Disclaimer: I do not own either Harry Potter (rightfully owned by J.K Rowling) or Naruto (rightfully owned by Masashi Kishimoto) nor do I make any money out of this fiction. I will also add that any sections or phrases in this chapter that bear resemblance to works by either author or from movies based on works of said authors is recreated in the same spirit of free usage and is not for profit.
A/N: Here is the epilogue as promised and thus Silent Humanity has ended. This story will not be updated again, unless I happen to edit the previous chapters or something.
This epilogue turned out to be a lot longer than I had originally planned. Silent Humanity itself has ended up being almost 330,000 words long in all and has taken nearly seven years to complete. I began this undertaking in school and am now on a post-graduate degree, the results have been as varied as that passage of time would suggest.
Don't forget the first chapter of the sequel has been published as well. More on that in the author's note at the end.
For those readers in the United States of America, it may be worth noting that in Great Britain we refer to the bottommost floor as the ground floor, and the next one up as the first floor. So our 'first floor' is your 'second floor'. It's silly really but I have to stick to the conventions of my country's dialect.
I hope you enjoy.
"My name's not Lily, it's Gaara!" The irate redhead said a touch louder than his monotonous gravelly voice usually sounded.
"Ha!" Sirius declared. "Pay up." He held out his hand and Lupin dropped a handful of coins into his palm.
"You couldn't even make it to his house, Gaara?" Remus said, tucking his lighter wallet back into his robes.
Gaara was still angry, doubly so to have been tricked.
This was going to be one long summer.
"Here we are! Home, sweet home." Sirius declared as he pulled up outside one among the row of connected houses and let Lupin and Gaara disembark with the redhead's trunk. Sirius darted off in his shiny black auto-mobile carriage to park it up the street, and jogged back at a sedate pace.
Looking up, Gaara didn't like the place. These "cities", much bigger than even the grandest towns in his own world, were densely packed with thousands upon thousands of civilians, most of whom seemed to drive cars all over the streets. As he peered up at the terrace of town houses, he thought they too seemed quite cramped.
The good cheer on Sirius' face, which had returned over the course of the slow drive through London, diminished with each step the man took towards his front door. Clearly he had been trying to put on a brave face for Gaara's sake. Gaara thought he could see why when they entered the house.
It was disgusting.
Every surface, including the walls, was covered in some unspecific grime. With the perfectly straight face Lupin was forcing himself to maintain, Gaara believed they had a consensus that Sirius' family home could only be an improvement from living in a cave or possibly the Shrieking Shack. Low standards, indeed.
Gaara understood that after twelve years of imprisonment, it was to be expected that a certain amount of dust would accumulate in a vacant house, but this looked like a group of homeless people had taken up residence (and must have had some grudge against the homeowner). Gaara considered asking after such a possibility but that would most likely come under the category of impolite questions that Temari had tried to explain were inappropriate to ask out loud.
It had taken him a frustratingly long time to work out that asking women how old they were wasn't an empathetic sign of his interest in their lives as intended, but instead it was somehow rude. Worse yet when he tried guessing.
If Gaara was honest, he still didn't quite understand the rules for these things but Temari had said (very loudly) that if he was unsure or if it was about something negative, he was better off staying quiet.
This past year had certainly proved that many, though not all, misunderstandings could be avoided by not speaking.
Gaara could hear Sirius cursing his family for situating their house in a muggle area as he struggled to lift Gaara's trunk up the steps to his front door. Gaara would have gone back to help but Sirius was almost there and he would feel a much greater sense of accomplishment if he managed it on his own.
Lupin was already moving further into the dark hallway, cleverly avoiding the walls and whatever was clinging to them (or growing from them). Gaara was about to follow suit and show himself around the dirty house but Sirius quietly, wheezing, told him to stay there.
Sirius was wondering if there was a simple spell he could perform to heal what he suspected was a hernia, or if he was going to need a potion and a lie down on a flat surface.
"Stay there, Gaara. Kreacher!" Sirius yelled.
Gaara was startled by the sudden shout. He'd been called a lot of things: "monster", "demon", "murderer", "abomination", "short", and any number of other unsavoury titles that each held an ounce of truth, but for Sirius to loudly declare that Gaara was a 'creature' was unexpected. Still, he knew Sirius well enough to give him the benefit of the doubt.
The explanation Gaara had been anticipating came in the form of a house elf popping into the dim hallway, presumably answering Sirius' call.
"Mistress' ungrateful, treacherous, no-good son has brought more filth into mistress' noble house." The house elf loudly muttered under its breath. Gaara thought it was quite the commitment that Sirius had styled his house elf to complement the filthy, rundown house. And apparently it had a dirty mouth to match.
"Kreacher!" Sirius admonished the unpleasant slave. "This is Gaara, my new ward. You will treat him with respect!"
Kreacher observed the newest intruder into his mistress' hallowed home but instead of yet another half-blood or blood traitor, this boy gave him pause. He was wrong. He felt wrong. Like he was a dangerous predator and an old friend. But since Kreacher didn't have friends, he knew that whatever this boy was, he was another insult to his beloved mistress.
"Yes, ungrateful brat-master. Kreacher will serve It."
Sirius pulled back his arm as if to backhand the uppity slave, but restrained himself. He may have rejected everything his parents had taught him, but a few lessons had sunk in too deep; table manners and not hitting the servants in front of company, chief amongst them.
"This is Kreacher, Gaara. A keepsake from my mother and almost as ill-tempered as the old battleaxe."
"Ungrateful, blood traitor son shouldn't speak ill of the mistress like that." Kreacher continued to mumble, perfectly audible.
"Don't pay him or his spiteful words any mind; thing's even crazier than my inbred cousin, Bellatrix. And you, you miserable little beast, you'll leave Gaara alone. No little tricks or traps. If he so much as falls down the stairs, I'll take Remus' advice and give you clothes and be done with you."
Kreacher's ear swivelled back in either fear or anger. "Master's pet beast brings shame to the master's noble and ancient name."
"Be gone with you now, I've had enough of your vile tongue for one day!"
Kreacher popped away after one more glance at the Black family ward.
With a title like Ward of the House of Black, Gaara was as good as a bastard of the family, which meant he would be much safer from the dangerously insane little elf than Remus had been on his first visit the week before. Despite Lupin's later suggested threat of freeing the servant, the werewolf had been the one to stop Sirius from murdering Kreacher.
The house elf had tried to kill Lupin with a very sharp, cursed knife, placed where the man would find it. Fortunately Sirius had been nearby but he had then beaten the smaller creature and was going to kill him until Lupin interceded.
Needless to say, Sirius had entirely run out of patience for his childhood tormentor. The spiteful mumbling he could take but threats to his friends he could not.
It soon became apparent to Gaara that Sirius hated this house even more than the redhead did as the man said Gaara was free to explore the building on his own, though he did forbid a couple of rooms as they were filled with dangerous cursed items.
Sirius winced as he walked to the kitchen, planning to borrow some of the pain potion his decrepit friend kept on hand. Remus claimed he only carried it because before and after the full moon his body went through immense strain, but Sirius knew he had it on him all through the month and dipped into his supply when the moon was entirely dark in the sky.
Gaara shrugged off his rude friend and went to look around without the host to guide him. As was to be expected, the house held little of interest to Gaara beyond the impressive personal library on the second floor. Though, while he wouldn't claim an interest, Gaara did take note of the mounted house elf heads above the staircase up to the first floor. Even he found that unsettling.
Other than the library, he found a few bedrooms, one or two bathrooms, and a couple of rooms filled to the brim with junk that Gaara assumed were the ones Sirius had told him not to enter.
He would have gone for a stroll outside to get his bearings but Sirius had warned him in the car that the house had been heavily warded by his father and it would be safer if Gaara didn't try to enter or leave the house unescorted. Gaara was not happy about that; even the Malfoys hadn't placed such restrictions on him.
Gaara walked back down the stairs to the library on the second floor and settled in for the long haul. He would need to assess what sorts of resources he had at his disposal here since he sincerely doubted Sirius knew offhand what books his family owned (or that the man had even entered the library since his release).
He picked up a stack of books and sat on the floor, not trusting the rotted chair in the corner, and started to read whatever contents pages he could find for information on his so far fruitless search for his home world. The size of the library was nothing compared to Hogwarts' but the collection of books he suspected were concerning dark magics was much higher. Hogwarts had very few truly dark magic books even in the restricted section, presumably having been cleared out for the students' sakes.
An hour after Gaara sat down, Sirius poked his head around the door. "He is here."
"I told you he would be."
"I have to say, Gaara, I had thought you might come back down to join us after you wandered around." Sirius was smiling but he was a little miffed.
"Did you need me for something?" Gaara asked.
Sirius was stumped. "Umm, well, I suppose I don't… Remus?"
Lupin entered the room after Sirius. "Gaara, I understand that you would like to continue your research, and Sirius and I will do all that we can to help you get home, but it's not healthy to shut yourself up in a dusty library every day."
Gaara agreed, but held that getting home was more important than his immediate health. Plus, it couldn't be that bad for him, he had done this sort of thing before when he had been put on leave after the Konoha-Suna war, and he had been perfectly fine. As he recalled it, he had spent a full week in the Kazekage Mansion's library, leaving only to visit the bathroom.
It didn't occur to Gaara that his brother and sister had visited him there every day with food, fresh clothes and helped to clean up after him, opening the curtains and windows so that his eyes didn't become strained and he got some fresh air. In his mind, back then, they had been irritatingly clingy after the war and his change of heart about murdering innocent people.
Gaara nodded noncommittally at Remus and turned back to his latest book. This place was looking to be a treasure trove with all of the potential avenues of research he could follow. Clearly, despite the bad reputation, dark magic was the path to his salvation.
Over the next week, Gaara was dragged out of the library at meal times and every other night Lupin would order Gaara to go to his room to sleep. Worse, when Sirius was bored he would come and sit in the library and bother Gaara. It was a dangerous game and Sirius knew it.
It was a strange dynamic they unconsciously developed, with Gaara the teenager unable (or unwilling) to take care of himself, Sirius as the goofy adult looking to connect, and Remus the 'temporary' houseguest attempting to keep both of the idiots alive.
His bedroom had still been filthy when he went to sleep there for the first time so instead he had spent the night cleaning it. Gaara didn't like cleaning.
Over the course of that first week in Grimmauld Place, owing to the state of the house, the continual insults and Kreacher calling Gaara 'It' every time they crossed paths, Gaara had ended up saying some distinctly threatening things to the house elf one afternoon. As a result, unless Sirius directly ordered Kreacher to be in the same room with Gaara, the servant had begun to avoid the Jinchūriki like the plague.
Sirius would have done something about it but honestly he was just impressed. He would have killed for the secret of how to get rid of Kreacher when he was Gaara's age.
During one of the many nights Sirius sat annoying Gaara by talking (and breathing) around him, Sirius finally asked about Gaara's extraordinary powers. "Surely not everybody in your home world can do what you can, can they?"
Gaara sighed and marked his place. "I am stronger than some, but there are others much stronger I am. I am the only one who can control sand the way I do."
Sirius couldn't believe that. He loved Gaara, he really did, but he could scarcely imagine such a being could exist in any world. "You don't have to be modest, Gaara…"
"I am not being modest. There are shinobi in my world that could defeat me in moments." Of course, those shinobi could probably be counted on Gaara's digits. Pretty much the four Kage, a couple of particularly powerful shinobi and the rumoured S-rank nuke-nin organising somewhere near Ame. Gaara was the strongest in Suna, with perhaps one or two retired exceptions, and as a high Jounin-level combatant, there really weren't that many who could beat him.
Sirius was plainly struggling to accept this truth so Gaara waited. He knew as soon as he reopened his book, Sirius would reengage him.
"You're so young; are all of these other people, who are stronger than you, are they the same age?"
"No, they're all older than I am, I believe." The only one even close to his age was about nine months older than he was, as far as he knew. October 10th.
"How did you come to be so strong, then? I'm trying to wrap my head around it, but I just don't understand. Here, a wizard might have a talent for magic, but never has there been a fourteen year old who could defeat grown, trained wizards. Not Dumbeldore, not Merlin, not even You-Know-Who, as far as I know."
This was a more difficult question. Gaara would likely have been a very powerful shinobi from birth, with his Kage lineage and strong siblings; but he would be lying if he said that his strength was from his birth, or that it was as a result of training (what little he had indulged in). He didn't like lying to Sirius.
"I have had certain gifts from birth that others do not have." Though, 'gift' was stretching it.
"Your world must be a very strange place." Sirius said, imagining a world where a teenager could develop such abilities. A place that could lead to Gaara's stunted emotional development. He had an intuition that he would never get the chance, but even if he were offered, he didn't think he would ever want to see that world.
I'm glad to hear that your relatives are taking it easier on you. If they cause you any problems, I can always send them a nice friendly letter. Just make sure you don't tell them I was acquitted. And I'm sure your results will be fine. Ms Granger was helping you and Ronald, and she seemed to be exceptionally bright. They're released in August so best not to think too much about them yet.
It is very quiet here today. Remus is out doing something or other, I'm not sure what. And Gaara hardly leaves the library. He would have been better off in Ravenclaw, I think. My schedule is a bit boring these days. I mostly sit around or bother Gaara. He said he would do some very ungrateful things if I didn't entertain myself for a while so I thought I would reply to this morning's letter.
I can't go out in public at the moment. If I go the Alley, I get mobbed by people wanting autographs or money, and if I try going into muggle London I'll get arrested. The Minister never got around to telling the muggle PM to call off the manhunt for me. If you want to know how I found this out, I'll tell you when I see you. I think some of the scenes would be better acted out.
You'll be visiting in a couple of weeks, what foods do you want Kreacher to make for you? Your room here will be cleaned by the time you arrive (and not a second before!)
The next match between Transylvania and Haiti is going to be brutal, make sure you don't miss it. The last time those two faced each other in the World Cup, only one player from the Haitian team made it out alive. Although, from what I hear, half of the Transylvanian team was dead to begin with.
I'm gonna finish here as I want to set up my new trap for Remus before he gets back. I'll tell you how it went and what I did in my next letter.
Sirius Orion Black (lucky S.O.B)
Of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black, etcetera.'
After that was a rather sizable and elaborate crest that Sirius stamped at the bottom of all of his letters, even if the crest took up more space than his godfather's often short messages. At the very bottom of the page, after the ridiculous crest, Sirius included a post-script:
'p.s. If your uncle gives you any more trouble over your radio, tell him I will set Remus on him. Muggles are terrified of werewolves as well, right?'
Harry didn't intend to do that since he had already levelled the threat of a mass murderer on them and any further scares might just hasten his aunt's inevitable mental breakdown. They hadn't given him any more trouble since Sirius had a word with Vernon, so Harry just relaxed and lamented his poor luck. Right now he could be helping prank Professor Lupin rather than reading a letter.
Sirius had been sending letters at least every other day, sometimes twice a day, giving Hedwig more of a workout than she appreciated.
