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Almost two hours of working with Cornelius had reaffirmed Sirius's belief that he

didn't like the man. But, and there was a but, he had come to have an appreciation
for Cornelius's shark-like predatory instincts about politics. Cornelius knew every
single member of the Wizengamot; he knew their position on the key policies and
what they would and would not accept; he knew dirt on most of them, and the ones he
didn't were the ones who were best at hiding it or who were far too boring to have
dirt. He also had a keen sense of the power of the press and how to spin a story.

More to the point, Cornelius wasn't stupid. Not about politics and media spin. Not
about the threat of Voldemort to his position, to the Ministry. He was scared and
more than a bit of a coward (Sirius doubted Cornelius would ever be able to face
Voldemort with any kind of dignity) and he was lazy on the details of the execution
(Sirius had an unfortunate feeling that was how the awful Umbridge woman had made
herself invaluable) but Cornelius wasn't stupid.

No, Cornelius's main flaw was that he operated from a strange default that doing
nothing, maintaining a status quo, meant that he would remain the Minister of
Magic. Conversely, when convinced that he would definitely lose his position if he
didn't do something, Cornelius had a remarkable sense of self-preservation. It
explained why their gambit at clearing Sirius's name and getting Harry away from
the Dursleys had worked so well.

Sirius was glad that he'd thought to make Cornelius watch Harry's memories first
before ever tackling the subject of Voldemort with him. He had a sneaking suspicion
that the Minister would have preferred to have stuck his head in the sand like an
ostrich but having witnessed absolute proof that Voldemort lived in some form and
would try to regain a body, and having a political patron who would not tolerate
inaction, Cornelius had had no choice but realise if something wasn't done, his
days as Minister were numbered. The Minister was therefore doing his best to
safeguard his own arse but Sirius didn't really mind that as it meant Cornelius
actually doing his job.

In fact, Sirius had eased off the back-up plan he and Remus had mulled over of
'replace Fudge with someone competent' because it turned out Cornelius was
competent in his milieu of politics and as a bonus feature was easily malleable
once it was understood what he wanted (to remain Minister of Magic) and how to gain
his interest (assure him that Sirius would make sure Cornelius would always be
Minister of Magic if only he could do this tiny thing for Sirius in assisting him
in getting rid of Voldemort and revolutionising their society).

He and Remus had underestimated Cornelius, Sirius realised, as he stepped back into
Black Manor and watched as Cornelius came through the floo, his eyes wide as he
took in the impressive Black crest. It was a valuable lesson to learn and one that
they needed to take note of, Sirius mused. They couldn't afford to underestimate
anyone if they were going to have a chance at defeating Voldemort and keeping Harry

It was a lesson they should have already learned with Peter, Sirius considered

They'd underestimated Peter when they'd confronted him at Hogwarts and he'd
escaped. OK, there had been extenuating circumstances (Moony and the full moon, and
Dementors!) but they'd underestimated him nevertheless. In hindsight they'd also
underestimated him back when he'd betrayed them. They'd never considered Peter
talented enough to be the spy; to be devious enough despite his being as much of a
Marauder as any of them Merlin, Peter had spied as a Marauder for them on their
targets in the run up to some of the major pranks. They'd known Peter was smart
enough when he wanted to be, he was just very, very lazy. The comments that Minerva
had made at times to Peter during their school days had been very sharp and
pointed, and all amounted to the same thing: could do better.

But the Marauders had fallen into the habit of thinking him less smart than the
rest of them just because he'd languished in the middle of the class positions
whereas the rest of them had excelled; because after school Peter had headed for a
lowly entry position in the Ministry in some obscure department to do with flying
carpets. And because of that blindness, Peter had betrayed them comprehensively;
had sold Lily and James out to Voldemort; had set up Sirius; had hidden in plain
sight for years as the Weasleys' pet rat. There was no doubt Peter was a coward and
a traitor, a snivelling piece of excrement Sirius wanted to wipe off the face of
the Earth, but he was sneaky and smarter than they had thought. It would be wise,
Sirius thought, to sit down and seriously consider what Peter was likely to have
done already to find his Master.

Sirius led Cornelius through to the front parlour where they were due to meet with
Amelia Bones and Wilbert Croaker.

Penelope came and knocked on the door. "Welcome back, Lord Black. Shall I arrange
for some refreshments for your meeting?"

"That would be great, but if you wouldn't mind coming in for a moment, Penelope."
Sirius motioned for her to enter fully. "Cornelius, this is Penelope Clearwater, my
Executive Secretary. Penelope, the Minister."

Cornelius shook Penelope's hand and offered her a warm smile. "Lovely to meet you,
Miss Clearwater. I don't believe I'm familiar with your name"

"Penelope's a muggleborn." Sirius said simply. "Top of her Hogwarts class; very
smart. She eventually wants to work for the Ministry but we convinced her to help
me out in the meantime."

"Well, once you're ready to make a move, you'll have to come and see me." Cornelius
said smoothly.

Penelope beamed at the Minister. "Thank you, sir." She looked to Sirius who nodded
his dismissal and she headed out of the room.

Kreacher popped in a moment later with the refreshments and disappeared again. By
the time Sirius had finished pouring Cornelius some tea and himself a cup of very
strong black coffee, Penelope was back, escorting the remaining visitors from the
reception room to the parlour.

Wilbert Croaker grinned widely as he shook his hand and waved the invitation, with
the location written so they could access the house, at Sirius with the other.
"Lord Black! A Fidelius charm! I haven't seen one in operation since the
Longbottoms! Is it part of the wards or did you set it up separately? And did you
set it up or was it part of"

"Bertie!" Amelia said sharply. She inched around her DOM counterpart and held her
hand out to Sirius who shook it rather than kissing it. She seemed glad of the
propriety he showed since they were meeting in her official capacity. "Lord Black,
I assume?"

Sirius smiled at her. "I see Cornelius wasn't the only one who suspected the

Amelia's eyes widened but she got the message quickly enough to play along with the
delusion Cornelius had suspected. "Indeed," she huffed and nodded a hello at the
Minister, "Cornelius."

"Bertie." Cornelius greeted him with a handshake. "It's good to see you can climb
out of the depths of the DOM. You never attend my meetings."

"Well, a new Lord Black sounded interesting unlike the latest persecution of some
hapless magical creature your Senior Undersecretary wants to pursue." Bertie said
simply. He sat down in one of the comfortable chairs and accepted a cup of tea. His
grey robes suited his rounded stature and wild white hair. He wasn't as old as
Dumbledore but Sirius knew the man had been at Hogwarts with his own grandfather.
His piercing blue eyes gave away his intelligence and Sirius reminded himself not
to underestimate the Head of the Unspeakables.

Amelia took the seat next to Bertie and accepted a glass of pumpkin juice. "I have
to admit to some curiosity as to why you've brought us together. I assume you're
not just meeting us to introduce yourself in your formal position, Lord Black?"

"It's Sirius, please," Sirius said as Penelope departed the room and closed the
door, "and no, I've asked to meet you both to discuss something of importance." He
gestured with his wand and revealed a pensieve on the coffee table. It was the same
model and make as the one he had given Cornelius. He fingered the memory vials in
his pocket. "I have some memories to share with you. I've already shared them with
the Minister."

