For Harry, the summer after his fifth year was vastly different from the others he had spent at number four Privet Drive. The wizarding world was at war against Voldemort and his Death Eaters, for the first time in nearly fifteen years. Everyday, a tawny owl delivered Harry his copy of the Daily Prophet Everyday, horrors splashed across the front page: Voldemort's gaining power, the deaths of wizards and Muggles alike, and the court proceedings against the Death Eaters who had been caught at the Ministry of Magic at the end of last school term.
Even the Muggle world felt the repercussions of Voldemort's rising strength. The Muggle evening news gushed stories about missing persons and frighteningly frequent "gas explosions" killing entire households. Uncle Vernon, upon learning from Harry of Voldemort's return the summer before, promptly purchased a home security system and had it installed. He, of course, failed to warn Harry about this. So one night when Hedwig tapped on the glass of Harry's closed bedroom window, the entire alarm system went off. A dozen police men quickly swarmed Privet Drive, and were not at all happy to hear it was a false alarm, set off by Uncle Vernon's "disturbed nephew and his pet owl." After they left, Uncle Vernon, red faced and bulging, had screamed at Harry for a good half hour. Harry, however, made no return argument. There was no point in telling the Dursleys that their high tech security system, and a dozen Muggle men with their stun guns and batons, stood no chance against Voldemort.
Mostly, however, Harry tried to keep himself busy. Aunt Petunia, suspicious after a couple weeks of Harry asking for extra chores, forbade him from doing anything and ordered him to go watch TV with Dudley. Harry had not suddenly gained a liking for hard labor, but he found when he was busy he did not have time to think about the last time he saw Sirius. He couldn't bring himself to accept that Sirius was gone forever. It proved less painful to just not think about it. Even if that meant scrubbing the grout on the bathroom walls with a toothbrush.
After only two weeks with the Dursleys, Harry didn't expect a reprieve very soon, so it shocked him when one morning Hedwig arrived with a note from Tonks.
I hope your summer hasn't been too wretched. Dumbledore thinks it is best for you to come stay at Headquarters for the rest of the summer. I can't tell you much more, in case this letter is intercepted, but I'll be there to pick you up sometime in the next week. See you soon. Tonks
Harry blinked and read the sentences again. He was thrilled to be leaving so early in the summer, but the thought of Grimmauld Place and Sirius gave him a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. However, he immediately began packing anyway.
Three days later, the doorbell rang in the middle of dinner. Uncle Vernon immediately consulted his closed circuit television, which showed the front stoop through the eyes of a camera. Harry rolled him eyes. There was no way Voldemort would ever ring the doorbell and then patiently wait until someone answered.
And, indeed, it was not Voldemort, but a delivery woman, waiting with a package under one arm and a clipboard in the other.
"Go answer it, boy," growled Uncle Vernon.
"Err, please," added Aunt Petunia weakly, apparently recalling Mad-Eye Moody's speech at the train station, when they picked up Harry.
Harry rose without a sound and walked to the hallway. He opened the door, expecting to receive a box, but instead received a familiar, "Wotcher, Harry!"
"Like my disguise? I'm quite proud of it," replied Tonks. "Anyway, I'm here to take you to Gringotts."
"Gringotts? But I thought we were going to Headquarters?"
"Dumbledore has some business for you to attend to at Gringotts, and then you'll meet someone who will take you to Headquarters."
"What's taking so long?" bellowed Uncle Vernon, from the dinning room.
"You'd better come in," Harry told Tonks, stepping away from the doorway.
Harry left Tonks in the hallway. He'd barely reentered the dining room when he heard the tinkling of broken china and Tonks yell, "Don't worry, I'll fix it. Reparo."
The Dursleys didn't seem to care that Harry was leaving, and the only good-bye he received was Uncle Vernon's, "fine then."
Tonks helped Harry drag his loaded trunk downstairs, along with Hedwig in her cage. "We'll use the Floo Network out of Mrs. Figg's house, to get to Gringotts," explained Tonks as they closed the front door behind them.
Together, Harry and Tonks crossed Privet Drive and walked the short distance to Mrs. Figg's home. The old woman answered promptly after Tonks's knock, and Harry was immediately greeted by the smell of cats. He could see numerous glowing eyes peering at him from under furniture.
