“Still no news,” Black said, looking up from the papers on his desk as Harry shut the door behind him. “You know, you really don’t have to check every day – “
“Yeah, I guess,” said Harry. In truth, he wasn’t so much checking to see whether Moody had agreed to look for Lupin as he was making sure that Black was managing to cope. “So Moody’s still in the Caribbean?”
“Still in the Caribbean. I’m beginning to wonder if he’s under the Imperius Curse – you have no idea how absolutely bizarre the idea of Alastor Moody on holiday is.”
“I’m thinking of sending Portia to work on him,” Swift said to Black. He was sitting in one of the red armchairs, paging through a thick leather-bound book; from the way it was propped up on Swift’s leg, Harry couldn’t see what was inside it. “He doesn’t want to take it on in case the Ministry interferes with him – they can’t, it’s legally ridiculous – and he’s always had a soft spot for Portia. Portia’s my secretary,” he added to Harry.
Black gave Swift an odd look. “Portia’s your wife.”
“Yes,” Swift agreed, “but that’s not relevant in this context. You know, the Auror office wasn’t altogether wrong when they decided Moody was paranoid. They just didn’t realize how useful it could be to them. Is your cousin Nymphadora absolutely sure she wants to throw her lot in with the Aurors? Great in the field, but I swear to God, I think they’re getting bureaucratically stupider every year.”
“That reminds me – see if you can find that photograph of Nymphadora with Harry,” said Black. “It should be towards the back, I think.”
“I met Nymphadora before?” Harry asked, surprised. “When?”
Black grinned. “Well, I wouldn’t say met, exactly – you spit up on her shoulder. Remus and I brought you over to Andromeda and Ted’s so they could meet the new godson.”
“I think I’ve got it,” said Swift, flicking back a few pages in the leather-bound book. “Four feet tall with blue hair?”
“That’s it,” Black said. Swift turned the book around and handed it to Harry.
Harry had never seen one of his baby pictures before; he wasn’t in any of the pictures of his parents Hagrid had given him, and the Dursleys had certainly never wanted any photographs of him in the house. Nymphadora, perhaps around eight years old, was standing near a window, wearing a striped purple jumper and smiling as she held him. From the red and orange leaves on the tree outside, Harry guessed he must have been only a few months old. As he watched, the baby Harry yawned and Nymphadora adjusted him in her arms.
“Lot of hair,” Swift said, putting one foot on his knee to wipe the mud spatters off his shoe. “I was bald until I was two years old.”
Harry sat in the other armchair and began to page through the photo album. The next few pictures were all of him and Black – Black sprawled on someone’s couch while Harry slept on his chest, Black sitting on the floor watching Harry squirm on a blanket, Black in a Muggle suit and Harry, tiny and red-faced, in a long white christening gown. “I wore that suit jacket for exactly three minutes,” Black said, leaning forward onto his desk to look over Harry’s shoulder. “It was the hottest day of the year and we were in a Muggle church with no air conditioning – your dad kept teasing your mum because you could have been baptized WCG and we’d’ve spent the whole time surrounded by cooling charms.”
Harry looked back at him. “What’s WCG?”
“Wizarding Church of God,” said Swift before Black could. He looked over at Black as well. “I thought you were Catholic.”
“I am,” said Black. “Not that my family was any good at it...Harry, go back a bit and find the pictures of you with your grandparents, will you?”
“Grandparents,” Black repeated. “They died before your parents did, but your mother’s parents were both still alive when you were born.”
Harry paged backwards and then stopped. There were two photographs – two Muggle photographs – of him with an older couple, and, to his amazement, the man’s eyes were the exact same shade of green as his own. In both pictures his grandfather was wearing a bow tie and smiling proudly. Harry’s grandmother was quite small, her head barely reaching her husband’s shoulder, and had blonde hair that reminded Harry very strongly of Aunt Petunia. They weren’t even very old, he realized – probably not even sixty.
“How did they – “
“Car accident,” said Black. “They’d gone to Dover on holiday and as they were driving back another car hit them head-on.”
“The Dursleys always told me my parents died in a car accident,” Harry said slowly.
“They never mentioned your grandparents?”
“No – I never thought to ask, really.”
“Typical Petunia,” Black said. “She never could get over the fact that her parents loved having a witch in the family. Harold – your grandfather – always read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, so you can imagine how thrilled he was. Daisy was just relieved they finally knew what was so strange about Lily.”
“How did my other grandparents die?”
“Nothing nearly as dramatic. They were both a lot older than Lily’s parents – Lavinia had a heart attack just after we finished school and Theseus died in his sleep about a month after your parents found out your mum was pregnant. I used to live with James’s family for a while – I ran away from home when I was sixteen.”
“That was the first I heard of Sirius, actually,” Swift said; Harry had forgotten for a moment that he was there. “His mother tried to get a court order to make him go back home.”
“Tried for a while,” said Black. “Then she figured I was more trouble than I was worth and she’d have to be content with Regulus.”
“What exactly did you do?” Harry asked.
Perhaps he was imagining it, but for a split second Harry thought he saw Black and Swift exchange the briefest of glances. “Kept the wrong company, mostly,” Black said, leaning back in his chair. “Had all the wrong friends, all the wrong ideas, didn’t warm to the idea of marrying my cousin Bellatrix – oh, yes, my parents and hers were very keen on that one for a while,” he added, noticing the horrified look on Harry’s face. “She was nearing the ripe old age of twenty-seven without any marital prospects. When she finally married Rodolphus Lestrange I think I spent the entire wedding grinning.”
“Did she want to marry you?”
“Not in the slightest. I was her disgusting Gryffindor cousin who wasn’t even old enough to get married and thought the idea of a wizard naming himself ‘Lord Voldemort’ was hilarious. Speaking of Gryffindor, how’s Quidditch practice going?”