The Dursleys, despite the looming fear of Sirius Black, had wanted to object to the frequent, noticeable flights of Hedwig to and from their house. They couldn't very well go admitting to their freakish, criminal nephew having such a strange and exotic pet and them allowing it free roam about the place. It had eventually led to Petunia telling all of their nosy neighbours that the owl was a rare and endangered breed and had taken up nesting in the Dursley's loft because of its exceptional state of cleanliness. Sadly, they couldn't remove it by law.
As disgustingly abnormal as it was to have a wild animal living in their loft, it was the best alternative to the truth. The neighbours dutifully pretended to be awed by the special circumstances and Petunia pretended to be pleased. It all ended with tea and cakes and a few backhanded compliments.
Vernon was still mad as all hell about it so Harry had taken waiting until nightfall to send his replies so Hedwig wasn't spotted too often. Especially since owls were supposed to be nocturnal. Luckily, it seemed no one on Privet Drive knew anything about ornithology, despite the few older gentlemen that had claimed to be bird watchers at local barbecues, had bought some expensive binoculars and other paraphernalia, and had yet to actually go out and watch birds.
Draco had sent Gaara two letters in their first week off, and a third by the time Gaara deigned to respond, which was shorter than any of Draco's long and cursive messages. Luna also sent one, which wound up being over eleven pages long and filled with many anecdotes that might have suggested she could benefit from a visit to St. Mungo's mind magic specialists.
He had sent both replies halfway through the second week of the holiday. Gaara's response to Luna hadn't reached a full page despite his efforts to pad it out. He had done very little worth reporting. She had appreciated the effort nonetheless.
Draco had not.
Gaara had simply taken the opportunity to send them when he had a moment's peace from Sirius' needy interruptions or Remus' attempts to make him more comfortable. Remus was taking Sirius to Diagon Alley to get his new wand that afternoon and Kreacher would stay out of sight, meaning Gaara was alone for a change and had free reign of the house.
He might have waited until something else of interest came up to write about, but Draco's third letter was already starting to sound upset. Plus the full moon was tomorrow so he figured he should write now or else Luna would expect some description. Such things, pertaining to his transformations, were not pertinent.
As soon as Gaara had sent off the two owls (Sirius' and Remus') to the two addresses, he had gone to the kitchen for a glass of water. If Kreacher weren't deadly afraid of him, he could have ordered the house elf to fetch him things and do menial tasks like sending off the owls, but with the way the deformed little servant had spoken to Gaara that first week he hadn't been able to restrain himself or his words.
He wasn't that good at creative threats so he had just listened in on what Shukaku had been screaming at the time. It had done the trick and more.
He heard the door open and shut, signalling his guardian's return, so he was about to leave his glass of water and make a break for the stairs. With his speed and stealth, he should have been able to make past the hallway without either of the grown men seeing him. They had been bugging him to venture outside with them since he arrived, and while he had been allowed out a few times with supervision, during the night when no one would see him, they insisted he should go on an outing with them during the day. Somewhere "fun"…
Hence why he was avoiding them as much as he could during the daylight hours.
His hand was on the kitchen doorknob when he heard the screeching that started up by the front door. Suspecting an attack, Gaara continued to wrench the door open and run into the hallway. Instead of an attacking witch or a banshee, Gaara watched as the two responsible adults in his life wrestled with drapery.
They were trying to pull the curtains back over the painting that sat, pride of place, in the foyer. Evidently the painting was enchanted or cursed and would scream profanity at anyone nearby until the curtains were closed again.
It seemed like a fitting decoration for the morbid house.
Gaara approached to offer some help. Sirius and Remus both were visibly struggling with the drapes, one from his emaciation and the other with the pre-transformation pains.
Together the trio were able to draw the curtains, but not before Gaara suffered a number of insults to his appearance and blood purity. The blood purity he could live without, but he didn't think it necessary for the painting to denigrate how he looked. Plus, he didn't think he was that short.
"Sorry about that." Sirius huffed in between breaths. Perhaps Gaara should implement some sort of recovery workout regimen for the free man to bring him up to a basic level of fitness. It would be nice not to hear the man struggling to breathe every time he climbed a single set of stairs. "That, Gaara, was my mother. Or at least her likeness."
Gaara glanced back at the covered portrait and wondered what he could say without insulting his friend's mother. That was definitely not allowed.
He had paused too long, it seemed, as Sirius continued speaking. "She wasn't always so… Well, she was never a kind woman, but that portrait was commissioned during her more… after my… it was painted when she was in a particularly bad mood, shall we say."
"Fake mothers screaming insults. I can relate." Gaara mumbled.
"What?" Sirius asked, not catching it.
"Nothing." Gaara murmured as he continued to the stairs. He would venture down to dinner tonight.
It had been on Gaara's mind for weeks, how he would navigate the issue of his lunar indisposition with Sirius around. Lupin would obviously leave for a deserted area where he could change and hunt without the risk of killing or (worse) infecting innocent people. But that left Sirius.
Gaara had planned to hide in the attic that Sirius had yet to re-enter since returning to the house, if Sirius had not told Gaara that he was going to accompany Lupin to the New Forest for the night. For once, neither adult insisted that Gaara should go with them on their outing.
Not wanting to risk anything close to what had transpired last month, Remus had downed the little bottle of Wolfsbane potion and proceeded to remind Gaara and Sirius every five minutes that he had taken it, as if to assure himself he had indeed taken it. It had worn on Gaara's nerves quickly.
"And you know who to floo if there's a problem, right?" Sirius asked.
Gaara nodded absently.
"And Kreacher is somewhere around here if you need anything."
Gaara nodded again.
Sirius was apparently having a parental moment, and felt the stirrings of worry about leaving the fourteen year old on his own in the house. Entirely irrational, most would agree, since Gaara was more than capable of looking after himself (for a whole night).
'At least,' Gaara thought, 'Sirius hasn't tried to hire a babysitter.'
That would not have ended well.
When the adults had left and while Kreacher was nowhere to be found, Gaara settled in his room for the night. He couldn't risk the mad elf spotting him from afar and mistaking him for a wild animal that needed to be exterminated so he had to stay locked up in his room. House elves, especially deranged ones, could be quite resourceful and extremely dangerous.
Of the transformation and night, little should be noted except Gaara's usual animalistic restlessness in being cooped up and his attempts to wile away the night reading another boring book. Truly, the only moment of interest that the shinobi-turned-tanuki was involved in was shortly before his change back in the morning, as he was nearing the last chapter of his book, the door burst open and he looked up to see Sirius stood in the door, staring at him.
"Uhhh…" Sirius wasn't sure what he was looking at.
He was supporting Remus who was limp but conscious and hanging off of Sirius' straining shoulder. The householder had made it up one set of stairs with Remus but he needed a little help with getting the man up the next. Instead of the physically compact yet strong foreigner sleeping or, more likely, reading in his room, he had found a suspiciously familiar animal lying on the bed, wrapped in blankets, staring right back at him and ignoring the book sat in its paws.
Before Sirius could even begin to draw the obvious conclusions (and the more convoluted ones, for that matter), and before Gaara could think to make a break for it or try to incapacitate one or both of the exhausted adults, his body shifted and suddenly he was human and had some explaining to do.
"Uhhh…" Lupin agreed.
Gaara didn't have any words at the moment. His control now re-established and without a movement, his sand zipped out and slammed the door shut.
Sirius turned to his heavy friend, "Well… that was unexpected."
"Don't look at me, Sirius, I didn't know about it." Remus said.
So shocked, Sirius almost dropped the dead weight on his shoulder. Cursing, he struggled onwards, not expecting any help from their secretive younger friend. He was too tired to be dealing with this.
He would have preferred to come back and find Gaara had thrown a party and trashed the house (not that it would have made much of a difference to the dump), like Sirius would have (and did) at his age.
Sirius dropped off his semi-permanent houseguest and wandered back to his room. He probably should have checked in with Gaara now, but he was so tired, and he sensed it was a discussion that would benefit from the presence of a well-rested Lupin. Sirius settled on his bed and went to sleep too.
Gaara had emerged from his blankets after the door was firmly shut and pulled on his clothes. This was not good. This wasn't the fear of death or of loss, this was the fear of imminent humiliation. He sneaked up to both of the adults' rooms only to find they weren't huddled and snickering about Gaara but were thankfully both asleep.
He gave serious thought to leaving the house and hiding out at Draco's or somewhere else for the rest of the summer to avoid the inevitable embarrassment. He would break right through the wards if he had to. He didn't know how wards worked but he was sure he would find a way through it need be.
(Little did Gaara know, the wards had been set to allow Gaara through since he arrived, but Lupin had warned Sirius that Gaara would come and go without warning or permission unless he didn't think he could. Sirius knew it was manipulative but he was more concerned about Gaara's wellbeing than his own ethics. No matter how formidable the boy was, it wasn't safe for a teenager to go roaming around London, or anywhere else, at the times that Gaara tended to. So they had lied.)
Gaara had decided to tough it out by the time he heard stirring upstairs. He hadn't been able to get back into his book so he had visited Shukaku briefly, not for advice but to check up on the beast and make sure no other alterations in his seal had occurred and to distract himself.
Needless to say, that trip into his mind had been a mistake. Shukaku had taken enormous pleasure in mocking Gaara in all things, especially his tanuki transformation, and wasted no time in commencing the mind games when Gaara appeared. The one-tailed monster had droned on about how Gaara's friends would abandon him in this world, just like how his siblings and his friends from his own world had abandoned him to this one.
Testament to how long Shukaku had been in Gaara's head, the bijū knew precisely how to get under his skin.
Still, once he had confirmed the seal was unchanged and that Shukaku had nothing useful to say, he left. He wished he had the Kyubi inside of him. Apparently the fox just ignored his host.
In the end, Gaara had simply performed what little exercise he could inside to pass the time.
After he heard someone walking around upstairs, Gaara ventured up. If he wasn't going to run away, he would have to face them. And better sooner rather than later. If he left them to themselves, he would only be giving them longer to come up with jokes.
Sirius' door was open and his room was empty so he was either in the bathroom or bothering Lupin.
Gaara guessed correctly and found them both in Remus' room, Sirius sat on the edge of the bed and Remus looking like he had been woken up five hours too early. They both turned to him when he stopped at the door.
"Uh…" Sirius said, frozen.
"You said that already." Gaara inserted, walking into the room but staying a few feet from the bed.
Sirius looked at Gaara for a moment longer before turning to meet Lupin's eyes. They stared at each other for a second before the both burst out into raucous laughter.
Lupin's was interrupted with coughs and groans.
Gaara wasn't blushing. He wasn't!
After they (finally!) calmed down, and Sirius had wiped the tears from his eyes and Remus had caught his breath, they looked to Gaara again.
"You never cease to surprise us all, Gaara." Lupin started.
"He's right; you always have something up your sleeve. So was that something everybody in your world can do or another one of your special abilities?"
"You don't appear to be an animagus." Lupin added.
"It started when I got to this world. I don't know anything else."
"I recognised you from the forest. You change on the full moon, don't you?" Lupin said, remembering the familiar animal from his own transformations.
"Did you get bitten by a were-squirrel, Lily?" Sirius asked, excited.
Gaara obviously didn't appreciate either part of that question. "It isn't a squirrel. It is a tanuki. And I wasn't bitten, it just happened."
"They're a type of small animal that live in Japan, if I'm not mistaken. A sort of magical raccoon, I think." Remus said. "But they didn't look anything like you, Gaara."
"You don't look much like a regular wolf, Moony."
"I suppose you have a point."
"So, Lily, I remember seeing you on the full moon when you first arrived and you didn't have a tail or fur, so…"
"It started in October and has been consistent since."
"And you say this doesn't happen to people in your own world?" Lupin checked.
"Well, regardless, I think it's brilliant. You were starting to get a little boring, I think Remus will agree. It's been about two weeks since you did something inexplicable so it was past due for you to turn into something. Though, for what it's worth, I would have put my money on something bigger with more claws and teeth."
"Does Draco know?" Remus asked.
"Yes. He found out a couple months ago."
"Hold on. You said you started… this, whatever it is, last year."
"Then how did you manage to keep it a secret from Malfoy junior so long? Was it a case of the mute leading the blind?" Sirius said. He knew Draco wasn't necessarily a bad kid (being the scion of an ancient bigoted family himself), but he couldn't resist the chance to take a shot at a Malfoy.
"He's not very observant." Gaara said. He didn't want to admit to knocking Draco out multiple times.
"So you're just like an adorable little version of Moony then. You have your own furry little problem." Sirius said.
Gaara didn't rise to the bait. There were few things more embarrassing than actually arguing that one wasn't 'adorable'. "One that I wish to solve. I want you to teach me to be an animagus."
"An animagus?" Sirius parroted.
"He wants to learn how to transform so that he might be able to control his monthly changes consciously. I've heard of a couple of werewolves who tried it. None of them managed it, but it is a rare gift so it could have been a coincidence. I never bothered, myself. I spend enough time with fur and a tail each month."
"Worth a try, though, right?" Sirius said.
"For Lily, perhaps. His transformation is clearly different from my own so it might work. Other than the obvious form difference, he also changes a different point in the moonrise and moonset to me."
"So it's worth a shot?" Sirius asked.
"I don't see why not. He should be able to find out whether he's capable in a month or two."
"Quicker than that! James and I managed it that quickly but Lily has an experienced teacher helping him. He should get that far in a couple weeks."
"Maybe, but Gaara's not… well, he doesn't pick up on magic as quickly as you or James did." Remus was trying hard to tactfully convey how inept Gaara was at spellcasting.
"I'm sorry, Remus, if your teaching methods failed to help our poor, precious, little Lily in his schooling," Suddenly Sirius was surrounded by enemies, "but I plan to relate to my students my own way."
"Yes, I can see it now: Professor Sirius Black." Remus added, sardonically. "Hold on, I think I hear the floo in the other room, it must be Dumbledore looking to fill my old job." The aching lycanthrope didn't bother pantomiming getting out of his bed.
Gaara wasn't too enthused by the thought of being taught by Sirius, especially on this most disagreeable of subjects, but he couldn't deny the utility of the experienced instructor at hand. Nonetheless he knew it was going to be an unpleasant experience.
As Gaara began to contemplate the excruciating experience that was soon to start, Remus and Sirius had moved onto another vitally important subject.
"Well we can't keep calling him Lily anymore; it defies precedent." Sirius argued.
"I understand that, Padfoot, but he's been Lily for so long now, surely it's too late to rename him now."
"Now is the perfect time. You saw him earlier, he's perfect. So many features."
"Well, what do you suggest?"
"Something to do with his tail?" Sirius started, fingers stoking his beard in thought.
"Or his mask perhaps?" Lupin continued, joining Sirius with his own deep-thinking face and twirling his moustache.
"It would be a shame to ignore his fur. It looked awfully soft…"
"I know what you mean. 'Fluffy' something?"
"Fuzzy McFluffikins!" Sirius said triumphantly, looking over to see what Gaara thought only to find the redhead already walking out the door. "We'll keep working on it!" He called after the subject of the discussion.
Over the next couple of days, Gaara had to endure Sirius and Remus' endless suggestions for nicknames, as if Gaara wanted any part of the process. Granted, he was admittedly a tad eager to be rid of 'Lily', but when the alternatives were names like: 'Gaara Fluffy Tail' and 'Raccoon Squirrel', any eagerness died.
