Title: The Legacy
Fandom: Harry Potter
Pairings: James Potter/Lily Potter, Sirius Black/OFC, Frank Longbottom/Alice Longbottom
Rating: R (violence, language, adult themes)
Word Count: 61,067 (complete)
Summary: James Potter took his family into hiding out of Britain when the prophecy was revealed. Hidden for nearly seven years, the Potters come home when it’s announced that Tom Riddle has been captured. Their return brings changes to magical Britain that no one is prepared for.
“Deep in the man sits fast his fate.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
– – – –
October 23, 1981
“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies… and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not… and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives… the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies….”
James’ fingers curled into Harry’s jumper. Dumbledore wore an expression of sadness but underneath that was a resolve that he found deeply unnerving. He listened as the old man laid out a ridiculous plan for both families to go into hiding and to use the Fidelius Charm to hide their locations. A glance toward Frank Longbottom told James exactly how he felt about that idea. Frank met his gaze and James just hitched his chin slightly. Frank relaxed.
James wrapped his free hand around Lily’s wrist when she started to speak, and his wife turned to look at him with narrowing eyes. He adored her, but she was often rashly opinionated about such things—including divination. It wasn’t all to do with the fact that she was Muggle-born. Lily simply didn’t believe in anything she couldn’t touch or see.
“I have a property in Godric’s Hollow that we could move to. I haven’t finished repairs on Potter Manor.” His stomach tightened. “How long?”
“How long what, my boy?” Dumbledore questioned.
“When did you hear this prophecy?” He watched the old man hesitate.
“January of last year,” Dumbledore admitted with some reluctance. “At first, I didn’t take it seriously, nor was I aware that I wasn’t the only one to hear it. But a source has confirmed that Voldemort knows the prophecy exists and has heard a significant portion of it.”
Death Eaters had attacked Potter Manor shortly after Harry’s first birthday and murdered James’ parents. James pushed down his fury and gently tapped the underside of Lily’s wrist. They’d been looking for his son. Harry’s fingers curled against his neck, and James shivered slightly.
“We should go,” Lily murmured. “The cottage in Godric’s Hollow has been closed for a decade. I’d rather not take Harry there until I’ve cleaned it thoroughly.”
Frank stood when he did, and both women followed suit. Alice bounced Neville gently when he put up a fuss at her abrupt movement.
“We’ll contact you as soon as we can to arrange for the Fidelius to be cast, Albus,” James said, and the old man smiled at them.
The four of them exited the tower and said nothing as they made their way through Hogwarts. The walls had eyes and ears—and every portrait in the place answered to Dumbledore. At the front gates, James turned to Frank as he wrapped an arm around Lily. “Two.”
“Two,” Frank agreed. He gathered his wife and son close then apparated.
James followed with his family. Lily took Harry as soon as they reappeared. The baby hated to apparate and was screaming his head off. She sat down in one of the chairs at the only table in the small cottage he and Frank kept in Wales as a bolt-hole for work purposes.
“He’s known that Voldemort was going to target our children for over a year,” Alice whispered. She sat down across from Lily and rocked back and forth gently with Neville, who was fussing quietly. “The Fidelius? It’s ridiculous, Frank!”
“Voldemort’s already chosen his target,” James said quietly. “And we all know it. Lily and I were supposed to be at the manor when it was attacked, but we went to Italy instead. Sirius took Harry to visit his grandfather, Arcturus.” James paced the length of the small kitchen.
“Dumbledore wants the prophecy to be met,” Frank said. “He wants us both to go under a Fidelius—set both of our children up for slaughter and see which one comes out the winner. Voldemort isn’t moving fast enough to suit that old bastard, so he’s going to prod him—make both boys look important to the Order.”
“So the spy can run back and tattle,” Lily murmured. “I think I have an idea, but it would be drastic and terrible all at once.”
“Okay,” James turned to her. “Say it.”
“We run,” Lily said. “I know it’s not your nature, love, but Harry is more important than your pride on this issue. We’ve fought Riddle to a standstill three times and not one time in those events did I feel as if we could beat him.” She ran her fingers through Harry’s hair. “Divination is a bunch of dragonshite, but both Voldemort and Dumbledore are invested in this prophecy. Harry will be forced to meet it eventually, but I’m not going to allow those two old bastards to draw my baby into this fight.” She turned to Alice. “And you’ll stay. You’ll make it known that Neville’s a squib and Frank can use family magic to put a block on him if necessary. Voldemort will forget he exists, and when it becomes obvious that James and I cut and run—well, he’ll focus all of his attention on us.”
“It’s a terrible risk, Lily. What if he catches you?” Alice’s fingers curled into a fist.
“James doesn’t have any family for Voldemort to kill,” Lily said bluntly. “My parents are dead, and my sister married—she no longer has the Evans name. I doubt seriously the Death Eaters will be able to find her at all in the Muggle world. Frank has a lot of family that could be at risk if Neville’s in play.”
“But what if the prophecy is about Neville?” Frank questioned.
“Then you prepare him for it, in secret,” James said quietly. “Tell Minerva to hide his name on the enrollment list. Train him at home. Don’t hire tutors and don’t even tell your other relatives that he’s not a squib. Convince the world of it and Voldemort will never see him coming. We’ll do the same with Harry, elsewhere.”
Alice stood. “Don’t tell us where.”
“Don’t tell anyone,” Frank said gently. “Not even your friends, James. If this is the path we take for our children, then we must truly walk it alone.”
– – – –
They had a series of safe houses set up within the Order of the Phoenix. James arranged to meet with his friends at one of them. He hated leaving Lily and Harry alone in their flat, but it was in a Muggle area, and they’d put down enough alerts that she’d be able to leave quickly if a magical person came within a kilometer of the place. It was certainly safer than what Dumbledore had planned for them. The nature of the Fidelius Charm didn’t allow for apparition or portkey travel out of the protected location. He scowled as he considered that.
The door opened, and Sirius entered. They’d been best mates since the train and had even shared a room at Potter’s Field when Sirius’ parents had thrown him out despite the fact that there had been plenty of room in the manor for Sirius to have his own room. He started to speak, but the door opened as Peter came through and he shook off the rain physically. Sirius sighed and sent a drying charm their friend’s way.
Friend was such a simple word to mean so much. Peter’s growing dishonesty had settled on James like a weight months ago. At first, he wasn’t sure what to make of it—perhaps a fear response to the war. Peter didn’t want to be in the Order. He didn’t want to fight the Death Eaters. He was afraid constantly, and it was a bone-deep sort of fear that James couldn’t relate to. He would admit to anyone that Voldemort was a scary bastard but giving into fear seemed an unreasonable response in the face of such darkness.
“You okay?” Sirius questioned.
James shook his head. “No, Padfoot, I’m not okay.” He took a deep breath and would’ve said more, but Remus had come through the door and shut it firmly behind him. He activated their security charms with a flick of his wand and holstered it. “Dumbledore told me that Riddle is hunting for me and that his grudge is personal. It’s why my parents were murdered—he thought I’d be there with Lily and Harry.”
“What will you do?” Remus asked as he shed his coat.
“We’re going to go into hiding under a Fidelius,” James said. He watched them all process that. “Dumbledore thinks it is the best solution. Lily is packing as we speak.”
“Are you sure?” Sirius questioned. “There isn’t a better choice? The Fidelius has weaknesses.”
“Dumbledore is certain it’s the best choice,” James said, and Padfoot frowned even as he nodded. “The Fidelius is a light charm.” He glanced toward Remus, who only offered him a small, wry smile. “Most everyone would expect me to pick Sirius as my Secret Keeper.” They all nodded. “Lily and I discussed it and believe that Peter would be the best choice.”
Peter paled, and Sirius’ eyes darkened with temper.
“But…” Peter trailed off.
“No, he’s right,” Sirius said as his shoulders relaxed. “No one would expect you so anyone that finds out they’re living under a Fidelius would look toward me for the secret and not you, Peter. You’ll be safe, and their secret will be safe with you.”
“If you’re sure,” Peter said nervously.
“I’ll keep an eye on you,” Sirius said shortly. “And add myself to your security, so I’ll know if someone attacks your place. We’ll make everyone believe I’m the Secret Keeper as much as possible. I’m sure Dumbledore has a plan in place for the members of the Order. He’ll help us create the illusion that I’m keeping the secret.”
James hated that idea but said nothing against it. It would’ve been a solid plan if Peter was trustworthy. “I’ll have to disconnect my mirror from the network we created. I’ve been making Lily one,” he admitted. “But I haven’t added the network elements to hers as yet.”
“How will you contact us for help?” Remus asked with a frown.
“I can’t leave a hole in the security of the Fidelius, Remus. You know how that charm works—it’s delicate spell work. Even an active floo connection would be a risk, and it’s one I won’t be taking.”
“Merlin, Prongs,” Sirius muttered and stood. “That sounds more dangerous than safe.” He waved a hand when James started to speak. “Yes, yes, I’m sure Dumbledore thinks it is for the best. What does Lily think?”
“She mentioned finding Riddle and portkeying his arse right into a volcano.”
Sirius snorted and grinned. “I kind of love her in an inappropriate fashion.”
“Don’t we all,” Remus said dryly and laughed when James glared at them. “I don’t like it at all actually, but I see Dumbledore’s perspective. The Fidelius creates a single point of access to you, and Sirius is the obvious choice—because your parents fostered him.” He turned to Pettigrew. “Peter?”
“I…I’ll do it,” Peter whispered.
James tried to ignore the deception that Pettigrew had no hope of hiding from him. He was at once very grateful that his father had insisted he hide the fact that he was a parselmouth and that discerning the truth was one of his innate magical skills. He had a feeling that after a decade of friendship that even Peter might have learned to hide from him.
“Thank you, Peter.”
– – – – –
Harry had learned to run first as far as Lily was concerned. He was currently darting around the flat gathering up his favorite toys and putting them in a pile. She didn’t know if he’d picked up on her nervousness or not, but he was determined to gather up all of his toys. He’d been helping since she’d pulled the trunks out and started shrinking furniture.
Lily turned and found Harry standing proudly by a pile of stuffed animals and building blocks. She smiled. “Is that everything?”
“Everythin!” Harry agreed and clapped his hands. “Pack!”
She grinned and was just a bit more amused when the pile trembled as if it wanted to comply with her son’s demand. She flicked her wand just a little, and the toys started to flip into the trunk. Harry laughed and clapped his hands again. Then darted off as fast as his little legs could carry him for whatever task he’d assigned himself next. It was hard to think about the prophecy around her son because she knew deep down that Harry was already a bit too smart for his age, a bit too magical. Even a week ago, she would’ve bragged about how advanced he was but not now—not in the face of Voldemort’s ambition and Dumbledore’s duplicity.
Lily had often wondered if the old man underestimated her because she was a woman or because she was Muggle-born. That train of thought was annoying, but the fact remained that Albus Dumbledore did underestimate everything about her—her strength, intelligence, and more importantly, the old bastard seemed to think he had more influence over her husband than she did. Three trunks snapped shut at the same time, shaking her loose from her thoughts.
The flat was small, and they hadn’t unpacked much to begin with. Everything from Potter’s Field was in a vault at Gringotts—well everything except the library, which she had in an archive trunk. She walked into the nursery and found Harry seated on the floor in front of the small dresser. He had several piles of clothes spread around him.
Lily squatted down beside him. “What are you doing?”
He put a hand on the first pile. “Like. No like. Hate.”
She laughed as he flicked the last pile with his fingers which consisted of three little robes. Harry wasn’t at all fond of clothes he found constricting. She summoned the trunk she’d left by the door for his things and instructed it to pack. Harry made a grab for the offensive robes and huffed dramatically when he missed.
She brushed a lock of thick black hair from his forehead. “One day, you’ll understand that appearing to conform is a skill.” He frowned at her. “Sometimes I wonder how much you understand.”
“Everythin!” Harry exclaimed with a wide smile.
“Oh, darling, I hope not,” Lily whispered and picked him up. “Come now, let’s make tea for Daddy.”
– – – –
“You don’t have to go,” James pointed out with a frown as he righted Harry’s cup and gave his son the biscuit he’d been trying to reach. “She doesn’t…”
“She’s my sister,” Lily said simply. “I need to make sure the wards I set on her home settled. I don’t think they’ll find her—they’d need people in the Muggle world to make the right connections and find her under her married name. But…” She took a deep breath. “I may never see her again, James.”
“I’ll finish everything here,” James said. “Though you’ve demonstrated again that I’m just an accessory around here. There isn’t much left to do.”
Lily grinned, leaned into his space and kissed his mouth. “Well, I did marry you because you’re pretty.”
He laughed and tugged on a lock of her hair even as Harry made a little smacking sound with his lips and tilted his head up. Lily shifted and kissed their son’s forehead and both cheeks before the kid started to giggle.
Lily apparated with a little wave for Harry and reappeared in a little grouping of trees not far from her sister’s house. She used the walk from the park to take in the neighborhood her sister had settled in. Vernon Dursley was a tool, but apparently, his job allowed him to provide a nice home for her sister, and he made Pet happy which Lily had considered an impossibility. Her sister was bitter about being a Muggle, and more, she hated all that the magical world had given Lily—a handsome, wealthy, titled husband was only the start of it.
She paused briefly on the sidewalk in front of Number 4 Privet Drive. It was a cute little house—utterly average and fit in with the rest of the houses on the street. Petunia craved normal. Lily hadn’t been surprised by her choice of homes. She checked her watch. It was several hours before Vernon was due home—Lily never visited when her brother-in-law was home if she could avoid it. She walked up to the front door and pushed the bell.
Petunia opened the door and stared at her. “Lily.”
“Hello, Petunia, can I come in?”
She frowned but stepped back to let her in. “Thank you for coming alone.”
Lily didn’t bother to tell her that James had no intention of ever visiting the house again. He found Petunia extremely offensive on several levels but mostly for the fact that she had no respect for his title, which she didn’t consider legitimate. Lily passed by her nephew, Dudley, without touching him. The boy was on a blanket in the middle of the small living room surrounded by toys. Petunia didn’t like Lily touching her son—so she didn’t. There was no need to create more animosity.
“What did you want?” Petunia questioned.
“Nothing,” Lily said and sat down at the table. “I wanted to tell you that something has happened, and we have to go away for a while.”
“Something to do with that war in your world?” Petunia questioned. “You shouldn’t have come here—what if you were followed?”
“I wasn’t followed,” Lily said, keeping her tone even. “I just…Pet.” Lily looked away from her sister. “It’s so hard to remember a time when you loved me.” She ignored the gasp that Petunia couldn’t contain. Lily stood. “I came here to tell you that I probably won’t be seeing you for a long time—maybe never if we’re caught.”
“Never?” Petunia frowned at her. “Are you saying you might die?” She threw the towel she had in her hand on the table. “Was it worth it? Your precious magic? Worth giving up a normal life in the real world? Worth giving up your life? Giving up your dreams of being a doctor?”
Lily took a deep breath. “Yes, of course, it was all worth it. I wouldn’t have Harry if I’d said no when I was invited to Hogwarts, and there is nothing I wouldn’t give up or sacrifice for my baby.” She turned to her sister. “You understand that, at least?”
“Dudley is normal and perfect. Your child is…is…”
“A freak?” Lily questioned. “That’s what Vernon thinks, Petunia. I thought you were capable of having your own opinions and beliefs. Instead, you’ve been reduced to parroting that arsehole’s bigotry.” She shoved her shaking hands into her coat pockets. “It doesn’t matter, you’ll get what you want. Even if I make it through the war—I won’t ever bother you again.”
Petunia glared at her. “Vernon is good to me. He takes care of me. He has a real job in the real world.”
She couldn’t help but glare back. “Do be careful that you don’t ever do anything that doesn’t fit with his narrow mind and small ideas, Pet, there is no telling how he would react.”
Lily apparated before Petunia could respond. James was lingering in the small foyer when she landed. He gathered her close without a word, and she relaxed against the comforting warmth of his body with a shudder. She had no real tears left to shed for her sister, but she did cry a little for herself. Petunia had been her only real connection to the Muggle world, and now that was gone for better or worse.
“How did her wards feel?”
“Strong,” Lily whispered. “As long as she lives there, she should go unnoticed by magicals. It was a good test—that I could still move through them. It means it’ll work for us in a new place.”
“Well, you created the ward so, of course, it’s perfect.”
“It’s illegal blood magic,” Lily said and grinned when James just laughed. “I could go to jail if I’m caught.”
“I’d visit every day,” James promised and laughed when she huffed. “Well, since only the three of us could get anywhere near that house—the likelihood that anyone will discover the blood magic is slim to none.”
“I’m glad I went with the blood-based signatures,” Lily said. “I think Dumbledore or someone similarly powerful could’ve circumvented or even altered them otherwise. Now, in theory, only you or I could change them. And finding the house would be next to impossible for any creature outside of a house elf that was already familiar with Petunia, which isn’t possible since she never met one.”
“Then she’s safe,” James said and pushed her hair back from her face. “And her perfectly normal family is, too.”
“I hate him,” Lily whispered. “He stole my sister from me, and she let it happen. She wasn’t always kind about magic, but she was never this bad before she met Vernon.”
