escort you to his cell. Ministry protocol, I'm afraid.”

“Can Draco and Narcissa come too?” Harry asked.

“If you like. Follow me.”

Shacklebolt led them around the perimeter of the room to a set of heavy barred doors. He traced a pattern in the air with his wand, and they opened at once. As soon as they'd all stepped through, the doors slammed shut behind them.

The corridor ahead of them was lined on both sides with yet more bars. Shacklebolt walked calmly past the cells, but Harry couldn't help peering into them all. They looked similar to the prison cells he'd seen in Muggle movies: a plain bed, a toilet and sink. Most were unoccupied, but the prisoners he did see mostly looked bored. A few were pacing behind their bars, some were reading, and one appeared to be meditating.

Shacklebolt stopped before the last cell. It was the only one with a guard stationed outside it.

“You can take a half hour, Williamson,” Shacklebolt said. He waited until Williamson had walked back through the far doorway, then he turned back to the group. “You'll have to stay outside the cell. The bars are warded, so you're unable to have any physical contact with the prisoner, but you can communicate freely.”

“How have I gone from 'Sirius' to 'prisoner' in a day, Kingsley?”

Shacklebolt grinned into the cell. “Yesterday I was helping you with the Daily Prophet crossword. Today I'm escorting visitors.” He looked at Harry. “Go on,” he said, before stepping back a few paces.

Harry walked forward and stopped a foot away from the bars. Sirius threw his newspaper onto his bed as he got up. He looked better than the last time Harry had seen him. He'd showered and had a haircut, and no longer looked so corpse-like, though he was still very skinny. He stared at Harry before breaking into a wide grin that took years off his face.

“Harry! So good to see you properly.”

“Yeah. You look well,” Harry said a little awkwardly. Not even Narcissa had been able to tell him the proper etiquette for this situation.

“This place is like a luxury hotel after Azkaban. No dementors, proper food, showers... I even get the Prophet each day,” Sirius said cheerfully.

Harry grinned back at him. “You ready for your trial?”

Sirius nodded. “Not long now, and I'll finally be free.”

“Narcissa says the Ministry thinks you're innocent now,” Harry agreed.


Narcissa walked into Sirius' line of sight, guiding Draco along with her. “Hello, Sirius.”

Confusion flitted over Sirius' face. “What are you doing here?”

“I'm staying at Draco's for the summer,” Harry cut in.

Sirius' eyes darted from Narcissa to Draco and back to Harry. “With the Malfoys?”


“A lot has happened whilst you were in Azkaban,” Narcissa said mildly.

“Clearly,” Sirius said. “Last I knew, you were married to a Death Eater.”

“Oh, I still am,” Narcissa said blithely. “But he's now in Azkaban, and I've decided it's time that I lived my life as I see fit, not what my family wanted for me.”

Sirius frowned. “I don't understand. You went along with your parents when Andromeda was disinherited for marrying Ted.”

“She wasn't disinherited for marrying Ted.”

“Yes, she was!”

“Rather the opposite, actually. Unlike you – who ran away from home at sixteen – Andromeda waited until she had graduated from Hogwarts and both she and Ted had secured jobs. Then she cut all ties to us. My parents just disinherited her after the fact.” She smiled down at Harry and Draco. “That's the difference between Slytherins and Gryffindors.”

Sirius was still frowning at her. “Even you? She didn't speak to you, either?”

A brief look of pain flashed over Narcissa's face. “I was fifteen at the time, what could I do? Even if I had the courage to defy my parents, there was always Bellatrix.”

“Who you got along with very well,” Sirius continued.

Narcissa rolled her eyes. “Of course I did. Would you let Bellatrix know how much you disliked her if you were sleeping under the same roof as her?”

“No,” Sirius said with a shudder. “So this must be your son?”

“Yes. Draco, meet your uncle.”

“First cousin once removed,” Sirius corrected.

