Padfoot and Harry stood before a door covered in peeling black paint. At least Harry assumed it was a door; there was a silver snake knocker and a doorbell alongside but no doorhandle. Padfoot tapped it with his wand and it swung open. “This is home,” Padfoot said grimly.
Home, Harry thought, smiling as he stepped inside - the floorboards under the carpet squeaked - and cast a glance around. It was very dark; he couldn’t see anything outside Padfoot’s circle of wandlight. The place stank like old newspapers, mould and dust and every step that either Harry or Padfoot took made the floor creak horribly. I still like it here better than I did at the Dursleys, he thought, squinting at a lumpy-looking umbrella stand.
Portraits covered peeling wallpaper and their eyes seemed to follow Harry and Padfoot. It sounded as though they were whispering, but Harry was fairly sure it was actually his trainers in the dust. They passed a set of double doors on the left, which had tarnished, silver serpent handles, and a door on the right with a matching one.
“Kreacher must have died,” Padfoot whispered cheerfully, as he looked at the footsteps they were leaving.
“Kreacher?” Harry asked.
“My mum’s old house elf.” They both jumped as the stairs creaked. “This place is a mess,” he breathed, looking around.
“When were you last here?” Harry whispered, thinking it was hardly surprising that Aunt Petunia cleaned so regularly if houses could end up like this.
Padfoot thought for a moment. “I was sixteen, I reckon.” He ran a hand over his face. “I never thought I’d be back.”
“I hated it here,” he said with a little laugh. “Are you opposed to sleeping downstairs tonight? I don’t know what state the bedrooms are in and-”
“Down here’s fine,” Harry whispered.
“The kitchen’s probably the best place,” Padfoot murmured, leading Harry to the end of the hall. “Watch your step.”
They descended a narrow, creaky staircase which led into a cavernous kitchen. There was an enormous table in the middle of the room, and chairs. As they entered, something small and grey scurried across the floor and hid under a chair. Padfoot flicked his wand at it and there was a high pitched squeal and a puff of dust.
“What was that?” Harry asked.
“Dust bunny,” Padfoot said. “The house is probably infested.”
“Are they dangerous?”
“Not unless you’re carpet.” Padfoot jabbed his wand in the direction of movement on the far side of the kitchen and there was another faint squeal. Padfoot had another quick look around and strode over to a small cabinet that rested against the wall by the stairs. “Can you hold my wand, please?” Harry held it like a torch so that Padfoot could see; he shifted a few things in the cabinet and then pulled out an old newspaper and a long piece of wood. “Over here.” Harry followed his godfather to a big fireplace.
“Do you have matches?” Harry asked, watching him scrunch the newspaper up.
“I have a wand,” Padfoot said, gesturing for it. Harry passed it over immediately, eager to see more magic. A moment later, a warm fire was crackling in the grate. Padfoot used his wand to clear the floor by the fireplace and then, to Harry’s amazement, conjured a pair of bright red sleeping bags. “Do you want anything?” Padfoot asked as Harry kicked off his shoes and slid into his sleeping bag. “Food or a drink?”
“No, thanks.” They’d had sandwiches and hot chocolate on the Knight Bus on the way back. “Padfoot?” Harry asked tentatively.
“I was... Is... is it later yet?”
Padfoot stared at the dancing flames. “I suppose so,” he said grimly, picking a thread out of his sleeping bag. Harry sat straighter, eyes fixed on his godfather. “Everything starts at Hogwarts, really, where students go to learn magic. I got my letter at eleven, like all magical kids and so did your mum and dad, Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew.” His hands tightened into fists at the mention of the last name. “I met your mum and dad and Remus on the train and Peter after Sorting – we were all Sorted into the same House. We – the boys – became friends and called ourselves the Marauders.
“While we were going through school, a wizard named Voldemort started gaining power. He was evil and had decided to cleanse the world of anyone he didn’t think was magical enough. At first it was just whispers. Propaganda about muggleborns and a stories that a group called the Death Eaters that was recruiting. One of my old teachers was one. Git.” He sighed. “Things started to get particularly bad toward the end of my sixth year; people were going missing, Voldemort was recruiting students and killing muggles for the fun of it... It was a mess.”
