Act Two - A Black Comedy

Chapter Nine - Serious Matters

When Auror Moody kicked the door open, Hermione expected a number of possible outcomes ranging from Harry rushing over to hug Sirius Black – which seemed rather unlikely now – to Harry leaping to kick him in the groin. What she did not expect was for Black’s head to loll forward, pause there for a moment, and then for him to break out in mad, shuddering laughter. But then that was what Azkaban did to people, if they survived.

“I’ve gone mad,” Black croaked out. He kept speaking without stopping to breathe in a horrible, raspy voice that sounded as painful as it was slurred and incomprehensible.

Hermione and Harry looked to each other, both very confused. Hermione almost thought they had the wrong man. Unshaven and unwashed as he was, it was next to impossible to recognise this person as the Sirius Black who could be found in books. The gaunt look he had about him wherever skin was visible only made him more unfamiliar.

“Black, shut up,” Auror Moody barked. He waved his wand and broke free the chains holding down the man's arms. “We’ve got some chocolate for you.” He flicked his wand again and sent the veritaserum-laced chocolates flying to the other side of the room.

Meanwhile, Hermione and Harry moved to take the chairs across from Black, although Harry only did so reluctantly with some gentle insistence on Hermione’s part. She very much did not want him to be able to easily throw himself at Black's neck, whether that be for a hug or to strangle the man, and sitting down seemed like the easiest way to accomplish that. Auror Moody took up a position just behind them, presumably watching for the first sign of trouble.

“Chocolate?” Black’s expression looked almost confused. As the seconds dragged on, it became clear he was confused. He stayed that way even after his shaking hands opened the box. It took him far, far too long to realise what he held in his grasp, but it was obvious when he did; the tears made it so. His eyes lost a bit of their glazed appearance, and he spoke in faltering words. “I – I – James, do you – I got the rat. Was that enough? Do you forgive me?”

Hermione’s eyes widened in surprise. James? He thinks Harry is his father? No wonder Black thinks he’s gone crazy. She stopped to consider that for a moment. Well, maybe he has.

“Eat the chocolate,” Harry commanded coldly with an unreadable expression.

There was no hesitation. Whether it be from a lost sense of self-preservation, simple ignorance, or some sense of remorse, Black devoured the chocolate more and more desperately with each bite. If it were poisoned, he would be very, very dead right now. Harry took the opportunity to scoff another chocolate bar himself, and Hermione had some of her own just to be safe.

By the time Black had finished eating, Hermione noticed his eyes had taken on a slightly vacant look, as if he were having trouble focusing on anything, which he probably was. Veritaserum was not entirely unlike being under the imperius, or so Hermione had read. It felt good to answer questions, even when crying and reliving your worst memories, nevermind that only a trained occlumens had any choice in the matter with a high enough dosage.

Before Harry could ask any questions, Auror Moody slipped him a piece of parchment. Harry read it, and for a few seconds, he looked like he had no idea what to say. Eventually, he shook his head and passed it off to Hermione.

Call him Padfoot, Hermione read. What’s that supposed to mean?

Harry had apparently decided to take the advice. He said, “Padfoot, tell me what happened Halloween 1981.”

“You don’t know?” There was a bit of strength back in Black’s voice, but it still sounded like sandpaper. “Of course you don’t know. You died. Probably too busy fighting to survive to think.” His head shifted mechanically to look at Hermione. “Who’s the bird? Don’t tell me you and Lily broke up.”

Hermione really hoped that Harry remembered Black had only taken enough veritaserum to be unable to lie, not to volunteer relevant information. Losing his temper would not help matters.

“Tell me what happened,” Harry demanded again more strongly. Black cringed away, but immediately after, he surged forward the few centimetres his chains allowed, begging.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. My fault. It’s all my–”

“What happened!” Harry shouted. Black fled away into the back of his chair and shrunk down under Harry's tone, quietly sobbing and mumbling apologies. Hermione turned her attention away from Black completely onto Harry to make sure she could stop him in time if he tried to do anything foolish. Auror Moody likely would, too, if necessary, but he would certainly be much more forceful about it. For the moment, though, Harry appeared content to squeeze the arms of his chair to death with his hands.

“Ha – James, why don’t you let me ask something?”

Harry whipped his head around to glare in Hermione’s direction. She, in turn, did her best to wait patiently for his eventual reluctant nod.

“Padfoot, how did you kill, er, the rat?” Is that supposed to refer to Peter Pettigrew? The aurors did conclude that Black transfigured him into a rat before stomping him to death, although not why… Hermione discarded that train of thought. She could clarify that later if needed. For now, with any luck, Black would be coherent enough to answer her question to start with. He had had a more positive reaction toward ‘catching the rat’ earlier.

Again, Black made that mad, wheezing laugh, although this one was interlaced with sobs. His head lolled back, and by the end of it, he was in a coughing fit that racked his entire frame. Even with his crimes, Hermione flinched away from the sight. No muggle country would tolerate treating anyone like this. Black's arms looked thin enough that, if his legs were in the same state, then his ability to walk unaided must have long since left him. Underfed, constantly under the torture of the dementors, robbed of any memory that could make him even the slightest bit happy – Hermione regretted agreeing to come here. The more she watched Black, the more she felt that there was something fundamentally broken in Magical Britain. She wondered if he even remembered that Harry, the mere idea of him, existed.

If nothing else, Hermione was grateful that neither she nor Harry had been taken through the prison proper all the way to Black's cell. She refused to even contemplate what she might hear or see along that walk.

Finally, Black was able to answer. From his tone, he had worked up the anger to. “Wormtail tried to get away by blowing up the street, but I was a hundred times the fighter that coward ever was. My severing charm only got a finger, but I summoned the rat through the smoke and fire and crushed him beneath my boot. That idiot didn’t even think to charm himself unsummonable.”

It sounded like Sirius was about to descend into incoherent rambling again, so Hermione held up her hand to stop him. Yes, apparently ‘the rat’ referred to Pettigrew, but more importantly, she asked, “Wait. Did you not kill those muggles?”

“No? What muggles?”

“The muggles that died in the explosion.”

“Don’t know. Probably not. Peter blew up the muggle thingy.”

Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose. This was why people always got trials. Granted Black was still guilty of at the very least second-degree murder, but Pettigrew probably should never have been given a posthumous Order of Merlin. Even if it was unintentional, killing thirteen muggles in a poorly conceived escape attempt was not terribly noble of him.

Seriously, why did Pettigrew even try to apprehend Black if he– Hermione’s eyes widened, but Harry had figured it out before her. Even before him, she heard Auror Moody cast a patronus charm behind them for some reason, only for the silvery light it cast to disappear within moments.

“How did you end up encountering Pettigrew?” Harry asked. He was on the edge of his seat and leaned as far forward as his seat would allow.

