1. The Minister for Magic calls a meeting
The silvery light from Kingsley Shacklebolt's patronus brightened the semi-darkness of the library at 12 Grimmauld Place. Sirius awoke from his thoughts.
"Order meeting at 4 pm."
The lynx faded into nothing. Sirius checked his watch. A quarter to four. An order meeting in the middle of the afternoon? Called by the wizard who was the Minister for Magic during the days and only functioned as the leader of the Order of the Phoenix late at night or, sometimes, on weekends? What was going on? The Order had been an informal thing for the past four years, almost more of a social gathering than an underground watch-out for dark creatures or whispers of matters relating to the now shattered Death Eaters. No activity of Death Eaters had been reported. After the Battle of Hogwarts and the death of Voldemort, the Death Eaters' dark mark had been transformed to a tracing mark. Aurors all over England were alerted when more than five of them met for a longer period of time. So what is going on?
Sirius finished the letter to one of his tenants in Scotland, sealed it and went over to the curtained window. The pitch-black owl in the cage chirped happily. After attaching the roll of parchment to the owl's leg, giving it a treat of chicken liver and letting it out, Sirius left the library. He walked down the stairs, deep in thought, but not really worried. After many years of constant terror, imprisoned, on the run or, worst of all: dead, nothing really seemed to get to him. It was the same for many of them. After living through the hell of two wars, or in the case of the younger members, at least one war, no one seemed to be able to collect enough energy to live life. Not the life they had imagined as young, at least. Lives with families, children, hobbies and fulfilling jobs. They all worked, of course, and a few of them had what could be regarded careers, but most of them lived their half-lives. Their friendship that stemmed from their school days and their involvement in the Order during the war, was the most important thing to most of them, even the lucky few who had serious relationships and children, like the Lupin's or Bill and Fleur Weasley. They met in the evenings, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in larger groups. Quite often they didn't talk about themselves, but watched others, wizards, witches and muggles alike and discussed what they saw. Was it really necessary with a pram as large as a small car? Did people really have to walk and eat their lunch at the same time? Weren't the lawns in Hyde Park better mowed twenty years ago? Sirius and Remus met at least once a week, on their own. Their friendship was deep enough to handle real talk. They could share their pain of the past and their worry for the future. They worried about the young generation, Harry's generation, the young war heroes who never seemed to get on with other aspects of adult life than work. It was as if they didn't care for the more important things in life. Harry worked as an auror at the Ministry but upholding the law among the magic population of Britain was not really a challenge anymore. After the war, the capture of the worst Death Eaters, their trials, and sentences that imprisoned most of them in Azkaban, the wizards and witches in Britain rarely broke the law. Harry spent his days filing cases of broom speeding and brewing of illegal, but weak, love-potions. He also pretended not to know about Sirius unregistered motorbike that could fly twice as fast as any enchanted broom. He didn't seem to mind the lack of challenges at work though, and Sirius could respect that; he had himself never been a strong believer of hard work. What Sirius couldn't understand, and what troubled him, was that Harry wasn't passionate about anything. The same went for his closest friends; Ronald Weasley had gone into business with his brother George, but was light-years away from matching Fred in ingenuity or mischief, and mainly minded the books. The third part of the trio that had brought Voldemort down, Hermione Granger taught Potions at Hogwarts, academically skilled but not even close to the pedagogical teacher Sirius had known her to be to Harry and Ron during their time as students. Lots of people, wizards and muggles alike, chose careers that paid well enough but didn't take all the time and energy. People like that often had families, a large social life or, at least, something to fill their life with. Harry had none of that, as was the case with most of the young generation whose Hogwarts years had seen the second rise of Voldemort. Sirius felt like a father, or at least an older brother, to Harry and many of his friends. Remus felt equally paternal, or fraternal.
"What is the matter with them, Sirius?" Remus had asked during one of their frequent nights in front of the fireplace in the library at Grimmauld Place. "They just mill around like sheep. Or ghosts."
"Maybe they are ghosts," Sirius had answered thoughtfully over the brim of a glass of fire whiskey. "Ghosts are the shadow of people who long for a life they can't have anymore, but their longing is so strong they can't let go and go into the light, or wherever they should go. There is no light behind that bloody veil, I can tell you that."
"I know, Sirius. But somehow you weren't really dead, were you? Let me keep my faith in that light a little longer. How does Harry and the others compare to ghosts, do you mean?"
