Title: The Absence of War
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: Harry Potter
Genre: Drama, Family, Het, Kid!fic, Slash
Relationship(s): Sirius Black/OMC, OMC/OFC
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Minor character death, homicide, off-screen child abuse, and off-screen torture
Author Notes: I use the term dverger for the species of magical creature that runs Gringotts.
Word Count: 117,000
Summary: Arcturus Black uses the last moments of his life to change the circumstances of his grandson, Sirius black, in Azkaban in a way that no one could ignore. The ramifications of his choices change everything for both Sirius Black and Harry Potter.
* * * *
* * * *
“Peace is not the absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition of benevolence, confidence, justice.”
December 23, 1990
Arcturus Black, the Earl of Blackmoor, stood slowly from his chair and tossed aside the letter from his healer. The fool had taken to sending him weekly missives—proof of life he supposed. An owl wouldn’t deliver anything to a dead man. He pulled his watch from his pocket and checked the time.
“Ah, time,” he murmured. He had precious little time left in the world, and he didn’t regret it a bit. His family’s ancestral magic had spread so thin that he knew upon his death it would fracture completely.
He had four grandchildren left in his direct line—Andromeda whom he’d let be disowned by his son and daughter-in-law then three more that had fallen for Riddle’s disgusting campaign of blood purity. Arcturus saw nothing wrong with being proud of his family and heritage, but his children and grandchildren had been taken in by a madman with delusions far beyond his means or power. It hadn’t surprised him, at all, to learn that Riddle had attacked the Potter family though the circumstances of the child’s survival puzzled many.
Still, Arcturus knew that there were ancient magics in the Potter family that precious few in the world truly understood. It was to be expected, after all, for the last surviving family of Avalon. The fact that the boy was being raised in the Muggle world had never sat right with him, but there had been no fighting Dumbledore on the subject. His own claim to the boy had been flimsy due to the crimes his grandson, Sirius, had been convicted of. He could barely touch the strands of family magic that connected him to Sirius and Bellatrix due to the circumstances they suffered in Azkaban.
It had been difficult, but he couldn’t bear the thought of disowning either of them. He caught the railing as he slowly made his way down the stairs and into the foolishly dank basement. Such theatrics had appealed to his wife and had amused him during the reconstruction of the property after the Grindelwald situation had been resolved. Two dark lords rising up in his lifetime was also quite a curious thing. Being a student of history, Arcturus knew such things come in cycles, and Riddle’s appearance on the scene so close on the heels of Grindelwald had felt and still did feel artificial. The old families had little to no time to recover from the first blood war before many were seduced into another by a con artist.
The palantír had been in his family for generations, so many, in fact, that he had no idea how old it was. There were those in his family who had delved deeply into the art of divination—his wife’s investigation into possible futures had shaped his position regarding both Grindelwald and Riddle. He had no regrets regarding those decisions, not even in the wake of his children and grandchildren succumbing to Riddle’s insanity.
Arcturus touched the palantír, and magic danced gently through it. There was something so beguiling about it, and as a young man had made him terribly uncomfortable. He’d seen his Melania in the palantír when he’d been all of sixteen. It had been lovely and so exciting. Honestly, he’d never wanted to go near the thing after that. It had already given him the only answer he’d thought he would ever want—that he would marry well, and the noble house of Black would continue.
Now he stood, once more before the palantír seeking an answer to the same question. The family magic stirred deep into his core as he stared at the glowing divination device. Muggles, he’d heard, called it a crystal ball. He wondered what they saw when they peered into it—if magic had ever given even one of them a real glimpse of what was to come.
Arcturus’ mother had never understood his hesitancy, and his wife had often found him frustrating as his gifts in the art of divination were genuinely prodigious. He could admit, now, at the end of his life that he feared the palantír more than he should’ve. His gifts had shown him exactly what he wanted the first time he’d ever dared look, and he hadn’t been prepared to risk a second look into the device. It had been easy to allow his wife to reign over the art and tap into the Black family magic to do so.
Melania had enjoyed the mystery and intrigue. She’d also taken great pride in being the wife of a genuine, widely-known, and respected prophet. While he’d never sought the palantír again and had avoided any sort of activity that would lead to him reading for people, he hadn’t been able to control the way his magic had embraced future knowledge. In his twenties, he’d allowed the Department of Mysteries to attach a harvesting charm to his core that would allow them to harvest any prophecy that his magic produced.
Those in power had come and gone during his lifetime, and each time a new wizard or witch took over the DOM, he would be invited to scry for them. It had gotten easier and easier to say no, the older he got. The current Croaker hadn’t bothered at all, which Arcturus had appreciated so much that he’d briefly considered showing up to read the man’s palm on a lark.
His trembling fingers glanced over the surface of the palantír, and the magic swirled around again. Eager, he thought, and a fleeting sense of loss drifted over his mind. It was impossible to be confronted by what he’d long ignored and not wonder what he might have seen. Could he have prevented the death of his grandson, Regulus? Could he have prevented Sirius from turning to Riddle? Had the insanity that had infiltrated nearly all of his grandchildren tainted the purity of the Black magic?
He had to know for certain before he relinquished control of it to the next generation. Arcturus knew precious little about Draco Malfoy, his great-grandson, as the boy’s father was vehemently opposed to any sort of contact between the two of them. Narcissa hadn’t visited in years, but it was to be expected—she was one of just two of his grandchildren who had married for love, and her husband had no time for Arcturus or the traditions of the House of Black. Arcturus respected love though he wondered what sort of twisted love existed between Narcissa and her husband, Lucius Malfoy. Had their son been indoctrinated into the agenda that Riddle had left behind?
Arcturus knew that pureblood mania festered in Britain and that outright war simmered under the surface of the polite society so many purebloods clung to in the aftermath of the events in Godric’s Hollow.
“It comes back around to Harry Potter,” Arcturus murmured. “What is so special about the boy? What destiny stood between him and Tom Riddle that night?”
He picked up the palantír for the first time in seventy-four years and shuddered as his magic burst forth from him eagerly. Shame clenched in his gut as the images started to slip through his mind, and time dropped away completely as his gift revealed to him a future full of unspeakable depravity and loss of life. He watched the boy, Harry Potter, and a girl save his grandson, Sirius, from being kissed by dementors after the story of his innocence was revealed.
Arcturus sank to his knees, the palantír clutched in both hands as grief overcame him. He’d left his boy in Azkaban for a decade because he’d believed Albus Dumbledore. The son of a bitch had been misleading most of Britain for decades, and he’d used his largely manufactured fame to destroy so many that his very existence was a crime against magic.
“What have I done?” he demanded hoarsely as he clutched the palantír. “Sirius, my boy. My sweet, foolish boy.”
* * * *
January 2, 1991
It was far too simple a task to buy his way onto Azkaban. It brought home how easy it would’ve been to free his grandson with a few galleons here and there. The casual greed of the system that had held hostage his heir was no secret to him, but in his new circumstances, Arcturus could only look upon it with seething fury for which he had no outlet at all. He was far too sick to do what needed to be done, and that was galling all on its own.
The guards cleared out the dementor that patrolled the high-security section before escorting him back. He appreciated the thought, but the lordship ring of the House of Black protected him from the foul creatures entirely. He regretted, deeply, that Sirius had never claimed the heir ring he was due as it would’ve protected him in a similar fashion. Arcturus blamed his son, Orion, for that.
“I’ve silenced all of the cells but his, my Lord,” the warden said. “You’ll get your 30 minutes of undisturbed conversation. The area in front of his cell is warded for sound already—the prisoners can’t speak to each other. It prevents…complications.”
“Collusion,” Arcturus murmured. “No need to allow them to plan anything.”
“Certainly, my Lord.” The warden paused and cleared his throat. “Had I known you were coming, sir, I would’ve had him cleaned up for you. I apologize for his condition. He’s not fit for company so esteemed as yours.”
Arcturus wanted to gut the little bastard like a fish. He was more than a bit furious that he wouldn’t have time to accomplish that new personal goal. “Thank you, Warden Umbridge.” He paused. “Are you in any relation to that woman working at the ministry?”
“A cousin, my Lord,” the man said. “Though she doesn’t bother much with family unless she needs something.”
“I know the type well enough,” Arcturus said. He stopped in front of Sirius’ cell and watched as dispassionately as he could as the warden transfigured the door to allow him a better view into the disgusting chamber. “I’ll call for a guard when I’m finished.”
“Very well, my Lord,” the warden murmured and walked quickly away.
Arcturus waited until the large door at the end of the hallway shut with a bang before he drew his wand and cast a privacy charm to ensure nothing, and no one would hear what he had to say to his grandson.
His grandson stirred from the nest of rags on the floor and looked up. He blinked then rubbed his face with one dirty hand.
“Can you stand, lad?” Arcturus questioned and grimaced at the way his voice had gone hoarse. Seeing his boy’s condition up close and in person compared to the vision he’d been given in the palantír was more difficult than he expected.
Sirius stood hesitantly. “Sir.” He walked to the bars, then wrapped his hands around them. “Why are you…you shouldn’t be here, Grandfather. This is no place for you.”
“It is no place for you either, my sweet boy,” Arcturus murmured. “I am so sorry, Sirius. I never should’ve listened to Dumbledore. Your grandmother will render my soul to shreds when next we meet for the crimes I’ve allowed done to you.”
Sirius tightened his grip on the bars. “The guards tell me I murdered a bunch of people. I don’t…remember doing anything like that. They tell me—every day—to beg Hekate to forgive me, but I don’t remember. Peter and I were arguing…and…” He frowned. “It’s hard to think in here.”
Arcturus settled one hand on Sirius’ and gently pressed his ring against his grandson’s bony finger. “You didn’t. You’re innocent, Sirius. A terrible injustice has been done to you, and I’m afraid I’m far too old and too sick to seek justice for you. I was a coward for not looking sooner. I was afraid of what I would see. Do you remember why you confronted Peter Pettigrew on the street?”
Sirius frowned and leaned on the bars. “He betrayed James and Lily. I had to find him and make him pay, but there was an explosion.” He wet his lips. “But…the guards tell me that I did that, but I didn’t…”
“Muggles died in that explosion,” Arcturus explained. “I asked Dumbledore if they were certain of your guilt, and I was told that there was no doubt that you murdered Pettigrew and caused the explosion. They said you were sentenced by a war crimes tribunal. Do you remember testifying in court during that process?”
“No,” Sirius whispered. “No. I…I wasn’t even questioned. I remember being on the street in Muggle London, and the next thing I knew, I was here. I don’t understand…how long has it been?”
“Ten years,” Arcturus murmured. “Ten, long vicious years.”
“I didn’t realize it’d been so long…” Tears sprung to Sirius’ eyes. “Where’s my baby? Where’s Harry?”
Arcturus swallowed hard. “From what I can tell, he was placed with Lily Potter’s Muggle sister. The records are sealed, and I never bothered to investigate since I knew I didn’t have a strong enough claim to interfere in Dumbledore’s decision.”
“He should be with Frank and Alice Longbottom,” Sirius hissed. “Not with that magic hating bitch.”
“Frank and Alice were tortured to insanity by Bellatrix and the Lestrange brothers, Sirius.”
Sirius’ hands tightened on the bars. “That’s not right…Dumbledore was protecting them personally. How could the Lestranges have gotten to them?”
“Dumbledore declared the threat over, and Frank lifted the Fidelius.”
“That son of a bitch,” Sirius shouted. “He had to know! He had to—he had a spy in Voldemort’s ranks! He knew that…” He closed his eyes then slowly sank to the floor to his knees.
Arcturus went with him. “Listen to me, lad, I don’t have much time left. The warden will be wondering what we’re discussing for so long. He thinks I’m here to say goodbye.”
“Goodbye?” Sirius questioned. “Are you…” Tears welled and spilled down his grandson’s cheeks. “You’re dying.”
“Yes, it’s a miracle that I’ve lasted as long as I have. The healer says I have less than a month before my heart fails entirely.”
“You shouldn’t be here,” Sirius said fiercely. “The trip to the island alone…”
“Hush, lad,” Arcturus murmured and pushed his hand through the bars to cup the back of Sirius’ head. “As if I would leave this world without seeing you one last time. I intended to come even before I looked into the palantír. Though I had planned quite a severe lecture. Fortunately, for you, I took a bit of a look into the future.”
Sirius laughed weakly and let his forehead rest against the bars. “I’m so sorry for what my recklessness cost you.”
“Oh, lad, it cost you so much more,” Arcturus murmured. “I need a favor of you, Sirius. It will be an immense burden.”
“Anything,” Sirius promised.
“Ah, you rash little git,” Arcturus said, though he could hardly keep the fondness from his voice. “I never doubted your sorting, but I wish you’d followed my advice to at least seek Ravenclaw.”
“It wouldn’t have been very fun,” Sirius said, his dark eyes suddenly sparkling with amusement and magic.
“You’re so much better off than I thought you’d be, lad,” Arcturus murmured.
“It comes and goes,” Sirius admitted. “I have…” He bit down on his lip. “I’m an animagus. The dementor doesn’t much care about me when I’m transformed.”
“You always were the most clever of us,” Arcturus murmured. “And so talented. It will help you in the days to come.” He pushed his fingers gently through his grandson’s dirty hair. “Tonight, you will become the Earl of Blackmoor in my place.”
“What?” Sirius pushed forward as much as he could, his forehead pressed harshly against the bars. “No, you must be too weak to perform the ritual. It’ll kill you.”
The heir ring appeared his hand, and Arcturus took a deep breath. “I’ve lived a very long time, and I’m ready to be with your grandmother. You need all the power I have to give—social and political. I need you to accept the ring, lad.”
“The family magic…” Sirius took a deep breath. “I’m not my father.”
“And you are all the better for it,” Arcturus murmured. “Orion was lost in his own mania, and though he would’ve never admitted it, our family magic detested him. There was nothing pure about his craft or his heart, lad, and that is the root of our legacy. It was never about the blood in our veins, and you remember that. Hold your head high, Sirius, and never let anyone forget who you are. The months to come will be trying. Don’t trust Narcissa or that twat she married. Their son…I’m not sure he can be saved from the ideology that he’s been spoon-fed, but he’s not fit to be your heir.”
“I have Harry.” Sirius swallowed hard as he stared at the ring. “Is that okay?”
“It is more than okay,” Arcturus murmured. “But you must never allow him to be influenced by Albus Dumbledore. Protect your child, lad, and teach him to stand on his own. Because if you don’t, the future he faces will be one wretched event after another that leads to his suicide.” His grip tightened in Sirius’ hair. “But I’ve seen another path—full of magic, safety, and sweet love. I’ve seen our family joined with the Potter family magic, changing both houses forever. I’ve seen him stand as the Earl of Blackmoor in your place—strong, influential, and so honorable it was breathtaking. Give him that future, Sirius.”
“I won’t fail him again,” Sirius murmured as he carefully took the heir ring from his grandfather. “I love you. I’m so sorry I didn’t…I should’ve come to you when I ran away from home. I was just…I was so worried you’d take their side.”
Arcturus relaxed as Sirius slipped the ring on. “I can’t say how I would’ve reacted, and I’m ashamed of that. I was still trying to save Orion from himself, at that point.”
“You shouldn’t be on this cold, terrible floor,” Sirius said.
Arcturus smiled. “I can’t say it’s comfortable.”
They stood slowly together. Arcturus took off his cloak and pushed it through the bars. “Take this—it will keep you warm.”
“You’ll be cold,” Sirius protested.
“I’ll be taking a portkey back home,” Arcturus murmured. “Put it on, lad. It’s charmed heavily for comfort. I paid a ridiculous amount for it.”
Sirius pulled it on reluctantly and took a deep breath as the garment settled around him. “If you’re sure.”
“I am very sure,” Arcturus promised. “It will make me feel better to know you have some comfort in this horrible place. I’ll tell the warden that it’s not to be taken from you.” He caught Sirius’ hand one more time. “Remember, when the time comes, just let it happen. Don’t fight the family magic, lad. You’ll find all the strength and protection you need in it.”
“I wish we had more time,” Sirius said.
“Remember what your grandmother told you—those who love us never leave us,” Arcturus said. “You have my heart, lad. Carry it with you for the rest of your life.” Despite the bars, he pulled Sirius closer and pressed his lips to his grandson’s forehead one final time. “Toujours Pur.”
Sirius trembled and closed his eyes. “By the grace of Magic.”
Walking away felt like defeat, but he knew he had no choice. He couldn’t afford for anyone to question him regarding his visit, which meant it had to go unnoticed by those he’d not paid to look the other way. He paused in front of Bellatrix’s cell. His granddaughter was sitting in the middle of the floor and swaying. Arcturus thought she might be singing, but her cell was still silenced, so he couldn’t be sure. Her evident madness made his skin crawl.
He turned on his heel and walked away. The door at the end of the hall opened before he reached it. The warden was certainly attentive, but a thousand galleons had a way of paving the way for many things.
“I’ve left my cloak with my grandson,” Arcturus said shortly. “He is to keep it. If I discover that it’s been taken from him, I’ll be very cross, Warden Umbridge.”
“There are no rules against prisoners having personal possessions,” the warden said promptly. “The guards don’t enter the cells, so it won’t be taken from him, but I’ll be sure to make a note that you gifted it to him, my Lord.”
“See that you do,” Arcturus said coolly. “An escort to a point where I can activate my portkey would be appreciated.”
* * * *
It started late in the night with the moon high in the sky, long after he’d gone to sleep curled into his grandfather’s cloak. The charms on the garment were so well-done that even the stone floor of his cell was no longer all that miserable. He woke as his cell was filled with light—Sirius had rarely seen the manifestation of the family magic. His father had stopped practicing ritual magic before Sirius had even gone to Hogwarts, and now he knew why. His grandfather wasn’t wrong about how the magical legacy of their bloodline felt about Orion Black.
The weight of judgment in the magic that enveloped him was not unexpected as his mother had often bitched about it. His parents were cousins, and the family magic hadn’t been keen on the match more due to a lack of magical capability than blood relation, Sirius knew. His parents were wholly unsuited to one another, but their desire to keep the family pure, in blood, had brought them together. Love had been no more a factor than magic had been.
Sirius wished he could reach out to his grandfather through the heir ring, but the wards of the prison didn’t allow for magical communication. There were no active floos on the island, and Sirius had never seen an owl. A rational part of him appreciated the attention to security, even if it was depriving him of the privilege of being close to his grandfather in his final moments.
His heir ring grew warm, and the emerald in the setting started to sparkle with active magic. Could he send the ring to his own heir? He suspected that his grandfather had brought the heir ring to the prison because he hadn’t wanted to stress his own magic too hard before the ritual. It would’ve taken an immense amount of magic to push through Azkaban’s wards from the outside. Still, if a portkey could be used to leave the island, then maybe Sirius could push the ring out and onto the hand of his son.
The heir ring slipped from his finger and magic shimmered around his hand, a burst of green and yellow sparks filled the air as the Blackmoor signet ring appeared on his finger. Magic fell on him like an avalanche, giving him no quarter and nowhere to hide. Sirius lost track of time as the voices of his ancestors—the men who had worn the ring before him—filled his head, and as they spoke, he no longer wondered why the family magic wanted no part of his own father.
As sunlight filtered into the one stingy window high on the wall of his cell, the magic calmed and settled on him much the way his grandfather’s cloak had—warm, accepting, and lovely all at once. Sirius took a shuddery breath and spoke, “On my honor and magic, I swear my life and my magical house to the service of Lady Magic. May she look upon me and see me a faithful servant,” Sirius murmured. He picked up the heir ring and closed his eyes. “My heir, in blood and magic, is Harry James Potter.” The heir ring shimmered away with a cool brush of wind over his fingertips.
* * * *
In a cupboard tucked under the stairs of Number 4 Privet Drive, the heir ring of the House of Black appeared on the thin ring finger of Harry Potter’s right hand as the boy stared in horror. He’d woken from a fitful sleep in the cold cupboard for no reason that he could discern. He felt as if he’d lost something very important, but that made no sense. Harry stared at the ring, confused and miserable. It was very pretty, and it felt like it belonged to him even if he’d never seen it before. He knew he couldn’t wear it, and he had no way of explaining where it’d come from that wouldn’t sound insane and abnormal.
He tried to pull it off, but the ring just seemed to cling to his skin. Aunt Petunia would certainly demand he remove it and would try to take it off herself if he couldn’t do it. His stomach lurched at the thought of his Uncle Vernon trying to take it. His uncle was a terrible person who made a habit of hitting him and his cousin both. Though Dudley got it less than Harry did.
The ring looked expensive, so his uncle would definitely want it. Harry tugged on it again and blew out a breath of frustration. Despite the darkness of the cupboard, he could see the ring very clearly. He didn’t know why he wasn’t scared by that, but the ring just felt friendly and safe. Though he’d certainly feel better about it if he could take it off and hide it.
“You don’t feel evil,” Harry said with a small smile. “I mean, I don’t think I have to go on a quest and drop you in a volcano or anything.” The shining green stone in the ring sort of sparkled at him like it understood exactly what he was saying, which was ridiculous. “If you were really a magical ring, then you would hide.” Light shimmered around the ring, and it faded from view. “Oh.” He could still feel the weight of the ring on his finger, and touching it proved it was still there. “This is…so cool.”
January 15, 1991
Albus Dumbledore exited the main floo and moved swiftly through the atrium of the ministry. He could’ve taken the private entrance set aside for him as the Chief Warlock, but arriving as the general public did was very good for his image. The new minister, Cornelius Fudge, was waiting for him near the lifts. He’d supported Fudge’s placement as Minister for Magic, but he couldn’t help but wonder if he’d made the best choice. In just a few short months, Harry Potter would be returning to their world, and Voldemort loomed ever-present in the background.
He had much to do and very little time to do it. The first task was nearly accomplished as Professor Quirrell was starting to respond to the casual magical nudges Albus had been sending his way—the professor would be on his way to Albania when the school year ended. Albus had already informed the Board of Governors that they would need to hire a new teacher for Muggle Studies. It was undoubtedly for the best if Quirrell came back with the passenger Albus expected him to have, teaching Muggle Studies would serve nothing and no one. No, Defense Against the Dark Arts was for the best for his plans.
There would be plenty of opportunities for Harry Potter to interact with Quirrell, which was vital. He had to be certain that the prophecy was still in play and that Harry Potter was the key to defeating Tom Riddle. The other potential child…Albus sighed as he considered Neville Longbottom. The boy had been coddled entirely by his grandmother. He was weak—not tempered by the fire that Harry Potter had already endured. For the greater good, he hoped he’d made the right choice in 1981.
He entered the Wizengamot chamber and strode across the floor confidently as he let his magical aura visibly spread out around him. No need to let anyone the room forget how powerful he was. Many believed him to be the most powerful wizard alive, and while he’d never claimed such in public, he never tried to deny it as that wouldn’t serve him or his plans. He walked up the stairs and sat down at his desk, high above the rest of the court.
Today was not a day he looked forward to. Arcturus Black, the Earl of Blackmoor, had died earlier in the month, and today Lucius Malfoy would claim the dead man’s seat and title for his son, Draco. The child was the next in line for the Black title. When he’d allowed Sirius Black to be placed in Azkaban, it had served him. The young man had been reckless, difficult to control, and Albus knew that Sirius wouldn’t have listened to his advice regarding Harry Potter.
But without Sirius Black to take the Blackmoor title, Albus had left open an opportunity for an immense powerplay by Lucius Malfoy. The Blackmoor seat was both noble and ancient. Traditionally, the House of Black had voted neutral or grey in most matters. Now, that would change, and the power balance in the Wizengamot would shift in such a way that many of the laws Albus had fought against for decades would come to pass.
Albus glanced around the room to make sure everyone was in their proper places. The Black seat was the only empty one—as to be expected—as the first meeting of the year was required with precious few exceptions. He called the meeting to order.
“The Wizengamot formally acknowledges the death of Arcturus Draconis Black, Earl of Blackmoor.” He managed to keep his face utterly neutral as Lucius Malfoy stood from the gallery. Albus wondered if anyone else was appalled by what was about to happen. The Malfoy family was neither ancient or noble as they were a minor branch from a much larger family from France. “The floor is open for anyone eligible to claim the seat.”
