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A Necessary Gift: a Harry Potter story

Chapter Text

Harry's life consisted of a series of unlikely events. Aside from his uncanny habit of surviving things which were widely considered fatal - basilisks, Dark Lords, killing curses - there was nothing predictable about it. So while Harry had always assumed that once Voldemort was defeated, peace would follow, it was almost inevitable that the opposite turned out to be the case. Harry had certainly never expected the war to drag on for years after the Prophecy had been fulfilled, but that was exactly what happened.

The idea of Pureblood Superiority did not die alongside Voldemort. The Death Eaters remained in control of the Ministry and, in the chaos following the Dark Lord's defeat, managed to free those who had been captured during the battle at Hogwarts. They quickly made their power felt, passing dozens of laws supporting purebloods and suppressing Muggle rights. The Death Eater regime met with little resistance from the public; their bigoted beliefs were popular and they had many supporters throughout Wizarding Britain. Everyone knew what was happening, but most either agreed with the Death Eaters' ideology or were too cowardly to speak out against it. Only a handful of witches and wizards joined the Order in fighting back, but those who did were vilified, hunted down and even killed by the Ministry.

Harry, his friends, the DA, and the Order found themselves alone in their fight against an entire society. There was simply no way for them to win; for years they tried and failed and lost too many good people with nothing to show for it. The Death Eaters' control over the Ministry was unshakeable, Hogwarts was a school for the Dark Arts, and there were hardly any Muggleborns in Britain left alive.

After the arrest and execution of eleven Order members, among them Neville Longbottom and George Weasley, the small group of survivors finally admitted to themselves what had been obvious for years - they had lost the war. The remaining Order and DA members, along with their families, decided to leave Britain and restart their lives far away from the memories of death and bloodshed. They scattered across the globe, no more than a handful going to any one place as a precaution against their locations being discovered. Seamus, Dean and Ginny picked Canada; Andromeda took Teddy and moved to Romania with Charlie Weasley (confirming a longstanding rumour of a relationship between the two); and Arthur and Molly decided to travel to Brazil for a second honeymoon and to recover from losing yet another of their sons. Eventually Harry, Hermione and Ron were the only ones left on British soil.

"Sure you don't want to come with us, mate?" Ron asked again. "Maybe you and Ginny could-"

"No, Ron." Harry shook his head. His relationship with Ginny was over for good and while he'd miss Ron and Hermione, he was firm on not going to Australia with them to join the search for Hermione's parents.

"I just don't get why not," Ron said.

"It's not too late to change your mind, you know," Hermione added.

Harry sighed. "I told you. The Death Eaters won't stop hunting me, and I don't want my presence putting you two in danger." That wasn't his only reason, but it was the one he thought they'd accept.

"Oh Harry!" Hermione lunged forward and smothered him in a hug. "You never change, do you?"

"Well, I'm taller than when we first met," Harry joked as he hugged her back.

Ron snorted. "Not by much. You're still a midget compared to me."

The three friends grinned at each other. The nature of their friendship had changed over the years, an inevitable result of fighting a war and Ron and Hermione starting a relationship, but Harry would never forget everything they'd shared together.

"Take care of yourself, Harry," Hermione said fretfully, no doubt picturing all the trouble Harry could get into if left to his own devices. "Oh dear, maybe we should stay…"

Ron groaned and rolled his eyes. "Here we go again."

"I'll be fine," Harry said. "You should go, Hermione. Find your parents, settle down, marry Ron and have a dozen red-haired children."

"Well if you insist…" Hermione gave him a wobbly smile and dried her eyes. "I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you, too," Harry said. "Good luck, both of you. Name your first son after me, yeah?"

Ron clapped Harry on the shoulder. "That's a promise, mate."

Moments later Ron and Hermione disapparated, leaving Harry standing alone in the entrance hall of the Order headquarters. With a heavy sigh, he picked up his trunk and prepared to follow their example.

Despite knowing there was nothing left for him in Britain, Harry was reluctant to leave. He couldn't stop obsessing over the terrible situation he would be leaving behind. Everything had gone wrong; he had fulfilled the Prophecy, but lost the war. Surely he or Dumbledore or someone could have chosen a different path and prevented such a terrible outcome. Surely there was something he could still do, some way to keep fighting, some strategy he'd overlooked. That was the real reason Harry had decided not to join his friends - for him the war wasn't over yet. He simply couldn't imagine happily living his life somewhere far away, complete with a wife, children and a white picket fence, while Voldemort's followers ruled Britain.

Harry was well aware that it would be suicide to linger, but though he knew he had to leave, he didn't go far - only across the English Channel to France. Once there he got a job serving drinks at the only bar in a small muggle village, earning just enough to rent a small cottage by the coast. It was an odd, reclusive sort of life, since Harry did his best not to draw attention to himself while still keeping an eye on the situation in Britain, just waiting for a chance to restart his fight against the Death Eaters.

It was difficult to adjust to his new surroundings after the constant struggle for survival Harry had experienced over the past few years. Living as close to Britain as he did, he couldn't risk using any magic due to the Aurors and foreign mercenaries hunting him, and he found the pressure of living as a Muggle was difficult to endure. Magic was too much a part of him for Harry to ever give it up entirely.

Whenever the loneliness and sheer tedium grew too much to take, Harry risked travelling farther south to visit Bill and Fleur and her extended family (her Veela cousins always gave him a very warm welcome), and even made an occasional trip to the magical enclave in the centre of Paris. Over the course of a year Harry began to relax and settle down, slowly realising that outside of the narrow confines of Wizarding Britain there existed a whole world of possibilities. Peace was not a concept Harry had ever really understood, but he thought he might be beginning to. When news came of the Ministry scaling back its search for the so-called terrorists, Harry even began entertaining the idea of one day being happy.

Which was what made the attack, when it came, so very unexpected.

Harry didn't know who killed him. All he heard was a voice crying out "Avada Kedavra" while his back was turned, not giving him enough time to even draw the Elder Wand from his pocket. Nor did he have any idea how his attacker had found him - he didn't want to think that he'd been betrayed, but after his experiences over the past few years, Harry wasn't able to discount the possibility. The truth behind his murder would have to remain another unsolved mystery, however, since upon opening his eyes he found himself lying flat on his back in the middle of a ghostly Kings Cross Station. He was dead - again.

Suspecting that his death would end up being just as dangerously unpredictable as his life had been, Harry scrambled to his feet and cautiously looked around. Thick fog swirled through the platform, making it hard to see anything, but after a while he spotted a small figure approaching through the white mist. It wasn't Dumbledore this time, perhaps because Harry - unfairly or otherwise - blamed most of the war's disastrous outcome on his old Headmaster. Instead he found himself faced with an over-excited House-Elf.

"Oh Harry Potter, sir! You has arrived!" Dobby exclaimed loudly, his voice echoing along the empty platform. "Dobby is so glad to be seeing the great and noble Harry Potter once again!"

"Er… hello, Dobby," Harry said, staring down at the small being he hadn't seen in almost three years. The elf was just as he remembered him, wearing mismatched socks, a yellow and purple striped scarf around his neck, and a bright red tea-cosy as a hat. Overwhelmed with affection for the odd being, Harry knelt down on the hard tiled floor and hugged him. "Thanks, Dobby," Harry said. "Thank you so much for everything."

"No need to be thanking Dobby, Harry Potter sir!" The elf's ears flapped wildly as he bounced on his toes. "Dobby is proud of having protected sir and his Grangy and Wheezy."

Harry slowly stood back up. "You're a great friend, Dobby."

Death seemed to have calmed the elf somewhat, since Harry's words didn't cause him to burst into tears of happiness. His already manic smile became even wider and his bouncing more energetic, but he otherwise contained himself. "Dobby is not having much time, Harry Potter! Dobby must be giving you a message before you is leaving."

"I suppose that means I'm still not completely dead then," Harry said with a frown. It was ridiculous - he'd been hit by three killing curses in his short twenty years of life and not a one of them had worked. Not that Harry wanted to die, of course, but he didn't like there being yet another reason for him to be considered a freak. If this was the consequence of mastering all three Hallows, Harry wished he'd destroyed the things while he had the chance.

"Harry Potter's mind is being very much alive," Dobby told him, "but Harry Potter's body is most dead. The bad wizard is chanting nasty spells and burning it."

"Huh," Harry said as he puzzled over Dobby's words. "They seem to have learned something from the last time, then. Does that mean I can't go back? Not that I'd be likely to live long, what with the bounty on my head and everything, but I'd like to spend more time with my friends…"

"Harry Potter cannot go back, but he cannot yet go on," Dobby said. "Harry Potter must go to a new world, where he can die properly!"

Harry was overwhelmed by what he was hearing and only able to focus on the injustice of it all. "What? Are you honestly telling me I have to be killed all over again! I've already died twice, isn't that enough?"

"Not killed!" Dobby's tennis-ball eyes grew even wider. "Never killed. Dobby is wanting Harry Potter to be safe and happy and wrinkled!"

"Wrinkled? You mean old?"

Dobby nodded enthusiastically. "Very wrinkled!"

"Well, dying of old age doesn't sound like such a bad plan," Harry said slowly, needing time to adjust to the idea. He had long ago been forced to give up such hopes, since his lightning bolt scar meant he might as well have had a bulls-eye painted on his forehead. "But what's this about a new world? It sounds pretty dodgy to me."

Dobby looked hesitant all of a sudden.

"Yes?" Harry prompted, narrowing his eyes in suspicion. Considering that Dobby's idea of a good plan involved Harry's near expulsion from Hogwarts and a thirty foot drop after being knocked off a broom, any hint of caution from the elf had to be a very bad sign.

"It is being another world, Harry Potter sir, one without the great Harry Potter in it!"

"Why, what happened to me?" Harry had heard Hermione debate the existence of alternate worlds on occasion, but he'd never believed there could actually be other versions of him running around. It was a disconcerting idea and one Harry wasn't too pleased to find out was true. It meant there must be countless of Harrys in innumerable worlds - he wondered if they all suffered from the same bad luck as him.

"Harry Potter is being killed in a car crash when he is being five years old, Harry Potter, sir," Dobby informed him, a sad look on his pointy face. Then he brightened up considerably. "But no Harry Potter means that Harry Potter sir can join world and live there instead!"

Apparently the Potter luck really was inescapable. Harry found it tragically ironic that his counterpart had died from what he'd grown up thinking had killed his parents. "So I'm supposed to take the place of a young me?" Harry asked after working out who all the Harry Potters mentioned were.

"Oh no, only if sir is wishing it," Dobby said. "Time is moving slower there, so Harry Potter sir is being ten years old when he arrives – as old as Harry Potter is being if he had lived - and can be anybody he wishes. No one is suspecting sir, since other Harry Potter is dying many years before."

"So I'll be starting Hogwarts and everything, but I don't actually have to tell people I'm Harry Potter," Harry checked. Dobby nodded eagerly, clasping his bony hands together in delight. "Back to the year nineteen ninety one, a proper fresh start…" Harry couldn't help but be tempted by the prospect. "No more Boy-Who-Lived or Undesirable Number One…"

"Then Harry Potter is accepting?"

Harry frowned and held up a hand to stop Dobby saying anything more. "Hang on a moment. If I can accept, doesn't that mean I can decline?"

"If Harry Potter is saying no then he is staying as a ghost forever and ever and ever!" Dobby looked distraught at the very idea. "Harry Potter sir is never going Onwards, never going on his next great adventure!"

"Oh," Harry said. The thought of never joining all those who had died – his friends, family, Sirius – was a most unwelcome one. No matter how unsure he felt over travelling to a strange and unfamiliar world, he knew it had to be the better choice. "There has to be some catch, though. I mean, what's wrong with the world I'll be sent to? I'm sure there's something."

"It is being similar to sir's old world. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is still lurking and Professor Trelawney is still telling future, but Harry Potter will also be seeing many differences. Dobby is not allowed to tell, Dobby must be keeping secrets. Dobby is sorry!"

"That's all right," Harry said kindly, seeing that the elf was upset at not being able to explain more. He might not know exactly what mess he'd just got himself into, but he didn't want to make it worse by demanding answers to the thousands of questions crawling around his head. "At least I know for sure it's not all going to be sunshine and roses. It'll give me a chance to prepare."

"So Harry Potter is saying yes?" Dobby nervously fiddled with the ends of his multi-coloured scarf. "Harry Potter must hurry, almost being no time left to decide."

"Well… all right, I suppose I'll accept," Harry said after a long pause. He'd wanted a chance to win the war and a new world would give him that – there was nothing left for him here. "So long as you promise me that the next time I die, I'll stay dead."

The elf nodded solemnly. "Dobby is promising."

"Well then, I suppose this is good bye for now." Harry smiled down at his small friend. "Take care of yourself, Dobby."

"Good bye, Harry Potter," Dobby said, and snapped his fingers. With a loud crack that echoed down the empty platform, Harry disappeared. His last thought was that Dumbledore had been right about one thing - death really was the next great adventure.

Chapter Text

It felt like forced Apparition, only several magnitudes worse. His body was twisted and compressed, there was pressure on all sides, and Harry would have cried out except there was no air left in lungs. The sensations of pain and dizziness grew to almost unbearable levels, before abruptly ending as Harry slammed into solid ground. He lay flat on his back, gasping for air with his eyes squeezed shut, fighting off the wave of exhaustion and nausea that threatened to overwhelm him. It took a long moment for his stomach to settle and his breathing to even out, but eventually he was able to drag himself to his feet and look around.

His surroundings were very familiar; Harry was standing in the street outside his small house in France, in the exact spot he'd been attacked. He was even wearing the same clothes - a plain black shirt, jeans, and an old pair of dragon-hide boots. Harry blinked dazedly, wondering if he'd simply dreamt everything - dying, meeting Dobby, being sent to another world. Then slowly he began noticing several differences. The house looked uninhabited, with the paint peeling off the walls and the garden overgrown; the weather was cold and overcast, where before it had been a warm summer day; and Harry himself was several feet shorter than before.

"Merlin," Harry murmured, torn between awe and horror. He looked down with a frown, taking in the clothes that hung off his skinny frame and pooled at his feet. It seemed Dobby had been as good as his word. The elf had warned Harry that he'd be ten years old again, but Harry hadn't realised just how small and puny that would make him.

He rummaged through his pockets of his jeans for the Elder Wand, intending to shrink his clothes to a manageable size, only to discover it missing. A few minutes of panicked searching revealed that the Invisibility Cloak and Resurrection Stone had also disappeared. Harry had always kept the Deathly Hallows close, not wanting them to fall into the wrong hands, and all three had been in his pockets when he'd been attacked. It appeared they hadn't made the journey with him, however.

Which left Harry wandless and alone, trapped in the body of a child and stranded in a world he knew nothing about. He hadn't been so vulnerable in years and hated the feeling. He tried to stay calm by reminding himself that, according to Dobby at least, Harry's counterpart in this world had died years before. It gave him a certain level of protection, since a strong resemblance to the Boy Who Lived would probably be dismissed as a coincidence, and as an anonymous child there would be no reason for anyone to target him. Harry still wouldn't feel safe until he carried a wand and wore a proper disguise, however; he'd had too much experience of being the Chosen One, and all the dangers that came with the title, to risk being recognised.

"So, what next?" Harry asked himself. He turned to look at the distant coastline, beyond which the dark blue sea stretched out to the horizon. It would be easy enough for him to apparate across the narrow stretch of water separating France from England, and then to make his way to Diagon Alley in London. Once there he'd be able to buy a wand and start gathering information about the new world he found himself in, readying himself to rejoin the Wizarding World. Dobby had told him enough for Harry to feel that a future fight against Voldemort was inevitable, and he wanted to be prepared.

Yet Harry hesitated. As things currently stood, nobody knew who he was or even that he existed; for the first time in his life he was totally anonymous. Without the pressure of the Prophecy and people's expectations, it would be easy for him to stay far away from Britain. Harry didn't owe anyone here anything after all; this wasn't his world and the people in it were all strangers - what did it matter to Harry if Voldemort and his Death Eaters took over?

It mattered a lot. Hermione had been right when she'd said Harry had a 'saving people thing'. Knowing that there was a chance he could prevent countless of deaths from occurring in this new world, Harry was simply incapable of walking away. Intellectually he knew his old friends wouldn't be the same people as their counterparts, but emotionally Harry couldn't quite manage to separate the two worlds. He found the concept of alternate universes hard to grasp, but one thing he was sure of - abandoning any version of his friends to Voldemort was simply unthinkable.

Once he'd reached the decision to keep fighting, Harry didn't waste any more time. After checking there was no one in sight, he disapparated with a loud crack and reappeared moments later by the white cliffs of Dover. The journey was more difficult than Harry had expected, leaving him panting from exertion and his limbs aching. He was alarmed to realise it was because not only his body, but also his magic, was that of child. With his powers completely untrained, even the simplest spells would be difficult to cast and the risk of splinching was high,

Unfortunately Harry couldn't afford to rest or travel the muggle way - he needed to move on quickly. He was suspected magical travel across borders was monitored by the Ministry, and Harry didn't want Aurors turning up and asking awkward questions. His lack of any proof of identity wasn't the problem; Squibs weren't considered part of the Wizarding World, so it was only after children turned eleven and qualified for Hogwarts that they were registered with the Ministry of Magic. As a ten-year-old, Harry wouldn't be expected to turn up on any official lists. However, he would definitely be in trouble for underage magic and even in the Wizarding World children weren't allowed to wander around without adult supervision, making avoiding Aurors a good idea.

With that in mind Harry apparated away again, making several short and erratic jumps until he ended up in an alleyway off Charing Cross Road. From there it was only a short walk to the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley, where soon Harry found himself surrounded by wizards and witches doing their afternoon shopping. Harry couldn't help staring in fascination at the bustling crowds and colourful window-displays - it really drove home that he was in a different world. It had been a long time since Harry had seen such a carefree gathering anywhere in Magical Britain and the relaxed and carefree atmosphere left Harry with oddly mixed feelings. He was glad the people around him were at peace, with the experience of war only a distant memory, yet he also despised their wilful ignorance of the dangers he was sure were lurking beneath the happy facade. Harry knew only too well that the Wizarding World's problems hadn't miraculously disappeared along with Voldemort that long ago Halloween. If this new world was anything like the one Harry had left behind, then there were darker undercurrents present that everyone seemed content to ignore.

The crowds were at least useful though, in that they allowed Harry to wander down the street without anybody paying him much attention. In a daze he passed by shops and people that were at once comfortably familiar and jarringly foreign, needing all his self control to keep acting normally and not let his creeping panic overwhelm him. The situation he was in was outside anything he'd ever imagined or experienced, but Harry reminded himself that he'd have plenty of time to worry later. First he needed a wand, a disguise, and some sort of plan for what to do next.

With that in mind, Harry paused when he reached the front steps of Gringotts, thinking of all the gold locked inside the imposing white marble building. Harry needed money, but unfortunately he couldn't think of a way to get large amounts of it without resorting to outright theft. His counterpart had probably had a trust vault, but Harry wouldn't be able to access it without revealing his identity - and maybe not even then, since with the other Harry's death his property had probably been inherited by someone else.

In the end Harry's desire for secrecy won out over the slim possibility of getting his hands on a heap of galleons, and he reluctantly continued on down the street. Being without a wand was making him increasingly uneasy, and the only way to fix the problem was by buying one. Fortunately for Harry, he'd learnt a lot from watching the Weasleys shop for school supplies over the years, and he knew of a small junk shop on the corner to Knockturn Alley where he hoped he could get everything he needed.

As he walked he examined his surroundings and just as he had outside his home in France, he encountered many small differences. Where Harry expected to see a second hand robe shop there was instead a run-down café; 'Obscurus Books' appeared to have been renamed 'Opus Obscurus'; and - most astonishing of all - a white marble statue of a five-year old Harry Potter stood on a pedestal in the middle of the street.

Harry stumbled to halt in front of it, tilting his head up to stare at the small stone figure. A shiver ran down his spine as his eyes traced over the familiar features - the messy hair, the pointed chin and, of course, the lightning bolt scar. At the base of the statue the simple words In Memoriam were carved, but other phrases were written in graffiti alongside it. Thank you, Harry! Down with Dumbledore! Avenge the Boy Who Lived! Death to all Muggles! The messages were many and varied, but Harry was disturbed by the numerous outpourings of hatred against the muggle world. He didn't remember there being such blatant anti-muggle sentiment the first time he'd been introduced to the Wizarding World.

Harry wasn't sure how long he would have stood there staring at the statue in morbid fascination, if one of the many street-peddlers hadn't approached him.

"How abou' some flowers, eh? To lay at little Harry's feet?" The peddler waved a tray of lilies under Harry's nose and gestured to where dozens of wreaths already littered the ground in front of the statue.

"No," Harry said, pushing the tray away. "Thanks," he remembered to add, then hurried past the peddler before the man could get a good look at his face.

The statue made it even more imperative that he buy a wand and disguise himself, and Harry was relieved to find that at least his memories of the junk shop matched the new reality he found himself in. The single shop window didn't give much of a hint as to the available merchandise, and once inside Harry was confronted with a confused jumble of different items. Books were stacked in towering piles along the walls while baskets of second-hand clothes, broken scales, old broomsticks and various other knick-knacks covered every other available surface.

The shopkeeper sat reading a magazine with his feet up on the counter and paid no attention to Harry as he browsed the shop. Harry was happy to be ignored, not keen on dealing with intrusive questions such as why he was wearing muggle clothes that were several sizes too big for him, or why he wanted a wand in the first place. Many wizarding children practiced magic before they started Hogwarts, but they normally used family wands. It was rare for a child to buy a wand before the age of eleven, since it generally took until then for their magic to become mature enough to find a proper match.

It took some rummaging around, but eventually Harry found a basket of old and battered wands behind a stack of dog-eared Martin Miggs comics. One by one Harry picked them up and waved them around, hoping to find a wand that suited him. Finally, one gave off a few sparks and Harry smiled in satisfaction. He tilted his head to read the label tied to the worn and scratched handle. 'Birch, serpent scale core. 9 1/2 inch. Gregorovitch.'

Harry doubted the veracity of the claim that the battered old wand was a Gregorovitch creation, but decided it would have to do. Buying his Phoenix feather wand from Ollivander would not only be too expensive, but would also draw unwanted attention. Maybe later, once he knew more about the world he found himself in, he could risk purchasing the Dark Lord's brother wand, but for the time being he'd have to settle for a half-decent temporary one.

"Oi! You buying or what?" the shopkeeper demanded.

"Oh, right, yeah." Harry shook off his thoughts and moved over to the till. Bending down he tugged off his dragon-hide boots, then dropped them and the wand down on the counter.

The shopkeeper snorted. "Whatcha do, kid? Steal your dad's boots?"

"None of your business," Harry retorted. "They're yours in exchange for the wand and some old clothes. What d'you say?"

The shopkeeper didn't bother to haggle much, clearly more interested in returning to his Quidditch magazine, so it didn't take long for them to strike a deal. Harry handed over the dragon-hide boots (which were in any case much too big for him) and in return he got a wand, four second-hand robes, and a pair of ratty muggle trainers. He even managed to get a box of old Daily Prophets thrown in as well, and by the time Harry left the shop he was smiling and wearing clothes that actually fit him.

It was a relief to be dressed more inconspicuously and to feel the reassuring weight of a wand tucked up his sleeve. Harry knew there was no reason to expect any trouble, since the world he was in was safe enough as far as he could tell. But with a wand Harry could ensure that no one would connect him to the dead Boy Who Lived, giving him enough breathing room to figure out what exactly he wanted do with his new life. So far he'd just covered his scar with his fringe, but that was a very flimsy disguise.

With that in mind, Harry hurried back down the street to the Leaky Cauldron and ducked into one of the public toilets. He locked the door behind him and threw a sticking charm at it to be on the safe side, then turned to peer into the grimy mirror hanging over the equally grubby sink. He sucked in a startled breath - it was almost like looking into the face of a stranger. They were undoubtedly his features reflected back at him, but it was unsettling to see a small child staring back at him instead of the adult wizard he had so recently been.

Once the initial shock was over, Harry began carefully studying his reflection and deciding what changes to make with a few simple glamour charms. It ended up taking several tries to get the spells to stick, with Harry having to struggle to control his untrained magic. He was relieved when, after hiding the famous lightning bolt scar, he could lower his wand and rest. He had only made a few small changes, but he hoped it would be enough to ensure he wouldn't be linked to the Potters.

Later he might have to experiment with human transfiguration, since charms were harder to maintain and easier to dispel, but for the time being the glamours would have to do. With his magic untrained and using an unfamiliar wand, it would be too risky to attempt any complicated spells - human transfiguration could go badly wrong if not properly cast.

"All right, here goes," Harry said to himself as he stared at his new reflection. "I've been given a second chance and I can't afford to mess it up. The Boy Whole Lived is dead and is going to stay that way if I have any say in it - I'm just an ordinary ten year old wizard."

"Right you are, love," the mirror told him in a motherly voice. "But you'd best sew up those holes in your robes if you don't want to end up starkers."

Harry rolled his eyes at the mirror's advice, the state of his clothes the very least of his worries. Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he unlocked the bathroom door and moved out into the main room of the Leaky Cauldron. With a wand in his pocket and his glamour charms in place, Harry finally let himself relax and take in his surroundings.

He was immediately reminded of the first time he'd walked inside with Hagrid accompanying him. The pub was certainly as crowded as it had been back then before the second war. There were dozens of witches and wizards chatting over meals and sitting anti-socially at the bar nursing glasses of firewhisky. Some of them Harry recognised; he saw Hestia Jones enjoying an early lunch with one of her colleagues, both of them dressed in red Auror robes, and he was pretty sure one of the wizards gathered around a wizarding radio listening to a Quidditch match commentary was Alicia Spinnet's father.

According to a discarded Daily Prophet Harry grabbed from a nearby table, the date was the 7th of February, 1991. Depending on how one looked at it, it had either been ten years in the future or less than a day ago that Harry had died and been sent to another world. Harry felt the beginnings of a headache throbbing in his temples. The jump into the past, coupled with the familiar but still different surroundings, left Harry feeling disoriented and off-kilter.

He was used to bizarre and unlikely things happening to him, and so could just about handle suddenly being ten years old again. What he couldn't quite grasp was that the world he found himself wasn't his world. He had to remind himself that no matter how similar she looked, the Hestia Jones in front of him wasn't the same woman who had been killed by a blasting curse during a skirmish in Knockturn Alley. He didn't actually know anything about the witch seated a few tables away. For all Harry knew, she was living in sin with Stan Shunpike and had three illegitimate children and a pet Kneezle.

It was another world and despite the superficial similarities, Harry couldn't let himself assume everything was the same as his old world. The biggest difference Harry knew of was that his counterpart had died at the age of five - that change alone would have massive consequences for everyone he knew. The Dursleys for one were probably much happier, Harry thought with a snort. Dumbledore must have had to change all his plans, since without the boy 'marked as his equal' the Prophecy was useless - or maybe he had focused all his efforts on poor Neville. As for the Wizarding World in general, the Daily Prophet must have had a field day when the Boy-Who-Lived was killed in a muggle car crash.

Harry was overwhelmed thinking of the sheer number of changes that could arise from a single event. He'd have to do some research - get his hands on some history books and read old newspaper articles - to find out the main differences between worlds. He wouldn't be able to make any reliable plans until he knew exactly what he was getting himself into.

"Can I get you anything, lad?" Tom the barman asked, distracting Harry from his busy thoughts.

"Hello, sir," Harry said, putting on a shy smile. "I was wondering if you needed any help around the pub? You see, I really want to buy some stuff from Gambol and Jape's joke shop, but I… I don't have any money and was hoping maybe... you might hire me? I'm a hard worker, I promise!"

Tom frowned as he took in Harry's thin face and tattered second-hand robes. "But where're your parents? You haven't run away from home, have you lad? It's not safe for a young boy like you to be out on your own."

"I don't have any parents," Harry told him, hoping to gain the man's sympathy. He knew from experience that many adults had a soft spot for orphans. "I live in a Muggle orphanage. I don't like it there much, but that's all right 'cos soon I'll get to go to Hogwarts! I'm so excited!"

Tom chuckled at Harry's childlike enthusiasm, but his worried expression soon returned. "What're you doing by yourself though, lad? Won't the adults at the orphanage be worried?"

Harry scoffed. "Them? They don't care. They just want us out from under their feet every day. That's why I'm here. I'd hoped I could, you know, spend time in the Alley after school every day, maybe earn some money to buy myself lunch and stuff. I love being around magic, you see."

"Why, of course you do!" Tom exclaimed, patting Harry on the shoulder. "A young wizard like yourself should be amongst your own kind, not surrounded by muggles all day long! You come by whenever you want, lad - I'll let the other shopkeepers know to keep an eye out for you, and perhaps they'll have a few errands you can run."

Harry was relieved that Tom had bought his story. He felt a bit guilty about misleading the kind-hearted barman, and using the widespread distrust of muggles to do so, but shrugged it off. "Really? Thank you!" he said. "Can I begin working right away?"

"Eager to start, eh?" Tom smiled knowingly. "Tell you what, how about I bring you a bite to eat first, and then later you can help me out in the kitchen in exchange. Sound fair?"

Harry nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, sir!"

"Then take a seat and I'll get you some shepherd's pie," Tom said. "It'll take but a minute."

Harry settled down at a table in an out-of-the-way corner where he could sit with his back against the wall, and within a few minutes Tom returned as promised. The barman ran a wet rag over the table before setting a huge plate of food down on the still grimy surface. Harry was quick to thank him and dug in hungrily - his small body was starving and it had been years since he'd last had the opportunity to eat Tom's hearty cooking.

After he'd eaten his fill, Harry was put to work washing dishes for an hour, giving him time to consider what his next step should be. The Wizarding World was more lax when it came to children working so Harry should be able to earn a few Knuts with which to buy food, though that still left him without a roof over his head. He couldn't stay at the Leaky Cauldron - for one thing it would be too expensive and for another it would make people suspicious. Harry didn't want Tom to question his orphanage story, since otherwise he could find himself actually ending up in one. Living under close adult supervision would interfere with Harry's plans and would be bloody annoying to boot. He thought he could handle acting like a child for short stretches - he'd managed to convince Tom easily enough after all - but he didn't fancy having to keep up the act full time.

Therefore once he was finished in the kitchen, Harry sought out Tom to thank him for his help and made a big show of having to get back to the orphanage before dark. He left the pub by the door to muggle London, but as soon as he was out of sight he apparated away to the Shrieking Shack on the outskirts of Hogsmeade. It was the only place Harry could think of where he could stay without fear of discovery.

The Shrieking Shack was old and dilapidated, having been home to a rampaging Werewolf on a monthly basis, but it was safe. Since it was considered to be haunted by violent spirits no one would dare investigate any loud noises or strange sightings. Harry would be able to do almost whatever he liked there and no one would notice.

The ground floor of the shack was a mess, with the paper peeling off the walls and every piece of furniture smashed and broken. Harry tried casting a few reparo spells and managed to fix one of the chairs and a small table, but the rest of the room was unsalvageable. Fortunately the upstairs was in better condition, no doubt because it hadn't been exposed to Remus Lupin in his wolf form. Everything was covered in a thick layer of dust, but the comfortable four-poster bed only needed a few strong cleaning charms and the bathroom plumbing was all intact.

Really, there were much worse places to live, Harry told himself once he'd finished sweeping away the worst of the dirt and cobwebs and bits of broken furniture. When compared to the Dursleys' unwelcoming home, the Shrieking Shack might as well be a palace. With his basic needs met - food, clothing, shelter - Harry could concentrate on other things, such as what the hell he wanted to do with his new life.

He tried to remember exactly what Dobby had told him about the world he was in. The elf hadn't been very informative, but he'd said enough for Harry to know that, while some things were no doubt very different, Trelawney had still made a Prophecy and Voldemort remained a threat. Harry wasn't certain whether the Prophecy in this world applied to him, but in the end decided it didn't really matter. He was determined not to let himself be turned into the Wizarding World's favourite symbol, celebrity, and scapegoat. While he was prepared to fight Voldemort, he wanted to do so on his own terms. If people knew the truth, Harry could easily find himself being interrogated by Aurors, vilified by the press, and hunted by Death Eaters. Secrecy, he decided, was the better option.

Which meant that Harry had to create a new identity for himself and, since he was stuck as a ten-year-old, that identity should preferably include an appropriate parental figure. He didn't want to have to hide out in the Shrieking Shack for the next seven years until he came of age and his lack of money was already becoming an inconvenience.

Fortunately Harry had thought of a way to solve most of his problems in one fell swoop. It was likely that Sirius Black was currently rotting away in Azkaban and Harry was determined to get him out. The man had suffered so much; he'd fought in a war against his own family, lost his best friends, and then been turned on by the very people he had fought alongside and tried to protect.

Harry was convinced that saving Sirius the right thing to do - he couldn't imagine any world where Sirius Black deserved to be locked up in Azkaban - but it was also the practical choice to make. If Sirius was free then Harry hoped he could explain the situation and persuade him to take on the role of Harry's guardian. Sirius was the only adult he'd ever completely trusted, and while Harry did remind himself that the Sirius currently in Azkaban wasn't his Sirius, he still cared about the man and wanted to help him if at all possible. Harry had been given a second chance and by Merlin he was going to make the most of it.

The plan he came up with was simple enough. Harry would pass himself off as the illegitimate son of Sirius Black and one of his many lovers, then use his familial connection to get Sirius' case reopened by the Ministry. Once Sirius was freed Harry hoped to be able to talk him into going along with the pretence, thereby adding credence to his story. If all went well, Harry would be considered part of Sirius' family and his identity would be established as a young wizard who was most emphatically not Harry Potter.

The only thing that made Harry hesitate was choosing the right woman to be his so-called mother. It would need to be a woman close to Sirius' age, preferably a pureblood, if possible attractive, and most importantly of all - dead. He couldn't give anyone a reason to suspect him of lying. If such a conveniently deceased witch didn't exist then Harry supposed he'd have to choose a random muggle instead, but he wanted to keep that as a last resort. He was determined not to let the Death Eaters come to power in this world, but he knew that would be a lot easier said than done. Harry would need to be in a position to influence events and people, especially those wizards and witches who believed in Pureblood Superiority. Belonging to an important pureblood family would strengthen his support amongst the Noble and Ancient houses and would be a useful advantage to have.

So Harry sat down with the stack of old Daily Prophets he'd got from the junk shop earlier that day and began skimming the obituary sections for any likely targets. He found a few witches who seemed as if they might fit his requirements, but further digging showed that they were unsuitable. It couldn't be a woman with a close family who were likely to investigate the sudden appearance of a long lost son, nor someone who had already had children or was too much in the public eye.

In the end there was only one witch who Harry thought might work. Her name was Evelinda Aubrey and she was a Gryffindor from an old and predominantly Slytherin family. Harry found mentions of her in several old articles about her older brother, Bertram Aubrey, who was described as a rising star in politics. He was pictured in several photographs alongside a young Lucius Malfoy, Rabastan Lestrange, and one of the Carrows. The Aubrey siblings had apparently been estranged for years due to their political differences, but when Evelinda died in a terrible house fire her poor brother turned up at the funeral - with several reporters in tow.

Reading between the lines, Harry gathered that Bertram Aubrey had been a Death Eater, or at least an unmarked supporter, who had disowned his sister because she refused to join the Dark Lord and had later taken advantage of her death to drum up public sympathy and political support.

The fire that killed Evelinda did more than burn down her home, it had also destroyed her body. Which meant there was no real proof that Evelinda was actually dead - Harry could claim that she'd left Britain before the fire or had faked her own death or something. Considering the panicked state of the Wizarding World back then, it wouldn't be unreasonable for her to have done so. Many witches and wizards had ended up fleeing Britain and going into hiding during the war. There would be no reason for anyone to suspect Harry of lying about any of it - after all, the truth was much more implausible than the lie.

Checking the dates, Harry worked out that Evelinda would have been only a year older than Sirius and that she had died during the height of the war, two years before Sirius was sent to Azkaban. It fit perfectly; according to the stories Harry had heard, Sirius had slept with every attractive witch he met back then, so it wouldn't be outside the realms of possibility for Evelinda to have fallen pregnant with his child. The story could be that Evelinda hadn't wanted herself or her son involved in the war (and later hadn't wanted to live in the country that had thrown Sirius in prison) and so had left Britain to live quietly abroad, keeping her son a secret from everyone.

The rest of the details were easy enough to invent. Harry chose the name Orion Aubrey for himself, after Sirius' middle name, and did his best to make up a believable history of the last ten years. He decided he would pretend to have been born and brought up in France, but that when his mother had died a few months ago from some sort of lingering illness, Harry had travelled to Britain in the hope of proving his father innocent. He would tell anyone who might ask that Evelinda had always been convinced that Sirius had never betrayed the Potters, and so Harry had grown up believing his father was unjustly imprisoned.

By the end of the day Harry was mentally and physically exhausted, but he was pleased with everything he'd managed to get done so far. He would have to do more research to make sure he hadn't overlooked anything, but Harry was pretty sure his made-up background would stand up to scrutiny.

Unfortunately his good mood didn't last. He fell asleep minutes after collapsing into bed, but his sleep was plagued by nightmares. He woke up several times in a cold sweat, his hand reaching for his wand and his heart beating wildly in his chest. Only one of the dreams was about his last panicked moments during the attack in France. The others were all based on older memories; hearing Hermione's screams as she was tortured in Malfoy Manor, seeing Luna be hit by a cutting curse in the middle of an ambush outside the Burrow, while the most vivid of all was of watching his godfather disappear forever behind the Veil of Death.

"Sirius," Harry whispered to himself as he lay awake, staring blankly into the darkness of his bedroom. But for once the crushing sense of loss the nightmare always invoked was lightened. He had a chance, here in this new world, to save Sirius. "I'll make sure he's freed," Harry told himself fiercely. "I'll do everything right this time. I swear it."

Chapter Text

Harry's first few days in the new world he found himself in were spent leafing through Daily Prophets, scrubbing pots and pans in the Leaky Cauldron, and listening in on conversations as he wandered around Diagon Alley. Tom the innkeeper had kept his promise and had introduced Harry to a few other shopkeepers; Florean Fortesque paid him in ice-cream sundaes to run errands and help out behind the counter, and Harry was happy to stack shelves in Flourish and Blotts in return for being allowed to read through all the books in the history section.

The odd-jobs didn't pay enough for Harry to eat more than one proper meal a day, however, leaving him permanently hungry as well as exhausted from struggling to adapt to the strange world he'd been thrown into. He knew he couldn't continue living as he was for much longer and so did his best to gather the information he needed to put some of his plans into action. He quickly found that while at first glance everything was very similar (Dumbledore was Headmaster of Hogwarts, Lucius Malfoy had pleaded the Imperius Curse after Voldemort's defeat, and Fudge was incompetent), there were some rather unsettling differences.

For one thing, Crouch's wife had died of dragon pox three years ago instead of in Azkaban while polyjuiced to look like her son, which left Harry wondering whether Barty Crouch junior had been smuggled out of prison or not. Another worry was that Dolores Umbridge had been promoted to Undersecretary several years earlier than she had in Harry's world and had no doubt been spreading her bigoted beliefs ever since.

There was also some good news, however; Harry heard many of the regulars in Leaky Cauldron talking about Gideon Prewett having recently joined the Wimbourn Wasps as Keeper. It was a change Harry was very pleased about, since he knew Mrs Weasley had always mourned the loss of her brothers during the first war. Harry didn't hear anything about Fabian Prewett, but hoped he was alive as well. Harry wondered how the Prewetts surviving the war had changed things, but didn't know enough about them to guess.

The culture and magic of the wizarding world in general seemed quite similar to what he was used to - people used the same spells, listened to the same music, and watched the same sports - and by all accounts the war had progressed much as it had in Harry's world. Voldemort had slowly gained power and support from the old Pureblood families, while the Ministry ineffectually tried to arrest Death Eaters and the Order did their best to save lives.

Harry was sure small details would continue to trip him up for a long time to come, but he felt that he had a good enough grasp on the more obvious deviations between this world and his own. Any blunders Harry made when talking to people could be blamed on his growing up abroad. In any case, ten year old boys weren't really expected to know much about current affairs, though he had gained some odd looks in the Leaky Cauldron when he hadn't known who was playing in the Quidditch world cup that summer.

His plan to hide his identity was also going rather well. Harry had introduced himself as Orion Aubrey without anyone looking twice and it hadn't taken long to confirm that Sirius Black was in Azkaban for the murder of Peter Pettigrew (and for killing twelve muggles with one spell, although the various newspaper articles treated that as the lesser crime). Harry just hoped a certain rat was where he thought it was, since otherwise proving Sirius' innocence would be close to impossible.

-.-.-

Three days after he'd arrived in the new world, Harry dressed in his least scruffy robes and spent over half an hour in front of the mirror carefully casting glamours on his face. He really couldn't afford for the charms to fail or for someone to see through them. Once he was finally satisfied, he apparated into Muggle London and headed off to the public entrance of the Ministry of Magic. The bright red telephone box that served as the entrance was only a few streets down from Charring Cross road and it didn't take long before Harry stepped inside and dialled 6-2-4-4-2.

"Please state your name and the nature of your visit to the Ministry of Magic," came the smooth voice of the welcome witch.

"Orion Aubrey. Meeting with Arthur Weasley," Harry said into the handset as he stood in the cramped phone booth.

"Thank you. Welcome to the Ministry of Magic," the voice replied.

Harry hung up the telephone just as a silver badge displaying his name and reason for visiting clattered out of the coin return slot. Once the telephone box had slowly sunk into the ground, Harry stepped out into the Atrium and pushed his way through the crowd of ministry employees milling around the statue of Magical Brethren. He frowned at the golden statue as he passed, hoping that the ugly thing would end up destroyed in this world as well. No one thought to stop him as he passed the wand-weighing station and headed towards the lifts, since no one expected a ten-year-old to carry a wand.

He shared a lift with a stressed looking witch and a foreign looking wizard in bright red robes. They gave him rather curious looks, but when he punched in the number for level two and looked as if he knew where he was going, they turned away in disinterest. The lift moved rapidly downwards and sideways, before the doors slid open and Harry stepped out into the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Harry remembered the way to where the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office was tucked in next to a broom cupboard, but he still walked slowly, taking the time to remind himself of his cover story. He couldn't let himself forget that he didn't know this Arthur Weasley - he couldn't afford to get too comfortable and slip-up when talking to the man.

The door was open, and Harry could see Mr Weasley sitting behind his desk, partly hidden by mounds of paperwork. From the looks of it, muggle-baiting was a popular hobby. Harry rapped on the door to gain the redheaded man's attention, smiling awkwardly when he caught his eye.

"Oh hello," Mr Weasley said, blinking in surprise as he stood up to greet his unexpected visitor. He looked tired and overworked, but nevertheless gave Harry a welcoming smile.

"Hello, sir," Harry said. "Are you Mr Arthur Weasley?"

"Yes, yes I am. What can I do for you?" Mr Weasley asked, obviously wondering what the young boy wanted.

"My name's Orion Aubrey," Harry introduced himself. After a long time spent practicing, he no longer hesitated over the words. "I was hoping I could speak to you about something - something important. If you don't have time right now though I could come back later."

"Not at all, come in, come in." Mr Weasley waved him forwards into the cramped office. "Please, have a seat. Now then," he said once they'd both sat down. "Tell me about this very important matter."

"Thank you, sir," Harry said politely. "It's a rather unbelievable story, but please hear me out. First, have you ever seen a large grey rat that's missing a toe on its right paw?"

Mr Weasley seemed rather taken aback by the very strange question, but gamely tried to answer it. "I don't think… well… hmm, actually, yes I have!" He nodded and leaned back in his chair. "My son Percy has a pet rat matching that description. His name is Scabbers."

"A pet! Really?" Harry made sure to sound horrified. It wasn't very difficult, since the idea that Wormtail had shared a dorm room with him for three years at Hogwarts still made his skin crawl.

"Yes, why?"

"Well, how long ago was it that he got this rat?"

Mr Weasley was looking very bewildered by this stage, but was still nice enough to answer. "Oh, it must have been at least eight years ago now. He found it in the garden when he was a young child and decided to keep it."

"That's an awfully long time for a rat to live, don't you think so, Mr Weasley?"

"Well yes, I suppose it is," he admitted, his expression beginning to shift towards a mixture of concern and suspicion. "What is this about, exactly?"

"I know this might sound unbelievable," Harry said nervously. "But I have reason to believe that your son's pet isn't actually a rat. I think he's a wizard, one who's an animagus with the form of a rat. I've been searching for him for a while now and I recently hired someone to perform a scrying spell to try to locate him. I know they're not considered to be very reliable, but the scrying stone put his location in your home, and since you say you've seen a rat matching his description…"

"An animagus? In hiding?" Mr Weasley gasped, his face pale. "Pretending to be my son's pet?"

"I'm afraid it's worse, sir," Harry said solemnly. "I think he might be a Death Eater."

"Merlin, if that's true…" Mr Weasley whispered in horror, before pulling himself together. "Please tell me why you suspect such a thing. Who's this man supposed to be?"

"Right, well, as I said, I'm Orion Aubrey. My mum's name was Evelinda Aubrey, and my dad… my dad is Sirius Black," Harry said quietly, his voice uncertain while telling his lie for the first time.

"Sirius Black!" Mr Weasley all but yelped.

"Yes, but I don't think he betrayed the Potters or murdered anyone," Harry said hurriedly. "That's why I'm here; I'm trying to prove his innocence. My mum always told me that she didn't think he'd done what he was accused of. She said Sirius would rather die than join You-Know-Who. She said it was probably Peter Pettigrew who did everything and framed my dad for it."

Mr Weasley was looking rather dazed by all he'd been told. "Pettigrew's dead," he said.

"No he isn't," Harry insisted. "He's just in hiding. Mum told me he was an animagus - one who could turn into a rat."

"You're saying that Peter Pettigrew is my son's rat?" Mr Weasley demanded incredulously.

"The scrying spell said he was still alive and living in your house, and you yourself said that your son's pet has been around for over eight years," Harry pointed out. "That's way longer than any normal rat could live. And he's missing a toe on his front paw, when according to the Daily Prophet articles I've read the largest part of Pettigrew the Aurors could find was his finger."

"You're right." Mr Weasley slumped forwards to rest his head on his hands. "There's something not right about the whole thing. But the idea of a Death Eater in my house, amongst my children… he could have done anything!"

Though inwardly pleased, Harry put on a sympathetic expression. He'd been counting on Mr Weasley's instinct to protect his children, and apparently it was working. "I know," he said. "Just please help me capture him, then we'll know for certain. Maybe he really is a rat, but if not then my father's innocent and has spent nine years in Azkaban that he didn't deserve."

"Yes, yes, we need to be sure!" Mr Weasley stood up so abruptly that his chair almost toppled over. "Come, we'll take this to Amelia Bones… she's the head of Law Enforcement, she'll know what to do."

With that Mr Weasley ushered Harry down the hall to the Auror Headquarters and into the director's office. Mr Weasley quickly, and rather incoherently, explained the whole thing, but Madame Bones seemed to only be humouring him until she pulled up Sirius Black's file.

"No trial! How on earth is that possible?" She sputtered in shock, staring down at the parchment in her hands as if it had personally offended her. "I know everything was chaotic back then but surely something so basic couldn't have been overlooked. According to this he's never even been questioned!"

"I don't know why he never got a trial, but I really want to help him," Harry said, trying his best to sound innocent and earnest. "Mum always said he was innocent, and now that she's dead he's all I've got. I want a chance to get to know him."

"Well, Mr Aubrey," Madame Bones said, peering down at him through her monocle. "Your father is entitled to a trial, and I will be personally ensuring that he gets one. As for your story about Pettigrew being alive and hiding as a rat… well, I'll be sure to look into that, too."

"Really?" Harry asked, not having to feign the note of surprise and hope in his voice.

Madame Bones nodded. "Really. I'll send three Aurors to to investigate immediately. If that's all right with you, Arthur?"

"Yes of course," Mr Weasely said eagerly.

"Well then, Mr Aubrey, I'll let you know as soon as I have any news for you," she said, effectively dismissing him.

Harry knew there was no way that any of the adults would let him tag along and capture Wormtail himself, so he resigned himself to leaving it up to the Aurors. It was probably a good thing, Harry admitted to himself. If he confronted his parent's betrayer he would have a hard time not killing the bastard. He certainly wouldn't be able to maintain his pretence of being a harmless ten-year-old boy.

"All right," he said reluctantly. "Thanks for all your help, Madame Bones. And thank you, Mr Weasley, for listening to me. I really appreciate it."

"Not at all, Orion," Mr Weasley said kindly, placing a warm hand on Harry's shoulder. "I'm sure everything will turn out well. Amelia will have it all sorted out in no time, just you wait and see."

-.-.-

Harry was nervous and distracted for the next few days, unable to read more than a few pages of a book at a time and biting his nails down to the quick. His mind kept imagining all the ways things could go wrong, like Wormtail escaping or some corrupt politician managing to get everything swept under the rug. After three long days of waiting, however, he finally got an owl from Madam Bones assuring him that everything had gone according to plan.

She and two other Aurors had gone to Hogwarts and had caught the rat, confirming that it was indeed an animagus. They had immediately taken it back to the DMLE holding cells, forced the rat back into human form and performed the ensuing interrogation under veritaserum. The questioning had not only established that the animagus was in fact Peter Pettigrew, but also that he'd been the one responsible for the deaths of the Muggles, the betrayal of the Potters, and the framing of Sirius Black. Madam Bones had gone to Azkaban in person to retrieve Sirius, who was currently resting in the secure ward of St. Mungo's while awaiting his hearing that would be held that very day.

Harry was overwhelmed by how quickly everything had happened. He'd hoped to have Sirius free before the end of the year, or maybe even before he left for Hogwarts if he was really lucky. He certainly hadn't expected to get Sirius out of Azkaban after less than a week of trying. Harry was overjoyed at how well everything had worked out, but one part of Madam Bones' letter worried him. She wrote that Sirius had been informed of Harry's role in events, specifically that his son had brought his case to her attention. Harry could only hope that Sirius wouldn't say anything like 'That's impossible, I've never even slept with her,' when the topic of Evelinda Aubrey and her illegitimate child came up.

Madam Bones wrote that Harry could go visit his supposed father once the hearing was over, so Harry only had to wait a short while before he could explain everything to him. He just hoped Sirius would react well to the bizarre news he had to share. Harry was taking a risk in telling him the truth, since Sirius could decide to report him to the DMLE or Dumbledore, ruining all of his plans.

The next morning Harry walked into the main room of the Leaky Cauldron, wanting to actually eat some breakfast for once since it was a weekend. He only had a few sickles, but hoped that would be enough to last him a few more days. Instead of the usual sleepy silence of people nursing hang-overs or falling asleep over bowls of porridge, the pub was full off witches and wizards all talking excitedly and waving newspapers in the air.

"I knew it! I just knew it!" exclaimed one dumpy looking witch. "Didn't I always tell you, Gladys, that he just had to be innocent?"

An old man in patched robes snorted in disgust. "That Bartemius Crouch is a bloody nasty piece of work. Throwing people in jail without a trial… and then his own son got caught wearing Death Eater robes and a mask! It just goes to show!"

"Aye, it's a bad business," another wizard agreed, shaking his head as he stroked his long beard. "What are honest and hardworking wizards to do when we can't trust our own Ministry, I ask you?"

Heart pounding, Harry snatched a copy of the Daily Prophet right out of the hands a nearby witch. Ignoring her protests, Harry stared in awe at the front page.

'Ministry Incompetence Revealed!' the headline declared in large black letters. 'Sirius Black declared innocent in emergency session of the Wizengamot! Prisoner never received trial! Investigation launched into hideous miscarriage of justice!'

The article went on to speculate over what Black's state of mind would be like after nine years surrounded by Dementors, and to quote dozens of people who claimed to have known the truth all along. Harry rolled his eyes and handed the newspaper back to the indignant witch he'd stolen it from. It seemed the Daily Prophet was as infuriating as ever.

He couldn't stay annoyed for long though. At long last Sirius was free. Yet Harry felt a twinge of sadness that his Sirius had never lived to see his name cleared, and that this world's Harry Potter hadn't lived long enough to meet his godfather. Harry knew he would never be able to replace the godson Sirius had lost, and vice versa; he hoped, however, that they would be able to find some support in each other. It all depended on the outcome of their first meeting.

Harry gave some thought to allowing Sirius time to recuperate before visiting him, not wanting to overwhelm him. He wasn't even sure what to say; 'Hello Sirius, I'm pretending to be your son, but really I'm a twenty year old Harry Potter from an alternate universe who was sent here by a crazy house elf,' while true, sounded utterly insane. In the end though, he decided to go to St Mungo's as soon as possible. A part of Harry was terrified of seeing him, but he knew Sirius deserved to know what was really going on.

-.-.-

It took Harry almost half an hour of arguing with the Mediwitch at the reception before he was told which room Sirius was in. Apparently St Mungos had been inundated with people all morning, all hoping to catch sight of the infamous Sirius Black. As a result the healers were being even stricter than usual about privacy, and it was only once Harry took out Madam Bones' letter that the Mediwitch had finally relented.

"Oh very well, then," the Mediwitch said. "He's in room twelve on the Merlin and Morgana ward."

"Thanks," Harry said politely, before rushing off before she could change her mind. He followed the signs, but still got lost and had to double back twice before he reached the door to room twelve. An Auror was standing guard in front of it, no doubt in order to keep so-called well-wishers away.

"Hello there, lad," the Auror said cheerfully. "You Orion Aubrey?"

Harry nodded. "Yep, that's me. Can I…?" He gestured to the door.

"Director Bones warned me you'd probably come visit," the Auror said. "Give me a sec and I'll check with Black to see if it's all right by him." The wizard disappeared into the room for a moment, before stepping back out into the hall with a smile. "Go ahead, lad."

Harry wiped his damp palms on his robes and took several deep breaths, before slowly moving forwards into the hospital room. Once the Auror had closed the door behind him, Harry slowly turned to face the bed; his breath hitched at the sight of his Godfather sitting up and looking healthier than Harry had dared to expect. He was close to emaciated and deathly pale, with dark circles under his eyes, but his hair was neat and clean and his face was younger than Harry had ever seen it outside of photographs. Fewer years in Azkaban and the care of healers had clearly made a huge difference.

They stared at each other in silence for a long moment, before Sirius wet his dry lips and finally spoke. "Is it true?" he asked in a hoarse voice. "Are you really my son?"

The mix of disbelief and desperate hope in Sirius' eyes made Harry regret the lies he'd told. "No, no I'm not," Harry said, guilt flooding him at the sight of Sirius' bitter disappointment. "I am the one who got you freed, though," he hurried to add, moving farther into the room.

"I don't understand," Sirius said. "Who exactly are you?"

"It's a long story." Harry shot a nervous look towards the door, not wanting to risk being overheard. "Would you mind if I cast a privacy ward?

Sirius tilted his head, a glimmer of interest returning to his expression. "Not at all. Go ahead."

"Thanks." Harry chanted the incantation as he waved his wand around, pleased that the spell worked on his first try. Then he walked the last few steps to Sirius' bedside and sat down in the nearby chair. "Right. Um. Well, you see… my name's not Orion Aubrey. That's just one I made up. My real name is Harry James Potter."

"What?" Sirius gasped. "But they told me Harry died years ago!"

Harry quickly tried to explain the details, not wanting to give Sirius false hope. "They were right. I'm not him. I'm from another world… and from ten years in the future. I ended up here because my body had been killed in my old world and, well, I was given a second chance…" He ended up babbling a bit as he tried to explain everything that had happened to him, but in the end finished by saying, "It's all rather complicated."

"Yeah, I'll bet!" Sirius crossed his arms and stared suspiciously at Harry. "So basically you're claiming to be my godson from an alternate universe?"

Harry nodded earnestly. "Yep, exactly. Look, I know this all sounds unbelievable, but I'm telling you the truth. How else would I have known about the switch in Secret Keepers and how to find Pettigrew?"

"You could have learnt that from Wormtail himself."

"Why would he tell me something that was used against him? Why would I even get you out of Azkaban in the first place?"

"Well for some reason I think it's more likely that you're a Death Eater with a convoluted plan to exploit the death of my godson, than a time traveller from an another dimension," Sirius said sarcastically.

"Pettigrew would never have let himself be captured," Harry argued. "He's a snivelling coward who always looks out for himself. He'd never stick his neck out for some crazy plan I thought up."

A vicious scowl crossed Sirius' face at the thought of the rat. "That's true enough."

"Pettigrew would have no reason to tell me anything. And without him how else would I know that you're an animagus?" Harry persisted, desperate for Sirius to believe him. "You can turn into a huge black dog that looks like the Grim. You, James and Pettigrew all became animagi in your fifth year, to help Remus Lupin through his transformations."

Sirius now looked rather cautious. "No one but the four of us knew that, but that still doesn't prove anything."

"Look, I'm telling you the truth, I swear," Harry insisted. "I wouldn't lie to you. In my world you were the only adult I ever truly trusted, even though I only knew you for a few short years. You broke out of Azkaban to protect me when I was thirteen years old, but you never managed to prove your innocence before being killed two years later. I... well, I wanted to change all that. You're not my Sirius, but you deserve to be free and happy, and with my knowledge from my old world I knew how to make sure that happened."

Sirius still looked deeply sceptical, an expression which didn't change as they debated back and forth. Harry tried relating everything he knew about his godfather, but no matter what he said, Sirius didn't seem willing to believe the admittedly outlandish story. Mere words weren't going to be enough to convince him, Harry realised.

He eventually thought of something else to try, sitting up straight and snapping his fingers excitedly. "Oh, there's my Patronus!" He hurriedly drew his wand again, focusing on how happy he was sitting here next to a Sirius who was alive and free. "Expecto Patronum!" he shouted, pouring his magic into the spell.

It took longer than normal for the silver light to coalesce into a solid shape, probably because Harry's magic wasn't used to casting such complicated spells, but in the end the glowing form of Harry's stag Patronus pranced proudly around the hospital room.

"Prongs…" Sirius whispered, staring at the echo of his best friend.

Harry took several gulps of air, breathless from casting such difficult magic. "Remus... Remus taught me that spell in my third year. I didn't even know about the Marauders or anything back then, but my Patronus still took the form of a stag."

"It's incredible," Sirius said hoarsely, still staring. Slowly the Patronus faded away, Harry's magic unable to sustain it any longer. Sirius slowly turned back to look at Harry, seeming to have come to a decision. "I'm not sure if Azkaban managed to drive me insane or what, but I - I think I might believe you. I need to be sure though. I need to know you're telling the truth."

"Well, I suppose there's always Veritaserum," Harry said. "I don't know how we'll get our hands on it though, since it's restricted."

"No, not Veritaserum," Sirius said. "Legilimency."

"You want to see my memories?"

"Yes. There's no way anyone could fake memories of an entire life."

Harry hesitated for a moment - memories were such personal things that the idea of sharing them with a stranger felt wrong. But Sirius wasn't a stranger, at least not really, so in the end Harry agreed, even lending Sirius his wand in order to cast the spell. "All right. Go ahead," he said, taking a deep breath to prepare himself.

Sirius met his gaze and raised the birch wand. "Legilimens!"

Compared to when Snape or Voldemort had invaded his mind, it hurt less but lasted longer. Harry could sense Sirius inside his head, moving from one memory to the next, and had to suppress the instinct to use Occlumency to force him out. Instead he concentrated on the first time he'd met his godfather, remembering his fear, anger and hope during the confrontation in the Shrieking Shack. That memory lead to a cascade of others - the dementors, the Triwizard Tournament, Voldemort's return, the Deatheaters, and finally, the disastrous fight in the Department of Mysteries.

Sirius abruptly ended the spell, leaving them both shaken. "I believe you," he gasped out. "I saw it, I saw myself, I saw Voldemort. He really returned?"

"Yes, and the same thing could happen here," Harry said grimly. He rubbed his forehead in an attempt to rid himself of all the terrible memories that had been dredged up. He hated Legilimency.

"Let's bloody well hope not!" Sirius shivered, looking overwhelmed by everything he'd seen. For a few minutes there was dead silence while Harry recovered from the spell and Sirius tried to make sense of the memories. At last Sirius shook himself out of his stupor. "It's strange to think there are other worlds out there. Wizards've theorised that alternate universes exist, but no one's ever been able to prove it. Yet here you are, sent here after having lived through a possible future. I have to say I find it disturbing knowing what my life could've been like. I just hope this world gets on better than yours. Voldemort coming back and everyone dying… it doesn't sound good."

Harry gave a hollow laugh. "Yeah, my world went to hell, basically. You saw my memories up until the end of fifth year, and believe me it only got worse from there on. I finally managed to defeat Voldemort when I was seventeen, but not before losing you and so many others I cared about. But the war didn't end. Death Eaters were in charge of the Ministry, muggleborns and half-bloods were arrested and thrown in Azkaban, and almost anyone who fought back died. In the end the few of us who'd survived had to leave Britain, but even then we weren't safe. I was… killed not long after that."

"Merlin," Sirius breathed out. "I'm so sorry, Harry."

Harry shrugged, not wanting to dwell on the horror of those last years. "Yeah well, I hope to stop it all from happening here. But you do believe me, right - you believe I'm Harry Potter?" he asked hopefully.

"Well, I suppose I do. Though I have to say I thought you'd look a bit different. My godson had green eyes," Sirius said.

Harry had completely forgotten about his changed appearance. "Oh right! That's because I used a few glamours before going out in public. People always told me I look exactly like my dad but with my mum's eyes, and my lightning bolt scar is famous. I can't afford to be recognised - I hated being the boy-who-lived in my old world and there's no bloody way I'm going through all that again."

Sirius raised an eyebrow at that. "So I suppose that's why you're pretending to be my illegitimate son?"

"Ah, about that…" Harry began, shifting awkwardly in his seat. "I'm really sorry about the whole thing, but well, would you mind terribly if..."

"If you kept up the whole charade?" Sirius finished his sentence for him, beginning to look rather amused.

"Yes," Harry admitted. "You see, I know I can take care of myself, but the Ministry won't see it that way. I really don't want to end up being sent to some orphanage or something. And well, I know you're not actually my Sirius, but I'd really like to get to know you properly. The Sirius in my world was a wonderful godfather and did his best to take care of me, but because he was on the run from the Ministry there was no way I could live with him. I got to spend Yule with him one year though, that was brilliant…" Harry trailed off and both of them sat lost in their own thoughts for a while.

"Well, I may not be your Sirius and you're not really my Harry, but you're still James' son no matter what," Sirius said at last. "I swore to him that if anything happened to him I'd look after you as if you were my own, and I keep my promises. If you want to be Orion Aubrey, who am I to argue? You saved me from the hellhole that is Azkaban - I owe you everything."

"You don't owe me anything," Harry insisted. "You - well the you in my world - were the closest thing to family I ever had. I couldn't leave you to rot in there."

"Everyone else did," Sirius said bitterly. "It sounds as if we've both had a tough time of it this past decade, but you got me out. Whatever you need from me, I'll do it."

Harry didn't quite know how to respond. He was grateful for Sirius' support, but didn't want the man to feel indebted to him. They were both helping each other, after all. "Thank you," was all he said in the end, deciding to stop worrying about Sirius' motivations. There would be plenty of time later for them to get to know and trust each other.

"So, what's your plan now?" Sirius asked, leaning back on his pillows and looking surprisingly at ease with the insane situation.

"Well, I've told everyone I'm your bastard son from one of your many illicit affairs," Harry said with a sly smile. "Knowing your reputation, everyone should find that believable."

"Ha!" Sirius barked out, laughter lighting up his face. It was startling how different he looked when he smiled. "I was rather dashing back then, wasn't I? And I suppose you chose Evelinda Aubrey as your mother?"

"Yeah," Harry said. "I did some research and apparently she died in a fire a year before you went to Azkaban."

Sirius sighed. "I remember hearing about Evie's death. It was terrible of course, but back then so many people were killed that one more loss... well, it was hard to mourn properly."

"So you did know her then?" Harry was relieved his plan could work, but worried that he was being a bit unsympathetic. "Were you two close?"

"Well let's just say I wasn't too surprised to hear she was the mother of my child," Sirius said with a wry grin. "But no, we were just casual friends, really. She was a year ahead of me at Hogwarts, you know, which was how we knew each other - we didn't share friends or family or anything."

"Well that fits," Harry said and went on to explain the back-story he'd invented for himself.

"Hmm, yes, I think that should work. I know Evelinda was disowned by her family, so there's no chance of the Aubreys kicking up a fuss. If they're even still around," Sirius said thoughtfully.

Harry just shrugged in reply. He hadn't been able to find out much about the Aubrey family; there might be a few old relatives floating about and Bertram Aubrey was probably still alive, but none of them seemed to appear much in public. Which was fortunate, since Harry hoped to avoid ever meeting them.

"So I guess I'm your new dad then!" Sirius said with a mischievous smile. Harry suspected he was amused by the idea of fooling everyone. "I'll try my best to be a good one. Though I have no idea where we should live once the healers finally let me out of their clutches. I used to have a small flat near Diagon Alley, but the owner must be renting it out to someone else by now. He probably threw out all my stuff too, the bloody tosser. I had a signed poster of the Holly Head Harpies, you know, as well as a great leather armchair. What a waste." His expression turned bleak as he thought of everything he'd lost. "So much of my life, all gone…"

"I'm sorry, Sirius." Harry didn't like to see the older wizard lost in bad memories. "You know, I think Hagrid's got your old motorbike," Harry said, hoping to distract him.

"Really? My old flying motorbike?" A smile stretched itself across Sirius' haggard face. "I'm glad to hear it's still around. It took months to work out all the charms, you know. The engine's a bloody work of art."

"Yeah it is, and it should still be in working order. I flew it a couple of times back in my old world."

"Really! I'll have to see if I can my hands on it," Sirius said, relaxing back against his pillows. "I've just had a thought… now that my mum's dead I should have inherited my parents' old house on Grimmauld Place. We could always go there."

Harry stared at him in astonishment. "You want to live in Grimmauld Place?"

"It's where I grew up after all," Sirius said with a shrug. "Why d'you ask?"

"No reason really, I suppose, just in my world you hated the place," Harry explained. "We used it as Order Headquarters after Voldemort came back in my fourth year, but you... I mean, he... despised being cooped up there."

Sirius looked thoughtful. "Well, I can understand why I'd feel that way, but... my parents are dead, making me one of the few Blacks left. I never really agreed with all that stuff growing up, but family is important, I realise that now. All my friends abandoned me, letting me be locked up in prison without a single word of protest. The only visitor I ever had while in Azkaban was my father. It was just the once since he died not long after, but it was… good to see him, to know he still remembered me, that I hadn't been completely forgotten…"

Harry was surprised by what he heard. "Hmm, I think that must be one of those differences between my world and this one. I don't think the other you ever had anyone visit you in prison. I can see why that would change things."

"Let's hope that's not the only change," Sirius said fervently. "I don't want my world to turn out as yours did - sounds like a ghastly place."

"Tell me about it," Harry muttered.

"You really killed Voldemort though?" Sirius asked, his voice filled with part stunned disbelief and part pride.

"Yes." Harry rolled his eyes. "I was apparently fulfilling my destiny and all that. Speaking of which, d'you happen to know the exact words of the Prophecy here in this world?"

Sirius shook his head. "No, sorry. I know there was a Prophecy, since James told me about it, but I never knew exactly what it said."

Harry sighed in disappointment. He'd feel better, more confident in his plans, if he knew the precise wording. He had pretty much decided to ignore the whole thing, but suspected it might one day come back to haunt him. "Well I suppose it's invalid now, right?" Harry said hopefully. "I mean, the other Harry Potter is dead, so that's the Prophecy over and done with. I'm not him, so there's no reason for me to be magically forced into taking his place, or whatever. In fact, I'd say most Prophecies are purely self-fulfilling. So long as no one knows I'm Harry Potter, then I won't be a target and won't get dragged into fighting."

"Well..." Sirius began.

"I should probably forget all about it, don't you think?" Harry prompted him.

Sirius didn't look convinced. "Divination can be tricky. I don't think you should dismiss the Prophecy entirely, if only because both Voldemort and Dumbledore believe in it so strongly."

"You can say that again," Harry grumbled. "I bet Dumbledore's still obsessed with it. In my old world he planned the whole thing out, you see. Even after he died he managed to meddle."

"Dumbledore died?"

Harry nodded solemnly. "At the end of my sixth year. Things just went downhill from there really. Dumbledore was so fixated on me defeating Voldemort – with the power of love, can you believe it? – that he completely ignored everything else. Like the small matter of Voldemort not being the only dark wizard in Britain."

"The power of love?" Sirius snorted. "Seriously?"

"That was my reaction, too. Dumbledore may have been a genius, but he made some huge mistakes," Harry said. "He orchestrated everything so that I'd have to die to defeat Voldemort. Even now all these years later, I'm still not sure if he knew I'd be able to survive the Killing Curse for a second time. It could've just been pure luck that I didn't end up dead in the name of the so called Greater Good. I've never really forgiven him for that."

Sirius scowled darkly. "Well, all I can say is that I think it's a bloody good thing that you're not going to be known as Harry Potter anymore. You shouldn't have to go through anything like that ever again."

"So... does that mean you're all right with the cover story I'm using?" Harry fidgeted nervously as he waited for an answer.

"You mean with you being my son?"

"Yeah."

Sirius seemed to carefully consider how to answer. "Yes, I am. I never want to experience what your world went through - it sounds like hell on earth. Voldemort and his Death Eaters need to be stoppe, and you seem to have the best idea of how to go about it. You'll need help though, and I'm ready to give it," Sirius said firmly. "Anything you need. I'd even be willing to go through a blood adoption... if you want to that is."

"Blood adoption?" Harry echoed.

"I know, I know," Sirius said. "It's a bit of a drastic step to take. But, Harry, it's the only way I can think of to make sure your identity stays hidden. Glamour Charms won't work for ever, you know. Eventually someone will discover that we're not blood related. The adoption ritual would let us pass as father and son - and should even change your appearance a bit. So, what do you say?"

"Well it's definitely... an idea." Harry didn't know much about blood adoptions, but he knew enough to be shocked that Sirius would make such a serious - and permanent - offer. Harry considered whether he was prepared to go to such extreme lengths to hide his identity; he didn't want to deal with being the second coming of the Boy Who Lived, but he wasn't sure he was ready to so irrevocably change who he was. "I really appreciate the offer, but are you absolutely certain you're willing to go through with it?"

"I'm sure," Sirius said firmly. "It'd be an honour to be your father. I know you're not my real godson, but I still feel it's my responsibility to help protect you."

Harry was taken aback by how fast everything was happening, but he could see the advantages to Sirius' suggestion. "It'd change my name legally and magically to Orion Black, wouldn't it?" he checked. "Then not even the Marauder's Map would identify me as Harry Potter…"

"Exactly," Sirius said.

"Then let's go for it," Harry decided.

"Great!" Sirius clapped his hands together. "As soon as the healers declare me physically fit, we can have the ritual done at Gringotts. I'll send an owl to the goblins to arrange it. I suppose we could perform the adoption here if you'd prefer, but the goblins are sure to keep everything confidential."

"Sounds like a plan. And speaking of goblins..." Harry said, feeling terribly awkward. "I was wondering if... um, well you see, I'm, er... well frankly, I'm completely broke. I ended up in this world without a single Knut in my pocket and since I look like a child I can't even manage to get a job. I really hate to ask you this, but... could you maybe lend me some money? I'd pay you back as soon as possible, I promise."

Sirius brushed away Harry's obvious embarrassment. "Of course, no problem. But don't worry about paying me back, I can afford it. Minister Fudge came by earlier and while he spent most of the visit blathering on about how my incarceration wasn't his fault, he did agree to pay me quite a hefty sum in compensation. It should last quite a while, so long as I'm not too extravagant."

"Good, you deserve it," Harry said. "But I refuse to let you just give me your money, Sirius. It wouldn't feel right."

A pained look crossed Sirius' face. "I was also told I inherited the Potter vault after... well after what happened. I don't want the money - it should be yours. I want you to take it."

"But -" Harry began, not ready to give in.

"Harry, you've agreed to let me adopt you," Sirius interrupted him a trifle impatiently. "That means I get to look after you - that's just what family does, all right?"

"All right. Thank you," Harry said, though he still felt embarrassed. He'd never been part of a family where people actually gave a damn about each other, but it seemed he was finally being given a chance of experiencing it for himself. Only in an alternate universe would such a thing be possible, Harry thought with a smile.

Chapter Text

Much to Sirius' disgust, the Healers insisted that he stay in hospital for at least another two weeks, if not longer. Harry visited every day, eager to plot and plan and get to know him better, and Sirius seemed grateful for the distraction. He often looked shaken and haunted before Harry settled down by his bedside and did his best to cheer him up. Yet while Sirius was always glad for the company – and complained loudly once visiting hours were over – he refused to see anyone except Harry. According to the Auror at the door, lots of people had tried to visit, some of them actually old friends and not just nosy busybodies, but they'd all been turned away. Harry didn't feel comfortable asking Sirius why - was he angry at everyone for abandoning him or had Azkaban left with a fear of large crowds? - and decided such personal questions would have to wait until they knew each other a bit better. Harry couldn't help worrying about Sirius isolating himself, however, making him grateful for the presence of the mediwitches, who bustled in and out of Sirius' room and often stopped for a quick chat with 'that poor man' and 'that dear sweet boy'.

Harry found it very amusing to watch Sirius grin and flirt and make them all blush despite his being weak and malnourished from Azkaban. Sirius seemed to revel in the attention and perked up whenever one of the mediwitches came through the door. He was definitely recovering his spirits and his body was slowly healing; Harry was amazed by what a difference healing magic and a few Cheering Potions could make. Yet for all that, the sight of the Healer-in-Charge of the Merlin and Morgana Ward on her ward rounds was not a welcome one.

"Still too skinny," Healer Aberworthy said disapprovingly as she prodded Sirius with her wand.

"Ow!" Sirius yelped as she hit a tender spot on his ribs. "Merlin, what happened to the Hippocratic Oath? 'Do no harm' and all that."

"I remember my oath very well, Mr Black," she said primly, not relenting in her examination. "No doubt a good sight better than you do."

"Then why are you poking me with a pointed stick?"

"Maybe she thinks you're attacking her with a pineapple and a man-eating tiger," Harry put in from where he was sitting in the chair beside Sirius' bed, munching on a chocolate frog and enjoying the show.

"Huh?" Sirius twisted round to look at Harry.

Harry sighed. "Never mind," he said. Purebloods never appreciated the comedic genius of Monty Python.

"Hold still!" Healer Aberworthy brandished her wand threateningly in Sirius' direction. "I have seven more patients to see this morning and I refuse to spend all my time in here recasting diagnostic charms just because you're incapable of staying still."

"Oh by all means, don't let me detain you," Sirius said generously. "I wouldn't want my fellow witches and wizards to suffer without your tender care."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Overdoing it a bit there, aren't you?"

"Indeed, subtle you are not, Mr Black." Healer Aberworthy gave her wand a few more flicks and frowned thoughtfully at whatever her spells were telling her.

"I can do subtle," Sirius said sulkily, crossing his arms and glaring at Harry. "See how subtle I can be when I booby-trap your bedroom."

Harry gasped in mock disapproval. "Oh but you're an invalid, Sirius, you shouldn't be thinking about pranks!"

"Quite, no strenuous activity of any kind for at least another month." Healer Aberworthy gave a stern nod, and Harry's laughter quickly cut off when she turned her attention to him. "You look as if you could do with some rest and recuperation yourself, Mr Aubrey. You're much too pale. I've always said hospitals aren't good places for young children to visit … a lot of our patients are contagious you know."

Sirius had a sly look on his face. "Maybe you should give him a few Potions. You know, just to be on the safe side."

"Excellent idea, Mr Black!" Healer Aberworthy exclaimed, brightening up considerably. "I know just the thing." She started going through the pockets of her bright green healer's robes, pulling out all sorts of mysterious salves and ointments. Disregarding Harry's protests, she forced a vial of Pepper-Up Potion down his throat, followed by a flask of murky orange gloop which tasted absolutely disgusting.

"I blame you for this," Harry muttered darkly to Sirius once she'd left to harass her other patients. "I think she's poisoned me."

Sirius shrugged unsympathetically. "Hey, if I have to take disgusting potions then so do you. Parent's prerogative I'm afraid."

"You're not a parent. Not yet anyway," Harry wondered what it would be like to actually be Sirius' son and not just pretending like they were at the moment. He suspected it might be a bit awkward at first. They got on well together, but that didn't change the fact that they were almost strangers.

"Speaking of which," Sirius said. "I got a reply from the goblins. The inconsiderate blighters sent it with a screech owl in the middle of the night, can you believe that?"

"I'm prepared to believe anything of the goblins so long as it involves money and them making other people's lives miserable."

"Huh," Sirius said.

"What?"

"Nothing."

"Come on, there is something."

Sirius shrugged. "Well, I'm just surprised, that's all. Judging by the stories you've told me, you don't mind that Remus is a werewolf, and you spent your school days chatting with Acromantulas and riding Thestrals through the Forbidden Forest. You were practically best-friends with a house elf! So I suppose I find it surprising to hear you say something so negative about a whole race of creatures. Not that I don't absolutely agree with you, mind – goblins are evil little blighters."

"I've had a few bad experiences," Harry said. "They really hated me and tried their very best to kill me whenever they could."

"What in Merlin's name did you do to them?"

"My friends and I broke into Gringotts and stole something from Bellatrix Lestrange's vault," Harry admitted.

"What?" Sirius gasped in shock and then burst out laughing. "You… stole… Gringotts… Harry!" he choked out, clutching his stomach as he chuckled.

"We escaped by flying on the back of a dragon," Harry added, causing Sirius to laugh even harder, perhaps at the image of angry goblins waving spears while a fire-breathing dragon swooped overhead. Harry couldn't help laughing along with him.

"Ah." Sirius sighed at last, wiping his eyes. "I haven't laughed like that in… oh, almost ten years. Though really Harry, full marks for pure outrageousness and all that, but whatever possessed you to break into the most heavily guarded building in Britain? And cousin Bella's vault at that."

"I needed something from it. Helga Hufflepuff's cup to be exact," Harry said.

"What use would Hufflepuff's cup be to anyone?" Sirius raised his eyebrows in surprise. "And why would Bellatrix have it? I mean, Hufflepuff! Come on! It's not as if Bella ever had any use for fairness and honest hard work."

"Not many people do," Harry said, considering the dismissive attitudes of the other Houses towards the Badger's House. He himself was guilty of it at times. "Voldemort gave the cup to her and ordered her to keep it safe."

Sirius grimaced in disgust. "And of course she obeyed her precious Master. I still don't get it though. Why did Voldemort want to have anything to do with the thing?"

"Well…" Harry glanced uneasily at the door of the hospital room. "Look, if I lend you my wand would you be able to cast a few more privacy wards? I've put up as many as I can, but my magic isn't trained enough for any of the really advanced spells. What I'm about to tell you cannot be overheard."

"All right, I can make sure of that," Sirius said, obviously curious about what Harry wanted to tell him. "It'll be good to do some magic again." He grasped Harry's birch wand and quickly began tracing runes in the air. Harry didn't recognise any of the spells he used. "Black wards," Sirius explained, catching Harry's confused look. "All old pureblood families have spells that they don't share with anyone outside the family. And since we Blacks have always been a bit paranoid – for good reason since we have a talent for making enemies – there are a lot of secrecy spells and offensive wards in our repertoire. No one could possibly listen in on whatever you're planning on telling me. Not without me knowing, at least."

"All right." Harry accepted his wand back and tucked it into his sleeve. He fiddled with his cuff, trying to decide on the best way to broach the topic. "You can't tell anyone," he said abruptly. "Okay? No one can know."

"I won't. I swear it."

"All right," Harry said again and took a deep breath. "What do you know about Horcruxes?"

"Horcruxes!" Sirius' horrified expression made it clear he knew what they were. Harry could see the man working it out; what he knew, what Harry had said, and putting it together to get the truth. "Voldemort split his soul… he's truly immortal," Sirius breathed. "And Merlin, plural, that means he did it more than once… He used Hufflepuff's cup for one, didn't he? That's why you needed to steal it."

"Yes," Harry confirmed.

"What were the others? How many?" Sirius stared at Harry, his fists clenched as if longing for a wand to hold. "I can't believe… You said, the first day we met, that Dumbledore thought you had to die in order for Voldemort to be killed… is that why? Were you…"

"I was a Horcrux," Harry said, his voice hollow. "Something went wrong that night when Voldemort tried to kill me as a baby. The Horcux ritual and my mum's sacrifice, mixed with the wild magic of Halloween, made the Killing curse backfire. Voldemort's body was destroyed and a fragment of his soul hid in me while the rest of him fled. I never knew. I grew up speaking Parseltongue and had visions where I could see through Voldemort's eyes and feel his emotions, but I never guessed the truth. Dumbledore told me he thought Voldemort had accidentally given me some of his powers… a half-truth as always. He was good at those."

"So Dumbledore knew?"

"I think he just guessed at first, but after my second year he knew for certain," Harry said. "It was then that I destroyed one of Voldemort's other Horcruxes - the Diary you saw in my memories. I managed to destroy it using basilisk venom even though I had no idea what it was at the time. Blind luck, really. It gave Dumbledore the proof he needed, however."

"How…" Sirius said weakly, slumping back in his bed. "How could you've survived with Voldemort's soul inside you? I've never heard of a person being used as a Horcrux before. It's… truly chilling to imagine such an... abomination. And how could Dumbledore have just let you die?"

Harry grimaced and gave a weak shrug. "I have no idea why I didn't end up insane or permanently possessed. Maybe it was my mum's sacrifice protecting me, who knows. As for Dumbledore's plan… well, in a way I can understand why he did it. He may have cared for me, but his first priority was always going to be Voldemort's defeat. After all, what's the life of one orphaned boy compared to the survival of everyone else? As Dumbledore's favourite saying goes, it was all for the Greater Good."

"It's despicable," Sirius said harshly, his expression stormy. "You were just a child. No Harry," Sirius continued when Harry opened his mouth to object. "You were just a child when Dumbledore must have planned the whole thing."

"You know, I don't really care about Dumbledore's ruthlessness," Harry said thoughtfully. "I went along with the plan, after all. I let myself be killed. No, it's the fact that his bloody plan didn't work that makes me so angry. He made sure I grew up cut off from the wizarding world, but not really part of the muggle one either. He encouraged me every time I risked my life trying to save others, instead of telling me to let an adult handle it. He did all he could to ensure that I wouldn't have anything stopping me from walking to my death. Yet after all that, the Dark still won."

"But Voldemort was dead, wasn't he?"

Harry scowled in remembered anger. "Sure, Voldemort was defeated, but his Death Eaters were still free to wreak havoc. Dumbledore spent so much time obsessing over that stupid prophecy and organising my life to make me into the perfect willing sacrifice, that he completely ignored everything else. He didn't do anything about the corruption in the Ministry, or try to stop the Death Eaters from killing. I know he isn't to blame for everything that went wrong… he was just one man. Still, he took it upon himself to drag me into the war, but he didn't actually succeed in solving anything. Basically, it was all for nothing."

"Not for nothing," Sirius disagreed. "It's true your world sounds like a lost cause, but what you experienced there can help us here. We can make sure things'll be different, make changes for the better. I for one am very pleased to be free and out of Azkaban. You did that Harry, and hopefully you'll be able to help other people, too."

"Do you really think it's possible for a ten-year-old to change a whole society, Sirius?" Harry asked tiredly.

"Well when that ten-year-old has the brilliant Sirius Black on his side, then definitely!" Sirius struck an heroic pose. It looked rather odd on someone wearing a yellow hospital gown. "Anyway, we can deal with the easier things first, like destroying all the Horcruxes."

"Hah! Easy!" Harry waved his arms indignantly. "Horcrux hunting isn't easy!"

Sirius appeared unconcerned. "Well, it can't be that hard. You know what they all are, after all. How many are there, by the way?"

