Part 4: Building Team Pronglet (The Ganging up on Dumbledore Prank)
July 4th 1994
Augusta Longbottom was a formidable woman. Scary was the word Remus had used when he'd wished Sirius well as Sirius had headed out of Griffin House that morning. Harry had just laughed at him and told him to convey his greetings to Neville. He smiled as he remembered the homely scene of lunch. He and Harry had been thrilled to be reunited with Remus and even more thrilled to hear how Remus had sent Dumbledore off to Thailand.
Sirius was certain that Augusta was keeping him waiting in her parlour just to see him squirm. He smoothed his formal black robe with its neat column of tiny black buttons that ran from the high stiff collar to his waist and had taken forever to do up. The crests of the House of Black and House of Potter decorated the front right breast. His robes opened up at his waist, angling away to give him freedom to move and he had opted for muggle black leather trousers underneath – expensive but serviceable and very protective as he knew from riding his motorbike. Expensive dragon-hide boots completed the outfit. He fidgeted with the wide cuffs of his robes which provided easy access to his wand.
Harry had done the inheritance ritual for the House of Potter that morning at Gringotts. The family magic had immediately formed into the approving gold griffin totem and the Head of House ring had leaped onto Harry's finger. It had granted Harry access into the Potter vault and had removed some of the effects of the Death Fidelius so they could access Potter family assets. Harry had been thrilled at getting to look at some of his heritage and had pounced on his father's old school trunk. Sirius had a suspicion that Harry was after James's animagus journals.
A noise from just outside the doorway had Sirius rising, just in time for Augusta to enter. Her grey hair was tightly bound in a high bun; her aged face stern and foreboding. She wore formal robes in a deep purple decorated with the House of Longbottom crest. They were high necked but narrow cuffed and looked more uncomfortable than his own.
He bowed and took her outstretched hand, dropping a kiss onto her knuckles before rising and meeting her eyes firmly. He definitely needed his Gryffindor courage, Sirius considered with a silent laugh.
"Madame Longbottom, thank you for agreeing to meet with me." Sirius said sincerely.
Augusta motioned for him to sit and took the seat opposite, her eyes running over the two crests on his robe and the ring on his finger with sharp realisation. "May I offer you some refreshment, Lord Black?"
"Only if you wish to partake yourself." Sirius replied, following the formal dance of pleasantries.
Augusta rang a small silver bell and a house elf popped in. "Some tea and biscuits for myself and my guest." The elf disappeared and a moment later a tea tray appeared on the small table between them. For a few minutes all that was exchanged was how Sirius liked his tea.
"Forgive me for speaking plainly but I'm surprised at the ring." Augusta said as they settled back, each holding a matching china teacup. "There are rumours circulating of a new Lord Black but the general opinion is that it isn't you."
"A situation which suits me for the time being," Sirius admitted, "I'd like to have my ducks in a row before the formal announcement at Thursday's Wizengamot." He took a sip of his tea and set it aside. "I would appreciate your discretion until that time."
She inclined her head. "I find myself needing to clarify; are you here for the House of Potter or the House of Black?"
"I would like us to speak first regarding business between the House of Potter and House of Longbottom. But afterwards, I would appreciate the Regent of the House of Longbottom granting an audience to the Head of the House of Black."
"Granted." Augusta said tersely. "So, to business?"
"Lord Potter sends his regards to you and the Heir to the House of Longbottom. He has only recently become aware of his heritage and the alliance that used to exist between the Houses." Sirius said formally. "We seek a renewal of that alliance."
Augusta's pale eyes sparked with interest. "Well, that answers a number of questions. I suppose Dumbledore didn't tell the boy of his responsibilities?"
Sirius nodded. "In fairness, it wasn't his legal responsibility to do so although some could argue it would fall under his Chief Warlock duties." He said diplomatically. He held his tongue that one of the other Ancient and Noble families could have stepped in – such as the Longbottoms who'd had such a strong alliance with the Potters in the past.
"What agenda will the House of Potter assume under its new Lord?"
"Respect of wizarding culture and tradition," Sirius began, "but equality for all wizards and witches including those with a dual heritage or condition such as lycanthropy. He would seek better relationships with magical races, a common sense approach to the control of magical creatures, and an improved relationship with the muggle government."
"That sounds remarkably like Charlus Potter's old agenda." Augusta said slowly. "Just even more ambitious."
Sirius allowed himself a small smile. "Harry reminds me of Charlus. He's a remarkable young man."
"This is truly his agenda?" Augusta probed.
"He's had something of a crash course in politics but this is his agenda." Sirius confirmed. He'd been proud of Harry after their last lesson which had been to determine Harry's point of view on certain critical political points. Harry was very much an egalitarian with a strong sense of justice.
"Well, our agendas mesh although the devil is always in the detail." Augusta frowned. "I assume the equality statement is a rejection of pureblood supremacy but why equality for all wizards and witches? Why differentiate?"
"Harry feels witches should have equal rights with wizards. As it stands, most of the Wizengamot seats, the Ancient and Noble Houses in particular, all follow a patriarchal inheritance rule: the eldest male of the line inherits; females only inherit when there isn't a male candidate. Harry believes that it should be the eldest child thus witches would have equal rights to inherit." Sirius shifted. "Family magic will accept a female so there shouldn't be an issue."
Augusta gave a small smile. "I remember conversations with Dorea and Minerva in my youth where we said very much the same thing. This notion of dual heritage and conditions – what's that about?"
"Our steward Remus Lupin is infected with lycanthropy. Harry has seen the discrimination against him and disagrees with it. From his perspective, Remus is still foremost a wizard and should receive help to aid him in controlling the lycanthropy through Wolfsbane rather than being shunned."
"An interesting perspective and one Frank would have agreed with. I believe he knew Lupin." Augusta commented.
"Yes, through James." Sirius said. "We also talked a little about the discrimination against those wizards and witches with Veela inheritance or giant or goblin in their family make-up. Harry sees this as just another expression of the same pureblood supremacy bias against half-bloods and muggleborns."
"I can't disagree with that either." Augusta murmured. She tapped her fingers lightly against the arm of her chair. "What of the rest of his agenda?"
"Harry believes that we should attempt better relationships with other magical races such as giants, centaurs, house elves and goblins especially those races which interact with wizards on a regular basis. But he recognises the need for good but caring control of dragons, hippogriffs and other magical creatures. He believes the current administration often gets magical races and creatures mixed up. He also believes that a better relationship with the muggle government would be beneficial in upholding the Statute of Secrecy."
