Dear Mr. Potter,
We write to send you our condolences for the passing of one Lord Baron Sirius Orion Black. We request your presence as the primary beneficiary at the reading of the late Lord Baron's will, which will be conducted on the first July at one o'clock. In accordance with the Lord Baron's wishes, you are required to present yourself earlier than the rest of the beneficiaries in order to prevent any discrepancies with the execution of said will. We shall explain in greater detail at eleven o'clock on the first.
Yours in sympathy,
Representative of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black
Harry stared at the words he had read several times a day since he had first relieved the letter from a regal Gringotts eagle owl one week before.
…the passing of one Lord Baron Sirius Orion Black…
Lord Baron. Orion. Just two things on what Harry was starting to realize was a very long list of things that he did not know about his godfather.
Harry sighed. A glance at the repaired alarm clock on the desk showed that Lupin would be arriving any minute with the portkey to bring them to Gringotts. He checked his appearance in the mirror on the wardrobe door; a rather pale, skinny, messy haired youth stared back at him. But not the wreck that every one had last seen at King's Cross station, he thought with some satisfaction. The bags under his eyes were almost completely faded, and the hollowness in his cheeks had filled back out. He passed his hands down the black Hogwarts robe he had chosen to wear to the reading and was about to glance at the clock again when he heard a knock at the front door of Number Four. Sparing one last glance at his reflection, Harry hurried out of his room.
He rushed down the stairs to let Lupin in before the Dursleys could get to the door. Flinging it wide revealed Remus Lupin, a weary-faced wizard with greying hair and tatty robes. Harry noticed with a little stab of guilt that Lupin was looking wearier, greyer and tattier than he had ever seen him.
"Hello Harry," Lupin said with a small smile.
"Hi Professor Lupin," Harry said, "c'mon in."
Lupin stepped inside and Harry led him upstairs, glancing only once into the living room where the Dursleys had congregated earlier that morning (safety in numbers) when Harry had announced that a wizard was coming to pay a call. All three were studiously ignoring both their presences as though by pretending they weren't there, they might just disappear into thin air. A good tactic, Harry thought.
This had, he reflected, in fact been their policy towards him for the entire time he had been at Number Four this summer. Apparently the warning Mr. Weasley, Moody, Lupin, and Tonks had given them at the start of the holidays was still fresh enough in their minds that they had denied him no meals and had ordered him to do no work – a vast improvement over past summers. In fact, if Harry hadn't come down three times a day to eat, they mightn't have seen one another at all.
As it was, Harry had spent the entire ten days that he had been back in his bedroom. The first three of these he had been in something of a stupor of depression. He had hardly moved and had not talked at all, drowning in misery in his waking hours, and re-living Sirius' fall through the veil during his night time ones. That had all changed with the arrival of the Gringotts letter.
The words, "the rest of the beneficiaries" had awoken him to the fact that he was not alone in mourning, and he had been quick to guiltily dash off a letter to Lupin, who he knew had to be missing his lifetime friend possibly even more strongly than Harry was. Lupin had replied and they had struck up a somewhat hesitant correspondence based on their mutual grief; this was what led to Lupin offering to escort Harry to the will reading that afternoon.
Also to receive correspondence was Tonks, Sirius' closest relative before his death and a good friend to Harry, a fact he realized when he recalled her presence at the fight in the Department of Mysteries as well as the model Firebolt currently zooming over his desktop (a gift from Tonks for Christmas). He found out, upon return letter, that Tonks had made a full recovery in St. Mungo's and had been discharged the next day, having only been hit by a stunner, to Harry's shock and immense relief.
Finally, Hermione received a letter of reassurance before she left on holiday to the Continent, and one went to Ron and the Weasleys, thanking them for the food package that had arrived on his second day back, and assuring them that it would be enough to last a while now that he was eating regular meals.
The rest of the time Harry had spent just remembering Sirius and realizing how very little he really knew about him; he knew nothing of his past save that he did not get along with his family and had gone to live with Harry's father when he was sixteen. The bulk of the rest of his life was spent in Azkaban.
It didn't matter though, Harry thought fiercely, as Lupin closed his bedroom door, what mattered was that he knew who Sirius was as a person. Time did not dictate closeness. Why, he had not known Luna at all until the past year, and he felt now that he could count her among his closest friends. Then again, fighting for your life tended to bring people together, Harry reflected, thinking of Hermione and Ron and their encounter with the troll in first year.
"How have you been, Harry," Lupin asked, studying Harry closely, breaking him out of his thoughts.
"I'm fine," Harry replied. "No, really," he insisted when Lupin continued to peer at him intently. "I mean, I've been better, but I'm truly alright. How about you?"
"Oh, I'm fine," Lupin replied, trying to smile convincingly.
Harry was not convinced.
He stared at the bags under Lupin's eyes and recollected suddenly that Lupin had in the span of two years regained and relost two of his closest childhood friends.
"Don't take this the wrong way Professor, but you look like shit."
Lupin laughed a dusty, dry chuckle that sounded slightly underused. Harry resolved immediately to change that. Sirius wouldn't've approved, he thought (rather hypocritically, he realized a second later).
"You sound just like Sirius."
Harry smiled a little wistfully.
"I have so few memories of him."
"I'd be glad to share some of mine. And of your parents as well, if you'd like," Lupin offered.
"I'd love it, Professor," Harry replied, earning him a smile, and then a grimace.
"Only if you call me Remus, or Moony. I haven't been your professor for two years now, and truth be told, the title makes me feel as old as I look."
"Moony then," Harry grinned. Another glance at the clock. "Shall we get going?"
"Yes." Lupin reached into his pocket and pulled out a short length of cord to which Harry grabbed hold. Lupin tapped it once with his wand, and with the familiar hook-behind-the-navel sensation, they disappeared, leaving nothing but a trunk and an owl behind to suggest anything of their presence at all.
In a whirl of wind and colour, Harry and Lupin were set down in a corner of the lobby of Gringotts bank. Or, in Harry's case, he was thrown to the marble floor.
"It gets worse every time," Harry grumbled as Lupin tried unsuccessfully to suppress his amusement.
"What happened to 'it's more than our life's worth to create an unauthorized portkey'?" Harry whispered to him as he clambered back to his feet.
"At this point, we'd rather incur the Ministry's wrath than risk traveling by brooms - with Voldemort out in the open, he's not worried about being bolder in his attacks."
A large gold-plated clock above the main entrance read 10:55, so the two wizards wasted no time in getting in line to wait for a free teller. Harry was shocked at how short the line was: there was only one frizzy-haired witch in front of them, and once he looked around properly, he realized that the bank's regular hustle-and-bustle atmosphere was missing entirely.
"People are scared," Lupin explained when Harry voiced his thoughts. "I don't suppose you've been reading the Prophet much recently, but now that the message that Voldemort's back is out, everyone's realized that you and Dumbledore have been telling the truth for a year and that he's had a year to prepare while Fudge did nothing. His appearance in the Ministry of Magic itself shocked a lot of people, brought back memories of the first war."
Harry nodded thoughtfully and was about to ask what Fudge's reaction was to all of this when a teller opened up, and they stepped forward.
"We're here for the reading of the will for Sirius Black. I was instructed to come early," Harry said, his earlier depression returning in full force and banishing all thoughts of Ministry incompetence and the fickle nature of public opinion far from his mind.
"Ah yes," the goblin said, examining the letter Harry passed him closely, "right this way Mr. Potter. Master Snargrin is expecting you."
The goblin led them out of the lobby and down a narrow passageway brightly lit by torches and made of the same white stone as the lobby. They reached a pair of tall oak doors where the goblin paused.
"I'm afraid only Mr. Potter can enter here. Your companion will have to wait."
Harry glanced at Lupin, puzzled and faintly alarmed at the whole process. What was so hard about reading a will?
Lupin shrugged. "That's fine. It's usually only family members and beneficiaries who are allowed at the readings anyway Harry. I guess I'll just hang around Diagon and then meet you in the lobby after one. Will you be alright Harry?" he said, squeezing Harry's shoulder.
Harry nodded uncertainly and thanked the goblin.
The goblin nodded. "Very well. If you will follow me please, sir."
With one last nervous glance at Lupin's retreating figure, Harry turned to knock on the doors, only to have them open before his knuckles could touch the gleaming wood.
Harry cautiously strode into a large and comfortable office with a plush crimson carpet and similarly covered furniture. Behind an enormous oak desk sat a fat and wrinkled goblin wearing a pince-nez, and arranging chairs in front of the desk was…
The goblin in question looked up and appeared slightly startled, an expression Harry would never have expected to see on a goblin's face.
"You remember me, Mr. Potter?"
"Of course," Harry replied smiling, comforted by seeing a familiar face, even if it was a razor-toothed one. "You took me to my vault for the very first time. And you were there when Hagrid emptied vault 713. What ever happened with that, anyway?"
"What do you mean," Griphook asked slowly.
"Oh, I guess I just wondered if you ever ended up charging Quirrell for theft, or what. I guess he didn't really steal anything though, did he? But I suppose it doesn't matter seeing as how he's dead now anyway." Harry cut himself off. He was rambling slightly out of nerves, he knew, but the scrutiny of the two goblins before him on top of the stress of the situation was doing nothing to improve the matter. For at the mention of vault 713, the elder goblin behind the desk had looked up.
"You know the identity of the wizard who attempted the theft?" he rumbled slowly.
"Well, yeah. It was Quirrell, Quirinius Quirrell. He was being possessed by Voldemort at the time, though. Did no one tell you?" Harry asked, bewildered that this was the first they had heard of it. Had nobody informed Gringotts of Quirrell's apprehension?
"And he is dead, you say? How?" The old goblin rumbled on, ignoring Harry's question.
"Well… I guess – I guess I killed him. It was in June of that year." Harry replied, quite unsettled. He had dreamt often of that night, of Quirrell's skin burning under his touch, but he had never really voiced aloud the fact that he was the one responsible for his death. It was a rather shocking fact to realize about oneself, that you'd killed a man at the age of eleven.
"Indeed," rumbled the goblin
There was a short silence as Harry reflected what that said about him as a person, but which was broken by the larger goblin again.
"I'm sorry Mr. Potter, I never introduced myself. My name is Snargrin and I am the representative of the House of Black at Gringotts Bank. Griphook, whom you seem to know, is here as the assistant to Riptooth, the representative of House Potter. You will meet Riptooth at your coming of age when your parents' will is carried out, but as today represents a merging of the two Houses, Griphook was asked to attend to explain any ramifications this may have on the Potter accounts."
"Okay," said Harry rather nervously. He was beginning to suspect that Snargrin was a very important goblin, and he hoped that he hadn't offended him in any way.
"Now, before the reading of the will can proceed, there were several procedures that the late Lord Baron wished to be carried out. You see, while your godfather may have named you as the primary beneficiary, there are several ancient laws involved in the passing of a Headship of the Ancient Houses, as he wished his to be passed to you along with his titles, estates, and holdings. One of these laws is the 'Sanga Pura,' in which the Headship will pass to the closest male blood relative of the deceased. In this case, as his Lordship was childless and all his surviving family are female, Mr. Draco Malfoy would be named Heir via his mother, Lady Narcissa Malfoy née Black."
"What," Harry growled in a dangerous voice. Sirius' stuff was to go to Malfoy?
"Indeed," Snargrin said in an amused voice, "your godfather expressed equally negative sentiments at the notion. However, his Lordship was nothing if not resourceful, and thus he unearthed an ancient and long-forgotten ritual, one that was, ironically, originally meant to prevent a Headship from passing to an Heir of questionable parentage."
Harry grinned. That sounded just like Sirius. Using the purebloods' own laws to rob them of their riches.
"In this ritual," Snargrin went on, "the Head of House can choose an Heir and actually add them to their blood line. For example, if the Headship was going to be passed to a bastard son, the Head could simply pick another non-relative whom they deemed worthy (often a pureblood proposed in marriage to a legitimate daughter), adopt them as their own by completing the ritual, thereby adding them to the bloodline of the House and keeping the Headship out of the unchosen's hands. This is exactly what will be done here. That is, if you agree."
Harry sat for a moment, trying to get his throat to work so he could swallow the lump that seemed to have grown there in the last few minutes. Sirius wanted to adopt him. He would be Sirius' son in every way. While he knew that this was necessary to keep everything out of the hands of the Malfoys (and therefore Voldemort), nothing could erase the fact that Sirius had wanted him as his child. After a lifetime of living with the Dursleys and being downtrodden and ignored, the magnitude of this gesture to Harry was indescribable. He felt much as he did the night in the Shrieking Shack when Sirius had first asked if he wanted to live with him.
"Yes," he finally managed to choke out, "Yes, I'll do it."
"Excellent," said Snargrin, clapping his gnarled hands together, "on with the Blooding then."
At his words, Griphook, who had been sitting quietly in the chair next to Harry doing paperwork, pulled out several sheets of parchment and began laying them out on the desk. Snargrin, meanwhile, had reached into a drawer and pulled out a small crystal vial filled with dark liquid that looked suspiciously like blood (which, Harry mused, it probably was) as well as a thin silver knife.
"Please mix ten drops of your blood with the rest," he said, handing Harry the elegant blade. Harry, valiantly suppressing memories of another silver blade and another blood ritual in a graveyard, made a slit along the index finger of his left hand and counted as ten crimson droplets mixed with those in the vial.
As the tenth fell in, Harry felt the vial warm in his hand and a jet of white smoke sprayed out of the opening before dissipating swiftly.
"Good," said Snargrin in satisfaction, "now if you will repeat after me, Mr. Potter, and then drink."
Reading from an ancient scroll, he intoned, "Cruor of alius, voluntarius donatus, vos mos suo nostrum versus."
Knocking back the contents of the vial like he had so many potions at Madam Pomfrey's instruction, he waited for something to happen.
After a moment of suspense in which both goblins stared straight at him, Harry said, "Is that it," or he would have, but he never got the third word out because he was suddenly seized by a fierce, piercing burn everywhere in his body at once. It was like having skelegrow in your veins and he clenched his teeth together, trying not to scream out, when just as suddenly, it stopped.
All was quiet. But in his mind, Harry was aware.
He suddenly knew the reason that it was called the Most Ancient House of Black, for filling up his mind, attached to his very soul was a gargantuan, creaky, majestic house. He knew every crook and cranny; he could feel the scuttle of every mouse, the mustiness and draughtiness of the empty rooms. It was enormous and it was regal and it was imposing and it was lonely, and to be so intimately connected to it was such a powerful feeling, it was as though he had swallowed it, it was inside him, and now that he had a moment to look and peer into the crevices and dusty ballrooms, he could feel other connections too. He could feel their heartbeats. There were two, proud and strong; one dark and twisted, mangled beyond repair; one weary, frustrated and despairing; and one so faint and cloistered it was hardly there at all.
And Harry suddenly realized why Voldemort had chosen to use a blood ritual for his resurrection, and why Dumbledore insisted he return to the safety of his mother's blood wards at Privet Drive, and why everyone had always made such a big deal of Sirius running away from his family, his heritage, his lineage. For never had he felt a magic so ancient, so powerful, so intimate; it was as though roots had sprung from the soul of the House itself and twined themselves into his heart…
"Whoa," was all Harry could manage, as he opened his eyes.
"Ah. The Blooding is complete," stated Snargrin as he looked up at Harry over his pince-nez with something resembling relief. "Good. Much longer and we might have had cause for concern."
"What do you mean? How long was I like that?" Harry asked, shaking his head as though to dispel water from his ears. He stopped as he suddenly realized that it was a distinctively dog-like gesture he had seen Sirius do many times when he had too much on his mind.
"A little over one hour."
Harry stared at him, taken aback.
"It is a most ancient House, Mr. Potter. Or should I say, Lord Baron Potter-Black."
"Just Harry, please," Harry said, hiding his surprise with a small grimace. "I've never been much one for titles; I never feel as though I've earned them."
Snargrin stared at him for a second with an unreadable expression, before smiling for the first time.
"Very well… Harry. If you will please sign these forms, your adoption will be complete."
Harry took up the quill and dazedly scrawled his name on several forms next to Sirius' own signature.
"Now Harry, as you are to be the Head of House Black, and therefore responsible for the members of your House, it is standard that underage wizards in your position are emancipated providing that they are aged 11 or above. Generally a regent is selected to care for the House until the child has reached that age and continues to act in an advisory role to the Head from the time they are given their first wand to the time they come of age, and often long after that. Now," he said, holding up a long-nailed finger to stall Harry, who had just opened his mouth to object, "no regent has been named for you to care for House Potter as you are the last and only member, and as Head of House Black, you do not need one as you are well over the required age. All this is to say that you are legally now an adult in the wizarding world. As such, you can now wear this."
As he spoke, Snargrin reached into his desk once more and pulled out a small black felt box which he opened and placed in front of Harry. Within rested a silver and black signet ring imprinted with the Black family crest which consisted of an elegant emerald-eyed thestral rearing behind a crossed rapier and a wand which was shooting stars out of its tip. Harry reached out reverently to pick it up and found that the Black family motto was inscribed on the inside of the band, 'Toujours Pur.'
"Family rings are traditionally worn on the first finger of the wand hand Harry," said Snargrin quietly, "but as in your case you may want to keep that finger open for your Potter ring, I would suggest you wear it on the second. It is a symbol of your status as both an adult and as Head of House Black, with all that that entails."
Harry nodded and slipped the ring on as Snargrin had instructed. Immediately, he felt the Black House magic within him flare and then settle as its Head was recognized. He felt at once more powerful, more sure. And he felt as though something fundamental had changed.
He had always felt what some would say was an unreasonable amount of responsibility towards those around him, but this was different. His protectiveness towards his House, he could sense, was of a different sort. For these people would represent him also; he felt that they owed some duty, if not to himself, then to his name. They were part of a whole. It was all very confusing. He resolved to ask someone about it who knew more about what his responsibilities entailed. He would need to know what was expected of him.
In addition, he now had some sort of innate sense of propriety that he felt could not be learned. He felt that he would be much more aware from now on of any slights against him, and would be much more wary of committing any against others – he needed to learn the customs of such a position, he realized, and soon. He had barely held the title for five minutes and already he felt in over his head!
"Finally," Snargrin continued, "here is your family's Grimoire. It is similar to a family tree in that it shows the births, deaths, and marriages within the family, but it is also powerfully magical in and of itself because it is through the grimoire that a family's magic is tied together – it is the physical representation of the House of Black. It is through this book that family members can be added and subtracted from the House's magic."
With that, the old goblin handed Harry a small, slim book bound in black leather with the Black family crest on the front. Harry could feel the magic emanating from within its pages and slipped it into his innermost pocket for future perusal.
He knew that Sirius' cousin (Tonks' mum) Andromeda had been expelled from the Black family even before Sirius ran away, and planned on looking into maybe asking both her and Tonks to rejoin the fold.
"I believe that is enough to be getting on with for now, Harry," Snargrin concluded. "Perhaps you would care to inspect your vaults once the will has been enacted?"
"Yes, that will be fine," Harry stated quietly. He was still feeling monumentally overwhelmed from the events that had occurred since entering Gringotts.
"Now, I believe the reading will begin shortly. Do you have any questions before we go down?"
"Yes," said Harry. "I believe you mentioned that my parents had a will?"
"That's correct," Griphook answered this time. "And while you are officially emancipated due to your responsibilities to your House and inherited with your titles, because there are no Potters under your care, you will not come into your responsibilities to House Potter until your sixteenth birthday which is the official age of emancipation for the ancient families in just such situations. It was a rather long and arduous process to unravel the finer points of the ancient laws, but that is what it amounted to. I assure you that Master Riptooth has researched this in the minutest of detail on your behalf."
"Thank you," said Harry sincerely, and then to turned to Snargrin. "And thank you, Master Snargrin, for everything you have done for me on behalf of House Black. I know that you are very busy and I really appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule to teach me all of this. I realize that I'm more clueless than most when it comes to all this pureblood business."
"Not at all, Harry," said Snargrin, smiling in what Harry hoped was meant to be a comforting way (for a goblin). "Anything to better serve the House of Black."
Harry tilted his head in acknowledgment.
The old goblin stood and led Harry and Griphook from the office and further down the corridor lined with what Harry assumed had to be the trademark Gringotts white marble. After about a five minute walk in which Harry got thoroughly lost, they came upon two great gold-gilded doors guarded by armoured goblins.
The two goblins ahead of him entered first, leaving Harry opposite a third coming from the other direction who appeared to be an escort as Griphook had been when Harry first met him.
Glancing behind him to see who else had been invited to the reading, Harry came face-to-face with a tall, blonde, violet-eyed woman. His magic throbbed briefly in recognition.
It was Narcissa Malfoy.
Harry stared at her, keeping his expression masked as she was, calculating.
Now, Harry's gut reaction was to brush by, dismiss her as the mother of his least favourite classmate and the wife of one of Voldemort's most powerful Death Eaters. He had good reason to mistrust her, if not dislike her outright. But then again, he mused, so did she.
After all, he was the boy in large part to blame for her husband's current state of imprisonment, a boy who was responsible for cheating her only child of the Headship of a Noble House, and boy about whom, no doubt, she had heard no praise from her son. Who was he to question a woman who was just looking out for her family? To his knowledge, Narcissa Malfoy had not taken the Dark Mark, and he knew nothing of her save her family, a connection that said little about a person's character, Harry knew, thinking of the Dursleys.
Besides, was she not his own family now, was she not a Black in blood still, if no longer in name? The House magic had attested to this, to which she made no reaction except a slight widening of her violet eyes. He could feel its connection to her, and through it, some form of responsibility, duty. He might not trust her, he decided as the silence stretched on between them, but the least he could do was be courteous to her.
Which was why he ignored his gut reaction, and blurted out into the stillness, "Lady Malfoy."
She stayed quiet, watching him.
He held out his arm. "May I escort you to your seat?"
After another small pause in which she continued to look at him impassively, she responded with a quiet, "You may," and accepted his arm.
With a grace that he previously would have believed impossible, he led her into a high-ceilinged room containing one short polished table around which were seated two goblins and two witches, all of whom were staring at the pair of them, and had apparently been privy to the entire exchange.
Harry, following his new-sprung intuition, pulled out the chair next to one end of the table before seating himself at the head, opposite Snargrin who had Griphook on his right next to Narcissa, and a woman who Harry assumed to be Andromeda Tonks and her pink-haired daughter to his left, both of whom were watching Harry with their mouths slightly open.
There was a small pause before Snargrin cleared his throat and took the floor.
"Now that all beneficiaries and blood relatives who chose to answer the call are present, we may begin," he rumbled imperiously.
He shuffled through several parchments and then began to read,
"I, Sirius Orion Black, being of sound mind and body, do hereby bequeath all titles, estates, and holdings to my son by blood, magic, and oath, Harry James Potter-Black. Also to him, as my sole Heir, I pass the Headship of House Black to do with as he sees fit. This I proclaim on this the fourth of January of the year 1996."
Snargrin looked up at the three witches and one wizard who were watching him, stony-faced and silent with grief.
"Do any present make contest to the will?"
Narcissa turned to Harry, her face betraying no emotion.
"Potter-Black… You are his son?"
The room was quiet and Harry was aware of the eyes of the Tonks witches on him as well.
"I am," he replied simply.
Narcissa's eyes flicked down to the ring on his hand where it rested on the table, then back to his unflinching gaze.
"Then there is nothing to contest," she said stonily, turning back to Snargrin.