“He covered his tracks flawlessly, but the idiot went home. I followed him before he could scrub his apparition trail. Not that that was hard; you could smell the rat’s stench anywhere in Britain.”

“Do you know why I was betrayed,” Harry asked. Hermione noted that it was phrased loosely enough to answer who did the betraying. With any luck, it would avoid tripping over Black’s guilt issues. And with the veritaserum in him, it was certain that he felt like everything was his fault; over a decade of dementor exposure would wear down even the best occlumens. The real question, then, was if it actually was his fault.

“No,” Black growled, an act which morphed into a spiteful, howling laughter. “The filthy rat died before I could ask.”

This is not good. Hermione sunk into thought, shutting out the world. This was almost the worst case scenario possible; if Black never got out of here, it would destroy Harry. And the constant niggling of her life debt demanding that she do something incredibly stupid such as breaking Harry’s godfather and very likely proper legal guardian out of Azkaban only made this more complicated.

Okay, okay. Fact check. It’s possible Black has misled us, but presuming that he is a faithful godfather, Harry is going to latch onto him emotionally – Hermione glanced up for a moment – ten seconds ago.

The head of the DMLE at the end of the war was…Bartemius Crouch. Bartemius Crouch Senior, specifically. He was the one who pushed for aurors to shoot to kill in the war, so unless someone tampered with the evidence – or the investigators didn’t do their job – I don’t see why he’d send Auror Black to Azkaban without a trial; he didn’t stand to gain anything from it. There’d have to have been some outside pressure from higher up, or the public, or something.

Were any other aurors prosecuted for their actions during the war? I…can’t think of a precedent, but I’ve never explicitly looked for one either. That doesn’t really help much, though. Black’s actions were clearly personal, premeditated, and explicitly to kill. If he ever got a trial, it’d be extraordinarily easy to throw him back into Azkaban. Legally speaking, he…probably deserves to be in prison, though I’d never say that to Harry. But Azkaban isn’t… No one deserves Azkaban.

Okay, so who would want him here and to stay here? Who would interfere?

Bartemius Crouch might just to save face, but I don’t think he’d do that to one of his aurors.

Black is Harry’s godfather. I think that means he’s supposed to get Harry unless otherwise specified by Harry’s mum and dad. Someone who wanted to dispute guardianship, then? That could only reasonably be Headmaster Dumbledore, but the idea is ridiculous. The only quibble there would be the blood wards, but between Harry's fortune and what little is left of the Black fortune, it’d be easy enough to bribe the Dursleys to let Black live with them, too, with the latter having at least de facto custody of Harry. It’d have made Dumbledore’s life a lot easier, too, since Black would have been able to reign the Dursleys in himself.

Ah! Hermione smacked a hand to her forehead as it hit her. The Black lordship! The Blacks are a noble house. The last two generations are all that’s left, and Sirius is the only remaining member of the head family, so he holds the title right now. I think. If he died, it would pass to…I think Bellatrix Lestrange is older than Narcissa Malfoy and Andromeda Tonks was officially cast out of the family, but her life imprisonment might disqualify her. Or her questionable sanity, if not that. Without an official adoption – which probably can't be done from Azkaban – only after those two and Draco Malfoy died would the Black lordship pass to Harry. Black is right where they want him.

Hermione slumped back into her chair. The Malfoys and their allies alone would be a difficult enough challenge to overcome, especially when they most likely had the law on their side, but any attempt to free Black would have to contend with everyone who would prefer not to see him claim his inheritance. Few people would like to see the Lestrange Family ennobled, she was sure, but they might see it as the lesser of two evils. Bellatrix Lestrange was Quirrelmort’s right-hand witch, his most fanatical and loyal ally. Sirius Black was pro-muggle, pro-muggleborn, a ‘blood traitor’, and worst of all, was well known to despise both his family and magical traditions.

Half the Wizengamot would vote against him just on principle, Hermione concluded, absent the usual rush of having solved a puzzle. There was little hope of getting Black set free through that route. Urgh, this is a disaster! I told Harry this was going to end in heartbreak.

Hermione mentally grabbed hold of the irritating feeling of her life debt prodding her with bad ideas and throttled it as best as she could. She was in no mood. The last thing Harry needed now was her getting herself thrown into Azkaban, too, especially not in some absurd escape attempt.

And now that she considered her mood, Hermione pulled a piece of chocolate from her pouch and ate it. Suddenly, the future felt a little less bleak.

Maybe… Hermione hesitantly began. Even though Harry claimed to be resigned to his fame, he would hate this idea. Maybe Harry could reach out to the public. With enough public support for the Boy-Who-Lived, maybe we could get Black out of here with time served on Pettigrew’s death. Lady Bones should be sympathetic, if for no other reason than to keep resources out of Death Eater hands. Sirius isn’t really a Black in spirit, and she gets along well enough with Tonks. Dumbledore would help, too. Would that be enough?

Biting on her lip, Hermione considered if it were wrong to conspire to free an unrepentant murderer, even if his victim really did probably deserve it. If Black could at least claim to have gone through the motions of an off-duty auror, she would feel a lot less conflicted about this, but from the sound of it, he had been out for blood, nothing more and nothing less.

“Don’t mind her.” Hermione picked up on the weak and sniffling-plagued voice of Harry, and being the only female in the room, assumed he was talking about her. “She gets like that when she’s thinking. You just have to snap your fingers–”

“Don’t you dare!” Hermione protested before Harry could even think about coming over to snap his fingers in her face. She glared at him on his chair, which he had apparently moved to be right next to Black at some point. All the chains on Black were broken off but the ones on his feet, Hermione noted, so he could hardly have been the one to move to Harry. At some point, a huge pile of discarded chocolate wrappings had built up around those two.

Black wheezed, which Hermione assumed was meant to be a chuckle. “Quite a temper on that one, Prongslet. Let me guess. Terrifyingly brilliant, reads all the time, stubborn to a fault, and doesn’t know how to mind her own business?”

Hermione felt her eye twitch, and Harry’s response did not help.

“I would hardly say so in front of her. Why?”

Once more, Black made that wheezing sound that passed for laughter in Azkaban. “Just like James, and Charlus, and Henry. The Potters must be cursed. Try not to be too much of an arse to her.”

“What? Of course I won’t!”

Harry might have missed the subtext, but he was a boy. Hermione expected no less. That said, she kept her mouth shut and let Black think whatever he wanted. The dementors had almost certainly torn away all of his strictly good memories years ago. If letting him think she was or would be dating Harry made him happy, that was fine; he needed all the happiness he could manage to hold onto here.

Interrupting what Hermione knew she should consider a touching moment – and would, if she were less irked – the door to the room behind her swung open. Curious, Hermione twisted herself around to find Lady Bones of all people walking in. She stopped only a couple steps inside and raised her eyebrows at the scene before her.

“Alastor. Explain.”