"For a crash course in politics, he's done well. His agenda dovetails with ours." Augusta said after a long moment of consideration. "So, in principle the House of Longbottom will be happy to renew our alliance. What are the terms?"
"Formally, the same terms as the Houses have pledged before; mutual aid and support for common goals. I would appreciate your assistance in repairing the other Potter alliances that have been allowed to go dormant since 'eighty-one." Sirius replied immediately, happy that he'd gotten to the 'in principle' discussion so early. "Informally, Harry would like your permission to foster a closer relationship with Neville – perhaps by having Neville join him for some of his lessons this summer? Harry didn't realise until I was awarded guardianship that Alice was his godmother nor that James and Lily were Neville's godparents."
"You know Albus Dumbledore has a lot to answer for with that young man." Augusta sighed.
"I couldn't agree with you more." Sirius said fervently.
Augusta regarded him thoughtfully. "Will the House of Potter not seek an alliance with the Chief Warlock?"
"The House of Potter will stand for itself." Sirius stated unequivocally. "The last alliance was uneven at best, and subjugated the House of Potter to Dumbledore's agenda at worst. I think some of that was our youth; James was very loyal and used to Dumbledore being in a position of authority over him as Headmaster and leader of the Order – we all were."
"Yes," Augusta agreed with a heavy sigh, "Frank was similarly affected."
"However, I'm aware that the Chief Warlock is mostly supportive of the House of Potter's agenda. I won't in principle disregard a possible alliance approach if one is made, but as Regent I won't approve an alliance without further oaths from the Chief Warlock that ensure the House of Potter's independence."
Augusta considered him for a long enough moment that Sirius had to struggle not to fidget. "I can see why Arcturus left you as his Heir. As much as I might have despised his agenda, his skill in navigating the political arena was immense; you seem to have inherited it."
The words took Sirius's breath away; he was unsure if he'd been complimented or insulted.
"The House of Longbottom finds your terms acceptable." She drew her wand and tapped the coffee table. A ritual bowl appeared with a small knife. She slashed her finger and let a couple of drops of blood fall. "I, Augusta Beatrice Longbottom, swear as Regent that the House of Longbottom renews its pledge of alliance to give mutual aid and support to the House of Potter. So have I sworn; so mote it be."
Sirius took the knife she offered and allowed his blood to mingle with hers. "I, Sirius Orion Black, swear as Regent that the House of Potter renews its pledge of alliance to give mutual aid and support to the House of Longbottom. So have I sworn; so mote it be."
The bowl flashed; a gold griffin and bear appeared briefly before disappearing again.
Augusta gave a small sigh. "Well, that's done. I'll expect a schedule of lessons so I can select which Neville will attend."
"Agreed. As part of our formal agreement, there are things that I need to brief you on immediately." Sirius said, picking up his tea. He explained about Voldemort still being alive in some form, about the horcruxes in very vague terms, and finally, the events at Hogwarts with Peter's escape and the prophecy Harry had heard.
"What's the plan to deal with this?" Augusta said. There was anger in her eyes and a rush of red across her cheeks. She was furious.
"I'll be informing the authorities tomorrow – we're not really sure how much Dumbledore has shared with the DMLE and the DOM. Then we'll work with them to eliminate the things that keep Voldemort alive." Sirius paused. "We believe there may be another prophecy at work – one involving Harry and Voldemort."
Augusta winced. "There is." She sighed and looked every year of her age for a second. "Frank told me about it before they went into hiding. It could have been Neville, you see."
"We surmised as much." Sirius noted.
"The prophecy was given by Sybill Trelawney to Albus Dumbledore during her job interview, the year the boys were born." Augusta shared. "It spoke of a baby with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord, born as the seventh month died to parents who had thrice defied the Dark Lord. Frank said there was more to it but that was all I was told." She looked at him sharply. "I would venture that Albus believes it refers to your godson rather than my grandson as he once informed me that the danger to my family was over as though that were comfort for what happened to Frank and Alice."
Sirius held his tongue. He needed to cover the LeStranges when he spoke with Augusta as the Head of the House of Black.
Augusta frowned. "Well, at least, we know and have a plan." She settled back in her chair although her back was ramrod straight. "Thank you for this information."
"Thank you for sharing what you know of the prophecy." Sirius said. "It'll make it easier for Harry and I to track down in the DOM." He clasped his hands together. "My final piece of business on behalf of the House of Potter is to extend an invitation to yourself and the Heir to the House of Longbottom to attend Lord Potter's adoption into the House of Black the day after tomorrow."
Augusta's eyebrows rose in surprise. She pressed her lips together. "This seems like an opportune moment for us to move to the audience I granted you earlier, Lord Black."
Sirius nodded. "Yes." He took a deep breath. "My House has wronged yours. Bellatrix LeStrange is my cousin; Rodolphus is my cousin's husband. The House of Black has primacy in their marriage contract; their line falls under mine. I cannot take back what they did but I wish to offer restitution."
A muscle twitched along her jawline and her gaze turned steely. "And what would the House of Black offer as restitution to the House of Longbottom for the loss of its Lord and Lady, for the damage to its Heir?"
"On Wednesday, I will hold a family meeting. In absentia, I will name them all oathbreakers to the House of Black in their act of taking the Dark Mark and call upon the family magic to render Judgement. They will lose their magic." He stopped for a moment to let Augusta absorb his words.
"Judgement." Augusta repeated. "It's been a long while since I've seen family magic invoked in such a way."
"I will also dissolve the marriage contract between the House of Black and the House of LeStrange and seize the LeStrange vault in compensation. The heirlooms and artefacts will be retained but all else will be given over to the House of Longbottom to cover the healing expenses pertaining to Frank and Alice. Bella will then be cast out of the House of Black."
She gave a sharp nod of acknowledgement.
"I also propose to assume financial responsibility for the Heir of Longbottom's education. I will provide a scholarship vault to that end to cover the forthcoming years including a Mastery if Neville wishes to pursue one. The House of Longbottom will be reimbursed for the last three years." Sirius continued.
Augusta's lips thinned as she pressed them tightly together. "I accept the House of Black's restitution."
"As of this morning, the House of Black is formerly allied with the House of Potter." Sirius said quietly. He and Harry had exchanged oaths after Harry's inheritance ritual. "One day I hope that we will be able to ally with the House of Longbottom."
"One day," Augusta agreed, "but not today. We will, however, be honoured to attend the adoption in support of Lord Potter."
She got to her feet and Sirius knew the audience was over. He got to his feet and bowed.
