Turn A Page of Fate-2

Part The Second:

12— Trial Separation

July 18-28, 1993

Sirius Black sat back in his chair and stared at the ceiling.  The last few days had been grueling, to say the least.  He had completed several sessions with his Mind-healer, over and over inside the Time Chamber, with long breaks for food and sleep.  And while he did feel like he was making progress, his emotions were all over the place.

He wept.  Often.  Which is saying a lot for such a short time.

Sirius had to face the consequences of his actions, which may not have led to James’ death but did lead to Harry being orphaned.  If he hadn’t let his temper and his grief take over his good sense, then he would have been present for Harry in that difficult time, and then Harry would not have grown up in that horrible house with Lily’s horrid sister and her abusive family.  Sirius had only managed to observe Harry’s home life for a few scant days, but it was enough to know that Sirius had done the child a huge disfavor.

Sirius’ heart just about broke when he personally experienced the innocent kindness Harry showed a starving stray dog—offering the only food he had available when Harry could clearly use it himself, and offering a cuddle—even if was only to comfort himself.

Now, with this very public trial coming up, Sirius would be officially exonerated and declared innocent of all imagined charges, and he would be allowed to claim the title of Lord Black, Earl of Blackmoor, and he would have a chance to find and get to know his godson.  Officially.

For now, however, Sirius was working on himself.  Healer Argossi certainly knew her stuff.  First, she used memory-enhancement charms to allow Sirius to face his distant past and his actions then.  The next treatment involved memory-dampening charms that allowed Sirius to deal with the trauma of living with Dementors daily for over a decade without completely reliving the effects.  And while Sirius figured he’d never be able to be anywhere near the horrid creatures, he was certain that he’d not suffer nightmares for very long.  By forcing his dread of the Dementors out in the daylight, Sirius was being allowed to deal with that fear before he slept.  And Healer Argossi’s next treatment method was talk-therapy, where Sirius was ‘allowed’ to speak frankly about whatever was going through his mind at that particular time, be it Azkaban and the Dementors, his frustrating and abusive family, his irrational anger at Albus Dumbledore for sending James and Lily away, or his frustration at his former colleagues in the Auror Corps for throwing him away without question.  At the end of each session, Sirius’ throat was sore, but his spirit was lighter.  And while Healer Argossi agreed that he was making a lot of quick progress, Sirius knew that it was specifically just so that he could stand in front of the World Magical Court for his upcoming trial, and he would likely be in ‘therapy’ for a very long time to come.

And while Healer Argossi was a good choice for right now, Sirius knew she was compiling a list of possible future Healers to help him once he progressed past the initial treatments.

Never had Sirius been so grateful and thankful for the Chieftain of the Goblin Nation for arranging everything, because for the first time in a very long time Sirius was looking forward to the future.

But this was not his therapy time, and Sirius was trying very hard not to break down.

This time was ‘Trial Preparation’ time with Arbiter Van Der Salk, and that man was relentless.

Question after question after question—about his mental state right after finding out about James and Lily’s deaths, about his seeming ambiguousness when he was sent to Azkaban, about losing contact with his godson, about the plan to escape Azkaban.  Van Der Salk hammered Sirius over and over, earnestly attempting to get Sirius to react in an emotional manner—all so Sirius would be prepared for possibly even harder questions in the World Magical Court without responding in an emotional manner.

It sounded ridiculous, but Sirius understood the sentiment.  He would be on trial in front of the entire Wizarding World, facing prosecutors that regularly put away mass murderers and other obscene criminals, and he would have to project the proper image of an innocent man who was illegally put away with no proof of guilt—a Noble Lord who was shut away in some sort of–ahem–Witch Hunt for Death-Eaters.  Sirius needed to be a victim of injustice, but he could not show weakness in front of the WMC.  Vulnerability, yes; weakness, no.  Van Der Salk seemed to think it was bad enough that Sirius was almost completely emaciated because of his treatment in Azkaban, so Sirius was being trained to answer questions clearly without tears or a broken voice.  There would be time, he said, for the tears after the trial, when the world press would likely want interviews with Sirius and with the Ministry that imprisoned him in the first place.

Sirius was also working with Healer Argossi so that he wouldn’t be tempted to punch both Minister Fudge and Albus Dumbledore in the mouth.

It wouldn’t be proper.

Chieftain Ragnok also met often with Sirius, keeping track of his progress.  He never outright said anything, but Sirius was certain that the wily goblin had some sort of plan in the works that involved Sirius, and he needed to be publicly exonerated and reasonably healthy for that plan to work.  Ragnok would come into Sirius’ room to discuss the state of the Black Family Vaults and the investments and the various members of the Black Family that were still living and still in good standing—certainly Bellatrix didn’t count, because she was put in Azkaban around the same time as Sirius, only with the benefit of a trial.

Ragnok would also be kind enough to give Sirius brief updates on Harry; how he was doing in school, or what his interests were.  Sirius wasn’t completely sure, but he suspected that Harry had spent quite some time at the bank, because Ragnok was incredibly informed about the boy, and Sirius was happy to hear all about him.  Of course, Sirius never got any of the tiny details about his godson, like his favourite foods or what books he liked to read, but just knowing that the boy was healthy and safe was enough for now.

The day before Sirius’ trial in Geneva, Healer Argossi came into his room accompanied by Ragnok, and they both looked rather serious.

“Um, hello,” said Sirius uncertainly.  “What’s wrong?  It’s not the trial, is it?”

Healer Argossi shook her head slightly.  “No, Heir Black, there is nothing wrong with the trial preparations.  You are still scheduled to Floo from here to the Gringotts branch in the Jardin-anglais in Geneva tomorrow morning.  No, rather I have another issue for you.”

“Is it bad?”

Healer Argossi smiled gently.  “I don’t believe so.  But, I would rather stay near you while Chieftain Ragnok tells you a little story.  If you react well enough to that, then we’ll move forward a bit and allow you to learn more.”

Sirius frowned but took a seat next to the Bank Director without another question.  “Okay, then—let’s hear this story.”

Ragnok chuckled.  “I do like your spirit, Heir Black.  This story isn’t mine, actually, but I’ve received permission to tell it to you.  It actually involves young Heir Potter, and a small adventure he came upon while shopping in Diagon Alley not long ago.”

Sirius sat, enthralled, as Ragnok told the Legend of the Cursed Fey and her mysterious bookshop—and Harry’s actual encounter with that very shop.  The story was fascinating, right up until Ragnok got to the part where Harry found mysterious books that ‘called’ to him.

“And so,” said Ragnok as Sirius stared blankly at him in stunned silence, “it was determined that you should be allowed to read the first book in that collection, as it closely mirrors Heir Potter’s first year officially in the Wizarding World and Hogwarts. However, I must caution you that much of this book is very distressing, and I will refuse to leave it with you if there is any chance that you will become too upset before your trial tomorrow.”

Sirius rubbed his forehead and thought, hard, for a few minutes.  On the one hand, he wanted to learn more about his godson, and this seemed like the best way to do that without actually speaking with the boy.  On the other hand, he needed to remain calm and collected before appearing before the WMC the next day.

Finally he said, “I do appreciate the offer Director Ragnok, but if it’s all the same to you, I think I’d rather read that book after my trial.  I’ve made a lot of progress in a very short time thanks to your Time Chamber and this fine Mind-healer here, but I know I’m only barely settled and getting even slightly upset right now would not be a good idea.  If that’s alright?”

Ragnok smiled at him and clapped his hands together.  “I think that’s a very healthy response, Heir Black.  I do respect this decision, and this book will be made available to you upon your return to this bank after your trial.”

Sirius smiled gratefully.  “And again I want to thank you for allowing me to come back here when that’s all over and done with, because I have no money at the moment, and I have no place to live—and I will not until after the trial verdict is delivered.”

Ragnok nodded.  “I have made sure that several appropriate Black properties are being made ready for occupation in anticipation of your return.  All you really have to decide is whether or not you want to remain secluded and how many House-elves you would like to bond to your magic at this point in your life.”

Sirius frowned.  “Have you looked into my mother’s previous home?  I mean, I know she died while I was in Azkaban, and I’ll certainly not miss her, but there was a very dedicated House-elf caring for her at the time of her death, and he might still be there, puttering about all alone.  That can’t be healthy, even if he’s a miserable bastard of a House-elf.”

“I believe that particular property is under a Fidelis, so you’ll have to claim the Lordship before you have access to it.”

“Right,” Sirius sighed.  He turned to Healer Argossi and asked, “Is there such a thing as a Mind-healer for House-elves?  I mean, Kreacher was practically nuts before I left home when I was in school, but living alone in that horrible place after Darling Mumsy passed can’t have been good for him.”

“I’ll look into it, Heir Black,” she replied.  “And I think it shows great character that you’re willing to look into the welfare of your Bonded House-elf.”

Sirius snorted.  “You’re both assuming that Kreacher would accept a bond with me once I claim the title.  My mother fostered a particular hate of me in that particular House-elf, and she delighted in having him practically torture me when I was a child.  It’s one of the reasons that I ran to James’ house when I was only fifteen.”

Healer Argossi inclined her head slightly and said, “Even so, that makes your concern all the more endearing.”

While Sirius Black was spending his time deep within Gringotts undergoing complex trauma therapy and preparing for his upcoming trial, Harry was spending his time re-writing his school essays using material found in books from Augury Books—material that was glanced at during lectures but not delved into too deeply.  Harry figured it was time to start taking his education very seriously, especially if he was going to eventually manage his family’s estate.

In fact, Harry had gone as far as sending a letter to Professor McGonagall, asking to be removed from the Divination Class and placed instead into the Arithmancy and Ancient Runes classes.  He knew Divination was a crock, what with that Book telling him that Professor Trelawney would spend almost the entire school term predicting his horrible death, so he thought he’d do better in the others.  It might have made for a longer day, but Harry was always fond of arithmetic in primary school (he was never in class with Dudley, so he was allowed to do well in those classes) and they would give him better preparation for his actual future beyond Hogwarts.  When he discussed the idea with Sharperock and Remus Lupin, they both agreed, mentioning that unless he had the actual Gifted Sight, he would not do well in Divination anyway, because it was like Parseltongue—it could be refined, but it could not actually be taught.

Harry’s private studies with Parseltongue, Parselwrit, and Parselmagic were also going well, as far as he could tell.  Sharperock was able to provide a safe practice space within the office area of Gringotts so that he could cast spells outside of Hogwarts without being detected by the Ministry Trace on Underage Magic.  In fact, Harry was pleased to note that much of Parselmagic didn’t use a wand at all, so he was learning wandless magic much earlier than any of his current classmates would.  Hermione would be incredibly put out if she ever found out about it, so Harry swore to himself to keep it quiet for as long as possible.  Which was just as well, because everyone at Hogwarts probably thought Parselmagic was a Dark Art.

Harry didn’t get a chance to spend much time with Remus Lupin after that first meeting.  While the man was appropriately horrified by the books and Harry’s treatment by his family, he was also going to be a teacher at Hogwarts and he had to take time to prepare for that job.  So after spending three days with Harry, getting to know him and to discuss past events—as well as possible future events according to the Third Book—Lupin had to travel to Wales to collect ‘teaching materials’ that would be shipped to Hogwarts before the start of term.

Harry understood and appreciated Lupin’s position, as he wouldn’t want a half-assed teacher like Lockhart for DADA again—and that Third Book promised that Lupin would be a far superior instructor than Hogwarts would likely ever have again.  In fact, Harry sort of wanted to read ahead, just to see how the next year’s instructor would stand up.

Of course, it was decided mutually between Harry and Sharperock that nobody read further until after Sirius Black’s trial, just so they could find out by way of the verdict how many human allies that Harry would have within the Wizarding World.  While his friends would surely stand by his side, they were as young as he was and had no real influence.

And thinking about his friends made Harry think about what the Books said about them—and about Hermione’s unhealthy ‘addiction’ to education.  Harry frowned, thinking about the very real possibility of her using a Time-Turner just so she could take extra classes.  What could Professor McGonagall possibly be thinking, allowing something like that?  Harry’s own mother, according to Remus Lupin, achieved incredible academic accomplishments, having maximum OWL and NEWT grades and a high class standing, all without using a magical devise to give her an advantage.  In fact, being Muggleborn should have given her a huge disadvantage, at least according to some of the Pureblood students Harry knew, and yet Lily Evans excelled while in school.  Perhaps Harry should bring that up if it looked like Hermione was trying to get a leg up on the other students in their year.  If she couldn’t beat them on their own terms, then she was looking at school the wrong way.

Harry bit lightly on the end of his fountain pen as he paused his homework.  He was seeking an advantage of a sort himself, wasn’t he?  Reading Books about his possible future—even if they were meant for some sort of alternate universe—might be considered cheating, in a way.  If one could actually cheat at life.  But there was a Dark Lord out there, somewhere, that wanted to kill Harry for reasons Harry could not understand, and he needed every advantage he could get in order to survive.  Sharperock had warned him against treating the Books as gospel, especially as they’d already proven some minor differences between him and the Harry Potter in the books.  But there were enough major similarities for Harry to be more than cautious.  There would be a full month between the end of Sirius Black’s trial and the journey to Hogwarts on September first, and that would, he hoped, be plenty of time to decide whether or not to read further and to make plans accordingly.  No matter the decision on that front, Harry vowed that he would take his education more seriously—and try to become more aware of the world around him.

Harry had no doubt that there were people in and around his life that would take total advantage of him if he allowed it.  Minister Fudge, for example, had already proven to Harry to be an unreliable leader that pandered to the general public perhaps a bit too much, and if he needed to throw Harry under a bus to keep his popularity, then Harry was certain he would.  In fact, one of the first things Harry had done after his first visit to Gringotts after he arrived at The Leaky Cauldron was to ‘check out’ of the pub, changing the name of his room from Harry Potter to James Evans.  Old Tom was happy to go along with the illusion, as it kept Harry’s identity and location secure and safe.  There was one time while Harry was eating in the public room of the Leaky Cauldron that an Auror or some other Ministry employee had asked Old Tom if he knew the whereabouts of Harry Potter, and Old Tom had replied that Harry Potter was not in residence.  Later that day, according to the Pubkeep, the Minister himself had come in demanding to know where Harry was, and Tom had told the man—quite honestly—that since the Minister had promised to pay for Harry’s stay but had actually only paid for one night, Harry had taken his leave of the place to find somewhere he could afford.

Harry had laughed out loud at the description of an angry and flustered Fudge sputtering over how Tom had allowed The Boy Who Lived to roam about unprotected, and that the Pubkeep should have just let the boy stay and billed the Ministry at a later date.  Old Tom just patted Harry on the shoulder and told him that he’d still be safe there if he wanted to stay, and Harry made sure to let Hedwig know to stay hidden as much as possible when she went out hunting.  The black cloth cap that he wore to hide his unmistakable scar also hid his identity to people that didn’t know him very well, and Harry was able to stay in the Leaky Cauldron for as long as he wanted, especially as the Ministry was no longer searching there for him—Tom had ‘promised’ to let them know if ‘Harry Potter’ ever returned.

The best part of that, of course, was that the Ministry didn’t dare report to the general public that Harry Potter was actually missing.  At first, Fudge wanted to keep Harry safe and hidden because the dangerous escaped prisoner, Sirius Black, was actively hunting for Harry and the Ministry couldn’t allow that him to succeed.  Now that the Ministry was getting ready to deal with Sirius Black’s public international trial, they couldn’t allow the general public to know that they’d also lost Harry Potter as well as falsifying Sirius Black’s guilt.

It was a good situation for Harry, all in all, and Harry resolved to learn about Animagus Transfiguration and other arts of disguise because he loved the idea of hiding in plain sight.  He also resolved to retrieve his father’s Marauder’s Map from the Weasley twins as soon as possible—unless Sirius actually had his own copy in a vault or safe somewhere.  Remus said he’d never had a copy, nor did Peter Pettigrew, but James and Sirius had invented the Map together, so Sirius probably had his own copy for posterity’s sake.  Remus told Harry that the duo had gotten a high grade for Charms after showing their work to Professor Flitwick; their ‘work’, but not the actual map.  That was kept a secret, even after their graduation from Hogwarts.  It was pure luck that Filch had confiscated James’ copy during a routine raid against Zonko’s prank stuff.  Remus said James was heartbroken to have lost it, but there was no logical way to ask for the return of a ‘piece of old, blank parchment’ without admitting what is really was.




13—Reintroducing Sirius Black

July 29-30, 1993

Since the Ministry had failed at hiding the reality of Sirius Black’s international trial—they tried, but while the Daily Prophet hadn’t published any details, Gringotts Bank had posted the information outside every branch of the Bank in Great Britain—businesses all along Diagon Alley were having ‘listening parties’ during business hours, with Wizarding Wireless Radios broadcasting the trial in its entirety live from Geneva.  Harry had decided to listen from the relative comfort of Sharperock’s office inside Gringotts, which had only opened again for business the day before the trial.

Remus Lupin had sent a message that he was well on his way to support his friend in person, so Harry hoped that the reunion was stress free.  Sirius Black had probably gone into Azkaban thinking that all of his friends were either dead or had abandoned him.  The Sirius Black in the Third Book had thought Remus Lupin believed his guilt right up to the very end—until Sirius had managed to capture Peter Pettigrew during the full moon at the end of that ‘story’.  Harry hoped for a better ending this time around.

Sharperock had generously provided refreshments for both Harry and Hedwig, as Harry had begun to feel guilty for leaving her alone in his inn room so often.  The snowy owl was now perched in a corner of the goblin’s office, apparently reading a leather-bound book that Sharperock had propped on an easel for easy access.  Harry smiled at the antics of his feathery friend, but as he’d taken to reading to her from his new texts he didn’t see anything strange about it.

After Harry had poured himself a cup of tea, the Wireless crackled to life, and Sharperock reached to adjust the volume of the old-fashioned radio.

This is Olga Streinholdt from the World Wireless Network,” said a strongly accented voice, “and we are here today in Geneva, Switzerland, for the public trial of Heir Sirius Orion Black of the British House of Black.  As many of our listeners know, Heir Black was arrested twelve years ago for the murder of thirteen Muggles on a public street, property damage caused during the course of those murders, and the betrayal of Lord James Potter and his lady-wife, Lily, in the service of the Dark Lord Voldemort.

“The reason for this trial under the World Magical Court is thus: Gringotts Wizarding Bank, in the course of regular auditing for high-volume accounts, became aware of a lack of trial in Britain for Sirius Black.  Simply put, the man may have been imprisoned illegally without a trail, and the WMC was entreated to correct this injustice.  If Heir Black is found to be innocent of all charges, it could prove to be an international embarrassment for the British Ministry for Magic, several members of which are here to testify to their actions of that time.”

Harry’s eyebrows shot up at that information, and he looked at Sharperock with a question in his eyes.  The goblin shrugged nonchalantly.  “It is simple, Heir Potter,” said Sharperock, “if the Ministry for Magic wants to retain their appearance of propriety, they must account for their actions at that time.  The Minister back then was Millicent Bagnold, and she retired in 1990—and then died just a year later, so she is unable to account for her actions.  Minister Fudge may not have been in control of the Ministry at that time, but he was certainly a Ministry employee and was present during the War Trials and he certainly saw much of what was going on during those trials, so he’ll certainly be called to testify to that knowledge.  Other Ministry officials, such as the Inquisitors, will also be called to defend their actions.”