"These memories are intelligence vital to our national security." Cornelius said
pompously. "You are both under confidentiality oaths in regards to your positions
and you must treat this information as top secret."

Bertie and Amelia exchanged a look but Sirius was pleased when they both nodded. He
poured the first vial into the pensieve and they all dived in.

Sirius couldn't bear to watch events a third time and he kept his eyes on Amelia
and Bertie watching their reaction to Harry's encounter with Voldemort at the end
of his first year. Amelia looked furious when they exited; Bertie quietly

Bertie held up his hand before any of them could speak and they all deferred to him
as the elder. "Let us watch all the memories you have to share and then discuss."

Sirius nodded his agreement and they quickly made their way through the other two

Amelia sank back in her chair, white with rage and shock. She set her pumpkin juice
aside and asked for something stronger. Sirius had Kreacher bring them all a

"Well, let's get the facts on the table." Bertie said authoritatively. "You-Know-
Who is still out there thanks to items such as that diary. He seeks a body to
return to power, and there is a prophecy that states he will rise again with the
help of his servant."

"I take it the servant is Pettigrew?" Amelia questioned gruffly.

"We think so." Sirius said.

"Why hasn't Dumbledore said anything and what the hell has he been doing in that
school?" Amelia erupted. "Quirrell's death was reported as an accident! And
Dumbledore claimed the situation with the basilisk was under control!" She glared
at Cornelius. "Why you arrested Rubeus Hagrid back then is beyond my

Cornelius flushed. "He was heavily suspected of opening the Chamber of Secrets
during the first incident way back, Amelia, and his arrest warrant was ordered and
signed off by your Head Auror. I merely went along to witness justice being done.
Obviously we now know who did it."

"We should arrange for Hagrid's record to be cleared and an apology from the
Ministry wouldn't go amiss," Sirius jumped in before Amelia could continue arguing,
"but frankly, I think we have more important things to focus on as an immediate

"We have a plan." Cornelius said swiftly. He nodded at Sirius who produced the
parchment they had been working on in Cornelius's office.

"There are three prongs of attack." Sirius rolled the parchment out on the table
and directed the others' attention to it. "Firstly, there's Operation Tag The Death
Eater. We need to watch all those known Death Eaters that walked. Voldemort will
want his followers back. He and Peter are bound to make contact with them

"That's a job for the Aurors." Amelia said immediately.

"Our thoughts exactly, Amelia." Cornelius said. "We thought a special investigation

"We will need to make sure the Aurors serving in it are not unmarked Death Eaters."
Sirius said firmly.

"Obviously," Amelia snapped, "and I will expect Vows."

"My department might be able to help with this too." Bertie said. "I have an
Unspeakable in the intelligence department who was a spy during the last war. We're
aware of which of the Aurors and Hit Wizards are suspect along with two members of
my own department and another dozen throughout the Ministry."

"You've left them in place? Why have you never told me?" Amelia asked, furious.

"Because there was no proof." Bertie said. "All I have is the word of my own spy
and unsubstantiated hearsay of these individuals' political leanings. But I would
suspect all these well-placed Death Eaters is the reason why Albus has never told
us his suspicions and shared with us what has happened with Harry Potter in the
last few years." He gestured towards the pensieve.

"Well, let's work up a list of targets." Amelia said. "I'd like your spy back on
the job too if possible."

"I'll speak with him." Bertie promised. He sighed and tapped the parchment. "Your
second prong of attack, Operation Treasure Hunt. You think there are more of these
objects similar to the diary?"

"We know of six in total. Harry destroyed the diary but there are five others."
Sirius said.

"Seven being the magical number." Bertie shook his head. "Merlin, Riddle was truly
insane. I assume these objects are what I think they are? That a murder must be
committed to create one?"
Sirius nodded curtly.

"The Unspeakables have studied theseobjects in the past. They discovered one in
Egypt and another in Africa. Once the Unspeakables at the time had learned all they
could, the objects were destroyed. There are only two methods of disposal a large
furnace with high temperature fire reminiscent of Fiendfyre will be sufficient or
dissolution in a highly erosive acid such as basilisk venom. The hunt and disposal
should be undertaken by my department." Bertie said solemnly.

"I wouldn't be surprised if Voldemort had protections around those that haven't
been retrieved." Sirius commented.

"My department can handle it. We have several good curse-breakers and spell
specialists." Bertie said.

"As neither of you are actually saying what these objects are, can I assume that
they are indeed unspeakable?" Amelia said with an amused smirk.

Sirius felt his lips twitch and smiled a thank you at her for lightening the
moment. "They are that."

"They are Evil most foul." Bertie concurred. "We will need independent witnesses to
testify that the objects are destroyed by us. I will not have claims that we kept
one for study there is no need and I will not risk the safety of the wizarding

"I suggest Sirius in his capacity of Lord Black acts as one witness," Cornelius
said, nodding his agreement, "and perhaps we can do the rest of the honours?"

"I don't disagree but we're getting ahead of ourselves," Sirius pointed out, "we do
need to find these objects first."

Bertie nodded. "I'll put a team together. Again, I will make a vow of loyalty and
confidentiality to be mandatory."

"Well, the last prong belongs to Sirius and I," Cornelius said firmly, "and that is
Operation Power Play."

Sirius refrained from rolling his eyes at the name Cornelius had come up with.
"Cornelius and I will work on pushing through some new laws to make it harder for
Voldemort to gain control."

"So effectively shutting down his finances and getting us better relationships with
those he would ally with?" Amelia deduced.

Bertie raised his eyebrows. "That won't be easy with the current Wizengamot."

Sirius smirked. "The current Wizengamot is about to find itself with a new Lord
Black who is also the Potter Regent."

"Lucius will be muzzled, one way or another." Cornelius said briskly. "The old
Pureblood alliance will find itself adrift from current opinion. I think many of
those families will not want to ally with Voldemort when they realise the truth
about his origins. Some of them may find themselves eager to remain neutral at
least and"

"And we can see that clearly you and Sirius will have the political machinations
under control." Amelia cut in. "Well, I think we've covered everything so"
"Not everything." Bertie said firmly. He turned to Sirius. "There is another prong
that we have not discussed: your ward, Harry Potter."

Sirius found himself pinned by Bertie's perceptive gaze. "My godson is not up for

"I can understand why you wouldn't want him to be but I'm afraid he must be."
Bertie countered. "There is no doubt after seeing these memories that Voldemort has
an unhealthy interest in him; that there is a connection. If I was running Amelia's
tag team, I'd be watching young Harry because Voldemort will make a move on the
boy. There are two rituals he could use to create a body that involve the use of an
enemy and I would think Harry would be his target. Even if he doesn't use him in a
ritual, I cannot see Voldemort allowing the existence of a boy who almost killed
him, who has so defied him, to continue. I think you know this too."

Sirius resisted the urge to order everyone out of the house; to run to Griffin
House, snatch up Harry and run far away. Instead he forced himself to reply to
Bertie. "I'm not denying that I know Harry will be a target but I don't want Harry
involved. He's not even officially fourteen yet. He's had to face Voldemort too
many times as it is. We're the adults here; this should be our job."

"Hear, hear." Amelia said softly. "Sirius is right, Bertie. Harry may be the Boy
Who Lived but the key word is boy. This isn't his fight."

