Peter was in hiding. He was the Secret Keeper for the Potters. He was supposed to be in hiding, keeping himself and the secret safe. Sirius was out and about, being a decoy. He was also the one who did the menial things like grocery runs for his best mate and his family. He'd just pulled his motorbike to a halt in front of the Fidelus-enshrouded house when the top floor exploded with green light.
He forgot about the shopping and raced in, drawing his wand as he did so and not bothering to remove his helmet (Lily had gotten to him about safety regulations, setting a good example, and besides it was the law to wear a helmet when riding a motorbike).
He saw James' body first, he cast a hopeful enervate, but it had no effect. Sirius had half expected that, and forced himself to move on. To move up. Up to where that explosion had come from.
A familiar rat tried to scuttle down past him, but Sirius shot off a petrificus before Wormtail could go any further. He'd deal with the rat later.
Lily's body was next, surrounded and half-covered by rubble. Again, Sirius hoped against hope and cast enervate. Again, it failed to have any effect.
But two little cries called to him from the cradle, and Sirius felt his heart – which he was sure had seized and stopped when he realised that neither of his friends were alive – lurch and start thudding heavily in his chest once more.
The twins were alive.
Sirius didn't waste time.
Lily had already packed the 'escape' bag, he could tell. Now, he swung it up over one shoulder, and picked up his two godsons, one in each arm, and headed down to his bike. The boys were alive. Peter no longer mattered. Well, he did, but not as much. If none of the Potters had lived, then Peter wouldn't have survived to see morning.
Sirius shrunk the groceries down, which he hadn't bothered to do before because the bags all easily fit in his side-car, then he conjured twin baby-seats and tiny helmets, and strapped the boys in.
The boys were supposed to be identical. In fact, just earlier in the day, they had been. Lily colour-co-ordinated their clothes so that everybody knew which boy was which. Harry had the yellow clothes, and Richie had the green. Always. Sirius intended to keep that up a similar (if not identical) system, at least until the boys were old enough to dress themselves.
Another thing he would be doing, he realised as he cleaned up young Harry, would be raiding his family's collection of dark texts. That was a wicked scar on the lad's head, and quite apart from the frankly disturbing aura around the thing, it identified Harry as different to his twin. The boys wouldn't be able to pull proper twin pranks if he had that horrid mark on his head. Sirius was determined to get rid of it.
He'd have to go back to the house, poke around, see what he could learn about what exactly had happened. Besides, he should see his friends buried and collect their wands. The concerns for the living were seen to now. He'd put the boys down for the night, secure his apartment, and then go see to the needs of the dead.
And maybe see to Peter while he was there. The rat wouldn't have been able to release himself from the petrificus.
Hagrid arrived at the blown up cottage just as Sirius had finished burying his friends, and was about to set a gravestone for them. He was filthy and his face was tear-stained. The half-giant was kind enough to offer what comfort he could, but he was there on an errand.
"Gotta bring the boys ta Dumbledore," he told Sirius apologetically.
"They're not here," Sirius answered as he wiped at his face with his sleeve. "Just James, Lily, and the traitor," he spat, and shot a glare over to the cage where the still petrified rat was being held, for now. "They weren't here when I got here," he added. Truthful enough. He didn't know what Dumbledore wanted with his godsons, but if Dumbledore wanted to separate them from him, he was going to have the legal battle of a lifetime.
He was their godfather, and their kin (James' mother Dorea had been Sirius' own great-aunt, though she was only five years older than his horrible mother). The only person alive with an even approaching equal claim was Lily's sister, but the two sisters had been on decidedly frosty terms since Lily had first entered Hogwarts, so even if the woman did have a legitimate claim to the boys, Sirius very much doubted that she would make it.
"Oh dear," Hagrid said, concerned. "You don' think -"
Sirius shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "I'm not sure that I know much of anything right now," he added.
Hagrid gave his shoulder a gentle, comforting squeeze. "Yeh want a hand with tha' tombstone?" he asked.
"Yeah," Sirius agreed. "Thanks Hagrid."
"Why, Auror Black, is there a rat on my desk?" asked Barty Crouch, the current Head of the DMLE.
"Because that rat is a traitor," Sirius answered frankly. "Peter Pettigrew, Secret Keeper to the Potters, who are now dead. I don't know if he betrayed them willingly or not, but I don't trust myself to question him and not sentence myself to Azkaban in the questioning. As he had been involved in the death of the Head of an Ancient and Noble House -" James, oh James! "- I request that he be questioned with veritaserum and punished to the full extent of the law."
Crouch nodded in solemn, dark agreement. He was very much a hard-liner, and proud of it.