Quidditch practice had been increased to an hour and a half every weekday; the only thing stopping Wood from scheduling it for every single day was Fred and George’s threat to quit the team if he did. “He’s got N.E.W.T.s coming up,” Hermione said, watching as Wood paced in front of the common room fireplace, his large furry earmuffs clamped on his head. “How is he finding the time to study?”
“He’s not,” Harry replied. “He says he doesn’t need to – he knows everything from listening to Percy talk in his sleep.”
Despite Wood’s fears of defeat, there was at least one Slytherin who was convinced Gryffindor would win the Cup. “You’d better not be testifying for Buckbeak so you can get information from our side and pass it on to the Malfoys,” Ron told Pansy Parkinson one morning. They were on the stairs to the dungeons, coming back from Potions class; Ron and Pansy had spilled powdered dragon scales on their table and Harry and Hermione had waited for Ron while they cleaned it up. “Because I’ll tell you right now, it’s not going to work.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Pansy retorted, scowling at him. “If I wanted to help the Malfoys, I’d find a much easier way to do it, believe me. It’s not exactly fun knowing I’m stuck on a side with you.”
“So why don’t you unstick yourself and go back to your little Slytherin friends?” asked Ron. “Getting pretty rotten at house loyalty, aren’t you?”
“I don’t care if Draco’s in my house,” said Pansy, leaning against the wall and crossing her arms over her chest. “He doesn’t care about the rest of us, and neither does Snape. I’m not going to let him lie and get whatever he wants just because his family’s rich. He was stupid – it’s his own fault he got his arm cut by that hippogriff, and you know those bandages he had? The ones he kept on for weeks and weeks? Madam Pomfrey told him he could take him off, but he left them on anyway so everyone would think his arm was worse than it was.”
Harry glanced at Ron and Hermione. “Yeah,” he said. “We kind of figured that.”
“Well, bloody good for you,” Pansy snapped. “You think I’m stupid, but I’m not. I just never figured he’d be so stupid and selfish that he’d sit out Quidditch practice when there was nothing wrong with his arm. Now we’re going to lose the Quidditch Cup because Draco skived off a whole two months of practice and that moron Flint didn’t boot him from the team.” She paused for a moment and smirked. “Besides, Snape’s going to do his nut when he finds out we’re not all just shutting up to protect his precious Draco. Who cares if someone sends us all hate-mail Valentines? As long as precious Draco did it, oh, that’s just fine with Snape. He wanted that idiot to get off with just two weeks of detention, and then you know what he did? Once darling Draco was off the hook, Snape changed his mind and said he wanted whoever did it expelled.”
“Don’t worry,” Ron said to Hermione once Pansy was out of earshot. “If Snape figures it out, Swift’ll save you. Maybe he’ll subtract the legal fees from the money he’s leaving you in his will, but – “
“Oh, stop it,” said Hermione, looking embarrassed. “All I did was tell him about a book – for all we know, Swift’s just theorizing and Lupin betrayed Harry’s parents because he was on You-Know-Who’s side all along.”
For Black’s sake, Harry hoped Hermione was wrong about Lupin. Despite the situations with Regulus and Buckbeak, Harry had noticed that Black seemed to be much happier lately. He was in such a good mood that Harry even risked asking something that he had wondered about since September.
“Hmm?” They were in Black’s office, Harry looking at the photo album again while Black corrected papers.
“If you could have anything you wanted in the whole world – the thing you wanted the most – what would it be?”
Black set his quill down. “Now what makes you ask that?”
“I dunno,” Harry said, hoping Black couldn’t hear any of the nervousness he felt. “I was just thinking, looking at all these pictures – back in first year, I found the Mirror of Erised and it showed me my family.”
If Black was suspicious, he didn’t let on. “Well,” he said, “I think if I could have anything I wanted in the whole world, your parents and Peter would be alive and Remus would be our friend the way he always was. Maybe that’s too much for the thing I want most, but I’ve always been rather selfish that way.”
“What about Regulus?” Harry asked before he could stop himself.
“Well, I never wanted Regulus to die,” Black replied. “If somehow it turns out he’s still alive somewhere, I’ll be happy to hear it. But it’s like Brutus said, I never liked him. We were more rivals than friends as children and he simply wasn’t a very likeable person. Maybe he would be different now, but to be perfectly honest, I can’t say that having Regulus alive is one of the things that I want most in the world. When it came to actual love, James was my brother much more than he was. I’m sorry if that sounds cold – “
“No, I get it,” Harry said at once. “I mean, I wouldn’t want the Dursleys to die, but if they did I wouldn’t spend a lot of time wishing they were alive again.” He thought for a moment. “So...if my dad was like your brother, what was Lupin like?”
Black picked up his quill again. “What do you mean?”
“Well – you and him were really close, right? You said something once about how you knew him in a way no one else did – “
“In some ways, I was closer to Remus than I was to anyone else,” Black said, writing something on one of his papers. “He was one of the most important people in my life. Does that answer your question?”
“I guess,” Harry answered. He supposed it was something like his friendship with Ron and Hermione; they were both his best friends, but he couldn’t say that Ron was his best friend in the exact same way Hermione was. “If it turns out Lupin’s innocent, is he going to live with us?”
“I think so,” Black replied. He looked up for a moment and smiled. “Kreacher will have a fit, but Kreacher has a fit over just about everything I do. Over the Easter holidays, would you like to stop by the house and pick out a bedroom?”
“Of course I would!” Harry said excitedly. He paused for a second. If Black was willing to take him so many places, away from Hogwarts and the dementors – “You think Lupin’s innocent, don’t you?”
Black closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. “Yes,” he said quietly. “I think I do – God help me, but I do.”