Act I - Trials of Summer
Chapter 14 - Inside Track
It was clear that the incident with the doxies had given Sirius some serious paranoia, especially after Harry came to know his godfather had gone ahead and purchased the entire damn neighborhood.
The area, normally a small muggle suburb filled with old ramshackle houses in the Borough of Islington, developed an ill reputation over time for being frequented by antisocial elements of the city. The real estate here was controlled by the muggle mafia with minimum interference from the muggle government, so it had taken considerable amounts of muggle money and generous use of compulsion charms.
Still, in the end, Sirius had done it.
Harry didn't know whether to cry or laugh at how the Ministry could turn a blind eye to such deliberate acts of magic, yet still fine him for the use of a damn hover charm back in the summer of his first year. One he hadn't even cast himself!
The two Blacks appeared out of thin air onto the middle of the empty street, the customary cracking noise of apparition following suite.
"I can't believe you already know how to apparate!" Sirius proudly exclaimed, slinging his arm around Harry's shoulders. "When did you pick that up?"
"I've done it twice before, though more out of necessity than anything," Harry mirthlessly chuckled. "The first time was back when I was eight. The second was recently, with the doxy infestation. After losing my wand, I wanted to escape, so I—" he scrunched his nose, "I guess I sort of acted out of instinct and… did it again. Next thing I know, I'm in the room with the Cloak."
Harry didn't expand on the incident any further. He hadn't exactly been open with his godfather about the dreams that followed. Seeing that alien frame of mind first-hand, being that thing… Somehow, it made so much sense while he was dreaming, but a feeling of wrongness washed over him as soon as he woke up.
It was like… like describing a new color. Or a new taste. Or a new aroma. One that didn't exist before.
Or maybe it did, and he could never tell.
Still, it made him feel terrible, hiding secrets from a man who cared so much about him. He'd come close to telling the man, but Kreacher's words gave him pause. The fact that the batty elf had called him a demon hadn't helped matters any. There was always the off-chance that Sirius would be appalled when he found out. He'd already been an incredible burden for his godfather. What if he decided he was better off without him?
Harry shook his head. No, there was nothing worth mentioning to his godfather about that incident. At least not yet. Better that he talked to Kreacher and investigated the matter first. It wasn't lying if he planned on telling Sirius eventually. Right?
"Well, that's in the past," Sirius woodenly smiled, his happy-go-lucky expression a pitiful facsimile of the smile he was sporting earlier. "With any luck, you'll never have to see another doxy in your lifetime."
Way to jinx it.
Nodding, Harry looked around at all the new construction going on. "So what's happening to the neighborhood now?"
He'd seen the active construction work in his first visit to the neighborhood, but after Sirius's purchase, he'd half-expected the work to stall and remain completely unfinished. If the area turned into a muggle-less street, then all the better for their discretion.
Instead, the number of workers had multiplied.
"Oh, I paid the contractors extra to get the job done fast. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly muggles can get stuff like this done. It's almost like… magic," Sirius chuckled. "A muggle realtor was actually reconstructing the entire zone to build condominiums for London's growing population. I decided I liked the idea and took it over."
Harry turned an incredulous stare towards his godfather. "You're selling homes to muggles?"
"Magical, actually," Sirius clarified. "We wizards don't think too much about renting houses. Most muggleborns and half-bloods usually end up renting rooms at the Leaky Cauldron or in Knockturn Alley. Sometimes they relocate to muggle neighborhoods, often risking the Statute of Secrecy. I thought a fully magical housing complex might be a hit with the younger population."
That… was an interesting idea. Come to think of it, where did wizards actually live? Rich ponces like Malfoy and his ilk likely had manors here and there, but what about the rest of them? He knew the Weasleys lived in, well, a tree, but he highly doubted that was the status quo.
Idly, he wondered whether Hermione would try to rent a flat here once the construction was over. Maybe then, he could actually have friends for once during the summer.
