~*~ MERRY CHRISTMAS! ~*~
Authors Note: Just in time for christmas (look for my ghosts of christmas past! *wink*), another record-breaking big one! This, in some ways, serves as a launching pad for the next chapter, which is pretty much a non-stop action rocket. About time, I know. :D Do not expect another update quickly though, as I'm going away for vacation and the holidays leave little room for writing. Probably end of January or mid-February.
The wonderful artwork for this story was done bydolphydolphiana. Look her up on Deviantart to see the whole picture and her other great works.
On my profile is a link to the forum, which contains a detailed guide to Harry's Runes, and other story notes.
Many thanks to jdh41 and GJMEGA for betaing this chapter! *hugs*
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
"You are keeping something from me, Dumbledore, don't think I do not know it!"
With that last dramatic statement, Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, turned and marched out of the office, his steps heavy on the stone stairs. Albus, his shoulders drooping, leaned back in his chair, raising two hands to rub absently at his throbbing temples.
"That could have been worse."
He looked over to see Minerva placidly sipping from her cup of tea, her other hand steadily holding a saucer. Severus, sitting beside her with an angry expression, snorted.
"He has a right to be concerned." Albus turned to see Remus stand up from where he had been leaning against a staircase, his face wane. The last full moon had been heavy on him, even with the Wolfsbane. Remus spoke again, taking the chair the esteemed Minister had just vacated.
"Such a concentration of Dementors points directly to Black. Then, considering what we found…"
Albus sighed, reaching out to run a finger over the papers in front of him as he talked.
"The runic circle there is a standard one for capturing wild game. I used it in my youth, a long time ago, admittedly."
Severus narrowed his eyes, frowning. "Headmaster, you can't seriously think that ward was just put there by some student! It had been modified, and from what I could read designed to target magical signatures. Not to mention it had a linking rune tied to it! Something was there, trapped, and the Dementors knew it."
Minerva spoke up, her face pale though her expression remained neutral.
"Are you saying Black was indeed caught in that net? If so, who set it, and how did he get free? The circle was broken from the inside, charred in fire. If Black did so, it would mean he has access to a wand. By what we could place together, he did not have one during his previous attack on the school."
Severus's face stiffened, his hands clasping together tightly in his lap as he looked down his long nose at the Gryffindor Head of House.
"Obviously we can not be certain, but I firmly believe Black was caught in that net, one that had been set, perhaps, by someone who also has motive to capture Sirius Black."
Remus turned to face the Slytherin, his voice low.
"And I suppose you have someone in mind already? That does not explain why someone wishing to capture Black would then set him free."
"Perhaps he was coerced! Or overcome when confronting him." Severus snapped back, knuckles whitening.
"Enough!" Albus firmly spoke, eyeing the two. "What are you speaking of, Severus?"
The black-haired man slowly drug his eyes away from his fellow professor, sitting up straighter in his chair.
"What I am saying, Headmaster, is I see too many coincidences here. Black escapes, Lupin becomes a professor, and suddenly two weeks ago Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts for 'research'. And now this."
"Flamel died, Severus. Harry had no choice but to return."
Minerva spoke up quickly, her voice firm. Severus scoffed, raising his hand in a flippant gesture. "You can not say that boy had no choice. He has more than proven himself capable of running off without the least interference. The tutorship under Flamel was only implemented to keep some sort of tabs on the boy. And he has motive to hate Black."
Remus interrupted angrily, leaning towards the pair. "Harry shouldn't know anything about Black, or his role in his life! No one has spoken to him!"
Severus sneered, his words dropping like poison into the air. "He is not a helpless child, Lupin. It wouldn't take more than simple curiosity to look up what, exactly, Black was convicted of. Perhaps the main histories do not speak of his role, but there must be record of his trial."
"There is not." Albus said, eyes dull. "There was no trial. Voldemort was vanquished; emotions were high, and people wanted to be done with the Death Eaters and go on with their normal lives. It was a simple matter for one so obviously guilty to be given the same sentence as the rest. You were away at the time."
Severus's shoulders stiffened, his eyes going blank. Beside him, Remus straightened, eyes alight with victory.
"You were in Azkaban yourself at that time, of course."
Severus's head whipped around, his hand twitching toward his wand. Albus abruptly brought his fist down on the desk, voice low with anger.
"Stop this childishness immediately. We are not here to fight over the past. The Minister of Magic is now suspicious and contemplating once more placing Aurors within the school. In my personal belief, Mr. Potter is not involved. However, for the sake of covering all bases, I would ask you, Remus, to please check on him in the morning." He waited for Remus to nod in agreement before continuing, eyes focused now on Severus. "But we have no proof of his involvement even if he was, in fact, hunting Mr. Black. We must focus our efforts on protecting the school and the students within. We do not know Sirius Black's motive for being here, and with Mr. Potter now in residence the danger has increased tenfold. They must not come into contact, and not simply to protect the boy. I do not trust him to control himself."
None of the professors needed to ask who he was referring to. They merely exchanged glances filled with recrimination and long-held prejudice. Albus leaned back in his chair, weariness once more rising up over him. He was getting old, he had to admit it. He was no longer the man he once was, able to juggle the politics both within and without the school. Minerva's quiet voice brought his attention up, and he realized with a start both Severus and Remus had left the room. Beside him, Fawkes let out a soft song that strengthened him.
"Albus, please tell me the truth. Is there any reason to think that Mr. Potter has discovered the truth of his parent's betrayer?"
Her eyes were honest and worried. He sighed, lifting his hands up in a helpless gesture.
"I can not say. Those times were full of confusion, death eaters being brought in by the dozen, wild parties of celebration, keeping Mr. Potter hidden before he could be placed. Very few knew of the Potter's Fidelius charm, or their secret keeper, but it is always possible someone talked to someone else, that a person wrote down what they knew, perhaps. I fear that he does indeed know. His abrupt arrival was too convenient, and yes, too restrained. I was expecting anger, or grief, but he was filled with cold purpose. The portraits tell me he stays in his rooms when not with his friends, sometimes even eating there. I can't help but think he is up to something. The skill he displayed during examinations was not entirely unexpected, but worrying. He is far too advanced to ever be happy attending normal classes, and I know of no tutor he would accept after Nicholas. The Ministry is going to get involved in this before all is said and done. Which leads back to Black. If the Aurors do catch Mr. Black, and Mr. Potter is also present… I am trying to protect him, Minerva. Sometimes from himself. "
Her expression dropped into surprise.
"They why did you criticize Severus, if you think Mr. Potter is indeed involved?"
Albus looked away, observing Fawkes's beautiful plumage, the phoenix staring straight back with obsidian eyes.
"There is no proof. I looked over the site myself. It is very similar to one of Nicholas's designs, and if so...but there is no proof, Minerva. He does not trust us as it is. What damage we could do with careless accusations!"
"Aren't you worried?" She burst out, looking at him with scandalized expression. "How can you sit there and just discuss the possibility that Mr. Potter has been captured by Black? He could be hurt!"
Albus smiled thinly, pointing towards the preening phoenix. "Harry is not hurt, Fawkes has already assured me. I never said he had been captured."
She looked lost, fingers limp in her lap. Albus suddenly realized that she was ageing too, her hair almost white with years. Where had the time gone?
"Then what, exactly….?" She drifted off.
With a fission of pity burning in his belly, Albus stood.
"At the moment, I only hope Black did indeed escape the trap laid so very carefully for him."
He saw the shock seep into her expression, followed by denial and doubt. He walked to the window, looking out of the tower into the brightening dawn, the sun sending streaks of light across the hillside and over the forest. Its beauty struck him, the cleanness of it, the brightness. His eyes focused on a lone figure slowly walking up from the forest, and he whispered out the worry he held in his heart.
"Mr. Potter has enough blood on his hands already."
Harry let the man in his hold collapse to the floor, whirling away and calling out in a loud voice.
The house else appeared, its bulbous eyes locking on him and then the man at his feet with a shocked stare. Harry wasted no time.
"Bring me warm blankets, please, and whatever you can find with chocolate in it. Then, fix a meal for a man who has not eaten properly in a long time."
The elf matron straightened and nodded, all business, before dissolving with a loud snap of her fingers. Harry turned, looking Black over with disgust curling in his belly. The man was tall and rail thin, dressed only in a pair of ripped slacks that might have once been elegant. His skin, pale and sunken, seemed to barely cover his bones. When Ivy appeared with blankets, Harry carelessly draped them over his form, rewarded when Black groaned and cracked open his eyes. He met that gaze with a sneer, crossing his arms across his chest.
"Are you aware?"
The grey eyes opened farther, looking about in confused shock. The man licked his cracked lips, before speaking in a halting, slow voice.
"Aware…. of… what?"
Harry snorted, and for the lack of anything better to do, sat. He kept his entire focus on the man, uneasy with the visions he had saw, and nauseas at the recent confrontation with the dementors. The happiness he usually felt when performing the patronus charm seemed to have been sapped completely by the actual presence of the creatures. He contemplated what to say.
"Aware, as in, not suffering from crazy delusions."
Black suddenly had a hint of a smile play about his lips, and the man slowly sat up, as if afraid of sudden pain, before leaning against the seat of the sofa behind him.
"Delusions?...I think I am. Isn't this...the Potter place.. on Hallam street? Merlin's beard….."
The man drug a skeletal hand over his face, his greasy hair and long scraggly beard frayed and unkempt. Harry wondered if that blanket would have to be burned after coming into contact with a being so filthy. Ivy appeared again, this time with two steaming mugs of hot cocoa. Harry wouldn't of thought of a better choice himself, and quickly reached out to snag a mug, gesturing to Black.
"Drink. It's chocolate."
Black surveyed him from narrowed eyes, glancing between him and the house elf.
"Ivy? You're still here? This has to be a dream...a weird one, but…"
The house elf's eyes widened, a horrified expression coming to her face.
"Sirius Black! What has you done to yourself?"
With that statement, the elf thrust the mug into Black's limp hands with a firm gesture. Harry snorted, and took a long sip of the warm liquid. It helped clear the ache in his throat, and dulled the distant scream still echoing in his mind, calling his name in a pleading tone.
Harry shook his head, then placed the mug down, waving a hand to Ivy.
"Get that food, please."
Ivy bowed stiffly, eyes still narrowed on the limp man across from her.
"Yes, Master Potter, sir."
Black's gaze rose to Harry's own, the grey eyes wide and filled with pain.
"This isn't a dream, is it."
Harry did not look away, but faced him with a blank expression.
Black's head drooped, a sob rising in his throat. Impatient, Harry stood, thrusting his hands into his pockets.
"Stop that, immediately. You can have your little pity party some other time. God, take a drink of that chocolate and explain yourself!"
His voice came out harsh at the end, and Black's head whipped up, eyes suddenly alit with mad fire.
"Explain? Why should I? No one ever asked, you know, no one wondered why. They just, they locked me to a chair and they sat around me, staring, and then they put me away. And the people I thought were my friends, they, they did nothing! Nothing!"
Harry stepped back, sat, his mind remembering the picture on the wanted posters. Black, eyes wide and angry, laughing. He answered the question in simple words.
"You will explain, to me, because I deserve an explanation of who betrayed my parents to the Dark Lord."
Black barked out a laugh, his shoulder trembling. Then he finally took a long sip of the cocoa, eyes closing. He spoke over the rim of the mug, holding it in both hands as if grasping an anchor.
"Yes, well. Yes. It was all Dumbledore's plan, brilliant we thought, but for the one mistake. Your parents had to hide, you see, because the Dark Lord wanted you, he wanted you so badly. They had to go away so they would be safe, and see no one, speak to no one. James went out a time or two, in those six months they were in Godric's Hollow. Auror duty, what there was left of it that had not been corrupted. The Ministry was close to collapsing, we were losing the fight and everyone knew it. Dumbledore's Order was the last true standing military force, and it was a private militia! A, a group of vigilantes, that's what it was branded as at the Ministry. "
Black drifted off again, taking another sip. Harry forced himself to be patient, though his mind swirled with angry questions. As the minutes passed, Harry limited himself to a single angry word.
Black's eyes jerked back up, refocusing again as if seeing him for the first time. Harry ground his teeth.
"My parent's, they were hiding…."
Black looked down again, his voice low now.
"It was always James and I, in school, and Remus and him. The rat. Dumbledore said there was a charm, the Fidelius, that would keep the knowledge of Godric's Hollow's existence from ever being known by any save those who knew the secret. Lily of course thought Dumbledore himself should be the Secret Keeper, it made sense. Who could we trust, if not Dumbledore? Who else could resist He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?"
Black's fist came slamming down on the floor beside him, the mug shaking in his other hand.
"But no, he said, that was too obvious. Dumbledore didn't want to even know himself, where they were hiding, said he was too sought after already. So James and Lily and I, we got together and planned. They weren't sure of Moony, Remus, because of the werewolf curse. I hated it, but agreed. They have this thing, werewolves, about packs and loyalty and status. Moony wasn't in a pack, but still, he was always a beta, admitted it himself, and if a pack alpha came along...well. We made the decision to leave him out. It was going to be me, everyone would think it was me. I was the best friend. I was the loyal one. It was always going to be me."
Black's breath was coming harsh and fast, chest heaving. Harry stood, and after a brief pause knelt beside him, grabbing the trembling mug and placing it aside. The grey eyes were unfocused again, seeing something inside his mind, something dark and painful as he spoke.
"But then I, it was me, I said, and I wasn't afraid! I promise you, I was not scared of being the one, I just…"
He grabbed Harry about the shoulders, eyes wide.
"I was not afraid of dying! I wanted to keep them safe!"
Harry kept his voice low, leaning back slightly, his instincts screaming at him about danger and insanity. He forced it down, made himself relax under the bruising hold.
"I know, you wanted to keep them safe."
Black fell back again, releasing him, eyes dull as the words came painfully out, one after another, marching like ants across a mound of grief.
"I thought, they would never expect him. He was a rat, no one noticed him, just our little friend, the tag-along, never really brave, but he followed us. He was part of our circle. He knew our secrets, always had, and never spoke of them. I said, 'Why not Peter?' And it was oh so brilliant, so unexpected, and no one knew but us and the rat, the rat who scurried off to tell its Master, who led him straight to them, who let him inside…"
The grey eyes were wild now, his entire body trembling with emotion. Black turned to him, his face haunted.
"When I got there, when I sat up at my desk and realized that I knew, I knew where James and Lily were, I remembered, I went there and the house was burning and they were inside."
Black drifted into helpless sobs, great racking movements that shook his entire frame. Harry stood, staring down at the broken man for a long moment. Inside, his emotions roiled furiously. Grief at the parents he had never known, anger at the horrible circumstances of fate that had led all the tragedy to come about. He cleared his throat painfully, realized his mouth was dry. He coughed out a word, suddenly furious, Dread a wriggling snake of anger inside him, wanting to rend-tear-kill.
"Who? Who, Black?"
The gaunt man suddenly seemed to pause, his face lifting up to look into his own. A ferocious light now gleamed in his eyes, and his face twisted into a snarl.
It took another hour, and two bowls of Ivy's best vegetable broth, to get the rest of the story picked out of Black. It spanned the years, from when they were boys in Hogwarts, to when the fight was truly begun against the Dark Lord.
Harry's father, Remus Lupin, Sirius Black, and Peter Pettigrew. Four Gryffindors. Three boys becoming animaguses to help their friend survive his werewolf transformation unscathed. A pack, of sorts, or as Black called them, The Marauders. A stag, a dog, and a rat. The very form that had allowed Black to escape Azkaban prison, when he had seen the photo of the Weasleys in South America, one red-headed boy fondly holding a squirming rat, missing one finger on its paw.
Such rage it had inspired, to know that the betrayer was loose, alive, and hiding so very close to the son of his best friend. So Black had planned to kill him, in any way possible, commit the crime that had sent him to prison, end the grief and guilt with one act of vengeance.
Peter Pettigrew, Ron Weasley's pet rat. It was almost too ironic to be true.
Black had collapsed into exhausted sleep in the dark early morning hours. As the morning sun began to rise, Harry gave Ivy what directions he could. Clean Black up, feed him, get him comfortable, and don't let him leave. Harry would be back within the day. For good measure, he warded both the fireplace and the door to the street. The windows were already spelled unbreakable, and did not latch open. Satisfied, Harry quickly travelled back to Hogwarts, appearing at the border of the forest. Impatient, he called out.
There was movement, a snap of branches. A young coltish-looking centaur stepped out, liquid brown eyes wide with surprise. It did not speak, but observed him with hands tight about the bow swung over its shoulder. Harry pulled back his sleeve, showing the bracelet given to him what seemed like ages ago, then spoke.
"Tell the others the wizards have been deceived. There is a spy about, a dark wizard. It travels in the form of a rat."
Harry paused, eyeing the young centaur.
"I know you will not interfere, but wished to pass this news to you as a favor. I doubt you would wish a wizard to travel unchallenged through your lands."
"Well said." A voice came from behind him, and Harry whirled to meet Ronan's narrowed gaze. He had his large muscled hands crossed across his chest, but held no weapon. Harry made himself relax, and bowed in courtesy.
The centaur's face remained expressionless. Harry shifted slightly, then with another bow began to walk back towards the edge of the forest. The sound of hoofbeats caused him to glance to the side, to see the older centaur following him as silently as a creature as large as he could. Harry did not acknowledge the escort, but paused as he looked up at the large castle rising in front of him. The sun rose up behind it in a beautiful display of red and orange. A gravely voice spoke behind him.
"We will give this wizard no passage."
Harry turned slightly, nodded. He put his hands in his pockets, suddenly reluctant to return. The castle seemed so pure, full of innocent children with no knowledge of how cruel the world could be. He did not want to taint it. Absently, he spoke.
"Do any centaurs ever leave the herd? Live alone?"
A branch snapped, leaves stirred. Ronan spoke.
"Occasionally a young stallion will grow restless and leave, or become too bold and be culled from the herd."
Harry let the silence grow, before breaking it with soft tones.
"And when they are alone, can they decide to return?"
There was no answer for a long time. Harry turned, to see Ronan looking him over with those dark horse eyes, full of mystery and wisdom. His hands were still crossed over his bare chest, covered in bristled hair to match his mane. As if the meeting of gazes was a signal, Ronan spoke, never blinking.
"Magorian was once a lone stallion, many many seasons ago. He was unsatisfied with his lot, and traveled farther than any centaur has in a century. When he returned, I was but a colt, young and frisky with life. My dam hid me for two seasons after the bloodshed, when half of our oldest stallions were slaughtered, the rest gelded with sharp daggers. Every male over two years…."
His voice drifted off, eyes blank, before they focused on him again.
"Including my sire. Change never comes without pain. Among centaurs, it is both more simple and more violent than among wizards. A lead stallion does not tolerate competition, but rules with a gentle hand. The mares would accept no less. And once done, things are settled, wrongs forgiven. Time moves on, the stars continue to cross the sky. We watch them, and find the future among the past, but one often far removed from ourselves."
Harry turned away from that gaze, suddenly feeling small. He had never heard a centaur speak so many words, and to a wizard no less! Had anyone any idea of centaur politics, of their way of life? Did his book of magical creatures describe things like gelding, and ritual slaughter? He cleared his throat and spoke, eyes tracing the regal towers and dark windows of Hogwarts.
"Were the wrongs truly forgiven, among your people?"
A noise he had never heard before brought his eyes around again. It was something between a horses neigh and a mans growl, a nasal sound. He realized with a start it was a laugh, unlike any he had heard before. Amusement, but darkly so, the emotion behind it much like that inside Black's laughing grief. As he stared, Ronan stopped abruptly, no smile on his face, but dark purpose.
"I have two siblings, sired by Magorian. Is that forgiveness?"
Harry could say nothing. Ronan's tail flicked once, twice, his hoofs stamping the ground in a rhythmic pattern. Ronan's face slowly relaxed from its harsh lines, his expression once more that calm brutality Harry associated with centaurs.
"Return to your people, wizard."
Harry nodded slowly, looking back up at the castle. With a sigh, he began the steady climb, forcing himself to walk up the slope from the forest, to feel the pull in his muscles, the sensation of working to get somewhere. It was easy to see how wizards could get so lazy, with magic to perform so many tasks for them. Why walk, when you could teleport? Why cook, when some creative wandwork could cook for you? Why think, when someone else can think for you?
When he reached the castle, he looked back down towards the forest, and saw a single tall figure looking up at him, the sun gleaming against brown horsehide. Then with a blink, it was gone.
Sirius Black sat in the apartment of his dead friend and drank from a bottle of Firewhiskey.
He was living inside the ghost of a memory. He felt as if he was surrounded by James, and every room held memories of a happier time, of late night dinners after shift, of tending small wounds on a man too stubborn for healers. Of being healed himself after a spell gone wrong. The moment James officially asked Lily Potter for her hand, and returned to the apartment with a joyful glow and a wide smile, taking Sirius by the shoulder and squeezing.
"I finally did it, Padfoot. And she said yes!"
A sarcastic smile, an answering gleam.
"Sirius-ly? And I thought she was the intelligent one."
Sirius took another drink, before slapping the small glass onto the end table with a loud smack. He saw the quick movement from the doorway, but didn't bother to look. Good ole' Ivy had always watched after them, her two wayward boys. He wondered if she had believed he had betrayed James and Lily and poor little Harry.
Harry, growing up and taking on the world. James would be proud of his son. So strong, holding firm even under the worst of situations. Sirius could see the strain on him, though. Sirius had seen it when he crouched like a dog in the scattered pebbles and dirt on the cliffside, looking up at a wizard towering over him with suffocating magic and rage, and felt himself wanting to simply die at the sight of little Harry Potter, the small toddler with the large innocent green eyes and the cheerful smile, little prongslet, looking like his father come back from the dead, alive and angry and betrayed.
Sirius was supposed to protect him. He was his godfather, he was supposed to have been there, kept him from knowing just how hard the world was. But he hadn't been. He had been rotting in prison, a world away from a small boy who grew up among Muggles.
This was his second chance, to prove that he loved the boy more than the revenge. That he would choose the right path this time.
Maybe now he could make it right.
