24 June 1985
The sudden storm that sprung up in South East Wiltshire had a distinctly green tinge to it that sent the muggles running indoors. Even if they’d been watching, none of them would have seen the small figure appearing in the centre of the ancient circle just as the storm reached it’s a crescendo, with simultaneous thunder and lightning pealing and crashing directly overhead.
Dobby ignored the signs of Nature’s affront at the indignity being forced upon her and peered around, testing the magic of the area. Even before the green haze that clouded his presence receded, he gave one short, sharp, nod, before popping away.
Freak’s life finally changed the summer before he was due to start school. One morning he woke in his cupboard, only to find a crazy looking creature watching him.
“Harry Potter is awake!” the being said, a wide smile stretching across its face.
“Um, hello?” Freak ventured. He didn’t want to get into trouble, because he was very hungry that morning. Two days ago, Dudley had knocked his bacon and eggs onto the floor and then blamed Freak for trying to steal it. Ever since he’d been shut in his cupboard with only some old bread and the occasional glass of water to ease the gnawing feeling in his belly.
“Dobby is so happy to be here! Dobby has wished for the day when he could see Harry Potter again ever since he died, and now it has happened! Dobby is so happy!”
Freak was terribly confused. The little creature in front of him didn’t look dead. “Um, my name is Freak,” he said hesitantly.
The being’s large bulbous eyes filled with tears. “Harry Potter was telling Dobby how bad it was with the nasty muggles, but truly, Dobby never realised it was this bad! Dobby will save you, Harry Potter!”
There was a strange sound and a feeling like his stomach was misplaced, and then Freak found himself sitting on a leather-covered chair, in a room with a huge fireplace in the corner and another, bigger, chair in front of it. The big chair had someone in it, a white-haired old man with wispy eyebrows, half covered in a soft looking blanket. He looked pretty surprised.
Freak scrambled off the chair, hoping he did it quickly enough that the old man wouldn’t get too angry. Freaks weren’t allowed on the furniture like normal folk, after all.
“What is the meaning of this?” the old man said in a deep voice. He sounded angry, and Freak resigned himself to another hungry day.
“I-I’m sorry, sir,” he said, keeping his eyes on the ground. “I don’t know how I got here, or why! I won’t hurt anything, or make it dirty, I promise!”
The wispy eyebrows drew slightly together. “Despite the abysmal reputation my family name has acquired of late, I can assure you that I have yet to stoop to harming children. You are safe here, for the moment. Now, what is your name, child?”
Freak didn’t understand half of that, but the last bit was clear enough. “I’m called Freak, sir.”
The eyebrows didn’t relax, if anything they grew even more scary. Who knows what would have happened, if the strange being that had appeared in his cupboard hadn’t come back, this time bringing a starved looking man with long straggly hair.
“Sirius?” the old man said, as though he didn’t believe what he was seeing. “Is that you, Sirius?”
“Yes, it’s- Grandfather? How am I here?” Sirius said, looking around wildly.
Freak tried to blend into the background, wondering how he was going to get back to his cupboard before it was time to cook breakfast. But maybe he should have stayed still, because as soon as he moved, Sirius looked directly at him.
Sirius fell to his knees and stretched a hand out. “Harry? You’re here? This is a dream, isn’t it? It’s so much better than they usually are, I… I’m so sorry, Harry, I didn’t know, I promise! If I’d known I would never have suggested he be the secret keeper, would never have let him within a mile of you! Oh James, James, why did you have to be the one to pay for my mistakes? I’m sorry, James, I’m so sorry, I as good as killed you myself. And Lily, beautiful Lily, gone too. I should have known, I should have guessed that Peter was the traitor. Why didn’t I guess? How could I know? I didn’t mean to, I promise! I just wanted you all to be safe, safer than if it had been me. It should have been me. It should have been me. It should have been…” he broke off, collapsing the rest of the way onto the floor, heaving huge rasping sobs.
Freak stood watching him with a sort of horrified fascination. He wanted to make this Sirius person feel better, but he had no idea how to go about it. He looked up at the man that Sirius had called Grandfather, hoping that he would have some ideas.
The old man looked very sad. “Is that the way it was then? Yes, that makes a lot more sense. But why did this not come out at your trial? Even with a guilty plea, there should have been questions asked that would have brought this to light.”
“Harry Potter’s Dogfather was sent straight to prison,” the small being from before piped up. “Dobby was told that there was no trial, no paperwork, only prison records.”
“Dobby, is it?” Grandfather said warily. “Would you mind telling me how it is you have moved two people past some of the best wards in the world, despite not being bonded to the House of Black?”
“Dobby was given permission to come and go as he pleased by Harry Potter’s Dogfather when he was Lord Black,” Dobby announced. “Dobby is trusting Old Black to look after Harry Potter and his Dogfather, Dobby has things he needs to do!”
With that, the little being disappeared with another pop.
Freak was glad the other two occupants of the room weren’t paying any attention to him for the moment, because his mind was going a mile a minute. The little being was called Dobby, and several times Dobby had referred to Freak as Harry Potter. Sirius had called him Harry as well. Could that really be his name? Had he finally found the long lost family he’d been dreaming of, or was it a mistake? What if they realised he wasn’t this Harry Potter person and sent him back to his cupboard? Freak was trembling with combined hope and fear.
“Tell me, Sirius,” Grandfather said, looking Sirius in the eye intently. “Give me your word on your Black blood and your connection to the family magic that you were not the Secret Keeper, that you did not betray James and Lily Potter to their deaths.”
“It was Peter,” Sirius said brokenly. “We thought no one would suspect Peter. I wanted to kill him, but he blew up the street and escaped. It all went wrong, and then I was in Azkaban waiting for my trial. It never came. Just the dementors, freezing my soul as surely as they froze my body. I wanted to kill him…”
“They told me you pleaded guilty,” Grandfather said, frowning again. “They said there was nothing to be done. I should have investigated myself, but I was so tired, so dispirited. It looked like the Family was going to crumble to nothing. But rest assured, Sirius, I’m going to make this right.”
“This is the best dream I’ve had since James and Lily died,” Sirius said with a sigh. “Only, why is Harry dressed like that?”
Sirius and Grandfather were looking at Freak again.
“He said his name was Freak,” Grandfather said softly. “Is that really Hadrian Potter? He’s got the Potter hair, I suppose, but Dumbledore has repeatedly assured the world that he’s been cared for by appropriate guardians who are teaching him everything he needs to know.”
Freak was near tears. He knew it was too good to be true, that he couldn’t be this Harry Potter that they thought he was. He had to get back before Aunt Petunia noticed he was missing!
“Um, excuse me?” he said, almost stopping when they both looked at him. Only the thought of another beating with the frying pan kept him talking. “I need to get back in time to cook breakfast, or Aunt Petunia is going to be really mad.”
Sirius stiffened. “Petunia? What? No, surely not!” he said, looking very angry. As thin as he was and as tangled and scraggly as his hair looked, it was pretty scary. Maybe he realised it, because after a few moments he smiled at Freak. “Does your Aunt Petunia have a husband? What is your Uncle called?”
“Uncle Vernon,” Freak whispered, hoping that it was the right answer.
Sirius rose to his feet and looked so scary that Freak tried to plaster himself to the chair he’d been sitting in when he arrived.
“Calm yourself, Sirius,” Grandfather said sharply. “Can’t you see that you’re scaring the boy? Now, what has you so incensed all of a sudden?”
