Disclaimer: I do not own anything from Harry Potter.


General Warnings: AU, language, violence, not dead!Regulus, Harry-gets-a-secret-second-godfather... sort-of


Chapter 2


IX.

"HARRY! Ron, he's here, Harry's here! We didn't hear you arrive! Oh, how are you? Are you all right? Have you been furious with us? I bet you have, I know our letters were useless, but we couldn't tell you anything, Dumbledore made us swear we wouldn't, oh, we've got so much to tell you-"

"Let him breathe, Hermione," Came Ron's voice, and Harry was relieved when Hermione's rapid-fire babbling stopped, and she let go of him at last. He surreptitiously rolled his shoulders and offered a genuine smile back as Ron – who seemed to have grown several more inches during their month apart, making him taller and more gangly looking than ever, though the long nose, bright red hair and freckles were the same – joined them, closing the door behind Harry.

"Like I said, we've got so much to tell you!" Hermione continued breathlessly, exchanging glances with Ron. "And I'm sorry we haven't been very informative about anything but Dumbledore said that it would be best if we didn't."

"I think he thought you were safest with the Muggles," Ron followed up just a touch nervously.

Yeah, Harry thought rather sarcastically, and in his mind, he could almost hear Reg echoing his words in that sardonic deadpan drawl that the older wizard seemed to have raised to an art form. Real safe, if you don't count the Dementors who decided to take a vacation in Little Whinging.

Harry felt an inexplicable urge to snicker. Probably not the best thing to do in front of Ron and Hermione.

"It's fine," He said out loud instead, strolling forward with his trunk towards the empty bed. "This one's mine, right? Are you sharing with Ginny then, Hermione?"

"Er, yes," Hermione sounded taken aback. "Um, so about the lack of information...?"

"Dumbledore's had people from the Order of the Phoenix tailing you all the time," Ron jumped in as if that would appease Harry (which would've done exactly the opposite if Harry hadn't already known about all this). "To keep you safe, you know."

"Yeah, I know," Harry confirmed, and this time, he could imagine Reg berating him for giving even that away. The older wizard had always been the keep-cards-close-to-your-chest type of person but Harry couldn't see the harm in letting his friends know that he – or rather Reg but he wasn't going to say anything about that – had been perceptive enough to pick out the various Order members that had been following him. And if it spread to everyone else, that was probably best, if only because they seriously needed to fix that problem of concealing where they were hiding when they weren't standing on flat ground, or they were going to get themselves killed one of these days.

"You know?" Hermione looked skeptical now, and Harry felt a twinge of annoyance.

"Yes, I know," Harry sighed. "They're not exactly subtle, are they? I figured they were there to guard me since they didn't try to kill me."

He waved a hand dismissively before reaching over to unlock Hedwig's cage. Hedwig swooped out, gliding once around the room before landing on top of the wardrobe in the corner. She could fly around here however much she pleased. "Nevermind; look, why don't you give me a rundown on what's been going on and what this Order of the Cooked Ostrich is?"

Both his friends goggled at him, and Harry smothered a smirk. He had picked up that particular habit of poking fun at the Order's name from Reg. Once, they had spent an entire hour coming up with different variations, and Reg had looked positively schoolboy gleeful through every single minute of it.

"Don't be rude, Harry," Hermione lectured. "It's the 'Order of the Phoenix', and it's a very important organization led by Dumbledore who founded it. It's a secret society of people who fought against You-Know-Who last time."

"This is its headquarters," Ron tacked on. "They hold the meetings here and everything."

"Not that we're allowed into them or anything," Hermione hastily assured. "Mostly, we've just been decontaminating this house, it's been empty for ages and stuff's been breeding in here. We've managed to clean out the kitchen, most of the bedrooms and I think we're doing the drawing room tomo- AARGH!"

With two loud cracks, Fred and George, Ron's elder twin brothers, had materialised out of thin air in the middle of the room, setting off Pigwidgeon who twittered more wildly than ever before zooming off to join Hedwig on top of the wardrobe. As the two older teens turned to face him, Harry finally cracked a more genuine grin. Ah, this was much more interesting than listening to Hermione and Ron's not-overview of what had been happening around this place.

"Fred, George," Harry greeted. "You two passed your Apparation tests then?"

"Hello, Harry!" They chorused, beaming at him.

"With distinction," Fred confirmed. For some reason, he was holding what looked like a piece of very long, flesh-coloured string.

"It would have taken you about thirty seconds longer to walk down the stairs," Ron huffed.

"Time is Galleons, little brother," Fred said, winking none-too-subtly at Harry as George did the same.

Harry rolled his eyes. Could they be any more obvious?

"You should try getting rid of that crack sound," He advised instead. "What if you wanted to sneak up on someone? The whole world would know you were coming if you Apparate in like that."

"Harry!" Hermione scolded indignantly. "That's even worse! They'll give us all heart failure! Don't encourage them!"

The twins just laughed, and George slung an arm around Harry's shoulders as he plopped down on the bed beside him.

"We'll see what we can do," George promised appreciatively. "Can't have the entire world know we're coming when we want to prank someone after all."

Fred nodded agreeably but stood back and eyed Harry somewhat thoughtfully. "You look different, Harry."

Harry blinked, and then glanced down at himself. He was wearing a Muggle attire, but for the first time in his life, the clothes actually fit, and he had on new jeans and a crisp white shirt with a casual light grey zip-up hoodie thrown over it.

"Thanks," Harry quirked a smile. "I got new clothes this summer."

Not a lie, not even an omission of the truth, really. One of Reg's life lessons was: the best lie is a vague truth. Never get caught in an outright lie because you won't be able to take it back. Instead, stick to the truth but don't go into too much detail. Most humans make their own assumptions to fill in any blanks you leave. Let them. When it suits you anyway.

But Fred was shaking his head. "Nah, I don't mean the clothes, though the sizes fit you much better now. But there's something about you this year..." The redhead scrutinized him for a moment longer. "I don't know; healthier definitely. More grown up too I think. Either way, you look good."

Harry tilted his head, and then said with a perfectly straight face, "Sorry Fred, but I don't swing that way." He placed a hand against his chest and batted his eyes dramatically as a teasing smirk curled his lips. "You flatter me though."

A stunned heartbeat later, both twins roared with laughter while Ron's face flamed red as he gawked at Harry, and Hermione pinked with embarrassment as well.

Harry himself reddened just a bit, still not used to offering his own verbal quips, but Reg had told him that a good, oftentimes humorous follow-up would always gain him more allies and put people more at ease than staying silent or shying away or getting angry would, especially in Gryffindor, and this year at Hogwarts, what with potentially at least three-quarters of the school shunning him again because he was a liar or insane or whatever else they wanted to believe, Harry would need all the allies he could get. Might as well get some practice in now.

"Our little Harrykins is growing up!" Fred wiped a fake tear from his eye even as he grinned at Harry with approval.

"Learning to flirt and everything," George agreed, ruffling Harry's hair so that it stuck up even more afterwards. "He'll be fending off boys and girls left and right! I'm so proud!"

"Ah, but he doesn't bat for the other team, George," Fred reminded him before staggering back and affecting a wounded stance. "Woe is me! The Boy-Who-Lived turned me down!"

The twins cracked up again, and Harry joined in, the room ringing with laughter until Hermione's flustered voice cut them off abruptly.

"Harry Potter, what's gotten into you today?" The brunette had her hands on her hips and was peering at Harry suspiciously. Harry's laughter died as he turned to frown at her.

"You're not acting yourself," Hermione summarized. "Is this how you've been dealing with your guilt? You're going about it the wrong way. Oh I knew something was wrong when your letters stopped coming!"

Harry blinked at the room at large with complete bafflement, and managed an intelligent, "Huh?"

("'I beg your pardon', not 'huh'," Reg reprimanded.)

"You haven't been writing to us," Hermione explained. "You've been wallowing in misplaced guilt, haven't you? And now you're dealing with it all the wrong way! You should've talked to us about this stuff, Harry!"

Harry's eyebrows were rising higher and higher with every word. He glanced over at Ron who shrugged and stayed silent, giving Harry a look that said 'just agree with her, mate'. He looked to the twins who rolled their eyes at the same time.

"Dealing with what exactly?" Harry asked, still confused as he turned back to Hermione once more.

"Cedric and the graveyard!" Hermione clarified impatiently. "Don't pretend not to know, Harry! It's not healthy to just ignore the issue!"

Harry frowned again, feeling a faint ache of sorrow in his chest at the thought of Cedric but otherwise alright. "Hermione, I thought we cleared this up weeks ago. I worked through that already, I'm fine. I'm sure I told you that in at least two of my letters."

"Of course you're not fine," Hermione said confidently only to be interrupted by Fred.

"Hermione, look at him," The twin gestured at Harry. "Out of all the times we've seen him after he came back from the Dursleys, has he ever looked as fine as he is now?"

"That's because he's repressing everything," Hermione scowled at Fred. "He can't heal if he doesn't talk about it! You've been telling us to leave him alone all summer!"

Harry glanced at him, startled, but Fred – uncharacteristically enough – flashed a sharp quicksilver glare of his own in Hermione's direction before his expression cleared and he shook his head.

"No, I told you two to stop nagging him," Fred corrected, wiggling the fleshy bit of string he had been holding in the air as he looked at Harry. "We've been listening in on Order meetings using these, Harry-"

"-Extendable Ears," George interjected smoothly. "Great for eavesdropping-"

"-and we've learned quite a bit," Fred picked up. "Like the fact that some of the Order are following known Death Eaters, keeping tabs on them and such-"

"-amongst other things," George nodded. "And we've heard you've made a friend-"

"-who does crossword puzzles with you-"

"-and teaches you French and whatnot-"

"-which we wouldn't mind learning ourselves when it comes to the swearwords, Harry; keep that in mind for if you're ever in a teaching mood-"

"-but most of all," George finished. "We've heard that your Muggle friend's been good for you. And clearly, he has. Which is why Fred and I told those two not to fret or bombard you with demands to 'talk' since you've obviously found a way of your own to deal with your problems."

Harry nodded slowly. "I see."

"Which is completely untrue!" Hermione dove in hotly, crossing her arms. "He's a Muggle! There's nothing wrong with that of course but what would he know about what Harry went through?"

"And what would you know about it?" Harry cut in at last, leveling an even stare on Hermione who faltered a bit in the face of his intent gaze. "You weren't there, Hermione. Neither was Ron."

Hermione flushed, and Ron frowned, but she forged on stubbornly. "No, but we know about it, and we're from the same world, and we're your friends!"

"He's my friend too," Harry pointed out.

"He's a grown man!" Hermione argued crossly.

Harry threw his hands into the air. "What has that got to do with anything? I can't be friends with adults now?"

"That's not it," Hermione looked utterly frustrated. "But how do you know he's not just using you or something?"

Harry stilled under George's arm, and the twin in question glanced at him, raised his eyebrows briefly, and then carefully withdrew, scooting away from Harry by about half a foot with an expression of amusement on his face. Harry barely noticed.

"I beg your pardon?" He said stiffly, something hot and fierce surging up in his gut, simmering protectively as it laid in wait for its prey. "I'm not quite sure what you're trying to imply."

"I mean," Hermione's voice bordered on disdainful reproach. "He could just be trying to get close to you to... you know. There are stories in the papers about that kind of thing happening all the time, Harry. You can't be so naive about it."

Harry swallowed, trying to steady his Occlumency shields as his temper threatened to get the better of him. "Hermione, I think you should stop while you're ahead. I know Reg; he'd never do something like that. So I'm telling you now; don't continue insulting him like you know everything, especially not to my face."

