Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of J. K. Rowling, Bloomsbury Publishing, and Arthur A. Levine Books. Inuyasha is the property of Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakuken, and Viz Media. I am not them, and as such make no money from this venture.
Shippō snickered lightly at the almost identical expressions of awe that Harry and the Lord Black shared as they pressed their faces to the windows of Sesshōmaru's private jet. The kitsune was sure that Harry at least would be dead asleep by the time they landed, but for now the wizards were too caught up in their first aeroplane ride to care about anything but the view.
When they had been in the air for a while, the novelty of staring out the windows worn away by the endless blue and white of the sky, Sirius entertained his godson with a book of fantastical creatures and stories of his own encounters with some of the beasts within. Shippō took the oppourtunity to settle next to his nominal boss. One eye on the two humans laughing across the jet, he murmured quietly, "You know I'll have to leave almost as soon as we land, right?"
Golden eyes touched on him briefly before returning to the paperwork spread out before them. "I am aware."
"Dunno how the kid'll take it," the kitsune sighed.
Sesshōmaru watched his ward for a few moments, huffing a soft noise of reproach towards the redhead. "He will cope. You will not always be there and he will need to learn independence, in any case."
Shippō nodded. "Still, I'll be back as soon as I'm allowed. Shouldn't be too many things needing my attention anyway."
Sharp nails clicked once in warning as the inuyōkai's voice chilled slightly. "You doubt this one after all this time? There is no need to hasten your return unduly; this Sesshōmaru has had plenty of experience with children, human or not."
"Yeah," Shippō agreed wistfully, smiling in the face of his friend's ire, "But what I'm really worried about is who's gonna cook."
Sirius almost couldn't believe the sheer number of people milling around the airport when they landed, despite the late hour. He followed the two yōkai through without question, Harry fast asleep on his back, and into the sleek car that waited outside. The appearance of the stiff chauffeur reminded him of the silent servants in London and, with his godson down for the night, the privacy of the ride looked to be the best chance he had of getting answers. Still, it was almost halfway through their drive before he managed to broach the subject.
"They are not simulacra," Sesshōmaru denied flatly. "It is an insult to call them such."
Shippō laughed lightly. "It's alright; he was only asking." Turning back to Sirius, he patted the wizard on the shoulder. "Most of Shō's 'servants' are house spirits. They care for the home and its inhabitants in exchange for, ah, room and board, essentially. You aren't able to communicate with them the normal way, really. They rely on ki fluctuations, for the most part, to anticipate the needs of their household."
"So they're like…" Sirius struggled to make a comparison that made sense. "Like house elves that speak a foreign language?"
"Er, no," the kitsune hedged, glancing at the faint sneer on the inuyōkai's face. "While they do inhabit the house they look after and they're nominally sustained by the ki of whoever is living there, they're not bound to any one family. They're free to go anytime they want and have no obligation to do anything at all. They don't have to follow orders if they don't feel like it. The main bulk of their nourishment comes from the upkeep of their shrine and if it's not well looked after, most spirits will become offended and leave."
He paused, taking in the human's bewildered expression with something close to pity. "Shō is powerful enough and has provided solid homes for these spirits for so long that they are able to take on a human-like form. Because he doesn't ask much, what orders he does issue are followed with something more like fond acceptance."
"Oh," Sirius mumbled. After a long moment, he tilted his head slightly. "A shrine?"
Shippō tilted his head quizzically. "Didn't you explore the Suite?" Getting only a noncommittal shrug in answer, the redhead continued with one of his own. "In the parlour is a small altar where we burn incense and leave offerings."
"But you're here," the animagus pointed out reasonably. "Won't those guys in London leave if you aren't there to supply those offerings and, uh, ki?"
"Hanami knows her duties," Sesshōmaru rumbled from his place near the window. "As do all of my vassals."
They rode the rest of the way in silence.
