A/N: What if…
… Harry had played out his greatest strength when he and Cedric landed in the graveyard in Little Hangleton? IMHO, Harry's greatest strength is his ability to think on his feet, which he has displayed several times in the books before. He has the element of surprise here.
It is a Hermione/Harry story, and Hermione will be a bit more active and forthcoming than her canon character would be.
Chapter 1 – Let's get out of here!
„Wands out, you reckon?" asked Cedric, looking tense.
"Wands out and stun anything that moves," Harry recommended grimly. "I don't think that this Portkey was part of the Tournament. If at all it should have transported us to the start of the maze, not to some strangely dark and unknown place."
"I think you're right."
Harry was weak on his injured leg, but the unexpected transportation to such a strange place alerted him, especially when he noticed someone moving towards them. Harry panted, still high on adrenaline from the path through the maze, but already highly on call for possible dangers that were still on their way. He was sure that this side-trip was not a part of their assignment.
"Stunners at the person there immediately!" Harry repeated in a whisper.
"Stupefy! Stupefy! Stupefy!" both of them cried.
They both cast their stunners until they were sure that nothing moved anymore on the other side. They lit their wands, approached their opponents and as soon as he recognised his victim, Harry blanched.
"That's Peter Pettigrew! And this ugly bit of living thing is Voldemort, Cedric… we have to get back to Hogwarts… and we have to take Pettigrew with us…"
"Pettigrew? You can't mean the Pettigrew that was supposed to have been killed by Black?"
"Sirius never killed him and he never killed the Muggles either," Harry retorted a bit impatiently, "It was all this piece of shit in front of us. He's actually a Death Eater and my godfather is innocent. We just need this guy here to prove that he is innocent. That idiot of a Minister wouldn't believe us a year ago when we told him it was all wrong. But how do we get back?"
"Let me think… what could they have wanted from either of us?"
"Oh, there's no doubt they wanted me. Someone must have turned the Cup into a Portkey. Which explains why the two other champions were taken out… they were cheated by the person who turned the Cup into a Portkey so I would make it to the Cup. They would have probably tried to take you out, too, but my help kept you safe. Explains Krum's actions to me. I'm quite sure he wouldn't have done this on his own."
"Right, I can see that. But what would they have wanted from you?"
"Voldemort wants to kill me. But look at him, he was but a spirit and now he's got some kind of a body again…"
"Maybe they wanted to use you to help You-Know-Who to a new and complete body?"
"By the looks of it, probably."
"We can try if the Portkey goes back to Hogwarts, usually they're spelled to be round-trip," Cedric thought aloud.
"Yeah, we can try in any case, but we have to do it both at the same time again and also put some bit of skin of this one on it, I need him to have my godfather's name cleared. Do we leave Voldemort here?"
Cedric shuddered visibly. Even a stunned Voldemort scared him half to death.
"We should kill him right here…"
"I dreamed of him…" Harry said quietly, and then he remembered the snake. "Who knows if he doesn't have his snake somewhere around here. That one should be killed even before him; he uses her to feed him with her poison. We're not in a hurry, no one else seems to be here, and we can always stun them again and again. Let me think…"
Harry dared to call the snake in Parseltongue.
"Come to me, Nagini, come here…"
It didn't take long before a huge snake slithered around the nearest gravestone. Cedric listened in terrified fascination to Harry's hissing and caught his breath again, when he saw the snake.
"A ssspeaker iss calling Nagini? And it's not my master?"
"I AM your master now, Nagini… what was your old master's intention here?"
"To ussse Harry Potter's blood, bone of his father'sss, and flesh of his ssservant'sss and create hisss new body."
"Thank you, Nagini; it is kind of you to inform me. What did he want to do once he was in possession of his new body?"
"He wasss going to call hisss unfaithful and brutish ssservantsss, to punish them and reign sssupreme over them again."
"Wonderful. Cedric, Stupefy!"
Harry stunned the snake. Cedric helped, once he noticed that she wasn't out of it at once. Then Harry turned to his co-champion, who had been standing next to him, watching him with fear clearly written in his eyes:
"Nagini told me that Voldemort was preparing a ritual potion to give him a new body using my blood, bone from his father's grave and flesh from one of his servants – Peter Pettigrew I'd expect. We're probably in this graveyard because his father must be buried here. I'm not sure we can even kill him right now. We'd best kill off this snake though. She's a bit too familiar with him."
"It's really lucky you can understand snakes, Harry!"
"Not that anyone believed me that it's just a gift, not the sign of a dark wizard, when I was in my second year. Dumbledore said I probably got it from this bastard here when his curse touched me," Harry replied with a bitter undertone.
"Don't worry; I think we all know that you'll never be a dark wizard, Harry! I'd be very proud if we can part from this as friends!"
"We're already friends, Cedric. At least, I hope we are," Harry said warmly.
"Thanks, Harry! Of course we are! – The only way I know to do something like this would be to cut off its head… the spell is "diffindo". We could also use the Reductor curse…" Cedric suggested.
"Reductor is what I'd suggest," Harry prompted.
"Okay. Both of us?"
"Yep. That will make it stronger."
Both pointed their wands and cast the curse. The snake was torn to shreds immediately. But as soon as the life left the snake, a scream erupted from the dead body as Cedric had never heard before. Once the screaming was over, Cedric said:
"Ewww! That was awful!"
"Horrible… and you know what? This was eerily the same scream as the one I saw and heard when I destroyed Tom Riddle's diary two years ago."
"You mean you actually saw and heard that before? Who is Tom Riddle?"
"I did! Remember, two years ago, when all that craze about the Chamber of Secrets took place? It exists and I found it, because I am a Parselmouth. I was able to open it and killed the monster in there. It was a basilisk, which Tom Riddle, another Parselmouth, had discovered 50 years ago and used to kill a Muggle-born girl back then. You might know her ghost, Moaning Myrtle. That Tom Riddle later became Lord Voldemort. I think we should bring these two back to Hogwarts as quickly as possible. We really could use Fawkes now…"
"Fawkes?" Cedric was too speechless to be able to inquire how Harry could know all these things about Hogwarts, about which Cedric himself didn't even have the shred of an idea.
"Dumbledore's phoenix. He's able to carry enormous loads and transport them instantly."
A flash of fire and a soothing trill announced the firebird! Fawkes landed right on Harry's shoulder. He began to trill and sing into Harry's ear and brought a big smile on the boy's face.
"Fawkes! You heard me?"
The bird bobbed his head. Cedric stared at it, stunned by its beauty and said:
"Wow, Harry, do you think he heard you?"
"Most probably. He's very clever, aren't you, Fawkes?"
Again a nod from the bird.
"And he understands every word we say, Cedric. He's a great friend. I'm quite honoured that he likes me!"
"Pleased to meet you, Fawkes. Can you help us and these two back to Hogwarts?"
Fawkes confirmed that, too.
"We need to hold one of them each, then Fawkes will take us back… but let's take a good look at the place first, I'm sure Dumbledore would like to have a description and the memory," said Harry.
Cedric was amazed how Harry took the lead in this strange situation, in which they had landed. He was two years older than the other boy, but he felt like Harry was much more experienced than him. But, he concluded, if Harry really did find that Chamber of Secrets and killed a basilisk then he would probably be more experienced. Cedric did not know all the details, Dumbledore had held those back, of course, but he had heard enough rumours and seen him on the Quidditch field and now in the tournament enough to know that most of those rumours about Harry's accomplishments were probably true.
