Between extending his influence and making himself a well-known figure, managing the Potter and the Black fortunes (though he might as well call it "the Potter-Black fortune" as the two families were now fully combined), studying the locket and now finding out a way to help his son through the Tournament, the days slipped by for Sirius. Before he knew it, it was the thirteenth of November.
Looking at the date gave Sirius pause. It was five days away from the first task of the tournament. While he had been in constant contact with Harry, helping the boy as much as he could, he could not help feel that something was not right. The smiles seemed half-hearted, and the happiness in his demeanour felt forced.
Something was bothering his boy, and Sirius did not know what to do.
As if some divine being was hearing his thoughts, a handsome tawny owl flew into the room bearing a letter.
Opening the letter, Sirius perused the contents. Troubled, he set the missive aside and immediately drew a fresh piece of parchment towards him. Penning a short reply, he looked up to see the owl had left in the meantime.
Sirius swore before hanging his head in defeat. It looks like he would have to get this delivered through that demon owl. Really, he should have named the thing in the first place. "Voldemort the second" sounded like an apt name.
Harry sighed as he trudged down to the Great Hall for breakfast. His life was utterly miserable right now, and he found that he had no energy to go through the day.
He could not believe that he had thought that Fourth Year had started out on such a high note. When he had boarded the train, he was in high spirits: he had gone through a growth spurt (and was now reaching Sirius' chest), the summer's activities had seemingly paid off as he had noticed (or thought he had noticed anyway) a slight amount of definition on his otherwise smooth, flat stomach and skinny arms and legs. And to top it all off was the few hairs he had definitely noticed growing at important parts of his body (most noticeably, the five strands on his upper lip that he was really proud to show off). In other words, he was on his way to being a man.
But that did not compare to the joy he felt at having not only his friends, but a father. Sirius was the first adult to care for him like a parent should. He had taken an active interest in Harry's life and had helped in setting Harry on the right track. What was more he had actually cared enough to bring him in line whenever he screwed up. Harry did not like the punishments (he especially detested being made to sit in a corner – he could not decide if it was worse than the spanking) but he couldn't help but feel a small amount of belonging, like he mattered.
He should have known that things wouldn't last this way for long. It had started off small. Hermione had a tiff with him at the Welcoming Feast when he had repeated what Sirius had told him about house-elves and how in return for shelter and enhanced magic, they served their wizard masters. He had also tried to tell her that the elves actually wanted to help and do all that work. For some reason, he could not get through to her.
Thanks to the extra tutoring over the summer, Harry had a better understanding of how magic worked and for once, did not feel as if his brain had been wrung out on the first day. Professors McGonagall and Flitwick had actually praised him on being one of the few to get the spells right first. It had given him a warm feeling.
To top it all, Potions stopped being something Harry hated with a passion. Without the presence of Snape, the subject had become fun and easy to learn. The number of cauldrons blown up, melted or otherwise ruined by Neville had also decreased dramatically.
The teacher, a professor Slughorn, was a large and gregarious man who took delight in teaching the subject. What was more, he had also seemed to have taken a liking to Harry and Neville from the train ride itself when he had invited the two of them for lunch. While Harry found it slightly uncomfortable at first, he found himself liking the parties the man had organised.
But what really got him comfortable around Slughorn was the fact that the man had taught his parents and had a particular fondness for his mother despite, according to him, his surprise at her being Muggleborn.
Had this been said to Harry a year back, then he would not have liked the Potions teacher that much. But he had spoken to his dad about the same subject over the summer.
Sirius looked at his son thoughtfully after the subject had been raised. 'If I told you to make me a cup of tea, what would you do?' seeing the uncomprehending expression on Harry's face, he continued. 'Just humour me. I promise you it will answer your question.'
'Um,' Harry began slowly. 'Well, I would have to go down to the kitchen and get the tin of tea leaves. Then I would boil some water, put the leaves in it and –'
Sirius held up his hand. 'Watch this,' he said. Taking out his wand, he flicked it, causing the tea set to appear. With another flick, the teapot was filled with water. With a twitch, the leaves streamed out of the tin and into the pot. A tap caused steam to billow from the spout, and with a final wave, the pot floated up and poured tea into two cups, one of which was floating towards Harry.
'While I agree that blood is not indicative of power, there is still the fact that unlike the Muggleborn, Purebloods and Half Bloods will always be better at magic because we are simply good at it.' Sirius took a satisfied sip. 'Muggleborns and Muggle-raised are not brought up in magic. They are only introduced to it at a much later stage. They see it as an extra ability, like how a person can touch his nose with the tip of his tongue, or, Merlin forbid, a tool. We, who have been brought up in and around magic see it as a way of life. To us, magic is a part of our very beings. It isn't just any old ability, it is what we are. It is not easy for a person to stop thinking like a Muggle and switch over to thinking like a Magical and embracing magic as a part of yourself. Few can do it in a short time. Your mother was a good example of such a person. Despite being Muggleborn, Lily took to thinking like a witch with such quickness that by her third year, most of our peers thought that she had magical parents.'
Harry mentally conceded that Sirius had a point. But he wasn't done yet.
