Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter. Also, this fic is based on Aya Macchiato's story 'Harry Potter and the Gift of the Morrighan'. With permission.

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A Necessary Gift: A Harry Potter Story

Chapter Eighteen

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The Ministry of Magic had been in a state of pandemonium ever since the news had reached them. All the Department Heads had been sequestered in meetings all day, which left their underlings milling about in confusion and getting nothing done. Flocks of memos flew overhead and howlers exploded in the corridors, their shrieks of outrage adding to the general chaos.

In the Auror Headquarters tensions were high; harried Aurors pored over maps of Diagon Alley, while trainees rushed about carrying files and Mad-Eye Moody bellowed orders. The theft had been made everyone's top priority. Several other cases were dropped to free up more Aurors and Sirius had even been recalled from his convalescence in order to help out. The whole Auror force had been sent off to gather information and interview possible witnesses, but so far no one had found any leads.

Sirius was feeling tired and his injured leg ached (the snake venom still affecting him all these months later), making him glad for the chance to take a break and join everyone in crowding into the briefing room for an update on the case. Hopefully something productive would come of it. He leaned tiredly against the massive filing cabinets lining the walls and tried to stay optimistic.

"Wotcher, Uncle Sirius!" Tonks said cheerfully as she slid in next to him. "You look like crap."

Sirius ignored her in favour of the chipped mug she was holding. "Is that coffee?"

"Yep, for you!" Tonks looked proud of herself as she presented it to him.

Sirius gulped down the scalding liquid all in on go. "You're the best trainee ever," he said fervently, banishing the empty mug back to the break room.

"Cool. Uh, would you mind writing that in my file?" Tonks asked hopefully.

Before Sirius could explain that anything said under the influence of a coffee rush shouldn't be taken seriously, the waiting Aurors fell silent as Mad-Eye Moody thumped his way into the briefing room.

"All right, you lot!" Moody scowled round at them all, his fake eye twitching. "I shouldn't have to tell you what a bloody mess we're in. We need results and we need 'em fast. All leave is cancelled until this case is solved, got it?"

A chorus of "yes, sir!" rang out, though nobody looked happy. Sirius had had several more weeks of convalescent leave scheduled, but - as much as he'd been looking forward to spending time with Orion - he knew every Auror was needed on the job. His injury was pretty much healed and there was no way he'd sit around doing nothing while the Philosopher's Stone was missing.

"Bad luck, Uncle Sirius," Tonks muttered.

Sirius sighed. "Let's just hope we catch the thief soon." He didn't hold out much hope, however.

"I still don't get how anyone could manage to steal from the goblins," Tonks said, then yelped as Moody's fake eye spun round to land on her.

"I'll tell you how!" Moody growled. "Because the bloody goblins forgot about Constant Vigilance! They got complacent, they let their guard down, and now we're all paying for it!"

"Yes, boss. Right you are, boss," Tonks mumbled and then slumped in relief when Moody found someone else to focus on.

"Longbottom, report! You've been in charge of the investigation at Gringotts. What've you found so far?" Moody demanded.

Frank Longbottom stepped forwards, looking exhausted. "I tried to examine the scene of the crime, but the goblins refused to let me past the front lobby. Then when I asked about their security measures and the possibility of an inside job, they threw me out - those spears aren't just decorative, let me tell you."

"That's obstruction of justice," Scrimgeour cut in sounding outraged. "They should be arrested!"

Sirius snorted. "It's goblin territory. We don't have any jurisdiction there." You moron, he thought but didn't say.

"If you're too afraid to do your job, Black, I'll be happy to do it for you," Scrimgoeur sneered back at him.

"Scrimgeour, shut up," Moody said. "Black, congratulations, you're the new Auror liaison to the Minister's office."

"What?" Sirius hoped desperately that he'd misheard.

Moody's scarred face twisted into an impatient scowl. "Fudge has been pestering me for updates on the situation. You seem to have a decent grasp on the case, so it's your job to keep him off my back. Got it?" Moody didn't both to wait for an answer. "Dawlish! How far along are you in questioning the witnesses?"

"Er, I haven't managed to find any yet," Dawlish said nervously. "At least, not anyone credible."

"The Stone was stolen in broad daylight! Someone must have seen something, damn it!" Moody's temper seemed to be growing steadily worse. He stomped around the room on his wooden leg as he demanded answers, but nobody had any progress to report. Whoever the thief was, they hadn't left any tracks behind them.

