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The Shower Slip

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For the longest time, Peter tried to do everything right. Right as regarded a man in hiding and fearing for his life, that was.

He had traveled far from the scene of his crimes — known to the public as Sirius’ crimes — never daring to change back to human form. He had worried over the wound where his toe, or rather finger, had once been. Oh, how it had hurt! And he had checked it constantly for any sign of infection. He had been halfway to Devon before realizing that he had somehow lost track of his wand in all the trouble. It had been a blow, but he’d have been mad to try and go back for it.

It had all worked out in the end, of course. He’d found himself wandering along the edge of the Weasleys’ property, knowing that there were a few different Wizarding families in the area to choose from. It had been his luck he had come upon the Weasleys first; the family was poor and had taken him in as a free pet for one of their boys.

He was happy with the arrangement. At the Burrow, he had learned what had become of his one-time friend along with all the speculation going on about what must have happened to his Master. Peter still did not understand how it had all gone so wrong all because of one little baby. But no matter. Sirius was locked away in Azkaban where he could never get to Peter, none of his Master's followers knew how to find him to exact any of their own revenge, and Peter had a roof over his head and as much food as he could ask for.

Percy, the Weasley he had been given to, was easy enough to get along with. The boy was quiet and organized unlike most of his family. He had gotten a cage for Scabbers, as Peter had been newly named, and he let his rat out during the hours he spent reading and studying in his room. The rest of the time Peter was allowed to simply sleep. It was an arrangement that suited him well.

Except for a few missing creature comforts, which he had always tried to ignore. A primary one being personal grooming and hygiene. Percy had tried to bathe Scabbers once or twice, but Peter had always run away and found small nooks and crannies to hide away in until the boy gave up. He had submitted to various indignities as a pet — most memorable being when the twins two years younger than Percy had forced him into some of their little sister’s old baby clothes and used him for the Christmas tree topper — but he wasn’t about to be washed by another person. He had taken to going for very short swims in the little pond near the edge of the property in the summer months and simply living with the stink in the winter.

But then Percy had taken Peter with him to Hogwarts the past year, and Peter had found the arrangement to be all the better. The first year boys were often out of the dorm to attend classes, mealtimes or work on their assignments. That left Peter with plenty of time to luxuriate in a real shower for the first time in over five years.

He had gotten used to the indulgence during his stay at Hogwarts, and now that he was back at the Burrow, Peter found himself unwilling to give it up. The trick was finding the time to himself when the Burrow was normally overrun with redheads.

The children were all growing more active now. They either flew around in the paddock or went to see friends. As long as he timed it right for when the mother — Molly, he thought the Prewett twins had said so many years ago — was either out tending to the garden or doing the shopping, he was in the clear. Even if the ghoul in the attic banged around on the pipes at times, he wasn’t about to chance her believing the thing to be running the shower.

And so the summer went on, and Peter believed himself to still be safe. He even imagined himself quite clever, though perhaps that was his true mistake.

He had never been the clever one.

—-

It took Arthur some time to come around to the idea, and even when he did it just didn’t sit right. Perhaps if they could have afforded self-cleaning pipes, he would never have had to consider it at all.

Early in their marriage, it had been decided that Arthur was in charge of making sure the pipes did not become clogged. One such area of particular interest was the shower drain; with nine people using it, it accumulated a lot of hair over a short amount of time, especially as the boys grew older. So Arthur made it a weekly habit to clean out the drain.

It was near the beginning of that year’s summer holiday that he first began to notice something new and strange whenever he charmed the various detritus out of the pipe. Mixed in with the red of his family was a number of brown hairs. Brown hairs were not something he could account for.

“Have there been any guests over lately that I’ve missed, Weasleys?” Arthur asked at dinner at the end of June.

The children all looked round at each other in confusion. “No, dad,” Bill answered collectively.

“Of course there haven’t been,” said Molly as she set second helpings in front of Charlie and Ron. “And how would you have missed them? You haven’t been working that late, dear.”

“Yes, yes, I know. It’s just the strangest thing.” He shook his head. If none of them had the answer, then he was really lost.

“May I be excused, mum?” Percy asked with prim politeness.

“You haven’t finished your plate, Percy.”

“I was saving it for Scabbers.”

“Oh, well we have plenty left over for Scabbers,” said Molly. “You finish that and I’ll get you something in a napkin for him. Errol might like some, too, come to think of it.” She got up from the table and bustled back over to the kitchen. “He’s getting up there, and I don’t know that he’ll be able to hunt for himself much longer.”

“Yes, you’re probably right about that,” Arthur agreed. “Still, he can carry the mail just as fine as any owl.”

The twins snickered where they sat, but he was distracted by Ginny leaving her seat to climb into his lap. “Daddy?”

“Yes, dear?”

“What’s the strangest thing?”

“Oh nothing, Ginny. Nothing to worry about. Now you should finish your dinner.” And he kissed her on the head.

He wished he could take his own advice, but Arthur did continue to worry about it as June turned into July and the hairs kept popping up. “I just don’t understand. If Molly and the children don’t know where it’s coming from, and I don’t know, then how can they be there?” He asked Perkins one morning as they completed some paperwork about a wizard in Hyde Park who’d been charming the benches to skitter about on their legs whenever no one was looking.

“You consider you might be being lied to, Arthur?”

“Why would the children lie about it?” He’d never given them cause to believe they couldn’t have friends over.

“I didn’t mean the children,” said Perkins before giving a great big cough. He’d been doing that a lot lately.

Arthur blinked in shock. “You don’t mean — Merlin, Perkins, Molly would never!

“Well, how else do you explain the hairs?”

“I— there’s got to be— look you don’t understand. ” Arthur felt nearly beside himself. “She’s Molly!”

Perkins shrugged but got on with his work, clearly deciding Arthur could live in denial all he wanted. But he wasn’t in denial. Molly loved him. They had seven children together, they’d grieved the loss of her brothers together. It wasn’t even a question of how could she ever, but why?

Was she upset with him? Did she resent the fact that he hadn’t gotten promoted past Head of the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office? Did she want him to get rid of the shed? She’d said as much so many times, but he’d always taken that to be her usual scolding, not a genuine hatred of it. Of him.

He lay awake in bed for a solid week next to a snoring Molly, the idea turning itself over in his mind in a way that made him feel quite sick. Did his Mollywobbles really not love him anymore?

The next week the brown hair was still in the shower drain, and Arthur knew he could sit on this no longer. He would have to act. The trouble was Molly would never admit it if it were true. Arthur would have to catch her with this brown-haired fellow, much as even imagining it roiled his stomach.

He arranged for Auntie Muriel to take the children for a day, not wanting them to be there for this — how had Molly even snuck some stranger past all of them? — and a part of him dreaded having to explain to them after. How was he going to manage on his own? Molly was the bedrock of this family. Perhaps it’d be better if he just pretended he hadn’t noticed. But no, it was too late for that. He was no coward.

