Harry slept in until at least ten o’clock every morning, waking up after Ted had left for the barbershop and Nymphadora had gone to her Auror training classes. After breakfast, he and Sirius worked on cleaning Regulus’s room, which had yet to turn up anything but old clothes, books, and dust. Andromeda liked to make lunch; the three of them would eat together in the kitchen, carefully censoring their conversations in case Kreacher was listening from the elf quarters, and after the dishes were washed Andromeda would get back to work.
“What’s your mum making, anyway?” Harry asked Nymphadora one night as they sat in the sitting room looking at her drawings. Aside from being an Auror, Nymphadora wanted to make films as a hobby and had filled several notebooks with sketches of monsters. “It smells sort of like moldy cheese...”
“Oh, it’s a potion for restoring eyesight, or something like that – I forget what, Mum’s always trying to invent some potion.” Nymphadora turned the page to a drawing of a headless man with eyes on his feet. “Then it goes wrong and whichever group gave her the research grant gets all shirty and they get into a big argument about what her contract said…don’t ask her too much about it, she’s sort of in a slump. The last time she invented something was waterproof floo powder when I was sixteen. She gets really frustrated, you know – all those hours and it still comes out wrong...”
Sirius made Harry study for at least two hours every afternoon, after which he quizzed him on what he’d been reading. Though it annoyed Harry at first – after all, he thought, he’d made it through two and a half years of Hogwarts without being made to answer study questions every day – he decided to use it to his advantage and ask Sirius every Potions question he’d ever had. Nothing, Harry reasoned, would irritate Snape more than being forced to give him high marks on the Potions exam.
“You know, your mother was remarkably good at Potions,” Sirius said, lying back on Harry’s extra bed and kicking off his shoes. Nymphadora, back from class, was playing Monopoly with Andromeda in the sitting room. “Your dad was good at it too, of course, but he didn’t have the same flair for it that she did. Transfiguration was more his area.”
“What did they do for work?” Harry asked. “Nobody’s ever told me.”
“Nothing that earned a salary. James had a significant inheritance – you know that, you’ve seen it – and he and Lily decided to devote themselves full-time to the war effort.”
“But you didn’t,” said Harry. “You were teaching with Lupin in Berlin.”
“I couldn’t afford not to work. My Uncle Alphard left me some money when he died – I was seventeen – but that all went into the cottage, the school, and Remus’s medical bills.”
“Were Lupin’s parents already dead, then? Why did you have to pay his medical bills?”
“I didn’t have to. I volunteered.” Sirius flipped to the next page in Harry’s Potions book. “All right, if you’re making a Cough-Suppressant Solution and you’ve stirred in the powdered ash root...”
Nymphadora came home every day at around two o’clock, followed by Ted at six. Both of them usually had stories to tell at supper; if you wanted to know what was going on in the wizarding world, Harry thought, it seemed you could do worse than hanging around Auror headquarters and Ted’s barbershop. Nymphadora even heard things about people Harry knew at school.
“Percy Weasley’s applied for the Department of International Magical Cooperation,” Nymphadora told him on Wednesday night as she passed the potatoes to Andromeda. “Tell him to get out of it while he still can – everyone at the Ministry knows that Barty Crouch treats his staff like house-elves. The word from Magical Games and Sports is that your mate Wood’s got offers from the Tutshill Tornados, the Ballycastle Bats and Puddlemere United.”
Harry had never wondered what Wood would be doing once he finished school, but Nymphadora’s news didn’t surprise him; it was hard to imagine Wood working at any job that didn’t involve Quidditch. Somehow, winning the Quidditch Cup seemed even more important now.
Ted’s competition had retired two years ago, making him the only wizarding barber in England, and it seemed every wizard Harry knew had come to him for a haircut at one point or another. “Except for Dumbledore,” Ted said, winking at Harry from across the table. “Don’t reckon he’s going to come in any time soon. I had Cornelius Fudge in last week, though – it wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t run for another term as Minister. Poor man looks as though he hasn’t slept in weeks.”
“The entire situation with Remus is wearing on him,” Sirius replied, leaning back in his chair. “It’s bad enough that the first Azkaban breakout in history happened during Fudge’s administration. The longer Remus is in hiding, the worse Fudge looks.”
“But Fudge didn’t do anything,” said Harry. “I mean, the dementors were in charge of keeping Lupin in prison and the Aurors are in charge of finding him – it’s not like Fudge can just go off and hunt him down.”
Sirius leaned forward again and poured himself a glass of water. “He’s always felt a lot of pressure. Everyone knows he only got the job because Dumbledore wouldn’t take it – Fudge thinks he’s got to be the best Minister there’s ever been if he’s going to get any respect. By the way, speaking of Dumbledore...”
Sirius had said he would never forgive Dumbledore for leaving Harry with the Dursleys, and it seemed he was keeping his word. “Dumbledore found out I took you to church,” he said to Harry on Thursday morning, waving a piece of parchment as he came down the stairs to the kitchen. “Very concerned that you were out in public. You know, I appreciate that he cares about you, but that man has absolutely no sense of where his authority begins and ends.”