'Maybe if they let the Muggleborn and the Muggle-raised to perform magic over the holidays it wouldn't be so bad. The trace is quite unfair. That the Ministry knows only who performs magic only in Muggle neighbourhoods, stinks of a conspiracy to keep the Muggleborn down.' He had said, recalling what he had read from the library along with Hermione's numerous rants over the past year when she had chanced on that information in her search for an effective strategy for the now executed Buckbeak.
'What on earth gave you that idea?' Sirius replied incredulously. 'The Trace only works accurately in a Muggle neighbourhood; yes, that is true. The Ministry cannot tell if the underage person is performing magic in a magical environment giving Pureblood and Half Blood children the freedom to perform magic over the summer; again, that is a fact. But this conspiracy theory of yours is quite absurd. The main aim of the Ministry is to keep magic a secret. You have studied your history books, so you do know why we went into hiding in the first place.
'Now, the fact is that there are magical children born to Muggle parents. They are a danger unto themselves and to magical society as they cannot be expected to understand that they must not do magic in the presence of Muggles. In fact, no magical child is expected to understand not to do magic in front of Muggles or be discrete about it. Hence, we have the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery. With that, everyone under the age of seventeen is prohibited from doing magic outside school. It's a blanket ban.
'Unfortunately, the Ministry does not have the technology to precisely detect who did what magic. If it were, then trust me, crime rates would be much lower, and Voldemort probably would have been behind bars the minute he committed his first murder. So the Ministry expects parents to supervise their children and keep them in line. The only time a Pureblood or Half Blood child will be caught doing magic by the Ministry sensors is if they are in a Muggle area and away from parental supervision. Adult magic usage falls under the Statue of Secrecy and believe me, the penalties are much worse there.'
Sirius spent a moment to gather his thoughts before continuing. 'It isn't really fair on the Muggleborn and Muggle-raised children as the law is more capable of monitoring them than indulgent parents of Magic-raised children, but that's the best the government can do at this point of time. There have been advances on The Trace, but they haven't been implemented. That's because applying those charms has been decried by the public as a major invasion in privacy. And interestingly enough, a majority of those naysayers happen to be Muggleborn. I remember Lily ranting about the topic when implementing those measures was proposed. She made sure James voted against that as well.'
Harry loved such debates. He and Sirius had talked at length about various issues over drinks (Sirius with a whiskey glass of his favourite single malt, and Harry with a similar glass, but filled with butterbeer) after dinner, before Harry had to go to bed.
From these debates, Harry was apprised of the history behind many issues in the wizarding world. He got to know that it was because of their general aggressiveness towards humans and inability to control themselves when transformed that fuelled all the anti-werewolf legislation. At the same time, the attitude towards vampires was warming up because of their recent switch to drinking from blood banks and keeping voluntary donors.
Finally, Harry fully understood what it meant to be The Boy Who Lived. Sirius told him that people's fascination with him with him was partly due to him being the cause behind Voldemort vanishing, and more importantly, because he was the only person in the entire history of the curse (which was about five hundred years) who had taken an Avada Kedavra in the face and lived.
Sirius had then talked him through how to react to being stared at. Harry did not have to like it, but he had to at least put on a game face. It would be something that would come in handy both in public and in the political field the day he becomes the head of the family.
It was the little things like this that helped Harry connect with his peers and made him more sociable during Slughorn's first meeting. He had made quite a few acquaintances that night.
He had fit right into Professor Vector's Arithmancy class with minimal trouble, and the model of the galaxy that Sirius had bought for him (a heavily expensive item) had made Astronomy a breeze. Well, that, and the fact that all of Harry's stepfather's ancestors had been named after a constellation.
So not only was he on top of his studies for the first time in his magical education (a pleasant feeling for sure). But life in school was looking up.
Of course, it all went to hell the night his name came out of that thrice cursed Goblet.
The whole of Gryffindor house was ecstatic at the news that one of their own had been selected in the Tournament of the Four Champions (as people were beginning to call it). However, they were the only ones. The other three houses weren't so happy about it. The Hufflepuffs supported their own champion, the Ravenclaws had thrown their lot in with Helga's house and the less said the better about the Slytherins.
The bottom line, though, was that nobody believed that he had not put his name in. Nobody really wanted to listen to the fact that he really could not have fooled an ancient magical artefact and Dumbledore's age line.
Harry felt that it wouldn't have been so bad if it wasn't for the fact that Ron and Hermione also did not believe him. Both of them refused to talk to him (the only Gryffindors to do so). Ron had also called him a cheater outright!
The only people who believed him were his Quidditch teammates and, surprisingly enough, Neville. It was only because of the blond Gryffindor's silent support (along with the rest of the house being willing to talk to him) that Harry had managed to go through classes without snapping.
But it wasn't a complete success; especially after Malfoy and his lovely Support Cedric Diggory badges. Harry really did not care for seeing Potter Stinks flashed in front of his face in so many directions with so many laughing and jeering faces wearing those badges. He and Malfoy had actually traded spells right outside the Potions classroom.
Malfoy's had missed Harry by a hair's breadth, catching Hermione instead, while Harry's superbly aimed nonverbal Levicorpus (a feat that impressed the witnesses) had hit the blond git square in the face, hoisting him upside by his ankles, and showing the whole world that he did not believe in wearing underpants under his robes.
