Chapter 13: The long arm of the lore
Two things became apparent to Graham after a short while in Sirius' company that evening; first, that he was absolutely and unquestionably devoted to Harry, and second, that he was indisputably in over his head when it came to the basic principles of parenting. His flat in Notting Hill was strewn with toys, the kitchen counter was bursting with the paraphernalia of parenthood, most of it still in its wrapping, and his face seemed to have acquired a fair few frown-lines since Graham had last seen him.
"Mopsy!" he called, voice slightly strained, "How is our young protegé doing?"
The diminutive house-elf that had appeared at his call wrung her hands as she replied.
"The young master is being asleep for now," she squeaked, "but I's thinking he'll be waking again soon – he's not eaten his dinner, and will be hungry soon."
"Thank you – could you tell me when he wakes up? I'll come and try to feed him myself."
The elf nodded again, and, excusing herself, disappeared again. Sirius sank back into his armchair, groaning.
"So you're enjoying parenthood then?" Remus asked, eyebrows raised. "I always said you'd be natural at it."
"Well, that's very funny." Sirius responded, sulkily. "But you try being cheerful when you're up at four every day trying to make a toddler go to sleep. I'm lucky he likes seeing Padfoot, or I'd never manage to!"
"What's 'Padfoot', then?" Graham asked, curiously – a curiosity only enhanced by Sirius slightly blanching at the question.
"Um, well," he began, "I have an enchanted toy which James made, and I bring it out for Harry when he's feeling sad-"
"Too vague." Graham interrupted, grinning. "Padfoot was one of those mysterious marauders, this much I know, and I'm guessing, from context, that Remus may just have been 'Moony'. Am I right?"
"Well, ah, I can't disclose the very important secrets of the marauders-" Sirius interjected.
"Which probably means that you're Padfoot," Graham said, cutting him off again. "Which means that you're saying he likes seeing you. Which makes no sense, because you'd just have said me, so what I'm getting at is, what are you hiding, Padfoot?"
Sirius cringed at the deduction, but Remus started to chuckle.
"You may as well tell him, Sirius. It's not like he can hold something over your head, is it?"
"Fine." The other man said, a little bit sulkily. "Well, you remember I told you that Peter was an animagus?"
He stood up, and in a moment of blurred form transformed into a huge black dog, made a whuffing noise which sounded just a little bit like 'so there', and turned back into a human again.
Graham was agog, and Remus' laugh grew at his expression of gaping surprise. Animagi were terribly rare, and – not that he'd known how, as the practice was very much obscure – he'd always harboured something of a secret desire to learn to be one himself.
"So that means that Wormtail was Pettigrew, I guess – and Prongs – was James a moose or something?"
"Deer." Sirius confirmed. "We all learned so that we could keep Remus company when he was suffering from his – hairy little problem – at Hogwarts."
"Incredible." Graham muttered. "So – how did you do it, exactly? I wanted to find out how to become one myself, but I could never find the books in the library, even in the restricted section."
Sirius winced. "It was a pureblood thing, I'm afraid. I found a translation of De Mutatione – it's pretty much the only guide to the process I know about – in our library upstairs, and we worked off that. I think I remember my father saying the governors had taken it out of Hogwarts a few decades ago to stop it falling into the wrong hands, after Professor McGonagall registered to be one – she's only a half-blood, you see."
"Sounds about right," Graham said, a little bitterly. "Well, I suppose that answers that question. Jessica will be devastated to hear that – it was always one of her dreams, you see, and McGonagall told her that the board had banned any instruction in the art because it was too dangerous."
"It's her wedding soon, right?" Sirius asked. "To that muggle bloke?"
"David, and yes." Remus supplied. "Nice chap – I talked to him for a little while at Lily and James's wedding."
"Why don't I get you a copy of the notes we made for you to pass on to her and look at yourself?" Sirius offered. "It's relatively complex stuff, but not as much as you might think – the bottleneck for us was actually some of the ingredients for the form-finding potion and the ritual of change, and the rest is just practice plus time."
"That's – a princely gift." Graham demurred. "I know she'd kill me if I said no, but it's a little embarrassing to be the subject of all this kindness, Sirius."
Remus nodded, very subtly. Both he and Graham were proud enough to feel quite put out at Sirius' generosity, whether or not he'd just come into possession of the Black finances.
