Harry exchanged a nervous look with Neville as they were ushered into the study. Sirius and Remus had been strange all day, and the way Sirius had abruptly informed them that Neville's Gran had given her permission for Neville to stay for a bit longer before he'd hustled Hermione to the floo after the politics lesson made Harry's 'Marauder' alarm start ringing very loudly.
Sirius waved them into a sofa in the seating area. The coffee table had a waiting pensieve filled with a silvery memory. Remus sat in a chair next to them and sent a pointed look to Sirius, who was hovering with a strange expression on his face by the open door. The two Marauders seemed to have an entire silent conversation before Sirius heaved a sigh and shut the door.
"Right," Sirius cleared his throat as he walked over to join them, "so you're probably wondering why we've brought you two in here."
Harry swapped another bemused look with Neville before they both nodded.
"Right," Sirius repeated, taking a deep breath, "we're here to have a discussion with you about…" he gestured, "well, um, I guess you could say, about courting?"
Harry's green eyes were startled wide as he realised where the discussion was heading. He shook his head quickly. "That's OK, Padfoot, really! I think Neville and I, uh…"
"We know." A very pale Neville managed to get out.
"Yes, you know," Sirius agreed fervently before he sighed, "but do you know?"
Harry frowned in confusion and was relieved Neville's expression was equally bewildered.
Sirius cast a desperate look at Remus.
"What Padfoot is trying to say is that we are aware that you may know the biological facts but that is rather different to the art of courting." Remus said. "There are also certain emotional and physical implications about dating someone and becoming sexually active. And, we should check that what you do know is accurate and not a tale from Mister Finnegan's imagination."
Harry was fairly sure Neville was looking as horrified as he was.
"Right," Sirius said again, "I think we should just…get on with it. Here," he pointed at the pensieve, "is a memory." His face softened in remembrance. "It's your Dad, Harry. Your Granddad actually gave James this kind of talk the Summer after our fourth year. We Marauders went to visit him and so…"
Harry brightened at the news. It was a memory of his Dad! How bad could it be?
"We're all going to enter the pensieve." Remus said. "If you have a question at any point, we'll pause the memory and explain before we move on."
Sirius smiled at them. "Ready?"
Harry glanced at Neville who gave a nervous smile. They leaned forward to enter the pensieve…
They fell into the memory and found themselves in a large sunny bedroom. An unmade bed could be seen to the left but four boys were gathered on the floor, a plate of snacks in the centre of them and they each had glasses of butterbeer.
Harry soaked up the sight of his fifteen year old Dad; everyone was right, they did look alike with the same messy dark hair, slim build and Potter features. But there were differences beyond his Dad's hazel eyes…his father had a casual elegance and air of status about him that Harry knew would have come from the etiquette lessons he must have had as a child; there was also a faint hint of the arrogance Sirius had confessed to Harry; and, finally, there was the openly mischievous smirk that adorned his face.
His gaze moved to the boy to his Dad's immediate left – Sirius. There was already a hint of the rebel about Sirius in his muggle clothing of jeans and t-shirt. Fifteen year old Sirius still had shadows in his eyes but Harry knew the shadows had nothing to do with Azkaban and he recognised the guarded wariness all too well from looking in a mirror when he'd been growing up with the Dursleys; a desperate loneliness and a want to belong.
Remus sat to the left of Sirius, opposite Harry's father. There were fewer scars across his face and his hair was a glossy sandy colour. His brown eyes were warm and friendly.
The rat was the last of the group but fifteen year old Peter didn't look like the crawling betrayer that Harry had encountered at the end of his third year. Peter looked like the others – young and mischievous if a little nondescript with his brown hair and eyes; a little slovenly with his twisted collar and the faint stain of some condiment on the front of his robes.
Neville shifted beside him. "That's Pettigrew?"
"Younger and not yet in Tom's pocket but…yeah." Harry admitted quietly.
"We couldn't delete him, unfortunately," Sirius added, "but he was always pretty quiet so you shouldn't have to put up with him saying much."
Harry nodded absently as he tuned into what his Dad was saying…
"…and then he sits me down and gives me the Little Wizard's Talk!" James announced, waving his sandwich at them. "I mean, me!"
"At least he went to the trouble to sit down and talk with you!" Sirius said disgruntled.
"Exactly." Remus nodded. "I think my parents are trying to ignore the fact that I'm a teenager." He sighed. "Not that having the Talk would make a difference to me. With my condition I can hardly go out with someone."
"Bollocks, Moony!" remonstrated Sirius. "There are plenty of girls who'd like you to escort them to Hogsmeade if you'd just get over yourself."
"And when they find out the truth?" shot back Remus. "How many do you think will stick around after that?"
"The ones that deserve you." James interrupted. "If they don't want to know you because of your furry little problem, they don't deserve to be with you."
"Hear, hear." Sirius said.
Harry noticed their Remus was shooting Sirius an irritated look as their memory versions started their campaign for James to spill the beans on what had been said in his Talk.
"I thought you were going to start the memory from a later point?" Remus hissed at Sirius.
Sirius shushed him and pointed back at the boys. "James is about to begin properly."
The look Remus shot Sirius promised retribution. Harry wondered what Remus would think up; he could get quite creative with his pranks.
"Alright!" James held up his hands. "I give in! I'll tell you what my Dad said."
Remus's eyes narrowed on his friend's wicked smile. "You have to promise on Marauder's honour to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."
"Moony!" James protested dramatically. "Don't you trust me?"
There was a chorus of 'no!' from all three of his friends.
"Fine," grumbled James, "I promise I'll make no embellishments. Let's get organised!"
He made the other three sit in a line on the floor facing him and he sprawled out in front of them, brushing off his dusty robes. Remus had somehow gotten parchment and ink and was poised to take notes.
"Alright, boys," James began brightly, "as you are now fifteen years old, you may have started to notice girls or boys or both. This is because you are becoming a man and your body and emotions are maturing. You are beginning the journey to…"
"Sex!" interrupted Sirius cheerfully.
James shot him a look that clearly said 'shut up,' "…finding someone to love and marry; someone you can build a family with."
"Well, not if it's a boy." Remus pointed out. "If you settle down with a boy, having a baby is out."
"Adoption." Sirius said. "You can blood adopt which is just as valid or go with a surrogate."
"True." Remus conceded.
"But who would want to kiss a boy?" joked Peter.
"I already have." Sirius stated somewhat stiffly.
Harry's eyes widened with the admission and he cast a look over to the older version of Sirius who was very carefully ignoring them all.
"Really?" asked Remus, his eyes shining with curiosity. "What was it like?"
"More to the point," James interrupted, "who was it and when?"
"I'm not saying but it was…" Sirius shrugged, "fine. Not ground shaking or anything. It's a bit like kissing a girl."
James sighed but didn't push Sirius. "Anyway, my Dad said that he didn't mind if I ended up with a girl or a boy as long as I was happy."
"My Mum would throw a wobbly if I brought home a boy." Peter said. He suddenly clasped his hands together and wailed dramatically. "But what about my grandchildren?!"
Harry noted that it was quite a funny impression even if it was Peter.
"Your Mum? What about mine? Your Mum might cry and wail a bit, but mine will have a complete fit and hex me half to death before marrying me off to some pureblooded bitch from Bulgaria. Not that it matters since I'm leaving home as soon as I can." Sirius made a 'get on with it' gesture at James.
"So then…" James said quickly, moving the subject on. "'Son,' he said, 'at some point you will go from noticing people in general to noticing one person in particular…'"
"Lily," coughed Sirius.