The collective had started laughing at the scene. While the Slytherins were divided as to whether to laugh at Malfoy's surprisingly hairless bits or Hermione's large front teeth, the Gryffindors had no such problem. They had unanimously decided that Malfoy's situation was the funniest.
And that was when Professor Slughorn had stepped in.
Knowing by now that their new Head of House would not favour them like Snape had, the Slytherins had been quick to hide the evidence from the teacher. So in the end, while suspicious, Slughorn let the incident slide without comment. He instead had focussed on the two duelling boys.
While Harry had received a detention, he wasn't too unhappy about it. He had managed to get his side of the story heard, thereby landing Malfoy in detention too. Besides, he had managed to embarrass the blond thoroughly. The detention itself had also been quite light.
However, by the end of the day, the badges were all over the place. The students were quick at keeping the alternative message of the badges out of the teachers' eyes, only stopping to show them to Harry.
Despite being urged to grass about the badges, Harry did not say anything. He did not want Malfoy to have the satisfaction that he had succeeded in getting to him.
The continued stress was beginning to wear on him, though. His marks were slowly dropping and he also found himself being reprimanded twice by two different teachers for not paying attention.
What really hurt was the smug look he had spied on Hermione's face when McGonagall was chewing him out.
The media hadn't helped matters either. After the Wand Weighing Ceremony, the article published by one of the Daily Prophet's reporters (a disturbingly artificial looking woman by the name of Rita Skeeter) had only given his schoolmates more ammunition to use against him.
To top it all off was Sirius. His stepfather had not said anything outright, but Harry had the feeling, in the few mirror conversations he had, that the man clearly suspected something and was waiting for Harry to come out and say it. He dreaded the next mirror call for he knew that it would be a matter of time before Sirius read the article. He seriously hoped that none of the teachers had written to the man about his performance in the school. That would result in significant discomfort.
Harry slumped down at the Gryffindor table next to Neville and half-heartedly filled his plate.
'So, what do you plan to do in Hogsmeade?' Neville asked.
Harry paused. He had forgotten that this was the first Hogsmeade weekend.
'I dunno,' he finally said listlessly. 'I'll probably go to the library.'
He had not forgotten the Tournament. Normally he would have felt a cold wave of dread in his stomach at the prospect of facing the unknown in front of so many people. But with everything happening around him and to him, Harry found he really did not have much energy to spare thinking about the first task.
He still had to decide whether it was a good thing or not.
While he put forth the effort to learn as much as he could, he knew that he was up against those who were three to four years older than him. It was quite hopeless really. He couldn't help but feel sorry for himself. If only he had listened to Sirius the first time and gone to Beauxbatons...
'I think you should come.'
Harry was jerked out of his internal monologue by the forceful tone in Neville's voice. He had not heard his friend speak so confidently before.
'I – I mean that you could use some time to relax and unwind.' Neville stammered. 'You're pretty overworked as it is.'
Harry looked at him for a long moment. 'Fine,' he shrugged. It would be nice to get away from it all for a while.
'I'm taking my Invisibility Cloak, though.'
Neville lifted a shoulder in a half shrug, 'Fine by me.'
The two of them set off towards the village. Harry never felt so free in his life. For the first time in days, nobody was looking or pointing at him or making snide comments behind his back.
After a bit of browsing and window shopping, the two headed towards the Three Broomsticks.
'You know, it's a bit crowded in here,' as far as the rest of the world was concerned, Neville looked as if he was speaking to himself. 'I know, let's use one of the private rooms upstairs.' Not giving Harry a chance to respond, he took off.
Wondering what this was all about, Harry followed his friend. He was sure that they would need to talk to Madam Rosmerta first. Neville, it seemed, was not of the same opinion as he weaved through the crowded room and up the stairs.
Seeing that they were alone, Harry removed the cloak. 'Don't we –' his question died in his lips as Neville pushed open a door to reveal his father sitting there.
'Harry, Neville! Come in, come in.' Sirius said, standing up and ushering the two of them inside.
'You boys want anything to eat or drink?' he asked sociably.
'Um, I just remembered something,' Neville said suddenly. 'I'll catch you later, Harry!'
With a quick wave, the blond left the room, leaving his brunette friend sputtering behind him.
'Sit down, Harry,' Sirius said, calling his son's attention to him.
Reluctantly, Harry sat down. They spent lunch in silence, occasionally talking about inconsequential things.
'Now,' said Sirius once they were finished. 'What's been bothering you?'
'Why don't you ask Neville?' Harry replied scathingly. As they had been eating, he had become angrier and angrier at Neville's and Sirius' interference. 'He probably has told you everything.'
Sirius very nearly rolled his eyes at this. 'For your information,' he said in a mild tone which no less had a subtle hint of a warning to it. 'Neville hasn't told me anything. He just mentioned that you were stressed and that he was quite worried about you. Oh, and he also told me that the rest of the school wasn't too happy about you being selected as the champion.' He added at the end. 'He wasn't willing to tell me the specifics when I asked. So, I told him to get you here.'
Harry was taken off guard at this revelation. 'Oh,' he said, still sullen.
After a long moment of seeing his son stare at the table, Sirius exhaled softly and with a wave of his wand, he gently floated Harry's chair next to him. Gently putting an arm around the boy, Sirius gently encouraged Harry to speak up. 'Come on, kid. Something is clearly bothering you. Don't keep it inside. I can help. Both Neville and I want to help. We care deeply about you, Harry and it hurts us to see you so upset.'