“Lily’s muggle sister,” Sirius said, striding to the fireplace, staring into its depths. “Petunia hates magic. She used to call Lily a freak, tell her that she was unnatural and was going to hell. She married a whale of a man that was even more intolerant that she was. If Dumbledore put Harry with them then it’s no wonder he thinks his name is Freak.” He grabbed a poker and stabbed at the logs in the fire savagely.
Grandfather watched him for a few moments, before beckoning Freak over to him. “Come here, child,” he said, his deep voice soothing. “Sirius means you no harm, he’s just very angry with the people who were supposed to be looking after you. Come a little closer now. Are you hungry? Would you like anything to eat or drink?”
Freak was about to deny being hungry or thirsty when his stomach betrayed him. The thought of food must have set it off because it made a loud grumbling noise. Freak felt his face get hot, but Grandfather only chuckled.
“I think that’s answer enough. Fanky! Something suitable for our young guest here, please. And perhaps a double hot chocolate for my grandson.”
Fanky popped in a few moments later with a tray that had all sorts of yummy things on it. Grandfather raised his eyebrows again, but didn’t say anything. He offered the tray to Freak.
Freak was unsure of what the best thing to do was. He’d been offered food before, only to be struck when he tried to take it. But these people weren’t his Aunt and Uncle or Dudley, so maybe it would be alright? He hesitantly reached out his hand for one of the small bacon and egg tarts. When no one snatched it away or tried to slap him, he brought it to his mouth.
The first bite was bliss. Freak had cooked bacon and eggs loads of time, but he’d never had the chance to enjoy eating them before. Oh sure, he’d snuck the odd bite here and there when he was sure no one was looking, but this tart had the bacon and eggs along with some kind of crumbly pastry base, and it was altogether delicious.
One tart was enough to fill him up, and then Grandfather gave him a glass of bright orange liquid to drink. It was the tastiest thing Freak could ever remember drinking. Against his better judgement, he found himself relaxing.
“Now then,” Grandfather said, when Freak felt full and warm and kind of sleepy. “I was hoping you’d be able to help me out, young man. You see, my grandson Sirius’ best friend had a little boy who was your age. He was taken away from Sirius nearly three years ago, and we think that you might be him. I can’t help but notice that you have a very distinctive mark on your forehead. Are you able to tell us where you got it?”
Freak frowned slightly. “What’s dislinkmive?”
“Distinctive,” Grandfather repeated. “It means clear, easily noticed, unusual. Your scar is shaped like a lightning bolt, you see, and Harry Potter has one just like it. His mother Lily had a sister who didn’t like her and called her a freak, and her name was Petunia, and she married a man called Vernon.”
Freak looked from Grandfather over to where Sirius was still standing by the fire. He no longer looked angry, only sad, and he’d put the poker down, which made Freak feel better. Only, perhaps he really was this Harry Potter that they wanted him to be?
“My father was a drunk and my mother was a whore,” he recited, just as his Uncle and Aunt made him do every Sunday. “They died in a car crash leaving me penniless and a burden on decent people. But…”
“Go on, young man,” Grandfather said encouraging, after casting a frown in Sirius’ direction.
“But what about the green light and the flying motorcycle?” Freak whispered, bracing himself for the blow that mentioning either of those things usually got him from his relatives. “I see them in my dreams sometimes. They feel real.”
A muffled groan brought his attention back to the fireplace, where Sirius was hunched over, hiding his face in his hands.
“Well, that proves it,” Grandfather said, reaching out and taking Freak’s hand in his old wrinkled one. “That green light had nothing to do with a car crash, and everything to do with how Hadrian Potter’s parents died. And that flying motorcycle you mentioned actually belonged to Sirius, here. He is your godfather, one of your parents’ best friends, and he is going to look after you now.”
Grandfather sounded so certain that Freak finally began to believe that he was this Harry Potter they were talking about. Sirius came to join them, dropping down to the floor so that he was at Freak’s – no, Harry’s – level.
“I behaved recklessly and allowed you to be taken from me,” he said, voice rough and eyes shiny with tears still waiting to fall. “I couldn’t see any way of getting you from Hagrid without hurting you, and so I gave up and went after Peter. But I should have tried harder, should have thought of another way. I’m sorry, Harry. It’s my fault you’ve been living with those people.”
“It is not your fault,” Grandfather said sharply. “You were not the one to put him there! You must rid yourself of this habit you have formed of claiming culpability for actions that were not yours! No wonder people are getting the wrong idea if you go around saying that you’re guilty of all sorts of crimes, when what you mean was that you somehow failed to prevent other people from committing them!”
“But-” Sirius said, sounding confused.
“No! You are a role model now, Sirius! Is this the sort of behaviour you want to see Harry emulating? You will stop saying ‘I did it’ unless you actually did physically do it. That is an order!”
“Yes, Grandfather,” Sirius said, hanging his head.
There was a pop, heralding the arrival of Dobby back in their midst.
“Harry Potter and his Dogfather are still standing there? Harry Potter’s Dogfather needs a bath! At once! Does Dobby have to do everything himself? Dobby is talking to Fanky right now!”
Grandfather and Sirius were wearing identical looks of shock. It made Harry giggle, a sound he stifled as it made the two grown-ups look at him.
“You will have to tell me where you made the acquaintance of such a… unique individual,” Grandfather said to Sirius, the corner of his mouth twitching upwards.
Sirius blinked. “I never even knew he existed before today. I thought he must have been one of yours. If he’s not yours, then how is he getting past the wards?”
“He said you told him he could,” Harry ventured, looking carefully at Sirius and Grandfather to see if they would get angry at him for speaking. Neither of them looked upset, they were listening to him and nodding, so he continued. “When you were Lord Black, he said. Were you a Lord once?”
“That’s right,” Grandfather murmured, looking more like he was talking to himself than anyone else. “He did say that. Now, what does that mean, I wonder? Perhaps we should rest for a while, take Dobby’s advice with regards to baths and things, and come back to it with clearer minds.”
Sirius nodded, although he looked reluctant for some reason.
“What is it now, Sirius?” Grandfather asked.
“I need a bath, I’m in full agreement,” Sirius said, giving Harry an anxious look. “But I don’t know if I can let him out of my sight for a while. I can’t explain it, but I feel like I need to be near Harry.”
Grandfather made a little humming sound in the back of his throat as he considered this. “Is this something that your magic is prodding you to do?” he asked carefully.
“Maybe?” Sirius replied. “All I know is that the thought of having him somewhere I can’t see him has me feeling a little panicky.”
“I can stay with you,” Harry assured him. He wasn’t sure he wanted to be left alone in this strange place anyway, and he certainly didn’t want to be sent back to Privet Drive.
“Yes,” Grandfather said with some finality. “The two of you should stay together for now. Have your baths, perhaps sleep for a while. Call Fanky if you’re hungry or thirsty. It seems I have some business to take care of in the Ministry today, so I will ask you to excuse my presence.”
Sirius looked very surprised. “Are you sure? I thought you were worried that you wouldn’t be safe?”
Grandfather shook his head. “There are more important things to be concerned about than my safety, Sirius,” he said. “Besides, I intend to make Gringotts my first stop. I think an escort of goblin warriors will rather assure my protection from any opportunists who try to murder me.”
“That’s going to cost a pretty penny,” Sirius warned.
Grandfather waved his hand in dismissal. “The Black coffers are doing no one any good just sitting there gathering dust. I could hire the entirety of Gringotts for a decade, and still have enough to be the envy of most other Houses. Concern yourself with taking care of the two of you. I’m still the Black, and I have Black business to conduct. Tinny, please help me to my room. I need my formal robes, the most impressive set I own.”
