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Newspaper Clippings (A Trinkets Verse Intermission)

Chapter Text

“I don’t know what you think you’re playing at, Boy! Who was that man you went off with? Was he another freak like you? I demand you return home immediately. You can bet you’ll be in for some severe punishment when you get back! Don’t expect me to come get you, either. I already went to the train station to get you. I’ve done my part!

“Get back here now!”

It wasn’t even a proper letter. It was more like an angry note, hastily shoved into an envelope. Harry contemplated replying to his uncle, but decided it would annoy the man much more if he didn’t.

“Fine! Don’t want to come home, do you? Then don’t! Don’t ever come back here again, you ungrateful brat. After all these years of feeding and clothing you, allowing you into our home despite your freakishness. If this is how you wish to repay us, then so be it!

“Good riddance.”

Harry laughed aloud when he read the second letter. It appeared Vernon had a very loose understanding of “feeding and clothing you.” Being starved and forced to wear ratty, oversized hand me downs didn’t quite qualify. It would have if it were done out of necessity. Hard times can befall anyone. But what the Dursleys put Harry through was out of pure hatred. There’s no excuse for that.

“Now you’ve done it, boy! That wretched old man who tries to call himself a headmaster has contacted me! Do you hear that? That freak was in our home! He won’t quit pestering us, sending all sorts of letters and the like. He wants us to take you in and keep you indefinitely. I’d much rather you stay away, but if it gets the man and his overgrown pigeons to leave us alone, then I’ll just have to choose the lesser of two evils.

“Don’t think you’ll be getting off scott free! There will be plenty of punishment waiting for you when you arrive. You should be ashamed of yourself for putting us through this trauma. The old buggerer had Dudley hiding in the bathroom! My son, afraid to be in his own house!

“The man gave us some stupid excuse as to why you can’t just stay amongst your own kind. Blood protections or whatever. Poppycock! All of it! I couldn’t care less! But if housing you a few months out of the year will keep the freak patrol out of my house and out of my hair, then I’ll do it. At least I know how to deal with you!

“So hurry up and get back here!”

Vernon’s third correspondence was much more like an actual letter, but still barely qualified.

Harry found it amusing that Dumbledore actually went to the trouble of contacting the Dursleys directly. He must have been very desperate to go to such lengths. Harry had barely even been out of school for a full fortnight. It was all for naught, though. Harry wasn’t going anywhere near Privet Drive and no amount of pestering from his uncle was going to change that.

Dear Mr. Potter,

I understand that you strongly disagree with your placement with you Aunt and Uncle, but I must implore you to reconsider. I admit, I did have you put under their care despite knowing that they might mistreat you. It certainly wasn’t the healthiest environment to leave you in. However, you must understand that it was the only place to put you, where you might grow to live some sort of normal life.

I fear you don’t fully realize the severity of the danger you are putting yourself in when you are deprived of the blood protection that your Aunt provides. When the war ended, numerous members of Voldemort’s faction were sent to Azkaban. Many more were not. His followers worshipped him as a king. A god. To them, he was their savior.

With so many of his devoted servants and their allies still remaining at large, there is no place for you that is safer. Had you been raised in the wizarding world, you would have spent your life in reverence. Every moment of your childhood would have been documented and publicized for the world to see. You would have grown up spoiled and demanding, entitled and self-absorbed. Much like your own cousin.

I couldn’t run that risk. With your entire life in the spotlight, the remaining Death Eaters would have been able to reach and dispatch you with ease. It would have been the same as handing you over to them on a platter. I could not do that.

Sending you to live in the muggle world was the next option. The purebloods who would have sought you out wouldn’t be able to navigate the muggle world, and they would be held off for some time. But eventually they would have tracked you down and killed you. Muggle protections can only go so far. Sending you to Privet Drive was the only sensible choice.

There, you were raised out of the spotlight. You grew up to be humble and grounded. You were safe from damaging wizard influence, but most of all, you were safe to live.

The House of Black has been known for their dealings in dark magic for centuries. The company they surround themselves with are the very same I've been trying to protect you from. I could think of no worse place for you, save directly in Voldemort’s hands. 

Your parents gave their lives so that you could have yours. Leaving yourself open to such dangers is a waste of the sacrifice they made for you. The same sacrifice that saved your life just a few weeks ago.

I must beg of you to take this into consideration. Then, you will see that I made the right choice, and you will return to the safety of your Aunt’s Home. If you cannot do this, then I am afraid that I will have to take matters into my own hands and have you forcibly removed from the care of the Blacks. I truly hope you will see reason and that it won’t have to come to that. In the end, this is all for your own wellbeing.

Be safe,

Albus P.W.B. Dumbledore

Harry laughed at the letter in his hand. He found the whole thing to be rather insulting to his intelligence. He could see right through Dumbledore’s obvious manipulations by comparing him with his cousin, then saying he was wasting his parents’ sacrifice. If Harry hadn’t already been inclined to disagree with anything the man said on principle, he might have even fallen for it.

“Nice try,” Harry scoffed aloud, tossing the letter aside. He reached to grab blank parchment, ink, and his favorite ostrich feather quill.

It was deep red with gold sparkles and very frilly. Draco had gotten it for him as a joke, but the joke wound up on him because Harry actually loved it, even despite the Gryffindor colors. He dipped his quill in the inkpot and began a letter of his own.

To Dumbledore,

I’m not sure who gave you the impression that I have to answer to you, but they were wrong.

While I appreciate your interest in my upbringing, it is in fact none of your business. It never had anything to do with you, and my wellbeing was never your responsibility.

Did it ever occur to you that I wouldn’t have minded growing up in the spotlight? As much as I’d hate to have turned out like my cousin, the one thing I can say about Dudley is that he is happy! Maybe he is a bully and doesn’t deserve an ounce of the treatment he gets, but he is happy and always has been! Under no circumstances would I have ever traded that amount of happiness for your so called “safety.”

Speaking of which, the Dursley household is not something I would ever have considered safe or normal. 10 years of abuse and neglect, being starved, locked in a cupboard, made to work as a slave, and denied even the opportunity to make a friend is hardly what anyone would consider a normal childhood.

I spent the majority of my life absolutely miserable and with no one who cared for me, at the hands of those muggles you left me with. No amount of imploring, begging, or rationalizing is ever going to make that acceptable.

I will never return there, and no matter what you say, you don’t actually have the authority to make me. Any further attempts to interfere in my life will be met with legal action. 

Please, enjoy your retirement and your own life and butt out of mine,

Harry J. Potter 

Harry ended the letter with a smirk, imagining the look on Dumbledore’s face after reading it. Harry wasn't usually a malicious person, but there was some part of him that just enjoyed causing trouble for the former headmaster. He sent the letter off with Hedwig and not even a full week had passed before Dumbledore retaliated.

Because of the inordinate amount of protections placed on Number Twelve Grimmauld Place by Uncle Arty and Sirius’ father during the war, it was impossible to find—let alone get to—without express permission (which Dumbledore would never have). In fact, it was so heavily guarded that it wasn’t just unplottable, it technically didn't even exist! It wasn't under a Fidelius Charm like Harry's parents’ home had been in Godric’s Hollow. The Blacks were far too paranoid in those days to allow anyone to be a secretkeeper. But with their collective prowess over magic, the two men were able to pull together and create so many spells, charms, curses, and wards that the Fidelius paled in comparison.

Of course, the majority of it was blood magic that would fall with the death of the last Black. But there were three of them at the moment, so the magic stood strong and the townhouse maintained ever elusive.

However, Number Twelve Grimmauld Place was not the only property that the Blacks owned, by far. It was just the most heavily protected, so it was where the tiny family cohabitated.

At lunch time three days after Harry sent his letter off, he was in the kitchen, eating a light salad while finishing some of his History of Magic summer homework. Across the table, Sirius was mopishly twirling a leaf on the end of his fork through the air as he slouched over the second letter that was returned to sender. Harry had no idea who Sirius had been trying to contact. He just knew that none of the Black owls could find them, and the older man was quite miserable about it. He had just been trying to decide whether he should ask, or continue his work quietly when Sirius suddenly flinched and sat bolt upright.

“Are you okay?” Harry asked, shocked by the sudden movement.

“Someone just crossed onto the grounds of the Manor…” Sirius trailed off. His eyes were fixed on the table, but he was clearly focusing on something outside of the room.

“On Malfoy Manor?” Harry was confused at how he could tell.

“No, at Black Manor.”

Harry frowned. “I didn’t even know there was a Black Manor.”

Sirius came back to the room for a moment, smirking. “A family as old and rich as this one, you didn’t think this townhouse was their only property, did you?”

“I suppose not,” Harry mused. “No one’s ever mentioned it, so I guess I never really gave it any thought.” It did make sense though. Given the Family Tree Tapestry in the drawing room, the House of Black had once been quite a large family. He should have known that they couldn’t have all lived in this single home.

“Yes, we’ve got several different properties.” The way Sirius put such emphasis on the word several implied that there was far more than just a few.

“How come we never go to any?”

“Because-” Sirius cut himself off mid-sentence and stood from his chair with a scrape. Harry jumped in surprise. “It’s Dumbledore,” Sirius snarled. Instantly enraged, he pulled his wand from his sleeve and tore across the long kitchen to the fireplace at the far end. He reached into the jar of floo powder on the mantel with so much force that he knocked it over, spilling its glittery contents everywhere and shattering it on the floor. Without a moment’s hesitation, he stepped into the empty hearth and shouted “Biggened Arc Manor! ” before dropping the powder and vanishing in a loud whoosh of green flames.

Harry sat in confused silence for seven whole minutes. He was waiting patiently--not really sure what else to do--when a disgruntled Aunt Wally stalked into the kitchen. “What's happened here?” she asked with exasperation. She flicked her wand to clear the mess Sirius had left on the floor across the room.

Harry shrugged. “I'm not entirely sure to be honest. Sirius said Dumbledore is at the manor, then he left through the floo.”

“Hm,” Aunt Wally cocked a pensive brow. “I should fetch him before he destroys something.” She turned to the fireplace, but before she made it more than two steps, Sirius returned in a burst of the telltale green flames.

He appeared quite disheveled and covered in soot. His hair was complete chaos, the white shirt peeking out beneath the sleeves and collar of his robes was tinged purple, and he was also smoking in several places. “I may or may not have blown up the entire east wing,” he stated matter of factly with no preamble.

“ARE YOU MAD?!” Aunt Wally shrieked.

Sirius scoffed. “Relax, woman. Obviously, I fixed it.”

“You can't just go blowing people up!” she scolded anyways. “I just got you back from Azkaban! They're going to send you right back!”

“I couldn't help it. I saw Dumbledore there on our property and… It’s like a switch flipped in my head. Besides, he dodged it anyways.”

“Shame,” Uncle Arty interjected calmly. Harry hadn't noticed him sauntering in behind them. 

Sirius shrugged then plopped back down in front of his salad.

“You need to hold yourself together better,” Aunt Wally continued, not shouting anymore. “That temper will be the end of you.”

Sirius rolled his eyes but otherwise ignored his mother. Not bothering to acknowledge the hypocrisy. He waved his wand above his head in a swirling motion, returning his clothes and hair to rights.

“I wonder what he wanted,” Uncle Arty mused.

“Me,” Harry answered without hesitation. “He must have gone to the manor because he couldn't get here.”

Uncle Arty nodded. “Makes sense. Everyone knows where the manor is.”

“Why?” Aunt Wally spoke over him. She walked back to Harry and hugged him to her side possessively. Harry hugged her back gratefully. It always left him so warm and happy whenever someone made him feel wanted. It was still such an unfamiliar experience, and he hoped the novelty never wore off.

“He wants to send me back to the Dursleys,” he explained.

“Over my dead body,” Sirius mumbled in a low growl, innocently dusting imaginary dirt from his cuff.

Harry smiled, then continued. “He says it's safest for me because of blood protections from my aunt. Thinks it'll protect me from Voldemort’s followers.”

“He's a moron,” Aunt Wally stated simply, squeezing him tighter for a moment. Harry noticed – as he always did – that none of the Blacks flinched when he said the name.

“There's nowhere in the world safer than here,” Uncle Arty added. “Not even Hogwarts is as heavily protected.”

“And the Deatheaters won't dare to come anywhere near you,” Sirius assured him.

“They don't have a reason to anymore. Not with the Trinkets.” Aunt Wally nodded in agreement.

Sirius scoffed. “No,” he corrected. “They won't come anywhere near you because they know that I'm here, and they don’t have their master to protect them. I wasn't here before, but I am now. You won't need any blood protections with me around.”

Harry's initial instinct was to brush him off as having the typical Gryffindor’s inflated ego. But when considering that he just blew up the entire east wing of Black Manor, then repaired it within minutes, perhaps he had a point. Of course, that didn't even touch on what it spoke of that he'd been accused of killing thirteen people with a single spell and not one person even questioned it. He also had the absolute highest percentage of magic that a trueblood could have before they were no longer human. The more Harry thought about it, the more it seemed like he might not actually be exaggerating.

“You'll be perfectly safe here,” Sirius finished. “You're never going back there, no matter what Dumbledore says.”

“Absolutely right,” Aunt Wally agreed. She patted him on the head and gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze.

No matter how many times he'd told Dumbledore and himself the very same thing, Harry could never fully defeat the lingering sense of doubt that this family he'd become a part of would be stripped away from him. But with their strength behind his back, he had the confidence to do whatever it took to quell that fear. 

He'd already warned Dumbledore to stay away from him, but the old man refused to heed his warning. So, with that final nail in the coffin, he decided that pursuing legal action was exactly what he was going to do.

Making it public news that the so-called “Chosen One” put a restraining order on Dumbledore would do wonders to further sully his reputation after having already been sacked.

Harry really didn’t like pulling the “Chosen One” card, but he was feeling particularly spiteful. It would certainly do the trick of getting Dumbledore to leave him alone, and whatever works, right? It was the Slytherin way.

Besides, Hermione would be so proud.

Thus, exactly one week after receiving Dumbledore’s letter found Harry and Sirius being led through the Ministry of Magic by Lucius and Aunt Wally.

Sirius was obviously uncomfortable around the crowd of people milling about the Ministry. He was very tense and jittery. The fingers he held on Harry’s shoulder alternated from gripping him almost painfully too tight to tapping out a nervous beat, then back. The noise of the crowd was overwhelming him and any spike in volume caused him to flinch or cringe.

Ordinarily, Harry would have relished being held in the warmth under the man’s arm (and in the back of his mind, he still was). But he was too concerned for his well being to enjoy the contact very much.

“Are you alright?” Harry asked quietly as they followed Lucius and Aunt Wally into a crowded elevator.

Sirius squeezed Harry into him, tucking his arms and legs close to his body. It was as if he were trying to take up as little space as possible. He looked pale and clammy, but he forced a tight smile and nodded jerkily at Harry anyways.

Harry felt so bad. He should have never agreed to Sirius’ offer to come. Harry didn’t know what the Ministry would be like, but he had an idea that it would be crowded. He should have known Sirius wouldn’t take it too well. Especially after the man admitted the reason he met Harry on the muggle side of King’s Cross was because he was wary of the tightly packed crowd on Platform 9 ¾.

But, Sirius was a brave Gryffindor, making decisions without thinking through the consequences. Cunning Slytherin Harry was supposed to do the thinking for him, but he failed this time.

After dropping a few floors, Harry was shocked by the sensation of the elevator moving sideways, then backwards. It stopped to let people off twice before they arrived in their intended area.

The floor they entered was far less crowded than the lobby and much more open than the elevator. So, Sirius let out a relieved sigh as they headed down the corridor. They stopped at a desk where Lucius asked the secretary for a Mr. Nordstrom. They only had to wait a moment before the secretary led them down a hallway to a door with a bronze placard labeled “Barrister Thomas C. Nordstrom.”

Inside, the office was large and spacious, with a wall sized window that was charmed to show the New York City skyline. It gave the room the impression of being on a high level of a skyscraper, as opposed to being stories underground where they really were.

The wizard they met had dark, leathery skin and long straight black hair. Even longer than Lucius’. He was dressed in fine robes and his desk was laden in curios and baubles. There was a small stack of color-coded folders to his left and beside that was a picture of his family.

Harry was shocked to realize that one of his daughters was a Slytherin girl that he recognized from the dorm. She was a few years older than him, but Harry remembered that she had a green Trinket, and Draco was convinced she was part mermaid because of her attitude toward the Giant Squid.

Mr. Nordstrom had a red Trinket, so her Creature-blood status must have been due to her mother. In fact, in the picture, she looked nearly identical to her mother. Their age difference was the only way to tell them apart. That was a little abnormal.

Even Harry wasn’t identical to his father, despite how many times he’d been told he looks just like him. He still had his mother’s eyes, and a few other tiny differences that set him apart. That was not the case between the mother and daughter pair. That made Harry even more curious than ever about what she was mixed with.

Behind Mr. Nordstrom, the wall was covered in various degrees and certificates from both British and American institutes. Hanging in the left and right corners of the room were American and English flags respectively. In the middle, and more directly behind Mr. Nordstrom was a flag that Harry didn’t recognize.

It bore an image that looked like a dream catcher with an arrow through it. Inside, the circle of the dreamcatcher was split into 4 segments with different colors and a symbol set across them, resembling a coat of arms.

Harry had never seen anything like it and couldn’t begin to fathom what it could represent. His best guess was that it had something to do with Mr. Nordstrom’s family’s Creature-Blood, but even that was a stretch.

