SHAMELESS PLUG!

My first original novel, Strangers In Boston, is now available on Amazon under my pen name, T.S. Mann (get it?). It's free to Kindle Prime members and $4.99 to people who want to download the Ebook. Paperback copies are available for $12.99. Check it out, and if you like it, please leave a review. Basically, it's American Harry Potter. Except there's no school, no wands, and if you use magic improperly, it can drive you insane and possibly destroy the world. No pressure or anything.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled fanfic.


Harry Potter
and the Death Eater Menace


Harry Potter and all associated characters and situations are the property of J.K. Rowling. I make no claim to ownership.


Chapter 49: Blacks and Potters

Meanwhile in Minister Fudge's Office …

As the Chief Warlock finally banged his gavel to close the Special Session of the Wizengamot, Sirius Black leaned back in his chair up in Minister Fudge's office. In the office with him were Senior Undersecretary Dolores Umbridge, Healer Ted Tonks, and Kingsley Shacklebolt. Sirius remembered Shacklebolt from his school and Auror Academy days, but Umbridge was new to him.

"Bloody hell," Sirius Black said in amazement as he listened over the Wizarding Wireless to Harry's shocking announcement. Actually, his three shocking announcements: his emancipation, his self-expulsion from House Potter, and his wholly unexpected claim of the youngest Lordship in Merlin knew how long. Umbridge was equally surprised by the sequence of events, but Shacklebolt was more amused by the outcome rather than simply astonished.

"Good for you, kid," he said under his breath at Harry's announcement. Sirius's keen hearing heard him, though.

"Do you know Harry?" Black asked.

"A little," Kingsley answered. "And only … in a professional capacity." Then, he suddenly grimaced in embarrassment. "I was the bonder for the Unbreakable Vow between Harry and James that led to today's events."

Sirius stared at the man in shock, and even Umbridge was amazed.

"A 13-year-old?" she exclaimed. "Made to swear an Unbreakable Vow? What were the terms if I may ask?"

Shacklebolt shrugged. "I suppose I can reveal most of it, or at least the bits of it that just got executed in front of the whole country on the Wizarding Wireless. James swore a Vow to emancipate Harry, and Harry swore a Vow to leave House Potter immediately afterwards. There were some other terms, but those have not been discussed publicly yet, so I don't feel right about sharing them."

"Did one of them involve James speaking up on my behalf?" Sirius asked quietly.

Shacklebolt looked pensive. "There were terms they'd verbally agreed to before I arrived that were ratified by the Vow. That might have been one of them, but I don't really know."

Then, the Auror smiled. "But hey, I'm pretty sure that Harry has taken care of all his obligations, so the Vow's no threat to him anymore. And now that he's in your family instead of House Potter, I suspect he'll be much happier."

Sirius looked away, while Ted spoke reassuringly. "Indeed, Sirius, I'm sure he'll have a better father-figure with you than with his birth father."

With that, Sirius's mood lifted, and he let out a sudden laugh. "Heh! My godson, a Lord of the Wizengamot at 13! He must be the youngest Lord ever!"

"Oh no," Dolores said while reaching for another biscuit. "Before the Inheritance Act set the minimum age at 14, there were several Lords and Ladies who claimed their ancestral seats as young as 12. But your godson is definitely the youngest Wizengamot Lord since 1643."

The three men looked at her in surprise.

"I'm a historian," she said airily. "We live for trivia like that."


The Wizengamot Chamber

Once the Wizengamot session had officially ended, Harry and Artie swiftly made their way out of the Chamber, pausing only long enough to congratulate Justin and his new guardian and regent. Harry glanced back and saw both Jim and Lily heading his way (with James on an intercept course for his wife and remaining son), but he decided he did not want to have that discussion in such a public place. According to Artie, as a Lord of the Wizengamot, Harry was entitled to a private office on this level, and the boy decided that would be a good place to regroup.

Nearby, Lily was in pursuit of her wayward son when James stepped in front of her.

"Did you know?" he asked angrily. "That you were descended from House Wilkes?"

"Not now, James," Lily responded just as testily.

"I'll take that as a yes," he growled. Beside them, Jim rolled his eyes at yet another sign of how dysfunctional his family turned out to be. With neither of his parents looking at him, he took the opportunity to slip away and go after Harry. Lily attempted to follow, but James grabbed her by the arm. She glared at him.

"You can remove your hand, James," she said in a low voice, "or you can lose it."

"Fine," he said as he let go, "but dammit, answer me! How long have you known?"

Lily sighed and then threw up a quick privacy charm.

"Since the summer of 1973, if I remember right. I thought I might be able to trace my ancestry back to a wizarding family. And I did. But once I found out which wizarding family I was descended from, I burned all my genealogy notes and resolved never to think on it again. Even then, I'd already heard enough rumors about Erasmus Wilkes to know that a newly discovered Muggleborn relative of his would probably meet a hilariously tragic end. And that was before anyone even knew for sure he was a Death Eater."

"But still," James said, shaking his head in disbelief. "You knew! The whole time we were dating! The whole time we were married! How could you keep this from me?!"

She lifted her chin defiantly. "To be honest, James? I wanted to tell you right after we started dating. But your mother talked me out of it!"

James stepped back as if he'd been slapped, and Lily strode past him without another word. He watched her go and wondered just what else his wife and his mother had schemed behind his back all those years ago.

Neither of them noticed the tiny insect that sat hidden beneath the collar of James's Auror coat.


Summerisles
25 July 1976
(The Summer Before Lily's Sixth Year)

The young Muggleborn girl sat nervously at her table waiting for her "luncheon companion." Although she was in her best dress, she was acutely aware of how her Muggle attire made her stick out against the wealthy magicals in the restaurant in their fine robes and elaborate pointy hats. None of them appeared to pay her any mind, but she assumed at least some of them were whispering "Mudblood" under their breath. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, a figure moved past her and slid into the chair opposite.

"I do apologize for my tardiness, my dear," the other woman said. "But thank you so much for coming. I've been looking forward to meeting with you."

Lily tried to smile but it faltered on her lips. "Your invitation was most ... insistent, your Ladyship. Not to be rude, but why exactly have you been looking forward to meeting me?" As if the girl didn't already have a general idea. Something to do with the Toe-Rag.

"Please, Lily," said Lady Potter almost earnestly. "Call me Dorea. After all, I'm hopeful that you and I will become great friends."

"And perhaps, Lady Potter, someday we will," Lily replied with brittle politeness. "Who knows what the future holds, after all? But for the moment, I think perhaps I shouldn't be so presumptuous as to call you by your first name. Given my blood status, I wouldn't want people to think I had ideas above my station."

Dorea's eyes glittered, and a malicious grin spread across her face. "My goodness! It's been a long time since someone spoke to me with such an elegant combination of civility and disdain. I think I like you already."

By that point, a snooty waiter showed up with two menus, which Lily was dismayed to see were written entirely in French. Seizing on the only things that looked familiar, she ordered Quiche Almondine with a side salad and water, while Dorea slipped into fluent French and ordered God only knew what. The waiter took the menus and departed.

"I understand that you have questions, my dear," the older witch said. "But let us eat companionably first and then turn to weightier issues later, shall we?"

Lily nodded, and for the next forty-five minutes, the two ate together and engaged in polite small talk that the Muggleborn (and a lower class Muggleborn, at that) nevertheless found excruciating in the presence of such a grande dame of Wizarding society. Dorea inquired about Lily's classes, and the girl replied that Charms and Potions were her best subjects. Dorea, who was a semi-retired St Mungo's Healer with a specialty in experimental Potions, then asked her several insightful questions, some of which were over her head despite her academic success. Lily was on the verge of feeling insecure about her best subject when Dorea casually asked if she were getting a Mastery in Potions, Charms, or both, since Lily was clearly qualified in Dorea's estimation.

Lily had questions as well, mainly about the likelihood of a Muggleborn becoming a Healer and getting a job at St Mungo's. Dorea was candid. With Lily's grades, getting a Mastery in Healing Magic was certainly possible, as was eventually getting a job at the nation's only real magical hospital. However, institutional bias against Muggleborns was present in St Mungo's as it was everywhere else, and Lily would have to be five times better than her Pureblood peers to considered half as good.