Harry nodded in understanding.  “So because they refused to admit in this country that they put him in Azkaban illegally, they now have to admit it in front of the whole world.  That’s going to be rough for a lot of people to deal with.”

“I agree,” said Sharperock.  “Minister Fudge is greatly invested in his public image, so we must expect him to act to repair that after this trial.  He’ll likely reach out to you personally, possibly to ask some sort of forgiveness.  You should prepare for that, Heir Potter, and respond accordingly.”

Harry wrinkled his nose.  “I really don’t like that man, Mr. Sharperock.  I don’t like the way he had Hagrid arrested for no reason, and then acted like it was business as usual, and I don’t like how he behaves in those Books—like the appearance of doing something is actually better than doing something.  And I have no doubt that he’d set Sirius Black up for being Kissed on sight if he could get away with it.”

Sharperock inclined his head.  “I do agree, Heir Potter, but there is no way that you can actually say any of that without revealing those marvelous Books of yours.  After this trial is over and the verdict is announced, you and I shall have a brainstorming session to decide what your public response should be.  Perhaps Chieftain Ragnok can join us, as he is also invested in your future.”

Harry smiled and was about to respond when that female reporter again began talking about the trial, introducing the prosecuting attorney, the defense attorney, and the WMC Judicial Board.  The names meant nothing to Harry, but he paid close attention anyway.  Finally, the reporter announced that Heir Sirius Black had entered the courtroom and was being sworn in.

“Heir Black is dressed appropriately for this solemn occasion, but one can clearly see that he is very thin and gaunt from his incarceration, and his expression is extremely haunted—clearly a result of his exposure to the horrific demons that the British Ministry uses to guard their prison.  Much has been said by the ICW about the use of those demons and how inhumane and distasteful they are, but the British Ministry defends them over and over, insisting they are necessary rather than dangerous.

“And now Heir Black has been given specially-prepared Veritaserum before taking a seat on the charmed Witness Chair in front of the Judicial Board.  The Prosecutor, Arbiter Elise Hanover, is collecting her notes and approaching the Witness Chair.”

Harry reached for a notepad and pen, determined to take notes on the trial so that he might be able to answer questions later.

Sirius Black forced himself not to struggle against the Truth Charms that were present on the Witness Chair, relaxing into a dull mental state as the Veritaserum took effect.  As an Auror, he’d used it infrequently when presiding over a trial, but he’d never been forced to take it and he disliked how his body suddenly felt separate from his mind, as if he had no control over what he was about to say.  It was uncomfortable but necessary, and he fell further into the disconnect before the Prosecutor approached his Chair and began asking questions.

“Heir Black,” the attractive brunette began, “do you understand why you are here today?”

“Yes,” Sirius replied dully.  “I’m here to have the trial that was denied me.”

“And is it true that you maintain your innocence?”

“Yes,” Sirius said again.

“Because of the charms and potions that are now activated upon your person, you are unable to tell a blatant lie, but there are many ways to tell an untruth.  Therefore, I shall ask many leading questions in order to bring about a true accounting of distant actions.  Do you understand this?”

Sirius forced his eyes to focus on the Prosecutor and replied, “Yes.  You need to set the proper stage for my actions.”

The Prosecutor’s mouth lifted at one corner as she shuffled her notes.  “Precisely.  Let us begin: In 1981, James and Lily Potter went into hiding with their young son, Harry.  What exactly was the cause for this action?”

Sirius blinked.  “I’m not really sure, actually.  James only told me that he was instructed to do so by Albus Dumbledore, and that he was advised to go under the Fidelus Charm to stay safe with his family.”

Prosecutor Hanover frowned as she looked over her notes.  “I do not see any mention of Albus Dumbledore’s involvement in the records of your arrest.  What did he have to do with this situation?”

“Again,” said Sirius, “I’m not entirely sure.  At the height of the Voldemort War, Dumbledore seemed disenchanted with the efforts of the Ministry to take charge of the situation.  As Aurors, James and I were frequently on the front lines, fighting and arresting Death Eaters and trying to bring them to trial, but Minister Bagnold seemed to want to avoid strict sentencing until Pureblood families started being attacked.  Dumbledore began a secret police force, in a way, to gather information about potential targets so that we could prevent attacks.”

Hanover’s frown deepened.  “Again, there is no information about this secret police.  Dumbledore was, and is, the Chief Warlock of your Wizengamot, is that not true?  So why would he feel the need to have a secret force?”

Sirius blinked again.  “Albus Dumbledore said he felt the need to be more proactive.  Lily was against the idea of a secret vigilante force, but Dumbledore insisted and he asked James and I to help fund the Order of the Phoenix.  He had to ask a few times before James and Lily relented, and I went along with it so that I could be of some service.”

“And then something happened to make Dumbledore order the Potters into hiding.  Do you know what that was and how the Fidelus Charm was chosen?”

“I think Dumbledore had some secret information, but James didn’t tell me what that was.  And Dumbledore said the Fidelus was the safest way to keep them hidden.”

“And you were chosen as the Secret Keeper, is that correct?”

“Yes and no,” replied Sirius.  “I was chosen, but James and I talked about it and decided that I was too obvious a choice.  I knew there would be a chance that Death Eaters would come for me to get that information, and Dumbledore made it sound like James was key to defeating Voldemort, so we decided to make a change in the plans and make Peter Pettigrew, who was another friend, the Secret Keeper.  After he was sworn as Secret Keeper, the first person Peter told the location was me, but I could not pass along that information.”

Hanover hummed as she flipped her notes again, scribbling in a margin for effect.  “And nobody was aware of this change in Secret Keeper?”

“Most people were not aware,” said Sirius with a slight growl, “but Dumbledore was the person who anchored the Fidelus Charm and sealed it to the Secret Keeper, so he was fully aware.  Peter was nervous about it, but agreed to keep James and Lily safe and to protect baby Harry.”

Hanover stared at Sirius for a long moment before saying, “So there was another person, the very person to suggest the Fidelus Charm, that was aware that you were not the Secret Keeper and that someone else was.”

“Yes,” was the growled reply.

“Describe in as much detail as possible what happened on October 31, 1981.”

Sirius gathered his thoughts for a moment, not fighting the Veritaserum at all.  “I had been out hunting a Death Eater party all night and part of that morning.  I had finally arrested my target, which would have gone more smoothly if I’d had James as my partner, and my first thought was to tell him so, so I hopped onto my motorcycle and flew to his location.  Once I arrived, all I could see was smoke and wreckage.  The top floor of the house was practically gone and parts of the house were still on fire.  I ran into the house thinking to help my friends, but the first thing I saw was James’ body in the front hall.

“He was unmarked, which is a sure sign of the Avada Curse.  I knew at once that they had been betrayed, and I knew Peter Pettigrew was a traitor.  I ran up the stairs to where I could hear Harry crying, and I found Lily on the floor in front of his crib, lying next to a smoking black robe.  There were scorch marks on the walls but Harry and the crib were unmarked and unharmed.  I pulled Harry from the crib and began to comfort him as I carried him down the stairs, keeping his face turned into my chest so that he could not see James.  Once I was outside the destroyed house, I found Rubeus Hagrid outside, wringing his hands and crying.”

“I see,” said Hanover haltingly.  “And why was this Hagrid person there?”

“He told me that Dumbledore had sent him after Harry.  I don’t even know how Dumbledore knew that James and Lily were dead and Harry was not.  I was angry about Peter, and I knew that I couldn’t go after him if I had Harry with me, so I handed the baby to Hagrid and promised that I’d meet with him soon.”

“At this point, Heir Black, were you aware that you were under suspicion for this attack?”

“No.  My only thought was catching Peter and bringing him to justice for what he had done.”

“Heir Black,” said Hanover as she read from a parchment, “it says here that, when you were captured, you were ‘laughing and crying and talking about how it was all your fault’.  Please explain what you were reacting to at that moment.”

“I had tracked Peter Pettigrew to a small village outside of Swindon.  He had ducked into a heavily populated area, possibly thinking that I would not draw my wand on him with Muggles around, but once he saw how angry I was he drew his own wand.  He fired a repulsor into the ground in the middle of a street, causing a gas line to explode, and then he severed one of his fingers with his wand, turned into his Animagus form, and disappeared in the confusion.  I think my mind went a bit numb at that moment because making Peter the Secret Keeper was my idea.  If I hadn’t been so sure of that plan, then James and Lily might not have been found and killed.  So that was all my fault.”

Hanover again stared at Sirius for a long moment.  “Are you saying that Peter Pettigrew is possibly still alive?”

“He is alive,” said Sirius.  “I know he is because I saw proof of it while I was in Azkaban.”

There was a general uproar in the courtroom, which was only halted by one of the Judicials firing a spark from his wand.  Even with his emotions dulled, Sirius felt a bit of elation; he’d wanted to say that for so long!

“What proof did you see in Azkaban,” asked Hanover, “and how did you see it?”

“When Cornelius Fudge was elected to Minister for Magic, he made a point of having infrequent inspections of Azkaban, probably to make sure the dangerous Death Eaters were still in cells and that the guards weren’t being lazy.  He made one such inspection at the beginning of June, and I saw through my cell window that he was carrying a newspaper.  I asked if I might see the Quidditch scores, and when the guard got snippy, Fudge said that it wouldn’t hurt for me to see how badly the Falmouth Falcons were doing and he had the guard pass the newspaper through my window—keeping well away from my cell door himself.”

Hanover smirked slightly.  “So you’re saying that Peter Pettigrew plays for the Falmouth Falcons?”

Sirius wanted to laugh but could not due to the dampening effects of the Veritaserum.  “No, but he was in the paper that day.  On the front page was featured an article about a Ministry employee winning a lottery money-draw and taking his family on a trip.  Within that article was a photograph of the entire family, and one of the children was holding a pet rat, and that rat was Peter Pettigrew.”

“You are certain of this?” asked Hanover as if she already knew the answer.

“I am,” said Sirius clearly.  “I watched Peter transform many, many times, both during school and once we graduated, and I am very familiar with his rat form, especially as that was the last thing I clearly remember seeing before I was arrested.  Also, if you find a copy of that particular photo, you can see that the rat in question is missing a toe on his left front paw—the same digit that Peter severed after causing that explosion in the street on October 31, 1981.”

Arbiter Van Der Salk, Sirius’ legal counsel, produced a full-color copy of the photograph that was used in the Daily Prophet, offering it for evidence.  Hanover examined the photo closely before passing it to the Judicial Board for their perusal.

Once the photograph was accepted as evidence, Hanover returned to her questions.  “Heir Black, the reason the British Ministry urged your recapture, besides the fact that you had escaped their high-security prison, was that you were heard to mutter ‘he’s at Hogwarts’ shortly before you escaped and they believe that you are a danger to Harry Potter, the last remaining Potter.  Will you please explain that utterance.”

If Sirius could have rolled his eyes, he would have.  “I was not talking about Harry, but about Peter, as he was being treated as a pet by one of Harry’s classmates.  If he was at Hogwarts, he would have had ready access to Harry at all times, and I felt that Harry could be in danger.  For all I knew at that moment, Harry could have been in danger since he first entered the school, and I was desperate to find Peter and bring him to justice.”

“Is that really what you intended, Heir Black?” asked Hanover shrewdly.

“No,” Sirius replied blankly.  “I really intended to find Peter Pettigrew and kill him.  I figured that since I was already in prison for a murder that I didn’t commit, then I might as well kill someone who deserved it.  I’ve recently been put in a situation where my original plan was revised.”

“What do you say to anyone who thinks you are a danger to Harry Potter?”

“I say…they’d have to be absolutely nuts to think that.  I took a vow on my life and magic to do my best to protect Harry Potter and keep him safe.  I think perhaps the reason I’m magically weak right now has less to do with Azkaban and more to do with the fact that his parents were essentially killed on my watch.”

“I see,” said Hanover, clearly wrapping-up her questioning for the moment.  “And how did you manage to escape the escape-proof Azkaban?”

Sirius struggled for a moment before countering, “Can I be prosecuted for disclosing that?  I know I didn’t deserve to be committed, but I’d hate to go back.”

Hanover inclined her head and move to speak quietly with the Judicial Board before returning to reply, “In that case, we shall table that topic for the moment—until after your verdict is returned.  You may step down, Heir Black, and the World Magical Court will call forth Bartemius Crouch, former Inquisitor for the British Wizengamot.”

Sirius stood from the Witness Chair and moved to the Defense Table.  He was visibly shaking with effort and emotion, but was very relieved that his part of this trial was all over.

Harry’s hand was shaking so badly, he had to stop taking notes.  Hearing how matter-of-factly Sirius Black spoke of finding his parents was horrible, and Sharperock took the time to explain how Veritaserum affected people—basically making them sound caustic and emotionless as it forced them to speak nothing but truth as they knew it.  The explanation helped a bit, but Harry still hurt for the man who found his best friends dead in their supposedly ‘safe’ sanctuary.

And then….

And then Bartemius Crouch was called to explain how Sirius Black could have possibly been sent to Azkaban without a trial, and the man postured and posed so badly in order to protect his own reputation—which Sharperock said was publically damaged when it was discovered that his own son was a marked Death Eater—that Prosecutor Hanover demanded that he be dosed with Veritaserum immediately so that they could get a straight answer—which was less than impressive: apparently the Chief Auror at the time, a man who was jealous of Black’s reputation as a law enforcement officer, had sent Black off to Azkaban rather than a Ministry holding cell to await trial, and never told anyone.  And Crouch was so busy with other trials, including that of his own son, that he never checked—or thought to check.

I was a broken man,” he’d said when asked why he never once thought to look back for those records.  “My wife was always a frail woman, and our son’s troubles and trial weakened her further.  She eventually contracted Dragon Pox and did not have the will to fight it out of her system.  She died a few years ago, and Azkaban reported my son’s death immediately after.  I was only just beginning to rebuild my life, and I am ashamed that I had not taken the time to review my actions long ago.”

And then Minister Cornelius Fudge was called to explain his own actions much after the fact.

Minister Fudge,” asked Hanover sternly, “I realized that you had limited political power at the time of the Potters’ murders, but is it not true that you have since made a habit of ‘inspecting’ Azkaban, for security purposes?

Yes,” said Fudge pleasantly.  “I see it as my duty to make sure my constituents are as safe as possible, and that means making sure the riffraff is kept locked away securely.”

The ‘riffraff’,” Hanover repeated slowly.  “At any point during your twice-yearly inspections, did you make any effort to verify that every prisoner was incarcerated with due cause?

Well, no.  I mean, the Ministry just doesn’t make that sort of mistake.

Clearly the Ministry does make that sort of mistake,” said Hanover shortly.  “In fact, is it not true that many clearly marked Death Eaters have walked free after actual trials while several innocent people were allowed to be locked away?

Now see here,” Fudge declared, “every person who walked free insisted that they were, in fact, innocent—being under the Imperious Curse negates free will, after all.  Those people were very clear that they were Imperioused.

Were they also clear about buying their freedom, Minister Fudge?” asked Hanover as she considered her trial notes.  “I see that several large donations were made to the Ministry during those trials, and more than a few of those donations went to causes in your own name.”

That was merely a coincidence,” Fudge said softly.  “I had very little to do with those verdicts.”

Minister Fudge,” said Hanover changed the subject jarringly, “the World Magical Court is curious to know why your very first act, upon learning of Heir Black’s escape, was to order him to be Kissed Upon Contact rather than to be recaptured—basically ordering his magical soul to be forcibly removed from his body by those Demons that supposedly guard your prison.”

Well,” stammered Fudge uncomfortably, “he was a very dangerous criminal with no regard to the lives of others, so I felt it was best to act in the extreme.

And that was very much in the extreme,” sneered Hanover.  “This Kiss would have left him a walking dead-man, for all intents and purposes, which many would not consider justice, especially since a large number of Death Eaters are still alive and coherent within the walls of Azkaban.  We are wondering if that order was made in order for the Ministry to confiscate all material wealth and properties from the House of Black, as the Heir to the House would be indefinitely incapacitated.  After all, if that was not the case, why not order the Kiss to be administered to every Death Eater that did admit to killing indiscriminately?”

I, um, I hadn’t really…considered that…,” Fudge murmured.  “Ordering the Dementor’s Kiss is a very drastic move, you see, and one that shouldn’t be bandied about without cause.

I see,” said Hanover smugly.  “Then why, once the Goblin Nation brought Heir Black’s guilt into question, did you not rescind that Kiss order?  Surely that simple request should have had you jumping to make sure the incarceration was legal?  And yet, we have evidence from the Head of your Department of Magical Law Enforcement that you ordered her to ignore Gringotts’ request for trial information, insisting that the goblins were ‘bluffing’.  Are you still hoping to have Heir Black incapacitated?

Of course I want to see justice done,” Fudge prevaricated.  “I’m sure the overturn order is on my desk; I simply need to pass it along to the proper authorities.

And then, Albus Dumbledore was called forth and questioned about his inaction in this case, and the flamboyant wizard tried very hard to inject his colorful personality into the trial—but Hanover was having none of it.

You are the person who closed the Fidelus Charm, are you not, Mr. Dumbledore?”

“Ah, yes, I was.  And I am currently the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, you know, so it would be appropriate to address me as such.  Or perhaps as the High Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, as that is also a title I carry.”

“Those titles mean nothing in this Court, Mr. Dumbledore, and your answers here may impact how much longer you hold at least one of those titles.  So I now ask you—as the person who charged and closed the Fidelus Charm, why did you not object to the arrest of Sirius Black?”

“Well, it pains me to say so, but Sirius has always had a strong temper, so it was very possible that he very well could have attacked and killed poor Peter Pettigrew, no matter what reason he might have imagined he had.”

“If that is your position, Mr. Dumbledore, then why did you not press to have a trial for a man who, by all accounts, was a loyal follower of yours?  You were the seated Chief Wizard of the Wizengamot at that time, were you not?  As such, it was your duty to oversee such trials in the first place.”

“Actually,” said Dumbledore, abashed, “The Chief Warlock does not oversee such criminal trials, and I had other duties to see to in regards to young Harry Potter.”

“Yes,” agreed Hanover.  “Duties such as sealing the final Wills of James and Lily Potter from being ratified and read.  Wills, I might add, that may have explained Sirius Black’s sworn duties as Magical Godfather of Harry Potter, and the vows that would have made it impossible for Sirius Black to have caused harm in any way to Harry Potter.”

“As the Wills have not been read,” simpered Dumbledore, “then that has yet to be determined.”

“As you say, Mr. Dumbledore,” agreed Hanover.  “Of course, as this trial is being broadcast publicly around the world, the Goblin Nation, who have taken a deep interest in the welfare of Heir Black, may insist on having those Wills opened and read, regardless of your position on that subject.  You have done a great disservice to Heir Black with your inattention to his welfare after his arrest.”

Harry was honestly confused as to why Dumbledore was allowed to have that kind of influence outside of the school anyway, and he asked Sharperock about it.

“I mean, doesn’t being Headmaster of a huge school like Hogwarts take a lot of time and energy?  How does he have time to be in charge of the Wizengamot or to be that Mugwump-thingie internationally?”

