The sun glared down at him from a cloudless sky, marred only by the short passage of a flight of Starlings as they flew overhead, twittering to one another as they were wont to do. It was an irony, he thought with morbid humour, that he was taunted by a bird with the freedom of movement that he envied so much.

It had been several days since their hasty return from Arpton, and for those days, he had either been confined to his bed, or an uncomfortable medical chair that was charmed to levitate throughout the house. With a little effort, he was able to make his way through the various rooms, though it had been advised he didn't. His body and magic required as much rest and recuperation as possible if he were to make a full recovery.

As such, a compromise had been made – forced – in that regard; Sirius would submit himself to the care and attentions of those around him, and his loving wife wouldn't put him back in the damned thing the second he was medically cleared of it. While he loved Amelia deeply, and dearly, there were small moments in their relationship where she scared the piss out of him with her ferocity.

And what a ferocity it had been! Remus had found some Healers at Arpton, and after a day of slipping in and out of consciousness, at some point he had awoken to the sound of his dear wife extolling the justifications and virtues of all the ways she would kick his arse if he were to ever do something as stupid as he had done.

The memory of waking up and seeing her, however, was something that he would remember for the rest of his life – she had been haloed by the light from a nearby window, and despite all of the frayed hair that spoke to her unconscious habit of combing her fingers through it when stressed, she had looked breathtakingly beautiful.

She had stayed with him for the remainder of the day – sat in a silence that neither wished to interrupt. He hadn't asked what thoughts had been running amok in her head, and truthfully, he didn't wish to know – he had far too many experiences with losing loved ones over the years to imagine how she had been running many, if not all, of the possible alternatives that could have come about.

In the privacy of his own mind, he had been forced to come to the very real evidence of his own mortality. Never before had he been so injured, so broken, as he was in the aftermath of the battle outside of Hogsmeade. He had borne witness to dozens of Aurors struck down through one method or another – some not much older than Nymphadora, though most had been nearer to his own age. It had only been by sheer dumb luck that the spell that had been meant for him, had instead missed and struck a nearby tree.

He had been sent careening through the air until he had struck a nearby tree. His side had been peppered with shrapnel, some the length of his forearm and buried a terrifying distance into his flesh. In his stubbornness, after the battle he had attempted to carry on as if nothing so serious had occurred, and in that short-sightedness, he had only made things that much worse.

In truth, if he had simply allowed himself the time to rest, he most likely would have been back to full health by the time the trip to Arpton had happened, but he hadn't, and as a result, he had come far closer to reuniting with James, Lily, and Arcturus than he cared to admit.

The harsh reality of his mortality had forced him to truly consider his immediate family in a way that he had never been forced to do before. He was Sirius Black, Lord of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black… and he had no heir of his own. If he fell, such as he almost had, the title and responsibility of his position would – for the first time in their recorded history – pass from the main line into one of the several cadet branches. Specifically, Nymphadora would have become the Lady Black. It was a responsibility, and a lingering threat, that he didn't wish upon her shoulders, and while he knew that Amelia had been quietly – and subtly – teaching her the importance of responsibility of her position at work, he was keenly aware of his own shortcomings in preparing her for her role.

Privately, he wished for the burden to remain far away for the young woman for as long as possible, and, additionally, he was hoping for several children of his own in the future, therefore negating the need to tear her away from her youth – and the career she so obviously loved – indefinitely.

There was a lot of himself that he saw in Nymphadora, if he were honest with himself, and perhaps, in his own way, he had been trying to give her some of the carefree youth that he had lost.

Not that he would change any of it, of course. His life, while difficult as a young child under the oppressive and hateful thumb of Orion and Walburga, had been blessed with power, influence, and wealth. It had all been worth it, and he would go through it all again, happily, for his son-in-all-but-name: Harry.

It had surprised him that many of his thoughts hadn't lingered on the extinction of the main line of House Black – an event that would, in all likelihood, have led to the inevitable fall of his House in some future generation. Instead, they lingered on bittersweet memories of the young boy he had taken as his own; the child that looked the spitting image of a far world-wearier James than he had any right to be.

He had thought of the long nights under the stars of Blackwall, where the two of them would camp when he was not much older than a toddler. He lost himself in the memories of the two of them curled around the fire, where Sirius would charm the flames into figures from his tales, of the dashing Marauders, and all their heroic escapades! If he closed his eyes, he could still hear the giggling of that small, chubby-faced boy – even if it did seem more and more distant with every passing year.

Gone was the carefree Harry that insisted he help him charm his hair to be longer like his own – the Harry that ran around the gardens of Blackwall with Neville on his heels, the pair of them swinging sticks at one another in some grand duel of honour.

Now, the chubby cheeks had given way to a lean face with high cheekbones and the beginnings of a strong, well-defined jaw. The short arms and legs that waddled about Arcturus' office had elongated and stretched until they were solid and toned through hard use. Sirius couldn't recall anyone he had known at Harry's age that carried the physique of a warrior in the way his boy did.

One day, Harry would be an adult, and the memories of the small boy he had held all those nights in his arms would be nothing more than wisps on the wind. Eventually, Harry would have his own family, and his own children – he would have his hair fade from that beautiful, rich black, into grey and silver. His strong, already broadening shoulders would droop and fold in on themselves as time wore on.

Through it all, Sirius had found himself broken hearted at the mere thought of not being there to experience it all with him. He wanted to see Harry standing before a priest and saying his vows, he wanted to see the smile on his face as he held his firstborn, and most importantly, he wanted to see his boy grow old.

He felt old – older than he had any right to be, and in truth, he wasn't entirely sure if it had anything to do with his injuries, his maudlin thoughts, or if it was the same world-weariness that Harry had adopted over the last three years. There was always something. Some other responsibility he had to attend to – some fucking reason he couldn't remain with the ones he loved and cared for most, even if it was bound to some obstinate chair.

Ahead of him, the gates of Hogwarts creaked open slowly, and for the first time since the battle just down the road from which he had come, Sirius was treated to the sight of Albus Dumbledore. While Sirius had many differing opinions of the man, depending on the time of day and even the weather, he couldn't help but feel a little lighter in himself as the man smiled at him.

"Sirius." The older man said with a gentle smile, his hands clasped before him casually. "It gladdens me to see you well – I feared the worst when I heard the news."