"How old were we when we became involved in the first war? It must have been in our very last year at Hogwarts. We were seventeen, almost adults, and we played a very small part in the beginning. Dumbledore saw to that. I think I was almost twenty when I went on my first real mission. A dangerous mission where I could be killed. I wasn't, thank Merlin, but I killed three Death Eaters who held Alice Longbottom captive. And afterwards I went out with you, James and Peter, got drunk and talked about it. Dumbledore never sent us on missions together in the beginning, do you remember that? On the field, we were always paired up with someone more experienced for our first active months in the Order."
"I've never thought about that, but you are right."
"And when we graduated from Hogwarts, the Order was active and well run by Dumbledore, Augusta Longbottom and Minerva McGonagall's brother, what's his name?"
"Yes, Malcolm Mc Gonagall. The Order was strong, we were as safe as we could be, considering we fought a war. When Harry first faced Voldemort, he was eleven years old and the Order had been dissolved for ten years. No one even remembered it, no one wanted to remember it. We lost so many in the first war, it hurt to even think about the Order. Dumbledore didn't have a clue about what was going on during Harry's first year, not until afterwards. Harry had Ron and Hermione. They began fighting the Second Wizarding War at the age of eleven! Four years before that sorry excuse for a Minister, Fudge, even acknowledged there was a second war. They had so much joy of their teens replaced with fear and worry. They had to be so much braver that any teenager should ever have to be."
Remus filled Sirius' empty glass. His amber eyes pleaded silently for Sirius to continue.
"At Hogwarts, we broke the curfew to roam the forest as animagi, we got drunk on smuggled fire whiskey, we pranked some Slytherins; I still prefer Lucius Malfoy in pink hair. Once James and I took off on my motorbike and got caught by the muggle police."
"I remember that. Arthur and I flew after you on broomsticks and crashed into the policemen's car when you upended it."
"Yeah. Sorry about that."
"I had to obliviate them before we returned."
"The most dangerous thing we did, or I did, was when I tricked Snape to go to the Shack at full moon. That was stupid."
"I was so angry. My anger put us all in danger. But still, we had good Hogwarts years. Harry had to see the Diggory boy die. If any of us had been in the Triwizard Tournament at Hogwarts it would have been a laugh, a thrilling competition. Harry was scared the whole year. Harry saw Voldemort regaining his body and collect his most devoted Death Eaters. He killed the bloody basilisk and the first of the horcruxes before he even knew about them. He formed the DA in his fifth year, when Dumbledore wouldn't let him join the Order, even though DA was pretty much like how the Order started. Then he lost me."
Sirius voice broke.
"And you lost him," Remus finished for him.
Sirius cleared his throat.
"Yes, I lost him and couldn't be there for the two last years of the second war. That was the worst when I came back. To know that he'd been alone."
"He wasn't alone, Sirius. Give me some credit. And Kingsley and Moody. Even Snape."
"You are right. But when the veil spat me out into a completely abandoned Ministry and I finally, after I don't know how many apparitions, got to Hogsmeade and Hogwarts he looked as if he'd been to hell and back."
"He had, I guess."
"Yes, and he was only seventeen. As were many of the others. Ginny was sixteen, George was nineteen and had just lost his closest brother. We both know, more or less, what they had been through, but can you imagine what they had missed?"
Remus put another log on the fire. He nodded slowly. He was about to say something when his friend continued.
"They had missed the fun and joy and irresponsibility of being teenagers. How can we expect them to be responsible and happy adults now?"
"You've thought a lot about this, haven't you?"
"Yes. A lot. I can live with the fact that my life less than I thought it would be. I live within these walls. Sometimes I go for a ride. Occasionally, Molly threatens to hex me if I don't show up for dinner at the Burrow. I keep the Black seat on the board of governors at Hogwarts, Minerva is grateful for that. She is actually the best headmaster Hogwarts has ever had. We used to think she was all straight-arrowed, following every rule under the sun, or at least, under that enchanted ceiling, but she's not. She is still in the process of changing, or bending every possible rule her predecessors implemented. She takes a special interest in the nonsense my great-great-grandfather implemented. Lots of pure-blood ideas. There are enchantments within the castle helping and protecting pure-bloods to a larger extent than the others. Haven't you ever wondered how I could graduate with almost as fine grades as you did? I didn't know at the time, though. I just thought I was clever. Nevertheless, Phineas Nigellus' rules and guide-lines are surrounded by charms and even anti-muggle-born jinxes. Minerva has asked me if I can explain how Phineas thought, what made him, or what makes a pure-blood Black tick, in order to remove the unfair advantage for the few poor pure-bloods left. I can't help her with that, of course, I've never understood the pure-blood mania in my family, but I've found some clues in this library. Phineas diaries are on the shelf over there. Not a reading you can enjoy on a full stomach. But I don't share my life with anyone. You and Harry are the closest thing to a family I have. And the Black family will die with me, which gives me some pleasure."
