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A Life More Ordinary

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Chapter 1: Prologue: Dumbledore's Office, November 1981

"You can't do this!"

"Remus, I understand your concern-"

"My concern?" Remus' hands clenched around the back of the chair so hard, it was beginning to wobble. "You've just allowed an innocent man to be imprisoned and you've given Harry to people who have no right to have him! There was a reason Lily and James didn't name Petunia and her husband as Harry's guardians."

"Remus, there was nothing else I could do-"

"You are the most powerful wizard our world has ever known," Remus said, his fury making his voice high and manic, "and you can't do anything?"

"The Aurors captured Sirius in the middle of the carnage-"

"This is Sirius! Sirius!" Remus stressed; the legs of the chair scraped the stone floor as he shoved it away. "He would never betray the Potters! He would have died before he would do anything to put his godson in danger-"

"Including keeping himself out of harm's way?" Albus asked quietly. "So that his godson would not have to be stay with Petunia?"

Remus' chest heaved as words seared through his righteous anger.

Albus went on before Remus could recover, "He chose to follow Peter."

Anger flared again and Remus narrowed his eyes. "He was trying to make certain Harry was safe from a madman! And it isn't just his freedom we're talking about, Albus! What about Harry? You can't leave him with those people."

Albus sighed and turned slightly toward the window. "What would you have me do, Remus? The Dursleys are his only living relatives."

"James and Lily would not want this, Albus. You know they wouldn't."

"He has nowhere else to go," Albus pointed out. "You would not be allowed to adopt him once your condition was found out during the screening process."

Remus flinched at the blunt reminder of what he was.

"Harry will be perfectly safe with his relatives for now," Albus said, turning back around now and speaking with a smile. "Petunia has a son, just about his age. Harry will make a nice addition to their family."

Remus shook his head vehemently, but Albus paid no attention. He picked up a scrap of parchment from his desk. "I assume you do not have any desire to remain in London?" he asked, the smile gone from his voice.

"I-"

"I have secured a cottage for you, in a small Muggle village in France. You will be able to continue with your writing there. No one will be able to find you."

"But Harry-"

"Harry will remain where he is until there is no longer a reason for him to," Albus said firmly. He held the parchment out to Remus. "You cannot do anything, Remus," he said, his voice gentler. "For either of them right now."

Remus couldn't find anything to say; Albus placed the parchment in his hand. He said nothing either and a moment later, Remus was whirled away.

A moment later, Remus stared around the tiny hovel where Albus' Portkey had taken him. The piece of parchment shook as his hand trembled.

James and Lily were gone…

Peter had betrayed them…

Harry was with people who would hate him…

And Sirius…

With a dry sob, Remus fell to his knees.

Everyone he'd ever loved was lost.

--

Albus gazed at the place where Remus had just been. With a deep sigh, he murmured the spell that made his silver Patronus erupt from the tip of his wand.

He adjusted the papers on his desk while he waited. Less than five minutes later, there was a tentative knock on his door.

"Come in, Severus," Albus said quietly. The door opened slowly and finally, clad in black as he always was, Severus stepped inside.

"You summoned me, Headmaster?" The tone was nearly as reserved as Albus had ever heard it; the black eyes were still clouded with remorse, as they had been since Halloween.

Albus beckoned him inside. "Yes, Severus. I have changed my mind about how I can best use your talents. Please have a seat."

--

Sirius sat huddled in the corner of his cell as the winds howled outside and the waves lapped loudly against the side of the building. His hands dug into the sides of his head as he tried to shut out the images that wouldn't stop haunting him.

James' house, an empty ruin…

James and Lily dead. Their eyes staring at nothing.

Harry screaming as Hagrid took him from Sirius' arms.

The words he'd said to soothe him. The lie. "I'll come get you, Harry."

Harry struggling against Hagrid's forearm as they flew away in Sirius' motorbike.

And Remus…

There had been no hate-filled eyes. But Sirius could imagine them. Could see them clearly alongside Harry's struggles.