Bertie sighed. "There is a prophecy which sits on a shelf in the DOM labelled with
both the Dark Lord's name and Harry Potter's."

The second confirmation of the prophecy had Sirius flinching and turning away,
pacing restlessly to the fireplace and back again.

"We know." Sirius admitted. "My steward and I compared notes on why James and Lily
went into hiding and we realised it was probably a prophecy. Madame Longbottom
confirmed it when we renewed the Potter-Longbottom alliance yesterday."

"Albus never told you?" Bertie asked surprised. "The prophecy was told to him by
Sybill Trelawney the year Harry was born. Neville Longbottom was the other
candidate but ultimately it was Harry who fitted the bill."

"You know the exact prophecy?" Cornelius asked, speaking up for the first time
since Bertie had raised the topic of Harry.

"No," Bertie said, glancing back at Sirius, "but we can guess the contents since it
was hearing the beginning of this prophecy that compelled Riddle into attacking the
Potters. I believe he hoped to eliminate a prophesised threat."

"Harry." Cornelius surmised. He looked over at Sirius. "We should know the exact
contents of the prophecy."

"I had intended to track it down," Sirius admitted, "but let me make one thing
clear right now: even if this prophecy says Harry is a threat to Voldemort, it will
still make no difference. I will protect Harry as much as possible and I will
proceed with or without your help with the plan."

Cornelius's eyes opened wide in surprise. "Oh no, I wasn't suggesting we abandon
our plan. No, no. I always believed prophecies are a waste of paper I never did
get the point of Divination." He made a dismissive gesture with one hand. "Whole
load of hooey if you ask mebut we should know what the prophecy says to understand
what You-Know-Who knows."
"I believe Sirius here needs to know," Bertie corrected, "and his ward if that's
his decision but the rest of us don't need to know." He spread his hands out wide
in a conciliatory gesture. "We don't actually know how much of the prophecy
Voldemort knows. My spy believed Voldemort's intelligence about the prophecy was
sketchy at best and learned from a Death Eater eavesdropping on Dumbledore and
Trelawney's meeting."

"I agree with Bertie." Amelia said firmly. "As much as I abhor that Dumbledore
hasn't shared vital information, the reality is that we should keep certain things
on a need-to-know basis even among the four of us who I guess form a War Council of
sorts. The exact nature of unspeakable objects at the heart of the Treasure Hunt
prong is obviously one need-to-know piece of information; the prophecy is another.
There may be political manoeuvrings that are best left between yourself and Lord
Black, Cornelius."

Cornelius didn't look pleased but he nodded. "Very well." He turned to Sirius. "May
I offer you additional protection for Harry?"

"Thank you but no." Sirius replied politely. "I believe the best way to protect
Harry outside of Hogwarts is to ensure as few people as possible know and have
access to his location and plans ahead of time."

"And inside Hogwarts?" Amelia asked, pointing at the pensieve. "I don't know about
you but I will definitely be following up with Dumbledore on a number of issues
after seeing those memories and I would think you'll do the same."

"And you'd be right. Harry loves Hogwarts and I won't keep him from attending,"
Sirius confirmed, "but by the same token, I'm going to need some reassurances from
Dumbledore about Harry's safety within the school."

"Is Harry here?" Cornelius asked looking up towards the ceiling.

"No," Sirius said sharply, "I'll be using this as a base of operations for the
Wizengamot, so: no. Our home is elsewhere."

"It sounds as though you have the boy's safety well in hand, in which case, may I
suggest that you owl me a time for us to arrange for you to hear the prophecy at
the DOM? Once you learn the exact contents, you may wish to revise your plans and
I'm sure the Minister will all offer any assistance you may need." Bertie

"Absolutely." Cornelius agreed obsequiously.

Sirius nodded his agreement, hoping that the prophecy contents wouldn't change
anything he'd already arranged with Harry.

"We should also agree what we're going to do about Albus." Bertie said, looking
around the room and catching everybody's eye. "He is the Chief Warlock. From an
official point of view, if this is a War Council, he should be part of these
discussions." He motioned at Amelia who had grimaced. "I don't deny he's kept
secrets but we could use his knowledge and expertise going forward."

"Sirius and I came to the same conclusion." Cornelius said.

Sirius sighed and turned to the folder Penelope had placed on a side table in
anticipation of the meeting. He extracted the three parchments and handed one to
each of his visitors.

Amelia's eyes widened as she read the invitation. "You're adopting Harry tomorrow?"
"Yes," Sirius confirmed, "and you're all invited"

"I'd be delighted!" Cornelius said brightly. He looked chuffed to bits and Sirius
knew he was doing an internal dance of glee that he would be present at such a
prestigious event.

"As will I." Bertie said with a smile. "It is a long time since I saw family magic
in action. May I ask what this has to do with Albus?"

"You want to ensure that Albus can do nothing to challenge your guardianship before
he is brought into the Council." Amelia stated, motioning with the parchment she
held. "If the official Ministry witnesses are us, it will be difficult for him to
argue it isn't valid."

"Yes," Sirius confirmed baldly, "with tomorrow's adoption ritual, I aim to ensure
that he won't be able to challenge my guardianship of Harry. Look," he sighed
heavily, "Dumbledore already knows the things I've shown you. I have no doubt that
he has some grand plan in mind for defeating Voldemort and I'm certain that plan
involves Harry. What he needs to understand is that he no longer has a say in what
happens to Harry outside of his schooling at Hogwarts and that there are others now
with a plan." He paused. "I like our plan. I think our plan is sensible and will
work. I believe it is best for Albus Dumbledore to realise these things and help us
but I'm not blind to the fact that unless we have all our ducks in a row, he will
find some way of convincing everybody he knows best."

"You may be right," Bertie began.

"Maybe?" scoffed Cornelius stabbing a finger in Bertie's direction. "He's perfectly

right and you know it! Albus always believes he knows best. I'm prepared to admit
that some of the time he does, although perhaps if he shared more than 'but it's
for the greater good' it would be easier to accept his reasoning. But he's made
mistakes as the past couple of weeks have clearly shown. He was partially
responsible for a man not getting a trial and because of that he left a child, who
vanquished the most terrible Dark Wizard of our time, with abusive and neglectful
muggles who hated magic! He's almost gotten the boy killed twice looking at those
memories! No, I agree Albus should be a part of our Council but Sirius is quite
right: Albus also needs to understand that he will not be leading the fight and we
do not always have to submit to his way of doing things."

Amelia was quietly nodding and Bertie looked at her questioningly.

"You too, Amelia?"

"I have a lot of respect for Albus Dumbledore," Amelia said firmly, "but I cannot
deny Cornelius's point or Sirius's: Dumbledore has made mistakes here especially
with Harry. It seems likely to me given Dumbledore's actions to date," she waved a
hand towards the pensieve again, "that he'll place Harry at the centre of any plan.
I agree with Sirius that we should not accept any plan that relies upon a thirteen
year old boy."

"Albus may have placed Harry in such a position because of the prophecy." Bertie
pointed out.

"Well, he can bloody well unplace him!" Sirius retorted fiercely.

