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Chapter 74 : Part Of The Family
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He’d arrived early – seven o’clock was the scheduled start time – but not early enough that he was the first one there; Mrs Phelps was there, still wearing the floral blouse, cardigan and long skirt he’d seen her in when he dropped Harry off that morning, and Mr Benson was in his usual suit and tie, talking to her. Several parents – who obviously knew each other – had already seated themselves at tables and were deep in conversation.
Sirius, who was a new ‘parent’ with the school, and wasn’t involved in any of the parent associations, knew no one except the teacher and Mr Benson, and was feeling a little more out of his depth than he’d expected. He wasn’t sure how to go about this; was he supposed to introduce himself, or was he supposed to just sit down and wait for Mrs Phelps to start telling him about Harry’s progress?
He found himself thinking he should have dragged Remus along; he had offered, but Remus had been a bit funny about it, saying it wasn’t his place as much as it was Sirius’, godmother or not. Sirius had told him he was more than welcome, but Remus had opted to stay at home with Harry, and try to help him with his Animagus project; Harry’d thought of something for his incantation on Halloween, and Remus was helping him to word it, like he had helped Sirius, James and Peter a lifetime ago.
Good old articulate Moony, Sirius thought, and then glanced around again, and grumbled to himself under his breath. I should have brought him tonight – he’s Harry’s godmother, for Merlin’s sake. He has every right to be here. He looked at the other parents who were, predictably there as couples; some were holding hands, or seated very close together, others just smelled the same – as if they’d shared a car to get there – or were exchanging those coupl-y looks. Sirius felt a little lonely, because of that, and also because he was probably a good five or ten years younger than most of them.
I should definitely have brought Moony, if only so I had someone to talk to... Or, in an ideal world, I wouldn’t be here. It’d be Lils and Prongs. For the thousandth time, he couldn’t help but think the pair of them would have loved something like this. Or maybe it was just that they’d never had the chance to experience things like this that made Sirius think they would.
“Excuse us,” someone said behind him, and Sirius realised he was blocking the door. He muttered an apology as a tall woman wearing a string of pearls, and a short, balding man squeezed past him. Sirius followed their examples and collected a badge from the desk closest to the door; the badge said Patrick Evans, and had a line of four animal prints on it; there were three pawprints (two large, one quite a bit smaller) and a hoof print. Sirius knew then that the kids must have designed the badges in art, or just in their free time.
He smiled as he put it on, and genuinely thought his badge had a better design than those with just flowers, or stars.
He’s a good kid, he thought, still smiling, and followed Harry’s scent to the other side of the classroom, where there was a cluster of desks and too-small chairs that he gingerly eased himself into. In the middle were four pieces of paper – questionnaires, for the parent-teacher night, by the looks of it, and pencils. Harry’s desk had a label saying Harry Evans and had been coloured in with red and yellow stripes. There was also a passable sketch of a lion, and Sirius spent a moment wondering – since it had been a while since he considered it – which House his godson would end up in.
He hadn’t really reached a conclusion before Mr Benson sat down opposite him. His nametag had a picture of a book on it, as did the label that announced it was Blaise’s desk.
“Patrick,” Mr Benson said. “How are you?”
“Hi, erm, yeah, good thanks,” Sirius said, offering him a smile back.
“Oh, fine,” Mr Benson replied. “Busy, what with the holidays just ending, but no complaints... Harry’s settled back in again?”
“Yeah, no problems. And Blaise?”
“Loves it,” Mr Benson said, looking amused. Sirius nodded, not really sure what to say; he thought he’d have better luck holding a conversation with Blaise than with Blaise’s father; Blaise, at least, he knew a bit about. “So, er, who’s your team?” Sirius had to swallow the automatic response of ‘Cannons’, and ended up making an odd choking noise.
“Sorry?” he asked.
“Your team? In football?” Mr Benson said.
“Oh,” Sirius said. He knew football was some sort of muggle sport – probably involving feet and a ball of some sort... or at least he assumed as much, going by the usual standard of creativity muggles used when they named things. He didn’t know anything more about it than that, though. “Erm... London?” It was a question, but Mr Benson didn’t seem to notice.