“You need to fire whoever did the half-arsed investigation on Black. If it were up to me, I’d dress him up and throw him out of here, but we’ve still got him on the murder of Death Eater scum.”

“And you’re certain of this?” Lady Bones asked, her expression the very definition of sceptical.

Auror Moody uttered a gruff, “Of course,” before pulling a small vial out of a pocket. “Since you seem so eager to be rid of me, feel free to discharge me early.” Given the context, Hermione assumed the vial was filled with veritaserum. When this was all over, she really would have to find a way to thank him for both overlooking her illegal use of the potion and for covering for her.

“Dammit, Alastor,” Lady Bones said, swiping the vial of veritaserum away from him. She swept past both him and Hermione, coming to a halt just in front of Black.

“Amy? You’re so old.”

Lady Bones took the opportunity to slap Black. “Shut it, Sirius, before I stop pretending you’re a Potter.” Rather roughly, she grabbed hold of his face with one hand and pried open an eye. “He still looks a bit affected. How many drops?”

“Two should get him fully under again.”

It was at that point that Black obviously finally understood that they were talking about possibly freeing him – eventually. He looked toward Harry, beaming. At some point, his eyes took a moment to find Hermione’s just long enough to give her a small thankful nod. Hermione returned it with an equally small smile. Apparently, he had caught on to the fact that the veritaserum had been her idea.

While Lady Bones saw to it that Black fell fully under the effects of veritaserum this time, Hermione sidled up to Auror Moody and quietly asked, “Did they date or something?” With the age gap, it seemed unlikely, but one never knew.

“No. The Blacks and the Boneses have despised each other since the last century. More recently, Bellatrix Lestrange had the bright idea to attempt to end the Bones line. Naturally, Amelia took the opportunity to declare a blood feud.”

“Ah. But then Lady Bones and Black…”

“Those two had to work together before then, so Amelia tells herself that Black is James Potter’s brother. He was all but officially expunged from the Black family, and the Potters took him in, so she tolerates him. She won't admit it, but she likes Tonks, though.”

“Shut it, Alastor,” Lady Bones said, an unspoken threat underlying her voice.

“Oh,” Hermione said and promptly fell silent, herself. How awkward. The head of law enforcement in a blood feud. That certainly helped explain why Susan knew so much about Ron’s dragon story, though, and in such detail, too.

Soon enough, Black was under the influence of veritaserum again. His eyes glazed over completely this time, and his features shifted from deliriously happy to a more neutral expression.

“What is your full given name?” Lady Bones asked. And now that attention had been called to it, Hermione wondered why Auror Moody had decided not to call her on forgetting to do so herself earlier. The obvious thing to do was to check that you had the right person – or at least someone who believed they were the right person.

“Sirius Orion Black.”

“Alright, we’ll start at the beginning, then. Are you or have you ever been a Death Eater or affiliated with members of the aforementioned group.”

“Just Peter Pettigrew.” Even with the veritaserum dampening his his ability to respond in anything but a dull, monotone voice, Black still managed to put a fair amount of vitriol into his reply.

Lady Bones slapped a hand to her forehead, groaning. “Have you checked him for occlumency?”

“What do you take me for, Amelia?” Auror Moody growled. “Unless he's an unprecedented prodigy able to fool even me after all these years of being dementor food, he's an open book.”

“Memory charms?”

“He's clean on a casual inspection. I'm not going to spend weeks checking him for consistency. But I’d stake my career on him having true memories. No one who’d have had a motive to make these changes – whoever that would be – has had the weeks of access that would be required to make a consistent story since the end of the war, and I’d have noticed a drastic shift in his behaviour such a large alteration would have made before then.”

Hermione quietly shrunk into herself. It was a very good thing, it seemed, that Black had not somehow managed to escape either on his own or with…help. Not that she had seriously considered a prison break, of course, but still.

“Someone is going to burn for this,” Lady Bones muttered. Turning back to Black, she asked, “Did you intentionally betray the Potters?”

“Y-yes.” The veritaserum forced Black to answer despite the obvious pain slipping onto his face even through it.

Harry's face quickly warped through shock and pain to a hateful glare. Hermione, having known Harry would almost certainly leap to a wrong conclusion, had moved closer to him and set her hands on his shoulders, holding him in place.

“Remember,” Hermione whispered to Harry. “He thinks this is his fault. Veritaserum only gives you subjective truths, and it was a very broad question.”

Harry considered that for a moment before calming down. With him under control, Lady Bones moved on to her next question.

“What was the nature of your betrayal?”

“Lily wanted me to stay their secret keeper on Samhain, but I convinced James to convince her to use Peter instead.”

“They switched? To Pettigrew?” Auror Moody asked in disbelief as if the mere idea were rooted in madness.


Auror Moody launched into a string of what Hermione could only presume were Gaelic curses.

“What do you know of this, Alastor?” Lady Bones asked.

The man in question glanced at Harry before replying. “Lily cast the fidelius charm on the house in Godric’s Hollow when she found out she was pregnant with Black here as the secret keeper. James cast it again on another place we used as a safe house with the same secret keeper. Made them both just short of useless.”

“Why?” Harry asked.

Without a name or pronoun, veritaserum demanded Black answer that question. “The fidelius charm is a constant drain on the castor’s magic. James and Lily barely had enough leftover for cantrips.”

“Aye,” Auror Moody said. “After You-Know-Who stepped up his campaign and his pursuit of the Potters, we decided to lay an ambush. The plan was for Pettigrew to betray Black’s location to the Death Eaters. They knew he was the secret keeper. He was supposed to escape and fail to burn down his house, leaving a copy of the safe house’s secret behind.”

Lady Bones turned on Black and slapped him upside the head. “What the bloody hell is wrong with you?” She immediately held up a hand and added, “No, don’t answer that. Why did you make the switch?”

“I thought we could trust Peter, and if I were captured, You-Know-Who could have torn the important secret out of my head. Peter was the best occlumens among us. Far better than me. And it seemed clever at the time.”

As Lady Bones facepalmed, Hermione felt Harry breathe slowly and deeply beneath her hands still on his shoulders.

“You’re an idiot,” Lady Bones began, “and I understand why you feel guilty, Sirius, but your actions are not a criminal offence. Were you responsible for the deaths of any of the muggles caught in the explosion when you confronted Pettigrew?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“As an ex-auror, do you believe the manner in which you killed Pettigrew would find you guilty of either murder or manslaughter in a fair and unbiased court?”

There was no hesitation. “Yes.”

Lady Bones let out an exasperated sigh. “Last question. Are there any other crimes that could be brought against you were you to go to trial that you are aware of?”

“I'm an unregistered animagus.”

“Of course you are,” Lady Bones muttered, quite clearly done with that line of inquiry.

“And,” Black continued through the interruption, “I also attempted to, at minimum, infect Severus Snape with lycanthropy–”

“What?” Hermione shrieked.

“–to make him stay away from Lily.”