“That is an interesting question, Heir Potter,” replied Sharperock thoughtfully, “and it is one that should possibly be put forth to the Board of Governors of Hogwarts before the start of this school term.  The Board may suggest he give up one of his extracurricular activities after this trial.  I am certain the whole of the Board is listening to this broadcast.”

It was only after a long recess, during which Harry and Sharperock ate a filling lunch while discussing the trial proceedings, that the verdict was announced by the Judicial Board: Innocent of All Charges! Harry could practically hear the capital letters.  And then they proclaimed:

The World Magical Court, in conjunction with the International Confederation of Wizards, declares that the British Ministry for Magic was negligent in its treatment of Heir Sirius Black of the House of Black immediately during and after his arrest for alleged crimes, that it did not investigate further than first impressions, and that it did allow an innocent man to suffer and waste away in a high-security prison without a trial or representation, and that they are beholden to Heir Sirius Black of the House of Black for reparations in the amount of no less than five million galleons, along with payment for any medical or psychiatric treatment required for his recovery from such abuse.  Failure to fulfill this recompense, as well as failure to rescind the Kiss Order, shall be met with expulsion from the ICW and sanctions against Britain to prevent further dealings with other Magical Nations.  So Mote It Be.

Harry breathed a sigh of relief.  He might not have known the man, but from the account of the Third Book, Sirius Black clearly loved Harry Potter—enough to risk prison by seeking the person responsible for his parents’ deaths.  And now Sirius Black was declared innocent in front of the entire Magical World!  It was nothing more than he deserved, and Harry was happy that he had a small part in seeing it happen.

Of course, the choice of whether or not to reveal Peter Pettigrew’s deception was out of their hands, but Harry was sure he and Sharperock could work around that.  Sirius only said that a Ministry family won the lottery draw; he didn’t actually mention that family’s name.  Of course, anybody and their brother could look up the issue of the Daily Prophet that was mentioned, but Harry had learned that the general public could be incredibly lazy and narrowly focused when they wanted, and people wouldn’t necessarily take notice of anything that didn’t directly impact them personally.  Since the Weasleys were still out of the country until possibly the second week of August, there was every possibility that the ‘rat’ would have been publically forgotten by then.

Sirius Black slumped in relief as the official verdict was announced.  All those lost years, and he was finally vindicated.  Minister Fudge looked flustered and angry at being put on the spot—and about being forced to pay reparations for Sirius’ incarceration, and Albus Dumbledore looked a bit disgruntled at being dismissed by the WMC as a non-entity, but Sirius could not have cared less.  They were not his problem, as Healer Argossi would have said.

He was just taking a deep breath before gathering his meager things when he heard from behind him, “Sirius?  Could we talk for a moment?”

Sirius turned in his chair and saw his old friend, Remus Lupin, standing behind him.  He felt a lump in his throat, and he swallowed it down.  “Moony?  What are you doing here?”

Remus offered a gentle smile.  “I heard about the trial, so I came to support you.  Better late than never, I hope?”

Sirius laughed weakly as the stood and drew the other man into a tight hug.  “I never thought I’d see you again, Moony.  I never thought I’d see the outside world again!”

Remus returned the hug joyfully.  “I never had any doubt that you were innocent, Sirius, I swear it!  But when I tried to stand up for you, Dumbledore shut me down.  He said my unfortunate monthly issue would make me an unreliable witness in the eyes of the Ministry.”

Sirius’ eyes widened slightly.  “Wow!  I mean, I’m so grateful to see you here after all this time, but shouldn’t you be getting ready for that issue right about now?  I know a lot of time has passed, but I do remember how bad-off you got this close to the full moon.”  Sirius’ voice lowered to almost a whisper at the end of the statement, and Remus almost laughed at how cautious Sirius was being for his own condition, considering what the other man had been through the past twelve years..

Remus leaned in a bit closer and whispered, “It’s okay, Padfoot.  I’ve got a little help from the Goblins.  I’ll explain over dinner, if you want.  There’s so much to tell you.”

Sirius looked to Arbiter Van Der Salk for approval before saying, “Yeah, dinner would be good.  I barely ate breakfast because I thought the Veritaserum might upset my stomach and vomiting all over the Witness Chair might give a bad impression.”

Remus smiled in understanding.  “I’m sure we can find food and a private meeting room in the Gringotts branch here before using their Floo to return to Diagon Alley.  I think there’s much we have to talk about, including what you want to do about Peter Pettigrew.  And, of course, there’s the matter of Harry Potter, whose birthday is in two days.  I’m sure you must want to see him, and there are a few things you have to do before then.”

Sirius frowned as he stepped away from the Defendant’s table.  “Does this have anything to do with a strange story I heard in Gringotts London before I came to this trial?  Something about Harry and a mystical bookshop?”

Remus shot a cautious glance in the direction of the witness gallery, where Dumbledore was still chatting with an angry Minister Fudge, but the elder wizard seemed to not be paying any attention to Sirius at the moment.  “You might say that.  We can talk about it once we’re in a more secure location.”

Sirius nodded and drew his light-weight cloak around his shoulders, and Arbiter Van Der Salk led the way out of the courtroom by way of a rear, witness entrance, bypassing the main courtroom where Albus Dumbledore was clearly waiting to speak with Sirius.

“So it’s all true, that story about a mythical bookshop and Fate written as a story?”  Sirius was incredulous and wary, but almost ready to believe the fantastical tale.  “And you’ve read the books?”

Remus nodded. “I have read the first three books, with Harry’s permission of course.  Harry hasn’t yet read past the Third Book, but there are seven in total.”

Sirius wiped a hand over his face and sighed.  “And do you really believe that they tell the true story of his life?”

Remus shrugged and gestured to the books on the table in the middle of the Time Chamber that Sharperock had provided upon their return to London.  “They seem to be pretty spot-on according to Harry, with a few notable exceptions.  For example, some events happened sooner in Real Life than they did in the books, or they might have happened in a different order.  Manager Sharperock said this may mean that the Books outline Harry’s true Destiny but that some small details might actually be changed or avoided altogether.”

Sirius’ eyes narrowed suspiciously.  “What do you mean some things may be avoided or changed?  If it’s actually Fate or Destiny, shouldn’t that be set in stone or something?”

Remus laughed.  “Not exactly, Padfoot.  Sharperock speculates that it has something to do with the curse on the Fae in charge of Augury Books.  Since she is purported to have altered a Hero’s Destiny in some way, then the Destinies in those books might also be altered—to a certain extent.  For example, in the Third Book, Sirius Black escaped Azkaban and hunted Peter Pettigrew at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, only to be foiled by a missed potion and the interference of a professor on staff.  After that, Sirius Black was forced to go on the run from the Ministry DMLE and the Dementors, never having a trial.  In this reality, as you have seen for yourself, Sirius Black did escape, but he sought aid from Gringotts and received his trial.  What happened to you since your escape has altered those events from the Third Book.”

“But Moony,” said Sirius confused, “you can’t alter Fate.  All sorts of things could go wrong!”

“Yes,” agreed Remus gravely, “they could go wrong.  This is why Harry and Sharperock would like you to at least read the first two books before deciding if you want to read the Third.  After you’re up to speed on them, Harry and Sharperock want to have a parlay of sorts, so that we can figure the best things to change, and in what way, so that Harry can meet his Destiny with as few casualties as possible.  He’s a very shrewd and intelligent boy, Sirius.  James and Lily would be so proud of him!”

Sirius drained the last of the tea from his cup and sat back in his chair, wiping his mouth delicately with a linen napkin.  He was trying very hard to fall back into his proper manners so that he could fit back into society with as few adjustments as possible.  After years of scooping runny gruel from a chipped plate with his hands, just using proper utensils was almost a novelty for him.

“Okay,” he said finally, “what is the plan here?  I know it would be best if I stayed within Gringotts for as long as possible, just to make sure Fudge actually follows through on his promises, and Ragnok has assured me that my presence is no problem.”

“Well, ideally, you’ll spend time in this Time Chamber so that you can read at least the first two books.  After that, once you’ve had a chance for that bit to sink in, you can read the handy notes that both Harry and Sharperock have provided that explain the differences between the happenings in the books and what actually happened according to Harry.”  Remus shrugged at Sirius’ incredulous expression.  “After all of that, you may well decide that you do want to read further, or you may decide that we’re all off our rocks and want to avoid us for the rest of your life.  From here on out, it’s up to you, Sirius.  You just regained your freedom, so you have a lot of adjustments to make.  You can move on alone, with my full support, or you can move on with us and help Harry meet and survive his Destiny.”

Sirius offered a sad smile.  “I missed an awful lot of his life, Moony.  It means a lot that he wants me to be part of it now, even if we don’t know each other.  I’d like to help him, if I can.  If these books are really about him and some sort of Fate that he’s supposed to have, then I bet he can use all the support he can get.  I’ll read the first two books, and the notes that go along with them.  Hell, I might take my own notes just so I can ask questions later.  And speaking of questions later: what kind of help did you get from Gringotts to deal with the Full Moon?”

Remus laughed.  “Well, as you know, werewolves have no real rights in Britain, but that is not the case in many other parts of the world.  Because I am going to be teaching at Hogwarts this term, Sharperock thought it best if I prove to be no danger to the students there.  Wolfsbane Potion is no real answer, because the Change is always painful and exhausting and there is always a small chance of forgetting to take the potion or not having access to it, so Sharperock obtained something called a Moon Charm from the Americas.  It’s a Shaman-enchanted disc made of Goblin-wrought silver and bronze, that was magically embedded in my skin over my heart, and it will help me keep my mind during the Full Moon and prevent an automatic Change completely.  It was created to mimic the effects of the moon on werewolves, so it actually protects me from things like silver and aconitum that would normally cause harm to me in any physical state.  Werewolves in the Americas who use these Charms don’t go through a Change unless they willfully want to, and they always retain their mental faculties, and Sharperock has given this gift to me.”

Sirius grinned at his old friend.  “So you won’t lose control of yourself, and you won’t physically transform unless you want to?  That’s fantastic, Moony!  Why couldn’t you have had one of those Moon Charms when you were a kid?”

“Because the British Ministry for Magic wants to keep werewolves subjugated and disadvantaged.  The Moon Charms were created in South America sometime in the early 1800s, and they are distributed by Gringotts branches to Packs that request and require them, so many countries have small populations of werewolves that pose no danger to anyone at all.  Ragnok is working on making the Moon Charms available to lawful werewolves in Britain if they want them.  Of course, in order to receive them, they may have to go through a sort of trial within the Goblin Courts, just to prove that they are not murderers or a danger to the public.  A werewolf like Fenrir Greyback would never be permitted to receive the Moon Charm, because he’d only willfully transform and hurt people anyway.”

Sirius nodded in agreement.  “Yeah, well, Greyback has no soul; we know that.  But there are a lot of his victims out there that could benefit from those Moon Charms, if only so they can get real employment and become productive members of society.”

“Yes,” said Remus sadly.  “If it wasn’t for this opportunity offered by Albus, I’d still be working and living outside of Britain, and this was always my home.  With the Moon Charms being offered by Gringotts, the anti-werewolf legislation would not have such a grand following.  Even if I only teach for this one year, I’ll still be better equipped to find employment in another field.”

“Only one term, Moony?” asked Sirius.  “Why such a short employment contract?  Experienced teachers are a godsend, if I recall correctly.”

Remus sighed forlornly.  “Read the books, Sirius.  I’ll answer your questions after.”

Sirius glanced at the leather-bound books on the table in front of him, and the notebooks and loose pile of parchment pages stacked beside them and sighed.  “That’s going to be a lot of reading, Moony.”

“We’re aware,” Remus replied.  “But it’s pretty important to do if you want to be of any help to Harry now or in the future.  Ragnok has arranged for you to have several hours for the first two books before you have a break and meeting with your Mind-healer, and then you can decide if you want to read further.  The only thing we request is that you do not speak of the books or their contents with your Mind-healer.  She might keep your sessions confidential, but this business is rather fantastic and there could be the temptation to use that information that might not be beneficial to Harry.”

“Right,” said Sirius.  “I understand, and as I’ve already agreed to reading them, I will also agree to keep anything I read to myself.”

“Good!  Now, do you want to be alone, or would you like for me to stay with you?”

Sirius picked up the book on top of the short stack and settled back into his chair.  “If you can answer basic questions, then I’d like you to stay.  It might help me deal with this and ease my anxiety before meeting Harry for the first time.”

Remus smiled at his old friend and reclaimed his own chair.  “I’ll do my best to answer any questions, because I had many myself.  Harry’s birthday is the day after tomorrow, Sirius.  Wouldn’t it be nice to meet with him then to spend the day and discuss these Books?”

“I think,” said Sirius as he opened the book and read The Boy Who Lived, “that it will be great to spend Harry’s birthday with him doing absolutely anything.  Anything at all that he might want to do, because I’m no longer in Azkaban and I can do anything that I choose to do.”





14—A Happy Birthday for a Change

July 31, 1993

When Harry woke on the morning of his thirteenth birthday, it was to find a small pile of gifts and letters from his friends.  Hedwig was sitting proudly on top of the pile, so Harry figured she was the one responsible for most if not all of it.  Since Harry didn’t see an unconscious Errol lying around anywhere, he assumed that Ron’s gift was delivered in another way.

“Hello, you pretty thing,” Harry said to the preening owl.  “It’s good to see you first thing this morning.”

Hedwig hooted and brought to Harry the small parcel and letter from the top of the pile.  Harry saw that it was from Ron, and Harry already knew it contained a letter detailing his long visit to Egypt to see his oldest brother, as well as a pocket-sized Sneak-O-Scope.  Harry still shrugged and read the letter, scowling as he realized that the most likely reason the Sneak-O-Scope always went off around Ron was that Peter Pettigrew was in Ron’s pocket, disguised as a pet rat.  That would be something that would need to be dealt with as soon as possible, as far as Harry was concerned.  Even though Sirius Black was declared to be completely innocent, capturing Peter Pettigrew would be the best icing on that nasty cake.  Ron’s letter also confirmed Percy’s placement as Head Boy, so Harry was relieved to see that that much had not changed.

Not that Percy would be a particularly effective Head Boy; Harry felt that Percy was far too full of himself, and that perhaps he was given the position as a way to nudge him into being more personable.  He certainly hadn’t proven to be very observant of his younger siblings the year before, never noticing that Ginny was going through some troubling changes right under Percy’s very nose.

Harry carefully set Ron’s birthday card, his first ever, on the little table beside his bed and opened the largish gift that he knew to be from Hagrid.  Under the wrapping, as Harry suspected, was the furry, growling, Monster Book of Monsters.  Harry grinned and, holding it tightly, gently stroked along the spine of the book and it calmed right away.  Harry took the time to flip through the pages of the text, finding magical creatures that it would be nice to study in person.  Perhaps Hagrid could be convinced to teach about some of the less lethal animals in the book, since those were certainly just as interesting, although Harry was secretly looking forward to meeting Buckbeak—if only there was a way to keep Draco Malfoy from acting the fool around the magnificent and arrogant Hippogriff.  Buckbeak didn’t deserve to go into hiding anymore than Sirius did.

Hermione’s parcel contained a letter apologizing for the lack of postcards but explaining that she and her parents had been so very busy dashing from one place to another.  Instead of postcards, Hermione sent copies of photographs detailing her family vacation.  They were bright color prints, and Hermione had taken the time to write on the backs of each one, briefly describing what each depicted, and it gave Harry the illusion of taking the trip with her.  It was a gift beyond measure, and Harry almost felt guilty for opening what was actually meant to be a birthday present because those photographs were so much better than anything else he could have gotten.  One day, Harry vowed to himself, he would travel far and wide and experience everything he’d ever read about.

Of course, the wrapped present contained a broomstick servicing kit, just like in that third book, and Harry was grateful for it.  It really showed that Hermione knew him fairly well and that even if she didn’t enjoy flying, she understood that Harry did.

Harry stacked his presents and letters on the desk under the window and dashed into the bathroom for a quick shower.  Today he was to meet with Remus Lupin and Sirius Black at Gringotts, and Harry needed a good breakfast, or at least some strong tea, in order to settle his nerves.  Remus had already proven to be a good friend, but Sirius was a mystery. In the Third Book, Sirius Black was obsessed with revenge and a bit lost in the distant past when it came to Harry.  Harry was hoping that the Mind-healer the goblins found was doing the man some good, and that he would be rational when they met for the first time.

Dressing quickly in dark slacks and a light blue button-down shirt, Harry also donned his ever-present black cloth cap and locked his room door behind him before descending the stairs into the main public area of The Leaky Cauldron.  Old Tom greeted him jovially, calling him “Mr. Evans” because the pub was full of early-morning shoppers, which was unusual for a Sunday in the middle of summer.

When Harry took his usual seat at a table nearer to the bar than the Floo, Tom approached with an apologetic smile and said, “I thought you might like the morning Prophet, Mr. Evans, before you eat your breakfast.”

Harry thanked him with a small frown and opened the offered paper, reading the horrific headline:

Boy Who Lived Missing, Last Seen in Diagon Alley

Harry sighed, and he closed the paper without reading the article that followed.  This was just what he didn’t need on his birthday, and of course that was why the Leaky Cauldron was so crowded on that morning—everybody there was likely hunting for Harry, probably in hopes of some sort of reward.

Harry ate his breakfast quickly, washing it down with the strong black tea he’d become used to, and rushed off to the entrance of Diagon Alley before anyone else could take notice of him.  The very last thing he wanted to have happen was to be ambushed on his way to meet Remus and Sirius at Gringotts.  Originally he’d wanted to spend the day exploring London, as he’d never really been allowed to go…anywhere.  Now that plan had to be shelved because someone had leaked his possible location to the freaking press!

Most of the shops were just opening for business when Harry strolled the length of Diagon Alley on his way to Gringotts, and he casually waved to shopkeeps as they opened doors and rolled-up the blinds that covered the windows.  There was nothing new in Quality Quidditch Supply, but Harry figured that illustrated book he’d found in Augury Books would beat anything found in there for a Christmas gift for Ron.  And he’d made sure to have both Christmas and a birthday covered for Hermione, with a detailed planner for the birthday and a rare text on the History of the House-Elf for Christmas.  Neither were books that Hermione would likely find on her own, and definitely would not find in Flourish and Blotts.

Harry smiled to himself as he passed the Magical Menagerie, thinking of the odd half-kneazle that Hermione had purchased in the Third Book.  It took a lot of restraint for Harry not to have gone in there looking for Crookshanks, but if it really was Destiny, then Hermione would find the cat on her own without his help.

Sharperock was waiting for Harry just inside the entrance to Gringotts, and he did not look pleased.  Harry offered a wry grin and said, “I guess you saw the paper, huh?”

“Indeed I did, Heir Potter,” Sharperock replied as he turned and led the way deeper into the bank.  “It does not bode well for the Ministry to be announcing your ‘disappearance’ in such a way.”

Harry nodded as he fell into step slightly behind the goblin.  “Why do you suppose they did it?”

“I think, perhaps, that the Minister is trying to force your appearance so that he can work to gain your trust in regards to Sirius Black.  You were not publically available to him before the trial, and as far as Minister Fudge is concerned, you don’t know Sirius Black or his situation.  There is every reason to believe that the Ministry would try to control Heir Black by way of your influence.”

“Oh,” Harry said, stunned.  “You mean Minister Fudge could try to spin things in his favor, and then hold me over Sirius’ head in some way.”