Hearing the softly spoken words, Harry's eyes involuntarily started tearing up. Before he knew it, he was on his father's lap, encircled in his arms as he clung onto the man and spoke of what he had gone through the past few weeks in between sniffles and hiccupping sobs. Once he was done with that, he continued on, talking about how he thought that he would end up dead, last or dead last in the Tournament and was afraid of how disappointed Sirius would be with him once that happened.
Sirius silently listened, rocking the boy back and forth as his son told him everything. He was furious at what Harry had to go through. The badges were clearly a case of bullying, and the teachers hadn't done anything to stop it.
At least he had taken care of the Daily Prophet. After reading that article, a furious Sirius had proceeded to show the editor of the paper just where the word "Blackmail" had originated from. Needless to say, he was positive that the paper would not be writing anything about his son or him without his consent.
Just to be safe, he was having the reporter in question tailed. A woman like that was bound to have some skeletons in her closet. He hoped, for her sake, that she was useful. Otherwise, he might just destroy her.
Sirius looked down at the top of Harry's head. The boy had quietened now. Soon enough, he began to stir. Sirius let go of the hold he had on the teenager who shuffled back to his chair, not meeting his eyes. Sirius knew that Harry was embarrassed over the breakdown he had.
Harry was startled when his father only gave him a handkerchief without comment and getting up, looked out of the window, giving him some small measure of privacy to compose himself. He was mortified that he had broken down like that. He was fourteen for Merlin's sake! And yet he had acted like a four year old with a skinned knee that needed babying.
Not that he minded it (and even the Cruciatus Curse would not get him to admit that bit). He was quite grateful that Sirius had not said anything.
Once Sirius felt that enough time had passed, he turned around, and stepped towards his son, engulfing him in a reassuring hug.
Stepping away from him, he grasped Harry's shoulders and met him in the eye, once again marvelling at how fast the boy had grown. 'Hey,' he said softly 'Let me make one thing clear, Harry. Nothing would make me prouder to see you come out on top in this Tournament. But, at the same time, I won't be disappointed should you fail. Even if you come in dead last, with negative points, I still wouldn't be disappointed or cross with you. All that matters to me is that you put up a good enough effort. Without getting yourself killed, of course.' He added at the last moment. 'Or grievously injured because you did not quit while you were ahead. Now that would definitely make me very angry and disappointed. So, as long as you don't get yourself killed or maimed, we're good, yeah?' he winked.
Harry couldn't help but give a small smile in return at the last sentence.
'As for the rest of the school ... well, I would tell you to ignore them for the most part because they don't matter, but I have a feeling that you won't really appreciate that kind of advice. It definitely isn't easy to ignore all that when it constantly grates on your nerves. So I will tell you that yes, things are not good right now. But just hold on a bit longer, and they will improve. At least you have one good friend.'
Harry looked at his father sourly. 'You and Neville set me up.' He said accusingly.
'Yes, we did,' Sirius replied unapologetically. 'And that's because we care about you. So lose the grumpy face.'
Looking at his father, Harry realised that he really wasn't angry at Neville or Sirius. He couldn't be.
It still irritated him though. With a huff, he looked away, muttering under his breath as he shoved his hands into his pockets.
Sirius rolled his eyes in amusement. 'Once they see what you are up against after the first task, it will be as if the past few weeks never happened.' He said.
'That's if I manage to do well in it,' Harry muttered.
Sirius stretched his lips in a half-smile. 'Don't worry about that.' He looked at his watch. 'Come on, we'll talk on our way to the school.'
Ushering him towards the door, Sirius spoke softly into Harry's ear, his breath tickling the fine, colourless and almost invisible hairs on the pinna. 'Now, back straight, and chin up, son. Remember, you are Harry James Alphard Potter-Black, the last of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Potter and the heir and scion of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black. The world is at your feet.'
A pleased smile graced Sirius's lips when he saw Harry squaring his shoulders and straightening his back.
The duo looked quite impressive as they headed down High Street. Harry absently noticed that while everyone was looking at him, nobody said anything. Bolstered by his father's presence, he put on an aloof expression as he looked straight ahead.
Neville was up in the dorm when Harry came inside.
'Hey, Harry,' he greeted.
'Neville,' Harry eyed the blond for a long moment. 'You are a git,' saying that, he thrust a box into the other boy's hands.
'Chocolate truffles,' he explained, 'Specially made by Mr Flume.'
'Thanks,' Neville said. He really did like those. Picking up one, he popped it into his mouth. He wondered why Harry was looking at him like that. He didn't have to wonder long.
Harry smirked when Neville started coughing when his tongue encountered the spicy centre of the truffle. 'You're still a git, Longbottom.' Smiling openly now, he continued. 'The rest of the truffles aren't spicy, by the way.'
Neville glared half-heartedly at the other boy. It wasn't that bad a prank. After all, he did sort of enjoy the flavour now that he had overcome the shock.
'So what happened with Sirius?' he asked Harry.
'Oh,' Harry said sobering up. Taking a deep breath he continued. 'He is planning on having me enrolled in Town House.'
Neville did a double-take. 'Really?'