Hermione glared, pulling herself up to her full height. "You're going to have to see sense sometime, Harry. You're just not seeing it because you're so focused on pretending you don't feel guilty about Cedric. It's good that you're back with us now; there's no telling what that man would've done to you given even just a few more weeks. You should take this experience as a lesson to be more wary of child molesters-"

Hermione half-yelped, half-screamed when the entire room erupted with activity, and Ron leapt to his feet with a shocked shout.

The windows shattered. The lamp on the bedside table exploded. And every leg of the desk across the room snapped, the entire thing collapsing in on itself without its support. Both Hedwig and Pigwidgeon hooted agitatedly from their perch though they were smart enough to stay atop the wardrobe.

A long silence followed. Fred brushed an invisible speck of dust off his robes. George lounged back even further against the foot of the bed.

Harry stood up, and Hermione actually took a step back, eyes wide.

"You've never even met him," Harry said quietly, reigning in his anger even as he let it hone his voice into icy steel. "Don't talk about him like that. What's wrong with you, Hermione?"

"What's wrong with me?! What's wrong with you?!" Hermione retorted somewhat shrilly. "No letters-"

"Less letters," Harry corrected. "I still wrote."

"-and you stopped talking to us and you don't tell us anything-" Hermione charged on heedlessly.

"It's not like you tell me anything either," Harry countered. "Why should I tell you every little detail of my life? It's my life, Hermione. I don't need people looking over my shoulder to monitor every one of my actions and tell me whether or not I can do them."

"-and it's not good for you, Harry," Hermione insisted obstinately, completely disregarding everything he had just said.

"I'll decide what's good for me, thank you," Harry returned firmly. "And right now, I've decided that the best thing for all of us is for me to leave this room before either of us says or does something we'll regret."

And without another word, Harry shouldered his way past Hermione and Ron, bypassing Fred as well, and ducked out of the bedroom.

Or tried to anyway. When he opened the door, he almost ran headlong into Ron's sister, who had undoubtedly been eavesdropping.

Ginny took on a sheepish look. "Hi, Harry. I heard you had arrived."

"Hey, Ginny," Harry greeted, absently thinking that it was a good step up that she wasn't turning red or stuttering in his presence anymore. "Do you know if the meeting's out yet?"

Ginny shook her head. "Not quite. Looking forward to seeing Sirius?"

"Yeah," Harry nodded, and then paused. "You've all been living with him for the past few weeks?"

"Yes," Ginny eyed him speculatively for a second. "We know he's innocent and everything of course. He can be a bit temperamental but he's still pretty fun to be around."

"Oh," Harry ignored the hollow pang in his chest.

("I'll understand, of course, if you want to stay with your aunt and uncle. But... well... think about it. Once my name's cleared... if you wanted a... a different home...")

It didn't matter, Harry told himself sternly. Ron and Hermione and all the others hadn't really been living with Sirius; they'd just all been living in the same house together.

Which was different.

Once Sirius' name was cleared, then Harry could move in with his godfather to live with him. Sirius had promised after all. There was no reason for him to feel even the slightest bit betrayed that Sirius had been living it up here with his friends and not Harry.

He shook the bitter thoughts out of his head. That was stupid; he was here now. Besides, if he had come to Grimmauld earlier, he might not have met Reg, and Harry really wouldn't want to give that up for anything.

"Right, well," Harry scrubbed a hand through his hair. "I should-"

"-watch us do magic," Fred suggested, lazily flicking his wand at the windows with a muttered "Reparo."

"You can sit by the door if you want," George said cheerfully as if Harry hadn't just blown up half the room. The older teen also had his wand raised, swishing it at the lamp as Fred started on the desk. "We've got a little more news than just what the Order's been up to."

Harry sighed but after glancing at Hermione who looked willing enough to hold her tongue for now, and at Ron, who still seemed somewhat uncomfortable with all the tension in the room, and then at Ginny who was looking expectantly at him, he nodded once and slid down onto the ground to lean against the wall. Ginny promptly secured a chair for herself, and they all settled down for the time being.

"So let's see, what's new?" George mused, and then his expression turned ugly. "Oh yeah, wanna hear about Percy?"

X.

Sirius was happy, and seeing as he wasn't happy very much nowadays, he definitely wanted to stay happy for as long as possible.

Which shouldn't be hard because! Because his godson was here, right at this very moment, somewhere in the house. Of course, Sirius had wanted to go pick Harry up along with Moony and the others but he was an escaped convict (who had never actually had a trial and thus had never been officially convicted) so Dumbledore had said that he had to stay put.

Still, Harry was here in Grimmauld Place right this instant, and Sirius was...

...not so happy because he was stuck in yet another meeting.

He had tuned everyone out ages ago, mostly because they were simply going over the same precautions that they had been for the past several weeks, and of course, Snape's report (that bastard never could shut up about how he was doing so much more work than Sirius), as well as the same questions of 'have you captured any Death Eaters yet' (of course not), and 'who's turn is it for guard duty' (never Sirius), and 'what's the latest news on the Ministry' (they're still a bunch of bumbling fools without even a snowball's chance in hell of fighting off Voldemort once the snake bastard finally decides to surface), and 'Potter's spending an awful lot of time with some Muggle doing crossword puzzles in the park' (which just... what the bloody hell?).

It was that last one that Sirius ever took any major interest in, mostly because he couldn't understand why Harry wanted to spend time with some Muggle every day doing crossword puzzles instead of – for example – writing more letters to his friends.

And to Sirius of course.

Granted, neither he nor Harry's friends had been all that forthcoming with information (at all), as per Dumbledore's orders, and Harry had every right to be livid with them, but did that really mean that the kid had to go and make friends with some random Muggle and forget about them? Ever since Tonks had first come back telling them about a brown-haired thirty-something-year-old bloke defending Harry from a bunch of bullies, Sirius had been thankful at first that there was still some decent folk out there, but then...

But then the Order guards had started returning with news of a fast-forming friendship between Sirius' godson and that Muggle, and letters from Harry had slowly begun petering out. Before that first week of July, letters from Harry had come every two days, as fast as Hedwig had been able to deliver them, and while Sirius had felt somewhat guilty for not being able to write anything more than 'keep your head down', and 'how are you feeling today', and other things that had nothing to do with any of the questions that Harry had wanted answers to, he had still looked forward to at least receiving letters from his godson.

And then Harry had met that Muggle man (and for some reason, all the guards had missed the bloke's name for five weeks straight until two days ago when Tonks had swept back in and told them that Harry had called him 'Reg'), and the letters dwindled from one every two days to one per week, and then they'd stopped almost completely at the beginning of the fourth week of July until Harry had sent a short thank-you note on his birthday to Sirius, Ron, Hermione, and the twins for the presents they had sent.

That was it. Even the content in each letter had been condensed to a few sentences at most, and they were usually about inane things like 'this summer's getting hotter' and 'I've finished my homework' and 'hope you're doing well' because Harry had stopped asking questions about anything entirely.

And still the accounts had come in from the Order members, each 'Potter guard' who had taken the afternoon shift for the day returning with a bemused smile and a story about Harry's latest crossword puzzle. Hestia had taken to copying down all the clues just so she could solve them later in her free time.

Of course, it wasn't just crosswords. Apparently, the Muggle was fluent in French (Sirius was too! He could teach Harry!) and had been teaching Harry a variety of words and phrases, as well as a slew of swearwords because one could insult someone in that language and still make it sound as smooth as a compliment if the person they were cursing out didn't know French.

However, all this just accumulated into the simple fact that Sirius was sort of – kind of, very – jealous.

Of a Muggle.

Not that he had anything against Muggles, and this Reg fellow was apparently good at making Harry laugh, and if the Order guards were to be believed, Harry no longer looked as guilty or sad or like death had warmed over after one of his nightmares. In fact, the nightmares seemed to have lessened or stopped altogether since Mad-Eye and Kingsley – who usually took the night shifts – had said that they could no longer hear Harry crying out in his sleep.

Which were all very good things. Reg was clearly a good influence on Harry.

That didn't stop Sirius from feeling jealous. If anything, it just made it worse, which had the simultaneous effect of making himself feel a bit like scum for wanting to deny Harry that influence.

It wasn't as if he didn't want Harry to feel better; he did! Sirius just wanted to be the one in that Muggle's place. He had already failed James and Lily once when it came to their lives and their son. He just wanted to do something to try and make up for that.

Instead, he was stuck in his hated childhood home and cleaning. Because that wretched Kreacher couldn't be bothered to, and Sirius would rather have that elf out of sight than in sight and offending everyone just by opening his mouth.

But! Harry was here, finally, and Sirius could start spending some time with his godson at last.

Which would happen a lot sooner if this meeting would pick up its pace. Molly had gone out and come back with the others but hadn't said anything since Snape had started on his spiel about something or other.

"I believe we can wrap things up for today," Dumbledore announced at last, and Sirius blew out a gusty breath as everyone began packing up. Finally!

"Will you be wanting to see Harry first, Albus?" Molly enquired as she rolled up her sleeves, no doubt ready to go put the last finishing touches on dinner.

"No, I think it would be best for me to be on my way," Dumbledore looked over at Sirius, blue eyes twinkling. "I'm sure Harry would like to have some time with Sirius."

Sirius stared back stoically, not reacting.

"Be sure not to tell Harry more than he needs to know," Dumbledore cautioned them all before departing. "We don't want to burden the boy more than absolutely necessary."

Sirius was on his feet before Dumbledore had reached the front door, already rushing for the stairs.

"Finally able to do something useful, Black?" Snape sneered as Sirius brushed past him. "Then again, pampering that spoiled useless brat is the only thing you know how to do."

Sirius paused at the foot of the staircase, and for once, the thought of his godson delayed his typical anger towards the greasy git. He snorted instead and headed up, tossing back, "Out of everything you've ever said, Snivellus, your opinion on my godson is by far the most insignificant, and considering the fact that I have never cared about anything you have ever had to say in my entire life, that's really something. Can't say I'm too surprised though. Everyone knows you hate Lily's son, after all."

Sirius didn't need to look back to know that the overgrown bat had flinched.

He smiled, vindictively pleased. Point to him.

"Sirius!"

Snape was instantly forgotten as Sirius' attention was drawn to the top of the stairs where his godson was standing, so much like James yet that was Lily's smile, and it brought a grin to Sirius' own face as he bounded up the rest of the steps.

"Harry!" He felt awkward for just a moment as he swept the boy – fifteen years old, all grown up; Sirius had missed so much – up in a crushing hug, but Harry returned it after only a startled second's hesitation, and the awkwardness faded as Sirius pulled back to study the kid. "How's my favourite godson?"

Harry rolled his eyes, and Sirius was delighted to see the healthy flush in the boy's cheeks, teenage frame a little more filled out and a bit taller, and wearing clothes that actually fit. From what he had been able to glimpse back in third year, Harry usually wore oversized hand-me-downs under his school robes.

"I'm your only godson, Sirius," Harry told him in an exasperated tone, but when Sirius met his eyes – Lily's eyes – Harry jerked back, surprise flitting across his face.

"Harry?" Sirius prodded, somewhat puzzled by the reaction. "Something wrong?"

"...You have grey eyes," Harry said in a dazed tone.

Sirius frowned, befuddled. "Yeess, I do. Are my grey eyes somehow noteworthy?"

"No, no," Harry assured, though he still looked distracted. "I just- never noticed before. Nevermind. How have you been? Was this really your house when you were a kid? What is with the house-elf heads mounted on the walls?"