"Very good. If there is nothing further, I will take my leave. Lord Baron, I have left a summary of the current Black holdings with Griphook. He has volunteered to escort you to your vaults. Please contact me with any questions you may have or changes you wish to be made regarding the Black accounts."
Snargrin stood and so did Harry.
"Thanks again, Master Snargrin, for your continued service to House Black."
Snargrin nodded once more and left the room. Harry turned quickly to Narcissa who was already rising from her seat to follow suit.
"Lady Malfoy, I would have words with you, if you please." There was something he felt he needed to say and he didn't know when he might next get a chance. She turned curious eyes to him once more and sank back hesitantly into her seat.
"I –" suddenly this seemed a lot harder. He shifted slightly on his feet. "I would do my best to come into this family without prejudice." He paused; his next words were rather indelicate. "I cannot support someone who bears the Dark Mark," he told her bluntly, staring her straight in the eye. "If, however, someone who was unbranded were to seek an alliance with me, I would not deny them without good reason."
One perfectly arched eyebrow rose slightly on her pale face.
Harry gave a half-grin. "Toujours pur and all that, you know."
The ghost of what might have been amusement flickered across her face, but it was gone so quickly that Harry was not at all sure that he hadn't imagined it. Without another word, Narcissa swept away.
Satisfied that his implied message had gotten through, he tuned to his right to see Tonks and Andromeda, both of whom had been very careful to not look at Narcissa throughout the proceedings, staring at the door she had just exited with hard eyes.
"Harry," Tonks started, "what in the name of Merlin's bushy moustache is going on?"
"Truthfully?" Harry said, slumping back into his seat, "I haven't the faintest clue."
"So what are you going to do now that you're emancipated, Harry?"
Harry, Tonks, and Andromeda had gone down to the Black Vaults to see just what Harry had inherited. Sirius' personal vault had nothing in it except for a couple of documents which Andromeda collected for him, a few piles of gold (which was considerably nonetheless more than Harry had seen in the Weasleys' vault when he'd last seen it in second year) and his old motorcycle, the one that Harry remembered from his dreams, complete with black dragon hide jacket (too big for Harry still), gloves, and two slick black helmets. Griphook informed Harry that for a nominal fee, Gringotts could deliver the bike and equipment to his place of residence within the next few days, which Harry gladly paid. He hoped to learn how to ride it soon.
The Black family vault had yielded much less of interest; it was filled with coins, several piles of precious jewels and cases of jewellery, as well as boxes of files which Andromeda had again looked through and collected. Apparently they were mostly deeds to properties and records of stock and share purchases.
Both women had refused Harry's urges to help themselves to anything in the vault, but had relented when he insisted that they let him at least buy them a late lunch. They did have a lot to talk about, after all, their having just become a family (of sorts) and all, a fact that Harry was still having some difficulty comprehending.
So after making arrangements with Griphook to return on his birthday for the reading of his parents' will, they picked up Lupin in the lobby and headed to the Leaky Cauldron.
Harry looked up, startled, at Tonks' question.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, from what I understand, you aren't exactly chummy with the Dursleys." Harry snorted. There was the understatement of the year. "Are you going to move out?"
Harry sat back, dumbfounded. He could leave the Dursleys. He was an adult. He could live on his own, answer to nobody. He would never have to see them again! What an odd thought. The Dursleys had been a constant in his life. A constant pain, it was true, but he could hardly believe that they would no longer have any part in his life. It was not a particularly repulsive thought.
"I dunno. Where would I go?"
"Why don't you take a look at that summary of the holdings you've got? There must be something in there," suggested Andromeda
"Good idea, Mrs. Tonks."
"Harry, please. Call me Andi, Aunt Andi if it makes you feel better. You call me Mrs. Tonks one more time and I'm going to start calling you Lord Baron."
Harry held his hands up in surrender, grinning.
Andromeda Tonks was a bit of an anomaly to him. Nearly identical to her sister Bellatrix, she had long, lustrous black hair and the typical Black female's eyes – violet with heavy lids. Her face had the same sharp, aristocratic angles, and her figure was equally trim, if a little taller; she had a sharp wit and a very dry and sarcastic sense of humour, but there was something about her mouth that suggested kindness and her eyes sparkled with the same mirth as her daughter's. Now he thought about it, she looked enough like Sirius that he could have passed as her taller, silver-eyed twin. He liked her immensely.
She seemed to know a lot about business, which would make sense, he supposed, as that was her area of expertise in the private magical law firm she ran with her husband. Tonks & Tonks also specialized in the defence of muggleborn rights, which Ted Tonks was particularly good at, apparently, he being a muggleborn married to a woman from one of the oldest pureblood families.
"Alright, alright," he said and handed her the sheet of parchment Griphook had given him. "Sheesh, you Tonkses are so particular about your names. I'll really have to watch myself."
"You had better, mister," threatened Tonks.
Harry snorted and looked over Andromeda's shoulder.
Total Cash Savings: 650 329 galleons
Total Liquid Capital: 1 878 064 galleons
Invested in Daily Prophet (10% of shares)
Comet Quidditch (25% of shares)
Bartholomew's Apothecary (51% of shares)
Estate Holdings: Three Broomsticks Hogsmeade, Scotland
Black London Home Address Unknown, England
Black Family Manor Loch Lake District, Scotland
Personal Flat 97 Craven Way, London, England
Vacation Homes: Florence, Italy
"Well, you've certainly got enough places to choose from," said Tonks drily who was also studying the parchment from across the table.
"Well, I definitely want to stay in the country," Harry said, "which narrows it down to the London Home and that flat in Craven Way."
"That's the flat that Sirius bought for himself after he ran away from home. He started staying there after he left school. It's only a couple blocks away from our place; I actually helped him find it. It was soon after Ted and I married," said Andromeda.
"That's it then," said Harry happily. "I have to tell you, I was not looking forward to spending two whole months alone in a draughty old house."
"Speaking of," said Lupin, who had been quiet for some time, apparently deep in thought. "I talked to Dumbledore (grimace) the other day, and he suspected that Grimmauld would be left to you, and wanted me ask you if you would give your permission to keep using it as Headquarters."
Harry glanced sideways at Andromeda in faint alarm. He was sure they could trust her, but he didn't know if she already knew about the Order or not.
She caught him watching her, and smiled wryly but answered his unspoken question. "Yes, Ted and I are members, although we're more background than anything. We mostly do research into any legal matters that may surface. Right now Ted's working on building up a case to expose the corruption within the ministry. All Order funded of course," she said with a sudden frown. "Business has been slow recently with all the interference from the ministry. There aren't many muggleborns who are willing to take on the pureblood powerhouses since Fudge has given them such positions of influence."
"Hmm, I'll have to talk to him," murmured Harry before turning back to Lupin. "As for your question, yes, the Order can keep using it. Do I have to do something to make it official?"
"Actually," said Lupin, "the whole place is under lockdown, has been since Sirius… well, Dumbledore (grimace) suspects that it's some sort of safety mechanism and only the Head of House can get in. The fidelius is still working as far as we know, but the wards won't let anyone by."
"Okay. Shall we do that now then?"
"Sure thing," Lupin replied.
"Tell you what Harry," said Andromeda, "Nymphadora (it was Tonks' turn to grimace this time, but her mother ignored her) and I took the whole day off for the reading. Why don't we go with you and then we can help you move?"
"Really? Are you sure it's not too much trouble? You really don't need to…"
"Of course we will. We're family now, so you better get used to us being in your hair all the time. And you will all stay for dinner," she finished triumphantly.
And that was that.
Lupin and Andromeda landed on their feet, Andromeda managing to look significantly more graceful, and Tonks, being her usual clumsy self, sprawled on the grass in the small square before Grimmauld Place. Harry, however, skidded backwards twice as though he was a rock being skipped before doing a backwards somersault and landing flat on his back.
"Is that normal?" said Lupin with no small amount of amusement in his voice, watching Harry sit up and clutch his stomach.
"Uuuurgh," Harry replied.
"I've never seen anyone with more difficulty using Portkeys."
"The floo is worse," Harry groaned as he clambered slowly to his feet. He grimaced. "Remind me to never portkey on a full stomach."
"Shall we get on with this then?"
Harry looked over at Andromeda to find her nearly as hard and tense as she had been with Narcissa in the room, and realized that this house probably held many bad reminders of her former family.
Lupin and Tonks, too, were looking grim, and Harry knew that this place reminded them of Sirius too, of his misery at being captive, surrounded by his past. He couldn't wait for this to be over with either.
"What do I have to do?"
Lupin shrugged. "Not much, I expect. I suggest you just try approaching the house and see what happens."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Great. Well, let's get this show on the road, I guess."
They all began slowly walking towards Number 12, invisible to all but those that knew the secret of its location. When they reached the gate at the head of the walk Tonks, Lupin and Andromeda all stopped abruptly as though they'd hit an invisible barrier. Harry, however, carried on forward right up to the door before he looked back at them, clearly wondering what to do.
"Try the door," suggested Andromeda.
Harry reached for the knob and twisted.
Confused, he turned back to the others. All of a sudden, he noticed something shiny reflecting the sun's rays from the pavement. Harry looked at the piece of broken glass that had caught his eye, then back at the house, frowning.
Suddenly, as though following silent instructions, he strode back to where they stood watching him. Walking right past them, still deep in thought, he retrieved the piece of glass from where it lay in the gutter. Marching back to Andromeda, he held it out to her.
"Will you clean this please?"
She stared blankly at him.
"Tonks told me last summer that you're good at household charms."
Obviously still lost, she complied.
"Thank you," he said, taking it and going back to the door. They were blood wards, right? So it stood to reason that they needed a confirmation of his blood to pass. Re-opening the wound in his finger that had magically healed that morning, he ignored the gasps behind him, and as though the house was telling him what to do, he dragged his finger across the center of the door, leaving a trail of his blood behind.
There was a pause, and then the blood vanished into the door, sunk right out of sight into the wood. A click followed, and the door swung open.
Harry turned back to the others. "Try coming in now," he called.
They all strode forward successfully and followed him into the dark shadow of Grimmauld Place.
It had only been a little over two weeks since Sirius had died, but Harry was sure that even if it had been two months, the house would have looked the same: dark, musty, and utterly gloomy.
They all strode through the front hallway in silence until they reached the curtains that hid the portrait of Mrs. Black. Here, Harry stopped.
"Why don't you go on to the kitchen," said Harry quietly. "I would like a few words with Sirius' mother."
They glanced at one another uncertainly, then shrugging, as though to say, 'your funeral,' they carried on down the corridor and down the stairs to the basement.
Once their footsteps had faded, Harry squared his shoulders and knocked on the wall next to the curtains as though he was knocking on a door.
"Mrs. Black? May I speak with you?"
The curtains flew open to reveal Sirius' mother, a witch who was shrieking in anger bordering on madness.
"HOW DARE YOU DISTURB ME, YOU HALF-BLOOD FILTH? HOW DID YOU BREAK INTO THIS HOUSE? BISMIRCHING THE WALLS OF MY ANCESTORS, I WON'T HAVE IT –"
"Hello, Grandmother," said Harry, and looked up at her shyly from under his eyelashes.
Mrs. Black, completely stunned by his pronouncement was rendered speechless and could only gape at him like a fish. Knowing that this was most likely a very temporary state and that his window of opportunity was closing rapidly, Harry pulled out what was possibly the most dangerous weapon ever known to man. He gave her a Potter-Black special, the perfect combination of his father's best innocent expression and Sirius' charming smile. Mrs. Black looked at him uncertainly, and then, almost in spite of herself, she did something that she had not done in almost two decades.
She smiled back.
Twenty minutes later, Harry waltzed into the kitchen smirking to himself to find the three others sitting around the kitchen table. They all looked up at him as he entered and raised their eyebrows at his expression.
"I don't believe that Mrs. Black will be bothering the Order for much longer."
"What did you do to her, Harry?" asked Lupin, who only looked very faintly concerned.
"Do?" said Harry airily. "I didn't do anything. Grandmother and I had a chat and we came to an agreement."
There was a stunned silence, eventually broken by the irrepressible Tonks.
"She just doesn't look like a 'Granny' to me, you know what I mean?"
Tonks glared at him, so he quickly elaborated.
"Well, she is the mother of my adoptive father. That makes her my grandmother." He turned back to Lupin. "Can you ask Dumbledore if I can borrow Dobby for an afternoon? Grandmother has requested that her portrait be moved to Black Manor and only house elf magic can do it. It seems that the portrait of her late husband was placed there and she has missed him; by some mischance, there is no portrait of either of them in the other's house, so they haven't been able to visit. So I offered to have her moved and she agreed right away that it was for the best and would give no one any further trouble." Harry suddenly looked pensive. "I imagine that most people would be rather irritable if they'd been separated from their spouse for twenty years."
Lupin was flabbergasted. "But we've been trying to get rid of that blasted portrait for ages!"
"Did you ever try asking her how to move it?"
There was a silence.
"When I realized that to open the house I had to ask what it wanted first – proof of identity through a blood offering – I thought the same rule might apply here." He smiled. "Aunt Petunia always raised me to be polite."
"I'll have to remember that one," said Lupin weakly.
"The combined charm of James Potter and Sirius Black did nothing to impede your cause, I imagine," observed Andromeda dryly.
Harry just grinned at her, relieved that she was taking things so well. He didn't know whether she would be offended that he was being polite to her estranged family or if she would have been more offended if he had been rude. He was hugely relieved to find that she did not consider his courtesy a betrayal of Tonks and herself.
Perhaps she misses them, he mused, and wishes she could do the same without loosing face; they had disowned her after all, and Blacks were nothing if not proud. Or perhaps she just knows that I would choose her family over the lot of them in a second, he thought with a smile. It was the truth.
"Sirius always could talk himself out of just about anything," said Lupin with a fond grin. "And all your father had to do was smile innocently and you would be handing him your vault key without a thought. I'm pretty sure McGonagall was the only one who could stand up to them."
"What was her secret?
"Immunity due to prolonged exposure."
"Never felt the combined effect though, I'll bet."
"Sweet Merlin on a bike, you're right. We've created a monster."
They all laughed.
"Where's Kreacher," Tonks asked suddenly.
"Dead," said Harry. "According to Grandmother, he never actually intended for Sirius to get hurt, no matter how much he disliked him. Couldn't go against the family outright, see. When he found out he'd been involved in his death, he beheaded himself with a kitchen knife."
"I'm only glad we don't have to put up with him. I don't know what I would've done if I'd seen him again."
Lupin spoke up. "Harry, I've been meaning to ask you. I was staying here with Sirius before the house locked up. Since then I've been bunking with Kingsley, but…"
"Of course you should stay here, if you want," said Harry at once. "I'd actually be grateful if you'd keep an eye on the place. I may not like it here, but I'd rather not have Mundungus walk out with half the contents or something."
"No problem. Actually, I can go through all the belongings if you like. Was there anything you wanted to keep?"
"No," said Harry, looking down. "I've got his bike, that's plenty for me. You should help yourself though, all of you. If there's anything at all you'd like to hang onto, go right ahead."
"Why don't I sort through it over the next couple days, then you can all come and go through it much quicker, see if there's anything you want."
"Thanks Moony," said Harry, "I appreciate it." And he did. He had absolutely zero desire to sort individually through all of Sirius' things, each a painful reminder of the absent man.
"Well if that's it then," said Andromeda, standing. "Let's get over to the Dursleys' Harry. We've still got a lot left to do today."
"Right," he said, rising. "I'll speak to Dumbledore about Dobby on second thought, Moony; I need to write him anyway."
"Take care, Harry. I'll see you soon, I expect."
And with that, they were off.
As though he was a discus being flung, the portkey launched Harry through the air, across the bed and onto the floor on the other side of his small bedroom at Privet Drive.
"Not a word," he warned as he stood holding one hand to his reeling head and glaring at Tonks who was having great difficulty smothering her giggles. "Not one word."
"I wasn't going to say anything!" she protested, still holding a hand to her mouth.
"Why don't we pack up while you go speak to your relatives, Harry," interjected Andromeda swiftly.
"Hmph," he huffed and went downstairs in search of the Dursleys. It did not take him long to find them – they were all in the kitchen eating dinner and did not react to his entrance until he cleared his throat. Uncle Vernon glared at him for breaking the unspoken agreement of mutual disregard for one another that had been the quid pro quo for the summer.
"I just wanted to say that I was emancipated today. I'm now a legal adult in the wi – in my world. So I'm moving out tonight."
The Dursleys stared at him in silence and various states of shock.
Uncle Vernon looked more gleeful at Harry's words than Harry remembered him being at any other time he had opened his mouth. Dudley had his massive jaw hanging open and seemed to be struggling between joy and jealousy. Aunt Petunia, on the other hand, was looking at him as though for the first time.
"But," she stammered, "what about that… protection?"
It seemed that she could not bring herself to say the word 'charm.' Her husband and son both turned to her in shock. Was she trying to convince him to stay? Harry was equally dumbfounded. She looked… concerned? For him? Harry had never realized that she took his protection so seriously.
Harry spoke directly to her. "You're right; I won't have it if I don't live here. But it would only last for another year and then it'd stop working too. I've also recently been adopted into my… my godfather's family. So his blood will provide me some protection too, I think."
It felt so weird to be talking about wards with Aunt Petunia. It reminded him of the time the summer before when he and Dudley had been attacked by Dementors. Speaking of.
"I'm not sure if you remember, but I told you last summer that Voldemort was back. The one who killed my parents," he said in answer to Vernon and Dudley's blank looks (ones that looked quite at home on their pudgy faces). "Now that I'm not living here, the threat on you will be lowered to almost nothing. No more than any other mug – than anyone else. I'm sure that it will get out quite quickly that I'm going on my own," he finished slightly bitterly, thinking of the irritating ability of the media's to find out things that he'd rather they didn't, and their tendency to make things up when that failed.
He came back to himself and looked Aunt Petunia right in the eye. "So anyway. You've done what you were asked to do. So thanks for that."
Aunt Petunia looked right back at him with what might have been tears in her eyes. Uncle Vernon and Dudley seemed perplexed by this unexpected exchange between aunt and nephew, but Harry paid them no attention.
You can stop feeling a duty to her, he thought silently at her. You can hate her in peace now, no more guilt and obligation.
He felt a little odd, leaving behind the last living connection to his mother. Had Aunt Petunia ever loved her, he wondered. He was sure she had. Why else would she be so conflicted now? Surely such strong feelings of hate could not brew without feelings of love of equal strength to balance them. Had she ever regretted the way she treated him, he wondered. Had her love for his mother ever overflowed to include him, even a little? He wasn't about to waste time trying to figure her out, he decided. Not after the cupboard under the stairs. But he still felt the loss. Not like he was leaving something behind, but more like he had missed something his whole life and only just really realized it.
And with that, he strode from the room and out of their lives, never to touch them again except occasionally in their thoughts, some more than others.
"We're apparating. Apparating."
Harry glared at Andromeda fiercely and she pressed her lips together to hide her mischievous smile.
"If you insist."
"I'll take you side-along, all aurors are trained how, but it's hard unless you're really powerful," offered Tonks. "Mum's better, she's got more raw power than me, but I need the practice. That's why most people don't do it. Mum can take your trunk and cage. Where's Hedwig anyway?"
"She must be out hunting. She'll find me, she always does, and usually before I know where I am or where I'm going, too," Harry reflected, thinking of his escape in third year after blowing up Uncle Vernon's sister Marge. He smiled reminiscently. Ah, the good old days.
"Well Harry, apparition's really easy, the trick to doing it the first time is –"
Out of nowhere she grabbed his arm and twisted away, pulling him through what felt like a knot-hole. He was being pressed on all sides, his eyes were going to squeeze back through their sockets into his skull, his skin felt too tight for his body, he was about to implode, he lungs were about to collapse, he did not like this, and he wanted it to stop now.
"– to not give yourself time to get psyched out." Tonks finished as they reappeared in an alleyway in residential London with a thunderous CRACK.
Andromeda was already waiting for them.
"Was that really necessary Nymphadora?" (grimace).
"That's how you taught me!" exclaimed Tonks indignantly.
"Yes, yes, but I meant the noise, you know that there are muggles here."
"Oh, that wasn't me. It appears Harry here doesn't enjoy the sensation of apparition too much," (Harry was still gasping for breath, his hands on his knees). "It was all him powering us along, I was just guiding us here."
Andromeda looked over at him, eyebrows raised.
"It's not my fault," he defended himself, "I'd never done it before, and it's not exactly comfortable, is it?"
"That's why I couldn't give you any warning," said Tonks wisely.
"Next time, we're taking a taxi," Harry said firmly as he straightened up.
Andromeda snorted and led the way out of the alley and up the road a ways to a small, but elegant building lined by rows of flowers. Andromeda walked along its left side and up a small flight of stairs where she finally stopped.
"Time to do your thing again," she said, producing the same piece of glass as before.
Harry raised his eyebrows at her.
"I thought that seeing as how valuable your blood's become these days that it wouldn't do to leave any traces lying around."
"That's really good thinking, actually," Harry said, mentally berating himself for not thinking of it too. "Thanks Aunt Andi."
He was too busy repeating the procedure that he had done at Grimmauld Place to open the door and let them in to notice her blinding smile.
"Welcome to Padfoot's Lair," she announced grandly.
It was a spacious flat, taking up the entire top half of the small apartment building. Harry saw that the main area centered around a large round table that fit nicely into the rounded bay window on the side of the flat, and that the dining area seemed to blended right into a living area on one side, with a couch, two armchairs and a sizeable fireplace, and kitchen area on the other complete with counter and barstools.
Down a short corridor led to a half-bath, an empty room, and the bedroom with full bathroom, walk-in closet, and window seat at the end.
It was not glamorous, but it was comfortable, cool even, and Harry thought that it was quite aptly named. And best of all, it used to belong to Sirius but had no bad memories attached to it the way Grimmauld Place did, although it was completely empty (obviously Sirius had moved all his possessions there after he had broken out of prison and settled in).
After checking out the roof-top patio, they went back down to the bedroom to unpack. It did not take long to put Harry's few possessions away into the closet. It seemed that Tonks and Andromeda had taken it upon themselves to do away with the clothes that they did not consider worthy of keeping. What was left was pathetically little, especially given that he had outgrown most of his Hogwarts things as well.
"Hmm," said Andromeda, looking it over critically. Harry knew that she was refraining from commenting on Harry's treatment by his relatives, and he was grateful for her restraint.
Tonks, it seemed, had no such compunctions.
"Merlin's boots, we need to go shopping."
The comment was so on target that no one felt any need to respond.
"I don't know about you two, but I'm starving," said Harry eventually. "Shall we go and grab some groceries and I can cook us something?"
"Later. You're still coming for dinner at my house, remember?" said Andromeda.
They left and Tonks explained when Harry asked as they walked through the tree-lined neighbourhood to her mother's house that wizards never bothered using locks on their doors – it was just too easy to open them or blast them down with magic. Too true, Harry thought to himself. We were eleven when Hermione broke us into the third floor corridor.
Instead, they set up wards. The younger families and muggleborns were at a distinct disadvantage here, because the most that they could set-up were anti-apparition, -portkey, -muggle wards, compulsion charms (which give unwanted wizards strong desires to, say, run in the opposite direction), and use sensors and alarms to detect unwarranted entry and record magical signatures (which were traces of a wand's magic left behind whenever a spell was cast, sort of spell residue). They could also block the floo.
"So if you get past the compulsion charms and use muggle methods of theft and transportation, you could get in anywhere? Why isn't everyone just walking into each other's houses all the time, then?"
