Harry stood in awe as he, Dumbledore, and Sirius stood at the gates to the home his parents had shared. The castle seemed to tower into the heavens and at that moment, Harry wondered if he'd ever seen anything more majestic.
"Wow," he said softly.
"That's what Lily said," Sirius whispered. "James got this place as a surprise when he proposed to her."
"As I recall, she let him stew for several days afterward," Dumbledore quipped.
"Did she ever! I've never seen Prongs so strung up. Guess she did that to get back at him for all those times he turned her hair purple."
Harry smiled, and opened the gate slowly. As he stepped closer to the castle, he felt his excitement grow, to the point that he was almost running when he got to the doors. He stopped with a yelp, causing Sirius to bolt to his side. Standing before Harry was a wizened old man, in formal robes.
"I wondered when I'd be seeing you here, Master Potter. Seems only yesterday I last saw your parents."
"Well I- " Harry began, but the old man cut him off as though he hadn't even spoken.
"Yes, yes, wonderful to see you here. If you'll please step forward momentarily, I need to verify your identity. Standard procedure, you understand."
"Whose standard procedure?" Harry asked. This time, the old man answered.
"Why, that was one of the last orders given to the castle by Mr. James Potter."
"What for?" Harry asked.
"I am afraid I do not know. The matter was never discussed. I know only that the house is to invoke the necessary defence if an unauthorized witch or wizard tries to enter."
Harry sighed, and stepped forward. A bright yellow light surrounded him, blinding him briefly. Just as suddenly as it appeared, it was gone.
"Welcome to Potter Manor. These gentleman are guests?" The old man asked.
"Very well. If they will please step forward for identification?" the man replied.
Dumbledore stepped forward first. A blue light surrounded him. In a moment, the old man nodded. Sirius stepped forward.
"Ah, Mr. Black. Welcome back to the Manor. I assume your journey was pleasant? If the three of you will enter, I'll show you to the sitting room," the old man finished, stepping aside for them. After the three of them had entered, the old man lead them to the room and waited. Harry turned to Sirius.
"Who is he?"
"Cornelius. He isn't real. He's a spell Lily designed. Sort of the Spirit of the castle. It takes care of guests and delivers messages. I suppose no one has been here since your parents died, since he seems to think they'll be back soon." Sirius said. Harry nodded.
"Why did he let you in without scanning you?" Harry asked.
"I have standing authorization here. I thought James would change it when we were having troubles with the spy, but I suppose he didn't."
"And he was gone by the time you went to Azkaban," Harry finished. Sirius nodded.
"I'll take it from here, Cornelius," Sirius said. The old man nodded once, before fading away.
"My mother created that charm?" Harry asked. Dumbledore nodded before Sirius could speak.
"Your mother was one of the more talented charm workers I've known. She managed to defeat our charms professor in a duelling club exercise once."
Harry's eyes widened, but he said nothing. Instead, he took to looking around the room they were in, growing restless quickly. "Can we go somewhere else?"
"Let's do," Sirius replied. The three got up and walked into the castle proper. Before long, Harry's curiosity burst forth.
"How old is this place? Did Dad have it built? How many times have you been here? Does Remus know about this castle? Why doesn't Dumbledore have standing authorization? What sort of defences does this place have? How come I've never been told about this place before? Can we- " Harry said, before Sirius held up a restraining hand.
"One thing at a time, Harry. I only have two ears, you know. This place is probably a few hundred years old. No, James bought it from some friends of his, and I've been here lots of times. Yes, Remus knows. The Marauders did a lot of planning here. I don't know why Albus doesn't have standing authorization, but I guess James didn't think it was necessary. In fact, he probably thought the fewer authorized people, the better. As for the defences, I'll have to show you around them eventually. Remus, James, Lily, and I designed most of them, but a few were here already. James wanted to give you this castle for your twenty-first birthday, and wanted that to be a secret. In light of recent events..." Sirius abruptly trailed off, a distant look in his eyes. In a moment though, his mischievous grin returned. "Wait till you see some of the secret passages we built into this place!"
"Shame we couldn't bring Ron and Hermione," Harry said softly. Harry's friends had been enlisted by Mrs. Weasley to help Madam Pomfrey care for the remaining Hogwarts patients.