Arthur had also taken the day off work, though he hadn’t told Molly this. She believed the children were being taken off her hands in order to give her a relaxing day, and she’d happily chattered to him about everything she was planning to get done around the house while they were all out. She kissed him on the cheek as if nothing were amiss when he left to take the children over to Muriel’s through the Floo.

Rather than head to work from there, he stayed and talked to Muriel for over an hour, which caused Bill to remind him of the time.

“Oh yes. Ah, but funny that, I’ve forgotten my lunch. I’ll just pop back home first.” He checked his gold watch. If Molly were going to be having some strange wizard over, he’d have to be there by now. Hopefully she’d been too busy to notice his hand on the clock hadn’t changed to ‘work’, though thinking of what she might be busy doing caused the tips of his ears to burn.

“Weasleys,” he said, eyes growing misty in spite of his best efforts, “be good. I love you all very much.”

“Oh, don’t coddle them,” Auntie Muriel said dismissively while Bill and Charlie frowned at each other.

“We love you, too, Daddy!” Ginny declared from her perch on Bill’s back. Arthur smiled at her, then turned to the Floo before he could burst into tears.

“The Burrow!”

A few short grates later and he was back in his kitchen. Molly was nowhere to be seen, though her hand pointed to ‘home’. So she was upstairs, was she?

He heard movement on the third floor. Dear Merlin, they were using one of the children’s rooms? He took the steps two at a time, careful to avoid the squeakiest ones.

As he approached the landing that held the twins’ bedroom, he heard Celestina Warbeck on the Wireless, Molly humming along. Arthur hesitated with his hand on the knob, then threw the door open.

“Caught you!”

Molly screamed as the mattress George slept on flopped to the ground, her spell losing its concentration. “Arthur! What are you doing here?”

She was standing there alone, fully dressed. Arthur stood there gaping a full minute.

“But, I thought—”

“Thought what?” She asked, one hand going to her hip. “And what did you mean, ‘caught you’?”

He was beginning to sweat now, but Arthur didn’t see why he should be made any more a fool of. “Look, Molly, I know what’s been going on, so let’s just drop the act.”

“What act?”

“The act where you pretend some- some scoundrel hasn’t been over here to see you and showering before he leaves, leaving his hairs in the drain—”

“How dare you!” Molly had gone beet red as the shock wore off. “You think I would — while the children—

“Well they’re not here now, are they?” Arthur shouted, his anger keeping him from quailing in the face of Molly’s indignation. “So where is he? He’s clearly been here!” He swept a hand to George’s still unmade bed.

“I was changing the sheets!”

“Have it your way, then. Homenum Revelio! ” Arthur cried as he brandished his wand. It heated up in his hand as he pointed it towards Molly, then again as he was instinctively guided to point it towards the floor. 

“That- that’s not possible,” said Molly, her anger dying in the face of the evidence.

“Oh, it’s not? We’ll see about that!” He left the room and raced back downstairs. He’d have to catch the bloody cheat before he made it to the Floo — but then his wand heated up again and pointed towards Percy’s door on the second landing. He flung that open, too. “Ha!”

There was no one inside. What was the trick? A Disillusionment Charm? A rudimentary invisibility cloak? “Alright, just come out. I won’t curse you,” he promised, even if it was a tenuous promise at best.

“Arthur, be careful!” Molly called as she came down the steps as well.

He couldn’t decide what was worse, that she still cared or that he was being forced to play hide and seek with the man she’d cheated on him with? The spell was still supposedly working; it kept heating up as he passed it over Percy’s perfectly-made bed. Arthur bent down and looked underneath it, but no one was hiding there and his wand went cold.

Homenum revelio! ” He tried again, and watched with some puzzlement as his wand arm stretched out towards Percy’s bedside table where Scabbers sat in his cage, squeaking at Arthur.

“That can’t be right…” But he had done the spell correctly, he knew it! It was one he often had to use to make sure there weren’t any Muggles about before he set to work undoing enchantments on objects.

“Well? Have you proven I’m some scarlet woman yet?” Molly demanded, breathing in and out through her nose like Charlie’s old stuffed toy dragon.

“Er, that’s the thing. It’s reading Scabbers as a human,” he admitted with a nervous laugh.

“I see. Well, that must be it, mustn’t it?”

“Molly—”

Yet they were both distracted as, with a crash, Scabbers’ cage fell to the floor, the door popping open on impact. With a squeal, the rat made a run for the door.

“Oh!” Molly cried.

Accio! ” Arthur shouted, summoning the rat into his other hand. It wouldn’t do for Percy to lose it on top of everything else. “Here now, Scabbers, I’m sure we can come to some arrangement,” he attempted to joke weakly. He was rewarded with a bite on his finger. “Argh!”

“In his cage, Arthur!” Molly took her own wand from her apron and banished the rat inside the cage, spelling it locked as well. Scabbers began frantically scratching at the sides and the bars.

“I don’t understand. It’s like he knows what we’re talking about,” said Arthur. He tried the human revealing spell again with the same result. Something was not right.

“I need Amos,” he decided, heading down to their fireplace. Arthur lit it and threw a pinch of Floo powder in before kneeling on the hearth and declaring, “Diggory’s Den!”

His head spun for a time before he blinked his eyes open onto a view of the Diggorys’ sitting room.

“Amos?”

A few minutes later, his friend and neighbor came into the room. He’d mentioned to Arthur last week that he’d taken the day off for his son Cedric’s birthday, and while Arthur hated to intrude, this was more Amos’ purview than his.

“Arthur! Sending your well wishes to my boy?”

“I’m afraid that’s not why I’m calling, Amos. I’ve got a bit of a problem with a family pet. Percy’s rat, Scabbers. We thought he was a regular garden rat, but there seems to be something, er, strange about him. I’d appreciate if you could come over and have a look.”

“Just a garden rat, you say? Alright, it should only take a few minutes.” Amos went to a hall closet. “I’ll be right through, Arthur.”

“Thank you, Amos.” He ended the call and sat back. As he clambered to his feet, he noticed Molly standing in the kitchen archway with Scabbers’ cage.

“Amos is coming over.”

She nodded, then asked stiffly, “How’s your hand?”

He looked down at it. The bite was bleeding a little, still, but the pain had mostly receded. “I think I’ll pull through. Er, Molly—”

But the fireplace flared green and Amos walked out. “Now then, where is the little rat? Oh, afternoon, Molly.”

“Afternoon, Amos,” she replied with half of her usual warm smile. She set the cage down on the table where it trembled.

“Nervous fellow, is he? What was the problem, Arthur?”

“Well you see, we— er, I thought there was someone in the house, so I did the revealing spell and it led me to Scabbers. I’ve renewed it twice now, and it keeps directing to him.”

“Hm. Well, I’ll give it a go, then, shall I? Homenum Revelio! ” Just as before, Amos’ wand pointed straight to Scabbers. He frowned. “The children out?”

“Yes,” Molly answered. “Why?”

“Because if this is what I’m thinking, it may come as a shock. One moment.” He waved his wand and the trembling of the cage stopped. “I’ve put him to sleep,” Amos explained. “Now comes the tricky part.”