Sirius bowed his head politely, and forced himself to stand a little taller, despite his need for the walking stick at his side – glad if but for the moment that he wasn't bound to that infernal chair. Behind him, the quiet sounds of the carriage informed him of its departure. For better or worse, he was stuck here now. "I trust that not everyone has heard?"

"Oh, of course not – however, some were more than a little curious as to your whereabouts last week. Unfortunately, the news of that last meeting isn't good." The two of them fell into step as Dumbledore continued. "I'm afraid Minister Fudge was quite stubborn on that front."

"I'd heard." Sirius grunted, fighting the urge to scowl at the thought of the man. Once upon a time, Fudge had been quite the political animal, and the man he had become hardly resembled the one he had been. Now, only fear and greed drove the man, and over the last several years, he had made some truly appalling blunders – not least in having Dementors stationed upon the grounds Sirius now walked!

While he had made significant political progress against the man, Fudge was still intelligent enough to give as good as he got, and so for the last year, despite having fully endured the political backlash of having House Black against him, the man was still in office. In his darker moments, Sirius had genuinely considered having the man removed through a more permanent means, though he couldn't say who would fill the power vacuum. Sometimes, it was better the enemy you knew, or so the saying went.

"Indeed. Tell me, how are you, Sirius? Injuries such as yours have broken lesser men and women."

"I'll survive." Was his reply. "Not as bad as they could have been, worse than I'd prefer. Sometimes, I don't know how Arcturus managed."

A quiet laugh escaped the headmaster, and the man gazed up at the sky for a long moment. "I don't think even he knew the depths of his stubbornness. There was a time when the two of us were good friends – though that was many decades ago. Over the years, I've found I quite missed his presence."

"During the war, you mean?"

"Indeed. He was one of my finest commanders, even after he was injured. It pains me that he is not here with us this day. He deserved to meet his great-grandchildren."

"He did." Sirius nodded solemnly, accepting the comments as they were intended. "He certainly had a few choice words for you towards the end, though."

Dumbledore sighed as they slowly rounded a bend in the meandering path from the gate to the large double doors of the school. "He did – all justified and warranted, of course. In hindsight, there were far better choices to be made over the years, and foolishly, I did what I thought was best. Call it the arrogance of an old man."

"So, you admit to arrogance?" Sirius asked, pursing his lips and looking sideways at the man beside him. "The Great Albus Dumbledore?"

"We're all arrogant in our own way, but yes. I've made some truly terrible decisions these past years – in part, that is some of the reasoning as to my meeting you here. I wish to make amends, as it were." Dumbledore admitted, coming to a slow halt before the stairs that would lead to the entrance to the school.

"Oh?" Sirius asked, also coming to a rest and looking the man in the eye.

Dumbledore opened his mouth to say something, only to close it suddenly, as if the words weren't there. After a moment, he stepped around Sirius, and came to the edge of the path, looking out at the Forbidden Forest below on the edge of the grounds. "Did you know, Sirius, that I never expected, nor even wanted the position of Headmaster?"

Frowning, Sirius slowly made his way to the older man's side. "I didn't."

"Truthfully, I doubt the thought would enter all but the most deranged mind – if you can believe it, I wished to seek out some of what my ancestors had lost. When I was offered the position, however, I was made aware that there is a prestige, a power that comes with my position that is sought after by many. Some would be far better for the position than I, and others would not. But, if you can, try and think of how many students I've seen come through those doors, who have walked this very path."

Sirius said nothing, instead choosing to allow Dumbledore the opportunity to work through his thoughts – in all of his life, he couldn't recall the man ever looking quite so… open? Vulnerable?

"I can see almost every face that I've taught, Sirius," at this, Dumbledore turned to look upon him. "And none have stuck with me in the way that you, James, and Lily have – save, for young Harry and his friends." Behind his beard, Dumbledore let out a soft sigh. "I fear I'm quite blind when it comes to House Black and House Potter."

"You're trying to equate your mistakes – your blunders – for blindness?" Sirius asked, scowling instinctually. Dumbledore's raised hand forestalled the words building on the tip of his tongue, however.

"Of course not, Sirius. However, recent events have led me to the conclusion that I have been thinking in the wrong manner. There was a time when none would have dared stage an ambush just outside of the school's Wards, and furthermore, there was a time when none would dare to post Dementors within the vicinity. I say this, not in any attempt to beg your forgiveness, for I doubt I could ever be worthy of it, but in the transparent hope that perhaps – one day – you would see me as an ally, and not a foe."

"You think I'd make you my enemy?" Sirius asked, raising a single brow, his face carefully neutral. In truth, he had thought the possibility of the very thing coming to pass was a very real concern – he had even taken steps to assure himself that Dumbledore could be neutralised, should the worst occur.

It had neither been easy, nor had it been cheap.

"Please, Sirius, I've known you since before you attended the school." Dumbledore scoffed – looking, for the first time in their conversation, like the powerful man he truly was. "I know the way you think – just as I knew the way James thought. I will admit, however, that Harry continues to surprise me. He's the best of us all, I think."

"He is." Sirius agreed, slowly. "So, why this talk of allies and enemies?"

"You know as well as I that a war is on the horizon – the first of its kind in hundreds of years. I don't know what will be left in the aftermath, but I have to hope – to pray – that whatever side you stand on is the victor. The Blood War wasn't a true war – it was the act of a hateful, hateful man, in an attempt to punish the world. Gods, Sirius, the Muggle Wars were more a war than what we fought. There were no battle lines, like their trenches. It was one big game of cat and mouse, for both sides. What is brewing now, though…"

"You think it different?"

"You don't?" Dumbledore asked, quirking a brow of his own. "You fought in Voldemort's war, against his followers – does it not feel different to you?"

Sirius raised a hand to his jaw and scratched idly at the beard ruefully. He had to concede that one. Back then, the conflicts between the Death Eaters and the Ministry had felt otherworldly – until he had been a part of it, of course. There had never been any danger to Hogwarts, or the other schools spread across the country – after all, if one would dare to attack Hogwarts, what did that mean for the other, less well defended ones. "I'll give you that, at least." He admitted, reluctantly. "A war is coming, of that we can agree on. Not sure who we'll be fighting, though. Harry has some well-founded suspicions, though he lacks the evidence to act."

"And will he?" Dumbledore asked, fully turning to face him. "Will he fight if he's required?"

