Chapter 5: Hesed
Beta-read by MrHolbyta
Hesed: Hebrew word for "belonging love" or "faithful and loyal love"
He paid little heed to the conversations swirling around him. With any luck, they had found a new topic to talk about instead of dwelling on the alleged love triangle between his best friends and Krum. It was disturbing to know that he had unconsciously contributed to the gossip by behaving so badly.
Ron was practically inhaling his breakfast. Even more than usual. If he was honest with himself, he found it easier to deal with his best mates' absence and the rumours surrounding them when he ate. His attempt to mute his loneliness was interrupted when he spotted a familiar white owl standing before him with her leg stretched out. .
Quickly, he untied the parchment from her leg. "I'll send my reply with Pig. He needs some workout ."
He could almost see reproach in her large amber eyes—she usually clicked her break in annoyance when she was forced to endure the presence of his overactive owl. She eyed the bacon on his plate contemplatively. After a while, she decided to return to her owner without stealing a snack.
Eagerly, he read the letter from his friends. The letter was clearly written by Hermione but it lacked the usual details—as if Harry had dictated the letter—and he found himself almost disappointed. He knew he should be happy that Snuffles had found a permanent and decent place to settle down and that they had discovered the way Skeeter eavesdropped on them, but he couldn't feel happy. His eyes fell on the way they had signed off:
"Love, Harry and Hermione"
He rubbed his chest, not comprehending the gloom that blossomed there. The idea of Harry and Hermione together troubled him. His mind drifted to the knowing smiles and looks they shared. The letter spoke of a familiarity that he envied greatly. He knew that it was very generous of Harry to forgive him and he wasn't worried that they were trying to distance themselves from him: they had experienced so much together that he was certain that their friendship was cemented. Why was he feeling so upset then? Why did the mere thought of them being together feel as if someone had slipped cubes of ice into his chest?
"Quit looking as if someone killed Pig, little brother," quipped one of the twins , slinging his arm over his shoulders in a true sibling fashion—irritating. He stuffed the letter into his pocket.
"Lighten up…" Fred and George wore identical grins. In spite of his annoyance, he found it almost hilarious to see them in matching smiles.
Ron rolled his eyes, shrugging his arm off his shoulder. "Leave me alone." Trust his brothers to annoy him when he was feeling down. "Did they have some in-built sensors?" he scoffed inwardly before digging in. Fred pushed the plate away from him. He knew better to let Ron eat while they talked.
They took a seat on either side sides of him.
Where were Harry and Hermione when he needed them?
"C'mon Ronniekins , cheer up. It's the break. Your best buddies having the best time of their lives? It's been a rough few weeks for them."
He frowned. "No. It sounds boring. It's a good thing I'm not with them—no Quidditch, no chess, no magic. What am I gonna do?" He moved his plate closer to him.
George shook his head, after sharing a meaningful look with his twin.
"Suit yourself, Ronniekins. Stop the pity party. We're here if you wanna talk. " His brothers joined Lee Jordan to head back to the dorms .
He stared at his plate wistfully—it didn't look as appealing as before. He pushed the plate away. He withdrew the letter from his pocket and stared at their names.
"Harry and Hermione…"
If he was honest with himself…
The ache in his chest bloomed again at that thought.
He scoffed, tucking the letter back into his pocket. His mind drifted to the possibility of enticing one of his house mate into playing a game of chess.
The Grangers could barely spot the tiny grubby-looking pub sandwiched between a bookshop and a record shop in Charing Cross Road that they were supposed to meet their esteemed guest. The dark and shabby tavern was overfilled with wizards and witches dressed in robes of many different colours, passing through the pub into Diagon Alley. They had ceased to be surprised to see witches or wizards stepping out from the licking green flames of the fireplace.
Curious, they scanned the crowd, unsure what the Duc looked like. Would he be dressed in finery since he was related to the King of Magical France? Sirius had never met him before, therefore he couldn't supply the details they needed. "The conceit of British Wizards: we don't want to know about wizards from other countries because we act as if the world revolves around us," Sirius explained, shrugging.
The Grangers realised how pervasive the problem was.
"Someone has to realise that the days in which the sun had never set on the Great British Empire or that the Indian Ocean was her lake are over. What better way to reconsider our sense of superiority besides forming an alliance with a foreign aristocracy? My mother would have flipped in her grave if she knew of it," added Sirius, searching the crowd carefully.
"And our distant cousins really do not need more education from us," continued Dan, matter-of-factly.
Hermione chuckled brightly, shaking her head in amusement. "International relations," mouthed Hermione to Harry when she noticed his lack of comprehension.
They spotted a few wizards sitting at the table drinking sherry and talking in soft voices.
Tom, the bartender, saw Harry and his companions enter his establishment. Quickly, he fought through the moving crowd to get to them. "Please follow me," gushed Tom, his face red with exertion.
Harry nodded, pushing through the crowd in the common room, down a narrow hall . He glanced behind occasionally, checking that the Grangers and Sirius were following him. The crowd's noises were muted as they entered the hallway. Harry recognised that it was the way to the private parlour where he had his conversation with Minister Fudge in the summer holidays before his third year.
"It's good to see you well, Harry, but I must leave you. The dinner crowd is coming in. Holler for me if you and your companions need anything," welcomedTom. He smiled and greeted the Grangers since he had met them several times.
"Thanks Tom," smiled Harry. He liked the bartender, because he was genuinely kind to him. The bald and toothless bartender left them alone to tend to his other customers in the common room.
Nervously, Harry loosened his collar. Hermione, noticing his discomfort, squeezed his forearm in support.
He flashed a grateful smile at her. How did she know that he would be nervous? Summoning his courage, Harry entered the private parlour where a large table was set. Tom had put some effort decorating the room—two runners lay across the table and a beautiful vase of flowers served as a centrepiece. A short and plump man with a short, pointed black beard stood up when they entered.