The images bombarded him until he lost all sense of time. Anger, fear, hate, self-loathing, and betrayal crowded into his heart until he knew he'd go mad with it.

Dragging in a painful breath of air, Sirius concentrated and with a lurch, his body transformed.

The shadow of a large dog stretched beyond the cell, but there was nobody to notice. Nobody to care. And so the dog remained.

Alone.

For three years…

And when the dog heard the unfamiliar screech of metal against stone, he didn't even lift his head.

"Hello, Sirius."

The dog's head jerked up.

"It's all right, Sirius," the gentle voice said as it came closer. "Here…"

A spell broke the air and the dog saw through human eyes again.

"Dumbledore?" Sirius croaked; he didn't even recognize his own voice.

"Yes, Sirius, I'm really here." The headmaster's fingers carded gently through his hair.

"What's-" Sirius coughed violently.

"It's all right… don't try to talk. We're leaving now."

Sirius had no idea what he meant.

"Peter's been captured. You have been acquitted."

Sirius focused all his energy on those words, drank them in as Dumbledore put a hand round his waist and lifted.

"Harry…" he rasped as he stumbled against Dumbledore's side.

"He's all right," Dumbledore assured him softly.

"Want…"

"We'll go see him as soon as you're able."

Sirius gasped as pain lanced through his legs and speech was no longer possible. Remus, he wanted to say. He wanted Remus as well.

He needed both of them.


Chapter Text

"Hello, Harry," the tall man with dark hair said quietly, "I'm Sirius."

"Hello, sir," Harry whispered.

The tall man's eyebrows scrunched together as he peered down. "You can call me Sirius."

Harry nodded solemnly. "Yes sir."

The man smiled. And then he crouched down slowly until Harry could see his grey eyes, and the skin crinkling around them. He was still smiling so Harry didn't mind when he put large hands carefully on his shoulders.

"Just Sirius," he said. The lines around the man's—Sirius'—eyes deepened and he moved one of those hands so that his thumb was lightly brushing one of Harry's cheeks. "I'm your godfather," he said, so quietly that Harry had to strain to hear him. "That means that I was a friend of your parents… A long time ago they asked me to take care of you. You're going to come live with me-" Sirius cleared his throat. "-if you want to."

Harry stared, nearly too startled to remember that it wasn't polite not to speak when you were spoken to. "Live with you?"

"It is your choice, of course, Harry. No one will force you to leave your home here, if you do not wish to."

Harry looked up, squinting at the tall, white-haired man towering above Sirius. He was wearing a bright blue, pointy hat on his head. And he was smiling through his snowy beard, so Harry supposed he didn't need to be frightened of him either. He turned back to Sirius, who was watching him and looking a little bit like he was holding his breath.

"You're my… godfather? Is that the right word?"

Sirius started breathing again. That smile was back on his face, and it made Harry smile a little as well.

"Yes, I am," Sirius said, nodding.

Harry glanced at his aunt and uncle—and Dudley. They were all huddled together just inside the parlor. Sirius' eyes had moved with him, and now he was frowning. But as soon as Harry turned again, Sirius' eyes were in front of his again.

"You want me to live with you?" Harry asked, trying not to fidget or look away. He didn't want to be rude, even if he didn't believe the smiling man who said he was his godfather—which sounded pretty important.

Sirius nodded solemnly. "More than anything, Harry." He cleared his throat again, and Harry wondered why he sounded so nervous. "I've prepared a room for you."

Now it was Harry who was certain he was no longer breathing. "A room?" he echoed breathlessly. "For me?" His glasses slipped down his nose in his excitement. Sirius tilted his head, and his eyes squinted just like he was confused as he reached out to straighten Harry's glasses.

"Of course," he said as he nodded. "You'll have to tell me the colors you like, for the bedspread and things like that. I didn't know what you'd fancy-"

His heart about to burst, Harry catapulted himself at Sirius.

"…oomph," Sirius breathed, and before Harry could right himself, or even figure out that he needed to, he was wrapped in strong arms, his glasses askew and his nose pressed right into Sirius' soft shirt. There was a quiet laugh near Harry's ear; he could feel it vibrating in Sirius' chest.