– – – –
October 31, 1981
Lily watched Peter walk to the edge of the property and pass the secret to Sirius Black then to Remus Lupin. Her husband joined them as soon as the secret had settled. The four men had a brief conversation then they started to leave—Peter first. Remus offered her a wave before he apparated, and she leaned against the doorframe as she watched her husband say what was to him a goodbye to the best friend he had in the world. She knew how much James hated leaving Sirius in the dark about their plans, but it was for Harry.
They’d taken their time moving to Godric’s Hollow, much to Dumbledore’s building frustration, as James had secretly traveled abroad three times in search of the safe house they’d actually be going to. He’d purchased an isolated cottage in France under an assumed name in the Muggle world. They’d been moving money into a Muggle account in Switzerland since before Harry was born so they had the funds to live outside of the magical world indefinitely if they lived on a good budget. Neither one of them had the skills to work in the Muggle world, which she had to admit she found more frustrating than James did.
Sirius left finally, and James returned to her. She picked up the moleskin bag she’d stored all of their trunks in, and he picked up Harry, who they’d put under a sleeping charm. She dropped the invisibility cloak onto his shoulders and pulled the hood up over his head. It was better than any disillusionment charm which meant Harry had to be under it. Harry came first for them both—there was no other choice. She drew her wand and cast a disillusionment charm on herself. James stuck his free hand out of the cloak for her to take and the cloak settled back into place covering them up.
“How long do you think?”
“Longer than either of us would want,” James admitted.
They walked through the door of the cottage, across the small lawn, and onto the street. Once they were free of the wards, James activated the illegal portkey he’d made. Lily exhaled sharply at the gentle tug around her navel, and they disappeared in a swirl of magic.
September 12, 1988
Voldemort’s capture had been reported in every single magical paper on the planet that James could get his hands on. Even Muggle papers coming out of Britain had celebrated the capture of an internationally known terrorist. Though those papers called him Tom Riddle. The identity of the Dark Lord had been a surprise to most, and James had been no exception. He’d watched from a distance as his friends had waged war for his son—Frank Longbottom and Sirius Black had used political connections to suppress Voldemort at practically every return.
After the Death Eaters had killed Arcturus Black, Sirius had taken the title and rammed all the authority of the Black family down the throats of every pureblood bigot in Britain. Sirius was ruthless and frankly far more vicious than James had believed his best mate capable of being. He wondered how much of it was anger at him. Five hours after the charm was cast, Voldemort invaded the house in Godric’s Hollow, and Peter Pettigrew had been revealed to be a traitor.
Frank had used his mother to spread the rumor that Neville was a squib, and while it wasn’t discussed in polite society, no one batted an eyelash when Alice Longbottom had two more children in quick succession—both girls. They were keeping up the appearance of trying for a magical heir and James appreciated how far they were willing to go in that regard. He’d known, for a fact, that Alice had planned to go back to work after Neville turned five and started tutoring.
James glanced at Lily—she was curled up in a chair by the fire heavy with a child they hadn’t planned but couldn’t part with once the pregnancy was confirmed. They’d discussed it at length and had even bought the termination potion, but in the end, Lily couldn’t do it, and he’d been so bloody relieved. Harry was very excited about the prospect of a sibling and had started making a list of names the same day they’d told him. Their boy had been utterly isolated in the world since they’d fled Britain.
Harry was seated on a rug by the fire, carefully transfiguring a set of blocks into a flock of birds.
They’d been teaching Harry magic for three years. James had gone to five different countries and purchased wands for him to try. In the end, a wand from Brazil had been perfect for him—Snakewood and the feather of a coatl. It was a powerful wand, and they’d discovered very quickly, a loyal one as well. After it had mated to Harry’s magic, neither he nor Lily had been able to use the wand at all. He’d used a law buried in France’s education system to begin Harry’s training, and since they were all French citizens, the law would protect them from having violated the law in Britain should they ever be able to return. He wouldn’t be able to hide the fact that Harry knew more magic at eight than some kids knew at sixteen.
“Can we trust it?” Lily questioned.
James took a deep breath. “I don’t know.”
He turned to her. He’d been able to leave the cottage, but she’d stayed in place with Harry. He knew she was smothering under the confinement and the lack of stimulation. She hadn’t even smiled when he’d returned from his last trip to Italy with a new set of books on experimental charms. She’d been interested, of course, but the books were no longer enough for her.
“Can’t you check?”
James turned to his son and found Harry staring at him. “Returning to Britain could be dangerous.”
Harry nodded but frowned and focused on his transfiguration. “What if something goes wrong with the baby and mum needs a magical healer?”
James’ stomach tightened because the thought had crossed his mind more than once. They had Muggle identification and had planned to admit to her a Muggle hospital for the birth, but the thought was a nightmare for him. Muggle women died in childbirth, which was practically unheard of in the magical world unless there was a curse or a magical injury involved. He returned his attention to Harry and found his son holding a tiny blue bird. The transfiguration was stunning, but then his son’s raw magical power was nothing short of awe-inspiring even if it did break his heart. There was no doubt in his mind that the prophecy was about Harry—his magic was far too mature for his age. The prophecy was working to make Voldemort and Harry equal.
“Let’s ask the goblins,” Harry said. He released the bird and pushed it toward his father.
James let the transfiguration land on his hand. He grinned. “Birds don’t have five digits on their feet, lad.”
Harry laughed and blushed. “They always do when I transfigure them.”
– – – –
“Will Daddy be okay?”
“He’s just going to Paris today,” Lily said as she removed the remains of breakfast from the table. “Now, yesterday you read about the last goblin rebellion.”
“Yes,” Harry agreed. “Though why they had to have more than one is mind boggling since the first one resulted in the deaths of thousands of wizards and witches across the world.”
“There were four rebellions before the final accords were signed between the Goblin Horde and the International Confederation of Wizards,” Lily said. “What does that tell you?”
“That magical people are so caught up in their belief that they’re superior to those they consider to be creatures that they honestly can’t be trusted to take care of themselves.”
Lily laughed. “Seriously.”
“They need full-time babysitters,” Harry said and grinned when she laughed some more. “And maybe tethering charms, so they don’t wander off and stick their head in a devil’s snare.”
She fixed herself some tea and returned to the table. “Okay, be serious.”
“I was being serious,” Harry protested.
“Lay out your argument.”
“Well, you said people got upset with you for doing better in class than they did because you were Muggle-born.”
“Yes,” Lily agreed. “Some were of the belief that I shouldn’t be allowed to do better.”
“They wanted to you to be inferior because you’re a Muggle-born and you weren’t so that made some of them mad.”
Lily nodded. “Right. And what does that mean for magical society in general?”
She watched Harry process the question. His mind worked differently than hers—a little chaos where hers was more orderly, but he often pierced through a problem with a knife like precision that Lily figured he’d gotten from his father.
“Do you think that is why the use of magic outside of school is so restricted in Britain? In most of Europe, once you gain a wand, the only restriction you have is about the Statute of Secrecy. In the US, children have limited wand rights outside of school but only as it applies to what they learn in school. After the first year, they can use any spell from their first-year textbooks and so on. Yet, in Britain, children are restricted.”
“But not all,” Lily pointed out.
“Right, because the trace doesn’t work for unplottable properties which means the children in noble and ancient families aren’t bound by those laws because the Ministry can’t enforce them. Which means, in reality, that only children who live in the Muggle world are impacted.”
“Or those from poor families in the magical world,” Lily interjected. “The kind of warding required to hide from the ministry is really expensive in this day and age. Now, some families living on ancient land have had such wards for generations, so their financial status doesn’t matter so much but…”
“Half-blood and Muggle-borns, who make new families in the magical world, don’t have ancient wards or the financial resources to have unplottable wards built,” Harry said. “That’s really ugly. But it does beg the question.”
“How come you did do so much better in practical and theoretical lessons if those pureblood kids had so much more time to learn and practice?”
“You tell me,” Lily said with a small smile.
“Laziness? Entitlement? The assumption that their blood status made them superior, and they didn’t need to study?” He frowned. “Daddy studies.”
Lily nodded. “He was a bit lazy at Hogwarts though—he’s told you so. But after he left Hogwarts and realized he wanted a career in law enforcement, he decided to get a Mastery in law.”
“But he had to hide me instead,” Harry said. “It ruined his plans.”
“That’s not your fault, and you know it,” Lily told him sternly. “Besides, he’s studied so much that he’s ready to take his Mastery test in International Law, which he’ll one day do.”
Harry nodded. “After the second goblin rebellion, the goblins refused to share their physical craft works with the wizards, including wands and staves, which meant that we had to learn to make our own wands. The book said that wizard-made magical focuses…” He paused. “Or foci?”
“Both are valid, but I’ve always found that foci is less cumbersome to say,” Lily answered.
“Right,” Harry agreed. “Wizard-made magical foci aren’t as powerful as wands and staves that were once made by the goblins for us, but that’s not a popular opinion.”
“No, certainly not,” Lily said. “What led directly to the second rebellion?”
“Archibol Gaunt accused the bank of fraud in 1802 when he lost all of his money through a series of poor investments. The conflict began in Britain, and within three weeks, spread across the whole magical world. The Gaunt family was eventually driven from the magical world as their powerful members were killed and the line to fell to squibs by the late 1800s. Unfortunately, the Horde didn’t consider what remained of the Gaunt line a threat and probably only recently realized their mistake on that front when it became known that Voldemort’s mother was a squib named Merope Gaunt.”
“Do you believe the whole line corrupt?”
“They descend from Salazar Slytherin,” Harry pointed out. “But then we also share a common ancestor in Ballard Peverell—the Potters descend from his son Ignotus, and the Gaunts descend from Cadmus. Though there is an argument to be made for line corruption considering the nature of family magic and how it can influence for good or bad. There’s a reason why light families stay predominantly light unless members are acted upon by an outside force.”
– – – –
There were times when he missed his glasses as he was often left with nothing to do while he waited—time he’d once used to clean or fiddle with his glasses. James had never really intended on paying for the expensive and painful magical procedure to correct his vision but getting rid of his glasses made it easier to change his appearance. As soon as Harry had started to experience vision problems, Lily had started brewing eye restorative potions that could only be used before the age of ten to correct vision problems. Harry looked too much like James and adding the glasses that he was known for to his son’s already familiar face could’ve led to him being recognized even in the Muggle world. Though they hadn’t allowed Harry to leave the cottage yet, they knew they couldn’t confine him forever.
He let himself be led into the small conference room at the Paris branch of Gringotts without protest. Approaching the front desk with a request to set up a private vault had been met with excellent customer service. He’d expected and counted on it. The door remained shut for a few minutes before an account manager entered and motioned him to sit. The goblin placed a deceptively thin book on the table between them.
“Will you need international access to your vault, sir? There will be additional fees, of course.”
James stared at the goblin for a long moment before he unbuttoned his sleeve and removed the goblin made glamour he always wore when he left the cottage. He watched the goblin process the changes in his appearance as he placed the bracelet on the table in front of him.
“I apologize for the deception, Razel. I’m surprised to see you at the Paris branch.”
Razel sat back in his chair and stared. “Lord Potter.” The goblin’s gaze dropped to James’ wand hand, and he allowed the ring to appear on his finger with a shimmer of magic. “I am pleased to see you well. Many in Britain feared the worst over the years, especially after the events in Godric’s Hollow.”
James nodded. “I did what I had to do to protect my family, Razel. I find myself here today doing the same once more. I’ve read the papers—is it true that Voldemort has been caught?”
“I haven’t seen anything personally to verify that.” Razel left his chair. “I swear on my father’s life, Lord Potter, that I will not reveal your presence in this room to anyone but the Chieftain of the Horde. I will have to leave to get the information you require.”
James nodded. “Of course.”
He waited nearly twenty minutes and couldn’t say he was surprised when Razel returned with his father, Ragnok.
“Chieftain, I’m honored with your attention.”
Ragnok stared then snorted. “Merlin, Potter, you’ve got knickers in a twist from here to Italy.” He grinned. “Well met.” He clapped his hands together and sat in the chair his son had abandoned. “Razel tells me you’ve sought us out to confirm the capture of Riddle? I received an official, certified notification from the Ministry of Magic confirming the capture of Tom Riddle fourteen days ago. My people were called into to create the warded vault they’ve placed him in. He’s being kept in an undisclosed location until the ICW can arrange his transfer to Apollumi. As you probably know, Riddle was tried in absentia with crimes against magic and has already been sentenced to an eternity in Apollumi. They settled on eternity because they can’t be certain how long he’ll live due to how many dark rituals he’s done to harvest power and lengthen his lifespan.”
“Better safe than sorry,” James muttered. “You trust the ministry on this? They have Riddle in custody?”
“Yes, I trust the information. The ministry knows better than to tell such a lie to the Horde and the International Confederation of Wizards. Even Dumbledore sought to verify his identity personally within hours of his capture.” Ragnok paused. “Do you know why you were his target, Lord Potter?”
James took a deep breath. “Yes, I’m afraid that I do. I can’t say more because the risk is far too great.” He stood and walked away from them. “In truth, I’m not sure I’d even be here taking this risk if Lily weren’t heavy with child. She’s a mere week from her due date by our calculations, and we planned to take her to a Muggle hospital, but I don’t trust Muggle healers. Lily assures me that they would be fine, but I know women die in childbirth in the Muggle world.”
“I understand your concern,” Ragnok murmured. “And congratulations, Lord Potter, on the impending arrival of your child.”
James offered the Chieftain a small smile in thanks then cleared his throat. “How many of his Death Eaters are still at large?”
“Since Lord Black forced the Wizengamot to declare the Death Eaters traitors, it’s been open season on Riddle’s followers. Your old friend apparently has dedicated himself to building you a road home, Lord Potter. At last count, Riddle had only ten followers remaining alive or at large. Surrender or die has been the policy of the DMLE in Britain for the last three years. Dumbledore vehemently opposed this policy, but he was repeatedly outmaneuvered by Lord Black’s voting bloc.”
James nodded. “I…please don’t take this mean that I don’t trust you, Ragnok, but I would like to review the proof you received from the ministry. Can you arrange that?”
“I will,” Ragnok murmured. James watched the goblin leader stand but then the smaller being paused at the door and turned to look at him. “You aren’t his target, are you?”
James stared at him. “What would you do for your son, Chieftain?”
“The better question, Lord Potter, is what wouldn’t I do for my son?”
– – – –
Lord Sirius Black frowned at the official notification from the Horde. The goblins had performed the ward work for Riddle’s incarceration as requested and hadn’t overcharged them for once. Now they were seeking to verify Voldemort’s identity. He already knew Crouch would deny them access to the prisoner. No one had been given direct access after Dumbledore had confirmed Riddle’s identity personally. They had the dark bastard in a warded coffin-shaped vault and had put him in stasis per the ICW’s request. After all, they might have captured Riddle, but he wasn’t their prisoner.
He knew why the request had landed on his desk. As Head Auror, it was his job to field any request before it hit Crouch’s desk. But this was one thing he couldn’t answer on his own. He stood and grabbed his coat—it had been a hard year for Barty, who had lost his wife in the spring. And he’d lost his son, Barty Jr, the night Voldemort had attacked the Crouch property—the night that Director Crouch captured Voldemort and killed all the Lestranges. The scene had been horrific, and part of Sirius still wondered about the circumstances of Barty, Jr’s death. He pushed it aside—just like he had been doing for days—and left his office.
Longbottom looked up from the report he was writing. “Sir?”
Sirius wanted to frown at him. As much as they were allies in the Wizengamot, they were no longer close friends, and it was almost entirely his doing. James and Lily’s disappearance had hit him hard, and it had been compounded by the fact that Frank Longbottom knew more than he was saying. Sirius deeply regretted skipping the meeting at Hogwarts the day that Dumbledore had called. What had that old bastard told the Potters and the Longbottoms that had led them to this? Sirius knew damn well that Neville wasn’t a squib—but he’d let that rumor persist without protest until everyone believed it and Frank had relaxed.
“The goblins are asking to verify Riddle’s identity,” Sirius said shortly and took a deep breath because Frank had tensed slightly at his tone. “Come into my office, please.” He turned on his heel and walked out of the bullpen. He moved to the window in the back of his office as Frank shut the door. “Activate the privacy protocol.”
The windows darkened as Frank did as ordered. “Lord Black, if there is a problem…”
“Goddamn it!” Sirius snapped. He turned toward Frank. “I’ve been an arsehole about…James and Lily.”
Frank took a deep breath. “I don’t know that I would say that. Your worry, anger, and grief—were expected. He’s the best friend you have in the world, and he’s gone. I get it, Sirius. James was my partner from practically minute one at the academy. I know that you wanted to be his partner…”
“No,” Sirius interrupted. “They offered us that, but we both agreed it wasn’t the right choice for us. I didn’t even intend on staying in the DMLE—my goal was and remains the DOM.” He shoved his hands into his pockets. “I just didn’t expect to be excluded the way I was—whatever the two of you planned—I wasn’t included, and it was like he’d lost faith in me.”
“No, never that, Sirius.”
“He chose Pettigrew as his Secret Keeper,” Sirius said harshly.
“Because he knew that Peter couldn’t be trusted,” Frank snapped back. “He’d stopped trusting Peter weeks before Dumbledore cast the Fidelius and you must know that. James chose him because whoever bore the secret would be a bleeding target and he couldn’t risk your life to protect nothing! He probably left Godric’s Hollow within minutes of your leaving.”