Amelia pinned Bertie with a frank stare. "Apart from the fact that for the first
time I find myself in complete agreement with Cornelius in that I also believe
prophecies are a load of hooey, do you honestly believe we would be better served
placing the defeat of an evil like Voldemort on the shoulders of a young
inexperienced and partially trained wizard, and sitting around twiddling our thumbs
as Dumbledore seems to be doing, rather than the plan we've come up?" She pointed
at the parchment on the table.

"No," Bertie sighed, inclining his head, "and I happen to agree that it would be
best for us to present Albus with a fait accompli. However, I do believe the
prophecy has some merit just as I believe the third memory we witnessed with the
prophecy of the servant helping his master has some merit. We may try to keep Harry
safe and out of the fight but prophecies have a way of coming true despite our best

"Perhaps," Sirius allowed, "and I will say that I am ensuring Harry is tutored as
much as possible so he has a fighting chance if the worst comes to the worst. I
will do as much as possible to ensure that he has every advantage when he faces
him. However, I will not have the assumption made that it must be Harry who defeats

Bertie nodded. "Fair enough."

"I do have one concern, Sirius," Amelia said, waving her invitation at him, "the
adoption? You've only spent just over a week with Harry as your ward. I know you
want to shut down any avenue Dumbledore has to challenge you but I'm not convinced
it's a good idea to push it through so fast."

"And I would agree with you if I had spent just over a week with Harry." He held up
a hand before she could argue. "You remember that you insisted on my getting
medical treatment?"

She nodded warily. "You took Harry with you for a week's treatment in a clinic

"Yes," Sirius said, "we went to the Valley clinic. It exists in a time bubble. A
week passes on the outside and months can pass inside. Harry and I spent two months
there together."

Bertie's expression brightened again. "With Noshi Blackhawk? How is he?"

"He's good. Very good and an excellent healer. Harry and I are both back to full
health now." Sirius leaned against the mantelpiece and turned back to Amelia.
"Maybe the adoption is fast but it's something we both want."

"Then I'll represent the WOO tomorrow and see that the legal papers are sorted at
the same time." Amelia offered. "I assume Brian will be attending?"

"He is." Sirius acknowledged.

"Excellent!" Cornelius exclaimed, clapping his hands. "Now, Sirius will be

attending Thursday's session of the Wizengamot and afterwards I believe it would be
prudent to meet with Albus and inform him of the plans."

"Why don't we do that Friday morning?" Sirius suggested. "I think I should probably
meet with him alone after the session itself."

"Suits me." Amelia said and Bertie nodded in agreement.

"Very well." Cornelius agreed. "Shall we meet weekly for a progress report?"

"We should meet here as we know it is a safe and secure location." Amelia said. "If
that's alright with you, Sirius?"

"Fine with me." Sirius said.

They wrapped up the details and Sirius escorted them back to the floo. Cornelius
left first, followed by Bertie, leaving Sirius with Amelia.

"I should thank you for all you've done." Sirius said feeling a tad awkward. "I
wouldn't be here if you hadn't cleared my name."

Amelia gave an understanding smile. She reached into her robes and brought out a
wand box. "I meant to give this to you when I arrived buthere." She handed him the
box with a nod of ceremony. "I thought this should be returned to you."

Sirius took the box and opened it swiftly, breathing out sharply at the sight of
his old wand. He clutched it to him, the warm familiarity of it rushing through his
veins like quicksilver. "Thank you!"

Amelia smiled at him. "You can thank me by looking after Harry." She paused. "I
take it the clinic you were at was good for him?"

"For both of us," Sirius repeated, not wanting to give away just how much Harry had
required healing.

She nodded though, compassion and understanding lighting her eyes. She said a
goodbye which he hastily returned before she tossed her floo powder into the fire.
"Ministry of Magic!"

She was gone a moment later leaving Sirius alone in the reception room. He sighed
heavily and rubbed his forehead tiredly even as he held his returned wand with
glee. The plan was in motion but there was still a lot to do.


"I thought you wanted to wait until the adoption ritual before Harry claimed the
Black Heir ring?" Remus questioned Sirius as he positioned Harry in front of his
desk in Black Manor.

Harry stared down at the waiting ritual bowl and small knife with a mixture of
trepidation and eagerness. He wanted to do the Heir ritual but he had to admit that
Sirius's comments about the magic being very Dark in origin worried him.

"I was but I've had a rethink." Sirius said brightly. "Cornelius and I both agree
it's best to keep Lucius around but neutered although that's subject to what
Lucius admits to tomorrow but we also think he'll try and stab us in the back at
the first opportunity soI want to make sure the Heir stuff is all done before
tomorrow's family meeting so Lucius has no opportunity to interfere with that."

Remus sighed and nodded. "Should I leave?"

"No, you'll be fine as you're a recognised steward." Sirius assured him. He went to
stand beside Harry. "You remember what I told you?"

"I remember." Harry said. "You'll proclaim me Heir; I'll accept, and then the magic
tests me."


"Not to be a killjoy but that test could take some time and we are expected at the
Weasleys." Remus pointed out as he took position on the other side of Harry.

"You're expected at the Weasleys Harry and I are unexpected guests accompanying
you!" He waggled his eyebrows and Harry hid a smile. They'd decided on the
subterfuge because the Weasleys seemed very respectful of Dumbledore. They didn't
think the Weasleys knew that Dumbledore was in Thailand and why, but Sirius wasn't
taking any chances.

"Thank you." Remus said dryly. "So it's only me who'll hear the sharp edge of Molly
Weasley's tongue."

"We have plenty of time before we go to the Weasleys." Sirius contradicted. He

waved his hand dismissively. "Besides, if this goes anything like his Potter
inheritance ritual, we'll be out of here in thirty seconds flat." He grinned at
Harry who rolled his eyes at his godfather.

"OK, let's get on with it." Remus ordered.

"Familius magicus." Sirius picked up his wand and tapped the ritual bowl. Silver
sparkles erupted from the bowl; he cut his palm, allowing the blood to drip into
the hollow. "I, Sirius Orion Black, Head of the House of Black name Harry James
Potter, Head of the House of Potter as Heir to the House of Black, by blood, by
magic, by law, and by this oath. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

Harry took the ritual knife and repressed the nerves that were running rampant in
his belly. He sliced his palm with a grimace and let the blood drop into the bowl
with Sirius's. "I, Harry James Potter, Head of the House of Potter, accept the
duties of Heir to the House of Black, by blood, by magic, by law and by this my
oath. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

The Black magic rose up sharply and surrounded Harry in a silver mist. He could
feel it pressing against him, testing him. It was so different to the Potter magic
which had been warm and welcoming; the Black magic was cold and icy in comparison.
But he remained firm in the centre of the silver tempest. He wanted this to work
for Sirius because he owed his godfather more than words could say for getting him
away from the Dursleys and giving him a home, for loving him.

Abruptly the magic left and settled above the ritual bowl in the shape of a silver
snake. Harry felt the ring settle on his finger.

Harry didn't think; he just opened his mouth. "Hello."

The snake rose up, its hood flaring. "A speaker."

"Yes." Harry said. "Have you had a speaker before?"

"Only one other speaker has come before you, youngling." The snake rippled and

"Sirius told me you were a snake but I didn't realise I would be able to speak to
you." Harry said, fascinated by the snake.