"Our elf will show you back to the floo." Augusta said, holding out her hand as the elf popped in. "Thank you for coming."
"Thank you for having me." Sirius returned, kissing her knuckles in farewell. He breathed a sigh of relief as Augusta swept from the room.
He followed the elf out and checked the time. He was right on schedule: it was almost time for dinner with the Grangers.
Hedwig barked as Harry banked sharply on his broom and surveyed the house and grounds again. His new home was great – warm and welcoming. It wasn't as formal Black Manor which was a relief and he loved the sign with 'Pronglet' on the door of his bedroom; the photos on the mantelpiece of his Mum and Dad, the Marauders (without Peter) and a few snapshots of him, Sirius and Remus. Dobby had been a huge surprise, but so long as the elf wasn't actively trying to save Harry's life, he was a good elf, and he couldn't do enough for Harry.
It was odd though not having chores to do. But Sirius had indicated that once the week was over Harry would be getting culture and etiquette lessons to go along with the magical and political lessons he already did, and Sirius had made it clear that he expected Harry to start to perform duties associated with the House of Potter. So Harry would be going with Remus to follow-up on some of the Potter properties, and be actively involved with the scholarship set up in his mother's name. The good news was that Sirius hoped to offer the lessons where appropriate to some of Harry's friends so he wouldn't face it all alone. Harry had queried the ability to use magic as he was underage but Sirius had told him they'd apply for an exception on medical grounds, and besides, the Ministry would never trace magic performed under the Fidelius.
Hedwig flew around him and he wasn't surprised when he saw Reg join her. The resplendent black owl for the House of Black was rather taken with Hedwig who ignored him. Dobby had constructed an owlery next to Remus's attic room for the three owls in the house but Hedwig preferred her perch in Harry's room. Harry mused that it was useful having different owls for different purposes – Hooter was very non-descript – and he understood the need for secrecy.
He thought it was hilarious that Dumbledore was apparently in Thailand trying to track down Sirius. He would feel sorry for Dumbledore but he suspected that if his Headmaster knew where Harry was, he would try and send him back to the Dursleys. Sirius and Remus were determined that it wasn't going to happen.
Harry frowned as he pushed the broom into flight again. He was looking forward to seeing Hermione and Ron. He already missed Kimi and Huritt – he couldn't wait to tell Hermione and Ron about them – but he had to wait for normal time to catch up with the time he'd spent in the bubble before he could write to them.
A shout from below caught his attention and he looked down. He waved to Remus who had come out of the back door and was gesturing that his time was up. He ignored the faint tug of disappointment and dived to the ground; Hedwig and Reg following him.
Remus looked a little pale when Harry dismounted. "Do you have to dive so fast?"
"I dive faster during Quidditch." Harry pointed out.
"Don't remind me," Remus retorted, ruffling his hair as he nudged him inside, "I'm likely to have a heart attack watching one of your games."
Harry grinned at him. Remus and Sirius had told him of their plan to attend his matches and he couldn't help feel a warm glow that they would.
"Shower and change into muggle clothes. Don't forget you have dinner with the Grangers." Remus instructed.
"Thanks for organising it, Remus." Harry said sincerely. Remus had set up a lot of things in the week that he and Sirius had been gone in real time.
Remus smiled at him and pushed him in the direction of the narrow back stairs in the kitchen that led to the upper floors. Harry had to admit as he ran up them and entered his room that the time difference was still a little disconcerting. He and Sirius had been in the Valley for two months while a week had passed for Remus. It was bizarre to think that the summer holiday was still only just nearly two weeks old with most of July and August still stretched out ahead of them.
Harry dumped his dirty clothing into the linen basket in the bathroom and climbed into the shower running it nice and hot. He loved his new room and he had his own bathroom! No sharing with the Dursleys! He luxuriated in the hot water, knowing he could spend the time under the spray and wouldn't be chased out.
Well, not immediately. He was fairly certain Remus or Sirius, or worse Dobby, would yank him out if he was going to be late for dinner. The thought spurred him into action and he set about washing off the sweat and dirt from his flight.
Harry knew the next few days were going to be busy. Sirius had explained that they had a lot of political alliances to fix and protection to put in place before Dumbledore returned to chair the session of the Wizengamot where Sirius would take his place as Lord Black and Regent of the House of Potter. Harry considered that as he stopped the water and grabbed a warm fluffy towel to dry off. Part of their preparations had been Harry performing the Potter inheritance ritual that morning and allying formally with the House of Black. The ritual had been fascinating.
They'd gone to Gringotts early to avoid the crowds and been shown to a private room. The goblins had brought in the ritual bowl but Sirius insisted they use his knife. The cut across his palm had been momentarily painful but no big deal. The feel of his family magic though – that had been such a rush – and the gold griffin that had appeared had been majestic as it bowed to him. Sirius had explained that family magic was usually used to bind oaths and in extreme circumstances for Judgement.
The oaths taken by Ancient and Noble Houses were governed by the family magic. Oaths in general, Sirius had informed him, were not worth very much; they were mainly another way of forming a verbal contract, and like most verbal contracts they were unenforceable in law. However, if someone took a ritual oath with an Ancient and Noble House they became subject to its family magic and if they broke oath, the magic could be called upon by the Head of the House to judge them. Unsurprisingly, most members of Ancient and Noble Houses took it as a matter of honour to uphold the oaths they made. Harry liked the idea of the oaths. He had felt proud making his own oath as Head of House and making the alliance with Sirius.
It had changed his view of the politics lessons a bit. He realised that he really did need to know about the kind of stuff Sirius had been teaching him. Moreover he wanted to be included in deciding who to ally with; what his House stood for. He'd been thrilled when Sirius had told him his agenda sounded very much like his grandfather's and he was looking forward to assuming some of his duties.
The scholarship sounded brilliant – something his Mum had wanted to give back to Hogwarts and he was excited at being involved in selecting who would get it. He was a little nervous about working with Professor McGonagall and Professor Flitwick on it but Remus had pointed out that both Professors had known Harry's parents well and might take the opportunity to tell him some stories. He'd wondered briefly out loud why they hadn't told him while he was at Hogwarts but Remus had explained that it was difficult because the Professors weren't supposed to have favourites or have personal relationships with their students. Remus had even had to promise Dumbledore not to tell Harry how friendly he had been with Harry's father.
