Disclaimer: If you recognize the character, it isn't mine. Just playing in Rowling's sandbox.
Not dead, not giving up. Problem the first: my job went bonkers and pretty much killed my writing time for over a year. Problem the second: Netflix came out with shiny, shiny shows like "Sense8" and "Voltron". But I need to get back to this and pick up the threads because I do have more story to tell here. As always, I assure you that the story is not abandoned and I thank every single reader who has been waiting (im)patiently and who has taken the time to fave/follow, recommend, message, and review.
Reminder: I'm on Twitter under "avidbeader" if you are reading this as a guest rather than with an account and would like notifications that way. I also have a Tumblr under the same name, but it's pretty much Voltron and Shiro/Keith these days.
11 December 1991
The goblin observed a wizard entering into the bank. While this was a daily occurrence in any Gringotts branch, Beltdirk could smell the difference. This wizard was also a werewolf. And the London branch had put the word out, offering a hefty bonus from the heirs of a pair of prominent families in Wizarding Britain for locating a werewolf here in Western Canada.
Beltdirk stepped forward, intercepting the wizard. "How may Gringotts be of assistance to you today?"
The wizard looked down at him, slightly puzzled at being approached first. "I need to access my vault and exchange some galleons for dollars."
"That can be arranged. Your name and your vault key?"
The wizard handed over a key. "Remus Lupin."
Beltdirk affected surprise, pleased that he had guessed correctly. "Really? We have something for you, then. Please follow me to our director's office. I will be pleased to bring your dollars to you if you will tell me how much you need."
The wizard blinked, taken aback at a goblin being anything other than barely helpful. "I need one hundred dollars, please."
Beltdirk led him to an office, where a second goblin looked up from a desk as they entered. Beltdirk saluted. "Director Strikeblade, this is Remus Lupin."
Strikeblade opened a drawer and pulled out a bowl and a sharp knife. He tore a scrap of parchment from a scroll on his desk and dropped it into the bowl. "I need to verify your identity. It only requires a drop of blood."
Remus held out his hand with some hesitation, but the goblin was true to his word and only pricked one finger with the tip of the knife before running his finger along the parchment. The resulting red slash glowed, then began streaking out in thin lines, like an insect emerging from a cocoon. The lines quickly formed into words: Remus John Lupin.
Strikeblade looked up with a satisfied expression. He scrawled a note on another parchment and handed it to Beltdirk. "Take this to Accounting for your bonus."
Beltdirk grinned eagerly and left. Remus looked back to Strikeblade in confusion.
"Mr. Lupin, all Gringotts locations in this area were requested to keep a watch for you so we might deliver a message. Master Harry Potter wishes to pay your way back to England so he might spend Christmas with both his godfather and his honorary uncle for the first time in ten years."
Remus blinked in surprise. "What? I told Sirius I wouldn't accept any money from him!"
Strikeblade nodded. "Yes, we were aware of your instructions in regard to Mr Black. This request comes from Master Potter. We have been asked to obtain a reply."
Remus ground his teeth at the goblin's pedantic tone. "Very well. But I don't think I'll make it in time for Christmas. I won't be able to travel between the 20th through the 22nd and international portkeys before then are almost certainly booked."
"Do you have a passport?"
Remus raised his eyebrows at that. "Yes. It makes things a little easier."
"Then airline tickets will be arranged well in advance of the 20th. You can leave as soon as you make your own arrangements, as soon as the day after tomorrow. Do you have a preference between flying from Calgary or Edmonton?"
"I…ah…sorry. I wasn't expecting this. May I send an owl tomorrow?"
Strikeblade nodded and looked up at some invisible signal. "Enter."
Beltdirk came in with a money pouch and a rolled parchment. He handed both to Remus. "This arrived from our Ottawa branch as I was returning from the vaults."
Remus unrolled the scroll addressed to him and found a note. A few simple lines were scrawled across the parchment:
Moony, do NOT blame me! This was all Harry's idea! But please come home.