"Is that a yes, then?" Sirius whispered. And all Harry could do was nod; he didn't want to cry, after all. Nearly five-year olds didn't cry over new rooms, even if they'd never had one before. Sirius' arms tightened around Harry, and that was all the permission Harry needed to wrap his arms around his godfather's neck.

With one smooth motion, as if Harry weighed nothing at all, Sirius was standing, still holding Harry tightly in his arms.

"Let's go, Albus," he heard Sirius say, his voice shaking. Harry lifted his head, and he could see the Dursleys staring at him. They didn't even try to stop him. Sirius' arms tightened again as they passed the parlor; Harry buried his face in his godfather's neck and let Sirius take him away.

--

The Muggle cab stopped across the street from his childhood home and with a quiet thanks, Sirius paid the fare with the pound notes Dumbledore had given him.

"This is London, Harry," he explained as his godson slid out of the taxi. "Have you ever been to London?"

"No, sir," Harry answered quietly.

"Just Sirius."

The gentle correction made Harry glance up; his green eyes were nervous behind the spectacles.

Sirius smiled and pointed across the street to the row of townhouses. "That's where we're going to live. Number twelve." Harry nodded but didn't say anything. "Shall we go in?"

Sirius gave his godson an encouraging smile, which Harry almost returned. Sirius held out a hand and after a long moment, Harry took it; Sirius squeezed the smaller hand lightly.

They crossed the street and Sirius found his stomach twisting with anxiety. What if Harry didn't like it here? Alhough, after Albus explained just how Harry had been treated at the Dursleys, Sirius knew anything would probably be welcome. The thought made him nauseous, as it had for weeks now, while he'd been forced to recover before Albus would allow him to see Harry.

Encouraged by the tightening grip against his fingers, Sirius picked up the pace as they walked up the steps. He was suddenly very grateful to Albus and his army of house-elves as he opened the front door. The parlour, painted in a fresh coat of white, looked perfectly inviting, if a bit bare.

Sirius put a light hand on Harry's shoulder and said, "Go ahead, Harry." Harry stepped over the threshold without any more prodding; his eyes were wide as he looked around.

"We'll need to get more furniture, I think," Sirius said. "And perhaps a painting or two."

Harry nodded politely as he shifted from foot to foot.

"Would you like to see your room?" Sirius asked. Harry nodded again, a shy smile lighting his face this time and at the tiny display of pleasure, Sirius realized just how excited his godson must be. "Let's go on up, then."

Harry's eyes continued to dart around as they walked together up the first flight of stairs, and Sirius vowed to thank Albus for employing such industrious elves—the portrait of his mother had finally been removed with several extremely powerful blasting charms.

"My room is the one on the left," Sirius said when they reached the landing.

Harry nodded solemnly. "I'll remember, sir."

Sirius almost sighed; they'd really have to work on this, it seemed.

"Sirius," he said, emphasizing it with a little nod this time. He crouched down again so that Harry didn't have to strain his neck. "I really would like you to call me that, Harry," he said, making certain his voice remained low and soothing. "I know your aunt and uncle probably told you that it's polite to call your elders sir and ma'am and for most adults, that's true. But I'm just Sirius, all right?"

Harry studied him, and Sirius could clearly see the uncertainty in his green eyes, but then Harry squared his shoulders and nodded. "I'll try to remember."

Sirius smiled—he could practically hear the 'sir' hanging in the air. Harry returned the smile this time, so Sirius reached out carefully to take Harry's shoulders, turning him to face the other room.

"And this," he said as he gazed over his godson's shoulder, "is your room."

There was silence, and then Harry walked forward slowly until he was in the room. He turned in a full circle before his eyes came back to stare at Sirius. "All of it?"

"All of it."

This time, Harry looked like he was trying not to bounce on his toes. "Thank you, sir… erm… Sirius, sir…"

The exuberance faded quickly but Sirius chuckled and gave his confused godson a wink. "We'll work on it." That earned him a somewhat shy smile.