Harry didn't need to tell Fawkes to take them to Dumbledore, within a few minutes they arrived safely back at Hogwarts, at the entrance of the maze. They faintly heard an outcry from all the people in the audience. They had been gone for no more than fifteen minutes.
Dumbledore reached them first. He helped them stand up and Harry said quickly:
"Cup was a Portkey, Professor. Took us to a gravesite. Pettigrew and Voldemort waited for us, but we were able to stun them both. Killed Voldemort's snake Nagini after she told me that they were preparing a ritual potion to bring Voldemort back into a full body. There was one hell of a scream as she died, which didn't sound like a snake's, Professor, it looked and sounded exactly like the one I heard when I destroyed the diary two years ago! Didn't know if I should kill Voldemort directly, Professor, here he is and here's Pettigrew! We can clear Sirius' name!"
Fudge had reached them and heard the last two sentences. He blanched. Voldemort was here? And in a form, in which he was unable to attack them all?
"You-Know-Who? Here? Preposterous! You must be out of your mind, boy!" he shouted.
"I'm not. Here he is!"
Harry pointed to the lump of meat lying in front of him, still stunned. Right next to him was Pettigrew, who was recognised by a good many people. A circle was forming around the boys. Many people started to whisper loudly about Pettigrew. Cedric remembered something though and when everyone's attention was on Harry, he asked Dumbledore:
"Professor, who put the Cup in its place in the maze?"
"Professor Moody… but Alastor would never… - Oh, thank you, I just had an idea. I'll call Minerva to take care of you and this here for a few minutes…"
Minerva McGonagall took her superior's place for a short while. Dumbledore was looking over the crowd around himself and found Alastor Moody. He cast a quick stunner over the man.
"I'll be right back, Minerva."
Dumbledore levitated the stunned Mad-Eye over to Pettigrew and Voldemort.
"Are you mad, Dumbledore? Moody is certainly a bit paranoid, but I'd never think he's a Death Eater!" Fudge protested.
"I probably am quite a bit mad, Cornelius, but in this case I suspect Polyjuice Potion. We will have to wait for a while until the potion wears off. Then we'll know who transformed the Cup into a Portkey. It was him who placed the Cup in the maze, so he's the likely suspect to have charmed it to be a Portkey."
"Ah, you are right. What about the bloke who looks like Pettigrew? Couldn't he be Polyjuiced?"
"Polyjuice only works if the person you want to represent is alive. Were Pettigrew really dead he couldn't be represented by someone else. Would it be possible, then the Death Eaters would have undermined our society much sooner and would have been much more successful. But I know of no such case. We will have to question him under Veritaserum. But I'm afraid that here's your proof of Sirius Black's innocence after all. He claimed that Pettigrew was still alive and in hiding…"
"Do you mean to tell me that you believed Black? Did you help him to get away?"
"Of course I did. I could not let you order the Dementor's Kiss to being given to an innocent man, Cornelius; it would have made you a murderer. It was enough that he suffered in prison for so long without a proper trial for any other reason than to be in the wrong place at the wrong moment."
Fudge flustered and tried to justify himself, but Dumbledore told him to wait and see.
"First we need to get this business here concluded. We need to take them all into the castle and into a dungeon. We have enough to separate them all three. If this one here is indeed polyjuiced he will turn back in less than an hour. Harry and Cedric should be looked over by Madam Pomfrey and once she gives her go-ahead we can question them more. If possible, I would like to obtain the memories of the event from both of you, Harry and Cedric."
The boys both nodded.
Minerva levitated Pettigrew and Dumbledore took over levitating Voldemort, while Flitwick was quickly there to pick up "Moody", and they brought all three back to the castle. Harry and Cedric followed directly, Cedric helping Harry to stay on his legs. Ron and Hermione came running and helped, too. They were just a few steps ahead of Molly and Bill Weasley who would not stay behind now. There was also Snape, who came along, all the while rubbing his left forearm.
No one even noticed the huge black dog who kept to the shadows once he was sure that Harry wasn't badly hurt. Padfoot sat down to wait for any kind of news he might be able to pick up.
When they reached the castle, the group split up. Molly and Bill took Harry and Cedric to the hospital wing. Dumbledore nodded the others on through a corridor, then a few hidden doors and finally down a staircase to some of the oldest dungeons in the castle. Harry gave Hermione a wink to follow Dumbledore's group. Nobody opposed her presence, so she made herself fairly inconspicuous and silently followed the procedures. And as usual she missed nothing at all.
"We are now entering a part of Hogwarts that's called the Heart of Hogwarts. Only the headmaster can open those doors back there, not even house-elves can pop through. Magic will work for no one else, no one can apparate, not even from one room to the next. Without me, no one can get in or out. It is part of the bonding between the headmaster or headmistress with the castle when they take office," Dumbledore explained.
Even Fudge understood that this was not meant to be repeated outside of their select group. It was something so deeply embedded into Hogwarts that he now also understood how the school could withstand Voldemort's attack on it during his first reign of terror.
Once they had deposited their prisoners in three cells, they locked them magically and went to see who the false Moody was. They were quite shocked to recognise another man who was believed to have been dead for a long time. Dumbledore helped Snape out of the Heart of Hogwarts to retrieve some Veritaserum and, when he was back, the prisoner was questioned.
"I'm in over my head here," Fudge admitted after the questioning. "I'm completely incapable of a move now… what do we do?"
"There is no hurry, Cornelius. First we'll question Pettigrew. We need to know everything we can about this form that Lord Voldemort has taken and what he's done since he has left Albania. we have to know if he is already strong and how we can work from here."
"Can't we kill him right now?" Fudge asked somewhat naïvely, clearly scared out of his wits.
"We could. But this would only destroy his weak body here and he would come back."
"How can he do that if we kill him?"
"The same way he tried it now. at this time he cannot be killed completely and I have a suspicion why, Cornelius, but if I mention that suspicion I'm afraid we won't have the first chance to eliminate him. I need confirmation to that suspicion before I can finish him off. In fact, I think I'll have to keep him alive and stunned as long as I possibly can, because it will be easier to have him with a weak body like this and bound here than as a spirit and free to try to get himself another body. And you will have to trust me. I can't even whisper this to anyone right now. On the other hand he is incapable of doing any harm at this moment. He would be far more dangerous if he were still a spirit on the warpath to regain a body. Right now he is bound in our hands and tied fast to this life in a form of life that doesn't help him at all. You might well remember the phrase of 'keep thy friends close, but keep thy enemies closer'."
"You don't think he's a danger right now?"
"I don't think so, no, but to be sure we have to see what Pettigrew has to say. Maybe he's already alerted other Death Eaters, then we're forced to act. If that's not the case then we can just hush it up and go on as if there was nothing at all unusual; this attack can be attributed to some rogue Death Eater attack from Pettigrew, we don't even have to mention Crouch or Voldemort," Dumbledore said.
Hermione thought he was very reasonable. She was well aware of the panic it would cause if the name Voldemort or Barty Crouch Jr. would only be whispered among the magical society.
"Good, I can live with that. Let's question Pettigrew then," the Minister said with new resolve.
When they reached the cell where Pettigrew had been deposited, Dumbledore cast a spell around the door, which would not let any kind of rodent pass the threshold. Fudge wanted to know why he did that.