He opened the cage and set the unconscious Scabbers down onto the floor. Then he pointed his wand, emitting a blue light that hit Scabbers where he lay. As sweat beaded on Amos’ brow, the rat began to change.

It was a slow process, but first he became bigger, his long nose shrinking back as a human head sprouted; limbs followed; the fur melted away to reveal human hands and skin. When it had finished, a fully-grown man lay where Scabbers had been.

“What?” Molly asked hoarsely.

“It’s like I thought,” Amos said with clear disgust. “Animagus. How long has he been here, Arthur?”

“Seven- seven years,” Arthur answered, his voice faint to his own ears.

“He was a person ?” Molly asked, looking rapidly from Arthur to Amos.

“Yes, though I’m not sure who. Looks a bit familiar, but I can’t place it.” Amos crouched down and tried summoning any personal effects, though it appeared the unknown wizard had none. With a jolt, Arthur noticed that, just as Scabbers had been missing a toe, so too was this man missing a finger.

His hair was indeed brown, though, so at least that explained that. A wave of both relief and shame washed over him as he realized his wife had truly been innocent.

Before he could vocalize his apology, however, Amos swore under his breath. “Look at his left arm.”

His neighbor had pulled up the somewhat tattered sleeve of the man’s worn robes to reveal a very faded tattoo of a very familiar mark. Arthur went pale as Molly gasped beside him.

“He’s a Death Eater? ” His wife cried.

His relief was now swamped by fear as well. A Death Eater had been living amongst them, eating their food and playing with their children. Why?

“Amos, watch him. I’m calling the Aurors,” Arthur decided. He paused for a moment to grip Molly by the arms, for she looked unsteady on her feet. “Are you alright?”

“I- I don’t— how?

He kissed her forehead. “We’ll find out, Molly. I swear to you.”

Whatever they discovered, he still had his family. Arthur was just glad they’d caught this dark wizard before one of them had come to serious harm.

Of course, once the man’s identity had been confirmed by the Aurors, they all were thrown for another loop. How could Peter Pettigrew have been an Animagus and a Death Eater, much less alive? And what did that mean about the Dark Lord’s right hand man who currently sat wasting away in Azkaban?

—-

Sirius curled in tighter on himself as a pair of Dementors drifted past his cell. Even as Padfoot, it wasn’t quite enough to chase off the chill that rolled off of them or the voices in his head: It was your plan, Sirius! You’re the reason we’re dead! You deserve to be in here!

At last the Dementors turned a corner and the worst of it faded away into the background. Sirius panted in momentary relief. With effort, for he was very hungry and weak, he shifted back into his human form, collapsing back onto the thin straw mattress he’d been using for the last seven years. Well, it wasn’t quite seven. It was 2,098 days to be exact, provided he hadn’t accidentally missed one. It was possible, but he liked to think himself accurate. Keeping track of the date was just another way to hold onto his sanity.

And today was a special day, a good day. Today was Harry’s eighth birthday. He tried to imagine what his godson might look like now, with James’ messy hair and Lily’s green eyes. The rest of the details were hazy in his mind, but he used those two as focal points whenever he thought of the little boy.

Remus and the others were hopefully spoiling him rotten today. Perhaps he’d be getting his first broom without any of the height or speed limits. A heap of candy from Honeydukes or maybe a special ice cream cone from Fortescue’s. He had no doubts that everyone left in the Order would make sure it was a happy occasion, just as James and Lily would’ve wanted.

Hagrid had never said where Harry was to be taken when he’d been forced to give Harry up that night. He’d ceded to Dumbledore’s wisdom as a hunt for revenge would’ve been no place for the infant, and Harry had had that cut on his forehead. It had still been bleeding when Sirius had gotten there, and he wondered if it had gotten properly treated. With any luck and the skill of Madam Pomphrey, he doubted it had even left a scar.

He wished he could be there so fiercely he thought he could feel a physical ache in his chest. It would be foolish to dwell on happy thoughts for long. It would only cause the Dementors to seize on them and return.

Yet as he lay there, the happy feeling did not fade. In fact it grew stronger just as a bright light swept down the corridor beyond his cell. A bright light that looked an awful lot like a Patronus.

“He’s that one, Professor,” the gruff voice of one of the guards said, and the Patronus stopped outside Sirius’ cell. Now that it was in front of him, he could swear it looked just like Dumbledore’s old phoenix.

His cell door swung open, and Dumbledore himself walked through, heeled boots echoing on the stone. Sirius scrambled to sit up.

“Professor Dumbledore,” he said, his voice hoarse yet still affecting the casual tone he’d been aiming for, as though Dumbledore stopped by all the time rather than this being their first meeting in nearly seven years. “I thought you hated Azkaban.”

“Indeed I do, Sirius. And seeing for myself what Azkaban has done to you, my dislike of it only grows.” The old wizard bent over and offered him a hand. “We’ve discovered the truth, you dear young man, and I can’t begin to say how sorry I am.”

He stared at the offered hand dumbly. “The truth?”

“Yes. Peter Pettigrew has been found, and his allegiance to Voldemort made clear. He confessed everything under Veritaserum.”

So Peter had survived. His lips pulled back in a snarl. “Where is he?”

Dumbledore simply opted to reach under one of Sirius’ arms and hauled him up to his feet. “Please, Sirius. I understand your anger and grief, as well as the injustice of your situation. But let justice be done now. I should think James and Lily would wish you to be a free man rather than the killer we all wrongly thought you to be.”

James and Lily. Their true betrayer would now be punished. Maybe they could rest easier, wherever death had taken them.

“What happens now?”

“A stay at St. Mungo’s seems to be in order,” his old headmaster replied. He led Sirius down the narrow, twisting hallways, the phoenix patronus lighting the way and holding the Dementors back. They walked out of the prison into the craggy rocks beyond like it was the easiest thing in the world, like they hadn’t just left the last seven years of his life behind.

“Now then, the Ministry was kind enough to allow me to make a Portkey for our purposes.” He selected a rock on the ground and tapped it with his wand. “ Portus. ” The rock glowed blue for a moment, and Dumbledore held it out towards him. “Quickly now, Sirius.”

“Right.” He struggled to fight past the fog that his mind seemed to still be trapped behind. As soon as he touched the rock, he felt a tug at his navel and the world spun away until his feet hit tile with a slam.

Sirius staggered sideways and hit a wall, retching for several moments though there was nothing in his stomach to be brought back up. It had been so long since he’d experienced Portkey travel, much less gone anywhere.

The air smelled so clean it was sharp. A number of voices assaulted his ears, and he sank towards the ground. Someone pressed a cool cloth to his forehead and combed back his hair from were it had fallen in his face.

“Forgive me, Sirius, I should have realized.”

“S’alright,” He croaked past a raw throat. “Always thought you hated me, anyway, after sixth year…”

“Believe me, you were not the first nor the last to make a rash decision with grave consequences. But rest now. There will be plenty of time to talk.”