"Seven," Harry said.

"S-Seven!" Sirius sputtered. "Voldemort split his soul seven times? No wonder he was insane!"

Harry laughed humourlessly. "Tell me about it. It probably isn't seven at the moment, though. The Harry Potter of this world died, meaning that one Horcrux died along with him. Then there's Voldemort's pet snake, Nagini. I'm not sure if she's a Horcrux yet. So… five, maybe six. And Voldemort himself, of course."

"Fine, maybe not that easy," Sirius admitted.

"There's also the fact that this is an alternate universe, so I have no idea if the Horcruxes are the same in this world."

"So, not easy at all then. In fact more like close to impossible."

"Exactly."

-.-.-

They didn't discuss the difficult topics of Horcruxes, Voldemort and Death Eaters during Harry's other visits. It was too risky even with privacy wards in place and Harry was trying to keep their conversations more light-hearted. Healer Aberworthy had pulled him aside one day to tell him that Sirius was doing well and that Harry's visits were definitely helping, but that he should still be careful.

"You da's going to be a wee bit… fragile for a while," the Healer said awkwardly, obviously unsure about discussing the horrors of Azkaban and Dementors with a ten-year-old. "He's had a hard time of it these past years. It's amazing he's as stable as he is…"

Harry knew it was Sirius' animagus form that had helped him maintain his sanity, but couldn't exactly tell the Healer that, so he just continued to listen attentively.

"I'm glad you'll be living with your da, it'll do him good to have someone else to concentrate on," she said. "Just try not to ask him questions about his time in prison, or the war. It's the happy things in life he should be thinking about. Laughter is as good as a cheering charm, I always say."

"I'll try my best," Harry said, though he wasn't at all certain he'd be able to keep his promise. He couldn't just ignore the war with Voldemort, not if he wanted to have a chance of fixing things.

Healer Aberworthy patted him on the shoulder and nodded approvingly. "You're a good lad."

Harry wondered if he'd ever get used to being treated like a child by everyone around him. Even when Harry was a child he'd been the boy-who-lived and so considered somehow special. As Orion Aubrey he was seen as just another ten year old brat. Harry found it frustrating, especially when trying to arrange things Sirius' behalf. The healers of Saint Mungo's weren't prepared to discuss Sirius' condition in depth with a young boy, and since Harry didn't want to question Sirius about it, he was left trying to guess what all the different potions and spells were for. He just hoped Sirius would eventually make a full recovery.

Unable to help prepare for when Sirius was discharged from Saint Mungo's, Harry instead focused on continuing his efforts to learn about the world he was now living in. What time he didn't spend at the hospital with Sirius, was spent reading up on the wizarding world and hanging around the Leaky Cauldron.

Harry wasn't sure how he'd explain away his change in appearance once the Blood Adoption was performed. The shopkeepers of Diagon Alley, a few Ministry employees, as well as the staff of Saint Mungo's, all knew Harry by what he looked like under the glamour spells he cast on himself every morning. After the adoption ritual he might end up being completely unrecognisable.

Harry supposed if anyone asked he could just tell them a variation of the truth - that Sirius had adopted him to make sure that Harry was magically and legally recognised as his son despite being illegitimate. Harry was looking forward to the day when he didn't have to worry about the glamour spells anymore. His magic being so untrained and undeveloped meant he obsessively checked his appearance in every reflective surface he passed, paranoid that the glamours would suddenly fail. He was also looking forward to moving out of the Shrieking Shack - it really wasn't a very comfortable place to live and Harry didn't like being so close to Hogwarts and Dumbledore. If anyone were to figure out the truth, it would be the wily old headmaster.

Therefore Harry was relieved when, seventeen days after Sirius had been released from Azkaban, the Healers declared him healthy enough to go home.

-.-.-

"Yes! I'm out of here, finally!" Sirius cheered, pumping his fist in the air in triumph.

Healer Aberworthy glared in disapproval. "Really Mr Black, I'm half inclined to change my mind about discharging you. You need peace and quiet and a great deal of rest."

"Oh, never mind that!" Sirius huffed and jumped out of bed. "I had enough of sitting quietly in one place while I was in Azkaban. Hand me my robe would you, Orion?"

"Here," Harry said, holding out a drab looking navy robe. "You need new clothes, by the way."

"Well, at least it covers this ghastly hospital gown." Sirius glared down at the offending bright yellow material he was wearing. "Right," he said after shrugging into the robe and pulling on his shoes. "Let's go."

"Rest, Mr Black," Healer Aberworthy stressed, one hand on her hip as she glared at him. "And make sure to follow your regimen of potions. And no alcohol or mood-altering charms for at least three months. It's all on this roll of parchment."

Sirius stuffed the parchment into his pocket without even glancing at it. "Yes, yes. I heard you the first dozen times."

"Well your behaviour does not fill me with confidence so it bears repeating!" she retorted, her cheeks flushing red. Seeing that her patient was now visibly fidgeting and eyeing the door, she gave up. "Oh never mind. Just go."

Sirius made an immediate dash for the exit, as if scared that she would change her mind.

"Goodbye, Healer Aberworthy," Harry said, using his best childlike and innocent charm. "Thanks for helping my dad."

"It was my pleasure, dearie." The Healer smiled down at him, all frustration suddenly forgotten. "Take care of yourself and your Da, won't you?"

Harry nodded emphatically. "Of course!"

Sirius was waiting impatiently for him in the hallway, tapping his foot on the tiled floor. "Flirting with the pretty Healer again, Har- Orion."

"Oh shut up," Harry said grumpily. He didn't enjoy being reminded of the fact that the women he'd have been attracted to just a few months ago, were now way older than him and treated him like a little boy. "Let's just go."

Sirius turned and began heading down the hallway. "All right, but I hope you have a few sickles on you. I still don't have a proper wand, and after ten years without using magic I don't fancy trying to apparate without one. And there's no way I'm going to let you side-along us to Grimmauld Place."

"Why not? I apparated myself all the way from France to London, no problem."

"You're ten years old, that's why," Sirius said. "For one thing your magic is completely untrained and side-along apparition is way harder than just apparating yourself. For another, it's illegal and while I'm normally all for flouting authority, I think breaking the law just two weeks after I got out of prison is a bit reckless even for me."

Harry reluctantly conceded the point. "All right, fair enough. It's just that if we don't apparate, and with no brooms and the house not on the Floo network, that only leaves…"

"Yep, we'll have to take the Knight Bus," Sirius agreed, laughing as Harry shuddered theatrically. "Come on, it's not that bad. We'll get there with all our limbs intact… well, probably… maybe anyway. Well, we'll get there, at least."

Harry sighed. "Fine. I'm sure I could get you up on child endangerment charges for this suggestion, you know, but whatever. What's life without a little risk and all that."

"That's the spirit!" Sirius grinned down at him and patted him on the head. "Though you know, the wizarding world doesn't have any child endangerment laws. That's a muggle thing. Amongst wizards it's assumed accidental magic will kick in before anything too terrible can happen."

"Really? Huh," Harry said thoughtfully. "I should've realised that years ago, what with the three-headed dogs and Voldemort-possessed Professors wandering around Hogwarts. Then there are the more ordinary things, like Professors torturing students with blood-quills and sending eleven-year-olds into the Forbidden Forest for detention. I mean, I'm surprised students even manage to survive their first year in the castle."

"Not all of them do," Sirius said cheerfully as they traipsed down the staircase leading to the ground floor of the hospital. "I remember a first-year girl had to be sent home within the first month she was at Hogwarts. She had hysterics every time she saw a ghost and fell down three flights of stairs when trying to avoid the Fat Friar. Muggleborn, of course."

They reached the main reception area, and Harry had to step around a mother and her wailing infant, both of whom had arms growing out of their heads. "I was pretty shocked the first time I saw a ghost," he said. "I got used to them quickly enough though. I'm just glad I wasn't in Slytherin - I don't think I would've liked having the Bloody Baron as a House ghost."

Sirius chuckled. "Yeah. Bloody creepy, isn't he? Nearly Headless Nick's way more fun."

Unfortunately his laughter attracted the attention of the milling crowd of waiting witches and wizards.

"Look, it's Sirius Black!" someone shrieked, making everyone turn and stare.

Sirius cursed loudly. "Come on, quick, we'll make a run for it!"

They dashed towards the large glass doors at the other side of the hall, dodging all the people who were pointing and saying moronic things like "I always knew you were innocent, Black!" and "What was Azkaban like?" As soon as they were outside Harry fumbled for his birch wand and stuck it out to call the Knight Bus. They both scrambled aboard as soon as it slammed to a halt in front of them, brushing past Stan Shunpike whilst shoving a bunch of galleons in his hand.

"Welcome to the Knight Bus, your friendly ride for the stranded Witch or… Oi, what's your bloody hurry?" Stan Shunpike demanded, offended that he didn't get to finish his well-rehearsed speech.

"We need to leave," Sirius said. "Now."

"Yeah, before bloody Rita Skeeter gets here," Harry said, rubbing his arm where he'd hurt it by elbowing a particularly forceful witch.

"Ooh, you famous or summink?" Stan peered at them hopefully. "Didja hear tha', Ern? We got famous wizards on our bus!"

Ern twisted round in his seat to peer at them. "'ere, you're Sirius Black, ain't choo?"

"Sirius Black!" Stan yelped, jumping back in fright, then obviously remembered that Sirius was actually innocent. "Sirius Black, on our bus!" he said with a beaming smile.

"I'm getting off your bloody bus if you don't start driving," Sirius snapped.

"All righ', all righ'," Stan said. "No need ta get crabby. Where ya off ta then?"

"Grimmauld Place, London," Harry told him.

"Number twelve," Sirius added, making Harry start in surprise. He'd forgotten the house wasn't under the Fidelius Charm in this world, making it possible to give an exact address.

"Rightie-ho then. Hold on tight!" Ernie slammed his foot down on the pedal and the bus leaped forwards, throwing Harry and Sirius off their feet. After some frantic flailing, they grabbed onto the edges of the beds and managed to manoeuvre themselves up off the floor.

Harry stared queasily out through the windscreen as the bus lurched madly through the traffic. "Merlin's beard, I feel sick."

"Well don't be," Sirius told him. "There's no way I'm going back to Saint Mungo's. I've only just escaped from that place."

"'Ere's yer change, sir," Stan said, handing Sirius a fistful of silver sickles and a few bronze knuts. "Unless you'd be wantin' a hot chocolate or a toof brush, with yer own choice of purple, yellow or red."

"Thanks, but no thanks," Sirius said firmly.

-.-.-

Harry and Sirius staggered off the bus an endless quarter of an hour later, smiling weakly as Ernie and Stan waved an enthusiastic goodbye before disappearing with a loud bang.

"Urgh." Sirius groaned, clutching his stomach. "Never ever let me have an idea like that again. I'd rather apparate and risk splinching. Who needs an arm or a leg, really?"

Harry was the first to catch his breath. "Come on, old man. Let's check out the house." He bounded up the stairs, Sirius following him much less energetically.

"Bloody children and their ability to bounce back from everything," Sirius grumbled.

"It's one of the upsides to being turned into a ten-year-old," Harry agreed cheerfully, rocking back on his heels as he waited on the doorstep. "So how do we get in?"

"Only a Black can enter," Sirius explained. "Anyone else would be suicidal to try. We Blacks have always been a bit twisted and we've been adding wards to this place for generations."

"Er, right, well I'll leave you to it then, shall I?" Harry began backing nervously away from the house.

Sirius rolled his eyes. "Relax. All it needs is a bit of blood. Here, give me your wand."

Harry handed it over and watched Sirius cut his palm with a harsh downwards slash. Blood welled up from the wound, and Sirius smeared it carefully over the front door's wooden panelling. Holding the wand in his uninjured right hand he traced intricate symbols in the red liquid, a frown of concentration on his gaunt face.

"I, Sirius Black of the Noble and Ancient House of Black, hereby claim entrance to my ancestral home," he said, his voice solemn and commanding.

A bright red light suddenly burst forth from the symbols traced on the door, creeping over the panelling and spreading to slowly cover the stone walls and tiled roof. The whole house flashed red before the eerie light disappeared, leaving the cloudy February daylight unchanged.

Sirius swayed on his feet a bit and smiled grimly. "Family magic's always a rush. Well, shall we?" He reached for the ornate silver handle and swung the door open with a creek of rusty hinges.

They walked into the gloomy entrance hall, Harry peering around cautiously. The first time he'd stepped foot in the house, it had been full of boggarts and doxies and screaming portraits, and that was after Mrs Weasley had been cleaning it for weeks.

"Huh, this isn't actually all that bad," Harry said, taking in the faded but unstained wall-paper and the distinct lack of cobwebs. "In fact it looks pretty nice."

"Another one of those differences, I suppose," Sirius said distractedly, taking another few steps forwards. With a single flick of Harry's birch wand he made torches come to life along the walls, casting flickering light over their surroundings. Then Sirius slowly turned to face the portrait hanging in a gleaming silver frame on the wall.

"Hello, mother," he said calmly.

"Sirius, what in Merlin's name are you doing here?" the painting of Walburga Black demanded. "I thought you were serving a life sentence in Azkaban."

Harry peered round Sirius to stare at the portrait. He'd never heard the woman sound so civil, though he supposed she might be too shocked to be properly angry at her blood-traitor son.

"I've been released," Sirius said flatly. "The Ministry finally got off their arses and gave me a trial."

A strange look crossed Mrs Black's canvas face, but all she said was, "That doesn't tell me why you're here, now does it?"

"Well, I need somewhere for my son and me to live."

"A son! Since when have you had a son?"

Sirius gave a nonchalant shrug, looking as if he was enjoying himself immensely. "Oh, since ten years or so now. May I introduce you to your grandson Orion?" He clasped Harry's shoulder and pushed him forwards. "Orion, this is my dear departed mother."

"Where's he been all this time?" Mrs Black demanded. Then she shifted in her frame to look down at Harry. "Where've you been all this time, boy?"

Harry glanced rather uncertainly at Sirius, not sure what to tell her. "In France," he said at last. "Ma'am," he added, deciding that it would be a good idea to be polite. So far the portrait wasn't shrieking like a banshee and Harry really wanted to keep it that way.

"France?" Walburga Black repeated, looking horrified.

"Yes, with his mother," Sirius said. "She left England after I was sent to Azkaban, and took Orion with her. You should remember her I think - Evelinda Aubrey."

Mrs Black sniffed disdainfully. "Oh, that Gryffindor girl. Well I suppose her family was respectable enough, in fact Lady Hortencia Aubrey was a good friend of mine… but France, Sirius. I hope you're undoing the damage that living there must have done. No grandson of mine will end up with nasty French habits."

"Oh I don't know," Sirius said, his grey eyes glinting mischievously. "I was thinking of sending him to Beaubatons as soon as he turns eleven."

"What!" she shrieked, suddenly resembling the enraged painting Harry remembered. "Absolutely not! I won't allow it!"

Harry wondered if this was how all arguments between Sirius and his mother started; Sirius making some stupid comment to wind her up and Mrs Black taking him seriously.

"You're unable to prevent it, mother. You're dead. You have no claim to authority any longer." Sirius looked thoroughly pleased by that fact.

"That's it! I was prepared to forgive you, but now I see you're still an ungrateful Blood-traitor! Out! Get out! I won't have you in my house!" Mrs Black was red-faced and furious.

Sirius looked as if he was about to make a scathing retort, making Harry wince at the yelling that would no doubt follow, but then he paused. "Why did father visit me in Azkaban? Why did you let him?" he asked.

Walburga didn't reply immediately, her piercing gaze searching her son's face. "I thought you were clever enough to answer that question yourself," she said coldly.

"I'm not. I can't," Sirius said, almost desperately. "I don't understand it."

She glared at him, but nevertheless answered. "It's because we loved you once! We never stopped."

"Then why did you drive me away! Why did you burn me off the Family Tapestry! How could you treat me the way you did yet claim to care for me?"

"You were angry and disrespectful, always consorting with blood-traitors and causing trouble. You needed to learn that your actions had consequences!"

Sirius stared at her incredulously. "And abusing me was the way to teach me?"

"It was how I was raised, how I was taught to raise my own children," Mrs Black said haughtily. "It worked with Regulus –"

"Until he got himself killed by Voldemort -" Sirius interrupted impatiently.

"And he was respectful and obedient and a credit to the Family -" Mrs Black continued, raising her voice.

"Oh yes, serving a madman who tore the wizarding world apart -"

"He made your father and me proud!" she shouted.

"Yet you never told him that and he died thinking you never deemed him good enough!" Sirius yelled back. There was silence.

Harry stared at Sirius, never having given much thought to the relationship between him and his parents before. He knew Sirius had hated his family's beliefs and had run away from home, but he had never wondered whether Sirius still cared for them at all. It was rather stupid of him really; Harry himself had always disliked the Dursleys and the feeling had certainly been mutual, but when it came down to it they were still family. Harry was glad his Uncle had taken his advice in the end and left Privet Drive; it had been good to know his only blood relatives were safe.

"I regret that now," Mrs Black said quietly. She seemed to hesitate before forcing herself to continue. "I regret much in my life. When I think of what I left behind when I died - one son dead and another imprisoned along with my favourite niece, with another niece disowned - I wonder how our Family fell apart from one generation to the next. Do you think I'm happy with how things turned out?"

"Maybe not," Sirius retorted. "Yet it was your fault! Your prejudice made sure Andromeda was disowned. Your pureblood pride forced Regulus to join the side that ultimately got him killed! Your hatred drove me away!"

Walburga's painted canvas face suddenly looked very old and very tired. "I thought I was doing what was best for the Family," she said.

Sirius heaved a heavy sigh and leaned tiredly against the wall. "And in the end you destroyed us."

"Not all of us," Mrs Black disagreed. "You're still here… you're alive and you have a son and the Black Family will continue. Though no doubt differently from before," she added sourly.

"I wasn't serious about Beaubatons," Sirius admitted. "And I do think family is important, though I'll never agree with that stupid Toujours Pur motto."

"But why not? Think Sirius," the painting urged. "Your precious mudbloods and blood-traitors threw you in Azkaban without a trial. Why support them after that? Join your family. Blood is stronger than any other bond."

Sirius shook his head in denial of her words. "No, that'll never be on the cards. My friends may have abandoned me, but it was Voldemort and his Death Eaters who killed James and Lily. I refuse to have anything to do with the pureblood ideology that cost me my best friends. Voldemort and his supporters will always be my enemies."

"I see you refuse to be swayed," Mrs Black said, her face expressionless.

Sirius gave a sharp nod. "Correct."

They stared at each other for a long moment. "Determination and a lust for revenge," Mrs Black said finally, a slight smile playing on her lips. "Those are Black traits and you have them in abundance… you always did."

"I may be a Gryffindor and a Blood-Traitor, but I've never denied being a Black," Sirius reminded her. "I came here because this is my home. It's where I want to live and raise my son."

The portrait folded her hands primly. "Very well then," she said. "Orion, I welcome you to the Ancient and Noble House of Black… and Sirius, welcome home."

Chapter Text

It was strange for Harry to amble through the high-ceilinged and dust-covered rooms of this world's Grimmauld Place. The floor plan seemed to be much the same as he remembered, although Harry had never known his way around all of the rambling house. It was very much a wizarding home, with magic having been used to enlarge space and distort distances between rooms, making it difficult to know exactly where everything was. Accurately judging the size of the place was close to impossible.

Sirius had disappeared off somewhere soon after the discussion with Mrs Black, pausing only to summon Kreacher and order him to prepare bedrooms for himself and Harry. The elf had muttered a few derogatory comments under his breath, but had otherwise acted saner than Harry had expected. He also seemed to have taken better care of the house over the years it had stood empty. Dust sheets had been draped over most of the furniture, and there were no infestations of doxies in the curtains or any other creatures hidden in the various nooks and crannies. Harry wondered at the change, but couldn't really think of a reason for it. After coming up with a few improbable theories he decided to forget about it for the time being. He instead ambled downstairs to the kitchen to make himself a cup of tea before they had to head off to their meeting at Gringotts.

The windowless basement room was just as dark as Harry remembered it, the few candles on the wall creating only just enough light to see by. The contents of the kitchen drawers weren't at all familiar, however, since in this world Mrs Weasley hadn't commandeered the place and organised everything to her liking. It took a lot of rummaging before Harry managed to locate a rusty kettle and a tin of ancient looking tea leaves. He brewed enough for two people in case Sirius decided to join him, and then settled himself down at the large wooden table which took up one side of the room.

Harry wondered what Sirius was doing, but didn't feel comfortable at the idea of searching him out. He'd often dreamed of living with his godfather, but apart from the few weeks in the summer before his fifth year and one short Christmas holiday, that dream had never come true. Now Harry was going to be spending years sharing a house with a man who was Sirius but not his Sirius, and he felt a bit uncomfortable about the whole thing. The situation was made even stranger by the fact that Harry was an adult in the body of a ten-year-old; it was inevitable that any interaction between them would be rather awkward. Harry was actually surprised by how well he and Sirius were getting along so far, but knew living together would be very different from short hospital visits.

"Oh, there you are," Sirius said, appearing at the top of the stairs and interrupting Harry's thoughts. He looked tired and grim-faced, clearly far from back to full health.

"You all right?" Harry asked, reaching out and pouring him a cup of tea.

"I'm fine," Sirius said dismissively, making his way to the table and sipping the steaming hot liquid. "Thanks," he said appreciatively.

"No problem," Harry replied.

There was an awkward pause, neither of them entirely sure what to do next.

"Have you unpacked yet?" Sirius asked.

Harry shook his head. "No, I wasn't sure which room's mine."

"I think Kreacher's prepared my old bedroom and another on the floor below for you," Sirius said. "The second floor is traditionally for guests and distant relations. Kreacher can probably sense you're not really a Black and so didn't put you in any of the family rooms. I hope we can change things round later once we've done the adoption ritual - I should really be on the top floor in the master bedroom, but Kreacher seems to have turned the whole place into a shrine to my dear old mum."

"Does it matter that Kreacher knows?" Harry bit his lip and pushed his empty teacup away as the new worry entered his head. "I mean, we didn't even tell Mrs Black the truth and she's a portrait."

Sirius sighed and gave a shrug. "He'll keep any secret he's ordered to. As for my mum, there's no way she could tell anyone either, but I think it'll be easier all round if we let her think you're my son and a pureblood."

"You're probably right," Harry agreed, thinking back to his memories of the portrait screaming about mudbloods and blood-traitors. He stood up and brought his cup to the kitchen sink. "I think I'll go change into clean robes before we head off to Gringotts. I'll leave the unpacking till I move into my proper room."

"Right." Sirius nodded and put down his own cup. "I'll go get ready too, then. Kreacher!"

The wizened old elf appeared with a pop. "Yes, master?"

"Orion and I are going out for a bit. Have dinner ready for when we get home," Sirius sternly instructed him.

"Yes, master," Kreacher said and shuffled over to the kitchen cabinets, pointedly paying the two wizards no more attention.

Harry and Sirius both made their way up the stone basement steps and then the main staircase, Harry stopping once he reached the second floor. Rather than call Kreacher to ask him which room he'd prepared on Sirius' orders, Harry just opened doors at random until he a found one that looked a little less dusty than the rest. Not trusting the elf's cleaning skills, Harry aimed scourgify spells at every surface before pulling his few belongings out of his pocket and unshrinking them. He owned depressingly little, Harry realised as he looked down at the small pile of clothes and newspaper clippings. All of his most precious possessions – his photo album, his invisibility cloak, his firebolt – had been left behind in his old world. Harry tried to tell himself it was a good thing really, since it meant fewer things linking him to the Boy-Who-Lived. It wasn't much of a silver lining, but Harry was determined to make the best of things. If he let himself miss everything he'd left behind, he'd never stop.

It didn't take long to dig out fresh robes and pull them on. Once he was finished he hesitated for a moment, then wandered upstairs to Sirius's room. The door was open, allowing Harry to peer inside. Quidditch posters in the purple of the Falmouth Falcons hung over the four poster bed, contrasting with the bright red hangings and bed-covers. Pictures of four boys in Gryffindor robes and magazine clippings of scantily clad witches were stuck haphazardly to the wall and wardrobe door. It was very clearly a teenager's room.

"Come in!" Sirius called out as soon as Harry knocked on the open door.

As Harry stepped inside, his attention was drawn away from the scarlet and gold colours that dominated the room, and was instead captured by the silver-framed photo standing on the dresser. It showed two laughing black-haired boys pulling funny faces at each other. At first Harry thought it was a picture of Sirius with James Potter, but then he noticed the boy's Slytherin scarf and aristocratic appearance. It was Regulus, Harry realised with some astonishment.

"Everything all right?" Sirius asked.

"Yeah. Fine." Harry sat hesitantly down on the four-poster bed, while Sirius rummaged through his wardrobe and various drawers to find clothes that would fit. "I just can't believe how different things are here. For one thing, Kreacher's actually cooking us dinner without muttering about blood-traitors and poison."

"Well what's the point of alternate universes if they're all the same?" Sirius shook out a dark blue robe and held it up to his reflection in the mirror. The hem hung just below his knees. Sirius sighed and tossed the robe onto the floor."I suppose it was wishful thinking to expect any of my old stuff to fit me. I may be as skinny as an inferius, but I'm still taller than I was when I was sixteen. You don't happen to know any tailoring spells, do you, Harry?"

"Nope, sorry. The only magic I'm any good at is offensive spells and stuff. A bit of warding magic, too; anything that's useful in a fight, you know?"

"That's it?" Sirius turned round to stare at him in surprise. "What are they teaching in schools nowadays," he said, then frowned. "Merlin, I really am getting old."

"My Hogwarts years were pretty useless," Harry admitted. "Every year I had to worry about Voldemort and teachers trying to kill me and all that. Basically things were a complete mess. Exams were cancelled in my second-year, and in my fourth I was exempt because I was a Triwizard Champion. Then my fifth year was a complete disaster – a ministry appointed teacher tried to sabotage all our lessons, and during my OWL exams Voldemort started sending me visions. At the end of my sixth year Dumbledore was killed, so no exams again, and I never came back for my seventh year. Honestly, I'm surprised I learnt anything at all."

Sirius stared at him for a long moment. "Then I suppose it's a good thing you're doing it all over again, hmm?"

"Merlin, seven more years of Binns!" Harry groaned and covered his face with his hands. "Hey, why don't you send me to Beaubatons instead?"

"Because my dear deceased mother would send Kreacher to strangle me in my sleep, that's why," Sirius said, laughing. "So, sorry, you'll just have to grin and bear it. Or cast an exorcism curse in the middle of the History classroom, you choose."

"I think that would be a tad too conspicuous," Harry said. "I'm not supposed to know any magic. It does sound tempting, though," he added wistfully.

Sirius scoffed. "There's no such thing as too conspicuous when you're a Black." Harry looked at him doubtfully. "No really, we all love being the centre of attention," Sirius insisted. "And we all dabble in strange magic even before we start Hogwarts, so it'll be seen as perfectly normal for you to know spells you shouldn't."

"So I'm joining a family of prodigies then?" Harry raised his eyebrows, thinking it could be useful if he ever slipped up and revealed knowledge of magic no normal child would know.

"Well not quite, but the Blacks do tend to be more powerful than most," Sirius told him seriously. "Bellatrix was one of the most feared witches in decades, and it took twelve hit-wizards to take her down. As for me… well, there's a reason why people were so ready to believe I was Voldemort's second in command."

Harry thought that over, remembering the damage Bellatrix had caused, the overpowering spells she had cast even weak and half insane from Azkaban. "I know you and my dad were pretty brilliant at magic," he said. "I mean, you became animagi in your fifth year and the Marauders Map is an impressive bit of spellwork…"

Sirius smiled proudly. "Yeah, James was always talented, especially in Transfiguration. He also knew a lot of spells even as a first year. His mother was a Black, remember, so he was given free reign to practice magic and explore his family library, just like I was. It's the Black way."

"The… other you said your family knew a lot of dark magic."

Sirius shook his head. "Not just the Dark Arts. More whatever we were interested in, really. We Blacks have never cared about the legality of the spells we learn. I mean, the Ministry is made up of a bunch of idiots, so why should we listen to anything they have to say?"

"Well, I can definitely agree there," Harry said, scowling. "I despise the Ministry. People like Fudge can cause more damage than a Death Eater ever could."

"Well, my being innocent should shake them up a bit. Minister Fudge's approval rating probably isn't looking too good round about now," Sirius said with a smirk.

"Serves the idiot right! You know, in my old world he tried to have you Kissed even though my friends and I told him we'd seen Pettigrew with our very own eyes, and he spent my whole fifth year running a smear campaign against me."

"Well, I'm glad it was Amelia Bones in charge of my case, then," Sirius said. "She was always a stickler for rules. Never had much of an imagination, but at least she follows procedure and gives every wizard a fair trial."

Harry nodded. "Yeah, I always thought she seemed like an all right witch. She was killed quite early on in the war, though, so I don't know much about her."

"What? Her too?" Sirius asked incredulously. "Your world was a very depressing place, wasn't it?"

"You're just now realising this?"

"Yeah, yeah, I know." Sirius waved one hand dismissively. "I'm slow on the uptake. It's just hard for me to really understand, that's all. All I've got to go on are stories… I haven't lived it as you have."

"I wish I hadn't," Harry said quietly. "And I really hope you never will."

"I won't," Sirius said confidently. "We can change things. Speaking of which, we should get going. The goblins won't be happy if we're late."

"Hey, I've been waiting for you!" Harry stood up and gestured at the mess of discarded clothes scattered across the floor. "How long does it take to pick out a robe, anyway?"

"I don't have one that fits," Sirius complained, casting an annoyed look at his wardrobe. "Which means I'll have to wear one of Regulus' old robes, and they're all Slytherin colours."

"Well, as soon as you've withdrawn some galleons we can go to Madam Malkin's and buy you lots of bright red and gold robes, how about that," Harry said patronisingly.

Sirius glared at him, but then his lips twitched up into a smile. "Harry, if you wanted new robes for yourself you should have just said! Gold will look just perfect on you, I'm sure."

"Uh… that's okay," Harry said hastily, knowing that Sirius would probably think it incredibly funny to force him into a glittering red and gold monstrosity. "I've got enough of robes already. I wouldn't want to put you out."

"Well, after the adoption ritual you'll probably need new ones," Sirius reminded him, a wicked glint in his eyes as he turned and headed for the door. "Consider them as belated Christmas and birthday presents!" At the door he paused and turned back to look at Harry. "Hmm, what about an orange cape to go with the scarlet robes?"

Harry could only stare blankly, horrified at the mental picture the suggestion created. Sirius left the room, grinning in satisfaction.

"Wait!" Harry yelled after him, standing up in a rush. "Sirius! You're not actually serious, are you?"

The only response was Sirius' laughter.

-.-.-

"So, on a scale of one to ten, how much is this going to hurt?" Harry eyed the dagger the goblin was holding. The flickering light from the circle of candles burning around them glinted of the sharp blade, making Harry rather nervous.

"Ten," the goblin drawled, his teeth bared in a vicious looking smile.

"Don't suppose I could have a pain potion?"

"No," the goblin said.

"Relax, it won't hurt you at all," Sirius explained rather more sympathetically. "Well, not during this part, anyway. Afterwards I've heard it gets quite painful, but unfortunately a potion would interfere with the magic."

Harry sighed. "Figures."

The goblin glared at them both until he had their complete attention. "Do you both understand that the effects of this ritual are irreversible?" he demanded.

"We do," Sirius replied with Harry nodding his agreement.

"And do you accept that Gringotts is not liable for any injuries which might occur, including but not limited to death, disfigurement, and incineration?"

"We do," Sirius said again while Harry looked on in alarm.

"Very well. Moving on, the magic involved will strengthen the Black traits already present in Mr Aubrey, while linking his blood to that of you, Mr Black," the goblin said and then turned to Harry. "Do you, Mr Aubrey, certify that you are related to the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black by no more than three generations removed?"

"I do," Harry said. His grandmother Dorea had been a Black. "Sort of, at least," he added, sharing a worried glance with Sirius. They had discussed whether it would matter that Harry was related to a Black Family from an alternate universe, and had in the end decided it probably wouldn't. Rituals were tricky things, though, so they were mostly relying on guesswork.

The adoption ritual was designed to allow a witch or wizard to accept a distant relative as their magical heir - it didn't work unless those involved were already related. Due to the widespread obsession with preserving family lines, many purebloods hid their manors and other valuables behind complex blood wards, only allowing access to their descendents. In the absence of a direct heir, however, one could be created from an offshoot of the family tree. The ritual strengthened the existing ties of blood enough for a distant relative to be accepted by the family magic; which meant that, if successful, Harry would gain Sirius as a sort of third parent alongside James and Lily.

It was a huge and irrevocable step to take. Harry knew the adoption made sense from a practical view point, since it would add considerable weight to his cover story, but he'd still hesitated before agreeing. For one thing, all rituals involved blood and bordered on Dark Magic - the only reason blood adoption wasn't illegal was because the old wizarding families who found it useful were the ones making the laws. In the end, however, Harry's desire for anonymity had trumped his other concerns (helped along by the small and buried part of him that had always longed for a proper family). He had many worries and doubts, wondering if the ritual would work and what the consequences would be either way, but mostly Harry was just eager to get it over and done with.

"Very well," the goblin said at last. "Let us begin."

Harry and Sirius knelt down facing each other within the ring of candles, with the goblin standing just outside the circle. After muttering to himself in incomprehensible Gobbledegook, the goblin raised the dagger and cut the palm of Sirius' right hand. The blood dripped from the wound to fall into a ceramic bowl on the floor between the two kneeling wizards.

"Blood of the father, willingly given, you will bind your son!"

As the goblin spoke, Sirius met Harry's gaze with uncharacteristic seriousness, not even blinking when the goblin used the same wickedly sharp blade to cut a handful of hair from his head. That too was flung into the bowl as the mixture began to bubble.

"Body of the father, knowingly given, you will transform your son."

Harry shivered, the ritual dredging up unpleasant memories he'd rather forget. He stared back at Sirius, reminding himself that when it was over he'd have what he'd always wanted - a real family and a chance to live life on his own terms. His anticipation turned into confusion as he watched Sirius hand the goblin a small container, the contents of which were quickly stirred into the bowl. Sirius shook his head as if telling Harry not to ask.

"Essence of the father, pleasurably given, you will renew your son."

Harry's eyebrows shot up and he fervently hoped he wouldn't have to drink the disgusting mixture, cursing himself for not doing more research before agreeing to the adoption. Ignoring Harry's rising panic, the goblin gestured for Sirius to continue the spell.

"I willingly accept Orion Alphard Black as my son, by name, by blood and by magic," Sirius declared.

The goblin nodded his acknowledgement and set the knife aside, then used one of the flickering candles to light the contents of the bowl on fire. The flames flared brightly for a single moment before suddenly extinguishing, leaving only wisps of smoke to drift lazily upwards.

"Er..." said Harry.

"You must breathe in the fumes," the goblin told him. "Quickly now, or it will be too late."

Relieved that he wasn't being made to do anything worse, Harry leaned forwards and took one deep breath, then began coughing violently as the smoke entered his lungs. Sirius slapped him unhelpfully on the back until he finally stopped gasping for air.

"That will be seventy-nine galleons," the goblin announced in a business-like tone of voice.

Harry shakily got to his feet and stretched his limbs experimentally. "I don't feel any different," he said.

"Well of course not," the goblin said impatiently. "It takes time for the magic to take effect."

That came as news to Harry. He really should have read up on the ritual beforehand, he decided.

"How long exactly?" Sirius asked.

The goblin carefully wiped off the blood still clinging to the knife, being sure to show the wizards that it wasn't being kept for nefarious purposes. "His appearance will be fully changed by tomorrow evening at the latest, possibly earlier. It depends on how closely related the boy is to you, as well as your respective magical strengths."

"Interesting," Sirius said.

"Quite," the goblin said, sounding bored. "Now if there are no more questions, let us return to the matter of payment."

-.-.-

It took over half an hour to fill out all the necessary paperwork, but eventually Harry and Sirius left the bank, blinking slightly as their eyes adjusted to the daylight. Harry could already feel the ritual magic running through him, causing his body to tingle and his skin to itch.

"It doesn't feel that bad," Harry remarked. "A little uncomfortable I suppose, but that's all."

"So far," Sirius warned him. "From what I've heard it gets way worse."

"Of course it does," Harry grumbled, before twisting round to try to catch a glimpse of his reflection in the window of the Magical Menagerie. "Do I look any different yet?"

"Er… have you forgotten you're still wearing a glamour?"

"Oh, yeah, right." Harry reddened slightly as Sirius laughed at him. He was just so eager to finally leave his old appearance behind. After this, no-one would have any reason to think he was anyone other than Orion Alphard Black. He'd finally be free of the Boy-Who-Lived label and all the nonsense that came with it. "Oh, let's just get what we came for," Harry said with a huff, heading towards Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions with a smirking Sirius strolling along behind him.

It didn't take Harry long to realise he'd been an utter fool to accompany Sirius on a shopping spree. The man seemed incapable of talking to a woman without flirting shamelessly, and was soon surrounded by a small bevy of giggling sales-witches, all competing for his attention. Worst of all, Harry found himself also being fawned over, with the witches patting him on the head and calling him a sweet little boy. That was not the sort of female attention Harry wanted and he quickly decided to make his escape.

"Erm, Sirius, I'm just going down the road to Quality Quidditch Supplies, all right?" Harry barely waited for an answer before hurrying out the door. He made his way down the street, waving hello to the few shopkeepers he knew, until he reached the brightly coloured Quidditch shop with its display of broomsticks in the window. Harry recognised the sleek design of a Nimbus Two Thousand amongst them, and stopped in front of the glass to reminisce over his old broom that had been destroyed by the Whomping Willow.

"Rather impressive, isn't it?" a familiar voice drawled from behind him. "I think I'll bully my father into buying me one."

Harry spun round, his right hand reaching for his wand as he came face to face with a young Draco Malfoy. Harry searched the crowd behind him, only relaxing when he found Lucius Malfoy nowhere in sight. Relaxing his grip on his wand, Harry sternly reminded himself that the Draco in front of him wasn't a Death Eater.

"It's a good broom," Harry said at last, unsure how to act towards the Slytherin he'd always disliked. But he was in a different world with all the changes that entailed. Draco was only ten years old and, Harry realised with some shock, he and Harry were now cousins of a sort.

"Play Quidditch at all?" Draco asked.

"Yep, Seeker," Harry replied, deciding to be polite for the moment. "You?"

"Chaser," Draco said proudly.

Harry was surprised by the answer. He'd never imagined the other boy as anything other than a mediocre Seeker. "You any good?"

"Of course I am," Draco said, sounding rather offended. "Although," he continued with slightly less confidence, "I don't get to practice much. The other boys I spend time with aren't really interested in Quidditch."

"Pity," Harry said. "I love flying. I'm hoping to get onto one of the House teams when I go to Hogwarts."

Draco lifted his chin proudly."My father says it's a crime if I'm not picked. Maybe we'll even be on the same team. If you get into Slytherin, that is."

"I'm not sure where I'll be sorted," Harry said honestly, surprised by how friendly the young Malfoy heir was being in his own conceited way.

"You should aim for Slytherin. It's by far the best house," Draco told him. "My family's been in Slytherin for generations. I'm Draco Malfoy, by the way. Who are you?"

"Um, Orion Aubrey," Harry introduced himself, stumbling slightly over the name.

"I've heard of your family!" Draco looked pleased to find out Harry was a pureblood and held out his hand. "Nice to meet you."

"You too." Harry slowly reached out to accept the handshake. As he did so he got a flashback to the first time he'd been in this situation, when Draco had offered his hand on the train in first year and Harry had refused it. He really must be in an alternate universe if he was willingly shaking hands with a Malfoy, Harry thought to himself with a grin. In the spirit of new beginnings, he smiled and tilted his head towards the shop door. "So, want to go inside and take a proper look?"

"Of course!"

The two boys stepped inside and were soon busy admiring the practice Snitches and competitor-level Quidditch robes, while debating the merits of the Comet-Three-Sixty racing broom. That quickly lead to discussing their favourite flying techniques and then onto what teams they supported, and Harry was surprised by to realise he was enjoying himself. Malfoy might be a git, but even as a ten-year-old he knew a lot about Quidditch. Even better, he wasn't obsessed with the Chudley Cannons (Harry had always thought they were the worst team in history, but hadn't wanted to hurt Ron's feelings) and instead focused on teams that actually won matches.

"... and of course the Pride of Portree have some spectacular plays." Draco's normally pale faced was flushed with enthusiasm and he had entirely abandoned his usual condescending tone of voice. "In their last match against the Arrows they won by two hundred and twenty points!"

Draco probably would have continued talking if Sirius hadn't entered the shop and loudly called out "Orion! There you are!" as soon as he caught sight of Harry.

"Hi, Si-Dad," Harry said with a wave. "Finally finished admiring yourself in the mirror then?"

"Oi! Where's your respect for your elders?" Sirius walked over to the two boys and nodded at the Nimbus display case beside them. "So is this the latest and greatest, then?"

"Yep, top of the line," Harry said with a sigh. With Draco there he couldn't say that he'd once owned a Nimbus Two Thousand, or that even better brooms would soon come out on the market.

"Certainly looks impressive." Sirius examined the broom with a thoughtful look before he turned back to Harry with a grin. "What do you say we buy one each?"

"Really?" Harry checked eagerly, while beside him Draco scowled in envy.

Sirius gave a shrug."I know it'll be rather expensive, but I think we deserve to treat ourselves, wouldn't you agree? After all, we don't have anything better than a Cleansweep Two in the house."

"Well then I say hell yes!" Harry hadn't had many chances to fly during the last few years of his old life and couldn't wait to be up in the air again.

Just then the bell over the shop door jingled and a fashionably dressed witch stepped into the shop. She looked younger and much less anxious than when Harry had last seen her, but he still recognised Narcissa Malfoy at once.

"Draco darling," she cooed. "Are you enjoying y- Oh! Cousin Sirius!" she exclaimed, gasping as she caught sight of him.

"Narcissa!" Sirius sounded just as stunned.

There was an awkward silence as the adults stared at each other. Seconds ticked by before Mrs Malfoy moved to stand next to her son. "What a surprise to see you here, Sirius. I heard the good news, of course. It was all over the front page of the Daily Prophet."

"I'm sure it was," Sirius said. "I'm surprised to see you here as well, Cousin. I hadn't realised this young man here was your son."

"Yes, this is Draco." Narcissa cast a fond look at her son. "I suppose it's been a long time since our families last saw each other."

"A very long time," Sirius agreed. A dark look passing across his face, before he seemed to make an effort to smile. "You don't look as if you've aged a day."

"While you're as charming as ever," Narcissa said with a light laugh. "It truly is good to see you again, Cousin. How are you recovering? I can only imagine how difficult it must be… but I'm sure you don't want to talk about all that unpleasantness."

"I'm doing well enough, thank you." Sirius clapped a hand on Harry's shoulder. "Orion here has been a huge help."

"Orion?" Narcissa looked at Harry and then back to Sirius in confusion.

"This is my son, Orion Black. Orion, this is a cousin of mine, Narcissa Malfoy, and her son Draco." Sirius eyes glinted in amusement as he made the introductions.

"You have a son?" The shocked look on Narcissa's face made Harry stifle a laugh. She soon recovered her usual dignified expression, however, and smiled down at him. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Orion."

"Pleasure to meet you as well," Harry said, not really meaning it in the slightest.

"Hang on," Draco spoke up, turning to Harry with an accusing frown. "I thought you said your family name was Aubrey?"

"Sorry, I forgot. You see it was until recently," Harry hastily explained. "My mum was an Aubrey and brought me up, so I took her name."

Draco nodded graciously. "Oh. Well that's all right then. I accept your apology," he said. Harry couldn't help rolling his eyes a bit; he didn't want to make an enemy of Draco, but the boy really was a stuck up little ponce.

"Aubrey, hmm… that must mean he's Evelinda's child!" Narcissa glanced between Harry and Sirius. "After that fire people thought the worst, but I suppose she must have gone into hiding?"

Sirius nodded solemnly. "Yes, she did - she never even told me she was pregnant. Evie didn't want Orion involved in the war, you see, and with my job as an Auror… well, given everything, she decided to raise our son alone in France."

Narcissa's eyes grew wider with each additional word, and Harry could sense her desire to rush off and spread the scandalous bit of gossip.

"Sadly poor Evelinda fell ill and passed away only two months ago," Sirius continued with a convincingly sorrowful expression. Harry supposed the sadness Sirius felt was real, since he and Evie had been friendly years ago.

"Oh! How terrible!" Narcissa exclaimed, raising a perfectly manicured hand to her mouth. Her gaze turned to Harry. "My sympathies. It must have been very difficult for you."

Trying his best to look sad but still brave, Harry gave her a tremulous smile. "Thank you. It was hard, but I knew I still had my dad. Mum always said he was innocent, you see. She was convinced he'd been framed by Peter Pettigrew somehow. After she died, I was determined to come here to England and prove dad innocent."

"And he did, too!" Sirius smiled proudly as he put an arm around Harry. "Orion here is the reason Director Bones reopened my case and Pettigrew was finally captured."

"My! What a story!" Mrs Malfoy looked very pleased to be one of the first to hear such delicious gossip. "And such a handsome young man, too. You must be very proud of him, cousin. How old are you, dear?" she asked Orion.

"I'm ten years old, Mrs Malfoy."

"You and dear Draco are the same age then! You'll be in Hogwarts together next year."

Harry nodded and exchanged a glance with Draco. "I suppose we will."

Narcissa turned to Sirius with a determined look on her beautiful face. "You simply must bring young Orion over to the Manor for a visit sometime, so the boys can get to know each other better."

"Well, I'm not sure…" Sirius was obviously not too keen on the idea.

"Wonderful! Then I'm sure they'll be great friends in no time," Narcissa interrupted airily. "Oh, look at the time! Lucius will be wondering where we are, I'm sure. It was simply marvellous seeing you again, cousin, and meeting you, Orion."

"Good to see you, too," Sirius replied, giving in.

Harry smiled politely. "Goodbye, Mrs Malfoy."

Narcissa patted Harry on the cheek, kissed Sirius goodbye, and then swept out of the shop. "Come along, Draco," she called over her shoulder.

"Yes, mother. Bye, Orion!" Draco trailed obediently after Narcissa while giving Harry a small wave over his shoulder.

As soon as the door to the shop banged shut behind the two Malfoys, Harry and Sirius heaved sighs of relief.

"Bloody hell, Narcissa's exhausting!" Sirius exclaimed as he turned to Harry. "I hate society witches. All they do is gossip all day long. She looked about as eager as I was to leave - no doubt so she could spread the word about my tragic love affair. I don't why she stayed so long."

"She was trying to squeeze every last drop of worthwhile information from you before she hurried off to firecall someone, of course," Harry said, thinking it should be obvious.

"Hah! By this time tomorrow half the wizarding upper class is going to be talking about my illegitimate heir over tea." Sirius gave a snicker that was soon followed by a tired sigh. "Now that the word's about to start going round, I'm sure we'll be inundated with so-called well-wishers and old family friends eager to inspect the two of us."

Harry didn't like that idea at all. "Then I vote we don't get a Floo connection installed. I'd even be prepared to take the Knight Bus again if it meant I didn't have to deal with a horde of gossips."

"Well, I bought a wand before joining you in here, so I can legally Apparate now. Who knows though, we might be cornered somewhere with anti-apparition wards. How about we buy those two Nimbus' to ensure we have a quick get-away if we need one," Sirius suggested, not quite managing to keep a straight look on his face.

"Excellent idea, old man!" Harry said with an answering grin.

"Hey, who are you calling old? I'm barely thirty!" Sirius protested as he headed over towards the back of the shop. He leant against the counter and turned his attention to the saleswizard behind it. "Hello, I would like to purchase two Nimbus Two Thousands for myself and my son."

"Of course, sir," the wizard said, a bored look fixed on his face. "Would you be interested in any of our extra features? For a small fee your broom can be personalised with an engraving of your name on the handle, and extra safety charms can be added to prevent young children from flying too high or too fast."

Sirius looked down at Harry with a smirk. "Hmm, sounds interesting."

Harry glared at him. "Don't you dare!" he hissed.

Sirius grinned wickedly, but then relented. "Just the two brooms, please," he told the saleswizard.

"Very well," the saleswizard said. He disappeared through a door behind the counter, before returning with two long packages that he carefully placed on the counter-top. "How will you be paying, sir?"

"I'll arrange it with the goblins for you to take the money directly from my Gringotts account. The name's Sirius Black."

The saleswizard's bored expression abruptly disappeared, replaced with one of shock and growing disgust. "Black! What the hell is a murderer like you doing in my shop!"

"Didn't you hear, I was cleared of all charges," Sirius said with forced calm. Harry took a step closer to him and glared up at the saleswizard.

"Hah! We all know money speaks loudly in the Ministry!" The wizard scoffed loudly. "I know what you are, Death Eater. Your kind killed my family. My sister was just seven years old when she was tortured to death. Maybe you remember her - hell, maybe you were the one who killed her!"

"I am not a Death Eater," Sirius said, his voice strained.

"Everyone knows you were You-Know-Who's right hand man!" The wizard sneered derisively.

"You don't know what you're talking about!" Harry snapped back before Sirius managed to say anything in his defence.

The saleswizard looked him up and down with a scornful expression. "What would you know, you're just a kid."

"Listen, you ignorant bastard," Harry bit out, seething with anger. "My dad never supported Voldemort!"

The wizard flinched at the name and took a stumbling step back, causing Harry to glare at him in disdain. "My dad risked his life fighting Voldemort and his followers. I bet you just cowered in a corner - you can't even hear the name Voldemort without flinching!"

"Now look 'ere, kid!" The saleswizard moved forwards threateningly while pulling out his wand.

Sirius reacted instantly, drawing his wand in one smooth motion and pointing it directly at the other wizard. "Never threaten my son," Sirius said, his voice dangerous and his eyes filled with rage. Beside him, Harry reached into his pocket and grasped his own wand, but didn't draw it.

Harry had never seen Sirius as angry as he was right then. He could feel the rising well of magic pouring off his godfather, pressing down on their surroundings. He shivered at the sensation. He'd only ever felt such a thing around a few wizards, and then only when they were extremely angry; Dumbledore in the face of Fudge's denial, Voldemort, of course, as well as Bellatrix Lestrange and, rather surprisingly, Neville Longbottom when he'd fought the last of his parents' torturers.

"You c-can't do anything!" The saleswizard's face was pale and he stuttered from fear. "Y-you'll be thrown back in prison!"

"I know exactly what Azkaban is like," Sirius said quietly. "I also know I'm willing to endure it if it means I keep my son safe."

The tense standoff was finally broken when the saleswizard nodded shakily and dropped his wand. The overwhelming sensation of magic gradually died down as Sirius stepped back and lowered his own wand-arm. He grabbed the two brooms from the counter, and with one last glare turned sharply on his heel and left the shop, Harry following silently behind him. By unspoken agreement they headed back to Grimmauld Place, Sirius side-along Apparating them both straight into the kitchen. Kreacher was there by the stove, cooking something over the old-fashioned range.

"Muggle-loving master and master's bastard son are back," Kreacher muttered as he shuffled towards them. "Kreacher is preparing dinner for masters, is they needing anything else?"

"A cup of tea please, Kreacher," Harry said to the wizened old elf.

"Make that something stronger," Sirius ordered, pulling out one of the kitchen chairs and slumping down at the table. Harry joined him and they both sat there, staring at the stained old tablecloth.

Harry didn't know what to say. He found it difficult to wrap his head around what had happened. He had hoped this world would be somehow better than his old one; more honest, more tolerant, and less corrupt. He'd managed to free Sirius after all, making him hope that this world was less hate-filled than the war-torn one he'd left behind. He shifted restlessly in his chair, angry at his own naivety.

"As my master ordered," Kreacher said hoarsely, directing a cup of tea and a tumbler of firewhisky to float over to the table and settle down in front of the two wizards.

"Thanks," Harry muttered and picked up his cup. He took a sip, wincing slightly as the scalding hot liquid burnt his tongue. Catching Kreacher's eye he saw the elf smirk at him. Harry heaved a sigh. "Why don't you just serve dinner and then go clean the rest of the house or something, Kreacher."

"As the bastard child commands," Kreacher mumbled resentfully. With a snap of his fingers, plates and cutlery came flying out of one of the cupboards and landed with a clatter on the table top. Seconds later food materialised on the tarnished silver platters in front of them. Then with one final snap of his bony fingers, Kreacher disappeared with a loud crack.

"I wish he'd stop calling you that," Sirius said, scowling as he picked up his glass of firewhisky and took a swig.

"Doesn't matter," Harry said dismissively.

Dinner passed in silence. Harry picked at his food, partly because of the uncomfortable sensation of pins-and-needles all over his body due to the adoption ritual, and partly because Kreacher had made sure the food was overcooked and strongly oversalted. House-elves were very good at the whole passive-aggressiveness thing, Harry thought with a sigh. He really needed to talk with Kreacher about Regulus and the possible Horcrux. If he was lucky, he'd be able to win the old elf over as he had in his old world.

Sirius didn't seem to enjoy the meal much either, spending a lot of time staring moodily into space - although he was apparently trying to heed the Healer's advice on regular nutrition, since he managed to eat a fair bit of the unappetising food.

"You shouldn't pay attention to what that bloody saleswizard said," Harry said at last, deciding not to tiptoe round the subject any longer.

Sirius glared down at his plate and viciously speared a soggy potato. "I'll bet he's not the only one who thinks that way though," he said.

"Yeah, but they're all idiots," Harry said matter-of-factly. Sirius gave a rather half hearted laugh, but didn't look up. "What I mean is, it might take some people a while to get used to you. You were only declared innocent a few weeks ago, after all."

"This wasn't the first time someone's treated me like that, Harry," Sirius told him heavily.

"What do you mean?" Harry asked, confused. Had something happened while Sirius had been at St Mungo's?

"I'm a Black," Sirius said flatly. "Which was a difficult thing to be during the war, believe me. My brother Regulus was a proven Death Eater, and anyone with any sense suspected the Malfoys and Lestranges of being ones too. Despite my public split with my family, people thought I must have gone the same way as the rest of them."

"But you worked as an Auror, you were friends with muggleborns," Harry protested. "You were a Gryffindor."

"Didn't matter," Sirius said, shaking his head. "Some people just avoided me, others were actively aggressive. The worst were the ones who were absolutely terrified of me… a man once begged me not to have his wife killed just because he'd accidentally let slip she was a muggleborn."

"Merlin, Sirius," Harry breathed, horrified. "That… I can't imagine what that was like."

Sirius shrugged in what looked like an unconvincing attempt to appear unbothered. "I got used to it. It's not as if I could really do anything about it, no one trusted anyone back then."

"You shouldn't have had to get used to it," Harry said, still angry on Sirius' behalf.

"It doesn't matter," Sirius said, before looking straight at Harry, his expression regretful. "It's you I care about."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't want you to suffer the same hatred and suspicion, just because you now share my name."

"I don't care if I do," Harry said. "I don't," he repeated stubbornly at Sirius's skeptical look. "The whole wizarding world hated me on a regular basis back in my old world. I can handle it - I'm not a child."

"I suppose you're right," Sirius admitted, his tense shoulders finally relaxing.

They sat in a contemplative silence for a while, Sirius sipping slowly at the last of his firewhisky, before Harry decided to ask a question he'd been wondering about since the confrontation in Quidditch Quality Supplies.

"Sirius, did you mean it? What you said about protecting me?" Harry asked hesitantly.

"Of course I did," Sirius answered immediately.

"You'd… you'd really risk Azkaban, for me?" Harry said, feeling overwhelmed.

"Yes, I would," Sirius said firmly, making eye-contact with Harry. "I won't lie, the idea of going back to that place terrifies me… but that ritual this afternoon was more than just a few fancy words, Harry. You're my son now, my blood, and I will always protect you."

"Sirius," Harry whispered, his eyes stinging slightly. He'd always known the Sirius in his world had cared for him almost as a son, hell the man had died for him, but he hadn't been sure that the Sirius in front of him would ever feel the same way. "I... I have no idea what to say, except thank you."

"You're welcome," Sirius said with a smile.

Harry smiled back. "I'd do the same, you know," he said. "For you, I mean."

"I know," Sirius said softly, before sighing. "I know our situation is about as far from normal as you can get -"

Harry snorted. "That's an understatement."

"You were an adult where you came from, you're capable of taking care of yourself. Hell, you killed Voldemort!" Sirius shook his head in amazement at the idea. "You're way older than you look. As for me… well, I'm pretty messed up. I lost nine years of my life to the Dementors. The healers did what they could, but I don't think I'll ever fully recover from what Azkaban did to me." He shivered, wearing the haunted expression Harry hated seeing. Sirius soon shook it off though and turned his attention back to Harry. "I owe you so much, Harry."

Harry moved to disagree, but Sirius interrupted him before he could speak.

"I do," he insisted. "Not just for getting me out of Azkaban, but for being here. James and Lily and… little H-Harry are dead," he said, his voice hoarse with grief when saying their names. "With them gone I don't think I could keep going if it weren't for you and everything you've told me."

"For what it's worth, I've no idea what I'd do if you weren't around either," Harry admitted quietly. "You're the only one I dare trust with the truth. My friends from before are just children now, and I'd never feel comfortable relying on any of the adults I know from my world. I'm… really glad we're family now."

"So am I, Harry," Sirius said with a smile that lit up his gaunt face.

"Call me Orion," Harry offered impulsively.

"Really?" Sirius asked, clearly surprised by the request. "Are you sure?"

"Yes," Harry said firmly. "I'm not the Harry Potter who belongs here to this world, but I am the only Orion Black. Anyway, I'll need to get used to hearing it, so it'd be good practice."

"I suppose that makes sense." Sirius nodded decisively. "Orion it is then."

Harry smiled at the name. It was starting to feel natural to be called that, which might have something to do with the ritual magic. He could feel it running through him even more clearly than before, causing changes Harry knew instinctively were more than just skin-deep. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat at the sensation.

"Is the pain getting worse?" Sirius asked, watching him in concern.

Harry sighed. "Yeah, though it's not too bad yet. It's kind of like the feeling you get after a dose of Skelegrow potion."

"Ugh." Sirius grimaced. "I hate that stuff."

"Yeah, it tastes awful, doesn't it? Though mind you, I only ever had it while at Hogwarts and I always suspected Snape of purposefully making all his potions taste disgusting."

"Snape?" Sirius repeated, clearly confused even as he scowled reflexively at the name. "Why would he be brewing potions for the hospital wing at Hogwarts?"

"Well, he's the Potions Professor," Harry explained, then corrected himself. "Or at least the Snape I knew was. I actually have no idea what the one in this world is up to."

"Snape was a teacher?" Sirius said incredulously. "That greasy git? I can't believe someone that obsessed with the Dark Arts was allowed to teach children. He was suspected of being a Death Eater, for Merlin's sake!"

"Oh, he was definitely a Death Eater," Harry confirmed.

Sirius stared at him. "Why do you seem to be all right with that?"

"He was a spy," Harry told him. "And yeah, he and I both hated each other, but… he was also one of the most loyal and dedicated wizards I've ever met."

Sirius appeared utterly incredulous at this announcement. "I think I'm just going to put that down to one of those differences between your world and mine," he said at last. "There's no way that description fits the Snivellous I know."

Harry simply shrugged. "It's true that he could be completely different here. Events might not have played out the same way," he said, thinking over everything that had lead up to Severus betraying Voldemort. "I really should look into that, actually. It could be important."

"If you say so," Sirius said doubtfully, then seemed to dismiss the whole thing. "So the adoption ritual's not causing you any real pain yet?" he checked, returning to their previous subject.

"No, but it's steadily getting worse."

"Maybe you should go to bed early, try and get some rest," Sirius suggested.

"Are you setting a bedtime for me, Sirius?" Harry asked with a grin. "How very parental of you."

Sirius rolled his eyes. "I'm just saying the pain will soon get a whole lot worse and you might want to take it easy."

"You may have a point," Harry admitted. He pushed his half-full plate away and stood up, swaying slightly on his feet. "Ugh, I feel dizzy," he said, clutching the back of his chair. "Lying down sounds like a sensible idea."

"Told you so," Sirius said. "You know your way around the place, right?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah. Well, goodnight then."

"Night," Sirius responded, lifting his hand in a small wave.

As Harry made his way upstairs to his bedroom he considered that, as awkward as things sometimes were between them, he was happy that he and Sirius were now family.

Chapter Text

 

Harry did not, in fact, sleep well. The pins-and-needles feeling had slowly progressed to a sensation of daggers stabbing every inch of his skin. His pulse quickened and his whole body throbbed at every beat as his heart pumped blood through his veins. The magic was in his blood – it was always in the blood – and Harry wondered just what changes would result from the Black magic now within him.

He knew he'd still be the son of James and Lily Potter, with Sirius becoming in effect a sort of third parent. The extent of the changes caused by the Adoption Ritual weren't entirely predictable, however; magical strength played a role, as did emotional attachment. Harry was self-aware enough to admit, if only to himself, that he'd projected a lot of what he felt about his godfather onto the Sirius he'd just met - and suspected Sirius of doing something similar in reverse. They hadn't known each other long enough to build a proper familial relationship. He hoped the fact that they did care about each other would make up for that lack.

After dozing fitfully for a few hours, and then spending several more staring at the ceiling as he gritted his teeth and tried to ignore the pain he was in, the ritual magic finally faded away. Harry was left exhausted and immediately fell into a deep and restful sleep, only waking at the sound of impatient knocking at his bedroom door.

"Oi! Orion! You awake yet?"

"I am now," Harry grumbled into his pillow.

"Well, let's see then!" Sirius slammed open the door and charged into the room.

"See what?" Harry asked, still sleep-addled.

"You, of course!" Sirius huffed. "Come on, get up!"

"Oh! Oh yeah!" Harry's brain finally caught up. He threw back the covers and bounded out of bed. "Ow, damn it," he said as he stubbed his toe on one of the bedposts, then turned to face Sirius. His godfather was looking at him with a rather strange expression on his face. "So?" Harry prompted, spreading out his arms.

"You look… you look like a Black," Sirius said slowly.

Harry rolled his eyes. "Wasn't that the point of the whole thing?"

"No, well yes, but I mean… you look like a Black, like my son," Sirius said. His eyes were wide with amazement as he stared at Harry.

"Right, okay," Harry said, not quite getting why Sirius seemed so unsettled. "Could you conjure a mirror for me? I'd like to see for myself."

"Your magic not trained enough to handle it? Fine." Sirius shrugged, drawing his wand and wordlessly conjuring a silver framed looking-glass. "There you go."

Harry could only stare at his reflection, scarcely able to believe it was actually him. His glamours had worn off hours ago, but the features they'd been hiding had changed considerably. His black hair had smoothed out enough to no longer be called messy, his face was narrower, and his mouth seemed to naturally fall into a crooked smirk. His eyes had also changed considerably, with their heavy lids giving him a slightly sleepy expression – though that could be due to Harry having just woken up.

All things considered, Harry had to work hard to recognise the face reflected back at him. Traces of his old features remained around his jaw line and his nose looked the same as before - and Harry still had the same knobbly knees - but his resemblance to James Potter had faded considerably. A stranger might think they were distantly related, as most purebloods tended to be, but no more than that. Overall Harry judged his transformation into Orion Black to be complete.

He began pulling various faces in the mirror, trying to familiarise himself with his new appearance. The experience reminded him of drinking Polyjuice Potion - the sheer oddity of being in a stranger's body was the same, the only difference was that the adoption was irreversible. Harry would never revert back to how he looked before - the unfamiliar boy in the mirror was him and he'd just have to get used to it. He tilted his head up and adopted a haughty expression, imitating several snobbish purebloods he'd met over the years, then hastily dropped it when he realised just how conceited it made him appear. "Bloody hell, for a second there I looked like Malfoy!"

"What, you mean Draco?" Sirius looked confused. "Why do you say that? You're not blond."

"Well no, but I had the same smug, arrogant expression he always wore when we were at school," Harry said, sneering at his reflection in distaste.

"You mean you looked like any normal pureblood," Sirius said, rolling his eyes. "If you want to show you're less stuck up than they are, try smiling - just a hint. In any case, you and Draco are cousins now, so it makes sense there'd be a slight resemblance between the two of you."

"Hmph, I still don't like it," Harry grumbled, before a thought struck him and he laughed in surprise. "Hey, Tonks is my cousin now! And so is Andromeda… weird."

Sirius leaned against the bedroom door, still looking fascinated by Harry's new appearance. "You mean Andy and little Nymphadora? Why would that be strange?"

"Well I knew both of them rather well," Harry explained. "Tonks even made me godfather to her son Teddy, and then after she died Andromeda and I raised him between the two of us."

"Dora had a son?" Sirius was clearly incredulous. "She's just a kid herself!"

Harry shrugged. "Not really, I mean she's in her last year at Hogwarts at the moment. So she's seventeen years old or so."

"Still! A baby," Sirius sputtered, seeming to have difficulty wrapping his mind around the concept. "Who was the father?"

"Oh, you'll love this," Harry said with a wicked grin. "Remus Lupin!"

"Moony?" Sirius gasped in shock. "He's way too old for her!"

"Oh come on, Sirius, it's not that big of an age gap," Harry said. "And they only hooked up six years or so from now. Tonks was a fully-fledged Auror by that stage, she was old enough to make her own decisions. Of course, Remus took some convincing. He was fixated on that whole 'I'm a werewolf so I don't deserve anything good happening to me, ever' thing. Luckily Tonks managed to beat some sense into him, and they ended up getting married and having Teddy and everything. They really loved each other," Harry finished wistfully.

"What happened?" Sirius asked. At Harry's questioning look he elaborated. "You said she died… what happened to Remus?"

"He died, too," Harry said quietly. "They were both killed in the battle at Hogwarts, two and a bit years before I ended up here. Dolohov got Remus, while Tonks was killed by Bellatrix - her own bloody aunt."

"Merlin, that's…" Sirius sighed and ran a hand over his face. "I don't really know how I feel about that. In Azkaban I was in a cell near Bella, so I've heard enough of her insane and murderous ramblings to have a good idea of what she's capable of… but I never thought she'd kill family."

"Yeah, but Tonks was just a filthy half-blood, not worthy of being considered a Black," Harry said bitterly.

Sirius shook his head in denial. "Blacks don't kill other Blacks," he said stubbornly. "Not even… I mean, Andromeda was blasted off the family tree, but she's still… still one of us."

"Maybe this world's Bellatrix follows the accepted etiquette of not murdering family members, but the Bellatrix I know didn't," Harry said snidely. "She killed you, Sirius."

"What? No…" Sirius had a look of utter disbelief on his face. "She wouldn't… not even for her precious master…"

"Well she did!" Harry felt anger well up inside him as he thought back to that terrible night in the Department of Mysteries. "I was there!"

"I have to believe the Bellatrix I know isn't like that," Sirius said at last. "Things must be different here in my world."

Sirius was certainly different in this world, Harry realised, looking at the man before him. It wasn't just a question of gaining his freedom two years early or having had the help of Mind Healers in Saint Mungo's. Sirius wasn't the same man as Harry had known; he must have lived through things his counterpart never had, or had reacted differently to the same experiences. The Sirius who had fallen through the Veil of Death had been angry and bitter, openly scornful of his family and everything connected to them. He certainly wouldn't have willingly returned to his childhood home or ever considered defending his Death Eater relatives.

"When it comes to this world, you know more than I do," Harry said quietly. He wasn't prepared to say anything even remotely positive about Bellatrix Lestrange, but neither did he want to argue with Sirius.

"Right." Sirius gave him an awkward smile. "So, what do you think? Should we try to play matchmaker for old Moony and my ickle cousin?"

Harry smiled back, eager to encourage the change in subject. "Nah, let's see if they work it out on their own first. Though maybe we could introduce them to each other at some point… by the way, has Remus contacted you at all yet?"

"I got a letter from him three days ago," Sirius replied, his shoulders tensing up.

"Right, and?"

"And I haven't answered it yet. I don't know what to say to him. He apologised for thinking I was guilty, but how can I say 'that's all right, I forgive you for leaving me to rot in Azkaban for nine years without a trial,' and mean it?"

"I don't know, Sirius," Harry said uncertainly. "Didn't you think he was the traitor at one point?"

"Yes I did and I heartily regret it," Sirius said. "It was stupid of me and I feel terrible that I lost faith in a friend. Given my own mistake I suppose I should forgive Remus for thinking I was the traitor, and honestly I think I have."

"You have?" Harry was rather confused as to where Sirius was going with all this.

"Yes, I forgive him for thinking I could've betrayed Lily and James," Sirius confirmed, before his expression hardened. "What I can't forgive is how he acted after I was thrown in Azkaban. In his letter he wrote that he left all wizarding society and spent the last decade living with his fellow werewolves. He said it was too difficult for him to carry on surrounded by the memories of James and all the rest of us. Difficult!"

"Well, that's sort of understandable, isn't it?" Harry said uncertainly.

Sirius scowled. "Really, you think so? You don't think he was being a coward, running away from the problems he didn't want to face? Because I do."

"Aren't you being a bit hard on him?"

"He abandoned us!" Sirius snapped, his hands clenched into fists at his side. "He left me to rot without even trying to visit me or push for a trial! He left Harry to be brought up by the bloody Dursleys! He should've taken Harry in himself, made sure he was safe, but no! He ran away and Harry died!"

Harry was left speechless, with Sirius' harsh breathing the only sound in the tense silence.

"Harry died," Sirius said again, as if imploring him to understand. "In a stupid, pointless muggle accident. If Remus had just… had just…"

"Even if Remus had tried to take your Harry in, he wouldn't have been allowed," Harry said gently. "No one would have let the Boy-Who-Lived be brought up by a werewolf - Dumbledore least of all. He wanted Harry at the Dursleys, where the blood wards would protect him against any magical attacks. No matter what Remus had done I don't think he would've been able to change Dumbledore's mind. And who knows? Without that blood protection your Harry might have died much sooner, murdered by Voldemort's supporters."

"I… I know what you're saying makes sense, but… I can't…" Sirius shook his head helplessly. "I just can't forgive him."

Harry didn't give up. "If things went the same way as in my world, then it was Dumbledore who dumped the other Harry on the Dursley's doorstep. Blame my counterpart's death on him. Or don't blame anyone at all. Just accept that it was an accident that no one except a Seer could've foreseen."

"I – I suppose…"

"Look," Harry said bluntly. "I know this isn't really my business. I've never even met this world's Remus. It's your choice whether or not to forgive him. I just think being friends with Remus will help make you happy, and I want you to be. Happy, I mean."

"I'll think about it," Sirius said at last. "I'm not going to cut him out of my life completely. I'm just not sure we'll be able to return to the close friendship we once had. I need to be able to trust him, and I don't think I can right now."

"Fair enough," Harry said. "Are you still on board with the whole subtle matchmaking plan, though?" he added hopefully.

Sirius shrugged and smiled. "Yeah, sure. It's strange to think of Nymphadora in a relationship though. Last time I saw her she was just eight years old. I really should get back in touch with Andromeda and the rest of the family."

"Hey, now that you're Head of the House of Black again you can reinstate them into the Family, can't you?"

"Erm, no I'm not."

"Not what?"

"I'm not the Head of the Family," Sirius explained as if to a particularly slow child.

"Oh," Harry said. "Why not?"

"Because dear old grandpa Arcturus is currently our Paterfamilias, and even if he kicks the bucket I'm unlikely to inherit the title," Sirius clarified. "I was never officially disowned, but I don't think anyone would want me and my supposed Blood-Traitor ways setting an example for future generations."

"Wait, you have a grandfather?" Harry didn't know why he felt so wrong-footed by that piece of information. "And he's alive?"

Sirius nodded patiently. "Yes."

"Huh, I never expected that," Harry said. "Though I suppose I should have. I can't remember when all the Blacks died in my world, but in any case things could be very different here."

"Yup," Sirius agreed. "You know, you should be careful making assumptions based on what you know from your old world. It might get you in trouble one day."

"Trouble always finds me, one way or another," Harry said with a shrug. "But yeah, I'll keep it in mind."

"You do that," Sirius said. "Now, breakfast!"

-.-.-

Harry found his new appearance very disconcerting. It hadn't taken him long to grow used to being ten years old again since his brain seemed to remember what it had been like the first time, making it actually quite easy to walk around in a young Harry Potter's body. Now, however, he felt altogether strange. His legs were slightly longer, his hips narrower, his shoulders a little bit broader, and even his feet seemed a different shape from what they were before. All of which meant that not only did none of his clothes fit him properly, but he also felt ungainly and off-balance. Harry tripped when simply walking across his bedroom floor, and staircases had turned into a navigational challenge. When making his way down to the kitchen for breakfast, he managed to miss one of the steps and ended up falling headfirst down the whole flight of stairs.

"Ouch! Bloody hell that hurt!" Harry scowled up at the ceiling as he lay sprawled out on the hard wooden floor of the entrance hall.

"You know, I feel as if I should be scolding you for your language," Sirius remarked.

"How about offering a little sympathy for my pain instead?" Harry struggled to stand while rubbing his bruised elbow.

"What in Merlin's name are you two doing?" The portrait of Mrs Black peered down at Harry from her frame on the wall. "What was that awful racket?"

"That was your grandson being defeated by a particularly tricky staircase," Sirius cheerfully informed her.

"Again, where's the sympathy?" Harry complained.

"Such rowdy behaviour is unseemly and unbecoming of a Black," Mrs Black told Harry. "A Black must always be poised and graceful, reflecting our exalted Heritage and refined breeding…"

"Yes yes," Sirius interrupted her. "I've heard it all before, but my son can act however he wants in his own home and most especially before breakfast."

"Well! Of all the ungrateful…" Mrs Black began indignantly. Sirius rolled his eyes, grabbed Harry by the arm, and hurried them both off down to the kitchen.

Kreacher had apparently already woken up, since a fire was burning in the huge hearth and tea and toast were set out on the table. After almost tripping two more times over thin air, Harry collapsed into a chair with a sigh of relief.

"I think I've finally discovered why Tonks is always so clumsy," Harry said.

Sirius laughed and helped himself to a slice of bread while summoning the butter dish from one of the kitchen cupboards. "She still hasn't outgrown that then? I remember Andromeda despairing over the number of times she had to cart Dora off to Saint Mungo's."

"Well it makes sense to me now," Harry said, trying to pour himself a cup of tea only to spill most of it all over the table. He sighed. "Changing shape is really disorienting. Case in point, my hand to eye coordination is close to non-existent."

Sirius eyed him in some concern. "I was going to suggest we go flying today, but maybe we should wait a bit."

"I'll need to get used to the changes sooner or later," Harry said, ineffectually trying to mop up the spilt tea with his napkin. "A morning of flying sound great. Then again... it would be really embarrassing if I fell off my broom, so maybe I'll give it a miss just this once."

"I take it back, I don't think there's any point in waiting. After all, when else will I get the chance to out fly the youngest Hogwarts Seeker in a century," Sirius said with a teasing smile.

"Hmm, I wonder if I'll manage to get onto the house team again?" Harry drew his wand and muttered a cleaning spell at the mess in front of him. Inexplicably, the pool of spilt tea grew even larger. "Damn, I hate being a child again. My magic's gone all wonky."

"Actually, that might be because of the adoption ritual," Sirius said,

Harry whipped his head up to stare at him. "What?" he demanded.

"Well, it's called a magical adoption for a reason." Sirius looked surprised Harry hadn't already realised that. "It doesn't just affect your outward appearance, you know. It changes your blood, and since magic is in your blood it gradually changes that as well. You're a Black now; by blood and magic as well as by name."

"Huh," was all Harry said as he considered that. "Do you think it'll change much? Change my spell-casting, I mean."

Sirius shrugged. "It's impossible to really tell just yet, since it'll take a while for your magic to begin to settle. I suppose in time you might be able to cast some spells you weren't able to before, I don't know. Considering that you used to be a half-blood, you'll probably find some magic easier to control now."

"E-excuse me?" Harry spluttered, shocked by what he was hearing.

"Well, I suppose you wouldn't exactly be considered a Pureblood," Sirius said thoughtfully. "Lily is still a part of you - that'll never change. But now, instead of just being the son of a muggleborn and a Pureblood, you've got two Purebloods as well as your mum giving you their blood and magic. So, I'd say you're almost a Pureblood. You'll probably have the magic of one, anyway."

"There! Right there, that's what I don't understand!" Harry jabbed an accusing finger at Sirius. "What does it matter who my parents were? I thought you didn't buy into that rubbish about Pureblood superiority."

Sirius stared at him in obvious surprise. "I don't! I don't think Purebloods are superior, but I do know they're different. I mean, that's just a fact of life."

Harry crossed his arms stubbornly. "Well it's not one I've ever heard of before."

"Really? Well, I don't see why the rules of magical inheritance would be any different in your world. Well, when I say rules, I mean more guidelines."

"What're you talking about?" Harry asked suspiciously. "How can you think muggleborns aren't as good at magic as Purebloods? I mean, everyone says my Mum was a brilliant witch and one of my best friends was the best at magic in our year, and both of them were muggleborn!"

"Hang on! I'm not saying Purebloods are better or anything like that," Sirius defended himself. He set down his cutlery down on the table and appeared to consider the best way to explain. "Look, all wizards and witches have magic. It's innate, a part of us, right?"

"Right." Harry nodded.

"Well, wizard-born children inherit their magic from their parents, agreed?"

"Yeah." Harry nodded again, more cautiously this time as he took a large bite of toast.

"Well, in Purebloods that magical ability has had generations to be developed and refined in very specific ways," Sirius said. "Parents generally encourage their children in magic that they themselves are good at, and slowly over the years that leads to certain bloodlines having certain talents."

"Like Parseltongue?" Harry's thoughts wandered to the descendants of Salazar Slytherin.

"Exactly," Sirius agreed. "Or the ability to be a Seer or a Metamorphmagus or whatever. Those sorts of obvious talents are quite rare though. Mostly families just have an aptitude for Charms, or Warding, or something like that. The Potters were always good at Transfiguration if I remember correctly."

"I was mostly useless at Transfiguration," Harry said, remembering his rather pathetic attempts to change hedgehogs into pincushions and the like. He'd never even come close to transfiguring a desk into a pig and back again, as Professor McGonagall had done at the start of his first lesson. "My best subject has always been Defence Against the Dark Arts."

Sirius looked unsurprised. "Right. That makes sense, 'cos your mum was muggleborn. Muggleborns don't inherit their magic. It just... appears. I have no idea how, but the point is their magic hasn't been shaped over long centuries. It's… untamed, I suppose you could say. Their magic is just as good for, say, Charms as it is for Defence. That means that a muggleborn's ability depends purely on their hard work and raw power, not their magical affinity. Lily was one of the best in our class at Charms and Potions, but that had nothing to do with any inherited talent."

"All right," Harry said slowly, not finding anything to disagree with. "But how does that affect me?"

"Well, you could either have inherited the Potter magic, which is suited to Transfiguration, or your mum's wilder magic. It's not a surprise that you ended up with unaffiliated magic - throwing untamed power into the mix tends to derail the ordered rules of magical inheritances. That's one of the reasons Purebloods dislike muggleborns marrying into their families - any children they have tend to also have unaffiliated magic, meaning old family talents are lost."

"Well I definitely didn't inherit any talent at Transfiguration from James," Harry admitted. "But Tonks is a metamorphmagus, and she's a half-blood. So is Voldemort, actually, and he's a Parselmouth like all the other descendants of Slytherin."

Sirius shrugged his shoulders. "There are exceptions, of course, but both those examples actually illustrate another side of the whole magical inheritance thing. You said Voldemort's dad was a muggle, right?"

"Yep."

"I can still hardly believe that, you know. All those purebloods grovelling before him… wonder what they'd think if they found out he was the bastard child of a muggle and a near-squib!" Sirius smirked to himself, no doubt picturing the scene.

"They'd have a fit and start throwing around unforgivable curses," Harry said with certainty, having personally experienced Bellatrix' reaction.

Sirius laughed. "Probably! But anyway, muggles don't have any magic at all, so obviously Voldemort must have inherited his mother's affiliated magic. Although it could have just as easily gone the other way, with Voldemort being born a muggle."

That was a very odd thought, but didn't answer all of Harry's questions. "What about Tonks?" he asked.

"Well, sometimes magical affinities can be lost over the years due to other talents entering the bloodline," Sirius explained. "It's quite rare, since pureblood families are normally very careful about that sort of thing, but it does happen. Centuries ago Metamorphmagi were quite common in our bloodline, but at some point some pureblood married into the family and their talent took over, making the Metamorphmagus ability disappear. It must've still been carried on in the blood though, so when Andromeda married Ted Tonks, who's a muggleborn with wild magic, somewhere in the mix the lost affinity popped back up."

"Huh." Harry propped his chin up on the table as he considered what he just learnt. "What do you mean by they're careful?"

"Sorry?"

"I mean, how do families make sure their magical affinity isn't lost?"

"By doing everything possible to strengthen the connection the children have with the family bloodline. For example by making sure they're born in the family manor, or only casting certain spells during pregnancy – but the main thing is giving the children the family name. Names are really important in the wizarding world, as I'm sure you're aware." Sirius said. "Take that Malfoy boy for example. His mother's a Black, but his father is a Malfoy, as is he. His magical affinity is almost certainly whatever his father's is. If he'd been given his mother's name at birth his magic would probably have developed quite differently."

"So is that why the adoption ritual specifically mentioned you giving me your name?" Harry asked thoughtfully.

Sirius nodded. "Yeah. You carrying my name strengthens your connection to me and to the House of Black, making it more likely that your magic will have the same affinity as other Blacks. That's one of the reasons why purebloods tend to also take their father's name as their own. Harry James Potter, that's obvious, and Orion Alphard Black after my middle name and my father's first name. Even traditions like naming children after star constellations, or only using names starting with a certain letter, helps link generations together."

"That sounds… rather unbelievable," Harry said slowly.

"That's magic for you, Orion," Sirius said, making Harry smile at the name. "It's bizarre and often unpredictable. It takes a very special type of mind to delve deeply into advanced magic. It's not a coincidence that the greatest witches and wizards tend to also be the craziest."

"Like Dumbledore."

"Right. And Voldemort wasn't the sanest either."

"Hah, true enough!" Harry snorted, thinking of all his encounters with the Dark Lord. Then his mind wandered back to what Sirius had told him. "So… what magical affinity does the Black bloodline have?"

"Well, we Blacks are brilliant at everything, of course," Sirius said with an arrogant expression, but then he grinned and shook his head. "Nah, our magic tends to be good at offensive spells. Basic stuff like casting a stunning spell can be done by almost anyone. More advanced things though, such as permanently cursing an object or attacking several targets at once, is much harder. Only very powerful wizards or ones with a specific affinity would be capable of it."

Harry suddenly found himself warming up to the idea of magical inheritances. "I remember watching Dumbledore and Voldemort fight - they cast countless curses and caused a huge amount of damage. It was bloody amazing magic. Will I be able to do something like that now that I'm a Black?" he asked hopefully.

"I'm not sure," Sirius said. "You've no shortage of magic, if your mastery Patronus Charm is anything to go by, but to get to their level… a lot depends on whether your magic is still unaffiliated or not. The addition of Black blood and a Black name might be enough to overpower Lily's magical influence, I suppose. You won't know until you start casting more complex spells."

"You make it sound as if it would be a good thing if mum's influence was weakened," Harry said, once more growing wary of Sirius' beliefs. "That sort of means that you think purebloods are better than muggleborns, doesn't it?"

"No," Sirius insisted. "They're just different, as I've said before. I mean, having a specific talent is great if you're actually interested in that branch of magic, since you can pick up spells faster and cast them more powerfully. The problem with that is if, for example, you have a magical affinity in Charms, then you'll probably never be an expert in Transfiguration no matter how hard you try. Your magic simply wouldn't be formed for that branch of magic. Muggleborns don't have that problem - they're potentially equally good at everything. It depends what you think is more useful - being brilliant at one thing, or good at lots of things."

