Disclaimer: Much to my extreme disappointment, I do not own Harry Potter. Sometimes life really sucks doesn't it?
A/N: Is it even possible to say how sorry I am that this took so long? Nope, I think not. The good news though, I did get to go to Europe this summer and I am currently ensconced at my dream university and loving every minute of it.
Chapter 22: A Returning, a Reckoning, and a Reunion
Harry dropped his suitcase on the front lawn with a sigh of happiness. There it sat, his very own number 19 Willow Way. France had been great and all, but there really was no place like home. Especially if your family was with you. Harry didn't even regret celebrating his twelfth birthday in France because all the important people had been there.
After leaving the airport, they had dropped Remus and Tonks off at Grimmauld Place and then wearily made their way home. It was just about tea time, and if they were lucky they could be unpacked and settled in by dinner time.
He looked toward the front of the house. There, standing in the doorway, was Emma. She caught sight of him and gave a wide delighted smile, racing across the lawn to throw her skinny arms around him. Dumbledore remained in the doorway behind her.
"Hey Sirius," called Harry, hugging the small girl back. "You don't mind if we have a guest for a while do you?"
"No, not at all," said Sirius, catching sight of the Lily-look-alike and grinning.
"Well then, come on guys. Let's get inside and unpack," said Elena, trying to herd everyone into the house.
"Harry, the man with the long beard brought me here and said I could stay the whole summer! Isn't that great?" said Emma, clutching his arm and talking a mile a minute.
"It's fantastic Em."
Thomas Granger cleared his throat and said, "Sirius, Elena? Katherine and I would like to invite you to dinner the day after tomorrow at our house—"
"—Actually, it's not so much 'dinner' as it is a barbeque. My sister and her family are coming over from America and we would really like to introduce you to them. I hate to ask you on such short notice, but it was kind of a last minute thing for them," said Katherine.
Harry saw Hermione roll her eyes and grinned.
Sirius and Elena exchanged looks before Sirius said, "That sounds wonderful. Is it okay to bring the kids or should we find someone to baby sit?"
"No, it's fine, bring them. As a matter of fact, my sister has four of her own and the oldest is only five years older than Harry and Hermione," said Katherine, switching Carson over to her other shoulder.
"Great. We'll see you then. Maybe we could all head to Diagon Alley this weekend too. The kids need their school supplies," Elena said, and caught Evan's hand as he attempted to dart past her.
"Sounds like a plan. Come on Hermione, you can talk with Harry and Emma tomorrow after we've settled in."
The Blacks, Harry, and Emma entered the house and immediately split up. Elena took Evan and Emma upstairs to change, while Harry and Sirius led Dumbledore to the library where they could discuss Emma's housing arrangements without being overheard.
"Well?" Harry asked, cutting to the core of the matter.
"Well what Harry?" Dumbledore asked, refusing to release the reins of the conversation.
"Harry, I think it would be best if we let Dumbledore speak before jumping down his throat," Sirius said, handing both of them a cup of tea and settling back in his favorite chair with one of his own. "Please," he said, waving at the chair behind Albus. "Sit."
"Thank you, Sirius."
Harry tapped his foot impatiently as he waited for Dumbledore to get comfortable. This waiting was killing him as patience had never been his forte.
"Is Emma still in the Dursley's legal custody?" Sirius asked, watching Dumbledore carefully over the rim of his cup.
"What?!" Harry yelled, leaping up from his chair. "I thought we had a deal? You place her under someone else's guardianship or I never return there."
Dumbledore looked at Harry, disappointment the only thing twinkling in his eyes. Sirius too was frowning at him.
"Harry, I would appreciate it if you would give me a chance to utter more than one word before condemning me," the professor said sadly.
He felt a twinge of guilt for yelling, but they had had a deal. Or so he had thought…
"Harry?" Sirius asked, and Harry caught a wealth of information in that one word. Sirius was asking if he could be trusted to reign in his temper and listen with an open mind. If not, Sirius would send him out of the room.
"Sorry Sirius," he said, then turned to Professor Dumbledore. "Please excuse my outburst of temper Headmaster," he said and left it at that. For a moment, he was sure he'd seen admiration shine in the professor's blue eyes, but…well, maybe not.