"Mate," Sirius said, uncharacteristically serious for a moment. "The price for all of this stuff has always been the same – change our world and make it a better place. I figure that if you're doing that, I can be as generous as I like, because it's for a good cause."
"That said, a little babysitting now and then wouldn't go amiss." He continued, grinning. "I'm heading back to work in a few days, and Mopsy deserves a break sometimes – she's a sweetheart, but she's getting on a bit and I don't want to tax her too heavily."
As he finished talking, the sound of crying drifted from across the hall, and Sirius levered himself out of his chair, as Mopsy peeked into the living room to summon him.
"Don't worry, I'm on my way." Sirius said. "You two, help yourselves to another drink, why don't you? Just because I'm not able to drink doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to. Be back soon, I hope!"
"And they're really, properly, real? You're sure it's not a joke Sirius pulled?"
Jessica had been quite busy with the dual duties of wedding planning (about which she had some quite specific requirements) and medical qualifications, and she had barely seen Graham since he'd come back from New Zealand. The fact that he'd actually brought her the means to make a long-discarded dream reality, however, rather overshadowed their happy reunion, and she was still, ten minutes into their conversation, in something of a state of shock, her cup of tea long forgotten on her kitchen counter.
In lieu of responding, Graham opened his mouth, indicating a small mandrake leaf that he'd attached to the inside of his cheek with a sticking charm.
"Sirius is a dope, it's true," He said, seriously, "but he's not a murderer, and this animagus stuff can go extremely wrong if you don't follow the steps very carefully. Luckily, they're not too complex, at least for a sensible adult witch or wizard, and I took the liberty of picking up the ingredients you'll need."
He indicated the small box he'd set out on the table, and took a moment to explain its contents: a mandrake leaf, the ready-made animagus potion in stasis (into which she'd need to insert her leaf after holding it in her month for a full calendar month), and the other peculiar pieces which made up the final formula. The closest equivalent to a magical cottage industry was the production of the vast miscellaneous range of ingredients necessary for the range of potions which the magical world demanded, which meant that such bizarre ingredients as a silver teaspoon of dewdrops were in fact surprisingly simple to locate, not to mention relatively inexpensive.
"I know how busy you are," he said, "but I can help out when it comes to supervising this stuff. The instructions aren't that complex – at least compared to our NEWTs, though it has been a while for you, of course – but I can be on hand whenever I'm needed – my schedule is pretty flexible, you s- oof!"
Jessica had seized him in a slightly over-fierce hug, inadvertently winding him.
"It's a dream come true." she said, before giggling at the sight of Graham gasping for breath as she drew away. "And another task on my plate, but there's nothing wrong about that, is there?"
"At least you don't have to deal with an overbearing soon-to-be-mother-in-law when it comes to turning into an animal, though." Graham said, teasingly.
"Oh, come on, Gray – Jemimah is a wonderful woman and I won't hear a word against her. Mainly because I can't get a word in when she's around, admittedly, but still!"
She checked her watch, and gasped a little when she saw the time.
"I'm afraid I've got to run," she said, hurrying over to the kitchen table to get her satchel, "I've got to be at the John Radcliffe in 10 minutes! I'll owl Sirius a thanks – and, if I've got the time, an RSVP for the wedding. I'm sure he'll find it hilarious!"
Amelia Bones' very irritating day at the Ministry began very similarly to that of any employee returning from a holiday – by clearing out her inbox. Unfortunately for her, that inbox was strewn all over her desk in the form of crumpled paper planes. The ministry had been promising to reform the interdepartmental memo system since long before she'd joined it – it had been pioneered in the 1930s by a wizard who'd seen muggles playing with paper planes and had seen an opportunity to save time and money compared to the previously employed methods of owling, walking, or shouting. And, she thought, as she grumpily skimmed, crumpled, and discarded the latest of the ministry's superfluous communications, it actually worked quite well, if you were there to keep on top of it the whole time. It was just a waste of her morning when she really wanted to get back to grips with her groaning caseload, which seemed only to have got heavier since the war had ended.
"Deep cover operation, is it?" She muttered, as she finally reached Kingsley's scrawled apology for not handling her caseload. "Well, thank you for leaving things in 'Dawlish's capable hands' - he's shown just how bloody capable he is."
The excavation continued, and, swatting the occasional message from the air as it arrived, she finally reached the bottom of the pile, and began to read through the missives which she felt merited retention and her attention.