He didn’t register sleeping, really, because there were no nightmares. All he knew was that he found himself no longer on the floor, but lying on a cloud. He shifted and there were sheets over his body. Sheets!

Sirius’ head lolled to one side as he noticed someone sitting in a chair beside the bed. Expecting Dumbledore, he was not prepared to see a sandy-haired head going gray propped in someone’s hands.

“...Remus?”

Remus’ head snapped up, meeting his eyes with a mixture of shock, joy and discomfort. “Sirius. I- it’s so good to see you.”

“Now that you know I wasn’t the traitor, you mean. It’s alright,” he said before Remus could do much more than cringe. “I’ve wanted to see you ever since I realized you weren’t the traitor. I should have known better, Remus. Forgive me?”

“Only if you’ll forgive me,” his old friend said. He reached out and clasped Sirius’ hand between his own. “You look terrible.”

“At least I have an excuse. What’s yours?” That got a smile, and Sirius felt his own lips turn up, though the gesture was unfamiliar to him after so long. “Tell me what’s been going on, will you? How’d they find the rat?”

Remus drew in a breath. “It’s a rather long story. It turns out Peter had decided the best thing to do after getting Voldemort killed and you arrested was to lay low for a while while still keeping an ear out, so he set himself up as a pet with a Wizarding family. The Weasleys to be exact.”

“The Weasleys? What happened to them?”

“Nothing, other than them being quite disturbed to learn the rat they had kept for seven years was really a man. I hear the younger ones are taking the excitement quite well, though, all things considered.”

Sirius shook his head. How many Weasleys had there even been last he’d made count? Trust Peter to take advantage of such good people.

“So that’s all he did was hide? He didn’t try to hurt anyone?”

“Not so far as I know. Though he has rather hurt Minister Bagnold’s reputation as well as Barty Crouch’s career. They’ve both been called to resign thanks to bungling this whole case. I can’t believe you were never given a trial,” Remus said as he shook his head. “It would’ve solved the whole thing.”

“It never does well to dwell on what could have been, Remus,” said Dumbledore’s voice in the doorway. His eyes twinkled as he surveyed them both. “It is always best to persevere with what one has. I hope you don’t mind a couple more visitors, Sirius.”

“No, of course not.” He’d been so long without any company that he was quite pleased to see his old Head of House joining them as well. “Hello again, Professor.”

“I should think Minerva would do,” she replied. “And I must say, I was very sorry to learn what had so unjustly happened to you, Sirius. It’s a miracle you seem to be doing as well as you are after that long in Azkaban.”

“Ah, well, I knew I was innocent, and that kept me sane. Along with other tricks.”

“Yes, I wonder if we might see such a trick?” Asked Dumbledore. “Only if you feel able, of course.”

“I had to tell them everything, Padfoot,” Remus said, the old nickname cluing him in. “I suspect that’s part of the reason for Professor McGonagall’s presence here.”

The transfiguration professor pursed her lips. “Well, it’s not everyday you learn three of your former students achieved the Animagus transformation by the age of fifteen. And self-taught at that.”

“James-taught more like. He was the best at transfiguration,” Sirius said wistfully. The others smiled sadly as well, so he worked to get out from under his covers in order to best lighten the mood. A moment later, Padfoot stood on the mattress with a happy bark.

McGonagall clapped her hands together once, her eyes shining. “Very impressive. Quite thin at the moment, of course, but I imagine you’d give Sybil a real fright were you to come across her at the castle.”

“He very well might,” Dumbledore agreed with amusement. Sirius neither knew nor cared who Sybil was, but the thought of leaving St. Mungo’s for Hogwarts or anywhere gave him an idea.

Transforming back, he asked, “Once I’ve been let out of here, how soon until I could see Harry?”

There was total silence as the smiles slipped off Dumbledore’s and McGonagall’s faces while Remus sat up a little straighter in interest.

“I understand he’s probably settled and happy where he is,” Sirius continued haltingly, unsure why McGonagall gave a snort at that. “I only want to check up on him, maybe see if he has any questions for me. I am his godfather, after all, if that wasn’t rescinded.”

“It wasn’t,” Dumbledore responded eventually. “Neither was your wand snapped, and I offered to see it delivered to you.” He withdrew a thin box that he passed to Sirius, who removed his wand from it with trembling hands. A jolt of warmth rushed up his arm and straight to his heart.

It was doused almost immediately when Dumbledore added, “I’m afraid, however, that Harry Potter will not be receiving any Wizarding visitors before he receives his Hogwarts letter.”

“What do you mean?”

“Harry has been placed in the care of his maternal aunt, Petunia Dursley,” Dumbledore explained. “She and her husband have a young boy the same age as Harry.”

“Right.” He vaguely remembered something about that, the same as he vaguely remembered anything about Lily’s sister. He’d never met her, but James had always claimed the woman and her husband were hilarious — though he doubted that was intentional on their part.

“They don’t care for magic,” McGonagall stated, as though she’d been waiting for her chance to do so. Judging by the weary look Dumbledore regarded her with, this was an old conversation.

“When Lily placed herself in front of the Killing Curse for her son, it enacted powerful blood magic. Harry is safest with relatives who share his mother’s blood, which is why he resides with the Dursleys. And I believe it best that he not be bombarded with his fame at such a young age.”

“His fame?”

“Harry survived the Killing Curse. That’s what destroyed Voldemort,” said Remus. “The whole Wizarding world knows that happened, if not how or why it did. He’s easily the most recognizable eight year-old in Wizarding Britain, and no one’s ever seen him.”

This new information about his godson was a lot to process, but his main concern remained. “Couldn’t I visit? Just for a day, just to be sure he’s alright? I just need to see him,” he pleaded. It was the only thing he really wanted to do now that he was free; the rest of it all didn’t really seem to matter.

“I assure you I have ways to monitor the situation, Sirius, but I am afraid Petunia has made herself quite clear regarding magical visitors. Perhaps I may be able to convince his aunt to pass along a letter.” The old wizard checked his watch. “For now, I must return to the Ministry where, hopefully, we will soon be on our way to selecting Millicent’s replacement. I believe we have troubled you enough, Sirius, and you must rest.” He motioned for Remus to stand and join them as well. His old friend squeezed Sirius’ shoulder briefly before doing so.

McGonagall came forward, however. “It really is an impressive feat that you three managed,” she said as Dumbledore and Remus left the room. “I don’t suppose you’ve decided what you’ll do once you’ve been discharged?”

“Well, my only request has been denied. Suppose I’ll have to get a new flat or a house.” There was no way his old flat hadn’t been rented out to someone else by now, and he’d go back to Azkaban before willingly returning to Grimmauld Place.

McGonagall made a short humming sound. “You might try looking for property in Surrey.”

“Surrey?” He echoed doubtfully.

“Yes. There are some houses on Privet Drive. Good place to raise boys, or just children in general.” She fixed him with a look.

Slowly, a grin spread across his lips. “I’ll have to give the area a look.”

