Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter or anything you can recognise from any books or TV series or movies. I do however take liberties with the plots or mentions provided by JKR or other writers. The only profit I'm getting out of it is improving my English.
Title: Secrets & Keepers – Collision Course
Rating/Warnings: R/M [AU; Manipulative Dumbledore (therefore not Dumbledore friendly); profanity; canon typical violence; frank discussion of past child abuse (Harry but not only) and of past child abuse of sexual nature (not Harry); not very detailed descriptions of torture (not Harry); Black family feels]
Characters and pairings: Harry Potter, Sirius Black, Regulus Black, Severus Snape, Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks, Bathsheda Babbling. All more or less paternal towards Harry and generally friendly or at the very least civil towards each other once they will sort out their differences. References (later on) to past and present relationship of sexual nature between Snape and Babbling. Occasional mentions of one side Sirius/James, not one sided Sirius/OFC (Mirzam Verascez if anyone wonders). Might at some point contain a very slow burn Remus/Tonks. No Harry pairings because he has a lot on his plate and he won't be having a crush on anyone in PoA timeline.
Summary: When Harry ran away from the Dursleys after blowing up Aunt Marge he never got on the Knight Bus or to Diagon Alley. Instead he found himself in 12 Grimmauld Place with Sirius and Regulus Black and boy do they have something to say about how his life looked up until now. Contains manipulative!Dumbledore.
Word count: About 35 000 give or take a few.
Spoilers: All seven books with occasional, brief references to ground work for HP & CC main plot.
Author's note: This chapter and its primary set up – Harry running away from the Dursleys after he blew up Aunt Marge and running into both Sirius and Regulus instead of getting in the Knight Bus – was written way back in 2007 and it quickly developed into one of my typical stories so I left it in my documents folder and didn't really thought about it. Trust me, the original version deserved shelving. This one however is an improved version of it which in the past few months undergone major adjustments to the plot, both of this chapter and the story in general. Also in the meantime I found myself drawn to manipulative!Dumbledore, both in reading and wanting to write it because Dumbledore in my stories was either not present or moderately helpful. Well, this one is not, he is for all intents and purposes the same Dumbledore from the books but people who are looking at him and his actions or lack of thereof with new awareness and are no longer fooled by his appearance and trust me they are all royally pissed. Like get in the bloody line so we can kill him pissed. They won't, they will take care of him eventually but not before they will take care of Voldemort.
Beta read by Goddess of IT.
Dedicated to all of my readers who stuck with me for so long. Thank You, I hope that You will find this story enjoyable. I would be the most grateful for constructive criticism.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad.
Secrets & Keepers – Collision Course
Chapter one: Recovery
Harry Potter, Little Whinging, 6th August, evening
Harry Potter walked quickly through Privet Drive, he was taking long steps and muttering curses under Aunt Marge's address. After he turned the nearest corner he started panting from the effort of dragging his trunk. Harry stopped for a few seconds in order for him to catch his breath before resumed walking slowly in the direction of Magnolia Crescent. The last thing he wanted now was being caught by a neighbour or a policeman or even worse, Ministry of Magic representatives who could come and snap his wand in two.
With passing steps, his cursing of Aunt Marge's got from mutters to whispers and finally died when he reached the west end of Magnolia Crescent. Tired from dragging his heavy trunk he sat down on the curb and sighed.
He really did it this time, there is no way that he was going to come back to Hogwarts this year because he had broken the Decree for the Restriction of Under-age Wizardry again, although for the first time intentionally.
Harry huffed under his breath. He shouldn't have done it, he should have been more careful. Why he just couldn't ignore what Marge had said? Because she insulted his parents and he in all his Gryffindor rashness tried to defend their honour.
Harry was so deeply in a thought that he didn't realise that someone was getting nearer to him and before he knew what had happened he heard a whisper, "Stupefy!" and everything around him went black.
Secrets & Keepers – Collision Course
Sirius Black, Little Whinging, 6th August, evening
For Sirius Black last week was rough, but so were past eleven years and compared to them last week was practically a bloody vacation. He was free.
Finally! Out of that godforsaken pit of pain and misery that was Azkaban.
Free to feel the grass under his paws.
Free to sleep for how long he god-damn pleased.
Free to eat everything he bloody wanted.
Sure, the proximity of Azkaban and fear of the eventual chase kept him from more than a celebratory roll in the grass and pilfering bowls of food and water of some farm dog, a Newfoundland judging by the sheer size of it and its absurd calmness upon witnessing some strange dog eating its food. He didn't know how he looked but he had to look pitiful enough for the other dog to do absolutely nothing to chase the intruder from his property.
Man, he loved Newfoundlands. One day, once all of this will be over and if Harry will want to live with him, he will buy a cottage or use one of the Potter properties. Maybe not by the sea but maybe near some body of water, at least a stream, preferably lake. Something with a big garden and plenty of windows. He will try to locate Lily's beloved furball if he managed to make it out of the house and seeing that he couldn't find him or his body when he was searching…
Yeah, a dog would be good, dogs were boys' best friends and even though he was one he was really looking forward to not being one.
Padfoot was good, Padfoot was great, Padfoot kept him sane for all these years but he really wanted to just be himself again.
Harry, James's and Lily's precious little boy.
Sweet Harry, the only thing that kept him from doing anything stupid like attacking a Dementor to end his hell.
Harry was a smart little boy, sooner or later he would start asking questions, and he was Lily's son and she was smart and maybe what he lacked in his looks he would compensate with his brain, his empathy, sense of right and wrong. He spent years desperately wishing for it, for Harry to ask questions and not liking answers, for Harry to think like Lily, wanting to get to the bottom of things.
But it never came. Of course, it didn't come because Harry was what, barely thirteen?
And who knew how Petunia raised him, if she ever spoke of Lily, of James, of him. He doubted that, and it was that doubt which rather than heading north to hole himself close to Hogwarts intellectually led him to Scarborough railway station and into a southbound train.
He had to see Harry.
Check how he was faring, and how his life looked with Petunia. He needed to know that Harry was safe. That he would be safe until he will finally catch that god-damned rat. Granted he would sleep much better once he caught Peter but right now that arsehole was in Egypt. With that band of unsuspecting Weasleys, so up until the term started there was really nothing he could do other than kill time.
Checking on Harry was a good idea.
It was a splendid idea.
It would calm him down a bit and maybe, just maybe, if he was lucky…
The idea of seeing Harry, lead to the idea of talking to Harry, telling him the truth and the possible consequences of thereof.
Azkaban really messed with his head, if the thoughts of roping in a thirteen years old boy to help him clean his own mess entered it.
So south he went, mostly by train, sometimes on paws. Never apparating, granted once a day had passed, he found that he had enough strength and magic to pull off wandless apparation. He was a bloody Auror, he was trained to do that, and he could do that, but it was the best to not attract too much attention. Say if he somehow ended in the pound that was another bowl of kibble but paws and trains would do, for now.
It was the evening of what he estimated to be 6th August, when he finally reached Little Whinging. He was hoping that Petunia and her oaf of a husband, hadn't decide to move but even if they did, well, with luck, that still left Hogwarts.
He managed to locate Privet Drive quite easily, after all even as Padfoot he could still read even, if reading the map colour-blind, in the evening, wasn't easy and the letters on the map were so bloody tiny. Go figure that the Black family shitty eye-sight finally decided to catch up with him. Once everything will settle down, he will need to get a pair of reading glasses.
He set off for Privet Drive at quite decently unsuspicious – never mind people, just your regular neighbour dog on a lone walk – pace but the further south he ran the more agitated he became. Finally, when his paws hit the corner of Privet Drive and some other street he was running at the top speed that he could muster in his current state.
He stopped by the rose bush at number 2 and stared at number 4. The house was awash in light and there were screams coming from inside. Not all of them reached him but scraps of 'that freak' and 'wringing his scrawny neck when he will show himself here again' did.
Harry wasn't there.
He was before, but wasn't now, and for the better judging by the noise. He wasn't coming back there for as long as Sirius had something to say about it.
But where he was? Where he possibly could go?
Trying to block the noise coming from the house Sirius took a deep whiff through the nose. The scent of boy and stress and fear and magic and something familiar he couldn't place his paw on nearly choked him. Harry was in danger, he was afraid and for some reason, he used magic even though...
Did that rat apparated?
He was supposed to be back from Egypt with the Weasleys and the Prophet mentioned that the family just recently left for Egypt and were planning to leave with the end of holidays. Nah, leaving them now would attract too much attention and Pettigrew wasn't powerful enough to pull transcontinental apparation.
Even when he was in top shape, he wouldn't risk that kind of journey. Ireland definitely; France maybe; Germany perhaps; Denmark probably, if he was feeling particularly daring; maybe southern Norway or northern Spain or Portugal. Any further in any direction in rapid succession would be magically exhausting, and he was much more skilled than Pettigrew.
Something else happened in there, not Pettigrew. Something that sent Harry running from that god-damn house.
He needed to find Harry and he needed to leave fast before Muggle authorities or worse wizarding ones will be contacted. So, he took another whiff, turned around and following the scent he again broke into a run.
He followed it up north, then west into a street called Wisteria Walk, then through the alley between houses to another, slightly crescent street, Magnolia Crescent if he remembered the map correctly, then further west.
Then he saw him. Harry was seated on his truck by the end of the street, empty owl cage by his side.
Small, scrawny Harry.
Were all thirteen years old this tiny these days?
But then on the edge of his vision, he spotted movement. It was dark, and it was far but the shape nearing Harry was definitely human and, sweet Merlin, armed with a wand pointed at unsuspecting boy.
Instictivly he started to run as fast as he could, he was getting closer but still too far way. He opened his mouth to bark a warning, with hopes to make Harry turn around. To see that there was someone standing right behind him, but no sound left him.
Then the time seemed to slow down, the stranger's hand raised his wand pointed directly at Harry's back. A jet of red light and whisper of "Stupefy" tore softly through the air. Harry slumped to the side before landing on the ground beside his trunk.
Then somehow, the stranger seem to sense that he was there, turning in his direction, wand pointed directly at him.
Another whisper "Snuffles" was released, just at his hind paws left the ground as he jumped to tackle the stranger.
Snuffles? What the hell?
But the red jet of light was already heading in his direction and he was too strung up, too exhausted to try and evade it.
That was the end.
He failed Harry.
The world around him went black.
He woke up with a start, realizing mid sitting up that he was fully human and was previously lying on a bed, but he didn't have time to ponder what it meant because he immediately zeroed in on the strange figure standing by the foot of the bed.
He was tall, lean, dressed in a pair of Muggle jeans and dark, long-sleeved shirt which spelled out Queen in a very familiar cursive. He used to have a similar t-shirt. But then he fixed his gaze on the stranger's face.
He had longish, thick, shiny, black hair which was pulled into a ponytail. His face was heart-shaped with high-cheekbones, a straight nose, thin mouth; thin and straight eyebrows, and pointed chin. His dark-brown eyes were hidden behind a pair of rectangular silver framed spectacles.
He seemed familiar.
So disturbingly familiar that Sirius took a very quick look around the room and he nearly groaned recognizing immediately the grouping of posters and banners.
He was in his childhood bedroom and the man standing in front of him was his supposedly dead brother. Disturbingly dressed in Muggle clothing and equally disturbingly alive.
Alive and armed, when he spotted the wand sticking out of Regulus's ponytail.
What the fuck was Regulus playing at?
Regulus opened his mouth but almost immediately closed it shut and then he smiled. He smiled but it wasn't that painfully polite 'I'm your better' smile he used to direct at 'commoners' or that cruel smile of a junior Death Eater.
No, Regulus's smile was big, radiant, very childlike and it transformed his entire face. For a moment rather than thirty-something adult he looked like he was ten again, back at the platform, listening to Sirius when he told him that everything will work itself out in the end.
It hadn't, and he never saw that smile again.
What the fuck was going on?
"Man, you look like something a cat dragged in," said Regulus cheerfully. "Through several puddles," he added, paused and after another moment said, "and uphill."
"Does your mother know how you dress yourself these days?" Sirius asked finally.
"She noticed," said Regulus simply. "But I didn't pay her that much attention, I was too busy dragging upstairs two quite heavy, for something so light looking, lumps."
"Harry," Sirius breathed out. "Where is he?"
"Can we talk?" asked Regulus earnestly.
"Harry," hissed Sirius.
"My old bedroom," answered calmly Regulus. "Sleeping off the stunner, looks like he needs it too. What in the name of Merlin, have you had gotten yourself into?"
"You know, that's rich coming from you," Sirius sneered at him, as he tried to swing his legs off the bed and onto the floor, but for some reason, they refused to cooperate with him. "Aren't you supposed to be dead?"
"Properly buried and stuff from what I heard," confirmed Regulus. "Nott senior seemed pretty convinced that he killed me, I wasn't planning to disabuse him from that notion back then and I'm not planning to do so now. No, it's best for everyone, to believe that poor, stupid Regulus Black died back in 1979."
"Why?" asked Sirius.
"Because I did not die as you can see," shrugged Regulus. "Plus, I have a score to settle with the Dark Lord and my success strongly relies on him not realizing that I'm alive until I can rub it into his face. Preferably right before some mountain will drop on top of him and get rid of him for good this time."
"Wasn't he supposed to be gone for good?" asked Sirius sceptically.
"Snuffles, you poor summer child," Regulus shook his head. "A Dark Lord at the peak of his power, surrounded by his faithful followers, with so much Dark Magic behind him that makes both of us look like a pair of uneducated toddlers rather than sons of Orion 'You Need to Know Dark Magic in Order to Fully Understand It' Black. Wasn't that always your problem with Snape, that you knew exactly what he knew, at times maybe more?"
"You don't believe that he had fallen?" asked Sirius grimly.
"Oh, he had fallen, alright," nodded Regulus. "Thanks to Harry he had fallen and had been out of commission for about a decade but unlike the majority of wizarding world, I never believed that he was completely gone. Harry might know more," he shook his head. "Should know more even though I doubt that barmy old cot actually told him anything vital."
"Dumbledore.." started Sirius.
"Yes, Dumbledore," snorted Regulus. "Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, to be exact. Yes, please tell me more about the Hogwarts Headmaster, Grand Sorcerer, Supreme Mugwump, Head of the Order of the Phoenix and Chief Warlock of Wizengamot. If my memory serves me correctly, he was all of this back when you were taken to Azkaban, still is if my information remains correct. And while you're at it clarify something else for me because I couldn't find any information about your trial..."
"Because there was no trial," snorted Sirius, trying hard to not remember the arrest and what followed.
"Isn't that curious?" asked Regulus pensively.
"Crouch wouldn't allow it," Sirius muttered.
"Screw Barty, he was Head of DMLE not Chief Warlock of Wizengamot and Head of the Order of the Phoenix," snorted Regulus.
"You're saying?" sighed Sirius.
"I'm saying that from where I'm standing it appears that you have been royally screwed," muttered Regulus. "Sideways, with no lube and not so much, as much as thank you for your services," he added. "Doesn't really surprises me, considering what I know he did to Harry," he concluded grimly.
"What he did to Harry?" asked Sirius harshly.
"Ever met Petunia Dursley and or her husband?" asked Regulus.
"At James's and Lily's wedding, briefly," answered Sirius. "Not a very pleasant experience."
"Not very pleasant people," snorted Regulus. "Come to think about it, that's an understatement," he grimaced. "They're the least suitable guardians in the world and I met my share of unsuitable guardians over the years. They're so unsuitable that I wouldn't trust them with a snail, let alone raising two boys."
Sirius swallowed and breathed out, "Harry?"
"Delightful, intelligent child," answered Regulus. "Polite, shy, helpful, Merlin only knows how he managed to turn out like that. Considering that pair of apes who raised him and his cousin," he paused and shook his head. "Harry has non-existent self-worth when I last saw him, but he might have gained some away from those fuckwits, but I'm not betting on it. Small, scrawny, too small for his age, always underweight, might have gained some at Hogwarts but even after two years of proper feeding he's barely tethering on the edge of what is considered as an appropriate weight for a boy his age."
"How..." started Sirius. "How did you get that information?" he asked meekly.
"I taught him," shrugged Regulus. "Him and his cousin both, through entire primary school. I had access to school records, to medical records. Called or convinced others to call Child Protective Services on the Dursleys more times than I can bother to count. Merlin only knows how I managed to not get myself obliviated in the process because curiously that's exactly what happened every single time the system got involved with the Dursleys," he grimaced. "And I know the system, I worked with the system, I trust the system because it had never failed in any other case, except with the Dursleys," he spat the last word.
"The system?" asked Sirius.
"Teachers, nurses, physicians, police," grunted Regulus. "Abused kids, neglected kids, kids with a difficult situation at home. Take your pick. Yes, the system is flawed and some fall through the cracks but no one fell through all cracks every single god-damn time like Harry Bloody Potter."
"What you know?" whispered Sirius.
"Plenty," snorted Regulus. "I know plenty. I have his entire unedited medical history. I've seen things that should have sent that bloody oaf straight to prison, that jade too, for less but from where I'm standing neither of the boys should remain under their care from the very first time CPS had been called on them. And that was before I started teaching," he muttered. "But no, every time the system gets involved people mysteriously develop a case of amnesia and I have a physical proof who is responsible for that."
"Dumbledore?" asked Sirius weakly. "Dumbledore wouldn't allow..."
"James's and Lily's child to grow up in an abusive and negligent household?" asked Regulus. "Are we talking about the same man who let you rot nearly twelve years in Azkaban without as much as a proper trial?"
"It seems so," grimaced Sirius. "But why? What he would gain from not removing Harry from the Dursleys?"
"Good question," sighed Regulus. "Remind me, what is your relation to Harry aside of being second cousins?"
"I'm his godfather," answered Sirius pensively. "From the very day he was born. James and Lily had their last will and testament drawn shortly after the wedding. Long before they started trying for a baby. It's there black on white, should they have any children and somehow they managed to predecease them and said children are underage at the time of their parents' deaths then they should be put under my care until they reached adulthood."
"And we have a winner," muttered Regulus. "Say, how you would raise Harry if that shitstorm hadn't happened? If right from the moment of the Potters demise you would have been his de facto parent?"
"Aware," Sirius said the first thing that came to his mind. "Of his parentage, his heritage. Why his parents died. Who killed them and why," his thoughts flew back to that god-damn prophecy. "I would make sure that he would be prepared for..."
"… an encore?" Regulus supplied eagerly. "Say what you want but seven years in Gryffindor didn't uproot twelve years of Slytherin conditioning. Because that's exactly what I would do too."
"It's not Slytherin conditioning, it's common sense and self-preservation," muttered Sirius. "And I've got both in spades."
"Something Slytherin is famed for once you get past blood purity," said Regulus with a smirk. "And I will give you self-preservation because if you had enough common sense you wouldn't be in this mess in the first place."
"It's a very selective common sense," snorted Sirius. "Sometimes it takes a setback when self-preservation gets involved and my self-preservation tends to extend on people I care for."
"You want that as an epitaph when you die?" snorted Regulus.
"Nah, that would be 'lived long and fully in spite of some setbacks in his youth and died of old age, have a pint in his memory'," chuckled Sirius.
"If that happens and I'm still around to do so I will get you that," snickered Regulus. "That and a drawing of a prick on the tombstone."
"Because you deserve it after everything you put me through, you humongous bell end," chuckled Regulus. "I take my eyes off you for two effing years and then bam you get yourself landed in bloody Azkaban of all places. If I had any magic at all in me when I first heard that I would have broken to Azkaban with the sole intention of hexing your sorry arse from then to eternity."
"Magic?" Sirius asked curiously. "What you're talking about?"
Regulus shrugged and put his hands in the pocket of his jeans before he finally answered, "While the news of my demise had been greatly exaggerated, I came pretty close to dying very shortly after my supposed death. Hence why no one came looking after my supposed corpse had been discovered. That bloody tapestry tracks blood and the magic within and..."
"And?" pressed Sirius. "You stunned Harry, you stunned me."
"Let's not forget side-apparating your sorry arses here and thorough warding of the house," Regulus snorted Regulus. "This is now," he added and paused before he said, "let's just say for now that I had a pretty good fucking reason to develop my Muggle alter ego considering that for all intents and purposes for quite a long time I had been one."
"You lost your magic?" asked Sirius softly. "How did it happen? When?"
"Back in 1979," shrugged Regulus. "It's a long story and I will tell you that but first I would really love to get the full picture of what I'm dealing with. From you, from Harry."
"Reg," Sirius pressed.
"Sior," answered Regulus, using that stupid childhood nickname he gave Sirius when he was five.
"Rab," Sirius changed tactics, using Regulus childhood nickname remembering that Regulus was always proud of both his names, Sirius less so considering the similar use of his own names stood for Sob which essentially stood for a son of a bitch which while accurate wasn't what he wanted to be known as.
"Oh, bugger off," chuckled Regulus. "I'm fine, really," he shrugged. "A bit worse to wear and a little winded considering the complexity of magic I pulled off in last few hours but I'm fine. Let's talk about you."
"Me?" asked Sirius. "What about me?"
"How about, how you got yourself into this mess? Why escape now? Why not earlier? Why escape at all? Take your pick," suggested Regulus.