Harry stopped in front of his wardrobe and sighed. He loved that Sirius and Remus had gone to so much trouble to buy him new wizarding and muggle clothes but the sheer volume and variety always threw him. He picked out an emerald t-shirt that he'd worn a lot in the States and a new pair of black denim jeans. He finished his outfit with a black and grey sweater jacket and black trainers. He slipped his new pair of gold wire-framed glasses on his face and futilely tried to do something with his hair before he gave it up as a lost cause.
He picked up his journal and a book he'd bought Hermione at the airport as a present, and exited his room just in time to meet Sirius coming out of his. His godfather wore a white t-shirt over a pair of blue denim jeans and a smart black leather blazer. His dark hair was tied back in a ponytail with a no-nonsense black band. He carried a black leather satchel and he opened it up so Harry could pop the journal and present inside.
"Looking good." Sirius said, taking in Harry in one glance. "I've noticed you like that t-shirt." His grey eyes took on a hint of mischief. "It wouldn't have anything to do with Kimi telling you that it brought out the green in your eyes?"
Harry made a non-committal noise and refused to blush. "You said smart but casual, right?" And what was that – smart but casual? As though someone could base an outfit on such a vague description.
"Indeed I did." Sirius nudged him towards the stairs.
"How did it go today?" Harry asked eagerly.
"The House of Potter is once again allied with the House of Longbottom. They're attending the adoption." He made a small grimace, his face contorting for a moment into an unhappy frown. "She's accepted the restitution the House of Black has offered but won't consider an alliance right now."
"You expected that though." Harry pointed out.
"I did." Sirius said. "Elmer Samson sends his regards and appreciation of your thanks for his service as your former proxy."
Harry pulled a face at that. He'd understood the need for the nicety but he and Sirius had looked over Samson's record and been distinctly unimpressed. Samson had voted for a number of laws that Sirius had confirmed Harry's father and grandfather would never have supported including the werewolf laws that so discriminated against Remus. Harry took the last two stairs at a leap to avoid talking more about Samson.
Remus came out of the living room into the hallway just as Harry landed in the hallway. "No jumping." He chided him, and then sighed as he realised Sirius had copied Harry.
Harry hid his smile. "Are you sure you don't want to come, Remus? I'm sure Hermione wouldn't mind."
"Thank you, Harry, but I have other plans." Remus said with a smile. "Give Hermione my best though."
Harry grinned at him. Sirius pushed him towards the floo. They made their way to Black Manor before taking the floo to Hermione's house which had been connected just for the night. Harry stumbled out into a normal muggle house not unlike the one he'd been raised in but with an indefinable welcoming feel that Privet Drive lacked.
"Harry!" Harry just had enough time to stand properly before Hermione launched herself at him, hugging him hard. "It's so good to see you! I was so surprised when Professor Lupin wrote to my parents and asked if it would be OK for you and Sirius to come over. Have you been reading the Prophet? They've been talking about Sirius all of last week and this week and everyone's wondering when they're going to see you and Sirius and…"
"Breathe, Hermione!" Harry ordered, laughing.
She stumbled back and smiled at him. Her hair was its usual bushy self, a mass of brown that seemed bigger than her although he noticed absently that Hermione was growing more and more into it as time went on. She was just as cute as Kimi, Harry realised with surprise, as he took in her denim skirt and summery top – so much more flattering than the school robes.
"You look nice." Hermione said shyly and he belatedly realised that she had performed a review of him while he had been doing a review of her.
"You too." Harry said. He turned around just as Sirius stepped out.
Sirius smirked at Harry and waved his wand over him. Soot vanished from Harry and Hermione. "We need to add floo lessons to your schedule."
"I can't wait till we learn how to apparate." Harry said. He looked at his godfather hopefully. "I don't suppose…"
"No, I am a responsible adult and you will be learning to apparate in your sixth year and not a moment before." Sirius said primly.
Hermione gave a quiet laugh beside Harry. "It's good to see you again, Mister Black."
"Sirius, please." Sirius replied, taking Hermione's outstretched hand and dropping a kiss on her knuckles. "Or Padfoot, if you'd prefer."
A throat being cleared by the door had them all turning to look at an older and amused looking version of Hermione.
"Mum," Hermione waved her hand at Harry and Sirius, "this is Harry and Sirius Black. This is my Mum."
"Hermione's Mum otherwise known as Miriam Granger." She crossed the room and stuck her hand out in a no-nonsense way that reminded Harry of Hermione herself.
"Mrs Granger." Harry followed Sirius's example with Hermione and kissed the back of her knuckles, surprising the older woman.
Sirius did the same. "Please call me Sirius."
"And I'm Miriam." Miriam's gaze raked over them both. "Well, it's good to have you both here. Come through. It's a nice day so Wallace thought any excuse for a barbeque." She led them through a narrow corridor and into a large family kitchen which opened up onto a wide patio and substantial garden.
There was another round of introductions. Sirius accepted a beer from a cool box to the side of where Wallace had set up the smoking grill, and Harry stuck with unsweetened lemonade on the picnic table which was also laden with summer salads. The drink was tart but refreshing and he'd learned his lesson about alcohol.
Miriam coaxed her husband away from the grill and they all adjourned to the table.
"I have to admit that I was a little surprised when we got the request for a meeting, Sirius." Miriam smiled at him warmly. "According to that magical newspaper Hermione gets, everyone thinks you're abroad?"
"Deliberate misdirection on the part of myself and my advisors." Sirius confirmed. He nudged Harry's shoulder with his own. "We wanted to make sure my getting custody of this one went off without a hitch. Unfortunately there are too many people out there who would have loved to have interfered since Harry is famous in the wizarding world, and after the events surrounding me..." he gave a shrug.
"Understandable." Wallace said. "And, congratulations."
"Thank you." Harry said, beaming at Sirius again.
"I believe you had something to talk to us about?" Miriam prompted. "Professor Lupin was quite vague but he mentioned something about a life debt? Hermione has already done some research and she tells us that they're quite important in the wizarding world."
Harry was unsurprised. He turned to Hermione. "So what did you find out?"
"Well, just what Mum said really." Hermione admitted with some chagrin. "There wasn't a great deal of information in the books I have and I haven't had time to get to Diagon Alley to find something more relevant."
"Maybe I should explain more?" Sirius offered easily.
Everyone nodded and Harry was amused to realise that all three Grangers had identical looks of fascination, curiosity and anticipation. Hermione was almost vibrating in her seat opposite him.
"Historically, life debts had much more importance than they do now." Sirius began. "It used to be that if one wizard saved the life of another that the rescued wizard would have to remain beside their rescuer until they had returned the favour. That went out of fashion around the time the Ancient and Noble Houses were formed."