“Ah, Arsenal?” He smiled. “They’re doing well this year... might even win.” Sirius blinked, confused, but knew better than to say anything. “I’m a Liverpool supporter, myself-” He patted a little red badge on his jacket, above his nametag. “-and I’m sort of hoping we’ll win, but time will tell.”
“Yeah, erm, Liverpool’s also... erm good,” Sirius said. Mr Benson beamed.
“And Harry? Does he follow Arsenal as well?”
“Erm... sort of,” Sirius said. “I s’pose, yeah.”
“Maybe we should get the boys together for the finals, watch the game, and have a bit of a play ourselves?” Mr Benson said, with an expression that was part cautious, part eager. Sirius recognised it; it was one that he’d worn when he and Arthur discussed bringing the kids into the Ministry to see each other. Sirius found himself nodding. “Bit of friendly competition, hmm?”
“Sure,” Sirius said, not entirely sure what he was agreeing to. Thankfully, before Mr Benson could say any more about football and Sirius had to pretend he was a muggle, another couple arrived. The husband pulled the seat out for his wife and then went to collect his own chair from the front.
“Ah, Pauline,” Mr Benson said, giving the woman a polite smile, though not as enthusiastic as the one he’d given Sirius.
“Mr Benson,” the woman replied. She had a very long, sharp nose, thin lips that were painted red, but kind brown eyes and short, flyaway brown hair. “How are you?”
“Good, thank you,” Mr Benson replied. “David.” The man carrying a chair had a nametag that declared him David Granger. He was a short man; taller than his wife, and a bit stockier, but probably a head shorter than Sirius, and had a very white smile, curly brown hair and green eyes.
Sirius eyed their nametags again; both Grangers had had ‘Dr’ added, and that the tags had been coloured (green and purple, respectively) instead of drawn on.
“Hello, Emanuel,” Mr Granger said, and then spotted Sirius and said a hello to him as well.
“You must be Harry’s father,” Mrs Granger said. Sirius nodded.
“And Mr and Mrs Granger... You’re Hermione’s family?”
“Dr and Dr Granger,” Mrs – Dr – Granger said, almost sternly. “But you’ve got the rest right.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” Sirius said, a little uncertain now.
“You too,” Dr Granger – the male one – said. “Your son’s been a good friend to our Hermione this year. She’s always had a bit of trouble making friends,” he added, in an undertone. His wife sighed.
“She’s been a good friend to Harry too,” Sirius said.
“And Blaise, of course,” Dr Granger – the female – added. “She spends quite a bit of time talking about the both of them.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Mr Benson said, with a smile that was more genuine this time. “She’s very bright, isn’t she?” Dr and Dr Granger exchanged a look that was half proud, half helpless.
“Very,” the female Dr Granger said after a moment. “Sometimes too bright, I think.”
“Where are you sending her next year?” Mr Benson asked. The Grangers exchanged another look.
“We’ve had a few offers,” the male Dr Granger said, holding his wife’s eyes. “All to very good schools... very... erm... prestigious schools.”
“You must be proud,” Sirius said, feeling like he ought to contribute to the conversation a bit. Yet another look passed between the couple beside him.
“Yes, we’re proud,” the female Dr Granger said at last. She smelled uncertain. “We’ve left the choice up to Hermione, of course, but it’s not really a choice; she’s had her mind made up since her birthday.” The male Dr Granger nodded. “And we- well, we’ll support her in that.”
“Right,” Sirius said.
“What about Harry, and Blaise?”
“Harry’s off to boarding school – the same one I went to as a boy,” Sirius said, letting a bit more pride seep into his voice, since he thought that was probably what was expected at this sort of parent-teacher thing. “He’s excited, I think, but I’ll miss him.”
“It’s just the two of you, then?” Dr Granger asked sympathetically.
“Nah, we’ve got our housekeeper, and my brother’s over a lot too.” Sirius swore that if the Grangers exchanged one more look, he was going to do something drastic about it. It wasn’t like he and the Marauders had been, where they talked with looks; this was more like forming judgements with looks. It was disconcerting. “So, Blaise?”