"Pettigrew," grumbled Sirius. "Pretty much answers all of your questions."
"Didn't you kill him?" asked Regulus pensively.
"I thought I did," Sirius snorted. "Or he, himself to be exact. I convinced James and Lily to use him as a Secret Keeper for Fidelius Charm instead of me. Without altering anyone about the change," he snorted. "I was supposed to be a diversion for Voldemort..."
"Can you not?" asked Regulus quickly. "Call him that, I mean?"
"I'm not calling him the Dark Lord, if that's what you're asking for," muttered Sirius.
"I abhor that aristocratic moniker, but I prefer to not invoke his name just in case," grimaced Regulus. "Call him Dark Wanker for all I care, just don't use that V word when I'm around."
"Like I was saying, I was supposed to be a diversion for the Wanker while Peter remained safe from his wrath and in consequence so were James, Lily, and Harry," Sirius continued. "Except that plan had one, giant flaw I was unaware at the time but one that became evident after what happened in Godric's Hallow."
"Pettigrew was already working for the Wanker," nodded Regulus.
"For over a year for certain," sighed Sirius. "Maybe more but that's when we realized that someone was evidently spying on the Order..." he shook his head. "I might as well hand them over to the Wanker myself."
"You can't be responsible for other people choices, Sirius," sighed Regulus. "Here is the thing I learned as a Muggle, people are always convinced that they know better, even though, and especially when, they don't."
"That's not going to change what happened," said Sirius grimly. "I went after him. Took me an entire day to track him down and when I finally did..." he shook his head. "He screamed at me how could I do it to James and Lily before he blew the street apart. Killed twelve innocent people, Muggles, adults..." he paused and licked his lips before he softly added, "kids. Seven of them, the youngest was hardly a few months older than Harry. I thought that he died too. Good riddance."
"But?" Regulus asked as he approached slowly Sirius's side of the bed.
"But he hadn't," snorted Sirius. "Cut off his god-damn finger, blew the street apart, transformed before the dust settled down and ran into the bloody sewers like a rat he was."
"Please don't tell me that he's an animagus too," Regulus groaned before he sat on the edge of the bed.
Instead of answering Sirius pulled from his pocket the photograph he tore from the Daily Prophet, of Pettigrew with the Weasleys and handed it to Regulus.
"Weasleys," muttered Regulus. "Didn't any one taught that woman contraceptive charms or potions?"
"If they did, it had fallen on the deaf ears," muttered Sirius. "Arthur and Molly were in the Order during the war, though she hadn't done much 'ordering' considering that at the time she was popping one kid after the other. Their youngest son is in Gryffindor, with Harry. Look at his pet."
"The rat is missing a finger in his front paw," said softly Regulus. "But how you can be so sure?"
"Because I saw countless times how he transformed," grumbled Sirius. "I taught him that, we taught him that. James and I, he nearly bloody didn't make it..." he shook his head. "He shouldn't have make it."
"Potter?" asked Regulus. "Prongs?"
"Antlers," sighed Sirius as he tried to mime the antlers with his hands. "Stag."
"Strangely appropriate," snorted Regulus. "And Lupin was what?"
"A werewolf," answered Sirius. "Since he was a little kid."
Regulus whistled before he said, "So that was his furry little problem and not a badly behaving rabbit."
"He tried to hide it but between curious snots like me and James he was really lucky that he managed to last a year," sighed Sirius. "Took us a solid month of observation to reach that conclusion once we allowed the answer 'werewolf' into the equation. It was really rough on him, transformations, trying to hide it from us."
"But how you got from werewolf to Animagi?" asked Regulus. "It's a pretty big leap."
"Not so much," shrugged Sirius. "Transformed werewolf is dangerous to humans but also himself. Add into the equation a non-human distraction and you cut off self-harm which was a pretty big deal for Moony."
"Padfoot?" asked Regulus.
"Moony's fault," snorted Sirius. "Observant swot upon closer inspection of our Animagi forms – once he stopped freaking out and seeing all of us locked in Azkaban – saw that while I was entirely black, I had pink pads on my paws. Eventually, I grew out of it and they turned black but at the time it was either Padfoot or Pinky."
"Sweet," snickered Regulus. "Now I know why I liked him better than the other two. Pity, that it took me so fucking long to come around."
"You saw him?" Sirius asked hopefully.
"Nope," Regulus shook his head before he handed Sirius the photograph back. "I don't know if he was around Harry before I came into the picture but for sure I know that he wasn't there afterwards."
"Maybe you've missed him," sighed Sirius.
"Nada, not Lupin," Regulus muttered. "Sense of humour isn't the only thing we have in common," he added. "Lupin, while fairly talented and fairly powerful, had this particular talent of blending with the background. I used it a lot after I took the mark, especially when I was recruiting. I used magic at first but after some time it became natural and I developed a talent for picking from the crowd similar people. Lupin could do that, Snape could do that, Verascez and Babbling could do that, hell even you could do that when you applied yourself. Potter and Evans always stood out like a pair of sore thumbs and Pettigrew was too much of a klutz at the time."
"Your point being?" asked Sirius pointedly.
"Is that, even if he doesn't want to be seen I can still spot Lupin in the crowd. I never saw him around Harry," answered Regulus. "Why are you asking?"
"I thought..." Sirius started and shook his head.
"That he took care of Harry when you couldn't?" Regulus supplied. "Didn't happen and I have a pretty good idea why."
"Dumbledore again," muttered Sirius. "He was the one who convinced Moony's parents to let him go to Hogwarts."
"Of bloody course," snorted Regulus. "Enormous debt of gratitude, Lupin wouldn't go against Dumbledore's wishes even if his life depended on it… Especially if his life depended on it."
"Fucker," grumbled Sirius.
"It also makes me think..." started Regulus. "Muggle, and I presume also wizarding authorities are looking for an escaped convict Sirius Black and not an escaped convict Sirius Black and a black dog. Had been since Harry's birthday," he added pensively.
"Harry's birthday?" asked Sirius sceptically.
"Yeah, 31st July," nodded Regulus.
"Yeah, I know, I was with them when that happened," Sirius nodded. "And happy birthday by the way. What you want for a present?" he added.
"My present is sitting right in front of me," answered swiftly Regulus. "Breathing..." he paused before he added, "and smelling like a dirty, wet dog. Your point?"
"That photograph comes from the Daily Prophet, I got from Fudge on 27th July. I barely slept a wink that night, plotted my escape through 28th and finally escaped right after 29th July headcount," answered Sirius. "Which gave me an entire day before they realized that I was missing and you're telling me now that the news hit the papers on 31st?"
"Yep," nodded Regulus. "I nearly choked myself on a toast when I first saw it. Knew from that very moment that I had to sit on Harry around the clock."
"I'm hoping not literally," muttered Sirius.
"Not really," shrugged Regulus. "I have a pair of very good binoculars and blessedly the entire Dursley household by bugging it from top to bottom. Hence that sudden reunion on Magnolia Road, I knew that the kid was pulling a runner the very moment he did so. I'm older and I have longer legs and there is the only way for a runaway kid who can't use magic to get away from that god-damn town and that's through Magnolia Road."
"Not the only road," muttered Sirius.
"But the best road to the bus station," retorted Regulus. "I intended to intercept him before he reached it, hoped to get him to talk, didn't really expected a reunion but I'm really glad it happened."
"So, what now?" asked Sirius.
"Now," said Regulus pointedly. "You're going to take a very thorough bath, while I will find something for you to wear. My old clothes should be around somewhere and if not mine then father's. Either way, once I will find them, I will get back to you and we will see if I can make you look less like a male banshee."
"Won't work," snorted Sirius.
"Why?" asked curiously Regulus.
"Black family genes," muttered Sirius. "That accursed metamorphmagi hiccup from our great-great something great-grandfather that was the reason why you never shaved, why father had to shave at least twice a day and why mother never managed to straighten out her hair even after she took a bath in Sleekeazy. In me, it manifests in spontaneous hair-growth and is tied to stress levels. I spent entire Hogwarts education with relatively short hair but once they let us out of the training into the field, I always ended the day looking like a hippie. I gave up trying, so did my instructors."
"Your hair is tied in knots," pointed out Regulus. "But I give up, if you can tame it yourself, I'm all for it. I'll have time to get us some food. You're still partial to pizza, aren't you?"
"Salami, mushrooms, black olives with lots of cheese?" asked Sirius eagerly.
"I was thinking chicken, avocado, egg and pickles," smirked Regulus.
"You bloody heathen," Sirius snorted.
"Heathen?" snorted Regulus. "The Dursleys adore pizza with pineapple, peach, and anchovies."
"And Harry?" asked Sirius.
"As far as I'm aware the only time that kid had pizza was when it was on the lunch menu at school," muttered Regulus. "I will get him something easy. And I know that you don't want to leave him out of your sight but please have a bath before you approach him, and don't wake him up unless he will wake himself up. He really looks like a proper night of sleep would do him good."
Sirius nodded, albeit reluctantly but deep inside he knew that Regulus was right. He didn't know how he looked but approaching Harry in his all recently escaped Azkaban and spent a week as a dog glory wouldn't convince Harry to trust him.
"Come on," Regulus said as he stood up and extended his hand to him.
"I can walk," Sirius sighed as he slowly swing his legs over the side of the bed to the floor. He barely managed to stand up when his right leg cramped, and he would have fallen down like a sack of potatoes, if Regulus hadn't managed to catch him.
"I can see that," Regulus commented as he pulled Sirius's right arm over his shoulders and wrapped his left arm around his middle. "You're what 1.91 Meters?" he asked when he started leading him slowly out of the bedroom.
"1.90 Meters," answered Sirius with a slight grumble.
"That means that you should weight about 68 Kilograms at the very least," said Regulus. "I'm not feeling it and you definitely don't look it."
"Azkaban feeds prisoners once a day," muttered Sirius. "Right after the headcount," he snorted. "A bucket of water interchangeable with a bucket of weak as fuck tea. Always a small loaf of bread with either small pot of weak vegetable stew or some suspicious meat stew and there is no rhyme or reason for when you get one. And let's not forget that I already started my stay at about 72 Kilograms."
"Wouldn't give you more than 59 Kilograms," grunted Regulus.
"Might be," agreed Sirius. "Though I lived on as much kibble as I dared to steal from random dogs. Might be less than that."
They didn't speak through the rest of the trek to the bathroom until Regulus deposited him on the lid of the toilet as he eyed the bathtub suspiciously. It took few cleaning charms but soon enough the bathtub was filled with alluringly looking warm water and after a thorough inspection that also contained sniffing the bottle of bath foam Regulus dumped half of the contents of it into the tub.
Then came the hard part which technically should be an easy part. Disrobing his Azkaban rags, something he should be very eager to do but suddenly he remembered what was under them. Not the gaunt body, but scars that hadn't been there when he was taken to Azkaban, not ones earned in battle and worn proudly but ones that were given to him by some people he used to trust. And then there were tattoos.
With a flick of Regulus's wand Sirius's Azkaban rags disappeared and self-consciously Sirius curled his arms around his middle and hung his head just as he heard Regulus take in a harsh breath. He knew what Regulus saw, nearly everything.
"Bastards," spat Regulus as he knelt in front of him, immediately taking Sirius's left arm into his hands and examining it closely, its scars and tattoos. "Who done it?" he asked harshly.
"Doesn't matter," whispered Sirius softly.
"Traitor, murderer, Death Eater," Regulus muttered as he ran his fingers over the runes. "Very lousy rendition of a Dark Mark which an artistically challenged ten years old kid could have drawn better," he added as he quickly pulled his right hand away from Sirius's arm and rolled his own left sleeve.
It was there, on his forearm, barely visible, pale like a smear of ash rather than completely black like he remembered seeing it on arms of the Death Eaters he managed to capture or kill.
"You're right, yours looks better," Sirius chuckled mirthlessly.
"Who done it?" pressed Regulus.
"Doesn't matter," shrugged Sirius.
"It does," objected Regulus vehemently.
"No, it does not," Sirius shook his head. "It's not going to change a thing. It's just ink. Words, just words. They aren't hurting."
"Words, no," muttered Regulus. "But this," he pointed at the jagged scar that ran from the inside of Sirius's left elbow all the way down to his left wrist, "this looks like it was done with a saw."
"It was," admitted Sirius. "It healed."
"It healed?" Regulus bristled angrily. "Stab wounds," he added as he looked down at Sirius's legs. "About twenty on each leg. Something that looks like scars from open fractures on the right tibia… and femur," he ran both his hands down Sirius's lower right leg. "Badly healed."
"But it healed," sighed Sirius. "I'm fine, Reg."
"Fine," muttered Regulus. "I'm fine and I had both legs ran over by a bloody ambulance of all things. Had to learn how to walk again like a bloody toddler and I was in a hospital the entire time. Limped for some time after and I still lit metal detectors like a Christmas tree at Harrods."
"Let me guess? Another long story?" asked Sirius.
"Still the same story," snorted Regulus. "But this," he gestured at Sirius's leg, "this is barbaric. Whoever had done this..."
"Does no longer matter," finished Sirius. "It's over and has been over for some time."
"How long?" asked Regulus quickly.
"About nine years, maybe eight," shrugged Sirius. "The vultures stop playing with their food once the food stops being entertaining."
"You call this entertainment?" snorted Sirius.
"Some wardens do," sighed Sirius. "I call it bloody inconvenient but once you get used to it… It's not as bad as singing lessons."
"Singing lessons?" whispered Regulus.
"Reserved for top security, a lifetime in Azkaban, prisoners. Three to seven wardens, one prisoner and a merry round of Cruciatus Curse," clarified Sirius. "Rhythmic, short bursts about two, three seconds long each. Repeat until the prisoner passes out, acquire a new target. Usually applied weekly, sometimes every three, four days… My memory gets a little fuzzy on the time constraints but what I do remember is that they usually came back when one's hands stopped shaking after the last one," he explained.
Regulus shot up into standing position.
"Gets boring pretty fast too," Sirius continued without looking up at him. "After all the purpose of entertainment is to entertain and when your prisoner cannot scream because he screamed his throat raw earlier, they tend to leave one in peace for a while. Top that with rudimentary Occlumency shields and one can blank out the entire lesson," he added with a shrug.
"How long?" whispered weakly Regulus.
"About two, two and a half, maybe three years," answered Sirius simply. "Old crowd either died out, moved on, retired or got promoted back to the civilisation, and their replacement just didn't measure up to their expectations. Bunch of wimps," he shrugged. "They stick around for the headcount before they hole themselves at the top of the tallest tower behind some pretty fancy wards which Bathsy would love to take apart."
"Bathsy?" asked Regulus. "By Bathsy, you mean Babbling?"
"It's not my fault that her arse of a father couldn't write her name right on her birth certificate because he was too drunk to do so," replied Sirius. "She used to be fascinated with that wardwork, left me notes what I should be looking for every time I was dropping a prisoner to Azkaban."
"And you being a good friend obliged," finished Regulus. "Pity that it didn't go both ways."
Sirius shrugged before he answered, "She had her own problems, I had mine and without..." he hung his voice and cleared his throat before he added, "we grew apart and she moved back with her parents. For all that I know, she might no longer be a Babbling. Last I heard of her was that her parents were planning to marry her off to some cretin."
"She still might be, a Babbling, I mean," said Regulus thoughtfully. "I didn't know her as well as you used to but unless she has undergone a thorough removal of her spine and brain she might still go by that name. Would you like me..."
"If that sentence ends with fetching her the answer is, no," Sirius shook his head. "If you're right and she isn't married then she has enough on her plate already. And if she is, she probably even has more..."
"...to fetch some old Daily Prophets for you to read," finished Regulus. "Clarify one thing for me while you're at it."
"Sure," Sirius nodded.
"Bathsheba?" asked Regulus pointedly. "Yours?"
"De facto goddaughter, yes, even though we never officially signed anything because it was always evident to Bathsy that she would outlive us and if someone would wind up inheriting our parental responsibilities it would be her, not us," replied Sirius. "And if you meant daughter then your answer is, no. I have no idea who her father is and if I did..." he hung his voice and moved his hand with a slicing motion over his neck.
"I'm strangely glad to hear that," sighed Regulus. "For a moment I thought..."
"… that you will have to orchestrate another reunion?" chuckled Sirius. "Maybe much later when I'm officially free. Sheba should be in her fourth year and if she is anything like her mother Harry could benefit from a level-headed friend and maybe a motherly figure in his life who could be bothered to look up life expectancy of pet rats."
"Not a fan of the Weasleys then?" Regulus snickered before he helped him stand up and get into the tub.
Sirius hissed slightly as he sat down before he answered, "Not a fan of Molly. Temper and obstinacy of a Prewett, attention span of a very attentive Goyle, coupled with an inability to exert any kind of control over her offspring..."
He slid down under the surface of the water for a moment before he sat up again and continued, "At the time I first met her she had about five boys running around. Aged ten, eight, five or four, a pair of two years old twins and was about to pop out another one at the time. Should be appropriately named Tornado, Hurricane, Walking Disaster, Chaos, and Destruction because that's how they acted when I was around. Couple that with her complaints about how frugal their financial situation was..."
"And let me guess you pointed out the obvious solution?" asked Regulus as he reached for a wash-cloth and soaped it before he ran it over Sirius's shoulders.
"I'm sorry," Sirius snorted before he groaned at the feeling of the warm, soapy cloth over his back. "I'm a firm believer that people who can barely afford to support themselves should not procreate until they can afford to raise a single child, let alone such a big number. I understand the allure of having one child to love and raise, someone to take care of you when you grow old. But I've seen enough of what poverty does to people to know for certain that while every child needs love and support of their parents they also need food, clothes, and proper education. And last time I checked you can't sustain child's hunger with love, you can't cloth them with love and sure as hell in order to gain their education they need books, not love."
"Personal experience?" Regulus asked softly as he dipped the cloth lower.
"I spent entire summer before seventh year juggling three jobs when I wasn't studying for my masteries because Third Class Masteries in Transfiguration and Defence Against the Dark Arts were my best shot at getting into Auror training on the top of the list and I needed to be on the top of that list in order to get additional funds," explained Sirius. "Bear in mind that while Uncle Alphard left me a decent bit of gold it was barely enough for a humbly finished flat..."
"And a bike," added Regulus with a small chuckle.
"1977 Triumph Bonneville, with a sidecar. Won it in a bet, fixed it with my own two hands and little spellwork," clarified Sirius. "Good, old diesel engine, could run on used cooking oil and a Chinese restaurant by my place was very happy when I occasionally relieved them from a barrel or two. I wonder what Hagrid had done to it, we could use that."
"Or we could use mine 1985 Volkswagen Beetle," said Regulus pointedly. "Chrome, flaming red, safety belts, plenty of storage space."
"And you apparated us out of Little Whinging?" snorted Sirius.
"I panicked, all right," shrugged Regulus. "Plus, your mutt is kinda recognizable right now and I'm not going back to Little Whinging until it stops swimming with Aurors. Also, I don't have it right now."
"So, you do or don't have it?" asked Sirius curiously.
"Mum and Dad do," shrugged Regulus. "Not ours, because from what I managed to ascertain they're and have been both dead for years."
"How did you manage to acquire another set of parents then?"
"Through my natural charm," retorted Regulus. "Not really," he sighed after a moment. "Mum was one of the nurses at my hospital. They had a son about our age, a soldier stationed in North Ireland, Michael was his name. He was killed early in the year 1979," he sighed again. "And there I was, about his age, his height, of similar built. John Doe, for over a year in a coma and with more surgeries under my belt that I could count. No name, no next of kin, all by myself. So, she lingered, paid me more time than the others, stayed after work to read to me, to bath me..."
"Adopted you before you knew what was happening," supplied Sirius.
"Nah," shrugged Regulus. "That came much later after I regained consciousness. At first, she annoyed me as fuck. Always there, always talking, always so bloody eager to help and always concerned how I was doing. She got me through a very dark period of time for me. You know," he shrugged again, "no magic, useless, broken body, bloody Dark Lord hanging somewhere over my head. And she was patient with me so when I finally started talking, supposedly remembering things about my 'previous' life when doctors asked, I gave them the name I thought she would give her son, Martin Green."
"Nice," muttered Sirius.
"Not very," chuckled Regulus. "As parents names, I gave the doctors her and her husband's name, Martha and Mark Green, couldn't remember dates of birth but that's when I ran into dad. Turned out that he was with Scotland Yard and after a very private and stern conversation it turned out that Martin Green, born 3rd November 1959 never existed."
"Oh, Reg," sighed Sirius heavily.
"But he existed after," smiled Regulus. "We are wizards, pure-bloods and raised by pure-bloods so technically we don't have any Muggle IDs since we don't usually need one. I didn't tell them everything. But that's when they 'officially' adopted me. They took me in, put me back on my feet, put me through school, through university. I was lucky I've met them, and I owe them a lot, a debt I will never be able to fully pay back," he shook his head. "But I'm trying," he added wistfully.
"Will I get to meet them?" asked Sirius pensively.
"Eventually," shrugged Regulus. "By my estimations, they should be in Spain right now, they're both retired so I've sent them on a very long and very deserved vacation and I'm not really expecting them back before the end of August, maybe even mid-September."