"And he explained what a crush was – you know, being very attracted, wanting to be with them, wanting to be noticed by them, dreaming about being with them – assured me again that it was all perfectly normal." James's expression took on a sheepish look. "Then he explained that it was a fine line between a crush and obsession, and to make sure I didn't allow myself to slip from one to another."
"You mean like following said crush everywhere?" Sirius teased.
"Stealing her timetable to know where she is every hour of the day?" offered Peter with a sly smirk.
"Making notes of what she eats at meals so you can deduce her favourite foods?" added Remus.
"Alright, alright!" James held up his hands. "I admit my Dad's talk did actually get me to think maybe I've gone a little overboard with Lily."
Harry's heart ached a little at his Dad's miserable expression.
Younger Sirius obviously had the same reaction because he cleared his throat loudly. "Well, maybe your Dad has some advice to offer about how you could win the heart of the enigma that is Evans?"
"Yes!" exclaimed James, pointing at him. "Wooing was the next thing he talked about."
"Wooing?" Sirius pulled a face. "He actually called it wooing?"
James ignored him. "Basically, he said that when you found someone you liked, that the next stage was wooing – getting to know them better and allowing them to get to know the real you."
"But what if they're a teacher?" asked Peter.
"Well, I think you probably have to be realistic and appropriate about the object of your affections," Remus supplied quickly, "right, James?"
"Sure, I mean Dad didn't say anything specifically, but I think he was assuming that the other person would be within the same age range and someone you knew personally." James frowned at Peter. "You don't still have that crush on Professor Linney?"
"She's so beautiful." Peter said dreamily.
All three other boys exchanged knowing looks.
"So," said James loudly, "you like someone near to your own age, not a teacher," he threw Peter another look, "or someone unattainable like a Quidditch player or whatever, and you want to get to know her – or him – better." He gestured. "He said the first stage was to become friends with them, get to know them. Sometimes it works out that once you do know them…"
"You don't fancy them anymore." Sirius concluded.
"But sometimes you'll continue to like them and will progress to the next stage; asking them out. He suggested that you take them a token – a flower or a chocolate or something – and in private, ask them in a sincere way if they would do you the honour of allowing you to escort them to Hogsmeade…or wherever. If they say no, accept it graciously and don't push it." James sighed and reaching down pulled on the toes of his socks straightening them out.
Harry wondered why his father looked so disheartened.
Sirius nudged him. "Your Dad had spent our fourth year asking your Mum to accompany him to Hogsmeade in front of the entire Gryffindor Common Room every time there was a weekend announced. It was a bit of a running joke by the end of the year that he'd ask and she'd turn him down."
"Oh." Harry realised that his Dad must have compared the advice he'd been given to how he'd asked his Mum and understood he'd made a mistake.
"Neville's Dad, on the other hand, wooed Alice exactly in the manner James's Dad recommended." Sirius smiled at Neville who brightened at the new knowledge of his father.
"How do you get one of them to go somewhere in private?" Peter wondered out loud. "They travel in packs."
"Send them a note with the morning mail or sneak one to them in class," suggested Sirius.
"Or you could just ask them if you could have a word in private." Remus said logically.
"What if they don't like me, I mean, you, collective you?" Peter stammered out. "They're hardly likely to go anywhere alone with me…you? You know what I mean."
"That's why there's the getting to know you thing first." Sirius said sagely. "So they can get to know you enough that they would go alone with you somewhere."
"Dad said there were a few tips. Firstly, compliments should be sincere. If her hair looks awful, don't pretend it does. But if she has a nice smile, you can say that you like her smile, for instance." James said. "Secondly, you should always be honest but never say anything unkind."
"Don't tell her she's fat, he means." Sirius chipped in.
"Any other tips?" asked Remus, making a note on his parchment.
"Uh, don't insult her friends." James muttered.
All three of the others looked at him but with varying expressions of horror, sympathy and pity.
"Well, you've kind of screwed the…"
"Sirius!" James snapped.
"He has a point," Peter said tactlessly, "we have hexed Snivellus a lot. It's no wonder she doesn't like you."
Neville leaned in towards Harry. "Snivellus?"
"Snape." Harry whispered back. "He was my Mum's friend."
Neville stared at him in shock.
"I know." Harry said in amused agreement with Neville's disbelief.
"So, we do some damage limitation next year," suggested Remus, "we don't hex him unless he starts something with us."
Sirius didn't look pleased but James grinned.
"Fine," Sirius grumbled, "but I won't hold back if he does start something."
James reached over and patted his foot. "Your sacrifice is much appreciated." He leaned back and smiled. "Anyway, Dad said that if someone likes you they'll smile at you a lot, find excuses to touch you and talk to you. So you'll have a general idea about whether they'll want you to ask them out."
Remus nodded. "Find excuses…got it."
"So, first date, Dad said to make sure you bathe beforehand, dress nicely – make an effort. Uh, then there was nothing wrong with going with time-honoured traditions; greet her with a flower and a sincere compliment, go on a walk around Hogsmeade to places you both enjoy, followed by lunch at The Three Broomsticks, and escort the lady back to her House." James paused. "And should everything have gone well, then…"
"KISSING!" shrieked Sirius.
"Or just one kiss." James agreed with a smile.
"Tips for kissing?" Remus asked organising his parchment.
"Practice good dental hygiene, don't eat anything too spicy or garlicky beforehand or have a breath mint handy, don't lunge at her or you might knock heads, be gentle, and remember to breathe." James reeled off quickly.
"What about French kissing?" Remus pointed his quill at James.
"Dad said you tangle your tongues together in a stroking fashion. It's a lot more intimate and you should probably not try it on a first kiss." James instructed.
"So how far do you go and when?" Peter asked, brushing some crumbs off his robe.
James smiled at him. "Good question, Pete! I asked my Dad the same thing."
"And the answer?" prompted Remus, quill poised to write it down.
"Dad said you should talk about it once you've gone on a few dates and have agreed you're properly a couple." James's cheeks coloured. "He said that it was better not to rush into, uh, you know; doing it and that there was a lot you could do before it."
"Talking seems sensible." Remus agreed.
"You don't want to schedule it like homework though!" protested Sirius. "Where's the spontaneity? The joy? The having fun in the moment?"
"Dad said to agree rules." James said. "So before a, um, snogging session, you'd agree that you could place your hands on her…" he made a descriptive gesture with his hands that Harry assumed meant breasts, "and whether you could touch her above or beneath her clothing."
Harry's face was bright red. He was certain Neville's probably was too. This was a really bad idea, Harry thought. He didn't want to think that his Dad and his Mum had probably had that kind of conversation at one point.
"Oh, well, that makes sense." Sirius conceded. "I did get slapped by Kathy Pickleton for accidentally touching her bits."
They all looked at Sirius before James cleared his throat and motioned with his hand, drawing their attention again.
"There are rules," James said, "that Dad said were sacrosanct whatever was agreed." He pushed his glasses up his nose. "Let's see: everyone should have fun…"
"An excellent rule!" Sirius said fervently.
"But nobody should feel humiliated, uncomfortable, misused or taken advantage of afterwards. No means no and you should always stop when someone asks you to stop. You shouldn't pressure someone into doing something and they shouldn't pressure you." James continued.
There was a sombre moment as all the boys absorbed that rule.
"Anything else?" Remus asked.
"Well, we, uh, then had a very embarrassing conversation about, uh, touching." James admitted.
"Touching?" Sirius asked, his eyebrows rising.
"Touching yourself and, uh, someone else. You know," James shrugged and refused to meet any of his friends' gazes, "how touching certain parts might lead to, uh, orgasms and stuff."
"Ah." Sirius grimaced.
"Masturbation is a normal activity for young men and women." Remus lectured.
"Would you want to discuss wanking with your Dad?" demanded James.