Aunt Wally and Harry sat right in front of the desk, while Lucius stood behind Harry’s chair on the left side. Sirius found a lone chair in the far corner and sequestered himself as far from the door as possible.

“Hello Lucius,” Mr. Nordstrom greeted him with a handshake. His voice was deep and slow with an American accent that was distinctly different than the ones he usually heard on the telly. “It’s always a pleasure to see you. You bring me the most interesting of cases.”

“And have I got quite the case for you, today,” Lucius smirked in response. “This is my wife’s aunt, Walburga Black.” He gestured to the woman grandly and she offered the man a tight smile.

“It is my pleasure to meet you, M’ Lady,” Mr. Nordstrom bowed his head in deference to Aunt Wally. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

“I’m sure,” she agreed distractedly.

“And this,” Lucius gestured to Harry next, “is her charge, Harry Potter.”

The Harry Potter?” Mr. Nordstrom gasped, eyes lighting up with excitement. He reached across his desk to shake Harry’s hand vigorously, smiling widely even as his eyes darted up to try and spot the scar through the boy's messy fringe. “Oh, this is going to be magnificent!” he cheered.

“Just you wait,” Lucius warned. “You haven’t heard what we’re here to do, yet.”

“Go on, then. Spit it out.”

“Aunt Walburga would like to file a restraining order against Albus Dumbledore, on behalf of young Harry here.”

Mr. Nordstrom’s mouth spread into a greedy and malicious grin. “The Savior of the Wizarding World, filing a restraining order against the Leader of the Light?” He sighed dreamily in a way most unbefitting of a man of his age and stature. “Oh, Lucius,” he simpered. “What on earth have I done to deserve you?”

Both men dissolved into diabolical cackles, and Harry couldn’t contain a smirk as well. Dumbledore was finished.

By the end of the day, Harry spent nearly 5 hours in Mr. Nordstrom’s office. He brought up every bit of damning evidence of Dumbledore’s meddling that he could. Sirius even helped by bringing up his interference with the Potter’s Vault and his sabotage of Sirius’ original case. The whole thing interspersed with Aunt Wally’s snide comments and insults about the man.

It was definitely an interesting day. As if that weren’t enough, Harry had a letter waiting for him when he made it back home.

Sirius immediately disappeared upstairs somewhere for the sweet relief of solitude after having to navigate the lobby again, and Lucius went to gather some more paperwork to pad their case. Aunt Wally retired to the parlor, but not until after sharing a few nice words with her portrait in the hall.

Harry followed Aunt Wally into the parlor where he spotted a very smug looking Uncle Arty with a tobacco pipe in his hand.

Harry greeted the man, then opened the letter. It was a muggle envelope with no return address. He unfolded the letter and immediately recognized the messy scrawl.

“Really? This is what it has come to? You would go this far? I don’t care what any freakish old man says! You stay away from my family! I should have never allowed you into my home all those years ago! We should have left you on that doorstep to freeze and die! If I ever hear from you again, I WILL KILL YOU! I hope you rot in hell like your worthless parents!”

Harry stared at the letter blankly. “What?” he asked aloud, utterly confused. Not that he’d intended on seeing the Dursleys again anyways, but he had no idea what it was he had supposedly done. Had Dumbledore contacted them again?

Harry didn’t think so. Vernon’s letter was far more aggressive than the last. He was more than just disgruntled, he was livid .

“I’m assuming that’s from your muggle relatives.” Uncle Arty chuckled across the room, lips wrapped around his pipe. “I think I may know what that is about.”

Harry approached the man, more lost than ever. How on earth could Uncle Arty have fit into all this?

The elderly man reached over to the coffee table and handed Harry the newspaper he picked up from there. It was the Surrey Comet, a muggle newspaper. Harry still didn’t understand until he caught notice of the headline: Massive Fire Burns Down 3 Homes on Privet Drive.

Harry continued reading the article, face frozen in an expression of absolute bewilderment. It stated that the fire began as a result of faulty wiring in Number 4, then spread to the homes on either side before firemen could put it out. There were no deaths and only minor injuries from smoke inhalation.

Harry put the paper down, turning his gaze to Uncle Arty, bewildered look still painted across his face. Somehow, the pieces finally clicked in place and he gasped loudly.

“You’re responsible for this?” he asked.

Uncle Arty took a puff on his pipe. “Of course, I am. No deaths, though. Bit of a shame.”

“You burned down the Dursley’s house? With them inside it?”

“Not me personally, no. I had it arranged. Though, they did escape, so I’ll be demanding some of my money back.”

Harry was having trouble wrapping his head around it. Uncle Arty tried to have the Dursleys killed? Harry absolutely hated the three of them, but he’d never considered killing them. But there was something that made even less sense.

“Why?” Harry questioned.

Uncle Arty took another puff on his pipe, letting the smoke drift out of his nostrils slowly before he answered.

“Because I’ve grown rather fond of you, Harry,” he replied. “We were once a large and great family, but now, we are down to a few. That includes you. We must take care of each other. After the years of your suffering at their hands, it was time for some retribution. The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black is a force to be reckoned with. A force that you will always have at your side to protect and support you.”

“That’s absolutely right, Harry,” Aunt Wally chimed in. “For as long as you’re willing to protect and support us.”

Harry was absolutely flattered. He felt so loved and warm in that moment that his mixed feelings about the fate of the Dursleys was the last thing on his mind.

The next time Harry went to see Mr. Nordstrom, he’d convinced Sirius to stay behind. It wasn’t particularly difficult, given his last experience.

The barrister decided to add on a Petition for Obliviation for the Dursleys. He collected as much evidence of Harry’s mistreatment as possible to build the strongest case. He even took a thorough health examination to prove stunted growth from the years of malnutrition. The Petition didn’t affect Dumbledore directly, but being able to present to the Wizengamot that he knowingly placed Harry into a situation that warranted obliviation would further damage his credibility.

Harry was more than happy to sign the Petition. If that went through, then there would be no more chances that Harry would be sent back to the Dursleys. It wasn’t quite as much like revenge as burning them to death, the way Uncle Arty had attempted. But Harry didn’t mind. Revenge wasn’t important as long as he could make sure he’d never have to return.

By the end of the week, Mr. Nordstrom had everything he needed and was nearly bubbling with devious glee at the opportunity to personally serve Dumbledore the papers. He tried to convince Harry to join in for the sure to be embarrassing moment, but Harry declined. He didn’t want to have any more contact with the man whatsoever. He was even willing to give up the chance to see the look on his face in person when he received his subpoena.

Narcissa had a much better idea for his time anyways.

Chapter Text

“Alright, Harry,” Mrs. Parkinson slid a tin of biscuits in Harry’s direction. “I want you to be as comfortable as possible for this interview.” He nodded his thanks as she continued to try and comfort him. “Just pretend like there’s no photographer, and no one is taking notes. This is just a one on one conversation between you and me.”

As if on cue, said photographer snapped a picture, casting a brief flash of bright white light across the Malfoy’s parlor.

Harry took a swig of tea, attempting to force down the bubble of nerves in his throat, before glancing self consciously at Pansy and Draco in the corner. Mrs. Parkinson followed the movement and jerked her head at the door, indicating that the two should leave. They both crossed their arms obstinately, and Pansy pouted in reply, but another dark look and they obediently left.

"Alright," Mrs. Parkinson continued, "Now, can you tell me—in excruciating detail—why you've decided to press charges against Albus Dumbledore?"

As ready as he would ever be, Harry took a deep breath and began his story. He didn’t want to leave anyone with a shadow of a doubt that this was the right decision. So he started at the very beginning, and he said everything. Everything he knew Dumbledore did. All the bad choices. Everything he experienced with the Dursleys. The threats to send him back. Everything.

In the end, he wound up going over every detail twice, and he had to force himself to stop fidgeting seventeen times. Even still, he managed to completely crumble three biscuits in his lap, and peel off most of his fingernails.

It was difficult laying out his entire history for the world to see. And they would see it.

Despite being considered an entertainment magazine, Witch Weekly was considered one of the most popular news outlets in the British wizarding world. It often beat out the Daily Prophet in weekly sales. With his name and face on the cover, Mrs. Parkinson had promised sales in record numbers. There had even been talks of translating the article to be published in their foreign editions as well.

Baring his heart and soul to his friends and the Black-Malfoy brood was one thing. But doing it in the most public forum possible was a completely different story.

But, all in the name of the downfall of Dumbledore, right?

Save the obvious, almost everything that had gone wrong in Harry’s life up to that point was inadvertently Dumbledore’s fault. No one would be able to argue the man’s incompetence and problematic nature with it all laid out before them.

When the article finally went to print, Harry didn’t want to read a word of it. He wanted to act like it was an ordinary day. Fortunately, Mrs. Parkinson was kind enough to receive any letter responses at her office, so Harry didn’t even have to deal with that.

Aside from Aunt Wally’s occasional gloating at the success of his plan (no amount of reasoning could get her to do anything other than exactly what she wanted)--and a single instance of Lucius and Mr. Nordstrom laughing during a fire call--that actually wound up being the last he heard of it.

Harry was able to immediately refocus on more positive matters. Such as getting to know Sirius better and spending time with his best friends. He was able to spend plenty of time with Draco, what with the two small families really just being one—still small, but slightly larger—family. They didn’t get to have their third musketeer around very often, though.

Hermione was only able to visit Malfoy Manor or Grimmauld Place a few times over the summer. Her parents wanted to spend as much time with her as possible before she had to return to Hogwarts.

Harry understood, of course, but he and Draco were definitely feeling her loss. Without meaning to, she had become the sort of de facto leader of their group. The boys weren’t exactly lost without her. It was more like being directionless.

The first time she came to visit was a week after the article went to print. She knew Harry had gotten enough attention about Dumbledore for the summer, so all she could talk about in her letters were her excitement to finally meet Sirius, and her plans to implement change at Hogwarts.

“It’s not that I don’t find Professor McGonagall to be a capable woman. She most certainly is,” she had explained that first night at Grimmauld Place. “It’s just that she was also very loyal to Dumbledore. He was her mentor after all. She’s likely to keep up with some of his practices out of a sense of loyalty. I just want to help make sure that she doesn’t. If nothing else, just to convince her to use her own judgment for matters instead of relying on his silly old rules.”

“What kind of changes do you want to see?” Draco asked.

“Well, I want all muggleborn students to be automatically enrolled in a Wizard Culture class!” Hermione’s voice had risen sharply and Harry could tell that she’d gotten started . “There should be some Ministry program to introduce them to the magical world before they turn eleven, but that’s a project for another time. Focusing on a Hogwarts class is the most feasible for now.

“Also, doesn’t it bother you that all the other houses hate Slytherin so much? I mean, sure, most of the Death Eaters were from Slytherin, but not all of them. Besides, it’s a totally new generation. Slytherins shouldn’t be punished for the decisions their parents made. It’s not fair that when we win a quidditch match, three-quarters of the school is booing us. More than that, even. Ours is the smallest house because people are literally afraid of being sorted Slytherin.

“What we need is something to create house unity. Teambuilding exercises of some kind. We can at least start off with an inter-house lounge. That’s easy to put together. In fact, I’ll create one myself if need be! McGonagall be damned!”

Hermione was swearing. That meant she was getting really worked up. It was time to intervene before she barreled her way into plans for world domination again.

“I think Hogwarts should have its own newspaper,” Harry interjected. “One about school matters and written by the students.”

“I think that would be perfect!” Draco jumped in. “Pansy would go absolutely mad over it as well. She’s such a gossip, she’s bound to know everything that goes on. We could invite people from all the houses. Then, there goes that house unity you wanted.”

“That’s actually brilliant!” Hermione agreed, thoroughly derailed. “With us in charge, we’d be able to control the narrative. We could decide what’s important, and what isn’t. Hm.” Hermione put a finger on her chin as she began contemplating the usefulness of having the only inner school news source.

The trio had spent hours after that discussing who they wanted to involve and who they didn’t. Deciding how to get the paper started and brainstorming names.

They’d gotten so caught up in planning their newspaper that it wasn’t until the next day that Hermione had met Sirius at all. Although, he may have just been hiding from her anyways. Harry could never be sure. When she did finally meet him, it was more of an accident than intentional.

She’d gotten up early in the morning, and the boys were still asleep. So, she decided to explore the mildly creepy townhouse while it was empty.

She’d been contemplating a door in the hallway that merely opened up to another door with the handle on the opposite side. The second door was locked, but there was a dim light coming through the cracks around it. As far as Hermione could tell, there was nothing on the other side of that wall, so she was rather stumped.

She decided to just give up and ask Aunt Wally about it later, so she turned around to head down the stairs. At the same time, Sirius had just rounded the corner to come up the stairs and they bumped into each other.

“Excuse me!” she gasped. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you there.”

“That’s alright,” Sirius explained. “I’m afraid I hadn’t seen you either.”

Hermione was still blocking the way, but she barely realized as she stared openmouthed at the handsome man before her.

“You’re Sirius Black!” she blurted.

She recognized him from his Azkaban file, though he hardly looked like the same person. The man in that file looked either deranged or completely catatonic, depending on the date. He was filthy as they come and more than half-starved. The man in front of her was healthy and clean-cut, with bright—though expressionless—silver eyes, and full of life. She wouldn’t go so far as to call it vitality, but there was color in his face where before was only pallor.

He was absolutely gorgeous.

“I am,” Sirius agreed quietly. “And you must be Hermione Granger. I’ve heard very much about you.”

“Oh, have you?” Hermione blushed.

“Indeed.” Sirius nodded with a barely-there smile. “According to those boys, you’re an absolute genius.”

“Oh,” she dismissed with a wave of her hand. “They say so, but they’re both brilliant as well. I think I just see things a little differently than they do, and they find it shocking from time to time.”

“Well, whatever it is, they certainly admire you.” Sirius glanced up the stairs behind her and she realized she was still standing in his path.

“Oh!” she jumped to step out of the way. “Um, you have a good morning.”

Sirius gave her a polite smile, that was more like the twitching of either side of his mouth. “You too,” he called as he breezed past her, then continued up the stairs.

Later that morning, Hermione burst into Draco’s room while he was chatting with a sleep rumpled Harry, then proceeded to beat the blonde boy with a pillow, shouting, “You did not tell me that Sirius Black was fit!”

“I didn’t think you would care!” Draco laughed back, blocking her swings with another pillow.

“I don’t!” she huffed. “But at least if I’d known, I wouldn’t have stood there in the hall gaping at him in disbelief like an utter loon!”

Harry cackled at her but soon regretted it as she turned her wrath on him. In moments, they devolved into a massive pillow fight. As expected, Hermione completely demolished both of them. She had them help pick feathers out of her hair as punishment.

The next time Hermione had visited was well into July, and she came to stay at the Manor. She and Harry slept in the same rooms as last summer, and they spent the entire morning taking turns with the Nimbus’ and flying over the grounds.

By lunchtime, the trio had put the brooms away and were sitting around one of the tables near the field that served as the quidditch pitch, discussing the events at the end of the school year.

“I just hate that out of all the spells we sent his way, not a single one of them hit Fred,” Draco grumbled. “What were we doing wrong?”

“Nothing, probably.”

Draco screeched at the sudden voice and nearly toppled out of his chair.

“Where did you come from?” Harry asked Sirius, trying not to laugh at Draco’s dramatics. He helped pull him back upright, and brushed invisible dust from his robes.

“I got bored at Grimmauld Place. I kind of hate it there,” Sirius admitted. “I figured, if nothing else, the open air of the grounds would be a nice change.” He gestured to the sky and the lack of walls around him.

“What do you mean we probably did nothing wrong?” Hermione asked. “If that was the case, why is it that we missed every shot?”

“You’re first years,” Sirius scoffed. “You can’t expect to be master spellcasters already. You’re just beginning to learn magic. I’m sure all you need is practice.”

“But we do practice!” Draco argued. “We practice all the time, and most of the spells we used that day were ones we’d done flawlessly in the past.”

“Then, it’s probably just your aim.” Sirius shrugged. “Being able to see and envision your target is usually enough to get the job done in a classroom setting, but when things are moving quickly and your mind isn’t calm enough for absolute focus, aiming your wand perfectly can be a huge advantage. It’s something you pick up over time. As I said, you just need practice.”

Harry got an idea. “Can you teach us?” he asked.

“You want me to help you with target practice?” Sirius quirked an eyebrow in disbelief.

“Yes!” Harry nodded vigorously.

 “That’s actually a great idea!” Hermione agreed.

“Honestly,” Draco added, “anything helps. We were darn near embarrassing that day.”

Sirius squinted his eyes pensively for a moment, then shrugged again. “I suppose.” He gave a half-smirk as he thought of something funny, then turned back the way he came. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

The trio watched him walk away curiously. When he returned a little bit later, he was carrying a heavy box. Silently, he waved an intricate pattern in the air with his wand, flicking it ten times at the end to conjure ten different columns of varying height, each about a foot apart. He then reached into the box and one by one added a vase to each of the pedestals. He tapped each one on the side, making a glossy black bullseye appear.

Something about the vases looked familiar. Harry wasn’t exactly sure why until Draco spoke up, though.

“Are those-” the blonde started, seeming unsure himself.

“Yup,” Sirius replied bluntly. One side of his mouth quirked up in a definitely evil smirk as he said it.

“No!” Draco argued, indignant. “Those are priceless Malfoy heirlooms!”

“Why yes, I know.” The mischievous glint in Sirius’ eyes was unmistakable.