Harry wasn't sure he agreed with what Sirius was saying. "Hermione – the muggleborn friend I mentioned earlier – was brilliant at everything."

"Was she really?"

"Yes! She saved my life countless of times with her knowledge and magic."

Sirius gave a shrug. "Well, she sounds like a powerful witch then. And if you've got enough power, you can cast spells others would find beyond them no matter what their heritage. A person's magical affinity doesn't determine their magical strength."

"So you agree that a muggelborn can be just as powerful as a pureblood?" Harry checked, wanting to get that point clear.

"Oh, definitely," Sirius said firmly. "The only thing you can say for certain about the ability of muggleborns is that they never have magical talents. A muggleborn will never speak Parseltongue, or be a Seer, or a Metamorphmagus."

"Really?" Harry tried to think of a counter-example but came up blank.

"I think it comes down to the difference between magic with and without a wand," Sirius said. "The first can be cast by just about anyone, so long as they have enough magic to power the spell. That's why subjects such as Charms, Defence and all that are the main ones taught at Hogwarts – they can be learnt by all students. With wandless magic it's different – it needs to be shaped and channelled within your very blood. Take the Animagus transformation – I don't need a wand or incantation to change into Padfoot..."

The conversation gradually trailed off, with both wizards content to finish their breakfasts and get on with their day. Harry couldn't stop thinking about everything Sirius had said, however - in fact he was so distracted that he narrowly escaped falling out a window after once again tripping over his own feet. He'd more or less accepted that Sirius was right about magical affinities – the older man had grown up in the wizarding world, after all, and had never before shown any sign of spouting pureblood ideology. Harry trusted that he was telling the truth, and as hard as it was to believe at first, the more he thought about it the more the rules of inheritance made sense.

Harry would never describe himself as great at magic. His grasp on theory was sketchy and it had often taken him a while to get the hang of new spells at school. He learnt best under pressure; he'd had a huge incentive to cast a Patronus and master the summoning charm, and he'd always found it easy to cast powerful spells in the middle of a fight. Defence was his best subject, but Harry felt that was due to his interest in it, not because of any inborn magical skill – which fit with Sirius' description of unaffiliated magic.

The only magical talent he'd had was Parseltongue, which had disappeared along with the Horcrux in his head. But he still remembered how easy and instinctive it had been to speak to snakes, and wondered if perhaps he'd experience something similar with offensive magic once the blood adoption was complete.

Although he did wonder why he'd never heard of the rules of magical inheritance before. He could only think that either this new world was different from his old one or it just hadn't been talked about much – which, considering that he'd been raised in the muggle world and had never mixed much with pureblood families, was quite likely. It was true that he'd spent a lot of time with the Weasleys, but they were far from typical purebloods. They celebrated Christmas rather than Yule, and Mr Weasley - while a generous and kind-hearted man - wasn't exactly normal, what with his collection of muggle batteries and his flying Ford Anglia.

Really, he had only one question left. "Are there any books about all this?" he asked later on that day, when he and Sirius were taking a break from rearranging their bedrooms. Kreacher finally seemed ready to let Harry move up to the family wing and didn't cause any trouble when Sirius cleared out his mother's old room. The elf had even deigned to serve them tea in the upstairs drawing room, where the two wizards were relaxing in front of the fire.

"Yes, but I'm not sure why you'd bother reading them," Sirius said, putting his feet up on the drawing room table and leaning back in his chair. "They're either in-depth discussions of magical theory or long lists of generations of pureblood families, and the authors expect their readers to already have a basic understanding of how it all works."

"I'll give that idea a miss then," Harry said and then sighed. "I just hate how even after years of being at Hogwarts and spending time amongst wizards, there are still things I don't know about the magical world. I mean, sure, I know my experiences weren't typical, seeing as I spent most of my time struggling just to stay alive... but even so, no one ever really teaches muggle-raised students anything about wizarding culture. We're just supposed to pick it up somehow, which I can't help but feel is unfair."

"Yes, I can imagine it must be difficult," Sirius said, leaning forwards to pour himself a second cup of tea and help himself to a biscuit. "That's another difference between muggleborns and purebloods though, and – I find anyway – a more important one than magical ability. It's cultural understanding that really matters. I mean, if you want to fit into a foreign country, you need to know the language and the manners and the belief system of the people living in it, right?"

"Right." Harry couldn't argue with that. It had taken him a long time to start feeling at home when he was living in France, and even after a year there he was still very much an outsider.

"Well, the wizarding world is a completely separate country from the muggle world," Sirius said, dunking his biscuit into his tea. "The two just happen to share some of the same geography… and often not even that."

"Magical Ireland is wholly separate from magical Britain, isn't it?" Harry dredged up some of the things he'd heard people like Seamus Finnigan mention over the years.

"Well yes, but it's more than that," Sirius said. "Hogsmeade may be the only purely wizarding village, but as with Diagon Alley in London, there are magic-only areas in most big cities. I've heard Edinburgh is especially popular since the war. And even if you live right next to muggles like we do here, it doesn't mean you'll ever interact with them. My mother never even went outside the front door of Grimmauld Place when she was alive – she apparated straight to whatever magical destination she had in mind. Honestly, for the average wizard the Muggle World is as relevant to their day to day lives as, say, Australia."

"So not very."

"Exactly. We have our own history, our own politics, and our own way of life. Most magical countries really have nothing in common with their muggle counterparts."

"We learnt a bit about that in History of Magic," Harry recollected. "The few times any of us managed to actually stay awake anyway. Magical Russia is still ruled by a Tzar, isn't it? And Binns mentioned once that Germany is just a rabble of independent regions that were only briefly united under Gindlewald."

Sirius gasped in mock surprise. "So you managed to learn something from Binns? I thought that was close to impossible."

Harry grinned. "Well, when you've got Hermione Granger nagging you to study and lending you her notes, then it's almost impossible not to learn something."

"She's the muggleborn friend you were talking about earlier, isn't she?"

"Yep, and she was a really great friend to me over the years. She always stuck by me, no matter how many dangerous or crazy situations I managed to drag us into," Harry said, fondly remembering all the times Hermione had helped save him.

"Friends like that are good to have," Sirius said, his eyes becoming distant and haunted. Harry knew he was thinking of Pettigrew and desperately searched for something to take his mind off the rat's betrayal.

"So you think cultural knowledge is important?" he blurted out.

Sirius shook off his dark thoughts and exerted himself to answer. "Yeah, I do. A lot of muggleborns tend to think our world should be exactly the same as the muggle one, just with magic added in. It doesn't work that way though. Ever since the introduction of the Statute of Secrecy in seventeenth century, the wizarding and muggle worlds have grown apart. Muggle beliefs – like human rights and the importance of scientific knowledge and things like that - are concepts that have gradually developed as a result of specific historical events. But we wizards have had our own set of experiences and challenges to deal with, and so our society has developed differently. What works in one world wouldn't necessarily be appropriate in the other."

"I understand that," Harry said. He was well aware of how different the muggle and magical worlds were. The laws of physics were understandably less important when a flick of a wand could defy gravity, and equal rights held a very different meaning with the addition of magical creatures. Even frivolous things such as music and fashion varied greatly; Harry could barely tell one robe from another, but he'd heard Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil spend hours talking about the importance of keeping up with the latest styles in magical clothing.

Sirius looked relieved. "I'm glad to hear it, but unfortunately a lot of muggle-raised children don't agree," he said. "Superficially they can look at our magical society and think the wizarding world is just what the muggle one was back in the middle ages, and that we need to 'catch up'. That's not true though, we have developed since then, just not along the same lines as the muggles have. We've invented new spells and and voted in new laws and developed new ideas. Admittedly, not all the changes have been good ones, but the point remains that we are changing. "

"You seem to feel quite strongly about all this," Harry remarked.

"I suppose I do," Sirius admitted. "It's created a lot of problems. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's the cause of prejudice against muggleborns, but it definitely contributes to it. No one likes outsiders coming in and telling you that you're doing everything all wrong, and that you've got to change your whole society."

Harry thought back to the annoyed reactions of the Hogwarts students towards Hermione's SPEW campaign, and decided Sirius had a point. House Elves deserved better treatment, but that really hadn't been the right way to go about giving it to them. If changes were to be made to wizarding society, it had to come from within.

 

Chapter Text

Sirius was sometimes gripped with the terrible fear that he was still in Azkaban. He felt the rough stone floor beneath him as if he still lay curled up in his bare cell, only able to see by the dim light from the one small window overlooking the island's steep cliffs and rocky shore. He shivered as if from the cold sea air that used to whistle through the bars, compounding the deathly chill the Dementors trailed behind them as they glided past. He remembered the terrified screams of the other inmates that used to echo around the stone walls and penetrate deep into his skull as he was forced to relive his worst memories over and over again.

Then he'd remember that he was free and that he had his son to thank for it. Orion Alphard Black – the son he'd never had.

-.-.-

"I love flying!" Orion grinned excitedly as he collapsed into one of the armchairs in the drawing room on the first floor. He looked flushed and windswept from the many hours they'd spent in the air, and at that moment Sirius found it difficult to think of him as anything other than a normal ten year old boy with a love of Quidditch.

"You looked a bit shaky there in the beginning," Sirius teased him, taking a seat at the small writing desk near the fireplace. "You almost flew headlong into one of the oak trees and narrowly missed crashing into the neighbour's chimney. You're lucky we had secrecy charms up so no one else saw you."

"That was just because of the ritual," Orion defended himself. "I got used to it pretty quickly, didn't I? Though I'm not sure if I'm really suited to playing Seeker any longer - I don't think I want to try a Wronski Feint any time soon."

"You could try your hand at one of the Beater positions," Sirius said, remembering his own years as Beater on the Gryffindor team. "It's a great way to work out all your aggression on the Slytherin players without getting a detention."

Orion grinned. "I'll bet! I know Fred and George certainly enjoyed themselves…" He trailed off into silence and his smile abruptly disappeared.

Sirius had the horrible feeling that Fred and George, whoever they were, had also died in Orion's old world. In fact it seemed to Sirius as if everyone Orion mentioned had at some point been brutally tortured or even killed by Voldemort and his Death Eaters.

"So, what do you want to do for the rest of the afternoon?" Sirius asked, trying to change the subject.

"I think I'll finish reading some of the history books we bought." Orion pulled out his wand and cast a summoning charm. A pile of books burst into the room and dropped onto the carpet in front of him. He rifled through them before curling up in his seat with 'The Defeat of the Dark Lord: a Treatise' open on his lap.

"Catchy title," Sirius said, thinking it looked extremely dull.

"It's all about the Boy Who Lived and the miraculous powers he must've had in order to destroy Voldemort," Orion said, rolling his eyes. "A very boring read, but I sort of need to know this stuff."

"Well, rather you than me."

Sirius turned to the pile of letters stacked up on the table in front of him. Dozens of owls had arrived with post over the past few weeks. Some of the letters Sirius had barely glanced at before throwing them into the fire, not interested in the ramblings of strangers or distant acquaintances. Others he had put off opening at all.

Reluctantly he reached out for the envelope on the top of the pile. Sirius recognised the seal – it was from Dumbledore.

O

Dear Sirius,

The news of your long-overdue trial and subsequent acquittal was greeted with great joy by all here at Hogwarts who know you. Dear Minerva was especially affected, and told several touching stories about the mischief you used to get into as a student. The rest of the staff also shared fond reminiscences, while Peeves celebrated your release by setting off a whole crate of fireworks inside Mr Filch's office. The resulting display was most entertaining.

Yet as glad as I am that you have regained your freedom, it also fills me with great sadness to think of the long years of suffering you have been forced to endure. My boy, I am truly sorry for the part I played in the events following that terrible Halloween night. I should have sought out the truth. My position as Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot and your friend demanded it, and by ignoring the twin calls of justice and loyalty, I failed you.

I was convinced you were the Secret Keeper – James himself had told me it was so - and that only you could have lead Voldemort to the Potters' location. Then when I heard of your confrontation with Peter Pettigrew and the violent destruction of a street full of muggles, I'm ashamed to say I accepted the obvious explanation and did not look deeper for the truth. I can only hope you will in time find it in yourself to forgive an old man his mistakes.

If there is anything I can do to help you settle into your life as a free man, do not hesitate to inform me. I dearly wish to be on good terms with you once more.

With all my best wishes for the future,

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore (Order of Merlin, 1st class)

P.S. Do give my regards to young Orion. He sounds like a very intelligent and resourceful young man, and seems to have inherited your talent for creating chaos. He has already been the cause of several quite heated arguments in the staff room over which House he will be sorted into. Minerva claims that by fighting for your freedom he demonstrated his daring and chivalry and so must clearly belong to her House, while Pomona insists it shows commendable loyalty to his family and Filius is of the mind that only a Ravenclaw would display such dedication in seeking out the truth. Severus, I regret to relate, refuses to give a quotable opinion on the matter.

P.P.S. I myself am considering betting a whole bag of sherbet lemons on his being sorted into Gryffindor. With such high stakes I would very much appreciate any insider information you might offer. I would even be prepared to give you a share of my winnings - muggle sweets really are delicious, you know.

O

Sirius stared resentfully down at the parchment in his hands. The sentiments Dumbledore expressed were very pretty and heart-warming and all that, but did nothing to stop Sirius from disliking the man. Sirius accepted that Dumbledore was probably sincere in what he wrote, but he was infuriated that there wasn't a single mention of Harry in the whole letter.

Dumbledore was the one who had left Sirius' godson on the Dursley's doorstep – an action that had led to Harry's death. Yet the man hadn't uttered a single word of apology. Considering what Orion had told him about the events in his old world, Dumbledore might even be glad Harry was dead. After all, the Horcrux contained in young Harry's scar was now gone. In Dumbledore's eyes the life of one small boy was no doubt a small price to pay for the so-called Greater Good, Sirius thought bitterly.

Sirius grabbed a quill and a fresh roll of parchment and quickly scribbled an angry reply, splattering ink all over the place in his hurry to tell Dumbledore exactly what he thought of him. Then he realised it would be very unwise to actually send such a letter, especially since a lot of the things Sirius was so angry about were actually done by Dumbledore's counterpart in an alternate universe. Reluctantly he took out another piece of parchment and wrote a short note acknowledging Dumbledore's apology and thanking him for his offer of assistance.

He set his reply aside to be sent off as soon as Sirius had an owl to carry it, and picked up another letter. This one was from Amelia Bones, offering him his old job as Auror back. 'You were one of the most talented members of the Auror squad, and I imagine your experiences since then have only increased your dedication to the pursuit of justice,' she had written. 'You would be a very welcome addition to my Department.'

Sirius read and then reread the letter, uncertain how to respond. He didn't have a high opinion of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, which he thought was understandable considering the last head had thrown him in Azkaban without a trial, or even an interrogation. On the other hand, Crouch had apparently been shunted off to the Department of International Cooperation and Amelia Bones seemed nice enough. And Sirius needed something to do with his time, especially once Orion went off to Hogwarts.

His silent debate was interrupted by a loud knocking from downstairs. Sirius hurried down to the entrance hall in time to see Kreacher open the front door, revealing a tall, distinguished looking wizard on the doorstep.

"The elf is still alive I see," the wizard said brusquely, striding past Kreacher into the hall.

"Grandfather!" Sirius exclaimed in rather horrified surprise, coming to an abrupt halt at the bottom of the staircase. "Er, what are you doing here?"

"I don't know why you're so shocked to see me. It's perfectly normal for relatives to visit each other," Arcturus Black said, forgoing any ordinary greetings.

"Not in this family it isn't."

"I see you're as disrespectful as ever." Arcturus frowned reprovingly. "I had hoped Azkaban would have changed your attitude."

Sirius gaped at him. "You're unbelievable! Azkaban is hell on earth! Not a bloody finishing school!"

"I don't really see the difference between the two," Arcturus replied, brushing off the horror of Azkaban with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Now, where's the boy?"

"The boy?"

"Yes, Sirius. The boy. My great grandson."

"He has a name you know."

"Does he? Good for him," the older wizard said. "Does he also have a reason for mysteriously appearing on the family tapestry the other day?"

"Er…" Sirius desperately tried to come up with an explanation, wishing he'd prepared for something like that to come up. "Well you see, grandfather… since Orion was, well, born on the wrong side of the blanket, he wouldn't normally be considered a proper member of the family. He didn't even bear the name Black… but he's my son and I wanted him acknowledged as such, so I decided to use the Blood Adoption ritual to officially claim him as mine. That must have been what caused him to finally appear on the family tree."

"Hmm," Arcturus said, his eyes narrowed. "So you took it upon yourself to welcome a bastard child into the Family without any reference to me, your Paterfamilias?"

Sirius gave an unrepentant shrug. "I didn't really think anyone would care what I did. I was blasted off the family tree for a reason, after all."

"Yes, as always you didn't think," his grandfather said, contempt clear in his voice.

"Well even if I had, I would still have gone through with the blood adoption," Sirius declared stubbornly. "Orion got me out of Azkaban, something that no one else even tried to do. Certainly you never thought to help me, so I don't see why I should care about your opinion now."

"No matter what grievances we hold against each other, I am still the Paterfamilias of the House of Black – a family you are still a member of, despite your poor behaviour," Arcturus said coldly. "Now, I wish to meet this boy you've foisted upon us all. Call him down here."

Sirius hesitated, but Orion's appearance at the top of the staircase saved him from having to decide whether or not to obey his grandfather's order.

"No need, I'm here, dad," Orion said, slowly descending the stairs and joining the two older wizards in the entrance hall.

"Right." Sirius wondered how long Orion had been listening in on the conversation. "Grandfather, may I present my son, Orion Black? Orion, this is Arcturus Black, Paterfamilias of the Noble and Ancient House of Black."

"Pleased to meet you, sir," Orion said, offering his hand to shake. Sirius winced at the gesture while Arcturus frowned in disapproval.

"Honestly boy, didn't your mother teach you any manners?"

"Er…" Orion said, obviously uncertain as to what he'd done wrong.

"You don't offer to shake hands with your social superior," Sirius explained quietly. "It's up to the other wizard to make the gesture – or not as the case may be."

"Oh," Orion said, and quickly lowered his arm. "Sorry."

"He grew up in France," Sirius told his grandfather, trying to smooth away the blunder. "Amongst muggles even."

"Muggles!" Arcturus shook his head in disgust. "What in Merlin's name was that Evelinda girl thinking?"

Sirius shrugged while Orion looked rather offended on his pretend mother's behalf.

"She wanted to keep me safe," he said. "Sir," he added quickly.

"Well I don't deny that things were dangerous during the war, but she should have come to us once the Dark Lord disappeared," Arcturus said firmly. "Melania and I would have seen to it that you were raised as a proper wizard should be."

"Um, thank you," Orion said.

Arcturus looked him over critically. "Well, your manners are certainly appalling. What about your knowledge of your heritage and pureblood culture? Did Evelinda teach you any of that?"

"No, not really," Orion replied.

"Then is your spell-work any good at least? Or are you entirely without any redeeming qualities to make up for your blood-traitor parents and your unfortunate birth," Arcturus asked with a slight sneer in Sirius' direction. Sirius just rolled his eyes, entirely used to being disparaged by his relatives.

"I'm good at magic," Orion said defensively.

"Not just good, he's bloody brilliant," Sirius said proudly, squeezing Orion's shoulder as he remembered the Patronus Orion had conjured the first time they'd met. Casting a spell like that as a ten-year-old, even one from the future, was truly impressive.

Arcturus nodded in approval. "That is something at least. The rest can be learnt, but magical talent is something one either has or has not."

Orion looked rather fed up with the interrogation. "May I ask why you're asking all these questions, sir?"

"As Paterfamilias it is my duty to ensure that all Blacks uphold the family name," Arcturus told him.

"And what have you decided, grandfather?" Sirius inquired.

"That if you and your bastard child wish to be considered members of my House, you'll have to work for it," Arcturus said curtly. "Now, you've already taken up too much of my time. Expect an invitation to Black Manor shortly. I'm sure Melania will want to inspect her newly discovered great-grandson herself. Good day."

With that the wizard strode back out the front door, his dark blue cloak billowing behind him as he turned on the spot and disapparated with a soft pop.

"Huh," Orion said at last. "So that's my new great granddad."

"Yep!" Sirius stepped forwards to swing the door closed. "Lovely man, isn't he?" he added sarcastically as he headed back up the stairs to the drawing room.

"I'm surprised he bothered to come here at all," Orion said, following him. "I mean, I know you were never officially disowned but I thought you'd basically cut all contact with your family."

"I did," Sirius said, flinging himself down into one of the high-backed chairs, one leg slung over the arm rest. "Which pleased all my relatives immensely since it meant they could pretend I didn't existed. Unfortunately though, ever since Regulus died I've been the only surviving Black capable of inheriting the position of Paterfamilias once Arcturus snuffs it. Of course, he could always decide to leave the title to Narcissa's boy or some other distant relative, but that would mean choosing an heir from outside the House of Black."

"So he's hoping, what?" Orion began shifting the books he'd been reading so that he could sit down in his old chair. "That you've turned into a respectable pureblood, and if not that he can mould me into his heir instead?"

"You've pretty much nailed it, I'm guessing," Sirius said. "I think the old man is desperate not to have to leave everything to a Malfoy. It would basically mean the end of the Black Family if he did."

"What about you? What do you think about the whole thing?"

"Do I want to inherit, you mean?" Sirius looked over at Orion, who nodded in reply. "Well normally I'd answer 'hell no' and happily continue on with my blood-traitor ways, but that's probably not a good idea under the circumstances. You said Voldemort wasn't the real problem in your old world, that it was the whole ideology he represented…"

"Yeah, that's right," Orion agreed. "There was all this ridiculous propaganda about how muggleborns 'stole' magic and stuff, and everyone just ate it up. Of course the muggleborns and some of the half-bloods disagreed, but they couldn't do much. Most of them were arrested or killed, while the rest were too scared to speak out. Really it was only the Order and DA members who actually did anything to try to stop the blatant discrimination."

"Well I can easily imagine the same thing happening in this world," Sirius said. "Purebloods run the Ministry. By definition Muggleborns can't hold hereditary seats on the Wizengamot and due to prejudice are very rarely able to fill any of the elected seats either. Ministry contacts and political influence are needed to rise anywhere above the level of a junior clerk, which means it's the Purebloods - especially ones from old and wealthy families - who hold all the power."

"And they're the ones who benefit the most from ideas of Pureblood Supremacy," Orion finished for him. "I know."

Sirius grimaced and let out a sigh. "Things won't change without a lot of work. And we'll never be able to get anything done as ordinary members of the public. Influential purebloods only ever listen to other influential purebloods. Right now you're just some illegitimate child and I'm the reckless blood-traitor who was probably driven insane by Azkaban. No one's going to take us seriously. But if Arcturus names me as his heir then I'll be one of those influential purebloods."

"Letting you manoeuvre inside the system in order to make change," Orion said, nodding. "It's a good idea. I agree that it's the only way we'll be able to achieve anything without resorting to outright violence. And I don't think cursing every arrogant pureblood we can find is a viable plan."

Sirius grinned. "It would be great fun though, wouldn't it?"

"Maybe we can hex some of the bigger gits," Orion slyly suggested. "Like Umbridge."

"And I could cast a few non-lethal, yet still painful and humiliating, spells at Crouch," Sirius said, gleefully picturing it. He was glad to see Orion smile - the boy was too serious most of the time. He had reason to be, Sirius knew, but it was a relief to see him enjoy himself.

"Sounds good," Orion said. "I only hope I haven't managed to chase Arcturus away with my dreadful manners and plebeian upbringing."

Sirius shrugged. "He'll get over it. Though really, I don't know how you managed to live in the wizarding world for nine whole years without such picking up basic things as who you can shake hands with."

"Well I missed out on a lot of experiences due to the war and being the bloody Boy Who Lived," Orion said, looking thoughtful. "But is the whole handshake thing really that important?"

"Yes," Sirius answered firmly. "Look, it's simple enough. A wizard can only shake hands with another wizard – with witches they just bow in greeting. And it's up to the older or more important wizard to make the first move. If they don't offer their hand, then it sort of implied that they deem you unworthy of the honour. It's a gesture of respect."

"What if it's someone who's your equal?"

"Then either wizard can offer their hand to be shaken."

"All right," Orion said and seemed to think things over for a moment. "What if, uh, hypothetically, someone offered their hand to their social equal and the other wizard rejected it?"

"Then that wizard would be seen as declaring himself the other's superior. By refusing to shake hands he would basically be saying the other wizard didn't have the right to offer it," Sirius explained. "It would be a really harsh thing to do."

"Oh."

"That wasn't a hypothetical question, was it?" Sirius said upon seeing Orion's dismayed reaction.

"No, it wasn't," Orion admitted. "Oh Merlin! No wonder he reacted so badly and hated me ever since…"

"Who?" Sirius asked, though he wasn't certain he wanted to know the answer.

"Draco Malfoy," Orion replied. "It happened on the Hogwarts express just before the beginning of my first year. He was being an arrogant little git and insulting my first friend, so when he offered his hand I refused to take it."

"Which he thought meant you were declaring yourself his superior, even though he was from an old Pureblood family and you were just a half-blood." Sirius could imagine how badly a Malfoy would react to such a thing.

"Right, yeah." Orion nodded. "I remember Ron thought it was funny."

Sirius stared at the young wizard in front of him, wondering how he had avoided alienating every Pureblood he met.

"You know, a lot of people thought I was really arrogant and obsessed with my own fame," Orion said thoughtfully. "They thought I felt I was better than them just because I was the Boy Who Lived. Maybe that's why."

Sirius got his answer; he hadn't.

-.-.-

The talk with Sirius had made Harry think more about the war and his plans on how to deal with it. Harry was certain he was right in thinking that if they wanted to live in a fair and equal society, they would need to do more than just kill Voldemort. Yet Harry knew defeating the Dark Lord would by no means be an easy task. The specific set of circumstances leading to his defeat in Harry's old world couldn't be replicated in this one. Harry wasn't a Horcrux anymore, nor did he hold all three Hallows, and he couldn't think of any reason why Voldemort would want to use Orion Black's blood in the ritual to create a new body for himself.

It made Harry uneasy, especially since he had no idea where Voldemort was or what he was planning. Voldemort had always been obsessed with killing Harry, with most of his plans involving him in some way. With the Boy Who Lived dead and the prophecy no longer an issue, things would no doubt turn out very different. The uncertainty drove Harry to deal with the few things he was sure of and could do something about.

"Kreacher!" Harry called out as he entered the basement kitchen.

The elf slowly shuffled out of his small den in the boiler-room behind the pantry, a rather confused expression on his pointy face. "Bastard child has changed," he said in his hoarse voice. "When bastard calls, Kreacher must now obey. Kreacher wonders why."

Harry wondered just how much Kreacher could sense about his owners. "Uh, yeah. I'm a proper Black now."

"Kreacher is ashamed to have such a low-born wizard as his master," Kreacher muttered to himself. "Oh, if Mistress Black and Master Regulus knew, what would they think of poor Kreacher…"

"Actually," Harry said in a loud voice. "It's Regulus I want to speak to you about."

"Master Regulus was a kind master and a proper wizard," Kreacher said immediately.

"Right." Harry nodded. "I know he was a good man, and I was wondering… did he give you anything before he died? Something that he wanted you to destroy?"

"No, young master," Kreacher said, shaking his head so that his ears flopped. "Master Regulus did not give Kreacher anything."

"He didn't?" Harry echoed, shocked. "Are you sure?"

"Kreacher is certain."

Harry stared at the old elf, his thoughts racing. Kreacher couldn't lie to a member of the Black family, but if he was telling the truth… it meant that things were even more different than Harry had suspected. Harry wondered in a panic if Voldemort had even made any Horcruxes at all, perhaps he'd instead used some other method of ensuring his immortality. But no, that wasn't possible, he reassured himself.

From what Harry had gathered from the history textbooks and newspaper clippings he'd read, the changes between the two worlds didn't stretch much further back than a decade or so. Up until then things seemed to be mostly the same – though Harry couldn't be entirely certain about that since he'd never been good at history. Still, Harry was confident that events such as Voldemort creating his first Horcrux - close to fifty years ago - had occurred in both worlds.

"Kreacher, did you ever see a golden locket with the letter S engraved on it?"

"No, master," the elf replied.

It was looking increasingly likely that Regulus had never stolen the locket. It would certainly explain why Kreacher was so much saner in this world - he wouldn't have spent years trying to obey an order from his master that was impossible for him to fulfil.

"Did Regulus ever order you to obey Voldemort?" Harry questioned urgently, needing to know if the locket had ever been hidden in the cave in the first place. "Did the Dark Lord ever take you to a cave and order you to drink a potion there?"

"No, master," Kreacher said again.

Deep in thought, Harry dismissed the elf and went to find Sirius. Maybe he knew something that would make sense of what he'd just learnt.

-.-.-

"Regulus?" Sirius set his letters aside and turned to Harry with an expression of surprise. "He died in a skirmish in Diagon Alley just two years after he left Hogwarts."

"So he was still a loyal Death Eater at the time?" Harry checked.

Sirius nodded sadly. "Yeah. Back then Aurors were given emergency powers and authorised to use the Unforgivables… Many tried to take prisoners so that they could be tried properly, but there were a few who thought fighting fire with fire was a good idea. Regulus was hit by a killing curse almost as soon as the Aurors apparated onto the scene."

"You were an Auror, weren't you?"

"Yes. I was even there that day." Sirius sighed heavily. "I've always regretted that my choices forced me into fighting against my family. I saw my own brother cut down in front of me by people who were my friends and colleagues."

"That… must have been very difficult for you," Harry said quietly. "I'm sorry."

Sirius' expression was bleak as he relived his memories. "It was war. Loyalties were questioned, friendships broken, families ripped apart… I wish I could've been fighting side-by-side with Regulus when he died, but I could never have followed a madman like Voldemort. I had my friends to think of, too - James and Lily and all the rest. So I stayed with the Aurors, doing my best to capture and not kill, and avoiding my family as much as I could."

"What did your parents think of what happened?" Harry couldn't imagine Walburga Black quietly accepting the death of her favourite son and the avoidance of her eldest.

"In the beginning they thought Voldemort had the right idea – stop the mudbloods from polluting our culture and ensure the continuation of the old ways…" Sirius shook his head in disgust. "They changed their minds once Regulus died, though. They told me Voldemort's ambition wasn't worth spilling a single drop of Black blood."

"Hmm," Harry hummed thoughtfully as he took that in. It helped explain why Sirius didn't hate his family as his counterpart had. As for the rest, it seemed as if Regulus had died before Voldemort could demand Kreacher's help in hiding Slytherin's Locket. Voldemort could easily have used a house-elf belonging to one of his other followers, however, so the Locket might nevertheless be hidden in the same place. "I need to find out for certain whether the Horcruxes are the same here," Harry said. "We should check out the cave, and maybe also the Gaunt House where the ring might be hidden."

Sirius held up a hand to stop this train of thought. "Hang on. Didn't the Regulus in your world die trying to steal the locket?"

"Yes."

"And didn't you say Dumbledore was cursed while trying to destroy the ring?"

"Yes," Harry said, "but that's only because he was stupid enough to put the damn thing on."

Sirius did not look reassured. "Weren't there underground lakes full of Infiri and goblets of poison involved?"

"Well yes, but-"

"No," Sirius interrupted, his face pale and determined. "You are not going back there any time soon. We'll wait until you're older and we have help. Lots of help."

"Sure, dad," Harry said with a slight roll of his eyes.

Sirius raised an eyebrow, but appeared quite pleased by the moniker. Harry himself, even though he had used it sarcastically, felt as if there was a certain rightness to it. He was slowly growing more comfortable with the idea of them being a family, but tried not to think about it too much.

"Those are the only two Horcruxes that are currently within our reach though," Harry said, going through the list in his head. The diary was probably in Lucius Malfoy's possession, Ravenclaw's Diadem and Hufflepuff's cup were also inaccessible for the moment, and Harry wasn't certain if Nagini even was a Horcrux yet.

"Well it's not as if Voldemort's going to come back right this second, is it?" Sirius said.

Harry frowned darkly. "I don't know. He might be." He wasn't prepared to assume anything. He'd been wrong about the Locket being in Grimmauld Place; what else was he wrong about?

"There would be signs, rumours," Sirius pointed out reasonably. "And Dumbledore – as much as I dislike the man – is no doubt keeping a close eye on any indication of Voldemort returning. He'd do his utmost to prevent it."

Harry couldn't think of a counterargument to that, but wasn't willing to concede the point entirely. "Fine, but it would be much easier to destroy the Horcruxes now, rather than when Voldemort is around to notice what we're up to."

"Well there is no way I'm letting you anywhere near an infiri infested cave," Sirius said. "Or, for that matter, letting you break into Gringotts or any of the other potentially lethal things you did back in your old world."

"You're really getting into this whole father thing, aren't you?" Harry was a tad exasperated by Sirius' concern, though at the same time felt it was nice to have someone looking out for him. For so long he'd had no one to rely on or go to for advice – no adult anyway. Hermione had done her best to help of course, as had the rest of the DA and the Order, but that wasn't the same thing as having a parental figure whose first priority was his welfare. Harry imagined it might get a bit frustrating once the novelty wore off, but for now he found it more touching than annoying.

"I just want to keep you safe, Orion," Sirius said. "I mean, so far you've been hit by three killing curses. Three! I don't want that to happen to you in this world."

"I know. And I appreciate it, I really do. It'll just take a bit of getting used to."

"You shouldn't have to get used to it. Damn those bloody Dursleys, and damn Dumbledore for leaving you there."

"It's okay." Harry shrugged. "Really," he added when it looked as if Sirius wanted to argue. "I'm a Black now, and if I have my way no one is ever going to find out that I used to be Harry Potter. Dumbledore will never again get to control my life."

Sirius's frown was replaced by a grin. "Even if Dumbledore did find out, I can just imagine how Arcturus would react to the old man trying to order you around. He dislikes Dumbledore, would never let him interfere with a member of the family, and fortunately has the power to back that up. Sometimes it really pays to be a Black."

"I'm certainly enjoying it so far," Harry agreed.

Chapter Text

Harry wasn't looking forward to the upcoming visit to the Black Manor. At first he'd been rather blasé about the whole thing. Show up, smile politely, leave - Harry hadn't thought it would be more complicated than that, but Sirius soon convinced him otherwise.

He had insisted that they both needed proper robes for the event and dragged Harry to Twilfitt and Tattings – a shop Harry had never before been into, but quickly discovered was three times as expensive as Madame Malkins and catered only to Purebloods. Sirius and the snobbish tailor discussed sleeve length, which charms to weave into the fabric, and what colour thread should be used to embroider the Black Family crest - all details which were apparently very important and subtly declared the wearer as young, old, pureblood, conservative, muggle-loving, single, married, celibate or various combinations of the same.

All the while Sirius tried to lecture Harry on proper behaviour; when to stand, when to sit, when it was polite to use magic and when it wasn't (never draw you wand without permission from your host, don't cast spells at the dinner table). Harry found the whole thing ridiculous in its intricacy, but realised it was no doubt second nature to the wizards and witches brought up that way. Unfortunately Harry had only ever been exposed to the Dursley's ideas of a formal party, and so had to memorise all the rules of Pureblood behaviour by rote.

Harry really didn't want a repeat of the whole handshake disaster, so he did his best to pay attention to everything Sirius told him. Sirius himself scoffed at a lot of the etiquette he was instructing Harry in, but Harry knew there was a difference between being rude on purpose and offending out of ignorance. Sirius at least knew how to behave properly if he wanted to; Harry had so far blundered through life without knowing who he was insulting.

Luckily they didn't spend all their time preparing for the visit though, since Harry thought he would have gone mad if had to listen to non-stop lectures. While they were at Diagon Alley Sirius had suggested going to Eyelops Emporium for a post owl. Harry had immediately agreed and bought Hedwig. The snowy owl was younger and smaller than Harry had ever seen her counterpart, but just as beautiful and intelligent. It was wonderful having his faithful pet back, and Harry spent hours stroking her feathers and cooing at her. Sirius looked rather askance at this behaviour, making several pointed remarks about people being awfully strange about their pets.

The two wizards also spent some time in muggle London, eating lunch in a café near Trafalgar square and going to see the newly released 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves' in the cinema. The Dursleys had never taken Harry anywhere if they could avoid it, and once Harry had started Hogwarts he'd never really had the opportunity to explore the muggle world. As for Sirius, he'd apparently gone through a bit of a rebellious phase as a teenager. He told Harry that he'd taken perverse delight in wearing muggle clothes, using muggle swear-words and driving a motorbike instead of a broom, well aware of how much his behaviour infuriated his parents. But despite all that, Sirius didn't really have a better understanding of muggles than the typical Pureblood.

Both Harry and Sirius thoroughly enjoyed the novel experience, and managed to forget all about Azkaban and Voldemort and their interfering relatives for a few short hours.

-.-.-

Sirius could see that Orion was getting increasingly tense as the visit to Black Manor neared. He found it rather amusing that a wizard who had defeated Voldemort was nervous over a simple invitation to tea, but supposed that making a good impression was essential for their future plans. Sirius was pretty confident it would all work out all right, however. While there was a lot Orion didn't know, he had picked up some things during his years in the wizarding world and Sirius' lectures had filled in a lot of the gaps in his knowledge.

They both made sure to be ready well on time, which meant that Sirius was dressed in his elaborate formal robes when he opened the front door an hour or so before they were planning to leave. He wasn't particularly surprised to see Remus Lupin standing on the doorstep, his hand raised to knock a second time.

Sirius stared at his old friend, taking in his worn face and tattered robes and the new scars on his arms. It seemed he hadn't been the only one who had suffered over the years.

"Hullo, Sirius," Remus said quietly, a nervous smile on his face. "May I come in?"

"Of course." Sirius stepped aside and held the door open so that Remus could enter the hall. "Er, how about a cup of tea?"

"That would be lovely," Remus answered politely.

It was as if they were near-strangers, Sirius thought as he led the way downstairs to the kitchen. In a way they were, since people could change an awful lot in nine years. Yet they were all so close once; he, James, Remus and that rat Peter. Sirius used to think they'd always be friends no matter what.

"Thank you," Remus murmured as Sirius handed him a cup from the Black family china and poured him some tea.

Sirius took a seat on the opposite side of the table. "No problem," he said.

Remus fiddled with the handle of his cup before sighing and meeting Sirius's eyes. "I'm sorry, Padfoot. So sorry for what I did. Believing the worst of you, not fighting your incarceration…"

Sirius didn't respond, only staring back at Remus in stony silence.

"I should've at least tried to get Professor Dumbledore to push for a trial," Remus continued. "I let you down, and for that I'll always be sorry."

There was a long pause as Sirius debated how to answer. He knew Remus meant what he said, but it wasn't quite enough to remove the anger boiling within him. "I forgive you for thinking I was the traitor," Sirius said at last. "I know Peter made my guilt look pretty convincing. I wasn't blameless in the whole thing either. I thought you were the spy… that's why I didn't tell you about switching Secret Keepers."

Remus drew in a sharp breath, looking as if his suspicions had been confirmed.

"There's no point arguing over which of us is most to blame," Sirius continued. "It's really all Peter's fault."

"I still find it hard to believe he betrayed James and Lily," Remus said. "I never suspected he could be capable of something like that."

"Neither did I, but we should have," Sirius said bitterly. "He was always sneaking around people stronger and more powerful than himself."

Remus fiddled with his teacup. "Do you know what's going to happen to him now? The Daily Prophet said he was sent to Azkaban, but that's all."

"There's nothing else to tell," Sirius said. "I'd be happier if the snivelling coward had his soul sucked out, but the Wizengamot in their infinite wisdom decided otherwise."

Remus didn't comment on that, perhaps because he wasn't sure whether Pettigrew deserved the Kiss or not. Sirius didn't bother trying to convince him.

"Look," he said, deciding to tackle the problem between them head on. "I need to know. Why did you let Harry be brought up by the Dursleys?"

"Dumbledore said he'd be safe there…"

"Dumbledore said!" Sirius snapped. "Oh, well that's all right then. Never mind that you were letting your best friend's son be brought up by magic hating muggles. Never mind that Harry obviously wasn't safe seeing as he died!"

"I know," Remus said quietly. "I didn't say Dumbledore was right. I just…"

"Just what?" Sirius demanded.

"I tried, all right?" Remus said, his tone surprisingly aggressive. "I wanted to get custody, but the Ministry said it was out of the question. They banned me from even seeing Harry. Said I'd be a 'dangerous and undesirable influence' on the Boy Who Lived."

"What?"

"You heard me," Remus said. "They even put up wards to make sure I wouldn't be able to go anywhere near him."

"But why?"

"Why do you think? Because I'm a werewolf," Remus said bitterly. "The Ministry introduced loads of new laws after the war ended. You wouldn't have heard about it since, well... but in the chaos after Voldemort's defeat Greyback attacked several well-known Purebloods. One of those bitten was Fabian Prewett. You can guess how his family reacted. They were all outraged - threw him out and demanded something be done about the so-called 'werewolf threat'. The public supported them wholeheartedly."

"What about Gideon?" Sirius remembered how close the twin brothers always were. They were both former Order members and Sirius had known them well.

"Oh he went on to become a successful Quidditch player, all the while pretending he never had a brother."

Sirius shook his head in disbelief. He couldn't imagine one of the Prewett twins ever abandoning the other.

"Sirius, you have no idea how bad things have become for us werewolves," Remus insisted. "There are laws governing where we can live, what jobs we can have, and how much property we can own. The Ministry has labeled us as Dark Creatures and the Werewolf Capture unit has basically been given free reign. There was even a law brought in to set a 'maximum wage'. Can you imagine? No werewolf is legally allowed to earn more than seventeen galleons a month. That's barely enough to survive."

"Merlin, that's… I don't know what that is." Sirius sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I'm so sorry, Remus."

Remus' face was more worn and tired than ever. "Why? It's not as if it's your fault."

"No, but that doesn't mean I can't be sorry about what you've had to live through." Sirius wished there was a way for him to help his old friend, but the werewolf had always refused what he saw as charity.

"Well, you're the one who were sent to Azkaban," Remus pointed out. "That's much worse."

"Yeah, but I'm free now," Sirius said. "It's all over for me, thanks to Orion."

"Who's Orion?" Remus' forehead wrinkled in confusion.

Sirius was shocked. "You don't know? I thought everyone knew by now. People have been gossiping about it like crazy."

"People, as in wizards and witches who don't deign to speak to werewolves?" Remus raised an eyebrow at his old friend.

"Oh. Right. Sorry."

Remus waved the apology away. "So who's Orion then?"

"My son," Sirius said with a fond smile. "He was the one who tracked down Peter and got me a trial."

"You have a son?"

"Yes, I do." Sirius' feelings were rather conflicted; he was proud to call Orion his son, but he wasn't entirely comfortable hiding the real truth from Remus. Orion didn't want anyone else to know though, and Sirius knew it was his decision to make.

Remus was still looking befuddled by the news. "Did you know? Before you went to Azkaban, I mean."

"Nah, didn't have a clue," Sirius said. "Imagine my surprise when Amelia Bones told me the only reason she looked into my case was because a young boy called Orion Aubrey had asked her to."

"So Evie's his mother then? I thought she died years ago in that fire. How old is Orion, exactly?"

"He's ten, turning eleven this summer," Sirius answered. "As for Evie… turns out she faked her death and moved to France. I imagine she was terrified of bringing up a child in the middle of a war. She died a few months ago, though, so I'm the only parent Orion has left. He's living here with me now."

"He's here? Can I see him?"

"Sure," Sirius said and cast a sonorous charm. "Orion!" he yelled up the stairs. "Remus is here and wants to meet you!" He cancelled the spell and turned back to the other wizard. "I've told him all about you."

"Have you?" Remus fiddled with the cuff of his tattered sleeve. "Even…"

"He knows you're a werewolf," Sirius said, causing a dismayed expression to appear on Remus' face. "It doesn't matter to him," he hurriedly reassured the other wizard.

"Yep, I don't care at all," Orion confirmed as he appeared at the top of the stone steps leading down to the basement. He bounded down them two at a time and skidded to a stop in front of Remus. "It's great to meet you, Mr Lupin!"

Remus relaxed at the enthusiastic greeting. "You, too. And you can call me Remus, or Moony if you like."

Orion gave him a wide smile. "Thanks, Moony."

"You look so much like your father did at your age," Remus marvelled. "The same eyes, the same hair…"

"The same devastatingly good looks," Sirius added with a cocky smirk.

Remus rolled his eyes. "Well let's hope he won't end up as conceited as you."

"Moony, I'm hurt," Sirius said playfully. "I've always been the very soul of humility."

Remus snorted at this. "Orion, I hope you don't believe everything your father tells you."

"Don't worry, there's no chance of that," Orion assured him.

Sirius crossed his arms and glared at the them both. "I can't believe you two are ganging up on me!"

"You make an easy target," Remus said.

Sirius couldn't maintain his stern expression any longer and instead beamed at Remus. The teasing was so familiar, it almost felt as if the past ten years had never happened and they had never stopped being friends. He realised then that the resentment he'd been holding onto was gone. While he wished Harry hadn't been left with the Dursleys, he no longer blamed the situation on Remus. Instead he was angry at the Ministry and the whole of the wizarding public - if it hadn't been for their bigotry and intolerance…

"Hey Remus, I was wondering," Sirius said, "What do you think of being this brat's godfather?" He reached out to ruffle Orion's hair, causing him to duck away and scowl.

"Wait, what?" Orion said a second later, freezing in the act of smoothing down his fringe.

Remus stared at them both. "Padfoot, are you serious?"

"Well…" Sirius began.

"No, no serious Sirius jokes," Remus interrupted him. "Do you really mean it? You want me, a werewolf, to be your son's godfather?"

"Yeah, 'course I do," Sirius said, becoming even angrier at all the people who had made Remus doubt himself. "I can't think of anyone better or who I'd trust more."

"Orion, how do you feel about this?" Remus asked, turning to the younger wizard.

"I'm… I'm fine with it," Orion said slowly. "I think it's great, actually!" he added with more conviction.

"Are you sure?" Remus examined his expression closely.

"Yeah, I am," Orion assured him. "It was just a bit of a shock, but I'd really love to have you as my godfather."

"Then I'd be honoured to accept," Remus said quietly, his eyes suspiciously shiny. "I'll do my best by him, Sirius, I promise," he told his friend earnestly.

"I believe you, Moony," Sirius said, and meant it. The two wizards smiled at each other, setting aside the years of hatred and suspicion between them.

-.-.-

"I can't believe you made him my godfather!" Harry said as soon as Remus had left.

Sirius turned towards him with a frown. "I thought you didn't have a problem with it?"

"I don't!" Harry didn't know how to explain his reaction. "It's weird, that's all. I was his son's godfather and now he's mine and… it's just strange!"

"Okay, I can see why you'd feel that way," Sirius admitted. "It's just I wanted to show Remus that I forgive him and everything. He's had a difficult time of it what with the Ministry's idiocy and the ridiculous laws they've enacted."

"Maybe we'll be able to change all that one day," Harry said hopefully.

"Well before you start campaigning for world peace and finding a cure for Dragon Pox, we first have to survive our visit to our dear relatives," Sirius reminded him.

"Do you know who'll be there?" Harry nervously smoothed down his robes.

"Arcturus and his wife Melania, obviously," Sirius said. "Maybe my great-aunt Cassiopeia as well, if anyone can tear her away from her research. I hope so, since she's the only one I can truthfully say I get on well with."

"Great!" He could deal with just three people, Harry thought optimistically.

"Well, we'll see if you can say that once you've met Melania." The tone of Sirius' voice made Harry wonder what was wrong with the woman. "All ready to leave?"

Harry nodded and straightened his back as if readying for battle. "Yes."

"Right then, let's go!"

Without further ado, Sirius grasped Harry by the shoulder and side-along apparated them both far away. As always Harry had to pause for a moment to recover from the uncomfortable sensation of being squeezed through a narrow tube, followed by the disorientation due to the change in weather and atmosphere. Black Manor was built in the far south of England on a hillside overlooking the sea, and the smell of salt on the breeze and the distant sounds of seagulls were very different from the crowded bustle of London.

The house itself was a fairly large, fifteenth century style building, whose grey stone walls and elaborate buttresses made an imposing sight as Harry and Sirius walked up the path to the front entrance. The door was answered by a house-elf wearing a carefully ironed pillowcase, who bowed and took their cloaks before showing them up a wide flight of stairs to the drawing room.

"Ah, there you are!" A woman Harry had never seen before stepped forwards. She had long blonde hair, a superior smile, and the sort of middle-aged beauty belonging to witches aged anywhere between forty and ninety years. "Let me have a look at you!"

"Grandmother Melania," Sirius said, stepping forwards and pressing a kiss to her cheek. "It's a pleasure to see you again after all these years."

"Sirius, Azkaban has not robbed you of your good looks I see," Melania Black said, looking him over approvingly. "And is this my great-grandson?"

"Yes, this is Orion," Sirius said.

"Hello, ma'am," Harry said, making sure not to offer his hand. He needn't have bothered worrying about it, since Melania swooped down and gave him a rather bony hug.

"Oh my dear boy, call me Grandmother," she ordered. "No need to mention the exact number of generations between us, hmm?"

"Yes, Grandmother," Harry said obediently. Even after such a short exchange, Harry knew exactly what Sirius had meant earlier when describing the woman.

He and Sirius were both ushered over to sit in the chinz armchairs by the fire, displacing three intelligent looking cats as they did so. Harry thought they might be part Kneazle as they shared a certain resemblance to Crookshanks. He looked around the rest of the room, taking in the high arched windows overlooking the garden and the gilt-framed paintings hanging on the wall. He shifted a bit uneasily in his chair, uncomfortable under the scrutiny of all the portraits. Several of the canvas figures must have been visiting from other frames, since there were over a dozen pairs of eyes staring down at him, clearly inspecting the newest addition to the Black family. Melania was also examining him closely, making Harry sit up straight and fix his politest expression on his face.

"Such an attractive child you are!" Melania declared at last after her sharp eyes had taken in every aspect of Harry's appearance. "Much better looking than that Crabbe boy on the other side of the family tree."

"Uh, thank you." Harry wondered if she was talking about Vincent Crabbe, the burly Slytherin who was in Harry's year at Hogwarts. He hadn't known the Crabbes and Blacks were related.

"Well, Sirius, you have done well I must say," Melania told her grandson, arranging her robes carefully as she sank down into a chair opposite them. "When I heard you had fathered some bastard child and wanted to bring him into the family…. well! I don't mind telling you that I feared the worst. But Narcissa quite raved about him you know and all-in-all young Orion here has quite exceeded my expectations."

"Thank you, Grandmother," Sirius said stiffly.

"And not only do we have Orion to welcome into the family, but we also have you back amongst us!" she prattled on. "The whole family's simply dying to celebrate your release from that dreadful place."

"What d'you mean?" Sirius exchanged an alarmed glance with Harry. "Who else is coming?"

"Well my dear Arcturus is here, obviously," Melania replied. "He's busy trying to get Cassiopeia down from the attics – she's been up there all week working on her experimental spell research or some such nonsense. Then when Narcissa told me you had run into her and young Draco in Diagon Alley I just had to invite them, too. And dear Lucius as well of course."

Sirius sighed and leaned back in his seat with an unhappy expression. "Of course."

"And then the thought struck me – why not introduce dear Orion to another of his future school mates," Melania continued in her unrelenting manner. "It's always good to be friends with the right sort. We wouldn't want him mixing with any Undesirables, now would we?"

"Of course not," Sirius mumbled.

"So I invited my darling nephew Evander Macmillan and his young son Ernest," she finished triumphantly. "Wasn't that a clever idea of mine?"

"Yes it was," Sirius replied dutifully.

Harry fixed the older witch with an innocent smile. "I'm really glad I'll be able to make some friends before I go to Hogwarts. Especially ones who're also family."

"Well said," came the stern voice of Arcturus Black from the doorway. "Family is paramount."

Sirius immediately got to his feet and subtly gestured Harry to do the same. Harry remembered that this was another one of those politeness things, showing respect to their Paterfamilias, and so hurriedly stood as well. He turned around in time to see Arcturus walk into the room, followed by a tall, dark haired woman with the typical Black looks.

"You must be Orion," the woman said with a cheery wave at Harry. "I'm your great-great-aunt Cassiopeia, but you may call me Aunt Cassie."

Harry smiled back at her. "Hello, Aunt Cassie." He liked her at once, especially since she and Sirius seemed to get on well judging by the fond embrace they shared.

Melania sniffed disdainfully. "I don't know why you insist on that dreadful nickname of yours, Cassiopeia. It makes you sound like a common mudblood!"

"And I don't know why you insist on airing views on things that are simply none of your business," Cassie replied frostily. The Kneezles lounging by the fire stirred at the sound of the argument, their tails twitching as they turned to stare at the two witches. Cassie and Melania glared angrily at each other, neither looking as if they were prepared to back down.

"Ladies, please," Arcturus said, sounding as if he often had to intervene between them. "This is supposed to be a happy occasion! And do keep in mind that our guests will soon be arriving."

"Actually they should have already been here by now," Melania said with a frown, while Cassiopeia pointedly moved off to fuss over the Kneazles. "It's very rude of them to be so late."

Only moments later the Macmillans and the Malfoys were shown into the drawing room by the family elf.

"Speak of the devil," Sirius muttered to Harry as they both prepared for yet another round of greetings and introductions.

Lucius Malfoy was coldly polite and said little beyond what was strictly necessary, but the other guests were all much friendlier (though how sincere they were was debatable). Harry was pleasantly surprised to find that the 'Ernest' mentioned earlier was actually Ernie Macmillan, the Hufflepuff student who had been a friend of Harry's and a member of the DA. Harry greeted him enthusiastically, trying not to laugh as the boy puffed up his chest as they shook hands. It quickly became obvious where he got his pomposity from – his father was even worse than he was.

"Dreadful thing that whole Azkaban business, what?" Evander Macmillan said loudly to Sirius. "That Crouch completely bungled the entire thing! The Department of International Cooperation is the right place for him, I say. Let Crouch deal with the foreigners and leave Amelia Bones in charge of the Aurors. She does a much better job of it, eh?"

Sirius clearly wanted to drop the painful subject of his incarceration. He smiled vaguely in reply, pretending to be more interested in the quiet conversation going on between Cassiopeia, Melania and Narcissa Malfoy.

"She is indeed superior to Barty Crouch," Arcturus said with a sneer of deep disgust at the name. Sirius had told Harry that Arcturus loathed Crouch, since he blamed Regulus Black's death on the brutal Auror tactics the man had introduced. It was clear to Harry that if anything Sirius had understated Arcturus' dislike.

Lucius Malfoy deigned to join the conversation. "I myself find her insistence on following the letter of the law and not taking a single step outside her remit can at times be problematic." He was standing as far away from Sirius as he possibly could and was keeping Draco close by his side as if being a muggle-lover was catching.

"I don't see how it's a problem so long as you follow the law," Sirius said with a challenging stare at the Malfoy Paterfamilias.

Arcturus seemed to agree with Lucius. "Madame Bones shows no initiative. While I certainly appreciate the dedication young Orion showed in ensuring Pettigrew was captured and that you received a trail, I find it most concerning that a ten-year-old boy had to do the Head of Law Enforcement's work for her."

"Oh yes! I heard all about that, of course," Evander said, turning to Harry with a beaming smile. "Good show, lad! Family loyalty wins the day, what?"

Harry was tempted to point out that no one else in the room had shown any of that prized family loyalty when they left Sirius to rot in Azkaban, but somehow managed to hold his tongue. He supposed he didn't know all the details. Perhaps they had tried to push for a trial – who knew? Maybe they'd thought he was actually guilty and, since they hadn't managed to keep Bellatrix Lestrange out of prison, they would have had no reason to believe they'd be successful with Sirius.

Although now Harry considered the matter, it had been suspiciously easy to get Sirius out of Azkaban. He had expected the Ministry to drag it all out for months or to refuse point blank to reopen the case. Perhaps the reason why everything went so smoothly was because the Blacks had made sure of it; Arcturus was a member of the Wizengamot and no doubt had quite a bit of influence within the Ministry.

Harry's view of the Black family was turned rather upside-down by that thought, making him look at the wizards and witches around him with rather more warmth than before. Any newfound feelings of appreciation disappeared rather quickly, however, as he continued listening to the adults talk amongst themselves.

"It's wonderful to see the noble name of Black carry on into the next generation," Narcissa Malfoy said calmly, breaking off her conversation with the other witches. "Don't you agree, Lucius?"

Lucius did not look pleased by her appeal, but nevertheless answered with apparent sincerity. "I am indeed glad that the House of Black will continue," he said with a chilly smile at Harry and Sirius. "There are too few of us from the old families left."

"Yes, it truly is shocking how many previously upstanding purebloods are consorting with Undesirables these days," Melania agreed. "Why, I heard Felicia Flint just got herself engaged to a half-blood!"

"Really?" Narcissa asked in a tone of fascinated horror. "I can't believe she'd be so irresponsible! Her poor parents must be devastated."

"Understandably so," Melania said. "Any children the new couple have will no doubt inherit the father's mudblood magic, and then what? The Flint family magic will simply disappear!"

"The loss of so many bloodlines and magical talents is indeed a great shame," Arcturus said gravely. "I am relieved that our family heritage has so far remained unpolluted. I only hope it will last," he added with a pointed look in Sirius' direction.

"All this political talk must be boring the children," Cassiopeia spoke up, absently petting the purring Kneazle she held in her arms. "Ernie, Draco, why don't you give Orion a tour of the house?"

The two boys looked hopeful, plainly eager to leave the adults to their discussion. Harry, even though theoretically an adult himself, was also pleased to be given an opportunity to escape. Pureblood politics wasn't his thing and he found it hard to resist defending the muggleborns they were disparaging. That was one thing he really disliked about being a child again – the way it was impolite for him to contradict any of the adults no matter what rubbish they spouted. Harry was surprised that Sirius hadn't objected at some point though; he hadn't thought the often reckless wizard was capable of such self-control.

"Yes do run along, dears," Melania told them. "You may go play in the nursery room upstairs."

Cassie rolled her eyes behind Melania's back and winked at Harry as he followed Draco and Ernie out of the room. Harry carefully closed the drawing room door behind them and then turned to the other two boys.

"We don't really have to go to the nursery, do we?" he asked, scrunching up his face in distaste. He was much too old to for such a thing – even if people did think he was ten years old.

"Don't worry, we don't want to go near the place either," Ernie assured him.

"Yeah, we're stuck there often enough for lessons as it is," Draco agreed. "And it's supposed to be called the school room, now that we're older," he added with a slight whine to his voice. "Grandmother Melania always treats us as if we're barely five years old."

That caught Harry's attention. "Lessons?"

"You know - lessons in Latin and basic Arithmancy and stuff," Draco said. "Aunt Cassie teaches us."

"We have to spend three hours every day learning everything we need to know before we go to Hogwarts in the autumn," Ernie elaborated. "It's quite boring, but at least we get to have fun after class."

"Is it just the two of you?" asked Harry.

"No, Vincent Crabbe's also taught along with us, since he's our second cousin twice removed," Draco said. "And then there's Daphne Greengrass and her little sister Astoria. They're not too bad, I suppose, even though they're girls. At least it's not Pansy Parkinson. Her mother insists on teaching her herself, thank Merlin."

Harry didn't know why he was so surprised by what he was hearing. He'd known that a lot of Purebloods were interrelated and knew each other long before they ever got to Hogwarts. He distinctly remembered Pansy Parkinson and Parvati Patil being on first name terms during their first flying lesson. He also knew there wasn't any such thing as a wizarding primary school. It was just that he hadn't combined those two ideas to realise that pureblood children were all home schooled together.

"You might be joining us," Ernie told him. "I heard Great-Aunt Melania say so. She said you needed to be taught proper manners."

"Huh," Harry said, not certain what to think of that. On the one hand, he didn't want to be stuck in classes with a bunch of immature children before he absolutely had to. On the other, he probably didn't know anything they were being taught. Latin? Harry had struggled to learn French in his old world, and that was with wit-sharpening potions and a year spent living in France. As for Arithmancy, basic or otherwise, Harry didn't know the first thing about the subject.

"It depends on your dad, I think," Ernie said. "But it would be great if he says yes."

"He probably will." Harry supposed he should agree to the lessons if they were offered. It would be useful – not just teaching him things he'd missed the first time round, but also letting him get to know the children who would later grow up to be influential members of society. "I suppose it could be quite fun," he said, trying to be optimistic.

Draco looked pleased. "It'll be such a relief to have you around. All the other cousins my age are really boring. They don't even like Quidditch!"

"Hey!" Ernie said indignantly.

"I wasn't talking about you." Draco waved off Ernie's protest. "I said other cousins, remember? I meant the ones on my dad's side - the Greengrass girls and that Yaxley brat."

"Oh, that's all right, then," Ernie said, his ruffled feelings soothed.

"It'll be nice getting to know my family for a change," Harry said cheerfully.

Ernie turned to him in surprise. "What d'you mean?"

"Well, before she died I lived with my mum and her family disowned her ages ago," Harry explained. "So I hadn't met any of my other relatives until I moved in with my dad. I don't even know if the main Aubrey family knows I exist."

"Is your dad really… all right?" Draco asked in a whisper, leaning in as if the portraits might want to eavesdrop on them. "I heard Azkaban drives people insane."

"He's doing surprisingly well actually," Harry answered truthfully. "He managed to keep his sanity intact by holding onto the knowledge that he was innocent. And of course the Mind Healers in Saint Mungo's have helped a lot as well."

Ernie nodded encouragingly. "I say, that's jolly good news, isn't it?"

"Mum was really happy when she heard he was being released," Draco said. "All her other close relatives are either dead or still in Azkaban."

"That's not true," Harry disagreed. "There's her sister Andromeda."

"Well she's a blood-traitor so she doesn't really count," Draco said dismissively.

Harry shook his head in disapproval. "Really, Draco, I can't believe you'd reject your own aunt just because she married a muggleborn!"

Draco looked shocked that Harry didn't agree with him. "She disgraced the name of Black!"

"How? She's called Tonks now that she's married," Harry pointed out.

"She muddied the bloodline by having a half-blood child," Draco said, sounding as if he was quoting someone – his father, Harry guessed.

"That half-blood has one of the rarest magical talents in Britain," Harry said. "So I really don't see why her birth is a bad thing. Imagine how useful it could be to have a Metamorphmagus in the family."

"I suppose…" Draco said reluctantly, too much of a Slytherin not to see the advantages of someone who could change their appearance at will.

"C'mon, let's not argue," Ernie said, ever the Hufflepuff. "Leave the stuffy politics to the adults."

"Fine, agreed," Harry said, with Draco nodding alongside him.

"So…" Ernie said, obviously uncertain as to what to do next. "What should we do now?"

"Flying," the Malfoy heir said at once.

"Flying," Harry agreed. They shared a grin and then both turned to look at Ernie.

"Do we have to? It's cold outside," Ernie complained.

"No it isn't – it's pretty warm for the middle of March," Draco said authoritatively. "And anyway, it's not as if it's raining," he added.

"Come on, Ernie, it'll be fun," Harry cajoled him.

Ernie sighed, not looking happy but apparently prepared to go along with them anyway. "Fine, flying it is."

"Yes!" Draco whooped and raced outside, the other two following more sedately behind him.

Ernie soon dropped out to simply sit on the grassy cliff overlooking the sea and watch the other two fly, but Harry and Draco spent over an hour dipping and diving and trying to outdo each other in spectacular airborne tricks. When Draco wasn't desperate to win a match and wasn't filling a position that didn't suit him, he was actually a very good flyer. They didn't have a Snitch to chase and there weren't any Quidditch hoops to toss a Quaffle through, so they ended up inventing a game of 'who can fly closer to the waves without getting wet' and 'who can make Ernie scream loudest by dive-bombing him'.

Pushing his broom ever faster and feeling the freezing sea spray on his face, Harry was filled with a carefree joy he had rarely experienced. There had been so few times in his life when he could simply have fun without worrying about Uncle Vernon or Voldemort or Umbridge or any of the other adults who had done their best to make his life hell. The last few years in his old world had been one long gruelling struggle, filled with worries over whom to trust, where to hide and who would die next. Now, laughing as Draco was drenched by a wave and surfaced spluttering, Harry found himself able to put those worries behind him. This new family of his was way better than the Dursleys ever were.

-.-.-

Over a badly-cooked dinner back at Grimmauld Place that evening, Harry and Sirius discussed the visit and came to the conclusion that it had gone rather well. Sirius didn't seem quite as enthused as Harry but did admit that he'd enjoyed seeing his family again, though added that he could have done without having Lucius Malfoy around. They'd apparently gotten into an argument over Sirius' decision to accept Orion as his son, with Lucius claiming it was a disgrace to give a bastard the same rights as a legitimate child.

"Of course, it isn't as if Lucius disagrees due to strong moral principles or some such," Sirius said as he helped himself to some more burnt potatoes. "He just doesn't want Grandfather Arcturus getting it into his head to leave the Black fortune to either of us instead of the Malfoy brat. If I were disowned and you weren't considered a proper member of the family, then there'd be a chance of Draco inheriting through his mother."

"I can't say that sort of self-interest surprises me," Harry said, knowing that Malfoys always put themselves first.

"Hmm," Sirius hummed agreement, his mouth full. He swallowed and continued with a smirk. "What was great was that Arcturus defended you. Well really he just didn't want to let a Malfoy criticise a Black, but it worked out to the same thing. He went on about resourceful and magically talented you are, and how you're a credit to the family name and everything."

"Really?" Harry looked up in amazement, his fork suspended half-way to his mouth as he tried to take that in. "Why would he say that? He knows I'm no good when it comes to pureblood manners and he's never seen me perform any spells."

Sirius grinned. "I know. He pulled me aside once the Malfoys had left and said I'd better make sure your spell-casting was up to scratch before you start Hogwarts. It's a matter of family pride to him now."

"Huh." Harry finally took a bite of his chicken only to immediately grimace at the taste. "Well, lucky for him that magic is one of the things I'm actually good at then. I'll have to wait for my magic to mature like everyone else, of course, but that doesn't change the fact that I've already gone through school once before and still know how to cast all the spells I learnt in my old world."

"Speaking of school… Melania wants you to join the other children for lessons every day," Sirius said apologetically. "I tried to get you out of it, but Arcturus backed her up and I can't really afford to go against them right now."

"Draco and Ernie already mentioned the possibility," Harry said in between gulps of pumpkin juice to wash out the taste of his dinner. "I can't say I'm exactly looking forward to it, but it could be useful." He put down his glass and stared at the food on his plate in disgust. "Sirius, we really have to do something about Kreacher. Every meal he's made has been practically inedible."

"What can we do? Get him cooking lessons? He's doing it on purpose, you know – he has to follow orders, so when I tell him to prepare dinner he does. Unfortunately there's nothing really to stop him from making it taste horrible. We should count ourselves lucky that he hasn't accidentally-on-purpose given us food poisoning."

Harry sighed. "I know. He's better than he was back when I first saw him in my old world, but that's not saying much. I had hoped to win him over by destroying the locket like I did before, but that's turned out to be impossible…"

"We could always get rid of him," Sirius suggested. "Though that wouldn't really be a good idea, since there's no way we could afford to get another elf. A house this size needs a lot of work and I certainly don't want to dust all the rooms or clean all the windows. How about you?"

"Yeah… no," Harry said, remembering all the cleaning Mrs Weasley had made him and his friends do and how exhausting he'd found it. Still, he knew having a disloyal house-elf could be dangerous. The small beings were very good at getting around direct orders, which had led to Sirius' death in Harry's old world. Dobby had also managed to betray his master, warning Harry of the plot to open the Chamber of Secrets even though he had to punish himself afterwards. Harry suddenly sat up straight in realisation. "Dobby!" he said excitedly. "There's our answer."

"Dobby?" Sirius echoed in confusion.

"Yeah, he's a House-elf who saved me loads of times over the years," Harry said. "Though I could have done without some of his help," he added, thinking back to the rogue Bludger that broke his arm in second year. "He belonged to the Malfoys, but I managed to trick Lucius into freeing him."

"Wait, is that the House-elf who sent you to this universe after you were hit by a Killing Curse?" Sirius asked, then blinked. "I think that must be the strangest sentence I've ever said."

Harry nodded. "Yeah, that's him. Or at least I think so. I'm not sure if he was just a product of my imagination or not… I'd like to think he was real. And something sent me here after all."

"Right. So how is he going to solve the problem with Kreacher?" Sirius asked, clearly uninterested in starting a philosophical debate.

"We exchange Kreacher for Dobby," Harry explained. "Then everyone's happy. Malfoy gets an elf who likes him, Kreacher still gets to serve a member of the Black family, we hopefully get help around the house, and Dobby gets his freedom."

Sirius looked surprised. "You want to free him?"

"Yes," Harry said firmly. "I owe him that. Dobby died as a free elf, saving me from Death Eaters. I know he'd want me to help his counterpart in this world if I could."

"And he actually wants to be free?"

Harry chuckled. "Yeah, he's a little strange like that. He likes wearing clothes and having days off and being paid a few galleons a month."

"He certainly sounds odd," Sirius said and then shrugged. "I suppose he'll fit right in with the Azkaban convict and the boy from another universe."

"So you'll go along with my plan?"

"Yeah, sure." Sirius leaned back in his chair and stifled a yawn. "I'll contact Lucius in the morning."

Chapter Text

The plan to free Dobby moved forwards much faster than Harry had anticipated. He had expected Lucius Malfoy to try and work the deal to his own advantage, yet while Malfoy did make some attempts in that direction it appeared to be more out of habit than anything else. The Malfoy Paterfamilias seemed very keen to get rid of his troublesome House-elf and so didn't draw out the process.

After only a few days of sending owls back and forth (Hedwig showing herself to be just as good a post owl as her counterpart) a deal was struck. Sirius reluctantly suggested meeting in Grimmauld Place to complete the exchange, to which Malfoy quickly agreed - no doubt because he had no desire to entertain blood-traitors in his own home. Harry knew that Malfoy would think it very strange for a child to observe the whole proceedings and so hid up at the top of the first floor staircase, peering down over the banisters at where Sirius, Malfoy and the two elves met in the entrance hall.

Malfoy looked the same as ever. He was dressed in expensive dark green robes, his long hair - denoting him as the Head of his Family - was tied back, he held a silver cane in one hand, and had a supercilious smirk fixed on his face. The elf at his side was a very different matter; Harry barely recognised him. Dobby was as small and skinny as his counterpart, and the dirty pillowcase he wore was almost identical to the one Harry had first seen him in - his attitude was altogether different, however. The Dobby from Harry's old world had been cringing and subservient even after he'd been freed; this Dobby bore himself with angry defiance, his bulbous green eyes filled with obvious hatred as he glared up at Malfoy.

Sirius made it plain he wasn't in the mood for pleasantries. "Well, Malfoy, let's get this over with."

"Very well. An elf for an elf, as we agreed," Lucius Malfoy said smoothly.

"Right." Sirius drew his wand and impatiently beckoned Kreacher towards him. The wizened old elf hurried forwards eagerly and Harry was astonished to see he was actually smiling. Sirius levelled his wand at the elf. "Occultaveris," he encanted and a pale blue light encircled Kreacher's throat before slowly fading into the elf's wrinkled skin. Lucius Malfoy briskly cast the same spell on Dobby, the elf glaring resentfully at his master all the while.

Sirius had told Harry all about the spell earlier after he'd wondered aloud whether Kreacher possessed information which would be dangerous in the hands of someone like Lucius Malfoy. Apparently it ensured that whoever was under the spell was unable to speak the caster's secrets. It was similar to the magic that kept a house-elf from betraying its master, not only because it forced compliance, but also because it was impossible to cast on wizards and witches or any other free magical being. Their own magic would fight against the spell, causing it to fail. House-elves, however, were incapable of throwing off a spell cast by their owners. The spell also worked on Muggles, since they were without magic, and was occasionally used on those who knew about the wizarding world but couldn't be oblivated - either because it was necessary for them to retain their knowledge, or because their memories were too extensive to be removed without causing permanent damage. According to Sirius the spell was routinely cast on the Muggle Prime Minister each time a new one was elected.

"Right then." Sirius shrugged off his outer robe and handed it to Kreacher. "There you go, you're free."

The old elf shuddered as he held the clothing, looking extremely unsettled by the unfamiliar sensation of freedom. When Malfoy ordered him to give him the robe, Kreacher hurried to obey and looked a lot happier once the servant-bond settled over him once more. Malfoy showed no outward reaction to the magic. He simply sneered down at the robe in his hands and threw it at Dobby, who caught it with an ecstatic expression on his pointy face.

"Dobby is a slave no longer!" he exclaimed in a high-pitched voice. "Dobby is free!"

Malfoy smirked at Sirius. "Well, that concludes my business here. Enjoy your new elf."

Without another word the Malfoy Paterfamilias swept out the front door, Kreacher scurrying behind him. Harry quickly realised what the wizard intended – he had freed Dobby as agreed, but knew perfectly well that the elf would refuse to enslave himself to Sirius. All the benefit of the deal would be on Malfoy's side, while Sirius would be left with nothing. Unfortunately for Malfoy, however, his plan relied on Sirius and Harry trying to force the elf to serve them, something neither of them had any intention of doing.

"Hello, Dobby," Sirius said kindly to the small being. There was a hint of condescension in his voice, but Harry supposed that was normal enough for a pureblood wizard. Sirius was at least making an effort to be polite and friendly.

"Hello, Wizard," Dobby replied confidently, tilting his chin up to look Sirius in the eye. "Dobby is telling Wizard now that Dobby will never serve him. Dobby is keeping clothes!"

"Er, right," Sirius said, clearly taken aback by the elf's strident tone. He glanced uncertainly towards Harry, who descended the stairs to join them in the entrance hall. Harry nodded encouragingly at Sirius, prompting him to continue. "Dobby, my name is Sirius Black and this is my son Orion. We would very much like to hire you as our House-elf and -" The rest of his prepared speech was lost as Dobby quickly interrupted him.

"Mr Black! Is you being Harry Potter's godfather?" The small elf bounced up and down in excitement, smiling and no longer looking at all defiant.

"Yes, that's me," Sirius said with a strained smile.

Dobby stopped bouncing. "Dobby is being very sorry for Mr Black," he said earnestly. "Harry Potter is killing He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and making things better for House-Elves everywhere! But then Harry Potter is dying and Bad Master is happy! Dobby hates Bad Master and is very sad about poor Harry Potter."

"Er, thank you, Dobby," Sirius said awkwardly, again looking over at Harry.

"Yes, thank you." Harry stepped forwards and took over the conversation, since Sirius seemed not to know quite what to make of the odd elf. "We don't much care for Lucius Malfoy either and were wondering if you'd like to come work for us instead."

"Dobby is a free elf," Dobby said, his face sliding back into a mutinous expression.

"Yes you are," Harry agreed. "We," he indicated himself and Sirius, "don't want to change that. We'd pay you to work for us and – and you could wear clothes and have days off and everything."

"Dobby is staying free?" The elf glanced between the two wizards suspiciously.

Sirius nodded. "Yes, absolutely."

"Dobby wants three galleons a week and one day off a month," Dobby said firmly, though he looked as if he expected his terms to be refused.

"All right, deal," Sirius said, then took a deep breath and held out his hand to be shaken.

Harry stared at the older man, knowing that most wizards would never dream of making such a gesture to a House-elf and frankly surprised it had even occurred to Sirius to do so. He guessed Sirius' behaviour was due to Harry's fond tales of the free elf and was touched that Sirius was so ready to welcome any friend of Harry's.

Dobby's huge eyes grew even wider. He carefully reached out one spindly arm, and the wizard and house elf shook hands. "Dobby will be working very hard for Mr Black and Mr Orion, sir," the elf said earnestly.

"I'm sure you will," Sirius said.

Dobby was as good as his word; Grimmauld Place was soon in better condition than Harry had ever seen it. The high ceilings were swept clear of cobwebs and every room in the house was given a thorough scrubbing. The wooden floors were polished until they gleamed and the tarnished silver door handles began to glint in the flickering candlelight from the now sparkling chandeliers.

Gradually the house began to feel more like a home and less like a decrepit mausoleum. With the grandeur that had faded over the years returning and the shadows being chased out. Sirius declared more than once that Harry's idea of hiring Dobby was pure genius, and Harry himself was amazed by how well it all worked out, considering that - as was too often the case - he hadn't stopped to properly think his plan through.

As Harry got to know the elf better his first impressions were only strengthened; this Dobby was very different from the one he'd known before. It was hard not to notice that Dobby was very suspicious of all wizards - more so than Harry had ever imagined he could be. The elf seemed happy to work and worked hard, but defended his independence fiercely, and wasn't at all hesitant in making his dislike for the Malfoys known. Harry had expected him to be as excitable as his counterpart, but Dobby never burst into tears when treated with courtesy, nor bashed his head against the walls or shut his fingers in the oven. Occasionally he seemed to get the urge to punish himself, but only clenched his jaw and stubbornly suppressed the impulse.

When Harry actually thought about it he realised these differences probably stemmed from his own counterpart's death. The elf had worshipped Harry Potter; the Boy Who Lived had given him hope and the strength to disobey his master. With him dead, Dobby no doubt lost some of his cheerful demeanour while his hatred of the Malfoys only increased.

Despite being taken aback at first by all the changes, Harry was pleased to have the small elf around. Grimmauld Place had seemed rather lonely with only Harry, Sirius and a resentful Kreacher in the house. The fact that Dobby was a very good cook was another point in his favour. Having a delicious breakfast waiting for him made it much easier for Harry to drag himself out of bed every morning to attend his training in Pureblood etiquette.

The lessons took place in the Nursery (or School Room, as Draco insisted it was called) in Black Manor. The walls were decorated in cheerful blue wallpaper and covered in portraits of the more scholarly members of the Black Family, who spent their time offering unwanted advice and criticising the students' work. Books such as 'Nature's Nobility: A Wizarding Genealogy' and 'Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century' filled several bookshelves, and a beautifully painted globe of the wizarding world stood in one corner.

Despite the academic surroundings, Harry found it very hard to concentrate on what his great-great-aunt Cassiopeia tried to teach her six students. He hadn't had any formal lessons in years, making it difficult for him to settle back into the routine of school. Nevertheless he made an effort to learn, especially after realising with some embarrassment that in many areas he was much less well-informed than his young classmates. The class covered topics from wizarding geography and the structure of the Ministry of Magic, which Harry had only the vaguest notions of, to penmanship and basic Magical Theory. Almost none of it had been mentioned in Harry's classes at Hogwarts and while he had picked some things up through living in the wizarding world (and half-listening to Hermione's lectures), he still had a lot to learn.

"All right, everyone, settle down!" Cassiopeia called her students to attention one morning. "Today each of you will be formulating a Numerology Chart. Can anyone tell me what that is?"

There was an awkward silence as they all stared down at their desks or out of the window in hopes of not having to answer. Finally Vincent Crabbe spoke up from where he was sitting beside Ernie.

"It's a way of using the arithmantic properties of something to find out more about it," Crabbe said.

"Exactly!" said Cassiopeia, looking pleased with his answer.

It had taken Harry a while to get used to the fact that Crabbe – while rather dense about most things – was actually very talented at Arithmancy. It had come as a shock the first time the boy had answered a question correctly, something Harry had previously considered to be close to impossible.

Cassiopeia elaborated. "More advanced charts can also be used to predict future events, but that's for at least NEWT level students so you don't need to know how those calculations just yet. For now you'll be using the basic Arithmancy equations I taught you before to work out your Heart, Soul, and Character number."

"Why bother?" Draco's expression made it clear he considered such work beneath him.

"All of you – except for you, Astoria – will be starting Hogwarts in a few short months." Cassiopeia met the eyes of each of her students. "With the purchase of your wands from Ollivanders you will be beginning your journeys to becoming adult witches and wizards. Social blunders will soon no longer be dismissed as mere childish mistakes. The Houses of Black, Malfoy, Macmillan, Crabbe and Greengrass are highly respected, and it will be your duty to ensure they remain so."

Harry glanced sideways at Ernie and saw him draw himself up proudly, while the others had various expressions of determination, arrogance or, in Crabbe's case, dull incomprehension on their faces.

"I hope the Numerology Charts will teach you more about yourselves – allowing you to play to your strengths and avoid your weaknesses," Cassiopeia continued. "Does that answer your question, Draco?"

"Yes, Aunt Cassie," Draco answered, chastened.

They all got to work, pulling out parchment and quills in order to start following Cassiopeia's directions. Harry wasn't at all sure his chart would make any sense, as they had to use things like their age, star sign and parents' names in their calculations. Since Harry was lying about almost all these things (only his star sign was the same, though he and Sirius had decided to change his birthday to the 23rd of July), their arithmantic properties shouldn't apply to him.

"Is it Gemini that's represented by the number three?" Ernie asked Harry, bits of parchment strewn over his desk and a confused expression on his face.

"No idea," Harry said honestly, paging through his copy of 'Numerology and Grammatica' and trying to figure out whether he had to divide by seven or multiply by thirteen in order to get his Soul Number. He really wished wizards used calculators, but instead they had to go through the whole arduous process of long division and counting on their fingers.

"Five," Crabbe grunted, deep in his own calculations.

Ernie quickly scribbled that down. "Thanks," he said.

"What about our Heart Numbers, how do we work those out?" Daphne spoke up from where she sat primly beside her younger sister, her posture perfect as she made notes in beautiful calligraphic script.

"There's no point you trying to calculate it," Draco said snidely. "We all know you don't have a heart." He was clearly still miffed that Daphne had called him 'an immature brat with the brains of a pygmy puff' the week before when he'd thrown a fit over her beating him at chess.

Eight year old Astoria glared at the Malfoy heir. "Don't insult my sister like that!"

"Why should I listen to a baby like you," Draco said, smirking at her.

"Don't call me a baby!" Astoria shrieked. There was a sudden blinding flash and Draco was shoved off his chair as if by an invisible hand. Ernie and Harry snickered at the sight of Draco sprawled inelegantly on the floor, his cheeks flushed in embarrassment and his normally slicked-back hair a complete mess.

"Children!" Cassiopeia exclaimed, rounding on them. "Show some decorum! Draco, get up off the floor, and Astoria, do try and control yourself."

Astoria wore a look of injured innocence. "It was an accident!"

"Yeah right," Draco muttered to Harry as he pulled himself back onto his chair. Harry shared the other boy's scepticism. Astoria seemed rather talented at controlling her magic and that was the third time in as many days that she had unleashed it on Draco after he had made some insulting comment.

"Nevertheless, Astoria, accidental magic only occurs in the presence of uncontrolled emotions." Cassiopeia sounded stern, though Harry thought he could see her lips twitch in amusement. "A witch should remain calm and poised at all times – not resort to temper tantrums."

"Yes, Lady Cassiopeia." Astoria sighed and tried rather unsuccessfully to imitate her older sister's regal bearing and gracious smile. Harry was glad she hadn't entirely managed it, since he found the sight of children trying to act like miniature adults rather creepy.

"Well, if you all have the time to cause trouble then you should be finished with your charts," Cassiopeia said. "Ernie, dear, what numbers did you get?"

"Well my Character and Heart Numbers are both threes," Ernie said, glancing down at his notes. "That means my general personality and my inner hopes and fears are the same; I don't hide any deep dark secrets or anything like that. The number three indicates humour, talent and social ease." He puffed his chest out, clearly pleased to be considered talented.

"Those are your strengths, but what about your weaknesses?" Cassiopeia prompted.

"Er, I jump to conclusions and am easily offended and… superficial." Ernie looked rather cross as the other children smirked at him. Harry found the description to be quite accurate; he still remembered how the Ernie from his world was convinced Harry was the Heir of Slytherin just because he spoke Parseltongue.

"And your Soul Number?" Cassiopeia asked.