He knew no one else would stand. There were several families related to the Blacks, but the Malfoy claim was the strongest, unfortunately. Malfoy smirked, and Albus briefly wondered if he could kill him and memory charm everyone in the room without any help.
“I, Lucius Valentin Malfoy, claim on my behalf of my son, Draco Lucius Malfoy, the earldom of Blackmoor and will act as his proxy until his twenty-fifth birthday. Upon his magical majority, he will take the legal name of Draco Lucius Malfoy-Black as required of the House of Black protocols.” Malfoy lowered his cane to the floor with a decisive click as he finished his claim.
Magic stirred in the room, and the house seal on the Black seat darkened then started to smoke before bursting into flame. Everyone in the room stilled and stared in horror as the wooden box surrounding the seat startled to rattle.
Dumbledore cleared his throat. “The Wizengamot has declared your claim fraudulent, Mr. Malfoy.” He looked around the room. “Would anyone else like to step forward and make a claim?”
“What game are you playing, Dumbledore?” Malfoy demanded.
“Mr. Malfoy, I have done nothing to disrupt the proceedings. You know very well the magic of the Wizengamot cannot be controlled or manipulated.”
“Someone has done something!” Malfoy shouted. “I won’t have my son’s legacy taken from him! You’ll fix this immediately!”
Dumbledore looked at the Black seat and dread pooled in his stomach. He had a feeling he would have absolutely no say over what was to come. “This is beyond my control, Mr. Malfoy, the Wizengamot has declared your claim fraudulent. We will have to research and find a proper heir to fill the seat. The court will remain in limbo until this is resolved, so we must work quickly.”
“There isn’t a bloody wizard or witch in Britain with a more prominent claim the Blackmoor title!”
“That is categorically untrue,” a woman said dryly, and everyone turned to stare at the Wizengamot archivist.
“Esmerelda,” Albus began and trailed off when she held up a hand.
The woman stood with a glare. “Don’t get fresh with me, Albus Dumbledore.”
Albus flushed. “Madam Forth.” He took a deep breath. “Has the Wizengamot recorded anything to the official record that would explain our current circumstances?”
Esmerelda raised one eyebrow then casually opened the large book in front of her. “Lucius Valentin Malfoy is guilty of fraud and attempted line theft against the ancient and noble House of Black. The current Earl is Sirius Orion Black, so claimed in blood and magic on January 4, 1991, at 7:54 AM.”
“Sirius Black is in Azkaban!” Lucius shouted. “Convicted of mass murder! There’s no possible way he claimed the Black title!”
She glared at him. “Watch your tone when you speak to me, Mr. Malfoy. My ancestors were a part of this magical body when yours were still digging in the dirt in France.”
Lucius hissed in shock and clenched his fist on his cane.
“Draw your wand on me, you jumped-up prick, and I’ll do your wife a favor and put you in the ground.” Esmeralda slammed the book shut. “The Wizengamot will accept no other but Sirius Orion Black or his valid proxy.” She saw down and crossed her arms.
Dumbledore’s mind reeled as he tried to come up with a way to fix the circumstances. Suddenly, Malfoy claiming the seat was a much better prospect. Seals started to light up, and he had no choice but to acknowledge the first of them. He cleared his throat noisily.
“Lord McGregor, you have the floor.”
“I want to see the trial transcript for Lord Black,” the man said flatly. “Right now.”
“The Death Eater trials were sealed to keep the peace and to allow for healing, Lord McGregor,” Dumbledore reminded.
Jonah McGregor stood, and magic snapped around his box in response to his building ire. “I don’t give a fuck about the seal, Dumbledore! Magic allowed the man to claim a goddamned title in a cell in Azkaban! You’ll unseal the records, and his trial will be reviewed by this body! He is our peer!”
“Does anyone disagree with Lord McGregor’s position?” Dumbledore questioned.
All the other seals darkened at once—leaving McGregor’s glowing bright and the Black seal still burning with what looked like a wrathful fire. He had no choice but to send someone to retrieve something that didn’t actually exist.
“As the Chief Warlock, I hereby unseal the case file and trial transcript for Sirius Orion Black,” he announced. Every single word felt like glass in his mouth. “Madam Bones, if you would…I believe, due to the circumstances that you should retrieve the materials personally.”
“Agreed, Chief Warlock.” Amelia Bones, the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, stood from her place among the seats reserved for the ancient houses and left the room.
The burning Black seal felt like a taunt. Decades of planning were burning in that fire, and his ability to act to prevent it was limited by the very seat he sat in. The magic that bound him as Chief Warlock was at its most stringent during an active session. Acting outside the law would see him punished severely by the magic of the Wizengamot. As a result, he spent a great deal of time manipulating others into breaking the law for him. Though he couldn’t think of a single thing he could get anyone to do to stop the train wreck unfolding in front of him.
He focused on Lucius Malfoy as the man left the floor and returned to his seat in the gallery. Albus noted that quite a few of the older purebloods in the noble houses were distinctly pleased that Malfoy’s claim had failed. He wondered how they would react when they discovered that Sirius Black was an innocent man. Albus’ gaze drifted over the room and settled on Barty Crouch, Sr, who looked ready to drop dead from fear.
Albus hadn’t been part of the trial process regarding the Death Eaters due to a conflict of interest. His efforts to protect Severus Snape and keep him out of Azkaban had made those involved in the process very concerned. He hadn’t been all that fussed to be excluded at the time as he’d received daily reports on the trials from various loyal individuals.
He knew that Barty Crouch had put several people in Azkaban, including his own son, without a legal trial process. Albus had decided not to shine a light on that situation because having Sirius Black out of his way had simply made things easier. Fortunately, Crouch’s zealotry had given Albus a perfect excuse not to know the details of the Sirius Black situation.
The doors opened, and Amelia Bones entered with a single box, her expression grim. She paused, then approached the center platform when Albus beckoned her forward. A table and a chair appeared on the platform as she stepped onto it. “Chief Warlock, the case file regarding Sirius Black is…quite small.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand, Madam Bones,” Albus said. “He was convicted of mass murder, there should be several boxes of reports. The trial transcript alone must be hundreds of feet long.”
“Yes, it should be,” Amelia agreed. She pulled the lid from the box. “We have his wand, witness statements regarding the deaths of twelve Muggles and Peter Pettigrew. There are several reports from Muggles, but…” She pursed her lips. “The statements declare that the Muggles witnessed Black firing the curse that caused the explosion, but we know that’s impossible, Chief Warlock. Muggles can’t see magic. At most, they saw him waving a stick. The scene reports have clearly been altered and approved of by a pair of idiots.”
Dumbledore blinked in surprise. “Who signed off on those reports?”
“Barty Crouch, former Director of the DMLE, signed off on the scene personally with the assistance of then Undersecretary Fudge.” She rolled her eyes when Fudge puffed up in outrage. “The Muggle witnesses were then memory charmed by the Unspeakables. Due to the amount of time that has passed and the impact of memory charms on the brains of Muggles, it is unlikely we would be able to retrieve those suppressed memories.” She dropped a thin stack of parchment on the table. “We have Black’s wand but no report to accompany it.” She put the wand down and then plucked a dirty jar from the box. “And Peter Pettigrew’s remains.”
Dumbledore’s mouth dropped open. “Pardon me?”
“His finger is preserved in this jar.” She wiggled it a bit then put it down on the table. “There is no trial transcript, no interview transcript, and no record of conviction. Sirius Black was given a life sentence in Azkaban by Barty Crouch, Sr.” She pulled out a single piece of parchment and waved it. “Using his wartime prosecution powers to act on this body’s behalf without any sort of oversight. I’m forced to wonder just how many people he put in Azkaban without a trial and if they were even guilty of the crimes he accused them of.”
They had roughly ten seconds of precious silence before the entire room exploded into chaos.
* * * *
“Lord Black, if you would stand and come with me,” the warden asked as he opened the door.
Sirius rose from the floor and pushed back his filthy hair. His grandfather’s cloak fell around his body, hiding the dirty prison clothes he was wearing. He stepped forward, and Umbridge took a hesitant step back.
“Your kindness toward my grandfather on his final day will not be forgotten,” Sirius said quietly. He glanced back at his cell as he stepped out of it. “I won’t be returning to this place.”
The warden took a deep breath. “You’re completely innocent then. That’s the rumor.”
“I imagine you’ll find a place to watch the proceedings,” Sirius said. “If you’re betting man—bet on me—you won’t be disappointed.”
A glint of amusement flickered in the man’s eyes as he motioned Sirius to walk with him. “I am, indeed, a betting man. The odds aren’t in your favor.”
“They never have been,” Sirius said.
Umbridge nodded as they walked. “I asked once, about your case, because you don’t seem as damaged by the dementors as the rest.” They both glanced toward Bellatrix’s cell as they walked. The witch was trying to shove her face through the bars of the cell door, but fortunately, she’d been silenced.
“The dementors never bothered me much,” Sirius said. “I guess I wasn’t a satisfying meal.”
“Fucking things,” the warden muttered. “Apologies for my language, my Lord.”
“The Umbridge family is a cadet branch of the House of Black.”
“As are many,” Umbridge said in agreement. “Not everyone cares about such things, but I do. The world would be a better place, in my opinion, if people were a little more loyal to family. Barty Crouch, Sr has already been arrested. If he’d had a little more respect for the House of Black, he wouldn’t have put you in here without a bloody trial.” He cleared his throat as they walked out of the cellblock and down a hall toward a staircase. “I have a portkey that will take you to St. Mungo’s. You’ll meet Madam Bones in the morning, and she’ll escort you personally to the ministry. She’s the current director of the DMLE. You’ll have guards for your own protection.”
“And to prevent me from escaping.”
“No, my Lord, that isn’t an issue. You’re no longer a prisoner as you’ve not been convicted of or charged with a crime. You’ll be taken to a hearing regarding the crimes you were accused of 1981. Amelia Bones is handling the investigation personally, but it’s already leaked out of the DMLE that your wand, which was taken into evidence, has proven you didn’t fire the curse that caused the explosion. Truth be known, my Lord, that witch is utterly furious on your behalf. She’s already arrested Barty Crouch, as I said, and the only reason Fudge isn’t sitting in a cell with him is that he’s the current Minister for Magic.”
“Yes, I recall, he came by my cell to gloat about his election,” Sirius reminded and grinned just a little when the warden flushed with shame. “Relax, Humphrey, as I said, your consideration toward my grandfather has certainly worked in your favor.”
Sirius took a deep breath as the sun hit his face. He hadn’t been allowed outside at all during his imprisonment. “One of my goals in the years to come will be prison reform. This place is not…honestly, even Bellatrix deserves better, and she’s crazier than a shite house rat.”
“Certainly,” Umbridge agreed. “If she weren’t so dangerous, she’d be much better suited to the mental damage wing of St. Mungo’s. Though I doubt there is a way to cure what ails her.”
“No, she’s insane,” Sirius murmured.
Umbridge offered him a piece of rope, and Sirius wrapped his hand around it. The portkey hooked them, and the magic took him from Azkaban Island. He would be damned if he ever returned.
* * * *
“Your family magic has been kind to you since you assumed the title,” the healer murmured as he wrote in a slim bound book that had the name Sirius Black, Earl of Blackmoor embossed on it. “You have some nutritional issues, Lord Black, as you might have already suspected. The diet in prison isn’t really designed to keep your magic healthy.”
“No, if anything, it’s designed to make a person’s magic atrophy,” Sirius said shortly and focused on his hands.
He was truly clean for the first time in a decade. The guards would come through the cell block once a fortnight and throw cleaning charms at them, but that wasn’t the same as an actual bath. The mediwizard who had helped him clean up had even trimmed his nails.
“I need to perform a few more spells,” the healer said. “The Wizengamot has requested a battery of tests regarding the settlement of your family magic and the title.”
“No,” Sirius said. “Absolutely not. The state of my family magic is private and none of their damn business.”
The healer made a note. “You have the right to decline such testing here, but I can’t say what will be ordered by the court during the hearing.”
“I’ll deal with that when the time comes,” Sirius said and finally turned to stare at the healer. “We’ve met—you’re familiar.”
“We were at Hogwarts together,” the man said. “I was in Ravenclaw.”
“The youngest son of the House of Wright.”
“The only son, thanks to Voldemort,” the healer said, and his lips pressed together tightly when Sirius didn’t flinch. “I have been ordered by the DMLE to look for the Dark Mark. They have an order from the Wizengamot regarding that issue, and neither of us can legally protest it.”
Sirius unbuttoned his pajama top and shrugged it off. “He preferred the arm I was told, but sometimes he hid marks in other areas on the torso closer to the magical core.”
“Who told you that?”
“My cousin, Bellatrix, bragged extensively about being marked when it happened. She hoped for a more intimate marking herself—one of over her left breast to be specific. She fancied herself in love with Voldemort, and her marriage to Lestrange did little to dissuade her on that front. Her marked her left arm, as he did most, which she found deeply disappointing.” Sirius grimaced. “I doubt she ever said as much to him though as he would’ve killed her for daring to want for more than he gave her.”
Wright frowned as he started to work. “I mean no insult to your house, Lord Black, but I wish she had been so bold. It would’ve saved countless lives, including my brother’s.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Sirius murmured. “I won’t apologize on her behalf because even before insanity took her—she wouldn’t have meant it, and it would have no value at all. There was a time when she was very small that I adored her. I can barely stand to think about what she became due to her marriage to Lestrange and their affiliation with Voldemort.”
“He seemed to specialize in the destruction of families,” Wright said. “And apparently didn’t care how he accomplished it.” His shoulders loosened as he started to cast a new set of spells. “Your aura is pristine—despite your time in Azkaban. I would’ve expected to see at least some damage due to dementor exposure.” He lowered his wand. “You don’t have the Dark Mark.”
“Of course not,” Sirius said roughly. “I wouldn’t have taken a knee for that evil son of a bitch for any reason. Better to die in the light than die a coward fighting for his bullshite.” He glanced toward the door at the sharp knock and frowned. “I said I didn’t want visitors.”
“I listed it in your records for the ward,” Wright said and returned to his writing. “I have a privacy seal on the door that can only be opened in an emergency. If it’s forced, security will come.” He cleared his throat. “I should warn you that the Wizengamot can petition to receive access to your medical records. I haven’t noted your Myrddin level in your file as most consider such information a very private matter.”
“Thank you.” He pulled his top back on and buttoned it with steady fingers. “I haven’t checked my rating in a very long time. I was hovering just below 1000 before I was arrested.”
“You’ve had a core expansion due to the assumption magical burden regarding your family magic,” Wright explained. “1482. Fortunately, you were magically mature at the time of your incarceration. It probably did a lot to protect your magic.”
“My maturation happened just a few months before I went to prison,” Sirius said and took a deep breath. “I don’t want it listed in the file—it’s on par with most of my family, but many would just consider it another factor in my ability to be dark.”
“You’ve never performed an act of dark magic in your life,” Wright said. “It’s clear as day in your aura, should anyone bother to look.”
“Most never bothered,” Sirius said and frowned when there was another knock on the door. “Looks like I have a persistent visitor.”
“I can have whoever it is escorted out of the building.”
“It’s probably Albus Dumbledore,” Sirius said wryly and laughed briefly when Wright winced. “It’s fine. I wouldn’t want you to risk your job to keep him at bay. I can handle one old meddler.”
Wright nodded and stood. He closed the book and tucked it into his robe pocket. “It is to your benefit, I believe, to know that every single spell cast in this ward is logged by security.” He checked his watch. “I’ll return within the half-hour with a few potions that I’d like you to take. Would a Dreamless Sleep potion be prudent?”
“It’ll be the first night I’ve slept without dementors for a decade,” Sirius admitted. “While I’d prefer a natural sleep, I’d rather not have nightmares all night considering what I face in the Wizengamot tomorrow.”
“I’ll bring a mild dose—not enough to force sleep but enough to calm your mind while you sleep.” Wright crossed the room, broke the privacy seal, and opened the door. “Headmaster Dumbledore, this is a private room, and Lord Black has requested no visitors.”
“As Chief Warlock, I feel compelled to visit Lord Black and evaluate his mental state in regards to the proposed hearing.”
“Is that so?” Wright questioned. “I received notification from the House of Lords that I should be prepared to give testimony regarding Lord Black’s fitness to attend the hearing.”
Dumbledore smiled. “Humor an old man, Healer Wright.”
Wright glanced back toward him, and after a moment, Sirius just nodded. He knew that Dumbledore would get his way, and it was just easier to let him think he was as persuasive as he assumed himself to be. Sirius focused on the signet ring as Wright left, and Dumbledore pulled the door closed.
Dumbledore pulled a chair from the wall and carried it across the room to sit beside Sirius’ bed. “My boy, first, I must apologize. As you must know, it’s become clear to everyone you were never given a trial and had no opportunity to defend your actions against young Peter.”
Young Peter, Sirius thought crossly. “I’m happy to finally be allowed a hearing.”
“Would you be willing to speak of the events now with me?”
“No.” Sirius shook his head and ignored the shocked look on Dumbledore’s face. “I only want to speak of it once. I’m sure you understand.”
Dumbledore sighed. “Then, we must discuss the process that will take place tomorrow. Since it was unknown that you improperly claimed the Blackmoor title, Lucius Malfoy attempted to claim it on his son’s behalf as young Draco is the next in line. Of course, the Wizengamot denied his claim, declared his actions fraudulent, and the court itself is in a state of limbo that must be addressed before we can do start a hearing to investigate your circumstances. Since you do stand accused of the mass murder of thirteen people, you cannot sit in your own seat within the Wizengamot to appease the magic of the court. You’ll need to declare a legal proxy to act on behalf of the House of Black.”
“I understand,” Sirius said.
“I have several excellent options for you to choose from,” Dumbledore continued. “They’ve all volunteered to help resolve this matter and work in your best interests.” He removed a folded piece of parchment and offered it.
Sirius took it, and his ring vibrated very gently against his skin as it fought off whatever magic Dumbledore had put on the parchment. A compelling charm probably, Sirius thought as he read the list. “Arthur Weasley, Dedalus Diggle, Elphias Doge, and Kingsley Shacklebolt.” He cleared his throat. “Shacklebolt wasn’t part of the Order.”
“He will be if we have to have to form it again,” Dumbledore said. “I trust him implicitly. He works as an auror, which some would consider a conflict of interest, but he is from an ancient house, and he believes strongly in justice.”
Sirius nodded, folded the parchment, and put it on the nightstand. “Thank you for a list—I really didn’t know who had survived and who hadn’t.” He rearranged his blankets with trembling hands. He was so furious that he could hardly breathe. “I might not recognize anyone in the crowd—the dementors have done a number on my memory. Some events are vivid, while others are hazy and uncertain.”
“It is to be expected, my boy,” Dumbledore said gently. “Continuous exposure to dementors cloud the mind.”
Sirius wanted to rip his head off. His ring shifted with his intent, and he realized he could use it as a magical focus. He’d never been told that so it must be a Lord’s secret. “Where’s Harry? Is he well? He’ll start Hogwarts this year, right?”
“He’s to be invited in the summer to start next school year,” Dumbledore said with a small smile. “The professors and I are looking forward to his arrival. He lives in the Muggle world with relatives. I’ve looked in on him from time to time over the years. He looks like James and unfortunately seems to take his approach to academics.”
Sirius just nodded as he was afraid if he said a single word he would explode.
“He’s very happy with his Muggle family, Sirius. I hope you’ll take that into consideration in the months to come,” Dumbledore said and stood. He glanced toward the parchment. “May I know your selection for the proxy?”
“I’m uncertain—I need to think about it,” Sirius said hoarsely. “Will they all be in attendance?”
“Of course, it will be a very well-attended event. The ministry has received notifications of several hundred international portkeys,” Dumbledore explained. “I will be at your disposal over the next few weeks if things go as I expect them to. You’ll need help adjusting to life outside of that terrible place.”
“No doubts regarding my innocence?” Sirius asked.
Dumbledore stood. “Amelia Bones has made it clear already that you didn’t cast the curse that caused the explosion. As to the Potters, failing to be a proper and loyal friend is no crime at all.”
Sirius’ mouth dropped open as Dumbledore turned and left without another word. He wondered what sort of angle the old man would use to keep Harry away from him, and now he knew. Being the decoy Secret Keeper had already cost him so much that he knew he couldn’t allow that to continue to be an issue.
The door opened, and to his shock, his cousin, Narcissa, slipped into the room. Elegant as he ever, he thought, but there was an edge of cruelty in the small, shrewd smile she offered him.
“Bribe the guards?”
“The Chief Warlock approved my visit,” she said primly. “He was leaving as I arrived. He said you would enjoy a visit from family.”
Sirius didn’t know how that would serve the old bastard, but he figured Dumbledore was trying to play up to the Malfoys in case they were able to wrestle the title away from him. He motioned toward the chair the old bastard had left behind. “Sit.”
She blinked at the order but did as instructed. “Has the healer assigned to your case treated you well? If not, I can lodge a complaint on your behalf.”
“He’s fine,” Sirius said shortly. “You have the one child?”
“Yes, my son Draco,” she smiled then. “He’s excited to meet you and looks forward to learning the responsibilities of being your heir, my Lord.” She set aside her handbag and clasped her hands in her lap. “I’ve arranged for a solicitor to represent you in the hearing tomorrow, pending your approval, of course.”
“I won’t be able to meet with anyone of that nature before tomorrow,” Sirius said.
He had no intention of allowing anyone his cousin would hire to represent him and wouldn’t be at all surprised to find there was no one. Fortunately, he knew enough about procedure and wizarding law to represent himself in the hearing though he doubted anyone would consider that. Most had probably forgotten he’d been precariously close to achieving his mastery in law before he was incarcerated.
“I’ll make sure he’s brought up to speed,” Narcissa promised.
“Are you marked?” Sirius asked baldly and raised an eyebrow when she blinked in surprise.
“No, my Lord, grandfather made it clear he would have nothing to do with any member of his family that took the Dark Mark.” Her hands clenched so tightly that her already pale fingers whitened further.
“Are you happy in your marriage?”
“Very much so,” she said. “Lucius is a good husband to me.”
Sirius very much doubted that. Lucius Malfoy was a vicious bastard, and he doubted the years had mellowed him at all. Still, his cousin had married for love, and perhaps he was good to her after some fashion or another. Or at least, Narcissa’s version of good. Her upbringing had been no less emotionally abusive than his own, so there was every reason to believe she was just used to being treated like shite.
“Your son will start Hogwarts in the fall.”
“Yes, he turns eleven in May. He’s very excited and has already talked me into purchasing several textbooks for him. I’ve been able to talk him out of a wand purchase for the time being, but he’s been using a family wand at home under supervision. He’s very talented.”
Sirius had received similar instruction at home so he could just imagine what sort of dark shite the kid had already been taught. He really couldn’t do anything about that and didn’t particularly care to. He was going to disown Narcissa and her son at the first opportunity. Purging the darkness from the House of Black was paramount as he didn’t want any of that to taint Harry.
He rubbed the back of his ring with this thumb. Throughout the day, he’d received emotional impressions of his son—amusement, irritation, and excitement around noon that told him that his school had served something he enjoyed at lunch. Shortly after four, he’d lost all of those impressions which told him the boy had gone to some warded structure. Dumbledore had placed wards on Petunia’s home, which should’ve been a relief, but it left Sirius with nothing but concern. Not being able to feel the condition of his heir now that he’d had that brief connection was infuriating.
“Have you been told about the proxy situation?”
“Yes, Dumbledore decided to brief me personally on that issue,” Sirius said and glanced toward the parchment. “And provided me with a list of volunteers.”
Narcissa grimaced. “I can’t say I’d agree with any choice he’d offer, my Lord. Dumbledore’s incompetence has already done quite a bit of damage to the House of Black. Lucius has researched the matter of proxy power thoroughly as he planned to stand for Draco. He would be an excellent choice to act on your behalf during the hearing.”
“I would assume the pending fraud charges regarding his false claim would prevent that,” Sirius said dryly.
“It was a mistake,” Narcissa said hurriedly. “I was told years ago that you’d been disowned. I do hope you’ll be willing to dismiss those charges.”
“There’s no need to involve the Wizengamot in family business,” Sirius said by way of agreement and just smiled when she relaxed. “Have you spoken with Andi recently?”