He was dressed in robes of dark blue so dark they seemed black. There was a small smile on his face as he gestured around the room, inviting them to come in. "You must be Harry Potter. And these must be your guardians? I'm Gaston , Duc d' Orleans, the fazzer of the two beautiful girls , Fleur and Gabrielle." His baritone voice was heavy with his French accent but he spoke English clearly. "I apologise for ze absence of my wife, Apolline. She was needed back at home."
"It's fine, milord," returned Harry. He sensed no ill intentions from him.
The Grangers and Sirius introduced themselves to the Duc, shaking his hand in turn. He looked interested when Hermione introduced herself—no doubt familiar with her name because of her involvement in the second task.
The Ducpaused for a moment when Sirius had introduced himself honestly.
His eyes gleamed with amusement. "I like you, Sirius. You must have a lot of guts to introduce yourself openly, even though you're on the run."
Sirius shrugged unflappably. "You would have found out that I was Harry's godfather. Besides, it is well known fact that you willingly forfeited the throne to marry your wife, a half-Veela. It speaks volumes about your character. I do not think you will hand me over to my former colleagues."
Gaston chuckled brightly, clapping him on his back. "Very perceptive, Lord Black." He gestured them to take a seat at the table and invited them to order their drinks.
He sat in his seat, observing them closely as they placed their orders. Harry made a few recommendations, which some of them took. When Tom finally left them, he began the conversation, turning to look at Harry.
"I owe you szanks, young Harry, for saving ma fille. I was curious, zough, when I received your letter. Compelled by my duty, I had spent time learning about you after you have saved ma Gabrielle. It was difficult to procure any information about you, besides ze reason for your fame. I needed time to understand your background and situation better."
"Ditto," replied Sirius.
Gaston barked a laugh. "For different reasons I believe."
"Duty, milord?" repeated Hermione, lifting a brow.
"Duty to make good onmy daughter's life debt to Harry, Miss Granger," answered the portly Ducwith a small smile. "My 'ouse is indebted to Harry for saving my youngest daughter, ze heir to my family—"
"—which is usually done through an alliance of families," continued Hermione tentatively.
He appeared impressed, staring at Sirius and Hermione. He nodded before turning to look at the Grangers. "I'm aware zat ze 'ouse of Potter 'as recently employed retainers. For raisons I cannot comprehend, ze will could not be executed until recently. You have a say in zis alliance zat your daughter has pointed out."
Emma and Dan nodded hesitantly. They shared a look between each other—it was clear that the Duc had come prepared.
The Duc narrowed his brows in contemplation. "I don't understand ze motivation. Is it for financial raisons I'm aware zat if Harry becomes engaged to my youngest daughter, 'e will be recognised as an adult and zerefore inherits ze mantle of ze minor member of the British peerage—"
"No!" protested Harry indignantly, staring at Hermione. She looked almost relived. He scanned around the table after his outburst before hastily correcting himself. "I-I mean I have no intention of forming an alliance with your family through a marriage. I apologise for the outburst but I would prefer if you consider forming a political alliance with my house."
"Why?" questioned the French Ducas he sipped his goblet of wine. He leaned back in his seat as he fixed his eyes on Harry. "It is unprecedented zat a member of the British peerage form alliance wiss a French family. I'm aware of how xenophobic ze members of ze British peerage can be and such alliance would mean zat I have an avenue wiss which to dabble in politics on zis side of ze Channel. Besides, you're not involved in politics. You don't need mon influence ."
The table was silent, knowing that this was a conversation between Harry and Gaston.
Harry swallowed visibly, searching for the words to speak. He glanced at his hands, trying to organise his thoughts. Mustering his courage, he spoke. "For normalcy. You must be aware that I'm the fourth champion, an anomaly in this tournament. I did not wish to compete in this competition—"
"But you 'ave participated in it and completed two task . Well, if you don't mind my compliments—"
"With help." He glanced at Hermione. "I do not want the fame and the money," concluded Harry, meeting the M. Delacours gaze firmly.
The Duc seemed almost convinced of his reluctance to participate. "Has anyssing been done to absolve you of ze need to participate?" probed the M. Delacour, taking another sip from his goblet.
Harry shook his head.
The Ducleaned in, staring at Harry closely. "Are you hiding some pertinent information?"
"What makes you say that, milord?" interjected Sirius coolly.
The climbed onto his feet. Despite his portly build, he carried an air of command. "Everyssing zat is related to you, Harry, is clouded wiss mystery. Sirius, you were not tried under your laws but were simply imprisoned. Ze Department of Magical Law Enforcement isn't involved in ze Triwizard Tournament even zough it involves ze darling of magical Britain. Ze reading of ze Potters' will was made illegal by an Act of the Wizengamotzat applied specifically to your circumstances. Zere is very little information about you despite your fame."
"For those reasons you have brought up, we're proposing an alliance between the two families to safeguard Harry's well-being as repayment for the life debt," replied Dan unwaveringly. He folded his hands and waited for the Duke's response.
Gaston placed his hands on the back of the chair, scanning the faces around the table curiously. "We'll be going against a powerful and unidentifiable source zat is too engrossed wiss Harry?" summarised the Duke succinctly. He scanned the room for their reaction.
Sirius and Hermione exchanged a look. "That's the idea," answered Sirius plainly, looking relaxed. "A source with plenty of connections. "
Gaston lifted a brow at the possible implications—it was a potential death trap that he and his family may never be able to escape if they had agreed to the proposal.
They were interrupted by Tom who served them their dinner and drinks. The French Ducreturned to his seat. The tension in the room faded for a moment as they thanked the bartender and dug in. M. Delacourlooked as if he was deep in contemplation as he stared at his plate. The revelation that Harry was really a puppet in a larger scheme of things complicated their proposal for alliance.
"I understand ze situation a bit better now," replied Gaston, staring at his plate when Tom finally left them alone. "From what I gathered in my inquiries, you won't like it if you insist on continuing down zis pass—you might unearss truss's zat you wish you never knew and it would distort ze way you'll see ze world. "
"I don't have a choice…"
"No, you'll always 'ave choices. Don't be deceived by ze old illusion zat you've no agency. Holding zat delusion to your chest will not absolve you of any consequences of your decision," replied Gaston firmly, fixing a piercing gaze on him. "You need to realise what you want, Harry."
