Chapter 9: Ponderings
25th April 1990
Beside a two-story cottage, covered by the Fidelius Charm, two opponents squared off. One was a grown man with short, black hair and grey eyes. The other was nine years old, with brilliant green eyes, messy black hair and a scar in the shape of a lightning bolt on his forehead.
"Ready when you are, Harry," Sirius called, showing no emotion and holding his wand in a loose grip.
By contrast, Harry's posture was like a coiled spring, ready to dodge in any direction. In his right hand, he clenched his mother's wand. Sirius had been a bit surprised by that, having assumed that his father's wand would have been a better match.
Harry's eyes narrowed in concentration at Sirius' challenge. This time, he thought. This time I'll beat him.
Without warning, Harry's arm came up in a blur. "Stupefy!"
"Protego," Sirius said instantly, stopping the bolt of red light. "Expelliarmus."
Harry dodged to the left to avoid the disarming charm. "Petrificus Totalus!"
Again, Sirius shielded against the hex with no apparent effort. "Rictusempra."
"Protego!" Harry countered, attempting to reflect the jinx back at Sirius but failing. "Tarantallegra!"
Sirius merely took a step to the right, and the hex went whistling over his shoulder. They traded hexes and jinxes for several minutes, and Harry grew steadily more frustrated at his inability to get past Sirius' defences.
"Keep calm and focus," Harry reminded himself. One thing he had noticed from earlier mock-duels with Sirius was that his godfather had a tendency to dodge to his right. Sirius was after all right-handed and thus the direction he would instinctively move to.
"Incarcerous! Tarantallegra!" he suddenly snapped and without waiting for his godfather's reaction, aimed a few feet to his left and said: "Densaugeo."
As Harry had hoped, Sirius leaped to his right rather than attempt to block both spells, which put himself right in the path of Harry's third hex. Unfortunately, rather than hitting Sirius, it slammed into an invisible magical barrier he had obviously erected earlier without Harry noticing. Sirius grinned as if to say: "Nice try!"
"Impedimenta! Stupefy!" he barked.
Harry leaped out of the way, tucked, rolled and came back up on his feet. "Stupefy!"
"Rictusempra!" Sirius snapped and quickly went down in a crouch, letting Harry's stunner zoom past overhead. Harry, however, couldn't block the jinx in time and had no shield to protect himself with. He collapsed on the ground, laughing uncontrollably as thousands of invisible fingers tickled his sides and armpits.
"Aagh… Sirius… Take it off!" he shouted between laughs.
With a cockygrin, Sirius slowly sauntered over to where Harry was lying on the ground, twisting and turning like an insane eel. "Padfoot wins!" he said in a sing-song voice. "Padfoot always wins!"
"Not funny… Take it off!" Harry gasped.
Sirius sighed. "No sense of humour at all. Finite Incantatem."
Finally the merciless attack ceased, and Harry stopped wiggling.
"You did a nice job at predicting my movements," Sirius allowed. "But don't rely too much on that, or it can be used against you. Also beware of your own weaknesses, such as your current lack of knowledge about advanced shield charms. By the way, where did you learn about 'Densaugeo?' I can't remember having taught you that particular curse."
Harry propped himself up on his elbows. "Found it in one of your books. Thought I might be able to surprise you with it."
Sirius sniffed in distain. "Such a simple curse surprise me? Hardly."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Padfoot, humility is not one of your virtues."
"Funny. That's what your father used to say, too."
Sirius regarded his godson as he got up and dusted himself off. The mention of Harry's father seemed to have triggered something in the boy's young mind, because he had that thoughtful expression he always got right before he asked a question important to him.
"Why did Voldemort want to kill my parents, Sirius?"
Sirius hesitated. "Well, they were heavily involved with the Order of the Phoenix, you know," he said and pocketed his wand. "And they had already escaped his clutches thrice, so you can imagine they were something of a thorn in his side."
Should I tell him about the prophecy? Should I?
"But why me?" Harry asked and subconsciously raised a hand to rub his scar. "It doesn't make any sense – I wasn't any threat to him."