"There is nothing to forgive Harry."
Harry nodded and sat back down in his chair.
"Now, as I was saying, Emma is still in the Dursley's legal custody. However, I did manage to convince them that she would be less of a burden to them if she spent the summer with her cousin and his godfather. I explained to them that Emma, as a magically gifted child, could cause some, er… interesting things to happen without proper training and—because of such—she should be somewhere where her magical outbursts could be monitored."
At that, Harry snorted. He could just imagine Vernon turning a darker shade of pink every time a word such as "magically" cropped up in the conversation.
"Needless to say, after I explained what could possibly happen if Emma had an incident of accidental magic, they were all too happy to get rid of her."
Harry, clearing his throat, said carefully, "Doesn't that mean she'll have to go back at the end of summer?"
Dumbledore nodded and Harry sent Sirius a pained look.
"Headmaster—," Sirius began.
"Right, sorry. Albus, is there any way we can keep her away from them?"
Harry's head popped up from where he had been cradling it in his palms. "What is it?"
"Why, adopt her of course," he said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"Adopt her?" Harry said at the same time Sirius said "Of course," and slapped his forehead.
"I thought it would be best to separate her from her family for a while before asking them to release her into your custody. 'Soften them up' I believe the proper muggle term is?"
"Is that agreeable with you Sirius?" Dumbledore asked.
Sirius nodded, his brow furrowed in concentration.
"Very well then. That gives me the summer to get the paperwork in order. I'll meet back with you a week before term starts to finalize everything. Then, we'll have a meeting with the Dursleys."
No one said anything to this.
"Well, if that's all? I really must be going. Have a nice summer."
Sirius got up to walk Dumbledore to the door while Harry raced upstairs to tell Emma the good news.
That Sunday, Harry was racing up and down the stairs looking for his other shoe. The Black family plus Harry and Emma were going to head to the Granger's party in a few short minutes and Harry couldn't find his missing trainer anywhere. He was in the process of looking under the couch for the third time when a giggle made him turn around.
Emma was dangling his shoe from its laces, laughing as it twisted back and forth. Harry leapt up and grabbed it, patting her on the head as he said "Thanks Em." He plopped down on the couch, pulled the offending trainer on, and tied it tightly.
"Harry? Are you ready to go yet?" Sirius called, opening the front door for Elena.
"Good, snag Evan from his room on your way down would you?"
"Come on Emma, let's get moving. They'll catch up to us," Sirius said. Emma went down stairs to join her 'Uncle' Sirius and 'Aunt' Elena, while Harry made his way down the hall to collect Evan.
As it turned out, Evan too had fallen victim to the missing shoe disease, so they showed up at the Granger's ten minutes behind the rest of their family.
Harry, being on very familiar terms with the Grangers, just opened the front door and walked right in, only to realize that it probably wasn't the smartest thing to do when strange people were in the house.
"Hey you! What do you think you're doing? Get out of here right now! The nerve of these kids, just bursting into someone else's house. Out, out, out!"
"But—," Harry began, only to be swatted by a woman who looked suspiciously like Mrs. Granger. Judging by the funny accent, Harry was willing to bet that she was one of the 'American relatives'.
"Elizabeth, leave the poor boys alone!" said Katherine Granger, coming to their rescue.
Harry breathed a sigh of relief.
"Sorry dear," Mrs. Granger added. Then, gripping his shoulders in her hands, she turned him to face the woman who had been trying to shove them back out the door.
"Liz, this is Harry, one of Hermione's best friends. Remember the man I introduced you to? Sirius Black? And his wife Elena?"
"Oh, yes of course."
"He's their godson. And the little one here," she said, ruffling Evan's hair, "Is their son, Evan. Harry, Evan, this is my sister Elizabeth Braxton. She and her family came here for a visit from America. Say hello Evan," Katherine said.
"Hullo," Evan said, scuffing his shoe against the tile floor. "Harry, I want to find daddy."
"Go right ahead," Harry said, and released Evan's hand.
"He's out back with Mr. Granger dear," said Katherine.