"They'll come soon enough. For now, let's tour the ground floor, and then get you established as Lord of the Manor," Sirius said, gently taking Harry's arm, and steering him toward the far end of the room. Harry barely noticed as Albus walked in another direction.
"You've seen the main sitting room already. Cornelius always puts guests there, unless it's full. Through here," Sirius said, pointing down the hall to the right, "was James's study. To the left is the library."
Harry nodded, opening the door to his father's study. Inside were hundreds of books, some of which Harry picked up and paged through, before walking to his father's desk. On the desk lay an issue of the Daily Prophet, several fancy quills, and a half finished letter to someone. Harry ignored these, and picked up a picture from the far right corner of his father's desk. A much younger Sirius stared back at him, along with his father, a young Remus, and Wormtail. Harry glared at the picture for several moments, before placing his thumb over Pettigrew and staring at the smiling face of his father.
"You look a lot like him," Sirius said, causing Harry to jump and whirl around. He'd completely forgotten Sirius was there.
"Is there any way to get Wormtail out of here?" Harry asked. Sirius opened his mouth, and then slowly closed it, and then sighed before answering.
"Possibly. Though, I wonder if that's the best idea."
"What?" Harry yelled.
"Harry," Sirius began, slowly, "That picture comes from a time before everything went wrong. When your father and Remus and Peter and I were in Hogwarts, and for a few years after, we were friends. We were more then that. The person you see there isn't Wormtail. That's just Peter Pettigrew. Before Voldemort got to him."
Harry stared at Sirius in absolute disbelief. "But he put you in Azkaban! He killed my parents. How can you say this?"
"Because before Voldemort got to him, Peter was a good person. He was just scared all the time. Always needed protection. If we'd only watched more carefully, we could have prevented all of... this. I can see what you're on to, and I agree. If you don't want the whole picture, I'll get him out, but before we do that, I'd like a copy of it. I'd like to be able to remember what things were like before everything went wrong." Sirius replied.
Harry shook his head in confusion, but he handed Sirius the picture. After that, the two left the study. Several minutes passed by before Sirius spoke.
"Would you like to see Lily's gardens?"
Harry nodded slowly. Sirius took the lead, and Harry followed him down the hall, and through a door, leading outdoors. There, frozen in time, were the gardens his mother had created.
"It smells like life out here," Harry said slowly. He walked down a path to the middle of the garden, and turned around slowly, surveying as much of the garden as he could see.
"Charms wasn't all she was good at," Sirius said. "She did most of the groundwork herself, but the house elves helped quit a bit."
After about five minutes, Sirius sighed. "We should look at the rest of this place. We do have work to do...."
The pair walked back into the castle, and spent the next several hours exploring the grounds. Eventually, they returned to the main hall, and then went in search of Dumbledore. The found him in what Sirius called the first response room. This was near the centre of the castle, several stories above anything Harry had seen that afternoon.
"The castle's defence profile must be undated. We need to establish Harry as the focus point," Dumbledore said without preamble.
"What does that mean?" Harry asked.
"The castle thinks that James is the main focus to the defence charms. They wont fully invoke without him. We need to change that." Sirius replied.
"Come stand here Harry," Dumbledore said, pointing to a symbol inset into the floor. Harry hesitated a moment, before stepping forward. Dumbledore stepped back, whispering something and waving his wand over Harry. Suddenly, Harry's heart jumped into his throat.
"D-Dad?" Harry asked. The figure of James said nothing for a moment, and then began what must have been a pre-made message.
"Hello Harry. If you're here, you've found the First Response room. I suppose Remus lead you? The castle itself is unplottable, as I'm sure you know. This room is unique even so. The room itself is hidden. It's under the Fidelius Charm. I meant to show you, but since you're here, I'm probably gone. On this, your twenty-first birthday, it's time for you to learn the secrets of this castle. I laboured for several weeks over how best to explain them, before I bowed to the inevitable and had Lily figure something. If you're alone, stand in the exact centre of the room, and say 'Is est charta, obduco ex abbas ut filius.' I can't really describe what will happen after that, but Lily assures me it wont feel very pleasant. Have some fire whiskey ready. I love you, son."