After breakfast the next morning, as Shippō was placating Harry over his need to leave, Sirius brought up the next item on his mental agenda. "Before I can teach Harry, I need a wand. Do you know if there's a wizarding center nearby? If they happen to have a Gringotts branch here also, I can do some of that family business I needed to take care of."
Sesshōmaru slanted a glance his way, then seemed to ignore him as he returned to watching his ward unsuccessfully attempt to persuade the kitsune to stay. "Enough," his soft command cut through the noise.
Immediately the two quieted, Harry's mournful green eyes turned back to his lord. Unperturbed, the inuyōkai continued. "It is unbecoming of the House to beg as you are. Shippō has errands he must complete, as do we."
Sesshōmaru began down the stairs, confident that he would be followed. One half of the tanuki duo that ran the shops met them at the back door, avidly watching the byplay, ears obviously having been tuned to the argument above. Still pouting slightly, Harry managed to snag a last goodbye hug from his redheaded friend before Shippō slipped away. Huffing in feigned annoyance, the inuyōkai gestured the stranger forward. Obediently, the brown-haired young man shuffled closer, bowing in greeting.
"Hello little lord," he began with a grin, kneeling to be closer to the child. "I understand you're Lord Sesshōmaru's new ward. I'm pleased to meet you."
Harry turned to the new face, studying the sharp teeth, pointed ears, and heavily black-rimmed eyes. Tilting his head, he caught a glimpse of a fluffy ringed tail before it flicked away. The tanuki smiled wider and twitched the appendage back into view. Rather than his name, the first thing out of Harry's mouth was, "Are you a raccoon? I saw one at the park once that had a tail like yours."
Sirius covered his smile hastily, though the yōkai in question didn't bother and barked out a small laugh. "I am, little lord. You may call me Daisuke."
"I'm Harry Potter," he finally remembered to introduce himself.
Daisuke nodded and stood, turning curious eyes on Sirius, who offered his own name readily. Growing impatient, Sesshōmaru moved towards the door, the image of Mr White settling around him easily. Daisuke made to open it hastily, his own disguise wiping the marks from his face and vanishing his tail. Harry took up his place without prompting, and the animagus raised his eyebrows in surprise. Shrugging away memories of his own childhood etiquette lessons, he followed the trio into the black car from the night before.
They emerged in front of an elegant neo-gothic stone building a handful of streets away. Neat gold letters printed on the windows above the bank of heavy brass doors proclaimed it to be City Hall. Feeling somewhat like a tourist, Sirius tried not to stare at everyone and everything they passed on their way through the morning crowd of government workers and civilians entering alongside them. He felt the tingle of muggle-repelling and notice-me-not charms wash over them as they turned down a little-used side hallway. Stopping at the blank marble wall that dead-ended the passage, Daisuke moved forward and pressed his hand to a faint groove that had been worn, chest-height for the average adult human, in the stone. Like a curtain parting, the marble flowed back into a gothic-pointed archway, revealing the sprawling street on the other side.
"Welcome," the tanuki grinned for the wizards' benefit, bowing with an exaggerated flourish, "to Tradition Alley."
Minerva McGonagall kept her worry well contained as she swept down the street towards Remus' flat. She'd been there only the day before, but a desperate Patronus message brought her rushing back, barely restraining herself from apparating directly into his living room, no matter how rude it was. Knocking briskly, the Scotswoman didn't even have time to fidget before the door was yanked open and a markedly distressed Lupin ushered her inside.
"What is it Remus? Are you alright? Have you had news?"
"Of a sort. It's not Harry. Well, it's a little about Harry. Just… just read this."
He shoved a few crumpled pieces of parchment into her hands and flitted off to make tea, leaving her to seat herself. Her first glance down had her inhaling sharply in shock; she'd recognise that scrawling handwriting almost anywhere, shaky as it was. She skimmed the missive, phrases jumping out at her; 'I'm sorry,' 'never the Secret Keeper,' 'chose Peter instead,' 'Dumbledore agreed,' 'fairly sure Peter escaped,' and the most chilling, heartening one: 'I'll see Harry soon.'