Remus winced. "No, not really."
"Well then." James said satisfied his point had been made. "Then he said at some point, if I had been going with someone for a while, it might lead to, uh, full on sex."
He remained silent long enough for the others to cast looks at each other before Remus was evidently silently volunteered to say something.
"And what about sex, James?" prompted Remus.
James sighed and smoothed down his robes. "Well, some of it was advice about waiting until I was ready, not rushing into it, that kind of thing. And then," his lips twisted, "most of it was checking that I understood where everything went…"
"Which we can skip." Sirius agreed hurriedly.
"He also taught me the contraceptive charm," James's face was aflame, "and said I should always make sure I was safe."
"No getting someone pregnant or getting some kind of sexually transmitted disease." Remus stated firmly. "It's what you'd expect your Dad to say really."
"There was other advice as well," James said, "he said that you should make sure you're in a comfortable and safe place; make it special with candles and maybe some music." He sat up and changed position. "He mentioned that there's a lot of pressure for both people the first time and to talk about expectations and stuff before. He said if I ever thought I was getting to the point where I thought I was going to have sex then he'd give me some books to read about technique and…" he gestured weakly, "making sure my partner and I had a good time."
"Back to the fun thing, huh?" Sirius asked.
"He said it was better if you trusted each other and could laugh when things didn't quite work out the way you wanted. Then he had this anecdote about his own first time," James added as the others winced in sympathy, "and frankly that was more than I ever needed to know about my Dad's sex life."
Harry was relieved when the memory ended and they tumbled back into themselves. He and Neville sat back down on the sofa.
Sirius moved the pensieve and handed them parchment, quills and ink. "So we need to check that, well, we need to check as James said that you know where everything goes. So I want you to write down what you know about sex."
"Can't you just accept our word for it?" asked Harry desperately.
"As your parent, of course, I accept your word and trust that you know if you say you do," Sirius said brightly, "but as your sex education tutor, no; I need proof. We can either do this verbally or in written form so…"
"Written is fine." Harry said hurriedly.
For the next few moments, Harry focused on writing about human procreation in as few succinct sentences as he could manage. He slapped his quill down and handed the parchment to Sirius; he was quickly followed by Neville.
Sirius quickly scanned them as everyone else fidgeted and waited. "You both pass the quiz portion of the discussion."
"Thank Merlin!" Neville said, slumping back.
Sirius cleared his throat. "To recap; it's OK to like girls or boys or both. You may start noticing one person in particular and crushes are normal but try to make sure you don't become obsessed. If you do like someone, get to know them better and don't hex their friends." He looked up. "Are there any questions you would like to ask so far?"
Harry exchanged a swift furtive look at Neville and they both very quickly shook their heads.
"If you do like someone, ask them on a date. Be respectful and try to ask them in a private location. If they say no, move on. Plenty of fish in the sea." Sirius continued. "If they say yes don't worry about doing something fancy – although I can highly recommend a picnic by the Black Lake when the weather is nice…"
"Or stargazing on the top of the Astronomy tower," interjected Remus.
"If the date has gone well then a goodbye kiss is appropriate but ask before you do it. A simple 'may I kiss you' works wonders." Sirius informed them briskly. "Equally, if you move onto snogging, always check the boundaries about what you can and can't touch or you may get slapped."
It was actually very good advice, Harry thought slightly dazed. He certainly had no wish to get slapped.
"The more touching you do, the more, um, intimate you'll become. If you think you're ready for sex," Sirius stumbled a little over his words and there was a streak of red across his cheeks, "well, quite honestly, I'm hoping that you don't think that for a while, a long while…a very, very long while…"
"But if you do," Sirius pulled himself back to his original discussion point, "you should both know Remus and I are always willing to talk with either of you and provide you with the relevant literature that James mentioned at the end there, and obviously discuss any concerns that you may have."
"Do you know the contraceptive charm?" asked Remus bluntly.
"Yes." Harry said. "Arthur showed Ron before third year and well, when he said so in the dorm, Seamus said he also knew, and they both taught the rest of us."
"The incantation?" checked Remus.
"Duosterillus." Harry and Neville chorused.
Remus nodded, satisfied. "Do you have any questions?"
"No." Harry answered immediately. He hoped that was the end of it.
"No." Neville echoed faintly.
Sirius nodded. "Well, I just want to reiterate that waiting until you're ready is good; don't be pressured into doing something when you don't really want to. I, uh, didn't wait and I've always regretted it."
That regret was written across his face.
"When did you…" Neville stopped and when Harry turned to look at him, Neville looked thoroughly appalled as though he couldn't believe he'd begun to ask such a personal question.
"I was fourteen." Sirius answered calmly.
"I was sixteen." Remus added. "But unlike Sirius my experience was a positive one and with a girl who I'd dated for a few months."
"Your Dad was seventeen, Harry." Sirius informed him before he could complete the thought. "I'm not sure about your Mum; girls don't tend to confide that kind of information in blokes."
"Didn't my Dad and my Mum…" Harry stopped abruptly, not sure he wanted the answer or to really ask the question.
"Your Mum wasn't your Dad's first lover." Sirius said quietly, answering the question anyway. "Your Dad took your Granddad's advice to heart in our fifth year. He asked your Mum once in private before the first Hogsmeade weekend if she would like to go out with him and when she refused he decided to move on. He dated other girls until your Mum finally consented to go out with him toward the end of sixth year. Again, not sure about your Mum; your Dad and I never discussed it."
Harry glanced at Remus who nodded in support of Sirius.
"Keep in mind that most girls don't take kindly to having their sex lives the topic of gossip and discussed in the boys' changing rooms or dorms. If you do get together with a girl, how far you go and what you do together should remain between her and you unless you're asking for advice." Remus said. "James never said a word about Lily which is why we don't know."
"It's about respecting your partner." Sirius said. "Confiding in a good friend is OK if you need advice but only if you trust them to keep quiet."
"Any other questions?" asked Remus brightly as Harry and Neville remained silent.
They shook their heads.
"Well, if you do have questions, Remus and I are always happy to talk to you." Sirius said. He motioned at them. "Harry, maybe you could see Neville to the floo?"
Harry nodded quickly. He and Neville escaped the study and both of them sighed with relief as they closed the door behind them. They walked to the floo in silence and Neville took a pinch of floo powder. He turned back to Harry slightly hesitantly.
"Well, that was…" Neville began awkwardly.
"Yes." Harry nodded. "Let's…"
"Never mention this again?" Neville suggested with a smile.
Harry grinned back at him.
Neville nodded still smiling, threw the floo powder and called out his home floo address before stepping into the flames.
Harry rubbed his forehead. Maybe he could obliviate himself…maybe? On the other hand, he couldn't deny that in between the excruciating embarrassment of the topic, it had been good to see the memory of his Dad, and there had been some useful information if he was going to be dating when he went back to Hogwarts.
The cold of the basement skittered over his skin but Barty ignored it despite the fact that he was half-naked, shirtless, after spending the day in the garden sun-bathing under a disillusionment charm. It had been so good to simply soak up the sun and breathe fresh air. It wasn't something that had happened often in the last twelve years of his life. But life had certainly changed for Barty during the previous few weeks since Peter Pettigrew and the Dark Lord had rescued him.
It was a bizarre story really, one Pettigrew had told in the Crouch's front parlour, stumbling and sliding over his words while the Dark Lord looked on from the eyes of the two year old child he had possessed. In short, Pettigrew had been hiding but had been discovered the year before by Sirius Black and Harry Potter; he'd escaped and ran for Albania where he knew the last person to find the Dark Lord had gone and had managed to track him down (through a combination of what Barty believed was sheer luck and chance rather than any kind of skill).