Sirius was almost glad to have an excuse to escape the briefing, since Moody's temper looked close to breaking point. He headed towards the Minister's office, stopping on the way to reassure the dozens of worried employees who approached him for answers - people weren't dealing well with the news of the break-in. Fudge was already in a meeting with someone from the Goblin Liaison Office, but after flashing his badge at the secretary Sirius was waved inside. On discovering Umbridge was also present, Sirius wanted to run straight back out again.

"Ah, Auror Black!" Fudge hurried forwards to shake his hand. "I take it Mad-Eye sent you?"

"Yes, Minister," Sirius said. "I'm to be your liaison for the duration of the case."

"Hem, hem." Umbridge cleared her throat. "Surely an Auror of more experience would be better suited for such work? Perhaps dear Rufus Scrimgeour…"

"Now, now, Dolores," Fudge broke in heartily. "I'm sure we can rely on Auror Black." Ever since Sirius had been released from Azkaban, Fudge had been acting as if they were the best of friends. Sirius couldn't stand the man. "Oh, have you met Dirk Cresswell from the goblin liaison office?" Fudge asked, waving forward the third member of the group. "He's here to brief us on the Gringotts situation."

"Auror Black," Cresswell greeted him nervously. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

"Likewise," Sirius said, hoping the wizard knew his subject. They shook hands and then let themselves be waved into seats around the conference table.

"I can't tell you how concerned I am about the situation. The Philosopher's Stone stolen on my watch! Voters will be rioting in the streets!" Fudge blustered.

"Aurors have been stationed along Diagon Alley to keep the peace," Sirius informed him.

"Well that's at least something," Fudge said.

"Hem, hem. I'm concerned by the fact that the thief has yet to be apprehended," Umbridge said sweetly. "It makes one suspect the Aurors of failing to do their jobs."

"We're doing all we can," Sirius told her coldly.

"Of course you are, of course you are," Fudge said hastily. "I'm sure Dolores didn't mean to suggest otherwise, but this is a serious business, you know. We can't have some dark wizard running around creating gold out of nowhere - it would wreak havoc on the economy! Complaints have already begun piling up, Flamel's been making a nuisance of himself, and members of the International Confederation have been on the floo all morning. Something needs to be done!"

"I quite agree, Cornelius," Umbridge simpered.

"The investigation is still on-going," Sirius said. "Unfortunately the goblins are reluctant to allow Aurors into the bank, so we haven't been able to examine the vault in question."

"They can't do that, can they?" Fudge looked indignant as he turned to Cresswell for confirmation.

"Um, according to the Peace Treaty of 1762, any crime within Gringotts remains under the jurisdiction of the goblin race, not the Ministry of Magic," Cresswell responded.

Fudge frowned. "What? Really? Well surely an exception can be made. This is a matter of national importance and needs to be handled by wizards!"

"I'm afraid the goblins disagree, sir," Cresswell said.

"Then they must be made to agree," Fudge snapped. "Auror Black, I order you to…"

Cresswell shook his head frantically and interrupted. "Minister, any attempt to push the matter could disrupt the already fragile peace between wizards and goblins. It might spark another goblin rebellion!"

"Humph. Well we won all the others, didn't we?" Fudge demanded.

"Uh, not exactly, sir," Cresswell said.

Fudge dismissed him with an airy wave. "Nonsense! Why every schoolchild knows that the goblins were roundly defeated every time."

"Uh, Professor Binns is wrong, sir," Cresswell informed him. "In fact the Ministry almost lost the last goblin war - which incidentally began due to the Philosopher's Stone. The goblins didn't like the idea of unlimited gold in Wizarding hands, you see. The fighting only stopped once the Ministry forced Mr Flamel to keep the Stone in Gringotts under goblin supervision."

"Oh. Are you sure?" Fudge sounded confused.

"Yes, Minister," Cresswell said patiently.

Sirius had to admit that bit of history was news to him, too. "So chances are the goblins will be doubly annoyed by the theft then?" he asked.

Cresswell nodded. "Indeed, Auror Black. The goblins are claiming that we wizards have broken the treaty by removing the Philospher's Stone from the bank, while Flamel is demanding reparations from the goblins for letting the Stone be stolen in the first place. Frankly, it's a mess and only getting messier. Which is why, Minister, I strongly suggest making a public statement of goodwill towards the goblins. Otherwise, if it turns out a wizard is responsible for the theft, the goblins will almost certainly block our access to Gringotts in retaliation."