Remus ground his teeth, rhythmically squeezing a heavy metal ball in his palm.
He had done as Dumbledore asked, though it had not been hard. He had not had to personally confront the young boy, for Harry Potter had shown up at breakfast as usual, looking unruffled and calm. He had breathed a sigh of relief at the conformation of Harry's innocence, inwardly seething at Snape's insistence to the contrary. His anger was growing by leaps and bounds by the hour, the wolf inside him growling in his ear, fueling the emotion he could barely control.
It had smelt pack.
For so long he had run alone, over a decade. A lone wolf, of sorts, avoiding any other werewolves out of a mix of fear and guilt. He did not want to belong again, did not want another family, no matter what the benefits might be. There were legal packs out there, if one knew where to look. Wolves that looked out for each other, kept each other clean and whole and sane.
But he couldn't, not knowing what had happened to his previous pack, his true family. Two, dead; another the slashing teeth in the dark. Oh, Sirius, how could you?
He heard the whine of the metal, and his eyes refocused, looking down. The steel had folded around the prints of his fingers, a reminder of his superior strength. He had taken to such exercises to prevent him from hurting a person instead, or his furniture, or his walls. But even the metal could not hold up to him for long.
He flung it across his office, hearing it land with a crash that pleased the wolf inside, the beast that prowled inside his mind and along his magic, a silvery caress of soft fur and sharp fang. He could almost feel his human ears prick up, barely contained himself from letting his tongue loll from the side of his mouth in a lupine grin.
He looked down instead, burying his head in his palms.
He shouldn't be losing control. The Moon was waning, her eye dim. He should be stronger!
And he had been, until he set foot in that clearing, his patronus frolicking about him in long growling strides, looking about in bristled anger, and he had smelt it.
His senses, much decreased in human form, shouldn't have been able to pick it up, but it was strong, so very strong. Tinted with tears and a prick of blood, his mind had come alive, the wolf sitting up and howling with glee. It had the scent of one it had not taken inside in so long, its brother, its pack.
It had taken all his will not to fall to his knees and bury his face in the ground in front of him, to take long whiffs of air, to drag his paws across the dirt and roll, cover himself in the feelings of family and love and friendship and…
With a mental wrench, Remus jerked his head up, standing to pace across his floor. Sirius had been there, he had no doubt. But there had been another scent as well, one that smelled of metal and fire and ozone, a powerful mix that had made his nose twitch. It was not as strong as Black's, but had lingered underneath. The presence must have been there for a shorter time, and left only just before they had arrived. As the trap, for lack of a better word, had been outside the wards of Hogwarts apparition was the likely story. But had Black escaped before the other wizard or witch arrived? If not, had he gone willingly or unwillingly? Was he even now among other supporters of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, or was he being tortured, or already slain?
His wolf growled low and deep along his mind, and Remus felt his hands tremble. He had the urge to rush out, to try and catch a trail, to hunt.
Instead he sat again, making his legs stop bouncing, forcing his heart to stillness. He had a job here. One he had desired since he was a boy, to teach and help others. Being a werewolf, he had thought it impossible, but he had been given a chance. He knew it would only last the year. It was a forgone conclusion that he would be found out, he was in fact surprised he had lasted this long. But while he was here he could not run off.
And if Black was still out there, he would be coming back. And here Remus would be waiting for him.
And so, too, would the wolf.
Peter liked to think he had simple needs.
He had gotten along well enough as a rat, after all. No matter his friends had teased him about it unmercifully when it came out as his animagus form. Sure, his wasn't grand like a stag, or loyal like a mutt. But rats were resourceful above all else. Survivors.
It was a noble thing to be a rat, he firmly believed.
Nibbling absently at a block of cheese in a corner cupboard in the kitchens, Peter let out an appreciative squeak. Here he had all the food he could possibly need, and the relative safety of the constant presence of the house elves coming and going at all hours of the day and night. Hidden in plain sight, he thought with a whisker twitch, brilliant.
Why would Sirius even think to look here, anyway? He missed his Weasley, he admitted to himself, but it was high time he left that family regardless and the horrible cat had been a great prop for another faked death. He had been with them too long, and sooner or later one was bound to question why a rat had lived so very long. Still, they had been great, other than the dreaded twins, who from their toddler years had been mischievous. The two had reminded him too much of James and Sirius, always up to something devilish and wonderfully inventive. He had been glad not to be their rat.
With a dull pang he refused to acknowledge, Peter left the remainders of the cheese and curled in a corner with several forgotten dishtowels.
It made a nice cozy bed for a humble rat.
Many wizards did not care to know that there were two graves for James and Lily Potter.
One was large and grand, made of magic and stone and glass, a tribute to the parents of The-Boy-Who-Lived and That Day, the day where hope was given to wizards again that the darkness would be overcome, in the end. That there was an end to eternal night.
It was a memorial built by the Ministry, and visited often, by wizards bearing gifts of spelled flowers and pictures of loved ones who did or did not make it. As much a beacon to Harry Potter as to his parents.
But there was another grave, and beneath it rested the remains of two brilliant and brave Gryffindors. A simple white tombstone in the small graveyard of Godric's Hollow, bearing an inscription.
"The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."
It was to this place that the friends came, not the large grand statue. One by one or in pairs, they had come often the first few years, until their lives after began to be their lives now, and distance both physical and mental came between them and the ghosts of their past.
Some did still come, the few who could not forget. Or who would not allow themselves to forget.
Standing before the small tombstone was an old wizard, his form bowed down by age and memories. The Great Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts, Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, Defeater of the Dark Lord Grindelwald. The one wizard even Voldemort himself feared.
"Have I done enough?"
The question echoed in the silence. Here, no titles mattered, no deeds done could spare him from the evidence before his very eyes.
Even he could fail.
For a long moment he waited, listening for voices he would never hear again, desperately wanting an answer.
Then he straightened, swirling his long sparkling blue robe about him and drawing his wand with a mask of calm gentleness, before disappearing with the sharp crack of apparition.
It was surreal for Harry to act normal after his preconceptions of the situation had all been flipped about. His friends chattered like normal, made their schemes, did their homework. Harry sat, mind floating on clouds of frustration. Black was innocent, at least directly. Peter Pettigrew was hiding as Ron's rat... he paused. Turning, he looked about the library, saw no one was sitting close, and leaned in towards Hermione. She was studying for her Astronomy class, Terry Boot once more sitting across from her.
She turned, brown eyes slightly unfocused as she lost concentration. He waited a beat, until he had her attention, before continuing.
"Have you ever seen Ron Weasley's rat?"
He was amazed when Hermione entire face first flushed, then drained of all color. Her mouth moved silently, before she looked down, twisting her hands together.
"Oh, um, well. Yes, unfortunately."
Harry quirked a brow, glancing over at Boot, who shrugged.
Hermione looked up, a grimace on her face.
"He's had that rat for forever, you know? It was actually his brother's rat first. But… I got a new cat. Crookshanks?"
Harry felt his stomach sink. Hermione looked down, biting her lip.
"Crookshanks was always chasing Scabbers, that was the rat's name. Well, one day the rat just, um, disappeared. And… Ron said it was Crookshanks. He actually, well…"
Harry narrowed his eyes, watching her squirm on the bench.
Hermione looked up, face flushed.
"He thinks Crookshanks killed Scabbers, his rat."
Harry observed the way she fidgeted, and crossed his arms. Boot spoke up from across them.
"You already said that."
Hermione glanced over at him, glaring. Boot stubbornly met the look. She looked down again, sighing.
"He confronted me, alright? I was talking with Luna, and he just, lost it. Started screaming about Scabbers, calling names, and then tossing spells…"
Harry leaned back, anger rising in his belly and twisting his features. Hermione's eyes widened, and she leaned forward to put a tentative hand on his arm.
"Oh, honestly, no harm was done. Blaise was there, and he cast the coolest spell, The Bell Shield, have you heard of it? It was a bit loud though, so I wouldn't use it again. Luckily Luna is good with episkey.."
She drifted off as Harry's body stiffened further. He glanced over at Boot, whose face had went blank, before speaking.
"Blaise would only have used the Bell Shield to stop physical objects. I had wondered why he had written me a letter asking for books that covered spells to block non-magical attacks. What, exactly, did Ron throw at you?"
Hermione paled further. Her hands abruptly stopped moving as she stared at him, before looking down and away. Her shoulders slumped in defeat.
"Look, enough harm has been done. Can't we just leave it alone?"
Harry leaned forward, tugging on her robe slightly to make her turn back to him.
"Hermione. If you allow other students to continue to bully you, then you give them even more license to harass you. You have to stop it, and make it final. Especially if it was an attack that could have actually hurt you. I'm not talking about jinxes, or pranks. This is serious."
She turned to look up at him, anger suddenly moving across her features. Her words came out biting and harsh.
"And where were you, Harry? I tried, ok? I even cast first, one time! Its just, there always seemed to be more of him than of me, and he cast spells that… I just wouldn't. I wouldn't hurt him. I couldn't. It was just… it was all so childish. It wasn't worth it."
She stopped. Harry released her, looking away now himself, staring out over the many rows of books. It was true, he had not been there. If he had, he doubted Ron would ever have been so bold. But then again, his eyes as he spoke those words… 'you killed my sister.'
Perhaps he would have been.
He looked at Hermione, saw her ashamed face.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to snap at you, it's just..."
He interrupted her with an impatient hand gesture.
"No, you are right. But it is worth it when your safety is in danger. If he is tossing spells that can hurt you, it is more than appropriate to take him out."
Hermione sighed, turning to Boot as if looking for an ally. The boy smiled at her with a reluctant nod.
"He's right, Hermione. And it looks bad on him, too, if he lets students beat up on his friends."
Hermione's eyebrows rose, her eyes quickly glancing to him. Harry met the stare without expression. She frowned.
"All the pranks, they stopped as soon as you got here. Did you do something?"
Harry smiled slightly, but Boot spoke before he could, laughing.
"He didn't have to, Hermione. Even the upper years hesitate to confront him directly after seeing that picture in the newspaper last year."
Harry simply shrugged, before looking down at the book in front of him blankly. He needed perspective, needed space to think. With a jerk, he grabbed his materials and stuffed them back in his pack. Hermione spoke up.
"Harry, are you leaving already? Study period isn't half-way over..."
She drifted off, and Harry gave her an absent smile, mind already churning.
"I won't be at dinner. I will see you tomorrow." He quickly turned and walked out, expression dark.
"Harry! Wait!" He heard her call after him, before beginning a whispered rant. He smiled to himself, and ducked into an empty corridor outside of the library. With a quick glance around, he called up fire.
He spent the afternoon alone, flying high over the Grampians, the mountain chain stretching across upper Scotland where Hogwarts was hidden. In phoenix form he was easily mistaken for a large bird, and the overcast day helped hide his flight. He dodged clouds and avoided direct light, missing the presence of Fawkes at his side.
He thought of what to do about Black, he thought of what runes to write upon himself next, and he thought of Pettigrew.
He figured it was next to impossible that Pettigrew was actually killed by Crookshanks. If he had been, he would have immediately reverted to human form just like any werewolf or animagus, and been discovered by some unlucky student. Most likely, the rat had sniffed out it was being hunted, especially after it became known that Black had managed to infiltrate the castle. He had then fled, hiding either inside the castle itself or the surrounding countryside. Perhaps Pettigrew was even now in the process of infiltrating himself into another wizarding family.
He doubted Black would take the news well.
Harry gained altitude, the thin air sharp in his lungs. Above the low clouds he could see the glimmering sun beginning to wane and fall behind the ridge of mountains. Stars were beginning to wink in the sky, bright pinpricks of light in a sea of deep purple and blue. For a minute he drifted on a air current there, trying to make a decision.
He was hiding a fugitive at his house, one who had been wrongfully condemned. A death eater might at this very moment be roaming the halls of Hogwarts, coming near his friends, the man who betrayed his parents. Pettigrew might as well have killed them himself, to have brought about such bloodshed. Could Harry forget that? Could he forgive it? Why should he?
He began to fly higher still, his wings burning and breast heaving, long red phoenix feathers stretched wide to grasp at the air. How had life gotten so complicated? He was tired of being nice, tired of playing fair. Ron had attacked his friend, had harbored, albeit unknowingly, the man who led the Dark Lord to his parents. He had attempted to hurt his friends, even after being warned several times. It didn't matter that he had an excuse, that he was upset over his sister's death. Not anymore, not now. It had been almost a year, enough was enough. If the boy approached them again, Harry would not play along or go easy.
As for Black, Harry would tell him the truth. Pettigrew was missing, and Harry could not let Black continue to stay on his own property. The wizard would have to move elsewhere. And if he decided to search Hogwarts for the traitor, well, Harry would help him. It was in his own best interest, after all, to find his parents former friend. Harry let himself begin to spiral down through the clouds, lit up in tones of orange and fiery reds and pinks, a rainbow of warm colors and chilly moisture. He felt the beads of water cling to his feathers and shook them slightly, feeling warm and insulated inside his feathery skin, and came out below the clouds again, over a mountain peak capped with a blanket of snow. Winter was reluctant to withdraw its icy fingers from the landscape, and snow dotted the land below like spots of paint flung from a white paintbrush. Harry's wings caught another rush of wind, and he rode it down as night fell more firmly, the sky darkening and all color bleaching into tones of grey.
When the clouds parted and stars glowed brightly overhead, he glanced upwards towards the bright crescent moon. Perhaps a runic set to the moon again, the gentle magic, the cool fingers of tender luminescence. Perhaps she would soothe his mind, help him think clearer, help him shoulder the burden of too many decisions.
Closing his eyes, he transformed mid-air, the pain clenching through him in a wave of agony, light bursting behind his eyelids like fireworks, a torment of magical radiance. When he felt himself begin to fall, he spread steel wings behind him, his arms unconsciously spreading as well in an echo of phoenix flight. He let them fall to his side, green eyes opening to gleam with determination.
Time to see what, if anything, Black planned to do.
Harry stepped into his living room, absently withdrawing his wings and casting a simple repairing spell on the back of his robe. He often forgot that fabric did not take kindly to having metal pierce through it, and was aggravated by the nuisance of holes in the back of his garments. He looked about the empty room, before turning and entering the kitchen, startling Blossom who had been sitting at the table. The elf jumped up and fell into a hasty curtsy.
"Master Potter, sir! I be waiting, for Master's guest to come down. He be cleaning up."
Harry nodded and sat himself, realizing with a start that he was tired. It had been some time since he had flown so long at once. He stretched out his hands in front of him, before resting them on the table. Blossom shifted nervously, before smiling brightly.
"Can I get Master anything? We has fresh broth in the pot, and tea in kettle, sir."
Harry shrugged, before nodding. Blossom brightened further, skipping over to the cooker.
A cough brought his gaze around, his eyebrows rising as he took in Black's changed appearance.
The man was still gaunt, his skin sickly pale, but his hair and beard had been trimmed, his scraggly locks now clean of leaves and dirt. He was dressed in a satin blue robe that was obviously too short, perhaps one left behind by a previous generation of Potters. Harry's mouth twisted and he looked down. Perhaps even his father. He heard Black step closer, dragging out a chair and sitting across from him.
"You were gone this morning."
Harry glanced up, meeting Black's neutral grey eyes.
"I had to return to school."
Black nodded, reaching out to absently fiddle with the tablecloth Blossom had spread over the wood.
"Yes, of course."
They fell into awkward silence, filled with the house elf's off tune cheerful humming. Harry finally spoke again, staring blankly around the kitchen.
"How was your night?"
Black grinned, and humor bled into his face, lightening his eyes, stretching the skin beside his eyes.
"Much better than the ones I've had the last thirteen years, I can seriously say."
His smile widened further, and Harry couldn't help but meet it with a smile of his own. He could tell the last part was a joke that had once been used often, a fond memory of the past. Black seemed to take his expression for permission to continue talking.
"It was nice to have a warm bath and a hot meal. Don't get much of those in Azkaban, or in Scotland during winter for that matter. I can't quite believe it, that I'm here, with you. I never thought…"
He stopped talking, turning now to face Harry earnestly.
"I never thought I would be able to tell you the truth. I never thought beyond finding Peter, it was my goal, my… life, such as it was, these last few months. It's what kept me going, that overwhelming emotion of vengeance, and the knowledge that I was innocent. I know, it's been years, but to me, it was yesterday. Just yesterday that I showed up and…"
He stopped, and this time did not continue. Harry waited a second longer, then spoke softly.
Black paused, his face closed off from expression.
"Some safety and distance gives a man a bit of time to think. I will find Peter, but perhaps... maybe I can turn him in, instead. Give myself a clear name."
Harry saw the reluctance in his eyes, and behind it that gleam of madness. He doubted the wizard would be able to stop himself, when he saw Pettigrew again. He let it go, nodding.
Black turned to accept a large bowl of soup from Blossom, who happily spelled over another bowl for Harry. Harry looked down at the bowl, then up again to see Black observing him. At his glance, Black spoke.
"Harry, did you know… your parents, Lily and James... they made me your Godfather."
Harry felt a shiver go down his spine, his fingers clenching around the spoon in his hand. Black continued, looking away, one shoulder hunched as if to block a blow.
"I know, it's a bit too much, a bit too late, but.. perhaps, if I'm cleared, we could… catch up. I see you have things under control, obviously, and I don't know the story about your schooling, why you weren't at Hogwarts, are you going somewhere else? Anyway, maybe… I…"
His rambling slowed to a halt. Harry didn't know what to say. This man, borderline insane and a wanted murderer, wanted to start some sort of relationship? What did he think they could become, some sort of pseudo father-son? Harry had had enough of father figures, enough heartache and enough pain and loss. He had lost three fathers already, all in different ways. He never wanted another.
Black seemed to take the increasing silence as denial, and fidgeted with his utensils.
"I'm no one's hero, I know. I'm a fugitive, and... probably not a good role model. I know nothing about you, really, other than your parents and the scraps from newspapers I got my hands on. The guards used to like to show me them, those articles, rub it in how you were still alive, doing great things, while I rotted in prison… It did hurt, but not the way they intended. I wished I was with you, watching you grow up, helping you like I was supposed to be doing. If only I had controlled myself, had not run off after Peter, so much could have been different. I could have..."
Harry's voice came out cold, harsher than he had intended. Black flinched, and Harry saw a disapproving expression cross Blossoms face. He swallowed and continued, speaking softly as if to a frightened animal.
"There is no use in speaking of what could have been. I do not need a guardian, but I will accept a friend. I intend to help you find Pettigrew, and do not object."
Black, who had been about to speak, closed his mouth, a rueful light sparking in his eyes. Harry continued.
"You will need eyes within Hogwarts. I caught you easily enough, after all. Once this business is done, whatever happens, we will go from there. You may rest here a day longer, then you must relocate. I suppose you intended to anyway, to be closer to Hogwarts. Where were you staying?"
Black looked down at his meal, grimacing.
"There is a large cave, near the bridge to Hogsmeade. Down in the cliffside, before you reach the water. I was leaving it to hunt when your trap caught me."
Harry nodded, absently eating as he thought. Then he turned to Black with determination.
"I have a personal elf. I will speak to him to bring you meals and whatever you require to this cave."
Black's dour expression lightened, but then he focused on Harry with an intense gaze.
"I need a wand, Harry. I'm defenseless without one."
Harry paused in thought, then sighed.
"I have no idea how to get you one."
Black shrugged, leaning over to eat, before he paused, looking up with an intense look.
"Have you entered your Family Vault yet?"
Harry tilted his head, thinking how much to say. "Yes." He finally said. Black observed him, before speaking.
"If you are willing… you're parent's wands would have been placed inside the vault. I have used James's wand before. It wasn't a perfect fit, but.. well."
Harry froze, eyes slit in thought. On one hand, it would be a leap of trust. On another, besides sentimental value the wand was useless to him. He doubted it could handle better than his wand containing Fawkes's feather. Slowly, he nodded.
"I'll see what I can do."
Black nodded, perhaps a bit too fast, before staring down at the table again.
For a while they sat in silence, each lost in thought. Then Harry spoke up, watching the older wizard carefully.
"I intend to tell my friends of your story and yourself."
Black froze, spoon midway to his mouth. slowly, he put it down, fingers clenched.
"Why? Can they be trusted?"
Harry said nothing for a while, not offended in the least. After all, the very man across from his had suffered a betrayal from one he called friend.
"They can be trusted."
He said simply. Black began to eat again, savoring each mouthful as if it was his last. Finally, when he pushed the empty bowl away from him, he responded.
"Very well. Tomorrow, bring me back." Black stopped speaking, as if a thought had burst upon him as suddenly as a gunshot. "How, exactly, did you get me here?"
Harry smiled, leaning back in his chair.
"We have a lot to catch up on, I'm afraid."
Kingsley Shacklebolt was known to be an exceptional duelist.
In his years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry he had lead his House in multiple dueling championships. By his third month of auror training his name was brought up in conversation by his instructors as a wizard to keep note of.
He had never had a lack of Aurors to partner with in his younger days, and had been promoted at a relatively young age to head his own team. His coworkers admired and respected him, and his superiors trusted him. For a true Auror, there wasn't much more to desire. Shacklebolt believed in the law, and upheld it; though at times he secretly questioned the motives of those who wrote it.
Never had those internal questions affected his performance, however.
So when he was assigned a secret investigation by the Head of the Department, he did not hesitate. He accepted the details on hand, and prepared his line of questioning. He agreed to keep all related material under wraps until he had solid facts, and proof to back them. He acknowledged his responsibility to demure, and if necessary, outright lie to his colleagues about the nature of his mission and the path it might take him on.
Then he gathered the file folder on the case, holstered his wand, and got to work.
Harry might not want the man as his guardian, but he could use another friend who knew about himself. He had not told much, simply that he had a magical tattoo by accident that turned out to be useful, and the ability to teleport to an extent; but he planned to bring it further once this current mess was over. Harry found it hard to think of the man by his first name. For so long his mental image of the man had been that of an amorphous death eater, one who was solely associated with his family name, Black. To shake that image, he had to force himself to call the man Sirius, but this was an uphill struggle against the habits ingrained in him by the pureblood etiquette instilled in him by his Slytherin friends. He even thought of his mentor as Flamel; to use Nicholas seemed too familiar, too… common.