"As I said, only I can use magic in here, but I'm not sure that this also goes for Animagi. If he has woken up in the meantime and transformed into his rat form, we could hardly hold him up, but now he won't be able to escape. I have to say that he has an extremely convenient Animagus form. by the way, if he really has transformed then he is truly Peter Pettigrew, because another person could not do this at all. Polyjuice won't allow the imposter to take on the Animagus form as well."
Dumbledore's suspicion was well founded. They opened the cell door and there was no person left in the cell. But the terrified squeak of a rat that was unable to leave the cell because of Dumbledore's spell called their attention to the rodent right in the corner of the door. Dumbledore pushed the animal into the cell with his booted foot. As soon as everyone was inside, they locked the door again. Dumbledore pointed his wand and forced Peter Pettigrew back into his human form.
"Well, hello, Peter. What a nice surprise to see you…" Dumbledore said sweetly.
"D..d..dumble… dore…" Pettigrew squeaked.
"Or not so nice, after all... Yes, Peter, it's me. You probably didn't expect to have to deal with me again, did you? I'm afraid that your flight a year ago didn't help you very far. Severus, please administer the truth potion."
"And do give him one or two drops more," Fudge ordered.
Snape immobilised Pettigrew and put the Veritaserum in his mouth.
"Might have accidentally given him a drop or two more, headmaster…" he said with his usual sneer. "And I'll be willing to testify under Veritaserum myself that I did not have so much as an idea he was the spy and a Death Eater."
"I believe you, Severus."
"But the mutts probably won't..." muttered Snape.
Dumbledore started to question Pettigrew. of course, he asked him first about the night he was allegedly killed and Pettigrew corroborated all of Sirius' claims, which didn't make the Minister any happier. Then he asked him about the meeting in the Shrieking Shack the year before and his subsequent flight. Finally, he came to the questions related to Voldemort:
"Now, Peter, I believe you must have taken care of this form Lord Voldemort took, haven't you?"
"How did you accomplish this?"
"I had to milk is snake Nagini and feed her poison to the Dark Lord. He needs feeding every few hours or his form will perish…"
"Does it have to be this particular snake or will any poisonous snake do?"
"I think it can be any snake, but he gets quite a bit of power from his own snake. Nagini is extremely poisonous."
"Thank you. Did he inform you how he survived his own killing curse?"
"No. He only showed me the ritual I needed to do to get him this form. He claims to be very feeble still."
"Very good, thank you."
They left the cell after a few more answers from Pettigrew regarding the planned ritual for Voldemort's revival and Dumbledore strengthened the charm on the door that wouldn't let a rodent pass. He also had the good idea to use it on the inside of the cell, which would prohibit Pettigrew to transform at all. Dumbledore grinned happily:
"Well, that shows what good a mousetrap spell can do!"
While they walked to the third occupied cell a few corridors away Dumbledore said:
"Cornelius, there is no need for a trial for Sirius; there is only need for a trial for Pettigrew. I do suggest you sign Sirius' pardon tonight. And make sure to mention negotiations for compensation to him. Money won't give him the years back, but it will certainly help his decision not to pull you in front of a panel of judges. He'd have enough reasons to do so. He has been wrongly imprisoned for over eleven years and forced to two years on the run. That's more than most people can stand, thank Merlin he's still sane."
"If he can finally be found…"
"I can do that, no worries."
"I suppose I will have to."
"I'll write it up before you leave. Now let me see about Voldemort. You can stay away if you prefer."
"No, I'll come along. He's unarmed…"
"He has a couple of powers you still don't want to stand against, but I'm glad you do want to join me. Seeing is believing after all."
They went into the cell. The figure on the cot still didn't move.
"He must be feeble if he hasn't woken from a stunner by two students," Fudge grunted.
"Maybe. I wouldn't underestimate him. – Enervate!"
The figure started to stir, but really did seem to be weak. Voldemort looked up and saw Dumbledore. He screeched immediately, but Dumbledore put him in a full body bind.
"I am truly sorry, Tom, but this will be the only way I will talk to you right now. Your ritual has failed. Your snake has been killed. You will not leave this cell except in the direction of your next great adventure, which you so fear. With your capture, the prophecy has been fulfilled. We will keep you alive for a little while, but only just. That is all for the moment. Just be aware that you cannot get away, not even with all the magic in this world. You'll have ample time to think about the horror you are."
In his state Voldemort was unable to get rid of the full body bind. Hermione shuddered as she watched the bane of Harry's existence and when she thought of Dumbledore's vindictiveness. Dumbledore calmly left the cell and locked it securely. He turned to Fudge:
"You can take Pettigrew and Crouch to the Ministry, Cornelius, but I strongly recommend to leave Voldemort here. I will be the only one who has access to him; therefore, I'll have Minerva take over most of my duties for as long as it takes to eliminate this threat in there. As soon as Sirius' name is cleared, he can fill in for her as Transfiguration teacher, should it take longer to fulfil my task. I would like to ask you for two of your Aurors, preferably Kingsley Shacklebolt and Hestia Jones, whom I both know and trust fully to help me with my task. They will have to work in complete confidentiality. For that reason, you won't see them at the Ministry or the Auror Headquarters at all until all is done. Can you agree to this?"
"I will have to trust you. I know you're the last one to let You-Know-Who get away if you can prevent it, Albus. Yes, you can have the two Aurors. In fact, I'll throw another one into the mix, a young one, who is extremely adept at stealth, Nymphadora Tonks. She is trustworthy. You might remember her as a student."
"I do. And I thank you. As far as I know she is a daughter of one of Sirius Black's cousins?"
"Correct. I'll inform Rufus to dispatch them."
"Good. Add her; we'll certainly need all the help we can get."
An hour later, Fudge had a few Aurors in the house and they took Pettigrew and Crouch away. Apart from a select few people, no one knew who resided in a dungeon cell in the middle of Hogwarts castle and those who knew would have bitten off their tongue before telling anyone. In the pandemonium of Harry and Cedric's return no one apart from the people closest to the boys had noticed the lump they had brought along.
Fudge signed Sirius' pardon and took a copy back to the Ministry where he gave a press conference in the middle of the night to have it clearly communicated to the whole wizarding world that Black had been acquitted of his crimes due to the fact that the true perpetrator, Peter Pettigrew, had been caught. He also officially apologised to the French and Russian Ministries for the disruption of the Triwizard Tournament, which he explained with the meddling of a handful of rogue Death Eaters similar to the one that had occurred at the Quidditch world cup in the previous summer. He presented images of Pettigrew and Crouch, further explained that Barty Crouch Sr. had been keeping his presumably dead son under an Imperius curse at his home since he had helped him out of Azkaban as a last favour for his beloved wife. He also stated that the question of Crouch Sr's vanishing a few months before was the subject of another investigation.
Only an hour after that a big black dog that had impatiently waited outside of the castle was let inside and presented with the pardon. A freshly healed Harry Potter and his friends as well as Molly and Bill Weasley were in the headmaster's office, when the dog came in. Minerva McGonagall was also present when Dumbledore turned on the WWN, so that everyone in the room could hear firsthand that Sirius Black was now declared a free man and that the Ministry apologised for the grave error of justice, offering adequate compensation.
"As soon as Mr. Black contacts the Ministry they will be negotiating his compensation with him personally. Anyone who meets Mr. Black is strongly recommended to apologise along with the Ministry."