"Thanks," Evan said, and bolted in the direction of the backdoor. Harry fervently wished he could follow, but it would be poor manners.
"And the girl that was with them?" Elizabeth asked, looking a slightly confused.
"She's my cousin," Harry said, hoping he could leave to find Hermione soon.
"Ah," said Elizabeth.
"Well, go on Harry," Katherine said, releasing her grip. "I know you're dying to find Hermione. I think she's in her room with her cousins."
"Thanks Mrs. Granger," Harry said, and promptly shot up the stairs.
If he had bothered to look back, he would have seen Elizabeth raising an eyebrow and Katherine laughing as she explained "…inseparable those two are…don't know what we're going to do later…"
Harry reached Hermione's door and threw it open without knocking, rushing in. His eardrums were almost instantly ruptured by a high pitched scream.
Closing his eyes, praying he hadn't just seen what he thought he'd seen, Harry attempted to run right back out, that horrible sound still ringing in his ears. Unfortunately, that didn't work as well as he had hoped. He had opened the door hard enough so that as soon as he was through it, it had bounced back and started closing. Now, seeing as Harry had his eyes closed, he didn't know this. So, naturally he plowed right into the closed door in his hurry to escape.
Harry hit the door and rebounded painfully, ending up on his back on the floor while his hands still covered his eyes. Well, at least the screaming has turned to laughing, he thought briefly. Then one of the laughing voices was hovering right over him.
"Oh Harry," said Hermione, gently prying his hands away from his eyes as another giggle escaped her. "Are you okay?"
"That depends," Harry said, still not opening his eyes. "Is she properly dressed?"
"Who? Audrey?" Hermione paused for a moment and he assumed she was checking to see if the screaming banshee was now clothed. "Yes, she's dressed now Harry. You can open your eyes."
"I'm not sure I want to," he said stubbornly.
"Harry, you're being ridiculous. Now open your eyes so I can make sure you don't have a concussion, or I'll get mum up here to hover over you."
Harry's eyes snapped open to see Hermione hovering right over him. He went cross-eyed for a moment trying to bring her face into focus before she backed away.
"There now, sit up a bit," she said.
Harry did as he was told and the rest of the room came into focus. It looked just as it always had, except there were too completely unfamiliar and utterly gorgeous girls standing on either side of Hermione.
He didn't bother to give them a second glance. The oldest of the girls noticed and raised an eyebrow. The younger one pouted, clearly put out that he didn't start drooling at the sight of her. Hermione was so focused on tending to Harry that she missed the entire exchange between the three of them.
"How do you feel?" Hermione asked, pressing gently around the edges of the lump that was forming in the center of Harry's forehead.
He winced and she quit prodding at the bump. "Like I ran into a door," he said and grinned at her.
"Silly," she said and stood. Harry followed her up. Turning, she proceeded to introduce him to her two beautiful cousins.
"Harry, the one who was screaming when you came in is Audrey," she said, indicating the younger of the two girls, who looked to be about thirteen. "The other is Ashley," she said, waving a hand at the older girl, who appeared to be sixteen.
"Hello Audrey, Ashley," Harry said politely. Then he blushed. "Er, sorry about…well, you know."
The younger girl, Audrey, tittered. Harry, never having heard that precise sound before, did a double take. He wouldn't tell her of course, but he thought she sounded somewhat like a chipmunk.
"Girls, this is Harry. He's my best friend."
"Hello Harry," said Audrey, batting her eyelashes outrageously.
"Hi Harry," said Ashley, who then picked up the book she had been reading and went back to the window seat. Harry grinned. Apparently, chronic reading is genetic.
"So," Hermione began. "What took you so long? Uncle Sirius and Aunt Elena have been here for nearly fifteen minutes."
"Evan couldn't find his shoe," Harry said, rolling his eyes.
Hermione shook her head in disappointment. "And I suppose it didn't occur to you to have Sirius summon it?" she asked, lowering her voice so her cousins wouldn't overhear.
"Typical boys," she said and huffed.
Unknown to both of them, Ashley could hear their conversation and her ears perked up at the word 'summon'.
"So, what did I miss?" Harry asked, changing the subject.