Black was still seated, talking amiably with Ivy as he flipped through a newspaper, and Blossom was puttering away with something in a cabinet. Harry glanced at the newspaper in Black's hand, recognizing it as a recent addition of the Daily Prophet. He shifted, and Black looked up and smiled, his expression open. Harry met the smile with one of his own, before sitting.
"I have news I forgot to mention earlier."
Black's expression darkened and he sat back. Harry continued.
"The Weasley rat, Scabbers, has gone missing. Ron thinks Hermione's cat killed it, but I strongly doubt it. More likely, he got spooked by the sightings of you around Hogwarts and has gone into hiding."
Black growled, an echo of his animagus form, before banging his fist on the table.
"I was hoping that kneazle could help, not scare the rat to death."
Harry felt his eyebrows raise, surprised.
"Kneazle? What are you talking about?"
Black glanced over, frowning. "Your friend's pet, its got to be over half-kneazle. Kneazles and crups are both special, they can… almost communicate with a wizard in animagus form. It's one reason they were such popular familiars. It's not like speaking, really, but… impressions. Body language, with a hint of magic.. still. He was going to help me catch the rat."
Harry leaned back, shaking his head.
"Well, Crookshanks, that's his name, failed. I suggest we split up, you searching the area outside of Hogwarts, and I'll search inside."
Black's face twisted, but he nodded reluctantly. Harry continued.
"Do not enter the forest, if you can help it. The centaurs have agreed to keep a lookout for a wizard in rat form. They do not like intruders."
Black grinned ruefully. "Yes, your father and I found that out many times over when we were your age."
Harry fidgeted at the reference, uncomfortable. Black sighed.
"When do you want to start?"
Harry rested his elbows on the wooden table, considering. "Now is as good a time as ever, if you are ready to move."
Black nodded, and stood. Harry fidgeted, looking about.
"Is there anything… in particular you would like me to purchase for you? Dobby, my elf, can bring you food and such, but.. you will be in a cave, after all."
Black grinned, and shrugged.
"Ivy should still know my measurements, if you would get ahold of some good robes for me. I actually lived with the Potters for a while, before I graduated Hogwarts."
Black paused, searching Harry's face, before continuing.
"I'll tell you the story sometime. Honestly, I'm so used to having nothing I can't hardly think of what I might need. It's all wants, things for comfort, and such items seem… almost too good, I suppose. After all that has happened."
Harry frowned, and crossed his arms.
"I'll have Dobby bring supplies. I'll look into the wand business personally."
Black nodded, his expression an odd mix of reluctance and grateful pride. Together they stood, Black looking about one last time with fond eyes.
"I guess that's it, then. It's been… nice to get a look at this place again. James and I roomed here together for a few months, before Lily and him went through with their ceremony. Lily was determined James finish basic training first, for the Auror core. Didn't want to be a distraction…"
Black turned back to Harry, smiled.
"She would be proud of you."
Harry shifted, uncomfortable, and unsure what to say. He had never known a mother's love, and his heart hurt to think of his real parents. Staring down, Harry muttered out a quick "thanks." He felt a hand on his shoulder, and looked up.
Black's smile was gone, replaced with grim determination.
"Lets find the bastard."
Harry straightened, and nodded. Then he reached out with his hands, grasping Black on each shoulder in turn, centering himself and reaching for his power.
"I'll bring us to that cliffside, and then you show me where the cave is."
Black nodded, and Harry closed his eyes and let the fire flood over them. He heard a surprised shout, and then they stood in the overcast light of Scotland, the earth falling away in front of them off a sharp cliff.
Harry turned at the exclamation, and Black stepped back from him with a barking laugh.
"That was something. I don't remember before, obviously. Feels a lot like phoenix fire actually…"
His grey eyes met Harry's, who remained silent and blank, and then he shrugged.
"Keep your secrets, boy. I don't blame you for not telling me everything. You can't be too careful these days."
Harry smiled and copied the older man's shrug. "Especially with enemies becoming friends and pets turning into murderers. Who knows what could happen next?"
Black laughed again, before gesturing. Harry followed him down a narrow trail, the man cursing occasionally as they picked their way around scraggy bushes and boulders.
"This is much easier as a dog." Black grumbled, before they finally arrived at the entrance. It was hidden behind a large stunted tree that grew diagonally across the gaping maw of darkness, a large boulder resting against another steep cliff face. They ducked underneath the trunk and entered, and Harry was amazed when the low ceiling abruptly shot up into the darkness and the cave stretched out in front of them. It was large and vaguely oblong from what he could see. He lifted his hand and commanded light, shaping it into a round shape and sending it out in front of him to light up the space.
It was at least twelve meters deep, with the sides varying from three to five meters wide. Harry turned to Black, surprised. The wizard took his eyes off the glowing light and smiled.
"Its a big hole. I'm almost certain some wizard made it at one time, cause there are no caves like it all around. I found it five months ago, when things really started to get cold. I had been sleeping where I could, and scrounging for scraps at Hogsmeade. Not a natural hunter, I'm afraid. Not of the dog variety. In any case, I never saw the whole thing like this before, not as a man. Its bigger than I thought. Ceilings look about, what, three or four meters high? And they are much too flat to be natural, in my opinion."
Harry looked them over, and nodded. Someone, or something, had created this on purpose, though why and how long ago was anyones guess. Black sighed, and sat carefully on a large rock.
"Well, that's it I guess. Good luck."
Harry nodded, and glanced about again.
"I'll send Dobby, and look into a wand. You are defenseless here, if the dementors find you again."
Black nodded, and frowned.
"It might be safer for me to stay in animagus form. They have a much harder time getting a fix on me that way."
Slowly, Harry nodded agreement.
"I'll still send Dobby."
"Dogs get hungry as well as any man. Perhaps more."
Harry laughed, then turned away, his hands fidgeting in sudden awkwardness.
"Well, then... bye."
Black was silent a moment, before walking over. His feet shifted, then he reached out suddenly and drew Harry into a fast embrace. He stepped back just as quickly.
"Bye, Harry. Thanks for… listening. Potters are known for being hotheaded Gryffindors. You... I see a lot of your mother in you, for all you look more like James."
Harry nodded, and unsure what to say, turned and walked to the entrance. He looked back and raised a hand in farewell, before stepping out and into the light. He took a deep breath, and began to walk to the edge, looking blankly over the empty space in front of him. Making himself relax, he leapt off and took flight, angling towards the school with single minded purpose. He couldn't afford to think about the past, he had too much to do, too many things relying on him. He didn't have time to reminisce on the past with his Godfather. It was over and gone and made him feel weak.
Right now, there was a murderer inside Hogwarts, and Harry would be the one to find him.
Harry was glad to have finally ironed out a satisfyingly workable plan for both of them. Black would patrol the area outside of Hogwarts, the cliff sides and valleys. Harry was reasonably sure the centaurs could handle the Forest, and doubted Peter would hide there regardless. Too dangerous for such a small rat.
No, Harry had a feeling Pettigrew would be close, very close, within Hogwarts itself. Which was right where Harry would be. And once caught, Harry would take the rat to Black, change him back into a human, and plan a way to expose the man and prove Sirius innocent. It would not be easy, and Harry knew politics were against them. The current minister would be running for election soon, and it was he who had helped push through the lack of a trial against Black, back in his previous role. It would prove a big blow to the man's reputation, and he doubted the public would take it as anything other than blatant incompetence. Of course, there were others involved as well who he doubted would be happy. A lot of movers and shakers within the government had a stake in making sure Sirius Black stayed guilty or, even better, ended up dead.
Harry wasn't sure how Black planned on exposing Pettigrew without ending up a prisoner himself in the meantime. It would be easy for such evidence to go missing, and a wanted murderer to end up dead after an 'unfortunate accident.'
They would need help, there was no way around it. A third party, to 'discover' Pettigrew and throw light onto the whole story. An expose, that just might happen to ruin the reputation of several key government officials. Including Dumbledore, if the old wizard had also helped to push the man into prison without a trial. But who would take the risk? The cat would be very truly put among the pigeons, and it would take some time for the feathers to settle.
Harry briskly left the Great Hall after eating lunch, shrugging off Hermione's frustrated questions with noncommittal answers. He had finally told her that he would meet them before dinner to discuss the things he had discovered, something that had made her reluctantly subside. Neville had been quiet, absently toying with his food, and Hermione had turned her formidable focus onto the Gryffindor. Harry had gratefully taken the opportunity to escape.
When he entered his room, he closed the door and warded it in one gesture, before calling out.
The elf appeared immediately, ears wobbling. Harry smiled at his expression, before beginning.
"We have a change of plans. There is an extra task I would like you to do for me."
Dobby bounced, eyes eager.
"Yes, Master Harry Potter, sir!"
Harry sat, pulling out parchment and quill, beginning to write.
"You can purchase items from Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley, correct?"
Dobby nodded quickly. Harry continued to speak, eyes narrowed in concentration.
"I have recently found out that Sirius Black is innocent."
The elf gasped, its entire body trembling at the name, but Harry barreled on.
"He is staying in a cave up in the cliffs, and I have agreed to provide for him while he searches for the real killer, Peter Pettigrew, who is hiding in the animagus form of a rat. Black also has the form of a large black dog."
"Master Potter, sir!"
Harry glanced up, took in the shock, and sighed.
"It's fine, I promise. He's not... manipulating me or anything like that. It's the truth."
The elf slowly nodded. Harry spoke again, blowing on the ink and passing the list over.
"Here is a list. Blankets, robes, etc. Get the measurements for the clothing from Ivy, at Hallam Street."
Seeing Dobby's wide grin return and grow, Harry smiled. He knew the elf had a flame for Ivy's young daughter, Blossom.
"Also, I would like you to bring food down to him regularly. He does not have a wand as of yet, so has no way of preserving anything for long periods of time. I'll show you the cave tonight, if you can get the items by then. Get it whatever way you can, you have access to my account in Gringotts."
"Yes, sir, Dobby does!"
Harry nodded, paused, and leaned back.
"If there is anything you would like, Dobby, you are free to get yourself something. I am not sure about the keeping of house elves..."
He drifted off, and Dobbys eyes began to well with tears. He grimaced as Dobby began to blubber.
"Master Potter is most kind, he is indeed! Dobby is but a humble elf, only doing his best, and Master Potter offers him things, he is the mostest kind Master Dobby has ever heard of!"
Harry dragged a hand through his messy hair, inwardly grumbling. House elves were so, so… excitable.
"Thank you, Dobby. That's all."
The elf's tears began to overflow, and even as he raised his fingers in the snap of elf teleportation Harry could make out the worshipful whisper.
"He tolds us thanks…!"
Harry closed his eyes with a groan.
When Harry finally sat down across from his four best friends, he abruptly found himself at a loss for words. Where did he start? How would he possibly explain the entire story, as incredible as it was?
They all sat in chairs they had dragged into a circular crowd in the center of the room they had been practicing in. Draco and Blaise both seemed to lounge, their faces politely disinterested, while Neville and Hermione sat up straight with attention. The difference between Slytherins and Gryffindors, he supposed, that one would seek to hide the obvious, while the others got straight to the point.
As if reading his mind, Hermione spoke.
"Alright, Harry, we are all here. Tell us what happened."
He grimaced, looking down at his hands. For another minute he remained silent, hearing his friends begin to shift in impatience. Then he looked up, took a breath, and began.
"I had laid traps all around the school, for Sirius Black. The other day, I caught him…."
"What!?" Neville shot out, and Harry stuttered to a halt in surprise. He had been the last one Harry had thought would interrupt him. The brown haired boy reddened at the attention. Hermione gasped, a hand coming to her mouth as her wide eyes peered at him.
"Oh, god, Harry, you killed him! You did, didn't you? Oh god…."
She drifted off in a horrified whisper, and Harry groaned, shaking his head rapidly.
"No! Merlin, Hermione, you think I would of waited this long to tell you if I had?"
Her eyes flickered, and Harry's frown grew. He sighed, running an agitated hand through his hair again.
"I'm sorry. I deserved that."
Hermione shook her head, lowering her hands to clasp them in her lap. Beside her, Draco spoke.
"Well, where is he now? We would of heard if he had been apprehended."
Harry nodded, and looked out the large glass windows along the right wall.
"He's innocent. No, don't interrupt again." He looked sternly at Hermione, who wilted, before continuing. "It's a long story. Apparently, my parents were being hidden from the Dark Lord under a Fidelius charm. Everyone thought Black was the Secret Keeper, as he was the obvious choice, including Dumbledore. However, they changed instead to one of their other friends, Peter Pettigrew. After the… incident… Black went after Pettigrew, confronted him in Muggle London. The rest is what you've read in the Newspaper, except Pettigrew was the one who set off the explosion that killed those Muggles, and he cut off his own finger as evidence for his own faked death."
Harry stopped, seeing the disbelief spread across his friends faces. When they did not immediately respond, he continued.
"My father and his friends all had animagus forms, an advanced technique they managed to pull off at a young age in order to come to the specific aid of another friend who happened to be a werewolf. They called themselves the Marauders. Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, Sirius Black, and James Potter. My father was a deer, Black was a dog, and Pettigrew a rat."
Suddenly Hermione paled, her eyes widening.
"A long-lived rat, missing a finger on its paw! Oh my God."
Neville and Blaise both reacted at her statement, looking at each other with wide eyes. Draco frowned.
"What? What are you guys talking about?"
Hermione shook her head, and Neville quietly spoke, his eyes grim.
"Ron, his family has had a pet rat for several years now, much longer than a rat can normally live. He bragged about it, actually, and was always going on about how smart it was, though he would then turn around and call it boring. Wanted his parents to buy him an owl instead, but… well. The teachers made an exception to the pet rule for him to have it, for some reason. I guess his parents applied, you can do that. It was missing a finger on its paw, was really scraggling looking. They actually called it Scabbers. Nasty thing."
Draco huffed, folding his arms.
"Figured the Weasel would be hiding scum in his bed."
Harry shook his head.
"I doubt he knew. He thinks Hermione's cat killed it, actually, but I doubt it."
Hermione perked up, nodding.
"You're right, that's impossible now! If he was an animagus, and somehow Crookshanks did manage to eat him, he would have reverted back into human form!"
She beamed in relief. Draco smirked.
"And then promptly killed your cat as he expanded in its stomach."
Hermione scowled at him and Blaise both as they chuckled.
"Honestly!" She sniffed, before looking over at Harry again.
"So, what does this mean? Is he going to come forward?"
"And be Kissed?" Blaise mentioned, shaking his head at the girl. Harry nodded in agreement.
"He can't, not until he has proof. The fact that he escaped a prison, was the first person to do so, has created an uproar. They can't give him the opportunity to do so again. There is a reason Dementors surround this place. Black is not meant to be taken alive… at least not with his soul."
Hermione bit her lip in thought. Harry continued, looking over at the Slytherins.
"I helped Black escape the dementors, and he is now set up in a cave not far from the bridge to Hogsmeade. Dobby is going to provide him with necessities, and I'm going to get him a wand. He will attempt to find Pettigrew, who must be hiding somewhere in the area, and that will be that."
While the two Gryffindors nodded, Harry kept his eyes on his housemates. He saw the disbelief in their eyes, and nodded slowly. Blaise continued to frown, but Draco nodded in return. Harry sat back, looking over at Neville and Hermione with a smile.
"So, no more worries about Black, though try not to give it away, please. We have to act like everything is normal. Continue to work on your patronuses. If it comes to it, I do not want to see Black captured by those creatures. He's my Godfather."
At that last statement, Draco suddenly sat up straight and hissed.
"You are the reason the Black Vault is frozen!"
For a moment, Harry simply stared.
Draco leaned forward, stabbing a finger in his direction.
"Sirius Black was the last living Black son, once his brother was killed. When he was incarcerated, the Vault should have gone to my mother, Narcissa, as the closest blood relation outside of prison. But it did not. For years my father has fought to get details released, but the head of records is a stuck up old bird, with a large hate for any… suspected death eaters. Her daughter's family was killed in the war."
Draco stopped, flushing. Blaise's eyebrows rose as he looked at the blonde.
"That would've made you the next head of the Black family, if you claimed it."
Draco slowly nodded, straightening, before his grey eyes focused on Harry.
"I would of held two seats. Instead, as the rules of magic go, the assets would of gone to the more immediate family member by blood. Normally this would be a nephew, but given the assets are still under wraps I would say you, as his godson. They must have signed magical documents, for it to skip the blood relation entirely. I don't suppose he said."
Harry shook his head, looking the Slytherin over for signs of anger. Instead, he saw only frustration. Quietly Harry spoke.
"He did not. I can find out."
Draco shrugged, a bit too casually.
"It was more my parent's dream than mine. There are only two other families who can boast to hold more than one title. It's one of the small reasons purebloods intermarry so much, in the hopes of inheriting if a family line is broken. The man, or woman, who holds two titles will pass one on to their first son, and the second on to their second, if there is more than one. In that way, the blood line is supposed to be preserved. My mother…. she did not want to see the Black name die off."
Harry shook his head, mind racing.
"I've never heard of any of this. It doesn't matter, anyway, if Black is found innocent. He's more than able to have children of his own, I imagine."
Draco nodded, but his eyes told Harry that the boy did not think that outcome likely. Blaise snorted.
"So, Harry, does that make you a Potter-Black, or Black-Potter?"
Draco scowled before Harry could answer, his voice haughty.
"You know more than well that family names are never hyphenated! It would be Lord of Potter and Black, with his blood name first."
Neville began to laugh at his attitude and Blaise grinned. Draco began to flush, and covered the expression with a sneer. Hermione turned towards Harry, leaning in to speak in a low voice as the boys continued to bicker.
"Harry, are you okay with all this? You didn't say how you helped Black escape, or how you got the truth from him. There's more than you are telling us."
A lot more, Harry though, including that I have no intention of letting Black look for Pettigrew on his own. Instead of saying that, Harry spoke in the same low tone back to her.
"I was rough on him, at first. I looked into his mind."
Hermione's eyes widened.
Harry nodded, frowning.
"I've begun to foster a… talent for it, somehow. Not on purpose, just... reaching out with my magic into someone else. It's not really legilimency as it's described in books. I see no shields, or rooms. No symbols of memories and such. Instead, it is as if I stand behind the person's eyes, and see what they saw as themselves. No filter. All the emotions… everything is there. It's fragmented, but... I can see truth, too. It's how I knew he was innocent, and why I helped him."
"What are you two whispering about?"
Harry flinched at Draco's snide voice, but before he could speak Hermione snapped back.
"Mind your own business, Draco Malfoy. This is a private conversation."
The blonde glared at her, his eyes narrowing.
"Well, you're not in private, are you?"
Hermione fumed. Harry laid a hand on her arm, met her brown eyes when she turned towards him.
"It's fine." He turned to the others and smiled.
"It's been a long day. I think I'm going to turn in early."
Hermione frowned, her gaze pleading.
"But Harry, you missed Dinner yesterday too. You can't keep skipping meals."
Harry shook his head.
"I can get a meal from Dobby. I'm not wasting away."
Hermione looked like she wanted to argue. He met her gaze, and tried something new. With a flicker of his magic, he sent out a single thought to her, and was rewarded by her eyes going wide with startled amazement.
We'll talk later.
"Alright." She said softly. Blaise and Draco both were looking between them with narrowed eyes, unused to the Gryffindor giving in so easily.
"See you tomorrow, Harry."
Neville called out as the tension rose, before pulling out his wand and turning to the others with forced concentration.
"Hermione, can you show me your patronus again? I still can't hardly get any mist….."
The girl turned away slowly, allowing herself to be distracted. Harry looked at the Slytherins. They both stepped nearer, walking with him towards the door, but Blaise was the first to speak.
"You didn't come here to hunt Black, then give up when you find out he wasn't the one who betrayed your parents. They might let this go easily, but we know better." He gestured between himself and the boy next to him. "You're planning on hunting Pettigrew too, right? And we want in."
Harry shook his head, but before he could reply Draco chimed in as well.
"Unless you want all four of us in on it, you'll have to deal with us two."
Harry gritted his teeth. This is what he got for being friends with Slytherins.
"Look, I'm just going to set traps, that's all, just like I did for Black. Once he's caught, I deliver him up to Black. End of story."
Blaise laughed. "Really, Harry? You can't set traps inside Hogwarts like you can around the countryside. Anyone magical would get caught inside, unless you had it locked for Pettigrew, which I highly doubt you would be capable of, considering you would need a magical signature for each trap. You're not the only one who studies extra material. I've been looking into wards a lot, and they are very similar to the way runes are outlaid in a magical cage. Same basic principles, but reversed."
Harry narrowed his eyes at him. "I don't need help."
Draco scoffed, bringing Harrys eyes around. "Maybe you don't. But let us help anyway. Perhaps we can save you time."
Seeing himself caught between two incredibly stubborn people, Harry sighed in frustration. "Fine. Draw up whatever designs you come up with, and bring them to me. I'll judge their usefulness. You are right about signatures, but there is a loophole. Instead of going for wizard, go for rat specifically. There are a million wards out there for keeping vermin out of structures. The only reason Pettigrew is inside here is because he was once a student, I imagine. Hogwarts does not keep him out, it knows him to be a wizard. So, we need a runic trap for capturing rats instead of a ward for keeping them out, and one that will not look for a magical signature at all. If it looks for it, it won't trigger as the creature will register as a wizard instead of a animal. Go for simple, grab and hold. I do not think he has a wand, unless he has stolen one. At that, I think we would of heard if a student's wand was missing. He is vulnerable, and will not be expecting a trap for himself. We have the upper hand at this point."
The two nodded, their minds already forming plans. Harry stepped back form them, grimly determined.
"I will see you tomorrow. Perhaps it's time I sit somewhere other than Ravenclaw. I miss my housemates. I'm sure they miss me as well."
The two Slytherins smirked as one, the expression identical on their faces. Harry returned it, before turning and stepping from the room with quick gesture to unlock the door.
He hadn't wanted his friends in on it, and not only because of the potential for danger. He had wanted to get his hands on the rat first, an anger he could not harness seething deep inside himself. But perhaps it would be for the best.