“Oh, he’ll just go to the local school, I think,” Mr Benson said. “It is just him and me, so it’s easiest to have him somewhere nearby.”
“And-” the female Dr Granger began, but at that point, Mrs Phelps clapped her hands, drawing everyone’s attention. Sirius was startled to see how many parents had arrived while he and Mr Benson were talking to the Grangers.
“Thank you, everyone,” Mrs Phelps said, beaming around at them all. “It’s wonderful to see so many of you here, eager to hear about your childrens’ progress.” No one said a thing, but the teacher wasn’t deterred. “Now, I can see some of you are busy looking at some of the posters and artwork we have on display, but I’ll ask you to sit down for the moment, so I can talk to you as a group, and then I’ll speak to each of you individually. If you haven’t noticed already, you’ll see there’s a form for you to fill out while I speak; that’s for you to put any questions or worries on, and we can address them when I come around.”
Everyone shuffled around, knocking their heads on low-hanging posters while Sirius watched with amusement. A particularly tall man was having great difficulty folding himself into one of the small chairs. Sirius watched him give up, and stand behind his wife instead.
Mrs Phelps looked as if she’d like to tell him off for standing, but thought better of it.
She launched into a detailed talk – and referred to notes regularly – to outline what the class had been working on since September. She talked about where they were up to in certain subjects, what the class average was in certain areas, and what they had left to cover before the school year ended in June.
Sirius zoned out about a minute in, because Harry had told him most of this anyway, and frankly, it was boring. He revised his opinion of the night after that; Lily would have loved it, James would have fronted up eagerly, and been a bored, whining mess five minutes in. He stole a pencil from the tin, and one of the question forms, skimmed over that – decided against answering What is your greatest concern about your child’s learning? and other such questions – and ended up turning the sheet over so that he could draw on the back of it.
He drew a lion first – inspired by the drawing on Harry’s desk label – and then moved onto assorted pawprints, and then the Serpent Sworn sigil, because, despite the fact that it had all been quiet on that front, and he was trying to keep it out of his head tonight, it was still there.
“You ought to be paying attention,” Dr Granger whispered, and he glanced over – taking in her pursed lips and frown – and decided to ignore her. The male Dr Granger looked torn between disapproval, like his wife, and amused exasperation. Across from him, Mr Benson was also drawing on his form; he was colouring in the circles of letters. Sirius thought that if the Headmaster could get away with it, then he certainly could.
Sirius drew a dog next – a dog that was lifting its leg on the Serpent Sworn sigil (he chuckled to himself as he sketched that) – and then draped his arm over the sketch as Mrs Phelps announced she’d be coming around, table by table, to speak with them individually. She started at the table next to theirs, so Sirius had time to doodle a few other pictures – a broomstick, a rather poor imitation of Hedwig, and a rather good one of Kreacher – before Mrs Phelps appeared next to him and cleared her throat. Both Grangers were watching him with disapproval.
Sirius hastily shoved the paper under the desk, and wedged it under the metal bar that was there.
“Hello,” he said, smiling at Mrs Phelps.
“Mr Evans,” she sighed. “Would you like to talk about your son, or would you like me to come back to you when you’ve finished drawing?”
“Now’s fine,” he giving her a charming smile. She nodded and pulled up a seat.
“Now,” she said, flipping through her marking book. “Young Harry. You know, of course, about the swearing incident,” she said sternly.
“Yes,” Sirius said, fighting like hell to keep a straight face. He was reasonably sure his lip twitched, however, because Mrs Phelps sighed again. “He was- we talked about it at home.”
“There haven’t been any repeats, have there?”
“No,” she said, her expression clearing again. “No, though he does tend to get distracted. Sometimes he’s talking with other students-” Her eyes drifted over Mr Benson, and also over the Grangers, who looked shocked at the idea that their Hermione might talk in class. “-other times... well, I don’t know... he seems off in his own little world. Does he get enough sleep? What’s his usual bedtime?”