"That does not explain why he is being presented to me as a rat," Barty pointed out.
"Because I haven't bothered to use the animagus revealing spell since I petrified him," Sirius answered. "And on that note, Sir, I wish to register myself as an animagus. I'm a few years late to be doing it, but I'm afraid with the war going on, I had other things on my mind than having it written down for spies to find out just what I was capable of."
"That can be settled out of court, I'm sure. You'll be getting a fine for however long you've been an animagus without registering, Black," he informed his auror, still a total hard-liner. "I do understand your reasoning though," he added with a distinctly unhappy scowl – though one that wasn't directed at Sirius. There were far too many spies in this mess with Voldemort and his Death Eaters.
Sirius didn't bother to call a greeting any of the times he entered the Black Family properties – and he was powering his way through all of them now, scouring the libraries. The uninhabited ones first, so that he wouldn't have to deal with any of his unpleasant (and living) relations. Damn magical portraiture, allowing the most wretched of their family to continue to torment and taunt the next generation. At least they weren't offended that he didn't call out in greeting to each of them as he passed. Even they could see he was a man on a mission, and not to be messed with in his current state.
Furthermore and fortunately for Sirius, very few of the Black portraiture were interested in travelling between frames and gossiping, so effectively none of the ancestors knew him from a "proper" Heir Apparent to the Ancient and Noble House of Black. He'd only been Heir Presumptive until his father died two years before. He'd been properly educated to be Heir, even with being sorted into Gryffindor. Since Orion Black was dead though, Sirius was now the Heir Apparent, and would inherit the title of Lord Black, Head of the Ancient and Noble House of Black when his grandfather Arcturus eventually kicked the bucket. Provided the old man didn't outlive him as well.
His mother didn't actually have the authority to disown members of the family, however much she took to blasting faces off the family tapestry and saying that certain people would never be welcome in her house. The house had been Orion's – and now, technically, belonged to Sirius, not her. She had no say over who could and could not enter. The Blacks had always been patriarchal, never matriarchal. The names remained. They had not been truly cut from the family.
Still, even if the wretched house where his horrible mother had shut herself away was technically his now, Sirius would still put off going there until last. He wasn't leaving his godsons alone anywhere for longer than five minutes, so the boys came with him when he was searching the Black libraries until, finally, he came to check the library of the first house with a living inhabitant. The house where his grandfather Arcturus lived. All the libraries he'd been in up until now had actually demonstrated that the Black family was a lot more Grey in the past than its current Dark reputation would have led him to believe.
"Grandson, if you are only just now bringing your offspring to me, when those boys look already to be a year old..." Arcturus warned in place of greeting.
"Grandfather, these are my godsons," Sirius presented. "Henry James and Richard John Potter. I've been looking for books that would instruct me as to the removal of Henry's scar."
Arcturus adjusted his spectacles on his somewhat beak-like nose and gestured (a little impatiently) for Sirius to bring the boys closer, for his inspection.
"Nasty bit of magic," Arcturus tutted in disdainful disapproval, as though the horrible curse scar on little Harry's head was rain at a picnic, cat hair on the couch, or a child's toy left in the middle of the front hall.
"Do you know it, Sir?" Sirius asked as respectfully as he could. Seeing as this man was his grandfather and the head of his family, Sirius could get pretty respectful. He didn't much care for his mother, or a good portion of the rest of his family, but certain members still held his respect, and even esteem. Arcturus had been a strict teacher, when instructing him on things he needed to know as Heir Presumptive, but he'd never been cruel.
"Very nasty," Arcturus stated, and reclined back in his chair. "But you have options for its removal."
Sirius felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders at that pronouncement.
"The specific texts that the Black Family owns in relation to this nasty bit of stuff were given to your noisome mother by your other grandfather as a wedding gift," Arcturus elaborated. "The only reason I didn't order those foul books burnt on the spot was because knowledge is never so terrible as when it is actually applied. Remember that, Sirius," Arcturus lectured firmly.
"Yes Sir," Sirius answered with a solemn nod. He was not happy that he'd have to go through his harpy of a mother to get to the books he needed, but he could not and would not show that displeasure to his grandfather.
Arcturus huffed in satisfied amusement. "You won't need those books," he told his grandson. "I know three different ways to deal with that bit of muck that is polluting the boy."
"Thank Merlin," Sirius sighed under his breath, though his grandfather still heard.
"The first option, and I'm certain the least attractive, is to kill the boy," Arcturus stated plainly. "It would have to be done with either Fiendfyre or the venom of a basilisk. That particular curse, in combination with whatever protection that clever muggleborn placed over the two boys, has made the lad quite resistant to dying."