"They can't do that!" Fudge spluttered. "I forbid it!"

Sirius rolled his eyes. "I don't think the goblins will listen to you, Minister."

"Hem, hem." Umbridge coughed violently as she glared at both him and Cresswell. "Minister, I believe I must point out that Mr Cresswell is a muggleborn, and so hardly qualified to offer advice on our society."

"I believe Dolores has a point," Fudge agreed, latching on to her bigoted attitude. "I'm sure you're trying your best, Cresswell, but I don't think you quite understand the situation. The Ministry can't afford to lose face by pandering to a bunch of goblins - the voters simply wouldn't put up with it."

"Indeed, Minister," Umbridge was quick to agree. "In fact the goblins may have stolen the Stone themselves. Only consider, Gringotts prides itself on being impenetrable. Who but a Gringotts goblin has access to the vaults?"

"We haven't found any evidence of the goblins being responsible for the theft," Sirius said firmly.

Dirk Cresswell nodded his fervent agreement with Sirius. "I assure you, Madame Umbridge, what you suggest is highly unlikely. Goblins take their honour very seriously and would never consider stealing from their clients."

"Oh, everyone knows goblins are sneaky creatures," Fudge told him. "They're not like you and me."

"But, Minister -" Dirk Cresswell tried to argue.

"Surely, Mr Cresswell, you aren't suggesting the Ministry let itself be bullied by a bunch of half-breeds," Umbridge demanded with a look of disgust on her frog-like face. "Let the goblins threaten to close the bank – the Ministry won't be intimidated!"

"Quite right, quite right, Dolores," Fudge agreed. "By Merlin, if it's a war they want, it's a war they'll get!"

Dirk Cresswell looked ready to cry and Sirius was alarmed by Fudge's thick-headed attitude. A goblin rebellion would lead to disaster. "Minister, a theft was committed, but that's all," Sirius said soothingly. "We're doing all we can to capture the thief and the DMLE has the situation under control."

Fudge allowed himself to be talked down, contenting himself with dictating a statement to the Daily Prophet urging the public not to panic. Umbridge left the meeting with a sour expression on her face, while Dirk Cresswell gave Sirius a grateful look before hurrying off to another meeting with the Gringotts goblins. Sirius sighed and returned to the Auror Office for further orders - he doubted he would be getting any time off for the foreseeable future.

000

0

The Daily Prophet

Bank Burgled!

Wizarding Britain is in a state of shock today at what is arguably the

worst crisis our country has faced in almost a decade. The Philosopher's

Stone has been stolen from Gringotts in broad daylight by dark wizards

unknown. For all its boasts of impenetrable wards and dragon guards,

the so-called "safest place in Britain" is no longer considered secure.

Wizards and witches across the country are worried over the safety

of their vaults, with many determined to withdraw their money from

the goblin-run bank.

0

The queue to enter the bank has already spilled down the steps of

Gringotts and into the Alley itself and the crowd is only growing, with

people prepared to wait for as long as necessary. "I'm staying right

here until I empty my vault out," said Mrs Frobisher of Hogsmeade. "I

reckon my gold is safer under my mattress than in the care of this lot.

I mean, who really trusts the goblins, I ask you?"

0

Who indeed? The Ministry of Magic has tried to prevent a run on the bank,

with Minister Fudge urging people to remain calm and Madame Bones of

the DMLE promising to catch the thief, but several Ministry workers have

been spotted entering Gringotts and withdrawing their savings. Which begs

the question, is the situation really under control?

0

The idea of anything being stolen from Gringotts is cause enough for concern,

but the theft of the Philosopher's Stone is a threat to the whole Wizarding World.

"Whoever controls the Stone controls the magical economy," explained a

Ministry worker who wishes to remain anonymous. "Introducing an

unending supply of galleons into the economy will cause the value of

gold to plummet and prices to soar. It'll be chaos! The goblins are

already in a volatile state and I wouldn't be surprised if another rebellion

is on the horizon. The thief must be brought to justice and the Stone

returned to Gringotts - the sooner the better!"

0

The Philosopher's Stone, which for the past six hundred years has

given its creator Nicholas Flamel unlimited gold and unending life, has

been the cause of no fewer than eight goblin rebellions. The upheaval

surrounding the priceless artefact only ended after it was placed in

the care of Gringotts, as dictated by the goblin-wizard Peace Treaty of 1892.