Remus laughed in joy for the first time in a very long while.
13 December 1991
Emily exited the taxi and glanced around uneasily at the dingy London neighbourhood. Sirius emerged behind her, followed by Pippa. Patrick got out of the front passenger seat after paying the driver, who drove off immediately for better pickings than a side street in Camden Town. They were standing in front of Number 11, a week's worth of refuse sitting on its front steps.
As they had planned, the three non-magicals surrounded Sirius so he could draw his wand. He waved it as discreetly as possible, verifying the existence of the new wards.
"Looks like the goblins did a perfect job. All the usual wards for a magical home in a Muggle neighbourhood – repellers and concealers – with extra defence wards and the Fidelius as requested. Since I am the Secret Keeper, I can do this." He handed the three of them scraps of parchment with identical messages on them.
The Town Residence for the Black Family is located at Number 12 Grimmauld Place, London.
After reading the note, Emily looked up and blinked. There was now another residence between Number 11 and Number 13, looking in much better repair than its neighbours. Sirius poked his wand toward each of them in turn, muttering an incantation. When Pippa raised one eyebrow at him, he explained.
"Just something so you can pass through all the wards. Come on, let's see how bad the inside is. I only paid the Goblins to clear out any dangerous infestations and correct structural defects."
Draco Malfoy signed his name to the letter and addressed it to his father. It had taken far too many weeks of hovering around students from other houses, trying to hide his interest as he listened in on conversations, dealing with Pansy Parkinson's annoying presence as she gathered and shared gossip. But he finally had the information his father wanted: Potter was going to spend the winter holiday at the place he had been living before coming to Hogwarts, with plans to visit Granger and Thomas.
He had no idea why his father wanted to know this. Lucius Malfoy had gone very quiet since Black had been exonerated from his crimes, not even appearing for charity events like usual. Draco had even asked his mother about it in a personal letter, but received only assurances that his father was very busy with more important things.
As he climbed stairs toward the Owlery, he heard voices coming from above. Recognizing the despised plummy tones of Finch-Fletchley, Draco backtracked and hid behind a tapestry. Every time they had crossed paths, the dratted mudblood had been able to talk rings around him. As the steps grew closer, he heard Granger answer him and was doubly glad to avoid them. After a few missteps in the classes using wands, she had risen to the top of every single subject in their year and rumour had it she was putting the second years to shame as well.
As they passed him, Granger was chattering excitedly. "And Mr Black has invited all of us to his place in London for the New Year! Do you think you'll be able to come?"
"I don't know, but I'll ask Father. That's great that Harry gets to spend more time with him."
"And Harry said they made contact with the other friend of his dad, Mr Lupin! So he might be there as well!"
Their voices faded as they continued down the stairs. Draco frowned. He slipped out and dashed up the stairs to the Owlery, seizing one of the bespelled self-inking quills from the pot and opening the scroll. His father needed this new information.
14 December 1991
Remus followed the other first-class passengers into the hallway that led to the terminal. He had not yet shaken off the dazed feeling of being in some other dimension, one where a werewolf like him rode on a plane, overwhelmed by top-notch customer service. He stepped through the doorway and was surprised yet again to see someone holding a sign that clearly bore his name: R.J. Lupin.
Remus moved forward, looking from the sign to the man holding it. He waved uncertainly at the sign. "Er, I'm Remus Lupin."
The man smiled, teeth peeking from behind an impressive walrus-like mustache. "A pleasure to meet you. I'm Patrick Aymler. Sirius should be back any minute – he wanted to read the display with arrival times again—"
"MOONY!" The bellow made them both jump and then Sirius was on Remus, his arms wrapped around the other man in a bear hug.
Remus returned the hug, laughing, and pushed back to get a look at his friend. His eyebrows quirked up at seeing Sirius remarkably turned out in jeans and jumper, topped by an overcoat. There wasn't a single wrong note to mark him as a wizard in disguise. Then he took in the pale tone of his skin and the prominence of his jawline and cheekbones. Remus pulled him close again.