"I'm glad he's resistant to dying, but I'm not going to kill him any more than I'm going to leave that curse there," Sirius stated flatly, holding Harry and Richie just a little closer to him at the very thought.
"The second option would be quite expensive," Arcturus continued. "You would have to go to the goblins and pay for a team of no less than ten of their best curse-breakers to remove it, and the lad would likely still have the scar when that was done, though it would no longer be cursed."
Sirius winced. He knew how much goblins charged for the loan of just one of their curse-breakers. A team of ten and possibly more? He'd have to sell a house to make that up, and he still wasn't the Head of the Family. He didn't have the authority to sell Black Family properties.
"The third option..." Arcturus folded his hands over his stomach and surveyed the young man who was now his Heir Apparent. "I believe that you and Dorea's boy committed a number of, shall we say, highly irregular acts while you were still attending Hogwarts?" he asked, apparently changing the subject.
Sirius knew better than to whine or complain about the digression though. This was his grandfather, not Albus Dumbledore. He always had a point when he digressed like this. He always had something he was building up to, and he'd get to that point within the same conversation if you stuck around. Dumbledore digressed because he didn't want to answer you.
Sirius knew. He'd tried waiting out Dumbledore the same way he'd learned to wait out his grandfather – it had only not been a wasted effort because Sirius had learned not to bother ever again.
"There were a few, yes," Sirius agreed, and tried to think through all of the 'irregular' things he and James had done that might be pertinent. Things they'd done that were 'irregular' was not a short list, but pertinent 'irregular' practices... that was. "It used to be though," Sirius said cautiously, hoping he'd picked on the right thing, "that every witch and wizard would dedicate themselves to a deity or totem before they left their teenage years."
Arcturus smirked slightly beneath his large white moustache and nodded in approval, a silent gesture conveying that he knew Sirius was a smart lad.
"And the deity you and Dorea's boy dedicated yourselves to?" he probed, his smirk morphing into something closer to a smile.
"The Norse Trickster," Sirius supplied immediately.
"I'd guessed as much," Arcturus said. "Appeal to him," he advised. "That is your third option. You aren't going to have any children of your own, if your behaviour at and since Hogwarts is any indication."
Sirius winced slightly. He hadn't thought his grandfather had heard about that...
"Adopt the boys as your own, make them the new Heirs Presumptive, and appeal to your patron. I grant that it is not guaranteed to work, but if your patron answers you, then it is truly your best option," Arcturus advised plainly.
Sirius bowed as well as he could with two toddlers in his arms. "Thank you, Grandfather."
Arcturus nodded. "And come see me again when it's been done. I expect you to choose better names for the boys than Henry and Richard."
Sirius didn't object that the boys had been named after English kings. Arcturus wouldn't care. Too many of the 'peasantry' were also named so. Instead, he just bowed his head in acquiescence to his grandfather's wishes, then left the house. He had goblins to talk to.
There was a lot of paperwork to wade through at Gringotts when Sirius went to file with them his intent to adopt his godsons as his own. He had to swear oaths that he was doing so out of consideration for the twins, and not for his own personal gain – one oath for each boy – and then there was all the stuff that would normally be done at the Ministry, but since they were too busy right now with the aftermath of Voldemort's reign of terror, Gringotts had agreed to file it all correctly for him for only fifty galleons.
Only. Hah. That was his entire fortnights salary as a senior auror, and paying that fee would have seriously hurt his account if he wasn't Heir Apparent to the House of Black.
Still, everything was done save for the documents that would be filed with the new names. Sirius wasn't going to fill those in and file them until after he had appealed to his patron. He really hoped this all worked out.
"You! Wretched boy! I told you never to darken the doorway of my house again!" Walburga Black screeched as Sirius entered the much-hated house of his childhood.
"But it isn't your house any more, Mother," he spat back at her. "It hasn't been since Father died. It is my house now, and I only haven't kicked you out of it yet because I honestly didn't give a damn."
"Ungrateful little traitor," the bitter woman hissed. "Regulus was -"
"Regulus is dead!" Sirius roared back at her. "All because he did exactly as you told him to do and joined up with your precious Dark Lord – who is also now a great deal less than alive right now, and because of a muggle-born witch with more power than you can even think of achieving and more knowledge than you ever cared to gain!"
"I should have your tongue ripped from your head for that," Walburga hissed at her eldest son.
"But you can't," Sirius retorted. "Because as much as you may have disowned me, Grandfather Arcturus never did. I am the Heir Apparent of the House of Black. I can have you locked in the dungeon of this house for your threats."