Sirius took a deep breath. He’d suspected that for years, but Frank had never been so open about the circumstances before. Was it because Voldemort had been captured? “Do you know where they are?”
“No, I never did know,” Frank murmured and sat down. “There are times when I wished I could tell you the whole of it, but we made a decision that day that once made could not be unmade. I don’t regret it, and while I can’t say for certain, I don’t think James does either.”
“Right.” Sirius dropped down into his chair and slouched there, chin propped on his fist. “Sorry about snubbing you and not inviting you to my wedding.”
Frank grinned. “Alice had a lovely time.”
Sirius snorted. “Yes, she did, as a matter of fact. Still, I am sorry. I’ve been angry at you for a while, and I know it is misplaced.”
“The last thing James asked of me was to keep you safe, Sirius, so don’t stay mad at him forever. He loves you like a brother, but he had a higher duty.” Frank stood. “What will you do about the goblins?”
“I can’t open the box,” Sirius admitted. “We’ve spelled it with the ICW protocols. At this point, the only person in Britain who could open it is Dumbledore. I can show them the box, however. I mean what else is left?”
– – – –
Millicent Bagnold wasn’t a blood purist, per se, but Sirius could tell she was deeply uncomfortable with the goblins’ presence in the ministry. Chieftain Ragnok had arrived through the main floo in the Atrium behind six of the largest goblins Sirius had ever seen. The warrior-class goblins didn’t leave the home realm of Agharti unless the Horde was preparing for war. Perhaps that was what had the minister in a strop, but he assumed that wasn’t the whole of it. After all, they could’ve hardly expected Ragnok to venture so far from the bank without security.
Sirius offered the goblin Chieftain a bow. “Chieftain Ragnok, it is always a pleasure to be in your esteemed company. On behalf of the British Ministry of Magic, I apologize that you were compelled to leave the safety of your own land to see to this matter. Legally, we cannot move the containment vessel holding Riddle.”
“Of course,” Ragnok murmured. “I contacted the ICW and verified the situation. They expect to finish constructing the holding facility that will they use to imprison Riddle within the month. I’ve offered the services of the Horde on that matter, and they’ve graciously accepted my offer.” He paused. “I also offered to kill Riddle, but they declined.”
Sirius grinned. “Please know that if we were not bound by international treaty, I would hold your cloak while you cut off his head, Chieftain. If you’ll follow me, I’ll escort you down to the containment area.”
Bagnold and Crouch had thrown the entire matter his way when Ragnok had made it clear he was coming to the ministry personally. Neither were from an ancient and noble family which meant they hadn’t been taught the protocols for dealing with the upper reaches of goblin culture. He took the goblin party down an empty hallway and straight into a lift.
“We’re keeping the containment vault in a chamber in the facility that is not on the floor plans and can only be reached by this lift. The ICW sent a team of twenty to guard Riddle. Each one has vowed on their magic to do everything in their power to prevent his escape. They’re sleeping in shifts and have been locked in the facility since we placed Riddle inside. Only Director Crouch and I may enter at this point, and we must verify our identity through blood and magical signature. I’ll step out to satisfy the security protocols, Chieftain, and sign you into the log so you may enter and view the box.”
“Relax, Sirius, I was already told that I couldn’t demand that you open it,” Ragnok said dryly.
The lift doors opened, and Sirius stepped out to have his identity verified by the guards on duty then signed in the goblins per order of the minister. The men on duty had already been informed that the visit would happen, but he followed protocol to the letter. He’d rather not be sanctioned personally by the ICW for failing to follow the procedures they’d sent in regards to their prisoner.
Ragnok drew a stave and performed several diagnostic spells that the ICW had approved, and frowned. “The vault is obscuring his magical signature and power rating.”
“Yes, it’s actually suppressing all of his magic,” Sirius admitted. “It was the only way we could be certain that we could hold him. He’s a powerful bastard, Ragnok, no matter how he came by that power. At last report, he’d sacrificed more than a hundred in his quest to be the most powerful wizard alive.”
Ragnok hummed under his breath. “Where are the reports that the Director of St. Mungo’s created for the ICW?”
“With the rest of the paperwork.” Sirius motioned him to the back of the room where a large table sat. “We’re keeping it with the vault so we can hand over everything to the ICW. The World Court is also keeping an eye on this process since we have the death penalty and more than one person in this building would like to toss the dark bastard through the Veil.”
“It would be the best course of action,” Ragnok murmured. He hopped up onto the chair with a little flash of magic and settled down with the parchments. “Dumbledore examined him as well. Where is his report?”
“He didn’t generate one,” Sirius admitted. “Only Minister Bagnold and Director Crouch were present during that meeting, and I’m uncertain as to why he hasn’t provided a certification formally. Perhaps he believed it unnecessary.”
Ragnok frowned but read through each report generated by the healers and the team of Unspeakables, who had participated in the stasis procedure. “Where is Croaker’s report?”
“Croaker was in Japan at the time of the attack and capture. By the time he returned to Britain, we’d already sealed Riddle into the vault. Chieftain, are you concerned that we’ve made a mistake?” Sirius questioned. “I did see him before he was placed in stasis. I ran my own tests—I checked for glamours and polyjuice. Dumbledore was the final word on it, and the ICW accepted the identification based on his word.”
Ragnok frowned but pulled the report from the St. Mungo’s team toward him and began to read. Sirius knew that report backward and forward—having read it over a hundred times since it was generated. Every single result in the report led in a single direction. Age, power level, and magical core signature were all consistent with Voldemort. No glamour, no polyjuice, a headache potion taken three hours before his capture, and four ribs that were broken during the attack on the Crouch home. The ICW had insisted Riddle be placed in stasis as quickly as possible. They hadn’t bothered to heal the injuries.
“Everything appears to be in order,” Ragnok said finally.
“But?” Sirius questioned.
“I trust myself most,” Ragnok said and left the chair. “Thank you for your time, Lord Black. Since the ICW will not allow vault to be opened, I must be satisfied with the results before me.”
“You have concerns?” Sirius asked as he followed the goblin leader out of the room.
The goblin guards fell into line as they entered the lift. The doors shut, and Ragnok exhaled loudly.
“I admit to being confused that one of the most powerful wizards in the world was caught by Barty Crouch,” Ragnok said.
“Evidence does indicate that Riddle and the Lestranges murdered his only child during the altercation,” Sirius murmured. “What would a father do to protect his son?”
Ragnok left the lift ahead of him but then turned. “Funny, Lord Black, you’re the second wizard to ask me that today.”
Sirius started to speak, but his throat went tight with emotion. He cleared his throat but in the end, only nodded. The trip back to his office was a contemplative one. Frank was at his desk when he entered the main floor of the DMLE. Black walked to the desk and tapped his fingers gently on the corner.
“Was there a problem with the inspection?” Frank questioned.
“What would you do to protect your son, Frank?” Sirius asked, his voice subdued.
Frank tilted back in his chair and stared at Sirius. “I would do anything for my boy.”
– – – –
Lily settled in her favorite chair on the patio. Harry was reading a few yards away on a blanket. She pulled her communication mirror and activated it. Seconds passed before it connected with James and her husband’s face filled the surface.
“Hey, you,” James said. “Out in the sun?”
“Yes, Harry’s doing his Muggle history reading.” Lily turned the mirror briefly so James could see their son then shifted it back around. “How are things going?”
“Ragnok portkeyed to London to view the evidence gathered for the ICW, and he’s due back shortly. He’d already received a letter from the ministry regarding Riddle’s capture, and Dumbledore did the review for the ICW before the containment vessel was closed. Ragnok was told he wouldn’t be allowed to actually view Riddle since the British ministry doesn’t have permission to open the box.”
“I feel exposed,” James admitted and ran his hand through his hair. “I haven’t been outside of the cottage without the glamour since we went into hiding. I might as well be naked.”
She snorted. “That would not help goblin/wizard relations.”
“Cruel.” James laughed. He looked away from the mirror briefly then focused on her. “I have to go—I’ll be home as soon as I can.”
“Be safe,” Lily ordered and his disappeared with a wisp of magic.
She tucked the mirror away and took a deep breath then focused on Harry, who had fallen asleep. Lily laughed a bit but didn’t get up—she’d suspected he would nap since they’d had lunch before they’d gone outside. The weather was cool, but she had a good weather ward in the garden area of the property, and Harry was pretty much convinced that napping outside under the sun was the best thing. She pulled her wand and cast a charm on him so he wouldn’t get sunburn on his face.
The baby stirred briefly, and she patted her stomach as she opened her journal and started to spread out the materials she’d gathered. Her timeline for the war in Britain was largely built with newspaper articles—though she’d rarely bothered to include the Daily Prophet since they went toward sensational rather than factual. The magical world was celebrating what they’d determined to be the end of Riddle’s War, but part of her thought that it was too simple, too neat.
It helped that Sirius had been involved in the incarceration of Riddle, and he hadn’t voiced any public concerns about the identity of their prisoner. She wondered what he would tell the goblins and if that information would be relayed to James. Her proximity ward trembled, and she glanced at her son. A grass snake was working toward the blanket—not a surprise or an uncommon occurrence. Lily drew her wand and prodded the snake away with a little push of her magic. It hissed at her but retreated.
The grass snake was large but harmless to humans. Most snakes around the house knew better to than approach Harry while he was asleep, so Lily figured this one was new. She made a mental note to have James come out into the garden and find it for a talk. She really didn’t like or dislike snakes, but she did expect them to respect her son’s space and to not approach him without his permission.
Over the years, James had grown comfortable with his parselmagic and had even started studying it—retrieving books from abroad because Harry found the subject fascinating. At first, Lily was sure that it was a way for James to connect with their son, but as his comfort with parselmagic had increased, it had become less about having something he could teach Harry and more about something he could learn on his own.
Lily pushed all that aside and organized her newspaper articles in the journal then opened the new book that James had brought her on experimental charms. It still had a slight residue of James’ magic clinging to the pages. He never brought anything straight back to the cottage—he used a second location to scan everything he purchased, from food to books, for tracking charms. It had been an amusing bit of paranoia until he’d found tracking charms on six different books that would activate when they came into contact with her magical signature.
James had been furious to discover that Remus Lupin was searching for them, but that anger had retreated over time. Remus had no idea he should consider Dumbledore the enemy and there was nothing aggressive about his search. James had followed him more than once, and the aimless method of Lupin’s magical search spoke to both reluctance and desperation. He obviously wanted to believe that all three of them were alive but after a few years had started to search exclusively for Lily and Harry.
She hoped that Remus wasn’t so far gone that he would side with Dumbledore if they ever returned to Britain—the betrayal of another friend might be more than James could stand. He missed both Sirius and Remus desperately, but he rarely spoke of them.
– – – –
James left the pensieve and took a deep breath. “I know why the ICW has put restrictions on opening the vault, but I would feel better if you’d gotten a look at him.” He walked away from the desk and rubbed his face with both hands. “Lord Black looks well.”
“It’s not my place to speculate, but he has not adjusted well to your disappearance. I attended his wedding. Mr. Lupin stood as his best man, but I believe they both recognized the hole in the event left by your absence.”
Ragnok watched him move around the room, and James could almost hear his father rebuking him for the display of nerves. Nervousness was a weakness, and Christopher Potter hadn’t been one to reveal such a thing to those in power. He sat down to avoid more pacing.
“Your final thoughts on the matter?” James questioned.
“At this point, I must trust the treaty between the British of Ministry of Magic and the Horde, Lord Potter,” Ragnok murmured. “It is a difficult choice before you for reasons that I don’t know and don’t expect to be told.”
James’ gaze drifted back to the pensieve. Lily’s unplanned pregnancy had changed their circumstances drastically, and he found himself unwilling to trust a Muggle doctor with his wife and unborn child. “I don’t trust Dumbledore.”
“It crossed my mind when it was discovered you were not hiding in Godric’s Hollow as Dumbledore assumed and reported when the wards fell on the cottage there. Once it became clear that Voldemort and his Death Eaters had attacked the property, that old bastard was quick to try to cast blame on Lord Black for the breach. Eventually, however, he was forced to admit that he cast the Fidelius around a property for someone though the structure of the Secret made it impossible to say your name specifically.” Ragnok sighed. “Common sense, however, made it clear he’d cast it for the owner of the property—you. The ministry commissioned the Horde with deconstructing the Fidelius and what was left of the wards on the building itself to investigate the scene.”
“Why on earth would he blame Sirius?” James pondered. He stood and started to pace again.
“At that point, young Sirius had already assumed his responsibilities as heir to the Black title. I personally believe that Dumbledore was already thinking of ways he could undermine the power of the Black seat on the Wizengamot. Of course, he has paid for that ambition in the last year since Lord Black assumed the Blackmoor title. Dumbledore also labored under the impression for quite some time that Sirius knew your location. He harassed Lord Longbottom on the topic as well.”
James pushed down the anger and took a deep breath. Dumbledore’s obsession with the prophecy, and in turn with Harry, was unnerving, to say the least. He sat back down and flushed when Ragnok smirked at him.
“Though he would’ve been loath to admit it, your father was often seen to be pacing about my office at your age. He eventually managed to train himself out of it as your grandfather found it to be a terrible habit.” Ragnok steepled his fingers together and stared at James. “We’re at a crossroads, Lord Potter.”
“Do you trust the findings?” James questioned.
“I have no reason to say that I don’t,” Ragnok murmured. “So, yes, Lord Potter, Barty Crouch, Sr. captured Tom Riddle during on an attack at his home that led to the murder of his son and he is in custody.”
– – – –
Lily set aside her brush and turned on the stool to face her husband. “You were quiet through dinner.”
“I didn’t want to upset Harry,” James said. “And no matter our decision, I can’t allow him to have a voice in it.” He took a deep breath. “He blames himself for our hiding, and I regret telling him so much. If something goes wrong—I don’t want him to feel guilty for whatever position he takes.”
She left her vanity table in favor of the bed, and James offered her his hand which she used to steady herself as she crawled up onto the mattress. Lily dropped down on the bed with a huff and patted her belly. “It’s a dragon—forget a boy or girl. It’s a full-grown dragon.”
James laughed and pulled her close as she settled against her pillows. “Shall we call him Smaug then?”
“Her,” Lily corrected.
“Him,” James argued.
She laughed and shifted onto her side. “Rub my back.”
“As my Lady wishes,” James said and kissed her shoulder. He warmed his hand with magic, and she made a pleased sound as he started to rub the small of her back. “Ragnok was reluctant to trust the results, but in the end, he accepted them.”
“Goblins don’t trust wizards—it’s against their nature and better judgment.”
“Well, experience has taught them not to trust us,” James said. “I’m worried about you and the baby.”
“I know,” Lily whispered. She took a deep breath. “So am I.” She turned in his arms abruptly, and they stared at each other. “I’m petrified, James. Magic makes childbirth easy. There are relaxation and pain relief charms, and energy restorative potions made just for childbirth. I delivered Harry in twenty-five minutes once my water broke, but in the Muggle world, I could labor for more than a day.”
James’ mouth dropped open. “But…that’s…the most uncivilized thing I’ve ever heard of.”
She sighed. “No, it’s not. There are pain killers, but the best one has to be injected in the spine, and I would be utterly defenseless during the actual labor.” Her fingers curled into his T-shirt. “You’d have to stay with Harry.” She watched the implications hit him, and the color drained from his face. “We couldn’t leave him alone here so he’d have to go with us to the hospital and they’d only allow you back in the delivery room.”
“This is…a bigger nightmare than I’d considered,” James admitted roughly. “I can’t leave you alone and defenseless in a Muggle hospital. Even if nothing went wrong with the birth itself, it would take you days to heal without a magical healer. What if we’re discovered by Riddle’s remaining forces? What if Dumbledore finds us? I’d be in no position to make a stand against him and whatever he might be planning. I haven’t even officially claimed my seat on the Wizengamot because of him.”
“Politics,” Lily muttered and shifted slightly so he could run his hand down her back and resume the massage she’d demanded.
“They’re the only genuine weapon I have against Dumbledore,” James admitted. “He’s magically in a class by himself, and we can’t ignore that he nearly got us killed and tried to cast blame on Sirius for the Fidelius breaking. He has plans for Harry that don’t include you and me.”
“I would rip off that old man’s arm and beat him with it,” Lily exclaimed and huffed when James laughed. “Don’t doubt me, James Potter! I’ll make Albus Dumbledore beg for his mummy.”
“I’ve never doubted you,” James said and kissed her forehead. “I’ll hold the baby while you handle it.”
She grinned. “Damn straight you will.”
“Harry can be your cheering section—Merlin knows the lad is kind of bloodthirsty already. I blame you for that.”
“How is that my fault?”
“Who insisted on a telly?” James questioned and grinned when his wife just frowned at him deeply. “That’s what I thought.”
Harry was obviously thrilled to be out of the cottage and found the portkey to the bank exciting. When they’d landed, the eight-year-old had been laughing much to the amusement of the goblins who were guarding the arrivals room in the London branch of the bank. The only issue they’d had so far was that Harry had been quite put out to not be allowed his wand. James had his son’s wand in an ankle holster because packing it away in the moleskin pouch he had in his pocket had made him uneasy. He’d shown Harry where the wand was and how to release it from the holster as James hadn’t felt comfortable leaving his son completely without a means of self-defense. Granted, at eight Harry only had one defense at his disposal. His mother had taught him the blasting curse.