Deciding to ignore Albus' advice that he wait to spring the news on Harry that there really were witches and wizards—and magic, Sirius sat on the bed Albus had purchased weeks ago just for Harry. "I want to show you something," he said.

Harry's eyes immediately became wary behind his spectacles, but he nodded.

Very slowly, Sirius withdrew his wand from his sleeve. "Your aunt and uncle-" Sirius kept the venom from his tone with extreme care. "-didn't tell you much about your parents, did they?"

Harry shook his head. "They died in a car accident… Aunt Petunia said it was because my dad was drunk."

Sirius' spine straightened and his mouth flopped open. "What?"

Harry took a step back, and Sirius quickly shut his mouth and forced his muscles to relax. "It's all right," he said, smiling a little to ease the worry lines around his godson's eyes. "Your aunt… must have been mistaken. Your parents didn't die in an accident and your dad wasn't drunk."

Harry cocked his head. "Aunt Petunia said he drank a lot… my mum too. They couldn't keep a job."

A very familiar rage boiled through Sirius then; the same rage that had cost him Harry--and Remus. But Harry was gazing at him with curious green eyes; eyes that were oddly trusting. Much more than they should have been. So he drew a slow breath through his nostrils and gently shook his head. "Your mum and dad were wonderful people, Harry," he said. "Your aunt… didn't know them very well. They loved you very much. And you dad had a very important job."

"He did?" The eager question startled Sirius a bit, but he smiled and nodded.

"Absolutely. When you were just a baby, there was a war—a very bad man was trying to hurt a lot of people and your dad's job was to try to stop him."

"Yeah?" Harry's eyes were sparkling the same way Lily's used to just after she'd finished a new book. "Did you help my dad?"

"I did," Sirius said with a small nod. "And this bad man we were fighting; he was a wizard."

Harry's eyes were round. "A wizard with magic?"

"Yes," Sirius said, trying not to smile at the awe in Harry's tone. "And your father was a wizard too… with magic."

Harry's brows drew together and his eyes narrowed. "Magic isn't real," he said with a firm note of a disapproval in his voice—Petunia's doing, no doubt. She and her husband had tried to force Albus out bodily when he announced who he was, muttering something or other about freakish magic.

"It is very real, Harry," Sirius said carefully. "Your mum was magical too."

"She was a wizard?" Harry asked skeptically.

"Girls with magic are called witches-"

"Witches are ugly and they frighten babies," Harry interrupted matter-of-factly.

Sirius shook his head. "Your mum was very beautiful. You have her eyes."

Harry looked startled. "I do?"

"Yes," Sirius said. "Would you like to see a picture of your parents?"

Harry's eyebrows flew up behind his black fringe. "You have a picture?"

"Quite a few, actually," Sirius said, grinning at the excitement in his godson's eyes—excitement which he was so obviously trying to hide. "They're in my bedroom."

Harry didn't answer but it was a very emphatic sort of silence, so Sirius stood. He paused when he reached the corridor—sans Harry. He turned to find his godson still standing near the bed, his small hands twisted into his shirt front.

"Wouldn't you like to come with me?" Sirius asked softly.

Harry blinked and with Sirius' encouraging smile, the little boy nodded and walked across the room.

"I'm not allowed to go into my aunt and uncle's room," Harry said in a low voice. "Dudley is, even when he has nightmares…"

Sirius swallowed through a throat that was suddenly very raw. "You may come in my room any time," he said, catching Harry's gaze. "Especially if you have a nightmare."

Harry seemed to be searching his face. And finally, the corners of his mouth turned up. Sirius smiled; he wove his fingers lightly through Harry's hair and the two of them stepped into his room.


Chapter Text


Harry glanced uncertainly around the dark pub and back again at his godfather.

"Are you certain?" he asked as he wound his fingers more tightly around Sirius'.

"I'm certain," Sirius said with a smile. "This is how we get into Diagon Alley… straight through the back there."

Harry stepped out of the fireplace with Sirius; after all, Sirius hadn't lied to him once, not even to convince him to use the Floo—and it had made him rather dizzy, just like Sirius said it might.