Harry shifted, a tad bored because he'd heard it before.
"It then became a matter of honour for the Houses." Sirius explained. "If a member of one House saved the member of another, it created a political debt between them that could only be satisfied with an alliance or an exchange of money or property of some sort – usually negotiated dependent on the relative value of the person saved. If you saved the youngest daughter, for instance, that would be viewed differently than saving the Heir to the House or the Head of House. The former might be offered in marriage, for instance, but the latter might determine a House alliance."
"It all sounds very Victorian or do I mean Edwardian?" Miriam commented. "Austen-ish anyway."
Sirius smiled at her. "If you mean old-fashioned, you'd be right. It is even for the wizarding world."
"What about if you weren't from a House?" Hermione jumped in enthusiastically. "What happens then?"
"Ah, well. If a member of a House saved the life of an ordinary wizard or witch then the ordinary wizard or witch would become beholden to them to a degree and would pay off the debt by working on the estates of the House or performing other services for the House." Sirius said. "Equally, if it was the other way around, the House became responsible for the ordinary wizard or witch and would ensure employment and safety – they gained the protection and sanctuary of a House."
"Is it a magical bond?" Hermione immediately moved to her next question.
"No," Sirius laughed, "magical bonds of any kind are very rare and the most common are between wizards, or witches, and their familiars. There are twin bonds but beyond that – no. An oath might be taken as part of the life debt payment." He motioned with his beer bottle. "Equally if an oath was already in existence, incurring a life debt may make the person involved more inclined to keep that oath. But as I've said to Harry, only oaths to Ancient and Noble Houses can be enforced through magic – and that's usually a Judgement after the oath has already been broken. Oaths in general are nothing more than verbal contracts."
All three Grangers went to ask a question and all stopped abruptly and looked at each other to decide which was going to get the chance to ask their question.
Sirius and Harry exchanged smiles at the silent Granger communication going on in front of them.
Both parents looked at their daughter expectantly and Hermione sat back with a quiet huff as she acknowledged she'd already had the opportunity to ask two questions. Wallace waved a hand at his wife.
Miriam smiled. "You said this was the fashion but no longer?"
"Life debts aren't usually acknowledged these days and if they are, usually at the insistence of the older generation, then it's a token gesture – a favour or money." Sirius said. "However, the Houses follow the tradition between themselves as it's a matter of honour."
"Now my question," Wallace said, raising his own beer, "what does a life debt have to do with Hermione?"
"Your daughter, along with Harry, saved my life." Sirius answered simply.
Miriam and Wallace glanced at their daughter who was turning cherry red under the attention.
"I assume because she gave evidence to aid your acquittal?" Miriam asked perplexed.
Sirius raised an eyebrow at Hermione in a silent question of 'have you told them?' and received a brief shake of a head in response. Harry threw her an apologetic look – they hadn't meant to get her in trouble.
"On the night I was captured at Hogwarts," Sirius said firmly, "the Headmaster gave Hermione and Harry permission to help me escape. They used a magical device to help get them to the right place, found transportation for me and got me out of the office where I was locked up. If it hadn't been for them I would have forfeited my soul to a Dementor."
"And why is this the first we're hearing about it if you had the Headmaster's permission?" asked Wallace, staring pointedly at his daughter.
"The device," Harry jumped in, "the magical device we used – Hermione wasn't supposed to tell anyone else about it. Sirius and I only got told because of the Headmaster's permission to use it."
Hermione shot him a grateful look and nodded at her parents. "And I didn't want to worry you." She admitted honestly. "I mean, this year has been relatively quiet and normal really compared to first and second year and…"
"Hermione," Miriam interrupted sternly.
Hermione grimaced, her eyes downcast. "Sorry, Mum."
"We're not angry with you," Miriam cast a look at Harry and Sirius, and Harry got the distinct impression that she regretted the conversation was taking place in front of them, "but I am disappointed that you felt you couldn't tell us not even in general terms."
"I feel I should apologise," Sirius began.
"Please don't," Wallace said immediately, "I dare say Hermione's reticence is in part our fault as we may have indicated to her that we weren't happy with the amount of danger this school of hers seems to place her in every year. Did you know somebody let a troll into the school in her first year which almost killed her? And then she was in a magical coma the year after?" He huffed out a breath at Hermione's dejected face. "We discussed not sending her back for her third year which is why I think someone was reluctant to tell us what happened."
Harry was alarmed at that. Hermione had almost been withdrawn? And what now that they knew she'd been in danger again? "It's all my fault." He blurted out.
"Nonsense," Miriam said briskly, "from what Hermione said, you saved her from the troll and were playing your broomstick sport when Hermione ended up in the coma. You're a young boy, Harry; it's not your fault these events took place. You've been a good friend to Hermione and you are one of the reasons why we decided to let her continue at Hogwarts."
"Uh, well, she's been a good friend to me too." Harry said, a little taken aback at the heartfelt praise. He felt Sirius's hand on his shoulder and settled again.
"I tell you whose fault it is," Wallace added, "that Headmaster of yours. What is he thinking allowing a troll and things that cause comas to get inside a school with children? And, you'll forgive me, Sirius?"
Sirius nodded enthusiastically.
"But what was he playing at sending two kids to rescue you? Why couldn't he have done it?"
"An excellent question." Sirius agreed fervently.
"The Headmaster is a great wizard and a…" Hermione defended Dumbledore passionately and Harry knew that before his time at the clinic with Sirius, he might have been eagerly waiting for his turn to do the same.
"And a senile old man by the sound of it." Wallace interjected, cutting off his daughter's words.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart," Miriam said, "but I agree with your father. If I ever meet this Headmaster of yours believe me I will have more than a few questions for him."
"I feel exactly the same way." Sirius said.
There was a moment between the adults that had Hermione and Harry doing a mutual eye-roll while their guardians' gazes were occupied elsewhere.
Miriam cleared her throat and turned to her daughter. "That said, we're very proud of you, Hermione, for helping to save Sirius's life and see justice get done."
"Very proud." Wallace repeated gruffly.
Hermione's eyes shone brightly and her mother gave a one-armed hug, squeezing her tightly until the threat of tears went away. Harry fidgeted awkwardly with his glass of lemonade unsure what to do.
"So," said Wallace brightly, "you owe Hermione a life debt?"
"Yes," Sirius said, enthusiastically returning to the original subject, "and I would like to honour it."
Miriam and Wallace exchanged another wry look.