"Good for you," smiled Sirius. "That you had them, and still have them, I mean. In a span of last fourteen years, they've done more good for you, than our own parents through previous eighteen."
"Twelve and about a half but yeah," nodded Regulus. "Will you be all right if I'll leave you to finish? I want to swing by pizza place before it closes," he asked.
"Sure," confirmed Sirius. "Just leave me a change of clothes and go."
"All right," said Regulus. "I'll be right back," he added before he left the bathroom.
He came back about a few minutes later with an armful of clothes when Sirius was still soaking in the bath without as much as a twitch to start washing or changing the water because it started to look a bit grey.
"Still fit me," said Regulus when he placed the clothes on the counter. "Should fit you just about right too, for now at least. I'll need to go shopping tomorrow anyway. You want anything specific?" he asked.
"Anything you're buying for yourself you can buy for me too," answered Sirius with a smirk. "It took some time, but you grew into some sense of comfortable fashion."
"Fuck you," snorted Regulus. "But you're right," he grinned "Muggles are far more practical than wizards in that regard. Merlin, entire childhood and teenage years in slacks, button-ups and this weird cross between robes and jackets. I gave up slacks after the first week of teaching. I still must wear button-ups though. See you later," he added and left the bathroom.
Sirius tried to listen to his footsteps, but he couldn't trace him farther than past the landing and one flight of stairs. Once he couldn't hear Regulus anymore he pulled out the plug and watched almost transfixed how the water was pouring out of the tub trying hard not to think about anything he recently heard or learned.
Don't think, he told himself.
Take a deep breath and let it out, just like that.
Now another and another.
You're safe here.
Harry is safe here, even Reg is safe here now that that cow is gone for good. It's not ideal, never will be ideal but you can get past it. Sooner rather than later you will find Pettigrew and you can move out of this hovel, maybe even with Harry. But for now, this will have to do.
His father's face swam before his eyes and he quickly waved his hands in front of his face. The bastard was dead, had been for nearly as much as Regulus and unlike Regulus he had been gone for good, he checked just in case, but he was definitely dead. Good riddance too.
And Regulus might have mellowed over the years from a junior Death Eater and pure-blood supremacist into a sensible young man who saw the error of his ways, but it was obvious from the way he was speaking about father that blessedly he didn't have the same memories of the man as Sirius.
Don't think, he chided himself again. He's dead and you aren't, he's not going to hurt you anymore just like he was never going to hurt Reg as he promised. It's over, you're safe and what happened to you is not going to happen to anyone anymore.
Sirius closed his eyes and tried desperately to not think but it was already too late because there he was, standing right next to him in all his glory. Dark, fancifully elegant robes that cost more than they were worth. Black hair pulled back into that pure-blood ponytail with a bow to tie it, nothing like ordinary Muggle elastics he and Reg used. Grey eyes so much like his very own but full of disdain, disgust and this...
"Good boy," he said. "You're not going to scream because your half-breed godson is sleeping in the next room and who knows where that good for nothing brother of yours had wandered off. For all you know he's downstairs making that disgusting Mudblood pies by hand like a useless squib he is..."
"Get out," Sirius hissed angrily. "You aren't here. You're dead and I even know who killed you, you bastard."
"Yes, that Mudblood, you used to be sweet on," the image of his father sneered. "Where is she now, remind me?"
"Out!" Sirius hissed again, and he slammed his left hand against the ridge of the tub.
Pain was good, pain was real unlike the vision of this animal before him. Because that what Orion Black truly was. An animal, a savage, cruel beast of a man whose greatest source of joy was his son's suffering.
"Oh yes," the man said again. "Are you certain that your head is screwed the right way, Sirius? That you will never follow in my footsteps? Wasn't there a time when you used to be enamoured with James Potter? His half-breed son looks just like him. How easy it would be..."
"I'm not you," whispered Sirius. "I never was, I never will. And if I will ever feel for Harry what you felt for me, I will end myself first. I will never do that to him, ever. You heard me."
"Coward," came a sneered taunt. "Good for nothing, lousy coward."
Instead of answering Sirius slammed his hand again at the ridge of the tub and opened his eyes. He was alone in the bathroom like he knew that he was alone in the bathroom, to begin with. His hand was throbbing slightly. But this vision felt too real, too tangible, too close.
"I'll never be you," he sneered at the air before he sprung out of the tub, nearly toppled over the edge but somehow, he maintained a standing position.
He limped to the cupboard and opened it. He found what he needed within his reach and quickly tested the razor on a clump of hair just under his chin. It fell almost immediately with little effort. Fine goblin-made silvered steel enchanted to always remain sharp. He reached for the scissors and this time he grabbed a fistful of hair before he cut his hair as close to his skull as he could get.
It took more than a handful of snipes but finally, his hair was all on the floor rather than on his head and what remained on it was an inelegant chop of differing lengths but that was easily amended with the help of the razor.
Once thoroughly bald and clean-shaven he took a good look at himself in the mirror. The man in front of him looked nothing like Orion Black, not even remotely close to him, more like a prisoner from Muggle concentration camps he once read about. Gaunt, sunken face, waxy skin, yellow teeth and painfully thin with nearly all bones visible.
He smiled at his reflection and it smiled back at him.
Merlin, he looked pitiful.
He reached again into the cupboard, found toothpaste and toothbrush that appeared to be never used. He washed his teeth trice before he was remotely pleased with his efforts. It wasn't what he remembered seeing in the mirror before he went to Azkaban but at least his teeth no longer looked like teeth of tobacco smoking and chewing miner.
Once he was pleased with the state of his head, both in and outside, he headed back to the tub. Run more fresh water, poured less bath foam into it than Regulus did and proceed to thoroughly scrub himself. By the time he was nearly done with his arms and chest, he could feel the pinpricking sensation of growing hair on the top of his head. By the time he was done with washing his lower body his hair was reaching his shoulders. Once he stepped out of the tub after rising himself his hair was reaching past his shoulder-blades. Stupid metamorphmagi gene, but Merlin, it felt good to get rid of it even if it was for a few minutes.
He dried himself and put on the clothes Reg left for him. Generic, white underpants. A pair of black slacks that he needed a belt, that Regulus thoughtfully also left with them, to keep them from falling down his scrawny arse. Slytherin green button-up shirt with grey trimming but ridiculously soft. Grey cardigan with Slytherin emblem that was also as ridiculously soft like the shirt and very warm, too warm to be a standard Hogwarts equipment.
It reminded him of Remus because Remus always loved Hogwarts's cardigans and in all seven years, Sirius didn't remember seeing him in plain jumpers he, James and Pettigrew preferred.
"They come with pockets, idiots," he once told them when they teased him about looking like a teenage grandpa.
"Oh Moony," he sighed heavily. "Where are you, old pal? Are you even alive?"
Because that had to be it. Regulus might have believed that Dumbledore had an enormous sway over Moony and that the man purposely kept Moony away from Harry. But it was Harry, the only thing left of James and Lily, aside from few photographs and knick-knacks. If it was him not even Dumbledore and the entire Ministry of Magic couldn't keep him away from Harry.
But he wasn't a werewolf. A poor werewolf to be exact that between helping his father in Lyall Lupin's small dark creatures eradication business had to work odd Muggle jobs when his bosses one after the other kindly let him go when they learned that he was a werewolf.
That had to be it. The poverty, the stigma, Remus's fear of inflicting his condition upon others. And on the top of that, Dumbledore, against whom and whose wishes Remus would never go out of pure gratitude for allowing him to attend Hogwarts. Reg was right.
But that was going to change. All he needed was Pettigrew whose capture would grant him his freedom which will grant him removing Harry from the Dursleys supposed care. With that out of the way, it will take some coaxing and a lot of glowering to convince Remus that Dumbledore wasn't as white as his beard. Reg would obviously help. Maybe they could even get Bathsy on board if she felt up to it and good old Bathsy abhorred manipulative bastards by a simple principle of being raised by one. She would see the light immediately and she was a Ravenclaw, Remus always liked Ravenclaw way of thinking, the house-misplaced Ravenclaw that he was at heart.
With a clearer head, new hope in his heart and a pair of socks in his hands he left the bathroom and padded to Regulus's old bedroom. The room looked just like he remembered, a mix of Slytherin silver and emerald green but other than noticing that the colours hadn't changed he paid it no attention. For what really mattered, who really mattered, was lying on the right side of Regulus's bed.
As softly as he could he approached the bed and as gingerly as he could manage he sat on the edge of the bed.
Harry looked so peaceful. So small and thin and so much like James, the only thing that didn't look so much like James's was his nose, shorter and the lightning bolt scar on his forehead.
Merlin, he was so thin and the huge clothes he was wearing only emphasised it. Sirius's heart sized in his chest. Curse Petunia Dursley, if Lily knew how her sister was treating her baby boy…
Later, he thought to himself, we will take care of it later. Not with murder even though they might deserve it, but we can ship them off one way to the Australian outback, hopefully, the fauna and flora there will do the trick without getting our hands dirty.
He smiled at the thought and as gently as he could he ran his fingers over Harry's shoulder and arm. Under his touch the boy curled slightly and nuzzled into the pillow. So, the stunner was replaced with a sleeping spell.
"Thought that I might find you here," whispered Regulus from the door. "Pizzas are in the kitchen but if you aren't up for a walk, I can summon them. How is your leg?" he asked as he approached them.
"Better," admitted Sirius quietly. "A soak did it well. Throbbing is gone, I'm not even limping."
"Liar," snorted Regulus, softly to not wake Harry. "But I can't fix it without Skele-Gro so I will let it slide for now. If only I could find Kreacher..."
"What you need him for?" asked Sirius sceptically. "He was as maniac about blood purity as our parents."
"But loyal to me," answered Regulus without hesitation. "And it's a long story."
"Still the same one or a different one?" hummed Sirius.
"I'm not sure," mumbled Regulus. "I used to want to summon him when I was recovering but I always managed to talk myself out of it. Later on, too. Summoning him wouldn't do me anything good for as long as mother was around."
"Now you know that she isn't," pointed out Sirius. "What keeps you from calling him?"
"What remains out of this screw up family that hadn't been dead or locked up in Azkaban," answered Regulus with a shrug. "From what I learned Lucius Malfoy weaselled his way out of Azkaban. Claimed Imperius Curse but if he was really cursed I will eat my socks for dinner."
"You think that he might have gone to the Malfoys?" asked Sirius pensively.
"You think that he stayed here after mother died?" asked Regulus in return. "You've seen your room, bathroom, and this room. It hadn't been cleaned in ages. The rest of the house looks the same. I know that Lola predeceased him, saw her head on the wall when I was going down. Una might have gone to the Malfoys or could have been set free if mother was in a right mood, you know how she was going through the house-elves. Kreacher only stayed as long as he did because he adapted."
"If you call becoming house-elf version of a pure-blood supremacist adaptation, then sure he adapted," Sirius snorted softly.
"You never got along well, didn't you?" sighed Regulus.
"No," Sirius shook his head. "Mutual charm, he pissed me off as much as I pissed him off. Every single time he was obliged to listen to anything I said I had to give him an exact and very detailed order. I got along better with others. Lola used to like me the most, poor thing," he sighed. "Wouldn't surprise me if that was the reason mother chopped her head off."
"Nah, if it was because of you she would have never made it past that summer vacation you escaped from here," muttered Regulus. "And she was still around when I supposedly died. My money is on Wanker's defeat or shortly after. Probably after Bella's incarceration, Lola hated her with as much passion as she allowed herself to muster. Which for a house-elf was surprisingly a lot. Called her a whore once."
"Lola?" whispered Sirius. "Called Bella a whore? To your face?"
"Yep," nodded Regulus. "I wholeheartedly agreed with her. Told her to never mention it to mother."
"Bella was a murderer and a maniac..." started Sirius.
"She was also the cunt the Dark Lord used to put his prick in," said Regulus with a grimace. "I guess it never reached your ears that she was the one who put a price on your head? On a goblin-made silver platter."
"How do you know that?" asked Sirius.
"I was there when the order was first issued," muttered Regulus. "He was inordinately pleased with her back then. He was even more pleased when the same order was issued again," he paused and shook his head. "To me directly, so I could prove my loyalty to him and the cause. Why do you think I decided to bow out and exit stage left?" he asked simply.
"You were told..." Sirius whispered. "To kill me?"
"Yep," nodded Regulus. "And I was warned about what will happen to me if you outlived your due date," he added with a shrug. "You had. Killed few bastards in the meantime. He sent Nott Senior and Frederick after me. I got them caught easily in that old summer mansion in Cornwall that belonged to our great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. I overpowered Frederick with little effort, force-fed him with Polyjuice, put an Imperius Curse on him, had him attack Nott as me and watched him getting killed in my place. I knew that in the long run that rouse won't work but I needed time to finish the long story."
"Which you aren't going to tell me now, let me guess?" grimaced Sirius.
"Maybe a little later, after I will find Kreacher," answered Regulus. "Or at the very least ascertain his whereabouts. Changing the subject. Pizzas?" he asked pointedly.
"Did you put warming charms on them?" asked Sirius.
"No," Regulus shook his head.
"Liar," smirked Sirius. "You used to abhor cold food that wasn't supposed to be cold to begin with."
"I used to abhor a lot of things but then I grew up," came a reply. "I went to college and I shared house with a Scotland Yard Inspector, don't forget that. Dad's eating habits always drove Mum nuts, she always worried about his high cholesterol, with good reason seeing that a heart-attack nearly finished him off," he clarified.
"The more I hear about them the eager I'm to meet them," admitted Sirius with a small smile.
"Weirdly, I'm just as eager to arrange that meeting," smirked Regulus. "At the very least she will stop complaining about my eating habits and will focus on yours," he paused. "Yeah, I can see a lot of coddling in your future," he beamed at Sirius. "You just wait."
"Is it a threat or a promise?" asked Sirius cheekily.
"Either, both," said Regulus with a shrug and he grinned.
"What?" asked Sirius quickly.
"It just occurred to me that you and Harry will be a package deal," he grinned again. "Man, it keeps getting better and better. No more complaints about my eating habits and no more setting me up on blind dates so I can start a family on my own because she misses the pitter patter of tiny feet. I love her, but she drives me nuts and after spending an entire day at school dealing with other people kids the last thing I need is kids on my own."
"Really?" drawled Sirius teasingly.
"Plus, any procreating efforts from my part would destroy the illusion that I'm dead," clarified Regulus. "No, until the Dark Lord is gone for good I'm not procreating. Forget it and convince her to forget that too."
"If I will get a chance to do that I might," smirked Sirius. "Does she know that you're a wizard?" he asked curiously.
"I tried my best to not advertise it when my magic started slowly to come back," admitted Regulus. "Luckily for me, it happened around the time I started teaching and we moved to Little Whinging. Luckily for me, our house shares a garden wall with the Dursleys and my spontaneous burst of magic was written off as Harry's until I managed to lay down some pretty fancy ward work to keep the Ministry from tracking me down."
"That didn't really answer my question," Sirius pointed out.
"I never told them," sighed Regulus. "I thought about it, but it never seemed like a good idea at the time. There were always another issues at hand and wizarding world is a lot to take in," he shrugged. "But they aren't stupid, there's only as much as I can get away without them noticing that I'm not completely normal. I think that they write off some of my weird behaviour as an effect of a trauma or previous upbringing," he smiled. "I think our mother would have rolled in her grave if she knew that Dad suspected me of being raised by some sort of criminals because I could get into a thoroughly locked house without a set of keys."
"You were," grunted Sirius. "In a way."
"So were you and I know for a fact that you are familiar with lock-picks, unlike me," retorted Regulus. "I had to learn how to do that after that stunt."
"Magic is mighty but it can be flashy as fuck," shrugged Sirius. "Plus, magic leaves a trace and a skilfully picked lock does not, not to mention that state of locks in wizarding households just asks for breaking and entering. So, they don't know?" he changed the subject. "How you're planning to explain all of that to them?" he waved his left hand around the room.
"I didn't plan that far ahead," shrugged Regulus. "Plus, I don't have to worry about it at least until mid-September. Hopefully, by then Pettigrew will be in prison, you will no longer be a fugitive from the law and I'm banking on your ability to charm off the ladies. You will take care of Mum, I will take care of Dad and hopefully, they won't hate me afterwards for hiding the truth."
"Oh Reg," Sirius shook his head. "Eighteen years of Slytherin upbringing and still thinking like a house-misplaced Gryffindor at times. Like planning ahead takes all the fun out of life."
"You're the one to talk, Padfoot," snorted Regulus. "What can I say? With some experience under my belt, I learned that I often do my best work under threat and or intense terror. Sure, I can predict ten different outcomes from the situation in theory but until I'm in a said situation the theory is just a theory and they rarely become completely true and work the way I want them to work. So, I learned to think on my feet and adjust theories accordingly."
"Like Dumbledore being up to no good?" asked Sirius pointedly.
"That, I know for certain," grumbled Regulus. "I'm just not sure to what end. I have some ideas," he shook his head. "But for now, it's just a theory and to clarify it I need a very thorough heart to heart with Harry. Which, considering the fact that for all intents and purposes, we kidnapped him and are holding him against his will might not go as well as we are both hoping it to go," he added grimly. "So, let's stop worrying about it until he wakes up and let's go eat something."
Sirius, as hungry as he was after a week on kibble and water, didn't really need much coaxing into heading downstairs in order to eat. And while quite a large part of him wanted to remain in Regulus's old bedroom, with Harry, he also knew that out of Harry's immediate earshot Regulus might be more forthcoming with information.
Regulus, Merlin bless him, thoughtful waited for him on the top of the stairs to catch up and they headed downstairs together. Because after the first flight of stairs it became evident that while his right leg seemed fine after thorough soak up, the strain he put on it in the last few days on the top of his old injuries had taken its toll on it. He was limping again by the time they reached the third floor.
"Wait until I get my hands on Skele-Gro," grumbled Regulus.
"I'd rather not, I hate this stuff," admitted Sirius. "I would love to get my hands on a wand though. You're forgetting that I'm a trained Auror and I had a course in basic healing, broken bones amongst other things."
"Your bones aren't broken," pointed out Regulus with a huff. "They are badly mended. I, too, had a basic healing course as a part of my training as an Unspeakable and my Healer was a master in treating broken bones. Clean, non-fractured breaks can be easily fixed with charms but anything that had been fractured or healed badly needs Skele-Gro."
"Well, Skele-Gro tastes like ass," grunted Sirius.
"And you know that because you licked enough of them in your life," retorted Regulus. "Your own for certain, you daft git."
"Wanker," grumbled Sirius.
They were halfway down the stairs to the second floor when a thud reached their ears. It wasn't overly loud but loud enough to resonate in otherwise, supposedly, empty house.
"Harry?" mumbled Sirius over Regulus's whispered, "Kreacher?"
The thud came from upstairs and as far as Sirius could tell it could be either of them. After all they had an entire three floors above them counting in the attic where Kreacher might have been skulking.
"I'm not climbing up the stairs to the attic," Sirius stated firmly as he turned around and started the trek upstairs.
Secrets & Keepers – Collision Course
Harry Potter, 12 Grimmauld Place, 6th August, night
Sometime later, not really knowing what had happened and where he was, Harry woke up. He slowly opened his eyes and saw the blurry and dark room. He moaned silently and pressed his hands to his eyes, that movement proved him the fact that he wasn't wearing his glasses. He huffed silently and started searching for his glasses.
Somehow, he realised that he was lying on a bed. Thinking that if he was lying on a bed then something akin to a bedside table should be somewhere in his reach and that was where his glasses should be lying. He extended his left hand and felt that he touched something wooden which could be a bedside table of some sort. He raised his hand for about an inch and extended it even more. He grinned happily when his fingers brushed the frame of his spectacles but before he could grab them, he realised that he was hanging on the edge of a bed thus he lost his balance and fell on the floor with a loud thud.
Few seconds passed without a sound, then few more and for a brief, quiet minute he believed that he was in the clear and no one heard him. But just as that thought flew through his mind, he heard a pair of footsteps outside the room. At that sound, Harry cursed softly under his breath, shoot into sitting position and grabbed his glasses. He put them on in the exact moment when the door to the room opened swiftly.
Harry froze in his place without tearing his eyes from the direction of the door. What he saw there almost gave him a heart attack. In the doorway stood two men. Both were thin, rather tall and looked like they just had one hell of a scare.
The man on the left was about a few centimeters smaller than his companion and looked painfully thin. He had a mass of long, black hair which hung to his elbows. His pale eyes had been shinning and were fixed on Harry. His teeth which looked like he didn't brush them for a long while were bared in a grimace that could have been a grin. His face was abnormally pale and gaunt but somehow still possessed aristocratic features. He also happened to look disturbingly similar to the escaped convict whom Harry saw on TV few days ago, Black, like a cleaned-up version of Black.
The man on the right was taller than his companion and far better good-looking. He had thick, shiny, black hair which was pulled into a ponytail and was touching his shoulders. His face was heart-shaped with high-cheekbones. He had a straight nose, thin mouth, thin and straight eyebrows, and pointed chin. His dark-brown eyes were hidden behind a pair of rectangular framed in silver spectacles. He, too, looked familiar, but Harry couldn't recall when and where he had seen him before.