Beyond disgusted, Hermione sputtered, “What kind of – of all the – you are – what were you thinking!”

Apparently, veritaserum accepted rhetorical questions as actual questions, because Black answered. “Snape was an arsehole not worth Lily’s time, and his friends would have happily raped her, treated her like dirt, and then killed her when they were done with her.”

“You – you – you foul, loathsome…” Hermione had no word to finish that to her satisfaction in her vocabulary. “Is it your fault Lily and Professor Snape stopped being friends?”

Hermione felt a hand fall on her own shoulder. Turning her head, she found Lady Bones was staring down at her with a frown, albeit a sympathetic one. Still, it passed on her message loud and clear: stop asking questions.

Meanwhile, Black answered Hermione’s last question. “Partially.”

And, of course, Harry was not paying attention to Lady Bones or even Black at the moment, so he asked Hermione, “Mum and Snape were friends?”

“Yes,” both Hermione and Black said.

“I – what else happened?” Turning from Hermione to Black, Harry asked, “What did you do?”

“James, Remus, Peter, and I” – in his momentary hesitation, Sirius was clearly trying to resist the apparently weakening veritaserum and his word choice, but it was no use – “bullied Snape frequently. Lily would always rush to his defence, but one time he lashed out at her. I don’t know why he did, but they had a huge fight over something and drifted apart after that. She always refused to speak of what.”

Hermione felt Harry tense the longer Black spoke before he finally slumped down below her. James Potter had fallen off whatever pedestal Harry had put him on hard. Shifting to be able to see his face, Harry looked like someone had just taken his candy, stolen his favourite stuffed animal, and shot his owl all in the same day.

As much as Hermione herself wanted to deck Black, a cold worry invaded her head. The world just took and took and took people from Harry, and because of her own foolish indignation and demand for answers, now she had taken his father's memory from him. What was wrong with her? Why did Harry even put up with her?

An even worse thought wormed its way into Hermione's mind. Harry would not put up with her after this. How could he forgive this trespass, for her stealing what little he had left of his family? He barely had anything good in his life. Every loss was magnified. Every hurt cut all the deeper.

Hermione felt her mouth be forced open, and someone stuffed something inside it. “Chew, Lass.” That must have been Auror Moody. And it was chocolate in her mouth.

Slowly, it dawned on Hermione just how much she hated this place and dementors.

Swallowing first, Hermione quietly said, “Thank you.” She glanced down to see Harry nibbling on his own supply of chocolate – no worries there.

Before anyone could ask any further questions, Lady Bones swept forward and poured a different potion down Black’s throat. “I think we’ve heard enough,” she said, handing it off to Auror Moody after. Presumably, the potion she had just administered was the antidote to veritaserum. As it took effect, Black at least had the common decency to show more and more shame on his face. Without the stabilising effects of veritaserum, though, he went back to being an at least half-mad mess who visibly had to struggle to focus on a conversation.

While that was going on, Harry let his head roll backward to look up at Hermione. “Did you know?”

Hermione shook her head back and forth fast enough that she had to move her hair out of her eyes when she was done. “Professor Flitwick mentioned that your mum and Professor Snape were best friends, but that’s all. Honest. Er, well, he did also imply that your dad wasn’t exactly the nicest person and had to do a lot of growing up to get your mum to date him, and–”

Hermione’s eyes widened for a moment before she furrowed her brows. And he completely sidestepped telling me why Professor Snape is so mean to Harry. That snake! “Oh, I don’t know, Harry. It didn’t really sound all that important when he mentioned it, and I kind of forgot with the whole mirror incident right after that, and–”

“It’s fine,” Harry said. Those two words were almost always a lie when he uttered them, but he actually sounded like he meant it this time.

“If – if it helps,” Black said weakly, just loud enough to draw attention, “James punched me in the face and saved Sniv – Snape just before…before the werewolf I used could get to him.”

Oh, Merlin, Hermione groaned. If her guess was correct, much was explained. The identical-looking son of a hated enemy he owed a life debt to and the woman he lost to said enemy. It’s no wonder Professor Snape hates Harry so much. And treating Harry poorly would just flare the debt, which would make him even more irritable. It’s a positive feedback loop!

“Alastor,” Lady Bones said while Harry and Black chatted with each other. They were much more subdued now than before and with a great deal of choppiness on Black's end, but they were talking. “What were you expecting me to do with this? There’s no way Sirius’s case will be settled in any court lower than the Wizengamot, and while I’d like people to be imprisoned for the right reasons, I’m not entirely sure he doesn’t belong here.”

“Bah! The only harm he’s caused is to Death Eater scum. He’s more than served his time for the only charges I could give a damn about. At the very least, you can get him moved to the upper levels away from the dementors pending a trial, and the aurors on duty would treat him better. Play your cards right, and you could turn that life sentence into twenty, maybe fifteen, years. Best case scenario, he’d be out just after Potter’s OWLs, then. Worst case, he’s out in time for his godson’s wedding. Either way, he gets moved up and out of the worst of it in the pits.”

Neither Harry nor Black were paying attention, but Hermione was. Granted, Harry would still need to publicly support Black, or it would be all too easy to throw the Boy-Who-Lived’s supposed betrayer back into Azkaban, but she felt far more comfortable with Auror Moody’s plan than with any of her ideas so far. Some of the things that Black had done were absolutely vile, but he should have gone through the courts for what he was actually guilty of rather than without trial for what he had allegedly done.

Still, maybe it was possible to simply get Black’s sentence declared as time served. Nearly twelve years being constantly tortured with your worst memories and your just okay ones twisted was worse than anyone deserved. That, and Harry deserved a chance to connect with the man, even if he was a less than ideal role model. Maybe, if they were very lucky, they could even find a loophole to take the Black lordship from him. If they did, no one would really have a reason to waste time and resources keeping him here, not even the Malfoys.

A little hopeful for a happy ending, Hermione took a bite of chocolate.

Today had been adequate. That was an adequate way to describe today.

“We'll need to get to The Prophet before this leaks if we want any chance of success, and make no mistake, the ministry leaks like sieve. Now that paper lives and breathes scandal, so most importantly, we'll need to set which one. This can't turn into a story about you. If it does, all anyone will care about is how you’re affected by the investigation, at which point it would become a competition to see who can yell the loudest. We’re going to need public pressure for this, which means keeping the public angry for you and at whoever is responsible for both depriving you of your family and imprisoning the head of a noble house.”

Harry hummed along at the right moments as Lady Bones instructed him on how they needed to approach the mess that was Sirius Black, or rather how she wanted them to behave and stay out of the way. Admittedly, he was counting on Hermione to be paying more attention, because his mind was elsewhere, far, far away from any of the DMLE’s meeting rooms.