"This house doesn't have a dungeon," Walburga said as she sneered at him. "And even if it did, you don't have it in you," she stated with aloof certainty. It went unsaid that if the house had a dungeon, and she had known of it, then Sirius would have most certainly been locked up there on her orders long ago. "You were a Gryffindor. Pathetic."
"Kreacher," Sirius summoned. "Heed the orders of the Heir Apparent to the Ancient and Noble House of Black."
"Yes, bad master?" Kreacher grumbled.
"Lock this person in the hidden dungeon of this house, the one beneath the septic tank, for her threats against me. She will receive no food or water. She is to have no light. She is to have no visitors or company. When you have done that, Kreacher," Sirius said, and bent to look the spiteful little house-elf in the eye. "You will tell me everything you know of what happened to my little brother," he ordered in a growl.
His mother had thrown hexes at him when he had shown up for his baby brother's funeral. He hadn't gotten to hear even what few details might have been shared there.
Kreacher hunched deeply, a scowl on his face. "Kreacher will do," he grudgingly conceded. He did, after all, have to follow the orders of the Family's Heir Apparent over those of his precious mistress. She was not of the line of the Headship, and Kreacher was an elf to the Black Family, not Walburga's personal elf.
"Kreacher," Sirius said softly when the elf had finished telling him the full circumstances of Regulus' death. "Bring me that locket, and prepare the attic to be used for a ritual," Sirius instructed solemnly.
"Kreacher will do," the elf agreed.
"Good," Sirius said with a nod. He was still more than a little shocked over the story of his brother's death. "When that is done, let me know. While I'm in the attic, I want you to strip the wallpaper, throw out all the curtains, beat and clean the rugs, and repair the Family Tapestry. When all that is done, dust and polish everything," Sirius ordered, and looked up at the peeling paint on the ceiling of the sitting room. "Mother, for all her 'pride' in the House of Black, would have let this house fall to ruin."
"Bad master..." Kreacher grumbled.
"There is mould in the mouldings, Kreacher!" Sirius hissed. "This house is damp, dank, and depressing. It is not great and noble. It is not fit for company! But that will be corrected," he stated with determination. "Now, the locket and the attic, Kreacher."
Kreacher nodded and left to fetch the locket, and then once he'd set the gaudy piece of jewellery on the table before Sirius, he went to the attic to cleanse it for use as a makeshift ritual chamber.
Sirius stared at the locket and sighed. By now he was quite familiar with the feel of the curse that infected the scar on little Harry's brow, and this locket had very much the same feel to it. He didn't have any basilisk venom, but he wasn't about to use Feindfyre indoors either. Maybe the goblins... Surely the only reason he would have needed ten curse-breakers to remove the curse from Harry was because the boy was alive, and Sirius wanted him to stay that way. Removing a curse from an object must surely be cheaper.
Sirius hadn't ever appealed to the deity he'd dedicated himself to in his youth. He'd given offerings, whispered a soft "For Loki" as he set up pranks, but he'd never actually brought a petition to his patron deity before.
He was nervous.
He'd spent a good few hours agonising over exactly what he wanted to ask, and how he was going to ask it. He knew who he was dealing with, after all. He'd known since he'd first dedicated himself to Loki back at Hogwarts. He was rightfully wary.
"At last," a cultured voice declared with friendly joviality, though still in almost relieved and grateful tones. "A request from my devoted little supplicant. You know, your friend called on me with petitions twice before he was brought to Valhalla with his charming wife. I'm surprised it took you so long, though I have enjoyed your offerings greatly."
Sirius bowed, deeply, on one knee, before the ancient deity.
There was a short breath, and though nothing was spoken at that moment, Sirius could still somehow hear the smile that Loki wore, even without looking up to confirm its presence. A hand, cool and long-fingered, came to rest on Sirius' curly black hair.
"I will grant you your petition," Loki said. "But to do it, the boys must become my children, as well as the children of James, the children of Lily, and... your sons, also. They will bear the name Lokison if I do this, Sirius Black. Do you understand?"
"Yes," Sirius answered, his voice thick.
"Tell me the names you had intended to give them, when you claimed them as your heirs," Loki commanded.
Randulfr and Hallvardr were the names that Sirius had picked out, for Richard and Harry respectively. They were Norse names.
Locki chuckled. "Delightful, but I think the boys would need therapy with names like those," he pointed out, amused.
Sirius blushed and bowed his head. He'd really intended to continue calling them Richie and Harry, same as before, but with new 'long' names on their papers.
"Agni," Loki decided. "And Runi. Secret lore and edge of a sword. Between two boys such as these, they shall put such things to excellent use, I am certain. If your family object to the simplicity of the names, then you may tell them who so named them."