"You mean other than a half starkers Audrey trying on all my clothes?"
He glared at her, but said "Yeah, other than that."
Hermione shrugged. "Not much. Dad just took the ribs out to the barbeque. He and Uncle Daniel are out there bragging about their cooking utensils and who has the bigger barbeque set."
"Hmm, in that case, I'm sure that's where Sirius will be too."
"Does that mean that's where you'd like to be?" The ever astute Hermione asked. "Wait. Stupid question," she said, holding up a hand. "That's where the food is therefore, that's where you want to be."
Harry grinned. "I knew I only liked you because you were smart," he said and started for the door.
"Prat!" she called after him. And then, as an afterthought, "At least eat some vegetables."
"Sure thing," came the echoing voice of a quickly disappearing Harry.
Hermione shook her head as her two interested cousins looked on. "I just don't know what I'm going to do about him."
"Well, you could start by telling us everything," Audrey said, clasping Hermione's hands in hers. "I can't believe you have a boyfriend! Who would have thought? And such a cute one too!"
"Audrey, let the girl breathe," Ashley said, coming to Hermione's rescue.
"We're not dating," Hermione said. Tacked on to that was the thought unfortunately.
"Why not?" Ashley asked, tilting her head to the side.
"Yeah, why not. He's freaking cute!"
"Look, I'll discuss this with you guys later tonight. For right now, let's go down and enjoy the party. Audrey, are you done trying on my clothes?"
"Okay then, let's go."
And so the three girls made their way downstairs to enjoy the party.
Hours later after everyone had left and most people were in bed, Ashley and Hermione were still up talking. Audrey had lost the battle to stay awake about an hour ago, so the girls knew they could talk without fear of being overheard.
"So," Ashley began, watching Hermione closely. "What's the deal with you and that Harry guy?"
"There is no 'deal' with us," Hermione said, picking at the hem of her pajama bottoms.
"Sure, I'll believe that when you can look me in the face and say it."
Hermione's head jerked up and her gaze crashed with that of the older girl. "Harry and I are just friends. Best friends. We have been since before we were five."
"But you don't want to be." It wasn't a question, merely a statement of fact.
Hermione chose to misinterpret it. "Of course I do!"
But Ashley was already shaking her head. "No Hermione. You don't want to be 'just' friends. You wan to be more than that."
Hermione thought about bluffing her way out of the situation, but she'd never been able to bluff against Ashley, there was no reason to believe she would suddenly be able to. She nodded, defeated.
"Yes Ashley, I want to be more than his friend, more than his best friend."
"If it counts for anything, he has eyes for no one but you."
Hermione gave her a doubting look.
"Seriously. He got up off the floor, took one look and Audrey and I and never looked back. Do you now how often that happens to us?"
"No," Hermione said very quietly.
"Almost never. I'm not bragging or anything because it was simply an accident of genetics, but very few guys can look at me or Audrey and avoid stumbling all over themselves. Your Harry looked and wasn't impressed."
"Is totally in love with you," Ashley said, breaking into whatever protest Hermione was about to make.
"If he was, wouldn't he have said something by now?"
"Hermione, this is a boy were talking about. It's going to take him a few more years to realize it for himself, let alone for him to get around to telling you how he feels."
Hermione sagged, depressed. "I guess."
"Hey, don't worry about it. He's a smart boy. He'll come around."
Hermione brightened slightly at that. "Yeah. He will at some point right?"
Ashley nodded, satisfied. "Now," she said. "Tell me how this Sirius would be able to 'summon' something."
Hermione suddenly turned pale and for one terrifying moment, Ashley thought she was going to faint.
"Hermione? Are you okay?"
"Where did you hear that?" Hermione asked, grabbing the other girl's upper arm tightly.
"Ow, Hermione that hurts!"
Hermione released her grip, but only slightly. Ashley was looking at her as if she'd suddenly turned demented.
"Ashley, this is very very important. Where. Did. You. Hear. That."
"When you and Harry were talking earlier. They were late because the little boy had lost his shoe, and you were asking Harry why he didn't ask Sirius to 'summon' it."
"Shit!" Hermione said and Ashley looked at her startled. Hermione never, never, cursed…ever.