The Grangers and Sirius gave him an encouraging smile.
Hermione squeezed his hand tenderly. "It's your choice. We'll support you."
Harry could tell that it was a struggle for her to back off and allow him to make his own decision.
He considered Gaston's words, recalling what the Grangers and Sirius had done for him. He met Hermione's gaze—her eyes reflected her unwavering commitment of support. His heart swelled up with indescribable warmth—a novel and strange feeling—and that emotion threatened to burst the seams of his chest.
He did not break that gaze. "Freedom. I want to find my own liberating restrictions ."
Tiny lines appeared in the corner of Hermione's eyes.
A small smile appeared on Gaston's face. Oh, young and sweet love. He did not need his wife to tell him how attracted the two teenagers were to each other. They each looked at the other as if they meant the whole world. He could tell they had the foundation to make a relationship work if they could work out their own personal issues.
He observed Dan's face and saw a fleeting expression of grudging acceptance. He had to admit the feeling was foreign since he was still the most important man in his daughters' lives. Sirius and Emma seemed amused.
"Let me offer another proposal."
The teenagers snapped out of their reverie with flushed faces. They turned away from each other, skittish.
Dan, Emma and Sirius merely laughed.
"As I was saying, I wish to make anozzer proposal," smiled Gaston. He noticed that he had all of their attention. "I wish to be allied to both ze 'ouses of Black and Potter in repayment of ze life debt I owe to Harry."
"W-what would you gain from it besides getting those puppeteers worried, milord?" questioned Hermione with furrowed brow. "I know that the Blacks and the Potters are notable families."
Gaston chuckled brightly. "Mademoiselle de Granger is wise. Everyssing zat is 'appening in England seems to be intimately related to Harry since ze fall of ze Dark Lord. Wiss my daughter involved in ze Triwizard Tournament, it is also about looking out for her interest. I'm also compelled by ze life debt to do so. Besides , it's silly to imagine zat countries live in isolation."
His shrewdness and open sincerity won the adults over.
Sirius grinned devilishly, lifting his goblet. "I like the plan. To the alliance between the Orleans, the Blacks and the Potters."
Gaston mirrored his grin, lifting his goblet.
Emma and Dan exchanged looks between themselves before lifting their goblets. Finally, Hermione and Harry joined in. Together, they cheered to the impending alliance between the three houses.
"Wiss zat out of ze way, let's formalise ze alliance wiss a treaty after dinner. I 'ave already made an appointment at Gringotts and instructed zem to draft an initial contract we can work wiss. We can work out ze finer issues later," suggested Gaston. "And please address me as Gaston if we're going to be allies," remarked the portly Frenchman with a wink of his eye.
The Grangers were surprised. "I beg your pardon? Did you already foresee that you'll sign that treaty?" asked Emma.
Gaston shrugged. "No, not really. I wanted to 'ear what Harry 'ad to say before I agreed. Besides, we 'ave a deadline to work with." He winked at Harry.
The sight of Sirius laughing to himself after he saw the Daily Prophet's headline amused the other occupants who were having breakfast. Sirius clutched his stomach and howled in laughter. Soon, he had tears in his eyes. "Gaston's really good."
"What's so funny?" demanded Hermione irritably as she desperately tried to steal a peek of the headline. Sirius immediately folded the paper and put it out of her reach.
It was a game for Sirius. He tried to maintain suspense in the room by ensuring that Hermione couldn't reach the paper. The Grangers were amused, choosing to see how it would unfold, considering that Hermione had a short fuse.
Harry smiled inwardly, leaning back in his seat. The fastest way to annoy Hermione was to thwart her from sating her curiosity once triggered.
"C'mon Sirius!" She leapt into the air, trying to wrestle the paper from him.
"I am serious."
"Stop it! The joke's really getting old. You're childish," reprimanded Hermione, her cheeks beetroot red .
"No, I'm Sirius," replied Sirius, smirking brightly, nimbly moving the paper out of her reach. For a person who had spent a decade incarcerated, he was especially nimble.
Harry shook his head, tuning them out. Sirius couldn't keep it a secret for long.
Dan gave Harry a knowing smile. Emma couldn't contain her amusement.
Harry had to admit that expressing what he wanted helped him to put things into perspective—the visits to the doctor and the changes to his life. He had to meet a detective later in the afternoon to talk about his relatives.
It was almost surreal—he wasn't returning to the Dursleys.
Deeming it sufficient entertainment for the morning, Sirius finally relented. He laid the paper on the centre of the table so that everyone had a better look.
With hungry eyes, Hermione quickly scanned the article on the first page of the newspaper.
It was titled "The Unexpected Alliance of Orleans, the Blacks, and the Potters: Conspiracy?"
Hermione burst out laughing when she realised that they had laid the blame at the feet of the Goblins who ought to have prevented the formalisation of the alliance since it had involved an escaped prisoner and a minor. "Oh, this is really rich."
The secretary to the Head of the Bank and Goblin Nation had replied brusquely during the interview that the alliance was legal since the House of Potter was represented by its retainers and Lord Black was never formally charged under Wizarding laws by the Wizengamot.
"We'd have committed a crime if we had prevented Lord Black, the Head of the Most Noble and Most Ancient House of Black from conducting his affairs. Besides, such personal treaties—between houses from two different countries—can only be handled at Gringotts as it does not affect the sovereignty of the states. "
Dan smiled at the goblin's implicit insult of Fudge's administration—its inability to capture the escaped prisoner, possible corruption and lack of knowledge of the international laws governing the magical world. He whistled. "That's some guts. I'm glad they're warding the house later." Checking his wristwatch, he headed upstairs to change for work.
The news of the new alliance sent the message to the magical world that Harry was no longer going to be a passive victim. Expecting hostile reactions to that message, Gaston had recommended that the Grangers employ the goblins to ward their house —for the obvious reason of protecting themselves and subtly implying that they were considered Magicals.