His former Head of House nodded and turned for the door. “Go through the treatment first, Sirius. It will be better for you in the long run.”

He nodded, shifting back against his pillows. He would go through the treatment as quickly as was possible so that he could be let out and ready to go to Privet Drive. For the first time since his arrest, he had a goal. And it felt good.

—-

At age eight, Harry Potter had decided that there truly was something strange about himself. Or at the very least, there had to be some sort of explanation for why he was treated differently than all the other children and why strange things just seemed to happen around him.

When he was younger, he had thought perhaps the Durselys behaved just as any family did towards non-immediate relations. Yet he had started at primary and learned about things like adoption and foster care, where children were taken in by families totally unrelated to them and treated the same as everybody else. He had gone home and asked his Aunt Petunia why he hadn’t been adopted.

“You should count yourself lucky you weren’t,” she had snapped. “No one would have wanted a freak like you, anyway. Now go to your cupboard and stop asking questions!”

Harry had done so, not feeling very lucky at all.

None of the other children at school had to do chores all day, either. That was what Harry was currently occupied with; dusting in the sitting room. It was one of his least favorite chores because it meant he had to be very careful lest he break something. The one time he accidentally had, he’d been sent to his cupboard without food for two days. Sometimes Dudley threatened to knock more of the china figures over just to get Harry in trouble, though thankfully his cousin was out with Piers Polkiss today.

As he went to dust the window ledge, his ears picked up the sound of a very loud motor, like the sort Uncle Vernon often complained about after his commute home from work. The motor grew louder and louder, until a motorbike careened around the bend of Magnolia Crescent and stopped in front of Number 2 Privet Drive.

Harry watched in fascination, dusting completely forgotten, as a man got off the bike. He wore a leather jacket and an old t-shirt with some sort of bird on it in very faded gold. The man walked up to Number 2 and knocked, hands shoved in his pockets with casual elegance.

“Boy!”

Harry jumped at the sound of his Aunt’s voice.

“Stop dawdling or you won’t have finished your chores before dinner. Those who don’t sit at the table don’t eat.”

Harry nearly tried to explain himself by pointing out the strange man and his motorbike, but thought better of it. Aunt Petunia did not like excuses any more than she liked questions.

“Yes, Aunt Petunia.”

Harry had only just finished up the dusting when there was a knock on the front door. His Aunt frowned and went to answer it.

“Hello?” She asked with barely concealed displeasure.

“Hello. Are you Petunia Dursley?” A man’s voice asked. Harry inched out into the hallway to try and see better. “Yeah, must be, you’ve got the same nose.”

“I beg your pardon? Who are you and why are you calling at my home?”

“Right, sorry. We really should’ve met by now. I’m Sirius Black, James and Lily’s friend.”

Aunt Petunia reared back as though he had slapped her, allowing Harry to get a look at him. It was the same man who had ridden in on the motorbike. “Who told you that you could come here?”

“Er, no one, actually. Look, I’ve been away, let’s say, and I just wanted to check on Harry. They named me his godfather, you see.”

Harry gave a start as he realized this strange visitor had something to do with him. His godfather? He wasn’t entirely sure what that meant.

“His— the boy doesn’t have— where exactly have you been ?” Aunt Petunia spluttered. Her hand was shaking where she held the door still slightly shut.

“Prison,” Sirius Black answered cheerily. Then the next instant, “ Ouch— you’ve a very strong — I was innocent, alright!”

For Aunt Petunia was trying to shut the door on his foot.

“I’ll not have some convict in my home! Trust Lily to get mixed up with criminals.”

“It was a frameup, a misunderstanding. I’ve been officially declared innocent, honest! I just want to see my godson. He’s right down the hall, there, it’ll only take—”

Harry jumped at having been caught and paled when Aunt Petunia whipped her head around to glare at him.

“You! Go to — just go!”

“Yes, Aunt Petunia,” Harry meekly replied. He wasn’t sure why she hadn’t told him to go to his cupboard, but that was where he was supposed to go. Harry hurried across the hall and opened the little door, hurrying inside. He pressed himself up to the grate to try and keep listening.

Outside his cupboard, it had gone very quiet. He thought he heard the man’s voice, very low and lacking in the laid back manner he had been speaking in. His Aunt said something next.

Then, much louder, “I said, why did he just shut himself up in a cupboard?”

“This is none of your business!” There was a crash as the front door hit the wall. “You’re not welcome here! I want you to go!”

“Not without Harry.” The door to Harry’s cupboard was wrenched open, which caused Harry to topple out. He was caught and gently set on his feet, face to face with Sirius Black.

To Harry, he was everything the Dursleys were not. If Uncle Vernon were to see the stubble on his face, he’d yell at the man to get a shave. He was terribly thin with hollow cheeks and waxen skin, though with some extra weight and perhaps some time in the sun, gave the impression that he could be quite handsome. With baggy clothes and windswept hair, he looked more like Harry than Harry’s own relatives did.

The shadows lurking at the corners of his eyes only slightly dampened the open concern he displayed watching Harry.

“Hello, Harry.”

“Hello, Mr. Black.”

The man grimaced. “Sirius will do. It’s good to see you again.”

“We’ve met before?” Harry asked in shock. He would certainly remember meeting someone like this.

Sirius smiled. “Yes, though you wouldn’t remember. You were only a baby. I was friends with your parents.”

“My parents?” Harry echoed in wonder. Harry’s parents were a forbidden topic at the Dursleys. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Aunt Petunia shaking in anger and, if he wasn’t mistaken, fear.

“Lily and James, yes, they were my best friends.”

“Were those their names?

“Were those their—” Sirius bit back his words and leveled a glare at Aunt Petunia, whose shaking grew worse. “Yes, they were.”

“Y- you’re not supposed to- to be here,” she stammered. “Your kind isn’t—”

“Well, Harry’s my kind and he’s already here, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t be.” Sirius turned back to Harry, his glare softening. “Harry, before your parents died, they named me your godfather. That means I’m supposed to look out for you if they can’t, but I couldn’t do that before now.”

“Because you were in prison?”

“Right,” Sirius agreed with a nod. “But they’ve caught the bas- er, bad person who did it, so I can look out for you now. I wanted to see how you were doing at your Aunt’s. Can you tell me why you went in that cupboard just now?”

“Because it’s my room,” Harry answered. Down the hall, he could see Aunt Petunia paling ever more rapidly.

Sirius nodded again, unsurprised, though the look in his eyes was more haunted than before.

“Right. Okay, here’s my idea. You see, Harry, legally I am your guardian, and that means I can take care of you, too. I won’t force you to go if you don’t want—”

Harry’s heart leapt. “You mean I could live with you instead of here?”

“Yes, but only if you want.”

Harry turned and went into his cupboard, grabbing up the old pillow on his bed and stuffing all of Dudley’s castoffs into it. The faded blue blanket that no longer covered him completely went in last.

“I just need my toothbrush, it’s upstairs,” he told Sirius as he came back out. Harry ran up to the bathroom, only catching snatches of the conversation between his Aunt Petunia and his godfather.