Harry only nodded.
'Oh,' Neville looked mildly saddened by the news.
'So, when will that happen?'
Harry shrugged, 'Dunno. It depends on how the discussion with Dumbledore goes. Though I hope I end up there.'
'Yeah, cause the alternative is my dad being sent to prison for murdering Dumbledore.'
Neville winced. 'He was that angry, huh?'
Harry nodded empathically. 'He looked right hacked off when we parted. He wasn't exactly what you would call "happy" by those badges.'
'I can imagine.'
Silently fuming, Sirius swept through the hallways towards the headmaster's office. His countenance was such that it sent any student in his path scurrying away.
He was met by Professor McGonagall at the entrance.
'Sirius,' the stern woman greeted with a crisp nod. 'I got your Patronus message about a meeting?'
'Indeed,' Sirius replied. With a sweep of his arm, he said, 'After you, Professor.'
McGonagall turned and gave the password to the gargoyle guarding the headmaster's office. Sirius followed his old Transfiguration teacher, a step behind her.
They rode up the moving staircase in silence.
Once they reached the top, Professor McGonagall knocked on the door. Upon being bid to enter, she opened the door and stepped inside, followed by Sirius.
'Ah, Lord Black,' Dumbledore said neutrally. 'To what do I owe this pleasure?'
In reply, Sirius extricated a badge from his pocket and tossed it on the headmaster's table. 'Why has this been allowed?'
Dumbledore looked at the phrase on the badge. 'I do not see the problem here. Students are allowed, even encouraged, to express their views. If they want to show support for one of our champions, then there is little we can do to stop them.'
Sirius only sneered in response. 'I see, and they are also allowed to show this message as well?' saying so, he pressed the badge, showing the alternative message.
'I will be the first one to admit that I support the idea of free expression, headmaster, but at the same time there should be a limit as to what is allowed. This is clearly done with malicious intent and designed to hurt an individual, namely my son. What is more, these badges have been in circulation for the past week. I find it highly suspicious that the teachers and the prefects have not noticed anything until now, when I managed to obtain evidence a few minutes after I stepped into the castle.'
Both teachers looked at the badge with heavy frowns on their faces. 'This is horrible,' Professor McGonagall exclaimed finally. 'Who could do such a thing?'
'Oh, I believe that it was Draco Malfoy, from what I heard,' Sirius replied succinctly. 'I trust that he shall be disciplined immediately?'
'I am afraid,' Dumbledore said slowly. 'That there is simply nothing we can do as we have no proof of Mr Malfoy's involvement with this ... incident.'
'Evidence, Dumbledore?' Sirius had a look of incredulity on his face. 'Did I hear right? It's quite interesting that you are looking at evidence now. I mean, a lack of evidence did not stop you before ...'
Dumbledore heaved a deep sigh as he rubbed his temples tiredly. 'Must we come to this topic again and again, Sirius? Yes, we incarcerated you without giving you a trial. But at the same time, we did have evidence. What the eyewitnesses had to say was quite damming. As was the fact that you, James and Lily had me believe that you were the Secret Keeper, not Peter.'
'"Eyewitness statements"?' Sirius asked sceptically. 'What eyewitness statements? You wouldn't possibly be talking about the Muggles that were there in the vicinity, would you?'
'And what if they are Muggles, Sirius?' Dumbledore asked mildly. 'Do you have a problem with them?'
'No, I have no problem. It's just that ... well, how can you count on their testimonies when they do not know what they are talking about or have seen? While what they saw and what they said is good for consideration, surely it cannot be the only piece of evidence. Any Auror will tell you that eyewitness statements from Muggles are circumstantial at best. They do not know what they see, and they can get things wrong. Had it been a witch or wizard, they would have known that I had cast a shield spell, and not some deadly curse.'
'And if you had given me a fair trial, or even asked me outright, you would have known that the Will left behind by James and Lily would have been enough proof! It was a legal document, signed by both the Potters with a statement that clearly pointed out that I was not the Secret Keeper.' Sirius scowled at the headmaster. 'Imbecile,' he muttered under his breath.
Dumbledore's eyes flashed as Professor McGonagall gasped out loud at the blatant insult. 'Be that as it may, it is not going to change the fact that I am not going to take any action against Mr Malfoy.' The headmaster said coolly. 'Finally, I think you know very well that I do look at evidence. After all, it was a lack of evidence on Severus' part that ensured that you were not expelled immediately for leading him to a fully-fledged werewolf.'
Dumbledore's remark seemed to make the room colder as Sirius stared at the old man with an inscrutable expression, his eyebrows raised. 'I see,' he said. 'So, that is why you put me in Azkaban without a trial and made Harry suffer for so long! It was vengeance because you couldn't expel me or James from school, was it?' Sirius laughed darkly. 'Snape was the one snooping around. I did not tell him to go into the passageway. I only told him how to access it. Any enterprising student who asked the right questions and read the right books would have been able to do the same thing. He was the one who decided to enter the passageway. I told you that then, and I tell you the same thing now. But the fact that you would actually take that incident out on an innocent fourteen year old is ... quite petty of you.'