"I've actually given this a fair amount of thought," his godfather admitted. "A single magical family living in a muggle suburb is just asking for trouble. A wizarding settlement like this, on the other hand, is much more secure. You and I will keep a few flats in these apartments hidden and protected underneath a whole bunch of wards. I'd like to see Voldemort and his shit-eaters try to figure out your real location."
"But what about Grimmauld Place?"
Ever since he'd woken up from his coma, the townhouse had undergone massive renovations. He had been incredibly surprised when he went to see the house, only to find a completely different building standing in its spot.
Sirius lightly grimaced. "Unfortunately, I— and later on, you —will have to use it as a place for business. But don't worry. We'll still be living in Grimmauld Place until the rest of the construction work is done, but I'd rather you shift into one of these apartments in due time. Besides," the man impishly smiled, "I doubt your lady friend prefers a dark, dingy mansion over a modern apartment when she comes over, right?"
And then he winked.
Heat crawled up his neck as Harry averted his gaze. Ever since the two of them had left Gringotts, his godfather had been lightly teasing him about his connection to Fleur Delacour.
"When are you meeting her again?"
"Tomorrow," he grumbled back. Personally, he didn't see what the big deal was. He doubted someone like Fleur Delacour would be interested in a kid like him. Even if he ignored the difference in their ages, Fleur was practically perfection and grace given form.
He was just… him.
"And before you say it," he quickly continued, cutting off whatever Sirius was about to say, "it's not a date. We're meeting to discuss my accounts."
"At an ice cream parlor."
"It's a neutral zone," Harry stressed. Inviting her to Grimmauld Place would have been best from a security standpoint, but he didn't want to give his godfather any more ammunition in the matter, especially with her being a veela and everything. Frankly, he was counting his lucky stars Sirius hadn't tried to give him The Talk yet.
"Neutral," Sirius parroted, his grin growing even wider. "Is that what the kids are calling it these days? My my, Harry, James would have been so proud. A veela…" He wiped off an imaginary tear off of his cheek. "You're such a lucky bastard."
"We are not dating," Harry ground out. Why wouldn't the man shut up about her already?
Honestly, Sirius Black befuddled him. The man was insane enough to pick fights with goblins, stubborn enough to challenge his own Family Charter, and brilliant enough to turn shady muggle suburbs into a profitable business. And, if the DMLE Director's words were any indication, he was also dangerous enough with a wand to be mistaken for Voldemort's right-hand man.
"I've heard they're as flexible as they come."
But he was also a pervert of the highest order, a trait that Harry was still getting accustomed to. Still, he owed his godfather a lot. Just for that, he would try not to judge the man for his… perversities.
"Look, I'm not saying you have to jump into bed with her," Sirius held up his hands in surrender. "But you are Harry Potter. The Boy-Who-Lived, Triwizard Champion, a young man immune to her allure, and now her employer. There is a non-zero chance she might reciprocate…" he trailed off.
Really, Harry had no idea how to even respond to any of that.
Suddenly, Sirius's face turned crafty, a sudden sleaziness in his expression that did not belong on the visage of the Lord Black by any measure. "And when that happens, you'll tell me all about it, won't you?"
I will not judge. I will not judge. I will not—
Diagon Alley had a morgue.
It was strange, especially since it was the prime destination for refined shoppers and rambunctious children alike. Then again, one couldn't really call it a morgue anymore, not after it was renovated and renamed to the Narcissa Malfoy Forensic Institute. It was pretty, with its wide green lawns, carefully trimmed bushes, fantastic view of the alley's skyline, and quick access to the Floo center.
It was also very quiet. Despite all the bells and whistles of the gorgeous landscaping, it didn't change the fact that it was where the dead were brought to be poked and prodded at.
Emmeline Vance appeared next to the main entrance with a soft pop! Her usual light cherry attire had been ditched for a bland, grey uniform, complete with a similarly colored mask to cover the better part of her face. Dull, greenish gloves completed her 'surgical' look, though in its defense, they were strictly for hygiene. Playing with the dead was a relatively messy business, and that was without mentioning any curse residue left behind in the bodies.