That was where Harry had recognized them. He’d seen them in his periphery countless times while walking the halls of Malfoy manor. He thought one of them might have had a bouquet of peacock skulls inside it at one point.

“We are not destroying those!” Draco stomped his foot dramatically, putting his hands on his hips.

“That’s fine,” Sirius sighed, bored. “We don’t have to do target practice.” He turned back around to begin putting the vases back in the box, but Hermione stopped him.

“Wait! We’ll do it, just fine!” She pleaded. He raised an eyebrow at her, and she gestured eagerly for him to put the vase in his hand back on the pedestal.

Draco gasped in disbelief.

“It’s not like we can’t just fix them,” Harry tried to reason. “A simple reparo should do the trick.” Draco huffed in frustration but gave up.

“Fine,” he agreed begrudgingly. “But my father’s going to be hearing about this.”

“I’m sure he’ll find out on his own,” Sirius assured him, tiny malicious smile on his face. “Alright,” he began. “Each of these vases is charmed so that they will only react if hit directly on the center of the bullseye.” He pointed at the nearest one with the tip of his wand for emphasis. “Hit it here, and it will burst into pieces. Hit it anywhere else, and you’ll get nothing. Use the incantation: ‘Conlidam.’ Repeat it to me.” 

“Conleedam,” the trio chanted in unison. 

“Very close. Try it with a short ‘I’ sound. Con-lih-dam,” he sounded it out.

“Conlidam!” they tried it again.

“Perfect. Now, stand about there.” Sirius pointed with his wand, directing them to a position directly in the middle of the line of vases, and about 5 meters back. “Alright Harry, you first. Wand up.”

Harry did as he was told raising his wand in the air.

“Start from the left and work your way across, hitting each one once. If you miss, just keep going. A flick is all you need. Go ahead.”

Harry nodded, determined to do well at this. He brought all of his focus onto the first vase, directing his magic toward it. “Conlidam!”

He definitely hit the vase, but he missed the bullseye, causing it to only rock back and forth for a second.

“Very good,” Sirius praised, smiling at him proudly.

“But I missed,” Harry complained.

“Not really,” Sirius disagreed. “You definitely hit it. Just not the bullseye. Go on, try the next one.”

Harry took a deep breath, then tried again, focusing on the next one. “Conlidam!”

After three rounds of attempting to shatter the vases, neither Draco nor Harry had managed to get a single one. It was quite disheartening. Hermione, however, had managed to break a total of 5 out of all three rounds. Harry could tell that she was caught between wanting to gloat at her success and being disappointed that five out of thirty was still an abysmal score.

She was instantly distracted from the thought when Lucius literally climbed through a window, shouting at Sirius. It was a ceiling to floor window with only about a half a meter or so between the windowsill and the plush carpeting beneath. So, it was more of a step than a climb, but Harry honestly didn’t even know that the windows in that hall opened.

“What do you think you are doing!?” Lucius was absolutely furious. He stomped over to Sirius with his hand gripped tightly around the middle of his cane, leaving the snake-headed handle open.

Harry could feel a chill go down his spine at the man’s rage. Even Draco had gone stock still in apprehension. Sirius, on the other hand, burst into laughter.

He threw his head back, barking at the sky. It was the biggest Harry had seen him smile in days, possibly weeks, and almost certainly the most mirth Harry had ever seen coming from the man. The tension melted from his frame and he couldn’t help a bemused grin himself.

“Just a bit of target practice,” Sirius managed to squeeze out between chortles, voice higher than normal from the strain of holding his laughter in.

“With my priceless family heirlooms?” Lucius screeched, fair skin flushed with anger. He didn’t even wait for an answer before swinging his cane at Sirius’ head. The Gryffindor dodged it easily, raising his hands up in placation, but still sniggering.

“’Priceless family heirlooms,’” he mused in a teasing voice, “’worthless ugly vases.’ To-may-to. To-mah-to.”

Beside Harry, Hermione slapped a hand over her mouth to hold in her own chuckles while Lucius swung his cane again.

“Alright, alright!” Sirius tried to soothe him but was still smiling. The cane had come much closer to actually getting him this time. “Calm down, Lucy! Your bloody vases will be fine.”

Lucius stepped very close to Sirius, getting right into his face. “I ought to curse you where you stand,” he threatened through grit teeth.

Sirius was still smiling. “Oh, but my mother would be so upset with you. You’d hate to disappoint dear Aunt Wally, wouldn’t you?”

Lucius just glared at him for a second longer before shouting, “Go inside !” He turned to face the children. “The rest of you too!” He pointed toward the house and the trio immediately started moving.

“Should we go through the window as well?” Sirius asked, voice wobbling and slightly too high as he fought to keep from starting up again.

“Use the door!” Lucius hissed back at him.

Sirius took a deep breath and let out a sigh as he turned away. “Oh, Lucy.” He was still grinning. “You never fail to entertain me.”

As all five of them headed inside, they somehow found themselves on the top floor in the library. The children spread about, finding books to occupy them, while the two adults went off in the other direction.

Draco immediately found himself a potions book to settle down with. Harry got his hands on a spellcrafting book, and Hermione pulled a huge book on Pureblood etiquette down from one of the top shelves. They settled around a group of chairs with a low table between them near the middle of the room and were quickly engrossed in what was becoming one of each of their favorite subjects. Well, pureblood etiquette wasn’t necessarily a favorite subject of Hermione’s, it just happened to be an interest of hers that she wouldn’t get the chance to study anywhere else.

Occasionally, one of them would point out an interesting fact they’d come across and the three of them would take a moment to discuss it. Otherwise, they were perfectly content to read in silence. That was something Harry enjoyed about his tiny group of friends.

He didn’t do well in primary school because due to the Dursleys interference, most of his teachers had wound up disliking him before they’d even met him, treating him like a problem case despite the fact that he loved to learn. He also had no friends, and no one at home to encourage him. When left to his own devices, it was hard to find the motivation to actually enjoy his education. Having the Dursleys actively sabotaging him made it even worse.

Now, having friends around him that also loved to learn, cultivated an environment that drove him to always do his best in classes and to seek out more knowledge with a voracious curiosity. If his friends hadn’t been such avid learners, and eager students, he didn’t think he would have ever been either.

Instead, he would have found schoolwork tedious and done everything he could to avoid it, as many students often do. Harry couldn’t imagine all of the things he would have missed out on discovering had he fallen into that trap.

That was why he loved his friends so much. They pushed him into being his best. They fostered growth within each other and they all genuinely enjoyed it. Even when that meant just spending hours together, reading and studying silently.

Today, that silence only lasted until they heard the two older men bickering again, though much more calmly this time.

“I’ve never seen anyone talk to my father the way Sirius does,” Draco mused aloud.

Across the library, they were arguing in hushed tones about something to do with a party Sirius didn’t want to go to. If he peeked through the shelves at just the right angle, Harry could see them both.

Earlier antics aside, the only time Sirius ever seemed to show any real emotion was when he was reminiscing about the past, or if he was furious about something. Currently, he was more mildly annoyed than furious, so—though his tone was petulant—his face expressed nothing more than the typical boredom.

Lucius, however, was very clearly angry. He also wasn’t the type to express much emotion either, maintaining the aloof condescension of most upper-class individuals. Draco was the same when he was in public. It was a part of their upbringing to remain so reserved and closed off around people outside their inner circle.

So, Lucius being visibly angry at all was a testament to exactly how good Sirius was at getting on his nerves. That had been a common theme all summer long. Lucius flipped his hair over his shoulder impatiently, then crossed his arms while tapping a toe against the ground in agitation.

“It’s probably because he’s a Black,” Hermione reasoned without looking up from the giant tome balanced on her lap. “Historically, The Blacks have always been considered superior to the other magical families. Even the more well-respected ones, like The Malfoys. So, Sirius was likely never made to show any deference to him growing up like most of the other old purebloods. In fact, it’s almost certain that it had gone the other way. Without the natural inclination to be respectful, Sirius just treats him like he would anybody else.”

“It’s a bit unnerving to see,” Draco admitted. Most people showed the utmost respect for the Malfoys, bowing their heads and quibbling with appeasements. It was completely unthinkable to him to see someone treating his father like an equal, or worse, like a lesser.

“I don’t think it’s that complicated,” Harry added, smiling as he watched Lucius roll his eyes in a very uncouth manner then scoff as he dropped his hands to his hips. “I mean, I’m sure that factors into it somewhere but… I think Sirius just doesn’t like him.”

“Why not?” Draco whipped his head around to glare at Harry, indignant at the thought of his father as unlikeable.

“I don’t know,” Harry admitted, raising his arms in surrender. “I do know there’s a lot of history there. It could be anything.”

“Hmmm,” Hermione pondered before chiming in again. “It probably has to do with the War, then.” She finally looked up from her book. “They were on opposite sides, weren’t they?”

“But that’s not my father’s fault! He was imperiused! Before that, he remained neutral because he wanted to stay in favor of the Blacks, so he could marry my mother. The Blacks always remained neutral. With only a few notable exceptions.”

“Perhaps, he was neutral,” Hermione replied, “but you have to admit his line of thinking was certainly the same as V-Voldemort’s.” Hermione was still trying to get used to saying the name. “Sirius was on the side fighting against that. It still makes perfect sense that he would just plain not like your father.”

Draco couldn’t argue with that, but that didn’t mean he would admit it. Instead, he just crossed his arms and pouted in defeat.

Draco didn’t like to think of his father as being less than perfect. His father was his idol. The person he always aspired to be. It was hard to swallow the idea that he’d been wrong in the beliefs he raised Draco to follow.

Even though the proof of it was sitting on Draco’s wrist as a constant reminder.

“Oh, just do as you will, Black!” Lucius shouted, throwing his arms over his head in defeat before spinning on his heel. He stormed through the shelves of books and out of the library, shouting, “You always do anyways!” as he went. He exited the room with a dramatic flourish of his cloak. One he must have picked up from a certain grumpy potions master.

Or perhaps it was the other way around.

The more time Harry spent around the elder Malfoy, the less and less intimidated he was becoming by him. Having Sirius nearby and not being intimidated at all, certainly helped. As he got to know Lucius more and became familiar with his behaviors when his guard was down, and the subtle nuances that made up his real personality as opposed to his public persona, Harry was beginning to realize that Lucius Malfoy was a bit of a drama queen.

Chapter Text

Harry flinched as the vase a few meters ahead of him exploded noisily in a cloud of lavender sparkles.

“Good job, Draco,” Sirius praised. “That makes three out of ten. An improvement from last week.”

“Of course, it is,” Draco scoffed. “It’s impossible to do worse than zero .”

“You’d be surprised…” Sirius trailed off. He flashed a smirk for half of a second—as if recalling a funny memory—then returned to his usual blank, slightly bored expression.

He waved his wand to repair the three vases and return them to their homes on the conjured pedestals. “Alright,” he instructed Draco. “Try again.”

“It would appear that the Weasleys have finally come upon some luck,” Lucius drawled from behind Harry, tossing his copy of the Daily Prophet onto the coffee table before him.

“What do you mean?” Harry asked carefully, turning around to face the elder Malfoy. He had to shield his eyes from the warm summer sun beating down on his face over the outline of Malfoy Manor. From where Harry was standing, the canopy that protected the elder man’s fair skin didn’t cover his own.

“The Weasleys seem to have come into a bit of money,” Lucius explained to Harry from where he was draped leisurely over an outdoor sofa. Having accepted defeat in the argument for his vases (or anything else against Sirius, really. The man was more stubborn than his mother!) he decided to at least “supervise” to assure that nothing came to any serious harm. “Some relative abroad married rich then died recently,” he explained. “Left a large fortune to them, it seems.”

Harry frowned, knowing that likely wasn’t the truth. “How convenient,” he muttered.

“Yes,” Lucius hummed. “Apparently, nothing else is going on in the world right now because they’ve got a small article on the front page about their recent renovations. Apparently the cost has set some sort of new record. It’s even got a little picture above it.” He scoffed. “Honestly, I’m just surprised they would bother. They should have burned the little hovel to the ground and started anew.”

“I guess now that Dumbledore’s gone underground, the Prophet’ll be through slandering his name to the best of their abilities soon,” Harry mused.

Ever since Harry’s article went to print, Dumbledore’s face had been on every copy of the Daily Prophet with not a single positive word beneath it.

After the excitement of the restraining order, he was removed from the Wizengamot and deemed no longer fit to remain the Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards. After that, all sorts of horrible articles about his past began cropping up as part of a vicious smear campaign. There had even been ads for a book coming out soon with claims of him having ties to Grindelwald in his youth.

Harry had determinedly ignored every single article, but he still caught the occasional glimpse of a headline when someone else was reading it.

Even then, the headline was describing a decade’s worth of ignored complaints against him in his role on the Wizengamot.

“Not slander,” Lucius corrected with a smirk. “It's written, so that would be libel. Of course, that also implies that what they’ve said isn’t true.”

“Well, if the gist of it is that he’s a self-absorbed, senile busy body, and a meddling narcissist, then, it must be true.”

“I’d have to agree.” Lucius snapped his fingers twice and Dobby appeared a few feet away, carrying a large tray of spiked lemonade. He shuffled over to where his master was lounging and offered him a clear cup with a green design on it. Lucius took it lazily, then shooed the house-elf away. He scooted over toward Harry and offered him one as well. Harry went to reach for a glass that looked the same as Lucius’ but Dobby shook his head vigorously, so he grabbed one with a yellow design on it instead. Dobby let him have that one with no arguments.

“At any rate,” Lucius continued, “at least now the Weasleys have the opportunity to start behaving like a real Ancient Family, instead of like grubby little peasants, the way they have been. Honestly, I never did understand how someone from such an upstanding family as the Prewetts would want to marry so far beneath them, the way that Molly did.” He shook his head in disappointment.

“Love knows no bounds,” quoted Sirius, having tuned in to the tail end of their conversation. “Molly never did like me,” he added as an afterthought, scoffing at the memory.

Lucius chuckled. “Well, of course not. Not after what you did to her brother.”

Sirius rolled his eyes. “I told you,” he huffed at the other man, “that was not my fault. Besides, she never would have found out about it if someone could just keep their pointy little nose in their own business.” Sirius glared at Lucius, clearly indicating exactly who someone was.

“What did you do to her brother?” Draco asked, abandoning his efforts to break the vases.

“Yes, Black,” Lucius taunted, taking a sip of his drink. “What did you do to her brother?”

“It doesn’t matter!” Sirius waved a hand through the air as if to brush the discussion away entirely. His face began to turn splotchy and red. If Harry hadn’t known the man to be so somber and aloof, he might have thought he was embarrassed.

Lucius laughed at him.

“Alright, Harry,” Sirius changed the subject. “Your turn.” Harry handed Dobby his cup back and rushed to take Draco’s place before the pedestals.

With Sirius’ guidance and what Harry was certain had to be no small amount of good luck, Harry and Draco had managed to break 5 out of the 10 vases each before supper time. At least now they’d managed to catch up to Hermione.

“Honestly, it must be impossible!” Draco complained as they began to clean up. “Nobody can be that good at aiming a wand.”

“Of course, they can,” Lucius disagreed. “All it takes is practice and determination. Having perfect accuracy with a wand can be the difference between life and death in a duel.”

As if to prove his point, Lucius rose from his seat. He pulled his wand from its secret compartment within his cane and waved it in a broad sweeping motion. One by one, right after the other with no pause in between, he struck all 10 vases, making them explode.

With the way they’d all been charmed, there was no doubting that Lucius hit them with expert precision.

“Whoa!” Draco was so impressed by his father’s skill that his eyes nearly bulged out of his head as he gasped deeply. He darted his gaze over to his father in excitement, smiling widely and bouncing on his toes for a second. “That was wicked! How’d you learn to do that?”

“Like I said, Draco. Practice and determination.” Lucius preened under his son’s praise.

Harry was rather impressed as well, but he didn’t have a “daddy complex” like certain other Slytherins, so his admiration was much quieter.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sirius wave his wand to restore the vases to their spots on the pedestals when he thought of something.

“Hey Sirius,” he asked. “Can you hit all the targets perfectly?”

“I’m sure he could at one point,” Lucius answered for him. “But after all those years in Azkaban, I imagine he’s a bit rusty.”

Sirius arched a challenging brow at Lucius, then turned to look at each vase individually. After a moment of calculation, he lifted his wand, flicking it once. A purple spark shot from the tip, splitting into 10 and striking each vase at the same time, causing 10 simultaneous explosions.

Harry and Draco whooped in surprise. “Now that is impressive!” Harry cheered.

“Indeed,” Lucius admitted begrudgingly. “Dobby! Drilby!” he snapped. The 2 elves in question appeared before him with a pair of loud cracks. “Clean up the rest of this mess, and make sure those vases return to their proper homes in pristine condition.”

“Yes, Master!” both elves said in unison. They scurried past him, Drilby moving a little quicker than Dobby. Lucius swung the bottom of his cane to give Dobby an impatient thwack on the behind as he passed by, urging him to hurry up.

When Lucius’ back was turned, Sirius reached over to give Dobby an affectionate rub on the head. The house elf flinched at first but then smiled up at him gratefully. Sirius waved his wand, setting the vases to rights again to make the elves’ job a little easier.