She sank shakily into the chair she'd used previously, reading and rereading the letter as if the repetition could force the words into making more sense. Finally she lifted her eyes to his, taking the mug he offered numbly. There was silence in the flat for several long minutes before Minerva's face twisted into a horrible grimace and she had to set the tea down lest she throw it across the room. "That absolute bastard," she snarled.
Before Remus could do more than start at the venom in her tone, she continued on. "He knew. Albus knew about the switch - that Sirius was innocent of James and Lily's deaths. Even if he believed the boy to have killed Peter and those Muggles and that he ought to be punished for it, to leave him at the mercy of the Dementors for years with no trial-" she cut herself off, visibly reining in her temper. "Have you shown this to anyone else?"
The werewolf shook his head, curled defensively in the opposite chair. "It's genuine, though. I can smell him on the letter, though the envelope is covered in someone else's scent."
Minerva shifted into her animagus form to nose curiously at the parchment. She reeled back abruptly, sneezing twice before changing back and conjuring a handkerchief. Passing the letter back she sniffed again, thoroughly distracted from Dumbledore's role in Sirius' plight. "Harry's guardian," she explained. "I'm certain it's the same perfume as that on the first letter."
His lips thinned in distaste but he only nodded. "There's nothing we can do until Moody gets back from his reconnaissance then. If Sirius is with that lord, he probably counts as being part of the 'House of the West' and mail addressed to him ignored."
"Might as well try," she countered primly, a sly smile growing on her face. "And it doesn't mean we can't prepare for Alastor's return as well; there's no need to waste perfectly good plotting time, after all."
If Remus' answering grin edged into the feral, neither of them pointed it out.
Alastor Moody grumbled to himself as he checked his glamours once more before stepping out of his lodgings in the Viale del Mago. He'd barely arrived in Palermo and already he was getting frustrated with his self-assigned stake out. It appeared that the lawyers, whoever they were, couldn't be bothered to come into their own offices. The only employees he'd seen looked to be a pair of siblings, the younger of whom he estimated to be roughly seventeen and the elder around twenty-three. He'd spent the previous day ostensibly browsing the used bookshop across the street, having a bit of conversation with the proprietor on business in the area.
Today, he was going to take the morning to relax on the patio of the bar beside the bookstore before wandering the streets of Palermo, behaving much more like a tourist as he searched for signs of his primary target elsewhere in the city. Between the proximity of the magical street and his own paranoid suspicions on the nature of a people who would work for such an old family line, Alastor hadn't wanted to risk turning his magical eye on the law office while distracted by the bookseller and genuine interest in the titles on display. Settling into a comfortable chair outside the bar, he sipped his marocchino and pretended to thumb through a rather fascinating text on Renaissance architecture, all the while focussing his attention on the aides moving about in the building across the street.
The first hour gained him nothing but an appreciation for Italian coffee and a new understanding of non-magical building techniques. He was debating packing up and moving on to exploring the city when a flutter of movement at the edge of his vision had him shifting his attention to the 'permanently under renovation' façade at the end of the road that covered the entrance to the Viale del Mago. Stifling a surprised curse, Alastor made sure not to draw attention to himself as he spotted the suit-clad, briefcase-wielding form of Albus Dumbledore strolling confidently up the thoroughfare.
The Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry straightened his cuffs as he exited the International Portkey landing zone with as much dignity as he could muster. It had been a rough ride, but he hadn't reached his age without picking up a few tricks for smoother travel. He took a moment to appreciate his surroundings - Italy was truly a beautiful country, he mused - as the sea breeze swept in to playfully rustle the cloaks and dresses of everyone on the street. Still, he had business to conduct, even if he'd like nothing more than to spend a few hours relaxing in the Mediterranean sun.