Sirius nodded in acceptance.
"I need a pitcher of your blood," Loki stated clinically. "If I am to make these boys your sons."
Sirius conjured a pitcher and then sliced his palm open with the tip of his wand, and held the bleeding appendage over the jug until it was full.
"Which of these two, sons of James and Lily, were born first?" Loki asked.
"Richie was," Sirius answered, tilting his head slightly towards the unmarked boy.
Loki nodded. "Then Agni shall be the first to be re-born. You may watch, if you wish," Loki permitted, as his clothing faded away, piece by piece. "But it will not be pleasant."
Sirius elected to stay, and watched in horrified fascination as Loki used Sirius' blood to draw symbols on his torso before he drank down half the remaining blood, somehow stretched his jaw to swallow Richie whole, and then cut the boy out of his own stomach, red and crying and with his eyes even greener than they had been before. This was repeated with the remaining blood and Harry. The second boy was removed from Loki's stomach the same way, red all over but perfectly identical to his brother.
The horrible, cursed mark was gone.
"Agni Lokison Black," Loki proclaimed, and drew a line straight down the boy's chest, cutting a line through the bloody red and revealing pale skin beneath. "Runi Lokison Black," he said, creating a circle through the red on his chest, again revealing the pale skin beneath. "Whole, hale, your sons, mine, still the children of your friends, and free from that rather old-sock-tasting curse."
"Thank you," Sirius whispered reverently, too grateful to even laugh at the idea of a horrible dark curse tasting like old socks.
Loki bent forward, bringing his face close to Sirius', green eyes boring into grey, and a smirk on his face. Lunging forward suddenly, Loki connected his mouth with Sirius', and plundered it for several seconds. He pulled back, that smirk still on his face, though it faded as he drew himself up to his full height once more.
"When the boys have begun to speak, I will come every Tyrsdagr and teach them what they shall need to know as my sons," Loki informed Sirius. "Of course, I will not banish you from the lessons," he allowed, and that smirk appeared again. "Sirius Orion Lokiswife Black."
Sirius felt like he'd just about choked on his tongue at that seductively whispered addition to his name, and his higher thought centre shut down. His more base urges certainly jumped at the attention though, and a tingle (wonderful and terrifying all at once) shuddered down his spine.
Loki's smirk grew, then he threw back his head and laughed, and then... he disappeared.
"I understand you had your mother locked up in a lightless room with no food or water," Arcturus said when Sirius was shown into his study by the old wizard's personal house elf. His tone was completely neutral, almost callously so.
"Yes Sir," Sirius answered.
Arcturus nodded. "Good, good," he approved, still studying his newspaper rather than looking up to where his heir was standing. "And the appeal to your patron?" he asked.
"May I present Agni Lokison Black and Runi Lokison Black?" Sirius requested politely.
"You choose those names?" Arcturus asked, looking up at last to present an arched brow to his grandson.
"No Sir," Sirius answered. "He did."
Arcturus nodded in acceptance. "Can't argue with that," he allowed, and turned his eyes to the infants. A few moments of cursory examination later, and he nodded in approval. "They'll do," he decided.
"Argh!" yelled one boy as he threw down the book he was reading.
"Yes Ru?" asked the other boy politely from behind his own book.
"Not you!" the first answered. "I'm just being inarticulate in my horror," he added, and grimaced as he picked up his book once more. "These eddas are screwed up."
Laughter from the door drew the attention of the twins, and Agni and Runi forgot their books entirely in favour of the person who stood there.
"Father!" the boys cried in joy as they ran to him.
"You're their favourite you know," Sirius informed the man who had just acquired to two seven-year-old attachments to his legs.
"It's because I'm not the one who has to discipline them," Loki answered with a smirk.
Sirius rolled his eyes. It wasn't like he disciplined the boys much either. For being the offspring of two Marauders, a god of mischief, and a red-head, they were remarkably well behaved. Besides, Loki did discipline them. He made sure they didn't play around with the magic he was teaching them until after they'd learned to do it both properly and safely.
"No," Sirius corrected, "it's because you always bring them a present when you visit us. If it weren't for magic, we'd have run out of room in the menagerie last year, and the library a couple of years before that."
Completely true. Loki, the Norse deity of mischief, was something of a bookworm, and he'd passed it on to the boys. Or maybe Lily had. Sirius wasn't really one for book learning himself, and he knew James hadn't been either. They had both of them learned better by doing, by experimenting, by practical application, by having a desired end result and trying every method they could possibly think of until they got there. Sometimes, those methods had included research, but the book stuff had really been Remus' thing. It was useful to have a friend who could (and would) tell them which books they needed eight times out of ten.
