An AU of a Sixth Year AU Story: What would have happened if two liberal American druids had taken Harry to America, before returning with him to Hogwarts? In this chapter, Harry gets to know Sirius...
Monday, December 30, 1991
The news about Sirius Black's return came out in The Daily Prophet that morning. To say that it had made a stir in the British wizarding world was a major understatement. Barty Crouch Sr., the official who had sent Sirius to Azkaban without a thorough investigation let alone any trial, had been hanging on to his current position in the immediate aftermath of Sirius' reappearance. The afternoon of the 28th, an unexpected Ministry visit to his home had revealed that his son, a convicted Death Eater believed to have died in Azkaban, was living under semi-imprisonment conditions in the Crouch home. It was that discovery which had delayed the news of Sirius Black's innocence.
Barty Crouch Jr. had been quickly taken back to Azkaban prison. His father's trial had been scheduled to start in early January at first. Crouch managed to make a plea bargain, forcing him not just out of the Ministry but which also striped him of his political rights and a third of his fortune.
It was difficult to tell from that Monday's Daily Prophet which of the two stories was considered to be the more shocking. The paper was very much an establishment organ, and as the only magical daily in the British islands it was also the most influential. The weekly periodicals had much less influence.
Because the Prophet was so tied to the establishment, it took a little reading between the lines to see that there was a third major scandal brewing. The Minister of Magic was also under heavy fire from within the Ministry and from the semi-autonomous wizarding court system. Cornelius Fudge had been the senior Ministry official at the scene of the confrontation between Black and Pettigrew, and it had been his evidence that had partially convinced Crouch that a trial was unnecessary. To make matters worse for Fudge, investigation into the affair of Barty Crouch Jr. had revealed Fudge's misuse of the memory charm on Neville Longbottom, not just by Fudge, but by his then-assistant, Dolores Umbridge.
A cursory investigation into that then had led to the discovery, which would be announced that very afternoon, that Fudge and Umbridge had been carrying on a long term affair, and that Umbridge had been accepting direct bribes while both Fudge and Umbridge had been using large contributions by many wizards long suspected of Dark activities, especially Lucius Malfoy. This last would not have counted heavily, except that all Fudge's 'charity contributors' (as they were called) fell into that suspect category, and worst of all, they had all made their first contributions just before Fudge had helped them arrange pardons.
The Daily Prophet reported Tuesday that Umbridge had already resigned, and that Fudge might have to. Peter Pettigrew had already been sent to the dementors. As for Sirius Black, he was declared innocent of the charges against him, although the paper noted Monday that he had been convicted of numerous (unspecified) minor offenses and announced on Tuesday that he had been let off with time served. Fudge would actually resign on the Wednesday, being replaced by the head of the MLES, Amelia Bones.
Percy Weasley was very confused by all this news. He had idealized the Ministry before this, believing it to consist of people like himself. He had imagined their rules and regulations were well-thought out, and evenly and honestly applied.
To his shock, he suddenly realized what he had done. He had populated the Ministry of his imagination with people who had all the positive qualities of himself, and even more surprisingly to him, his father.
He spent the rest of the holiday thinking about his priorities.
Before all that played out, Harry had some unexpected visitors that Monday afternoon. Professor McGonagall had found Harry in the library with Ron. They were pretending to study their history text while actually casing the restricted section again, thinking about making an assault while pretending to work on assignments they had already finished.
McGonagall eyed them warily. Decades of experience warned her that the pair was up to something, but she had no idea what they might be after. She contented herself with ordering Harry to follow her.
Harry decided that he wasn't in trouble, and so merely packed up and followed his Head of House to the great hall. McGonagall merely told him to try and stay out of trouble and then directed Harry to the door next to the dias where the faculty table was.
Harry shrugged and went on alone. He knew there was someone waiting for him, and therefore wasn't overly surprised to see that it was Black and Lupin.
"Hello, Harry," Remus said gently. Sirius Black seemed too nervous to do much more than smile at that point.
"Hi," Harry said.
An awkward silence fell. Remus sighed and elbowed Sirius sharply. "Ow!" He growled at Remus while rubbing his arm, "Why'd you do that, Moony?" The werewolf had forgotten how strong he was, and that elbow would leave a bruise.
"Because you're being an idiot," Remus responded. He turned to Harry and smiled a little. "Since you knew who I was, I guess there's no need to introduce myself."