Harry watched him go. “He’s very scary, but I think I like him,” he confided to Sirius.
“You know what, pup?” Sirius said. “I never thought I’d say this, but I think I agree with you. Come on, let’s go get clean.”
Arcturus Black hadn’t graced the Ministry of Magic with his presence for almost a decade now. The escalating war had meant that stepping outside the heavy Black wards would have been foolhardy at worst and suicidal at best. Arcturus had been under no delusion about the state of mind of most of his remaining family, and was well aware that they saw his continued existence as an impediment that should be dealt with as soon as possible.
The public perception that Sirius had been disowned had been for the boy’s own benefit, really. If certain parties had been aware that Sirius was still Heir Black, then he would have been assassinated as a matter of course.
Then the war had ended, but with it had ended all of Arcturus’ interest in public life. The Family was destroyed; even his greatest hope for the redemption of the Black had fallen from grace at the last and thrown his lot in with that murdering kin-slayer. Arcturus had taken the news like a blow, and had spent the last three or four years mired in despair that appeared to have no end, no remedy.
All that had changed this morning and Arcturus had new vigour coursing through him, a mission to achieve and a Family to safeguard. He had purpose again, hope for the future that just the day before had seemed so bleak.
He was not expecting the Ministry to be quite so busy this early on a Tuesday morning. There were flunkeys scurrying this way and that, messages flying through the air with so much urgency they were knocking unwary people over.
The state of restrained panic meant that few paid him much attention as he made his way into the DMLE, despite the armed goblins who were flanking him. Last he’d heard, Barty Crouch had been ousted from his position – not too great a loss, since he remembered well the sneering way the man had informed him of Sirius’ incarceration – and was expected to be replaced by the young Bones woman. At the time she’d had a reputation for honesty and keeping to the law, and Arcturus was hoping that at least some of those traits had survived several years amongst the bribing, blackmailing, backstabbing, Ministry elite.
The desk outside her office where a junior auror usually sat to act as a secretary was empty. Arcturus gave a mental shrug and knocked at the door, letting himself in. There were some perks to age, title, and wealth, of course. He was unlikely to get arrested unless he committed one of the more grievous crimes, for instance. As pre-arranged, his guards stationed themselves beside the door outside.
“Who is it?” the woman at the desk snapped out, not bothering to look up. “Be quick and then get out.”
“I wonder if I might have a few moments of your time,” Arcturus said smoothly. “Am I addressing Madam Bones?”
She looked up, eyes narrowed and suspicious. After a moment they widened, and she got to her feet. “Lord Black,” she said, offering her hand. “Yes, I’m Amelia Bones, Head of the DMLE. I only have a few minutes for you today, I’m sorry. We’ve had a number of unexpected disappearances reported, and with the latest cutbacks, my department has been running on a skeleton crew as it is. How may the DMLE be of assistance?”
“Cutbacks?” Arcturus asked with a frown. “What kind of cutbacks?”
Bones gave him an assessing look. “According to my records, the DMLE is at its lowest ratio since the Ministry was founded,” she said. “Bagnold has publicly stated that the Britons are law abiding citizens and don’t require totalitarian policing, and therefore the DMLE was draining resources above what is fair and equitable.”
“Since when did we have totalitarian policing? Equitable to what?” Arcturus asked blankly. “I’ve been away from politics for some time, Madam Bones. Tell me, where did the funding that was cut from your budget go?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Bones said with a shrug. “But this isn’t why you came to see me today. What is it that’s concerning you?”
Arcturus reconsidered the approach he’d been planning to make. This woman was clearly busy, and perhaps she would appreciate not having to wade through the formalities. “It has been brought to my attention that my grandson was incarcerated in Azkaban without trial,” he said carefully. “My source told me that there was no paperwork generated other than the record of his presence in Azkaban. I was hoping that you would investigate this matter.”
Bones stared at him. “You’re talking about Sirius Black,” she said after a moment. “You’re claiming that he didn’t receive a trial?”
“Yes,” Arcturus nodded gravely. “All those years ago, when I was told that he’d been tried and had pleaded guilty I was shocked and horrified, but I had no reason to disbelieve your predecessor. Many of us in those times discovered that people who we thought we knew turned out to be very different indeed. But my source was positive that they were correct, and the records at Gringotts back that up. My grandson’s accounts were never frozen, or claimed as damages, since no official record of a guilty verdict was presented to them.”
“And if I can present you with the evidence of his trial, what then?” Bones asked cautiously.
“Then that is that,” Arcturus said with finality. “In return, when you discover that my grandson was not even questioned properly, what then?”
Bones wrinkled up her nose as if she’d discovered something dead just under it. “If that’s the case, then he’s been held illegally in the high-security wing of Azkaban for three and a half years,” she said after a moment’s thought. “If it’s true that proper questioning wasn’t conducted and evidence mishandled, then there would be nothing to hold him on and I would be forced to set him free.”
Arcturus got to his feet. “Then I look forward to hearing from you in due course,” he said, bowing his head politely.”
Sirius awoke, feeling disoriented. His surroundings were at once both familiar and highly unusual. He recognised the stonework of Raven Rock, the ancestral seat of the House of Black, but not the room he was in. There were also several moments where he believed himself to be dreaming, before he remembered the events preceding his slumber.
“Harry Potter’s Dogfather is getting up now!” the house elf that had removed him so unceremoniously from Azkaban announced. “He is drinking the potions Dobby is giving him, and then he is making sure that Harry Potter is knowing all about his family.”
“Harry,” Sirius murmured, swinging his legs over the side of the bed he was in and lurching to his feet. “Where is Harry?”
“Harry Potter is coming back from the lavatory soon,” Dobby replied. “Here is first potion.”
Sirius looked consideringly at the potion that was handed to him, swishing it slightly to test the viscosity. The dark red colour and its thick syrupy movement didn’t spark any memories, so he shrugged and lifted it to his lips, knocking it back in one gulp. Most potions tasted terrible, so it was best to get it over and done with as soon as possible.
He raised his eyebrows in surprise when the aftertaste hit. Raspberries. Very unusual indeed. He downed the next one, a yellowy green mixture that tasted of peaches. By the time he’d finished the nine potions that Dobby insisted upon him drinking, Harry had returned and was watching the process with interested eyes.
“Now is Harry Potter’s turn,” Dobby said, passing over the dark red raspberry one.
Harry looked at it sceptically, before glancing up at Sirius.
“Go on,” Sirius urged gently. “Dobby has managed to find a brewer who makes their potions taste good.”
Before too long, Sirius and Harry had dressed and were being ushered into the breakfast-parlour, the smell of which was making Sirius’ stomach rumble in anticipation. Harry was looking at the food with an expression of awe mixed with hope that Sirius filed away for later. One day, everyone who had a part in putting that expression on his godson’s face was going to pay for it.
Arcturus was already at the table, a crumpet in one hand and a quill in the other, making notes in fine, flowing script. He looked up over his spectacles and greeted the two hovering over by the door. “Morning, Sirius, Hadrian. Please, help yourself to breakfast. There are things that must be discussed, but not before we’ve all had a chance to fill our bellies.”
Sirius walked Harry over to the sideboard, picking up two plates and handing one to Harry. “What do you like?” he asked, as he lifted the lid off a small bowl to inspect the contents. Scrambled eggs, with green speckles all the way through that were as yet unidentifiable.
Harry held his plate tightly and stared down at it. “I don’t know,” he said hesitantly.