The goblins agreed to lay down their weapons in return for custody

of the Stone (allowing them to monitor the amount of gold produced), but

also required Mr Flamel's assurance that he would never create another

Stone nor share the formula with any living being.

0

It appears this hard-won peace is in danger of collapsing, however. After

being informed of the theft of his property, Mr Flamel insisted that the Treaty

is now void and threatened to create a replacement Stone. "My cause

is righteous," Mr Flamel told reporters from the Daily Prophet. "Dark was

the hour when I heard tell of the thief most foul who hath stolen my Stone of

Eternal Life. Three score years did I toil in its creation and loath was I

to part from it. And lo! It hath vanished and the blame layeth on yonder

lackwitted goblin-curs."

0

The goblins of Gringotts were quick to voice their outrage over Flamel's

intentions. "A contract was signed clearly stating that Flamel

would never again create another Stone," the official spokes-goblin

announced from the steps of the marble bank. "We don't give a

Flooper's left armpit what Flamel says, there's no way we're letting

him get his rotten hands on another source of unlimited gold."

0

With no resolution in sight, Wizarding Britain is left teetering on

the brink of a crisis. The goblins are on the verge of rebelling and the thief

is still at large. In these troubling times we wizards and witches can only look

to the Ministry to resolve the situation. Hopefully our leaders are up to the

tough task that lies ahead.

0

000

Stifling a yawn, Sirius folded up his copy of the Daily Prophet and shoved it into the pocket of his Auror robes. He'd worked straight through the previous day and night, and was only awake due to the numerous doses of Pepper-Up potion he'd poured down his throat. He wasn't the only one – none of the Aurors had any time to sleep. Mad-Eye Moody had reluctantly given Sirius a few hours off to pick up Orion from the train station, but expected him back in the office straight after.

Sirius stared around the platform at the other parents waiting for the Hogwarts Express, taking in the worried looks and panicked conversations. People were deeply shaken by the news of the Gringotts break-in, and Sirius had to admit he agreed with Moody – they needed to catch the thief no matter what it took. Knowing what he did of Voldemort's probable involvement only strengthened that conviction.

When the train chugged into the station Orion was one of the first off the train, heading straight towards Sirius without even taking the time to say goodbye to his friends. "What the hell happened? Was Quirrell involved?" Orion demanded in a hissed whisper.

"Not here," Sirius said. "Wait until we get home."

Orion impatiently grabbed Sirius' arm and waited for him to apparate them both back to Grimmauld Place. As soon as they appeared in the entrance hall he was talking again. "So? Are there any leads on who stole the Philosopher's Stone?"

Sirius sighed and rubbed his forehead, feeling the beginnings of a headache coming on. "So far all we've got is a whole load of nothing."

"It's got to be Voldemort behind it though, right? It must be," Orion said.

"I don't know," Sirius said. The list of possible suspects compiled by the Auror Office was ridiculously long. Everyone had a motive to steal the Philosopher's Stone, though it was generally agreed that only a powerful witch or wizard could break through the enchantments at Gringotts. "I've tried to keep track of Quirrell ever since you warned me about him. Last I heard he was somewhere in Portugal, so I sort of doubt it could be him helping Voldemort."

"It's what they tried before," Orion said, pacing the floor. "Though whether or not Quirrell is involved doesn't really matter. If Voldemort has the Stone it's only a question of time before he gets his body back – this time complete with immortality and unlimited gold."

Sirius wished desperately for a Firewhisky. Unfortunately, Pepper-Up potions and alcohol didn't mix, and he was forced to face the idea of Voldemort's imminent return while sober. "There must be something we can do," he said. "I mean, no one knows how the Stone works exactly, but even with the Elixir of Life it can't be easy for Voldemort to make himself a new body, right? That ritual he used in your world... maybe he'll need something like that here, too."

"I suppose," Orion said, looking like he was calming down slightly and beginning to think things through. "Hopefully it'll take some time before Voldemort figures out how to use the Stone - good thing Flamel's always been so secretive. It should at least give us some time to think up a plan."

Sirius thought it would be even better if Flamel had never made the bloody thing in the first place, but didn't disagree. "What about destroying Riddle senior's bones? It couldn't hurt, right?" he suggested.