“Muggles?” Harry asked with a shiver, pulling the hood of his sleeping bag up a little higher.
“Non-magical folk, like your Aunt and Uncle. Anyway, Dumbledore, the man we were talking about in Diagon Alley, formed an organisation, The Order of the Phoenix, to fight back. I joined in my seventh year and so did your mum and dad, Remus and Peter.
“Your mum and dad got married, Lily trained to be a Healer, James and I went through the Auror Training Program – Aurors are Dark Wizard Catchers, like the Muggle equivalent of policemen, I suppose - and in our spare time, we fought against Voldemort. About a month before you were born, Dumbledore was in a job interview when a Seer made a prophecy... about you.”
“Me?” Harry asked. “What did it say?”
“Ask me again in a year or two,” Padfoot said evasively. “One of Voldemort’s spies heard the prophecy, or part of it, and Voldemort set out to find you.”
“He wanted me?”
“Your mum and dad went into hiding in August, trying to keep you safe. We – me, Moony and Peter – visited almost daily or James just about went mad, being cooped up all the time. You were safe enough – you lived at Hogwarts for most of the time but your mum got sick of it. Said she wanted to find somewhere they could live safely, without people coming and going all the time. Dumbledore, Moony and I found a house in Godric’s Hollow, a little cottage and they moved in just before you turned one. None of us were allowed to visit for a while because we didn’t want to draw attention to the place, but eventually things went back to normal and we visited all the time.
“There was a constant guard of Order members living in the house - me and Moony, mostly, but others too - to keep it safe. Dumbledore worried one of them might say something, though, or they’d be tortured into saying something; we knew there was a spy in our ranks, although no one wanted to suspect anyone else, and it was only a matter of time before word got out about where Lily and James were. Late in October, Dumbledore suggested they put the place under the Fidelius Charm.”
“It’s a spell that hides a secret inside a living soul. I was going to be the Secret Keeper, the one who would know where they were. I was planning to go into hiding too, but what got me was that I was such an obvious choice. I knew the second Voldemort heard about the charm, he’d come after me and I also knew, that if he tortured me, I might tell him where they were.” He laughed once, without humour. “I decided to be clever,” he spat. “I convinced Lily and James to change Secret Keepers at the last minute, to Peter. He was weak, the last person Voldemort would ever think to come after. He agreed to it and we cast the spell. The plan was that Voldemort would still come after me, but if he caught me, I wouldn’t be able to tell him where you were.
“The night after we cast the spell, Peter ran off to Voldemort and told him where to find Lily and James. I was staying at Remus’ that night - he was... sick - and I had a feeling. I went to check up on Peter and found his house empty, with no signs of a struggle. I arrived at your place a moment later and found it ruined. James,” Padfoot choked, “was- dead- in the hallway- Lily- you were sitting in your crib- staring at your mum and-” Padfoot drew in a shuddering breath and then his face closed over and he took several slow deep breaths, his eyes not quite there. “Hagrid took you from me,” Padfoot said finally, sounding a little too calm. “He had orders from Dumbledore to take you to your Aunt. The second he left, I went after Peter. I hunted for two days until I finally tracked him down.”
“What happened?” Harry asked; Padfoot had started to tremble.
“He shouted that I was the one to betray your mum and dad, that I was the one who handed them to Voldemort and when I lifted my wand to curse him into the ground, he blew the street up. He killed thirteen muggles – I only survived because I got a Shield Charm up in time – and amidst all the chaos, he transformed into a rat and disappeared into the sewers. Hit Wizards arrived within minutes and found me on my knees, laughing at the hole in the ground.”
“And they took you to prison?” Harry asked.
Padfoot shuddered. “Yes.”
“What happened to Voldemort? You never said...”
“He vanished. I don’t know what you did but you stopped him. People say he died, but I don’t think that’s right-”
“So he’ll come back?”
“One day, I think,” Padfoot said, staring into the dying fire.
Harry digested this in silence. “And Peter? Will he come back too?”
“Not if he’s smart,” Padfoot growled, his eyes glinting dangerously.
“Why did he become a rat?” Harry asked.
