Tearing his gaze away from the scarlet locomotive, he looked at his son. Five days of roaming around out in the open just wearing swimming trunks had put quite a healthy shade on Harry's otherwise pale skin. Thanks to another potion, the boy's wonky eyesight had been repaired, making his eyes stand out.
'Well, have fun,' Sirius said gruffly, grabbing the back of Harry's neck. 'Take care of yourself now.' He gave the boy a half hug. Pulling away, he looked at the boy seriously. 'And for the love of Merlin, don't get into so much trouble that I have to come to the school,' he winked.
Harry grunted. The previous years he had jealously looked on as families sent his classmates off. Now, he had a family of his own ready and willing to send him off. Smiling shyly, he hugged Sirius, quickly putting both his arms around his father, completely surprising the former prisoner. With a quick 'Bye,' Harry set off towards his compartment.
The train ride was quite run-of-the-mill. It even included the yearly visit from Malfoy.
'Hey, cuz!' Harry said cheerfully the minute the blond showed his ugly mug. He had been dying to use this line on Malfoy ever since he had learnt of their relationship. He hadn't been able to do so during the World Cup. It wasn't the right moment then, according to Sirius, who had prevented him from saying anything by subtly touching his elbow.
Other than giving him a funny look, Malfoy ignored Harry as he concentrated on Ron.
'So … going to enter, Weasley? Going to try and bring a bit of glory to the family name? There's money involved as well, you know … you'd be able to afford some decent robes if you won. …'
'What are you talking about?' snapped Ron.
'Are you going to enter?' Malfoy repeated. 'I suppose you will, Potter? You never miss a chance to show off, do you?'
'Oh, noticed me now, have you?' Harry said in mock hurt. 'As to your question, one; no, I want to have a nice quiet year, and two; it's "Potter-Black".'
'What are you talking about?' snapped Malfoy, eerily sounding just like Ron a few moments back.
'What, don't you know?' Harry said with a sneer to rival Malfoy's. 'I have been magically blood-adopted by Sirius Black. Here, see?' He showed Malfoy the Potter and Black rings that were on his fingers. 'And in case you are ignorant about this, it means the following; I am his heir, my name is now Harry James Alphard Potter-Black, and last but not the least, the two of us are cousins!'
'You are the Black heir?' Malfoy said in horrified disbelief.
Harry was enjoying the look on Malfoy's face. 'Yup, and the Potter heir too,' he said brightly.
The four Gryffindors sat there for a few moments, highly amused at the gobsmacked expression on the git's face. Finally Ron stood up and chivvied Malfoy out, shutting the door firmly on the three Slytherins.
'That was brilliant, mate.' Ron said with a beaming smile.
'What was Malfoy talking about, Harry,' Hermione asked curiously.
Her question had the other boys looking at Harry inquisitively.
'Sirius told me about it last night,' Harry replied. He briefly explained about the Triwizard Tournament that was coming to Hogwarts.
'Brilliant,' said Hermione. 'We'll get to interact with foreign schools! Think about the things we will learn!'
Ron was inclined to be disgruntled, 'So that's what they've been hiding from us all this time. Percy has been a right insufferable git because of this.' Crossing his arms a tad petulantly, he stared out of the window as he muttered angrily to himself.
'You've changed Harry,' Hermione finally voiced an observation that the others had made.
'Yeah, you seem more cheerful,' Neville interjected.
'And what's up with that Malfoy-ish sneer?' Ron demanded.
Harry shrugged. 'I dunno,' he ran a hand through his hair. 'I've been feeling quite free lately ... as if a great weight I didn't know I had has been lifted off me.' Addressing Ron, he continued, impersonating Percy's pompous tones. 'And I will have you know, Weasley, that it is not I who sneers like a Malfoy, but Malfoy who sneers like a Black.'
His declaration was a repeat of Sirius' lecture when he had asked his father that same question. Just as it had done to him, it got the others cracking up in laughter.