Fortunately for Barty, Pettigrew had also stumbled into Bertha Jorkins and the Dark Lord had realised just what a treasure trove of information the gossipy woman was since she worked at the Ministry. Jorkins' mind had cracked like an egg as the Dark Lord had raped it of every memory she had ever had including the memory of coming to the Crouch house to deliver a report to Barty's father and accidentally seeing Barty, who was supposed to be dead, in one of his escape attempts. His father had obliviated her but even his strong magic was no match for the Dark Lord who had recovered the memory and found it fascinating.
Upon arriving back in England, the Dark Lord had ordered Pettigrew to the Crouch house. They'd quickly overcome his father and Winky, and liberated Barty from the depths of the basement where he was imprisoned. Winky had been fine once Barty had ordered her to obey the Dark Lord and to tell no-one of his father's capture. He detested the house elf who had been as much his jailer as his father but she was useful. Nobody considered house elves as important and they were always overlooked. She was also loyal and terrified of being given clothes. His father, on the other hand…
He descended into the tiny space down the wooden steps swishing his wand like a sword in front of him. There just enough space for a single bed, a small rickety table and an old Formica dining chair that looked like it should have been left in the Seventies. A single light illuminated the dank space; a candle on the tiny child's bedside table by the bed.
Barty grinned manically at the sight of his dear old Dad lying stiff on the bed. The draught the Dark Lord had fed Barty Crouch Senior would keep the old man comatose but alive. Barty had wanted to kill him but the Dark Lord had said no; Dad was much more useful alive than dead especially with the Tri-Wizard Tournament they had learned about from Jorkins. The Dark Lord had wanted to send his father back to the Ministry under an Imperius curse but Barty had argued that his father might be capable of breaking free – hadn't he broken free of his father's on occasion? So, the potion had been used and Dad would sleep…at least until someone pure of heart kissed him.
Barty giggled at the thought. No-one knew his father was missing; no-one was going to come looking for him; certainly no-one pure of heart. They'd sent an owl to the Ministry saying Barty had Wizard's flu and had been confined to the house. His father's new assistant, Percy Weasley, had offered by return owl to keep things running smoothly and, even better, to send regular progress reports. They had to put up with Weasley's brown-nosing simpering with each missive (and each one turned Barty's stomach with its nauseating flattery of his father) but it was worth it. The ruse was working perfectly. They were fully informed about the Quidditch World Cup, fully informed about the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and the Dark Lord was pleased and making plans of plans of plans…
Barty grinned again.
Barty would have a role to play, an important role. Someone was going to have to impersonate his father eventually and who better for the job than himself, his father's son? The Polyjuice potion would be ready soon enough with the Dark Lord's tutelage on improving the standard recipe to enable it to brew faster and in greater quantity, to last longer and duplicate his father's voice and not just his appearance.
"Ah, Father," Barty taunted as he dragged the chair over to the bed and sat down, "it's been so long since we've talked."
His father had ignored him for the most part except on the anniversary of his mother's death and Yule. The former would involve a lecture on how much of a disappointment Barty had been to his mother (which was so not true – his mother had died in Azkaban because she believed in him), and the latter would involve a lecture on how much of a naughty boy Barty had been and a single present of getting to spend the day in the main part of the house leashed to Winky like he was three years old.
"The Dark Lord is away with Pettigrew doing something important for his plan, gaining his vengeance on his dead father," Barty murmured, "and as it is only you and I for the first time since they arrived, I thought we should talk. Well, I will talk and you will listen."
His mind was finally fully clear of the fog that his father's Imperius curses had left behind. He had devoured the newspapers, the old ones that Winky had stacked away for recycling; the new ones that were delivered every day.
He had read of Black's innocence and how he had gained custody of Potter. He had read of Black's first Wizengamot session and the death of the LeStranges…
Barty felt his grief stir again. He had been so in love with Rabastan, the dark haired handsome man who had loved him and cherished him. The LeStrange home had been a haven for him; a sanctuary of acceptance away from his father's exacting and never-met standards. Bella had mothered him and Rodolphus had provided big brotherly advice when Barty had floundered. And Rabastan…
"I loved him beyond measure," Barty said out loud, "I loved him more than anything, I would have done anything for him including bowing to the Dark Lord and taking his Mark, and I did." He laughed harshly. "It wasn't so bad, you know. I mean, I didn't believe half of it, didn't care in truth because what did it matter to me if the Dark Lord wanted to kill all the muggles and muggleborns? Who cares truly? Not you. You just wanted power and control. Like you controlled Mummy. Like you tried to control me."
His father had made his mother's life a torment. His mother had been a kind, gentle soul. His father had dictated every aspect of her life from her dress to her manners, from her friends to where she went and for how long. Everything had to be in its place just as dear old Dad wanted it, or there would be harsh words that tore at her self-confidence and had her weeping while her husband ignored her.
Barty had grown up hating his father for how he'd treated his mother.
And yet just like his mother there had been a part of Barty that had desperately wanted his approval. He'd worked so hard at Hogwarts to sort into the right house, to do well in his studies, to excel in every magical way so that his father had no complaints – and yet, there had been no praise or approval at the end of each year just questions why he'd gotten less than Outstanding for Care of Magical Creatures or why hadn't he made Seeker for the Quidditch team instead of the Chaser position he had excelled in, or why hadn't he been considered for Head Boy and was just a lowly prefect. Nothing had ever been good enough.
"I wonder what was worse for you, Father dearest," Barty wondered, "was it finding out that I was a Death Eater or that Rabastan and I were lovers? I rather think it was the latter."
He knew his father would never approve. In his fifth year he had kissed Regulus Black on a dare and they had briefly conducted a secret affair, thrilling and terrifying in equal measure. It had been Regulus who had introduced him to Rabastan.
And Rabastan had loved him utterly and devotedly, just as he had loved Rabastan. They'd planned to be properly bonded, and Bella had even offered to carry a child for them who would become the LeStrange heir as Rodolphus was infertile thanks to a dark curse. They'd had so many plans and they had all come undone in one terrifying night.
"Bella and Roldophus were so distraught when the Dark Lord disappeared," Barty said to his unhearing father, "they desperately wanted to find out what had happened. They didn't believe you see that he was gone. Well, the Potters were dead but I knew that Alice and Lily had always been close. We just wanted to find out what had happened; where the Potter boy was."
Only the Longbottoms hadn't known anything and Bella and Rodolphus had taken their anger and frustration out on the pair while Rab had left off torturing them to join Barty in playing with the baby. They'd joked that it was practice for their own child but then…
Aurors had arrived and there was a battle and at the end of it, Barty had found himself in a cell at the Ministry awaiting his trial.
"I didn't torture them. You never believed me, Father, but I didn't. I kept the boy safe but was I thanked or rewarded? No." Barty sighed. "The only thing I did was lead them there and help them get through the wards."
Frank hadn't suspected him; not the son of his boss.
"For that you punished me with a lifetime in Azkaban." Barty stood up and paced back and forth. "I still don't know how Mummy convinced you to let her take my place. I suspect there was a potion involved, she was always very good at potions. She had to be, didn't she? She wasn't allowed to be anything less than perfect. But good for Mummy!"
His mother would have done anything for him, Barty knew that. She had loved him. She had also been the first one to buy him a broom and teach him how to fly; the first to buy him a present to celebrate his being a prefect, or getting perfect grades. She had been a wonderful woman; much too good for his father.