"Albus, if you have to ask that, then you barely know him at all – Gods, it's practically all he's done since he first came here, and nothing I do or say will convince him to leave this place!" Sirius snapped; all of his parental frustrations suddenly brought to the fore. He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose tiredly. "He's in the unique position of being able to tell his parent what he can do, and he knows it."

"But does he use it?" Dumbledore asked, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"Only when he feels forced to, I'll admit. He's… uncomfortably mature and responsible about that kind of power. Many others would abuse the power he has over me."

The two of them were quiet after that for a long moment. Eventually, it was Dumbledore that broke the silence. "I'm aware of how much Harry has had to fight in his time here. It's why I'm speaking to you now, as candidly as possible. I want him as safe as possible, and I fear, given who and what he is, someone may use the coming year to make sure that safety will be impossible."

"What has Fudge done now?"

Dumbledore quirked a brow, and his eyes reflected his amusement as he peered back at Sirius before he led the two of them to the main doors. "What makes you believe it was Cornelius?"

"Well, when something stupid happens that threatens the safety of my son, it's usually either yourself or that twat. Seeing as you're here and not the Minister, I can only deduce it's the latter." Sirius snorted, pressing his lips firmly together when his ribs momentarily protested the movement of ascending the very last step.

"Yes, well, colourful vernacular aside, I can only take responsibility and offer my apologies for my actions that led to those assumptions. As for what Cornelius has done… well, I think it might be best you hear it from him." Dumbledore paused as the two great doors opened on silent hinges. "It's an… undesirable set of circumstances, I know."

"So, your idea of attempting to ingratiate yourself into becoming an ally of mine is to tell me what, exactly? Nothing? Sterling job so far, Albus." Sirius scoffed, stepping past the man slowly as Dumbledore gestured for him to enter the castle.

Dumbledore frowned, his lips pressed tightly together, and a hand shot out to gently grasp Sirius' arm. Sirius, for his part, didn't immediately draw his wand – instead, he slowly glanced down at the offending hand, before slowly raising his gaze to peer back at the man, the warning clear. The hand was gone almost as quickly as it had been placed. "Sirius, you must understand – there has been nothing that I have been able to do. As it is, I've removed myself from all other duties and responsibilities beyond the school and the Wizengamot. I've exhausted all of my remaining political favour with the current administration, and it has done nothing to prevent the Minister from going forward with this plan."

"It must have been serious if you're admitting to being politically worthless to me. I'm still not hearing a single reason as to why I should want your help."

"Then I shall persuade you – one action at a time. Now, I believe that the Minister and the Board of Governors have waited for the two of us for long enough." Dumbledore declared with a firm nod, leading the two of them to the large doors. Before pushing them open, however, he looked over his shoulder at Sirius and said in a low, conspiratorial voice, "Do not forget that I led the last war and won – that in itself is a reason all on its own."

Before Sirius could open his mouth to respond – partly to point out that Dumbledore had many great men and women under his command that had led the army to victories, and to selfishly declare that he might not have won if not for the actions of Arcturus – the doors swung open to reveal the Great Hall of the school.

The trestle tables had been swept to the sides of the room, and a great round table had been placed in the centre. Around it sat the Board of Governors that he recognised, all talking softly to one another with varying degrees of enthusiasm. There were several unfamiliar faces, though they were all congregated around the man Sirius recognised as Cornelius Fudge.

The Lady Kullens was the first to notice their arrival – her black eyes sharp and as cold as a Siberian winter. She rose slowly, the tips of her fingers remaining atop the varnished wood of the table as she bowed her head, though her eyes never lowered. "Lord Black – so good to see you on your feet. And Albus, we were worried you had gotten lost; we were close to sending someone to search for you."

Beneath his skin, Sirius felt his magic prickle in response to her words – it had been some time since he had last encountered the woman as bold as she currently appeared. It always set him on edge. Immediately, the other members of the table got to their feet, all offering polite – in varying degrees – greetings.

Sirius, for his part, settled himself into a chair between Augusta Longbottom – the older woman smiling slightly at him and rolling her eyes – and Dantis Whitehill. The man himself still appeared to be as broad in the shoulders as he was tall, and when Sirius shook his proffered hand, it was with a strong grip and an almost contagious enthusiasm.

"Good to see you, Sirius. I was almost ready to curse half the people here." Dantis grinned, his eyes sparkling with barely hidden mischief.

"I believe he's almost physically assaulted Fleming no less than three times now." Augusta hummed, raising a single brow. "I've almost been tempted to let him – though I think I would like to see him directed at Bartemius first. To think that he's had that same awful facial hair for all these years – to say nothing of his vile personality."

"Why don't you tell me how you really feel, Augusta." Sirius chuckled, adjusting himself in his chair in a fruitless attempt to get comfortable. A few places to his right, Albus settled himself into the chair assigned to him – an older woman sat to the headmaster's right, of a similar age to Albus, but dressed in the official robes of the Ministry, though Sirius didn't recognise her.

Around the table, everyone else likewise was adjusting themselves in one way or another – all except Amara Kullens, who sat with a quiet air of superiority.

Across from him, Cornelius cleared his throat loudly and said, "Now that we have all arrived, I think it best if we get started." He gestured to those around him. "Some of you may be unfamiliar with one another, so allow me to make some introductions. To my right, is the honourable Lord Bartemius Crouch – head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation and my Senior Undersecretary Dolores Umbridge. To my left are Ludovic Bagman, of the Department of Magical Games and Sports, and Griselda Marchbanks, head of the Wizarding Examinations Authority."

Sirius inclined his head politely to each Witch and Wizard the Minister gestured to, though he remained quiet, instead taking the opportunity to examine each of the individuals. He already knew Crouch, and personally felt that Cornelius' use of the word honourable was unnecessary if not an outright lie – and while he could have given in to his baser emotions and scorned Crouch in front of those gathered, he knew that his and Arcturus' actions had sufficiently ruined the man's career; not to mention how much damage the two of them had done to the House the man was the head of.

Dolores, he knew from brief interactions in the Wizengamot, and through Amelia's experiences with the woman when having to brief the Minister on any number of operations his wife's department was handling. From everything he had heard – and he trusted Amelia's judgement of people unquestionably – the woman was a Purist, not only in blood but in species. Her bigoted views drove her politics, and she had a reputation for ruthlessness when vying for what power and position she could achieve.