The journalist's promise to unravel the mystery of House Potter's retainers concluded the article.
"You'd think he or she might have investigated the goblin's claims that Sirius is innocent," lamented Harry, shaking his head.
"They will believe what they want to believe," answered Sirius, shrugging. "At the moment, I'm the Ministry's convenient scapegoat. It helps the public to sleep easier at night, because it gives them the illusion that everything is under control. "
The table grew quiet.
"I pity those who uses the Daily Prophet as their window to the world," commented Hermione absently, looking at the paper. "It reminds me of my own dorm mates would foolishly believe Witch Weekly instead of trusting their own instincts."
Noticing the crest-fallen expression on her face, Harry reached out to take her hand. He reflected on his experiences from being ostracised by his schoolmates. "I've learnt not to bother about them and focus only on those who choose to believe in me."
Sirius smiled. "That's very wise of you, Harry. The majority isn't always right. You have to validate the truth."
Emma stood up and looked out of the window as if she was expecting something would happen.
"Why aren't we bombarded by owls?" questioned Emma finally. "I would think that they would have interrupted our breakfast with unnecessary mail."
Sirius grinned broadly. "It's a service to screen our mail. I saw to it last night after our conversation about the lack of such services in Hogwarts."
Emma smiled at him, happy that he was taking steps to take care of the teenagers.
Sirius turned to the teenagers. "Are you planning to continue studying later? You looked exhausted, Harry."
Hermione turned to observe Harry worriedly. He shrugged nonchalantly, trying not to let his weariness show.
"You haven't been sleeping well?" questioned Emma. "Has Hermione pushed you too hard or are you unused to your room?" She glanced at her daughter.
Hermione shot her mother a glare but return her gaze to Harry.
"No," protested Harry immediately. "No, definitely not." Hermione looked relieved. He rubbed the back of his head. "You know we found my parent's journals a couple of days ago. I was up last night reading about my dad's adventures in his first year."
"Oh." Sirius smiled. "We didn't encounter Fluffy and a nefarious being killing unicorns, but we had our fair share of adventures. James' invisibility cloak was a gift from heaven."
Emma patted his hand. "It must have been exciting but you need to remember to rest sufficiently. Take a nap later this afternoon." She gave her daughter a meaningful look before checking the time. "Honey, you're going to be late!"
Immediately, rapid steps echoed in the hallway. As per routine, the Grangers left the table to meet Dan at the garage. Harry hastily stuffed his toast into his mouth and washed his hands. "I'll see you at the other house later."
Dan chuckled when he saw Harry standing dutifully by Hermione, waiting to say goodbye. "As Em said yesterday, you don't really have to do this." Emma was surprised when Harry had decided to join Hermione and Dan in bidding her goodbye the day before
He balanced on the balls of his feet, shifting nervously. Dan merely patted him on the shoulder. "I appreciate it. I'll see you later. "
He kissed Hermione on the forehead and kissed Emma on the lips before he stepped into the car.
"I'll make lunch today," said Emma, heading to the kitchen. The teenagers headed upstairs to collect their books so that they could revise for their upcoming exams at the other house.
She paid little heed to the uproar in her department when she had entered the office with a copy of the Daily Prophet under her arm. Once again, the members of the public and Wizengamot had questioned the integrity of her department. It was their burden to bear since the Quidditch Cup. Her men were overworked since that night, desperately trying to make sense of the events.
Perhaps the answer had always been right under their nose.
She couldn't blame them. The department had been suffering from budget cuts despite their insistence that they needed a bigger budget to be effective—more training, recruitment of new Aurors… She used all her influence to justify that increase but Malfoy's camp kept blindsiding her. Her mood instantly turned sour at the thought of that sly Machiavellian, who constantly poured poison into the Minister's ear. She could only look forward to the next election of the Minister for Magic and hope that they had a more competent boss.
In the meantime, she could only work with what she had.
She made her way to the desk of one of her senior staff on foot, setting an example to her team that they shouldn't over-rely on magic if they could.
She turned into the section where all the Aurors were sitting. She noticed that the Head of the Auror office was not at his desk.
Gawain Robards, one of her staff greeted her politely. Knowing the look on her face, he returned to work immediately. "Rufus is in the field, Milady. There was a report of hostile vampires."
She thanked him for the information, sighing inwardly. They were so thinly stretched that the Head of the Auror Office had to complete missions alongside his men, instead of focusing on management and increasing the efficiency of the team.
Pictures of Sirius Black adorning his desk, greeted her. She felt disturbed to see her former colleague's mug shot—she found it difficult to believe that he had betrayed the Potters. They had bled and fought on the frontlines against those Death Eaters in the past. How could he have betrayed the Potters or even the DMLE? One could do anything during those dark days, she grimly reminded herself.
A towering, bald wizard was sitting at the desk. A single gold hoop adorned his ear.
"Kingsley, with me. To my office," she ordered briskly, not breaking her stride. The dark-skinned wizard hurried after her, calm and composed like any morning. She performed the necessary charms to unlock her door and refresh the wards before inviting him to take a seat.
Her office was quite empty, save for a desk and two chairs—a reflection of the personality of the owner. Several brown files were stacked neatly on her desk.
The article, 'Terror of the Quidditch Cup' was plastered on the wall, above an action plan for the Department.
"Would you like pumpkin juice or a shot of Firewhiskey?" she offered, tying up her long red hair in a ponytail absently.
The charming wizard smiled. "Do I need that shot of Firewhiskey, milady?"
Her countenance remained passive.
"I'll have what you're having," replied Kingsley politely. She poured two shots of Firewhiskey and offered a glass to him. He could recognise the veterans who had fought the war through the habits they had procured. Moody needed alcohol on a constant basis to live through the emotional scars that were more debilitating than his physical disfiguration. Rufus was never the same after the war, either. "I know you want an update on Sirius Black. With the announcement of the new alliance, it's going to be difficult to keep it quiet."