Sirius usually then went on to read through the whole book, but that was alright. Better to wade through all of one book than to scan his way through fifty, probably missing the relevant information because he was just skipping through. James had always used to search the contents page for the relevant chapter, and only read that. It saved time, but Sirius's method, he was certain, had always given him more ideas for later use and better understanding of whatever it was.
As for the menagerie, that had started after the first time Loki had been visiting at the same time as Sirius had received a letter from Grandfather Arcturus, and seen how the boys stroked and fed and cooed at the sooty barn owl once it had been relieved of its missive. Loki, however, had started them off not with an owl, or a cat, or even a toad. No, the first animal Loki brought them, the one that had been the beginning of the menagerie (and that not including Sirius himself) had been a cute but strange creature called a binturong, a baby one. Every animal Loki brought them was young, so that it could be taught to treat the boys, Sirius, and Loki himself, as their family – and therefore not on the menu, as far as the possibly-dangerous carnivores were concerned. After the binturong (which Sirius was surprised to learn was a muggle animal) had been a baby giraffe, and after the baby giraffe had been a hyena, then a panda, then a badger, then a skunk, then a sort of spotty cat with a pouch called a quoll, then a platypus (also, surprisingly, non-magical), then a young hippogryff, and the list (and the menagerie) just kept growing.
Sirius had been forced to buy two extra house elves to keep up the garden. Or more accurately, the farm, since everything that they grew eventually got ingested by somebody or something.
"And on that subject," Agni started with a grin.
"What did you bring us this time Father?" Runi finished, mirroring his twin's expression.
Both of them had their bright green eyes turned up to 'cute wittle puppy-dog with sparkles' as they looked up at Loki with eager hopefulness.
Loki laughed. Here were two boys, just a little bit not human thanks to him, and they were his most regular supplicants. He adored them, and he had never thought that was an emotion that could be so evoked in him. He was becoming increasingly fond of Sirius as well, as the years moved on and they spent more time in the company of one another. And he had already been quite fond of Sirius when he had first dedicated himself to Loki as a teenager.
"I come bearing the written word today boys," Loki said, and produced a book from thin air for them.
Runi took it eagerly, and Agni propped his chin on his younger twin's shoulder to read the title. The boys both curled their noses at what they found.
"It's Latin," Agni protested.
"Well, it is a text from the days of the Roman Empire," Loki countered easily, one dark eyebrow arched high at them. They'd never complained about a present before. "Copied by yours truly and bound in a more sensible fashion, rather than a scroll."
"But it's Latin," Runi said, agreeing with his older twin.
"And you could both stand to study that language with greater intensity," Sirius informed them with frank sternness. "Latin is one of the foundations of the English language, and a base for most of the incantations you'd learn in any normal wizarding school. We're going to step up your lessons in French and Greek, as well as Latin."
The boys groaned, but didn't complain further. It was a present, after all. They shouldn't have complained in the first place.
"Thank you Father," the boys chorused dutifully.
"You can put it away," Sirius allowed. "But lessons will happen immediately after Loki leaves, so don't try and hide it."
"Yes Dad," the boys answered.
"They'll appreciate it more when I'm not hounding them about improving their Latin every other day," Sirius assured Loki.
"Ah, so that's what it is," Loki quipped, his smile returning.
"Congratulations, you pranked the boys without even meaning to," Sirius agreed.
"Nev!" two voices called happily.
The Longbottom Heir turned in his seat and smiled, practically grinned, at the sight of his two best friends waving to him from across the Leaky Cauldron. Naturally, he waved back.
"Ag! Ru!" he answered with glee.
A pointed, if soft, clearing of the throat behind him reminded him of his manners.
"Hello Mr Black," he added to Sirius.
"Hello Mr Longbottom," Sirius answered solemnly. "Lady Longbottom, a pleasure as always. I'll have your grandson returned to Longbottom Manor in time for dinner, all limbs attached in their correct manner."
Augusta Longbottom snorted softly in amusement. "A very welcome assurance, my Lord Black, considering the friends he has chosen for himself," she answered. "And I am sorry about your grandfather," she added, more gently. "I wanted to reassure you I am not one for meaningless pleasantries, and meant every word I said at Arcturus' funeral."
Sirius nodded. His grandfather had died earlier that year. He'd been a little surprised at how much that upset him, and not just because it meant he was now Lord Black – a title he'd been somewhat actively running from back when he was a rebellious teenager. "Thank you, Lady Longbottom," he replied.
She nodded silently, and excused herself to the Leaky's public floo. She had other appointments to keep that day, and Sirius had already promised to keep her grandson safe.