Her mouth fell to a flat line. “No, my Lord, I’ve not spoken to my sister since the day she married that mudblood. I tried to talk her out of it…but she wouldn’t see reason. Andromeda was a selfish child and became no better an adult. She’s incapable of putting the family first. Her daughter is at Hogwarts—a metamorphmagus. It’s terrible such talent was wasted on a half-blood. I heard, through a third party, that the girl wants to be an auror of all things.”
Sirius honestly had no love for the auror department, so he wasn’t sure how he felt about the girl’s goals either, but that was really no concern of his. Andromeda Tonks might not be a Death Eater, but she was, in a way, just as bad since she was an ardent supporter of Dumbledore. Sirius was fast considering Riddle and Dumbledore to be two sides of the same dark coin.
“She has time to make a different decision,” Sirius said neutrally. “I would certainly prefer she made a more considered career choice, but she’s not a Black, so in the end, whatever Andi’s child chooses to do with her life has precious little meaning to me.”
Narcissa nodded. “You don’t intend to bring Andi back into the family then?”
“I’ll make decisions regarding such things after a discussion with her,” Sirius said shortly. “I’m tired, cousin, and wish to sleep.”
Narcissa retrieved her bag and stood. “Of course, my Lord. I will see you in the morning. May I bring Draco to the hearing so that you can meet him afterward?”
“No, the content of the hearing may be quite graphic and upsetting considering the charges,” Sirius said. “No judgment regarding your parenting, but I wouldn’t want my child exposed to a discussion about mass murder.”
She flushed. “Yes, I…I hadn’t considered that.” She gave him a nod and left.
Sirius slouched back against his pillows and exhaled loudly as the door opened again. Healer Wright entered with a tray of potions which was going to be a torture all on its own. He’d rarely encountered a potion that didn’t taste terrible.
“Ready to poison me?”
“Hardly, my Lord,” Wright murmured. “I’d never do such a ridiculous thing while I’m working. My every single move is magically monitored.”
Sirius snorted, then laughed, and watched the healer set the tray on the bedside table. Dumbledore’s list fluttered to the floor, and Wright picked it up. The man’s face tightened with obvious fury almost immediately.
“What is this?”
“Dumbledore gave me a list of potential proxies to choose from that he approved of him. My ring prevented the compulsion charm he placed on it from impacting me. I have no idea who his preferred choice is and certainly won’t pick anyone from the list.”
Wright flicked the parchment toward a trash bin across the room, and it sailed away. “If it would do a damn bit of good, I would file a complaint.”
“Not a fan?”
“Of Dumbledore?” Wright questioned. “No, I never have been. I barely managed to finish Hogwarts as a result. I considered going abroad for school multiple times during my tenure there, but my parents were adamant that I needed to be educated there. I attended the International Academy for my healing mastery—a choice I could make without their input. Otherwise, I’d have probably ended up apprenticed to some fool in here in Britain for decades.” He offered the first potion. “Muscle and bone shoring—you’ll need extensive healing to recover completely.”
Sirius took the potion, let his ring evaluate it then downed it. He took six potions, and Wright was careful to explain each one in detail, which he appreciated since potions had never been his thing. He’d hated the class at Hogwarts.
“I’ve closed the ward for visitors,” Wright said as he cast cleansing charms on all the potion vials. “The mediwitch on duty is named Mari, and she’s good. She won’t allow anyone to violate the visitation protocols. In the morning, I’ll be on hand to review your condition one more time before you’re taken to the Wizengamot. I’ll be sleeping in the ward in the case of an emergency, so don’t hesitate to ask Mari for me if you require my attention.”
Sirius raised an eyebrow, and the other man flushed. “Your first name is Zale, right? Your brother was Luca.”
“Yes,” Zale said and cleared his throat. “William Luca, but he preferred his middle name as our father was also named William.” He straightened his cuff briefly. “It’s difficult to talk about him.”
“Regulus,” Zale murmured. “I remember him. He made a terrible choice. I’m sorry it got him killed.”
Sirius nodded. “He was a silly kid and never got a chance to be anything different. I blame my parents as much as I blame Voldemort. Thank you for your attendance today, I appreciate it.”
“Of course, my Lord,” Wright said and with a quick nod, left.
He pushed magic against the ring and felt an echo of Harry’s push back in return. Not quite the robust connection he’d had earlier in the day, as he received no emotional feedback, but it was better than nothing. He’d refrained from sending any sort of emotional impressions to the boy because he figured the sudden appearance of a ring on his finger had been enough of a shock. In retrospect, pushing the ring to his son hadn’t been the best decision, but he’d allowed his desperate desire to make a connection to Harry lead the way. Sirius wasn’t even entirely sure how much the kid knew about magic.
“Servants of the House of Black appear before me.”
Two distinct pops revealed a male and female elf. He was deeply disappointed to see that Kreacher was still alive. From the dirty look the elf gave him, the feeling was mutual. He focused on the girl. “Your name?”
“I am Nia, Lord Black,” she smiled. “Master Arcturus told me to expect your call. I keep Thestral Downs clean for you so you can come home like he said you would.”
Kreacher crossed his arms and looked away from them both.
“Kreacher, the family magic is telling me that you’re damaged,” Sirius said and raised an eyebrow when the elf frowned at him. “You will go to the bank immediately and seek healing with the dverger. You will remain at the bank until you are deemed magically and mentally well. I will expect communication from the healer assigned to your case within forty-eight hours.”
Kreacher glared and popped away without a word.
“Kreacher bad elf,” Nia said baldly. “Not fit to be elf for the Earl of Blackmoor.”
“He’s been in the family for many decades,” Sirius pointed out. “It would be an unkindness on my part to release him from service.”
“He be real happy if you put his head on the wall, my Lord,” Nia said and rolled her eyes.
“You can call me Sirius in private,” he said.
“As you say, Master Sirius,” Nia agreed.
“I need clothes for the Wizengamot, and I would like a bath. I’ve showered, but a soak in a tub would a relief. I have some muscle and bones aches due to the healing, and I’ve refused any pain relief potions to keep my mind sharp.”
Nia nodded. “Master Sirius same height as Master Arcturus. I can fit his clothes to you—if you not mind? It be difficult to get anything else this time of day without a tailor.”
“His wardrobe is fine for the time being,” Sirius assured. “I know I’ve inherited the entire estate.”
“Master Arcturus not want that jumped-up prick to get any of his stuff,” Nia declared.
“Jumped-up prick?” Sirius questioned with amusement, and Nia climbed up onto the end of the bed.
“Let me be telling you all about Lucy trying to claim the title!” She hugged her knees and started.
* * * *
His fingers wouldn’t work quite right. He let the gold silk fall around his neck and wondered if he could get away with not wearing it.
“If you would allow me?”
Sirius turned and found Healer Wright standing just to his left. The scans had already been accomplished, and the man had been updating the report for the court when Sirius had walked to the mirror to finish dressing.
Wright stepped forward and quickly tied the cravat, tucked it into place, and buttoned Sirius’ waistcoat. “Good work on the beard—neat, distinguished.”
“My house elf did it for me.” He ran a hand through his hair. “She trimmed up my hair as well. I thought short would be better, but she said it wasn’t the fashion.”
“The long hair suits you,” Wright said. “I keep mine short due to my work.” He cleared his throat. “Frankly, you look a hundred times better than anyone would expect you to. It will be startling to many.”
“The family magic was very kind,” Sirius said. “My grandfather was ill for a long time, and his control of the magic started to diminish.”
“Ancient magics prefer a strong and fit patriarch,” Wright agreed. “The fit is excellent.” He straightened Sirius’ collar. “Your house elf is very talented.”
“She’s been with the family for generations,” Sirius admitted. “I’ll be the third earl she’s directly served. Her connection to the family magic is quite robust as a result.”
“Happy to serve then,” Zale said. “It makes a difference though many don’t believe that.” He cleared his throat and stepped back. “I’ve cleaned the cloak you were brought in with—so it’s ready to go as well. I’ll retrieve it.” He paused. “It took several charms to accomplish it.”
Sirius laughed. “Thank you very much.”
“I wasn’t able to leave the building, or I would’ve retrieved clothes for you. I’d hoped that one of your visitors would see if to see you properly attired, but clearly, that didn’t occur to either of them.” He frowned and looked away as if to hide his irritation. “Amelia Bones is here and will be escorting you to the Wizengamot. I’ve made it clear that she can’t put magical suppression cuffs on you. She didn’t bring any, but I wanted her to acknowledge my recommendation as a healer. Your magic doesn’t need that sort of strain. The shoring up I’ve done is a short-term solution. After everything is resolved, you’ll need to spend several months recovering from your ordeal in Azkaban.”
“You’re pretty confident I’ll walk free.”
“I’ve had a very intimate view of your magic, Lord Black,” the healer murmured. “I’ve seen the blood adoption connection of your godson. We already know you didn’t commit mass murder on purpose or by accident. And I know for certain you didn’t betray the Potters—it would’ve killed you to commit such a crime against your own heir.” He cleared his throat. “I’ll retrieve the cloak.”
Sirius stood where he was as the healer left him. Nia appeared at his side dressed in a simple black dress. “You’ll stay close.”
“Of course, Master Sirius. No one will see me unless need be.” She frowned. “You not be going back to that terrible place—I’ll be kicking all of their bums first!”
He laughed, and she disappeared with a flustered huff as the door opened again, and Zale Wright returned with his cloak.
“Just an amusing picture,” Sirius said and accepted the cloak. He held the fabric in both hands—velvet, fur, and silk—black with gold accessories. Not really his aesthetic, but he knew he’d never want to part with it. “My grandfather gave it to me—when he visited me in Azkaban just before he died.”
“It’s a very pointed reminder of your wealth and power,” Zale said. “Don’t let anyone in that room forget who you are, my Lord.”
“Dumbledore said my claiming was improper.”
“As if he has a right to have an opinion about such a thing,” Wright muttered. “He has no respect for family magic. Not a surprise since his father’s actions and subsequent imprisonment destroyed the Dumbledore family magic before either of his minor sons could claim it. It’s telling that neither of the brothers left bothered to father children to continue the line.”
“Do you think that’s the root of his behavior?”
“He’s an arsehole,” Wright muttered. “Who cares what his motivations are?” He sighed when Sirius laughed. “I’ll be in court to deliver my report if it’s required. As I’ve already said, you need extensive healing, and you’ll want to engage a private individual to handle that so your medical records won’t be subject to ministry review by an order from the Wizengamot. Dumbledore makes a habit of such requests—not something the average citizen in Britain knows, but he seems to think that no one needs privacy but himself.”
“I understand.” He offered Wright his hand and smiled when the man didn’t hesitate to take it. “Thank you.”
“Good luck, Lord Black.”
Amelia Bones was waiting for him when Wright opened the door. She raised one eyebrow as she glanced him over. She sighed. “You always were a pretty bastard.”
“It’s good to see you, Amie,” Sirius said. “Here to keep me from running away?”
“You’d have every right to do so,” Amelia said. “I’m here to keep someone from killing you. The noble houses are up in arms over the fraudulent claim and your lack of a trial. Emotions are running high. Is that cloak charmed at all for personal security?”
“It is,” Wright interjected. “It will deflect hexes easily. It would take several very robust piercing curses to penetrate the outer layer, and it is lined with dragonhide. The hood is also lined.”
Bones nodded. “Where did you get it?”
“My grandfather brought it to me when I was in Azkaban,” Sirius said and watched her process that. “The day before he died.”
Understanding sparked in her eyes. “I see. I want you to know he could’ve come to me with his questions and doubts regarding your situation. I would’ve taken him seriously. His gifts were no secret to me. My own grandfather spoke of Arcturus Black often with fondness.”
Sirius nodded. “In the end, he chose the path that he believed had the highest rate of success. I think we can both trust he considered other paths to this day with care.” He pulled the hood to the cloak over his head to cover most of his face. “Good?”
“It’s for the best. I’ve had a special portkey created that will deposit us as close to the Wizengamot chambers as possible, but we have a small walk from the landing zone.” She offered the same sort of rope the warden had used to remove him from Azkaban, and after a slight hesitation, he wrapped a hand around it.
The hook was pretty sharp, but the portkey dropped them gently on their feet in a foyer not far from the main Wizengamot chamber. Sirius followed Amelia Bones without discussion and shortly found himself seated at a table on the main floor of the chamber. He lowered the hood and ignored the gasps of shock from the audience. There was a second empty chair at the table where the solicitor Narcissa had promised should’ve been seated. He wasn’t at all concerned.
“Lord Black, there is no solicitor of record for the House of Black currently,” Dumbledore said as he settled himself in his seat high up in the member’s area. “I’ll call the session to order and assign one to your case.”
“No need,” a voice called out from the audience. Sirius turned and watched Tyson McGregor, the younger brother of Lord McGregor, stand. “It would be my honor to represent the new Lord Black.” He focused on Sirius. “If that is quite all right with the earl?”
Sirius nodded and turned just in time to watch Dumbledore grimace slightly at the development. Tyson McGregor joined him at the table quickly the signaled the court clerk for a copy of whatever brief had already been passed around the member houses. Sirius had noted he hadn’t received one—he didn’t know if it was merely an oversight or just the beginning of the issues he’d face during the process.
Dumbledore cleared his throat. “Lord Black, it appears that I cannot open a new session because the last session is still open due to the fraudulent claim. You’ll have to declare a proper proxy to sit in your place as a member.”
Sirius glanced around the room, taking note of the people that were on Dumbledore’s list, and paused just briefly on Lucius Malfoy before moving on. If they’d wanted him to even consider him an option, they should’ve followed through with the solicitor offer. Not that he would’ve trusted anyone his cousin provided, but that was neither here nor there. Finally, he focused on the section of the audience where the international visitors had been placed. He’d seen Armand Deering sitting on the front row when he’d first entered the room.
Deering was glaring at him. Not a surprise, Sirius thought, the man probably thought him responsible for the death of James. Not many people knew that Armand Deering was James Potter’s godfather. James had required permission from his father directly to even tell Sirius. He hadn’t learned the truth as to why until after he’d gone to live with the Potters.
“Master Armand Deering will stand as the proxy of the House of Black unless he’d prefer not.”
Deering shifted forward slightly with a frown; anger disappeared from his face only to be replaced by confusion.
“Lord Black, Master Deering is a dark wizard…” Dumbledore trailed off when Sirius focused on him and raised a single hand.
“With all due respect, Chief Warlock, it is no concern of yours who I choose to represent me in this matter. My choice is Armand Deering.”
Deering stood, left the audience section, and walked to the stairs that lead up to the lord’s section. The door to the Black box popped open before he even reached it, and the audience teetered in shock at the eagerness of the Wizengamot to accept Deering’s proxy.
“I, Armand James Deering, agree to act as the lawful proxy of the ancient and noble House of Black until which time the Earl of Blackmoor can handle his own affairs.” He sat down and inclined his head in Sirius’ direction while Dumbledore stared in shock.
Lucius Malfoy stood. “Since the previous session is still active, I must, at this point, protest the claiming of the Blackmoor title by Sirius Orion Black. He was disowned by his parents in 1975 and lost all right to the title. He has stolen my son’s birthright.”
“Lord Black, do you have anything to defend your improper claiming?” Dumbledore questioned.
Sirius stood. “No member of the House of Malfoy has the legal right to protest my claiming of the earldom of Blackmoor, Chief Warlock. My parents did disown me in 1975, but my father was never in line to be the earl. I was chosen from my birth as the heir of Arcturus Black. There was nothing improper about my claiming.
“My grandfather brought the heir ring to Azkaban the day he died to reaffirm my position as his heir. He used the last moments of his life to pass not only the title but control of the Black family magic to me. No one in this room has the right to gainsay his choice in this matter. He knew, you see, that I’d never been convicted of a crime, and there was no legal reason whatsoever to deny me my birthright.” He glanced toward Malfoy and found him red-faced with fury. “I don’t care what this jumped-up prick has to say about it.” He offered Esmeralda Worth a wink when she snorted indelicately.
Dumbledore exhaled noisily. “Yes, well, you should’ve tried to seek help for your circumstances…”
“Chief Warlock, I must protest!” Lucius shouted.
“Enough,” Deering snapped and leaned forward in the Black box when Lucius hissed. “As the proxy of the House of Black, I declare you guilty of fraud against your wife’s magical house. The fine is 5,000 galleons to be paid within the next twenty-four hours to the Black trust. The attempted line theft charge will be dismissed as it could actually only have legal standing against your son, and he’s a minor. Shut up and sit the fuck down, Malfoy. I have my doubts about Sirius Black, and I’ll see those doubts put to rest today. I have no doubts, whatsoever, that you’re a goddamned Death Eater, so don’t give me more of a reason to hunt you down like a dog and cut your head off.”
“Master Deering,” Dumbledore snapped.
Deering sat back in his chair and lit an herbal. “I’d tell you to suck my dick, Dumbledore, but you’ve honestly not earned the privilege. Let’s get this shiteshow started before I lose my patience.”
Sirius sat down in the shocked silence that followed.
Tyson McGregor blew air out between his lips and folded his hands in front of him. “Madam Bones, I’m ready for you to present any evidence you have against my client.”
Amelia Bones flicked her hand around over the table in front of her. “As the court already knows, all I have is a finger, a few improbable witness statements, and a wand that proves your client didn’t fire the blasting curse that saw thirteen people killed. Based on the single forensic scan done at the scene, I’ve concluded that based on physical location alone, Peter Pettigrew himself fired the curse that destroyed the street. He killed himself, in his attempt to escape Lord Black, and killed twelve Muggles in the process. I can’t in good conscience recommend a single charge be filed against Lord Back in regards to this matter.”
“He was chasing Peter Pettigrew,” Dumbledore stated. “And cornered him on the street. Had Lord Black not been so aggressive with Peter, then he wouldn’t have responded the way he did. Lord Black is well known for his recklessness, and thirteen people paid the price for it.”
“It’s not a crime to be reckless,” Bones said flatly. “But you bring up an interesting point. I’d like to question Lord Black regarding his pursuit of Pettigrew.”
“Lord Black is not legally competent to testify due to his time in Azkaban,” Dumbledore said smoothly.
“He’ll testify,” Deering snapped. “Under Veritaserum. I told you, Dumbledore, I’m getting the facts today. We deserve to know the truth. The International Confederation of Wizards is going to sanction Britain heavily for placing Black in prison without a trial. It’s a crime against humanity per their organization—a fact you know well since you sit at the bloody head of it! They’ll tear Azkaban apart for this, and I doubt Black was the only person thrown in jail by Barty Crouch without a trial. Today, we’re going to start paying for his crimes, and we’ll pay for a very long time to come.”
“He’s not healthy enough for such a thing,” Dumbledore protested.
Sirius started to speak, but McGregor put a hand on his arm as he stood.
“Chief Warlock, Lord Black’s healer of record is here in this room and can speak to his health and ability to testify in his own defense.” He turned and focused on Zale Wright, who was seated amongst those in the ancient houses. “Healer Wright?”
Wright stood and activated his seal so he could speak. “I submitted a report to the Chief Warlock this morning, indicating that Lord Black is both sound of mind and body. He is not in perfect health, and no one would expect him to be considering his circumstances, but he is more than capable of taking the stand in his own defense. Lord Black can also testify under Veritaserum, but I would like to monitor him personally during the administration of the potion. He’s magically robust due to the claiming of his title, but he’s gone over ten years without a wand to influence and modulate his magic. As a result, his magic is quite feral and could be influenced by his emotional state.”
“And his emotional state is the reason I believe testifying is a mistake,” Dumbledore said sternly.
Deering focused on Sirius. “Lad, can you testify?”
“I believe so, yes,” Sirius said. “There is nothing I could be asked today that I’ve not asked myself thousands of times over the last decade.”
“He’ll testify,” Deering said. “Amelia Bones and Tyson McGregor will ask the questions, and if anyone else dares ask a single question of Lord Black while he’s under the influence of Veritaserum, I will curse the shite out of them. I reserve the right to mute Lord Black should he be asked to discuss anything that could be considered the private business of his magical house.”
“There is no need for Madam Bones to handle the questioning in this hearing, Master Deering. There are no formal charges to be filed.”
“I don’t bloody care,” Deering said. “My terms have been stated, and I will not amend them.” He pointed at Dumbledore with his slim herbal cigar. “Don’t try to play games with me, Albus, I know my rights as the proxy to an ancient and noble house.”
“I have no problem handling the questions for the ministry,” Amelia Bones interjected. “I’ve reviewed all the gathered materials from the Pettigrew scene and the Potter’s house in Godric’s Hollow, Chief Warlock.”
Sirius watched Dumbledore adjust to their circumstances and found himself reluctantly amused. Watching the old meddler flounder around due to the manipulations of others was quite entertaining.
“Lord Black, if you will take the stand? The magical dampening and truth charms on the chair have not changed in over a decade, so you shouldn’t be subject to anything you’re unaware of,” Dumbledore said and shifted around a pile of parchments. “Madam Forth, if you would prepare the Wizengamot’s archive to record Lord Black’s testimony for the record. The ICW will want a certified copy of this proceeding for their investigation.”
“I’ve been documenting since you asked Lord Black to declare his proxy,” Forth said dryly. “Since the last damn session never ended.”
Dumbledore flushed and motioned Sirius forward. “Lord Black?”
Sirius stood and shed the cloak. He unbuttoned his suit coat and straightened his waistcoat as he walked toward the stand. He sat down and put his wand hand on the oath stone. “I swear before Lady Magic the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
The stone lit with gold light under his hand as the Wizengamot accepted his oath. Amelia Bones stepped forward, and Sirius noticed that Healer Wright had joined her. She had a small vial of Veritaserum in hand.
“Chief Warlock, I secured this Veritaserum yesterday and had it sealed by Croaker, the head of the Unspeakables, to make certain the potion provided to Lord Black would be untainted and the appropriate dosage. Would you like to check it?”
“Your word has always been good enough for me, Madam Bones,” Dumbledore said. “Does anyone wish to verify the contents?”
Sirius wasn’t surprised at all when Deering lit the Black seal. Several people around the room gaped in shock at the older man. He figured many were wondering what the hell he could’ve been thinking to make Deering his proxy. Bones crossed the room and presented her hand, palm up. The potion vial glinted with magic. Deering drew his wand, performed several charms, and nodded his approval.
“Nothing personal, Madam Bones.”
“No offense was taken, Master Deering,” Bones said crisply.
Sirius allowed her to tip the potion into his mouth and closed his eyes briefly as the artificial calm induced by the potion settled onto his mind.
“State your name for the record.”
“Sirius Orion Black, Earl of Blackmoor,” Sirius said.
“Did you fire the blasting curse that destroyed the street and killed thirteen people on November 1, 1981?” Amelia questioned.
“Why were you hunting for Peter Pettigrew?”
“He betrayed James and Lily,” Sirius said hoarsely. “He led that bastard, Voldemort, right to them.”
“You’re saying that Peter Pettigrew was the Potter’s Secret Keeper?” Tyson interjected and raised a hand when Amelia Bones turned to glare at him.
“Yes, I was the decoy,” Sirius said. “I made sure everyone believed I was the Secret Keeper to protect Peter from the Death Eaters.”
“So, you hunted him down to get justice?”
“Revenge,” Sirius corrected. “He betrayed us all that night—he endangered Harry’s life. I wanted revenge. I was consumed with it.”
“Do you still want revenge?” Amelia questioned.
“I wish Peter wasn’t dead so I could kill him,” Sirius said baldly. “He died too easy.”
“You’re damn right he did!” Someone shouted from the audience.
Sirius flinched as Dumbledore activated the silencing charms around the room with a flick of his wand. The idea of that old bastard having his wand drawn in his presence was appalling. He took a deep breath and focused on Bones.
“I have no further questions.”
“Are you sure, Madam Bones?” Dumbledore questioned with a frown.
“Yes, I’m sure,” she offered him a glare and walked away.
Dumbledore glanced toward Deering then focused on Tyson McGregor. “Do you have any questions that add clarity to this situation or Lord Black’s actions in 1981?”
Sirius almost laughed.