“He’s what wizards call an Animagus. It means he can turn into an animal at will.”
“Yes, but why did he choose to be a rat?”
“He didn’t. It’s all based on personality. How we didn’t see it, I’ll never understand,” Padfoot muttered and Harry got the impression he wasn’t talking to him.
“Are you an Animagus too?” Harry asked through a yawn.
“I am,” Padfoot said with a small smile.
Harry perked up. “Really? What animal?”
“I’ll show you.” Harry fixed his godfather with an expectant look. As Padfoot smiled, his teeth grew, his ears stretched taller, black fur grew over his face, his fingers retracted into his hands and then-
“Brilliant,” he said, staring at his godfather. Padfoot barked and bounded forward, tail wagging, to lick Harry’s face. Harry laughed and patted his head. Padfoot changed back. “You’re you again!” Harry exclaimed.
“Who else would I be?” Padfoot asked.
“I mean your hair,” Harry said. “And your eyes. You look like you did at the playground, not like you did at Diagon Alley.”
“Side effect of transformation,” Padfoot said, shrugging. “It destroys all the charms I cast earlier because I have to go back to looking like me.” That didn’t make much sense to Harry at all but he was too tired to think about it in any detail. He yawned, fighting to keep his eyes open. Padfoot climbed back into his own sleeping bag. “Do you like to explore?” Padfoot asked as they both lay there, watching the fire.
Harry shrugged, his eyes slipping shut. He’d always been good at finding hiding places at school and at Number Four, mainly so he’d have somewhere to go when Dudley went ‘Harry Hunting’. “Why?” he asked sleepily.
“We’ll explore the house tomorrow,” Padfoot said. “I haven’t been here for ten years so I don’t know how much has changed and then we’ll need to start cleaning to make this place liveable; we can’t sleep in the kitchen every night.” Padfoot started to say something else but sleep claimed Harry before he could finish.
* * *
Something poked Harry. He frowned without opening his eyes. Aunt Petunia never comes into my cupboard, he thought, rolling over. Something poked him again. “All right, I’m up,” he mumbled forcing his eyelids open. “Aargh!” Standing over him was a pale blob with big eyes and bigger ears. Harry crawled backwards, hands searching for his glasses.
“What is this in Mistress’ house?” the thing asked in a voice like a bullfrog’s croak.
It can talk! Harry thought, his fingers closing around his glasses. He jammed them onto his face and Padfoot’s dusty kitchen came into focus, as did the creature in front of him. It was perhaps one of the ugliest things he’d ever seen. It was roughly human shaped – though only half the size - but with long arms and legs, a larger than natural head and a bulbous, snout-like nose. Folds of skin hung off its bony frame and it was naked, except for a grey loincloth. Harry glanced at Padfoot’s empty sleeping bag, feeling his fear spike. He was used to being alone, but not in unfamiliar places. “W-who are you?”
“The brat wants to know Kreacher’s name!” the thing said, looking revolted. “Kreacher doesn’t talk to brats, oh no. Kreacher’s poor Mistress would never forgive Kreacher.” The thing turned its big, bloodshot eyes on Harry who scrambled to his feet and backed away.
Harry watched it carefully, positioning himself on the opposite side of the dusty table. He was fairly sure he could outrun it if he had to, but he’d never seen anything like it before which meant it was probably magical. “Padfoot!” he called, hoping his godfather was nearby.
“Is there another brat here? Kreacher didn’t hear it, but little beasts can be silent...” The thing mumbled something Harry couldn’t understand and then let loose a blood-curdling shriek: “Thieves!” it shouted. “Thieves in the House of Black!”
Harry edged toward the stairs. He heard a loud CRACK! and out of the corner of his eye saw the thing disappear. Harry turned and sprinted up the stairs. A small part of Harry’s mind wondered if the creature in the kitchen had done anything to his godfather but he discarded that with a shiver. Padfoot was a wizard. He’d be safe. He skidded into the hallway, which was empty too and the layer of dust on the staircase leading to the first floor was undisturbed. “Padfoot?” Harry called.
“Who’s there?” screeched a woman’s voice. Harry jumped, barely managing to stifle a yell as the curtains on the wall in front of him flew open of their own accord. “Who dares disturb the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black? Name yourself!”
