TWENTY FOUR - Forewarned is Forearmed


The crisp pop of an apparition echoed off of brick walls in a drab muggle neighbourhood in Inner London which soon was followed by some tortured groaning and coughing. Harry had landed on his back and had the wind knocked out of him.

"Sorry, sorry" apologised Sirius, giving him a hand and patting him gently on the shoulder. "You'd think after I've been on the run for as long as I have, that I'd be better at this, but Azkaban wreaks havoc on your senses."

Harry struggled to inhale deeply enough to speak properly, needing another few moments to catch some more air. When he felt like he could speak again, he turned his head to look at his godfather while he dusted himself off. "It's alright, I've still got all my limbs, that's what matters," he said with a chuckle as he took in his surroundings. They were on the street in front of a row of connected three story houses.

Sirius grinned at his attitude and squeezed the younger man's shoulder. "I've never splinched anyone before, that's more than I can say for your old man. Left his pinkie behind the first time he apparated." He fished a piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to Harry.

"What's this?" asked Harry as he unfolded it.

"Read it."

'Sirius Black and whosoever he deems worthy, live at Number 12 Grimmauld Place.'

"Number 12? But there's no— Oh."

As soon as Harry had said that, as if there was a trick of the light, a building which had not been there before suddenly morphed into view in front of him. It was the same as the houses on either side, post industrial revolution brick-faced, with an almost utilitarian finish to its stylings, bar the fancy gothic metal window frames.

"Was that the—"

"Fidelius Charm?" finished Sirius, with a grin. He opened the front door to let them inside. "It was. A little extra security since you'll be staying here."

Harry stepped inside and found it much nicer than the drab exterior suggested. It was well lit, with cream-coloured walls, and dark-wood flooring, along with gold fittings. The same wood that covered one entire wall.

"After what Hermione told me about the Black family, I was expecting something a bit more…"

"Grim?" offered Sirius, amusedly. "Macabre? Covered head to toe in Slytherin colours?"

"Just a bit," chuckled Harry

"You weren't wrong," said Sirius as he shut the door. "You should have seen what it looked like before. It's amazing what you can do with deep pockets and some nifty transfiguration. Some areas are still untouched, haven't gotten around to sorting them out. Spent a tad too long with this floor." Sirius pointed at the one wall that was lined with wood. "There was a portrait of my mother there, dreadful hag that she was, enchanted the thing so it couldn't be removed. In the end, we could only cover it up."

Sirius rubbed at his arm, as if nursing an old injury. Harry noticed this but didn't have to ask as Sirius had already picked up on his curiosity.

"Parting gift from Kreacher, my family's old elf. He didn't take too kindly to me blocking off that portrait."

Harry recalled the way Dobby would hurt himself when he tried to circumvent his orders. It didn't take a genius to figure out what would have happened to a house elf who outright attacked his master. Even so, he had to ask.

"What happened to him?"

Sirius grimaced as he recalled. "He threw me against the wall, knocked me out cold. I woke up hours later, and found he'd killed himself." He didn't mention to Harry that Kreacher had been in much the same state as Nearly Headless Nick had been in his last moments.

"That's—"

"Awful, I know, but forgive me if I don't hold any sympathy. Kreacher was at times as awful and bigoted as the worst of my family. His years trapped in this house with nobody but my mother's ranting portrait only drove him further off the deep end."

Harry struggled to imagine such a dreadful picture of a house elf, when every one he'd had the pleasure of meeting had been incredibly kind and helpful. The thought of a bigoted elf seemed unreal, but he reasoned that if there was one family who could have managed such a thing, it would have been the Blacks.

"Well, enough of that. Let's get you settled in and then we have a little trip to make." Sirius grinned at the end.

"Sounds brilliant," said Harry, pushing the topic of Kreacher out of his mind.

It didn't take long for him to get everything in order. All it really involved was Sirius showing him his room on the second floor, and a short tour of the house. Harry figured magic was at work as was usually the case, since the home was clearly much larger on the inside. Over a dozen rooms, including a library, several bathrooms, a dining room and to his delight, a training room. The last had come with a promise of lessons from his godfather. Sirius happened to have been a lethal duellist prior to his incarceration, and while his reflexes may not be what they were, he was still formidable.