"We'll leave your stuff here," offered Tonks, "and then, when you've got safely to Gringotts, I'll come back and take them to Headquarters."
Half an hour later, Harry stood before the impressive entrance to Gringotts Wizard Bank. He and Tonks entered, but instead of going to the goblin manned desks, they hung a sharp left and went down a brightly lit corridor that ended in a large room, full of numbered doors. At the center stood a receptionist's desk, with a frail looking goblin sitting behind it.
"Let's see," muttered Tonks, "we're looking for number 2659." She barely glanced at the old goblin behind the desk.
Harry looked around, baffled. The doors were only numbered one through nine. Tonks led him to the number two door, and pulled it open. They went down another corridor and into another large room, which, after noticing the frail goblin behind a desk, Harry realized was the same room they had just exited. Tonks again ignored the receptionist, and took Harry through door number six. After another corridor, they once again stood in the same large room.
"Umm, maybe we should ask the receptionist for help?" suggested Harry.
"Don't be silly, Harry, we don't need any help."
She then led him through door number five, and again they ended up in the first chamber. Harry stepped toward the goblin at the desk, but Tonks grabbed his shirt and pulled him to door number nine, pushing him through it. They walked down another corridor, which terminated at a frosted glass door with "Legal Room 2659," etched on the front.
They entered and Harry found himself in a small waiting room, containing only two chairs against one wall and a solid door on the other, with no knob. Tonks took a seat and Harry followed suit.
"Someone should be with us soon," Tonks assured Harry, "we're a few minutes early."
Harry barely had time to reflect on his utterly confused state, when the knob-less door swung open and Remus Lupin walked out, followed closely by a goblin.
"I will see you now, Mr. Potter," spoke the goblin.
As Harry passed the worn and tired looking Lupin, he was given a slightly reassuring smile. As the door closed behind him, he heard a snippet of the conversation between Lupin and Tonks, "Nice to see you got him here safely…"
The room beyond the knob-less door was scantily furnished, containing nothing but a desk and two chairs. The goblin sat down on the far side of the desk, and beckoned Harry to take his seat as well. Harry fervently wished he knew what was going on. Had Tonks forgotten to tell him something. Should he have received an explanatory note from Dumbledore that he had never gotten?
"Please sit down, Mr. Potter," said the goblin a bit forcefully, jolting Harry out of his thoughts.
"Sorry," Harry mumbled back, as he sat down.
A single piece of parchment rested on the desk, written in jet-black ink. Next to it lay a black quill.
"I will now read the last will and testament of Sirius Black," explained the goblin solemnly, "he has bequeathed his fortune to be split among Peter Pettigrew, Remus John Lupin, and James Potter. His estate passes to James Potter. You are the heir of James Potter and therefore, the bequeathal passes to you." The goblin formally, unemotionally read the will. When he finished, he slid the parchment toward Harry. "Please sign at the bottom, indicating you understand and accept the legal exchanges that will take place."
Harry sat in shocked silence for a moment, before automatically taking the parchment. His eyes scanned the words, but his brain didn't seem to want to register them.
I, Sirius Black, leave my fortunes to be divided among my three closest friends, Peter Pettigrew, Remus John Lupin, and James Potter. I also leave my estate, Number 12 Grimmauld Place and all worldly possessions to James Potter. I would also like it to be known, that it is my final wish that James demolish the building, as that would annoy my mother greatly. I pledge that I make this will while I am of sound mind, as is witnessed below.
Sirius' scrawling signature appeared under the words. Two other signatures followed. The first, Harry immediately recognized as Dumbledore's. The second caused his breath to catch in his throat. He traced the flowing letters with a shaking finger. It was the first time he'd ever see his mother's writing. At the bottom of the parchment, three lines waited. The first one was black, with "Deceased, no living relatives," printed neatly on it. The second line was also black and Harry saw Remus Lupin's looping signature filing it. The last line waited blankly, it's bright red ink seeming out of place.
Harry's senses had gone numb. This was the last thing he had expected to be asked to do. If he signed this, it meant Sirius was really gone. For a crazy second, Harry actually considered telling the goblin there was a mistake. Sirius wasn't dead, he just hadn't returned from beyond the veil yet.