With his friends involved, he had more of a chance of remaining in control of himself. Of not making a mistake, and ruining his godfather's chance for freedom.
This would work out. It had to.
After curfew, Harry slipped back into his room and carefully closed the door behind him. He had shown Dobby the cave, but not entered himself. He hadn't wanted to talk to his Godfather, hadn't wanted to see the past in his eyes.
When he had gotten back, he had snuck down to the kitchens and gotten a small meal, as small as was possible with house elves involved. Then he had ducked under his invisibility cloak and returned to his room to change.
He settled on plain clothes with a dark robe, pulling the hood up and over his black hair. Looking in his mirror, he decided that with a simple notice-me-not charm on his face, he could easily slip through a crowd.
When he he appeared in Diagon Alley, he saw that his caution was, for the most part, unnecessary.
At the late hour, very few wizards walked the streets, and few stores were still open. Of the buildings still lit, Gringotts shone the brightest.
The bank never closed, the goblins working shifts all night and day. For them, the rise and fall of the sun was only a means of keeping time above ground, and a fickle means at that. They preferred the deep rumblings of the earth, the movements of the glow worms and the snapfish. Their clocks were set on geothermal heat, and their bodies made for it. That wizards mainly only came during the day only gave them more time for administrative work by night, and to this routine the two species had fallen into an uneasy alliance.
When Harry entered the bank, there was only one elderly wizard at the counter, with a scowling goblin counting galleons into a pouch between them. Around him, however, the place teemed with goblins. Running errands, weighing stones, writing on endless stacks of forms and papers. It was like a hive of bees, he thought, and the sound of them resembled a low buzzing tone of fragmented gobbledegook.
Harry slid by the busy counter and up to an empty booth, waiting a full minute before a black haired goblin, busy with something behind the wooden panel, finally looked up with a sneer.
"May I help you?"
His tone implied that helping was the last thing he wanted to do. Harry met his expression with blank eyes, not allowing either frustration or annoyance to show.
"I need to see Grips-Hook-In-Hand."
The goblins gaze flickered in surprise, his sneer growing into a sharp smile as his beady brown eyes narrowed.
"Family?" He questioned, and Harry abruptly realized his face was still covered by his robe. He reached up to pull the hood down, staring at the goblin with vibrant green eyes.
The teller grunted, before jumping down from what must have been a stool to disappear without another word. Harry leaned back, casually glancing around to see if anyone had noticed him. The bank was now empty of any wizards, and the goblins moved about in a ordinary flow of routine and business.
"This way, sir."
Harry turned to see the goblin had returned, and now stood beside him with a grimace. Harry followed his lead without another word, as he snaked through the crowd of goblins in the corridors with the ease of long practice. They stopped at a large wooden door framed with decorative metal trim. Harry glanced at the bronze bowl beside the door, where above the words where written with golden filigree.
Harry turned to the goblin, and nodded.
The goblin seemed to snarl, showing his teeth in a wide smile, before turning to disappear around the corner they had come from. Harry reached for the door and pressed, letting its magic find his own and slide along it, the familiar tint of wards clicking open with release as he stepped forward.
He was met with the steely stare of Griphook, the goblin whom he had met his first day in Diagon Alley, who at that point had merely been a cart-driver, one of the lowest ranks among the goblins from what he could tell. The further away from contact with wizards, the more honor they were attributed from their own kind. The goblin had done him a trade, of sorts,when he allowed him to leave with his family trunk in direct disobedience to Ministry law. Harry had returned the favor when he made the goblin the manager of his estate, something many pure-blood wizards were no longer comfortable with.
The goblin sneered, gesturing towards a large leather chair in front of his wide wooden desk, which was currently covered in parchments and a single large leather bound book.
"It's about time you came to check in on your accounts. Irresponsible."
Harry sat and, before he could stop himself, began to laugh.
"I'm afraid we are at odds once again. I am not here for an accounting. Am I making money? Or am I now destitute?"
Griphook grimaced, the frown creasing his face into a million wrinkles.
"Don't insult me, wizard."
Harry laughed, then shook his head.
"I don't have time for paperwork. Do what you do best. The more gold you make me, the more gold you make yourself, correct? Or is what I recently read in a book on goblin-wizard interaction false when it states that Goblin Managers receive a percent of profits?"
The goblin bared its teeth in a smile, the sharp points gleaming.
"We are agreed to stick to our strengths then, Mr. Potter. What is it you are bothering me about?"
Harry smiled, leaning forward, and waited for the reaction as he spoke.
"It has recently come to my attention that I may be in line to inherit the Black Vault."
Griphook did not disappoint. His expression morphed into disbelief, followed by anger.
"You waste my time, wizard. I would know if this was the case."
Harry reached out a hand to tap the large book in front of him.
"This is the ledger for my estate, correct? But if I am not yet eligible, which I would not be until I reached majority, those assets would not be transferred. They would have to be looked for elsewhere."
Griphook's body went still, his eyes slightly unfocused in thought. Then he suddenly stood, Harry scooting his chair back as the goblin strode around him and towards a blank stone wall. When he stretched out his hand, a thin vein appeared in the rock, one that suddenly blazed with magic and light so strong Harry was forced to look away and blink several times to clear the spots from his vision.
Griphook was gone, and the space where he had stood was unmarked and ordinary. Harry narrowed his eyes at the wall, seeking out with his magic to feel along the stone for anything that could trigger such a spell. He found nothing, and leaned back with a grumble, eyes stinging. Goblin magic was mysterious, and kept secret from most wizards. What little they did know was sketchy at best, and often inaccurate. Harry could see most golbin spells present as well as he could see any wizarding magic, though it looked very different. Its light was darker, more of a low steady glow than a bright starburst of light.
He was ready when he saw the thin crack appear, and looked away as the light bloomed and the goblin strode out with a snarl.
"This is a breach of protocol. I should have been informed the minute I took control of your Estate, but the current Manager for the Black family belonged to the Crooked Bone Clan, and was reluctant to relinquish his position."
Harry shook his head as the goblin sat with a grunt, another large book in his hands.
"Look, I don't want to take control or anything. Sirius Black is still alive."
Griphook's head whipped up, his fingers still flipping pages.
"The Black Vault is old, Mr. Potter, even more ancient than the Potter Vault. The only reason the Vault has not been claimed by blood family is because Sirius Black filled out a set of magically binding paperwork known as Scribere in Sanguinem Sanguine. The process has been out of popularity for centuries, and Crookedtooth was more than willing to let it be forgotten for so long as that was to his advantage."
Griphook bared his teeth with a fierce growl. Harry frowned. "I haven't heard of it before."
The goblin shrugged, and turned a final page before stopping, his fingers running over the page reverently.
"Many wizards look down upon it, as not only is it a magically binding agreement, but they prefer to keep their assets within their own bloodline. Wizarding preference for familial inheritance is a long-standing tradition."
His tone implied it was a foolish one. Harry was at a loss. "I'm not following you here. What, exactly, is so different about those particular documents? Were they not signed at the Ministry?"
Griphook begin to laugh, a high pitched cackling sound that made the hair rise on the back of his neck.
"The ministry? Ha! Your Ministry hasn't allowed blood magic to be practiced within its walls for longer than I have lived, young wizard. Fools, the lot of them. The documents were signed here, under the guidance of the previous Potter Manager, and then filed with the Ministry, which recognizes the document if not the process."
Harry folded his hands in his lap, questioning. "Blood magic?"
Griphook tapped the page and then pushed the book in his direction. Harry leaned forward, before reaching out to turn it around and look at the page. The goblin spoke as he read.
"Scribere in Sanguinem Sanguine is more of a ritual than a document, though papers are signed at the end. When you were seven days old, as required, your father and Black, with one Remus Lupin as witness, bound your blood to the Black line. Literally, to write Black blood into a Potter. It's one of the few forms of wizarding adoption as well, and a process many wizards claim to be sacrilegious. This, Mr. Potter, goes far beyond a simple godfather designation. Sirius Black stamped your blood with his own. It puts your inheritance before that of any sons of his own blood, as you are a son of his blood. It implies he either can not sire children, or did not expect to live long enough to do so. Or he did not expect you to live long enough, of course, to claim the inheritance."
The goblin sneered, but Harry did not react, reading the information for himself on the page as it described the ritual, the moonphase (new), the items used down to the Black ritual knife and the type of parchment. Why hadn't Black mentioned any of this to him? Harry shook his head in confusion, looking back up at Griphook as he pushed the book away.
"I… I guess I do not understand the motive here."
The goblin shrugged.
Harry sighed, and leaned back in the chair, staring at an adjacent bookshelf with blank eyes. Griphook spoke again with a snarl, closing the large book with a thump.
"It was, perhaps, the only way to prevent any with Black blood claiming the Vault and Properties. Another lesser form could've been contested, and probably succeed. Not this one. Even the Ministry could not seize the assets as they have from other condemned criminals with no Heirs. Once you reach your majority they will all be placed within your hands, along with that of the Potters."
Harry simply nodded, his mind racing.
"What if Black is found innocent?"
Griphook was silent a moment, his expression closing off.
"Then Black would resume being Lord of Black. You would still be Heir, and inherit upon his death."
Harry nodded slowly. "And if he has more children?"
The goblin sneered. "He should have thought of that before he signed those papers. You could contest if he tried to change the will, and win. Blood Heirs cannot be cast out of the family, even by the Head. If that was possible, Sirius Black would not have inherited in the first place, as he was stricken from his family's will himself. He contested, and seized all assets for himself only a year before you were born."
Harry stood, pacing along the small office with long strides, filled with frustration. He would need to talk to his godfather about this. He should have been told. But when? He ran a hand through his hair, before rubbing his neck. He hadn't really given the man a chance to, between Pettigrew and his rush to return to Hogwarts. Maybe Black had intended to tell him, and hadn't had the time. Harry had been in a hurry to get away, and no rush to return.
Harry abruptly turned back to Griphook.
"Alright. Fine. Is there anything I need to do?"
Griphook hummed, a nasal sound, before finally shaking his head.
"I will look through this as I did the Potter Ledger. At this point, you are underage and unable to claim anything, though they can be managed through your responsible representative."
His smile was filled with teeth. Harry gave a half-smile in acknowledgement, then sighed.
"I want to visit the Black Vault, and then the Potter's. Can you still escort me?"
The goblin stood, striding over to him with a straight back.
Harry numbly let him lead the way, his mind racing. He had more research to do now, on Inheritance Law. He hadn't bothered before, and felt blindsided by the new information. His parents had allowed Black to claim him as a son, not only a godson. Had they been that certain they would perish? Or simply that afraid? Or had Black been the one who thought he himself would die, and wanted to keep his money and property from being used by the forces of the Dark Lord through his cousins?
They reached the loading area, but instead of getting in the dingy grey mining carts that had ridden in his previous visit to the bank they kept walking, turning a corner to a row of long narrow carts polished to a silver gleam. Harry glanced at Griphook in surprise, raising an eyebrow.
"Is this for the rich clients?"
The goblin snorted, hopping in the cart with a graceful leap, then settling himself beside a row of levers.
"Its for the ones who want speed over comfort. I suggest you use the straps."
Harry leaned over and looked into the cart, now noticing leather straps with brass buckles. He carefully stepped in and sat in a low seat with a reclined back, the hard metal feeling like stone. He pulled the straps over his chest and buckled them, before glancing at Griphook. The goblin had buckled himself in as well, and was grinning in fierce delight. Harry resisted the urge to gulp.
"Hold on, Mr. Potter. This is a true goblin cart. We call them Srizdak, or, Spears-the-Dark."
Griphook's eyes shown in the dim light, and Harry saw the sudden light of goblin magic begin to pour from him to the controls, the magic glowing like the reflection of the moon upon a still lake. Before Harry could respond, the cart seemed to come alive, the silver flashing bright enough that he was forced to close his eyes. They leapt forward in a movement that felt more like the jump of a cat then the start of a vehicle, a rolling motion accented by the high pitched whine of metal on metal.
He cracked open his eyes, only to snap them shut again when light flooded into his sight. They were surrounded by magic, foreign and damp, his senses overloaded with the feeling. He felt them drop suddenly, his stomach rising to his throat, and it was somehow worse because he could not see where they were going, could not know if they were even still on the tracks. Where there even tracks at all, or where they flying?
He heard a roaring battle cry behind him, followed by cackling laughter as Griphook operated the cart with smooth motions. Harry gripped the metal under his fingers, forcing his magic down as it reacted to his loss of control, seeking an enemy. For what seemed an eternity he struggled to stay calm, even when it seemed at one point they turned upside down and fell into a free fall, air whistling about his ears and the smell of smoke and fire in his nostrils.
When they came to a stop, he was slow to open his eyes, the dark hallways deserted and blessedly cool. His stiff fingers unbuckled the straps and he climbed out, realizing with shock that he was actually shaking.
"I didn't peg you for one to be afraid of riding in a Srizdak."
Griphook sounded disappointed, and Harry finally took his eyes off the stone ground under his feet to look him in the face.
"It was not the speed, but the magic. Being surrounded by it, held down and… helpless. It was unpleasant."
An understatement, but saved some of his pride. The goblin shrugged, but glanced back at the silver cart with reluctance.
"I can summon a normal cart, but this vault is thirty levels below that of the Potter Vault. It will take a good hour for it to reach us here."
Harry shook out his arms, stretching his stuff fingers, and frowned.
"It's fine. I will be prepared for it next time. Why are we so far down?"
Griphook snapped his fingers in a way reminiscent of house elves, and a short flame appeared, lighting up the small platform they stood on and a single stone archway leading into the dark.
"When the bank was first built, we started deep in the earth, at the core of an old mined vein of precious metals. The Vaults were built with single platforms per Family, for privacy and security. As the years passed and wizards began to… use our facilities more often and in greater numbers, we were forced to put several vaults to a level, like with your Potter Vault, and then eventually the upper levels were mined and emptied to be useful as trust vaults and smaller accounts. There are few vaults down this low still in use."
Harry nodded, and followed Griphook as they began to enter the narrow hallway.
"What happens then with a vault once the family dies out?"
Griphook glanced back, the light throwing odd shadows across his face.
"We claim our share, and your Ministry seizes the rest. The vault is not used again, as the process of opening the older vaults without permission often leads to their destruction. The rubble, once cleared, is more suitable for other uses."
Harry didn't ask what uses that would be, his attention snagged by a pure pale light glowing ahead. As they ascended a short staircase, the light grew brighter, until they turned a corner and Harry saw the entrance to the vault.
It seemed to be carved out of obsidian, smooth and jet black with swirls running along and across the stone. What he assumed to be the doorway was more of the seamless rock, shined so meticulously it seemed like the water in a still dark pond, deep and mysterious. It would have been surprisingly plain with no filigree or decorations like on the Potter Vault, had it not been for the stone that graced the right side of the sealed doorway.
It was in the shape of an eight pointed star, with four of the points larger than the others and pointing out in each direction with razor thin edges. It looked to be a good meter from point to point, and shone so brightly he couldn't quite look at it directly, but observed it from the corner of his eye. Its light was a pure cold white, bright and unforgiving, throwing harsh shadows behind them. Harry turned to Griphook.
"What kind of stone is that?"
The goblin stepped up beside him, looking it over with curious eyes.
"It is flawless shaped quartz, not a cloud in it that I can tell. Rare for one that size. It would take a master to shape it so carefully, without the least crack or flaw, and against its natural prism pattern."
"Oh." Harry said, but observed its glow with respect. Griphook looked over with a smirk.
"Many wizards would call this kind of quartz crystal, because of its clear color."
Harry nodded blankly. He did not know much about precious stones, but crystal was one he recognized as being valuable.
"So, pretty expensive I guess." He said idly, before stepping over to the doorway and looking it over.
Behind him, Griphook chuckled. "More valuable than the contents of that vault, from what I saw in the Ledger. The Blacks were an arrogant line, but not fiscally intelligent. Much of their gold has dwindled in bad investments, and their properties look to be in disrepair. The only reason you are not inheriting debt is because they received significant dowries from the marriages of two Black daughters, to a Lestrange and a Malfoy. A third daughter was stricken from the record."
Harry glanced over. "You learned a lot from just flipping through."
The goblin did not bother to dignify that with a response, looking idly at his nails.
"Are you going to open the vault, or do we stand here all night?"
Harry stepped back with a frown, before turning back to the glowing crystal.
"I guess it opens like the Potter Vault?"
His comment came out more like a question, but Griphook merely stared at him blankly. Harry stepped closer to the light, squinting, before holding his hand out to the sharp edge of the lowest point. He hesitated, looking back at the goblin.
"You said I am and Heir by blood, correct? So this should work?"
Griphook remained silent. Harry took that as assent, and in a quick motion cut the skin of his palm on the edge, the sharp pain fading almost as soon as it had happened. Harry closed his fist, and waited. There was no pull of magic, no reaching out of a sentient power like with his Family Vault. After a moment, he waved his hand, frowning, before stepping to the doorway and pushing slightly. It didn't budge. He turned back to Griphook.
"It didn't work?"
Griphook stepped forward, then walked along the entrance to the vault, before stopping with a grumble.
"Crookedtooth told me that the Blacks always preferred to go up to the entrance themselves, so he never saw the Vault opened. They made him, or the cart driver, wait below at the platform."
When he went silent, Harry frowned harder, before stepping back to the star and staring at it, forcing his eyes to adjust to the bright light.
There was something he was missing, and it had to do with the light. He closed his eyes, and instead reached out with his power, pulling it up and out of where it had been bound tightly inside himself, coil upon coil, a slow unfolding of magic that made his breath come faster as his body straightened to its full height. When he felt it just underneath his skin, he opened his eyes again, looking into the star with pupils widened with magic and light.
And he realized what he had missed, with his magic under such a short leash. The star, the crystal, was not lit up with some wizard or goblin spell, but made up of magic. Every Black for generations past must have given the tiniest part of themselves, a prick of light, to the stone until it shone like the star its shape resembled. Flamel had shown him this trick, with a tiny diamond, and told him how it worked. That magic could be stored in a stone for use later, to be withdrawn in a time of great need. And Harry had asked if anyone could use magic stored by another wizard. Flamel had replied, his eyes gentle and ancient.
"Not just anyone, no. Perhaps one that is bound to you, like a child or spouse. Sometimes such gems pass along family bloodlines for just such a reason. A magical heir, one adopted by blood, could also qualify."
Harry stared at the stone, the truth striking him like a fist. There was enough magic stored in this star to accomplish miracles, feats of magic impossible to imagine. Why had no one taken any? Had they not known? Flamel had talked as if such knowledge was common knowledge, but perhaps it was not. He had never thought to check behind his mentor. Perhaps the secret was lost along the way, and the Blacks too proud and secretive to mention the treasure that graced their vault door. Every time they entered giving up a sliver of themselves to this guardian, and storing a power that could topple the wards over the Ministry of Magic itself.
Harry realized he was shaking, and didn't bother to hide it. Instead he slowly extended a sliver of his own light, pushing it towards the center of the star, his heartbeat pounding hard in his ears.
It grasped him like a cold hand, frigid and bright, and Harry felt it sweep through him, tasting his blood with icey teeth, and he realized that so much magic in one place had created its own sentience, one made up of a dark family's magic, dedicated to rituals and blood and the dark. The presence saw something in him and began to withdraw, running chilly fingers over the runes on his skin with something like approval.
When it was gone, taking with it a small sharp prick of his own power, he heard a loud ringing sound and turned, staring as a seam appeared in the doorway, growing larger and larger as the obsidian seemed to sink into itself on either side of the archway with a fluid motion. Harry turned and looked back at the star, and once more reached out with his magic, meeting the light inside with a gentle merging. He tried to remember what Flamel had said in that one lesson. He didn't remember if the Alchemist had ever said how to take magic back out of such a stone. He had simply put the stone they were practicing in his pocket.
But what was the use in storing magic if it could not be utilized?
Harry struggled to think. Everything had been a test with Flamel. The man had wanted Harry to think for himself, figure it out in his own way. The key had to be in the process. With this Black vessel, the sentient magic itself took ones magic, and gave access to the Vault. But when Flamel had been showing him how to create a vessel from gems, he had described it differently.
"...start as only the tiniest portion of power, smaller than a grain of sand. Then, with gentleness, you must impart to it a portion of yourself, bit by bit, all your concentration set on making it know that its new place is not within yourself, but without. That this gem is a part of you, like an arm or leg or strand of hair."
Harry stepped closer to the star, his magic still linked with its own, and reached out to grasp a small handful of light, holding it, and told it it was him, a part of him, a piece of himself. It had been taken from a Black for a time, a gift of self, and now a Black was here to take it back, it was his, had always been his, only given away for a short time.
He felt it snap, like a fragile thread cut with shears, and the cold magic streamed into him like a rush of water. He stumbled away, nearly falling as he shook at the frigid sensation. He looked at himself and saw it, not quite assimilated, a cold white light beside his heart, surrounded by his own warmth.
"What are you doing out there, cruel Master, to cause winter inside of us?"
Dread hissed in sleepy annoyance, its own magic moving away from the colder light. Harry's heart leaped at the success. Without thinking, he hissed his answer out loud, staring at the bright crystal with delight, its sentient light not even noticeably dimmed.
"Your Master has just found us something incredible!"
He heard a sharp sound, like teeth snapping together, and whirled, his magic rising about him in the hazy shape of wings, spread and alert.
Griphook took a step back, his usual surly face set in deep lines, his hands stiff at his side. Harry suddenly realized how he must look, his face wild with magic and victory, the air about him moving with power. Harry forced himself to step back, looking down and away.
"I'm just going to look in the vault."
He said in a low tone, and saw Griphook nod uneasily out of the corner of his eye, then ducked into the vault, looking about the mostly empty chamber with a frown. He knew now why the Blacks had been so secretive about their vault. They had not wanted even a hint of a mention to get out about the treasure outside their vault. A powerful wizard, one who knew of such vessels, would know of another way to get at the magic inside it. Break the vessel, and the power would pour out like blood, ready to be drunk by a waiting mouth. The Black's might have been loyal to the Dark Lord, but they had wanted their magic for themselves. He doubted Voldemort would have hesitated to claim the magic as his own, even if he had to kill the current members of the line to do so. The star presented both an incredible gift and a terrible liability, if it were to fall in the wrong hands.