As Harry descended the stairs, Sirius leaned against the wall at the base.

"Shall we?" he asked, to which Harry nodded.

He didn't know what to expect when Sirius had taken his arm and apparated them, so he was left looking around in surprise upon their arrival. His godfather had brought them to a cemetery. Harry's first thought went to the episode during the Third Task but once he took everything in, he could instantly tell how different it was. This place was small with an almost quaint nature to it, with graves that looked well cared for and tall strong trees that looked as if they were there to stand guard against those who wished to disturb the dead.

A familiar figure stood at the short cast iron gate, waiting for them.

"Moony," greeted Sirius.

It took a second for it all to click.

"Is this—?"

"Godric's Hollow," answered Remus gently. He stepped forward and placed a hand on Harry's shoulder. "I'm truly sorry that it's taken this long, that you've never been here is a failure on all of us."

Harry clenched his jaw to keep a hold on his emotions. "It couldn't be helped, there wasn't any time."

"No," Remus shook his head. "There was, I've no excuses. It shames me to think that had Sirius not brought it up, I might never have realised."

"We're here now, that's what matters," said Harry, putting Remus at ease.

Sirius patted his friend on the back and pushed forward. "Lead the way."

Their group was as silent as the graves they walked past, the only sound were their steps on the grass and gravel. As they walked, they passed by an elderly couple, who greeted them with a polite 'good morning' before continuing on their way.

Remus stopped metres in front of a single grave. Harry didn't need him to say they'd arrived. He walked past Remus, as if under a compulsion, and kneeled to touch the gravestone. He didn't care that he was not alone, his eyes blurred as they welled up with tears. It made reading the inscription harder, but he managed. He traced their names, feeling the cold stone beneath his fingers. They were right there, beneath the ground. His parents.

"Hi mum, dad," he choked out, the knot in his throat made the words hard. That he'd seen his mum on the night of the third task only made it more painful. Before, he could only imagine what it was that was stolen from him. But after hearing her voice, feeling what it was like to be held and loved by her. To see her name in front of him, it twisted the knife. Sirius had stayed back with Remus to give him time.

"I'm sorry I couldn't stay with you mum, and that I couldn't come to see you dad. But I had to come back." He wanted to say more, but now that he was there, he found that there was both so much to say, but also no way of saying it. Strangely, he had the feeling they understood.

He didn't know how much time had passed as he crouched there, but eventually the muscles in his thighs began to ache. So, with a final touch of the cold gravestone, he stood and unconsciously stretched his legs.

In his moment with his parents, he'd forgotten Sirius and Remus. He found them waiting for him under a tree several metres away. They said nothing when he approached them, but Sirius did squeeze his shoulder in a comforting gesture.

If the way the gentle wind seemed to suddenly brush over the grass and rustle his hair like a soft caress was in any way a sign. He knew they'd heard him.

Sirius returned later that night to the graveyard. His footsteps on crisp grass and stone were all that could be heard beyond the slight wind. Sirius pulled his coat tighter to wade off the chill. It was cold and damp with the smell of dew. Walking through a graveyard at night carried a haunting eeriness, which even affected a wizard like himself. It felt as if he were disturbing their rest.

He found his way back to the Potter's grave and sat down against the headstone. To others it may seem disrespectful, but to Sirius, he felt close to his old friends for the first time in fifteen years. If he closed his eyes, he could imagine they were right there with him.

From his pocket, he removed a silver flask, not unlike the one used by Moody. He unscrewed the cap and took a swig of the amber liquid within, savouring the way it burned and warmed his throat and chest.

"I had so much to say to you, James, Lily. But in the end, it's nothing you don't already know. So instead, how about we share a drink?"


The following morning saw Harry and Sirius walking through the Leaky Cauldron, and much like the first time Harry had entered the establishment, silence fell throughout. Only this time, it was not because of him.

Muttered whispers emanated from scattered tables as the two of them walked past them. Harry could make out a few words that escaped the quiet hushed conversations here and there.

'Sirius Black… Don't— believe… honestly… innocent… load of bollocks…'

He forced himself to try and listen in on the conversations but a mere glance towards the tables from Sirius, and the mutterings ceased entirely.