“He gets enough sleep,” Sirius said, and then wondered if he did; Harry regulated his own bedtime, but he was usually asleep by midnight. Not keen to question that in front of his teacher, however, he said, “And his marks are good, or so he tells me?”
“Yes, they’re quite good. I wouldn’t call him the top student-” Again, her eyes drifted to Hermione’s parents. “-but he does well in tests, and more importantly, he’s consistent. He does his homework to a high standard, and I really do think he’s trying his very best, which is what counts.”
“Good,” Sirius said.
“He’s missed two days of school... I will ask in the future, that you phone the front office when he’s going to be absent, because it makes things easier on this end... But otherwise, Harry’s a nice boy, very friendly, very polite, occasionally cheeky – though only to his classmates – and it’s a pleasure to teach him. I was very pleased with his poster last term.”
“Good,” Sirius said again.
“Did you have any queries? Anything you were concerned about?”
“Er, no,” Sirius said. “Is there anything I should be concerned about?” Mrs Phelps looked startled to have the question turned back at her.
“No,” she said. “I don’t think so. He should settle into high school easily, and as I’ve said, I’m happy with how he’s doing this year.”
For the third time, Sirius couldn’t think of anything to say except, “Good.”
* * *
Sirius’ birthday came shortly after, on the tenth, and was met with rather more fanfare than he’d expected, by Harry and Kreacher, who started things off by appearing beside his bed in the morning, and shoving a steaming cup of tea, and a tray of bacon and eggs into his lap.
It was a Sunday, so Harry had the day off, but Sirius still had to go into the Ministry for a few hours and help out. While he was there, however, he was pounced on; Arthur Weasley met him in the lift, and cheerfully wished him a happy birthday, and passed him a thin package, which Sirius was shocked but touched to receive, and Robards passed him in the corridor and pulled a parcel, neatly wrapped in brown paper out of his pocket, passed it to Sirius and then continued on with a distracted smile.
Arthur had given him a collection of muggle motorcycle magazines – some were very technical, and Sirius couldn’t wait to browse through those... others were the type that he’d used the pictures from to label his bedroom wall as a boy, though he doubted Arthur had realised that when he bought them. Robards had given him a book on Auror level Defence Against the Dark Arts, and also a small, glass ball that had some sort of clear liquid inside it.
There was a note with it – probably explaining what it was – but Sirius was intercepted by Scrimgeour – who did not wish him a happy birthday – and taken to file papers. He put used a shrinking spell on the rest of his presents, and put them, along with the ball, into his pocket, where they stayed safely until he got home at lunchtime and was able to have a better look at them.
The ball turned out to be a Sensor Sphere, which Sirius had read about, but never actually seen; they were designed to detect any lies told by the person holding it. They were not, however, accurate enough to say what part the person was lying about, nor did they encourage the liar to tell the truth, like Veritaserum did. Sensor Spheres, though, couldn’t be fooled by Occlumency, though they wouldn’t detect a lie if the person telling it believed it. It was a very nice gift, and Sirius intended to go to see Robards the next day and thank him for it.
Sirius’ other gifts were nice too; Remus had brought him the usual combination of sweets and prank items, as well as a book on different types of combat – open, close-quartered, indoors, outdoors – and how to take the advantage of any fighting environment. He’d also chipped in with Tonks, to buy Sirius a black leather jacket – he’d lost his old one at the end of the war, and was very pleased by the replacement; pleased enough, that he wore it for the rest of the day.
Kreacher had sewn him a new set of robes, in a very, very dark red, and Sirius was touched by that – usually, Kreacher’s gifts were limited to birthday cakes (Sirius got one of those as well).
But, his favourite present was from Harry; it was a long chain, with a single, simple dog-tag on it that said Padfoot.
“Moony helped me with the spells-”
“I helped you find the spells,” Remus corrected, from the couch, where he was sitting with his arm around Dora. Harry shrugged and turned back to Padfoot.
“It doesn’t transform,” Harry said, pointing to it.
“It doesn’t transform?” Sirius asked, not quite following.