Bagman was a visually unimpressive man. He had thinning, blonde hair and a growing paunch that Sirius felt was ironic on a man responsible for the sport in the country. Clearly, the man had grown comfortable in his position within the Ministry.

Griselda – the woman that Albus had placed himself next to – was clearly the eldest aside from Dumbledore himself. An elderly woman with white hair in tight, neat curls, she held herself proudly and comfortably clasped her hands before her with her elbows lightly resting on the arms of her chair. A woman clearly not hampered by her age, and one he would have to keep his eye on.

"Now, for the first order of business, I would like to address the skirmish that took place between here and Hogsmeade toward the end of the year." Cornelius began, looking pointedly toward Sirius. "I believe none here can contest that Lord Black would have the most first-hand knowledge of the event."

"Nor can we deny the effects of it." Lord Dowsett remarked, his eyes sweeping over Sirius. Sirius met the man's gaze and allowed his magic to pulse warningly for all at the table to sense. "Indeed, it has done nothing for the Lord Black's spirit, it seems." The man added, smirking.

Sirius turned his gaze from the man, and instead inclined his head to the Minister. "I can indeed, Minister." He took a moment to sweep his eyes across the assembled men and women around the table, lingering for a moment on Dumbledore, who nodded almost imperceptibly at him, and Augusta, who likewise did the same.

There was very little doubt in his mind as to her opinion of that entire fiasco when her grandson had been forced to fight for his very life.

"We were ambushed on our return journey to the castle, and we were accompanied by several Auror Platoons, as well as several Lords of House Potter's Vassals. As of yet, as I'm sure that the Minister is aware of, we are currently uncertain as to the origins of our attackers, though they have been linked loosely with the now deceased Fenrir Greyback, and another individual that House Potter has ordered me to keep private. The Lord Potter and I are in agreement, in that we are treating it as an internal matter."

"An internal matter that got dozens of Aurors killed, many more wounded, and a student permanently maimed. Should we be worried about your presence at these proceedings, Lord Black?" Lord Fleming commented, airily.

Surprisingly, it was Dumbledore that spoke. "I can assure you that nothing enters these grounds without my express permissions, Lord Fleming, and said permissions can be revoked quite easily." The warning tone in his voice was quite clear, and Sirius had to fight the urge to chuckle at the way that Fleming began to resemble a fish with how his mouth opened and closed so rapidly.

"If we could set aside the testosterone for but a blessed moment, I believe Lord Black had several more things to say?" Augusta snapped, scolding everyone within earshot as if they were an errant child. Sirius smiled at her, thankful.

"Thank you, Lady Longbottom. As you correctly pointed out, Odis, there were multiple casualties and wounded, though I would like to take a moment to commend the Minister of Magic on the quality of his Aurors – if it weren't for their quick thinking and martial prowess, there would have doubtless been far more death."

Cornelius bowed his head in recognition to the comment, and said, "I thank you, Lord Black, though I understand that you're also partly responsible for the victory – I've had many reports across my desk explaining how you led a counter-charge from the left flank, while the Lord Potter led his Vassal Lords and allies in a charge from the right. I don't think there's a man or woman at this table that could doubt the abilities of either yourself, nor the young man in your charge."

Sirius shifted a little uncomfortably at the reminder of Harry's actions during the ambush. While he was so very proud of the young man, and by extension the warrior that Harry was becoming, it clashed very painfully with the responsibility Sirius held as his parent. After all, what parent would be in their right mind to be comfortable with the idea of their child charging into battle – not to mention the fact that Harry had rightly earned his first kills in combat; something Sirius had tried so very hard to keep him from for as long as he could.

While the parent in him raged at the thought his boy had been forced to take a life – multiple, in fact – in order to keep his own, there was still a quiet, insidious voice in the back of his mind that had to concede that Harry's growing reputation in his own right, and not the one created upon his parent's death, was beginning to lay the foundations for quite the formidable Lord in the coming years.

If only Harry didn't get himself killed in the meantime.

"I agree." Amara said, nodding slowly. "The Lord Potter is most certainly becoming a force to be reckoned with. Though I understand that the student maimed – a Cai Griffin of Ravenclaw – was in Potter's care when he lost his left forearm? I also understand he is the heir to House Griffin, a Vassal to Potter?"

"He is." Sirius confirmed, drumming the fingers of his right hand against the head of the walking stick idly. "And he is to be rewarded for his loyalty and bravery."

"I can't imagine his father is particularly happy at the turn of events." Dolores commented. "Perhaps it should be best for the Ministry to speak to him, to ensure that there are no ruffled feathers, as it were."

"It was partly because of his father that the boy was there." Augusta answered, before Sirius had the chance to open his mouth. "My Neville was there as a representative of his House, and as a staunch ally to House Potter. A small gathering of Potter Vassals had requested a meeting with their Lord, if it weren't for Cai Griffin's valiant actions, both Potter and my grandson would be in their ancestral tombs with their parents."

"It sounds like House Griffin is one to watch, then." Lady Chapman commented, a pleasant smile on her face. "This Cai sounds like quite the young man."

"I'll pass along your compliment, Lady Chapman. Though to answer your suggestion, Dolores, I can assure you there are no ruffled feathers that the Ministry need concern themselves with. House Potter, and by extension my own House, can manage any bruised egos." Sirius smiled politely.

Oh, there were ruffled feathers alright, and plenty of them, but they had mostly been Harry's and his own. The Lords that had been at attendance in the meeting had readily acknowledged their actions, and Harry had been furious – as a result, a summons had been sent out by Harry for all his Vassal Lords to appear before him at Arpton; a meeting that was due to happen in but a few days' time.

Personally, Sirius had no idea as to exactly what Harry was going to do or say – though he could make an educated guess. After all, Sirius was a Vassal to Harry, and so his attendance was also demanded. It was going to feel very strange indeed to be dressed down alongside all the other Lords.

"I believe there were other items on the agenda besides some deluded brigands attacking some Aurors, Minister?" Crouch said, in as bored a tone as Sirius had ever heard. "I believe we've all read the official reports and would rather finish this meeting on time – I'm sure our esteemed colleagues all have other duties that require their attention today."

"Indeed, Bartemius – you're right, of course." The Minister agreed, hastily. He cleared his throat once again. "Now, the next point of the agenda, and really the only other thing that needs to be discussed between our two groups are the plans set forth by the Ministry for the coming months, and how they tie into events for the coming year."