James activated his glamour and Lily did the same. He watched Harry study them with a frown. He knelt in front of his son and took his hands. “Looks weird, huh?”
Harry bit down on his bottom lip and nodded. “Yes. What if I forget what you look like, and I get lost?”
“You’ll never be lost,” James murmured. “Show me your ring?”
Harry lifted his head and frowned briefly before his heir ring shimmered into view on his wand hand. He smiled at the accomplishment. “I did it.”
“Yes, you did. Our rings connect us with familial magic, and with my ring, I always know exactly where you are.”
“So I can’t get lost,” Harry whispered.
James fastened the rune-based glamour bracelet on his son’s wrist. “This is just a safety precaution. Britain is our home, but times have been very dangerous. These glamours will help us blend in and see how Britain has changed before we reveal ourselves.”
Harry frowned. “Maybe mum should’ve stayed home.”
James grinned. “I’ve got news for you, lad, your mum is twice the threat I am on my best day.” He relaxed and activated the bracelet as Harry laughed. His son’s most distinctive feature—his mother’s sparkling jade green eyes—were replaced with blue. By the time the glamour settled, Harry looked nothing like a Potter.
Harry touched his face with both hands. “I feel the same.”
“Each magical person has a thin veneer magic on their skin that most often is invisible to the normal eye,” James explained. “When we are upset or angry our aura can flare causing that magic to become visible. A runic glamour shapes the aura to create an alternate, visible appearance but it doesn’t alter the shape of our bodies.”
“Why didn’t we always use these to hide?” Harry asked.
“Because they aren’t perfect, and many people can see a glamour even if they can’t see through it,” Lily explained as she offered him her hand. “I know you’ll be excited to see everything but don’t let go of me, okay?”
“Okay, Mum, I promise.”
They left the private office they’d arrived in and exited the bank without engaging anyone. No one needed to see the Chieftain of the Horde giving him and his small family any sort of attention. They’d dressed conservatively and as inexpensively as possible to blend in on Diagon Alley. He wanted to put Harry between them but figured that might look odd because of his son’s age, so he took Lily’s hand she shot him a knowing look. He’d never gotten much past her.
In the end, they didn’t have to worry about Harry darting off into the crowd. He was so overwhelmed that he was shaking by the time they reached the alley’s entrance to St. Mungo’s. James picked him up as they entered the hospital. He signed them in as Lily had immediately made for a chair. According to the spells they’d done, she was perhaps less than a week away from her due date, but neither one of them had any training in the healing arts.
The healer who had delivered Harry still worked at St. Mungo’s, and she was Lily’s preference for their second child. James had made an appointment with the woman under a fake name, and he hoped that they could soothe any upset during the appointment. Healers took their oaths seriously as it would be a risk to their magic to do otherwise, but he knew well enough that not everyone at St. Mungo’s took oaths regarding patient privacy.
They barely had to wait at all before a mediwitch appeared and called out the fake name they’d made the appointment with.
He carried Harry again, he hated the way the boy’s body was shaking slightly. They’d done this to him—by isolating him—but what choice had they had? James hoped Harry’s natural curiosity would win out over the unexpected anxiety. He put his son down in one of the chairs and helped Lily up onto the exam table. He brushed a pale curl from her forehead.
“I’ve always liked blondes.”
She laughed. “Don’t get any ideas.”
The door opened, and James’ stomach lurched in shock. He took a deep breath. “Pardon me, but we made an appointment with Eloise Perks.”
Isobel Black nee Travers hesitated and checked the chart in her hand. “I must offer apologies on her behalf—Healer Perks had a portkey accident. She’ll be fine but won’t be taking any appointments for the next three days. I’ve taken over all of her appointments for today. I hope it won’t be a problem but if you’d prefer a different…”
“No,” Lily said firmly. “It’s fine, Lady Black, but if you could close and secure the door?”
Isobel hesitated briefly, and James watched her shift her wrist slightly as if to check the placement of her wand holster. She closed the door with a brief glance towards Harry and activated the runic security. “You’re all three wearing glamours.”
James ended his first. He watched the blood drain from her face, and she stepped backward so fast she hit the door. “Hello, Isobel.”
Lily touched her bracelet and ended her glamour as well, and Isobel burst into tears. She shot across the room and hugged them both. “You terrible arseholes!”
James laughed and pulled her close. “You look gorgeous as ever.”
James turned to find Harry standing beside him. He gently pulled the bracelet from his son’s wrist. “Harry, this is Lady Isobel Black. She went to Hogwarts with us.”
Harry moved closer to him as Isobel focused on him. “Hi.” He bit down on his lip. “Where’s your puppy?”
Isobel grinned. “Oh, gods, he remembers Padfoot. Sirius will be so pleased.” She knelt down on one knee. “Hello, Harry. I’ve missed you terribly.” She touched his hand hesitantly, and Harry shifted closer to his father.
“He’s only had us…since we left,” James explained quietly. “He has some adjusting to do.”
Isobel nodded and stood. She looked at them both individually, but in the end, she focused on James. “You broke his heart, you know.”
“We had no choice,” James murmured. He ignored the way his stomach twisted with that knowledge. Sirius put on a big front emotionally, but James knew how much his parents’ disownment had hurt him. “I swear it.”
Isobel took a deep breath then turned to Lily. “You look like you swallowed a hippogriff whole.”
Lily patted her belly. “I’ve been brewing my own nutrient potions—the same ones Eloise prescribed for when I carried Harry. And we’ve performed weekly health charms to verify everything is okay, but we couldn’t risk a magical healer. I was going to go to a Muggle hospital for delivery until it was announced that Riddle had been caught.”
Isobel frowned at that, but she glanced at Harry before clearing her throat. “Let’s take a look then.”
James led Harry back to the chair and stood with him while Isobel did a series of charms. Most of them looked familiar—they’d taught themselves quite a bit about health charms since they’d gone into hiding. The sex charm had gone awry on them repeatedly, showing a boy or a girl, so they had no idea about that. Isobel worked in silence and occasionally made notes in the chart.
Isobel holstered her wand and took a deep breath. “You’re overdue—by ten days. How do you feel?”
“Tired and fat but other than that fine.” She frowned. “My charms were off.”
“Well, healing charms are susceptible to intent just like any other charm, but I was taught during my apprenticeship to moderate that intent to get better results,” Isobel explained.
Lily nodded and glanced at Harry, who looked concerned. “It’s fine, sweetheart, sometimes babies are late.” She returned her attention to Isobel. “Neither James nor I seem to be capable of casting the gender charm correctly. We checked half a dozen times, and most often it showed a girl but sometimes a boy.”
“A girl,” Isobel confirmed with a small smile. “Very good health and late to her own party.” She took a deep breath. “I’d like to admit you and induce labor.”
“I…” Lily turned to James, and he could feel dread pool in his gut. Everything was so uncertain, and a part of him couldn’t believe it was over. “Could I deliver at a private location rather than a hospital?”
Isobel pursed her lips. “I’d have to tell Sirius I was leaving the country if you’re asking me to leave with you. I won’t just disappear on him.”
“The way we did,” James said.
“I don’t mean to be hostile about it,” Isobel said. “But you…I can’t pretend to understand your decision, James, without knowing why. If you’re concerned about staying here at St. Mungo’s, I’ll prepare a full healer’s kit and tell Sirius I have to make a trip for a healing consultation.”
“I don’t expect you to lie to your husband,” James said shortly. “It was never about Sirius—what we did.”
“It was about me,” Harry blurted out and flushed when James put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t be mad at Daddy because of me.”
Isobel’s eyes widened, and tears gathered. “Oh.” She took a calming breath and pressed one hand to her stomach. “No, Lily. Please… tell me…”
“I can’t,” Lily said. “We can’t risk Sirius coming here or leaving his job unexpectedly in the middle of the day, and we know he would. And even if James won’t, I’m asking you—mother to mother—to keep this secret for me.”
“Mother to…” James frowned, his gaze dropped to her hand still clutched in the front of her dress. Lily was always quicker to notice such things. “You’re pregnant, Isobel?”
“Yes, just a couple of months,” Isobel whispered, her fingers curled into her dress. “Sirius doesn’t know. I was going to tell him…tonight.” She pursed her lips. “He’d pitch a fit and insist on coming with me if he knew I was pregnant so I won’t be telling him after all.”
“No,” James said. “Absolutely not. Is there another on staff that you trust that we could…” He trailed off when Isobel glared at him. “I’ve done him enough harm,” he finally snapped.
“Then you’ll come home with me,” Isobel said with a winning smile. “I only have one more appointment, and the three of you can stay in this room until I’m done. Then we’ll go the Den.”
“The Den.” James frowned. “Where is that located? He’s not living on an estate property?”
“His harridan of a mother still lives in Grimmauld Place, and he finds the ancestral manor house depressing without his grandfather. We have a house in Wales not far from Potter’s Field as a matter of fact. Just a ten-minute broom flight between the properties.” She picked up the file. “Put your glamours back on. I’m going to seal the door for privacy so no one can enter while I’m gone.”
Harry sat back in the chair as James put the bracelet back on him and Isobel left the room. “She’s pretty.”
“Very,” James agreed. “Your godfather has always had amazing taste in women, though when we were here last, Isobel wouldn’t give him the time of day. Their marriage announcement was a surprise.”
“Maybe she grew to tolerate him like Mum did you,” Harry said cheerfully and grinned when James poked him with a laugh.
– – – –
It had been three days since Ragnok had come to the Ministry and he still didn’t have a firm date on when the ICW would be retrieving their prisoner. Sirius hated having Riddle in custody—it felt like some kind of Muggle explosive just waiting to go off in the building. He shrugged out of his cloak and put it away. Isobel liked a tidy house, and they didn’t have a house elf on staff—she often worked longer hours than him so he did what he could not to make things frustrating for her at home. He checked his watch—she had three hours left at work per the schedule she’d given him earlier in the week.
He headed toward the kitchen—confident that he could make something edible in three hours. Sirius unbuttoned his waistcoat as he entered the large airy room that had been the deciding factor in their purchasing the house and came to a stop. A small child was seated at the table, a book and a box of Muggle crayons in front of him. He’d know that face anywhere—he’d grown up with it after all. He cleared his throat, and bright green eyes met his.
The boy smiled. “Hi.”
Sirius exhaled and after a few seconds of indecision, he sat down at the table beside his godson. “Hello, Harry.”
“Are you quite all right?”
“I’m fine,” he whispered, voice hoarse. He blinked back unexpected tears and looked at the coloring book. “What’s your book about?”
“It’s Scooby-Doo.” He pointed at the page. “This is Velma, she’s my favorite but Dad likes Daphne and Mum says that’s just because he’s shallow. Velma’s the smart one, so she’s the best one.”
Sirius grinned. “Obviously.”
“Mum says you can spend the day with a pretty witch but if she’s dumb—she’ll just be boring you silly all day long.” Harry turned the page. “This is Shaggy—he’s Scooby’s best friend, but he’s not all that bright either. It’s a shame when your dog is the smart one. The other boy is Fred.”
“He’s not smart?”
“Daphne is the second smartest then Scooby.”
“The dog is the third smartest,” Sirius said. “I see.”
“It’s a shame, as I said,” Harry declared and turned the pages back to where he was coloring. “I watch it on the telly if I do all my work before it comes on.” He frowned. “But you don’t have a telly.”
“No, I’m sorry.” Sirius cleared his throat. “Your father is an arsehole.”
“Lady Isobel said so,” Harry admitted. “But I’m not allowed to use bad words, it would make Mum cross.”
“What’s the show about?” Sirius asked.
“I guess it’s about how the most horrible monsters are just people doing bad things because they’re selfish and greedy,” Harry said as he picked up a green crayon and started to work on the picture. “Mum and Daddy are upstairs—we’re going to have a baby tonight.”
Sirius exhaled sharply. “Wow.”
“Are you mad at my Daddy?”
“A little,” Sirius admitted. “I was mad a lot, but I didn’t understand.”
“And now you do?” Harry questioned and grabbed the box then plucked a brown from it. “Is it because of your baby?”
Sirius frowned. “What baby?”
Harry’s mouth formed a perfect O. “Oh, gosh, I told a secret.” He flushed. “I’m supposed to be good about secrets.” Tears filled his eyes. “Don’t tell.”
“Oh, lad,” Sirius murmured. He ran his fingers through Harry’s hair. “I’ll keep your secrets, I promise.” He stood from the table. “I should investigate and find out who else my wife brought home for dinner, huh?”
Harry bit down on lip. “I ruined her surprise.”
“I will act very surprised,” Sirius promised with a grin. “You stay right here—I’ll come back in a few minutes to figure out something for dinner.”
He stepped out of the kitchen and found James sitting on the central staircase. Sirius walked across the foyer and found himself sitting down next to another Potter—something he’d begun to think might never happen again.
“He’s terrible at keeping secrets,” James murmured and smiled briefly when Sirius snorted his amusement. “Tell me something, Padfoot.”
“If I can,” Sirius said.
“Tell me, swear it to me that Tom Riddle is in custody. That he really is in that box that you showed Ragnok.”
The goblin’s interest in the situation and Ragnok’s personal visit to the ministry made so much more sense to him at that moment. He took a deep breath and cleared his throat. Sirius suddenly wished he’d done more tests on Riddle before they’d sealed him up.
“I put a wizard in that box that I have every single reason to believe is Tom Riddle,” Sirius said.
Sirius rubbed his face with a shaking hand. “I checked his magical signature and his power rating. They both matched scene reports from various attacks. I did the checks for polyjuice and glamours. He looked like Voldemort, talked like him, was smug like him, and even bragged about how his followers would rescue him. When we told him that Bellatrix Lestrange, his perceived favorite, had been killed during his capture, he grew enraged.”
“A part of me doesn’t really understand how Barty Crouch captured him,” Sirius admitted. “You know he’s a bloody politician, James, and nothing more than that. In his day, he was fit and a decent field asset, but he’s a decade or so past that level of prowess in the field.”
“But they murdered his son.”
“Four months ago, I opened up a file on Barty Crouch, Jr. No one has seen it—I keep it here. I wasn’t all that surprised when it was reported from the scene that Crouch Jr. had most of his wand arm blown off during the fight.”
“You think Crouch Sr. covered up the fact that his son was a Death Eater,” James said. “What was the attack really about, then? Why would Riddle attack the home of one of his own followers?”
“He’s prone to killing his own people for even the slightest indication that they might betray him,” Sirius pointed out. “That part didn’t faze me at all actually. Riddle murdered Regulus for trying to leave his service.”
“Right,” James said with a nod. “I’ve missed you, you know.”
Sirius huffed. “You’re a complete git, and you managed to knock your wife up in hiding? Really?”
James offered his friend a wry grin. “There wasn’t all that much to do, Padfoot.”
Sirius leaned into him with a small laugh. “We’re being spied on, you know.”
“I do know. Come here, lad. There’s not going to be a fight.”
Harry peeked around the doorway then trotted to his father. “There’s fighting on the telly when people are angry.”
“That thing is ruining you,” James told him and pulled his son into his lap. “Show Sirius your ring.”
Harry held out his hand, and the heir ring shimmered into view. “I put it on in July when I turned eight.”
“I’ve seen it before,” Sirius murmured. “Your dad wore it the whole time we were at Hogwarts.”
“Remember how I told you that I could find you through the ring?” James asked and smiled when Harry nodded. “Right, we’re going to connect your ring to Sirius’ lordship ring so he can find you and keep you safe if something happens to me.”
“So I can’t get lost,” Harry said.
“So you’ll never get lost,” James agreed. He picked up his son’s hand and let it rest on his palm. “Padfoot?”
“Are you sure?” Sirius questioned.
“I didn’t hide my family from you, Sirius, but that is a story for later.” James cleared his throat and pushed magic into his own ring. “Fidem.” Both rings started to glow.
Sirius reached out and covered Harry’s hand with his own. “Et corde perfecto fides.” Magic sparkled around their hands, and Harry giggled.
“That’s his magic,” James murmured. “You don’t remember, of course, but when you were born Sirius took a very special oath to be your godfather.”
“Why?” Harry asked as their magic settled.
“Should I ever fall, he will be there to take care of you,” James murmured as Harry relaxed back against him. “And keep you safe.”
“After the baby comes will you still love me the same or will I have to share?”
James grinned against his son’s hair. “I will love you just the same, I promise, but you will have to share me with the baby.”
“Do I have to share Sirius?” Harry asked.
“It will depend on her magic,” James admitted. “But since Sirius was very compatible with you there is every chance it will be the same with the new baby.”
“A girl?” Sirius questioned.
James glanced upward briefly. “Yes, to arrive shortly, actually. We thought Lily was a week or so from her due date, but Isobel determined she was overdue at the appointment today. I came down because Isobel told me that you were home. She opened up the north wing of the house—said it was for us.”
“So it is,” Sirius murmured. “Remus has rooms as well, but he’s currently abroad on an assignment for Dumbledore.”
James’ jaw tightened briefly, and he set Harry down on the stairs. “Lad, go back to the kitchen to color—no spying. Get out your Walkman.”
“Okay, Daddy,” Harry dashed off with a wave toward Sirius.
“You realize that Dumbledore has Remus hunting for Lily and me, right? Well, no, he’s hunting for Harry.”
Sirius’ mouth dropped open. “What?”