Andromeda put down her grapefruit spoon and cleared her throat. “Sirius, I’m not sure it’s the best idea to criticize Harry’s headmaster in front of him.”
Sirius sat down and took a roll from the basket in the middle of the table. “Don’t you start too. Am I letting Harry run loose in Knockturn Alley? Did I let him travel from Hogwarts to London on his own? Is it Albus Dumbledore’s business even if I did? If he wants to object to someone’s parenting, I suggest he start with the Malfoys – but no, that’s too dangerous. I was a headmaster. I may not have been a headmaster for over twenty years and I may not be regarded as the brilliant protector of the wizarding world, but I at least understood that once the students went home, they were out of my control. But then, Dumbledore doesn’t think of this as Harry’s home, does he? He may think of me as Harry’s godfather, but it’s astoundingly clear that he doesn’t really give a damn when it comes down to it. I am Harry’s legal guardian, and while I may not have custody – “
“Well, don’t tell us,” Andromeda said. reaching for another grapefruit. “Tell Dumbledore.”
“Oh, I probably will,” Sirius replied darkly. “But it’ll have to be after the school year ends – I promised Neville Longbottom I’d get him through the Potions exam and I’d rather not risk being sacked.”
They sat quietly for several seconds, the only sound coming from Andromeda’s spoon digging into the grapefruit. “Are we going to church tomorrow?” Harry asked at last.
“Of course we’re going to church tomorrow.”
Kreacher, as it turned out, was going to church as well. Sirius found him in the kitchen at around ten o’clock at night, eating raw eggs out of the icebox.
“Master would deny Kreacher food, poor Kreacher who has loyally served the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black – “
“I really don’t care what you eat,” Sirius replied, barely looking up as Andromeda and Nymphadora came down the stairs in their dressing gowns. Ted was right behind them. “I care that you make dramatic declarations about not leaving the elf quarters until the Tonkses are gone and then sneak out at night to steal food. None of the food in this kitchen is yours, because I didn’t buy you any food this week. I was given to understand that you would be holed up in your mildew greenhouse eating dry bread.”
Kreacher began to sob, but Harry didn’t feel sorry for him in the least. After years of living with Dudley, he’d become rather good at recognizing when someone was making themselves cry on purpose. “You can have money to buy groceries tomorrow,” Sirius said, not bothering to raise his voice over Kreacher’s wailing. “You can go out and get them yourself, because I’m not buying them for you. When you get back, you’re going to go with Harry and me to Mass at St. Dymphna’s, because I’m not sure I trust you alone in this house.”
“Kreacher would never harm his mistress’s house – “
“I’m sure you wouldn’t,” Sirius replied crisply. “I don’t believe you’d have any qualms about harming mine. Now go back to the elf quarters and stay there until I say you can come out.”
“Don’t you think you’re being a little hard on him? “ Nymphadora whispered as they all headed up the stairs to bed. “If he got hungry – “
“If he got hungry, he could have come out of the elf quarters and asked to have something to eat.” They had reached the first floor; Sirius leaned over and ruffled her hair. “Good night, Phado or Ympha or whoever you are.”
“Have a good sleep in the lilac bush.”
Upstairs on the second floor, Sirius found a tape measure and had Harry stand straight against the wall. “Five feet and four and a half inches,” he said, looking at the tape where it hit the floor.” Another half an inch and you’ll be as tall as your mother was. After Easter we’re buying new clothes and having your eyes and teeth checked.”
Harry took a deep breath; there was something he wanted to ask Sirius, but he wasn’t sure how to ask it. “Sirius?”
“Why do you – I mean, I get why you’re angry at Dumbledore – but – why do you act like you hate him so much?”
Sirius sighed and sat down against the wall, suddenly looking tired. “I don’t hate him,” he said, leaning his head back and closing his eyes for a moment. “Here, sit down.”
Harry sat next to him. Outside, the sky had finally cleared, and starlight was shining in through the window.
“I don’t hate him,” Sirius said again, turning to look at Harry. There was something very solemn in his eyes. “I don’t hate Dumbledore at all. I’m angry with him and I’m frustrated with him because I feel that he’s trying to undermine my role in your life, and I care about you more than anyone else on this earth.”
For a moment, Harry felt as though he’d suddenly lost the ability to speak. No one – not Ron, or Hermione, or Hagrid or Dumbledore – had ever said anything like that to him before.
“I think I loved you since the moment your parents told me they were having a baby.” Sirius’s voice had grown very soft, but Harry could still hear every word. “You were a new part of our family. And then the first time I saw you – I don’t think I can explain it, but the first time I saw you, I knew I would die for you without a second thought. I loved you and James and Lily and Remus and Peter so much.
“And I loved watching you grow. I loved seeing you learn to roll over and sit up and start crawling around – you were so fast that I used to tell your dad you’d be a Seeker someday, but I didn’t care what you were. I knew I was always going to love you no matter what.”
“No – “ Harry’s voice had somehow turned hoarse. “No matter what?”
“No matter what.” Sirius looked into Harry’s eyes. “Always. And I’m not going to let anyone take you out of my life again – we’re going to rebuild our family whether Remus is with us or not, although I hope to God he is. We’re going to be a family and no one is going to take us from each other no matter what.”