She finished hers in a gulp. She looked almost relaxed after the drink. "We lost our chances of keeping it quiet when our boss insisted on giving him the Dementor's kiss rather than to inform us about his capture. You know that the Dementors owe their loyalty to the office of Minister for Magic first." She drummed her fingers on the desk. She peered out of the window distantly, organising her thoughts.
"He's one of us. Doesn't he know that he can only be declared innocent if he is placed on trial?"
She shook her head. "He doesn't trust the system. Mr Crouch decided that he belonged to Azkaban without a trial."
"Based on popular opinion?" He had done enough digging to know that none of the protocol that was ingrained into him as an Auror was applied in Sirius' case. His wand was destroyed without testing and he was convicted without a trial.
Amelia sighed loudly. "I'm afraid so. I never had the opportunity to question Mr Crouch on that decision. Those were the dark times. We were fighting fire with fire, grasping at straws as we watched our comrades betray, kill or be killed. The Head had a lot of power then." Her eyes grew distant for a moment. She remembered her train of thought. "Despite the fact that he was politically side-lined, he remains influential. I needed to rebuild this department and rewire it for peace times."
"You don't have any new evidence to shed new light his case and you had no reason to re-examine it until he escaped from Azkaban," added Kingsley, looking at the untouched shot glass. "Pardon my disrespect, but I think those are merely excuses."
Amelia blinked owlishly.
"Besides Moody, I'm the other person in the department who knows that Lord Black is a fine and upstanding member of this department. He was your partner. He fought and bled with you. You can't think so badly of him."
She lifted a brow at his audacity to imply that he was entirely innocent. "You have raised up the most essential reason why Mr Crouch did not consider my case when I was the Head of Auror office—I'm too emotionally invested in this—"
"Which is absolute B-S, if you pardon my language, milady." His eyes blazed for a moment. He downed the shot with a gulp, composing himself. The liquid burnt his throat almost deliciously, clearing his mind. "Merlin. You're just afraid, milady. For that fear, an innocent man might have wasted more than a decade of his life. The Sirius we both know is worth the gamble."
The image of a bloodied and dirty Sirius smiling charmingly at her after he had defended her from a nasty-looking hex appeared in her mind. That she remained physically untouched by the war was a tribute to their skills and their teamwork. She owed it to her partner to cover his back even at the risk of her career.
Amelia turned away, staring out of the window. "Get me new evidence. I'll handle the blasted bureaucracy then." Wordlessly, she dismissed him.
He expected her defensive reaction although she was one of the few enlightened leaders in the Ministry. He admired her style of leadership—she was personal, firm and competent. He climbed to his feet swiftly. "I'll try, milady. We need a damn miracle, maybe in the form of this French Lord. You know that the power that put him there is the same force that is keeping him convicted. I'll get you the evidence but we know the real show begins when we open that can of worms."
Her sigh was the only indication that she had heard him.
He shut the door behind him, leaving her alone in contemplation.
She spread out the pile of case files of various thicknesses—it was thinner than the file on Bellatrix Lestrange—on her desk. Due to the nature of the case, she was handling it personally. "Which of you did it if it wasn't Black?" She stared at each moving mug shot, as if hoping that they would spill the secrets that they held. With the exception of Sirius Black, they were all dead.
Was this the missing link she needed to unravel the puzzle?
It took a fanatic Death Eater to cast the Dark Mark that night. Logically, such a fanatic would have chosen to be identified with the Dark Lord even if it meant death, which meant the culprit must be serving a sentence for him. Yet, the only way a person could leave Azkaban, with the exception of Sirius Black, was to expire.
Her eyes landed on Barty Crouch Junior.
He looked unhinged and obstinate in the mug shot. He probably didn't imagine that his father would put him in Azkaban for mixing with bad company. His parents did visit him before he passed away. His case file, like Sirius', was thin. She did not have a health report for him but he didn't look sickly in the shot. Why would he pass away so quickly?
She swallowed visibly. It was merely her intuition that something was really wrong and she did not have an iota of evidence. She sat upright immediately—that in itself was strange. Hastily, she leapt to her feet and selected a case file at random from the cabinet on one of the prisoners. She scanned through the file: details of the trial, investigation report, and health report. She withdrew a few just to confirm her suspicion.
The revelation hit her like a tsunami.
"Merlin, someone tampered with his file."
She had to narrow the list of suspects that had access to his file: the string that would unravel the ball of yarn. Given the sensitive nature of the case, only the Head of DMLE had access to the file.
It had to be…
She cursed loudly, slamming the closet with her fists. How could he? Mr Crouch was the main reason why so many of her colleagues had survived the war. She couldn't believe that he would do something as illegal as this.
A tiny voice whispered in her head: think about Sirius's plight.
She had to tread carefully. She contemplated ways to speak to her predecessor.
A knock on the door announced that she had a guest. Hastily, she stuffed the files back into the cabinet before asking the person to enter.
Rufus entered the room with a slight limp and a scowl on his face. "The mission was a success. I'll have a report for you by the afternoon. By the way, you have a guest."
She took a moment to observe his countenance—there were rings around his eyes. "You look tired. Take the remainder of the day to rest. You can submit the report tomorrow."
He looked grateful but the scowl did not subside. "It's the French Duke : the father of that champion, Fleur Delacour."
"Keeping up with the Triwizard Tournament?" She set her files aside. "I need you to help me to poke around and find out more about the absence of Mr Crouch. I don't want him share the same fate as Jorkins." She stared intently at him, knowing that he would catch her drift.
He nodded, the lines in his face tightening. "I'll show him in."
A portly man with a sharp goatee entered her office. "Good morning, milady." His French accent gave away his identity and reminded her that she had an appointment with the French Duke . "Caught you at a bad time"
He had nerves of steel coming to the DMLE alone after establishing an alliance with a prisoner on run.
She invited him to take a seat. "What would you like?"
He eyed her empty shot glass for a moment. "Tea would be lovely" He did not seem surprised that she drank at work.