Her degree in toxicology meant she was an authority on magical poisons, toxins, and curse residues. To the rest of the world, she was a successful general practitioner who mostly served the rich and affluent. But underneath it all, she was also the DMLE Director's personal consultant.
Especially when the case was particularly odd. Like one where Albus Dumbleddore found fourteen husks on the night of the Triwizard Tournament's Third Task.
The front door buzzed, and she walked in, nodding to a comfortably heavyset security guard reading a magazine behind a nondescript desk to one side of the entry area.
"Miss Vance," the guard replied. "Official?"
"Unofficial," she offered, along with a soft smile.
And that was that. As the man returned to his book, Emma exhaled before striding into the main atrium. There were several examination rooms inside the complex, but the person she was looking for was probably in the smallest and shabbiest of them all. It was a sort of private joke between the two of them, and served well as a meeting place whenever she was needed on such unofficial visits.
"Right on time, I see," drawled Amelia Bones as Emma entered into the room, shutting the door behind her and activating the wards. The DMLE Director was a war-hardened woman in her fifties. And other than having the extreme misfortune of losing both her husband and only son to the war against the Dark Lord, she was also cursed with a sense of honesty, integrity, and the moral courage to act on them.
It was one of the reasons why she maintained a professional relationship with the woman, even at the risk of breaking the carefully constructed façade that was her public life.
"Tough day," Emma replied in a brisk, no-nonsense tone. Dealing with Harry Potter full-time wasn't truly a chore, but having to do everything else in the little amount of time left over certainly was. That went double ever since she'd begun tutoring young Harry on elemental spells. "Have your experts come up with anything?"
"Nothing," Amelia frowned. "And for once, not for the lack of trying. Cornelius had been rather… insistent on employing the best professionals in the business for the job."
Emma snorted. "Guess he really wants Harry's head on a spike. If only he could do his own damn job with half that dedication."
"Then you and I wouldn't be standing here, in this cramped place, discussing things under heavy privacy wards."
She cast the usual layer of protective spells over herself before lifting the enchanted cloth that covered one of the husks from that night. The body had undergone shrinking post-death, and rigor mortis had definitely set in. The rat-like face had scrunched into a more infantile state, and the only thing truly out of place was the strange metallic hand. Apparently it was crafted out of pure mercury, which was the main reason why she'd demanded to see this body above all others.
Peter Pettigrew's body.
"It would have helped if I got access to this body before your experts tampered with it."
Amelia's upper lip curled, but she offered no rebuttal.
Muttering a spell under her breath, Emma watched as the metal arm began to shine and slowly twist, rippling on the surface even though the main shape stayed mostly intact.
Her eyes widened. "This is… activated mercury."
The DMLE Director frowned. "I'm somewhat familiar with mercury, but not this variation of it."
"I'd be surprised if you were, unless you were into alchemy."
Amelia tilted her head.
"Activated mercury is a powerful thing, the main ingredient in the creation of Mithril. Both the ancient Sumerians and Aryans were crazy for it."
"What exactly does it do?"
"Whatever you want it to."
The Director blinked. "I… I don't understand."
"It's exactly as I've said," Emma sighed, crossing her arms. "Activated mercury is a versatile substance that can be classified as, well, alive. Using the right approach, one might be able to, say, add attributes to it. Characteristics, powers, abilities, properties— take your pick." She prodded the substance with her wand. "Strange. Only a gifted alchemist or a svartalf from Gringotts could have produced this."
"You think this isn't the Dark Lord's doing?"
"No, I— that's not what I mean," Emma frowned. Honestly, this was getting more puzzling by the second. "Do we happen to have an alchemist on hand?"
"I can get one," Amelia replied. "What for?"
"To test this substance's potency. I need to know what created this, and more importantly, how."
"Emmeline," the DMLE Director softly spoke, and there was a sharp undercurrent of authority in her tone that wasn't there before. "What exactly aren't you telling me?"