"Several reasons: one, most wizards don't bother with muggle methods; two, it's a courtesy that is almost never breached, same way that you don't just walk in on someone in the bathroom or something; three, and most importantly, our methods of punishment are so severe. Can you think of anyone who would risk their soul for a set of fine silver spoons? Besides, anything of real value can be kept at Gringotts – and no one's fool enough to mess with the goblins."
"I suppose. So what advantages do the old pureblood families have?"
Andromeda answered this time. "Well, like you leaned today, the Ancient Houses have a magic all of their own. There's no greater magic than blood magic. It engrains itself into the places where a family lives; the longer, the stronger. No witch or wizard who isn't of the owner's blood or who isn't given permission simply can't get in. Your blood is particularly potent because you're the Head of one Ancient House and the direct Heir to another. Once you come into the Potter Headship as well, your blood magic will be nearly impenetrable, I imagine. You'll probably actually see a significant increase in your power once that happens. You may notice some affects already, like your difficulties with magical transport."
"What," exclaimed Harry. "What's my clumsiness got to do with anything? Besides, I've always had problems, they just seem worse lately."
"Exactly," Tonks took over the lesson again. "Magical transport is powered by a wizard's own magical ability. So the stronger the wizard, the farther and faster they'll be able to travel."
"Then why isn't Dumbledore falling over himself all the time? I've portkeyed with him several times and he's loads more powerful than me, but I've never seen him so much as stumble."
"The difference between you and Dumbledore is that Dumbledore has had Merlin only knows how many years to lean to control his magic, whereas you're still coming into your full capability. Once you've reached your potential, you'll find that you become more familiar with your magic, more connected to it, and you'll be able to control how much you're using at one time. It's kind of like accidental magic. Your magic is very intimately tied to your emotions (Harry thought of his Patronus charm and silently agreed wholeheartedly). As a kid, your emotions are all over the place, so your magic is too. Once you get older, while your magic has grown you can control yourself better, so you can also control how much power you put into each spell. An aguamenti charm can act like a trickle or a jet steam depending on how much you put into it. But accidental magic and transport can also be used as rough measures of a wizard's power. You're more powerful than most to begin with, it sounds like, if you had problems from such a young age. What sorts of accidents did you cause?"
"Umm, hard to keep track really," said Harry, running his hand through his hair as he thought. "I was always in trouble. I turned my teacher's hair blue one time."
Andromeda laughed and Tonks promptly re-enacted it.
"What else," she said eagerly.
"Well, there was the time I shrunk this really horrible sweater that Aunt Petunia wanted me to wear. I vanished the glass on the boa constrictor's cage at the zoo a few days before I got my Hogwarts letter; that was when I discovered I was a parselmouth."
"Really," said Andromeda interestedly, "And what does a boa constrictor have to say?"
"Well, she wanted to visit Brazil but couldn't because she was locked up. And I could sympathize, growing up at the Dursleys', and just then Dudley knocked me over. So I vanished the glass and she gave him a good scare for me. It worked out for both of us," he said smiling reminiscently and wondering what ever happened to her.
Tonks was grinning at him.
"Awesome," she said.
"The next biggest one after that was probably when I apparated accidentally. I think I was about 7."
The two witches stopped walking to stare at him openly.
"You apparated, accidentally?" asked Andromeda weakly.
"Well I assume that's what happened. Dudley's gang was chasing me and I got trapped, there was nowhere left to run, when suddenly I was on the roof of the school. It was too quick for that squeezing feeling though, so I'm not one hundred percent sure that I actually apparated. Boy did I get it for that one, though," he said, shaking his head.
Tonks still seemed distracted by his feat of apparently shocking accidental magic, but Andromeda was eyeing him shrewdly, as though she had some idea of the punishment he was not talking about, so Harry moved on quickly.
"The coolest one by far though was when Aunt Petunia got fed up with having to cut my hair again and she shaved it all off except a little to cover my scar. I was mortified of course, but it all turned out okay because by the next morning it had all grown back."
Tonks looked up extremely sharply at that.
"You mean you made it grow back on purpose?"
"I don't think so, not like you anyway, Tonks," replied Harry thoughtfully. "I can't count the number of times I've wanted to make my scar disappear, like you said when we first met, but I've never been able to control my appearance at all. Too bad, I would've loved to have been a metamorphmagus."
"Yeah, too bad," said Tonks dejectedly, her hair drooping slightly. "Would've been fun to meet another one. You remember everything I say though," she said, perking up again in a very Tonks-like manner.
"Of course I remember. You were the first auror I ever met, and not that much older than me, plus a metamorph. You were probably the coolest person I ever met, even cooler than Bill."
Tonks positively beamed at that, and threw an arm around his shoulders. "You and I are going to get along alright, little brother."
This caused Harry's grin to tripple in size.
Andromeda was smiling at the pair of them. "Well Harry, that's a very impressive amount of accidental magic. Typically a child will show only one or two kinds of magic, usually simple stuff like summoning toys to their crib and such."
Harry ducked his head. "Yeah, well, it cleared up a lot once school started."
"You mean there's more?" asked Andromeda.
Harry blushed a little, not wanting his new family to think him immature for not being able to control his magic.
"Just a bit. I caused a locked door to fly open without touching it and I blew up Uncle Vernon's sister Marge the summer before third year," said Harry with a grin. "That was fun. Umm, I think that's it except for making Uncle Vernon let go of me last summer. Oh, and I made my wand light up without holding it. I said lumos for that one though, so I don't know if it counts."
Tonks and Andromeda were staring at him again, Andromeda again looking like she wanted to ask why Harry wanted Uncle Vernon to let go of him so badly, and Tonks in awe, the reason for which he did not know until she voiced her thoughts.
"That counts as wandless magic, not accidental, Harry. That's pretty rare. I guess it wasn't that big of a spell, but you should see if you can expand on that at all. It could come in really handy."
Harry was saved from having to reply (much to his relief, for he was feeling quite embarrassed at the praise), for they had arrived at Andromeda's house. It was a quaint, two story white-washed house with a beautifully-kept garden including two great lilac trees in the front.
"It's beautiful," said Harry appreciatively.
Both Tonks and Andromeda grinned. "Glad you like it. Welcome to the Den."
Harry was sitting around the Tonks' dining table eating his third serving of roast dinner (much to his surprise, his appetite was gastronomical – haha). To his left was Theodore Tonks (Ted to Andromeda) who much like his daughter insisted on being called by his surname; he said that that's what everyone referred to him as at work, and he couldn't be bothered to answer to anything else. Harry's impression of Tonks Sr. was a little similar to that of Mr. Weasley: in other words, kind, gentle, and genial, although he was a little less jolly and obsessed with muggles. Ted was not portly, but solid, and completely bald. He had a very firm handshake, and Harry got the impression that he could have been extremely intimidating, but chose not to.
For the occasion, Tonks had reverted to her base form. Harry was very intrigued, and felt quite honoured that she would show it in front of him; he got the impression that it was reserved for close family and friends only. Her face was still the same pale heart-shape, but her Black ancestry was more obvious in the sharp lines of her jaw and cheekbones which she normally softened. Her eye colour, unsurprisingly, was violet, and her hair the typical lustrous black. She was slightly shorter than she normally looked, and her frame was slighter, her hands and feet smaller, her neck more slender; Harry thought she was infinitely prettier this way than the normal more rounded look she wore, but, he reflected wisely, perhaps that was why she hid it – an anomaly among wizards already, she no doubt wanted to blend in as much as possible. He could, after all, empathize with that desire.
Earlier in the evening, while the roast had been cooking, Harry had removed from his innermost pocket the Black Grimoire. A brief examination had revealed pages and pages of the Black family tree, some names dating back to the days of the Founders of Hogwarts. Flipping to the end of the book, Harry found his own name below a straight line leading from Sirius'. That had brought a smile to his face, but when looking up Andromeda and Tonks, he found that their names were missing. Confused, he had unthinkingly blurted out, "Aunt Andi, where's your name?"
Andromeda went quiet. "I was expelled from the family magic when I was eighteen, when I married Ted."
Harry's mouth fell open. "But… how come Sirius' name is still there," he asked hesitantly. "He told me he was expelled when he was sixteen, right after he ran away from home."
Andromeda looked off into the distance, seeing things none of the rest of them could. "That was three years after I graduated. I assumed that Sirius' father would have named his little brother Regulus as Heir, but obviously I was out of contact with the family, so I don't know what happened. Regulus was a follower, he was never as strong or as smart or as personable as Sirius was. Maybe their father saw that and that's why he left Sirius his legacy. Or maybe it was supposed to go to Regulus, but he died before he could claim it. That must have been it. Sirius' father was nothing if not a traditionalist, and because Nymphadora was a girl (and not recognized as family anyway), Draco had not yet been born, and little Bellatrix was so newly married, he had no male relatives left to inherit. So it went to Sirius rather than his wife, or Narcissa, who would have inherited as the eldest of us. Sooner a rogue son than a female."
Harry was quiet. He flipped to the first pages of the book just to give himself something to do, and there, on the first page, were instructions. He read closely, and realized what exactly he was holding in his hands.
"Aunt Andi… would you –. Would you like to be reinstated?" Harry asked extremely quietly, studying her closely. She just stared at him.
"It's okay if you don't, I understand… I mean, it's not like you exactly have any reason to or anything. I just thought that if you and Tonks wanted to, I could give you the magic back."
"You would – you would give it back? Why?" Her voice was cracked and brittle like hardened sugar.
"Because I think that it would be a good way to honour Sirius. You know, turn the Black name around, and bring back its respect. And because I think that everyone deserves a family, you especially," he finished, looking at his shoes.
"And my sisters?"
He glanced up at her. "That would be something that we could discuss. If it means a lot to you, I would expel them both, because I value your opinion more than theirs by a long shot. But if it did not bother you, I would at least allow Narcissa and Draco to stay. They are not lost yet, to Voldemort (wince). I can feel their connections. Draco is very, very close to shutting himself out completely, but his mother… she is not where she wants to be, I think."
Andromeda was crying openly now.
"What about Bellatrix?"
Harry paused. "I don't know. On the one hand, she has taken the Dark Mark. And the things she's done – I cannot overlook them. The Longbottoms… Neville is my friend. But on the other hand, I do not believe that she meant to kill Sirius. She hit him with a stunner you know. And Tonks too. It was just bad luck that Sirius was standing in front of the Veil at the time. And I have punished her for that already, in ways that are far too horrible for me to contemplate. In ways that make me squirm with guilt. And with my own experiences of family, or lack thereof, I am loath to cast anyone out. I know the pain that that can cause, and I do not want to aggravate her, or change her apparent mercy towards the Blacks. And at the absolute least, this way I can keep tabs on her – I will know when she is dead."
"They both tried to contact me, you know. No doubt to convince me of my glorious mistake," she said with a wry smile at her husband, "but they did not just give up on me. But our Uncle forbade it, at his wife's insistence I think. They still found little ways though. Narcissa sent toys when Nymphadora was born, and Bellatrix sent me her school scores and news of her engagement. We did not see eye to eye, but we were sisters still. And Sirius, of course, was ingenious in coming up with round-about ways of sharing news between us that got around the order. You have a manner of power, you know, over the family. In matters that involve the protection of the family, or its reputation. And of course, once he was kicked out too, we formed our own little band of renegade Blacks, living off the money that Uncle Alphard left us."
She looked up at him.
"I agree with your decision. And I would like to be reinstated. I would like that very much."
"Me too," said Harry with a sad little smile.
He opened the Grimoire to the first page and began to enchant, "I, Harry James Potter-Black, Head of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black, do hereby reinstate into that most Noble House Andromeda Aquila Black Tonks and her line. This I so avow."
There was no visible change, but Harry could feel the connection between Andromeda and himself suddenly surge with warmth, and then the one with Tonks soon after. It was as though there was an exchange made, their help and trust for his protection and inclusion.
Harry looked up across the cozy living room to meet Tonks' wide-eyed gaze. They stared at each other for second, before breaking into twin grins. Harry moved his gaze over to Andromeda who was sitting silently with tears streaming down her face, staring into nothing again.
"Thank you," she said, "for giving me back my family. For my magic. For my blood. I feel whole again; I did not realize just how much I had missed it, how incomplete I felt without it."
She looked over to meet his eyes, and gave the shakiest of smiles, before getting gracefully to her feet and exiting the room. Harry looked back over at Tonks, worried, but found her smiling at him.
"She's just really happy, but she still has problems showing her emotions. She is a Black after all."
"How come I could feel you before, though?"
"I guess that as the Head of the Black line, you can still sense the connections through the blood. But doesn't it feel different now than it did before?"
"Yeah, I guess. It's more like, before there were just heartbeats, lives in the background. But now I can feel the emotions in a sense, like I'm keeping closer tabs on you. Like you're people rather than just pulses. And I can feel your magic too. Aunt Andi's is really strong. And yours is different… adaptive almost. It's really cool."
"Yeah, it really is. I can feel this slight boost in my power, not much, but it's definitely there. And I feel… I don't know. Included or something. Like I know that there will always be someone there, watching my back. I never really realized how horrible it was for Mum to lose that, until now."
"Yeah," said Harry, thinking of Percy, and how awful he must be feeling right now. He hadn't known that the Weasleys were descended from an Ancient House. He supposed that because of their poverty and tolerance of muggleborns, the fact could be easily overlooked. But suddenly the connection that they had to the Burrow, and the strong family ties between all the members made so much more sense. He was only now beginning to understand the magnitude of the loss they must have felt at their brother's abandonment.
Taking another bite of roast, Harry voiced a question he had had since that afternoon.
"Do all homes have a name?"
"All the old pureblood families usually have a manor where they entertain and go for the holidays, and then a more comfortable home for living most of the year. Headquarters was the Blacks', though they called it the Hearth. My parents' was the Roost, but Cissy owns that one now. The Burrow is the Weasleys', though they've no manor since they lost their Barony during the war with Grindelwald. Ted and I have made the Den ours. It's a sort of tradition to name them, and it makes it easier for floo travel."
"So, Mr. Tonks," Harry started, but stopped when he receive a stern look. "Well what am I supposed to call you, I can't call both you and Tonks, Tonks. It's too confusing."
"That's true," Ted Tonks admitted, looking at his daughter. "Why don't you call her Nymphadora, seeing as how you're technically family now anyway –"
"No!" Tonks interrupted fiercely, glaring at her father.
"Well if I don't get to be called Tonks, then you don't either," he replied somewhat petulantly, causing Andromeda to roll her eyes dramatically.
"Honestly, what is with you people and your first names?"
They all looked at him in exasperation and disbelief.
Harry stared blandly back. "Well, I think they're nice, but if you're going to be stubborn about it, then I'm going to have to rename you all myself."
"You," he pointed at Andromeda, "are Aunt Andi already." She smiled at him.
"So it makes sense if I call you Uncle Ted," he continued, turning to her husband, who thought about it for a second, then nodded in assent.
"And I'm pretty sure your Dad would be mad if I called you Tonks and not him, so can we at least shorten your name?"
Tonks pursed her lips in annoyance. "To what?"
"Yuck, that makes me sound like an old woman. And no to 'Nymph' for obvious reasons."
"Okay… how about Nym, then?"
She looked at him suspiciously for a moment.
"Just Nym? Nor references to scantily-clad woodland sprites?"
Harry managed not to snicker, but it was a close thing.
"None whatsoever. Just Nym."
There was a tense silence as the three other diners watched the now black-haired auror think it over.
"Well… It's okay I guess. It's actually kinda cute. Fine, Nym it is then."
Andromeda and Ted were looking slightly shocked that she had agreed, but pleased all the same. Andi sent Harry a look that told him that she was quite impressed. He got the impression that Tonks had never agreed to be called anything other than her last name for as long as they had been trying to get her to (in other words, always).
"Now that that's out of the way, I was going to ask Uncle Ted how his case against the Ministry is going."
"Badly," replied Ted with a sigh. "Fudge's hold on the Ministry is very tight. He's made sure that all his most loyal supporters are in the highest positions, so no one dares go against him. I've got plenty of people willing to give opinions and speculations on his behaviour of the past years, especially now that his reputation has taken some hits what with the news of You-Know-Who being back, but I've yet to find anything concrete enough to discredit him properly. And I'm afraid to go in half-cocked because once he gets wind of any type of investigation you can bet that he'll cover up quick. Fudge may be a coward, but he sure is no slouch at political manoeuvring. That's how he got into office in the first place, and he won't let it go without a fight. He's been talking about us all 'banding together in these trying times' and 'forgetting past differences in the shadow of a common enemy' and the like. I'm having to tread very carefully."
Harry slumped back into his chair, disheartened. He had half-hoped that with the announcement of Fudge's inaction against Voldemort for the past year that Fudge would get voted out, but it seemed that the portly man was cleverer than Harry had given him credit for.
"Is he actually doing anything of worth about Voldemort though," he asked slightly desperately and ignoring the shudder that went around the table at the mention of the Dark Lord's name.
"Not really," Tonks answered, the frustration evident in her voice. "He's lowered the standards for auror licensing, but he hasn't put enough money into the programmes to train the candidates properly. So the department is being flooded by under-trained graduates who are more of a hindrance that a help in a real situation. And the assignments he's giving us are mostly useless like patrolling Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, places that You-Know-Who is unlikely to attack right now with almost his entire inner-circle captured. He's vulnerable right now, and we're doing nothing but babysitting the public who're too scared to come out anyways," she finished hopelessly.
"What about the Death Eaters they got?"
"They were hardly questioned at all before being sent to Azkaban. Their homes are being searched, but little is turning up that's of any use. They didn't leave stuff lying around in the open."
"But why isn't he getting all the information he can out of them?"
"I suspect mostly because many of them have dirt on him or have been passing him money and the like. Many of them were high-ranking Ministry workers or public officials like Malfoy, Macnair and Nott, and he doesn't want to be associated with them. And he can't question only some of them and not others. He's doing more covering up than any actual good."
Harry was quickly becoming disheartened by this news. Couldn't someone stand against him?
"How come Fudge has got all this power over the aurors though? Isn't that the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement's job?"
"Yes, but what you've got to remember is that all the Departments are part of the Ministry, and therefore answer to the Minster. Even the Wizengamot can be somewhat influenced by the Minister as you saw at your trial last summer, Harry. It's the separate Wizengamot body that acts as the jury, but the Ministry runs the proceedings. The DMLE is in charge of the questioning. It isn't like the muggle system."
Harry just stared at them. "Well no wonder the government's so corrupt! Why hasn't this ever been changed?"
"You see Harry, the legislative branch of the Wizengamot (the body that votes for the candidates for the judicial branch as well as the Minister) is made up of the Heads of Houses because those used to represent the majority of the wizarding public and was as good a way as any to organize and represent it fairly. It's only in recent years, the past couple of generations, that we've started marrying muggles and including enough muggleborns into our society for this to no longer be a fair representation of public opinion. But obviously most of those with seats in the Wizengamot don't want to lose their power. So nothing's changed to reflect the changes in society."
"So I've got a spot on the Wizengamot?" asked Harry with some confusion.
"Yes. In fact, you'll hold two once you come into the Potter Headship. You'll be quite a powerful political figure Harry, especially with your fame."
Harry grimaced. "So that's what my titles mean?"
"Yep. Any family that amassed enough wealth and influence was assigned the title of Baron back in the day, but the Ancient Houses were also titled Lord to distinguish themselves. So technically, after your sixteenth birthday you'll be Lord Baron Lord Baron Potter-Black," she finished with at quirky little grin.
"Hmph," Harry huffed again.
"But what this means is that while not all the Wizengamot is pureblooded and dark, enough of it is that there's never been a majority in favour of change. And the purebloods are too strong financially to allow a big enough economic faction to spring up. There have been no new baronies given in over a hundred years."
"So what this amounts to," said Harry slowly, "is that we need someone who's strong politically, who the public likes, and who has actual proof of Fudge's duplicity to get the Wizengamot to rally behind them. Someone who can convince them that not only is he corrupt, but that they would benefit from a new minister. And they need the public pressure backing them, watching the Wizengamot's moves."
"What are you planning, Harry," asked Andromeda cautiously.
"Nothing immediate, of course. I'll have to talk to Dumbledore first. And it would help if we could do it soon, while the public is working in our favour. It would be nice to hold some more political sway when it happens, but it can't be helped. If we wait for my birthday, it may be too late. Public opinion is too fickle to be relied upon for long, as I well know. And we need to strike while Voldemort (shudder) is vulnerable."
"Harry, I urge you to be careful. You've never dealt in politics before and you have no idea how vicious they can be."
"I have no idea? I? I know perhaps better than anyone how to ride out public disapproval and political manoeuvres. I've been doing it since I was a year old. And at any rate, I've got something that most don't."
"And what's that?"
"I've got more dirt on Fudge and his people than just about anyone else in magical England, I'd wager, because I have borne the brunt of his attacks. Well, myself and Dumbledore, but I doubt Dumbledore will want to take such an obvious stance politically, despite being Head of the Wizengamot. Because he will not risk his neutrality as Headmaster of Hogwarts. And rightly so. The students are too important. We may have had our disagreements, but I would never doubt that everything Dumbledore does, he does to protect his students. For that he will always have my gratitude, my respect, and my help. They do not deserve to be tossed into the middle of this. But nor should they be underestimated. Age does not determine power or guile. They can be a mighty force. And that is where the adults will always fail, Voldemort, Fudge, all of them. But I will not. I would not dare to underestimate them."
The Tonkses were staring at him in shock at this pronouncement.
"Harry, I'm shocked. I never knew you could be so Slytherin."
"Yes, well, the Sorting Hat was most insistent that I would do well in Slytherin, but I refused. So I guess this is my inner-Slytherin coming out to play."
He smiled a wicked smile. "Tell me, Uncle Ted. What do you know of Dolores Umbridge?"
When Harry woke the next morning, he was a little sore and confused.
Where was he?
In a rush, it all came flooding back. The will reading; being adopted; swallowing the House of Black; Narcissa Malfoy; the Tonkses; leaving the Dursleys; gaining a family. Arguably one of his more productive days.
Stretching, Harry got out of his bed (rather shocked at how long he had slept) and after showering and changing into one of his few remaining sets of muggle clothes, padded into the kitchen to make breakfast. While rummaging through the groceries he'd picked up at the corner store Aunt Andi had showed him last night, he heard a tap at the window over the sink.
Harry rushed to open it for her, and his downy white owl swooped in to land on the back of a chair. She was closely followed by not one, but two others. Intrigued, Harry quickly relieved them of their parchment and set a bowl of water on the table for them to sip from. Neither of them left, however, implying that they had been instructed to wait for immediate replies. Getting more curious by the second, Harry quickly tore the first parchment open, from a large and proud-looking dark grey great-horned owl.
Good Morning! Seeing as your revelation about Dolores Umbridge is the biggest lead I've got on this case against Fudge, I'd like to get started right away, if possible. Andi suggested that you come over this afternoon and then stay for dinner again tonight and we can discuss it in greater detail. Also, I think you're in for a bit of a surprise this morning. Have a good day,
Confused, Harry reached for the second letter (which he now noticed bore the Hogwarts seal) in search of answers. What surprise was Uncle Ted talking about?