"Merlin, I am so sorry."
"What do you have to be sorry about? We kept you out of the plan because we suspected you. No one would have believed you if you had known." Sirius pulled back and looked him in the eye. "It was a cock-up and it sucked, but it's over and we have a kid to get to know again."
Remus blinked. This was not the Sirius he knew from a decade ago. "That is…remarkably mature of you."
Sirius grinned and clapped Aymler on the shoulder, drawing him into the circle. "I've had some very good listeners the last few months. You should try them. Now, let's get your things and get out of here. There's a lot to catch up on."
15 December 1991
"Excuse me, Albus, but I don't think I heard you correctly."
"No, my dear, you heard very clearly."
"The minister has no right to demand that Harry stay in Hogwarts for the holidays!"
"He claims it's for Harry's own safety."
"And he hasn't been safe the last six years at Esperança House?"
"My dear, I know. I am only sharing what the minister said because you are Harry's head of house."
"Have you contacted Sirius yet?"
"I have sent an owl. I am awaiting a reply."
Minerva grumbled, thinking of the speed of those telephone things that the Esperança House doctors and parents used.
The doctors… So far Patrick and Emily had been extremely clever in figuring out ways to work in the children's best interests no matter what the magical world demanded. She fished for a little more information so she could give them all the ammunition possible. "It isn't like Fudge to interfere like this without being pushed. Who put him up to it?"
Dumbledore offered a cynical smile. "Who else? Malfoy expressed concerns, based on a run-in he had with the group back in August. I believe the issues involved the only scion of House Potter, a most important wizard in our society, continuing to associate so closely with muggleborn riffraff."
"And if Harry gets on the train anyway…"
"Then my understanding is that Fudge will have his people meet the train in London and take Harry somewhere deemed safe for the holidays."
Minerva snorted. "Like hell he will. Sirius was awarded custody in the magical world in October."
"I know, but questions of Sirius' mental state after so many years of exposure to dementors persist, especially as he has been keeping a low profile somewhere. And there were also concerns expressed about the presence of Remus Lupin, a werewolf."
She let out an exasperated bark. "Harry won't even be arriving at Grimmauld Place until well after the full moon! This is ludicrous, Albus!"
"I agree, but I am not sure how we can avoid it. If Sirius is up to the task of stepping in—"
"Oh!" Minerva threw up her hands. "Albus, your insistence on treating incompetent people like they're competent and evildoers like they're misguided is infuriating! I will handle this and Harry will go home for the holidays!"
She spun on her heel and left, slamming the door behind her.
Emily was taking advantage of the empty upstairs rooms to organize the holiday gifts for the current residents and the staff. She was using Hermione's room to store and organize and the makeshift conference room for wrapping. She was almost to the point where she could bring Pippa in to help.
She had filled a box with enough tissue to cushion the snowglobe she had chosen for Pippa and lifted it to set it inside. A loud pop made her jump and lose her hold. Emily cried out as the glass globe crashed onto the hardwood floor and shattered.
"Oh, I am so sorry! Here!" Professor McGonagall whipped out her wand and pointed it at the drenched wreckage. "Reparo!"
Emily couldn't hold in the gasp as the pieces flew back together on the floor, the water regathering and the glitter swirling inside.
"Is that right?"
Emily nodded, staring at the recovered snowglobe and remembering the Grangers' description so long ago of a destroyed kitchen fixing itself. She shook her head, bringing herself back to the present, and replied. "Yes, that's perfect. Thank you so much!"
"Well, it's only fair since I'm the one who caused you to drop it."
Emily put the snowglobe in its box and closed the lid. The professor held up her wand again. "May I?"
She nodded, puzzled. McGonagall pointed at the box with her wand and waved it in a zigzag motion. She intoned, "Involvere." Pristine white wrapping paper appeared from nowhere, crawling up the box and surrounding it, followed by a sky-blue ribbon with a glittery snowflake design. Emily stared at the beautifully wrapped package.
