It was late November when they had Harry's first official outing to Diagon Alley. With the boy's magical guardianship officially transferred to his godfather, they felt they needed to clear up some things at Gringotts, maybe even get the Potter accounts out of stasis.
Also, showing that their saviour was safe and sound and well-protected in the custody of the Blacks would send a powerful signal to the wizarding world.
As it were, Barty and Sirius had also become a lot less rusty, dueling-wise, and had even become comfortable enough with their skill level to let Harry come and watch a couple times. The boy had deemed it brilliant and wanted to start right away but the Trace made such fancies impossible.
Until they were at school, even the most noble of children had to make do with theoretical exercises only. Except for things like Potions and Flying, of course.
So they felt comfortable enough to embark on this trip. Should anyone try to do something, they wouldn't go down easily.
Barty declined the offer to join them in Gringotts itself, though, and set out to Knockturn Alley instead. They'd agreed he'd get a talisman to wear that would alter his physical appearance so he wouldn't have to rely on fallible glamours or drinking polyjuice potion whenever they were out and about.
Only problem was, there was no such thing as custom orders when it came to what he was looking for. He'd be lucky if the specialty shop who'd sold him Harry's talisman back then was still in business.
Luck proved to be on his side indeed, for he found who and what he was looking for. The shopkeeper's intelligent brown eyes bored into him and probably saw through the glamours as well. The man didn't have a prosthetic eye like that auror Moody did but he was a runemaster– who knew what kind of contraptions he'd inscribed and enchanted!
"A new face, then? What's wrong with the old one?"
"Nothing so much as the fact that it's so handsome that people keep chasing me," Barty commented drily.
"Would those people happen to be aurors?"
"What's it to you? I can pay," Barty grunted, not happy with being questioned.
"You're in luck then, friend," the shopkeeper grinned. "I have what you need, even have a selection. Well, three, and one of them will make you look like a lady if that's what you're after. Otherwise, it's two."
He let Barty wear both male talismans. One turned him into a hunking barbarian of a man, easily nearing 6 foot 5 with big muscles and a chiseled jaw. He supposed this was for people who liked others to look when they entered a room. He wanted the exact opposite though.
Thankfully, the next talisman made him look like, well, what he suspected an accountant to look like? Wearing the talisman, he was about 5 foot 10 with brown hair, brown eyes, a clean-shaven face and nothing at all noteworthy about his appearance.
"Perfect," he declared and paid a ludicrous amount of money to buy it.
Next, he took up position opposite Gringotts' entrance and waited for his charges to come back out. They were quite a while though and Barty noted with interest and not a little trepidation how more and more people seemed to have surreptitiously gathered around the entrance.
Word must have spread.
Cursing the curiosity of the wizarding world, Barty slipped his wand from his holster into his hand and waited patiently.
After 2 hours must have passed, Sirius and Harry finally emerged from the bank. Immediately, the mob descended upon them. Well, tried to. Barty had changed position in the meantime and was now waiting crouched on the marble steps of the bank.
With a muttered "Protego!" an invisible shield had the first wizards draw back as if struck. Harry's eyes met his and Barty nodded at him. The boy told Sirius he'd found him and the man nodded back at his new face.
"I have found my godson, as I said I would," Sirius told the gathered mob in an aristocratic voice. "He's been at the Black family estate because we are his closest wizarding blood family and Mr. Dumbledore had no right to keep him from us. That is all I will say on this matter."
"We want to meet him," one of the onlookers demanded and several others seconded that motion.
"He's a nine-year-old boy," Sirius reminded them, shielding Harry behind him. "You will let us through undisturbed or I will have to call the aurors. This is no way to treat a child, no matter how well-known."
"Mr. Black, Ignaz Hawthorne from the Daily Prophet, may we ask you and your godson a couple questions?"