Steeling himself, the aged wizard unshrunk the dispatch case he'd packed and turned towards the wide, curtain-draped archway at one end of the main avenue. The entrance to the Viale del Mago had always unnerved him; the wind-ruffled fabric shrouding it reminded him of the Veil in the Department of Mysteries. There were, of course, no ghostly whispers coming through what the muggles thought was only tarpaulin-draped scaffolding, but the similarities were there and Albus had to stop himself from closing his eyes just to step through.
Muggle Palermo was calmer than he had expected, so used to the round-the-clock bustle of central London outside the Leaky Cauldron's doors. Almost absently, he checked his pocket watch against the midmorning sun. What he actually checked was a compass, charmed to find the location of his choosing, disguised just as much as he currently was. Happily, the Headmaster noted that the artifact claimed his destination was nearby and a closer inspection of the street yielded an unassuming storefront with tastefully faded gold lettering announcing the offices of the three lawyers he'd come to Italy to find. Objective in sight, he adjusted his grip on the attaché that housed guardianship papers and contracts of his own for Harry to sign and started off down the narrow sidewalk.
There was no tinkling bell or anything so chintzy as Albus pulled open the dark-paneled door and stepped into the cool front office. A young woman stepped from a side room, welcome curiosity in her brown eyes. "Buongiorno, signore," she greeted brightly. "What brings you to us on a fine day such as this?"
"Buongiorno," the wizard returned through his translation charm, giving her a grandfatherly smile. Gesturing faintly towards his case, he continued somewhat ruefully. "I'm afraid it's business that brings me here."
She smiled back and gestured for him to follow her into the suite she'd emerged from. "Of course. Please, sit," she insisted, ushering him to a delicately upholstered fauteuil situated a comfortable distance from one of the two desks within.
The teenage boy seated behind the other gave him a nod, standing and slipping out into the main room. He returned shortly with a trio of demitasses which he served before claiming a seat beside the young woman's. Once they had all consumed their respective coffees and introduced themselves, the girl - Aveline - politely asked what sort of business he needed to conduct.
"Ah," Albus sighed, "I was hoping to speak with one of the partners directly, actually."
Aveline raised her brows at this, folding her hands atop her desk. "I regret to inform you they're out of the country on business, signore. A very important client, you see? Very delicate."
"I'm afraid this is rather delicate as well. A child is in grave danger and, because of his standing in Britain, there is rather a great import placed on keeping him safe. I was looking to gather some help on that front."
The boy - Dante - peered up at him, ruffling his shaggy brown hair absently. "Shouldn't then the British polizia handle it? Grave danger is not particularly the specialty of our law office."
"Especially one so removed from the source of the problem," Aveline cut in, pinning the Headmaster with a suddenly sharp gaze. "Why have you come all this way to ask for our firm's help? Surely there are qualified lawyers closer to home?"
Albus refrained from sighing. It had been a stretch to hope that he would be able to pull this off without giving up some advantages, but getting the wayward Boy-Who-Lived back under his aunt's protection was a priority. Offering a reassuring, if slightly condescending, smile to the pair, the wizard finally opened the dispatch case he'd had on his lap during the brief meeting. He extracted a sheet of thick linen paper and placed it gently on the desk, gesturing for them to read it.
"I was given the name of this office from a reliable source," he explained smoothly as Aveline scanned the missive. "I was told you would be able to help me."
She passed the document to Dante before fixing him with another unblinking stare. After a moment of silence in which Albus very nearly held his breath, she nodded. "I believe I can offer you some assistance after all, signore," she murmured with a distracted air. "You may have better luck in the City That Burned, but I know nothing further."
Reclaiming the page and tucking it away, the white-haired man gave them a bright smile and stood. "Thank you my dears," he twinkled as he turned towards the door. "Do have a good day."
With that, he swept from the office and back onto the street. Not sparing more than a cursory glance around, the old wizard strode briskly back to the Viale del Mago. He had a lead to chase down and increasingly little time to do it in.