"I won't ever forget that she sacrificed her last days of freedom for me," Barty said firmly, whirling around and pointing his finger at his comatose parent, "but you wasted it! I'm sure she never wanted me to exchange one prison for another! To be locked away under your control, never to leave the house, never to know sunshine or a lover's touch again! You dosed me with potions to make my mind pliable and get around the Occlumency Bella taught me! You used Imperius curses on me to keep me obedient. Well, no more!"
His voice vibrated with rage.
"My Lord has freed me! He will be my father now!" Barty sat back down suddenly. "Yes, you heard me! He told me of his own father – a pitiful man who didn't see the greatness in his own son – just like you! He loves me! He will rise again stronger than before and I will take my place as his Heir, yes, I will be Slytherin's Heir, Father, haven't I done well, now?!"
He paused and wiped a hand across his mouth to wipe away the spittle that had lingered after his passionate spiel.
"We will get revenge on all those who have wronged us." Barty promised, his eyes glittering. "You will eventually die by my hand – the Dark Lord has promised me that just as his father died at his!"
He got to his feet and paced again. He stretched out his body. Winky had actually kept him in good condition. She hadn't stinted on his food, ensuring that he had potions to make up for the deficiencies in nutrients caused by his incarceration in the basement, and she had been the one to help him exercise every day.
Another week or so and he would be in peak condition, able to assume his father's place – no, not his father, he wouldn't call the man that any longer; he was undeserving of the title. No, he would take his sire's place at the Ministry and then the real fun would start.
Those Death Eaters who had denounced his Master would regret the day they had denied him, had lost faith in him. The Dark Lord had already planned his revival. The ritual was long and complicated and would take almost a year to complete but it would return the Dark Lord to his former glory. And Barty would be trusted with the most important part: delivering Harry Potter to the Dark Lord.
Barty had seen the newspapers and seen the Boy Who Lived's photo. He was a young boy; nothing special. The Dark Lord had already told him it had been the mother – Lily – who had performed some ancient Wiccan magic that had protected the boy and deprived the Dark Lord of his body. But the Dark Lord wanted Potter for his resurrection; needed the boy's blood and so Barty would deliver Potter. The Dark Lord would kill Potter then.
And so Barty would deprive Sirius Black of someone he loved just as Black had deprived Barty of his love.
Anger raged through Barty, hot and fierce, and he sent a cutting hex towards the still form on the bed.
He would destroy Black for killing Rabastan, Barty thought furiously. He would reduce Black to nothing. He would take everything Black loved and tear it to shreds. He would deliver Black's precious child to the Dark Lord and when the Dark Lord was finished with him, Barty would deliver Potter's head to Black personally.
He sent another curse at the bedridden man who had once been his father.
It would take time for the Dark Lord's plan to come to fruition – the ritual he wanted to use was powerful and required months of preparation. But there was no reason why Barty couldn't start on his part early or on ruining the rest of what Black held dear. He had already begun with sending Potter a Happy Birthday message since Weasley had been so eager to tell his boss how the Boy Who Lived would spend the day at the Burrow. But there would be more he could do and he would do it.
He grinned again.
The World Cup presented an opportunity. They'd received word via Weasley again that security was being tightened thanks to a tip of some kind of attack. The Dark Lord had laughed and had theorised that it was his old supporters desperately trying to win back favour because they knew he was back and growing in strength again because the Mark darkened. He had given Barty permission to show them how it was really done.
He'd target Potter, of course. If he could kidnap him before he went to Hogwarts so much the better. The boy could face the torment and trials the ritual demanded while chained to a wall next to Barty's dear old Dad.
But there needed to be a grand gesture and something else…
Barty chuckled. Weasley. Didn't he deserve something for his mindless brown-nosing? Perhaps the loss of his father would be enough and it was a good choice; the older Weasley had just been appointed to the Wizengamot and some Muggle Affairs thing the Dark Lord had ranted about.
It would be brilliant.
The Dark Lord – his new father – would be pleased.
"The next time I see you, old man, it will be to kill you." Barty promised gleefully. He bounded back up the stairs and into the kitchen. "Winky!"
Winky cowered in front of him.
"Go heal him." Barty ordered. "And bring me Weasley's correspondence. I have some planning to do."
Winky's ears flapped unhappily, her big round eyes filled with tears, but she nodded and popped away.
Barty grabbed an apple, biting into it enthusiastically as he went out to enjoy the sunset.
Another Friday meeting. An extended one with all that had happened during the previous week.
Sirius stretched and eased the kinks out of his neck as he waited for the others to arrive. Remus had agreed to attend although he was currently encased in a chair and napping. The full moon and the lycanthropy had taken its usual pound of flesh. Bill was also there at Bertie's request; he sat in a chair reading an old book he'd gotten out of the library. The contrast of his rebellious muggle clothing and the intent studious expression amused Sirius. He wondered if he had looked the same once upon a time.
His connection to the wards tugged on him and he knew the rest of the War Council had arrived. He revived Remus and Bill set his book down with a sigh that spoke of being irritated at the interruption to his reading. Sirius's lips twitched as he assured the young curse-breaker he could take the book home with him.
Within moments the study was filled with the most senior members of the British Magical government, the bustle of getting settled, refreshments arriving and the exchange of small talk although Sirius noted Amelia seemed quiet.
Sirius cleared his throat. "We should begin." He nodded at Cornelius but Amelia held up her hand before Cornelius could speak.
"I believe I should go first: the monitoring wards in Little Hangleton were tripped yesterday night at approximately nine-thirty."
Everyone suddenly sat up straighter.
"Why weren't we informed immediately?" demanded Cornelius and Sirius had to agree with him – they should have been informed.
Amelia sighed. "Let me explain. As soon as the wards pinged, Wood and Cambridge responded to investigate and reported back that Pettigrew, a snake and what looked to be a small child – a toddler – were inside the Manor. I was about to contact you when they made a second report that Pettigrew had left on foot so I held off on the assumption that there would be more to report. That was around ten o'clock. He made a visit to the cemetery in Little Hangleton and according to Wood collected some bones from Tom Riddle Senior's grave."
Both Bertie and Dumbledore exchanged a knowing look at that piece of information and Sirius's jaw tightened.
"Pettigrew returned to the Manor around midnight at which point things basically went pear-shaped." Amelia said. "Cambridge watched as the muggle caretaker, Frank Bryce, was killed by the toddler in the presence of a large snake."
"It is not a toddler then," Dumbledore said gravely, "but a homunculus bearing what remains of Voldemort's soul."
"From the memory I watched I suspect he's possessed a two year old innocent magical child," Amelia said, "unfortunately Bryce's murder happened too quickly for Cambridge to intervene and he took a step back in his horror at what had happened, stumbled over something and alerted the snake to the fact that something or someone else was present – it reacted anyway. He quickly conjured a mouse to account for the noise and portkeyed away to prevent discovery." She paused and took a gulp of her drink. "Wood remained behind as he was hidden in a different location outside and watched as Pettigrew apparated away with the toddler and snake. He was unable to place a tracking charm and unable to follow given the danger of following an apparition trail straight into a trap."
"Bugger," said Sirius. They'd been so close.
"Wood anonymously alerted the muggle authorities to the death and returned to base." Amelia sighed. "I felt it wasn't worthwhile disturbing your sleep to inform you of what had happened given the result and our meeting now."
Sirius sighed heavily. He saw her point and he could see her guilt at what she must perceive as a failure of the Rat Squad. "Missions and plans go pear-shaped, Amelia. Nobody knows that better than myself."
She nodded. "And plans rarely survive engagement with the enemy," she smiled sadly at Sirius, "I had the same training, Sirius. It's just…disappointing. If they had remained at the Manor, we would have had them in our sights once we dealt with the treasure hunt."
"Well, we still learned many valuable things from this encounter." Bertie soothed. "Namely, that our intelligence is correct; Pettigrew is working to restore Voldemort and he is with Voldemort back in this country."