"I quite like Burglar. 'Masked Burglar', perhaps?" Remus queried.
"Too long. Should be one word." Sirius replied.
Over the days the adults had been seriously considering their childish mission, Gaara had been working on his own again. Evidently Sirius wasn't going to offer any assistance until he had found a new nickname for Gaara.
He had briefly thought about resigning himself to helping the pair to speed up the process, until they started on the more insulting names.
Then, one afternoon, they both appeared in the library where they seldom ventured since Gaara arrived, and Remus stepped forward with a smile to rival Sirius' own.
"Bandit." He said, smile stretching impossibly wider.
Gaara quickly worked out that this was the result of their exhaustive search. He weighed it up in his head and decided it wasn't the worst one they had come up with. To be called a mere bandit wasn't great, but at least it wasn't a reference to how 'plush and cuddly' his tanuki form was.
Although he might have liked it if the reference, to his ringed eyes, were not present in his human form as well. At least Padfoot, Moony and Prongs were just eccentric titles with no meaning to any outsiders who heard them. People might put together that 'Bandit' was a reference to Gaara's insomnia/possessions marks in his human form.
Then again, it was still infinitely better than 'Lily'.
Over the next two weeks, Gaara started on the excruciating journey that was learning from Sirius Black. It had been frustrating to discover that since he had begun this secondary research project, he had been reading the wrong books and trying the wrong rituals; including the precious days he wasted whilst the two idiots had been deciding his useless title.
Sirius said Gaara would have been finishing Hogwarts by the time he managed to transform if he had stuck at his old avenue of enquiry. Both the depth of his folly and the idea that he would still be in this world in four years time were upsetting.
Over that fortnight, Sirius had also been continuing his frequent letters to Harry. Of course, now that he was teaching Gaara, he was put in the awkward position of having to lie to his precious godson. He couldn't admit to teaching Gaara how to be an animagus without giving some sort of reason, and Gaara would surely kill him if he did spill the beans to anyone, especially Harry.
In the end, he couldn't outright lie to Harry so he just cut out any references he might make in his letters to the research. Which pretty much entirely excluded Gaara from the missives, which Harry wasn't about to complain about.
Aside from his messages to and from Harry, Sirius also received two owls from unlikely sources. They had come a couple days apart, but were otherwise entirely unrelated except for one other factor: they concerned Gaara.
Sirius had gotten a number of letters asking about Gaara or requesting interviews with the boy, from the papers and the general public. Sirius thought these people were rather resourceful to try and go through the boy's legal guardian and to find out their address. Still, he had ignored or declined every such letter, just as he was sure Gaara was likely ignoring any such letters addressed directly to him.
The two letters he got were set apart because of who they were from: Luna Lovegood and Lucius Malfoy.
Luna had politely asked if she could visit sometime in early August, and whether she might be able to do a short interview for the Quibbler with Sirius. Apparently she hadn't bothered asking Gaara for the visit as he wasn't very agreeable or social. Sirius heartily agreed to both of her requests. He wouldn't tell Gaara about it. It would be a nice surprise.
Really, Sirius thought it was cute and wouldn't stand in the way of budding romance.
It had taken one unrelated conversation after that thought to dissuade Sirius of any notions of Gaara participating in a relationship. Him having friends was difficult enough to believe.
Lucius' bloviating letter had been a formality Sirius had expected for a while now. It spent four pages (front and back) to ask if Narcissa, Draco and he could visit for tea, and then offered a number of dates they were available. Before it had gotten to the point, it had offered a number of insincere well wishes and claimed that they had all known Sirius was innocent from the start.
Sirius bitterly thought that if they had known, they had kept it awfully quiet. And the only reason Lucius would have known Sirius was innocent was because Lucius really was part of Voldemort's inner circle.
As much as he might have liked to outright refuse the pompous man's request, he understood it was a necessity that they all meet before Draco could come and visit on his own. He remembered having to bring his mother and father to the Potters house after first year for the same reason, even though they all knew each other.
Hell, the Potters were, albeit distantly, related to the Blacks and had attended a number of functions together before then. Nonetheless it had been startling to have Orion and Walburga sat across from Fleamont and Euphemia like that. At least Regulus had shut up. He'd been so annoying back then.
It had been during that meeting that Sirius realised he wanted James' family more than his own.
Even though he knew he couldn't reject Lucius proposed tea, he still filled his short reply with as many snarky comments as he could, as well as mentioning once or twice that Sirius' family was older and purer than Lucius'. He figured the sit down would be unpleasant but would provide many more such opportunities to insult the prig. The only other downside would be that his cousin was going to be there.
No matter that she was the youngest of her sisters, Narcissa had always been the most severe of the three, none of which liked him. She never had time for Sirius' shenanigans or his ideas and made those feelings perfectly clear. Then there had been that period when his mother and father had been threatening to marry him to Cissy. He'd thrown such a fit eventually they had called the whole thing off and she had been married to Lucius.
Speaking of cousins who hated him, Sirius thought he should try and reconnect with Andromeda. He had occasionally exchanged screams with Bellatrix in Azkaban but he had not seen Andy in years. Unlike the other two, her dislike of Sirius had not been chiefly because of his blood treachery since she was even more of a traitor, marrying Ted and all; instead, she had simply hated him for his personality. He took comfort in that.
Sirius did tell Gaara about this letter, if only so he could drill him on some basic etiquette. If Sirius wanted to maintain the upper hand during the meeting, he couldn't have his snotty cousin-in-law pointing out Gaara's lack of manners.
So now the first week in August was set to be entertaining.
But before then he had Harry's visit to look forward to.
Sirius was annoyingly up-beat in the run-up to Harry's first visit, to Gaara's consternation. The man had spent the better part of two days cleaning and attempting to decorate a room for Harry. It wasn't enough for Harry to sleep in a guest room, he needed a room of his own when he came to visit, apparently. Gaara didn't understand that, but then he didn't fully understand the custody agreement Sirius had struck for Gaara over Harry.
The redhead suspected that his guardian was hiding the truth of the matter for some reason. It was clearly untoward, the reason Harry couldn't stay for more than two weeks during the summer and why Remus had to return to his own place for the duration of those visits. No matter, Gaara thought; there was no sense in asking questions that would produce no answers and only serve to cause his friend stress. Sirius wasn't the type to bow to pressure and wouldn't have kept it a secret without a good reason, so Gaara trusted him.
For the moment.
When Sirius went out to collect Harry, with an assurance that he wouldn't be long, Gaara swiftly ran to the kitchen, collected a handful of bottled drinks and different long-lasting foods, and deposited them in his bedroom before darting back to the library to snatch up a dozen interesting, thick books. He wouldn't be able to outlast Potter's stay, but he would avoid it for as long as possible and skip the first few days at least.
Sirius would come and break the door down eventually, so Gaara would enjoy his peace and isolation until then.
The Dursleys had not invited Sirius in for tea, rather, they had insisted the man take their nephew/cousin and leave immediately before a neighbour saw him: a long-haired, bearded hippy, looking like a vagrant, and knocking on their door. As it was, if someone mentioned seeing him, they were going to have to lie and say he was a social worker or some such. It was bad enough they had a freak for a nephew, they wouldn't admit any personal connection to another one of them.
Harry didn't lament the short farewell.
When they apparated to Grimmauld Place, Harry was pleasantly surprised by what he saw. With the multiple warnings Sirius had sent him in his letters about the state of the Black family abode, Harry had been worried Sirius had chosen the Shrieking Shack this past year for its resemblance to home.
Harry thought it was funny that his relatives considered wizards like him vagrants, and yet here he was staying in a posh London townhouse with the equivalent of a wizarding aristocrat (not to mention that he went to school in a castle).
Harry's broad smile shrunk when Sirius led him to the grimy property in between 11 and 13. Inside it smelled of mothballs, dust and damp, and the décor matched the scent. It had been cleaned since Gaara's arrival, some weeks before, but Kreacher had only managed so much on his own, and realistically the house needed to be redecorated before some of the worst and most steadfast stains could be concealed or removed.
Still, as Harry walked behind his godfather's scrawny back, he considered the dirt a small price to pay to stay with family. He might even see about helping Sirius' house elf do some cleaning while he was here. He wouldn't want to be seen as a layabout.
Sirius forced himself to give Harry the tour he had failed to offer Gaara, which was a little easier now that some of the clutter and reminders had been removed. He had to remember to tell Harry which rooms he couldn't go into on their tour. In one of the rooms sat the stuffed heads of the previous elves that had served his family, which he had finally taken down last week. It wouldn't be good if Harry found those by accident.
As they came to the library, Sirius ducked his head in first to check that Gaara wasn't in one of his moods, but the redhead wasn't in there. He scarcely left that one room so immediately the scruffy man worried Gaara had figured out the ruse and had left the property to avoid Harry.
Instead, he discovered Gaara's bedroom door was locked.
"Oh, I don't think Gaara wants to come out and say hello, Harry. He is such a shy boy, you know!" Sirius loudly declared outside of the door, for Gaara's benefit more than Harry's.
Harry didn't say so but he was glad Gaara had hidden himself away like this. He had not been looking forward to seeing him, let alone sharing his godfather's attention with the contemptible Slytherin.
Harry knew he would end up exploring the house more thoroughly on his own and would probably check inside the dangerous and forbidden rooms along the way. Compared to Hogwarts, he couldn't imagine anything Sirius was keeping around the place was all that deadly.
For one, there obviously wasn't enough room for a giant three-headed dog.
After the tour, they both settled down in the kitchen for a cup of tea and they talked about the beginning of their summers, although almost every detail had already been enumerated in one of their many letters during that period. The host also introduced Kreacher and explained the protocol for dealing with the foul servant. Harry wasn't so sure about the treatment of the house elf, comparing it to how he saw Dobby treated, but then he heard the things Kreacher was saying about them and knew the mad old thing was as far from Dobby as any house elf could be.
"Oh, and be careful in the hallway by the door. Behind those curtains hangs a particularly foul portrait of my mother. Raises all sorts of holy hell whenever she's disturbed so it's best to tiptoe past."
"Okay." Harry said, taking another sip of his sweetened tea. He was only recently allowed tea at the Durselys, and never with milk or sugar in it. He had discovered the wonders of tea at school and like all good Englishmen, fallen in love with it. Although, Sirius didn't really have sugar, he sweetened his tea with honey, which worked just as well.
"Remus really wished he could be here but he's still looking for another job. About time too, bloody sponging werewolf, eating my coffee and drinking my food every day…" Sirius said, scowling comically.
Harry laughed. It felt god to laugh openly again.
"And I'm also sorry about Gaara. He'll come down at some point, I'm sure." Sirius said, hoping to inspire some amiability between the two warring teens. Perhaps one of the foreigner's more endearing idiosyncrasies would alleviate some of the tension.
"It's been very peculiar having him here this summer. You'll see that this week, too, I suppose. He hardly ever leaves the library. He really missed his bookish calling in Slytherin. He's not once tried to poison me since he arrived so I think maybe he was mis-placed."
"Not yet, anyway." Harry added.
Sirius laughed but noticed the bitterness in Harry's tone. His treasured but temporary guest probably thought Gaara would try it.
Sirius tried describing some of the other peculiarities but gave up when it failed to lighten Harry's mood. It looked like the two would simply hate each other for the time being. Lupin would have a better shot at mediating, really. Sirius had always specialised in creating strife, not neutralising it.
Harry noticed the subject was winding down thanks to his lacking interest in discussing Sirius' other teenage dependent, but his mind recalled a question he had been holding for a long while now regarding the mysterious and irritating exchange student.
"You know I had the Map that you and my father and Professor Lupin made, last year, right?" Harry started, his eyes darting around to make sure the redhead hadn't decided to show up.
"I don't know if Professor Lupin mentioned it-"
"Harry, I'm sure Remus wouldn't mind if you dispensed with the titles now that he's no longer your teacher."
"Mr Lupin-" Harry started again.
"Hahaha. No… just, no, not mister. I've got to tell him that one! Call him Remus or sponger or Moony or something."
Harry blushed a little at the ridicule. "Well, I don't know if Remus told you, but when I saw Gaara's name on the Map last year, it was a little strange."
"He is a little strange." Sirius chimed.
"With his name, there was a second tag."
"He has a surname?" Sirius' eyes went a wide. Gaara never ceased surprising.
"I'm not sure. Surnames are usually written next to the first name on the same tag but Gaara's is written on a second under it. I thought he might have a pet but it never leaves or moves. Even when he's sleeping."
"Is it a long name?"
"Not really. It was…" Harry cast his mind back. He had never bothered to write it down since he could just check the Map again if he needed (before it was suddenly confiscated), or Hermione could remind him. "Shu…kakus…? No, it was 'Shukaku'. Yeah, Shukaku."
"So his name is Gaara Shukaku?"
"I don't know, I was hoping you might be able to tell me." Either because he knew Gaara or because he knew how the Map worked.
"I might know Gaara the best but he's never mentioned that name to me, I'll have to ask him about it." Sirius said, wondering just how many secrets a teenager could feasibly have. Surely it had to end somewhere. "Why have you never asked him?"
"I figured there must be a reason he hadn't told anyone. Like, he was in hiding or something. Plus he's an arse."
Sirius smile despite himself at that last shot. He thought it was very kind of Harry to consider Gaara's feelings and safety like that, especially in light of their antagonism.
"You were probably right. I take it Mr Weasley and Ms Granger know about it too?"
"Yeah. Hermione was the one who noticed the difference from other surnames." Ron was the one who suggested Gaara was in hiding, but he was sure Gaara was hiding from some foreign Aurors or something like that. Ron liked to make up theories.
"Well, I'm sure they wouldn't go around telling everyone about the Map so just leave it with me. You might have found a fault with the Map for all I know."
"Professor Lupin said the Map never lies." Harry said, lapsing back into is formal address of his former teacher.
"True. But Gaara has a way of confounding everyone."
Sirius planned to ask Gaara after Harry had left, since there were large parts of Gaara's secretive life that were best discussed in private. He suspected this would be yet another such one.
He would also have to ask Remus about it since he had confiscated the Map from Harry and should have seen the same thing. Why had he failed to mention it, though?
It was a few days later, the day after Sirius had finally decided to force Gaara out of his room (since he was tired of hearing the shower running at four in the morning), that Harry first heard the name Bandit.
Gaara had said hello and stopped at that when first seeing Harry. Perhaps it was the Englishman in him but Harry found it very uncomfortable not pretending to be civil with his sworn enemy until they did something to upset him. Instead, impressively, Gaara forewent custom and stuck to their antagonism.
It was a touch awkward so Harry went along with it and treated Gaara in the same regard.
Harry's first thought regarding Gaara, before the hostilities had begun, had been that the redhead was tiny. Granted, he had never been tall but after a month of not seeing him, the difference in their heights seemed even more pronounced. Rather than a fourth year, Gaara looked like he was about big enough to join third year. He refrained from saying as much.
Sirius had had such high hopes of reconciliation after he saw Harry trying to bury the hatchet and at least pretend to get along with Gaara. Then Gaara totally ignored the olive branch and continued his casual hostility to Harry.