Sirius kept the smile on his face with some effort. “Well, how about I give you a little bit of everything, and then tomorrow you’ll have a better idea?” he offered, already transferring food onto Harry’s plate. It was likely more than the boy could eat in one sitting, especially if those monsters had been starving him, but Dobby’s potions would hopefully help with that. He made a mental note to make sure that Harry drank a stomach soother afterwards, just in case.
He filled his own plate with all his favourites, hesitating between crumpets and muffins for all of twenty seconds before shrugging and taking both.
They sat down and tucked in, an unfamiliar elf popping in shortly after with a glass of orange juice for Harry and a butterbeer for Sirius.
“Thank you,” Harry said politely, prompting Sirius to belatedly add his own thanks.
“Dimpy follows Dobby’s orders,” the tiny thing said before popping out again.
Sirius exchanged a long look with his grandfather. Grateful as he was, this Dobby elf was displaying a worrying level of authority over the other elves considering that he wasn’t bonded to the Family.
Arcturus nodded almost imperceptibly, and Sirius applied himself back to his breakfast, confident that his formidable grandfather was aware of the problem and was planning to take steps to resolve it.
Astonishingly, Sirius was able to eat everything on his plate, including seconds. Harry was in a similar position, although it was plain that he had no intention of asking for any more. Sirius just picked up his plate on his way to the sideboard, returning it once more laden with food.
When they were finally finished Arcturus led them into his private study, a room Sirius had only seen twice in his life before, both times due to his position as heir.
Arcturus waited for them to get settled before beginning. “I have spoken with Madam Bones about your case,” he said directly to Sirius. “She has agreed to perform her own investigation, with the proviso that if she cannot find any discrepancies with it I will let the matter drop.”
Sirius cocked his head slightly to one side. “Bones? Amelia Bones? Well, she’s a good choice. Has a reputation for solid ethics, at least when I was working for the Ministry. Last I heard she was head of the Auror Department. Does she have the authority to re-open an investigation?”
“She’s now Head of the DMLE,” Arcturus said. “She did mention that she would be unable to prioritise the matter as there were a number of abductions that required immediate attention, and given the reductions to her personnel budget it will not be dealt with as swiftly as I would like.”
Sirius frowned. “What reductions?”
Arcturus looked faintly amused for some reason. “Madam Bones didn’t give me the full details, but she did tell me that the DMLE is at its lowest ratio since the department was founded.”
Sirius gaped at him. “Even lower than in eighteen thirteen, when Slade Ridley sacked half the department without informing the Minister or the Wizengamot so that he could pocket their wages?”
“I confess I had forgotten about that incident,” Arcturus admitted. “I didn’t ask her. Regardless, the issue remains that the DMLE has been reduced to such a rate that I walked unchallenged into the HOD’s office because there was no one else available to even inquire as to my purpose there.”
“You think someone’s planning something?” Sirius asked, drawing Harry closer as if that would keep him safer from government machinations.
“It does have the air about it of the early stages of a long-running plan,” Arcturus agreed. “It’s the very first step that I would take if I was planning to overthrow the government. Get the DMLE numbers down as far as possible, and then leave it like that for a few years. Before too long, people will be so used to the lack of auror assistance and presence that they will begin to think it has always been like that. It’s also entirely possible that the majority of people will even forget that it was you who orchestrated the situation.”
“So who did it then?” Sirius wondered.
Arcturus shook his head. “She didn’t have the time, and I didn’t have the inclination to investigate at this point. But I think it may be a good issue to build the Black return to politics around. As soon as your name is cleared, we need to begin to re-establish ourselves as a power to be envied and yes, even feared.”
Sirius didn’t want to openly disagree with his grandfather, not when his own situation was still so precarious, but he couldn’t help letting his opinion of that last statement show all over his face.
Arcturus sighed. “Not physically feared, Sirius. They need to be wary of the political consequences of moving openly against us. You should know this.”
Sirius lowered his eyes, feeling slightly ashamed. “I need to unlearn some of the things I learned in school, I suppose,” he replied. “I tried so hard to distance myself from Mother and her views that I ended up rejecting everything I’d been taught that the family stood for.”
“You were young,” Arcturus allowed. “Your rebellion kept you marginally safe, so I chose not to fight it. You were always my heir though, Sirius. That never changed, despite what your mother may have told you.”
“Did you believe it?” Sirius asked abruptly. “Did you believe it when they said that I had sold James out to Voldemort?”
The lines on his grandfather’s face looked deeper, and he all of a sudden looked old. He was eighty-five, Sirius recalled abruptly. Eighty-five, and still bearing the brunt of the Black Family Magic, which was known to be robust and demanding. No wonder he looked like he could keel over any minute. In a perfect world, he would have been able to pass the headship on when Orion turned thirty. But he’d deemed Orion unsuitable even then, and had waited to name an heir until Sirius turned nine.
“I did,” Arcturus confessed gazing sadly into the fire. “I know it is not much consolation, but I was under the impression that the truth had come out during your trial. I knew that you were a member of Dumbledore’s group, and it seemed that if he’d washed his hands of you then it must only be because your guilt was assured.”
Sirius wanted to be angry but couldn’t muster up the energy. What did it even matter, in the long run? Everyone had given up on him, after all, not just his grandfather. Moony must have believed it, and that was a blow mitigated only by the memory of the suspicion that had grown amongst them all in those last few months before that awful night. “Don’t worry about it,” he said wearily. “We’re here now, and we have more important matters to take care of. For instance, am I going to be in trouble for not being in Azkaban where everyone thinks I am?”
Arcturus didn’t protest the subject deviation, which Sirius was grateful for. “If what Dobby told us is true – and I have no reason to believe otherwise, since he’s been right so far – then the Ministry has no legal basis for complaint. Not that we can count on that stopping them, of course, but it does give us the upper hand. Provided you stay here under heavy wards while the matter is uncertain, then I predict all will be smoothed out with the least amount of fuss.”
Sirius thought that over. To be honest, at this point he was happy enough to stay holed up indefinitely in Raven Rock with Harry and let his grandfather take care of everything. He opened his mouth to agree when Dobby popped back in.
“Dobby has spoken to Dobby,” he said, as if that was supposed to be comprehensible somehow. “Dobby was very glad to see Dobby, as Dobby told Dobby that Dobby had been feeling very strange. Dobby was very surprised, but soon agreed with Dobby that Dobby was right to do what Dobby was doing. Dobby even offered to help! But Dobby thought it was better for Dobby to stay where he is for now. As soon as Harry Potter’s Dogfather is no longer a fugitive, Dobby will bring Dobby here to Harry Potter, because Dobby has a lot of things to do and can only be in two places at once with Dobby’s help. So Dobby can look after Harry Potter while Dobby makes Harry Potter safe.”
Sirius felt a headache coming on.
A week later, Lord Arcturus Black, Head of the Ancient and Noble House of Black attended his first Wizengamot session since his self-imposed isolation over ten years prior.
It was an emergency session, called by Madam Griselda Marchbanks to discuss the disappearances that had the Auror Department run so ragged, and to ensure that the DMLE was given the resources necessary to make some headway into the investigation. The Head of the Department of Mysteries had also been summoned, an unusual circumstance that everyone agreed was fully justified on this occasion.
Getting the session started proved to be somewhat difficult as the people generally tasked with leading the proceedings were absent. Eventually, it was decided that Madam Marchbanks would stand in for the Chief Warlock and Madam Bones – as the Ministry’s highest ranked available representative – would speak for the Minister.