Remus Lupin contacted me last night to inform me that Headquarters was open once more. Thank you for allowing us to continue to use it. The least I can do to repay your generosity is to lend Dobby to you for the removal of Mrs. Black. I have also instructed him to do his best to clean up the house over the next few days to try to repair some of the damage Kreacher failed to prevent. He was enthusiastic about the job to say the least. Remus also relayed news of your rather eventful day yesterday and I feel several issues should be addressed.
First and foremost, I would like to once again convey my deepest sympathy for your loss. Sirius was a unique and personable individual and he will be sorely missed.
Second, I would like to offer my congratulations on your recent adoption. I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to see you a part of a family of your own once more. Your deserve no less.
Third, while I was adamant about your return to the Dursleys' care in order to renew the blood wards' protection, I'm ashamed to say that it never occurred to me to invoke blood wards of another kind. Sirius' ingenious nature continues to surprise me even as it did when he was pulling pranks in his school days. I therefore extend my congratulations once again for finding a new home. Be that as it may, I must ask that you remain within your hoime unless assompanied by an Order member for your safety.
Finally, I feel quite worried about not having followed you up after our last meeting. If you would like to talk about anything, I hope you know that I would be happy to meet with you at any time. You need only ask.
A glut of confused emotions rushed through Harry as he stared down at his Headmaster's familiar loopy hand. A hoot from the sturdy tawny owl that had delivered the letter reminded him that both were expecting replies.
"Oh right, sorry."
Harry quickly grabbed some parchment from the desk in his room (no, his bedroom, all the rooms were his rooms, he thought with no little satisfaction), and began to write.
Dear Professor Dumbledore,
Thanks for your letter – your kind words meant a lot to me, and thanks also for lending out Dobby's services. I'm sure there's no elf who would do a better job.
I'd also just like to say that I'm really sorry about the way I acted the last time we met – I am beginning to appreciate the pressures that you must face with everyone expecting you to be perfect and have all the answers. It sucks. And I also appreciate you taking my change of venue so well without anyone consulting you first. Sorry about that. I know that you take my safety very seriously and I will do my best to stay safe this summer in honour of that.
I know it's short notice, but I was wondering if you'd like to come over for dinner at my place tonight. There are a couple of matters I could really use your advice on and I've learned my lesson about jumping in with both feet before realizing what I'm doing. Also, I'm not sure if Professor McGonagall is in town, but do you think you could ask her if she could come too? It's a matter that concerns her as well.
Harry signed his new name with a flourish, jotted out a quick reply to Ted claiming that he needed to prove that he really could cook for himself or Aunt Andi would never sleep at night, so why don't they come over to his place instead. Then, with Dobby on the mind, he sent out a note with Hedwig asking Remus over for dinner and Dobby too if he wasn't too busy – that way he could thank him in person. He rolled up the three scrolls, handed them to the appropriate owls, and was just sitting down to an enormous plate of eggs when the doorbell rang.
Thinking that this probably had something to do with Ted's surprise, Harry went somewhat cautiously to the door.
"Hey Harry!" said Nym brightly as she stepped into his house.
"Hey Nym," he replied. "Not that I'm not happy to see you, but what are you doing here? I thought you only had yesterday off."
"That's one of the perks of having a friend as your boss. Kingsley's a senior enough auror that he can put me on assignments, and make sure that I partner with him for most things, and stuff. I think Moody puts him up to it – he likes me for some reason, and he trusts Kingsley not to do anything stupid. So anyway, we work together so often that he's not averse to giving me the odd favour." Nym smile, pleased with herself. "Besides, I told him it was a grave family matter, which he will assume has to do with the reading."
"Uhh… o-kay. So why are you here again?"
"Harry, haven't you been paying attention? It's a grave family matter!"
"The deplorable state of your wardrobe! It's been bugging me forever and I finally get to do something about it." Harry grinned slowly.
"So you're skiving off work to take me shopping?"
Nym turned serious.
"I take my job very seriously, Harry. I wouldn't just skive off any old time, and I especially wouldn't take advantage of Kingsley like that. The truth is that I could really use the extra break." She sighed. "With Sirius dying, and getting the new Black family magic, and everything… I'm feeling kind of overwhelmed. And if we're taught one think in auror training, it's that you can't concentrate and do your job effectively if you're too emotional. Deal with it, and then go to work with a level head and you can leave your personal life at home. If you don't, you're putting your life and your coworkers' lives at risk." She recited as though from a protocol manual, and then gave him a cheeky grin. "Taking you shopping is just a bonus. It'll probably even be therapeutic. So what are we waiting for? Come on!"
Harry followed as she bounded out the door and heaved a slight sigh as she held out her arm to apparate him.
"It's better than portkeying," he tried to convince himself as Nym laughed and twisted them away into nothing.
"Remind me to never go shopping with you again," Harry said wearily as he slumped into a seat at the table back at the Lair.
"It's not like I didn't give you fair warning," Nym replied unremorsefully. In fact, she looked extraordinarily smug.
Five hours after leaving, Harry and Nym were back, completely laden down with shopping bags, and in Harry's case, totally exhausted.
They had started in Diagon Alley where Nym had insisted that he get a pair of black dragon hide boots ("What are you doing to wear with that motorcycle jacket?"), but Harry had put his foot down and refused point-blank when she suggested he get matching pants ("I don't care if I crash and both my kneecaps come off, Ron would never let me live it down – I'd be labelled as a gigolo for life!").
They'd paid a visit to Madam Malkin's where Nym had tried to get Harry to give his opinion but had given up when it became obvious that he didn't really know what he was doing. "It's not like I subscribe to Witch Weekly," he had pointed out irritably. "And at Hogwarts we all wear uniforms." Nym had just shaken her head in resignation and taken over. He'd ended up buying several casual robes in varying colours, fabrics, styles, and cuts. School things, Tonks had said, he could get later when he went to pick up his new books for next term.
She'd then ordered him to Gringotts to change several galleons into muggle pounds – they were going into London. It was at about the point where Nym was asking Harry what his favourite stores or brands were when he made a near-fatal error – he told her that she had free reign.
"Are you sure you want to do that, Harry?" Nym had asked with a maniacal glint in her eye. Harry had ignored all the little red flags that look had caused to go up in his head and nodded.
This proved to be a mistake.
Nym had proceeded to drag him to what seemed to Harry like every store in London. Over the next few hours, Harry had grown to feel like a male, life-sized barbie, he'd tried on that many clothes for Nym's inspection and approval. By the time they got back to the Lair, Harry was the 'proud' owner of many pairs of jeans in varying colours and washes, a few pairs of chinos, numerous t-shirts both short and long-sleeved in all colours, several pairs of shorts, countless new socks and (to his intense embarrassment) boxers, a couple of hoodies, blazers and jackets for all weathers and seasons, and shoes and trainers to match it all.
He felt like he had run several marathons. Back to back. Uphill. In summer.
After a quick tea break in which they worked together to put all his new things away and packed up the few things Nym had picked out for herself (for which Harry had insisted on paying as a thank-you), they picked up groceries for the dinner Harry was hosting and returned to eat lunch while they waited for Nym's father to arrive.
Swallowing a bite of the third sandwich he was scarfing down, Harry studied Nym. She was back in her 'public form' with the same pink pixie cut that she'd sported when he first met her.
"Can I ask you a question?"
Nym looked up form her glass of lemonade.
"If I'm being a prat, feel free to smack me."
Nym was interested now. What could he ask that might offend her?
"It's just… I was wondering why you're not in your natural form."
Nym instantly looked chagrined. "Sorry. It's a force of habit. I'm not used to being in my base form except around my parents." She immediately changed.
"No! It's not that. I mean, you can look however you want, it doesn't matter to me. I just wondered why you don't wear it all the time I guess."
Nym looked down at her food and sighed. Harry was horrified. He hadn't meant to upset her!
"I'm sorry. Forget it, it was rude to ask."
"No, it's okay," she assured him with a forced smile. "I… having my gift is very useful, especially for my line of work. And it can be fun too, of course. I really am happy to have it. But it makes it hard to get to know people. Especially dating." She smiled at him wryly.
"I had a lot of boyfriends when I was at Hogwarts, Harry. A lot of boyfriends. But what I soon discovered was that it was not really me they were dating. It was the metamorph. Oh, things would start fine. And then after the first couple of dates, invariably," she grimaced, "he would ask me to change. At first it would just be for fun. I mean, if your friend had a cool gift or skill like that, who wouldn't? But then they'd ask me to look like someone else. Their best friends. My best friends. Teachers. I even got a request for an ex-girlfriend once. And they meant it to be in jest, just a joke, I guess. But after a while, it starts to wear at a girl. Why couldn't they just be happy with me as me? So I would break up with them and move on to the next. Over the years I changed less and less, even when my friends asked. I started wearing a different face all the time, as a sort of safety, I suppose. So that when I changed for them, I would know that I had never really given them myself to begin with."
Nym trailed off, staring at nothing.
"When I graduated and started at the auror academy, it was a chance for me to make a fresh start. I went only by my last name, another buffer, not to mention the nicknames I used to get with my given name were less than flattering. I always wore my 'public face', changing only for the job, or if I felt like it. I'm clumsy and cheerful and out-going by nature, so this was the only way to get my colleagues to take me seriously. It gave me a sort of intense attitude. I think that's why Moody liked me so much – when it came to work, I never joked around, and I always gave my all. I had something to prove, to myself if to no one else. That's something he respects. And that on its own helped a lot. People respect his opinion."
Harry stared at her. He had no idea that there was such a story behind her. Nym was always so upbeat, so easy going. It was hard to imagine that she'd been so mistreated. You certainly couldn't tell from looking – but he supposed that was the idea.
"I sort of get the opposite of that, I suppose," he said after a moment. "People see the Boy-Who-Lived, not who I actually am. They've already made up their minds about me before they've ever met me. It's like they've given me a 'public face', as you call it, and even if I want them to see the real one, I find I'm spending more time trying to correct them than anything else. So I've grown accustomed to just not caring. It's what my real friends think that counts."
He trailed off and they were both quiet for a time, before Harry turned to her with an embarrassed little grin.
"Want to know the reason I thought you changed?" he asked, intent on cheering her up.
Nym grinned back, almost in spite of herself. Good.
"I thought that you did it because you didn't want to stick out and make the other girls jealous."
Her brow furrowed in confusion, so he elaborated.
"It thought it was because you were too pretty."
"Get out of here!" she said, smiling broadly now.
"It's true," he replied and ducked under the grape she threw at him.
"You are so like Sirius," she said and reached out to ruffle his hair on her way to the sink with her plate.
As she filled up the sink with soapy water and set the dishes to washing themselves, Harry spoke up. "Hey, Nym?"
"Yeah, Harry?" she said without turning around. He paused for a moment until she looked at him.
He knew she understood that it was for more than just the shopping. She smiled a little violet-eyed smile and went back to washing. "Anything for you, little brother."
"As your little brother, I get official first dibs on beating up any jerks you meet, right?"
She threw suds at him.
"This is very good, Mr. Potter."
Professor McGonagall commented politely later that evening. She, Dumbledore, Ted, Aunt Andi, Nym, Remus, and Harry were crowded around Harry's dining table, eating the spaghetti Bolognese he had made with (or maybe despite) Nym's help. Her father had arrived earlier in the afternoon and had asked a ceaseless stream of questions as Harry cooked. Harry took a perverse pleasure in being able to whip up this meal almost without conscious thought – finally the Dursleys' treatment of him was paying off.
Aunt Andi had arrived next with a bouquet of flowers complete with vase ("Do you expect Sirius to have a vase here? No, I didn't think so either"). Remus had come soon after, toting Dobby and a towering chocolate cake. Dobby had taken one look at the place and started scrubbing and dusting; he was now contentedly humming to himself and washing dishes in the kitchen.
Finally, Dumbledore had appeared with a slightly perplexed Professor McGonagall, as though she was unsure what she was doing there. Each of them carried a bottle of wine (to celebrate Harry's introduction to adulthood Dumbledore had explained to his disapproving Deputy). He would be repeating this story for years, Harry thought as Nym filled his goblet to the brim – how Dumbledore tried to get him drunk the second he was legal. He was positive Mrs. Weasley would have words to say about this one, likely all of them loud, should she ever find out.
Harry smiled at his Transfiguration teacher.
"Potter-Black. And it's okay, Professor, you can act surprised."
Nym snickered as Professor McGonagall flushed lightly.
"I must say Harry, that it certainly has done a lot to soothe my worries about you living here all on your own," Aunt Andi said with a smile.
"Although don't think that that will stop her from popping in every chance she can get, Harry," Ted warned with a fond look at his wife. "She was just the same with Sirius."
"Well, someone had to make sure that his fridge was full. Honestly, how that man survived on butterbeer and pumpkin pasties is beyond me."
Remus smiled. "It really was a miracle. Lily used to say that Sirius would burn the water for tea if he didn't pay attention."
Harry sat back and basked in the contentment that his full stomach brought on. He grinned at Dobby when he brought out the cake.
"Thanks Dobby. That looks excellent."
Dobby beamed up at him. "Dobby is happy to be serving Harry Potter sir. Dobby remembers that Harry Potter sir likes it when he hears Professor Hagrid talking to Harry Potter sir's dogfather about his first birthday cake."
Harry smiled. Trust Dobby to remember something like that.
"Thanks a lot Dobby. And I really appreciate everything you're doing at Grimmauld Place."
"Dobby is happy to be cleaning Harry Potter sir's house. Harry Potter sir's dogfather's elf is not been doing a good job." He sniffed disdainfully. "Dobby fixes it for the Great and Noble Harry Potter."
With that he whisked the last of the dishes off the table and disappeared into the kitchen again.
Harry looked up to see Dumbledore twinkling over his glasses at him.
"He certainly has done wonders on Headquarters. And the absence of the portrait of Mrs. Black has left everyone very relieved. I must say, only good things have from your receiving the Headship so far, Harry."
"Yes, I'm sure your dogfather would be very pleased," interjected Nym with a laugh.
Harry grinned at her before catching Ted's eye who was looking at him and raising his eyebrows significantly in Dumbledore's direction.
"Um, yes, well Professor, that was one of the things I wanted to talk to you about. My being the Head of House Black, I mean."
"Yeah," said Harry nervously, glancing at the other adults around the table who had all faced him to pay attention. "See, Aunt Andi was explaining to me yesterday how I now have a little political clout because I'm the Head of an Ancient House."
"Indeed," Dumbledore agreed slowly, obviously wondering where this was going.
"And Uncle Ted was saying how one of the Order's goals right now is to discredit Fudge and get someone in office who we can work with, instead of against."
"Yes…" Dumbledore replied dubiously. Remus was watching him intently, he noticed, as was Professor McGonagall. He was getting more and more nervous as time went on. Gone were his confidence of yesterday and his thoughts of turning the Wizengamot. He was just a kid, what did he know of politics? He glanced over at Nym and saw her biting her lip, obviously anxious on his behalf. Suddenly his resolve stiffened. He wasn't about to let Fudge keep ordering things the way they were now and allow Nym to be killed off on some crackpot assignment of his with under-trained aurors. He turned back to Dumbledore, and though he still spoke somewhat tremulously, his gaze was steady.
"I plan on filing charges of child abuse against Dolores Umbridge."
Dumbledore sat back and leaned his chin on his linked fingers. "Hmm…" he sighed, deep in thought.
Remus had gone perfectly still at that pronouncement.
"What did she do to you, Harry?"
"Uhh…" Harry looked around at them all, suddenly embarrassed. This had been hard enough to say the first time to just Nym and Ted.
"She forced him to use a blood quill in detention, repeatedly," said Nym angrily. "And," she spat, "she attempted to use the cruciatus curse on him."
That was enough to snap Remus out of his thoughts.
"What!" he growled. "What do you mean, 'attempted'?"
"Not to mention she confessed to setting the dementors on Harry last summer," Ted added quietly.
"Dementors?" Aunt Andi put in a little wildly.
"Perhaps," Dumbledore said loudly, effectively quieting everyone down, "you should start at the beginning, Harry."
Harry, sheepish, relayed the tale.
"Why didn't you tell me, Harry," Professor McGonagall asked when he was finished, her voice full of pain as she examined the scars on the back of his hand.
"I couldn't," he replied quietly. "First of all, you had already warned me to control myself around her. It was my own fault I was in there. And," he continued when she opened her mouth to protest, "And I could see what she was going to do to Trelawney and Hagrid. You were so outspoken against her already, I knew that if you protested my detentions you wouldn't last long. I wasn't about to give her the satisfaction of kicking you out."
"Harry, as your professor and especially as your head of house, it is my job to protect you from harm. Not the other way around."
Harry shook his head.
"I don't think you understand what it was like after you and Professor Dumbledore were gone. The students didn't know where to turn. It was horrible. I don't think any of us realized how much we rely on you being there, not just to keep us all in line, but because we know you'll back us up too."
Professor McGonagall was looking considerably mollified. She may have even been tearing up. "Well, thank you, Potter."
Harry grinned a little.
"You should have seen the Gryffindor common room after you got stunned. There was nearly a riot. The Creevy brothers suggested that we declare all-out mutiny on Umbridge and organize an attack to take-over the school. They were convinced that what with the DA, we were practically guaranteed Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw as allies."
Aunt Andi now looked quite amused. "From what I hear, the students are not to be underestimated. Thank goodness you stopped them, Harry." Harry coughed and looked down.
"Actually, I was named General."
Nym, Aunt Andi, and Remus all burst out laughing as Harry blushed. Dumbledore just twinkled at him.
"Thank goodness Miss Granger retained some common sense," Professor McGonagall guessed correctly, but Harry could see the corner of her mouth twitching. "Fudge would have had a field-day."
"That's what Hermione said," Harry said thoughtfully. He grinned. "Nice to know they've got your back though, huh?"
"Sirius would've loved it," Remus said wistfully. "Students banding together to declare war on the ministry – it would've been like a dream come true for him."
"Potter-Black. Harry." Professor McGonagall's face was so serious that Harry immediately gave her all of his attention. "I want you to promise me that if someone is hurting you like that again that you'll tell me about it."
"Alright," agreed Harry, a little taken aback by her vehemence.
"Your word, Harry. That you'll tell someone, if not me." She was staring him straight in the eye.
"I swear," he said solemnly.
She continued to examine his face intently before nodding and sitting back in apparent satisfaction that he would do as he said.
Dumbledore stepped back into the conversation.
"Back to the matter at hand – Ted, do you think you can get her?"
Ted nodded seriously. "I think so, Albus. There are witnesses to the confession, the use of veritaserum, the approval of whipping, and the attempted unforgiveable, and Harry has scars as evidence of the torture device – and I believe he mentioned that another boy suffered the same fate?"
Harry nodded in the affirmative.
"If I get a few testimonies we have enough to put Umbridge away for a long time."
"This is excellent news. As Fudge's Senior Undersecretary, this will be a serious blow to his image. She was removed from her position of High Inquisitor and Headmistress of course, and her Educational Decrees have all been revoked to appease the public, but if we can actually convict her, perhaps the wizarding world will be alerted to how very far their Ministry has fallen… If it is alright with you Harry, I would like to arrange an Order meeting for tomorrow evening to explain these developments and discuss any political ramifications this may have."
He looked at Harry seriously. "Harry, I would like you to attend. I was actually planning on asking you if you'd like to join the Order. For obvious reasons, I now feel it essential that you have all the information possible."
Harry knew he was talking about his new knowledge of the role he'd have to play in the war.
"They won't like it, Professor," he said. It was true – many Order members (some more vocal than others) would object to his joining at such a young age.
"That," replied Dumbledore lightly, "is their business."
"Then I'd be honoured, sir," said Harry with feeling, and shook Dumbledore's hand, all of a sudden feeling every inch the adult he now was.
"Then let me be the first to welcome you, Harry, to the Order of the Phoenix."
With an exaggerated CRACK Harry appeared in the little park in front of Grimmauld Place, clutching Aunt Andi's arm.
"I think I'm getting more used to that," he commented idly to no one in particular as they and Ted approached the house so few could see. A cheerful ring on the doorbell later and Remus let them in. "Oh good, we're just about to start."
"Are Ron and Ginny here?" asked Harry eagerly as they made their way down to the kitchen (passing the now empty space of curtain-framed wall where Mrs. Black had once hung).
"No, sorry Harry. I think Molly was worried that they were becoming too involved in everythnig after what happened in June and she decided that the best way to distance them from it all was to keep them at home - that, and their wards have been significatnly upgraded since Bill came home."
Harry was disappointed. With all the changes that had happened recently, he had hoped to be able to talk to them in person, but it looked like that wasn't going to happen.
They were among the last to enter the now crowded kitchen; only Nym and Kingsley slipped in behind them, Nym tipping him a wink as she settled against the door just as Dumbledore cleared his throat. The low rumbling of many voices died down as all turned their attention to him.
"Good evening. Thank you all for coming on such short notice. We have several exciting new developments to announce, but first, let us hear what news there is to report. Severus, would you care to start us off?"
Snape stepped out of the shadows on Dumbledore's left and spoke without further introduction.
"The Dark Lord is injured. It seems that the battle at the Department of Mysteries took a great toll on him and he remains reclused in solitude, recovering from wounds unknown. He has ordered me to brew great batches of pepper-up potion, invigoration draught, dreamless sleep, and pain relievers of the greatest strengths. For the moment, he has been weakened, which is why there have been no large-scale attacks since the revelation of his return to the public and ministry. He does not wish to appear weak, however, which is the reason for the numerous small attacks on muggle towns and random dementor feastings. He has them breeding," Snape sneered. "And his negotiations with the giant clans and werewolf packs proceed. As of yet, the vampire covens have chosen not to join him and the goblin nation remains neutral. Much to our good fortune," he finished and slunk back into the shadows once more.
Dumbledore went around the group asking of more news. Remus reported to be making very little headway with the werewolves - unless the ministry loosened its hold and restrictions on their ability to be employed and freedom of movement, he said he foresaw little hope that many would turn away from Greyback (the head of the werewolves supporting Voldemort).
Hagrid, too, had no good news about the giants. Their movements indicated that they were coordinating with Voldemort and may soon involve themselves in attacks.
Bill spoke up next from where he sat next to Fleur, to Harry's surprise and pleasure - he'd forgotten that they were dating. Bill reported that his discussions with Ragnok, leader of the goblin nation, while not going swimmingly, could be going much worse. It seemed that they had decided that not choosing a side was the safest bet in this most precarious of times. They were not fond of the ministry, but nor did they trust Voldemort. Harry silently applauded their decision; while it would've been nice to have them on their side, obviously, this seemed the wisest course in the interest of their people, and it could be useful to have a neutral third party.
Kingsley spoke on behalf of the aurors, saying that there had been no change and Amelia Bones (head of the DMLE) and Rufus Scrimgeour (head of the auror department) were as frustrated as ever with Fudge's micro-management. The newest of their lame assignments was to tail known werewolves. Nym announced somewhat smugly that she had been assigned to Remus and was therefore practically open for Order assignments.
There was not much to report from many of the others, though Arthur Weasley announced that he'd been promoted to Head of the new Department for the Detection and Control of Dark Objects. His ears flushed red with embarrassment at the applause he received while his wife beamed proudly.
Emmeline Vance announced that she thought she may have found a possible new member in Augusta Longbottom, whom many agreed would be a formidable addition, though none mentoined Neville, to Harry's chagrin. Elphias Doge also suggested the Diggorys, although some thought that Amos Diggory might be too loyal to the ministry. Dedalus Diggle put forth Oddment Lovegood's name - it would be useful to have a firm ally in the press, but his ability to keep secrets was considered suspect, and though neither names were dismissed outright, it was decided that they would need further consideration.