Things, it transpired, had not gone entirely well for the ministry in the time she'd been away. Bagnold had made a sterling attempt to retain her position, and had waged something of a successful media campaign trying to justify her extrajudicial powers – but, while it had been enough to keep her in office, everybody knew that she held very little power and, sensing that the national mood had shifted, she had announced that she would not be seeking re-election later that year. In the meantime, something of an administrative deadlock had developed.
What a minister without power meant for the ministry itself was, essentially, a lot of interdepartmental jockeying and not very much getting done. Magical Sports was making a hash out of the latest Quidditch arrangements, and aurors were apparently being co-opted to manage security at matches because somebody had let the contract they'd held with some security contractors expire; the Department of Goblin Relations had managed to completely botch a simple loan agreement negotiation and were now fighting off the Department for Magical Creatures' attempts to integrate it, and the prison guards at Azkaban were threatening to strike if they didn't get a pay-rise in the next week, although, to be fair, that tended to happen a few times a year in any case.
What it all meant for Amelia – like all the other ministry employees whose jobs were doing things rather than telling people to do things – was no overtime for at least the next two months, a lot of late nights, and compulsory shift-work as a security detail for the minister – her bodyguards had apparently just stopped turning up for work, and Bagnold's powerlessness meant that a proper replacement for them was not, apparently, in the ministerial budget. It was, in other words, an enormous pain in the posterior.
"Well, backlogs don't clear themselves, do they?" she muttered, rhetorically, and flipped open the case file at the top of the pile Dawlish had left to accrue. "The sooner I start-"
"Well, if it isn't my favourite superior in the whole wide world!"
"- never mind." she finished, and, reluctantly, swivelled round to face her latest annoyance. "Welcome back, Sirius."
As the head of her particular squadron, Amelia knew Sirius only too well, which is why she'd been so hurt to discover his initial betrayal, and (though she hid it very well) relieved at his acquittal. He was a good duellist, and he had a sharper intuition than he got credit for, but there were still days when she wished he'd never existed.
Sirius said, "Thanks, boss, and same to you – I hope Susan's been well." and sauntered over to his own desk, groaned at its own heaving mass of paper, and started to pick at it.
'Just desserts.' Amelia thought, smiling a little, but – as she got back to work – she couldn't help but recall her discovery of the younger man's botched casework, and wonder how she was going to confront him over it. She wanted something like evidence of a motive for his sloppiness before she did so, and she hadn't the slightest idea where, or how, to find it.
The rest of her day passed excruciatingly slowly, as she dug her way back into each of the seventeen matters that she was supposed to be devoting her fullest attentions to. Eventually, she was the last one in her office – she'd been the first there as well, she thought – after Sirius excused himself to put his protegé to bed at seven.
"Five more minutes," she said, "and I'll finish up."
As she was packing her stationery away, though, her eye was drawn to the heap of discarded paper which Sirius had left in the bin at the side of his desk. Departmental policy stipulated that aurors should vanish their detritus at the end of every working day for confidentiality reasons, but Sirius had forgotten the time and left in something of a rush. She wondered -
"Accio Sirius Black's writing." she incanted, pointing at the pile of crumpled paper he'd left behind. One of the first things that any auror worth their salt learned was the value of a carefully defined summoning charm, and, sure enough, around fifteen pieces of paper flung themselves at Amelia and littered her desk.
Gingerly, she unfolded and read them one by one, feeling uncomfortably voyeuristic. Most of them fell very much within Sirius' standard ouvre – a few poorly drafted letters which merited discarding, a couple of rather rude sketches, a shopping list – but one item did catch her eye.
"Potential names?" She muttered, assessing the list which Sirius had made and thrown away. "For what, exactly?"
The list was certainly enlightening:
The Lockwood Academy for Muggleborn Development
The Black Foundation for Magical Improvement
Ars Mundus et Magicus? (This was crossed out, and he'd written TOO PRETENTIOUS next to it)
Academy of the Magical Arts
The Lockwood Preparatory School for Gifted Students
And so it went on.
"Oh, Sirius, you damned idiot," Amelia breathed, hardly daring to believe what she was reading, "what the hell have you done?"
To their great pleasure, Graham and Remus' renovating work soon paid off, and their slightly mystified solicitor found herself transferring a sum of several hundred thousand pounds into their account just two weeks after it had gone on the market.