"I do not like this incredible thing, it is cold." Dread hissed inside him, coiling itself about his center with grumbling motions. Harry sighed, responding as he began to move into the cavernous room.
"It will warm, in time."
He looked over piles of furniture, galleons, and various magical objects. There was significantly less here than in the Potter Vault, though the room had to be at least three times as large. He saw a few books, a trunk, and a long row of medieval weapons carefully latched into a cabinet. He walked about it all for a moment, getting an idea of what was there, but seeing nothing truly amazing. The Blacks must have sold a significant amount of their things over the years.
When he reached another cabinet in the back, he pulled open its drawers one by one until he saw something that made him smile grimly.
Inside were three wands, each inside a clear glass box. He pulled them out, lining them up on the armoire and looking them over in turn. Black had wanted a wand, and mentioned Harry's fathers as an option. He doubted Black had even considered getting Harry to go into his own vault, if Sirius had even been here himself. Harry looked at the wands, and with the magic still surrounding him reached out to get a sense of them.
Two were long and seemed swishy, while the other was short and stiff as a board. He immediately put that one back. Black did not strike him as an unbending person. He looked the other two over with concentration. One of the wands was a dark resinous wood, a hint of red down its length, and gave off the feel of fire. Probably dragon heartstring, he mused, then picked up the second wand. It was pale white, with grey runes delicately carved into its handle and around the tip. When he held it, he thought of the moon and her loving light, contrasted with a dark raging anger. With sudden surprise he dropped the wand back into its case. Werewolf essence, maybe a hair or powdered fang, it had to be. He looked between the two with a grumble. He could bring both, but he still wanted to get his Fathers wand in case the one here did not respond correctly.
Harry thought of Black, and his strong friendship he once had with a werewolf, and picked up the second wand in its glass case, slipping it inside his robe. Black was full of enough anger to match a werewolf, perhaps, or at least a wand containing its essence.
Before he left the vault he paused and began to once more pull in the magic romping about him in freedom. It was now sewn through with the cold magic, and resisted his pull for a moment before beginning to once more sink inside himself and settle down. When he was done he felt heavier, as if he wore a weighted pack, his shoulders drooping in sudden exhaustion. He had already forgotten how much energy his magic gave him when allowed its freedom, the feeling of power and strength. He looked forward to being able to show his true abilities, but now was not the time, and he needed to gather himself back into the persona he had to present to Hogwarts. An above-average, capable teenager. Straightening his shoulders he stepped out of the vault, avoiding Griphooks eyes before turning, looking at the open doorway. For lack of a better idea, he stepped away and spoke.
He was rewarded when it began to fill in once more with smooth obsidian, its dark surface soaking in the light given off by the bright crystal. Harry looked a last time at the bright shining star, before turning his back to it. He finally met Griphook's gaze, the goblin still standing stiffly where he had left him.
"I'd like to keep what you saw here secret. If you could tell others you were simply left at the platform, that would be best."
For a moment Griphook simply looked at him, before he nodded.
"And what do I get in return, wizard? For this, and the object you have taken from your vault?"
Harry paused, but did not look away. "I am no longer a child, and we both have no love for the Ministry. For ignoring what I take, you get the satisfaction of rebelling against the government you hate. For keeping my secrets, you get my loyalty and status. You are the Manager of my Estate, which now includes the Black assets. Are you unhappy with this scenario?"
Griphook suddenly smiled wide, unapologetic, his pointed teeth creating a macabre picture in his wrinkled face.
"I am most satisfied, Mr. Potter."
Harry nodded briskly, his shoulders relaxing, before looking down the stairs.
"Good. Now lets go get back into that bloody contraption you call a Spear."
By the time they had visited the Potter Vault and Harry had found his fathers wand, placed in a wooden cherry box with James Potter inscribed upon it, he was exhausted. When they reached the office, Harry stopped dead in his tracks, looking at the new name inscribed beside the office.
Potter ~ Black
Beside the golden lion crest of the Potter family was a new one, a silver star on a field of black. He glanced over at Griphook, who showed his sharp teeth in a quick smile. Harry shook his head, entering the office and sinking into the leather chair inside, looking dully at a large metal clock, its gears exposed, that graced the space directly across from the desk.
He only had another hour before dawn, at this rate. He put his head in his hands, rubbing absently at the headache coiling inside, before looking up as the goblin took his own seat.
"Is there anything else, Mr. Potter?"
Harry shook his head, straightening and looking again at the two large books on the desk.
"How long will it take you to get the Black estate straightened out?"
The goblin fiddled with papers on his desk for a moment, making the occasional note on a piece of parchment, before looking up.
"It will take an investment from your personal trust fund to begin. The Black fortune is severely depleted, but can be salvaged with a loan and some risk. You cannot give official loans from the Potter Vault until you are of age, only investments, so that is your only course. A loan from the bank would take significantly more interest."
Harry nodded. "Do whatever you must."
Griphook flipped a few pages in the Black Ledger, scowling, before looking up again.
"I would advise selling some of the properties, but you cannot at this time. There will be a list of things to do when you reach your majority."
He sounded like he was trying to warn him. Harry grinned.
"So I should avoid coming to the bank for a few days when that happens?"
Griphook scowled. Harry laughed, then stood with a weary gesture.
"You mind if I just leave from this office?"
Confusion shone from his face, and Harry sighed.
"Goodbye, Griphook. Until we meet again."
And with another grin, he called up flame and saw the startled look on the goblin's face before he leapt through the fire.
Wasn't the Ministry doing enough?
He had thought the dementors had been a stroke of pure genius. Taking guards from Azkaban itself to guard the school and its precious occupants, the bright future of the wizarding world. It had been spun so carefully, statements prepared and hand fed to reporters.
But polls were still showing him down in public opinion. The longer Black remained on the loose, the more incompetent he seemed to his constituents.
Minister Cornelius Fudge thumped a plump wrist onto the table, scowling down at the newspaper in front of him emblazoned with a bold headline. It was to hit the shelves the next morning, and had been tagged specifically for his viewing.
Convicted Criminal Sirius Black Sighted in London!
This was just what he needed. The despicable papers just had to keep the hype up, peddling their tripe to bored wizards and frightened witches. London? Preposterous! He had just read a report from the head of the investigation himself, placing Black near Hogsmeade due to the aggravation reported from the Dementors.
Cornelius scanned the article, his frown growing.
Some reporter had been monitoring the Black estate, and been notified of a change in goblin managers. Despicable creatures, Cornelius thought, before licking his thumb and turning the thin page, eyes narrowed. The previous manager was demoted, and that was all that was known. The reporter summed up his theory by stating his thoughts on Black returning to Diagon Alley and Gringotts to withdraw money or magical objects to further his Lord's cause. As proof, he stated several 'eyewitnesses' who observed a cloaked figure entering the bank at a late hour the day of the change.
Well, I'll check that out. If it was true, heads would roll! Cornelius sniffed and thrust the paper away from him, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms petulantly.
Besides the obvious illegality of obtaining information meant to be private, the "anonymous" sources had also disclosed just who the goblin manager was that had taken over the Black Estate, and what other estates he handled. The paper had stricken that information from the newspaper article to prevent liability action on behalf of Mr. Potter, but they weren't the only ones with inside sources.
Curse not the king, no not in your thought; and curse not the rich in your bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which has wings shall tell the matter.
Wasn't that how the saying went? Cornelius's own little birds told him all that might concern him, and now it was not only the Black matter that had him worried.
Mr. Potter could present a very real problem in a few years. Cornelius doubted the boy would ever conceive a plan on his own, but with that blasted Dumbledore at his side? The old coot had been after the Minister's seat for over a decade, he was certain of it, no matter the fool's posturing to the contrary.
A Lord of two pureblooded family lines could present a challenge in the Wizengamot, and with the circle of friends Potter was reputed to have, the backing was also present from other families. He had to do something. Bring the boy over to his own way of thinking perhaps, if he wasn't already poisoned by Dumbledore.
Cornelius began to smile, leaning forward to dig out more files from his large mahogany desk. It was said the two were at odds, and the Potter Heir had no desire to return to the school for tutelage. He could take advantage of this.
Maybe it was time for the Ministry to extend a hand of friendship to The-Boy-Who-Lived. A new tutor, or tutors, appointed by the Minister himself? Who could refuse?
With a new gleam in his eyes, he dipped his large eagle-feather quill in a oblong bottle of ink, then began to write in his elegant penmanship. He knew just the wizard to help him with this, one who had already expressed interest in their child Savior.
When he entered the Great Hall for breakfast the next morning, he headed left instead of right. The Slytherin table was on the far left of the hall against the wall, next to the Hufflepuff table. He figured the teachers had decided that Slytherin and Hufflepuff were the least likely to get into disagreements. He saw the surprise on the faces that always seemed to be watching him, and hid a smile. When he slid into the empty space between Draco and Blaise, his housemates grinned.
Across from them, two girls watched him with different degrees of annoyance. One had short brown hair and an arrogant look, while the other had long blonde waves of hair and elegant features. He had seen both in his first two years at Hogwarts, but had never really interacted with them. He nodded towards them with a small smile.
Parkinson huffed, and turned to talk to another girl beside her, Bulstrode, but Greengrass met his gaze without flinching.
Beside him Draco leaned forward, casually beginning to spear meat onto his plate.
"It was a late night." Harry shrugged, and copied his motions.
Draco looked up, his grey eyes narrowed. "You went to bed early."
Harry smiled, and began to eat. Blaise spoke up. "Draco, he went to his room early. Doesn't mean he actually went to bed."
Across from them, Greengrass rolled her eyes. "Honestly, who cares about Potter's sleeping habits?"
Draco huffed, but Harry grinned, pointing his fork in her direction. "I'm with her. Who cares?"
Greengrass did not smile, but sat coolly as she spoke. "I think the better topic is why, after two weeks, you decide to sit with your housemates. Has Ravenclaw gotten dull?"
He didn't hesitate to reply "No, but Slytherin just got more interesting." He was shocked when a slight tinge of pink touched the girls cheeks. Her eyes cut away from him and she was suddenly busy with her food. Harry glanced at Blaise, who smirked, before shrugging.
"It's nice to have you back here. Some were beginning to think you were ashamed of Slytherin. You never wear your house robes anymore."
Harry glanced down at his plain black robe, then back up. "I never got larger robes fitted when I outgrew the old. Didn't see the point, with me no longer enrolled."
At that, Greengrass seemed to have overcome her sudden shyness and spoke boldly once more.
"Are you planning to come back next year, Potter?"
Harry looked over at her, his expression neutral. "No." He said with finality. Her own eyes narrowed back at him, her lips pursed together.
Harry casually took a bite, waiting until he was finished to reply to the question. He knew she was fishing for answers, just like half the school and too many of the wizarding world. But he had to give them something if he ever wanted some peace.
"I prefer the relaxed environment of private tutors. And the freedom."
Parkinson leaned across Greengrass, joining the conversation with a twist of her lips.
"Some say you think you are too good for Hogwarts."
Harry considered the best way to answer, then went for simplicity.
"I am here to use the library. Would I be, if I was too good for Hogwarts?"
On the other side of Greengrass, Nott looked over with dark eyes.
"I heard you were forced to come here because of Sirius Black. That once that alchemist finally died you needed protection."
Harry's fingers tightened around his fork, his green eyes darkening as he stared into Notts face. The boy was purposefully baiting him, and he couldn't allow him to succeed.
But he couldn't appear weak either.
Casually, Harry relaxed and smiled, keeping his tone light.
"I came here of my own free will. I was never under Nicholas Flamel's protection, only his mentorship. We lived separately while I was learning from him."
He then purposefully looked away, dismissing the boy with a flick of his hand. He felt Draco shift next to him, saw the blonde's hand go to his wand, and waited.
Nott spoke again, his voice low.
"Are the rumors true? Did the alchemist kill his wife and she place a blood curse on him in revenge as she lay dying? I heard all sorts of stories from my father. We figured something must of been wrong with him, to take on a half-blood as a student."
When Draco began to raise his wand, Harry casually leaned over and placed his own hand over Draco's wrist, meeting his grey gaze with shuttered eyes. When he looked at Nott he let a fission of his power lose, a single coil about his shoulders that stirred the air like a bird perched on his shoulder. He knew that it would cause his voice to deepen slightly, his gaze to sharpen and his bearing to shift just slightly towards dangerous. Other wizards could feel it when such a thing was done, even if they did not know what it was, much like one would shiver when the temperature drops suddenly.
Nott knew, and his face tightened as Harry spoke.
"Blood does tell, I know. Would you care to pit yours against mine?"
Nott's teeth ground together with obvious noise, but he looked away with a snort. "Back off, Potter." He grumbled.
Harry, satisfied, removed his hand from Draco's and began to eat again, Dread hissing inside his mind like a angry cat.
"You should do more to these rivals. An enemy in your nest is a dangerous thing."
Harry responded internally, though the idea of using Parseltongue at the table appealed to his sense of revenge.
"They have no fangs, yet, with which to hurt me. Their guardians, however, do. Hurting the spawn will only signal them to act."
Dread grumbled, but subsided.
The rest of the meal was spent in stony silence, with occasional glances being tossed his direction. Harry did not allow it to affect him, and refused to pull the magic back inside even though he knew it had to be bother both Draco and Blaise by the way they had both scooted slightly away from him. When they all finally began to leave, Nott roughly pushed passed him, spitting out angry whispered words.
"I am not afraid of you, Potter."
Nott kept walking past him, and beside Harry both Blaise and Draco stopped, looking after him. Draco shook his head.
"You would think he would have learned, after the incident with the blood ward. Why would he even try to get to you? He doesn't stand to gain anything but grief."
Blaise shook his head.
"He gains respect from those who do not appreciate Harry being so powerful. They already think he gets special privileges, staying in his own rooms and not taking classes. They resent him, and it's only worse because he is a half-blood."
Draco leaned in to speak back as students passed them on their way out of the Hall.
"Most of Slytherin respect his strength, if not his blood. It's still foolish."
Blaise shrugged, and Harry sighed. He waved the two off to their classes and split ways, heading up and towards his room. He would deal with Nott, if he had to. But the Slytherin would have to make the first move. Harry wouldn't pick a fight with him, and had no desire to deal with the power struggles within his house.
It was the middle of the morning before he finally gave in and decided to take Black the wands. When the fire faded from his eyes he stared in amazement.
A shelf and wardrobe now stood against the corner alongside a table with two chairs. A curtain had been hung haphazardly across the narrow entrance, and on the floor were scattered several rugs. But what caught his gaze was the large black dog curled up in what had to be a extra fluffy dog bed, decorated with animated golden snitches and broomsticks. Harry began to laugh, bending over with mirth, and the dog jumped up, shaking its fur as it fixed him with a baleful glare. It shook itself vigorously, stepped out of its bed with ginger steps, and then quickly morphed into a scowling Sirius Black. Harry wiped his eyes, still chuckling as he spoke.
"Dobby brought you a dog bed?"
Black folded his arms, frowning. "I asked him actually. Much simpler than a large bed, and it makes sense to stay in my animagus form when its not necessary to use hands. Just in case."
Harry sobered, and nodded.
"Did he get everything you needed, then?"
Black grinned, and stepping over to the table took a seat. When he gestured for Harry to join him, Harry sat as well.
"More than I needed, I would say. A bit off on the clothes, however, and I've lost quite a bit of weight since Ivy last got me clothes."
Harry looked at the clothes hanging limply off his frame, and agreed. Black shrugged.
"They are clean and whole. It's more than I thought I'd get a few days ago."
They were both silent a moment, and Harry shifted in his seat, before sighing and deciding to get straight to the point.
"I've got a wand. Well, two, actually."
Black straightened, his eyes alight with eagerness.
"You do? You do!"
He exclaimed, as Harry pulled the two boxes from his robe. Harry handed him the one with his fathers wand first, watching as Black grasped the long mahogany wood and swished it across the air beside them, a shower of sparks bursting forth in gold and red. Black laughed, a loud joyous sound Harry hadn't heard yet from the man.
"Its James's, alright! Great for transfiguration, Ollivander told him, and he was right! James was the first of us to find his form, and the first to transform as well. He kept top marks in that class, and we always told him he was McGonagall's pet."
Black's joy slowly began to fade, his eyes darkening as he caressed the wood slowly, before turning haunted eyes to Harry.
"He didn't have his wand on him, that night. It was found in your room. The Aurors think he was playing with you, and left it behind to go downstairs for something. When the Dark Lord entered, his first spell… there wasn't much left. He probably didn't feel a thing. The detail was included in the original copy written for the newspaper, but it was removed from the article out of respect for the family… for you. The aurors, though, they brought me a special printing in Azkaban, to rub in the defeat of my 'master.'"
Harry flinched, a mix of anger and guilt flooding him. Black shook his head, reaching out to lay a hand on Harry's shoulder.
"I'm sorry. I just… it brought it back, seeing the wand. I'm glad it was returned to your vault. I suppose it wasn't too difficult to get past the goblins?"
Harry silently shook his head, still shaken by the matter-of-fact description of his father's death. Black suddenly frowned, looking down at the second box.
"There was another in the vault? Is that your mum's? I'm afraid I was shoddy with her wand, too swishy for my taste."
Harry shook his head, then licked his lips, clearing his throat before pushing the glass box across the table. Black reluctantly placed the mahogany wand down, reaching out to lift up the fragile box. When he saw what was inside, his face paled, grey eyes widening in shock.
"Caedus? Is this… but it can't be!" He looked up at Harry, shaking his head in denial. "Where did you get this wand?"
Harry watched him, and replied in a blank voice.
"The Black Vault."
Black continued to shake his head, his eyes dark.
"But… I don't understand."
Harry only waited for the wizards eyes to clear, for the disbelief to turn to anger.
"What did you do, Harry?"
Harry watched him a moment longer, before responding.
"What did I do? Perhaps you would like to tell me why you performed a blood ritual to make me the Black Heir?"
Black's face tightened, his brows furrowing.
"I… I was your Godfather. It was the middle of the war, things were looking bad, for all of us. Friends were dying, the Bones family, thePrewitt twins... so very many. A man feels his mortality, in times like those. I didn't want my money going to the other side, if things went south. It was the only way to keep it out of my cousin's hands. My mother had died, and couldn't contest it anyway. I thought it was the right thing to do. I laughed at the irony, actually, of a half-blood continuing the family name. Toujours Pur, that's the Black motto. Always Pure. I had it rubbed in my nose growing up, but no longer. Future Blacks will have to find their purity from something other than their blood from now on."
Harry shook his head, leaning forward.
"Why are you surprised I had access, then? You made me your Heir."
Black spread his arms in a helpless gesture, his eyes pleading.
"Because I never had success entering the vault, Harry, or I would of suggested it before. My mother never told me the secret to gaining entry. I went there, sure, but it needed some sort of ritual to get inside. My mother baited me with it, told me that I would never get the family treasures in truth, though the law gave me it legally. She died with the secret and a laugh on her face. I had enough money stashed in my own personal vault to live wealthy, but still… I don't understand. How did you get inside? What did you do?"
His eyes looked anguished, and Harry suddenly realized what Black must be thinking. He knew his family to be Dark, and probably was expecting some sort of barbaric ritual. Killing a creature, or something horrible of that nature. Harry laughed a little, leaning back with a sigh.
"It wasn't that difficult, Black. It's that crystal, the glowing one shaped like a star. It's a Vessel, an extremely powerful one. You have to let it take a sample of your magic, and it grants you access."
Harry had debated telling his godfather everything about the star and its potential, and finally decided against it. If it came up in the future, he would inform him. At this point, he was even more sure that it needed to be kept secret, and in secrecy, safe. Black sighed, running a hand over his face.
"Call me Sirius, please, Harry. I… that simple, you say? I tried everything. Declaring myself, even cutting my arm merlin knows how many times on the blasted sharp thing. At one point, I tried to break it from pure frustration…." Harrys heart stuttered, his eyes widening, as his godfather continued. "...but couldn't put a dint in the thing. It has some sort of powerful unbreakable rune algorithm around it, is all I could figure. A Vessel? How did you learn of those? I only encountered one as an Auror. Confiscated it from a Death Eater's house."
Harry waved his hand, looking away. "Flamel taught me how to make them, one afternoon not long before he died."
Black's… Sirius's eyes narrowed.
Harry looked at him, his eyebrows raising as he realized he had left out a key bit of information. He had just assumed his godfather had read about it in some newspaper and never thought to mention it.
"I was tutored, this last year, by Nicholas Flamel. Right before he died."
Harry told him the basics, skimming over any information about the Philosopher's Stone and implying the relationship was brought about more as a favor to Dumbledore than anything Harry himself had done. Sirius sighed, nodding.
"Dumbledore is a good man, despite his faults. He always looked out for us, when we were in school."
Black looked lost in the past a moment, before looking down at the wand still sitting on the table. His expression darkened.
"I would be interested to know what else was in that Vault."
Harry shrugged casually. "Not much, honestly. Your family was going slowly bankrupt, and seemed to have sold off most of the valuable things. There were a few enchanted weapons, furniture, books. And this wand and two others, which did not look as… promising."
Sirius looked up from the wand.
Harry gestured towards it with a finger.
"I figured, with your relationship with Remus Lupin, having a wand with a werewolf affiliated core would make sense. You wouldn't be prejudiced."
"Prejudiced?" Sirius barked out a laugh, his face suddenly dog-like, before he bared his teeth in a vicious smile.
"This… wand… is what is prejudiced. It's history is infamous in our family. My great-uncle liked to bring it out occasionally, tell the story on all Hallows Eve to scare the children."
He looked over at Harry. "I thought it was just a myth, embellished over time. How do you know it has anything to do with werewolves?"
Harry looked down at the grey wood, and frowned.