“Indeed, Heir Potter.  So it is a good thing that you have covered your tracks as well as you have, and that your accomplices are above reproach.”

Harry grinned.  “Yeah, Old Tom and Mr. Fortescue have been great about not calling me ‘Harry’ or ‘Mr. Potter’ when anyone can hear them.  They’ve really helped me hide in plain sight this month.”

Sharperock opened his office door and Harry stepped inside to be greeted by Remus Lupin and Sirius Black, the latter of which looked thin, but healthy, and very eager.  “Gentlemen,” said Sharperock as he closed the door, “may I present Harry James Potter, Heir to the House of Potter.  Heir Potter, you remember Mr. Remus Lupin of course, and this is Sirius Orion Black, Heir to the House of Black.  Now, what plans had you made for today, and how might I help make those a success?”

“Well,” said Sirius hesitantly, “before we actually do anything outside of the bank today, I think it would be best if I journeyed down to the Black Family Vault and claimed the Lordship Ring.  That would add another level of protection to me, and allow me to order the official readings of James and Lily’s wills.  I can also demand guardianship of Harry as his godfather, which should protect him a bit more.”

Sirius looked so earnest as he basically pled for permission that Harry almost laughed.  “I think that’s a good idea,” Harry agreed.  “If I have an official legal guardian other than my aunt, I won’t ever have to go back to Privit Drive again.”

Sirius scowled darkly.  “I still can’t believe Albus put you in the care of Lily’s sister!  I only met the odious woman once, but Lily was often telling us about how Petunia hated and feared magic and had refused to have anything to do with her once she began school at Hogwarts.”

Harry cocked his head sideways.  “So you read the books?”

Sirius nodded.  “I read the first two with Remus’ assistance, and then I had a lengthy session with my Mind-healer before reading the Third Book.  You’ve had one hell of a ride so far, Harry, and I’m sorry if you were misused.”

“You know that’s not completely your fault, right?” asked Harry.  “I mean, sure you could have thought a bit before going after Pettigrew, but the stuff that happened to me had nothing to do with you.  Heck, most of it had nothing to do with me, either.  I feel like a pawn in someone else’s game sometimes, and it only seems like it’s all about me.”

“That’s a very shrewd way of looking at the past two years, Harry,” said Remus.  “And I think you may be more right than you think in that regard.”

Sirius cleared his throat and said, “We’ll discuss this further after I’ve claimed my Lordship Ring and started all sorts of mischief with Harry’s guardianship issues.  I’ll have the Wills posted publically, so there shall be no dispute of their validity.”

Harry nodded abruptly.  “Yeah, that’s good.  I’d kind of like to see what they say, myself, especially in regards to my upbringing.  If my mum knew what Aunt Petunia was like, I really doubt that she’d have wanted me to live there if anything ever happened to her.  I’ll wait here with Mr. Lupin, and we’ll come up with possible plans for today since my original plans are off-track now.”

Sirius offered a wan smile before leaving the office in the company of Sharperock, and Harry turned to Remus and said, “I really was looking forward to seeing London and maybe going to a movie.  I’ve never been to one before, but Dudley always bragged about them when he went with friends.”

“Well,” said Remus casually, “we can still do that, if we use glamour charms.  They’ll last longer than Polyjuice, and they don’t taste as bad, and if we place them before leaving this office then nobody will ever be the wiser.  I got here well before the bank opened for business and Sirius has been staying here since before his trial, so nobody knows we’re actually here.”

Harry grinned.  “People may have seen me walk into the building, but nobody has noticed me since I’ve taken to wearing this cap.  It covers my hair and scar, and it hides my eyes pretty well, so I get no notice at all.”

Remus nodded in agreement.  “I know I’d never give you a second glance right now, so that works in our favor as well.  You can be glamoured here and go without the cap for the day, so if anyone associated you with the cap unintentionally, they’d not think twice.”  Remus sat back in his chair and casually crossed his legs.  “I haven’t been to a movie since right after I left Hogwarts, so that could be an interesting excursion.  Did you have one in mind?”

Harry’s nose wrinkled as he thought.  “Well, I have no idea what’s out and available right now.  I haven’t gone off Diagon Alley since I got here, just in case my uncle was trying to find me.  Can we send for a Muggle newspaper while we’re waiting?”

“Yes,” said Remus, standing, “I think that might be wise.  We can locate a cinema near other interesting sites, and spend the day celebrating your birthday and Sirius’ freedom.”

Harry listened absently as Remus requested a copy of the London Times from one of the goblins in the hall.  He was very respectful, which Harry appreciated after hearing many wizards acting rude and superior while doing business in the bank.  Trying to bully someone in their own house never made sense to Harry, and he was happy to note that his original idea of being genuine and respectful was the right one.  Harry just figured it was another way Pure-blood Wizards tried to make themselves seem more important, which was incredibly foolish.

Mere moments passed between Remus’ casual request and the arrival of the newspaper, and Harry and Remus were soon pouring over movie titles and cinema addresses.  “What type of movie are you interested in, Harry?” Remus asked as they perused titles.

“Well, I suppose something exciting,” said Harry after a moment.  “I’d really hate to be bored on my first trip to the cinema.”

“Well, then,” said Remus sardonically, “that leaves out ‘Swing Kids’, as it appears to take place in Nazi Germany during World War Two.  I’m sure it’s a compelling story, but it’s probably very depressing.”

Harry wrinkled his nose in distaste.  “While I’m sure it has some artistic merit, I think I’ll pass on anything that heavy for my first movie.  Hmmm…this one looks interesting.  ‘Groundhog Day’.   Have you maybe heard anything about that one, in your travels?”

Remus laughed.  “I’m not much of a world traveler, Harry, and cinema offerings were never my concern.”

“That particular motion picture,” said Sharperock as he entered his office quietly, “is about a deplorable man forced to live through the same day over and over again until he finally learns some life lessons.  My distant cousin in North America has a hand in investing within the entertainment industry there and he is always telling me about motion picture ideas that get passed across his desk when a potential producer is looking for funding.”

Harry blinked at the goblin before saying, “I didn’t know that goblins worked that closely with Muggles.”

Sharperock grinned toothily.  “Not everyone in Hollywood is strictly Muggle, Heir Potter.  Many are squibs that enjoy using cinema technology to bring their missing magic back into their lives.  Often squibs work in technological fields, working to find Muggle means of creating Magical reactions.  Motion Picture special effects have advanced widely because of inspired squibs.”

“That makes a certain amount of sense,” agreed Harry.  “So—do you have any recommendations for a movie, then, Mr. Sharperock?”

The goblin account manager took the paper and studied the listings before replacing it on the desk.  “This one is based on a science-fiction book by an author I have enjoyed before.  I have not read this particular book, but some of his earlier works were very compelling.”

Harry looked down and read, “Hmmm, ‘Jurassic Park’.  Looks to be about dinosaurs.”  He looked up at Remus and smiled.  “Dinosaurs are pretty cool, so this one wouldn’t be boring.”

Remus pulled the newspaper closer to read the listing.  “Well, it starts late enough in the afternoon that we could see some other sights while we’re out.  The National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery are between here and there, and it’s nice enough weather that we can walk much of the day.  I’m sure we can find a decent selection of restaurants in the area, unless you want to travel further abroad than the immediate area.  The day is yours, Harry, so we’ll follow your choices.”

“That’s excellent!” exclaimed Harry happily.  “And I want to talk about those Books and what we’re going to do about them, but I’d be happier doing that when I’m absolutely sure that nobody from the Ministry or Dumbledore’s camp can over-hear us.”

“If I may make a suggestion to that end, Heir Potter,” said Sharperock seriously, “then perhaps we should discuss the House-elf that seems so attached to you.”

Harry frowned.  “Dobby?  What about him?”

Sharperock sighed.  “Sometimes I deplore the education that British Muggle-borns are receiving in this system.  House-elves are highly magical beings, Heir Potter, and they should be much revered for their loyalty and abilities.  In fact, they are much revered in other countries, and they are much cherished by their families.  I thought you bought a book about them when Augury Books was available?”

Harry blushed.  “Well, yeah, I did, but it was a gift for Hermione really.”

Sharperock scowled.  “Perhaps you should read it first before gifting it away.  In any case, House-elves are highly magical beings, but they survive only because of symbiotic relationships with Magical Families.  They need the Familial bond to live, Heir Potter, and so many will remain with abusive wizards in order to merely survive.  The fact that this particular House-elf not only went against his Bonded Master in order to give aid to you last year, but also accepted Magical Release from said Master, says much about his regard for you. In many cultures, it could be said that his welfare is now your responsibility because you released him from a deplorable situation.”

Harry blushed.  “Well, he did sort of save my life, even if he mostly put me in danger to do it.  And he did protect me from Lucius Malfoy when he tried to curse me.”  Remus growled, but Harry ignored it.  “So I suppose I do owe him.  What would you have me do?”

Sharperock folded his hands together and leaned forward slightly.  “I think it would be to the advantage of both you and the House-elf if you offered a Familial Bond.  That would give stability to the House-elf, which would mean a longer, healthier life, and it would give a loyal attendant to you—one that could follow you, unobserved, and protect you from otherwise hidden dangers.  Of course, you would have to carefully word the Bonding Oath so that this House-elf was restricted to following only your orders and could not be compelled to acting against you in the impression that he was protecting you in some way.”

“That’s true,” said Remus thoughtfully.  “Albus is aware of the House-elf in question, is he not?”  When Harry nodded, Remus continued, “Then he could possibly try to convince him to spy on you in some way by telling him that he would be protecting you for your own good.  According to what you’ve said about last year, that didn’t work out so well for you even if the House-elf had your best interests in mind.”

Harry snorted.  “No kidding!  It was bad enough that he blocked the entrance to Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross, but that psycho-Bludger during the Quidditch match was horrible!  Do you think he can be convinced to help me without killing me?”

“I think,” said Sharperock, “that a properly-worded Familial Bond will protect the both of you, and it will show that the House of Potter is willing to care for House-elves in a respectful manner.  Many will come to you, Heir Potter, if that is the case, and your prestige will grow.  Only the truly powerful can support many House-elves, and true power comes in many forms.  Compassion, strength of will, judiciousness, and fair-mindedness will gain you a great and strong reputation, Heir Potter.  When your Familial Magic settles upon you, your Magical Power will increase, and I suspect you shall become a force to be reckoned with.  If you build your social and political power now, before that happens, then you could turn Wizarding Britain on its ear.”

Harry frowned and slouched in his chair.  “I’m not all that sure that I want to be powerful, if you want the truth.  Didn’t someone say something about ‘power corrupting’?  I don’t want to turn into the kind of asshole that Fudge is—and maybe Dumbledore.”

Remus laughed.  “Harry!  While the actual quote is, ‘Power Corrupts, and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely’, I don’t think you’re in any danger of any of that.  For one thing, you’re very self-aware and reluctant to lead, so you’ll never actively seek a leadership role.  That puts you above Minister Fudge and Albus Dumbledore already.”

Harry sneered slightly.  “What’s another thing?”

Remus shrugged.  “Well, you’ve got me and Sirius to keep you from getting a big head.  But, Harry, you want to be seen as compassionate and fair-minded.  If you come off as conceited, then people will say that all you want is power, and the politicians will see you as a rival.  If you take on this House-elf, and then other House-elves find you because of your strength and compassion, then you’ll be seen as kind and fair and caring, and you’ll be admired and sought-after.  Then you can decline any position of power with grace, and nobody will think you have ulterior motives.”

Harry sighed.  “And I suppose we should do this before we go into London, huh?  Well, I guess we need to work on the wording of the Oath, then.  Maybe Mr. Black can help with that?”

“Maybe Mr. Black can help with what?” asked Sirius as he reentered Sharperock’s office.  His hair was a bit wind-blown from the cart trip into the vault area, but his eyes were sparkling with a bit of mischief.  “I mean, I’m always up to help you, Harry, but I’d like to know what with beforehand.”

Harry offered a wry grin.  “Mr. Sharperock said it might be for the best if I offer Dobby a place as my personal House-elf, and Mr. Lupin agrees.  But I need to have a properly-worded Bond Oath first.”

Sirius shrugged as he took a seat next to Harry.  “Well, certainly having a proper bond with a House-elf will help solidify your position as Heir to a Magical House.  According to one of those Books that you had me read, this Dobby has a habit of ‘helping’ whether or not you want him to, and at your own detriment, so bonding him to you will keep you both safe.  He seems fairly canny about escaping from the Malfoys the way he did, especially if he was being abused.  I hate to think Narcissa was abusive to her own personal servants, because she was a gentle child when we were younger.”

“I wouldn’t know,” said Harry carefully.  “I’ve never met Draco’s mother, and I’ve only had a few encounters with his father—and that last one almost didn’t work out for me.  If Draco was groomed by that man, it’s no wonder that he’s a complete prat.  All he ever does at Hogwarts is brag about how much money and power his father has, and complain about how his father would change things if he was in charge.  The only thing I know about Mr. Malfoy for certain is that he was very angry that I helped set Dobby free.”

Sirius rested his elbows on the arms of the chair and steepled his fingers together under his chin.  “Well,” he said thoughtfully, “a House-elf is a valuable asset to a Magical Family.  They’re intelligent and independent, and they’re capable of incredible feats of magic, but they are only really tempered by the Familial Bonds.  And most Magical Families can only support one or two House-elves, so they’re very loyal to their families.  This Dobby has probably served the Malfoy family for many years, so he probably knows many family secrets, and Lucius is probably nervous about that knowledge getting out.”

Remus sighed.  “Yes, but the likelihood of that happening is practically nil.  Even after a Bond is broken for any reason, the loyalty of a House-elf will prevent it from telling tales about their former masters.  To do otherwise would damage the magical core of the House-elf.  They need the Bonds to survive, so they’ll honor them even if their Bonds are passed from one family to another.”

Harry mused on that matter for a long while before deciding, “Well, I can’t let him go crazier because he has no family.  Even if he caused me problems, he did it to save me from some unknown danger at Hogwarts, and it was hardly his fault that I kept finding trouble every time I turned around.  And if I claim a House-elf it’ll show that I have a lot of Magical Power, right?”

“Yes,” agreed Sirius.  “At one point, the Potters supported six House-elves, but they did not survive the war.  You were too Magically weak as an infant to support even one.”

Harry frowned.  “Then I’ll offer Dobby a place with me, as a way to honor the Potter Elves that died when my family did.”

Sirius offered a sad smile.  “I think your parents would have approved of that gesture, Harry.  Now, I suggest that you wait until tomorrow to make that offer when your birthday is fully past.  That way the Elf in question will not associate your birthday with his Bonding Day.  And speaking of your birthday—what are our plans?”

Harry and Remus explained about using glamour charms to explore London.  When the motion picture was mentioned, Sirius clapped his hands with glee, expounding upon the few times that Lily ‘forced’ him and James to attend movies before Harry was born.  Since they were going to a movie about dinosaurs, Remus suggested first exploring the dinosaur exhibit at the Natural History Museum.  Sharperock was happy to make sure they had enough money exchanged for Muggle currency, as well as a map and itinerary.

“Now we need to make certain your clothing choices are appropriate,” said Sharperock.  “Heir Potter is dressed to blend well enough, but the two of you look distinctly out of place in your robes.  If you do not want to transfigure your clothing, you may send one of our human clerks to a shop for appropriate clothing.”

Sirius shrugged slightly.  “The Ministry still hasn’t returned my wand, and it’ll likely have a tracker on it when they do, so you’ll have to do the spellwork, Moony.”

“I can do that,” Remus agreed.  “Nothing too formal, or we’ll stand out despite our best efforts.  I like the casual trousers and button-down that Harry is wearing, and with a glamour in place, he can drop the wool cap.”

An hour later, three nondescript young men left Gringotts with wallets full of Muggle money and walked past several Aurors without catching their eye.  Harry was tempted to laugh at how obviously those Aurors were searching for him, but as they did not know to look for a group, the trio was allowed to pass and go on with their business.

And what business it was!  Harry was enthralled with the bustle of Muggle London in the summer.  Because they had plenty of time, the trio chose to walk rather than taking a cab, which would have been uncomfortable for Remus and Sirius, and they blended easily with other early-morning commuters and shoppers.  Harry made note of several shops he wanted to visit on their return trip and Remus and Sirius agreed that some Muggle items would be handy during the coming school term.

Once they reached the museum, the trio quickly found the dinosaur exhibit before the growing crowd fell in.  Remus posited that the popularity of the movie they would be attending was the cause of the crowd, so Harry and Sirius were happy to study the fossils and skeletons on exhibit.  They marveled at the size of the creatures—and their teeth—and wondered out loud what it might have been like to roam about beside the mammoths.  Of course Harry was quick to remind the two adults that humans did not exist at the same time as the dinosaurs, something that the wizards were not aware of.  With each new placard of information, Harry was more and more amazed at how ignorant of the natural world Wizardkind seemed to be.  After exploring the dinosaur exhibit thoroughly, Harry referred to his museum map before leading the older men to the area depicting Human Evolution.

“With or without magic,” Harry said softly, “we all had the same beginnings.  And non-magical people have evolved a lot further than wizards, I think.  I mean, using glamours is cool and all, but people have been to the moon!  And Muggles fly without brooms or magic carpets or stuff like that, and they’ve created a lot of medications so they can cure deadly diseases!  It makes me sick to hear Malfoy talk about how useless Muggles are, when he really has no idea.”

When a glance at his watch showed how close to their show-time they were, Harry suggested they either take a taxi to the cinema or start walking now.  Sirius voted for walking, stating a need to work up a real appetite before they chose a restaurant for their afternoon meal.  The trek across town was swift, but they still pointed out interesting sights on the way.

Much later, a very relaxed trio laughed their way through a meal of rich and spicy Indian food, discussing the movie animatedly.

“You know,” said Sirius after sipping some water, “Sharperock said the author of that story was quite prolific.  I think I might like to visit a bookshop and look him up.  That was a very exciting story that we just saw.”

“I completely agree,” said Remus, wiping his mouth.  “In fact, the one thing that wizarding society has a complete lack of is fictional writing.  There are loads of professional journals and texts and historical archives, but there is a distinct lack of imagination and entertainment.  I don’t even think I’ve heard of stage plays within wizarding society, and artists mostly concentrate on magical portraits.”

“That’s a real shame,” said Harry sadly.  “I mean, I never really got to watch the telly because I was always doing chores, but Dudley was always talking about the different shows he liked, and Aunt Petunia had her ‘stories’ that she watched in the afternoons.  Personally, I’d like to see more movies during summer breaks, because it can’t always be about schoolwork.”

“Speaking of schoolwork,” said Sirius after a moment, “you’re doing okay, right?  I mean, you’re not dim or anything, so I assume you’re getting good marks.”

Harry blushed in shame.  “Honestly, because I used to get punished for doing better than Dudley in school, I just got used to skating by on minimal effort.  And my best friend, Ron Weasley, isn’t much of a studier, you know, so I kept skating by so he wouldn’t….”  Harry trailed off uncomfortably and Sirius and Remus shared a knowing look.

“Harry,” said Remus softly, “you shouldn’t hold yourself back just because your friend doesn’t like school.  You have a responsibility to the House of Potter, and there is much you need to learn about that responsibility.  The electives you chose for this coming term are there to help you broaden your mind.”