"You are a speaker and so we can understand each other. Know this, Heir of Black,
Lord of Potter: you are of our blood and magic, youngling. We will do all that we
can to protect you just as the griffin of Potter." The snake shifted, glancing
towards Sirius who Harry realised belatedly was looking on with concern. "We
reunited you once before and always will again when called; remember that,
The snake vanished without another word and Harry caught his breath as he felt his
skin tingle coldly for a long moment as though the Black magic was seeping into

"Harry?" Sirius placed a hand carefully on Harry's shoulder.

Harry looked up at him and smiled. "I'm fine. The snake said it would protect me
like the griffin."

"Ah." Sirius didn't look any less concerned and Harry wondered why.

"That's good, isn't it?" Harry questioned warily.

Sirius and Remus exchanged a look over Harry's head.

"What?" demanded Harry, annoyed.

"It's just surprising." Sirius said finally. "Family magic isn't supposed to work
the way it does for you. I've never heard of the totems being so" he whirled his
hand about his head, "interactive? Talkative? Cooperative? Protective? All of the

"Oh." Harry frowned. "Well, the snake did say it hadn't had the chance to talk with
a speaker in a long while and I would guess the other totems don't have a way of

"That's a good point." Remus said. "And at least we know you still have your
parseltongue ability. I had wondered if the cleansing of your scar might have, uh,
taken it away."

Harry nodded slowly. He'd wondered the same thing. "I guess I'm stuck with it."

"I know it isn't the most popular ability to have, Harry," Sirius comforted him,
"but it could prove to be useful in the future."

"Only if I plan on becoming a snake handler." Harry joked, his tension easing again
with the evidence that it didn't matter to Sirius and Remus that he was a

"Funny." Remus nudged him, caught sight of the clock and blanched. "We should

Sirius rolled his eyes but carefully cleaned the bowl and knife before locking them
away. Remus hurried them out of the study and towards the floo. Remus went first to
warn the Weasleys of the additions to the visit and Sirius had Harry go next.

Harry stumbled out of the floo into the Burrow and gave quiet thanks that he hadn't
ended up flat on his face. He moved out of the way to allow Sirius room to walk
through and was immediately gathered into a hug by Molly Weasley.

"Harry!" She beamed at him as she stepped back and Harry took the opportunity to
step away and stand beside a grinning Ron. "It's so good to see you! And don't you
look well? You're still a bit skinny though but no matter; we can feed you up

"We weren't expecting dinner," Remus said quickly, "and we wouldn't want to put you

"Nonsense!" Molly chided him. "It's only another couple of mouths to feed."
Sirius stepped through with elegant precision and Harry could see Molly stiffen a

"Apologies," Sirius said, "I had a small delay on the other side." He offered his
hand to Molly and she reached out to take his, surprise widening her eyes when he
turned her hand over deftly and kissed her knuckles. "Madame Weasley."

Arthur, who had been standing off to the side, a half-read Daily Prophet tucked
under his arm, moved forward. His eyes quickly caught on the crests on Sirius's
robes and the ring he wore. "Lord Black."

"Mister Weasley." Sirius shook hands solemnly. "Please call me Sirius."

"Blimey," Ron muttered under his breath at Harry, "this is all a bit serious." He
elbowed Harry and snickered. "Serious! Get it!"

Molly shot her youngest son a look that shouted 'behave!'

"It's Arthur and Molly." Arthur answered in reply to Sirius's earlier request. He
waved around the rest of his brood which included an older looking Weasley that
Harry hadn't seen before. "My eldest, Bill; Percy; the twins, Fred and George; you
know Ron, of course, and finally; Ginny. We're just missing Charlie."

They all gave small waves or muttered hellos.

"Well, this is an unexpected pleasure!" Molly said brightly. "It's so good of

Professor Lupin to bring you both!"

"Please; it's Remus." Remus said quickly. "I've only just broken Harry out of the
habit of calling me Professor."

He had too, Harry mused, smiling back at him.

"I'm afraid the subterfuge is my fault." Sirius said smoothly apologising for their
unexpected arrival. "Not many people know Harry's already in my custody and we're
keeping a low profile at the moment until we can make the formal announcements at
the Wizengamot."

Arthur nodded understandingly. "May we congratulate you both on the guardianship?"

Molly looked desperate to say something but she held her tongue.

"Thank you." Harry said proudly.

Sirius ruffled his hair and smiled at him affectionately. "We're both very
pleased." He sobered a little and motioned at Arthur. "The reason for the visit is
there's a bit of business between our various Houses that we should discuss. May we
make use of your dining table?"

"Of course," Arthur's gaze sharpened on Sirius's.

Molly waved her hands in a shooing motion. "All of you children go and play

Sirius placed a hand on Harry's arm to prevent his leaving and cleared his throat.
"Harry will be staying, Molly, as both Head of the House of Potter and Heir to the
House of Black, he has to be present."
The want to protest was written across Molly's face as prominently as her freckles
but she nodded sharply conceding in the face of Sirius invoking the House

"And as this involves a service Ron has performed for both our Houses, you may wish
for him to stay." Sirius continued undaunted. "But that is of course at your
discretion" his gaze moved from Molly, "Arthur."

Molly's head snapped around to her husband's with frantic speed. "Arthur, dear"

"Ron can stay," Arthur said firmly, "and Bill"

His eldest son paused in his bid for the exit.

"You should stay as my Heir." Arthur gestured toward the table with a succinct head

It was odd and awkward, Harry thought, as Arthur ushered Sirius, Remus and Harry
into seats on one side of the table, grabbing Ron before he could sit next to
Harry. The three Weasley males sat opposite and Molly plonked herself down next to
Arthur. From the looks exchanged between Arthur and Molly, Harry surmised Molly
wasn't supposed to attend but was insisting on being part of the proceedings.

Arthur gave in with a sigh. "I have to admit to being surprised," he said to
Sirius, "it's been a long time since the Weasleys were openly acknowledged as an
Ancient and Noble House."

Sirius shrugged easily. "There's more to House honour than the trappings, Arthur."
He gestured at the thinning red-head across the table. "You may regain your seat in
time if not your title but that's for discussion another day."

Arthur's eyebrows rose up his forehead. "And today's discussion?"

"Well, the first bit of business is Harry's." Sirius nudged him gently.

Harry cleared his throat nervously. "Mister Weasley, you and your family have been
very kind to me since I came back to the wizarding world and Ron was my first
friend of my own age so" he took a deep breath, "as, um, Head of the House of
Potter, I would be honoured if you'd consider an alliance between the House of
Weasley and the House of Potter."

Ron, who had blushed bright red at Harry's pronouncement of their friendship,
beamed at him. Evidently he knew enough about the traditions to know that an
alliance was something of immense importance, and to have a House of the status of
the Potters request an alliance was a significant honour especially in light of the
House of Weasley's relatively low status. Bill also looked pleased if mildly

Molly looked astounded and she darted a look at her equally stunned husband.

"That's" Arthur started again and cleared his throat, "that's a lovely thought,
Harry, but"

Harry's heart sank.

Sirius cut in. "We thought the terms should be an alliance of friendship between
the Houses, Arthur."

Because the Weasleys weren't in a political or financial position to agree an

alliance of mutual aid and support having lost their Wizengamot seat years before.
Harry believed there wasn't really a difference in the intent of the alliance just
the wording.