Both men looked like they froze in the doorway before they rushed in Harry's direction, Black, definitely limping, the other one not. Reflexively Harry reached for his wand only to realise that he didn't have it on him.
"You alright, kid?" asked the other, not Black, man as he stopped in front of Harry and reached out for him with his left hand.
The realization of who was standing before him hit Harry together with the realization of what was sticking out of the man's ponytail. A familiar looking, dark piece of wood, Harry's wand, but why his old Mathematics teacher, Professor Green, from primary school needed a wand? Harry's wand on the top of that.
"Professor?" whispered Harry. "What's that piece of wood in your hair?" he asked. "And what is he doing here?" he pointed at Black just as Black reached them.
"Explaining himself," Green answered simply as he pulled Harry to his feet and steadied him with a quick touch on Harry's shoulder. "Like you, young man. I, too, have some explanations to make. And since either way that's going to involve a lot of talking, I strongly suggest taking ourselves and our explanations down to the kitchen where the food awaits."
Harry stared at him in shock.
"Or we can stand around and gape at one another," said Green with a shrug. "I can skip a meal without harm, you two on the other hand..." he paused and waved his hands between Harry and Black.
"He's an escaped convict," Harry pointed out quickly. "You," he pointed at Green, "have my wand and I have no memory of getting in here. Which means that I didn't get here willingly. I'm not going anywhere with any of you unless you tell me what's going on. Where, the fuck, I am? And what you're planning to do with me."
Black grinned at him just as Green muttered, looking sideways at Black, "Are you sure that James Potter fathered him?"
"I'm positive," Black chuckled as tried to steady himself, he looked like one good kick could send him down on the ground.
"Let me guess," drawled Green in a tone that strangely reminded Harry of Snape, "you've been present at the conception?"
"Merlin, no," groaned Black as he shook his head.
"You sure?" Green asked pointedly.
"I'm sure that I will kick you in the nuts if you don't stop," muttered Black grimly.
"I'm sure you won't," Green shook his head. "Because unlike you..." he started but didn't get a chance to finish because Harry knew an opening when he saw one, so he kicked Green in the nuts like Black promised to do.
Limping Black in spite of his substantial limp wasn't as threatening as completely healthy and armed Green. Of course, Green tried to grab him but Harry was quicker and already out of the room. Years spent at avoiding anything coming his way to hit him at the Dursleys, something that Quidditch and avoiding being killed by one form of Voldemort or the other only honed more.
He was down the flight of stairs in a heartbeat and ran further down as if he was chased by another basilisk. Screw his wand, the Ministry was going to break it in two anyway. His life had depended on getting away from this place. Quickly he reached what seemed to look like ground floor and he made a beeline for the door, tugging at the handle before he even stopped in front of the door properly. The handle didn't budge. Whirling around in search for another exit he spied another door at the other side of the hall. He ran for it but just like the other, it wouldn't budge.
"Damn it," he cursed under his breath and dashed back to the other door because it seemed bigger and therefore might lead outside on the street rather than into a garden.
He slammed his hand on the door and screamed, "Let me out!"
The words barely left his mouth before he was nearly deafened by a horrible, ear-splitting, blood-curdling screech. He looked in the direction it came from and saw moth-eaten velvet curtains flying open. For a split second, Harry thought he was looking through a window, a window behind which an old woman in a black cap was screaming and screaming as though she was being tortured – then he realised it was simply a life-size portrait, but the most realistic, and the most unpleasant, he had ever seen in his life.
The old woman was drooling, her eyes were rolling, the yellowing skin of her face stretched taut as she screamed; and all along the hall, the other portraits awoke and began to yell, too, so that Harry for a moment screwed up his eyes at the noise and clapped his hands over his ears.
"Filth! Scum! By-products of dirt and vileness, begone from this place! How dare you befoul the house of my fathers..."
But someone was already running down the stairs and from the corner of his eye Harry saw Black limping down the last flight of stairs, wand in hand.
"Shut up," he roared, waving the wand at the portraits. "Shut the fuck up or I will turn you into kindle-pitch if you breathe another word to anyone, anywhere and trust me I will know."
The portraits further away from Harry one after the other quieted down until the only one left was the old woman by Harry's side. Black slowly approached them, wand out and pointed at the portrait.
"Shut up, you horrible hag," he spat at the woman.
"Yoooou!" she howled, her eyes popping at the sight of the man. "Blood traitor, abomination, shame of my flesh. How dare you show your ugly mug here after all these years! How dare you pollute my little Regulus with your filth..."
"Oh, shut your bloody gob!" Black snarled. "He polluted himself on his very own with no help from me," he grunted as tried to tug the curtains shut over the old woman.
The curtains refused to close, and Black appeared to be a little too weak, too winded, to do this on his own, so Harry grabbed the other one and with a stupendous effort they managed to force the curtains closed again.
The old woman's screeches died, and an echoing silence fell.
Panting slightly and sweeping his long dark hair out of his eyes Black turned to face him.
"Well, Harry," he said grimly. "I see you've met my mother."
"Your mother?" Harry mumbled. "You mean that's..."
"An ancestral house of a Black family," Black explained. "A miserable hovel that should be burnt down to the very ground it's standing on. But hey, it was warded, by a pair of very paranoid fuckers, one of which is still trying to recover from that blow below the belt you gave him. Nice one, by the way."
"Thank you," mumbled Harry suspiciously. "What I'm doing here?"
"From what I gathered having a family reunion planned by an idiot," replied Black with a shrug before he said, more to himself than Harry. "Let's give it a try..." he waved the wand he was holding and said, "Muffliato."
Nothing happened but Black appeared to be pleased and started walking around the hall pointing the wand on other portraits casting that 'Muffliato' spell on them followed by another, non-verbal spells, which made them glow faintly before he conjured similar, smaller curtains over every single one of them.
Finally, he stopped at the far end of the hallway and looked at Harry curiously before he said, "Are you coming? There's pizza in the kitchen."
At the mention of the pizza Harry's stomach grumbled loudly and he sighed to himself. It was evident that he wasn't going to get out without assistance or a wand and even if he somehow would manage to wrestle the wand out of Black's grasp there was no telling what other spells could have been placed on the door.
He was screwed and the best thing he could do was, well, make the best out of the situation he found himself in, like say eating a bloody pizza with an escaped convict from Azkaban. And seeing that Black was more than capable of doing magic because he was conjuring stuff (which according to Hermione was an advanced level of Transfiguration) therefore he had to be a wizard, and as one and an escaped convict both, he had to escape from the only wizarding prison Harry knew about, Azkaban. Unless there was another one.
Shows how much ignorant you're of the world you are spending ten months in, he told himself. Well, not anymore, he added pensively. He didn't know what was worse, Black and Green, or the Ministry of Magic officials who were ready to snap his wand in two outside.
Black at the very least didn't appear to be hostile. Oh, he, for sure, wanted something from Harry but whatever it was he wasn't going to get it out of Harry by using force. And Harry could work with that. He had plenty of experience in dealing with lunatics.
So, in the end, he followed Black down the narrow stone stairs that were behind the main staircase. Through the open door at the bottom of the stairs, he saw a cavernous room with rough stone walls. Most of the light was coming from a large fire at the far end of the room. Through the entire length of it loomed the menacing shapes of heavy iron pots and pans hanging from the dark ceiling. The wooden table over which they hung was long and narrow with several chairs crammed around it and Black was already sitting at the far end of it.
Harry slowly, almost gingerly, approached him, spying five boxes of Joe's Pizzas' placed one upon the other. On the table, there were also several bottles of soda, water, and various juices. It reminded Harry of the evenings when Aunt Petunia let Dudley's friends come over to watch TV.
He shook his head and seated himself, all the time watching the pizza box which Black opened and was already helping himself to a very generous slice. Salami and mushrooms. He liked salami and mushrooms, at least when it used to be on the top of the pizza when pizza was on lunch menu in primary school.
"Can I?" Harry asked cautiously as he pointed at the pizza.
"Sure," Black mumbled mid-chew and he waved his hand at the box, chewing and swallowing the bite before he added, "I know that at least one of them is an egg, avocado, and pickles if you like such a thing."
Harry stared at him.
"My thoughts exactly," said Black with a slight smirk. "Reg is a bloody heathen. He might have brought another one with pineapple, peach, and anchovies."
"Well, he can eat them himself," muttered Harry. "I hate anchovies."
"Me too," Black agreed before he asked, "Soda or juice?"
"I get to pick?" asked Harry pointedly.
"Sure, why not?" Black asked sceptically.
"Oh, you know, this kidnapping thing is confusing," shrugged Harry as he reached for a slice of pizza.
"If it's any consolation he kidnapped me too," shrugged Black between a bite of pizza. "I would never set a foot in this house willingly even if my life depended on it."
"Why?" asked Harry curiously. "You said that it's an ancestral house of Black family and last time I checked you were named Sirius Black."
"And you were supposed to be named Euphemius Fleamont," said Black just as Harry was about to clamp his teeth on a generous bite of pizza.
"What?" he sputtered and stared at Black.
"You heard me," shrugged Black with a small grin and paused long enough for another bite. "Almost through your mum's entire pregnancy, you were supposed to be either Euphemia Fleamont if you were going to be a girl or an Euphemius Fleamont if you were a boy."
"But I'm not," mumbled Harry. "My name is Harry James Potter."
"That it is," nodded Black with a smile. "Luckily for you, even before you were born, you had in your life people who could see how miserable life of one Euphemius Fleamont Potter could get. Add into that the fact that your father somehow managed to put himself out of commission in the last few hours of your birth and the fact that it was a long and complicated one and your mother really needed to curse at and curse someone. Once she recovered from the birth, she told your dad that until he could get through childbirth like a proper father, and not a useless wimp that almost poisoned himself by accident, he had all of his naming rights revoked."
"I bet it went well," sighed Harry.
"Better than I imagined," shrugged Black, still smiling. "Your mother was far more susceptible to suggestions once your dad's choices were out of the picture. Sure, for next few hours she had some other ideas, some crazier than the others, but eventually she conceded that Harrison James was a good, not embarrassing, name and that it will wear itself well."
"How did you know that?" asked Harry curiously. "I mean you were in the room at some point of time obviously..."
"James and Lily named me your godfather," whispered Black softly, so softly that Harry barely heard him.
"Godfather?" Harry echoed. "You mean my guardian? I have other guardians that the Dursleys?" he asked eagerly.
"Well, there is me," Black said sheepishly. "Supposedly legally appointed in your parents' last will and testament as a guardian of any children your parents might have. There's also another one, a werewolf, who wouldn't have been given any legal rights due to his condition, but it never bothered your parents and in case they managed to predecease us..."
"Which they did," nodded Harry.
"… he was supposed to step up as my counterweight into the role of your ipso facto godfather," Black finished pensively.
"Why he hadn't?" asked Harry curiously.
"Excellent question. I'm going to ask him that next time I'll see him," said Black with a shrug. "I have some idea why, which mostly gets back to him being werewolf, but I don't think it's that simple. That's obviously not going to happen any time soon. Then there is Reg," he added slowly.
"Reg? Who?" Harry asked quickly. "You mean Professor Green? Isn't his name Martin? He's my other guardian?"
"Not really," answered Black. "Not legally at least. You might know him as Professor Martin Green, but his real name is Regulus Black and he's my younger brother. He might consider himself as some sort of a guardian seeing, I've been out of commission for nearly last twelve years and unlike me, he had an access to you. But you will have to ask him yourself for clarification."
"Whom and of what?" came a grunt from the doorway, and Green… well, the other Black, Regulus entered the room.
He was walking, slightly slouched, as if he couldn't decide whatever or not keep his legs together or apart. Finally, he found himself on the opposite side of the table to Harry and dropped into a chair with a heavy sigh.
"You and about who is Harry to you," Black, Sirius answered.
"Right now, my former student and the bane of my existence," mumbled Regulus as he literary out of nowhere produced about ten different wands. "Here have some wands and give me mine back."
"I would also want my wand back," said Harry pointedly.
"Sirius," Regulus glared at Sirius.
"Whose wand it is?" Sirius asked as he raised Harry's wand into the air.
"Mine," Harry and Regulus said in unison and stared at each other.
"This one is yours," Regulus said finally as raised his right hand with a singular wand in it. "This one," he pointed with that single one at Sirius's hand, "is mine. They're both made from holly wood which is why you're confusing them but yours is shorter for about an inch and a half," he passed the wand to Sirius.
Sirius held both wands together, side by side and showed Harry the difference in their lengths before he passed both wands back to their original owners and asked, "Where did you find them?"
"Mother's," shrugged Regulus. "There were more in there, but I only took the ones which, I remembered answering to you at all. I might have gotten it wrong but there's some more holly, ebony, fir, blackthorn, cypress."
"Cores?" Sirius asked.
"All of Ollivander's," answered Regulus. "Anything particular?"
"Dragon heartstrings or phoenix feathers," explained Sirius. "Unicorn hairs never worked well for me."
Regulus put away about a half of the wands he was holding and extending the remaining half to Sirius. Sirius picked them all, placed on the table in front of him before he tried one after the other. The first three quickly landed back on the table but the last two had him weighing and twirling them before he, using both wands he wordlessly conjured a lump of snow which quickly turned into a nice and very detailed looking sculpture of a sleeping cat.
"Ebony is good but the one with dragon heartstrings is better," he said finally as he placed the other one on the table, away from the other three, next to Harry's hand before he levitated the sculpture towards Regulus and unceremoniously dropped it into Regulus lap.
"Thanks, fucker," mumbled Regulus as started swiping the snow down on the floor.
"Happy to help," said Sirius cheekily. "How are your family jewels?"
"At the moment shrivelling," snorted Regulus. "But it's better than earlier," he added with a sigh before he looked at Harry and said, "You kick like a preschool girl."
"Had any of them kick you lately?" asked Sirius pointedly.
"Sometimes I assist in rudimental self-defence classes the school holds for our youngest students," grumbled Regulus. "You know stranger-danger and how to protect yourself if someone tries to grab you," he added. "For me, it involves a lot of biting, kicking and headbutting but I always wear protective gear. I learned long time ago that testicles are a primary target in such cases."
"I'm not sorry," Harry said simply as he rolled the wand Sirius left by his hand with his forefinger.
"I wouldn't buy it even if you said that you are," retorted Regulus with a shrug. "You might look like a mini version of James Potter, but that obstinacy and cheek reminds me more of him," he pointed at Sirius, "than James. Never saw James kick anyone in family jewels, unlike you," he glared at Sirius.
"Oh, he was honourable in that manner," chuckled Sirius.
"Yeah, at least two against one was more down his alley and he always had you for that," snorted Regulus. "You, at the very least, were brave or stupid enough to get into a fight without back up."
"I'm not even going to dignify that with a response," muttered Sirius.
"Good," said Regulus with a shrug before he reached for a slice of pizza. "Because you're going to sorely lose," he added before he took a bite.
"He got into a lot of fights?" asked Harry quietly. "My dad I mean."
"Countless," answered Regulus between bites. "He was a resident troublemaker and when your mother was in the picture..." he shook his head. "All bets were off, scared off few of her potential boyfriends and few of the actual ones."
"Well, some of them really deserved it," muttered Sirius. "Terrence Hooper was a first class wanker. Even Lily admitted that she didn't know what she saw in him. Claimed a temporal loss of all her senses from what I remember."
"What about Evan Proudfoot?" asked Regulus. "He was the gentlest..."
"… prick that never met an eager cunt he didn't like, and he met plenty of them?" finished Sirius with a shrug.
"Language," muttered Regulus.
"Well, that wasn't James," shrugged Sirius. "All that happened to him was Lily when she saw him balls deep in Yvette Griffin's love cave."
"And you just happened to be passing by, am I right?" snorted Regulus.
"No, actually she was following me because she was convinced that I was up to something and equally convinced that I hadn't seen her following me. It annoyed me as hell that day, so I decided to shatter some illusions," clarified Sirius with another shrug.
"How nice of you to do that," commented Regulus. "What a great friend you are."
"The best," smirked Sirius. "After that, she used to come to me fishing for gossip about prospective boyfriends and I might have been truthful about ninety percent of the time."
"Really?" Regulus asked pointedly. "I'm supposed to believe that?"
"Have you seen Lily Evans bad side?" retorted Sirius. "It was a dark and scary place to find yourself in. Alone."
"Alone, because Potter got the kids in the divorce," finished Regulus with a chuckle.
"What kids?" asked Harry curiously. "You have kids?"
"One, to some extent, you," Sirius answered with a smile. "He means our other friends. At the beginning of our sixth year we had a huge fight..." he paused and shook his head. "It took us the rest of that school year to get back to where we were been but it worked out for the best in the end."
"It had," nodded Regulus. "At the time," he added after a moment and sighed, "I wonder..." but after a moment he shook his head.
"Not back then," sighed Sirius. "He didn't have time for that, not back then. He was a slow learner and never particularly talented and his mother was most displeased with his O.W.L.s results," he shook his head. "He was supposed to be a Healer..."
"Are you kidding me?" asked Regulus with a snort. "Him? A healer? He was the lousiest potion maker I ever saw."
"My point exactly," grumbled Sirius. "So during the summer after our fifth year she changed her mind to a Ministry worker and for that he needed top grades, especially in History of Magic which he had failed but she somehow managed to wrangle an exemption out of Binns and Dumbledore but he had five years of lousy grades in History of Magic to make up on the top of studying the sixth and seventh year material. I doubt that he had enough time to wipe his arse properly between all the history books he had to read," he shook his head. "No, that definitely came much later, after we graduated."
"You can't be sure," muttered Regulus.
"But I can," shrugged Sirius. "I got into Auror training on the top of the list with two Third Class Masteries under my belt. James signed the contract with Puddlemere United before we even left Hogwarts and while he didn't have any sort of mastery in any subject, he made the first string within the first month. Even Remus got into Borgin & Burke with his masteries in Defence and Charms, they let him go after first full moon, but the important thing was that he got in."
"And he hadn't," nodded Regulus. "What he was doing?"
"Cleaning at The Daily Prophet headquarters because he failed N.E.W.T. in History of Magic," answered Sirius with a shrug. "He made it to some sort of an assistant or researcher of a reporter eventually, I'm not sure. I was up to my ears in books or old reports at the time and I barely remembered my own name. But if he fell with the bad crowd it had to happen after we started working separately. James might have been way into Lily to pay attention to anything but her and his studies and Remus might have been a little frazzled with all the studying he needed to do to catch up with his masteries."
"But you, thanks to the sixth year, were ahead of schedule," Regulus nodded again.
"A little," Sirius confirmed. "Enough to be aware of my surroundings and what my friends were up to. Serving a Dark Lord wasn't one of those things, not at the time."
"Well, he made it all up," snorted Regulus. "Big," he muttered and shook his head. "But why them of all people?"
"Beats me," admitted Sirius. "Your guess is as good as mine. They've been in the Order, they openly supported Dumbledore and his beliefs. If Voldemort," Regulus shuddered at the mention, "returned they would be amongst the first people to know."
"Death Eaters would be the first people to know and I asked you to stop using that name when I'm in the room," Regulus said grimly. "He wouldn't even need to hide if he ended with Death Eaters."
"I disagree," Sirius shook his head. "What happened on that Halloween night?"
"The Dark Lord had fallen, the world rejoiced, and some people were devastated by the loss of good people in the process," answered Regulus.
"Exactly," Sirius nodded quickly. "The Dark Lord had fallen. One of the most powerful and influential dark wizards of our era. One, who at the time was a series of successful assassinations away from ruling the country. One who had his spies everywhere he could put them, and he put them in high places or paid his way into them."
"I would like to remind you that I was out of commission for the last months of the year 1979, entire of 1980 and a better part of 1981. And I didn't get to hear any news from wizarding world until late spring of 1982," muttered Regulus.
"My point is, that Wanker came very close to succeeding in his plot of taking over the country and he would have succeeded if he didn't fixate himself on James and Lily," Sirius explained. "But he had, and he found his way in," he paused and shook his head. "He found them," he whispered softly, "he found them even if he wasn't supposed to find them and there he had fallen," he paused again. "Vanquished by a baby who could barely say his own name, let alone hold a wand," he sighed.
"Still..." Regulus started.
"And who led him there?" Sirius asked. "Who told him where he can find the Potters? Who was indirectly responsible for his downfall?"
"The one who led him there," Regulus answered with a nod. "No wonder he never went looking for help on his side. If he was found alive by any of the staunch believers, he would have been immediately considered as Dumbledore's spy and killed on the spot."
"Who you're talking about?" Harry asked, not really wishing to know the answer but they were talking about his parents and Voldemort.
"Peter Pettigrew," spat Sirius. "The man who sold your parents to V.." he looked at Regulus.
"Voldemort," Harry finished of him and Regulus shuddered at the mention of that name. "It's just a name."
"It bloody isn't," grumbled Regulus. "By 1979 the Dark Lord started experimenting with the Taboo spell. It's a very powerful spell that was firstly designed by and for Healers. It started out as a ward, anchored to geographical points of small areas and was designed to alert the caster of the use of a key word, which was usually Healer's name or just simply a word Healer, and was supposed to reveal speaker's location," he explained. "So, they could come and heal anyone who used it. It felt out of use when St Mungo's was built and Floo became popular, but it didn't stop some people from remembering that it once existed and how it could be used."