"No," Harry said. "That's my godfather, Sirius Black, my father's best friend, and you're another close friend. I take it you're the werewolf my father, and the others, became an animagus to help out?"
"I am," Lupin admitted. "I hope that doesn't make you too nervous."
Harry thought a moment. "The last full moon was over a week ago . . . the morning of the twenty-first?" he asked. Lupin nodded.
Harry shrugged. "Then there's nothing to be nervous about, is there?"
"No," Sirius stated, "there isn't. I guess I should start off by apologizing again for the other night. That wasn't the best way for us to meet."
"Actually, it probably was, considering the circumstances," Harry pointed out.
"You probably have been told this before, but you look almost exactly like your father," Sirius blurted. Harry frowned slightly.
"He does," Remus agreed, "but if he sounds like anyone, he sounds more like Lily."
"True," Sirius admitted. "Anyway, since you know who we are, we thought we should drop by and become a little more acquainted, if you're interested."
Remus added, "Tabitha and Henry agreed we could, by the way."
"So, even though Tabby knew your mum fairly well, we probably knew her a bit better," Sirius said while scowling at Remus. He turned to Harry. "We also knew your father very well. Tabitha said you don't know much about them. What can we tell you about them?"
Harry smiled. "Everything!"
For the rest of the holiday, Harry spent a lot of time every day with Sirius and Remus. Ron spent the afternoons with them as well, and the twins always joined in after dinner.
Harry really enjoyed both of his father's friends. Sirius was more obviously fun-loving, and he spent a great deal of time exchanging pranking ideas with Fred and George, who seemed to very nearly worship Sirius. Remus was much more laid-back and quiet, but obviously had the same mischievous streak in him -- it was merely better controlled.
While Remus appeared poor and somewhat tired, Sirius still looked awful, even though he ate more than Harry and Ron put together. When school restarted, the pair of friends would be leaving for a vacation that would last until school was out. Both promised that they would be moving near Hogsmeade the following July.
That Thursday evening, Sirius and Remus took Harry and George aside, sending Ron and Fred on ahead with arm loads of extra food and drink to eat in front of the fire later that night.
"Did you bring it?" Sirius asked George.
"Of course!" George said. He pulled out a slightly tattered piece of parchment.
Sirius grabbed it, making George look hurt and drawing a scolding from Remus. Sirius apologized, pulled his new wand out and touched the parchment, saying, "I solemnly swear I am up to no good!"
Harry watched, amazed as the parchment sprang to life. "What's that?" Harry asked.
"The Marauder's Map," George said, slightly in awe.
"How did you get it, anyway?" Remus asked.
"And what is it?" Harry asked again.
"We diverted Filch's attention one time in his office last year and grabbed a bunch of stuff," George said. "This was the most interesting."
"And it shows nearly all of Hogwarts and all the people and sentients in the castle and some of the grounds," Remus explained. "We started on it in our Third year, and kept making improvements until Filch managed to grab it from us in our Seventh."
"'Nearly all'?" George asked.
"There are some areas open only to the staff," Remus explained. "I doubt if we found all of it."
"We also found a number of secret passages," Sirius added. "There must be at least one that we missed."
"Which. . . ?" Remus started to ask.
"There must be one in the dungeons we missed," Sirius answered. "Remember, there was that troll over Halloween."
"That's right," Remus agreed. "I forgot about that."
"Why didn't it ever show you or Pettigrew?" George asked Sirius.
"It only shows Marauders to another Marauder," Remus explained.
"May we have this?" Sirius asked.
George's face dropped, but he said, "Well, it is yours."
Sirius and Remus smiled. "We'll give it back," Remus said. "We're going to add Harry as a Marauder and teach him some things. We'll give it back to you, and you can share it with him until you leave or decide to give it to him."
Now George smiled. "Thank you."
"Hey, I can't imagine anyone more deserving of our help than you two," Sirius said. He ruffled Harry's hair. "It takes a year or two to get ready to cause trouble."
Harry stuck his tongue out at his godfather.
The next Saturday night, Sirius and Remus took their leave right after dinner. Harry was sad to see them go. He thought he understood himself, and his heritage, a bit better. He also understood why Snape seemed to hate him so much.