'I don't want to hear it,' Sirius said holding up his hand when Dumbledore opened his mouth to reply. 'Whatever you have to say, I really have no desire hearing. Clearly Harry and I are out on our own. Thankfully, I have taken my rightful place as a member of the Board of Governors. After Malfoy was evicted, the Black seat was quite empty –'
At that moment, Sirius was interrupted by a knocking on the door.
'Enter,' Dumbledore called out.
The door opened to let Horace Slughorn inside. 'Sorry I'm late,' the corpulent man said, huffing slightly. 'I had a something that needed my attention at the very last moment. Anyway, Sirius, I received your Patronus message about a meeting. I'm afraid that I will have to postpone that. My meeting with the headmaster is quite delayed as it is.'
'Oh, it's no problem, Horace,' Sirius said affably. 'I just wanted to drop by for a bit of a chat. Also, I wanted to enrol my son into Town House, which I believe you are the new head of.'
'Town House,' Dumbledore repeated with tones of mild curiosity in his voice. Those who had experience with him knew that the man was incredibly surprised.
'Yes, Town House,' Sirius turned to the headmaster. 'You know … the unofficial fifth house of Hogwarts? Surely you remember that one. Granted, that the house isn't a house per se, and is general Hogwarts-slang used to refer to dayboys and while a person might be "in Town House", he or she is still a Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw or Slytherin. They just go home after evening prep, unlike the boarders.' Sirius gave Dumbledore a condescending look. 'I am surprised you don't know about that one. I mean, five of your students are in Town House, after all.'
Professor Dumbledore only smiled blandly. 'Yes, well, I also do recall that an important qualification of being eligible for Town House is that you should be living in Hogsmeade. From what I know, the Blacks do not have a house there. And since Hogsmeade is a Magical World Heritage Site, construction of new buildings is forbidden, meaning that the only way you can get a house in the village is if an existing house were to fall vacant. And, considering the history and significance of the settlement, something like that only will happen if an entire family dies out or someone becomes so destitute that he is willing to sell his house. As of yesterday, Hogsmeade's population hasn't changed.'
Sirius' smile did not falter. 'True, headmaster, but you also forget something else. I come from a very old and very wealthy family. We have been around much before Hogsmeade was declared as a World Heritage Site. So it stands to reason that we would have a house there. And let's not forget about the Potters. They too have a property in the village. They haven't sold it as the prices are quite astronomical as to be nearly priceless.
'Now both these families, like many other old pureblood families, have put these properties up on rent. And it so happens that the contract of the tenant of the Potter property has long expired. In fact,' he fished out a document from his pocket. 'The contract was to have been renewed by the Head of the Potter family, or his guardian, two years back. I believe that guardian was you.' Sirius smiled pleasantly at the old man. 'And you really haven't done that, now have you? So it looks like Mr Diggle and his family is going to have to find a new place. They have certainly overstayed their welcome.'
Seeing Dumbledore's eyes widen fractionally, Sirius continued. 'Ah! So you knew! And judging by that expression, Diggle went running to you and you obviously tried to change my mind. I guess I missed that letter ... shame.' He stroked his chin thoughtfully. 'Or did I burn it after reading its contents thereby ejecting the memory of reading that letter from my mind? Eh, whatever,' he shrugged.
'So it looks like I do have a house in Hogsmeade.' Turning to Professor Slughorn, he continued. 'I trust that the paperwork will be ready by Tuesday?' Getting a nod from the Potions master, he clapped his hands and stood up. 'Excellent, well, I must be going. Have tenants to evict and a house to renovate.'
'Sirius, you can't do this –'
'You will find that I can, Dumbledore,' Sirius replied coolly. 'That contract was to have been renewed, it did not happen. End of story. I did the gentlemanly thing and gave them two weeks' notice. It's not my problem that they haven't moved. Now, not only will I forcibly evict them, I will ensure that I collect the unpaid rent from the last two years in full as well. And I am going to slap them with a fine too.' He smiled chillingly. 'You were planning on wresting that property from Harry's possession and just giving it to them weren't you? You sicken me, Dumbledore.'
'Anyway,' he nodded to Professors Slughorn and McGonagall. 'Sir, Ma'am, it's always a pleasure to talk to you. Albus,' he sneered at the headmaster. 'Unfortunately, I can't say the same for you. Goodbye.'
Turning around, Sirius swept towards the door. Opening it, he turned to Professor Slughorn. 'Oh, and Horace,' he said pleasantly. 'I have it on good authority that one of your students needs watching over as he is something of a troublemaker. Make sure that Lucius Malfoy's spawn toes the line, will you? I would hate to have to step in otherwise.'
Getting a nod from the man, Sirius turned around and exited the office.
Minerva waited till Albus had finished with Horace before speaking up, her eyes accusing. 'Did you really try and swindle Harry?'
With a supreme act of will, Dumbledore repressed a sigh. 'No, Minerva,' he said heavily. 'I genuinely forgot about it. Truth be told, I haven't had much time for managing the Potter estate, which is why I left it to the goblins. Also, I never did have much of a head for accounts or money. I did not know who to trust to oversee the fortune, and frankly between the school, the Wizengamot and the International Council of Wizards not to mention counselling our Minister daily, I really have no free time. What little free time I do have is spent trying to find out what Tom is up to and where he is. You can appreciate that some other things, while no less important, will be put on the wayside.'
Minerva could see the point the headmaster had made. 'Then why did you stay silent when Sirius accused you?'