“When you turn into Padfoot,” Harry amended. “You know how everything you’re wearing is... I dunno, swallowed, when you transform? This won’t. Or shouldn’t.” Sirius grinned and put it on, and then bent into Padfoot. When he looked down, the chain was indeed there, like a loose collar. His tail started to wag, and Harry scratched Padfoot’s ears absently and said, “People might, you know, think you’re a stray when you’re walking home or to school without me.” Harry grinned. “This way, they know you’ve got a family.”
Harry, of course, had meant the present as a bit sentimental, and a bit funny, but to Sirius, it was much more. Remus knew that – he could tell that from the way he was watching them.
They know you’ve got a family. Sirius whined happily – his tail was going mad, and in danger or taking someone’s eye out - and went to lick every part of Harry’s hair, neck, cheeks and ears that he could reach.
* * *
The four of them (five, with Kreacher) spent the night very casually; Kreacher prepared a roast dinner for them all, which they ate down in the kitchen, and then they took cake upstairs into the library, where they ate it while they played several rounds of Exploding Snap. The first game was Harry and Sirius against Remus and Dora, and then they shuffled the teams for the following games. Whichever team Harry was on won, except for when he was paired with Dora; they drew, because Harry’s quick reflexes were counterbalanced by Dora’s clumsiness.
After that, Remus and Dora went downstairs to make tea – Kreacher had gone to bed – and Harry pulled his Animagus incantation – or what he’d come up with so far - out to show Sirius; he and Remus had been working on it while Sirius worked that morning.
I am the wolf born of stag and doe, was what he had written, and circled; obviously he and Remus had played with the wording of that a fair bit. And below that, he’d written: dark fur and my pack.
“I like that,” Sirius said, tapping the line about the stag and doe. Harry smiled at him, but the expression was quickly replaced by a small, impatient frown.
“Nine words in nine months,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Did it take you this long?”
“Longer,” Sirius said. “Ages, actually.” The incantation was, in his opinion, the hardest part; it was difficult to volunteer words about yourself, without being biased one way or the other, and was also very difficult to find the right words to summarise an entire person in a few short sentences. “This was the part where Peter caught up a bit – he was good at finding the key parts of his character, and James kept trying to add too much detail, and I didn’t add enough.”
“I think I take after you,” Harry said, with a small grin, and went back to scowling at his parchment. Sirius reached up to touch the dogtag and chain that already felt like they belonged on his neck, and then ruffled Harry’s hair.
“How about something to do with your- our ‘pack’?” Sirius suggested.
“Dunno; you tell me.”
“We’re happy?” Harry said. “Maybe something about wagging tails?” He nodded to himself before Sirius could say anything, and started to write something down. Sirius said nothing – he didn’t want to disturb the creative process – so he stood quietly, and left the room. Harry glanced up, briefly, but his attention was quickly drawn back to his work before he could utter a protest.
Sirius went to join Remus and Dora in the kitchen, where they were talking quietly over their mugs of tea. Both looked happy – almost ridiculously so – but he could help but notice that Dora looked tired too. Sirius smiled to himself as he glanced at their hands, which were clasped together, very casually, on the table top.
“Mind if I join you?” Sirius asked.
“No,” Remus said, just as Dora said, “Go ahead.”
Sirius didn’t bother with tea or coffee; instead, he cut himself a piece of leftover cake – it was his third piece that day, but it was his birthday, so he didn’t think it mattered – and settled himself on the bench opposite them.
“Have you had a good day?” Dora asked.
“Brilliant,” Sirius said honestly.
“Nice to take your mind off things?” Remus asked, looking a bit sad.
“Thanks for that,” Sirius grumbled, as those ‘things’ (namely the Serpent Sworn, but also Remus’ odd behaviour) reasserted themselves.
“Sorry,” Remus said, grimacing, but he didn’t really look it.
Sirius shook his head, glanced at Dora, and then back at Remus, and said, “I think Harry could probably use your help upstairs.”
Remus didn’t even look suspicious; with a small, abstract smile, he gently extracted his hand from Dora’s, kissed her on the cheek and then stood and left the kitchen. Sirius gave Dora a few minutes to recover; she looked a little embarrassed by Remus’ display of affection, but also rather pleased, and then spooned off a corner of his cake and fixed his stare on her.