"Does that seem fair to you, Lady Potter?" Lily asked with deceptive mildness. By that point, they'd finished lunch and had moved on to Summerisle's legendary dessert cart. Lily ordered the tiramisu, while Dorea had the raspberry crème brulee and Turkish coffee.

"No," she answered, "but it's not a fair world. My personal belief is that blood matters, but ability and ambition matter far more. Of course, that heresy nearly led to my being struck from the Black family tree, a fate my great-nephew Sirius has already suffered. Which, of course, is why he now lives with my family instead of his own."

She gave Lily a curious expression. "Can I assume your opinion of Sirius Black is as poor as it is of my son, James?"

Lily stiffened. "I don't approve of bullies," she said without elaboration.

Dorea nodded. "A sentiment I applaud. That said, one must make allowances for … an unfortunate upbringing."

"Whatever Sirius Black's upbringing was like," Lily said coolly, "it cannot justify the way he treats other people."

"I would never attempt to justify whatever my nephew has done to offend you, Lily. But it was not Sirius's fault that he was raised without any notion of how people with compassion or empathy should act around one another. Quite the contrary, he was raised by people who most likely tried to beat those traits out of him at an early age."

Lily hesitated. "Sirius was … abused by his family?"

Dorea's lips pursed together. "I'll put it to you this way, my dear. How old were you when you learned the Charm to detect poisons?"

She furrowed her brow in confusion at the question. "I've never learned that Charm. Never thought I'd need to."

"Well, Sirius did need to. And so, I discreetly taught it to him over the Christmas holidays of his First Year at Hogwarts. Both his parents and several of his aunts and uncles find dangerous potions mixed in with morning breakfast or afternoon tea to be both an excellent disciplinary tactic and an amusing pastime."

Lily was shocked but quickly shook it off. "Well, as … horrible as that is, Lady Potter, I really don't think you invited me here out of a desire to make me more sympathetic to Sirius Black, although I suppose it's good that he's now living with your family. But … can we just cut to the chase, Lady Potter? Why are we here?"

Dorea sniffed in amusement. "Cut to the chase? I assume that's a Muggle idiom, but I can guess what it means. Very well. Cut to the chase, we shall."

She reached into her purse and removed what looked like a Muggle stopwatch made of silver and covered with runes. She twisted one of the knobs several times and then pulled out a second knob before placing the watch on the table. Instantly, all the conversational noise of the restaurant faded away as if everyone around them speaking was now whispering instead and doing so from far away and in a foreign tongue.

"There we are. Just a little precaution, my dear. We have some sensitive matters to discuss, and that will ensure no one else can listen in." Dorea leaned her arms on the table with her fingers laced as she regarded the Muggleborn.

"But first … I'd like to hear from you what reasons you think I have for inviting you here today."

Lily narrowed her eyes. "Why?"

"Because I want to, as you say, cut to the chase. I think it will probably speed things along a bit if I can allay your suspicions of my motives. But first, I need to know what those suspicions are. Feel free to be as blunt as you like. I assure you, nothing you say will offend me. I'm both a Slytherin and a Black, after all."

The girl stared at Dorea intently as if trying to judge her intentions.

"Fine. Two reasons occur to me. One is that you've heard rumors of your son's obsessive interest in me, and you wanted to meet with me because you think I'm a gold-digger. You asked me here to threaten me or bribe me or otherwise ward me off from James in some manner. And even though I have zero interest in your son, you're far too doting a mother to accept that any girl's head couldn't be turned by his … Potter charm."

Dorea smiled and took a sip of her coffee.

"And the other reason?"

"That you've heard rumors of your son's interest in me, and since your son is the most monumentally spoiled and over-indulged person I've ever met in my entire life, you're actually going to the trouble to speak to a schoolgirl on your son's behalf in the hopes that, I don't know, I'll date him or something. Or at least stop hexing him and calling him a toe-rag."

The girl huffed slightly. "To be honest, Lady Potter, I'm not sure which of those two possibilities I find more offensive. Unless you really do go to the extreme of trying to bribe or blackmail me into dating your son. I'm pretty sure that would tip the scales in one direction."

"Well then, I shall endeavor to not give any further offense. As to your first theory, let me reassure you that I do not consider you a gold digger, nor do I have any animus against you for being a Muggleborn. As I said, blood matters, but ability matters more. I have made inquiries about you, Lily, and everyone I've spoken to says you are extraordinarily gifted. Brilliant even. If you choose to pursue any sort of relationship with my son, you will have my full blessing."

"As to your second theory." She hesitated. "I admit James is spoiled. Terribly so. I was 46 when I gave birth to him, and that was after three miscarriages. I was on the verge of asking for a divorce so that Charlus could remarry someone younger who could give him a child to carry on the family name when I finally conceived James. But while James is spoiled, I never spoiled him. That was all Charlus's doing. My mistake was in letting him do so. After James was born, I was … distant from him. I held myself aloof as his mother and played as little a role in his upbringing as I could. In retrospect, that was probably a mistake. But at the time, I felt I had to, you see."

Lily looked at her in confusion. "Why would you think that?"

Dorea sighed deeply. "I was afraid, Lily. Afraid that if I played too strong a role in raising James, that he would become … like me. That he would become too cynical. Too pragmatic. Too ambitious. Too … Slytherin."

"You say that like those are bad things," the girl said.

"They're not … most of the time. But believe me, Lily. If James had been anything like me when he went under the Sorting Hat, the results could have been disastrous. And not just for James or for House Potter. More than that, I cannot say … for now, at least.

"That said, while I am not here to win your favor as some sort of trophy girlfriend for my spoiled and impetuous son, I am interested in seeing whether you might truly be a match for him, and if so, to try and persuade you to at least consider it. And frankly, based on what I've learned so far about you, I think you may be just what both James and House Potter need."

Lily stared at the older witch in amazement. "I'm a Muggleborn, Lady Potter. And an outspoken one, I'm told. Meanwhile, House Potter is Ancient and Noble and filthy rich to boot. In what universe can I possibly be what your house needs?! Why would you possibly think that just because James has a creepily obsessive schoolboy crush on me?"

Dorea signed in resignation. "Because I'm afraid … that it's a bit more than a schoolboy crush, Lily."

"… Okay. So what is it?"

"Would you laugh at me if I told you it was … a soul bond?"

Lily Evans stared at the witch before doing just that. For almost ten seconds, she laughed deliriously at Dorea's explanation while the other witch waited patiently.

"A soul bond!" the girl exclaimed when she finally caught her breath. "That's … that's absolute nonsense! A cheesy plot device to explain why wizards and witches with nothing in common end up together in the awful romance novels that the girls in my dorm read! And anyway, how can it be a soul bond when I'm definitely not in love with James?"

Dorea chuckled as well, though without mirth. "It's nothing like those silly books, I'm happy to say. And I don't know if soul bond is the right term or not, but it's a useful placeholder for this discussion."

She paused to have a sip of coffee as if girding herself for what came next.

"I shall explain it to you as my mother-in-law, Euphemia Potter, explained it to me. As it was explained to her by her own mother-in-law, Sarah-Jane Potter, the wife of Lord Henry Potter, and to whom it was presumably explained the same way on back through innumerable generations. At some point in the past, about 200 years or so ago, a former Lord of House Potter, presumably one who regretted his marital choices, did … something. I've no idea what, but it was powerful magic and almost certainly highly illegal magic. Regardless, the spell he cast essentially acted as a curse on the Potter line designed to eliminate the possibility of bad marriages to unworthy witches. It operates by ensuring that each Potter male would be drawn to the ideal marriage prospect – whatever Fate decided that meant in each successive generation – at which point he would … well, fall hopelessly in love with her."

Lily stared at her. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard!" she finally said.

"I quite agree to be honest," Dorea replied while toying idly with the remains of her crème brûlée. "I was just as appalled as you when Euphemia told me that. Really, to learn that anyone would go to such foolish extremes! No offense, my dear, but only a Gryffindor could have come up with an idea like that!"