“Alright then,” Tiberius Ogden said, when the ritual opening of the session had been taken care of. “We’ve all heard of these mysterious disappearances. What in Merlin’s name is going on?”
“I wish I had answers for you,” Bones said wearily. “All we’ve been able to determine is that the people involved are still alive, as none of the Wills have been activated. In the course of our investigations, we’ve discovered that several of the affected had blood-based tracking devices attuned to them which no longer work, and as at this morning, no scrying spells or potions that we currently have access to are able to reveal their location.
“Several Houses are effectively Headless. According to current Ministry Law, Death in Absentia can only be declared after ten years with no verified sightings, therefore unless the Wills are triggered or the House in question has either documented historical proof, held either in the Ministry Vaults or filed with Gringotts, that they have an established covenant outside Ministry Law, or a previously appointed Regent to act as Head in the event of the incapacitation of the recognised Head, then they will remain as registered votes until such a time as they are either found and restored or declared dead.”
Phyllis Macmillan signalled that she wished to speak. “I recall that the Wizengamot has, on at least one prior occasion, assigned a Regent to a House when there has been a need. Can we not do that again?”
“Scribe? What is your ruling on this?” Marchbanks looked to the court scribe, a stocky, bland looking man who sat off to one side almost hidden from view by the huge tomes of Ministry Law that were stacked up around him. His duty was to present the current law in an unbiased fashion to the Wizengamot when requested. “Can we do this?”
The scribe got to his feet. “Allocation of a Regent may only be undertaken when the currently recognised legal Head is not of age to take their seat and no other Regent has been legally appointed,” he announced. “This Law was voted into effect on the 1st of February, 1982 and was an amendment of the Law of 2nd July 1894 where it was stated that no governing body had the right to overturn the internal dealings of any House with a ratified covenant. According to Ministry Law – no, none of the effected Houses fall under these conditions.”
“Right,” Macmillan said with a nod. “Dumbledore rushed that one through in order to gain Regency over the Potter estate. Always wondered how he managed to get a majority for it.”
“Can we not pass a Law giving us emergency powers while this crisis is in effect?” Trevor Fawley asked.
Everyone looked to the scribe, who rose to address them. “The current Assembly does not have the required attendance to make any changes to Ministry Law.” He sat back down again.
“Well, if we can’t make any changes to the Law, then what are we here for? What can we do?” Ogden demanded.
“We can oversee trials, allocate budgetary resources, set taxation figures within certain preset parameters, and approve treaties, provided their approval requires no change to Law,” Bones said clearly. “We may not change any Laws nor may we appoint or dismiss any members, Ministerial Heads, approve the extradition or repatriation of any witch or wizard under the auspices of the ICW. Additionally, any Wizengamot decisions that are made while we’re in this crisis that are not specifically covered by the law – such as trials – are subject to review once we have a duly appointed Chief Witch or Wizard once more.”
There was silence for a moment.
“How many votes do we need before we reach the minimum required to function properly?” Marchbanks asked.
“We are currently twenty-seven short of a quorum,” Bones replied.
Ogden frowned. “We need to find twenty-seven of the missing people in order to be able to begin to fix this mess?”
Bones winced slightly. “Technically, we manage fine with only one. An investigation into the matter has revealed that Albus Dumbledore currently holds Primary Regency for twenty-six seats, as well as his own.”
“Nonsense!” Ogden retorted. “He’s Regent for Potter, we all know that, but we would have noticed if he was voting on behalf of anyone else!”
“Not if he appointed a secondary Regent,” Augusta Longbottom pointed out. “It’s perfectly legal, and giving notification to the Assembly is not required provided he was appointed in a valid Will.”
Bones inclined her head in Longbottom’s direction. “Madam Longbottom is correct. For instance, both Sturgis Podmore and Elphias Doge are voting seats that they gained under secondary Regency from Dumbledore. There are more, of course, but it’s unnecessary to go into it right now. As Madam Longbottom stated, it’s all perfectly legal and not the business of this Assembly.”
It might not have been strictly Assembly business, but Arcturus was amused to note that many of those present didn’t look happy about the information.
“The hell it’s not!” Ogden said, slamming his fist down on the wooden surface in front of him. “He was given Regency over the Potter seats based upon his lack of conflicting agenda, and now we find out he’s voting a number of other seats secretly? If there’s nothing havey-cavey going on, then why is it all happening out of sight?”
“Control yourself, Lord Ogden,” Marchbanks said with icy authority. She turned to the scribe. “Is there no recourse in this situation? Nothing that we can do about this stalemate that we find ourselves in?”
“These rules were laid down to prevent the overthrow of the government,” the scribe replied helplessly. “If the missing Wizengamot members cannot be found, then the only way to resolve the matter would be to appeal to the Queen. Britain’s Monarch has the power to dissolve the current government, and then we would need to petition her to reform under a new charter. After that, we would need to re-apply for membership within the ICW. It is a process that will take years, if not decades.”
“There is another way,” Arcturus spoke into the silence that followed. “The seven founding families can overturn the current charter and vote a new one without fully dissolving the government so long as there is a majority and the Monarch agrees.”
“I wondered why you’d ventured out from your castle,” Macmillan said, her eyes narrowed as she subjected Arcturus to a shrewd examination through a monocle that until now had been kept on a chain around her neck. “It’s an interesting idea, but it won’t work. We’re short one vote there as well. We’ve got the Blacks, the Macmillans and the Longbottoms, yes. However the Welwoods are no longer around, and the Selwyns, Rosiers, and the Regent for the Potters are amongst those missing.”
“So we’re back where we started,” Marchbanks stated with grim finality.
Bones sighed. “There is another piece of news that must be shared with this body,” she announced. “At the end of last month Lord Black approached me with a query about the legalities involved in-” she paused, and raised her eyes to the ceiling before trying again. “He asked me to look into the trial and incarceration records for his grandson, Sirius Black.”
There was an immediate uproar as most people in the chamber tried to speak at once.
“Silence!” Marchbanks snapped, her voice amplified by the magic of the Chief Warlock’s position. “I’m sure Madam Bones will explain herself as soon as she has the opportunity to do so.”
“His request was unusual enough that I decided to personally conduct the investigation,” Bones said, with a nod of thanks to Marchbanks for her intervention. “To my dismay, I discovered that his fears were well-founded. Sirius Black was incarcerated in the high-security wing of Azkaban with no trial, no investigation, nor any questioning. Not even his arrest was properly documented.”
“But surely-” Mary Naylor began, “it’s common knowledge that he was You-Know-Who’s right-hand-man.”
“Hearsay,” Bones dismissed. “Spread about after his incarceration, not before. He was never implicated as even a sympathiser by any of the Death Eaters that worked out an information deal, in fact, his record as an auror placed him as one of our most effective – if lethal – fighters under the Ministry employ, right behind Mad-Eye Moody.”
“Even the Lestranges were given trials,” Longbottom said frostily, “and they were caught in the act and weren’t shy about announcing their loyalty to their master to anyone who would listen. My Frank swore that Sirius was one of the good ones, and the fact that he didn’t receive due process concerns me greatly. As it should all of you.”
“What can we do about it now? We don’t have the numbers to overturn his conviction,” Christopher Cooper pointed out.
“No trial means that there was no conviction,” Longbottom snapped back. “There is nothing to overturn.”
“And no evidence and no record of an arrest means that the Ministry has been illegally holding the Heir of an Ancient and Noble House in the high-security wing of Azkaban for more than three and a half years now,” Bones stated.