Sirius felt Dumbledore's eyes on him, and something settled itself solidly at the bottom of his gut.

Bagman sat forward, interlocking his fingers on the table before him once the Minister gestured to him. "Thank you, Minister. As I'm sure many of you are aware, this summer we are hosting the Quidditch World Cup – in fact, I believe many of you are attending; I know Lord Dowsett will be." Bagman chuckled, earning a small smile and a nod from the Lord in question. "Now, what we have kept rather quiet among our own staff, and some of you learned only recently, we have also been campaigning for another sporting event to take place on our soil once again."

There was a weighty pause, and in that moment, Sirius cast his eyes about the table – most were carefully neutral masks of impassivity, but the one that caught his eye was that of Amara Kullens. The woman looked positively delighted, and the woman had her eyes fixed solely on him.

"As some of you may be aware, a little over a century ago, Britain removed itself from the international competition known as the Tri-Wizard Tournament for several reasons." Bagman began, though at the mention of the tournament, Augusta's sharp tongue cut him off.

"For good reason – the mortality rate was ridiculous! It's hardly any better in recent years – are you seriously suggesting we host that stupid tournament?"

"I'm in agreement with Lady Longbottom, Minister – this tournament alone was responsible for the deaths of twelve students in the last decade." Dantis Whitehill said, shaking his head. "Not to mention the costs both financially and in terms of time for not just ourselves, but the students that take part."

Surprisingly, it was Bagman that answered, and not the Minister. "We understand your concerns, truly, we do. As such, we are suggesting that the competition take place in various locations around the country – all will be funded by a small portion of the profits made from hosting it in the first place."

"We have already tentatively reached out to several competing countries around the world, and many have been quite enthusiastic about the return of Britain to these games." Crouch added, steepling his fingers before him. "While we understand the danger that it poses to students, we are willing to make the necessary precautions to ensure everyone remains safe."

Sirius felt the icy chill spread throughout his entire body. Surely none of them could have been so stupid as to think that this was in any way a good idea? As the voices around the table began to grow in volume, Sirius slammed his walking stick into the flagstone beneath him once – the sound of the metal tip against the stone echoing throughout the vaulted room ominously.

"Am I correct in understanding that you have not only decided that these games are a good idea – games, I might add, that commonly use dragons – but you think it a good idea for the participating school to be Hogwarts? Have we learned nothing of the last several years?"

Dumbledore cleared his throat. "I am in agreement with Lord Black, and you know of my disagreement on this subject, Cornelius. The school has had too much happen in such a short time for this to be anything but a bad idea. A teacher attacking a pupil, a Basilisk the year after, and only a month ago, Fenrir Greyback. Cornelius, surely-"

"You will address the Minister of Magic by the correct title, Headmaster Dumbledore." Dolores snapped, cutting Albus off abruptly.

"That's quite enough, Dolores." The Minister said, though Sirius noted that he didn't correct her original point. Perhaps Dumbledore hadn't been exaggerating just how much of his political reserves he had used up. The Minister turned to look at Dumbledore directly. "I understand and appreciate your points, Albus, but I am of the opinion that this could be the exact publicity that the school needs!"

"And if a student should come to harm, or Gods forbid gets killed?"

"Then the family shall be appropriately compensated and shall want for nothing else ever again. Like it or not, Dumbledore, but these games do immortalise the young men and women that take part, and more than one witch or wizard wishes to live forever."

"What measures are to be taken to ensure the safety of the students that participate?" Augusta demanded, glaring at Bagman and the Minister with a ferocity that Sirius would have attributed to a dragon guarding her clutch of eggs.

"I'm glad you asked!" Bagman said, lightly clapping his hands. "We are proposing that, following the events of this last year, a contingent of Aurors to be housed at the school, with more being deployed at each sight across the country as the events take place. For the first task, we were considering somewhere in Wales – perhaps not far from Snowden?" At this, everyone looked to Sirius.

"Absolutely not." He said, immediately. "I want Harry nowhere near this fiasco. Dumbledore, is it possible for Harry to attend select classes before his exams at the end of the year?"

"My Neville, too." Augusta nodded, glancing first at Sirius, and then at Dumbledore.

"I'm sure we can arrange-"

"Absolutely not!" Amara snapped. "I'll not have preferential treatment of students within the school because of some reason or another. What sort of precedent would that set for other students? What about future generations? No, the school – and its students – should remain as it has for hundreds of years."

"The Potter boy has found himself a part of the unfortunate events of the last years, through one way or another." Lord Dinan said, speaking for the first time. "Perhaps an exception could – should – be made."

"I find myself in agreement with the Lady Kullens." Cornelius sighed, rubbing at his jaw. "It creates a precedent we don't wish to set, and in truth, part of the appeal of hosting the games at the school is the national, and international, attention that will be drawn by Lord Potter, even if he isn't to take part."

"Harry is in no way to take part in these games, Cornelius." Sirius growled, dangerously. "I swear-"

"I assure you, Lord Black," Bagman said, quickly. "We have no intention of any student beyond the seventh years taking part. In fact, Bartemius has been working closely with the head of the Department of Mysteries to ensure that none but those most suitable and capable of the challenges set are able to participate."

"Explain. Quickly." Sirius demanded, glaring at the tall, thin man that had tried to get him sentenced to Azkaban.

Crouch glared at him for a moment, before saying, "The department has several artefacts in its charge. One such artefact has been identified as adequate for the purposes of the tournament. With the correct activation of several runes, we can ensure that only those capable enough will be chosen – at random, of course, to ensure the most amount of fairness."

"I think it wise to make sure that we take the appropriate measures to ensure that only those magically and physically capable of taking part have any danger of being chosen." Dumbledore said. "Especially considering that arguing against the tournament taking place seems to be a moot point."

Sirius scowled at that but had to admit that Dumbledore appeared correct. There seemed to be very little that he could do to prevent the travesty going forward. He was sure that Arcturus could have found a way, but even as plan after plan unfolded within the privacy of his own mind, nothing seemed plausible.

"If anyone is chosen to take part in this that isn't prepared for it, what do we do? What happens if a student's name is entered against their will?" Ceana asked. "Children can be cruel, and I wouldn't put it past some of the more malicious ones."

"Every step will be taken to ensure that can't happen." Bagman declared. "We shall also bring the D.M.L.E in on this to make sure the appropriate legal steps are taken, of course."