Harry said nothing for a while, and then turned to Sirius, who nodded and left the room, along with Dumbledore. Harry walked into what he thought was the centre of the room, and said "Is ist charta, abduco ex abbos ut filius." A moment later, he was on the floor, with little memory of what had happened. Maybe I'm not in the centre of the room? Harry stood up, and moved a bit further to his left, reciting the charm again. Moments later he found himself on his back. Again. He sighed and then brightened, as an idea came to him.
"Cornelius?" he said uncertainly. To his immense relief, the Spirit appeared right away.
"Yes, Master Potter?"
"Do you know anything about this room?" Harry asked.
"Only that your father used it extensively during the last several times he was here."
"I need to find the exact centre. It's for..." Harry trailed off, as the Spirit took his shoulders gently, and led him to the centre. He hadn't been that far off.
"But how do you know?" Harry asked.
"Your mother was quite talented with charms. She- "
"Oh," Harry said, not realizing he'd cut the explanation short.
"If I may be of no further assistance?" Cornelius asked.
"No, thank you," Harry replied. The Spirit bowed and then disappeared.
Harry stood for a moment, before another idea occurred to him. He waved his wand in a familiar pattern, and spoke Sirus' name. Moments later, he signed off, with the proper pronunciation of the incantation running through his mind.
"Is est charta, obduco ex abbas ut filius!" Harry said firmly. The world turned blue for a moment, and then pain like nothing Harry had ever before experienced flowed into his mind. In moments, he was on the floor, screaming in pain as new memories were added to his mind more rapidly then anything he'd ever experienced. Each new scream caused spikes of pain to sear into his eyes, and in seconds, he was forced to stop moaning, as each sound brought fresh agonies. After what seemed like an eternity, everything stopped. Harry began to collect his bearings and slowly became aware that he was gently sobbing. Sirius was standing over him, fanning his face and worriedly yelling his name. His face relaxed visibly when Harry turned toward him.
"Dad said I'd need whiskey," he said weakly. Sirius yelled for Cornelius, and something cool was thrust into Harry's hands seconds later. When Harry finished his drink, he sat up slowly, and then closed his eyes, as his new memories began to make themselves known to him. A moment later, Harry rose unsteadily to his feet.
"We have work to do."
Harry woke the next morning with agony screaming through his muscles, and the dull white of St. Mungo's above his eyes. He'd worked late into the night and then refused charms that would have warded away the pain. He'd wanted to feel the results of working to improve his parents house. Sirius hadn't argued, saying only that hard work was something James had taken pride in. Harry reflexively grabbed his wand when his door burst open, relaxing when Ron stormed into the room, demanding "Details, mate, and don't make me ask twice."
"Well, it's--" Harry began, but stopped when Hermione stepped into his room. She said nothing, just sat down and started listening. By the time Harry finished explaining everything he'd done the day before, leaving out the bit about the First Response room's reaction to him, Hermione's eyes were as big as saucers, and Ron seemed to have trouble remembering how to speak, as he fought for the words he wanted. Eventually, "Wicked!" was the one he settled for. Harry nodded.
"When do we get to go over there?" Ron asked.
"Just as soon as I convince Dumbledore you'd be better off at the Manor then here in St. Mungo's," Harry replied.
"How are you going to do that, Harry?" Hermione asked.
"D'know yet," Harry replied. Hermoine nodded slowly. Harry waited, while Ron cast about for something to say. With a start, Harry realized Ron was trying to avoid brining up Ginny. It made sense, Harry supposed. Ron and Hermione had each other to talk to, and while Hermione would probably listen to Harry, it wouldn't be the same. The three made small talk for a few more minutes, before Ron and Hermione left. Harry sighed, and rested his head in his hands. About ten minutes later, he got up, and started off to find Dumbledore.
Several hours later, Sirius, Ron, Harry, Hermione, and Remus stood in front of the doors to the castle. Harry took the lead, and Cornelius appeared.
"Welcome back to the Manor," Cornelius said, not bothering to scan Harry this time. From what he'd learned in the First Response room, Harry understood it was no longer necessary. The castle itself could sense him. If anyone tried to approach in his guise, the castle would destroy them.