Up until now, Harry had remained quiet and unnoticed at Aunt Andi's shoulder with Nym just to his left and Remus seated in front. Now that the room had fallen silent again, Dumbledore glanced at him briefly, as though to prepare him, then retook the floor.
"As I said, there is rather exciting news, courtesy of our newest addition-" he waited for the rumble of surprise to quiet before he continued, "our own Harry Potter-Black."
The pandemonium that followed this announcement was quite impressive, to say the least. Harry watched silently as Molly Weasley errupted ("Albus, how can you allow this! He's too young!"), as Snape sneered at him from across the room, as Fred and George, who had remained shockingly quiet up until now, claimed that it was not fair, they'd had to wait 'til they were out of school, and many brows raised in surprise or furrowed in doubt. Moody, he noticed, was watching him with his fake eye while his real one was trained on Dumbledore.
"I thought it was too dangerous for him to know anything, Albus? Because of his... connection?"
"Harry, have you had any dreams, visions, scar pains since the battle?" Most voices were silenced or shushed by their neighbours as all eyes turned to hear Harry's answer.
"That means little," Snape interjected in hard tones. "The Dark Lord used this connection once, he can use it again."
"I don't believe he will," Dumbledore said lightly. When Snape looked unconvinced, he continued.
"I would guess that he would be too afraid."
"Afraid?Of Potter? Surely not, Headmaster."
"I am quite certain. You see, it was not the battle with me that wore Voldemort down - no, I believe it was his exchange with Harry just before his flight from the ministry that now leaves him so grievously wounded. He will not risk such a mistake again."
This was news to Harry, too, and while a little flattered, he was more relieved than anything. The experience had not been fun for him either.
Some Order members seemed to be reconsidering him at Dumbledore's words. Molly Weasley, it seemed, was not one of them.
"It doesn't matter, he's still a child! Albus, I cannot believe that you approve of this!"
"I'm not, actually, Mrs. Weasley," Harry told her quietly. He was becoming quite irritated with everyone talking about him as though he wasn't standing right there. "I'm not a child, I mean. I was declared a legal adult as of two days ago."
Silence met this revelation, before Fred and George broke it simultaneously. "What?"
"Indeed," Dumbledore carried on. "When Harry was adopted by Sirius, he was made Heir to the Headship of the House of Black. Because of this, he is now legally considered to be of age. A most convenient side effect of the adoption that no doubt caused his godfather great glee," he finished with his trademark twinkle.
"Albus he is not yet sixteen! I would not let Ron or Ginny anywhere near all of this-"
"My dear Molly, if you will allow me to explain, I will give you numerous reasons for allowing Harry to join," Dumbledore cut her off. She huffed into silence and Harry, who was distraught to see that he was causing her to be upset, was grateful to feel Aunt Andi's hand on his shoulder.
"The first, that as a legal, consenting adult, it is up to him. What you decide for your own children is up to you, but this is ultimately Harry's choice. The second is that he is, and will continue to be, central to this war effort and we cannot ask that of him and expect to give nothing in return. The third, that we are currently hiding in the basement of his house." At this several order members looked down, chastised. "And last, but most ceratinly not least, he has made us an offer of his aid which could very well turn the war in our favour."
There was a short silence in which Harry contemplated what Dumbledore had said. He felt quite proud to be so defended.
Kingsley rumbled in his deep, soothing voice, "What exactly is he offering?"
Everyone tunred to look at Harry again where he leaned against the wall.
"I'm going public against Fudge," he answered simply.
"And how is that, supposed to help us, Potter?" Snape spat out.
"It's Potter-Black," Harry corrected him and spotted Nym out of the corner of his eye stuffing her fist in her mouth to keep from laughing. "And as I'm sure you are aware, I'm something of a known public figure."
Remus chuckled. "Known and loved."
"For the moment," Harry tempered. "Which means that this is the ideal time to act. That, and with Voldemort (wince) not at his best and many of the known Death Eaters imprisoned, their public base isn't that organized. On top of that, confidence in Fudge's abilities are low."
"And what do you plan to do? Stroll into the Ministry and declare a coup d'état?" Snape asked sarcastically, garnering him a few glares, Professor McGonagall's being the most pronounced.
"Not quite," Harry continued undaunted. He refused to let Snape get to him anymore. He was above that. He wouldn't let it bother him the way it had Sirius. "I'm actually filing charges against Umbridge."
Shock filled the room once more and was once more broken by the Weasley twins. "Excellent! What charges Harry?"
Harry looked to Ted, who took over with the legalese. "Attempt of an unforgivable, prolonged used of a torture device on a minor, assault with dementors... oh, and illegal use of a controlled substance against a minor, and approval for the use of toture devices as corporal punishment on minors. With the witnesses, it'll be a pretty tight case."
This, of couse, led to a whole plethora of other questions about what happened, which Harry answered unhappily, though Nym's supporting hand at his lower back prevented him from objecting outright.
Finally, the discussoin turned to possible ministers who might replace Fudge, assuming this scheme worked, most of whom Harry had not heard of. As the meeting came to a close and people started trickling out, Harry realized that they had accepted him. He was finally a part of the Order! No more learning things second hand and making guesses - he was a genuine member and he could now start making a real difference.
Molly came up to him befoere leaving. "Harry, dear, I hope you know that I only want to keep you safe."
"I know, Mrs. Weasley. Thanks. Tell Ron and Ginny 'hi' from me, okay? I'll owl them tomorrow explaining everything."
She patted his cheek with a worried sigh and left with her husband and eldest son. Fleur gave Harry a little wave and a smile (which caused the three nearest men to lose track of what they were doing and walk into walls). Harry returned the gesture and she followed Bill.
The twins each pounded him on the shoulder as they left. Apparently, they were over it and were now excited at the prospect of exacting vengeance on Umbridge. "You should've told us, Harry! We would've fixed her up for you," one twin exclaimed (Harry thought it was Fred).
"Harry's way is more permanent though," pointed out the other (George?).
"Too true. Very devious, Harry. You do us proud. Hm, maybe we ought to hire Harry onto our inventions team as a consultant? Speaking of which, you should come by the shop sometime!" He leaned in to whisper. "See where your money's going!"
Harry grinned at them and promised he would stop by as soon as he could. With a nod to Dumbledore and a smile for McGonagall and Remus, Harry was ready to go. He left with Ted and Aunt Andi, exhausted but overall satisfied, to go back home.
Home, he was home.
The next morning found Harry up bright and early (a little too early if the stiffness in his limbs was anything to go by), working his way through a gargantuan bowl of oatmeal while writing two letters for Hedwig to deliver – one to Ron and one to Hermione explaining what had occurred in the past three days. Ron's letter contained briefs of all the major points while commiserating that Mrs. Weasley wouldn't let him join the Order too, while Hermione's went into the intimate legal details of the situation and finished by assuring her that he had many people to help him deal with everything and that Professor McGonagall had given him a tongue-lashing about the Umbridge thing.
Harry found that while his letters put everything in a fairly positive light, he still was feeling rather as though he had just stepped off a hyper-speed merry-go-round. So much had happened in the past few days and although some of it was fantastically, mind-blowingly amazing (like being able to use magic, leaving the Dursleys and gaining a family), in the end he was still down one godfather, he would be appearing in court quite shortly (he quickly added post-scripts to both letters warning his friends that Ted would asking them some questions and instructing them to answer them honestly and in full), and he still had to kill Voldemort.
Harry had not, of course, forgotten the prophecy – in fact, it had been sitting in the back of his mind like a constant, niggling shadow which had a tendency to come out and poke him whenever there was no one around. Now, for instance. Funny, it was quite similar to the constant twinge reminding him that Sirius was not there.
Harry realized now that he looked at it so objectively that his grief over Sirius and the shock of hearing the prophecy had become all mixed up in his head – not surprising given that he had lost one and heard the other within minutes of each other. But looking back, he discovered that the prophecy shouldn't really have been that much of a shock at all. Of course, it was a little frightening to have an outside source basically guarantee he would have to kill Voldemort or die, but this was not a fact that was entirely new to him.
He'd known it for a long time, he realized. Ever since he'd entered the wizarding world, ever since he had told Hermione and Ron in the third floor corridor that he was, without doubt, going after Voldemort, that it didn't matter who won the House Cup if Voldemort survived, that he was essentially ready to give up his life if it meant taking Voldemort with him. And he also realized that from the tender age of eleven, both Ron and Hermione were ready to go with him, ready to deny everyone and everything they wanted, to stand next to him, to be by his side in that fight.
And suddenly, his task did not seem quite so daunting. Perhaps Dumbledore was right. Perhaps his heart would save him after all.
This was perhaps the most moving thought he had ever had and he suddenly wanted desperately to be able to see them, to thank them. As it was, he added a post-post-script to each letter.
Also, I know I don't usually say it, but I'm really glad that you guys are my friends. And I think we can do it – I really think we can beat him. So thanks for always having my back. I wouldn't trust it with anyone else.
It wasn't quite as elegant as he might've liked, but the essential feeling was there. He quickly rolled them up and handed them to Hedwig who flew out the window after he stroked her feathers a few times. He was just putting away his dishes (washed by magic in an instant, he thought with glee) when the doorbell rang.
"You know, if you don't watch it, this is going to become a habit," Harry said jokingly when he opened the door.
Nym just snorted as she pushed past him.
"I swear, there is not a single type of weather that I don't have an outfit for – I'm set."
"It's not my choice, actually. I'm tailing Remus, and he came here."
"Where is he then?"
CRACK. Remus appeared out of thin air on Harry's stoop.
"Sorry, Dobby was asking whether it was safe to go upstairs now."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "Why wouldn't it be safe?"
"Buckbeak used to be there, but Hagrid took him back yesterday – I think he was pleased to leave."
"Oh. Good." Harry had completely forgotten about the rogue hippogriff and was glad Hagrid was looking after him again – he was sure it would make them both happy.
"So what's up?"
"We're here to help you prepare."
"Prepare for what?"
"Your first appearance in the Wizengamot; Ted's got an audience tomorrow, so you may as well go in with him. It's going to be grand."
Harry and Ted walked into the great room where the Wizengamot sat to discuss issues of state. Its high ceiling was similar to that in the Great Hall at Hogwarts in that it appeared like the sky outside – today was overcast, but bright and dry. Harry pondered briefly which was fashioned after the other, then quickly decided that Hogwarts' must have come first.
The room was circular and the seats were set about five deep; Harry estimated that there were about 250 in total. Above them were tiered benches, where Harry assumed the public could come and watch. There were only two people there now, a grey-haired wizard who appeared to be asleep, and a young make-up covered witch who looked like she wished she was at this hour of the morning. As today was just a regular day in the Wizengamot, all the wizards were wearing regular robes – formal, but not too fancy. Still, he was grateful that Nym had forced him to wear one of his new robes, a dark blue one that was cut close at the waist over his white shirt and black pants from his Hogwarts uniform.
Not all the seats were filled – Remus had explained yesterday that only the fifty witches and wizards who were on the Judicial Council had to attend everyday – the rest could come and go as they pleased and were only required to attend twice a year at the legislative assemblies, one each in summer and winter. This year's summer session was scheduled for the 22nd of July.
"This is as far as I can go, Harry," Ted was saying. "You go sit up in the seats with the rest and I'm to go down to the center to present the issue."
"I still can't believe that this has to go through the full Wizengamot. Shouldn't this be handled by the DMLE or the auror's office or something?"
"That's Fudge for you. This way, he can keep tabs on all the minute goings-on. Besides, I think that it would have had to go through the Wizengamot anyway. We are accusing a high ministry official of some pretty serious crimes," he said with relish. Harry thought he was having way too much fun. "I'll see you in a few minutes. You'd best announce yourself to the head of the Judicial Council. Good luck."
"You too," Harry replied, and watched as Ted stepped down to join the line of witches and wizards with matters to put before the Council, most of whom appeared to be other barristers like himself, but with the occasional self-represented mixed in.
Harry stepped up into one of the empty seats near the front and sat down, waiting for the Judicial Council to organize themselves and settle in. After a few minutes, a stooped, elderly wizard with enormous glasses that amplified his eyes making them look much too big proportionate to his face, stood and addressed all assembled.
"Good morning. Let's bring to session the queries put before the Wizengamot's Judicial Council on this the fifth of July of the year 1996. Before we begin, is there anything that the members of the Wizengamot would like to address?" The little man made a scan of those present.
Harry stood quickly and cleared his throat.
"Yes?" The man peered over at Harry in obvious curiosity. "Yes, young man, what is it? I say, I don't recall seeing you here before."
"Ah, no, sir. I just though I'd introduce myself." Harry had been strictly trained by Remus, Nym, and Ted on precisely what he was to say. "My name is Harry James Potter-Black and I am here representing the interests of House Black as its rightful Head."
There was an outbreak of furious whispering as the Wizengamot members scurried over to one another's seats to comment on this new development. Harry thought idly that they looked rather like a bunch of sixth grade school girls.
"Are you really?" The council head seemed intrigued by the development, but not in the least bit flustered. "How fascinating. And when did you come into the Headship, if I may ask?"
"On Monday, sir. It was passed to me by my late godfather, Sirius Black. He was killed when fighting the Death Eaters in the Ministry three weeks ago," Harry finished determinedly, and was extremely proud when his voice didn't break.
"Yes, indeed. And you bear the ring, then?"
Harry held up his right hand in answer, the Black family crest shining proudly on his middle finger. Harry noticed now that every member of the Wizengamot bore a similar ring, though on their index. The council head peered over his glasses across the room once again, and though Harry was sure he could not possibly see it properly from way over there, the man seemed satisfied.
"Yes, very good, very good. Well, welcome to the Wizengamot Lord Baron Black, and congratulations on your coming-of-age."
"Thank you, sir," Harry replied and sat back down amidst the continuous whisperings of his neighbours.
"Right. Well, if there's nothing else?" The head of the Council made another quick sweep, and when no one put themselves forward, he picked up a small mallet and banged it on his desk. "Then as the Head of the Judicial Council of the Wizengamot, I, Baron Lionel Touareg III, hereby bring this session to order."
The morning passed as one by one the people brought matters before the Wizengamot and the council either made a ruling right there or decided it was worth considering further in which case a trial date was set. Harry found it all incredibly dull and was just wondering what people did for lunch around here, when the little witch who was trying to get a restraining order put on her neighbour's niffler was dismissed (much to her displeasure which she displayed remorselessly with a rude hand gesture upon exiting, which shocked Harry so much that he had to cover up a snort of laughter), and Ted stepped forward.
Baron Touareg looked down at a piece of parchment before him.
"The council recognizes Theodore (Harry bit back a chuckle at Ted's grimace) Tonks of Tonks and Tonks Barristers. What can we do for you today, Mr. Tonks?"
"I am here representing Harry James Potter-Black. My client wishes to press charges of child abuse against one Dolores Jane Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister, specifically charges of intent to perform an Unforgivable curse, prolonged use of a torture device on a minor, approval for the use of torture devices as corporal punishment on minors, illegal use of the controlled substance veritaserum on a minor, and assault with dementors."
"Really." Harry was sure he was not imagining the tone of delight in Baron Touareg's voice. "Well, well that will definitely need looking into. May I see your case files please?"
Ted stepped forward and handed him several sheafs of parchment.
"Hm, yes, well, very impressive. And such a witness list! My goodness. This will need due consideration, to be sure. Shall we set the trial date for, can we say, one week from today? Yes, we can definitely make room. Fabulous. Alright then. Yes, excellent. See you next week! Yes. Well, I think that concludes today's session – we shall continue after a recess with the trial of Willy Widdershins and his fifth charge of muggle-baiting – perhaps this time, he'll finally get what's coming to him. Thank you." He sat back in his chair with a very satisfied look on his face.
Harry stood quickly and left the room to escape the stares and whispers that had begun once again. He met Ted at the door. He was wearing an enormous smile and seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. He threw an enormous arm over Harry's shoulders.
"I adore throwing stuff in the Ministry's face," he sighed happily. "Come on. Let's get out of here before the press hits."
So they vamoosed, by subway at Harry's request. It was refreshing, he thought, to not be thrown around like a pinball. Oh, if only he knew.
Harry woke to a tap-tapping noise.
With a groan, he rolled over and pulled the covers over his head. He knew that he should get up, that Aunt Petunia would be angry and he wouldn't get breakfast if he didn't, but he was so tired, and his whole body ached.
Tap. Tap. Tap-tap.
"Alright, alright, I'm coming," Harry called resignedly and hauled himself off the bed. His brain seemed to be working extremely slowly. He hoped that that changed by the time he started the cooker for breakfast. Dimly, he took stock of himself: t-shirt, white; sweatpants, grey; socks, white; hair, disaster.
In the dark, he stumbled his way to the door. Wait. Where was he?
Harry followed the mysterious noise in ever-growing confusion. He came to another door. How bizarre. The continuous tapping seemed to be coming from the other side. Slowly, he fumbled with the doorknob and eventually got it open, blinking at the light. A dark figure stood before him, and though he could see little while his eyes adjusted, he knew straight away that this was not his Aunt Petunia. He told the figure as much.
"No, I'm not," the figure agreed in a friendly way, and Harry heard a funny snorting noise coming from behind it, combined with a pleasant tinkling. His eyes were now adjusted enough that he could see the figure's hair was red. Red hair – Ron had red hair! But…
"You're not Ron, either. Ron's taller."
"Only by an inch and a half," the figure said, sounding a little defensive.
"Harry, were you doing to let us in or not?"
Harry turned to the snorting figure. It was smaller, and still blurry, but Harry knew only one person with hair that pink.
"Nym? What are you doing here? What time is it?"
"Why don't we go inside and talk about it? And you may want to start by putting your glasses on."
"Oh, right," said Harry and stepped back to let them in. He looked around blearily and spotted his wand lying on the table. It felt a little small in his hand, but this seemed a minor detail, and he decided not to worry about it.
"Glasses," he mumbled and pointed in the direction of his bedroom. His glasses came whizzing from his bedside table into his waiting hand. He put them on and looked around.
Nym, Bill Weasley, and Fleur Delacour (who Harry had not even noticed come in) were all standing around his living room area, looking at him in amusement.
Harry thought for a moment, then said "tea" very firmly and wiggled his wand in the direction of the kitchen. He hoped it would help soothe his aching bones.
The fixings for tea came zooming over and set themselves neatly on the coffee table. Harry poured out four cups (must be polite, guests you know), grabbed one, sank back into the pillows of the nearest armchair with another groan, and then turned to the others. They were all staring at him in varying stages of shock.
"Since when can you do wandless magic?" Bill asked, flabbergasted.
"What do you mean, wandless?"
"I mean, you just did controlled magic without using a wand."
"No, I didn't. My wand's right here, see?" Harry was not feeling any less groggy. Although the aches seemed to be fading slightly with movement. He sipped more tea. He stretched.
"'Arry, zat eez a pencil," Fleur said patiently.
Harry frowned and looked down at the smooth rod in his hand. Good heavens. She was right.
"Well, I meant it to be my wand," he said, as though that cleared the matter right up. Sip tea. Stretch.
"Is he always this confused in the mornings?" Bill's voice was amused again.
"No, he's normally really chipper actually," Nym replied. "Mind you, I've never woken him at six o'clock before."
Harry groaned. The tea had woken him up enough to know what that meant.
"May I ask why you are here at six in the morning? Don't get me wrong, you're always welcome to drop by, I'm just usually better when I've slept properly. Why am I so tired these days anyways? And so sore?" He stretched again.
"Maybe it's because of the blooding," Nym suggested thoughtfully. "You absorbed a lot magic and it's still being integrated into your body."
"That's probably it," Harry agreed, standing up to brace himself against the wall so he could better stretch out his calf muscles. "I've slept solidly for ten hours every night since it happened, and I always wake up a little confused and achy, but never on this scale."
"Growing pains," said three voices knowingly.
Harry turned back to the room, grinning. "You guys taking lessons from Fred and George, now?"
"I used to get them when I was testing the limits of my morphing abilities as a kid," Nym explained.
"All veela go t'rough a period of intenze growt' when zey reach magical maturité," Fleur said in her throaty voice.
They both turned to Bill.
"Uh, I just grew really fast, I guess. Ron gets them too."
"Huh. Speaking of Ron, do you guys want breakfast? I'm starving."
They all made their way into the kitchen and Bill answered Harry's first question while Harry made them all eggs, bacon and toast.
"Dumbledore owled me and asked if I would upgrade the wards on this place. It takes a long time if the wards are elaborate, which they nearly always are when blood is involved. The ones at Headquarters, for example, were so deeply rooted and complicated that it was easier to just add the Fidelius Charm to them than anything else. So Sirius helped alter them to allow entry to anyone the Secret Keeper (i.e. Dumbledore) approved of, so long as the Head approved Dumbledore. That on its own was so complex that it took weeks to set up. Anyway, I figured these would take all day, if not all weekend and I wanted to get a headstart. That's why we're here so early."
"Yeah, and he woke me up, too. Was all set to go and realized he didn't know the address," Nym said slyly and snickered at the pink-cheeked curse-breaker.
Harry grinned and looked at Fleur.
"I juzt came to watch," she said, shrugging.
While Fleur and Nym cleaned up, Harry showered and changed, his muscles feeling much better after being massaged by the hot spray, as well as waking him up thoroughly. Bill, meanwhile, was producing all sorts of odd shaped crystals that were inscribed with runes from a rucksack he'd brought. He was pacing about the room muttering under his breath and directing a magical tape-measure not unlike the one Ollivander used, but much longer, to measure seemingly random distances, like the door to the fireplace, the window over the sink to the center of the room, and oddly, the fridge to bathroom.
Harry found it all quite confusing and was sure that Hermione would have loved it. He resolved to owl her about it. All these runes and arithmetic seemed right up her alley.
"Are you interezted in being a curze-breaker also, 'Arry?" Fleur asked, noting his attention as she and Nym finished and joined him in watching Bill from the dining table with a fresh pot of tea.
"No, too academic for me," said Harry with a grin. "I think better on my feet. I was just thinking that Hermione would be incredibly jealous and that I should pay attention because she's sure to give me the Spanish Inquisition about it later." He laughed.
"What do you want to do after zchool?" Fleur asked interestedly.
"He wants to be an auror, like me," said Nym proudly.
"Really?" She looked surprised.
"Yeah, I work best under pressure, and I've always been better at the practical side of magic than at theory. What about you, how's Gringotts working out for you?"
Fleur grimaced. "Eet eez more to fill time zan anyt'ing elze," she said. "My Eenglish eez eemproving, but I do not want to work at a dezk for goblinz my 'ole life."
"What would you do then?"
"I would be a curze-breaker also. But until my Eenglish eez good enough, I am ztuck pushing paperz." She brightened slightly. "Until zen, I follow Bil around and learn az much az I can."
Bill was now setting the crystals in different corners of the room.
"Are you living together, then?" asked Nym.
"Oui." Fleur seemed uncertain for the first time. "I am living wit' 'is famille."
Nym tactfully left the subject alone.
A few minutes later, Bill called Harry over to the front door.
"I'm going to attune the wards to you, so that you can add and subtract people from them. I have to do this before I start tying them in to the existing blood wards, which are very strong by the way. The Blacks really are an ancient line. It'll take me all afternoon and most of tomorrow to do it."
"Anyway," he shook his hair out of his eyes (still long enough for a ponytail) and started murmuring in Latin while alternately tapping his wand against Harry's chest and the center of the door. He repeated the process at the fireplace.