“Isobel said you could lock the house down—can you keep Remus out while we’re here?”
“Please, Padfoot, I’d never ask if it weren’t extremely important.”
Sirius stared at the best friend he’d ever had and wondered how many things had changed for him since they’d last seen each other. “I’ll go lock down the wards and come upstairs when I’m finished. Harry won’t try to go outside?”
“No, he knows better to go outside without one of us.”
Sirius was hesitant to leave James, but he did it with a frown in place. He walked into his office on the ground floor and went to the ward stone which was obscured through familial magic. He activated the war wards with a push of his magic which locked down the estate fully—no one would be able to enter or leave without his permission. A stop by the kitchen confirmed that his godson was exactly where his father had told him to be. Harry had a Muggle device of some sort on his head and was bobbing his head gently, Sirius realized that he must be listening to music. There was a square box on the table attached to the device on his head. He’d have to ask Lily about it later as such devices were not supposed to work around magic.
It had been Isobel’s idea to arrange the house so that they would have room for James and Remus. As much as she’d found his marauding irritating at Hogwarts, she’d never once suggested that she had a problem with the friends themselves, just the dumb shite they did when together. He followed the sound of voices all the way to the master suite of the north wing of the house on the first floor. The second and third floor was reserved for the family he’d make with Isobel. He stopped in the doorway and found his wife in the midst of setting up a birthing suite in his house.
Isobel’s strawberry blonde hair was pinned up neatly as always. She didn’t look pregnant, at all. It was kind of unnerving that she was walking around in the world with a new life inside her, and it wasn’t yet obvious. He’d loved her since he was fifteen and stupid. Fortunately, for him, she’d been rather patient with him and stuck around until he grew up. She turned then and saw him. Her gaze narrowed and she huffed.
“He told you.” She turned toward James, and her wand flicked into her hand. “James Potter!”
James laughed. “Oh, no, don’t blame me. Little ears hear everything and unfortunately for us all—Harry can’t keep a secret without magical inducement.”
Sirius just smiled as Isobel considered her options.
She hit James with a stinging hex. “Don’t tell lies about that precious lad.”
Sirius just laughed as James hissed and stepped fully into the room. He crossed to the sofa where Lily was seated and sat down by his third Potter of the day. “Merlin’s pants, Prongs, you should be ashamed of yourself.”
Lily grinned. “Sirius, I’m so glad to see you. You’re just in time to meet her.” She patted her belly. “Did you see Harry?”
“Yes, he’s…beautiful and confusing,” Sirius confessed. “What the hell is Scooby-Doo?”
Lily laughed. “It’s a cartoon—an import from America actually. He watches programs in various languages as part of his language arts education, though I don’t think he’s realized it yet. He watches the French translation of the series.”
“Ah.” Sirius nodded and picked her up her hand. “I’m going to hold you hostage, by the way, so James won’t run off again.”
Lily smiled at him and squeezed his fingers. “There was no other choice, and even now I’m worried that we’ve returned too quickly.” She turned to James. “He needs to know what kind of threat he’s facing, James, for his sake and Isobel’s. It’s not fair to them for us to stay here without them knowing.”
James nodded and sat down in the chair in front of them. “Let’s start with the day that Albus Dumbledore made himself an enemy of the House of Potter.”
– – – –
Sirius was reeling with a mixture of fury and shock as he returned to the kitchen. He’d have just been in the way upstairs, and Harry was alone. James had a duty to his wife to stay with her as she birthed their second child which left Sirius in charge of dinner and his godson. He found Harry curled up in a chair by the empty fireplace, asleep. He pulled a blanket out of the basket Isobel kept by the chair and put it over Harry then started the fire.
He made quick work of putting together a beef stew before retrieving his communication mirror and sitting down across from Harry in a chair that Isobel often occupied in the evenings. Sirius activated the privacy charm on the mirror so that if Harry woke up, he wouldn’t be able to hear the conversation.
Remus appeared immediately in the mirror—not a surprise considering the hour. “Padfoot.”
“Where are you, Moony?”
Remus frowned and cleared his throat. “You know I’m on a research mission for Dumbledore.”
“Research,” Sirius repeated and took a deep breath. “Are you allowed to say what he’s got you really doing or have you taken some kind of oath for him? I don’t want to cause you pain or ask you to violate an oath of some kind, but I need the truth, Remus. Where are you and what are you doing?”
“No, no oaths of that nature,” Remus said then ran his fingers through his hair nervously. “Dumbledore has had people looking for Harry since Godric’s Hollow, Sirius. He has reason to believe either James or Lily were killed that night. I haven’t told you because I don’t personally believe that.”
“What has Dumbledore instructed you to do once you find Harry?”
“If he’s in the custody of anyone other than James or Lily I’ve agreed to take him and bring him back to Britain. Dumbledore thinks I’m going to bring him to Hogwarts, but it’s always been my intention to come straight to you with him. He won’t recognize me, but his magic will recognize and trust you due to your oath. What’s going on, Sirius?”
“Did Dumbledore tell you about the prophecy?” Sirius watched the blood drain from Remus’ face. “I see that he did. Did you really think Dumbledore would allow me to keep Harry if James and Lily are dead?” He glanced upward to check on Harry—the boy was still sound asleep—then refocused on Remus, who looked like he might be physically ill. “You know you don’t owe Dumbledore a fucking thing, right?”
“He let me come to Hogwarts…”
“No,” Sirius said firmly. “It was and remains his bloody job to educate magical children. He’s had the power for decades to change the policies involving werewolf children, but instead, he sneaks them into Hogwarts and makes a secret of it so he can cultivate their loyalty. Surely you see that, and I’m not going to allow you to ignore it for another fucking day.”
“What’s happened, Siri?” Remus asked quietly. “How did you find out about the prophecy? Has Dumbledore told the ministry because Riddle was captured?”
“No, that old bastard hasn’t told anyone but the Potters and the Longbottoms as far as I know. Do you know the content or just the general idea of it?”
“He refused to give me the content. He said that the information should be for Harry alone…what do you mean the Longbottoms?”
“I need you to forgive me for this,” Sirius began, “and please know that I’m acting alone.”
“Swear your loyalty on your life and magic.”
Remus’ gaze hardened. “I’m not Peter!”
“Swear it, Moony. I’d not ask if I had a single choice.”
“I solemnly swear on my life and magic that I remain a loyal and true friend to Sirius Orion Black and James Michael Potter. So mote it be.” Remus took a ragged breath as his oath settled. “And fuck you.”
The mirror went dark. Sirius tucked the mirror away with a shaking hand and looked over at Harry. The eight-year-old was awake, and his hair sticking up in fifty or so different directions. Sirius snorted. “You have your Dad’s hair.”
Harry flushed and tried to pat it down. “Mum says it’s a disaster. I’m hungry. Daddy has a mirror like yours. He uses it to talk to Mum and me when he goes out to get us stuff.”
“We made them together at Hogwarts for our sixth year Ancient Runes project,” Sirius admitted. “Our friend Remus has one as well. Do you remember him?”
Harry considered that but shook his head. “Not really but I’ve seen pictures of you both—so I’d know who to look for if I needed help.” He swung his feet. “I’m really hungry.”
“Let’s get some food, then.”
– – – –
By the time they allowed Harry upstairs, she’d taken two different healing potions and a shower. Lily looked up and found her son lingering in the doorway, fingers clenched around his father’s.
“Hey, come in. It’s okay.”
Harry released his father hand and came fully into the room. “I heard her crying when she came. Is she okay?”
“Yes, crying is normal. She’s not hurt.” Lily shifted her around as James helped Harry up on the bed to sit. “We’re going to call her Philippa.”
“That was my favorite,” Harry confided. He reached out hesitantly and touched her fist. “She’s really small. Was I this small?”
“You were actually a little bit smaller,” James said. “And two weeks early.”
“Did it hurt when she came out?” Harry asked as he leaned a little closer.
“No, Isobel used healing charms to help me,” Lily said and shifted the baby again so Harry could see her face. “What do you think?”
Harry made a face. “She’s all right. For a girl.”
Lily huffed and poked his leg, and Harry laughed.
James left the pensieve and shot Sirius an incredulous look before walking toward the bar. He poured himself a shot of firewhiskey and tossed it back. “You didn’t have to do that. Merlin, he’ll probably never forgive you.”
“He’d have done no differently if our positions were reversed. I expect him to show up within the next few hours so I’d like to adjust the wards to allow him entry unless you disagree.”
“If I asked to meet him on neutral ground?” James questioned.
“I’d arrange it,” Sirius admitted. “Is that what you’d prefer?”
“Not because of him but because of Dumbledore. We don’t know what sort of control the old man might have put into place.”
“You think Dumbledore’s corrupt enough to resort to magical manipulation to control people?” Sirius asked.
“He set up my fifteen-month child to be murdered,” James said flatly. “All because he wanted to know who the prophecy was about. He told us repeatedly that he had a spy in Riddle’s ranks, Sirius. Do you honestly think that he was surprised by Peter’s betrayal? And yet, he allowed us to set the Fidelius with Pettigrew as the Secret Keeper. He never even blinked.”
“How did you know Peter was a Death Eater?” Sirius asked. “What tipped you off?”
James took a deep breath and focused on Sirius. “I love you like a brother.”
Sirius raised an eyebrow. “The last time you told me that was the day you admitted to breaking my broom.”
James laughed. “It was true then, and it’s true today.” He rubbed his hand over his knee. “I’m a parselmouth.”
Sirius’ mouth dropped open. “What?”
“Parselmagic runs deep in my family, but we’ve kept it a secret for generations because of the reputation it has in Britain thanks to various dark wizards. One of the first things my father taught me was to discern the difference between a truth and a lie—I can compel the truth through spell work in the right conditions, but I’ve honestly never had to take it that far.”
“That certainly explains your success as an Auror,” Sirius said dryly. “Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“My grandfather enforced the secret in his position as the Earl of Gryffindor. My Uncle and finally my father did the same,” James admitted. “I had no choice but to obey when it came to it because he invested all of his power as the head of our family into maintaining that particular secret once it became known that Voldemort was passing himself off as a parselmouth.”
“He isn’t?” Sirius questioned.
“Merlin, no. The Gaunt line were squibs by the time Merope birthed Tom Riddle, but it didn’t matter because Salazar Slytherin was a beast speaker, not a parselmouth. There are only five family lines in Britain with genuine parselcraft, Sirius, and only twenty families the world over retain the purity of the craft, which is light.”
“Then why have Dumbledore and others like him invested themselves in painting it as a dark art?”
“Because a parselmouth is capable of the kind of magic that very few could even dream of. We’re at our most powerful in ritual magic. Riddle used the fear that Dumbledore and his allies built around parseltongue and parselmouths to create an image for himself.” James took a deep breath. “It makes them both dangerous to me and mine.”
“I see. And Harry is gifted as well?”
“Yes.” James cleared his throat. “Harry is the most powerful of us born in six or seven hundred years in Britain. I had no doubts the moment I heard the prophecy that it was about him. It’s why we encouraged Frank and Alice to tell everyone that Neville was a squib. There was no need to make him a target no matter what Dumbledore wanted.”
“Wait.” He leaned forward. “You git—you mean to tell me that you’ve known all along when I was lying to you!”
James snorted. “Sometimes it wasn’t even hard, Sirius. You’re a terrible liar. So I want to meet with Remus. He never set off alarm bells before—well, except for when he was hiding the fact that he was a werewolf—but I need to speak with him at length about Dumbledore. I’d rather not bring him around Harry or Philippa until I know what that old bastard has done to him.”
– – – –
James found his family all in the master bedroom. Harry was sound asleep on the bed beside Lily, one hand curled into the blanket their newest edition was wrapped up in. “Hey.”
“How’d things go with Sirius?”
“He’s put Remus on the defensive, but I’d have probably done no differently. You’ll see once you’ve reviewed the memory. You were right—Dumbledore did essentially instruct Remus to kidnap Harry if he located him. Remus had some conditions, but I have to wonder if he added them on and ignored what Dumbledore really wanted. Regardless, there is a horrific amount of hurt brewing between Sirius and Remus now because of Dumbledore.” He brushed Lily’s hair back from her forehead. “You look exhausted.”
“Isobel is bringing me food then I’ll get some sleep. I’ll have to wake in a few hours to feed her. Don’t forget to unpack the bottles so I can express some milk for her. Harry was disappointed he didn’t get to help with the first feeding.” She grinned. “And horrified when I told him that I breastfed him, too.”
James laughed. “Poor kid—he’s had so much to adjust to over the last few days.”
“I’ll get him back on schedule shortly, and that’ll help,” Lily said. She fixed the blanket over Harry and took a deep breath. “Go meet with Remus, James, and mend fences. He’s far more rational than you and Sirius could ever hope to be, so once he sees all the evidence, he’ll understand what you did, and he’ll forgive Sirius for his behavior as well. That’s one thing that’s always held true for you lot…I think you even have it in you to forgive Peter.”
“I…” James closed his eyes. “I often wonder how I failed him. What made him turn to Riddle? Was it fear? Power? Anger? Did he resent us in some way I never noticed? Voldemort has a way of preying on the emotionally damaged and mentally weak. But we sheltered Peter at Hogwarts—never allowed anyone to bully him or mistreat him and get away with it. I know you don’t like to talk about him, but Snape was vicious to Peter because you were kind to him, and Peter was too bloody timid to fight back.”
“And they both fell to Riddle,” Lily murmured. “Severus was driven by jealousy and Peter? Who knows, and I don’t care. He betrayed us.”
“Yes,” James agreed. “But I remember him—at eleven years old curled up under his blankets that first night at Hogwarts crying because he missed his mum. I don’t know that he ever grew up emotionally. Could I forgive him for leading Riddle to Godric’s Hollow? Yes, but only because we weren’t there and neither you nor Harry were injured because of his choices. Will I ever trust him again? No, and there is nothing he could do to earn it. Peter could lay down and die for me, and I still wouldn’t trust him.” There was shame there, in that statement, and James flushed. He looked at his son who had scooted closer to his sister in his sleep. “Do you have a charm on her so that he doesn’t cover her face by accident?”
“Yes, of course.” She smiled. “It’s good to be home.”
He took her hand and kissed her mouth gently. “We’ll bring Remus back if it feels safe to do so.”
“I advocated running,” Lily whispered against his jaw as he pulled her close. “It was the right thing to do, but with Riddle in custody—we can stand our ground against Dumbledore and Harry can have a normal life, right?”
“I wish I could say yes with no hesitation.” He inhaled her scent. “I love you. I want the best for our family.”
“I know you do,” Lily said. “I can tell being away from Britain for so long has hurt you.”
James closed his eyes. He could spend hours telling her about his magical legacy, about the weight of his title—his duties as a peer pressed in on him even when he wasn’t in what remained of Avalon—but she wouldn’t really understand how it felt. Mostly because he really couldn’t explain the emotional impact of the familial magic on his mind and body. The way his family was entrenched in the magic of Avalon had deep ramifications—he wondered if he were the first to ever wander so far from home for so long because there was nothing in the family grimoire or any of the diaries he’d read over the years.
Running had been the only reasonable choice with Tom Riddle at large, but now they had options, and his family had political power that Dumbledore couldn’t come close to. Neither his father nor grandfather had ever thrown their weight around—they hadn’t had to. The mere idea that they could was enough to make their peers pay careful attention when they spoke.
He pulled her closer and opened his eyes to look at his children. He reached out and adjusted the blanket on Harry then let his fingers drift gently through Philippa’s dark hair. Now they were four—it was amazing.
Finally, he pulled back and focused on his wife’s face. “I’m going to have to make some moves politically that will appear from the onset to be harsh. If I set myself against Dumbledore, Sirius and Frank will follow my lead. I’m senior in our alliance in the Wizengamot. What they’ve done without me isn’t enough to protect Harry from Dumbledore’s manipulations. I’m going to have to get my hands a little dirty.”
“I know who you are,” Lily murmured. “And if your path is grey, then it is the path we’ll walk together. I’m not going to allow that old bastard to decide how Harry will live, what kind of man Harry will become.”
“There came a moment—a moment I can’t talk about without permission—when I realized that the last thing I’d ever want to do is something you’d be ashamed of,” James said. “It changed me in ways that I didn’t expect…I wasn’t good enough for you, and I knew it.”
“You were a young and incredibly spoiled boy,” Lily said. “But you’re a good man—the best one I know, and I trust you.” She pressed her mouth against his and gave him a gentle push. “Stop procrastinating.”
James laughed. “I’ll give the bottles to Isobel so she can sterilize them. I’m not sure we put them in stasis when we packed them away after Harry stopped using them.”
“I don’t remember either.” She blushed when he raised an eyebrow at her. “Shut up, I was barely sleeping once Harry started teething.”
– – – –
“I have a bone to pick with you.”
“I don’t have time to play fetch with you,” Isobel said tartly as she stripped off her work robe and just grinned when her husband huffed at her.
“You were just going to go off to another country with them!” Sirius exclaimed.
“James Potter is such a git,” Isobel muttered as she walked into their closet. She shrugged out of her work dress and put it in a basket. “And yes, I was going to go with them and would’ve if I hadn’t talked them into coming here.” She poked her head out of the closet. “Getting pregnant hasn’t made me weak. I will kick your arse if you say otherwise.”