Sirius couldn't help it. He barked out a laugh at his godson's incredulous tone and wrapped an arm around Harry's shoulders. He had thought Harry would be a bit more reticent like he recalled him to be in the kid's third and fourth years but Harry's sense of humour and overall contentment were shining through, and it was contagious despite the fact that they were on the topic of his parents' house.

"We have dinner now," Sirius told Harry, not paying much attention to the other kids trailing behind them as they headed back down the stairs. "And it's pretty late. But tomorrow, I'll give you a tour if you want, not that there's much to see, and we can have some good old godfather-godson bonding time, alright?"

Harry blinked up at him, and then his shoulders loosened up just a touch from the slightly tense line that they had been held at. Sirius hadn't even noticed the kid's nervousness until Harry had relaxed.

"Yeah, sure," Harry smiled, and Sirius figured that his summer was finally looking up.

Two hours, one screaming portrait of his damned mother, and one dinner later, Sirius changed his mind.

"He has a right to know what's been going on!" Sirius bellowed.

"He is far too young!" Molly screeched back.

"Hang on!" George interrupted loudly.

"How come Harry gets his questions answered?" Fred demanded angrily.

"We've been trying to get stuff out of you for a month-"

"It's not my fault you haven't been told what the Order's doing," Sirius growled tersely. "That's your parents' decision. Harry on the other hand-"

"It's not down to you to decide what's good for Harry!" Molly bulldozed over him, face nearly as red as her hair. "Dumbledore said not to tell Harry more than he needs to know!"

"I don't intend to tell him more than he needs to know, Molly," Sirius bit out. From the corner of his eye, he caught sight of his godson looking highly unimpressed with everything going on around him, and a second later, the kid actually pulled out a book and proceeded to read it, ignoring the argument happening over his head entirely. Just... what? "But as he was the one who saw Voldemort come back, he has more right than most-"

"He's not a member of the Order of the Phoenix!" Molly snapped. "He's only fifteen and-"

"And he's dealt with as much as most in the Order," Sirius insisted. "And more than some."

"No one's denying what he's done!" Molly shrilled, her voice rising even more as her fists trembled on the arms of her chair. "But he's still-"

"He's not a child!" Sirius barked impatiently, pushing back the regret that came with this statement. Harry wasn't a mere child, no matter how much Sirius wished otherwise.

"He's not an adult either!" Molly snarled back, the red in her face turning almost blotchy. "He's not James, Sirius!"

In his peripheral vision, Sirius saw Harry stiffen, head still bent over his book but body becoming unnaturally motionless, and Sirius' next words pitched low and cold with instantaneous fury. How dare this woman-

"I'm perfectly clear who he is, thanks, Molly," Sirius said icily. Around him, at the fringes of his senses, he could feel the magic in the Black home respond, rustling maliciously as it pawed hungrily in the wings, waiting eagerly for Sirius to forcibly expel the offending party from the house.

Sirius took a deep breath.

Molly didn't seem to notice his increasing ire, or at least she chose not to notice. "I'm not sure you are! Sometimes, the way you talk about him, it's as though you think you've got your best friend back! Harry is not his father, however much he might look like him! He is still at school, and adults responsible for him should not forget it!"

"Meaning I'm an irresponsible godfather?" Sirius hissed, so incensed at this point that he could've broken something through sheer will alone.

"Meaning you have been known to act rashly, Sirius, which is why Dumbledore keeps reminding you to stay at home and-"

"We'll leave my instructions from Dumbledore out of this, if you please!" Sirius spat out.

"Arthur!" Molly rounded on her husband, and Sirius mentally sneered. "Arthur, back me up!"

Arthur remained silent for a moment, taking off his glasses and cleaning them slowly on his robes, not looking at his wife. Only when he had replaced them carefully on his nose did he reply. "Dumbledore knows the position has changed, Molly. He accepts that Harry will have to be filled in, to a certain extent, now that he is staying at Headquarters."

Sirius rolled his eyes. In other words, Arthur had reiterated Dumbledore's words and hadn't taken a position on either side of the argument. Then again, as far as Sirius could tell, the Headmaster didn't want Harry to know anything no matter what that twinkly-eyed senile old man said.

"Yes, but there's a difference between that and inviting him to ask whatever he likes!"

"Personally," Remus said quietly, ever the appeaser, and Molly turned quickly to him, hopeful that finally she was about to get an ally. Sirius' jaw tightened at the unfairness of it all. "I think it better that Harry gets the facts – not all the facts, Molly, but the general picture – from us, rather than a garbled version from... others."

Sirius snorted, crossing his arms. Everyone in the room knew about those Extendable Ears, and the fact that there was no way that Molly had managed to get rid of every single one.

"Well," Molly breathed in deeply and looked around the table for further support that did not come. "Well... I can see I'm going to be overruled. I'll just say this: Dumbledore must have had his reasons for not wanting Harry to know too much, and speaking as someone who has Harry's best interests at heart-"

"He's not your son," Sirius cut in, voice dangerously soft as his heart jolted violently in his chest.

"He's as good as," Molly claimed scathingly. "Who else has he got?"

Sirius gritted his teeth. "He's got me!"

"Yes," Molly's lip curled contemptuously. "The thing is, it's been rather difficult for you to look after him while you've been locked up in Azkaban, hasn't it?"

Sirius felt like he couldn't breathe, and there was a haze of red-hot rage that bordered on madness clouding his brain. How dare this bitch- James had made him godfather- She had no right- 'Son' his arse-

"Molly, you're not the only person at this table who cares about Harry," Remus interjected sharply, and for a moment, through the fog in his head (that felt a lot like Azkaban and Dementors and cold, dark, never-ceasing nightmares), Sirius thought that maybe Moony would defend him, just like old times, just like Before, when it was the Marauders against the world, but then- "Sirius, sit down."

...Was that it?

Sit down?

Sit down?

Suddenly feeling as lethargic and muddled as one would in a dream, Sirius stumbled back a step and slowly began sinking back into his chair, hands shaking, hurtacrimonywhywon'tyoudefendmeMoony choking his throat and squeezing his heart in a vice-like grip until he couldn't breathe-

"What do you mean 'sit down'?"

Sirius almost fell out of the seat he had just taken again, his godson's voice coming so out of the blue that it threw him for a loop, and when he looked up, he was astounded to find Harry out of his own chair, book forgotten, and standing beside Sirius, green eyes narrowed and fuming behind his glasses.

"Harry-" Remus started in a placating tone of voice.

If anything, this just riled Harry up even further. The kid squared his shoulders as if preparing for battle.

"What do you mean 'sit down'?" Harry repeated unrelentingly, scowling at Remus. "Didn't you hear what she said?"

Remus faltered, looking uncertain, but Harry didn't wait for an answer, turning to face Molly instead who suddenly looked out of her depth as if she wasn't used to Harry talking back to her. From what Sirius had gleaned over the past two years, Harry wasn't one for verbal throwdowns, not really. Normally, when the kid truly wanted to stand his ground on a matter, he would show it through his actions, not words.

Although Sirius supposed there was plenty of action going on right now.

"Mrs. Weasley," Harry stated, and there was an inflexible cadence in his voice that Sirius had never heard before. If several of the others' expression were anything to go by, neither had they. "I appreciate the kindness that you and your family have shown me over the past four years, I really do, but Sirius didn't cool his heels in the vacation home for deranged felons because the Dementors gave good spa treatments, and implying anything of the sort is just plain spiteful."

Regardless of the subject conversation, Sirius had to bite back a reflexive grin even as the twins released simultaneous snorts from their corner.

"I admit," Harry continued without so much as a smile, paying no mind to the byplay. "That he was reckless in going after Wormtail but he paid for it in full, and he got back to me as soon as he could. If anyone has the right to complain about him, it's me, and I don't have any complaints, not about that."

His chin tilted up half an inch, defiance in every line of his body, and there was something almost... aristocratic in the way he stood and stared down the formidable Weasley matriarch.

"I understand that you are worried about me, Mrs. Weasley," Harry finished curtly. "And I am grateful for that. But that doesn't give you any right to say what you said to Sirius. You are not my mother, but Sirius is my godfather. My parents entrusted me to him in the event that they couldn't take care of me themselves, so no one in this room, in this country, in this world, has more say over my wellbeing than Sirius does."

A deafening holy-Merlin-what-just-happened silence prevailed over the dining room. No one seemed to know how to react. Remus was blank-faced and silent. Hermione looked scandalized. Ron's ears were the colour of his hair. Arthur was frozen in his seat. And Molly had gone completely scarlet, perhaps angry or embarrassed or both.

And Harry, still a teenager in the end, flushed red as well, but his fists remained mutinously balled, his gaze never wavered, and there was no apology or remorse anywhere in his expression. He had meant every word, and he clearly didn't plan on taking any of it back.

And right at that moment, Sirius could've given the boy the universe as a representation of what he was feeling and still not have been able to show just how happy he was.

Harry glanced back at him, still thoroughly self-conscious and evidently trying to gauge Sirius' reaction. Sirius just let a grin split his face, proud and feeling like his heart might grow too big for his chest, as cheesy as that sounded. Without a word, he flicked his wand at Harry's chair so that it skittered over to his side, and then promptly dragged Harry into it.

Harry rolled his eyes but finally smiled back, the colour in his cheeks receding back to normal again.

"So," Sirius broke the silence jubilantly. "Obviously, we can't tell you everything, but you can ask, and we'll see what we can tell you. What do you want to know?"

"I want to know what's been going on," Harry said at once, reverting back to a curious teenager instead of that peculiarly mature persona from earlier. "Where's Voldemort hiding right now? What's he been doing?"

They both ignored the shudders around the room.

"Well," Sirius began. "There's not been-"

"Fine!" Molly cut him off, her voice cracking, and she turned over-bright eyes on her children. "Fine! Ginny, Ron, Hermione, Fred, George – I want you out of this kitchen now!"

The uproar that followed was loud and long, and by the time it ended, the twins, Ron, and Hermione were allowed to stay, and Ginny threw a fit on her way back to her room, though Sirius didn't know what Molly was thinking since he was sure that Hermione would be telling the girl everything the moment they were alone.

In the end, Harry asked less questions than Sirius had expected, all of them to-the-point and insightful, but at the same time, they leaned slightly on the disinterested side as if Harry wasn't too fussed about wringing answers from them at all, and ultimately, it was the other kids, even Hermione, who persisted nosily into the Order's movements and actions while Harry sat back and absorbed it all, hands fiddling with his book as he took in everything that was said.

By the time Molly finally snapped and ordered them all upstairs (still unable to look directly at Harry even as she did so), only her children offered a token protest. Harry simply tucked his book under one arm, murmured a goodnight to Sirius, accepted the tight hug that Sirius wrapped him in, and then meandered out of the room.

Very strange.

XI.

Harry waited until Ron's snoring filled the room before he took out his pocket watch, pulled the covers over his head, and switched the setting to the two-way mirror. A focused thought later, Reg's face shimmered into existence above the timepiece, casting a dim light in the darkness of the bedroom.

"Draw your bed curtains, Harry," Reg advised by way of greeting. "They have a Silencing Ward on them."

Oh," Harry said rather densely as he pushed himself upright and hastily yanked the curtains close.

"Busy day?" Reg enquired as Harry settled down again, sitting up and leaning against the headboard this time as he held the watch in front of him.

"It was okay," Harry made a face. "Professor Moody flew us halfway around the world before we finally got here."

Reg chuckled, and out of sight, something that sounded like glass clinked against a tabletop. "Sounds like him. I never personally knew him but his paranoia is legendary. How are you liking Grimmauld Place?"