Orion leapt at the idea and insisted on leaving straight away, clearly eager to do something productive instead of just sitting around talking. Sirius had never been to the graveyard in Little Hangleton before, so it was Orion who side-along apparated them both there. Sirius' presence would stop the Ministry from registering the underage magic, but even so Sirius didn't want to flaunt the law unnecessarily and risk being caught - grave robbing was not looked kindly on by the Ministry. Under Orion's impatient gaze, Sirius dug up the earth and cast the spell to vanish Riddle's bones. A few more spells made it look as if the grave had been disturbed by some wild animal, and then they headed home.

"Right, that's done then," Sirius said, stifling a yawn.

"I can't believe we didn't do it ages ago," Orion muttered. "Hopefully it'll slow Voldemort down a bit."

"If it's even Voldemort who has the Stone," Sirius reminded him. "You never know, it could be some other dark wizard who stole it."

"I'm never that lucky," Orion said flatly.

Sirius had to admit Orion was probably right. Voldemort was the only wizard he could think of who would be skilled enough to rob Gringotts and get away with it, though Sirius joined the other Aurors in chasing every available lead in the hope of being proved wrong. Nothing came of it, however, despite the insane hours involved – he was barely able to spend any time at home in the weeks following the break-in.

Every day there were more newspaper articles describing the chaos that was enveloping wizarding society. With the Aurors all busy with the Gringotts case, the level of petty crime had soared, and several wizards had even been caught trying to stage another bank robbery - it seemed Gringotts had become an attractive target now that its aura of invincibility had been dented. It took a group of Aurors patrolling Diagon Alley to keep the angry crowds under control; everyone was demanding their gold back and closing their vaults, as well as stocking up on food and other essentials in fear of rising prices.

Political disaster was looming on the horizon. The Department of Magical Law Enforcement was coming under increased pressure from Minister Fudge to produce results, and Sirius was barely able to keep the man from doing something stupid. The International Confederation of Wizards had joined in the loud demands for something to be done, since countries worldwide were worried about gold flooding the market and disrupting their economies. None of the politicians had a single helpful suggestion to make, however, and it looked as if the situation would continue spiralling out of control.

Back at Grimmauld Place, Orion was becoming increasingly restless and bad-tempered, clearly unhappy at being forced to stay at home and do nothing.

"What can you do?" Sirius said when Orion complained. "Everyone thinks you're a child – a clever and powerful one, yes, but still just a boy. And Assessor or not, nobody'll believe you if you tell them Voldemort was the one to steal the Stone."

"I can't just sit around and wait for Voldemort to get his body back!" Orion snapped. "For one thing, there are still Horcruxes to deal with. With Gringotts on such high alert, I don't see a way to get our hands on Hufflepuff's Goblet, but if I went after Slytherin's Locket..."

"You're not going to the cave without me there," Sirius interrupted. "Hell, I remember what you said happened back in your world. Even with Dumbledore there it ended in disaster."

"You're so busy at the Ministry, you've barely been back home for more than a few hours at a stretch," Orion pointed out. "When're you going to have time to track down the Horcrux?"

"So we'll wait," Sirius said firmly. Orion had a tendency to want to do everything himself, not trusting others to handle things. Sirius wasn't sure if it was an inborn trait or if the experiences in his old world had shaped him that way. Either way, Sirius wasn't willing to let Orion risk himself for no good reason.

Orion crossed his arms and frowned. "You're one to talk. You went after the Ring by yourself."

"Which was stupid of me, seeing as I ended up in hospital," Sirius said. "Please just wait, all right? If you're that desperate for something to do, you can try researching whatever potion it is that might be guarding Slytherin's Locket."

Orion sighed but relented. "Fine. I'll keep my head down, for now."

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There was at least some good news amongst all the bad. A month after the Stone was stolen, Snape contacted Sirius to announce that he'd successfully completed the Wolfsbane Potion.

"It's done," said Snape, satisfaction glinting in his dark eyes. "Lily's potion is finished."

"Excellent." Sirius accepted the copy of the recipe with a smile on his face – Remus would be so happy. "Thanks, Snape," he added. Personally he thought all the money he'd paid the man was thanks enough, but he'd promised Orion that he'd be polite. "I appreciate all you've done."

Snape sneered. "Don't flatter yourself, Black; I didn't do it for you or your pet werewolf."

"That much is obvious," Sirius said. "It'd be a cold day in hell before I'd expect you to lift a finger to help me – at least not without a huge pile of gold as an incentive."

"Believe me, no amount of money would make me forget how much I despise you," Snape retorted. "I did it for Lily. I'd do anything for her."