"True," Sirius nodded pensively. "But it wasn't widely used..."
"He was planning to build a series of anchor points all over the country," Regulus interrupted him harshly. "It might not have been widely used at the time but that doesn't change the fact that it was used and that's why few members of the Order of the Phoenix and few Aurors had lost their lives," he muttered grimly. "And the Dark Lord himself might be out of commission but not all of his followers were locked in Azkaban after he had fallen, some of those people weaselled their way out of it and some of them remember it. So, do all of us a favour and shut your bloody gobs when you think of using that name," he growled before he closed his arms over his chest.
"I'm not calling him the Dark Lord," Sirius shook his head just as Harry said, "I'm not calling him You-Know-Who."
"I told you to call him Dark Wanker or Wanker if you must just stop saying his name," hissed Regulus angrily. "I don't want to test the extent of the wards here because you two are too careless."
"Alright, Wanker it is," sighed Sirius.
"Weren't only his followers supposed to call him the Dark Lord?" Harry asked pensively, trying to recall from whom he first heard it but coming up blank. "And who are Death Eaters?"
"Knights of the bloody Walpurgis," spat Regulus. "A supposedly secret clique of Tom Riddle's old school colleagues. Mostly Slytherins, but they were recruited from all houses equally, even out of other wizarding schools. Generally pure-bloods, at the very least half-bloods of pure-blood descent and ones with magical parents. People who believed in the superiority of wizards, who wanted to purify wizarding race by killing any Muggles, Muggle-borns, and blood-traitors they could they get their hands on. Their long-term aim was conquering magical Great Britain and achieving a global dictatorship under the magical regime, preferably theirs."
"And in return for their loyalty they got a set of black robes, a mask and a license to kill anyone they didn't like," added Sirius grimly before he turned towards Regulus and said, "Walpurgis?"
"It's not a fucking coincidence," huffed Regulus. "She was, what, a year ahead of him? And always very vocal with her believes."
"Well, fuck," Sirius grumbled and he hid his face in his hands.
"It could have been worse," sighed Regulus.
"Worse how? He named his original clique after our bloody mother," muttered Sirius.
"He could have been our father," Regulus dead-panned.
"No," Sirius facepalmed.
"Had our mother been more susceptible to his charms and looked past his pitiful upbringing," Regulus continued. "Heir of the Slytherin or not, he was still a half-blood and one of the lesser varieties. Grandpa Pollux might have considered that match as favourable, but you know our dear old mum, only a proper pure-blood would do."
"Which is why she married, her own second cousins," Sirius grumbled as he hit his face again. "Which in return makes us both brothers and third cousins."
"Told you that it could get worse," Regulus snickered.
"Got any other shocking revelations up in your sleeve?" Sirius muttered into his hand as he watched Regulus through his outstretched fingers.
"If it's any consolation it would have freaked me too," admitted Harry. "But look at the bright sight. He's not your father," he added with as much cheer as he could muster.
Sirius looked at Harry as he arched his left eyebrow at him.
"So how did he get from Knights of Walpurgis to Death Eaters?" Harry asked as he looked at Regulus.
"Through careful selection of the former," Regulus explained.
Harry arched his left eyebrow at him.
"Really," chuckled Regulus. "His oldest and most loyal, for the lack of the better word, friends formed the inner circle of Death Eaters and carried his brand," he added as he rubbed his left forearm. "Time passed, they procreated, their heirs provided next wave. They used to sign their kills with his brand, a snake emerging from open mouth of a skull. The spell used to conjure it was Morsmordre. It derives from French mort which stands for death and mordre which stand for to bite. Death biting. The few survivors left who heard the spell being cast provided the further derivation into Death Eaters, the name attributed to the Dark Lord's most loyal servants."
"And how did you learn all of it?" asked Harry curiously. "Did you interview him by any chance? Please Mr Riddle could you clarify something for me.." he started.
"No," Regulus interrupted him and he shook his head, shrugged, crossed his arms and uncrossed them again. "He interviewed me," he sighed heavily.
"And what you told him?" Harry asked, not really wanting to hear the answer but he couldn't stop himself.
"That I want in," Regulus said slowly as he placed his left arm on the table and rolled up his sleeve to his elbow.
Harry's blood turned into ice. There he was, in the same house with Voldemort's follower, trading barbs and laughing at the idea of Voldemort fathering, well, anyone. More than that, he was kidnapped by that man.
Against all instincts, which screamed at him to run, he looked closely at Regulus's forearm. The mark was barely visible, like a light smear of ash on the otherwise pale skin but it was evidently there. He could see the skull and the snake getting out of its mouth.
This was a mark of Voldemort, on his follower, on his kidnapper… and a man who taught him Mathematics in primary school. Was it another of Voldemort's plots? If he somehow survives, locate Potter and keep an eye on him? Teach him even, in a Muggle primary school of all places? Sure, Voldemort was barking mad but even he wouldn't be able to find anyone willing to endure teaching people they considered inferior for years on end.
"So, you got in," Harry finally said. "Did you like it?" he asked pointedly.
"At first," Regulus sighed heavily. "And then I realised that I made the second biggest mistake of my life other than not listening to that infernal hat."
"Really?" Sirius mumbled. "Please do tell me that it wanted to place you in Gryffindor."
"Ravenclaw," retorted Regulus. "Not that it would help me in the long run because Bella was very persuasive and not someone I wanted to cross on her good day, let alone a bad one. But," he shrugged "there's no use crying over spilt milk. What matters is that finally I realized how wrong I was and how deep in shit I found myself."
"And what? You handed over your resignation letter?" snorted Harry.
"You don't hand a Dark Lord a resignation letter," snorted Regulus. "Not if you want to live afterwards," he shrugged. "So, I disobeyed a direct order, got a price put on my own head and proceed to thoroughly fuck up his long-term plans and few of his followers that came after me. Fucked myself up in the process too, but in the end, I emerged victorious, something the Dark Lord won't be once I will take care of his Horcruxes..."
"A what?" Harry asked over Sirius's sputtered echo of the word.
"He has a Horcrux?" whispered Sirius before Regulus had a chance to answer. "A bloody Horcrux? Strike that, Horcruxes, Horcruxi? As in more than one?"
"What's a Horcrux?" asked Harry, already feeling that it was something bad if it caused such reaction from Sirius, who looked at Harry as if he suddenly grew a second head.
"It's Dark Arts," Sirius said after a moment of uncomfortable silence. "One of the darkest parts of already dark branch of magic," he added with a sigh. "The term itself is used to refer to any object in which a person has concealed a part of his or her soul."
"So?" Harry asked curiously.
"So, he says," Sirius shook his head. "His parents would castrate me..."
"No, his mother would castrate you while his father would simply have a heart-attack," Regulus said simply. "James was allergic to any kind of mention of dark magic."
"You aren't helping," Sirius growled at him.
"To create a Horcrux, by definition the spell-caster must have split his or her soul into fragments, so that one fragment can be implanted within the Horcrux while the other is retained in the spell-caster's own body," Regulus clarified.
"How one can split his soul into fragments?" asked Harry pensively.
"By committing a murder, Harry. That's why Horcruxes are considered as dark objects. Committing a murder rips the soul apart. There is also a spell and some dark ritual involved but even we, with our quite superior knowledge about Dark Arts, don't know it," answered Regulus grimly.
"So, the purpose of a Horcrux is to protect the given bit of soul from anything that might happen to the body of the person to whom the soul belongs," said Sirius slowly. "While the Horcrux is kept safe, the person will continue to exist even if his or her body is damaged or destroyed. That makes a sense because Vol… Wanker doesn't have a body... I was there Harry, I saw it... In the place he probably stood was a small pile of ashes and rags, nothing more."
"So that's why he managed to come back," Harry mumbled to himself.
"Excuse me? Did Vol.. Wanker came back after the attack at Godric's Hallow?" asked alarmed Sirius.
Harry gulped, he knew that he shouldn't say that out loud, but he had.
"Is there something which you are not telling us?" asked Sirius firmly.
Harry sighed before he started explaining what had happened during his first and second year. When he'd finished, he glanced at two men. They looked very grim.
"Tell me that it wasn't a Horcrux, Reg," mumbled Sirius.
"It was. Sounds like a Horcrux..." Regulus confirmed quietly. "That makes three if not more," he mumbled after a moment.
"Three?" Harry and Sirius breathed out in unison.
"At least," muttered Regulus. "I bet that there are more than three of them. To tell you the truth, I would be seriously surprised if they were only three, which technically gives use four pieces of the Dark Lord's soul. Three in Horcruxes and one which technically remains the Dark Lord."
"So, he can't be killed?" Harry whispered numbly.
"Technically, yes," Regulus grimaced. "Until all of his Horcruxes are destroyed he is pretty much immortal. I'm sorry, Harry," his voice sounded like he was really sorry.
"It's not your fault," Harry said, still numbly.
"Tell me how on earth you guessed that he was using Horcruxes?" Harry heard Sirius asking.
"The Dark Lord made a tactical mistake," said Regulus with a heavy sigh. "He entrusted one of the Horcruxes, a Slytherin locket, into hands of a house-elf, he brought him to the cave on the coast and hid the locket inside it. What he didn't realised at the time, and hopefully it didn't occur to him later, is that the master of said house-elf told him to come back home as soon as the Dark Lord won't require his services."
"So?" Harry and Sirius asked in almost perfect unison.
"So," Regulus drawled out. "I know that at least one of you knows that house-elf's highest biding is his master request. The house-elf in question was Kreacher and he told me everything."
"Oh, bugger," muttered Sirius.
"I told him to lie low and don't leave the house until it was really necessary. That's when I realised that I was stupid. Stupid enough to join, stupid enough to get myself in deep shit and all of it for that filthy, manipulative, homicidal half-blood," Regulus spat.
"Reg!" Sirius barked.
"I'm telling the truth..." muttered Regulus. "The Dark Lord is a filthy half-blood and the fact that he is the heir of Slytherin is an insult to Slytherin."
"Weren't the heirs of Slytherin evil?" Harry asked suddenly.
"They weren't evil, just mad," sighed Regulus. "Inbreeding caught with them a lot earlier than with the Blacks or the Potters."
"What?" Harry breathed out.
"I'm myopic and I used to have a sixth toe in my left foot. Sirius ended with two sixth toes and scrawny knees..."
Regulus said but he was cut off by Sirius outraged exclamation, "Reg!"
"What? I'm telling the truth," Regulus said with a shrug. "As for the Potters, guess who you can thank for being nearly blind?" he asked. "Top it with your hair and general scrawniest and you will end with inbreeding between pure-bloods. The Blacks, the Prewetts, the McMillans, the Longbottoms, even the Weasleys just to name few families you're distantly related to."
"In fact, you're our second cousin," added Sirius. "You see, James's mother Dorea..."
"A frivolous wrench," Regulus interrupted him.
"… was our grand aunt," Sirius finished.
"And a very lousy mother from what I've heard," grumbled Regulus.
"So lousy in fact that the only maternal thing she ever did for him was giving birth to him," added Sirius. "James was raised by his paternal grandparents, Euphemia and Fleamont Potter. They were good and kind people, devastated by the premature loss of their son, Charlus, James's father. He died about six months after his wedding to Dorea and about three months into her pregnancy. A mugging gone wrong from what I remember."
"That was the official version," snorted Regulus.
"You know a different one?" Sirius asked pointedly.
"Actually, I do," nodded Regulus. "Unlike you, I had to soldier on through family gatherings and listening to various relatives venting their spleen. One of Grandpa Pollux's favourite subjects was Great-grandpa Cygnus's bout of insanity which initially led him into allowing Charlus Potter marry Dorea in the first place."
"Really?" Sirius muttered.
"Really," Regulus drawled out. "Charlus James Potter was a young, rich and handsome pure-blood with his family potion imperium behind him. He was very amenable and charismatic, a perfect future politician, in need of some guidance..."
"And let me guess, said guidance was supposed to come..." Sirius interrupted him.
"From the Black family, yes, you guessed correctly," nodded Regulus. "At least that was the image of Charlus Potter which Great-grandpa Cygnus got. An excellent, somewhat neutral match for his ageing old maid daughter."
"But?" Harry asked curiously.
"But that was just that, a picture," Regulus shrugged. "Sure, the Potters were loaded, not as rich as the Blacks but they built their fortune on a very lucrative field of potion making and Fleamont and his father Henry struck gold when, actually I think it was Fleamont, but I might be wrong, when they invented Sleekeazy Hair Potion," he explained.
"But?" asked Sirius. "Because there's a but in there."
"It is," nodded Regulus. "Fleamont and Euphemia had an only son whom they loved dearly, as much as, they spoiled him rotten. Nothing Charlus wanted wasn't out of his reach. Literary anything, he wanted his parents gave it to him as soon as they could get it. From what I know they raised James the very same way."
Sirius nodded slowly.
"What his parents, blinded by their love for him, couldn't see or didn't want to consider was that their sweet, amenable and charming son was a very manipulative bastard with very little scruples," continued Regulus. "He didn't want to head the family business, so he convinced his father to sell the company and live from royalties and patents. It was a very impressive sum, mind you, because Charlus could sell anything with little effort and to anyone when he needed money very badly, actual money to settle his gambling debts."
"It couldn't be a common knowledge," Sirius said.
"It wasn't," Regulus shook his head. "How do you think he eventually ran into Dorea and where?"
"At one of Knight of Walpurgis meetings?" Harry asked pointedly, suspecting that that was the case.
"Exactly," nodded Regulus. "Ten points to Gryffindor."
"How did you.." Harry started but quickly shook his head and added, "Never mind."
"Dorea wasn't a beauty and at the time she was slowly nearing what even wizards consider as the age-line of being old maid even though she would be physically capable of conceiving and carrying a child for next twenty-five to thirty years," Regulus continued.
"How old was she?" Harry whispered at Sirius.
"She was forty years old when James was born so that makes her about thirty-eight, thirty-nine at the time," Sirius answered quietly.
"They no longer explain the biological differences between wizards and Muggles to Muggle-borns, do they?" Regulus asked pointedly.
"I don't know," Harry shrugged. "I'm not a Muggle-born and if there was any meeting that explained such differences I wasn't invited to attend it," he clarified.
At the Sirius and Regulus exchanged glances and something heavy settled in the air.
"Where I was..." Regulus said suddenly.
"At Dorea being not a very pretty old maid with a substantial dowry," Sirius said quickly.
"I didn't say that it was substantial," grumbled Regulus.
"You're forgetting that before they switched to you after I got myself sorted into Gryffindor our parents raised me as an heir of the family," muttered Sirius. "I've seen the legal documents which settled the exact height of Meda's, Cissy's and Bella's dowries. They were very generous, each of them upon marrying would receive 200 thousand galleons, 1oo thousands to be paid directly into their husbands family accounts while the other 100 thousands would be placed in a trust fund in their own name only as a safety deposit in case some unfortunate circumstances had befallen on their husbands families."
"We are operating in millions of pounds, aren't we?" Harry asked curiously.
"Yes," Sirius and Regulus said in unison.
"And in dowries only," Regulus added after a moment. "By the time of my supposed demise the worth of Black family accounts was around five to five and a half million galleons and we're talking only about actual, physical money in them. Mind you, I'm not including jewellery and other valuable objects, various estates in and out of the country."
"That would be another five to five and a half million," muttered Sirius.
"What you can do with that big amount of money?" Harry sputtered. "That's about..."
"54 to 55 million pounds sterling?" Regulus finished. "As for what we do with them? Well, what all pure-blood families do. We mostly gather them through securing valuable marriages to other wealthy pure-blood families. We invest them in various companies or politicians. Generally, we sit on them, so we can pass them on for future generations like all pure-bloods do."
"It's stupid," Harry grumbled.
"I know," sighed Regulus. "Don't you think I realise that? As a teacher in the primary school, I make about 19 thousand pounds a year. That's about 3815 galleons and that's the amount of money our mother used to spend on a small shopping spree," he grunted. "The idea that I'm an heir to a family that could buy out entire Little Whinging, bulldoze it and build it right back from scratches without making a serious dent in the family vaults pisses me off to no end," he grumbled.
"Well, technically you're supposed to be dead," mumbled Sirius.
"I know," snorted Regulus.
"But I'm not," smirked Sirius.
"Technically you're supposed to be an escaped convict," Harry pointed out.
"To wizards," Sirius beamed at him. "Not to goblins. Here's the funny thing about goblins, they like money, gold, and valuables."
"Everybody knows that," Harry rolled his eyes at him.
"Yes," chuckled Sirius. "But what everybody seemingly forgets is that they benefit from goblins' hoarding nature. Every single branch of Gringotts is an independent bank on its own globally connected with other branches. They make money from everything, transfer fees, conversion from galleons to pounds or other currency and back into galleons, and that's without touching the curse-breaking part of the business," he explained.
"Well, currency rate in each country is set by the government of the said country," Regulus said pensively. "Depending from the government it's either very Muggle friendly or not."
"But here's what wizards very often forget," said Sirius with a smirk. "Goblins are, well, goblins. To them, the money is what's the most important and they don't give a flying fuck where it came from, what matters is that it was made, that what they invested came back to them with interests."
"Right," Regulus nodded. "And wizards, even pure-bloods, especially pure-bloods are ignorant..."
"Mostly ignorant," Sirius interrupted him. "Our great-great grandfather Phineas Nigellus was famed in the family for two things. Being the worst Headmaster Hogwarts ever had and quadrupling the family fortune by giving the goblins free reign with making their investments."
"So, what they did?" Harry asked.
"Believe it or not, they invested it in Muggle manufactures, very carefully selected Muggle manufactures," chuckled Regulus. "During the Victorian era when Muggle industry had literally boomed," he clarified.
"Majority of pure-blood fortunes were built like that," Sirius nodded. "The more ignorant the head of the house the better, doesn't ask questions, gets happy with money his family gains, pays handsomely for the services, everybody wins."
"And how it applies to your status of a fugitive?" Harry asked.
"Well, the goblins don't like parting with their hard-earned money and they gain an interest rate, a very substantial interest rate for every year at least a certain amount of money spends in the vaults or in investments," Sirius said pensively. "They will only part with any given fortune and turn it over to the Ministry of Magic if they were legally obliged to do so and by legally obliged, I mean their way of being legally obliged."
"Which translates pretty much to a thorough wipe-out of an entire wizarding family," Regulus added. "And by wipe-out I mean total wipe-out, no heirs, no very distant relatives. Just an entire family tree of dead people. Happens very rarely and usually to very careless pure-bloods."
"Why careless?" Harry asked curiously.
"Because they don't want to give Ministry of Magic money without getting anything in return," Sirius shrugged. "Sure, there are taxes which everybody pays and there are bribes but the point of a bribe is giving money to someone for a favour. An appropriate law here or there, a new tax aimed at a specific group of people."
"Allowing Ministry of Magic to get their hands at a pretty substantial amount of money literally for nothing?" Regulus said in a mockingly offended tone. "Unacceptable. They should work for it like everybody else does."
"How that applies to you?" Harry looked at Sirius.
"Technically," it was Regulus who answered, "Sirius is the last heir of the Black family. He's both a male and comes from the main line of the Black family which is the legal requirement for receiving the entirety of Black family fortune."
"Patriarchy at its finest," Sirius muttered.
"Don't complain because there's the inheritance law that allows women to receive the inheritance..."
"After every single male in the line dies out, up and down, left and right, sideways and slant-ways," snorted Sirius. "For the record," he looked at Harry, "if that happens, she is legally obligated under the pain of death, to never take her husband's name, and never allow their children to carry his name."
"Cost of the survival of the family name," muttered Regulus.
"Yeah, under the pain of death," nodded Sirius.
"Fugitive," Harry said pointedly.
"Yes," Sirius nodded. "But here's the thing," he smirked in a way which made Harry shudder slightly, "I was imprisoned but I never had a trial, even more, I wasn't even properly questioned. There's no official paper trail on which I signed my own name. Ministry could have produced anything but for goblins to accept anything as legal by their standards..."
"… is for the paperwork to pass a very thorough goblin screening and by thorough, I mean painfully, anal-retentive screening," Regulus finished. "For any document to be considered by goblins as legally binding it needs to be signed by the subject willingly and in blood and magic with a blood quill and they have their own way of checking whatever or not the subjects signed the documents unwillingly."
"As well as nasty consequences for those who try to cheat," added Sirius. "Ministry of Magic can petition Gringotts all they want, they can't size the Black family fortune for as long as I'm alive and remain uncharged, with any crime by goblin standards."
"So, they pretty much shot themselves in a foot," shrugged Regulus. "Speaking of which at some point you need..."
"To update my last will and testament?" Sirius asked. "That's pretty easy, don't you think?"
"Harry..." Regulus stated.
"… and you, though I have to find a way around the fact that you're supposedly dead," finished Sirius. "You might consider rising from the grave for the duration of that meeting."
"Not gonna happen until the Dark Lord perishes again," Regulus objected firmly. "Speaking of which," he added as he looked at Harry. "Did Dumbledore ever tell you why the Dark Lord wanted to kill you in the first place?"
Harry shrugged his shoulders and shook his head before he said, "No."