“—said we had to take him.”

“Had to treat him like your personal House Elf too, did you?”

“I’ve no idea—”

“—you don’t want him, so this is just better—”

“Fine!”

When Harry came back downstairs, Aunt Petunia and Sirius were standing across from each other and sending dark glances the other’s way occasionally. Sirius’ face brightened when he caught sight of Harry.

“Ready to go, then? I’d tell you to say goodbye to your relatives, but who cares? Come on!”

He took Harry’s hand and led him out the door. Harry’s heart was thumping wildly in his chest. He was leaving the Dursleys. Someone who cared about him did exist. He was going to live with him. It was like out of one of his dreams.

They stopped at the motorbike, and Sirius frowned. “Right, you need a helmet. Er—” He glanced around and picked up a piece of gravel off the driveway. Then he took a long stick out of his back pocket and waved it at it like a magician on the telly, muttering nonsense words. To Harry’s astonishment, the gravel grew and shifted in shape and color until it became a helmet complete with straps to fasten it on.

“How did you do that?”

“Let me guess, they didn’t tell you about the magic, either.”

Harry shook his head. “The Dursleys said magic isn’t real.”

“Well, simply put, it is. Someday you’ll be able to do it, too.”

Harry’s eyes widened. He would be able to do magic? He could hardly believe that it was real even seeing it before his eyes!

Sirius lifted Harry up and sat him on the motorbike, then looked ready to climb on behind him. “Shouldn’t you have a helmet?”

His godfather paused. “Do you just want to see more magic?”

Harry stared back at him.

“Oh, alright.” Sirius picked up another piece of gravel and repeated the magic transformation to Harry’s delight. “You’ve barely seen anything yet,” Sirius told him as he took hold of Harry’s pillowcase satchel, tapping it with his stick and making it shrink. He placed it in his pocket and then got onto the motorbike behind Harry.

“Sirius. Sirius Black!” Adding to Harry’s increasing bewilderment with the day, it was old Mrs. Figg who was calling out to his godfather as she hurried across the street towards them. “Where are you taking the boy?”

“To live with me like he should have been.”

“But it might not be safe—”

“I’ll make sure it’s safe. It’ll be safer for him than in that house. Did you know they had him sleeping in a cupboard under the stairs?”

Mrs. Figg flinched, but said, “I’ll have to tell Dumbledore about this.”

Harry had no clue what a Dumbledore was, but she made it sound very important.

Sirius seemed less impressed. “Go ahead and tell him, Arabella. And tell him that while I understand him not keeping me out of Azkaban, he should have done everything in his power to keep Harry out of a prison.” With that he gunned the engine, forcing Mrs. Figg to back up, and then the motorbike took off down the road.

Harry clung to the handlebars, Sirius’ larger hands on either side of his. He didn’t think he’d ever gone this fast before in his life, and it was brilliant.

He did not know for how long they drove, but as the number of houses began to drop, Sirius leaned forward and said, “Now make sure you’re holding on.”

He pressed a button, and the motorbike began to rise into the air, climbing higher and higher.

“It can fly?”

“Yep! Much faster this way. We’ve got to get all the way to London!”

“What’s in London?”

“A house. I hate to admit it, but Arabella’s right about safety. And there’s only one place I know that fits the bill. It won’t be the most pleasant, but you’ll see when we get there.”

Harry watched in amazement as fields and then buildings passed by below. It was much colder up here than on the ground despite the summer sun, but with Sirius close it made up most of the difference. Magic was real and someone had come to take him away from the Dursleys. He felt certain he would wake up back in his cupboard any moment, but for the meantime he decided to get away with asking questions since his Aunt and Uncle weren’t around to tell him not to.

He learned from Sirius that there was a whole world of witches and wizards separate from the non magic people, or Muggles. His parents had been part of it and that was probably why the Dursleys disliked him so much. The stick that Sirius used to perform magic was called a wand, and Harry would get his own some time after his eleventh birthday so he would be ready to go to a magic school called Hogwarts.

Eventually they descended behind a row of houses into a small yard. “Number 12, Grimmauld Place,” Sirius told him as they walked up to the back door. “It’s Unplottable, which means it’s hard to find. We’ll have to look into adding more protections to it, of course.”

“Isn’t it locked?” Harry asked, watching Sirius reach for the doorknob.

“Not for me. This was my family’s home, and I’m the last of the Blacks. From this line, at least. Mother just died two years ago, I’ve been told.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Sirius assured him. “Be glad you never met her.”

With that, he pushed the door open and led Harry into a very dark and damp basement.

Lumos, ” Sirius said as he held his wand out again, and a light glowed at the tip, showing empty shelves of what might have been a pantry. Cobwebs appeared to have taken it over, and Harry could clearly picture Aunt Petunia’s horrified look. 

Sirius led them up some stairs and into a long, narrow kitchen with a large table at the center. Everything was similarly dusty. “Not much cleaning’s been done. We may get lucky and Kreacher’s died with her.”

“Who’s Kreacher?”

A loud crack at the other end of the room caused Harry to jump, and then again as he took in the sight of a small being with large, batlike ears with hair growing out of them and a lined face. It wore a dirty old loincloth and nothing else.

“So, nasty Master returns to gloat over the death of Kreacher’s beloved Mistress.” Its eyes widened and then narrowed as it took in the sight of Harry; for some reason in particular it seemed to notice the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. “And he brings a filthy half-blood with him.”

“That’s enough out of you, Kreacher,” Sirius growled. “In fact—” he took the pillowcase out of his pocket and returned it to its normal size with another wave of the stick before looking back to Harry. “Are you particularly attached to any of these?”

“My clothes?” Harry shook his head. “Not really.”

“Good.” Sirius took out an oversized shirt which produced an agonized wail from Kreacher.

“No! No, Master!”

“Come off it, Kreacher, you don’t want to work for me. And Harry and I would rather you weren’t here. It’s best for all of us.”

But Kreacher threw himself at the floor in front of Sirius’ feet with unexpected speed and strength, pounding at it with his fists.

“Kreacher must stay! He must!”

“I don’t understand,” Harry stammered as he watched the pitiful display, discomfort churning in his gut. “What is he, and why doesn’t he want my shirt?”

Sirius heaved a sigh. “Kreacher’s a House Elf. They’ve served as little more than slaves in magical families for centuries. He’s been my family’s House Elf for generations, but we’ve never got along. Presenting him with clothes means I’m freeing him, which I’d have thought would suit him just fine.”

“But isn’t slavery wrong?”

“You’ll find there’s a lot still wrong even in a world with magic, Harry. Now come on, Kreacher,” he said, his tone growing harsher. “Just take the clothes.”

“But Kreacher must stay!” The House Elf wailed. “Kreacher promised Master!”

“Whichever Master you’re talking about is long dead. You’re released from your obligations.”

“But Master Regulus’ orders have not been carried out! He swore Kreacher to them, and Kreacher has not been able to carry them out. Kreacher cannot betray Master Regulus,” Kreacher sobbed.