"It's a nine, which means I'm loyal and prepared to work tirelessly, but can be arrogant and conceited if things don't go my way." Ernie frowned down at the textbook he was reading from. "Hmm, that must be wrong - I'm never conceited!"

Cassiopeia leaned over his shoulder and checked his calculations. "No, dear, it all seems right to me."

Draco snorted and nudged Harry with his elbow. "Hufflepuff for sure," he whispered.

"Well, Draco, how about you?" Cassiopeia said, turning to him.

Draco turned out to be an eight, which he was pleased to announce indicated the possibility of great success in business, finance and politics. In quieter tones he admitted it also meant he could be jealous, greedy, domineering and power-hungry. According to Cassiopeia the number Eight was one of the most unpredictable numbers and hinted at the potential for reaching either the pinnacle of success or the depths of failure. Draco looked as if he wasn't sure what to think of that.

Daphne had widely opposing soul and heart numbers, signifying that her inner personality was very different from the one she showed the world. Astoria was apparently adventurous and energetic, but also conceited, irresponsible and quick-tempered, which Harry thought fit the younger girl rather well. Crabbe claimed to be loving, amiable and talkative, prone to gossip and laughter. Harry couldn't think of a description less suited to the surly boy, but it soon turned out he had made mistakes in his calculations. When Cassiopeia urged him to try again, Crabbe refused. Since he should have got it right the first time considering he was actually good at Arithmancy, Harry decided the other boy simply wanted to avoid telling everyone his strengths and weaknesses – a surprisingly cunning move.

Harry had expected his own numbers to be completely inaccurate but, eerily, that wasn't the case. Using the imaginary background of Orion Black, Harry's soul number was one, which meant Harry's inner personality should be that of a solitary loner who was strong-willed, secretive and very determined. It also hinted that he was a leader who didn't like taking orders and possessed hidden talents. His outer personality was represented by the number seven, which implied he was outgoing and quick-witted, while also reckless and quick to anger.

Harry was honest enough to admit the description fit him rather well, but wondered at the significance of that fact. He'd done his best to leave Harry Potter behind, true, but he didn't really think of himself as purely Orion Black. Yet magically that appeared to be who he was now - his pretend identity was slowly becoming his real one.

"Well, good work everyone." Cassiopeia smiled round at them all. "I hope you think carefully about what you've just learned. Numerology is an extremely useful branch of magic. Analysing the characters of your friends and enemies can give you a huge advantage, as does having an unbiased understanding of your own personality. Any questions?"

They all stared back at her, unable or unwilling to think of anything to say.

"Does that mean we can go outside and play?" Ernie asked hopefully.

"Yes, I suppose it does," Cassiopeia said, causing her students to leap out of their seats before she could change her mind.

Draco tugged on Harry's robes. "Come on, let's go flying."

"I want to go too!" Astoria said.

"No children allowed," Draco said imperiously.

Astoria looked ready to unleash her accidental magic on him again, but her sister stopped her. "A proper witch doesn't involve herself in such boisterous games," Daphne scolded. "I suggest we stay inside and play chess instead."

"You always say that," Astoria grumbled.

"How about swimming," Harry said. "We can all do that."

This compromise was accepted by all (although grudgingly in Draco's case), and after successfully begging Cassiopeia to transfigure their clothes into bathing suits and cast warming charms on them, they trooped outside. It was still only April and the water was freezing, but with the spells it was just about bearable. Harry hadn't been scared of swimming ever since the Second Task during the Triwizard Tournament, but that didn't mean he was very good at it. He mostly stuck to the shallows as they all splashed around, then retreated farther up the beach where he and Ernie helped Astoria build a sand castle.

"Is that supposed to be Hogwarts?" Draco asked, strutting towards them after winning a water fight against Crabbe.

Astoria proudly surveyed her creation. "Yep! See, this is the Astronomy Tower, and that's the lake… and over here's the Forbidden Forest."

"Hmm, it's actually quite good," Draco said in a tone of exaggerated surprise. "I suppose Orion and Ernie must have done most of the work."

Ernie quickly intervened before Astoria and Draco could get into yet another explosive argument. "Is anyone going to the Beltane festival next week?" he asked, looking to the rest of the group for help in changing the subject. "It's our last chance until we finish Hogwarts, after all."

"Our parents are having a private celebration at home," Daphne answered for herself and Astoria. Despite having gone swimming, her hair was dry and perfectly styled, and there wasn't a single speck of sand on her pale blue swimsuit. Harry, not for the first time, wondered how she managed to maintain such a pristine appearance at all times.

"My family are of course going to attend," Draco said. "Father says the old ways must be followed. The Crabbes are going too, aren't you, Vincent?"

"Uh… yeah," Crabbe said, apparently having to think hard before answering.

"What festival are you talking about?" Harry asked. While he'd heard of Beltane in Astronomy classes at Hogwarts, he didn't remember any mention of a festival.

They all turned to stare at him in varying degrees of disbelief. Harry didn't know why they were so surprised – he thought they should be used to him asking stupid questions by now.

Daphne tilted her head in question. "You mean you don't know? Don't they celebrate Beltane in France?"

"Er, not really," Harry said, though he had no idea whether or not that was true.

"Mother has always said the French are ignorant savages. It seems she's right," Daphne remarked in clear disdain.

Draco frowned at her. "My ancestors came from France."

"I guessed as much," Daphne said.

"And what's that supposed to mean?" Draco demanded.

"Anyway," Ernie said loudly. "The Beltane festival starts on the evening of the thirtieth of April and lasts until the next sundown on the first day of May. Wizards and Witches from all over the country get together and celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of summer."

Draco must have decided he preferred lecturing Harry over glaring at Daphne, since he continued the explanation. "It's one of the old Pagan rituals of renewal and rebirth," he said. "Like Samhain and Yule and stuff. Magic is at its strongest on those days. I think it's got something to do with the movement of the sun and the stars and all that."

"Everyone says it's great fun," Astoria told Harry with a wistful sigh. "I wish mum and dad would let me go."

"Mother says it isn't proper for young witches to attend public gatherings. Such events are full of Undesirables and encourage rowdy behaviour," Daphne said, causing her younger sister to huff and roll her eyes.

-.-.-

It turned out Harry and Sirius were going to the festival. Sirius declared that after spending years either locked up in Azkaban or hunted by Dark Lords, they both deserved a night to relax and simply have fun. Harry was happy to agree with such excellent reasoning; after hearing his classmates describe the delights of previous celebrations, he was impatient to experience it for himself - especially since he wouldn't be able to once he began attending Hogwarts. Sirius wrote to Andromeda and suggested that she and Ted Tonks join them, and at some point Remus also got invited along. Harry felt a little out of place as a supposed child among a group of adults, but any awkwardness disappeared as soon as they reached the festival grounds.

The celebration was held on an unplottable hillside somewhere in the north of England. Coloured lanterns hung in the sky, softly illuminating the hordes of wizards and witches who had gathered to celebrate. Musicians were playing on a small stage, the music amplified by sonorous spells so that the beat thrummed through the crowd. Everyone was dressed in brightly coloured robes and some of the younger witches wore flowers braided in their hair. Numerous stalls had been set up on the grass, selling charm bracelets and other magical trinkets as well as serving food and drink to those sitting at several long wooden tables. Up on the top of the hill two huge bonfires were burning, the smoke spiralling up into the cloudless night sky.

"It's said to bring good fortune if you dance between the fires," Sirius told Harry, leaning in to be heard over the music and the laughter of the crowd.

"It's especially lucky if you do so with a certain special someone," Andromeda added and shared a loving look with her husband. Harry found it strange to see her so happy; with her face unlined from grief and her expression light-hearted and smiling, any resemblance she had with her sister Bellatrix disappeared.

"I remember the first time I attended the Beltane festival with you, just after we left school," Ted reminisced. "We danced until dawn."

"And I consider us both very lucky," Andromeda said with a bright smile. The couple exchanged a tender kiss before Andromeda turned her attention to Sirius and Remus. "Well boys, shouldn't you two be finding partners to dance with? There are plenty to choose from." She gestured towards a nearby group of witches, all of whom were eying Sirius in open appreciation.

Sirius grinned and winked roguishly at them, making them giggle and blush. Then he sighed. "Too young," he said regretfully. "Though I sure wouldn't mind getting lucky tonight!"

"Sirius!" Remus exclaimed, glancing meaningfully down at Harry.

"Orion's old enough to know about the quills and the inkpots, Remus." Sirius waved one hand in a dismissive gesture. "Now if you don't mind, I think I just spotted Hestia Jones over at the refreshment stand. Orion, you'll be all right if I head off for a bit, won't you?"

"I'll be fine, go ahead." Harry was quick to encourage him, knowing the older wizard hadn't had an opportunity for a night of fun in close to a decade. Sirius didn't need telling twice - he wended his way through the crowd of dancers until he reached Hestia and soon had her laughing and flirting with him.

Remus stared after him. "I really don't know how he does it," he said.

"It's the Black family charisma," Ted told him solemnly. "Can't stand most of them, but you have to admit the Blacks can charm the pants off anyone if they try."

"Thank you, darling," Andromeda said. "You're not too bad yourself."

"What about you, Orion, any pretty girl caught your fancy?" Ted nudged Harry with a sly grin. "How about dancing with a witch or two?"

Harry knew any normal ten year old boy would blush furiously at the suggestion, but he only felt disgusted at the idea of having a crush on someone so much younger than himself. "No!" he quickly denied.

The adults wouldn't stop teasing him though and eventually Harry surrendered and began scanning the crowd for witches he was prepared to dance with. He noticed Madam Rosmerta selling butterbeers and firewhisky (way too old for him), and the Patil twins twirling around in time to the music (Harry really didn't want a repeat of the dreadful Yule Ball), and lots of other soon-to-be Hogwarts students - Lavender Brown, Susan Bones, Millicent Bulstrode. It seemed to Harry as if half the wizarding world had turned up for the festival and he didn't feel like dancing with a single one of them.

It was with great relief that Harry finally caught sight of Luna Lovegood and her father Xenophilius amongst the crowd. He recognised them immediately, mostly because they were both wearing bright yellow robes and waving their arms around their heads out of sync with the music. Harry grinned at the sight and – after promising Remus he'd stay within sight – headed off in their direction. He didn't feel at all hesitant in asking Luna to dance, since he was sure she wouldn't immediately jump to thoughts of true love and romance as other witches her age would. Harry shuddered to imagine how a nine-year old Ginny Weasley would behave. Harry had enjoyed his on-again-off-again relationship with the older Ginny, but her obvious crush on him as a child had been the cause of a lot of embarrassment. He was still filled with horror every time he remembered the singing Valentine she'd sent him.

"Hullo," Harry said with a bright smile as he came to a halt in front of Luna. "Would you like to dance with me?"

"That would be lovely," Luna said, and then dispelled the brief impression of normalcy by adding, "Even though you're covered in Gibbering Humdingers."

"Er, what are they?" Harry hadn't heard of that particular imaginary creature before.

"Oh, they're small creatures with brightly coloured fur," Luna said conversationally. "They're very secretive and often pretend to be simple Grundlebugs in order to confuse their enemies."

"Oh," Harry said. He wondered if she was just being her crazy self or was implying something deeper. With Luna one could never know for sure. Then he suddenly remembered they hadn't been introduced. "I'm Orion Black by the way."

"My name's Luna Lovegood," Luna replied. "But some people call me Loony."

Harry frowned, angry that she had already been dubbed by that insulting nickname. Luna herself looked supremely unconcerned by the whole thing. "Uh, well, I'll just call you Luna if that's all right," Harry said. Only Luna could make him feel so awkward with only a few words, Harry thought fondly.

Luna seemed to decide the time for conversation was over as she grabbed Harry's hand and pulled him over to join the other dancers circling the bonfires. There seemed to be steps that everyone else knew, causing Harry to stumble a few times as he rather unsuccessfully tried to follow along. Luna didn't appear to mind though, and she and Harry were soon laughing and kicking up their heels as they twirled around in dizzying circles. All awkwardness and hesitation inexplicably disappeared, leaving Harry happy to keep switching partners for hours, dancing with every girl he even vaguely recognised and several he didn't. In a small corner of his mind he noticed he was behaving rather uncharacteristically, but due to the joyful emotions coursing through him he couldn't bring himself to care.

Finally Harry collapsed down in exhaustion beside Remus at one of the wooden tables, a giddy smile on his face. "Wow, I feel almost drunk!"

"That's the magic you're feeling," Remus told him with an amused smile. "It's particularly strong on Beltane – protection spells and the like are easier to cast, and Seers claim their powers are stronger tonight than on any other night of the year."

"Is that really true?" Harry was doubtful, remembering Trelawney's unconvincing lectures on the subject of Divination. They left him unprepared to trust any claims she or others like her might make about their so-called 'Inner Eye'.

"Well, no one can say for sure," Remus admitted. "Still, everyone knows wild magic rises on nights like these, especially in the presence of strong emotions from hundreds of witches and wizards. It's not quite accidental magic, but something deeper - it's there and it definitely affects us though."

"So that's why I feel so euphoric and danced for so long," Harry realised. Now that he knew to pay attention he could sense the huge upsurge of magic, fuelled by the happy and excited wizards and witches surrounding him.

As he concentrated the magic suddenly seemed to shift only moments before angry shouts broke out nearby. Harry instinctively leaped to his feet and turned towards the disturbance, drawing his birch wand as he did so. A group of wizards also had their wands out, apparently having decided to pick a fight with a young couple dressed in ragged robes and muggle trainers.

"Half-breeds and Mudbloods!" one of the wizards spat, his voice slurred and his body swaying. He'd clearly had a few too many of Madame Rosmerta's Firewhiskies. "Get lost! We don't want your sort here!"

"Yeah, magic's wasted on the likes of you!" His companions jeered loudly while one of them shot a cutting curse at the couple they were threatening. It hit the young witch in the face, slicing her cheek open and causing her to cry out in pain. Her boyfriend bellowed in anger and retaliated - a jet of flames leapt from his wand and set the attacking wizard's robes on fire.

From there it devolved into an all-out brawl, with hexes and curses flying thick and fast. The spells often missed their intended targets and hit innocent bystanders, many of whom then entered the fight, adding to the chaos. Angry shouts and hurried incantations for shield charms rang out as the festival-goers scrambled to react to the escalating violence. Mothers grabbed their crying children and pulled them out of danger, while those few witches and wizards who were sober enough apparated away to safety.

"Orion, get back!" Remus ordered, dragging Harry away from the spell-fire. Harry struggled to escape his grip, but the werewolf was much stronger than he was. "We need to find the others," Remus said, his eyes anxiously scanning the crowd. He sighed in relief when he spotted Ted and Andromeda pushing their way towards them through the panicked throng.

"Remus, Orion! Thank Merlin you're safe!" Andromeda exclaimed as soon as she reached them. "Where's Sirius?"

As she spoke Aurors began apparating onto the scene, blasts of red light shooting from their wands as they added their stunning spells to the fray.

"There, look!" Harry pointed, catching sight of Sirius and Hestia fighting alongside the Aurors. He held his wand in one tightly clenched fist as he watched the brawlers be gradually subdued. He knew the fight was no way near as dangerous as any he'd experienced against the Death Eaters and other Dark supporters, but his instincts didn't agree. He wanted to get out there and help, never mind that he was supposed to be a child and that his assistance wasn't necessary. Harry had never been the sort to sit quietly on the side-lines.

Eventually calm was restored without his help. Bruised and bloodied wizards and witches were portkeyed to Saint Mungo's, while the worst offenders were rounded up by Aurors and sent off to the Ministry holding cells. Other ministry officials fanned out through the crowd, asking witnesses for their statements and helping vendors cast reparo charms to fix the wide-spread destruction.

Sirius left Hestia's side to join Harry and the others. "Orion, are you all right?" he asked, checking him for injuries.

"Don't worry, dad, I'm fine," Harry said. "You're the one who's been fighting."

"And we're very grateful for it, Sirius," said a middle-aged wizard in red Auror robes. Harry thought he looked vaguely familiar, but couldn't place him. "It was good to have you watching our backs tonight."

"Thanks, Frank," Sirius said with a genuine smile. "Not that you really needed my help against a bunch of angry drunks."

"They're not exactly Dark Wizards, no, but these sorts of incidents are getting more and more common." The stranger shook his head despairingly. "We Aurors have our work cut out for us. By the way, I hear Amelia's sent you an open invitation to rejoin the squad. Come to a decision on that yet?"

Sirius stared around at the remains of the fight. "After tonight I'm leaning towards a yes."

"Good to hear. We could really use your help," the Auror said, clapping Sirius on the back. "I've got to go report this mess to Mad-Eye, but I hope to see you at the Ministry soon enough." They shook hands before the other wizard strode off to join his colleagues.

"Sirius, are you really thinking of joining back up with the Aurors?" Andromeda asked as soon as the Auror was out of earshot.

"I am," Sirius said. "I've got to do something with my time once this one's off at school." He ruffled Harry's hair. "Why?"

"Nymphadora's set her heart on becoming an Auror trainee as soon as she finishes school," Andromeda said carefully. "You know how it is though… it's very difficult for a half-blood like her to get into the program. Unfortunately I don't really know anyone in the department who would be prepared to use their influence to give her a chance."

Sirius raised an eyebrow. "Except for me, I suppose."

"Well… yes," Andromeda said with a note of apology in her voice.

Sirius shrugged in response. "All right, I'll try and put in a good word for her once she sends in her application. Even if I decide not to join the squad, I'm sure Frank'll agree to help. Longbottom's a good man."

Harry did a double take at the name, suddenly realising where he recognised the stranger from. He could hardly believe the healthy and hearty Auror Sirius had just spoken to was really Frank Longbottom, a man Harry had last seen lying unresponsive in a hospital bed at Saint Mungo's. His thoughts immediately turned to Neville and how he had turned out after growing up with a proper father, which in turn lead him to wonder whether Alice Longbottom was also alive and in full possession of her sanity. Trying to sort out all the causes and effects made his head ache.

Harry had thought he'd managed to accustom himself to meeting people who were dead in his old world, but now he realised that was nothing more than wishful thinking. Despite having lived in this new world for over three months, he was still encountering people and events that left him shaken. He found it exhausting trying to take every difference into account without ever betraying his shock at all the changes. At least Luna was the same as ever, which was a comfort - Harry's conversation with her had been reassuringly familiar in it's oddity.

Harry shook himself out of his thoughts as the music started up again and the crowd went back to eating, drinking and dancing. Apparently brawls really were quite common, since none of the witches and wizards appeared to pay the disturbance any more mind. Once the last of the Aurors left, everyone returned to enjoying themselves. Ted and Andromeda began slow dancing amongst the crowd, while Remus started a discussion on spell theory with a bespectacled wizard and Sirius flirted shamelessly with every witch in the vicinity. He was the target of even more admiring looks for his part in ending the fight and was clearly loving all the attention.

Harry grinned and left them all to it, heading over to where he spotted Draco and Crabbe at a table with several other pureblood children. They greeted him happily and offered him some of their food, which mostly consisted of sweets. With a shrug he dug into a plate of pumpkin cake and began chatting with the children he used to hate. He was constantly being reminded that things were different in this world and he was trying to take the lesson to heart. Above all he was determined to make the most of his new life and the freedom that came with it. Living with the Dursleys and growing up under the threat of Voldemort, Harry had had few opportunities to explore wizarding society - which made his first Beltane festival truly a night to remember.

Chapter Text

 

The Daily Prophet

Surprise Move by the House of Black

Article by Ernest Sackbridge, Political Correspondent

0

In an audience before the assembled Wizengamot yesterday evening, Paterfamilias

Arcturus Black declared his grandson Sirius Black to be his magical and legal heir.

During the nine long years Sirius Black spent wrongfully incarcerated in the Fortress

of Azkaban, the future of the Noble and Ancient House of Black was left in question.

His long overdue release in February of this year has ensured that the name of

Black will continue into the next generations.

0

"I am immensely proud of my grandson," Paterfamilias Black stated in his official

address. "He is an extraordinary wizard who has overcome challenges that would

have defeated almost any other man. I am comforted to know the House of Black

will be in such good hands after my passing."

0

The Ancient and Noble House of Black is one of the oldest lineages left in Britain. Its

members can trace their magical antecedents back to the sixth century and have

often been amongst the most talented of their generations. Shockingly, Sirius Black

has been known to be openly disrespectful of his heritage and many Wizengamot

members remain unconvinced of his suitability for the position as Head of such an

honourable Family.

0

"Madness, utter madness!" says Melchior Parkinson, head of the Office of

Misinformation. "I don't know what Arcturus is thinking, naming that irresponsible

Blood-Traitor as his heir. The boy's a complete menace!"

0

Others have taken a different view and were quick to voice their support for Paterfamilias

Black's decision. "I am pleased to see that Black has turned away from his reckless

and impulsive ways and is finally prepared to accept the duties he owes his House

and name," Paterfamilias Lucius Malfoy stated in an interview given soon after the

announcement was made.

0

Director Amelia Bones had even warmer praise for Mr Black, who as of last week

was reinstated in his previous capacity as Senior Auror in the Department of

Magical Law Enforcement. Yet while Director Bones spoke openly of her respect and

admiration for Mr Black's character and skills, several of Mr Black's new colleagues

expressed concerns over his fitness for the post.

0

"Black's been out of the game for close to a decade," Auror Scrimgeour said when

asked for his opinion on Director Bones' controversial decision. "After that long in

Azkaban I doubt he's up to the pressure of the job."

0

Many agree it is scarcely credible that anyone could retain their sanity after so

many years spent surrounded by the feared Dementors of Azkaban. Nevertheless,

Mr Black has been declared fit by healers of Saint Mungo's Hospital for Magical

Maladies and Injuries, and so far has acquitted himself well in his career. During the

violent scuffle at this year's Beltane celebrations, Mr Black was one of the first on

the scene to subdue the fighters and was instrumental in preventing any serious

injuries amongst the hundreds of innocent wizards and witches attending the

festival.

0

"I am honoured by the trust my Paterfamilias has placed in me and I will do my

utmost to fulfil my responsibilities to my family," Sirius Black told reporters. "Not

only in my capacity as future Head of the House of Black, but also as the father of

my ten year old son. Now that the truth of Peter Pettigrew's betrayal has come to

light, I intend to use my freedom to make up for lost time spent with my family, as

well as to ensure that such a hideous miscarriage of justice will never again be allowed

to occur."

0

Such sentiments, if sincere, can only be admired and we here at the Daily Prophet

wish Mr Black well in his endeavours. It certainly seems as if Mr Black has set aside

his previous defiance of tradition and is ready to take his place amongst the Noble

and Ancient families of the Wizarding World.

0

000

Harry tossed the newspaper onto the kitchen table. A photo of Sirius in formal robes smirked up at him from the cover. The real wizard - looking much more groggy and dishevelled - sat opposite him, clutching a cup of coffee in one hand and stifling a yawn with the other.

Harry smiled teasingly at him. "It seems you've become a productive member of society at last, Sirius! But seriously, this is great - you somehow managed to come across as a dependable family man with strong convictions, who has endured years of suffering due to the Ministry of Magic's corrupt legal system. That and the picture of you winking at the camera will make every housewife reading this fall in love with you. It's perfect."

"Why the tone of surprise? I always make a good impression!" Sirius huffed in mock indignation. "Anyway, I had to do something to stop everyone thinking I'm still half-mad from my stay in Azkaban - it's been a nightmare at work. Scrimgeour especially has been a right pain in the arse. He's angry that he wasn't consulted about the decision to reinstate me."

"Why should he've been? Isn't Mad-Eye still the Head of the Auror Office?" Harry picked up his fork and began digging into the breakfast prepared for them by Dobby – who had been proudly wearing three pairs of socks and some strange sort of tweed jacket.

"Yeah, but Fudge is doing his best to force him into retirement," Sirius explained, taking a sip of his morning coffee. "So Scrimgeour's been busy manoeuvring for the job. He's an ambitious prat - not from one of the more prominent families, but good at getting in with the people who are."

"I can believe that," Harry said. "He became Minister for Magic back in my old world after the Ministry finally admitted Voldemort was back. People panicked and demanded someone with experience hunting Dark Wizards take the job."

"Scrimgeour as Minister?" Sirius looked appalled. "That's something we have to make absolutely certain never happens in this world, got it?"

Harry made a face. "Yeah, I never liked him either. D'you think you'd have a chance of becoming Head Auror instead of him? I mean, it would be really useful if you had more influence in the Department of Law Enforcement. You could make some real changes."

"It depends on when Moody retires," Sirius said thoughtfully. "I'd need several more years of experience before Amelia Bones would even consider putting me in charge of the Auror Office. On the other hand, apart from Scrimgeour there's no other Auror with the necessary political contacts for such a promotion. Well, there's Frank Longbottom, but he'd never agree to a job that puts him behind a desk all day."

Harry nodded his understanding. After the Beltane festival he'd asked Sirius about this world's Frank Longbottom. Apparently his wife Alice had been killed by Death Eaters only a week before Voldemort fell. The Death Eaters responsible had been caught and sentenced to Azkaban, but that hadn't stopped Longbottom from being single-minded in his pursuit of all Dark Wizards ever since. Harry had been sad to hear that Neville had grown up without a mother, but was curious to know how the boy's different upbringing would change him from the timid Gryffindor he'd known. The story had at least answered another question he'd been wondering about; Bellatrix Lestrange had never tortured anyone into insanity in this world, which made Harry rather more understanding of Sirius' tolerance of the witch.

"Well, Arcturus would probably support you if you tried to get the job, right?" Harry's thoughts drifted to their stern Paterfamilias. "Now that he's taken the step of naming you as his official heir and everything."

"No doubt," Sirius agreed. "He's made it clear he expects me to renounce my blood-traitor ways and do my part in upholding the family name, but in return he'd probably be willing to use his influence in the Ministry to my advantage."

"I'm still surprised he accepted you so soon. I thought you'd have to spend years sucking up to him."

"Hmm, I thought so too," Sirius said, then hesitated a little before continuing. "No doubt there's some hidden angle I'm missing. I just hope he's not ill or something. If he is..."

"It would explain why he's so eager to name an heir," Harry finished for him. He was silent for a while, thinking over the implications. "You know, while it would be useful if you were actually the Head of the House of Black, I have to say I really hope you're wrong. I don't want Arcturus to die anytime soon. It's kind of nice having a great-grandfather."

"Well as I said - this is all just speculation," Sirius reminded him.

"Good," Harry said. "I'd sort of miss him, even if he does lecture me on my responsibilities at every opportunity - responsibilities which basically amount to getting myself sorted into Slytherin come September."

"Ha, that doesn't surprise me." Sirius reached over to help himself to another cup of coffee. "He said the same to me before I started school - not that I ever had any intention of listening to him."

Harry bit his lip as he thought about his upcoming sorting. "Sirius... would you be very disappointed if I don't get into Gryffindor?"

He didn't know why he felt so anxious as he waited for Sirius' answer. He shouldn't need the approval of the grown-ups around him; he was an independent adult in mind if not in body and in any case it was likely that he'd be sorted back into Gryffindor. Yet over the months Harry had spent as Orion Black, Sirius' opinion had become more important to him than anyone else's had ever been. Harry supposed that was what it felt like to not want to disappoint a parent.

"Well," Sirius said slowly, clearly mulling over how to answer. "I suppose I'd quite like you to be in Gryffindor like I was. Still, you've already been sorted there once. Experiencing Hogwarts as a member of another House might be an interesting change and could stop you from being too bored. Honestly, I don't mind where you end up."

Harry smiled in relief, then rolled his eyes at himself. Yet he couldn't deny being reassured by Sirius' words.

"I can't believe I'm actually saying this," Sirius continued, "but it might be a good idea to go along with Arcturus' orders to get into Slytherin. Your standing in the family is still on shaky ground, what with you being known as illegitimate and everything. Becoming a Slytherin would make the family more likely to accept you as a proper Black."

Harry considered that and then shrugged. "You've got a point... but I can't do much until I actually try on the Sorting Hat and find out where it wants to put me. I'll just have to wait and see - at this stage any of the Houses are a possibility. Well, except for Ravenclaw - I don't think I'll ever be the studious type."

-.-.-

Harry tried to read the Daily Prophet every morning over the summer, keeping an eye out for any articles mentioning a break in at Gringotts - although considering all the other differences between Harry's old world and the one he now found himself in, he didn't really expect Voldemort to steal the Philosopher's Stone. It relied on too many chance occurrences like Dumbledore bringing the Stone to Hogwarts, Quirrell getting it into his head to visit Albania, or Voldemort possessing him and deciding to use the Elixir of Life rather than some other method of regaining a body. Events were unlikely to progress exactly the same way a second time.

Harry had no real way of knowing what Voldemort was up to or of predicting what he'd do next. In the end he gave up even trying, realising he'd drive himself crazy with endless speculations if he dwelled too much on the Dark Lord's possible plans. Instead he decided to simply enjoy the last few months of summer before he started Hogwarts.

As part of his resolution to have fun while he could, at the beginning of June Harry attended Draco's birthday party – a pretentious event held in Malfoy Manor and attended by every wealthy Pureblood family who had children even vaguely similar in age. Draco's huge pile of presents reminded Harry strongly of Dudley, though his new cousin could at least count them properly. For the guests there were magical games and broomstick competitions, all with ridiculously expensive prizes. Harry won a snake statue made of solid silver for his flying and waited for a jealous outburst from Draco who had come second place, but apart from some scowling the blond let it go surprisingly easily. Maybe a whole day dedicated to him was enough for even Draco's ego.

In comparison, Harry's birthday (both his real and his made-up one) went by rather unremarked by his extended family. The Quidditch World Cup was being held in wizarding Constantinople over the summer, and Sirius had bought tickets to the semi-final (Abyssinia versus Wales – Wales lost). The match started on the 22nd of July and lasted over a week, so Harry celebrated his birthday in the stands of the Quidditch Stadium, surrounded by screaming Quidditch fanatics. It was actually one of the best birthdays Harry remembered having; sitting next to Sirius with an ice-cream cone in one hand and a butterbeer in the other, basking in the hot summer sun and cheering loudly every time Wales scored a goal. Harry was tanned and smiling by the time he and Sirius portkeyed back to London after the exhausted Abyssinian Seeker finally managed to catch the Snitch, ending the match at 8150 points to 7990.

Harry ended up regretting the match hadn't lasted even longer when he showed up at Black Manor for his lessons. Draco had apparently listened to the commentary broadcast of the game over the Wizarding Wireless Network, and alternated between giving Harry the cold shoulder out of jealousy and interrogating him over each individual move the players had made. The other students were just as annoying with their childish squabbling and Cassiopeia was less than pleased with Harry for missing so many lessons, particularly since he was already behind the rest of the class in some subjects. In revenge she relentlessly drilled him in Latin verb conjugations and made him memorise several chapters of 'Nature's Nobility: A Wizarding Genealogy' – a book that Harry quickly decided had to be one of the most boring ever written, and that was counting 'Hogwarts: A History'.

Spending so much time with children was exhausting and Harry considered asking Sirius to get him out of the lessons, but in the end decided it would be good practice. Once he was at Hogwarts he'd be constantly pretending to be eleven years old and wouldn't even have Sirius to complain to. He just hoped Cassiopeia wouldn't spend the whole month of July on Latin grammar.

Fortunately for Harry's sanity, once the Hogwarts letters were sent out and the students (except for Astoria) all had wands, Cassiopeia began lecturing them in proper wandcare and teaching them a few simple household spells. Draco predictably sneered, declaring such things to be witches' work and therefore beneath him, but Harry thought the spells to iron clothing and polish shoes were quite useful and wished he'd learnt them before – it might have spared him several detentions from Snape for being 'scruffily dressed'.

As Harry stood on the platform 9 and ¾ on September the 1st, ready to begin his Hogwarts schooling all over again, he realised just how ignorant he had been the first time round. No matter what Ron had told Harry during his first train ride, children from wizard families knew lots of magic; not necessarily any of the spells they would later learn at Hogwarts, but things like the proper way to grow magical plants or how to land on their feet when using a portkey. These were important skills that all wizard parents imparted to their children, but they were considered basic general knowledge and so not worth teaching as part of the Hogwart's curriculum - which meant that even if a muggleborn student like Hermione memorised all their textbooks, they would still be at a disadvantage.

"You've got everything, haven't you?" Sirius checked. "All your schoolbooks and potions ingredients, as well as money for the train?"

"Yes, Sirius," Harry said, having been asked similar questions all morning.

"Hey, I've never done this before you know," Sirius defended himself. "It's scary, sending my son off to Hogwarts all alone. And yes, before you say anything, I know you can take care of yourself, but that's not the point."

"It's strange for me too," Harry admitted. "This is the first time I've had any family seeing me off."

Sirius' face darkened as it always did at any mention of the Dursleys, but then he purposefully put on a cheerful smile. "Well, this time you do. I'm going to miss you, kiddo."

"I'm going to miss you, too," Harry said and, before he could over-think things, stepped forward to give Sirius a hug.

"Enjoy yourself, Orion," Sirius whispered in his ear. "Don't let what happened to you in your old world drag you down, all right?"

"All right," Harry said, his voice muffled by the fabric of Sirius' robes.

"Good then, let's get you onto the train. It'll be leaving soon," Sirius said briskly. His eyes were suspiciously shiny as he helped Harry lift his luggage onto the gleaming scarlet engine and then stood waving goodbye as the train pulled out of the station.

Harry leant out of one of the carriage windows and shouted to be heard over the noise of the engine. "Bye, Dad!"

He kept waving until the platform was completely out of sight, for the first time ever sad to be heading off to Hogwarts. Heaving a heavy sigh, Harry picked up his trunk and began making his way down the train, nodding greetings as he passed. He saw many students he recognized and quite a few he'd already met, and everything seemed very similar to how it had been the first time round. Lee Jordan was surrounded by a crowd of students all wanting a glimpse of his giant tarantula, prefects like Percy Weasley and Penelope Clearwater were patrolling the corridors, and in one compartment Harry caught sight of Ron being teased by the Weasley twins. It was strange seeing the two identical boys again and hearing them finish each other's sentences – in Harry's old world George had never recovered from losing Fred.

Harry didn't stop though and instead kept moving until he found one specific first year. A fond smile crossed his face as he saw an impossibly young and bushy-haired Hermione Granger sitting alone in one of the compartments, her nose buried in a book.

"Hello," he said, knocking on the open compartment door to catch her attention. "D'you mind if I join you?"

She looked up with an expression of shy enthusiasm. "Oh! No, not at all!"

"Thanks!" Harry hauled his trunk up into the overhead storage space before sitting down in the seat opposite her.

"Are you a first year, too?" Hermione asked inquisitively, but gave him no time to answer. "I was ever so excited when I got my letter. Hogwarts is supposed to be the best school of magic in the country! My name's Hermione Granger by the way, who are you?"

Harry chuckled lightly. "Yes, I'm a first year and my name's Orion Black."

"Pleased to meet you," Hermione said and held her hand out to be shaken.

Not very long ago Harry would have considered it to be a perfectly normal gesture, but now, after months of etiquette lessons and full-time immersion in the wizarding world, he couldn't help but be slightly shocked.

"Er, it's not considered polite for a witch to shake hands with a wizard," Harry told her gently, not going into the whole lengthy explanation of wizarding protocol. It wasn't really the sort of thing you talked about with someone you'd just met.

"Oh!" Hermione looked mortified as she quickly dropped her hand into her lap. "That wasn't in any of the books I bought from Flourish and Blotts."

"Hmm, it wouldn't be, since wizarding children learn that sort of thing from their parents," Harry said sympathetically, thinking back to his own experiences. "It's rather hard on the students who aren't raised in the magical world. I assume you're muggleborn?"

Hermione looked worried at the idea of not knowing absolutely everything there was to know about the wizarding world. "Yes, both my parents are dentists. How am I supposed to learn if there aren't any books on the subject?"

"I'm sure you'll quickly pick things up from the other students," Harry comforted her, thinking that if anyone could it would be Hermione. "Don't worry about it too much. And if you ever have any questions, feel free to hunt me down."

"Thanks. Are your parents magical then?"

"Yep, I'm a pureblood." Harry nodded. "From one of the old wizarding families, which means that I've been having lessons in manners and etiquette for months now. Until recently I was living with my mum in France and never really had to know any of that stuff, so I sort of know how you feel."

Hermione smiled at him, but still looked anxious enough for Harry to search for a topic to distract her.

"How did your parents take it when your acceptance letter arrived?" Harry had wondered about that for years. His Hermione had seemed to have a rather odd relationship with her family, hardly ever seeing them and spending most of her holidays at the Burrow. She had even taken the drastic step of wiping their memories and sending them off to Australia instead of just asking them to leave the country.

"Well they were shocked at first of course," Hemione said. "They thought it must be some sort of joke, but the Muggle Liason Officer from the Ministry visited and proved that it was all true and that I really was a witch. They were relieved then, I think, since it explained a lot of the odd things that kept happening around me while I was growing up."

"Yeah, I imagine accidental magic can be quite scary if you don't know what it is." Harry spoke from experience, remembering how confused he'd been as a child.

"Of course I'm ever so excited at the thought of learning real magic. I've tried a couple of spells already and they've all worked, but it's not the same as being taught by proper teachers, is it? I can't wait to get to Hogwarts. I find it absolutely fascinating to think there's a whole school dedicated to magic not to mention an entire world that no one knows about!" Hermione said very fast and all in one breath.

Harry blinked, having forgotten how overwhelming Hermione had been as an eleven year old. "Yes, well, it's true muggles don't know about the magical world, but you'll soon find that ignorance goes both ways. Most wizards keep themselves so isolated from the muggle world that they have no idea how to do even simple things like using muggle money or hailing a taxi, and don't even know what a telephone is."

"Really?"

"Wizards have their own ways of doing things," Harry said with a shrug. "We use spells for almost everything and there's not much point in us knowing about muggle technology, since it doesn't work around high concentrations of magic."

"Oh yes, I read about that in Hogwarts: A History," Hermione said, making Harry grin.

They chatted for a bit a longer, slowly growing more comfortable as they got to know each other. When the witch with the sweet trolley passed by, Harry bought enough chocolate frogs and pumpkin pasties for the two of them to share and then spent ages persuading Hermione to try some. In the end she gave in, lured by the chance to study the famous wizards and witches cards.

Harry was just about to suggest a game of exploding snap to pass the time, when the compartment door slid open and Draco appeared in the doorway with Crabbe at his side. Harry was surprised not to see Goyle with them.

"Orion! There you are. I've been looking all over for you," Draco said, stepping inside.

"Hey, guys. Good to see you both," Harry said with a smile. "This is Hermione Granger by the way. Hermione, these are distant cousins of mine - Draco Malfoy and Vincent Crabbe."

Draco's eyes narrowed as he gave the bushy-haired girl a scrutinising look. "Granger? I haven't heard of your surname."

"You wouldn't have, she's muggleborn," Harry answered for her since Hermione didn't seem to know quite how to respond to such a statement.

Draco immediately turned up his nose in disgust. "Really Orion, what are doing consorting with a mudblood? What would Grandmother Melania say?"

"Listen, Draco," Harry said firmly, locking gazes with the other boy. "You're my cousin and I don't want to get into a big argument with you since family is important to me. However, I won't let you dictate who I spend time with, nor will I let you insult my friends."

"I can't believe I'm related to such a muggle-lover," Draco grumbled.

"I don't love muggles," Harry corrected him. "I just don't hate them. They have their world and we have ours, which is how it should be. As for my opinion on muggleborns… I try to judge people by their abilities instead of who they're related to. You should be careful you know, Draco. The people you look down on now might end up more powerful than you some day."

"This is that whole Aunt Andromeda thing all over again, isn't it?" Draco said exasperatedly.

"Yeah, kind of," Harry agreed.

"Fine then. I had been about to ask if you wanted to join Ernie and me in our compartment, but I'll leave you with your precious muggleborn friend instead." Draco spun round and flounced out of the compartment. Crabbe waited long enough to give Harry a short nod before lumbering after him.

Harry sighed and turned back to Hermione. "Sorry about that. Some of my family can be a bit… prejudiced."

"That's all right, you're not responsible for their behaviour," Hermione said, although she sounded a bit hesitant. "Orion, what does mudblood mean?"

"Ah well..." Harry wished she hadn't been exposed to such an ugly world so early in her time at Hogwarts. "It's a really offensive term for muggleborns. Some Purebloods consider muggle blood to be dirty blood. They say it muddies the magical bloodlines and well, they sort of have a point there, but –"

"How can you say that? That's blatant discrimination!" Hermione interrupted him, appalled.

Harry awkwardly attempted to clarify what he'd said. "Muggleborns have a different sort of magic to purebloods. Though as I was trying to say before, that doesn't mean they're any less powerful or intelligent or anything. Seriously, I mean that. Don't let anyone convince you that you're inferior just because you have muggle parents, because it's blatantly untrue."

He decided now wasn't a good time to bring up everything Sirius had told him about magical affinities and how the introduction of a muggleborn's magic into an ancient bloodline often meant magical talents were lost. He wasn't certain he would be able to explain without Hermione throwing him out of the compartment in outrage.

"Oh, okay," Hermione said, mollified. "Do a lot of wizards think that way?"

"A lot of them do," Harry admitted. "Not so much those who're connected to the muggle world in some way, but the old pureblood families… yeah, most of them are convinced they're better than muggleborns and half-bloods. That sort of mentality isn't as prevalent as it used to be though. During the war it was way worse."

"I read about that!" Hermione perked up at the chance to show off her knowledge. "Didn't You-Know-Who and his supporters follow an ideology of Pureblood Supremacy?" Then she paused as if she'd just understood what she'd said. "Oh," she said in a small voice. "That's what you mean, isn't it? Purebloods thinking they're better than everyone else. The book made it seem as if it was a really extreme idea that no reasonable person would ever agree with."

"Voldemort's methods were certainly extreme. He killed and tortured countless numbers of people. That's really what made wizard society as a whole turn against him. The ideas he spouted were actually quite popular at first."

"That's terrible!"

Harry shrugged, used to the darker realities of the Wizarding World. "I know, but it's human nature. Prejudice turns up in every society. Just think of Voldemort as the magical world's Hitler."

"I suppose..." Hermione seemed upset over the destruction of her view of the wizarding world as an idyllic wonderland. "You must be from one of those prejudiced old families then, considering your cousin Draco."

"Yeah, I am. My dad never agreed with all that stuff, but his brother and cousin and various other relatives were loyal Death Eaters during the war. Some of them are still locked up in Azkaban – that's the wizarding prison," Harry told her.

"They really supported You-Know-Who?" Hermione stared at him incredulously. "I thought only Dark Wizards…"

Harry sighed. "Yeah, pretty much. Look, I'll tell you what. How about we agree that I won't care about your muggle family so long as you don't hold my snobbish relatives against me? That way we can still be good friends."

"F-friends?" Hermione stuttered in amazement. "I mean, I'd love to be… but how can you be sure you like me after only one short train journey?"

"I have a sixth sense about people," Harry said with a grin. "So, how about that game of exploding snap?"

-.-.-

Several hours later the Hogwarts Express finally pulled into the station on the outskirts of Hogsmeade. Harry and Hermione had pulled on their school robes long before they arrived and so were one of the first students onto the platform. Hagrid was already there, his voice booming over the milling crowd as he called all the first years over to him. Hermione looked a bit scared at the sight of the enormous man who stood head and shoulders above even the tallest seventh year, but Harry grabbed her by the elbow and propelled her forwards.

The group of eleven-year-olds slowly gathered around Hagrid until they were the only ones left on the platform, all the older students having left in the Thestral-drawn carriages. Harry peered around at the assembled group, his eyes skipping over the familiar faces until he caught sight of Neville.

The young boy was just as plump and forgetful-looking as he'd been in Harry's old world, but this time Harry was determined to make friends with him from the beginning. He didn't want it to take years for Neville to build up his confidence as it had the last time round. Harry had been hoping to meet him on the train, but apparently in this world Neville either didn't own a toad or had managed not to lose it, since no one had come by looking for Trevor.

"Hullo there!" Hagrid greeted them with a beaming smile from under his tangled beard. "All you firs' years'll be travellin' by boat t'get ta the Castle. C'mon now and follow me. No more'n four to a boat!"

They all piled in and a careful bit of manoeuvring let Harry end up sharing with Hermione, Neville and Susan Bones. The first years all gasped in excitement as the boats began moving forwards, sending ripples out over the still water of the lake.

"Hi, I'm Orion Black and this is my friend Hermione Granger," Harry said with a friendly smile, then looked expectantly at Neville.

"Er, hello..." Neville seemed rather surprised that anyone would be interested in knowing anything about him. "I'm Neville, Neville Longbottom."

Harry leaned forwards and shook the boy's hand. "Nice to meet you, Neville. And your name's Susan Bones, isn't it?" He turned to the girl. "I think we danced together at the Beltane festival."

"Yes, we did," Susan agreed, looking pleased he'd remembered. "That night was so much fun! It was the first time my Aunt Amelia let me attend. She's always so busy with work, you see, but this year I went with Hannah Abbott and her family."

"How come you live with your Aunt?" Hermione asked, her lack of tact making Harry wince.

"My parents are dead," Susan replied frostily.

Hermione looked rather taken aback. "Oh. I'm sorry."

"My mum's dead too," Neville mumbled as he stared down at his lap.

Harry wondered how they'd got onto such an incredibly morbid topic of conversation, but still felt the need to contribute. "So's mine... Huh, and we all live with relatives that work in the DMLE. Weird."

"That is an odd coincidence," Susan agreed.

Their awkward exchange was thankfully derailed by a student in one of the other boats letting out a piercing shriek that echoed across the lake. Harry's head snapped round as he reached for his wand, but the girl didn't seem hurt, only shocked. Harry recognised her as Megan Jones, a muggleborn witch.

"What? What is it?" everyone asked her.

"It's… it's got tentacles!" she cried out, pointing at the turbulent water with a look of the utmost horror on her face.

Everyone immediately peered over the edge of the boats, causing the vessels to rock dangerously. As soon as the wizard-raised children caught sight of the massive shape swimming beneath them, however, they relaxed and settled back with sighs of relief.

"That's just the Giant Squid," Ernie Macmillan informed Megan in his usual pompous tone. "My dad told me all about it, it's perfectly harmless."

"Fancy making such a fuss," Pansy Parkinson was heard saying loudly to Daphne Greengrass. Several students sniggered.

"Is it really not dangerous?" Hermione lowered her voice so only those in their boat could hear her. "I mean… it must be at least seventy feet!"

"Don't worry, we're safe," Harry reassured her.

"I heard it once saved a student from drowning," Neville offered.

"My Aunt says it likes having its tentacles tickled," Susan added.

By the time the boats reached the opposite shore of the lake, Hermione had been convinced of the Giant Squid's benign nature. Harry decided not to mention the Grindylows and the trident-wielding Mermen. She could find out about them later.

As Harry expected, the first years were greeted at the castle doors by Professor McGonagall. She ushered them into the small antechamber near the entrance, gave them a stern speech on the noble qualities of the four Hogwarts Houses, and then lead them out into the Great Hall. They lined up in front of the rest of the school, many of the new students gawking at the floating candles and bewitched ceiling. Harry tried his best to imitate them, while beside him Hermione whispered that she'd read all about it in Hogwarts: A History.

Farther down the line, Harry could hear Ron telling Seamus Finnegan about his mad theory on the Sorting (although this time it seemed to involve students having to fly a dragon instead of wrestling a troll) and his lips quirked up in a nostalgic smile. Ron was immature and often thoughtless, but he really had been a good friend - at least when not overwhelmed by his jealousy. Knowing the red-haired boy as he did, however, Harry didn't think the eleven year old Ron would want to be friends with Orion Black, the son of a so-called Dark family. He had many fond memories of the Weasley family and so held out hope that he could be on friendly terms with some of them - and maybe Ron as well in later years once he'd matured a bit.

A solemn hush descended as McGonagall placed the patched and frayed Sorting Hat onto the three-legged stool in front of the group of first years. The Hat's song was one Harry had heard before, so his attention ended up wandering towards the Professors seated up at the staff table.

Harry was greatly relieved to find that Quirrell wasn't among them and that none of the teachers wore a turban. Voldemort should have no reason to try and infiltrate the school this time round, but it was still nice to know that the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher didn't have Voldemort sticking out of the back of his head. Although with Quirrell gone, Harry wondered which Professor had been given the job. There were a few new faces amongst the staff, but most of the Professors were ones he recognised, Snape included.

Harry didn't quite know what to expect from the Potions Master. Even if events in this world had progressed exactly the same way as before, with Snape being in love with Lily and never forgiving himself for handing Voldemort the information that lead to her death, the other Harry Potter dying would surely have changed everything. Snape might not be prepared to risk his life spying for Dumbledore if he didn't have to keep his promise of protecting Lily's son. He also wouldn't have a reason to hate Orion Black to quite the same extent as he had the Boy Who Lived. While Snape thoroughly disliked Sirius, his deepest loathing had always been reserved for James Potter.

Harry was startled out of his thoughts as the whole hall burst into applause at the end of the Hat's song. Professor McGonagall stepped forwards, holding a long role of parchment in one hand and picking up the Hat in the other.

"When I call your name, you will put on the Hat and sit on the stool to be sorted," she said sternly, inspecting the first years for any signs of disobedience. "Good. We shall begin. Abbott, Hannah!"

The blonde and pig-tailed girl stumbled forwards and put on the Hat, her knees jigging nervously as she waited for it to make a decision.

"HUFFLEPUFF!" the Hat shouted, just as Harry had expected it to. The Hufflepuff table cheered loudly as they accepted their new member and Harry waited for his name to be called - it was nice being one of the first in the alphabet for a change.

"Black, Orion!"

Harry moved to the front and sat down, trying to make up his mind about where he wanted to be sorted. He'd been thinking about it a lot, but couldn't quite decide. He would always have a soft spot for Gryffindor, but it might be better for him to get into Slytherin so as to be accepted as a proper Black. Ravenclaw was almost certainly out – Harry was not the studious type – but there was always the possibility of Hufflepuff. Harry did consider himself to be quite loyal and defeating a Dark Lord took a lot of hard work…

He was still going through all the benefits and drawbacks of each of the Houses when the brim of the Hat fell down over his eyes and he was left staring at the faded black lining.

"Hmm… difficult, very difficult," the familiar voice of the Sorting Hat said in his ear. "There's talent, oh my goodness, yes - and the will to use it. You could be great, you know. With your power I'd say it's almost inevitable. Hmm, there's really only one place for you. Better be… SLYTHERIN!"

Harry froze for a split second, then stood up and handed the Hat to McGonagall. He gave the teacher a wide smile before heading off to the far table, where the Slytherins were clapping for their first new member. Harry sat down in one of the empty places reserved for the first years and tried to get his head round the Hat's decision.

As he looked at his new housemates - an alarming number of whom had been Death Eaters in his old world - Harry hoped he wouldn't end up wishing he'd begged the Hat for a different House. He was actually rather surprised the Hat had treated him as just another student and hadn't given any sign of discovering his real identity. He'd always assumed that students were sorted using some sort of Legilimency, but apparently that wasn't case. Thankfully that meant there would be no chance of the Hat betraying his secrets to Dumbledore.

Harry relaxed and sat back to watch the rest of the Sorting, deciding to worry about the consequences of his placement later. Susan Bones became a Hufflepuff and then came two Ravenclaws and a Gryffindor, before Millicent Bulstrode joined Harry at the Slytherin table. Harry gave her a polite nod and a smile, getting a scowl in return. Harry rolled his eyes and turned back to look at the first years huddled at the front of the hall.

As Seamus Finnigan was called forwards to try on the Hat, Draco caught Harry's eye and gave him an approving nod. Harry smirked back and mouthed 'Good Luck'. The blond boy was a conceited brat, but Harry found he was growing on him.

"Granger, Hermione," McGonagall read out from the list of names in her hand.

Harry's attention immediately snapped back to the Sorting. Hermione looked incredibly nervous, so he sent her a thumbs up and an encouraging smile. It seemed to give her courage as she marched up to the Hat and jammed it on over her bushy hair.

Harry expected the Hat to quickly call out Gryffindor or maybe Ravenclaw, but Hermione ended up sitting on the stool for many minutes, long enough for the students in the hall to become restless. Whispers broke out as they wondered what was taking so long. Harry was wondering that himself, since he didn't remember the Hat having so much trouble in his old world.

Finally, the brim of the Sorting Hat opened. "SLYTHERIN!" it shouted. Harry thought he could detect a note of uncertainty in the Hat's voice, something Harry sympathised with since he himself was absolutely gobsmacked.

Harry stared in shock as Hermione smiled triumphantly and hurried over to sit beside him. With a sinking feeling, Harry realised that he was the reason for her being Sorted into the predominantly pureblood House. Of course Hermione had wanted to be with her first friend and had argued with the Hat until she got her own way – just as he, Harry, had argued with the Hat to put him in Gryffindor the first time round. Hermione had always had problems making friends and was fiercely loyal to the few she had. After he'd befriended her on the train, she'd probably been determined to follow him into whatever House he was Sorted into, even if that meant she ended up in Slytherin.

Harry could sort of understand why the Hat had agreed, no matter how reluctantly. Hermione could be cunning and she did have ambition if you counted her burning desire to read every book in existence, but that didn't change the fact that she was muggleborn. The other Slytherins were sure to make her life difficult – already some of them were refusing to clap, while others stared suspiciously at her as she sat down next to Harry and opposite Crabbe and Tracy Davis.

"Er, congratulations, Hermione," Harry managed to say, desperately trying to think of a way to salvage the situation.

"Thanks!" Hermione beamed back, looking incredibly pleased with herself.

Gregory Goyle soon joined them at the Slytherin table, followed shortly after by Daphne Greengrass. Harry quickly introduced her to Hermione whilst giving the blonde witch a pleading look. Daphne didn't look happy, but did unbend enough to offer Hermione a small smile. Harry sighed in relief at the grudging gesture, thankful that Hermione would be tolerated by at least one of the girls she would be sharing a dormitory room with for the next seven years.

When Neville's name was called out Harry once again paid close attention. Would Neville be sorted into Gryffindor like his counterpart or was he more of a Hufflepuff? He couldn't quite bring himself to consider either of the other two Houses - one unexpected Sorting was quite enough. Fortunately for Harry's continued sanity, the Hat took less than a minute to decide and Neville soon joined the Gryffindor table amongst cheers from his housemates.

In fact all the students were sorted into the same Hogwarts House as they had been in Harry's old world. Hermione was the only exception so far and there were extenuating circumstances in her case, giving Harry an idea. The Slytherins were sure to look down on Hermione because of her muggle parentage and might even dislike Orion for being friends with her. If Orion could give them a reason - a Slytherin reason – for why he and Hermione were friends and why they shouldn't pick on her, then life in Slytherin House would be much more pleasant for both of them.

"Want to see a magic trick?" Harry asked, grinning as Hermione turned to him with a look of confusion.

"Macmillan, Ernie!" McGonagall called out.

As Ernie sat down on the stool and tried on the Hat, Harry muttered "Hufflepuff," only to be echoed seconds later by the Sorting Hat. Hermione gave him a surprised glance, but seemed to dismiss it as just a lucky guess.

"Malfoy, Draco!"

"Slytherin, of course," Harry said before the Hat had a chance to.

"SLYTHERIN!"

"Anyone who has heard of the Malfoy family would guess the same thing," Daphne said primly as Draco made his way to their table.

"What're you all talking about?" Draco gestured impatiently for Goyle to shift over so that he could sit down opposite Harry. "Orion?"

"You'll see," Harry said, then predicted that "McDougal, Morag" would be sorted into Ravenclaw. Ten seconds later, the Sorting Hat proved him right.

By the time Theodore Nott ("Slytherin," Harry announced as soon as his name was called) joined them, Harry had caught the attention of all the Slytherin first years.

"Parkinson, Pansy," McGonagall read out from her list of names.

"Slytherin again."

"SLYTHERIN!"

"Patil, Padma."

"Ravenclaw, and later her twin sister will get into Gryffindor."

Sure enough, the sisters headed off to separate tables.

"How are you doing that?" Daphne hissed. "Twins almost always get sorted into the same house!"

"Magic," Harry told her smugly.

"Perks, Sally-Anne!"

Harry gestured towards the Ravenclaw table. "Obviously she'll be joining the bookworms."

The first years turned their suspicious gazes to the Sorting Hat. Several seconds later it called out "RAVENCLAW!"

"Orion, really, how could you know that?" Draco frowned at him. Harry just smiled and refused to answer.

"Thomas, Dean!"

"And he'll go to Gryffindor," Harry informed the listening Slytherins.

"GRYFFINDOR!"

"Damn it Black! Answer the bloody question!" Bulstrode demanded.

"Shhh!" hissed one of the older Slytherins, wearing an angry scowl and a shiny Prefect's badge.

The first years quieted for a bit and allowed Harry to announce Lisa Turpin as destined for Ravenclaw without pestering him for answers.

"Weasley, Ronald!"

The red-haired boy shuffled forwards leaving only one other boy waiting to be sorted.

"This one's easy," Harry said. "Have a go at it, Draco."

"Oh! Oh yes, that is obvious. Gryffindor of course," Draco said with a sneer.

Harry grinned. "Yep."

"GRYFFINDOR!"

"And last but not least, Zabini will be heading over to our table." Harry leaned back in his chair and waited.

The Hat deliberated for a few minutes. "SLYTHERIN!"

The other Slytherins looked ready to pounce on Harry and demand he tell them his secret, but were prevented by Dumbledore standing up to address the school.

"Welcome!" The old wizard held his arms out wide as if he wanted to sweep them all into a great big hug. "Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words - and here they are: Bertie Botts, Gumdrops and Fizzing Wizzbies! Thank you!"

He sat back down again, leaving all the first years – none of whom had expected such odd behaviour – staring blankly at him.

"He really is mad, isn't he?" Tracy Davis blinked up at the Headmaster. "I thought my mum was exaggerating."

Draco waved one hand dismissively. "Everyone knows Dumbledore is going senile in his old age."

"Or he just wants people to think that," Theodore Nott said. "That way everyone underestimates him."

Daphne was quick to disagree. "Brilliant plan, Nott, except for the part where everyone's already well aware that he is the most powerful wizard in Britain."

"Well… maybe he uses his insanity as a sort of distraction technique," Nott argued, unwilling to concede the point.

Harry thought the boy was right not to dismiss the Headmaster as crazy, since Dumbledore was a lot more intelligent than most people gave him credit for. Although while that was no doubt still true, Harry thought he could detect an air of weariness in this Dumbledore that hadn't been present in his counterpart. It probably had something to do with the prophecy child being dead in this world and Harry was again reminded how lucky he was to be known as plain Orion Black.

"Forget about the Headmaster," Crabbe grunted out. "Let's eat!"

Thus prompted, the first years began helping themselves to the piles of food heaped up on the golden platters in front of them.

"So come on, Orion, tell us how you did that thing from before," Draco demanded.

Harry shrugged and poured himself a glass of pumpkin juice. "I'm just good at reading people, that's all."

"That can't be all," Hermione spoke up with a frown. "It's against all probability to get so many random guesses right in a row."

"I agree," Tracy said, giving Hermione a small smile before fixing Harry with a challenging look. "There must be more to it."

Harry congratulated himself over the success of his plan. Eleven year olds were so easy to manipulate. "I suppose there is," he said. "Sometimes when I meet someone I get a sort of… feeling about them. I know what their characters are like and stuff, and occasionally even what they have the potential to become in the future."

"Is that what you meant on the train?" Hermione looked at him curiously. "When you said you had a sixth sense about people?"

"Uh, yeah!" Harry had completely forgotten he'd said anything of the sort, but nodded anyway. "I knew as soon as I saw you that we'd be good friends."

Pansy Parkinson sneered. "Really? Her?"

Harry silenced her with a sharp look.

"Are you trying to tell us that you're some sort of Seer?" Draco asked, sounding sceptical.

"Not with the whole visions and prophecies and all that, but yeah," Harry said, doing his best to make the lie sound convincing. "I might have some sort of innate skill in Divination or something, I'm not really sure. I just know it's really useful."

"I'll bet!" Millicent Bustrode looked impressed.

"I didn't think the Blacks had any Seers in their bloodline," Draco said thoughtfully, no doubt going through the whole Black family tree in his head.

"Hmm." Harry hummed agreement. "It might be from my Aubrey side, I don't know. I've never actually met any of them except my mother and she never really wanted to talk about her family."

"So, Black!" Graham Montague – third year student and Slytherin Chaser – cut into the conversation, leaning over from his seat farther down the table. "Are you Sirius Black's son?"

"I am," Harry said, catching the attention of several other older students sitting nearby.

Montague smirked unpleasantly. "So where were you while your father was locked up in Azkaban?"

Harry did his best to appear unaffected, while beside him Hermione shot him a startled and slightly uncertain look. "With my mum in France," he said.

"Oh yeah, I remember hearing about that," Terrance Higgs - Slytherin's Seeker - joined the conversation. "Your mum was Evelinda Aubrey, right? Didn't she run away from Britain due to the shame of carrying a bastard child?"

"No," Harry said evenly. "She left to get away from the war."

"Anyway, Orion is a Black now," Draco spoke up in his usual arrogant tone of voice. "Uncle Sirius has officially accepted him into the family."

Higgs wasn't ready to let it go. "He's still a bastard."

"Do you really want to insult the possible future Paterfamilias of the Noble and Ancient House of Black and my cousin?" Draco gave an eerily accurate impression of an angry Lucius Malfoy. "You whose grandfather was a muggleborn wizard?"

"Fine," Higgs said, trying to keep his composure but paling slightly. "Black, I apologise for any insult I may have inadvertently given."

Harry smirked at him. "You're forgiven." He found it amusing to see the older Slytherin humbled and was actually rather touched by Draco's defence.

Higgs and Montague quickly went back to ignoring the first years, but Hermione couldn't remain silent any longer. "Orion, why was your father in prison?" She looked almost ready to bolt as Harry told her all about Sirius being suspected of betraying the Potters and murdering over a dozen muggles with one curse. Once Harry reached the part where he was thrown into Azkaban without a trial, however, her attitude changed to one of outrage. "Oh my god! That's terrible! How could something like that be allowed to happen?"

Harry smiled sadly. "It was just at the end of the war. A sort of martial law had been brought in, giving Aurors the right to arrest suspects on the flimsiest of evidence and to hold them without trial. Dad should've got one later, of course, but he never did. I don't know if it was an honest mistake or the result of bribery or corruption or what. Who knows?"

"Orion was the one who got Uncle Sirius' case reopened," Draco informed the other first years.

"Really?" Nott asked. "How?"

Answering one questioned lead to many more, like how he'd persuaded the head of the DMLE to listen to him and how he'd known about Pettigrew in the first place. Not wanting to pass up the opportunity to gain his house-mates respect, Harry guiltily side-lined Mr Weasley's part in the whole thing.

Just as he was finishing the story, Dumbledore stood up once more and the hall gradually fell silent. "Ahem - now that we're all fed and watered, there are a few start of term notices to hand out," the Headmaster announced. "I wish to remind all students that magic is not to be performed in the corridors and that the Forbidden Forest remains, as always, forbidden. Quidditch trials will be held in the second week of term - anyone interested in playing for their house team should contact Madam Hooch."

Harry wondered whether he had any chance of being allowed onto the Quidditch team as a first year. He regretfully decided it was unlikely, since not only was he not the Boy Who Lived, but he also had Severus Snape as his Head of House.

"And finally, once again a new teacher will be joining us here at Hogwarts," Dumbledore informed the students. "Please welcome Professor Footswitch, who will be instructing you in Defence Against the Dark Arts."

Dumbledore gestured along the staff table to where an unfamiliar wizard was sitting beside Professor McGonagall. With a nod of thanks to the Headmaster, the wizard stood up and bowed to the hall. He was quite tall, wore neatly-pressed black robes, and had his hair sternly combed back in a straight parting. Harry took an instinctive dislike to him.

"Here we go again," Montague muttered as the students half-heartedly applauded.

"Wonder what's going to happen to this one," Higgs said.

Montague had a rather bloodthirsty look on his face as he considered the possibilities. "I say it's a toss-up between him leaving the school in disgrace or turning up dead and dismembered in the Forbidden Forest."

"Well then! Bedtime – off you all trot!" Dumbledore waved them off with a bright smile on his face.

There was a thundering noise as every student in the hall pushed back their chairs and stood up. The first years shuffled along in a group, following one of the Slytherin prefects – who introduced herself as Fiona Urquhart – out of the Great Hall and down into the dungeons.

The Slytherin common room was just as Harry remembered it – dark and low-ceilinged, with a few small windows through which the murky water of the lake could be seen. To get to their dormitories the first years had to follow a winding staircase leading even deeper down, until they reached a fork where two corridors branched off. Hermione gave Harry a small wave goodbye as the girls headed to the left and the boys went right.

The boys' dormitory, while dark and lit with an eerie green light that glinted off the ornamental snakes curled around the bed-posts, was actually quite a comfortable room. It was large and spacious, and each boy had a four-poster bed, a wardrobe and a small desk to themselves. Harry was no longer used to the idea of not having any real privacy, but supposed he'd just have to put up with it. This was going to be his life for the next seven years, after all.

Harry missed the cheerful colours of red and gold, but had to admit he was probably more suited to Slytherin. As Harry Potter he had rushed thoughtlessly into dangerous situations, never stopping to consider the risks - typical Gryffindor behaviour, in short. As Orion Black, however, he was planning to gain political influence, destroy Voldemort's Horcruxes and prevent a war – and all in secret. With that sort of cunning and ambition it was almost inevitable that he'd ended up in Slytherin.

At least Hermione was in the same House as him, making it easier for them to be friends. Harry hadn't been at all happy about her Sorting earlier, but he was beginning to feel more optimistic about her chances of surviving as a Slytherin. Draco, Daphne and Crabbe would probably listen to him if he asked them to leave her alone and as for the others… well, Harry pretending he 'Saw' that Hermione would one day be a powerful and intelligent witch (which she would be, Harry thought virtuously) would at least make them more cautious about openly mocking her.

One thing was certain; his Sorting had put a stop to any doubts Harry might have had over his decision not to befriend Ron. In fact he suspected the choice had been taken entirely out of his hands. Ron was sure to have no interest in being on good terms with a Slytherin.

Chapter Text

 

Harry woke up several times during the night, each time with vague impressions of unsettling dreams. Being back at Hogwarts had dredged up many unhappy memories from Harry's past; the yearly attempts on his life, the terrible battle against Voldemort, the deaths of so many wizards and witches. He ended up lying awake for hours, his mind feverishly thinking up worst-case scenarios; all the ways he wouldn't succeed, all the ways he could fail to save Sirius, Tonks, Remus, Fred and the others who had died.

He didn't notice finally managing to fall back to sleep and only woke again in the morning to the sounds of the other boys moving around the dormitory.

"Oh you're up, finally," Draco said as Harry pulled back the hangings of his four-poster bed. "Prefect Moon just came by – apparently all of us first years have a meeting with Snape in half an hour."

"Which is plenty of time to get ready for those of us who aren't obsessed over the state of our hair," Nott said, casting a pointed look at Draco's slicked back locks.

Draco scowled. "Shut up, Nott."

"You know, I find it interesting that you assumed I was talking about you," Nott said with a smirk.

Harry ignored their bickering and stood up and stretched, his toes curling up in the luxurious carpet that covered most of the rough stone floor. He grabbed a set of Hogwarts robes and a fluffy green towel that had appeared on his bedside table sometime before he woke up – no doubt the work of one of the House elves - and headed for the shower.

After he was finished getting ready he padded back into the main dorm room. Nott and Draco were still sniping at each other, though now they'd moved onto the subject of how Nott's great-great-grandmother had jilted Draco's paternal great-great-uncle on their wedding day. Blaise Zabini was lying on his bed and watching them argue, an amused smirk on his dark face. Goyle was eyeing Nott as if wondering whether to punch him for insulting Draco and Crabbe was completely ignoring the other boys while rummaging desperately through his trunk.

"Are you two seriously saying you're upset over what some random ancestors of yours did generations ago?" Harry asked incredulously.

"Regina Nott disrespected the Noble and Ancient House of Malfoy!" Draco tone was one of pure outrage.

"Only because Philandros Malfoy was having an affair with a Veela!" Nott snapped back.

"An alleged affair," Draco replied snootily.

"Okay, guys," Harry said, staring at them both. "How the hell did you get from arguments over hair-care to this?"

The two boys were too busy glaring at each other to bother answering, so Harry turned to Crabbe with a questioning look.

"Whenever a Malfoy argues with a Nott that whole ancient wedding disaster is brought up," Crabbe explained, his arms full of books, clothes and rolls of parchment. "Every time. It's only a surprise that a blood-feud was never declared over it."

Harry shook his head and moved over to his trunk to gather what he needed for the day. Just when he thought he was beginning to understand the Purebloods he was now considered one of, another completely incomprehensible facet of their lives was revealed. Harry didn't think he'd ever understand them.

"Hey, Orion, have you seen my wand?" Crabbe was now kneeling on the floor and peering underneath his bed.

"Nope, sorry," Harry replied, stuffing several fresh rolls of parchment into his schoolbag.

"Damn," Crabbe muttered, pushing himself to his feet with a grunt of effort. "I've looked everywhere."

"Crabbe." Harry turned all his attention on the other boy. "Are you trying to say that you've lost your wand? Really?"

"Maybe," Crabbe said and shrugged. "It's not that big a deal."

"Um, did you miss the part of your acceptance letter where it said Hogwarts, school of Witchcraft and Wizardry?" Harry said meaningfully. "As in, you know, magic?"

"I prefer Astrology and History of Magic and stuff," Crabbe said. "Don't need a wand for those."

"I'm living in a dormitory full of crazy people," Harry muttered to himself and slammed the lid of his trunk shut. He turned to look at the room in general. "Right, I'm heading up to the common room. Anyone else ready to go?"

It turned out they all were, so the six boys trooped upstairs. The common room was almost empty, with only a pair of fourth years sitting in one corner and – by the sounds of their ranting about McGonagall – finishing off last minute Transfiguration homework. The first year girls appeared a minute later and Harry was pleased to see Hermione had a smile on her face, although it faltered every time she looked at Pansy Parkinson.

"Good morning," Harry said, sidling up to her. "Sleep well?"

"Oh yes, though it took me simply hours to fall asleep," Hermione babbled. "I'm just so excited about our lessons today. I suppose Professor Snape will be handing out our schedules soon, what do you think we'll be learning? Whatever it is I hope I won't be too far behind everyone else. Daphne was telling me all about the lessons you lot have had."

"I'm sure you'll be fine," Harry soothed her.

Hermione still had an anxious frown on her face. "Well I memorised all the textbooks, of course, and tried out a few spells. They've all worked so far – I only hope it'll be enough."

"It will be," Harry said firmly. "Even we wizard-raised children only get our wands after our Hogwarts letters arrive and the spells we're taught are ones we don't need to know for school. So everyone'll basically be on the same level when it comes to spell-casting, don't worry."

"And I'm sure you'll soon manage to catch up on the theory and background understanding," Daphne added from where she stood nearby, obviously having been listening to their conversation. Her tone of voice was factual and she wasn't smiling, but Harry was still surprised by how unusually friendly she was being.

"Thanks," Hermione said, looking at them both. She opened her mouth to say something more, but quickly closed it again as a panel in the stone walls slid back and Professor Snape strode into the common room.

"Cease your inane blathering – you will all be silent and listen closely." The wizard's piercing black eyes swept over the ten first years in front of him. "Last night you were all sorted into Slytherin House, an event that will shape the course of your lives for the next seven years and beyond. I am Professor Snape, Head of Slytherin House, and you will soon discover that I have high expectations of you that I insist upon being met. To be here now you must be in possession of cunning, ruthlessness and ambition – I expect you to use these traits, and to behave with dignity and subtlety at all times, as is appropriate for members of our House. Disputes are to be solved within the privacy of the Slytherin common room, never aired in front of the rest of the school. I will be most displeased if I hear of any of you doing otherwise."

Here Snape glared round at them all, meeting their eyes to emphasise the seriousness of his words. Harry briefly wondered whether Snape was using Legilimency on them and made sure to clear his mind of emotion in order to hide his thoughts, but relaxed when he didn't feel the tell-tale pressure inside his head. Snape simply scowled at Harry before moving on to give Hermione an assessing glance.

"My office hours are posted on the bulletin board," the Potions Professor eventually continued. "If you absolutely need to speak to me about something, come during those hours. Do not come whining to me about your petty disputes between yourselves. I tell you now that I will not care. You may have heard that I rarely take points off my own House, but that does not prevent me from punishing you if you misbehave or simply annoy me. The Prefects will deal with any minor misconduct; if a situation escalates enough to require my intervention the culprits will most certainly regret it. Is that understood?"

There was silence as the first years shuffled nervously.

"I said, is that understood?"

"Yes, sir," they hurried to reply.

"Good," Professor Snape said in his usual clipped tone of voice. "I will now hand out your class schedules. I expect you all to arrive for your classes in a timely manner – ask your fellow Slytherins or one of the portraits for directions if you are uncertain of the way. Getting lost is not an acceptable excuse for lateness."

After a few more instructions, followed by dire threats of what would happen if any of them were disobeyed, Snape gave them one last sneer and swept out of the room. The first years all relaxed and a few even gave audible sighs of relief.

"He doesn't seem very nice, does he?" Hermione whispered to Harry.

"That's an understatement!" Harry didn't take his eyes off the door through which Snape had left. There was something different about the Potions Professor, though Harry couldn't quite put his finger on what. He was just as brusque and biting as Harry had expected, and his hair was just as greasy and his eyes as dark, but he wasn't quite the same as the Snape Harry had known.

Harry shook himself out of his thoughts as the first years began chattering amongst themselves and examining their timetables. Maybe he was just over-thinking things or else the difference might only be that Snape hadn't done more than glare in Harry's direction. Harry was glad that this time round there was no reason for the Potion Professor to make cutting remarks about Hogwart's 'newest celebrity'. His time in Slytherin House would be much easier without Snape doing his utmost to make his life hell.

One of the sixth year Prefects – an annoyed looking girl with messy blonde hair who introduced herself as Fiona Urquhart – appeared up from the lower levels and ordered the first years to follow her to the Great Hall for breakfast. The route from the common room to the Great Hall was long and complicated, involving lots of cursed doorways and trick steps. According to Urquhart this was one of the methods used to prevent captives from escaping the dungeons back when Hogwarts was a fortress as well as a school. Harry didn't know why Salazar Slytherin would have wanted his students living near potentially dangerous prisoners. Hermione must have been thinking the same thing since she questioned Urquhart on the topic. The Prefect sneered and told her that Slytherin had wanted his students to have live targets nearby for spell-practice. Hermione turned rather green at this information and stayed silent for the rest of the journey.

They reached the Great Hall soon after breakfast started and so had plenty of time to eat. The Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff students were lead inside by their Prefects not long after, making Harry wonder why the Gryffindor Prefects didn't do the same thing. The Slytherins had finished breakfast and were in the process of leaving by the time Ron, Dean and Seamus collapsed into their seats at the Gryffindor table, complaining loudly about an unpleasant run in with Peeves the Poltergeist.

The Slytherin first years had a double lesson of Herbology first thing and so headed out to Greenhouse One. They were sharing a class with the Hufflepuffs and Harry tugged Hermione over to sit at a bench with Susan and Hannah. Ernie sent Harry a rather cross look and moved over to share with Draco, Daphne, and Crabbe while the rest of the Slytherins grabbed tables nearby. Harry frowned when he noticed that this arrangement left the one half-blood and the three muggleborn Hufflepuffs together at the last table. Harry didn't remember his classmates in his old world being quite so divided, but then again as a first year he hadn't really paid much attention to the whole blood-purity issue.

"Pleased with your Sorting?" Harry asked the two Hufflepuff girls once they had all sat down and exchanged greetings. Hermione had immediately taken out her textbook and begun reading. Harry knew she was nervous about their lesson since Herbology, unlike other subjects, could not be learnt without practical experience.

Susan grinned at him."Of course. Hufflepuff's by far the best house!"

"I'd have to say the same thing about Slytherin," Harry said. "House-pride and all that, you know. And everyone says Slytherins have the best parties."

"Good thing for you that you got in, then." Susan laughed and gestured towards Hannah. "As soon as Hannah was sorted into Hufflepuff I knew I wanted to be too. We're best friends."

"And it's difficult to stay friends if you're in different Houses." Harry nodded. "Well you must have been a shoo-in for Hufflepuff after showing that sort of loyalty."

Susan smiled warmly at him. "Thanks."

Hannah leaned forwards and lowered her voice, casting a glance over at where Hermione was sitting still lost in her reading. "Is she really a muggleborn?"

"Yeah," Harry said cautiously, not having thought Hannah would care much about blood-status.

"And she's a Slytherin?"

"Yeah," Harry said again, chuckling this time. "Shocked everyone. I'm just glad I'm also in Slytherin – my family might have disowned me otherwise."

"I'm happy for you then," Hannah chirped. "We're actually related you know – fourth cousins three times removed or something like it."

Harry smiled at her. "Cool. Good to know. Hey Hermione, meet another one of my cousins!"

Hermione didn't bother looking up from her textbook. "Are all of you purebloods related to each other?" she asked while turning a page.

"Pretty much," Hannah said cheerfully.

Hermione made a face and muttered something uncomplimentary about inbreeding. Susan and Hannah looked ready to take offence at her tactless words, but Harry managed to smooth things over by explaining that Hermione had been having some difficulties with the more extreme Purebloods in Slytherin House. The two Hufflepuff girls quickly nodded and made sympathetic noises, and Hermione unbent enough to look up from her book and offer them a small smile. Even though most of her housemates seemed content to simply ignore her, the muggleborn witch was obviously finding it difficult being surrounded by people who looked down on her for something she was powerless to alter.

"Right then, chaps," Professor Sprout said, bustling into the open space in the middle of the greenhouse. "Welcome to Herbology! This class will be an obligatory part of your schooling for the next five years, though once you've taken your Ordinary Wizarding Levels you'll have the option of either continuing or dropping the subject. I very much hope that I'll be teaching all of you all the way until you leave school, but I find that very few students have a proper appreciation for my field of study. Still, maybe you'll surprise me, eh?"

Judging by the dubious or downright disdainful expressions on the faces of his fellow classmates, Harry guessed her hopes were unlikely to be fulfilled.

"Well I can't stand chit-chat so let's get to it shall we?" Professor Sprout clapped her dirt-stained hands together in enthusiasm. "This year we'll be working in Greenhouse One. That's where I keep the plants that aren't as territorial or aggressive as some of the others, but I thought I'd take you round the other greenhouses today as a bit of a treat! What do you say, fancy repotting a few Fanged Geraniums or pruning the Lugubrious Lilac Bush?"

There were some half-hearted murmurings of interest at this, though Harry got the impression that it was just the Hufflepuffs who wanted to support their Head of House. Herbology had never been one of the more popular subjects and Harry for one didn't see the appeal of plants that would attack you, try to eat you, or just generally harass you – behaviour that almost all magical plants seemed to delight in.

The students were ushered outside and over to Greenhouse Three, handed pruning shears, and cheerfully told not to wander too close to the Venemous Tentacula.

"Who wants to weed the Flitterbloom?" Sprout gestured for them to gather round a suspiciously docile looking plant. Harry had noticed years ago that the plants that appeared harmless were almost always the most dangerous and so made sure to stay near the back of the group.

"I can't believe we have to muck around in the dirt," Draco grumbled loudly. "When my father hears about this…"

"Hmph, you boy!" Sprout waved a trowel at the blond. "You can go first."

Draco wasn't defiant enough to refuse a direct order from a teacher. He reluctantly stepped forwards and used the trowel to poke around in the soil while leaning as far away as possible from the Flitterbloom's undulating leaves. For the rest of the lesson he was careful to not call any attention to himself and managed to avoid being required to do anything else for the whole two hour period. Harry, while not terribly fond of the subject, knew enough about Herbology to prevent himself being attacked by any of the more aggressive plants. The other students were not so fortunate, however, and by the time the lesson was finally over they were covered in bruises and painful looking scrapes, their robes askew and clumps of dirt stuck in their hair.

The Slytherin girls – including, to Harry's surprise, Hermione – hurried off to their dorm rooms, refusing to be seen by the rest of the school in such a dishevelled state. Blaise Zabini went with them, muttering something about his Italian designer robes being ruined and his mother being furious. Nott was the worst off, with a bleeding gash across his cheek and a rather dazed expression on his face, and had to be helped to the hospital wing by Crabbe and Goyle.

Harry and Draco waved them off, smug in their own unruffled condition, before aiming a few scourgify charms at their hands and clothes and wandering up to the Great Hall for lunch.

"Black, Malfoy, where are the rest of the first years?" Prefect Lionel Moon rounded on them as the two boys sat down at the Slytherin table.

Harry hungrily began piling food onto his plate. "They're off recovering from their close brush with death in Greenhouse Three."

"The Venomous Tentacula got them, did it?" Moon looked amused by their misfortune.

"No, the Devil's Snare," Draco corrected him. "I can't believe Sprout thought it was a good idea to let that thing near us. I'm going to write to my father about it. He's on the Board of Governors, you know."

"At the beginning of each year Sprout does her best to terrify the first years," Moon told them, ignoring Draco's boasting. "She thinks it ensures you'll take Herbology seriously."

"More like we won't want to take it at all," Draco complained.

"Well you firsties have got Defence next, don't you?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah, straight after lunch. Do you know what the new teacher's like?"

"Had a lesson with him just this morning," Moon said with a grin. "You're in for a real treat, you just wait and see."

"What do you mean?" Draco demanded immediately.

Moon just smirked and refused to say anything else no matter how much they pestered him, and soon turned away to talk to the older students sitting farther down the table. Draco pouted and looked ready to begin another litany of complaints even though Harry reminded him that they'd soon find out for themselves what Moon meant. Fortunately Draco was distracted from his whinging by dozens of owls swooping into the hall to deliver the lunchtime post. To Harry's surprise a sharp-beaked eagle owl landed in front of him, narrowly missing knocking over his goblet of pumpkin juice. It carried a letter sealed with the Black crest in its beak and had a small package tied to its leg.

"What's that about?" Draco peered over Harry's shoulder as he broke open the seal and unfolded the creamy parchment.

Harry's eyes widened as he began to read. "It's from Grandmother Melania, congratulating me on getting into Slytherin," he said, scanning over the parchment. "She's pleased I'm upholding the family honour, blah blah blah, and that I'm following our noble traditions. Then she says she expects great things from me, etcetera etcetera, more of the same."

"The package must be some sort of gift, then," Draco said, eyeing it covetously.

"Mhmm," Harry hummed absently, his brows furrowed. "I just don't know how she could've found out which house I was sorted into. I mean, I haven't even written to tell my dad yet…"

"Who cares. Open your present – I want to see what you got."

Harry ignored the blond and kept on reading, squinting as he tried to make out Melania's elaborately looping handwriting. "Hang on," he said. "She says here she heard about my getting into Slytherin from the portrait of Meliflua Black – you know, the one up in the second floor drawing room - who heard it from Phineus Black's portrait when he was visiting his frame in Black Manor. And he knew about it because he spent the night up in the Headmaster's office interrogating the Sorting Hat." Harry looked up from the letter with a frown. "Seriously, does anything stay a secret around here?"

Draco shrugged, used to the realities of living surrounded by magical paintings. "Portraits don't have anything better to do all day than visit each other and gossip."

"I suppose," Harry said, though he found the idea of Phineas Black reporting on his every move rather unsettling.

"Oh come on, Orion, open the damn present!"

"Fine, fine," Harry said, smiling at the other boy's impatience. He didn't know what to expect, but half-thought the gift would be something boring or useless or both. Once he pulled apart the stiff brown paper and opened the lid of the thin box inside, however, he became much more enthusiastic.

"Wow," he whispered.

"Is that…?"

"It is," Harry said, staring at the glinting black and green quill lying nestled in the box. "Where in the world did Grandmother Melania get an Augerey feather from? They're really rare."