"There are mounted house-elf heads on the walls!" Harry muttered, more than a little disturbed.

Reg looked rueful this time. "Some pureblood families are like that. It used to be tradition for a family's house-elves to have their heads cut off and mounted on a plaque in return for their lifetime of loyal service. It's supposed to be an honour."

Harry couldn't imagine why. Literally. "So you mean people like the Malfoys...?"

"Oh no," Reg looked amused now. "The Malfoys stopped that tradition a long time ago. Crude, they thought it to be, not to mention bad for the decor, and it scared their peacocks. And I can just imagine Narcissa's face if anyone ever so much as suggests it to her. She never did like house-elves, not even live ones half the time."

Harry had only ever met Malfoy's mum once, and she had already looked distasteful of everything around her at the time. Merlin only knew how she'd react if someone mentioned house-elf heads stuck to her house's walls.

"You know Mrs. Malfoy?" Harry asked curiously.

Reg inclined his head. "She's six years older than me so we were at Hogwarts together. Her maiden name is Black. She's your godfather's cousin."

"Sirius is related to the Malfoys?!" Harry yelped.

"All purebloods are related to each other," Reg said dismissively. "Didn't I mention that before? You're related to the Blacks as well. Your... grandmother on your father's side was Dorea Potter née Black. She married Charlus Potter. Dorea was also your godfather's great-aunt, which technically makes Si- Black your cousin, however distant."

Harry's head reeled from all the relations. "Purebloods really like marrying one another, huh?"

Reg huffed a laugh before a wineglass appeared and the man took a sip. "Yes they do. It's that blood purity rot. Your godfather's parents, Orion and Walburga, were second cousins."

"And they married?" Harry could barely imagine it. "Isn't that- Well obviously it's not illegal or anything but isn't that bad for family lines in the long run?"

"Indeed," Reg agreed. "Have you met any Crabbes or Goyles?" Harry nodded with dawning realization. "What do you think happened to them? They weren't dropped on their heads as babies. Not that I know of anyway."

"Wow," Harry said, mildly perturbed as he shook his head.

"Exactly," Reg hummed, taking another sip of red wine. They were quiet for a while after that as Harry digested everything.

"Draco Malfoy's my cousin as well," Harry groused sulkily. "Brilliant." He paused. "You know a lot about bloodlines."

"I was made to learn," Reg revealed. "Most pureblood children are, though a lot of the time, they're only required to learn their patriarchal heritage since that's where the heir would be inheriting from. Draco Malfoy, for example, will become the next Lord of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Malfoy, not Black, so he wouldn't really need to know his mother's lineage."

"Who would inherit for the Blacks then?" Harry frowned. "Sirius doesn't have any children-"

"-so he'll probably name you," Reg shrugged in response to Harry's dropped jaw. "What did you think he would do? You're his godson, the closest thing he has to an offspring of his own."

Harry nodded distractedly. "You know a lot about the Blacks."

Reg acknowledged this with a noncommittal nod. "I do."

Harry straightened a bit. "...Today, when I saw Sirius, his eyes... You remember, a few weeks ago, back before you even told me your name, I told you that you seemed familiar? I finally figured out who you remind me of. You have the same eyes as Sirius, and you laugh like him too. ...Who are you?"

Infuriatingly enough, Reg didn't so much as bat an eye. "You'll find out soon enough."

"If I'll find out soon enough, why won't you just tell me now?" Harry complained.

Reg smiled rather indulgently at him. "It would be poor form on my part if I tell you everything instead of letting you figure things out by yourself. We wouldn't want you to become even more stupid, now would we?"

Harry scowled half-heartedly at the serenely delivered insult. "Fine. You have to have been in Grimmauld Place before though, or you wouldn't know its location, not to mention all the stuff you know about the Order. You sound like you've practically been at the meetings, but you said you're not one of them. You're not some sort of ghost haunting Grimmauld Place, are you?"

This startled a light laugh out of Reg. "Ghosts don't have corporeal bodies, kid. I'm as alive as you are, don't worry."

"Have you been in Grimmauld Place?" Harry persisted doggedly. "Wait, no; are you in Grimmauld Place? Right now?"

Reg heaved a disparaging sigh. Harry thought this was highly uncalled for. "Hey, I'm figuring things out for myself; you should be ecstatic!"

Reg arched an eyebrow at him before downing the rest of his wine and then evidently picking up his watch as the wizard's image shook. "I'll be even more ecstatic if you learn some patience. Tomorrow, Harry. For now, I shall bid you goodnight."

And with that, the watch dimmed, and the link was cut, engulfing the bedroom in darkness once more.

Harry glowered sullenly. Not fair.

XII.

"You had a brother," Harry said faintly, staring at the wall-hanging. Sirius had been showing him around the house, and they had stopped at a tapestry of the Black family tree.

A tapestry with the name 'Regulus Arcturus Black' shown clearly at the very bottom of the tree. According to it, Regulus had died in 1979.

"Yeah, he was younger than me," Sirius confirmed, his mouth a harsh slash on his face. "A much better son, as I was constantly reminded. Stupid idiot... he joined the Death Eaters."

("Worst decision of my life, and trust me when I say I've made quite a few bad ones.")

"And you let him?" The words slipped out before Harry could censure them, more accusing than he had meant them to be. After last night, after defending Sirius, and Sirius looking at him with that strange expression full of surprised wonder as if he couldn't believe Harry was real, he had thought that their relationship would only get better from that point on, but right now, Harry was having a hard time remembering why he shouldn't punch his godfather in the face.

Sirius stiffened and glanced at him before shrugging. "It was his choice, and he was thick enough to believe our parents."

"Most children would," Harry couldn't help saying.

"I didn't!" Sirius said defensively.

"No," Harry agreed, still not looking at his godfather. "You just ran away to my dad's house."

"Exactly," Sirius nodded, though it was tentative at best as if he could sense something off with Harry.

"And you left him behind," Harry continued, hands clenching involuntarily in his sweater pockets.

Sirius bristled. "He was our parents' golden boy. They probably pampered him even more after I left him there-"

("...we usually have to help ourselves." "Yeah, I know the feeling, kid.")

"-bet my parents thought he was a right little hero for joining up. In the end, he was murdered by Voldemort though. Or on Voldemort's orders, more likely; I doubt Regulus was ever important enough to be killed by Voldemort in person. From what I found out after he died, he got in so far, then panicked about what he was being asked to do and tried to back out; brainless little coward, as if you could just turn in your resignation or something-"

('The person who will tell you about me will not have very nice things to say, and I do not blame him for it. He has no idea I survived, and no idea that I had left the Dark Lord's service even before I had 'died'.')

"What if he had left Voldemort's service?" Harry spoke up abruptly, still staring woodenly at the tapestry, at R.A.B. "What if he thought Voldemort was wrong and that was why he tried to leave? To stand up to Voldemort?"

Sirius snorted. "If that were true, and Regulus actually tried to leave because of it, well, that takes guts, Harry. He would've been turning against everything our dear parents ever taught him. He'd have to be a... a bloody Gryffindor to have the bollocks to turn his back on Voldemort of all people, and let me tell you something, Harry, my brother was many things but he wasn't brave. Couldn't even stand up to our parents; he never put a toe out of line if he could help it. Voldemort would've been out of the question. Nah, even if Reggie did see something wrong with Voldemort's campaign, he would've been too much of a coward to do anything but run away, much less stand up to the Dark Lord."

"And how would you know that?" Harry challenged, rounding on his godfather and finally looking up at him. "You left him behind, remember?"

Sirius stared back at him, gaping slightly and frowning in consternation. Before he could say anything though, Harry had turned on his heel and marched out of the room without another word.

As soon as he hit the hallway, he was off, sprinting up the stairs back to the room he shared with Ron, closing and bolting the door behind him, and then diving for his bed and all but ripping the curtains shut in one go.

"Reg!" Harry gasped out before the image in the air had even finished smoothing out. "Reg! Where are you?"

Reg just watched him, cool grey eyes so much like Sirius' yet not at the same time.

Harry sighed impatiently. "You saw the whole thing, didn't you? Just now, with Sirius? Are there like spy-holes in this house?"

Still no answer. Reg's features might as well have been carved out of stone.

Harry frowned. "You realize this changes nothing, right? I can't believe Sirius just left you behind and ran away on his own! You would've been fourteen, right? Not even fifteen yet? I don't care what Sirius says; there's no way that woman in the portrait downstairs could pamper anyone-"

"Harry," Reg interrupted softly, and Harry's mouth clicked shut. "Harry, who am I?"

Harry straightened. "Regulus. Regulus Arcturus Black, former Death Eater, former heir to the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, Sirius' younger brother, and..." He shot Reg a mulish look. "My goduncle."

Reg stared. Harry stared back.

And then Reg closed his eyes and leaned away, moving out of the frame for a moment. A strangled sound came through, somewhere between a laugh and a rusty sob, before Reg came back, the horrible blank mask from before nowhere in sight, and looking at Harry like Sirius had yesterday, like he couldn't believe Harry was real.

"Why did you think something would change?" Harry demanded, torn between affronted and bewildered. "I told you nothing would change. What does it matter if you're Sirius' brother? If anything, that just gives me more of a reason to stick around you."

Reg just shook his head. "I... Harry, you have to understand, I'm not used to people... staying. Sirius left. Andy left. Cissa left. Bellatrix was never here to begin with; she broke very early on in her life. Mother only put up with me, first as incentive for Sirius to stick around and be more like the pureblood heir that she and Father wanted, and then, after he left, I was the only one who could carry on the Black name, nothing more. Have you heard of the saying 'an heir and a spare'? I was the spare. They only wanted me because I was the respectable son. Sirius was the one who should've been that. The firstborn, you know? There's a certain prestige that comes with that particular title. But that didn't turn out very well; Sirius ran away and I was the only one left."

Reg's eyes were distant now. "A large part of why I acted the way Mother wanted me to was because I wanted her to like me." He offered a fractured smile. "Obviously, that didn't work out either."

Harry was quiet for a long minute. "...Well, who needs her? She's dead anyway, and I could always use a second god... relative. You give better advice than Sirius does, that's for sure."

Reg looked highly pleased at this but did his best to curb that emotion. "Sirius is a better duellist than I am. Practically everyone in my family is. I prefer defence to offence."

Harry scowled a little at the thought of his godfather. How could anyone say that about their own sibling? Harry had none of course but he had always believed that if he did, he'd always try to protect them and vice versa when it came down to it no matter what arguments or fights they got into.

"Bellatrix?" Harry switched topics instead, shifting his thoughts away from Sirius as he recalled the tapestry. "And Andy would be Andromeda? And Cissa is Narcissa Malfoy, right?"

"Yes," Reg nodded. "Bellatrix, Andromeda, and Narcissa – me and Sirius' cousins. Andy was the smart one; got out while she could and married for love. Cissa's marriage to Lucius was arranged but they're a good match, and I think they actually do love each other, though of course, they reserve any and all affections towards each other and their son for when they're behind closed doors. Cissa is very family-oriented. As for Bellatrix... she's even worse than Mother, and I don't say that for just anyone. From the updates Kreacher has given me over the past decade and a half, Bellatrix was one of the Death Eaters who tortured the Longbottoms into insanity."

Harry jolted. "Longbottoms? I have a friend – Neville – he's-"

"Probably their son," Reg surmised. "How unfortunate. If you ever bump into her, Harry, and you probably will sooner or later, keep in mind that Bellatrix Lestrange is one of the most dangerous people you will ever meet in your entire life."