After supper, the boys were reading books in the Malfoy library. It was far safer than the one in Grimmauld Place, with only a single forbidden shelf of cursed books. So, they were allowed free reign to explore by themselves. Harry was elbow deep in a book on basic spellcrafting while a few feet away Draco made slightly awed faces at a book on advanced potionmaking. Sitting in a winged chair near the empty fireplace, Sirius was absently flipping through a book on werewolves, mind clearly elsewhere. 

As Harry tried for the third time to follow an arithmancy equation that was a little too advanced for him to fully understand, there was a sudden thump on the roof. The library was on the top floor, so that meant something hit the outside of the building. He frowned at the distraction, then tried to refocus on his book. A second later, there was another thump, this one further in front of him. Almost immediately, there was another. 

“Merlin’s beard,” Draco complained. “What is that?”

There was another thump, this time above Sirius’ head. He blinked into focus, then glanced upward, brows drawn in confusion. There was another one, this time in the chimney, causing ash to fall down. It made a small cloud drift out and coat that area of the floor in a thin layer of dust.

“Bloody hell?” Sirius grumbled quietly. He stood up, pulling his wand out of his sleeve and approaching the hearth to investigate. Just as he leaned down to peer inside, a large gray owl fell flat into the grate with a heavy plop and an explosion of soot.

Sirius jumped back, spluttering and coughing as it got in his mouth and nose.

The owl flipped upright quickly, then hopped rather than flew to Draco at the table, leaving a trail of soot in its wake. It landed beside him with about as much grace as it's landing in the fireplace. With both feet in the air, it wiggled one with purpose, indicating to the confused blonde that he should take the letter tied there. Draco did so, face contorted in disgust, and the bird immediately flipped upright again, taking off toward the nearest window.

Both Harry and Draco winced in anticipation for it to crash into the closed window, flinching on impact anyways. The window—now also smudged with soot—did not actually open at all. None of them did. They were merely there to let light in. 

Harry took mercy on the poor despicable thing and gathered him up from his spot on the floor. He carried him past a frowning—and glaring—Sirius, then deposited him into the grate. From there, he flew upwards making a noisy ascent back to the roof. With one last thump on the roof, he took off again.

“Are you alright?” Harry asked, turning to Sirius with a barely suppressed grin. Sirius answered his question by finding a clean spot on his sleeve, then licking it, leaving a black smudge on the formerly white patch of fabric.

Harry snorted, failing to hold back a huff of laughter. “Sorry,” he chuckled. He pulled his wand from his inner chest pocket and cast scourgify to clean up the mess from the owl. Behind him, Sirius did the same, making sure to get inside his mouth. He smacked his mouth a few times at the dry feeling it left behind.

“You know,” he observed. “I might have actually found him funny if my mouth didn't taste like I'd been licking an ashtray.” He huffed in exasperation. “I need water,” he complained before leaving. “Whoever that is, tell them they need a new owl,” he called through the shelves.

At the table, Draco was already reading the letter he'd received. “It's from Weasley,” he explained. “George, to be exact.”

Harry rushed to his side. “What's it say?” He leaned over Draco’s shoulder to read it too. 

‘Malfoy and Potter,

‘I know it's been long, I'm not trying to hear your mouths about it. But I’ve finally convinced Fred to give it up. We're going to Diagon Alley to get our school things on July 30th. We'll be at Fortescue's at 11.

‘See you there, 

‘G. Weasley

‘P.S. Ron says you're still snakes.’

Draco scoffed at the final comment. “Bloody Ron,” he mumbled.

“At least he was smart enough to be discreet,” Harry observed. “He didn't outright state what he was talking about, in case the letter was intercepted.”

“Of course not,” Draco huffed. “This is George we're talking about. He's the smart one. Not like that idiot Fred.”

Harry didn't say anything, he just chuckled quietly. Draco turned red in the face and swatted him away.

“Shut up!”

Chapter Text

Hermione came back to visit the manor for a week on the 29th. Just in time for Harry’s birthday and their Diagon Alley trip.

It had taken very little convincing to get Lucius to agree to take them there on the 30th. There had been something going on at the ministry that somehow meant he needed to drop some things off in Knockturn Alley, so he figured he could just take them with him.

Aunt Wally had decided that she wanted to go run an errand in Vertic Alley that morning as well, even though she rarely left the house these days. However, she absolutely refused to step foot in Knockturn Alley, calling it a “cesspool of the worst of society.” So instead, she left separately and offered to meet them in Diagon Alley a little later. 

That morning Harry and Hermione followed Draco into his father's office. The anticipation for the day's events already building in their stomachs. After more than a month of absolutely no updates, they were finally getting the Philosopher's Stone back.

They spread out before Lucius’ desk, waiting for his return. On the desk, was a large box folded shut. It must have been full of the wares that he planned to sell to Borgin. Harry and Hermione waited patiently for the man to return, Harry fiddling with the strap of his favorite bag for a moment. Draco, however,  was distracted by the box.

He stared at it as if hypnotized, eyes fixated and unblinking. Slowly, he began leaning forward, closer to the box.

“Draco?” Hermione asked, curious about his behavior. “What are you doing?”

“There's something in there,” he replied breathily, voice just above a whisper.

“Well, yeah…” Harry agreed, tone implying it was obvious.

“No,” he shook his head. “I mean, there's something really powerful in there. It's really strong dark magic.” He reached his hand toward the lid. “I wonder what it is.”

A small, silver snake smacked Draco’s hand out of the way.

“Don't. Touch.” Lucius ordered, face dark with seriousness. He appeared from the shadows behind a bookcase, arm and cane fully extended to reach Draco over five feet away.

Draco swung his hand at the wrist a few times, as if to shake off the stinging pain.

Lucius continued glaring at his son for a moment as he walked to the desk. “We have one stop to make at Borgin and Burke’s,” he explained to the children, “then we can continue on with our regular shopping.” He pulled the snake head from his cane to remove his wand and waved it silently to shrink the box. He returned his cane to one piece, then put the box into his inner chest pocket. “I expect you’ll be able to navigate Diagon Alley yourselves?”

The trio nodded eagerly. Happy to accept the chance for independence. It would be in their favor anyway if they didn’t have to work too sneakily to retrieve the Philosopher’s Stone.

“Good.” Lucius approached the empty fireplace a few feet from his desk, gesturing the children over. He reached into a crystal jar on the mantle and grabbed a small handful of sparkling green floo powder from it. He pointed to his mouth, indicating that the children listen carefully. “Knock. Turn. Alley.” He made sure to enunciate each syllable clearly before throwing the dust into the fireplace and causing bright green flames to appear. With a pointed look at all three children, he stepped into them, and they shot up to engulf him before vanishing entirely.

Hermione went next, taking the floo powder into the hearth with her. She called out her destination first, before dropping the powder and being swallowed by flames herself.

Harry went next, enunciating the words clearly, just as Lucius had, before stepping into the flames. He hated the feeling of traveling by floo. It was becoming familiar after all the times he’d done it throughout the summer, travelling between Grimmauld Place and Malfoy Manor. But he still hated the dizzying sensation it left him with.

When he finally stopped spinning, he found himself in a small brick fire pit outdoors. Knockturn Alley was quite narrow, resembling an actual alley far more than Diagon Alley had. The tall buildings on either side seemed to almost close in on each other at the top, blocking enough light that the entire place was in shadow. But he could see that there was definitely a bit of sky peeking out between them.

When they were all reunited again, Lucius led Draco, Hermione, and Harry in a single file line down the seedy looking street. It wasn’t busy at all, with only a few people milling about or loitering between buildings. The road was dusty and unkempt, the cobblestones making it up cracked and often missing. As the trio was led to Borgin & Burke’s, each shop front they passed looked even shadier than the last. The entire alley was covered in dirt and grime, and even the few shop windows Harry had spotted were too dirty to really see through.

Finally, they reached their destination and entered a shop that was just as dusty as the roads outside. It was filled nearly to the brim with displays of all sorts of items. They ranged from an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus to a very ordinary looking cupboard.

Lucius went straight for the counter, ringing the bell while the children split up to observe the different items they found.

Draco was just peeling back the lid to the sarcophagus when Lucius absently warned, “Touch nothing.”

Draco removed his hand innocently, folding them behind his back as he went to examine a withered hand on a cushion.

Harry gazed at a necklace of opals that had been labeled as cursed. According to the card in front of it, it had claimed the lives of nineteen muggles.

In the far corner of the room, Hermione was—to no surprise—skimming the titles of a shelf of tattered books.

“Hello, Mr. Malfoy,” a voice called, approaching the desk. “Always a pleasure to see you.” The man brushed his greasy hair out of his face with a red Trinket clad hand. Harry vaguely recalled having seen him at the Malfoys’ dinner party last summer. “Ah, and young Mr. Malfoy and his friends, as well? Charmed. Can I interest you in the Hand of Glory, there?” He stepped out from behind the counter and went straight to Draco’s side. “Stick a candle in its palm and it’ll cast a light for none but the holder. It’s a favorite of plunderers and thieves. You’ve got good taste-”

“I’d like to hope Draco would amount to more than thieving or plundering, Borgin” Lucius replied coldly.

Borgin seemed to freeze in place for a fraction of a second before spinning around. “Of course, of course!” he rushed, hands raised to chest level in an appeasing gesture. “I didn’t mean to offend, sir.”

“Though,” Lucius added loftily. “If he doesn’t improve his grades, he just might not.” To Borgin, Lucius undoubtedly sounded cold and distant about his son. But Harry and Draco could tell that he was actually being sarcastic. Spending such extensive time in his company was making him easier to read, even in his public persona. “Tied for second in his class. Tut, tut, Draco.”

“It’s not my fault,” Draco argued. “Blame her.” He jerked his head in Hermione’s direction. Hermione turned her head to flash Draco a taunting smile, before turning back to the books she was looking at. “The teachers play favorites with her.”

Harry scoffed. He knew full well that the only one of them who got played favorites with was Draco himself by Professor Snape.

“Perhaps she’s just more cunning than you,” Lucius replied. “You’d do well to take notes. Now, if we were to get down to business…”

“Yes, of course!” Borgin scurried back behind his counter. “Just in today, and for a very reasonable price-”

“Not buying today,” Lucius interrupted the man trying to talk up his product. “Selling.” Borgin seemed disappointed. “I’m sure you’ve heard of the raids the Ministry is conducting. What with that flea-bitten fool Arthur Weasley at the head, I’m certain I’ll be receiving a visit soon. I’d hate for the buffoon to find anything… embarrassing when he comes to call.”

“The Ministry? Giving you trouble?” Borgin asked, somewhat shocked. “Surely not?”

“Not yet,” Lucius sneered. “My name still commands a certain amount of respect. But Weasley has always had it out for me. So, it’s only a matter of time. Now that he’s got a bit of change in his pocket, I imagine he’s feeling all high and mighty.”

“Ah.” Borgin nodded in disappointment. “Have you heard the rumors about the new muggle protection act?” Here, Borgin scoffed. “I’ll bet that Weasley’s behind that too. Pure blood’s meaning less and less these days.”

“Perhaps to some,” Lucius agreed. “Though, not all. The focus has merely shifted from bloodlines to magical strength. But the two things are still directly related. For the Ancient Families, at least.”

“Yes, but of course.” Borgin dipped his head low in a bow.

“Now,” Lucius reached into his inner robes pocket and removed the shrunken box from earlier. He unshrank it with a wave of his wand and began spreading its contents over the counter. “I’m certain these shall fetch a fair price.”

The grimace on Borgin’s face seemed to indicate that he was certain he was actually about to get swindled, but he withheld any complaints.

While the older men haggled, and Draco watched on in interest, Harry turned to join Hermione at the bookshelf.

“All these books are filled with the Dark Arts,” she mumbled to him as he approached. “Although, some of them are completely innocuous muggle books that have been cursed. Look, this one’s just a newspaper.” She pointed to a battered and faded copy of The Times dated nearly thirty years ago. It was sitting on a shelf alone and beneath it was a notecard claiming that any who reads it shall have their hands burned with the heat of dozen hell-fires.

At the end of the bookshelf was a low table bearing a glass case. Inside the case was an old blazer, a hand mirror with a cover, and a leather-bound book. All of it was caked in a heavy layer of dust. The dust was so thick that Harry could barely even make out the title of the book. He thought it might say “Secrets of the Darkest Arts.” Or it might have said “Seven of the Deadliest Sins.” He couldn’t be sure.

At the counter, Lucius’ box tipped over, sending its remaining contents to the floor with a sudden crash.

“You idiot!” Lucius shouted. “That box is full of volatile poisons! This whole building could be blown to bits if the vials break and the wrong ones mix!”

“I’m so sorry, sir!” Borgin begged as he bent down to clear the mess. “Very sorry! Nothing appears damaged! I think we’ll be alright, sir. My apologies!”

Lucius huffed impatiently, glaring not just daggers but full-sized swords at the shopkeeper.

The man withered under his gaze, lifting the box and lugging it into the back room. He came back a few moments later with a large coin purse and began counting out the money he owed.

Harry turned his attention back to the dusty glass case. In the bottom right corner, he spotted a plaque that was just as dirty as the items inside. He brushed a finger over it, uncovering the note written upon it.

“Poisonous Jacket. Cursed Mirror. Extremely Rare and Forbidden Book.”

“How can a jacket be poisonous?” he mused aloud.

“Now, let’s talk about taste!” Borgin complimented, approaching Harry. He appeared to have finished with Lucius. “What you’re looking at here, Mr. Potter, is easily the most valuable set in the entire store. Many have coveted a piece of this small collection. However, I must warn you, Mr. Burke has always been adamant that all three pieces be sold together. They were the last items acquired by Tom Riddle—the late Mr. Burke’s favorite curator—before his sudden disappearance. Junior would have my head if I split them up against his father’s wishes.

“Each piece comes with its own unique history, but all interwoven together to tell quite the daring tale. It’s a great conversation starter. It would be a brilliant addition, or even beginning, to a collector’s repertoire. It is quite pricey, but I guarantee it will be worth your while.”

“I don’t really think-” Harry tried to politely reject Mr. Borgin’s persuading, but the eager man interrupted him.

“Perhaps you might even like to give it as a gift. I know Lady Black has a penchant for dark items. I’m sure she would adore the addition of this set to her already vast collection. You’re not likely to find anything so valuable that she hasn’t already got.”

Harry knew the man was talking about Aunt Wally, but he’d never heard anyone refer to her as that before. Regardless, he still wasn’t interested.

“Or maybe,” Borgin continued, smiling cruelly, “you would rather send them as a gift to an enemy?”

Behind Harry, Hermione scoffed.

“I’m really not interested,” Harry insisted. “But, thank you.”

“Are you-”

“I really don’t want to repeat myself,” Harry interrupted the man, gently. He was channeling his inner “Black” by being rude without being rude, the way he’d observed from the adults around him on numerous occasions. “In fact, we ought to be leaving now,” he continued. “We’ve got things we actually need that we have to go buy. I think Mr. Malfoy would agree it’s best we return to proper society now that this more unsavory business is finished with.”

Harry flashed Borgin his most pleasant smile while the man stood dumbfounded, staring back at him.

“I would certainly have to agree,” Lucius replied, smirking widely. “Come, children.” He beckoned the second years out of the shop as he left. “Draco.” He called again, seeing that the boy was still standing near the counter, picking something up that he’d dropped. Walking quickly, he followed the rest of them out the door.

Lucius continued smirking as they made their way back toward Gringott’s and Diagon Alley. “Very nice, what you did in there, Harry,” he complimented. “Like a true Black. Walburga would be proud.”

Harry didn’t think what he did was anything to be proud of, but he thanked the man anyways. Really, he’d just lost his patience with Borgin’s pestering, and yapping on and on. If he was honest, he was a little surprised with himself at how easy it was for him to slip into that place of superiority. To speak the upper-class dialect of subtle insults and backhanded compliments beneath polite smiles. It was a language he would have balked at only a year ago, but that he now spoke fluently. He supposed it was a side effect of cohabitating with the Wizarding Elite. Was Harry changing?

Of course not. That was silly. He would always be himself.

They left Knockturn Alley in perfect time. The trio parted ways with Lucius outside of Gringotts as he went to deposit the money he got off of Mr. Borgin, then they went to meet up with the twins at Florian Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. They took a seat on the patio, off to the side so they were somewhat secluded from the rest of the customers. They only had to wait a few minutes before they were joined by George, alone.

“Where’s your brother?” Hermione asked, not bothering with niceties. They were there for business.

“He didn’t want to come,” George replied, sitting across from them. “I wasn’t going to argue. I just want to get this over with.” He reached into his robes and produced a small parcel, sliding it across the table and into Draco’s hands.

The blonde boy inhaled sharply.

“It’s in there, alright,” He whispered. He didn’t even have to open the box. He could feel the magic radiating from the Stone. He peeked it open just in case and, sure enough, there it was.

“Just like I promised,” George told them. “Now, whatever becomes of it is your own fault.”

“How’d you convince Fred to fork it over?” Harry asked.

“I didn’t, not really,” George admitted. “I’ve been trying to convince him all summer, but he didn’t finally agree to it until a week ago when he thought he lost it.”

“He lost it?” Draco gasped in outrage.

“He thought he lost it!” George repeated. “Turns out Ron’s stinking rat had just found it and was hiding it under his bed with a bunch of other junk. That was when he realized he might be in a bit over his head if You Know Who ever did try to come take it. He was outsmarted by a rat, so I guess he’s not as clever as he thought he was.”

Harry let out an exasperated sigh. “Whatever. It’s ours now. By this time tomorrow, it’ll be gone. So, none of that matters anymore.”