His voice becoming sombre, Dumbledore said, 'Sirius has not forgiven me for what happened to him twelve years ago. He is, justifiably, angry at me, Millicent and Barty for the injustice done to him. As it is, he can only see the worst in my actions. He will not listen to anything I have to say now. I think him summarily ignoring my letter proved that.' he ended with a bitter smile. 'I have committed too many wrongs on the boy for him to forgive me. At least at this moment, I do have some hope for the future.'
Minerva looked troubled by this. 'Well,' she said after a few moments, regaining her brisk voice. 'The least we can do right now is right this one wrong.' She tapped the badge in front of him.
Dumbledore's face darkened as he picked up the badge. 'If this wasn't so malicious, I would actually be impressed at the Charm Work that went into it. However, I digress,' his voice dropped to frigid levels as he uttered his next few words. 'Call for a school assembly, Minerva. I think an hour before dinner is to commence would be apt. Attendance will be mandatory, and the uniform compulsory. We will put an end to this.'
Minerva had rarely seen the headmaster so angry before, so it always chilled her to the bone when it happened. The man was rarely, if ever, furious. Even Potter and Weasley's stunt in their second year hadn't been enough to get him this livid. She knew that if she were in his shoes at that time, both the boys would be feeling the cane for not only breaking the law by exposing magic to so many Muggles across the country, but for also risking their fool necks in a such a hare-brained stunt instead of using their heads. Flying a car to school, honestly!
Shaking her head, she got up. 'What about the foreigners, Albus?'
'I will take care of them, Minerva.' Dumbledore replied steadily. 'You just see to the announcement. There isn't much time as it is.'
Watching his deputy leave the office, Albus sagged against his chair. Sirius had proven to be quite a thorn in his side. The embittered man had stirred up the political world. His opponents, both domestic and international, were buzzing like angry hornets. He still remembered the remark his main opponent had made in the annual I.C.W. meeting.
'... I have to wonder about the kind of country Britain is,' said the Italian ambassador, Biaggio Ghirlandaio as he looked directly at Albus. 'If the representatives of her society are so corrupt and amoral that they would lock a man in prison for twelve years without giving him a trial... And they accuse other nations of not following basic human rights.'
While he had been shot down quite easily, the damage was already done. Albus could hear the hushed whispers in the background calling his character into question. The last time this had happened was when he was in school and people were talking about his father. Albus was surprised to note that time and age had not lessened or changed his feelings towards the situation.
It was only because plans had already been made and not possible to change without incurring huge costs that the Triwizard Tournament and the Quidditch World Cup had happened in Britain. There were quite a few international protests calling for the boycott of the World Cup. Had it been England playing in the finals, Albus was sure that the turnout would have been much lower.
Of the three of them, Albus was the least affected. Barty himself was desperately clinging onto his post, working day and night.
Millicent had been hit the hardest. Her reputation had been soundly destroyed, thanks mainly to Sirius Black. The Black Family had enough dirt on her to seriously damage her character. Amelia's people were already all over the former minister, sniffing out anything they could find while the poor woman's entire fortune was slowly but steadily being taken away from her battling Sirius who had accused her of every single crime against him that his legal team could pin on her. Albus suspected that Barty would have the full attention of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and consequently Sirius and his team of well-paid lawyers as soon as the Tournament ended.
He had a lot of time to try and make amends with the man. While Albus seriously doubted that Sirius would be able to do much damage to his reputation (if he could survive Orion Black and Arcturus Black III, then he could survive Sirius Black III) he still wanted the man to let go of his anger. Albus knew that it would be only a matter of time before Voldemort rose again and the wizarding world would need to be united against him and his Death Eaters and dark forces. And Sirius, with his position as head of the Black family would be valuable.
Besides that, there was the more important fact that Albus also wanted to see Sirius at peace. He still remembered the fresh-faced happy schoolboy years before. He owed it to the Potters at the least to see to it that their son's close friend finally found some peace with himself.
But that was much later. Right now, he had two separate headmasters to talk to.
The students of Hogwarts filed into the Great Hall wondering what was going on. All the tables with the exception of the teachers' table had been shifted to one side leaving an open space for them to stand, sorted by year and house.
They spent a few moments speaking in hushed whispers, not daring to speak louder than normal as the Heads of Houses were looking over them with grim expressions on their faces. Professor McGonagall herself had a rather fierce scowl on her face. But that was nothing compared to the look Professors Sprout and Flitwick were sporting. Perhaps it was the novelty of seeing such expressions on the normally easy-going instructors, but every student there thought that, for once, the strict Head of Gryffindor House looked quite collected compared to the Heads of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff.
The sombre expression on Professor Slughorn, unusual on his normal jovial face, went without comment as he was new enough to the students. Besides, everybody was used to Snape, so it was easy to think of a scowling Head of Slytherin House.
Those observations went out of the window when the door of the staff entrance to the Great Hall opened and the headmaster strode in.
'Professor Dumbledore does not look happy,' Fred Weasley commented to his fellow Sixth-Year housemates.
'That is an understatement,' breathed Angelina. 'Did the two of you do something?' she accused, glancing at them suspiciously.
'Heavens, no!' George replied scandalised.
'We would never!' Fred said in a low voice.