Emma gulped. "Let me walk you through a hypothetical scenario."
"Imagine you're the Dark Lord. You also happen to be a Master Alchemist capable of producing something like this…" she caressed the silvery arm almost reverently, "with nothing more than a wave of your wand. You know that this substance can channel over ten times as much magic as a human body can. And then, you create an entire arm out of it for your servant."
"And yet, an entirely human body for himself," Amelia caught on.
"Bingo," the healer confirmed. She had insisted on seeing Harry Potter's memory of his altercation with the Dark Lord, and if she were honest with herself, she could understand why Minister Fudge was acting the way he was, not that she'd ever admit it. Ignoring the man's idiocy and paranoia, Harry's memory was jerky and tainted with bursts of emotion. It all covered his mind like a misty veil.
It was a miracle she had even managed to get a direct glimpse at the Dark Lord.
The monster that had made her an orphan.
"I can only think of one explanation," Amelia said, cupping her chin. "This ritual that Pettigrew performed to bring him back to life, could it be that a physical body was all that could be made out of it? Perhaps the Dark Lord is planning to craft a new form for himself, and Pettigrew was just… an experiment?"
Emma froze. The idea had merit, but it made their reality that much more damning.
She had grown up hearing hushed tales of the Dark Lord's prowess, and the lack of parents only made them more impactful. With an alchemical homunculus for a body, he would easily be ten times stronger than he'd been back in the first war. Back then, he'd nearly taken over Magical Britain, only to be stopped by a fluke. But now…
She shuddered. And looking at Amelia's constipated expression, she had probably followed a similar line of thought. "What— what do we do?"
"For now? Keep running tests. Sirius Black's trial was an open-and-shut case, and we aren't going to dispose of Pettigrew's body until Harry Potter's trial takes place. Around three weeks from now."
Emma sighed. Three weeks was hardly enough time. "Guess I'm on the clock then."
"Unfortunately. And there is one other thing I want you to do as well."
"If this is about Harry Potter's medical situation, I'm afraid I can't reveal a thing," she promptly said, crossing her arms across her chest. "Healer-patient confidentiality is something I take seriously."
"Ministry orders supersede such oaths."
"Then show me an official Ministry warrant," Emma threw back, "and then I can tell you all about how Sirius Black had me take additional vows."
Amelia groaned. "Great. What has that paranoid fool done now?"
"He invited me to live in his home as a Guest—"
"—Thus invoking the Laws of Hospitality." The woman looked reasonably frustrated. "I get it, you can't give away anything that happens inside. I was just hoping to get some information about the latest attack on the boy."
"I can tell you he's safe," Emma offered. "And that he's healing nicely."
Emma considered her words. "He's… different now. Special. Not exactly Head Boy material, but still special in his own way." That, she decided, was enough to give away.
At least for now.
"I see," Amelia murmured. "At this point, I'm praying the boy doesn't get caught up in a crossfire between Dumbledore's machinations and Sirius Black's vengeance."
"For his incarceration."
Emma rolled her eyes, something that made Amelia's own widen in surprise. "You're looking for phantoms, Director. Vengeance is the last thing on his mind. At this point, Harry Potter is the center of his entire universe. I'll even go out on a limb and say if his trial goes wrong in any way, he'll probably throw his house under a fidelius and hide away with the boy for the rest of their natural lives."
"A reasonable idea, all things considered," Amelia chuckled. "At least until the Dark Lord publicly reveals himself."
She couldn't even tell if the woman was being serious. And that was never a good thing.
"What aren't you telling me, Director?"
Amelia looked like she'd bitten into a lemon. "The Department of Mysteries is demonstrating an unhealthy interest in the Boy-Who-Lived, especially over this… Monochrome Barrier, as they keep calling it," she admitted. "The only thing I could get from Croaker's cryptic statements was that this monochrome thing acted like an unraveller. Be it attire, wand, or even their bodies, every bit of magic unraveled itself out of it."