Draco's voice was filled with awe and more than a tinge of jealousy. "And insanely expensive. Grandmother must be really pleased that you're a Slytherin. It's not as if she sent me anything."

"You're not a Black," Harry reminded him. "You also don't have two blood-traitor Gryffindors as parents. I think the rest of the family must've been dreading me going the same way as my mum and dad. Melania obviously wants to encourage my adherence to the Black Family values - notice that she sent me an Augerey quill, as in Slytherin colours. She could have sent me a Phoenix feather or something instead - it probably would've been cheaper."

"Well even ignoring the garish red and gold, Phoenix feathers are useless as quills to write with, you know," Draco informed him. "It's got something to do with the Phoenix's affinity to fire. The Augerey's cry heralds rain, which means it holds ink much better."

"How do you know all that?" Harry was surprised since Draco tended not to be interested in anything that didn't hold immediate value for him.

Draco scowled and crossed his arms petulantly. "I put an Augerey feather on my birthday list for this year. I spent ages researching quills since I wanted to make sure I got the best. Father was really unfair and refused to get me one though. He bought me a Nimbus Two Thousand instead, but really, what's so special about a racing broom? I bet an even faster one will come out on the market soon enough."

Harry shook his head. "You really are a spoilt brat, aren't you?"

Before Draco could take offence at Harry's words, the girls got back from their detour to the dorm rooms. They were once again looking pristine and Hermione had even smoothed down her hair somehow, probably with Daphne's help. The other boys soon followed, all their cuts healed and their bruises smeared with healing salve.

"Hey, is that an Augerey quill?" Nott peered into the box with a look of envy on his face. The other first years immediately gathered round to admire the present, and even Blaise Zabini – who almost always appeared bored and apathetic– looked impressed.

"Yes it is," Draco answered in a superior tone of voice, sounding for all the world as if it belonged to him rather than Harry.

"Augereys? I read about them in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. They're also known as Irish Phoenixes and used to be considered really bad luck-" Hermione began to babble, sounding as if she were regurgitating the textbook.

"We know," Draco interrupted her coldly. "It's common knowledge among real wizards."

"Draco," Harry said as Hermione faltered into an embarrassed silence.

The Malfoy heir wouldn't be prevented from airing his views. "No, Orion. Let her run off and tell her fellow mud- muggleborns by all means, but she shouldn't presume to lecture her betters."

"Don't be so snobbish. She's just excited about all the new things she's learnt," Harry said mildly. He didn't want to start a full-blown argument, especially since he was impressed that Draco had stopped himself from using the term 'mudblood'. It was more than Harry had expected from the haughty blond.

"She is right here," Hermione said, regaining her self-confidence.

"Yes, but I prefer to pretend otherwise," Draco drawled.

"Why you-" Hermione began, her cheeks flushed in anger.

"Defence Against the Dark Arts!" Harry announced loudly, interrupting her. "We should head off to class. The bell will ring in a few minutes."

Harry watched Hermione struggle between her desire to tell off Draco and her need to be on time to class. As expected class won out and the argument was successfully derailed. The first year Slytherins all headed towards the Defence classroom, asking a few suits of armour for directions along the way. The Ravenclaws they shared the lesson with were already there, sitting in the front rows with quills and parchment set out on their desks. The Slytherins filed into the back of the classroom, Hermione pointedly taking a seat as far away from Draco as possible.

At the same moment as the bell signalling the start of class echoed through the school, their Professor strode through the door and to the front of the classroom. He spun round to face them and waved his wand to make the chalk begin scribbling on the blackboard behind him.

"My name is Professor Footswitch," he said, the chalk underlining his name twice before hovering in mid-air awaiting further instruction. "I will be your teacher in Defence Against the Dark Arts for the next year. For all of you – even those who have had lessons before coming to Hogwarts – the material covered in this class will be largely unfamiliar. This, together with the fact that your magic is still largely uncontrolled, means that there will be no advanced hexes or impressive duelling taught in this classroom."

A sigh of disappointment rustled through the listening students. Professor Footswitch smiled wryly.

"I'm sorry but that's simply how it is," he said. "This class will focus on understanding the dangers present in our society and learning how to avoid or, if absolutely necessary, overcome them using skills you as eleven year olds are capable of acquiring. You are all fortunate enough to be growing up in a period of relative peace, but there will always be things you will have to defend yourselves against. Now, can anyone name some of the common threats you might face?"

Immediately the Ravenclaws and Hermione raised their hands, followed more slowly by Daphne and Nott. Harry didn't bother to volunteer an answer, having settled back in his seat and prepared himself for being bored out of his mind.

"Yes, you," Professor Footswitch said, pointing at one of the Ravenclaws.

"Anthony Goldstein, sir," the boy supplied.

"And your answer, Mr Goldstein?"

"Well, there are Dark Creatures such as werewolves, vampires and hags," Goldstein listed, ticking them off on his fingers.

The Professor nodded. "Especially dangerous since they are of comparable intelligence to wizards. Then there are Hinkypunks, Lethifolds, Boggarts, and Grindylows and the like – less bright but still tricky to deal with. They are all creatures you'll learn how to defend yourselves against over your years here at Hogwarts." He turned to Daphne. "And you?"

"Daphne Greengrass, sir," she said, lowering her hand. "There are Dark Wizards, like the Death Eaters during the war. And there are also common criminals and murderers who use harmful magic."

"Yes, good," the Professor said. "From when we get our first wands at the age of eleven onwards, every wizard or witch carries a potentially lethal weapon. Most of us never use our wands to cast anything more dangerous than a disarming charm, but there are always those few who learn more destructive spells and delve into the Dark Arts, becoming a danger to society. In order to combat them, Aurors and the like have to learn equally powerful magic. Any other ideas?" he asked, looking around the classroom. "Anyone?"

There was silence as the students glanced between themselves, even Hermione not having an answer.

"Dark Creatures and Dark Wizards and Witches are dangerous, yes, but there is another group out there which is more prevalent and poses an even greater threat," Professor Footswitch said at last. "Wizards are required to hide themselves away from them and are forbidden from using spells in their presence. They poison the air and destroy the environment, and their numbers are ever growing. I am talking, of course, of Muggles."

"What?" Terry Boot stopped taking notes and looked up in incredulity. "You can't be serious!"

"I assure you I am. Five points from Ravenclaw for interrupting," Professor Footswitch said with a faint sneer at the muggleborn boy. "Muggles are a threat to our society. They cling on to their logic and their science, and build their over-crowded cities to accommodate their ever rising numbers. While they don't have magic and so are clearly inferior to us, there are numerous laws that protect them and limit wizards to only the most basic spells in their presence. We are told we must pander to the Muggles; we must not frighten them with magic nor use our powers to curtail their destructive behaviour. As wizards we are the strong, but we are forced to be weak. It is due to this that Muggles must be considered a valid threat."

The students stared at their teacher, the Ravenclaws hanging on his words and the Slytherins torn between being smugly assured of their own superiority and being insulted at the suggestion that a mere muggle could ever be a danger to them. Harry had abandoned all expectations of boredom by this stage, but was instead filled with a growing feeling of disgust. What he found most disturbing was how few of the wizard-raised students appeared at all bothered by their teacher's words.

Of course the muggleborns in the class – Hermione, Terry Boot, Kevin Entwhistle and Lisa Turpin – looked utterly appalled. Hermione had her hand up and was waving her arm about in the air desperately, clearly wanting to refute the Professor's statements.

Professor Footswitch ignored her and carried on talking. "It is almost always the case that when a Muggle finds out about magic they begin to fear the power we wizards hold, and that fear inevitably leads to hatred. Their loathing of all things magical has been shown again and again throughout history and has instigated atrocities such as the Spanish Inquisition and the Witch Burnings. Fully trained witches and wizards are of course able to defend themselves against even relatively large groups of Muggles and if necessary can always apparate away to safety. Unfortunately, untrained magical children without the protection of an adult wizard are left vulnerable to attack. Accidental magic is not always enough to keep a child safe, and throughout the centuries many magical children have been captured and brutally killed by the Muggles hunting them."

"Yes, but sir!" Hermione was unable to keep silent any longer. "That was ages ago. The muggle world has changed a lot since then."

"Five points from Slytherin for speaking without permission. Also bear in mind that a few hundred years isn't long at all," Professor Footswitch told her sternly. "It is the span of only two or three wizard lifetimes. Many wizards and witches alive today have grandparents who lived through those violent times. In any case, while muggle society may have changed, their underlying nature has not. They are greedy, violent, brutish and treacherous."

Hermione tried to protest. "You're wrong, they -"

"That's enough," Professor Footswitch ordered. "Another five points from Slytherin for contradicting a teacher."

A few of the more competitive Slytherins – Draco, Pansy and Nott – glared at Hermione, angry that she had lost them so many points while defending mere muggles. Hermione caught their glances, as well as Harry's fervent shushing motions, and reluctantly subsided. Instead of continuing to argue she leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms, stubbornly refusing to take any notes while Professor Footswitch carried on speaking.

He lectured the class on what to do if they were ever under threat in the muggle world (send up sparks, cast a simple jellylegs jinx or bodybind curse at their attackers, and call for help) and detailed exactly what circumstances counted as self-defence under the Statute of Secrecy and Underage Magic laws. Then he went on to tell them that the best defence was to avoid danger in the first place and so if they absolutely had to be among muggles they should keep an eye on their surroundings, arrange a meeting place in case they became separated from their parents, and look out for any younger siblings.

Harry supposed this was rather reasonable advice as such, except that throughout his lecture Footswitch made it clear he considered Muggles little better than animals and made several snide comments about muggleborns and half-bloods as well. In this he was egged on by questions from the Purebloods in the class.

"Professor, is it true muggle healers actually cut people open?" Samantha Fawcett questioned.

"Professor, how do muggles keep things clean without using magic?" Padma Patil sounded honestly curious. "They must be really unhygienic."

"Professor, I heard that muggles eat their own faeces. You know, like dogs do," Draco announced. Harry was pretty certain the blond didn't actually believe what he was saying and was just trying to mock the Ravenclaws while also insulting the muggleborns in the room.

Professor Footswitch welcomed all of these comments, even Draco's downright outrageous one, and pointedly ignored the muggleborns when they tried to offer explanations or contradictions.

The pureblood Ravenclaws seemed fascinated by the lesson and asked lots of questions while scribbling down everything the Professor said word-for-word. The Slytherins generally appeared to be enjoying themselves immensely, while Hermione was becoming more and more enraged and poor Lisa Turpin looked to be near tears. Harry was shocked, hardly able to believe that Dumbledore would actually hire a Blood-Purist to teach impressionable school-children. There had probably been very few applicants for the job, but Harry almost thought the Voldemort-possessed Quirrell would have been a better choice of professor since he would at least have made an effort to hide his opinions.

"Homework!" Professor Footswitch announced as the bell rang signalling the end of class. "Three feet of parchment analysing at least five cases of muggles harming magical children over the past two centuries. Due this time next week."

"Argh! I can't believe that man!" Hermione raged as soon as the Slytherins had left the classroom. "What would he know about muggles anyway? My parents were really supportive when they found out I was a witch, and they'd never dream of harming me or anyone else. I admit some muggles might be scared of magic, but it's really just human nature to dislike what you don't understand. Case in point, Footswitch just spent a whole hour spouting complete nonsense about muggles and making them out to be little more than mindless animals. Never mind that he doesn't actually seem to know anything about them! He's utterly insufferable!"

"I know." Harry nodded, completely agreeing with her.

Nott turned to look at them curiously. "Is what he said really not true? Professor Footswitch was pretty convincing, and muggles have caused a lot of problems..."

"If wizards just made more of an effort to fit in they wouldn't run into trouble in the first place!" Hermione looked completely enraged, her eyes glinting dangerously and her hair bushier than ever. "And as for calling muggles violent, hah! That's utterly hypocritical. Muggle England hasn't had a civil war in centuries, while the Wizarding World had Voldemort to deal with as little as a decade ago! How many wizards and witches died at the hands of other wizards, how many magical families on both sides were completely wiped out? How many, hmm?" Hermione looked around at her fellow Slytherins. "Well?" she said impatiently when no one answered.

"Lots," Nott said while Draco and Crabbe just scowled.

Hermione scoffed loudly. "And Footswitch says muggles are the bloodthirsty ones?"

"Must you continue to belabour the point, Granger," Daphne spoke up from where she was walking beside Tracy. "It's unbecoming for a witch to become so agitated."

"What would Astoria say to that?" Harry asked her, managing to get a small smile from the pureblood girl. Hermione refused to be at all side-tracked, however.

"I don't care what's unbecoming or what's not. I care about what's right," she insisted. "I care about the truth."

"I agree," Tracy said, blushing as everyone turned to look at her. "I mean… the muggles aren't that bad. My dad's a muggleborn and I've visited my grandparents in the muggle world a few times. It's quite nice there really."

Draco sneered at her. "You would think that. You're half-muggle yourself. You're basically one of them."

"Shut up, Draco!" Daphne glared at the boy, all ladylike composure forgotten. "Don't you dare insult Tracy!"

"He was just telling the truth," Pansy told her, tossing her glossy black hair over her shoulder and moving closer to Draco. "Really, I don't know why you associate with such low-born riffraff."

"I don't need you to defend me, Pansy," Draco said crossly.

"Tracy is not low-born!" Daphne retorted, ignoring the blond in favour of glaring at Pansy. "At least she knows who her dad is. Your mother slept around so much your father could be almost anyone!"

Pansy gasped. "I can't believe you said… no one mentions…" Her eyes teared up and she pushed past them and disappeared off down the corridor. The Slytherins shifted uncomfortably, wondering if they should go after her, but none of them felt they were good enough friends with the girl to try.

Draco turned to frown at Daphne. "Don't you think you went a bit too far there, cousin? You know no one talks about that. Pansy's a Pureblood and Mr Parkinson claimed her as his daughter, that's all that matters."

"I'm only saying what everyone knows is true, and anyway you haven't had to share a dorm room with her," Daphne said defensively, though she sent a guilty glance in the direction Pansy had run off in. "She's been sniping at Tracy and Granger non-stop since yesterday."

"So?" Draco said. "I for one think it's rather unfair to expect us Purebloods to share with muggleborns and half-bloods."

"Draco, that's ridiculous," Harry spoke up, no longer willing to simply watch the argument unfold. "Hermione and Tracy have magic and are first year Slytherins just like the rest of us. Never mind who their parents are, they still deserve to be here. I'll warn you again – they could grow up to be brilliant witches and then you'd end up regretting your current attitude."

Draco huffed and crossed his arms, but didn't continue making derogatory comments about muggles. Instead he turned to look speculatively at Tracy and Hermione.

"Is that something you've, you know, Seen?" Nott asked, glancing between Harry and the girls.

Harry nodded. "Yep. Though it should be obvious really. They are Slytherins after all."

The first years all smiled at this and Hermione and Tracy shot Harry grateful looks. The argument died down and they all tacitly agreed to drop the subject of Blood-Purity, at least for the moment. They had an hour-long break before their next class and so split into smaller groups as they headed off in different directions. Hermione, of course, was intent on visiting the library before Transfiguration and Harry decided to accompany her. He wanted to be a proper friend to the girl and didn't want her to feel left out, what with him chatting to all the pureblood students he knew. Hermione's expression visibly brightened when he asked if he could join her, and Harry knew he'd made the right choice despite having no desire to spend any more time than necessary under Madam Pince's gimlet eye.

There was an awkward moment where Hermione realised that she didn't know how to get to the Library, and questioned Harry when he automatically headed in the right direction. For a second he considered trying to blame it on his nebulous 'Seer' powers, but luckily hit on the excuse that he was just following the dozens of Ravenclaw students hurrying past them down the corridor. Hermione seemed to accept this, making Harry sigh in relief. The whole 'Seer' thing would have been a pretty flimsy excuse. Pretending to know things about his fellow students was one thing – it could be considered as just a bizarre magical talent - but being known as a true Seer would be quite another. With his knowledge from his old world he could put on a convincing show of somehow reading people's characters. Claiming to have a divination-enhanced sense of direction would be much riskier since it was more specific and so easier to disprove.

Harry watched Hermione carefully out of the corner of his eye as they headed down one of the moving staircases, worried about how she was dealing with all the hurtful remarks from the rest of the school. Her Housemates were bad enough, but to have a teacher lecture them on the inferiority of muggles must have been really difficult for her. She'd been raging earlier, but now she seemed quite subdued.

"Are you okay?" Harry checked.

"I'm fine," Hermione replied. "Really," she added when Harry shot her a sceptical look. "I wouldn't say things've been easy, but I know they would've been a whole lot worse if you hadn't stuck up for me from the very beginning. I feel Daphne and the others are more willing to give me a chance because of you. So thanks, Orion. I'm really glad that we're friends."

"So am I." Harry smiled at her. "And I should be thanking you for sticking by me. I know you would've been a Ravenclaw if you hadn't wanted to be in the same House as me. The Hat only put you in Slytherin because you asked it to, didn't it?"

Hermione blinked at him in astonishment. "How do you know that?" she demanded. "I haven't told anyone what the Sorting Hat said."

"I told you, I just know things about people." Harry shrugged. "Really, Hermione, how is the magic I do any more unbelievable than being able to turn a teacup into a gerbil or something with only a wave of a wand?"

"I suppose," Hermione allowed. "It's just that there are spells for Transfiguration - wand movements and incantations and proper ways of doing things, not just… looking at someone and knowing all about them."

"Magic is a mysterious force, Hermione," Harry said. "Wizards have been trying to understand it for millennia, but although we've invented spells to shape it and have worked out ways to predict its effects, we remain, essentially, baffled by it. There's so much about magic that hasn't been discovered yet. Or at least not by wizards – and the other magical races tend to guard their knowledge jealously."

Hermione obviously disliked the idea of having knowledge hidden from her. "It's so frustrating to think that there are actually other sentient beings out there, but that they don't want to share what they know!"

"Wizards do the same thing, you know," Harry said. "We were the ones who discovered that our magic could be channelled through wands, and what happened? We promptly made new laws so that only wizards were allowed to use them."

"That's terrible! What right do wizards have to dictate what other races should do?"

"Magic is Might," Harry sadly quoted the words that had been engraved on the statue in the Ministry Atrium after the government had fallen under Death Eater control. "And as even muggles have heard, Might is Right."

"Yes, but that's why laws should be brought in to protect the weaker members of society," Hermione argued.

"I agree, but as Professor Footswitch just showed, a lot of wizards aren't happy with the protection laws that have been enforced…" Harry spread his hands in a 'what can you do' gesture.

"You know, I've only been a part of the Wizarding World for less than two days, but I'm already becoming utterly fed up with it," Hermione said, her eyes narrowing. "I can't believe no one is doing anything about the rampant intolerance and injustice!"

With that Hermione marched into the Library, barely even pausing to take in the magnificent sight of thousands of books piled high on towering bookshelves that reached all the way to the ceiling. As Harry watched her head straight for the Muggle Studies section, he realised that this Hermione had lost almost all her respect for authority and was now driven to prove their Defence Professor wrong. Harry was sad to see her lose her wide-eyed excitement over the magical world, but in a way he thought the change was a good thing. Hermione was frighteningly intelligent, but she wouldn't be able to survive in Slytherin House if she accepted everything at face value and believed everything she was told by the Prefects and Professors.

"Right, I'll just be over here," Harry called after her and sank down at one of the tables. He might as well write a letter to Sirius while he was stuck in the Library, he decided, taking out a fresh roll of parchment and his new Augerey feather quill. After admiring the gift for a moment, he smoothed out the parchment and tried to think how to break the news that he was a Slytherin.

Sirius had said he didn't care what House Harry was sorted into, but Harry was still nervous. Maybe not so much about this Sirius' reaction, but at the thought of how his godfather would've reacted if he were alive. The old Sirius had always made his loathing of all things green and silver perfectly clear. He'd no doubt be horrified that Harry - the boy he had died protecting – had become one of the so-called slimy back-stabbing gits.

Harry hoped the other wizard would have eventually understood, but he couldn't stop the nagging sense of doubt in the back of his mind. He'd loved Sirius, of course he had, and Sirius had loved him in return. Harry was sure of that, although sometimes he thought that Mrs Weasley may have had a point. Sirius might not have thought Harry was James exactly, but Harry often felt that his godfather had loved him because of James. Harry had been Sirius' last link to his dead best friend, and Azkaban had left Sirius with such muddled emotions and haunted thoughts that he couldn't quite separate Harry from his father.

The Sirius in this world didn't seem to have that problem. If anything he seemed to find it almost too easy to think of Harry as his own son. He always called him 'Orion' now and spoke of the other Harry Potter as a completely separate person. Harry supposed the difference might be because of the Mind Healers and the four fewer years Sirius had spent in Azkaban. He suspected, though, that mainly Sirius saw him as Orion Black because he'd never seen him as Harry Potter. Harry had always had his glamours up before the blood adoption had changed his features permanently. Sirius had no reason to marvel at how Harry looked just like James or to think of Harry as a replacement for his godson who had died as a child.

Harry would always mourn the loss of his godfather – a damaged man who hadn't deserved the hell he'd been forced to endure – but he knew that man was lost to him, just like all the people Harry had left behind by travelling to this new world. He couldn't keep comparing people with their counterparts, not if he wanted to be happy. He missed his godfather, and the adult Hermione he had known, and the brave Neville who had fought beside Harry in every fight. He knew though that he had to get to know the Sirius, Hermione and Neville and everyone else in this world as separate people.

Harry's dead godfather might have been disappointed by Harry's sorting, but Orion Black's father wouldn't be. Taking a deep breath, Harry dipped the nib of his quill into the inkpot and began to write.

 

Chapter Text

 

By the end of the day the whole school was talking about their newest professor. While the Hogwarts students had had many different teachers over the years, some good, some bad and (in the case of Binns) some dead, none had ever given rise to such a huge surge of speculation. It seemed Harry's class had not been unique in their experience earlier that day - every student who had had Defence had been given variations of the same lecture.

In the Great Hall that evening groups of students at every table had their heads bent together and were whispering furiously, occasionally turning to stare up at where Professor Footswitch was calmly eating his dinner. It was clear from the snippets of conversations Harry overheard that there were many varying reactions towards the teacher and his unusual lessons. Some students claimed Footswitch was obviously a Death Eater who had managed to avoid Azkaban, while the more hysterical among them insisted he was really Voldemort in disguise. Several of the Gryffindors refused to believe their beloved headmaster would ever hire a Blood-Purist and told anyone who would listen that the Defence Professor must be under some evil wizard's imperius curse. A few Hufflepuffs even hopefully suggested that Footswitch might just have had an off day, and that really he was a lovely and open-minded person deep deep down.

None of the students seemed to care that these theories made very little sense, but Harry was used to disregarding the exaggerated rumours that swirled around the school. He was just glad he wasn't the Boy Who Lived anymore and so was no longer an attractive target for their gossip. Yet while the Hogwarts students in his old world had normally been united in their opinions of Harry (as either an attention-seeking git or a noble saviour), here their attitudes towards Professor Footswitch were less uniform.

The muggleborns in every house looked upset and in some cases mutinous, but that was only to be expected. Amongst the wizard-raised students the reactions were more mixed, with many seeming not to know quite what to think. The Slytherins, however, were almost all united in their general approbation of the man.

Montague and Flint spoke openly of how pleased they were to finally get a Professor who was prepared to speak out against Dumbledore's muggle-loving ways. Pucey - another member of the Quidditch team - disapproved of how blatantly Footswitch had revealed his pureblood supremacist beliefs, thinking that he lacked subtlety. However, he and the other older Slytherins all agreed Footswitch was much better than their last Defence Professor, who from all accounts teacher had been an incompetent idiot that hadn't taught them how to defend themselves against anything more dangerous than a Flobberworm.

In comparison, Footswitch had already taught the upper years several rather impressive new spells as well as innovative uses for old ones and was seen as an excellent instructor. Lionel Moon was delighted by a new compulsion spell his class had learnt, while his fellow prefect Fiona Urqhuart professed herself to be particularly interested in the various uses they'd been shown for an over-powered Aguamenti charm. Footswitch certainly seemed to have a knack for holding his students' attention and keeping them interested in the material.

All-in-all he seemed to be a capable teacher and if it weren't for his political views Harry would actually consider him to be one of the better Defence professors he'd had over the years. Remus Lupin would always be his favourite, of course, since the man had only accidentally tried to kill him - a step up from most of the others. Compared to professors such as Dolores Umbridge, Gilderoy Lockhart or the stuttering Quirrell, Footswitch seemed to not only be lacking any murderous impulses, but also to be a wonderfully informative instructor. At least the students weren't being taught by an actual Death Eater, and so far no one had been tortured with a blood quill.

Although, considering the usual level of Defence instructors, Harry wondered whether it was only a matter of time before Footswitch was revealed as something more sinister than simply an intolerant wizard. Harry actually found it rather reassuring that Footswitch wasn't hiding his anti-muggle sentiments, since it suggested Footswitch was neither an aspiring Dark Lord nor secretly in league with Voldemort.

It did beg the question, however, of why he was allowed to teach at all when his views so obviously contradicted the Headmaster's. Dumbledore had made many rather odd decisions in both worlds, particularly when it came to hiring staff, but Harry had yet to completely give up on trying to find some method to the man's madness. This time he remained baffled though, unable to understand what the hell Dumbledore was thinking.

The older Slytherins sitting within earshot of the first years were apparently wondering the same thing.

"I just can't believe Dumbledore actually hired him. Is he going senile in his old age and just somehow missed the fact that Footswitch is an obvious Blood-Purist?" Terrance Higgs asked, dunking a bread-roll in his stew.

Fiona Urqhuart sneered at the Seeker's table manners. "You're assuming that Dumbledore was the one who appointed him to the position," she pointed out. "It was the Board of Governors who insisted on employing him. Apparently Dumbledore couldn't refuse since there were no other respectable candidates."

Higgs considered this. "The Governors don't normally interfere in decisions like that though, do they?"

"No, but I heard they did it in revenge for Dumbledore insisting on a decrease in tuition for all muggleborns," Moon said, leaning over to join the conversation.

"Really?" Higgs said, his bread roll forgotten as he stared at the Prefect.

Pucey remained more sceptical. "Why would Dumbledore want to do that? He must have known the schools governors such as Lucius Malfoy and Tyron Yaxley wouldn't stand for it."

"And the muggleborns already pay less than the rest of us," Fiona Urquhart added.

"It's true though," Moon insisted. "Dumbledore wants to encourage muggleborn attendance and lowering school fees is one way of doing so."

"At our expense," Pucey grumbled.

Harry and the other first years all listened closely to this exchange between the older Slytherins, but once they began discussing what they'd heard it became clear that each of them had focused on different aspects of the conversation.

Draco was extremely miffed that his father hadn't told him anything about his part in Footswitch's appointment and made sure to let everyone know he felt slighted. Pansy, back to her usual spiteful self, gave him simpering and sympathetic glances, but none of the others cared much about Draco's hurt feelings. They were more interested in the possible consequences of the power play between the Headmaster and the Board of Governors, most of them believing that the Governors had come out on top. Nott – as always paranoid about anything to do with Dumbledore – disagreed and insisted the Headmaster had been the one to benefit most overall. After all, Nott pointed out, Footswitch would no doubt fall victim to the Defence Against the Dark Art's curse and so wouldn't be teaching for longer than a year. The decrease in fees that Dumbledore had enforced would be in effect for a lot longer. Harry agreed with him - he knew Dumbledore too well to ever underestimate the man.

Hermione didn't really know enough about how Hogwarts was run and about the politics of the Wizarding World to contribute much to the discussion. She was, however, rather abashed to hear that her parents were paying less than her housemates' families and asked Daphne if it was really true.

Daphne daintily dabbed at her lips with her napkin before answering. "It is," she said. "Muggleborns pay significantly less, while magical orphans are allowed to attend Hogwarts for free. It's been that way for centuries."

"It's completely unfair, of course," Nott said, stabbing a fork into his steak.

"No it isn't," Harry disagreed. "Or well, I suppose it sort of is, but it also makes sense. After all, most muggle parents wouldn't be prepared to pay hundreds of galleons for their children to learn magic when they could send them to muggle schools for free."

"Well I think it would be a good thing if there were fewer muggleborns around Hogwarts," Draco drawled.

"So you'd want untrained witches and wizards living amongst muggles?" Harry raised an eyebrow at the blond. "You do realise there'd be a far higher risk of our existence being exposed, don't you?"

"Hmm, I hadn't thought of that," Nott said while Draco paused to consider Harry's words.

"Wizards only really perform accidental magic while they're children though," Daphne argued. "It requires both untamed magic and an unrestrained emotion such as pure fear or overwhelming sorrow. Adults don't really let themselves feel such things in public- I mean when was the last time you saw an adult break down into hysterical tears or something equally undignified?"

"Yes exactly. Good point, cousin!" Draco nodded his approval and saluted her with his goblet.

"Maybe not in everyday situations," Harry said, "but if they felt under threat and were scared for themselves and their loved ones then their magic would react."

"Oh! Is that what lies behind all the amazing feats doctors put down to adrenaline rushes?" Hermione teetered on the edge of her seat as if wanting to immediately rush off and research this new perspective on muggle medical knowledge.

"Yeah, I think so," Harry said. "But while accidental magic can sometimes be explained away by science, it's often too blatant to be hidden by anything other than a well-cast Obliviation Charm. And there's always a risk that the Ministry officials won't make it to the scene on time. That's why it's so important for muggleborns to get the proper training. The Obliviators are overworked enough as it is."

Millicent Bulstrode, who usually stayed silent and kept her head down, joined the conversation at this point. "Yeah, my mum's on the Muggle-Worthy Excuses Committee at the Ministry." She paused to look around at her fellow first years with a belligerent expression as if daring them to comment. "She says it's really hard to stop the muggles from becoming suspicious. She says they're run off their feet."

"And that's why Dumbledore's decision makes sense," Harry stated. "Over the past few centuries the muggle population has skyrocketed, which of course has led to an increase in the number of muggleborns. The Wizarding World can't afford to leave them wandering around with no control over their magic. If the muggles discovered them it would be disastrous for all of us."

Harry's fellow students appeared to agree with him, though Draco wasn't entirely convinced. "It all sounds very reasonable when you put it that way, but I still think it's unfair to expect us to pay more. Muggleborns don't have to go to Hogwarts after all; they could go to one of the other magical schools here in Britain. It'd certainly be cheaper for them and better for us."

"You mean the schools that teach broom-crafting and magical horticulture and stuff?" Nott was clearly dubious. "Only children from really poor families get sent there. That or they don't have enough magic to cast the spells we're taught here at Hogwarts."

"Exactly!" Draco looked immensely pleased with himself for coming up with the idea. "The muggleborns would fit right in with all the illiterate commoners."

Hermione spluttered indignantly, obviously not happy with the slur on her intelligence.

"You know, Draco, for all your so-called superiority, I bet Hermione here will out-perform you on every single exam at the end of the year," Harry said, smirking at the blond.

"Nonsense." Draco sniffed. "I'm a Malfoy - no mere muggleborn could ever outdo me."

"Care to put a wager on that, Cousin?"

"What are the terms?"

"If you win, I'll give you my Augerey feather quill." Harry grinned as he saw Draco's eyes light up with a gleam of avarice. The blond had been eyeing Harry's present all day. "However… if Hermione does manage to get better marks than you, then you have to admit in front of the whole school that she - a muggleborn - is capable of being a better witch than you are a wizard. You also aren't allowed to use the term 'mudblood' for as long as you attend Hogwarts. Deal?"

Draco hesitated for only a moment before nodding firmly. "Fine. Agreed."

Harry and Draco smirked at each other, both sure of their victory, and shook hands across the table. The other first years served as witnesses to the deal.

Hermione huffed and rolled her eyes at them both. "Honestly, I can't believe you two," she said, but nevertheless looked rather flattered by Harry's faith in her.

Rather surprisingly not all the first years were on Draco's side. Daphne and Nott seemed keen on seeing the Malfoy Heir taken down a peg and so offered to let Hermione study with them occasionally. Goyle cracked his knuckles and looked threatening, but didn't succeed in intimidating the two into retracting their offer. Blaise Zabini simply watched his classmates with a bored expression on his handsome face. Pansy, of course, clung to Draco's arm and lavished him with compliments for the rest of the meal.

Later on as they were heading back to the common room for the evening, Hermione pulled Harry aside.

"Orion, are you sure about this?" she whispered, glancing nervously over her shoulder to check none of the other first years were listening. "What if I fail all my classes? What if I turn out to be a terrible witch who can't cast a single spell and I'm sent home in disgrace? What if -"

"Hermione," Harry interrupted her, reaching out to squeeze her shoulder comfortingly. "Calm down. We both know you're a brilliant student and that you'll ace all your classes."

"You can't know that for sure. It's only our first day of school!"

Harry gave her a pointed look. "Hermione, I know."

"Oh, you're talking about that Seer thing," Hermione realised, calming down considerably. "Well, I'm not entirely sure I believe in divination, but if you're certain…"

"I am."

"I suppose that's all right then," Hermione said and then abruptly whacked Harry on the arm. "I can't believe you actually bet on me! And at such high stakes! Our studies are supposed to be taken seriously you know!"

"Ouch! What did you do that for?"

"You deserved it," Hermione told him sternly.

Harry stopped rubbing his arm in order to nudge her cajolingly. "Come on, admit it - you'd love to see Draco humble himself in front of the entire school."

"It would be quite satisfying," Hermione admitted, a sly smile tugging at her lips.

"There you go then! I just handed you the perfect opportunity to ensure it happens."

"Right." Hermione nodded, a look of determination settling over her face. "Tomorrow I'm heading straight to the Library! There are so many spells I'll need to learn and Professor Sprout mentioned several Herbology texts that could be useful and…"

And she was off, talking at break-neck speed and gesticulating wildly. Listening to her, Harry was filled with a growing sense of foreboding. If Hermione had been obsessive over her studies before, now she seemed positively fanatical. Harry was certain he'd win his bet, but he wondered whether he'd end up regretting that he'd made it in the first place.

-.-.-

The next morning Hermione disappeared off to the Library as promised, only re-joining the other Slytherins minutes before the start of their first Potions lesson. She was loaded down with books and clutched a piece of toast in one hand while holding up a copy of Magical Drafts and Potions with the other. Harry was surprised she hadn't fallen down a staircase or tripped over a statue yet with her eyes so firmly glued to the pages.

"Hermione, don't you think you're overdoing it a bit?" Harry tilted his head to see the contents of her schoolbag as they walked along the hallway. "Do you really need… fifteen books for our second day of school? Fifteen, Hermione?"

"They've all got essential information that I can't afford to simply skim over." Hermione didn't take her eyes off the page in front of her. She would have walked right passed the Potions classroom if Harry hadn't grabbed her and steered her towards where two separate groups of Gryffindors and Slytherins were already waiting.

"You're out of luck - magical talent doesn't come from books, Granger," Pansy said, sneering unpleasantly.

"Still picking on people, Pansy?" Parvati Patil spoke up loudly from her place amongst the students wearing red and gold.

"Still interfering in other people's affairs?" Pansy retorted.

Harry ignored their squabble and headed over to where Neville was standing slightly apart from the other Gryffindors.

"Hi there, Neville," Harry said, smiling easily at the nervous looking boy.

"Oh, hello, Black. I-I mean, Orion," Neville stammered, his eyes darting down to Harry's Slytherin tie and then back up to his face.

"How've you been finding Hogwarts so far?" Harry tried to put him at ease with a harmless question.

"Oh, well, it's been all right." Neville did not sound enthusiastic. "My Dad'll be pleased I got into Gryffindor at least - it was his old House while he was at school."

"Yeah, my dad mentioned they used to be Housemates."

"Well, I hope your father doesn't mind you're a Slytherin. Mine would've been so angry… He wants to me to be an Auror and everything, just like him." Neville looked rather downtrodden under the weight of his father's expectations.

"Well we've got years before we have to decide what we want to do once we leave school," Harry comforted him. "We don't even really know what subjects we enjoy yet. How're you finding the classes so far?"

"They haven't been too bad," Neville said, brightening up a little. "History of Magic was a bit scary at first - it's taught by a ghost! - but it ended up being rather boring instead. I'm really looking forward to Herbology later on today. I just hope the teacher's a bit nicer than Professor Footswitch…"

"So you've had a Defence lesson, too, then?" Harry smiled and rolled his eyes as he thought of the uproar the teacher had caused. "Don't worry, you'll like Professor Sprout."

"Why should Neville trust anything you say?" The voice was familiar, and Harry wasn't surprised when he turned around to see Ron Weasley glaring at him mistrustfully. "You Slytherins probably love Footswitch. I bet you enjoyed listening to him insulting muggles."

"Yes we did," Draco said, stepping up beside Harry. "What I don't understand, Weasley, is why you didn't."

"Because!" Ron spluttered. "It's wrong, that's why."

Draco scoffed derisively. "Honestly, that's such typical Gryffindor idealism. There's no need for you to get so worked up- you're a pureblood after all. And it's not even as if there are Gryffindor muggleborns in our year who you might feel the need to defend."

"Yes there are," Harry argued. "What about Dean Thomas?"

"Huh? Did someone say my name?" Dean turned away from his conversation with Seamus Finnigan to look over at the group.

"Yeah, sorry." Harry gave the other boy a rather embarrassed smile. "I was just telling Draco that you happen to be a muggleborn."

"No I'm not," Dean said. He looked as if he wasn't certain whether or not to be offended. "My dad's a pureblood wizard."

"See, I'm right," Draco said smugly. "Hah! Your Seer talent seems to be a bit faulty, don't you think, Orion?"

Harry rolled his eyes at him. "I see people's characters and their future potential, which - despite what you may think - doesn't rely on their blood status."

Yet Harry wasn't nearly as calm as he pretended. Dean Thomas was a half-blood! Well, actually Harry had already known that, but in his old world Dean had only found out after he'd left school. His wizard father had died in the first war, before ever telling his wife the truth about magic. She'd had no way to know that her husband had died - she thought he'd just walked out of the house one day and abandoned her. Dean Thomas had grown up with his father's name but very little else to remind him of the man. He'd lived with his muggle mother and step-father and had considered himself a perfectly normal muggleborn. It was only once the Ministry had begun rounding people up and forcing them to go through a blood-testing that Dean had finally discovered the truth.

Obviously that version of events was very different from what had happened in this universe. Harry supposed Dean's father must have survived the war and lived to raise his son, and wondered what possible consequences this could have for the talented artist and Westham football fan who he'd known in his old world.

He was still pondering this when Snape swept past them and ordered them into the classroom for the start of the Potions lesson. Harry immediately took a seat beside Neville, hoping to prevent the clumsy boy from melting his cauldron and gaining Snape's ridicule. Although Harry might not actually be doing him any favours, since Snape would very probably harass Sirius Black's son and whoever was unfortunate enough to work with him.

The rest of the class divided themselves up into pairs from the same House, with Ron, Seamus and Dean having to share a cauldron. The three boys did not appear to be happy that Neville was sitting with the 'enemy', but the plump boy just stared back at them defiantly. Harry was pleased to glimpse this rare sign of confidence in the normally timid boy, as well as to see Hermione sitting with Daphne - those two girls seemed to get on surprisingly well.

The Potions Professor glared around at the class as they fumbled to set up their cauldrons and vials of ingredients. Under his heavy gaze the students immediately fell silent and gave him their full attention.

"Potions brewing is a precise art - the slightest mistake can have disastrous consequences," Snape began without preamble. "Too much of a certain ingredient can turn a healing draught into a poison and stirring too vigorously or too slowly can cause a potion to explode - possibly leading to debilitating injuries."

Beside Harry, Neville gulped nervously. Several other students shifted uneasily in their seats, as if wondering whether to make a run for it or not. Harry himself was rather taken aback by Snape's speech; there was no mention of simmering cauldrons or shimmering fumes or whatever else Harry had heard the first time he'd lived through this class. This time Snape wasn't lecturing his students on the beauty of his subject, but only impressing upon them the dangers involved.

"I will not tolerate any tomfoolery. Anyone who thinks it would be a good idea to play a prank in my classroom is risking expulsion. They will certainly never be allowed to return to any class of which I am the teacher. There will be no second chances given," Snape said, his gaze lingering on the Gryffindor side of the room. Once he caught sight of Harry sitting with Neville, his eyes narrowed even further. "I demand nothing less than your best effort and your total concentration. Turning up to a lesson unprepared will lead to point losses and detention. Black! What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"

Immediately Hermione's hand shot into the air, but this time Harry knew the answer. "A draught of living death, sir," he said, trying to make his tone as respectful as possible.

"And where would you look if I asked you to find me a bezoar?"

Harry was tempted to say 'in the potions cupboard' just to see how Snape would react, but decided to stick with his plan of proving he wasn't an arrogant dunderhead. "In the stomach of a goat, sir."

"Correct." Snape's expression was now more appraising than hateful. "Ten points to Slytherin," he added with an audible trace of reluctance, then rounded on the Gryffindors. "Weasley! What is the difference between Monkshood and Wolfsbane?"

Ron didn't know the answer to the question and neither did any of his housemates. Hermione of course had her hand up and was waving it around in the air to catch the Professor's attention. Since she was Slytherin rather than a Gryffindor, Snape actually called on her to answer.

"They're the same plant, also known as Aconite," she said breathlessly.

"Five points to Slytherin." Snape nodded approvingly. "And can anyone tell me the antidote to the common Swelling Solution? Yes, Miss Granger?"

"The Deflating Draught, sir." Hermione sent Draco a victorious look when her answer was once again pronounced correct.

The bushy-haired girl ended up earning Slytherin thirty five points over the course of the two hour lesson, and Snape praised her brewing technique almost as much as he did Draco's. Hermione looked rather put out at being second best, but considering that Draco had several more years of experience as well as Snape's nepotism on his side, Harry thought she was doing extremely well. The other Slytherins in the class were pleased she had gained their House so many points, with Daphne going so far as to give her a genuine smile and Nott sending her a discrete thumbs-up.

Harry was simply glad he'd managed to prevent Neville from blowing up their cauldron and was instead able to brew a passable cure for boils. This feat was much trickier than Harry had expected since Neville's mere presence seemed to make the potion unstable. Harry had always assumed Neville's incompetence in the subject had been due to his fear of Snape, but their Professor had apparently decided to avoid their bench in an effort to ignore Harry, so the timid boy had no reason to feel terrorised by the man. Neville just seemed to somehow exude disruptive magic.

While through Harry's efforts no cauldrons exploded, Snape still found plenty of other things to criticise. After the Potions Professor took two points off Seamus just for holding his knife wrong and another five from Ron for wearing scruffy robes, Harry knew for certain that Snape's blatant favouritism was one of the constants in both worlds.

Yet as Harry watched Snape swoop around the classroom barking out instructions and belittling the Gryffindors, he was again struck by the feeling that something was different, just like he had the day before during Snape's speech in front of the first year Slytherins. It took a while for Harry to put his finger on just what the difference was, but eventually he realised it lay in Snape's attitude. The man's actions were the same, but he didn't appear to derive the same level of vicious satisfaction as his counterpart had.

His black eyes didn't gleam with proprietary pleasure when praising one of his Slytherins, nor did they flash with malicious amusement when ruining Gryffindor's chances for the House Cup. The more Harry observed him, the more he realised that inwardly Snape was totally apathetic and lacking any passion for his subject. It seemed to be habit and nothing else that had the Potions Master snapping out scathing remarks and glaring his students into submission.

The intensity that the Snape from Harry's old world used to exude was muted if not entirely missing. This Snape seemed to be devoid of the spiteful energy that had motivated his counterpart's behaviour. He seemed… empty.

That startling realisation kept Harry preoccupied for the rest of the lesson, so it was lucky that he had several years of brewing experience since otherwise he would have been sure to blow something up due to his lack of concentration. He managed to escape the class with no more than a sneer from Snape as the man grudgingly pronounced their potion to be 'adequate', and then automatically began heading towards the upper levels of the castle.

"Orion, is something wrong?" Hermione caught up with him near the first floor Charms classroom. "You seem distracted."

"It's nothing," Harry said immediately, but then reconsidered. He didn't want to tell Hermione the whole truth about himself, but that didn't meant he had to hide everything from her. "I was just thinking about Snape. He seems like a very… unhappy person. In fact I'd almost say he's devoid of any positive emotions whatsoever."

"Is that another thing you've Seen?" Hermione wore a doubtful expression. "Well, I have to wonder whether your divination skills are working properly. Professor Snape seems to me to be just a rather unpleasant man who enjoys upsetting his students. I saw no signs of depression or anything else."

"On the contrary, Miss Granger, young Mr Black here has the right of it," Professor Dumbledore unexpectedly spoke up from directly behind the pair. They spun round in surprise, Harry's eyes narrowing as he gazed up at their Headmaster. Beside him Hermione blushed in embarrassment. She was clearly overawed by the Headmaster and Harry suppressed a sigh as he realised that her respect for authority figures was still strong.

"Oh…" was all Hermione said before lapsing into a self-conscious silence.

"Hello, sir," Harry said warily. Up close he noticed that the much older wizard looked almost as worn and exhausted as his counterpart had after Voldemort's return. The rumours of Dumbledore's declining influence might have some truth to them.

"I must say, Mr Black, your ability to read people's characters is most remarkable," Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling behind his spectacles. "The little performance you gave during the Sorting quite impressed me."

"How do you know about that?" Harry frowned. "Sir," he added more respectfully when he remembered he was supposed to be just another student.

"You drew a lot of attention to yourself that evening, my boy," Dumbledore said. "I admit my curiosity got the better of me. I hope I didn't intrude."

Harry wondered whether Dumbledore made a regular habit of listening in on conversations at the Slytherin table. If he did Harry couldn't entirely disapprove, although it was rather inconvenient since he'd hoped to remain mostly unnoticed by the Headmaster. He supposed that had been rather too much to expect given his usual luck, however.

"Right, well, my ability isn't actually that impressive." Harry tried to appear bashful as an excuse to not quite meet the man's eyes. He had managed to learn Occlumency - which had become much easier once he was no longer a Horcrux - but he didn't want to test his abilities against a wizard as skilled as Dumbledore. "It's not really under my conscious control," Harry added, hoping to downplay his imaginary talent.

Dumbledore hummed thoughtfully. "I suppose it occurs when you look at certain people? Perhaps it is most pronounced with physical contact?"

"Er, yeah." Harry hoped his lies wouldn't be exposed for what they were. Fooling teenagers - even if they were Slytherins - was easy. Dumbledore would be much harder to deceive. Harry didn't even know if the so-called Seer talent he possessed was a real ability or not. He was relieved to find that Dumbledore seemed to think it was.

"Then it is as I expected." Dumbledore smiled genially at Harry. "You, my boy, appear to have a talent for Assessing."

"Sorry, what?" It sounded to Harry as if Dumbledore thought he would make a good accountant.

"I am not surprised you have not heard the term before," Dumbledore said calmly. "It is quite a rare skill within the already obscure branch of Divination. As the name suggests, an Assessor is someone who can gauge - or assess - other people's strengths and weaknesses, as well as glimpse their possible futures. It is a very useful ability; to look into the depths of a man's soul and see what secrets lurk therein... an Assessor often knows us better than we can know ourselves. Hmm, perhaps you might like to have a few lessons with Sybil Trelawney - our Divination Professor here at Hogwarts - to help you refine your skills?"

"Um, no thank you." Harry didn't want to have anything to do with the crazy woman. "I'd prefer to just concentrate on my ordinary classes for now, if that's all right."

"Of course, my boy. I understand perfectly," Dumbledore assured him. "Indeed I have noticed that students as young as yourself often wish to blend in with their peers rather than stand apart from the crowd. I only hope you will nurture your gift. A magical talent such as yours is a rare and precious thing."

"But there are others with the same ability, you said?" Harry wondered whether he should be pleased by that or not. It could either help him imitate the gifts of an Assessor, or could increase the risk of being found out as a fraud.

"Oh yes," Dumbledore said. "You are the only one living in Britain that I know of, but there have been many wizards and witches with your talent scattered over the centuries - and within certain bloodlines. Helga Hufflepuff herself was not only a powerful witch, but also an extremely talented Assessor. How else could the Sorting Hat do what it does? The founders left imprints of themselves in the Hat, and it is the echo of Lady Hufflepuff's ability that allows it to judge which House best suits each student."

"I thought the Hat used Legilimency," Harry said honestly.

Dumbledore's piercing blue eyes inspected Harry closely. "Hmm, did you indeed… It is not often I get to meet an eleven year old with knowledge of such obscure magic. I suppose given your heritage I should not be surprised. Your father also made a habit of knowing things he shouldn't. Why, I hear he became an Animagus right under my crooked nose!"

"Yes, along with his friends."

Harry watched the Headmaster closely to see how he reacted to this oblique mention of Sirius' wrongful incarceration. He wasn't sure what he was looking for; maybe a hint of sincere regret. If so he didn't get it - the old wizard was as hard to read as ever.

"Ah yes, young James Potter and Peter Pettigrew. It is always sad when our friends leave us, whether through death or through betrayal…" Dumbledore sighed. "Yet the bonds of friendship are our greatest support during hard times. Which is why I hope you both will be kind to Professor Snape. He has had a difficult life."

"Why, what happened to him?" Hermione spoke up, her curiosity winning out over her awe.

"That, Miss Granger, is not my story to tell," the Headmaster said gently. "Although I can assure you that he has suffered greatly over the years. Now, I was on my way to visit the kitchens for a pot of hot cocoa before we had this lovely chat. Please don't let me detain you from whatever youthful mischief you may have been planning."

It was clear that Dumbledore didn't want to dwell on serious subjects any longer. The eccentric wizard ambled off down the corridor, his bright purple robes swirling behind him as he hummed a jaunty tune. He was barely out of earshot when Hermione began babbling excitedly about meeting the famed Headmaster, but Harry did not share her enthusiasm over the encounter.

Harry wasn't very successful in not holding Dumbledore's actions in his old world against the man he'd just met. This Dumbledore seemed just as infuriatingly vague and interfering as his counterpart, and Harry was not inclined to trust him with his secrets.

The older wizard was magically powerful and highly intelligent, but also morally weak. Harry had always got the impression that Dumbledore never managed to get over his past with Gellert Grindlewald. Together the two wizards had crafted plans to subjugate muggles and dominate the Wizarding World, though after Ariana's death Dumbledore turned away from that dark path. Instead he had dedicated himself to supporting muggle rights and trying to prevent the rise of any future Dark Lords. The tragic end of his love-affair with Grindlewald seemed to have taught Dumbledore that he couldn't be trusted with power, and so he had tried to stay out of positions of direct control - repeatedly turning down the position of Minister of Magic when offered it. Despite his good intentions, however, this had only led to him guiding the Wizarding World from the shadows. He both desired and feared power, but was unable to entirely restrain himself pursuing it.

Dumbledore was a man of many strengths as well as flaws, but Harry would never again follow him blindly. His faith in him had been damaged years ago - when Harry's willing sacrifice had not achieved the promised peace and the war had instead dragged on, despite no clear leader rising to take Voldemort's place. Harry knew that Dumbledore - apart from making the monumental mistake of thinking that Voldemort's death would end the war - was not to blame for all that had gone wrong. Perhaps the man had simply hoped the Ministry and the wizards and witches it governed would listen to the better angels of their nature. Sadly, they hadn't, and that made Harry realise that the war had never really been about Voldemort. The Dark Lord was a rallying point for extremists and the instigator of the worst acts of violence, but the seeds of discontent had been planted long before - as far back as the founding of Hogwarts, or maybe even further.

The process of changing the very basis of wizarding society would be long and arduous - maybe even impossible. Harry knew he had to make the attempt, but was forced to admit that he couldn't do it alone.

 

Chapter Text

 

The next few days passed by in a haze of schoolwork and inane conversations. It was hard for Harry to be surrounded by children all day long and be expected to act like one of them. He just couldn't properly interest himself in their childish worries and juvenile humour. He found himself missing the company of Sirius, who was the only person he could be himself around, as well as Remus and the Tonks family and even the other Blacks. While they treated him as the young boy he appeared to be, they were at least adults Harry could converse and interact with.

Harry found his schoolwork to be equally tedious. He did his best not to appear overly knowledgeable, but at the same time wanted to be known as a talented wizard. It was a difficult balancing act to maintain and Harry compromised by casting spells perfectly (which wasn't beyond the realm of possibility for a student who'd been taught magic before Hogwarts) while only doing the bare minimum required for his theory and written work.

This quickly lead to Harry being acknowledged as the most talented wizard in the class, though not the most studious, and far surpassing Hermione when it came to performing magic - a state of affairs which irked the girl considerably. At times Harry felt he was being somewhat dishonest by using his prior knowledge, but he soon convinced himself that such guilt was irrational. It wasn't as if it was his fault, after all, and in any case his advantages weren't all-encompassing. Like the rest of his classmates, Harry had to put a lot of effort into attuning his magic to wand-work, even though his greater experience and power allowed him to appear 'gifted' - enough so to even earn a smile and twenty points from McGonagall for a perfectly transfigured matchstick.

He had forgotten most of what he'd learnt in Astronomy and History of Magic, however, so in those classes he wasn't much better off than any other student. Hearing about constellations and Goblin rebellions wasn't any less boring the second time round, and Harry often thought longingly of quitting school entirely. Writing essays again was something he found particularly unpleasant, especially on topics such as muggle violence for their Defence Against the Dark Arts class.

Harry, Hermione and Nott joined the Hufflepuffs Ernie and Susan as well as Neville in the library to work on their homework for Professor Footswitch. It was Harry who had first suggested they work together and the enthusiastic response from the other students had turned it into an informal study group. Nott had invited himself along when he'd heard Harry discussing it with Ernie, probably because he recognised the benefit of studying with the most talented student in their year.

No matter the reason, Nott was warmly welcomed and the six first years settled down in a quiet corner of the Library and as far away from Madame Pince as possible.

"Er, what was the essay question again?" Neville asked, chewing nervously on his fingernails.

"We have to write an analysis of at least five cases of muggles harming magical children over the past two centuries." Hermione fussily began setting out her quill and inkpot so that they were perfectly aligned with her roll of parchment. "I suggest we first look for books in the history section for information on-"

"Hold up," Ernie interrupted. "There's no need to go running for a book. There are five purebloods at this table and I'm sure between us we'll be able to come up with enough examples to be getting on with."

"I can think of several already," Nott agreed.

"Yes, like that case in Dorset where that young witch was attacked by her uncle," said Susan. "My Aunt told me all about it. Though the uncle was a Squib, not a muggle."

Ernie dipped his quill in ink and scribbled a few notes down. "I hardly think that matters, old girl. What does is that the man didn't have magic and was resentful of those who did."

"I wonder if we could make a case against Filch?" Nott wondered. "I mean, only yesterday he threatened to string me up by my ankles just for having mud on my shoes. That sounds like harm to me."

"I think Footswitch is looking for something a bit more serious than stories of cantankerous old caretakers," Susan said in a tone of amusement.

"How about what happened to Dumbledore's sister," Harry suggested.

The other students stared at him. "Dumbledore has a sister?"

"Well he did, but she died a long time ago," Harry said. "I'm not entirely certain of the details, but I heard she was attacked by muggles as a child. They wanted to force her into doing a spell for them or something, and she became so scared that her magic was permanently damaged. She couldn't control her powers, so she was never able to attend Hogwarts or anything. She died not long after."

"That's terrible!" Neville both looked and sounded particularly stricken, making Harry glance at him in some surprise.

Susan was doubtful. "I've never heard any of that."

"Though it does sound like just the sort of thing muggles would do," Nott said.

"Don't be ridiculous!" Hermione huffed and reached for a book from the stack in front of her. "I'm sure that never happened, nowhere in Great Wizards of the Twentieth Century did it mention Dumbledore having a sister - and Susan said herself that it wasn't a muggle who attacked that girl. What we should be focusing on are cases of magical children dying in muggle accidents or bomb attacks or something similar. I'm sure during the London Blitz there must have been a few wizard casualties…"

"I beg your pardon! I think you'll find we know an awful lot more about this sort of thing than you do, Granger," Ernie said. "There've been loads of documented cases of muggles purposefully targeting wizard children."

"Right." Nott shot the muggleborn girl a quelling look. "You can't just brush it all aside."

"You've only been a part of our world for a very short while," Susan added gently. "And even then all you've seen is Hogwarts - and Diagon Alley as well I suppose. It's hardly surprising that there's a lot you don't know."

Hermione flushed under their combined rebukes and fell silent, but Harry got the impression that she was still convinced she was in the right.

"S-she does have a point about the muggle accidents though," Neville spoke up hesitantly. "I mean, Harry Potter was killed in a car crash, wasn't he?"

"Oh yes! We should certainly put that down," Ernie said. "Good show, Neville!"

"Everyone else is sure to also mention the Boy Who Lived though. He was famous after all. Maybe we should use something less obvious?" Nott twiddled his quill thoughtfully.

Harry felt decidedly odd hearing his counterpart's death spoken about as an answer to an essay question, but was relieved that his treatment at the hands of the Dursleys wasn't being dragged into the discussion. The Dursleys hadn't abused him exactly, but they'd still done their best to make him miserable and he'd always been very aware that he wasn't considered a part of their family. 'Harm' encompassed both mental and physical injury after all. He supposed the Wizarding World must never have found out about the cupboard under the stairs and Dudley's game of Harry Hunting.

"It's strange to think that he would've been in our year," Susan mused. "I wonder what he would've been like?"

"Who cares," Nott said. "I just still can't believe Harry Potter lived with a bunch of muggles. Another one of Dumbledore's bright ideas - no wonder there are all those Daily Prophet articles questioning his sanity."

Ernie puffed up his chest importantly. "Really it just goes to show that muggles have no business raising wizard children in the first place."

Hermione immediately rounded on him. "What! How can you say that?"

"Easily, Granger," Nott said as he lounged in his chair with one arm slung over the backrest. "If the children aren't being abused or belittled by their families, then they're dying in car accidents or from filthy muggle diseases."

"Children belong with their parents! Wizards have no right to simply swoop in and steal them away!" Hermione was incensed. "Orion! Surely you don't agree with them?"

Harry hesitated. He thought of his own childhood, and Snape's abuse at the hands of his muggle father, and how Tom Riddle grew up in an orphanage.

"Well, I don't think muggleborns should be taken from their families unless there's clear evidence they're being abused," Harry said at last. "As you said, they belong with their parents and I don't think they'd necessarily be any better off here in our world, what with the general disdain for muggleborns and all that. When it comes to magical orphans though… their muggle guardians wouldn't have blood-ties or parental affection to stop them from lashing out when confronted by accidental magic."

Ernie nodded approvingly. "Well said!"

"Not that there are that many magical orphans - I mean ones without any extended family in the Wizarding World, seeing as so many purebloods are interrelated." Susan put in. "Harry Potter was a special case, what with Dumbledore involving himself and, er, well, Sirius Black in Azkaban... Sorry Orion, I don't want to bring up any unpleasant memories for you."

Harry smiled at the Hufflepuff girl, who was clearly worried she'd upset her new friend. He wondered what she'd think if she knew he was actually Harry Potter. "Don't worry about it."

Hermione did not look any less angry. "Even if - on the very off chance - a child was being abused, it could be dealt with by the proper muggle authorities! I don't see why the Ministry of Magic or any other wizards should have to get involved."

"Look, think of it this way," Harry tried to put his views into logical terms that she might accept. "The muggle world is basically a foreign country. It's got its own laws, its own government. Sending a magical child to be raised by muggles while surrounded by a completely different culture doesn't make any sense."

Hermione dismissed his argument with an impatient gesture. "The muggle and wizarding worlds aren't that different - they're both British. Wizards just have to move with the times, that's all."

Her pureblood classmates were vocal in their outrage at this statement; even Neville looked angry.

"Where do you get off telling us to -"

"It's muggles who're the ones who need to change -"

"I say, Granger, that's frightfully unfair -"

The argument continued and only rose in intensity, with Hermione refusing to back down and the wizard-raised students all angry at her unwillingness to listen. Harry tried to interject, to calm things down, but that only lead to Hermione storming off, saying he was "just like all the other Purebloods!"

"Good riddance," Ernie said once she'd gathered up her school things and left. "She might be academically intelligent, but really! Going on about 'human rights' when everyone knows merpeople and centaurs and that lot get awfully offended at the mere idea of being considered human. And what would we need all that muggle technology nonsense for when we've got magic?"

"It's only her first real week in the Wizarding World," Harry said. "She's probably just feeling uncertain and so clinging on to what she knows."

Nott wasn't prepared to accept such an excuse. "That's no reason for her to insult us. She dismissed centuries of wizarding achievement and development just because it doesn't match her notions of so-called muggle progress."

"She w-was rather rude," Neville said.

Harry could see he wouldn't be able to convince any of them and frankly wasn't sure if he really wanted to try. He'd been behaving as a pureblood - learning their history and culture and traditions - for long enough now that he found himself agreeing with their views more than he sympathised with Hermione's. Of course, he could hardly forget his own heritage and that his mother was a muggleborn witch, but unlike Hermione he realised that most muggle ideas and values just weren't applicable in the Wizarding World. He hoped Hermione would soon come to accept that the only thing her strident defence of muggles was going to achieve was her total alienation from her wizard-raised classmates.

Harry sighed. If this was what Footswitch had been aiming for when setting the essay - a division between purebloods and muggleborns - he'd certainly been successful.

-.-.-

Harry managed to make peace with Hermione, with each stiffly apologising for their behaviour but not for their opinions, and from then on they agreed not to discuss muggle-wizard relations. It wasn't an ideal solution to their differences since it only lead to them being rather awkward around each other, but - considering that Hermione was similar to the young and rather overbearing girl her counterpart had been before her run in with a troll - it was the best Harry felt he could hope for.

While Harry listened to her babble on about classes and how Professor Flitwick had praised her essay on the development of the levitation charm, he couldn't help thinking wistfully of his Hermione. The one who'd understood his past and why he wanted a total separation between the Muggle and Wizarding worlds, who'd understood him. The younger Hermione would never be that woman, but Harry did hope she would gradually learn to keep more of an open mind.

She was at least beginning to tone down her behaviour slightly, though her views remained unchanged. Daphne had sort of taken the other girl under her wing, and Hermione seemed to accept her gentle hints and corrections better than she had Harry's rather clumsy attempts at the same thing. The bushy-haired girl had also begun spending a lot of time with the other muggleborns in their year, particularly the two Ravenclaws Terry Boot and Megan Jones. Harry wondered guiltily whether she regretted forcing the Hat to sort her into Slytherin.

On the morning of their first flying lesson, Hermione sat at the Ravenclaw table for breakfast while Harry ate with Draco and the rest of the Slytherins. Like the last time Harry had lived through this, the main topic of conversation was flying, with students boasting of harrowing mid-air encounters with herds of hippogriffs and muggle helicopters and the like. As before, Harry didn't believe any of these exaggerated tales.

"...and of course you and I have no need for any lessons on how to fly a broom," Draco was saying to Harry. "Really, what proper wizard hasn't flown before…"

"Mmhmm," Harry mumbled, not really listening to the blond. Instead he stroked Hedwig, who had swooped into the Great Hall with the other post owls, and fed her bits of bacon from his plate. "What've you got there, girl?" Harry examined the bulky letter clasped in Hedwig's talons.

The letter was from Sirius and contained news of his work at the Auror Office and his efforts to be Arcturus' dutiful Heir, as well as a stick of sickly-smelling incense and a pack of tarot cards. Apparently Sirius found it incredibly amusing that Harry had managed to fool everyone, including the all-knowing Dumbledore, into believing he was some sort of Seer.

"Ha ha, very funny Sirius," Harry muttered. Though he was glad Sirius was keeping busy and not letting himself fall into the depressed moods that sometimes grasped him. Harry had been worried about going to Hogwarts and leaving Sirius alone in Grimmauld Place, but apparently Andromeda, Remus, the other Aurors, and even Dobby were all keeping him from lapsing into darker thoughts.

Across the hall Neville had also received a package. Harry didn't have to see it to know it was a Remembrall, and sighed as he caught Draco eying the small orb in gleeful interest. As Draco made to stand, clearly intending to go and steal the thing, Harry grabbed hold of his wrist and pulled him back down.

"Don't, Draco," Harry said.

Draco turned to him with an irritated frown. "What?"

"Don't go over there and tease Neville. He's not someone it's a good idea to pick on," Harry said. "You know how I mentioned that people you dismiss as unimportant now might become powerful in the future?"

"Yes, but… Longbottom? Really?" Draco glanced incredulously over at the Gryffindor table where Neville was holding the glowing red ball and screwing up his face as he tried to remember whatever it was he'd forgotten. "I heard his family didn't even think he had any magic before he got his Hogwarts letter. He's practically a Squib!"

It was certainly true that Neville had yet to successfully cast a single spell. Whenever he tried to perform magic during their classes he only managed to set things on fire or blow things up or something equally destructive. Harry hoped if he could only help Neville gain some confidence, the timid boy would grow into his powers like he had in Harry's old world.

"He has lots of magic. He doesn't know it yet, but he'll be an amazing wizard one day," Harry said, though Draco remained doubtful. Harry searched for a way to convince him. "Come on, why else would I have partnered with him in Potions?"

Draco shrugged. "I thought it was because your brewing skills would be sure to look good in comparison to Longbottom's bumbling efforts."

"Okay, true, but really it was because I wanted to get on Neville's good side," Harry said. "Someday he'll be an important and influential wizard, and when that day comes I intend to be his friend rather than his enemy."

"Do you know that from those Assessor abilities of yours?" Draco glanced over at Neville with a calculating look.

"Yep."

Draco seemed to think things over for a while, before coming to a decision. "Fine. I'll take your word for it. But Longbottom, really?"

"Yes really," Harry said, rolling his eyes at the blond's whinging tone.

-.-.-

Later on that day the Gryffindor and Slytherin first years all trooped outside onto the school grounds, where Madam Hooch was waiting with the rickety old school brooms lined up in front of her. Draco made sure to grab the best one for himself and saved another for Harry.

Harry was occasionally struck by how odd it was to actually be on friendly terms with the Malfoy heir. He'd come to look on the boy as family of a sort, and certainly as a more welcome cousin than Dudley had ever been, but he still half-expected the blond to sneer and flash a 'Potter Stinks' badge at him. The lack of antagonism was very welcome, however. As Hooch corrected Draco's grip, Harry surprised himself by glaring at Ron when the red haired boy sniggered loudly. Clearly all those lectures on the importance of blood-ties and familial loyalty Arcturus Black had forced Harry to sit through had had some effect.

"Now, when I blow my whistle, you kick off from the ground, hard," said Madam Hooch. "Keep your brooms steady, rise a few feet, and then come straight back down by leaning forward slightly. Understood?"

The first years all nodded, some more enthusiastically than others. Harry could see Hermione muttering flying tips to herself under her breath and Neville looked absolutely petrified. Harry had tried to reassure them both earlier, but Hermione was still rather frosty towards him and obviously didn't want to accept his help. Neville was more grateful, but also even more scared than he had been in Harry's old world. Harry counted it a success that the plump boy had even managed to get his broom off the ground.

"On my whistle — three — two —"

Despite all of Harry's encouragement, Neville once again pushed off too soon and went shooting into the air. The other students all gasped and pointed up at Neville, who clung desperately onto the handle as the broom swayed and bucked twenty feet up over their heads. This time, though, Harry drew his birch wand and cast a cushioning spell as the boy fell to the ground with a dull thud.

Harry quickly tucked his wand back into his robes, not wanting anyone to notice he'd cast any magic. Hooch - who had been totally unhelpful throughout Neville's uncontrolled flight - hurried forwards and helped the Gryffindor up off the ground.

"Hmm, no broken bones," she said as she checked him over. "You'd best go see Madame Pomfrey though, just to be on the safe side."

"Y-yes, Madam Hooch," Neville mumbled and stumbled off in the direction of the castle, clearly only too glad to escape the rest of the lesson.

"Oi! Longbottom!" Draco bent down and picked up Neville's Remembrall from where it was lying on the grass.

Neville turned to look at him warily. "What do you w-want?"

"Here, catch!" Draco tossed him the ball, which Neville caught with fumbling hands and a bemused expression.

"Um, thanks," Neville said.

As the timid boy continued on his way to the hospital wing, Harry glanced over to Draco and raised an eyebrow.

Draco shrugged slightly. "I've decided you might be right that Longbottom could be useful in future. He is a pureblood after all."

"Enough chit-chat!" Madam Hooch trained her yellow eyes on the remaining first years. "Everyone mount their brooms!"

Many of the students were clearly reluctant to comply after watching what had happened to Neville, but the more able flyers - Harry, Draco and Ron - were eager to get to the actual flying part of the lesson. Harry had never experienced a whole class with Madam Hooch and was so quite looking forward to seeing how she'd instruct them. His interest quickly waned, however, when all she let them practice were take offs and landings, things Harry knew perfectly well how to do.

Harry had been good enough to get onto the Quidditch team at the age of eleven, but now when he was theoretically twenty-one years old he wasn't allowed to fly higher than five feet above the ground. Harry found it incredibly frustrating and beside him Draco wasn't looking too happy either.

"I can't believe we have to put up with this," Draco hissed. "We've known how to fly for years, and on much better brooms than these. With the fees Hogwarts charges one would think the school could afford new brooms. I'm going to write my father about it - it's a disgrace!"

Harry idly watched Hooch coach Hermione on how to lean forwards so as not to slide off the back of her broomstick. He longed to be allowed to fly properly, but Hooch had been stern in her warnings and Harry knew he'd only get a detention if he broke the rules - Snape certainly wouldn't appoint him as Seeker.

As Harry surveyed the rest of the class he saw that Ron had also become fed-up with the lesson and was now describing his near-collision with a muggle hang-glider to Seamus Finnigan. The Irish boy was too busy clinging onto his broomstick to listen to Ron's harrowing tale, but the redhead apparently didn't notice or else didn't care.

"So I had to do a double-barrel roll, right, but then a gust of wind blew the muggle towards me and I just knew -"

"Honestly, Weasley, no one cares about your pathetic escapades," Draco drawled.

Seamus looked rather grateful for the interruption, but Ron scowled at the blond. "Shut up, Malfoy! Go back to learning how to hold a broomstick and leave the rest of us alone!"

Draco sneered. "I don't need to practice anything, you on the other hand probably can't even fly in a straight line."

"I can so!"

"Really? Then why did you almost crash into a muggle? That would never have happened to a talented flyer."

"Oh like you're so great! I doubt you'd even be able to get your big head off the ground!"

Harry sighed as the two boys continued to squabble. He vividly remembered taking part in similar arguments when he'd been eleven the first time round, but it all appeared incredibly juvenile to him now.

"Look, will you two just shut it?" Harry said at last. "I really don't want to attract Hooch's attention, she'll make us practise taking off again - and in any case arguing isn't going to solve anything."

"You're right, Orion," Draco said, surprising Harry. Then he turned to Ron. "How about it, Weasley, fancy a race to prove who's the better flyer? Or are you too afraid you'll humiliate yourself as soon as you're up in the air…"

Ron turned red at the taunt. "I'll show you who's afraid, Malfoy!"

Harry sighed again as he watched the two agree to meet at the pitch in three night's time, giving them enough time to smuggle in their brooms from home. That really hadn't been what he meant to happen.

-.-.-

Draco was full of cocky enthusiasm over the next few days, as well as pride for using Kreacher to smuggle the Nimbus Two Thousand he'd got for his birthday into the castle. Harry was surprised Draco was actually going to go through with the broom race as opposed to tipping off Filch or one of the Professors, but apparently this wasn't going to be like the midnight duel in Harry's old world.

The two Slytherin boys left the common room an hour after curfew, Harry having somehow let himself be talked into accompanying Draco. As they ducked behind a suit of armour to hide from the Bloody Baron, Harry wished he had the Marauders Map and the Invisibility Cloak - they made sneaking around the castle at night so much easier. While he might be able to get his hands on the Map, the Invisibility Cloak was no doubt well protected. Dumbledore knew it was one of the Deathly Hallows, after all.

"Come on, Orion," Draco said, tugging at Harry's sleeve. "I don't want to be late and let Weasley think I'm not up to the challenge."

"I don't see why I have to come along in the first place," Harry said, quickening his pace only slightly as they finally left the castle and headed off across the grounds.

Draco huffed impatiently. "Because I need someone to witness my triumphant victory, of course! What's the point in my beating Weasley if no one knows about it?"

They were actually the first ones at the meeting place, but before Draco had a chance to gloat for more than a few moments over Ron chickening out, three other figures emerged from the evening gloom. Harry's hand closed around his wand when he realised Ron wasn't alone, but at the sight of the Weasley twins he relaxed his grip and grinned to himself. He'd just thought of a possible way to get the Map back.

Draco was less pleased to see Ron's entourage. "I thought I told you to come alone, Weasley!"

"I did! I mean, I tried," Ron said. "It's not like I wanted these two to tag along. And where do you get off complaining when you brought Black?"

"I know Orion isn't going to sell us out to the teachers!" Draco eyed the twins suspiciously.

"Never fear, ickle firsties," said George. "We're not in the business of selling anyone."

"Well there was that time we tried to trade Ron here to a passing circus."

"True, Fred. Pity mum stopped us."

"Though if our cunning plan had worked we wouldn't be here tonight watching Ronnikins make a fool out of himself."

"And what a shame that would be, eh? I say two sickles on him falling off his broom within the first minute."

Even in the dim light Harry could see Ron's ears getting redder. Recognising the warning signs and knowing Ron was close to exploding - and alerting a teacher with his shouting - Harry tried to distract him.

"Nice broom," he told Ron, and meant it. The red haired boy was carrying what looked like a Comet Two Sixty and from the shiny handle and unscratched varnish Harry guessed it was new. He wondered where the Ron had got it from - the Weasleys didn't have anywhere near enough galleons to buy a brand-new racing broom.

Ron stared at Harry as if wondering whether he was being mocked. "Thanks," he muttered ungraciously.

Harry's remark didn't manage to derail the twins, however, and they were surprisingly vicious as they continued to needle their brother.

"Did you hear that, George? Black here likes Ronnie's broom."

"No accounting for taste, is there Fred?"

"Course, Black doesn't know the whole story."

"But Ron does, and he still likes it."

"Sleeps with it under his pillow, even."

"Despite the broom being a symbol of his despicable betrayal."

Harry wondered what they were talking about. He'd never seen the twins so serious in their insults towards any of their brothers - well, except for Percy.

"I haven't betrayed anyone!" Ron glared at the twins, his whole face flushed.

"Au contraire," George began.

"When you accepted that broom from Uncle Gideon," Fred continued.

"You betrayed our family," George finished.

Ron looked both angry and frustrated. "Uncle Gideon is our family!"

"He disowned his own twin brother." Fred sounded unusually grim.

"Who's a bloodthirsty werewolf!" Ron waved his arms about wildly.

"So?" said Fred. "If George here was ever stupid enough to go and get himself bitten by a werewolf, I'd just have to become one too. It's not as if I could let him have all the fun - witches dig scars, after all."

"And facial hair." George ran a palm over his smooth chin. "Werewolves certainly have the advantage there - I wonder what I'd look like with a beard?"

"Not as handsome as I would, I'm sure," said Fred and grinned at his twin.

Ron seemed to have reached his limit. "You're both mad! Utterly stark raving bonkers!"

"All three of you are insane," Draco spoke up impatiently. "It's no doubt a result of your lower-class upbringing. Now can we get on with things?"

Ron clutched his broom and stomped off towards the middle of the pitch, where he and Draco agreed on rules - twelve laps, no physical contact - before taking off. Harry and the twin found seats in the stands and settled down to watch. Fred and George booed and yelled out insults for the first few laps, but appeared to lose interest soon after. They pulled out a few loose sheets of parchment covered in scribbles from their pockets and bent their heads together to speak in low tones.

Harry kept one eye on the race - Ron was currently in the lead - but otherwise focused on puzzling over the clear division between the Weasley boys. Obviously not all of the family agreed with Gideon and the rest of the Prewitts disowning their werewolf relative. The broom was a gift - or maybe even a bribe - from the professional Quidditch player, and the twins were angry that Ron had accepted it. Harry knew from Sirius that the Prewitts had been vocal in their demands for harsher anti-werewolf legislation, but he hadn't heard much at all about the Weasley family. Added to the fact that the Weasleys seemed just as poor and Arthur Weasley just as unappreciated in his job at the Ministry as Harry remembered, this made him suspect that the family as a whole didn't support their wealthy Prewitt relatives.

Ron, however, was apparently prepared to side with his rich relations in return for a top of the line racing broom. Harry wasn't happy to believe he was so shallow, but reminded himself that the boy was only eleven years old. The Ron Harry used to know hadn't reacted well to discovering Lupin's lycanthropy, but with some cajoling had overcome that particular prejudice. With some luck the Ron here in this world would similarly mature at some point.

Harry surfaced from his thoughts in time to cheer as Draco finally overtook Ron on the fourth lap, before his attention was caught by the snippets of conversation he overheard between the twins.

"- no, that won't work -"

"- but if we use -"

"- Footswitch would notice -"

"Are you two planning a prank on Footswitch?" he interrupted their discussion to ask.

George looked up suspiciously. "Now why would a baby Slytherin like you be asking us that?"

"I'd like to help, if you'll let me," Harry said. Not only did he want a chance at getting the Marauder's Map, but he also really didn't like the Defence Professor.

"You'd only get us caught," Fred said, "and I doubt you know many spells."

"I know enough," Harry said. "And the teachers would never expect you to work with a first year - and certainly not a Slytherin one - so they'd be much less likely to think you're the culprits if I helped set up the prank."

Fred looked thoughtful. "The boy has a point, George."

"He does seem to have the sneaky mind of a true prankster, Fred."

"Well pranking is sort of in my blood," Harry said with an overly casual shrug. "I'm the son of a marauder after all."

The twins stared at him, their faces suddenly taking on entirely different expressions.

"Say that again?"

"The son of a what?"

Harry airily waved his comment away while inwardly laughing to himself. "Oh sorry, inside joke. It's the name my dad and his group of friends called themselves when they were younger. You wouldn't get it."

"You might be wrong there. Please, young marauder, do tell?"

Fred and George were now giving Harry their full attention and listened raptly as Harry gave them a brief history of the Marauders. He changed some bits of course, so that he was Padfoot's son instead of Prongs', and Moony was an animagus who turned into a wolf rather than a werewolf. Harry didn't feel it was his place to tell the twins about Remus' lycanthropy, even though according to Lupin it was already common knowledge in this world.

The twins were absolutely thrilled and ended up begging Harry to allow them to owl his dad and his new godfather. They also revealed that they were in possession of the Map. Harry had expected to have to work a bit harder to get them to admit it, but was ready to use it to his advantage. He gasped excitedly and exclaimed that his dad had always lamented the fact that it was confiscated by Filch and so couldn't be passed on to his son upon Harry starting Hogwarts.

Harry hadn't been certain whether this strategy would work, but the twins shared a long silent look before turning back to Harry and offering the Map to him on the condition that they might occasionally be allowed to borrow it.

Harry agreed with a wide smile and sincere thanks. He was so busy congratulating himself on his successful plan that he almost missed Draco winning the race. The twins could be heard taunting Ron about his narrow loss all the way up to castle, while Draco remained so wrapped up in his triumph that he didn't even notice that Harry wasn't paying any attention to his victory speech. Harry was glad Draco had won - the blond would've been utterly insufferable to share a dorm with if he'd lost - but remained distracted. He'd got the Map, now all he had to do was try to work out a way of getting his hands on the Invisiblity Cloak. James Potter may have left it with Dumbledore, but Harry felt he himself had more of a claim on it as well as more important plans for its use.

Once he had both the Map and the Cloak he could retrieve Rowena Ravenclaw's diadem from the Room of Requirement and safely smuggle it out of the castle. Harry had promised Sirius he wouldn't do anything rash, so until then he'd simply have to wait no matter how little he liked doing so. Harry had to agree with Sirius though - there was no way he wanted to risk Dumbledore or anyone else finding him in possession of a part of Voldemort's soul.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

"Wakey wakey, Mr Black!"

Sirius blearily opened his eyes, only to let out a startled yelp at the sight of Dobby hovering over him, so close their noses were almost touching.

"Would you stop doing that!" Sirius struggled with his bed covers until he was in a sitting position. "It's creepy!" He clutched a hand to his chest as he waited for his heart rate to slow down. Waking up with Dobby's bulbous green eyes peering down at him gave him a nasty shock every time - one the elf seemed to delight in inflicting.

Sirius wondered whether his day could get any worse. He was already going to have to deal with his grandmother Melania, who'd sent him a summons to tea at Black Manor for that afternoon, not giving him the option of refusing. He could have done without also being the focus of his House-Elf's ideas of entertainment.

At this thought Sirius glared over at where Dobby now stood in the open doorway, wearing a fluffy red jumper, a tartan kilt, and a pair of large oven mitts.

"Dobby is only making sure Mr Black isn't being late for his work," Dobby said, the look of innocence on his pointed face not fooling Sirius for a second.

"Fine, whatever." Sirius sighed and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He didn't bother ordering him to stop - he didn't want to be treated to yet another lecture on how 'Dobby is a free elf!'

At least Dobby refrained from giving him such a wake-up call whenever Hestia Jones was around. The witch already had Sirius' nightmares to contend with and Sirius didn't want to add a demented house-elf on top of that - he very much doubted their casual relationship would stand the strain.

Although Sirius had to admit that Dobby's method of waking him up was certainly effective. The adrenalin rush shook off any drowsiness, letting Sirius turn up to work feeling wide awake, if annoyed. That morning Sirius flooed to the Ministry with several minutes to spare, giving him time to hang back from entering an elevator with Dolores Umbridge - Sirius' hatred for that witch had only risen after listening to Orion's stories - and instead wait for one with more pleasant occupants.

Sirius smiled in relief as the elevator doors slid open to reveal a green-haired Nymphadora Tonks. "Morning, Dora," he greeted her as he stepped inside.

His insanely cheerful relative grinned back at him. "Wotcher, Uncle Sirius! Guess what? Auror Kingsley said I could shadow him on his Knockturn Alley patrol tonight!"

"That's great," Sirius said, pushing the button for second floor.

Tonks almost fell over as the elevator began to move. "Yep! And I've already asked Auror Moody and he said it's okay."

"Did he?"

"Well, what he really said was to not drop my wand like I did last time, and to remember Constant Vigilance!"

Sirius laughed. "Yeah, I heard about that wand incident."

Tonks blushed and tried to turn the subject away from her clumsiness. "How come you never let me join you on your Auror patrols, Uncle Sirius?"

"I asked you to investigate the Defence Professor, didn't I? I'm sure that'll teach you vital researching skills. Speaking of which, have you found anything?"

"Only a report on Footswitch being fined for Apparating without a license back when he was a teenager. The man's extremely law-abiding." Tonks sounded as if she disapproved of such dull behaviour. "He's a Ravenclaw from a minor pureblood family - nothing special, really."

Sirius frowned. "Damn. I promised Orion I'd look into getting him fired, but if I've got no grounds to make a complaint..."

"I couldn't find anything, sorry," Tonks said. "Footswitch hates muggles, but that's not actually a crime, is it?"

"No, but teaching those views to innocent schoolchildren should be." Sirius felt there were enough muggle haters around as it was - no need to encourage such extremism.

Tonks shrugged. "He'll be gone within a year. No Defence teacher's ever lasted longer."

"A man like that could do a lot of damage in a year," Sirius said grimly as the elevator lurched to a halt. "Well, this is our stop. Time to get to work, I suppose."

They both stepped out into the crowded bustle of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and made their way past Amelia Bones' office until they reached the Auror Headquarters. There were several Aurors sitting slumped at their desks - no doubt at the end of their night shifts - while more awake-looking wizards were clustered around a large wooden board with the day's cases tacked on it.

"Oi! Trainee!" Scrimgeour called out. "Go get me coffee!"