“Can’t he stay until he’s finished whatever it is?” Harry asked, unable to stand the old Elf’s wailing any longer.

Sirius scowled, but between Harry’s pleading and Kreacher’s crying he had little choice. “Alright,” he declared loudly, stuffing the shirt back inside the pillowcase. “What was it Regulus wanted done, Kreacher? The sooner we handle it, the better.”

Kreacher’s tears slowed and he sniffled as he eased back up onto his feet. “Kreacher must destroy the locket.”

“Which locket?”

In a series of two cracks , Kreacher disappeared and reappeared in front of Sirius holding a gold locket with a snake in the shape of an S on the lid.

“Why did he want it destroyed?”

“It was the Dark Lord’s,” said Kreacher.

“The who’s?” Asked Harry.

At the same time, Sirius said, “Voldemort?” For some reason, those specific syllables in that order made Kreacher flinch, though they were incomprehensible to Harry. “But Regulus was on his side.” He looked between Kreacher and Harry. “On second thought, we’ll do the locket later. Kreacher, are there any rooms suitable to sleep in in the house?”

“Kreacher could make them,” the Elf admitted to the floor.

“Alright, then do that to my room. Take down those old posters while you’re at it — but leave the Gryffindor colors. That’ll be your room,” he explained to Harry. “And I’ll take the master bedroom. Then we’ll need to see to the kitchens and bathrooms next. If you’re going to stay here, Kreacher, you better work for it.”

“Yes, Master,” Kreacher said with a half-bow. “Kreacher will start on room for the- for the Young Master,” he said with some effort as he glared at Harry. Then the Elf disappeared with another crack .

“Maybe once he’s finished his job he’ll want to leave?” Harry suggested weakly in the silence.

Sirius did not appear to be angry with him, however. His godfather rubbed at his chin as he said, “You were probably kinder to him than he deserves, but that’s not a bad thing to be. He’ll start his moaning back up once I order him to take the old House Elf heads off the wall.”

“Old House Elf heads ?” Harry repeated.

“Yeah. Trust me, this isn’t my ideal place to live, but it’s best for you. Safety first and all that. Come on, I’ll give you a very brief tour, and we can put your things away in your new room.”

He walked around the table and opened another door leading up to a hallway.

“Sirius, what’s a Volder- er, a Voldy—”

“Voldemort?”

But Sirius did not get to answer his question, for the curtains on the wall beside them flew open revealing a woman in what appeared to be a portrait. Except that she was moving and screaming.

“YOU COME BACK HERE, SOILING THE NAME OF MY FOREFATHERS AND BRINGING HALF-BLOOD SCUM INTO MY HOUSE—”

“YOU’RE DEAD, YOU OLD BLOWHARD!” Sirius roared back before grabbing hold of the curtains and wrenching them shut after a great struggle. Several more portraits were coming to life around them, and Sirius used his wand to hit each with a jet of red light that seemed to quiet them.

Panting, he looked to Harry, who had pressed himself into the nearest corner beside a misshapen umbrella stand in fright.

“Looks like you do get to meet her. That was my mother, Harry. We’ll do our best to steer clear of her, eh?”

Harry nodded and continued to follow Sirius up the steps of the gloomy, dusty house. He rather liked the idea of magic and his new godfather — but there was an awful lot of strangeness accompanying the whole thing. And something told him it would only get stranger.

—-

Ginny was having the strangest, most exciting summer of her entire life. And she had only just turned seven!

Percy’s rat had been a dark wizard the whole time, and their dad had caught him. Her dad was the bravest, kindest, funniest wizard in the whole world, and she couldn’t be prouder of him.

He was even going out of the way to be the utmost gentleman to their mum lately, who seemed measurably less impressed with it all than Ginny was. Dad was making sure to be on time for dinner and to help wrangle all of them into bed at night, which was making her nighttime flights more difficult though not necessarily impossible. There had been no sneaky trips out to the shed for the last several days. He’d gone over Bill, Charlie and Percy’s summer homework, though the latter hadn’t taken long at all.

Percy now spent most of his time hiding up in his room since the twins teased him mercilessly about the whole thing with Scabbers not being Scabbers. Ginny was getting older and therefore wiser, as she’d realized by now the only way to stop the twins was not to let them get a rise out of you, but for all his smarts Percy hadn’t gotten that yet. Neither had Ron, though at least he was only a year older than Ginny.

Things were starting to calm down on their own, and the end of summer threatened to be a boring one until one late morning when Ginny came down the stairs to discover they had visitors. One of whom she instantly recognized from the Daily Prophet articles.

Sirius Black was sitting at their kitchen table.

“Dumbledore’s been after me about it, but I’ve taken precautions. At the same time, I don’t just want him sitting in the house with no one but me for company all day,” Sirius Black was saying as both her parents nodded sympathetically. “And I’ve no idea where to buy things for kids these days.”

“Well, you’ve certainly come to the right place,” her dad said. “No better expert than Molly.”

Her mum gave a hum as she regarded her dad, but Ginny could tell she was secretly pleased.

“I don’t want to ask too much of your family, of course, after everything you’ve already done for me. How did you catch him, anyway?”

“Arthur found brown hair in the shower drain and decided that made him an Auror,” her mum said shortly.

Sirius Black looked between Ginny’s parents and then threw his head back with a laugh that sounded more like a bark. “That’s alright, Molly. Wormtail had all of us doubting each other back then. He’s a master at that.”

Soft footsteps on the steps behind Ginny caused her to turn and look up as an unfamiliar boy with messy black hair and glasses descended. He stopped as he spotted her, allowing her to notice the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. With a jolt, she realized she knew who the boy must be as well: Harry Potter.

Ginny gasped and jumped back against the wall as the boy continued to stare at her with the greenest eyes and a curious tilt of the head. Harry Potter thought she was interesting?

The more she watched him as well, the more she found discrepancies with the old bedtime stories. In those stories, Harry Potter didn’t have ill-fitting clothes and taped glasses. He was rich and famous and wouldn’t have time for a place like the Burrow. He was too busy being a hero.

Last of all, with marked awkwardness, he smiled and said, “Er, hello.”

It occurred to Ginny that her father was a hero and was just their father. Maybe Harry could be a hero and just be Harry, too.

“Hello,” said Ginny, softer than she normally was. Then, a little louder, “I’m Ginny.”

“I’m Harry.”

“Oh, Harry,” her mother said, bustling over. “Find the bathroom alright? Good, you can join Ginny for breakfast. The boys have already eaten and gone up to the paddock. Well, except Percy, but best not to disturb him.”

Ginny climbed up onto her chair and Harry did so beside her. “Morning, Dad.”

“Morning, Ginny,” her dad said. “Sirius, this is our youngest.”

“Right. Very nice to meet you,” Sirius Black said. Ginny nodded somewhat meekly and was glad when her mother put food in front of her plate. She watched Harry’s eyes go wide behind his glasses when his own plate was set down piled high with sausage, eggs and toast.