"So some kind of 'anti-magic' property then?"
She shook her head. "More like someone took a killing curse to everything within reach. Living, dead, inanimate… every single thing. And what was the last curse Potter remembers casting?"
Emma closed her eyes. "The killing curse."
"Exactly," Amelia replied, her tone despondent. "The Minister believes he has an iron-clad case here, and I for one don't disagree with his assessment, even if I don't believe it myself. Emma," she gently patted her hands, "I need you to give me a first assessment of Harry Potter's magic. If he really is unstable, I'll have to agree to support the DOM in their overtures to take him away. Otherwise, I'll need to prepare a solid defense against the accusations levied against him."
She winced, thinking of what happened to those taken away by the DOM in the name of research. Still, there was very little she could do.
"I… can't stay there for long. Harry Potter will return to peak health soon. At best, I'm a Guest until next Friday."
"Not enough," Amelia responded with a tone that bore no disagreements. "I need you to be my eyes and ears in there. Besides, Dumbledore's planning something. Arthur Weasley was spotted several times on Level Nine."
"Arthur Weasley…" She recognized the surname — anyone worth their salt in reproductive medicine did. Statistically, witches had about half as much success in getting pregnant as an average muggle woman.
But apparently, someone forgot to tell that to Molly Weasley née Prewitt.
Seven magical children. Seven. Back to back. And not a single squib among them. Either Molly Prewitt was doing something very right, or somebody somewhere was ignoring the rules.
The reality was probably somewhere in the middle.
"He's the Head of the Department of Misuse of Muggle Artefacts. But more importantly, the Weasleys are big supporters of Albus Dumbledore and possible members of his illusive Order of the Phoenix organization."
"Illusive," Emmeline snorted. The Order of the Phoenix was a haphazard collection of bureaucrats, Hit-wizards, muggleborns, and sympathizers from all over Wizarding Britain. A disorganized band of spies that was, at best, loosely connected by nothing more than their respect and adoration for Albus Dumbledore. And any information they gathered was sent down a one-way street, with only a single sink in the entire system.
"I was personally approached by Albus Dumbledore three times this past week to join his vaunted Order. You know, I asked him if I'd have access to Order information in return for what I provided, and the headmaster acted all shifty about it." She snorted again. "Seriously, an intelligence organization that fears intelligence—"
"You rejected his offer," Amelia finally spoke. "Despite knowing my wishes?"
Emma sneered at her superior. "I lost my parents to that man's pathological need to keep secrets after they joined that utterly incompetent organization, if it can even be called that. And he has the balls to ask me to join again, saying it was what they would've wanted?" She was practically seething by the end of it.
Amelia on the other hand, looked unfazed. "And what about Black?"
"What about him?"
"How did he react to your refusal?"
Emma took a few deep breaths. "Sirius… agreed to host them at Grimmauld Place. But personally, I think he's just as disillusioned with Dumbledore as I am. Only, he's being creepily nice about it."
"I… can't say any more than that."
"Noted," the DMLE Director hummed, rhythmically tapping a finger against Pettigrew's silvery arm. "Still, I want you to say yes when Dumbledore offers again."
"Are you fucking kidding—"
"No, I'm not fucking kidding you," Amelia snapped back. "Do you think I'd ask something like this of you if I had any other choice? I'm already reliably informed that Remus Lupin, a past associate of the Potters and Black, has been a constant presence in London's werewolf settlements. And the Hogwarts gamekeeper, Hagrid, has been noticeably absent since last month. Probably off with the jotuns."
"Wait wait," Emma choked. "Dumbledore sent that oaf to the giants?"
The jotun, or giants in lay-wizard terms, were colossal humanoid creatures with an extreme immunity to most magics. Most of Wizarding Britain held a deep-seated hatred, and fear, for them ever since the vikings used them in mass droves during their invasion at the start of the millennia.
"He'll be murdered!"