Tyson raised an eyebrow at Dumbledore. “No, Chief Warlock, I’m not interested in asking my client questions that could get him charged with some crime. Madam Bones has handled all of the issues that brought us here to this hearing. I’m going to silence my client for the next ten minutes while the Veritaserum wears off.” He pulled his wand and performed the charm. Sirius let himself relax as the magic settled around him. “I formally request the release of Lord Black’s wand from evidence. I must also give notice on behalf of the House of Black the intent to sue the British Ministry of Magic for unlawful incarceration, attempted line damage, and torture.”
The solicitor stepped forward, cupped Sirius elbow, and guided him away from the testimony box.
“Due to my client’s health and mental trauma, I request this hearing end and the session close as he deserves time to recover in the accommodations of his choice.”
“He cannot be left to his own devices,” Dumbledore protested. “At the very least, he should be returned to St. Mungo’s and placed under the guard of the DMLE for his own protection.”
“The hell you say, Dumbledore!” Deering shouted and stood. His magical aura spilled out around him in a dark wave of magic. “Under no circumstances will Earl of Blackmoor be held in ministry custody!”
“He needs supervision,” Dumbledore protested.
“No, he doesn’t,” Wright interjected, and both men focused on him. “He needs freedom and choice. Lord Black is well enough physically and mentally to make his own choices and decisions. Neither this body nor the ministry has the right to hold him hostage, again.”
Deering glared pointedly at Wright then focused on Sirius. “Lord Black, I’d very much like to take you to my private London residence where I can engage a private healer to set you to rights.”
Sirius nodded his agreement. He knew Deering had questions for him, and he honestly needed the older man’s influence and protection. Dumbledore was capable of anything, but Deering was a powerhouse in his own right whom Dumbledore had hesitated to go head to head with. Deering was his path to gaining custody of Harry, and Sirius knew it.
Sirius wasn’t at all surprised when Armand took his arm, led him straight to an apparition departure point in the atrium, and side-apparated him away from the ministry. They landed in the foyer of a townhouse he’d only been in a handful of times in his life. The Potters had guarded their relationship with Deering very carefully for a variety of reasons, chief among them Dumbledore’s discrimination against Deering for being a parselmouth.
He was led to a sofa in an elegantly appointed sitting room, and Sirius sank down on it. He let his head fall back, and for the first time in more years than he could even calculate, he just breathed. Long moments of silence stretched in the room. He appreciated Deering’s restraint and patience as frankly the man was known for neither. Sirius opened his eyes and turned his head slightly in the direction of the other man’s breathing.
Deering was seated in a chair near the fire, the older wizard’s aura was curling around him like smoke. It was strangely alluring. Sirius huffed a little and closed his eyes again.
“I’m going to ruin Albus Dumbledore,” Armand said flatly. “That corrupt motherfucker will be relieved when I finally kill him.”
Sirius took a deep breath. “I want my son, Armand.” He opened his eyes and focused on Deering once more. “Dumbledore has hidden him away in the Muggle world with Lily’s sister.”
“The one that hates magic,” Armand murmured. “James’ boy is living with Petunia? I know, for a fact, their will explicitly disallowed that as an option.”
“Dumbledore probably never even had the will executed,” Sirius said flatly. “James left him as the executor—for reasons I can’t begin to guess. He always trusted that bastard more than he should’ve. Maybe he had help with that, I don’t know.” He rubbed his face with both hands. “Harry’s wearing the heir ring of the house of Black.”
“You sent it to him through the wards of Azkaban,” Deering surmised. “Impressive and certainly foolish. Let’s hope the kid isn’t the excitable sort. There’s no telling what Petunia has told him about the magical world.”
Sirius grimaced. “I have no excuse, really. I just…I needed to be connected to my heir.”
“You’d just lost your patriarch,” Deering said quietly. “I imagine everyone in the family felt it—including your boy. He won’t have understood it, but such a loss would have resonated in his magic due to your magical adoption.” He stood and checked his watch. “I’m going to call in the senior members of my conclave to work on your health. Tyson McGregor will also be invited to the house to start on your legal matters unless you’d prefer different council.”
“No, I want McGregor. I’d have chosen him outright if I’d believed he would take me on. He’s a real bastard, and I like that,” Sirius said wryly. “Harry?”
“I’ll return with the boy as soon as possible. My house elf, Reg, will ensure only invited guests enter the townhouse in my absences.” Deering paused. “It is in your best interest to stay here, Lord Black.”
“Call me Sirius,” he murmured and took a deep breath. “And I’ll be here when you return. I picked you as my proxy for more than one reason. Precious few people in this country would dare to pick a fight with you, and I’m pretty sure Lucius Malfoy would murder me given half a chance.”
Deering snorted. “That fucker is on my list, too.”
Sirius nodded and closed his eyes again. The relief of being free had left him exhausted. In the background, he listened to Deering leave the room.
Armand took a moment to himself in the kitchen of the townhouse he’d not stepped foot in over nine years. He exhaled sharply and tried to calm down his magic, but the grief and fury of his godson’s death, which he’d carefully banked since 1981, was raging inside of him. Moreover, he felt as if he’d failed James even in death. He’d never questioned the guilt of Sirius Black, and he’d left Dumbledore to handle the care of little Harry. He would’ve had no legal claim to the boy, but he could’ve made life very fucking difficult for Dumbledore. He should’ve. He felt like an old fool.
He drew a communication mirror out of his dimensional store. “Patrice.”
The mirror lit in his hand immediately with the beautiful face of his lady. Armand counted himself amongst the luckiest of men to have earned the affection of Patrice Delacour.
“Armand, darling,” she murmured and pushed lush black hair back from her face. “I was in the garden painting. I forgot my mirror. You haven’t been trying to reach me for very long, have you?”
“This is my first call,” he murmured.
“You look upset.”
“I take it you didn’t listen to the wireless broadcast regarding Sirius Black.”
Her generous mouth pressed into a thin line. “I could not. I couldn’t bear to hear…what’s happened?”
“He’s innocent,” Armand said hoarsely, and Patrice paled. “Dumbledore has betrayed the House of Potter and the House of Black in the most base way possible, love. I need…I won’t be returning to Paris any time soon.”
“I shall come to you,” she announced. “Don’t kill anyone until I get there.”
He laughed sadly. “It will not be pleasant here—Black has been tortured by dementors for a decade, Harry’s been hidden away in the Muggle world, and there’s no telling…he ended up with Lily’s magic hating sister.”
“Then you will need me,” she murmured. “And so will they. I shall close the house and come to you as soon as possible.”
He felt nothing but relief. “I won’t kill anyone until you arrive, but I’m about to go start a fight with Albus Dumbledore that may very well turn into a small war.”
“You speak as if the war ended,” Patrice murmured. “You and I both know it festers like a disease in Britain. Riddle merely added to the pool of poison that Grindelwald created in that country. The populace continues to wallow in it though they pretend otherwise.”
“It is days like this that I’m reminded that I’m not a good man,” Armand murmured. “I could set this whole fucking country on fire.”
Patrice smiled and raised a dark eyebrow. “What possible use would I have for a good man?”
Armand grinned. “Should I send Quintin to escort you?”
“I’ll be fine,” Patrice said and checked her watch. “Expect me within the next four hours. I’ll pack a trunk for you as well. Any requests?”
“Bring my ritual robes,” Deering said roughly. “Black will need extensive healing, and I suspect much of it will be done in ritual. Zale will be coming here soon to brief me in full regarding the work he’s already done for Black in his official role at St. Mungo’s. I’ve let the senior members of the Glain Neidr know I want to see them.” He frowned then and took a deep breath. “I’ll send Quintin to escort you.”
“If that is your wish,” she said in a tone that told him she was placating him. Patrice offered him a small grin and closed the connection between them.
He stored his mirror and took a deep breath as his wards strummed gently with one notification after another. He counted magical signatures as the wizards of his inner circle crossed the ward boundary one by one. The front door opened, and Armand cracked his neck.
“Uncle?” Quintin called out.
“Kitchen,” Armand said. He stayed where he was as the seven of them entered the room and formed a semi-circle across from him on the other side of the kitchen island. “Zale.”
Wright inclined his head. “After a discussion with Lord Black, I’ll present Dyson with all the work I did at St. Mungo’s. It’s best that I not have any role as his healer going forward as my superiors would certainly expect me to disclose anything I learn to Dumbledore. He’s already put in a personal request for Lord Black’s full medical records. I documented the bare minimum last night so he won’t get much that isn’t a decade old.”
Deering nodded. “Quintin, Patrice will be joining me here in Britain. If you’d go to Paris and see to any tasks she asks of you, I’d appreciate it. Escort her personally to the bank to purchase a portkey and to this house upon your arrival.”
Quintin nodded. “Yes, of course.”
He said nothing as his oldest nephew left without another word and focused on Walker. He’d raised his brother’s sons after both of their parents were killed in the early 70s, and both young men were talented, loyal wizards. “Walker, begin investigating Lucius Malfoy. He’ll do everything he can to gain control of the Black estate, and murder isn’t off the table. I will eventually have to eliminate him as a threat. I need to know if Narcissa is a threat on her own and how much damage they’ve already done to their child.”
“Yes, sir,” Walker said and gave the others a nod before he left as well.
“Dyson, you’ll be in charge of directing Black’s healing,” Deering said. “Arnou, you’ll handle all of the potion brewing needed. I’d prefer that we not purchase any potions from third parties, and all potion ingredients should be tested thoroughly before use. Meyers, Black’s personal security is your job until I say otherwise.”
All three men nodded their understanding.
“Fantastic, now I’m going to go the DMLE and pick a fight with Dumbledore over the kidnapping of Harry Potter,” Deering said and smiled darkly at the looks he’d earned for himself. “Go introduce yourselves to Lord Black. Be polite, the man’s in terrible shape despite the display he put on for the court. One of you go find Tyson McGregor and bring him to the house as well.”
* * * *
He waited just under three minutes before he was escorted into Amelia Bones’ office. She had an auror in the room with her, but Armand didn’t recognize him. Bones stood as the door was shut pulled behind him.
“Master Deering,” she began. “This is the Head Auror, Kingsley Shacklebolt. I apologize for your wait. We were discussing the situation with Crouch and how we should go about evaluating his behavior while he was director.”
Armand glanced briefly at the man before nodding. “It’s fine. I’ve come without an appointment and was prepared to wait as long as necessary.” She regained her seat, so he took one of the chairs in front of her desk. “Lord Black has requested that I retrieve his godson.” He paused. “We’ve already learned that Dumbledore illegally placed him in the Muggle world with Lily’s sister, Petunia. I don’t know her married name, and I’m not inclined to search. I’m sure Dumbledore is still in the building.”
“Yes, he contacted me just short of your arrival in the department to let me know I was to delay you as long as necessary for him to get up here,” Bones said casually and rocked back in her seat. “He thinks he’s going to meddle in your business.”
“He’d have better time setting himself on fire,” Armand responded and smiled briefly when Bones snorted.
The man named Shacklebolt cleared his throat. “I’m sure the Chief Warlock made the best decision he could for the Boy-Who-Lived.”
Armand focused on him. “I witnessed the last will and testament of James and Lily Potter, Auror Shacklebolt. They were so convinced of her sister’s lack of fitness as a guardian that they requested their son be put in an orphanage if a proper magical household could not be found for him. I was on the list of potential guardians—last on the list, in fact—and I was never contacted. That tells me that Dumbledore never bothered to execute the will at all. He circumvented the wishes of the patriarch of the ancient and noble house of Potter in 1981, which is in no single way the best decision.” He brushed a piece of lint from his slacks. “I have no use for men who dedicate themselves in kissing Albus Dumbledore’s arse, so if you’re that sort, you can fuck right off.”
Shacklebolt’s mouth dropped open briefly, and Bones cleared her throat.
“I let my own grief over the loss of my godson to consume me, and I made a terrible choice.” He cleared his throat and looked away from them. “Until today, I thought Sirius Black was a monster and that Harry Potter was in an appropriate home per his parent’s will. My assumptions have proven me a fool.”
“Sirius Black is your godson?” Bones questioned with a raised eyebrow. “Orion Black tried to murder you.”
Armand shook his head. “James Potter was my godson. I have the proof if some reason you need it.” He took a deep breath. “As for Orion Black, he was acting on behalf of Voldemort during that altercation. They were all quite put out that I wouldn’t join their ridiculous little group.” He waved a hand dismissively. “As if I’d waste my magic that way.”
A sharp knock on the door signaled the arrival of Dumbledore, so Armand just sat back with a frown and gave Bones a nod.
“Enter,” she called out.
The door opened, and Dumbledore ambled in with a bright smile. Armand briefly started thinking about how he was going to murder him. Maybe he could frame Shacklebolt for the crime—the man was a kiss arse, and Armand wasn’t above handing out life lessons. The thought made him smile. He barely refrained from laughing when Shacklebolt jerked back a step like he’d been hit by a stinging curse.
“Armand, I was telling Amelia shortly after the hearing that I hoped you’d return to the ministry so we could question Sirius in private regarding the Pettigrew situation.”
“Sirius Black is unavailable indefinitely to both you and the ministry, Dumbledore,” Deering said. “Any questions you have may be directed to his solicitor, Tyson McGregor.” He turned slightly in his chair as Dumbledore sat. “You illegally placed Harry Potter with his Muggle aunt. I want the address.”
Dumbledore smiled in a fashion so condescending that Armand had to take a deep stabilizing breath to keep from punching him in the face. “The boy is safe and happy, and that is all Lord Black needs to know.”
Armand turned to Amelia Bones, who’d paled. “On behalf of Sirius Orion Black, the Earl of Blackmoor, I’m formally requesting that Albus Dumbledore be charged with kidnapping of Harry James Potter.” He stood. “I’ll commence with a search immediately and let you know if I locate the boy before you can. If he has been harmed in any single fashion, I expect further charges to be filed against Dumbledore.”
“None of that is necessary,” Dumbledore protested and stood. “He’s fine and shouldn’t be torn from his life because of his godfather’s recklessness!”
“All of it is necessary,” Deering hissed, and Dumbledore took a step back. “I’m not one of your fucking fans, Dumbledore. I don’t care what you think or what you believe. You’ll tell me where Harry Potter is right now, or I’ll tear this goddamned country apart until I find him!”
“Dumbledore,” Bones began and took a deep breath. “Tell us where the boy is, or I’ll have no choice but to arrest you. Master Deering has the full weight of the law on his side, and you know it. The fact that you disregarded James and Lily’s will is going to come down on you already. As soon as it’s executed, which I will make it my business to ensure it is, you’ll have to answer for it. They died for their child. How dare you ignore their wishes!”
“James and Lily were young, and they made foolish choices,” Dumbledore said gravely. “Look at the man they choose to be their child’s godfather—a thoughtless, dangerous boy who sought revenge over the safety of his godson. I won’t put Harry Potter in harm’s way again just to satisfy Sirius Black’s ego.”
Dumbledore drew his wand. Deering tilted his head as his own wand shimmered into his hand, and used his free hand to punch Dumbledore in the face. The older man went down without a sound. Armand just stared for a moment then summoned the wand Dumbledore had dropped. He stored it in his bracelet with a flick of his wrist.
“You can’t just take his wand,” Shacklebolt snapped as he went to Dumbledore’s prone form.
“It’s not his wand,” Deering said. “It’s the wand he took off Grindelwald that he’s been carrying around like a trophy for decades. A wand that rightly belongs to the House of Potter, and it will be returned to the heir of that house in due time.” He aimed his wand at Dumbledore’s face. “As the proxy of the House of Black, I’m well within my rights, Amelia.”
“Back off, Shacklebolt,” Bones said tiredly. “Holding hostage the heir of not one but two noble and ancient houses is a blood feud in the making.”
Shacklebolt stood and grimaced. “Who knew Dumbledore had a glass jaw?”
Deering flicked his wand and put Dumbledore back in the chair he’d left and woke him up with a jab of magic. The older man jerked and groaned. “Where is Harry Potter?”
“He’s protected,” Dumbledore said and rubbed his jaw. He frowned and glanced around. “Where…is my wand?”
“You mean the family heirloom of the House of Potter, stolen two hundred years ago then repeatedly stolen by one dark bastard after another?” Deering questioned. “It’ll be returned to the House of Potter shortly.”
Dumbledore glared at him. “How dare you!”
“Don’t look put out, Albus, I won it,” Deering said and grinned when the old bastard huffed. “Isn’t that what you told both Charlus and Christopher Potter when they requested you give the wand back to their family? Don’t worry about it—I’ll have young Harry perform an entailment spell on it the moment he can. It’ll never be taken from his bloodline again.” He pushed the tip of his own wand against Dumbledore’s chest. “Where is Harry Potter?”
“Safe,” Dumbledore snapped. “I’m not telling you.”
“Then I have no choice but to arrest you,” Amelia said tiredly and stood. “Kingsley, can you be trusted to do this, or should I call Dawlish in?”
“I’ll do my job, Director.”
“There is no need for this,” Dumbledore protested. “I made the best choice to keep him safe. He’s safe with his aunt.”
“I don’t fucking care if he’s living in the lap of luxury,” Deering said. “He’s the heir of the House of Black, and you have no right whatsoever to keep him from his father.” He pushed the wand hard against Dumbledore’s sternum. “A stunning spell at this distance would kill you at your age. Care to test my resolve and my legal right to act on behalf of Sirius Black regarding the kidnapping of his child?”
“You’re making a mistake,” Dumbledore said. “This day will come back on you in ways you can’t even fathom.”
“I really look forward to the day you come at me,” Deering said. “I don’t intend to let you walk away from it, so make sure you get all your affairs in order.”
Dumbledore turned to Bones but not before glancing at Shacklebolt. “Madam Bones.”
“There are ancient laws at play here,” Bones said. “I won’t risk my magical house being dragged into a blood feud because you’re an oath breaker.”
Dumbledore reared back in shock. “What?”
“You swore to follow the wishes of James and Lily Potter,” Amelia snapped. “And you ignored their will! That makes you a bloody oath breaker, Albus!”
Dumbledore’s gaze flicked toward Shacklebolt again. Deering watched the younger man consider the options and the odds before lowering his gaze. Dumbledore slumped in his chair.
“Harry Potter lives at 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey with his maternal aunt, Petunia Dursley,” Dumbledore said. “There are blood wards on the house that won’t allow you to enter the property. They protect him from dark wizards.”
Deering stepped back from Dumbledore and stored his wand. “You’d better hope that Harry Potter has had the good and safe childhood you’ve claimed, or you’ll pay for every injustice done to him with blood.”
Dumbledore’s cheeks flushed with fury. “I’m not afraid of you.”
“That’s because you’re an arrogant twat with an inflated sense of personal prowess,” Deering declared and with a smirk apparated out of the ministry through wards that fought him briefly.
He landed in his own foyer and walked to the salon but found it empty. Armand turned to go down the hall and found Zale Wright sitting on the stairs. “Zale?”
Wright cleared his throat. “Dyson is performing a full physical, and based on my own knowledge of Black’s situation, it could be hours before they’re finished. The Black family magic must have hit him like a ton of bricks, and it offered him little to no quarter. Now that he’s relaxed and his magic is calming down, we’ve found microfractures in his core from the title claiming. He must have felt like he was going to die that morning. Were Arcturus Black alive, I’d be tempted to have words with him.”
“What else could he have done in his condition?” Deering questioned. “I have to think Dumbledore and Fudge both would’ve seen the end of him if they’d known what he planned. Neither of them appeared surprised by Black’s innocence.” He checked his watch and frowned. “Do you know when Muggle primary school ends?”
Wright looked flummoxed for a few moments but then grew thoughtful. “Once, a few years ago, I had a date in London with a half-blood wizard. He mentioned that his nieces, who are Muggles, would be getting out of school around three.” He checked his watch. “It’s just after five, so I imagine that whatever school Harry Potter attends has already ended. Did you wish me to go with you?”
“Do you happen to know where Surrey is?” Armand questioned.
“Not a clue,” Wright admitted.
“I have a map book in my office, and yes, you can come along,” Deering said and went to his office. He pulled an atlas from a shelf, took it to his desk, and quickly located a map of Britain. With a brush of fingers, he activated the search feature. “4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey.” The map flickered, and a section was highlighted.
“Looks like there’s a hidden apparition point in the wards near the back of the property,” Zale pointed out. “It’s more than a decade old.”
“It must have been set by Lily Potter,” Deering said. “Dumbledore told me that there were blood wards on the property that would keep me out because I’m dark.”
“I’m surprised he told you,” Zale admitted.
“He couldn’t risk allowing me to be attacked by wards of his own making while I’m the proxy of the House of Black, and he’s been accused of kidnapping Harry Potter,” Deering explained. “Or he would’ve let me walk into it blind and hope it killed me.”
“This atlas self-updating,” Zale said. “Right?”
“Then whatever wards Dumbledore had on the property are practically gone now,” Wright pointed out. “Look at the color of the ward boundaries, sir, they’re barely visible on the map. Whatever they were supposed to do—they’re rapidly failing. We could push through these no matter our intent with little to no effort.”
Deering frowned. “You’re right, and it makes me want to go punch Dumbledore again.”
“You punched Dumbledore?” Wright said and grinned. “Seriously? I could kiss you right now.”
“My wife would end you,” Deering said dryly. “And that would be a shame since you’re beautiful.” He laughed when Wright blushed. “Let Dyson know you’re leaving, and we’ll go see what the boy’s circumstances are.”
* * * *
The wards were, in fact, flimsy and barely holding on. Moreover, the whole house had ugly disquiet lingering over it that made Armand’s magic ache. He cast a privacy charm around them with a flick of his wand as they stared at the house.
“The boy is miserable here,” Wright said tightly.
“What?” He turned and found Zale rubbing his sternum. “Are you well?”
“The last time my magic felt like this, I was treating an abused child.” He pressed his lips together. “This is what it feels when a magical child has been betrayed by the very people who should keep them safe, Armand. Harry Potter’s magic is begging for help, and if Dumbledore is connected to these wards in any single way, he’s been ignoring him.”
“I’m going to murder Albus Dumbledore,” Armand admitted.
“I’ll be your alibi,” Zale volunteered. “Or take the blame or whatever you need.”
Deering glanced at him briefly. “My wife would never let me plan a murder without her, and I’ve never gotten caught, so no worries.” He adjusted his robes. “Let’s knock on the front door.”
“Starting civilized is always appealing,” Wright agreed then paused. “But we’re going to curse the shite out of these people, right?”
“The first chance we get,” Deering said dryly. “They’ll never be the fucking same.”
The privacy charm evaporated as they walked around the house, and he let Wright knock on the door. The moment it opened, the ache in his magic increased. He drew his wand, stunned the Muggle man, and stepped over his large carcass to step into the house. Zale followed suit and shut the door with a sharp bang.
“Vernon? Who was it?” Petunia Dursley came out of the kitchen with a tea towel in hand. “What…who…you.” She paled. “You were at Lily’s wedding.”
“I was,” Armand said darkly. “You and your husband behaved horribly and embarrassed Lily on what should’ve been one of her happiest days. She cried when she apologized to James’ parents for the scene your husband caused.”
Petunia’s gaze dropped to her husband’s still form. “Did you…is he dead?”
“He’s alive, but he will certainly come to wish differently,” Armand said. “You have a son. Where is he?”
“At his friend’s…please, don’t hurt my Dudley.”
“I’ve never made war on a child in my life,” Deering snapped. “Where’s Harry?” Her gaze flicked to the boot cupboard, and rage made his vision blur. “Get him!”
Petunia rushed forward so quickly that she slapped into the wall. She took a key out of her dress pocket and quickly removed the padlock on the door. “He…he’s a terrible boy. I just wanted a nice, quiet dinner with my husband…”
“You wretched…” Armand took a deep breath as she jerked a boy who looked so much like James from the cupboard that he went weak in his knees. He took a ragged breath then another. “Harry.”
The boy pushed his glasses up his nose and stared at him with wide green eyes. “Hi. Did you…did you send me the magic ring? Are you going to take me away from here?”
“Ring?” Petunia asked. “What ring are you talking about, you little freak!”
“Woman,” Deering snapped. “I’m more than willing to…” He trailed off when Zale cleared his throat. “Harry, my name is Armand James Deering.”