"You must understand, Harry, that Death Eaters enjoy murdering and inflicting pain," Sirius heard himself say. "And Voldemort enjoyed it more than most."
Sirius felt dreadfully guilty over not telling Harry the whole truth. He had always been honest with his godson, but he simply couldn't bring himself to place that immense burden on Harry's shoulders just yet. The boy was only nine, for Merlin's sake! He had the right to a proper childhood. Besides, Voldemort was gone for now, so there wasn't any rush.
Thus rationalized, Sirius forced a grin and said: "How about a game of Quidditch?"
Harry readily agreed, and a quick round of Rock, Paper and Scissors decided that Sirius would be Keeper first. Being only two, they had developed their own brand of Quidditch where they'd take turns being Keeper for five minutes, while the other would play Chaser. A pair of charmed apples substituted for Bludgers.
Sirius flew into position in front of the goal post – a tall tree with the top third split into a Y-shape. Harry started far out like he always did and came speeding toward him, jinking left and right. Sirius followed his every moment with intent eyes. The boy had an uncanny talent for flying, a talent which was reinforced by the fastest reflexes he had ever seen in a human being.
Harry jinked and banked as he came closer, throwing in sudden and unexpected manoeuvres to confuse Sirius. He dodged a flying apple and suddenly banked hard to left. Sirius automatically followed to his right, only to abruptly have Harry twist in the opposite direction and throw the Quaffle.
Sirius cursed and threw himself to his left in a desperate attempt to catch it, but his arm was a couple inches too short and the Quaffle breezed through the goal.
"Ten points to me! Ten points to me!" Harry shouted tauntingly as he made a victory pass around the goal post, the wind ruffling his hair.
After five minutes Harry had scored an additional four times, and it was now Sirius' turn to be Chaser. Being a Keeper didn't fully take advantage of Harry's talents and although his reflexes served him well, Sirius ended up scoring three times. Forty minutes later Harry had earned 140 points compared to Sirius' 110 and the match was over, complete with sore losers ("I'm not any good at being Keeper!").
Sirius regarded his godson fondly as the boy put away their brooms. He thought he'd done of a good job of raising Harry, considering their situation. Back when Harry was a baby, it had been a big step for Sirius to go from careless bachelor to responsible surrogate parent.
Responsible! Nine years ago, a responsible Sirius Black would have seemed like an oxymoron. However, he had been forced to become responsible quickly, for Harry's sake. Perhaps the years with his godson had been good for him.
He liked to think so.
Sirius followed Harry inside their cottage and to the living room. Harry picked out one of his favourite books from a shelf (The Dark Arts Outsmarted) and sat down in the sofa. He seemed to have developed a fascination with everything that had to do with self-defence, both physical and magical. Sirius remained standing, however, frowning in thought.
Since he had sent that letter to Remus, he hadn't tried to contact him or Dumbledore. It was stupid, perhaps, but Harry meant everything to him. He couldn't risk being captured and have his godson sent to an orphanage or, worse, back to those horrid relatives of his. James and Lily had trusted him to take care of Harry in the event of their death, and he was by God going to do that!
However, in a few years Harry was due to enter Hogwarts. There had never been any question whether he would. Not only would James and Lily have wanted that, but it was also Harry's right. The big problem was that Sirius might be sending Harry away forever. While Dumbledore and Remus might believe his innocence without evidence, the Ministry wouldn't. So how to get Harry back, once the school year ended?
The only solution he could see was the crazy plan he had come up with yesterday, but that would require them to begin preparing right away...
Harry gave his godfather a covert look over the edge of the book he was pretending to read. Sirius was brooding again, something he had lately done far too often in Harry's opinion. Naturally, he considered it his duty to give Padfoot something else to think about. And he knew just the way.
With a slight smile, he slowly put the book down at the table and pulled his wand from his pocket. Sirius didn't notice, standing there with his hands in his pockets and frowning at the floor. Harry's smile turned into an evil grin as he gestured with his wand and whispered an incantation.
"MERLIN'S HAIRY BALLS!"