“H-Harry,” Harry said, his eyes darting around to try to locate the source of the noise.
“What is your family name, Harry?” she asked haughtily.
“You father’s name.”
“Potter. James Potter.”
“Harry Potter, did you say?” the voice asked, sounding curious now. “The boy who defeated the Dark Lord?”
“Er... I guess so,” Harry told the empty corridor.
“Come here, Harry Potter,” she said imperiously. Harry walked toward the sound of the voice. “There’s not much of you,” she sniffed. “You’re just a boy. What are you doing in my house?” Harry finally found the speaker. It was a portrait of an old woman with grey hair and cold black eyes. He blinked a few times, just to convince himself that the portrait was in fact speaking and to him. “How did you get in?” the woman asked, shifting in her chair. “I’ll have to get Kreacher to update the security.”
“Through the door,” Harry said, not understanding the question.
“Liar!” she shrieked. Harry jumped and tripped. “Only a Black can open the door to the home of my fathers! How did you come here?!”
“Well, Padfoot’s last name is Black-” Harry said from the floor.
The woman released a scream of pure rage. “Him! Oh, yes, it would be him! Blood-traitor! Abomination! Shame of my flesh!” Harry didn’t dare move. “Kreacher!” she shouted. “Kreacher!” There was a loud CRACK! and then the thing from the kitchen appeared beside Harry, who could only stare.
“Kreacher is here, Mistress,” the thing said, stroking the screaming portrait. “Mistress needn’t worry-”
The front door swung open and then there was a quiet creaking noise. Padfoot was standing there, blond again, holding a paper bag. “What in Merlin’s name is going on in here?” he asked.
“You!” the woman in the portrait screamed, her eyes popping. “You! How dare you show your traitorous face here! Shame of my blood! Ungrateful! Blood-traitor! Freak!”
Padfoot, who’d looked startled at the commotion in the hallway, dropped the bag he was holding and ran forward to wrench the curtain over the portrait. The screaming subsided as soon as the portrait was covered. “Master has returned,” Kreacher croaked, grovelling at Padfoot’s feet. “Master broke his mother’s heart,” he muttered. “Master doesn’t belong here, oh no, and Kreacher doesn’t want to serve nasty Master.”
“That’s enough, Kreacher,” Padfoot snapped. “Go to your cupboard and stay there until I deal with you.” The thing glared at Padfoot but vanished with another CRACK! Harry was staring at the place where the thing had vanished.
“What was that thing?” he asked.
“Kreacher,” Padfoot said, looking irritated. “The portrait’s of my mother- Oh, portraits!” Padfoot said, his eyes widening. “Kreacher!” Kreacher returned with another loud CRACK! and a dirty look.
“Master’s grown even more fickle than Kreacher remembers. Do this, Master says, and then takes it back just after, oh, yes, such a temperamental little-”
“Shut up.” Kreacher gave them both a withering look. “In one of the bedrooms upstairs, there’s a portrait of Phineas Nigellus - he was Hogwarts Headmaster. I want you to burn it. Now. And any others paintings that could tell anyone we’re here. Before they have a chance to tell anyone. I forbid you from telling them why. And I forbid you from saying anything about me or Harry while you do it. Understand?” The elf gave him a look of loathing and vanished again. Harry stared at his godfather. “Phineas Nigellus has a portrait in the Headmaster’s office. My parents used to have him keep track of me. The last thing we need, though, is him telling Dumbledore where we are before we get proper security on this place.”
“You mean all portraits can talk?”
“In the Wizarding World,” Padfoot said. Harry blinked, trying to make sense of all this. “It isn’t a problem as long as they can’t leave the house. How about we head down to the kitchen?” Padfoot suggested. “I don’t want to set Mum off again.”
Harry nodded fervently, watching the portrait out of the corner of his eye. Padfoot grabbed the bag and the two headed down to the kitchen. “So what’s Kreacher?” Harry asked as Padfoot restarted last night’s fire.
“He’s a house elf,” Padfoot said, getting up. Behind him, the fire crackled cheerfully. “Nasty little sod – not all of them, just this one. I thought he’d died when I saw the state of this place. “I ducked out to get food – I thought you’d be hungry. Kreacher must have heard me leaving and come to investigate.”