“I hope you enjoyed it while it lasted,” Hermione scoffed. “The death of a wealthy relative abroad? Likely story.”

George shrugged, ignoring the sarcasm. “If it works, it works. How else were we to explain the sudden influx of solid gold artifacts? Forging the documents to say that Fred and I had inherited it all was the most difficult. Luckily, the goblins are far more concerned with maintaining control over wizarding money than they are with abiding by wizarding laws. I doubt those papers fooled a single one of them. But several thousand pounds of gold surely seemed persuasive enough.”

Harry’s mouth fell open in disbelief. “Where on earth did you find enough things to weigh several thousand pounds?”

“Easy,” George brushed it off. “We just turned a few forks first, sold them, then used that money to buy a bunch of useless rubbish to turn as well. It wasn’t as much as you think, though. A solid gold fork weighs considerably more than a stainless steel one.”

“You boys are surprisingly enterprising,” Draco complimented. Hermione smacked him.

“Don’t praise them!” she scolded. “They committed a crime! After stealing from us first!”

“Fred stole it! Thank you very much,” George retorted. “I merely helped him come up with a cover story. Can’t have my own twin getting sent to Azkaban, can I? But he didn’t do it to be selfish.”

“That kind of sounds exactly like what you did,” Harry disagreed.

“We didn’t keep an ounce of that money. I didn’t even want it in the first place. I’m on your side in all of this- bleeegh!” George faked a gag. “Feels weird to say that to a bunch of Slytherins.” He pounded the top of his fist on his chest a few times as if to help clear his throat.

Draco rolled his eyes.

“But anyway,” George continued, “he gave every last knut to our parents. He didn’t want to make himself rich. He just knows how hard it’s been on them. Seven kids is a lot to care for, and a financial strain on anyone.”

“Well, it’s their own fault…” Draco muttered haughtily.

George ignored the interruption. “They’re great parents. Really, they are. And good people. They’ve worked so hard, he just wanted them to be able to have an easy time of it. And what, am I supposed to disagree with that?”

“How noble of him.” Hermione crossed her arms, not the least bit sympathetic. “Good intentions or not, he put everyone in danger by taking it. He knows very well who’s after it. If he’d gotten his hands on it, LITERALLY everyone would be in danger. Is it really worth that?”

“But nothing happened, and you have it back now, so don’t worry about it,” George argued. “And there’s no point lecturing me. I’m not the one who took it! Like I said, I’m on your- bluuuuuugh!” He faked a gag again, this time pretending to vomit. “Alright,” he complained. “I’ve got to go. If I say that one more time, I may just lose my lunch for real.”

He waved the Slytherins off before standing up and disappearing into the growing crowd at the ice cream parlor.

Draco handed Harry the box, and he reached into his bag. He filed it away under H, just in case the bag was compromised. No one would think to look for it under H. It wouldn’t stop anyone determined, but it may slow them down. He didn’t think anyone was onto them, but he could never be too careful.

“Now that business is over with,” Hermione rubbed her hands together eagerly, “time to get to shopping. Let’s head straight to Flourish and Blott’s.” Both Draco and Harry chuckled at her. Of course, she was ready to get her hands on some new books.

Chapter Text

Flourish and Blott’s was unusually packed with customers. There was a line going all the way out the door. Something must have been going on.

The trio squeezed their way through, pushing against the crowd to find their school books. When they finally managed it, they fought their way into the back of the store to try and find an extracurricular book Hermione was looking for.

To their surprise, the back was actually empty, save the man working the till. He was lazily skimming through the pages of a newspaper Harry had never heard of before. He thought it might have been called the Quibbler, but he wasn’t too sure because the man was reading it upside down. Peculiar.

“What are all of these people doing?” Draco asked the man. He set his paper down, grateful for the distraction, then began to ring up their books.

“Autograph signing,” the man scoffed. “Gilderoy Lockhart.” Clearly he wasn’t a fan.

“Gilderoy Lockhart?” Hermione exclaimed, rushing to the counter behind Harry with a giant purple tome. “I’ve read all of his books! He’s done so many incredible things!”

“Well, he’s got a new one coming out today,” the man informed them as he accepted the money from both Draco and Harry. “Better line up with the rest of them if you want a copy.”

Hermione squealed excitedly, paying for her books next and pushing back into the crowd.

The trio quickly got separated and were unable to call out to each other over the din. Harry thought he’d found an escape route through a gap in the line near the front. From there, he’d be able to walk between the bookshelves on the wall and the crowd, going around them instead of through them.

As he got closer to the front, he could see the man of the hour surrounded by photographers and books with his own face on them. He was posing with a redhaired woman clutching a signed copy of his book to her chest. She looked familiar. He thought it might have been the Weasley’s mother. He’d seen her for a brief moment last year on the train.

As Harry tried to apologize to the disgruntled ladies who thought he was trying to jump the queue, he suddenly heard a voice call out.

“My goodness! Could it be? Harry Potter?”

He tried fleeing faster as the cameras spun around and began flashing at him, but someone grabbed him by the arm and dragged him to the front. Lockhart.

“My my!” the man called, addressing the crowd. “You all are in for a treat today. You came here to see me . Who would have known you’d have a chance to see two celebrities.”

“I’m not a celebrity,” Harry disagreed, trying to walk away again, but Lockhart dragged him back.

“Not a celebrity? So modest!” He was talking loudly to make sure that everyone heard him. Harry found it obnoxious. “So, did you come here today to get a copy of my book?”

“No. I came to get my school books. Actually, I’m trying to leave, so if you’d just-” Harry tried to tug his arm away, but Lockhart pulled him back. 

“Nonsense! Not until we’ve gotten a few pictures together,” he insisted jovially.

“I really don’t want any pictures with you.”

Harry was starting to panic. The din of the crowd was making his head hurt. The flashing cameras were blinding him and creating spots in his vision that he had to squint through. And the pushy man beside him kept grabbing him and pulling him back. Each time, his grip was getting tighter and tighter until he just didn’t let go and Harry couldn’t help but be reminded of the strangling feeling of Quirrell’s hands around his neck.

“Please let me go!” He tried to make his voice sound commanding. The same way that Uncle Arty did when he politely suggested something, but everyone knew that they didn’t actually have a choice. Authoritative, Draco had called it once in admiration. It wasn’t very effective for Harry.

Suddenly, the crowd began to part and grow quiet. At first, Harry couldn’t tell why, but then he saw salvation as Aunt Wally waded through the mob. The air of grace and nobility was coming off of her so strongly that she wordlessly cleared a path. Not a single person dared jostle her or shout in her ear.

As she reached the very front, Harry reached a hand out to her and she took it. Lockhart finally let go as she pulled him beside her.

A moment of silence passed through the store as Lockhart and Aunt Wally stared at each other for a moment. Lockhart seemed confused, but Aunt Wally was more angry.

Finally, he spoke up, nervously trying to spin the interaction in his favor. “Ah, eager for my autograph, I see. I can’t encourage jumping the queue," he tutted, "but just this once-”

“I’ve never seen you before in my life,” Aunt Wally scowled at the blonde man, cutting him off.

“Oh, this poor woman must be confused,” Lockhart pandered to the crowd laughing awkwardly. “Surely, you’ve seen my face amongst the many books I’ve published.” He gestured to the same stack that he'd shown Harry. “Or perhaps you’ve just read my work without realizing it was me. Maybe you’ve just forgotten in your old age?”

“No.” She cocked an eyebrow at him impatiently, and Harry could tell she was close to losing her temper. “I know who you are, but I’ve honestly never seen you before.” She reached an arm out and—with surprising agility and strength—grabbed Gilderoy Lockhart by the left wrist. The crowd behind her gasped in surprise. “Which is why,” she continued, “I’m curious as to how you came across this.” Aunt Wally hooked her finger under the blue Trinket dangling just below his cuff.

The cameras began to flash rapidly after that remark, many of the photographers honing in on the Trinket.

“Oh!” Lockhart forced a laugh as he tried and failed to wrench his hand away. “This is a Trinket. I was given this just a few weeks ago. Imagine my surprise when it showed up as blue for Trueblood.” He was speaking to the crowd again, trying to show off. “A purple for Pureblood I would have expected. But Trueblood? I didn’t see that coming. Then again, look at all of the great things I’ve done in my life.” He gestured to all the books around him again. “I suppose it is quite clear that I am a powerful wizard.”

Aunt Wally shook her head. “It was ‘ given to you,’ you say?”

Harry immediately caught the mistake. From the moment she helped to create the Trinkets, neither she nor Narcissa had ever given one to anybody. They only ever endowed them upon a person. Occasionally, they were bestowed.

“I know the name of every pureblood that has one of these.” She shook the Trinket that was still hooked on her finger despite Lockhart’s best efforts, wobbling his entire arm. “And I know the face of every Trueblood. Not hard, considering there are less than ten at the moment. And you sir, are not one of them.”

The crowd behind them devolved into shocked gasps and scandalized whispers. Lockhart grew flustered and began to stumble over his words as he attempted to explain himself.

“Ah, well… Um, you see…” he began. “Certainly, this woman is confused. This Trinket clearly states that I am a Trueblood. There is no arguing with that. As you can see.” He wrapped his opposite hand around his forearm and began tugging as hard as he could, but he couldn’t escape Aunt Wally’s iron grip. Harry suspected she was using wandless wordless magic to secure her hold.

“I helped create the Trinkets,” she told Lockhart. “In fact, they were my idea. So, you don’t need to tell me how foolproof they are.” At those words, Lockhart’s face went pale. “So, if I created them, and I’m the one who’s been endowing them to people, how is it that I’ve never seen you before?”

“C-c-clearly you are m-mistaken,” Lockhart stammered, still trying to continue with his farce, but he was quickly losing control of the situation. “I mean… how-ow else would I have g-gotten one?”

“That’s what I want to know.”

Aunt Wally proved Harry’s suspicion true when she clenched her hand into a fist. The whole thing glowed a faint green for a moment, then the silver chain around Lockhart’s wrist broke into pieces and fell to the ground. He went flying backward, landing on his buttocks with all the force he’d put into trying to pull away from her.

“What you have there,” she announced loudly, “is a fake! The real Trinkets are absolutely indestructible and bound by blood magic. Meaning they are impossible to remove from one’s wrist without the proper ritual.”

The crowd burst into scandalized whispers as the photographers continued taking pictures of Lockhart scrambling to get up. He was flustered and red in the face with embarrassment. A few of the cameras turned to snap pictures of her, but she squinted once, and they all turned back away.

“Where did you get it from?” Aunt Wally demanded.

“Well, you see… I paid for it! Just like everybody else! Where does it matter where it came from?”

“You are a liar and a fraud!” she accused.

“Now, see here…”

“I’ll bet you sought out a fake one because you knew what the real one would say! Nothing positive for you, I’m sure. Everything about you is staged and theatrical! I’ll bet you haven’t even done a single thing in those books you’ve written.”

“Now that is just an outrageous accusation!” Lockhart roared. “I should have you charged for slander!” If Harry could tell by the constipated look on his face, Aunt Wally hit the nail on the head.

“Quiet child!” Aunt Wally hissed, finally losing her temper. Her voice was powerful and laced with poison. Strong enough to silence the entire crowd behind her. Even the photographers stopped snapping.

“On the name of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black, I swear that you will rue the day you were born if you don’t tell me where you got that fake piece of jewelry.” There was gasping in the crowd at the invocation of her family name. Lockhart himself looked ready to wee his pants. “Now!” Aunt Wally snapped.

“I don’t know!” Lockhart warbled, voice turning into a cowardly whine as he imagined what she might do to him. “I met him in a pub! He just offered me one. Told me he could make it say whatever I wanted if I paid him off.”

“Which pub?”

“The Hog’s Head. He had his hood up, and he never told me his name. I didn’t ask. I didn’t care. I just wanted the Trinket!”

Aunt Wally glared at the insolent man for a few moments longer, then bared her teeth at him in a snarl. “You are a pig! A disgusting, dirty-blooded, lying pig! Profiting off of stories that probably never happened and faking your blood status! No one who’s weak enough to have to get a fake Trinket could possibly have done all those things you claim! You are an embarrassment to wizardkind!”

"That's not true!" Lockhart whined.

"Bah!" Aunt Wally waved him off angrily, then she span around, storming out of the book store.

The crowd roared to life behind her, hollering and exclaiming their malcontent. They were shouting questions over each other, flinging accusations and demanding answers. They were quickly devolving into an actual mob.

Harry followed closely behind Aunt Wally, barely concealing a smile. Public humiliation wasn’t the typical kind of thing Harry liked to see happen to strangers. But Lockhart proved himself to be slimy enough of a git that Harry felt he deserved it.

When Aunt Wally finally made it out the door, Lucius was waiting and he offered her his arm. She took it with a huff and he led her away to cool down some.

“What happened in there?” Draco asked. “We got separated, and you were in there forever. Then we heard Aunt Wally screaming. She’s not mad at you, is she?”

Harry shook his head. “No. She was yelling at Lockhart.”

Hermione gasped. “Oh no! Why would she do that?”

“Apparently he’s wearing a fake Trinket. Or was. She broke it. Then she accused him of lying about all his books too.”

Hermione looked scandalized. “Well, obviously it’s not true!”

“Judging by the look on his face, I think it might be.”

“No, but...” Hermione was conflicted. “All of those books?”

“You can’t believe everything you read,” Draco warned.

“Oh, I know that!” she snapped. “I just… I admired him so much! He can't be a phony! Aunt Wally must be mistaken! ”

“It’s alright, Hermione.” Harry put an arm around her shoulder and steered her toward the apothecary so they could finish their shopping. “I’m sure there are other wizards who are much better that you can admire.”

“Like who?”

“Ummm,” Harry thought for a minute, then grinned. “Like Dumbledore,” he teased.

Hermione scoffed loudly, then swatted his arm away. “Oh, shut up!” Both Harry and Draco just laughed.

Chapter Text

By the time they finished their shopping, Aunt Wally was still in a foul mood. She didn’t say a single word when they met up at the crossing point of Diagon and Vertic Alleys. Draco looked a bit queasy approaching her and his father. He tried to stay as far from her as possible while the adults led them North on Vertic Alley.

Vertic Alley looked very different than Diagon Alley. It reminded Harry of Regent Street in London, full of posh shops and expensively dressed people.

Harry had followed Uncle Vernon there once as he shopped for a very special anniversary gift for Aunt Petunia. Mrs. Figg had to cancel at the last minute and Vernon didn't trust Harry not to steal the fancy food he'd ordered if left alone at the house. So he had to stand at least ten feet behind him at all times and wasn't allowed into any of the stores. "Don't even look in the windows," Vernon had warned. "Wouldn't want you getting any ideas about things you'll never have."

He was given no such warning this time. 

To Harry’s surprise, as they passed by shop windows, he actually recognized some of the things that were on display. There was quite a few robes and individual pieces that Aunt Wally had given to him over the summer. She was always giving him clothes and books to read. He actually appreciated them, unlike most children his age would.

He’d known that the clothes were very high quality, even with his distinct lack of knowledge about fashion. But he had no idea exactly how expensive they really were.

He spotted the very same dark gray tunic with emerald green detailing and matching pants that he was wearing that day on a shopfront mannequin. Next to it was another mannequin wearing the same pants but with the tunic in reverse colors. It was cinched in at the waist to indicate it was for girls. Every thirty seconds or so, the headless plastic figures would move into a new position to show off their outfits in a new angle. Floating at about where their heads should have been were a pair of price tags that, given the conversion rate, were enough to make even Aunt Petunia faint.

And those were just casual summer robes. Harry couldn’t even begin to imagine the cost of the more formal robes he’d received or the heavy winter clothing that was all lined with the most luxurious types of fur. The cost of mink hardly compared to griffin fur, or unicorn wool.

Their group didn’t spend much time in Vertic Alley. They were just walking through on their way to leave.

In Diagon Alley the main entrance was through the Leaky Cauldron, a welcoming though dark and shabby pub that was easily overlooked on the muggle side.

In Vertic Alley they headed to a bright and elegant flower shop with an attached cafe called Once and Floral. The muggle side was a pretty though unassuming nameless antiques parlor, charmed to go unnoticed. 

As they entered the flower shop side, a young man behind the counter greeted them cheerfully. Harry thought he may have recognized him from Hogwarts, an older Gryffindor boy.

“Welcome to Once and Flor- all ,” he trilled, leaning heavily into the pun. “Can I interest you in a Lughnasa arrangement? They’re on last minute discount. Or perhaps a birthday bouquet for the lovely Leo in your life?”

“No. Thank you,” Lucius declined. “Just here for the floo.”

“Certainly.” He reached behind him. “Lav,” he muttered, swatting at a newspaper being held up behind him. There was a girl sitting there, hiding it seemed. She snapped the paper down and Harry could see that it was Lavender Brown, a Gryffindor in his year who always seemed to buy into the house rivalries more than most. She stood up glaring at the boy who must have been her brother, but quickly pasted on a fake smile as she folded her paper and turned to Harry’s group.

“Right this way,” she said in a cheerful voice, gesturing toward a hallway to the side of the counter. She led them through it and into a room with two separate fireplaces and a cozy set up with two winged chairs and a low table between them. "I hope you enjoyed your trip to Vertic Alley. See you again next time."

She continued smiling merrily until after Lucius and Aunt Wally left, each going to their respective homes. As soon as the adults were gone, Brown dropped the act and frowned at the slytherins.

