September 2nd, 1991
The first of September had always been emotional for Dorea. Long ago, when she was the one going to Hogwarts, it was a sudden rush of adventure and freedom the likes of which she knew she could never find at home, locked in a manor with Pollux and even Cassie lurking around. When it was time to send James away, it was a tug at her heartstrings that she had been told to anticipate, though she could not have imagined the depth of sadness that came with missing a child. It only increased as the years went on, and she began sending not one but two sons off to school. Doubling the number of children, for better or worse, doubled the ache in her heart at being parted from them for so long. Reunions were bittersweet; James and Sirius always returned with wonderful stories, brilliant smiles, and an eagerness to return to school that she refused to take personally.
Harry leaving, however, was a type of pain that was both new and familiar all at once. Nostalgia of excitement that comes from watching a child grow right before your eyes, but there was also a lingering fear that she would not let him see. Typical fears that he would get hurt playing Quidditch, that he would get into trouble with classmates and professors, that he would grow to love school and new friends more than he loved home and family. And a fear that she had only grown familiar with since waking several years ago. Fear that came from losing a child—from losing everything.
Most of the staff, she knew, could be trusted to look after him. Minerva was always there, which eased Dorea's anxious heart. Snape, too, had proven loyal to the coven. Though Sirius still hated the man, and Dorea also understood the role he played in James's death, she also was logical enough to know that his remorse was useful to her. It helped that, over the years, she had Minerva dutifully remind the man of Harry's striking resemblance to Lily—even if it was only her eyes. Dorea was not above using the man's own guilt to shape him into a willing protector of her grandson. Manipulative, yes, but at least she had given the man a genuine choice, unlike what Dumbledore had done.
Still, while Dumbledore was no longer a pressing threat, Dorea disliked the way that the school was managed. Most of the staff was competent, but Hagrid's blind loyalty to Dumbledore had prevented the poor man from being exonerated from the crimes of his youth. With memories from the witches in the coven, Dorea was quite certain that they could prove Hagrid's innocence in the associated murder of a classmate, but when approached, the gamekeeper of Hogwarts insisted that if Dumbledore could not have helped him, no one could. Questioning the old wizard's capabilities was apparently an affront to the kindness that he had extended to Hagrid, and so the man would not hear of the witches meddling. It was that type of attitude that worried her. Too many people in the Wizarding world had such faith in Dumbledore. Similarly, she knew that others had the same type of faith in Tom Riddle and his eventual return.
A return she knew was very possible considering the daft fool had created a bloody Horcrux.
"A Gryffindor," Augusta said proudly as she looked over the letter that arrived that morning. "Can you believe it? Gryffindor is very lucky to have a wizard like my Neville. His memory can be a bit behind—the dear left an entire set of robes sitting on his bed, do you know?—but he has his father's good heart."
Dorea smiled at her friend. Harry had sent a letter along with Neville's. She spotted an additional envelope in the bird's clutches as it flew off into the distance, very likely in search of Sirius. While Dorea had, of course, been hoping for Slytherin, she could not deny that Harry was a Gryffindor at heart and, try as she might, there was too much of his parents and Sirius in him to ever be a proper little snake. Gryffindor was perfect for her boy.
Draco, on the other hand, had predictably ended up in Slytherin, and Narcissa was wearing robes with a silk emerald lining—her own personal way of showing how proud she was of her son. Her son who, by the sound of Harry's letter, had somehow tricked his cousin out of his Chocolate Frog cards. Though Harry did not say such things, all the witches knew how the boy's coveted their little collections and argued over who had the best ones. She recalled Sirius asking Harry if he needed a special case to pack his set, only to be vehemently denied. Harry did not trust his cards to not be stolen from his dormitory at Hogwarts. That he had asked her to see about sending them along to the school spoke volumes.
"Thank you, Dobby," Dorea said when the elf refilled her tea. "How did the Muggle-borns do this year?"
Nymphadora grinned, her hair shifting from light blue to pink as she licked scone crumbs from her bottom lip before swallowing. "Adorable lot of firsties."
"Very bright," Andromeda added. "The Granger girl, and both the Thomas and Malone boy in particular. Most of the boys are often overly excited about Quidditch, some girls as well, but those two seemed particularly interested in charms. The witch has already read through the entire first year curriculum, and shows an interest in almost everything with the exception of Quidditch, actually."