Amelia eyed him suspiciously since she could not get a read on him. Despite being the Head of DMLE, she knew little about the Duc besides the fact that he willingly gave up his right to the French throne when he chose to wed a Veela. She sent a message to one of her men to prepare refreshments for her guest. "I could hazard a guess about the reason for meeting today after reading the papers today. You're here about Lord Black, Your Grace?"
"I'm glad. It makes szings easier for me. I'm also here on behalf of young Harry."
She arched a brow. "The Triwizard Tournament," clarified Amelia patiently, steepling her hands in a tent. "I don't see the issue."
"Which is odd, considering he's an underage wizard. He has expressed his disinclination in participation."
"He has completed two tasks…"
"Wiss little choice," concluded the Duc firmly. His eyes gleamed with protectiveness.
Amelia leaned back in her seat, allowing the silence to stretch between them. It was the first visible emotion she could discern from the elusive Duc Was that sense of protectiveness fabricated?
"I know zat Mr Crouch did not show up for ze Second Task. I 'eard from my daughter and Harry zat Mr Crouch was ze one who insisted zat Harry continue wiss ze competition even zough he did not enter." Zat's far too much coincidence, isn't it?
Amelia schooled her face to be impassive. Since both the Departments of International Cooperation and Games and Hogwarts saw no need to involve her department, she had little information about it. She knew the barest details from Susan's letters. She remembered that Susan did briefly mentioned that Harry managed to retrieve both his and Delacour's hostage. Was that the reason why the Duchad established an alliance with the House of Potter and by extension, the Blacks? She could barely control her frustration. She agreed with his deduction: circles within circles. The pieces were not making any sense but she sensed that it was part of the same puzzle. She needed someone to be in school.
It was strange that Moody did not bring the issue to her attention. Although he had just retired from being a Senior Auror, he had more sense than Bagman to keep things under wrap, since he was far more paranoid than her.
Amelia swore that she would murder Bagman with her bare hands—his idiocy should have had some limit. He should have alerted her to any new and unexplainable absence since Jorkins was part of his department when she went missing. Is it even a wonder that she was still missing?
She needed someone to be in Hogwarts, preferably someone who knew Moody and would not stand out in the school.
He noted the contemplative look in her eyes. "Sirius said zat you would see reason. He described you as a competent investigator, wiss an uncanny intuition."
Her heart fluttered at the thought but she maintained her impassive façade.
"You see fit to share with me your correspondence with him when you know that my department is actively searching for him?"
He shrugged, almost elegantly. "You can't force me into an interview. " He withdrew an orb from his pocket and set it carefully on her desk. "An olive branch."
She recognised it immediately—a recording of a will.
He smiled when he saw the gleam of recognition and curiosity.
"Sirius tells me zat ze reading of zis will is illegal but I hope it will offer you a new perspective. I'll see you in 'ogwarts soon. I'll see myself out." With a flick of his hands, he dispelled the wards. He thanked the Auror who had brought his tea to him—she was the most junior in the department; as such, she would be given such mundane duties.
"Just the person I'm looking for, please come in with the tea, Auror Tonks," invited Amelia observing that, for the day, she had chosen bright green spiky hair, enhancing her heart-shaped face. Clumsily, she entered her office, nearly spilling the cup of tea she was holding.
Expecting the accident, Amelia summoned the cup of tea neatly into her hand without spilling a drop. Carefully, she set it on her desk before pouring another double of Firewhiskey into her shot glass. She rubbed the temples of her head.
"Yes, milady." Hastily, she plopped into the seat, grateful to be rid of the cup from her hands.
"I'll speak to your immediate superior soon or reassign you to someone more considerate," said Amelia, looking concerned. Her men would know that she didn't like others to humiliate their subordinates on purpose. She downed the shot in a gulp. While Tonks was a klutz, she remained one of her most capable information gathering Aurors due to her natural ability and intelligence—something that Moody had spotted while the former was in training. "You have no time-sensitive investigations at the moment?"
She checked the schedule briefly, noting that, at the moment, Tonks' duty was to learn the ropes from her immediate supervisor.
She shook her head, while sipping on the tea gratefully.
"Good, I'm going to assign you a new duty. I'll need you to watch over Harry Potter in Hogwarts after the Easter Break ends."
"H-Harry Potter? Why?" She looked almost flustered.
"It has come to my attention that something is going on in Hogwarts and it revolves around Harry Potter, the Triwizard Tournament, and possibly the riot at the Quidditch World Cup. Mr Crouch has gone missing."
"Isn't Moody in Hogwarts, milady? Wouldn't contacting him be easier?"
The lines on Amelia's face tightened, giving her a foreboding look. "That is one of the problems. For some odd reason, Alastor has not sent a report despite the bizarre activities and prolonged absence of Mr Crouch. It is unlike him. I need you to…"
Tonks looked sombre immediately, her hair turning ebony black. "I understand the nature of my duty, milady." She spent some time in thought. "Considering the alliances between the three houses, what is my stand if I do meet the fugitive Sirius Black?"
Her promise to Kingsley made Amelia consider. "Focus on your mission . Let Kingsley do his."
Auror Tonks grinned brilliantly.
"Good. I'll give you the rest of this week to prepare a cover for yourself. You should prepare to stay at Hogwarts till the end of the semester. I'll make arrangements soon. If anyone inquires, tell them you're on leave indefinitely. "
The smile from her face faded slightly. The Auror realised that she had to report directly to Madam Bones. She bowed before she exited the office. After putting up her privacy wards, Amelia proceeded to listen to the recording of the will. She could only swear when the recording came to its end. She wiped the tears from her eyes—it was almost painful to see James and Lily again. She was not close with them, rather she had known them through Sirius.
It seemed as if Kingsley did not need to search for new evidence to prove Sirius' innocence. The recording was not tampered with. However, she did not understand why it was illegal to read Potters' will. Amelia frowned, wondering if she should pursue this line of questioning.
Hastily, she scribbled a note asking for more information about the decree that made the reading of the Potters' will illegal and sent the note to the relevant department.
Even if Sirius was innocent, they could not clear his name until they had found Mr Crouch, the key to handling the administration. Circles in circles. She could barely grasp what was the motive of the perpetrator.