“What do house elves do?”
“Old wizarding families have them to cook and clean, some even look after kids.” Padfoot glanced around the filthy kitchen with distaste. “I don’t think Kreacher’s done either for years. Do you like apples?” he asked, digging around in the bag. Harry nodded. “Are you sure? I bought oranges and pears too, just in case-”
“Apples are fine,” Harry said, a little shocked; usually he just ate what he was given. He accepted it with a shy smile. “Thanks.” He traced patterns on its shiny green skin with a dirty fingernail before looking up again. “Why was the portrait talking? Is it alive?”
“I’d say some of my mother’s evil seeped into the walls while she was living here,” Padfoot said, curling his lip. Harry stared around, half expecting Padfoot’s mother’s ghost to appear. “That aura stayed here when she died and someone’s obviously embedded that into a painting to keep Kreacher happy.”
“You really hate it here, do you?” Harry said quietly.
Padfoot sighed. “My mother was a hag I was never good enough for, and I loved my brother but we were very different people. Kreacher used to follow me around and tell me how much my mother hated me. My... father wasn’t home much but when he was he was usually drunk...” Harry winced. He had seen Uncle Vernon drunk once and it wasn’t something he’d forget any time soon. “It’s hard not to see things as they were,” Padfoot said, shrugging. “That fireplace, for example, was where I lost my first tooth because I slipped getting out of the Floo. My mother smacked me over the head for bleeding on the rug that used to be there and I spent the rest of the day in my room.
“The table,” he continued with a wave of his hand, “was where my father beat me in front of all of my relatives for getting into Gryffindor instead of Slytherin...” Padfoot turned to stare at the cabinet that held the firewood and smiled slightly. “That cabinet,” he said, grinning now, “is where I had to hide Remus and James because they arrived to surprise me for my birthday, and all my relatives showed up.”
“My dad came here?”
“Several times?” Padfoot said, nodding.
Harry smiled. “How long did they have to hide?”
“Four and a half hours I think it was,” Padfoot said, smirking. “It’s a good thing they were both skinny or they’d never have fit. Right, no more talking until you finish your apple and I finish mine.” Harry stared down at the untouched fruit in his hand, bemused. He’d forgotten it was there.
“What are we doing after we eat?” Harry asked.
“You ask a lot of questions,” Padfoot said.
“Sorry,” Harry said quickly.
“I never said it was a bad thing.” Padfoot looked amused, Harry was relieved to see. “We’re going exploring,” he added and then frowned suddenly. “And I thought I said no talking.” Harry grinned.
* * *
“Ah, Minerva! To what do I owe the pleasure?” Albus Dumbledore asked, tucking a half-finished declination for the position of Minister into his desk drawer; Millicent was planning to retire at the end of the year and wanted him to take her place. He looked up, the smile slipping off his face. “Is something wrong?” His usually stern Transfiguration Professor was looking rather flustered; her black hair was falling out of its immaculate bun and her robes were creased from extended wear.
“Harry Potter wasn’t at Arabella Figg’s today,” she said briskly.
“I see,” he said, his lips twitching. “Would you care for a lemon drop?”
She batted the bowl of sweets away. “He wasn’t in the car when they left and he didn’t come back with them either,” she said, folding her arms.
“Are you upset that he was left behind,” Dumbledore asked gently, “or that you didn’t get to see him at Arabella’s?”
She conjured a chair and sat down. “I checked the home,” she admitted, a little defiantly. “He wasn’t there. Albus, I’ve just got a feeling that something isn’t right; if he wasn’t there and he wasn’t with his relatives...” Her eyes found the newspaper article on his desk, the one with Sirius Black’s picture on it.
“Sirius could not have taken the boy,” he said, seeing at last what had upset her. “The wards-”
“Are failing,” she said. “I could barely feel them, even as a cat.”
Albus’ eyebrows rose. Animals had better senses than humans did and were exponentially better at detecting magical activity. “You’re sure?” he asked, knowing even as he said it that Minerva would never come to him unless she was certain.