“You mean you’re just going to release him?” Ogden asked sounding horrified. “But what about the Potters? What about the explosion that killed one of his best friends and eleven muggles?”
“Of course she’s releasing him,” Macmillan growled impatiently. “I would presume she’s already done so. I also have no doubt that the House of Black is going to be demanding compensation for his illegal imprisonment, as they rightly should! Imagine if that had been your heir, Tiberius. Thrown into prison and slandered to the public for politics, while marked Death Eaters walked free after making some very suspicious donations and claiming they’d been put under the Imperious!”
Arcturus carefully schooled his face away from the smirk that he wanted to send Ogden’s way. Macmillan was right; Madam Bones had released Sirius from prison the previous day. In order to do so Sirius had been transported back to his cell briefly, which none of them had liked, especially Harry – when he had realised what was about to happen and that his new favourite person in the world was trying to cover up his fear about it – but which had been the best way to stop the uncomfortable questions that would no doubt have arisen if it had been discovered that Sirius was already free.
“We’re getting ahead of ourselves,” Marchbanks intervened. “There has been no evidence offered here that the illegal incarceration of Sirius Black was in any way politically motivated, although I am sure that the DMLE will be looking into it. Lord Black, you have my sincerest apologies for the wrong done to your heir and your House. We are not in a place to negotiate compensation – our reduced numbers render us unable to do so – but I assure you that once the Wizengamot has a quorum once more I will personally ensure that the matter is seen to.”
Arcturus inclined his head in thanks, feeling it was unnecessary to point out that he intended to see to the matter himself.
“Lady Macmillan is correct, Sirius Black has been released into the care of his Head of House,” Bones said, “and I have opened an investigation into the events surrounding his imprisonment. He is being sequestered while he undergoes a private healing regime, but has promised to assist the investigation when he is capable of it.”
Ogden gave a rude snort. “Right. I’m sure he’ll be a big help.”
“Not surprisingly,” Bones went on, ignoring the interruption, “he has refused to come into the Ministry for questioning but has instead stated his intention to provide a Gringotts Notarised Statement as to his movements on the day in question. Given the situation, I agreed. To be perfectly honest, it’s more than he owes us.”
Ogden snorted again, but declined to comment further.
“Is he claiming to be innocent, then?” Naylor asked tentatively.
Bones nodded. “He is. He’s aware that nobody is likely to take his word for it, hence the Notarisation. I offered the use of veritaserum, but he understandably doesn’t want to place himself in Ministry hands again so soon. Not that it matters as far as this Ministry is concerned, we’d have nothing to prosecute him with anyway.”
“Of course he’s innocent,” Longbottom said confidently, “if he was guilty there would be no reason to deny him a trial and to blacken his name so thoroughly. It’s a good idea to have all the minutiae taken care of, of course, and I’m sure the Notarisation will be published far and wide.” She eyed Ogden with disapproval. “It would behove all of us to give our public support to his release, regardless of our personal feelings on the matter.”
“This brings us neatly back to the point I brought up earlier,” Arcturus said smoothly. “My grandson is Lord Hadrian Potter’s oath-sworn godfather, and he has assured me that the previous Lord and Lady provided him with a Notarised copy of their Will for safekeeping. We have yet to retrieve the document, but once we’ve done so then by Law he will be the Regent for Lord Potter, regardless of what the Wizengamot has decided.”
Macmillan straightened in her seat. “Is that true?” she demanded, eyes turning to the scribe. “Does a valid Will overturn the Regency that the Wizengamot bestowed on Dumbledore?”
“Please wait, my Lady,” the scribe said, already flicking through the tomes on his desk.
The Wizengamot chamber was silent as they waited for the scribe’s pronouncement.
Arcturus closed his eyes and enjoyed the atmosphere. He’d forgotten how much he enjoyed politics, the cut and thrust of debate. He’d spent far too long wallowing in misery. It was time to get back into it.
“Lord Black has correctly stated the case,” the scribe said, and even his voice held more enthusiasm than it had previously. “The Law passed in 1982 is worded such that a Regency assigned by a valid Will supersedes any power belonging to the Wizengamot or the Ministry.”
“And will Sirius Black be willing to work with us to formulate a government that serves the magical population of Britain?” Longbottom asked, staring Arcturus down.
He nodded slowly. “Once he has had a chance to heal, of course. I warn you all now that my grandson is liberal in his views, and will not agree to put his name – or that of his godson – to anything that strikes him as bigoted, racist, sexist, or driven by blood supremacy.”
“I’m sure we’ll all have to compromise somewhere,” Macmillan said with the dry understatement she was known for.
“Well then,” Marchbanks said, slapping her hand down on the table in front of her, “what are we waiting for? I want everyone to start going through the current laws with a fine tooth comb! As soon as we can cobble together something that all four representatives of the founding families can agree on, the sooner we can get back to the business of governing!”
“So it’s really going to happen?” Sirius asked that night after Harry had been put to bed. Fanky was watching him, and had strict instructions to come and get Sirius if Harry woke unexpectedly, or looked like he was having a nightmare.
“It appears so,” Arcturus replied. “Of course, achieving something that we can all agree on is not as easy as it sounds, however it is far better than the alternative.”
Sirius nodded. “There’s really no sign of all these missing people?”
“Even the Department of Mysteries is unable to provide any guidance,” Arcturus informed him. “Once we have a functioning government, we’ll be able to petition the ICW, see if they have any way of finding our missing citizens.”
“I’m surprised there’s not more panic,” Sirius observed.
“Perhaps there would be, if the disappearances took place over a period of time,” Arcturus mused. “As it is, everyone vanished at the same time. Only those who are personally affected really seem to care.”
Sirius sniggered. “I know a few people who’re only too happy for those missing to stay gone.”
“I heard an interesting rumour as I was leaving the Ministry, actually,” Arcturus said, a smile twitching on his lips.
“Apparently Dumbledore has gathered a force together, and they’re training in secret to take over the world.”
Sirius stared for a moment, before giving a startled laugh. “They think he’s training Lucius Malfoy and Tobias Nott in a secret army? Alongside Cornelius Fudge and that famed muck-raker Rita Skeeter? Merlin, I wish it was true! Can you imagine what that would be like?” And he burst out laughing again.
Arcturus watched with contentment as his heir laughed. Sirius was already looking a lot better than he had on that astonishing morning when their lives were all turned upside down by what must be the strangest house elf that ever existed.
As soon as Sirius had been officially freed, Arcturus had engaged the best healers that money could buy. The prognosis had been generally optimistic. Sirius would regain almost all of his previous functionality within a couple of months, and with the proper care, his mind would heal as well. He would always be prone to fits of depression, but they should ease with time. His sterility – a side effect of almost constant exposure to dementors – was irreversible. There was nothing that could be done about that, unfortunately. Still, young Hadrian would no doubt make a fine heir, given time. And there was always the option of blood adoption to be taken into account.
Sirius gave a few final chuckles as his mirth finally subsided. “Oh, James would have loved that. Not as much as Lily, of course. She had a fine sense of the ridiculous, did Lily.” He sobered, heaving a sigh that conveyed a deep sense of melancholy.
“She sounds as though she was a formidable witch,” Arcturus murmured. “I’m sorry that I never had the opportunity to meet her.”
That effectively distracted Sirius from his brooding. He raised his eyebrows in disbelief. “You do remember that she was a muggle-born, don’t you? I thought you were of the belief that they were only slightly less offensive than muggles?”