Blinking away tears, Harry picked up the quill and hurriedly scribbled his name on the last line. At first no ink appeared, but after a few seconds there was a small pop and his name and the line both appeared in black.
"It is done," intoned the goblin, as Harry placed the quill shakily back on the desk. "The gold will be transferred to your account and we will owl you the deeds to your new estate." He rose and Harry followed after him automatically. In the waiting room, Lupin sat quietly instead of Tonks.
"I'm sorry we didn't tell you what this was about, Harry," said Remus softly. "We weren't sure if you would come, if you knew it was to sign Sirius's will."
"It forced me to accept that he's gone," choked Harry.
"I'm sorry, Harry," replied Lupin, holding the door open. "I'd like to tell you it gets easier, but it doesn't. However, I think seeing Ron at Headquarters will cheer you up."
"But it will also remind me of Sirius," added Harry as he began walking down the corridor.
"Harry, I know how you are feeling all too well. You will find that little things will remind you of Sirius just as much as the big things. Every time you see a hippogriff, or someone's black dog, or when you see the Shrieking Shack, you are going to think of Sirius. It is human nature. And as much pain as it causes, it is when you stop remembering Sirius that you truly have lost him."
Harry stayed silent as they crossed the golden lobby and exited out into Diagon Alley. He had forgotten that he wasn't the only one who missed Sirius. Lupin had now lost both Sirius and James, and Harry felt guilty for focusing only on his own hurt.
"I don't mean to lecture, Harry, but you have to grieve Sirius. Otherwise, it will eat at your soul and your mind, the way it did Sirius. He never got the opportunity to grieve for James in Azkaban, so when he got out, he chose instead to look at you and see James, instead of accepting his loss. When we spoke of you, near the end of last term, Sirius often called you James without realizing it."
Harry wasn't sure what Lupin was driving at, but he didn't trust his voice enough to ask. He just continued to stare at the cobblestones as they walked, not caring where they were going.
"The point I'm trying to get at, Harry, is that you don't want to end up like that. You have to come to terms that Sirius is dead. It will take time, but it must be done. I myself am still struggling with it, but I find Grimmauld Place to actually help the process. Many people, who also miss Sirius, surround and bring comfort to me. That is another reason Dumbledore wanted to remove you from your aunt and uncle's protection, so early in the summer."
Still starting at his shoes, Harry mumbled. "One day, when the war is over and we don't need a Headquarters anymore, I'm going to follow through on Sirius' wishes, and tear Grimmauld Place down."
Remus chuckled. "When that day comes, I'll help you tear it down, brick by brick."
Harry finally looked up and found himself in front of the Leaky Cauldron. He found his voice and asked, "why are we here?"
"We are going to take a Muggle taxi to Headquarters. Dumbledore reckons that no decent Death Eater would ever think of Muggle transportation, and that it's probably the safest way to get you there," replied Lupin with a smile. "I practically had to put a full body bind on Arthur Weasley to keep him from coming with us. I've never seen a man so excited about the potential of a car ride."
Harry couldn't help but smile as well. He couldn't imagine the number of memory charms it would require to make that cabbie forget a ride with Arthur Weasley.
The taxi dropped them off at number eleven Grimmauld Place, since the driver couldn't see number twelve because of the Fidelius Charm. Harry got out first and Lupin stayed behind, to presumably pay the driver. Harry, however, was quite surprised to see Lupin pull out his wand and mutter, "Obliviate."
Instantly the driver's eyes glossed over and he bid them good day, in a strange voice, and drove off.
"A precautionary measure," explained Lupin, when he saw Harry's shocked expression. "Although memory charms can be broken, it doesn't make it as likely that any Death Eaters will learn the where abouts of where he dropped us off."
"But they couldn't get in, because of the Fidelius Charm, right?" asked Harry.
"They could not see the house, nor get into it, but it is still not advantageous to have a gang of Death Eaters roving around outside. It makes holding meetings difficult and dangerous, and it's just easier to try and avoid that situation."
Harry stopped Remus as they were reached the front door of Number 12 Grimmauld Place. "I just wanted to apologize, for only thinking about how I felt after having to sign Sirius's will. I didn't even stop to think how you felt…" Lupin however, cut Harry's awkward apology off.