 "Wow," Hermione sighed in disbelief. "It's weird seeing you be nice to a bunch of snakes like us."

"It's absolutely painful," she agreed. She whipped the newspaper out from under her arm. "Don't worry. Things will be back to normal at school." She popped the paper open to block her face again, halting any further discussion.

Harry had never heard of The Cosmic Observer before. At least the headline seemed to be talking about something other than Dumbledore.

'Special Leo Season Edition

'Leos should be careful as July comes to an end. A storm is brewing and they might just find themselves in the middle. Beware anyone with an explosive temper. A tense interaction isn't bound to end very well.'

Hermione rolled her eyes at the blonde before waving quickly to Harry. She headed back to the manor with Lucius, but oddly, Draco followed Aunt Wally to Grimmauld Place. Harry quickly flooed home behind him.

When he stepped out of the floo, he felt like he’d landed in a war zone!

Aunt Wally was already screaming and throwing things.

She had shouted so loud that she woke the portraits in the hall. There were dozens of voices all hollering, swearing, and sending threats over each other. Entire shelves of things hit the floor. Glass shattered against the wall. Combined with the residual spinning of the floo, it was absolute chaos.

Harry searched around for Draco, but he was nowhere to be seen. Probably for the best. In Harry’s experience, when adults were angry like this, it was best to go unnoticed.

Shut! Up! ” Aunt Wally screeched. There was so much fire and poison in her voice just then that Harry would have sworn she could spit acid.

The portraits had never complied so quickly. Even Walburga’s own portrait was silenced, plunging the house into an eerie sort of doldrum. It felt like the calm before the real storm.

Harry noticed Draco sneaking back into the room through his peripheral vision. Trying not to draw any attention to himself, he went straight to the fireplace. He waved apologetically at the mildly betrayed look on Harry’s face, then he abandoned his friend to deal with Aunt Wally’s wrath on his own.

Harry took his things and tiptoed into the drawing room, trying to seek refuge somewhere that was out of the way. It was closer than his room and out of sight means out of mind, right?

Sirius had been there already, sitting silently and staring off into space as he often did.

It seemed that they’d both made the wrong decision because they were snatched from their brief moment of respite as Aunt Wally stormed in behind them and immediately swiped all the knick knacks from the mantle onto the floor. She snatched Uncle Arty’s framed Order of Merlin off the wall and chucked it across the room where it smashed into pieces.

She paced the room without speaking for a few moments, but audibly huffing in rage. It was as if she was building up steam for the rampage of the century. Sirius eyed her wearily, already exhausted by the impending explosion.

“Fake fucking trinkets!” she spat, suddenly. She rolled her eyes hard enough to blind a weaker man, clenching and unclenching her fists.

Wearing a fake Trinket wasn’t a crime. Neither was making them. So, there wasn’t anything Aunt Wally could do except scream about it. Nothing legal, anyways.

“It’s poppycock!” she shrieked. “It’s fraud! False representation! Bloody stealing! All these halfbreeds and mudblood scum! Trying to pretend like they’re better than they are! This is an outrage !”

“They’re just bracelets, mother,” Sirius huffed, rolling his eyes (more gently) at her theatrics.

“Just bracelets? You fool!” She stormed over to him and he flinched when she snatched his arm and tugged on his Trinket. “This isn’t just some bracelet!” she scolded. “This is a representation of who you are! This is proof that you’re powerful! Proof of your blood! Who’s better, and who’s average. Who’s worse, and who is great ! This is proof that the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black is superior to all. Just as superior as we always said we were! This is your heritage and your bloodline! This is your defining factor!

“It is everyone’s defining factor, and if they’re going around telling lies, then it’s all meaningless! We’ll have liars and fakers and thieves in our midst! Great pretenders scamming us all. Not staying in their place. Claiming what’s not theirs and then flaunting it in our faces! Is that what you want?”

“Mother!” Sirius snatched his hand back. “None of that matters! None of that ever mattered! My defining factor isn’t how much magic I have! It’s what I do with it! It’s what anyone does with their magic. You could be the most powerful wizard in the world and it wouldn’t matter if you’re just racist scum, and all you use it for is to hurt people! Who cares if average people want to claim their own magical heritage? People are just people!”

“You just don’t get it!” Aunt Wally shook her head in disappointment. “You never did, and you never will. I don’t know why! I’ve taught you everything that my fathers have taught me before. You learned the same lessons that our whole family has known. I don’t know why you’re the only one who doesn’t see it.”

“Because I’m the only one who doesn’t see the world through generations of warped, blood purist lenses. That’s what this is. It isn’t about heritage! It’s just a new way to fuel your desperate need to feel superior!”

“We are superior!” Aunt Wally lifted her arm as if to backhand Sirius, but froze in place as she thought better of it. She huffed in frustration at having to control herself for once. She clenched her fist again then, instead of hitting him, she dropped her arm and offered him her left hand, palm down. “This proves it,” she said calmly, indicating her Trinket. “There is no arguing with this. We are not the same as everyone else, and it’s not fair for others to claim such if it is not true.”

“Being different doesn’t make anyone worse or better,” Sirius tried to reason with his mother. He matched her sudden calm demeanor. “One’s magical ability is not a factor in determining a person’s worth.”

“We live in a magical world, with magical things,” Aunt Wally explained with more patience than Harry thought her capable of. “There is magic all around us, every day. It is a requirement for surviving in our world. Having a pure bloodline doesn’t matter? Fine! But if magical ability doesn’t determine a person’s worth, then what does ?”

“The type of person they are,” Sirius replied. “The kind of things they do. What they contribute to the world versus what they take away from it. If you’re a kind, loving, caring, good person, then you are good no matter how much magic you have. And if you are a spiteful, hateful person who leeches the soul out of everything you touch, then it doesn’t matter how much magic you have. You are still a bad person.”

“It’s not about good or bad. It’s not that simple. It was never that simple.”

“But it is that simple, Mother. It has never had to be more than that.”

“Maybe in the world of muggles. Maybe in a world where people can’t do the things that we can. But in a world of people that can conjure rain, there’s no point in pretending that those of us who conjure hurricanes aren’t superior. Just as there’s no point in pretending that none of us are superior to those who can’t conjure anything at all.”

It was hard to argue that logic. Aunt Wally did have a point. Sirius could see that, but he wasn’t wrong either.

“Magic doesn’t make the person. In fact, magic is beside the point-”

“Magic is everything !” Aunt Wally cut him off, shouting again. “Magic is our life! It’s our culture! It is your life! It is your history! It is literally ninety-five percent of what is flowing through your veins! In the wizarding world, magic does make the person! In the wizarding world, without magic, there is no person! You can’t sweep that under the rug, and say it doesn’t matter! From the wand in your sleeve to the tea in your cup, magic is everywhere. It is everything. It is all that matters!”

Sirius pinched the bridge of his nose, weary of fighting. “Fine mother,” he exhaled. “I don’t want to argue, anymore.”

He stood from his place on the sofa and brushed past Harry as he fled the room. Harry wanted to go after him, but he didn’t know what to say. Of course, he agreed completely with Sirius. A person’s magic wasn’t their defining factor. But he could see where Aunt Wally was coming from too. In a magical world, having superior magic meant something and ignoring that fact seemed almost counterintuitive.

Not sure what to do, or who to comfort, Harry just took his things to his room and began to organize his trunk.

Chapter Text

Later that evening, a few hours after a quiet supper with just Harry and Uncle Arty, Harry crept back downstairs, hoping to find Sirius.

He spotted him in the drawing room again. Aunt Wally hadn’t been seen since her meltdown earlier, so they seemed to be in the clear.

“Can I ask you a favor?” Harry broke the silence.

Sirius looked up from the magazine in his lap. It was called Dark Mythos and had a half shifted werewolf on the cover. Sirius seemed to be very interested in werewolves. Any time Harry saw him reading pretty much anything it was somehow related to the dark creatures.

“Anything,” Sirius replied. His brows were drawn slightly, curious as to what it could be that Harry wanted.

“If a person wanted to destroy something very powerful beyond the point of repair, what spell would they use?”

Sirius blinked in shock for a moment before answering. He didn’t know what he’d been expecting, but it wasn’t that. “That would be a number of things, but I suppose fiendfyre would have to be the least elaborate. Why do you ask?”

“Can you teach me fiendfyre?” Harry asked eagerly.

“That’s very powerful, dark magic,” Sirius warned, setting the magazine down. “It’s quite volatile when conjuring and extremely difficult to control. It’s very easy to accidentally kill oneself with it if you try it before you know what you’re doing.”

“Do you think you could teach me to control it?”

Sirius looked at Harry pensively for a moment. “I don’t like the idea of teaching you dark magic at all, let alone something so strong. Before I even decide if I will or not, you have to tell me why it is you want to know.”

Harry contemplated telling him a lie but knew that he couldn’t come up with anything believable. Instead, he just went with the truth and explained to Sirius about the Philosopher’s Stone.

He’d already told him about the incident with the twins--more specifically, Fred--but he’d never explained the reason behind it. Sirius had assumed it was just some schoolyard duel between the Slytherins and a couple of Gryffindors. He and James had gotten into plenty of those in his day.

“How come you didn’t tell me about all of this before?”

“Well...” Harry stammered sheepishly. “I don’t know… I guess I thought I would get into trouble for sneaking around and doing something dangerous.”

Sirius arched a brow at him. “The last thing that I have any right to do is scold you for sneaking around at Hogwarts.” He reached out and put a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “But, I could have done something to help you. Especially once you became suspicious of Voldemort being involved.

“I know you have a history of the adults in your life treating you badly, but you have to start relying on the people around you more. At least the competent ones, and I like to think I’m one of them. You can trust me with anything, Harry.”

“I know I can,” Harry nodded. “I suppose I just forget that I don’t have to do everything alone.”

“You don’t. Even at Hogwarts. You can always trust Professor McGonagall. I know she’s quite stern and the Gryffindor Head of House, but she’s easily the most capable person in that entire school. If something dangerous is going on, especially if it’s Voldemort related--you can always rely on her to help you.”

Harry tried to trust in Sirius’ words. He didn’t doubt the austere newly minted headmistress was the most capable in the school. But it would take a bit more than just Sirius’ vouching for him to really trust the woman.

“Alright then.” Sirius dropped his hand from Harry’s shoulder and scooted forward to the edge of his seat. “Back to business. Why don’t you show me the Stone.”

Harry nodded, then ran upstairs to fetch it from where he hid it in his room. He brought it back, still, in the box he’d received it in from the twins. He set the box on the table beside the copy of Dark Mythos , sliding it toward Sirius. Then he opened it up.

It looked quite ordinary. Like a regular old crystal, or perhaps a gemstone like a large uncut ruby. But Harry knew better than to underestimate it. It was one of the most powerful magical items in the world.

Sirius seemed to be aware of it as well as he cast his eyes over it reverentially. He gently picked it up from the box, holding it delicately in his fingers. He examined it for a moment, then sighed.

“It’s quite a shame to destroy such a thing. But you are right that if there’s a chance that it can be used by Voldemort to return to full power, then it ought to be gotten rid of. Unfortunately, I’m certain that the Flamels have more than just the one, but we’ll just have to hope they’re under better protection than Dumbledore could provide.” He switched the way he was holding it, so that he was gripping it firmly in his palm.

“Fiendfyre would definitely do the trick, but it’s very dangerous. You know, I would gladly destroy it for you.”

“I suppose you could, but I really want to learn how to do this for myself.”

Sirius could tell by the look of steadfast determination on his face that it was a matter of pride for the boy. With Harry looking up at him through James's face and Lily's eyes he couldn't refuse. So, Sirius went against his instincts and decided he would teach him the spell.

Sirius set the stone back in the box as he stood up and began to prepare Harry for the difficult lesson.

“When it comes to fiendfyre, the most important thing you need to know is that you are never to attempt this spell without my supervision,” he warned. “There are fully trained masters of magic that have burned themselves alive attempting to control this. As smart and as powerful as you are, you are still only twelve. Dark magic is unpredictable, and it is not to be trifled with. Do you understand?” Harry nodded dutifully. “The second thing you need to know is the counter curse. Fiendfyre is powerful and has a mind of its own, so a basic finite incantatem isn’t going to cut it. Repeat after me: terminus ignus.”

“Terminus ignus,” Harry echoed.

“Good. Now try it again, but with vigor.”

“Terminus ignus!”

“More forcefully.”

“Terminus ignus!” Harry nearly shouted.

“More aggressive. As if you intend to stop a dragon in its tracks with just those words.”

Harry took a deep breath, focusing any pent-up energy and rage that he could find. “ TERMINUS IGNUS !” he growled.

“Very good,” Sirius praised. “This time, try it just like that, but practice it with your wand. There is no movement, just point and cast.”

Harry did as he was told, pointing his wand to a blank spot on the wall. When he said the incantation, there was a visible ripple in the air and the temperature of the room dropped by at least ten degrees.

Harry gasped and shivered, letting out a cloud of breath.

“Perfect.” Sirius patted him on the back. “The coldness means it worked. It would have silenced a fire if there had been any.” Sirius waved his own wand in a circle and the room warmed back up. “But we’re not dealing with just any fire. Fiendfyre is not just meant to burn, it’s meant to kill. And it has a mind of its own. It will seek out anything that is living and burn the life right out of it. So try it again, and put more power behind it.”

Harry allowed himself a small smile in satisfaction. Hearing Sirius’ words of encouragement made him feel all fuzzy inside. But he sobered quickly as the seriousness of the situation dawned on him, and he went back to work on the spell.

They tried it ten more times before Sirius decided Harry was ready enough. Each time, the room had gotten colder than the last. On the seventh try, the entire room was completely frozen with icicles hanging from the furniture and everything dusted over with a heavy layer of white frost.

“Very good,” Sirius praised. He vanished all of the ice away. “That would definitely do the trick. Now, I want you to try it a few more times--exactly like that--to make sure that you have it.”

“Alright,” Sirius continued to explain once they moved on, “because fiendfyre is so powerful, unlike many other spells, even if you cast it poorly, there can still be catastrophic results. So, I want you to brace yourself. It might even throw you back. No matter what, though, do not flick or wave your wand. That could be the end of us both. I’ll be right behind you just in case, but the second you think it might get out of hand, you give that counter curse, alright?”

“Alright,” Harry sighed, steeling himself. He turned to aim at the fireplace, spreading his feet apart and grounding himself to the floor.

“The incantation is mors ignus.”

Harry pulled together all of his concentration and focus. “Mors ignus!” he cast. A giant snake made of flames exploded out of the tip of his wand with enough force to knock him over. Sirius caught him before he went too far, and the snake disappeared in a blink as the older man silently banished it away.

“Bloody hell!” Harry panted. “Sorry!” he admonished himself for the swear. “That was intense,” he corrected, righting himself.

“Absolutely, it was,” Sirius agreed.

Harry took a deep breath, then returned to his stance “Okay, I’m ready to try again.” Sirius braced himself as well, then nodded.

“Mors ignus!”

Harry kept on like that for the following two hours. He managed to pick it up incredibly quickly, but that wasn’t to say he was anywhere near mastering it. Although, through some miracle (probably just Sirius’ intervention) he hadn’t set anything on fire, so he called that a win. It was good enough for the time being.

By the end of the evening, he was able to perform the spell well enough to destroy the Philosopher’s Stone in the fireplace. After taking so much heat, the hearth and the wall immediately surrounding it wound up being completely black and the edges of the mantle had begun to crumble into ash. It would need replacing.

On the coffee table across from it, Dark Mythos had begun curling around the edges, and the pages were much crispier than they had been originally. The Weasley Twins’ box was looking equally distorted.

But the stone was reduced to nothing and that had been the endgame, so it was a success.

He’d expected there to be some sort of fantastic display with the destruction of such a powerful object, but instead, it simply melted away with no fanfare. When it finally dissolved, the flames turned a bright red before he put it out, but that was all. He found it quite anticlimactic, but as long as Voldemort couldn’t get to it any longer, he was happy.

In fact, he felt a bit of a weight lift from his shoulders when it was all said and done. He doubted that if Voldemort was still out there that the stone disappearing would be the last that he heard from him. But at least he was safe for now.

After so much work, he was utterly exhausted and he couldn’t wait to hit his mattress and instantly fall asleep. He thanked Sirius for the help, told him goodnight, then headed to his room.

His body seemed to be growing heavier the more he increased the proximity to his bed, but he had to do something before he finally turned in. He grabbed three pieces of parchment and his ostrich feather quill, then quickly jotted down three identical, very brief, letters.

‘It is done.

-H. Potter’

They were more like notes, really, but he sealed and addressed them before sliding his window open and whistling. The Blacks didn’t have an owlery as the Malfoys did, so their owls—including Hedwig—usually just hung around outside, coming and going as they pleased like normal owls. But there was always at least one nearby ready to send a letter.

That night, it was a black horned owl that always looked at him as if he were annoyed at being called. Sirius had once assured him that he wasn’t actually annoyed, that was just what his face looked like. But Harry was always cautious around him anyways.

He tied the three notes to his leg, then stood back to let him go, but the owl just kept staring at him. With the look on his face, it was as if he were asking, ‘Really? Three of them? Why are you wasting my time sending three piddly old notes?’

“Well, go on, then,” Harry ushered him away. The owl gave a single short hoot as if sighing in exasperation, then took off into the night.

Without any hesitation, Harry flung his robes over his head then climbed into the bed, just like that.

Chapter Text

Harry was woken up by his eyelids being peeled open by a pair of tiny pointed fingers.