Sirius jumped out of his Animagus form and totally shocked Minerva. She stared at him, shocked to the bones more about his ability than his presence. Harry leaped up and into Sirius' arms, was enclosed in a bone-crushing bear hug from the Animagus and engaged in a victory dance, before he whispered:
"Oh Sirius! You're free now!"
"Yep, little one, I am. Still want to come and live with me?"
"Of course! Where do we go from here?"
"I'll find a place, pup. First we'll find Remus and then we'll find a new home," Sirius whispered.
"Thank you! Thank you so much!"
For the first time since his parents' death Harry enjoyed the closeness of an adult. He pressed himself on Sirius, who still held him close, while silent tears of relief and happiness ran down his cheeks. At that moment there was a Floo call for Dumbledore coming in. He answered and said quietly:
"Yes, Remus, he is right here. Come right over!"
A moment later Remus flicked off a bit of soot from his sleeve and stood before Sirius.
"I had a feeling I'd find you here…" Remus said quietly.
Sirius let go of Harry and turned to Remus. Their embrace was a lot more intimate and deeply affectionate.
"We can take our boy home, Moony."
"You're free… it's just so wonderful, Padfoot," Remus choked.
"Yeah, I'm free… - but now you owe us some explanation, Albus! Remus and I don't know what happened. I got the message that Harry brought Pettigrew back from wherever that Portkey took him, but beyond that?"
"One thing after the other, Sirius, before I explain anything further I want to make sure where I left off when I left the maze. Minerva, did anyone think of looking after the real Alastor?"
"Yes. I did. He now rests in the hospital wing and Poppy cared for him. Though we both didn't even want to think about the amount of paranoia he ads to his existing portion now."
"Very good. What about the crowd outside?"
"Has been informed of the joint winning of the Hogwarts champions and has dispersed. Amos and Barbara Diggory are still here, waiting for Cedric. Since Fudge had to go back to the Ministry so abruptly we have given the shared price to Harry and Cedric. Well, to Cedric, Harry has yet to receive his share."
"Thank you, Minerva. That's very well then. Let us say goodbye to the Diggorys first."
Albus did that and once Cedric's parents had left the castle, Cedric was sent off to the Hufflepuff common room. Dumbledore returned to the crowd in his office. He dismissed the Weasleys, but asked Bill quietly to return to his office for some further information. Once Bill had returned, only Dumbledore, Minerva, Remus, Sirius, Harry, Hermione and Bill were left.
"Now. What I have to say is more than highly confidential. It is absolutely imperative that none of this leaves this room. That you all are still here means that I trust you completely. Harry and Cedric have not only returned Pettigrew. Along with Peter, they brought a feeble, but living corporeal form of Lord Voldemort, who is now in a constant full body bind down in the dungeons in a place at Hogwarts where no one can go except for myself or in my company, not even house-elves. I will tell you that much that I am now in the process of researching the methods Lord Voldemort may have used to survive his own killing curse. I already have a few ideas, but none of them is confirmed just yet though something Harry told me when he returned tonight has given one of my suspicions new nourishment. There are several important things to do. Harry, the first one concerns you. This will come as horrible information to you, but it is, at least in part, obsolete since you brought this feeble form of Lord Voldemort back to us. I have to congratulate you for your sheer nerve to actually take this thing and bring it back. Years ago you asked me why Lord Voldemort wanted to kill you. I believe that you are now old enough to know the truth.
"Lord Voldemort was aware of a prophecy that had been given to me and which concerned either you or Neville Longbottom. This prophecy basically said that around your birth date a child would be born that would (not could, *would*) one day vanquish the Dark Lord. Now Voldemort only received the knowledge of a small part of the prophecy. He concluded after you and Neville were born that either of you two would be the one according to the conditions given in the prophecy. He wanted to kill you and Neville before you could become a danger to him. But he didn't know the second half, which would have warned him that eliminating you too early would cost him dearly. What the second half of the prophecy said has become obsolete through your deeds of this evening. I made Voldemort aware of that fact. He strongly believed in the prophecy, because he does not reflect on details and possibilities. He heard the part that said there would be a child born that would be his downfall. And he took this prophecy literally. This is the reason why he wanted to kill you.
"But he isn't gone yet. We can't let him survive, Professor, can we?"
"No. For once I agree that this is a life that must be taken. Unfortunately it can only be taken once we understand how he has preserved it."
"Do you think that it has something to do with those screams I've now heard twice already?"
"Yes, but I do not have the absolute proof yet. - Now there is something else that you have to know. With the failed killing curse, Lord Voldemort has unwillingly created a link between you and him. Your frequent headaches from your scar are proof of that. I believe that for the moment, he might be too weak to attack you mentally, but he unwillingly sends you images, like the visions you had repeatedly in the past school year. Until now he probably didn't even realise that, but knowing Tom he will certainly use you or at least try to use you once he notices this link. Therefore, you will have a very important task and that is to learn Occlumency, an art to protect your mind against such mental attacks. I believe that Remus has a good idea of the subject and he can give you the basic training during the vacation. As soon as you will be back at Hogwarts after the summer vacation, I will personally continue to train you. Do you understand the necessity?"
"I do, sir. Could Hermione and Ron get the same training, please? I need someone to confide in and they will be at the forefront of this with me, so they will need some training, too."
"If Remus is willing to extend this training to them I agree."
"Yes, of course I will help them, Albus."
"Very good. – That's the first part. Now for the next step, I need to count on you, Minerva. Because I'll be much occupied with my task, I will leave my position to you, and you will be headmistress until this task is fulfilled. That means you will not teach for the time being. Will you do me the favour to replace me temporarily? I will still be in the castle, and I'll be available to help if help is needed, but otherwise I will be working on my task. For the rest of the world I'll be on a sabbatical to research something that I'll name still to have an answer to any enquiries. I'll see with the school governors that they will have the necessary knowledge."
"Of course I will do it, Albus. But in this case we are in need of not only another Defence against the Dark Arts teacher, but also a Transfiguration teacher…"
"I believe I have the perfect team right here with us…" Albus said with a smile.
"You can't be serious, Albus! I take Remus back with open arms, but Remus AND Sirius in the castle is calling for chaos!" Minerva protested. "Sorry, Sirius, I know you'd be very well capable, and I really like you very much, but you're a catastrophe on two, or even apparently four legs!"
Bill, Albus and Remus all laughed. Albus said:
"Which will be entertaining for everyone and the perfect distraction from my activities. I also need your combined creative thinking in my work, so I would like to have them both close."
"Besides I'm not going to cause you grief while we're still so badly in peril, Minerva, rest assured of that. Whatever I might do, will at most be embarrassing," Sirius promised. "And – I'll endeavour to spread the embarrassment evenly across everyone."
Hermione and Harry looked at each other, both with big grins on their faces. Harry high fived Hermione and said:
"Can you believe it? We get our favourite teacher back and Sirius on top of it!"
"Should be great fun!" Hermione said, much to the astonishment of everyone who knew how serious she took her schoolwork.
"Spoken like a true Gryffindor, Miss Granger," Minerva said and winked at Hermione that astounded even more.
"I agree. There's a girl after my own heart," Sirius agreed and caught Hermione in a hug.
"Well, that would be the main things for the moment. You children can return to your house. Maybe Remus or Bill could accompany you so you'll get there safely?"
"I'll go," said Remus. "I'll leave directly after that. Are you coming along, Sirius? Or do you still need him right now, Albus?"