Tonks muttered insulting epithets under her breath, but nevertheless made her way towards the break room. Sirius smirked to himself as he joined his fellow Aurors. He remembered his own time as a Trainee and was extremely that glad those days were long behind him.

"Morning, Sirius," Frank Longbottom greeted him. "How're things? Heard from your son Orion at all?"

"Yeah, got a letter from him just yesterday," Sirius said. "Why?"

Frank shrugged. "Oh, no reason really. I've heard good things about the boy. You must be proud."

"I am," Sirius said. "It was hard sending him off to Hogwarts, but I'm glad he's doing all right. You must have felt the same with Neville, eh?"

"Neville..." Frank sighed exasperatedly. "Honestly, I was just relieved he got in. He never showed so much as a single spark of magic growing up. I did my best to force some accidental magic out the boy, but nothing worked. Uncle Algie was all for sending him to a muggle orphanage - kinder for a Squib to grow up amongst his own kind, you know - but I couldn't do it. He's all I have left of Alice. Though Merlin knows Alice and I were no slouches at magic."

"I'm sure Neville's just a slow developer," Sirius said, made uneasy by Frank's scornful tone. "By the sound of Orion's letters, he spends quite a bit of time with your son and thinks he shows a lot of potential."

Frank's eyebrows rose in obvious disbelief. "Really? I can't imagine why. Though I've heard rumours your boy's an Assessor. Is that true?"

"Uh, yeah it is," Sirius said.

"Hmm..." Frank looked thoughtful. "Maybe Dumbledore isn't wasting his time, then. Neville might yet do me proud."

"I'm sure he will," Sirius said firmly. Judging by Orion's tales of his old schoolmates, Neville was just lacking in confidence. Listening to the way his father spoke of him, Sirius understood why that would be the case. Although he had no idea what Dumbledore had to do with anything. He considered asking Frank to clarify, but didn't get the chance before Mad-Eye stomped into the room, causing the gathered Aurors to snap to attention.

"Why are you all standing about gossiping like a bunch of gormless Garden Gnomes?" Moody demanded. "There are two cases of muggle-baiting and a burglary in Knockturn Alley to deal with."

"We were just waiting to find out who's in charge of each case," Scrimgeour said smoothly.

"What, you need your hand held, Scrimgeour?" Mad-Eye sneered. "Fine. You can handle the muggle-baiting. Longbottom, you've got the burglary - take Dawlish with you, the boy's too wet behind the ears to work on his own. As for you, Black, there's a special case I'd like you to look at. There's been a report of a disturbance over in Hogsmeade. Apparently a woman's Werewolf neighbour attacked her."

"You don't sound convinced of the truth of that," Sirius noted shrewdly.

A grimace stretched itself across Mad-Eye's scarred face. "It's two days after the full moon and the witch in question hasn't got a scratch on her. Sounds to me as if something else is going on."

"I'll get right on it," Sirius promised.

Scrimgeour coughed and stepped forwards. "Are you sure Black's up to the case?" he asked Moody. "His questionable loyalties might interfere. I'd be happy to lead a Werewolf Capture Unit and bring the beast in for interrogation."

"I know Black's loyalty is to justice," Moody growled. "I trained him, after all. And I gave you a job to do, so get to it!" He couldn't have made his dislike of Scrimgeour clearer.

Moody then handed out case files and barked out "Constant Vigilance!" before sending them all on their way. Sirius pinned his Auror badge to his robes and headed down to the designated Apparition point in the Ministry Atrium, smirking at Scrimgeour as he passed the disgruntled-looking wizard in the hallway.

Sirius hated Aurors like him; ones who pandered to their superiors and took every chance to show themselves in the best light instead of concentrating on the job. Luckily Mad-Eye was firmly of the opinion that appearances didn't matter, only results did, and so had little tolerance for such people. Sirius shuddered to think what the Auror Office would be like under someone like Scrimgeour, and the thought of the man as Minister of Magic made him want to throw hexes - preferably at the wizard in question. Being Arcturus' proper pureblood heir was worth it if it meant he could prevent such a thing from ever occurring.

-.-.-

Hogsmeade showed no signs of a Werewolf's rampage; a few children were passing a Quaffle back and forth in the middle of the main street and a group of giggling Hogwart's students were gathered outside Madame Puddifoot's tea shop. The only shouts were those of laughter.

As soon as Sirius arrived at the address Moody had given him, he knew for sure that the Head Auror's scepticism of the report was well founded. He relaxed his grip on his wand and marched into the well-kept garden, where two figures were arguing amongst the flowerbeds. A plump witch stood brandishing her wand at a cowering wizard, whose skin was covered in painful looking red boils that Sirius immediately recognised were spell-induced.

"Ha! Here's the Auror now! He'll know how to deal with you!" the witch crowed triumphantly.

"I didn't do anything!" The wizard looked terrified as he turned to face Sirius. "I didn't, I swear!"

"I assume you're Caspian Wilkes, registered Werewolf three-seven-oh-six?" Sirius said, to which the man nodded miserably. "And you'd be Mrs Frobisher, the witch who notified the Auror Office of this disturbance?"

The witch drew herself up proudly. "Yes, that's me."

"Very well. I'm Auror Bla-"

Mrs Frobisher didn't have the patience for any more introductions. "Auror, I want you to arrest this man!" She jabbed a finger in her neighbour's direction.

"And what is it you're accusing him of?" Sirius asked politely.

"He's a Werewolf," the witch said and looked at Sirius expectantly.

Sirius barely refrained from rolling his eyes. "That is not, in fact, a crime," he told her, causing Caspian Wilkes to sigh in relief and suddenly look much more confident. The poor man had probably expected to be dragged straight off to the Ministry holding cells without even the pretence of an investigation. It happened often enough, after all.

Mrs Frobisher did not appear at all pleased. "But he attacked me!"

"I didn't!" Mr Wilkes said. "You attacked me. I was only defending myself."

"Well I never!" Mrs Frobisher gasped. "Auror, whatever your name is, surely you won't let him get away with such lies?"

"Auror Bla-" Sirius tried to introduce himself, but was once again interrupted.

"I'm not lying!" Mr Wilkes insisted, sounding desperate for Sirius to believe him.

Mrs Frobisher scoffed. "Ha! Everyone knows you can't trust the word of a Werewolf."

Sirius was fed up with all the baseless finger-pointing. "Mrs Frobisher, have you any proof of your accusations?" He conjured up a quill and parchment and waited.

"Proof?" Mrs Frobisher looked blank. "What do you mean? I've already told you what happened."

"Yes, but it's only your word against Mr Wilkes's," Sirius could see she remained uncomprehending and so continued, "Why don't we keep things simple, hmm? Mrs Frobisher, do you have any injuries?"

"No, I don't," she said. "But what's that got to do with anything?"

"I'm trying to establish the facts of the case," Sirius said. "Now, did you cast a hex on Mr Wilkes here?"

Mrs Frobisher appeared to be slowly coming to the realisation that things weren't going her way. "Yes, but he deserved it! And in any case I only gave him a few boils."

"Only!" Mr Wilkes sputtered. "I have boils in some very uncomfortable places, I'll have you know!"

Sirius kept his attention studiously fixed on Mrs Frobisher. "We're currently standing on Mr Wilkes' property, aren't we?" he asked her.

"I suppose we are," she said grudgingly.

"Mr Wilkes, did you invite her here?"

The Werewolf stared at him incredulously. "Of course not, why the hell would I? Uh, I mean, no, I didn't. Sorry."

"Right." Sirius put away his scroll of parchment. "Mrs Frobisher, it appears to me that you've trespassed on Mr Wilkes's land and hexed him without any apparent provocation. Do you have an explanation for your behaviour? Preferably one that doesn't involve the word 'Werewolf'?"

Mrs Frobisher drew herself up in angry indignation. "What was I supposed to do? What with him howling all night long and making such a racket - I couldn't sleep a wink! He's a monster!"

Mr Wilkes flushed and looked down at the ground in shame. "I tried to put up silencing spells, but they don't last long," he said quietly. "This was only my second full moon..."

"Silencing spells aren't enough," Mrs Frobisher said. "Auror, he's a danger to everyone. Surely he can't be allowed to live amongst us decent people?"

"Thank you for your time, Mrs Frobisher, but I'll have to ask you to please leave the premises," Sirius said. "I've determined your complaint to be groundless and you no longer have any reason to be here."

"B-but I -"

"Good day, Mrs Frobisher," Sirius said firmly. He wished he could report her - her false accusations merited a fine at least - but he didn't want to attract anyone else's attention to the case. Scrimgeour wasn't the only Auror ready to arrest a Werewolf for a crime he didn't commit.

"Well I never!" Mrs Frobisher marched off with a final huff of indignation, slamming the door of her house shut behind her. Sirius was glad to be rid of her, but hated what he had to do next.

"She's right about one thing," Sirius said, turning back to the Caspian Wilkes. "It's against the law for you to live here. Werewolves aren't allowed to own property in Hogsmeade – it's an all-wizard village. If you were bitten two months ago then you've only got until the next full moon to find another place to stay. I'm sorry."

"I know I was told that at the Werewolf Registry Office, but I didn't actually believe it," Mr Wilkes said. "I've already had to give up my wand, now they want my house, too? It's been in my family for generations! I can't just leave."

Sirius mentally cursed the Ministry and their unfair laws. "I'm afraid you'll have to, or risk being sent to Azkaban," he said. "And believe me, you don't want to end up there."

Mr Wilkes looked startled. "How... wait a second. You're Sirius Black, aren't you?"

"Yeah, that's me," Sirius said with a sigh.

"Oh, I suppose you'd know, then," the Werewolf said. "Do I really have to leave?"

Sirius nodded. "I'm afraid so."

The other man gestured helplessly. "But where can I go? None of my friends will speak to me now, and I don't have any close family."

"The people at the Werewolf Registry have a list of areas where Werewolves are allowed to settle," Sirius said. "Though I can understand if you'd prefer not to ask them. They're not the friendliest bunch. Look, I've got a friend who's in much the same situation as you. I could give you his owl address if you like..."

"Thanks, I... I'd appreciate it," Caspian Wilkes said. He looked dazed and overwhelmed as he accepted the scrap of parchment from Sirius. "Are you sure your... friend won't mind?"

"He won't," Sirius assured him confidently. He knew Remus would be glad to help, though how much he'd be able to remained in question.

The Werewolf stared up at his house for a long moment and when he turned back he had tears in his eyes. "Thank you," he said. "You've been very kind. Any other Auror... I know I'm lucky I'm not being sent to Azkaban. Thank you."

His heartfelt thanks made Sirius feel wretched. What had he done, after all, except enforce the Ministry's bigotry?

As he made his way back to the Auror Headquarters to fill out his report, Sirius wracked his mind for a way to help Caspian Wilkes and those like him. Perhaps he could open some sort of shelter or set up a fund for the support of Werewolves. Maybe there were even some healing potions which could help with the transformations; Remus ended up badly injuring himself every full moon, and Sirius was prepared to do almost anything to spare him and any other Werewolves that sort of pain.

He decided to write to Orion to see if he had any ideas. And in the meantime he could assuage his conscience by visiting Melania and staying on Arcturus' good side. Sirius knew that if he became the Paterfamilias of the House of Black he would have a chance of abolishing the Werewolf restrictions entirely, instead of only trying to ease the effects of the unfair laws.

-.-.-

Even with all his good intentions, Sirius was filled with dread as he walked up the sweeping driveway to Black Manor. He didn't know why Melania wanted to see him, but he couldn't imagine it was for a particularly important reason. Which meant he would no doubt be forced to sit through her interminable chatter as she filled him in on society gossip he had no interest in hearing.

"Ah Sirius, there you are!" Melania greeted him at the door, dismissing the family elf with a wave of one hand. "Really, there's no need for you to walk here. You may apparate straight into the house, no need to stand on ceremony. You're family, after all."

"Thank you, Grandmother," Sirius said, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek. "I hope you and Grandfather Arcturus are well?"

"Oh yes, we're as fit as Phoenixes!" Melania ushered him to the drawing room and into a seat. "As are you, I see. I'm surprised Azkaban didn't do greater damage to your health - all that damp sea air can't have been good for you."

Sirius suppressed a sigh. "Yes, Grandmother," he said.

"Tea?" Melania asked with a charming smile.

Sirius longed for something stronger, but nodded anyway. He accepted the cup Melania offered him, balancing it on his knees as he settled back and prepared to endure the next hour of torturous small-talk. He managed to get through a whole fifteen minutes of conversation without being required to say much more than "Yes," and "No," and "You're absolutely right!"

Then the topic turned away from Lady Parkinson's scandalous behaviour and towards Sirius' marriage prospects, causing Sirius to sit up straight and start paying attention.

"Now that you've finally decided to become an upstanding member of society, don't you think it's time for you to find a wife, Sirius?"

"Certainly not!" Sirius gestured emphatically with his cup, spilling hot tea all over the carpet.

Melania ignored him and continued on relentlessly. "If you put some effort into it you could be married before Yule."

"Why must I marry at all?" Sirius asked plaintively. "I've already got Orion as an heir."

"I admit Orion has turned out well - much better than anticipated in fact. He sent me a charming thank you letter the other day, did I tell you? It seems he likes the augerey feather quill I gave him." Melania smiled fondly before frowning. "But he is still illegitimate."

Sirius stared coldly at her. "Orion got me out of Azkaban. He gave me back my freedom and my life - if it weren't for him I would've died in that place. I owe him everything. I could have a dozen other children and I'd still keep him as my heir."

"Well even so, it's never a bad thing to have an heir and a spare," Melania said.

It was clear she wouldn't be discouraged, so Sirius sighed and readied himself to defend his bachelor status.

Melania thought it was high time Orion had a new mother - Sirius thought not. Melania mentioned how beautiful Yolanda Yaxley was looking ever since she had returned from her trip to the continent, and didn't Sirius agree? - Sirius said he'd seen better. Melania wondered whether he might prefer a bride from the Prewitt family, since she knew he and Gideon were once good friends - Sirius scowled and answered in the resounding negative.

"Really Sirius!" Melania finally threw up her hands in exasperation. "I do hope you're not dismissing eligible young witches in favour of that Hestia girl you're involved with. She may be a pureblood and pretty enough, but her parents are shopkeepers!"

Sirius didn't bother asking how she knew about Hestia; he wouldn't put it past her to be keeping tabs on him. "No, Grandmother, I just don't want to get married just yet."

"Well what about Orion, then?"

"What about him?"

"Have you thought of arranging a betrothal for him?"

Sirius knew Orion would kill him if he ever did any such a thing. "No I haven't, Grandmother. He's a bit too young, still." Or too old, Sirius added silently. Either way the poor boy's love life would already be complicated enough without adding Melania's meddling to the mix.

"Are you sure? Lady Greengrass has already suggested a marriage between Orion and her granddaughter Daphne. I for one think it would be a wonderful idea," Melania said. "She's such a well-behaved child and her bloodline is impeccable."

Sirius remained firm. "I'm sure, Grandmother."

"Oh very well then. I suppose it can wait a few years if you want to be stubborn," Melania conceded, distracted from her tirade as her husband swept into the room. He and Sirius exchanged nods before Arcturus took Melania's hand and placed a kiss on it. She smiled up at him. "Arcturus, my dear! I've just been telling Sirius here that he should choose a strong pureblood witch for Orion to marry, or marry one himself. Don't you agree?"

"I certainly feel it is important to ensure that Orion never enters a relationship with a witch of muggle descent," Arcturus declared. "I have heard Orion is an Assessor. It would be a crime against magic to allow the gift to disappear from our bloodline."

Melania nodded. "Indeed, my dear, just so."

Arcturus pulled off his travelling cloak and sat down next to his wife. "I must say, Sirius, your son has shown himself to be truly exceptional," he said. "I have heard many good reports of the boy. Our ancestor Phineaus Nigellus overheard one of the staff meetings at Hogwarts from his frame in the Headmaster's office, and apparently the Professors there consider him to be one of the most talented students they have ever taught."

"I told you he was good at magic," Sirius said proudly.

"You have most certainly been proven correct," Arcturus said with a smirk. "Lucius is no doubt furious - he had so hoped Orion would turn out to be a disappointment. Unfortunately for him, my great grandson is quite the opposite."

Melania sniffed. "That may be, but his behaviour still leaves much to be desired. He's friends with that mudblood girl! Don't tell me you think that's a good thing. Obviously Orion takes after his parents - Merlin knows what ideas Evelinda put into his head."

"The girl is apparently quite bright and so I am prepared to give our great-grandson the benefit of the doubt on the matter," Arcturus said. "I assume he's Seen something useful in her."

"I can't imagine what that could possibly be," Melania said.

"The fact that she's a muggleborn doesn't equate to her being useless, Grandmother," Sirius told her tiredly.

"Well just so long as Orion doesn't consider marrying the girl, I suppose I'm prepared to put up with their friendship." Melania stood up and smoothed down her robes. "Now, I must get going - I have an appointment at Madame Malkins in half an hour and I don't want to be late. Do excuse me, husband, Sirius." She nodded at them both and then swept passed them out the door.

Sirius slumped back in his chair as soon as she was gone, drawing in a relieved breath as he did so.

Arcturus smirked at him. "You look as if you've had a rough time of it. I hope Melania wasn't too hard on you."

"It's been a long day," Sirius said.

"My sympathies. It may comfort you to hear that mine was not much better. There was a meeting of the Wizengamot earlier, and of course Fudge was being a complete fool - as usual," Arcturus said and offered Sirius a firewhisky. He gratefully accepted, and the two wizards nursed their drinks and relaxed in companionable silence for several long minutes.

Sirius eventually bestirred himself to talk. "Do you really not mind Orion being friendly with a muggleborn?" He found it very hard to believe, knowing his family as he did.

"I do not mind, I assure you," Arcturus said. "Orion has no doubt weighed his decision carefully - the boy seems surprisingly mature for his age - and Muggleborns are a part of our society, after all. I see no point in pretending otherwise."

Sirius stared at him. "That's not something I've ever heard you say before."

"I suppose I may have mellowed slightly in my old age." Arcturus sounded amused. "I shall leave the extremism to members of the younger generations."

"Such as Bellatrix?" Sirius took a sip from his glass and shot Arcturus a sideways glance.

"Yes, I suppose so," his grandfather said. "She was always a very firm believer in the Dark Lord and his pureblood ideologies."

"Which is ironic, since Voldemort himself was a half blood," Sirius said.

Arcturus frowned. "Is that another one of your tasteless jokes, Sirius?"

"No, it's the truth," Sirius said. "Voldemort's mother was a pureblood witch, but his father was only a muggle."

"What?" Arcturus looked deeply shocked. "You must be wrong - how could he have hidden such a thing?"

"He changed his name. He was born Tom Marvolo Riddle," Sirius said, remembering what Orion had told him. "And then of course he was powerful and a Parselmouth, something which most purebloods want to believe only they are capable of being."

Arcturus was silent for a long moment. "I cannot pretend that I do not hold similar beliefs. I have long mourned the introduction of muggle blood into ancient family lines - so many magical talents have been lost in such a way. Yet I admit there may be exceptions to the rules of inheritance. If you swear to me, Sirius, that you are speaking truthfully, then I will trust your word."

Sirius drew his wand and held it against his chest in a symbol of honesty. "I swear."

"Then I must believe you," Arcturus said and sighed heavily. "I suppose Dumbledore spoke to you of the Dark Lord's history. I wonder why the old man never made his knowledge public?"

"I don't know," Sirius said. "Perhaps he feared a backlash against half-bloods. Perhaps he thought it would only goad Voldemort to new heights of violence."

Arcturus shook his head. "Yet so much bloodshed could have been avoided. I know your brother Regulus would never have joined the Dark Lord's ranks if his true identity had been known."

"He never would have joined if he hadn't been pushed into it," Sirius said bitterly. "Mother, Bella, and his so-called friend Lucius Malfoy - they all wanted him to become a Death Eater. I tried to convince him not to, but Regulus never listened to me."

"I must say, it does seem that you were cleverer than all of them," Arcturus said. "Your side won."

"Much good it did me!" Sirius scoffed. "I lost everything - James, Lily, Harry... My freedom."

"You have your son," Arcturus reminded him.

Sirius sighed. "Yes, I have Orion. But what happens when the next Dark Lord rises - will I lose him, too?"

"You expect another Dark Lord to rise?" Arcturus looked startled. "What would make you think such a thing?"

"Dark Lords will continue to rise for as long as there are people willing to support them," Sirius said. "And honestly, don't you think many in our world would flock to a powerful wizard preaching Pureblood Supremacy?"

"I do, for the simple reason of there being so many problems in our society that need addressing," Arcturus said. "Something must be done to fix the decay caused by our own indifference."

"True," said Sirius. He just didn't think he and Arcturus agreed on what those problems were exactly. Sirius hesitated a moment, before deciding to take a chance. "I've heard rumours... rumours that Voldemort might still be alive."

"Rumours!" Arcturus said sharply. "For you to mention them, you must believe they contain some truth."

Sirius nodded. "Yes, you're right. Dumbledore's almost certain that Voldemort didn't die that night, that he was only weakened. He thinks Voldemort is still out there somewhere..."

"And while the old man is often a fool, he isn't often wrong," Arcturus finished for him.

"Exactly," Sirius said, hoping his grandfather was convinced. He couldn't explain where his knowledge actually came from, and in any case the truth was more unbelievable than the lie, not less.

"Hmmm." Arcturus appeared to consider everything he'd been told. "I hope you are wrong, but perhaps... Yes, perhaps I should keep an eye out and drop a few words in certain ears. If the Dark Lord's heritage becomes known he will encounter a much chillier welcome should he ever return."

"Thank you, Grandfather," Sirius said fervently.

"No need for thanks. I won't allow our family to be torn apart by divided loyalties again. At the end of the last war I thought the Black family had reached its end. Now that you are out of Azkaban and your son is proving himself to be a talented wizard, I won't risk losing either of you." Arcturus raised an eyebrow at Sirius. "Just as you won't risk losing me and your position as my heir. I now understand why you were so willing to set aside your previous defiance. You want to be in a position of power should the Dark Lord ever return, am I correct?"

"Uh, yes. Sorry." Sirius' gaze dropped to his lap before he looked up and met his grandfather's eyes. "It's not that I don't respect you or this family. It's just it would have taken me a bit longer to admit it without the extra incentive."

"Very well," Arcturus said. "We are agreed then. You will continue to behave respectably and do your best to uphold the family name, and I will aid you by speaking with my associates and encouraging your promotion through the ranks at the Ministry. A wonderful partnership, wouldn't you say?"

"I'll drink to that," Sirius said, raising his glass.

When Sirius headed home to Grimmauld Place that evening, he was filled with a sense of accomplishment. He had taken a step forwards in the fight against Voldemort, had successfully fended off his Grandmother's matchmaking plans, and now had an evening with Hestia to look forward to. Sirius smirked to himself; Orion would be so jealous.

 

Chapter Text

 

Harry was very glad he'd managed to befriend Fred and George. Around the two mischievous Gryffindors he was able to let go of some of his worries and act more like the child he was pretending to be. The jokes and laughter the three boys shared were a welcome distraction from Harry's boredom from schoolwork, as well as his preoccupation with Voldemort.

A few days after the Quidditch race the twins proudly showed Harry their prank headquarters, which turned out to be the kitchens. Harry soon realised what an ingenious choice of location it was; not only was it one of the few areas in castle not under the supervision of gossiping portraits, but it was also staffed by House Elves who were delighted to serve them as much food as they could eat. All things considered, Harry was perfectly happy to spend hours there with the twins - munching on slices of chocolate cake, casting spells, and ducking out of the way of the occasional explosion.

Harry had never realised quite how much work Fred and George put into their pranks. They used a complicated mix of potions, charms, and arithmancy calculations to create the effects they wanted. Many of the spells used were incredibly obscure and took ages to research, while the potions recipes often had to be adapted to work with cheaper or more easily acquired ingredients. Harry was amazed by their dedication, and told them so.

"Well our mum always said that if a thing's worth doing, then it's worth doing properly," Fred said virtuously.

Harry gave him a look, making his scepticism clear. "Really? That's your only motivation, is it?"

"George, it seems young Orion here doesn't trust us," said Fred.

"Our honour is besmirched!" George clutched his chest and turned to Harry. "How could be so distrustful of us - can't you see we're as innocent as a pair of baby unicorns?"

Fred nodded enthusiastically. "Exactly, George. Everyone knows we're as devoid of deceitfulness as a Phoenix after burning day!"

"Right you are, Fred. Why, it's common knowledge that we're even more trustworthy than a bunch of House Elves under an Unbreakable Vow!" George grinned at his twin.

Harry cut them off before their comparisons could become anymore ridiculous. He knew they'd continue on for hours if left uninterrupted. "I know exactly what you two are, and innocent is not it," he told them.

"He's found us out, Fred."

"Seems so, George."

George turned to Harry and shook his fist dramatically. "Curse you and your Assessor powers!"

"Yeah, 'cos no one would ever suspect you two," Harry said, rolling his eyes.

"Ah, my mini Marauder, they might suspect," George began.

"But they'll never know for sure," Fred finished.

Harry sighed, feeling as if the conversation was going around in circles. "Know what?"

"Why, our most cunning plan, of course!"

"Worthy of even the sneakiest of Slytherins."

"But requiring the daring, nerve and chivalry of a true Gryffindor."

"Quite right, brother mine!" George struck a heroic pose. "It is a truly noble goal we aspire to."

Harry smiled in amusement at their antics. "So what exactly is this plan of yours?"

The twins exchanged glances, their expressions unexpectedly serious. "We want to open our own joke shop," Fred said. Harry got the impression he was the first person they'd ever told.

Before Harry could say anything, George rushed to speak. "One that'll rival Zonko's one day!"

"Full of first class prank items created by yours truly!"

"And bearing the name of Weasely's Wizard Wheezes!"

The twins stared at Harry expectantly. For once they looked less than entirely confident.

"Well, guys, I'm impressed," Harry said. He hadn't known the twins had planned their business even as third year students. "And I can promise you that from what I've Seen, you two have the potential to create a shop that doesn't just rival Zonko's, but surpasses it."

Fred and George looked ecstatic. "Really?" they exclaimed in unison.

"I'm absolutely serious," Harry promised.

The twins whooped and high-fived each other, turned to Harry and hugged him, then linked arms and danced around the kitchen, laughing exuberantly all the while. Harry grinned as he watched them. He was glad to see them so happy - it certainly made a change from the years filled with anger and hate and depression he'd experienced in his old world.

"Orion, mate, I take back anything bad I ever said about you and your Assessor powers," George said. "I worship you!"

"Revere you!"

"Idolise you!"

"Bow down before you!"

Harry rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. You're welcome, guys."

Fred scratched his chin thoughtfully. "You know, you being an Assessor might come in handy when choosing victims for our pranks."

"And your Invisibility Cloak'll be dead useful when carrying them out." George rubbed his hands together and looked like he was only just refraining from cackling evilly.

Harry smiled back. Sirius had come through for him earlier in the week, when he'd sent Harry the Cloak along with a gleeful letter detailing exactly how he'd guilted Dumbledore into handing it over. Harry had shown the Cloak to the twins, both of whom had immediately begun plotting to use it to give the dreaded Mrs Norris a good kick.

"Well I have to live up to my dad's Marauder legacy somehow, right?" Harry raised a questioning eyebrow.

"Indeed you do, old chap."

"Now let's start planning!"

With only a bit more fooling around from the twins, they settled down to plot their prank on Footswitch. Harry, Fred and George were all thoroughly fed up with their Defence Professor and his lectures on the inferiority of Muggles. Harry suggested targeting their pranks to prevent the man from expounding on his favourite subject, and it took very little persuasion to get the twins to agree. While eating six helpings of treacle tart and several portions of shepherd's pie (in that order), they planned the finer details of how to achieve such a miracle. Then another several days were spent brewing potions and practicing the necessary spells, until they were finally ready to unleash their pranks.

From then on bad things happened whenever Footswitch said the word "muggle." He'd begin to hiccough uncontrollably, or turn bright pink, or -Harry's favourite - a pair of eagles would swoop down out of nowhere and begin pecking him on the nose.

It was perhaps due to the misuse of their house mascot - or simply the disruption caused to their Defence lessons - that the Ravenclaws were especially incensed by these pranks. A group of fourth years took to following Footswitch around as his bodyguards, while others spent even more time in the library than usual, looking for spells to counteract the pranks. Unfortunately for them their strategy didn't work, mostly because no one could figure out who was casting the spells. A lot of people were convinced it was Fred and George, but no one suspected Harry, who with his Invisibility Cloak could move about undetected.

Footswitch was soon forced to capitulate and avoid any mention of Muggles - something which required a heavy revision of his lesson plans. Many of the Pureblood students were disappointed, but the muggleborns in every House were delighted by the change. In fact Harry suspected they had helped hurry the process along, since he knew neither he nor the twins were responsible for Footswitch tripping over thin air and falling down a whole flight of stairs, or losing all his lecture notes to a badly aimed Vanishing spell

After a whole week of Defence classes focused on the bloodthirstiness of Giants, Harry was prepared to declare their pranks a success; he doubted anything would cure Footswitch of his prejudice, but at least the man had abandoned the subject of Muggles for the time being.

It was therefore with a feeling of smug satisfaction that Harry entered the Charms classroom after a celebratory lunch with Fred and George. The other Slytherins were already at their desks and most of them nodded hello as he walked through the door. Draco greeted him with a scowl. "There you are, Orion. Where in Merlin's name have you been?"

"Off with those Weasley twins again, I expect," Nott said. He slid over so that Harry could sit between him and Draco. Harry smiled in thanks.

"Really, I don't see the appeal of those two red haired menaces," Draco said with a petulant huff.

"They're my friends," Harry told him mildly. "And knowing what I do, I prefer to be on their good sides."

"What d'you mean?" Draco eyed him suspiciously.

Harry just smiled mysteriously and used Flitwick's arrival to avoid giving an answer.

"Settle down, settle down, everyone!" The diminutive Professor waved his wand and levitated himself to the top of the tall stack of books on his chair, giving him the necessary height to meet his students' eyes. The Slytherins all quieted, having a healthy respect for the Ravenclaw Head of House; Flitwick's past as a Duelling Champion was common knowledge. "Today we'll be working on the Levitation Charm, as promised, so I hope you've all come prepared." Flitwick gazed round the classroom. "Mr Crabbe, do you have your wand?"

Crabbe looked blank. "Er, haven't found it yet, Professor."

"It's almost the end of October, Mr Crabbe," Flitwick said disapprovingly, but didn't press the subject. Professor and student had been having similar exchanges for weeks, and it seemed Flitwick had finally given up expecting a different answer to his oft-repeated question.

Hermione sent Crabbe a reproachful look from her seat next to Daphne, but otherwise the class continued with no further attention paid to Crabbe's missing wand. Feathers were passed round and the students split into pairs to swish and flick and try to levitate them. Harry, of course, had his feather floating above his head on his first try.

Flitwick squeaked excitedly. "Oh well done! Brilliant work as always, Mr Black. Look everyone, Mr Black's done it. Ten points to Slytherin!"

A pleased murmur spread through the classroom and the students gripped their wands with renewed determination.

"Let me try," Draco said, impatiently nudging Harry aside.

Harry cancelled his spell and let the feather drift down to settle onto the desktop in front of them. "Go on then."

"Wingardium Leviosa!" Draco smirked triumphantly as the feather began rising. His smirk was quickly replaced with a scowl as the spell failed only a few seconds later.

Harry struggled not to grin. He and Draco got on well enough, but Harry hadn't forgotten the rivalry that had existed between them in his old world.

"You're doing it wrong!" Hermione turned round in her chair to lecture the Malfoy heir. "It's an upwards flick and a downwards swish, not the other way round."

Draco glared at her. "That's what I did."

"No it isn't," Hermione said. "Look, here, I'll do it. Wingardium Leviosa!" Her wand movements were precise and her feather rose smoothly into the air.

"Excellent work, Miss Granger. Five points to Slytherin." Flitwick smiled warmly at her. "Mr Malfoy, that was a good effort. Keep trying." The Professor moved over to help Crabbe and Goyle, leaving behind him a smug Hermione and an angry Draco.

"Granger just got lucky." Draco crossed his arms petulantly. "And stop laughing, Nott!"

Nott made no effort to hide his sniggers. "How do you explain Orion also managing it before you? Looks as if you're just incompetent."

"I most certainly am not incompetent! I'm a Malfoy!" Draco snapped back. "And of course Orion managed the spell. The Blacks have an affinity for Charms."

"Uh, actually, our affinity is for offensive magic," Harry said.

Draco waved the correction away. "Whatever. Charms can be used offensively, so of course you'd be the best in this class."

"He's the best in every class," Daphne put in from her seat a few desks away.

"Er, thanks, Daphne," Harry said while Draco glared at her. Daphne smiled at them both and returned to focusing on her work.

"I didn't know that about your family's affinity." Nott tilted his head as he looked at Harry. "I thought you Blacks had a specific talent for curses instead of for all offensive magic?"

"Curses, hexes, a few jinxes - anything goes really. Though you're right, a levitation charm has nothing to do with the Black affinity. Draco's just making that up," Harry said with a smile.

"At least your talent sounds more useful than the Nott affinity for Warding," Nott said. "We don't study wards - either crafting or breaking them - here at Hogwarts, so it doesn't do me any good at all when it comes to school work. In fact it's more of a hindrance than a help."

"I imagine it'll come in handy once you've left Hogwarts, though," Harry said.

"I'm sure," Draco agreed. "Wards cast by a member of the Nott family are said to be almost impenetrable. Although of course the Malfoy magical affinity is far superior to either of yours." He looked down his nose at both Harry and Nott. "The Mind Arts are complex and intricate and…"

"And illegal," Nott interrupted.

"No they're not," Draco contradicted him. "They're merely frowned upon by imbeciles who're too stupid to be able to master either Occlumency or Legilimency."

Harry was sure the Malfoy family had made absolutely certain that their particular magical talent was never banned; they certainly had enough money to bribe the Wizengamot into seeing things their way. He was surprised by what he'd heard, though. If asked he would have guessed the Malfoys had an affinity for Dark Magic - they certainly used it often enough. Although the truth did explain how Draco had managed to block Snape from his thoughts at the tender age of sixteen - a feat Harry wasn't certain he himself would be capable of even now.

"What are you three talking about?" Hermione wrinkled her forehead in confusion. "What are Mind Arts? What do you mean by an affinity?"

Harry did his best to explain. "The Mind Arts are basically what they sound like. Legilimency is sort of like mind-reading and Occlumency is a way to defend against it."

"That's a drastic oversimplification," Draco said.

Harry shrugged. He'd been lectured by Snape on the topic many times, but had never been interested enough to memorise the exact definitions.

"You mean someone could see what I'm thinking?" Hermione was aghast. She turned to Draco with an expression of horror. "Could you?"

Draco sneered at her. "Why would I want to know what goes through your pathetic muggle mind?"

"No he can't read your thoughts," Harry reassured Hermione with a glare in Draco's direction. "You have to be older to learn that sort of magic."

"Oh thank goodness." Hermione looked incredibly relieved, making Harry decide not to mention that both Snape and Dumbledore had learnt Legilimency long ago.

"As for affinities…" Harry searched for a way to explain. "Most pureblood families have a certain branch of magic they're particularly skilled in - Transfiguration or Charms for instance, or more obscure magic such as the Mind Arts or Animagus ability or whatever. Affinities are passed down through the blood from one generation to the next. "

"Which is why a muggleborn like you is never going to have one," Draco told Hermione, looking extremely pleased with himself.

Hermione frowned, clearly unhappy at the idea but unwilling to let Draco have the upper hand. "Well I don't need some special affinity in order to cast spells properly, as proven by the fact that I managed to levitate my feather before you did."

"Shut up, Granger," was Draco's eloquent response.

Nott started laughing again while Harry winked at Hermione behind Draco's back.

-.-.-

Later that afternoon Harry lay out on the grass beside the lake, idly throwing stones into the water for the Giant Squid to catch. He'd dodged both Draco's offers to go with him to meet Ernie and Hermione's instructions for him to study, and had instead escaped outside to get some peace and quiet away from the hordes of schoolchildren he was surrounded by daily. Almost all the other students stayed inside the castle due to the rather dismal weather, though Harry could hear the distant sounds of the Hufflepuff Team practicing over on the Quidditch pitch. He enjoyed his restful solitude, but was eventually interrupted by Hedwig winging her way towards him, a letter clutched in her beak.

0

Dear Orion,

Congratulations! I have it on good authority that you might very soon be betrothed to the lovely Daphne Greengrass. I'm sure you'll both be very happy and have lots of charming pureblood children together. I am so looking forward to being a granddad, let me tell you.

If you just so happen to already be getting cold feet at the idea, I am of course prepared to plead your case to Grandmother Melania - I'm just generous and kind-hearted that way. Maybe your gratitude for my help could prompt you to tell her that no, you don't need a mother, and yes, your dad is a handsome bachelor at the prime of his life who doesn't deserve to be shackled to some witch. Do we have a deal?

Aside from Melania's nagging, things are going pretty well on the family front. Not only have I been invited to several delicious dinners by Andy and Ted, I've also told Arcturus all about Voldemort's obsession with anagrams as a teenager. He was suitably affronted and is planning on sharing the information with all his equally snobbish friends. I hope the gamble will pay off.

While I really wish we knew what Voldemort is up to, there's not much we can actively do to stop him right now, so in the meantime I've decided to focus on other things. I don't know what the Werewolf situation was like in your old world, but here it's really messed up. I mean, I had to evict a man from his house simply because he'd been unlucky enough to be bitten by a werewolf. I'm sure I don't have to tell you how deeply wrong that is.

Apart from resigning my position as Auror in protest (which wouldn't help anyone), there's not much I can do about it directly - at least not until I take on the role of Paterfamilias. I was thinking though that maybe we could use Lily and James' old place in Godric's Hollow as a sort of safe house. The law only states Werewolves can't own property near populated Wizarding areas, not that they can't stay as guests in someone else's house. There's just a small cottage there at the moment, but we could cast a few expansion spells and add on a few extra rooms. There's also quite a bit of land attached to the place, so any Werewolves staying long-term could build their own small homes there - have some independence, you know?

So far it's just a rough idea. It's your choice whether we go through with it or not. I know legally I own the place, but I still think the Potter inheritance should be yours instead of mine, so you have the final say. We can discuss it when you come home for Halloween/Samhain next week. Just think about it, all right? I'll take any suggestions you've got, we just need to do something . I wouldn't wish being a Werewolf on my worst enemy - they not only have to endure a violent and bloody transformation each month, but also have to withstand destitution and disgust on top of everything. The unfairness of it all sets my teeth on edge!

Sorry, I don't mean to lecture you about it. I know you hate the prejudice against Werewolves as much as I do. It's Remus though, Orion. Remus and people like him who need our help. I can't turn my back on them.

X

Dad

P.S. On a lighter note, I'm glad to hear you're practicing your pranking skills. Remember to take photos so that I can admire your expertise over the holidays!

0

Harry got halfway through the first paragraph. Stopped. Started again from the beginning. Paused to mutter several insulting epithets. Then finally managed to read until the end.

He couldn't help but smile when he saw Sirius had signed the letter 'Dad'. Harry wasn't quite at the stage where he felt comfortable using the word himself, but it nevertheless gave him a warm feeling to see it written down on parchment. Harry wondered whether he should start referring to Sirius as Dad even when they weren't in public. They behaved as father and son, after all, complete with teasing and family arguments. Speaking of which, Harry sincerely hoped Sirius had simply made up the bit about Harry's supposed engagement to Daphne, either as some sort of prank or to get his help with avoiding an engagement of his own.

The tone of the letter was at the beginning quite light-hearted, but the farther Harry read the more serious it became. It was clear Sirius was committed to helping Werewolves improve their lives as much as possible. Harry couldn't manage quite the same level of dedication since too much of his energy was focused on Voldemort and his creed of Pureblood Supremacy, but he agreed with almost everything Sirius had written. He was just puzzled by the comment on a Werewolf's transformation. A full moon didn't necessarily include violence - not if the Wolfsbane Potion was used.

It was with a sinking feeling that Harry realised he'd never heard the potion mentioned since arriving in the new world. With all the other differences Harry had encountered he couldn't say with certainty that it existed. Fortunately, there was a quick way for him to find out for sure.

It wasn't difficult to track down Marcus Belby. Harry remembered him from the Slug Club meetings back when Slughorn was teaching. He was a third year Ravenclaw student, so Harry headed straight for the library and soon found him browsing through the Transfiguration section. He hesitated for a moment, uncertain how to approach the other boy since they'd never been introduced in this universe.

Belby sighed and looked up from the heavy Transfiguration tome he was holding. "What do you want, Black?"

"Huh? How d'you know who I am?" Harry was taken aback.

"I've heard every Ravenclaw first year complain about the Slytherin who's usurping their rightful spot as top student. That's you, isn't it?"

"Yeah, I guess so," Harry said and couldn't help but grin. It made a nice change to be known as a brilliant student.

Belby didn't seem to have much patience for small talk. "So what can I do for you? I hardly think you need help with your homework."

"Actually I wanted to ask you about your uncle."

"Uncle Damocles? Why?"

"Well, I heard he was a Potions Master," Harry said slowly. Belby's reaction wasn't promising.

"I don't know who told you that, but I can tell you that you were told wrong," Belby said. "He's nothing but a drunkard. An all right bloke, don't get me wrong, but you never see him without a drink in hand. Far as I know he's never worked a day in his life. He just mooches off relatives."

"Oh."

"Though now that you mention it, I think I may've heard something about how he wanted to work with Potions when he left school," Belby said thoughtfully. "Luckily my dad managed to talk him out of it. I mean come on, potions! I say we leave all that stuff to slimy gits like Snape, am I right?"

"Uh, yeah. Right." Harry wasn't willing to listen to the other boy ramble on. "Thanks for the help. Bye!"

He left the bemused third year behind and exited the library with a frown etched on his face. Damocles Belby had apparently never followed his dream of becoming a Potioneer, though the man did seem to be on better terms with his family, considering he and Marcus' dad were still on speaking terms. Harry couldn't bring himself to be happy for him though, since it had led to the Wolfsbane Potion never being invented.

Without the potion there was nothing to stop Werewolves from turning into mindless beasts every full moon, biting and clawing at themselves or their victims in a frenzied lust for blood. In Harry's old world the potion had helped Werewolves immeasurably. It let them keep their minds, made them safe, helped them hide - even lengthened their life expectancy. Harry knew there was no way Remus would ever have been allowed to teach at Hogwarts if it weren't for Damocles Belby's invention.

Harry doubted anyone in this universe even guessed at the possibility of such a potion, meaning that he was the only one with any knowledge of it. Unfortunately Harry was most emphatically not a Potions Master. He'd listened to Hermione and Slughorn discuss the potion for hours on end, but he was very far from being an expert.

He wandered into the Slytherin common room deep in thought, only surfacing when he was greeted by Daphne. "Good afternoon, Orion."

Harry was surprised to see her smiling at him. "Hi, Daphne. How've you been?"

"Very well, thank you. Hermione and I have been discussing the merits of various novels we've both read." She gestured to a corner where the bushy haired girl was sitting curled up over a book, the lurid pink cover of which proclaimed the title 'Seven Veela and Count Romero'. At her feet lay a pile of other volumes which bore names such as 'Amalthea's Amazing Adventures' and 'Dragon's Tooth, Chimera's Claw'.

Harry would never willingly read any of them, but was warmed by the familiar sight of his friend surrounded by books. "Having fun there, Hermione?" he asked her.

"What?" Hermione looked up and blinked. "Orion, when did you get here? Never mind, it doesn't matter. Look, Daphne's lent me a load of books - ones by Wizarding authors, you know - and they're simply fascinating. The writing style is so different from what I'm used to. They're rather melodramatic and I'm not sure I understand all the references, but Daphne's been explaining things to me and…"

Harry smiled fondly at Hermione's excited babble before turning to the other Slytherin girl. "That's very kind of you, Daphne."

"Not at all. It's been my pleasure," she said meaningfully.

"Er. Right." Harry shifted uneasily. He'd just remembered Sirius' letter and was wondering whether his dad had in fact not been joking about an engagement between him and Daphne. He could almost hear Melania's voice in his head, declaring it to be a simply marvellous idea. Harry grimaced. Daphne had been acting rather warmly towards him recently; her behaviour was subtle, but Harry couldn't think of any other reason why she'd be so friendly to a muggleborn.

Harry opened his mouth, then closed it again. He didn't know what to say or how to act. On the one hand, he refused to even consider the idea of an arranged marriage, especially not one involving an eleven year old. On the other, the possibility of an engagement had no doubt encouraged Daphne to welcome Hermione as her friend. Harry didn't want Hermione to become an outcast - she finally seemed to be settling in and he wasn't willing to jeopardise that.

After weighing up the different options, Harry decided to keep quiet on the subject for the time being. It would be a better idea to get Sirius to speak to Melania, who could speak to the Greengrasses, who could then speak to Daphne. Harry brightened up considerably at the thought of being so far removed from Daphne's reaction if she ever found out she'd been rejected.

"Well enjoy your books, you two," Harry said. He gestured towards an empty armchair on the opposite side of the common room. "I've got some potions work to finish off, so…"

Hermione appeared scandalised. "Honestly, Orion! We have our next Potions class in half an hour."

"Then I'd best get to it, hadn't I?" Harry quickly made his escape with a small smile and a nod at the two girls. He settled down and pulled out a parchment and quill, then did his best to scribble down everything he could remember about the Wolfsbane Potion. It didn't amount to much.

He knew the ingredients involved, but not the amounts. He knew the order everything was added, but not when and how many times to stir. He knew the end result was supposed to exude a faint blue smoke and taste disgusting, but he didn't have any details for the earlier stages.

"This is impossible," Harry muttered. He was relieved when the bell rang, since it let him pack up his things and make his way to the nearby Potions classroom. He took his usual seat beside Neville and began setting up his cauldron, all the while dredging his memory for any other aspect of the potion he might be able to think up. No hidden details sprang to mind, but an answer to his problem did present itself.

The solution was obvious, Harry realised as he watched Snape sweep into the room and begin snarling orders. Beside him Neville shuddered in fear, but Harry was close to beaming with excitement. Snape was a genius - if anyone could cobble together Harry's recollections into a proper recipe, it would be him. Unfortunately, Snape was also a complete git. Harry couldn't think of any easy way of getting the man's help. He suspected the only person Snape might be willing to listen to was Dumbledore, but involving the Headmaster would only lead to prying questions that Harry was eager to avoid at all costs.

Harry stared thoughtfully at the hook-nosed Potions Professor, trying to look as if he was paying attention to the lesson while actually thinking of a way to convince the man. Perhaps he could get Sirius to talk to him; it was probably hopelessly optimistic of him, but - for some reason he couldn't quite put his finger on - Harry believed such an approach might work.

Decision made, Harry turned to Neville and gave the boy a comforting smile. Over the past few weeks he'd done his best to raise Neville's confidence, but so far nothing had helped to decrease the number of near-explosions during every lesson.

"Look, how about you let me add the ingredients this time?" Harry suggested quietly.

Neville nodded miserably and stood back from their bench with his hands clasped tightly behind his back. "I won't touch anything, I promise."

He kept his word, but their potion still skirted the edge of disaster more than once. Harry managed to rescue it enough for Snape to pronounce it acceptable, but he was still frustrated by the near-failure.

"I don't get it!" Harry exclaimed as soon as he and Neville were out of the door at the end of the lesson. "I know how to brew that potion. It should've been perfect."

"It's my fault," Neville said immediately.

"You didn't do anything, Neville," Harry reminded him.

Neville shook his head stubbornly. "It was me," he insisted.

"What do you mean?"

"Can we…" Neville tugged on Harry's sleeve to get him to hang back and let their classmates pass by them. As soon as they were the only ones left in the corridor, Neville turned to Harry with a look of panic on his round face. "It's me, I know it is! My magic's all messed up and makes things explode, just like in that story you told us about Dumbledore's sister."

"Ariana?" Harry frowned. He wished he'd never mentioned the girl when writing that essay for Footswitch - not if it got Neville so upset.

"Yes, her! You said people tried to force her to do magic, and her powers were damaged, and she couldn't control them, and then she died!" Neville was close to hyperventilating. "Orion, what if the same thing's happening to me? Am I going to die?"

"You're not dying," Harry said firmly, before pausing to gather his thoughts. "Neville, are you saying someone hurt you to make you perform magic?"

Neville nodded. "Yeah, all the time. Dad and Uncle Algie really wanted me to show some sign of accidental magic. They pushed me off Blackpool pier once - I almost drowned."

When Harry had first heard that story while sitting at the Gryffindor table, he hadn't paid it any attention except as an amusing anecdote. Now it horrified him. "He was wrong to do that. Really wrong. You know that, right?"

Neville shrugged nervously. "People always say it's better to be dead than a Squib."

"Yeah, well, people are idiots," Harry said. "And anyway, you're not a Squib. You've got lots of magic."

"How can you say that?" Neville wailed. "I haven't been able to cast a single spell right. Not one! All I've managed to do is make things explode or go up in flames. Yesterday, I set fire to Professor Footswitch's hair!"

Harry grinned. "Did you? Good for you."

"But I didn't do it on purpose," Neville said, wringing his hands. "I was just trying to send up sparks, but I couldn't even manage that."

"It's all right, Neville. We'll work this out." Harry considered everything Neville had told him. In his old world the Gryffindor had simply been incompetent, not destructive. It had taken a few years, but he'd eventually grown into a powerful wizard. Unfortunately, things didn't seem to be quite as simple for the eleven year old Neville in front of him. Harry wondered if the boy was right - maybe his magic was damaged. With not only his Uncle, but also his Dad pressuring him to perform magic (under life threatening circumstances by the sounds of it), more than just Neville's confidence could have been harmed. His magic being too wild and chaotic would explain a lot, not least why Harry had never managed to successfully brew a potion in Neville's presence.

"Orion?" Neville questioned uncertainly.

Harry knew he had to do his best to reassure him. "Remember when I told you how Ariana was never able to attend Hogwarts?"

"Yeah," Neville mumbled.

"Well, you are able to, Neville. You wouldn't have got a letter otherwise," Harry pointed out.

Neville shuffled his feet. "I suppose so."

"I think the problem is that for you, performing magic is linked to being terrified," Harry said, working things out as he went along. "Whenever you try to cast a spell your accidental magic kicks in and attacks whatever you see as a threat, be it a cauldron or Footswitch or anything else."

"That… sounds as if it makes sense," Neville said slowly. He'd calmed down a lot, but looked pale and depressed. "I just don't know how to keep it from happening."

"I'm sorry," Harry said.

"It's not your fault," Neville said.

Harry wished he knew how to comfort the boy. As much as wanted to, he didn't think heaping insults on Neville's relatives would be the way to go, more was the pity. "Your magic's confused, chaotic and maybe a little bit damaged. But remember - you wouldn't be here at Hogwarts if you didn't deserve to be."

"But what do I do? I can't keep setting people on fire."

"You practice," Harry said with forced cheerfulness. "The most important thing is that you remain calm and don't push yourself. You'll get there, just don't rush. Your magic is a part of you - if you panic, it panics."

"A-all right." Neville nodded shakily. "Will… will you help me? Please?"

"I will, I promise," Harry said immediately. "And Neville?" Harry waited until the other boy made eye contact. "You are not going to die. You're going to grow up to be an amazing wizard - I've Seen it."

Neville let out a ragged breath and stood a bit straighter. "Thanks, Orion."

"You're welcome." Harry was honestly happy to help, though some of his reasons were less than completely unselfish. He wanted Neville to grow in confidence and become the brave and talented wizard Harry knew he could be. So far so good, but Neville wouldn't be the only one to benefit. Harry needed powerful friends if he wanted to influence people away from Pureblood ideologies and towards more tolerant views. Neville was the heir to an old wizarding family and a Gryffindor - his support would be invaluable.

d I switch to only referring to him as Orion? I've worked out a reasonable way to make the change, I'm just not sure if I should or not. I'd love to hear your opinions. Thanks!

Chapter Text

 

It was with a strong feeling of relief that Harry gathered up his belongings as the Hogwarts Express pulled into King's Cross Station. During the long train journey he'd kept a firm grip on his wand and a sharp eye on his luggage, all but ignoring the conversations flowing around him. He'd retrieved Ravenclaw's Diadem from the Room of Requirement earlier that morning, and while he'd been successful in smuggling it out of the castle, Harry was determined not to let his guard down until the Horcrux was completely destroyed.

As soon as the train doors opened, Harry jumped down onto the platform and made his way through the milling crowds to where Sirius stood waiting.

"Orion!" Sirius leaned down and gave him a quick hug. "It's good to have you back, even if it's only for the weekend."

Harry pulled back and smiled up at him. "Thanks, dad. And a weekend's better than nothing. I'm just happy to escape school and my eleven year old classmates for a few days."

"Yeah, I can imagine." Sirius pointed his wand at Harry's trunk and levitated it closer. "Ready to go?"

Harry nodded. "Definitely. Let's get out of here." He really didn't want to risk a meeting with Daphne or her parents.

Sirius grasped Harry by the arm and disapparated them both with a soft pop, reappearing moments later in the entrance hall of Grimmauld Place. Harry smiled as he glanced around at the familiar surroundings; he was surprised by how good it felt to be back in the house he had gradually come to think of as home.

"Ah, young Orion, you have returned I see," Mrs Black spoke from her portrait on the wall. "I congratulate you on your placement in Slytherin House. I was most pleased to hear you have not allowed yourself to be influenced by your Gryffindor parents. You are a credit to our family, just like dear Regulus…"

"Thank you, Grandmother," Harry said with a polite smile.

Sirius huffed impatiently and dropped Harry's luggage onto the floor with a thump. "Regulus died with a Dark Mark branded on his arm. I hardly think that could be considered a credit to anyone."

Mrs Black glared down at her son. "He was led astray by Lucius Malfoy and his ilk. Narcissa should never have married that man - his French ancestry alone marks him as unsuitable. But would anyone listen to me? Of course not."

"Whatever you say, mother." Sirius rolled his eyes and beckoned Harry to follow him farther down the hall to where the portrait couldn't overhear. "Do you have it? Do you have the Horcrux?"

"Yeah, I've got it." Harry knelt down and began rummaging through his trunk. After shifting aside a layer of books and clothing, his hands touched the silvery cloth of his Invisibility Cloak. With a soft tug the Cloak fell away to reveal the lost Diadem of Ravenclaw.

Sirius drew in a sharp breath and reached out to trace a finger over the words etched on the Diadem's surface. "Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure," he quoted. "It's strange to think this holds the soul of a monster."

"Yeah well, hopefully not for much longer." Harry stood up, gingerly holding the Horcrux away from his body. "I reckon we should destroy it outside - fewer things to catch on fire if the magic gets away from us."

The two wizards left the house and moved into the centre of the walled-in back garden. Harry placed the Horcrux on the ground and took a few steps back. "You'll have to cast the spell, Sirius," Harry said. "My magic isn't mature enough and I don't want to risk losing control of such a volatile curse."

"Fiendfyre is Dark Magic, you know," Sirius said.

Harry looked at him, unsure whether Sirius meant the words as a complaint, a warning, or a simple observation. "The only other option is to get our hands on Basilisk Venom," he pointed out. "I'm not a Parselmouth anymore so I can't get into the Chamber of Secrets, and getting it on the black market would be insanely expensive, not to mention just as illegal. Fiendfyre seems the easiest way to go."

Sirius nodded and drew his wand. "Right. Let's get this over with." He wore a grim look of determination as he muttered the incantation, causing red hot flames to leap out and devour the Diadem. The heat from the magical blaze was so intense it caused the air to shimmer. Slowly the roaring of the fire mixed with screams of pain from the Horcrux, until finally the Diadem broke apart in a pool of thick red blood.

Harry felt a rush of triumph at the sight and smiled victoriously, but Sirius barely seemed to notice. Sweat dripped down his face as he tried to keep control of the flames that were licking out along the ground, searching for something more to burn. He slashed his wand down sharply and cried "Finite Incantatem!" and the Fiendfyre slowly died away, leaving behind only scorched grass and the charred remains of the Diadem.

"It's done," Sirius gasped out as he swayed on his feet.

"But far from over," Harry said. His flush of triumph disappeared as he contemplated the enormity of the task still in front of them. "There's still the ring, the locket, the diary, the cup, and maybe Nagini to deal with."

Sirius rested a hand on Harry's shoulder. "Come on, Orion. Let's celebrate destroying this Horcrux before we start obsessing over the others, all right?"

Harry let himself be steered inside and down into the kitchen, where Dobby was busy directing pots and pans to scrub themselves clean in the sink. Harry greeted the elf with a smile and then slumped down beside Sirius at the wooden table, still brooding over all the Horcruxes left to destroy.

"Dobby, bring Orion's luggage to his room," Sirius instructed.

"Please," Harry added.

"Dobby will do as Mr Orion asks," Dobby said, speaking directly to Harry and ignoring Sirius. The elf disappeared with a pop, leaving the two wizards alone.

Sirius levitated a dusty bottle of Firewhisky down from one of the kitchen cupboards and poured them both a drink. They clinked glasses and downed the amber liquid in a few gulps. Harry coughed and spluttered at the strong taste, his body unused to alcohol. With that in mind, Harry stuck to just the one glass, leaving Sirius to pour himself another.

"I can hardly believe you've got me advocating patience, but we really can't do much more than what we're already doing. These things take time," Sirius said.

Harry sighed. "Yeah, I know. I just get frustrated sometimes, stuck at Hogwarts and pretending to be just another first year."

"Yeah, how's school going by the way?" Sirius returned Harry's cross look with an innocent one of his own. "What, isn't that a question all parents get to ask?"

Harry rolled his eyes, but began telling Sirius all about his lessons and classmates and the study group he'd formed with students from other Houses. He also described the activities he found rather more enjoyable, such as his pranks on Professor Footswitch and his efforts to turn Draco into less of a whiny brat. This last had Sirius grinning approvingly and making several unhelpful - though amusing - suggestions on how to hurry the process along. Harry laughed along with him, but turned serious when recounting his conversation with Neville.

"… and Neville's magic is really messed up. I can't believe his dad would do that to him," he finished.

"Frank's had a hard life. Alice died and left him to raise Neville alone, which can't have been easy." Sirius sighed and shook his head. "But you're right, that's not really an excuse. There's not much that can be done about it, though. As I've told you before, there aren't really any child protection laws in our world."

"Surely parents aren't allowed to almost drown their kids," Harry said incredulously.

Sirius sighed again. "Surely you've noticed that we wizards have rather dismissive attitudes when it comes to injuries? Things like broken bones aren't viewed as anything more serious than a paper cut – both injuries are just as easy to heal, after all. It's really only magically inflicted damage that's ever permanent. That's why casting harmful spells on a child is strictly forbidden, but what the Longbottoms did to Neville… well, it's not seen as particularly shocking. A lot of wizards and witches would go to even further extremes in order force accidental magic out of their children."

"Please tell me you wouldn't be one of those wizards," Harry said, disturbed by what he was hearing.

"No, of course not!" Sirius sounded genuinely insulted. "I don't agree with that sort of behaviour any more than you do, Orion. I'm just trying to explain why I can't go and arrest everyone who drops their child out of a window or whatever." Then he very obviously tried to change the subject. "How's your friend Hermione doing by the way, you haven't mentioned her much. Is she settling in to Slytherin?"

Harry frowned but followed Sirius' lead. "The older Slytherins hassle her a bit, but nothing unmanageable. I've got most of them convinced she'll grow up to be a force to be reckoned with so they're content to watch and wait for now. She's having a hard time adapting to the Wizarding World though - she's already pissed off quite a few of our classmates."

"Well it's a big culture change to deal with and it's only been a few months so far."

Harry had told himself the same thing many times, but hearing it from someone else made it sound like a weak excuse. "It's just that she's so headstrong and she spends a lot of time with the other muggleborns in our year, who are hardly going to disagree with her ideas. It's as if she's not even trying to adapt at all. At least she seems willing enough to listen to Daphne's hints on proper behaviour, although I'm not quite sure how I feel about those two being friends. Sirius, please be honest, is Melania really trying to force me into an engagement with Daphne?"

Sirius barked out a laugh. "Relax, Orion. I won't let her do that to you - I know you hate the idea of an arranged marriage."

Harry smiled in relief and leaned back in his seat. "You've got that right. Although I've got to say, the Daphne from my old world grew up to be a very attractive witch. I could do worse." Then he frowned. "I suppose I should try not to think about that sort of stuff though. I'm a twenty year old man in an eleven year old's body. Why torture myself?"

Sirius smirked. "I feel for you. I really do."

Harry sent him a withering look but didn't deign to respond to that unsympathetic remark. "I just don't know what to do about Daphne," he said instead. "At least I've got this weekend to sort things out before I have to go back to Hogwarts and see her again. You know, it's ridiculous how a complete lack of any sort of love life can still lead to relationship drama."

Sirius grinned and gave a shrug. "Witches! Can't live with 'em, yet can't live without 'em! Though you know, you'll probably run into Daphne at the Samhain Ball tomorrow evening. Remember? I know I mentioned it in one of my letters. Melania and Arcturus are hosting the thing and I'm sure dear old Grandma won't have passed up the opportunity to invite the Greengrasses and their darling daughters."

Harry's eyes widened in realisation. "So that's what Pansy and Daphne were giggling about earlier. They spent the whole train ride talking about dress robes and dance partners and all that rubbish." He grimaced in distaste. "I'd completely forgotten. Do we really have to turn up? Isn't there any way to get out of it?"

"Only if you don't mind Melania hunting you down and hexing your balls off," Sirius said. "She's made it clear we're both expected to be there. It's not so bad, really," he continued as Harry groaned. "It'll give us an opportunity to make a good impression on all the influential Purebloods who're sure to be invited."

The necessity of being polite to people like Lucius Malfoy didn't make Harry feel any better about the prospect of the ball. He knew Sirius was right though in that they couldn't afford to annoy Melania or any of her guests.

"Merlin, I'll actually have to dance, won't I?" Harry realised in horror.

"Yep!" Sirius looked entirely too amused by the prospect. "I'm sure Daphne would just love to share a waltz with you."

Harry shuddered as he got a flashback to the Yule Ball in his fourth year. He reached out and grabbed the bottle of Firewhisky, taking a fortifying gulp before slamming it back down on the table while doing his best to ignore Sirius' laughter.

-.-.-

Harry tried to forget about the ball for the rest of the day. He went flying with Sirius and revelled in being able to act like himself for a change, without having to adjust his behaviour to that of an eleven year old. That freedom was short-lived, however, since Harry and Sirius were invited to dinner with the Tonks family that evening. Harry was happy to go since Ted Tonks' cooking was always delicious and he knew Sirius enjoyed spending time with his favourite cousin. He and Andromeda spent most of the evening regaling them all with increasingly embarrassing stories from each other's childhood, while Harry and Nymphadora made faces at each other across the table in a contest to make the other laugh. Nymphadora won, which lead to a friendly argument over whether using Metamorphmagus abilities should be considered cheating.

It was hardly the height of maturity, but Harry really didn't care. He liked spending time with Nymphadora, Ted and Andromeda, and was disappointed - though not surprised - to learn that none of them were invited to the ball. Melania would never welcome so-called Undesirables into her home, so Harry resigned himself to the distasteful prospect of spending the next evening surrounded by snobbish purebloods.

He wanted to make the most of the free time he had, which for Harry meant that he slept in late the next morning, only ambling downstairs around midday with his clothing rumpled and his hair still wet from a shower.

"Morning," Harry mumbled, munching on a piece of toast as he joined Sirius in the drawing room.

"Finally joined the land of the living, I see."

"It's a Sunday and the holidays," Harry defended himself.

Sirius set aside the official-looking scroll he was reading. "Well some of us had to go into work for several hours this morning."

"It's times like these that I'm glad I'm not an adult." Harry smiled happily and settled down in a comfy armchair near the window.

"Yeah, yeah." Sirius crossed his arms childishly. Harry almost expected him to stick his tongue out at him. They grinned at each other before Sirius got down to business. "Well now that you're here there's some stuff I want to discuss with you. Remus is coming over soon and I want to get things cleared up before he arrives."

"Is this about the Werewolf thing?"

Sirius nodded. "Yep. I read your notes on the Wolfsbane potion and it sounds great, really, but are you sure it'll work?"

Harry shrugged and finished off the last of his toast. "If we get Snape on board, I don't see why not. Even you have to admit he's a genius at potions."

"But how're we supposed to get him to help?"

"I thought you could talk to him."

"Oh hell no! No way am I going anywhere near that greasy dungeon bat. Why can't you do it?"

Harry crossed his arms. "It's not as if Snape's going to listen to me. I'm just a snot-nosed first year, remember? And I think he's avoiding me - he never calls on me in class anymore and he didn't even take points off when my potion exploded last week."

"That's probably because of the rumours of your Assessor abilities," Sirius told him. "Think about it. For someone as private as Snivellus…"

"Good point," Harry said. He remembered how enraged Snape had been over Harry entering his pensieve - the man no doubt hated the idea of an Assessor knowing his secrets. "All the more reason for you to talk to him, then. It won't be too hard. Just say you've found an incomplete recipe for a potion and that you desperately need his expertise. A little flattery never hurt anyone."

"It'll hurt me to give it to him," Sirius said sulkily. "And what makes you so sure he'll agree? He certainly won't be eager to do me any favours. He hates me just as much as I do him."

Harry smiled smugly. "Ah, but we have a trump card. My mum."

"Who, Evie?"

"Uh, no. Lily Potter."

They stared at each other. Harry wondered if it was a simple slip of the tongue or a moment of stupidity on Sirius' part, or if the older man had really begun believing in Harry's cover-story as Orion Black.

Sirius broke the awkward silence. "Right, Lily, of course. Sorry. Go on."

"Um, well, if we tell Snape that Lily was working on the potion while in hiding and was killed by Voldemort before completing it, then I can guarantee that Snape will set aside his grudge. At least for long enough to finish the potion." Harry leant back and waited for Sirius' response.

"I suppose that could work," Sirius said finally once he'd given up on finding a weak point in Harry's argument. "Damn it. I can't believe you want me to ask Snape for a favour!"

Harry sighed to himself. He'd had time after Snape's death to get over his hatred of the man and was mostly indifferent to the Snape in this world. Sirius, on the other hand, was anything but. "Look," Harry said. "I know you hate him, you've made that perfectly clear. But don't you think in the past you've taken it a bit too far? You set him up to be eaten by a Werewolf for Merlin's sake."

Sirius frowned and didn't answer.

"You wrote in your letter that you wouldn't wish lycanthropy on even your worst enemy. Were you lying?" Harry pushed his point.

"No, I wasn't." Sirius pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath. "You're right, okay? I'll talk to Snape. I'll even be polite. Now can we stop talking about this?"

"Right, sure," Harry said hastily. "Sorry."

They sat in silence for several long minutes until the doorbell rang, at which point they both jumped to their feet, grateful for the distraction. They hurried downstairs to greet Remus and began exchanging news, helping him off with his coat, and offering cups of tea. By the time they'd all settled down at the kitchen table with a plate of scones in front of them, the tension between Harry and Sirius had disappeared. The three wizards chattered aimlessly for a while, with Sirius talking about his job at the Ministry and Harry complaining about Footswitch, when Remus mentioned that he'd spoken with Caspian Wilkes, the Werewolf Sirius had almost arrested a few weeks ago.

"Yeah, about that…" Sirius began, before launching into a long description of his plans to help the Werewolves. He told Remus about his idea to use the house in Godric's Hollow and talked about ways to find Werewolves jobs so that they wouldn't be forced to rely on charity. He even touched on the possibility of setting up an informal school for young children, as well adults who had never been allowed an education. Harry noticed Sirius made no mention of the Wolfsbane potion, but decided he probably didn't want to raise Remus' hopes. Taking his cue from Sirius, Harry didn't bring it up and instead stayed silent as Sirius outlined his plans.

"So what do you think?" Sirius at last paused for breath, looking worried by Remus' unresponsiveness.

"I… I think it's… amazing." Remus reached out to touch Sirius' shoulder. "Even if it doesn't work out… just, thank you. Really."

Harry grinned and Sirius let out a relieved laugh. "You're welcome. I'm sure there are lots of other things we should do - you probably have a few ideas, since you know a lot of the people we want to help. So?"

"Just having a safe place to stay will make a huge difference to a lot of us," Remus said frankly. "That's really the main thing. Jobs and education would be welcome too, of course, though they'd be harder to achieve. Werewolves aren't usually allowed wands, you know. I have one because Dumbledore agreed to sponsor me, but most of us aren't that lucky and can't cast spells without one. Any job in the Wizarding World requires magic, and according to the Statute of Secrecy magical creatures aren't allowed to work in the Muggle World. We're literally stuck."

Harry had never realised that the law against non-humans carrying wands applied to Werewolves. He remembered back to Winky's panic at being caught with a wand at the Quidditch World cup and Amos Diggory's harsh questioning. He hadn't thought much of it at the time, too busy wondering about the Dark Mark in the sky, but now the memory made him frown. He also recalled Crabbe's dismissive attitude to losing his wand at the beginning of the school year, and was forcibly struck by how unfair it all was.

"Bloody ministry." Harry scowled and aimed a kick at one of the table legs.

Remus glanced at Harry uncertainly and then turned towards his friend. "Sirius, are you sure Orion should be bothered with all this? He's rather young…"

"Not to worry." Sirius waved away his concerns. "I know what I'm doing when it comes to this parenting thing. And Orion's very mature. Aren't you, Orion?"

"Very." Harry nodded emphatically.

Remus still looked hesitant, but apparently wasn't willing to continue questioning Sirius' parenting abilities. "All right. Um, back to your ideas for Godric's Hollow, Sirius. How come you've got control over the property?"

Harry tensed as a dark look passed across Sirius' face as it always did when bad memories were brought up. "I was named Harry's guardian in James and Lily's will," Sirius said, his voice hoarse. "With little Harry… well, with Harry gone, I inherited everything."

"Of course," Remus murmured.

Harry fidgeted awkwardly and was relieved when the subject moved back to Sirius' plans. They discussed logistics for a while, with Remus giving his opinion on how many Werewolves were in need of help and how to get them to accept it. Sirius conjured up a quill and parchment, and began taking notes in an uncharacteristic show of studiousness. The discussion even continued over lunch, only ending when the plates were cleared away and Remus pulled out a battered old pocket watch.

"Sirius, it's three o'clock," he said. "We should leave now if you want to have time to get ready for your Samhain party later this evening."

Sirius nodded and stood up from his seat. Harry was confused. "Where're you going?" He watched as the other two wizards exchanged glances, silently arguing over what to say. "C'mon, it's not a secret, is it?"

Sirius began pulling on his travelling cloak, not meeting Harry's eyes. "We're going to visit Lily and James' grave," he said.

Harry didn't know how to respond. He should have expected it really, since October 31st was the night the Potters had died. It made sense for their two oldest friends to visit their graves on the anniversary of that night, especially since it would be the first time Sirius was free to do so.

"Little Harry was buried there as well. You know, I think you two would've got on well if you'd ever met. Maybe you'd like to join us, Orion?" Remus offered, not understanding the undercurrents of the conversation.

Harry shook his head. "No, that's… that's all right." He cleared his throat. "Thanks for asking." He'd already visited his parents' graves back in his old world. The Lily and James buried here weren't his parents. Harry had to remember that.

With a nod to Harry, Sirius quickly ushered Remus out of the kitchen. Harry heard the front door open and close before silence descended on the house. Dobby was off somewhere else and in any case Harry didn't feel up to talking to anyone, so he drifted towards the library and settled down with a book on curses. He purposefully lost himself in its pages, not moving until it was time to dress for the evening.

-.-.-

Harry stared at his reflection and tugged restlessly at the sleeves of his dress robes. The formal clothes served to make him look even younger than usual, like a child playing dress up. Harry wished he could get rid of the stiff material and instead wear jeans and a t-shirt while staying at home for the evening – but unfortunately that didn't fit into their plan. Harry half-thought he'd prefer to fight Voldemort the traditional way, duelling Death Eaters and hunting Horcruxes, despite experience showing it wouldn't work. Using politics and acting like the perfect pureblood were more likely to be effective, but took a lot more patience and hard work.

"Orion! Are you ready yet?" Sirius stood in the entrance hall and bellowed up the stairs.

"Coming!" Harry shouted back.

Neither of them was enthusiastic about the Samhain Ball, and not coincidentally they were some of the last guests to arrive at Black Manor for the event. The whole place was lit up by candles floating near the ceiling, reflecting off every polished surface and casting a soft glow over the dozens of guests already gathered in the spacious reception rooms. A group of unobtrusive musicians played softly in one corner and the faint scent of incense hung in the air.

Harry wrinkled his nose at the smell, but quickly changed his expression to a polite smile when he saw Melania emerge from the crowd to greet them. She was wearing silver embroidered robes and was bedecked with jewels, and overall made an alarming sight as she strode towards them with a determined look on her face.

"You're late," she told them sternly.

"Grandmother Melania. Has anyone told you how lovely you look this evening?"

"Oh never mind that, Sirius," Melania huffed impatiently, for once unwilling to listen to compliments on her appearance. "I simply must introduce you to Lady Sybil and her two daughters - they're utterly charming. Do come along and say hello. Oh and Orion, dear, why don't you find Daphne, hmm? I'm sure you two have plenty to talk about." With that Melania disappeared back into the throng, pulling a reluctant Sirius along behind her.

Harry had no intention of dealing with Daphne so early in the evening and instead made his way over to where he saw Ernie and Draco lurking behind a pillar, out of sight of most of the guests.

"What ho, Orion!" Ernie greeted him with a wide smile and a hearty handshake. "Jolly good to see you, old chap!"

"Shh!" Draco hissed before Harry had time to reply. "Not so loud. She might hear us."

Harry raised his eyebrows questioningly. "Who're you talking about?"

"Pansy of course." Draco sounded as if the answer should be obvious.

"Who else would have Draco cowering in a corner," Ernie said with a grin.

Draco drew himself up in indignation. "I already told you - I'm not cowering!"

"Don't worry, Draco," Harry said. "I'm hiding from Daphne so I know how you feel."

Ernie shook his head at them both. "I say, you two really are pathetic, aren't you? You can't avoid them for ever. The first dance will start soon and as close relatives of the hosts we're expected to find partners and join in."

Harry winced at the confirmation of his worst fears for the evening. "Do we really have to?"

"I'm afraid so, old bean. It's traditional."

Draco scoffed. "Not much of a tradition, is it? Not when these sorts of Samhain parties haven't been around long. Father said there used to be a huge festival every year, like the one at Beltane. That was traditional."

"Really. What changed?" Harry asked.

"I think public gatherings were considered too risky, what with You-Know-Who attacking and all that," Ernie replied. "In fact it's only in the last couple of years that Samhain's begun being celebrated again."

"Oh." Harry considered for a moment. "Does that mean I can get out of dancing?"

Draco looked at him incredulously. "Have you met Grandmother Melania?"

As if her name worked as a summoning charm, Melania appeared next to them. "Boys! What are you three doing hiding behind a pillar? Oh never mind. The opening dance is about to start. Ernest, I saw Hannah Abbott near the drinks table. As for you, Draco, I know Miss Parkinson has been looking for you all evening."

"You know, Grandmother, I'm not feeling too well…" Harry made one last attempt to escape his fate.

Melania remained unmoved. "Nonsense, Orion. Why don't you ask dear Daphne to be your partner? Go on. No need to be shy." She gave him a push over to where Daphne was standing with her parents and Astoria. Harry pasted a smile on his face and reluctantly joined them.

Introductions were made and small talk ensued, with Lady Greengrass dropping hints and wearing a rather proprietary smile whenever she looked at Harry. He had the distinct impression that she was sizing him up as future son-in-law material and unfortunately did not find him lacking. Harry was glad he had an excuse to get away from the woman and soon offered Daphne his arm while politely asking her to dance. She accepted him with equal politeness, but considerably more enthusiasm. Doing his best to hide his discomfort, Harry escorted her through the open double-doors and into the ballroom.

Once the music started, they began to turn slowly in the set patterns of the dance, making Harry grateful for the lessons Cassiopeia had given him earlier in the summer. At least he wouldn't embarrass either himself or his partner by treading on her toes. Not only did he quite like Daphne, but he also wanted to stay on her good side for Hermione's sake. He couldn't ignore the fact that she was just a child though. He was just thankful she wasn't the type to giggle or flutter her eyelashes at him - that would truly make the experience unbearable.

As soon as the dance was over he led Daphne back to her parents. To ensure he made a good impression while at the same time avoiding showing Daphne too much attention, Harry next asked Astoria to partner him for a waltz. Then, duty done, he gratefully made his escape from the ballroom and joined Nott and Draco at the refreshments table. When it came down to a choice between spending time with the other Slytherin boys and dancing with a prepubescent witch, Harry knew which he preferred.

Unfortunately it didn't take long before Melania found him again and ordered him to mingle. Harry obeyed with a sigh, knowing he had a duty to fulfil. He moved through the crowd, nodding and smiling at the guests, having quickly learnt to keep conversation to a minimum if he didn't want to discuss the chances of his father marrying or the possible contents of Sirius' Gringotts vault. Sweeping his gaze over the gathered wizards and witches, it became obvious to Harry that Melania had carefully chosen her guest list to further her matchmaking plans. He wondered how Sirius was holding up under the onslaught of single witches hunting for a husband.

Harry didn't have much sympathy to spare, however, since he had guests of his own that he was eager to avoid. He swerved around a determined looking Lady Greengrass, unwilling to endure another interrogation by the woman, and ducked out of sight behind a group of older wizards. He recognised only a few members of the group, but with Lucius Malfoy among their number Harry intended to quickly move on to a safer hiding place. He hesitated, however, when their conversation caught his attention.

"Such a suggestion is preposterous, Yaxley," Lucius Malfoy said sharply. "You cannot seriously be insinuating that my sister-in-law Bellatrix bowed down before a half-blood?"

"I believe he's also implying the same of you," Nott senior said with a smirk.

Lucius gave him a chilly smile. "I am not the only wizard here accused of Death Eater activities, if you recall."

"Although of course we were all acquitted," Walden Macnair hastened to say.

"Indeed and rightfully so." Lucius acknowledged Macnair's words with a regal tilt of his head.

"Be that as it may," the wizard named Yaxley spoke up, immediately gaining the group's attention. "It does seem as if the Dark Lord was at least partly of Muggle descent. His real name is said to be Tom Marvolo Riddle, after his muggle father I believe. Certainly that name is not linked with any of the Ancient or Noble families."

Harry watched with interest as Lucius paled. "Riddle? Are you certain?"

Yaxley nodded. "I found it hard to credit at first, but all my investigations have shown that the rumour bears out."

The subject turned to other things and Harry slipped away from the group, mulling over what he'd heard. It seemed Arcturus' efforts to discredit Voldemort were well underway, though Harry wasn't yet certain how successful the rumours would be in turning the Death Eaters away from their master. Some might not be willing to believe that the Dark Lord was a half-blood, while others would have too much to lose if Voldemort ever returned and discovered their abandonment. Harry noticed that at least Yaxley was taking the rumours seriously and seemed to have quite a bit of influence over the other wizards. Harry was also pretty certain he wasn't a Death Eater, which was reassuring.

Harry searched the crowd for Sirius, wanting to discuss what he'd overheard. He eventually found the older wizard in an out of the way corner, where he was busy flirting with a blonde witch who was hanging off his arm. Harry rolled his eyes and interrupted the pair. Sirius tried to shoo him away, but the woman seemed to lose interest now that a child was involved and left to find another wizard to bat her lashes at.

"Thanks a lot, Orion," Sirius said sarcastically.

Harry was unrepentant. "Don't you and Hestia Jones have a thing going on?"

"It's only casual. And really, what's the point of a party if you can't flirt with the guests?"

"Well I don't know why you'd choose that particular woman to charm. She's so dim she wouldn't be able to cast a simple Lumos charm, and she has absolutely no sense of humour."

Sirius sighed. "Yeah, I noticed that. She didn't laugh at a single one of my jokes. But how did you know?"

"I…" Harry began, then stopped. "I have no idea." He searched his memory, wondering if he'd overheard something about the witch. Then he considered whether it had simply been a lucky guess. But no, he'd been so sure that he was right. Slowly an idea began to form; small hints from over the last few weeks coalesced into a solid theory.

Harry stared at the wizards and witches around him. There was Lady Parkinson, who was prepared to throw herself at any male under the age of eighty; Paterfamilias Yaxley, a man of determination and strong ideals; Walden Macnair, whose bloodthirstiness was sure to get him into trouble one day. Harry shouldn't know any of that, but he did.

"I think I may be an Assessor," Harry said faintly.

Sirius laughed. "Yeah, right."

"I'm serious."

"Huh?" Forgoing the usual joke, Sirius stared at him. "How the hell did that happen?"

"I don't know," Harry said, beginning to feel panicked. "I've always been a fairly decent judge of character but recently it's been more than that. I took an instant dislike to Professor Footswitch, and managed to read Snape even though he's a brilliant spy, and well, lots of things. It all adds up. Merlin! I really am an Assessor."

Sirius seemed to believe him now that he understood Harry wasn't joking. "Well I suppose the combination of inheriting from me, Lily and James might have uncovered hidden talents, or given you new ones," he said. "While the adoption changed your appearance pretty quickly, the change to your magic is more gradual. It might've taken this long to settle properly, which would explain why it's only now that you're really noticing the ability."

"Or it might be because until now I've mostly been surrounded by people I already know from before." Harry thought it over. "What are the chances though that I just happen to discover the ability that I pretended to have all along? My luck really is unbelievable sometimes."

"Maybe it wasn't a question of pure luck," Sirius suggested. "Magic works in mysterious ways after all. Maybe the widespread belief in your abilities pushed you to develop the talent. Or I don't know, maybe the whole idea of you pretending to be an Assessor didn't come out of nowhere. You could've looked in a mirror and managed to 'Assess' yourself, discovering your talent without realising it."

Harry stared at him disbelievingly.

"It could happen!" Sirius protested. "No one really understands how the gift of Assessing works."

The two continued to banter, tossing ideas back and forth before being forced to abandon the topic by the arrival of Arcturus.

"Sirius, Orion. I hope you are enjoying yourselves," Arcturus said as he surveyed them both.

"Uh yeah. I mean yes. I am. We are," Harry babbled helplessly until Sirius elbowed him to be quiet.

"I am glad to hear it," Arcturus said unsmilingly. "I am even more pleased to hear such good reports of you from school, Orion. You have done well."

"Thank you." Harry was happy to know that his boredom at school had at least been good for something, having gained him the man's approval. "I've worked hard," he lied.

Arcturus peered down at him. "Hmm. Perhaps you might begin learning some of the family spells when you come home for Yule."

"So soon?" Sirius looked surprised. "I had to wait until my third year."

"Your son has talent," was all the explanation Arcturus deigned to give. "I believe my wife has been looking for you, Sirius. There are several young ladies she wishes you to meet." The two older wizards shared commiserating looks before Arcturus turned to Orion. "As for you, a few of our guests have expressed a desire for you to Assess them. Would you care to oblige?"

It was clear Harry couldn't refuse and so he obediently trailed after his Paterfamilias, thankful that - no matter how - he truly possessed the gift, as otherwise he'd be in a lot of trouble. Arcturus would not have taken kindly to Harry embarrassing him in front of his guests. As it was Harry managed to impress everyone he Assessed, mostly by having enough sense to avoid mentioning any of their less desirable traits. He endured a barrage of questions on the trustworthiness of a business partner, the talents of a favoured child, and the compatibility between a witch and her fiance. Harry surprised himself by how accurately he could respond to such inquiries, although it was often necessary for him to skirt the truth in order to remain within the realm of politeness. Yet despite his success in charming the guests and attaining the acceptance into Pureblood Society he'd been aiming for, Harry longed for the end of the party and his return to the relative normalcy of Hogwarts.