Harry nodded quickly.  “Yeah, I’d already figured that out.  I sent Professor McGonagall a letter requesting permission to drop Divination and replace it with Ancient Runes.  I mean, I did that after I read that Third Book, but there’s so much more I can do with Ancient Runes, and I really don’t want to spend the whole year hearing about how horrible my death will be.”

There was a short spate of general laughter before Sirius asked, “Do you really think your friend Hermione will be using a Time Turner this year?  That could be very dangerous for her.”

Harry’s eyes widened.  “Could it be?  Really?  I had no idea!”

Sirius nodded, serious.  “Yes, she could force a Magical Maturation to come early and unnaturally, which could stress her core.  There is a reason use of a Time-Turner is so restricted, and I can’t understand why a young student would be given blanket permission to use one so recklessly, just so she can attend extra classes.  The choice of electives is supposed to teach you how to decide what’s more important to you, as well as to prepare you for your future apprenticeships or Mastery classes.”

Harry grimaced.  “Hermione likes learning stuff, but I think she just likes knowing.  She can be kind of snobbish about lessons and she’s always ragging Ron about his studies.  Me, too, to be honest.  In fact, I fully expect to hear a lecture about how irresponsible I was to run away from Aunt Petunia’s house, despite the fact that Hermione doesn’t know why I ran or what I’ve been up to since I escaped.  She’ll only read that story from this morning’s Prophet and see that I’m considered ‘missing’, and she’ll think it’s her responsibility to tell me off for it.”

Harry sighed and crumpled his napkin in one hand.  “I expect I’ll hear it from Mrs. Weasley, too, for running off and being alone with no adults to look after me.  She tries to act like my mother, which isn’t nearly as nice as it sounds.”

“You mean she can be over-bearing?” asked Remus with an understanding smile.  “I don’t know the Weasleys very well, I’ll admit, but Arthur is an honorable man.  I know Molly lost two brothers in the last war—twins, as a matter of fact.  They were ambushed by Death-Eaters, but the duo killed most of them before they were taken down.”

Harry’s mouth twisted unpleasantly.  “I get that she’s trying to be nice to me because I’m Ron’s friend, but she’s not actually my mother.  And I don’t want her to be!  I mean, she sends these Howlers to her own kids all the time at school, just so she can yell at them in front of everyone from a distance.  Sometimes she seems very kind, but sometimes she seems like a real bully, and I have a big problem with bullies!”

Sirius shifted in his chair and cleared his throat softly, looking very uncomfortable.  Remus shot him a startled look and Sirius nodded slightly.  “Um, Harry….”  Harry looked up from his plate and Sirius sighed again.  “Harry, there is nothing I would like more than to get to know you and to become your official guardian completely.  I know that if I’d handled things better back then, then you would have been raised by me in a safe home within the Wizarding World, and that’s something that I may always regret.  But there’s something else I truly regret, and I think you should know that now before we move forward in our relationship.”

Harry’s eyes widened dramatically.  “Um, okay?”

Sirius leaned forward and looked Harry in the eye, man to man.  “I am human, Harry, and when I was much younger, I was completely the product of my upbringing.  The Black family was Dark.  Not all of us, and I have a dear cousin who is the best of us in my opinion, but I was raised a certain way.  We were Purebloods, and we married Purebloods, and we reveled in our superiority.  Honestly, I think I was around eight- or nine-years-old when I realized that there was something seriously wrong with my family, and when I was ten, my cousin Andromeda had the temerity to marry a Muggle-born because she fell in love, and her parents disowned her.”

Sirius took a deep breath before sipping cool water to wet his mouth.  “She was my favorite cousin, Harry, and she was only eighteen-years-old when she married and was cast out of the Black Family.  We weren’t to talk about her or try to contact her, and that never set right with me.  As a result of that episode, I reacted…badly…during my sorting, and I ended up in Gryffindor instead of Slytherin like everyone else in my family.  And I became good friends with your father, and eventually he became my family when my parents tried to toss me out of the Black Family.”

Harry blinked.  “That doesn’t sound so bad, Sirius.  I mean, how I was raised wasn’t so hot, you know, and I was very glad to make friends that liked me for me.  And I could have been sorted into Slytherin if I hadn’t already met Malfoy and his ego.”

Sirius grinned, but it quickly faded.  “Your father was from a Pure-blood Family, too—an older and more prestigious one than the Blacks.  And, as I said, we were the products of our rearing.  We liked to play pranks, and some of them…weren’t so nice.  We never caused physical harm, but emotionally and mentally?  That could well be a different story.  And once your father became enthralled with your mother, our pranks found a particular target—your mother’s oldest friend, Severus Snape.”

Harry gasped.  “My mother was friends with Snape?”

“Yes,” said Remus.  “Apparently they grew up in the same neighborhood and met as children, long before Hogwarts.  Lily once told me that it was difficult having a friendship between two different Houses, but he was apparently important to her.”

“He was,” Sirius agreed, “and so James and I took great delight in tormenting him.  I’m ashamed to admit it now, but he and I were incredible bullies in school.  In fact, I pulled what I thought was the ultimate prank on ole Snivellous, and I almost got him killed.  If James hadn’t come upon us, there’s no telling what would have happened.”

Harry slumped in his chair and stared at Sirius.  “Wow.  That’s…is that why he seems to hate me?  I mean, from the very first day, Snape seems to have had it in for me.”

Sirius grimaced.  “It very well may be, Harry.  I mean, I’m sure you’ve heard this a lot, but you do greatly resemble your father, with the exception of your eyes.  You could very well be James at your age; it’s one of the first things I thought when I saw you in the park at the end of June.”

“Huh.  So—why tell me now?”

Sirius laughed mirthlessly.  “Because you needed to know.  You need to know as much about me as possible so you can form your own opinion of me.  You might find me lacking as a guardian, you see, and then we’d have to make another plan to keep you away from your aunt.  Also, you deserve to know the unvarnished truth about your parents.  People tend to glorify the dead, but your parents—both of them—were fallible.”

Harry nodded.  “I suppose something like this could come up in one of the other Books, too, and I’d be unprepared for it.”

“Ah,” said Remus thoughtfully.  “That brings an interesting point: what are we to do about those Books?”

Harry sighed and glared at his empty plate.  “I think that discussion is better had over ice-cream.”

Sirius snorted and raised one hand to signal for the bill.  “I totally agree.  Do you want Fortescue’s, or would you rather find something out here?”

“I think I’d like to stay out here,” Harry replied.  “Who knows what kind of crowd is on Diagon Alley right about now.”

Once the bill was paid the trio headed outside in search for a frozen dessert.  An ice-cream cart was spotted on the sidewalk outside of The Phoenix Garden, and Harry headed straight for it.  The park was not deserted, but there was no huge crowd, and Harry quickly ordered chocolate-dipped vanilla cones for the three of them before finding an empty bench facing a pond occupied by a family of ducks.

Once Sirius and Remus were settled on the bench, one on each side of Harry, Harry spoke quietly.  “I spoke a bit with Mr. Sharperock about those Books, and what they mean for me.  He told me that the Shopkeep was basically a myth, and the odds of me finding that bookshop were less likely than the lost continent of Atlantis rising up in that pond over there.”

“That’s very true, Harry,” said Remus after a moment.  “The stories about the Fae Shopkeep are rare, but most cultures have at least one.  They just aren’t widely known.”

Harry nodded.  “So, really, the only reason I found that shop was because I have some sort of Destiny, and those books are the key to it.  Mr. Sharperock said that, because some of the things that have already happened to me are different than in the first two Books, then there are some minor changes I can make now that won’t actually change my Destiny, but they might make it easier for me to meet it.  But he said I have to be careful about what I change so that I don’t disrupt my future or the future of this world completely.

“For instance, I now have no control over whether or not to expose Peter Pettigrew to the public, when in the Book he remained a secret until the very end of my school term.  And Sirius has had his trial, when in the Book, he didn’t ever get one.  Those are minor changes, but they probably won’t have a detrimental effect on my Destiny.”

Sirius finished his cone and crumpled the wrapper in his hand before saying, “That’s a very mature attitude, Harry.  So what do you suggest?  I mean, this is your Destiny that we’re discussing.”

Harry looked him in the eye and said, “I think the three of us, along with Mr. Sharperock, should read the rest of those books.  The booklist for Hogwarts won’t be out until next week, and Ron and Hermione likely won’t be around until this week at the earliest.  Because I’ve officially changed my name at the Leaky Cauldron, I don’t know that they’ll look for me there, even though their birthday gifts to me have found me.  I fully expect to have letters waiting for me after today’s Daily Prophet, especially if any Aurors have retrieved Pettigrew from the Weasleys already.”

“So we have time to at least read the next book,” mused Remus.  “I think Sharperock will be able to make a Time Chamber available to us, since he seems very invested in you and your Destiny.  But I also think you’ll want to spend time with your friends once they return from their vacations.”

“Well, yeah,” said Harry.  “I mean, I miss them, of course, but how much time I’ll actually want to spend with them depends on how loudly they decided to yell at me for protecting myself.  I think I’ve got more important things to worry about than whether or not Hermione thinks I’m being irresponsible or if Mrs. Weasley thinks I need to spend the rest of the summer at the Burrow.  I’ve done alright for myself so far, I think.  All of my summer homework is finished, even the Potions essays.  And I’ve started teaching myself about Parselmagic, which is something I’d never be allowed to study openly in this country.”

Sirius cleared his throat and winced slightly.  “Ah, and how have you come to study that particular subject, Harry?” he stammered, trying to control his voice.

Harry rolled his eyes.  “I found books at that mythical bookshop.  You know I’m a Parselmouth, right?”  When Sirius and Remus nodded, having both read the first three Destiny Books, Harry continued, “Well, I asked Mr. Sharperock about inherited Magical Abilities, and he confirmed that a few of my Potter ancestors had that ability, but that it was practically vilified in this country, so finding books on the subject would be difficult.  He gave me a list and told me that he could arrange for them to be shipped from one Gringotts Branch to another, at a cost, but I could never let anyone know I had them.  But when I went into that shop, I found several of those books just on the shelves, and the shopkeep found a few others for me in her trunks.”

Remus looked impressed despite himself.  “What else did you buy in that shop, Harry?”

“Well,” Harry hesitated, thinking, “I originally went in because there was a window display of planners.  I thought I’d get one for Hermione’s birthday, you see, because she likes to be organized.  I got one for each of the three of us, actually, and I’ll have to show you because they’re really neat!  They self-update, and they’re reusable, so I can keep it well after school.  I just have to write in my class schedule and syllabi and my Quidditch practice schedule, and the planner will plot out study times and practice times, and even relaxation times, so I can keep up with tests and homework better.  I think Hermione will like it, but I doubt Ron will.”

Remus laughed.  “I think I could have used something like that when I was in school.  Actually, since I’ll be teaching this year, I think I could use something like that now.  What else did you find?”

“I found an illustrated history of Quidditch for Ron’s birthday in March, several books on Estate Planning and Investments that Flourish and Blotts didn’t carry, Parselmagic of course, and Parselhealing, one about the History of House-Elves that looked interesting, and a few rare Potions Texts that I used for my Potions essays.”  Harry laughed.  “Hermione would have been so proud of me, because I’ve never really been much for books before, and I bought an awful lot this summer!  I think I may have become Mr. Flourish’s favorite customer!”

“There’s nothing wrong about taking your education seriously,” said Sirius.  “I may have been a prat and a prankster in school, but I was also near the top of my class, as was your father.  That magical map we created wasn’t an easy enchantment, you know, and learning those charms was far beyond Seventh Year classes.  We did it as an independent study for extra credit, and we got extra points in both Charms and Transfiguration for it.  Of course, that was before we added the secret passages that we couldn’t allow the professors to see.”

Harry grinned.  “Do you have a copy of that map, Sirius?  I’d hate to have to ask the Weasley Twins for theirs, even if it rightly belongs to me.”

“You know,” Sirius said thoughtfully, “I think I have my copy secreted away in my private vault.  I’ll give it a look when we go back.”

“Now that you’re talking about that map,” said Remus seriously, “there’s something that bothers me: exactly how did the Weasley Twins miss the fact that Peter Pettigrew was sleeping right next to their younger brother?”

Both Harry and Sirius gaped at him with horrified wide eyes.

“Wow,” whispered Harry.  “I never thought of that.”  He shuddered visibly.  “That’s just…horrible!

“Yeah, it is,” agreed Sirius.  “Perhaps we should confiscate that map from the twins.  Obviously, they can’t handle the responsibility of it if they can’t be bothered to notice that their own kin was potentially in danger.  If they’re with your friend Ron when you meet up, I think I’ll discuss this with them in person.”

Harry visibly perked a bit as he said, “It would be really great if you were with me when I met Ron and Hermione again!  I know they’ll want to get together for supply shopping once the book lists come out.  Last year, after Ron and the twins rescued me from Privet Drive, Mrs. Weasley hinted that she tried to get custody of me after my parents were killed, but the Ministry and Dumbledore refused her attempt.  I’d really hate for her to start on that again after I ran away this summer, and if I have my official guardian with me then she probably won’t.”

Sirius shrugged but was obviously pleased.  “She might try to say I’m unfit because of my time in Azkaban, but I’ve been doing quite well with the therapy.  I sleep without nightmares now, and without Dreamless Sleep potion, too.  It really does seem like months have passed rather than weeks, thanks to the use of the Time Chambers.  But I don’t want to become dependent on them because they could disrupt the Magical Core just like over-use of a Time Turner.”

“Okay,” said Harry agreeably, “that makes sense.  But, I really think we do need to read the last four Destiny Books so we can take notes and plan on what needs to be changed over what we’d like to change just for the heck of it.  And I think Mr. Sharperock should be with us because he’s been so helpful to this point.  I know it’s his job to be invested in me because Gringotts makes money from the Potter Family, but he’s been a good friend since I’ve been living on Diagon Alley and he’s always made time for me when I had questions.  He was the one to suggest that Remus would be a good ally for me to gain power within the Ministry because he doesn’t think Professor Dumbledore has my best interests in mind.”

Remus smiled, pleased.  “I agree that Sharperock should be involved, since he has been up to this point.  He may also suggest that Ragnok also be included, since Gringotts seems to have a vested interest in Heir Potter, although I have to wonder why.”

“I know why,” declared Sirius.  “As the Earl of Blackmoor, I have a great deal of Political power that I’ve yet to utilize, but because the House of Potter is older and more politically rich, the Goblins are probably hoping to have Harry become the official Patron of the Horde.  That way, the goblins will have a voice in British Magical Government.”

“Is that a big deal?” asked Harry.  “I mean, I don’t object to the idea, because the Goblins have never harmed me in any way, but I’d like to know if I’m helping more than I’m harming.”

Sirius patted Harry’s leg gently.  “It is a big deal, Harry.  Everywhere else in the Magical World, the Goblin Horde is revered.  They’re sought-after for investment advice, or for personal advice and boons, and their craft-work is prized practically everywhere.  But in Great Britain, the Wizarding community has subjugated them and labeled them as creatures, which is incredibly disrespectful.  Having a powerful Patron would give them the same voice in Britain that they have everywhere else in the world and would give them more visible respect.  There will still be arseholes that look down on them, of course, but the outward appearance of respect would give them a higher status.”

“Wow!” Harry boggled.  “And they think I have that much power?”

Sirius’ eyebrow lifted sardonically.  “They know you do.  Perhaps not now, when you’re still underage, but when you’re older and able to vote on the Wizengamot, you have a lot of power.  When we go back to Gringotts, we’ll have your Family History brought out.  I think you’ll be amazed and impressed with your proper lineage.  I know James was, but he was quiet about it because there was a war and he was being pulled in many directions in that regard.  Dumbledore never wanted James to claim the Lordship, I do know that, but he never said why.”

“That’s not good,” said Harry.  “When would I be allowed to claim that?”

Sirius tilted his head slightly in thought.  “Well, you’re thirteen now, so you can properly claim the Heirship Ring, which will give you a bit of social protection while you’re underage, but as you’re the last of your family, I think you can claim the Lordship after your first Magical Maturation, which should be next year.  Of course you’ll have to declare a Regent to protect your political interests while you’re still in school.”

Harry nudged Sirius gently with his shoulder.  “Unless you have a problem with it, I think I’ll have you act as Regent.  You were raised to that position, after all, and neither Remus nor I were.”

“There’s also the matter of my being a werewolf,” said Remus dryly.  “Even with the Moon Charm, people will be wary of me, at least until Moon Charms become nationally available and are proven to be safe.  I’ll have a difficult enough time dealing with Severus while teaching, as he has no love for me after our school years.”

Harry’s face crumbled into despair.  “Don’t tell me you were a bully, as well?”

“No,” Remus sighed.  “I was much worse, you see, because I saw what James and Sirius were doing, but I did nothing to stop it.  I was bitten as a child, you see, so I always felt that my position as a student was tenuous at best, and I wanted to do nothing to cause trouble for myself.  I wanted desperately to be seen as a normal child, so I hid my nature as fully as I could, and tried not to draw any ill attention to myself.  My grades and demeanor were enough to assure my position as a Prefect, but Dumbledore made sure to constantly remind me that my fellow students would look down on me if they found out the truth.”

Harry scowled.  “I don’t think Professor Dumbledore is a very responsible educator.  I’ll bet that if we looked at the Hogwarts Educational Charter, we’d find out that it would be illegal to deny an education to any magical child regardless of circumstances, but he made it seem like he was doing you a favor by allowing you to go to school.”

Remus’ brow wrinkled.  “You may be right, Harry.  Certainly if my parents had been able to afford it, I could have attended school in another country.  Beauxbatons has students who are werewolves, veela, and fae, and the Institute de Magia in Venice has several werewolf instructors.”  He shrugged negligently.  “There’s nothing for it, now, of course, but I’ll be sure to be aware of how Dumbledore treats me while I’m teaching.  Certainly, I’ll not reveal the Moon Charm until I absolutely need to.”

Harry gathered the used wrappers and paper napkins from his companions and disposed of them in a public bin.  Then he took a deep breath and clapped his hands together as he faced the men who would stand by him as he conquered his Destiny and said, “So, what say we speak to Mr. Sharperock about reading the next book, and make plans for the others?  I’ll have to find the Fourth Book, of course, but there are only four to choose from now.”

Sirius stood and stretched his arms over his head.  “Okay, then.  Where are your books, Harry?”

“They’re in my room at the Leaky Cauldron.  I mean, they’re locked in the new trunk I bought at the beginning of the month, and it’s a high-security lock, so they’re safe, but I can’t just carry all of my belongings around with me all day.  Hedwig is there, too, but she’s smart enough to hide if anyone enters the room without my permission.”  Harry shrugged slightly and said, “I trust Old Tom when it comes to my security there.  He’d never tell anyone my real name or if I’m present or not.”

“No, I agree that he’s trustworthy,” said Remus.  “And there’s the additional benefit of him never having been in Dumbledore’s pocket.  He was incredibly neutral during the last war, but he never allowed any conflicts within the walls of the Leaky Cauldron.  As long as no laws are outwardly broken, he keeps his nose out of everyone’s business.”

“Alright,” said Sirius as he headed for the street, “we’ll go with Harry to retrieve his books, and we’ll review the contents of the main Potter Vault to see if a dimensional store is available.  If not, we can have one made for him.”