He grumbled incoherently at the little face staring back at him mere inches away.

“The Lady Black is wanting Mr. Potter to get up for breakfast at Malfoy Manor,” Kreacher rasped. His breath was blowing unpleasantly against Harry’s cheeks and he instinctively swatted the house elf away.

“Mrs. Walburga will not be taking no for an answer.” Kreacher pinched his cheek, hard, and wobbled his face back and forth. Groaning, Harry pulled the elf’s hand away and sat up in bed.

“Okay. I’m up. I’m up. Just let me get dressed.”

“Mr. Potter will be hurrying up,” Kreacher warned. It sounded a little like a threat, so Harry slid out of his bed and hustled over to the en suite bathroom.

He finished getting ready in record time, spending half the usual amount of time trying to tug a brush through his hair before giving up. When he came out to get dressed, Kreacher was still standing in his room ominously. A helpful reminder to get a move on.

Harry only spent a moment digging through his closet before finding the outfit he’d set aside especially for the day. It was a mid sleeve length light green tunic that reached to right above his knees. There were slits on either side from just below his hips down for ease of movement. Embroidered around the elbows and the hemline was an emerald green design with broomsticks and snitches.

If you watched the embroidering carefully, you could see the snitches darting in and out of the loops and swirls in the pattern. Occasionally, one would shoot up quite high and a broomstick would come chasing it back down. 

Beneath his tunic was an truer green pair of trousers. Wizard trousers were worn quite close to the legs, fitting more like tights than muggle trousers, which left more to the imagination. Wizard trousers were only ever worn under robes though, covering anything one would imagine about anyways. Beneath the pants were a pair of silver sandals with green gems on them. Given the price, Harry would have to guess that they were real emeralds, but he couldn’t be sure.

Uncle Vernon would have accused his outfit of being too girly. Especially the shoes. But most robes were basically just long, shapeless dresses anyways. So what was or wasn’t considered too girly was rather different in the wizarding world.

Harry quite liked it regardless. The color combination not only reminded him of his Slytherin pride, but it also brought out the color in his eyes, reminding him of his mother as well.

He donned his clothes quickly, then grabbed another brush to try again to tame his mess of locks as he hustled down the stairs under Kreacher’s judgemental gaze.

He made it to the parlor, through the floo, and all the way to the door to the Malfoy's dining room before giving up for real. He hesitated before going in, searching for a place to stash it before being seen. Just as he was reaching to drop the brush into a rather familiar vase of peacock skulls, the door suddenly swung open.

He screeched and slashed the brush defensively at the person on the other side.

"Relax," Blaise chuckled at him, catching Harry's wrist before he got hit in the face. "It's just me."

"Sorry," Harry huffed, heart pounding. He'd gone from zero to eighty in under a second. "You just came out of no- Wait! What are you doing here?"

Blaise chuckled again, then tugged Harry backward by the wrist he was still holding. When he made it all the way into the dining room, he was greeted by a myriad of shouts and noisemakers.


"Happy Birthday!"

"Whoo! Whooooo!"

Harry giggled as someone threw confetti over his head that popped and sparked in celebration.

It looked as though all of his Slytherin friends had been waiting for him. Walburga, Aunt Wally and the older Malfoys were sitting at the table already. Interestingly, beside Lucius, Severus Snape was frowning with boredom. Sirius was nowhere to be seen.

Pansy grabbed Harry by the arm and led him to the table. "You should have seen the look on your face," she teased.

"I had no idea any of you would be here!"

"You almost gave Zabini a black eye!" Vincent chortled.

"Luckily, I have faster reflexes than you," Blaise bragged.

"You'll never make seeker at this rate," Draco clucked his tongue with mock disapproval, then shrugged. "Guess that means there's room for me."

"In your dreams," Harry scoffed.

Breakfast was far more chaotic than usual with so many kids at the table. It wasn't a formal affair like the dinner party last summer, so there was smiles all around as they all chattered away, catching up on what they'd all missed during the summer so far.

Interestingly, no one mentioned Dumbledore at all. Harry wondered who he had to thank for threatening the others into silence. Occasionally, Theo looked as if he were about to ask something, but got this constipated look then refocused on something else.

Apparently, all of the younger slytherins were free that day because their parents were busy getting ready for the Lughnasa party this year.

It had been late the previous year because Lucius postponed it when he, Snape, and Aunt Wally were developing the trinkets, so they had forgone most of the themed festivities. This year it would be on time, but the Crabbes were hosting, and Martha Crabbe decided that no children would be allowed.

Vincent was certain that this was directly related to the amount of blackberry wine, firewhiskey, and glaciervodka that his father had purchased.

After breakfast Walburga quietly suggested they gather in the parlor so Harry could open his gifts. No one would dare to argue.

"I get gifts?" Harry quietly bewildered to himself as everyone else headed down the hall before him.

"Of course you do," Daphne rolled her eyes playfully as she walked past. "It is your birthday."

Hermione nudged him gently with her elbow, offering him a soft smile. She knew what he meant.

Even though Harry's awful childhood was mentioned in the articles and thus public knowledge, it was hard to fully grasp the extent of it without details such as in the stories Harry had told her and Draco.

Without having been to any of the prior ones Hermione could already tell that this was probably the best birthday he had in his life. Diagon Alley last year was pretty amazing as well, but it wasn't really much of a birthday. It could have been any old Tuesday and it would have been phenomenal. But this was a birthday.

Harry felt a tiny pang of nerves as Aunt Wally directed him to a chair off on its own and the rest of his friends sat down on the floor before him. He was the center of attention.

The nerves only lasted a second. He hated being the center of attention, but these were his friends and his family. And Snape.

Beside his chair was a stack of gifts piled quite high. It wasn't enough to make Dudley jealous, but Harry wasn't nearly so greedy. No one really needed thirty nine gifts. Honestly, just the one was more than enough.

“Open mine first!” Millicent suggested.

“No, mine!” Astoria argued. “It’s the pink one!”

“You should definitely open ours last,” Greg boasted, elbowing his best friend. “It’s gonna be the best.” Both boys sniggered.

“Um,” Harry looked at the pile. “I’m just going to grab one randomly.” He grabbed a hefty looking white box off the floor and Vince laughed.

“Alright,” he shrugged. “Get ready to be disappointed by everything after this.”

Harry neatly unwrapped the box to reveal that it was full to the brim with sweets. It had several compartments with chocolates, biscuits, macarons, and the like. There was even multiple layers to it. He could spot cream puffs, mini eclairs, and lemon tartes underneath. It must have been charmed to extend further down because it looked as if there were far more layers going down than the box should hold.

He laughed. “This is great!”

Leave it to Vince and Greg to think a giant box of treats would be the best presents. It was actually quite thoughtful in their own way.

“No way!” Astoria gasped. “Those aren’t-”

“Yup!” Greg confirmed smugly. “That’s a big batch of DiMa’s Royal goodness.”

Astoria sighed in defeat. “Okay, fine. Their gift might be the best.”

Diane Goyle and Martha Crabbe were best friends and business partners. DiMa’s Royal Bakery was their shop in Vertic Alley. They were well known as having THE BEST pastries and sweets. Period. Their line was out the door and around the corner ALWAYS, and it was nearly impossible to get anything special ordered from them with less than a month’s advance notice.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that a pair of husky boys like Vincent and Gregory came from families with notoriously good cooking skills.

“But how did you get so many of them?” Harry asked.

Vince and Greg had been begged for treats throughout most of the year last term, but they always responded with the same statement: Their mothers never sent them any because they never baked at home. Anything they baked in their shop was immediately sold out.

Somehow those interactions usually wound up with the asker having given something to the boys before making it away.

“All we had to do was say they were for Harry Potter and they were more than happy to do it,” Greg answered.

“I think my mum even put a whole chocolate cake in their for you,” Vince bragged.

“Ugh,” Whined Millicent. “So jealous…”

“I can share with you,” Harry offered. “There’s more than I could ever finish before they go bad.”

“Nope,” Greg smirked. “Not with one of my mum’s special boxes. You put something in there and it’ll never go bad.”

“It’ll last forever if you leave it in there. You won’t want to, though.”

“Oh, it’s got a stasis charm on it!” Hermione deduced. “Those are incredibly difficult to perfect.”

“Well, my mum’s a genius.”

Judging by the noise Aunt Wally made behind them, she didn’t really think so.

Harry thanked the boys, then reached to grab another gift.

By the end of it, he came away feeling quite spoiled. He had to remind himself that all of his friends came from ancient families. Meaning ancient family money . So all of his gifts were quite expensive.

He had gotten a set of brand new quidditch balls, including a leather carrying case and three snitches from Millicent.

A full professional-style broom upkeep kit from Draco.

Dragon leather riding gloves with full scales from Daphne.

A heavy fabric Slytherin banner to hang from the ceiling in his bedroom from Theo.

A luxurious quill pen composed of some of the most exotic feathers Harry had ever seen from Astoria. She tried naming a few of the birds and creatures they came from and the only ones he’d even heard of was an occamy and griffin.

There was a Dragon Ivory chess set from Blaise that he wouldn’t answer when everyone asked where he got it from. He just shrugged and agreed that it was beautiful.

A set of multi-colorful vials, flasks, and beakers from Snape. They had beautiful golden designs and patterns on them that were so pretty that Harry didn’t think he could bring himself to actually use them. It was a surprisingly generous gift from the man who--it still seemed--could barely stand Harry.

A set of three unicorn leather journals from Pansy. They were still so bright from the unicorn’s essence that Harry wondered if they would glow in the dark. When he turned them in the light they reflected little rainbows. They certainly drew the eye directly to them.

A Potter family tree and several books on famous Potters in history from Sirius, though the man had been nowhere to be seen all morning.

And a dueler’s practicing circle stencil and several books on dueling (that Narcissa suggested might be a bit too advanced for a twelve year old) from Aunt Wally.

“I’ve got a surprise gift for you later,” Hermione whispered to him conspiratorially. “You’re going to love it, but I can’t give it to you now.”

When they were done with gifts Lucius set the kids loose on the back garden. They spent the next few hours zipping around the hedge maze on brooms and aggravating Lucius’ poor peacocks. They even got a game of quidditch going with Harry’s new set of balls.

He was actually quite good. They started the game over three times because Harry kept catching the snitch too quickly. Blaise accused Millicent of giving Harry a rigged set, but Harry was just that much of a natural.

Hermione also seemed to be a natural when she was finally cajoled into picking up a beater and playing too. She managed to hit everyone except Astoria with a bludger at least once. She apologized profusely each time and eventually quit because she felt so awful. Her team lost after that.

By lunchtime the kids were exhausted and famished. Harry’s box of sweets from Vince and Greg had gradually grown lighter and lighter from everyone grabbing pieces until it was all gone.

Dobby, Drilby, Tizzy, and Tidal brought a generous lunch spread of sandwiches, salads, lettuce wraps, and gazpacho to the center of the hedge maze for the group.

The hungry preteens decimated it quickly.

As they were finishing up, Tizzy and Dobby carried (quite precariously) a big white and gold cake to them. It had sparking candles on it and spelled out “Happy Birthday Harry,” on it in swirling letters.

Harry’s friends gathered around him and sang him a birthday song. It wasn’t the same birthday song that muggles sang, it was actually an old spell.

“This candle burns for birthday blessings

In golden light good luck finds spark 

By candle flame your fortune rises

Enrich your life with friendship’s mark

Bright candle keep you safe and healthy

Give pleasure by both day and night

He’ll blow your flames for this year’s wishes

And pinch your wick for future bright

Bright candle shine upon your birthday

Abundance flow freely from earth

Grant him health and wealth and wisdom

So mote it be your day of birth!”

After they sang the last line, Harry blew out the candles. When he did, they gave off little red and green fireworks. The tendrils of smoke turned into little dragons that flew around the cake before dissipating while his friends cheered and clapped.

After lunch and cake, his friends one by one began flooing home until it was just the usual trio. It wasn’t until then that Sirius finally turned up.

Harry had returned to his usual room in the manor for a few moment of quiet after the raucous afternoon, and Sirius was just sitting on his bed.

He was staring at the wall as he often was, but this time he was frowning. Not for the first time, Harry was wondering what his Godfather was thinking.

He had gotten lost in his own head many times before. Harry had recently come to the conclusion that this must have been a habit that he developed during his 10 years spent in Azkaban.

 10 years alone in a cell. 

There probably wasn't very much to do. After so long of not doing anything it must have just become habit. Much like his aversion to crowds due to so long spent in solitary confinement, it was just another thing that carried over into his life of freedom. It made Harry sad to think of how poorly his Godfather was treated.

10 years is a lot of time to lose.

“Oh,” Sirius suddenly gasped. He blinked a few times then looked at Harry as if it was his first time noticing that he was in the room. Harry looked back at him curiously. 

“I wonder,” Harry mused, “where do you go when you're not in the room?”

 Sirius smiled sombrely. “To a place lost long ago,” he replied. “A much simpler time.”

“Would you ever want to talk about it?” Harry asked.

“Well, today I’m thinking about the time I was nine years old and ripped the wallpaper off these walls because my mother made me stay here. I was a petty child.” he shrugged. “I can’t be sure, but I think I might be a petty adult as well.”

Harry thought back to all of the pranks he’d pulled on Lucius over the summer and grinned. “I think there’s a distinct possibility.”

“You’re probably right.”

“Would you ever want to talk about where you usually go?”

Sirius sighed. “Maybe someday. But I don't think I'm ready for that just yet, today.”

“That's okay,” Harry nodded. He thought for a moment then smirked. “Do you think you're ready for me to whip your tail with this new chess set I got, though? I’ve been practicing with Hermione.”

 The edges of Sirius's lips twitched. That Barely There smile. “Oh, I'm definitely ready to see you try.”

They got locked in a tough match. Toward the end of it, Hermione and Draco had both wandered into the room to watch. They were nearly biting their nails. It was getting so close.

Finally, it had gotten to the very last move. Sirius called it and he put Harry’s king in checkmate, the little pawn--that looked more like a prawn than a dragon--blowing smoke and taunting the king.

“Yes!” Draco cheered behind Sirius.

“Oh no!” Hermione grumbled. “I didn’t even see that opening.”

“Never underestimate even the smallest piece,” Sirius imparted wisely.

Behind them, Uncle Arty cleared his throat loudly from the doorway. It did nothing to clear his raspy voice. “I do believe dinner is ready,” he informed the room.

“Yes, Sir.” Draco stood obediently and the rest of the room followed suit, heading downstairs.

When Sirius walked by, Uncle Arty put a hand on his shoulder. Sirius frowned at it, but otherwise just kept walking.

“Harry,” he called. “Before you go, I’d like to have a word with you.”

“Oh, absolutely.” He lingered in the room, offering Uncle Arty the comfy chair that Sirius had just vacated.

The older man gestured for Harry to sit down across from him.

“I have a gift for you,” he explained. “For your birthday.” He removed it from his robes pocket and handed it to Harry.

“Thank you very much.” Harry was quite shocked. He honestly had been so grateful for all of his other gifts that he hadn’t even noticed that Uncle Arty hadn’t given him one.

“I would have given it to you earlier, but children are annoying, and there were so many of the little cretins.”

Harry had to suppress a smirk. The older Blacks were nothing if not frank.

“I suppose we were quite rambunctious today,” Harry agreed.

He removed the lid on the small black box, setting it on the table before pulling the gift out. It was a brooch of the Black Family Crest. It was shiny and sparkling like new, but Harry could tell that it had age.

“It’s a cloak clasp,” Uncle Arty explained. “It’s nothing special, really. But it’s been given to the heirs of the family for generations. My father gave it to me, and I gave it to my son. He once tried to give it to his own son, but that interaction didn’t go over so well. Orion had the scar on his hairline until the day that he died.”

Harry tried to imagine a young Sirius chucking the clasp at his father’s head.

“To be fair, though,” Uncle Arty continued, “I do believe he had tried to strangle him earlier that day. A little bitterness was to be expected.”

Harry had a flash of the awful feeling from when Quirrell had tried to strangle him and he couldn’t imagine how it would have felt to have your own father do that to you. It was no wonder Sirius threw the clasp back.

“I’m giving this to you because I meant what I said earlier this summer. You’re a part of our family now and I want you to have it. You may well be the very last person to carry this clasp with the way we’re headed. So it hardly matters what your last name is. I want you to carry this with the pride of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black. I want you to be proud to be one of us, just as I want to show that we’re proud to have you.”

Harry clutched the brooch tightly in his hand. He was overflowing with emotion. He could feel it swelling up in his chest and it almost felt like a sob, but he was so happy.

There wasn’t anything Harry wanted more than to be a part of a family. He didn’t care that the Blacks had more money than they knew what to do with. He didn’t care about the gifts or their posh home or the societal connections that could get them nearly anything they wanted. They could have been living in a hovel or a box under the freeway for all he cared.

After years of sitting on the side--just out of sight--while the Dursleys shared their family moments he just wanted someone to love him. He just wanted to belong. Uncle Arty had his own way of expressing that, much unlike ordinary people. But his tiny family was anything but ordinary. He could feel the love in the man’s gesture and he could feel a warmth spreading in his chest as he thought about it.

He tried to speak, but his voice immediately broke, catching on that sobbing feeling. He cleared his throat then tried again at just above a whisper. He didn’t trust himself not to actually cry is he spoke any louder.

“Thank you, Uncle Arty. Thank you so much. I will-I will wear it with pride.” He gave a watery smile to the man as he stood.