 

Chapter Text

 

Even when he returned to Hogwarts, Harry was unable to entirely escape talk of the ball. A week after Samhain the Slytherin first years gathered in the dungeon common room as they often did, relaxing after a day of lessons. Harry and Draco were playing chess, with Nott hanging over their shoulders and joining the chess pieces in offering unasked-for advice. Goyle was chomping indiscriminately through a bag of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, and Crabbe was working his way through the Arithmancy puzzle from an old copy of the Daily Prophet.

Such pastimes were not sufficient amusements for the girls, however. Hermione sat inoffensively reading a book, but Daphne and Pansy were huddled together, giggling incessantly as they gossiped about the ball. The two witches seemed to be back on friendly terms - something that Harry, as one of those forced to listen to them, very much regretted.

"-and I was wearing pale blue robes with silver embroidery at the cuffs and along the neckline," Daphne said, finally finishing her long-winded description of her outfit for Samhain.

"You were so beautiful and your sapphire necklace complemented your outfit so well," Pansy said.

"Adrien Pucey told me it made my eyes sparkle," Daphne said with a demure blush.

Pansy raised her voice so that everyone could hear. "When you danced with him?"

Daphne smiled appreciatively at her. "Yes. He was very attentive."

Here both Daphne and Pansy cast sideways glances at Harry, who did his best to ignore them. His concentration was reserved for the chess board in front of him; he'd never been good at the game, nor had he ever put much effort into improving since chess was Ron's chance to shine. Harry regretted that now, unhappy at the idea of losing to a Malfoy, especially an eleven-year-old one. Draco was already smirking across the table at him, anticipating his victory.

Giving up on gaining a reaction from Harry, Daphne turned her attention to Hermione, who had her nose buried in her book. "I'm sorry you weren't able to attend, Hermione," she said with apparent sincerity. "I'm sure you would have enjoyed yourself. The dancing was wonderful, the music divine, and then at midnight all the ghosts from the area put on a show - telling tales of the olden days and acting out their deaths."

"That does sound fascinating," Hermione admitted, going so far as to close her book. "I'd love to have seen it."

Pansy gave an unladylike snort. "You! At Lady Black's Samhain Ball? Really Granger, such an Ancient and Noble Family would never consider inviting you into their home."

Hermione flushed angrily, but succeeded in controlling her temper. "Did you enjoy Samhain, Parkinson? Were all your high hopes for the evening fulfilled? I've heard a lot about Daphne's many dance partners, but nothing of yours. Tell me, how many dances did you get to share with Malfoy?"

Daphne hid a smile and Nott sniggered loudly. "None! She chased after him all evening, but Draco somehow succeeded in escaping her clutches," Nott said gleefully.

It was Pansy's turn to flush, this time from embarrassment. "That's… I…" She stuttered and looked around desperately for some sort of distraction. Fortunately for her, one came in the form of raucous laughter from a group of third years sitting by the fire, catching the attention of the younger Slytherins. They were talking about Defence Against the Dark Arts and seemed to find the subject hilarious.

"In the end Footswitch took twenty points off for, what was it? Oh yeah. 'Being blatantly disrespectful and wrongly contradicting her teacher's superior knowledge'," Pucey gleefully quoted the Professor as saying.

Montague snickered appreciatively. "Brilliant! It serves that mudblood right - Clearwater's always going on about how great Muggles are."

"Sickening, isn't it?" Pucey agreed. "But Footswitch put a stop to that. I heard he's taken a load of points off muggleborns in every class."

"At the rate he's going, Slytherin will win the House Cup for sure," Montague said. "Luckily we don't have filth like that in our House."

Up until then the first years had been listening interestedly, but at Montague's words Daphne and Nott frowned and Draco looked uncertain. Harry was so pleased with these small signs of increasing tolerance, that he didn't pay much attention when Pansy sneered at Hermione. "If only!" the pug-nosed girl said loudly.

Hermione's temper snapped. She slammed her book down on the table and marched up to the laughing third years. "I'm a muggleborn and I earned Slytherin one hundred and thirty-six points last week," she announced. "Don't forget that when you're gloating over your precious House Cup!"

"Oh look, Pucey. The Mudblood thinks she can talk back to us," Montague said.

"We'll have to teach her some manners," Pucey said.

Montague wore a nasty smirk as he drew his wand. "I think you're right. Let's start with - Furnunculus!"

The bright light of the hex shot out of his wand, aimed directly at Hermione. With a shout Harry scrambled to his feet, pulling out his own wand and deflecting the spell away from her. It careened off his shield and hit Hermione's attacker, causing painful-looking boils to erupt across his skin. Harry didn't hang about to watch the rest of the consequences unfold. While everyone else stared in shock, Harry grabbed Hermione by the arm and dragged her out of the common room.

"What the hell was that for, Hermione?" Harry demanded once they'd reached the upper floors of the castle. He really had to wonder how Hermione had ever made it into Slytherin. She showed ambition, certainly, and her intelligence would make any Ravenclaw proud, but her current behaviour was pure Gryffindor.

"You heard what they said!"

"Yeah, but there is such a thing as subtlety," Harry told her. "Hex their shoelaces together, put poison in their coffee, whatever - I don't care. Just don't march up and tell them off in front of everyone. What did you expect would happen?"

Hermione waved her hand in an impatient gesture. "I don't know. Pansy was smirking at me, and no one was doing anything, and I just got so angry. All that Pureblood rubbish is so unfair! Not to mention makes no logical sense whatsoever."

Harry sighed. "Surely you've noticed by now that wizards don't put much stock in logic. In fact most are downright suspicious of it."

"And that's another thing!" Hermione exclaimed. "I know you've said it's a different culture and I shouldn't impose muggle ideas of progress on Wizarding society, but wizards should at least have caught up with the Age of Enlightenment by now."

"There you go about 'catching up' again." Harry was exasperated - nothing seemed to get through to her. "Look," he said, trying a different approach. "A lot of the differences between the Wizarding and Muggle worlds stem from the nature of magic itself. Casting spells requires a strong mental component - visualisation, concentration and belief. It's not just a case of waving a wand and saying the right incantation."

"I know that, Orion. I read all about it in The Theory of Magic by Brunhilda Bonswick."

"Then you should understand that our classes here at Hogwarts are geared towards teaching us the proper mind-set for performing spells," Harry said. "We train our magic, of course, but also our minds. We learn to focus on, say, a happy memory when casting a Patronus Charm, or an amusing image when forcing a Boggart to change shape. Logic often gets in the way of that. Muggle schools deal with hard facts and train their students to think rationally, but that wouldn't work at Hogwarts."

"Fine, that makes sense, I suppose." Hermione crossed her arms stubbornly. "But it doesn't mean I should have to put up with insults."

"Hermione, it's not that I think you should," Harry said. "I don't deny there are aspects of our world which could do with a change. The bigotry Montague spouted is disgusting, but if you'd just kept quiet you could've hexed him from behind later, letting you get revenge without anyone suspecting you."

"It's not a question of revenge, Orion. It's about what's right!"

Harry rubbed the bridge of his nose, feeling tired and frustrated. "I wish there was some quick and easy way to change our society, but unfortunately there isn't. The change has to be gradual - angry tirades won't solve anything. Outperforming them at school, proving you're just as good as they are, that could help, but what happened back there in the common room isn't going to convince anyone of the importance of good Muggle-Wizard relations."

Hermione bit her lip worriedly. "Montague looked really angry when you deflected that hex. I hope he won't do anything to hurt you."

"Nah, he wouldn't dare," Harry said nonchalantly. With everything he'd already lived through, a third year student didn't cause him any concern. "I'm a Black after all, and I've shown that I can easily stop any spells thrown my way."

"Good, I'm glad." Hermione smiled. "Thanks, Orion. For helping me."

Harry dismissed her gratitude with a wave. "What're friends for? Just tread carefully, yeah? It's probably a good idea for you to steer clear of the common room for a bit. I'm going to meet Neville soon to help him with his spell casting. D'you want to come along, too?"

"Thanks, but no," Hermione said. "I think I'll go join Terry, Lisa and Kevin in the library. They're doing some research on Gamp's Laws of Elemental Transfiguration - it's really quite fascinating."

Terry Boot, Lisa Turpin and Kevin Entwhistle were Ravenclaws, and all three had muggle parents. Harry understood why Hermione would seek out their company, but was concerned by her avoidance of her wizard-raised classmates. He didn't like seeing such segregation between Hogwarts students, whether self-imposed or otherwise.

There was nothing to be done about it, however; he only hoped she would think about what he'd said and would remember that she had friends in Neville, Daphne and himself. They split ways - Hermione heading to the library and Harry making his way to the seventh floor. Neville was already there, fiddling nervously with the cuff of his sleeve as he waited beside the portrait of Barnabas the Barmy.

Harry dredged up a smile as he said hello, then instructed him on how to access the Room of Requirement. "Picture somewhere peaceful and walk past this spot three times."

"Why? I don't-"

"Just do it, Neville," Harry snapped impatiently, then sighed and apologised. "Sorry, I'm a bit stressed. I promise it'll all make sense. Just walk back and forth a few times and you'll see for yourself."

"All right, Orion." Neville did as instructed, squeezing his eyes tightly shut as he paced. He didn't immediately see the door that appeared in the stone wall, jumping in shock when Harry opened it and lead them inside. The room was overflowing with plant life; flowers bloomed underfoot, ivy climbed the walls, and tree branches swayed overhead.

"It's beautiful." Neville stared around in awe. "Merlin, is that a Mimbelus Mimbletonia? They're really rare!" He tore his gaze away from the ugly plant and turned to Harry. "How did you find this place?"

"It's called the Room of Requirement," Harry said. "It becomes whatever you need most. When you concentrated on finding somewhere peaceful, it turned into this." Harry gestured to their surroundings. As always, the Room had delivered exactly what was requested; Neville's round face was happy and relaxed as he turned on the spot, taking everything in.

Harry let him explore for a while, then suggested they begin practicing the spells they'd learned in class. Neville immediately tensed up, but he was still much calmer than he was when in the presence of a teacher. Knowing Charms was one of the Gryffindor's better subjects, Harry led him through the simple steps of the levitation charm, calling a break whenever Neville became too disheartened.

"You're doing really well, Neville," Harry encouraged him. The boy had yet to manage to make anything float, but so far nothing had exploded, which was impressive progress in Harry's opinion.

"I'm still not getting it, and this is only one spell," Neville said, looking disheartened. "There are loads more I have to learn. I'll never remember all the wand movements and incantations."

"One thing at a time," Harry told him. "The group study sessions with Susan and Ernie and that lot will help you with the theory. Right now we're concentrating on your magic, making it so you can channel it properly and not blow things up."

Neville took a deep breath and raised his wand once more. "Right. I'll try again."

The two of them continued to meet up regularly to practice, and over the weeks Harry saw a definite improvement in Neville's spell-casting. He also took the opportunity to work on his own magical control. Whenever Neville took a break to prune rose bushes or coo over rare magical plants, Harry settled down in a corner to cast more complicated spells. His untrained magic was at first unpredictable and sporadic, but Harry was determined to at least be able to perform the more basic spells wordlessly.

He also spent time each day experimenting with his newly discovered Assessor talent. When called on to Assess the guests at the Samhain Ball, it had taken Harry only a single glance to form an accurate impression of them. Once back at Hogwarts, however, that sense of effortlessness left him. Harry took to staring at random students in the Great Hall, and even bumping into them in the corridors, to see if he could sense something. His impressions remained very vague, however, and after gaining one to many odd looks Harry gave up. He supposed what Remus had told him months before at the festival was true; the upsurge of magic around Beltane and Samhain helped strengthen all divination skills, including his own Assessor talent.

Harry spent a frustrating week trying to discover how he had become an Assessor in the first place, but there too he was disappointed. After days spent in the Hogwarts library - to the astonishment of his friends, since he was well known for avoiding the place - he was no closer to understanding how he'd gained his Gift. He'd researched blood adoptions which, although rare, were mentioned in several texts, but unfortunately (though unsurprisingly) nothing was written about the other possible factors involved, such as time travel, alternate universes, killing curses, and the Deathly Hallows. Eventually Harry gave up and instead focused on finding actual uses for his talent.

Mostly Harry tried to trust his instincts more. If he found himself taking a dislike to a fellow student or distrusting someone on no apparent basis, he decided to rely on his first impressions. The one time he found being an Assessor truly useful was when working with Neville, since it helped him know how to motivate him and how much pressure the boy could take. The benefits of the practice sessions in the Room of Requirement were easily observed; by the time the Yule holidays neared, the Gryffindor had successfully mastered the levitation charm and had moved on to the trickier magic of Transfiguration. Neville was relieved and very grateful, full of eagerness to go home and show off his hard-earned achievement to his family.

"I can't wait for Yule," Neville said. "Thank you so much, Orion. I haven't set fire to anything in over a week and I can even float a feather! My relatives'll have to admit I'm not a Squib now."

The upcoming winter holidays weren't at the forefront of everyone's minds, however. Quidditch season had begun and Slytherin's match against Gryffindor was fast approaching. Hogwarts was divided into two opposing camps, with bets and House pride riding on the outcome of the match and accusations of sabotage abounding. Quidditch players were escorted to and from classes by housemates-turned-bodyguards, and frequent scuffles broke out between members of the two Houses. Huge numbers of points were taken from the worst offenders but did nothing to prevent the escalating violence. Several students had to be bodily carried to the hospital wing, and one unfortunate Gryffindor spent three days as a transfigured cactus until Professor McGonagall finally managed to track him down and turn him back.

By the day of the match itself, Harry and Neville were the only students from their respective Houses willing to exchange so much as a friendly smile. They walked down to the Quidditch Pitch together, but separated once they reached the stands. Harry felt distinctly odd sitting amongst students decked out in silver and green and waving Slytherin banners. He found it hard at first to remember not to clap every time Gryffindor scored a goal, but he quickly became caught up in his housemates' excitement and joined them in cheering loudly for the Slytherin Team.

"Goal! Go Slytherin!"

"Beat those Bludgers!"

"Go on Pucey - knock Spinnet off her broom!"

In his old life Harry would never in his wildest imaginings have thought he'd one day wish for Gryffindor to lose a match; he hoped the spirit of Oliver Wood would forgive him.

The match dragged on for several hours and night had fallen by the time the Slytherin Seeker finally caught the Snitch. The Gryffindor Team were definitely the stronger players, proven by their quickly gaining a hundred point lead, but their inexperienced Seeker eventually lost them the game. Lee Jordon cursed long and loudly before unhappily announcing the results ("Slytherin win by 230 points to 200"), and Oliver Wood looked near tears as the Slytherin Team flew a victory lap around the pitch.

Harry felt sorry for the Gryffindors, but didn't let that stop him from joining in the huge celebration back at the Slytherin common room. He hugged both Hermione and Daphne, slapped a grinning Theodore Nott on the back, and even brought himself to congratulate Marcus Flint on his win.

All in all, Harry was in a very good mood when he spotted Draco sitting in an out-of-the-way corner, ignoring the party. "Here, have a butterbeer," Harry said and shoved a drink under the boy's nose.

"Oh. Thanks, Orion." Draco took a sip but otherwise didn't look up from the parchment he was scribbling on.

Harry craned his neck to look over Draco's shoulder. "What's that you're writing?"

"It's my wish list for Yule," Draco explained. "I was very disappointed with my birthday presents, so I want to make sure my parents give me exactly what I want this holiday. Of course I'll get your Augerey feather quill once I win our bet, but there are plenty of other things to go on the list."

Harry rolled his eyes - only Draco, and possibly Dudley Dursley, could be dissatisfied with the huge mound of gifts presents he'd received for his birthday. He also found Draco's unshakeable confidence in his victory amusing. Harry very much doubted he'd have to hand over his quill at the end of the year; with Hermione so desperate to prove herself, there was no way she'd allow Draco to outperform her on any of their exams. Harry was looking forward to her proving all the pureblood bigots wrong. No one had tried to curse her since that day in the common room, but he knew Hermione still had to put up with a lot of verbal taunts and bullying.

"Why aren't you celebrating?" Harry asked Draco, abandoning the topic of presents.

"I simply don't see why a mere Quidditch match warrants so much attention," Draco said with a sniff. "Oafs on broomsticks are hardly to be admired."

Harry smirked knowingly. "Really? Just last week you tried to persuade Flint to let you onto the team a year early. I also distinctly remember you gloating about your Nimbus Two Thousand to anyone who would listen."

Draco dismissed Harry's words with a wave. "Brooms are so pedestrian. I'm asking for Abraxan horses for Yule."

Harry could only laugh - Draco really was the most arrogant boy he'd ever met. His words made Harry think, though. He and his Dad were going to be celebrating Yule together for the first time, and Harry had no idea what to get him as a present. Judging by the man's letters, in which he gloated of the success of his Werewolf plans as well as his enjoyment of Hestia's company, Harry thought Sirius already had everything he wanted.

-.-.-

Sirius stood before the assembled Wizengamot in the lowest levels of the Ministry, wishing he were anywhere else but there. Beside him, shackled to a chair, was a young witch. Her face was blotchy from tears and she was trembling so violently that her chains rattled. Her obvious terror set Sirius' teeth on edge, but was ignored by everyone else in the courtroom.

"As I've said already, and as I've written in my report, I found absolutely no evidence linking Miss Mary Cattermole to the murder," Sirius repeated once again.

"Hem, hem." Dolores Umbridge's annoying cough sounded from the judge's balcony. "But the boy was murdered, was he not?"

Sirius suppressed a glare. "Yes. It's clear he was deliberately poisoned."

Umbridge smiled sweetly at him. "Then surely it is your job as an Auror to do all you can to bring the perpetrator of such a terrible crime to justice. I wonder, Mr Black, whether you have properly investigated Miss Cattermole's connection with the poor boy's death."

"I'm all for justice," Sirius said through gritted teeth. "I'm just against throwing innocent people into Azkaban."

They had been going round in circles for hours. Sirius had been called into the courtroom to give evidence, all of which pointed in one clear direction; the young witch beside him had never murdered anyone. The Wizengamot as whole remained unconvinced, however.

He'd been assigned to the case by Moody, and Sirius had quickly realised why he'd been picked. The accused, Mary Cattermole, was a muggleborn. The boy she was said to have killed was the son of a prominent Pureblood couple, both of whom insisted she was guilty. An Auror such as Scrimgeour would have bowed to political pressure and looked no farther than the surface. A very little digging had revealed to Sirius that the boy had been twelve years old, had never received a Hogwarts letter, and that his parents were outspoken in their hatred of Squibs. In Sirius' opinion it was they who should be standing trial, not Mary Cattermole.

"Mr Black, for the benefit of the court, please state again the pertinent details of the case," Albus Dumbledore requested.

Sirius sighed. "The boy was poisoned. Traces of the poison used were found in an unwashed cauldron in the cellar of his parents' home. Mary Cattermole was never witnessed as having any contact with the victim."

"But Miss Cattermole was a neighbour," Umbridge pointed out with sickening sweetness. "She must have had access to him."

"The two families never mixed," Sirius said. "The victim's parents objected to their son spending time with someone they considered beneath them."

Umbridge gave an inappropriate giggle. "Here we have an obvious motive for Miss Cattermole's crime - jealousy of the boy's superior upbringing and of the purity of his blood."

Mary Cattermole let out a piteous wail, jerking against her chains. "I never hurt him!" she cried. "Never!"

"I do not agree that there was any such motive," Dumbledore said firmly. "It is my decided opinion that Miss Cattermole is innocent of all crimes."

Umbridge became even more toad-like as she sent the Chief Warlock a poisonous glare. "Forgive me, Professor Dumbledore, but your judgement has been shown to be faulty on previous occasions, has it not?"

A rustle swept through the purple-robed Wizengamot members and Sirius heard whispers about little Harry Potter's misguided placement in the Muggle world. He clenched his hands in frustration, hating the fact that his godson's death was being used to discredit Dumbledore and convict an innocent witch. Sirius had his own grievances against the Headmaster, but when it came to judging the case of Mary Cattermole he supported the man wholeheartedly. Unfortunately Dumbledore's influence within the Wizengamot had weakened since Harry's death and his words weren't enough to counteract Umbridge's bigotry.

Sirius' head snapped up when his grandfather got to his feet in the balcony above him. He felt rather apprehensive, uncertain of what to expect from his Paterfamilias, but ended up pleasantly surprised. "I must agree with our Chief Warlock," Arcturus Black said firmly. "I find the evidence speaks for itself. I vote that the accused is not guilty."

The debate dragged on for another half hour, but eventually the judges were called on to reach a verdict. The shock of hearing the Black Paterfamilias agreeing with Dumbledore must have swayed many of the Wizengamot members, since when the final votes were tallied those in favour of an acquittal won by a slim margin.

Despite the favourable end to the proceedings, Sirius was scowling as he strode out of the courtroom. He found the obvious bias of the Wizengamot despicable. He was sure that without Arcturus adding his weight to Sirius' testimony, the outcome would have been quite different. Mary Cattermole's narrow escape from Azkaban unsettled him, the whole thing reminding Sirius too much of the injustice he himself had suffered.

Sirius didn't feel up to returning to work that day and decided Moody wouldn't mind him leaving an hour or so early. He made his way to the apparition point, impatient to leave the building. He didn't even want to speak to Arcturus. The man had been instrumental in the Wizengamot reaching the correct verdict, but Sirius suspected Arcturus had been supporting his grandson rather than standing up for the ideals of justice and equality. Perhaps that opinion was unfair - Arcturus may also have been reminded of Sirius' wrongful imprisonment after all - but Sirius wasn't feeling particularly charitable towards any members of the Wizengamot at the moment.

"Auror Black! Auror Black!"

Sirius almost ignored the voice calling his name, but after an internal debate Sirius slowed his steps. He relaxed when he turned around to see Arthur Weasley hurrying towards him. Arthur was one man he knew for certain didn't harbour any anti-muggle prejudices. If anything the opposite was the case, with the words 'muggle mad' often used to describe him.

"Auror Black, I'm glad I caught you. I hope I'm not keeping you from anything important?" Arthur stopped in front of Sirius and fidgeted nervously.

"No. Not at all," Sirius said, surprised that he'd been addressed so formally. They'd been members of the Order of the Phoenix together and had been on first name terms. He hoped Arthur wasn't one of those wizards who still believed him guilty of betraying the Potters. "How can I help?"

"Oh... I just… I wanted to take the opportunity to apologise," Arthur said.

Sirius was baffled. "What for?"

"Well, that is to say, it was my family that harboured Pettigrew for all those years. I assure you though, we had absolutely no idea of the truth. We all thought he was a normal rat or we never would've let him into our home…"

Sirius knew there had been an extensive investigation launched by the Ministry after his release from Azkaban. Fudge had been determined to absolve himself of any blame for Sirius' incarceration and was only too eager to shift responsibility onto others such as the Weasley family. Sirius himself was very definite about where the blame truly lay, however. "Don't worry, Arthur. I know you had nothing to do with any of it," he said.

Arthur sagged in relief. "Oh, good. Excellent."

"So how are you and Molly and the kids doing?" Sirius asked, hoping to move the conversation onto happier topics.

"We're all doing well, thank you," Arthur said with a bright smile. "Bill and Charlie have started working and little Ginny is still at home, but the rest are all at Hogwarts with your own son. I believe Ron and Orion are in the same year in fact."

"Is that right?" Sirius said, even though he knew it was true. Ron Weasley had featured in many of Orion's stories about his old world. "Hmm, yes, I think Orion may have mentioned your son once or twice."

"As for the extended family," Arthur continued. "There I have to thank you. It's a very good thing you're doing, with Godric's Hollow, I mean. Molly has been beside herself with worry over Fabian." He glanced around and then lowered his voice. "He's had a very hard time of it ever since he was bitten. Molly and I've tried to help him, but…"

Sirius filled in the rest of the sentence: but the Weasleys didn't have much and what they did have, Fabian wouldn't be comfortable accepting. "I'm glad I've been able to help," Sirius said honestly. "I just wish I could do more."

After a few more minutes of conversation they said goodbye and Sirius continued on his way. He was just as upset as before, but now his thoughts had another problem to focus on. Instead of muggleborn discrimination, it was the unfair treatment of Werewolves. At least he was able to do something about the second problem. His plans were well underway; he'd hired workers (all Werewolves themselves) to renovate the house at Godric's Hollow and had spread word of the refuge through Remus.

He was trying to keep it quiet in certain circles, however. The more conservative members of society would not by happy with his ideas and the Ministry might even go so far as to legislate against his plans. He wouldn't put anything past Dolores Umbridge. The chance to improve the lives of Werewolves and gain their loyalty was too important to risk by letting the wrong person hear out about it. Sirius wanted to at least have the Wolfsbane potion finished before too many people found out; the potion would be a powerful argument against Werewolves being a danger to society.

First though he had to obtain Snape's help with developing the potion. Sirius was none too pleased by Orion's insistence that he be the one to persuade the Slytherin professor to take on the task, but he was grudgingly prepared to try. He supposed Orion's gift at Assessing had given him special insight into the situation, though Sirius found it hard to believe that the hook-nosed git would ever agree to help.

A week after first contacting Snape, he and Sirius met in a private room in the Three Broomsticks, a place considered by both to be neutral territory. Even so Sirius was frankly surprised the other man had turned up at all. He supposed Snape must have been lured there by the vague allusions to Lily in the letter Sirius had written.

Snape sneered in greeting. "Black."

Sirius barely stopped himself from commenting on the man's greasy, unwashed hair or calling him Snivellus, but knew too much was at stake to give in to such childish urges. Keeping his gaze fixed on some point above Snape's right shoulder, Sirius began his rehearsed speech. "Snape, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with me."

"As you say, I have many other, much more important, things to be doing with my time," Snape snapped. "So get on with whatever senseless drivel you're here to say."

Sirius stared at him, realising Orion was right - Snape really did seem different. That insult was mild in comparison to the biting comments Sirius remembered from back at school. "Well, first off, I want to apologise for what happened in our fifth year," Sirius said. "I should never have sent you to the Shrieking Shack that night. Though really, if you hadn't been such a nosy little git you wouldn't have been in danger in the first place."

Snape was clearly unappeased. "Do you really think such an inadequate apology is recompense enough for attempted murder?" he demanded with a glare.

Sirius shrugged. "Maybe not. Do you think a few months of spying is enough for painting a bulls-eye over the Potters?"

Snape's already sallow skin paled further and for the first time during the conversation he seemed to experience some true emotion. "You know?" he said.

"James told me about the Prophecy," Sirius said. "The timeline fits for when you became a spy, and things Orion has Seen in you let me guess the rest."

Snape's expression twisted, though it was unclear whether he was more disgusted by the idea of being Assessed, his feelings of guilt, or the mention of James Potter. "Say whatever you have to say, Black."

"I'm here to ask for your help and I think you owe it to me to agree."

"I owe you nothing! Any debt I carry lies buried in the graveyard in Godric's Hollow. All who could claim it are dead!"

"Their deaths don't erase your responsibility. I need you to develop a specific potion, one that will help Werewolves with their transformations."

"Ridiculous!" Snape scoffed derisively. "You can talk all you want about how Werewolves are just like the rest of us, Black, but the truth is they're not human. The bite turns them into another species entirely and there is no cure. I refuse to waste my time chasing some fantasy."

"It's not a fantasy. Lily mentioned the potion in her research notes." Sirius reached inside his pocket and pulled out a roll of parchment. "She worked on it when she was hiding, but was never able to finish. When completed the potion should allow a Werewolf to retain their sanity during a full moon."

Snape stared hungrily at the parchment in Sirius' hands. "Give it to me," he ordered.

Triumphant, Sirius handed the notes over and watched Snape read through them. He was certain Snape would agree, all that was left was to discuss the terms. Sure enough, the Slytherin announced he was willing to complete the potion, but demanded compensation for doing so. A heated discussion followed. Snape didn't want his name credited with the invention, since it could hinder his effectiveness as a spy, but instead required a great deal of money for his services. Sirius agreed to cover all the costs relating to the research - ingredients and equipment and the like - but refused to pay such an exorbitant sum for Snape's work. Doing so would leave him almost bankrupt.

"Isn't fulfilling one of Lily's last wishes enough for you?"

Snape smirked at him. "I'm a Slytherin. What do you think?"

Eventually they managed to reach a reasonable compromise. They didn't shake hands to seal the deal, since neither was prepared to trust such a flimsy promise. Instead Sirius would have the Gringotts goblins draw up a binding contract which they would then both sign. They both wanted to limit the contact between them, and so agreed to rely on letters for any future exchanges and then quickly parted company.

Sirius returned home to Grimmauld Place in a much better mood than he had expected. Being civil to Snivellus was worth it if it gained him the recipe for the Wolfsbane Potion. With the problem of the Potion on the way to being solved, Sirius' thoughts turned to another issue on the agenda - Voldemort's Horcruxes. He knew Orion wanted to destroy them all himself, but the boy couldn't do anything while shut up in Hogwarts.

Some of the soul fragments were for the moment beyond their reach and the Locket was best retrieved by more than one person, but Sirius felt confident in dealing with the Ring by himself. He knew Orion would be annoyed if he was left out (he seemed to view the destruction of the Horcruxes as his own personal mission in life) but there was nothing he could do to help while at school and Sirius decided not to wait for him to return home. He would destroy the Horcrux before Yule and tell Orion about it after it was all over and done with - after all, it was better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Sirius had heard that the saying was particularly useful when dealing with spouses, but thought it could probably also apply to a time-travelling son with a hero complex.

 

Chapter Text

 

The winter holidays finally arrived to the delight of all the Hogwarts students, but Harry most of all. As good as it was to see the castle undamaged by spellfire and all its inhabitants alive and well, Harry did not enjoy being back at school. Lessons, homework, rules, teenage melodrama – all combined to make Harry bored out of his mind. No matter how amusing Draco was in his childish arrogance, or how rewarding it was to watch Neville developing his magic and Hermione finding her place in Slytherin, Harry felt very much like an adult being forced to babysit a bunch of children.

So it was with a sigh of relief that Harry stepped off the Hogwarts Express and began eagerly searching through the milling crowd for Sirius. His good mood faltered, however, at the sight of his Great-Aunt Cassiopeia standing at the far end of the platform.

Harry dragged his trunk and Hedwig's cage over to her. "Aunt Cassie! What are you doing here? Where's Sirius?"

Cassiopeia smiled and patted him on the cheek. "Lovely to see you too, Orion dear. Sirius is in Saint Mungo's, so I've been sent to collect you instead."

"W-what?" Harry's heart clenched. "Why?"

"Well, Arcturus is busy with his Wizengamot duties and Melania is off shopping, so I was the only one free," Cassiopeia explained.

If Harry hadn't been so worried, he would have rolled his eyes at this. Cassiopeia, while very clever and one of his favourite relatives, was rather emotionally disconnected from other people. She spent so much time reading old tomes and experimenting with dangerous magic up in the attics of Black Manor, that she sometimes went weeks without talking to anyone at all. She was not the sort of person Harry would have chosen to deliver bad news.

"Why's dad in Saint Mungo's?" Harry specified.

"Oh, he's been poisoned," Cassiopeia told him. At Harry's look of horror she seemed to realise some added words of comfort were needed. "I wouldn't worry too much, Orion. It's been a week and he's still alive after all."

Harry was not reassured. "A week! Why didn't anyone tell me? And how did he end up poisoned in the first place? How ill is he? What did the healers say?"

Cassiopeia patiently answered his barrage of questions, but wasn't able to tell Harry what he most wanted to hear – that Sirius was all right and would soon be discharged from Saint Mungo's. Nor did she have any information to share on how Sirius had gained his injury. "He is being oddly secretive about the whole thing," she said. "Perhaps you will manage to get more out of him – you can visit him yourself tomorrow."

Harry calmed slightly when he heard that Sirius was awake and able to receive visitors. His relief was short-lived, however, with Cassiopeia's next words. "Do you need anything from Grimmauld Place, Orion, or should I apparate you straight to Black Manor?"

"Black Manor – why would I go there? I can visit Grandmother Melania and Grandfather Arcturus some other time, surely," said Harry.

"Honestly, Orion." Cassiopeia shook her head at his apparent stupidity. "You'll be staying with us while Sirius is in Saint Mungo's, of course."

Harry really hated being eleven years old again. No matter how much he argued his case, he couldn't get Cassiopeia to agree to him staying at Grimmauld Place alone. According to her, if left without adult supervision Harry would end up eating nothing but sweets and crying himself to sleep every night. Without human adult supervision, Cassiopeia ended up specifying. House-Elves, she told him, didn't count.

Harry grumbled as he picked up Hedwig's cage after having been forced to concede defeat. He was worried about Sirius, frustrated at having to act like a child for the whole holidays, and dreading more lectures on the joys of arranged marriages from his Grandmother Melania. Ignoring his bad mood, Cassiopeia wrapped an arm around his shoulders and apparated them both far away from London to where Black Manor stood overlooking the sea.

-.-.-

Harry's first few hours at Black Manor lived up to all his worst predictions. Melania greeted him with a warm smile and a bony hug, then immediately began lecturing him on proper behaviour.

"I have heard things that cause me concern, Orion," Melania said, settling herself down in a wing-backed chair in the front drawing room. "Not only has Lady Greengrass informed me that you have spent hardly any time at all with her daughter Daphne, but also according to Phineas Black's portrait you have yet to distance yourself from that muggleborn housemate of yours."

Harry resisted the urge to fidget as he sat on the edge of his chair, not wanting a lecture on proper posture on top of everything else. "Daphne and I don't have much in common," he said. In truth he had done his best to avoid the girl, which had resulted in Daphne dismissing him as a typical immature boy. He hoped if she thought he was simply oblivious to her hints of romance, instead of outright unwilling, she wouldn't be too offended by his behaviour. Since she remained on good terms with Hermione, his strategy appeared to be working.

Melania frowned. "Nothing in common? Nonsense! Might I remind you that you are both Slytherins of impeccable lineage and are the same age. I expect you to make more of an effort in future, Orion. It would not do to offend the House of Greengrass. You are after all only an illegitimate son - if Sirius marries and fathers another child, you will lose your place as his heir. Think of your future."

"Yes, Grandmother." Harry thought of the future almost incessantly - what he wanted to achieve, what he needed to do differently, what he couldn't change. When it came to marriage, however, his only thoughts were of ways to avoid it.

"Your continued association with that muggleborn girl does you no favours," Melania told him sternly. "Blacks do not befriend Undesirables, Orion, remember that."

"I will do my utmost to uphold the honour of our House and to follow the wishes of my Paterfamilias," Harry said. He knew the formal words would both please Melania and annoy her since much to her displeasure, Arcturus had yet to object to the friendship. Of course, Harry had no intention of listening to anyone, his Paterfamilias included, who ordered him to stay away from Hermione, but thought it best to at least pretend otherwise.

Harry hastily changed the subject before Melania could say anything else. He had no patience for one of her lectures, he was too worried about Sirius. "How's dad?" he demanded.

Unfortunately, Melania didn't have anything to add to Cassiopeia's airy report. Sirius was being very secretive and the Healers were bound by confidentiality rules, so Harry was forced to wait until he could see Sirius in person. Harry managed to extract a promise from his Grandmother to let him visit the hospital first thing the next morning, but that still left him with a whole evening to think up more and more grisly scenarios of what he'd find there.

Harry didn't know what he'd do if Sirius died. They'd become a family and for the first time in his life Harry had an adult he could truly rely on. The idea that he might lose that support, lose the man he was slowly beginning to think of as his father, frightened him. He was distracted all through dinner and his sleep was interrupted by nightmares of Sirius falling through the Veil in the Department of Mysteries. By the time he flooed to Saint Mungo's the next morning, Harry had pretty much convinced himself that he'd find Sirius gravely injured and on the verge of death. Therefore he was greatly relieved to see Sirius sitting up in bed and eating a hearty breakfast.

"Dad!" Harry cried, rushing forwards. "You're all right!"

Sirius seemed rather taken aback by Harry's extreme reaction, but reached over to give him a comforting hug. "Of course I'm all right!" he said. "A little bit of poison is hardly going to stop me."

"It was rather more than a bit, Mr Black," Healer Aberworthy, the same witch who had treated Sirius after Azkaban, said as she walked into the hospital room. "You were clinically dead for a whole three minutes - we had to restart your heart twice!"

"What!" Harry yelped.

"Oh," Healer Aberworthy said, obviously not having realised just who Sirius' visitor was. "Sorry, dear, I didn't mean to worry you. Your Da will be just fine, I promise."

Harry was unconvinced. He looked at Sirius, taking in his pale face and the dark circles underneath his eyes, and became even more worried. "What happened?" he asked Sirius. "How ill are you really?"

Sirius sighed. "Mind giving us some privacy?" he asked the Healer. He waited until she'd left the room and cast several secrecy spells, before turning back to Harry. "I'm all right, Orion, I promise. Yes, it was touch and go there for a while, but the Healers got to me in time."

"But what happened?" Harry asked again. "Aunt Cassie said you were injured on a case?"

"Uh, not exactly." Sirius shifted uneasily. "I wasn't on Auror duty at the time, I just said I was to stop people from asking too many questions. I actually, um, went after the ring."

Harry stared blankly at him for a moment, not understanding. "What ring? Wait, you don't mean... You went after a Horcrux? Alone? The same Horcux that almost killed Dumbledore? What the hell were you thinking!"

"Now, Orion, calm down," Sirius began, but Harry interrupted him.

"Tell me you didn't put the ring on," he demanded. "Sirius, tell me you didn't!"

"Relax, I never even touched it," Sirius said. "I remembered what you told me about how Dumbledore was injured. I destroyed the Horcrux using Fiendfyre without ever going near the ring itself."

Harry breathed a huge sigh of relief and sat down with a thump on the edge of Sirius' hospital bed. "Thank Merlin," he said. "But wait, then how did you end up injured?"

"A snake bit me," Sirius said, looking rather embarrassed. "I hadn't counted on Voldemort using animals to guard the Horcrux and, well, the Fiendfyre took all my power to control. By the time I managed to end the spell, I'd already been bitten. And let me tell you, it hurt. I barely managed to apparate to Saint Mungo's before I passed out."

"But you're healed, right? The poison's gone?" Harry checked.

"Um, not quite," Sirius said. "Voldemort must have done something to the snake, since it took a lot of magic for the Healers to counter the venom. I still have some poison left in my bloodstream - that's why I'm stuck here in hospital for a while longer. The bite wound is taking a long time to heal."

Sirius pulled back the bed-covers and showed Harry his foot. It looked swollen and painful, and was covered in blood-stained bandages. It reminded Harry of Mr Weasley's injury back in his fifth year; enough so that Harry wondered if the snake that bit Sirius had the same magic-resistant venom as Nagini.

"See, this is why we agreed to go after the Horcruxes together," Harry said. "So things like this wouldn't happen. You could've died!"

Sirius sighed. "It's just… I feel we're moving too slowly. We can't count on your knowledge of events from your old world. Voldemort might return at any moment and we need to be prepared."

"Yes, but we also need to be careful," Harry said, despite knowing it was rather hypocritical of him to say so. "Going after the Horcrux alone was a huge risk to take. Getting yourself killed won't do us any good, you know."

"Yes, I know, Orion." Sirius was beginning to sound a bit fed up. "Look, everything worked out all right. The Horcrux is destroyed and I'll be fine in a week or two. No harm done."

Harry was tempted to keep nagging Sirius about his reckless behaviour, but was distracted by a sudden realisation. "Wait, you destroyed the ring? It's gone?"

"Yes, I told you," Sirius said. "I burnt it just as we did the Diadem."

Which meant the Resurrection Stone - one of the three Deathly Hallows - was destroyed. There was no chance of Harry ever again becoming the Master of Death. With the Horcrux in his scar also gone, and without his mother's protection, there was no way he'd ever survive being hit by another killing curse. Even if he wanted to, Harry wouldn't be able to recreate the way he'd defeated Voldemort in his old world - it seemed things would have to happen differently no matter what.

"Orion, is everything all right?" Sirius asked.

"What? Oh, yeah, I'm fine," Harry said, shaking off his thoughts. He'd never told Sirius the whole truth about the Ring and now with it destroyed there was no reason to. "Another Horcrux down, four more to go."

"Exactly," Sirius said, looking pleased with himself. "Really, we should celebrate! I just wish I wasn't stuck in hospital for the next few weeks. This isn't how I planned to spend my first Yule out of Azkaban."

"Well I hadn't planned to spend my whole holidays at Black Manor." Harry crossed his arms and frowned. "If dinner last night was any indication, it's going to be a nightmare. Grandmother Melania spent the whole meal lecturing me on proper table manners, Grandfather Arcturus droned on about the Wizengamot, and Aunt Cassie said I'll be having daily lessons with her on Black Family magic."

Sirius winced. "Yeah, you have it worse than I do," he agreed.

-.-.-

Harry's lessons with his Aunt Cassiopeia started as soon as he came back from Saint Mungo's. He wasn't pleased to be back in the schoolroom at Black Manor, especially since, unlike during the summer, he didn't even have any friends to suffer along with him. The first thing Cassiopeia did was stress the importance of absolute secrecy.

"The spells I'll be teaching you are only to be shared with other Blacks, never with outsiders," Cassiopeia told him. "Not even those who marry into our family are taught Black family spells, which means you must keep what you learn a secret from everyone, including Melania."

"Yes, Aunt Cassie," Harry said in response to her stern look. "I promise I won't tell anyone."

Cassiopeia nodded approvingly. "Good. Unfortunately, it is not enough to be willing to keep these spells a secret. You must be able to protect your mind so that no one can read your thoughts, especially considering how much time you spend with young Draco - the Malfoys have an affinity for the Mind Arts, you know. Fortunately, it is unlikely Draco will be instructed in Legilimency for at least a few years yet, so you will have plenty of time to become proficient in Occlumency."

Harry didn't think it would be a good idea to tell her that he already knew Occlumency - or at least enough of it to notice if someone were to read his mind. "Er, right. Maybe Dad could teach me," he suggested.

"Really, Orion, I hardly think a young boy like you could have any thoughts to be shy about," Cassiopeia said. "But very well, Sirius can handle your Occlumency lessons if that is what you prefer. I myself am more interested in teaching actual spells in any case."

"Great! Thanks!" Harry smiled in relief.

"Well then, on with the lesson," Cassiopeia said. She waited until Harry had a quill and parchment out, ready to take notes, and then began. "All the old Pureblood families have spells only known to them, passed down and added to from one generation to the next. These spells are usually connected to the family's magical affinity, so for example the Malfoys would have magic that deals with the mind, while our Black family magic consists mostly of offensive spells."

"You mean spells that could be used in a duel?" Harry asked.

"Yes, precisely," said Cassiopeia. "With that in mind, can you tell me what advantages such spells give our family?"

"Well in a duel, using a curse your opponent doesn't know would make it more difficult for them to properly shield or counter it. You'd be more likely to win," Harry said, beginning to feel more enthusiastic about the lesson. It would be very useful to know more spells to cast in a fight, and duelling was an area of magic Harry was actually interested in.

"Correct." Cassiopeia nodded. "I myself have invented several new curses that require an advanced shield charm to deflect. There are also other advantages, however. Several family spells I'll be teaching you are variations on known dark magic. By using slightly different incantations to achieve similar effects, the spells are not technically illegal - nor will they be recognised by any priori-incantatem cast on your wand."

Harry could certainly see the benefit in that and despite, or even because of, the dubious legality of it all he was eager to begin casting. Ordinarily he would avoid using dark spells, but during a fight for his life his scruples fell to the wayside. Harry was willing to learn anything that might help him protect himself and his loved ones.

To his disappointment, it quickly became clear that he wouldn't be learning any actual spells in the near future. First Cassiopeia made him cast a few simple charms he already knew, only silently - which made sense since the incantations for family spells had to remain a secret. It was frustrating for Harry, though, since he had to hold back a lot in front of Cassiopeia. He'd practised enough while at Hogwarts to manage all first year spells wordlessly, but an eleven year old mastering silent-casting on his first try would be simply too suspicious. Purposefully making mistakes was surprisingly tiring, but Harry kept at it over the next few days, spurred on by the tantalising hints Cassiopeia dropped about what he'd eventually learn. By the time the Yule celebration arrived, however, Harry was very glad to have a break.

Harry was surprised by how much he enjoyed the holiday, despite Sirius being in Saint Mungo's. As an old Pureblood family, the Blacks insisted on celebrating the Winter Solstice instead of Christmas - not that Harry saw much of a difference between the two. Melania decorated the manor with holly and mistletoe, and a yule log burned in the fireplace, supposedly bringing good luck and prosperity for the coming year. There was no Christmas tree, but there were presents and cake and carols playing on the Wizarding Wireless. Dinner was delicious; Harry ate until he was stuffed, then watched in amusement as the adults became steadily tipsier as a bottle of Firewhisky was passed around the table. Harry managed to sneak a glass for himself and laughed along with the others at Cassiopeia's increasingly off-colour jokes.

"Deck the halls with boughs of holly, tralalaLA lalalaLA!" Harry sang happily as he staggered upstairs to his room, carrying a mound of presents in his arms. He felt warm and pleasantly sleepy, and his last coherent thought before nodding off was that all Black Family gatherings should include large amounts of alcohol - there hadn't been a single mention of pureblood etiquette or arranged marriages all evening.

-.-.-

One drawback with staying at Black Manor was that Harry was hesitant to visit Hermione or the Weasley twins, and the Tonks family was certainly off-limits, though Draco was considered a suitable companion. Harry received an invitation from the boy a few days after Yule, and Melania was so eager to promote the friendship between the two Noble and Ancient Houses that she practically shoved Harry through the floo to Malfoy Manor.

It didn't take Harry long to discover the motive behind the invitation. Draco had received the pair of Abraxan horses he'd demanded for Yule, and clearly wanted to show off his ridiculously expensive and exotic present.

Harry leaned against the fence around the paddock, staring up at the winged palomino horses that towered over the two first year boys. "Incredible," Harry said, causing Draco to puff up proudly. "I didn't think anyone could be quite this spoilt, but you've proved me wrong. Can you even ride them?"

Draco scowled at him. "Of course I can! Here, I'll prove it to you."

Harry watched as Draco climbed over the fence and carefully approached one of the horses. He had to admit Draco seemed to know what he was doing - the blond boy was soon cantering across the grassy field, a small figure perched on top of the massive beast. The Abraxan built up speed and then spread its wings and launched itself up into the air.

Harry was itching to follow Draco into the sky. He would always prefer flying his Firebolt, but until the racing broom was back on the market a flying horse would have to do. Watching as Draco swooped overhead, whooping in delight, Harry made up his mind.

"It's just like a Hippogriff. It's just like a Hippogriff," Harry muttered to himself as he swung himself into the saddle of the second Abraxan. The gigantic horse reared up, causing Harry to cling on to its mane for dear life until finally its hooves hit the ground with a thud and it took off in a gallop. Harry had only time to think that maybe the whole thing was a bad idea, before with one sweep of its feathered wings the horse surged up into the sky.

Somehow Harry managed not to fall off and he joined Draco in circling ever higher over the grounds of Malfoy Manor. They stayed in the air for hours, the horses not seeming to tire in the slightest as they swooped through the air with the two boys on their backs.

"All right, I admit it - I'm a little bit jealous," Harry said once they'd finally landed, windswept and smiling.

"Amazing, aren't they," Draco said, patting his mount on the nose. "Ernie has already sent me several letters begging me to let him ride them."

But it seemed Draco had asked Harry first. Harry was surprised, but welcomed all such signs that Draco considered him a friend. He hoped that under his influence Draco would grow up to be slightly less insufferable, since he really didn't want any cousin of his ever to become a Death Eater.

"Crabbe and Goyle are coming over tomorrow for a look," Draco continued. "And I'm sure Pansy would like to see them, too. She loves horses."

Harry rolled his eyes. Draco constantly moaned about how much he disliked Pansy, but still couldn't resist showing off to an audience. "Why don't you just invite the whole school over and be done with it," Harry said.

Draco took the half-joking comment seriously and launched into a soliloquy on just which of their classmates would be honoured with a glimpse of the Abraxans. "None of the Gryffindors, obviously. Maybe some of the Hufflepuffs - Ernie of course, and Susan Bones comes from the right sort of family. I don't think I'll invite any of the Ravenclaws though, since they're all either bookworms or mudbloods or both. They wouldn't know how to properly appreciate such rare magical horses. You know, I must say the Ravenclaws in our year are a sad bunch - Su Li is foreign, Padma is related to a Gryffindor, and Michael Corner is an idiot."

"Mhmm," Harry mumbled, busy stroking the horses and trying not to listen as Draco prattled on about the shortcomings of their classmates.

"… and that Sally-Anne girl has dropped out of school entirely," Draco finished at last.

"Wait, what?" Harry's head snapped up. "Why?" He searched his memories of his old world for any information on the girl, but he couldn't remember anything except a vague memory of Sally-Anne Perks being sorted into Ravenclaw.

"Oh, haven't you heard?" Draco looked pleased to know something Harry didn't. "Rumour has it she was being bullied - though really as a penniless half-blood what else could she expect - and her parent couldn't afford the school fees in any case."

Harry frowned at the news. Ravenclaw House had a terrible record when it came to bullying. At least Slytherins put on a united front in public, if only due to a sense of self-preservation. The Ravenclaws, however, competed constantly for top marks and popularity and could get very nasty towards their own housemates. Harry still felt angry whenever he thought of how cruel they'd been to Luna, hiding her belongings and calling her names.

Harry was distracted as he headed home after saying goodbye and thanking Draco for letting him ride the Abraxans. The bullying he couldn't do much about at this stage, since he didn't have any influence over Ravenclaw House. It was Sally-Anne's other reason for leaving that Harry decided to concentrate on. He didn't know exactly how much Hogwarts cost, but he remembered the discussion at the Slytherin table at the beginning of the year - wizard-raised students had to pay significantly higher fees than muggleborns.

Harry could understand the reasoning; if muggleborns stayed in the muggle world and weren't trained properly, they could endanger the Statute of Secrecy. Yet he didn't think it right for pureblood and half-blood children to be denied a Hogwarts education either.

The next time he visited Sirius in Saint Mungo's, Harry raised the topic. "Something should be done about it," Harry said after he'd explained everything. "There must be some way to send more wizard-raised students to Hogwarts."

"Sure, sure." Sirius said. "And where's the money supposed to come from?"

"I don't know. The Ministry?"

Sirius' snort made his opinion clear and Harry had to agree with his scepticism. "You're right, it wouldn't work," Harry admitted regretfully. "The Ministry would never agree to hand over so much as a single Knut. And even if they did they'd just use it as an excuse to meddle in the running of Hogwarts."

"Exactly." Sirius sighed as he leant back on his pillows. He looked pale and exhausted, but according to the Healers he was on the mend. Harry hoped he'd soon be out of hospital and back at home.

"The current situation is dangerous though," Harry said. "It's another reason for people to dislike muggleborns, which just feeds the ideas of Pureblood Supremacy. Not to mention it would be a good idea for everyone who's magically strong enough to get a Hogwarts education - the more people who can defend themselves the better."

"I agree with you, Orion, but it's all very well to say something has to change - in reality Hogwarts can't lower its fees just like that."

"Why's it so expensive in the first place?" Harry wondered. "I mean, the castle's upkeep is taken care of by House Elves, who work for free. Yes there's food and teacher salaries, but that can't amount to that much, surely?"

"Well that's easy to answer," Sirius said. "First of all, you have to realise that the wars with Voldemort and Grindlewald have killed off a lot of wizard-raised children, so there are fewer students paying full fees. At the same time there are loads more muggleborns, since the muggle population has grown so quickly. So the wizard-raised have to pay more to allow the muggleborns to pay so much less. Then there's also the problem of Hogwarts being rather heavily in debt."

"In debt? Really?"

"Oh yes." Sirius nodded. "A headmaster back in the seventeenth century managed to gamble away huge swathes of land belonging to the castle, as well as the east wing of the castle itself. Hogwarts was forced to buy it all back at an exorbitant price - they even had to borrow money from the goblins to afford it."

Harry gave an incredulous laugh. "How could any headmaster wager parts of Hogwarts?"

"Ah well, back then the headmaster had full control of the castle. After the debacle new rules were brought in, and it was around that time that the Board of Governors was set up. Unfortunately, Hogwarts still has to pay off the debt, which is why the school has to demand such high fees."

"Huh, I never knew any of that." Harry smiled as a thought struck him. "If Hermione were here she'd tell me I should've read Hogwarts a History."

Sirius shook his head. "How did that girl not get into Ravenclaw?"

Harry just shrugged, not letting himself be distracted. "All right, so lowering the fees for everyone wouldn't work. What about a scholarship though? Every year one or two students could be sent to Hogwarts who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford it - it would be better than nothing, at least."

"Again, where is the money supposed to come from?" Sirius asked him. "I'm on an Auror's salary, which believe me isn't much. Yes, I got quite a bit from the Ministry in compensation for being chucked into Azkaban without a trial, but most of that is going to helping the werewolves. That Wolfbane potion of yours is turning out to be pretty expensive - Snape has been sending me updates on his progress and requests for more funds almost every day. So unless you've got a Philosophers Stone tucked away somewhere, I don't see how we can afford it."

"I don't suppose Grandfather Arcturus could be talked into donating a few galleons?" Harry asked hopefully. Sirius just looked at him. "Yeah, that's what I thought." Harry sighed, but then perked up as another idea hit him. "How about we use the Boy Who Lived angle? You inherited the Potter vault, after all, which is enough for seven years at Hogwarts. You could use the money and your status as Harry's godfather to set up a Harry Potter scholarship fund. I bet loads of people would donate to it - there's a bloody statue of the Boy Who Lived in the middle of Diagon Alley for Merlin's sake."

Sirius appeared to think it over. "I suppose it might work," he said at last. "I'll look into it - maybe we can organise something for the next school year."

Harry was disappointed by Sirius' lack of enthusiasm, but had to admit he hadn't considered the more practical aspects and had instead got a bit carried away. If they set up a Harry Potter scholarship to send a few half-bloods to Hogwarts every year, it might lessen the anger and resentment over muggleborns getting in for free. It would also remind people that their precious saviour was a half-blood, which might help to decrease society's prejudice a bit. On top of that, since half-bloods were less likely to join Voldemort, Harry thought giving more of them a Hogwarts education would be a good idea.

Visiting hours were almost over, however, so Harry decided to drop the subject for the time being. Instead he asked Sirius about how the werewolf project was going, something he knew Sirius was always keen to talk about.

-.-.-

The end of the holidays arrived far too soon, as was always the case ever since Harry had stopped living with the Durselys. Sirius had only been released from Saint Mungo's two days before term started, meaning that he and Harry had spent hardly any time at all in Grimmauld Place. Living in Black Manor had turned out to be more tolerable than Harry had expected though, and he would happily have stayed longer if it meant he didn't have to go back to Hogwarts. Since that was impossible, Harry reluctantly joined everyone else as they returned to the castle, trading stories about their holidays and boasting about the presents they'd received. Hermione had gone skiing with her parents, Zabini had visited relatives in Italy, and Draco told anybody who would listen about his pet Abraxans.

Their first Potions lesson brought them down to earth with a thump and destroyed any residual holiday cheer. Professor Snape was more vicious than ever, sweeping through the dungeons spitting venom and spewing out insults at his hapless students. Gryffindor lost over eighty house points and Neville was reduced to a quivering wreck. Harry patted the boy on the back and glared at Snape, getting a flash of knowledge as he met the man's dark gaze. His Assessor talent still wasn't under Harry's control, only giving him glimpses when he least expected it, but it was enough for Harry to realise that Snape's research into the Wolfsbane potion had given him a renewed sense of purpose. Watching the Potions Professor gleefully give Ron a detention for breathing too loudly, Harry was by no means convinced that was a good thing.

Snape wasn't the only teacher who had begun acting oddly. Trelawney had emerged from her tower sometime during the holidays and had taken to lurking around corners, lying in wait to ambush Harry whenever he passed by.

"My poor boy, I know what a heavy burden you bear," she said, looming over him in a stinking cloud of incense. "The Inner Eye sees all! Let me guide you."

"Er, no thank you, Professor," Harry said. He had a Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson to get to and wasn't interested in listening to Trelawney's predictions of doom.

The Divination teacher didn't pay any attention to his refusal, however, and continued following him down the corridor while giving him unwanted advice. "Venus is in the eighth house - danger looms!"

"Right, Professor," Harry mumbled.

"Beware! The tarot cards warn of disaster approaching. That which you fear is almost upon us!" Trelawney dramatically pointed a finger in Harry's face, her eyes glinting behind her enormous spectacles.

"I'll keep that in mind," Harry said, dodging round her and quickening his step. He sighed in relief when Trelawney didn't chase after him. He himself was too used to her morbid predictions to pay her any attention, but the other first years were less sanguine.

"What's that old bat on about?" Draco demanded as soon as they rounded the corner.

Harry just shrugged in reply.

"It sounds serious, Black. Something bad is going to happen to you," Pansy said, looking rather pleased at the prospect.

"Oh dear. Orion, you will be careful, won't you?" Daphne edged closer to him with a look of concern on her pretty face.

Harry rolled his eyes at them all. "I'll be fine," he said.

"But what does she mean by 'that which you fear most'?" Hermione wondered. Harry was surprised to see her taking Trelawney's words at all seriously. It seemed Hermione was prepared to believe in divination, probably because of Harry's own Assessor ability.

"Who cares? I'm sure she was making it all up," Harry said impatiently. His housemates weren't ready to drop the subject, however, and continued debating Trelawney's words all the way to the Defence classroom. For once Harry was actually relieved to start a lesson with Footswitch, although that feeling lasted only as long as it took for the Professor to introduce his next topic.

At some point during the Yule holidays Footswitch must have heard the rumours Arcturus had started spreading about Voldemort's muggle ancestry, and had obviously taken the news badly.

"Shocking information has come to light that changes our whole understanding of the war. It seems the self-styled Dark Lord was no other than Tom Marvolo Riddle, the son of a muggle and a near squib!" Footswitch spat, his nostrils flaring in outrage as he paced up and down behind his desk.

Harry wondered whether his indignation stemmed from a longstanding hatred of Voldemort or disillusionment over having considered him a worthy pureblood leader. Either way, Harry was dreading the rest of the lesson.

"But, sir?" A Ravenclaw student waved their hand in the air.

"Yes, Miss Fawcett?" Footswitch acknowledged her.

"Has it actually been proven that You-Know-Who is a half-blood? I mean, whoever said so could be lying, couldn't they?" Samantha Fawcett pointed out, glancing around at her housemates for support.

"I have been assured that the discovery has been made by a highly respected Paterfamilias of a Noble and Ancient family," Footswitch told her. "I hope you do not intend to call the word of such an honourable pureblood into question, Miss Fawcett."

"No, Professor." A muggleborn student would have had points taken off, but since she was a pureblood Footswitch continued on with the lesson without further comment.

"This new information not only sheds light on You-Know-Who's heritage, but also on the mystery of his downfall," Footswitch lectured. "Small wonder that he was defeated by a baby - and a half blood one at that - when he himself was of muggle blood. No doubt he miscast the Killing Curse and caused his own defeat. Given his heritage the only surprise is that such a thing had not happened long before that night. A wizard or witch of muggle blood has no business casting advanced magic."

"Sir!" Hermione's hand shot into the air in protest.

Footswitch ignored her. "Indeed the whole notion of Harry Potter somehow surviving a Killing Curse is obviously flawed. I am surprised no one questioned it before. The son of an insignificant muggleborn witch ever managing to defeat a true pureblood wizard is highly unlikely."

"You're wrong-" Terry Boot began angrily.

"Ten points from Ravenclaw for interrupting," Footswitch said and continued relentlessly on with the lesson. "As I have told you all before, Muggles care only for their pursuit of logic and science, with the subtlety of magic remaining far beyond their limited understanding. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that their offspring are equally unsuited to the magical arts. Muggleborns have only a shallow grasp on spellwork, and their magic is rough and uncontrolled. Such flaws are passed on in the bloodlines - in the case of young Harry Potter, his mediocrity was no doubt a result of his mother's muggle parentage."

Harry listened with gritted teeth, becoming more and more worked up while beside him Hermione was practically vibrating in outrage. For once some of the purebloods in the class joined them in their disgust, although for very different reasons. Either they had grown up hearing stories of the heroic Boy Who Lived and didn't like to hear him insulted, or their parents were supporters of the Dark Lord and they were angry at having his heritage called into question.

The lesson only got worse. Footswitch went on to imply that no pureblood would ever be so crass as to become a mass-murdering Dark Lord, ignoring the fact that almost all Death Eaters were from prominent pureblood families. Then he moved on to covering Voldemort's tactical mistakes during the war, attributing them all to his weak mind and muggle blood.

By the time the bell rang, Footswitch had made it sound as if anyone could have dealt with the Dark Lord and that actually his immense power must have been a sham - since, of course, only Purebloods could be magically powerful.

"I can't believe that man! How dare he imply that muggleborns are weak!" Hermione shrieked as she stormed out of the classroom.

"Never mind that," Pansy said impatiently. "Didn't you hear what he said about the Dark Lord? He insulted the noble line of Slytherin!"

"Did you see the Ravenclaws? They were taking notes!" Hermione snapped back.

"No true Slytherin would ever marry a muggle," Pansy insisted. "Footswitch was talking complete rubbish, I know it."

"Someone should do something about that man," Hermione said darkly. "He can't be allowed to get away with spewing such hateful drivel."

Harry listened as the two continued to talk at cross-purposes; both were outraged, but for very different reasons. The other first years soon chimed in with their opinions, creating a cacophony of prejudiced remarks and angry tirades. Harry himself stayed silent, but seriously considered begging Sirius to think up a reason to arrest the bigoted Professor. True, the curse on the Defence position made it unlikely Footswitch would last the year in any case, but Harry dreaded how much damage the man could cause before then.

The Defence Professor delivered the same lecture in all his classes and didn't seem at all inclined to move onto another subject. Any restraint he'd had was gone; he discussed the evils of muggleborn magic and the barbarity of the muggle world in excruciating detail. Within the castle tensions rose between purebloods and muggleborns, and the words 'mudblood' and 'inbred idiots' were tossed around as frequent scuffles broke out in the halls.

Hermione decided to organise a boycott of Footswitch's lessons and began urging all muggleborns to not turn up to class. Harry rather thought it must be a sign of the coming apocalypse - Hermione Granger telling people to skive off? - but considered joining in. He didn't think he could take another so-called lesson with the man.

When Footswitch had so contemptuously dismissed Voldemort as a threat, he had insulted everything Harry and his friends had fought and died for. Voldemort was an immensely powerful wizard and pretending otherwise was pure idiocy. It had taken all of Harry's self-control not to stand up and describe to Footswitch in great detail all the atrocities Voldemort had committed and the innocent people his Death Eaters had killed. Harry longed to wipe the look of smug superiority off Footswitch's face; half-blood or pureblood, it didn't matter - Voldemort was just as dangerous either way.

It turned out that Harry wasn't the only one who hated the Defence Professor, nor was Hermione alone in wanting to 'do something' about the man. A week after the disastrous Defence lesson, a commotion at the staff table during lunch drew the attention of the chattering students. Footswitch was hunched over, gasping and clutching at his throat as if choking. Then he began coughing up blood. Seconds later he collapsed onto the floor, blood trickling from his mouth and his limbs twitching grotesquely.

Several people screamed and pointed, and soon students were standing on their chairs to get a better look while the more sensitive among them began crying hysterically. The teachers rushed Footswitch off to the hospital wing, ignoring the excited whispers and panicked demands to know what was going on.

"What happened?" asked a Ravenclaw.

"The food - it's been poisoned!" a Gryffindor shouted.

"We're all going to die!" wailed a Hufflepuff.

The Slytherins quickly reassured themselves of their own safety (with the more paranoid among them even summoning Bezoars from their private potion supplies), then sat back and watched as the Great Hall erupted into chaos.

"Honestly!" Hermione huffed in disapproval at the panicking students. "That was obviously a fast acting poison - if anyone else had eaten it they'd be dead already."

"You're right, Granger," Draco said. "From the way his arms and legs were twitching, I'd guess someone slipped Footswitch a vial of Baneberry Poison. Professor Snape taught us about it the other day, remember?"

Nott frowned at him. "I thought it was supposed to cause almost instant death? He was still alive when they were bringing him to Madame Pomfrey."

"It can't have been brewed properly," Draco said with a shrug. "Whoever made it must've been an amateur."

"I wonder who it was?" Hermione said thoughtfully.

That was the question everyone was asking, including the Aurors who arrived the next day to investigate. Unfortunately for them, they soon discovered they had a whole castle full of suspects to deal with. Footswitch had made a lot of enemies; muggleborns were offended by his pureblood bigotry, purebloods disliked him for insulting either Harry Potter or the Dark Lord, and everyone was unhappy about the incredibly long essays he set as homework. In the end the Aurors gave up in disgust and declared it an accidental poisoning.

"Accidental, my foot!" Hermione said. "Somebody tried to kill him!"

"Why do you care?" Harry asked her. "I thought you hated the man."

Hermione looked uncertain. "Well yes, but… I don't want him dead."

Harry considered pointing out that Footswitch would certainly not have shed any tears if Hermione or any other muggleborn died, but stopped himself. Hermione was really only a child and had never seen such violence before. "Don't worry," he said instead. "I hear the healers got to him on time. He'll probably make a full recovery."

He wasn't just being comforting. Footswitch had somehow survived the poisoning, although his internal organs had to be almost completely regrown and he would be staying in Saint Mungo's for the next several months at least. It was actually his survival that gave Harry a suspicion as to the culprit. The poison used was very complex, with the smallest mistake in the brewing usually leading to an explosion. To create a flawed potion that was enough to hurt but too weak to kill would require either a huge amount of luck or a lot of expertise.

Harry could only think of one person in the castle with both the skill and the ruthlessness necessary to poison a Professor. Snape had even mentioned the potion in class, making the Aurors suspect one of the students - the perfect double bluff. Snape's expression didn't give anything away, but Harry knew the man was capable of such a thing. He had once been a Death Eater after all, and Harry could sense the determination and controlled viciousness present behind Snape's mask.

In the end Harry supposed he'd never know for sure, and wasn't certain he even wanted to. Poisoning someone was of course a dreadful crime, but given the choice Harry didn't know whether he would denounce the culprit. Footswitch was a small and petty man who clung onto Pureblood ideology to give himself a sense of importance. He had been an awful professor, made more terrible by the insidious nature of his teaching. He had presented his beliefs with such calm rationality that he'd managed to convince many of his students to accept his bigoted statements as the absolute truth. All things considered, Harry was glad to be rid of him and shrugged off any guilt he felt. If Snape was indeed the one responsible, Harry trusted that he wouldn't begin a murderous rampage. After all, Footswitch was still alive, if barely, and none of the other teachers in the castle would dream of insulting Lily Potter's memory.

-.-.-

Defence Against the Dark Arts ended up being cancelled for the rest of term and life in the castle eventually settled down to normal. Exams were looming in the distance and the teachers were piling on the homework, leaving no time to think about anything except studying. Harry was well ahead of his classmates when it came to casting spells, but he still struggled to write boring essays and memorise the dates of all the Goblin rebellions. Harry knew it was important to get good marks in order to please his Black relatives, but he couldn't resist procrastinating by writing letters to Sirius and playing chess with Draco.

Hermione was very disapproving of such behaviour. She'd drawn up a revision timetable months ago and was following it fanatically, determined to do well and prove herself to her housemates. Since Harry was counting on her to win his bet against Draco, he let himself be talked into a few study sessions in the library with Hermione, Neville, Ernie, and Nott and a few others. Harry was well known for being able to cast almost every spell perfectly, and so spent a lot of time tutoring the other first years in proper wand-movements and incantations. Whenever he offered to help Draco, however, the blond waved him off.

Draco was hardly doing any studying and didn't appear at all concerned about the coming exams. He seemed to think that he'd get top marks simply by virtue of being a Malfoy. He was already gloating and possessively eying Harry's augerey feather quill, as if Draco winning their bet was a foregone conclusion.

Harry found it all rather amusing, since he was sure Draco would soon be forced to restructure his ordered view of the world. For Draco it was inconceivable that a muggleborn could possibly outperform him at magic. His world was a simple one; Malfoys at the top, various other purebloods only a little lower (they got points taken off for not being Malfoys), then came poor people, half-bloods and magical creatures. At the very bottom of society were muggleborns, who were inferior to the purebloods in every way. Muggles didn't even make it onto the list.

It was that sort of thinking that Hermione was clearly so desperate to disprove. As the exams neared she became increasingly short-tempered, spending almost every waking moment in the library surrounded by books. Harry did his best to help by offering encouragement and advice, but Hermione remained stressed and snappish no matter what he did. In the end Harry just handed her books when she needed them and tried to make sure she stopped to eat occasionally. He'd never seen Hermione quite so worked up before - even after the exams were finally over she remained a nervous wreck.

"What was your answer for question eleven on the Charms exam?" Hermione asked him.

Harry shrugged. "I can't remember. I'm sure you got it right though."

"But what if I didn't?" Hermione gnawed anxiously on a fingernail. "Oh, I just know I'm going to fail everything. Malfoy will be so smug!"

Harry continued reassuring her, but Hermione only calmed down once she got her results back and found out she'd got over one hundred percent in every exam. All the first year Slytherins had done reasonably well, with even Crabbe and Goyle scraping by, and Harry was pleased to hear that Neville had passed everything. The Gryffindor boy had spent many hours practising spells in the Room of Requirement and had made a lot of progress, though his magic still reacted oddly at times. Harry hoped that passing his exams would give Neville the boost of confidence he needed.

Harry himself had done very well, certainly far better than the first time round. He didn't take much pride in it, however, since he had ten years more experience than any of his classmates. He was proud of Hermione though, and was both pleased and unsurprised to hear she'd beaten Draco in all her exams.

"Go on then, Draco," Harry said as they sat in the Great Hall for the leaving feast. "You lost the bet, now it's time to pay up."

Between Footswitch taking points from muggleborns and Snape taking points from every house except Slytherin, their winning the House Cup had long been a foregone conclusion. Green and silver banners hung from the ceiling and the members of Slytherin House were looking smug in the face of yet another triumph - all except Draco, who was focused on a more personal failure. "It's not as if Granger actually got top marks," he complained. "You outperformed her in a lot of the practical exams - and who really cares about History of Magic and Astronomy anyway?"

"The important thing is that she got higher marks than you, Draco," Harry reminded him.

"Hermione, you're being very quiet," Daphne spoke up, setting down her goblet of pumpkin juice. "Are you quite all right?"

Hermione stopped staring at the table-top and looked up distractedly. "Oh, everything's fine. I'm fine. It's just…"

Harry immediately turned to her in concern. "What's wrong? Did something happen? Did someone say something to you?" He cast a suspicious glance at the older Slytherins sitting farther down the table.

"A group of Ravenclaws cornered me in the library before lunch," Hermione said, blinking back angry tears. "They were angry that I outperformed them in the exams. They called me a mudblood and accused me of cheating - can you imagine? As if I would ever cheat!"

Harry switched to glaring at the Ravenclaw table. "Are you all right? How did you get away?"

"I hit them with a stinging hex," Hermione admitted. "But it's just so unfair! I've worked so hard to get good marks and prove I belong here, and now people are saying I cheated. I just can't win."

Harry patted her gingerly on the back. "I can set the Weasley twins on them if you like," he offered, winning a watery smile from Hermione.

He wasn't the only one offended on Hermione's behalf - none of the Slytherin first years looked pleased at the idea of the Ravenclaws attacking one of their own.

"Pay no attention to them. Their jealousy and uncouth manners are a sign of their inferior upbringings. They are beneath your notice," Daphne told her primly.

Nott nodded his agreement. "Ravenclaws! Who cares what they think? You're better than them - you're a Slytherin!"

"Thank you," Hermione said quietly, looking touched by their support.

Harry was still angry and struggled to resist the temptation to hex a few Ravenclaws. "Draco, I think it's time for you to fulfil our bet," he said firmly.

"Do I have to?" Draco whined.

"Scared, Malfoy?" Nott smirked at him.

Draco scowled furiously at them both before pasting a pleasant look on his face and clambering to his feet. "Attention! Oi, everybody listen up! I have an important announcement to make." All around the hall heads turned, wondering what spectacle they'd witness next. "My fellow Slytherin Hermione Granger has received perfect marks in every single one of her exams. I am very impressed by her tireless hard work and hereby admit that my muggleborn housemate is a better student of magic than I am. That is all."

The Slytherins gave a small round of applause as Draco bowed and sat back down. Harry shook his head at the boy. "Impressive," he said.

"Thank you." Draco smirked back, clearly pleased with himself. He'd put more emphasis on Hermione being a Slytherin than a muggleborn, casting the whole house in a good light. He'd also made it clear she got full marks, so just because Hermione did better didn't mean Draco himself did badly. And by drawing attention to her hard work he'd reminded people she was obsessive about her studies and so hinted that he could have outdone her if he'd really wanted to.

Trust a Malfoy to turn the situation to their own advantage, Harry thought with an exasperated smile. The terms of the bet had been fulfilled, however, so he joined the others in congratulating Hermione. She was flushed and smiling, clearly pleased by the public recognition of her achievements and the support of her housemates.

With the school year drawing to a close, Harry was filled with the satisfaction of a job well done. Footswitch was gone, the Slytherins were slightly more tolerant than before, two Horcruxes had been destroyed, and no one had uncovered Harry's identity. He'd successfully established himself as a clever and magically powerful student with a circle of friends from all Houses. Both he and Sirius, who by now was a well-respected Auror, were fully accepted by Pureblood society (with the downside that they were being hounded to marry). Not only was Arcturus willing to help undermine the support for Voldemort, but also Snape was close to a breakthrough with the Wolfsbane Potion. To top it all off, Harry had a whole summer with Sirius to look forward to. All in all it had been a very good year.

Which was why the news, when it came, was so very unexpected - someone had stolen the Philosopher's Stone.

-.-.-

End of Year One

-.-.-

 

 

Chapter Text

The Ministry of Magic had been in a state of pandemonium ever since the news had reached them. All the Department Heads had been sequestered in meetings all day, which left their underlings milling about in confusion and getting nothing done. Flocks of memos flew overhead and howlers exploded in the corridors, their shrieks of outrage adding to the general chaos.

In the Auror Headquarters tensions were high; harried Aurors pored over maps of Diagon Alley, while trainees rushed about carrying files and Mad-Eye Moody bellowed orders. The theft had been made everyone's top priority. Several other cases were dropped to free up more Aurors and Sirius had even been recalled from his convalescence in order to help out. The whole Auror force had been sent off to gather information and interview possible witnesses, but so far no one had found any leads.

Sirius was feeling tired and his injured leg ached (the snake venom still affecting him all these months later), making him glad for the chance to take a break and join everyone in crowding into the briefing room for an update on the case. Hopefully something productive would come of it. He leaned tiredly against the massive filing cabinets lining the walls and tried to stay optimistic.

"Wotcher, Uncle Sirius!" Tonks said cheerfully as she slid in next to him. "You look like crap."

Sirius ignored her in favour of the chipped mug she was holding. "Is that coffee?"

"Yep, for you!" Tonks looked proud of herself as she presented it to him.

Sirius gulped down the scalding liquid all in on go. "You're the best trainee ever," he said fervently, banishing the empty mug back to the break room.

"Cool. Uh, would you mind writing that in my file?" Tonks asked hopefully.

Before Sirius could explain that anything said under the influence of a coffee rush shouldn't be taken seriously, the waiting Aurors fell silent as Mad-Eye Moody thumped his way into the briefing room.

"All right, you lot!" Moody scowled round at them all, his fake eye twitching. "I shouldn't have to tell you what a bloody mess we're in. We need results and we need 'em fast. All leave is cancelled until this case is solved, got it?"

A chorus of "yes, sir!" rang out, though nobody looked happy. Sirius had had several more weeks of convalescent leave scheduled, but - as much as he'd been looking forward to spending time with Orion - he knew every Auror was needed on the job. His injury was pretty much healed and there was no way he'd sit around doing nothing while the Philosopher's Stone was missing.

"Bad luck, Uncle Sirius," Tonks muttered.

Sirius sighed. "Let's just hope we catch the thief soon." He didn't hold out much hope, however.

"I still don't get how anyone could manage to steal from the goblins," Tonks said, then yelped as Moody's fake eye spun round to land on her.

"I'll tell you how!" Moody growled. "Because the bloody goblins forgot about Constant Vigilance! They got complacent, they let their guard down, and now we're all paying for it!"

"Yes, boss. Right you are, boss," Tonks mumbled and then slumped in relief when Moody found someone else to focus on.

"Longbottom, report! You've been in charge of the investigation at Gringotts. What've you found so far?" Moody demanded.

Frank Longbottom stepped forwards, looking exhausted. "I tried to examine the scene of the crime, but the goblins refused to let me past the front lobby. Then when I asked about their security measures and the possibility of an inside job, they threw me out - those spears aren't just decorative, let me tell you."

"That's obstruction of justice," Scrimgeour cut in sounding outraged. "They should be arrested!"

Sirius snorted. "It's goblin territory. We don't have any jurisdiction there." You moron, he thought but didn't say.

"If you're too afraid to do your job, Black, I'll be happy to do it for you," Scrimgoeur sneered back at him.

"Scrimgeour, shut up," Moody said. "Black, congratulations, you're the new Auror liaison to the Minister's office."

"What?" Sirius hoped desperately that he'd misheard.

Moody's scarred face twisted into an impatient scowl. "Fudge has been pestering me for updates on the situation. You seem to have a decent grasp on the case, so it's your job to keep him off my back. Got it?" Moody didn't both to wait for an answer. "Dawlish! How far along are you in questioning the witnesses?"

"Er, I haven't managed to find any yet," Dawlish said nervously. "At least, not anyone credible."

"The Stone was stolen in broad daylight! Someone must have seen something, damn it!" Moody's temper seemed to be growing steadily worse. He stomped around the room on his wooden leg as he demanded answers, but nobody had any progress to report. Whoever the thief was, they hadn't left any tracks behind them.

Sirius was almost glad to have an excuse to escape the briefing, since Moody's temper looked close to breaking point. He headed towards the Minister's office, stopping on the way to reassure the dozens of worried employees who approached him for answers - people weren't dealing well with the news of the break-in. Fudge was already in a meeting with someone from the Goblin Liaison Office, but after flashing his badge at the secretary Sirius was waved inside. On discovering Umbridge was also present, Sirius wanted to run straight back out again.

"Ah, Auror Black!" Fudge hurried forwards to shake his hand. "I take it Mad-Eye sent you?"

"Yes, Minister," Sirius said. "I'm to be your liaison for the duration of the case."

"Hem, hem." Umbridge cleared her throat. "Surely an Auror of more experience would be better suited for such work? Perhaps dear Rufus Scrimgeour…"

"Now, now, Dolores," Fudge broke in heartily. "I'm sure we can rely on Auror Black." Ever since Sirius had been released from Azkaban, Fudge had been acting as if they were the best of friends. Sirius couldn't stand the man. "Oh, have you met Dirk Cresswell from the goblin liaison office?" Fudge asked, waving forward the third member of the group. "He's here to brief us on the Gringotts situation."

"Auror Black," Cresswell greeted him nervously. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

"Likewise," Sirius said, hoping the wizard knew his subject. They shook hands and then let themselves be waved into seats around the conference table.

"I can't tell you how concerned I am about the situation. The Philosopher's Stone stolen on my watch! Voters will be rioting in the streets!" Fudge blustered.

"Aurors have been stationed along Diagon Alley to keep the peace," Sirius informed him.

"Well that's at least something," Fudge said.

"Hem, hem. I'm concerned by the fact that the thief has yet to be apprehended," Umbridge said sweetly. "It makes one suspect the Aurors of failing to do their jobs."

"We're doing all we can," Sirius told her coldly.

"Of course you are, of course you are," Fudge said hastily. "I'm sure Dolores didn't mean to suggest otherwise, but this is a serious business, you know. We can't have some dark wizard running around creating gold out of nowhere - it would wreak havoc on the economy! Complaints have already begun piling up, Flamel's been making a nuisance of himself, and members of the International Confederation have been on the floo all morning. Something needs to be done!"

"I quite agree, Cornelius," Umbridge simpered.

"The investigation is still on-going," Sirius said. "Unfortunately the goblins are reluctant to allow Aurors into the bank, so we haven't been able to examine the vault in question."

"They can't do that, can they?" Fudge looked indignant as he turned to Cresswell for confirmation.

"Um, according to the Peace Treaty of 1762, any crime within Gringotts remains under the jurisdiction of the goblin race, not the Ministry of Magic," Cresswell responded.

Fudge frowned. "What? Really? Well surely an exception can be made. This is a matter of national importance and needs to be handled by wizards!"

"I'm afraid the goblins disagree, sir," Cresswell said.

"Then they must be made to agree," Fudge snapped. "Auror Black, I order you to…"

Cresswell shook his head frantically and interrupted. "Minister, any attempt to push the matter could disrupt the already fragile peace between wizards and goblins. It might spark another goblin rebellion!"

"Humph. Well we won all the others, didn't we?" Fudge demanded.

"Uh, not exactly, sir," Cresswell said.

Fudge dismissed him with an airy wave. "Nonsense! Why every schoolchild knows that the goblins were roundly defeated every time."

"Uh, Professor Binns is wrong, sir," Cresswell informed him. "In fact the Ministry almost lost the last goblin war - which incidentally began due to the Philosopher's Stone. The goblins didn't like the idea of unlimited gold in Wizarding hands, you see. The fighting only stopped once the Ministry forced Mr Flamel to keep the Stone in Gringotts under goblin supervision."

"Oh. Are you sure?" Fudge sounded confused.

"Yes, Minister," Cresswell said patiently.

Sirius had to admit that bit of history was news to him, too. "So chances are the goblins will be doubly annoyed by the theft then?" he asked.

Cresswell nodded. "Indeed, Auror Black. The goblins are claiming that we wizards have broken the treaty by removing the Philospher's Stone from the bank, while Flamel is demanding reparations from the goblins for letting the Stone be stolen in the first place. Frankly, it's a mess and only getting messier. Which is why, Minister, I strongly suggest making a public statement of goodwill towards the goblins. Otherwise, if it turns out a wizard is responsible for the theft, the goblins will almost certainly block our access to Gringotts in retaliation."

"They can't do that!" Fudge spluttered. "I forbid it!"

Sirius rolled his eyes. "I don't think the goblins will listen to you, Minister."

"Hem, hem." Umbridge coughed violently as she glared at both him and Cresswell. "Minister, I believe I must point out that Mr Cresswell is a muggleborn, and so hardly qualified to offer advice on our society."

"I believe Dolores has a point," Fudge agreed, latching on to her bigoted attitude. "I'm sure you're trying your best, Cresswell, but I don't think you quite understand the situation. The Ministry can't afford to lose face by pandering to a bunch of goblins - the voters simply wouldn't put up with it."

"Indeed, Minister," Umbridge was quick to agree. "In fact the goblins may have stolen the Stone themselves. Only consider, Gringotts prides itself on being impenetrable. Who but a Gringotts goblin has access to the vaults?"

"We haven't found any evidence of the goblins being responsible for the theft," Sirius said firmly.

Dirk Cresswell nodded his fervent agreement with Sirius. "I assure you, Madame Umbridge, what you suggest is highly unlikely. Goblins take their honour very seriously and would never consider stealing from their clients."

"Oh, everyone knows goblins are sneaky creatures," Fudge told him. "They're not like you and me."

"But, Minister -" Dirk Cresswell tried to argue.

"Surely, Mr Cresswell, you aren't suggesting the Ministry let itself be bullied by a bunch of half-breeds," Umbridge demanded with a look of disgust on her frog-like face. "Let the goblins threaten to close the bank – the Ministry won't be intimidated!"

"Quite right, quite right, Dolores," Fudge agreed. "By Merlin, if it's a war they want, it's a war they'll get!"