The silence seemed never-ending until Sirius placed his hand on Harry's back and gently moved him forward again. Quickly, the sour expression on Sirius' face morphed into a joyful smile that showed his teeth. "Hello Tom," he greeted the bartender.

"Black," Tom nodded and replied with the same friendly tone he provided all of his customers, even if there was a hint of caution behind his eyes.

"Harry," he greeted when he turned to him, with more earnest warmth to his tone. "What can I get for the two of yer?"

"Nothing right now, just passing through," answered Sirius. "Perhaps on the way out."

"Tough crowd," commented Harry as they left the pub for the small cove at the back where the entrance to the Alley could be found. "Has it been that way since the trial?"

"Better actually, nobody drew their wands."

"What?"

Sirius grimaced and tapped the stones on the wall to open the passage into Diagon Alley. "The first day when the news broke, I made the mistake of visiting Hogsmeade. Turns out most people don't read the morning paper until after they've had their cup of tea. It's a right good thing there was an auror present."

A hurried passerby walked into Harry, bumping his shoulder before continuing off without a second's apology. When Harry glanced up, he realised they were on the marble steps of the bank. The man who'd knocked him had come from there and had clearly been left in a terrible mood.

"Gringotts?" asked Harry curiously. "What are we doing here?"

"I'll explain inside," answered Sirius. "I'd rather not discuss it out here."

The foyer was the same as usual, busy with witches and wizards at the various counters, dealing with matters of currency and profit. While the goblins, as curt as always dealt with their clients with the bare minimum of spoken words needed. Any loitering around the foyer was quickly met with a guard who ushered them from the building.

"Mr Black," greeted one of the grouchy looking goblins from his high seat. "Follow me." He climbed down and motioned for the large mahogany door in one of the corners.

Harry glanced at Sirius questioningly and received a nod in the direction the goblin had walked. Many of the banks' patrons noticed them, and while some tried to feign disinterest, a few stared blatantly. It was a different kind of stare to the ones Harry was used to, these were more calculated.

It was a relief to get away from them when they left through the door following behind the goblin. They were led to a small meeting room, where another goblin waited at his desk.

"Mr. Black, Mr. Potter," greeted the surly goblin. "Please, sit."

"Bagrod," responded Sirius as they took their seats. "I take it everything is in order."

"Everything, bar your signatures."

"I'm sorry," interrupted Harry with barely hidden annoyance. "What exactly is going on? I'm a bit lost here."

"You have not explained anything to your ward?" asked Bagrod of Sirius, his voice filled with surprised annoyance as well.

"I meant to surprise him, but I realise now that it was in poor taste. My apologies."

"Time is money, Mr. Black. I'd appreciate you to not waste mine," snarled Bagrod, before turning his hard gaze towards Harry. "Your godfather has elected you as sole heir of his estate, to be witnessed by Gringotts."

"Heir? What?" Harry was floored by it all.

Bagrod looked at Sirius impatiently, before the latter let out a resigned breath and began to explain.

"My freedom was not uncontested," he said. "To say there are several who found the court's acceptance of the ICW's ruling inconvenient would be putting it mildly. Malfoy most of all, along with Fudge and that pink minion of his."

"What does Malfoy have to do with anything?"

"A lot, actually. His son was in line to inherit through his mother, Narcissa. It's safe to say, my freedom has cost him more than just a fortune. It's why we need to do this."

Harry nodded slowly. "I understand, you're simply being pragmatic. But tell me beforehand please, I've been kept in the dark before and I don't appreciate it."

"Agreed."

Bagrod nodded, satisfied that enough had been said. He slid a parchment form across his heavy desk along with a quill towards Sirius. "Read it, and when the terms suit you, sign at the bottom line."

Sirius accepted the parchment and leaned back. It was all straightforward, cut and dry inheritance papers, along with a will which he'd drafted himself and had the goblins attach.

Once he had finished ensuring all was in order, he fetched the quill, which Harry noticed had no ink. Sirius was unbothered and signed at the bottom of the parchment that to Harry's surprise, was in red ink. A very distinct red.

"Is that—?"