Dinners with Harry so far had been lively affairs, with many stories of past misadventures and future plans. Dinners with Gaara typically also featured Remus and they also were filled with laughter and discussion. Even Gaara joined in on the conversations, if not the laughter, when it was just him and the two adults.
Dinner with Harry AND Gaara was not so boisterous. Sirius tried multiple times to initiate some sort of conversation but got little in the way of a response. Gaara could be standoffish at the best of times, and after being snubbed, Harry was perfectly content to follow suit.
Eventually, to fill the silence and perchance lighten the collective mood, the host tried suggesting a trip to visit Lupin in a couple days. In his excitement, he let slip that Moony wanted Bandit to see his considerably smaller collection of books.
Gaara had not been happy to hear his nickname disclosed to someone outside of the two idiots that had devised it, although he was certainly glad of the change from Lily now more than ever.
Harry was also less than happy to hear that not only had Gaara usurped his place in his godfather's home, he had also been given a nickname like a Marauder. He briefly considered that the other Marauder names had been devised from their animal forms and that Gaara didn't have one, but was more caught up in the immediate sense of betrayal.
Sirius, hyper aware of his wards' discomfort had been watching their reactions constantly to see if anything produced a smile or if anything he said was likely going to cause one to lunge over the table at the other. So, he saw when Harry's face turned sour at his mention of Gaara seeing Remus' books. It took him a moment to work out why Harry had been upset, and then his mood plummeted to match the others.
Obviously Harry was feeling left out.
That night, after Gaara had walked out of the room so that Kreacher could clear the table (and with no intention of returning any time soon), Sirius tried once again to apologise for the situation.
He dearly wished he could explain it in full.
The best he could do was provide Harry with some happy memories during the short periods they could see one another; and part of that was giving Harry a nickname. It went against convention to do so without an animal form to base it off, but the Marauders, lazy lot that they had been in school, had never bothered writing down any bylaws. Plus Gaara had been Lily for the better part of year before they knew about the fluffiness.
"Prongslet?" Harry repeated, less than impressed.
"Well, it was either that, after your father, or you can be named after your mother. She didn't care for her nickname either, much. But if you really want, you can be 'Little Miss Bossy Boots." That joke had led to the first time Lily had sent a curse at James' head.
It certainly hadn't been the last.
"Prongslet's fine." Harry said, now worried his mischievous godfather would want to use a mocking female title instead.
"Good." Sirius said, throwing his arm around Harry's shoulders. "Now, I have to say, from what I have heard of your school performance so far, I am not impressed."
Harry was suddenly worried. Was he not doing well enough in his classes? He thought he had been doing pretty well, all things considered. Certainly above average but below Hermione and most Ravenclaws. Maybe Sirius saw that as a failure? He had never had a relative take an interest in his grades before so maybe he had been coasting along…
"I mean, sure you've snuck around a fair bit, but where have the pranks been?" Sirius said, the same stern expression set on his face that only seemed to surface in times of jest. "Those Weasleys have been running amuck for years without a challenger. I hope you understand that your nickname means you're unofficially part of the Marauders now. You have a legacy to live up to."
"Unofficially?" Harry didn't really think there was anything official about his father's group of friends.
"Well, there's an initiation, but it involves a werewolf and a squeaky toy, as well as a particularly long stint in detention resulting from a prank. I think it would be best for everyone concerned if we held off on that for a couple years."
"Yeah, sure." Harry said thinking he could live with being an unofficial member.
"There's a match on soon, we'd best get to the radio or we'll miss our exalted Minister's opening remarks."
"I know I never miss a chance to hear him speak."
"And that makes you a fine patriotic wizard, my dear boy."
The radio had been a gift from Orion for Sirius' tenth birthday, an extravagant gift at the time since it was an entirely frivolous item and promoted the liberal, progressive political elements. It had stayed in his room until Sirius was banished, and then it was moved into Regulus' room.
His little brother had always been jealous of the thing but had never been given one because it was in-part blamed for Sirius being sorted into Gryffindor.
Sirius had found it when he first arrived back, along with some others of his possessions. He'd left most where he found them but reclaimed the fully functional radio that now sat in the drawing room.
"Ah, good, it's still in pre-game."
"Who's playing tonight?"
"Nigeria and Senegal. Not the best teams separately, but these two have been competing for years. Or at least they had been the last time I was free for a match."
"I heard Senegal were caught cheating during the last World Cup. Their Seeker was found to be using a magical eye."
"Really? Wow. I'm surprised they were let back so soon. Usually a team gets banned for at least the next three Cups for that sort of thing."
"The rest of the team managed to convince everyone they knew nothing about it. I only heard about it because Ron saved the newspaper clipping with a picture of Senegal's Captain punching the Seeker so hard the fake eye popped right out. That went some ways to convincing people, I bet."
Sirius roared with laughter. He would have to find a copy of that picture.
"I've been meaning to ask you something." Sirius said.
"Yes?" Harry reluctantly turned away from the radio. Apparently, despite the excitable radio announcer's predictions of violence between the rival teams' fans, both sides were perfectly amiable.
"Well, I happen to have a few tickets to the World Cup finals next month and I figured, with you being the youngest Hogwarts Seeker in a century, you might know someone who wanted to go."
Harry gasped. "You're joking, right?"
"Nope, I bought a bunch of tickets. Best seats in the house. We're gonna be able to accidentally throw our popcorn on Fudge and his cronies all game. There's going to be camping and singing, barbecuing, and lots of drinking for those old enough."
"Ron's going to be so jealous!" Harry said, imagining the delights of his first professional Quidditch match, and international finals as well!
"Maybe; I am an amazing person to sit next to. But as far as the rest goes, I don't think he has much to envy. I happened to notice a particularly large block of seats in our box had been bought by the Weasley family months ago when they first went on sale."
"Wait, so Ron's whole family are going and he never mentioned it?" Harry wasn't too much of an adult to admit he was a little hurt by this.
"That doesn't sound like something a friend of yours would do. Owl him tomorrow and see what he says. There's a decent chance he didn't even know."
That actually made a lot of sense to Harry. Mr Weasley must have used whatever was left of his lottery winnings to buy so many tickets to such a nice box; he was probably waiting until closer to the event to spring it on the family.
For the rest of the radio game Harry was even more excited than a good match usually made him. He really couldn't wait to go and see everybody together and to watch the game live, and to be camping…
Harry wondered if this was how most children felt about Christmas.
After the match had concluded with a stunning victory for the Nigerian side, it was already quite late and Sirius wanted to visit the zoo with Harry in the morning so they started to turn in.
"Oh, and Harry?" Sirius said as they were parting on the landing.
"It's probably best if you don't mention the tickets to Gaara. I'll tell him later."
Harry agreed but honestly couldn't imagine a conversation between himself and Gaara that would lead to that sort of discussion. It was difficult to imagine any conversation with the surly redhead, beyond an exchange of insults.
Meanwhile Sirius was considering when it would be best to tell Harry and Gaara that Gaara was going too. Neither would be happy about it. Probably best to wait until closer to the date.
Gaara had been enjoying his solitude for the most part. With Harry there, Sirius had been too busy to bother Gaara, and Remus had been banished, so Gaara was allowed to spend all of his time researching and practicing his meditations for the first element of the animagus transformation. Both of the adults in his life told him he would have an enormous advantage in this stage thanks to his propensity for silent contemplation.
Gaara was more concerned about the fact he needed to 'quiet his thoughts', according to Sirius. Did that mean he needed to relax and stop thinking, or did that mean his mind needed to actually be quiet? One meant he just needed to do what he could already do; the other meant he needed to get the giant demon within to shut up for the first time in fourteen years.
Over the course of Harry's stay, Sirius tried to spend some time with Gaara every day so that he didn't feel left out, no matter how much Gaara shunned such attention. Still, Sirius was more than used to the curmudgeonly teen's evasions so he persevered. Plus, Gaara was receptive to specific assistance. He might avoid socialising or chatting, but when Sirius wanted to discuss a pertinent matter or share some insight into his research, he was very agreeable.
In light of the tickets Sirius had showed him, Harry was buzzing for days, despite Sirius occasionally darting off to spend an hour or two with Gaara, and despite the fact that the redheaded shut-in would apparently be joining them at the World Cup. He had seen Gaara at a few Quidditch matches at school but his attendance had apparently mostly been a cover for Sirius sneaking onto the grounds or in order to watch Malfoy. Harry told himself Gaara probably wouldn't even go to the match, or if he did he would sit at the back, probably with a book or something.
However, the excitement over the World Cup finals eventually faded to a pleasant memory and Harry was left with the most annoying housemate conceivable. They spent little time in proximity, mostly passing each other in the expansive house's halls or during meals, but such meetings were always tense.
Gaara thought Harry was immature and overly reactionary, and Harry… well, Harry thought a lot of unflattering things about Gaara too, some of which were not as factual as he liked to believe.
It wasn't a big thing that set Harry off. Gaara couldn't pinpoint the cause of the argument days after the fact when he had time to break it all down in his head. He had been walking back to the library with a glass of water when he had spotted Harry coming in the opposite direction. Normally whenever they crossed paths like this, they would say hello, nod heads, give some indication that they had seen each other, (and always avoid eye contact). It was the smallest courtesy but it was the best either could do.
Gaara walked right on past Harry and failed to acknowledge Harry's magnanimous "Evening." That was it.
Instead, Gaara had been dwelling on a new magical array for his quest to find his home world and had totally ignored Harry's greeting. Harry had unfortunately not known about the important equations being run in Gaara's head at that very moment and took this as a total dismissal. And it just rubbed him wrong.
"You're an arse!" Harry hissed, unsure whether to keep walking and leave it at that or wait for a response.
Gaara paused and looked back at Harry, staring at him for a few seconds too long. It was just as the Boy-Who-Lived was starting to wonder if he had been unduly combative like Hermione was always scolding him for being, when he finally got a response.
"You're a child. I am busy."
"What?! I'm the child?!"
"I'm busy." Gaara's monotone repetition didn't effectively convey that he didn't want to stand around slinging insults like Harry might have liked. If Gaara wanted to fight, it wouldn't be using words; but he did not want to fight Sirius' godson again, he wanted to get back to his work.
"No, you listen!" Harry yelled, "Sirius is my godfather and here you are living here with him while I have to live with my aunt and uncle, and they both hate me. When I don't have a snake obsessed megalomaniac who killed my parents trying to kill me, I have you messing up my life. Why are you even here?!"
Obviously Harry had a few things to get off of his chest.
"I was invited." Gaara realised he was in an argument, but he wasn't at all emotionally invested in it so the best he could do was just wait until Harry started a fight or something.
Gaara didn't credit the other teen with the ability to upset him enough to start the violence.
"You weren't invited! Sirius just feels sorry for you because you're a weird mute foreigner who wears too much eyeliner, who everyone's afraid of."
Now Gaara did take offence. He did not wear eyeliner, no matter how many people accused him of it.
"We're quite similar, you and I." Gaara said, thinking of how a snake maniac had killed his father (a debatable title to attribute to the Kazekage), and how an uncle had 'hated' him.
"How are we similar?" Harry refused to think they had anything in common except that they were both (presumably) orphans.
"We both know loneliness. And our families hated us."
Harry hadn't expected that, but he couldn't deny it made sense for someone like Gaara to come from an unhappy household.
"I was forced to kill my uncle when I was a child to protect myself." Gaara didn't like this sort of disclosure but the animosity between them had to stop or else it would just be Sirius that would suffer. They didn't need to be friends, but if he and Harry could sit through a meal with their guardian, it would be an improvement.
And besides that, Gaara had never made any effort to understand Harry or help the bespectacled boy understand him.
The admission of murder, even in self-defence caught Harry off guard. Surely when Gaara had said "child" he meant when he was eleven or twelve. Like how old Harry had been when he had killed Quirrel. Professor Dumbledore had gone to great lengths to explain that Quirrel had already been long dead and his body had just still be walking around with a corrupted soul, but Harry had nightmares all through that summer.
"How old… how old were you?"
Unless he was like Harry and had somehow been blamed all his life for something he did as a baby, the Boy-Who-Lived considered.
"Around six." Gaara answered.
That was the best he could remember. His previous birthday had been a long while before the attack, but he didn't know if Yashamaru had stopped celebrating them in those final months or if the attack had just come before the next. After his uncle had died, there had been no one to celebrate Gaara being alive so he had started keeping track later in life by the cycle of the seasons and a throwaway comment by the Kazekage about how old he was when he graduated the Academy formally.
Harry was stunned into silence, a rare occurrence.
"Six? You were six?" Harry just had to repeat it aloud.
"I think. I may have been seven." Gaara understood that this clarification wasn't helpful, but as before, he was still hopeless at these sorts of conversations.
The wind had effectively been taken out of Harry's sails and any impulse he might have held to accost Gaara was gone. As soon as he took a moment to stop hating Gaara and regard him in an unbiased light, it was incredibly difficult to go right back to despising him. He was at least six inches shorter than Harry and just as skinny, and seemed to be constantly perplexed by what people did around him.
In other words, Harry pitied the little psycho too much to hate him. He knew it wouldn't last long, but it was still frustrating.
Gaara still wasn't interested so he proceeded to the library, hoping his disclosure would suffice to shut up the temporary house guest until he left again. He had run out things to say anyway, and it was usually about this time in conversations that he tended to say the wrong thing.
Best to quit while he seemed to be ahead.
"Happy birthday!" Ron yelled as Harry walked into the dining room that morning.
The Boy-Who-Lived paused in shock, reached up and plucked the glasses off his face, gave them a clean on his night shirt, and the replaced them to double-check he had indeed seen a Weasley at Sirius' table.
"Happy birthday, Harry." Sirius said, rather more sedately, as he sipped his coffee.
Ron had been invited to spend the day at Grimmauld Place, as had Hermione, who was due to arrive via floo in an hour. Apparently she had notions of acceptable times to visit a person. Notions Ron did not share. He had been there for twenty minutes already.
Once Hermione arrived, and after five minutes of clearing the ash from her hair, the reunited trio had caught up at length and explored the house. It had come as a shock when Hermione strode right into the library only to see Gaara's tired eyes peering up at her from the floor, clearly having not expected the intrusion.
Ron followed closely with Harry who had thought Gaara was in his room.
"Oh, hello Gaara. How are you?" Hermione amicably said.
"I am fine." Gaara didn't turn back to his book quite yet, but nor did he ask the polite follow-up reciprocal question.
"Well, it's nice to see you again, and I hope you can come down and join us later." She was far too friendly, Ron thought. The ginger didn't say a word, instead he just glowered at Gaara like always.
Harry was still reeling from their frank discussion the other day, but had come to quietly dislike Gaara again after their following encounter, so he swiftly and politely beckoned his friends to leave Gaara in peace and they left without further ado.
Gaara would not show his face downstairs willingly but Harry didn't plan to tell Hermione that. If the insomniac was smart, he would find somewhere to hide before she came looking for him.
Sirius had insisted that he be allowed to throw a party for his godson so Harry had simply requested that it be a small affair. Knowing Sirius, if he hadn't stipulated that, the head of the Black family would have rented a hall and invited everyone.