"No, it's fine. I'll contact you soon. You'll want to see the Minister and get all your papers in order, Sirius… you have a week before the school vacation begins."
"That will be enough time for me, Albus. I'll bid everyone goodbye then."
Remus, Sirius and the three children left first. Then Bill went home and Minerva was left alone with Dumbledore.
Harry was beaming as he walked next to Sirius. His godfather looked quite happy as well.
"Do I have to start calling you Professor now, Sirius?" Harry wanted to know.
"Don't even think about it! I'll be offended if you do. – Harry, will you tell me what happened tonight?"
"I'll tell you all. Would you mind if I'd like to go and sleep over it first?"
"No, that's perfectly fine. Must have been quite difficult."
"Not the easiest thing I've ever done while we were doing it, Sirius, but looking back I think it was the best thing that could have happened!"
"I quite agree," said Hermione.
"Seeing as it brought me my freedom it would be far from me to say anything else, Pup."
Naturally, they had to cross Filch on their way to Gryffindor tower. Remus informed him that the children came from the headmaster's office and that they were going straight to their house. Filch had to let them go, much to his chagrin.
"Just wait how crazy he'll go once he hears that Sirius will be back in the castle – in an official teaching function on top of that!" Remus said. He was plenty amused.
Sirius looked smug and grinned evilly. Hermione mock-groaned and said:
"Just don't let the Weasley twins know who you really are… you won't get rid of them otherwise. You do remember that we told you how much they admire the Marauders" she warned.
"Au contraire, my dear, it might be good to have some very clever allies. Need to let Snape suffer for a bit…"
"And we'll suffer later on…" Hermione groaned, this time for real.
"Don't worry, Hermione, it's not Snape who will mark your OWLS. Those are independent examiners and they are usually very fair," said Remus soothingly.
"That's at least very good to know."
"There are other things you may consider: No one knows about that ugly thing down in the heart of Hogwarts, only we do. Snape may know or get the idea, but he won't be able to run to his master. Minerva won't be as lenient with him while she's in charge, so complaints about unfair treatment from him will be transferred to the school governors. You're in a better position then, don't you think?"
"Yes, I do! Thanks, Sirius! I didn't even think of Professor McGonagall's promotion. Go ahead then, prank him with everything you've got!"
It was a sign of the changes in Hermione's state of mind since she had started at Hogwarts. From a girl who would never have broken any rule at all she had grown into a young woman of character and conviction, who would do everything to set things right, even if it meant that a few rules had to be bent.
When they reached the Fat Lady, Hermione went ahead and gave Harry room to say goodbye to Sirius.
"Well, Harry. Since I don't really know where and when I'll be around you will have to be patient. Just one thing is certain; I will be at the station when your train arrives in London. I will probably stay at Remus' place until we know where we'll live and that's where we'll start off if nothing else has come up until then. I try to keep you up to date this week, but if you hear nothing you will certainly see us at King's Cross. You will not have anything more to do with your relatives than blow them a raspberry and say goodbye forever."
"I'll have Hedwig pester you for news then. But I guess I'll survive that last week of school anyway," Harry said, grinning.
"Very good. Now follow Hermione and have a good night. See you in a week."
"You too, Sirius! And you, Professor. I'm so happy you will come back to teach!"
"No one's even asked whether I wanted to… you all just think I will do it…" Remus remarked.
"With Sirius here he'll need you to look after him, I suppose," Harry mused.
Remus and Sirius laughed.
"More than you can know, Cub," said Remus.
"What's with the Pup and Cub?" asked Harry.
The two men laughed and looked at each other.
"We'll tell you in a week, when we get home and have time to talk, okay?" Sirius promised.
"Okay. I can't wait! Bye!"
Harry vanished. Once the portrait door was closed, Sirius tried to apologise to the Fat Lady for his horrible treatment of the portrait two years before. She finally succumbed to his charm. Upon which he cheerfully told her he'd be back after the vacation to teach for a while.
"Merlin help us all," he heard her sigh when he and Remus left.
Remus laughed. For the past two hours he had felt a lightness he hadn't felt for many, many years. His heart sang and he was ready to let it all out. He looped his arm in Sirius' and looked at his friend. Sirius' grey eyes were showing a lot more light and some hope.
"Nothing like having this beast under our control in the cave here, what do you think, Moony?"
"I agree. In this form it is definitely a good thing to have. However, I wouldn't want Dumbledore's job to look after it. I hope he doesn't go in there all alone every time."
"We'll have to stay in contact with him on that subject. If he knows something and is the only one who has that knowledge we can't lose him!" Sirius said.
"It would be a dangerous situation. There is obviously something holding him up from killing Voldemort. We know that it will have to be done, there is really no way around it."
"He even admitted that, Remus."
Sirius looked into Remus' eyes now; and stopped talking abruptly.
"Still love your eyes, Moony…"
"Yours are looking more alive again, Padfoot."
"Well, I have a life again," Sirius shot back.
Remus hardly noticed when he found Sirius' hand and they grabbed each other as they had done so many times before. He only knew that he still felt for Sirius what he had felt fourteen years before. The way Sirius squeezed his hand Remus thought that Sirius just might feel the same for him as well.
They reached the castle's main doors and went out on the grounds. They walked down through the now quiet grounds to the gates from where they apparated to Remus' place.
"Still the same place, Moony?" Sirius asked.
"Of course, Padfoot."
"Let's go home then…"
And home they went. Sirius apparated right into the master bedroom the way he had done so many times before and the moment he felt Remus next to him, he pulled the other man into a gentle embrace. He looked into Remus' eyes again.
"I still love you, you know…" he said, for a moment very uncertain if such a declaration was welcome at all.
Remus gave him the embrace right back.
"I never could stop loving you, Sirius. I hated myself for loving you, but I couldn't just turn it off like a light switch. Nothing's changed as far as I'm concerned."
"That's good then. Let's go to bed?"
"Let's go to bed."
They catered to their most important need first and slept. In the morning, they took care of the second most important need and made love. The next thing after that was taking care of some of Sirius' physical problems, namely his horrible teeth, which Remus was able to revert into a good state. Sirius then smiled at him and Remus reacted by pressing his hands on his chest and imitating a proper swoon. Sirius laughed heartily and asked:
"What say you to breakfast? Anything in the house?"
"Of course. But we will have to go and shop soon, I know that appetite of yours and it probably hasn't diminished since you're almost starved…"
"Need to put something back on my body, love."
"I fully agree. Don't like your behind so bony. Scratch that, I don't like YOU so bony!"
"One of us bony is enough..." Sirius countered.
A full breakfast later, they dressed up. Sirius got one of his old robes back and while it rather hung around his body it still made him look a lot better than what he wore before, although he had got rid of the horrible prison attire while on the run.
"Ah, to have my own clothes again…" Sirius sighed.
"Makes you look like a whole different person, love," Remus whispered.
"Really? Good. Anything but the scarecrow I was in the past years. I really disliked myself, believe me!"
"Wasn't difficult to guess, love. What next? The Ministry?"
"Yep. Then Diagon Alley."
"Okay. While we're there we can do the grocery shopping, too."
They arrived at the Ministry a while later and Remus checked in his wand. Sirius just lifted his hands and declared that he didn't have a wand anymore. They then fell over the Minister and astonishingly found him sympathetic and almost helpful about the compensation. They did reach an understanding.
"You seem to enjoy Dumbledore's trust, Black, don't you?" Fudge asked.
