Chapter 15: Line, Bond, and Oath (Year 6)
Draco perched in one of the trees which grew around the cottage he and Hermione had crafted in their favorite dreamworld, swinging his legs idly, watching Harry and Moony spar in the clearing below. Harry wore a shirt of chain mail and a segmented helmet, as he had the day Voldemort had pursued them here, and the sword in his hand was Gryffindor's, its blade alight with silvery flame.
I like what Danger came up with the other night, if we can find a way to do it. Linking his dagger and the sword by magic, so that all he has to carry day-to-day is the dagger, but as soon as he speaks the right password and makes the right movement, he's got the sword instead. He grinned briefly. "Get a bigger hammer", wizarding style. Plus, if we do it right, it'll mean the sword has basilisk venom in it as well, which should be useful…
Moony, for his part, wore a coat of scale mail and a helmet cast in a single piece, padded to fit his head. The likewise fire-coated sword with which he was parrying and thrusting was longer and slimmer than Harry's, but he held it so lightly that it seemed almost an extension of his arm. Harry, though capable, looked awkward in comparison.
Practice is all it is. Moony's had a lot longer to refine his technique. Even when we were little, in London and later on in Devon, I can remember him taking an hour or so every few days to work with a couple of sticks he'd Spellotaped together to be about the weight of his favorite sword, to advance and retreat, strike and block, attack and defend. Because the more you know, the more ways you can fight, the more practice time you put in, the better you become at everything.
Near the foot of his tree, Padfoot and Letha were tumbling with Hermione and Meghan, practicing counters to holds, incapacitating blows on a larger enemy, evasions and escapes. Doing it in a dream meant the girls could learn to strike full force, as they would have to do in real life, without harming their Pack-parents thereby. Draco was all in favor of both parts of this.
And I was down there working with them, until I got tired of it. I'm already pretty good, and there's no point in working to exhaustion when I've got the patterns drilled into my muscles by now, so Padfoot said I could have a break.
If he conjured a mirror from the stuff of the dreamworld around him, Draco knew he would see his face strong-boned and triangular, his hair in rumpled brown waves, his eyes a brilliant blue. He no longer had to think about calling up such a look when he entered the Pack's shared dreams. It was his born face he had to struggle to create.
I think, maybe, I wouldn't mind the way I look so much if I just knew about one decent person who'd looked like I do naturally. One person who wasn't a pureblood maniac, or mad and dangerous. Or both.
Draco had discovered in the course of some research for History of Magic (in which he had not been expecting to continue past O.W.L. level, but Professor Hestia Jones's lessons had changed his mind for him) that his paternal grandfather had actually been alive until shortly before the start of his second year at Hogwarts. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on one's point of view, complications from dragon pox had addled Abraxas Malfoy's brain to the point of imbecility near the time the First War had ended. Lucius, to his credit, had set up a comfortable home in one of his more secluded properties for the old man rather than consigning him to St. Mungo's, arranging a trust through Gringotts for his continued care, but after that had ignored the fact of his father's existence.
To the point where I never so much as knew about him. The trust continued even after Lucius went to Azkaban, and we never noticed the gold missing from the vault because there's just so damn much in there—or was, until I moved it to Moony's before my third year. Funny how the timing worked out… if my grandfather had still been alive then, we would have learned about him sooner, when whoever was caring for him went to draw the money and found the vault was empty…
He shrugged. It hadn't happened that way, and by all accounts, Lucius had come by his worldview honestly, so mad or sane, Abraxas Malfoy was no role model Draco Black found himself impelled to follow.
Can't exactly climb Mother's family tree either. I mean, sure, there's Mother herself, there's Padfoot and Regulus, Aunt Andy and Tonks, even Padfoot's Uncle Alphard, but they all looked like Blacks. Except Mother, maybe, but I haven't got much of her in me. He grimaced for an instant, then chuckled under his breath. Not in my looks, anyway. In my heart, and in my soul, I'm her son through and through, and that's what counts.
Still, it rankled a bit that his face, the part of him on which people would base their first impression, said "Malfoy" clear as a bell to anybody who knew anything about the wizarding world. He'd had his worst time with those feelings back in his third year, for obvious reasons, but they had never truly gone away, and he wanted to try to deal with them, to clear them off.