Arthur's face brightened. "Friendship?" He looked from Harry to Sirius and back
again. "Lord Potter, I would be honoured to accept such an alliance. How could I

Ron and Harry grinned at each other. Harry felt Sirius not-so-subtly nudge him

"Thank you, Mister Weasley."

"I think it's probably time to start calling me Arthur, Harry." He said with a
smile. He frowned suddenly. "I'm afraid I don't think I have our ritual bowl on
hand. It's probably somewhere in the family vault."

"We can complete the alliance ritual another time," Sirius said agreeably, "your
word is certainly enough until we can perform it."

Molly smiled at Harry. "That's a lovely thing you've just done for our family,
Harry. Thank you."

Harry blushed.

"Our second piece of business," Sirius said rescuing him, "involves the House of
Black. I hope in time that we will also agree an alliance of friendship but clearly
we need to get to know each other a lot better before then."

Arthur nodded. "Agreed."

"For now the bit of business we have involves a debt of honour between us." Sirius
said. "I did get, uh, rather enthusiastic when I went after the rat at Hogwarts,
and Ron here did end up getting accidentally injured"

Harry watched warily as Molly's expression took on a note of anger. He wondered

whether Ron had told her about getting his leg injured or about the night Sirius
had ambushed him.

"According to my solicitor, you were easily within your rights to have me charged
with assault." Sirius concluded, keeping his remarks addressed to Arthur. "If you
had I would still be on the run"

Remus coughed.

"Or back in Azkaban," allowed Sirius, "and Harry would still be at the Dursleys."

Harry was pleased to see that mollified Ron's mother a little.

"In gratitude for your act of kindness and to honour the debt between us, I would
like to assume financial responsibility for Ron's education up to and including a
Mastery if he wishes to pursue one. His tuition fees, his school supplies and a
small allowance to be agreed with yourselves would be included." Sirius said.

"Woah." Ron muttered, his eyes wide.

Remus plucked a parchment from the pocket in his robes and handed it to Arthur.
"All the details are stated here, Arthur."
"Well, we couldn't possibly" Molly began.

"Molly." Arthur's firm use of her name had Molly subsiding. He handed the parchment
to Bill. "It's a generous offer but you understand that it isn't necessary, I hope?
My decision was made in the same spirit of friendship that is at the heart of the
new alliance between the Houses of Potter and Weasley."

Sirius smiled. "Granted, but I'm afraid my House honour demands I repay you,
Arthur. I won't take no for an answer."

Ron was almost beside him, squirming on the chair beside Bill. He looked anxiously
from his father to Sirius and back. Harry could guess at his friend's feelings: Ron
was hopeful that the time of always ending up with second-hand clothes and books
and everything was at an end. Harry could relate.

Arthur sighed. He gestured at his eldest son. "What's your view here, Bill?"

Bill set the parchment down on the table. He had a serious expression on his
amiable face. The earring he wore glinted in the late evening sunlight streaming
through the window. "Everything seems to be in order from a legal point of view."
He said. "It's a generous offer but in order for me to know if it satisfies the
debt, I'll need to know what exactly happened and how Ron got injured?"

"It's a fair question." Sirius said, stopping Arthur from dismissing his son's
query. "Let's see, I guess you know the background context of me being innocent,
Peter being the traitor hiding out disguised as your family's pet rat?"

Bill nodded.

"Well, I guess there are two incidents. The first one I merely scared Ron by
breaking into the dorm and trying to get to the rat there. And the second one, I
ambushed him on the Hogwarts grounds while he was carrying the rat and dragged him
into a tunnel to the Shrieking Shack, accidentally breaking his leg in the

"You broke my son's leg?" Molly yelled loudly.

Arthur turned to her with a fierce expression. "Molly."

Molly glared at her husband and sat back with an angry huff.

"I was right as rain the next day, honest, Mum." Ron said tentatively.

"Well," Bill said, with a smile in Ron's direction, "I give my blessing to the
proposal. I think as Sirius interrupted Ron's education this last year, paying for
his future education is an acceptable payment." He paused. "But in fairness to the
House of Black I think we should only agree on the basis of Ron maintaining
Acceptable grades."

Ron grimaced.

"I agree." Arthur said. He looked at his youngest son. "We don't expect
Outstandings across the board, but if you fail anything, we shouldn't expect Lord
Black to continue paying for you."

Bill added the addendum and handed the contract back to Remus to review. Remus
nodded at Sirius.

Sirius conjured a quill and signed the parchment, passing both over to Arthur so he
could do the same.

"Yes!" Ron said gleefully.

"Remember this agreement is dependent on you getting good grades, Ron." Arthur

Molly nodded her agreement, her eyes narrowing on Sirius again. "At the same time,
I'm not sure money can make up for harming a child." She said frostily.

Harry inched closer to Sirius, hearing the anger in Molly's voice.

"I agree with you," Sirius said simply, surprising everyone at the table, "although
in my defence I wasn't quite sane at the time. Twelve years in Azkaban as an
innocent man took its toll."

Molly had the grace to look discomforted but the glint in her eye told Harry she
hadn't completely given up the fight. "And you're sane now? After only a week of

"Molly!" Arthur protested, his face burning as brightly red as his hair.

"Harry and I spent some time at the Valley clinic in the States." Sirius informed
briskly. "As you may know it's located in a time bubble. We spent about two months
there in the week we were gone in normal time."

Molly opened her mouth to speak again.

"However, that's beside the point," Sirius said before she could speak, "regardless
of my questionable sanity, I know what I would do to anyone who broke Harry's leg
even accidentally so yes, I agree with you that monetary compensation can't make up
for what I did. And knowing that, I assure you the scholarship isn't an apology for
that act; it's a thank you for not pressing legal charges so I could take
guardianship of my godson."

Arthur placed a hand on Molly's arm. "I'm grateful that you can appreciate my
wife's point of view. As Ron doesn't seem to hold a grudge and it was him that was
harmed, I suggest we put it in the past and move on." His gaze rested on his wife's

Molly gave a huff and nodded.

Sirius inclined his head. "Thank you."

"Ron," Arthur said, turning in his chair to face his son, "there's some additional
business that I have with the House of Potter that you don't need to stay for, son.
You can go and join your brothers and sister outside."

Ron looked as though he wanted to protest but he threw Harry a vaguely apologetic
look and pushed his chair away from the table, swiftly departing the house.

Harry looked at Arthur confused, wondering what other business they could have to

"Harry," Arthur sighed and rubbed at his forehead, "I had discussed this previously
with the Headmaster as at the time there was no regent or steward assigned to
represent you but now you've claimed your ring and have Sirius and Remus here to
advise you"
"You wish to discuss the life debt your daughter owes Harry." Remus concluded.

Sirius raised an eyebrow questioningly at Remus as Harry shifted uncomfortably at

Arthur's nod of agreement.

"It wasn't that hard to deduce, Padfoot." Remus defended quietly.

Harry knew from his discussions with Sirius about the life debt Sirius owed
Hermione and himself that he couldn't say he didn't care about the life debt he
didn't but it wasn't good form to dismiss it as it was like saying he didn't care
that he'd saved Ginny's life which was untrue.

"What life debt?" asked Bill, frowning at his father.

Arthur sighed and quickly explained about Ginny's possession, the basilisk in the
Chamber of Secrets and the diary.