'Not after the warning he gave us after our attempt to enter our names in.'
'Too right, George.'
'Wait, warning? What warning?'
'Well, the old beak came to the hospital wing when Madam Pomfrey was getting rid of our beards,' George said lowly, his eyes fixed straight ahead where Dumbledore was softly conversing with Professors Flitwick and Sprout as McGonagall was glaring balefully at the students, almost daring one of them to garner her attention.
'And he told us "While I find your usual antics amusing, I must request you gentlemen to cease these activities for the rest of the year."' Fred continued, doing a passable imitation of Dumbledore's voice.
'"Now, mind you, this is a request, not an order. But do consider who is making this request."' George's imitation was far better than his twin's. 'And then he looked at us in that way, if you know what I mean, and left.'
'Suffice to say, George and I aren't willing to ignore his request.' Fred concluded.
Whatever Angelina was about to say in response was cut off when Professor Dumbledore straightened and looked over at the assembled students.
'As you all know, the Goblet of Fire chose four champions for the Triwizard Tournament, an unusual occurrence to be sure.' He began in a deceptively mild voice. 'Pursuant to this, Professors Karkaroff, Maxime and I have jointly investigated the Goblet and have found evidence of tampering. Tampering that,' he gave them a particularly steely look, 'requires skill and expertise that can only be gained from years of intense study after school. In short, ladies and gentlemen, no student of any of the three schools could have done this. Further investigations made by the Auror department and the Dee Em El Ee have only corroborated this fact while ruling out all of the suspects, both usual and otherwise.
'In conclusion, Mr Potter has not entered his name into the Goblet, and has also not consented to the entering of his name either. Unfortunately, however, he still has to compete as whomsoever has done this tampering has also made sure that the Goblet recognises Mr Potter's name as a legitimate entry, meaning that he has no choice but to compete.'
Dumbledore paused to look at every assembled student, his blue eyes burning.
'Now I admit that it was an oversight on mine and the staff's part in not sharing this information with you, and I can appreciate, in hindsight, the feelings of betrayal and anger most of you must be feeling for whatever reasons. However, it does not excuse this sort of behaviour!'
The whole hall collectively flinched as the headmaster's voice echoed throughout the room as he let his true feelings be shown at the badges that he had spotted on some of the students.
Quick as a whip, he had his wand drawn and pointed at the crowd so fast that it took all those assembled a moment to realise that he held a wand. The sound of ripping cloth was soon heard as each and every single badge was summoned onto the table behind the headmaster.
Indignant cries from those who had their front pockets unceremoniously torn were quelled when the affected students saw the face of the headmaster.
With a furious expression, Dumbledore flicked his wand again, causing one of the badges to float off the table and stand next to him where it expanded till it was the size of a kite shield, the words Potter Stinks plainly visible to those who were standing all the way at the back.
'This,' he rumbled. 'Is the most vile and despicable acts of bullying I have ever seen in my years as headmaster. You all should be ashamed of yourselves for this!' he looked at them for a long moment before saying in a low voice that still carried to the back, 'All of those who were wearing these badges, step forward, now! And don't think to hide; I can clearly see the ripped pockets and your Heads of Houses have been also closely observing you. And don't try repairing them either.'
There was muted commotion as some of the guilty students shuffled forward. The others had to be weeded out by the teachers who were quick to call them out.
Dumbledore fixed them all with a gaze not unlike the one on Professor McGonagall's face. 'I am seriously disappointed in the lot of you. While I have no problem with you declaring your support for one of your champions, I do not approve targeting another student in such a manner. It is unbecoming of a student of Hogwarts, and even more so from one of our prefects.' He said with a glance at the lone prefect (a seventh-year from Slytherin house) standing there.
'Now considering the oversight on our part,' Dumbledore said after a long pause. 'We have decided that the punishment for this shall be lessened.' Pausing, he surveyed them with a look of extreme disappointment on his face.
'You will all lose fifty house points each.' He finally pronounced.
As one the students gasped. Those who could add quickly in their heads told their friends what this meant. Slytherin would be hit the hardest with a two hundred and fifty point loss with Hufflepuff a close second at two hundred. Ravenclaw had also taken significant damage, though had escaped relatively unscathed with only fifty points being taken away. Gryffindor was the only one to have been left alone.
With Quidditch gone for the year, it would be quite hard, almost impossible, for Slytherin and Hufflepuff to catch up to or beat Gryffindor and Ravenclaw.
'As for the rest of you,' the headmaster looked up at the crowd. 'If you have one of these badges, then I request you to turn them over to your head of house. There will be no repercussions. You have until Monday to comply. Anyone found with these badges after that day will be dealt with harshly. Of course, that will be nothing compared to what will happen to the person who made these badges, once they are discovered.' His eyes swept over the crowd one last time. 'You lot, stay here,' he said to the students standing in front of him. 'As for the rest of you, you are dismissed. Dinner will be served in half an hour.'
As the students started to move out, Dumbledore spoke up once again. 'Prefects, stay behind.'
The next day, the rest of Hogwarts found out that Slytherin had suffered the additional loss of one of their prefects. Dumbledore had been quick to dismiss the Slytherin seventh year. The other prefects also looked visibly chastened. Most of them had started taking to their duties with a renewed zeal.