The boy smiled. “My middle name is James…after my Daddy.” He bit down on his lip when his aunt huffed. “But I’m not allowed to talk about him because Aunt Petunia said he was a lazy drunk.”
Armand wondered briefly what it would feel like to spontaneously combust. He took a deep calming breath, aware that he was precariously close to losing control of his aura. He didn’t want to scare the boy. “Your father was an amazing young man, Harry. James was brave, and he gave his life for you. He died defending you and your mother from an evil man.”
The boy turned to his aunt. “You lied to me? Why?”
Petunia glared at him. “He was a freak, and so are you.”
“She has a death wish,” Wright muttered under his breath.
“You can’t hurt me!” Petunia shouted. “Dumbledore is protecting us and this house! He’ll come if you try to hurt us.”
“Albus Dumbledore is not going to save you from me,” Deering promised her and focused on Harry. “Show me the ring, lad.”
The boy stepped away from his aunt and stared down at his right hand for a moment before the heir ring of the House of Black appeared on his hand. A perfect emerald sparkled on a shining mithril band. “I didn’t take it, I swear. It just showed up on my finger, and I was worried about it at first, but then it was okay because it disappears when I don’t want anyone to see it.”
Armand walked across the room, and Petunia retreated all the way to the doorway she’d initially emerged from. He knelt on one knee in front of Harry. “Do you know what a godfather is?”
Harry shook his head. “Not really.”
“A godfather is a man who pledges to guard the interests of a child and act as their parent and father should the child’s parents die. In the magical world, the role of the godfather is an extraordinary one.”
“Magic?” Harry raised an eyebrow. “Uncle Vernon says magic doesn’t exist, and the last time I said that word, he whipped me with his belt. I could hardly sit for a week.”
“Magic is very real,” Armand said tightly. “But you already know that, Harry, don’t you?”
“Because of my ring,” Harry murmured. “It has to be magic, but I’ve been hiding it because I couldn’t take it off, and I was afraid Uncle Vernon would cut off my finger to get it.”
“Your aunt and uncle will never hurt you again,” Armand said gently.
“Are you my godfather? Where have you been?” Harry asked with a frown.
“I’m not your godfather, but I was your father’s. He was named after me,” Armand explained. “I live in Paris. When your father was killed, I was told by someone very powerful that you were placed in a proper home per the terms of your parent’s will. I was very hurt by your father’s death, and I did not…I did not check on you, and I should’ve, Harry. I’m very sorry for it, and I hope that you can forgive me in time.” He cleared his throat. “Your godfather is a man named Sirius Black. He’s very ill, and until this morning, he was in prison for a crime he did not commit. I’m here on his behalf because the very first thing he asked after he was free was for me to find you.”
“How sick is he?” Harry asked. “Will he die like my parents?”
“He will recover,” Zale said when Armand found he couldn’t speak. “And he would be very happy to have you with him while he does so.”
Harry nodded. “Did he send me my magic ring?”
“He did,” Armand said. “It is the heir ring to the house of Black. You are his heir—as he is your parent through magical adoption.” He stood. “Will you come with me?”
“My ring doesn’t think you’re a bad person,” Harry reported. “It doesn’t like Aunt Petunia or Uncle Vernon. I’m pretty sure it hates my teacher, too. It suggested I curse her except using bad words in school will get me in trouble.”
Armand took a deep breath and glanced toward Zale.
“Lord Black didn’t mention any properties of the ring,” Wright admitted.
“Lord?” Harry questioned.
“Your godfather is the Earl of Blackmoor,” Armand said. “Zale, would you take him to my home?” He paused and focused on Harry. “Is there anything in this house you want to take with you? You’ll never come back.”
“The ring says I should leave everything behind because they might be cursed by someone named Dumbledore,” Harry said and shrugged when Armand’s mouth dropped open. “Oh, that’s what he meant…well, I don’t know any magic curses. How am I supposed to punish Miss Turney for being an incompetent ninny?”
Zale snorted. “Out of curiosity, lad, does the voice in your ring have a name?”
“Phineas Nigellus Black,” Harry reported cheerfully. “He hates children, but he says I’m okay for a half-blood.” He shrugged. “Whatever that means.”
“For fuck’s sake,” Armand said and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Zale.”
Wright offered the boy his hand. “We’re going to use magic to leave this house, Harry. You’ll feel a little squeeze, then we’ll be in a new place.” He paused as the boy trustingly took his hand. “Did you want to tell your aunt goodbye?”
Harry took a deep breath and turned to his aunt. “Goodbye, Aunt Petunia. My ring hopes you get exactly what you deserve.”
Armand focused on Petunia as Zale Wright apparated away with Harry. “You should be lucky that the ancestral spirit haunting that ring didn’t have time to teach that boy any magic, or he’d have probably tortured you and your disgusting husband until you choked on your own blood. Phineas Black was well known for his ability to prolong the torture and destruction of people who pissed him off.” He drew his wand.
“You can’t hurt us! It’s against your laws! You’ll be punished!”
“I don’t give a fuck about the law,” Deering sneered. “Accio anything that belongs to James or Lily Potter.” There was a distant thump, then a crash before a trunk sailed down the stairs and landed at his feet. A necklace snapped loose from Petunia’s neck and came to him. He caught it and frowned at her. “Lily’s locket. Where did you get this?”
Petunia flushed. “It was in the basket Harry came in. I couldn’t get it to open. It was pretty, so I wore it.”
Armand stored it just in time to catch a small, smooth stone. He studied the stone and frowned at the sweet emotions being emitted from it. “Your sister loved you, Petunia. She set wards on your house based on love in the hopes that they would keep you safe during the war and afterward, but your abuse of her child has nearly destroyed those protections. If you were a decent person, you’d die of shame.” He put the ward stone in his bracelet, took a deep breath then stunned her. “Madam Bones?”
Amelia Bones ended her disillusionment charm, and two aurors appeared directly behind her. “Master Deering.”
“Dumbledore must have been really amused by the idea of sending you here in the hopes of seeing me perform some crime against these two disgusting Muggles.” He watched her cheeks darken as he shrank the trunk and stored it in his bracelet. “How does it feel to be his lackey?
Bones glared at him. “I’m no one’s lackey.”
“Prove it,” Deering dared and apparated before she could respond.
Armand landed in the foyer and went straight for his office to get a drink. Castius Arnou and Carter Meyers were already in the room, staring moodily into glasses they weren’t drinking from.
“That bad?” Carter questioned. “You look like you’ve committed a murder.”
“Not yet, Dumbledore sent the DMLE along to make sure I couldn’t avenge myself properly. Insultingly enough, Bones didn’t think I’d notice her walking along behind me disillusioned,” Armand poured himself a generous portion of firewhiskey. “That bitch had him locked in a cupboard. I don’t know what sort of investigation Bones is going to do, but I fully intend to curse them silly. Dumbledore isn’t going to make it out of this situation alive, so if that bothers either of you—you should leave now and avoid me for the next year, at least.”
“We can go do it now if you’d like,” Meyers said dryly. “The boy is dressed in rags, had one meal today, and was told he wouldn’t be allowed dinner. He admitted that when he goes to school, the only food he receives is what the school provides. He’s malnourished though Dyson doesn’t know the extent of it. His magic is reactive, and his aura is resonating with the signs of abuse. How in the hell did Dumbledore intend to hide that when the kid starts Hogwarts next year?”
“There are ways,” Deering said roughly. “Dampening spells could smooth out his aura to the point that no one would notice anything was amiss.”
“That’s not a long-term solution,” Arnou said.
“No, so Dumbledore would’ve had to ensure that the boy suffered trauma in school—a broom accident here or there, bullying of some sort would be easy enough to manage depending on his sorting, isolation from his peers would help explain his emotional landscape as he got older. Maybe he’d been allowed a friend or two, but the rest of the children would’ve been encouraged to stay away,” Armand said. “There are precious few adults at Hogwarts, and they’re all under Dumbledore’s control. It would be easy enough for him to spell them to ignore Potter’s obvious trauma. By the time he was exposed to adults outside of Dumbledore’s sphere—his difficult experiences at Hogwarts would be widely known. Anything else would be excused as grief over the loss of his parents.”
“You paint an ugly and vicious picture of Albus Dumbledore,” Arnou said. “Do you believe him evil?”
“I believe him a deeply flawed man with delusions of a future of his own design,” Armand said roughly. “A vision so pervasive that he turned Gellert Grindelwald’s head with it only to back away from his lover when his younger sister was killed. I’ve long believed that Dumbledore saw an opportunity to get rid of Arianna that day, and he used Gellert as a scapegoat. His sister was holding him back, and Albus had dreams. Perhaps he thought he could draw Gellert back to him later with feigned forgiveness, but the betrayal cut too deep.”
“You think he murdered his own disabled sister because she was a burden,” Meyers muttered. “For fuck’s sake, Armand, that arsehole has no business being around children.”
“The people of this country think Dumbledore can do no wrong,” Armand said roughly. “I hope to change that before I take mercy on him and murder him.”
Meyers grinned, and Arnou just sighed before throwing back his entire glass of whiskey.
Armand finished his drink in the silence that followed and left the two men to their own devices. His search for Harry Potter led him to the guest suite where Sirius Black had been placed by Jacob Dyson. The boy was sitting quietly in a chair by the bed, watching his unconscious godfather intently while Dyson was creating a treatment diagnostic. The spell spread out over Black in steams of white and gold.
He walked around the large bed, conjured himself a chair identical to the one Harry was sitting in and sat.
“Hi,” Harry said and bit down on his lip. “Healer Dyson says I shouldn’t be concerned about all this.” He waved a hand at the magical display. “That it’s perfectly normal, but it doesn’t look normal to me. Grandpa Phineas says that magical healing is far much superior to Muggle healing, but it doesn’t look like healing at all.”
Armand smiled. “Right now, Jacob is cataloging all of your godfather’s injuries—mental, physical, and magical. This is a very stressful spell, so it’s best if the patient sleeps through it if at all possible. Once it’s finished, Jacob will know exactly what potions, spells, and rituals will be required to restore Lord Black’s health. The prison he was in is nothing like you’d see in the Muggle world, so there are many concerns to be addressed.”
Harry nodded. “Grandpa Phineas explained about Azkaban.” He pressed his lips together. “He says we should curse a lot of people over it. He’s made a list of spells I need to learn so I can avenge myself properly.”
Armand grinned despite himself. “I’d be happy to teach you anything you’d like, lad, but I imagine Lord Black might be put out by the list and the spiritual possession of the heir ring he put on your hand.”
“Grandpa Phineas said that he’s just a manifestation of family magic, and he was chosen to be my first tutor because everyone else is just too furious to even speak to me.” Harry shrugged. “Some lady named Elladora took herself off to Hogwarts to spy on Dumbledore through a portrait, but I don’t know how that works.”
“You’ll be shown a magical portrait later I’m sure. There are many in your ancestral property,” Armand said and looked at Dyson, who appeared to be in the process of ending the diagnostic spell. “Jacob?”
“He’s mentally and physically exhausted, sir.” Dyson slashed his wand through the spell. “I could wake him up, but I don’t believe that’s the best choice for him medically.”
“And the emotional comfort of being reunited with his child?” Armand questioned.
Harry stirred in the chair. “No, let him sleep. I don’t want him to get sicker because he didn’t get enough rest. Healer Wright showed me the room where I’ll sleep before he left to get me some clothes.” He blushed. “I told him it wasn’t necessary, but he looked kind of appalled and told me that I needed to dress to fit my station. Except I have no idea what my station even is.” He crossed his arms, and his overly large shirt slid down one skinny shoulder.
“You are the heir of the House of Black and the scion of the House of Potter,” Armand said gravely. “Both houses are noble and ancient within our society. Through the Potter family, you will inherit the barony of Gryffindor, and through Sirius Black, you will inherit the Earldom of Blackmoor. Both titles come with votes on the Wizengamot, which is magical Britain’s governing body.”
Harry made a face. “Grandpa Phineas says the Wizengamot is full of dumb, corrupt bastards who couldn’t find their own arses with both hands, a mirror, and a map.”
Dyson snorted and cleared his throat when Armand sent him a look.
“Tell your grandfather he shouldn’t teach you foul language,” Armand said tartly.
Harry blinked, and his cheeks flushed. “I’ll just keep his reply to myself, okay?”
“You do that,” Armand said with a laugh. “Let’s go to the kitchen, and I’ll teach you how to order food through the floo. Since I had no intention of actually staying in Britain, the house doesn’t have any food yet. We’ll arrange grocery delivery tomorrow.”
“What’s the floo?” Harry asked. “Can we have pizza? It’s my favorite, and I rarely get more than a single piece, and sometimes Dudley eats a whole large one by himself because he’s a selfish pig. Grandpa Phineas says I should curse him so he can never enjoy food again for his own good and also because he should suffer a little.”
“We can, in fact, have pizza,” Armand agreed. “Even if I have to send someone to retrieve it.” He cleared his throat. “And no, you can’t curse another child. One day, you’ll understand that your cousin has been just as mistreated by his parents as you were.”
Harry made a face. “I guess.” He reached out and patted his godfather’s hand gently. “Goodnight, Daddy.”
* * * *
His throat was dry, and his tongue felt swollen against the roof of his mouth. Sirius opened his eyes as light hit his face and turned to the source. He found Healer Wright opening up the curtains covering the only windows in the room. He cleared his throat.
“Good morning, Lord Black,” Wright murmured and turned toward him. “You’re probably parched.” He walked to a table that had been tucked up against the bottom of the bed and poured a glass of water. “Can you sit up unassisted?”
“I think so,” Sirius murmured. “I thought Dyson was taking over my healing.” He pushed himself up in the bed and rested against the pillows.
“He is your official healer of record,” Wright agreed. “Right now, he’s shopping for supplies, and I was ordered to update you regarding Master Deering’s activities. He’s currently at the ministry pursuing charges against Albus Dumbledore.”
“For what?” Sirius asked as he accepted the water. He took a long drink and focused on Wright when the man hesitated. “Healer Wright?”
“Call me Zale, my Lord,” the man murmured as he fussed with the blankets on the bed.
“Sirius, then. I barely know what to say when someone calls me Lord Black,” Sirius admitted. “That’s been my grandfather my whole life, and I’m not sure how to…” He trailed off with a frown.
“Master Deering retrieved your godson yesterday afternoon,” Zale began. “When we arrived, the boy had been locked in a boot cupboard for reasons unknown. Though I know of no reason that would make that a proper punishment. We allowed him to visit with you, but you slept through it due to Dyson’s diagnostic spells.”
Sirius swallowed hard. “What charges are being filed against Dumbledore?”
“The Dursley home was abusive—physical and emotional,” Wright said. “Harry is malnourished and told me in a matter of a fact fashion that he’s only ever allowed one meal a day during the school year—the one the school feeds him. He’s slept in that boot cupboard as long as he can remember and has never had clothes that fit him. He was only allowed to wear his cousin’s castoffs—all of which are far too large for him since he’s underweight and his cousin is very much the opposite.
“The state of his health is not completely known as we didn’t want to overwhelm him upon his arrival. He took a nutrient potion when he woke up this morning, which is normal for his age group to take regularly, no matter their general health. He’s downstairs with Patrice Delacour preparing your breakfast.”
“It appears that Dumbledore never bothered to check on Harry, and since he made the illegal decision to leave the boy with Petunia and Vernon Dursley, he is responsible for every single thing that happened to Harry while he was there,” Zale said. “The foul son of a bitch will probably talk his way out of charges, but this is just Armand’s first foray into ruining him.”
“Right,” Sirius said and closed his eyes. Fury was boiling in his gut, but he knew he didn’t have the space or the privacy to express it. He rubbed his face with a shaking hand and took a deep breath as Wright took the empty glass from him. “Son of a bitch.”
“How bad was…did they hit Harry often?”
“Casual smacks as far as he said,” Zale said. “But he figured out how to hide the heir ring because he feared that his uncle might cut off his finger to take it.”
“I wish he hadn’t,” Sirius snapped. “The ring would’ve destroyed Dursley for attempting it.” He exhaled. “But I guess that might have traumatized Harry.”
“Perhaps,” Zale said. “Speaking of the ring, are you aware that the ring has ancestral tutoring charm work attached to it?”
Sirius frowned. “Yes, but that charm work should only activate in extreme cases….” He took a deep breath. “Of neglect. It’s family magic designed to protect the heir and educate them on the matters of family magic.”
“Apparently, out of all the ancestors attached the ring, the only one who isn’t too furious to speak to the lad is your grandfather Phineas.”
“Oh.” Sirius laughed a little weakly. “For fuck’s sake, that can’t be…wow.”
“Certainly,” Zale said dryly as the door opened. “Have you met Patrice?”
Sirius turned and found Patrice Delacour bringing a tray into the room with a boy at her side. A boy he’d know anywhere. “Yes, we met when I was young and far too foolish to be in such beautiful company.”
Patrice offered him a bright smile. “Harry and I have made you breakfast, Lord Black. We shall both be terribly insulted if you don’t eat every bite.”
Sirius nodded but focused entirely on Harry as the boy hurried around the bed and crawled up onto the side next to him. “Hi.”
“Hi.” Harry patted his knee. “I’m glad you’re awake. Grandpa Phineas says I need a wand, but everyone says I can’t have one unless you say it’s okay. He says I need to be able to defend myself.”
Patrice placed a tray across his lap with a laugh. “Come along, Zale. These two don’t need us. Harry, you’re to finish your food as well.”
“I’ll be good, Miss Patrice,” the boy said earnestly as Patrice and Zale both left the room. He reached forward and pulled the covers from the plates. “I made the sausage, but Miss Patrice supervised, which was good. Aunt Petunia never supervised and would get mad if I burned something by accident.”
“Your aunt made you cook?” Sirius asked and winced because his tone was far too harsh.
“Yes, but that’s okay. Uncle Vernon and Dudley didn’t bother me much when I was in the kitchen.” Harry shrugged. “You’re supposed to drink the green potion, or I’ll have to tattle on you to Healer Dyson.”
Sirius picked up the potion and uncorked it. “Harry.” He blew out a breath. “I’m so sorry, lad, that I wasn’t here to take care of you.”
“Master Deering said you were in prison,” Harry said. “And that it wasn’t your fault because you never had a trial.” He picked up a small orange from the bowl on the tray and started to peel it. “Grandpa Phineas is helping me compile a list of enemies based on Aunt Elladora’s spying at Hogwarts. She says Dumbledore is a real…” He bit down on his lip. “You know.”
“I can guess,” Sirius said with a glance toward the ring which was sparkling on his lad’s finger. “You can silence that feature on the ring if you like.”
“Grandpa Phineas already told me how,” Harry said with a smile. “He said no one should have space in your head without your permission.” He motioned toward the food. “We should eat before Miss Patrice comes back and gives us what for. She’s got all the wizards in this house doing her bidding, so I figure she must be scary since they’re all listening to her without argument. Even Master Deering lets her boss him around.”
“He’s married to her, so he’s required to let her boss him around,” Sirius said and picked up his fork. “You’ll start magical school in September, so we’ll need to access your abilities to make sure Muggle primary has prepared you for that. I don’t know what you learn and when you learn it when it comes to that. Your mother didn’t seem to struggle at all with the school work at Hogwarts though she did find quills vexing to start.”
“Was she pretty?” Harry questioned and flushed when Sirius turned to stare at him. “Sorry.”
“No, lad, please don’t apologize to me,” Sirius said hoarsely. “You’ve never seen a picture of your mum?”
Harry shook his head. “Aunt Petunia wouldn’t allow me to look at her photos. She said I didn’t deserve to know what mum looked like because it was my fault she died in an accident. Though I know, it wasn’t an accident now, but apparently, it was still my fault.” He took a deep breath and averted his gaze.
“No.” Sirius reached out and hesitated only briefly before putting his hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Harry, it was not your fault that your parents were killed.”
“Dumbledore said…” He trailed off. “Aunt Elladora overheard Dumbledore and some man named Snape talking about a prophecy, and the man named Snape said it was my fault that my mum was dead.” Tears welled in his eyes. “And Dumbledore said that the only reason Voldemort knew about the prophecy was because Snape had told him.”
Sirius squeezed Harry’s shoulder gently and released him. “Voldemort was an evil wizard who needed no reason at all to do very bad things, and his actions were no fault of yours. The truth is…your parents made themselves enemies to Voldemort and the Death Eaters before you were ever born. Many died because they refused to join his cause, and many more would’ve died if he’d survived.”
Harry touched his scar. “Grandpa Phineas told me about that Boy-Who-Lived stuff already. He said I needed to know how people would treat me and respond to me.”
“You’ve been talking to him a lot then,” Sirius said as he prodded a bowl of porridge toward the boy. “Eat, lad.”
“Yeah, since before Master Deering came to get me and, in my sleep, too. Though he was careful at first and didn’t even tell his name until yesterday. He said he didn’t want to overwhelm me. Grandpa Phineas didn’t know how long it would take you to come to get me, and he said that leaving me completely uninformed would be dangerous since I could be manipulated by that butthole Dumbledore.” Harry shrugged. “Whoever he is.”
“I need to have a real long talk with Grandpa Phineas,” Sirius said roughly.
Harry laughed. “He says he has a portrait at some house called Grimmauld Place.”
Sirius made a face. He had no desire whatsoever to go to that house.
“He’s spying on Dumbledore through it, so you should probably get the copy,” Harry said. “If he’s a problem, that is. Is Dumbledore a problem for us?”
Sirius didn’t want to lie to Harry, and he knew he didn’t have a lot of room for errors when it came to building a relationship with him. “Yes, he is, but Master Deering is working on that for us while I’m recovering.”
Harry nodded. “Master Deering must be a great wizard to have gotten Miss Patrice to marry him because she’s really awesome.”
* * * *
“The Muggle authorities have the Dursley child in custody and are going to place him with a distant cousin in Wales. He has a paternal aunt, but she’s apparently a nightmare,” Amelia Bones explained as she led Armand into her office. “I’ve interrogated them both on the record regarding their treatment of Harry Potter.”
“I can just imagine what you learned,” Deering said roughly. “The boy has clearly been abused—physically and emotionally. He’s also malnourished.”
“No outright beatings,” Bones said as she sat down at her desk. “But Vernon Dursley admits to hitting both children whenever they irritated him and using a belt to whip Harry twice. Petunia Dursley is largely responsible for the emotional abuse and near-starvation. She underfed Harry because she was trying to kill his magic.”
Armand exhaled sharply. “Where would she get such a stupid idea?”
“Probably from one of those ridiculous pamphlets the ministry put out in the 70s. I imagine Lily Evan’s parents would’ve received one. At the time, many researchers believed that overfeeding a child would increase their magical potential due to the number of calories we naturally use as magic users. That crap was debunked entirely by the mid-eighties, but some people still buy into it.” She waved a hand. “St. Mungo’s put out a whole host of articles in the Daily Prophet trying to explain the nutrition of magical people and how we burn carbohydrates at a higher rate.” She huffed. “You know all of that.”
“I do,” Armand said dryly. “Is this also why her own child is obese?”
“Yes, of course, she said hoped that her son, Dudley, would be able to lure Harry’s magic into his own healthier body.” Amelia rolled her eyes and slouched back in her chair. “Are you here to ensure they’re going to be charged? Because I plan to throw multiple books at them, Master Deering. They’re both going to Muggle prison for a very long time.”
“I trust you’ll do the right thing where Vernon and Petunia Dursley are concerned,” Armand said mildly and pulled a rolled piece of parchment from his cloak pocket. “I’ve visited Gringotts already this morning and executed the Potter’s will. It might interest you to know that you and Augusta Longbottom were listed as potential guardians if neither of Harry’s godparents could take him.” He put the parchment down in front of her. “Dumbledore apparently decided that you weren’t fit to be the guardian of the Boy-Who-Lived, and he was better off with abusive Muggles.”
Amelia Bones picked up the parchment and unrolled it. “At the most, he’s guilty of failing to execute a will properly, which is fraud and perhaps theft if he misappropriated funds which I doubt he’d be that stupid. Even Dumbledore isn’t fool enough to steal from a minor within Gringotts. The Horde would string him up by his ankles and skin him alive.” She pressed her lips together as she read the short and explicitly stated will. “They didn’t leave him any room to make another legal decision.”