Since I don't think they'll be very useful where I'm headed.
A light tap in the back of his mind brought him to full awareness. Someone, somewhere along the edges of the dreamworld, was politely requesting admittance.
Draco slid off his branch and landed not in the clearing by the cottage, but at the edge of the forest, the traditional boundary he and Hermione maintained as their own. Anything on the other side was neutral ground, free to be shaped by anyone who happened along and had the proper power.
The black-haired, green-robed person who awaited him beyond that boundary qualified.
"Go away," Draco said haughtily, sticking his nose in the air. "This is a private party. No outsiders invited." He let his eyes travel downward to the bulging bag dangling from one of the newcomer's hands. "Unless you say the magic words."
Alex hefted the bag slightly. "I have presents."
"Those would be the magic words." Dropping the manner, Draco grinned and opened the wards on the dreamworld, allowing his honorary Housefather to step through. "What sort of presents? And who are they for?"
"A little something for everyone. You'll see when we get there." Alex looked around at the forest appreciatively. "Nice work you two have done here. Quite an eye for detail."
Draco shrugged, grateful this skin tone didn't show a blush as easily as his natural one did. "No point in doing something if you're not going to do it right. So how's everyone?"
"Busy. You lot having a war means more work for us." Alex swapped the bag from one hand to the other, rolling his shoulders. "But I'm sure you knew that, and there's not much I can talk about anyway. It either wouldn't make sense, or it would tell you things you can't know yet. Why don't you fill me in on what you've been up to instead?"
"If you insist." Draco kept pace easily with the older wizard. "You know about the House holiday parties, I'm sure—the first two went off really well, and the plan for the Slytherin St. Valentine's Soiree sounds like loads of fun, though I think Ron's having some trouble wrapping his brain around the second half of it. Why, after what he got Hermione to wear on Halloween, I don't know…"
Most of the Pack had worn off the edges of their energy by the time Draco and Alex arrived back at the clearing, so that everyone was only too happy to adjourn to the cottage, clean up with spells which worked even better in a dreamworld than they did in real life, and settle into seats around the den room, watching avidly as Alex unpacked his bag.
"First, for Harry," he said, tossing a small package towards the wizard he'd named. "From Uncle Rick."
"Hmm." Harry shook the package, frowned at the lack of sound, and ripped into it instead. "It's…a book?" He flipped open the front cover. "On the Proper Maintenance and Upgrading of Magical Weapons—hey, does that mean—"
"He wanted to be sure you got it right the first time," Alex said over the various noises of understanding and appreciation. "Wait until after you talk to the goblins, though, they made them both so they'll be able to help you get all the subtle stuff lined up. Next, for Meghan." He slid a round bundle along the polished wood floor. "From Rowena, and the three Fates."
"Do they know you call them that?" Meghan asked, pausing in her first eager rip.
"They call themselves that. I'm just passing it along."
"Fair enough." Meghan tore into her gift. "Ooh, a crown! Or not really, it's not quite big enough—a coronet, then? Or a tiara?"
"Weena prefers 'diadem'." Alex grinned, clearly relishing the chance to get away with his elder's disrespectful nickname. "She had the goblins make it for her around the same time they were making Dad's locket, and Uncle Rick's sword, and Gaga's cup. They tossed in that brooch you're after as a thanks-gift, because it's bronze instead of gold or silver, and because it was a smaller piece, not as intricate."
"What does it do?" Meghan was turning the intricately-worked diadem over and over in her hands, squinting at it. "It's meant to do something, I'm sure it is…"
"It was supposed to confer wisdom on its wearer." Alex shrugged. "Not quite sure how that would work, since in my experience, wisdom is what you get right after you needed it, but that's what she was trying for. The real thing—or the physical thing, I should say, this version's got its own reality—was destroyed by accident in 1205, by a witch named Melinda Hastings."
Hermione frowned. "Melinda Hastings? Didn't she invent Portkeys?"
"Yes, she did." Alex snickered. "In 1206."