“What’s a dimensional store, Sirius?”

“It’s a clever storage device that allows someone to carry loads of stuff around, but it’s actually held in Wizard Space, so it weighs nothing.  It can look like a wallet, or a bracelet, or even a belt buckle, and it’s keyed to your personal magic so nobody can access it but you.  That way, you can carry all of your Destiny Books, any personal weapons, your primary wand and a spare, or your entire collection of worldly possessions, and it won’t encumber you.”

“I’d recommend only using it for a private mailbox and stationery set, your Destiny Books, and a spare wand,” said Remus.  “It will take a lot of practice to call forth anything specific from a dimensional store, and if you don’t seem to have any visible property while in Hogwarts, it’ll look suspicious.  I doubt any of your dorm mates will try to get into your trunk, especially if it’s a high-security trunk.”

“Okay, I can understand all of that,” said Harry as they crossed the busy street at the pedestrian walkway, “but why would I need a spare wand?”

“Because,” Sirius said lightly, “the one you have is well-known because you’ve been using it in class for two years, and it has a Ministry tracker on it, which shows not only when and where you’ve used it, but possibly what spells were cast.  I’m not suggesting you flaunt the law or attack anyone, but if you need to defend yourself with any sort of battle spell, it’ll be to your advantage if the wand that Ollivander gave you shows no evidence of such.”

“Okay, I’ll buy that.  But where would I get a spare wand, if not from Ollivander’s shop?”

“You’ll find many old wands in your main Family Vault, Harry,” said Remus seriously.  “Some will be quite old and would have transported there after their owners passed from this world.  One or more of those may work for you very well, and if not, there is no trouble to find another wand from a different wand-maker.  Ollivander is not the only wand-maker in the world, and once you can freely travel, we could take you to have a wand specially made in a different country where no Ministry trackers could be placed.”

“I for one shall happily accept my old wand back,” said Sirius cheerfully, “but I’ll probably find an entailed wand in the Black Vault for every-day use.  I’ll leave that tracker on my personal wand for a while and completely vex anyone from the Ministry who tries to use it to spy on me.”

“Do you really think your wand will have a tracker on it when they return it?”

“Oh, yes, Harry, I do.  You see, they clearly didn’t want me to have a trial, so there will be a lot of hard feelings about that for quite some time.  Even Albus Dumbledore didn’t want me to have that trial, as it became quite clear that he could have made sure I got one back when I was first arrested.  So they’ll be placing a very strong tracker on it before they ‘find’ it and return it to me, and I expect that to happen any day now.  And they’ll use that tracker to keep an eye on me, hoping I’ll do something to allow them to re-arrest me.”

“You’re being very casual about that, Sirius,” said Remus cautiously.

Sirius shrugged.  “Well, I’ve had time to deal with it, haven’t I?  All of that therapy wasn’t being wasted on just my time in Azkaban; I’ve had to deal with the loss of my Brother-in-Magic, the betrayal of someone I considered a friend, the fact that the man I fully trusted with James’ safety was happy to see me shipped off to that hellhole.  For only a few weeks, I’ve spent the equivalent of many months learning to deal with what happened to me, as well as learning to recover from it.  Healer Argossi was adamant that I have a healthy attitude in regards to the Ministry and their involvement with my imprisonment, or else she never would have approved of this outing today.  She even mentioned meeting with Harry, just so she can help me answer any questions he might have.”

“You know,” Harry said casually as they approached Charing Cross Road, “it was my idea for you to get therapy.  It’s a big thing in the Muggle world, especially for people who were abused or traumatized.  I have absolutely no problem with meeting your Mind-healer.  She might be able to help me with my basilisk nightmares.”

The Leaky Cauldron was bustling when they entered, and the dining area was full of families eating their evening meal—and looking around in the hopes of spotting someone, probably Harry.  Harry was happy for the glamour as he and his companions navigated the crowd, and he was halted on his way to the staircase that led to the guestrooms by Old Tom himself.

“Here, now—I don’t think you lot have any business upstairs,” the old man practically growled, and Harry was impressed despite himself.

“It’s me, Tom,” Harry whispered.  “Mr. Evans, you see.  I wanted to spend the day away from the gawkers, so the bank helped disguise me.”

Old Tom’s eyes widened slightly before he recovered his suspicion.  “Then you’ll not mind offering proof of that, would you?”

Harry grinned and leaned in to whisper, “I imagine my beautiful snowy girl has been fretting away in the private owlrey while I was out all day, wasn’t she?”

Old Tom stepped back with a relieved smile and said, “Oh, you’re not wrong about that, Mr. Evans.  But I took pity on the lovely girl and sent her out with some of my private correspondence.  I figured you’d not mind if she got some exercise, and I told her to go to the bank to wait for you if she wanted.”

Harry sighed.  “Thanks for that, Tom.  After that stupid Prophet article, I worried she might be spotted.  I’m just retrieving some things from my room before heading back to the bank, so thanks for sending her there.”

Sirius and Remus escorted Harry up the winding staircase but stood outside of the room while Harry gathered his things, ensuring that he kept his treasured privacy.  Harry was very quick about collecting the books, but he noticed several letters on the desk, right beside Hedwig’s perch, so he collected those as well.  With the books packed away in his daypack, Harry flipped over the three letters and noticed that one was from Hermione and the other two were from Weasleys—Ron and Molly respectively.

“Well,” he said as he locked the door behind him, “I was right about it not taking long for my friends to start lecturing me about running away.  Hermione sent one letter, and Ron and Mrs. Weasley sent the other two, and I can only be glad that none of them are Howlers, or everybody on Diagon Alley would know where I was staying.”

“I would suggest waiting until we’re inside the bank before reading those, Harry,” counseled Remus.  “There are ways to disguise Howlers, and Molly Weasley might know how to do that if she’s as accustomed to sending them as you’ve indicated.”

Harry eyed the letters in his hand with distaste. “You mean one of these might explode once I open it?  That’s just great!”  Harry dropped the letters into his daypack and shouldered the carry strap easily.  “Well, then, let’s go so I can at least read my mail.”

The trek along Diagon Alley seemed interminable, with more people present than Harry ever remembered seeing, even for school shopping.  The trio stayed close together and moved directly toward the bank, making no side trips into shops.  Every now and again they would hear the name ‘Harry Potter’ crop up in a nearby conversation, but they steadfastly ignored it.  Once inside the lobby of the bank, which had been open to the public for all of two days, Sirius approached an empty teller kiosk and requested a private audience with Account Manager Sharperock, only to be told that they had been expected, and then they were escorted to Sharperock’s private office away from the general business of the day.

Sharperock grinned at the three of them once the office door was closed behind them.  “So, how was your adventure into Muggle London?” he asked as Remus ended the glamour charms and re-transfigured clothing.

“It was brilliant!” Harry exclaimed.  “The museum was great and the movie was incredible!”

“I’ll agree on that last point,” said Sirius.  “I was so impressed by the story that we found a muggle bookshop and I found a few more books by that author.  There was also an announcement of a possible sequel to that particular book, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.”

“Anyway, it was way better than hanging out here on my birthday, since apparently everybody in Wizarding Britain is here looking for me,” Harry grumbled.

Sharperock sneered.  “Yes,” he hissed in agreement.  “A great deal of our business today has dealt with addressing requests for information about you.  Fortunately it is Gringotts’ policy to protect the secrets of our patrons, so our agents have had a wonderful time telling the customers to mind their own business or push off.  Nobody would dare complain about that treatment, so several of our tellers have gotten quite creative with their responses.”

Remus laughed as he took a seat across from Sharperock.  “At least nobody here was bored.”

“No, boredom does not suit the goblin personality.”

“Mr. Sharperock,” Harry said after a moment, “we’ve come to a decision about the rest of the Destiny Books, and we’d like to talk to you about it.”

Sharperock inclined his head. “Very well, Heir Potter, tell me this decision.”

“We would respectfully like to pay rental for the use of your Time Chamber for a few hours each day for the next week.”  Harry glanced at Sirius, who only nodded in encouragement.  “We think it would be best to read the rest of the Books, and to make lots of notes and plans, so that we know what is in store for me over the next five years.  We’ve already made minor changes from the record of the Third Year, and I think we’re good on that front, but it would help if we knew well in advance what changes we should make going forward.

“We would also like you to be involved with this planning, since you’ve been a great help to me so far.”  Harry blushed slightly with the admission, but Sharperock seemed to take it in stride.

“It would be an honor to assist the Houses of Potter and Black in this endeavor,” Sharperock stated.  “Do you have any idea how long you would need to spend inside the Time Chamber to accomplish this goal?”

Harry pulled his daypack between his feet and opened it, producing the final four Destiny Books.  “Well, two of these are quite large, but the other two seem to be around the same size as the Third Book.  I don’t remember how long it took to read that last one, though, do you?”

“Hmmm…it appears, from the records of the Time Chamber, that we spent the equivalent of six hours inside for that book.”

Harry nodded.  “And you and I took turns reading that one so that our throats weren’t too sore.  If the four of us take turns reading, then the discussion should flow better.  Soooo—maybe ten hours for the larger books?  And another six for the smaller.”

Sharperock looked up from the parchment he was scribbling on and said, “I would suggest, Heir Potter, that we utilize no less than fourteen hours for the larger books.  The content may be more concentrated in those, and we shall no doubt need deep discussion for deciding which events to alter.”

Sirius and Remus exchanged a look before nodding in agreement.  “So then,” said Sirius, “if we take fourteen hours for two of the books, and six for the other two, can we schedule some therapy time between books so that Harry and I can meet with Healer Argossi?  I have a niggling feeling that we’re all going to be traumatized by what is in those books.”

“I appreciate how lightly you can refer to your therapy, Lord Black,” said Sharperock, “but I fear that you may be correct in that assessment.  May I know why you want to do this so soon, Heir Potter?”

Harry shrugged.  “Well, the Hogwarts supply letters should be coming out soon, and my friends are all back from their summer vacations and will want to get together and do our shopping.  If I take any time right before the return to school, they’ll want to know what I’m up to, and you just don’t understand how much they both nag!  And I’m sure Remus will have to head to Hogwarts before September First, just to set up his classroom and office before serving as a chaperone on the Hogwarts Express.  So it just seemed that we should get this part over as soon as possible so we can prepare a plan of attack.”

Sharperock grinned toothily at him.  “That is very astute thinking, Heir Potter.  Are there other plans you intend to make before the start of the new school term?”

“Yes,” said Harry with a nod.  “I intend to claim the Potter Heir Ring and to declare a Regent to look over my interests within the Wizengamot.  Sirius will, of course, serve in that position.  I also need to ask that House-elf if he would like to Bond to the House of Potter as a matter of protection for both of us.  And Sirius indicated that I might be able to find a second wand in the Main Potter Vault?”

Sharperock, who had been writing more notes, looked up sharply.  “Yes, you very well may, but you cannot access those vaults until you’ve claimed the Heir Ring and are in the presence of your avowed Regent.  My suggestion, then, is for you to claim your ring now and have Lord Black sworn as Regent in front of several notary witnesses that we have available.  Tomorrow morning, after the breakfast hour, you and your Regent may then descend to the Potter Vault in search of a secondary wand for your personal use, and then you may call this House-elf and offer a Familial Bond.  After this intimate business is concluded, we shall move forward with the Destiny Books and our plans for setting you on a straight and successful path.  Chieftain Ragnok may be honored to join us in that endeavor, if it is your pleasure.”

“Oh,” said Harry relieved.  “Thanks so much for mentioning that, because I was unsure how to ask if he might want to help.  He’s so important and busy that I didn’t want to bother him.”

“I assure you, Heir Potter, that Chieftain Ragnok’s interest in your successes is very personal, and he will definitely make time to help you and Lord Black.”



 15—Confrontations and Complications

August 1-7, 1993

After a sincere lack of a ‘Harry Potter Sighting’, the unseasonable crowd on Diagon Alley dispersed before the sun began to set and Harry happily wandered back to the Leaky Cauldron for a good night’s rest.  His dark cap was back in place, low over his forehead, and his daypack was over his shoulder, although the books that had been within were now safely concealed in Sharperock’s office.  The only real difference, as far as Harry’s outfit was concerned, was the addition of the heavy mithral Heir’s Ring on his right hand.

The metal, when the ring was visible, gleamed silver-ish and bright, and the enchanted emerald shone with many facets,  and Harry spent a good twenty minutes just studying the play of light in the stone until Sharperock instructed him in how to conceal the ring so that nobody else could see it.

This, Harry thought sadly, was the only tangible connection he had to his family, and for his own safety, he could not reveal that he wore it.  Still, he could feel its comforting weight on his finger, and he was relieved to know that the ring was bespelled with many safety charms that would protect him from most poisons and potions and mind-magics like Legilimency.  If ever Harry feared that Dumbledore used to read his mind, that practice would stop this term.  That was a good thing, because the knowledge of the Destiny Books would be open for anyone with that skill to find, and it was very important that nobody ever learn about those books.

Before leaving the bank with his new jewelry, Harry had taken the time to read the letters that were waiting for him.  As he had suspected, Hermione had indeed seen the article in the Daily Prophet, and she wasted no time in writing out a belittling lecture on responsibility and Harry’s lack thereof.  She even went to far as to suggest that Harry’s family must be worried sick over his disappearance, and he should probably go home and ask forgiveness before the start of term—and then she mentioned meeting to buy school supplies after the lists came out.

Harry laughed out loud at the ridiculous suggestion and merely wrote out a reply that he would be happy to meet for shopping once the Hogwarts letters came out, but he was doing fine and would not discuss anything further in the mail.  She would be unhappy with the lack of remorse, Harry knew, but if she couldn’t see him then she couldn’t yell at him.

Ron’s letter was more of a bit of fan mail, extolling Harry’s ‘grand adventure’ caused by running away, and pondering what horrible thing his family had done to cause Harry to leave.  Then he bragged a bit about his own adventure in Egypt before complaining about being ‘apprehended’ by Ministry Aurors upon their return to the Portkey Port and being searched before ‘those wankers stole my rat!’  Harry made note that Ron seemed to have no idea why ‘Scabbers’ was taken, and he put it down to willful ignorance.  Surely the Weasleys had heard about the very public International Trial of Sirius Black, even all the way in Egypt!

“Try not to be too hard on your friend, Harry,” admonished Remus.  “After all, it’s very unlikely that the Aurors would have forced a transformation on Peter while they were in the International Arrivals Port.  For all they know, he’s a dangerous criminal who is a public danger.  They probably placed the rat in a magically enforced cage for later transformation.”

Sharperock had personally taken the letter from Mrs. Weasley and scanned it for hidden charms, proving that it was, indeed, an incognito Howler.  Harry motioned for him to destroy it before even listening to it because he didn’t need that kind of stress.  “I’ll only hear it in person when they come to shop for school supplies,” he said sternly, “so why get a double dose?”

There was a fourth letter that Harry hadn’t noticed, this one from Professor McGonagall.  She was politely concerned for Harry’s well-being, and then happily congratulatory about his change of heart concerning his studies, and she informed him that she had received his request to withdraw from Divination and gladly added him to the rolls for Advanced Runes and Arithmancy as per his request.  Then she advised that his new course of study would not be easy, but she could make herself available if he required study help.

“That was awfully nice of her,” Harry observed dryly.  “Especially since she had no time for me during First Year, when I tried to tell her that someone was after the Philosopher’s Stone.”

“Harry,” soothed Remus, “you must remember that Minerva McGonagall is, first and foremost, an educator.  Your mother was one of her favorite students, so now that you’ve shown that you want to take your studies more seriously, she’s going to pay more attention to you.  Just remember: you don’t have to make anyone but yourself proud of you; you owe nothing else to anyone.”

“He’s absolutely right, Harry,” said Sirius, but he was frowning when he said it.

“What’s wrong, Sirius?”

Sirius looked disturbed.  “Well, Harry, I’m thinking that we haven’t received official word that Peter Pettigrew has been apprehended.  Your friend, Ron, wrote to tell you that someone took his pet rat for no known reason, so we can be reasonably sure that Peter was taken into custody, but the Ministry should have announced the capture publically, and I’m wondering why they haven’t.”

“So what are you thinking, Sirius?” Remus asked hesitantly.

Sirius looked at his old friend and said, “I’m thinking that I need to make a visit to the Ministry tomorrow morning, so that I can retrieve my wand.  It’s past due, don’t you think?  And while I’m there, I think I’ll stop by Amelia Bones’ office and inquire about the status of Peter Pettigrew.  She won’t lie to me, not after everything else.  And with Harry’s permission, I might hint that I’ve taken on the official role of Godfather, so perhaps the Ministry might want to back off in their hunt for the boy.”

Harry shrugged.  “Go ahead and tell them.  If it keeps them from looking for me, that’s great.  I’ve had a good summer so far, and I’d like to enjoy the rest of it without feeling hounded.”

And that was how he had left things at Gringotts before making the short trip back to the Leaky Cauldron.  Now, he was seated at his regular spot in the common area of the pub, about to enjoy poached eggs over toast and strong, hot tea.  Old Tom had, again, delivered the morning Daily Prophet, but Harry had seen no notification about the capture of Peter Pettigrew, not even in small print on the back pages.  He thought perhaps Sirius was right to be worried, because certainly the Ministry would want to be seen to be doing something right after the debacle around Sirius’ trial.

Harry finished his breakfast quickly before shouldering his pack and heading out the rear door, waving to Old Tom as he went.  The Alley wasn’t yet busy that morning, so his journey to the bank was short.  Remus was waiting for him on the gleaming front steps, and Harry smiled at the man as he jogged up to meet him.

“Did you have a good night’s rest, Harry?”

“Yeah, I did.  I mean, I think I stared at my ring for a few hours before dropping off, but I slept solidly.  Is Sirius here yet?”

Remus shook his head.  “No, I think we’ll be waiting a bit for him.  The Ministry’s public hours have only just begun.  I just hope he doesn’t get himself arrested again.”

Harry’s eyes widened dramatically.  “You don’t think he would, do you?”

“I think…I think Sirius has a lot to live for right now, and he would do anything to keep from giving them an excuse.  That being said, if he raises a stink about Pettigrew, there might be an issue.  So, what shall we do while we wait?”

Harry nodded a greeting to the door guards as they entered the bank.  “I think I need to review that Bonding Oath that we worked out, and then I need to call that House-elf and offer service.”

Harry and all the others had been very careful not to mention the House-elf by name, knowing that they could call him to them accidentally before they were ready.  Harry wanted to make sure he sounded sincere when he made the offer, and all he could remember was how freaking eager that damned House-elf was when he thought he was ‘helping’.

“Very well, Harry,” Remus agreed as they followed a familiar goblin past the teller counters and deeper into the bank.  “That sounds like a good plan, because we have no idea how long Sirius will actually be.  How certain are you that the House-elf will agree to the Bond?”

Harry gave Remus a serious side-eye.  “Well, he began every conversation he had with me talking about how great ‘Harry Potter’ was, and how honored he was to be helping me.  Even when I was laid up in the hospital wing having my bloody arm bones regrown because of his interference, he was telling me how honored he was to help me.  I have got to make sure that Oath includes words preventing him to do physical damage to me while in my service!”