“I’m more than willing to file charges, but I believe the minister will try to interfere,” she admitted. “Dumbledore is in his ear and has been since his election. Lucius Malfoy was making a power play with the Black title, which would’ve secured him a lot of influence, but that has fizzled out.”
“Malfoy is a minor concern for me at this point,” Deering admitted. “He’s a Death Eater, of course, and he bought his freedom through the previous minister. I suspect you’ll find that your boss had some extra gold come his way as well during that whole mess. At least ten Death Eaters walked free in 1982 in the wake of Voldemort’s apparent death.”
“I know,” she said. “And I’ve been researching those matters since I took a seat in this chair, but Dumbledore interferes a lot for several reasons. I think one reason was Sirius Black. He didn’t want me looking into the war tribunal that Crouch ran, and he sealed all the records years ago. He’s refused repeatedly to unseal them and tried to do the same with Lord Black despite the fact that the man had claimed a title from his cell in Azkaban.”
“You should probably investigate his obscene desire to protect Severus Snape—a man we both know is a marked Death Eater,” Deering said. “How parents tolerate him teaching their children is stunning. No matter his so-called redemption, there are children at Hogwarts right now that lost their parents in Death Eater attacks that Snape probably participated in. It creates an abusive environment that Dumbledore not only endorses but encourages people to ignore.”
“My niece starts school in September,” Amelia said with a frown. “I’ll be honest, most of the time I forget Snape is even at Hogwarts.”
“Then I suggest you get yourself checked for charm work,” Deering said dryly and raised an eyebrow when her mouth dropped open in shock. “Come now, Bones, you don’t think you’re exempt from Dumbledore’s machinations, do you?”
She picked up a quill and made a note in a notebook. “I should write this down, so I’m not encouraged to forget it.”
“Certainly,” Deering agreed. “It’s amazing what one can accomplish with simple charms applied frequently. You could subvert someone’s entire personality inside a year with so-called light charm work.”
She started to respond, but there was a sharp little knock on her door before it opened without a word from her. Deering swallowed back a laugh at the scowl Bones barely suppressed.
“Amelia!” Fudge called out cheerfully. “Albus, and I need to have a…ah. Master Deering, I didn’t realize you were here.”
Arsehole, Deering thought. “You’re a terrible liar, Cornelius.” He rolled his eyes for Bones’ benefit, and the woman laughed a little under her breath as she motioned both men into her office.
Fudge took the chair beside Armand, and Dumbledore conjured himself a ridiculously gilded chair.
“Albus and I were discussing the custody of Harry Potter,” Fudge began. “And we’ve decided there should be a hearing regarding the matter, and proper guardian should be chosen from a Light family.”
“Master Deering just came from the bank where he executed the will of James Michael Potter, the Baron of Gryffindor,” Bones said. “Is it your intention to announce to the House of Lords and the general public that the ministry will be ignoring the legal last will and testament of the ancient and noble house of Potter?” Bones questioned and smiled as Fudge paled. “I’m sure many in the Wizengamot will have a lot to say about that. After all, allowing your office to interfere with the Potter will set a precedence that would impact them for generations.”
“Harry Potter’s circumstances are unique and must be handled carefully,” Dumbledore said coolly. “Sirius Black is not mentally well enough to be the guardian of his godson.”
“In that case, I’m next in line to be his guardian,” Amelia said and stared pointedly at Dumbledore. “Unless you’d like to say that I’m unfit as well.”
“You’re a busy woman.” Dumbledore smiled. “And Harry Potter will need a lot of hands-on attention to prepare him to live in the magical world.”
“So, what abusive home do you plan to put him in next, Dumbledore?” Deering asked curiously, and Fudge’s skin went practically transparent. “Were you aware, Minister, that Madam Bones is coordinating with Muggle authorities to charge Harry Potter’s former guardians with felony child abuse?”
“I’m sure the child is merely exaggerating,” Dumbledore said a flippant handwave. “They often do.”
“He was locked in a cupboard when I retrieved him,” Deering said coldly. “He is malnourished, underweight, and his magical aura resonates with the sort of emotional pain that can only come from long-term mistreatment. Your belief or disbelief matters little to me, Dumbledore, as I fully intend to have you charged with at least fraud for not executing the Potter’s will. You should face all the charges the Dursleys are facing for your utter lack of care. The boy clearly wasn’t even receiving annual visits from magical child protective services.”
“His safety was more important than a few reports!” Dumbledore snapped. “And I would see the evidence of this so-called abuse.”
“Vernon and Petunia Dursley have already been interrogated thoroughly,” Bones said. “I handled the interviews personally, and frankly, they were so terrified by their circumstances that they told me every single thing I wanted to know. Spells have verified that they were entirely honest. They were also astonished that you hadn’t come to their rescue, Dumbledore, as you promised.”
Deering shifted in his seat. “We should have a hearing about Potter’s circumstances and guardianship. I’m sure many would be surprised and horrified to know that Albus allowed their precious Boy-Who-Lived to be abused by Muggles. We could also investigate Dumbledore’s knowledge of Sirius Black’s circumstances.”
“I wasn’t included in those proceedings due to a conflict of interest,” Dumbledore said stiffly.
“Convenient,” Bones said snidely. “I’m looking forward to hearing all about that in public as well. We’ll make sure to invite a full press section so you can pile on whatever amount of infamy you’re seeking with this farce. You and I both know, Dumbledore, that the House of Lords aren’t going to set a precedence that would see their own wishes disregarded after death.”
“I was acting on behalf of the greater good,” Dumbledore protested.
“I don’t give a fuck about the greater good.” Armand stood, and Bones stood with him. “As the regent of the House of Black, and, in turn, the House of Potter, Madam Bones, I am formally requesting fraud charges be filed against Albus Dumbledore for his failure to properly execute the last will and testament of James and Lily Potter. The current account manager for the Potter estate is performing an audit. If theft has occurred, you’ll get an itemized list from Razel Fireborn of the clan Blacklock. I will expect additional charges to be filed and will accept no single excuse for them not being filed. I am prepared to file a complaint with the World Court if justice is not met here in Britain.”
“Understood,” Bones said.
“We can discuss Harry Potter’s custody at that trial if you’d like Dumbledore,” Armand said with a smile, and the Chief Warlock glared at him. He leaned forward a little, and Fudge whimpered when Dumbledore stood. “How long do you think you can maintain this harmless, old man façade of yours, Albus? Aren’t you tired?” He laughed when Dumbledore’s aura surfaced briefly. “Merlin’s nutsack, I haven’t been this entertained outside of bed in decades.”
“Give me the wand,” Dumbledore demanded.
“Take it,” Armand taunted. “You can owl me if you need more information from me going forward, Madam Bones.”
“Of course,” Bones said wryly.
Armand apparated, appeared in his own foyer, and laughed all the way to his wife’s salon. Patrice was seated at a table near a pair of French doors. “Ah, light of my life. How has your morning been?”
Patrice stopped writing and focused on him. “My mother wishes you nothing but misery as we will not be there for her birthday next week.”
“Her birthday party is a two-hour brunch prepared for her by a gourmet chef that will end with an international portkey to Rome where she will board a cruise ship for a world-wide tour that I paid for,” Armand said and raised an eyebrow.
Patrice shrugged and grinned. “Maman is a passionate creature.”
“I have no interest in your mother’s passions,” Armand stated and sat down in front of her. “How are things going?”
“Zale is keeping Harry busy with his new clothes, and Lord Black is having several brittle bones removed and regrown. He didn’t want Harry to be around to witness the bone vanishing.” She pursed her lips. “The conditions in Azkaban are truly beyond the pale, Armand. How does the ICW allow it?”
“The British grandfathered in several archaic laws into their admissions petition to the ICW, and at the time there were a great many political issues at play that made declining the petition unsavory to the countries already in the body.” Armand frowned. “But I think, if Dumbledore wasn’t the Supreme Mugwump, there are those that would leverage the Sirius Black situation to force Britain to make some changes to modernize.”
“Then Dumbledore needs to go sooner rather than later,” Patrice said.
“He demanded I return to the wand to him.”
“Then I will invest myself in teaching Harry Potter the runes required to entail an object to his bloodline,” Patrice said. “What do you plan to do about James’ cloak?”
“I’ve put Dumbledore on notice that the vaults are being audited, and the cloak is well known to belong to the Potter family. If it’s not in the bank, then I will pursue charges for theft,” Armand shrugged. “Either way, I’ll get it back for the lad.”
She pursed her lips. “Do you intend to find the Resurrection Stone, Armand? Will you make little Harry Potter the Master of Death?”
“That is not something I can do,” Armand murmured. “If reuniting the Hallows is his fate, then it will be done whether we wish it or not. No one in his line has ever done it, and I have to think the Hallows would have never allowed Dumbledore the privilege either. If they come to Harry in time, then I will do what I can to prepare him.”
Patrice nodded and focused on her letter. “I’ll have Castius deliver flowers personally to Maman. She adores him and will see both his visit and the flowers as an appropriate apology.”
Armand grinned. “Whoring out members of my conclave to your mother is gauche, my love.”
“That is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” Harry announced as he stared at Sirius’ boneless hand.
Sirius grinned. “It’s fine.”
“It doesn’t look fine,” Harry said with a scoff. “It’s like something out of a horror story.” He nodded then. “I should learn how to vanish bones—I bet it would freak an enemy out if suddenly the bones from their entire wand arm were just gone.” He snapped his fingers. “Grandpa Phineas says winning a fight is a head game.”
Sirius glanced toward Zale Wright, who’d brought Harry into the room. The healer was averting his gaze, and his mouth was quirking up despite his clear effort not to laugh.
“Well, your Grandpa Phineas isn’t wrong,” Sirius said. “But you don’t need to worry about fighting, lad.”
Harry sent him a skeptical look. “Grandpa Phineas says that Hogwarts will be teeming with the children of Death Eaters, and I’ll need to cultivate a strong circle of friends to watch my back.” He sat down abruptly and stretched out his legs to show off a pair of vivid purple argyle socks. “Healer Wright brought me socks, too. I’ve never had my own socks before—just Dudley’s stretched out old ones. Everything is even in my size, Daddy.”
Sirius took a deep breath to push down the fury he couldn’t help, and tried to smile. “Purple, huh?”
“Society demands a certain appearance,” Zale said as he leaned against the window sill. “There’s no need to have boring socks on top of it.”
Harry nodded his agreement. “There are a bunch of ties, too, but I don’t see why I’d need those.”
“Sometimes we have to wear very nice clothes for certain events,” Sirius said.
“Like when you finally had a trial?” Harry questioned.
“Yes, just like that,” Sirius agreed and turned his attention toward Dyson as the man approached with a goblet full of skel-gro. “Can you just spell that into my stomach?”
“I could—if you were five,” Dyson said dryly.
“Daddy suffered a lot in prison,” Harry declared. “So, he shouldn’t have to drink gross potions.”
“Then I shall treat him like he’s five,” Dyson agreed, and Harry laughed.
Sirius shifted and took a deep breath as the healer performed the transference spell. “It says something that even the spell produces an after taste.” He rubbed his stomach with his good hand and watched Dyson perform several spells on his left wrist and empty hand.
“Daddy, do I really have to get that big healing spell?” Harry questioned. “I feel fine, you know.”
“Yes. It’s a spell you should get used to as you’ll have to endure it annually. I’d be a very poor parent, indeed, if I never took you to the healer for check-ups and the like.”
“I’ve only ever been to the doctor when Aunt Petunia had no choice—like to get shots so I wouldn’t get Dudley sick,” Harry said. “And once for the eye doctor because the teacher sent home note about me not being able to read the board.” He touched his glasses. “I need new ones, though, if it’s not too expensive.”
“Expense is no issue, lad,” Sirius said carefully and shared a look with Zale, who looked appalled. “Do you remember what shots you received from the Muggle healer?”
“Not really, no.” He shrugged.
“His magic would’ve burned them out regardless,” Zale said. “Jacob, do you have a list of current vaccine potions children his age take before Hogwarts?”
“No,” Dyson admitted. “I only treat adults as a rule.”
“I’ll pull the information from the pediatrics department at St. Mungo’s then,” Zale said. “And bring everything required here.” He focused on Harry, who was making a face. “There are magical diseases that you must be vaccinated against, Harry. Dragonpox can, in some extreme cases, destroy your magic. Your physical health, in part, determines how well you can use your magic. Stamina, physical strength, and mental acuity can set you apart from other wizards faster than even magical power.”
Harry nodded. “All right. I won’t fuss about it.” He pursed his lips. “But I can’t promise not to complain about the dress situation.”
“Dress?” Sirius asked with a grin.
“I picked out several sets of robes,” Zale said with a laugh. “Harry is not impressed with dress robes, at all.”
“They’re ridiculous looking,” Harry said hotly and huffed when all three men laughed at him. He stilled and tilted his head. “I…Aunt Elladora says Dumbledore is throwing a huge fit in his office, so Grandpa Phineas has woken up his headmaster portrait to check it out.” He twisted the heir ring on his finger. “Apparently, Master Deering really wound Dumbledore up today at the ministry.”
“Master Deering is very good for that,” Dyson said. “In fact, he’s made a hobby of it for decades.”
“Indeed, I have,” Deering said from the open door and inclined his head. “Patrice is preparing tea, lad, and you’re specifically invited. She has chocolate biscuits.”
Harry scrambled off the bed. “Awesome.”
Sirius watched Harry dart out of the room and focused on Deering as the older wizard shut the door. “Dumbledore?”
“Proclaiming all over the place that he’s working for the greater good,” Deering said and sighed. “The vicious old bastard doesn’t have the sense to fear me, and that’s insulting. I could make Voldemort look like a toddler having a tantrum over a lolly. I obviously should’ve spent more time in Britain over the years—some of these people have clearly forgotten I’m nothing to trifle with.”
Sirius snorted. “Dumbledore’s arrogance has always been his worst fault.” He flexed the fingers on his left hand as bones started to fully form. “Feels good—normal.”
“Let me know if muscle control becomes an issue, it’s easier to correct during this stage,” Dyson murmured as he returned to the supply table. “After this, I’m going to put a monitoring charm on you and check your movement. You’ll be on your feet for at least 30 minutes. Do you think you can handle that in front of Harry, or would you prefer he be distracted?”
Sirius didn’t want to mislead Harry about his health, but he also didn’t want the boy to worry overmuch. “Let’s see how I feel once I stand. Just getting dressed on the day of the trial was exhausting. In retrospect, I don’t know how I didn’t fall asleep during my own trial.”
“Your family magic was pushing you because you weren’t safe,” Deering said roughly. “Dumbledore talked Fudge into questioning Harry’s guardianship, but it’ll go nowhere fast as I’ve already executed the Potter will. Dumbledore witnessed the document, so it isn’t like he can deny what their wishes were. Moreover, Amelia Bones is the next in line to assume custody after Alice Longbottom, and Dumbledore wouldn’t dare say she’s unfit. Since he won’t regain control of Harry in that fashion, we can be assured he’ll try something else fairly soon.”
Sirius nodded. “He’s been discussing a prophecy with Severus Snape in his office per my Aunt Elladora, who’s making a job of spying on him. If he knew how insecure his office was, he’d have a bigger fit than he’s currently having.” He shifted on the bed. “There was talk of a prophecy amongst the members of the Order of the Phoenix before James and Lily went into hiding. I don’t know the contents. Dumbledore decided that no one should know the exact wording. All we knew is that the prophecy could’ve been about Harry or little Neville Longbottom.”
“If the prophecy is real, then it will be in the Hall of Prophecy,” Armand said. “I’ll take Harry there, and we’ll listen to it together.”
Sirius frowned. “For fuck’s sake, Armand. He’s ten!”
“There’s no other way to get the prophecy,” Armand pointed out. “And I don’t think it’s safe for you to go to the ministry as yet. Certainly not when you can’t properly defend yourself. It could make your family magic reactive again, which would impede your healing process further. We can’t accurately treat you if your magic is hiding your condition.”
“I get it,” Sirius said tiredly and focused on his hand as the skin moved around the solidifying bones. “I just hate it, and Harry doesn’t deserve any of this. He never did. Every time I look at him, all I can think about is the day he was born. James…brought him out into the area where I was waiting, and he was so proud.” He blinked back tears. “Fuck.”
“Do you need time alone?” Dyson questioned.
Sirius shook his head. He didn’t want to delay healing more than absolutely necessary. “It’s hard.”
“It should be,” Zale said neutrally from where he still leaned by the window. “No one is expecting you to bounce back from a near-decade spent in Azkaban immediately or really at all. Whatever you feel, you’re entitled to it.”
“Is helpless fury a thing? Because that’s what I’m dealing with nearly 100% of the time.” Sirius exhaled and took a deep breath. “I do feel unbalanced emotionally, and I don’t want to risk losing it in front of Harry. What are my options on that front?”
“Mental shoring spells are a short-term solution to emotional imbalance,” Dyson said. “Mood stabilizing potions are another, but they’re addictive, so I’d rather not start you down that path. I’m willing to perform a shoring spell daily until you feel you’ve regained emotional control, but you’d benefit from mind healing. Unfortunately, Armand doesn’t have a mind healer in the conclave, and Patrice will be focusing entirely on Harry, so that’s not something we can start unless there is someone from your past you could trust with it?”
Sirius shook his head. “No, none of…just no.” He huffed. “Honestly, Dyson, I trust exactly no one I would’ve considered a friend before Azkaban. Not a single one of those bastards visited me—not even to curse me out for what they thought I’d done. Anyone that really knew me would’ve known I’d never betray James.”
He frowned when the image of Remus Lupin sprung up in his mind. That arsehole had been at Harry’s coming home party where it had been announced that Sirius would be the godfather. He’d been there when Sirius took his oaths.
“Your heart rate is elevating,” Dyson said. “Is there a problem?”
“I was just thinking…about someone I considered a friend,” Sirius said quietly. “Someone who witnessed the oaths I took as Harry’s godfather. Someone who should’ve realized I’d never have survived purposefully endangering Harry’s life.”
“You took the ancient oath then,” Deering murmured. “James never told me. I wish he had.”
“It was…a private thing between us,” Sirius said and looked away. “I…”
“You were in love with him,” Zale said. “Right?”
“Yes, but he loved Lily, and all I wanted was his happiness, so I’d have never said a word if he hadn’t asked,” Sirius admitted, and his face heated with a blush.
“You were the best man at his wedding,” Zale said, and it clear the other man was appalled. “How could he ask that of you?”
“He didn’t know until Harry was born,” Sirius said. “I was good at hiding it, and as I said, his happiness was enough for me. I always knew that it was going to be Lily practically from our first year at Hogwarts. James was utterly, distressingly straight.” He shrugged when Zale laughed. “By the time they married, it didn’t even really hurt. I adored Lily. The fact that they trusted me with their child was a gift. A gift I desecrated seeking revenge.”
“Don’t,” Deering chided. “Dumbledore would’ve never allowed you to keep Harry in 1981 without an immense fight. There is no telling what the outcome would’ve been. You should’ve been able to trust that you’d be treated fairly. Even a proper interview at the scene would’ve cleared you of wrong-doing, and you know it. Crouch looked at you and judged you guilty because of your name. If he wasn’t in jail, I’d be hunting him for sport.” He turned to Zale. “Have you shared your thoughts with him?”
“Not yet,” Zale said. “Harry’s been in and out all morning despite our best efforts.”
“What thoughts?” Sirius questioned with a frown.
“We’d like you to consider what your permanent living situation will be,” Zale said. “Harry needs his own space—a room that is all his—full of all the basic things he’s been denied. He slept on a small camping cot in that cupboard, Sirius, and had a single thin blanket no matter the time of the year.”
Sirius’ stomach tightened in agony and nausea welled. “I…Can you be so furious that you burst into flame?”
“No, and not for my lack of trying,” Armand said roughly.
“I inherited all the Black properties,” Sirius said. “I’d rather not ever step foot in my childhood home again. I have a single house-elf that I can trust and another I’ve given over to the Horde for healing. Nia was my grandfather’s personal attendant all of his life and served his father as well. She maintains the ancestral seat—Thestral Downs. She said it was ready for me to come home to, but I haven’t seen it personally in nearly two decades. My parents had a falling out with my grandfather when he refused to make Regulus his heir after I was sorted into Gryffindor.” He cleared his throat. “Nia!”
The female elf popped into place immediately, arms crossed. “How may Nia serve, Lord Black?”
Sirius eyed her. “Are you mad that I didn’t come home to the manor house?”
“Nia a good elf,” she said. “Nia would never presume to be mad at Lord Black for not coming to his proper home. Nia will get used to being lonely and useless.”
Sirius swallowed back a laugh. “The thestrals aren’t you keeping you company?”
“Mister Wimbly and his boy takes care of creepy death horses,” Nia explained, arms still crossed. “What can Nia do for Lord Black?”
“Tell me about Thestral Downs,” Sirius said. “I’ve not been there in twenty years. Did grandfather modernize as he planned?”
Nia shook her head. “It still be quite…formal. Master Arcturus not have many visitors after the war and only used a few rooms. I keep it all very clean.”
“Do you have the knowledge to redecorate without supervision?” Sirius asked. “I’d like to move in fairly soon with my son. He’s ten.”
Nia considered that. “I research—go spy and buy some magazines. Come back with a plan.”
Sirius started to agree, but she popped away without another word. “Right.”
Zale laughed. “I’m not sure how to feel about what just happened. Here’s hoping she spies on people with good taste.”
“Well, she did pop through every single room of this house before leaving completely, so it won’t be a complete disaster,” Armand said. “Patrice renovated this townhouse about ten years ago when she was here consulting on a situation for the DOM.”
“My main concern would be the plumbing,” Sirius said roughly. “It wasn’t far removed from a chamber pot situation when I was little.” He made a face and frowned. “Speaking of, I’d like a shower.”
Dyson nodded. “Armand, Zale—if you would leave us?”
* * * *
“I think he’s sicker than he pretends.”
“Maybe Lord Black is just the sort that does that,” Patrice said as she refilled Harry’s glass with sparkling juice. “What did you want for dinner?”
Harry considered that. He hadn’t wanted to be too demanding in case someone got mad at him and sent him back to the Dursleys. “I’ve never had any French food.”
She smiled and sat back with her tea. “What sort of things do you like?”
“Potatoes, pizza, chicken, fish and chips, cottage pie.” He pursed his lips. “Asparagus, brussels sprouts, and green beans are good. I don’t like swede or cabbage.”
“Then perhaps we’ll have coq au vin and a tartiflette.” She smiled when he couldn’t keep the confusion of his face. “Chicken with mushrooms and onions in a red wine sauce, and a potato, cheese, and pancetta…a baked dish.”
“That all sounds great,” Harry admitted. “Can I help? I can peel potatoes.”
“We’ll use a spell for that,” Patrice said. “But, yes, of course, you can help.”
“Can I ask a rude question?” Harry bit down on his lip when she laughed.
“Yes, of course.”
“You look like…money.” He blushed when she grinned. “Like you have money. Why don’t you have servants?”
“Ah, well, we do have a magical servant called a house-elf, but I prefer to do my own cooking. It is an art, and I take great pleasure in the arts and making beautiful things. Cooking for others can be very rewarding when the food you make is appreciated.”
* * * *
In the end, Sirius was very glad that Harry agreed to be charmed to sleep through the evaluation because more than one wizard lost their temper as Dyson worked. He’d only been allowed to get out of his own bed and sit in a chair in the room Harry had been given under the condition that he would sit and refrain from pitching a fit. Frankly, he felt like he deserved to be able to pitch a fit.
Armand, who had left the room more than once to vent, had returned and was seated beside Sirius as the charm work ended. Dyson used a cloth to wipe sweat from his face then cast a few charms at himself silently. The spell work had taken far more out of the healer than Sirius had expected. While he’d slept through his own diagnostic, he had seen them performed in the past.
“The scar,” Armand snapped. “Tell me you saw something different than what I suspect, Jacob.”
“You taught me everything I know about dark magic,” Jacob said roughly. “So you know fucking well, I can’t tell you that. It’s entrenched—deep in his magic, probably because the boy is a parselmouth. It’ll be difficult to remove but not impossible. I’ll need to take the results to the Horde for a consult. I can hide his identity, of course, but no one knows more about the removal of such magic than the dverger.”