Sirius shifted uneasily at the emphasis Snape put on 'anything'. He knew from his schooldays that Snape could be dangerous – were there any limits to what the man would do in Lily's name and out of his obsessive love for her?

"You have the recipe," Snape continued. "It's your turn to uphold our bargain, Black."

Sirius nodded. "I'll have Lily named as the inventor of the potion as we agreed."

"Good. Then we're done here." Snape sent one last sneer at Sirius, then turned on the spot and apparated away.

"Git," Sirius muttered once he'd gone. Though he had to admit Snape was a clever git – the roll of parchment in hand was proof of that. It would take a while to get the Potion approved and patented, but that was just bureaucracy. The real work was done; as soon as the potion was brewed, Remus would never have to live through another full moon without control over his own mind. It was a true breakthrough.

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Harry was far from happy with the course of events. Voldemort almost certainly had the Stone, which meant he could return at any moment - and would be immortal even if every single one of his Horcruxes was destroyed. And as if that wasn't enough, he'd also have enough gold to hire mercenaries and bribe his way to power.

Yet even with disaster looming, Harry was forced to just sit around and do nothing. While Sirius worked overtime at the Ministry, Harry sulked around the house, thinking up increasingly outlandish plans to track down Voldemort and kill him. Occasionally he visited Ernie or Draco, but the childish conversations they engaged in made him want to scream. Harry had no patience for pretending to be just another eleven year old - not when Voldemort was on the verge of getting his body back.

The only thing stopping Harry from doing something reckless was the time he spent with his Aunt Cassiopeia learning Black family magic. The lessons gave Harry a way to channel his anger into his spells and let him feel that he was doing something useful. He remembered seeing Bellatrix use a few of the Black spells in a fight, making him more determined than ever to learn all he could. If the worst happened, Harry wanted to be prepared. Both Cassiopeia and his Grandfather Arcturus appeared rather taken aback by how quickly he picked up the advanced magic, but nevertheless praised his rapid progress.

Harry wished he'd always been able to use magic over the holidays – it was such a huge advantage, one he could have benefited from in his old world. Pure magical theory had never been his strong point, but practicing spells was something he was prepared to spend his free time doing.

Sirius seemed to think Harry was being too obsessive, however, and dragged him off to visit Remus at Godric's Hollow in an effort to get him to relax. The day was pleasantly warm and sunny and the Werewolves were gathered in the garden having a barbecue. A group of teenagers were playing a rough game of football in a far corner of the grounds and a few adults were stretched out on the grass sunbathing, while closer to the house several men stood around grilling steaks and eating hamburgers.

"Moony!" Sirius called out. "How've you been?"

"Busy," Remus replied with a smile.

Harry could well believe it. He hardly recognised the pretty cottage in front of him as the ramshackle building he'd seen in his old world. It must have taken a lot of work to add on the extra rooms and fix the whole place up enough to make it habitable.

"And how's my favourite godson?" Remus asked Harry, reaching out to ruffle his hair. "You look pale, Orion – have you been ill?"

Sirius rolled his eyes. "He's shut himself up indoors for the past month. I swear, for a while there I wondered if he'd been turned into a Vampire."

Remus laughed while Harry scowled. "I'm fine," he said grumpily. "I've just been busy."

"You're on your summer holidays, Orion," Sirius said. "You haven't even gone flying!"

"Nor have you! You're almost always working."

"Yes, but the difference is that I'm paid to work."

Remus interrupted them before the squabble could go any further. "It sounds to me as if you both deserve a break. Come on, there's plenty of food to go round."

Harry and Sirius let themselves be ushered over towards the barbecue, where they were greeted by several other Werewolves. Harry had never met any of them before, in either world, but one of the men reminded him strongly of Ron. The resemblance made sense when Sirius introduced him as Fabian Prewett.

"Hello, sir," Harry said as he stared at the red-haired man in fascination, tracing the similarities to the Weasley family. The man before him was scarred and careworn, but his face shared the same good-humour as the twins.

Fabian smiled down at him. "It's nice to meet you, Orion – Sirius never shuts up about you. You go to Hogwarts with my nephews, the Weasleys, don't you?"

"Uh, yeah. Fred and George are friends of mine. I don't really know Ron or Percy, though," Harry said, regretting his answer when he saw Fabian's disappointed expression. He wondered if the Werewolf had any contact with his nephews, but didn't know how to ask without being rude.