“Hello,” Draco said uncertainly. Harry reached for his hand and gave it a squeeze. Sirius' eyes followed his movement in surprise, but he didn't say anything.

“So, er, have you had any other visitors?” Harry asked.

“Not apart from the Aurors. They didn't even tell me that it was you coming today,” Sirius said.

“They didn't want to allow Harry to see you either, initially,” Narcissa said. Both Harry and Sirius looked at her. “I have some useful contacts within the Ministry,” was all she said.

“I'm sure Lupin would see you if he could,” Harry said. “He was really happy when he figured out you hadn't killed Pettigrew.”

Sirius smiled. “I know. We got a chance to talk in the Shrieking Shack in the morning, after he transformed and before the Aurors stormed in. He caught me up on a few things, but we didn't have long.”

“So what are you going to do when you're free?” asked Harry.

Sirius considered this. “I'm not sure, really. I'd given up on freedom a long time ago... I think I'll find Remus, if he's not at the trial already. And then... I can't decide if I should take my old motorbike for a fly, or just get drunk.”

Harry laughed. “There's no reason you can't do both. Just, you know, in that order.”

“Sounds good to me,” Sirius said with another grin. “I could take you up on my bike, if you like.”

“That'd be great!” Harry said enthusiastically.

“As long as that contraption has appropriate safety measures,” Narcissa interjected.

“You're not his guardian,” Sirius said.

“No, but he's staying at my home for the summer, and as such, is currently my responsibility,” Narcissa said. “It could be worse for you, he stayed at Severus' home last year.”

“Snape?” Sirius' eyebrows shot up. “What'd you do to get stuck with him?”

“I didn't get stuck with him,” Harry said sharply. “He rescued me after I blew up my aunt.”

“You what?”

Harry told him about his last summer. Sirius laughed heartily at the description of Aunt Marge floating into the sky, but sobered when Harry got up to his time at Severus' farmhouse. He was frowning by the time Harry finished.

“As I said earlier, a lot has changed while you were imprisoned,” Narcissa said.

“I'll say,” Sirius agreed. “I expected you to be a Gryffindor, for a start, Harry.” He eyed Harry's snake cloak pin.

Harry shrugged. “The Sorting Hat did think about it. But I'm much happier in Slytherin. Most of the Gryffindors in my year are idiots, although I do like McGonagall. And my other best friend, Hermione, is a Gryffindor.”

“Crookshanks' owner?”

Harry shared a smile with Draco to hear Hermione described thus. “Yeah.”

“Well, as long as you're happy,” Sirius said doubtfully.

“I am,” Harry said firmly.

Sirius smiled briefly. “You fly really well, you know.”

Harry brightened at the non sequitur. “Thanks.”

“Better than James, in fact. Though you seem more like Lily...” Sirius seemed to look through him.

“Must be why Severus likes me,” Harry said lightly.

“Severus? You call him Severus?” Sirius lost his distant expression.

“Sometimes,” Harry admitted. He didn't think Severus would be very happy if he made it a habit to do so in the company of others, but then again, he didn't think Severus would be very happy with his current company on principle.

When Sirius just frowned at Harry, Narcissa cut in again. “I'm sure Lupin will be able to fill you in on much of what has happened, Sirius.”

“Yeah,” Sirius said, still far away.

Shacklebolt cleared his throat. “Time's up. You've already been here longer than the agreed time.”

“Of course,” Narcissa said at once.

Harry hated the thought of leaving Sirius alone in his empty cell, even if it was miles better than Azkaban. “Can I write to him?”

Shacklebolt shook his head regretfully. “Ministry protocol. But I doubt it will be long before you're free for good, Sirius.”

He nodded. “I'll be seeing you soon, Harry.”

“Yeah. Good luck with your trial.”

Sirius nodded again and watched as they walked away.

Harry was quiet on the way back through the Ministry, keeping a tight grip on Draco's hand. Narcissa looked at him as they entered the lift. “How about some milkshakes?”