"How did she get it, though?" Letha asked. "Was she—"
"Sophia's," said Alex without preamble. "Brenna never had any, and Margaret's you know about."
Letha chuckled. "So we do."
Meghan hefted the diadem once more, then visibly came to a decision. "I shouldn't have this," she announced. "It isn't right for me. But I know who it's right for." She turned to her mother. "Mama Letha? Will you?"
"Are you sure, Pearl?" Letha frowned. "It was given to you."
"Which means it's mine, and I can do what I want with it," Meghan countered. "Alex, isn't it okay?"
"Might actually work out better that way." Alex leaned back on his hands. "Go ahead and do the honors, then."
Smiling, Letha sat very still as Meghan ceremoniously crowned her with the diadem. It sparkled for a moment against her black hair, then seemed to melt into the sides of her head and was gone.
"Ravenclaw wisdom powers, activate," Padfoot quipped under his breath. Danger reached over to smack him.
"For Hermione…" Alex lobbed a small, silvery ball through the air towards Draco's twin, who caught it smoothly. "And a little bit for Draco, though I've got another one for you later," he added in Draco's direction. "An answer to a question you've probably had for a while."
Hermione frowned at the ball for a moment, then smiled and crushed it between her hands. When she drew them apart, spreading her fingers wide, a canvas spread itself across the air. Perhaps a better word would be a screen, Draco thought, as the person pictured there was moving, his muttered speech audible to all.
Not anyone I really wanted to be spying on, but it must be important.
"But how to stop the cross-contamination from having unwanted results?" Lucius Malfoy leafed through the book lying on the desk in front of him, frowning. "His proper magic he must have back, which means a blood connection, yes, and the taint will die when she does, but I must be sure the traces do not linger…and to have his appearance change, even for such a short time, might dishearten him, turn him further from me…"
Draco had little trouble tracking this, which perturbed him slightly. The blood-bond between me and Neenie—he wanted to be sure it would clear out properly after I'd "taken back" her magic and he'd killed her … He glanced over at his twin, receiving a cheery grin and wink from her. See how well that worked.
But he also didn't want me looking like her. Which I don't. So something must have gone right for him…
"Ah." A small sound of satisfaction, and Lucius tapped a paragraph in the upper left corner of his book. "I knew there must be a way. Here it is. To freeze the outward appearances of the two thus blood-bonded, the following steps will suffice…"
"Makes sense someone would have come up with that," said Padfoot as Hermione slashed her hand through the canvas, making it disappear. "Given that spell was originally invented so purebloods could sneak their Muggleborn sweethearts past their parents' blood-purity ideals. You wouldn't want your girl, or your boy, suddenly looking like somebody else—even if the bond does create a fully legal and viable blood connection, which it does—just when you'd finally got the go-ahead to marry!"
"We can tell you how to take the freeze off, if you really want it," said Alex to Draco and Hermione. "Just fair warning, though, you might have a hard time explaining it to your friends if your faces suddenly changed for no apparent reason."
Hermione glanced at Draco. "We'll think about it some," she said. "Who else do you have presents for?"
We'll think about it some? Draco wanted to scowl, but kept the expression purely internal. You go right ahead and think, Neenie. I already know what I want. A chance to look less like him and more like the people I actually care about—yes, please—
Except it has to involve her too. He sighed quietly. And she might not want to look more Malfoy. For which I can't blame her. So… yeah. We'll think about it some.
"We couldn't come up with anything for you two better than what you've already got," Alex was saying to Padfoot and Letha, who were, as they had been for days whenever the chance came up, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, arms around each other. "But I can answer anything you've got questions on, that the lady hasn't already covered herself."
"Did it make a difference, that I Obliviated her myself instead of being Imperiused into it, or even making His Dark Evilness do it?" Padfoot asked promptly. "I mean, my guess would be yes. But I just want to know for sure."
Alex nodded grimly. "If you hadn't, Voldemort would have totally destroyed her mind," he said. "Or rather, forced you to do it. And the consequences to your own magic, by your vows, were directly proportional to the damage done by the magic you worked on her. So if you'd destroyed her…"
"Then he would have died," Letha finished, her eyes momentarily bleak. "Or been mind-blasted himself, perhaps. Or soul-blasted, if there is such a thing."