"Why didn't anybody tell me?" Bill asked, horror written clearly in his blue eyes.

Molly glared at him. "You were the one who chose to work abroad as a curse-breaker,

"You spent most of last summer with me, Mum, I'm sure there was a chance to tell
me." Bill rejoined. "No wonder Ginny spent so much time quizzing me about

"Clearly," Arthur broke in as Molly bristled angrily beside him, "we should discuss
this more in private after our guests have left but in the meantime, we do have the
life debt to settle."

Sirius cleared his throat. "What did you propose to Albus Dumbledore when you spoke
with him?"

Arthur shook his head. "It wasn't so much a proposal as a discussion. I did
tentatively suggest that we'd be happy for Harry consider the Burrow a second home
and to have him during the Summer instead of his going back to his relatives in the
muggle world."

Harry could guess where the discussion was going.

"Let me guess; he shot down the suggestion." Sirius said sarcastically enough to
get another disapproving frown from Molly.

"Albus thought Harry was too young to deal with responsibilities such as life
debts" Arthur replied mildly and Molly muttered her agreement, "and that Harry was
safest at his muggle relatives."

Harry flushed in embarrassment and anger. He felt Sirius's hand on his shoulder but
he stared at the table and took a deep breath; he really didn't want to lose
control of his magic.

"Well, that was then and this is now," said Remus soothingly. "Obviously your first
suggestion, while a wonderful idea at the time, is no longer needed given recent

"And I'm afraid that is where we come unstuck." Arthur admitted. "GinnyGinny is
our only daughter and frankly one that was very much wanted. She holds a great deal
of value in our eyes. A place in our family would have been equal to that value and
paid the debt she incurred, but I'm not entirely certain what else I have to offer
beyond the land that comes with the Burrow or my sworn service to the House of

Molly shifted in her seat, worrying her lower lip as she folded her arms. Harry
knew that they could demand the service of Ginny herself it was her who owed the
debt. He had no idea what he was supposed to say.

"Or the sworn service of your Heir." Sirius said with a thoughtful expression,
staring at Bill.

Bill sat up straighter although a hint of worry lurked in his eyes. "If that's what
is required, I will fulfil the debt on behalf of Ginny."

Harry tapped Sirius on the arm hurriedly and gestured towards the living area. "Can
we speak for a moment?"

Sirius nodded. "If you'll excuse us, we'll be just a moment."

The House of Potter representatives made their way to the front of the sofa and
Remus erected a privacy bubble.

"What are you doing?" Harry demanded immediately. "Ron says Bill loves his job! I
can't take that away from him."

"Of course not." Sirius assured him. "And there are details to be worked out but it
would be very useful to have a Goblin trained curse-breaker for our little treasure

Remus nodded sagely. "It also gives us someone of our own in Croaker's team. Bertie
won't be able to refuse because of the life debt angle."

Harry frowned. "OK, so it might be useful but it's not exactly fair of us to drag
him away from his own job. What happens when the treasure hunt is over?"

"I should be able to get something arranged at Gringotts a leave of absence to

fulfil a family debt for the period of the treasure hunt, something like that."
Sirius assured Harry.

"Or how about an exchange of knowledge as part of the treasure hunt?" Remus
suggested. "Bill spends the time learning from the Unspeakables; the Unspeakables
get some Goblin knowledge. The vows he'll have to take will be difficult but not
impossible" he trailed off as he noticed both Sirius and Harry staring at him.
"It's a thought."

Sirius looked at him sceptically. "I can't see either the Goblins or Croaker going
for it."

"Well, we won't know until we've sat all parties down to discuss the matter." Remus
said. "I suggest we get Bill's tentative agreement subject to something being
arranged with Gringotts about his ongoing employment." He hesitated for a moment.
"You know thinking about itdo you believe that given a choice Bill will turn down
hunting and destroying other objects like the diary that hurt his sister anyway?"

"No," Harry answered immediately, "not if he's anything like Ron."

They all turned back to glance at the dining table and saw the curious expressions
on the faces of the waiting Weasleys.

"OK, new plan," declared Sirius, "we tell Bill about the treasure hunt subject to
an oath of confidentiality. We'll offer to help make an arrangement with Gringotts
and if that doesn't happen, once the treasure hunt is over, we'll set Bill up in a
new curse-breaking business funded by Potter and Black."

Harry nodded slowly. "OK."

They both looked at Remus.

"I agree." Remus confirmed. He took down the privacy bubble and made their way back
to the table.

Sirius waited until they were all seated. "Let me start by saying that we are all
agreed that if we go with a service arrangement for the life debt that we will do
our utmost to ensure the impact to Bill's career is minimal." He began.

Harry was pleased when Bill's eyes brightened with relief as did Arthur's.

"Exactly how we'll do that we don't know as yet but I'm sure it'll involve a
discussion with Gringotts. What can you say about your employment contract?" Sirius

Bill motioned across the table. "Not much as you would guess with it being a
Gringotts' contract. I can tell you that I signed on for ten years, that Mastery in
Runic Warding is part of the deal and I got that two years ago, and that there are
penalties for non-completion. Beyond thatthere are the usual oaths that Gringotts
requires of its employees."

"Hmmm." Sirius said. "So you have five years to go and the penalties are

Bill nodded.

Molly cleared her throat. "If this is the only way to honour the life debt the
Goblins would understand that wouldn't they?"

And Harry realised from the hope in Molly's eyes that service to the House of
Potter would mean Bill would be doing something less dangerous and would return to

"They'd probably not press the oath-breaking penalty as a life debt would take
higher precedence," Bill informed her, "but they would certainly enact the
financial penalties." He sighed. "I could afford it with what I have saved"

Harry stirred uneasily in his chair and looked at Sirius beseechingly.

"Any penalties would be covered by the House of Potter," Sirius said, catching on
immediately, "but we will try and arrange a leave of absence so the penalties
aren't incurred at all. If you have to leave Gringotts, we'll also ensure your
career continues as you wish."

Bill's eyes widened in pleased surprise even as his mother's face fell with the
assurance that Bill would continue with his wanted profession. Harry guessed Ron's
brother had worried that service meant the end of his career.

"In fact, the reason why I thought of you rather than your father to honour the
life debt is that the House of Potter has a project where your talents as a curse-
breaker would be useful." Sirius continued. "We will need a vow of confidentiality
before I say anything more and assurances that you practice Occlumency."
"Well, I never" Molly protested.

Arthur shot her another pleading look and she subsided. "My Occlumency is
notgood." He admitted. "If I wore my Head of House ring I would be protected but
I've never seen a need to wear it and it's in the vault."

"I'm Goblin trained." Bill said. "They don't start teaching you anything of import
until you can do Occlumency." He smiled at Harry. "They like to know their secrets
will remain secret."

"Why don't Bill and I head to another room and I'll inform him of the project?"
Sirius suggested. "If you're happy for only Bill to be privy to the details of the
service we require and whether it will satisfy the debt on behalf of the House of
Weasley, Arthur?"

Arthur frowned but nodded. "Well, as it mostly will affect BillI'll leave the
decision to my Heir then."

Sirius smiled widely. "Bill, if you could lead the way?"

Bill got up and motioned for Sirius to follow him up the stairs. Harry deduced they
were going to use a bedroom.