So, in accordance with the birthday boy's wishes, Ron and Hermione were spending the day and in the evening the rest of the resident Weasley's were coming over, and so were Neville, Seamus, Dean, and Professor Lupin. Mrs Weasley had demanded that she be allowed to cook, which both Sirius and Harry had wanted to object to since there would be over a dozen mouths to feed, but she wouldn't take no for an answer. She even threatened to visit more often to bring Sirius back up to a healthy weight.
Then she had started off on Harry still being as skinny as a rake and that Gaara was clearly malnourished and would never grow unless he got some wholesome meals in him. Sirius had tried to explain that they did eat at Grimmauld Place, since they had an angry house elf preparing the food for them, but Molly didn't care.
In all, as the day progressed and his reunion with his two best friends turned into a full party with most of the precious people to him attending, Harry thought this was the best birthday he had ever had, and possibly the best he was likely to ever have.
Ron had been ecstatic to hear that Harry was going to the World Cup, explaining that he had been planning to invite Harry with his family as they had an extra ticket. Hermione would also be attending and now, with the spare ticket, Mrs Weasley was being dragged along.
Hermione, as much as she enjoyed the sport, had to work hard to change the topic before her entire day descended into her listening to her two companions heatedly discuss Quidditch.
Remus had showed up after lunch, having been assured by Sirius that his presence would be permissible due to it being a large gathering rather than a more intimate visit. Less chance of the big bad wolf corrupting the saviour.
By mid afternoon, most of the rest of the Weasley clan had flooed in, including Mr and Mrs Weasley, the twins, Percy and Ginny. The twins were probably even more excited than Ron to be there, in the home of their idol (and Gaara!), and had proceeded to try and pull Sirius or Remus away to discuss their future prank and business plans at every opportunity.
Remus was less agreeable than Sirius to it. Lupin liked to pretend that he was too grown up for pranks and such these days.
Sirius was not, though he couldn't spend too long talking to the funny pair as he was supposed to be hosting. If he left for too long, Molly seemed to end up shouldering the burden of keeping order.
Eventually with so many people in the house, Hermione took pity on Ginny and tried to spend a while talking to the only other girl there. Otherwise the poor younger girl ended up standing with her parents all day.
Percy was perfectly content to stay with the adults, although he seemed to have a bit of a small bladder as every time a certain known werewolf came near, he seemed to have to make a speedy exit, presumably to the bathroom. Molly, all-knowing mother that she was, scowled each and every time.
Mrs Weasley disappeared for a while and only after she returned did they discover that she had gone to find Gaara and ended up chatting with him all that time. She had been delighted to hear him speak, albeit sparingly, and had gone to uncomfortable lengths to express her gratitude for Gaara's protecting her children from the dementors.
During the course of the party, a number ascended to 'check on' Gaara and invite him to join the festivities downstairs. First had been Molly, then Hermione had taken her turn. She was most insistent despite Ron and Harry having warned her not to waste her time and the other younger guests all shooting her fearful looks when she announced her intentions.
Then came Sirius who was actually going up to make sure Gaara was okay and wasn't in need of any food or drink. Sirius had long since disabused himself of the notion that Gaara needed social interactions like other ("normal") people, but he still felt the compulsion to offer the boy something from the party.
The Weasley Twins hunted him down after that, having claimed they were going up to the bathroom (no one wanted to question why they were both going together), and bugged him until he threatened them in a similar manner to Kreacher and they backed off. Later in the day, they covertly asked Sirius if they could return another day to chat (and try bugging Gaara) again.
Lupin tried last, but like Sirius he was actually gauging how Gaara was doing rather than trying to entice him. In his mind, it simply didn't make sense that a teenager would shun a party and hide in a library reading magical theory texts so dull even Remus wouldn't have touched them in school.
Each time somebody conspicuously disappeared up the stairs to talk to the household recluse, Harry watched warily, hoping they would come back alone. He might not hate Gaara as much as before, maybe even pity him now, but the guy was still as much of a buzz-kill as he ever was.
Speaking of buzz-kills, Hermione had demanded to know how much if any of his and Ron's homework had been finished already. Ron lied and said he had done it all, but Harry foresaw Hermione's scepticism and said he had only done about a third. He had done none so far. Hermione believed Harry and accused Ron of lying and having done nothing.
The look of betrayal Ron shot Harry as Hermione whacked him on the arm was priceless.
After the lecture from their bookish friend had finished, they moved onto their predictions for the year ahead.
"Well, first year a teacher was trying to kill you, then in second a big snake, a book and Ginny were trying to kill you," Ron said, ignoring the indignant yell from his little sister who overheard him, "and then last year an escaped lunatic and some dementors came after you." Ron ignored the indignant yell from Sirius this time, mostly because he had been mimicking Ginny. Ron tended to speak loudly. "I think this year Gaara's gonna take a crack at you. Or maybe it's finally Snape's turn."
"Ron, that's not fair." Hermione told him off.
"I don't know, Herm. I think I'll be lucky to make it through the rest of my visit without Gaara coming for me." Harry said fondly. Seeing the look on Hermione's face he added, "Even Sirius says Gaara's only a bad joke away from killing him, and Gaara actually likes him."
They talked more about their assignments as well as their class picks. Hermione managed to steer them off the topic of Gryffindor's Quidditch chances next year, she had had enough sport talk already this afternoon.
Dinner was no less impressive than any home cooked feast Molly had prepared and by the time the stuffed revellers were pushing back their chairs from the table to make more room for their bloated bellies, the group were sighing contentedly and a number were wondering if they might just snooze where they sat. The obvious exception being Mrs Weasley who had been getting up to serve all during the meal, even telling a livid Kreacher to leave it to her.
She had also piled a plate high and run it up to Gaara, after asking Kreacher to do that one task and his display of great discomfort bordering on refusal had convinced her to just do it herself. The redhead had tried to complain that it was too much food but she said he was being silly.
It was Seamus who piped up that it was time for Harry to open his presents.
It was awkward for Harry to have to open his presents in front of a crowd eagerly watching his every move but he persevered.
First came Seamus' gift, which he had jumped up and retrieved when his suggestion was taken. Under the colourful muggle wrapping paper was a brand new Nintendo Game Boy and a handful of games.
"They don't work at Hogwarts, mind you, but you can use it when you're at home." He said, very proud of himself. His mother, a witch, had been all for getting the saviour of the wizarding world an expensive gift when Seamus received his invite so she bought a 'handheld gaming device' like the one Seamus had gotten last year, following Seamus' suggestion.
Harry was very impressed, having seen Dudley get one a couple years ago and spending months staring at it. He had cast it off soon after that, being stuck on every one of his many games and deciding it was broken. It had been far too fancy and expensive for Harry to sneak away so it had been left to gather dust until it was thrown away to make room for another abandoned toy.
Mr Weasley, of course, fell in love with the thing immediately and had all sorts of technical and nonsensical questions for Seamus about its operation that he was unable to answer.
The Weasleys brought the usual assortment of gifts, none of which were expensive or fancy, but all quite thoughtful.
Dean had likewise been thriftier than the Irishman, buying Harry a new pair of broom riding gloves. They weren't as nice as his current pair had been, but those were getting old and the holes were getting bigger, so they would still be an improvement.
Hermione had blushed when she presented a present from her parents: an electric toothbrush, which she said they insisted he should have. Apparently she had tried to explain that electricity did not work in their school but they would not take no for an answer and insisted that every young man should care about their dental hygiene. If it were not a gift, Harry would have given it to Arthur, who had moved on from the confusing muggle toy and onto the vibrating tooth cleaning device.
"Delightful!" He declared in the corner, jotting down notes in his little notebook with an equally little pencil. Molly scowled but didn't pull him back just yet, otherwise her husband would spend the rest o the day pouting that he had not been able to fully examine the fascinating muggle technologies.
Hermione had also gotten him a book, which he thanked her for. He wondered which he would get more enjoyment out of, the book or the toothbrush.
Ron muttered something similar so she slapped him upside the head when nobody was watching.
After blowing up Marge, threatening Vernon with his wand, and then returning with threats of a mass-murdering godfather this summer, the Dursleys didn't even bother sending a sarcastic card with a pound coin in it. Harry didn't consider it much of a loss.
Finally it came to Sirius and Remus' gifts.
Remus had gotten him a couple interesting books, including one about werewolves (making a few in the room blanch at the reminder of their lycanthropic co-guest); one about animagi (which covered a lot of the more general material Gaara had been reading about over the course of several different tomes); and a curious, worn book of essays on the obscure subject of 'transcendental charm work'.
Harry wrinkled his nose at the last book, unable to discern what the theoretical book was actually about by the complicated blurb. It was the sort of thing he saw Gaara reading in the library all the time. He would have to have Hermione translate it into lay terms later so he could work out why Professor Lupin thought this dry book was a suitable present.
Noticing the predictably dissatisfied expression on Harry's face, Remus leaned forward and softly said, "Look at the contents page, Harry."
Harry opened the cracked leather cover, wondering why, again. It was definitely an older book, well used, and on an entirely uninteresting subject. The contents read as a series of even more complicated and specific essay titles. Harry had even less of an idea of what the point was until he came to the last one, '(Dec 1978), 'Fields of Emotional Subjectivity in the Expression of Charms Arrays' by Evans, Lily – pp.541-612'.
"Wait, is that…?"
"Yes, your mother. While James, Sirius and I went on holiday to Australia after finishing Hogwarts, your mother had already begun researching a theory she had suggested in her final year. James thought she was crazy. It didn't help that he managed to get a job as soon as he got back while Lily was still working away on her thesis. Although he got fired after four months and just lived off his parents' money in the end." Remus said, staring fondly at the book in Harry's hands. "She spent months cooped away in libraries and their study. They were already engaged by this point, you see, but she refused to marry your father until she finished."
"James was convinced she was trying to blow him off after the second time she tried explaining her work to him and he didn't understand. He thought she was making it up so he would stop letting Euphemia make wedding plans." Sirius said.
"Euphemia?" Harry asked.
"Your grandmother on your father's side. She passed on during the war." Sirius said sadly, both at the death of the kindly woman and because Harry was fourteen by the time he first heard her name. He would have to tell Harry all about them as well.
"Anyway, she finally finished in November and was published almost immediately. She's the youngest witch in that book by thirty years. It really is no exaggeration to say she was the brightest witch of her age." Remus continued. The room was silent, although Hermione had tears in her eyes and Harry was fighting against following suit.
"I wanted to give you this book at Christmas, but I couldn't find a copy anywhere. It wasn't a best seller."
"Where did you find it in the end, Professor?" Harry looked up at him.
Lupin had given up trying to get the children to stop referring to him as 'Professor', so he let it slide. "This was my copy. She gave copies to all four of us. I think James' went up in flames during that… that night. And Sirius' sadly exploded due an unexpected duel in his flat about three months after she gave it to him."
"A duel?" Ron piped up. He was surely imagining some heroic battle with Death Eaters or other dark wizards.
"Well, duel is a bit-" Sirius started.
"He got drunk at a bar and invited a nice young witch home with him. She took offence to something he said and tried to blow him up. Instead she took out his sparse bookshelf." Lupin smiled.
"She was nuts!"
"Sirius!" Molly admonished.
"She was! And then I got kicked out of the flat and had to sleep on Remus' sofa for two weeks."
"Because Lily wouldn't let James invite you to stay on theirs. And it wasn't two weeks, it was closer to two months." Remus said bitterly.
"I know it wasn't two weeks because I wouldn't have had to replace my sofa otherwise."
"You kept your place way too hot. I was shedding."
Remus was rubbing his closed eyes, trying to stave off the headache he got every time they discussed this.
"Stop arguing you two, poor Harry hasn't finished opening his presents." Molly, ever the motherly presence, put a prompt stop to their argument and got the party back on track.
"I wanted to get you a car but Remus said I shouldn't. So blame him for that." Sirius said petulantly.
"He's only fourteen!" Remus said angrily.
"You can't give him a car, Sirius. You should have seen what he and Ron did to my Anglia a couple years back. In fact, I wouldn't mind seeing what they did to it." Arthur said, still angry that he had never seen his car again. Worse still, Molly wouldn't let him get another one.
"It's not nearly as exciting as a car or a new broom, but I think this should last a lifetime." Sirius said, suddenly nervous that his gift was insufficient. Maybe he should have gone with his second impulse and bought Harry some property.
It was huge, needing Sirius to levitate it in through the door. It had been sloppily wrapped, assuredly by the ex-convicts own hands, in moving Quidditch wrapping paper. Harry carefully removed it so he could keep the paper. He didn't know how long the enchantments would last, but he would definitely put some of it up on his wall here.
Later, after he left, it would be joined with half a dozen moving Quidditch posters that Sirius practically covered the walls in. It was disorientating but a considerate thought.
Sirius had given Harry a brand new trunk for school, which would have been far too mundane so he had sent off for the fanciest trunk his family's money could buy. It was stylish, lightweight for the owner only, secure, and enlarged on the inside so much it functioned as a series of rooms. It would be perfect for when, like all fine young gentlemen should, Harry went travelling after his schooling. Until then, it would perhaps give the boy some space away from his dastardly relatives when he returned.
Harry was amazed when he discovered the steps into his trunk. Remus said he had gone overboard and that Harry didn't even have enough possessions to fill it, so Sirius had rebutted that he would just buy Harry enough things to fill it.
He didn't mention it, but Sirius had also bought Gaara one such trunk, feeling bad that Harry had gotten such a fancy gift while Gaara had been given a dead rabbit on his birthday. He told himself it was a retrospective gift and left it at that. He was planning on waiting until Harry had left before giving it to the reclusive foreigner.
He had to steel himself, ready for the total lack of appreciation the redhead was likely to respond with.
The party went on for a few more hours into the evening but too soon all the guests started going home.
Arthur had declared it was time to go back to the Burrow when he saw George and Fred skulking towards the drinks cabinet. Ron didn't want to leave, but thankfully Molly pulled him into the fireplace by the ear. It was impressive because she had both of the twins' ears in her other hand. Sirius was glad for her help because he didn't want to have to admit that he would probably get in trouble with the Ministry if he allowed anybody else to stay the night when Harry was there.
Remus and Hermione were the last to leave after Dean had been picked up by his mum. They lived in London so it had been easier for him than Hermione who lived further afield. Lupin had offered to drop her off via apparition. He planned to go back to his place afterwards and drink alone… heavily.
That night, when things had gone silent downstairs, Gaara had appeared to bring his plate down, having eaten only a quarter of the tasty food on it. It was a shame to waste food like this, but when he looked to put some of it in the fridge, he found mounds of leftovers already sitting in there.
Molly had outdone herself.
As midnight passed, Gaara considered that he had been able to give Harry the gift of not seeing him all day successfully. In fact, since Harry was leaving the next day, unless Sirius was determined to make it otherwise, Gaara might not have to see or interact with Harry until his next planned visit.
Sadly, the next morning Sirius demanded Gaara come down for lunch and to say good bye to Harry. That was exactly what he said before turning right back around and going back to his room, not waiting for Harry's response, if any.
Harry had come to expect something like this so he didn't let it bother him. Instead he focussed on how funny it was and on Sirius, rather the impending separation from his world. Going back to the Dursleys had not been this difficult for him since… well, since he got off the train a month ago, and before that his first train ride back there.