"I could sense its magic. The other wand seemed to smell slightly of smoke, and gave off an impression of fire. Dragon. This one, it has caged within it the angry teeth of a dark creature, contrasted with the peaceful tranquility of the moon. Her magic is the most distinctive, pacifying the beast and creating equality. If that wasn't present, I figure the wand would misfire and explode. Whomever made it must have been skilled."
Sirius stared at him, his eyes dark, before looking at the wand again.
"I suppose its true then, or at least fragments of the legend."
Harry waited, but when the wizard did not continue, shifted in his seat.
Sirius glanced up, then down again.
"My uncle told the story of three unnamed sons centuries ago in the Black family. They were all three bitter rivals, and their parents only fostered the resentment by favoring the eldest son and Heir. One day, the Heir went out to battle for the King, working as a warlock spy behind the enemy lines. The battle went long, and in the night sky a full moon rose." His gaze went unfocused, his voice taking on a cadence that must of been an unconscious mimic of the original teller. "He was bitten, and returned home in shame. 'Better to have died', his parents told him in disgust, 'than to return a beast.' But the Heir loved his life, and refused to give up his inheritance. The next full moon, during his first transformation locked in a iron cage below the Family Manor, the second son snuck down into the cellar and plunged a silver dagger into his heart."
Sirius paused again, then abruptly stood and strode over to the large armoire, pulling out a flask and two glasses, before returning. He carefully poured into his glass, and took a sip, smiling ruefully.
"Your Dobby is a most disapproving elf. But loyal."
Harry returned the smile but did not touch his own glass. "Yes, he is."
Sirius looked down again, his voice continuing the story in a dark voice. "The second son was now the Heir, and wanted to rub the information into his parents face. He wanted to memorialize his victory, and so had the teeth, hair, and blood of his werewolf brother taken in a lead box to the most renowned wand maker of that time, Geraint Ollivander. He paid an exorbitant sum to have the first wand made of werewolf essence, and Ollivander spent most of a year crafting the delicate wand as the Blacks suffered the cruel arrogance of their new Heir. He made it of white willow wood cut during the first full moon of spring, soaked it in water from a wellspring that only flows as the snow melts from the mountains. He mixed the powdered fang, the hair, and the blood with the water and infused the wood, cut to an even fourteen inches, outdoors under the moonlight, and called it a masterpiece."
Sirius took another drink, then looked up at Harry with a cynical smile.
"When the second son came for the wand, he loved its beautiful appearance and aura of power, and so was eager to try a spell. With his parents and brother looking on, he grasped the wand and proceeded to attempt to cast. Instead, the wand flashed, and there was the sound of an angry lupine howl. When the light faded, the second son was dead on the ground, his heart stopped and magic spent. My uncle said it was fear that killed him, the fear that the Heir had returned to take his revenge. The third son, seeing what had happened, declared his older brother had violated the sacred tenets of the Black family and attempted to use an impure wand. He agreeably took over as Heir, and once a year took out the wand to tell the story, and warn future Heirs of their folly. He named the wand Caedus, meaning slain, or bloodshed."
Sirius laughed, shaking his head and raising his glass in a silent toast, before continuing.
"Once my Uncle Cygnus died, I never saw the wand again. My mother thought it was a morbid story, and abhorred anything to do with what she considered beasts. Just touching the wand would have made her feel dirty, I suppose. I always wanted to rub it in that I was friends with a werewolf, but wouldn't do that to Moony. He didn't deserve the world to know his secret so I could get another shot in at my family."
Harry considered, looking down at the wand.
"Has anyone that you know of tried to use it?"
Sirius looked surprised, tilting his head and considering it.
"No one ever said. I think they were afraid of the hype? I always thought the story was made up, but… perhaps not. Still. Is it worth the risk of being killed?"
He pushed the wand back towards Harry with a grimace.
"Return it to the Vault, or destroy it. Perhaps Ollivander would like it. I don't want to carry around a dead werewolf in any case. What would Remus say?"
Harry didn't take it back, but stared at his Godfather.
"Wouldn't it be a tribute to use it? You ran with Remus when he was a wolf. You were friends. Using the wand would be like... acceptance. As for risk… this is a powerful wand, no mistaking it. It wants to be used. I don't think its had a Master in a long time, if ever. As much of the wolf as is in it there is also the Moon, a purity and strength to match its darker properties. If it ever killed anyone, it was because the balance was tipped too far in one direction. It needs someone who walks a greyer path, not bound by one side too deeply."
Sirius leaned back, placing his glass on the table with a hard motion.
"You sound like a bloody muggle psy..psy-christ. Whatever those people are called."
Harry laughed, then nudged the box in his godfathers direction. For a moment they sat at an impasse, and then Black leapt to his feet with a growl.
"Bloody hell, why not?"
He reached into the box and grasped the pale wood by its narrow round handle, whipping it up and out in a sharp gesture.
Harry felt the air snap, his ears popping as the pressure in the cave abruptly changed. The glasses on the table shattered, sending shards and liquid flying in every direction. Harry ducked, instinct causing him to bring up his left palm in silent command as Heth activated, covering him in a clear impenetrable shield. The sound of barking laughter brought his eyes up to see Sirius, holding the wand aloft with a wide grin.
"Amazing!" Beyond the wand a pale round orb of light shone brightly, lighting up the cave with stark clarity. "Bloody amazing! Did you feel that, Harry? It packs a whopping punch!"
Harry shook his head, climbing unsteadily to his feet and dropping the shield with a flick of his wrist. He looked down at his clothes and grimaced. The glass had flown before he could react, and he had several cuts to deal with now. His godfather on the other hand was unharmed, grinning like a loon. Once more Harry found himself doubting his godfathers sanity. Then again, Harry had been the one to push him to try the wand in the first place. His godfather admired the wand in his hand, bringing it closer to his face to observe the runes along its side.
"Caedus, my friend, we will be going a long ways together."
He quietly murmured to it, before he turned to Harry, looked him over, then flicked the wand in his direction. Harry flinched despite himself, causing his godfather to laugh as the cuts healed and his clothes mended themselves back together again. His godfather again looked down at the wand in his hand, running a finger over the wood.
"This is some wand, Harry. Thank you for bringing it. I'm sorry… for making a fuss. You did not deserve it."
Harry nodded, folding his arms as he stood up. He had been here a good hour already, and knew it would soon be time for lunch in the Great Hall. He walked over to Sirius, smiling.
"I've got to go. Ask Dobby to get you two holsters. You might as well keep the other wand as well."
Sirius tilted his head, eyebrows drawing together.
"Are you sure, Harry?"
He nodded, then turned to leave, but Black reached out a hand to stop him.
"Wait. Harry… about the Black Vault. And… everything else. I made you my Heir because I wanted to and... I loved you. You were so little, such a tiny thing, and in so much danger. We all were, but you... you were innocent. I wanted to leave you something of my own, in case… in case I didn't make it. You're the Black Heir now, and I don't regret it. I'm not proud of my family, Harry, but... maybe you can change that. Make it new, make it… pure."
Harry nodded, and feeling emotion rising in gut, gently shook himself free.
"Thanks." Harry whispered, and Sirius smiled sadly.
"I'll see you later, Harry."
Harry nodded, and turned on his heel, calling up his fire even as he walked away, disappearing before he reached the curtain hung over the entrance.
Harry spent the next few nights placing new traps around the school. Draco and Blaise had followed through with their own designs, and Harry had admitted that they were good. He had suggested they place theirs around the dungeon, though he did not think it likely that Pettigrew would hide there. But he covered every option he could think of, even up to the Astronomy tower. Every trap was small, and to his eyes gleamed dully liked a spiderweb along the corner of the hallways they were placed in, or along the wall of a long corridor.
He tried to think like a rat, and put the wards where he thought a rodent might hide or travel. He concentrated the most around the kitchens and Great Hall, knowing the animagus had to be eating somehow. He thought the rat was probably hiding out near Weasley if not in his presence, hoping to catch a ride away on the train when the year was over. He wouldn't put it past Pettigrew to steal a wand, if it came down to it, and apparate, but that would only bring about more suspicion. Pettigrew didn't want to draw attention to himself, he wanted to hide, be invisible.
Harry would bring him into the light.
When he was done placing his last warded trap, he leaned back on his ankles from where he was crouched, observing it. The runes were placed along thin banded wire he had bought from Diagon Alley, and spelled invisible. To his magical sight they glowed softly, a vague braided pattern lit brightly where each rune met another. It contained runes for being unnoticeable, magically suppressant, and unbreakable. The goal was to have the rat walk into the trap, then be unable to escape or transform. Pettigrew would be transported much easier in rat form. Once caught, the web-like structure would collapse, wrapping about the vermin with tight bonds and holding it anchored in place until Harry came along to collect it.
Much like he had done with Black, he had tied each ward to a wardstone, spelling it to warm when a ward was triggered. He had tied the stone on another leather rope and slipped it around his neck.
A sound brought his attention up, and he quickly stood, taking two steps away from where he had been. He cursed, realizing abruptly that he had not bothered with his invisibility cloak. He had gotten careless. He brought up an invisibility charm, covering his entire body with one gesture, and stepped close to the opposite wall to wait for whomever was coming to pass.
A moment later, two boys in Gryffindor colors rounded the corner, their bright red-haired heads together as they looked over a large piece of parchment in their hands. As one, they stopped, both of them looking about the empty hallway, before looking down and then at each other. It was like watching a pantomime act, Harry thought, they moved in such sync together. As if they could hear his thoughts, the two Weasley twins looked up again, and straight over to where he stood still and invisible beside the wall.
"Alright, Potter.." The one on the left began. "We know you're there!" The other finished, folding up the parchment in his hand before leaning forward to whisper to it and place it inside his robe.
Harry froze, eyes widening, and double checking that the invisibility spell was still in place. He remained silent, and the twins both frowned as one before speaking.
"Stop hiding…" "...or are you guilty of something?"
At that, Harry grit his teeth and stepped forward reluctantly, letting his spell ripple and fall. The twins smiled, the right one gesturing towards his brother.
"I'm Fred Weasley, and this…" the other twin bowed with a flourish. "..is my brother, George."
Harry, at a loss, simply nodded. The twins glanced at each other, before stepping closer as one. Harry tensed, and they stopped their movement, looking him over with identical blank expressions.
"We wanted to speak to you."
Harry noded again, and Fred and George both looked at each other as if they were having a mental conversation. He shifted awkwardly, and thought briefly about simply walking away. He had never spoken directly to the Weasley twins before, but they had a reputation for pranks and mischief, and for being easy-going. He doubted they would be as nice to the boy who did not save their sister.
Suddenly both boys turned to him again, the low light from the corridor torches barely bright enough to put a gleam in their eyes.
"Our nosy little brother…." Fred began. "has been following you."
Harry shifted, shrugged. "Yes." He said, and the twins glanced at each other before back to him again.
This time George spoke. "You've been up to something odd." his brother took up the sentence without a pause. "Jumping around the school at all hours at a speed reminiscent of house elves." Again they switched, and Harry felt a headache begin to throb behind his eyes. "Which means you are either planning a great prank…" "...or are up to no good. Which…" "...we are totally okay with. But our brother…" "...is of the idea that you, being a dark and slimy Slytherin murderer…" "are out to kill us in our beds." Fred tilted his head, smiling. "Are you out to kill us in our beds?"
Harry stared, nonplussed. Where they even being serious? How were these two even related to the angry hotheaded Ron Weasley? He shifted his weight from foot to foot, then cleared his throat and answered with a simple denial.
The twins looked at each other, shrugged, and began to speak to each other as if he wasn't even there, in a fast spate of words that Harry could barely follow.
"Not very… verbose… yes, good word, that, likes his monosyllables...not going well, I suppose.. we need to...right you are, Fred."
They turned back to him, and Harry fought the desire to fidget. Fred began to speak, George picking up after every breath as they tossed the sentence back and forth.
"We humbly ask, that you..."
"the Great Harry Potter..."
"do not do more permanent bodily harm..."
"to our brother. We spoke with him..."
"about his new stalking hobby..."
"and he is being most uncooperative."
Harry, feeling as if he was watching a ping pong match, shook his head.
"Look, I don't want anything to do with your brother. I just want him to leave me alone."
"Ha!" George pointed his finger aggressively in his direction. "There is the problem, O Savior. He will not leave you be." He declared the last triumphantly, looking towards his brother.
"Right you are, George. That is indeed the entire problem."
Harry ran a hand through his hair, sighing.
"Then what do you two suggest? I've tried apologizing, but…"
The twins sobered, and Fred began to quietly speak.
"You found her, Potter. Maybe you could not save her, but you brought her back to us, back into the light. Would the Aurors have ever found her? Would that... thing, that had her, have lived and gone on to terrify the world?"
George continued the thought, his soft brown eyes locked on Harry.
"You gave us revenge for her. Dumbledore did not have to say it, but we saw it in his eyes. You destroyed the thing that had her."
Harry looked between the two brother, seeing how they stood, their regal bearing and solid camaraderie, and spoke quietly.
"Yes. Tom Riddle. I killed him."
The twins stepped forward again suddenly, coming to stand close to him now.
"It is enough, for us, to know that. For Ron…"
"He can not see past his own fear and sorrow. Maybe he will, one day, but you…"
"Are too easy of a target. A symbol."
Harry stayed silent, unsure what to say. George shrugged, and the twins again spoke in turns.
"He will not stop, and if you leave he will remain fixated on your friends."
"We only ask your patience, and to not hurt him too badly." The twins met each others eyes, before looking over at him again and speaking as one.
"He is our brother."
Harry nodded, and then folded his arms across his chest.
"I never wanted to start a fight, but I won't let him hurt my friends either."
George shrugged. "Agreed."
After a moment of silence, Harry shifted.
"Was there…. anything else?" He asked tentatively. The twins smiled.
"No. Was there?"
Harry began to shake his head, then paused suddenly as a thought occurred to him.
"Have you two, perhaps, seen your brother's rat?"
It was a long shot, but still...it might help. Across from him, the twins looked surprised, their eyebrows raising up into their red hair. They glanced at one another, then shook their heads. Harry sighed.
"Alright, then. Thanks. I guess."
They shrugged, and Harry after a brief pause began to walk away with swift steps. He glanced back when he reached the end of the corridor, and saw them watching him with identical expression of curiosity. He gave an awkward wave, then turned the corner and immediately relaxed.
Something about the two of them had made him feel uneasy, a feeling he did not enjoy. He shook his head and hurried in the other direction towards his room, putting up an invisibility charm in case he encountered any other nighttime wanderers. Which made him wonder was how the twins had known where he was.
They had been tracking him, somehow, as well as their brother. They had known he was going around the entire castle, though not why, which made him think they had not somehow personally observed him placing his traps. But they had known where he was.
Harry groaned, then paused, looking out a window into the night.
They didn't blame him for their sisters death.
A burden he hadn't known he was carrying had lifted, a little, when they told him that. They thought he had gotten revenge, actually, and were glad. How odd, for them to take that attitude when their brother was the exact opposite. Perhaps the entire family did not hate him after all.
He continued walking at a slower pace, his mind in turmoil, and once he reached his room collapsed gratefully on the bed.
George looked up from where Harry's dot had settled in his room. They knelt in a side classroom, the map spread out between them in all its glory.
George shrugged. "He went straight back to his room. Odd business, that. He had nothing in his arms."
Fred nodded, but frowned.
"He could have hidden it. Spelled it invisible. We were not exactly quiet."
"We didn't want to sneak up on him. We like our skin." George pointed out. Fred sighed, leaning back against the wall behind him.
"So, we have no idea what he is really up to."
"Does it matter?" George replied. "We talked to him about Ron. He agreed."
Fred narrowed his eyes. "We never doubted that he would. He's not the type. His Slytherin classmates, however… those snakes would. You heard about Colin."
George stretched and yawned. "Colin's camera was repaired, and the boy is taking pictures again. He practically worships Potter, now."
His brother didn't comment, only continued to frown down at the map sprawled in front of him.
"I don't like it, George. I feel like we're missing something. You've seen his dot. He's moving about the castle somehow, and the house elves aren't helping him. We would see them. And sometimes he disappears completely. Off the map. Remember three days ago? It was the middle of the day. It's weird."
George yawned again, wider, and looked sleepily over. "Maybe this weird isn't bad. It's none of our business. So he has some sort of teleportation ability that gets around the wards. Maybe he is experimenting making portkeys around the castle, or something."
"That's advanced." Fred replied, and George rolled his eyes.
"More advanced than learning to apparate through wards? Come on, let's get off to bed. We've got a test in Potions tomorrow."
He stood, brushing off his trousers, before holding out a hand to his twin. Fred grasped it, allowing himself to be pulled to his feet. They gathered the map and deactivated it after checking for teachers along their route back, folding it carefully and returning it to George's pocket. As they headed out, George linked his arm through Fred's and smiled.
"Just think, brother mine: Potter might give us a run for our money if he starts to pull pranks. He could pop in someplace and out again before the victim knew what was up!"
Fred scoffed. "Never, brother! No pranksters could ever compete with us, except the Marauders themselves!"
Together, laughing, they returned to the Gryffindor common room.
Terry groaned, dropping his head onto his wooden desk with an audible thud. Next to him, Anthony Goldstein patted his back in sympathy.
"Don't take it so bad, Terry. He's like that to everyone."
Terry rolled his neck, looking up at his blonde housemate with one baleful eye.
"He called me a, and I quote, 'ignorant and foolish twit', who 'couldn't tell Acromantula Venom from Syrup of Hellebore."
Anthony made a humming noise of acknowledgement. "Well, they can be similar. Shouldn't feel so bad."
Terry sat up at that, glaring.
"I am not an idiot! Acromantula Venom is silver, obviously, and poisonous! The Syrup from the Hellebore is blue, and used in the Draught of Peace!"
Anthony held up his hands, eyes wide.
"Relax, relax! I think it was, kind of, a figure of speech or something. For him."
Terry growled his response, banging a fist on the table hard enough to make him wince.
"I don't care what figure of speech he uses, he's trying to imply I'm an idiot! And Sue and Padma just sat there, and, and giggled!"
Anthony looked like he wanted to laugh as well, and Terry began to feel a flush creep up his neck. In a practical way, the blonde ravenclaw again held up his hands in a defensive gesture, scooting back an inch for self-preservation.
"Well, you did have the answer wrong. I admit, Zacharias is a rude sort, but he is generally correct."
Terry huffed, but wilted. Sensing victory, Anthony leaned forward.
"Just let it go, Terry. It dosen't matter."
Terry shrugged reluctantly, then pulled the leatherbound book he had previously been using towards him, mumbling.
"I never wanted him in our study group to begin with. Is he really that much help?"
Anthony began to speak, then thought better of it. Terry continued, flipping pages.
"I mean, We're having a hard time now finding a sixth person. Padma invited five other girls, and they all said no when they found out about Smith. Its ridiculous. Now, Padma has gotten it in her head to ask a Slytherin."
Once he saw his friend had paused in his rant, Anthony carefully spoke.
"Well, I think Daphne is a good choice, if she agrees. She's one of the best with charms in our class, and she's great in Potions."
Terry violently flipped more pages, gritting his teeth. "Every Slytherin is great at Potions, they're Slytherins!"
Anthony smiled, stopping the restless flipping motion by putting a gentle hand over the book.
"Crabbe and Goyle aren't. Plus, who else would you suggest? The girls don't get along with many others. Padma's a bit… gruff herself. Sue's friends aren't good study-group material. Daphne is a good choice, and Padma is partners with her in Potions."
Terry shifted, his eyes flickering up.
"You know who I would pick."
Anthony frowned. "We've been over this before. They all have a study group of their own."
Terry grunted, then sighed. "Well, you never know when things might change. Plus, once Potter leaves again perhaps we can just, well, combine our groups. That would put us with an even ten."
Anthony shifted, but did not immediately disagree.
"What makes you think Potter will be leaving? And what made you think of a group of ten?"
Terry reached down, pulling out a slim notebook and opening it to an earmarked page.
"The competitions start next year, we'll all be in Fourth. You know, Dueling and Academics. As for Potter, what makes you think he will stay? Rumors are he's already said he's not."
Anthony shrugged, then looked at the paper in front of him. It contained lists of names and houses, with lines drawn between. He passed it back, confused.
"A group of ten would be too big, and besides, the competitions are split based on house affiliation. We couldn't join forces."
"We could practice better in a large group. Dueling can be done in teams in the first stages." Terry shot back.
Anthony didn't relent this time, his face stern. "A group of six is plenty big enough, as they only do teams of two before stage five."
Terry looked mutinous. "They also do a free-for-all in the fifth and sixth round-robins. Send in ten people from different corners of an ten-sided room, and see who wins."
Anthony frowned further, but sighed. "Look, Terry. I know what you are getting at, but honestly, not all of us are even interested in dueling. I'm not, for one. Neither is Sue. Zacharias would probably call it boring."
Terry threw up his arms. "See! If it's only Padma and I, how can we practice? We need more duelists."
Anthony couldn't help it; He laughed. "You were so against Slytherins not five minutes ago. Now you want to consider inviting in two, possibly three, more?"
Backed into a corner by his own reasoning, Terry glared. "You are impossible."
The blonde laughed again. "No, you are being dim. But!" He said quickly, when he saw the anger rising in waves off his housemate. "But, you might be onto something. I've heard of the older years having larger study groups. We don't all have to be present, either, all the time. Might give us more flexibility."
Satisfied, Terry nodded. "Flexibility. Exactly."
Anthony leaned back, smiling. "So, when are you going to mention this brilliant idea to Padma and Sue?"
He was rewarded when Terry paled. The boy fidgeted, then simply shrugged.
"I'll get to it." Then he turned back to his book, staring fixedly at a single page.
Anthony shook his head, then returned to his essay. Let his friend tie himself up in knots over it, but he wouldn't. It didn't matter to him if they were a group of three or thirty. But he knew that it was not something so simple a motivator as size that was behind Terry's interest in joining groups.
With all his plans laid out, Harry abruptly found himself with little to do. His friends were in class most of the time, or doing homework and studying, and he didn't feel comfortable just showing up at Black's cave to talk. He knew Hermione was trying to get him alone to grill him over the situation with Black, but he was getting good at avoiding her. He simply didn't want to talk about it. It was all too new, like a recent bruise slow to fade.