Sirius still loathed Snape. Harry had been horrified to learn that Sirius had tricked Snape into approaching the transformed Remus Lupin during a full moon. Even now, more than fifteen years later, Sirius was sorry only for nearly getting Remus charged with murder. That Snape might have been killed, or at least made a werewolf, didn't even seem to matter. In fact, the idea of Snape as a werewolf seemed to be a real joke to Sirius and to the three youngest Weasley brothers ("Imagine, a great greasy werewolf," Fred had said. "It would look nasty, but would probably have to spend all its time licking the grease off its fur." Sirius and Ron had howled with laughter.)
Although Harry really liked Sirius, he felt more drawn to the more scholarly Remus. Most nights, after Sirius had regaled the group with some outrageous stories in the common room (the two Seventh year girls watching on from a distance, one looking longingly at Sirius, the other at Remus, while Percy pretended to ignore everything), Sirius would wind up talking with Fred and Ron while Remus would be talking to George and Harry.
Harry made certain to introduce both men to Hedwig. Harry loved his owl, but had had little use for her. She seemed very happy with the idea of flying messages to Sirius and Remus, starting in two weeks or so.
The holidaying students returned late the next afternoon. Harry was waiting near the stairs in the entrance hall when they started pouring in.
He was waiting for two particular students, and so didn't notice the glances he was getting from many of the students. Harry did take time off to exchange sneers with Draco Malfoy.
Finally, Neville and Hermione came through the huge doors. Neville smiled and pointed Harry out to Hermione (she had been searching for him in the other direction) and the two hurried over.
"Sounds like you had an interesting holiday," Neville said with a grin.
"Nah, I'm sure it wasn't anything out of the ordinary," Harry retorted, finally breaking into a return grin of his own.
"Boys," Hermione said, rolling her eyes. To his surprise, Hermione then gave Harry a brief but very tight hug. "I'm just glad things turned out so well."
"So am I," Harry agreed.
"What's he like?" Neville asked.
Harry frowned in thought. It was obvious who Neville was asking about. "It's hard to say. In some ways, he's more like a school boy than some of the Seventh years. Maybe spending almost ten years in that place means he never really grew up." Harry shrugged. "In most other ways, he's great, but you have to imagine him as Fred and George Weasley wrapped into one person." Hermione wrinkled her nose at that.
"Is the story of how he and his friends became animagi true?" Neville asked.
"I think so. Which part?"
"The part that they did it because one of their dorm mates was a werewolf." Neville shook his head. "Did the Headmaster really allow a werewolf into school?"
"It does sound dangerous," Hermione agreed.
"Yes, he did, and they did," Harry responded, a bit nettled. "I met him, the werewolf I mean."
"He was there, that night when Sirius broke in and captured Pettigrew."
"You mean he was in league with Black all along?" Hermione asked.
"Oh, no, he was there to help bring Sirius down," Harry answered. "He probably would have had the best idea of how Sirius thought. He was also able to confirm most of Sirius' story and identify Pettigrew. They're good friends again, and are leaving on vacation together after the next full moon." Harry smiled. "They're supposed to come stay with us in July."
"Wasn't he . . . awful?" Neville asked.
Harry shook his head. "Neville, he's a person, a very nice and smart person at that, not a monster. Well, except during the hours between the full moon and daylight, anyway."
"Really?" Hermione asked, her eyes wide.
"Really," Harry said firmly.
That night, the four friends sat at their usual table. Neville was scribbling in a record book he kept on some plants he kept on the window sill while Hermione was glancing over the boys' holiday assignments. Harry and Ron were going over their wizard cards from the chocolate frogs they'd been given at Christmas.
"Here's another Dumbledore," Ron said. He frowned. "I must have eight of these by now," Ron said. "You have one, don't you, Harry?"
"Yeah," Harry answered. "That was the first card. . . ." Harry trailed off.
Ron looked at Harry, who was sitting there with a stunned expression on his face. "What's wrong, Harry?" Hermione and Neville looked up as well.
"Harry?" Hermione asked, worried. "Harry, are you all right?"
"I'm an idiot," Harry declared.
"Yeah, well, we knew THAT," Ron retorted. "What made you realize it?" Neville and Hermione glared at him. "What?"
"I knew I knew Flamel's name, but I couldn't place it," Harry muttered.
"Who is he?" Hermione asked.
"He's a famous alchemist. My mother must have mentioned him a few times as the greatest alchemist of the last thousand years or so."
"That's great," Neville said, which made Hermione and Ron nod in agreement, "but why did you remember now?"
"Read the last line of Dumbledore's card, Ron," Harry directed.
Ron shrugged and turned the card over. "'Professor Dumbledore enjoys chamber music and tenpin bowling'?" Ron quoted, puzzled.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Before that, then!"