"There is." Alex's voice was flat. "Hope you never see it." He laughed once. "And isn't this a charming topic for the night after Boxing Day. Shall we move to something more cheerful? Like…" He extracted a scroll from his bag and tossed it to Danger. "This?"
Danger snagged it out of the air and unrolled it, frowning at the contents. "Alex, is this—"
"I'm not totally unblocked yet," Alex cautioned. "For reasons I think you already know. But this much came through the other day, and I can give you more as soon as that spell-breaking year of the Pride's is over. And no, that's not because you're doing anything wrong," he said forcefully as Harry, Hermione, and Meghan all made sounds of indignation. "It's more because you're doing it right. I'll explain later." He nodded to Danger. "Which goes for you too."
"I'll hold you to that, now." Danger sat up straighter and looked around at the Pack. "It's a prophecy," she said. "Short, but the best ones always are."
Draco mentally sharpened his ears as his Pack-mother began to read.
Earth to wind and flame to water,
Father, mother, son and daughter,
Champions, Heirs, and Consorts all
Must gather ere the darkness fall.
Despair not when your dreams come true,
Seek out your patterns, old in new,
And know ye that the time now nears
When serpent's younger child appears.
"Serpent's younger child?" Padfoot repeated, a look of disgust creeping onto his face. "Merlin, Alex, you're not saying Voldemort—"
"No," Alex said hastily. "No, no, nothing like that. He doesn't even think in those terms. It's…" He shrugged. "It doesn't matter to him. Never been a part of his life, not at all. The most he might do is take a ceremonial Consort, since some of the really old spells he'd enjoy call for two participants with that kind of link between them. But no, no little Riddles for you to worry about."
"What does it mean, then?" asked Moony. "Another line of descent from Slytherin? I thought you had said your Heirs died out." His eyes did not move to Draco, for which Draco was grateful.
I know perfectly well I'm not responsible for what my ancestors did, but that's no reason to rub it in.
"They did. But it's a funny world." Alex rubbed his left hand, a smile growing on his face. "Funnier all the time. Don't be too surprised by anything you see, that's all I can tell you. But now, for the best of all. Saved, as is tradition, for the last." He turned to Moony and Danger, scooting back a bit to include Draco and Hermione in his field of view. "Back in September sometime, you and Sirius were talking about Heirs and lines of descent yourselves. You hit on an old story he'd written down, Sirius had, about the Beauvoi family, and Danger, you asked a very good question."
"I did?" Danger frowned for a moment. Then her face cleared. "I did. What did happen to the Beauvoi daughter? Angharad, I think her name was?"
"It was. And that, I am allowed to tell you." Alex repeated Hermione's motion from earlier, spreading a canvas between his hands. The Pack shifted to get a better look.
This time, Draco thought, canvas was precisely the right word, as the people present held still, in the manner of a wizarding portrait when its occupants knew they were being admired. There were six of them, three men and three women, dressed in an ancient but becoming style, but that wasn't what sent his heart into his throat, sent his hand reaching out for Hermione's only to find hers halfway there already.
The three people at the center of the portrait, two tall gentlemen, clearly brothers, flanking their seated sister, had the elegant, fine-boned, pointed features, the pale skin, the white-blond hair and silver-grey eyes which in the modern wizarding world summoned up the name of Malfoy.
And yet… and yet…
It's not. Not quite. Hardly surprising, it has been a thousand years!
But the differences in the portrait went deeper than mere time could explain. Here, at long last, was the reality of the image he had seen in his first year, in the depths of the Mirror of Erised. Here, on faces like his father's, like his own, he could see wisdom, compassion, humor, kindness—
Everything I want to be when I grow up. And everything Lucius isn't, and never was.
Everything you already are, Hermione murmured to him through their link. Draco winced—they usually refrained from silent speech in a shared dream, simply because it came through so very loudly—but also nodded, accepting that she, at least, thought he was the things she'd named.
I don't see it, but we'll save that argument for later.