"Offense taken," Lily replied tartly. "So, out of some preposterous scheme to make sure his heirs … married well, a former Lord Potter cursed all his descendants to fall in love with 'the perfect marriage prospect,' which in this case means that your son James has fallen head over heels for a Muggleborn from a poor family who can't stand to be in the same room with him. Does James know about this alleged curse he's under?"

"No," said Dorea firmly. "I decided that it should be kept from him. Euphemia and Fleamont Potter made the mistake of telling Charlus before he started Hogwarts, and he was so incensed that Fate had chosen a Slytherin of the House of Black for him that we were at each other's throats the whole time we were at school together. I never even knew the reason for his hostility and just assumed it was just Gyffindor-Slytherin rivalry carried to absurd extremes. It wasn't until years later, after we were both in our residencies at St Mungo's and forced to work long hours together, that he finally broke down and admitted the truth: that he had loved me from the moment he laid eyes on me but also hated the fact that Fate had chosen me for him and deprived him of any choice in the matter.

"It was not long afterwards that Euphemia met with me and we had a talk very similar to the one you and I are having right now, though I was nearly 30 at the time instead of a schoolgirl. We came to terms – which, I might add, were very favorable to me – and I married Charlus four months later. That was how long it took for me to really study him and make sure that he would be a suitable marriage prospect."

Lily lifted her chin. "So that was it. Magic picked you for Charlus, and you just went along with it. Love never came into it at all."

"My goodness, Lily, how sentimental you are. I came to love Charlus very much, thank you, and I love him still. As annoying as I found him when we were at school, he turned out to have a great many positive and desirable qualities and simply needed someone to help him cultivate them while also encouraging him to suppress those traits that were offensive. Similarly, while James has a veritable host of character flaws, there is goodness in him, if only the right person can bring it forth. Of course, marrying a flawed man in the hopes that you can change him for the better is usually a recipe for disaster, but it works out surprisingly well when the flawed man in question is besotted with you and will do whatever it takes to win your affection. It did not take long for Charlus Potter to go from a man I was happy to hex in the back to someone I truly loved as a wife should love her husband. And I believe that you are just as capable of effecting such a change in James."

The young Muggleborn shook her head at what she was hearing. "No, I'm sorry. I couldn't do that. I could never marry someone who was under a spell that made him love me while knowing the whole time that it wasn't real!"

Dorea scoffed. "Oh honestly, child! What is real love? You young people today have no idea about such things, constantly muddling love with mere desire. Or worse, lust. From a magical perspective, the messy, sordid tangle of emotions that you call love is nothing but a rush of hormones altering brain chemistry, a result biologically no different than that caused by eating large quantities of chocolate. Real love comes from accepting someone else both at their best and at their worst so completely that their absence from your life becomes unthinkable. Such bonds are the product of years of intimacy in every form, whether sexual passion or furious arguments or raising a child together or simply holding hands at sunset. Real love doesn't end with a wedding, my dear. It starts there."

She paused to take another sip of coffee before continuing. "Of course, if that's too much trouble and you insist on real love of the sort that poets and bards always gad on about, there's always Amortentia."

Lily gasped. "That's illegal!" The older witch simply laughed.

"Not with disclosure and mutuality, my dear. Amortentia is perfectly legal and quite common in arranged marriages among Purebloods. It's usually taken by both husband and wife as part of the wedding ceremony to provide a few weeks of true connubial bliss over the honeymoon and help both spouses get over their jitters. But it's not unusual for some couples to continue taking it for the rest of their lives rather than run the risk of letting its effects fade and learning that a legal ceremony and a potion were the only things they had in common. But no, only when Amortentia is forced on someone without consent is it illegal. If your preference is for James to become Prince Charming and carry you off as his princess to live happily ever after, we can just make regular Amortentia doses for you both a part of the marriage contract. A pleasurable means to a measurable end, so to speak."

Lily stared at the woman as she absorbed everything she'd said. "I will never consent to Amortentia," she declared firmly. Dorea returned her gaze impassively before breaking out into a warm smile of her own.

"Good for you. I refused to take it as well. A true Slytherin is always clear-eyed, even in matters of love and matrimony."

"GAAAH!" Lily snarled. "You are getting way ahead of yourself. I don't know if I buy any of this, but I still don't want to even date James, let alone marry him. Honestly, Lady Potter, your son is not the only fish in the Hogwarts Sea!"

"True, but frankly, he is the finest catch you're likely to land. You are both brilliant and ambitious, Lily Evans. Far too brilliant and ambitious to strive for a Mastery only to settle for being a mere Mediwitch rather than a Healer. Or worse, to end up working in a shop or as a junior clerk in some minor Ministry department. Unfortunately, I'm sorry to say that as a Muggleborn, even one as gifted as you, reaching the heights you desire and deserve will be a herculean task. And your career prospects will only worsen if you marry a fellow Muggleborn or a Muggle unless you plan to leave the wizarding world altogether. Of course, marrying a Pureblood or a Halfblood from a good family would help, but then you face the daunting challenge of landing such a beau despite your lineage."

Lily grew angry at Dorea's remarks. "I know things are probably different in Slytherin, Lady Potter, but I know plenty of boys in the other three Houses who are not so bigoted against me for being Muggleborn!"

Dorea took another sip of coffee. "I said lineage, Lily, not blood status. And you should know that a wizarding family of any prominence will want to see your family tree before they agree to any sort of commitment."

The girl's anger melted away, and she grew pale. "What about my family tree?" she said in a quiet but intense voice.

"Let's not be coy, my dear," Dorea answered. "For future reference, you should know that the goblins of Gringotts do not consider any information they obtain on behalf of a wizard or witch to be confidential unless they're specifically paid for it, a fact they don't even bother to advertise to Muggleborns like yourself. When I knew you were the one Fate had chosen for James, I made inquiries, and a Gringotts representative contacted me and offered for a dear price a copy of the genealogical research you commissioned from them a few years back."

Dorea leaned forward. "So forgive me for being blunt, Lily, but no wizard in this country is going to marry a Muggleborn who is the only living blood relative of Erasmus Wilkes, one of the most powerful members of the Wizengamot and also one of the most reactionary blood purists in the nation."

Lily looked away for a moment. "I see. So, I guess we've come to the blackmail portion of the conversation."

Dorea chuckled. "I am pleased to see that you can think like a Slytherin. But no, I have no intention of using this knowledge to coerce you into a relationship with my son. Indeed, I have already paid the fees that Gringotts requires for destroying all records of your genealogy, including Obliviating the goblin who ran the search for you. Someone would need actual copies of your family's records from the Muggle authorities to trace your ancestry now, and no Pureblood would ever be able to get that without your family's assistance.

"If you are dead set against a relationship with James, I will ask you for mutual secrecy oaths. I will not reveal your Wilkes connection and you will not repeat anything I've told you today. And that will be the end of it. But I can assure you, if you ever consider matrimony with any other boy who was raised in the magical world, that connection will almost certainly come out and to your detriment. And the list of potential suitors who would be willing to court death as the price of courting you is very small indeed."

Lily sat with her head bowed for several minutes as she fought to control herself. She'd dabbled with Occlumency when she was still friends with Sev, and while she'd never progressed as far as he had, she was good enough to neither break down and cry in response to the older woman's words nor to rage at her instead.

It was a close thing though.

"What do you want from me?" she finally said.

"Not as much as you fear, my child," Dorea answered. "All I want is for you to give James a chance. You find his bullying and pranks offensive? Tell him so. Tell him and make him understand that if he wants you to give him the time of day, he will change his ways. Are you offended that someone so clearly talented is lazy in his schoolwork? Demand that he maintain good grades as a condition of dating you. I cannot guarantee that you'll be able to mold James Potter into the man of your dreams. I ask only that you try.

Lily narrowed her eyes. "You're … inviting me to whip your son into shape? Because his father spoiled him while you stood by and let him do it? Seriously?"