"Honour it how exactly?" Miriam asked briskly. Her arm remained around her daughter. Her eyes twinkled suddenly. "If you'd like to offer Harry as a potential bridegroom I'd have no problems with that."
"Mum!" Hermione yelped, going a bright red.
Harry figured his own cheeks were a similar colour from the heat he could feel. He didn't even look at Sirius because he knew Sirius would just tease him if he did. In some ways, he knew it was a compliment but in others – it was mortifying. Hermione was his friend and it wasn't that he didn't realise she was a girl, it was just…she was his friend and why would she be interested in him, he concluded with a fair amount of confusion.
"I would offer him," Sirius began mischievously.
Harry glared at him.
"But Harry will have to choose his own wife." Sirius winked at him. "His Dad did a fair job with his Mum so I think he'll choose wisely. Of course, his Dad also chose the smartest witch of his generation."
There was a ripple of chuckles around the table from Miriam and Wallace at the unsubtle implication that Sirius would be quite happy if Harry did choose Hermione, and Harry smiled apologetically, mouthing a 'sorry' at her. She returned his smile with a shy one of her own.
"Are marriage contracts usual in the wizarding world?" Miriam asked.
"Betrothal contracts are not used anymore, and there was a ruling that effectively declared any old outstanding ones to be null and void just after the war with Grindelwald. Match-making still happens to a degree where families may agree an introduction and an intended arrangement. However, contracts to protect assets and agree terms especially for Ancient and Noble Houses are usual." Sirius said. "Remus tells me that there's something similar in the muggle world?"
"Pre-nuptial agreements." Miriam supplied. "They're only usually done by the very rich though."
"Well, if we can't get Hermione married off," Wallace said, with a smirk in Hermione's direction, "what are you proposing exactly?"
"I'd like to offer her the sponsorship of the House of Black." Sirius said. "There are three reasons. Firstly, because you don't have magic, you're quite restricted in what you can do as parents to protect her in the wizarding world, either physically or legally. In fact under our legal system, you have very few rights. Sponsorship by an Ancient and Noble House means that Hermione would get the same protection as any daughter of my house. While Hermione is at school, it means that the House of Black could act in loco parentis. If Hermione ended up in the hospital wing for an extended period of time, I or my steward could visit and provide a conduit for news."
The Grangers exchanged a look of surprised pleasure.
"We can see the benefits of that," Wallace said, "especially after Hermione's second year."
Miriam nodded. "It was torture getting an owl from Professor McGonagall to say that Hermione was in the infirmary but not be able to see how she was." She patted her daughter's hand. "That's why we seriously considered removing you, sweetheart."
"I'm sorry." Hermione said sadly. "I can't even imagine. It must have been awful."
"Well, sponsorship would help going forward." Sirius said before they all got side-tracked again. "Secondly, I would assume financial responsibility for Hermione's education." He brushed aside their first murmurs of protest. "Don't worry, I'm very rich."
Hermione's parents exchanged a silent look.
"I can't say we wouldn't appreciate the financial boon of not having to pay for the tuition." Miriam said. "We can afford it but there's always something else we could use the money for – holidays or I've been wanting to remodel the kitchen, and then there's always the attic conversion we've been thinking of doing or buying a place in France…"
"The third reason?" said Wallace loudly.
Sirius coughed to hide a chuckle. "It will open up opportunities for Hermione after Hogwarts. A lot of muggleborns find it difficult to secure high paid employment in the wizarding world. It's difficult for them. Magical schooling separates them from the muggle world so they can't go back easily and yet the innate prejudices of the wizarding world mean that they face an uphill battle if they want a career in the top-flight: the Ministry or St Mungo's or apprenticing to some of the Masters of our world."
The Grangers were frowning.
"Remus says it's similar to the muggle world where the government for a time only took people from Oxford and Thingymebridge?" Sirius offered a little uncertainly.
"Or even getting into Oxford and Cambridge to begin with," Hermione suggested sagely. She brushed her fringe out of her eyes. "I knew we'd have to choose electives for third year so I started researching career options at the end of second year. I read some of the alumni records that are available in the library and realised the problem then. It's one of the reasons why I took everything I could."
"Why didn't you say something?" Harry blurted out, a little upset to realise that it was something that had evidently bothered his friend enough to send her to the library but he hadn't known.
"Well it was the end of the year, and it's not something that either you or Ron have to worry about, really." Hermione replied, blushing again.
"I take it sponsorship will help Hermione attain the career she wants?" Wallace asked.
Sirius nodded. "It'll open doors and people won't dismiss her out of hand."
"But isn't it cheating?" Hermione asked worriedly. "I mean, I would prefer to get something on my own merits."
"And you will," Sirius said firmly, "nobody will offer you anything just because you have sponsorship. It's a bit like having Hogwarts as your school. It gives you an advantage but you'll still have to do the hard work to obtain good grades and the extracurricular stuff that will help you."
"So we've heard about the benefits of scholarship, what is actually involved?" Miriam asked.
"An oath." Sirius replied promptly. He set his beer down and reached into his satchel, pulling out a sheaf of parchments Remus had prepared. "The full details are in there. Primarily we do a ritual where the sponsor puts a drop of blood into a bowl and Hermione puts a drop of hers, and they each swear an oath; one to do the sponsoring and Hermione to accept."
Miriam took the parchments before Hermione could make a grab for them. "We'll read these over carefully."
"I should also tell you that it's not appropriate for me to be Hermione's sponsor as I'm a single male." Sirius said. "I'll be asking my cousin Andromeda to take the role. She's married to a muggleborn wizard called Ted and they have a daughter who has just left Hogwarts to start at the Auror academy. If you agree I would like you to meet her ahead of the ritual. If there are any issues, we'll work something else out but Andy's a great witch and I don't think you'll have any problems with her." He paused. "There is a small problem with timing as we have an additional favour to ask of you."
"For me, really." Harry inserted quickly.
"Anything," Hermione said immediately and promptly blushed at the arching eyebrows of her mother.
"Sirius is going to adopt me the day after tomorrow," Harry told her proudly.
Hermione bounced out of her chair, around the table and hugged him. She let go of him and beamed at Sirius and at Harry. "That's wonderful! Oh, I'm so pleased for you, Harry."
"Yes, congratulations again." Miriam said, watching Hermione carefully.
Sirius picked up his beer and ruffled Harry's hair. "Thank you. We were hoping to do all the rituals on the same day and combine it with a blessing ritual of the protection Harry's mother gave him before she died."
"That's a very good idea," Hermione agreed, darting another anxious look towards her parents.