Harry dissolved into laughter as he saw the effects of the charm. Sirius' black hair had abruptly been transformed into angelic-looking golden curls, which now reached well past his shoulders. Sirius had grabbed one of the long locks and was holding it up in front of his face, staring at it in shock. Now he rounded on Harry.
"I didn't teach you that hex so you could use it on me!" he said, trying to look hurt and failing miserably.
"Optimist!" Harry managed go gasp out.
The corners of Sirius' mouth quirked as he drew his own wand. "Have it your way, then."
Harry sat bolt upright in the sofa and brought his hands to his hair. "You didn't-" he began.
"You know the rules," Sirius smirked. "You can play pranks, but if you do, it's pink hair for a day."
"Not pink!" Harry moaned and held out a strand of hair to examine it. Sure enough, it had turned a particularly violent shade of pink. Quick as thought he snatched his wand where it had fallen on the floor and snapped an incantation.
"CIRCE'S BUTT!" Sirius stared in horror at his robes, which Harry had just transfigured into a pink, flowery nightgown. "This means war!" he bellowed, and with that the hexes started flying.
The tranquillity of the Headmaster's office on Hogwarts was suddenly disturbed by a knock on the door. Fawkes shifted on his perch and Albus put his quill down. He had a fair idea of who it was.
The door opened to admit Remus Lupin. As always, the werewolf looked worn and aged beyond his years. Albus noted that his robes had gotten quite a few patches since he had last seen him.
"Good day, Remus," Albus smiled and rose to greet his former pupil. "Please sit. Can I get you any refreshments?"
"No thank you, Headmaster," Remus said and sat down in one of the chairs intended for guests. "I just wanted a word with you."
Albus sat back down and folded his hands in a pyramid in front of him. He didn't require Legilimency to know what Remus wanted to talk about.
"In a little more than a year, Harry is supposed to attend Hogwarts," Remus began.
Albus nodded serenely. "And I have no doubt that he will."
The werewolf hesitated. "But what will happen once he gets here? How will the Ministry react? Won't they try to- to seize him?"
"I don't think you need to worry about that," Albus said and gave the younger man a reassuring smile. "I like to think that I've grown quite familiar with Hogwarts' rules over the years, and I am Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot. The Ministry has no legal basis to do anything at all to Harry."
Albus held up a hand to stop him. "Remember that not only is Harry a minor but he has also never actually broken a law, hence they can't arrest him. Moreover, once registered as a future student – which Harry was more than nine years ago – the Ministry is powerless to stop him from entering Hogwarts."
"But what if they revoke Sirius' guardianship?" Remus argued. "Then he'd be a ward of the Ministry."
"They could do that," Albus agreed. "But guardianships can only be revoked if the legal guardian is a criminal or if he or she would make an unfitting parent. In both cases the Ministry would have to prove it, which they have yet to do. They've never given Sirius a trial, you know. I assure you, Remus; Harry will be quite safe here at Hogwarts, both from the Ministry and surviving Death Eaters."
"Okay, but what about after he finishes his first year here?" Remus asked. "Where is he going to go? Back to Sirius? The Ministry will never allow that."
"That may be, but they can't restrain him or order him not to leave. They can attempt to track him back to Sirius, however, and therein lays the problem I'm afraid I don't have a solution for at the moment."
Remus nodded resignedly. "There has to be something we can do," he muttered. "Wish I could talk to Sirius."
"Oh, don't worry too much," Albus said soothingly. "I doubt Sirius will send him away without having thought about this. When Harry arrives here, I'll have a word with him. Besides, I'm sure two brilliant minds such as mine and yours can come up with something, given a couple years to think about it."
Albus smiled contently to himself and looked out the window at the sunshine outside. He had a strong feeling that an age was slowly coming to an end, and that another was about to begin.
The age of Harry Potter.
(of this story)
Author's Notes: Wohoo! I've reached the end! This last chapter turned out to be shorter than I had expected, but oh well. Hope you're not disappointed over not getting to see Harry go to Hogwarts in this story; that will happen in the sequel. So keep an eye out for Beyond the Darkness: The Philosopher's Stone. I'll begin posting chapters as soon as I figure out the chapter-outline.
A big thanks to the Phoenix King who beta-read and improved this entire story.