Dorea nodded sadly. "There is more you should know. And will know if, as I hope, you decide that James is marriageable. There are vitally important things you will both need to know. But Charlus has decided to spare James the burdens that House Potter imposes on its men until he turns 21. My husband wants his Heir to reach full adulthood and to complete a mastery or whatever sort of post-Hogwarts training James desires before saddling him with ... well, with everything that being a future Lord Potter entails. And while I hold influence over Charlus in many areas, where House matters are concerned, I am constrained not to reveal anything about such matters to you or to whoever becomes his future bride until he deems James prepared. I can only say that James, like his father, needs someone to guide him. Someone to stand beside him. And if necessary, someone to whack him upside the head when he's acting a fool. Possibly several times. You strike me as the sort of person who can do that for my James."

Despite herself, Lily laughed. "Lady Potter … Dorea. Even if what you say is true, a Muggleborn like me is never going to be able to exert that sort of power over the Heir to an Ancient and Noble House, let alone its Lord. And … I'm sorry, but from what I know about James Potter, I just don't know if I trust him to … to do right by me."

Dorea smirked and then reached into her handbag to pull out a scroll. "Take this home and read over it. It's my marriage contract with Charlus. Pay special attention to Clauses 4, 7, 16, and 19. I will not waste time summarizing them now. You can read for yourself, and I'm sure you're clever enough to understand them. But suffice it to say that Charlus Potter could never raise a hand to me even if he were inclined to do so. He could never cheat on me. He could never try to divorce me. But at any time I so choose, I can leave him and take a sizeable portion of his wealth with me when I go. Though I've never had the desire to, I could even take a lover myself so long as I ensured there was no possibility of siring a bastard. And if I ever had true grounds to divorce Charlus for cause as defined by that contract, I could claim most of what he has. Should things progress satisfactorily between you and my son, feel free to adapt those provisions into your own marriage contract along with any other protections you feel are necessary."

Lily's eyes narrowed. "You know, it almost sounds like you're more on my side than on your son's."

"I'm on both your sides, my dear. But in this instance, being on James's side means making sure he has a Lady Potter who is worthy of the name."

The girl nodded and took the contract. "So, will you tell James about House Wilkes or should I?"

Dorea scoffed. "Oh, I'm sure we'll find the right time to let him in on that secret."

She paused to finish her coffee. "While he's on his deathbed perhaps?"


1 September 1976
Platform 9 ¾

James Potter had just hugged his mother and father and was about to board the Hogwarts Express with Sirius Black by his side when Lily Evans marched right up to confront him.

"Evans!" he said excitedly. "Good to see you! How was your sum-…?"

"No pranks," she said interrupting him.

"Um, what?"

"I said no pranks. No hexing anyone in the halls for a laugh. No picking fights with Slytherins just because they exist. None of your usual attempts at juvenile humor. You don't lose Gryffindor any House points. You don't get any detentions. You act like you're actually a year away from being a goddamned adult."

She took a step forward. "You do that from now until the first Hogsmeade weekend, and I'll go on a date with you."

James's eyes lit up in excitement. "Are you serious?"

"No," Lily said with a sparkle in her own eyes as she pointed to a confused Black. "That would be this idiot."

With that, she turned and walked away, leaving an utterly poleaxed James Potter behind.

Thirty feet away, Dorea Potter watched the exchange with victorious pride.


5 November 1976
The Gryffindor Common Room
(After "The Prank")

Lily sat alone by the fire reviewing her Herbology notes when James entered the Common Room. She glanced at her watch.

"It's ten minutes past curfew, Potter. I hope nobody saw you and docked us any points for whatever mischief you've been up to."

James didn't answer except to give a loud sniff. Lily studied him and noticed that the normally unflappable Gryffindor was genuinely distraught.

"Wait, Potter," she said while rising from her chair. "What is it? What's happened?"

"It … it's nothing, Evans," he mumbled. "I didn't lose any points. It's … it's fine."

That was an obvious lie, as the young man looked like he was on the verge of a breakdown. Lily came over to him.

"It's not fine, whatever it is, Potter. Now sit down and tell me what's happened!"

With that, Lily pulled James down to sit beside her on a nearby loveseat. He wiped his face with his hand.

"I'm … sorry," he said almost babbling. "Really, I am. I should have gotten there faster."

"Gotten where, Potter?"

He looked down at the floor with a beaten expression. "Sirius … I don't know what he was thinking, I swear it. Whether it was a stupid prank that went out of control or what. But he sent Sniv … I mean, he sent your friend Snape…"

Her eyes narrowed. "Sent him where? Is Severus okay?"

James nodded. "I think so. He's in the Hospital Wing, but I don't think he's hurt physically. We'll see tomorrow, I guess. I … I can't tell you most of it. Dumbledore wants it hushed up or else … well, an innocent student will be in terrible trouble if the whole truth gets out. But Sirius sent Snape into a dangerous situation. When I found out, I tried to get there in time to save him. And I did. I kept Snape from getting killed or even hurt. But it was such a close thing. Another few seconds and he'd have been …."

At that point, his face crumpled, and he began to weep. "You were right about me, Evans. This whole time, you were right."

"How so?"

"I'm a bully and an arse and … and even a toe-rag. Honestly, I'm not even sure what that last one means, but I reckon it fits. I tried to change, you know, for you. But now … I see it. I'm a stupid, arrogant berk and I don't deserve you but I'm so sorry even though I know you'll never forgive …"

As the normally overconfident James Potter broke down and babbled his apologies, Lily was surprised to find herself moved by his sudden vulnerability. She was equally surprised to realize that for the past two months, Potter had been surprisingly … not awful. And that's when the strangest impulse seized her. Without really thinking about it, Lily leaned in and kissed James on the lips. It was a brief kiss, but it was their first one. Then, she leaned back and smiled, oddly amused to notice that his face was suddenly quite flushed.

"What … what was that for?" he asked weakly.

"I'm not entirely sure. For the time being, let's just say it was to stop you babbling before you hyperventilated and passed out." The words were sarcastic, as was typical for Lily when she spoke to Potter, but the delivery was more gentle than usual.

"Now then," she began. "This prank you can't talk about. Did you play any role in planning it? Or executing it?" He shook his head no to both questions. "And you tried to stop it before anyone got hurt?" He nodded. "And you did save Severus Snape, your old enemy and rival, from getting hurt?" Another nod.

She paused to stare deeply into his eyes. "So why did you rush to save Snape after all your years of animosity towards him?"

James's brow furrowed as if he were confused by the question. "Because it was the right thing to do!" he exclaimed as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "I mean, I may hate the greasy git with all my heart, but I don't want to see him get killed!"

"Well okay then," Lily continued. "In that case, I guess this doesn't count against you. Assuming you can make it one more week, we're both still on for Hogsmeade."

She patted the astonished boy on the knee before rising to head up to her dorm room. "Good night, Potter."

"Lily!" he cried out suddenly. She turned back to him. "Could … could you call me James? Please?"

She seemed to study him for a moment. Then, she smiled. "Just this once. Good night … James."

Then, she left the room and headed up to bed, wondering the whole time what the odd fluttery feeling in her stomach meant.


The Wizengamot Chamber
(Now)

James moved to follow Lily, but he was intercepted by Minister Fudge.

"Not to intrude on family matters, James, but judging by your expression and that of Lily, I don't think you want to continue whatever discussion just ended in such a public place."

"Minister …"

"And speaking of discussions," Fudge said while moving in a little closer, "I would like to discuss with you what just happened. I would very much like an explanation of why I only heard about your former Heir's plan to reactivate and claim the Toymaker's House Seat when it happened in front of me during a session that was being broadcast to the whole nation!"

James gulped. "I assure you, Cornelius. It was … as much a surprise to me as it was to you."

"Yes, I suppose that much was obvious from your demeanor, my boy. Still, I should like very much to hear what you did know and what inferences we can draw from your … well, from Lord Wilkes's bold move. As a result of today's shenanigans, there are now fifteen extra votes in play in all future voting sessions that are in the hands of people who I know nothing about. People whose political goals are a mystery to me. Not to mention the ten votes that Lord Black has reclaimed from you, a former friend against whom he might well hold a grudge."

Fudge's face hardened. "I'm sure you understand why the political ramifications of that might take priority over a potentially embarrassing – and public – marital squabble. Am I right?"

James nodded glumly.

"And besides," the Minister continued more genially, "you said that you hoped Sirius Black would forgive you for what happened between you back in 1981. Well, right now, he's up in my office! Perhaps now might be a time to make that apology and see if your former friendship can be salvaged, what?"