Remus was still laughing when he knocked on Sharperock’s office door, and Harry gave him a dirty scowl when he pushed past the man to enter when summoned.

Sirius Black entered the atrium of the Ministry for Magic with head held high—and accompanied by Arbiter Van Der Salk.  Since Lord Black was tried, and found innocent, by the World Magical Court, the ICW thought it only fitting that they should also try Peter Pettigrew for those same crimes, so they sent their Head Arbiter to collect the prisoner.

If asked, Sirius was very glad to have the man beside him, mainly because he was uncomfortable standing inside the home of the very Ministry that tried to keep him in Azkaban without cause.  Healer Argossi had felt that Sirius was strong enough mentally to face those particular demons, but he was visibly relieved when Van Der Salk announced his intention to personally take custody of Pettigrew in order to make sure he publically answered for his crimes.

Stepping into the lift and squaring his shoulders arrogantly, Sirius selected the floor for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and waited patiently for the lift to descend to the proper level.  It was early yet, but Amelia Bones would be her office.  She was always an early-bird when she was just a field Auror, so Sirius saw no reason for that to have changed now that she was in charge.

Sure enough, once they arrived at the DMLE offices, the lights were on and several voices could be heard, though they were indistinct.  Without knocking, Sirius opened the door to the general bullpen and entered, only to find Amelia Bones herself giving a rather severe talking-to to two of her underlings.

Sirius grimaced, because that could only mean bad news all around.

He cleared his throat, and Director Bones stopped talking and spun around to see who had unceremoniously entered her domain.  “Lord Black!” Bones frowned slightly.  “I wasn’t…what are you doing here?”

Sirius pointed to the visitors’ badge on his chest, which read ‘wand retrieval’, and said, “It’s been a couple of days I know, but you’ve yet to return my wand as was proper.  I’m sure you still have it somewhere in your evidence locker, so I’ve come to get it personally.”

Bones’ frown deepened as she spotted Sirius’ companion.  “I see.  And who is this?”

Sirius hooked his thumb over his shoulder casually, drawing all attention to Van Der Salk.  “This guy?  He’s with the World Magical Court, and he’s come to bring Peter Pettigrew in for formal questioning regarding the crimes I was accused of.”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” said Bones tightly.

“Oh?” Sirius asked casually, even though his gut had tightened in panic.  “And why is that?  I was speaking with my godson yesterday, and he told me that he’d received a letter from his best friend, Ron Weasley.  You know the Weasleys, don’t you, Amelia?  They were the family that was profiled in the Daily Prophet before I escaped from Azkaban—the family that Peter Pettigrew was hiding with in the form of a rat?  And Harry’s friend had complained that his family was detained by Aurors upon arrival from Egypt, and that his pet rat was confiscated with no reason given.  So why is it not possible for Arbiter Van Der Salk to retrieve Pettigrew into WMC custody?”

“It is not possible,” Bones growled from between clenched teeth as she glared at one of the Aurors behind her, “because Auror Dawlish somehow managed to lose Pettigrew while he was still in his rat form, and he ran off!”

Sirius gaped at the formidable woman.  “He did what?  Merlin’s pants, man, how difficult could it have possibly been to stun a rat and place it in a magically reinforced cage?”

“I must agree, Lord Black,” said Van Der Salk.  “There should have been no effort at all in securing the suspect while in rat form until such a time as he could have been forced back into human form and placed into suppression chains.  Even a child can perform a stunning spell.”

Sirius would have laughed at the snobbish tone if the situation hadn’t been so dire.  “So what you’re telling us is the man who betrayed the Potters, the man who ultimately caused their deaths, has somehow managed to escape custody and is now running loose?  I’m sure Harry Potter will be so relieved to know that his personal safety is now in question.”

“Here now,” said Dawlish snidely, “we don’t even know if that rat really was Peter Pettigrew!”

“Yes,” said Sirius dryly, “and now we never will.  I’ll pass along the news of your incompetence to Harry when next I see him.”

Bones whipped her head around so quickly, Sirius could almost hear her neck crack.  “You know where Harry Potter is?” she asked anxiously.  “The Minister has been searching for him!”

Sirius lifted one eyebrow arrogantly.  “Of course I know where he is, Amelia.  He listened to my trial on the Wireless and made contact with me to offer moral support.  He’s very interested in having me assume my official position as Godfather and guardian to him now that I’m a free man again.”

“Of course you are,” Bones sighed.  “The Minister will probably throw a complete fit about that.”

Sirius’ expression darkened.  “I’d worry less about Fudge’s opinion of my personal life and more about the fact that your Auror allowed a possibly dangerous man escape to put my godson back in peril.  I’m almost completely certain that Pettigrew is a marked Death-Eater, and I’ve no doubt he’ll try to find sanctuary with others of his kind, and that makes Harry a potential target.”

“This is true,” agreed Van Der Salk.  “And because I seriously doubt that Pettigrew could possibly have planned his escape, I have concerns about the competence of the Aurors you had chosen for this task.  It will be made clear to the World Magical Court and the ICW that the British DMLE does not take seriously the safety of the child they view as their ‘savior’.  Perhaps I shall recommend that personal security be provided for Lord Black and Heir Potter, from an independent source, since this office of obviously not up to the task.”

“Now, just you wait!” growled Dawlish, but Bones pushed her hand to his chest and held him in place.

“I’m sorry, so very sorry, that this has happened, Lord Black,” she said gravely.  “There are no real words to express my remorse for all that you have suffered.  I should have objected all those years ago, and made sure you were tried and cleared, and obviously I should have handled the rodent situation personally.”  Bones sighed and shook her head slowly.  “If he were not an Animagus, I could have Aurors searching widely for him.  As it stands now, he’s probably very proficient at surviving in his Animagus form, and searching for a rat in Great Britain would be a pointless endeavor.  I will, however, issue an arrest-on-sight warrant for Peter Pettigrew should anyone recognize him in either form.  I don’t suppose you know what he looks like now, Lord Black?”

Sirius shook his head.  “I’ve only seen the photograph in the Daily Prophet, and I only recognized him because of the missing toe.  I don’t suppose he’s in the best physical condition nowadays, seeing as he’s been living as someone’s pet rat.  Staying in an Animagus form for so long would take quite the toll on a person.”

Bones eyed Sirius closely.  “I suppose you’d know all about that, wouldn’t you, Lord Black?”

Sirius returned her gaze guilelessly.  “I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about, Amelia.  Now, since you’ve failed at capturing Pettigrew, I really will have to insist that you return my wand to me.  I may have need of it in the future.  And please,” he said, holding out one hand, “retrieve it yourself.  I’d hate for my wand to have some sort of ‘accident’ in the hands of one of your Aurors.”

Dawlish made like he was going to move again, so Bones shooed him out of her office.  “I’m sure the both of you have some reports to write,” she said sternly, “so you should get to it!”  Both Aurors left the office, with Dawlish shooting another hateful glare at Sirius on his way out.

“That Auror is going to be an issue for you, Lord Black,” said Van Der Salk casually after the door closed behind the Aurors.  “You should take care to be particularly vigilant just in case he takes it upon himself to find you ‘guilty’ of some minor offense.”

“Oh, I plan to,” Sirius replied dryly.  “I don’t ever plan to see the inside of another cell again.”  Sirius turned back to Director Bones and said, “My wand, Amelia?  And don’t bother to apologize for the tracker on it; I’d already assumed that Fudge would have one placed.  He’s on my ‘not to trust’ list, too.”

Bones blushed in frustration and anger.  “I’ve tried arguing with that man, but he’s impossible when he thinks he’s right.  I had all the files on your case pulled immediately once Gringotts demanded proof of a trial, but Fudge ordered me to ignore them, claiming they were bluffing.”  She walked to her desk and opened a large bottom drawer, pulling out a paper-wrapped parcel and handing it to Sirius.  “I had your wand pulled from the evidence locker the same day I tried to collect your trial information.  It’s been in my desk this whole time, so I sincerely doubt Minister Fudge could have found it to place a tracker.  I haven’t even tested it with Priori Incantatum, so the last spells cast with it should still be evident, even after all this time.  Again, I’m so very sorry that I didn’t push for you, Lord Black.  You were one of the best, and I should have tried harder to protect you.”

Sirius stared at her for a long moment before saying, “Nothing is forgiven easily, Amelia.  I’ve beaten myself up daily for twelve years over what I allowed to pass, and I’m currently in therapy with a Mind-healer just so I can recover from that.  Harry’s willing to give me a chance, and he doesn’t blame me for what happened to his parents, so I’ve got that going for me, but the politicians in this Ministry allowed me to suffer because they were either lazy or greedy, and it’s going to take more than therapy for me to get over that.  Having you apologize is nice and all, but the Minister still was happy to leave me without a trial, and I’m sure there are more new Aurors who won’t take the threat of Pettigrew seriously.  Those are things that you’ll have to deal with if you want a chance at my forgiveness.”

Bones nodded.  “I understand.  And I promise that I’ll do everything in my power to get back on track.  Do you really think Pettigrew could be a danger to the Potter boy?  I mean, if he was a pet rat in Hogwarts the past two years, couldn’t he have moved then?”

“There’s a big difference between then and now Amelia.  For two years, Peter thought he was home free with me in prison and Voldemort vanquished.  But I’m free now, and he’s been named as the true betrayer of the Potters, and hopefully Law Enforcement will be looking for him.  In nature, rats are the most dangerous when they’re cornered, and we’ve most definitely cornered him, so yes, I do consider him to be a danger to Harry.”

“I see,” Bones hissed.  “If you could have your Mind-healer help you retrieve memories of your last encounter with Pettigrew, perhaps we can use those images of him to help us search for him.  Of course, I will personally see to the proper retraining of many of my Aurors—or I’ll see them removed from service!”

“I’ll take you at your word, Amelia, but I’ll never forget how I was let down by the DMLE.”

Sirius nodded once again before leaving the office, but Van Der Salk remained and leveled an intimidating look at Bones.  “The WMC was determined to see justice done for Lord Black, Director Bones.  The fact that the British Ministry seemed to not be interested in such set you all in a bad light, even if you fought your Minister over his decisions.  The fact that you had enough information about Peter Pettigrew and his disguise, and still had incompetent or uncaring Aurors allow him to escape does not paint you in a good light.  The entire Magical World will be watching Britain to see how this issue plays out.  This country is already facing sanctions from the ICW because of what has happened, so please don’t let this become another black mark against you.”

Without another word, Van Der Salk opened the door and strode from the office, leaving Director Amelia Bones to sag against her desk and rub her face with both hands.  This, she thought, could have been handled much better.

“Heir Potter, are you satisfied with the wording of the Bonding Oath?”

Harry read the parchment once again before saying, “Yeah, Mr. Sharperock, I think it’s good.  It gives a lot of freedom, but it seems to protect us both.  I like the part about being a Bonded Vassal, really, because it proves that I want him as part of my family and not just as a servant.”

Sharperock grinned.  “Yes, I thought you would like that part considering your own home life.  Mr. Lupin, are you prepared to stand witness to this Oath?”

“I believe I am,” Remus replied with a smile.  “I’m intrigued to see how this will play out, since I’m not incredibly familiar with House-elves in this kind of role.”

“Very well, since we are all in agreement, do you wish to continue now, or would you wait for Lord Black to return from the Ministry?”

Harry bit his lip in deep thought.  “While I’d like him to be here to witness the Oath, I think once Sirius returns that we’d best begin that Fourth Book.  I haven’t tried to open any of them yet, but I have a feeling it’s one of the thick ones, so it’s going to take time to get through.”

“Very well, Heir Potter.  When you are ready, you may call the House-elf.  If he has, indeed, formed any sort of connection to you, he will respond and appear.”

Harry nodded and stood in the middle of the office and bushed invisible lint from his pressed trousers.  He was dressed in his usual casual fashion, but at that moment he almost wished he was wearing formal robes, because this felt like a very formal occasion.  Turning to Remus, Harry asked, “Mr. Lupin, do you think you could maybe transfigure my clothes to something more…appropriate?  This feels like I should be dressed like a proper wizard, you know?”

After gaining Sharperock’s permission to use his wand inside the bank, Remus said, “I’d be happy to, Harry.  I’m pleased that you understand the gravity of this situation.”

Harry grinned, “I heard on the telly once that you should ‘dress for the job you want, not the job you have’.  At the time I thought that meant that a lot of people must go around dressed like clowns or superheroes or something, but I understand it now.  Dress to impress, and I want to impress on his House-elf that I’m very serious about having him in my family.”

Remus handily transfigured tasteful robes out of Harry’s trousers and buttoned-down shirt, and Harry tucked his cap into the chair he had been occupying.  Then Harry took a centering breath and called, speaking very clearly: “Dobby the House-elf, if you can hear me then please come to me!”

There was a loud POP, and then a small, dirty House-elf appeared with wide green eyes, trembling hands, and a grimy pillowcase covering a too-thin body.

“The great Harry Potter has called for Dobby!” the miserable creature warbled.  “Oh, what has Dobby done to be honored so?”

Harry offered a smile to Dobby, but the pitiful elf shrank back as Remus and Sharperock moved closer to get a look at him.  “It’s okay, Dobby,” Harry said softly.  “I wanted to check on you and see how you’re doing since you’ve been freed.”

Dobby’s bulbous eyes filled with tears.  “Harry Potter is concerned about Dobby?  How wonderful is Harry Potter to worry over a poor creature such as me!”

“Would Dobby consent to being examined for health reasons?” asked Sharperock kindly.  “Heir Potter has told us of your help last year, and we are most concerned about your well-being.”

“Mister Goblin would show care for Dobby?”  Dobby was weeping now, and Harry felt so overwhelmed.  “Yous may examine me, if it makes Harry Potter happy to do so.”

Sharperock performed several arcane hand gestures that mesmerized Harry briefly before Dobby started to glow a sickly yellow-green.  Once the glow had faded Sharperock scowled and returned to his desk.  “The House-elf is suffering from a lack of Familial Bond.  His personal core will fracture if he is unable to find gratifying work and a decent home to care for.”

Dobby immediately began to wring his long ears with his gnarled hands.  “Dobby is trying to be petitioning for a place at Hogwarts, but he is wanting paid for his work.  Dobby is a very good worker, but nobody is wanting a paid Elf.”

Harry knelt in front of Dobby and pulled his hands from his ears gently.  “Dobby, I would like to offer you a place in the House of Potter.  But I don’t want a servant, so I want to be clear about that.”

“Dobby does not understand,” said Dobby with a waver in his voice.

“I want to make you a part of my family, Dobby,” Harry said earnestly.  “I want to care for you and to allow you to care for me.  I’ve written a Familial Bonding Oath, and I’d like you to be a Private Vassal for the House of Potter.”  When Dobby began to tear-up again, Harry placed a firm hand on the elf’s shoulder.  “Dobby, I won’t allow you to take the Oath unless you think you can thrive in this position.  I’ll pay you, and I’ll give you vacations, but you’ll have a very important position in the House of Potter—if you want it.  I felt bad for freeing you, even if you needed it, but you need a family more than freedom.”

“Harry Potter speaks truth,” Dobby moaned.  “Bad Master keeps House-elves like slaves, but House-elves is more than that.  Dobby wants to be more than that.”

Harry stood up and pulled Dobby gently to the chair in front of Sharperock’s desk.  “Will you accept a place as my House-elf, Dobby?  Will you take the Oath as I have written it?”

“It will be an honor to serve the Great Harry Potter,” said Dobby with a nervous grin.

Harry gave him a stern look and said, “One of the things we’ll have to talk about is the way you address me.  I’m not all that great, really.  I’m just a kid, and I’m still learning how the world works.  If you need to be formal, you can call me Heir Potter until I claim the Lordship, if that’s alright with you.”

“Dobby would be honored, Heir Potter!”

Harry nodded and pulled a parchment from the desk and handed it to Dobby.  “I hope you can read, Dobby.”

“Oh, yes, Heir Potter, sir!  Dobby is well trained in many skills!”

Dobby took the parchment and carefully read the words from top to bottom, and then read it again.  And again.  After several minutes, Dobby looked up with tears again in his eyes.  “Heir Potter honors the lowly Dobby!”

“No, Dobby,” corrected Harry.  “Dobby honors me.  Are you ready to swear the Oath?”

When Dobby nodded, Harry stood in front of him and offered his Heir Ring, assured by Sharperock that it would serve to seal the Familial Bond Oath in place of the actual Lordship ring since Harry was the last of the House of Potter, and said, “I, Harry James Potter, Heir of the House Of Potter, do offer the position of Honored Vassal to Dobby the House-elf.  As such, you shall serve as protector and council, you shall walk beside and not behind, and you shall represent fully the Name of the House of Potter.  If you welcome this task, so take your Oath.”

Dobby swallowed visibly and touched Harry’s ring with a trembling finger.  “I, Dobby, from the line of Marrow, of Willow, of Buzzy, of Lac, do swear Service and Council to the House Of Potter.  I swear to Honor and Protect, to Feed and to Warm, to Shelter and to Comfort, and to hold the Values of the House of Potter with my life and breath and soul and Magic, for myself and all of my future line—So Mote It Be.”

With those final words, a soft pink light enveloped both Harry and Dobby, pulsing lightly then stronger, turning from pink to red to orange to gold to white, and when it faded—the changes were immediately noticeable: Dobby was no longer thin and pale, instead appearing more healthy and robust and dressed in a neatly-pressed livery uniform of black wool with the Potter Crest over his breast and there were shiny black boots on his feet.  Dobby’s eyes, once a watery green, were now a vibrant teal, and there was a pink tinge to his cheeks.  The effects on Harry were equally visible, with a small amount of pure silver in his hair at his right temple, a few inches in height, and a new brightness to his emerald-green eyes—and his glasses had disappeared.

Harry gasped and staggered slightly, and Dobby was quick to support his new Master.  Harry blinked and squinted a bit before opening his eyes fully and smiling at the little elf.  “Looking good, Dobby!  That uniform definitely suits you!”

Dobby blushed and said, “Dobby thanks Master Harry…um…Heir Potter, sir.”

Harry frowned a bit and rubbed his chest absently.  “No…that’s, um…I think that’s fine, actually.  Calling me ‘Master Harry’, I mean.  It feels…right.”

Dobby beamed and turned in a circle to show off his new uniform, but Remus and Sharperock were focused on Harry instead.  “What?” Harry asked, suddenly uncomfortable.

“Harry…” Remus began, but stuttered to a stop.

“It seems, Heir Potter, that accepting the Bonding Oath of a Vassal House-elf has…broken a binding on your own Magical Core.”  Sharperock pressed a rune stone on his desk before turning back to Harry.  “I have called for a Goblin Healer, Heir Potter.  I hope you don’t mind, but it seems prudent to have you examined as quickly as possible.  The way the Familial Oath settled on your…vassal…indicates a great deal of magical power.  That is to be expected because the House of Potter is an Ancient and Noble House with a lineage stretching back as far as Merlin.”

“But that’s good, right?” asked Harry.  “I mean, it’s good that I’m magically strong?”

Sharperock nodded.  “It is a good thing to be magically strong, especially as you seem to have a strong Destiny ahead of you.  But to have performed as strongly as you have with a block on your magic means that you are exceptionally strong now, and will be a force to be reckoned with once you reach your first Magical Maturity and can claim Lordship.  Having a Healer examine you now will make certain that your core is not damaged in any way.”