"And the international students? What legal recourse would they have?" Dantis asked, leaning forward. "I imagine they would all be staying under a visa while in the country?"

"They would." Crouch nodded with a frown. "As such, they will have the full rights of legal visitors to the country, though I have been led to understand that in practice it's much more muddied and complicated than we would prefer."

"Oh fantastic, that means it's going to be an utter farce!" Sirius scoffed, glaring at the man. "I'm hearing nothing so far that sets my mind at ease about this tournament taking place around not just children, but the heirs of half of the families that help run this country!"

"Lord Black!" Dolores snapped. "Need I remind you of who you are speaking to?"

Sirius growled and leaned forward in his chair imperiously. "Need I remind you, Undersecretary, to whom you speak? Do not mistake my temporary requirement for this walking stick for weakness."

"My Lord, I apologise on behalf of my cabinet member – she spoke out of turn and momentarily forgot she was in a room of her betters." Fudge quickly apologised, throwing a sharp look at the offending woman. "I assure you; no further action need be taken – I'll see to her discipline myself. As for your concerns, I am willing to make as many concessions as possible to allay not only your concerns, but those of the other Lords and Ladies of the country."

"As an educator, I must ask – what will happen to the educations of those that participate? As I understand it, the tournament is spread throughout the year, and the time set aside for it could negatively impact the exams of those taking part." Dumbledore interjected, quickly, catching Sirius' eye as he attempted to quickly defuse the situation.

"I'm glad you asked!" Bagman grinned, and Sirius could quite easily detect the relief that came with it. "Madame Marchbanks, if you would?"

Marchbanks, who had largely remained impassive and aloof of the conversation – and threats – around her the entire time, glanced at Dumbledore for the briefest of moments before sweeping her eyes across the table. "It has been determined by my office that the average difficulty of the tasks the competitors undertake is equal, or greater than those they would be expected to perform under examination conditions. As such, participants wouldn't be expected to sit any scheduled exams – though I would recommend they still attend classes and fulfil the necessary coursework assignments."

"And the participating schools? Would we be expected to educate students who would not necessarily be able to speak or communicate in English?" Dumbledore asked, frowning as he ran a hand idly along the length of his beard. "While we have hired many more members of staff, we only have so much space within the castle."

"Temporary housing will be made accessible for foreign students, and I have been assured that they will have their own staff on hand to educate – after all, the curriculum is not universal, nor held to the same standards." Marchbanks replied, inclining her head slightly. "I am under the belief that the participating schools this year are Beauxbatons and the Durmstrang Institute."

"Interesting competition, at least." Fleming commented, tapping a finger against the table.

"How will the housing be handled? Is the school paying for it, or will the Ministry?" Amara asked, pursing her lips. "I would suggest in either event that we contact the Dwarves once more – they did a remarkable job with the Duelling building, and they're local."

"As it's a Ministry-led event, the Ministry will pay for the costs of any additional housing on the school grounds – I assume, Albus, you would like the buildings to be temporary and to impact the surrounding land as little as possible?" The Minister asked, glancing in Dumbledore's direction.

"I would." The man answered, inclining his head graciously.

"In that case, I would call this meeting adjourned, unless there are any other matters to be raised? No? Then I bid you all a good day, Lords, Ladies, Headmaster." Cornelius said, slowly getting to his feet and politely bowing to those around the table – alongside him, his small retinue of Ministry officials followed in his wake, trailing after him; some with more enthusiasm than others.

One by one, the members of the board dispersed – Whitehill clapped him on the shoulder in a shared commiseration, but other than that, nothing further of note was said. Eventually, it was just himself, Augusta, and Dumbledore remaining in the hall.

"Well, that could have gone better." Augusta snorted, allowing herself a moment to slump in her chair and rest her forehead in her left hand. "So, this is what you were trading in all those favours to prevent?" She asked Dumbledore.

"It was." He answered, quietly.

"Fuck me." She sighed, tiredly. "I had no idea they were so stupid."

Sirius, for his part, remained quiet, his mind racing with a thousand possibilities – while Dumbledore could have been far more forthcoming with the information, he could also admit that if he had known beforehand, it was very possible that he would have marched into the room ready curse the Minister to within an inch of his life.

It had been a close thing as it was.

"I apologise for not telling you sooner, Sirius." Dumbledore apologised. "I thought it best-"

"I understand, Albus. I'm not happy about it, but I understand it." He sighed, running a tired hand down his face. He looked to Augusta beside him. "You knew nothing either?"

"Not a word – I've been keeping Neville within my sight ever since the school year ended. This reeks of Kullens; she was far too satisfied for my liking."

"Perhaps. I find it difficult to imagine her placing her daughter in potential harm's way." Sirius hummed, scratching at his cheek idly. "It could also just as much be the Minister – our last few strikes at him have reduced the amount of public support he's received. He might just be desperate enough to have thought of this all on his own."

"Entirely possible, but it could do just as much harm to assume answers to questions we have no context for." Dumbledore counselled. "The most pertinent question I have currently, is how best to ensure the safety of the students – several in particular."

"Amelia will have to be involved, but it will have to be as the head of her department – not as my wife." Sirius sighed once again, this time pinching the bridge of his nose. "While I doubt she would do anything but, I'll make sure she's placing the best around the school – they'll mitigate most of the threats."

"Gentlemen, while these questions are all well and good, I think there is one that should be placed above all others, especially in light of recent events." Augusta said, looking pointedly between the two of them. "In the event that the precautions fail, who would benefit the most from placing the children in the most danger?"

"That, my dear Augusta, is a list I fear is far too long."

"Well, this is ominous." Sirius said once his vision cleared, and his vision was filled with the appearance of both Remus – whom he had expected – and Andromeda – whom he had not expected. "Drink, anyone?"

Remus went to open his mouth to respond, only for Andromeda to beat him to it. Her hands were clasped formally before her, though he noted how her fingers were fiddling with a small piece of fabric from the front of her dress. Something was afoot.

"No, thank you. I've come to speak to you – officially." She said, raising her chin slightly as she swallowed; only the slightest twitch of her throat muscles were any indication of the movement, and for the briefest of seconds, he was reminded as to just why he had always admired Andromeda. In another life, she may have even joined him in Gryffindor.

"And you? You'd best not have that fucking chair with you." Sirius huffed, glancing around the room for the object in question. For the last several days, he had been confined to the damned thing, and while he could feel some of his body protesting, he was relishing the ability to move about on his own.