'I think it's because you have Sirius in your life now,' Hermione said knowledgably returning to the subject she had brought up.
Harry nodded. 'Yeah ... I finally have a dad now ... a real family,' he said the last bit in wonder.
'Oh, Harry,' Hermione said with a smile, getting up to hug him. 'I'm so happy for you.'
'Eh, I wouldn't be so happy if I were you. I mean, you are related to Malfoy,' Ron said casually.
Harry chuckled as Hermione rounded on Ron with a severe expression on her face. He paused when he spotted Neville's face. He could have sworn that he saw a shadow pass over the quiet boy's face.
The rest of the journey was spent with the boys speculating about the Tournament and Hermione wondering aloud what Beauxbatons and Durmstrang would be like.
Settling down behind the desk in his study, Sirius heaved a gusty sigh. Without Harry there, Number Twelve seemed very quiet. He spent a few moments listening to the clock tick. Then, letting out another gusty sigh, he opened the drawer and levitated the locket within.
Placing it on the desk, he looked at it.
'Now what secrets do you hold? ...'
The days quickly took on a routine for Sirius. Assigning the remaining cleaning to the house-elves, he would spend weekdays either looking through the Black Family library, trying to figure out what he could about the history and origins of the locket and managing his business portfolio. In the weekends, his routine was varied by visits to his mind healer (which would soon be over) in the afternoons and the occasional social function (Ministry or private) in the evenings.
So far Sirius had found out that the locket Harry was holding was not just any old heirloom but the locket that once belonged to Salazar Slytherin thought lost to time. After a bit of digging, Sirius found out that it was rumoured to be in the private collection of an old woman (who ironically enough was the descendant of Helga Hufflepuff). The trail had seemingly gone cold from there with the death of Hepzibah Smith. Sirius knew that a Black wasn't behind this rather suspicious death. The Smiths did not have one of their house-elf agents, and killing a woman over a locket (no matter how old said locket was) was not something the Blacks did. Besides, according to more rumours, the Cup of Helga Hufflepuff was also missing. And that artefact was in none of the Black properties. Sirius had checked twice now.
But that was another matter right now. What was most puzzling was how an artefact had managed to possess another person.
Sirius looked at the locket thoughtfully. Magical analyses of the artefact had shown nothing more than a bevy of protective enchantments layered over the thing. These looked quite recent, considering the history of the locket. Further testing was impossible as the protective enchantments interfered with the revealing spells.
Sirius ran a hand through his hair in frustration. It was impossible for an inanimate object to do something like this. For one, you needed a soul to do a possession...
Immediately he surged towards his feet, toppling his chair. Taking quick strides, he rushed towards the library. He knew he had seen a book somewhere...
However, his investigation was soon brought to a sudden and unexpected halt thanks to a letter delivered by owl.
'Hello, boy, what do you have for me,' Sirius said pleasantly. It was quite odd for Harry to be sending a letter in the evening.
Instead of going to him, the large snowy owl wheeled around and settled down on a cabinet well out of Sirius' reach, haughtily preening itself.
'Oi, what's the big idea?' Sirius said irritably. 'Come down here!'
The owl paused long enough to give Sirius a very pointed look before returning to straightening its feathers.
'Oh, for the love of –' Sirius slowly dragged his hand down his face. Sighing he gave the owl a dirty look. 'Fine, would you please give me my mail ... Orion' Sirius said with gritted teeth, his eye twitching at the name.
He did not know what was worse, his decision to buy a male snowy owl or have Harry name the bloody pigeon.
Harry just had to pick the first name he had seen in the first book he had picked up. And the book just had to be a history of the Black Family, and the name just had to be his father's name.
The owl had taken a shine to the name, to Hedwig (who Sirius was bemused to learn was named similarly) and to the idiotic teenager that had named it. And the blasted bird would not respond unless called by its name. To top it all off, Number Twelve now had the dubious pleasure of hosting a family of owls.
Taking the letter and giving Orion filthy looks (which was patently ignored) Sirius opened the letter.