Harry assumed she hadn't exactly told them about Voldemort either. He couldn't blame her.
"How will it work?" Hermione asked enthusiastically seating herself next to Harry and almost leaning over him to look at Sirius.
Harry inched back a little.
Sirius smirked at him. "Well, the ritual is runic based. Each female member of the House of Black will prick their finger and draw a specific protection rune on Harry's forehead renewing the blessing of his mother."
"So if I take the sponsorship ritual, I'll be a daughter of the House and could take part?" Hermione surmised quickly.
"Yes," Sirius held up his hand, "but only if your parents agree. After some research, we realised the protection spell will eventually erode if Harry doesn't live periodically with his aunt. As that's not going to happen going forward, we think this ritual will acknowledge the adoption and mean Harry will only have to live with a member of the Black family."
"That's so clever." Hermione looked admiringly at Sirius.
"It was Remus's idea." Harry said. His former Professor had put a lot of work into researching the spells and understanding their complexity.
Sirius coughed. "Yes, it was." He waved towards the parchment. "Remus thought you would appreciate the details." He returned his gaze to Miriam and Wallace. "If you consent to the sponsorship before Wednesday, then it would be great to have Hermione involved as she out of all the female members of the House will be the only one to actually have an actual existing relationship with Harry and that will strengthen the spell. But if you would like more time to make a decision, we'll understand and can still do the sponsorship ritual another time."
"We'll look over the information." Miriam promised.
"I'll send Hedwig tomorrow." Harry promised. "She'll have your formal invite to the adoption ceremony."
"You can let us know by reply." Sirius added.
"Good." Wallace stated. He motioned towards the grill. "Well, if that's the business over and done with, we should throw the meat on."
Sirius perked up and followed Wallace over to the smoking apparatus.
Miriam rolled her eyes at the men before she gathered up the parchment and got to her feet. "I have some finishing touches to put on dessert."
Hermione made a move to join her but was waved back into her seat.
"Stay and keep your friend company, Hermione." Miriam winked at them both and departed.
Hermione offered Harry another shy smile. "Sorry about all…that before. They've been teasing me all Summer about whether I'll get a boyfriend next year just because I was complaining about Parvati and Lavender going on about dates in Hogsmeade."
Harry frowned. He hadn't thought about Hermione dating anyone. The thought disturbed him and he wasn't sure why. Maybe he was just worried she'd stop being his friend, Harry mused, which was silly because Hermione wouldn't drop him for a boyfriend any more than he would drop her if he got a girlfriend.
He truly hadn't thought about dating and girls himself beyond noticing sometimes that some of his classmates were getting pretty and cute – like he'd done with Hermione when he'd arrived or with Kimi at the clinic. He'd ignored Dean and Seamus when they'd mentioned girls they fancied and Ron had never brought up the topic. But then Harry had never really taken part in the boyfriend-girlfriend stuff before. In primary school when his classmates had been playing at it more than anything, nobody had approached him because of Dudley – and Dudley had been kicked in the privates the one and only time he'd tried to play kiss-chase with a girl (it was one of Harry's favourite memories).
He'd actually been pleased when he'd started Hogwarts that boyfriend and girlfriend stuff didn't seem to be a thing in the wizarding world – possibly because it was slightly old-fashioned compared to the muggle world. He guessed he was going to have to think about it more in the coming year. It was fairly common knowledge around the school that most people started dating in fourth year. A few of the third years had already begun because Hogsmeade provided a date venue – he hadn't totally escaped the gossip that filled the Gryffindor common room or the whispers in the classrooms.
Great, he thought morosely; how was he supposed to go about dating girls?
Hermione patted his hand, obviously reading his expression correctly. "Don't worry about it, Harry." She smiled at him. "I wouldn't be surprised if there was a queue of girls lined up when you are ready to ask someone."
"Really?" Harry looked at her doubtfully. "Who would want to date me?"
She rolled her eyes at him. "Only most of the girls in our year, and probably a lot in the others too. You're considered quite the catch and I can imagine the publicity from the summer is going to just increase your fanciability."
"Is that even a word?" Harry teased before he grimaced again. "Anyway, from what you're saying, most of the girls want to go out with the Boy Who Lived, not me."
He could see Hermione open her mouth to protest but she closed it again abruptly.
"I guess you might be right about that." She admitted softly. "But as someone who knows you you, I think they'll be happy once they get to know you, and if you don't date them, how are they going to get to know, you know, you?"
"Maybe." Harry said uncertain she was right. "I was thinking it might be good to make some new friends next year. You and Ron are great and my best friends and that's not going to change," he hastened to assure her, "but it just occurred to me that I don't have a lot of other friends."
"You probably have more than me. What about the Quidditch team," Hermione said, "and Neville, Dean and Seamus?"
"The Quidditch team are great and Fred and George, maybe, are friends, but Oliver was, well, Oliver; the girls are older than me." Harry said. "As for the guys in my dorm…I guess I'm about as close to Dean and Seamus as you are to Parvati and Lavender. We're mates but not friends."
Hermione nodded in acknowledgement.
"Neville…" Harry smiled, "I'm hoping to get to know Neville better this summer. He's going to join me for some lessons. Our mothers were best friends at school. His Mum was my godmother and my Mum was his."
"Oh, wow." Hermione said. Her eyes narrowed. "What lessons are you doing?"
Harry brightened and gave her the headlines; wizarding etiquette and culture, politics and estate management, runes and magic.
"But what about the underage…"
"Medical exception." Harry grimaced. "Sirius got custody of me the night before they announced his being innocent. We've been away at a healing clinic this past week."
He explained the time bubble at the clinic, and his treatment and power issues. He picked up Sirius's bag and took out the journal and the wrapped present.
"Because of the amount of time we were there, one of the healers suggested I write to you and Ron in a kind of journal as though I was sending you letters. I put all my politics lessons in there too since I figured you'd want to know about it." He handed her the journal and the gift. "I picked the present up at the airport. It's a book on American magic thought you might like it but it's OK if you don't."
"Harry!" Hermione said delighted. "Thank you! You didn't need to get me anything! The journal would have been enough." She was already holding onto it tightly. Her front teeth sank into her lower lip. "Do you think Sirius will let me join you and Neville for your lessons?"
Harry nodded. "If your parents are OK with it." He glanced toward Wallace and Sirius to make sure they were engaged in a discussion and lowered his voice. "I take it you didn't tell them everything about Voldemort and what happened with the stone?"