Dirk Cresswell looked ready to cry and Sirius was alarmed by Fudge's thick-headed attitude. A goblin rebellion would lead to disaster. "Minister, a theft was committed, but that's all," Sirius said soothingly. "We're doing all we can to capture the thief and the DMLE has the situation under control."

Fudge allowed himself to be talked down, contenting himself with dictating a statement to the Daily Prophet urging the public not to panic. Umbridge left the meeting with a sour expression on her face, while Dirk Cresswell gave Sirius a grateful look before hurrying off to another meeting with the Gringotts goblins. Sirius sighed and returned to the Auror Office for further orders - he doubted he would be getting any time off for the foreseeable future.

000

0

The Daily Prophet

Bank Burgled!

Wizarding Britain is in a state of shock today at what is arguably the

worst crisis our country has faced in almost a decade. The Philosopher's

Stone has been stolen from Gringotts in broad daylight by dark wizards

unknown. For all its boasts of impenetrable wards and dragon guards,

the so-called "safest place in Britain" is no longer considered secure.

Wizards and witches across the country are worried over the safety

of their vaults, with many determined to withdraw their money from

the goblin-run bank.

0

The queue to enter the bank has already spilled down the steps of

Gringotts and into the Alley itself and the crowd is only growing, with

people prepared to wait for as long as necessary. "I'm staying right

here until I empty my vault out," said Mrs Frobisher of Hogsmeade. "I

reckon my gold is safer under my mattress than in the care of this lot.

I mean, who really trusts the goblins, I ask you?"

0

Who indeed? The Ministry of Magic has tried to prevent a run on the bank,

with Minister Fudge urging people to remain calm and Madame Bones of

the DMLE promising to catch the thief, but several Ministry workers have

been spotted entering Gringotts and withdrawing their savings. Which begs

the question, is the situation really under control?

0

The idea of anything being stolen from Gringotts is cause enough for concern,

but the theft of the Philosopher's Stone is a threat to the whole Wizarding World.

"Whoever controls the Stone controls the magical economy," explained a

Ministry worker who wishes to remain anonymous. "Introducing an

unending supply of galleons into the economy will cause the value of

gold to plummet and prices to soar. It'll be chaos! The goblins are

already in a volatile state and I wouldn't be surprised if another rebellion

is on the horizon. The thief must be brought to justice and the Stone

returned to Gringotts - the sooner the better!"

0

The Philosopher's Stone, which for the past six hundred years has

given its creator Nicholas Flamel unlimited gold and unending life, has

been the cause of no fewer than eight goblin rebellions. The upheaval

surrounding the priceless artefact only ended after it was placed in

the care of Gringotts, as dictated by the goblin-wizard Peace Treaty of 1892.

The goblins agreed to lay down their weapons in return for custody

of the Stone (allowing them to monitor the amount of gold produced), but

also required Mr Flamel's assurance that he would never create another

Stone nor share the formula with any living being.

0

It appears this hard-won peace is in danger of collapsing, however. After

being informed of the theft of his property, Mr Flamel insisted that the Treaty

is now void and threatened to create a replacement Stone. "My cause

is righteous," Mr Flamel told reporters from the Daily Prophet. "Dark was

the hour when I heard tell of the thief most foul who hath stolen my Stone of

Eternal Life. Three score years did I toil in its creation and loath was I

to part from it. And lo! It hath vanished and the blame layeth on yonder

lackwitted goblin-curs."

0

The goblins of Gringotts were quick to voice their outrage over Flamel's

intentions. "A contract was signed clearly stating that Flamel

would never again create another Stone," the official spokes-goblin

announced from the steps of the marble bank. "We don't give a

Flooper's left armpit what Flamel says, there's no way we're letting

him get his rotten hands on another source of unlimited gold."

0

With no resolution in sight, Wizarding Britain is left teetering on

the brink of a crisis. The goblins are on the verge of rebelling and the thief

is still at large. In these troubling times we wizards and witches can only look

to the Ministry to resolve the situation. Hopefully our leaders are up to the

tough task that lies ahead.

0

000

Stifling a yawn, Sirius folded up his copy of the Daily Prophet and shoved it into the pocket of his Auror robes. He'd worked straight through the previous day and night, and was only awake due to the numerous doses of Pepper-Up potion he'd poured down his throat. He wasn't the only one – none of the Aurors had any time to sleep. Mad-Eye Moody had reluctantly given Sirius a few hours off to pick up Orion from the train station, but expected him back in the office straight after.

Sirius stared around the platform at the other parents waiting for the Hogwarts Express, taking in the worried looks and panicked conversations. People were deeply shaken by the news of the Gringotts break-in, and Sirius had to admit he agreed with Moody – they needed to catch the thief no matter what it took. Knowing what he did of Voldemort's probable involvement only strengthened that conviction.

When the train chugged into the station Orion was one of the first off the train, heading straight towards Sirius without even taking the time to say goodbye to his friends. "What the hell happened? Was Quirrell involved?" Orion demanded in a hissed whisper.

"Not here," Sirius said. "Wait until we get home."

Orion impatiently grabbed Sirius' arm and waited for him to apparate them both back to Grimmauld Place. As soon as they appeared in the entrance hall he was talking again. "So? Are there any leads on who stole the Philosopher's Stone?"

Sirius sighed and rubbed his forehead, feeling the beginnings of a headache coming on. "So far all we've got is a whole load of nothing."

"It's got to be Voldemort behind it though, right? It must be," Orion said.

"I don't know," Sirius said. The list of possible suspects compiled by the Auror Office was ridiculously long. Everyone had a motive to steal the Philosopher's Stone, though it was generally agreed that only a powerful witch or wizard could break through the enchantments at Gringotts. "I've tried to keep track of Quirrell ever since you warned me about him. Last I heard he was somewhere in Portugal, so I sort of doubt it could be him helping Voldemort."

"It's what they tried before," Orion said, pacing the floor. "Though whether or not Quirrell is involved doesn't really matter. If Voldemort has the Stone it's only a question of time before he gets his body back – this time complete with immortality and unlimited gold."

Sirius wished desperately for a Firewhisky. Unfortunately, Pepper-Up potions and alcohol didn't mix, and he was forced to face the idea of Voldemort's imminent return while sober. "There must be something we can do," he said. "I mean, no one knows how the Stone works exactly, but even with the Elixir of Life it can't be easy for Voldemort to make himself a new body, right? That ritual he used in your world... maybe he'll need something like that here, too."

"I suppose," Orion said, looking like he was calming down slightly and beginning to think things through. "Hopefully it'll take some time before Voldemort figures out how to use the Stone - good thing Flamel's always been so secretive. It should at least give us some time to think up a plan."

Sirius thought it would be even better if Flamel had never made the bloody thing in the first place, but didn't disagree. "What about destroying Riddle senior's bones? It couldn't hurt, right?" he suggested.

Orion leapt at the idea and insisted on leaving straight away, clearly eager to do something productive instead of just sitting around talking. Sirius had never been to the graveyard in Little Hangleton before, so it was Orion who side-along apparated them both there. Sirius' presence would stop the Ministry from registering the underage magic, but even so Sirius didn't want to flaunt the law unnecessarily and risk being caught - grave robbing was not looked kindly on by the Ministry. Under Orion's impatient gaze, Sirius dug up the earth and cast the spell to vanish Riddle's bones. A few more spells made it look as if the grave had been disturbed by some wild animal, and then they headed home.

"Right, that's done then," Sirius said, stifling a yawn.

"I can't believe we didn't do it ages ago," Orion muttered. "Hopefully it'll slow Voldemort down a bit."

"If it's even Voldemort who has the Stone," Sirius reminded him. "You never know, it could be some other dark wizard who stole it."

"I'm never that lucky," Orion said flatly.

Sirius had to admit Orion was probably right. Voldemort was the only wizard he could think of who would be skilled enough to rob Gringotts and get away with it, though Sirius joined the other Aurors in chasing every available lead in the hope of being proved wrong. Nothing came of it, however, despite the insane hours involved – he was barely able to spend any time at home in the weeks following the break-in.

Every day there were more newspaper articles describing the chaos that was enveloping wizarding society. With the Aurors all busy with the Gringotts case, the level of petty crime had soared, and several wizards had even been caught trying to stage another bank robbery - it seemed Gringotts had become an attractive target now that its aura of invincibility had been dented. It took a group of Aurors patrolling Diagon Alley to keep the angry crowds under control; everyone was demanding their gold back and closing their vaults, as well as stocking up on food and other essentials in fear of rising prices.

Political disaster was looming on the horizon. The Department of Magical Law Enforcement was coming under increased pressure from Minister Fudge to produce results, and Sirius was barely able to keep the man from doing something stupid. The International Confederation of Wizards had joined in the loud demands for something to be done, since countries worldwide were worried about gold flooding the market and disrupting their economies. None of the politicians had a single helpful suggestion to make, however, and it looked as if the situation would continue spiralling out of control.

Back at Grimmauld Place, Orion was becoming increasingly restless and bad-tempered, clearly unhappy at being forced to stay at home and do nothing.

"What can you do?" Sirius said when Orion complained. "Everyone thinks you're a child – a clever and powerful one, yes, but still just a boy. And Assessor or not, nobody'll believe you if you tell them Voldemort was the one to steal the Stone."

"I can't just sit around and wait for Voldemort to get his body back!" Orion snapped. "For one thing, there are still Horcruxes to deal with. With Gringotts on such high alert, I don't see a way to get our hands on Hufflepuff's Goblet, but if I went after Slytherin's Locket..."

"You're not going to the cave without me there," Sirius interrupted. "Hell, I remember what you said happened back in your world. Even with Dumbledore there it ended in disaster."

"You're so busy at the Ministry, you've barely been back home for more than a few hours at a stretch," Orion pointed out. "When're you going to have time to track down the Horcrux?"

"So we'll wait," Sirius said firmly. Orion had a tendency to want to do everything himself, not trusting others to handle things. Sirius wasn't sure if it was an inborn trait or if the experiences in his old world had shaped him that way. Either way, Sirius wasn't willing to let Orion risk himself for no good reason.

Orion crossed his arms and frowned. "You're one to talk. You went after the Ring by yourself."

"Which was stupid of me, seeing as I ended up in hospital," Sirius said. "Please just wait, all right? If you're that desperate for something to do, you can try researching whatever potion it is that might be guarding Slytherin's Locket."

Orion sighed but relented. "Fine. I'll keep my head down, for now."

-.-.-

There was at least some good news amongst all the bad. A month after the Stone was stolen, Snape contacted Sirius to announce that he'd successfully completed the Wolfsbane Potion.

"It's done," said Snape, satisfaction glinting in his dark eyes. "Lily's potion is finished."

"Excellent." Sirius accepted the copy of the recipe with a smile on his face – Remus would be so happy. "Thanks, Snape," he added. Personally he thought all the money he'd paid the man was thanks enough, but he'd promised Orion that he'd be polite. "I appreciate all you've done."

Snape sneered. "Don't flatter yourself, Black; I didn't do it for you or your pet werewolf."

"That much is obvious," Sirius said. "It'd be a cold day in hell before I'd expect you to lift a finger to help me – at least not without a huge pile of gold as an incentive."

"Believe me, no amount of money would make me forget how much I despise you," Snape retorted. "I did it for Lily. I'd do anything for her."

Sirius shifted uneasily at the emphasis Snape put on 'anything'. He knew from his schooldays that Snape could be dangerous – were there any limits to what the man would do in Lily's name and out of his obsessive love for her?

"You have the recipe," Snape continued. "It's your turn to uphold our bargain, Black."

Sirius nodded. "I'll have Lily named as the inventor of the potion as we agreed."

"Good. Then we're done here." Snape sent one last sneer at Sirius, then turned on the spot and apparated away.

"Git," Sirius muttered once he'd gone. Though he had to admit Snape was a clever git – the roll of parchment in hand was proof of that. It would take a while to get the Potion approved and patented, but that was just bureaucracy. The real work was done; as soon as the potion was brewed, Remus would never have to live through another full moon without control over his own mind. It was a true breakthrough.

-.-.-

 

Harry was far from happy with the course of events. Voldemort almost certainly had the Stone, which meant he could return at any moment - and would be immortal even if every single one of his Horcruxes was destroyed. And as if that wasn't enough, he'd also have enough gold to hire mercenaries and bribe his way to power.

Yet even with disaster looming, Harry was forced to just sit around and do nothing. While Sirius worked overtime at the Ministry, Harry sulked around the house, thinking up increasingly outlandish plans to track down Voldemort and kill him. Occasionally he visited Ernie or Draco, but the childish conversations they engaged in made him want to scream. Harry had no patience for pretending to be just another eleven year old - not when Voldemort was on the verge of getting his body back.

The only thing stopping Harry from doing something reckless was the time he spent with his Aunt Cassiopeia learning Black family magic. The lessons gave Harry a way to channel his anger into his spells and let him feel that he was doing something useful. He remembered seeing Bellatrix use a few of the Black spells in a fight, making him more determined than ever to learn all he could. If the worst happened, Harry wanted to be prepared. Both Cassiopeia and his Grandfather Arcturus appeared rather taken aback by how quickly he picked up the advanced magic, but nevertheless praised his rapid progress.

Harry wished he'd always been able to use magic over the holidays – it was such a huge advantage, one he could have benefited from in his old world. Pure magical theory had never been his strong point, but practicing spells was something he was prepared to spend his free time doing.

Sirius seemed to think Harry was being too obsessive, however, and dragged him off to visit Remus at Godric's Hollow in an effort to get him to relax. The day was pleasantly warm and sunny and the Werewolves were gathered in the garden having a barbecue. A group of teenagers were playing a rough game of football in a far corner of the grounds and a few adults were stretched out on the grass sunbathing, while closer to the house several men stood around grilling steaks and eating hamburgers.

"Moony!" Sirius called out. "How've you been?"

"Busy," Remus replied with a smile.

Harry could well believe it. He hardly recognised the pretty cottage in front of him as the ramshackle building he'd seen in his old world. It must have taken a lot of work to add on the extra rooms and fix the whole place up enough to make it habitable.

"And how's my favourite godson?" Remus asked Harry, reaching out to ruffle his hair. "You look pale, Orion – have you been ill?"

Sirius rolled his eyes. "He's shut himself up indoors for the past month. I swear, for a while there I wondered if he'd been turned into a Vampire."

Remus laughed while Harry scowled. "I'm fine," he said grumpily. "I've just been busy."

"You're on your summer holidays, Orion," Sirius said. "You haven't even gone flying!"

"Nor have you! You're almost always working."

"Yes, but the difference is that I'm paid to work."

Remus interrupted them before the squabble could go any further. "It sounds to me as if you both deserve a break. Come on, there's plenty of food to go round."

Harry and Sirius let themselves be ushered over towards the barbecue, where they were greeted by several other Werewolves. Harry had never met any of them before, in either world, but one of the men reminded him strongly of Ron. The resemblance made sense when Sirius introduced him as Fabian Prewett.

"Hello, sir," Harry said as he stared at the red-haired man in fascination, tracing the similarities to the Weasley family. The man before him was scarred and careworn, but his face shared the same good-humour as the twins.

Fabian smiled down at him. "It's nice to meet you, Orion – Sirius never shuts up about you. You go to Hogwarts with my nephews, the Weasleys, don't you?"

"Uh, yeah. Fred and George are friends of mine. I don't really know Ron or Percy, though," Harry said, regretting his answer when he saw Fabian's disappointed expression. He wondered if the Werewolf had any contact with his nephews, but didn't know how to ask without being rude.

Remus helped dispel the awkward moment by gesturing to the other stranger in the group. "Sirius, you've met Caspian Wilkes, haven't you? Caspian, this is Sirius, an old friend of mine, and his son Orion."

Seeing how nervous the man looked as he shook hands with Sirius, Harry wondered how they knew each other. Caspian seemed nice enough, though. As the child of the group, Harry wasn't much involved in the conversation between the adults, but he listened attentively to their discussion as he helped himself to some food off the grill.

"How've you all been settling in?" Sirius asked as he munched through a plate of sausages and bacon.

"A few of the neighbours have complained about the howling every full moon, but otherwise everything's gone as well as can be expected," Remus told him and waved a hand in the direction of the football players. "We have over a dozen teenagers living here already."

Sirius looked surprised. "So many?"

"There were bitten by Greyback during the war," Remus explained. "They're either orphans or they've been thrown out by their parents. Either way, they'd be living on the streets if it weren't for this place."

"Remus here has been teaching the kids magical theory," Fabian said with a grin. "They've started calling him Professor Lupin."

Sirius barked out a laugh, almost choking on his food in the process. "Professor? That sounds like you, Moony. You always were the studious one at school."

Caspian scowled. "I still don't see the use of teaching them magical theory when none of us are allowed wands."

"Laws can be changed," Remus said patiently.

"Or broken," Fabian added.

Caspian glanced at Sirius in alarm as if expecting him to arrest them all on the spot.

"Hey, don't mind me." Sirius raised his arms in a gesture of innocence. "I agree with Fabian. Though even without wands there must be things you guys can do, right? Magic isn't only about casting spells."

Remus nodded in agreement. "Exactly. There's Herbology, Astronomy, Arithmancy... the list goes on. Knowing the theory will help the kids get jobs in the future."

"Hah! Yeah right. None of us have managed to get jobs yet, and given the state of the economy it's unlikely we ever will," Caspian said bitterly. "All the anti-goblin feeling that's around is making it even harder for the rest of us so-called halfbreeds."

"What about starting a potions business?" Harry spoke up, wanting to help. "Or writing a book, or, I dunno, setting up a shop or something. Then there's also jobs in the muggle world."

The adults looked at him in surprise, acting as if they'd forgotten he was there. "Those are all good ideas, Orion," Remus said at last. "Unfortunately, the Ministry laws are very strict about what sort of jobs we're allowed to have. They claim we'd be endangering the Statute of Secrecy by working with muggles, and a lot of jobs in the Wizarding World are also off limits."

Harry was again reminded of how much he hated the Ministry. Their bigotry was unbelievably blatant, and unfortunately Werewolves bore the brunt of it. Centaurs, vampires, merpeople and other magical beings all had their own close-knit communities which were separate from Wizarding society, allowing them a certain amount of freedom from the wizard-run Ministry. Werewolves, however, were human before they were bitten and continued to live mostly human lives. They needed money to buy food, a job to pay their rent, and clothes to keep them warm – they couldn't just say to hell with the Ministry and go their own way.

Harry refused to let the bigots win, however. "What if Dad pretended it was his business or his book, then the Ministry would never know," he argued. "He could act like a sort of go-between."

"The boy has a point," Fabian said. "If Sirius is willing..."

The adults began enthusiastically discussing various ways to defraud the Ministry, with Harry chipping in every now and again. When they began discussing taxes and interest rates, however, Harry sidled away to join the teenagers playing football. If asked he would freely admit that he had no understanding of economics. He'd never had to deal with any of that stuff – wages, taxes, mortgages, interest rates. As a child living with the Dursleys he'd had nothing to call his own and at Hogwarts he'd simply lived off the contents of his trust vault. That money would have run out soon enough, except by the time he'd come of age he'd been declared 'Undesirable Number One' and was living on the run, which meant tax evasion had been the least of his worries. The life of an ordinary law-abiding citizen, with a normal job and bills to pay, was utterly foreign to him.

It was that which probably lay behind his old ambition to be an Auror, since fighting bad guys was just about the only career Harry could wrap his head around. Upon reflection he realised there was a silver lining to reliving his childhood; hopefully with some experience of a normal life out of the spotlight he'd be able to figure out what he really wanted.

Until he managed that, though, hanging out with the werewolf teenagers would have to do. Sure, they were a bit unfriendly and treated him as if he was an annoying little kid, but at least unlike the adults they weren't boring. In fact some of the older girls were very pretty and didn't seem to bother with robes, instead dressing in more revealing muggle outfits. Harry had conflicted feelings when it came to actually dating, but there was nothing stopping him from enjoying the view.

"So, Orion," Sirius said hours later once they were back in Grimmauld Place. "Don't you agree that was much more fun that holing yourself up in the library or having lessons with Aunt Cassie?"

"Yes, fine, I admit it." Harry was in too good a mood to bother arguing. "I was wrong and you were right."

Sirius laughed. "And don't you forget it! Seriously though, try to relax a bit more, won't you? The world isn't ending just because someone stole the Philosopher's Stone."

Harry wasn't sure he agreed; if Voldemort had the Stone he could easily end up destroying the whole of wizarding Britain. For once he tried to remain optimistic, though, and so only shrugged and said he'd try to cut down on the amount of time he spent obsessing over worst-case scenarios. 'What's coming will come, and we'll meet it when it does,' Harry repeated to himself, remembering Hagrid's words from years ago.

-.-.-

The rest of the holidays passed at a more relaxed pace. Harry's birthday passed rather quietly, though his relatives made sure to shower him with gifts – a reward for his hard work and dedication to upholding the family name, according to his Grandmother Melania. Harry didn't bother having a birthday party, since Hermione was spending most of the summer in France, Neville's Gran would never let him visit a Black, and inviting Draco over meant putting up with Pansy tagging along.

Instead of a party, Dobby baked a huge chocolate cake and Sirius somehow managed to get a day off, which Harry recognised as the rare treat it was. Sirius was still stuck at work most of the time since the Aurors were no closer to finding the thief. The Goblin Liaison Office had at least managed to stave off an outright rebellion for the time being, but the situation was still far from settled.

When Harry's Hogwarts letter arrived and he and Sirius went shopping for his school things, Harry was quick to notice the changes. Everywhere there were shoppers complaining about prices or the state of the economy. Several Aurors were patrolling the Alley, their scarlet robes making them stand out amongst the crowd, while outside the bank a ragtag group of wizards were staging a protest complete with banners and chanted slogans.

"Wizard Gold in Wizard Hands!"

"Goblins Give Us Our Galleons!"

"Down with Gringotts!"

Harry stared at them as they passed by. He didn't remember seeing wizards protesting anything before – not even against the corrupt rule of the Death Eater controlled Ministry. Apparently it took their money being threatened before anyone was prepared to do anything, Harry thought cynically.

"So, bookshop first?" Sirius suggested.

"Sure," Harry said. "Florean Fortesque's after?"

"Deal," Sirius agreed.

Harry's answering smile was wiped off his face as soon as they entered Flourish and Blotts. The milling crowd of middle-aged witches should have warned him, but he was still taken by surprise by the horrifying sight awaiting him; teeth sparkling and blond hair gleaming, Gilderoy Lockhart stood waving at his adoring audience.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I have great pleasure and pride in announcing that this September, I will be taking up the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!" Lockhart smiled for the camera as the crowd cheered.

"Oh Merlin, no! This can't be happening to me. Not again!" Harry moaned.

Sirius looked confused. "What?"

"Please, Dad, you're my only hope," Harry begged him. "Arrest him!"

"Who?"

"Lockhart of course!" Harry said in a hissed whisper. "I told you what a fraud that man is."

"I can't just march up and arrest him in front of everyone," Sirius said. "I'd need a warrant first." Faced with Harry's pleading expression, he relented. "I promise I'll see what I can do before you start back at Hogwarts, all right? I'll probably be able to get Moody to give me the go ahead," Sirius added thoughtfully. "It'll show people that the Aurors are actually doing something and that no one is above the law. The public would eat it up."

Harry gave a theatrical gasp. "Careful, Sirius, you're turning into a politician!"

"Oi! Take that back!" Sirius grabbed the laughing Harry in a headlock and refused to let him go until he'd faithfully promised that Sirius was in no way, shape or form like Fudge or any of his cronies. Harry was quick to give in; frankly he was willing to say anything if it meant he didn't have to put up with Lockhart for a whole school year.

-.-.-

Chapter Text

Moody stomped around his office, wand in hand and fake eye twitching. "The Philosopher's Stone is still missing, the Gringotts spokesgoblins are making increasingly violent threats, the International Confederation are kicking up a fuss, and everyone is looking to the Auror office to solve the problem. Frankly, the situation can't get much worse, but now you want to arrest an upstanding member of the community based on... what? A hunch?"

"All you've got to do is read Lockhart's books to realise he's a fraud," Sirius argued. "His stories are full of inconsistencies and even outright lies. In 'Wandering with Werewolves' he claimed to have cured lycanthropy, for Merlin's sake."

"Oh, the man's a blithering imbecile, I'll give you that," Moody said. "I met him last week and he had the gall to offer me tips on how to do my job. Said that if he was in charge of the Aurors, no one would have dared to steal the Stone." As he spoke an owl flew in and dropped a Howler on the already overflowing desk. Moody incinerated it with a vicious stab of his wand and turned back to Sirius with a fearsome scowl. "But as much as I'd like to get rid of him, he hasn't actually done anything illegal. Storytelling isn't a crime."

"I have reason to believe that Lockhart has cast several unauthorised Memory Charms," Sirius said, not giving up. "He obliviates people before stealing their work."

"Really? Do you have any proof?" Moody demanded, suddenly looking interested.

"Well..." Sirius hesitated. "I've heard rumours... and my son Orion has told me that Lockhart's not to be trusted. At the very least we should investigate - bring Lockhart to the office and ask a few questions."

Moody's glare returned. "You know we can't do that. We can't interrogate people on the word of an Assessor not even in his teens yet! There is such a thing as due legal process, Black. No, you'd better drop the idea. There're much more important things that need doing. For starters I want you to lead the search of Knockturn Alley later today."

"The Alley has already been searched twice," Sirius said. "There's no sign of the Stone ever being anywhere near the area."

"Don't assume anything! Ever! Remember, Constant Vigilance!" Moody bellowed.

Sirius sighed, realising that Moody was more bad-tempered than usual. As the head of the Auror Office he was under a lot of pressure and was getting much of the blame for the theft of the Stone. People were always eager for a scapegoat. There had begun to be mutterings around the Ministry about forcing Moody to take early retirement.

Walking towards the door in defeat, Sirius suddenly paused and turned back. "Lockhart's been hired as the Defence against the Dark Arts professor at Hogwarts, by the way. I'm sure the students will learn a lot from him. Good news for the next crop of Auror recruits, don't you think?"

Before the end of the day Lockhart had been arrested and an experienced Auror had been encouraged to take up teaching. Sirius headed home with a spring in his steps to share the good news with Orion.

-.-.-

It seemed luck was with him, since Sirius soon had yet another thing to celebrate. A few days after his meeting with Moody, he received a letter by owl; his patent application for the Wolfsbane Potion had finally been processed and given the Potion Guild's stamp of approval. As he'd promised Snape, Lily had been named as the inventor, but it was Sirius who held the patent. Of course, he was hardly going to demand payment for letting Werewolves brew the potion, but he still hoped to make some money from the recipe – perhaps by charging a fee for allowing it to be sold in shops or included in textbooks or something similar.

In any case, Sirius now knew the potion worked (he hadn't completely trusted Snape not to sabotage it), and on his next day off he apparated over to Godric's Hollow to share the good news. He found the adult werewolves gathered in the sitting room and reluctantly joined them. All the other times he'd visited he'd been able to avoid entering the house, but it seemed he wasn't able to keep that up forever. The familiar surroundings brought up a whole slew of painful memories that Sirius would prefer to forget.

As he sat down, Remus caught his eye and gave him a sympathetic smile. The other werewolves were less welcoming, however. Sirius had been friends with Remus and Fabian for years, but the rest viewed him with a mixture of fear, distrust and anger – the worst being Caspian Wilkes and a woman called Athena, who refused to give any last name. From what Sirius could gather, Athena was the oldest of three werewolf siblings whose parents had abandoned them after they'd been bitten. For the past several years they'd barely managed to survive on what they could beg or steal in Knockturn Alley. Perhaps understandably, Athena was suspicious of strangers (particularly wizards), and treated Sirius with open dislike.

Sure enough, she glared at Sirius as he sat down beside them at the table. It seemed the werewolves were busying arguing over money – or more accurately the fact that they had none. Orion's suggestion that Sirius act as a go-between in business ventures had at first been greeted with enthusiasm, but they'd soon run into difficulties. Few of them had any marketable skills, and the theft of the Philosopher's stone mean that the Aurors were on full alert – any unexplained earnings would immediately be investigated.

"I still think the best idea is for me to publish textbooks on defensive magic," Remus said.

"Gilderoy Lockhart's already cornered the market on that," Fabian pointed out glumly.

"Well if we can't work in the wizarding world we'll have to try the muggle one," Remus decided. "I know it's illegal, but if we're careful we should be able to escape the Ministry's notice."

Caspian scowled at the suggestion. "Sure, we could find some black market job in the muggle world, but why should we? I was born a wizard, now I'm a werewolf – bottom line, I'm magical and no ministry busybody is going to make me live like a bloody muggle!" The others all sighed as if they'd heard the same rant before, but Caspian wasn't finished. "They took my house, they took my wand, there's no way I'm letting them take anything else. I refuse to mix with muggles – I'd rather starve."

"Hey now, there's no need to be prejudiced," Sirius spoke up, unwilling to let such an attitude pass uncontested.

"Oh shut up, this is none of your business, wizard." Athena sneered at him.

"Athena, he's only trying to help," Remus said, sounding very much like a disappointed teacher. "Not to mention it's his house we're living in, so try to be polite, hmm?"

"We don't need his help," Athena insisted. "He'll only stab us in the back! What do you think will happen when word gets out that the Black heir is consorting with werewolves? He'll turn on us without a second thought."

"Sirius wouldn't do that," Fabian said, though he didn't sound completely convinced. Sirius didn't take it personally – Fabian's experiences with his own family no doubt made it hard for him to trust people.

"I promise I'm serious about wanting to help," Sirius said before Athena could continue insulting him. "And with that in mind, I have a surprise for you all. I was hoping to tell Remus first, but considering... well, here." He thrust the letter from the Potions Guild at Athena, who eyed it suspiciously before deigning to begin reading.

"What're you up to, Padfoot?" Remus asked.

"You'll find out in a minute," Sirius said.

Sure enough, moments later Athena gave a loud gasp and brandished the letter at them. "This... is this real?"

"Yep!" Sirius said, not caring how smug he sounded.

"What is it?" Caspian demanded. "Athena, are you all right? You look as if you've seen a Grim."

"I've seen something much better than that! A potion to let us keep our minds on the full moon! Merlin, just think!" Athena was actually smiling – which was a first, as far as Sirius knew.

"Sirius?" Remus turned to him in bewilderment.

"It's true." Sirius grinned at him, excited to share the good news. "You'll still transform, but with the potion you won't feel the bloodlust. You'll stay in control even as a wolf."

Unusually slow-witted, Remus needed Sirius to repeat himself several times before the news sunk in. When it did, Remus laughed deliriously and grabbed Sirius in a bone-crushing hug. The other werewolves required more reassurance before believing that Sirius wasn't playing a cruel joke at their expense, but eventually their giddy laughter added to the excited babble. The noise level even higher as a spontaneous celebration broke out; Fabian unearthed several crates of alcohol from somewhere, Athena yelled for the children to come down and hear the news, and Caspian turned on the Wizarding Wireless at top volume.

In the chaos Remus pulled Sirius aside with a serious look on his face. "Did Lily really invent the potion?"

Sirius hated having to lie to Remus, but his loyalty to Orion would always come first. "Yes, she did. I found it amongst her things - she must've been working on it when she and James went into hiding with Harry."

"I always knew Lily was brilliant, but this!" Remus shook his head in amazement. "I wish I could thank her, tell her how much it means to me, to all of us..."

"She'd have just waved it off. Lily always hated praise," Sirius reminded him.

"True! She and James really were proof of the phrase 'opposites attract'," Remus said and they both shared a nostalgic smile. "I wonder which of them Harry would've taken after. Would he've been modest like Lily or a show-off like James?"

Sirius coughed awkwardly. "Well I bet he'd have had James' skill at flying." The conversation was making him increasingly uncomfortable and he was tempted to blurt out the whole truth - that Harry would have grown up to be a great wizard, one who was loyal to his friends, loved Defence and whose favourite desert was treacle tart.

Luckily or unluckily, Fabian wandered over before Sirius could give in to the impulse. "What are you two doing lurking here in the corner? C'mon, drink up and join in the fun!" Fabian grinned happily as he handed them each a bottle of cheap muggle beer. "To Sirius!" he shouted over the din, raising his own drink in the air before downing it in one go.

"To Sirius!" all the werewolves shouted back as they copied the gesture.

-.-.-

Orion frowned. "You mean I missed a party?"

"That's what you got from everything I just said?" Sirius asked. He'd just finished telling Orion all about the plans for distributing the Wolfbane Potion (they were hoping to grow most of the ingredients in Godric's Hollow to cut down on the expense), finally being on good terms with all the werewolves (Sirius had even heard Athena say he was "all right, for a wizard"), and the new wards he'd helped put up to keep out the nosy neighbours (the howling every full moon had been attracting too much attention). All things considered, Sirius was feeling rather proud of himself. "And did I mention that Lockhart's been fined several thousand galleons and sentenced to community service in Saint Mungo's?" he added.

"Yes yes, I heard you the first time," Orion said, still looking a bit put out. "Though thanks again for that. I don't know what I'd do if I had to deal with Lockhart on top of everything else this year. Not only is the Stone missing, but Tom Riddle's diary is also still around somewhere. I've had no luck searching for it while visiting Malfoy Manor – it might be hidden under their drawing room floor, or maybe Lucius never had it in the first place. I just don't know."

Sirius eyed Orion in concern, thinking he sounded much too stressed. "Is that what you've been doing while visiting Draco this summer? I thought you'd decided to relax and spend some time with your friends for a change."

"Hey, I'm good at multi-tasking," Orion said. "Though honestly, I haven't managed to get away from Draco long enough to do much poking around."

"Good," Sirius said. "You have no idea what wards Lucius might have put up. We can't risk tipping him off, and through him Voldemort. Although… Orion, what about asking Dobby to search for the diary for us? As you yourself have pointed out, wizards often forget to ward against House-elves. He might be able to get in and out undetected."

"No! Absolutely not!" Orion exclaimed. "I don't want him involved."

Sirius stared at him, taken aback by his unexpected vehemence.

"My Dobby died at Malfoy Manor," Orion said. "I won't let the same thing happen here."

"All right," Sirius said simply, knowing there was no point in pushing. Orion could be very stubborn about some things. "We'll think of something else."

"Thanks," Orion said quietly. "Although speaking of House-elves… there's no way Kreacher can get back in here, is there?"

"No, I made sure of that," Sirius replied. "But maybe I should tighten security even more. A few extra wards wouldn't go amiss."

Orion nodded. "Good idea. I have a feeling we'll soon be needing it."

"I'll do it tomorrow then," Sirius said. "But try not to worry so much, Orion. What's the point of being a child again if you don't let yourself have any fun?" he asked rhetorically.

Orion answered anyway. "You mean apart from giving me the opportunity to kill Voldemort, win the war, and bring about an era of peace and prosperity?"

Sirius had to laugh. "Yeah, apart from that," he said. "But really, I mean it. You don't have to do everything yourself. I want to help you any way I can." He only hoped Orion would let him.

It was difficult being the father of an adult who looked like a twelve year old. Both Andromeda and Remus had at various times hinted that Sirius was much too lax in dealing with his son, but it wasn't as if strict bedtimes and a ban on swearing would go down well. Sirius knew Orion could take care of himself, but that didn't stop him from wanting to keep him safe and protected – it was striking the right balance that was the challenge.

"I know," Orion said with a grateful smile. "And I appreciate it, I really do. But I can't just step back and stop being involved - this is my fight as much as anyone's. Though I admit, there are some things you as an adult can do that I can't."

Sirius raised an eyebrow. "Do you have something specific in mind?"

"Well..." Orion began with a hopeful expression. "That business with Lockhart gave me a few more ideas. There are several other things about Hogwarts that could do with a change – like getting rid of Binns, or bringing in some sort of wizarding culture class. You yourself said that muggleborns tend not to understand our world, which only encourages pureblood bigotry."

"Right, and I stand by that."

"So I was hoping you could solve the problem by, let's say, joining the board of governors or something," Orion finished.

Sirius nodded thoughtfully. "It could work. As the close relative of a Hogwarts student, I'm eligible to join the board, though I might need to get Lucius Malfoy to help me." He wondered how much bribery that would take, although the family connection had to be good for something. "I'll try my best," Sirius promised.

-.-.-

In the end it turned out to be quite easy to arrange for Sirius to join the school board. Lucius agreed to put Sirius' name forward in return for several spellbooks from the Black family library, and as soon as Dumbledore caught wind of it he added his support to the nomination. The Headmaster certainly seemed to be sincere in his promise to make amends for Sirius' incarceration, and Sirius was grudgingly thankful.

"Say nothing of it, my boy," Dumbledore said cheerfully when Sirius showed up at Hogwarts for a meeting to discuss the upcoming school year. It was a week before term started and the twelve governors along with the Headmaster were all gathered in an ante-chamber off the Great Hall. "I'm sure you'll make an excellent addition," he added.

Judging by the group of ancient wizards dozing in their seats at one end of the long mahogany table, Sirius easily understood why he would be considered an improvement. "Thank you, Professor," Sirius said, wishing the other wizard would stop addressing him so familiarly. He didn't consider them to be friends, and Dumbledore had forfeited his right to the mentor card long ago.

Perhaps his thoughts showed on his face, since Dumbledore switched to calling him by name. "I am glad you were able to make it today, Sirius. I know how busy the Auror office has been over the past two months."

"The Ministry of Magic has the situation safely under control," Sirius said, spouting the ministry's official position as was required of him. He didn't bother making it sound convincing though – Dumbledore, whatever his faults, was far from an idiot. "And this meeting's important for my son's education."

"Of course." Dumbledore nodded genially. "How is young Mr Black by the way? He strikes me as such a promising student – and so very talented."

"He's fine," Sirius said shortly. He didn't want to encourage Dumbledore to take an interest in Orion, since if anyone were to guess at the hidden truth, it would be him. To that end Sirius quickly moved on to greet the other board members. Lucius Malfoy and Evander Macmillan he knew quite well, and a few others such as Madame Edgecombe he recognised from working at the Ministry. To his knowledge all twelve members, including himself, were purebloods.

"Ah, Sirius old bean! Fancy seeing you here." Evander Macmillan greeted him with a smile and a hearty handshake. "How's the family? It's been a while since I last saw Aunt Melania and the rest." He forged on without waiting for an answer. "My Ernie is getting on splendidly – one of the top students in Hufflepuff, you know."

"Hardly a difficult achievement," Lucius Malfoy said, sweeping past them to claim a seat at the head of the table.

Sirius hid a grin as Evander swelled up in indignation. "Hufflepuff is a fine house – the finest!" Evander protested loudly. "Every Macmillan in over seven generations has been a badger and proud of it!"

"Loyalty is a good quality to have," Sirius said, not wanting to ruffle any feathers.

"Family loyalty certainly," Lucius drawled with a meaningful look.

Sirius knew Lucius wanted his support against Dumbledore, but only gave a non-committal smile before taking a seat farther down the table. He disagreed with many of the decisions Dumbledore had taken over the years, especially the ones involving Harry, but still thought he made a good Headmaster. His opinion only grew stronger once the meeting started.

Madam Edgecombe wanted the Professors to teach more magical theory and less wand work; Dumbledore told a funny story about his own school days, involving many terrible mistakes arising from the lack of proper spell practice, and then offered her a lemon sherbet. Lucius Malfoy tried to get Hagrid fired; Dumbledore started a long, rambling discussion about all the dangerous creatures living in the Forbidden Forest that somehow ended with Hagrid being given a hefty raise. One of the ancient wizards woke up long enough to demand that Filch be given free reign with punishments; Dumbledore peered over his half-moon spectacles and mentioned catching the wizard's grandson out after curfew no fewer than five times in the past year, then looked innocently surprised by the back-tracking that followed.

"I have a suggestion," Sirius spoke up during a rare lull in the conversation. "I think Professor Binns should be replaced, preferably with someone actually living."

"Hear, hear!" Evander Macmillan nodded enthusiastically. "What a spiffing idea! Binns is a dreadful old bore."

Madam Edgecombe frowned at them both. "I'm afraid such a thing is quite out of the question. The budget simply wouldn't stretch to cover the cost."

"Binns is terrible at teaching," Sirius argued, glancing around at the other witches and wizards seated at the table. "History of magic is supposed to be about more than just goblin rebellions. How can wizarding children take pride in their heritage when they fall asleep in every history lesson? How can muggleborns respect a culture they know nothing about?"

"There's nothing wrong with Binns," the ancient wizard grumbled – Sirius was really starting to dislike him. "If he was good enough for us back in the day, then he's good enough now. That's the problem with the today's youth – all they do is complain!"

"Never mind that," Madam Edgecombe said. "What matters is that, as a ghost, Professor Binns doesn't draw any sort of salary. The same can't be said for any new teacher we might hire."

Lucius leaned forwards with a smile. "You are quite right, Madam, in that as things stand the school cannot afford the expense. Yet I also find myself agreeing with Black's reasoning." Here he nodded at Sirius, who eyed him warily in return. "Perhaps a compromise can be reached," Lucius continued. "If the muggleborn students were required to pay higher fees, the increased revenue would allow a new teacher to be hired."

Several of the other board members made noises of agreement. "We purebloods pay through the nose while the muggleborns attend almost for free. Hardly fair, eh?" Evander Macmillan said.

Dumbledore quickly interfered before the discussion could go any further down those lines. "I quite understand your feelings, but I am afraid the school fees are fixed for the next decade at least. The matter was discussed last year when Professor Footswitch was appointed to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts, if you recall."

The governors exchanged glances, clearly remembering the deal that was struck; a pureblood professor in return for lower fees for students from muggle families. Despite all the complaints he'd heard from Orion about Footswitch, Sirius rather thought Dumbledore had got the better end of the deal. The muggleborns still paid next to nothing while Footswitch was currently in hospital recuperating from a near-fatal poisoning attempt.

"Yet without a rise in fees, Professor Binns will have to be kept on," Lucius said. "Surely it is in the interest of all the students that they receive the best education possible."

Dumbledore beamed at him. "Exactly! Which is why Professor Binns should remain on staff. As a ghost he has a unique insight into the events of history, and I am sure we all agree that goblin rebellions are particularly relevant given the current delicate state of the economy."

"Things would be a whole lot less delicate if your chum Flamel stopped threatening to make another Philosopher's Stone – or, better yet, had never made one in the first place," Evander Macmillan grumbled with an uncharacteristic frown on his face.

"Alas, I am afraid Nicholas has never welcomed my advice on the subject," Dumbledore said. "I often suggested that he place more safeguards around his vault, but alas he never listened. Nicholas has a deep dislike of goblins, you see, and refused to pay them for the extra security. Alhough perhaps not even the fabled Gringotts dragons could have prevented the theft – I fear the culprit must be a Dark Wizard of considerable skill." Dumbledore's troubled frown caused Sirius to wonder whether he, too, suspected Voldemort was behind it.

"I understand Flamel hating goblins," Evander Macmillan admitted. "Last time I was in Gringotts the blighters insisted on a full body search!"

"The indecency of it!" Madam Edgecombe cried, looking horrified.

"We never let goblins get away with that sort of thing in my day," the ancient wizard said.

The topic of Binns inevitably ended up being dropped in favour of complaining about goblins, with almost everyone at the table nursing a grievance against the creatures. Dumbledore sat humming happily to himself as he listened to the conversation unfold, obviously pleased to have derailed the conversation and once again have things all his own way.

Sirius could understand why the Headmaster was determined to not get rid of any of his staff, no matter how awful they were. Judging by Professor Footswitch (not to mention High Inquisitor Umbridge from Orion's old world), interference by the Board of Governors lead to bad teachers being replaced by even worse ones.

He also agreed with the importance of lower fees for muggleborns, since their parents would hardly be willing to pay thousands of pounds a year for their children to learn magic tricks. If muggleborns stopped attending Hogwarts, it would lead to a disaster in the long run. The wizarding world needed fresh blood and fresh ideas, no matter what people like Lucius Malfoy thought. Sirius did believe that muggleborns should do their best to adapt to wizarding culture, however; or at the very least learn enough about it to know what they were rejecting.

"How about introducing a new elective such as Wizard Studies," Sirius suggested once the meeting got back on track. He doubted his new proposal would be met any more favourably than the last, but thought it was worth a try. "We already have Muggle Studies, after all, so surely there should be a similar class to teach muggleborns about our magical society."

"A capital idea, what?" Evander Macmillan glanced around the table looking for support.

Lucius sneered. "I hardly see the necessity of such a class. If muggleborns aren't able to learn about our culture despite attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for seven years, then I don't know what difference a few lessons will make."

"And need I remind you, Mr Black, that Hogwarts is heavily in debt?" Madam Edgecombe said crossly. "We cannot possibly make the changes you propose. The budget can't stretch to cover it, especially in the current financial situation."

"Yes, but Wizard Studies could be taught by almost any member of the current staff. We wouldn't have to hire an extra teacher for it," Sirius argued. "And we could always cancel one of the other elective classes to save on money. For example Divination, which is a complete waste of time in my opinion."

"I thought your son had the Sight? Isn't he an Assessor?" Madam Edgecombe peered at him in confusion.

Evander Macmillan interrupted before Sirius could reply. "I hate to stick my oar in, but what about getting rid of Potions. Horrible subject, don't you think? And my son Ernie says Snape treats the Gryffindors quite dreadfully. That sort of thing hardly encourages fair play, what?"

At that point Dumbledore glanced at Sirius as if expecting him to join Macmillan in insulting the Potions Master, but Sirius remained silent. Orion would be annoyed if he alienated Snivellus completely, and in any case, Potions was necessary for Auror training. The other governors seemed to think similarly, since after yet another pointless argument about costs and teachers and classes, it was decided that Snape would stay on.

"Back to my Wizard Studies idea," Sirius said, determined not to let his suggestion be pushed aside.

"I applaud your enthusiasm, but such a class would be redundant," Dumbledore informed him. "The History of Magic syllabus includes an introduction to the Wizarding World and covers all the important historical events that have shaped our culture."

That seemed to come as news to everyone at the table, with all of them exchanging surprised glances (except for the old wizards, who had all gone back to snoring in their sleep). The Headmaster was probably the only one who knew a syllabus actually existed in the first place, let alone what was in it.

"If all that stuff is supposed to be taught, then why does Binns only drone on about goblin rebellions?" Sirius demanded.

"I do believe he mentions other topics on occasion, although I quite understand if that fact has slipped your mind. As you yourself pointed out, Professor Binns is not the most, ahem, enthusiastic of instructors," Dumbledore said delicately.

"Which is precisely why we need another history teacher," Sirius said firmly.

Madam Edgecombe clucked her tongue disapprovingly. "But what about the budget?"

Sirius resisted the urge to bang his head against the table in frustration. The circular argument continued for another hour, with people repeating themselves and engaging in pointless bickering. Everyone had opinions they insisted on voicing but no unanimous agreement was ever reached. The meeting eventually ended with nothing being decided upon except to maintain the status quo; same subjects, same teachers, same rules - even the same old school broomsticks.

"We'll see about that," Sirius muttered to himself as he strode across the Hogwarts grounds on his way to the apparition point. The meeting had been a complete waste of time - he may as well have just stayed at home and saved himself the bother. He'd been approaching the problem all wrong, he realised. Politics had never been Sirius' strong point; pranking, on the hand, was something he was very good at. "Orion!" Sirius called up the stairs as soon as he had apparated into the entrance hall of Grimmauld Place. "Come down here for a minute, I need to talk to you!"

Chapter Text

"Here we go again," Harry said, frowning at the crowd of students and their parents milling around the platform at King's Cross. "Another year of boredom."

"Cheer up!" Sirius clapped a hand on his shoulder. "It could be worse."

"Easy for you to say," Harry grumbled. "You're not the one stuck in a castle surrounded by grubby little children." It seemed to him that his second year was shaping up to be even more frustrating than his first. Not only would he be forced to keep his head down and act like any other student, but Voldemort might be regaining a body at any moment and the Diary Horcrux was still unaccounted for. "Kill me now," he said.

Sirius chuckled. "Ah, teenage melodrama at its finest - Andromeda warned me about that."

"I'm not –" Harry began to argue, only to be cut off as a bushy haired girl came barrelling through the barrier from the muggle world and crashed into him.

"Orion!" Hermione cried out, grabbing on to his arm in order to keep her balance. "I'm so sorry, my luggage trolley got away from me, though really, what are you doing loitering so close to the entrance? You're blocking the way for everybody else."

Harry ignored her scolding and just smiled in greeting. "Hello, Hermione," he said. "How was your holiday?"

Hermione immediately brightened up. "It was simply brilliant! We took the ferry over to Ireland and visited loads of different historical sites around the country and even spent some time in the magical parts of Dublin. I learnt so much about ancient druidic culture and their magical rituals..."

Harry tried to look interested as Hermione began reciting the various facts she'd learned over the summer, but it didn't take long before he was sending Sirius a pleading look over her shoulder.

Taking his cue, Sirius stepped forwards to interrupt. "So you're the Hermione Granger I've heard so much about," Sirius said with a charming grin. "Nice to meet you, I'm Sirius Black, Orion's father."

"Oh!" Hermione blushed as she shyly returned his smile. "Nice to meet you, too, Mr Black."

Harry stared at her in horror, recognising the look on her face but nevertheless trying to convince himself that Hermione couldn't possibly have a crush on Sirius. He looked desperately around for a distraction and seized on the two adult Grangers hovering awkwardly in the background. "Are those your parents?" he asked, nodding in their direction.

Thankfully his words got Hermione to stop blushing. Instead she nervously bit her lip as she introduced her parents to the Blacks. Harry wondered whether she thought Sirius was the type of prejudiced pureblood who would refuse to associate with Muggles. If so, he was glad of the chance to prove her wrong, since he didn't want Hermione to think that all wizards were bigots.

Sirius and Mr Granger nodded politely to one another, while Mrs Granger held out her hand to be shaken. "Pleasure to meet you," she said with a friendly smile.

"Mum!" Hermione looked horribly embarrassed. "I told you, you don't shake hands here!"

"Oh, I beg your pardon," Mrs Granger apologised.

"No harm done," Sirius said easily. "I know it must be hard to keep track of all the little differences between our worlds."

"You've got that right!" Mr Granger said. "When I first saw that Diagon Alley place you could've knocked me down with a feather - imagine all that hidden in the middle of London. Those goblins came as a shock, let me tell you. It was like a scene out of the Lord of the Rings, wasn't it, darling?"

Mrs Granger nodded. "I thought we'd wandered into the middle of a film set," she said jokingly.

Sirius looked confused, apparently trying to figure out the reference before giving up. "I hope the goblins didn't give you any problems?"

"Well, not exactly," Mr Granger replied. "Though they do seem rather unpleasant, don't they? And the pound to galleon exchange rate has gone up considerably since last year, which is a bother."

The adults continued to make polite small talk, which inevitably included several baffled pauses due to their different backgrounds. After a few false starts they found common ground in their magical children, though Harry found it rather surreal to listen to Sirius chat about the merits of boarding schools and the level of classes offered at Hogwarts. With them being so far from a typical father and son, it was odd to hear Sirius sounding so much like an ordinary parent.

Harry was brought out of his thoughts by Hermione nudging him with an admiring smile. "Your dad's awfully nice," she said, her eyes fixed on Sirius' face.

"Stop right there," Harry ordered. He still remembered Hermione mooning over Lockhart in his old world, which had been bad enough – there was no way he was going to listen to her sigh dreamily over Sirius. "Oh look, there's Draco," he said in an attempt to change the subject. "Draco! Wonderful to see you!" he called out, waving the other boy over.

"Hello, Orion," Draco said, looking gratified by the warm welcome. "If Pansy asks, you, me and Nott arranged to share a compartment on the train so there's no room for her to join us, all right?"

"Fine by me," Harry said, having decided that twelve year old girls with crushes were to be avoided like the plague. As happy as he was to see Draco, however, the same couldn't be said for the sight of Lucius Malfoy strolling up to the group, ornate cane in hand. Harry eyed him suspiciously, wondering if he had any nefarious plans concerning the Riddle's diary – there had been no sign of it, but Harry was used to expecting the worst and so was determined to keep a close eye on the man.

"Black," Lucius drawled, sending a chilly smile at Sirius while pointedly ignoring the Grangers. "Narcissa sends her regards and wishes to know whether or not you are free to come to dinner at the Manor on Friday."

"Sorry, Malfoy, but I can't possibly take the time away from work," Sirius said without looking at all regretful. "You know how busy it is at the Auror Office at the moment. With everyone hoarding their gold at home the number of burglaries has shot up, and just yesterday I caught Mundungus Fletcher selling counterfeit Philosopher's Stones in Knockturn Alley."

"What a shame," Lucius said with equal insincerity. "I would have thought you would be glad of the chance to spend some time in proper company." Here he sent a disdainful glance at the Grangers, both of whom looked rather out of place in their muggle business suits.

Judging by their frowns, the Grangers were well aware that they'd been insulted, but they apparently decided not to respond in kind. "The Philosopher's Stone?" Mrs Granger repeated as if Lucius hadn't spoken. "Is that the stone Hermione was telling us about - the one that Flamel person created?"

"Yes, mum," Hermione said hurriedly, sending a nervous glance at the Malfoy Paterfamilias. "It can transform any metal into pure gold, as well as produce the Elixir of Life that makes the drinker immortal. No other known magical artefact is capable of such feats, which is why the Stone is so valuable – its creator Nicholas Flamel is widely acknowledged as the finest alchemist in centuries, and his theories on the transformative properties of -"

"Breathe, Hermione," Mr Granger interrupted with a fond smile.

"So is Flamel one of those Dark Wizards you mentioned?" Mrs Granger asked.

Hermione's scandalised expression made Harry want to laugh. "Mum! Flamel's a genius – he mentored Professor Dumbledore, you know!"

"Well, dear, he sounds rather too interested in immortality for my tastes," Mrs Granger replied. "In books it's always the stereotypical villain who dedicates their life to hoarding gold and living forever."

Hermione looked ready to explode, but blushingly subsided as soon as Sirius re-entered the conversation. "I agree with you about Flamel," he said to Mrs Granger. "The Stone being stolen has just lead to a whole heap of trouble for everyone, and Flamel's threats to create another one have the goblins up in arms."

Mr Granger looked very interested at that piece of information. "So is that why the exchange rate has shot through the roof? Hermione's school supplies cost three times as much as we were expecting."

"Well it seems the goblins have at least done one thing right," Lucius said to Sirius, though it was clear to everyone that his comment was aimed at the Grangers.

"Ah yes, Lucius, let me introduce Mr and Mrs Granger to you," Sirius said, his expression making Harry wonder what he was up to. "We were having a lovely conversation before you arrived," and ruined it, Harry mentally filled in the missing words. Sirius wasn't finished, however. "Their daughter Hermione is known as the brightest student in her year, only matched by Orion here."

"Sirius!" Harry hissed in alarm.

Lucius sneered down at Hermione. "Yes, I had heard something of that sort," he said with a harsh look in Draco's direction. "How standards have fallen."

Draco winced. "Father still hasn't forgiven me for letting a muggleborn beat me in my exams, not to mention losing our bet," he muttered in an aside to Harry, but unfortunately Hermione overheard him.

"It's your own fault for not studying harder," she said. "And for making that silly bet in the first place."

Harry sighed as the two glared at each other. "The bet's over and done with. Let's just forget about it, hmm?"

"I just wish I could," Draco grumbled. "I've been stuck in extra lessons all summer and have had to listen to endless lectures on the purity of the Malfoy bloodline. I think Father's concerned that I'm turning into a muggle-lover or something because I've been avoiding the word 'mudblood'. It's all your fault, you know, Orion."

"Feel free to blame it all on me, Draco, just so long as you stick to the terms," Harry told him.

The tense atmosphere between Draco and Hermione, not to mention their parents (Lucius still refused to speak directly to the Grangers, but aimed continuous barbs their way via Sirius), was making Harry increasingly nervous. He was therefore relieved to see Theodore Nott and his father approaching, hoping they might diffuse the situation - unfortunately, he'd forgotten that the Malfoy and the Nott families strongly disliked each other due to some centuries-old argument.

"Ah, Black, just the person I wanted to see," Nott Senior said while his son offered a quiet greeting to his fellow students. "What're the Aurors doing about this mess with the goblins? They're charging twenty galleons just to let people into the bank and I've heard they've even threatened to close their doors entirely. It's a disaster!"

"The Ministry has the situation well in hand," Sirius trotted out the well-worn phrase with a bored expression.

"I hope your situation isn't too dire, Nott," Lucius said with a malicious smirk. "You have my deepest sympathies for your troubled financial situation. I know you can't afford another loss, what with your gambling problem..."

"I wouldn't listen to rumours if I were you, Malfoy," Nott snapped back. "Why if I did I would expect to find some very nasty things under your drawing room floor..."

Harry glanced between the elder Nott and Malfoy, who were glaring angrily at each other; the Grangers, who looked offended at being ignored; and Sirius, whose attention had wandered to a beautiful witch standing further down the platform. Time for a strategic retreat, Harry decided. "Right, dad, I'd better get on the train. See you at Samhain!"

"Bye, Orion. Remember what we talked about, all right?"

"Yeah, sure, got to go!"

After a hasty exchange of goodbyes, Harry hurried onboard and settled into the first empty compartment he came across. His fellow second years must have decided his was a good example to follow, since they joined him only a short time later. For one long moment Harry, Hermione, Draco and Nott stared at each in silence and then burst out laughing. It really was ridiculous that their parents were acting more childishly than they themselves ever did.

The train journey north was spent eating sweets and sharing holiday stories, and Harry managed to stop obsessing over Voldemort and his Horcruxes long enough to win a few games of exploding snap. He had to admit it was nice to see everyone again and to reassure himself than his friends were alive and well. The Weasley twins stopped by to say hello to Harry and to trick Draco into eating one of their experimental joke products, Marcus Flint barged in to remind them of the upcoming Quidditch tryouts for the Slytherin team, and Luna Lovegood could be seen wandering up and down the corridor singing quietly to herself.

"Quidditch is a barbaric sport," Hermione said sniffily as soon as Flint left. "Not to mention the obvious sexism present in the Slytherin team – it's disgusting!"

"Hey, our House has won the cup eight years in a row," Nott pointed out. "We must be doing something right."

"Will you be joining the try outs this year, Orion?" Draco asked. "I was going to myself, but then Father refused to buy new Nimbus Two Thousands for all the players – I couldn't possibly let myself be seen flying alongside teammates on inferior broomsticks."

Nott sniggered. "Daddy having money troubles, is he?"

"He is not! It's just the goblins causing problems, that's all," Draco retorted.

While the two boys argued and Hermione took out a book to read, Harry called out to Luna as she passed by. "Hi, Luna, long time no see!"

Luna peered around at him in surprise. "Oh, hello, do you mean it's been a long time since there's been a sea around here, or that you've never seen a long time?"

"Er, what?" Harry shook his head in befuddlement. "I meant I haven't seen you for quite a while – not since the Beltane festival the year before last. We danced together, remember?"

"Why would I forget?" Luna asked in that dreamy way she had. "I hope you're not suffering from memory problems, Orion. Minister Fudge might have had you obliviated so that you can't tell anyone that he's secretly breeding Heliopaths for his own private army."

"I don't think so, Luna," Harry said. "I can remember everything just fine."

"But how can you know you've forgotten something if you've already forgotten it?" Luna said curiously.

"Um..." Harry couldn't think of an answer to that question. Luna was one of the kindest people he knew and she was certainly intelligent enough to belong in Ravenclaw, but her way of seeing the world made his head hurt.

"Stuttering is a sign of a Nargle infestation, you know," Luna told him. "I'll make you a butterbeer cork necklace to keep them away if you like."

"I really appreciate the offer, but I think I'm fine for now," Harry said with a smile.

"All right then," Luna said and wandered off down the corridor, humming to herself again.

"What on earth was that girl talking about?" Hermione asked, apparently having been distracted from her book by the talk of imaginary creatures.

"Nargles are magical animals that live in mistletoe," Nott explained. "I read about them in the Quibbler."

Harry stared at him in surprise. He knew Nott had some odd ideas when it came to conspiracy theories (like being convinced that Dumbledore was secretly ruling the Wizarding World and that Gregory Goyle was only pretending to be stupid), but reading the Quibbler took it all a step further.

Draco gave a disbelieving snort. "You don't really pay any attention to that drivel, do you? It's written by a Lovegood, which means it's full of crazy ideas. Which makes me wonder, Orion, what possible reason you could have to engage a member of that family in conversation. If you're trying to tell me that Loony Lovegood will ever amount to anything, then all I can say is that your Assessor ability must be faulty."

"I like her," Harry said simply. "And don't call her that. Her name is Luna."

"I've already stopped using the 'm-word', what more can you want?" Draco sniffed. "You can't get your way in everything, Orion."

Harry thought that was ironic considering how spoilt and self-centred Draco could be. If ever Harry was in danger of forgetting that fact, the boy opened his mouth and reminded him. Case in point, Draco launched into a long lecture about his skill on a broom and how he'd definitely be picked for the Quidditch team if he ever deigned to try out, and then spent an hour sulking after the others laughed at him.

Once the train finally pulled in to the station at Hogsmeade, Harry was quite relieved to see Pansy latch onto Draco and drag the pouting boy away somewhere. He was less pleased, however, when Draco was replaced by Daphne, who greeted Hermione with a warm smile and somehow arranged things so that she was beside Harry in their Thestral-drawn carriage.

The sun was setting as they rumbled down the path leading to Hogwarts, lending a backdrop of pink and yellow to the castle's soaring turrets and looming battlements. Harry heard several girls sigh about how romantic it all was, causing him to edge further away from Daphne.

"A carriage is so much more comfortable than those small boats, don't you agree?" Daphne asked him.

"Right," Harry said, still wondering how he'd ended up sitting next to her.

"It gives a whole different view of the castle," Hermione said enthusiastically from her seat next to Nott. "I'm so excited to be back for another school year – I wonder what song the Sorting Hat will sing this time? I read in 'Hogwarts: A History' that it never sings the same one twice."

Harry kept asking questions and encouraging Hermione to keep talking until the carriage came to a halt outside the massive gates to the Entrance Hall. Remembering the manners his Black relatives had drilled into him, Harry jumped down first and lent a helping hand to both Hermione and Daphne, before they all joined the stream of students making their way inside.

"Get out of the way, mudblood!" An older student wearing a Ravenclaw tie roughly shouldered Hermione aside.

"Bastard," Nott muttered. "No offence meant, Orion," he quickly added.

Illegitimacy was not looked on favourably in pureblood circles, mainly because the integrity of family lines was deemed too important to put at risk. Harry couldn't care less about that sort of thing though. "None taken," he said. "So Hermione, want me to hex him for you?"

"Violence is never a good solution, Orion," Hermione said primly. "In any case if anyone was going to hex him, it would be me," she added.

"Giving your revenge a personal touch, I like it," Nott said with a smirk.

Harry wasn't happy about letting the older student off scot-free - he knew several humiliating curses he'd like to try out - but nevertheless settled quietly down beside the other second years at the Slytherin table. He smirked at the sight of an unhappy Draco sitting next to Pansy and nodded hello to everyone he hadn't seen on the train, but they didn't have time to talk before Professor McGonagall lead the long line of nervous first years into the Great Hall. Harry's eyes were immediately drawn to the faces of those he used to know. Ginny was hidden in the back, but was still easily spotted due to her bright red hair, Luna was wearing her typical faraway expression, and Colin Creevey seemed ready to explode from excitement. They all looked so very young and innocent.

"What a bunch of mudbloods," Pansy said with an unpleasant sneer. "That mousy little boy in particular."

"Muggleborns," Draco corrected her before Harry could. "Call them muggleborns."

Pansy couldn't have looked more aghast if Draco had just announced his resorting into Gryffindor. Harry suspected that Draco just didn't want to let anyone else do something he couldn't, but was still pleased with the outcome no matter the reasoning behind it.

"Whatever," Pansy said, tossing her hair over her shoulder. "Either way, that boy obviously has no breeding, I mean look at him!"

It was true that Colin was bouncing up and down and staring around the hall in obvious amazement, while the pureblood first years were more subdued in their behaviour – for them, the novelty of magic had worn off long ago.

"You're right, Pansy," Harry said, causing all the Slytherins to stare at him in shock. He and Pansy were known to never agree on anything. "He probably is a muggleborn, judging by how excited he is. It's understandable though seeing as this is his first day in the magical world. I mean, look at the older students." Harry nodded at the other House tables. "Can you tell who's a muggelborn there?"

Pansy glanced around the hall as if expecting to see students holding up signs announcing 'My parents are Muggles!'

"See, there's no difference," Harry said triumphantly when she didn't answer straightaway. "Which just shows that muggleborns don't take long to adapt to wizarding society once given the chance."

"I'm afraid I don't quite agree," Daphne said, giving a delicate cough as she joined the conversation. "Muggleborns are rather easy to identify due to their reluctance to conform to magical fashions. That girl sitting at the end of the Hufflepuff table is wearing ribbons in her hair, for example, and so must be a muggleborn."

"Either that or she doesn't know what time of year it is," Tracey Davis put in with a giggle. "Witches only wear their hair like that during magical festivals."

Pansy looked vindicated by their support. "Yes, and what about that boy," she said, gesturing to one of the Ravenclaws. "He's wearing a muggle t-shirt under his robes."

Harry would never have noticed those sorts of details if they hadn't been pointed out to him. "Oh," was all he could think of to say.

"Shh!" Hermione hissed at them all to be quiet. "The Sorting is about to start."

Sure enough, they had missed all of the Hat's song and McGonagall had begun calling out names. Harry quickly fixed his attention on the proceedings at the front of the hall, partly to avoid further conversation and partly to test out a theory of his. The year before he'd pretended to be an Assessor by predicting which Houses his fellow first years would end up in; having actually turned into an Assessor due to his weird brand of luck, Harry wanted to check if he was actually able to read people's characters to that extent. He'd missed the Sorting in his old world and only recognised a few of the eleven year olds currently trying on the Hat, so it was a good time to test his abilities.

"Branstone, Benjamin," McGonagall called out and a shy looking boy shuffled forwards.

Harry eyed him carefully, thinking he looked rather like a Ravenclaw. He had that studious, bookish look about him.

"Hufflepuff!" the Sorting Hat shouted out.

"Oh," Harry mumbled. Obviously he still needed to practice, though he suspected that he'd never be able to Assess people completely accurately except on the nights of Beltane and Samhain. As it was, during the rest of the Sorting Harry managed to guess the right House around half the time, which at least showed that his Assessing skills made some sort of a difference.

There were no unexpected Sortings, unlike Hermione's the year before. Colin happily ran over to the Gryffindor table and Luna joined the Ravenclaws after what looked like a very interesting conversation with the Hat. Looking at them Harry was once again struck by how bizarre it was to be surrounded by people he knew, but at the same time didn't know. He'd grown used to thinking of Hermione, Draco, Neville and the others as separate people from those he'd left behind, but it was still strange to watch Ginny being sorted into Gryffindor and know that she would never be the same girl that Harry had dated back in his old world. For one thing, Harry was determined never to let her be possessed by Voldemort, which would surely lead to a massive change in her personality. Without that terrifying and life-altering experience, Harry had no idea what sort of person she'd grow up to become.

Another big (and very welcome) difference became clear at the end of the Welcoming Feast, when Dumbledore stood up to make his customary speech. As always he warned the students about the Forbidden Forest and the rule about no magic in the corridors, but the surprise came when he introduced the new Defence Professor.

"I am delighted to welcome an experienced Auror as part of our staff," Dumbledore said with a beaming smile. "Professor Longbottom has agreed to take a year away from the Ministry to teach here at Hogwarts."

"Longbottom? Is he Neville's dad?" Hermione asked as everyone clapped.

"Yeah," Harry answered. "I had no idea he would be teaching us, but as an Auror he must know a lot when it comes to Defence."

Harry vaguely remembered Sirius boasting about getting Moody to assign an Auror as Lockhart's replacement, but he hadn't realised it would be Frank Longbottom. Sirius always spoke well of the man, so Harry was prepared to believe he'd make an excellent teacher and wouldn't turn out to be a Death Eater in disguise. Twisting his head around to observe Neville's reaction to the good news, he was surprised to see him looking thoroughly miserable.

"What's wrong with Neville?" Harry wondered aloud.

"Maybe he doesn't want his father to witness his utter incompetence," Draco said with a sneer.

Harry sighed. "Come on, Draco, Neville's spellcasting has improved a lot over the past year."

"Yes, yes, I know," Draco said. "He'll grow up to be a powerful wizard, I heard you the first time."

Harry gave up on convincing Draco to be nicer and instead joined the other Slytherins in making their way down to the common room as soon as Dumbledore dismissed them. As he prepared for bed he wondered what changes a competent Defence Professor would bring. He definitely believed it was good for students to be taught how to properly defend themselves, but wasn't sure what the long-term consequences would be. Maybe more witches and wizards would end up qualifying to be Aurors, or be able to protect themselves from a Death Eater attack, or any number of other things.

Thinking about the endless causes and effects, with each small change leading to many others, gave Harry a headache. It was becoming increasingly clear to him that he couldn't accurately predict future events – the theft of the Philosopher's Stone was an unfortunate example of that. Because he hadn't heard anything about a break-in before the beginning of his first year, Harry had thought the Stone would be safe in Gringotts. He was obviously wrong about that, however, and had no clear idea of what would happen now that Voldemort had the Stone. He felt like he was flying blind.

Harry was convinced Voldemort had stolen the Stone, but still felt like he didn't have enough information to do anything about it. As a wraith, Voldemort must have had help breaking into Gringotts, but the question was who. It could have been Quirrell, Harry supposed, but that was unlikely since according to Sirius' sources the man was currently sunning himself on the beaches of Majorca. Perhaps another Death Eater was involved – Barty Crouch Junior, or Macnair, or dozens of other dark witches or wizards, but with so many choices it was impossible to find out the truth. Harry hated not knowing and half wished he were still a Horcrux so that he could catch glimpses of what Voldemort was up to. His visions had been painful and dangerous, but still useful at times.

As things stood, there was simply too much Harry didn't know, such as how the Stone worked, what Voldemort's plans were, and where the Horcrux Diary was. Harry really didn't want to deal with the Chamber of Secrets being opened, but so far he hadn't seen any signs of Ginny or Hermione (or anyone else Lucius Malfoy might dislike) being possessed. Which meant that the Diary might still be hidden at Malfoy Manor, in which case Harry had no idea how to get hold of it.

There were ways to find answers to a few of the questions rattling around his brain, however, which was why Harry hung back after his first Potions lesson of the year to talk to Snape. As much as he disliked being stuck at Hogwarts, he might as well make the most of it. If the Stone could be used to restore Voldemort's body, then there was no one better to ask than a Potions Master.

"Yes, Black, what is it?" Snape demanded without turning around from checking the content of his storage cupboard. "Before you start, no, I will not let you stop working with Longbottom, so don't even bother asking."

"No, sir, I know," Harry said. He was pretty sure Snape viewed sharing a cauldron with Neville as a fitting punishment for the crime of being Sirius Black's son, which actually suited Harry just fine. "It's got nothing to do with the lesson – actually, I'm interested in doing some extra credit work."

"Do not take me for a fool, Black," Snape snapped. "All you want is a pass to the restricted section."

"Well, yes, sir," Harry admitted, deciding to go with at least the partial truth since Snape was too much of a Slytherin to be easily fooled. "After hearing so much about the Philosopher's Stone recently, I want to know how it works. The idea of the Elixir of Life is just fascinating! How powerful do you think it is? Could it regrow whole body parts, or..."

Snape interrupted him impatiently. "You will have to research the answers yourself." He still sounded rather sceptical of Harry's intentions, but nevertheless strode over to his desk and picked up a black feather quill. "If I give you permission, I will expect a three foot essay on the Philosopher's Stone and its abilities as pertains to potions and alchemy. Understood?"

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," Harry said as he watched Snape scrawl a short note in his spidery handwriting. As much as he hated essays, in this case it would be worth it. Deciding that while he was at it he should try getting the answer to another of his unanswered questions, he added, "Actually, sir, there's also a potion I've been wondering about. I once read a short description of its effects in my family's library, but I haven't found it mentioned anywhere else. Apparently it makes the drinker hallucinate about their worst memories, as well as causing overwhelming pain and thirst."

Snape frowned. "That does not sound like any potion currently in existence. If it exists at all, it has never been made public."

"So there's no known antidote then?" Harry asked in disappointment. He'd hoped to find some way to safely retrieve Slytherin's Locket from the cave, but it seemed his luck wasn't that good.

"Beyond using a bezoar and other broad-spectrum antidotes, I imagine not," Snape said, his voice dark with suspicion. "Black, if I ever hear of such a potion being used, I will make your life a misery, do you understand?"

"Um... yes, sir."

Harry beat a hasty retreat from the classroom before Snape could ask any awkward questions or decide to use Legilimency on him. Although upon reflection, he realised that Snape had never once met his eyes throughout the whole conversation, as if eye contact would allow Harry to Assess his deepest darkest secrets. He hoped Snape never find out that his Assessor talent didn't actually work that way, with physical contact being more important than anything else. For once the Potion Master's paranoia was working in Harry's favour - while Harry had been practicing Occlumency on and off, he didn't want to test his skills against an expert of the Mind Arts.

To be on the safe side, Harry decided to be extra careful in acting like a normal twelve year old for the next few months. Harry didn't exactly think the Potions Master routinely violated his students' minds, but he knew how ruthless the man could be. If he ever suspected… an image of Professor Footswitch coughing up blood appeared in his mind's eye, making Harry shudder.

It had been worth asking Snape those questions though, he decided. With the permission slip clutched in his hand he headed straight for the library, hoping to get some research done before dinner. He noticed Hermione sitting at a quiet table with Terry Boot, Mandy Brocklehurst and a few other muggleborn Ravenclaws, all of whom looked scarily intent on their work. Harry wasn't sure whether interrupting them was a good idea, but decided to risk it.

"Hi, Hermione," Harry said, nodding at the others as he pulled up a chair. He only got frowns in return, though whether that was due to his being a pureblood or his interference in their study time, Harry wasn't certain.

"Shh! Keep your voice down," Hermione hissed. "This is a library!"

"Sorry," Harry whispered back. "I suppose you don't want to hear about my research into the Philosopher's Stone then?"

That immediately got her attention. "You? Extra research?" Hermione asked disbelievingly.

"Hey, I pick up a book from time to time," Harry defended himself. He hated magical theory, but he could research when he had to – he just didn't see the point of it most of the time. "See, I've asked Snape for a permission slip and everything," he added, waving it at her.

"Professor Snape, Orion," Hermione corrected him, though her attention was mostly focused on the scrap of parchment. "I don't suppose you'd want any help with your research?" Hermione offered, her eyes glued to Snape's note.

"Of course, you're welcome to help," Harry said generously. "The more the merrier."

Hermione gave him a knowing look, making it clear she knew he was roping her in to do most of the work, but luckily she didn't seem upset at the idea. Apparently she viewed access to the restricted section as a fair trade. "Let's get started then," she said.

"You're a great friend, you know that, Hermione?" Harry said with a grin.

She brushed of his praise with an uncomfortable shrug. "Yes, well, why don't you go and get 'Moste Potente Potions' from Madame Pince while I make a research plan.

"Whatever you say. You're the expert," Harry replied. No matter how many more years experience he had, Hermione would always be far better than he was at research. Harry had been trying to plan things more instead of letting others make the decisions for him, but intellectual pursuits would never be his strong point. Fortunately for him, within a few days Hermione had completely taken over the project, leaving Harry free to do other things – such as fulfil his promise to help Sirius with his Board of Governors problem, which was what lead to Harry strolling over to the Gryffindor table one day during lunch.

"So, Fred, George," Harry said. "Can I interest you in a little mayhem?"

Identical looks of mischief spread across their faces. "What do you have in mind?"

Half an hour later the three were staging a mock duel outside the history classroom, where the new first year Gryffindors were in the middle of a lesson. One spell smashed open the door and another caused Harry to skid across the floor, conveniently placing Professor Binns between himself and the twins. While the startled first years looked on and the Professor continued lecturing obliviously, Harry raised his wand and cast one final incantation, appearing to stumble over his words as he did so. The bright blue spell hit the ghost in the chest, spreading through the insubstantial form until all the dull grey spirit glowed with an eerie light. Behind him, Harry could hear Colin Creevey snapping photographs as Binns' shape began to blur, slowly fading away until finally there was nothing left but thin air.

"Hey, where did he go?" one of the students asked.

"Does this mean our lesson is cancelled?" wondered another.

Little Ginny Weasley was the only one that seemed to grasp exactly what had happened. "Oh no! You killed Professor Binns! Fred, George - Mum is going to kill you!"

"Oi! Why are you blaming us?" George complained.

"It was Orion here who cast the spell," Fred pointed out.

"Who me?" Harry said with a look of innocence pasted on his face.

It was at that point McGonagall turned up to investigate the disturbance. "What is going on here?" she demanded. "Mr Weasley and Mr Weasley, I might have known you two were involved in this commotion. Ten points from Gryffindor for disrupting the lesson. Now off with you."

"Please, Professor," one of the first years spoke up. "They killed Professor Binns."

"I highly doubt that," McGonagall said impatiently. "Professor Binns is already dead."

"But Professor -"

The protests continued and McGonagall gradually changed from dismissive, to sceptical, to red-faced and furious. "Exorcising your Professor! And dragging Mr Black into your mischief! I have never been so ashamed of my House. Fifty points from Gryffindor!" McGonagall yelled at the twins.

"But –"

"We didn't –"

"Fifty points each," McGonagall snapped. "And not another word from either of you unless you want that doubled."

The twins quickly shut up and disappeared from the classroom before she could decide to give them detention on top of everything else. Harry followed on their heels, not wanting to give McGonagall time to wonder whether he should also be blamed.

"Better watch your back for a while, Orion," Fred said.

"We won't forget you leaving us to take the blame like that," George said.

Harry shrugged unrepentantly. "Slytherin," he said as if that was all the explanation that was needed.

"Hah! I suppose we should have expected such sneaky behaviour, eh Fred?"

"Right you are, George."

"It was so worth it though," they both said in unison, then burst out laughing and high-fived each other, apparently not caring about the massive point loss.

It didn't take long for the tale of what had occurred in the history classroom to spread and Harry soon found himself to be the hero of Slytherin, with all his housemates congratulating him on making Gryffindor lose so many points. The Hogwart's ghosts, in contrast, seemed to view him as the enemy. While the Fat Friar promptly disappeared though the floor whenever he spotted Harry, Nearly-Headless-Nick materialised in Harry's path at unexpected moments, forcing him to walk through the ghost and endure the unpleasant feeling of being doused in ice-cold water. That was nothing compared to Peeves, however, who had started following Harry around, tripping him up, throwing water balloons at him, and hiding dungbombs under his bed. The Poltegeist didn't usually target Slytherin students, but Harry wasn't about to ask the Bloody Baron to put a stop to it. That particular ghost had cornered Harry in the dungeons one night just before curfew and had threatened him with gruesome and explicit dismemberment if Harry even thought of casting another exorcism spell while at Hogwarts. Only after Harry had nodded his fervent understanding did the Baron congratulate him on successfully carrying out such a Slytherin plot, before floating away through a wall with one last foreboding promise of "I'll be watching". Thoroughly unnerved, Harry had resolved to stay out of the Baron's way for the next six years.

Despite all that, Harry didn't regret getting rid of Binns, especially since it meant he was spared from ever again having to sit through his mind-numbing lectures. Sirius had written a letter promising to arrange for a much more interesting teacher to be hired and Harry found himself looking forward to actually learning something for a change. In the meantime, Dumbledore announced that History lessons were cancelled until a new Professor was found, giving everyone several extra hours off a week. Hermione wasn't happy ("But how will we be prepared for our exams without classes?"), but the rest of his friends patted Harry on the back and expressed their thanks.

Harry himself had at first planned on using the extra free time to practice his spell-casting, but that changed once he joined the Slytherin Quidditch team. He had debated whether or not to try out, but in the end had justified it as good physical training. Flying was one of the few things he'd always enjoyed at Hogwarts, though as a change of pace he had decided not to try for the Seeker position. After watching Harry fly, Flint had said he could choose either Beater of Chaser, but the thought of going up against the Weasley twins armed with clubs had made Harry decide to give Chasing a go. It was very different from the more independent role of Seeker, but Harry got on all right with Pucey and Flint, his fellow Chasers, and after several weeks of practice they worked well together.

Flint was as much of a slave driver as Wood had been (with the difference being that strategy sessions consisted mostly of figuring out ways to injure the opposing team without gaining a penalty), but despite the long hours and questionable tactics Harry enjoyed himself a lot. Flying by himself never gave him the same adrenaline rush as a fast paced game of Quidditch did, and he liked the challenge involved in filling a new position on the team.

"We're going to flatten Gryffindor!" Flint crowed after every training session.

Harry found the Slytherin's aggressive playing style great for working out his frustration with the whole 'Voldemort situation' as he was calling it in his head. It had taken three weeks of research for Hermione to discover that the Philosopher's Stone could not be used to create a brand new body (or at least that was what Harry could gather without daring to ask the question outright), which meant that Voldemort would probably have to use some form of ritual as he did in Harry's old world. Because he and Sirius had destroyed Riddle Senior's bones, the exact same ritual wouldn't work, but Harry didn't think that would do more than slow Voldemort down. As things stood he couldn't think of any sure-fire way to prevent Voldemort from regaining a body and in fact wasn't even certain that it hadn't already happened. Simply put, Harry had no way of knowing what was going on or what he should do next.

Aside from the Dark Lord, there were also the Horcruxes to deal with. With the goblins tripling the security around their bank, Harry couldn't imagine managing to steal Hufflepuff's Cup from Bellatrix' vault – if it was actually there in the first place, which wasn't certain. When it came to Nagini he wasn't sure if the snake even was a Horcrux, which complicated things still further. As for the Diary, Harry kept a wary eye out for petrified students and bloody messages on the wall, but so far there had been no sign of the Chamber of Secrets being opened. If he were still a Parselmouth he could've released a dozen cockerels into the chamber in a preemptive strike, but as it was he was stuck watching and waiting – something Harry had always hated doing.

It was a stressful start of term to say the least, and Harry was looking forward to going home for the holidays and talking things over with Sirius. He was hoping that, as an Auror, Sirius might have a few leads to follow or ideas on what their next move should be. If all else failed, Harry intended to steal a bottle of Firewhisky and get drunk, which would take his mind off things if nothing else. An encounter with Trelawney a week before Samhain, however, added an extra urgency to Harry's holiday plans.

It was midday on a Friday and the corridors were mostly deserted, since almost all the students were gathered in the Great Hall for lunch. Harry was on his way there, having lost track of time while training in the Room of Requirement, when Trelawney suddenly appeared in front of him with a crystal ball tucked under one arm.

"My poor Assessor!" Trelawney pointed a shaking finger at him, the many bracelets on her wrist clanking together so loudly that the sound almost drowned out her words. "Doom is upon you! Your old foe shall soon return! Oh I See... I See death before you! "

Harry stopped trying to edge away down the corridor and actually looked at the woman. Beneath her runic jewellery and obsession with incense, the Professor did seem to have a smidgen of Seer talent. Harry could sense the potential within her – Trelawney just tried too hard, pushing herself to meet the standard of Cassandra Trelawney, her famous ancestor. Too often she ended up fabricating predictions, but even her wild guesses were more accurate than mere luck would suggest. He wished he could dismiss her words as nonsense, but if she was right, it seemed Voldemort was definitely on his way to regaining a body.

"Thanks for the warning," Harry said at last. Though far from happy over her prediction, hearing his fears confirmed actually helped steady him. "I'll keep it in mind."

Trelawney blinked at him in bewilderment. "You're welcome?" she said uncertainly. Harry got the impression no one had ever thanked her for one of her predictions before, which wasn't a surprise given her penchant for doom and gloom. But Harry couldn't help noticing that her earlier prediction of 'that which he feared most' occurring had actually come to pass - Voldemort had managed to steal the Philosopher's Stone. With this latest prediction added to the picture, Harry was more certain than ever that Voldemort would soon return.