"Lord Owain Beauvoi and his wife, Lady Avice of Thornbury." Alex indicated the man on the left and the plump, placid, brown-curled woman beside him. "Muggles, but knowledgeable about and friendly to the wizarding world. Their male line of descent died out about a hundred and fifty years after they'd lived, and while a few-times-great-grandson of theirs through the female line eventually got the family to agree that he had a right to bear the name of Beauvoi and pass it along, the title and property had already passed to the nearest male heir."
Meghan humphed loudly, and Alex shrugged. "Not terribly fair, no, but the way the world was in those days. Which is how what's now Malfoy Manor came into the hands of the next line down." His finger moved to the man on the right and the slender woman beside him, her red hair cascading across her shoulders. "The descendants of Dafydd Beauvoi, and yes, you guessed it right. Amanda Slytherin. My daughter."
Draco wondered if he was the only one who could hear the pain in Alex's tone. From the look of sympathy on Danger's face, he thought not, but decided not to make an issue of it. Instead he scrutinized the image of the long-ago Slytherin Heir, looking for resemblances between her and a certain Ravenclaw witch.
Which…there aren't. Not many, anyway. I mean, yes, red hair, green eyes, slim build, but Harry's mum had all those too, and you wouldn't mistake any of the three for each other.
The knowledge was obscurely comforting. He'd already known Amanda Smythe wasn't a ghost, but falling in love with even an image of the far-distant past would have been a little too weird for Draco Regulus Black.
"So a property and a title passed from a Muggle line to a magical one?" Hermione was asking now. "Didn't that get tangled up with—oh, no, it was before the Code of Secrecy was passed, wasn't it? So there weren't any problems."
"Problems, there were, but nothing insurmountable. And speaking of property, this painting still exists there. At Malfoy Manor, I mean." Alex batted his hand through the corner of his insubstantial canvas. "If you ever get a chance to reclaim the place, you might be able to salvage it. But you were asking about Angharad Beauvoi, and who she might have married." He waved a hand around the images of the seated woman and the sandy-haired man who knelt beside her, wearing a coat of scale mail and a warm, welcoming smile. "Her sister-in-law introduced her to her future husband. His name was John, but because he was so fierce in battle, but so caring everywhere else, his friends and family usually called him…" He winked at Harry. "Wolf."
Draco felt his mind freeze solid. They called him—but that wizarding genealogy said—
Across the room, Moony seemed to have worked it out too, as his eyes widened and Danger made a soft sound of wonder. Padfoot barked a laugh. "How'd their kids turn out?" he asked. "Magical, most of them?"
"Most of them," Alex acknowledged, meeting Letha's small grin with one of his own. "And despite the best efforts of various wars, diseases, and the general perversity of the universe, that line of descent also continues to the present day." He inclined his head to Moony. "Nature's Nobility may be biased, but you have to admit the editors do their research, even if they later deny their own conclusions."
"Of course," said Moony with a bit of a sneer. "They have to know what the facts are before they can start twisting them to fit their own theories." He sighed, waving that away with one hand. "But it doesn't matter, not here, not now. What does matter is the gift you've given us." A smile blossomed on his face, nigh-identical to the one on the portrait-features of John the Wolf. "All of us." Now he did look at Draco, and the smile grew warmer than ever. "But especially myself and my Fox."
Hermione took a small scoot back and twiddled her fingers, and the grey smoke of a Privacy Spell sprang up around Draco and Moony. Draco spared one thought to shape the image of a thumbs-up out of that same smoke beside her, a silent token of thanks. Then he was across the floor as Fox and twining himself around Moony's arms, whining in quiet glee. Moony laughed and rubbed the corner of Fox's jaw, the side of his neck, the base of his ears. "I thought you'd like that," he murmured. "It may be far back in history, but that doesn't make it any less true."
Fox shook his head, then disengaged to sit down on the floor beside Moony in human form once more. "I don't care how far back it is," he said. "I could wish more people knew about it, but that'll come. What's important right now…" He would never have admitted it in the waking world, not even at a den-night, but this was the place and time where such words could be said. "It puts that link between us. It makes me yours. Really yours, the way I always wanted to be."