Drawn in by the commotion, the mob was steadily growing and Barty poured more power into his shield. This was not at all how this was supposed to go. Behind Sirius and Harry, the goblin guards were watching the exchange and he saw one of them press a hidden panel on the wall behind him.
He nodded again at Harry. They had to play for time here.
"I will answer three questions," Harry told the crowd and immediately, there was silence.
It only lasted so long though because suddenly everyone wanted to ask a question. Harry looked overwhelmed and pointed randomly at a middle-aged woman who beamed when she was chosen.
"Mr. Potter, my daughter Ginny has been sending you a letter on your birthday every year but she's never gotten an answer. Can you tell us why you don't reply to your fans and admirers?"
Harry took a deep breath and his expression became sad.
"I'm very sorry about that, Ma'am," he told her in a clear but apologetic voice. "It was only today that I found out that my former, illegal magical guardian, Albus Dumbledore, has erected an equally as illegal mail-redirection charm over me. With the help of the goblins and my true magical guardian, Sirius Black, I have finally reverted it just today. From now on, I will be able to receive my mail again."
The crowd gaped at that and Barty could hear some calls for Dumbledore's arrest. The mail-redirection came as a surprise to him as well, for sure, but it explained a lot. Seemed they'd have to deal with lots of mail from now on. Great.
"Be aware, though, that the wards of Black Manor will keep out anything that might bring harm to my godson. Now, second question?" Sirius addressed the crowd, scanning them and selecting an older man, dressed in expensive robes.
Barty felt comfortable lowering the shield to preserve energy. The mob was seemingly satisfied, now that Harry was answering questions.
"Mr. Potter, Mr. Black, will you be taking part in politics now, seeing as your families have hereditary seats on the Wizengamot?"
"Not yet," Sirius answered. "My grandfather Arcturus is still Lord Black and will be for the years to come. And Harry is not even of Hogwarts age! For now, we will take the time to heal and get to know each other. I won't rule out the possibilities of meeting with prospective alliance members though."
Barty frowned and looked closer at the man who had asked the question. He looked vaguely familiar. Not a death eater, as far as he knew, but he knew him from somewhere, maybe?
"Thank you for the question, Lord Ogden, who else?"
Tiberius Ogden! Of course. An illustrious member of the Wizengamot who, to his credit, had never liked Barty's father. That's why he hadn't seen him much at dinners or other social events his father had occasionally dragged him to.
Harry called on an unassuming young woman next.
"Mr. Potter, is there anything you want to tell the wizarding world? Your fans and admirers and maybe also to those who are… not?"
A good last question. Barty looked closer at her and saw her take out a notepad and a self-inking quill the second Harry addressed the crowd at large. A reporter then, and a good one.
"I'm really just Harry," the boy told the waiting crowd. "I grew up poor for the first years of my life until someone who asked the right questions found me and freed me from the prison Albus Dumbledore put me into. Since then, my life has become loads better but we never forget our humble beginnings– so please, don't think of me as some kind of infallible beacon of hope against the Dark. I'm just a child. And in that same vein: Every book that has ever been written about my life is a lie. Every account of the night my parents died is a lie. Everything you think you know about the chain of events leading up to October 31st, 1981, is a lie."
The crowd was very silent after that and he could see a few people look at the boy with different eyes than before. Most people, on the other hand, realised that this had been the last question and were starting to get agitated again.
Fortunately, that was when a small troop of armoured goblins poured out of Gringotts and took up position between Harry, Sirius and the crowd. The two were shepherded back into the bank and he saw Harry questioningly looking back at him. He shook his head. He'd stay here and watch the fallout.
Once the goblin troop was gone, the energy of the crowd changed and a few dispersed. Most stayed though, and he watched the people talking to and over each other. Human beings in a mob, Barty thought to himself, snorting a little. His master had never enjoyed attacking big crowds because people became stupid.
One or two capable wizards were a challenge but a whole crowd of them was like slaughtering cattle.
The reporter who had been responsible for the impromptu press conference, Hawthorne, was striding up to him now. Leave it up to the press to notice the little things.