Emmeline was no expert, but she had a NEWT in Care of Magical Creatures, and Professor Elvenforst had been very clear on how the jotun population utterly despised wizarding culture, and were only kept on a tight leash by the collective efforts of the ICW.
Hagrid, Albus Dumbledore's servant, approaching them in a bid to request support for wizards would not be seen in a good light. At all.
"Look," Amelia sighed. "I understand that Albus Dumbledore's efforts may cause more trouble than they're worth." Emma clenched her fists. "But his actions have repercussions. Repercussions that I then have to deal with. Minister Fudge might be in denial about the Dark Lord, but even he privately admits to an increase in Death Eater activity. I also know that many of my own Aurors and Hit-wizards can be swayed by Dumbledore's presence."
"You want to weed them all out?"
"I can't afford that," the Director shook her head. "That's a lot more people than you realize. But what I can do instead is mitigate any trouble by knowing what Dumbledore knows about Potter and the Dark Lord so I can prepare for it ahead of time."
"You know the Order maintains secrecy through stringent oaths," Emma warned. "Once I join, hypothetically, I won't be able to reveal anything I learn in their meetings. If I even learn anything useful," she muttered under her breath.
Amelia's lips quirked into a wry smile. "Which is why you need to find indirect ways of passing information without violating your oaths. If anyone has information on how to defeat the Dark Lord, it'll be the man he fears most. And something tells me Harry Potter is integral to achieving that, especially with how protective Dumbledore is of the boy."
Emma stayed silent for a few moments. "Let me get this straight. You want someone, me, in the Order to spy on their activities, identify key members, and serve them conditioned information. You also want to figure out what's so special about Harry Potter, and you want all of this done under Dumbledore's nose."
"That's exactly what I want," the DMLE Director answered, her hawk-like gaze never leaving her eyes.
She nodded slowly. "And… you think I'm crazy enough to actually do it?"
"The fate of our country may depend on it.."
Emma considered that gravely.
"Okay… yeah. That's a pretty good argument."
The moment they had stepped into Grimmauld Place's atrium, Sirius clenched his arm tightly, forcing him to pause. "Stand here. And whatever happens, be calm."
"Why?" Harry frowned. "What's going to happen?"
"Lar of Black!" his godfather intoned in a firm voice. "Your Lord needs you."
There was a rushing sound, like a heavy curtain stirred by strong winds. And then, from the dark, seemingly endless shadows beneath the dining table ahead, an alien, gravelly voice spoke. "I am here, Lord Black."
Harry couldn't help it. Drawing a sharp breath, he backed away from the source until his back touched the wall, and before he knew it, his wand had come spinning into his hand. He'd been around a lot of unsettling things in the past— dementors, basilisks, and dragons all came to mind —but that thing's voice spooked the hell out of him like nothing he'd seen before.
"Take it easy," he heard Sirius soothe. "This is the Lar, the guardian deity of House Black. Its job is to protect the House and its Lord at all costs."
Harry could only splutter uselessly. He— he didn't even know how to react!
Sirius gave a sharp glance towards the shadows. "You are making my godson— my son —uncomfortable. Reveal yourself now, or suffer the ramifications."
There was no way to truly describe what happened with words, but the darkness almost melted away, reforming into something else. Harry could sense a strange amount of energy changing, twisting, morphing, becoming more, yet somehow less at the same time. Large, floppy ears became visible, then two thin palms slowly dragged the rest of its frail body out from underneath the table. The shadows clinging to its form turned into rags, while its beady eyes stared at Sirius, and Harry, with an alien recognition.
"Kreacher," Harry breathed.
"I," the Lar rasped, "live to serve the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black."
"So it was Kreacher all this time, huh?" Sirius exhaled. "I guess that makes sense."
The thing inclined his head. "I am he."
Harry blinked, turning towards his godfather in confusion. Was Kreacher this so-called Lar?
"It's a little difficult to explain," Sirius scratched his head. "Remember when I fell down during the adoption and some magic stuff happened and I got this?" he flashed the onyx ring sitting on his hand, the one with the scorpion engraved on its surface. "This is the Lord's ring, and with it comes all kinds of neat information that's, erm, floating in my head at the moment. I'm still trying to make heads or tails of it all."