Sirius started to ask what they were talking about, but Dyson focused on him then, and he closed his mouth.
“Lord Black, your son has the soul fragment of another magical person attached to his magical core. This dark magic is called a horcrux. There are various rituals all over the world from different cultures regarding the creation of a horcrux. Still, considering his past with both Voldemort and the Killing Curse, we have no choice but to assume the horcrux belongs to him. We’ll have to do extensive research before we know whether or not it was a purposeful act or merely an act of self-preservation.”
“Self-preservation,” Sirius murmured. “You mean that fucking son of a bitch is using Harry’s magic to stay alive?”
“It is certainly the only reason to put a horcrux in a living creature of any sort,” Dyson said roughly.
“Will it kill Harry?” Sirius demanded and sucked in a deep breath.
“No, in fact, your son is at this point in his life uniquely indestructible. Precious few things can destroy a horcrux—basilisk venom, fiendfyre, and the Killing Curse at the hand of the one who created the horcrux,” Deering said roughly. “Horcrux magic is one of the many roads to immortality, Sirius.” He stood and walked stand by the bed. “Dumbledore certainly knows about it, and it certainly explains why he was so…callous with Harry’s welfare all these years. He knew those Muggles couldn’t outright kill Harry, and the rest didn’t matter as far as he was concerned. If the other horcruxes are in unused inanimate objects, then Voldemort is subsisting entirely off of his connection to Harry.”
“Other horcruxes?” Jacob asked, aghast. “You think he made more than one?”
Armand turned to him and shook his head. “Of course he did, lad. A wizard who would split their soul once would have no issues in doing it again. In fact, the one in Harry could’ve been an accident due to the curse backlash.”
Jacob frowned. “Because his soul was already so fractured from previous rituals.”
“We can use the one in the boy to find the others,” Quintin Deadmarsh said. “It’ll require a blood ritual and a lot of magical power.” He focused on Sirius. “Which would work better with your involvement, Lord Black.”
“I’ve never done any sort of ritual magic,” Sirius confessed. “But I’m willing to learn whatever I’m required to learn to make things better and safer for Harry.” He paused. “Up to and including necromancy.”
Deadmarsh grinned. “We rarely make the uninitiated raise the dead, but I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Start your research, Quin,” Deering ordered. “I’ll call the senior members of the conclave together for a discussion because if we’re going to locate and destroy Voldemort, then we need to know exactly who he is.”
Sirius pushed himself up from the chair and walked across the room to pull the blankets over his son. Harry curled onto his side and clutched the stuffed unicorn that appeared in his room the day before. So far, no one had admitted to buying it.
“Dumbledore knows enough to be dangerous but never enough to be genuinely helpful,” Sirius said. “Is that arrogance or some sort of apathy? Does he just assume he already knows everything there is to know and therefore nothing and no one can teach him? Does he plan to allow this thing to fester in Harry until…” He took a deep breath. “Until it kills him one way or another?”
“I don’t know, but I think the prophecy will tell us a lot,” Deering said roughly.
“Then you can take him to the ministry tomorrow and get the damn thing,” Sirius snapped harshly. “But I want you to destroy it, Armand, after you viewed it. I don’t care what the law says about it.”
“I’ll void the contents of the orb before we leave,” Armand said. “If Riddle doesn’t know the full contents, he doesn’t need to know. Removing the prophecy from the situation will neuter Dumbledore’s power regarding it. He won’t be able to use it against you or Harry going forward.”
Sirius nodded. “Fine. Fuck.” He turned on his heel and went straight back to his own room, where he threw himself in a chair by the fire. He looked up when the door closed to find that Dyson and Wright had followed him. “What? I can’t have a tantrum in peace in my own room?”
“If you’d like, I could return tomorrow to tell you about Harry’s other health issues, my Lord,” Dyson said stiffly.
“Fuck me,” Sirius hissed. “I’m the worst parent on earth.” He rubbed his face with both hands briskly. “Is it bad?”
“Less than I feared,” Zale said as he sat down across from Sirius.
“Granted,” Dyson murmured. “He has nutrition issues, but they’re relatively minor as it appears his magic has been feeding him in some fashion or another for years. I’ve not investigated the ward stone that Armand removed from the house, but that could’ve impacted him positively as well. He is small of his age, but that can be corrected with a potion regimen. His magic is healthy despite the nutrition issues and the horcrux. The kid has power to burn for days. His emotional and mental health is on par with a child who has been abused and neglected, but just being out of the house for the last five days has done a lot to calm his magic, which no longer resonates with outright misery.
“His emotional maturity is on par with an older teenager probably a reaction to the abuse he suffered,” Dyson continued. “He has a hardy personality, as you must have seen by now, and is far more forgiving in nature than anyone has the right to expect. He finds magic and the magical world fascinating, so with the right encouragement and resources, I believe he would embrace his new circumstances wholesale and never look back.”
“Agreed,” Zale said. “He associates the Muggle world with his aunt and uncle to an ugly degree. So there will come a time when we’ll want to introduce him to parts of it that are good and fun. Otherwise, he might grow isolated and lose the ability to function outside of magical enclaves. That would be a disservice to him.”
Sirius nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind. His mother taught me a lot about the Muggle world so that I could blend in and, most importantly, so I wouldn’t be afraid of it.” He grimaced. “She taught Peter, too. That’s why he retreated to the Muggle world when I was hunting him. He knew I wouldn’t risk violating the Statute of Secrecy.”
* * * *
Armand lit a thin, black herbal as he sat down at the kitchen table and took a moment to calm his mind. A long drag from the herbal helped since it was laced with a calming potion. “Quin, estimation on how many we’ll need going forward regarding ritual craft?”
His nephew looked up from his scribbling. “Just the inner circle will be enough. We don’t need to involve the larger conclave. The boy’s parselcraft and magical power will be beneficial in the ritual.”
“I’d prefer to keep all of this close,” Armand admitted. “Inner circle only, so if I have to elevate another member to that level—I need to know now.” He took another drag on the herbal. “I have a few choices, depending on what we need.”
“The current number should be enough,” Quintin said again and returned to his scribbling.
“The fewer involved, the better,” Arnou said. “Lord Black gets agitated when there are more than a few people around him at any given time. He’s used to the seven of us moving in and out of his space. His family magic could become reactive again if we introduce another wizard to the circumstances.” He paused. “He clearly prefers Zale’s company out of all of us.”
Armand focused on Wright and found the man’s cheeked flushed. “Like that, is it? I did wonder why you made it clear that Dyson would be Black’s healer that first day.”
Zale blew air out noisily and focused on his tea. “My superior at St. Mungo’s has received five different requests for information regarding Lord Black. I had to take a sabbatical to get some peace, Armand. Dumbledore wants to interview me personally regarding my interactions with the earl. I wrote him a note yesterday telling him that I wouldn’t meet with him unless it was ordered by the Wizengamot.” He snagged a biscuit from the tray in the middle of the table. “But I…I’d just rather not discuss it. The last thing he needs is someone trying to get in his space.”
Walker snorted. “The man hasn’t gotten laid in a decade or more, Zale. He definitely needs someone to get in his space.”
Armand shot his nephew a look. “Lord Black has precious little privacy as is—let’s not discuss the man’s lack of a sex life. It’ll depress the fuck out of us all.”
“Granted.” Walker leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms.
Dyson cleared his throat. “What will you need from Lord Black regarding the ritual? Participation? Leadership?”
“General participation as the parental influence will be enough,” Quin said and spread the parchments out in front of him. “It’ll be a harvest ritual at the root with elements of cleansing and subjugation. We won’t know how dangerous the soul fragment is until we get it out of him. Right now, it’s dormant.”
“There’s a foreign element of magic on the boy,” Dyson said. “At first, I thought it was a residue of the Killing Curse, but it looks protective.”
“Could it be part of whatever Lily did to protect him from the Killing Curse?” Armand questioned.
Dyson frowned. “I’ve never…honestly, Armand, that always sounded like ministry propaganda to me. Do you know anything about that night specifically?”
Armand took a deep breath. “I arrived after their bodies had been recovered by the DMLE, and Harry had already been placed in a safe home. After the funeral, I returned to the house to make sure the estate spells had been cast so that nothing valuable had been left behind in the ruins of the cottage. The nursery was largely intact, and the walls were still glowing with magic several days later. I don’t know what Lily did—there was little to no evidence left behind in that room. The magical reminants of the backlashed curse resisted all of my diagnostic spells.”
“The evidence was in Harry,” Zale said. “We should take a look at the residue during the next scan, Jacob. It could impact the ritual if she invoked some element of the Potter family magic that we’re unaware of.”
Armand blew out a smoke ring and nodded. “Right.” He cleared his throat. “I reached out to Chieftain Ragnok regarding a confidential issue and requested his best curse-breakers be made available to me for a conversation. He gave me three names.” He pulled the letter he received from Ragnok and unfolded it. “Two wizards—Thaddeus Banner and William Prewett and a witch named Regina Greengrass. Thoughts?”
“William Prewett is Molly Weasley’s oldest brother, and that is a degree far too close to Dumbledore for my liking,” Zale said.
Armand considered that. “During his bid for a guardianship hearing, Dumbledore convinced Fudge that Harry should be placed with a proper light family. No names were mentioned, but the Weasley family is a close ally of Dumbledore and has been since the 70s. If Dumbledore knows about the horcrux situation, then he has done nothing to act on that information. We don’t need him meddling in our business. The last thing he needs is even a hint of it. He certainly knows more about Voldemort than we do.”
“I know Banner,” Dyson said. “Family man, heavy hitter for Gringotts, and a latent parselmouth. I offered him information on waking up his gift, and he declined. He said he didn’t have the time to give to a conclave as his primary concern is providing for his wife and children. He’s a good, honorable wizard—grey in magic due to his job. But I don’t recommend him.”
“Why?” Armand questioned. “Did his lack of interest in parselcraft put you off?”
Dyson shook his head. “No, that’s a personal choice. He arranges his entire life around his family, and I find no fault in that. I believe he would certainly invest himself in the task in front of us, but he would probably resent us for the intrusion on his life. He wouldn’t say no outright because of Ragnok’s recommendation, which is certainly an honor.”
Armand nodded. “I can always ask Ragnok for more names. He’ll be curious as to why Banner isn’t our choice as he fully expects me to choose him. The chieftain holds him in very high regard.” He turned a teacup over and reached for the pot. “Greengrass?”
“Dark as fuck,” Zale muttered, and Dyson laughed.
“Gorgeous,” Dyson countered. “Enchantress level witch and rumor has it that she killed the husband her parents arranged for her to marry, but the DMLE couldn’t find any evidence of wrong-doing on her part. She practices in a small family coven and has worked for the Horde for 15 years. I wouldn’t cross her or honestly want to come across her in a dark alley.”
Arnou laughed. “Come now, Jacob, she’s not that bad.”
“You just like shagging her,” Dyson said dryly. “I really hope you sleep with one eye open when you toss your boots under her bed, Castius.”
“Like I’d be stupid enough to fall asleep in that witch’s bed,” Castius scoffed. “She’s yet to truly forgive me for sleeping with her brother and his wife, not that I want or even asked for forgiveness.”
Armand was considering cursing them both out for going off-topic, but the ward on the door flickered, and Harry Potter pushed it open. He kept his mouth shut with sheer willpower as the boy walked through his privacy ward without even stumbling a little. The men at the table stilled and couldn’t contain their own shock. Not a single one of them had ever entered a room through one of his privacy wards without permission.
Harry rubbed his scar and yawned. “I have a headache, Healer Dyson. Grandpa Phineas says I should ask for a potion because it’s bad, and I’m seeing white dots. I didn’t want to wake up Daddy.”
Dyson rose from the table with a frown. “That sounds like a migraine.”
“I don’t know what that is,” Harry admitted and blinked. “The light hurts in here.”
Armand drew his wand and lowered the light charms by half, and he watched Harry’s shoulders relax slightly.
“Come have some tea,” Jacob said and guided Harry to the chair he’d left. “I’ll retrieve a potion from the lab. A plain scone will help settle your stomach if you’re nauseous.”
“Did you have a bad dream, lad?” Armand questioned as Zale prepared him tea, and Meyers pushed a plate with a scone into place in front of the boy.
“Not…really. I mean, I don’t know.” He broke his scone in half and frowned at it. “I like jam.”
“Jam might be too much on your stomach,” Zale said and put a cup of tea in front of him. “It shouldn’t be too hot to drink.”
Harry nodded and took a nibble of the scone. “Sometimes, I dream about a lady and a green light, but I don’t know what it means. My scar always hurts afterward.”
Armand wanted to set the whole fucking country on fire. He pinched the bridge of his nose and considered an appropriate response.
“Grandpa Phineas says I shouldn’t worry about that right now,” the boy continued and picked up his tea. “Also, he told me to tell you that Voldemort’s real name is Tom Riddle, and he started Hogwarts in 1938. Apparently, Head Master Dippet was really fond of him. His mother was a woman named Merope Gaunt, and his father is a Muggle named Tom Riddle, Sr from Little Hangleton.”
Armand cleared his throat. “How sure is your grandfather of this information?”
“Very sure,” Harry said. “Dumbledore never silences the portraits in his office and trusts the magic on them to keep his secrets because he’s an idiot. Aunt Elladora thinks it’s because Dumbledore doesn’t have a dang bit of respect of family magic, so he doesn’t bother to consider that family oaths would override the privacy magic on the portraits in his office and in the rest of the school. If he had a clue, there wouldn’t be a single living portrait in that whole castle.”
“Granted,” Armand said and glanced toward Walker, who had grabbed a piece of parchment from his brother and started writing. “Does your grandfather know anything else about Voldemort?”
“He murdered a girl in the school while he was there, but Dumbledore hasn’t discussed the details,” Harry reported and sipped his tea as Dyson returned to the kitchen, and he reached out for the potion as soon as he saw the healer.
“Myrtle Warren,” Zale supplied. “She died in the 1940s.”
Walker nodded. “I’ve talked to her a few times.” He paused and glanced toward Harry. “Hogwarts has ghosts.”
“Real ones?” Harry questioned. “Seriously?”
“Yeah, seriously,” Walker said with a grin.
Harry downed the potion in one gulp without even making a face, which told Armand more about his headache than anything the boy had said. “How often do you get headaches like this? Always after the dream?”
“Always after the dream,” Harry agreed. “And sometimes when I’m really tired because I can’t push the pain from my scar away. It’s not so bad most of the time, though. I don’t mean to complain.”
“Harry,” Jacob began and paused until the boy focused on him. “I need to know every single time your head hurts from now on, okay? If I’m not here when it happens, write down the time for me to see later.”
“Okay,” Harry agreed. “Can I take my tea and scone back to my room?”
“Yes, of course, lad,” Armand said. Shortly, the boy walked right back out of the room through his ward like it was nothing but a thin mist. It was the damnedest thing he’d ever seen.
“What the fuck was that?” Quintin demanded in a low tone.
“A ten-year-old with a migraine or the fact that he treated Armand’s privacy ward like it didn’t exist?” Jacob questioned. “Because both situations are outrageous. His connection to Voldemort is far more damaging than I had previously thought. The magical bleed is profane, but he’s clearly intruding on the boy’s mind as well.”
“When’s he too tired or asleep and can’t fight him off,” Armand says. “As to the matter of my warding…” He shook his head. “I’ve never seen anything like it. We’ll have to find a way to test it that doesn’t alarm him. Moreover, we’ll need to teach him how to see wards so he can hide the ability from people who don’t need to know he can do it, which is practically everyone on the entire planet.”
“Is Master Armand mad at us?” Harry asked as he watched the minimal amount of possessions he owned pack themselves in the trunk his Daddy had brought.
“No, of course not, baby,” Sirius said and sat down beside him on the bed. “In fact, everyone will be moving with us to Thestral Downs to continue the whole healing thing. We just figured you’d like a room of your own. A real one.”
Harry considered that. He quite liked the room that Master Armand had given him, but it wasn’t very fun, and he didn’t have any toys. “Could I have toys? What are magical toys like?”
“I honestly have no clue what toys are like now, but we can figure it out together,” Sirius said. “The manor is much larger than this townhouse, and you can play outside if you like as well. There is a flower garden and a pond. It’s heavily warded, and no one will be able to enter it without my permission.”
Harry nodded. “That would make you feel better, right?”
“It would,” Sirius admitted. “I trust Armand—I wouldn’t have chosen to act on my behalf if he weren’t a man of his word, but it would be nice to be surrounded by our own things, don’t you think?”
“It’ll be mine, too?” Harry questioned.
“It’s our house,” Sirius said. “And it’ll be full of our things—we own everything in it.”
“Can I…” Harry bit down on his lip and frowned as his unicorn flew off the bed and dropped down into the trunk. “Why did you pick me for your heir? How does magical adoption even work?”
“I can’t have children of my own,” Sirius admitted. “My brother cursed me when I was sixteen on my mother’s order. By the time it was discovered, it couldn’t be reversed. Your mum and dad knew about the curse, and when you were born, they asked me to be your godfather. They also offered to share you and to merge our houses. You’re the last of your line, Harry, and in the magical world, that is a very special circumstance. The Gryffindor barony is the last title left bestowed on a magical family from King Arthur himself.”
Harry’s mouth dropped open. “What? King Arthur was real?”
“Very real,” Sirius assured. “His spirit is part of the Wizengamot even today though he has not spoken to the members in well over a thousand years. Merlin existed as well and served Arthur until the day he died. Your magical legacy is all that is left of Avalon, and James feared it would be entirely destroyed by the war. The magical adoption allowed me to be connected personally to that familial magic to keep it safe. It was meant to keep you safe as well. I’m sorry that I wasn’t strong enough to be the father you deserved.”
“It’s not your fault,” Harry said. “And I guess you’ve been told that like twenty whole times already.”
Sirius laughed. “Regret is an immense burden.”
“It must be,” Harry said and glanced toward the trunk. “Am I gonna get Charlotte back?”
“My unicorn,” Harry admitted and huffed when his face heated up. He hated blushing, and it was stupid to be attached to a stuffed animal since he wasn’t a baby.
“Yeah, of course.” Sirius nudged him. “I had a stuffed hippogriff named Harvey. I even carried it to Hogwarts.”
“What’s a hippogriff?”
“A magical creature that is half-horse and half-giant eagle. I’ll show you a picture later if you’d like. There used to be a herd at Thestral Downs, but I don’t know if they’re still there. We’ll have to explore the property to find out.” He slid off the bed and offered Harry his hand. “We’ll go first and prepare the wards to receive everyone else. Master Deering has a portkey ready for their trip.”
Harry took his godfather’s hand and huffed when the trunk closed on its own and disappeared. “Where did it go?”
“Nia retrieved it. I’ll introduce you when we get to the manor. She’s been working very hard to welcome us home, so we should be appreciative even if things aren’t completely ready.” Sirius squeezed his hand gently. “Charlotte’s fine.”
Harry shrugged and averted his gaze. “I’ve never had a stuffed animal before.”
“I’ve very sorry for that,” Sirius said. “I’m going to call Nia, and she’ll take us home. Healer Dyson doesn’t want me to tax my magic with apparition, as yet.”
“That’s fine,” Harry said and took a deep breath.
Harry flinched when the magical creature appeared in front of them. He knew that Master Deering had a house-elf, but Reg had never introduced himself, and Harry hadn’t pushed it since he didn’t why and figured it wasn’t even his business, to begin with.
“Master Sirius ready to come home?” she asked.
“Yes, but first, I want you to introduce you to my son—this is Harry Potter.”
“Potter-Black,” Harry corrected and flushed when his godfather focused on him with wide eyes. “Right?”
Sirius took a deep breath and nodded. “Right.” He smiled. “This is Nia she’s been with the House of Black for three hundred years. She was born at Thestral Downs and has lived there her whole life. At one time, she oversaw an entire staff of elves, but my grandfather released them to other members of the family as his needs decreased.”
Harry held out his hand. “Hi, Nia, it’s nice to meet you.”
The house-elf hesitated and looked toward his godfather before taking his hand to shake it gently like he might break. “Hello, Master Harry.”
“Daddy says you fixed my room up, thank you.”
She blushed and rocked a little back and forth. “I tried to make it special.”
“We’re ready to go, Nia,” Sirius said quietly and focused on Harry. “The trip through the wards will be easier for me if I’m carrying you. I don’t know what I’ll have to push off regarding the family-oriented defenses. I never took you there after the blood adoption.”
Harry made a face. “Okay, but I’m not a baby.”
“Of course not, lad,” Sirius said with a laugh and picked him up. “You were much easier to cart around when you were, though.”
Nia wrapped her hand around his godfather’s wrist, and with a little fizzle sensation, they appeared in a large foyer with a wide staircase.
“Welcome to Thestral Downs,” Nia said cheerfully.
Harry shed his cloak as his godfather put him on his feet. Nia reached out for it, and he hesitated briefly before giving it to her. “Thank you, Nia.”
“You be welcome, Master Harry.” She focused on Sirius, who quickly shed his own and passed it to her. “I place you and Master Harry in the west wing on the second floor, Master Sirius. The ground floor and first floor are all open and renovated. The third floor be in stasis since we not need it. Master Deering and his lady will be placed in the east wing on the second floor. Sleeping quarters for his conclave be provided as needed. Healers Wright and Dyson also be getting guest rooms on the first floor.” She glanced toward Harry briefly before focusing on Sirius. “I be locking basement doors and potion lab, but unlocking charm will open them. Both places way too dangerous for Master Harry.”
“I won’t try to unlock doors,” Harry promised and wondered away from them with a frown. “How many rooms does this place have?”
“204,” Sirius said, and Harry turned to look at him.
“That’s ridiculous, Daddy, what are we going to do with that many rooms? I’ll probably get lost in this big, giant house and never be heard from again.”
Nia laughed. “Master Harry just call Nia if he get lost.” She popped away after that instruction.
“Let’s go into the Lord’s office so I can show you the ward stone,” Sirius said and cupped his shoulder to guide him from the foyer and down a wide hall.
The hall was lined with portraits and Harry squeaked, despite his best intentions when one started moving. “Oh, is that how Aunt Elladora is spying on Dumbledore? Her portrait is alive?”
“Indeed it is,” a woman said from her portrait. “Come here, lad, and let get a good look at you.”
Harry glanced toward Sirius and stepped forward when his godfather gave him a sharp nod. “Hi, are you Aunt Elladora?”
“I am,” the woman in the portrait said with a smile. “You’re a bit scrawny. We’ll have to get Nia to feed you more.” She leaned forward a bit and huffed. “If I could step out of this portrait, I would beat Dumbledore until I felt better about his existence.”
“That’d be a lot of work,” Harry cautioned. “You’d probably have to take several tea breaks and maybe a nap. I mean, it could take days, actually.” He paused. “Does this place have a dungeon?”
“It does,” Sirius said. “And no, I’m not showing it to you. It’s full of torture equipment.”
“I might need that though,” Harry protested and waved to Elladora as he was guided away from her portrait. “I have enemies, Daddy.”
“Ha!” a portrait of a man called out. “That one’s going to get sorted properly.”
“A proper Slytherin would never actually get sorted into Slytherin,” Harry said as they walked. “It’s not very cunning to show your hand like that. I think I want to be in Ravenclaw.”
That earned him a few glares from portraits but also a few smiles, so he took it for a win.
“Your parents and I were in Gryffindor,” Sirius said.
“Yeah, I know, Grandpa Phineas told me all about your shenanigans at Hogwarts,” Harry confessed. “I think that would give me a far higher profile than I want at school, and I need to learn everything I possibly can about the magical world, so a serious, studious house would serve my needs better.”
“Granted,” Sirius said with a sigh. “But don’t forget to have a bit of fun, eh?”
“Of course, Daddy, I just want to be…what I need to be so you won’t be disappointed.”
Sirius turned and knelt swiftly, so they were eye-to-eye. “Listen, very carefully, Harry,” he paused and waited until Harry nodded. “Things aren’t always going to be great, okay? We’ll both make mistakes and sometimes say the wrong thing. We might hurt each other with a careless word or deed, but at the end of every bloody day, you are my son. There may come a time when I’m disappointed in your choices, but I will never be disappointed in you. Okay?”