Please don't be cross.
Reading the opening sentence caused Sirius' stomach to sink. He had a feeling that he wasn't going to like the contents of the letter. With a sense of doom, he read the rest of the letter.
'Son of a –' Sometimes he hated being right.
'What do you mean that it’s ironclad?' Sirius shouted. 'Harry could not have entered his name in that cup. Ergo, his name coming out of said cup would not constitute an obligation on his part to participate in this bloody Tournament!'
'I am afraid that he has to participate, Sirius,' Dumbledore replied serenely. 'The parchment that came out of the Cup had his name written in his hand. Here, see for yourself.' He extricated a scrap of parchment from a drawer of his desk and laid it out in front of Sirius.
Sirius picked up the parchment and read the writing. It was in Harry's distinct scrawl. Absently he noted that Harry's handwriting was improving.
'And he did not need to physically put his name in,' Dumbledore continued. 'At one time in the Tournament's past, it was customary for the champions to write their names down and hand it over to their respective headmasters who would then travel to the school hosting the tournament and put the names in. That was before the enchanted modes of transport that the schools use were developed of course. And the imposed age limit did help matters too.' He added as an afterthought.
Seething, Sirius said nothing, electing to angrily stare out of the window.
'And what,' he finally bit out, 'About the fact that Harry is the fourth champion in a contest meant for three?'
'It is an unfortunate anomaly, Sirius,' Dumbledore said with a tired sigh. 'I still have to figure out how this was done, but it was quite masterfully executed. Whoever did it was quite skilled and knowledgeable. Even if I found out how this was done, there is still no changing the fact that Harry will have to participate. I am sorry Sirius, but there is nothing I can do.'
'Can't or won't?'
'You heard me,' Sirius said lowly. 'Is there nothing you truly can do or are you unwilling to do anything?' He gave his old headmaster a contemptuous look. 'It wouldn't the first time you just sat back on your old arse and did nothing. My lack of a trial certainly proves that.'
Dumbledore closed his eyes in regret. 'Sirius, you have no idea how much I regret my –'
'Oh shut up, you old twat.' Sirius cut in harshly. 'After all I have done for you and your stinking Order, if all you have for me are empty words, then I say take your regrets and shove it. They certainly won't bring back twelve years of my life. To top it all, you have the gall to take the money that was meant for me and put it in "charity".' Sirius sneered.
Dumbledore sighed again. 'The money went to a good cause, Sirius. I would have thought that considering what your last school friend is, you'd be happy to chip in, especially what you caused to happen.'
Sirius' countenance turned ugly. 'So you are telling me that I should have let myself and three other innocent children become werewolf food? Remus was the one who forgot to have his Potion, Remus was the one who came down despite the fact that it was a full moon. So do tell me why I am the one footing the bill?'
'Severus' story was quite different from the one you tell me.' Dumbledore said mildly.
Sirius let out a bark of laughter. 'Oh yeah, Snivelly's a werewolf, I completely forgot!' he said sarcastically. He took on a thoughtful expression. 'I bet you decided to take my money and give it to him since he cannot be employed anymore.' A subtle shift in Dumbledore's expression was all the proof he needed. Laughing again, he said, 'Well, I must say, that's the best million quid I've ever spent. It's a pity that you did not insist on keeping Snape on staff after I told the board of Governors about Snivy's status. It would have been fun to see the reactions of the other parents when they find out that the almighty Albus Dumbledore plans on having their children being taught Potions by a werewolf.'
Albus closed his eyes again in pain. He wondered what Sirius would say if he told him that Remus was now wanted by the Ministry because he had bitten and infected another man. Should he be caught, the sentence would be instant death at the hands of the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures. Macnair was already smug about killing an innocent Hippogriff, he would be unbearable if he got his hands on Remus.
Striding towards the door, Sirius called out from behind his shoulder. 'I think we are done here, Dumbledore. It really has not been a pleasure talking to you. Not that I expected anything else.' Closing the door with a smart snap, Sirius left the office.