"Do you know what it is that forces him to keep this feeble thing alive?"
"No, I don't. Not yet in any case. Probably it means that we *cannot* kill this thing for some technical reason. Most probably he would be able to return again, but then we'd not know again for some time, so it's better to have him alive like that until we can do away with him than letting the spirit get out and start all over again. Dumbledore has a few suspicions, which he wants to follow. You should know that he's an excellent researcher and he shouldn't take too long to find out something. I don't think that you will need to inform the public about the little thing Harry and Cedric brought back with them. No one has noticed and only a very small group of people even knows about it. I would just keep quiet. We'll find a way to get rid of it. Until then we'll unfortunately have to keep it alive," Sirius explained.
"I agree with Sirius. It will be hard, but we'll have to trust Dumbledore to do the right thing. As it is it would only create a panic if you told the public," Remus confirmed.
"Well, I know you are right. And I'm really not afraid that Dumbledore is going to use this against us. I admit that I did think for a moment… but seeing this thing convinced me."
"He wants to find out what needs to be done, before we can get rid of the thing. We'll do whatever it takes and then eliminate him VERY quietly," Remus mused.
"Not without me seeing it!" Fudge threw in.
"I'll tell Albus that you wish to witness Voldemort's final demise. I don't think he'll oppose to that," Remus promised.
"I will admit that it scares me to bits knowing that we have a living form of You-Know-Who among us. But if Dumbledore reaches a means to kill it, I want to be there and see it. I owe that to the people who I represent."
"It scares us at least as much, Minister, but if Voldemort fears anyone then it's Dumbledore. I have faith in the old man to find out the missing little bit, the way it sounds he already has some very solid ideas, knowing where to start searching usually speeds the research up considerably," Remus said.
"Mr. Fudge, I would recommend not even to whisper anything about the thing being around in any form. Not to anyone, not even your wife. No one has to fear him right now, he does not have a wand and he's constantly stunned or frozen in an area from where he couldn't get out and where he can't do any magic. If it already scares you that much, you'll agree that it will only cause a panic in the general population, wouldn't you? The general public believes him dead anyway, we'd best just keep it that way," Sirius suggested.
"Oh, rest assured that I wish to keep this as secret as I can! Don't want to imagine what that Skeeter woman would make out of this thing! Apart from the panic that would be caused in the general public I'd be out of my office before I could say you know what!"
"Exactly. Even more important is it to even whisper anything about him to Lucius Malfoy and other people who managed to escape Azkaban. I've been in there long enough to know that these people have not been forced to join the club, they were doing it all out of their own free will. Believe me, there were many who wanted a go at Lucy's throat in there for being able to stay out of the place!" Sirius advised.
"But... he's been so supportive of our systems... and he's been discharged by the courts," Fudge managed to say.
"Bribe. Pay-off. He's been using you."
Fudge blanched and slumped in his chair.
"Right. I won't say anything for the time being. You are probably right that this would not help if he really was..."
"Minister, just catch his left arm and look at his wrist. You will find a Dark Mark there and if you have a Dark Mark in front of you you have a Death Eater in front of you. Have everyone in the Ministry checked for this and you'll be surprised how many come up. Don't forget to check them for glamour charms over their arms. You should know that this Mark can only be applied by Voldemort himself and those who have it are ALL willing servants to his cause. Malfoy has murdered a lot of people, and by far not only Muggles. No matter what he could spout out at a trial, you would still look a lot better if you stashed him and others away rather sooner than later, because the public would be seeing you as a proactive Minister who takes responsibility. Way better than doing nothing! Just wait for the day you have seen Voldemort eliminated for good. In fact I would like to see Lucy's face when you tell him that we have been able to vanquish the vermin for good. He'll look very, very sour, believe me."
After that, Sirius received the things back, which had been taken from him upon his arrest, a lot that also contained his intact wand. He was delighted, when he picked it up. A shower of red sparks came out of it as it re-bonded with him after so many years of disuse. There was also the key to his Gringotts vault and a few other small things like his purse. The two young men left the Ministry after registering Sirius as an Animagus.
As they started walking through Diagon Alley, they were talked to by lots of people. Some of them had not yet heard or read the news and tried to stun Sirius on the spot, but just then there was a speaker going through the Alley with the information yet again. Many people actually followed Fudge's call for apologies, and from many people Sirius got the impression that the apology came from their hearts, especially the ones he knew from before the crash. The further they got the happier he became and his smile was genuine. Mostly they could move and finally reached Gringotts, to check on Sirius' account. Sirius spoke with the manager, who looked after his family's fortune. The Goblin was surprised and pleased about the respectful way of Sirius' behaviour in the bank. Sirius was given another key to the family vault. One visit later, Sirius knew that he could step into any estate agency and buy a house of almost any size he wanted.
"We could use your family home here in London, could we not?" Remus dared asking.
"No way! Not before it is cleaned and refurbished from top to bottom. Believe me you do not want to even look inside before that's been done! Especially you, my love, because every second thing in there is made from pure silver. No, I'm rather thinking of something detached out in the country, a smallish villa or manor, which would then allow us to find enough space to also invite some friends around at times."
"Well, you're going to pay for it, so who am I to interfere?" Remus replied with a grin.
"That's the good boy, Moony! In the meantime we can have Grimmauld Place renovated and completely updated to modern day living. It would be a great London pad for us. There are tons of other properties, for which there must be deeds in those vaults. Let's pass at Madam Malkin's now."
A good few new clothes later, they emerged from the little shop looking crisp and fresh in their new robes. Sirius thought that Remus looked ten years younger and he fell in love with his lover all over again.
They made another visit to Gringotts, where Sirius looked through his vault until he finally found the deed to one of the properties he had inherited from his uncle Alphard. Back then he was far too young to make good use of it, but now it seemed perfect for them. He beamed at Remus:
"Remus, look, I found it! Do you remember the house Uncle Alphard had built on Jersey Island? Here is the deed! I want to go and look if it's habitable or else get it into shape."
They had to go through all the papers in the deed, but they finally managed to find the unplottable property. It was situated in a quiet corner of the island, surrounded by a little land. They apparated to the island to the address mentioned in the deed and had a look on the slip of paper found in the legal papers, written by his uncle's hand:
"Seaside Manor may be found at no 149, La Grande Route des Sablons in St. Helier on Jersey Island."
As soon as both of them had seen the text, a lovely white manor house shimmered in front of them. They stood on the country lane and opened the high gate that had only just grown out of the edge of the lane. Remus and Sirius walked up to the house, a walk that still took them about five minutes.
"It's lovely, Siri," Remus whispered.
"You know how Alphard always had great taste. I have never been here before. I like it!"
The house had been built in 1933 and was an airy summerhouse on the shore with a huge terrace on the seaside. The two young men looked left and right, then slipped through the gate. Walking up to the house, they noticed that the area seemed to have been looked after.
"Do you think there's a house-elf there?" Remus asked.
"I have no idea, Remus. I know that he did have a house-elf up in London, but he left him to Andromeda, together with his London house, which was sensible - she had the young family at the time."
"I just thought - because this appears to be looked after."
"Yes, I know, maybe Andy sent him to look after the other properties, too… well, we'll see when we get in."
"Yes, that's possible."
They moved forward to the house. A simple Alohomora spell opened the door and they entered. All blinds were shut, but a sweep with Sirius' wand opened them all at once. Light flooded into the living room. They looked around and walked through the house. It was in perfect condition, but one thing was certain: there was no house-elf currently around. All the furniture was cleanly covered with white linens, protecting them from any dust.