She sent another letter to the French Duc hoping that he could arrange a meeting between her and the Potter Family retainers. There was much to talk about and she was sure that they would be delighted to know that she was going to arrange someone to watch over him. If what he told her was correct, Harry shouldn't be in the competition at all.
And yet, he had one more task to compete in.
Amelia stared distantly into space, assessing which Professors would be willing to do her a favour. She considered that since Professor Sprout was Head of House for both Tonks and her when they were at Hogwarts, she would have to approach her. She considered approaching the French Ducsince it was his request but that would put Tonks a distance away from Harry in school
If there was a conspiracy in Hogwarts that involved Harry, a new student suddenly appearing might raise the perpetrator's suspicion. There was also Moody to consider—his years in the field made him a sharp Auror.
She wrote another letter to Susan, asking her for more information about the tournament and Moody's behaviour. Susan had met the retired Auror several times when Amelia hosted informal meetings in their house.
She withdrew her task log and hastily scribbled her suspicions and tasks that she had assigned. The last war had taught them to leave records behind since death could knock on their doorstep at unexpected times.
Finally, she constructed three timelines, hoping to gain another perspective on the mysteries. She did not have enough conclusive information to link the mysteries together.
She wondered if she was trying to pin all the blame on Mr Crouch because it would have been easier for her to accept the fact that her mentor—with his sterling reputation—had abused the law and jailed someone illegally.
Ignoring those thoughts, she headed out of her office. She needed to check out Azkaban. She considered visiting Mr Crouch first, but she could rely on Rufus to complete the informal task.
Amelia cast the Patronus spell and a huge dog with shaggy hair appeared. It leapt from side to side, eager to do her bidding. She sent it on its way to inform the warden of her sudden visit. She donned her Auror's cloak and headed out to confirm her instinct.
"You can't possibly have sliced your potion ingredients this way this whole time," remarked Sirius incredulously, staring at the two teenagers slicing their ginger roots irregularly—Harry with a bit more finesse than Hermione. "What has Snape been teaching you?"
Hermione and Harry set the knives on the marbled counter carefully.
The Potions laboratory was as far removed as possible from the cold and sombre dungeons in which they had their potion lessons. It was well-lit with bright overhead lights and comfortable. Lily was obviously a stickler for aesthetics and practicality. The lab was spacious and large with marble counter space sufficient for at least four people to prepare potions comfortably. Sirius was surprised to find the lab was fully stocked with potions ingredients placed in stasis. This gave the teenagers the opportunity to practise their potion-making skills under his watchful guidance.
"Do you mean there is a specific method for preparing ingredients?" enquired Harry, shocked.
Hermione looked distressed—her brows furrowed. She looked as if her world had just crashed around her at the thought that she had been doing it all wrong for four years.
Sirius ran his hands through his short locks. "Uh…It's alright. Let's start with the basics. I'm not the best in potions. Better at DADA and Charms, really, but I can prepare those essential potions to save my life." He grabbed a ginger root and another knife. "The way we prepare an ingredient is largely dependent on its purpose in that potion. The discipline of Potions is very exact."
He shut the Potions textbook and returned to the basics of the discipline.
Patiently, he went through the function and purpose of each ingredient involved in making the Wit-Sharpening Potion.
Hermione and Harry listened with rapt interest. They never knew that the discipline could be so exact. Harry was convinced that to produce a perfect potion after four years of education in Hogwarts required luck rather than the skill that Sirius was patiently imparting. Harry was amazed that Hermione was also lacking in such knowledge.
"I never really knew the reason for following those instructions in the textbook," replied Hermione indifferently when Harry asked her. "I'd always thought that potions was really about following instructions."
Both male wizards burst into laughter at her explanation.
"A typical response of a brilliant student," teased Sirius, with a bright gleam in his eyes. "I'm amazed. Really. You truly are talented then, Hermione. The instructions are rarely sufficient to produce excellent potions. "
Harry grinned. "I agree. She's really brilliant." He winked proudly at her, causing her to duck her head in embarrassment as her cheeks turned a brilliant shade of red.
Sirius laughed, amused at her coy reaction and his godson's denseness . James was more of a ladies' man than his son, which was obvious. What a waste! How would his best friend react if he was here? He wondered if he should give him some hints when they were finally alone.
The teenagers shared a confused glance, wondering what had amused Sirius. Harry lifted his shoulder silently in a shrug when Hermione tilted her head to the side.
Sirius smiled inwardly at the way they silently communicated.
"No matter, Lily used to complain that it was unfair for students from a non-magical background to learn potions in Hogwarts because they assumed that the students had learnt these skills before they started formal education."
"It's alright, we have the rest of the holiday to pick up the basics. Given your talents, I doubt it will take long to acquire the skills. "
The way Sirius conducted the lesson was so fascinating that it took a knock on the door of the lab for them to realise that they had exceeded the time they had allocated for revision. In the midst of the lesson, Harry had forgotten about his weariness.
"Good Merlin, it's so late!" commented Sirius staring at his watch when Emma appeared at the door, dressed in a simple dress, with a container of food.
There was a wistful look when she first entered the room but it was soon replaced by a smile. "I've placed a set of clothes on your bed, Harry. You can eat your lunch in the car. Sirius, you promised to check the wards."
"Oh! Thank you!" Hastily, he began to pack his things up.
"Do you need me to come along?" offered Hermione. She glanced around the lab, as if torn by the desire to support Harry and idea of leaving the lab in a mess, not to mention leaving Sirius alone at home.
His eyes grew gentle as if he knew why she was so hesitant. "I'll be fine. Emma and Dan will be accompanying me." He grasped her hand with his, squeezing it affectionately.
He flashed a smile. "I'll see you later, Mione."
Without waiting for her reaction, he dashed back to his room to clean up.
She froze. Did he just address her 'My only'? Her cheeks reddened as her heart raced. Wait. It was merely just a nickname. The fluttering stopped. Wait, he gave her a nickname? Did he know that she disliked them? She considered the sound of it. It didn't sound too bad considering that it sounded as if she was his only when he spoke quickly
The two adults shared a knowing smile with each other.