"I don't understand, entirely," she said, "but I will say this: you must be a damned miracle worker to have turned that wreck you bought around so quickly."
Graham laughed, modestly, and launched into the explanation that he'd come up with, some tosh about his pioneering plan to revolutionise the renovation business, comfortable that his solicitor was more interested in the commission she'd be receiving than whatever convoluted explanation he was putting forth.
"Why don't we talk about the other two places I asked you to look at?" he said, once her feigned interest had faded somewhat. "Have the surveyors got back to you?"
"Oh, yes." She replied, reaching over to rummage through the papers splayed across her desk. "They're not very optimistic, though – it's a rather similar forecast to your last acquisition, Mr. Longshaw."
"Not a problem." Graham said, confidently. "I think that defying surveyors may just become a speciality of mine! I think we can go ahead and transfer the asking price into your retention accpunt, if you're comfortable with that."
Unsurprisingly, perhaps because she shared the dream of all lawyers, which is to have so much money in your pockets that you need special braces to hold your trousers up, his lawyer readily agreed, and Graham was soon able to make his excuses and head back to Lockwood.
Spring had indubitably sprung, and, as he proceeded up the country lane which led to the warded path to Lockwood, Graham couldn't help but smile at the birdsong drifting from the hedges. He'd never considered himself the bucolic type, but the time he'd spent around Lockwood had given him a new appreciation for the outdoors.
He made his way through the warded gate which was Lockwood's public-facing entrance, and, at length, proceeded to the house proper, smiling as he saw Remus and Delia carrying out some kind of spellwork around the greenhouses. Graham had never come round to fixing them, more than a little worried that – being the inexperienced herbologist he was – he'd be caught out by some deadly plant or other, but Remus had pronounced them safe and was using them to teach Delia the spells they were using to carry out renovations.
"You're definitely there." he said, satisfied, "Just remember to pronounce vitriam properly, and I'm sure that you won't have any problems – oh, hello, Graham!"
"Hello!" Delia echoed, lowering her wand. "How did your meeting go?"
"Does this answer your question?" Graham said, striding up to the pair of them. "Here – Remus, for work done, and Delia, as an advance on your salary."
He handed each of them a cheque, grinning, and watched for a moment, until Delia gasped, entirely shocked.
"Twenty- Graham, this is far too much. You're being ridiculous."
"I assure you, Delia, that I'm not." he said, grinning all the more broadly. "We've a sizeable residue left over, and I think that it's a very good idea indeed to make sure that we can all live perfectly comfortably."
"Delia, how much is this?" Remus asked, quietly. "In Galleons, I mean."
"Uh – it's one per five pounds, roughly, I think." She said, still transfixed by the piece of paper she held. "Which means, um, four thousand galleons, give or take."
There was a moment of suspended silence, and then Remus let off a slightly hysterical bark of laughter.
"You do know that this is more money than I've ever held in my life?" He asked, absently. "It's – you could buy anything for this much money in the magical world, Graham, more or less. This is absolutely insane."
"This is supply and demand when you have a very unique supply indeed, mate." Graham said. "We're doing this for a reason, which is good. But if we were a little bit less scrupulous, we'd be able to live like kings."
"Anyway," he continued, as his companions still seemed a little starstruck and disinclined to speak, "who's up for drinks? I figure that we could use a little celebration, and you'd be surprised at how expansive my drinks cabinet is."
And so, at length, the three of them retired to the deckchairs Graham had bought the summer before, and before long, they were enjoying a slightly early glass of Pimms as the sun began to set.
It was a perfect day, Graham thought, contentedly. He'd always loved to see a plan come together, especially one as audacious as the revolution he was, very carefully, fermenting -
With a sputtering pop, Sirius apparated onto the grounds of Lockwood, looking more than a little queasy. He was not, unfortunately, alone.
"Graham," Sirius said, wincing at the wand which Amelia Bones was pressing into the small of his back, "I think that we need to have a rather uncomfortable conversation..."
AN: Thank you, again, for reading! A slightly shorter chapter, this. I'm occupied by exams (again – my travails will never cease...) and I've decided that I'd rather write chapters of slightly lesser length than to not write at all. Sirius, you may have noticed, is a bit of a plonker – but I think we all know that about him already.
As always, reviews are appreciated, solicited, and above all enjoyed. I was delighted to receive my hundredth with the last chapter – so thank you to all of you who gave your time up to write me one!