"Did you say Granger?" Jacintha Warrington asked, looking up from several parchments in her hand. Most were notes that she needed to go over with Dorea in regards to St. Mungo's funding, as well as the sponsorship of a newly graduated Hogwarts student interested in a Charms Mastery. However, at the top of her stack of neatly assembled papers was a letter. "Cassius mentioned an altercation with a girl named Granger. He says that Slytherins are still having issues with blood purity. The Carrow girls, both the Pucey and Flint boys, and—"
"Rowle, I'll bet," Nymphadora interjected. "Tosser. He's a seventh. Been a problem as long as I've known him."
Lucretia frowned. "I would expect nothing better from a Rowle, if he's anything like his father. I went to school with Guntar. Quite shocked that the man wasn't a Death Eater."
"The Rowles are known for having reckless tempers. I doubt Tom Riddle would have wanted to risk such a follower," Narcissa chimed in. "Then again . . ." she trailed off with a heavy sigh, sharing a look with her sister.
Jacintha nodded gravely. "According to Cassius, the Carrow girls were particularly cruel and even went so far as to assault the Granger girl."
Cedrella looked up from her needlepoint, pulling her brows together in confusion. "They attacked a first year in the Great Hall? Why didn't Minerva tell us any of this?"
Andromeda looked down at a list in her hand. "Because Minerva did not see it. Hermione Granger was sorted into Slytherin."
Several heads shot up in curiosity. A Muggle-born sorted into Slytherin? Several of the older witches grinned at the implications. The girl must have been incredibly powerful, bright, or cunning. Ambitious, certainly, to have ended up in Slytherin.
Lucretia was positively beaming with excitement. "Tell me everything about this girl," she demanded of Andromeda and Mary Cattermole. "Do you have any idea the reception we would garner if we brought in not only a Muggle-born as we'd said to do, but one that happened to end up in Slytherin? If she's a good fit, all the better."
"I'll speak with Ted and Remus," Andromeda assured them all.
"Perhaps we could arrange a dinner with her parents when the children all come home for Christmas," Mary suggested.
"A Yule celebration involving the Muggle-borns in the programme could fit with our schedule," Callidora said, looking to Dorea. "You were wanting to get more involved with the holidays. And since the Board of Governors is not yet willing to fully implement a Wizarding culture curriculum at Hogwarts, this could be a good chance to give the Muggle-borns an opportunity to learn more of our history and traditions."
Dorea nodded thoughtfully. "Mary, would you and Andromeda work out communicating with the parents of the children? I don't want to overstep and ruin holiday plans they might have already had arranged. In the meantime, do we all agree on this?"
Unanimously, hands were raised. Dorea glanced down at her checklist. "I'll send a letter to those who couldn't come today. I'm sure Minerva would love to hear that we've plans to undermine the Board's decision to postpone the cultures class."
"Dumbledore's decision, you mean," Lucretia said haughtily. "I put a great deal of work into that presentation, and he spun it all around, trying to imply that I was doing the opposite of integrating Muggle-borns by teaching them our traditions. He all but said that I was using our culture to indoctrinate Muggle-borns, make them believe their own history unworthy of ours."
Callidora shook her head. "His strings have been cut, and all the power he has in the world now lies in that castle since he's no longer being called upon by the Wizengamot. He's doing it out of spite. To prove that he still has a say in how the school is run. Augusta is on the Board as of next term, and then we'll have enough leverage to sway the votes to our side."
Dobby came in to clear the plates, and all the witches stood to have a walk around the garden. Various areas had been properly landscaped over the years to provide ritual practice spaces, though the majority of the garden behind Potter Manor remained as it always was, a lush orchard and enough of a cleared area for children to play Quidditch when the weather was permitting. Pomona Sprout had visited a few times with Camilla to help Enid plant herbs and flora that would be beneficial for the coven, both for rituals and brewing. Lilacs and lilies encircled a private area in the orchard that had been cleared away for a purposeful ritual space. Cassie had been more than willing to help landscape the area for the purpose of sex magic. Even a year after the last ritual, the grass was greener, the flowers brighter, and the trees around the circle bore more fruit than all the others. Dorea did not envy the witches that had the obligation of informing the Muggle-born parents about this aspect of their culture.