“Of course I am.”
Albus sat quietly, letting the last few minutes sink in. He’d grown complacent after the War, and not needed to make overly authoritive decisions for a long time. Finally, his mind fought its way out of its detached stupor. He turned to Minerva. “I need you to get to Augusta Longbottom’s house as soon as possible. Keep her and Neville safe until I arrive.”
“And the others?”
“Safe for the moment, I think.”
Minerva nodded stiffly. “What should I tell Augusta? She’ll hardly be pleased when I show up on her doorstep.”
“That I am searching for answers and will inform her when I find them. She may raise any problems with me when I arrive.”
Minerva nodded stiffly and swept out of the office. Albus got to his feet and strode over to the fireplace. Reasons the wards could have failed bounced around in his head, and worry waltzed around his insides. Surely Sirius couldn’t have taken the boy... best to be certain, however... “The Hog’s Head,” he said firmly, stepping into the green flames.
“Good evening, Aberforth,” Albus said, running past his brother. “I know this is terribly rude of me, but manners must come second to time tonight.”
As soon as he was outside, Albus fixed an image of Petunia Dursley’s house in his mind and Disapparated. He stumbled a little upon his arrival in the Dursley’s driveway, but didn’t allow that to stop him; he strode up the garden path and pressed the doorbell, all the while casting his mind out. The door swung open. “Whatever you’re selling, we’re not interested,” said a large man with a bushy moustache and very little neck.
“Good evening, Vernon,” Albus said politely.
The man’s small eyes narrowed as he took in Albus’ purple robes. “What do you want?”
“May I come in?”
“Vernon! Who’s at the door?” Albus saw Petunia Dursley appear in the hallway behind her husband and pale at the sight of him. “You,” she said.
“Me,” Albus said smiling pleasantly. “Is Harry home?”
“What do you want with the boy?” she asked, pursing her lips.
“To speak with him,” Albus said, noting that she’d gone a shade paler.
“You can’t,” she said.
“He isn’t here,” Vernon said gleefully.
“I beg your pardon?” Albus said calmly, adjusting his hat.
“He isn’t here.”
“Where else would he be?” Albus asked, fearing the answer.
“His godfather took him.” A cold, sick feeling settled itself in Albus’ stomach, making him rather glad he hadn’t eaten.
“When?” he asked, his voice shaking.
“Last night,” Petunia said. “I sent you a letter this morning,” she added unwillingly. “To tell you he’s gone and that we don’t want anything more to do with him or you or any of your kind.”
“I’ll keep an eye on the post,” Albus said. “And I’ll make the effort not to bother you in the future, but for now, I’m already here and have a few questions to ask yet.” Both Dursleys made disapproving noises. “Can you describe the man?”
“Tall, black hair,” Vernon said.
“Filthy,” was his wife’s contribution.
Albus drew his wand, making both muggles hiss. “Is this him?” He waved his wand, causing a smoky image of Sirius Black to form in the space between them.
“That’s him,” Petunia said. “Thinner though.”
“And you just let him take the boy?”
“He wanted him,” Vernon said shrugging. “We didn’t.”
“He’s his godfather,” Aunt Petunia said. “He’s legally entitled to the boy and the boy seemed happy to go with him.” She paused, eyeing him critically and then glanced around to see that they weren’t being watched. “Are you done here? I don’t want the neighbours asking questions tomorrow.”
Albus closed his eyes and took a deep breath. There was little point in asking if they’d been given Harry’s new contact details. “Yes,” he said. The door slammed shut in his face. He turned and walked away from the doorstep. Somehow, his wards had failed, or Sirius had found a way around them. And now he had Harry.
Albus set off down the street searching for any magical traces he could find. There were several overlapping sets of Appearance Alteration Charms, specifically, those taught in the Auror Training Program. Sirius, what have you done...? A little further up Privet Drive he found marks left by a Hover Charm and a Light Spell, and beside them, the equivalent of magical tyre tracks. Without hesitation, Albus flung out his wand.
BANG. “Welcome to the Knight Bus. My name is Je- Professor Dumbledore?!”
“Good evening, Jeremy,” Albus said, giving his past student a strained smile. “I am in need of assistance and think you might be able to help.”