Albus bowed his head in sorrow. All those years ago, he had thought he had done the right thing. He had truly thought that Sirius was in Voldemort's camp. That he had the Order fooled. As he had ascended up the political ranks, he had heard a lot about the infamous Black Information Network and how they seemed to have blackmail material on almost everyone in power. If Sirius was actually a spy, then it meant that Orion had not disowned him. As the heir, should he become Lord Black, Sirius would have access to that information and not only would he have been declared innocent, but he would have had custody of Harry. Albus would have been able to tolerate the former, but he could not abide by the latter. Who knew what horrors the child would be exposed to? So Albus had made the decision to send Sirius to jail without a trial.
It pained him to know that he had made such colossal mistakes. Thanks to the part he played, an innocent and good man had spent twelve years in that hellhole, and Harry had grown up leading an unhappy childhood.
The dementors had not been a good thing. Sirius had become rather bitter. Albus hoped that the head of House Black found peace within himself soon. It would be disastrous if he didn't. Already Sirius had turned Harry against him by mentioning that he had tried to keep Sirius from gaining custody. But he had two solid reasons for that. One, he did not know how stable a guardian Sirius would be and two, the Blood Wards. Albus did not know what effect the adoption ritual had on that protection Lily had bestowed on Harry. He feared that Sirius had made a major mistake. He hoped that he did not make a bigger mistake than that.
His robes billowing about him, Sirius set off towards the front door, fuming. He should have insisted on sending Harry off to Beauxbatons. But no, he just had to choose that moment to be soft and give in.
His black mood dissipated soon enough. Meeting and having a brief conversation with Slughorn, whose swift and prompt admiration of Harry's skills in Potions was enough to lift his spirits (after all, which parent does not swell with pride upon having his offspring praised?). Smiling, Sirius cast a location charm. Following his wand, he headed outside the castle, searching for his son.
Spotting his charge walking around the lake, he swiftly headed that way.
'Hey,' he said softly, putting a hand on the boy's shoulder.
Lost in his thoughts, Harry jumped a foot in the air.
'Sirius!' Expressive green eyes widened suddenly in panic. 'Sirius, you have to believe me, it wasn't me! I didn't do it!'
Before Sirius could open his mouth to speak, Harry continued blabbering, trying to get his adoptive father to believe him that he had not put his name in the Goblet of Fire.
With a sigh, Sirius waited till Harry wore himself out.
'I'm sorry.' The whispered words quickly brought Sirius' attention back to his son's face. Looking at him, he could see that Harry had an almost defeated air about him.
'Whatever for?' Sirius asked in confusion. Suddenly he understood what Harry was trying to say. 'You silly child,' He said with mild exasperation. 'I believe you.'
'Uh, yes, I was pretty sure you had not put your name in ever since you sent that letter through that demon owl.'
'Oh.' Harry looked down at the ground, scuffing his trainers against the dirt.
Shaking his head with a small smile, Sirius put a finger under the boy's chin, making him look up.
His smile slipped off his face when he saw the expression on his son's face.
'Hey, what's the matter?'
'It's ... it's nothing.' Harry looked away.
'It certainly is something,' Sirius replied seriously. Looking around, he guided Harry to a tree that he remembered from his schooldays. Erecting a privacy ward and a notice-me-not charm, he turned back to his son. 'There, no one can hear or see us. Now, what has you so bothered?'
Harry was silent for a long moment. A part of him wanted to tell Sirius about everything that had happened since his name had come out last night. He desperately wanted to tell Sirius about how the whole school except Neville thought that he had cheated his way into the Tournament. About how Ron and Hermione were doing their best to keep away from him and had not spoken to him despite his best efforts to get them to talk to him. He also wanted to tell his father about how, Ron, his best mate, hated him and wasn't willing to talk to him because he too, like the rest, believed that Harry had somehow managed to put his name into the Goblet.
But Harry detested. He did not know why, but he found himself uttering, 'No, it's just the whole Triwizard Tournament thing,' instead.