“To put it simply, Mr Potter, this is going to be a game of politics and favours. Elections are approaching, too, which will make this even more complicated. Spun the right way in the right circumstances, Fudge might throw his support behind Sirius. However, one of his opponents…”

Mum was friends with Snape. Dad was a bully. Harry sighed discreetly, hoping that Lady Bones would miss it. I guess I shouldn’t hold that against him. He grew up eventually. Snape probably wasn’t entirely innocent either. Just… As much as Harry hated it, unwanted, unwelcome, and probably unjustified comparisons between his dad and both his uncle and cousin kept trespassing upon his thoughts.

Sirius had answered his questions about his dad’s school days, but with the replies he had gotten, Harry rather wished the man had not. He sighed again. What kind of person goes around hexing random students? And just because he could?

Well, my dad, apparently. And my godfather. And their Death Eater best friend.

Harry let out an exasperated sigh, not at all hiding it this time. Hermione and Lady Bones looked at him strangely, the latter with narrowed brows and clearly a bit offended. “Sorry,” he said. “My mind was elsewhere.”

Nodding, apparently satisfied with the excuse, Lady Bones resumed their discussion. “As I was saying, don’t talk to a woman named Rita Skeeter between now and… Well, it would be best if you never talked to her. She engages in the worst kind of muckraking; the woman is without scruple.”

In short, don’t talk to reporters without Hermione, who actually reads the paper and knows who’s who, approving it first. Simple enough. He really should pay attention. Harry knew that. But his mind truly was elsewhere.

I wonder how Dad would have turned out if he hadn’t been so attracted to Mum. I know Sirius can only really remember the bad things in life, but even taking all of it with more than a pinch of salt and a handful of dementors, it still makes Dad and him look awful.

At least Mum was as brilliant and wonderful as I’d imagined. Top of her class, prefect, head girl, not afraid to share her opinion even with the war escalating, cleaned up after Dad’s messes, helped his victims…

Harry’s fingers twitched. That was the other thing; he wanted to deck someone, but he had no idea who. Snape and Sirius, the two obvious targets, both fell short of the mark.

Why does there always have to be reasons?

Would it really be so bad if the world put someone in front of him and said, “Punch him. No really, he deserves it. He's just evil because why not.”

The way my life goes, next I'm going to find out that Quirrelmort is an anti-hero or something dumb like that.

“I'll sketch out a draft tonight of what we'll need to cover. We'll go over it thoroughly tomorrow and then cast the die. Will nine in the morning work for you?”

Oh, that was addressed to me, wasn't it? “Yes, that's fine. Should I bring anything in particular?”

“No, but do wear formal robes, and ensure that anyone escorting you does as well.”

Harry rolled his head toward Hermione. “Are you up for a day of careful words and thinly veiled insults, or will it just be your dad and me?”

“Bleh. Unless you need me there, I'll pass, thank you.”

“It's never too early to begin your rise to power, you know.”

Hermione rolled her eyes at the sarcasm. “Sure, Harry. I appoint you as my press secretary. Get to work.”

Wow, I think I've created a monster.

Eyebrows raised, Lady Bones looked on with some expression that had yet to decide if it should be a smile or a frown. “Miss Granger, should I be concerned about this?”

Before Hermione could answer, Harry said, “Probably,” which earned him a glare. “What?” He held his hands up and put on a show of innocence. “I'm just performing my duty as an honest citizen.”

Pointedly ignoring him, Hermione turned away from Harry. “Thank you for your time, Lady Bones. I'll make sure Harry isn’t late.”

Harry, too, said his thanks on his way out. Immediately as soon as they were alone but for the uncaring DMLE officials walking past, Hermione turned and walked off, leaving him to follow her.

On the lift down to the atrium, Hermione broke the silence. “So what did you think of your godfather?”

That was a question for which Harry had yet to find a proper answer. “I don't know.” There was one thing he was sure of, however. He glanced over to meet Hermione’s eyes for a moment, trying to remember the exact phrasing she had used. The bell rang, the lift came to a fast stop, and the doors opened. “It’s just nice that I have someone who's obligated to care and does.”

“That's fair,” Harry heard Hermione say as he drifted off back into thought.

So Snape is an arse, my dad and his friends made him that way, my godfather almost killed him and went unpunished, and he's taking it out on me. Harry ran a hand through his hair, clutching at his skull and wishing this would all just go away. Why is there no one I can hex or apologise to to make this better?

Oh, Harry could just hear Hermione now. You foolish boy! Even Ronald knows that things don't always come to hexing or begging.

And then Harry would say, Yeah, he knows how to ignore everything and pretend it's all alright. And of course, he would say it loud enough to draw a protest from across the common room from the boy in question.

But then Hermione would just frown at him, accusing him of being prone to the very same, which was quite simply not true. Well, it was not true anymore. Hermione had stuck her nose into Harry's business more and more, and now they were at the point where it was next to impossible for him to ignore his problems.

Then finally, Harry would slump over and act defeated, which he knew would make Hermione relax and give him real advice. She probably would tell him that sometimes things could just not be fixed.


Harry yelped and jumped backward. There in front of him stood Hermione looking very self-satisfied. She lowered her fingers away from his face. “I take it you weren’t paying attention.”

“Not really.”

“That’s fine. I got part of my revenge out of it. Anyway, we’re flooing to The Leaky Cauldron. Please try not to end up at Borgin and Burkes again.”

Harry silently cursed Ron and made a note to find something embarrassing about him to tell Hermione. “I won’t. You go first, and be ready to catch me. I hate these things.”

Taking a pinch of floo powder, Hermione stepped into the ministry's public floo. She called out, “Diagon Alley,” and she was gone in a burst of warm, green flame.

Harry followed Hermione’s example. “Ugh. Well, here's to another faceplant. Diagon Alley.” For three long seconds of painless contortions and not being entirely sure where each part of his body was, he cursed the name of whoever invented floo travel. At the end of his journey, he came to a sudden and immediate halt, but his body wanted to keep its momentum. He shot forward, trying to follow Mrs Weasley's advice. His foot came down as if he were running.

And Harry's stride proved too short. He rotated forward with his foot as a pivot and brought out his hands to catch himself.

“Goodness, you really are bad at this,” Emma said.

Harry grumbled something incomprehensible. Freeing himself from Emma’s grasp, he said, “Thanks.”

“So, you two. How did it go?”

“I need to find out where I can buy books on magical law, particularly as regards the Wizengamot and inheritance.”

Harry rolled his eyes. Of course that was how Hermione responded to that question. What happened mattered less than what research she needed to do. Knowing that she would just tell him it would be the height of madness to go into this struggle completely blind, he said nothing. Besides, she needed to read that stuff anyway if she wanted to go into politics.

“Hermione, that didn't quite answer my question…” Left unsaid was Emma's obvious concern that they had gotten themselves in trouble with the law.

“Sirius is…” Harry began. He trailed off awkwardly as he tried to put a word to exactly what the man’s legal status should be. “Eh, mostly innocent.” It was as good a description as any, he supposed.