James glanced over the Minister's shoulder at the rapidly retreating form of his wife before nodding again. "Very well, Minister. Perhaps you're right."

Fudge clapped James on the shoulder warmly and turned towards his private exit from the Well, with his Chief Auror following behind, his face a grim mask of anxiety.


Nearby …

After a brief exchange with Harry and Artie, Snape and his new ward were headed out of the hall when a voice called out to them.

"Excuse me! Regent Snape! Heir Finch-Fletchley!"

Snape turned to see a somewhat portly wizard in professional robes excitedly heading his way. The Potions Master was startled to see that the man greatly resembled the famous ice cream vendor in Diagon Alley.

"Can I help you?" Snape asked dubiously.

"No, Regent," the man said breathlessly. "Though I may be of assistance to you. My name is Dorian Fortescue, Esq. For many years, I was the solicitor for your grandfather until his death. I was wondering if you might be free sometime to … well, to discuss some family business."

Snape frowned. "I regret to inform you, Mr. Fortescue, that I have already engaged new counsel for House Prince. If you will give me your card, I will make sure they contact you soon for any necessary exchange of documents."

"Of course," the solicitor said as he produced a business card and handed it over. Then, he looked somewhat pained for a moment. "Nevertheless, there are some … details of your grandfather's affairs that are … well, sensitive. Matters that I suspect you might not wish to pass through other hands."

"What sort of matters?" Snape said suspiciously.

Fortescue coughed diplomatically. "Well, I can't rightly describe them here due to a secrecy oath. But …" The man paused to lean in conspiratorially. "I can say it has to do with the circumstances by which your mother was disowned from House Prince."

Snape's face darkened. "I am well aware of how my mother came to be disowned. She married a Muggle, and my grandfather was a Pureblood bigot!"

Fortescue's face flushed at that. "Well, that's the thing, Regent Snape. There's a bit more to it than that."

The Prince Regent glared at the other man for several seconds while Justin looked on in confusion.

"When and where?" Snape finally asked.


Meanwhile …

Harry and Artie had almost made it to what Artie had referred to as the Wilkes Office when they heard a familiar voice calling Harry's name. It was Jim. Harry took a breath and readied himself, unsure of what his twin wanted to say. He hoped Jim wasn't planning on punching him in the face, but anything was possible. The Boy-Who-Lived darted past several witches and wizards and drew close to Harry. But then, he came to an abrupt halt and looked suddenly abashed.

"So," Jim said tentatively. "Can I still call you Harry or is it Your Lordship now?"

Harry smiled. "We're still brothers, Jim. Of course, you can call me Harry."

Jim nodded. "Cool. So … can we talk?" he added earnestly.

"… Sure," Harry said after a brief hesitation.

With that, Artie led the way into the Wilkes Office with Harry and Jim following behind. Inside, there were two rooms: an antechamber with room for a secretary's desk but which was currently empty, and the Lord's Office itself. Said office was a twenty-by-twenty room with oak-paneled walls and plush green carpeting. There was a large mahogany desk on the far side of the room, and behind it was an enormous window with a panoramic view of the London skyline, an impressive bit of magic since the room was ten stories underground.

On one of the walls hung a life-sized portrait of Erasmus Wilkes.

Harry had only seen one picture of the man before now, a grainy black-and-white moving picture from the Daily Prophet that ran the day after Harry and Jim's disastrous 12th birthday party was attacked by one of Mr. Toymaker's creations. Harry winced. He'd always known that the train had been one of Erasmus Wilkes's cursed toys, though he'd only recently learned that it had been Peter Pettigrew who'd unleashed the damnable thing. Looking up at the portrait of the last Lord Wilkes, Mr. Toymaker himself, and with Artemus Podmore standing nearby, Harry was now suddenly and acutely aware of the fact that part of his new legacy was the same sort of dark magic that had killed Artie's wife, Elizabeth. He wondered what his friend and solicitor thought about that, but he elected not to ask while Jim was here.

"So that's the Toymaker, huh?" Jim said.

In the portrait (which had not yet been awoken), the man in question did not look like either a mad genius or a psychotic killer. Erasmus Wilkes was short and thin with close-cropped brown hair and a thick handlebar moustache. His eyes were dark grey, just like his daughter Amy's. The man's attire was a bit eccentric, but to Harry's surprise, it would not look terribly out of place among Muggles. The Death Eater in the picture wore black trousers and a green velvet smoking jacket over a white shirt and a slightly oversized yellow bowtie. Most oddly, the man had also elected to wear snake-themed house slippers for his official portrait.

Mr. Toymaker was not standing in the portrait in the typical dignified pose. Instead, he was reclining quite lazily on a bright red Victorian fainting couch with his right elbow on the armrest and his head leaning casually against his open hand. The Wilkes Lord's Ring was visible on his finger. His left hand held aloft a Meerschaum pipe that seemed to be emitting large bubbles. Wilkes was grinning amiably out at the viewer, but still, as Harry looked closer, he could suddenly see something in his eyes, something dangerous and chilling that had not been immediately obvious. And then, Harry shuddered as he noticed a set of shelves behind the couch in the painting – shelves filled with bright and cheerful children's toys. An all-too-familiar model of the Hogwarts Express held a place of prominence.

Artie had said the original Wilkes Lord Ring was in the family vault, which they would be visiting later in the week. Interestingly, while the goblins had provided an inventory for the vault that revealed how many galleons and other valuables were piled in there (a lot!), the inventory reflected very little in the way of magical items, artifacts, or grimoires. In fact, other than Harry's Pensieve, the Lord's Ring, and a couple of antique brooms, there were no magical items at all. Artie figured that the good stuff (or possibly, the bad stuff) had been sealed away elsewhere in an unknown location.

"Why is the portrait inactive?" Harry asked. "Not that I want to talk to the old nutter. Just out of curiosity."

"A good question," Artie answered. "Normally, any dormant portrait can be activated just by touching a wand to it and saying 'wake up.' But apparently, that doesn't work on this one. It's possible that it can only be awoken by a family member."

"Yeah, well, I'm not testing that theory today," Harry said drily.

"I don't blame you," the solicitor replied. "Anyway, this room has been thoroughly searched and cleaned for any of Wilkes's magic. Other than the portrait, the only magical item in the room is the window, and that's standard for Lords' offices. You can change the view to anything you want within reason, but the default is the London skyline from a perspective located atop Big Ben."

He paused and looked back and forth between the brothers. "I tell you what. Why don't I leave you two alone to talk? I probably need to go do some PR work with the press."

"You might also want to be on the lookout for Mum," Jim added. "She's probably on the warpath."

Artie nodded and then left the room. Meanwhile, Harry leaned back against the desk and faced his twin. 'So, you wanted to talk? Let's talk."


The Minister's Private Office

Minister Fudge entered his office with James Potter following close behind, and the occupants of the room rose to greet him. James stumbled for a second at the sight of the man who had once been his brother in all but blood. Azkaban had not been good to Sirius Black. While he'd apparently had some degree of medical treatment since his escape, the other Marauder was still gaunt and pale with bags under his eyes. With a start, James suddenly remembered that the last time he'd seen Sirius in the flesh was on the night he was arrested.

And then, he remembered how Wormtail had stood at his side whispering encouragement to simply murder Sirius and be done with it. To his shame, James also remembered how close he'd come to doing just that.

"Lord Black," Fudge said brightly as if to dispel the emotional turmoil he was sure the two men were suffering, "I assume you heard everything through the Wireless, but just to make it official, you are a free man. The charges against you are all dismissed, and your new Proxy is installed. You have until the end of September to make your official Oath of Unity, though I certainly hope your health continues to improve such that you can do so before then."

Then, he turned somewhat stiffly to introduce James, as though the two men didn't know each other intimately. "As you can see, Chief Auror Potter is here and would like to speak to you and make his apologies for the … regrettable incident that led to your incarceration."

Sirius nodded but said nothing. He simply looked from Fudge to Potter with a calm, impassive expression.