"Hello," the reporter greeted him. "I saw you erect the shield that saved Mr. Potter and Mr. Black from the wild love the people hold for their saviour. May I ask about your relation to them?"
"I'm Alfred Hornby," Barty told him nonchalantly. "I grew up in South Africa and answered Lord Black's call for an international tutor for the boy."
"The boy? You mean Mr. Potter?"
"The very same," Barty affirmed. "Can't have my pupil trampled by a well-meaning but no less overwhelming mob."
"Of course not, no," Hawthorne replied suavely. The man knew he had a story here. "Is there anything else you can tell us about your pupil?"
"He's a nice boy," Barty shared, finally getting up from the marble steps. "Your average nine-year-old, really. He likes to learn about great battles, the history of his families and he's recently taken up broom-riding. He's quite good at it."
"I see," the reporter nodded, noting some words down. "I'm sure you'd like to join your companions now. Here, if you ever want the boy to give a proper interview, I'd be glad to do the honours."
Barty took the proffered card with a nod and excused himself. By now, the crowd had mostly dispersed though some people were still casting longing glances toward the bank, among them the red-headed woman who'd asked the first question. Standing behind her not insubstantial bottom were a young boy and girl, equally as red-headed. He guessed them to be around Harry's age and was uncomfortably reminded of the fact that soon, the boy would have to deal with his admirers on his own.
High time to forge some fletchling allegiances, then.
Early December, the Malfoys were set to visit.
In the meantime, life in Black Manor had found a rhythm. Harry spent two hours every morning and every afternoon, sometimes more, being tutored by Barty in various subjects. Before lunch, while Sirius was still in St. Mungo's, the boy had taken to visiting old Arcturus in his quarters and learning about the history of the Black family from him.
Most of the time nowadays, the elderly man joined them in the informal parlour for lunch and dinner. Barty was not unhappy about it since Arcturus had been truly neutral during the last war and the stories and shreds of wisdom the old man shared with them were not without merit. While not as fanatically Dark as his master or Grindelwald or people like the Lestranges had been, Arcturus was still, at heart, a Dark Wizard who had knowledge about the Dark Arts that was new even for him.
The old man had soon found out that he wasn't who he claimed to be and Barty had willingly spilled the beans. In return, Arcturus had taken him to the true Black Library– a veritable treasure trove of ancient tomes and forbidden books.
"Staying neutral during the last war has almost cost me my whole family, young Barty," the old man had confided while Barty had been taking in the huge room filled to the brink with books. "I know your master is not yet dead and next time, I will not make the same mistake. The Light has forsaken my grandson and Heir and thanks to you and my great-nephew, there may yet be a next generation of Blacks."
Barty, ever mindful of appearing proper in the presence of experienced Dark Wizards, had found himself bowing low.
"I thank you for your trust, Lord Black," he had replied, avoiding meeting the man's eyes. "I will not disappoint you or yours."
"You have many secrets, young man," the old man had deduced. As old as he was, almost ninety!, his pale eyes were still as sharp as they must have been in his youth.
"I do," Barty had agreed. "Unfortunately, Azkaban and my father's prison have wrought havoc upon my Occlumency barriers and I have no way of receiving my late father's Lord ring."
"Then you need to be careful. I shall look into an idea or two I have to help you in the coming months."
With that, the man had left him alone in the Library and Barty had taken to spending almost all the time he wasn't tutoring Harry or duelling Sirius in there. If there was a place in this world where he would find everything he needed to devise a Dark ritual to resurrect his master and reunite him with his Horcruxes in the process, this was it.
So it was with great reluctance that he left the library to don the best robes he owned, put on his talisman and join Harry and Sirius in the foyer to meet the guests of the hour.