"You don't need to apologize for anything, Harry. You did nothing wrong. You lost someone very close to you. I just want you to know, that if you ever need anyone to talk to, I'm always here. Well, I don't know how talkative I'd be around the full moon, but as long as I've had my potion, I would be quite content to just listen."
Harry laughed, but then said seriously, "And I'll be here,too, if you need anyone to talk to as well."
Looking at Harry with tired eyes, Lupin replied, "That is something your father would have said, Harry. You truly do not know how like him you are becoming."
Lupin and Harry knocked on the door and waited patiently for someone to answer. After a few seconds Molly Weasley opened the door. Immediately Harry was pulled into a tight hug, as Molly fussed over him.
"Mum, you're going to strangle him," said a very familiar voice from somewhere beyond Mrs. Weasley. Harry struggled free and saw Ron standing a bit behind his mother.
"All right there Harry?" he asked, looking, if it was possible, thought Harry, even taller than he had been two weeks ago.
"I'm alright," replied Harry.
"Are you hungry, Harry?" asked Mrs. Weasley, "I have plenty of left overs from dinner in the kitchen. Come on, you look famished." Ron gave him an "it's best to do what she says," look, and Harry had to admit he was a bit hungry, since he hadn't had a chance to finish his meager meal with the Durselys.
Ron followed him to the kitchen and took a seat next to him, but remained oddly silent. Mrs. Weasly bustled around and in no time had a plate set before Harry, heaped with pork chops, mashed potatoes with gravy, and half a mince pie. Harry also got a pitcher full of pumpkin juice and a huge slice of blueberry pie for dessert.
"It's okay," he told Ron between mouthfuls, "I promise I won't bite your head off if you talk to me."
"It's just that, I wasn't sure how you'd be feeling," confessed Ron, "after having to go, you know, go sign the um, well the…"
"…The will," finished Harry, pausing from eating. "It's okay, you can say it. Professor Lupin and I had a nice long talk afterwards. Well he did most of the talking really. It's still surreal to me."
Ron nodded, "I haven't even been home yet, we came straight here off the train. It's so strange not to have Sirius around, and dull too. With just Ginny and me around all of the time, it's bloody boring. We don't even have cleaning to keep our minds off of it. Occasionally Fred and George turn up, or Percy, but we miss not having Sirius. The rows he had with Mum were entertaining in themselves…"
"Wait a minute," interrupted Harry, "did you say Percy is around?"
"Oh yeah, I forgot that you didn't know," replied Ron. He looked around, making sure his mother was out of earshot. "After You-Know-Who showed himself at the Ministry, Percy came crawling back to the family. Mum and Dad accepted him back, of course. Mum was crying and Dad was saying how we hadn't been a family without him. He was even inducted into the Order. The rest of us aren't so forgiving though, and Percy knows it. Fred and George have been using him as a test dummy for some of their newest joke items, and Ginny and I just try not to talk to him."
"Don't you think you're being a little hard on him, I mean he did come back and admit he was wrong and everything."
Ron snorted. "He came back, but he hasn't admitted he was wrong. He hasn't even apologized for all those horrible things he said to Mum and Dad last year, or that letter he wrote to me about you. We think Mum and Dad are being too easy on him."
Harry, much to his own surprise, wasn't gloating as much as he thought he would last year. Now that everyone knew Voldemort was back, Harry saw the terror it stirred up. He now understood why people were so stubborn about not believing him and Dumbledore last year. They were trying to hide from what they were most afraid of. They thought that by seeing Harry as a criminally insane mischief-maker, and Dumbledore as a power hungry tyrant, that they could still be happy and carefree. So, somehow, Harry felt no anger toward Percy, or even Fudge, for that matter. He knew who his real enemies were, and the disbelievers from the Ministry of Magic were not them.
"You know what I do find interesting, though," commented Ron, "how did the goblins at Gringotts know Sirius had, well, died? I mean, he was still on the run and a fugitive, so it's not like Dumbledore could go report it or anything."