"Must have been around from time to time; Uncle Alphard died almost twenty years ago. – I have an idea, Remus. Harry has written to me about a house-elf, whom he freed from the Malfoy family…."
"Never heard about that one. Sounds very much like something Harry would do though. Where are you going with that?"
"Well, let me try to remember the name…"
Sirius thought for a while and after a moment, he said:
"He has a very simple name… Topply? Dorry? No, that doesn't sound right. I wish I had that letter with me now. Oh, no, now I remember, it was Dobby!"
There was a crack and a little house-elf stood behind them.
"Who is calling Dobby?"
Sirius and Remus swirled around.
"You are Dobby? I am Sirius Black, Harry Potter's godfather. You know Harry Potter, don't you?"
"Yes, I do, Harry Potter's godfather. I have heard about you. What can Dobby do for Sirs?"
"Dobby, is it true that you have no engagement?"
"Oh no, Sir, I am truly sorry, but I have been working at Hogwarts for a time now, Sirs. Professor Dumbledore has been so kind to hire Dobby and Winky."
"Oh, then I would have to speak with Professor Dumbledore? I was thinking I might hire you to keep the house where Harry Potter will come to live," Sirius said slyly.
"Oh, oh, oh, Sir, working for Harry Potter? Dobby would be willing to become a slave again to work for Harry Potter!"
"No, Dobby, you don't need to become a slave again! I will speak to the Professor, I'm sure he'll let you come to us. This would be the house you'd look after. And since Remus and I will go back to Hogwarts you can rightfully stay there as well."
Dobby looked around and said:
"Here is very nice, Sir. Dobby would love to come to work for sirs and Harry Potter. This is sooo much better than the place Harry Potter was living before."
"Fine, we'll call you back soon, okay? You can return to Hogwarts now."
"Can Dobby clean this up? It looks fine, but needs some care…"
"Do whatever you like, Dobby!"
Dobby went off like a fuse. Sirius and Remus grinned and went up to the first floor of the house, where they found four spacious bedrooms, all with access to a long, slim balcony and two bathrooms. The second floor was only about half the size of the rest of the house, but it still contained two large bedrooms and a bathroom.
The kitchen was fine, too. They would only add some modern appliances in the utility room.
"There's even a cellar, but you have that potion now, so a well warded room should do well for your transformations, love," Sirius said.
Remus wanted to protest, but he knew he'd be talked out of it by his lover. He sighed and looked around and together they took care of the dust and the dustcovers, only to be chastised by Dobby when he passed. The perfect setting for Remus' taste was found underneath the white pieces of cloth. A house that seemed to have stood still in the early 1930s, gleaming white frilly lace curtains, art deco furniture, the really grand organic feeling of the turn of the century, art nouveau stained glass doors and separating walls, it was just what he loved. A wonderful mix of fin de siècle to Art Deco styles.
"I hope Harry'll like it as much as we do, Siri. The house is pure art nouveau and the furniture perfect art deco – right up my stylistic alley!"
"I'm sure he won't care too much about the way the house looks, as long as he doesn't have to clean it and as long as there are no Dursleys in it, Remus."
Remus admitted that this was probably the case with a rueful grin.
"Sadly there's some truth in that," he said.
Meanwhile Harry and Cedric enjoyed a good bit of attention and while Harry was very ready to leave the stage to Cedric alone, the latter often pulled him close and basically told everyone how Harry had saved his bacon a few times during their time in the maze.
"Yeah, but you were great in that graveyard, Cedric! You really helped to stun Pettigrew!"
The Ministry, in its interest to keep Voldemort's return under the wraps, had claimed Pettigrew's attempt to kidnap the Boy-Who-Lived to be an attempt to regain the trust of the other Death Eaters who were still running free (not mentioning that Amelia Bones had just received a new order to review the earlier Death Eater trials for possible irregularities, much to her delight, giving her a lever by using Pettigrew as a previously unheard witness). No one looked deeper into the place where Harry and Cedric had ended up, or some might have found a grave with the names of the Riddle family and the one or the other might have concluded that someone else than ordinary Death Eaters had been behind the kidnapping plan. On Dumbledore's advice some Aurors had gone and emptied the whole graveyard of any grain of dust that might still belong to any Riddle.
Harry couldn't wait for the school year to end. The only good thing that had come out of being a Triwizard champion was that he didn't have to participate in the end of year exams. He really wondered what his godfather and ex-professor had been up to in this last week of school. Hedwig had dropped him a little note from Remus, informing him that they had found a good place to stay and that he wouldn't be homeless when he got out of school. They would be waiting for him at King's Cross Station. The nearly fifteen years old boy was still enough of a little boy that it warmed his heart knowing that he would have a real home for the first time since his parents' death.
Hermione was very happy for him as well. As usual she was at the top of the class. Hedwig had happily taken her letter home to her parents that she had finished the best again. She had almost become Hermione's familiar in the meantime as she was Harry's. Whenever Hermione thought she needed an owl to send a message it didn't take long before Hedwig was there to take whatever message she had. It had only occurred to her that in the past few months that had been the case and she usually treated Hedwig extra kindly. When she had mentioned it to Harry he had just laughed and told her:
"She doesn't have much to take for me, so she's probably very happy that someone makes use of her services at all. She's an excellent post owl after all!"
"But you really do well looking after her, Harry."
"She deserves it - she's my buddy and my only true support when I'm at that hellhole..."
As he approached the portrait of the Fat Lady after dinner Harry jumped a little in surprise when he was almost bumping into Hermione. She, too, was surprised to see him there all of a sudden.
"Oh, sorry, Harry…"
While they entered the common room, they overcame their little moment of embarrassment and talked as they always had.
"You haven't heard anything more from Sirius, have you?" Hermione asked.
"No, but I don't expect to. I know he'll be there at King's Cross station when we arrive. That's good enough for me."
"Do you think he remembered to tell Professor McGonagall? Otherwise she'll still send her letter to your aunt and uncle regarding the arrival of the train?"
"I wouldn't even know. Guess what? I'll ask her tomorrow after the last transfiguration lesson."
He did ask his head of house the next morning at breakfast. She almost grinned when she said:
"Of course he did. But I had already sent the letter and I didn't want to pain myself writing another one. There will be a very smug tabby cat watching when they get trounced by your godfather, child! I wanted to do that myself forever, you know!"
Harry was shocked! His crisp head of house, the professor he was sure he never wanted to cross, the most distanced of all of his teachers, the woman who was so iron hard that most students never got closer to her than just the barest politeness, this woman practically told him that she wanted to shred his relatives to pieces. That was as good as if she had told him straight out that she loved him.
"Professor!" was all he could say.
"Unexpected, isn't it? But you should know, Potter, that your mother has been a very good friend of mine and I had the utmost respect for your father. He was one of my very best Transfigurations students. I was completely against placing you with your aunt and uncle, Potter, but Dumbledore somehow got me around and I didn't have any legal say in the matter anyway. I should have taken you myself. But now you'll be with people who love you both to bits, I can guarantee you that."
"Thank you, Professor..." was all Harry could reply.