Arcturus sighed. “It can be difficult to overcome the teachings of your youth,” he said. “When one examines the facts dispassionately it is obvious that the only real difference between muggle-born and pureblood is knowledge and ideology. It’s very likely that the one has a lot to do with the other, of course. We old families like to hoard our power and knowledge, no doubt a relic from the days where each House stood or fell alone. Back then our very survival depended on that secrecy, and it is a hard habit to unlearn.”
Sirius was looking suspicious now. Arcturus was glad to see it. His heir would need all his wits about him as they tried to re-make the government, and it was heartening that Sirius was starting to engage his critical thought processes once more.
“Of course, it’s impossible for a muggle-born to have access to the well of Family Magic that many belonging to the older families possess,” Arcturus went on. “That does not preclude them from taking full part in many other rituals and observances, however.”
“Lily found a lot of the secrecy around some of the more family-based rituals extremely annoying,” Sirius admitted, still eyeing his grandfather warily. “She really threw herself into all of the other celebrations though. She was talking about petitioning to start up a class at Hogwarts to teach them, sort of opposite to Muggle Studies. Not that she had much time for Muggle Studies; she was pretty scornful about the whole curriculum. Said hiring a pureblood to teach it was ridiculous.”
“Her words make sense,” Arcturus agreed. He sighed again. “There is much that must be done to make our world a safe place for all,” he said softly. “Whatever, or whoever, is behind the disappearances has done us all a great favour, given us a great opportunity. It cannot be a coincidence that all of the radicals have been removed from the board. I’m not sure if the rest were secretly as radical as the others or if their inclusion was merely to cloud the issue, but regardless we have been left with moderates. Reasonable men and women who think before they act, who engage in debate before deciding an issue. We must take this opportunity we have been given and utilise it to its utmost, for the future.”
Sirius leaned forward, eyes intent. “When did you move your political allegiances into the centre?” he asked. “How did this come about?”
Arcturus met his gaze unflinchingly. “I have had years on my own, Sirius, with nothing to do but look over the past and ruminate on the mistakes I’ve made. Now, at the end of my life, I have been granted this unforeseen opportunity and I intend to take it. I have stayed silent and hidden away for too long. I failed you, just as I failed Alphard, and Marius, and all of those whose beliefs did not mirror those of my own grandfather. I cannot promise to be perfect, Sirius. I can only promise to be better. To do my best.”
Sirius nodded. “And I will promise the same.”
TEN YEARS LATER
Sirius arrived at the platform well before the Hogwarts Express was expected to arrive. Despite the early hour, a number of parents were already there, enjoying a convivial catch up before their children could get there and demand all their attention.
“Lord Black,” the Dowager Longbottom greeted him from the small group that she had no doubt been dominating in her inimitable manner. “How is your grandfather? I was distressed to hear of his illness.”
“Lady Longbottom,” Sirius returned politely, nodding at her companions who were only vaguely familiar to him. They bowed and murmured their farewells before leaving. “The old man will be fine, I’m sure. If he was a decade younger it would just be a trifling illness, but at his age, anything at all can become a concern if it’s not dealt with. He insists there’s nothing wrong with him, of course. I’ll tell him you asked after him, I’m sure he’ll be delighted.”
Madam Longbottom laughed. “You have all of my sympathies; I’ve heard he’s not the easiest patient to deal with. Still, I’m sure he’ll be looking forward to Harry arriving home.”
Sirius grinned. “I had the devil of a job ensuring he didn’t come with me,” he replied. “Luckily we have a rather ruthless house elf who isn’t above potioning the former Lord for his own good, so right now he’s sedated. I’ll be catching it when I get home though.” His smile softened as he thought of the tongue lashing he was sure to receive. “Not that I care. He may have little to no concern for his own health, but the rest of us aren’t so blasé.”
“Neville tells me that the House of Black has a number of very strange house elves,” Madam Longbottom commented.
“Harry attracts them,” Sirius protested. “I’m sure it’s a Potter weirdness, not a Black one!”
“You and your grandfather raised him,” she pointed out with a smirk.
“Actually,” Sirius said suddenly, struck by a thought. “I wonder if it’s Lily’s influence? She always had the elves of Hogwarts eating out of her hand. I’m sure she had them spying for her by the end of her tenure as Head Girl. We stopped being able to slip anything past her. Nothing!”
“From what I hear that may have had more to do with James himself than any control over the house elves,” Cedrella Weasley said, having approached while they were talking. “Hello, Sirius. The old man still hanging in there, I hear?”
“That he is,” Sirius responded with a smile. “Good afternoon, Cedrella. How are things?”
“I’ve got one more year of trying to herd four of them to and from the train,” Cedrella said with a long-suffering sigh. “Septimus thinks that I haven’t figured out that he arranges ‘emergencies’ at work so that he can get out of it. How he thinks he’s managed to keep it from me, I have no idea.”
“I’m sure you’ll have a great deal of enjoyment confronting him about it,” Madam Longbottom remarked with a nudge.
“I will indeed,” Cedrella all but purred.
Sirius decided to change the subject. There were some things he didn’t need to be thinking about his great aunt and her husband. “Is Percy enjoying his work with Gringotts?” he asked, “It’s becoming quite the family tradition at this point, signing up for seven years with them.”
“He’s having a ball,” Cedrella said with a fond smile. “I think it’s a better fit for him than the Ministry, to be perfectly honest. The goblin society is much more rigid, and he does love his rules. He’s in a place where his tendency towards being overly pedantic is a positive trait rather than a negative one, and it’s done his confidence a world of good. He was even talking last week about maybe applying to transfer to the Swiss branch connected to the ICW, so he may have come to the same conclusion himself.”
Sirius nodded. “How is Arthur?” he asked gently.
Cedrella sighed. “Still the same,” she responded sadly. “He’s still unable to function properly without repeated instruction. We had originally hoped he’d get better with time, but… I’ll never forgive myself for not noticing what was going on.”
“It was a great shock to everyone,” Madam Longbottom murmured.
Cedrella’s expression turned wrathful. “If I ever get my hands on that bitch and the bastard that was enabling her, then they’re going to find out the hard way just what a daughter of the House of Black does to those who betray her.”
“I’ll make a place for you at the front of the queue,” Sirius promised. “I’m pretty sure that with Dumbledore it’s going to be first come, first served. There are a lot of people who would be delighted to fillet him slowly with a teaspoon.”
“The things you never knew about a person,” Madam Longbottom said with a shake of her head. “I would have sworn that Albus Dumbledore was a good man, dedicated to doing what was right.”
“In his own mind, I’m sure he was,” Sirius replied.
Minster Bones came through the floo flanked by her ever-present auror security detail. Going by the irritated expression on her face, she’d just lost another argument about how many guards she actually needed. It was six years since the last attempt on her life, and her security was showing no signs of letting up their vigilance.
“Good day, Cedrella, Augusta, Lord Black,” she greeted them with a nod. “Good, the train isn’t here yet. Susan is always so understanding when I’m late, but I can’t bear to disappoint her.”
“I know the feeling,” Sirius said, nodding back. “We were just talking about the possibility of getting our hands on some of ‘The Lost’. Still no sign of them, I suppose? There was a widely held belief that they’d turn up fairly promptly after being formally declared dead.”
Minister Bones shook her head. “No, we’ve been monitoring all the areas of high magical concentration for years now, and not a sausage. It’s beginning to look like they’ll never return.”
“No great loss,” Madam Longbottom muttered. She looked up as the platform started to tremble. “Look alive, the Express is about to arrive.”