"There," he said when he'd finished. "Now, Harry, all you need to do to let someone past your wards is let them in the font door, as usual, like we did this morning. But on top of that, you can now give people permission to apparate in and out. You can also add a password to the fire, so not just anyone can call or floo, they have to know the address, and have the password to get through."
"Let's say you want to add Tonks." He called her over. "Now you just tap the center of the door and say 'Adaugeo permission ut', and then say the person's name and then they can apparate in and out. Harry immediately added all three of them. Bill and Fleur looked slightly flattered.
"Okay," Bill continued, "now for controlling your floo. Repeat after me, 'Servo porta ut the Lair per', and now add a password."
Harry did so, thought for a second, then grinned hugely, said 'gobstoppers', and absolutely collapsed with laughter. He refused to explain beyond saying, "ask Dumbledore," and killing himself laughing again.
Declaring him insane due to intense hunger, Nym suggested they break for lunch.
After soup and some sandwiches, Bill continued with Fleur's help – he said that the set-up was tricky and tying them together would be extremely advanced, but the middle stages just needed lots of power, so she could help with that and gain some experience.
Harry hadn't realized how advance of a curse breaker Bill was, but he supposed that with him being so much older (he was about eight or nine years older than Ron, Harry guessed, so twenty-four or twenty-five), he had many years of experience out of school. And he knew that Bill would have advanced quickly – one did not make Head Boy for nothing.
So Fleur chattered on about the apprenticeship program she belonged to with Gringotts and how she decided to stay in England to improve her English so that her options would more open for job opportunities later, but how this meant that she'd spent a year doing paperwork and learning the theory of the work and becoming familiar with the administration and process, but wouldn't start with any actual projects until this fall.
Every once in a while, Bill would call her and she would help with a simple incantation and return slightly drained to the table and Nym would fill up the air to give her a break with talk of the intensity of the auror training program and how she understood what Fleur must feel, like you weren't really getting anywhere, but that without it, you really wouldn't be any use at all, so to just tough it out and she'd get through fine.
Harry paid close attention to both women and considered for the first time that there might actually be a life for him after school and the war and everything. And he became more certain than ever that being an auror was the right choice, because what better to do with one's life than what you were best at?
They both also sounded like they were determined to get all the way through on their own merit, Fleur especially (although that may have been because Nym had already succeeded). And he realized that that was something he desired also, and strongly. It was like the sorting hat had said. He didn't want to just be a name, he wanted to have achievements to that name, that outshone that name even.
And he resolved right then and there to work extremely hard on his NEWTS so there would be no doubt that he'd floated through on his name. Professor McGonagall had said that she would see him become an auror if it was the last thing she did, and by Merlin, he was going to make sure he didn't let her down. He wouldn't just scrape by. He would fly through.
A knock on the door interrupted Harry's heart-felt thoughts and, being the only one who could, he got up to answer it. A tall wizard with a neat little brown beard was there dressed in sliver robes with a white G on the chest.
"Lord Baron Potter-Black?"
"So they say," said Harry as he heard Nym come up behind him.
"I'm a Gringotts employee; I've got a package that you asked to be delivered?"
"Wha- oh yeah! Excellent, I completely forgot."
"Where would you like it, sir?"
"Um… could you just leave it along the side of the house here?"
"Sure thing, govn'a."
The wizard pulled a tiny box out of his pocket and Harry and the others followed him down the steps to the side of the house. There, the man place the box on the ground, tapped it once with his wand, and stepped well back.
The box began to swell and swell until it reached approximately the size large enough to house a horse. The wizard stepped forward and opened the latch on the side. One whole side of the box swung forward on hinges and he rolled out Sirius' shiny bike. He went back inside briefly and returned with the helmets, jacket, and gloves. These he placed on the seat, then reshrunk the box and stepped back for Harry to inspect it all.
"It's perfect, thanks very much."
"No trouble at all, govn'a. On behalf of Gringotts, I wish you all good fortune and good day."
With that, he popped away.
"Harry, this is excellent, where did you get this?" Bill asked, inspecting the bike from all angles with an excited gleam in his eyes.
"Sirius left it to me," Harry said, equally ecstatic.
"Do you know 'ow to ride?" Fleur asked with interest. Harry remembered that she had like Bill's earring and ponytail and almost snorted at the thought. He'd have to let Bill borrow it sometime.
"Nope, but I plan on learning," Harry replied. "I can't wait to fly it."
"It flies?" asked Bill, startled. "Dad'll go wild when he finds out."
"Yeah, I remember riding it," Harry said without thinking
"When did you get a chance? My mum never let me anywhere near it when I was a kid!" Nym cried.
"Oh… it was when I was a baby. When Hagrid picked me up from my parents' house."
"You remember zat far back?" Fleur asked, surprised. Bill, too, was looking intrigued. Nym, however, suddenly got a knowing expression on her face.
"Just the one night," said Harry uncomfortably, running his hand though his hair and making it stick up everywhere.
"Hey Harry, I think I might know how to get you some lessons," Nym said swiftly.
"Yeah, another auror I know, Riley Savage, he owns a bike. I think I might be able to arrange something."
"Awesome," said Harry, looking back at the bike. Nym went off to borrow Hedwig and Bill and Fleur went back to the wards, but Harry sat for a long time, staring at the bike and clutching Sirius' gloves tightly in his hand.
At dinner that night, conversation was eclectic.
"Hey Bill, you know how these are blood wards? Could anyone with Black blood get in?" "Well Harry, the Head has to open the house first, sort of like a safety for when Headships change hands. Once that's done, it depends how the wards were set up. This was Sirius' private residence, so they only recognized him. Headquarters' were adjusted with the Fidelius Charm like I said earlier. But the other houses, like if you opened Black Manor, probably would work that way."
"Hey Harry, Mum insists that you come over for dinner tomorrow. And Ron and Ginny have been dying to see you. They say you should come as soon as the wards are done." "I'd love to; I haven't seen them in ages. And tell your mum that she doesn't have to worry so much. Tell her to talk to Aunt Andi if she thinks I'm not eating right, she'll set her straight."
"Harry, I got a note back from Riley. He had to do some negotaiating, but he got four mornings off this week to teach you to ride your motorcycle and to apparate if you want, but you'll need to spend your afternoons helping out at the auror offices. What do you think?" "That's fantastic! I can't wait, and I'd love to help at the auror offices anyway."
Remus dropped by.
"I'm sorry to say that I'm going on a mission for Dumbledore. To spend some time with my own kind, if you will, gathering intel and trying to convert. I don't know what use it'll be, but I just wanted to say that I'll be out of touch for a few days, and good luck at the trial if I don't get back in time." "Thanks. Here, I'll add you to the wards. And the password to the fire is 'gobstoppers'." Thank you, Harry. Have you seen today's paper, by the way?" "Not yet, haven't had the chance." "You should take a look, it's quite good. Anyway, good luck with the bike, Sirius would be thrilled that you're riding it. I'm not sure what Lily would think, but that's what a godfather's for, right?" "Stay safe, Moony."
"I guess this means I can make it in to work this week to watch your lessons, Harry. I can say Remus is ill. That way all I have to do is check on the poor bedridden chap a couple times a day and I'm set. I'll say I've got alarm charms on him." "Cool, thanks Nym." "I want to know exactly what Riley promised you'd do for the office before I let you go in there on your own."
"Goodnight then. You'd best go to bed early, Harry, because we'll be up again same time tomorrow and we don't want you all confused again." "Good idea." "I don't think I'll join you. I need my sleep. I'll come pick you up on Monday at ten to eight Harry." "Night Nym. See you guys."
And with that, Harry fell back into his pillows, very much looking forward to the coming week, despite the trial lurking at its end.
Harry woke well before Bill and Fleur were to arrive the next morning. A quick bath got rid of any lingering soreness and disorientation, but he had slept long and deeply, so the effects were not that bad to begin with. He noticed that he was getting low on some things as he was making breakfast, and resolved to stock back up soon. Remembering Remus' comment yesterday about the paper, Harry fetched it from where he'd thrown it yesterday on the coffee table and sat down to read. It became apparent quite quickly exactly what Remus was talking about.
HARRY POTTER ACCUSES UMBRIDGE
Former Headmistress on Trial for Child Abuse
HARRY POTTER ON THE WIZENGAMOT
An Adult at Fifteen
SIRIUS BLACK DIES... FIGHTING DEATH EATERS?
He Never Had a Trial! What the Ministry Doesn't Want Us to Know
HARRY POTTER… OR IS IT BLACK?
The Lord Baron Has Taken a New Name
"Good grief," Harry muttered. It seemed that the witch in the public seating at the Wizengamot had hit the jackpot of her career. What he found odd, though, was how accurately it was all reported. Of course, there was some embellishment and a good deal of drama, but the speculations were kept to a minimum, to Harry's shocked pleasure. He checked the name on the articles, and then did a double take. He couldn't believe he hadn't recognized her (all the make up, no doubt). Rita Skeeter was back, and with a bang.
Harry couldn't believe that she was being so good about everything. Then again, he mused, she couldn't do any less or Hermione would have her hide. Now that he read them thoroughly, he had to admit that they were quite well written.
He had to wonder, though. Why was the Prophet printing this? Just last year, they'd done nothing but what Fudge had told them… Then Rita's words came back to him, "The Prophet exists to sell itself…" If that was true, and Harry was quite sure it was (after all, who would know better than Rita), with Fudge's reputation in question and Harry's on the rise, this made perfect sense. They would help get Fudge out and all people would remember is that they helped to expose the corruption for what it was. And this was Rita's ticket back into good graces with the press. Harry made a mental note to thank Hermione for being such a genius the next time he wrote her.
There was a whirl of flames and air and Fleur stepped delicately out of his fireplace.
"Good morning, 'Arry,"
"Good morning. Tea?"
With another rush, Bill appeared, brushing ash off his clothes.
"Hey Harry." He accepted the mug Harry passed him. "Not much to see today. I'll need you at the very end, but that won't be 'til about noon."
"I've got some shopping to do, actually, which will keep me out of your way, but I can't go out without an Order member."
"Shopping?" Fleur perked up.
"Groceries only, thankfully." Fleur laughed.
"Zat's okay. I don't mind coming wit' you."
"That's probably best," said Bill. "If this goes pear-shaped it'll be pretty messy. It won't," he assured Harry, who had looked up in alarm. "But just as a precaution. I'll see you guys back at lunch?"
"Perfect," said Harry. He grabbed his wallet, stuffed his wand in his jacket pocket and waited outside while Bill gave Fleur an enthusiastic goodbye. From what he saw, Fleur was not quite as keen as Bill was, and her cheeks were a bit pink when she came out, but they started off without comment from either of them.
"You look very different from ze last time I zaw you," Fleur said after a while as they walked the fifteen minutes to the corner store.
"I hope so," Harry said with a grin. "Not a 'leetle boy' anymore?" he asked slyly, but he smiled to take the sting out of it.
"Non, t'ank goodness," she said with a shy little laugh and a blush as she looked at him out of the corner of her eye.
"Glad to hear it," said Harry.
Fleur chuckled more comfortably.
"Non, truly. You 'ave grown much, and your clothes… zey are much nicer."
"That's Nym's doing. I think she burned all my old ones."
"I muzt compliment 'her zenze of ztyle. Per'aps she will agree to shop wiz me zometime."
"I'm almost one hundred percent sure she'll say yes. Why, do you and Mrs. Weasley not share the same taste?"
Fleur frowned. "Zat would be an underztatment. Bill's muzzer and myzelf do not agree on much of anyzing."
"Oui. She does not like me for zome reazon."
Harry was shocked. He couldn't imagine Mrs. Weasley being anything but loving and welcoming to a guest. Then again, she could be pretty nasty to Sirius where Harry was concerned. Perhaps that was it.
"Maybe…" he hesitated. It wasn't really his place, and it wasn't as though he actually knew what he was talking about. This was more Hermione's sort of thing than his.
"Pleeze," Fleur begged him. "I 'ave to live wit' 'er cold shoulder all ze time. Eef you know zomet'ing zat will 'elp uz get along… Pleeze, 'Arry."
She was looking at him so imploringly that Harry's will crumbled.
"Well… alright. But you realize this is all speculation, right? I could be completely off."
Fleur nodded quickly.
"Well, the thing about Mrs. Weasley is that she will do absolutely anything necessary to keep her family safe. She lost both her brothers in the last war, I know. But look at the way she's shutting Ron and Ginny off – it's not fair, this is their war too." The frustration he'd felt last year leaked its way into this voice. "It's our generation that's going to have to live in the world after this war is over; we're going to be the ones doing all the clean-up. It just doesn't make sense to keep us in the dark about the realities of the issues we'll be facing. How are we supposed to stop this from happening again if we don't know what to look for?" He sighed. He noticed Fleur was watching him seriously, and realized he'd gotten off track.
"Anyway. Mrs. Weasley wants to do the right thing, and is willing to give up anything to do it, I think, except for her family. But she knows that that's a very real possibility. So she attacks anything that she sees as a threat to that. Take Sirius for example," he said at her confused expression.
"He didn't agree with her views, he wanted to tell me as much as I was allowed to know. They got into a terrible row about it, and I think the real reason for it was that I was such a target in the war already (I had to have a 24-hour guard watching my house) that while Sirius wanted to include me to arm me, she was scared of anything that would involve me further."
"She conziderz you family?" Fleur asked, her eyes a little wide.
"She seems to. The Weasleys have always accepted me and been the family I never had. I'll always be grateful to them for that. I think Mrs. Weasley felt sorry for me at first, my being an orphan and the Dursleys being what they were. And then of course Ron and I became such good friends. Plus I saved Ginny in second year, and I think that clinched it."
"Did you not zave Art'ur az well?"
"You heard about that?"
"I joined ze Order shortly after Christmas – Bill told me what 'appened."
"Zo… you are zaying zat Mrs. Weazley zees me 'as a t'reat to 'er family?"
"Not a threat, exactly. Maybe she's just scared you'll take Bill away from her or something. That would be my guess."
"Hmm… Well, I cannot fault 'er for zat." Harry agreed. Protecting one's family was one thing he could never criticize – that was why he could never really be mad at Mrs. Weasley for acting the way she did. As frustrating as it was, he knew that she was just trying to protect him.
"But I don't zink she should worry about me ztealing Bill too much," Fleur murmured.
"Er." Harry really did not know what to say to that and was grateful that they'd arrived at the corner store. They did not speak further on the topic until they had finished all their shopping and sat down for a cup of tea at a nearby café to kill some more time.
He really couldn't help asking. "So how did you end up living at the Burrow?" He couldn't figure out why Fleur kept living there if she and Mrs. Weasley did not get along.
"Eet waz Bill's idea," said Fleur with a sigh and a shake of her pretty head. "Ee zaid eet waz too dangereux to ztay on my own once I'd joined ze Order. But I don't know 'ow much longer I can ztand eet."
"Er. Are things not going well with Bill then?" Harry asked tentatively.
Fleur sighed again and sat back, inspecting her perfect nails where they wrapped around her mug. She looked too serious for someone who was nineteen, he thought.
"Bill eez a very good perzon and I am lucky to be wiz eem. But ee 'as never been judged at firzt glance ze way I am every day. Ee does not understand zat I want to work my way to ze top. I need to prove to myself I can do eet, but ee does not get why I don't want extra tutoring and favours. I want to earn eet. I get enough privileges because of what I am. Ee does not underztand my need for eendependence. Per'aps zat iz why I don't geet along wiz Molly – she dotes on 'er zon, but I do not. I like eem very much, but ee iz not my 'ole life."
There was a pause as Harry absorbed this. He honestly liked Fleur, he really did, but he didn't know what to do. Bill was Ron's brother and the Weasleys had always been so kind to him. But he didn't really know Bill. On the other hand, Bill was spending his whole weekend warding Harry's home… It sounded as though Fleur suffered from a lot of the same things he did, though.
"Ginny doez not like me eizzer." Fleur said suddenly. "Which I don't underztand. She zeemz to t'ink I conzider myself above 'er or zomet'ing. But I do not. I am just frank about ze differences between our standardz of living." Harry winced. He knew what that was like. The Weasleys were very proud, and disliked being reminded of their less than wealthy circumstances.
"Per'aps she 'as ze zame reazons az 'er muzzer," Fleur mused. "I know Bill loves 'er very much. Zat is what makes all zis zo difficult. I know zat Bill genuinely cares about me very much. And ee iz one of ze first men I 'ave met 'oo can trust me to be around uzzer men without becoming jaloux. I 'ave no problem getting 'eez attention, zo," she said with a sudden smirk. "Ee iz not zo immune to my charms az 'ee likes to t'ink."
Harry grinned at her. It was quite amusing. The older curse-breaker able to overcome all odds, but could be weakened at the knees with a single smile.
"Zo I am not ready to give up yet." She looked across the top of her now cold tea, her expression apologetic.
"I do not mean to make you dislike Bill, 'Arry, or take a zide or zomet'hing. Eet just 'elps to be able to talk about eet. And I know 'ow cloze you are to ze Weasleys. Merci for listening and explaining about Molly."
"Not at all," said Harry with a smile. He had a sudden idea. "You know, if you stil need to talk to someone, you should try speaking with Nym. I get the feeling that she'll know something about what you're going through. And she's a good listener. Besides," he grinned cheekily, "being a woman, I'm sure she'll have much more helpful things to say than me."
Fleur tinkled out a silvery laugh. "I don't know about zat. But I like 'er also. Per'aps zat iz a good idea."
She paused, looking confused.
"She calls you 'leetle bruzzer', but you are not actually related, non?"
So Harry explained all about the whole business with the adoption and the blooding.
"Aha! Zat iz why you look zo different!" Fleur said triumphantly when he was finished. "Your godfazzer's blood eez changing you as you absorb eez magique. I can tell. Your cheekbones are 'igher. Your noze iz ze same, straight and delicate (Harry snorted at that), and your eyes are you muzzer's of course, and your smile eez your fazzer's. I 'ave zeen pictures," she explained at his perplexed look. "But your jaw eez stronger too. Now I t'ink about eet, you look much like Sirius and Andi Tonks. Eet makes zense."
Harry didn't know what to say to that, so he asked after her family.
Here, Fleur glowed and proceeded to speak gushingly of Gabrielle and her accomplishments, and how she talked of Harry often. This topic lasted all the way back to the Lair. Harry was glad to have found a subject that made Fleur so obviously happy.
"You'll have to tell her 'hi' from me next time you write."
"Zat will make 'er zo 'appy," Fleur beamed at him. Harry didn't think he'd ever seen someone so obviously fond of their siblings, and it endeared Fleur to him immensely. He felt the same way about his own.
They walked in to see Bill just packing up his equipment. "Perfect timing," he said.
Fleur quickly volunteered to put away the groceries while Harry went over to Bill for the final stage of the warding. It all went right over Harry' head, even when Bill tried to explain it. In the end, after more Latin murmuring and wand tapping, Harry felt a tiny surge in his blood magic and closed his eyes for a second while the wards were tied in to his blood. It passed after a moment, leaving him slightly light-headed and ravenously hungry.
"Good," said Bill. "I'll bet Mum's got lunch ready. And don't bother telling her that you eat well; even if you looked like Hagrid she'd still try to feed you, Harry. She's got this thing about trying to fatten you up, don't ask me."
"I'm not objecting," grinned Harry. "I love your Mum's cooking."
"See, that's why she loves you," Bill said with a laugh.
They departed in a flash of green flames.
Unfortunately, Harry had forgotten to take into account his new inability to travel by magical means without being flung about like a rag doll. With a bang like a cannon, Harry came shooting out of the fireplace, curled instinctively into a ball to protect his head and vital organs. Unfortunately, this also made him quite an aerodynamic projectile. Harry sailed through the air and, the Weasleys' home not being particularly large, hit the opposite wall before sliding to the ground in a crumpled, aching heap.
"'Arry! Are you alright?" Fleur's voice was worried, but Harry heard two other deeper ones roaring with laughter.
"Fine, I'm fine," he said, exasperated. "See, this is the sort of thing I'll be able to avoid with that bike. There's no way Aunt Andi can say that this is safer."
"You may 'ave a point," Fleur said, amused now, as she helped him upright.
"Harry," came Ron's chuckling voice. "You're really reaching new heights."
"Oh very funny," Harry said irritably while he rubbed his elbow, but he was smiling. It was good to see Ron and he always loved visiting the Burrow.
"Good to see you mate," Ron said as he shook his hand, still smiling.
"Come on, Mum's got lunch ready."
"Excellent, I'm starving," Harry replied as they all trooped to the kitchen.
"Don't let Mum hear you say that," came yet another voice. Ginny appeared at the bottom of the stairs. She grinned. "Hey Harry. I think Mum's been scheming all week about how to fatten you up."
"I swear, it's a conspiracy. Between your Mum and Aunt Andi I'm going to weigh 300 pounds by the time school starts again."
They entered the kitchen and spotted Mrs. Weasley setting out bowls of French onion soup.
"Harry dear! My goodness, you're getting tall now. I thought I heard you floo in."
"Speaking of," said Harry as they all sat down. "Bill's just finished the wards on my place; the new password for the floo is 'gobstoppers'." They all looked confused at that, but Harry just chuckled to himself.
They spent the afternoon flying in the Weasleys' back paddock, tossing around a frayed old quaffle and racing through the trees in the orchard. Ginny was getting quite good, and Bill wasn't bad. Fleur declined and settled against a goal post to watch; Bill went down to visit her occasionally, but she seemed content. Harry saw Ginny rolling her eyes at her when she thought no one was looking.
While Ginny and Bill were practicing a new chaser move Ginny wanted to try, Ron came to hover next to Harry where he looked out over the town below, Ottery St. Catchpole. They both settled back on their brooms, comfortable in the air.
"So how are you doing, Harry."
Harry knew he was talking about Sirius.
"Alright, I guess," said Harry a little thickly. "I mean, it's hard, but the whole blooding and adoption thing… I guess it just makes me feel closer to him. And getting out of the Dursleys makes a huge difference. Tonks' family's really been great, helping me out."
"Yeah," said Ron. "I'm sure glad you're out of there mate. I never said, but those bars on your window… it really freaked me out, mate. Fred and George too."
"Good to be clear of them," Harry agreed.
"Cool that you can use magic now, though" Ron said, grinning. "Only you, Harry, this sort of thing could only happen to you. I can't believe you're on the Wizengamot."
"Tell me about it," Harry said, glad to be able to unload this on someone who'd understand. "It's the most boring thing ever. I'd never have gone, if it weren't for Umbridge."
"Umbridge!" Ron exclaimed and then pealed into laughter. "And here Hermione was all worried that you'd just keep taking stuff from everyone and never say anything, and then you go and get her put on trial." He chuckled. "I can't wait to see her put away."
"Same here," agreed Harry with feeling.
"She's still worried about you, you know," Ron continued. "Hermione. That last letter… that bit at the end. She thinks you don't think you're going to make it and that's why you're saying stuff like that."
"What! No, just the opposite. I just thought that if we're going to live through this thing then I wanted you to know that I was glad we did it together."
Ron just nodded and kept looking into the distance. This mushy stuff wasn't really his style.
"Listen, I'm sorry about the whole Order thing. You know I'd tell you everything, but they've sworn me to secrecy on it all."
"No worries, mate, that's between me and Mum." Ron scowled. "And Ginny," He added as an after thought. "I just can't figure out why Dumbledore changed his mind. I mean, they didn't let Fred and George in 'til they'd finished school, even though they were seventeen. But that was more Mum than Dumbledore I guess. I suppose it's cause it's you."