"Listen, Hermione, I didn't mean—"
"Ashley, you can't tell anybody about this do you understand?"
"No, actually. I don't understand. Why don't you explain it to me? You're acting very weird, do you know that?"
"Alright Ashley, but you have to swear to me that what I tell you will not go beyond you and me. And it never leaves this room."
Ashley studied her for a moment before nodding slowly. "Okay."
"I mean it. You can't tell anybody. Not your mum or dad, your little brothers. Not even Audrey. I can't stress how important this is."
"Alright Hermione. I swear this will not go beyond you and me, and I swear it will not leave this room."
"Okay. Now, where to begin?"
"Start with Sirius and the summoning. We'll see how things go after that."
"Right. Well, to state things bluntly, Sirius is a wizard." Hermione clenched her eyes shut, waiting for her cousin to burst out laughing. After several moments of silence, she peeked out through one partially opened eyelid to see Ashley sitting with a thoughtful look on her face.
Finally, Ashley said, "Hermione, can I ask you one question before you elaborate on your previous statement?"
Hermione nodded, although she could nearly hear her cousin's question: Are you freaking NUTS? In fact, she was focusing so much on the screaming in her head, that she nearly missed Ashley's question entirely.
"Are you a wizard too?"
Hermione stumbled out of her musings and said "Come again?"
"I asked if you're a wizard too, because that would explain some things."
"Oh. Well, I just thought—"
"I'm a witch."
Ashley closed her mouth and nodded. "Okay, continue."
"So far, I'm the only one in the family who is, er…magically inclined. Mum and Dad aren't and neither was Erik. It's still too early to tell for Carson."
"I see. And Sirius' family?" Ashley prompted.
"Sirius is a wizard. His wife, Elena—"
"Let me guess, she's a witch?"
"No actually. She's what we call a squib."
"A squib. It means someone with magical parents who has no magical powers of their own."
"Ah, I see. And their son?"
"It's a little early to tell, but I think he'll be magical as well."
"A little early to tell? He's as old as you, how can you not know yet?"
Now Hermione was really confused. "Evan? He's only three. He won't begin exhibiting magical tendencies for another two years or so."
"Evan? I was talking about Harry."
"Oh, Harry isn't their son."
"He's not? But he's got dark hair just like Sirius—"
"I guess they do kind of look alike, but they're not related. Harry is Sirius' godson."
"Ah, okay. So the little boy is their son and the redhead is their daughter?"
"This is a little confusing."
"Not really. There's Sirius and Elena and their son Evan. Then there's Sirius' godson Harry, and Harry's cousin Emma."
"Got it. Now, Harry and Emma?"
"Emma is a witch. Actually, she's what the magical community would call 'muggleborn' like me. It means her parents are muggles, but she's magical."
"Sorry, it means non-magical folks. It's actually why she's staying with the Blacks instead of at her own house."
"Well, after Harry's parents were killed—"
"His parents were killed?"
"Yes, but I'll tell you about that later. For now, let's stick with what you need to know. After Harry's parents were killed, he was sent to his Aunt's house. His aunt and uncle, who are muggles, hated him because he was magical. They thought he was a freak."
"I hate ignorant people."
"Me too. Anyways, after a few years, Sirius managed to get custody of Harry. Harry didn't see them again until this summer when he visited. During his stay, he met Emma and discovered she was magical too."
"Let me guess, her parents hated her too?"
"Yes. They treated her horribly, so the headmaster of our school—Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry—managed to talk her parents into letting her stay the summer with Harry and his family."
"So Harry's magical too then, a wizard?"
"A very powerful wizard."
"Okay, so we have wizards, witches, squibs, muggles, and muggleborns. Does that about cover it?"
"Okay, now, tell me about Harry's parents?" Ashley asked.
"They were murdered."
"Murdered? By who?"
"The most evil wizard of our time: Voldemort."
"I'm not sure why, but the sound of that name makes me shiver."
"It should," Hermione said and then proceeded to tell Ashley the history of the famous Harry Potter, and a condensed version of the history of Hogwarts and the wizarding world in general. It was a very long night.