Dobby began to bounce on his toes.  “Master Harry has a Magical Destiny?”

“Yes,” said Harry sharply, “and that is one secret that must be kept above all else, Dobby.  There are people that would want to keep me from meeting that Destiny, and there might be people that want to make sure I meet it but don’t survive it.  You warned me about such a danger last year, and I doubt that will be the last one I have to face.”

Sirius took one look at Remus’ face and knew something was terribly wrong.  He sighed heavily and asked, “How bad is it, and can it be fixed?”

Remus laughed softly.  “It’s not…bad, per se.  Harry administered the Oath, as planned, and there was an unexpected revelation.  Sharperock has called in a specialized healer, so I was sent to intercept you before you went to his office.  I’ll escort you to the Medical Chamber so you can see for yourself that Harry is fine.”

“But he’s not fine, Remus.  Not if they had to call in a specialist.”

“Sirius, they’ll explain when we get there.  So—what happened at the Ministry?  Do they have Peter?”

“No,” Sirius sneered.  “Some idiot named Dawlish managed to let the little rat escape, so now he’s free in the world and possibly able to harm Harry in some way.”

Remus shook his head.  “While I doubt that Peter has the wherewithal to harm Harry on his own, if he knows of any Death-Eater contacts, he will pose a danger.  This is something we’ll have to deal with while we make our plans for those Books.  Come on; Harry will want to see you before the Healer starts treatment.”

Sirius and Remus entered the bank and completely bypassed the lobby, instead making their way into the private offices.  Surprisingly, Ragnok himself was waiting for them outside of the Medical Chamber, and he looked incredibly grim, even for a goblin.

“Something has happened,” Sirius stated baldly.  “What is it?  Is Harry okay?”

“Healer Martok has an incredible sense of magical disturbances,” said Ragnok as he led the way into the chamber, “and she was most insistent that she begin casting immediately, before you arrived.  She did not mean to disrespect your position as Godfather, but she said she could sense a presence beyond the block on Heir Potter’s Magical Core.”

“Wait,” Sirius said as he came to an abrupt halt in the doorway, “there was a block on Harry’s Core?  For how long?”

“Lord Black, if you would allow me to explain the recent developments, then I will happily either answer your questions, or I will leave you to Martok, who will be better equipped to answer them.”

Sirius had the good sense to look abashed.  “I’m sorry, Chieftain Ragnok.  It’s just that I’ve only just gotten him back….”

“Your concern is understandable, Lord Black, and I would be disturbed if you had none.  The block on Heir Potter’s Core was discovered when he administered the Familial Bond Oath to the House-elf known as Dobby.  For some reason, Heir Potter decided to ask the elf to become his personal Vassal, and the Bond that was created manufactured such a strong magical backlash that it partially broke the block.  There were physical manifestations that were immediately noticeable in both parties.”

“And this was a bad thing?” Sirius asked cautiously.

“Not as such,” Ragnok replied with a shrug.  “The House-elf’s eyes changed colors and his starvation was immediately reversed.  As to Heir Potter, he is a bit taller now, but not too much so, and there is a touch of silver in his hair, but that can be covered with a glamour charm.”

“You forgot his eyes,” said Remus dryly.  “They got a bit brighter in color, and his glasses broke, or vanished or were somehow absorbed, and that will not be so easy to disguise.  Harry is rather well-known for needing glasses just like his father.”

Ragnok shrugged.  “That can be explained easily by the broken block.  The difficult part will be figuring who placed the block.  Because it was broken, there is no trace of a magical signature left behind.  The Healer was called to see to the finish of the block, and now we are here.”

“Except the Healer found something else, something…wrong,” said Sirius bitterly.  “I know goblin healers are some of the best in the world, so I know Harry is in good hands, but I wish I could do more.”

“You can do more, Lord Black,” said Ragnok, pleased.  “There is a Parselhealer in Rome that may be of some help.  If I acquire his services, then it will be in the name of Gringotts and the Goblin Nation, and legally we cannot be seen to aid a wizard in such a way, especially as we have no official voice in this country.  However, if you were to make a Floo call from my office, as a simple bank customer….”

“And if I agree to pay from my own accounts,” continued Sirius with a grin, “then Harry will have the help, you’re officially off the hook, and the way is paved for Harry to become your Patron.”  Ragnok’s eyes widened slightly before he recovered himself, but Sirius smirked at him anyway.  “It’s the only logical step in this little parade of ours, Chieftain.  In case you were wondering, I support it completely.  Having an Ancient and Noble House as a Patron will give you the political power that you deserve in this backwards country, and Harry and I can both see the benefit in that.  Now, if I can use your Floo, I have a call to make.”

Healer Milo Marasso was tall, sleek, and striking—and bordering on ancient.

He stood well over six-and-one-half feet tall, and was whip-thin and straight-backed.  His hair was shorn close to his skull, and was more white than black, and the skin of his face and hands was weathered and wrinkled like worn leather.  But his eyes were the most striking, and the most disturbing, feature: pale green irises floated in grey-tinged ichor, but were split with oblong-shaped pupils just like a venomous snake.

Sirius would not have been surprised to learn that the man had a viper as an Animagus form, but he was too classy to ask.

At least the man didn’t hiss when he spoke, unless he was speaking Parseltongue.  Which he was currently doing as he conferred with Harry.  And Harry was hissing right back, a low, guttural hiss not quite like a snake, but definitely alien.

And Harry?  Well, Harry was pale and growing agitated, but he sat patiently as the foreign Healer explained…something.  Perhaps he was asking something.  Sirius was curious, but he knew he’d have to wait for an explanation.  At least Remus and the goblins were equally in the dark, and equally perturbed from the expressions on their faces.

Finally Healer Marasso nodded abruptly and backed away from Harry to make his way to Martok for another low conversation, and Harry was left to face his friends.  He was pale and shaking slightly, and all Sirius really wanted to do was wrap him in cotton wool and carry him off to somewhere safe.

“Harry?  What did the Healer say?”

Harry took in a shuddering breath and released it in a hiss.  “Um, well…Healer Martok said she felt something dark inside of me, but it wasn’t part of the block on my Core.  So Healer Marasso did a Parselmagic scan.”

“Yes,” said Sirius patiently.  “We saw that much, but we didn’t understand a bit of it.”

Harry lifted vivid green eyes to meet Sirius’ dark ones.  “Did you know that Voldemort spoke Parseltongue, but that he wasn’t actually a Parselmage?  He couldn’t access Parselmagic because his own Core was too Dark and damaged, but he put on a good show for his followers.”


“So,” Harry continued, “apparently when Voldemort tried to kill me, something went horribly wrong, and a piece of his soul broke off and lodged inside of my Core.  And the only reason it didn’t kill me outright was that it sort of stuck to the block that was already there, and instead of killing me it just retarded my magic a bit.”


“But,” Harry muttered as if Sirius hadn’t spoken, “Healer Marasso said he can coax it out of me.  But it’ll take a lot of work, and it will weaken me, so I’ll probably need to be put into a sort of coma while he works, and then he wants me to sleep for maybe a few days so I can heal and recover my magic.”  Harry took another deep breath and he lifted his head bravely.  “So—I think we’re going to have to wait a while before we read the rest of the Destiny Books, because the Hogwarts letters will be out soon and Hermione and Ron will be here to meet me for shopping.”

“Oh, Harry,” Sirius whined, and he reached out to pull the boy into a hug.  Over Harry’s shoulder, Sirius met Remus’ gaze, and the werewolf looked absolutely wrecked.  “We’ll get to those Books soon enough, don’t you worry.  The important thing is that you get that horrid thing out of you, and that you heal properly.”

Harry pulled away slightly and rubbed his forearm over his eyes.  “You know, you’re the second person to ever hug me.  Hermione was the first, and it was because she was scared.  Are you scared, Sirius?”

“Yeah,” Sirius rasped.  “I’m pretty scared.  But I’m also confident that you’re getting the best of care.”

“Right.  Well, you see—the thing is, I think there might be something about this soul piece in those Books, so we’re really going to have to read them soon.”

Remus stepped forward and said, “I might have a suggestion, if you’re willing to try something a bit radical.”

Harry laughed weakly.  “I think everything they’re going to do to me is going to be radical.”

“Yes, well, if you can find the next book for us, perhaps we can get Healer Martok to place you in a learning sleep.”

“What’s a learning sleep?”

“It’s like a deep, restful sleep where your mind is in an active state, like the exact opposite of Dreamless Sleep.  It allows teaching spells to add knowledge to your brain while you’re resting.  If you can locate the next book, we can read it aloud while you’re resting and healing.  Then they can wake you briefly enough to find the following book, and we can do the same.  You’ll get the same amount of physical and magical rest, you’ll heal your Core, and you’ll still know what is in those books.”

Harry nodded absently and rubbed his eyes with his hands.  “Yeah, if they can do that, that would be good.”

Sirius rubbed Harry’s hair gently and stepped back.  “I’ll go ask if they can do that, then.  I won’t say anything about the Destiny Books, but I might mention teaching you about your ancestral heritage or some such.”

“Okay, yeah.  And maybe can you ask Healer Marasso if he might know anyone who could teach me Parselmagic?  I mean, I have those books, but if I’ve learned anything by watching Hermione during our flying lessons it’s that you can’t learn everything by only reading about it.”

Sirius chuckled.  “I’ll ask him.  I’ll even pay for that tutoring myself, just to get you a leg up on such an interesting skill.”

Once Sirius had made his way across the chamber, Remus asked Harry if he wanted him to retrieve the books from Sharperock’s office.

“Oh, they’re here now,” Harry replied.  “I brought my pack with me after Mr. Sharperock called for the Healer because I had some silly thought about reading a bit to pass the time.”

“Harry,” Remus said, astonished, “hardly any time passed at all once Sharperock called for the Healer!”

“I know!  But in the Muggle world, you can sometimes wait hours before a doctor has time for your appointment!  And aside from my time in the infirmary at school, that’s all I have to go on!”

Remus gamely brought Harry’s pack over to him and watched as Harry tried two books before one actually opened for him, only to watch as Harry closed it and opened the very last book in the pack because there were no words in the first one.  Harry looked up and shrugged.  “That just means that this one is the one we read fifth, is all.  And once we finish the Fourth Book, one of the others will open with no words in it, so we’ll know that’s the sixth in the series.  I figured that out after I read the Second Book.”

Remus looked at the heavy tome with distaste.  “Is it bad if I really wanted it to be one of the thinner ones?  I’ll be so worried about your condition that I’m afraid I’ll not be able to focus on it.”

Harry blew a breath out harshly.  “Well, look at it this way, by the time you get to reading this, the worst will be over for me and all I’ll be doing is sleeping and healing.  No worries after that’s over and done with.”

Harry sat stiffly in the high-backed leather chair in front of Chieftain Ragnok’s desk and chewed absently on his thumbnail.  Hedwig, who Remus had requested Dobby retrieve from the Leaky Cauldron, was perched lightly in the back of the chair, and occasionally dipped her head to nuzzle into Harry’s hair, focusing her attention on the new silver streak.

He was grateful for the comfort, and was glad that Remus had had the forethought to bring her to the bank before Harry was spelled into the medical coma.  She was the last thing he saw before he went under, and she was perched beside his bed when he woke after the treatment, and both Remus and Sirius had pondered over a possible Familiar Bond between boy and owl.

Harry was, in a word, dazed.  He could not remember the actual healing procedure that unblocked his Core, causing a magical surge so strong that it was felt deep into the private parts of the Goblin Territory beneath the bank.  He also could not remember the removal of the Dark Soul Piece that Voldemort left inside of him, an oily, insidious thing that tried to tempt more than one person in the room with untold power if only it could get free.  Fortunately, the damned thing was no match for the Pure Lightness of Parselhealing, and it was forced into an enchanted marble canister for later disposal—once they found the best way to destroy it.

But what Harry could remember was…horrifying.

Wormtail would (could, eventually) use Harry in a Dark ritual to bring Voldemort back to a physical body.  Harry would (could, eventually) be forced to take place in a dangerous magical competition just to face a bloody dragon!  Ron would (most definitely, if past actions could show true) allow his petty jealousy to get the better of him and would turn his back on Harry.  Snape would kill (at the actual request of the barmy old man) Dumbledore!  Snape was still an active (and doubtfully repentant) Death-Eater!  Sirius would die in a completely useless (and utterly reckless) way during a duel with his cousin Bellatrix.  Remus would die alongside his (not yet met) wife, trying to protect Hogwarts, leaving behind a baby.  There was a stupid prophecy about Harry killing Voldemort, which probably wasn’t actually true, but was totally the reason his parents were killed—and Snape was the asshole that passed it on!

And possibly worst of all?  It wasn’t the fact that there were more Soul Pieces—horcruxes, horcruxi, whatever—hanging about in the world because Voldemort was determined to conquer death at any cost, even though that was bad enough.  Because there were more of them—five more besides the diary that Harry had destroyed the year before.  No, there was something in that last book that was far worse than that, at least in Harry’s mind.

“Mr. Chieftain, sir,” stammered Harry fearfully, “you have to know that I would never, ever try to break into the bank and steal from one of the Vaults.  And I would never steal one of your dragon guards, even if it sounds cruel to keep them down there.  I really wouldn’t!”

“Relax, child,” Ragnok said with a gentle (for a goblin) smile.  “I know that you, the you that I know now in this time and place, would never do such a thing.  And the Harry Potter that did do such a thing, did so because of extremely dire circumstances and a lack of choice.”  Ragnok sighed and rubbed his temples with gnarled fingers.  “For your peace of mind, Heir Potter, I will tell you that while we do use dragons to guard the high-security vaults for our more prestigious clientele, they are treated quite well; are, in fact, quite pampered by their keepers.  No, what troubles me most about that whole debacle was the actions of Griphook.  He’s a young officer here now, only one-hundred years old, and he has already made a few questionable decisions, but to think that he would be so dishonorable?  No, the implications are horrid.”

Harry shot a quick look at Dobby, who was sitting sullenly on a small cushion in the corner, and bit his lip.  Dobby had been with Harry all during his treatment, which Sirius said was his duty as Vassal, and he’d been in the Time Chamber when the Destiny Books had been read—all of the remaining four of them.  At one point, Sirius had allowed Dobby to read parts of them aloud himself, just so he could feel a part of making Harry’s Destiny.  When Harry woke for the last time, four days later, many hours had passed inside the Time Chamber, everyone present had taken time with Healer Argossi in order to deal with the trauma of reading the Books—even Ragnok and Sharperock had taken time to talk about what they were learning—and Dobby had had to read the chapters dealing with his ultimate sacrifice in protecting Harry and his friends.

Harry had no doubts at all that, if there came a time for it, Dobby would indeed give his life for Harry’s.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” said Remus, completely out of the blue, “but I witnessed your trial, Sirius, and I distinctly remember hearing Bartemius Crouch say that his son died while in Azkaban.  He was under those Truth Compulsions, so he wasn’t lying.”

“I think,” said Sharperock, “that if you fully recall the testimony, you will find that Crouch actually said that Azkaban reported his son’s death.  If the full account of the Book is true, then his wife was actually the one that died while polyjuiced to appear as his son.”

“I remember that day, actually,” said Sirius.  “Crouch and his wife walked past my cell, and she wasn’t looking too good.  Then they walked past again a few moments later, so the visit wasn’t a long one.  They could have made a switch easily.  The guards out there aren’t exactly on the ball all of the time, mostly because they don’t like being around the Dementors any more than the prisoners do.”

“So that poor House-elf is being forced to care for an escaped prisoner, and in a year her master will cast her out when the prisoner escapes.”  Harry huffed angrily.  “I really wish we could just tell everyone about those Books sometimes!  Well, maybe not everyone, but there has to be people we can trust.”

“There are people we can trust, Harry,” soothed Sirius.  “They’re all in this office right now.”

“And there are certainly people who must never, ever learn about those Books, Harry,” Remus cautioned.  “Dumbledore, for instance, would use them to his ultimate advantage, and you would surely suffer all the more for it.”

Harry scowled deeper.  “Yeah, it certainly seems like Professor Dumbledore has been playing one big game with my life up to now, and I’m not the one who’s supposed to win.  A lot of people look up to him, so I can’t really count on them, either.  The Ministry sure isn’t on my side here, and they flip-flop so fast in their public opinion of me that I’m surprised they can keep track of whether or not they’re supposed to like me on any given day.”

Dobby rose from his little cushion and approached Harry cautiously.  “Dobby is being thinking, Master Harry,” he said solemnly.  “Dobby is being thinking that Master Harry can not rush to save Mr. Crouch’s House-Elf, even if Master Harry is being a good Master.”

Harry gaped at the serious little Elf.  “Dobby….”

“Why do you say that, Dobby?” asked Sirius, confused.

Dobby turned watery green eyes to the older wizard and tugged lightly on his large ears.  “This Elf is being a part of the Crouch Family, Master Black.  Even if you is being to want to help her, she is not seeing it that way.  Even if they is beatings her, she is not seeing it that way.  They is her Family, and her job is being caring of the Young Master, and she is liking to be doing her job.”

“I must concur,” interjected Sharperock sharply.  “This House-Elf was likely raised within that household, and as such will have been completely indoctrined to that life.  If she was Crouch Junior’s nanny elf, or was just a major servant while he was a boy, she will see her duty to be his care-giver even now, and she will not understand that they are breaking the law—or that the young man is a dangerous person.”

Harry sighed deeply and dragged a shaking hand through his already unruly hair.  “I guess we’ll have to add that to the list of Things That Must Not Change.”

That was a rather long list, in Harry’s opinion.  All of the adults, including the goblins, were really adamant that certain incidents must happen in order for Harry to finally bring a permanent end to Voldemort, even if they were all unwilling for Harry to do so alone.

Voldemort must be allowed to become resurrected; else he would linger as a shade in the world indefinitely, even after the destruction of the horcruxes.

Dumbledore must be allowed to search for said horcruxes, even if everyone in this office had every intention to gather and destroy them before Dumbledore even thought of them.  They were, in Sirius’ words, going to run a long con on the old man.

A possible attack at the Quidditch World Cup must be allowed to occur, even if Sirius had every inclination of having extra security there to gather-up the Death-Eaters—and that meant that Barty Crouch, Jr. would then be allowed to enter Harry’s name in the Tri-Wizard Competition.  Ragnok assured Harry that he wouldn’t actually have to compete, but that was a legality best left to Gringotts and Harry shouldn’t worry about it just yet.

Since Peter Pettigrew was already in the wind, he must be allowed to give aid to Voldemort, even if the eventual ritual used to bring him back to a corporeal form wouldn’t have Harry as a participant.

Harry would be keeping secrets from his friends, but since they would be mostly mindful of their own interests, Harry doubted they would notice if Harry was not being forthcoming with every little detail about his life.  Harry could—and would, if he had anything to do about it—drop heavy hints to Neville Longbottom about the power behind a personally-chosen wand in the hopes that he’d get a new one sooner rather than later.  And Harry had every intention of befriending Luna Lovegood on the Hogwarts Express on September first, because, according to those Destiny Books, she became an actual true friend to him, sticking by him when the rest of the Wizarding World turned against him.  He was already making a big change just by dropping Divination and taking up two much more difficult classes, and he knew his two best friends would have a lot to say about that.



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