"Alright, first things first," Sirius decided. "Wands, then we'll work our way through the rest of your lists."
"I think Gran wanted me to use Dad's wand," Neville offered shyly.
Sirius chuckled. "Then she's forgotten how clumsy Frank was when he was a firstie," he declared fondly. "Frank broke your great-grandfather's wand in his first year at Hogwarts. He was much more careful after that, but the damage was done. Now, I know you're not clumsy like your dad was then, but if she'd remembered that detail..."
Neville smiled at the implication.
"If she asks why you've got another wand, say I didn't want anything to happen to one of the few things of Frank's she's got left. And this way, you'll definitely have a wand that works for you. No guarantees that Frank's wand will work for you, after all."
Neville nodded in understanding. "Thank you Mr Black."
They entered the bookshop to the sight of a fair horde of people doing the same thing they were: getting the textbooks they (or their children) would need for the coming scholastic year. Among all these progenitors and corresponding progeny stood a tall woman with black hair mostly hidden by her pointed hat, a scarf of McGonagall tartan over her shoulders and loosely around her neck.
"One guess," Agni whispered to his brother.
"Head of Gryffindor House, transfiguration professor and Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts, Professor Minerva G. McGonagall," Runi answered promptly.
"What's the 'G' stand for?" Neville asked.
The twins shrugged. "Got me mate," they answered in stereo.
"Alright," Sirius said, interrupting the banter. "You three go and pick out two books each for your own reading, I'll get your text books, we'll meet back at the register in no more than half an hour," he said firmly, and made sure the boys all checked their watches and knew how long they had before he shooed them off.
"Mr Black," a familiar voice greeted. "Or I suppose Lord Black, now."
"Hello Professor," Sirius answered with a smile as he turned to face the woman. He was quick to capture her hand and brush a light kiss over her knuckles as well. "You haven't aged a day since I graduated," he complimented.
"My vanity extends far enough that I don't let students, current or former, see the grey hairs they give me," Minerva answered with a wry smirk before it fell and she allowed her eyes to drift off after the boys who had just left Sirius' side a moment before. "I don't remember hearing about you getting married though," she said softly. "Though with the war at the time... but even with the war, I'm sure you would have told me if you had become a father."
Sirius shrugged and released her hand. "It's all fairly complicated," Sirius admitted. "But one of those boys is Neville Longbottom."
"Frank and Alice's boy," Minerva whispered.
Sirius nodded. "He'll be one of your little lions," he stated with certainty. "As for the other two... well, after I lost James and Lily, and with their boys missing... I was just so empty... I appealed for children of my own."
"You appealed!" Minerva gasped, eyes wide.
"The boys have no mother," Sirius confirmed. "Just me for their dad, and sometimes we get a visit from the one who gave them to me."
"I notice you don't say their name," Minerva pointed out cautiously.
"Would you like me to attract the attention of the Norse Trickster into this bookshop? Now?" Sirius countered easily, giving her the answer she was tactfully not outright asking for even as he gave her a pointed look before extending a significant glance at the chaos of shoppers. "Don't worry though, they probably won't be in your house."
Minerva raised a surprised eyebrow at this, forgetting the immediate tension that had frozen her frame at Sirius explanation of who.
"They're Hufflepuffs, almost for certain," Sirius told her with a slightly wistful smile. "Couldn't find two people more loyal than them," he said, and gave a chuckle. Or more dangerous if that loyalty and trust should be betrayed, he added to himself as he considered all the reasons that the boys wouldn't end up in Hufflepuff.
He'd had to ground both of them for their extremely creative language (only and exclusively because it had been voiced in the presence of his grandfather) when he explained to them the full details of how they came to be his sons. Their reaction to the story of Peter's betrayal was rather spectacular.
They'll probably raise more hell than the Marauders managed, he thought with a proud smile as he carefully steered the conversation.
Minerva could almost feel her hair turning grey on her head. Bad enough Weasley twins, but now Black twins as well. At least Sirius seemed assured that they wouldn't all be in her House, and therefore not in direct contact with those two pranksters. She would certainly warn Pomona though, since it seemed that Sirius was equally sure of the pair going to that House. If they were Hufflepuffs, then they might not be as bad as she feared, but she wouldn't bank on it.
"You told her we would be Hufflepuffs?" the twins asked, in stereo, with twin expressions of horror – not that they had anything against Hufflepuff. Their favourite cousin was a Hufflepuff, just graduated in fact, but as loyal and hard-working as the boys were, they were definitely more than just that.