Ron said all this as a statement of fact, without bitterness or inflection. Harry suddenly knew what he had to do.
"I know why," he said quietly.
Ron turned to look at him. Harry told him about the prophecy.
Ron whistled slowly. "Whoa. So it's just you or him, huh?" Harry nodded grimly. "Well, that's not that big of a surprise, I guess."
"That's what I thought."
They were quiet for a bit, just staring side by side.
"You can do it, you know, Harry," Ron said quietly into the still air that can only be found above the trees. "You can beat him."
Harry did not think he'd ever be able to say how much those words meant, coming from the best, the closest of his friends. He'd thought it, but when Ron said it, he believed it too.
"And we'll be there. Right to the end, Hermione and me."
"I know," said Harry gruffly.
They were quiet again, watching tiny people scurry about silently below in a tiny town, oblivious to the weight of the world.
Eventually, Mrs. Weasley called them in to dinner. Ron clapped Harry on the back and the two teenaged almost-men sped back to the ground, clearing their throats roughly, their noses red from the wind.
Harry's first impression of Riley Savage was that he was a cowboy. It may have had something to do with the hat he was wearing, but it was more than just that. He was rugged. He had a tall, wiry frame with wiry blond hair and a stubble-covered face which was constantly adorned by a half-grin.
"Hey Riley," said Nym, smiling widely when he unfolded his lanky frame gracefully from atop his motorcycle. Nym had decided that the best place to practice was at her flat because it was a safe location but they wouldn't have an audience (like they would at the ministry), and it wasn't giving away too much (Nym claimed that she'd trust Riley with her life, but not with Harry's quite yet). This had all made perfect sense to Harry, but when he saw the way Nym was looking at his instructor, he thought there might be more to it.
"Hey Tonksie," Riley said easily. "And you must be Harry." He held out his hand for Harry to shake. It was rough and calloused under his skin. "Pleasure."
The next two hours were spent with Harry sitting on Riley's bike as he explained what each part of the bike was for and how to use it. His didn't have a flying function, but Harry was not worried. He and Ron had flown Mr. Weasley's Ford Anglia without any trouble when they were just twelve – it couldn't be too difficult.
Harry eventually managed to get the bike going and took it for a couple of spins around the block to get a feel for riding it. It was a little similar to a broomstick, the way you had to lean into the turns, but he was still getting the hang of it. Riley told him to bring his own bike tomorrow and they could practice and go through the rules of the road and so on.
At ten o'clock, they trooped into Nym's flat where she was sitting pink-haired on the floor, surrounded by a sea of paperwork.
"Back-logged much?" asked Riley with his half-grin.
"Yeah," said Nym gloomily. "I always put it off and I really can't anymore. Kingsley's been on my case about it."
"That's the worst part of the job," Riley agreed. Then he clapped his hands together. "Lucky for you, we've come to give you a break – we can't apparate outside, too many witnesses."
"Thank Merlin," said Nym, and swept all the parchment into a haphazard pile which she plunked on the couch. "I'll come back to that," she said with a conviction that made Harry snicker. Yeah, right.
"So, Harry," Riley went back into teacher mode as Nym swept the furniture to the sides of the room with a flick of her wand. "Have you ever apparated before?"
"Um, yes. Well, side-along with Nym."
"Good, so you know what it's supposed to feel like."
"Like you're being pulled though a knot-hole," Harry shuddered.
"That's actually a good way of describing it. It's like you've opened up a tiny hole in space between the place you are and the place you want to go, and you have to squeeze through it."
Harry must have looked dubious at that, because Riley laughed and said, "Don't worry, you'll get the hang of it real quick and then you won't be able to stop. You'll never have to get up earlier than ten minutes before work to get there in time if you want."
Harry grinned. "That would be nice. I need my sleep." He glanced at Nym's snickering face from where she sat watching on the sofa.
"Okay," continued Riley. "So now you have a picture in your head if you need one. Basically, you just have to concentrate really hard on the place you want to be, and will yourself over there. That's all there is to it."
For a whole hour, Harry stood on the spot on one side of Nym's living room trying to will himself over to the other without success. He was becoming extremely frustrated and tried to remember the time he'd apparated by accident. At the time he'd just really wanted to get away, so his magic had taken over. He hadn't been forcing it the way he was now. So maybe if he just really, really wanted to disappear then reappear, his magic would take care of it again. If he just let it happen…
With a snap like thunder, Harry felt the squeezing sensation. He was so shocked that he had to take a gasp of breath to stead himself. Nym and Riley rushed over to where he had reappeared: exactly the same place he'd started.
"Are you okay?" Nym asked anxiously. "You aren't missing any limbs or vital organs or anything, are you?"
"I don't think so," said Harry examining himself and patting down his chest to reassure himself that he was all there. "What happened? How come I didn't go anywhere?"
"You flickered," Riley explained. "It means you apparated to the exact spot you were standing. That's a really excellent start Harry. Try again."
He and Nym stood back and Harry unfocused his eyes, trying to recapture the feeling, just relax and let his magic flow through him, don't force it –
Blinking, Harry looked around.
Over the next hour, Harry flickered twice more and finally, right at the end, managed to apparate to the opposite side of the room (The trick was to want to reappear somewhere else. Duh.).
"That's fantastic, Harry!" Riley said, and seemed even more excited at Harry's success than Harry was, if that was possible.
Nym smile at the two of them glowing at each other. "No one gets as tickled about their students as you, Riley."
"Are you a teacher, then?" Harry asked curiously.
"At the auror academy," he nodded back. "I wasn't promoted 'til last year, so I never trained Tonks – she got Moody, poor girl."
"He's not so bad," Nym replied. "If you look past the scarred exterior, he's really an old softie – just never tell him I said that." She suddenly sounded worried.
Riley laughed. "But yeah, I'm hoping that you'll help me out in one of my second year classes today Harry."
"What do you want me to do?" Harry asked while Nym looked on with her eyes narrowed.
"I just need help with a demonstration is all," he said evasively, tipping his hat down over his eyes slightly.
"Out with it, Savage," Nym said fiercely. "Either you explain exactly what you want or the deal's off."
"Alright, alright, jeesh." Riley held his hands up in surrender.
"No crap when it comes to my little brother," she replied, glaring at him.
"Calm down, Tonks. I'm not going to use him as a punching bag. It's just we're doing patronuses today and rumour has it that Harry can produce a pretty impressive one. I was just hoping it would motivate the students a bit."
"Oh," said Harry, taken aback. "Where'd you hear that?"
"News travels fast within the department. I understand Madam Bones was quite impressed by you, and that isn't easy to do."
"Hmph," said Nym. "Alright, fine. But if this is going to happen, those students had better be working hard. Harry's not on display. If he's there, it's because they'll be learning from him, not asking idiotic questions." This was precisely what Harry was worrying about, and he was forcibly reminded that she'd probably had to go through that on numerous occasions doing metamorph demonstrations. They really were very alike, she and him.
"Deal and done," said Riley easily.
"You going to be my bullshit detector, Nym?" Harry whispered in her ear as they pulled a quick lunch together.
"You better believe it," she whispered back, but Harry saw the corner of her mouth quirk up.
Riley led them through the floo (to Harry's dismay) back to the ministry. The two of them followed not long after.
"Tell everyone to clear the landing area," he told Nym before she whirled away.
"Auror Academy!" he shouted as he stepped into the emerald flames.
Harry the human cannonball came shooting out of the fine before landing surprisingly softly and rolling to a stop in the center of a large white room.
"Cushioning charms," Nym explained as she helped him up and brushed off his clothes while trying not to laugh.
"Thanks," said Harry dryly. "How thoughtful of you."
They waited with Riley at the side of the room while witches and wizards streamed in the only door and out of the floo. They all more identical grey training robes with the crossed wands of the ministry crest on the back. About ten in all, they gathered, chatting, in the center of the room. Eventually, Riley called them to order.
"Alright chaps, settle down. We're doing patronuses this week, as you know, and I hope you've all read the assigned chapter in your manual because this is one area most have trouble with. It's especially important that you get his right because the dementors are one of You-Know-Who's key attack forces, so you'll be facing them often. Now, today you're in for a special treat because we've got a guest teacher who has agreed to help us out. He is particularly talented in this area – he's been casting a corporeal patronus since the age of thirteen, and has driven off a hundred dementors at once."
Harry thought that this was a bit much. The auror students all turned to look at Harry in keen interest, but there was not a whisper among them. Harry guessed they'd been trained not to.
"I suggest that you treat Mr. Potter-Black with the same respect that you show me, or you will be facing the unfriendly end of Auror Tonks' wand, and I can tell you from experience that that is not a fun position to be in."
The students, who had all stared even more avidly at Harry when Riley had announced his name now turned to look warily at Nym. Harry guessed that such praise from Riley must mean a lot to them. Nym, for her part, gazed coolly back with one eyebrow slightly raised. Harry decided he'd have to practice that look for when he was an auror.
"Alright, let's get started," Riley said, adjusting his hat. "Don't do yours just yet, Harry" he murmured as he passed him.
Harry marvelled at the smoothness with which Riley controlled the class and the grace with which he cast his spells. No wonder he held the class's respect. Soon enough, his silver coyote was joined by Nym's dolphin and a thin, pale-eyed boy's cheetah. Harry watched the students from the side of the room, trying to figure out what they were having trouble with.
A small, dark-haired girl was consistently producing mist, but nothing more. Harry approached her. "Try taking more of a side stance," he suggested. "Like you're wielding a whip instead of a shield."
"Don't you want it to shield you, though?" she asked, eyebrows raised.
"You do," Harry agreed, "but you want your patronus to attack the dementors too, drive them off, not just keep them at a stand still. Otherwise you'll just end up drained."
She looked at him dubiously before angling her feet a bit.
"Like this," said Harry, showing her, and making a swift, aggressive sweeping motion with his arm that flicked up a little at the end.
She copied him while adding the incantation. Silver mist emerged again, and this time it seemed to be trying to form a shape, but wasn't quite there. She looked at him in frustration.
"Maybe you should try a different happy thought," he suggested. "It should be decisive; it should come easily to you. So when all you can hear are your worst memories, this one thought will be able to burst through and save you from despair."
She looked at him impassively for a moment, before nodding and turning to practice some more in his suggested stance. Harry turned to move on and found the three nearest students all staring at him. He blushed.
"Did you really drive off a hundred dementors at once?" asked one girl, slightly breathlessly.
"Erm, yeah," said Harry, running his hand through his hair.
"At thirteen? Impossible," an enormous burly guy with a crew cut scoffed confidently.
"So's surviving the killing curse," Harry replied coolly.
The boy flushed. "Let's see it then," he shot back. "If you can."
Most of the class had stopped to watch. Harry saw Riley nod encouragingly at him. It seemed whatever cue he'd been waiting for had arrived.
Harry took a deep breath and brought forth only his happiest thoughts: his family. Ted throwing an arm around his neck; Aunt Andi urging him to take another helping at dinner; Remus' quiet, calming presence; Hermione's near-daily letters; Ron's voice, "We'll be there, mate"; Nym's quirky smile, "We're going to get along all right, little brother."
"Expecto Patronum!" Harry incanted in a deep, clear voice that resonated about the room. He brought his wand swishing down to point straight ahead as he took a strong step forward, so it was thrust out before him like a sword.
From out of his wand burst forth an enormous, silver-white stag, bigger than he'd ever seen it, and by far the most impressive patronus in the room. The force of it caused his wand to buck slightly and flick upwards.
The stag cantered once around the room, its long legs moving slowly, before returning to Harry's shoulder where he faced the class.
That night as Harry changed to go to dinner at Aunt Andi's (she had owled to say that they were expecting him every night that week so Ted could prepare him for the trial on Friday), he was thinking about the dark-haired auror student. She hadn't known what she needed to do because she'd never faced a dementor before. But how could they expect her to just get it right the first time in a potentially life-threatening situation? It was just like DA last year…
Harry got an idea and sent off an owl to Riley. Tomorrow's lesson would be interesting to say the least.
"No, no, no, no, no! There is no way, Harry! I am not allowing this."
It was Tuesday afternoon. Harry's morning had gone very well: he and Riley had zoomed around on their bikes (Harry with increasing confidence) while Nym caught up on her reports. Then they'd moved inside for apparition practice. Harry had only flickered once, spending the rest of the time popping around the room quieter and quieter until he hardly made a sound. The trick, Riley had explained, was to appear as slowly as possible – that way, the air was not displaced too quickly, and you could arrive with barely a whisper. After a quick lunch, they'd flooed over to the ministry and Harry had announced his plan for today's lesson.
They couldn't use a real dementor to practice on, obviously, so they'd do what he'd done when he was learning – they'd use a boggart. It was the next best thing, the boggart naturally reconstructing the dementor's frightening aura. The only problem was, it required certain sacrifices on Harry's part. Nym didn't seem to get it, though.
"It's not up to you," said Harry testily. "Look, I'm not looking forward to it either, but how else are they supposed to practice? Don't tell me facing a real life dementor is the same as here in the safe, warm classroom."
Nym glared at him.
"These people are going to be watching your back, remember. And it would make me feel a lot better to know that you have someone looking out for you who knows what they're doing."
Nym was still looking unconvinced, so Harry pulled out his ace.
"You're the only sister I've got, Nym. Do it for my sake if no one else's."
Her face softened. Ha. Gotcha.
She sighed and wagged her finger at him. "Don't think I don't know what you're doing."
He grinned innocently at her. She threw her hands up. "Oh, alright. But let it be noted that I allow this under protest."
She whirled to face Riley.
"What did I do? This was all his idea, I swear! I had nothing to do with it!"
"Yeah, well, you had better have a bloody truckload of chocolate ready for him. I hope you appreciate what he has to go through for this. His bad memories are worse than most people's nightmares."
"It's okay, Nym," Harry interjected. "I've done it before, I know what to expect."
"Augh." Nym started pacing back and forth. "I'm going to bloody murder Lupin. What sort of bloody teacher subjects a thirteen year old to his worst memories repeatedly as a teaching method? Merlin, my mother had better never find out about this or she will hunt us both down…" She continued to pace, muttering death threats to herself as Harry and Riley prepared the classroom for the lesson.
At the end opposite the door, they set up a large crate closed with a latch, which contained the boggart they would be using. Opposite it was a cushion on the floor next to a humongous pile of Honeydukes chocolate bars and several bottles of butterbeer. Harry stood in front of the pillow and crossed his arms, bracing himself mentally for what was to come.
He felt Nym's hand at his elbow.
"You don't have to do this, you know, Harry. You can still back out, no one would blame you in the slightest."
Harry turned to look at her with a steely glint in his eye. "I do have to. They have to know what's coming, what they'll be facing. If it helps even one of them survive a single attack, I'll have done my job." She looked at him with sad violet eyes.
"Just do me one favour?"
She nodded. "Anything."
"Stay where I can see you?" He stared at her, suddenly feeling vulnerable and very young.
She smiled very faintly and squeezed his arm. "No problem."
The students filed into the classroom, looking with interest at the new set-up. Riley didn't waste any time.
"Today we'll be stepping it up a notch. Those of you who failed to create a corporeal patronus or even a strong mist yesterday will continue to work with me over here. The rest of you will be practicing in a more real life situation. Obviously, since there are no dementors under ministry control, we cannot practice on one. We have, however, found a suitable substitute."
He gestured at the crate. "A boggart. It turns out that when Mr. Potter-Black here faces a boggart, it assumes the likeness of a dementor. He has volunteered to subject himself to its effects in order to help familiarize you with working under the same. It will be your job to defend him from the dementor-boggart."
The students all looked at Harry in shock.
"It was how I learned," he explained quietly.
Riley called their attention back to him. "Auror Tonks will be standing by to keep the boggart under control. But let me be perfectly clear." He suddenly turned incredibly menacing. "If I suspect that any of you are giving less than 200 percent at this exercise, you will be out of this academy so fast it will make your head spin."
He glared around at them all. "Mr Potter-Black has offered to do this on his own time, to subject himself to a miniature Azkaban just so you can learn better. This will not be a pleasant experience for him. I suggest that you learn very quickly."
Several of the students gulped.
"Alright, get moving then!" he barked and they all scuttled about, trying to look like they were busy learning.
Six of the students approached the far end of the room. Nym went to stand a little behind the crate and off to the side where she'd be out of the line of fire.
"If you all want to step beside me here," Harry said, "you'll be close enough to feel the effects. Mind you, a real dementor will be worse, and there'll probably be more than one of them, but this will at least give you an idea."
Harry stepped forward. "I'll go first to demonstrate. And make sure you're not too close," he said looking over his shoulder at their nervous faces. "Or the boggart will get confused and change into something else."
He went forward a couple paces, took a deep breath and nodded to Nym.
"Let me have it."
With a wave of her wand, the latch on the crate popped open and just like in the defence classroom in his third year with Remus, a dementor emerged, breath rattling, scabbed, clammy hands emerging from its cloak to reach out for him. The air turned cold as a chill winter wind blew through the windowless classroom and snuffed the torches at that end. The faint screaming of his mother's dying voice had already begun.
Focusing on Nym and his new family's faces, Harry bellowed, "Expecto Patronum!"
The great silver stag sprang forth once again and trotted in circles around Harry. The dementor-boggart faltered and stepped back. With another sweep of Nym's wand it was banished back into the crate.
Harry stood still, looking into the eyes of the beast before him, his face illuminated by its glow. "Thanks Dad," he whispered to it as he felt its warmth seep through him like a hot bath. The stag bent its shimmering head.
Nym relit the torches and Prongs dissolved into nothing. Harry turned back to face the students. "Normally, you'd want your patronus to drive the dementors off for you, but for the sake of this exercise, just direct it to protect me. We don't want to harm the boggart."
They nodded. "Alright, whoever's first," Harry said grimly.
The pale-eyed boy with the cheetah patronus stepped forward, nervous but determined. Harry flopped back onto the pillow, pepped open a butterbeer and after taking a long swig, raised it to Nym as though toasting her.
"Let her rip."
Three hours later, Harry was sitting cross-legged on the floor, his head held in his hands, empty chocolate bar wrappers and butterbeer bottles surrounding him. His stomach was full, but his chest felt empty.
It wasn't easy, listening to your mother scream and beg for your life, to your father die to protect you, to your friend die for being by your side. But hardest right now was listening to his own voice screaming for Sirius after he had fallen through the veil. He listened to Sirius laugh over and over as he duelled, as though it was a game, and then his own cry, so young and fragile-sounding. It was just so fresh still. In a few months, he was sure he would go back to thinking his mother's death was worse than the others. It really was a tough one to top.
"It's over Harry." Nym's voice was very gentle. "It's over now. And you only passed out twice – that's pretty good, right? I think they really learned a lot, Harry, they really improved. They wanted to help you so badly… It really helped them Harry. They'll be better prepared because of this."
Harry let Nym's voice wash over him, not really paying attention to the words, comforted just by her presence.
"You know what I discovered?" he asked, his eyes still closed, his voice scratchy and chapped as though in stopping himself from crying out, he had cried inside.
"What Harry?" she asked.
"I know exactly why my father fell in love with my mother." He opened his eyes to look at her and saw her confused and worried expression.
"It was her voice," he explained. "It must have been. She had the most beautiful voice in the world."
Nym was crying now. He reached out to brush away a tear. "If I ever met a girl with a voice like that," he continued his train of thought, not really completely back to awareness. "I'd marry her too. I'd never let her go. He really had the right idea."
Nym sniffed, and tried to pull herself together. "Come on. Let's get you home."
"I'm supposed to go to your parents' tonight."
"They can come to you," she insisted. "Come on, up you get." She helped him up and turned to look over her shoulder as she led him to the fire.
Harry did not see her put a finger to her lips, did not notice the crowd of students watch him leave with an empty face and hollow eyes. He did not hear Riley tell them as he whooshed away in the fire, "This is why you are here. This is what you are working to prevent. If we do our jobs, fifteen year old kids won't have to hear their mother's voice for the first time in their memories of her last breaths. That is your task."
The next two days left Harry feeling very drained. He continued to practice riding and apparating on Wednesday morning, even managing to move between Nym's flat and his own. He also tried out the flying function on his motorcycle while Riley pretended to look the other way. He discovered the uses of the INVISIBILTY and SILENCER levers very quickly.
He was tested for both licenses on Thursday morning and walked out clutching his new papers. The apparition exam had been a little nerve-wracking. He was required to apparate all the way to Hogsmeade and back, but he managed without leaving any body parts behind. He had been panting pretty hard, though. The further you went, the longer the squeezing sensation. Harry was glad that he could now legally ride his motorcycle – he considered it a much more comfortable method of travel, if a little slower.
His afternoons, of course, were spent on the floor of the auror academy. The students were actually improving quite quickly – they could not have gotten as far as they did in the program by being poor students, after all, and it seemed that the sight of Harry's suffering was a good motivator despite the negative feelings the dementor-boggart induced.
His evenings, however, were a little more pleasant. Aunt Andi especially made sure he was as comfortable as possible. Just as Nym had predicted, she did not approve one bit of the teaching methods Harry employed. Like her daughter, she seemed to blame Remus for putting the ridiculous notion in his head ("Just wait until I get my hands on that man! He'll have more to fear than a full moon by the time I get to him!"). Harry hoped for Remus' sake that he ran into him first. He thought he'd probably advise him to take a long holiday, preferably out of the country.
On the morning of the trial, Harry woke to the sound of many voices. Shuffling his way into the kitchen, he was shocked to find that his flat was full of people.
"Oh good, Harry, you're awake." Aunt Andi hurried over to him to give him a hug which he returned automatically. She led him over to the kitchen table where Mrs. Weasley was putting large platters of food in front of Ron, Fred, George, and Ginny. Arthur and Bill were pouring over the paper at the coffee table while Nym and Fleur chatted together on the sofa. Ted sat in an armchair with a cup of tea, dressed in his finest robes and looking over notes and files. Harry stared around at them all dazedly.
"I am… confused," he finally managed. "Are we still at the Lair?"
Ron, Ginny, and the twins laughed while Mrs. Weasley looked concerned and Aunt Andi covered a smile. Nym had obviously warned her of his morning disorientation.
"Yes, Harry, we're still at the Lair. We just thought we'd come and support you this morning. It's going to be a tough day, for you most of all."
Harry opened his mouth to speak, and then shut it abruptly. He ran his hand though his sleep-mussed hair. His throat seemed to have difficulty working.
"Thanks," he murmured finally.
"Don't worry, mate," said Ron bracingly as food was put in front of him, which he absently began eating. "We'll all be there. We're not sure if they're going to need our testimonies but we're all ready just in case."
"Ron!" Ginny said suddenly.
"What?" he looked at her. She glanced significantly at the fork in his hand.
"Oh, right," he said miserably and set the fork down while staring longingly at the sausages in front of him.
"What's the matter?" Harry asked, perplexed.
"We agreed on it already, Harry. You don't eat, we don't eat." Ron nodded along with the twins.
"What?" he exclaimed.
"We know you Harry," said Fred. "You could never eat before quidditch matches and this has got to be even worse.
"Yeah," said George. "We can't have you passing out from hunger while you're on the stand. It'd leave an opening for the Toad Lady to escape."
"So we made a deal. You eat, we can too. It's up to you, mate."
Harry glared at them all, his eyes narrowed. "You fight dirty."