At that Regulus and Sirius exchanged glances again, it was the same sort of exchange he saw between Mrs and Mr Weasley last summer when he spent the end of his vacation at the Burrow. It didn't happen a lot and usually when the twins were up to something, but it did happen and it felt as if the two of them were having an unspoken conversation. That the same thing happened with Regulus and Sirius unnerved him.
"Well, he promised me that he will tell me eventually..." Harry added quickly. "When I'm older, ready to hear it."
"How… considerate of him" Regulus started softly but quickly his voice gained this tone that reminded Harry very much of Snape at his most livid. "Pray tell, did he also tell you when that's gonna happen?" he added harshly.
Harry shook his head quickly.
"How... convenient," muttered Regulus. "Did he tell you anything at all?" he asked curiously.
"Plenty," shrugged Harry. "About the stone. The Flamels. How he hid the stone inside the Mirror or Erised."
"Oh yes, the mirror," snorted Sirius. "How convenient it was that he was there when you ran into it."
"Not at first," Harry objected. "And well, the fact that I ran into it and remembered how it works helped me in stopping…" he paused for a moment to weigh which moniker he should use to describe Voldemort., "Wanker from returning, that time."
"Yes, it had," grumbled Regulus. "Doesn't change the fact that you were an eleven years old boy with literally no prior magical training when that happened. Doesn't change the fact that you were supposed to be under the care of one of the most powerful wizards of our era. Doesn't change the fact that his so-called protections set around the stone were so bloody weak that not only they failed to stop the Dark Lord from passing through them, they failed to stop three eleven years old from passing through them."
"Let's not forget the best questions of all," added Sirius grimly. "Why Dumbledore felt the need to move the stone into Hogwarts in the first place?"
"Because he was worried that Wanker was going to try and steal it in order to regain his body," Harry pointed out.
"Isn't that curious that he became so concerned with the safety of the stone that he had to take it into the castle in the very same year you were supposed to start your magical education?" asked Sirius.
"Coincidence?" Harry offered.
"That would be his fifth name," snorted Regulus. "No, Harry, there's no such a thing as coincidence when Albus Dumbledore is involved," he shook his head. "Did you know that he was the leader of the organisation called Order of the Phoenix? Their main purpose was aiding Aurors and the Ministry of Magic in opposing the Dark Lord. They usually operated on the fringes of the law, spied on people who were suspected of being Death Eaters or who had extensive contacts with Death Eaters..." he looked at Sirius pointedly.
"It was never that much simple, Reg," snorted Sirius. "Yes, trying to foil Wanker's plans and keeping tabs on known and suspected Death Eaters was part of it but the main purpose of the Order was ensuring continued safety and survival of people who dared to oppose him."
"Like a counterweight to Knights of Walpurgis?" Harry asked.
"Essentially, yes," nodded Sirius. "It worked on the very same principle, just on the different side of the conflict. Recruitment tactics were similar, people of similar views to Dumbledore's, that Wanker and his Death Eaters need to be stopped or at the very least curbed slightly. But the Order was nowhere near as ruthless as Death Eaters, the dirty work was always left to the Aurors because you can't have the civilians killing people," he shook his head. "And I was both, an Auror and an Order member, so I know that side of the Order pretty well."
"Let me guess?" asked Regulus. "Blanket ban on killing?"
"It wasn't that bad," sighed Sirius. "The same restrictions that applied for the Aurors. Only if they refuse to surrender and you really have no other choice but to kill them. Which is how and why we lost some pretty good people," he added grimly. "Dumbledore abhorred unnecessary bloodshed and was always very disappointed when we had to resort to killing rather than capturing them."
"You got into his face?" asked Regulus pointedly.
"Once or twice," shrugged Sirius. "My own life I didn't much care about. But when the lives of other people were in the picture? Well, all bets were off. I'm not going to beg to surrender someone who fails to do so after I issued the first order for them to surrender themselves. Not when they already killed someone and are threatening to kill someone else. Especially if their victims are still in the very same room. My oath as an Auror was to protect and serve."
"And look where it got you," muttered Regulus.
"And where it got you?" Sirius pointed out.
"The same place," shrugged Regulus. "And that once or twice seemed to be enough for him to let you rot in Azkaban without a trial."
"What he could have done?" asked Harry quickly.
"Anything," Regulus shrugged again. "Literally anything. You see, Harry, at the time Sirius was arrested and sent to Azkaban without a trial or even proper questioning under Veritaserum – a powerful truth potion used to interrogate unwilling suspects charged with the worst kinds of crimes – Dumbledore was Chief Warlock of Wizengamot, the most important person in our justice system."
"All he had to do was reviewing the case file and ordering a thorough questioning under Veritaserum," muttered Sirius.
"And he hadn't?" whispered Harry. "But why?"
"I don't know," shrugged Sirius. "Because my usefulness ran out? Wanker was gone and without him, his followers were much easier to catch. Because as a free man I was nothing more than an inconvenience for him? I'm your godfather, your parents were dead, and their last will and testament appointed me as your legal guardian. Someone responsible for your upbringing, your safety, and your continued survival."
"And where you ended?" asked Regulus pointedly.
"With the Dursleys," mumbled Harry.
"Exactly," nodded Regulus. "With the least suitable guardians, you could have ended. You vanquished a Dark Lord. Nobody knew how you did it, but you had. You were raised by Muggles and as a Muggle. I know more about your family history than you do."
"And I hazard a guess that I know more about the state of the Potter family affairs and estates that you do," added Sirius pensively. "And it wasn't that I listened very intently to the subject when it was brought up. I was far more concerned with how the knowledge that he was raised by his grandparents instead of parents affected your father. Because you see, up until their last will and testament was opened James believed that Euphemia and Fleamont Potter were his parents and considering that both his parents predeceased them..."
"But what he could gain from..." Harry started.
"A saviour of wizarding world unblemished by wizarding upbringing," Regulus interrupted him. "And with guardians like the Dursleys? One that would be eager to belong to the world he was born into. One that would do anything to stay there, to save it, again."
"Now imagine that instead of the Dursleys you were raised in wizarding world," said Sirius with a heavy sigh. "Imagine growing in a place where you are loved and cared for. By people whose primary concern is your safety and continued survival, by people who would do anything to protect you from harm."
"Like telling you why the Dark Lord wanted to kill you in the first place," supplied Regulus. "Like making sure that you will be prepared if he will try to go after you again. Which he had and when it happened all you had behind you, were your friends and knowledge of how Mirror of Erised works."
"Maybe some rudimental first year level defence training," added Sirius.
"Taught by a teacher who had a Dark Lord stuck on the other side of his head?" asked Regulus pointedly. "I don't think so," he shook his head. "He might have gone with the barest minimum required to not raise too many suspicions and that's not much."
"Let's not forget the Basilisk," muttered Sirius. "One of the deadliest dark creatures known to mankind and where was Dumbledore?"
"Lucius Malfoy chased him away from school," Harry answered quickly. "You can't expect..."
"One of the most powerful wizards in the world to know better?" Regulus supplied. "To do something about something that slithers through the school he was sworn to protect? For people, he was sworn to protect? To hire a properly trained wizard for Defence Against the Dark Arts post?"
"Instead of setting private score with a pompous git with a penchant for memory spells?" Sirius added quickly. "You might not trust me completely, but you can trust me with this. Dumbledore knows plenty of people who owe him favours. Quite a lot of them, are more or less, well oriented in certain aspects of Defence Against the Dark Arts. He knows people who are capable of taking this position..."
"Even with the curse on the position being true," muttered Regulus. "For all that we know Dumbledore was sitting in his tower, or who knows where, twirling his thumbs and doing absolutely nothing to stop the Slytherin monster."
"You really hate him, don't you?" asked Harry pensively.
"Not him personally," Regulus answered with a shrug. "I hate his type. Manipulative bastards that use other people to achieve their own ends under the guise of whatever appeals more to their audience, be it either pure-blood supremacy or so-called greater good. I served one and I saw what serving another had done to my brother. They're both worthy of each other and being locked in together, somewhere far away from the civilisation, under state of the art heavy anti-apparation wards."
"You know that it would only create a power vacuum, don't you?" Sirius asked pointedly.
"Yeah," nodded Regulus. "You remember that old Ravenclaw adage?" he added as he looked at Sirius. "I'm sure you do, you had Ravenclaw and house-misplaced Ravenclaw friends."
"Knowledge is power, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely so let's study hard and be evil?" Sirius quickly making Harry snort at that. "Except," he continued, "it doesn't work like that."
"But it does," Regulus protested. "In theory at the very least. Who builds pretty much every government?"
"Charismatic people with financial backup," answered Sirius.
"Well educated, intelligent and charismatic people with financial backup," Regulus clarified. "There's only as far as one can get on charisma alone, at some point you hit a glass ceiling..."
"What about Fudge?" Harry interrupted him. "He is a Minister for Magic, an idiot and one that sits in Lucius Malfoy's pocket."
"True," nodded Sirius. "He is a biscuit short of a pocket."
"And whose son he is?" Regulus asked pointedly. "I'm sure you remember," he nodded in Sirius's direction.
"Aurelius Fudge, the royal pain in our father's arse, his and pretty much every single head of the family that aligned themselves with Knights of Walpurgis," Sirius said pensively. "He was also a thorn in Dumbledore's side, not a big one, mind you," he nodded at Harry "but a thorn nevertheless."
"The Fudges, and by the Fudges I mean Cornelius' forefathers, subscribed to the philosophy of neutrality. They believed in peaceful coexistence between wizards and Muggles, after all, prior to the founding of the Statue of Secrecy wizards and Muggles coexisted in local communities and each side benefited from other side's knowledge. They lived together, they worked together," explained Regulus.
"But here's the problem with neutrality, any kind of neutrality," Sirius interrupted him. "At least in wizarding world. It's seen as cowardice, as lack of courage to proclaim more radical believes, whatever it is pure-blood supremacy or openly Muggle friendly believes."
"Doesn't change the fact that it still exists," Regulus continued. "Or the fact that quite a lot of people subscribe to that kind of philosophy. Neutrals believe in the preservation of wizarding culture and at the same time they want to enrich it with innovations developed my Muggles or Muggle-borns."
"Which in eyes of pure-blood supremacists makes them radical Muggle loving fools," muttered Sirius. "Even though they really aren't. And in the eyes of openly Muggle friendly individuals, it makes them..."
"Pure-blood supremacists," Harry finished.
"Which means that one way or the other they're screwed," added Regulus. "But patient and persistent. Occasionally a very charismatic neutral made to a Minister for Magic, but they had to be very cautious and political mood had to be right for them to get elected. I don't know what became of Aurelius, but I believe that he was considered as Bagnold's replacement..."
"Dragon pox, at his age," said Sirius slowly. "In late 1987 or early 1988, hence Cornelius' election. Millicent Bagnold wasn't young when she was elected in 1980. I think she was fifty-five at the time, at least not younger than fifty-five," he added pensively.
"And even though wizards live longer than Muggles the job of a Minister for Magic when the Dark Lord was at the peak of his power was a dangerous one," added Regulus.
"Yeah," Sirius nodded. "Guess why Bagnold was elected?" he looked at Regulus.
"Because Minchum was finally successfully assassinated?" Regulus asked. "I'm actually surprised that he lasted that long."
"Well, Bagnold was better," Sirius snorted. "From what I remember Wanker gave Minchum three months before first assassination attempt?"
"Three and a half," said Regulus. "And Bagnold?"
"Inauguration ball," answered Sirius.
Regulus whistled at that.
"Two attempts," added Sirius.
Regulus whistled again.
"Both done by low-level Death Eaters, easily caught," Sirius sighed. "But her security detail, man, it was a bloody horror," he groaned.
"Let me guess, you were a part of it?" asked Regulus.
"I was," muttered Sirius. "At inauguration ball," he added grimly. "Foiled first assassination, drank that bloody poisoned champagne instead of her. I barely managed to recover from poisoning thanks to the bezoar I always carried with me and delegated someone to catch the poisoner before they struck again, with a steak knife of all things."
"And let me guess, you got it too?" chuckled Regulus.
"Right into the liver," sighed Sirius.
Regulus howled with laughter.
"Keep laughing, you weren't the one who had to regrow nearly entire liver," chuckled Sirius. "I tried to bow out of further security details, but it turned out that I had the most impressive survival rate out of all Aurors that were appointed to it."
"If you were that close with current Minister for Magic..." started Regulus.
"I wasn't," sighed Sirius heavily. "I had beater's reflex and plenty bezoars in my pockets which made me a valuable bodyguard," he grimaced. "But you know how it works, if it won't work one way, it will work another. Everybody has a weak link, the only problem is finding it and taking care of it," he sighed heavily.
"He found it?" Regulus asked quietly.
"Bella did," Sirius muttered grimly. "We were at the peak of the war and no such a thing as mental health days existed," he snorted. "I've might have gotten a little roughish after that. It didn't suit the image of a model bodyguard, so I was empathetically asked to step down, which I did quite eagerly because it put me back in the field and on the streets," he shook his head. "And I needed it to screw my head back the right way, change my priorities, take care of things and people that mattered the most."
"But it didn't work," suggested Harry.
"It worked for some time," Sirius grimaced. "I threw myself into work, both in the Auror Office and in the Order. It used to drive your mum nuts," he added with small smile. "Made your dad complain that she worried about me more than about him," he smiled again. "I'll worry about you if you will start working one of the most dangerous jobs known to wizard kind and start pulling all-nighters in the Order after coming down from double duty," he added in a higher, slightly annoyed voice. "He barely eats and when he eats, he eats garbage food, he lost a stone in the span of a month. I don't know when he sleeps because he looks like death barely warmed up, wrung out and hung out to dry," he continued. "The only time he isn't moving is when Harry manages to fall asleep on him and even then I'm not sure how our son stays asleep with all these jitters and bouncing."
"Well, he adapted," Regulus said fondly. "And also absorbed some of it through osmosis," he chuckled.
"Hey! I don't bounce and jitter," Harry protested.
"You're forgetting that I taught you, aren't you?" Regulus chuckled again. "You weren't a genius, I never met a student who would fit the criteria of a genius. But once you understood the material, applying your knowledge in practice came easily to you. You grew bored easily. Your grades were uneven, your classwork was exemplary, as was your homework even if you turned only parts of it, you constantly underperformed on official tests. And I know why."
"I wasn't allowed to get better grades than Dudley," Harry sighed.
"I know," Regulus said softly. "Trust me, I know. I saw it, I kept trying to do something to change it but every single of my attempts to change your situation was foiled and by the same man."
"Who?" Harry asked quietly.
"The very same man who left you with the Dursleys in the first place, Albus Dumbledore," said Regulus lividly. "Every single call made to Child Protective Services when you were involved went either ignored or had been erased from existence and people who were working that case had their memories altered. But more importantly, you had your memories altered," he added fiercely. "There were incidents that would warrant your immediate removal from the Dursleys care and your relatives' long-term imprisonment. For heaven's sake Harry, once you turned at school with four broken ribs, a punctured lung, and a ruptured kidney. Once you passed out in a classroom because those bastards sent you to school with pneumonia. One day you turned at school with every single bone in your right arm broken. And I won't count every single god-damn time you turned at school bruised like a peach."
"They weren't..." Harry started.
"Abusive?" Regulus hissed.
"Well, I got hit with a frying pan once or twice," Harry shrugged. "But they didn't..."
"Abuse you?" Regulus supplied harshly. "Merlin, once you ended up in the hospital because you were bleeding from your ears. The nurse was worried about meningitis, but it turned out that you had to be hit on the head so badly that you were bleeding into your brain. Another time you collapsed because you developed a sepsis due to an untreated bite."
"That's it," Sirius muttered darkly. "I'm going to kill Albus Dumbledore."
"Get in the fucking line," hissed Regulus.
"Godfather," Sirius retorted.
"Absent godfather," grunted Regulus.
"Otherwise occupied," hissed Sirius.
"Ipso facto godfather," muttered Regulus.
"Merlin," groaned Harry. "Aren't you supposed to be on the same side?" he asked pointedly. "Allegedly mine?"
Both men looked first at him and then at each other before they burst out in laughter.
"How I'm supposed to take that?" sighed Harry. "Is it a good sing or not?"
"You'll get used to it," chuckled Sirius.
"The Blacks are naturally headstrong," shrugged Regulus with a small smile. "Manners of kings and obstinacy of a deaf mule, like our paternal grandmother used to say," he shrugged again. "When it comes to family loyal to a fault even if every now and then you get a rotten apple," he glanced at Sirius. "Until it turns that the rotten apple was right all along," he grinned at him
"I will accept your apology in steaks," Sirius said lazily.
"So juicy that they're still mooing?" asked Regulus sweetly.
"Better not because I'm not going to clean after them," muttered Harry making them both howl with laughter and after few moments he joined them.
"You're fitting perfectly," Regulus smiled at him. "Like a glove."
"Gee, thanks," mumbled Harry. "Can we come back to what you so harshly judged Dumbledore for? You know, why Wanker wanted to kill me in the first place?" he asked curiously. "Because it seems to me that he might have become quite fixated on me."
"Yeah, it's not like you run head-first into danger," snorted Regulus.
"We need to do something about it, but we can take care of it later," added Sirius with a sigh.
"Sure, Mum," nodded Harry causing Regulus to snicker. "So, Wanker? Murder? Me?"" he asked eagerly.
"What you know about divination, Harry?" asked Regulus after he calmed down.
Harry thought about it for a moment before he answered, "That it's an elective subject available to third year students and that it teaches different techniques of foretelling the future."
"A bland and incomplete definition but so is the subject," sighed Regulus. "Divination is a branch of magic that involves attempting to foresee the future or gather insights into past, present and future events, through various rituals and tools. It's a very inexact science and requires of its user's certain kind of sensibility and sensitivity," he explained.
"It's not a subject for anyone," grimaced Sirius. "A lot depends on interpretations of effects of those rituals or techniques and these interpretations can be very wrong."
"Depending from the users," nodded Regulus. "Especially once you factor in the fact that while you can teach even a trained monkey to use divination techniques said monkey would only be able to parrot what it learned," he snorted. "Divination that is taught at Hogwarts is nothing more but parlour tricks. Crystal balls, reading from tea-leaves, palmistry, tarot cards, dream interpretations..."
"It's nothing more but a way for some people spending their money on something that might or might not work in their favour," added Sirius. "Not to mention, truly gifted people in this field are very rare."
"I don't know who teaches it now. I'm hazarding a guess that it isn't the same teacher who taught us because he was complaining about being ready to retire for ages and he might have retired when my year graduated from Hogwarts," said Regulus pensively. "But he was very frank with all of us who made it to N.E.W.T.s. At the last lesson of the term in our seventh year he told us that he spent five years teaching us parlour tricks and ways to pass our time or ways how to swindle money from idiots who believe that everyone is capable of foretelling the future."
"I didn't get that," muttered Sirius.
"Because you got a Troll on your O.W.L.s results in Divination, you pillock," snorted Regulus. "Nettle wouldn't let you into Advanced Divination even if you wanted."
"Good riddance, it was a waste of precious time," snorted Sirius.
"Anyway," Regulus rolled his eyes at him. "Like the troll over there said," he pointed at Sirius, who snorted again, "truly gifted people in divination are very rare. They are the ones capable of making actual predictions that have a chance of becoming true. Those people are called seers and quite a lot of them are unaware of their future foretelling abilities, some of them even detest divination and its techniques with a fiery passion."
Harry raised his left eyebrow at him.
"The predictions that seers make are called prophecies," continued Regulus. "Ministry of Magic has a department called Department of Mysteries, one of its divisions is devoted to storing all prophecies that were ever made all over Great Britain and Ireland."
"How do they do that?" asked Harry curiously. "If some seers even don't know that they're seers?"
"The spell that locates and records all prophecies is similar to Taboo," explained Regulus. "It's attuned to a particular brainwave, a magical current which all seers exude when they go into a trance and are about to make a prophecy. It's ward-based and anchored to anchor points that are scattered all over Great Britain and Ireland and all of them are connected to the Hall of Prophecies."
"Like houses to power stations?" asked Harry.
"Sort of," nodded Regulus. "Except in reverse, the current flows from the seer into anchor points then to the Department of Mysteries, not the other way around."
Harry nodded that he understood.
"Like each prophecy must be made, each prophecy needs to be heard," continued Regulus. "Some of them are made in private, told to nothing but an empty room and they would have been lost if it wasn't for the system that was designed to alert an Unspeakable on duty, the Department of Mysteries employee, that a prophecy is being made."
"Aren't they supposed to not touch them?" asked Sirius pensively.
"They are," Regulus agreed. "The only people who can remove the prophecy, any prophecy, from the shelf are people who said prophecy concerns and because they usually don't know that such prophecy had been made the prophecies stay on their shelves."
"For posterity?" asked Harry sceptically.
"Somewhat," grimaced Regulus. "You see, not even Unspeakables are capable of telling in advance whom the prophecies concern. They can only guess whom they might concern in retrospect, through careful study of history, annals, old diaries, old letters..." he shrugged. "It's a tedious job and to some, it seems pointless but in a way it's fascinating," he shook his head.
"But?" asked Harry pointedly.