Sirius gave him a long look as if he did not fully believe him. Nonetheless, he replied, 'I can understand that.'
'Yeah,' Seeing Sirius accept the excuse, Harry seized onto it, calling up the other source of his frustration. 'I mean, the other three champions are all seventeen years or older. They have three years more experience over me, and they all think that I am some little boy who will finish dead last.'
Sirius raised an eyebrow at the indignant tone. Without saying anything, he looked out towards the lake. 'So I think your course of action here is more than clear, no?'
'It is?' Harry asked curiously.
'Indeed,' Sirius replied. 'Let's show those bastards what a son of the houses of Potter and Black can do.'
Harry snorted. It was the first time he had heard an adult consciously swear around him.
'Yeah, let's win this fucking thing!' he replied with enthusiasm. He felt some of the tension slide off his shoulders.
'That's the spirit,' Sirius ruffled his hair. 'Between the two of us, you are sure to kill in this Tournament. By the end of the year, you will be holding that cup and the other champions will be eating their words.'
Harry beamed at Sirius, his spirits momentarily lifted.
'However,' Sirius said with a serious face. 'I hope you realise that you getting into this Tournament essentially means that this is going to be your last year in Hogwarts? I don't know about you, but being enrolled against your will into an event that was until recently cancelled because of the high death toll counts as life threatening.'
'Hey, you said we'd wait a whole year!'
Sirius looked at Harry for a long moment. 'Fair enough,' he said finally. 'I can wait. But I wouldn't hold too much hope. The tasks are going to be quite dangerous.'
Seeing Harry relax, Sirius reached out and lightly squeezed the back of Harry's neck with his palm. 'Right, I must be off. I will see you later, yeah?'
'Good, also I hope you keep your spare wand with you at all times?'
In response, Harry just flicked his left hand, releasing the wand from its holster.
Sirius nodded in approval. He had commissioned three dragon-hide wand holsters, one for him and two for Harry. They had been impregnated with as many notice-me-not wards and invisibility and disillusionment charms as the magical hide could hold. Sirius had done so upon hearing about Alastor's magical eye and its capabilities. For every one good guy who had one of those, it was quite possible for ten bad guys to have the same thing. It had cost quite a lot, but it would be more than worth it.
'Oh, one last thing,'
Sirius looked at Harry in the eye. 'Consider this your first and last warning. The next time I hear you swear in my presence, I will wash your mouth out. Do you hear me?'
Gulping, Harry nodded. 'Yes sir.'
Sirius nodded. 'Good. Keep the profanities strictly with your friends. There shall be no swearing around me until you are twenty. After that, feel free to curse like a sailor.'
Dispelling the wards, he turned once again to make his leave when he remembered one last thing.
'Oh, and take this.' He took a mirror from his pocket and handed it to Harry. 'This is a two way mirror. I have the other pair. Just say my name into the mirror and my face will appear in the reflection. This way, you can reach me faster. At least I won't have to put up with that owl's diva like antics so much.'
'Orion is a good owl!' Harry protested. 'He's pretty intelligent, you know. You should give him a chance.'
'Yeah, yeah,' Sirius lightly cuffed Harry on his head. 'Well, I really have to go.' Cupping his son's face, he said, 'Love you kid.'
Harry choked up. 'Love you too ... dad.' He said thickly.
Smiling, Sirius turned around and finally left.
On his way out, he was hailed by Hagrid. After a brief conversation with the large man, Sirius mentioned his bike.
'Ah, Yer bike,' Hagrid brought a large hand to his head. 'I completely forgot abou' it. It's been lyin' in me shed all this time. I expect tha' it'd be quite rusty now.'
'I'll have someone by to pick it up soon,' Sirius said. 'If it's in a bad shape, then it would be a nice project to get it working again. Anyway, thanks, Hagrid. Cheers!'
As he approached the front gates, Sirius could not help but frown in concern. He could not help but feel that his son was hiding something from him. Something that was clearly bothering the boy.