Emma hesitated to ask, but being Hermione's mum, no doubt her curiosity overwhelmed her. “I think I'm going to need you two to explain.”

Hermione softly knocked on the door to Harry’s room. Well, it was actually one of the guest rooms, but it was already hard to think of it like that anymore, even if Harry rarely used it for sleeping.

“Harry, are you awake?”

Harry’s only response was to open the door. Lying on his bed, his wand lazily fell out of his hand when Hermione stepped inside. A well-worn old book without a cover or title lay next to him opened, face down, and abandoned.

“Supper will be ready in about an hour.”


For a few seconds, Hermione thought about tickling the brooding out of Harry, but she doubted he would appreciate it even after the fact. Despite his nap, he still looked exhausted from their trip to meet Sirius. Instead, she climbed onto the bed next to him on her knees. Staring down at him, she asked, “Do you want to talk about today?”

“Does it matter if I say no?”

Hermione smiled. At least Harry felt well enough to make sarcastic remarks. “It would delay the inevitable.”

That managed to elicit a chuckle from Harry. “I don’t know. I don’t know what to be feeling right now.”

“You don’t need to be feeling only one thing, you know. I’ll have to rescind your honourary girl status if you can’t.”

Completely deadpan, Harry said, “Oh, no. I couldn’t live with the shame if you did that.” Then after taking a few seconds to think, he said, “Easy things first, I guess. Thank you for coming with me. And for being here afterwards.”

“You’re welcome.” Hermione let Harry dwell on false hope for a few moments before tearing down the illusion. “Gratitude doesn’t count.”

“Does being fine count?”

“Of course not.”

Harry clicked his tongue and rolled his head to look off toward a wall.

“But,” Hermione added, “I’m glad to hear you’re not dying.”

“I feel like I should be offended,” Harry said with an exaggerated pout. It was nowhere near enough to get Hermione to budge, though. If he truly needed time to himself to think, he would just say so. “Alright, well, I’m happy that my godfather didn’t actually betray my parents to Quirrelmort. Ecstatic, even. I know it’s not fair to people like the Tonkses; they tried when asked. But I have a real guardian out there who actually wants and likes me. There’s just…complications.”

“That’s a bit of an understatement, don’t you think?”

Harry nodded. The strained expression on his face said he was in complete agreement. “Part of me is peeved that Sirius ran off to hunt down Pettigrew instead of taking care of me, but at the same time, I think if I’d just heard you’d been murdered and seen your body, I’d be on a warpath, too.”

“I think I’ll say that’s sweet, call you a foolish boy, and refrain from further comment.”

Harry’s smile lasted for all of two seconds before he returned to frowning. After Hermione had waited patiently for long enough, he eventually said, “I think most of all I’m just…frustrated. I keep getting thrown into the middle of conflicts that don’t have anything to do with me. Well, with nothing to do with anything my actions have caused.”

“Nothing is ever simple?”

“Exactly!” After that brief burst of energy, Harry took a deep breath and then let all of his muscles relax, leaving him splayed out on the bed even more so than before. “Hermione?”

“Yes, Harry?”

“There’s something I wanted to ask you.” Hermione just waited patiently for him to continue, so eventually, Harry said, “You know how to brew veritaserum, I assume.”

“Yes,” Hermione hesitantly replied, not sure why Harry was asking. “It’s a bit of an involved process and not exactly legal.”

“I figured. Were you going to brew it if Greengrass didn’t sell it to you?”

Hermione nodded. “I didn’t want you to not have answers you could trust.”

“How long does it take to make?”

Oh… “Weeks.”

“Would you have asked me to wait?”

Hermione shifted uncomfortably. “Maybe.” Seeing the look in Harry’s eyes, she decided the full truth was probably called for despite how small it made her feel. “I legitimately wanted you to learn the patronus charm anyway, but I had hoped it would stall you long enough. And…before Daphne offered to just give me veritaserum, I…I had thought about talking to Lady Bones alone.”

“Thank you for being honest,” Harry said surprisingly calmly. But then he had probably already guessed the truth, given that he’d asked the question at all to begin with. “I have too much else going on at the moment to find the energy to really care right now, but I want to nip this in the bud before we get into a real fight over it.”

“I’m sorry,” Hermione said rather weakly.

Sighing, Harry bit his lip as he searched for the right words. “Look. You can be really pushy, but this… I know that you’re usually right about things, but please don’t make decisions for me like that. I don’t appreciate it, but more importantly, I don’t like that you wouldn’t at least tell me why you think I’m being stupid before trying to make sure I can’t be if I don’t listen.”

“I’m sorry,” Hermione said again. “I’ll try not to do that. But you have to at least give whatever concerns I have serious thought and not just brush them off.”

“I can do that.”

A smile found its way onto Hermione’s face. “Great. I’m glad this got resolved before we ended up in some inane fight with each other.”

“And I’m glad we settled that like adults or whatever instead of angry, moody teenagers.”

“That is nice.” Hermione waited a few seconds to give Harry hope. It might be pushing her luck at this particular moment, but she, at least, found it amusing. “You haven’t distracted me from what we were talking about before, you know.”


Of course, Hermione kept quiet while she waited. Pushing for Harry to talk sooner would really accomplish nothing except miscommunication. Eventually, he found something to say, although not something she had expected.

“What do you think I should do about Professor Snape? What do I say to him? What have I said to him?”

Oh, dear, Hermione sighed to herself. And here I thought talking to him about his father would be hard. “Harry, you’re not responsible for his behaviour.”

“I know, but, well, I haven’t exactly made it easy to like me, either.”

Hermione hummed softly, neither agreeing or disagreeing. “I’d have been very impressed if you’d been the bigger man at eleven, but you’re just in time to regularly impress me at age thirteen. That’s still exceeding anyone’s reasonable expectations, you know.”

“Not outstanding?” Harry asked, chuckling.

Choosing the easy target, Hermione slapped a hand on Harry’s chest. “No, and that’s not what I meant, and you know it.”

Harry just stared back up at her with that silly, cheeky grin that Hermione knew would be breaking hearts in a few years.

Sighing, Hermione considered the actual question. Professor Snape was, to put it politely, a complex individual. The simplest solution would be for neither him nor Harry to be within fifty leagues of the other, but that was hardly a practical solution. It might help if Harry made a few cosmetic changes to look less like his father, but then that would be unfair to him. Almost all of the disastrous relationship those two shared came from Professor Snape’s end, which Harry had no control over.

“To be honest, Harry, I’m not sure if there’s really anything you can do. At least not right away. But if you want to make peace, you’ll definitely need someone to approach him first on your behalf to carry the white flag. Someone he won’t slam the door on.”

“Would you?”

Would I? Of course. But should I? “I don’t think I’d be the best choice. Maybe we could ask Susan. Or Daphne, since she’s a Slytherin. Really, anyone but me who can be civil with him would do.”