“Can I give you a hug?” Harry asked before he walked away. Uncle Arty gave him a strange look, as if he didn’t know what a hug was, but nodded anyways.

“I suppose.”

Harry wrapped his arms around the man and was enveloped by the scent of sandalwood. It was a woodsy, musky sort of smell. Maybe even with a slight hint of vanilla. He could feel that Uncle Arty was much thinner than he looked under his robes. He seemed to be all skin and bones. But the hug was very pleasant anyways.

“Alright, then.” He pat Harry’s back and he let go. “I think its time for dinner.”

“Right.” Harry put the clasp back in its box and stashed it in his nightstand drawer before following the older man downstairs.

After dinner that night, Hermione brought Harry, Draco, and Sirius into the playroom to show them the gift she got for Harry. She had gotten him some muggle items that he might appreciate and that the others might be fascinated by. She didn’t bother trying to show the elder Malfoys or the other children from the ancient families. She knew better than to think they’d be at all interested in muggle things.

“I found a newspaper advert for these few weeks ago, and they were so cheap. I just know you’re going to love them.”

She reached both arms into one of her heavily charmed bags and slowly retrieved a small combination telly and video player.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Harry chuckled. “You bought a telly?”

“That’s a telly?” Sirius asked. He approached her and lifted it from her arms, examining it. “I didn’t know they made them this small.” He tipped it over side to side then front and back, inspecting it. “Where’s the plug?”

“It’s portable,” Hermione explained, grinning widely. “So it runs on batteries. No plugs necessary.” Sirius hummed, impressed.

“What on earth is a telly ?” Draco asked, coming up to tap on the screen.

“It’s like moving pictures,” Harry answered, leading Sirius to set the telly on the coffee table. “Only they can’t talk to you. And the sceneries change.”

“How have the muggles managed to do that without magic?”

“It’s electricity,” Sirius answered. “Electricity is how muggles do a lot of things without needing magic. Rather clever things, they are.”

“How’s it work?” Draco was skeptical.

“Not sure, really,” Sirius replied. “James and I opened one up once. It was much larger than this, of course. There’s all sorts of stuff on the inside that make the images show up on the screen. We couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Never worked again after that, though.”

He pushed the power button and the screen flashed for a second before slowly powering up.

When the screen reached full brightness, it was covered in rapidly moving black and white speckles while emitting a loud static noise.

“It’s not very impressive,” Draco complained.

“Not yet,” Hermione laughed. She reached back into her bag and removed several video cassettes. But she had one in particular in mind, sitting on the top.

“Are you serious?” Harry asked, voice full of excitement. “You got the Ghostbusters?”

“Yup!” Hermione handed it to him and he practically squealed as he took hold of it.

“Oh, I wanted to see this so bad a few years ago! Dudley got it on video one Christmas, but he never let me watch it. I tried listening in from my cupboard and it sounded so good. The parts I heard, anyways. Uncle Vernon usually caught me trying to listen to the telly, so he’d send me to do work in the garden.”

“Prick,” Sirius muttered.

Draco took the video case from Harry. “I still don’t see what the fuss is about,” he complained even more.

“Just wait,” Harry told him. “The moving pictures, they’re called films, and they tell stories. This one was a really popular American film a few years ago. Pretty much every muggle ever has seen it. Or at least heard of it.

Harry took the case back and opened it, pulling the tape out and popping it in. He plopped down on the floor in front of it, while Hermione got comfortable on the sofa behind him. Sirius sat beside Harry, scooting close to get a good view on the small screen. Behind them, Draco draped himself leisurely across Hermione’s lap, getting the perfect view over Sirius and Harry’s heads.

The first minute or two of the movie was moving a little slowly, and Harry was having trouble focusing on it. Instead, his mind was preoccupied with how close Sirius was sitting to him. He could feel the warmth of the man’s body radiating comfortably into his right side. If he glanced over, he could see Sirius’ perfectly chiseled profile.

Harry never noticed before how long his eyelashes were. Or how pink his lips were. If he turned his head to look closely enough, he could see the beginnings of a five o clock shadow growing over his razor-sharp jawline.

Interestingly, he smelled a lot like Uncle Arty. It was that sandalwood scent. He wasn’t sure if they used the same aftershave or if that’s just what the men in the House of Black smelled like, but there was a comforting familiarity to it.

Harry hoped the movie would be good enough to make Sirius smile. He didn’t do so often, which Harry found to be a shame. His whole face lit up when he smiled and he looked absolutely stunning. Harry could feel his heart rate picking up just thinking about it. He wanted more than anything to make Sirius smile.

When drawers filled with card catalogs began exploding between the shelves of a library, Harry darted his eyes back to the screen and all thoughts of anything else was lifted from his mind and replaced by Ghostbusters for the next two hours.

The perfect ending for a perfect day.

Chapter Text

The trio had been practicing their aim as hard as they could for weeks and their improvement was phenomenal.

It really helped that they were such quick learners. That coupled with their laser like focus on the task had even Hermione--who couldn’t practice at home--shooting spells with enough accuracy to rival any seventh year.

Even when they weren’t having official lessons with Sirius, they were always tiptoeing around the manor or Grimmauld Place and sneakily aiming spells at everything they could think of. Usually the spells were pretty innocuous such as turning things different colors or tipping things over on the highest shelves.

They would often have competitions to see who could get something in the trickiest place or from the furthest away. So far, Harry was in the lead after having turned Narcissa’s pink teacup purple from the staircase down the hall and across the Manor’s large foyer. Before that, Draco and Hermione were tied for each having taken a single candle from the chandelier in the formal dining room at Grimmauld Place.

Sirius had decided it was time to try something a bit trickier with them after he’d been woken up in his dog form by the trio laughing as they flipped his ears inside out from his cracked bedroom door.

It was finally the very last day of the summer break and Sirius had them gathered in the center of the hedge maze at Malfoy Manor. 

“Now that you’ve all seem to have expert precision with your wands and I’m looking for a new excuse to get on Lucy’s nerves, the last lesson I want to give you before you return to Hogwarts is mastery of moving targets.”

Hermione glanced over to Dobby and Drilby standing beside Sirius. “You aren’t going to make us hit the house-elves, are you?” she asked, voice firm with disapproval.

“Of course not,” he scoffed at the idea. “That’s just cruel. Besides, I said I wanted to annoy Lucy. He’d probably be ecstatic if I tortured his poor elves.”

“Then, what will be our moving targets?” Harry asked cautiously.

Sirius waved a hand at Drilby and the elf scurried off through the hedge. A few moments later, an elegant white peacock waddled its way toward their group.

“No!” Draco gasped.

More and more peacocks entered their clearing until it looked like the entire ostentation was waddling around the fountain and dipping between sculptures, tables, and greenery. The mother and sons statue paused their water throwing to ooh and gawk at the intrusion.

“Sirius!” Hermione scolded. “That’s just as bad!”

“My Father is going to hear about this!” Draco warned.

“I certainly hope he does.” If Harry didn’t know any better, he’d say that Sirius was grinning, albeit evilly. “If he doesn’t, then that would just defeat the whole purpose, now wouldn’t it?”

Draco scoffed in outrage.

“Oh, relax!” Sirius waved his indignity away. “I’m not going to hurt them. We’re just going to turn them colors, is all.”

Harry looked at all the peacocks, taking in the sea of pristine white feathers that the Malfoy line had painstakingly bred for generations to achieve and maintain.

Lucius was going to be pissed…

Harry burst out laughing, sucking in great breaths and heaving deep guffaws. He laughed so hard he had to clutch his stomach as he attempted to breathe.

“This isn’t funny!” Draco yelled at him.

“It’s hilarious,” Sirius corrected, nodding with certainty.

“No, it is not!”

“It’s actually a little funny,” Hermione agreed, smiling sheepishly. Draco scoffed in outrage again.

“Can you just imagine… the look on his face?” Harry forced out between wheezes. “He’d throw a proper strop over it! I just know it! Merlin, I hope I’m here to see it!” He wiped a tear from the corner of his eye.

Lucius was always a very well put together man. He was stoic and aloof at most times. Even in his more private moments, when he did show emotions, it was always rather subdued, as compared to someone who wore their feelings on their sleeve, such as Hagrid, or Uncle Vernon. The only exceptions being when Sirius was involved. He seemed to be an expert at provoking the man.

If his ire at the vases was amusing, then seeing Lucius toss away all of his composure in indignant fury over his peacocks would be legendary. Harry could already see him red-faced and screeching, stomping dramatically, like his son. Harry knew full well that Draco did not get his theatrics from his mother.

Even Draco began to smirk a little as he pictured it playing out. “Okay, fine! It might be a little funny!” he admitted.

When Harry finally caught his breath, Sirius set out the rules.

Each person got a color: green for Harry, blue for Draco, and yellow for Hermione. The House elves would keep track of the peacocks, making sure none of them escaped and herding them around the hedge maze.

Each person had the opportunity to hit the body of each bird once, leaving a large splotch where the color lands. Each body splotch was worth 1 point. Only two people could hit the neck. The first hit would turn the whole neck the appropriate color, worth 3 points. The second hit would show up as a splotch, worth 2 points. Only one person could hit the crest, but they would have to hit the plumes at the top directly to turn the whole crest the appropriate color. A crest was worth 5 points. Also, 5 points were each individual eyelet on a male peacock’s train. Each eyelet had to be hit directly, and only one person could get each one.

The eyelets, while easier to hit than the crest, were tricky because a person would have to get the peacock to display his tail feathers first before they could even see them.

They would play for an hour (or until Lucius noticed, whichever came first), and the person with the most points at the end would win. For an added level of fun, Sirius summoned three broomsticks from Draco’s toy shed. None of them were Nimbus 2000s, so the playing field was nice and even.

Playing “Peacocks”—as Sirius had dubbed it—was the most fun Harry had all summer.

It was more fun than just flying, or playing quidditch with too few players. It allowed him to be quick and calculating, exercising his brain, while playing off the physicality of riding a broom. It helped him practice his wandwork, and jogged his competitive nature all at once. It was just about the perfect game for him.

All too quickly, their hour was up and the trio was down to their last thirty seconds. There was one clever peacock that had managed to escape notice for the entirety of the game and was left pristine white. All three Slytherins noticed at the same time and at once took off after it.

They sped after it, neck and neck as the time ran down. Finally, the peacock made a wrong move and cornered itself in a dead-end. He span around, displaying his feathers defensively and screeching at them in warning.

Immediately, the trio began sending shot after shot at each of its eyelets. The shots didn’t hurt at all. They were about as strong as the force of air produced when whistling. The sensation was still rather annoying after so many strikes, so after a few hits from each, the peacock launched into the air, screaming and pecking at the trio as he made a daring escape.

He nearly knocked Draco from his broom, but Hermione and Harry were able to dodge out of the way quickly enough.

Hermione sent one last shot at it, getting him on the body before he began his descent back into the hedge maze. Then time was up.

“I did not know peacocks could fly,” Harry huffed in surprise as they headed back to the center of the maze.

“Yup,” Hermione agreed. “They can fly, but due to their heavy bodies they can’t go far distances.”

“These ones don’t do it much,” Draco added. “When they do, it’s more like gliding than actual flight. They’re too spoiled here to ever want to go very far.”

“Don’t think they can say that anymore!” Harry chuckled. He pointed to a group of four of them being herded toward the clearing by Dobby. They were such a random mix of colors that they looked like they were colored in by a toddler.

When the trio made it back to the clearing, Sirius was putting silencing charms on all of the peacocks to quiet their disgruntled screaming.

Harry, Hermione, and Draco couldn’t stop giggling as they took in the poor creatures, each one looking sillier than the last.

Finally, one came in that had a green crest, but was otherwise covered in red, every eyelet included.

“Wait,” Draco asked. “Who was red?”

Sirius shrugged. “I got bored…”

That just made the Slytherins laugh even more.

It took everyone’s help, including the house elves and minimal cheating and recounting to come down to the final tallies. Draco and Harry were tied at 300 each, and Hermione just barely won at 301.

“Ha!” Hermione cheered, smiling from ear to ear. “It was that last hit, right before the timer that put me over.”

“I demand a recount!” Draco teased playfully.

“Recount? I want a rematch!” Harry chuckled. “This was so much fun!”

“It really was!” Hermione agreed. “This should be an actual sport!”

“We should pitch it to the Headmistress!”

Draco laughed. “Can you imagine? They can grow a maze on the bottom of the quidditch pitch. It’s not like anyone really touches the ground anyways.”

Harry nodded. “They could do it in teams, and all four house teams could play at once. We wouldn’t need to make a tournament or anything out of it. We could just play for bragging rights.”

“Bragging rights?” Draco scoffed. “You mad? That’s Hufflepuff talk. No, there’s definitely going to be a tournament. Trophies and all. How else are we going to remind everyone that we’re better than them?”

“Trophies, shmophies,” Sirius cut in. “What you want is prize money. That’s where it’s really at. Make the students take bets. Whoever wins the pot splits half with the winning team.”

“Gambling? At school?” Hermione mock scolded, pretending to be offended. “Well! I never…”

Unfortunately, Harry never did get the chance to see Lucius’ reaction to his ostentation’s new look. Though he was later informed that it was PHENOMENAL . There may or may not have been rattling windows at the indignant screams of the man.

Narcissa, Sirius, and the trio flooed back over to Grimmauld Place early in the morning so they could have breakfast with Aunt Wally and Uncle Arty before they left for the train.

Sirius only agreed to accompany them until they got to King’s Cross. Platform 9 ¾ would undoubtedly be bustling with people, and Sirius was still pretty skittish with crowds. There was around a thousand students that attended Hogwarts. And, on average, every three of them had at least one parent accompanying them. That was far too many people.

All three of the second years gave him a big hug and bid him farewell before crossing onto the platform with Narcissa. Harry lingered behind for just a little bit longer.

“Do you think you’re going to be alright at Grimmauld Place, alone with your mother for the whole school term?” he cautiously asked Sirius.

Sirius gave him that Barely There smile. “I’ll be fine.” Somehow, Harry didn’t really believe him.

He was a bit pale and sweaty. It was probably just his anxiety from the crowd at King’s Cross. It was much larger and far more open than the single long platform and so the crowd was thinner. But it was still quite busy with at least as many people milling about.

“Are you sure?” Harry pressed.

“Actually, I was thinking I might spend some time at my Uncle’s home.”

“Not by yourself?” That actually sounded like an awful idea to Harry. He couldn’t imagine the man getting lost in his head like he did with no one to pull him out of it. He might sit there for days and starve!

“Not for very long,” Sirius assured him. “Just when my mother becomes too much to handle.” Harry didn’t look comforted. “Besides, that house is in the middle of an all wizarding neighborhood. And it doesn’t have all the spells on it to keep it hidden. It’s not secluded like Grimmauld Place. So I’ll have neighbors I can talk to and other people around. Not to mention, I don’t think anyone’s been in it for around twenty years. I’m sure it’s in a right state of disarray. It’ll give me something to do, fixing it up. Instead of sitting around and thinking of people who are long gone. Perhaps, I could turn it into a proper home.”

That made Harry feel a little better. But not much.

“AND,” Sirius added, sensing Harry’s hesitation, “it’s actually the home my mother grew up in. So if she was really persistent, she could always just come and pester me there.”

Harry really didn’t like the idea of him spending too much time alone. He needed someone he could talk to.

“What about your friend? The one you’ve been trying to contact. Have they ever replied to you?”

Harry immediately regretted asking because for a brief moment Sirius looked absolutely crestfallen. He looked as if he may actually cry, which Harry had never seen him do and was almost horrified to think of. He wanted to punch himself.

Instead of crying, Sirius took a deep breath and gave a few quiet, mirthless chuckles. “Actually no.” His face quickly returned to that usual stoic, blank expression that Harry hated. “To be honest, I’m starting to think that he may have died. Or perhaps he’s ignoring me. I’m not entirely sure which one would be worse. Either way, I don’t think I’ll be getting a response from him anytime soon.”

“Well,” Harry was even more worried than ever. “You’ve got to have someone to talk to.” He thought about it for a moment. “Perhaps... a Mind Healer?” he suggested gently.

Sirius frowned for a moment, not having expected the suggestion, but he was clearly considering it. “Actually, that might be a really good idea. But, listen!” He wrapped an arm around Harry’s shoulder and pulled him into another hug. “Don’t worry about me. I’m the Godfather, remember? I’ll be alright.” Harry melted into the embrace and basked in that familiar sandalwood scent. He was immediately comforted. “I’ll be writing you so many letters that I won’t have the chance to get lonely, anyways.” He let him go. “Now, go!” he shooed him away, playfully. “Get on the train! Go learn and have fun. Worry about kids things. Like the feast tonight, or how you’re going to be smacking Draco and Hermione in the face all year with that ridiculous quill Greengrass gave you.”

Harry laughed at that. “I actually like that quill, thank you very much.”

Sirius genuinely smiled for the first time that morning. “Oh, I’ll bet you do. You’re exactly as extravagant and absurd as your father. He’d be smacking people with that thing on purpose. Luckily, you’ve got your mum’s brains to even you out. Now, go on!”

Still grinning, Harry finally headed toward the entryway to Platform 9 ¾. “See you at the holidays!” he called over his shoulder.

He was really going to miss Sirius. He had such a fun summer, but was eager to get back to Hogwarts as well. With the new headmistress and the upcoming changes, he had no idea what was in store for him. He just knew that he was excited.