Remus snorted and rolled his eyes. "Not right now, no – I thought it best for you to move about a little. Though you can expect to see it again before the day is up."

Sirius stepped away from the fireplace with a grunt. "Probably the best I'll do, knowing everyone in this house." Andromeda and Remus both backed up a step to allow him to pass, and Sirius made his way to the chair behind his desk as quickly as was possible. Once settled, and his walking stick propped up against the desk to his right, he gestured for Andromeda to take a seat opposite him. "Remus?"

"Ah, I think it best I'm not involved in this one." The man answered, awkwardly darting his eyes back to Andromeda, who hadn't turned to look at him. In fact, Andromeda wasn't even looking at him, instead focusing intently on somewhere just over his left shoulder – he fought the urge to glance behind him and see if anything was amiss out the window. "Family business and all that."

"You're the Steward." Sirius deadpanned, cocking a single brow at the man. "It's literally your business."

"Still, I think it best I go check on the children. Harry and Susan have gone to Rosestone for the day – I'm sure they're up to all sorts of trouble." Remus said with a tight-lipped smile, his hands clasped at the small of his back. "I'll leave you both to it."

Sirius watched the man go with curious eyes. Once the door clicked shut behind him, he turned those very same eyes on the woman across from him, cocking his head slightly to the left. "I get the impression I'm not going to enjoy this little chat. What's the matter, Andromeda?"

There was a moment of silence as Andromeda's eyes locked with his own for the first time since his arrival, and then she got to her feet – the chair scraped against the floorboards enough that it made Sirius wince; he was already feeling the beginnings of a headache forming after having dealt with all the bullshit of the day already. Andromeda straightened, squaring her shoulders and lifted her chin a little higher. "I, Andromeda Tonks of House Black, formally make a request to the Head of my House; Sirius Black."

Sirius said nothing for a moment, the gentle tapping of his finger against the desk the only sound in the room. After a moment, and with a barely concealed grimace, he got to his own feet and gently led his cousin away from the desk and to the sofa that ran along the wall at the far end. He leaned on the woman more than he would care to admit, but the two of them made it, eventually sitting side-by-side.

"Andromeda… Andy; you never have to formally request anything of me." He sighed, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and pressing a gentle kiss to her temple. For a brief moment, he was reminded of all the times over their childhood's where they had been in this position; only, it had been he that had been where Andromeda now sat. "If it's ever in my power, you only have to ask."

Andromeda nodded slowly; her eyes focused on the fireplace as she took in a shaky breath. "After everything that's happened, I just don't know what to do anymore."

"You mean the ambush?"

"The ambush, Greyback, those filthy Dementors, Arcturus, the Basilisk. Gods, Sirius, I'm at my limit!" Suddenly, Andromeda was on her feet, pacing before him with her arms wrapped around her stomach. "Something is happening to this family, and I don't know what that is! I have a teenage boy that has led grown men and his friends into battle at the age of thirteen – thirteen, Sirius – and a daughter that is in mortal danger almost every other day! And don't even get me started on you." At this, she whirled around and jabbed a finger in his direction.

He held up his hands in surrender, forcing himself not to go cross-eyed with the finger pointed in his face. "Woah, steady on – one thing at a time, okay? You want answers, I suppose?"

"I never got them from Arcturus where Harry was concerned, and I've yet to get them from you, so yes, that would be a good place to start." She sniffed, placing her hands on her hips imperiously.

Sirius leaned back in the sofa and slowly crossed his legs, interlacing his fingers across his stomach. "Okay." He said, slowly. "It's a bit of a story, though."

"I have time."

"Alright – I suppose we should start with Harry. Obviously, we swore fealty to him; Arcturus was supposed to tell me why he agreed to it after he got back from the meeting that got him killed. Now, when I originally suggested it, it wasn't meant seriously. I had no idea about the gravity of it all back then – I just thought of it as a good prank on everyone, and a way to keep Harry as safe as possible."

Andromeda snorted and rolled her eyes as she began pacing slowly. "Of course you did."

Sirius inclined his head. "As to why Arcturus agreed to it, I don't know. I've gone through all the documents, journals, and ledgers that I can find, but so far; nothing. If there was a reason – which I'm inclined to agree that there was – he took it to his grave."

"Now," Sirius continued, bringing a hand up to massage his forehead. "As to Harry himself… Beyond the obvious, there are a few bits and pieces that you've not been told about. Arcturus liked to keep things close to the vest, and while I agree with that, I'll still tell you – but – this is a Family matter, is that understood?"

"I understand." Andromeda nodded, pinching her lips between her teeth.

"From everything we've been able to piece together and infer over the years, Harry's unparalleled when it comes to magic." Sirius sat forward. "He has a way of sinking into wild magic in a way that nobody else we know of can do. The only accidental magic he's ever committed, has been when he's been upset or angry. We think he's a Mage – one more powerful than Dumbledore."

Andromeda froze, her eyes bulging. "A Mage? Sirius, I always thought he was powerful, intuitive with magic, even, but I thought he was just that. To label him in the same category as the likes of Merlin, Dumbledore, and only a handful of others over the millennia… Wait, but if what you say is true, that means…"

"Who is his equal?" Sirius finished, rubbing at his jaw idly. "That's the big question. For a long time, we had no idea. Ever since his first year, however…"

"What happened in his first year? I remember he was more than a little worse-for-wear at the end of it, but…"


"I'm sorry, but what?" Andromeda demanded, visibly paling.

"We thought he was dead – evidently, he's not. Somehow, and fuck-knows-how, the cunt survived. He was possessing the Defence professor at the time, and through a series of unfortunate – though not out of character for our boy – events, the two of them fought. The way Harry tells it, Voldemort had him dead-to-rights, which isn't unsurprising. There was an explosion, and Harry was buried under the ceiling. There was never a body of the professor to recover."

Andromeda sank into the chair opposite him, slowly. Her eyes darted this way and that as Sirius watched her begin to connect bits and pieces of information in her mind. "The new spells he learned that summer, was that because of that?"

Sirius nodded once. "I'll get to that in a minute, I promise." He paused for a moment and took a breath. "Now, Remus and I have done a fair bit of research based on everything Harry told us about his second year, and before he died, Arcturus was helping as well. Now, it wasn't until about a month or so ago that we think we might have found it – but at the moment, we think there was a Horcrux in the school."