Her amusement faded as the women silently made their way across the grounds to an old fire pit. Dark rocks encircled an area that was empty of all growth. Grass, flowers, and even weeds refused to grow near the pit. It was just as well. The destitute space helped to keep the children away from it. Not that wards hadn't been securely placed around the area. It helped that the parents had all firmly educated the children on the sanctity of ritual spaces and how they were not to be wandered into under any circumstances. While the fire pit was not an active ritual space, it held a piece of magic that needed to be secured.
Once through the wards surrounding the pit, Dorea waved her wand over the dirt in complicated movements, watching as the ground broke, unearthing a deeply buried box. Everyone stood quiet as Camilla stepped forward, beckoning Nymphadora to her. The recent graduate was now a proper Curse-Breaking apprentice mentoring under Camilla. She was already showing promise in the creation of curses, though her breaking had quite a bit of work to do. It took a series of complicated spells for Camilla and Nymphadora to unlock the box, and once it was open, Dorea turned away in disgust.
While the coven worked tirelessly to build a good reputation in the Wizarding world, integrate Muggle-borns, and reconstruct much of the destruction that had come about due to war, their primary goal was always to be one step ahead of Tom Riddle. Unfortunately, that proved more difficult than they had imagined. When Cassie showed up years earlier with a locket and a story from a house-elf, the coven was floored. They did not know what the locket was, but the Dark Magic within it was positively sickening. It took a full year of research on Belina's part to realise that the locket had once belonged to Salazar Slytherin.
And it was also a Horcrux.
Its destruction was priority number one, but basilisk venom was all but impossible to find, and asking questions about such an ingredient could get a person arrested. Even though the coven had certain immunities in their world, they did not want people to know their business. Fiendfyre seemed the only other option, and it took another full year of practice for Dorea to be able to properly control it. The locket had stirred violently on the ground until the other witches used their magic to press it into the earth as a flame the size of a small dragon devoured it whole. The images that burst out of the Horcrux had been devastating but thankfully short-lived.
"Still nothing," Camilla said with a sigh of relief. "Completely empty, though the residual magic sticks to it like a cancerous growth."
"As long as it's not actually growing," Dorea commented.
Discovering what the locket had been was a stroke of luck; researching how to destroy it was more taxing. Unfortunately, the only other person they could find that had created a Horcrux was Herpo the Foul. There was no information on what became of the man, and therefore, zero information on what happened to a Horcrux once it was destroyed. The bit of soul was long gone, but as Camilla said, the locket was stained forever. It was not as though they could just toss it in the bin with the rubbish.
"Cover it back up and bury it once more. We'll check again in another year. What's the latest on locating Tom Riddle?"
Mary frowned. "It's not as easy as it is in the Wizarding world. Family names are trackable. Muggles don't always . . . There are millions of people in London alone. What few censuses I was able to get my hands on didn't have much information. There are hundreds of families called Riddle that I've found. We're narrowing them down one by one, but . . ."
"Could we ask Thoros for more information?" Camilla wondered.
Jacintha shook her head. "He knows nothing more. Tom Riddle kept his family situation close to his chest. He rarely left Hogwarts, he never spoke of his parents, and Thoros believes he might have even masked his natural accent." When a few of the witches looked at her, she lifted her brows. "What? Thoros has taken me to dinner twice. He is a very good conversationalist."
Dorea smiled pleasantly. "I wish you both the best."
"Dumbledore would know," Cedrella said. "He would know something."
"He will not tell us," Callidora responded. "It's time to reach out to others who knew Riddle. Belina mentioned that her uncle might be able to find a list of clients that Tom Riddle interacted with while he worked there. And we do have a small list of his followers."
Narcissa scoffed. "Those who would tell us anything know nothing. The ones in Azkaban would spit in our faces."
"Did he interact with anyone else at Hogwarts that we could speak with?" Cedrella asked. "I know we've been over this a thousand times, but he had to have had other friends or—"
Dorea jumped, spinning around to see her sister approaching the circle. "Wear a bell!"
Cassie grinned. "Oh, did I miss the annual Let's All Look at the Horcrux? Shame. There's nothing prettier than the melted bits of a washed up Dark Lord's soul."
"Where have you been?" Dorea asked, narrowing her eyes.
Cassie blinked innocently. "Not Hogsmeade."
Groaning, Dorea pinched the bridge of her nose. "I don't want to know." Before Cassie could offer details against her wishes, Dorea asked, "What did you say? Horace?"