Sirius paused, his eyes going blank before refocusing on his godson. "As the Lord, I have complete control over the wards of this House and everything in it. That includes… the Lar."
He turned towards Kreacher. "House elves don't have long lives. Most die within fifty years or so. But Kreacher's been alive for how long exactly?"
"One hundred and sixty-two years, Lord Black."
"Yeah, that. Apparently Lord Sirius Black II— that's my ancestor —bound him to the Lar of the House Black. Or, was that supposed to be the other way around?" He scratched his head again, glancing at the house-elf. "Help me find the correct way to explain this to him."
Kreacher— the Lar —directed his eyes towards Harry, who instinctively gulped. "My Lord and Master, Sirius Arcturus Black, made me his Shadow."
Harry felt the urge to vomit from hearing that gravelly tone directed towards him.
"I am the Lar of House Black. I am the loyal servant of Hedetet, the patron deity of the Black practitioners. I am the Truth of the one known as Kreacher. I am… Black manor." The creature didn't move, but it was as if it was standing taller all of a sudden. "In my Lord's presence, I wake and stand guard. In his absence, I sleep and gather dust."
That… that definitely sounded like it was the House talking. What a weird thing to think about.
"The elf who is called Kreacher serves while I lie dormant, as I have since Lord Arcturus's ascension to Lordship, ninety-six years to this date." The Lar pinned Harry with its alien gaze. "Are you willing to accept your duties, son of House Black?"
Harry didn't even know what to say, or if he was even supposed to speak. He was too used to the old Kreacher, who by now would have given him the stink eye or called him a mudblood or something.
"Say that you are in no obligation to follow any command, unless it contradicts the laws and orders of the Lord Black and the Black Family Charter," Kreacher advised.
"You—" Harry bit his tongue, realizing it wouldn't be a good idea to talk smack to a crazy powerful being he could barely stand in the presence of. "It's… strange, listening to you speak. Now you sound like my primary-school teacher."
"Perhaps it is because I am speaking to a child," the Lar slowly spoke. "The comparison is apt."
Sirius smothered his chuckles with a fist.
"Might I suggest you go ahead with the proper customs, Lord Black? Tempus fugit."
His godfather snapped his fingers. "I knew I was forgetting something."
"What's it talking about?" Harry curiously inquired.
"I need to attune the House's wards to myself first, and then have a traditional talk with the previous Lord. In this case, it's my grandfather's portrait, which should be locked in his office?"
"The office is open and ready for your use," the Lar replied in a monotone.
Sirius turned towards Harry. "Would you like to accompany me—"
"Actually," Harry cut in, gathering himself before meeting the Lar's gaze head-on, "I have a couple of questions I'd like to ask." His expression softened when he saw the worry on Sirius's face. "Don't worry, I'll be fine. This time, at least."
Sirius looked pained for a moment, before reluctantly nodding. "Alright, but be safe. And if you need anything, just yell."
Harry bobbed his head and patiently watched as Sirius disappeared up the stairwell. Taking a deep breath, he turned back to the Lar standing before him. Sure, it acted absolutely obedient to Sirius, but he had enough experience with Kreacher to know that just because someone was courteous, it didn't mean they weren't planning on vivisecting you. It just meant they'd check whether the ropes were tight enough before picking up the scalpel. Kreacher— or the Lar, or whatever it wanted to call itself —may be an ally, for the moment, but it was certainly not his friend.
His experience over the past few weeks was proof enough of that.
"So," he began, his voice deathly calm. "You're the House. Funny, because I've suffered through some crazy shit in this place recently. I've got some questions for you about that."
The Lar eyed him hungrily, its shadow deepening as it ballooned in size and covered most of the chamber in its dark, murky depths. "I thought you might. Demon."
Editor: Solo Starfish, the best goddamn starfish the world has ever seen.
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