“Why not you?” Harry asked, quickly adding, “Just curious.”

Hermione bit on her lip while internally bemoaning having to explain this to Harry. It was a bit humiliating, really. This was the kind of nonsense that she so looked forward to being free of during holidays, not that she had had much luck with that this summer.

“This didn’t really come out when we were talking with Sirius, but Professor Flitwick told me that Professor Snape was in love with your mum.”

Harry squeezed his eyes shut and scrunched up his nose as if he had just eaten something exceedingly sour. “That is all kinds of wrong.”

“You’d say the same thing about James if Professor Snape were your dad, I’m sure.”

“That’s…” Harry started to protest, but his complaint fell dead on his lips. “That’s probably true. Still.”

“Yes, yes,” Hermione said with an indulgent smile. “Don’t take this the wrong way. Professor Flitwick mostly mentioned all this just to get me to choke on my tea.”

“Okay. I’m prepared for you to tell me Professor Snape is secretly my father and will slice off my hand someday.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. Showing Harry Star Wars had probably been a bad idea, but the deed was done. She would just have to put up with his silliness for the rest of her life now. At least her dad had yet to pull out the entirety of his Monty Python collection. Then the true horror would start.

“It’s nothing so bad as that. He said that when they were our age, of your mother, father, and Professor Snape, you most resemble the latter.”

Harry’s smile faded away depressingly fast. “It’s better than the alternative, I suppose.”

“Books aren’t that bad,” Hermione protested, intentionally misunderstanding, “and you are an honorary girl.”

Turning Hermione’s own words back on her, Harry said, “That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”

It was Hermione’s turn to grin down at Harry this time. “Yes, I do. Anyway, again, please don’t take this the wrong way. A lot of people see me as a Lily analogue, and, well, it’s hard not to see your dad when people look at you. Except for your eyes, you’re basically a clone.”

“Wait, wait, wait. What? They – you mean people think we’re, you know, dating?”

Hermione blushed and avoided Harry’s eyes. “You’re a boy, and you’ve barely hit puberty. Most of it goes right over your head.”


“It’s true! I forever curse you with this knowledge. You will never again have the innocence to miss such subtext. You, too, will now suffer the constant teasing that I’ve had to put up with.”

“You are evil. You know that, right?”

Grinning and humming in satisfaction, Hermione nodded. No longer would she have to bear this ridiculous burden alone.

Harry let out a long sigh. “I’ve never actually heard this much about my mum before today. People usually only talk about my dad. But I guess I understand the comparison. At least it’s not creepy this time.”

“Oh? Did I miss someone trying to pair you up with a girl? And you noticed?”

“I’m not completely oblivious!” Harry said. It was cute how he actually believed that. “I think Mrs Weasley was promoting Ginny for me and, like I said last week, suggesting you to Ron, but I don’t have an – an… Greek, starts with O.”

“An Oedipus complex.”

“Yes, that. Marrying a girl who has similar values as my mum is respectful. Marrying a girl who looks like my mum… I don’t even want to go there. Plus, she’s a fangirl.”

Harry, having been reasonably distracted with disturbing mental imagery, had entirely missed what he had both said and not said, and Hermione was hardly going to let such a golden opportunity pass her by. He would suffer as she had.

“Why, Mr Potter, are you saying you’re entertaining thoughts of marrying me?”

Those proved to be truly efficacious words. In no time at all, Harry’s entire face turned red. All he managed to get past his lips was some embarrassed, incoherent sputtering. Every troubled thought fled his mind. All in all, Hermione congratulated herself on a rousing success. She then poked Harry in the cheek and said, “You are just too easy.” That just made him even more mortified, if that were even possible.

“Well, while you learn how to speak again – and this is just a guess, mind you – but I think Professor Snape sees himself in you, and when we’re together, he sees what he lost, whether that be his best friend to his own behaviour or someone he loved to your dad. How he acts around you isn’t mature, or fair, or right, or even healthy, but it’s not incomprehensible either. It doesn’t help that apparently your dad had to save his life. To answer your original question, that’s why not me.”

“Alright,” Harry mumbled, and even that was still hard to understand.

“But like I said, I don’t know what you could really do to make peace with him. Maybe try speaking to him Slytherin to Slytherin. You’re taking potions more seriously this summer; that might help. Maybe figure out how to just ignore Malfoy so you don’t give him an excuse to see you two as some strange combination of him and your dad.”

“That’s asking the impossible.”

Hermione shrugged. “It wouldn’t be a bad thing if you found a way to keep your temper around Malfoy and anyone else like him. Angry people do stupid things. Tunnel vision is a nasty thing.”

Harry sighed, “I know.”

There the conversation lulled again with Harry still resolutely avoiding the one topic that was probably really bothering him. Not that Hermione blamed him. James Potter had fallen from a figure of near worship in his eyes to a very normal and terribly real person with flaws.

“Well, speaking of Slytherins,” Hermione said, “Daphne sent you a letter back earlier.” She pulled said letter from her mokeskin pouch and held it out for him.

Harry unsealed the envelope and set to reading. From the look of it, the letter was quite short.

“Greengrass says she and her dad are willing to help and will gather a small group of notable people to be suitably outraged.”

“Merlin forbid they be unsuitably outraged.”

“Obviously,” Harry somehow managed to say with a straight face. “They’ll meet us at the ministry tomorrow, providing we tell them where your dad and I are meeting Lady Bones.”

“Well, that’s good. I’m not surprised Daphne is willing to help, considering the Greengrasses are a noble family like the Blacks, but I was a bit worried she wouldn’t want to be so…”

“Public about it?” Hermione nodded, and Harry said, “Well, her letter didn’t exactly make it sound like she’s leading the cavalry’s heroic charge, but it is nice to have someone be helpful for a change.”

There was certainly no arguing with that, especially when it meant Harry was less likely to do something heroically stupid and suicidal.

“Speaking of which,” Harry said, “do you want to start our summer adventure next Thursday? Things should’ve settled down by then, I think.”

“You are living a fantasy.” Things settling down by the eighth was an impossible dream, especially so when Lady Bones intended to deliberately fan the flames. “But how about this instead? Mum is a bit miffed that she didn’t get to meet your godfather, so why don’t you teach her and dad how to ride a broomstick. Auror Moody…er, implied that brooms would respond to them. Then after your next visit on the seventh, we can wander around Diagon Alley looking for an appropriate warding or curse-breaking shop. Or whatever the profession we need is called. We’ll probably need an appointment, even for you.”

After a moment to think about it, Hermione added, “You were referring to seeking aid and not jumping right in crying ‘tally-ho’ as we follow the treasure map, right?”

“Yes, yes,” Harry said with a dismissive – if lazy and floppy – wave. “I’ll be a good little Hufflepuff and work as a team.”