Sirius approached, and Cornelius waved him past. As Ron stepped up, Cornelius stopped him. "I'll have to identify you. Standard procedure, you understand," he said.
"Harry?" Ron asked uncertainly.
"Go ahead and let him. It wont hurt," Harry reassured him. A moment later, Ron stepped past Cornelius. Hermione did much the same. Cornelius frowned when Remus approached.
"My orders are that you are to be denied entrance to the castle, sir," Cornelius said.
"Why?" Harry asked, before Remus could respond.
"There is a suspicion that this person may be working for the Dark Lord. If he attempts entrance anyway, the castle is instructed to detain him until the Lord of the Manor arrives."
Ron, Remus, and Hermione looked perplexed. Sirius turned to Harry. Harry looked at Cornelius. "Those orders are rescinded. Re-identify everyone here. They are all to have standing exception."
Sirius and Harry stepped aside, while the others were added to the castle's defence profile.
"Thank you, Cornelius," Harry said. The Spirit disappeared. Harry lead his friends into the castle.
"This place is amazing!" Hermione said the instant she set eyes on the inside of the room. Ron nodded silently.
"My dad had good taste," Harry replied, shrugging. After that, it wasn't long before professors McGonagall and Flitwick arrived. Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Sirius went one way, while Dumbledore and the other professors went another, enlarging rooms and creating dormitories and classrooms. A certain section of the castle Harry sealed from general intrusion, except for those who the castle had already assigned exception.
"Blimey, Harry," Ron said, several hours later. "You didn't tell me you were going to put us to work."
"You'll live, I think," Harry replied. Ron frowned.
"I just hope Gin- " Ron started, before abruptly stopping. Harry removed all emotion from his face, and waited.
"- Just hope Ginny can see this place, soon," Ron finished. Harry nodded, not changing his facial expression.
"It's my fault she can't see it now," Harry said. "But- "
"Don't you dare start that, Potter!" Ron yelled, turning and storming away from Harry in a fury. Harry stood silently for a moment, before sighing, and following after Ron.
"I wasn't starting anything!" Harry yelled. Ron turned and opened his mouth to snap something at Harry, but Harry had other ideas.
"You're right, Ron. Maybe we just need a break?" Harry asked. Ron considered for all of two seconds.
"Best idea I've heard all day."
Harry and Ron wandered to the main hall, where they found Hermione talking excitedly to Remus.
"And the library has some things that even Hogwarts doesn't have!" she was saying.
"James did inherit several things from relatives of his. I imagine some of the books here don't exist anywhere else," Remus replied, causing Hermione's eyes to light up anew.
"Like I said, Dad had good taste," Harry said, causing both Hermione and Remus to turn in his direction.
"He did at that," Remus said.
"Oy, Hermione, do you know a charm I might use on my poor abused muscles?" Ron asked. Hermione rolled her eyes.
"Why don't you lot take a beak," Remus said. "Harry, why don't you show them the Quidditch pitch?"
Ron's eyes glazed over. "Quidditch pitch?"
"What are we waiting for?" Ron demanded.
"What happened to your poor abused muscles?" Hermione said sarcastically.
"I'll risk my muscles! This is Quidditch we're talking about," Ron said. Harry glanced at Hermione, and both rolled their eyes.
"Come on then," Harry said. The trio walked down the hall, only to stop suddenly when Cornelius appeared.
"There is a woman at the gate asking for you, sir," the Spirit said to Harry. "She informs me that her message is urgent."
Harry glanced at his friends, and they all changed course, toward the main doors. Cornelius walked ahead. As they walked toward the main doors of the castle, Sirius caught up with them, and after talking to Harry for a moment, fell in stride. Harry waved his hand, and the main doors of the castle opened of their own accord. Sirius took a look toward the gate, and cursed.
"What?" Harry asked. Sirius spoke while rapidly levitating things out of the way of the approaching woman.
"She's a bit- " Sirius broke off as the woman tripped over her own feet. "- clumsy."
"I'll say," Ron muttered, yelping when Hermione elbowed him in the ribs.
"Harry James Potter?" the woman asked, after she picked herself up. Harry nodded slowly.
"Good. My name is Nymphadora Tonks. I bring a message from Ginny."