When he left, he could have sworn he saw her wink and heard her whisper:
"I can't wait for a little bit of fun…"
Harry wasn't so sure he really wanted to create a great big scene in the middle of the huge railway station. The Muggles couldn't get to platform 9 ¾ unless they had wizard help, so Sirius and Remus would have to intimidate them in the midst of all the people who were rushing about. The only good thing was that this meant they couldn't use magic.
So he reached the end of his journey back to London with some trepidation. He found out that Hermione and Ron were just as eager as the certain cat. They all knew what would happen when Sirius and Harry's relatives met.
"If even Professor McGonagall wants them trounced there must really be something very bad about them," Hermione insisted. "I really hope they get it bad!"
Ron laughed and slapped her lightly on the shoulder.
"That's the Hermione we all love to see… reminds me of the day when you slapped Malfoy."
"Well, they're awful people, aren't they?"
But as they arrived at the station they first had to climb out of the train and organise their trunks and other luggage. Then they looked for their parents and guardians. Hermione just organised her luggage, which she spelled to look like regular Muggle suitcases and bags. She stayed with Harry as he spotted Sirius and Remus in the mass of relatives of the students on the platform. She thoroughly enjoyed seeing Harry's big smile as he approached his godfather. She remembered only too well how every little bit of light and joy vanished from his face as soon as they'd left the train in London in the past three years.
Sirius welcomed Harry with tight hug. While Sirius also gave Hermione a hug, Harry turned to Remus.
"Hello, Professor Lupin!"
"Hello Harry! Please, don't call me professor anymore, I'd like it much more if you could call me by my first name, Remus, or even Moony," Remus said, smiling.
"Okay, I'll do that!"
"And you, too, Hermione," Remus added when he shook her hand.
"Thanks, Remus. So, can I keep contact with Harry by owl while he's with you?" she asked, a bit anxiously.
"Of course you can! You can even come down to Jersey with your parents and visit us, how about that?"
"Oh, it's in Jersey? That's lovely. I'd love to, if Harry wants me to come…"
"Of course I want you to come! I'm usually missing both of you terribly!" Harry said.
The Weasleys approached. Harry turned to greet Mrs Weasley. She almost crushed him when she hugged him.
"Harry! I just heard that you don't have to go back to the dreadful Muggles anymore, I'm so glad!"
"No, I don't. And I'm sure Sirius will let me come to the Burrow for a bit."
"'Course I will, Pup! We're on the Floo, Mrs Weasley, so you can communicate in any case. The Floo name is Seaside Manor. We'll give you the password to travel as soon as you call for the first time."
"Sounds lovely, Mr. Black. You will look after him, won't you? He's been treated too badly in the past. I would rather he'd come to stay at the Burrow…"
Both, Harry and Sirius, and even Remus immediately shook their heads.
"No, sorry, Mrs Weasley, but I really want to be with my godfather now. He's been kept away from me through no fault of his own and I really need to learn to know him better now," Harry said with certainty and added: "And I'm also looking forward to getting my own home. I know I'm welcome at the Burrow, but I'm a guest there and I really want to see what it's like to have a home."
This shot down any words of protest that the Weasley matriarch might have wished to state, but it rather looked like Molly Weasley, for once, didn't know what to reply.
While they started to trickle through the barrier, Molly Weasley saw Professor McGonagall slip past and smoothly transform into her cat. They all met up again and she remarked:
"Has anyone of you seen Minerva McGonagall pass by, too? I just saw her transforming…"
While no one had paid that any mind, Harry, Hermione and Ron all three couldn't hide their grins. Sirius looked at them and asked:
"Seems like you three know something about it…"
"Let's just get on, please, Sirius," Harry said.
Just a few metres later they met up with Hermione's parents George and Helen Granger, who, as Muggles, had to wait outside of the barrier.
"Mum! Dad!" she squealed and ran to embrace them.
Once they had shared a nice hug, Hermione turned back to the others to introduce Sirius and Remus:
"Mum, Dad, please meet my former and future professor, Remus Lupin, and Sirius Black, who will also become a teacher of ours next year. Sirius is Harry's godfather as I've already told you in my letters. Harry doesn't have to go back to these terrible relatives of his since Sirius has been officially acquitted."
"Pleased to meet you, gentlemen," said George Granger. "Our little one has already told us lots of stories about you."
"We've heard about you, too. Very pleased to meet you, Mrs Granger, Mr. Granger…"
Sirius, Remus and Harry all shook hands with both of Hermione's parents.
"There you are, you ungrateful brat. Don't lose us our time and come along," they heard from behind Harry.
Sirius turned around quickly and just caught a glimpse of Vernon Dursley roughly pulling Harry away from them by his arm.
"ONE LITTLE MOMENT, VERNON DURSLEY!" Sirius roared.
Dursley swivelled around, surprised, and let Harry go, who jumped out of reach immediately. Sirius approached the large man and looked down on him. Then he grabbed him by the tie, twisted it and pulled it slightly up.
"You are not responsible for my godson anymore, Dursley. My name has been cleared and I can finally take him in and raise him. He's suffered you for much too long."
"Now see here, you can't just come here and take him. The old codger who placed him with us…"
"…does not even have the legal right to say what's going to happen with Harry, because that is MY legal right as I'm his guardian. And I will forbid him to ever get in touch with you again, you miscreant."
Harry shivered. He stared at Sirius and hardly recognised him anymore. Only now he saw how Sirius looked when he was dressed in fine clothes of excellent material. He had gained a little weight, but with his almost two-metre stature, he towered over the short, fat man, who had to look up to meet Sirius' flashing eyes.
"You… you… you dare…" Dursley didn't even have anything to reply.
"I dare telling you that I will have an investigation on your treatment of my godchild, Dursley. I may be a wizard, but I know your world well enough to know that it is strange how it could have gone unnoticed that a child has been mistreated for most of its life by its guardians. If there's the slightest hint at anyone in your family having beaten the child, you will go to jail, Dursley, just so you know it that there will be a charge and you will be torn in front of the court. The best you'll get away with, Dursley, is a really heavy fine! A really heavy and hefty one. Because I know that your kind is hit worst by your purse. And now do not come near my family anymore, is that clear?"
Sirius dropped Dursley who lost his balance and fell on his bum, then he turned around and didn't spare the man one glance anymore. He put his hand softly on Harry's shoulder and said:
"Let's go, son, we have a nice little trip to get to your new home."
They started to bid their goodbyes to the Weasleys and the Grangers. Hermione stepped up to Harry and gave him a peck on the cheek, which made both of them blush, but she said:
"I'll be in contact, Harry, just send Hedwig now and then, okay? A letter on her leg wouldn't be unwelcome either. She's welcome at our house and garden."
"I'll write, Hermione, don't worry. I'll be seeing you and Ron, too!"
"I look forward to that, Harry!"
The Weasleys bustled out of the station, together with some other wizarding families, who trickled out of Kings Cross now. Sirius watched how Dursley left the station with a very red face and said:
"Well, the three of us need to move down to the Underground then. Unfortunately we have to go to my old family home to be able to Floo to our new place."
"You are from London?" Harry asked.
"My whole family is. They have property all over the country though, and they're also big landowners. Let's get this behind us."
They took the trolley with Harry's trunk and Hedwig's cage and moved down to the Underground station from where they drove to the stop nearest to the Black ancestral home. The only time Harry had ever ridden the Underground had been when Hagrid had taken him to Diagon Alley for the very first time. He didn't get to enjoy it for a very long time, because they arrived at their destination soon. Remus surreptitiously shrunk Harry's trunk and they took off on foot.