"But someone has to do it," sighed Regulus. "Just like someone has to hear them. Sometimes when a prophecy is being made other people, then an Unspeakable in the Department of the Mysteries that witnesses the recording, are present in the close vicinity of the seer. Their presence usually helps in discerning who the prophecies refer to, sometimes, not always."
"And?" prompted Harry.
"And..." Regulus started but just as he said he closed his mouth again and shook his head.
"Reg?" prompted Sirius.
"I was an Unspeakable on duty," Regulus started again. "Technically I wasn't even a full Unspeakable, just a trainee and one that at the time very seriously questioned his life choices, being an Unspeakable amongst other things," he shook his head. "But it was a bloody Halloween night and I pulled a short straw, I was single, childless and newbie" he chuckled mirthlessly. "I was there when it was recorded," he added and fell silent.
"What?" Harry asked curiously.
"The prophecy that foretold the fall of the Dark Lord," whispered Regulus.
"What does it say?" Harry asked, suddenly afraid of what he might have to hear, but at the same time knowing that perhaps it was his only chance to find out what the hell was going on around him.
"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches ... born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies ... and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not ... and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives ... the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies ..." Regulus said in a quiet voice.
"What does it mean?" Harry whispered.
"It means that the Dark Lord may be vanquished for good only by one person, by someone who was born as the seventh month dies to people who defied him trice already," answered Regulus quietly. "The prophecy concerns him and a child that would have been born at the end of July of 1980 to people who managed to escape him three times."
"Me?" Harry whispered.
"Possibly," answered Regulus grimly.
"That's why they went after Lily and James," Sirius whispered and he hid his face in his hands. "And Frank and Alice," he groaned. "Because of a stupid..."
"Longbottoms?" asked Regulus pensively.
"Their son, Neville, was born on 30th July," whispered Sirius. "In theory, there's a difference of a day but in reality, Alice and Lily gave birth literary an hour apart," he added grimly, and he lowered his hands, slamming them against the table. "At least it explains why that stupid bitch and her merry bunch of fuckwits went after them after the Dark Lord had fallen."
"Who?" whispered Harry. "The Longbottoms? Who went after them?"
"Bellatrix Lestrange," spat Sirius. "Her husband Rodolphus, his brother Rastaban with another little fuckwit called Barty Crouch Junior."
"Fuck," groaned Regulus. "When did this happen? What did they do to them?"
"Late January, early February. I don't remember exactly," grimaced Sirius. "All that I remember is that Azkaban was one giant ice-cube at the time," he shuddered. "And you know Bella, remember what she liked the most."
Regulus closed his eyes and put his right hand over his face.
"They were tortured under Cruciatus Curse to the point of insanity," whispered Sirius. "Round upon round upon round upon round, poor bastards. I don't know what happened to their son. The only reason I learned anything at all was because one of the arses who brought them to Azkaban remembered Bella's maiden name. Called it a family reunion."
"Family reunion?" asked Harry quietly.
"Bellatrix Lestrange was, is, our cousin," mumbled Regulus. "All around bitch and the Dark Lord's most loyal servant, also an occasional whore," he grimaced. "Doesn't surprise me that she went after him."
"Really?" sneered Sirius.
"Really," nodded Regulus. "It's hard to explain to a pure-blood wizard."
Sirius glared at him as he said, "You're a pure-blood wizard."
"I was a raised as a pure-blood wizard to be a pure-blood wizard," retorted Regulus. "You're forgetting that I spent the last twelve years as a Muggle," he sighed. "And to exist as such I had to gain education of a Muggle. I passed my GCSE, A-Levels, I have a bachelor's degree in mathematics and Postgraduate Certificate in Education..."
"Good for you?" offered Sirius sceptically.
"… and as a teacher I'm contractually obliged to continue further my education," finished Regulus. "Mathematics comes easy to me, always had from the earliest years and seeing that a lion share of Arithmancy is, in fact, mathematics ipso facto I was studying Arithmancy ahead of normal schedule. Quite unevenly, I should add. But once Vector got her hands on me, she set me on the right course. I had to attend normal lessons but after classes, she continued pushing me further towards first O.W.L.s levels and later on N.E.W.T.s levels."
"Into Third Class Mastery I presume?" asked Sirius pensively.
"Third Class Mastery in Arithmancy in many ways is like bachelor's degree in mathematics, except with, you know magical aspects," continued Regulus. "Granted there are some differences here and there, but they weren't big and I was literally learning what I already knew and got a degree at. So, in order to not bore myself to tears, I used some of the time which my Muggle peers spent at studying what they didn't know to learn more about Muggle world. That's how I stumbled first into psychology and later on, in pedagogy which is how I got into teaching. Both of them fascinate me until this very day..."
"But how it applies to Bella?" muttered Sirius.
"Bella is an example of what psychiatry and clinical psychology describes as a psychopath," answered Regulus. "It's a personality disorder that is characterized by persistent antisocial behaviour, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited and egoistical traits. Psychopathic individuals also are prone to violence."
"English, please," sighed Sirius.
"Lacking restraint," Regulus rolled his eyes at him.
"You know that from where I'm standing..." started Sirius grimly.
"We have been raised as psychopaths?" suggested Regulus. "By psychopaths?"
"Yes," said Sirius with a grimace.
"I would like to remind you of something called remorse which I know that you've got, as do I. As well as a certain degree of empathy," Regulus said pointedly. "Something which Bella was incapable of showing for as long as I can remember."
"Snuffles," muttered Sirius.
"One of the examples," grimaced Regulus. "Now," he continued, "take this psychopathic individual that's very prone to violence and throw into the mix an arranged marriage to another rich pure-blood psychopath that's far less..." he paused and grimaced again, "talented, intelligent than her. Oh sure, he does have some learning curve otherwise she would surely find a way to get rid of him and quite quickly on that."
"But he has a redeeming quality which is his connections to Knights of Walpurgis and the Dark Lord himself," said Sirius thoughtfully. "Who is far more fascinating, educated and talented than her own lousy husband. Oh, now I can see that."
"Charismatic, powerful, unbeatable and as much of a psychopath as she is. Hence eternal devotion to him and his cause," added Regulus. "Now throw into the mix the prophecy that foretells his fall..."
"Now, wait a minute," Sirius interrupted him. "Because something isn't adding up," he grimaced. "The…," he started and chewed on his bottom lip for a moment before he decided. "The Dark Lord knew about the prophecy when he went after Lily and James which means..."
"… that someone told him that it was made?" supplied Regulus. "Yes, someone did," he nodded. "But it wasn't me. When the prophecy was made, I already decided that I was bowing out of that party. Your due date was running out on 2nd November because Bella didn't want you to live to your twentieth birthday and the prophecy was made on 31st October. Yet at the meeting on 1st November the Dark Lord knew that a prophecy concerning his fall has been made."
"That seer," mumbled Sirius slowly. "Was there someone else with her?" he looked at Regulus.
"Yes," nodded Regulus grimly. "An A.P.W.B.D."
"Oh, you've got to be kidding me," Sirius groaned and slammed his left hands against his forehead.
"Who?" asked Harry quickly. "What these letters stand for?"
"Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore," Sirius spat angrily before he lowered his hand and slammed it against the table.
"He told..." Harry started. "He couldn't have..", he choked out. "He was supposed to be against Vol… the Dark Lord," he finally mumbled furiously, saying the Dark Lord instead of Wanker or Voldemort because all of this 'the Dark Lording' which got to Sirius finally got to him too.
Regulus grimaced before he said, "If it's any consolation, he wasn't alone."
"Now you're saying that?" Sirius spouted out furiously.
"Think about it, Sirius," sighed Regulus. "It was Albus Dumbledore, leader of the Order of the Phoenix, someone who openly opposed the Dark Lord."
"And the Dark Lord had a tail on him," groaned Sirius and he shook his head before he asked, "Did you got their initials?"
"Unfortunately, no," grimaced Regulus. "That's the problem with the recordings. The magical signature of the listeners records as literally the last thing of the prophecy. Whoever was tailing Dumbledore didn't get the whole prophecy. My guess is that Dumbledore's tail didn't get past the part about the power the Dark Lord knows not otherwise the Dark Lord wouldn't be as relentless and careless in his pursuit of the one who will vanquish him as he was."
"How can you be so sure?" asked Harry quickly.
"It was the last meeting I attended," sighed Regulus. "And the Dark Lord was livid. So livid that he killed outright two pairs, married pairs of idiots who admitted to having sex within last three days and he issued a ban on procreating until after Christmas."
Harry stared at him.
"Biology, which I'm sure you had," Regulus pointed out. "But then again, I dropped quite a lot on your shoulders, so there it is. Typical pregnancy last around forty weeks, ten months. The length of it might vary depending on various factors of course. But essentially any child born towards the end of July has to be conceived between very late October to mid-November."
"Great," Harry groaned. "He's going to try again?" he asked grimly. "I will have to find a way to kill him otherwise he will kill me before he will take over the world and it will have to be me because one of the most powerful wizards of our times, the only one the Dark Lord fears, just does nothing to stop him."
"Nor does he do anything to prepare you for it," added Regulus grimly.
"Oh, I didn't forget that," Harry hissed lividly. "What he's thinking? That one day I will just wake up with the power the Dark Lord knows not? And up until that day, I will continue being just poor, old, plain, boring Harry? Is he out of his bloody mind?" he bristled out. "Does he want me dead?"
"Well, we know the answer to the last one," sighed Regulus. "Since he left you with the Dursleys you came pretty close to dying there several times. And since then..." he looked at Harry pointedly.
"He did nothing to stop him," Harry spat out. "Aside from checking whatever or not the Dark Lord managed to kill me this or that time," he huffed. "And how I'm supposed to stop him? By boring him to death with Gilderoy Lockhart's trivia? He can't touch me without hurting whatever body he brought along for the ride, but he doesn't need to touch me in order to bloody try and kill me. And I'm supposed to just stand there?"
"No," said Sirius firmly as he looked at Harry. "You won't just stand there," he shook his head. "I won't allow it," he added vehemently. "We are going to seriously curb your tendency to run head-first into certain danger and we're going to train you. The Black family style, Auror style. So, when you will meet him again..." he paused and narrowed his eyes. "And you won't go looking for him..."
"I won't," Harry protested vehemently. "He always finds me," he grumbled.
"You will be prepared, the best I can get you prepared and with my knowledge," he looked at Regulus and added, "our knowledge of the Dark Arts and defensive spells, which is pretty extensive mind you, you will be ready when the time comes."
"At the same time, we will sort out the Dark Lord's Horcruxes. How many of them he really has? What are they? Where are they? We will find a way to destroy them to make sure that your next meeting with him will be his last meeting with you," added Regulus earnestly.
Harry felt the yawn coming and he barely managed to stifle it. He was tired as hell but still, he was curious about few things, like why Sirius was in Azkaban, how he escaped and few other things.
"How you can destroy a Horcrux?" asked Harry.
Regulus scratched his head as he said, "You see, technically I don't have a bloody clue. I know that there exists at least one way to do it but... I hoped that Kreacher found a way to destroy the locket because I didn't."
Harry gulped nervously, it wasn't good.
"You used Basilisk fang to destroy the diary and I'm afraid that destroying other Horcruxes would require very powerful magic," Regulus added.
"Are you tired?" Sirius turned to Harry suddenly.
"No," Harry yawned heavily.
Sirius looked like he was contemplating something for a moment before he said, "We can continue this discussion tomorrow. Right now, all three of us are too tired for that. It's got to be three o'clock in the morning at least."
"Nearly four," yawned Regulus. "I could keep going but you..."
"We are going to bed right now," Sirius said with a yawn. "Trust me, nothing good ever came out of sleep deprivation."
"I would disagree," sighed Regulus. "But I really don't have the energy for that."
Harry smiled at that softly.
"Up with you," said Sirius as he stood up, started shooing the other two out of the kitchen. "Did you by any chance manage to clean more than your bedroom?"
"My bedroom and your bed," yawned Regulus. "Not very thoroughly, mind you. I think mine is a little bit better. The bed is thoroughly cleaned at the very least," he added. "Plus, I'm sure that you aren't very keen to let Harry out of your sight."
"Damn right," grumbled Sirius.
"The bed is big, so is the window-seat and I can sleep there while you two will take the bed," added Regulus.
Harry nodded sleepily and let them lead him upstairs to the room where he woke up a few hours before.
Using the bathroom outside of the room he quickly changed into his pyjamas and nearly snorted when he saw other two changed into pyjamas with Slytherin emblem.
"There was never a Black who wasn't in Slytherin until Sirius came along," explained Regulus as he laid down on the window-seat. "And I need to go shopping for his stuff anyway," he yawned. "There's only as much of Slytherin colouring as he can stand and I'm afraid that he already hit the limit. He really abhors pure-blood sense of fashion."
"Too damn right," snorted Sirius as he waited for Harry to climb on the left side of the bed before he climbed on the other side.
"As do I and all my clothes are back at home to which for now, I can't return," continued Regulus sleepily. "Any special wishes?"
"From me?" mumbled Harry sleepily. "I'm alright."
"Your school uniform might be," snorted Regulus softly. "Everything else is at least five sizes too big if not more."
"I don't want to cause trouble," Harry sighed.
"Trouble, he says," muttered Sirius. "Having clothes that fit you is, or at the very least should be, considered basic humans rights," he added firmly. "Reg, take his measurements from his school uniform and adjust them accordingly."
"Yes, Mum," yawned Regulus.
"Aren't you supposed to be wizards?" Harry asked sleepily. "Ever heard of transfiguration?"
"Heard?" snickered Regulus. "Sirius has Third Class Mastery in Transfiguration."
"And as a Third Class Master, I have an authority to tell you that transfigurating clothing will never be as good as normal, not transfigurated clothing. Also, transfiguration done hastily and without a lot of effort and concentration from a wizard tends to fail, usually at the worst possible times," explained Sirius. "Doing it the right way so it won't fall apart is very time and power consuming, so it really is just easier to simply buy clothes."
"Okay, Mum," yawned Harry. "I'm not arguing anymore," he yawned again and suddenly remembering something he added quickly, "He's at Hogwarts."
"Who?" asked Sirius quickly.
"Neville Longbottom," Harry explained. "He's in Gryffindor with me. I think he lives with his grandmother," he added before he yawned again. "You will explain more, won't you? The stuff you didn't manage to finish explaining tonight?" he asked sleepily.
"Of course," Sirius said earnestly.
He let Sirius tuck him in and before Harry knew he was fast asleep.
Secrets & Keepers – Collision Course
Sirius Black, 12 Grimmauld Place, 7th August, early morning
He wasn't a Master of Occlumency, at the very least he never considered himself as one because true mastery of it required out of its practitioners not only superb ability to compartmentalize the world and events around them but also an enormous degree of self-restraint to consciously not show any kind of emotion. That said he did his best to learn Occlumency from the very moment he stumbled into the tiniest paragraph that described it. He made a conscious effort to learn more as fast as he possibly could because his sanity, his very life depended on it. But then came James Potter, Hogwarts and being sorted into Gryffindor.
Gryffindors wore their hearts on their sleeve, James most certainly did, the kid had no restrain and Sirius quite seriously doubted that his beloved parents ever punished him in any sort of way.
James had a very easy-going nature and very contagious enthusiasm for everything even remotely funny. It fascinated Sirius and more often than not he found himself quickly pulled into this or that prank. Later on, he reasoned with himself that for being sorted into the Gryffindor there will be a hell to pay anyway so he might as well have some fun from life before that will happen. So, he let himself go, let himself unwind, uncurl. It was a funny year, joyous and relaxing but he knew what waited at its end for him.
That pattern continued over the years. Ten months in heaven followed by two in hell until he couldn't bear it anymore and he escaped from this hellhole. The year that followed his escape? Well, that was a different kind of hell. Seeing James and Remus, and even at times, Pettigrew, in and out of the classes, at meals in Great Hall and not being able, allowed to, speak to them until spoken to was unbearably painful. They even went as far as forbidding him from sleeping in their dormitory, so he quickly found himself another place to stay which was bloody inconvenient but really, he was lucky that he was allowed to still attend Hogwarts.
And remembering the price he had to pay for that he kept his head down, went to his detentions, threw himself into his studies and wormed himself into Third Class Mastery programs in Transfiguration and Defence Against the Dark Arts. Slughorn along with the help of his Ministry friends and Hogwarts colleagues organised these for particularly gifted or at the very least determined enough students that wanted to achieve their masteries faster for any given reason and because unlike official courses out of Hogwarts these were taught for free there was always at least one individual in every year of it in any given field.
One day it became evident to him that other people parents weren't like his own parents and weren't supposed to be like his parents. From that very moment in his head crystallised the idea that he wanted to do something about it, to make sure no other child would suffer the same way he did. That led him into leafing through Auror program which one of the upper year students had left behind on the table. From that point forwards he knew who he was going to become after his N.E.W.T.s and he devoted himself into studying the subjects required for future Aurors.
Hence a Troll in Divination and Acceptable in History of Magic. He also sat O.W.L.s in Care of Magical Creatures even though he didn't attend it, growing up the way he did he knew half of the course anyway and if there was something, he didn't know he always had Remus, who was taking the subject, as a sounding board. He still got a well-deserved Exceed Expectations for his efforts which supposedly amused Kettleburn to no end. Another effortless Exceed Expectations he got was from Astronomy which bored him to tears and was very happy to leave behind. For Exceed Expectations in Ancient Runes and Muggle Studies though he had to work, and he decided to keep both on advanced levels, the later because Muggles fascinated him and the former because he found it meditative.
From the remaining subjects which were required in Auror training, he got Outstanding in each, with the exception, of Herbology in which he got Exceed Expectations. He had been told by McGonagall that it would be enough, but he didn't buy it during his career advice meeting and he didn't buy it again at the beginning of the sixth year when she handed him his lesson plan. He was so bloody determined to get into Auror program on the top of the list of applicants that he was even willing to share Third Class Mastery classes in Defence Against the Dark Arts with Snivellus.
It was an awful and exhausting year but weirdly that year was also the best thing that could have happened to him. Away from distractions that inevitably came when James and Pettigrew, who adored him back then, were involved he found himself again.
He found within himself small, terrified boy, who against his own terror and unavoidable pain that followed protected his baby brother from harm at all cost. That boy still existed within, seared with scars and painful memories but he emerged from the hell he was put through victorious, alive and finally free from the shackles that bound him.
He also let go of his disillusions, accepted the painful and bitter truth that his beloved friend would never look at him the same way he looked at him, the same way James looked at Lily Evans. He accepted that he might never regain his friendship, his or Moony's because let's be frank he never particularly cared for Peter.
He came back to meditation, to Occlumency he regularly practiced, and he had Padfoot. He also had other friends, not as good as James or Remus but friends he either let go once he found James, friends he could have made earlier if he wasn't as fixated on James as he was. And those people liked the man he became away from the Marauders. He liked the man he became.
Even Lily Evans after that entire Evan Proudfoot fiasco warmed up to him. Granted leading her to an empty classroom where her boyfriend was surely busy with fucking whichever girl came up to him and spread her legs was cruel but so was stringing another girl along. Sirius might not have been a fan of Evans since James fell for her, arse over tea-kettle but even he couldn't deny that someone as intelligent and kind (mostly to others, not necessarily the Marauders) deserved to be with someone who truly appreciated her.
And Lily Evans' taste in boyfriends was as atrocious as Bathsheda Babbling's. Really, what was wrong with some of the most brilliant, intelligent and aesthetically pleasing women that made them fall for idiots and jerks? Blessedly Mirzam Verascez, Bathsheda's room-mate and best friend, and Sirius's one-time childhood friend – from the summer before everything went to hell in a handbasket – wasn't like them and upon once being asked what kind of boys she liked she simply answered, 'Mature'.
As he was falling out of love with James inevitably, he was falling in love with her. In her quiet, reassuring presence. In her sarcastic sense of humour that went hand in hand with her headstrong but still slightly gentle nature. In her intelligence, in her resilience and dedication to achieving her dreams.
One day he just looked up from his book at her and thought, 'I want to grow old with you'. Just like that. No prior warnings, no growing certainty which he had with James. Just one day he found himself staring into her hazel green eyes and he was completely and utterly lost. For an eternity.
Oh, he tried to fight it, with himself. He had enough of unrequited love to last himself a lifetime. Once was bad enough and women like Mirzam Verascez did not fall for men like Sirius Black, period. She would eventually find someone worth of her and he, Sirius, like a good friend he was, would be happy for her, for them. He would bear it. Maybe even at some point he would manage to fall out of love with her or continue to love her until he would grow old and eventually die.
That she fell in love with him too took him by surprise. It took time, years of friendship, of mutual friendly teasing and working together and a bloody near-death experience but finally they were there. Happy and in love, making tentative plans at growing old together.
And then she was gone. Gone on the very day he knelt before her and asked her if she would do him the honour of becoming his wife. Gone on the very day he learned that they were going to have a child together, a son. Gone because he traded with her Diagon Alley duty that day because he needed time off to take care of something for the Order.
Bellatrix got to her. Oh, Mirzam managed to drag the bitch away from her original target, a group of first year Muggle-born students and even though well-educated and quite fierce dueller she was no match for Bella.