"We've also confirmed that he's replaced his familiar as we learned at the Gaunt place." Bill said. "He's travelling with a snake."
"He's gained some form of a body – whether a child or a homunculus in which to house what remains of his soul." Dumbledore chimed in. "But not one that I believe Voldemort intends to remain within given the theft of the bones of his father."
"Yes," Sirius said dryly, "I noticed you and Bertie got very excited about that."
Bertie nodded. "There are two main rituals that can be used to restore Riddle's body because he used the particular objects he did as the method of immortality. One of these involves the bone of the father, flesh of the willing servant and, if I remember correctly, blood of the enemy forcibly taken."
Sirius was angry enough that he couldn't speak.
"And neither of you thought to inform us so we could, I don't know, replace Riddle's bones with some other person which would screw up the ritual?" asked Remus, stepping in when Sirius remained silent.
Bertie and Dumbledore looked abashed.
"My apologies," Bertie said formally, "you're quite correct; I should have informed the Council. I just didn't think to."
"I'm afraid I also have nothing but apologies to make." Dumbledore said hurriedly. "My main focus on that ritual was around the assumption that it would give Harry an anchor to life rather than…" he twirled his finger to silently say 'bring Voldemort back from the dead.'
"That's true," Bertie said excitedly, pointing at Dumbledore, "and it would give us a link, a connection although I'm not sure how that would manifest itself, not to mention that…"
"That it's NEVER going to happen if I have anything to do with it!" growled Sirius angrily.
"And me!" Remus snarled, his entire body vibrating with fury.
"Thirded," said Bill coolly.
"Just what potions have the two of you taken?" asked Amelia caustically as she turned on Bertie and Dumbledore. "You're talking about a dark ritual that will require Riddle to take Harry's blood by force! I assume you do realise that in such an instance, Harry would no doubt be in dire straits and probably in severe danger of losing his life if such an event were to occur! You talk as though that doesn't matter at ALL! For once, pull your heads out of your ivory bloody towers and THINK!"
Bertie and Dumbledore both looked thoroughly chastised.
Sirius was tempted to burst out laughing as the two men hastily made another apology.
"Now," Amelia said, "it appears that we know the ritual he intends to use." Her eyes narrowed on the two sheepish old wizards avoiding her eyes. "Is there anything else about this ritual, something say that may give us a tactical advantage?"
"Summer solstice," Bertie blurted out under her hard glare, "the ritual is best performed on the eve of the Summer solstice."
"Renewal, rebirth," Bill said quietly, "I can see why."
"Well, this is an alarming coincidence." Dumbledore stated, the twinkle in his eyes definitely absent.
"What?" asked Sirius impatiently.
Dumbledore looked around the gathering. "The final task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament will be held on the eve of the Summer solstice."
There was a sudden silence as they absorbed the news.
"Who came up with the dates for the tournament?" Remus asked bluntly.
Dumbledore frowned. "In all honesty, I cannot remember. The tournament has been discussed off and on for over two years. I will review my memories and see whether I can track down who it was."
"That's a long time for You-Know-Who to wait," Cornelius commented, speaking up again, "and why gather the, uh, bones now if he isn't going to use them straight away?"
"The ritual takes nine months for the majority of its preparation." Bertie answered.
Nine months, Sirius mused; nine months being the usual gestation period for a baby.
"The bones of the father will need to be sanctified first, and then prepared by soaking in amniotic fluid for nine months. Then the majority of them will then become the base of a potion that is required," Bertie continued dispassionately, "and the servant who gives his flesh must spend the vast majority of nine months ahead of the ritual truly serving their Master. If it is a child or a homunculus then Pettigrew will be tasked with seeing to its security, bodily and nutritional needs."
"And the enemy?" asked Sirius tersely.
"Is to be tested and challenged for the majority of the nine months thus living in fear of his life." Dumbledore said gravely.
"The tournament," Remus said, jumping ahead to the obvious conclusion, "if Harry was entered into the Tri-Wizard Tournament, it would provide the perfect arena for such a condition to be met."
"Harry is NOT entering the tournament." Sirius could feel his chest start to tighten, panic building sharply.
"There are safeguards, Sirius." Dumbledore assured him. "Entrants must be seventeen and over. There will be tight security around the goblet, I promise you."
"I think whatever security you have planned, you need to triple it." Amelia said brusquely. "If I was Riddle, I would be seeking to place Harry in the tournament."
"I will review the security measures with Alastor, Ludo and Barty." Dumbledore promised.
Cornelius raised his eyebrows. "I thought he was still sick? Barty, I mean."
"He is but he will return and Percy Weasley is doing an admirable job of being a go-between." Dumbledore said. "I'm certain he will relay a message and return Barty's thoughts on the matter."
Sirius glared at him. "Albus, if Harry is entered into this farce and Hogwarts fails to protect him from that, I will remove him from the school."
"While I understand your position, Sirius, we're getting ahead of ourselves," Amelia pointed out, "if we assume Riddle is working on this ritual then firstly – let's work on a way to keep Harry out of the tournament."
They all nodded.
"Secondly, I'd like a briefing document for the teams." Amelia said. "From the sound of it, Riddle is going to have to kill a pregnant woman to get the amniotic fluid. We can issue safety warnings – a pretend muggle serial killer perhaps and if there is a killing help use that to track down Riddle's location."
"Good thinking, Amelia." Sirius said, regaining his own balance in the face of her determination and steadfastness.
"Did Wood or Cambridge mention luggage?" Remus asked suddenly.
Amelia shook her head.
"You don't think they were intending to stay?" Sirius questioned Remus. "You think their base is elsewhere and they were only at Little Hangleton temporarily to get the bones so we would have lost them anyway?"
"It's a theory." Remus offered, spreading his hands.
"A good one," Amelia commented heaving a sigh, "and one that will help Cambridge. Thank you, Remus."
"We should probably kill the snake when we get an opportunity." Dumbledore said. "I fear Voldemort may have accidentally made another…object through the death of the caretaker. No doubt Voldemort has spent time possessing the snake prior to his new…home. It would be susceptible."
"I don't agree with your reasoning but better safe than sorry." Bertie said. "Shall we move on to the Treasure Team unless Amelia has something else to add?"
"The rest of my report can wait." Amelia sat back and picked up her abandoned drink.
Cornelius shifted restlessly, a frown on his face.
"I think we should revert to the agenda, if that's OK, Bertie?" Sirius asked smoothly.
Bertie nodded and gestured at Cornelius who smiled smugly at his success in trumping Bertie.
"Operation Power Play is on track and probably if I'm honest a little ahead of schedule. Let's see: the Potter alliance has approached the Order of Merlin recipients. The nine muggleborn recipients have already confirmed their willingness to join; the others are still contemplating their various alliances but we expect to have them all by the time the September Session sits." Cornelius said with delight.
"That's excellent news." Amelia said.
Sirius could see she was genuinely glad someone had something positive to report even if it was Cornelius.
"Augusta has been a boon," Cornelius admitted, "we couldn't have done it without her."
"She does seem to have gained a new lease of life." Bertie said with a nod.
"The neutral bloc has also made many overtures in the last few weeks." Cornelius continued, gesturing with his glass of iced mint tea. "Lord Greengrass has agreed an alliance with the Houses of Potter and Black. Zabini, Goldstein, Rickett and Smith have all invited Lord Black and I to various events over the next couple of weeks so I expect they will have alliances in place by the time of the next session."
"And with the neutral Ancient and Noble houses ostensibly taking a side, the rest of the neutral minor houses are likely to fall in line." Sirius said. The minor houses always sought the protection of the Ancient and Noble.