“That’s not the point,” Sirius argued. “Though I’m pretty sure I have the right to be a bit irritated that my wife was willing to dart off to another bleeding country while carrying my child without a single word in my general direction.”
“Oh the drama,” Isobel called out as she pulled on a pair of trousers and a simple blouse. “How do you live with it?”
“You know—there are plenty of witches who would treat me better than this.”
She laughed. “Only the dumb ones and you don’t like idiots.”
“I could learn to tolerate one,” Sirius argued and grinned when she came out of the closet tucking in her blouse. “Come here.”
She walked over to him and looped her arms around his neck. “Don’t be an arse.”
“It’s my natural state,” Sirius murmured and kissed her gently. “Are you working too much?”
“I’m fine, promise. I’ve already told Edward that I’ll have to cut my hours after Yule. He complained about hiring women and how we should all just stay at home. I sent his wife a letter, and she sent him a Howler. The whole hospital heard him being called a sexist prat.”
Sirius laughed. “I’d feel sorry for him, but he brought that on himself. Should we start thinking about a nanny?”
She blinked in surprise. “Oh, no, Sirius, I’m going to give notice a month before I’m due. I want to stay home with him until he’s ready to start tutoring at least.”
“Whatever makes you happy, but I don’t expect you to put your career on hold indefinitely.” He paused. “He?”
“Yeah,” she said and smiled. “He.”
“Wow,” Sirius murmured and pulled her closer. “My grandfather would be pleased—he was worried I’d never bother to father an heir.”
“He didn’t like me.”
“He was a man of his time and thought you were too independent,” Sirius said. “And he didn’t understand how I could find that attractive at all.” He sighed. “I’ll have to visit my mother and tell her.”
“Or we could send her a letter and avoid the discussion about how pleased she is that you married a woman from a proper pure-blood family.”
“She was certainly thrilled with your lineage,” he said and laughed when she frowned. “Called you excellent breeding stock.”
“I take it back—we’ll go over there so I can hex the crap out of her,” Isobel muttered. “The wretched old woman. You know you don’t owe her a thing, right?”
“Not as my mother but she is a member of my House,” Sirius said. “And as much as I’d like to disown her, it’d probably kill her, and that would ruin me politically. I’ve worked hard to put myself in a position of power in the ministry and the Wizengamot. She’s not worth destroying all that work despite how satisfying it would be to do to her what she tried to do to me.”
“I thought you’d be happier to see them,” Isobel murmured. “But you’re still quite angry.” She cupped his face. “If you’re afraid to say it to him—say it to me.”
Sirius lowered his head until their foreheads touched. “In his place, I’d have done no different. Everything I feel seems misplaced and selfish. How can I speak of my own worry or anger in the face of my godson’s life?”
“Sirius.” Isobel cupped the back of his head. “He hurt you—acknowledging that hurt doesn’t make you selfish.”
He pulled her close and pressed his cheek to hers. “I trusted him with everything, and it hurt so much to realize he didn’t feel the same.” Sirius stilled her when she started to speak. “I didn’t understand, at first, but I didn’t have a wife at that point. I didn’t understand his duty to her—I don’t think I understood it fully until perhaps a few weeks after our wedding. I took a cutting curse on a case—just an arm wound—but it could’ve been different. It could’ve been the end of me. Frank was furious because he thought I’d taken an unnecessary risk. The whole time he was healing the wound he was cursing me, and finally, he just shouted—For fuck’s sake, Sirius, you’ve got to think about your wife! You’re not alone anymore!”
“It was a dumb move on your part,” Isobel murmured. “Letting that waste of space take a shot at you so you could distract him.”
“The James Potter I grew up with would’ve never walked away from a fight,” Sirius said. “He was brash, foolish, and quick tempered. He also wasn’t a husband or a father.” His hand dropped to her waist, and he rubbed one thumb against the edge of her hip bone. “So I didn’t understand, but now I do. I understand that he put his wife and child first—as he should’ve. James put his duty to them before his career, his friendships, his social status, his political worth, and his pride. Yes, it hurt me that he didn’t confide in me, and I’m allowed that I guess, but I’m not entitled to pile my disappointment and hurt on top of all the other things he has to deal with. It wouldn’t be fair or just.”
“Okay, but you don’t have to hide it from me.”
“I’ve never been able to hide anything from you—that’s why it took me a decade to get a date.” He grinned when she laughed and kissed her. “I have to go. I promised to meet Remus shortly, and he’s probably going to punch me in the face.”
Isobel sighed. “Men.” She caught his chin with her fingers and kissed him. “I like your face—tell him I’ll kick his arse if he messes it up.”
– – – –
They’d considered using the cloak, but Remus had an extremely good sense of smell due to his lycanthropy, and no invisibility cloak had ever fooled him. James had gone to a long-abandoned ritual circle in Ireland. Sirius had created a portkey for himself and Remus. James was poking around the crumbling altar when the two of them landed. Lupin all but threw the rope-turned-portkey at Sirius. Apparently, they hadn’t mended fences in the time it had taken for Sirius to check their friend for tracking charms. He leaned on the altar but stayed put while Remus stared at him.
Remus glared at him. “You arsehole. You just fucking disappeared! Where is Lily? Is she okay?”
“She’s fine,” James said. “Tell me why you spent the last six years hunting for my wife and son.”
Remus stared for a minute in silence then cleared his throat. “Dumbledore told me that Harry would be instrumental in the defeat of the Dark Lord. You know about the prophecy, so you know that to be true. Since we didn’t know for certain that either of you had survived the attack on Godric’s Hollow—Dumbledore instructed me to find Harry. He assumed you’d made some plan to secret him away. A plan that hadn’t included me. He wrongly assumed you had confided in Sirius.”
“And would you have brought Harry to Sirius as you said?” James questioned.
Remus’ gaze darted between them. “Sirius is Harry’s godfather. If you and Lily were gone—then Harry belonged with him, and I would’ve done everything I could to make sure that happened no matter Dumbledore’s excuses.”
“Excuses?” Sirius questioned.
Remus flushed. “The first time I protested his full plan, he told me that an unmarried wizard wouldn’t provide a wholesome environment for a child to grow up in. Then you married and his argument that a newlywed couple shouldn’t be burdened with raising another person’s child. I thought both excuses were dragonshite. It was obvious he planned to isolate and control Harry. He sees the lad as a weapon and nothing more. I’d never allow anyone, not even Dumbledore, to treat your son that way, James.”
There was no dishonesty or subterfuge in his old friend, but James was uneasy. “Tell me about the vows that old man has guilted you into taking.”
Remus’ mouth pressed into a tight line. “When he suggested it—he said it was a way of making sure that I couldn’t be persuaded to hide Harry by a dark influence.”
“For fuck’s sake, Moony!” Sirius snapped. “What have you…”
“I vowed on my magic to report to him immediately when I found Harry.” Remus flushed. “It was for Harry. I didn’t want anything to prevent him from being safe. What if a Death Eater had taken him from Godric’s Hollow? We knew nothing, and Dumbledore is and always has been a manipulative old man when it suits him.”
“What a fucked up mess,” James said quietly. “Now that we’ve returned—I have to make some moves that are going to make Dumbledore furious. I wouldn’t put it past him to try to take Harry from me.”
“He’s the heir of an ancient and noble House,” Remus protested. “Dumbledore doesn’t have the power to do something like that.”
“Not as far as the Wizengamot is concerned,” Sirius corrected. “James hasn’t even taken his seat formally—he was to do it that November, actually, during the only meeting of the year that is required for all members. Dumbledore had spectacular timing—revealing the prophecy when he did and forcing both James and Frank into situations where they were too busy to claim their seats. Frank didn’t take his place on the Wizengamot for another year, in fact.”
“Then he most certainly set them both up to be killed before they could claim their seats,” Remus said and paled as the implications set in. He turned his back on them and walked to the edge of the ritual circle. “I asked him once if he knew that Peter was a traitor, and he said that he’d trusted your judgment.” He focused on James. “Why did you pick Peter as your Secret Keeper?”
“Because I knew he was a traitor and I saw no reason to make either of you a target to protect the secret of an empty bloody house. We left Britain shortly after Dumbledore cast the Fidelius.” James ran his hands through his hair in frustration and turned away from them both. “You said he had a plan to isolate Harry?”
“Merlin, I really don’t want to tell you,” Remus admitted. “You’ll lose your bloody mind.”
James laughed roughly. “You act like I haven’t already.”
“He wants to force Lily’s sister to be Harry’s guardian.”
James turned to stare at Remus in horror. “That horrible bitch hates me and considers magic to be the work of the devil.”
“I know, and I told him that Sirius would never allow it, but I honestly think he has something in the works to neutralize Sirius. I don’t know how, but I’ve tried to find out so I could prepare for it. He believes you dead. In fact, he’s banked on the belief that you’re dead, and Lily is on the run with your heir.” Remus turned to Sirius. “Remember all those bills that were put before the Wizengamot to minimize the power of a nobleman’s widow to manage an estate?”
“I took great pleasure in destroying each and every one,” Sirius muttered. “I’m not letting those old bastards cripple my wife’s ability to act on my behalf if I die. Only a handful of members even supported the measure, and those that did wanted an exception for pure-blood witches. All of those bills fell apart in the debate stage, Remus.”
“I’m sure he has another ally preparing to launch a new set. More and more, he’s focused on making sure that Lily has no power over the House of Potter when she’s located. He seemed particularly amused when you married Isobel, but I never could figure out why.”
Sirius huffed. “Her grandfather was a dark wizard and her father an unmarked Death Eater who died while we were still at Hogwarts. I suppose he means to use that history against us—it would be damning when combined with the members of my own family.”
“Yes, that appeared to be the case until you started making members of your family swear an oath not to follow the Dark Lord. When you disowned Bellatrix for refusing to leave Lestrange and renounce Riddle—Dumbledore was stunned, and when I look back on it, angry.” Remus dropped down beside the altar and leaned against it. James and Sirius joined him. “I’ve not heard the prophecy, and I’m not sure I’m ready for it but has it crossed your mind that perhaps it isn’t about Riddle at all?”
“I don’t follow,” Sirius admitted.
“He wonders if the prophecy is about Harry and Dumbledore,” James murmured. “And yes, I’ve considered it. It could easily point in that direction—there is a line about the parents of the chosen one having defied the Dark Lord three times. We defied Dumbledore for the third time the night we left Godric’s Hollow. But Riddle believes it to be about him so he’ll work to destroy Harry to save himself.”
“Merlin, why the fuck did he attack Crouch?” Remus pondered.
“Sirius thinks Barty Jr was a Death Eater.”
“I’d bet my life on it,” Sirius said when Remus looked his way. “I’m sorry for what I asked you to do. It was for Harry.”
“For Harry,” Remus said then nodded. “Okay. You can still fuck off.” He exhaled sharply. “Well, the only reason for Riddle to attack the Crouch estate was so they could eliminate Crouch, Sr. or get him under their control. The Director of Magical Law Enforcement has a lot of power in Britain. Also, Sirius makes the appearance of trusting Crouch, Sr. and many have seen him as a path to Harry’s location since you disappeared. Dumbledore has invested himself in making people believe that.”
“To make Sirius more of a target,” James said grimly. “Maybe he hoped Voldemort would capture and kill him in his efforts to find Harry—one less obstacle between him and his plan to put my boy in an abusive, oppressive home environment.”
“Manipulation from the cradle.” Sirius drew his wand and sent a silent reductor curse across the clearing. It collided with a large half-fallen arch that used to mark the entrance of the circle and the structure disintegrated. “That terrible fucking bastard.”
“I’m going to ruin him,” James said quietly. “Slowly, methodically, and with a great deal of pleasure. By the time I’m done, he’ll wish he’d never heard the name Potter.”
Sirius smiled at him. “Yeah, let’s do that.”
They both turned to Remus, who sighed.
Moony rubbed his face with one hand and grinned wryly. “I solemnly swear I’m up to no good.”
“It’s weird,” James murmured. “Being just three of us.”
“Ha, I can fix that.” Sirius stood and dusted off his arse. “I shall return momentarily—you two stay put.” He pointed his finger at them individually and activated a portkey.
“My vow?” Remus questioned.
“Well, you haven’t found Harry, yet.” James took a deep breath. “What a clusterfuck that is, Remus. You know better than to make a vow on your magic.”
“He picked the worst possible time to approach me with the mission—my pack was in tatters and I’d just gone through my first full moon alone in years. He was savvy about it—phrasing it in such a way that I would be seeking to protect the youngest and most vulnerable member of the pack. Sirius was so invested in seeking revenge. I had nothing to focus on, and Dumbledore gave me something. It’s a poor excuse and looking back on it, I’m just relieved he didn’t try to get more oaths out of me. He’d have certainly succeeded.”
“Or you’d have pushed back, and he’d have lost you as an asset,” James murmured. “Albus has always been very good at picking and choosing his battles. In fact, he’s famous for it. Never losing a fight—but perhaps that’s because he’s never once entered a fight he worried that he might lose.”
Sirius landed light on his feet, Frank Longbottom with him. “He’s not very sneaky, but I think he’s trainable.”
Frank poked Sirius with his wand. “I didn’t agree to a bloody trip to Ireland, you twat.”
“Yes, but since you’re here,” James said with a laugh. “Maybe you could help me plot the downfall of Albus Dumbledore.”
Frank focused on him and nodded. “Okay, since I’m here.”
– – – –
Hours later, James led a still hesitant Remus Lupin into the common room of their suite in the Den. The suite was just three rooms—a living room and two bedrooms, but it was bigger than their cottage in France. Harry was seated on the rug by the fireplace, his transfiguration blocks spread out in front of him. The boy was frowning at the block in his hand.
“Problem?” Sirius asked.
“I have no idea what an orc looks like and Mum says I should transfigure the Battle of Helm’s Deep which I can’t do that without orcs.” Harry turned the block over his hand. “I considered a troll sort of creature, but that didn’t look good.”
“Perhaps I can help,” Moony offered. He walked across the room and sat down opposite Harry. “orcs were elves—corrupted by evil.”
“Like Tolkien suggested in the Silmarillion,” Harry agreed.
“So let’s make an elf first—elegant and beautiful.” Remus picked up a block and transfigured a humanoid figure. “They’re tall—like a Man, but slender with fair features and delicately pointed ears.” He set the elf down. “Much like the High elves of our own legends.”
“Okay, but that’s not an orc.” Harry shifted around on his stomach and stared at the transfiguration. “orcs come from the ground so they should be dark and earthy.” He used his own wand to darken the transfiguration to a muddy green. “His clothes won’t be lovely like this—they don’t care for beautiful things. He needs armor.”
Remus exhaled sharply as Harry deftly changed his transfiguration. The long blond hair disappeared, the skin darkened, the clothes turned to leather and metal armor. “Very good.”
“Mum says I’ll be as good as Daddy,” Harry boasted. “But Charms is my best subject. He’s still kind of pretty, though.”
“And orcs should be ugly?” Remus questioned.
“Well, isn’t evil supposed to be ugly?” Harry met his gaze. “That’s how we tell it’s evil.”
“Sometimes evil can be the most beautiful thing you’ll ever see,” Remus admitted. “And you have to learn to look deeper to discern the difference between good and bad. But orcs were definitely ugly.”
“Skin like a troll,” Harry decided. “And bigger, they had huge weapons.”
“Are you reading Lord of the Rings?”
“Mum and Daddy read it with me,” Harry said and grinned. “I’m just eight—I can’t read all the big words yet.”
James joined them after a glance toward Sirius. “That’s one ugly orc. Where’s Gimli?”
“I haven’t made him, yet. I want to make him special since he’s my most favorite,” Harry explained.
James pulled his son into his lap. “I need you to do something for me.”
“Okay,” Harry agreed immediately and relaxed against his chest. “What?”
“This is my friend Remus Lupin. I’d like you to introduce yourself to him, formally.”
Harry hesitated briefly but then resolutely stuck his hand out, and his heir ring shimmered into view. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Lupin, I am Harry Potter, the Baron of Ravenstone.”
Remus took his hand. “That did it.”
“I thought it might,” James admitted. “Go ahead, Moony, there is no fighting a vow. We’ll be prepared as we can be for his arrival. Do not linger with him after you’ve fulfilled your vow.”
Lupin released Harry’s hand and stood. “I’d like to see Helm’s Deep when you finish.”
“Okay, Mr. Lupin.” Harry smiled, and Remus just offered him a grin before he apparated with a small pop.
Sirius took Remus’ place and picked up the orc. “What’s the Lord of the Rings about?”
“Power,” Harry said and picked up another block. He made another orc and put it down. “I’m gonna need all of my blocks for this.”
James put him down on the floor. “I’ll get your box.”
“What kind of power?” Sirius questioned.
“The only kind that really matters—power over other people,” Harry said. “A dark wizard forged rings and he gave these rings to other people—Dwarves, Men, and elves. But he misled them because he created a ring he could use to control them.” He transfigured a block in his hand into a gleaming gold ring. “Great wars were fought—won and lost over the ring and over the control it would give the bearer. And when the leader of Men had a chance to destroy it—he made a selfish and terrible choice. Middle-earth would suffer so much for his decision.”
“And what does that tell you?” James asked as he placed a small trunk down on the floor.
“That even people with the best of intentions can be tempted by power,” Harry said and levitated the ring above his hand. It swirled gently in the air. “And some decisions are so big they can hurt the whole world if you make the wrong choice.”