Truth be told, it was never easy to go back there, but now it felt like there was a choice and he was being taken to the worse option.
Still, it was just one more month to go until he went back to Hogwarts, and was to be broken up by a few more visits with Sirius and of course the Quidditch World Cup.
He had made strides in his relationship with Gaara, no longer glaring every time he saw the tiny redhead, but a little part of him still existed that took solace in knowing that Gaara wasn't living the highlife Harry had imagined before this visit.
When Harry was with his relatives, he was locked in a small room with only books for comfort, and Gaara voluntarily did that in Sirius' massive, welcoming house.
While Sirius was keeping a stiff upper lip, Harry was making no effort to hide his heartbreak as he was dropped off at the end of Privet Drive. What Harry did not know was that Sirius was concealing his feelings as much as he could, otherwise he would be openly bawling and looking for someone to punch. Instead his eyes watered at last and he hugged Harry and sent him on his way after reaffirming when they would next see each other.
When Sirius got back, he looked for his quill so he could send an owl right away. A couple days later, after he had calmed down a little, he broached the topic of Gaara's mysterious surname with the boy.
"Gaara, does the name 'Shukaku' mean anything to you?" Sirius asked, expecting a dismissal or a simple truth. Instead, he watched as Gaara's eyes went wide. The foreign boy had an exceptional poker face most of the time but when his mask cracked it was glaringly obvious.
"Where did you hear that?"
"A magical map listed it with your name. We thought it must be your last name."
"We? Who else knows?"
"Me, Remus, Harry, Ron and Hermione. Oh, and possibly the Weasley twins." Sirius counted them off in his head.
"It's not my name. It doesn't matter."
Sirius stared Gaara for a moment or two, wondering if this was an issue he should press. It was clearly a sore subject, but would it help to pry or just make matters worse?
"I can see it on your face; it does matter. What or who is Shukaku?"
"It's not something you need to know about. Ever. Don't mention him again." Gaara muttered and walked away.
Sirius thought Gaara was storming off in anger, instead Gaara was leaving so that Sirius didn't see his fear. He had not known magic would be able to sense Shukaku inside of him, or certainly not that it would be able to identify and name the beast.
Of all people, Gaara did not want Sirius to know about Shukaku. The darkness in his soul, both the demon and the resulting evils committed in his childhood, were not something any rational man could forgive or abide. Gaara did not ever want to suffer his friend's unavoidable scorn, and to keep that happening he could never reveal the truth of Shukaku. Not unless there was a dire need.
Sirius, thinking he had terribly upset his ward, resolved to never bring up the uncomfortable subject ever again.
Luckily for the pair, Remus showed up soon after, having finished his latest bender and wanting some company. Gaara and Sirius had suffered under an awkward air since the brief but frank incident, so the buffer was appreciated. It might be said to have been appreciated more by Sirius than Gaara who had simply gone back to holing himself up in the library, though he had emerged to say hello when the werewolf arrived. Things went back to normal as soon as Lupin settled in, it seemed.
Then, soon after that, it was time for the Malfoys to come over for tea. Knowing that Lucius and Naricssa would never deign to use a bathroom in his house, Sirius only had to ensure that the drawing room was neat and tidy for their arrival. They would floo in, have tea, politely refuse any suggestion they stay for dinner, and then leave through the same fireplace again. If he offered to show them around the house, they would accept, but no such invitation would be extended.
By the time Lucius stepped through the fire into the room, the drawing room had been cleaned so thoroughly and entirely it was almost as if Orion was going to walk in any minute and give Sirius a beating for inviting friends over without asking permission. When Gaara was back at school, Sirius planned to have some decorators come and renovate the place. Make it unrecognisable.
Sirius had been pretending to read at that moment, acting a tad startled when Lucius flamed through, as if he had forgotten all about the Malfoys' visit. The feigned nonchalance was aimed at bothering Lucius, but Sirius wasn't rewarded with any reaction. He quickly got up so that he could look the platinum-blond in eye. Any notion that these two men were anything close to friends would have died quickly when they saw the sneers set onto their faces.
"Welcome to my home. Please, come in." Sirius beckoned the man to one of the plush chairs he had purchased just for the occasion. The moth-bitten ones that had stood there for the last thirty years would have only served to make Sirius look lesser. It wasn't that he was trying to impress Lucius, only ever belittle him.
The fire flared and out came Narcissa, not a speck of ash sticking to her fine dress.
"Cousin." She replied in what appeared to be a cold manner; except her reference to their familial bond implied a small measure of warmth. Sirius didn't notice this concession as his mind had conjured the image of his older cousin calling him names and ganging up on him with her sisters.
Narcissa waited by the fireplace until Draco stumbled through. He kept his footing, as was expected of him, but he did it with considerably less grace than his parents had.
"Hello, Mr Black." Draco greeted.
"Draco, nice to see you again." Sirius smiled a little. He didn't have any real opinion of Draco beyond his comforting friendship with Sirius' ward, but it would irk Lucius if he pretended to like Draco. "I'm terribly sorry but Gaara was in the middle of studying. You know how boys can be. Studying all day."
Narcissa pursed her lips in an almost-smile at the dig. She would let that one slide, but if Sirius tried to score points at Draco's expense again, she would come off the sidelines and join Lucius in ripping Sirius a new one.
In the politest way possible, of course.
"Kreacher!" Sirius bellowed.
The house elf popped into existence but withheld any mutterings he might otherwise have liked to give since Sirius had ordered him not to speak unless spoken to today and to remain on his best behaviour. Normally this would have resulted in him disparaging Sirius as usual since that was the best he could be, but when he recognised who was standing in the drawing room, he couldn't possible say anything rude.
"Master," He bowed, and then to Narcissa, "it is the highest honour to be in the presence of the young mistress again." He then bowed to Lucius and Draco in turn but with less grovelling.
Narcissa remembered the elf but didn't deign to respond. It was still a servant, no matter how long it had been hanging around the Black family.
"Go and fetch Master Gaara, now." Sirius commanded, again inviting the Malfoys to sit.
Accommodating Kreacher's fearful aversion of Gaara was difficult at times like these so Sirius had told Gaara to be ready to come to the drawing room when he heard a knock on his door, and when he gave Kreacher his earlier standing order he also told him to just knock on Gaara's door to summon him.
Quicker than Sirius would have thought possible, Gaara let himself into the lounging room. He was dressed in some smart robes that Sirius had bought specially. That had been another tricky affair since getting Gaara to accompany him out of the house was difficult enough, but to get him to go clothes shopping was impossible. Even persuading the stubborn boy to let him take some measurements so he could send away for clothes had required a bribe.
Sirius had to promise to take Gaara to a blacksmith; the boy wanted some throwing knives or something. As irresponsible as Sirius was (proudly so), he did think twice about buying a teenage boy bladed weapons, but since Gaara was a formidable fighter with or without the knives, he figured he might as well.
Draco looked on at Gaara and had the same impression Potter had, that Gaara was really quite short now. Gaara meanwhile was thinking that Draco looked awful. His hair was impeccable, his robes immaculate, if sporting a few splotches of ash near his feet, and his posture was better than ever; and yet his skin was waxy, his eyes had bags under them (though no one was going to accuse him of using make-up any time soon), and his reactions were sluggish.
"Good afternoon." Gaara greeted them simply. Sirius had mentioned something about shaking and kissing hands but he wasn't going to do that, and bowing in this culture was seen as servile so he settled for staying still and waiting for them to respond.
"Gaara." Lucius evenly said.
"It's lovely to see you again, Gaara. You are looking well. I'm glad we can finally talk properly." Narcissa added.
Unable to determine if she was being sincere, Gaara nodded his head. Sirius smirked at that but quelled it.
"Hello, Gaara." Draco's voice sounded rough.
Gaara thought back to his teachings from Temari and the additional manners Sirius had tried to instil, and said nothing. His first impulse had been to say 'You look awful, Draco.'
They all sat down at last and started on the small talk. Sirius droned on about the troubles of organising his financial resources and getting his estates back into order (both of which he had actually been neglecting). Lucius countered with how his job at the Ministry was particularly fulfilling at the moment as were all of the social events of the past year.
Narcissa stayed out of the sniping, mostly consigning herself to chatting softly with Gaara and trying to get Draco to join in. Draco, for his part, was playing the role of the dutiful heir, keeping quiet and not branching out into any real conversation.
Sirius had warned Gaara that the meeting would be boring and unsocial. It wasn't so the boys could meet up, but so that the families could formally establish ties. Once the redhead understood it was a purely political function he had made his peace with it, but seeing Draco as he was now was worrying.
The tensions Draco had mentioned in his letters had obviously been the cause to no end of stress for the ideologically changed snob. Lucius' temper was not to be taken lightly, and it had not escaped the man's notice that his son's recent changes were set against his long held beliefs.
Gaara did not see any bruises on Draco, but if he had he might have gone about this meeting with much less civility. By the end, Lucius likely would not have been able to drink tea.
Gaara tried to follow Sirius and Lucius' conversation out of the corner of his eye, but without devoting his entire attention to what the two men were saying, he was pretty sure he was missing some key parts of the dialogue. He was not very skilled at detecting subtext and doing so while also paying attention to Narcissa was impossible.
Draco only spoke up a handful of times during the entire tea, adding details about trips, agreeing with his mother, things of that nature.
Gaara was also not very good at small talk, so it was a real challenge to keep chatting away with the middle-aged woman and his friend. It came as a relief when she allowed the conversation to lapse so she could turn and attend to her husband and cousin's escalating hostility. She interposed herself before the snarky comments could build to a physical confrontation.
Knowing her cousin as she thought she did, Sirius would probably leap over the table at her husband before any wands could be drawn. She loved Lucius as much as she considered appropriate but she honestly doubted he would win in a fist fight with Sirius, even as diminished the man was after his time in prison.
Luckily, Sirius was clearly still intimidated by her and so was quick to back off when she diverted the conversation away from their previous posturing.
Briefly she was able to inspire some camaraderie when she brought up the upcoming World Cup. It wasn't entirely suitable tea time talk, but it did get them talking about something they both liked. For all of three minutes.
Once they had moved past their both going to the match and the teams' chances against each other, Lucius couldn't help but mention all the games he had been to in the last decade, and then Sirius had to bring up Lucius' poor performances in his schooldays on the House team. From there they had gone back to their antagonism.
The tea was drunk and just in time too, Narcissa thought as she interrupted her husband's crass remark about prison food.
The visit had been formal and any benefit Gaara might have gained from the socialising had been negated by the atmosphere.
"Well, thank you so much for stopping by, Lucius, Cissy. Draco, you really must visit Gaara again soon."
"Yes, well, he has so many commitments…" Lucius drawled, pretending to consider the offer at length. "I'm sure we can schedule something. And, of course, Gaara is welcome to return to Malfoy Manor any time."
"Thank you." Gaara said.
"Yes, thank you. I'm sure Gaara would love to come by again. I just hope he has the time with how busy he has been lately." Sirius bemoaned, parodying Lucius' faked consideration. Realistically, Sirius had precious little control over Gaara's movements like that. He wasn't much of a guardian in that sense, he bitterly noted.
Lucius and Narcissa were all smiles as they walked into the drawing room fireplace, Draco followed, but after his parents had disappeared in flames, he turned and said, "Sorry about all of this. I've got to go, I'll see you soon."
Draco couldn't keep his mother and father waiting so he left as well.
Sirius watched until the flames died down and then immediately flopped back into his chair, all of his previous poise and posture long gone. He called out for Kreacher to get him whiskey. Not wishing to come between the man and his hard-earned drink, Gaara left to his room.
He didn't feel like reading right now. He was going to go and train in his room. He couldn't do much but he could keep his body in shape and his mind unfocussed.
The next letter he had received from Draco, the day following the Malfoy visit, spelled out another apology for the usually talkative blond's demeanour. He played off his disaffect as being an expression of etiquette. He did, however, note a desire to visit soon on his own so they could 'hang out', which Gaara hoped included watching him reading for hours upon hours. Otherwise Draco was going to be sorely disappointed.
Upon prompting (read: nagging) from Sirius, Gaara replied immediately to the letter with an invitation to stay over. Technically Sirius was supposed to extend the invitations to the house but he would send an owl to Lucius later with the offer. It was a blatant afterthought but he could manage only so many formalities in one week.
At least he had gotten his troublesome reunion with Narcissa over and done with already. Now he just had to contact Andromeda and he would be golden.
Perhaps in the Autumn…
It did not occur to the lifelong rebel that no matter how much he claimed to have rejected his parent's teachings, he still held many of their values close to himself even now. For instance, that no matter how much one might hate their family, one had a duty to remain united with them.
How true that might still hold if Bellatrix were free and present was debatable.
"Good morning, Gaara."
Gaara's eyes shot open and he stopped drinking his glass of milk. He at last sighed. "Hello, Luna."
Sirius snickered from behind his bacon sandwich. He had been worried Gaara would stay shut up in his room all day and Sirius would have to lure him out somehow so that Luna was not kept waiting. Luckily Gaara had taken to drinking milk every day for some reason after Harry and Draco's visits, so he was fairly regular with his emergences.
"Luna stopped by for a visit, Gaara."
"I see that. Thank you for notifying me in advance." Gaara was not skilled in detecting sarcasm or judging when to use it, but this seemed like as good a time as any.
"I hope I'm not disturbing you, Gaara."
"It's fine. I needed to take a break from my research." Gaara lied unconvincingly, sitting across the table from his friend.
"How has your animagus project been going?" She asked.
"Well. Sirius has been helping me." Gaara could not remember if he had mentioned that to her in his sparse letters.
"Hey, Padfoot, has Gaara come down yet or-" Lupin stopped speaking when he spotted the spiky red across from the shining blonde.
Sirius poured the adults some coffees and then pushed Lupin back out the way he came, "We'll get out of your hair, it's not every day Gaara has a girl friend visit." He had made sure to emphasise the space between 'girl' and 'friend'. He planned to make as many insinuations as he could during this visit and afterwards.
"Mr Black seems like a lot of fun to be around." Luna said after he had gone.
Gaara did not nod at that.
"I'm sorry for surprising you like this. I thought Mr Black would tell you I was coming." She said, pretending to be apologetic despite her having neglected to tell Gaara in her letters also. She had not wanted to risk tipping him off and having him refuse.
They talked for over two hours, mostly with Luna telling Gaara about her father's latest articles and her short trips to mundane locations that held extraordinary secrets. He added bits here and there, sometimes even branching out into comparisons to his own world when she brought up an interesting subject like magical horticulture or deserts.
She was delighted when he shared small anecdotes of living in a sandy desert village. Things like how they stayed sufficiently hydrated around the village without carrying huge amounts of water, and the sorts of animals about the place. He got the impression she had a softer image of Suna life than the reality when she struggled to believe they did not keep pets (with the notable exception of a few prosperous families who knew to keep them out of Gaara's path).
After they had caught up on their comings and goings, Luna insisted on looking at Gaara's research notes. Ever the Ravenclaw, she seemed uncommonly interested in both of his dry research fields. She also wanted to examine the Black family library, a glint in her glassy eye suggesting she might be asking to borrow "a few" before she left.