“There’s a good boy.” Hermione rubbed Harry’s mess of hair as she said that, much to his indignation. He swatted at her hand, but from the effort behind it, or rather the lack of, the act was no more than for show. She was fairly sure he was finally beginning to actively enjoy the contact. And after only a whole year of my own excruciatingly hard labour, she thought both sarcastically and somewhat ruefully.

Harry asked, “Who did you hire to create the wards on your house?”

“Wendel’s Wards, I think. Something alliterative, like half of shops in Diagon Alley. But they only put them up. They don’t tear them down.”

“Ah. Well, I guess we’ll have to find somewhere else, then.” After a few seconds of blank staring, Harry said, “Are you sure I can’t just ride off on a horse into danger crying tally-ho?”

Hermione raised her eyebrows at the question. “I thought you and I had an understanding about your safety as it pertains to reckless, suicidal bravery. I will hunt you down and drag you back here if you do.”

“Hmm, I see how it is.” There was a dangerous grin on Harry’s face for some reason, and he seemed to be trying to remember something. “How say you? Your prisoner? Or your guest? By your dread, ‘Verily,’ one of them I shall be.”

A moment passed.

No… Hermione looked down at the much abused book Harry had tucked away half under his arm. Now that she thought of it, there was one particular book her parents so obviously loved enough to wear down to tatters. “Give me that book, Harry.”

As Hermione reached for it, Harry rolled away down the bed and carried it off with him. “Ah! Not my kind hostess, then, but my gaoler.”

Hermione dove for the book, missing it as Harry somersaulted backward off the bed. “You don’t even like Shakespeare!” she said.

“Not true,” Harry said irritatingly calmly as he dodged her attempts to grab her parent’s copy of The Winter’s Tale. “I’ve just never had access to copies of The Arden Shakespeare outside of primary school. The footnotes make them so much easier to parse. Besides, why would you hint at that you were named after Queen Hermione if you didn’t want me to read the play, Your Majesty?”

“You prat! Give me that book!” With a flick of her wrist, Hermione had her rowan wand in hand. Before Harry could react, she cast the tickling charm on him. If he thought this was so funny, he could laugh and laugh all night long for all she cared. She snatched the book away from him while he fumbled with his own wand.

Making her way toward the door, Hermione said, “Supper will be ready soon. Come down after you wash up. I’ll have a reading assignment for you, then, you liar.”

Hermione was just out the door when she heard Harry calling her back. Against her better judgement, she took a few steps backward to peer inside.

“What?” Hermione asked.

“Do you hate my dad?”

Oh, this is a serious question. Hermione did her best to keep her irritation out of voice for the moment. “People can change. I don’t know how well I’d have gotten along with him, but it sounds like he realised that his actions were mean-spirited and, on occasion, outright cruel. I can’t imagine what kind of grovelling he had to resort to for your mum to pay the slightest bit of attention to him, but if she really was anything like me, he must have grown up to be someone worth forgiving.”

An unreadable expression fell onto Harry’s face as he thought over Hermione’s words. In all honesty, she thought her argument would be more reassuring of his dad’s character than he seemed to be finding it. But to be fair, she was the one who could really appreciate just how much James Potter would have needed to change and do just to get a first date. As much as she hated to acknowledge that Professor Flitwick’s comparison could be valid in any potential future, even in the worst of all possible worlds, Lily dating James really would be like her dating Ron. It was all but unthinkable, an absolute nightmare.

After waiting long enough for Harry to say something, Hermione said, “Just remember that Black’s memories are coloured rather unflatteringly. Come down for supper when you’re ready.”

Rather distracted, Harry said, “Alright. I’ll be down soon.”

Hermione gave Harry one last look before slipping back out of his room and down the hall. She had a collection of plays to uncover and drop on Harry along with a book to hide. Sure, he could easily find a copy of The Winter’s Tale elsewhere, but it was the principle of the matter.

“Understand that this doesn’t leave this room, Susan.”

Susan nodded eagerly, ready to finally hear exactly what had happened today after a long supper and an even longer journey home. She knew it had something to do with Sirius Black; today was the last day of June, after all, the day Harry was supposed to go visit the man. The question, then, was what exactly he’d uncovered that would finally end the Black line forever.

“You remember who the living members of the House of Black are, right?”

“Narcissa Malfoy, Bellatrix Lestrange, and Sirius Black. And Draco Malfoy peripherally.” In all likelihood, the entitled little git would take the Black name if he got the lordship, the Blacks being far older than even the Malfoys, and merge the families in the process.

“Officially, yes,” Aunt Amelia said. “Andromeda Tonks was legally cast out while Sirius never was. His father never filed the paperwork, and his mother decided not to herself after she heard about either his ‘change of heart’ or his spy work, depending on her mood. As it happens, she really should have.”

Susan’s eyes widened. “Sirius Black is innocent?”

“So it seems. More importantly, after so long in Azkaban, there’s no chance he’s going to have children. Except, of course, by adoption.”

“But there’s no one else closely related enough…” Susan said, trailing off as she realised that she must be wrong. She must have overlooked someone important, or her aunt would not be this happy. If he really was innocent, then she knew Sirius Black’s hatred of his own family must not have been an act. It was bad enough that he would try to bury the Black name out of pure spite, if he could.

Who, then, was closely enough related to the Black family that he could adopt and pass the title to? Who would also keep their own name and let the Black name die?

Susan slapped a hand to her head. “Harry is his cousin, isn’t he?”

“Second cousins through Dorea Potter née Black, yes. And despite…mixed first impressions, Mr Potter is eager to have him as family. We need only get Sirius into a position where he can legally sign adoption papers, and that’s that. His will already leaves almost everything to Mr Potter, given that the original beneficiaries are mostly deceased.”

Despite her best efforts, Susan was unable to keep a smile off her face as she said, “It’s not as satisfying as avenging your family with a blasting curse to the head, but it will do.”

“I quite agree. I’ll be glad to put this behind us once it’s done.” Aunt Amelia heaved a sigh as she pushed herself to her feet. “Remember, Susan, not a word.”

“Of course, Aunt Amelia. I promise.”

“Good. I have a long day tomorrow, so I’ll be heading to bed early. Do you need anything?”

“No–” Susan cut herself off as she remembered something she’d overheard at the ministry earlier. “Well, I was wondering what the Department of International Magical Cooperation was up to. I heard a few rumours about a tournament of some kind.”

“Urgh. That.” Shaking her head, Aunt Amelia gathered up a small pile of parchmentwork she’d brought home from the ministry. As she did, she explained, “There’s been some talk of reviving a blood sport at Hogwarts your fourth year. With any luck, it will remain just that, but as I always tell you–”

“Don’t count on luck.”

With a smile, Aunt Amelia gently rubbed Susan’s head on her way by. “Good night, Susan.”

As Harry lay in bed ruminating on everything he’d learnt today, one question sprouted in his mind and refused to leave.

Where the bloody hell is Remus Lupin?