"Do I even want to know what that is?" Andromeda sighed, massaging her forehead in slow circles.

"Not particularly, and we're still not sure – it's only a theory after all and I'd rather be sure before I burden you with that. However, if it was, we think that also belonged to Voldemort. Again, as you can imagine, Harry was involved – according to him, it was controlling Rhuxu. Based on the number of times the two have seemingly come into contact with one another, we're beginning to theorise that they're bound to one another."

"But he's just a boy!"

"Who has survived the bastard more than any other living person. We don't know how he survived Godric's Hollow, but everything since then… Any other child – any other adult – would have been cut down in seconds." Sirius said, tiredly. "I'm trying to protect him, but it's like everything I do is like standing in the surf to prevent the tide coming in with nothing but my body."

"So, you taught him more spells? You taught him to fight?" Andromeda demanded, narrowing her eyes at him.

Sirius snorted. "Gods, no. He learned how to fight of his own volition – I simply provided him instructors that would teach him the best way to fight. Ever since his first year, though, he's learned at Arpton."

"You've never explained that one either, come to think of it."

He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "It's… Gods, I never thought I'd have to explain this. Okay, centuries ago, Magicals and Muggles lived side-by-side. At some point, we separated ourselves from the Muggles, and retreated to a place that was all our own. You can't physically see it, but it's there. There are certain methods of travelling to and from it, and both House Potter and House Black have those means. You've seen it for yourself when you've come to Rosestone with us; that big monstrosity in the middle of the courtyard."

"The mirror?" Andromeda frowned.

"Aye – when it's activated, you can walk through it. On the other side is a whole other world. We have lands there – vast lands. There's a system of government, and other Houses – some you would have thought dead for centuries thrive there. Arpton is through that mirror."

"So why not keep Harry in that world?"

Sirius grimaced. "It's… complicated. There's a family through there; House Trevelyan. They've set themselves at odds with House Potter and Black – we think it's because by swearing to House Potter, we've set House Potter up to be a direct rival to the Trevelyan's. At least here, we have more influence, and we can protect Harry until such a time as he can effectively protect himself."

"And Greyback? Does he work for Voldemort or the Trevelyan's?"

"We think he was working for House Crane, who are sworn to House Trevelyan. Though, we only have Harry's word on that, though having met the current Lord Crane myself, I can certainly see it. Apparently, the man confessed to Harry about killing Arcturus."

Silence filled the room for a moment. "Is he dead? Did Harry kill him?" Andromeda finally asked, her gaze holding his own.

"No." Sirius said, lowly. "He got away when the Dementors showed up. Amelia has told me that the majority of those that converged on the lake were annihilated; all they've been able to recover were a few tattered pieces of cloth. That was Harry."

"So, let me get this right; you think Harry is a Mage, his equal is Voldemort, there's a whole other world of our people, and there's a House that would like nothing more than to wipe House Black and Potter out?"

Sirius chewed his lip, wincing at the shorthand of it all, but inclined his head. "That's about the jist of it, aye."

Andromeda got to her feet and resumed her pacing, her left hand on her hip, and her right pressed to her forehead. "Gods, Sirius, I don't know what to think. I can understand Arcturus playing it close, but how am I supposed to sleep knowing that we could be attacked at any moment?"

Sirius got to his feet, grimacing as he felt his ribs protesting. He moved to step toward Andromeda, but at her halting gesture, he remained where he was. "We won't."

"You don't know that!" She snapped. "Harry is regularly in danger at school – you placed Remus and I there to watch him – and my daughter is an Auror! Oh, Gods, she was in the ambush with Greyback and this… this… Crane bastard."

"We're managing it as best as we can."

"Are you? Sirius, we're on the brink of open-fucking-war! If that happens, my Nymphadora is at risk, Harry is at risk. You're at risk! We could all be killed, and you expect me to think you're managing it?"

"The ambush was the first outright attack against us, and that was directed at Harry more than anyone else. That wouldn't have even happened if it weren't for his Bannermen – something Harry has very much in-hand, by the way."

"Yes, and an event that almost killed yourself and Remus."

"It wasn't as bad as-"

"They glamoured you to hide how injured you were! I should know, I'm the one who applied the fucking spell!" Andromeda shot back, her chest heaving. "If I'd have known, I would have-"

"What, Andromeda? What would you have done?" Sirius thundered in return, raising his voice for the first time. "I'm mitigating a dozen different attacks on us a day and those are only the political ones. You're a member of this family, but it's far from your place to question my decisions. We didn't start this, and if we can manage it, we'll end it peacefully, but I swear, Andromeda, if anyone attacks us in the same way, I'll call the Banners without a second's hesitation."

"Remove Nymphadora from active duty then." Andromeda demanded, suddenly.

"What?" Sirius asked with a hiss, his eyes narrowing.

"You heard me – remove Nymphadora from active duty as an Auror. She's your heir until you have children of your own, and it limits the danger she's in." She said, straightening her back and raising her chin. "She's my daughter, and there are too few of us to risk any one member so casually."

"You can't be serious." He snorted, shaking his head. "You can't be."


"I'll not pull Dora from her job – one that she is excelling at, mind you. My wife is in more danger of being assassinated or attacked than your daughter, Andromeda. She's a fine young woman, and if she can survive Auror patrol in London, she'll be just fine."

"She's my daughter!" Andromeda snapped, angry tears beginning to appear in the corners of her eyes.

"And she's my fucking heir!" Sirius roared, drawing himself to his full height. "Until I have a child of my own, her future is in my hands. You said there were too few of us? Go make some more!" He snapped, waving a hand toward the door. He froze the second the words left his lips and immediately regretted them.

A hand shot out and slapped him across the cheek, snapping his head to the side with such force that his ears continued to ring, even as he stumbled back a step. He worked his jaw from side to side and looked at the woman across from him. Her chest heaved in fury, and her eyes were bloodshot with unshed tears he knew she would refuse to release in his presence.

"How dare you."


"I carried her, I birthed her, and I paid the price. How dare you! That girl is the only child I'll ever have – the cost of giving birth to a Metamorphmagus. I thought you a better man than to throw that in my face, you son of a bitch."

Without another word, Andromeda stormed from the room, slamming the door closed behind her. In her wake, all Sirius could do was collapse into the sofa behind him, his head in his hands as the weight of his words, and the consequences of what he'd just said, began to sink in.