Remus helped dispel the awkward moment by gesturing to the other stranger in the group. "Sirius, you've met Caspian Wilkes, haven't you? Caspian, this is Sirius, an old friend of mine, and his son Orion."

Seeing how nervous the man looked as he shook hands with Sirius, Harry wondered how they knew each other. Caspian seemed nice enough, though. As the child of the group, Harry wasn't much involved in the conversation between the adults, but he listened attentively to their discussion as he helped himself to some food off the grill.

"How've you all been settling in?" Sirius asked as he munched through a plate of sausages and bacon.

"A few of the neighbours have complained about the howling every full moon, but otherwise everything's gone as well as can be expected," Remus told him and waved a hand in the direction of the football players. "We have over a dozen teenagers living here already."

Sirius looked surprised. "So many?"

"There were bitten by Greyback during the war," Remus explained. "They're either orphans or they've been thrown out by their parents. Either way, they'd be living on the streets if it weren't for this place."

"Remus here has been teaching the kids magical theory," Fabian said with a grin. "They've started calling him Professor Lupin."

Sirius barked out a laugh, almost choking on his food in the process. "Professor? That sounds like you, Moony. You always were the studious one at school."

Caspian scowled. "I still don't see the use of teaching them magical theory when none of us are allowed wands."

"Laws can be changed," Remus said patiently.

"Or broken," Fabian added.

Caspian glanced at Sirius in alarm as if expecting him to arrest them all on the spot.

"Hey, don't mind me." Sirius raised his arms in a gesture of innocence. "I agree with Fabian. Though even without wands there must be things you guys can do, right? Magic isn't only about casting spells."

Remus nodded in agreement. "Exactly. There's Herbology, Astronomy, Arithmancy... the list goes on. Knowing the theory will help the kids get jobs in the future."

"Hah! Yeah right. None of us have managed to get jobs yet, and given the state of the economy it's unlikely we ever will," Caspian said bitterly. "All the anti-goblin feeling that's around is making it even harder for the rest of us so-called halfbreeds."

"What about starting a potions business?" Harry spoke up, wanting to help. "Or writing a book, or, I dunno, setting up a shop or something. Then there's also jobs in the muggle world."

The adults looked at him in surprise, acting as if they'd forgotten he was there. "Those are all good ideas, Orion," Remus said at last. "Unfortunately, the Ministry laws are very strict about what sort of jobs we're allowed to have. They claim we'd be endangering the Statute of Secrecy by working with muggles, and a lot of jobs in the Wizarding World are also off limits."

Harry was again reminded of how much he hated the Ministry. Their bigotry was unbelievably blatant, and unfortunately Werewolves bore the brunt of it. Centaurs, vampires, merpeople and other magical beings all had their own close-knit communities which were separate from Wizarding society, allowing them a certain amount of freedom from the wizard-run Ministry. Werewolves, however, were human before they were bitten and continued to live mostly human lives. They needed money to buy food, a job to pay their rent, and clothes to keep them warm – they couldn't just say to hell with the Ministry and go their own way.

Harry refused to let the bigots win, however. "What if Dad pretended it was his business or his book, then the Ministry would never know," he argued. "He could act like a sort of go-between."

"The boy has a point," Fabian said. "If Sirius is willing..."

The adults began enthusiastically discussing various ways to defraud the Ministry, with Harry chipping in every now and again. When they began discussing taxes and interest rates, however, Harry sidled away to join the teenagers playing football. If asked he would freely admit that he had no understanding of economics. He'd never had to deal with any of that stuff – wages, taxes, mortgages, interest rates. As a child living with the Dursleys he'd had nothing to call his own and at Hogwarts he'd simply lived off the contents of his trust vault. That money would have run out soon enough, except by the time he'd come of age he'd been declared 'Undesirable Number One' and was living on the run, which meant tax evasion had been the least of his worries. The life of an ordinary law-abiding citizen, with a normal job and bills to pay, was utterly foreign to him.

It was that which probably lay behind his old ambition to be an Auror, since fighting bad guys was just about the only career Harry could wrap his head around. Upon reflection he realised there was a silver lining to reliving his childhood; hopefully with some experience of a normal life out of the spotlight he'd be able to figure out what he really wanted.

Until he managed that, though, hanging out with the werewolf teenagers would have to do. Sure, they were a bit unfriendly and treated him as if he was an annoying little kid, but at least unlike the adults they weren't boring. In fact some of the older girls were very pretty and didn't seem to bother with robes, instead dressing in more revealing muggle outfits. Harry had conflicted feelings when it came to actually dating, but there was nothing stopping him from enjoying the view.