"Well, I'll start dinner." Molly said brightly, getting up. "You will all stay,

"I'm afraid not, Molly." Remus said politely. "Thank you very much for the
invitation, but we're expected home for dinner and Dobby will be anxious if we
don't show. Another time, perhaps."

Molly frowned heavily but nodded. She headed over to the stove and began banging
pots and pans as she assembled them.

Arthur cleared his throat, ostensibly ignoring his wife. "Harry, has Ron mentioned
the Quidditch World Cup?"

Harry gave a smile and a nod. "He said you hoped to get tickets."

"There's still some finagling to do but we're almost set on that score. You're more
than welcome to come with us." Arthur said warmly. "We're going to camp there the
night before and after so it'll be a real trip."

"Sirius said he'd talk to you about it." Harry promised. "It sounds like fun."

"So far it's just been a lot of work." Arthur said with a smile. "I've had my
colleagues at the Department of Magical Games and Sports complaining at me every
lunch hour."

"Is your Department involved in the preparation?" Remus asked, jumping into the
conversation when Harry floundered unsure what to say.

"Yes, the pitch site is very close to muggles so we're having to double check
everything." Arthur admitted. "Why Bagman decided that place was a good ideawell,
I shouldn't criticise really. His assistant Bertha Jorkins was supposed to be back
from her holiday and helping by now but she's still away."

"Bertha?" Remus repeated. "I haven't heard that name in years."

Harry sent him an inquiringly look.

"She was a few years ahead of us at school." Remus explained. "Nice girl but a bit
of a gossip and rather flaky."

It sounded like Lavender Brown, Harry mused idly.

"That's Bertha." Arthur said. "Ludo's convinced she's just forgotten her return
date but I'm not sure she's that dippy."

Molly snorted from her position at the stove. "Bertha is that dippy, Arthur. She'd
forget her own head if it wasn't screwed on."

Harry laughed at the comment and Arthur winked and whispered that Molly could be

Footsteps on the stairs had them all turning back. Bill looked thunderous while
Sirius looked calm. They retook their seats. Molly hurried back, evidently
determined not to be left out of the discussion.

"Bill?" inquired Arthur tentatively.

Harry had a feeling he knew why Bill was so angry; the fact that there were objects
like the one that had hurt Ginny lying aboutit was horrible and terrifying.

"I'll gladly perform the service requested for the House of Potter. We have agreed
that I will join the project they have in mind in exchange for a salary matching my
Gringotts pay and accommodation in London where I'll be based." Bill said tersely.
"We're also agreed that the House of Potter will do its best to ensure my career
doesn't suffer. We'll try and organise a leave of absence but if Gringotts won't
allow that, I'll leave. Sirius has agreed with me that we'll split the penalties
fifty-fifty." He held up a hand before anyone could argue. "For the record, the
importance of the project is such that I'd do it if there was no life debt involved
hence the penalty agreement, but as the House of Potter is insistent"

"And we are." Sirius added firmly.

"There we go." Bill said. He looked at his father who nodded in return.

"I trust you, William." Arthur said proudly.

"Then I agree as the Heir of the House of Weasley that the House of Potter shall
have my service until the task we have discussed is complete to honour the life
debt between Ginevra Molly Weasley and Lord Harry James Potter."

Sirius nudged Harry. "You need to accept."

"I accept on behalf of the House of Potter," Harry said quickly, knowing he was
probably breaking a number of protocol rules.

Molly gave a small clap and beamed at her eldest son. "Oh, it'll be so good to have
you back! And really, Harry, you don't need to include accommodation, Bill will
stay here."

Harry wondered if Bill was really as horrified as he looked.

Sirius cleared his throat. "As the Potter Regent, I'm going to have to insist as a
point of honour, Molly. Service for the House has always included accommodation and
board, and frankly, we have a lot of properties standing vacant. It would be doing
us a favour to have one of them occupied and looked after."
Molly opened her mouth to argue and Arthur jumped in before she could.

"Thank you, Sirius, Harry," Arthur said quickly, "a young man of Bill's age needs
his own space." He patted his son's shoulder.

Bill gave a relieved smile and glanced over at Sirius. "I'll arrange a meeting with
my bosses at Gringotts for next week." He turned to his father who wore a faintly
guilty air. "Don't think for a moment I took this under duress, Dad. I'm more than
happy to help with the project Sirius has told me about. If there was no debt and
I'd found out about it, I would have quit my job and volunteered."

His parents were stunned by the admission.

"Well," Sirius said brightly, "one further bit of business is this." He plucked a
sheet of parchment from his robes and gave it to Arthur. "Your family's invitation
to join us for a blessing ritual tomorrow. I know it's short notice but we hope you
can make it." He turned to Harry. "Why don't you head outside and spend some time
with Ron while Remus and I discuss arrangements with Arthur and Molly? We're done
with the official business."

Harry nodded, smiled at the Weasleys and made his escape. Ron was hovering just
outside the back door evidently waiting for him and he quickly dragged him away
from the house to the bottom of the garden. They sat down and Harry frowned at the
dampness under his palms.

"Did I hear right?" Ron asked excitedly. "Is Bill going to work for you?"

"Well, for Sirius, really," Harry pointed out. "But, yeah."

Ron grinned at him. "That's great! Bill's really cool! Not like Percy at all!"

Harry smiled at Ron and wished he had a brother or a sister. He pushed away the
note of jealousy and focused on his friend.

"I heard you talking about the Quidditch Cup," Ron said, "you are going to come
aren't you? It's going to be brilliant."

"Maybe," Harry prevaricated, "I think Sirius will say yes but he has a lot of
lessons planned for me this Summer so" he gave a shrug. He wanted to attend but he
had to admit there was a large part of him that didn't want to spend time away from
his godfather.

"Lessons?" Ron said outraged. "What lessons?"

"Stuff to do with my being Head of House; etiquette and culture and stuff." Harry
said, leaning back and staring up at the sky.

"Blimey," Ron winced, "rather you than me."

Harry took a deep breath. "I'm, uh, also taking Runes. Professor McGonagall agreed
that I could drop Divination and take an entry test."

Ron stared at Harry as though he'd grown two heads. "Butbut that means I'll be on
my own! You're abandoning me!"

"I'm sorry but I can't take another year with Trelawney predicting my death every
week!" Harry retorted. "Besides, you're not on your own, the other guys will still
be there, Ron," he pointed out, "and if you want, you could do the same and come
with me to Runes? Sirius won't mind you joining the lessons."

"Nah," Ron shook his head, "I'm good." He shook his head. "I can't believe you're
learning all this other stuff though."

"I need to know it," Harry said, with a touch of annoyance, "I didn't realise there
was all these traditions and forms of protocol and everything. I have to learn it
as the Head of the House."

"Well, as long as you don't turn into Malfoy." Ron said with a strange glint in his
eye that told Harry that on one level Ron was deadly serious.

Harry gave a bit of a forced laugh and reassured him that was highly unlikely. He
wasn't surprised when Ron turned the conversation to Quidditch. He gave a quiet
sigh of relief as he listened, pleased with Ron's relatively easy acceptance of his
new position and his decision about Runes. Sure, there had been a tense moment but
they had gotten past it.

Harry ignored a lingering flicker of worry that Ron would have issues with Harry
gaining a little independence and focused on Ron's rant about the Cannon's new