"Slughorn," Cassie said with a smile. "If Tom Riddle was as bright as everyone recalls . . ."
At Cassie's prompting, Lucretia gasped. "Of course. He was in the Slug Club! I remember. I'd not been in myself, but I dated a fellow who complained about Slughorn not offering equal time and introductions to Ministry officials at his little parties. Tom Riddle must have been his little darling."
"I'll reach out to him," Cassie offered. "We'll invite him to tea one evening. Dinner with the Black Coven. He might just wet himself from excitement."
"You're a bit pathetic." Theia affectionately pushed hair away from Sirius's face. His cheek was pressed against the counter and was very likely stuck to it by now as she had not had a chance to clean up in the past hour. Who knew what kind of spills Sirius had put his face in?
"This should cheer you up, love," she said, waving an envelope in front of his face. "It's from Hogwarts."
Sirius sat up quickly, peeling his cheek from the counter like a plaster that ripped. He let out a brief yelp of pain before snatching the letter from her hands and tearing it open. A grin lit up his entire face. "Gryffindor!" Standing up, Sirius turned around and shouted. "Drinks on me! My son got into Gryffindor!"
The patrons of the bar all cheered along, lifting their soon-to-be-refilled mugs in toast to Harry Potter, the Boy Who Bought Them Beer. Sitting back down, Sirius read over each and every word multiple times, snorting when he got to the end. "Max says hi, indeed." Looking up as Theia pressed a glass in his hand, he sighed. "I miss him."
"You're a good dad," she said. "At least for one who drinks at half eleven."
"Thought you'd be here."
Sirius turned around at the familiar voice, smiling as Nymphadora took the seat beside him. Passing his glass over to her, he teasingly asked, "Old enough to drink yet?"
Laughing, Tonks swallowed the rest of the firewhisky. She made a face and coughed, her hair briefly turning a brighter shade of purple than the lilac colour she walked in with. "Merlin, I thought it would be something a bit tamer this early. Hell, I still have to go to work after this."
Theia smiled, pulling the glass away and returning with a refill for Sirius and a cup of coffee for Nymphadora. "How was the meeting?"
"All is well. I'm sure you'll get a list of things that need doing soon enough. With all the little ones off to Hogwarts, time has opened up." Nymphadora smiled sadly when Sirius made a pathetic whining noise. "Poor thing. Did you get a letter?" He lifted it up. "Aren't you the saddest happiest Gryffindor papa the world has ever seen?"
He grinned at that, but then asked, "Any idea why he'd want me to send him his Chocolate Frog cards?" When she shrugged, he sat up. "Why're you wearing perfume? Hot date?"
"As a matter of fact, yes." Finishing the coffee, she set the cup back on the counter, directing a grateful look at Theia. "A certain fellow Curse-Breaker is in town for a delivery at the bank, and he says he'll squeeze me into his tight schedule." She waggled her eyebrows, causing Sirius to groan in disgust. Theia laughed at his reaction. "Grow up. Or get a shag of your own. And don't say a word to my mother. She'll start meddling."
"Cheeky thing," Sirius said as he and Theia watched Nymphadora exit through the back, likely on her way to Gringotts to meet up with her not-so-secret-secret boyfriend.
"You should take her advice, if you ask me."
Narrowing his eyes at his cousin, Sirius scoffed. "And how would I go about doing that? Honestly, I'm not the slag that you all seem to think I am. I may be drinking my breakfast, but I don't have plans to wander around Knockturn in search of company."
Theia rolled her eyes, pivoted behind the bar and reached into a small drawer. When she returned, she placed a small key on the counter. "Room four's open. Don't forget Silencing Charms." At his confused expression, she gestured to the door.
Sirius turned around on the barstool, gaze directed at the entrance. His eyes lit up at the figure that stood in the doorway. "You shit." Jumping off the stool, he grinned as he made his way toward Hammond, wrapping his arms around the other man. "You lying shit."
The Healer laughed, hugging Sirius back. "I wanted to get here yesterday since I knew you'd be a mess, but the Ministry has been heavy-handed with International Portkeys lately." Of course, Hammond only had himself to blame for that once enough people began to wonder how Dorea Potter went from a clinic on the other side of the world to England without anyone noticing. "I moved my schedule up, handed over the keys to the clinic, and I'm home."
"Home?" Sirius asked. "Home home? For good?"