– – – –
Sirius had adjusted the wards in the house to hide the north wing of the property completely. They were in his office waiting for Dumbledore to arrive. Per their plan, Remus was to go to Frank and Alice after the meeting with Albus to act as back-up there in case the old man stopped by their house first.
“He’s really smart,” Sirius said.
“He’s all Lily’s had since we went into hiding—especially when I was out of the house gathering whatever we might need. She researched a lot—potions, prophecy, and various fields of magic. But in the end, she dedicated most of every single day to teaching Harry. He was speaking full sentences by the age of two. She says that he has a lot of raw potential to work with, and she allowed him to pursue information any way he wanted. I honestly don’t know if that will help or hinder him in a traditional schooling environment.”
“So he’s smart like she is,” Sirius said. “And as magical as you.”
“More magical than me,” James corrected. “I’ve topped out at just short of mage on the scale.”
“So you’re saying Harry’s an immature mage.”
“I’m fairly certain he’s an immature archmagus,” James said. “The prophecy is striving to make them equal, Padfoot. How could Harry be any sort of equal to a wizard with decades of knowledge and experience?”
“More magical power,” Sirius surmised. “To even the odds, so to speak.”
“Yes,” James agreed.
Sirius frowned. “Dumbledore just appeared in front of my gate and pleasantly requested entry.”
“The fucker,” James muttered. He pulled out his mirror. “I’ll contact Frank and Remus, so they know to come here.”
Sirius sighed and left the office. He walked to the front of the house and exited to stand on the large stone veranda that spread out in front the manor. Dumbledore ambled up the path like the doddering old wizard he pretended to be. In the back of his mind, the wards twanged slightly as Frank and Remus arrived. He crossed his arms when Albus paused at the bottom of the stairs. “How can I help you this evening, Headmaster Dumbledore?”
“I’ve come to know that you’ve found your godson, Harry Potter,” Dumbledore said. “Due to circumstances surrounding his original disappearance and the apparent death of his parents—I’ll be taking custody of the boy while the Potter estate is settled.”
“I see you didn’t bother to ask Remus any questions,” Sirius said dryly and raised an eyebrow when Dumbledore feigned confusion. “Come now, old man, I know you’ve had Remus searching for the Potters since they disappeared and that you made him swear an unbreakable vow that he’d tell you when he found Harry.”
Dumbledore flushed. “Yes, well, he told me where young Harry was then…” He cleared his throat. “Well, he suggested I go pleasure myself after which he immediately left Hogwarts without another word. I wasn’t given the opportunity to ask questions. Regardless, as the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, it is my duty to see to the welfare to any orphaned minor child from an ancient house until which time the estate of their parents is properly evaluated and a trust is created to protect their assets. Mr. Potter must come with me, and he is now my ward.”
“Harry is not an orphan,” Sirius said dryly. “But do come in—I’m sure James would be thrilled to hear all about your claim on the heir of his ancient and noble house.”
Dumbledore’s mouth dropped open. “What? I was told that James Potter died in Godric’s Hollow…”
“Who told you such a thing?” Sirius demanded.
“Clearly, I received inaccurate information,” Dumbledore said smoothly. “I’d like to speak with James, of course, and check on young Harry for reasons I can’t discuss.”
“You mean that ridiculous prophecy?” Sirius questioned and smirked when the old man paled dramatically.
Dumbledore glared at him. “Did you lie to the Wizengamot? You told us repeatedly that you did not know where Harry Potter was!”
“And I didn’t, until about four days ago,” Sirius said smoothly. “Very well, old man, you can come inside, but you’re restricted to the bottom level of the house as any other guest.”
“As you say,” Dumbledore said, eyes twinkling.
“Try any of your tricks on me, and I’ll throw your arse in jail,” Sirius said shortly.
He led Dumbledore back into his office. Remus and Frank were sprawled on a couch by the fire, and James was standing beside the French doors, hands tucked behind his back like his father was rather famous for. Sirius wondered when James had started acting so much like Christopher Potter, and he was irritated to have missed that change in his best mate.
James turned, hazel eyes swept over the Headmaster, and his gaze narrowed. “I had no idea your twinkle was a vanity charm.”
Dumbledore hesitated briefly. “You can see that?”
“I trained my mage site and stopped suppressing it. I needed the advantage to keep my family safe.”
“Then Lily is…alive as well.”
“I don’t know what you were told, Dumbledore, but we’d been gone from the house in Godric’s Hollow for hours when Riddle attacked it. He sacked an empty house, which is kind of annoying. The cottage in Godric’s Hollow was my grandmother’s dower house. How can I help you?”
“I want to see Harry.”
“To what end?” James questioned. “He’s eight years old, Albus, and hardly any sort of threat to anyone much less Riddle. Even more so, why does it matter at all? Riddle is in custody and will be so the remainder of his life. That foolish prophecy will probably go dark the moment his cell door closes at Apollumi. Ragnok tells me that Voldemort’s new home will be finished within the week now that the goblins are on board the project.”
“Of course,” James said evenly. “The Potter family has always enjoyed a special relationship with the Horde. Ragnok has been very helpful.”
“I do hope you’ve had the sense not to tell Ragnok the prophecy. The goblins are superstitious. There is no telling how they might respond to such a thing.”
Goblins were actually deeply rational and thought wizarding divination was a bunch of dragonshite, but James didn’t bother to correct him. “I was listening to your conversation with Sirius. If I were dead, the guardianship of my son was made very clear, both in my will and in my estate plan for the Wizengamot. Sirius first and Frank second—as they were both capable of acting as Regent over my title until Harry’s an adult. Who are you to circumvent my choices on such a grave matter, Dumbledore? It is certainly not within the scope of your duties as Chief Warlock or as the Headmaster of Hogwarts.”
“I’m the Leader of the Light,” Dumbledore stated like it was a legitimate title, a job that only he could do.
“Do you wake every morning only to be shocked to find that the sun doesn’t shine out of your arse?” James asked and lifted an eyebrow when Albus gaped him. “Don’t act all surprised, Dumbledore, I’m rarely polite to people who piss me off unless my wife is around to fret over it.” He walked over to a chair near the sofa Frank and Remus were making their home and sat down. “No matter, I’ll be asking the Wizengamot about this policy you’ve mentioned, and we’ll determine if it is legitimate or not. If it is—that will be rectified. The Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot cannot serve as Regent over a noble title and therefore cannot be the guardian of a minor child from a noble house. If I were dead, and you had gained Harry’s guardianship, his estate would’ve languished for more than a decade due to no management. Something I’ll be certain to point out to my peers. My ancestors did not cultivate the vast Potter estate only to see it ignored and abused in the hands of a low-ranking bureaucrat.”
“Low-ranking?” Dumbledore repeated in shock.
“Well, you’re not the Minister for Magic. You have very limited power within the Wizengamot when it is in session and none to speak of outside of it. You throw your manufactured fame about to get what you want and intimidate people with little displays of magic that are nothing more than parlor tricks.” James crossed his legs at the knee. “You have no votes on the Wizengamot and have no legal means of gaining any. You can’t propose legislature or enter the debate on the floor. You’re not allowed to dismiss or bring forth charges against an individual or an organization. Honestly, Dumbledore, the Chief Warlock position is nothing more than a glorified babysitter.”
“I think you’ll find that I have more power than you believe,” Dumbledore said, his tone pleasant, but James noted the old man’s eyes were dark with fury. “I’d like to see for myself that Harry is alive and in good health.”
James shared a glance with Sirius and inclined his head. Sirius stood and left the room without a word. He returned shortly with Harry, who was dressed entirely in Muggle clothes from his bright red trainers to the Dr. Seuss T-shirt. Harry released his godfather’s hand and went to stand by his father’s chair.
“Harry this is Albus Dumbledore, he’s the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot here in Great Britain and the Headmaster of Hogwarts. Albus, my son, the Baron of Ravenstone.”
“It’s nice to see you again, Harry,” Dumbledore said from where he still stood. “I’m relieved you’re back in Britain. Did you have fun abroad?”
Harry’s gaze narrowed and he turned to his father.
“It’s all right, lad, I know.”
Harry scrunched up his nose in thought but then focused on Dumbledore. “My parents were hiding me from bad men. It wasn’t all that fun.”
“Well, all the bad men are gone now.”
“That’s not true,” Harry said and frowned deeply as he turned to his father. “Is this a test?”
James grinned. “No, lad, he’s just a terrible liar. If I were testing you—I’d pick someone very good at lying, like your mother.”
Harry nodded and returned his attention to Dumbledore, who appeared flustered. “Do you lie to everyone or just children?”
“I…” Dumbledore trailed off and frowned.
Sirius burst out laughing. “Merlin, he’s been rendered speechless by an eight-year-old!”
Dumbledore flushed, but he glared at James. “Your father dismissed me as an ally. It didn’t go well for him.”
“What you mean to say is that my father underestimated you as an enemy,” James corrected. “I won’t make that mistake.” He leaned forward. “Tell me something, Dumbledore, did your so-called spy warn you about the attack on Potter’s Field?”
“Is this something we should be discussing in front of the boy?” Dumbledore questioned.
James figured he was probably right, so he sat back with a frown.
“It’s too late, you know,” Harry said. He was staring at Dumbledore intently—magic shimmering on his skin.
“What’s too late?” Albus questioned.
“You want to be my friend, but my magic doesn’t trust you,” Harry explained and turned to James. “Can I go? I promised Mum I would show her the Shield Maiden I made that looks like her.”
“Of course, lad. Set it aside so I can see it, too.”
Harry left the room at a trot, and Sirius shifted so that he was standing in the doorway, blocking Dumbledore’s exit.
“You consider me a threat, Sirius?”
“Shouldn’t we?” Sirius asked. “You came here today to kidnap my godson—under the assumption that his parents were dead. Which means you came here intending to circumvent my rights as Harry’s third parent. What would you have done to accomplish that?”
“I was acting within the law based on my belief that he was an orphan.”
“But Harry wouldn’t be an orphan even if both my wife and I had died in Godric’s Hollow because Sirius is Harry’s godfather through magical oath—a legitimate third parent,” James said. “But such things don’t mean anything to you, do they, Dumbledore? You’re not much for tradition and duty when it gets in your way.”
“There doesn’t appear to be anything left to be said,” Dumbledore announced. “I believe you’ll come to regret making us adversaries, James.”
James just raised an eyebrow at him in direct imitation of his own father, and Dumbledore stormed toward Sirius. Padfoot stepped aside to let the older man leave then followed him. Sirius returned a few minutes later and crossed the office to the ward stone—which he activated.
“Well, if you wanted Dumbledore’s attention—you got it,” Frank said.
“If he’s busy worried about me—he won’t have much time to plot against my son,” James said plainly. “We’re on the same path, Frank. We’re just walking familiar ground, and we’re no longer alone in it.”
– – – –
Lily looked up from the book she was reading as her son entered the library. Isobel was at her desk filling out some parchments for work, and she’d decided to keep her friend company.
“How’d things go?”
Harry frowned and sat back down at the table they’d set up for him with his books and work. “I…expected him to be less transparent. Maybe he was just thrown off guard because he didn’t expect to see Daddy. He lied to me, and I don’t like that—it was an obvious and foolish lie as well.”
“Well, we talked about how sometimes adults will tell you lies to spare you upset or because they feel the topic is too adult for you,” Lily pointed out.
“Yes, but this was different and weird. Like he was trying to be good, but he isn’t good.” He turned and looked toward the doorway, and Lily did as well. James was leaning on the frame. “Right, Daddy?”
“He was terribly transparent,” James agreed. “Though I expect he was off his game today due to temper.”
“Because he thought you were dead,” Harry said with a frown and picked up his quill. “I don’t trust him, and I guess…” He trailed off.
“What?” Isobel questioned.
“I just hoped that maybe he was an old man who made a mistake,” Harry admitted and slouched back in his chair. “He’s just another dark wizard greedy for power.”
“Are you sure it’s power?” James questioned. “He’s turned down more than one chance to be the Minister for Magic.”
“Yeah, but you said that’s not where the real power is in Britain.”
“Granted,” James murmured, and Lily could tell her husband wished at that moment that they hadn’t been so open with Harry. “What does that mean?”
“Well, he creates relationships in his place at Hogwarts—gains the trust of people.” Harry frowned. “He hasn’t sought political power in the past, but now you said that he’s seeking power in the ICW.”
“And?” Lily prodded.
“Well, the real influence of the ICW is the developmental thrust of our society as a whole. In the past, the researchers of the magical world have focused on healing, disease control, and the like. But what direction would he point them in?” Harry shifted his books around.
“You’re brilliant, you know,” Isobel said suddenly.
Lily grinned when her son blushed bright red and shrugged.
“History is his favorite subject—you can learn about people and how their actions can impact the world through history.”
She looked at James, but he was staring at their son intently.
“Something else on your mind, lad?”
Harry took a deep breath and focused on him. “What if Dumbledore was there to witness the prophecy because it was about him?”
Lily’s stomach lurched, and she took a shuddery breath. They’d considered it through the years but had never voiced the idea that the prophecy might be about Dumbledore in front of Harry.
“I don’t know that his proximity says anything about the prophecy being about him,” James said. “Forty percent of all true prophecies have no witnesses at all. Magic created in the 1300s gathers the prophecy and creates an orb which is stored in various places all over the world based on where they’re given. But if you’re asking me if Dumbledore is the dark lord in the prophecy—the truth is, I don’t know. In some ways, he fits it just as easily as Tom Riddle does. But what I do know is that Dumbledore believes the prophecy is about Riddle, and he would never consider himself dark.”
“That greater good stuff?” Harry questioned. “Like in that Star Trek episode.”
“What?” Isobel questioned.
“It’s a show on the telly,” Lily explained. “Which episode do you mean?”
“The one where the colony was starving, and the man in charge killed half the population to save the rest—he picked out who he considered to be the best to save, and the rest were sacrificed for his vision of the greater good.” Harry used his wand to sharpen his quill. “I wonder how many people Dumbledore has sacrificed for his greater good?”
There were times when Lily thought that perhaps James had been right about the telly in the cottage. She looked at her husband, and he merely raised an eyebrow at her. She made a face at him, and he laughed a little, breaking the tension in the room.
November 1, 1988
Philippa’s magic preferred Isobel and Frank, much to Sirius’ dismay and everyone else’s amusement. So Frank and Isobel had taken godparent oaths which had allowed James to relax further on the matter of his children and their future. He’d updated his will, put in stringent clauses against the use of his estate by anyone but his heirs and designated guardians. He’d also added a clause expressly forbidding the guardianship of Albus Dumbledore. Ragnok had a personal copy of the document and had vowed on his magic to see it published in full if Dumbledore used the Wizengamot to try to circumvent its contents.
Despite Dumbledore’s visit, the news that he’d returned to Britain hadn’t made the papers, which meant quite a few people were in for a surprise. He didn’t want to take Harry, but the rules of the Wizengamot required that for an heir to be officially recognized by the body, that he had to be present so that the Orb of Ascension could test his claim to the seat. James would be worried about it but the Orb was maintained by goblins and had been for generations—it was part of a treaty with the Horde. In other circumstances, he wouldn’t have put it past Dumbledore to alter the Orb or mess with it in some fashion to cast aspersions on his house and Harry’s parentage.
Harry was seated on the bench near the front door of the Den, feet swinging in a pair of dragonhide shoes. The kid had found it amusing to get dressed up like his father, but James was sure the cravat would end up in his own pocket before the day was out. In the days since his arrival, Sirius had captured five Death Eaters as they’d tried to break into the Ministry to retrieve their leader. That event had settled everyone down, especially those who had been concerned that perhaps they had an imposter in custody.
Lily brushed past him in the invisibility cloak. They’d decided not to tell Harry she was with them as their son would probably search for her out of curiosity. The cloak fascinated Harry, and it had since he was a toddler.
“You have my wand?”
James turned to his son. “In the holster on my left leg, just like before. You stay on my left at all times, and during the session, you won’t be allowed to speak unless directly addressed. The Orb will test your connection to family magic and to my bloodline then it will provide an estimate regarding your magical power as an adult, but it won’t hurt. Ragnok will be handling the duty personally.”
“Ragnok’s honest,” Harry said. “Cunning but honest.” He took the hand James offered and scooted off the bench. “Is Neville coming?”
“Yes, Frank will be announcing his Heir today, and he’ll be tested with the Orb as well.”
Harry nodded. “Is it safe for him? Maybe he should be a secret a little bit longer.”
James agreed, but he knew the stress of the secret on the Longbottom family was immense, and several of Frank’s cousins had openly suggested sending Neville to live in the Muggle world because they were too stupid to realize that Neville wasn’t actually a squib. “That’s a decision for their family to make.”
“Okay.” But Harry was frowning.
“We can’t make decisions for other people.”
“Even if we know better?” Harry questioned.
“Even then,” James said with a laugh. “Come now, it wouldn’t do to be late.”
Lily slipped her hand around the wrist of his wand arm. They’d made a habit of apparating with Harry often as he’d grown so he wouldn’t find the process disorienting or unduly unpleasant. They hit the apparition point at the Ministry with little fanfare. Lily let go, and he tried to ignore the lurch of nervousness that stirred in his gut as he lost track of his wife. James ignored the gaping stares he earned as he led his son through the atrium and to the small indoor arena that housed the Wizengamot. Dumbledore was already seated, and since Frank had told the Chief Administrator of the Wizengamot he’d be announcing his heir—Ragnok was in place in a special box not far from the Chief Warlock.