A chill ran down Harry's spine. "Sounds like I should avoid her."

Reg smiled, humourless and dark. "You can certainly try, but she is the Dark Lord's favourite. Once she's out of Azkaban, wherever Voldemort goes, she'll never be far behind."

Even a simple warning like that sounded ominous.

"...Kreacher's a bit mad," Harry said for lack of anything better as he tried to put Bellatrix out of his mind. There was no use worrying about her now.

Reg chuckled. "Just a little, but he's nowhere near as mad as he portrays himself to be. Maybe he would've been had I truly died all those years ago but he had me to ground him and concentrate on once Mother had died so he's still quite sane even now. He just likes screwing with my brother's head, that's all. Kreacher's my best friend."

Harry couldn't decide whether this was just weird or the saddest thing he had ever heard. He had nothing against house-elves (so long as they weren't Dobby on a heroic streak) but this was... "Your... best friend?"

"Kreacher saved my life," Reg said somberly. "Approximately sixteen years ago, I struck a blow against Voldemort and almost paid for it with my life. If Kreacher hadn't circumvented my orders and come back for me, I'd be very much dead right now. As it is, I still spent the last sixteen years in a coma."

"Sixteen years?!" Harry exclaimed. "That's why everyone thinks you're dead! You weren't even actively hiding; you were unconscious!"

Reg nodded. "I woke up a few months before I met you."

"Are you..." Harry squinted at the older wizard's short brown hair. "What do you really look like?"

Reg blinked at him, and then a smile curved his lips. "Why don't you come and see?"

Harry sat up. "Are you in the house right now? How has no one caught you yet?"

Reg scoffed. "Please, do you really think what you've seen of the house so far is all there is of the Black family's ancestral home? Sirius was never fully trained to be the heir; he ran away before he learned everything. The only one who knows all the secrets in this house is me, and I'm certainly not informing the Order of the Stuffed Turkey about them."

He paused when the sound of someone banging on the bedroom door reached their ears, and Sirius' voice came through, a little awkward and a little desperate. "Harry? Are you in there? Listen, I'm sorry if I upset you. I've just never gotten along very well with my family, and this place brings back bad memories. We could... talk about something else, or you could at least come down for lunch? Molly's just about done with a tray of sandwiches."

"Don't be mad at him, Harry," Reg admonished quietly. "Sirius was always strong-willed, even when we were children. If someone told him to do something he didn't like, then he wouldn't do it. If he believed something to be wrong, then he wouldn't do it. He always stayed true to himself. That's the sort of person he was, and he never could understand why it was so difficult for people like me to do the same."

Reg shrugged, and Harry wondered if the man knew just how bitter and defeated he looked in that moment.

"Sirius tried to feed Snape to Professor Lupin," Harry revealed, because while he pretty much despised Snape, he didn't want the man dead, and if attempting to kill Snape via werewolf wasn't wrong, then Sirius had clearly missed a few lessons on differentiating right from wrong. "And you told me he was a bully."

"Ah, well," Reg coughed. "What I meant was that Sirius stuck to his ideals when it came to the life-defining moments. At all other times, especially when he was a teenager, he was..."

"A bully," Harry finished flatly. "Who almost killed a student. And I don't care if my dad did save Snape; I bet he only did that to save Professor Lupin. Which is just great. My dad didn't care if someone died either."

Reg sighed. "Look, Harry, that werewolf incident – Severus told me about it; swore me to secrecy and everything since he technically wasn't supposed to say anything, not to mention he told me beforehand that he was going to 'pay the Marauders back' that night, and all because Sirius had goaded him into it. But it wasn't as if it was a huge secret either. There's only so many times over the course of six years watching Lupin come back every month to the Great Hall the day after the full moon looking exhausted before you figure out that there's something more than a bunny problem going on. I don't know about the other Houses because they can be pretty ignorant when they want to be, but by the time Lupin graduated, most of the upper years of Slytherin knew what he was. We just never said anything about it. Slytherin subtlety and all that.

"So when Severus went to the Whomping Willow, being as intelligent as he was despite that very occasion indicating otherwise, he already suspected what Lupin was. I really should've done more to convince him not to but he's completely unreasonable when it comes to the Marauders. He only went there that night to try and get Lupin in trouble. Sev was at fault in that incident as well, even though what Sirius did was worse. But like I said, most of Slytherin already knew before Lupin even graduated. We just never said anything because: one, Dumbledore had to have known about it and had allowed it anyway, and two, there was no personal gain in snitching on Lupin if he already had permission to be there."

"Malfoy and the other snakes all sent letters home when Snape revealed that Professor Lupin was a werewolf though," Harry argued, and Reg snorted.

"Not very cunning of them then," Reg looked disgusted. "And I bet Sev encouraged them too; his hatred of the Marauders knows no bounds. Back in my day, a Slytherin would never snitch, at least not without a purpose, and from what you've told me, Lupin was a decent professor. At the very least, a real Slytherin would've hoarded the information away to blackmail Lupin for a better grade or something, though knowing Lupin, that probably wouldn't have worked. Still, at least they would've done it for personal gain. Slytherins these days; utterly mindless."

Harry snickered, and then looked up again when Sirius knocked once more. "Harry? Did you fall asleep or are you ignoring me? At least give me a yes or no, won't you?"

"I have to go," Harry said reluctantly.

"Come to the library later when you have time," Reg told him. "One of the secret entrances leading to the rest of this house is there. Make sure you're alone."

Harry grinned, bidding Reg a see-you-later before closing the pocket watch. He'd probably have to sneak out after everyone was asleep but it'd be more than worth it.

He couldn't wait.

XIII.

"Whoa," Harry said, still sounding somewhat amazed.

Regulus sighed in exasperation and just a little discomfiture. "Harry, at the very least, please say that when you're looking at the rest of the house, not at me."

Harry had the decency to look apologetic but persisted, "You look a lot like Sirius."

"He is my brother," Regulus reminded him.

"But you have longer hair," Harry continued stating the obvious. "And you're smaller."

Regulus' eyebrows ticked up in annoyance. "Yes, thank you, I am aware. ...I'm not that much smaller. An inch shorter at most. And a little less broad in the shoulders but who wants to be brawny?"

Harry snickered at that, and Regulus cuffed the kid over the head. Brat.

"You're really thin though," Harry frowned, looking concerned now. "Sirius is too but you're worse. Have you been eating regularly?"

Regulus couldn't help it; he rolled his eyes. "Kid, you're not my mother. ...Thank Merlin for that actually. Still, you don't have to worry so much. I already have Kreacher fussing over me."

As if on cue, Kreacher appeared with a loud crack, making Harry jump.

"Master Regulus would like a late snack?" The elf enquired slyly. His eyes drifted over to Harry, and after a moment's hesitation, he offered grudgingly, "Would Master Regulus' guest like a snack as well?"

Harry's mouth dropped open, and Regulus nudged him in chastisement before nodding at Kreacher. "A snack would be nice, Kreacher. Send something to the second drawing room please? We'll be there shortly."

Kreacher bowed and disappeared again. Harry shook his head. "I've only seen him once since I got here and he just ignored me then. I suppose that was better since he pretty much insulted everyone else in the room."

Regulus chuckled, leading Harry down another hallway. "Kreacher doesn't like many people, especially when they're somehow related to Sirius."

"You're related to Sirius," Harry pointed out. "I'm related to Sirius."

"Yes, but you're also related to me," Regulus expounded. "And I've been friends with Kreacher before I even entered Hogwarts. On the other hand, Sirius never treated Kreacher very well. Sometimes, I find my dear brother to be something of a hypocrite. For all that he vocally shunned our parents' beliefs and principles ever since we were kids, Sirius treats Kreacher almost as badly as Mother did. Of course, Sirius was the rebellious one but not even I followed our mother's orders all the time, and Kreacher always tried to take my side in any confrontation."

Regulus smiled fondly at the thought. Obviously, the house-elf hadn't been able to outright disobey the lord and lady of the house back then but Kreacher had always helped Regulus as best he could in any situation.

"You've also been getting me to eat," He added. "And Kreacher was rather thrilled with an ally on that front so I suspect he'll be making an exception for you."

Harry shook his head. "I don't know why house-elves always seem to make exceptions for me. Dobby's like that too. At least Kreacher won't be as fanatical about it. He calls Hermione a... a Mudblood though, and everyone else blood traitors."

Regulus shrugged lightly. "Words like that were commonplace in the Black home. In the end however, they're only labels, and they only define you if you let them. And I mean no offence when I say this, Harry, but I really could not care less about your friends' sensitivities, which is why I have not ordered Kreacher to stop." He hesitated. "Nevertheless, if you prefer it, I could..."

"Could I try asking him?" Harry suggested, eyeing Regulus critically. "If he does it again the next time, I mean? I think... I don't think he'd respect me as much – or at all – if I asked you to ask him for me. Not calling my friends by those names is something I want, not you, so I should be the one to ask."

Regulus paused in the doorway of their destination, surveying Harry with something akin to respect. How the hell had someone like James Potter managed to gain – deserve – someone like Harry for a son?

"If that is what you want," Regulus acquiesced, guiding Harry into the drawing room where hot chocolate and scones were already waiting on the table. "You'd certainly have better luck with it than Sirius."

"Yeah," Harry agreed dryly. "But then Sirius doesn't so much as ask Kreacher to do something as insult him back, so that's not so hard to do."

"Fair enough," Regulus conceded as they sat down. "Tensions between the occupants of this household aside, how are you liking the rest of the Black home?"

"It's definitely cleaner," Harry said at once as he looked around, munching on a lemon scone as the fire crackled merrily in the background. "This is the second drawing room?"

"Yes, there are four in total," Regulus revealed. "This is the guest wing, you could say, but the Blacks didn't really have guests over so Mother and Father just used this wing as their personal quarters away from the rest of the house. There are quite a few bedrooms as well, not to mention a kitchen, and there are a number of passageways that lead down to the potions labs as well as to the second and third floors of the library."

Harry looked a little overwhelmed. "I thought the library only had one floor; Sirius never mentioned anything."

"Like I said," Regulus restated. "Sirius doesn't know this house as well as he thinks he does. The second and third floors hold some very Dark-inclined books, as well as scrolls and tomes containing family secrets that are only passed on to the heir, and eventually their spouse if the lord so chooses."

Harry hummed thoughtfully, still looking around. "Is that a map of the stars over there?"

Regulus followed his gaze and nodded. "Yes, there are maps like that all over the house if you know where to look. It's tradition for most children in my family to be named after a star or a constellation so I guess that's why we have astronomy charts all over the place."

Harry had gotten up and wandered over to the map hanging on the wall, and after picking up his hot chocolate, Regulus followed.

"So most of the Blacks are named after stars?" Harry peered at the tiny lettering beside each silver dot. "I know Sirius is the Dog Star... here..."

"Sirius is the brightest star in the sky," Regulus pointed at the correct dot. "Part of the Canis Major constellation. Over there is Uncle Alphard, the brightest star in the Hydra constellation; Andromeda is right here, she gets an entire constellation for herself, though neither she nor Uncle Alphard's names would ever be used again in the Black line since they've both been disowned; here's Bellatrix, a star in the constellation Orion, and of course, Orion is my father, his constellation was named after that hunter in Greek mythology. Great-aunt Cassiopeia is here, Grandfather Pollux over here, three Cygnus's have come and gone, the second one was your great-grandfather actually, and the third one was my uncle. Three Arcturus's have also passed on, third one was my grandfather, and the second was your... great-uncle I believe. Yes, he was your great-grandfather's brother; your grandmother Dorea's uncle. Merlin, there are a lot of us."