"I can answer that," replied Mrs. Weasley, somewhat gravely, as she refilled Harry's pumpkin juice. "Sirius made that will before your parents had died, Harry. Before he was sentenced to Azkaban. Now, when you make a will in the wizarding world, it is not only your wishes to be carried out after your death, but a magical contract, which is never written in black ink, always some other color. At the moment of the will-maker's death, the ink burns black, except for the inheritors' signature lines. Everyday at Gringotts, the goblins go through the stacks of wills and sort out the ones that have turned black, and then they go about contacting the other parties involved. Goblins don't really concern themselves with matters outside of Gringotts, so it mattered not that Sirius was an escaped convict. All they cared about was that his will had turned black and that people needed to be contacted, in order for the goblins to do their jobs, which they take very seriously."
"But, then, shouldn't they have realized that Peter Pettigrew wasn't really dead, when everyone thought he was," asked Harry?
"Only if he had made a will and stored it at Gringotts, which he may not have done." She fell silent and began scrubbing dishes at the sink.
"Come on, Harry, let's go take a tour of your new house before bed. I still have to feed Buckbeak and Pig anyway," suggested Ron.
Buckbeak still lived in Sirius' mother's old bedroom. The creature looked up expectantly when they opened the door, but when he saw it was only them, laid his head back down on the bed. The boys bowed cautiously, but Buckbeak barely nodded his head.
"I think he's depressed," confessed Ron, "he must miss Sirius awfully."
Buckbeak looked up at Harry, and Harry somehow understood the sadness and confusion in the hippogriff's eyes. He stroked Buckbeak's glossy feathers on his neck, and said sadly, "Sirius is gone, Buckbeak. He's never coming back, so I'm going to be the one taking care of you now."
Ron laid out half a dozen dead rats before Buckbeak, but the winged creature barely sniffed at them.
"Come on now, you have to eat," coaxed Ron. Buckbeak scoffed two rats grudgingly, with a sickening crunch.
"It can't be good for him either, being cooped up in this house all the time," said Harry, as he and Ron made their way to the room they would be sharing.
"Yeah," agreed Ron, "next time Hagrid is here for a meeting, we'll ask him to go have a look at Buckbeak."
Ron led Harry to the same room he'd stayed in last year. Tonks had delivered his things. His trunk sat at the foot of his bed and Hedwig and Pig perched atop the dresser, their empty cages on the floor. Ron gave both birds some owl pellets and opened the window so they could come and go. After changing into their pajamas and crawling into bed, Harry remembered that the door was still unlocked.
"Don't bother," replied Ron, when Harry asked if he should get up and lock it.
"But what about Kreacher?"
"He's gone," answered Ron, "after what happened, the Order voted unanimously on it."
"So he was given clothes?" inquired Harry, referring to the only way to set a house elf free.
"Free!" Ron exclaimed. "No, they, well, um, they tried and executed him."
Harry just stared at Ron, with a slightly disbelieving gape.
"Well, he deserved it, didn't he," Ron half asked, half stated, "I mean, he lied to you, betrayed Sirius, and was fraternizing with You-Know-Who. He was a security risk, even if he was kept here. There was a lot of discussion as to whether or not you should make the decision, but Dumbledore decided that it was probably best to not add to your stress. Apparently they did it in a humane way, if that helps." Ron looked terrified that Harry would blow up again, as he had done on so many occasions last year.
Harry, however, felt mixed emotions. At first he felt sympathetic, but then an annoying little voice, from the back of his mind, reminded him just how much Kreacher was involved in Sirius's death. If he hadn't lied to Harry, Harry never would have gone to the Ministry of Magic looking for Sirius, who wasn't even there. Harry would not have needed to be rescued by the Order and Sirius, and thus, Sirius never would have died. For a second, Kreacher's death brought Harry happiness. Then the feeling faded. While Kreacher would not be able to betray anyone else, his death did not bring Sirius back.
Ron continue to stare at Harry with a scared expression, so instead of voicing his present opinion, Harry lightened the mood by asking, "So, how are you going to tell Hermione this?"
"Tell her? I'm not telling her!" replied Ron fervently, "she'd go bonkers, and we'd never hear the end of SPEW. I'm not going to tell her for her own sake and our sanity. We'll just tell her that he has been set free, that will satisfy her."
Harry laughed, for probably only the second time that summer. He had gotten a perfect mental picture of Hermione's reaction to the news that Kreacher had been killed, and he whole heartedly agreed with Ron that in this case, a little white lie was the best thing.