Hermione nodded. "They kind of freaked out at Christmas about the troll so…no." She sighed. "I doubt I would have told them about the basilisk but obviously they found out from the school I was petrified and I pretended it was no big deal so they wouldn't worry." She made an unhappy face. "I had no idea it was so bad for them."
He moved to put his hand over her arm. "You couldn't have known and if it helps any, Sirius freaked out about everything when he found out too."
There was a shared moment of solidarity between them.
"Well, that helps explain why he said what he did about the Headmaster." Hermione noted with a hint of disapproval. "I thought he'd be more grateful to him…"
"Hermione, your parents were right." Harry interrupted fiercely. "Dumbledore could have saved him himself. He's Chief Warlock – he could have placed Sirius in his protective custody and overruled Fudge but he didn't!"
Hermione's mouth opened and closed again. Her shock was written all over her face. "But surely…" she searched Harry's eyes for something, anything to explain it, "but why didn't he then?"
"Me." Harry said succinctly. He took a breath to keep his temper under control. "Dumbledore was the one who left me with the Dursleys, Hermione. We think he was trying to make sure I went back there and didn't have somewhere else to go."
"But that's awful!" Hermione exclaimed. "How could he leave you with those terrible people and…oh, this is just too much!"
"Sirius thinks it has to do with this spell that my Mum did and some wards she put up at my aunt's." Harry admitted. "He thinks Dumbledore was trying to protect me."
She looked furious for a second before her face froze into mute horror.
"What?" Harry asked.
Hermione sighed heavily and leaned closer to him, lowering her voice. "You don't think…he was Chief Warlock when Sirius was imprisoned and he should have made sure Sirius got a trial. Do you…"
Harry was already shaking his head. "Sirius doesn't think it was deliberate. He says Dumbledore should have checked but that he's pretty sure from the conversation they had in the office when Sirius was captured that Dumbledore honestly thought he was guilty." He shrugged. "It doesn't matter. Dumbledore's in Thailand and by the time he gets back I'll be adopted and he won't have a say in it anymore."
"It's just so…unbelievable! He's always seemed so…good and kind and great." Hermione said miserably. "He's Albus Dumbledore! He's not supposed…"
"To make mistakes?" Harry said quietly. "Sirius says nobody is perfect."
"I guess not." Hermione said with a huff. She sighed and changed the subject. "Ron sent a letter with Errol. He's invited us to the Quidditch World Cup. My Mum and Dad are thinking about that too although I'm not really sure I want to go. Have you talked with him yet?"
Harry shook his head. "We've only been back a couple of days and we've been settling into our new house. We're supposed to be seeing them tomorrow evening to give them an invite to the adoption – Ron and his parents, I mean."
She bit her lip again. "You're not inviting Ginny?"
Her question took him aback. He hadn't really had much contact with Ginny over the past year although they'd exchanged small talk in the common room and sat together occasionally at meals. He'd tried to pay her some attention since the previous year had been so horrible for her but he felt awkward around her. He still half-expected her to fall into her butter dish if he was honest. "If I invite Ginny then I have to invite Fred and George, and…I don't really have an issue with it but Sirius wanted to keep it small."
"Would it be so bad?" Hermione asked. "It's just…Ginny and I chatted a bit at the end of the year and she wants to get to know you better. If we want to make more friends like you were saying before – and I actually think that's a good suggestion – we should try and get to know more people. Ginny might be a good place to start."
Harry sighed and confessed the real reason. "Yeah, but I think Ginny has a…"
"Crush on you?" Hermione nodded. "Of course she does."
"Because, Harry, she wants to get past it and become your friend." Hermione said. "I know it's awkward but the Boy Who Lived was her childhood hero and you saved her life so of course she has a massive crush on you. It's quite a lot for her to get past."
"I helped save your life and you didn't get a crush on me." Harry pointed out, proud of his logic.
Hermione blushed and looked a tad guilty; Harry stared at her speechless as he realised the implication.
"Look, that was me. Obviously I was mature enough not to get a crush on you." Hermione's cheeks reddened even more as she blatantly lied and she made a hand wave as though to dismiss the entire thing. "Ginny…I think all she really wants is a chance to get past her crush and get to know you."
"I'm not promising anything," Harry said deciding they should drop the subject quickly rather than dwell on the fact that Hermione had once had a crush on him, "but I'll talk with Sirius about inviting all the Weasleys."
Hermione smiled at him brightly. "Thank you, Harry." She frowned suddenly. "You know I owe you a life debt for the troll – and Merlin! I owe Ron too!"
"I don't think so," Harry said, "from what Sirius told me you can't owe someone a life debt if they were responsible for placing you in danger in the first place and Ron was the reason why you were in the bathroom." He waved his hand. "As for me, if you ever did owe me anything, you've saved my life since, and besides…saving Sirius paid it back tenfold, Hermione."
Her eyes took on a mischievous glint. "I tell you what; just to make sure there are no debts between us, I'll run interference for you if Ginny gets too crushy."
"That isn't funny!" Harry exclaimed hotly, although he wasn't truly mad at her teasing.
"It's a little funny," Hermione retorted, "and besides you should be happy someone likes you." Her face fell. "I don't think I'm going to have a queue of boys lining up to ask me to Hogsmeade."
Harry felt the same disturbed lurch in his belly as he had earlier but his need to reassure her trounced it. Unfortunately he had no idea how to reassure her and settled for squeezing her arm absently. She smiled at him in appreciation though so maybe it had been the right thing to do.
The sound of a throat being cleared at the head of the table had them both looking up sharply.
Sirius smirked at Harry. His gaze fell pointedly to where Harry was still holding onto Hermione's arm. Harry blushed bright red and let go.
"Your Dad wanted your help." Sirius told Hermione.
She sighed and headed over to the grill. Sirius sat down and grinned at Harry.
"Don't," Harry warned him briskly, "or I'll tell Remus about the time Healer Fay was over when we were swimming and you lost your…"
"We swore we would never speak of that." Sirius reminded him quickly.
He stared at his godfather.
"Fine, no teasing about how cosy you and Hermione were looking." Sirius promised in a grumbling tone.
Harry breathed a sigh of relief and sat up straighter as Hermione returned with a plate of piled high with burgers, steaks and chops.
"I hope you're hungry." Miriam said with a laugh as she and Wallace rejoined them.
The topic of conversation turned to questions over how comfortable Sirius seemed in the muggle world and Harry sat back, content to listen to tales of how his Mum had made sure the Marauders could handle muggle things. He glanced at Hermione and felt his stomach flip-flop again. He was hungry, Harry thought determinedly; that was probably all it was.