“Eat up, dear,” her mum encouraged him. “Those Muggles clearly weren’t feeding you properly.”

“Muggles?” Ginny blurted without thinking.

Harry ducked his head. “Er, yeah. My relatives.”

“Before I was exonerated, Harry was staying with his aunt and her family on his mother’s side,” Sirius explained. “Now that I’m out, he’s come to live with me.”

“And you were raised completely as a Muggle, is that right?” Her dad asked Harry. “I would love to know — but, er,” he added with a glance at Ginny’s mum, “perhaps some other time.”

Ginny couldn’t quite stifle a giggle, which seemed to let Harry know it was alright to smile, too. He was much quieter and more polite than any of her brothers. Even Percy had a sort of loud bossiness about him.

“Yes, Mr. Weasley.”

“Now how old are you, Ginny?” Sirius asked her.

Ginny sat up a little straighter. “I just turned seven on August 11th.”

“Did you? Shame we missed it. You’ll be the year behind Harry at Hogwarts, then.”

Ginny felt a terrible disappointment at that. “You mean he’ll be with Ron?”

“Yes, dear,” her mum replied. “Ron and Harry were both born the same year, and they’ll both be eleven by the cutoff.”

Ginny speared a sausage with vicious accuracy. It wasn’t fair being the youngest.

“But that’s three years away,” said Sirius. “And for now, Harry’s going to be needing other kids to play with and learn some of the basics like maths and writing. You could do those together.”

“Really?”

“Only if you like,” Harry hurriedly mumbled.

“Oh, I would!”

“Once you two have finished eating, Sirius asked if he and Harry could accompany me to Diagon Alley,” her mum said. “They need to pick up a few things. You can come along, too, Ginny. The boys will be up at that paddock all day.”

Ginny hurried to finish her breakfast and noticed Harry mimicking her out of the corner of her eye. Once they’d both finished, they went to join her mother and Sirius by the fireplace.

“What do your brothers do at the paddock?” Harry asked her as the adults finished getting ready.

“They go flying and play mock Quidditch.”

Harry’s eyes lit up with interest. “I like flying.”

“Me too! Only don’t tell anybody else, it’s a secret,” she told him.

“I’ve never had a secret before,” said Harry.

“Alright, Molly first and then you two,” Sirius announced. “And remember, clearly say it, Harry. We can’t go losing you all the time or Dumbledore’s going to lock me back up for negligence.”

Harry’s hands balled into fists at his sides. “He can’t do that!”

“Not if we don’t test it, he can’t,” Sirius said, ruffling his godson’s hair. Harry made a face as Ginny laughed again.

“We can go together,” Ginny boldly suggested as her mum accepted a kiss from her dad before stepping into the fireplace. She disappeared with a shout of their destination.

“Okay,” Harry agreed with a shy smile. Ginny grinned back and took his hand to lead him into the green flames.

Yes, Harry Potter was turning out to be very different than her fairy tale imaginings. But she found she rather liked him anyway.

—-

Albus found himself not nearly as enthusiastic to start the new term this year as compared to previous ones. Were it not for a recent string of events, he would be happily looking forward to the Welcoming Feast. As it was, he wished he had more time.

The revelation that they had been wrong all these years about Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew troubled him a great deal. He tried his best never to make mistakes, but it seemed that whenever he did they had disastrous consequences. An innocent man had been left to the tender mercies of the Dementors for nearly eight years. It was a fact that would weigh heavily on his conscious.

Now that Sirius was out, he was proving to be quite the loose cannon as he’d been before. Albus suspected he knew how Sirius had gotten the address of the Dursley family, but it would do little good to have a word with Minerva after the fact. By the time Arabella had gotten her message to him Sirius had vacated Surrey with Harry, effectively severing the ties between the boy and his blood relations. The wards would no longer work now that Harry knew there was someone in his life who wished to provide him a home and unconditional love.

Perhaps he should have realized Petunia Dursley would be unable to get over her resentment of her sister. But Albus had hoped Harry might be treated with something like civility. He had reached out to Sirius about forming some sort of compromise regarding Harry’s living situation and had been rebuffed with a list of all the Dursleys’ transgressions regarding their nephew.

And then Sirius had presented him with a far more pressing matter.

“Harry will be staying with me at the Black Ancestral Home. I’ve asked Remus to be the Secret Keeper, and we’ll be performing the charm tomorrow,” Sirius had explained as he paced in front of Albus’ desk late the night after he had taken full guardianship of the boy. “Before that happens, we’ll be clearing out the house of any dark artifacts. My family had quite the collection.”

“I can well imagine.”

“The thing is, there’s one I’d like your opinion on. It belonged to Regulus, or he acquired it at least.” A somber look had crossed the young man’s face for a moment before he’d withdrawn a golden locket with the S of Salazar Slytherin emblazoned on it. “He charged our family’s Elf with destroying it, and Kreacher’s been unable to all these years.”

Albus had stared at it, transfixed in both wonder and horror. Could it really be true? “Does Kreacher know how your brother obtained this locket?”

“He says it was Voldemort’s, but when I ask him more about it he clams up. Gets too upset.”

“It’s good you brought this to my attention, Sirius. Despite our disagreements, something of Lord Voldemort’s should not be treated lightly.” He had stood up and come around the desk. “If I may, I must ask you to borrow this for a time so that I may identify it and, if possible, determine how to destroy it.”

Sirius had nodded. “The further it’s kept from Harry, the better. I haven’t told him about the war yet. Petunia told him James and Lily died in a car crash.” His shoulders had slumped. “I know I need to soon, but he’s just so happy to be away from those horrid people right now. He’s making friends, learning. And it’s hard, going back there…”

Albus had taken the locket from Sirius and placed a hand on his shoulder. “When the time is right, you will tell him. And I think that you may be a better judge of that than me. For the meantime, I’m sure you wish to return to your godson.”

Sirius had nodded and left soon after.

For the remaining days in August, Albus had studied the locket; how it worked, what it could withstand. He at last came to the inevitable conclusion that it was precisely what he feared: a Horcrux.

He had long wondered how Voldemort had vanished that Halloween night, no body to show a mortal end. Tom Riddle had feared death too much to leave things to chance, and a Horcrux was the logical if reprehensible choice.

That Regulus Black, a young and relatively inexperienced Death Eater, had managed to retrieve such an object worried him. It made him think that perhaps Voldemort was not relying solely on a single Horcrux to ensure his survival. But for such a thing to be true…

He would need to find the means to destroy the locket, then wait and see what his sources told him about Voldemort’s movements, weak as they currently were. If nothing changed, it would mean something worse was waiting for the Wizarding World. Harry Potter’s role in the fight to save it might not yet be over.

For now, though, the unexpected capture of Peter Pettigrew had provided a reprieve for a number of lives so marred by tragedy. Perhaps time would continue to be kind or perhaps not, but there was no reason they shouldn’t take advantage of happier days.

It never hurt to have hope when dark times arrived.