"Oh, Sirius, I wish…"
"Don't. I'm OK with it, but I'm not OK with Harry heading in the same direction. He loves Ginny, they've been together for five years. Why aren't they getting married and start a family? Sure, Ginny is the seeker for the Chudley Cannons but she can't do that forever. They could at least live together. She still lives at home, and Harry here. They date as if they just met. She doesn't stay the night more that twice a month. And they DO love each other. I love having Harry here. On a good day we actually talk to each other, but sometimes he strikes me as depressed as I was when I was on the run and hid here for almost a year. You know, when I preferred the company of Buckbeak."
"I'm thinking of going to Gringott's and get some of the Black jewellery. I'd like to give them to Harry to give him a shove in the right direction. I wish I had the ring James gave Lily but that must have been buried with her."
"Yes, it was. I saw her."
"Almost all the jewellery I can remember from the bank vault are ugly as hell and inscribed with mottos in dead languages. They might even be curses for all I know. On the other hand, Ginny is pure-blood and the jewellery would probably stick to her like that god-awful portrait of my mother in the hall. But there might be some nice pieces left."
"It sounds like a good idea. They look very much in love, but I do agree, they behave as if they've just met."
The box of jewellery stood on Sirius desk in the library, but he hadn't had the energy to sort though them yet. He needed to check them for the curses he knew about, and finish the last diary of Phineas Nigellus to learn some new. His great-great-grandfather's forte had been small but powerful curses, next to impossible to detect.
He was almost at the bottom of the stairs when a voice muttered inched from his left ear.
"Do you really find this appropriate?" the voice said.
Sirius flinched and faced the wall the voice came from.
"Oh, it's you. I just thought about you, Phineas."
"I'm glad to hear that. I think a lot about you too, Sirius. You are the remaining heir to the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black."
"And the last, I'm happy to inform you."
"Nonsense, you are still young. But do you really find this appropriate?"
"You find nothing decent appropriate, so what are you on about this time, Phineas?"
"This house is more often than not blissfully empty. I've learned to tolerate that half-blood boy and the werewolf, but have you even noticed how many unworthy people who have turned up the last fifteen minutes?"
"There is an Order meeting. And there are no unworthy people in this house. A few paintings that could decorate the cells of Azkaban though…"
Phineas didn't hear, or pretended not to have heard, the last remark and continued.
"I saw that oaf Longbottom floo in from Hogwarts, with a mudblood. I could almost smell her. And…"
Sirius closed his eyes and stopped listening. He shoved his hands into his trouser pockets and felt his pocketknife. It had been a gift from his uncle Alphard on his fourteenth birthday and he had found it in his bedroom when he had returned to Grimmauld Place a year after he had escaped Azkaban. Absentmindedly he flicked the blade and was just about to continue towards the hall when Phineas' shill voice broke through his deafened ears.
"… and he is black! In this house!"
Almost against his own will, Sirius faced his ancestor again.
"Who is Black in this house? I'm the only Black left and I can assure you there will be no more inbred lunatics named Black."
"No, not Black, but black, as in coloured. That new pro-mudblood minister just walked in. Shacklebag."
"Shacklebolt," Sirius automatically corrected him while gaping incredulously at the rather ugly paining of the even uglier man. "Do you mean to say that you object to the colour of Shaklebolt's skin, your old hypocrite?" The blade of his pocketknife was now fully extended.
"Well, he's not like us. Even the werewolf looks more like us. This Shacklebin looks as dirty as if his dirty mudblood has reached his skin. Very handy, if you think about it. It makes it easier to pinpoint them, maybe give them a piece of land somewhere in Wales and let them muck up at the dragon farms there."
Sirius shoved the sharp blade of the small knife into the canvas of the painting, half an inch from Phineas' head. That got him the full attention of his ancestor.
"You're an idiot, grandfather Black. You always were. Kingsley Shacklebolt is as pureblood as purebloods can be, but from Jamaica, where everyone has brown skin due to far more frequent sunshine than in this gloomy country. What's interesting in your ramblings is that the view of sorting and, somehow, grade people after skin colour, or race as the muggles call it, is a muggle thing. We don't do that in the wizarding world. But it is also interesting that you, in your old age, have embraced some muggle values. Of course it had to be the most revolting idea in the muggle world, but you are toeing a line where some deluded muggles would agree with you. Now, what do you think I should do with this knife? Aim better?"
Phineas Nigellus left the painting without a word. Sirius assumed he went to his portrait at the headmaster's office at Hogwarts. He continued down the stairs towards the hall where people appeared out of thin air by apparition or stepped out of the fire place, brushing floo powder from their shoulders.