Sirius could tell that his boys were both only seconds away from cracking up, for once not with laughter, and he grinned back at them. "Yup," he said gleefully. "You really think I could pass up the opportunity to prank my old Head of House?" he pointed out.
"But..." Agni started.
"But..." Runi agreed.
Sirius chuckled. "Minnie will be falling to pieces for a month just waiting for the horror of your arrival," Sirius assured the boys with a smile. "On the spot fear is all very well and good, but the fear of anticipation, and the truly false comfort that you will be placed in the 'quiet' House..." he trailed off leadingly.
Sirius was then rewarded with the distinct pleasure of getting to watch twin smiles bloom on the faces of his sons and spread across their features into full, face-splitting grins. Grins just like their father Loki's.
Silently, Sirius gave thanks to his patron for his children. Yes, they had once been the children of two of his best friends, and on one level still were, but they were also his sons now.
Then Neville spoke up.
"Do you really think I could be a Gryffindor, Mr Black?" the boy asked. The twins were good for the boy, but unfortunately, his uncle really, really wasn't. The man had been convinced that Neville was a squib until he'd dropped the boy out a third-storey window and Neville had (fortunately) bounced rather than gone splat.
Sirius smiled gently at the boy and kindly messed his hair. "Course I do," he affirmed with soft solemnity. "No place more suited to you Nev. Now, we've still got shopping to do, don't we?" he pointed out. "I understand Snivellous is the potions professor at Hogwarts these days. You three need to make his life hell by being so good he can only fume impotently, so, to the apothecary!" he declared.
The boys laughed.
"But Mr Black, I don't know a thing about potions," Neville pointed out as the group headed down the street.
"Nonsense," Sirius said, brushing the boy's concerns aside. "You're a genius with plants Neville. If you know the properties of every plant, then that's practically a third of everything you need to know for potions class."
"What are the other two thirds?" Neville asked.
"Animals," Agni answered. "Same as you have to know plants, because lots of potions use animal bits as well as plant bits."
"And procedure," Runi supplied. "Like slicing, dicing, chopping, grinding, stirring, heating and timing."
"And if Snivellous gives you anything even resembling a hard time, you write to me or your gran," Sirius added firmly. "We'll sort the slimy git."
Neville smiled gratefully over at his friends and their guardian, and actually smiled as they entered the apothecary and he got to see just how many different plants they had stocked for sale as potion ingredients. Mr Black was usually right, when he wasn't joking about. Neville was glad to see that this was a case of Mr Black being right, and not the man joking with him.
"Not Slytherin?" Loki asked the boys with a curious smile.
"Father!" the boys cheered softly. It was their first night in their new bedroom at Hogwarts, or more to the point, their new dorm room. They shared the space with four other boys, all of whom had already drawn the red curtains on their beds and gone to sleep.
Agni and Runi, acutely aware that they were no longer at home, had been curling up together in the same bed. Once they got used to the place, they'd sleep in separate beds again. Loki had appeared, silently, at the foot of the bed.
The boys eagerly dove at him for hugs.
Loki wrapped his arms around the boys with a fond chuckle.
"I ask again," he said. "Not Slytherin? You are eminently suited, if I do say so myself."
"No Slytherin worth the title actually ends up there," Agni asserted.
"Too cunning by half," Runi agreed. "Being in Slytherin -"
"- Would only set the suspicions of the whole school upon us," Agni finished.
Loki grinned down at them both, truly proud of these two children. "Have you made any new friends yet?" he asked, changing the subject. "I noticed that Neville is in the next bed over."
The twins shook their heads. Then smiled slyly.
"There was a bit of a fuss though," Agni offered.
"On the train," Runi agreed. "Weasely and Malfoy both."
"Looking for the long-lost Potter twins," Agni explained. "They weren't the only ones though."
"True, but they were the most bothersome," Runi returned.
"Came back to the compartment we were in a second time," Agni acknowledged with a nod.
"Since we were the only male first-year twins, we must be them," Runi complained snobbishly.
"Never mind that you are," Loki quipped.
"Never mind that we are," the boys agreed. "And we certainly didn't tell them that."
"People after you for the fame aren't friends worth having," Loki declared softly. That said, he kissed the boys on their hair and urged them to lie back down. "Good night my sons. Pleasant dreams this night, and may you make all of Hogwarts tremble in the morning."
"Good night Father," the twins answered, matching smiles on their faces as they let their eyes fall shut. In the morning, the boys would find two journals on their bedside table, along with a letter from Loki explaining all the enchantments upon them so that only they could read what was contained in them.
Journals for writing out prank plans in.
McGonagall, their Head of House, would have even more grey hairs to worry about hiding before the year was out.