“Yeah, er... sure,” he said looking a little startled. “We can take you anywhere-”
“London, please. To the Ministry,” Albus said, pressing a galleon into his hand.
“Is the Floo Network down?” Albus chuckled. “I’m serious!” Jeremy said.
“No, I’m merely in the mood for an alternate form of transportation.” Jeremy gave him a skeptical look. “Did you pick up a man and a boy here last night?” Albus asked as he settled himself on the end of a four-poster bed.
Jeremy frowned. “Yeah,” he said thoughtfully. “Yeah, we did. How’d you know that?”
“A story for another day. Could you describe them, please?”
“Blond, both of them,” Jeremy said, squinting. “Blue eyes too, I think. The man was... tall-ish – not quite as tall as you, but close - with a round face and the kid was scrawny with glasses.”
“Indeed. And where did you take them?”
“Leaky Cauldron the first time,” Jeremy said, steadying himself against Albus’ four-poster as the bus took off. “Second time we got them from the Leaky Cauldron and took them to Kings Cross Station.”
“Did they enter the station?”
“I don’t think so, no,” Jeremy said slowly. “They crossed to the other side of the road as soon as they were off.”
But they could have doubled back... or they could have kept walking... You always were too clever for your own good, Sirius. “Ha- Happy? The boy, was he happy?”
“Seemed like it. They were laughing when they got on and off, both times.” Jeremy peered out the window. “We’re here, sir.”
“Thank you, Jeremy,” Albus said, spying the peeling phone box. “Have a good evening.”
“You too, Professor,” Jeremy said, bemused, as Albus strode off the bus and into the night.
Ten minutes later, Minister Millicent Bagnold collapsed into her chair and fixed Albus with a stunned look. She was an older witch - though still young compared to Albus - with blond hair that was fading to white and very thin lips that were perpetually pursed. “The Ministry will do everything it can,” she said in her brisk voice. “I’ll send Aurors to Mrs Pettigrew’s home immediately, and to Mrs Longbottom’s later tonight.” She wrote something down and then paused. “You’re sure about the others?”
“Both are perfectly capable of protecting themselves, but I will present the offer when I visit.” Millicent passed the note to a small owl that was perched by the window and it flew out of the office.
“Will you join the search yourself?”
“When I have the time,” Albus said. He owed Harry that much, and Lily and James too; he knew it was Sirius’ fault they’d died, but perhaps if he’d been a little more forceful in his offer to be their Secret-Keeper- He shook his head to clear it.
“I’ll have the Department of Magical Records monitor the Deaths list,” she said quietly. Albus closed his eyes. “And the Department of Management and Control of Magical Children will monitor Harry Potter’s Trace. It might take some time to find, given they don’t usually bother with the files of children under eleven but exceptions can and will be made... Is Black capable of installing wards that block the Trace?”
“Perhaps,” Albus said tiredly, but hope was beginning to stir inside him. “He was a gifted student, though it would surprise me if he thought of it so quickly. He’s already used magic around the boy.”
“Then he’s already slipped up. Let’s hope he does so again and we can have Potter back to his family by morning. I’ll be required to launch a proper investigation,” Millicent said. Albus nodded. “And I can’t do that without an explanation. What will the public story be?”
Albus sighed and ducked as an owl bearing a green envelope flew in. “The truth. That Harry Potter was kidnapped by Sirius Black. Jeremy Philips, the conductor of the Knight Bus saw them.”
“They were on the Knight Bus? That’s a bold move for Black.”
“Hidden in plain sight,” Albus said with a sigh. “He’s always been clever.”
“With any hope, that’s what will catch him,” Albus said. “He was a Gryffindor after all.”
“Was he really? I’d have picked him for Slytherin.”
“I’m afraid that side of him was buried so deep that even our Sorting Hat couldn’t find it,” Albus said sadly. He stood, tucking a loose strand of his beard into his belt. “I’m afraid you must excuse me, Millicent. There are others I need to talk to regarding the events of last night.”
“Of course,” she said, getting up to open the office door. “You’ll be in contact, I take it?”
“Expect my owl in the morning. And if the Aurors find anything before then-”