Regulus glanced down at Harry who looked like he had tuned most of those relations out three sentences ago. Regulus snorted into his drink; kid was lucky that it wasn't Walburga Black giving him a rundown of their familial ties.

"Oh, I found you!" Harry piped up once more, pointing at one portion of the map. "Hey, you're part of the Leo constellation."

Regulus smiled rather sardonically. "Yes, the brightest star in the constellation Leo the Lion, and actually one of the brightest in the night sky. It means 'prince' or 'little king' in Latin, although some people refer to that star as 'Cor Leonis', which translates to 'Heart of the Lion'. Ironic, isn't it? Considering which House I went to and everything I've done. Don't know what Mother was thinking naming me 'Regulus'. Probably didn't know about the double-meaning. Sirius would laugh himself to death if he ever discovered that particular-"

"And why should he?" Harry rounded on him, green eyes suddenly blazing like precious jewels being forged in fire, and Regulus blinked, stunned enough to take a step back. "I think your name fits you perfectly! Sirius should never have called you a coward, or said any of those things; you are brave, no matter what he says. Besides, I'm a Gryffindor but I could be a Slytherin too, so it stands to reason that you can be a Slytherin and be a Gryffindor as well."

Regulus stared impassively at Harry's defiant expression for a long moment, and then he quirked a tiny helpless smile and ruffled the boy's mop of black hair before ushering him back towards the table. "You're a good kid, Harry."

Harry's cheeks stained red and he scowled at Regulus like a moody teenager but neither of them said anything more as they curled up in their respective armchairs and settled down to finish their midnight snacks.

Later, when Harry nodded off by the fireplace, Regulus scooped the boy up, snuck out into the rest of the house, ghosted into the bedroom that the youngest Weasley boy was still snoring in, and tucked Harry back into bed with gentle hands, relieving him of his glasses as well before silently slipping away once more.

XIV.

"Time for dinner!"

At Mrs. Weasley's third call of the evening, Harry took a seat at the table between Tonks and Sirius, who had become increasingly surlier as the days passed by. Reg – whom Harry usually spent a few hours with every night, either talking or working on his Occlumency or learning something entirely new – had told him that Sirius had always been an active person, someone who preferred action over sitting around, and nobody liked being locked up in one place anyway, especially for someone who had spent twelve years locked up in Azkaban.

"And for Sirius," Reg had added dryly. "Grimmauld Place might as well be Azkaban."

So Harry had done his best to engage his godfather in cleaning the house and chatting about anything either of them could think of, except Sirius – more and more often, especially after Harry had gotten mad at him for badmouthing Reg – preferred shutting himself up in his mother's room with Buckbeak.

To top it all off, Hermione hadn't stopped nagging him about his supposed guilt, Ron was backing Hermione, and the only reason Harry hadn't resorted to shouting at his two friends was because of his nightly reprieves with Reg, which was the only time he actually enjoyed himself.

'I never thought I'd think this,' Harry mused glumly to himself as he waited for everyone else to join them at the table. 'But I wish I was back at the Dursleys. At least then I wouldn't have to spend my afternoons waging war against a murderous house, waging war against my best friends, and waging war against Sirius' moping when I could be learning Runes with Regulus.'

"Are we all here then?" Mrs. Weasley asked as she bustled over to sit down between Mr. Weasley and Bill. "Alright, dig in. And Tonks, please watch your elbow. The salt's right there."

"Sorry, Molly," Tonks hastily shifted the salt away, almost knocking a plate to the ground instead in the process, the accident narrowly avoided only because Harry managed to catch it before it teetered off the edge of the table. "Oh, thanks, Harry. Potatoes?"

Harry grinned and nodded, holding up his plate as Tonks doled out a ladleful of mashed potatoes. He rather liked Tonks, clumsiness and all, and while Reg had admitted that out of his three cousins, it had been Narcissa Malfoy who had been his favourite ("What?! Are you sure?" "Brat, she's different with family; trust me."), he had also said that Andromeda came a close second (while Bellatrix was a very far last), and the woman had done a good job raising her daughter.

"Oh for goodness' sakes, do you have to show up at dinnertime too?" Sirius groaned acerbically, and Harry looked around for the source of his godfather's irritation. As he'd expected, Kreacher had just slunk in, mumbling to himself.

And Harry only saw it because he had gotten into the habit of looking for it but he caught the furtive glint of derisive amusement in the house-elf's eyes.

"Kreacher is cleaning," Kreacher defended, and then continued in an undertone, "Master insults Master just by being back here, oh yes, ungrateful blind Master never saw Lord Master drowning-"

"He's gone round the bend," Sirius scoffed even as Harry's insides went cold at the mention of Regulus drowning. The older wizard still hadn't told him what exactly it had been that had almost caused his death sixteen years ago. "What's he even talking about now? I swear he rambles on more about my father than my mother nowadays."

It was never Orion Black that Kreacher was talking about, Harry thought, though he kept it to himself.

"Kreacher, maybe you can clean in here later," Hermione chimed in kindly.

Kreacher's gaze immediately zeroed in on her with clear loathing. "The thieving Mudblood dares talk to Kreacher as though she is my friend-"

"Don't call her a Mudblood!" Half the table chorused angrily, and Harry sighed. So far, besides his midnight visits to Reg's part of the house, he actually hadn't seen much of Kreacher so he hadn't had the opportunity to make his request. He supposed now was as good a time as any.

"You damn elf," Sirius seethed, looking mad enough to bodily chuck Kreacher out of the room like he had done just a few days ago. That had resulted in Harry giving Sirius the cold shoulder for the rest of the day before apologizing to Kreacher later that same night.

"Sirius, stop it," Harry sighed, because honestly, couldn't Sirius even try to talk to Kreacher politely, just once, without any insults being thrown in? Harry understood hating someone, he hated Snape with a passion but at least he knew how to keep a civil tongue around the man, no matter how much Snape sneered at him or let the Slytherins sabotage him in Potions. Otherwise, Harry would have had a lot more detentions and point deductions over the past four years.

"Kreacher," Harry bent down from his seat so that he was closer to the house-elf's height. Kreacher turned to eyeball him with a neutral expression. "I know words like 'Mudblood' and 'blood traitors' used to be thrown around like candy in this house but would it be possible for you to tone it down a bit? My friends really don't like it, and I'd really appreciate it if you could stop."

There was a long silence. Kreacher continued staring beadily at him for several seconds before muttering, "This is Master's guest's request?"

Harry nodded. "Yes, Kreacher."

Kreacher twitched, evidently unhappy about the situation in general, but there was something measured and calculating in the old elf's gaze, as if he was assessing Harry, though for what, Harry didn't know.

And then, after another minute-long tense silence, Harry could almost hear the inward sigh of resignation from Kreacher before the elf grumbled out, "Master's guest makes Master happy, so if Master's guest so wishes, then Kreacher will stop."

And with that said, the house-elf shot another look of utter abhorrence at the others sitting around the table, specifically at Sirius, but refrained from saying anything further, and to the entire room's astonishment, Kreacher left without even the quietest of whispered slurs under his breath.

Harry straightened in his seat and turned back to his food, overlooking the staggered hush around him as he stuck a spoonful of potatoes in his mouth.

"Blimey, Harry," Ron was the first to speak up. "What did you bribe that old fruitcake with to make him agree?"

Harry frowned. "Nothing, Ron, and don't call him a fruitcake. He'll stop calling you people names so it's only fair if you don't call him anything rude either, right?"

"Don't know why he'd listen to you though," Sirius looked confused. "Why in the world would Kreacher care whether or not you made me happy? Not that you don't, Harry; you do, very much."

Harry inwardly snorted. Did he really? Did Harry make Sirius so happy that the man spent almost every waking moment in the company of a hippogriff over his godson?

As conversation slowly returned to the table, with Hermione beaming approvingly at him from her seat, Harry plastered on a smile and turned to Tonks. "So you were telling me about your family yesterday. You didn't get to finish that story about how Mrs. Tonks saved your dad from falling into a river without magic while still being a dozen feet away."

Tonks laughed, hair turning bright pink and standing on end as she launched enthusiastically back into the tale she had been telling him yesterday during lunch, though she did tack on first, "Just call my mum Andromeda or Andy; none of that Mrs. Tonks nonsense, and Dad is Ted. They wouldn't mind."

The rest of the evening took a turn for the better as Harry even managed to coax Sirius and Lupin into retelling some of the numerous Marauder stories they had, ignoring the wistful twinge in his own chest as they spoke so fondly of his father.

Later that night, after everyone had gone to bed or had left, Harry joined Reg in the drawing room as per usual. This time, he asked for a story about Regulus' time at Hogwarts, and the anecdotes that the older wizard told him about the handfuls of times that Reg himself along with Snape had pulled a prank only to frame it on the Marauders soon had Harry in stitches before the night was up.

XV.

Sirius hesitated in the doorway, peering inside at his godson who was lying on his stomach on his bed with an array of parchment and books in front of him. He hadn't noticed Sirius yet.

Just an hour ago, Sirius had – Accidentally, honest! He had been trying. – aimed a kick at Kreacher when he had caught the house-elf lurking in front of a portrait of Nurmengard in the library and handing Harry a book. Sirius had leapt to the conclusion that the book had to be dangerous and had charged in to save his godson.

How was he supposed to have known that the book had really just been an obscure copy of Advanced Charms: How to Weave Charms into Wards, and nothing Dark about it at all?

But his kick had skimmed Kreacher's arm, made the damn elf yelp, and Harry had rounded on him like a wolf defending its pack, yelling at Sirius (while Kreacher had looked smug on the side) before storming out of the library in a huff.

Sirius had stewed morosely in a corner of the library by himself for the next hour before finally manning up and hunting Harry down. And now that he had...

He knocked twice, offering an uncertain smile when Harry's head shot up and cool green eyes darted over to take him in.

"Hey, Harry," It was amazing how much Harry could make Sirius feel like he was an unruly teenager again, cowering under the lethal glare of Lily Evans after he and the other Marauders had done something stupid. "Can I come in?"

Harry shrugged but shifted on the bed and left a space that was as good as an invitation. Sirius shuffled inside and took a seat, glancing absently at the sheaves of paper.

"Runes?" He remarked nonchalantly. "I didn't know you took Runes."

"I don't," Harry said shortly. "But I recently became interested in it and I was hoping if I studied enough, McGonagall might let me switch out of Divination either this year or next year."

Sirius had to make a face at all the studying that that would entail but he was soon sidetracked by one of the papers depicting a series of basic rune sigils and their meanings. He was no expert at the subject since he had never taken it but he knew enough to at least recognize a handful of the fundamental runes.

Still, it wasn't the runes themselves that caught his attention. Instead, next to the black, slightly messy scrawl of his godson's handwriting, his gaze fell on the green, elegant, cursive penmanship pointing out certain parts of Harry's work that could be improved.

Now, Sirius was perfectly aware that that handwriting could very well belong to Hermione or even Bill if Harry had asked one of them to look over his work. However, Sirius had never seen Hermione's writing before, and Bill's, while neat, was typically much less flowing on a page than these letters were.

And for some reason, Sirius was certain that he had seen this handwriting before, yet he couldn't quite recall where...

A rustle broke him out of his contemplation, and a moment later, the page disappeared under a pile of other parchment.

Sirius side-eyed his godson from out of the corner of his eye. The kid looked guilty for just a second.

"So what are you doing here anyway?" Harry asked casually. "Did you need something?"

"No, I-" Handwriting forgotten, Sirius cleared his throat uncomfortably. "I came to apologize. For kicking Kreacher."