"Only way we know how," responded George cheerfully. "Now eat up Harry. Ron's looking peaky."
Harry huffed in exasperation and picked up his fork.
"Thanks mate," said Ron in relief and started shoveling eggs into this mouth.
Mrs. Weasley smiled proudly at her children as she set out more toast and Harry saw Aunt Andi's eyes twinkling. He was being set up and it warmed him inside to know it.
"Harry, you'd better get dressed," called Ted a few minutes later once Harry had eaten a few pieces of toast and forced down some eggs. "We want to get there early so we miss the bulk of the press."
"Right," said Harry, standing.
Nym noticed and nudged Fleur. The two women got to their feet and ushered Harry into his bedroom. "Come on, Harry. We've got to fix your look just right to give the right impression. We've got it all worked out."
Harry allowed them to shunt him along with the feeling that there was no point in fighting it. The lot of them had obviously been scheming and it just wasn't worth it.
"Now," said Nym, "we want to remind everyone that you were a minor when this all happened, so your Hogwarts robe is a must… hmm." She held one up. "How did you ever fit into this thing?"
"Give eet to me," said Fleur, pulling out her wand. "I will adjust eet."
"Thank Merlin someone knows how," muttered Nym. "I couldn't fix on a button for the life of me, and Harry's grown as fast as a dragon the last few weeks."
Harry snorted, thinking of Norbert.
"At the same time," Nym went on, "you're a Lord Baron now, so you want to look as respectable as possible." She sifted through his wardrobe, throwing possibilities on the bed as he looked on helplessly.
"This will need adjusting too." She tossed a pair of trousers in Fleur's direction. "Get in the shower Harry; I'll pass these through to you as they're ready."
Thirty minutes later, Harry was sitting on his bed, while Fleur and Nym inspected him critically.
"Eet eez not bad, eef I do zay zo myzelf," Fleur said, lifting his arm to examine the hem on the sleeve.
"Not bad at all," said Nym. "I just wish there was something we could do about the hair."
One half of their time had been spent trying to tame Harry's windswept look. If there was any visible difference made, Harry couldn't see it.
"It's not that it looks bad exactly," Nym went on. "It's just…"
"Eet looks like sex," said Fleur frankly.
"Excuse me?" spluttered Harry as Nym cocked her head to the side, considering.
"Eet eez not your fault," Fleur said, shrugging her delicate shoulders nonchalantly. "Eet juste looks like someone 'az been running zeir 'andz t'rough eet."
Nym grimaced a little. "She's right, you know. Which is not the look we're really going for, but there's nothing to be done."
Harry just gawped at them, his mouth opening and closing like a fish. "I… you… my…" He huffed. "I'm just going to pretend I never heard that."
"Good idea," Nym nodded sagely. "You need to focus. Okay, it's go-time. Let's go kick some ministry ass… Not that I have anything against my employer."
They marched him out and off they went to the ministry to take a strike against idiocy, as Ron put it.
"The Wizengamot calls Lord Baron Harry James Potter-Black to the stand."
Harry looked up slowly amidst the silence that filled the anteroom outside Courtroom Ten. He, Ron, Ginny, Neville, Luna, and Lee Jordan all sat silently in hard-backed chairs, staring at the floor or their feet while Ted paced back and forth muttering to himself much the way Nym did when she was agitated. Harry thought he caught snatches of laws regarding portkey-use being recited. Neville had somehow managed to fall to the floor twice out of nerves, despite sitting in a chair on the smooth, flat stone ground. Ron had his head in his hands, Lee looked like he was going to be ill and Ginny had not moved at all in the past thirty minutes, not even to blink – Harry had checked a couple times to reassure himself that she was still breathing. Only Luna seemed unaffected, humming tunelessly to herself, swinging her feet and braiding her bangs into complicated patterns.
The trial had begun almost an hour earlier, and they, as witnesses, had all been ushered into this room to await the Wizengamot's summons. No one else had been permitted to join them save Ted as Harry's official legal representative, so they had all bid them good-bye and good luck and gone off to work. Harry didn't know how they could get anything done, this waiting was almost as bad as at the first task of the Triwizard Tournament, although less lonely.
Ted had said that they would interrogate Umbridge first, then call on Harry to ask questions about his written statement, then the other witnesses if they had questions about their testimonies, though it was unlikely they would be called. They must have had Umbridge in a different waiting room because they had not yet seen her, to Harry's great relief.
When Percy came to get him, he looked straight ahead, not making eye contact with any of them. Harry saw Ron's ears go red and Ginny's jaw clench, but other than that, they made no sign that they had seen their brother. When Harry stood and joined Ted at the door, Percy turned abruptly and led them with a stiff gait into the courtroom that Harry found all too familiar.
The full Wizengamot had turned out to witness the trial, it seemed, and this time the Judicial Council were represented in all their colours, the golden W on their chests sparkling brightly against the heavy plum fabric.
The viewing gallery, while packed with the Legislative Wizengamot (Harry saw Professor McGonagall sitting near the back; he hadn't known she headed an Ancient House. Her lips were the thinnest he'd ever seen them, but she blinked at him in a comforting way, if that was possible), was otherwise empty. Harry guessed that Fudge had pulled what strings he could to keep the spectators out. The press, however, could not be stopped it seemed. Rows of eager journalists sat with quills poised, watching Harry and Ted closely. He spotted Rita Skeeter in the front row. When they made eye contact, she grinned a wide, lip-sticked smile at him and waved the tip of her quill at him; it was not a quick-quotes quill, he noticed, but was still a hideous fluorescent orange colour. For some reason, this struck him as hilarious, and the edge of his mouth twitched up.
His momentary cheer at her ludicrousness was fleeting, however, as his eyes came to rest on the chair in the center of the room, chains wrapped around its feet. He had no good memories of that chair.
Ted, seeming to sense Harry's hesitation, smoothly conjured two straight-backed, yet comfortable-looking chairs for them to use. Harry nodded gratefully and sat before looking up at the Front Panel for the first time. Madam Bones, Head of the DMLE sat in the center with her monocle in place, looking fairly grim. To her right sat Fudge with Percy taking his place next to him. To her left sat Baron Touareg and Dumbledore as the heads of the Wizengamot. Harry was grateful that Madam Bones was heading the prosecution – while intimidating in her own right, she had seemed fair and open-minded at his last trial. He imagined the only reason that Fudge was not heading the investigation was that he was highly implicated in the charges – that, and a good deal of behind-the-scenes pressure, no doubt.
Madam Bones cleared her throat and began without introduction. "For the record, you are Lord Baron Harry James Potter-Black, formerly Harry James Potter, student of Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry?"
Harry took a deep breath and felt the crinkle of the two pieces of parchment he had slipped into his breast-pocket before leaving – a good luck note Hermione had sent express that morning, and the paw print Sirius had sent him the morning of the First Task. Here we go.
"I am," he said steadily, looking straight up at Madam Bones as though they were the only two in the room.
"And you are filing charges of child abuse against Dolores Jane Umbridge for her time as High Inquisitor and Headmistress of Hogwarts School?"
"We only have a few clarifications that we wish to make - the charges regarding intent to administer veritaserum and whippings are clear enough, Madam Umbridge has admitted to these already - but the others are less straight-forward. According to the testimony you gave to your attorney, Mr. Tonks, you accuse Madam Umbridge of forcing you to use a torture device? Could you explain in what capacity?"
"It was a blood quill. Whenever I had detention with Professor Umbridge I was to write lines using one."
There was a rustling and murmuring as the Wizengamot and spectators absorbed this. Harry noticed that Madam Bones' monocle was being pressed very firmly into her eyebrows as she frowned and a glance at McGonagall revealed that her lips were pursed so thinly together that they were in danger of disappearing altogether.
"How long did these detentions last?"
"From five o'clock until late in the evening, often past midnight."
"I see. And how many of these detentions did you serve?"
"Umm… I had three weeks worth altogether."
Madam Bones' frown deepened. "So would it be a fair summation to say that you underwent over one hundred hours of blood quill use?"
Harry quickly tallied in his head. Wow. He hadn't realized. "Yes, that would be a fair assessment."
Here, Ted spoke up. "Madam Bones, if I may?"
She nodded. "The Chair recognizes Barrister Theodore (tiny wince) Tonks, legal council to the plaintiff."
"I would just like to add that due to such prolonged and repeated use of the blood quill, Lord Baron Potter-Black now bears permanent scarring, which I move to submit as evidence of the torture."
Madam Bones' eyebrows rose and many of the reporters leaned forward to see if they could catch a glimpse of Harry's newest scars.
"Lord Baron, would you approach the stand please? I would like to examine these scars, if you'd agree."
Harry looked over at Ted who nodded, so up he got and strode over to where Madam Bones was sitting. He held his hand out for her inspection and noticed many of the witches and wizards behind her craning their necks for a peek. He scowled inside, disliking being displayed in such a way. One scar was bad enough, now this was all people would see when they looked at him.
Madam Bones took his hand and gently turned it so she could better see. With one finger she traced the words he had been forced to carve over and over. Harry held perfectly still, his face expressionless, his whole body tense with discomfort. "I must not tell lies…" she murmured, too quietly for anyone else to hear. She looked up at Harry's face briefly and when he saw the sadness in them, he felt a little more accommodating towards her. She was just doing her job, after all, and he had volunteered to do this. However uncomfortable all the attention made him, it had been his idea and the end result, if it worked, would hopefully be worth it.
"Thank you, Lord Baron," she carried on in her booming voice. "Let the record show that Lord Baron Potter-Black bears deep white scars on the back of his right hand which stand as evidence of excessive blood quill use."
Harry returned to his seat. When he looked up again, Fudge leaned forward and spoke for the first time. His face held its classic pompous look, but it was tinged with a nastiness Harry had not seen since his last trial. "Lord Baron, why were you given detention by Madam Umbridge?"
Harry thought back. "For speaking out in class and for giving an interview to Rita Skeeter on a Hogsmeade weekend."
Fudge slumped back, frustrated. "Rita Skeeter?" Madam Bones looked through her notes. "The Daily Prophet reporter?"
"She was working independently at the time. And I believe she prefers the title 'special correspondent,'" Harry deadpanned. Having her on your side made the whole thing much more amusing, even if she was only there by force.
"Indeed," said Madam Bones drily. Dumbledore twinkled at him from his seat next to her.
"And why did you not report these incidents to a professor?" Fudge spat out rather accusingly. Harry's hackles rose.
"I had just spent seven hours writing the words 'I must not tell lies' in my own blood for asserting that Voldemort (collective gasp) was back, something I knew unquestionably to be true. You can imagine, then, why I had little faith that any more truth-telling would be positively met."
Harry paused, then added, "Also, I didn't know it was illegal."
Eyebrows went up all over the panel.
"I was raised among muggles and knew little of wizarding laws. And seeing as how I'd been instructed to use it by one of the ministry's most senior staff members, I hope you can understand my reluctance."
"Hmm." Madam Bones shuffled her papers in thought before moving on. "The two other charges about which we have questions took place at a single time, I believe – namely, that of the intended unforgiveable curse and the confession of ordering a dementor assault. These events took place on Friday the 14th of June, is that correct?"
"Now, where did these events take place?"
"In Professor Umbridge's office."
"Oh? Had she brought you there?"
"No. I broke in and she discovered me."
Intense murmuring followed this pronouncement and Harry heard the furious scribbling of many quills on parchment.
Madam Bones looked a little surprised at his free admission. "You broke in, you say? How?"
"I had received for Christmas in my fourth year a tool that could open any lock. It has since been destroyed, though I've still got the handle if you'd like it."
"I don't believe that will be necessary," Madam Bones' eyebrows were still a little on the high side. "And to what end did you force your way into Madam Umbridge's office?"
"I wished to use her fire to contact Fred and George Weasley by floo."
"They had left two nifflers behind when they left school which I had put in Professor Umbridge's office as a prank." A tiny snicker flickered across Harry's face, remembering. "I had been levitating them in through her window. I was trying to contact them to see if they knew where I could get another one."
Harry and Ted had spoken at length on what the answer to this question should be – he had no legitimate reason for being there, but he could hardly say that he was trying to contact a known and wanted criminal because he wanted to check out the truth of a vision he'd had that Lord Voldemort had planted in his mind through his curse scar – it would hardly do much to make his case seem more convincing, and the only people who knew otherwise weren't telling. So he had owled Lee and they had worked out their story. Harry would take the fall for Lee and at the same time Lee's story would cover up Harry's more illicit intentions.
"And you decided to contact them by floo because…?"
"My owl had been attacked earlier in the year, so I knew that my mail was being read." Baron Touareg looked shocked and Harry heard quills scratching behind him. That was a big deal on its own, he knew, and it seemed that few had been aware of such dangers. "And the joke would be up if someone found out first… I suspected that the fires in the castle would be similarly monitored, but guessed that Professor Umbridge's would not."
"But you were caught." Madam Bones' voice was disapproving.
"Yes." Harry tried to look properly chastised, a feat which was not difficult under Professor McGonagall's gaze. He didn't have to look at her to know that she would be disappointed. After all she had done for him, gone out on a limb… He glanced guiltily in her direction, wincing in trepidation, but was completely shocked to find her absolutely shaking with silent laughter. He looked back down quickly, to not draw attention to this fact and also because he suddenly had to suppress the urge to dissolve into chuckles as well at the absurdity of the situation. Being forced to confess in front of a full court and all the press that he had been the engineer of a school boy prank. And he a Lord Baron…
"Several other students were brought in and secured by Professor Umbridge's Inquisitorial Squad."
"I beg your pardon? Her what?"
"Her Inquisitorial Squad. It was a group of students that she deemed trustworthy and had empowered to patrol the school, correcting wrong-doing. Or so she said."
"Is that not the purpose of the prefects?"
"Yes, I suppose, but the Inquisitorial Squad was given power over even them."
"I… see. Please carry on."
"Right. So Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley, Ginny Weasley – "
"Any relation to Fred and George Weasley?"
"Yes, their brother and sister. Anyway, also Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood."
"And they were a part of the prank?"
"Yes. They were to cause a diversion." A snort was heard from Baron Touareg, which he quickly turned into a cough. Madam Bones glared at him.
"And what happened next."
"Well, Professor Umbridge wanted me to tell her who I'd been trying to contact, but I wasn't sure whether Fred and George were really allowed to have the nifflers in the first place, and I didn't want to get them in trouble. So I refused."
"Professor Umbridge gave several suggestions as to who I might have been trying to contact… Sirius Black, Professor Hagrid, Professor McGonagall … When I was not forthcoming, she decided that it was necessary, as a matter of ministry security, that I be forced to tell, and that the use of an Unforgivable Curse would be appropriate."
Fudge had become quieter and quieter as the questioning went on, perhaps not wanting to implicate himself by appearing to support Umbridge - it was a pretty solid case, after all. He spoke now, however. "And how do you know that she intended to use an Unforgivable Curse?"
"I believe her exact words were, 'the Cruciatus Curse ought to loosen your tongue.'"
Gasps of horror filled the cavernous room.
Madam Bones, however, was silent.
There was a long, tense moment as they all waited. When she spoke, it was in a more serious tone than he had ever heard anyone use.
"Did she happen to mention whether she intended to use it on Ministry approval?" Her gaze slid over to Fudge for the briefest of moments before jumping back to Harry.
Utter silence reigned in Courtroom Ten as all present realized the significance of the question she had asked and the impact Harry's answer would have.
"No," said Harry very quietly, yet clearly. "She said that what the Minister didn't know wouldn't hurt him, but that she was sure she would have his support in her decision, should he find out."
Madam Bones paused for a long time once again. When she continued, she seemed even more intent than she had before. "And her confession to ordering the dementor assault?"
"Directly followed that pronouncement. She said that the Ministry needed me to be silenced… that was why she had sent them."
"Let the record show that the Lord Baron is speaking of an unreported attack on his person last August by two dementors. He defended his life and the life of his cousin, a muggle. The only witness was a squib. The Lord Baron was cleared of all charges of breaking the Decree for the Restriction of Underage Sorcery and the Statute of Secrecy due to the extenuating circumstances in accordance with Clause Seven of said Decree."
The silence continued.
"Lord Baron, the only remaining questions I have pertain to your age and status within the wizarding world. You were, at the time that these events took place, a minor?"
"And now you are not?"
"That is correct."
"And yet you are not yet sixteen, I believe?"
"Yes, but I accepted the Headship of House Black last Monday."
"Oh? And how did it come to you, if I may ask?"
"I was adopted by blood into the family on the same day. The Headship was left to me by my late godfather, Sirius Black."
"I see. And that is the reason for your change of name as well, I presume?"
"You presume correctly."
"Very well. Thank you for your time Lord Baron. We have enough to make our decision now, I believe."
Harry nodded and he and Ted left the room, the chairs vanished with a swish of a wand and they with a swish of their cloaks.
Almost three hours later, all the witnesses were asked to some back into the courtroom for the verdict. The press had already returned as had the legislative Wizengamot. Umbridge was seated on the chained chair, though the chains themselves were still lifeless. Harry supposed that they only came to life to restrain defendants who were resistant, as he took his place standing at the back, Ted right next to him.
Madam Bones looked to her left. "Baron Touareg, have the Judicial Council made a decision?"
"We have, Madam Bones," he replied, standing. Harry took a deep breath. He could hear Neville trembling behind him. This was it. So much was riding on his answer.
"On the charges of intent to use an Unforgivable Curse, approval for the use of a torture device as corporal punishment on minors in her care, and the intent to use veritaserum illegally on a minor, we find Dolores Jane Umberidge not guilty..."
Harry slumped, but Ted was murmuring, "Wait for it, wait for it." "...due to lack of evidence – no students were whipped, there is no proof that veritaserum was ever used, and the Cruciatus Curse was never actually cast. However, these in addition to the numerous implications of abuse of her position should be taken into consideration when deciding Madam Umbridge's sentence."
He paused, as though for effect, before continuing. "On the counts of the ordering of a dementor assault on an innocent and the excessive use of a torture device on a minor, we find Dolores Jane Umbridge guilty as charged." Harry's heart was soaring and he heard Ted's sigh of relief and satisfaction.
Madam Bones, looking as though she was trying not to appear too pleased, announced to Umbridge where she sat rigidly between the two aurors, "For these heinous crimes, I sentence you to thirty-five years in Azkaban Prison." Harry felt particularly vindicated to see that her frilly pink bow was looking distinctly frayed and misused.
Baron Touareg had taken the floor again. "Madam Umbridge has insisted that she acted in the name of the Minister. However, we have no evidence of the Minister's approval of her actions. What say you, Fudge?"
Fudge rose pompously and began to gesture wildly as he spoke, as though he thought this made him appear more convincing. "I had no idea that she was committing such crimes and against children no less! Had I known, I would have acted immediately. In no way do I condone what she has done and I feel that without her influence, the Ministry can move on to still greater heights."
"I agree with you Minster Fudge. Bit it is the very fact that you were unaware of the disgusting transgressions being committed by your Senior Undersecretary that I find so alarming." Baron Touareg's voice began to boom accusingly in a manner that was unexpected from so small a man. "It was with the power that you had bestowed upon her that she was able to carry on committing crimes undetected for so long! I believe that her actions within your trust are a reflection of a considerable lack of judgment that is unacceptable for a man in your position. It is for this reason that I move to invoke an Emergency Session of the Wizengamot to elect a new Minister and to revoke all powers and privileges from Cornelius Oswald Fudge immediately." Fudge looked as though he was a pinstriped balloon being deflated.
"Seconded!" cried two voiced simultaneously as a witch and wizard leapt to their ancient feet from the viewing gallery. All the reporters turned to look at them, and Harry followed suit. He recognized the little old witch as Griselda Marchbanks, one of his OWL examiners. The other was a tall old man who was so wrinkled that his face looked like a dried apple.
"The Head of the Judicial Council recognizes Baron Tiberius Ogden and Baroness Griselda Marchbanks." Harry remembered they'd resigned in protest when Dumbledore was expelled from the Wizengamot – they must have been reinstated when he was. "However, three members of the Legislative Wizengamot must approve a motion of this magnitude for it to move forward."
There was a brief silence as all looked on with baited breath. Harry knew neither Dumbledore nor McGonagall could, they had to act in the best interests of all Hogwarts students as Headmaster and Deputy Headmistress, and that meant not alienating any by making a political stand. All they needed was one more supporter; there must be someone with the guts to stand up…
"I support the motion," came a booming voice from the back.
Everyone turned to see who it belonged to: it was Augusta Longbottom! Harry hadn't known she'd be there; he thought she detested the Ministry. He heard Neville squeak in surprise behind him – had he not know either? Perhaps that was why she had come, to keep an eye on her grandson…
Baron Touareg was slightly breathless with surprise.
"The Head recognizes Lady Baroness Augusta Longbottom."
"It's high time the Ministry started acting in the interests of wizardkind and not in its own – I intend to see it happen," she declared imperiously and glared around at her peers, as though daring them to suggest otherwise.
"Well said, if I may say so, Lady Baroness. That's three – motion passed. The emergency session shall take place this Monday – all Wizengamot members are required to attend."
With that, he sat back down and the aurors swept Umbridge away with shocking speed through the small door at the back.
"Quick Harry, let's get out of here, there'll be time to talk later," Ted said swiftly under his breath and grabbed Harry's arm to guide him to the other doors.
"Right," Harry replied before turning to the others. "Listen, thanks so much you lot, it never could've worked – "
"Harry, come on!" Ted urged him as the press seemed to come to themselves and a large crowd of them began leaping down the steps in his direction.
"I'll owl you!" Harry called back to his friends and waving as they were separated by the crowd. He was soon neck-deep in reporters, all striving to claim his attention.
"Lord Baron, do you think the Council made a fair decision? What do you think of the sentencing?"
"Mr. Potter-Black, was this your plan all along, did you intend to get the Minister sacked?"
"Lord Baron, a moment! Was this the first prank you had pulled while at school? Do you consider yourself a trouble-maker?"
"Lord Baron, would you say your trust in the Ministry is broken? Have you been receiving any counseling to deal with your hardships at their hands?"
"Mr. Potter-Black, is it true that you have a romantic connection to Susan Bones, Madam Bones' niece? Do you think that this affected her sentencing?"
"No comment!" bellowed Ted as he physically shoved Harry through the waves of reporters to the lift. "Mr. Potter-Black has no comment at this time!"
When they finally reached the lift, the two aurors guarding it held off the press, who quickly whipped around and rushed off to assault other likely candidates.
"Ex-Minister Fudge! Madam Bones, a word! Baron Dumbledore! Lady Longbottom, a moment! Baron Touareg – "
The noise cut off as the doors closed and Harry and Ted stood panting. The auror in the lift stood professionally straight and silent until they were only two floors away from the atrium, when he turned to look surreptitiously at Harry out of the corner of his eye.
"Is it true then? Fudge is out as Minister?"
Harry nodded. The auror looked satisfied.
"Good. It's hard to take pride in you work when you're ashamed of your boss." After that, he was silent.
Just as the doors were about to open, Harry replied. "I know the feeling."
The auror didn't react and Harry and Ted scurried across the unnaturally crowded atrium, trying not to attract attention; everyone was obviously hanging around, hoping for news. The Fountain of Magical Brethren had not yet been replaced, Harry noticed, or he might have dumped his money bag into it, just as he had the last time he'd emerged relieved from the dreaded Courtroom Ten.
They made it to the apparition point without incident, and diapparated, Harry feeling much better than he had the last time he'd been at the place.