James swallowed painfully. "Sirius … I … I don't know where to begin. I only regained my true memories this morning. I know this is inadequate, but I am so sorry for what happened. For how foolish I was to trust Peter over you. I know if you'd been our Secret Keeper, you would never have betrayed us, and I should have stayed with you and all this could have been avoided. I can't imagine how awful Azkaban was, and I would give anything to undo it. I can only hope that someday, you'll see it in your heart to forgive …"

"Oh for Merlin's sake, James," Sirius interrupted as his stony expression broke out into a cheerful grin. "Do stop blubbering!"

"…What?" James replied in confusion.

"James, I remember what you were like in that alley, the look on your face. And I will never forget that gloating sneer Wormtail gave me before I got sent off. I knew at once that you'd been Confunded or worse, and that the Rat had been the one to do it. Hell, that was one of the things that kept me sane in Azkaban. The knowledge that I was innocent and that my best friend had been cursed to turn on me against his will, well, they weren't happy memories that the Dementors could take, but they were still memories I could cling to."

Sirius took a step towards James with a kindly expression. "You have nothing to apologize for with regard to my stay in Azkaban. And if you feel guilty anyway, James, then know that I forgive you completely and utterly for anything and everything you did that you feel played a part in my unjust imprisonment."

And then, Sirius held his arms wide as if inviting James in for a hug. As Fudge finally exhaled in relief at the thought that Sirius Black could be so forgiving, James rushed forward happily to embrace his friend and brother.


The Wilkes Office

Jim opened his mouth, paused, and then sighed. "I honestly don't know where to begin. I guess my first question is … did you and Mum ever talk about all this House Wilkes business before today?"

Harry frowned at the unexpected question. "No. I learned about it through my own research and kept it to myself. Well, and Artie. Why?"

"I, uh, was sitting next her in the gallery. As soon as you started talking about an inheritance from her side of the family, she knew what you were doing. Knew and was horrified by it. I thought for a second that she was going to stand up and scream at you to stop, but it all happened too fast. Also, she kept it from Dad too. He's … not happy."

"No," Harry said. "I don't suppose he would be."

Jim chuckled. "Not that I care too much. The way I see it, he's got no business complaining when he gets what he wants and finds it doesn't suit him."

"I … wasn't expecting you to have that attitude. To be honest, I was expecting you to be angry with me about what happened as well. You're taking this very well, especially considering … you know."

"You mean the Imperius?" Jim asked as he walked over and hopped up on the desk to sit next to his brother. "I still feel the urge to distrust you. But after all these months, I can kind of feel the shape of it now. Like I can sense what it is in my head that's causing an unnatural response."

His expression darkened. "Plus, I'm feeling a wholly natural feeling of distrust towards my father, my mother, and my godfather right now, so what I feel towards you actually isn't as bad in comparison."

He glanced back at the portrait on the wall. "So how bad is it that we're related to that guy?"

Harry shrugged. "Obviously, James will hate it, and Lily thought it was bad enough to conceal it from everybody all this time. Still, we're only like … eighth cousins four times removed or something like that, so I'm pretty sure we're not in danger of catching any hereditary insanity. Well, from the Wilkes line at least. We do both share a Black grandmother, after all. Anyway, I reckon if I donate a lot to charity and try to seem non-threatening, hopefully I can rehabilitate the name."

Jim nodded. "I noticed you're referring to Mum as 'Lily' now. Does that … does that have to do with what Uncle … I mean what Pettigrew tried to do back in the Shrieking Shack? You know, making her choose between us?"

Harry opened his mouth to answer ...


The Minister's Office

Alas, Minister Fudge's hopes for a joyous reunion were quickly dashed. When James was almost within hugging distance, Sirius Black's warm smile was suddenly replaced with an angry snarl, and before anyone could react, Sirius drew back an arm and sucker-punched the other man right in the jaw as hard as he could. James staggered back and fell to the floor.

"What the hell, Padfoot?!" James barked angrily as he rubbed his chin.

"Sirius," Ted exclaimed. "Get a hold of yourself!"

"Lord Black, please!" Fudge said. Shacklebolt drew his wand in case it was necessary to separate the two while Dolores nervously moved further away.

"Please stay out of this, Minister Fudge," Sirius said in a voice like steel. "You too, Ted. This is now a matter of House business." Then, he turned his attention back to the man on the floor.

"As I said, Lord Potter," he spoke, now in a cold and contemptuous voice. "I don't hold you responsible for anything that led to my false imprisonment. It's what happened after that I blame you for!"

"What are you talking about?" James asked in confusion while he climbed to his feet.

"I am talking about the fact that you exiled your Heir – my godson to whom I had sworn a Godfather's Oath from the wizarding world and abandoned him to be abused and tormented by those Muggle animals for ten years!"

James's face paled as Sirius continued relentlessly.

"And worse, Lord Potter, I am talking about how just today, even after learning the truth about what happened in 1981, you still held my freedom hostage in order to blackmail Harry into surrendering his birthright!"

James shook his head frantically. "That's not how it happened! Just listen to me, Padfoot…"

"DO NOT CALL ME THAT NAME!" Sirius thundered.

James's mouth clamped shut as he noticed a terrible intensity light up the other man's eyes. He'd seen that exact same glare in his mother's eyes three times during his youth. After the first time, his father had quietly explained that Dorea Potter was still a daughter of House Black and that whenever his mother had that look in her eyes, he should stay very quiet … and be ready to run.

"The covenant is BROKEN, James Potter!" the other man snarled hatefully. "The Marauders are NO MORE!"

Then, to everyone's alarm, the Black Lord pulled out his wand and held it aloft, a mad rage still burning in his eyes.

"LET MAGIC HEAR MY PRONOUNCEMENT. I, SIRIUS ORION BLACK, LORD OF THE ANCIENT AND NOBLE HOUSE OF BLACK, DO HEREBY DECLARE ENMITY BETWEEN MY HOUSE AND THE HOUSE OF POTTER. WHILE THERE IS LIFE LEFT WITHIN ME, LET HATRED FOR THE NAME POTTER FLOW THROUGH THE HEART OF EVERY BLACK!"

Then, he lowered his wand and regarded the shocked James Potter. "Does Lord Potter reciprocate?" he asked harshly.

"N-no!" James exclaimed urgently. "No, Pad- … Lord Black. No, I do not reciprocate. I will not claim enmity against you. And I'm truly sorry for what happened to Harry…"

"BE SILENT!" Sirius barked. "You do not have leave to speak of my godson and my chosen Heir in such a familiar manner, sirrah! You gave up that right forever this morning!"

Sirius took a deep breath and turned to a speechless Minister Fudge.

"Minister Fudge, I am deeply grateful for your actions in securing my freedom. House Black owes you a debt. Consequently, you need not fear that I will hold your … unfortunate employment decisions against you. I look forward to working with you in the Wizengamot."

Then, he turned to Dolores and bowed respectfully. "Madam Umbridge," he said simply before turning and striding towards the door, intentionally bumping into James's shoulder on the way out. With a long-suffering sigh, Ted followed Sirius out of the room. James said nothing but simply pinched his brow as he wondered how his life could get worse.

"Well," said Fudge rather sarcastically, "on the bright side, at least the new Lord Black isn't mad at me."


The Wilkes Office

Harry did not answer Jim's question immediately. He simply stared at his twin for several seconds.

"Harry?" Jim asked.

Abruptly, Harry jumped away from the desk and moved several feet from his brother.

"What does that matter?" he snapped while keeping his back towards Jim. "She didn't have to make that choice, did she? Because I saved us all from Pettigrew and from the killer werewolf. So, good news! I guess we'll never really know who'd she'd have chosen! Besides, it's not like she'd tell the truth if we asked her or anything!"

"Harry … Look, I'm sorry I brought it up. I didn't mean to upset you."

Harry whirled around, his eyes flashing. "Slytherins don't get upset, Jim," he said coldly. "That's a Gryffindor thing."

Jim slid off the desk. "What's gotten into you?" he asked worriedly.

Harry raised his chin defiantly. "I've had a busy day, Jim. And I have lots more to do in the coming weeks. So, you'll forgive me if I'm not in the mood to waste my time babysitting you or coddling your sibling rivalry."

"Excuse me?" Jim said slowly, his own anger rising.