"What about the pureblood alliance?" asked Dumbledore. He stroked his beard thoughtfully. "Any news on that front? The alliance with Lord Nott was a surprise."
"According to my latest communication from Malfoy, Selwyn and Wilkes are contemplating a similar alliance arrangement with the House of Black as Nott." Sirius replied. "However, I expect that to be last minute."
"And similarly to the neutrals, if the Ancient and Noble Houses declare a position, the majority of the minor houses will follow." Cornelius said gleefully. "So, alliance wise, we expect to be in a strong position by the October session."
"Which is when we can start to make the major inroads on the legislative front." Sirius added.
"It's a remarkable achievement," Dumbledore said quietly, "you have systematically changed the power dynamic within a few short months."
Cornelius glowed with the praise even though it had been Sirius who Dumbledore had been looking at when he'd commented.
Sirius gave a sharp nod to the old wizard.
"The other small problem I know the House of Potter is dealing with is responding to the numerous requests to join the Potter alliance Heirs in swearing fealty to young Harry." Cornelius said with a teasing glint in his eye as he turned to Sirius.
Sirius grimaced. "Harry got inundated with requests following the Prophet article, mostly from children including his school mates."
Amelia smiled at him sympathetically. "I'm not surprised. Most of our children have been raised on stories of the Boy Who Lived. The prospect of swearing fealty and following him must seem like a wondrously adventurous lark to most youngsters."
"What does Harry think of it all?" Dumbledore asked pointedly.
Remus chuckled. "Mostly he's embarrassed at the attention."
Sirius hid his smirk at the indulgent looks that crept over the others' faces. Remus had known exactly what to say to dismiss any concerns that Harry was thrilled at the prospect of being able to raise his own private army – which he was a little bit – although Remus was right; Harry was mostly embarrassed. Sirius could quite happily torture the Dursleys for hours for the damage they had done to Harry's self-worth.
"He and the rest of the Heirs are sending replies back thanking people for their interest and providing more information about fealty including the fact that their parents would need to swear alliances with the House of Potter and be well known to Harry and myself before any vow of fealty could be accepted." Sirius continued. "There are a few families in there who we'd quite like to ally with…so we'll see what comes of it."
"I believe those are our highlights." Cornelius said pompously.
"Amelia, why don't you finish your report and then we'll cover the Treasure Team?" asked Sirius.
"One last thing to report then," Amelia said briskly, "namely, the Operation Quidditch is proceeding nicely. Avery has dropped out of the suspected Death Eater attack because of an invitation to go abroad on some junket – we believe Malfoy was behind it."
"He's probably protecting Avery's vote." Cornelius commented. "Avery doesn't have a mind of his own."
"Agreed," Amelia said dryly, "Travers and the others are on board. They've exchanged few owls but have met on three occasions to plan. Thanks to the help of Albus's spy, we cracked their code very easily to learn the details. They're planning a disruption the night after the game during the celebrations. Their main targets are the muggle family who own the campsite. Two of them will play with the muggles while the others wreck havoc among those staying at the campsite, targeting muggleborn families. The attack will begin at midnight. Rufus and Barty have been made aware that there is an imminent threat of something happening and will plan the Auror details around that. The Rat Squad will deal with the specifics."
"Are we sure we wish to specifically intervene beyond the Aurors acknowledging an anonymous tip? We risk revealing our surveillance of the remaining Death Eaters." Dumbledore pointed out.
"Politically, we need to ensure that the perpetrators are caught." Cornelius responded before Amelia could. "We need to make this a statement that we won't allow such activity."
"I have faith in Rufus and his team, Albus, but the Rat Squad will be there as a back-up to ensure that we don't let the buggers get away." Amelia said forcefully. "The Aurors and Bagman are being told that the Rat Squad will be there on the lookout for Pettigrew."
"Sounds like a good plan," Sirius commented firmly, feeling happier about allowing Harry to stay for some of the post-match celebrations, "and I guess that brings us onto Bertie?"
Bertie sighed. "Unfortunately, my news isn't as positive as Cornelius's and Amelia's World Cup report. As you all know we investigated the Chamber of Secrets and as fascinating an intellectual exercise as that was," he teased Amelia who rolled her eyes at him, "it was fruitless in turning up the object we hoped for."
"Unfortunately, anything of value was taken and nothing of value left." Bill said succinctly. "Wherever Riddle stowed the object, it wasn't in the Chamber."
"Which means we're faced with a systematic search of Hogwarts." Sirius sighed, rubbing his forehead, a twinge of pain signalling the onset of a headache.
"How long did he take from crossing the wards to appearing at the foot of the office staircase?" Remus asked. "Perhaps if we know that, we can theorise the route he took?"
Dumbledore nodded sagely. "I can review my memory."
"Well, that gives us two possible approaches." Bill said. "Unfortunately, Hogwarts is going to be a nightmare to search either way between moving staircases, corridors and rooms."
"Ah, yes," Dumbledore agreed, "indeed rooms have been known to appear and disappear. I myself came across a chamber pot room once and…"
"Albus," Amelia broke in sharply and he subsided with his eyes twinkling mischievously. She turned back to the others. "You will need a cover story for being at Hogwarts."
"Additional security for the tournament?" Bill suggested immediately. "That way we have a legitimate reason to search rooms and be about the castle."
"I think that's a splendid idea." Dumbledore said with a nod at Bill.
"What about Godric's Hollow?" Cornelius asked. "Anything there?"
"Caro and I are almost finished with the cleansing." Bill confirmed, folding his arms. "We'll start shifting through the house after the World Cup." He paused and looked over at Sirius regretfully. "We'll pack up as much as we can for Harry."
"Thank you." Sirius said, a lump in his throat.
He was aware that Dumbledore was looking half-ashamed across the room; he should be ashamed, Sirius thought fiercely. He should have ensured the house was properly looked after rather than acquiescing to the Ministry simply placing it in a stasis charm as a horrifying memorial.
"Will Harry want to take a look at the house itself?" Bill asked.
"Maybe," Sirius shot Remus a look because they'd already had the discussion, "we were thinking of going at Christmas. The house will be dealt with and we can…" his throat closed up.
"Harry wants to visit his parents' graves." Remus explained. "That is he wants to but at the same time, he's said he's not ready yet."
"None of us are." Sirius muttered and determinedly changed the subject. "So, the treasure hunt is on-going but stuck on slow for the foreseeable future."
After that, it didn't take long to wrap things up, the attendees heading for the floo and their usual Friday activities except for Bill who left for a date with Alicia Doge. Sirius privately thought it might be a good match but kept his mouth shut.
Remus stayed back to deal with correspondence and Sirius went home to Griffin House by himself. Dobby popped into the hallway as Sirius absently vanished the floo powder from his robe.
"Harry Potter is with his Professor McGoggles in the basement." Dobby informed him.
"Thank you, Dobby." Sirius said warmly; he'd grown quite fond of Dobby whose adoration of Harry knew no bounds it seemed. "Supper in the dining room today, I think."
"Yes, Harry Potter's Paddy, sir." Dobby said and popped away again.
Sirius shook his head. The elf clearly believed Harry was his master despite being nominally free and being paid. He made his way to the basement and watched unobserved from the doorway as Minerva continued to put Harry through his Transfiguration paces – non-verbally.
"Again, Harry." Minerva instructed, placing a hedgehog in front of him.
Harry's face crunched up and Sirius could see the way he bit down on his lip to prevent himself mouthing the incantation. He knew non-verbal casting took more concentration and focus; more control. It was a wonderful way to bring Harry's power under control which was why Dumbledore had suggested it and Sirius had to admit he had been right.