"Blood? It is," Sirius offered quickly and handed Harry the quill. "It's a blood quill. They're highly controlled objects. Used for binding contracts, inheritance papers, wills and so on," continued Sirius. "Use it too often in too short a time, and you'll find yourself with a bloody hand and a nasty scar."

"A scar?" asked Harry curiously, his healer mind latching on to that detail. Minor cuts when healed magically don't scar, not unless there was magic actively fighting against being healed. Which was usually a case for spells of the darker variety.

"Blood quills are technically cursed rather than dark objects," said Sirius.

Bagrod pushed the parchment to Harry and folded his hands on the table. There was a field for him to sign. He moved to do so, when Sirius grabbed his arm.

"Read it first, Harry. Never sign anything, especially with a blood quill without first reading it. Even if it comes from myself."

Harry, mildly chastised, nodded and took the time to read it properly. It was as they'd mentioned, with nothing out of the order. Thankfully, the wording was all relatively simple, with no ambiguity. So, he signed and for a brief moment felt a wicked itch at the back of his right hand. Before he could question it, Bagrod snatched the form away and slipped it into a binder.

The rest of the proceedings went smoothly, and within minutes, their business was concluded.


Harry stepped out of the floo in Madam Pomfrey's office. He'd received a letter from her informing him of his schedule for the remainder of the vacation. In the mornings he would travel to Hogwarts and return at the end of the day.

Looking around, Harry found the office empty and figured his teacher must already be out in the ward.

He exited the ward and adjusted a mandrake leaf in his mouth, the horribly bitter taste was driving him mental. How his father and the others managed to keep this thing in their mouths for an entire month without anyone catching on was even more impressive than having pulled off the transformation. He thought back to the night before when his godfather had presented him with the idea. They'd just finished eating supper, when Sirius had retrieved a small wooden box and handed it to him.

"I'm sorry it's taken me this long, but some of what's in there," he pointed at the box, "can be rather difficult to acquire without the ministry breathing down your neck."

"What is it?" asked Harry with cautious curiosity.

"That, Harry, is your birthday present. Go on, open it," Sirius urged with a grin.

Inside, was an empty crystal vial, some mandrake leaves, and a few other items and ingredients. Harry had an immediate suspicion of what the hidden message behind this gift was.

"This is everything you need to become an animagus," said Harry in awe. "You want me to try—"

"If you'd like," said Sirius quickly. "It won't be easy, and it's a risk, but I think you could do it. Besides, most who attempt the transformation don't have an animagus to guide them."

"I'm already stretched so thin," said Harry, causing Sirius' shoulders to sag ever so slightly and his excitement to waver. Before Harry grinned. "But what's one more thing on the list."

"Harry," came the familiar voice of his teacher from the far end of the hospital wing, snapping him from his thoughts.

"Madam Pomfrey," greeted Harry with a warm smile. She was carrying a tray with some bottles, which she placed on the bedside table which held the simulacrum.

"I see your break has treated you well," said Madam Pomfrey, kindly. "That's good, it means you're ready to work."

"I'm always ready," he chuckled fondly. "I brought you these from France," he said, handing her a gift bag.

"Thank you, you shouldn't have. I'll put this in my office. In the meanwhile, Professor Dumbledore would like to see you. You can get changed afterwards, I'll finish preparing, so don't dally on your way back. We have less than two weeks before the term starts. It's your OWL year, so we best use our time effectively."

If there was one thing about his teacher that struck true, it was that she didn't waste time.

It was an odd feeling to walk through Hogwarts between terms. It held the same silence that usually accompanied him when he snuck about after hours. Each step on the hard stone floor echoed through the passageway. A scattered few paintings would wave at him or throw a wayward comment his way as he walked by them.

To his amusement, one of the many suits of armour that stood guard throughout the school was dancing a jig and stopped as soon as Harry turned the corner. It was these few, easily overlooked, eccentricities that made Hogwarts a special place.

Minutes later, he arrived at the phoenix statue which hid the staircase to Dumbledore's office. He realised that Madam Pomfrey had forgotten to give him the password.

"Uhm, mind letting the Professor know I'm here?" he asked the statue, feeling silly.