"That's…thank you. I'm tempted to ask you to stick around. I hate wrapping gifts."
McGonagall smiled at that, but her expression faded. "Ordinarily, I would be happy to. But I came because I need your help."
Emily paid fast attention. "Are the kids all right?"
"Yes, it's nothing like that. But some of those problem pureblood families have decided to poke their noses where they're not wanted. They've convinced the minister to demand that Harry stay at Hogwarts for the holidays. For his 'own safety', although they're really trying to find a way to become an influence in his life."
"I don't understand. We still have legal custody."
"In this world, yes. And Sirius has custody in the magical world."
"So why do they think they can dictate Harry's movements?"
McGonagall held out her hands in a helpless gesture. "Because no one's ever told them they can't? At the time I objected to Albus dumping Harry with those awful Dursleys, but he was right in one regard. It was better for Harry to grow up away from the magical world, away from all these people trying to use him."
"So, how do we fight this?"
"That's why I came to you. I was hoping you all would have some ideas."
Emily thought for a moment. "Have you gotten in touch with Sirius yet?"
"No, Albus sent an owl but he hadn't got a response before I left."
Emily chewed her lip, recalling a discussion with the other doctors on getting pagers and whether mobile or car phones would be worth their expensive prices. Right now it would be very helpful to be able to find Patrick immediately instead of waiting for him to return from his Christmas shopping. "So, what's their plan?"
The professor filled her in and Emily thought. "So we have two ways to approach this. One way is to send Harry back to London on the train and have Sirius and some of us be there to intercept whoever the minister sends to collect him. That has the advantage of making it clear that we won't tolerate others trying to interfere with Harry's life but also turns it into an incident that might cause retaliation. The other way is to have Harry stay behind and Sirius can just pick him up from Hogwarts that afternoon. That could keep the whole issue under the radar for a while if the minister or whoever doesn't bother to check up on him."
McGonagall frowned. "I rather feel that we need to make a stand. If the minister thinks he's won this time, he'll simply try again at Easter. And then possibly the summer holidays as well."
"Yes, I see that. But we can't expect Sirius to take on a whole squad of security officers or whatever. He just got out of prison."
"I can think of at least two others who could help him. Amelia Bones and Augusta Longbottom will be picking up their children from the train as well. If we forewarn them, we have more wands at the ready to make our point."
Emily nodded slowly, considering the implications of having a leader in their parliament and their Lord Chief Justice equivalent standing next to them. "That might work. Let me see what Pat thinks and we can decide by tomorrow? Sirius said something about coming over, so we can tell him and have him tell you."
"Or I can send Nyctimine to wait on your reply."
"My owl. She can stay here for the night and take your note whenever you are ready."
"Oh… Sure. That's a good idea. Although I wish we could just pick up a phone and call you in an emergency."
McGonagall shook her head. "Such a thing would be ruined the minute it entered Hogsmeade or the castle grounds. But I've wished for the same thing several times since Harry and the others arrived."
"Is there really no other way to communicate?"
"Some people speak through the floo network, but that requires a working fireplace that is connected. It's a potential breach of security if the proper wards aren't in place. The next best thing is a specific charm that can deliver a message with the caster's voice, but it is one-way and is also a very difficult piece of magic."
Emily pursed her lips. "All this magic stuff and there's no way to communicate effectively. We need to figure out something better."
McGonagall nodded and got a thoughtful look on her face, as if an idea had just occurred to her.
20 December 1991
As the train slowed, everyone stood and began pulling down bags. Dean and Justin helped Neville get his trunk down.
"We'll get you a suitcase for Christmas, Neville. That way you won't have to bring a whacking great trunk home every hols," Wayne said. He cuffed Neville on the shoulder as the other boy blushed.
"I'm not sure what my gran would say…"
Hermione gave him a one-armed hug as she picked up her holdall in the other hand. "I would think she'd see the convenience of it, honestly."