The hedgehog transformed into a beautiful purple coloured pincushion with its spike, sparkling silvery metal pins. It remained still.
"Excellent work, Harry!" Minerva praised him warmly, clapping her hands.
"Excellent work, indeed." Sirius said loudly, drawing their attention.
Harry's face lit up at the sight of him and Sirius felt his heart leap with glee at the sight of that. He would never get used to it. He was sure that Harry loved him even if he had never said anything.
"How was the meeting?" asked Minerva, starting to collect her teaching paraphernalia and pack it away, absently turning the hedgehog back to itself.
"Informative. There's been a sighting of Voldemort and the rat." Sirius said, leaning a shoulder on the door jamb.
Harry frowned. "Where?"
"Little Hangleton." Sirius said tersely. "Not the Gaunt place but the Riddle Manor. They were seen but they've gone again and it looked like they had no intention of staying."
He debated with himself about whether to tell Harry about the ritual and decided against it. He didn't like keeping information from Harry but maybe Remus had been right; Harry didn't need to know every single thing especially something as disturbing as a ritual that would call for Harry to be tested and challenged for nine months before his blood was forcibly taken. Sirius shivered violently. He'd wait; if Amelia turned up any sign of pregnant women going missing then he'd warn Harry but until then…Harry was only fourteen and deserved to spend the rest of his Summer having fun rather than worrying about a ritual that may or may not take place.
"Are you alright?" Harry asked concerned.
Sirius shook himself in a vague parody of how he did it as Padfoot. "Just…disturbed at the confirmation they're in the country."
"Yeah," Harry grimaced, "but at least we know. Knowing's better than not knowing, right?"
Sirius felt a twinge of guilt for the decision he'd just made about keeping the ritual secret but smiled at Harry as though in agreement.
"There's no clue as to their base of operations?" asked Minerva, zipping up the carpet bag loudly.
"No, although we know he's not staying with any of the listed Death Eaters." Sirius said. "Remus thinks there's a possibility that Wormtail had a bolthole."
"A good probability if he was a spy." Minerva said crisply. "Did Remus come back with you?"
"Correspondence." Sirius explained succinctly. "We've a few new business deals in the works." He winked at Harry. "Something about Potter and Longbottom Supplies?"
"Oh?" Minerva looked to Harry for an explanation.
Harry grinned at her. "Neville and I worked out that two properties we're managing are perfect for growing and sourcing the ingredients to various potions. He's growing the plant ingredients and I'm housing the animal. We're hoping if we can supply the ingredients cheaply, we can get potions like Wolfsbane produced more readily."
"That's wonderful, Harry." Minerva said. "Remus must be delighted."
"After quizzing us for hours about whether we were doing it just to please him." Harry admitted with a smirk. "Neville told him it was just good business and it follows our political agenda on werewolves."
"Neville is a little political monster." Sirius commented dryly. He'd evidently picked up a lot from Augusta.
Minerva raised an eyebrow.
"He really is." Harry agreed happily. "Hermione thinks he's going to be Minister of Magic one day."
"Chief Warlock." Sirius countered and refrained from offering a bet in the presence of his former Head of House.
"Well, I am delighted to hear of Mister Longbottom's political prowess." Minerva said, with a small smile. "We should talk about your animagus training before Remus arrives back."
Harry immediately gave Minerva his attention. She had surprisingly acquiesced to his request for the same deal as James with a speed and alacrity that worried Sirius until she explained that she fully expected that if she didn't, Harry would find some other way.
"Now, have you read the material I gave you?" asked Minerva, falling into her teacher mode.
Harry nodded briskly.
"Tell me the three different ways you can find your form." Minerva instructed.
Sirius went back to leaning in the doorway as he listened to Harry recite the various methods: a potion that induced a trance-like state, meditation, or a forced animagus spell. The Marauders had used the first since James and he had been OK at Potions even if they hadn't been top of their class.
"I'd like you to try meditation first." Minerva said. "It is the least painful and the best way of finding your truest form."
"The book said we could have more than one form." Harry said. "How is that possible?"
"Different combination of traits may lean more to one animal than another but your total traits never leave you. When you begin several different forms may be open to you but ultimately once you've learned one, it is difficult to achieve another." Minerva said. "I had three possible forms when I meditated: a cat, a horse and a dolphin. I was drawn to the cat form above the others primarily because I thought it was the most practical. I've only ever managed to transfigure the hooves of a horse but I haven't been able to complete the transformation fully."
"We did the potion." Sirius spoke up. "Hearing of your three forms makes me regret we didn't do the meditation. I love my Padfoot form but now I'm wondering if there was a better one."
"Personally I think the Grim suits you, Sirius," Minerva said dryly, "but I wouldn't be surprised if you and James might have had the option to transform into wolves." She looked at Harry. "I would think with Remus in your life that would be an option for you too, Harry. There's a part of you that no doubt considers yourself as part of his pack."
Harry nodded. "So I guess I read up on the meditation technique and process?"
Minerva nodded. "We'll go over it at next week's lesson."
"Great!" Harry enthused. "I can't wait!"
"I highly recommend a dog form." Sirius said, shooting a teasing grin at Minerva.
"Cats are far superior." Minerva retorted, smiling.
"I was thinking of a bird." Harry responded with a rueful smirk, surprising. "I just…I love flying and it feels right."
"You are a natural flyer." Minerva said with a nod of approval. "It wouldn't surprise me if a flying form was available to you."
"I hope so." Harry said.
Sirius nodded. "I can see you as a bird." He admitted, although deep down he could admit to himself that he was hoping that Harry would choose a canine animagus form. He cocked his head, hearing Remus talking with Dobby in the kitchen. He turned to Minerva. "Are you staying for dinner?"
"I would like that." Minerva accepted.
He ushered her up the stairs before he reached out and pulled Harry to him in a one-armed hug. "Looking forward to the World Cup?"
Harry grinned. "I can't wait."
"Yes, thank you for my ticket, Sirius," Minerva said, glancing over her shoulder, "it's been a long time since I've been to a World Cup final."
"If it's anything like the Duelling finals, it should be excellent." Sirius said. The Duelling finals had been a fantastic display of skill and imagination – Harry had been enthralled.
"Filius said that it was a good match." Minerva commented as they emerged into the kitchen. "I understand Colin Blishwisk won?"
"Hilliard almost had him at the end there." Harry commented wistfully.
"Yes, and Toby Hilliard will be teaching the Duelling elective." Minerva said cheerfully. "I believe Filius was finally able to convince him by promising some private tutoring."
Harry grinned. "I'm glad I signed up for the elective then."
Sirius hid a smile at Harry's enthusiasm. He could see the change in Harry in regards to his schooling, the surge of curiosity and thirst for knowledge and skills; it pleased Sirius no end.
Remus cleared his throat. "Simeon made a fire call and confirmed his time of arrival tomorrow. He said he's looking forward to the Quidditch."
"It's just as well I bought an entire box for us to use." Sirius complained without any real ire. He figured Simeon had arranged his visit to coincide with the cup but he wasn't bothered – in fact he was pleased. Simeon was a highly trained Auror and it was good to have someone that skilled on their side given what they knew about the planned Death Eater activities even if Sirius had every intention of ensuring Harry was nowhere near the action.
"Everybody is leaving Dobby's kitchen." Dobby said sternly. "Dinner is ready for Harry Potter and Harry Potter's family."
A smile broke across Harry's face as he coaxed Dobby into coming and eating with them since Harry considered the elf part of his family; as Remus and Minerva made their way into the dining room talking about some obscure manuscript on family magic; and Sirius felt his own heart lift.
Harry Potter's family.
It sounded perfect to him.