Within seconds, the sound of grinding stone reverberated throughout the passageway, as the statue turned and rose to reveal the staircase.

"Thanks," said Harry, despite knowing the statue wasn't really conscious or listening.

He climbed the winding steps, and amusedly wondered how Hagrid squeezed through there. It was very narrow after all. He made a mental note to visit his large friend and thank him for the gift.

"Come in," came the wizened old voice of Professor Dumbledore through the polished wood door.

"Good morning, Professor," greeted Harry as he entered the office. He smiled when Fawkes trilled at him from his perch.

He found the headmaster placing a book into one of the many bookshelves that lined his office walls.

"And a good morning to you, Harry." Dumbledore returned his greetings jovially. "Please, have a seat," he said, sitting down on his large ornate chair behind the well-crafted desk. "Sherbert Lemon?"

For a change, Harry accepted one of the headmaster's sweets. He unwrapped the small yellow hard candy and popped it in his mouth. Anything to alleviate the damn bitterness of the mandrake leaf which was stuck to the roof of his mouth.

"How did you find France?" asked Dumbledore, leaning back in his chair, and sitting comfortably. "I hope you had a lovely time with the Delacour family?"

"I did," answered Harry with a grin. "Hermione was able to join us with her parents."

"Oh, how wonderful. I imagine the Grangers found the experience of a magical household a sight to behold."

"They did," chuckled Harry. "But it was the cleaning charms that had them most impressed. Hermione's already had to owl-order a book on the subject."

"Ah, a surprisingly complex branch of magic. You know, I myself have contributed rather substantially to it, but alas, I will not be remembered for my creation of the sock-pressing charm," lamented Dumbledore, drawing a laugh out of Harry.

"Well, I'm sure you're wondering why I called you here, there are two reasons. Firstly, this," Dumbledore removed a letter from his top draw. Harry recognised it as one he'd sent regarding the money from the basilisk.

"As per your wishes, a sizeable portion of the proceeds will be split and given to those who were affected by the events of your second year. The fangs will be more delicately handled, and a length of the skin will be kept."

Harry nodded in agreement, satisfying the old man.

"The other reason for this meeting, was to warn you," said Dumbledore with a more serious tone, drawing Harry's full attention.

"Warn me, Professor?"

Dumbledore nodded. "Our illustrious minister adamantly refuses to believe the events of the third task for what it was, an attempt by Voldemort to return to power. He has determined that it was an isolated incident, and solely the work of death eater remnants who wished to exact revenge on you."

"That's… unfortunate, sir, but I don't understand what it is you're warning me of?"

"Patience, Harry, I'm getting to that," chastised Dumbledore mildly. "In my urgency to convince Fudge of the truth, I've become a victim to his paranoia. He believes I am, for lack of a better way to word it, 'after his job' and am merely using the third task as a means to see him ousted."

"Wha— But that's nuts!" Harry was gobsmacked. He didn't honestly believe the ministry would do anything useful with what they learned at the graveyard, but to somehow turn it against Dumbledore was ludicrous.

"Cornelius is nothing if not consistent in irrationality. Regardless, he has capitalised on my failure to acquire a new defence teacher and has assigned a woman by the name of Dolores Umbridge to the position. Dolores is by no means an educator. She will be solely fixed on undermining my authority. My warning for you, is that while you are not her target, she holds no love for you, or for your godfather. Sirius' freedom has come at a cost to the minister, and that makes him an enemy in her eyes. She will not shy away from antagonising you, if just for her own pleasure. The same must be said for Miss Delacour."

Harry snapped to attention. "Fleur? Why? What does she have to do with this?" He asked heatedly.

"Dolores is a highly prejudiced individual, many of the Ministry's actions with regards to muggleborns, or those of mixed heritages had her hand in them. She will find Miss Delacour's very presence in this school an affront."

"If she tries anything—"

"You will do as you must, I cannot fault you for that, but I implore you to tread carefully. Dolores Umbridge is a vindictive woman, one with direct access to the Minister's ear."


That night, Harry sat with Sirius in the living room, a cold butterbeer in each of their hands.

"I don't like this," said Sirius. "Dolores Umbridge may not be a marked death eater, but she'd give any one of them a run for their money. Woman's pure evil, as hateful as they come. She makes my mother seem right on pleasant."