“What?” Dora asked, when she noticed him watching.
“How’s work?” Sirius asked. “You look tired.”
“It’s busy,” she sighed. “You know that, though.”
“How’s the Serpent Sworn case going?” Sirius asked. Dora’s expression closed immediately; she actually got rid of her eyebrows, and made her skin scaly and eyes lizard-like, because it made her face hard to read; if she’d gone for a rat, canine or herbivorous mammal, Sirius would have had a chance, but lizards weren’t his forte.
“How did you know?” she asked, his voice rather sharp.
“Dumbledore. He said Mad-Eye had the case.”
“Dumbledore,” she muttered, and then shook her head. Her features went back to normal – or as normal as Dora could be - and her hair was a pale, thoughtful sort of blue.
“Well?” Sirius said, when she didn’t offer anything.
“Well what?” she asked, in a tone that told him she knew exactly what he was talking about.
“I know,” she said, grimacing. “I know we’re family, and that you’re a good Auror, even if you technically aren’t one at the moment, and I know you want to help, but I can’t say anything. Mad-Eye made me promise-”
“Does Remus know?” Sirius asked, arching an eyebrow.
“No,” she said, looking guilty about that too. “He knows I’m a bit stressed, and he knows what case I have, but he doesn’t know any of the details either. This is top secret, Sirius-”
“So you don’t think I can keep a secret?” Sirius asked in a light-hearted voice.
“No!” she said at once. “Look, if it was up to me, I’d tell you, because I think we need the extra help, but I’ve been specifically asked not to tell-”
“Anyone,” she said, and then hesitated. “I shouldn’t even tell you this, but someone planted that envelope in Scrimgeour’s office – it wasn’t an owl that delivered it, it was left on his desk. Someone’s on the inside – an Auror, a trainee, someone from Magical Maintenance, or just someone from the D.M.L.E.. No one’s even supposed to know Mad-Eye and I have the case, because that could ruin everything.”
“I can help-”
“I’m sure,” she said, looking like she meant it. “But I could lose my job for even having this conversation with you, Sirius. And Mad-Eye’s lenient, about some things, but if he wanted you told, he’d have told me. I’m sorry.” Her hair turned an unhappy blue, and when Remus and Harry trooped downstairs later on, Remus glanced between them, looking troubled - apparently, he wasn’t sure who’d upset who – and then he and Harry exchanged a grim look. Sirius caught Harry’s eye as soon as Remus was occupied with Dora, but Harry just shrugged, filled himself a glass of juice and Apparated out of the kitchen again.
I suppose I’m on my own, then, he thought.
And he was on his own. Novemeber drew to a close, and the weather grew colder as December began. Harry continued to go to school, Dora looked tireder every time Sirius saw her, and Remus – as far as Sirius could tell – had no idea why and was content to leave it at that.
Sirius didn’t try to ask Dora for any more information after that, but he continued to check in with his own sources; Snape, and Dumbledore, and even Keira at the bookshop, but none of them knew anything. Sirius thought that was frustrating Snape as much as it was frustrating him. And, he kept an eye on everything as he ran errands at the Ministry, trying to find the person who might be involved; he looked for a tattoo, for a badge, for anything that might identify the spy, but found nothing.
Then, at the end of the first week in December, Dora showed up on the doorstep, looking furtive, and holding a large stack of papers.
“At lunch with Matt,” Dora supplied, stepping past Sirius and into the hall. The floorboard creaked, but Sirius hardly noticed that anymore. “I know.”
“Kitchen,” was all she said. Sirius followed her, almost tripping over Kreacher on the way; he and Harry were playing a strange version of Bludger, but using Apparition instead of brooms. Dora seated herself at the table, and slid the papers over to Sirius.
“What are these?”
“The Serpent Sworn files,” she said.
“You’re joking,” he said, his mouth falling open.
“I’m not,” she said grimly. He reached for them and then hesitated.
“Why now? Has something-”
“Amelia Bones has been attacked,” she said.
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