"So, Orion," Sirius said hours later once they were back in Grimmauld Place. "Don't you agree that was much more fun that holing yourself up in the library or having lessons with Aunt Cassie?"

"Yes, fine, I admit it." Harry was in too good a mood to bother arguing. "I was wrong and you were right."

Sirius laughed. "And don't you forget it! Seriously though, try to relax a bit more, won't you? The world isn't ending just because someone stole the Philosopher's Stone."

Harry wasn't sure he agreed; if Voldemort had the Stone he could easily end up destroying the whole of wizarding Britain. For once he tried to remain optimistic, though, and so only shrugged and said he'd try to cut down on the amount of time he spent obsessing over worst-case scenarios. 'What's coming will come, and we'll meet it when it does,' Harry repeated to himself, remembering Hagrid's words from years ago.

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The rest of the holidays passed at a more relaxed pace. Harry's birthday passed rather quietly, though his relatives made sure to shower him with gifts – a reward for his hard work and dedication to upholding the family name, according to his Grandmother Melania. Harry didn't bother having a birthday party, since Hermione was spending most of the summer in France, Neville's Gran would never let him visit a Black, and inviting Draco over meant putting up with Pansy tagging along.

Instead of a party, Dobby baked a huge chocolate cake and Sirius somehow managed to get a day off, which Harry recognised as the rare treat it was. Sirius was still stuck at work most of the time since the Aurors were no closer to finding the thief. The Goblin Liaison Office had at least managed to stave off an outright rebellion for the time being, but the situation was still far from settled.

When Harry's Hogwarts letter arrived and he and Sirius went shopping for his school things, Harry was quick to notice the changes. Everywhere there were shoppers complaining about prices or the state of the economy. Several Aurors were patrolling the Alley, their scarlet robes making them stand out amongst the crowd, while outside the bank a ragtag group of wizards were staging a protest complete with banners and chanted slogans.

"Wizard Gold in Wizard Hands!"

"Goblins Give Us Our Galleons!"

"Down with Gringotts!"

Harry stared at them as they passed by. He didn't remember seeing wizards protesting anything before – not even against the corrupt rule of the Death Eater controlled Ministry. Apparently it took their money being threatened before anyone was prepared to do anything, Harry thought cynically.

"So, bookshop first?" Sirius suggested.

"Sure," Harry said. "Florean Fortesque's after?"

"Deal," Sirius agreed.

Harry's answering smile was wiped off his face as soon as they entered Flourish and Blotts. The milling crowd of middle-aged witches should have warned him, but he was still taken by surprise by the horrifying sight awaiting him; teeth sparkling and blond hair gleaming, Gilderoy Lockhart stood waving at his adoring audience.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I have great pleasure and pride in announcing that this September, I will be taking up the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!" Lockhart smiled for the camera as the crowd cheered.

"Oh Merlin, no! This can't be happening to me. Not again!" Harry moaned.

Sirius looked confused. "What?"

"Please, Dad, you're my only hope," Harry begged him. "Arrest him!"

"Who?"

"Lockhart of course!" Harry said in a hissed whisper. "I told you what a fraud that man is."

"I can't just march up and arrest him in front of everyone," Sirius said. "I'd need a warrant first." Faced with Harry's pleading expression, he relented. "I promise I'll see what I can do before you start back at Hogwarts, all right? I'll probably be able to get Moody to give me the go ahead," Sirius added thoughtfully. "It'll show people that the Aurors are actually doing something and that no one is above the law. The public would eat it up."

Harry gave a theatrical gasp. "Careful, Sirius, you're turning into a politician!"

"Oi! Take that back!" Sirius grabbed the laughing Harry in a headlock and refused to let him go until he'd faithfully promised that Sirius was in no way, shape or form like Fudge or any of his cronies. Harry was quick to give in; frankly he was willing to say anything if it meant he didn't have to put up with Lockhart for a whole school year.

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A/N: So, like many other fanfic writers, I always thought the whole Philosopher's Stone thing didn't make much sense. An artefact that powerful shouldn't be stashed in a school and surely Flamel would just make another Stone if his first one was destroyed? So in my head things happened differently. Hope you enjoyed the chapter, please review and let me know what you think - I treasure each and every comment I receive :)