Across the street from the offices of Savace, Otomi, and Parinata, Alastor Moody was having a hard time remaining calm. With a practiced hand, he discreetly canceled the eavesdropping charm he'd snuck onto the Headmaster's tie pin. Whatever had been on that parchment had either been exceedingly convincing or backed up with a mild compulsion spell and Mad-Eye knew which he'd lay his money on being more true. While he'd dearly love to get his hands on whatever his 'old friend' was carrying around in that attaché case, the Auror also needed to get back to British soil soon. He had no doubt Albus would be following up on the information they'd both just received but he was also nearly certain that the Headmaster would head in the exact wrong direction. He needed to contact his co-conspirators as soon as possible to go over their options.
It was with those thoughts chasing themselves around his brain that the paranoid wizard calmly packed away his book and made his circuitous way back to his quarters to begin the long trek back to London.
In an oddly-shaped house just outside the small village of Ottery St. Catchpole, a small rat with a missing toe was inching its way along the baseboards of the kitchen, eager for whatever it could scavenge.
"I just don't see how it could have happened," a plump redheaded witch was muttering crossly as she flicked her wand around, setting a lump of dough to knead, several carrots and potatoes to peel, and the breakfast dishes off to wash themselves. "Wasn't there a watcher? Did no one check on the poor child?"
"Albus assures me that Arabella Figg was in the neighborhood and sent him regular reports," her husband replied almost distractedly over his tea.
Molly Weasley sniffed, apparently unimpressed, and twitched her wand at the pot of stew on the stove, ensuring it was heating properly for lunch. "Honestly, the Headmaster should have just placed him with a nice solid wizarding family. Then at least we'd have known where he was and if he was being taken care of properly."
Arthur sighed and rattled the pages of the morning edition ever so slightly. "You know why that couldn't happen, my dear. The poor boy would have been mobbed by well-wishers and assassins alike before he was two if word got out where he'd been living."
Molly sniffed again but relented. "Still, the thought of him alone, out in the muggle world, taken in by some strange man who claims to be protecting him. For all we know Harry Potter is dead in a ditch somewhere! It just isn't right."
She moved then to chase away some rambunctious dust bunnies and spotted the grey lump sitting along the wall. Frowning severely, she turned towards the stairs and yelled, "Percival Ignatius! This is the last time I'll tell you! Come get your little rat before I decide to charm antlers on him and tell Mr Lovegood that I've found him a cerbolan!"
A deafening clattering brought a harried ten-year-old racing into the kitchen, wild-eyed at the thought of losing his pet. "Sorry mum," he gulped, scooping the shivering creature up under the watchful eyes of his parents. "I thought I'd locked his cage. I'll put him back right away."
With that, he ducked out of the kitchen to do as promised, the rat cupped in his hands despairing of the lack of food it had been able to snatch but nonetheless stuffed with valuable knowledge that would take several days to digest.
Halfway around the world, in a valley tucked between three hazardous mountain peaks sat a small collection of sprawling homes. Each had plaster walls punctuated by paper screens, low-peaked tile roofs, and extensive gardens, save one. High above its brethren, a large fortress sat like a throned emperor above its subjects, the single passable road into the valley leading directly to its feet. Though it was constructed much the same as the smaller buildings, it appeared devoid of the life flourishing below it and those villagers that hurried about in the approaching dusk seemed to avoid looking at the castle in their midst.
The wind blew gently through the open screens of the dark fortress, stirring trails of incense smoke and pulling tinkling music from the wind chimes hanging beneath the deep eaves. A pale hand stretched lazily out of the gloom, the action almost an afterthought for the bird that settled lightly on the offered fingers. The young sparrow warbled briefly before dipping its head and flitting away again. The hand withdrew and a spark flared before settling into the dull red ember of lit cigarette.
"So that's how it is," the smoker chuckled, white teeth flashing in the darkness. "Shihihi! I guess we'll just have to see what the little pup has to say after all these years, mm?"
Only the chimes answered, ringing delicately in the silence.