In the end, all that was left of her was her wand and an engagement ring that fallen off her finger because it was slightly too big for her. Bella had to use the darkest of the Dark Magic to literally erase Mirzam out of existence, for there was no body, only a huge magical backlash in a place Mirzam once stood.
He wasn't even allowed to grieve her openly. Okay, no one forbid him from doing so but he just couldn't bring himself to show the depth of his overwhelming grief. Not when the summons to come to St Mungo's because Harry –at that moment still Euphemius Fleamont Potter – was being born came literally minutes after Healer Wilcox, St Mungo's Medical Examiner, had left him and Bathsheda in the morgue so they could have few minutes alone with what was left of the woman they both loved.
And to the Potters he went. Blessedly because within an hour since he arrived James somehow managed to poison himself with a calming draught. Lily was not amused even though she welcomed the distraction with a grim smile, the birth itself was difficult, long and tedious and James was so nervous and jittery that he was essentially maddeningly unhelpful.
Once James was taken away to recover from poisoning – and on Lily's request was supposed to be dosed with a mild sleeping draught to get him out of the way until after the birth – Sirius took his place. He let Lily squeeze his hands as hard as she could whenever she wanted. He walked with her around the room between contractions. He even accepted several hexes which came his way in lieu of James.
He was there when small, scrawny red-faced, black-haired and mostly covered in slime bundle was placed in Lily's arms. It was also him, and not the apprentice Healer who was helping with the birth, who realised that something was wrong with Lily and that the birth might not have gone as it was supposed to. After running out of the room he fetched more competent Healer and slightly groggy James who literally stumbled into him.
It was only once Lily had been taken out of the room for emergency surgery, followed by mortified James while he was left alone with Harry in his arms when it hit him.
He was never going to experience it himself. The woman he loved was gone and the baby boy they could have was gone with her. There would be no teasing over names. No, I can give you Leia but I'm not naming any son of mine Han Solo, forget it. No, bugger off, summer child, you aren't naming any child of ours after that bloody book, you don't even like it.
He will never have that. He will never see Mirzam again. He will never hold his son in his arms. Never he will wake up for a night feeding. Never he will change a nappy. Never he will have a chance to teach his son Astronomy or how to ride a bike or fly a broom or...
So, he wept, along with little, still, Euphemius Fleamont. Over Mirzam, over himself, over his unborn son whose name with his mother they just started to agree on, albeit jokingly. Han Solo might have gotten a no, but Harrison Ford Black had them both collapsing in giggles.
It was never going to happen. He was never going to have that. The closest he would come to, in being a father, was being a godfather for James's and Lily's kids. Maybe one day Moony's too if he would get over the fear of passing lycanthropy to his possible children.
So, he spoke softly of Harry, of what he will never have, things he will never have a chance to witness. The first smile, first laugh, first footsteps, first words… He spoke and wept, wept and spoke. It was cathartic. The weight in his arms of the boy that was not his son calmed him down. A bit, little by little until he was no longer talking about Harry but singing softly to the child that was falling asleep in his arms.
He only allowed himself small and wistfully whispered 'Oh, Harry' when Lily wheeled by James came into the room. He immediately tried to cover it by poking fun at Euphemius Fleamont and how miserable his life as such would be when Lily surprised him, and James too, by saying that her baby boy was not going to be named Euphemius Fleamont. Apparently, James had lost naming rights somewhere along the way. James obviously tried to object but he really didn't seem to have a standing ground and in the end, he shrugged when Lily suggested that Sirius should suggest something.
Harrison flew out of his mouth before he could stop himself. Harrison James to be exact to placate frowning Prongs. It was also followed by a suggestion that while Euphemius Fleamont is not a good name for a first born it might be a good one for a younger brother.
Lily liked it, granted she tried few other variations of Harry, from Henry to Harold as well as few others Sirius had no idea how she came up with but by the naming day she was back to original suggestion of Harrison James.
As for Sirius. He immediately threw himself into work, into chasing Bellatrix, evading capture and hiding who the fuck knows where. He took down few of stupider Death Eaters and literally threw himself into work. When he wasn't on duty he was working for the Order of the Phoenix and when he wasn't working for the Order he was on duty.
Between work he was with the Potters. Supposedly resting and charging his batteries but nearly always worrying, about Voldemort, about a spy within the Order that was working for Voldemort's benefit. About James and Lily and Harry. About having to constantly move them nearly every fortnight from one safe house to another. It was wearing him thin, making him harsher, rougher with anyone who wasn't James or Lily or baby Harry.
In brief moments of being alone with Harry – under the pretence of putting the boy to sleep or changing his nappy or bathing him to relieve his slightly frazzled and tired parents because Harry was very active and curious child – he allowed himself to voice his worries and fears, to grieve what he lost.
Being in Harry's company calmed him down, centred him again, gave him strength for another day and he needed it, needed to draw that strength from somewhere.
Realisation that the worst had happened, and that Pettigrew betrayed them threw him off kilter. He forgot the obvious, logical things, like altering someone, anyone of the change before hurrying to Godric's Hallow. Like allowing himself to linger in that ruined house instead of removing Harry, surprisingly alive Harry from that place. Oh, he placed strong enchantments around that room to keep the roof from collapsing on Harry's head but instead of picking Harry up and leaving the house he stupidly wondered around it looking for Harry's clothes, toys, family pictures, Lily's and James's trinkets.
The shock of what he witnessed, the loss of his friends caught up with him in Lily's small study where he collapsed under the avalanche of grief and strain of a panic attack. He might have blacked out for few minutes or maybe even hours, he wasn't sure.
The only thing he was sure was when he regained consciousness was that Harry wasn't in his bedroom. After a frenzied search, he found him again in Hagrid's arms and he tried to talk Hagrid out of taking Harry with him. It didn't work, and he wasn't going to risk harming Harry by attacking Hagrid. He let it slide for now and he even gave Hagrid his bike.
Then he went after Pettigrew, he was going to hound that bastard down even if it bloody killed him. Which it nearly did. But instead of dying he found himself at the bottom of Azkaban prison, with no trial, no official questioning just Moody's 'Take him straight to Azkaban lads' after Crouch issued order to 'take that piece of shit out of my sight and throw him where the sun doesn't shine'.
Azkaban was pure hell. Between Dementors which brought to the forefront of his mind his worst memories – and he had plenty of them – and the wardens and their singing lessons interchangeable with torture sessions where he was beaten and stabbed multiple times. They didn't let him die too, he was lousily healed after every single one of them before he was thrown back into his cell. Supposedly he was more funny alive than dead.
He barely remembered the first year. He had memories of few days of clarity, too brief and too far between and nearly always bad, followed either by the bad news he received like what happened to the Longbottoms or new torture sessions.
He nearly died several times during that year but something stopped himself from letting go, from doing something as stupid as attacking one of the wardens which would grant him either swift death at the hand of his victim or a Dementor Kiss. Both were welcomed. Both didn't happen because something held him back from doing so.
And deep inside he knew what or more precisely who it was.
His sweet little Harry, the only thing he had of James and Lily. Harry, who was somewhere out there, supposedly under Petunia's care but Sirius wasn't sure about the quality of that care. Harry, who was growing up without his parents because he, Sirius, was too stupid, too careless, too…
Harry, whom he found again, grown up neglected and abused by Lily's jade of a sister and her oaf of a husband. Harry, who was smart and quick on his feet and so very Harry.
Only some remains of iron will that got him through Azkaban kept him from immediately hugging the boy right away. Harry didn't trust him, didn't trust them both, with good reasons, after all, he was kidnapped and held against his will.
Then they started talking, both him and Regulus defusing the situation, bit by bit proving Harry that they weren't going to harm him. The more they talked, the more they all learned from each other, the more mortified Sirius became. And the harder it became for him to not show it.
Never before today, he occluded as hard as during their conversation, he managed to slip up several times but the last remains of his iron will kept him from rushing out of the house in order to find Albus Dumbledore and bloody kill him like he fucking deserved.
He could feel his control fraying towards the end of it and he readily welcomed the excuse of Harry's exhaustion before he herded them all upstairs into Regulus's bedroom.
Blessedly, Harry fell asleep quickly, curled in the middle of the bed rather than on the side he climbed on but then again the room wasn't very warm. Only when he was sure that Harry was sleeping soundly and Regulus's breath on the window-seat also evened out he allowed himself to finally stop occluding.
The world came crashing around him. The illusion, that with Pettigrew captured he would be able to convince Dumbledore to let him take care of Harry and remove him from Petunia's care, had collapsed too. No, Dumbledore would never let it happen because Harry wasn't just Harry, he was Dumbledore's bloody weapon against Voldemort and Dumbledore will continue to use him until like Sirius, Harry's usefulness will have ran its course or until Voldemort succeeds in killing Harry.
He didn't know when the first tear rolled down his face but after it did, he couldn't stop the others from following it. He wept soundlessly, like back when he was a little boy and his father was done with him and was finally out of his room. He wept again over James and Lily. But most of all he wept over Harry, over whose head was hanging a terrifying destiny, one that no one tried to stop from happening.
He was so focused on not making any sound that he didn't realise that the bed dipped slightly, and covers had shifted until – over Harry's sleeping form in the middle of the bed – a long-fingered hand reached his and squeezed it.
He took a deeper breath and tried to stop himself from crying, but the tears continued to fall.
"Don't stop," Regulus whispered softly. "You need it."
Sirius snorted softly through tears.
"When I was studying for my postgraduate certificate in education, I had a professor whom we called Quoteman," Regulus said softly. "There was literally no quote he didn't meet, didn't like or didn't use."
Sirius remained quiet and he closed his eyes.
"He once said one, that I think you need to hear right now. It's one of Washington Irving, beats me who he was, I'm a mathematician, but the quote had stuck with me through all these years," he added and after a brief pause said, "There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness but of power. They are messengers of overwhelming grief and of unspeakable love."
New tears rolled down Sirius's face.
"I've never seen you crying, Sirius," Regulus continued. "Not once, not a single time. Not even when you had very good reason to. Not in front of me at the very least. I used to weep in front of you countless times..."
"Oh, Reg, you sweet summer child," Sirius whispered. "You have no idea."
"I have some," mumbled Regulus. "I'm sorry that I wasn't there for you when you needed me the most. I can't change that. But I'm here now, for you, for Harry. Please, let me..."
Sirius opened his eyes and looked over Harry's mop of hair at his brother. The room was dark, but he could still see Regulus's face and his eyes. Dark brown like their mother but unlike hers, they well full of warmth and concern.
"When..." Sirius started. "When James and Lily made me Harry's godfather, I swore them that if anything will happen to them," he paused, "that I will take care of him, that I will protect him..." he paused again, for a longer moment this time. "How am I supposed to protect him not from one but two most powerful wizards of our era?"
"To the best of your abilities," answered Regulus softly.
"What if it won't be enough?" whispered Sirius.
"You will find a way," Regulus's other hand under the pillows and over Harry's head found Sirius's and squeezed it hard. "We will find a way."
And he had, it suddenly, it just became evident, even if Harry will be unhappy about it.
"He's not going back to Hogwarts," said Sirius with a sniff.
"I was going to suggest that too," nodded Regulus. "Dumbledore proved that he's bloody useless, and a manipulative old coot on top of it. We can train him better than them. You will take over Transfiguration, I will teach him Charms and both of us will teach him the rest."
"Duelling with two wands," Sirius added. "I'm not liking what Ollivander has said about his wand being the Dark Lord's twin. I'm sure that you can find a suitable wand somewhere in here."
"Lots of them," Regulus snorted softly. "Thank Merlin that no one in this family believed in abiding age restrictions, and that they hoarded the wands of the deceased family members."
"Yay," muttered Sirius. "Speaking of which whose wand I'm using?"
"Your namesake's," answered Regulus. "Just like I'm using mine. I lost my own when I was recovering the Horcrux but his was always my alternate wand and I blessedly managed to stash it along with few knick-knacks in that old tree stump on the edge of Alphard's secret farm..."
"Love shack you mean," mumbled Sirius. "He used to hide in there with his lovers."
"So that's why it was a secret," mumbled Regulus.
"Reg, really, for someone so bright and intelligent sometimes you can be so bloody dim," chuckled Sirius.
"At least I didn't have a talent on walking on people," retorted Regulus.
"Yeah, that was my hidden talent," snorted Sirius. "Bloody inconvenient one too," he sighed tiredly. "I mean what's so special about sex? It can kill you. Do you know what the human body goes through when you have sex? Pupils dilate, arteries constrict, core temperature rises, heart races, blood pressure skyrockets, respiration becomes rapid and shallow, the brain fires bursts of electrical impulses from nowhere to nowhere, and secretions spit out of every gland, and the muscles tense and spasm like you're lifting three times your body weight. It's violent. It's ugly. And it's messy. And supposedly if some greater power hadn't made it as fun as it's supposed to be, the human race would have died out ages ago. Men are lucky they can only have one orgasm. Did you know that women can have an hour-long orgasm?"
"Yeah, imagine that I did have sex," chuckled Regulus. "And I heard something similar from a school nurse that was hitting on me," he paused and after a beat asked, "You had sex, didn't you?"
Sirius shrugged before he answered, "I had, I know funnier ways to pass the time, really."
"Oh man," mumbled Regulus. "All these good looks," he chuckled.
"I know," mumbled Sirius. "I have been informed multiple times that I'm a blind idiot who cannot see the obvious. Well, I saw the obvious but really," he shrugged. "There's nothing special about sex."
"You know that it's okay too?" asked Regulus softly. "To not like it and to not want to have it?"
"Yeah," nodded Sirius. "I.." he started and took a deep breath before he finished, "I had a very considerate partner of a similar drive. We did have sex several times but more often than not we just ended cuddling."
"What happened to them?" whispered Regulus.
"Bella," muttered Sirius.
"I'm sorry," sighed Regulus.
"Don't be," mumbled Sirius. "It wasn't your fault," he sighed. "But enough about me. Tell me about the nurse."
"Nothing came of it," shrugged Regulus. "My prick might have been interested but my head wasn't in it."
"Where it was?" asked Sirius curiously.
"Where it always had been," Regulus shrugged again and he raised his left hand, moving it to lay over Harry's arm. "Here," he added softly.
"You care for him," whispered Sirius.
"You doubted until now?" Regulus rolled his eyes at him as he rubbed Harry's arm gently.
"No," Sirius shook his head. "But you have an interesting way of showing it."
"You have no idea," sighed Regulus heavily and he closed his eyes. "My adaptation into the Muggle world was slow and even though I powered through the intellectual side of it rather easily I was struggling. Especially after I learned what happened to you," he sighed again. "I couldn't believe it. In any of it. You being, the Dark Lord's right hand. Being responsible for all these deaths of those poor people. I just couldn't," he shrugged and opened his eyes, they were shinning.
"I'm sorry," whispered Sirius. "That you had to go through it all alone."
"But I wasn't," whispered Regulus. "I had Mum and Dad and their overwhelming, unwavering support. At the same time, I never felt so bloody alone as I felt back then. There was only one person in the world that mattered to me and I was stuck in a useless, broken body, with no magic whatsoever and I couldn't do anything to help you," he shook his head.
"Not your fault," Sirius reminded him.
"I know," he sighed. "Intellectually I know that there was nothing I couldn't do for you. Except for one thing," he paused. "I was skulking around when Evans received that letter from her parents in which Petunia's marriage to a Vernon Dursley was announced," he added with a sigh. "I remembered his name and after regained some strength and some degree of mobility I had one of Dad's friends track him down. I fed her some pitiful lie and the whole thing was done under the table."
"You found them?" asked Sirius softly.
"Yeah," Regulus nodded and closed his eyes again. "I found them, alright," he mumbled and screwed his eyes even more. "I couldn't get that sight out of my brain," he added after a moment and he opened his eyes, they were bright with tears. "It was the summer of 1982, late August. Hot like in hell. I saw that jade with them on a walk. She was pushing a single stroller with that tiny pig in a wig inside it while that poor thing," he squeezed Harry's arm gently, "was trying to follow her as fast as he could but for fuck's sake..." he choked out.
"Reg," whispered Sirius. "It's over. He's safe now."
"He was two," Regulus whispered fiercely as new tears rolled down his face. "Two and so bloody tiny. So poor and defenceless," he shook his head. "It angered me, I literally wanted to beat her to death with my crutch. Barely stopped myself from doing so because I finally saw his eyes," he shook his head again. "It wasn't the colour that got to me. It was the look in his eyes. I knew that look and it chilled me to the very bone, I couldn't move, I could just stand there and watch them how they passed me by."
Sirius silently placed his hand over Regulus's and gently squeezed both his hand and Harry's arm.
"I thought that it was a trick of the light," sighed Regulus and he sniffled. "But I saw it again next day when I returned. It was there, this bone-chilling, blood-curdling look of complete resignation," he sniffled again. "No child is supposed to look like that. He looked so much like you and he was the only thing I had left of you. Him and few stupid knick-knacks."
"Reg," Sirius whispered softly.
"I saw it, Sirius," Regulus whispered as new tears rolled down his face. "When you thought that you were alone. When you thought that I wasn't looking. You were fast but there were times when I was faster. For me, you had a brave, smiling face but that smile never reached your eyes," he paused. "Not here, not with us. The only times I've seen you truly happy was when we were at Hogwarts..."
"Reg," Sirius echoed.
"God, how I hated James for that," Regulus mumbled with a sniff. "You were my fucking brother, my best friend growing up and nothing I did to make you smile again, smile like that again..." he shook his head.
"It was never your fault, Reg," whispered Sirius. "You were my baby brother, my responsibility. I.." he choked on words. "I couldn't..." he tried again. "I couldn't let you know the truth," he choked out. "I knew that you would blame yourself for it and if you knew..." he choked out again. "You would try to stop it..." he felt a tear rolling down his face. "And he..." he whispered, "I couldn't bear it if he went after you."
"Father..." Regulus whispered as he squeezed both his hands. "What did he do?"
"He.." Sirius started but the words couldn't leave his mouth. "Remember that stupid vase you broke?"
"When I was six and you were about to turn eight? The one you took the blame for because I was freaking out?" Regulus mumbled out. "He told you that he's going to make you pay for it."
"He did," nodded Sirius. "I paid for it. Dearly," he whispered softly. "He took me back to my room. Told me to strip off my pants and lie face down," he paused, choking on words. "I thought, another belting, wouldn't be the first, won't be the last," he shook his head feeling new tears rolling down. "But it wasn't..."
"Sirius," Regulus choked out.
"He raped me," finally Sirius whispered the words that were choking him up for so long. "Told me that if I will breathe a word to anyone he would go after you. I couldn't let it happen. I just couldn't. After that," he shook his head. "He hardly needed an excuse and if he had..." he paused.
"I took it," Sirius was on a roll now. "The blame, the responsibility. Every single god-damn time. Every tiny excuse. Every lingering look. If he ever tried to lay his hands on you..." he shook it again. "I could bear it, blank it out, ignore the pain. But you.." he choked out. "I couldn't let him take away from you, what he took from me."
"Sirius..." whispered Regulus with a sob.
"You were so young," whispered Sirius. "So innocent."
"So were you," mumbled Regulus.
"I was," sniffled Sirius. "Innocent. Stupidly naive when faced with a blatant lie," he shook his head. "It was only after he took me out of Hogwarts after that stupid..." he shook his head again. "Oh, he made sure that I could go back," he snorted softly. "But he made me pay for it, in the only currency he knew."
"You were with him alone for a week," sniffled Regulus.
"I was," nodded Sirius. "And outside of going to the bathroom twice a day, I didn't leave that bed through the entire week."
"That's why you ran away," Regulus whispered.
"No," sighed Sirius. "I ran away because I realised that the man before me was a coward. I ran away because I realised that he was never going to touch you and if he tried..." he shook his head. "You were about to turn fifteen and if he tried to touch you inappropriately, you would defend yourself. Then you would make sure that Mother would know and he was scared of her."
"I would," sniffled Regulus. "She should have protected you too."
"She should," Sirius agreed. "She didn't," he shrugged. "It doesn't matter anymore."
"Does to me," mumbled Regulus. "You were my brother. I never stopped loving you..."
"I know," mumbled Sirius. "I love you too."
"After what I heard tonight, I would never doubt it again," whispered Regulus. "I'm so proud of you," he added before he yawned.
"And I of you," Sirius smiled sleepily at him. "Man, what a pair of idiots we make."
"The best, snotty kind," snorted Regulus sleepily. "Can you sleep here?" he asked suddenly.
"He never took me to this room," answered Sirius and he yawned.
"I'm sorry that I brought you here," whispered Regulus.
"Don't be," mumbled Sirius. "I can handle it. He's dead. You're here, Harry is here. I'll be fine."
"Are you really?" asked Regulus gently.
"Maybe, not at all times," admitted Sirius. "Maybe there will come days when I will have to withdraw myself, maybe destroy a thing or two… I can handle it. Give me some peace but don't let me stew in this funk for too long. Try to keep Harry away for few hours when that happens. I'll come around," he yawned.
"I promise," mumbled Regulus sleepily as he closed his eyes.
"Thank you," added Sirius sleepily.
When the sun finally rose over the city of London some time later all three occupants of the bedroom were deeply asleep and for the first time in a long time finally at peace.
I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.