"Oh! Here it is. Flamel is Dumbledore's alchemy partner!"
"Exactly. I can't believe I didn't remember."
"Wait here," Hermione said, and dashed towards her room. She came back a few minutes later with a huge book. "I took this out after dinner, for a little light reading."
"Light?" Ron demanded, in shock.
"Be quiet," Hermione hissed. "I'm sure he must be in here, then."
After leafing through the book, she paused, and then read aloud:
The ancient study of alchemy is concerned with making the Philosopher's, or Sorcerer's, Stone, a legendary substance the astonishing powers. The Stone will transform any metal into pure gold. It also produces the Elixir of Life, which will make the drinker immortal.
"Immortal!" Ron exclaimed.
"Hush!" Hermione warned. "It means you never die."
"I know what it means!" Ron frowned. "Is that all alchemy is?"
"No," Harry answered, "that's how it got started. These days, it sort of combines potion making, research, and philosophy as well. They still research ideas behind the Stone, though. Making a full Philosopher's Stone is dangerous. I think everyone has failed or died trying."
"Not everyone," Hermione said. She finished reading the entry.
There have been many reports of the Philosopher's Stone over the centuries, but the only Stone currently known to exist belongs to Mr. Nicholas Flamel, the noted alchemist and opera lover. Mr. Flamel, who recently celebrated his six hundred and sixty-fifth birthday last year, enjoys a quiet life in Devon with his wife, Perenelle (six hundred and fifty-eight).
"Understand?" Hermione said. "The dog must be guarding Flamel's Philosopher's Stone! I bet he asked Dumbledore to keep it safe for him, because they're friends and he knew someone was after it. That's why they wanted the Stone moved out of Gringotts!"
"A Stone that makes gold and stops you from dying," Neville said, "no wonder someone wants it!"
"Snape," Ron stated.
"Probably," Hermione hedged.
Ron frowned, but said, "Well, it's no wonder we didn't find Flamel in that Study of Recent Developments in Wizardry. He's not exactly recent if he's six hundred and sixty-five!"
"True," Hermione agreed. She looked at Harry, who was looking very thoughtful. "What's wrong?"
"Something just doesn't add up about all this," Harry said. "Snape must have something to do with this, but why would it be easier for him to get into Gringotts than anyplace in Hogwarts?"
"True," Neville agreed. "Gringotts is a very secure place."
"And Snape is here, he doesn't have to break through all the security, like he would have had to at Gringotts," Ron added.
"Voldemort," Harry whispered. Neville and Ron still jumped.
"Why?" Hermione asked.
"Well, maybe not V. . . ."
"Stop saying the name!" Ron hissed.
"Alright, it may be Lord Whoseits, or it could be some sort of gang or conspiracy," Harry said.
"That's true," Hermione agreed. "Snape could be part of the gang or working for Vo, err, You-Know-Who. They tried to steal it from Gringotts, and now he's going to try here. Unless Dumbledore and Flamel moved it here to keep it from someone else and Snape is acting on his own."
"You still think You-Know-Who is around, right Harry?" Neville asked.
"Remember what I told Percy," Harry answered. "He's disembodied. There must be followers willing to help him get it back."
Hermione thought a moment, then asked, "Did Black have anything to do with that troll?"
"No," Harry said.
"Then either Snape was totally responsible for that, or he's working with a gang, I suppose."
"I wish we could keep an eye on him," Harry said. "He's either directly involved, or knows what's going on."
"Well, he hates you," Neville pointed out. "He's always looking for you to get you into trouble."
Harry blushed. "Oh. About that. Imagine if Malfoy keeps after the four of us. Hermione marries one of us, and one day, our son comes to Hogwarts, where Malfoy is a teacher. How is Malfoy likely to treat the kid?"
"Like Snape treats you, you mean," Hermione said, slightly pink.
"Exactly. Remus said that Sirius and Snape had hated each other from the time they were toddlers, and that Snape and my dad had a run-in on their first ride on the Hogwarts Express. They fought constantly, and Snape, since he was usually outnumbered, usually came out on the losing side."
"So, he might be after you because of who you are, because he's a follower of You-Know-Who trying to get the Stone and revenge, or both," Neville summed up.
The four sat glumly for a few moments, then Ron stood up. "Come on, Neville. These two might want to start planning their wedding."
The two boys left the blushing Harry and Hermione, snickering all the way.