“Okay,” Harry said. “What if I fail a class?”
“I’ll ground your lazy arse,” Sirius said tartly as he stood. “Because, to be frank, you’d have to demonstrate some felony-level laziness to fail a class at Hogwarts.”
Harry laughed. “Seriously, though.”
“I’m Sirius all the time, my lad,” Sirius declared airily as he prodded him gently into the office space.
“It’s nice,” Harry said as he looked around the room. “Not stuffy like I expected.”
“It used to be just as stuffy as you would expect,” Sirius said. “With chairs I’m convinced my grandfather put into place just because they were uncomfortable.” He turned toward a large portrait on the wall and sighed. “He’s asleep or I’d ask. I think he has to be honest with me now since I’m the Earl.”
“Yes, it takes a few months for a portrait to wake up after a wizard or witch dies,” Sirius explained and walked over to the portrait. “Sometimes, they go to sleep permanently if they’re not stimulated by other magical portraits or people.” He grasped the sides of it and carefully lifted it off the wall to reveal a gleaming black stone. “This is obsidian ward stone. They’re very rare as they’re difficult to create.” He focused on Harry. “Do you know what obsidian is?”
“It’s…volcano glass, right?”
“Yes, it’s lava that was rapidly cooled. It’s delicate, so carving runes into takes a deft and careful hand.”
“Wouldn’t something like granite be a better choice?”
“Traditionally, yes,” Sirius agreed as he pulled his wand and dragged the tip across his left palm to draw blood. “But obsidian has metaphysical properties that some magical people find very attractive, especially those gifted with divination as many of my family have been over the years. My grandfather, Arcturus, was a genuine prophet. The only one documented in the last two hundred years in Britain.”
“Could he see whatever he wanted?” Harry questioned.
“No, lad, Hekate shows a prophet what she wants them to know, and often they go into a trance when delivering a prophecy, so they don’t remember the content themselves. Divination gifts vary, of course. We can discuss that at length if you want.”
“I don’t know,” Harry admitted. “Grandpa Phineas says it’s a silly subject.”
“He had no gifts,” Sirius said wryly. “And was profoundly jealous to have a son born so powerful in the arts. I think Grandfather Arcturus actually ignored much of his gifts because of his father’s opinions on the subject. Don’t let that old git’s opinions discourage you from learning something you think is interesting, okay?”
“He’s not real happy to be called an old git,” Harry admitted and laughed when his godfather shrugged. “What are you going to do to the wardstone?”
“Introduce myself,” Sirius murmured. “Then I’ll speak to her at length about who is allowed to enter to property freely and who must have my explicit permission each time they visit. My grandfather gave all family members unfettered access to the property, and I can’t allow that.”
“Because of me?” Harry questioned.
Sirius put his hand on the wardstone, and it started to glow. “Because I don’t trust most of them—with you or me.”
“They must suck a lot,” Harry said as he threw himself into a chair and stared at the sleeping portrait of Arcturus Black. “Grandpa Arcturus is in my ring, but he’s really upset. Aunt Elladora says it could be months and months before he’s calm enough to talk to me. Is that weird?”
“It’s uncommon,” Sirius murmured as the glow moved down in his arm and encompassed him. “For most, death brings peace, and a level of contentment not often found in life. But things were difficult for my grandfather during the last week of his life, and he blamed himself for what he discovered about my circumstances. Moreover, he was furious that he couldn’t make things right himself. His illness had made him physically weak, and his grasp on the family magic was tenuous at best. In the end, he made the only choice he could make, but…”
“He’s really brassed off,” Harry supplied. “I guess I get it. Being powerless to help you must have been difficult for him to accept considering…” He flipped a hand. “His wealth and status. Also, I get the feeling that magical people don’t often have to directly deal with the consequences of their own actions.”
Sirius glanced over his shoulder at him and smiled briefly. “Astute observation, lad. Maybe you do belong in Ravenclaw.”
“Do I get any sort of choice?”
“I’m supposed to be all mysterious about it as to not spoil the Sorting process,” Sirius said as he lifted his hand from the stone, and the light faded. “But yes, my wishes were the deciding factor, and I wanted to go into Gryffindor. Though I was told, I’d do well in Hufflepuff because the Sorting Hat believed my loyalty was my defining quality.”
Harry nodded even as his ring tingled on his finger. It clearly didn’t approve of his godfather revealing so much about how kids were sorted. “How many headmasters and headmistresses for the school have come from our family?”
“Eight,” Sirius said. “Phineas Black was the last. Dumbledore is the first and certainly last of his family to head the school as he has no children or grandchildren. He has a brother who never married either. Their line will die with them.”
“Considering what I’ve learned about him, that’s probably a good thing,” Harry said, and a little tingling sensation drifted over his chest. “What…” He frowned. “Did someone just come on to the property?”
“Yes, that was Master Deering crossing the ward boundary at the front of the manor,” Sirius explained. “His portkey delivered him and Madame Delacour just outside the property line. He crossed first to make sure it was safe for his wife.”
“He’s very careful with her,” Harry said. “Sometimes Uncle Vernon would be extra nice to Aunt Petunia on her birthday or whatever. But Master Deering is always extra nice to Miss Patrice.”
Sirius sat down in a chair near him and used his wand to heal and clean his hand. “A good man treats everyone around them well, but he should always take special care with his partner and children. Master Deering considers himself a fortunate man to have earned the love of Patrice Delacour.”
“He should,” Harry said. “She’s awesome and brilliant.”
Sirius grinned and flicked his nose. “Your Dad was fond of smart witches, too.”
“Aunt Petunia said that my mum cheated in school,” Harry said as he rubbed this nose.
“Let’s just agree that you shouldn’t trust a single word Petunia Dursley said about your parents, okay? Lily was brilliant—the brightest witch of her age,” Sirius said and held out his hand. “Come along, I want to show you something.”
Harry took his hand. “My room?”
“As a matter of a fact, yes,” Sirius said. “Nia brought me a catalog to pick out furniture from, but if you don’t like the choices I made—we can return it and get something different.”
“I’ve never had any stuff of my own, so I’m gonna like it,” Harry declared. “Did I get a big bed? I really like the one at Master Deering’s house.”
“It’s a full size just like the one at Master Deering’s house,” Sirius said. “Though you’ll have a smaller bed at Hogwarts, so don’t get used to sprawling out all over the place, or you’ll end up falling out of bed repeatedly at school.”
“That sounds like the voice of experience,” Harry said with a laugh.
“I resorted to putting charms on my bed designed for toddlers,” Sirius said wryly. “All seven bloody years I went.”
Harry laughed as he was led upstairs. “Did you get hurt?”
“Madam Pomfrey, the school mediwitch, taught me the bumper-charm for my bed because I fell out of it shortly before Halloween my first year and broke my wrist,” Sirius explained. “Your dad took me to the infirmary. I decided right then that he was going to be my very best mate. Peter and Remus just laughed about my clumsiness, but James knew it hurt a lot, and he didn’t think it was funny at all.”
“I wouldn’t want to be friends with anyone that would laugh at someone else being in pain,” Harry admitted as they left the stairs on the second floor. “What’s on the first floor?”
“Bedrooms and various other spaces for guests to use—like an office and a formal salon. The third floor is also full of bedrooms. This manor house used to house a great many members of the house of Black, but times changed, and families no longer live together as they once did. Independence is a virtue, of course, but sometimes I wonder if such separation made it easier for members of the family to fall prey to dark wizards like Voldemort.”
“So you don’t have any family left you could invite to live with us?” Harry questioned.
“No, I don’t think so,” Sirius admitted. “I’ll certainly be reaching out of various family members to gauge their political leanings both regarding magic and blood status. I can’t and won’t ask you to stand as the Earl of Blackmoor in the future if there is anyone in our house who would disdain you for your blood status.”
“Grandpa Phineas says our house motto was never about blood purity, but due to consanguineous marriage, a lot of members of the Black family are just dumb. What’s that mean?”
Sirius flushed. “Marriage between family members—normally cousins.”
“Gross, Daddy,” Harry exclaimed in horror. “That’s…why?”
“To keep the family pure,” Sirius said wryly. “The belief being that pureblood led to more magical children when, in fact, it’s the exact opposite. A great many children in my family were born with no magic at all and ended up being disowned and left to fend for themselves in the magical world.”
“Well, I’m not going to be the earl of buttholes like that,” Harry declared. “So, they need to learn better.”
Sirius laughed as he pushed open a door. “This is your suite—it’s just three rooms, but if you need more room later, we can rearrange this area of the house magically.”
“I don’t even know what I would do with three rooms,” Harry said.
Sirius laughed. “You’ll change your tune.” He ruffled his hair. “Master Deering removed a trunk from your Aunt’s house that belonged to your mother. He had the contents scanned to make sure Dumbledore hadn’t messed with anything inside. Everything in it is for you.”
“For me?” Harry questioned and took a deep breath. “What’s in it?”
“Let’s look together, okay?” Sirius murmured and guided him a room with furnished with a sofa, desk, bookcase, and a fireplace. “It’s in your bedroom.”
“I have my own living room,” Harry said with a laugh. “Daddy, that’s silly.”
“Technically, it’s an antechamber,” Sirius replied with a grin. “I figured you’d appreciate having it furnished this way rather than a formal, stuffy situation. Nia sort of modeled it after a common room at Hogwarts.”
There was another fireplace in his bedroom and a big bed with curtains. He let go of his godfather’s hand and rushed over to crawl up onto the bed. Thankfully, there was a little set of steps for him to use. “Wow!” Harry tossed himself onto the mattress with a laugh. “It’s like a cloud.”
Sirius leaned against the end of the bed and grinned. “That’s a good thing, right?”
“Yep! I wanna drown in blankets.” Harry sat up. “And I wish I could take pictures of everything and show Aunt Petunia so she would know that I’m living somewhere awesome while she’s living in that normal little house in Privet Drive.”
Sirius cleared his throat and offered his hand. “Let’s have a talk, lad.”
Harry raised an eyebrow but took the hand and allowed himself to be pulled from the bed. His godfather led him across the room to the fireplace. There was a trunk sitting on a rug. It was a light wood and had lilies carved all over the lid. He dropped down on the rug and glanced up as Sirius took off his suit jacket, which he tossed into a chair nearby.
Harry touched the trunk as Sirius joined him. “I’ve never seen this before.”
“It was apparently in the attic,” Sirius said. “I’m not sure if your aunt and uncle ever even knew about it. Lily might have hidden it there without their knowledge. Considering what I suspect to be in it—I believe that is the case.” He cleared his throat. “But first, I want to talk to you about your aunt and uncle.”
“What…” Harry crossed his legs and got comfortable. “What’s happened? I don’t have to see them, right? They hate me, Daddy, so if they’re trying to get visitation or something, it’s just because they want to yell at me.”
“Oh, lad,” Sirius said softly and sighed. “Your aunt and uncle are in prison. The head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, a witch named Amelia Bones, coordinated with Muggle police to see them charged with child abuse and child neglect. Your aunt will spend ten years prison, and your uncle got 15 years because he confessed to hitting you and his own son whenever he felt like it.”
Harry swallowed hard. “He shoved Dudley once because Dudley was whining and…well, he fell down the stairs and broke his wrist. Aunt Petunia told the doctors that I pushed Dudley down the stairs during an argument. She said it so often that after a while, it was like Dudley forgot his own daddy did it and blamed me.”
“That’s called gaslighting,” Sirius said roughly. “She might have even come to believe it herself so she wouldn’t have to deal with the fact that her husband was a child abuser. Granted, she was one herself, but even after confessing to underfeeding you, lying to you, emotionally abusing you, and forcing you to sleep in a broom cupboard—she was utterly convinced she’d never abused you at all.”
“They just confessed?” Harry asked skeptically. “That doesn’t seem very likely, Daddy.”
“Your aunt and uncle were petrified to be in the custody of the aurors.”
“What’s an auror?” Harry asked.
“A magical police officer,” Sirius responded. “At any rate, they were petrified and confessed to everything under the condition that they would be returned to the Muggle world and be handed over to their own kind. I suspect they believed that there would be no evidence against them that could be used in their court system. But we have procedures in place to handle such situations that will see justice served and protect the Statute of Secrecy. Due to their confessions, which were thoroughly documented, they were both offered plea deals to avoid a long trial process. They both accepted.”
“So Aunt Petunia is in jail,” Harry said and wondered why knowing that hurt. He rubbed his sternum and blinked rapidly when tears stung his eyes. “Mum would be upset to know that, right?”
“Your mother would be more upset to know that her sister treated you so callously,” Sirius said. “Petunia’s behavior is unforgivable, lad.”
Harry nodded and rubbed the back of his hand against his eyes. “I…I don’t know what I ever did to make her hate me. I used to try so hard to do everything just the way she wanted, and it was never enough.”
“It was never about you, lad,” Sirius said. “Your aunt resented Lily for having magic when she didn’t. She also resented her for her intelligence and her looks. Your mother was a lovely woman—inside and out—and Petunia couldn’t stand her for it. I think the resentment was equal with whatever love she had for her sister, and in the end, that resentment won. Perhaps it was because Lily was killed, or maybe it was always going to be that way.”
Harry nodded and looked at the trunk. “I…I guess I should feel sorry for them both for what they became and how they were punished for it.” He cleared his throat. “What happened to Dudley?”
“Vernon Dursley had a second cousin living in Wales who agreed to take your cousin,” Sirius explained. “Apparently, the Muggle police considered his sister, Marge, first, but she was arrested for animal cruelty concerning her dog breeding business. The last note I received from Madam Bones indicated that Marge Dursley had been forced to pay some fines and had lost all of her animals. She had no interest in taking charge of her nephew once she discovered that everything his parents owned had been sold and put into a trust for him that she couldn’t access.”
Harry snorted. “I’m not at all surprised. Aunt Marge is just a terrible person, Daddy, and her dog bit me last summer.” He poked his ankle. “But the scar is gone now—Healer Dyson used a potion on it because the scar tissue was thick, and he was worried that it might cause problems as I grew.”
“I know,” Sirius murmured. “He’s been sharing all of that with me.”
Harry scrunched up his nose. “I have no privacy.”
Sirius grinned. “Sorry.”
He huffed and focused on the trunk. “I guess it’s okay. At least you care, and it’s probably your job to know that stuff.”
“Certainly.” He put one hand on the trunk. “Do you want to wait? I just got it back from the bank this morning. Nia picked it up for us.”
“I want to know what is in it,” Harry said quietly. He traced one of the flowers. “I don’t remember them at all, and it hurts.”
“I miss them,” Sirius murmured. “Your father had this ridiculous donkey laugh that should’ve been horrifying but wasn’t. Your mum made the best cup of tea in all of Europe, and I would fight anyone who disagreed.” He grinned when Harry laughed. “When they told me that Lily was pregnant—I lectured them both about doing something so silly in the middle of the war.”
Harry nodded. “Did Mum kick your bum?”
Sirius laughed. “She just looked at me like I was an idiot and told me to stay out of her business. Honestly, I think you were a very, very happy accident.”
“That makes sense,” Harry said. “They were really young, right?”
“Lily turned 20 the January before you were born,” Sirius said. “And was 21 when she was killed.” He closed his eyes briefly. “I…war knows no age, Harry, and I never understood that better than the night I stood in your nursery and realized that Voldemort had tried to kill you at 15 months old. He treated you like an enemy despite the fact that you were little more than a toddler.”
“And Dumbledore treated me like a weapon,” Harry said and frowned as he focused on the trunk. “More and more, I think I need to hear the prophecy as self-defense against Albus Dumbledore.”
“Oh, lad,” a voice said from behind them.
Harry turned and found Armand Deering standing in the doorway of his bedroom.
The older man inclined his head. “Albus Dumbledore will not be a threat to you. I swear it.”
Harry nodded. “We’re just about to open Mum’s trunk. Do you know what’s in it?”
“No, it’s just for you. Your account manager at the bank, a dverger named Razel, scanned the trunk for curses and interference. He confirmed that it hasn’t been opened or even touched since your mother last handled it until the day I summoned it. Even he didn’t look inside.”
“What’s dverger?” Harry asked curiously.
“The magical species that manages the banking system for our world,” Sirius said. “Armand works for them and has for over a hundred years.”
“I’d like to meet Razel,” Harry declared. “What do dverger look like? Do they have wings or horns or anything exciting?”
Sirius laughed as Armand joined them and sat down on the small sofa near Harry. “They’re a dwarf species and very much like humans though quite short by our standards so no horns or wings unless they have other magical creature ancestry. There is a half-dverger/half-human who teaches at Hogwarts. You’ll meet Professor Flitwick in September since he teaches Charms. We’ll take you to the bank soon enough to meet Razel.”
Harry sighed in disappointment. “Does anything cool have wings or horns? Because so far, this whole magical thing has been bereft of cool looking people and creatures.”
“Remind me later to show you the thestrals,” Sirius said dryly, then paused and frowned.
“What?” Harry questioned.
“Thestrals are…a very different sort of magical creature. They’ve been bred by the Black family for generations, but not everyone can see them. They’re invisible to those who’ve not seen death.”
“Oh,” Harry murmured. “So…maybe, I’ll see them because of Mum? Or maybe because I saw the lunch lady at school die of a heart attack? The whole school was traumatized. Dudley skipped classes for weeks to get counseling.” He rolled his eyes. “I mean, it was terrible, but he milked that situation for all it was worth.”
Sirius nodded. “You’ll see them then.”
Harry focused on the trunk, and after another moment’s hesitation, unlatched the lid and opened it. Light spilled out of it briefly then faded away. “What was that?”
“A security charm being disarmed by your magical signature,” Sirius supplied. “Lily excelled at charms in school. She even helped us add security to a school map James and I created for a project for a runes class.”
Harry shifted around onto his knees and peered into the trunk. There was a white blanket on top, so he lifted it off the contents. The material was soft and smelled faintly of baby powder.
“You came home from St. Mungo’s in that blanket,” Sirius said. “I believe it is also the blanket that Lily came home from the hospital wrapped up in. She didn’t have much left from her Muggle childhood due to her sister.”
Harry carefully put the blanket down on the rug. “I’ll keep it safe then for the future. In case there’s a baby.”
Sirius ruffled his hair. “You’ve got a magical house to provide an heir for, lad, so there had better be a baby or three.”
Harry laughed. “Three? That’s a lot of work for you to be deciding my future wife will be doing, Daddy. I watched this thing on the telly once—giving birth is hard.”
“It’s easier in the magical world,” Armand murmured after a glance toward the blanket. “There are charms and potions that make the experience relatively painless.”
“That’s good,” Harry said but returned his attention to the trunk. He picked up a small paper-covered frame and turned it over in his hands. The wrapping was sealed with wax. “What…” He inclined his head as he stared at the seal. “That’s my seal, right? For the house of Potter?”
“Yes,” Sirius murmured. “And it’s a seal only you can break. It would repel anyone who wasn’t a Potter from trying.”
Harry touched the wax gently and glanced toward Sirius. “What is it, Daddy?”
“I don’t want to get it wrong, lad,” Sirius murmured. “Just open it—your father would’ve never put a house seal on something that would hurt you.”
Harry slid a finger underneath the paper’s edge and ran it upward against the wax. The seal cracked, and the paper fell away entirely with a flash of magic. He huffed. “Magic is so weird sometimes.”
He turned the frame over in his hands and found a portrait of a man and a woman. Harry stared for a long moment and slowly shifted from his knees to his butt. “Oh.”
He touched the paint with careful, reverent fingers as tears stung his eyes, again. In the back of his mind, his Grandpa Phineas called him a crybaby, but it was a gentle rebuke and didn’t sound mean, so Harry just mentally rolled his eyes at the old dude. The couple in the portrait were sleeping, and that hurt more than he could say.
“They’re asleep, Daddy,” Harry whispered, and tears spilled down his cheeks. “Did I miss them? Have they already gone to sleep forever?”
Sirius shifted around so he was closer and could see the portrait. “No, lad, they’ve never woken up at all.” He brushed his fingers over the corner of the portrait, and a shining rune appeared. “James put a stasis rune on the portrait so as a precaution against being under-stimulated in the trunk.”
“How do we end the stasis spell?” Harry questioned as he brushed away tears. “Grandpa Phineas is the worst, you know? He keeps muttering about me being a crybaby.”
“Tell him to shut up, or I’ll retrieve his master portrait and toss it in the dungeon,” Sirius muttered.
Harry laughed weakly and returned his attention to the portrait.
“Press your thumb against the rune,” Sirius instructed. “And push with your magic.”
Harry made a face. “How am I supposed to do that?”
“Think about how you push the pain away from your scar,” Armand instructed, and Harry focused on him. “You won’t need to push as hard since the rune is probably attuned to your family magic. Your father wouldn’t have made it hard for you to activate at a young age.”
“Okay,” Harry whispered, put his thumb on the shining rune, and pushed. His scar twinged a little, but he shoved that aside and in the back of his mind, there was a fleeting sense of shock. Magical sparks drifted over the portrait as he lifted his hand. “Cool.”
His father moved first—a subtle shift of his body that Harry wouldn’t have noticed at all if he hadn’t been staring so hard.
“Thank Merlin the DMLE never tried to use him as a spy,” Sirius said wryly.
Harry laughed, and James opened his eyes. “Hi.”
James blinked and glanced between them. “Harry?”
“Yeah.” His hands tightened on the portrait.
“How old are you?” James questioned.
“Ten, but I’ll turn eleven this summer, so I’ll be starting Hogwarts soon,” Harry explained.
James’ gaze narrowed, and he focused on Sirius. “Why are you just now activating the portrait? It should’ve been done within weeks of my death.”
“That’s a really long story, Prongs,” Sirius said roughly. “Why is Lily asleep?”
“There’s an hour padded into the portrait spell. I wanted to be prepared if…there was terrible news to tell her,” James admitted. “She won’t thank me, of course, because she never liked being coddled.”
“Sirius went to Azkaban for ten years, and Dumbledore did nothing about it,” Harry blurted out. “He gave me to mum’s sister, and she’s a terrible person, but she’s in jail now for how she treated me, and we’re both free, so it’s fine. I have my own rooms now, and we’re living in a huge manor house, and Nia promised she’d come find me if I get lost. Also, Master Deering is here ruining Dumbledore’s life, so that’s going to be entertaining.”
“What the fuck do you mean you went to Petunia?” James snapped. “Azkaban, Padfoot? How the bloody hell did you end up in goddamned Azkaban?”
“Wow,” Harry said. “I can tell already you’re gonna be a bad influence on my language. Miss Patrice will come in here every single day to lecture you about it. She already told me, at length, that my diction is terrible and that I need elocution lessons. I think I sound fine, but she’s French.”
“Your diction and tone do need work,” Sirius said and shrugged when Harry scowled at him. “Your station requires a certain image to be maintained, lad.” He focused on the portrait. “It’s a very long story, Prongs, that I’d like to tell only once, so if we could wait until Lily’s awake, I would appreciate it.”
“Master Armand is here,” Harry said suddenly and turned the portrait so James could see his own godfather.
“Hello, Jamie,” Armand murmured and joined them on the rug. “I didn’t know you’d made a portrait.”
“Lily insisted,” James said as he looked at each of them in turn repeatedly. “She wanted to be certain that Harry would never be without her.” His jaw tightened. “She’ll be furious to know we’ve been in stasis so long.” He focused on Armand. “Where were you while my son was living with an abusive Muggle?”
Harry winced and glanced toward Master Deering, who looked ashamed and furious all at once. “Lots of things happened, and Dumbledore fooled a lot of people into thinking he was good, including you, so maybe cut the living some slack.”
James stared at Harry for a long moment then slouched back in the chair he was seated in. “How old were you when I died, lad?”
“You both were killed on October 31, 1981,” Deering supplied when Harry hesitated. “Peter Pettigrew betrayed you to Voldemort because he was a Death Eater.”
Harry turned the portrait slightly in his hands to check the back, then pursed his lips. “Can this thing get bigger? All the magical portraits I’ve seen are huge.”
“It can get bigger,” James assured. “We shrank it so it would fit in the trunk.”
“Great, cause it’s weird talking to a tiny person in a picture,” Harry declared, and Sirius laughed.
* * * *