Moony shook his head, but with a finger upraised, warning that he had something to add to the simple gesture of negation. "I'm glad it does that for you," he said. "But for me…" He took Draco's hand in his own, then looked up to meet his eyes. "You've always been mine, Fox. The blood is just a bonus."
Oh, now that's not fair. How does he always know what I want to hear him say?
Because I'm your father, said a quieter mind-voice than Hermione's. Because I know you, and I love you. And no power on earth—and not many beyond it, either—can change that.
Spying on my thoughts. Draco pretended to pout. No fair again.
Which also falls under the fatherhood clause. Parents are permitted to do a great many things which are not in the least bit fair.
I've noticed. At least you and the others were usually pretty even-handed with the Den rules—it helped that we knew all the stories about what you used to get away with, and could bring them up to you as valid arguments…
"I do believe they need a moment," said Alex, turning his back on the Privacy Spell. "So, what has everyone else been up to? I heard from the Fox, which means I've got a decent idea about the Hogwarts contingent—not that we haven't been watching, and again, very impressive work you're doing there—but how about you two?" His double-handed point indicated Sirius and Danger. "How've you been passing your time?"
"Slowly, in my case," said Sirius, grimacing as he thought of the current pace of his day job. I might as well put in a patch of horklumps at the Office—I'd have time to tend them in between everything we get done in the day… "We're following up on leads about Death Eaters, of course, but it's hard to do when they're as thin on the ground as they have been. And of the ones we do get, half of them peter out before they turn into anything workable. We could patrol likely targets, I suppose, but then that would alert the DE's that we were onto them, and they'd just swap out for something different. Honestly, I feel like I could be doing more good elsewhere. If I just had an idea where elsewhere might be."
"Always the problem with a guerilla war. Or really, any kind of war." Alex nodded in understanding. "Far and away the most of it is waiting. Then there's the tedious, repetitive, boring work involved. And finally, a little tiny portion of frenetic action, usually incorporating a fair load of sheer, howling terror."
"Anyone would think you'd encountered war for yourself," said Aletha with a laugh. "Which I know you did."
"I did. But ours dragged on longer than yours is looking to do. We never got around to finishing it until I was well into my twenties, married and having kids of my own, and here you are with your cubs not quite seventeen, the older of them, and already after the Snitch. Or Snitches, if you will…"
Harry hissed something at Alex in Parseltongue, who replied in kind, looking not at all chastened. "I'm being reminded not to let kneazles out of bags unnecessarily," he explained when he was finished. "Personally I think you ought to know what they're up to, but it's not my decision. And speaking of getting married—" He glanced back at Harry, who flushed. "That embarrassed about it already? There's still time to back out, you know."
"Not likely," Harry retorted, his blush fading. "I can read a prophecy as well as anybody. 'Lion's line continue must'—that's me, isn't it? Gryffindor's Heir?" He paused, thinking. "Gryffindor's Heir," he repeated. "And we have Ravenclaw's in the Pack already, and Hufflepuff's, though Captain's Pride only, not Pack. But what about this 'serpent's younger child'? Are we going to have to find him and swear the Oath with him too? If we're going to have all four, shouldn't they all be sworn?"
"Good call." Alex looked impressed once more, Sirius thought, though there was a trifle of worry in the expression as well. "I can't tell you too much about that, but I can tell you not to spend too much time thinking about it. You'll know what to do when the time comes. And if you were wondering, the answers are no, no, and yes, in that order."
"So no, we won't have to find your Heir," said Hermione. "Because…he'll find us?"
"Or she," Meghan added. "It could be a she."
"And no, they won't have to swear the Oath with him, or her," said Danger. "I'm not sure why, but you're probably being overly clever again." She chuckled. "It must be genetic."
"Yes, it must." Alex looked at the floor, then up again, a blush of his own rising to his cheeks. "I wasn't sure if I was going to tell you this or not, but with an opening like that, I don't see how I can pass it up. So here goes. Bit of a logic puzzle for you to start with, and then you get the prize afterwards. Growing up, there were eight of us kids who were magical. Of our Founder parents, each one took two of us as students. Rick took his own two, and Weena had Brenna and Sophia—and Margaret sat in on most of their classes, magic always fascinated her even if she couldn't do it herself—what does that leave?"