He had been through Flamel's notes on a cursory level, categorizing and sorting them by topic, though often some overflowed into others. He then reorganized his family trunk, sorting each compartment and restocking anything he was running low on. Hedwig was happy to be put to use with his owl catalogues, and he kept her busy. He hated that the owl was not being utilized, and had tossed around the idea several times of offering to let Hermione borrow her instead of the school owls.
Harry leaned back in his desk chair, idly tracing the stones on the ceiling of his room with bored eyes. He hated waiting, hated not being active. He needed to practice.
As the sudden thought hit him, he sprang from the chair, summoning his outer robe to him with a sharp gesture. He would go practice. Work his magic and his mind, get out some of his nervous energy. He didn't bother to walk the halls, but flamed straight into the classroom they had been using for practice. He looked about the wide chamber in thought, before walking over to ward the door. He didn't want anyone nosy to bust in while he was busy. He put up silencing charms as well, then looked around again. The unused classroom was large, with high ceilings and small windows looking out towards the Quidditch Pitch. The stone walls and floors had been magically cleaned recently, probably the work of busy house elves. All the desks and chairs had already been moved to the far end of the room when they first began meeting here to practice.
Harry walked to the center of the room, then closed his eyes and let his hands hang loose by his side, his shoulders falling. He looked inward, at the magic he held so tightly together, and let it loose as he had a few days ago in the vaults of Gringotts. It unfurled, warm and bright, and he noticed that all traces of the foreign cold magic were gone, its substance fully acclimated with his own. He felt lighter, more relaxed here alone in this room with his magic than he had in the last few weeks. Absently he took off his robe, sending it to lay across the desks and then let his wings free, stretching them up and out wide with a sharp clang of metal on metal. Then he dropped the extra glamours he had recently begun to place over the runic scars on his arms and feet.
He bent down and untied his shoes, tossing them away before stepping onto the bare stone, reaching out with himself to feel the magic surrounding him, the sentience that ran in every seam of stone and mortar that made up Hogwarts. It was huge, a mountain of power that seemed to flow up out of the core of the school itself, making him feel as if he stood in a deep underground cavern, his own self small and fragile.
He relaxed into the feeling, letting his magic run against that of the school's, filling the room with his presence the way water fills a glass. For a long time he simply drifted there, letting the cool acknowledgement of Hogwarts fill his mind.
Then he opened his eyes, pulling back and focusing.
Flamel had taught him how to hone his skill, how to stretch his magic the way one would stretch a muscle or limb, to teach and train. Harry hadn't yet tried on his own, and it was time.
He concentrated on the furniture across from him, grasping several desks at once and lifting them, transmuting them into a wave of water, liquid droplets swirling like mist, then began the elemental count. From water to gas to fire to rock, a constant morphing presence, dimly hearing Flamel's calm drills inside his mind.
He made light then broke it into a thousand prisms of color with a segment of clear quartz, before turning every different beam into fire, a roaring heat that brought a laugh from his throat as it brushed against him, singing his clothes and sooting his skin. He made the smoke from the fire into a wall of earth, dropping it down onto the flames to snuff them out, then looked about at the mess he had made of the room, scorch marks and meters of dirt swirled about him in a strange pattern. He laughed again, looking down at his hands, before raising them up and into a sweeping gesture, gathering the dirt together into a solid mass and then focusing, remembering every detail of the previous desks, from their solid wooden structure to the blemishes and cracks from years of use. Satisfied, he placed them back with their counterparts.
Harry smiled, then picked up a chair, splitting it into multiple spheres of wood, before enchanting them much the way one would a bludger. Seek, and pummel, he thought with a smirk, then let them fly. Lets see if I can still move.
He whirled, spreading his wings out in a protective curl, and took the first disk full on to his back, letting loose a grunt of pain. He immediately dropped and rolled across the stone, bringing up his right wing to smash the wood as it came back for another hit. Before he could feel satisfied, he saw the others coming and jumped to his feet, turning to let the sharp metal feathers skewer and shatter two disks. The remaining four circled him, spread out in a random pattern.
For long minutes he dodged and jumped, at one point taking flight to escape the wooden assault. The spheres adjusted their attacks as he took them out one by one, sweat beginning to run down his back. Harry jumped from his perch on the window sill as the final sphere came in for a hit, and winced at the sound of shattering glass. He hovered, looking out the broken window as the disk came to a stop, spinning before returning in his direction. He quickly dropped to the stone floor, pulling his wings back and waiting, his heart racing. When the sphere entered it immediately swerved in his direction, a high pitched whistling sound emanating from it. Harry waited a second, a second more, then brought his wings together over his face, rewarded with the sharp crack of splintered wood. He relaxed, his wings spreading once more, and looked over the splinters that decorated the room.
He had to do this again. He remembered playing games with the boys, out at the cottage, that had been very similar. Harry usually the target, they throwing leather balls and stones his way as he practiced dodging and flying. Remembering, he laughed and quickly repaired the chair and put it aside, before falling into a seat on the floor. He felt strained, but in a good way, his magic purring in his ear like a satisfied cat. He let it swirl around him, turning his attention back inside himself as his heart slowed to its normal pace.
His runes lit the surface of his skin like burning brands, scattered about his person in careful patterns. He mentally went over each one, remembering every cut and detail, counting the runic sets as he went. The first two sets, completed under moon light and over a period of weeks, their power growing alongside his own, charged the way a battery would be. Ankh, Mem, Heth, Ayin, Ayin, Samekh, Zayin in his first cycle, then Mnemosyne, Ainigma, Dunamis in a Triskelion, followed by Thermos, Psuchros, Ikaros, and Kryptos. Fourteen runes altogether, and each one for a specific purpose. Harry lifted his right hand, focusing on the rune written upon his palm.
"Zayin." He whispered, and felt the energy flare, a bright starburst of light, uncontrollable and quick. It jumped from his palm, a small portion of its power, seeking about with no clear target before splashing across the wall beside him, each speck of light digging in and exploding with a shower of rock and dust. Harry looked over the odd pattern it had made on the wall, and sighed. He still could not truly control it, the only rune he had made into offensive magic, its name literally meaning Weapon. It was like a lightning strike, powerful and swift, and Harry was in many ways afraid of it.
It had been Zayin that had inadvertently ended Ginny Weasley's life by draining the life-force from the diary attached to her soul.
Harry sighed, then lifted his other palm, looking over the rune carved there. Heth. Shield. He whispered its name, and felt the shield expand in a large dome about him, even through the floor he sat on. He widened it, concentrating, and smiled as it grew to almost three meters in every direction. He was getting stronger. He let the magic fall, collapsing back inside his rune with a smooth motion. If not challenged, the magic was not expended but returned, whole and ready. He closed his hand into a fist, then lowered it to his lap, before continuing to check each individual rune, looking for anything that might have been affected by his absorbing the portion of Black magic.
Those from his third and fourth set were different from the others, all carved in its respective day under the light of the Sun. They had taken more of a toll on him in some ways, but had also been the most extravagant. Lamedh, Waw, Beth, Kaph, Daleth, Teth, and Shin made in one linked set to give him the ability to summon and manipulate Phoenix flame, to travel in its heat.
Harry flicked a finger, with barely a thought bringing the fire that seemed like so much a part of himself now. Its flared, white hot and smokeless, warping the air in front of him with streams of light. He let it flow across the air like a snake, twining about his finger and dancing across his palm. When it finally flickered out, he stood, realizing with a start that the light coming in from the window had dimmed. More time had passed than he thought. He frowned, before deciding he had enough time before dinner to look over his last set. He didn't want to come back after curfew if he didn't have to. After his confrontation with the Weasley twins, he was glad he was finished placing the wards and had no reason to be about the halls at night. He couldn't afford for them to get suspicious and start following him as well, especially since they were obviously much better at it than their brother Ron.
Standing, Harry looked over the most recent runes, the set of seven that allowed him to transform into a phoenix. He had transformed only a few days ago, and many times since he had created these runes, but the transformation remained just as painful as it had been the very first time. With a wince, he prepared himself, looking over the Egyptian symbols one last time.
Then he started the change. It spread through his body in a roll of pain, his moan cut off as his mouth was suddenly the beak of a bird, his hands feathers and his feet ungainly scaled legs. Harry looked out of suddenly sharp eyes, and took to the air with a quick pump of his wings. He swooped about the room once, twice, before landing on the edge near the shattered window. He stared at the glass, cocking his head in thought.
He had never tried wizard magic in phoenix form.
Wizards could not have the animagus form of a magical creature, in part because going through such a transformation was irreversible, and their very magic was also changed into that of the creature whose form they were taking up.
For Harry, he only had the phoenix magic he had given himself specifically with the guidance of the Sun and Fawkes, the flame first, then the healing tears and song. He looked at the glass, then stretched out his senses, feeling his magic hovering about him but loose, like a balloon tied to him with a thin string. He reach for it, reeling it in, and then threw it in the direction of the glass with a specific singing command, the word and song entwined together.
The glass trembled, then suddenly shot together in an abrupt motion, clinking about and finding its correct place before sealing together with a flash of light. Harry let out a sound of approval that sounded distressingly like a bird cheep, and ruffled his feathers. It had worked, but not as well or as fast. Still, with practice… it had possibilities. Satisfied, Harry launched off the sill, spiraling down to the floor and landing with grace. By the light, he judged he had an hour to get to the Great Hall, more than enough time to get a good hot shower. He puffed up his chest and stretched his wings, then centered himself and started the change back to human form.
It always seemed more painful to change back. Harry's beak opened in a harsh pant, his wings snapping apart and into human hands and steel wings, his legs growing and grinding into long bone and human flesh, his feathers retracting with sharp stabs. When his spine snapped, his face abruptly normal, he couldn't help but let out a loud cry of pain, his fingers clenching together on his lap and his head falling back.
The sudden sound of his name brought his head flying up, his eyes widening.
Her voice again, frantic, and he suddenly heard a pounding on the door. He leapt to his feet, racing over to the door so fast his head ached, unprepared for such movement so soon after the transformation. He ripped the wards off the door, desperate to get to her and find what had put that tone in her voice. Was she in trouble? Had there been an attack of some sort? Pettigrew?
Harry stepped back as he flung the door open, and then jumped as Hermione tumbled inside, her hair wild and eyes wide. Behind her, Neville and Blaise merely stared at him, Draco with his wand still raised and his mouth open from casting some spell. Harry knelt, dragging Hermione to her feet and looking her over, searching for some sign of pain.
"Are you alright? What's wrong? Hermione?"
He asked in a rush, and suddenly found himself with an armful of bushy haired witch, Hermione throwing her arms about his waist and hugging him hard. Harry stared, raising confused green eyes to his other friends.
Draco suddenly seemed to snap to attention, looking about quickly before pushing Neville and Blaise forward and closing the door behind them with a slam. In his arms, Hermione suddenly pulled back, her face flushed, then slapped him full across the face. Shocked, Harry stepped back from the abruptly enraged Gryffindor.
"What were you thinking?"
Her voice was high and angry. She looked him over with a sweeping glance, then stared him dead in the eyes. Harry raised his hands, at a loss.
"What are you talking about? I heard you calling my name, I thought something was wrong!"
He demanded, his own anger rising. Hermione shook her head wildly, jabbing a finger in his chest. She bit out each word through clenched teeth.
"You...were...in...here...by...yourself! The door was locked!"
Harry shook his head again, frowning and crossing his arms.
"Of course it was locked, I was practicing!"
Hermione's eyes flared. "Just what sort of practicing were you doing, Harry? I heard you!"
She shouted the last sentence, and before Harry's eyes seemed to wilt, her hand lowering. She raised teary eyes to his. "You were screaming." She said in a small voice, wrapping her arms about herself. Harry's frown grew, even as he inwardly cursed. He stepped forward to draw her into a hug, but looked at his other friends with furrowed eyebrows.
"I had up silencing charms and wards. You shouldn't have head anything."
Draco shifted, crossing his arms and standing in an oddly uneasy stance. "The silencing charms were the only things I could take down."
Harry grumbled in response, absently rubbing circles over Hermione's back. "I thought we were not practicing together today."
Neville spoke up, looking guilty.
"I left my Potions book in one of the desks, and needed to get it to do some homework tonight in the common room. We all had just had transfiguration together, and this was on the way… so we just kind of stopped by. The door was locked and Draco thought he could take it down, maybe, and then… well."
Neville ground to a halt. Harry was suddenly aware that all three of the boys were not looked directly at him. He frowned.
"What is wrong with you three?"
They all shifted, casting glances at him then each other. In his arms, Hermione drew back with a halting laugh, shaking her head.
"Oh, Harry." She sniffed again, then wiped her face on a handkerchief pulled from her pocket, straightening up to look him in the face.
"You look a right mess."
Harry looked down at himself, and suddenly realized what his friends must see. He was barefoot, his shirt and pants burnt with several gaping holes, his long hair wild about his face, his magic wild in the air around him. And behind him, his wings spread out in the aggressive stance he had taken when he had first rushed to the door. Harry stiffened, realizing with a start that other than Hermione, the others had not yet seen his wings, and only recently been told of them. Seeing his motion, Hermione bit her lip, reaching out a finger to touch a tear in his shirt.
"What were you doing, Harry?"
Harry just shook his head, suddenly reluctant to speak. He turned, and in silence quickly put the room back to rights, all the furniture back where it should go, then summoned Neville's book, relieved it had not been in one of the desks he had practiced with earlier. He walked back over to the silent boy, handing him his book. Neville stuttered out a thanks, but kept his eyes on his shoes. Frustrated, Harry jerked his shoulders in a sharp movement, and pulled his wings in brutally fast, his skin stinging with the magic.
Hermione withdrew her wand, and with a twirl in his direction spoke a mending charm, repairing his clothes. Harry closed his eyes as he felt the spell wash over him, then looked at Hermione apologetically.
"I'm sorry, 'Mione. I didn't think I would be disturbed."
Hermione looked away from him and glanced at the boys, scowling.
"Why don't you three go down to dinner. Neville, tell Luna I'm not feeling well."
Neville immediately nodded, making a quick move to leave the awkward silence, but Draco folded his arms mutinously.
"I think we deserve an explanation as well. We're your friends too, Harry."
Neville paused beside Blaise, looking back with a wince. Harry's face went blank, but before he could respond, Hermione whirled to look a the blonde Slytherin.
"Draco Malfoy, mind your own bloody business." Draco's eyes widened at her language. "If you are just going to stand there and look at Harry like he's a freak you can just leave. Now."
Draco looked struck dumb, shaking his head in silent denial. Blaise spoke up, taking a step forward.
"We didn't mean anything, Hermione, it's just… it was a bit surprising, to see him like that. We hadn't seen the wings before. You described them, but… they're just… there, and huge. And, well... wicked. What were we supposed to say?"
He ended lamely, and frowned. Hermione crossed her arms, her face set in stubborn lines.
"Something, Blaise, would of been nice, other than your gawking silence. Well, now you've seen them. Tomorrow, Harry can bring them out and show them off and you can get over their presence." Harry opened his mouth to deny that statement, but Hermione shot him a glance that dried the protest in his mouth. "Right now, I want to speak to Harry privately."
Draco scoffed, his eyes alight with sudden anger, but he whirled and stalked from the room. Blaise followed, looking back with a grimace. Neville looked at Harry, his eyes beseeching.
"I think they're brilliant, Harry."
Harry shifted and nodded, and the Gryffindor turned and left the room, closing the door softly behind him, leaving Harry alone with Hermione.
The girl looked him over, winced, then gestured to a chair.
"Let's sit. Can you do something with these?"
Harry walked over, and quickly transformed two chairs into a more comfortable plush sofa. Hermione sunk into one with a sigh, then looked at him wearily.
"I'm sorry for losing it on you there, Harry. I just… I hadn't heard you sound like that. It sounded horrible. I just had all these visions of what could be happening to you. A bad spell, merlin, some form of attack. I don't know."
Harry sat across from her, but kept upright, deciding it was finally time.
"I finished my fourth set, Hermione, this past summer."
The girl looked up, smiling slightly.
"I figured as much. I was angry, for a while, that you didn't include me this time around like you said you would. But I got over it. I'd been hoping you would tell me what you'd done since you returned, but there just hasn't been a good time."
Harry nodded, then held out a hand.
"Can you see them?"
Hermione looked over, frowned. She sat up, reaching for his hand and turning it over absently.
"Yes. I can." She looked up at him. "Should I be able to?"
Harry narrowed his eyes at the runes on his hand. "I suppose. My runes for hiding their presence are becoming less and less effective. They hide them from people who do not know of them or my wings, but apparently knowing about one can also trigger the other. I'd taken to wearing a glamor as well, just in case Dumbledore or the Weasleys look too carefully. I saw Blaise looking at them, Hermione, though he didn't mention it. I bet tomorrow he will."
Hermione met his eyes, a reluctant smile lighting her face.
"It's time, don't you think? To tell them everything?"
Harry paused, then nodded slowly. "I don't really have a choice now, in any case. Blaise saw them, and would search for a reason for them even if he didn't confront me directly. My luck he would find some odd blood magic that's totally off the mark. Plus, the others might have noticed as well, before you repaired my shirt."
Hermione leaned back in the chair again, releasing his hand. For a moment she was silent, before she spoke.
"So, what does your fourth set have to do with what was going on earlier?"
Harry rested his elbows on his knees, hunching over as if to hide from her gaze.
"My fourth set gives me the ability to take on the form of a phoenix."
For a moment Hermione simply stared, gaping.
Harry laughed, shaking his head.
"Its not as grand as you think. It's… incredibly painful. I was practicing, seeing if I could perform spells in that form, and when I changed back… I can't help reacting to it. It's like having all of your bones break at once and get spelled back together, your body re-attaching itself one limb at a time. But… it is worth it, Hermione. Flying is great, I knew that already, but being a phoenix… it's more. Just... more."
Hermione reached out, putting her hand in his and leaning forward to rest her head on his shoulder with a sigh.
"Only you, Harry, would get such an incredible ability and have such a horrible drawback. That sounds like a werewolf transformation, nothing like the animagus ability. Is it because a phoenix is magical?"
Harry shook his head, relaxing slightly against her.
"No, I think it would be the same no matter what form I chose. It's the method. The Animagus transformation is changing into an animal that resonates with your very soul, it's… another form of yourself. My phoenix… it is a form I force myself into, and it doesn't want to fit. If it hadn't been for Fawkes, I don't think it would have worked. He guided me through the process, and… when I did the ritual, Hermione, under the noon Sun... it took my control from me. It's like a force all its own, so powerful. I couldn't control it, I was just… along for the ride. I sacrificed my will to it, and in return it gave me its token creature as a skin, though it burns me from the inside out to take it."
Hermione leaned back, her eyes wide.
"I wish I could of been there, if only as support. Nothing about these runes sounds pleasant."
Harry moved his shoulders in a nonchalant gesture, though he was glad she understood.
"How do you think the others will take it? My runes?"
Hermione grinned, shaking her head.
"They'll think they are awesome, once they get over the shock, I'm sure of it. They'll want you to show off. Baise will want all the details, your plans and such. Draco? He'll probably be thinking of some way to use it to his, and our advantage. Nevill's a bit simpler. He'll just be your friend, Harry. It will be fine."
Harry nodded, and smiled. He drew her into a hug, feeling her stiffen in surprise before she relaxed. Quietly, he spoke against her shoulder.
"About Black. Did you.. still want to know more?"
Hermione's body went still. He felt her nod slowly, as if reluctant, and Harry began, leaning into her and letting the words pour out of him like poison.
"I found him there on the cliffs, trapped good and proper, trying to dig his way out of the runic circle in dog form. I attacked him, Hermione, I ripped into his mind with no care for subtlety or gentleness, and I saw what he saw. I saw them dead, my mum and dad, and what was done to my dad was…it was horrible. I felt what Sirius felt, the horror and grief and then this, this… overwhelming rage. When he was captured, when he had realized what Pettigrew had done, how neatly he had been betrayed… he laughed. He didn't struggle, didn't even try to explain. He laughed, and I laughed with him, full of this enormous irony that everything had been turned around, that this was even happening... it almost felt scripted, fate's last joke on a fool."
Harry pulled back, looking into her brown eyes, looking for some sign of disgust or anger as he spoke.
"I felt his mind shatter, Hermione, like glass. In that moment, when the Aurors appeared, he just….broke. And I did too."
Hermione suddenly leaned forward again, pulling him into another embrace, and Harry felt tears he hadn't known were coming close his throat as he began to cry, for his godfather, for all the things that had happened. Hermione softly spoke, cradling him.
"You're not broken, Harry. You are strong. You didn't just kill him, and you could have. You found the truth, and you can help him now. Help him prove his innocence."
Harry shook his head, his sigh ruffling her wild brown hair.
"He had no one, nothing but the memory of his innocence, and that tainted by the guilt that switching secret keepers was his idea all along. For all these years he has been sitting in prison, the Dementors feeding on anything positive he could possibly feel, and then… then he saw that picture, saw Pettigrew there, knew just how close he was to me… and he broke out, using rage as fuel. I don't know if Black will be able to stop himself, when he meets Pettigrew again; knowing what he knows, feeling what he felt, I'm not sure I'll be able to stop myself, let alone him."
Hermione moved back, gripping his shoulders firmly in her hands.
"You will not let him commit murder, Harry. You won't, because you want him to be free, not hunted down like a, um, well, a dog."
Harry chuckled weakly, and Hermione smiled, shaking him slightly.
"Harry, please. Don't doubt yourself. You're not a murderer, no matter what's happened in the past."
Harry sighed, then straightened, taking a deep breath. He put on a smile, determined to let her words steady his heart.
"You're right. I'm sorry." He ran a hand through his hair, and relaxed. "Are you hungry? I can show you the kitchen."
She looked up at him with wide eyes.
"The kitchen? I really shouldn't…"
Harry stood, drawing her to her feet and keeping hold of her hand.
He tugged, and she followed with a laugh. Before he opened the door, she pulled him to a halt, smiling wryly.
"You might want to contain, Harry. You're, well….leaking."