"You know what I'm talking about! I leave the family – and on my own terms instead of your father shoving me out like he wanted – and the first topic you raise when we're alone is to get reassurance that Mummy still likes you the best."

"Now wait a damn minute …"

"SHE SAID SHE WAS GOING TO PICK ME, JIM!" Harry snarled. "Is that what you wanted to hear?! After Lily sent you off to the Hospital Wing, she told me she was willing to divorce James and take me away to France with her!"

Jim staggered back in shock as Harry continued mercilessly. "Oh! And leave you behind under James Potter's tender loving care in the process, of course!"

"N-no! That's … that's a lie!"

Harry snorted contemptuously. "I honestly don't know. Maybe it was. Maybe she was just saying that to manipulate me. Maybe if I'd rejected her right away, she'd have gone straight to you and told you that you were the one she'd have chosen. Who knows? I mean, you can't be a Potter unless you're willing to lie to your children! That's our … your biggest family tradition, right?"

Harry slowly paced around the room like a shark, never taking his eyes off Jim.

"But in the end, it doesn't matter. Rest assured, Little Brother – even if she'd been serious about taking me away with her, it was never about choosing me! Lily just wanted me out of House Potter as much as James did, but she was going about it smarter! Hah! After all, she is where our Slytherin side comes from!"

"What are you talking about?!"

"I'm talking about how our sainted mother was willing to martyr herself by moving to another country with me just to get me out of House Potter and to keep the Slimy Slytherin away from the precious Boy-Who-Lived! So, you see? Even when she does finally choose me, it's really to benefit YOU!"

"That's crazy!" Jim exclaimed. "You're acting nuts! Why would she do that?!"

Harry stared bitterly at his twin as he considered his words. "Prophecy," he spat with bitterness dripping from his voice.

Jim shook his head in confusion. "There's nothing in the Prophecy that applies to you," he said.

"Not that Prophecy, Little Brother," Harry sneered.

A silence fell on the room. "There's … there's another Prophecy?"

Harry shrugged casually. "Oh, I'm sure I couldn't say, Potter! Oaths you know. James would never allow his slimy Slytherin ex-son to spread sensitive family matters around. But since you're the Heir now, maybe you should go talk to Daddy and ask him if he has any other secrets that he's kept from us our entire lives!"

Jim thrust his chin out defiantly. "Don't worry about me … Black. I'll find out soon enough if you're telling the truth!"

With that, Jim Potter turned and angrily strode towards the door.

"And while you're at it, Potter, you should probably also ask Daddy who really put you under the Imperius!"

Jim froze with his hand on the door. Then, he shook his head angrily and left the office without turning around.

Harry glared at the door, his face a mask of cruel hatred … for about five seconds. Then, the anger drained away as quickly as it had risen. He thought back over what he'd said in mounting horror as he mentally examined both his words and the emotions that had driven them. Suddenly, he looked around the room in a wild panic as if searching for the source of the wholly unnatural rage towards his own brother that had somehow been forced upon him.

"WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!" he shouted to the empty room.


Elsewhere in the Ministry

Long after everyone else had departed the Wizengamot Chamber, the Court Reporter finally completed his duties for the day and was presently trundling his way back to his office. An innocuous figure by wizarding standards, the Court Reporter's actual name was Philoctetes Dippet ("Phil" to his few friends). He was the great-great-great-great-grandson of former Hogwarts Headmaster Armando Dippet, and at the age of 89, he was considered "the baby" of the Dippet family whose patriarch had only recently passed after 355 years. As all of Phil's siblings had been girls who married into other families, and Phil himself "did not care for the charms of the fairer sex," it was expected that the Dippet line (which was not even Noble) would end with him.

Phil had served as Court Reporter since 1965, which was the year that the elder Dippet retired from Hogwarts. The job was basically a Ministry sinecure that required Phil to carry the Book of the Wizengamot from his office on the top floor of the Ministry down to the Wizengamot Chamber for each session, read from it when directed to do so, and then carry it back up again. The rest of the Court Reporter's job consisted mainly of copying official documents and dispatching them to wherever they needed to be sent.

Most Ministry personnel assumed that the former Headmaster had pulled favors to help a descendant who was otherwise unemployable to acquire the post of Court Reporter. Phil was a genial old man who, when not reading from the Book, was known to have a terrible stammer and became easily flustered in everyday conversation. In short, he was not a very great wizard, at least when compared to his most illustrious and long-lived ancestor, and his posting as Court Reporter was the sort of career appointment that powerful Purebloods regularly obtained for their less talented kin.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Dippet," said Kingsley Shacklebolt to Phil as they stepped onto the elevator together.

"What?" Phil responded as though startled. "Oh! Oh, yes. And g-g-good afternoon to you as well, Auror … er, Shekelbite?"

"Shacklebolt, Mr. Dippet. Kingsley Shacklebolt."

"Oh, yes. Yes, indeed, yes. Shacklebolt." Phil chuckled amiably. "You're Ainsworth Shacklebolt's l-l-little boy, aren't you? All g-grown up, I see!"

Kingsley laughed as he pulled the lever for the elevator to ascend. "Ainsworth was my grandfather, sir. My father's name was Roderick Shacklebolt."

"Ah, my mistake. Yes, yes, of course! Roderick! I remember now! He's an Auror too, is he not?"

Kingsley winced. "He was. My father died during the war, sir. Back in 1979."

"Oh goodness me! I'm so terribly, terribly sorry! Do forgive an old man's forgetfulness! I swear, if it weren't attached to my neck, I'd forget what day it was!"

"That's quite alright, sir," Kingsley said before changing the subject. "I suppose today's session was one for the history books, eh?"

"What? Oh, the session! Indubitably! Yes, yes, yes! Two new Lords, and b-b-both of them so young! And the boy of the Brother-Who-Lived is now Lord Wilkes!"

Kingsley put his hand over his mouth to cover his amusement over Phil's scrambled words. Then, he looked up in annoyance at the sound of rattling from the top of the elevator.

"Blimey, they really need to get maintenance to check out these lifts!" the Auror muttered.

"What's that?" Phil asked loudly. Kingsley assumed the old man wouldn't be able to hear whatever sounds were emanating from the lift shaft.

"Never mind, Mr. Dippet. It's probably nothing."

Seconds later, the door opened, and the two men exited, with Shacklebolt off on whatever business brought him to this floor and Dippet headed for his own office. For Philoctetes Dippet, that meant a tiny Spartan chamber not much bigger than a large closet that was located at the far end of the hallway. After fumbling with his keys, Phil entered the office and carefully replaced The Book in its normal resting place before moving around his small desk and plopping down exhausted into a battered rolling office chair. After a few seconds, his eyes closed, and his head nodded until he fell asleep at his desk.

For exactly three seconds.

Then, Phil's head jerked up, and his eyes shot open. There was no longer a trace of his former foggy befuddlement in those eyes, which now gleamed with sharp intelligence. He whipped out his wand and spelled the door locked with precise movements and clipped incantations that bore no hint of a stammer. Then, he opened his desk drawer and removed a small mirror which he tapped three times with his wand.

"This is 009, reporting. You heard what happened over the Wireless?"

"I did," answered Unspeakable 001. "I've already sent for the other operatives who were observing the session. I'd like to have a meeting to go over Pensieve memories followed by an emergency Oversight meeting as soon as possible."

Nine snorted. "Two Oversight meetings in less than a day. I wonder who will complain the loudest: Time or Love?"

"Oh definitely Love! I'm sure she'll be full of helpful comments. Ten minutes?"

"Fine. But make arrangements to reschedule my interrogation of Pettigrew until later this evening."

"Copy that. Message ends."

The image of the Chief Director of the Unspeakables faded from the mirror, which Phil returned to his desk drawer. Then, he tapped his wand to the arm of his chair and uttered a password. Instantly, the seat of the chair gave way while a trapdoor opened in the floor beneath the desk. Dippet fell through and landed on the slide below that conveyed him to the Department of Mysteries at incredible speed.

And so, Philoctetes Dippet aka Unspeakable 009 aka the Director of the Mind Division went to work at his real job.