Gaara sometimes wondered why he had 'friends' since he did not like socialising and most of the people he called his friends annoyed him most of the time (especially the ones in his own world), but when Luna spent the better part of four hours poring over his findings and his progress since they last talked, he remembered.
She was surprisingly insightful on the subject of animagi, having done a research project of her own (primarily so that she could help Gaara). Their conclusion was that he was still a long way off transforming properly and he would be fortunate to be ready by the end of the holiday.
After lunch, which sadly also included Padfoot and Moony, Luna was to be given a short interview with Sirius. Gaara sat in to watch, curiosity compelling him rather than the need to be in the same room as his friend/guest. Lupin had also wanted to stick around but he apparently had to let someone into his flat which Gaara took to mean a repairman or delivery, though Sirius loudly insisted it was probably an estate agent looking to sell the place since the sponger was living with him.
He then had to convince Luna, her quill poised above her notebook, that he did support werewolf rights and did not believe they should live on the streets (or 'in the wild').
The interview was interesting for her and dreadfully dull for Gaara who was wishing he had brought a book with him (a common problem that he would look into solving magically at some point). It lasted less than a full hour and she had scribbled down a lot of notes, making the interviewee visibly sweat.
The teenagers sat down to play chess in the afternoon, which Sirius loudly ridiculed. He had been abnormally bothersome today, Gaara thought. For one, he had always been hanging around, as if he suspected they were going to do something (though, what a teenage boy and teenage girl would do together when they were alone escaped the redhead).
Plus Sirius kept saying things in an unusual way that he suspected contained some sort of double meaning he wasn't getting. He drew the line when these intonations started giving Luna a red face. He did not understand what about the question, "Gaara, do you want to sit a little closer to Luna there? She looks cold." might prompt such a physical response in her, but figuring it was a joke of some sort at her expense, he glared at Sirius.
This only made the man chuckle.
When evening drew in, Sirius offered to let Luna stay for dinner as well, but she regretfully said her father was expecting her (and her interview notes) back for one of his roasts. She said that she would love for Gaara to visit sometime, and Sirius was welcome to come too since her father would love to meet him. As she was leaving, she asked if Sirius could pass along a request for an interview to Professor Lupin. She and her father wanted to write an article about werewolves living in harmony with witches and wizards.
Sirius happily agreed, doubting Moony would want to but feeling safe in extending the offer.
Luna said her good byes and gave a little wave before jumping into the fireplace and calling out her home. Gaara did not waste any time in returning to his room to continue his work and to look over the notes he had been taking during their discussion of his work.
The article was released the week after Luna's visit and Sirius had pulled it out at dinner to read to Remus and Gaara.
"You should have seen the queue at the newsstand! When the guy running it figured out who I was, he told me this was the best selling edition of the Quibbler he had ever carried. Normally he doesn't sell all that many and he often has to sell the remainder back to the publisher, but he was going to sell out by noon at the rate they were going."
"What do you expect, Sirius? It's the first interview you've done since you were exonerated. Readers don't care what paper or magazine it's in, they just want to read the inside scoop." Lupin sagely added, sipping his after inner coffee.
"'Sirius Black: Life as a Freed Man by Luna Lovegood and Xenophillius Lovegood'" He started…
'Mr Black sat across the room, his eyes no longer the sunken depths made famous recently by photos taken and distributed after his illegal capture in June. He smiled a lot and made jokes frequently but sobered once we touched upon the subjects for which this article and the larger public interest is based.
He began by telling the story we have all come to know, in his own words, starting with his heroic and voluntary actions during the war against You-Know-Who, his protection of his friends, Lily and James Potter and their newborn, his godson, Harry Potter, and then to the matter that caused so much pain and trouble. He said that the spell hiding the Potters had required a third party to keep them hidden, a 'Secret Keeper', and that as the obvious party he could not fulfil the role. Instead, the least likely to be picked would be, the infamous Mr Pettigrew was selected. The attack of October 31st 1981 that followed is known to every witch and wizard in the world, now known to be instigated by the treacherous Secret Keeper, Peter Pettigrew.
Upon investigation, it transpires that before his trial, Peter Pettigrew was Kissed by one of the dementors of Azkaban and his body moved to the prison to be housed, though the Ministry refuses to specify when or how the dementor escaped their control to dispose of the suspect. They did however reveal a court had since tried him in absentia and found him guilty, he has also been stripped of his Order of Merlin, 2nd Class.
Sirius Black was apprehended whilst seeking justice for his friends and imprisoned without a trial in Azkaban for twelve years. Forgiving man that he is, Mr Black clarified that it was the previous administration that erred and left the mess to be cleaned up by later officials under Minister Fudge.
There, in the hellish prison, Mr Black languished for over a decade before he made his daring escape to clear his name and protect his beloved godson, the Boy-Who-Lived. What followed, most will have read in other papers during the course of last year, but it has now been revealed that Sirius Black and James Potter's long-time friend, Remus Lupin, a professor of Hogwarts during the period, had been aiding in Mr Black's survival and quest and is in this reporter's opinion no less a hero than Black himself.
When asked about his life since his release, following one of the most publicised trials since the end of the war, Mr Black revealed he had taken in an orphan ward and was working to rebuild his shattered life and reputation. He was also engaged in reconnecting with his godson and expressed a desire to have Mr Potter come and live with him in the years to come, outside of his schooling at Hogwarts. He even revealed that Mr Potter had joined him at his home for a birthday celebration recently.
I also asked what, if any, plans he had for the future, to which he spoke with less of his exuberant confidence. Beyond his family and friends he expressed few ambitions, which is understandable when one considers he has only had a scant few months to create a future for himself after a Good Samaritan caught Pettigrew and cleared his name. One thing was made clear in the course of his answer, that Mr Black would not seek employment with the Ministry of Magic. He refused to clarify his exact reasons but with his mistreatment noted in the public domain, it leaves little to the imagination what that disincentive might be.
Before the end of the interview, I asked what Mr Black felt towards his transgressor, the irredeemable Mr Pettigrew, now that his punishment had been applied (albeit thanks to yet another dementor related mistake). It was a difficult subject for Mr Black to discuss, he confessed, but he expressed no lingering fondness for his childhood friend. He requested that we move on as that was all he had to say on the subject.
Finally, I asked if Mr Black believed there were other innocent witches and wizards being held in Azkaban Prison like he had been, to which he said it was unlikely. He downplayed the terrible injustice perpetrated against him and explained that his were exceptional circumstances and any failings the previous administration visited upon him were unlikely to have been repeated.
On a personal note, this reporter found Mr Black to be a man haunted by his experiences and looking to re-establish himself in respectable wizarding society. I am sure most good citizens of Britain would join me in wishing the best of luck in doing so.'
It had come as a shock to Sirius and then to Remus to hear what had happened to Peter, but neither man could say they were truly saddened by what they considered to be a fair punishment. After the shock subsided, they were not even surprised, knowing the sorts of tactics Fudge tended to employ to avoid further scandal. It was a tad odd that the Lovegoods, of all people, had been the ones to unearth this latest cover-up.
Nonetheless, with his agreement with the Ministry in the back of his mind, Sirius hoped the Minister would not attempt to renege on their deal regarding Gaara's custody over the inevitable embarrassment this article was sure to cause. He had tried to temper his language and avoid accusing the Ministry of any wrongdoing, but Luna had been dogged in her questions and had presumably been encouraged by her father to emphasise the less than flattering facts about their government.
Sirius had asked that any allusions to Gaara specifically be removed or obscured, to give the boy as little attention as possible. Most people had read or heard about Gaara's actions in the Attack on Hogwarts, despite the Ministry attempting to keep him out of it too, but Sirius still believed it was for the best.
Luna had struggled with Mr Black's request since it seemed unethical to purposefully hide an important fact from a story, but she also could not separate her personal feelings on the matter, and she had to consider the ramifications of further publicising his name…
In the end, she had asked her father, who was editing the piece, to keep Gaara out of it, arguing that it had been a stipulation of the interviewee.
"I want them shut down!"
"I don't think that's a good idea, Minister. It will simply give them a louder voice when they come back again and will serve to delegitimize your position."
"Then I want to put out a statement denouncing this rag, their writer, and that troublemaker Black!"
"I would not advise that either, Minister. You ought not to lend your voice to their article, which will fade from memory in a matter of days."
"Then their writer-!"
"Is a fourteen year old girl, if I'm not mistaken; writing with the help of her father in their home."
"Black and I had a deal!"
"Yes, I am well aware of the particulars of that arrangement but unfortunately he did not, to my knowledge, say anything that would be in breach of the agreement. That said, his article was definitely given outside of the spirit of your agreement and a sternly worded letter would suffice, I believe."
"A reminder of the consequences if he should continue to speak out against you: not only will he not receive the custody of mister Potter, but he will lose mister Gaara's guardianship as well."
"He will regret this."
"I have no doubt, but for the moment a reprimand will suffice, I think."
"Yes, you're probably right, Henrick. It was just a poorly written article by a silly little girl; people will forget in a few days. This business about Pettigrew, though…"
"I have my department looking into where Mr Lovegood came by his information regarding the… unfortunate incident with Mr Pettigrew. Would you like the perpetrator to be charged with the leak of secure information or simply have him quietly excused?"
"Toss the little bugger in a cell. I've been getting owls all day demanding the Ministry removes the dementors from Azkaban. Demanding!"
"Yes, that will be a difficult perception to change, regarding the dementors."
"Exactly! First Black escapes, then when we find him again those bloody things attack the school, then that little freak shows up with Peter Pettigrew back from the dead! And now not only did we ruin Sirius Black's life, we apparently also mislaid another bloody dementor and it Kissed Pettigrew before his trial!"
"Yes, a truly unfortunate accident. My people have investigated the incident and their findings indicate that while an oversight was made, it was nothing more than negligence from an overburdened prison employee. He is now under review and will be relocated to another department pending his acquittal of gross misconduct."
"Another department? That idiot misplaced a dementor and not only is he staying out of Azkaban, he's keeping his job!?"
"That will be determined during the course of the investigation, though from preliminary findings that I have been made aware of, I expect he will be found innocent of any crimes beyond a clerical error."
"A clerical error?"
"A most unfortunate one, indeed."
"I want to be kept abreast of the review board's findings, Henrick. Something went wrong here and I am going to be staring down the wolves for this one. I want answers."
"Of course, Minister. I will arrange for the minutes from the hearing to be added to your morning briefing.
Fudge sat down at last, his face going back to its starting colour.
"Ten galleons says the ruddy Prophet jumps on the bandwagon and decides to comment on this rag." Cornelius picked the latest Quibbler back up from his desk so he could gesticulate with it some more.
"I did not wish to worry you, Minister, but the Daily Prophet has sent their early approval copy to us and it does include several references to the Black article in tomorrow's edition. They contacted several of our offices for confirmation of the details but I have ordered all press liaisons to deny such requests for the time being. I think it would behove us to wait until you are ready to make a public statement, to avoid any misunderstandings or mixed messages."
"Tell them we do not approve of the article!"
"I am afraid they will likely ignore any protests we might lodge unless we can determine a legal standpoint from which to lodge an injunction. Sadly, no such reasons are forthcoming."
"Bloody press!" He smashed his pudgy fist down on his desk heavily, failing to incite a flinch in Morbidus. "Fine! Why don't we just tell them the earlier report was wrong and Pettigrew was caught trying to escape?"
"I would… be wary of making any definitive statements to the papers on the subject. Instead, consider suggesting the possibility and announce, as part of our investigation, that we are looking into reports of an escape attempt."
"Yes, that will do the trick. It will keep them busy for a while at least until we can get this mess sorted." He sat back in his chair, taking his hat off. "If my venture doesn't go to plan next year, I am done. You'll help me, won't you, Henrick?"
"Of course, Minister. I will do everything within my power to ensure you are able to continue governing as smoothly as is possible."
"Thank you, Henrick. Could you send for my speech writer on your way back to your office? I think we will need to get started on that statement."
"Yes, Minister." Morbidus let himself out of the office and told Fudge's personal assistant to start making preparations for the press conference.
Sirius was at Lupin's apartment, helping him to clean up after a nasty potions spill had caused a magic resistant mess when the paper came to Grimmauld Place. Gaara had taken to reading it every week or two to keep up to date with the world he was currently in. He had never made it past the first five pages owing to his total disinterest in current events, but he kept tring.
Today, however, he found himself reading page one and then going straight to pages two and three for the whole story, headlined: 'Pettigrew Kissed, Sirius Black Speaks Out'. The Daily Prophet hardly mentioned Luna's efforts or her father's in getting the interview or exposing the cover up surrounding Peter, Gaara was not happy about that.
After the relation of Luna's article and the direct news regarding the rat, the Prophet featured a subsequent article covering a press conference given by Fudge to respond to the accusations made by the Quibbler. The Minister had said very little and spent a long time saying it, but did intimate that Pettigrew might have been trying to escape and that since Sirius' escape from Azkaban they would have to revise their security policy lest anybody else try to copy him. Essentially he was blaming Sirius for the whole affair.
Instead of the reporters agreeing that Sirius was to blame, they had gone ahead and blamed the Ministry for the whole mess instead. There were more suggestions that Fudge should resign, which altogether made Gaara smile. What troubled him was the mention the inept politician made to a spectacular announcement to be made in September.
Gaara guessed it was going to be some sort of glorified publicity stunt; he just hoped it would not involve Sirius or himself.
Harry was waiting patiently for Sirius to come back downstairs. It was time for him to return to the Dursleys once again but Sirius had been waiting all day for the owl carrying their World Cup tickets to arrive. His godfather was insisting that Harry be there when they arrived and Harry was not in any rush to get back to Privet Drive.
The fireplace flared and for a moment Harry thought it was going to spit out Professor Lupin, who, once again had needed to disappear for the duration of Harry's stay. He would have thought something was terribly amiss if he had not seen the haggard ex-teacher on his birthday. As it was, he still did not fully believe the string of coincidences that called him away every time Harry came to stay when in the course of Sirius' regular letters Lupin hardly ever seemed to leave.
Out of the fire stumbled, not Remus, but Draco Malfoy. Just about the last person Harry wanted to see, barring perhaps Snape or Voldemort.
As the platinum blond rose to his full height ad brushed off the traces of soot from his expensive robes, he noticed someone standing across the room and got an equally unpleasant surprise once he identified the person set to greet him. He had anticipated Gaara or Sirius, certainly not Potter.
He loosened his instinctual sneer to pass some kind of salutation along since he was in absolutely no mood to get into a pissing match with the Gryffindork, but in that spirit he kept his mouth shut. Draco honestly was not sure he could say two words to Potter without making one of them an insult.
Harry was suffering the same predicament, his mood already precarious with his impending departure, so he too keep his mouth shut for fear of starting a fight that would only make him feel worse. Though, as soon as Malfoy mouthed off he was fair game.
Sirius practically skipped downstairs with the golden envelope the delivery owl had just handed him waved about in his hand. He was about to loudly proclaim his joyous receipt when he realised the other teenager standing in the room with Harry was not Gaara but the only other young Slytherin with which he was currently acquainted.
"Oh, Draco, is it that time already?" He dropped his hand and looked back at the door.