He stared at her blankly, confused. She laughed louder, then gestured around them. Harry abruptly realized his magic had looped about her in a possessive manner, ruffling her hair in an invisible breeze as it spread out. Harry felt his face begin to heat in embarrassment, and he yanked it back, coiling it inside himself in the layers he found most useful for controlling it. He mumbled as he finished.
"I forgot it was free."
Hermione chuckled, then reached for his hand again, smiling.
"It's grown a lot more powerful. I've never felt it like that. When did you start hiding it? Where has it gone?"
Harry opened the door, looking about the hallway before putting up an invisibility spell and leading her through the hallways as he spoke.
"I was beginning to reign it in in second year, a little. But under Flamel, my magic grew by leaps and bounds, and the fourth runic set also seemed to bolster my magic. Sometimes, it almost seems sentient, something that Flamel warned me about. He said I couldn't allow it free reign all the time, that I had to keep it under my will or it had the potential to cause damage. So I kind of.. loop it inside. Like coiling a rope of light, it's all still there but… contained. Powerful wizards are dangerous, Hermione, and not always because they wish to cause harm. By accident they can do things that can not be fixed."
Harry thought of the stories he had read, and sighed. He felt Hermione squeeze his hand, though he couldn't see her with the spell up. Her voice whispered from behind him as the reached the portrait of the pear that hid the door to the kitchens.
"I trust you, Harry. I'm not afraid."
How had she known that that was what he was most afraid of? Harry let the invisibility spell fall, turning to look at her and smile.
She nudged him, then looked at the portrait.
"Well? Impress me."
Harry laughed, then tickled the pear, watching as it wiggled and then he stepped back as the portrait swung open. He turned to Hermione, watching her face brighten and her eyes widen.
"Welcome, Hermione Granger, to the Kitchens of Hogwarts Castle."
Crouched and trembling, Peter had listened to the conversation going on outside the wooden door of his cupboard. When they left, he had fallen onto his back, his long tail stretched over mismatched cloth as he stared up at the wooden planks above him.
It was too close a call. The boy had been in the very same room as him, and his rat's nose had picked up traces of ozone and metal.
It was the reek of power ruthlessly contained, so very similar in many ways to his Master's. Peter had gotten glimpses of him before around Hogwarts, but always from a careful distance. He had spent the months before Ron's arrival at Hogwarts worrying that Ron and Harry would both be sorted into Gryffindor together, feeling it was inevitable that James' and Lily's son had to be a born lion. Merlin knew the Weasleys all were!
But it had also rung true for the defeater of the Dark Lord to find his home in a snake's den.
Peter sniffed, his fat body slowly relaxing though his mind remained on edge. It was simply too close. He would need to move, find a new place. He hadn't lived this long by taking chances.
The boy's voice sounded like his father, Peter thought, though his words were his mothers.
Calm and courteous as he spoke to the girl with him, talking of school subjects and spellwork. James had done well in school with little effort, but had spared no desire for going beyond the required work. But Lily, she had been simply brilliant. Peter had had a flame of his own for the fire-haired girl, though he never entertained the thought of doing anything about it. He had been as far outside her orbit as the Slytherin boy who had once been her friend.
And look at the both of them now, Death Eaters with no Lord.
He could save him from Sirius! If only Peter could get away, get out of the school and find his Master.
He knew his Lord was not dead. He had been there, that night, following his Master to Godric's Hollow, seeing with his own eyes the downfall of do-no-wrong James Potter, the Golden. It had turned his stomach, of course, but Peter was used to distasteful things. What he had not been counting on was for his Master to... dissolve. Peter had seen the twisted black soul flung out of its body, and saw it flee. He knew that black soul had to be out there, somewhere, waiting and biding its time to return.
But he had been so scared. Scared of Black, of course, but then even more afraid of his Master, whose rage was always quick and terrible.
And when finding a comfortable home with a loving family, who was to blame him for enjoying the peace? Life as a rat could be comfortable; he had proven it.
But now, now he had no more comfort, and only fear.
He just had to decide which he feared more: his vengeful friend, or his unforgiving Lord.
Neville stood, gripping his wand in a tight fist. He stared at the stone wall in front of him with a grimace, mind grasping at any reference he could of a happy memory.
All he could think about was his father's blank brown eyes, his neutral face as it stared up from the hospital bed, his skin soft and warm to the touch.
"I thought you would be here. That Potions book excuse was too convenient."
Neville flinched, spinning around and flushing with embarrassment. Blaise, his dark eyes curious, stepping into the room they were using for practice before closing the door behind him. Neville grimaced, lowering his wand and turning slightly away. He shrugged in answer. He heard the Slytherin walk closer, and tried not to let it bother him. He hoped the boy would leave him alone. He had wanted privacy for this, didn't want to be seen fail again and again. He hadn't lied about the Potions book, he had left it here. He was glad he hadn't lied, as they had all insisted on going with him to retrieve it. Then to find Harry there… well. It has been simpler than he thought to sneak from the common room after light's out, and he had felt a thrill at breaking the rules. There was more than one way to get privacy.
Well, he had hoped to get privacy anyway. He looked over, and Blaise smiled slightly.
"You're practicing the Patronus charm aren't you."
Neville briefly considered lying, and then sighed. He wasn't good enough to pull one over on a Slytherin.
Blaise nodded slowly, resting a hip on a desk that had been pulled away from the center of the large domed room. Neville looked down, absently twisting his wand in his fingers.
"You wanted to be here alone."
Neville said again, unable to look over again. He felt his face heating, and cursed his weak shyness. He wanted to be strong, wanted to prove that he could do this. After all, even Draco hadn't managed it yet, and he wanted so badly to get there first. He had expected Hermione to get there fast, she was such a happy, bright person, not to mention the smartest witch in their class.
But he could not find the right memory.
"Do you want help?"
Neville shrugged, moving his shoulders in a distracted gesture.
"You haven't gotten it yet either."
His voice came out more antagonistic than he intended, and Neville winced. He quickly looked over, but Blaise was still merely watching him, little expression on his face. Neville waited, then narrowed his eyes.
"Or have you?"
Blaise slowly smiled, before standing straight and spreading his arms in a wide gesture. Neville grunted, though inside his gut twisted. He had expected Draco to beat him first, since the blonde had an actual Father to think of. At that thought, he frowned.
"How did you do it? Why haven't you shown the others?"
Blaise folded his arms, meeting his stare for a moment. "I learned a few days ago." He paused, then drew his wand. "Perhaps I should just show you."
Neville stepped back a few steps, and Blaise assumed a position, lifting his wand and sucking in a breath.
Neville waited a bit, eyes narrowed, and then suddenly the tell-tale mist gathered and spread, but instead of curving down it curved up, spreading further and further until suddenly his eyes saw the shape, a large bird with a triangle beak, and as its feathers finished forming in swirls of silver he began to hear the sound of a bird, sweet and crisp, echoing about the room. His eyes widened at the song, a melody he could almost recognize but not place. As suddenly as it appeared it began to collapse, its wings beating into mist, falling to the ground like dust to disappear. Neville looked over at Blaise's frowning face, and the Slytherin shrugged.
"I can't get it to stop singing."
Neville shook his head, still surprised. "I didn't know they could do that."
Blaise hummed, putting his wand away. "I know some wizards can get theirs to send messages, but I do not know how. Its not covered in any books I've read. Singing? I don't know."
Neville nodded slowly, considering. Finally he spoke tentatively. "Have you… asked Harry?"
The Slytherin looked over at him, smiling. "No. I do not plan to either. That… it's personal. I'm not embarassed, but… I want to keep it to myself, for now. And figure it out myself."
Neville nodded again, but frowned. "Then.. why did you show me?"
Blaise looked at him with a suddenly serious face, eyes dark.
"Because you have no father either."
Neville flinched, eyes going to the floor. Blase stepped forward again, his voice low and fervent.
"Admit it, Longbottom. That's why you are having problems, isn't it? Harry was busy talking about fathers and patrons and rubbish like that, and sure that worked for Hermione but it won't work for us. We never had that in our lives, did we?"
Neville paled, unsure how to respond. All his life his grandmother reminded him how much of a hero his father was, how he was still alive and Neville was lucky to still have his father.
But he didn't have a father. He had a man in a hospital bed, who he could never remember seeing move, did not know the color of his eyes when he spoke, did not know his voice or touch. Neville had no father, but he was not ready to say it. Instead, he clinched his fists, meeting Blaise's eyes with a touch of anger.
"You had fathers. Six of them, if I remember correctly."
Blaise did not falter, a smile growing on his face.
"The lion has teeth."
His dark eyes gleamed as he spoke, his hands casually crossing underneath his robe.
"My mother married six men, who have all fortunately passed from this realm. Perhaps one could of been considered a friend, but none were fathers. My mother would not let them be."
Neville shook his head, gesturing absently at the open air in front of them.
"Then what was that?"
Blaise folded his arms, leaning back slightly.
"That, was a Common Chaffinch. A song bird."
Neville snorted, tossing his head in disgust at the avoidance. "You know what I meant. How could you cast the charm?"
Blaise was silent a moment, before he spoke. "Don't you remember what else we were told? A father-figure is only part of the magic, one path of many to a happy memory, a protector."
Neville copied Blaise's posture, crossing his arms in a defensive posture. "What was your memory, then?"
Blaise turned, reaching out to grab a chair and drag it over, sitting casually with his hands in his lap. Neville shifted from foot to foot, uncomfortable. As if waiting for that very signal, Blaise began to speak, his voice soft.
"My mother loved finches. She kept a cage of them in her room, a large metal contraption that took up an entire wall, filled with real trees and brush, with hundreds of the birds inside. Every color it seemed, from the exotic to the common."
He paused, his eyes going hazy with recollection.
"Her fourth husband hated the things. Said they smelled and kept him up at night, and soon no longer slept in her chamber. Mother would not move them, and often carried one or two about that she had trained, she loved to surround herself with music of any kind. Her favorite was a little Chaffinch called, of all things, Brute. He had this beautiful stripe of pale blue across the back of his neck…and he liked to sit on my finger if I offered him something from my plate. One day, Mother had a bruise on her cheek she would not explain. I was seven, and thought I knew. I was not unintelligent, or unobservant. I knew what raised voices meant, and knew the sound of flesh on flesh. We are strong, Zabini's, but avoid conflict. My mother said we are like the birds, preferring flight to fight, except… in defense of our young."
Blaise met Neville eyes, his gaze suddenly clear and piercing.
"And the day he turned his fists on me, I was passing through the corridor when he ran into me, knocking the both of us down. He was so angry, his face splotched with red, his veins stark on his face. Behind him my mother was crying. I yelled at him, suddenly so angry, and he reached out and grabbed me, lifting me up off the ground so easily I hated him all the more for it, and then he began to hit me, one fist after another until he stopped. I looked up, and thought he was dancing, his arms wild about his face, jumping around... but it was Brute. The little bird was swirling about him, pecking and… screaming. A loud, harsh sound. And then there were more birds, thousands, yellow and blue and gold and brown, and I followed their path to see my Mother, her wand in hand and face fierce. Have you seen the damage Avis can do when combined with Oppugno?"
Neville merely shook his head, feeling numb at the emotionless recollection of an event that sent chills down his spine. Blaise did not wait for an answer to his question, that same small smile in place, his dim eyes seeing something long past.
"The Bird-Conjuring charm, a mere annoyance, a child's trick. Potter is not the only one to take such spells and make them lethal. And so the Aurors came, and called it a spell gone wrong, an accident cast from a broken wand, and all that was left of him was blood and bone and visceral. When it was cleaned up, when the house was silent again, Mother came to me and in her hands was Brute, his body broken but still fierce, a fallen warrior. We had a small funeral for him in the back gardens, and she sang a tune, simple and sweat, and cast a spell to make the birds sing as well over the small marker we placed over the fresh dirt."
Blaise began to sing, his voice a pleasant tenor, and Neville realized it was the melody the patronus had been singing, a wizards children song about creatures in the dark, a warning and a promise, a hope for a savior.
...hide little boy,
cover your eyes and wait for the song,
of the rising phoenix...
Blaise's voice faded to silence, and Neville simply sat, unsure how to speak again, how to break that silence that seemed sacred. The Slytherin seemed lost in thought, eyes wide and blank. Neville shifted, and his chair squeaked, breaking the spell like the sound of thunder. Blaise met his eyes again, and spoke with a voice now firm and harsh.
"You and I, we had no Father. I have no pity for you, I won't tell you how sorry I feel that your parents are lingering still, their husks left at St. Mungos. You know it already, don't you? What can be done for you, you must do yourself. You have to be your own protector, just as I have to be my own. Because guess what? My mother remarried again. And again. And each was as worse as the last it seemed, a never-ending stream of men, of bastards. I was but a little boy, a frail thing, but I had to be strong for myself, though the odds were ever against me. Why is Brute my Patronus? You could say he was my protector, for a brief moment, but it's more than that. I want to be like him, a whirlwind storm, fearless. Perhaps that is a feeling not many Slytherins hold, but it is mine. When all else fails, schemes fall apart and your allies abandon you, you have a choice. To flee, or to fight."
Neville waited when the boy stopped speaking, waited for more. But the Slytherin simply stood, gesturing. Neville cleared his throat, rising to stand beside him. Blaise reached out to take Neville's wand, turning it over in his palm before passing it back, stepping back from him and speaking.
"Imagine the dementors are here, even now, and your mind is beginning to fill with your worst memories. You have no protector but the one within yourself. You are your own father, the sum of all that is strong and brave."
Blaise drew his wand, flicking it in a sharp stab before turning it clockwise, speaking the spell words softly.
Smoke billowed into the room, swirling about in a scentless haze that wrapped about their forms. The small light Neville had summoned blinked out, plunging the room into the darkness of night except for the dim light of the stars flickering in through the windows above them. From in front of him Blaise spoke again, and Neville began to tremble, his hand tightening around his wand in sudden fear.
"It's up to you, Neville. What happiness can you find here? What is your light in the dark?"
Neville's breath quickened, even as his rational mind, a voice sounding like his grandmother, scolded him for falling for smoke and mirrors, that it was a mind-game, that there was nothing here to fear, it was just him and his friend in the dark empty classroom and everything was alright.
But what if it wasn't? What if it was true?
This voice was scared, a little whining sound like a beaten dog. It was his reply to his grandmother, the one that was not defiance but treated as such, his only way of questioning, his only attempt to ever disagree with her. And in that moment he hated himself, hated how weak he was, how shy and humiliated he always was. Always the last to learn a spell, always behind, always quiet. Afraid of his own shadow, afraid of the world, afraid of his grandmother.
Afraid of the hospital and that room with rows of beds filled with still figures that did not move or speak or look at you.
Not this time.
He spoke to his grandmother inside himself. Not this time. I won't.
I won't let them hold me back any longer. I won't let you.
Neville raised his wand a fraction higher, his head steady and his heart filling with calm vindication. If he could not have his father and could not ever be what his father had been, he would be something new. Something stronger, something better. Something alive, with hope and love and happiness.
He shouted it, defiant, and it seemed it was a man's voice, deeper and rumbling, and from his wand he felt it come, that silver mist of memory, and he saw flashes of himself, casting spells with his friends, standing up to Ron, confiding in Harry, getting a new wand, all fragments of what he could be if he wanted to, all pieces of an untorn whole.
The mist formed into a shape, square and bulky, a bushy tail drooping behind it, triangle ears and beady eyes, covered in silvery fur with a lighter color across its brow and flowing down its back. He couldn't figure out what it was at first, his eyes snagging on the sharp fat claws on its paws, its large mass as it turned to face him, muzzle wide and short, like a bear but not, its bearing oddly wolf-like, fierce and strong. Then it lowered its head, fur bristling, and snarled, long wicked fangs flashing in a quick snap, and he recognized it from one page in a story book from his childhood, a beast in the snowy woods that guarded its den with an aggressiveness recognized by creatures twice its size, an animal that did not start fights but would end them mercilessly. He remembered the shudder that had shook his grandmother as she held a hand to her heart.
"My, that's real looking. Scary beasts!"
And he had thought that there is one thing that even his formidable grandmother is afraid of.
Gulo, gulo. A glutton, often called wolverine. Neville met its gaze, and the creature began to fade at the edges, its fur turning to droplets of mist, an unseen wind blowing it away into a million particles of light. Neville sucked in his breath, gasping, suddenly realizing he had been holding it in, and his gasp turning into a cough, excitement thrumming through him and making him shake as he leaned over. He felt a pounding on his back, and looked up into Blaise's smiling face, the light back and the smoke still lingering at the edges of the room.
"Well done, Neville!"
He grinned, standing up straight and placing his wand back in its arm holster, eyes bright.
"I did it! It was like…. like a boost of energy, filling me up and making me strong. I feel… alive."
Blaise's smile grew, and he leaned forward with a devilish gleam in his eyes.
"Now only my beloved housemate has not achieved a patronus. How about we get yours to sneak up on him during study tomorrow? Can you imagine his face?"
Neville bounced, laughing aloud. "He would fall off his chair! Might even squeak!"
Together they laughed, and Neville could only feel as if a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders, a burden taken from him he had not known was there. He looked behind him at the classroom as they reached the door, shrugging his bag over his shoulder and grinning.
It hadn't been that hard after all. He stopped Blaise with a touch at his elbow.
"Thanks. For helping me. And… I'm sorry about..." Blaise raised a single eyebrow. Neville flushed. "About, you know, um… Brute."
Blaise grinned, and clasped him on the shoulder, shaking him slightly. He spoke with a casual shrug.
"You know, I kind of got him back again, with this Patronus thing. Neat spell."
Neville smiled back, shaking his head as they left the room, heading down the hall towards the staircases. Neat spell. What a way to put something like the Patronus Charm, that made you find your heart and bare it to the world under the thin veneer of silver animal skin.
It was entirely too easy. They had the documents of course, had had them for a long time. They had sat on them, waiting patiently, for the time they would be most useful. The parents were useless, of course, the spells woven into their minds so deeply they almost went comatose when confronted with evidence of witchcraft by an outside source, but the paperwork… well. The wizards underestimated the government's ability to amass such things. They could tamper with the minds of key people, could cover up the physical evidence, but they had not stemmed the pure amount of scattered drivel, the countless people all over the country who had noticed children disappearing.
What could the poor helpless muggles do, after all, when the parents claimed all was well? When child social services began to investigate, only to give up with glazed eyes after a few inquiries? The wizards were so sure of themselves, so certain of their superiority that they did not see.
But the Hounds saw, and were ready to make the next move. A spark, it was whispered from person to person over hushed phone calls and meetings, over the internet chat rooms and through email, we are to create a spark. Something small, easily overlooked perhaps, but something. We will start something.
A website, cluttered with ads, filled with links. Its servers backed up in a secure location, its position bounced around a few times to muddy the water further. But it was there, and every link pointed to a child, some as far back as the early thirties, all children who at eleven years of age stopped attending school, stopped having health checkups, never reappeared in society with jobs or spouses or children or property. Lost souls, abandoned, their faces under a gloomy banner with three simple words.
No Longer Forgotten
Such a mystery, the paragraphs carefully stated, such an odd coincidence. And across the bottom, in fine print, the keywords were listed, spaced out with commas, waiting for the right concerned person to enter in a search in an engine, words that made sense and yet didn't, not really, because the world was a world of science and explanations and common sense.
…..lost, magic, paperwork, Hogwarts, documents, witches, gone, disappearance, wizards, London, Diagon, silence, parents,...
Surely there was an explanation, something reasonable to explain these coincidences. But the Hounds knew there wasn't, not anything reasonable in any case.
And so one spark of many was set to flame.
Kingsley Shacklebolt was, above all his other abilities, extremely skilled at passing as a Muggle. This skill, unusual enough in a wizard at all, was priceless in a pureblood. And so he fit nicely in his niche, tolerated by the elitist for the quality of his blood, respected by the conservatives for his dueling ability and detective skill, and loved by the muggleborns for his gentle manner and accepting ways.
When it came to tracking the scent of an unknown abductor targeting Ministry employees from Muggle London, he was the perfect fit.
He was also perhaps the only one who would come to the conclusion he had.
Others would have been stuck in the hype of the Death Eaters, the Great Fear of their Age, this scourge upon wizard kind. Many would also suspect Sirius Black, despite facts, and search for traces of spells and magic.
But Shacklebolt, in his no-nonsense way, found the scattered truth in the many testimonies of those who had escaped through apparition and filed a report.
No magic used. A odd sensation, unconsciousness. No spells heard or seen. A blank white room. Muggle. The clean bed, the desk and chair, the lack of portraits or pictures of any kind, the locked wooden door.
The wand, obviously given.
All he spoke to had chosen escape, had immediately apparated away. Some, thinking it a joke; others, scared; all, leaving with no trouble.
Except those who were missing, who shared three things in common: their employment at the Ministry, their disappearance before their shifts started, and their inability to apparate.
Kingsley wrote up his report, and stalked the many roads and alleys, following the routes of the missing, his dark brown eyes taking in and assimilating data, formulating a plan.
He mailed his report by owl, sending it personally to his superior Rufus Scrimgeour, and then purposely did something badly for the first time in his life.
He dressed as a Muggle.
It was done sloppily, carefully so, placing the long wizard robe open over Muggle jeans and shirt, carrying a crumpled pointed hat casually in his hand, his wand bouncing carelessly in his pocket. He walked straight and purposefully, looking about with the slight disdain many would find unfamiliar on his face, not in sync with the Muggles around but slightly different, a person out of place.
He turned down the small alley that served as a shortcut to the red police box, and was not surprised by the swift prick of pain in his left side, falling in a trained slump to the ground as he had been taught, breaking no bones and bruising no skin.
When he awoke, he looked around the white room and waited, casually touching each surface, reaching out with his limited wandless ability, looking for something he knew would not be there: magic.
When his wand appeared through a slot in the wall, he picked it up, holding it in his hand with simple pleasure, standing to his full formidable height. His first spell was not apparition, but a simple wordless location charm disguised as Tempus.
Then he turned to the door and smiled gently as he lifted his wand.
~*~ To Be Continued: A Bloody Moon ~*~