"Oi, Trevor!" Terry scooped up the toad as he tried to hop out the door and handed him to Neville.
"The boys can get your suitcase. Hermione and I are going to a pet shop and getting you a carrier for Trevor," Sally-Anne declared.
Hermione beamed. "That's a brilliant idea! We can give them to you at New Year's!"
Neville turned bright pink. "You…you don't have to…"
Harry laid a hand on his shoulder. "No, but we want to. That's what friends are for. Now, come on."
As they had arranged after Professor McGonagall had talked with them about the minister's plans, the other children surrounded Harry after they got off the train so that no one would be able to simply walk up and grab his arm. Harry added his baseball cap to hide his scar and part of his face. They all scanned for a trusted adult and Dean was the first to spot his parents. "There!" He waved and his mother waved back. The two groups moved toward one another and the children continued to scan the crowds.
Harry was the one to spot Clott and hissed to the others. "On our six! The Clod!" Terry shifted so he was between them.
"Pippa!" Hermione cried, and Harry's eyes snapped in her direction. His first friend was there, with Sirius Black next to her. They started to converge, and then another Hogwarts student shifted into their group.
"Oi!" Dean cried, itching to shove back as she had run her trolley over his foot.
"Sorry! Auntie told me to find you lot and stick with you!"
Neville looked her over, tightening his grip on Trevor as the toad made a break for it. "Bones? Why?"
"She's going to help if Fudge's people try something. Keep moving!"
Harry peeked toward where he had seen Clott and they made eye contact. Harry bit back a curse and hooked his arm with Hermione's. "He saw us."
But then Dean's parents and Sirius arrived at the same time. Sirius lifted two fingers to his mouth and let out an ear-splitting whistle. As the people around them jumped, Sirius bellowed, "Found them! Heading to the exit!" He slid in and put a hand to Harry's shoulder. "Pippa's gone to collect the doctors and as many parents as she can find. We'll be out of here in a few minutes."
"Black," a voice drawled near them and Sirius glanced over.
"Malfoy," he replied in the same tone, adding an eye-roll for good measure.
Harry looked up to see the same man from Diagon Alley, with long hair the same shade as his son. Two men in brown auror robes were behind him. The man was toying with a cane and as Harry watched, the silver snake-head lifted up slightly from the body of it.
Harry wanted to laugh. This pretentious blighter had his wand made like a sword-cane. He focused on the cane, making the head stick to the wood, while the men began verbally sparring.
"I'm not sure why you're here, Black. Surely you received word that young Harry is staying in a secure location for the holidays."
"And as his legal guardian, I thanked the minister for his concern and declined. Surely you received word of that as well."
The press of people grew and Harry glanced around, relieved to see the doctors, the Grangers, and the Finch-Fletchleys. Another woman stepped forward, one eyebrow raised over a monocle, and Harry recognized Amelia Bones.
"Malfoy, I am aware that you were told of Mr Black's decision. There is also the claim of Mr Potter's muggle guardians to be considered. Please go collect your own child, and only your own child."
Malfoy glanced around. The aurors retreated at the sight of their immediate superior. Clott was trying to work through the crowd but was still too far away.
And then Augusta Longbottom was there as well, reaching in for her grandson. "Ah, there you are, Neville! Shall we get a trolley?"
Neville glanced at Harry, a bright look in his eyes that hadn't been there before. "No, gran, thank you. My friends are helping me."
Dean and Wayne straightened and Dean spoke. "That's right, ma'am. We've got it. Let's go."
Outnumbered, Malfoy glared as the group moved toward the exit.
As they began exiting through the portal, Sirius pulled Harry closer. "Oh, I wish Remus could have been here! That was perfect!"
Harry grinned and threw an arm around the man's waist. "This is going to be the best Christmas ever!"
Author Note: Thank you as always for reading and especially thank you for your patience. As long as life behaves itself, I hope to be updating this story regularly again (along with my other fandoms). It has been so gratifying to see people continue to favorite/follow this story and I hope it continues to satisfy.