As expected, Gaara had appeared like magic just in the nick of time. Gaara, apparently due to his training as a shinobi, was able to walk all through the creaky old house without making a sound, which frustrated Sirius to no end. In this instance, though, he was simply glad of Gaara's unerring ability to show up any place at any time.
Gaara didn't take any notice of the tense stand off between his friend and Potter, instead saying, "come on." And leading the way back out of the room.
Draco did not care for being summoned like a dog, but he could either stay put in protest with Potter, or he could swallow his pride (a familiar taste by now) and follow Gaara. Needless to say he thought the Black ancestral home was disgusting as he ascended the stairs.
Malfoy Manor had been in their family for only about two hundred years, his ancestors having lived an embarrassingly meagre existence before them. Before their rise to prominence, the Malfoys may have been purebloods but they had not been wealthy. Looking around at the current state of the oldest pureblood family in Britain, Draco was given the startling thought that wizarding families could fall as quickly as they rose.
"Here they are!" Sirius cheered, resuming his flapping the tickets.
Harry pulled on a smile, trying act enthusiastically for his godfather's sake. It was hard to jump into the excitement when he had just confronted his school rival and was about to be sent back to his borderline abusive relatives because his godfather had chosen a redheaded psychopath over him. All that said, his fakery did not last long when Sirius opened the envelope and pulled out the four tickets.
They had moving players flying all over them and each of the tickets featured a different position. One had two pairs of Beaters whacking Bludgers between them, one had players passing a Quaffle from person to person in some intricate play, and then there was…
Why four tickets?
There was one with a set of hoops being desperately defended by a Seekr, and the last one had two Seekers facing off! They were so cool!
Sirius, him, Professor Lupin…?
"Those are amazing!" Harry's split mind was entirely excited now.
"Aren't they?! I think I know which one you'll be wanting." Sirius said, handing Harry the Seeker one with a flourish.
"Isn't it a bit early for this?"
"I want you to hang onto it." Sirius thought it was the least he could do, to give Harry a souvenir to remind him that he had not been forgotten.
"Why are there four, though? There's you, me, and Professor Lupin…"
"…And Gaara." Sirius said after taking a deep breath.
By this point he had simply been planning to ask Remus to take Gaara while he accompanied Harry, and then they would have just run into each other at the Finals. He was ready to admit it had not been a great plan.
"Gaara's coming? He doesn't even like Quidditch." Harry tried to reasonably persuade Sirius that Gaara would be much happier staying at Grimmauld Place on his own. In fact, everybody would be happier that way.
"I'm sure he'll enjoy himself one way or another. Even if the match doesn't do anything for him, thought I don't know how it wouldn't, the parties and camping afterwards are half the fun anyway."
"You're probably right." Great, now Gaara was going. At least he would probably sit quietly with a book the whole time. Harry would likely forget he was there, he hoped.
"Come on, we'd best get going. We're running late."
"I wouldn't worry about it. Aunt Petunia won't miss me for a few hours." Or days.
"Maybe she wouldn't," Sirius said darkly, "But part of the visitation agreement is that I have to get you back on time. Don't want the kind and generous people of the Ministry getting the panties in a bunch now, do we?"
"I suppose." Harry trudged to the door once again.
Upstairs in Gaara's room, both boys had taken seats to catch up properly.
"Sorry about the awkwardness on my last visit. Mother and father can be quite stifling when they chaperone."
"Your culture's formalities are as baffling as my own." Gaara conceded.
"I can imagine." Draco nodded, wondering, like others had, what sort of world could have produced Gaara.
"Has your father been hitting you?"
"What?!" Draco had been reclining in Gaara's desk chair but snapped upright when Gaara's casually asked if his father had been beating him.
"Of course he hasn't." He might have slapped Draco once or twice but it was certainly nothing beyond the scope of parenting. And most definitely not something to be discussed, even with a best friend.
"Good. I will kill him if he hurts you."
Now, in Gaara's mind that was the sort of thing a friend says to comfort a troubled comrade and reaffirm their bond. In Draco's mind, Gaara was suddenly reminding him of when they first met and his redheaded roommate terrified him. Now that he knew him better, he knew Gaara was trying to show he cared.
Draco hoped so.
"Thanks, Gaara. Don't worry about it. Umm… how is your animagus training going?" Draco asked, desperately trying to change the uncomfortable subject.
"Well, I believe. Sirius has said I am progressing quickly but he is unsure when I will be able to transform at will."
They hung for the entire afternoon and Draco was to stay for dinner. Lupin hadn't returned yet so it was just the three of them at the table. Sirius got up to retrieve their plates from the dumbwaiter and set them down on the table himself.
"Why does your house elf not carry the plates for you?"
"Kreacher doesn't care much for Gaara. Won't even be in the same room as him."
"Really? How impudent. I had always heard the Black family elves were particularly loyal. Then again, if Dobby could betray our family, it's not outside the realm of possibility for yours to become defiant."
"It's not that, really. He would serve Gaara if I ordered him to, I'm sure, but I would not want to subject Gaara to the foul thing."
Draco was surprised to hear a so-called Light wizard talking about a house elf like that. Even Draco didn't have that much against them and his had run off. Then again, no matter what Sirius was, he was a pureblood. "What did it do, Gaara?"
"It was annoying so I told it to go away."
"You told him a few other things as well, didn't you, Gaara?" Sirius intoned.
Draco thought back to Gaara casually threatening to kill his father, so he did not want to think the boy would say to a lowly house elf.
"So, what have you two been chatting about up there? Girls? Quidditch? Pulling one over on old Snivellus?"
"Snivellus?" Draco questioned. He wasn't sure if Sirius was demanding a full report on their discussion (like he was sure to receive at home) or if he was just interested.
"Severus Snape, an old chum of mine from school. Next time you see him, you tell him I said hello."
"Okay." Draco said, having no intention of mentioned the names of either Grimmauld Place resident to his Head of House when term restarted.
"Draco said he is going to the Quidditch World Cup." Gaara said. He preferred not to converse over dinner since it slowed his digestion, but there would be no avoiding it now, so he picked the only of one of the three subjects Sirius mentioned that was applicable: Quidditch. Although, come to think of it, Luna came up once and she was a girl.
"Are you now? I bet our father has got you in the nicest seats, am I right?" Sirius had a wide grin on his face.
"Yes, we're going to be sat next to Minister Fudge this year. Last time we had to sit at the back of the box, it was humiliating."
"I don't know about that, sitting back there you get to throw popcorn on the Minister for Magic. And you don't have to talk to the man. I would say that privilege is worth paying extra."
Draco laughed but tried to quell it since it was entirely inappropriate to be laughing about such a political topic at the dinner table, doubly so when this was his first proper meeting with Mr Black.
It was hard to remember the formalities expected of even an informal dinner like this when Mr Black kept making jokes and teasing Gaara. It went from enjoyable levels to uncomfortable ones and back over the course of the three course meal. Mr Black (who insisted on being called Sirius for fear of being mistaken for his deceased father) was not saying anything truly inappropriate, it was simply his never-ending impertinence that made Draco feel put off.
He had been warned Sirius Black was a consummate Gryffindor, but he had still expected a certain level of comportment from a renowned pureblood.
Dinner came and went and soon after desert had been finished, Draco started to make his excuses.
"Thank you very much for hosting me for the day, Mr Black."
"You're always welcome, Draco, unless you keep calling me 'Mr Black', like I'm some sort of respectable adult."
"Yes, sir…-ius." Draco stumbled. "It was good to see you Gaara; father says you are welcome to visit after the World Cup finals. I'll send you the dates he said we're available."
"Okay." That was all Gaara said.
Draco walked into the fireplace and called out, "Malfoy manor!" And disappeared in flames again.
"He looked much better this time around, didn't he?" Sirius stated.
Rhetorical question or no, Gaara grunted in affirmation.
"Oh, I almost forgot," Sirius forced out a laugh, "Gaara, you have to see the tickets I got for the Quidditch World Cup. They're amazing!"
"And you said that Draco will be there as well so you'll have someone to talk to."
"I'm going." There wasn't really a question there.
"Of course you are, we'll have a great time: Seeing the best Quidditch in the world, camping, meeting friends, and getting drunk, for me anyway."
"Do I have to go?"
"Do you have to go? Do you have to? No, of course you don't have to go, but why wouldn't you want to go and watch some spectacular sports and see some people for a change."
"I don't want to go."
"Well, too bad because you're going. I already dug out the tent. Plenty of room for three."
"Harry and Moony are coming too, but Remus has to use his own tent. We used to go with James all the time, but Moony hasn't been in years. Just wait until you see drunk-Remus; that right there is true magic."
"I've see him drunk, on my birthday."
"That's right! Oh, well, then you know how much of a treat it is. We'll definitely have him blitzed by the first whistle." Sirius cackled. Gaara doubted the weekend would have much to do with Quidditch, and even still he didn't like the sound of it.
"If you're good, maybe I'll let you have a sip of some Fire Whisky." Sirius was enamoured with the thought of a drunken Gaara and was determined to make it a reality one of these days. Some might call it irresponsible to plot to get a fourteen year old drunk, but each and every one of those same people would undoubtedly call Sirius an irresponsible man, so who cared what they thought.
The only obstacles were Gaara's level head, and Moony's better judgement, the latter of which would be swiftly neutralised with the proper application of inebriation and subtle reasoning.
It was going to be one hell of a World Cup; enough to make up for a decade of missed opportunities.
In a few years, he would delight in getting Harry drunk too, but until then he was too afraid of Lily somehow cursing him from beyond the grave for encouraging her precious child to underage drink. If anyone could manage it, she could. So Harry would have to be the responsible, sober one.
Gaara was glad for his voice coming back only occasionally. Since its return he had been expected to talk a lot more, but with it back he had access to the floo network without having to cling onto an able-throated accompanying witch or wizard. So, with this small measure of freedom from his captivity at Grimmauld Place, he had decided to take a short trip somewhere he might otherwise not want his guardian(s) to know about or accompany him to.
"Hog's Head Inn." He said, throwing the floo powder into the flames and stepping in. It was his first time using the fireplace without supervision and his aversion to all magical form of travel was flaring up, so he stepped gingerly into the hearth until he was sure he wasn't being burned.
When he tumbled out of the other end, he was met with the amused expression of the proprietor who was cleaning tables; the man did not pay him much mind otherwise. Gaara tried to recall the man's name but the only one that came to mind was Dumbledore and that was the headmaster, so he supposed he must have forgotten. He offered a dignified nod of greeting after he got up from the floor and then walked straight outside.
It was a very sunny day but Hogsmeade was a quiet village when there weren't dozens of teenagers running around so Gaara was able to walk at his leisure to the edge of the village and into the forest.
He had walked nearly a mile into the massive woodland when he heard a familiar thumping through the forest floor.
Gaara had planned to spend a relaxing summer's day in the woods training his claimed dog but he had failed to account for the fact that Fluffy was a dog who loved Gaara and who had not seen Gaara in over a month. Gaara's did not know how excitable dogs could get when their masters returned from extended absences.
When he arrived back that evening, Sirius had been panicking and wondering how long he should wait before hiring a bounty hunter to track down his missing ward, when Gaara flew out of the fireplace, covered in a nasty mixture of ashes and what looked like saliva.
Sirius opened his mouth to berate the reckless teenage boy and question his current state but when he caught the look on Gaara's face he thought twice about it. He would try again later.
Three days later, after many tries, Sirius finally asked Gaara what happened and was told, "I went for a walk."
Sirius then whined to Lupin all evening about how terrible a parent he was.
Remus was entirely unsympathetic, telling him, "You're not a parent, Padfoot." Thank Merlin.
During Luna's interview with Sirius which Gaara had been obligated to sit through (he was not supposed to abandon his friends when they visited), the redhead had sat scribbling something on a pad of paper. Luna had asked what he was writing but Gaara had told her it was nothing and she accepted that. Sirius had pushed the issue, curiosity burning at him, until Gaara finally admitted that he had been drawing a picture.
That had stunned Sirius. He had never considered that Gaara might be artistic, but knowing how proficient he was in almost everything he did (barring magic), Sirius wanted to see what the boy had sketched.
Gaara was quick enough to tell his guardian that he had been sketching his siblings from memory but steadfastly denied any further request to see the picture. He would not budge.
Sirius was determined to see the product so he started a campaign over the next few days (with more determination than he had showed when trying to ascertain where the fourteen year old had sneaked off to without telling him) that primarily consisted of giving Gaara not a moment's peace until he caved. It was not just Gaara's drawing skills that Sirius wanted to see, he was also very interested in seeing what Gaara's siblings looked like. He knew a few details about them including the genders and names, but he was curious about their appearances.
In his mind they were an older girl-Gaara and an older boy-Gaara. The mental image of three Gaaras was… unsettling.
Gaara eventually relented because he did not want to kill Sirius (the only other solution, he devised) and because he was a great artist. Yashamaru had told him he was a prodigious artist when he was younger and that if being a shinobi didn't work out, he could make a living from his art.
Turned out that Yashamaru had been telling the truth, Gaara was a good artist… for a six year old. His uncle had looked upon the crayon scribbles fondly back then and proclaimed them to be masterpieces, if only to see Gaara smile.
Sirius looked down at the stick figures roughly sketched and scribbled and started to sweat. From the look of cool confidence on Gaara's face, apparently no one had ever told him he drew like a young child. It was at that moment that Padfoot stumbled upon the age-old secret discovered in every major shinobi village on Gaara's home world: if a Jinchūriki hands you a cherished drawing, you should avoid insulting their efforts.
The Sandaime Hokage had suffered to learn that lesson.
"Oh, wow. You weren't kidding. You really are good at drawing." Sirius said, trying to make out the individual characters Gaara had been trying to depict.
Gaara did not need to smile. He knew how good he was, he did not need people praising him.
A/N: The sequel of the story is already up, just look on my userpage for it. It is called 'Hidden Inhumanity'. It took me a while to come up with the name, but I was given help from a few friends on here.
I'll admit that the nickname 'Prongslet' was hardly original, but it is oh-so fitting. And I took inspiration for Harry's (and Gaara's) birthday presents from Fantastic Beasts, which I watched recently. Oh, and to pre-emptively dispel any notions to the contrary, the views expressed during Draco and Gaara's conversation regarding corporal punishment were Draco's and not mine.
I actually had to rewrite the argument between Harry and Gaara because I just couldn't get it to work. This was the better version.
I have a cheeky request, is there anybody who would be willing to try drawing me a new cover image for my sequel? If anybody is interested, you can give me a message and I could proffer up a couple of small spoilers if you have any specific scenes in mind to draw. I've received some absolutely wonderful fanart during the course of this fic and an unbelievable front cover image and I would be eternally grateful for anyone who might oblige this latest selfish request.
As previously stated, this story is now finished, and the sequel has already been posted, ready for you to go ahead and read. There are a lot of twists and turns to come in this next year at Hogwarts and much more tribulation for our long-suffering Ichibi Jinchūriki, I'm afraid.
Thank you to everyone for reading all of this time, and for those 589 reviews at the time of writing this) that have encouraged me to keep typing away.
Update: I have recieved many kind offers to draw a cover image for my sequel and I have asked someone to do it for me from amongst them. If anyone else would like to draw fanart, though, it always makes my week to see it.