Harry’s fingers clenched around in his as they crossed the floor. James stepped up onto the platform that held the Noble Houses, and it seemed that everyone in the room noticed him at the same time. There was a rush of conversation in the upper reaches of the audience and in the Ancient Houses—whose boxes were directly across from the noble’s space in the Wizengamot. The twelve boxes were arranged by voting power in a wide semi-circle—with the two most powerful houses situated in the middle. He and Lord Jonah McGregor were housed in boxes six and seven.
James opened the short wooden door to box seven, and a hush fell over the room. He stepped in, and Harry followed—he didn’t sit. He’d already told Harry that they couldn’t sit until his claim was official.
James turned and offered Jonah McGregor a smile. “Jonah, it’s good to see you again.” He offered the man his free hand.
“It is amazing to see you,” Jonah said quietly. He caught James’ hand in both of his, held on a bit too tight then released him. “Dumbledore told us in private several years ago that you were dead and even suggested we close the Potter seat to make room for an Ancient House to become Noble in your place. We consulted the Orb and were informed that there was a living heir for the House of Potter.” His gaze dropped to Harry.
James nodded. He really couldn’t tell the older man what he thought in their current circumstances. “Lord Jonah McGregor, meet my son and heir, Harry.”
Jonah offered his hand to Harry. “Baron of Ravenstone, I believe.”
Harry let go of his father’s hand and accepted Jonah McGregor’s. “Yes, sir, but you may call me Harry.”
Jonah grinned. “I’m honored to do so, young man. You can call me Uncle Jonah.”
Harry quirked an eyebrow. “Are we related?”
“Ah, lad, you’ll find we all are in some fashion or another. My sister, Elizabeth, married your grandfather, so I am your great-uncle of a sort by marriage.” A single chime filtered through the room. “Ah, almost time for the show.” He looked Harry over again then turned to James as he released the boy’s hand. “He looks like Christopher.”
“Do you remember how my father would frown when he was being lied to?”
Jonah laughed. “Oh, no.”
“Oh, yes,” James said with a sigh. “He even gets that little line between his eyes. It’s the damnedest thing.”
Frank and Neville passed their box. Neville offered Harry a little wave. The two boys had met the day before when Frank and Alice had brought their children to the Den. James had been surprised to find that despite their conflicts, Sirius was the godfather of both Stephanie and Gillian Longbottom. Alice was currently at the Den with her two girls as they’d agreed that Sirius’ home was more secure than Longbottom Manor. They really didn’t know what sort of fall-out there would be regarding Frank revealing Neville’s magical ability.
Two more chimes filled the room, and the session was called to order by the sharp bang of Dumbledore’s gavel. James focused on the old man and found him staring at Frank Longbottom. Frank merely raised an eyebrow at him, and Albus flushed in what James figured was a mixture of anger and embarrassment. The old manipulator had just come to realize that James wasn’t the only one to mislead him.
“The Wizengamot is pleased to welcome the Earl of Gryffindor to the body. Lord Potter, please take your seat,” Dumbledore said.
James sat down, and the seals for his three titles appeared on his box. Harry slipped up onto the chair beside him, his gaze darting around the room as he tried to take it all in.
“Let the record show that Lord Potter has claimed the following titles: Earl of Gryffindor, Baron of Ravenstone, and the Baron of Crawford. The court recognizes five votes for the Earldom and three votes each for the baronies,” Dumbledore said in the direction of the Chief Administrator. “Do you have any further business with the court, today, Lord Potter?”
“I need to announce the birth of a child and claim my heir for the House of Potter,” James explained.
“Very well,” Dumbledore said with a small frown. “Chief Administrator Diggory, the first order of business.”
Amos Diggory made a note in the large book in front of him. “Lord Longbottom will be declaring his heir, and Chieftain Ragnok is in attendance to verify the child’s eligibility. Then Lord Potter may have the floor before we hear from the Director of the DMLE regarding the capture of You-Know-Who.”
James barely refrained from rolling his eyes. He was supposed to be too old for that sort of behavior.
“Lord Longbottom, you may begin your business,” Dumbledore said in a neutral tone. James wondered if he was the only one who could practically see the fury rolling off the old man.
Frank stood. His box was on the curve, which gave James a good view of both his friend and godson. “Chieftain Ragnok, thank you for your time today.”
The goblin leader merely nodded as he stood and opened the box that held the Orb of Ascension. “Step forward, Lord Longbottom, and present your heir to the Orb.”
Frank stepped down out of his box and Neville followed. Neville looked to be as curious about the proceedings as Harry, which wasn’t a surprise. The boy had been largely isolated on the Longbottom estate both for his safety and to maintain the illusion that he was a squib. Ragnok’s box had a set of steps standing in front of it as eight was usually the age that a son was presented to the Wizengamot. Frank released Neville’s hand so the boy could climb the three steps.
“I present Neville Franklin Longbottom, the Baron of Renfrew and the heir to the earldom of Greenwood.”
Frank stepped back so his magic wouldn’t interfere with the testing, and Neville placed both of his hands on the Orb with just a little prompting from Ragnok. Magic danced off the Orb in a startling display, but Frank didn’t appear at all concerned, so James relaxed in his seat. He hadn’t asked about Neville’s magic, and he figured that might have been a mistake.
“Let the record show that Neville Franklin Longbottom is the Heir to the Earl of Greenwood,” Ragnok said, his voice resonating throughout the Wizengamot. “The Orb rates his magical potential as Magus.”
The Orb dimmed as Neville lifted his hands away and Frank retrieved him. The quill in Dumbledore’s hand snapped in the silence, and the old man blinked slightly in surprise before setting it aside and picking up another. Frank glanced at James as he returned to his box with Neville as a gentle chime sounded. Diggory was recording the results of the testing, so James waited for another chime. The man focused on him as he stopped writing and the bell sounded.
“Lord Potter, the floor is yours.”
James stood, and Harry hurriedly scooted off his chair to join him. His fingers curled around the pinky of his father’s left hand. “I’m pleased to announce the birth of my second child, Philippa Francis Potter, born on September 15, 1988, at 9:34 pm. Her godmother is Lady Isobel Black, Countess of Blackmoor, and her godfather is Lord Frank Longbottom, Earl of Greenwood.”
He waited until Diggory stopped writing and gave him a nod. They left the box together and crossed the shining granite floor of the Wizengamot. Harry moved up the steps with no prompting and stood before Ragnok.
“I present Hadrian James Potter, the Baron of Ravenstone and the heir to the earldom of Gryffindor.”
The Orb started to shine before Harry even touched it—light arcing off of it. Magic streamed out of it and enveloped Harry.
“No!” James reached for his son.
“Don’t interfere, Lord Potter!” Ragnok shouted. “The Orb isn’t hurting him.”
James’ hands fisted, and he glared openly at the chieftain. “What have you…”
“Nothing,” Ragnok snapped.
James’ gaze snapped to Dumbledore and was startled to see the old man looking confused and worried. Sirius appeared at his side, and he didn’t have to wait long before Frank appeared as well. They watched the Orb pour magic all over Harry in a stream. It was the most horrifying thing James had ever seen.
A thunderous boom sounded throughout the room and the magic moving around Harry went curiously and terribly solid. James found himself pushed back forcefully. Sirius and Frank caught him before he fell.
James’ eyes fluttered shut briefly. He’d only heard the Wizengamot speak once before, and that had been shortly before he’d started Hogwarts. The spirit of the Wizengamot rarely woke and when he did—it was because he was furious. Arthur Pendragon had left a soul imprint of himself behind to help govern Avalon, to safeguard his legacy, and that spirit had become the Wizengamot.
“Your Majesty, whatever wrong I have done you—please do not punish my son for it.”
The spirit, solid in form for the first time that James had ever known, stepped out from the heaving mass of magic that now surrounded Harry.
Arthur Pendragon stared at him, and the whole room stilled. “There is plenty of wrong in this country, but your family has always served the realm faithfully—Potter, Peverell, Gryffindor, and my dear, fiercely loyal Galahad who was your many greats grandfather.” Arthur reached out and touched James’ face, tilting his chin up slightly. “You even look like him a bit.”
“The family records don’t go back that far,” James admitted as Arthur released him. His gaze went back to Orb and Harry. His son hadn’t moved at all since he touched the Orb.
“No, it does not,” Arthur agreed. “Which is a shame—many of you’d do better to know where you come from.” He focused on Sirius. “All of the noble families descend from my knights—the House of Black began with Lancelot.”
Sirius winced. “If that whole thing about the affair was true—I apologize on his behalf.”
Arthur snorted. “You’d not be standing here if it were true.” He focused on Frank. “The House of Longbottom began with Gawain.”
Frank offered the specter of their long-dead king a brief bow. “Sire.”
The king left them and walked to the Noble Houses platform. He stepped up on it with a thud of heavy leather boots and the rest of the Lords hastily stood. Arthur reached out and touched the first box, and a coat of arms appeared. “My knights should be remembered and honored by their families—Lord Abbott, you descend from Sir Geharis, who was loyal, steadfast, and even-tempered. I see him in you and in your father before you—a true voice of reason.”
“Sire, I am honored,” Abbott said hoarsely.
Arthur moved to the Black box and turned toward Sirius. “Lancelot—fierce of temper, loyal, and utterly devoted to a chaste love for my wife until he found solace and passion in the arms of his Elaine.” A coat of arms appeared on the box, and he moved away to the Longbottom box. “Gawain, my nephew through marriage, a romantic at heart who loved adventure and women in equal measure.” He grinned when Frank flushed then focused on Neville, who was sitting very still in the box. “Hello.”
Neville bit down his lip, eyes wide, then leaned forward slightly to whisper, “I’m not supposed to talk.”
Arthur laughed, and many in the room joined him. “Are you not? How dreadfully boring all this must be.”
“You’re not boring,” Neville whispered loudly. “Is Harry okay?”
“Your godbrother couldn’t be safer, I promise.”
James relaxed just a bit. He’d never known the spirit of Arthur Pendragon to lie.
Arthur moved to the next box. “Lord Malfoy.”
“Your Majesty.” Lucius bowed deeply and took a ragged breath. “You honor us all with your presence.”
“Your father made a terrible mistake, Lucius, I’m pleased to see that you’ve not followed his path.” He stared at Malfoy. “Magic is magic—but do not mistake the difference between dark and evil.”
“I will be diligent, Sire.”
“The House of Malfoy descends from Gareth, who was a gracious, chivalrous and devoted knight who loved his wife and died in defense of my Queen. Hold his sacrifice in a place of honor for he not only saved my wife—he saved the life of the only child I’d father who would live to see adulthood.”
The shock of that statement filtered through the room and James’ stomach lurched. History told them that Arthur had never had a child live longer than ten years. His attention returned to Harry, and he was startled to find that his son was having a conversation with the Orb. The magic surrounding him made hearing the content impossible. Ragnok was staring at the Orb and Harry in surprise.
Arthur moved on to the Greengrass box. Gerald Greengrass was slightly pale and wide-eyed. “Your father was an amusing man. Thankfully, he rarely said half of what he thought.” The specter grinned when Gerald laughed. “Yes, I’m privy to your active thoughts when you’re seated on the Wizengamot, and no, you can’t change it, Dumbledore.” He stared at the Chief Warlock briefly before returning his attention to Gerald and touching the box. Another coat of arms appeared. “Bors de Ganis, but you aren’t surprised.”
“No, Sire, the historical records of our family have been guarded very closely through the years,” Gerald murmured.
“Bors was lovely—devoted and chaste. His story is a tragic one, but he would be proud to know that his family line, no matter how it began, has served the realm with such strength of heart.” Arthur moved to the sixth box. “Ah, McGregor, you cantankerous old bastard. You need to stop letting that woman win.”
Jonah sighed. “It’s an honor, Sire, to speak with you, again. I thought you agreed to stay out of my love life.”
“I did no such thing,” Arthur denied and tapped the box. “Sir Bedivere who stood at my side in the Battle of Camlan. He eventually returned Excalibur to the embrace of Lady Magic. The first knight to sit at my table and the only one comfortable enough to call me on my dragonshite. It’s unfortunate that the trait has nestled so deeply in your family line.”
McGregor just nodded as the coat of arms appeared.
James’ gut tightened when Pendragon skipped the Potter box, and his gaze darted back to Harry, who was nodding at the Orb like he often did when his mother was explaining something in detail.
“Lord Banner.” Pendragon touched the box Thaddeus Banner stood in and cleared his throat. “Sir Lamorak’s fierce spirit still runs deep in your blood. Strong, a brilliant fighter, and utterly intolerant of betrayal, your ancestor was a one-man war who only suffered defeat at the hands of a coward. Don’t judge those around you so harshly, young Thaddeus, there is much you do not know.”
“I will heed your words, Sire,” Thaddeus said as the coat of arms of Lamorak appeared on his box.
James shifted slightly as Banner focused on him. He didn’t know him well, but Thaddeus’ father had served as a vassal to both James’ father and grandfather.
“Lord Wright, the many greats-grandson of Sir Tristan. A brave and strong young man who sacrificed everything for love. He was such a charming young man that I couldn’t remain angry at him for darting off in the night with his lady-love.” The gleaming coat of arms on the Wright box featured a lion and a shining silver heart. “May you be so lucky in love, young man.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.”
“Lord Fawley,” Arthur began as he placed the coat of arms on the Fawley box. “Descendant of Sir Percivale—a gentle but stout knight at my table who was known for his prowess as a healer. It was his calling—you might say—to end the suffering of others whenever he could. Many of the spells that are used in healing today are of his design.” The specter turned to focus on Lord Bulstrode. “You remarried recently, did you not, Lord Bulstrode?”
Christopher Bulstrode nodded. “Yes, Sire. My first wife died unexpectedly.”
“You needn’t lie to me, lad,” Arthur said. “I know Riddle killed her because you refused to join him. Your grief is fresh in your mind despite your best efforts to hide it.” He placed a coat of arms. “Geraint was your ancestor. Strong of heart and spirit, he died in my defense when we fought the Saxons. His legacy is one of strength and loyalty—I’m glad to see it in you.”
Pendragon offered Parkinson a wry grin, and Nigel paled which made the ghost-king laugh. “Ah, your father was excitable, too!” He slapped the top of the Parkinson box with his palm as he laughed some more and a coat of arms settled. “But then so was Sir Kay—your ancestor and my foster brother. He was a fierce bastard and his temper a thing of legend, but he was true to Avalon. I lost him to the Romans, but I found solace in his sons, who were just as fierce and ill-tempered as he.”
“Thank you, Sire,” Nigel murmured. “I did not know of him.”
“You will learn more I’m sure,” Arthur said. “You have a curious nature.” He strode across the room then to the Potter box and stared at it. “Come now, Lady Potter, you can’t think you’ve hidden from me.”
James frowned but said nothing as Lily removed the invisibility cloak she was wearing. Her face was pale, and her eyes were sparkling with temper.
“What are you doing to my son?” Lily demanded and merely glared at Pendragon while everyone else looked at her in horrified shock. “Release him immediately.”
Arthur smiled. “You’re the spitting image of my fierce and brilliant Guinevere. I was there the day you were born, the day you purchased your wand, and though you did not know it—I walked with you all the way down the aisle the day you married James Potter. You were sad that your father wasn’t there to walk with you, but my ability to manifest outside of the Wizengamot is limited and I could not show myself to you.”
Lily looked at James briefly, and her eyes darkened. “Why, Sire?”
“You’re the first, sweet Lily.”
“The first what?”
“The first of my descendants to be born with magic. I had a daughter, you see, but she was a squib. I worried that she would be killed by my enemies. She was defenseless in our world. I sent her to live in the Muggle world, and there my line flourished for many generations—talented, brilliant and lovely, but utterly unmagical until you.”
James watched his wife process that and ignored the whispers breaking out all over the room.
“No.” Lily took a deep breath. “No, he’s just a boy. He’s not…”
“Of course not, I’ll just have to make do with his father until young Hadrian is of the proper age.”
“He prefers Harry,” Lily blurted out and blushed when Arthur raised an eyebrow at her.
“Harry,” Arthur agreed. He reached out and touched the Potter box. All three of the Potter seals shifted downward, and the coat-of-arms for Galahad was added to the row. And above it a new seal emerged—the Pendragon seal glowed with magic. “James Michael Potter, Earl of Gryffindor, you shall stand as the Regent of Pendragon until your son reaches the age of twenty-five.” He turned to face James. “Then he shall be the King of Avalon. It is his duty and his birthright.”
The Orb released Harry in the same moment that Pendragon disappeared, and James reached out to catch him as Harry tipped backward off the steps with a gleaming broadsword clutched in two hands.
Harry huffed. “This thing weighs more than I do! I told him it was too big!”
“Oh, lad,” James murmured against his hair and held him tight as chaos broke out all around them. He looked at his wife and found Lily staring at them both with tears in her eyes.
Ragnok cleared his throat as everyone grew quiet. “Let the record show that Hadrian James Potter is the Heir to the Earl of Gryffindor and the Heir of Pendragon.” He paused. “The Orb rates his magical potential as archmagus.”