Sirius turned eagerly towards the train. He’d occasionally heard parents bemoaning the return of their progeny from Hogwarts, complaining about the extra work involved in caring for them. He really couldn’t understand that attitude. For him, it was a struggle each year to let go enough to put Harry on the train, and after that, it was a countdown until he returned. He’d come so close to missing out on having Harry in his life that the thought of not enjoying every day was baffling to him.
Some people just didn’t know how lucky they were.
The train arrived and students began to disembark in waves, a chattering, shouting, laughing mass that turned the peaceful platform into chaos within minutes. Sirius searched the crowd for the familiar mop of messy black hair, ginning fiercely when he saw it, accompanied as always by the small group of teenagers that could usually be found nearby.
He waited until he saw Harry catch sight of him and waved, watching as Harry waved back before turning to Neville and gesturing over towards where Sirius was still standing with Cedrella Weasley, Madam Longbottom, and Minister Bones. In moments the small group was making their slow but determined way through the seething crowd, and then Sirius was holding his godson in his arms again.
All was well.
After credits scenes:
“Are you sure you want to work for the House of Black?” Sirius asked, wondering just why Dobby had brought this little elf specifically to him.
“Winky has no work to do,” Winky said despondently. “Winky’s old Masters are not needing her to do anything for them, and after Will reading new Masters are saying they not be needing any more house elves.”
Dobby stood to one side, anxiously twirling one of the hats that he had taken to wearing around one finger. It had taken some time and a lot of persuasion, but he’d eventually relaxed his need for secrecy enough to explain himself a little to Arcturus and Sirius, saying that as soon as the Great and Wonderful Harry Potter finished Hogwarts he would be bonding with Dobby, and in the meantime that was all that he needed to work on Harry Potter’s behalf.
It didn’t actually make much sense to the wizards, but Dobby seemed to believe it and he was demonstrably devoted to Harry, so in the end Arcturus and Sirius had decided to let it go.
“Very well,” Sirius said, not needing to look over at Harry to see what his thoughts on the matter were. Harry was a bleeding heart when it came to house elves – he blamed Dobby’s influence – and he’d no doubt just tell Sirius to get on with it and offer her a bond already. “Winky, I offer you a bond with the House of Black.”
There was a flash of light, and it was done. Harry congratulated the newest Black elf, while Dobby threw his hat in the air.
“Dobby is so happy!” the little elf squealed.
Sirius felt a headache coming on.
THIRTY YEARS LATER
It was six months since Sirius had begun his retirement from public life, and he was enjoying it to the hilt. In particular being able to help care for Harry and Cedric’s grandchildren, his adopted great-grandchildren.
One afternoon, when he had nothing else to do and no one else was home, he thought it was probably time to have the conversation he’d been putting off for forty years now. Plausible deniability was all well and good, but along with handing over the Headship of the House of Black he’d also dropped a lot of his obligations with regards to the Ministry, the Wizengamot, and the ICW.
“Dobby!” he called.
Dobby popped in. He’d changed very little from the elf that had turned their lives upside down early one June morning. “Yes, Harry Potter’s Dogfather?” he asked. “You is wanting Dobby’s help with something?”
Sirius watched him carefully. “I was wondering,” he said casually, “how I would go about getting rid of a bunch of people in such a way that they weren’t dead, but also weren’t able to be found. Just hypothetically.”
Dobby’s ears wilted immediately. “Dobby was knowing he would be having this talk with Harry Potter’s Dogfather one day,” he said. “Harry Potter’s Old Black asked Dobby the same question.”
That didn’t surprise Sirius. The old man had looked extremely smug for the last several years of his life, and knowing the great secret that was stumping the entire wizarding world would certainly do it.
“Hy-pot-ically,” Dobby said, peering up at Sirius from under his current hat, “if a house elf was dosing some wizards and witches with the Stasis potion and then stacking them up in a secure Gringotts vault, they is not likely being found.”
Sirius blinked. Why had no one ever thought to check Gringotts? Of course, the goblins operated their bank under magically enforced rules that ensured that they couldn’t act against humans or part humans without first disclosing it in triplicate, and in their own way they were too honourable to lie. They’d cheat you quite happily, but only out in the open. Those that didn’t read the fine print on a contract were fair game, as far as goblins were concerned.
In fact, they’d been extremely helpful when Harry was still young, actually. Dobby had suggested having them take a look at Harry’s scar, and within twenty-four hours Harry had been rid of a debilitating magical syphon that had been leeching his power, and Sirius had even more reason to hate Albus Dumbledore.
But if Dobby-
“Wait,” Sirius said suspiciously. “I thought house elves were unable to use magic to purposefully bring harm to humans and part humans? We’re taught that it was a vow made on the very existence of your species, the only reason that the druids agreed to stop the wars.”
“Of course house elves is not using their magic to be hurting people!” Dobby exclaimed, looking as scandalized as a house elf could look. “Wizards and witches in stasis is not being hurt, Harry Potter’s Dogfather. They is only being having a very long nap.”
“Do you know what?” Sirius was all of a sudden certain that maybe he really didn’t need to know all the details after all. Dobby was clearly on top of the situation, and maybe he should just be left to it. “I think that’s all I need to know. Thank you for your help, Dobby.”
“Harry Potter’s Old Black said that too,” Dobby said. “Wizards are being very weird. Except for Dobby’s Great and Wonderful Harry Potter of course.”
26 JUNE 1985
A small figure dressed in a beige overcoat and a wide-brimmed sombrero stood in front of a Gringotts goblin.
“I is a Mysterious Stranger, and I is wanting to open a high-security storage vault!” the small figure announced slowly and carefully, as if he had rehearsed this several times but was still wary of getting it wrong. “I is wanting to pay in advance for three hundred years.”
“Right,” the goblin replied, dragging his eyes away from the face in front of him. Bulbous house elf eyes stared back at him from behind big black glasses atop a large plastic nose, followed by a plastic moustache. There was no visible mouth, and two house elf ears stuck out either side of the glasses. Their wilted state informed anyone who knew anything about house elves that the wearer was feeling uncertain. “How much oversight will the contents of the vault require? How often would you like us to check it?”
The house elf perked up. “No oversight, Mr Gringotts Goblin,” he replied. “Dobby is just needing a safe place to store some unwanted items for a while.”
“Would you like an option to renegotiate at that time?”
“No, three hundred years is all Dobby will be needing.”
“That will be nine hundred galleons rental, with another hundred administration,” the goblin announced. The house elf handed over a pouch that clinked promisingly, and waited patiently while the goblin counted to ensure that the full thousand galleons were inside. When he was finished he placed the pouch off to one side and looked back at the house elf. “I must warn you that any items left in the vault once the rental period is complete will become full property of Gringotts,” he warned. “By leaving anything there you relinquish all rights to them. It might be a good idea to set a reminder.”
The house elf waved what was probably a hand. It was encased in what looked like some kind of white rubber glove. “Dobby is not concerned,” he said airily.
“Right,” the goblin said, ticking the appropriate boxes on the application. “Now, I need a full name for the forms.”
The house elf on the other side of the counter visibly panicked for a moment. The goblin waited, quill at the ready.
“Dobby already told you!” the house elf said, voice warbling a little. “Dobby’s name is Mr Sterious Stranger!” He gave a little nod of emphasis.
The goblin shrugged, writing Mr Sterious Stranger into the field available. Then he ran a quick eye over the form to see if he had missed anything. “This all seems to be in order,” he said, stamping it ‘Paid in Advance’. “Here is your key.” He placed it on the desk and pushed it over. “Please wait three hours before attempting to use your new vault. Thank you for doing business with Gringotts.”