Hammond nodded. "Experimental trials are officially approved through St. Mungo's. I can finally start improving the Dragon Pox cure and work on a better version of the vaccination for children. I have a meeting with the Head of Hospital tomorrow morning, but I thought I could check in with your mother and—mph!"
A few patrons laughed, some whistled, but most rolled their eyes when Sirius pinned the poor man up against the door, shutting it in the process, and kissed him. The couple ignored everyone else, right up until Theia threw a key at the back of Sirius's head and shouted, "Get a room!"
"Don't mind if I do," Sirius said, picking the key up from the floor and practically dragging Hammond up the stairs.
It had been a chance reunion several years earlier when Sirius Black met Hammond Dillonsby for the first time since Hogwarts. Sirius and Harry had planned on taking a trip up to Hogsmeade but were delayed due to Harry catching a cold. Hammond met with Dorea on the one year anniversary of her recovery to look over her health. Finding that her blood supply was actually replenishing itself with equal parts dragon blood and human, she agreed to help him with his research into his usage of dragon blood for vaccination purposes. Sirius, ever the worrisome parent, had overheard that his mother's Healer would be in the house, and so he decided to interrupt their meeting to ask the man to look over Harry. A quick dose of Pepper-Up was, of course, all that was needed, but Sirius appreciated his anxiety being calmed regardless.
Hammond, emboldened by a recent breakup, asked Sirius to dinner only to discover that the other man was in a relationship with a witch in Hogsmeade. Still, the two remained friendly, and Sirius was more than happy to help invest in Hammond's research. The man had saved Dorea's life, after all. A month after Sirius's relationship with Rosmerta met an amicable end, he took a chance and owled Hammond.
"Seen my mother yet?" Sirius asked, plucking a cigarette from Hammond's lips and bringing it to his own. The room had been too hot upon entering, so they had cracked a window, letting the chill of the autumn air move in. Sirius exhaled, watching as the smoke and the heat from his breath mingled against the light.
Hammond stretched his arms overhead, smiling when Sirius moved closer to snuggle. Reaching for his wand on the nightstand, Hammond closed the window, not in the mood to freeze once the heat of their reunion faded, leaving the pair naked and cold. "Came straight here," he mumbled tiredly. "Once I dropped my things off at the new flat, that is. I sent a few owls as well. One to my mother, letting her know that I arrived safely, one to the Romanian Dragon Reserve, thanking them for their assistance since my ex decided to be a vengeful sod and cut off access to their dragons—"
"Romania's closer," Sirius interrupted, handing the cigarette back.
"And I owled your mother. I'm meeting her for dinner, and I promised that I would return her son at a timely hour."
Chuckling, Sirius ran a hand through his hair as he sat up. "I hope you didn't make any promises regarding the state of my return. I'm quite dishevelled." Standing up, Sirius shivered in the lingering cold, cursing himself for having left the window open for too long. "You could have done a Warming Charm when you closed the window." Hammond chuckled in amusement, and Sirius smirked. "Lazy arse." Once his trousers were on, he began attempting to untangle the mess of robes on the floor.
When a letter fell out of Sirius's pocket, Hammond smiled, assuming who the sender was. "How was the Sorting?"
Sirius beamed excitedly. "Gryffindor. As though he'd have gone anywhere else. 'Course, Theia told him that he could ask the hat to place him wherever he wanted. I know he was thinking about Slytherin because of Mum. He tried not to let me know about it, but I know he'd been thinking."
Hammond chuckled, catching his trousers when Sirius tossed them at him. "I heard a rumour like that when I was in school. I think the Sorting Hat does whatever it pleases."
"Well, it can keep doing that because it put my kid in Gryffindor. I ought to send the hat a bottle of Ogden's finest." Sirius realised then that he was smiling. He let out a soft laugh. When Hammond gave him a curious glance, he explained, "I think I just realised the benefits of having a child who's not going to be underfoot all the time. You sure you don't want to move in?"
"With you?" Hammond laughed. "Merlin, no. You don't have a proper job other than fixing those Muggle things. I'd never get any work done because you're a pest."
"I'm glad you're here," Sirius said, walking to the other side of the bed where Hammond was lacing up his trainers. The man smiled, looking up just as Sirius leant down to kiss him. "Now I don't have to bother going all the way to St. Mungo's when I need a Healer. You're awfully convenient, you know."
Snorting, Hammond rolled his eyes. "And you're just awful."