Everyone looked at Hermione and Danger, who looked at each other, their eyes holding identical expressions of calculation. "It leaves you and Matthias, and Adam," said Hermione. "But who's the fourth, then?"
"Emrys," said Harry, snapping his fingers. "Godric's stepson, remember? Professor Jones told us about him after term ended last year."
"Right, of course, Emrys—" Hermione's eyes widened. "Emrys, who became Merlin. The greatest wizard of all time."
"And he learned to be great from a wizard who cherished greatness," Danger murmured. "He studied under your father, didn't he?"
"He did." Alex stared into the distance as though he could see those long-gone days passing before his eyes. "One of those little historical ironies, wouldn't you say? A wizard who's best remembered for protecting a Muggle king and court, studying magic under the tutelage of one who's best remembered for loathing all things Muggle with a passion. But that wasn't really what Dad was about, not at first. It only got to be an obsession with him as time went on, as he saw more and more Muggleborn kids showing up at Hogwarts, flooding out the purebloods, by his way of thinking, losing the chance to keep magical traditions and ideas strong, and to breed for the strongest and best magic. I'm sure I didn't make it any better, not after…" He stopped, grinning ruefully. "Sorry. Bad habit, that. Getting lost in the past."
"It seems like a past worth remembering," said Aletha. "So Merlin was a Slytherin. A member of that House, anyway."
"And if Matthias went with your dad when he left, then that would probably mean he studied under him as well." Harry was doodling in the air with fire, making different-colored squares to which he assigned small stick figures. "Yes?"
"Yes," Alex agreed, his grin broadening. "Worked it out yet?"
Sirius glanced at Harry's colored boxes, at Danger's grin which was sprouting to answer Alex's, and blinked as the answer came to him. "Wait. Wait, that can't be right. But you said—"
"I said two of us studied under each of the Founders." Alex waved a hand, clothing himself in basic Hogwarts black. "If we'd had Sortings then, the way you do now, two of us would have been in each House. Paul and Maura in Gryffindor, Brenna and Sophia in Ravenclaw, Emrys and Matt in Slytherin…"
A flick of his finger added the single House crest not yet mentioned to his robes.
"Oh, you were not," said Aletha, her lips twitching, as Harry, Hermione, and Meghan all burst out laughing simultaneously. "Though it does fit you."
"So why wasn't I, then?" Alex brushed a bit of imaginary dirt off his Hufflepuff crest. "I wear green most of the time because blood does matter, and because if I didn't, Dad's House wouldn't have a representative at all. And they do deserve one. But that's not who I am, not who I ever was. My only ambition in life was to be happy, to make a better life for my kids than I'd had." His eyes hardened momentarily. "And my only ambition now is to keep idiots like my dad and brother eventually turned into from stopping other people being happy and making better lives for their kids."
"Thus, your helping us," said Sirius, waving a hand around at the Pack. "For which, if we haven't said so already, thanks. Thanks a lot."
"You have. Quite a few times. But I'll always take it again, and pass it along to the rest." Alex stroked the badger's head on his crest again, his smile softening. "Nice to be in my proper colors for once. My other proper colors, I should say, I've got a perfect right to wear the green too, but doesn't this just bring back memories…"
Danger frowned, as though chasing down an elusive thought. "Your mother," she said slowly. "Your mother, and Merlin's, who became Paul and Maura's. And Adam's father, and the Fates'. Do you remember them at all? Tell me to back off if it's too personal," she added hastily, "but it's something that's always niggled at me. Whatever became of them? And were they magical? They'd almost have had to be, especially with what your father came to believe, but in that case why don't we know them as Founders along with the ones we do?"
"You told me once your mum went with your dad when he left," Harry added, bringing Alex's head around to focus on him. "Before we knew who you were, when you were still just Al, the portrait in the Hogwarts Den."
"Ah, the good old days." Alex wobbled a hand in the air. "So to speak. It's not that painful a subject, Danger, don't worry about it, but it is a bit touchy in other ways. But yes, Harry, I did tell you that, and it's true." He ran a hand across the fabric of his Hogwarts robes, the cloth bleeding into colors where it had touched it, yellow, green, red, blue, before fading back to black.