Harry squinted at him. "You really should be apologizing to him, not me. But I suppose that's not going to happen."

Sirius winced, running a hand through his hair. "Look, Harry, Kreacher has never liked me, and the feeling's mutual-"

"What has that got to do with anything?" Harry demanded. "I don't like Malfoy but that doesn't mean I go around picking on him for no good reason. Usually, it's the other way around."

Sirius sighed gustily, scrubbing a tired hand over his face. "That's different. Kreacher has never liked me because I've always defied my mother, and that elf practically worshipped the ground she walked on, Merlin only knows why; that old hag Crucio'd him whenever she thought he did something wrong."

Harry paled, and too late, Sirius remembered what had happened to his godson in the graveyard last June.

But Harry just took a shaky breath and forged on. "But he liked your brother. Kreacher I mean."

Sirius snorted. "I'll say. Kreacher adored him, all because Reggie was nice to him."

"You could be a little nicer to him then," Harry said pointedly.

Sirius threw his hands up. "How can I when he's the farthest thing from nice to me?"

Harry gave him an uncompromising are-you-stupid look that, for some reason, brought with it a wave of nostalgia and sparked a distant memory in his mind, one that inexplicably made Sirius' throat close up for a moment.

And then it passed as Harry huffed out, "Any relationship goes both ways, Sirius. How do you expect Kreacher to be nice to you if you're not at least civil to him? He's stopped calling everybody Mudbloods and blood traitors now; you could afford to stop spitting derogatory terms at him every time you clap eyes on him."

Sirius stared, partly because hearing his godson use a word like 'derogatory' was startling at best (what kind of respectable Gryffindor teenager in this day and age said 'derogatory'?), and partly because... well, he was getting scolded by his aforementioned godson.

Harry blew out an annoyed breath and turned away, and Sirius had the odd feeling that he had disappointed his godson. "Whatever. Look, I need to get this done-"

"I'll try!" Sirius blurted out hastily. "I'll try to be nicer to Kreacher. I'll... If he continues keeping his insults to himself, I'll do the same. Okay?"

Harry pinned him with another narrow-eyed hawk-like stare as if weighing Sirius' trustworthiness, but then he rolled his eyes and flopped onto his back, a small smile working its way onto his face. "Just try to be kind, Sirius. You act like I'm asking you to be an angel or something equally unattainable."

Sirius barked out a laugh, relaxing now that Harry didn't seem mad at him anymore. "Yeah, angel wouldn't work very well for a Marauder like me. Or at the very least, I'd be a delinquent angel."

Harry spluttered out a laugh of his own, and Sirius beamed. There, that was more like it.

"So what are you doing anyway?" Sirius asked inquisitively as he glanced at all the books again. "You don't have to study now, do you? Hermione and Ron have been complaining that you've been avoiding them."

Harry immediately scowled. "You'd avoid them too if they kept badgering you about feeling guilty about Cedric's death. I'm over it but Hermione doesn't seem to think I can manage that on my own so I must still be grieving, and I won't stop grieving until I talk to them about it! It's ridiculous!"

Sirius' eyebrows hit his hairline by the time Harry had finished his rant. At the back of his mind, he was relieved that his godson still had some regular teenager left in him even though he had matured quite a bit this summer.

"Well," Sirius said carefully. "I suppose they're just worried about you. It would seem a bit odd to them that you came back after a month with those Dursleys completely better, don't you think?"

Harry's brow creased but Sirius was pleased to see that the kid was thinking about it.

"Yeah, I know, but that's not really what I'm mad about," Harry muttered, righting himself to sit cross-legged on the bed. "I... I told them about the person I met at the park. Reg. Hermione keeps accusing him of being some sort of... child molester."

The last two words were bitten out with such outrage that Sirius made a mental note to never use it himself, especially in context with that Muggle. And then he reviewed what had been said and blanched.

"He didn't do anything to you, did he?" Sirius asked cautiously, consciously noting the fact that that Muggle had about the same name as his brother. What a coincidence.

Harry all but snarled at him, looking frighteningly feral for a split second. "No, of course not! You think I'd be that stupid to keep returning to some person who would- would- do something like that to me? If he'd even hinted at it, I never would've-"

"Harry," Sirius interrupted. "That's not what I mean. I'm not accusing anyone of anything. I'm just making sure. Obviously, your Auror guards would've jumped in if he had shown any intention of... that, but sometimes, different perspectives, you know? And your friends have never met your friend so they would naturally be worried. Maybe if you just explain things to them in a little more detail, or tell them something of your Muggle friend so that he won't seem quite as much of a stranger to them."

Harry calmed ever-so-slightly. "Fine. No, he didn't do anything. We did crosswords, he taught me some French, and I talked to him about Cedric."

Sirius started, but before he could ask, Harry cut him off with a glower. "Obviously, not in full detail. But we talked it through, and it helped. He's a good listener."

"Oh, well, that's good," Sirius tried his best to inject some enthusiasm into his voice. "What's this Reg bloke like anyway?"

Harry threw him an indecipherable look. "...He's quiet most of the time. Not in a no-talking way or anything, though he doesn't run his mouth either; he talks to me, but he never shouts or loses his temper. He's patient when he's teaching me, and he has a really dry sense of humour. He's smart too, genius level, I swear, and it isn't just French he knows, Latin's on the table too, and..."

Sirius leaned back and let the words wash over him, listening, but at the same time, watching Harry's face come alive as he talked about his Muggle friend with the sort of passion that no one could mistake for anything except admiration.

Harry talked about Reg like the man was an adult – almost parental – figure who was worth looking up to, and Sirius' heart twisted.

Not for the first time, he thought, enviously, jealously, shamefully because if only he hadn't gone after Wormtail-

'I want that. Harry should know all the little details about me. He should talk about me like that. That should be me.'

XVI.

Regulus frowned as he flipped through the thick stack of documentation on the agreements and exchange of dowry that had been settled upon when Bellatrix had married Rodolphus. He needed a way to get into the Lestrange vault, and this seemed as good a place as any to start.

It had been twenty-six years – almost to the day – since Bellatrix had married Rodolphus, and the lord of the Black house could now rightfully demand the return of the bride's dowry because no heir had been produced to strengthen ties between the Blacks and the Lestranges within the twenty-five-year period clause that had been agreed upon in the arranged marriage when Bellatrix had been promised to the Lestranges' firstborn all those years ago.

Imprisonment was all fine and dandy so long as it did not tarnish the noble Black name, and going back on the marriage contract constituted as... well, tarnishing the noble Black name.

It was lucky for Regulus though since all this just meant that he would now have a legal way into the Lestrange vault because said dowry was sitting in it right at this moment. It was also extremely lucky that upon the event where the lord of the Black house was in some way unable to handle legal family matters – being convicted (goblins didn't give two shits whether or not you had been tried before a court; they just cared about the verdict) and on the run counted – meant that the job was to be passed down to the next most capable, meaning the next closest family member who would also be in good standing.

If Regulus had been dead, that family member would've meant Narcissa Malfoy née Black since Andromeda Tonks née Black had been disowned. However, Regulus wasn't dead, and he had no criminal record to speak of whatsoever, which meant legal matters now fell to him.

(And honestly, he would've had full control over the Black family anyway if Mother hadn't believed him to be dead and had been desperate enough to restore Sirius' name in the family as her heir just to have someone to continue the Black line.)

However, there were a few problems to iron out, the first and foremost being that if Regulus really did have the dowry moved back to one of the Black vaults, then Sirius would find out sooner or later if and when he withdrew money again. As a criminal, Sirius couldn't handle legal affairs between family vaults but he could access his money just fine, and Regulus didn't really want to show his hand in this war until he absolutely had to.

Secondly, there was also the pesky problem of the goblins not particularly liking having anything stolen from any of Gringotts' vaults. Regulus would be asking for the dowry; the Horcrux was not part of the dowry.

Regulus sighed. He had a plan of course, several plans in fact, as he always did, but all of them contained quite a liberal amount of Imperios in his near future. Stealing from Gringotts was never a good idea. Stealing from Gringotts in full view of goblins from the undoubtedly well-guarded Lestrange vault was ten times worse.

"Reg!"

Regulus glanced up at the black-haired green-eyed whirlwind who came running into the room. "What's the matter with you? Did some of the books try to eat you? I told you not to enter the third floor of the library."

"I didn't!" Harry pulled up beside the table, slightly out of breath as his eyebrows shot up in alarm. "Some of the books can eat me?!"

Regulus smirked as he set aside his work, covertly burying everything under a volume of ministerial laws without drawing Harry's attention to any of it. "Of course; I take it you haven't snuck into the Restricted Section of the Hogwarts library before?"

"I have, once," Harry admitted, dropping three books onto the table before flopping rather gracelessly into the remaining chair. Regulus idly made a mental note to teach the boy how to fix that. Lords of Noble houses should not be so undignified. "Back in my first year. But the book I chose started screaming the second I opened it, and then I almost got caught by Filch and Snape. I never went back again."

Regulus' smirk grew, especially when Harry glowered at him. "What awful luck; you probably set off one of the more bad-tempered texts. Some books are more sentient than others, you know, and if they don't like you, or you don't treat them with respect, they'll scream bloody murder. Amongst other things. But you should be thankful you didn't choose one of the grimoires; those ones could've swallowed you until someone like Madame Pince came along to free you or until it digested you. Some of the worst ones go so far as to curse you or even consume your soul. Books can be very dangerous."

Harry's eyes were wide with childish fascination by the time he finished, and Regulus couldn't help smiling somewhat fondly at the boy, though he frowned inwardly at the same time. Harry's education was fairly lacking when it came to his knowledge of the wizarding world; no surprise there seeing how his parents had been killed so early. Sentient books were among the knowledge that most children with one or more pureblood relatives would know, and it was ridiculous how Harry had been isolated to the point where he knew nothing.

"I wish the professors at school taught stuff like this," Harry commented glumly. "Heck, I might even want to become a librarian just by hearing what you said."

Regulus cocked an eyebrow. "Would you? It's certainly an option. Being a librarian for a magical library is much more interesting than being one in the Muggle world where the books don't come alive. Not literally anyway." He paused in consideration. "You'll be entering fifth year so you'll be meeting your Head of House to discuss your career options in the later mon..."

He trailed off at Harry's clueless expression, and then sighed in disgust. "What is wrong with Britain's education these days?" He lamented to the world at large, surprising a sheepish laugh out of Harry.

"Okay," Regulus sighed again. "At Hogwarts, fifth years and seventh years are required to see their Head of House to go over their future career plans. For fifth years, it's a more generalized interview where the Head of House would ask the student what vocation or vocations they're considering, and then tell them how many OWLs and or extra courses they would need to continue on that path.

"For seventh years, it's a bit more specific. That interview would consist of the Head of House informing the student of how their marks are doing up to that point, and how many NEWTs they would need, as well as their best alternatives for post-graduation. This might include apprenticeships straight out of school, or further studies at the handful of magical universities around the world to pursue a degree before moving on to find a qualified master in their chosen field to apprentice under and earn their own Mastery, or – and this is mostly for those who apply to the Ministry – simply turning in your grades and résumé and waiting to see if you get the job you want. For some departments in the Ministry, the Auror Department for example, if you do get accepted – and most do; the higher-ups running that division prefer weeding out the unsuitable recruits themselves – then you would need to go through basic training in their Auror Academy."