Finally, when the clock struck 11, the fire turned green and Lucius Malfoy stepped out of the flames. He hadn't changed much since Barty had seen him last– a couple more crow's feet around the eyes and wouldn't that be terrible for the vain dandy? Next, Narcissa came through, radiant as ever. She'd never taken the Mark but she had been one of them alright.
Lastly, their son stepped out. Draco Lucius Malfoy, about Harry's age and with hair as platinum blonde as both his parents. After the usual introductions, Sirius led the Malfoys to the sunroom. The adult Malfoys sat down on one of the larger settees with their son in the middle.
Sirius and Harry shared a smaller settee and Barty sat down in one of his favourite armchairs.
"I've missed this place," Narcissa said wistfully, looking around. "Nothing's changed. I feel like a little girl again. The last time I was here, I must have been your age, Draco."
The boy paled a little at being addressed directly so early. Barty wouldn't put it past Lucius to have drilled the importance of this meeting into him.
"That must have awakened lots of memories for you, mother," Draco replied slowly. "I'm glad you can see it again and I hope I will also make memories here."
"You could come visit sometime," Harry offered. "I think I should like to have a friend my age who is also a wizard."
Draco beamed at that and even Lucius' stony expression melted a little. Barty had no doubt that was what the man wanted, too.
"It's been a surprise to find out you've found the boy when even Dumbledore has been unable to," Lucius drawled. "How did you manage this feat, if you care to share it?"
"I didn't," Sirius replied easily. "Grandfather commissioned a… professional and Harry has been here ever since. When I officially got out, he contacted me and I moved here. It's really not as grand as doubtlessly lots of people make it out to be."
"Well, however it happened, I'm glad you're back with the family, dear," Narcissa cooed at Harry who blushed. "I hope we'll see more of you. We're all cousins, after all."
"Thank you, Mrs. Malfoy," Harry replied, looking at his feet.
"Oh, none of that," Narcissa said easily. "You may call me Cousin Narcissa if you'd like. May I call you Harry?"
"Sure, yes, I'd like that, Cousin Narcissa."
Endearing. Narcissa must have been one of the first women to be nice to the boy and he was suitably overwhelmed with the positive attention.
"Did you ask us here for a particular reason or simply to renew familial connections?" Lucius was straight to the point as ever. A boon in dire times, but in these intimate situations it felt a little too rough.
"It would certainly be alright if this was only a social call," Narcissa added, mouth a thin line following her husband's faux pas.
"No, don't worry," Sirius calmed them. "Like I said in front of Gringotts when we were… swarmed, Harry and I want to meet with potential alliance partners and find our footing in magical Britain's political landscape. And who best to start with but family?"
"Is it true what it said in the paper then?" Draco was eyeing Harry eagerly and his father looked ready to smack the child.
"You'll have to elaborate," Harry said with no small amount of trepidation.
"Your tutor," here, Draco nodded towards Barty, "said that you've started to learn how to ride brooms. Are you any good?"
"Oh, yes, I did," Harry beamed, relieved. "It's wicked to fly but I don't know how good I am. I do enjoy it, though. We had the house elves freshen up the old Quidditch pitch in the gardens. Do you want to see? Can we go see, Sirius?"
"Oh please say yes, mother!"
Sirius and Narcissa exchanged a glance and both shrugged.
"Why not, sure," Sirius allowed. "But Harry, you should give your cousin one of your warmer cloaks while you're outside. It's getting cold. And you'll take Alfy with you to look over you."
Both boys eagerly jumped up from their seats and Barty trailed behind them to Harry's room. Anything to get away from politics. They'd agreed to leave most of the politicking to Sirius but that Barty would still be there to keep an eye on Harry lest anyone try something stupid.
With both boys bundled up to his satisfaction, Barty let Harry lead the way to the Quidditch pitch. He'd always liked Quidditch when he was younger; he'd even been a Chaser in the Ravenclaw team despite acing all his exams. He supposed that fifth year had been the last time his father had ever been proud of him.