"Our parents all had magic," he said finally. "But the ones you don't know had a different sort than the ones you do." A brief flicker of a grin touched his face again. "And someday if I really want to knock you toes over head, I'll tell you why, and where they came from, and one of the reasons Dad and Rick and Gaga and Weena were so good at magic so young. It even explains their heraldry a bit. But for today, I've actually stayed about as long as I should. Not that the company isn't congenial, but I ought to be getting back."
"Thanks for popping 'round," Sirius said, getting to his feet along with Alex, as the Privacy Spell around Remus and Draco dissipated, revealing both of them with satisfied smiles, and Draco with—
Well, well. Sirius had a good look under the guise of bending down to help Meghan up. Their Fox had shifted his personal appearance once again, from the fully Moony-and-Danger look he'd used for the past couple years in dreams to something which split the difference between that and the face Sirius was used to seeing in his waking life. Probably close to what he'd end up with, if he and Neenie took that freeze off their blood-bond like Alex was saying. Maybe one of these days, assuming that vision of Luna's doesn't pan out the way they're all assuming it will, we can give that a try…
"Always good to see you," Alex was saying, shaking hands all around, adding a wink and a few words in Parseltongue to Harry, who snickered at whatever private joke had just been exchanged. "And hang onto that fifth line in the prophecy, will you? It's important."
"Fifth line," said Danger, raising the scroll in salute. "We'll remember."
"Excellent." Turning in place, still in his Hufflepuff robes, the younger son of Salazar Slytherin Disapparated, the last thing to vanish being his broad smile.
Sirius glanced over at Aletha. "Cheshire kneazle much?" he hazarded, and heard her rich chuckle in reply as the memory to which he'd referred came easily to her mind. The sound filled him with a wash of joy, as did her easy, comfortable squeeze of his hand.
Some days you just get luckier than you deserve to be.
"Remind me," said Remus, stretching his back. "What does the fifth line of that prophecy say?"
"Despair not when your dreams come true," Hermione recited before Danger could read it. "But—oh." Her eyes had fallen on Draco before she could get more than one word into her sentence.
"And you know, I'm not," said Draco thoughtfully. "I'm really not anymore." He looked over at Harry. "It's like Hagrid said that one day after the Triwizard."
"What's coming will come," Harry said, nodding. "And we'll meet it when it does."
"And we'll meet it together," said Meghan with certainty, holding out her hand. "Pack together."
"Pack forever," the rest of the family chorused, placing their hands atop hers.
Far away, though they could not see it, Alex's smile lingered, though it held traces of sadness now as well as joy.
"Hold onto that one too," he murmured, loading a quill with one hand as his other traced rune patterns on the surface of a basin like a Pensieve, though it was filled with ordinary water rather than the silvery fluid of thoughts. "You're going to need it more than you know."
So not very much happening as such, but a great deal to think about. More action next chapter, as we continue to move on with the year. Thoughts about the possible identity of Alex's Heir are welcomed, but will probably not be confirmed or denied. I do think you'll enjoy it when it happens, though. And yes, that is the prophecy I said would start Elemental Heirs. Which it still will. It's just in the DV now as well.
Quick reminder: The diadem is NOT a Horcrux in this universe—as Alex mentioned, it no longer even exists. I already had the brooch planned before DH came out and decided to stick with it. The diadem showing up here is just my little nod to canon. Thank you.
Re road confusion from last chapter: The British highway system uses the letters M or A, followed by a number, to designate roads, rather like American interstates, which are I-whatever. Percy had the idea of tapping this collective consciousness to create a set of magical roads which follow the same routes, which are all together called the Red Roads but one at a time go by the same names as the Muggle roads they parallel, and which work like moving sidewalks, only a whole lot faster. More about this, again, next chapter.
Thanks as always for reading, and please take one moment to review! I know I say this a lot, but reviews are the only way I have of knowing if you're still reading and I should still take the time to write. All you need to do is pick a moment you enjoyed, or maybe one that you weren't sure about if you've got that instead, and tell me about it. Please? Thanks in advance, and see you next week, I hope!
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