"You know her, then, what can you tell me? I want to know whom exactly I'm dealing with, especially if she'll be targeting Fleur. I refuse to get blindsided. Doesn't matter that Dumbledore's hands are tied, mine aren't."

Sirius gave Harry an approving grin. "And there's your father in you." He took a swig of his butterbeer to wet his throat. "I'll tell you everything I know, and then we're going to the library and then the training room. If you're not going to be getting a real defence education at Hogwarts, then I'll have to do it myself, the way my grandfather taught me."

And it was those words which sealed Harry's fate for the most gruelling two weeks he'd ever gone through. Both Sirius and Madam Pomfrey worked him to the veritable bone.

While he missed Hermione and Fleur, he knew that were they around, he wouldn't have had any time whatsoever to spend with them.


It was the morning of the day the students would be returning to Hogwarts, when Harry had thought he was meant to skip the train ride and floo to the school as he'd been doing. Madam Pomfrey had shaken her head ruefully at him and told him to take the train. It was an experience you only had so many times in your life, best not to squander it.

"It's still early, I'll leave my things here, and then floo back. Until then, if it's possible, I'd like to continue where we left off yesterday. I'm certain I was close to nailing it," said Harry.

"Very well," smiled his teacher in approval. "Come. Have you given any thought as to why you've been failing?"

Harry nodded, and slipped his wand out of his holster while Madam Pomfrey prepared the simulacrum.

The fake body with its neutral features laid still, almost expectantly.

"It's the rhythm, ma'am. I've been stopping too soon."

"Show me."

Madam Pomfrey whipped her wand in a sudden slashing movement, striking the simulacrum with an ominous purple flame.

Harry got to work immediately, which was far faster than the help anybody in the field would receive were they to be struck by an organ liquefying curse.

"Viscerum Sanitas," incanted Harry first, firing a bolt of golden yellow light at centre mass. It caused the skin to shine as if it was covered in oils and hit by sunlight. While Harry's counter-curse fought against the organ-liquefier, Harry couldn't remain idle. The dark curse may affect every organ within the torso, it was especially effective at wreaking havoc with the lungs and heart.

The next part was the area where he really struggled. He had to perform one of the most difficult magical feats one could master, splitting one's focus. The next spell was one Harry did not enjoy casting, he took a deep breath, feeling his own heart beat and his breath filling his lungs.

"Conforme Esto."

The simulacrum's heartbeat strengthened to match the rhythm of Harry's own, and its struggling lungs inflated as it drew deeper breaths. What made the spell uncomfortable was the feedback. Harry's heart felt irregular, and his breathing stressed. But it was all in his mind. In reality, he was completely fine.

Harry had to ignore the sensations and keep himself calm while he began administering potions. If he didn't, the simulacrum's heart would beat wildly, deathly so. The first potion which was meant to repair the damaged heart muscle was violent in nature. It was the reason one had to use the spell alongside it. Without it, the shock from the potion would be fatal. In a proper setting, two healers would be present. One to hold the spell, the other to perform the potion treatment. But every healer needed to master the skill to the point they could do it all alone.

Madam Pomfrey handed him a measured vial of a pale red potion with swirls of blue. He kept his mind focused on maintaining his spell while accepting the vial from her, and carefully poured the contents into the simulacrum's mouth. The second it touched the fake body's tongue, there was a massive spike in the strength of its heartbeat, and despite being prepared for the feedback, Harry nearly lost his composure.

"Deep breaths, Harry, deep breaths," instructed Madam Pomfrey. "You're doing great, maintain it. Let the potion do its work. Remember, to feel for it. When its heart relaxes, break the spell."

Harry did as she said. It felt like ages but was barely minutes. When the heartbeat returned to the same normal rhythm as his own and the intensity of the potion wore off, he ended the spellwork. He raised his wand and wiped the sweat from his brow with his wrist.

"Good work," praised Madam Pomfrey. "Take a minute to catch your breath, and we'll do it again."

"Yes, ma'am."


END CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR


25, 26 available at / Office_Sloth if you want to read ahead. I hope you'll support me, it helps me to devote more time to this. Thank you!