After that, what little attention he'd had to spare for his son and his wife had been used up for his fight against the Dark Lord and so it seemed only natural to spend more time with those who planned on following his master once they'd finished their education. Then, his father would have had to pay attention to him, too.
Watching Harry and Draco, with black and blonde hair respectively, he was reminded of another duo with the same colours. Surreptitiously drawing his hand over his eyes and quickening his steps to keep up, he pushed every thought of Regulus way back down where it belonged.
"I have a Quidditch pitch, too," he heard Draco boasting. "And I've been flying since I was four."
"That's nice," Harry replied. "Alfy's a really good flyer and he's been teaching me some. Sirius, too, when he has time. His first job is getting better at the moment, says great-uncle Arcturus."
Draco looked back at Barty with a doubtful look in his pale eyes.
"He doesn't look like a flyer," the boy commented and Barty found himself quickly coming to dislike the son as much as the father.
"Looks are deceiving," Barty commented drily. "Should you come here in summer, I shall show you a thing or two."
"What did you think about Draco?"
Harry eyed Barty with an unimpressed expression on his young face. "I'm not a fan."
"The Malfoys can be a handful," Barty conceded. "I didn't want to cloud your first impression with my own misgivings about Lucius. Well, the ones apart from the fact that he's a bloody traitor like the rest of 'em."
"Are we going to the Yule Ball they invited us to?"
"Ugh, surely not. We'll just argue that Sirius is not yet well enough to attend social gatherings of this magnitude. And it won't even be a lie. Maybe next year."
"He's getting better, though," Harry argued. "He smiles more. I like it when he smiles, but sometimes when he does it, he looks so empty and that makes me sad again. It's all very strange."
"Well, dementors do literally suck out every happy memory you have over time," Barty shrugged. "I imagine after so many years, he doesn't have many left. I should think that what makes him happy nowadays reminds him of something similar he's experienced in the past and when he goes to remember it– there's nothing there."
There was a silence between them at that and Barty was surprised to see his hands shaking when he looked down.
"Oh Alfy," Harry whispered, taking his hands. "I'm so sorry, I'll make it all better. I'll make them pay!"
The atmosphere in the library was suddenly stifling and Barty wondered whether the books had always exuded that tomb-like feeling.
"I don't feel so good," he managed to press out before his legs gave way and he found himself kneeling.
"Alfy, is everything alright? Barty? Sirius!"
The shadow crouching behind a shelf of books suddenly stretched out a hand towards Harry and Barty's eyes grew huge.
"Expecto Patronum," Barty snarled towards it, wand drawn, but only the tiniest sliver of silver shot out.
"Barty, what are you doing? Alfy? You're scaring me!"
"Get behind me," Barty commanded in a rough voice, shoving the boy just there. "They'll have to go through me first and I got plenty of experience."
The shadow was closing in now and all around him he could hear the terrible sound of dementors sniffing the air. His knees were shaking but he stood his ground, determined to protect his young lord who wasn't able to use his own magic next.
"But there's nothing there, you're hallucinating things," Harry pleaded. "You're not in Azkaban anymore and you're not with your father, either, Alfy. Please come back!"
The genuine fear in the boy's voice brought Barty back to the present and he realised the shadows for the mirages they were. Slowly, ever so slowly, he turned to Harry who was crying softly.
"I'm so, so sorry, Harry," Barty breathed, again sinking to his knees and hugging the boy's middle. "There is so much fucking wrong with me and it's not fair that you've had to see that."
"Does it, does it happen often?"
Repressed memories of jumping at shadows in his father's mansion while stuck under an invisibility cloak tore at his mind and still more images of waking up drenched in sweat and breathing heavily almost every night followed in their wake.
He had been so good, so good about not having the episodes when the boy was around and then he just had to start talking about dementors and blow it all. Good job, Barty, he could hear his father say, made everyone unhappy, did you?
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he kept chanting into the boy's stomach and wept while small arms cradled his head and a clear voice told him that it was going to be okay over and over.