Later at 12 Grimmauld Place

Harry Black stood with his eyes closed and his thumb and forefinger pinching the bridge of his nose, looking surprisingly like James Potter, whose face often carried the same expression of consternation in recent days.

"So," Harry said bitingly. "Let me see if I have this straight. After I voluntarily departed House Potter in a way that also nets me emancipation, a Lordship, and eleven million galleons, you decided that it was the ideal time to curse me into having an insane and obsessive hatred of the House I just left!"

Sirius winced at the reproach in his godson's voice. Nearby, Regulus just shook his head and took another sip of tea before returning to his newspaper.

"Well, sort of," Sirius began lamely. "But not really. I mean, an Oath of Enmity isn't actually a curse so much as … an expression of … righteous anger, maybe?"

Harry stared at his godfather with narrowed eyes. "While many curses have instantaneous effects, most notably the Unforgiveables, in general, the term curse is most often reserved for dark magic that subjects the victim to a long-lasting and baleful effect that impairs the body or mind."

Then, he turned towards Reg, who was reading the Daily Prophet with unusual diligence.

"Isn't that what you taught us during my Second Year, Professor Lockhart?"

Reg loudly ruffled the pages of his newspaper. "Nope. Sorry. Nobody's dragging me into this mess. I just live here."

"Okay," Sirius conceded. "I suppose the Oath of Enmity functions as a curse. But it's not dark magic. And anyway, dammit, Harry, the bastard deserved it for what he did to you!"

"And what do I deserve, Sirius?" Harry asked. "Huh? I was done with him. I had made my peace with my father and let go of all my anger. And it felt great. I felt better than I had in years. Better than I had since the day I first met him. I was free and independent, and I would never have to even think about James Potter again. But now? I can't stop thinking about him! When I hear his name or even picture his face, my heart beats faster and my teeth grind. If I don't Occlude constantly, then all I can think about is how much I hate him. I will never be rid of him! Because you put your own desire for revenge ahead of me!"

"Harry," Sirius began, but the boy cut him off.

"And it's not just James! Lily and I were getting closer. To the point that she was offering to leave James and raise me! And now, I have to force myself to think of her as 'Mum' instead of 'Lily.' Or worse, as 'that bitch.' And I can't even talk to my own twin brother at all without wanting to hurt him in any way I can! He'll probably hate me forever just because of all the things I said to him the last time we spoke!"

Sirius looked away in shame. "I'm … sorry, Harry. I didn't … I didn't think about all that. I guess seeing James again after everything that happened. After everything I learned about what he'd done to you. I just got so angry!" He shook his head. "I just didn't think."

"I know. And that's the worst thing of all. With almost no thought put into it, you put a curse on me that's probably going to influence my mind at least for the rest of your life if not mine."

"Not necessarily, Harry," Regulus interrupted. "James did not reciprocate the Oath of Enmity. Despite Sirius's impetuous wording, he can still void the oath if no one from House Potter reciprocates within a year and a day."

"Wonderful," Harry said sarcastically. "Best case scenario, I'm only bound to hate my own brother until sometime in April of 1995!"

The boy's eyes flashed angrily. "It offends me that magic can do something like that. That it can be used for something so petty and so casually cruel. That on a whim a wizard can just screw with people that way. Twist someone's mind like wet dough. It was done to Neville. It was done to Theo. It was done to Jim. And now it's been done to me. And every time, it was done to us by someone who was supposed to look out for us! It's wrong! It's … evil!"

"I'm not evil, Harry!" Sirius snapped angrily.

"No, you're not," Harry replied with a broken laugh. "Which is why it's so disappointing that you did such an evil thing!"

He walked over to the fireplace and tossed some Floo powder in. "Longbottom Manor!"

"Harry, wait!" Sirius said in anguish. "Please! I still want to be your godfather! Let me make it up to you somehow!"

Harry turned back to him and raised his chin defiantly. "With all due respect, Lord Black, I am emancipated now. I no longer have need of a godfather, nor anyone else to look after my affairs. While I am grateful for your offer, I am through placing my trust in other people, as I have yet to meet one who hasn't eventually proven … unreliable."

Without another word, Harry stepped into the Floo and disappeared. Sirius stared after him with a wounded expression before bowing his head in defeat.

"I screwed up, didn't I?" he said quietly.

"Yep," Regulus said as he turned back to his paper.

"Do you think he'll forgive me?"

"Yes … eventually. He'll come around in time. He's …" Regulus looked up towards his brother. "He's better than us."

Sirius nodded. In his heart, he knew that it was true. And yet, somehow, the realization only made him sadder.


The DMLE Detention Center

"Skee-dooby-do. Scoobity do. Dooby-do-woo."

Peter Pettigrew's odd tuneless singing continued even as another wizard banged loudly on his cell door before sliding a platter through the meal slot.

"Give it a rest, Pettigrew," snapped Malkin, the jailor who oversaw the Detention Center. "Merlin! Your singing is even worse than Rookwood's!"

At that, the singing stopped suddenly.

"And when, might I ask, did you have a chance to hear Augustus Rookwood singing?" Peter inquired.

Malkin was surprised by the Death Eater's inquiry. That remark had been the most intelligible thing Pettigrew had said in two days of interrogation.

"If you must know, traitor, Rookwood's been just down the hall from you since before we brought you in. And he went even madder than you during his captivity and torture. All he can do is sing some stupid Muggle song all day and all night. At least you break up the monotony with babbling and giggling from time to time."

Peter snickered. "I do what I can. And there's nothing wrong with Muggle songs! I happen to like a lot of Muggle songs."

Then, he finally turned his head to look straight at Malkin. "Say! Have you ever listened to the Rolling Stones?!" Then, he giggled again.

Malkin sneered at him. "Eat your gruel, traitor. You'll be going down to see the Unspeakables in a few hours to see if they can get you to talk. You might not be eating again for a while. Or ever."

With that, Malkin turned and stalked off. Inside the cell, Pettigrew turned his attention back to the ceiling. Specifically, to the ventilation grill set into it. After a few seconds, a soft squeaking could be heard from it. Peter smiled and gave a few soft squeaks and grunts of his own in response. This was followed by the sound of tiny claws clicking against metal that receded down the pipe and away from the Death Eater's cell.

Peter closed his eyes contentedly and resumed his tuneless singing, softer now, but with actual words this time.

"Tii-ii-ii-ime is on my side. Yes, it ii-is!"


Next: The Escape!

AN1: Check out the Sinister Man's web presence on the POS wiki, the POS TV Tropes page, and my Discord server (through which you can see advance previews of this story as it is begin written). Also, the Sinister Man would be profoundly grateful if you checked out my P*****n page and supported my original fiction. Patronage is not necessary to get the free POS previews via Discord.

AN2 (What the Sinister Man is reading): Nothing new at the moment.

AN3: The part of Dorea Black Potter will be played by Diana Rigg (at age 50), a few years after her "Avengers" days. Look up a picture of her from "A Little Night Music" to see what she looked like then. The part of Erasmus "Mr. Toymaker" Wilkes (or at least his portrait) will be played by Simon Pegg from the movie "Kill Me Three Times," one of Pegg's few villainous roles.

AN4: The last line of this chapter is from Peter Pettigrew's favorite band, the Rolling Stones: "Time Is On My Side," originally composed by Norman Reade for the Kai Winding Jazz Orchestra in 1963 and covered by the Stones in 1964 on their album "12 X 5." Peaking at #5, it was the Rolling Stones first top 10 hit. Other references in this chapter include one line cribbed from "The Devil's Advocate" and another line from Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music," ironically by the same person in the same scene.

AN5: FYI, the first four italicized paragraphs of the Summerisles scene are copied from Chapter 9 of DEM, "Reactions and Overreactions, part 2."

AN6: Special thanks to my Discord editors:

Anne-athema Codex, BlueWater5, Dude, Flareix_ [Prince Flare], Krisni, laTia, Magica, onlyonesane, pizdets UTC+10, PrettyPinkCupcake, rp3, scallionpancake, Scott, and TzarDeRus. Thanks, guys!

AN6: Vital Statistics (for FF.N): Reviews: 14,005. Followers: 14,764. Favorites: 12,950. Communities: 217. Go Team POS!