"You're really as bad as Hermione when you get started. No wonder you two can get along so well with each other," teased Emma, shaking her head.
Sirius chuckled before helping Hermione to tidy up the lab so they could have lunch. Maybe, he didn't need to drop any hints after all.
"Please check the wards while we're gone and remember to play nice," said Emma before she returned to the house. "No hitting."
Sirius snorted loudly. "Does your mother think that I'm incapable of behaving?"
"Behaving properly, you mean? You're a Marauder, aren't you?" returned Hermione, after storing all the items back at their rightful place.
Sirius was indignant with her response. He was no longer a child, for Merlin's sake. Of course he could behave himself. Then, an idea appeared in his mind. He carefully withdrew his new wand and waited for Hermione to turn away from him.
With a smirk, he casted a hex silently.
A large shield appeared almost immediately, rebounding the spell. He was so shocked at the appearance of the shield, he forgot to duck. It hit him back, causing him to drop on the floor as he guffawed loudly.
It was almost as if invisible hands were tickling him, causing him to break out in fits of laughter.
Hermione placed her hands on her hips, arms akimbo.
"I'll—g-get—b-back—a-at—y-you!" exclaimed Sirius between the bouts of laughter.
Confidently, Hermione strode to his side and picked up his new wand. "Since you really can't behave yourself, I'll hold this as a hostage until we return to Hogwarts. You don't need a wand to teach us potions." She pocketed both wands carefully and checked the laboratory.
Satisfied that it was clean, she prepared to leave the room so that she could have her meal. Now that the adrenaline from learning had faded, she realised that she was actually famished.
She sat on one of the stools, as if contemplating her decision as he rolled around, laughing. Finally, she shot him an evil look. "Why should I? You intended for me to be suffering in this manner."
"Enjoying this? Yes," affirmed Hermione with a smirk. "I'll leave some food for you." She hopped off the stool and headed out, leaving Sirius screaming in frustration between his bouts of laughter.
He was staring pointedly at his new shoes, barely paying attention to the people sitting around him. An overly affable middle-aged man sat near the Grangers, as they waited patiently for his answer. It felt strange that he was the centre of attention. The Grangers had introduced the man as his family lawyer, Ted Tonks. Sirius had explained that his cousin, Andromeda was cast out of his family for marrying a wizard of non-magical descent. He had helped his parents ensure that the paperwork was legal in both world.
The man that he had seen knocking on the door of the Dursley's, looked at him with an almost paternal expression.
He swallowed visibly, staring at his hands.
"Do you want to take a break? The medical report and the evidence we have found in their house is actually sufficient to charge them. It is mandatory for students in primary schools to undergo health checks. Why did your teachers not notice?" He set down his mug of coffee and peered at Harry closely.
For a Bobby, Gary was affable. He took a deep breath, centring himself. "My cousin and his friends frequently go 'Harry-hunting', so the teachers usually assumed that my injuries were from playing or my clumsiness." His response was indifferent, betraying none of the pain he must have suffered during those days.
The detective included the response in his report before pushing the document to Harry to ensure that he had recorded his testimony correctly. He expelled a breath when he knew that the interview was over. After glancing through the report, he handed the document to the lawyer to peruse.
"It looks in order."
The Grangers ran through the document again. "What about the matter of illegally—"
"It's under investigation," Gary affirmed. "We're hitting some roadblocks. You know we'll get to the bottom of it." He scratched his chin contemplatively.
Dan nodded. They knew why they were facing roadblocks. He glanced at his wife and noticed that she was observing Harry's reaction.
He understood her concern—it was the first time Harry had confronted his past without Hermione's support. He looked almost uncomfortable with his own skin, desperately in need of assurance.
The detective stood up. "You did good, lad. I'll contact you if we need more assistance but I believe the Crown Prosecutor should not have a problem putting together a case. I'm glad that your parents made Dan and Emma your guardians. They are the finest people I know."
"You're too kind, Gary."
Harry flashed him a small smile. "I know. They have been wonderful to me." He glanced at the two Grangers before getting on his feet. It was almost amazing that their friends had nothing but compliments for them—the waiter, Dr Smith, his parents and now this detective. He bolted to the door, anxious to get over it.
The Grangers noticed his anxiety. They hastily bade Gary farewell before hitting a supermarket for a carton of ice-cream and Dan explained how they met him. They had first met when they noticed that one of their patients was abused and had assisted with the case. They soon become fast friends.
The Grangers were not surprised when he selected a carton of chocolate ice-cream—Hermione's favourite—when they gave him the freedom to choose. Harry had explained that he had once asked Hermione what she missed the most from home and he had committed that answer to his memory.
For a boy who did not know love, he was doing very well.
"Hermione will be very happy," answered Emma, looking around the supermarket for ingredients for their meals.
Harry grew pensive suddenly.
"Is something wrong?" asked Dan, noticing the change of mood.
"Would you mind lending me the kitchen tonight?" asked Harry shyly. "I'd like to prepare a meal." He turned away from their gaze, staring at an item on the shelf. "You know, like a kind of celebration for everything."
The Grangers were reminded of Harry's proficiency at housework.
"If you'd like to, we wouldn't mind."
Harry lighted up. "Great! Do you mind helping me find the ingredients?"
Emma and Dan shared a smile. It was good to see him this excited.
"I'll get the cart," offered Dan, walking down the aisle to exchange the basket for a cart. His familiarity with cooking was bolstered by the fact that he could rattle a list of ingredients he needed to make the meal. Emma would advise him if they needed to pick up that particular condiment or ingredient.
The Grangers were more than impressed when Harry made a beeline for a choice condiment he needed, bypassing the other brands that were along the same shelf. "It's better and cheaper," was his indifferent remark when he placed it in the cart before he searched for the next item in his mental list. The Grangers smiled at each other, glad that Harry had something positive to occupy his time.
A/N: Thank you for reading. I'm really thankful for such a proficient beta-reader and all the support. Have a blessed day!