Regulus stopped, reaching out to take a sip of wine as he watched Harry scribble furiously in a notebook that the kid had taken to carrying around with him. Regulus had found himself to be a rather random teacher, jumping from topic to topic without any set schedule, and imparting pieces of knowledge at any given moment, so Harry had decided – two weeks into their acquaintance back when he had still been at Privet Drive – to simply have something to write in with him at all times.

"Why don't the teachers tell us this stuff?" Harry griped. "It's kind of important! I didn't even know there were magical universities out there! I didn't even know you had to go through apprenticeships to earn a Mastery! I didn't even know Masteries existed!"

"Nothing like a good whinging session to relieve stress," Regulus quipped dryly. "Let it all out; I'm available twenty-four-seven to receive any and all complaints at your convenience."

"Reg!" Harry protested indignantly, and then burst into laughter. "Do you have a sarcastic follow-up for everything?"

"A quip for every occasion," Regulus confirmed demurely, swirling his glass of wine in one hand. "It seems to do you good, Harry. You don't laugh much, do you?"

"It's not like you do either," Harry pointed out.

"Ah, but I'm a crotchety old man," Regulus declared dramatically, chuckling and holding up a hand to stall Harry's immediate staunch objections. "I am only joking, Harry. Let us return to the matter at hand – the teachers do tell you this; they just wait until fifth year to remind everyone since Muggleborns receive a notice at the beginning of the summer before their fifth year so that they will have time to talk it over with their guardians. Half-bloods and purebloods are exempt since their guardians should already know about it."

Regulus paused at the momentarily crestfallen expression on Harry's face, but his eyes narrowed with approval when the kid visibly shook off the perceived injustice and resolutely moved past it.

"Well, it's a good thing I have you then," Harry concluded. "I swear, sometimes, I think Sirius forgets that I grew up with a Muggle background. Professor Lupin too, though he's a little better about it. Still, the way they look at me when they talk about some of the things they did with Dad back in the day like- like when they mentioned hanging up fairy decorations for Yule, and I asked them to clarify – it's like they don't get why I would ask, like I'm supposed to just know. It's just... frustrating, you know?"

Regulus thought of the few times he had ventured out into the Muggle world out of curiosity when he had been a teenager. Not even Mother had been able to curb his desire to know more, though to be fair, the first time he had left a world he knew for a world he didn't, he had been a fourth-year, and it had been with Severus after his older friend had received a letter from his sick mother requesting him to come home for just a few hours because she had taken a turn for the worst, and Tobias Snape had left two years ago, leaving her alone (which, in Regulus' opinion, then and now, had been a good thing).

However, Dumbledore – this was one of the reasons that Regulus would never forgive that old sanctimonious bastard – had apologized in that grandfatherly believe-me-this-hurts-me-more-than-it-hurts-you way that made Regulus want to curse him when Severus had desperately asked to leave, but had turned the Slytherin down in the end, citing some shite about a rule against allowing students out of Hogwarts and pointing out patronizingly that Severus' mother wasn't dying so it wasn't an emergency.

Even back then, Regulus had seen how much Dumbledore disliked Slytherin no matter how the Headmaster acted. Everyone disliked Slytherin, and the much-lauded leader of the Light was no different. There was no benefit in letting Severus go since he didn't come from a powerful family that Dumbledore could attempt to twinkle his way into their good graces and play on their gratitude later, nor was Severus a Gryffindor. The sticking point though had been the fact that – not five weeks prior – the Lupin-werewolf fiasco had taken place, and Regulus would've bet the entire contents of his Gringotts vault that Dumbledore had stopped Severus from going home as a punishment.

Severus wasn't one to cry but he had cried that night, and before Regulus had been able to consciously figure out what kind of bloody Gryffindor disease he had clearly been infected with, he had ended up packing two bags before smuggling Severus out of Hogwarts and Apparating them both all over the countryside until Regulus had finally gotten it right and jumped them onto Platform 9¾. Personally, he had just counted himself lucky that he hadn't splinched either of them, though that particular jaunt all over Scotland had been what had kick-started his talent for Apparition.

After that, Severus had managed to lead them back to his house, and Eileen Prince's sallow face had glowed with happiness at seeing her son. Even her health had looked up, and in the end, she hadn't passed away until the summer of Severus' sixth year.

Of course, they had gotten into trouble. They had had to miss classes since Severus had stubbornly insisted on staying the night at home, and Regulus hadn't been able to Apparate them back before classes began the next day.

However, Regulus had managed to convince Severus to lie about where they had been, that the older Slytherin had followed Regulus out to drag him back because Regulus had wanted to see how repulsive Muggles were after listening to his mother talk about it all the time. Regulus had done this for two reasons: one, Severus would've gotten into far more trouble if they had told the truth since he had had no pureblood family to help reduce the consequences of their actions, and two, Walburga Black would be more pleased with Regulus for his made-up reason than displeased with him for sneaking off school grounds.

Even as a teenager, Severus had been a scarily proficient Occlumens, and Regulus was a Black, enough said, so Dumbledore hadn't even been able to pluck their motive out of their heads. He hadn't been able to disprove their explanation even though all three of them had known what the truth really was.

However, they had still gotten a month's worth of detentions and a total of a hundred points' deduction as punishment, and he had had to endure Sirius' snide taunts and Potter's jeers for being a Death Eater in training once the story had gotten out, but other than that, Regulus had counted that undertaking as an overall success.

Not to mention it had cemented his and Severus' friendship. That is, until Regulus had accepted the Dark Mark, and Sev had graduated, and Voldemort had become a reality to them anyway. Things had gone downhill from there.

Still, even with half that first trip filled with Apparition, the latter half had seen Severus dragging him across highways and hitching a ride in a cab and a number of other Muggle things that had irritated Regulus to no end if only because Severus hadn't bothered explaining properly, and Regulus hadn't known how to handle everything, and he had hated not knowing.

"I know what you mean," Regulus found himself agreeing now, blinking back into the present. "It can be taxing to enter a new world surrounded by people who already knows what is 'normal' to them, and expect you to know too."

"Exactly," Harry sighed, familiar enough with Regulus' occasional lapses of attention to overlook this one without missing a beat. "Ron's like that too, and Hermione's a Muggleborn but she's read so many books that she can lecture Ron about wizard customs, never mind me."

Regulus' brain instantly began tuning out the sudden turn into irrelevant territory. He liked Harry but the kid's friends were... Well, just thinking about them made Regulus shudder. The Weasley boy's table manners alone made Regulus want to stab himself with a fork, and the Granger girl just wouldn't shut up. The first few times he had overheard her long diatribes about how he was a bad influence on Harry had been entertaining, and he had even enjoyed the way Harry had torn his friends a new one after the third time Granger and Weasley had confronted him about it. However, after the sixth time, the tirades had gotten old, and Regulus had gotten annoyed to say the least.

'Perhaps you should consider investing in different, more useful, and less bothersome friends' was on the tip of Regulus' tongue but he managed to swallow it down at the last second. It wasn't any of Regulus' business who Harry befriended. He knew the kid still couldn't understand why – or how – Regulus had befriended Severus.

"So what brought you into the room in such a hurry anyway?" Regulus changed the subject instead.

"Oh, right," Harry seemed to have forgotten that he had had a purpose for coming into the room in the first place. He leaned forward and patted the books he had brought in with him. "I was just wondering if I could borrow some of these. You know, for when I return to Hogwarts."

Regulus tilted his head thoughtfully, running an analyzing eye over the titles before inclining his head. "You may pick out more than three to take back with you, on the conditions that you check with me first before you pack them, and that you also charm the covers and the text so that they'll only show regular schoolbooks. I believe I've already showed you the incantations."

Harry grinned at him. "Yeah, I'll do that. Thanks, Reg."

And then the kid's good humour slipped away like water, replaced by a pensive frown, and Regulus was once again reminded of how bipolar teenagers could be.

"I take it there is something else?" Regulus enquired patiently.

"Our booklists arrived," Harry revealed abruptly.

"Did they?" Regulus asked rhetorically. He hadn't been keeping quite as close an eye on what was going on in the other parts of the house since no Order meetings had been held after Harry had arrived.

Harry ran a hand through his hair, making the strands stand on end. "...Mum was a prefect, and both she and Dad were Head Girl and Boy. ...Is it bad that I don't particularly care that I didn't get the prefect badge?"

Regulus raised an eyebrow. "Why in the world would it be? If you don't want the extra responsibility of patrolling the corridors and threatening students with point deductions, then you don't want it. It's your opinion, not your parents', no matter what they were, and if either of them had an ounce of sense – which I can't promise for your father but at least your mother had enough for the both of them – then they wouldn't care either. They'd still be proud of you whether or not you cared about having a shiny badge. ...I take it Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley became prefects then?"

Harry shrugged. "Yup. Hermione came bursting into the kitchen, saw me holding Ron's badge, and embarrassed everyone around when she mistook me for the one who had received it. Ron was pleased to have gotten it though. Mrs. Weasley bought him a new broom."

"Hmm," Regulus hummed noncommittally, again not caring either way how Harry's friends had reacted. "And when will you go out to buy your books? What with this entire house being on lockdown and everything."

"Mrs. Weasley already got them for all of us today," Harry said, and Regulus stilled at once. "She and Hermione got into a minor argument over a Galleon because Hermione didn't want change and Mrs. Weasley didn't want charity. Uh, my words, not hers. ...Reg? Is something wrong?"

"And you gave Mrs. Weasley the money to buy those books?" Regulus' gaze remained solely focused on Harry, who looked a bit unnerved by the intensity but didn't look away.

"Um, no," Harry confessed, looking puzzled. "Bill went with her, and they stopped by the bank to withdraw some money from my vault-"

"I beg your pardon?" Regulus hissed, and then reeled in the rising explosive temper that all Blacks had no matter how well they hid it when Harry flinched a little at his venomous tone.

"What's the matter?" Harry looked honestly confused.

Regulus' lips thinned. "Harry, did you give your vault key to either of them?"

Harry blinked. "...No."

"Then how exactly did they get in, you foolish boy?" Regulus snapped, suppressing the twist of guilt in his gut when a flicker of hurt flitted across Harry's face. "I understand that Bill Weasley works in Gringotts but he has no authority to access another's vault simply because he has a job with them, and his mother certain doesn't either."

Harry shifted uncomfortably. "I... don't know, maybe Dumbledore gave them a key? He gave Hagrid my key back before my first year, and Hagrid gave it to me when he took me to Gringotts."

Regulus closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "There are so many things wrong with that statement that we'll be here until dawn before we finish discussing them so I suppose I'll just focus on the most important bit for now. Harry, why does Dumbledore still have your key? To your vault? That contains your money? He is not your guardian, he is your Headmaster; the only one who should have a key to your trust vault is you."

For the first time, something like horrified understanding dawned on Harry's paling features. "I don't-"

Regulus closed his eyes again, propping his elbows on the table and clasping his hands together before resting his forehead against them. For several long seconds, his mind clicked away objectively, coming up with theories and discarding the more unlikely possibilities.

And then he opened his eyes and stood up in one fluid motion. Harry was watching him anxiously.

"Do you want to find out what is going on?" Regulus asked coolly.

Harry straightened. His eyes flashed. "Yes."

Regulus nodded, having expected nothing less. "The night is still young so we will have several hours before anyone wakes. I will take you to Gringotts to sort this out. ...You are a troublesome boy, you know that?"

Harry scratched his head and offered an uncharacteristically sardonic smile. "In a good way at least?"

Regulus just sighed before turning to summon Kreacher to go and – discreetly – retrieve Harry's cloak from his room. "Perhaps. Still, I suggest you consider yourself lucky that I like you, Harry Potter."

And despite the situation, Harry's face lit up with a grin.


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