The people in the pub stopped talking as soon as he and Sirius entered. And then they were whispering to their neighbors, all of them looking excited.

"Harry Potter," he heard them saying. "…and look, he really is with Sirius Black…"

"… you heard he was acquitted, didn't you?"

"After all that time…"

" Veritaserum and a Pensieve sorted it, I heard…"

"Peter Pettigrew…"

"I know, can you imagine how the Potters must have felt…"

Harry couldn't keep up with all the whispered words and he didn't even know what most of them meant anyway. Sirius had told him that people would probably point and stare—something to do with the scar that looked like a lightning bolt on his forehead and Harry being very brave… and something about that bad wizard who had died when his parents were fighting him.

Harry hadn't really understood Sirius' explanation, but he'd nodded anyway, not wanting his godfather to think he hadn't been paying attention.

And nobody in the pub really looked unfriendly he supposed, but he pressed himself close to Sirius nonetheless.

"It's all right, Harry," Sirius soothed him in a low voice. "We'll just go through to the back…"

"Sirius Black!"

Harry and Sirius paused. A woman with a pointy black hat and spectacles was coming toward them. Sirius smiled at her though, so Harry relaxed his death grip on his hand.

"Professor McGonagall," Sirius greeted the woman with a grin. The Professor smiled as well.

"Now, none of that, Sirius," the woman scolded. "It's Minerva now… How are you? Albus told all of us the wonderful news, of course. And we all saw the papers." She looked down at Harry. "And this must be Harry…"

Sirius prodded Harry's shoulder blade gently. "Yes, this is Harry," he answered when Harry just stared up at the brown-haired woman. "This was one of my teachers at Hogwarts, Harry. Professor McGonagall."

"You're a witch?" he asked timidly. Professor McGonagall laughed softly.

"I am indeed, Mr. Potter. And you are a handsome little wizard. You are the spitting image of your father… quite a mischievous little devil your father was." She said it with a smile though. "You have your mother's eyes, has anyone ever told you that? Well, yes, I suppose your aunt must have…"

Aunt Petunia never had, but Harry didn't correct the professor.

"What are you two doing here today?" McGonagall went on with her questions.

"Just a bit of shopping," Sirius said. "We don't have much furniture… and Harry needs toys," he added with a wink for Harry. Harry smiled shyly; he still didn't quite believe he'd have toys of his own.

"Of course," McGonagall agreed. She patted Harry on the head. "Now, you be good for your godfather, Mr. Potter. And you, Sirius, don't be a stranger around Hogwarts. The rest of the staff would like to meet Harry as well, I am certain."

"Of course, Minerva," Sirius said with a nod and with another quick smile, the professor bid them farewell and Sirius and Harry continued on their way to the back of the pub.

--

"She was nice…" Harry murmured as they stepped through an unmarked door and on outside. Sirius glanced down at him.

"Most people you meet here will be nice," he assured his very worried-looking godson. Harry nodded, but it was in that jerky way that signaled he didn't quite believe him.

Sirius knelt down as they came to the brick wall. "Here," he said quietly as he withdrew his grandfather's wand. "You get into Diagon Alley by tapping the bricks in a certain pattern; watch." Sirius smiled a little when Harry's eyes widened as the bricks dissolved. Since his first demonstration of Wingardium Leviosa, Harry had been captivated.

"There will be a lot of people here," Sirius explained as he adjusted Harry's collar, "so stay close, all right?"

Harry nodded solemnly, but Sirius already knew the warning wouldn't be necessary; Harry was still much too nervous to let Sirius out of his sight for any extended length of time. After years spent alone in a cell in Azkaban though, Sirius didn't mind his new shadow.

He smiled, taking Harry's hand as he stood up. "All right, then, Harry. Let's go."

Harry's grip was tight as they walked along the cobbled streets; his wide eyes took in every sight and Sirius almost didn't mind the ever-present stares and whispers.

"See that, Harry?" Sirius pointed to the dozen owls waiting in Eeylop's display window. "That's how we send the post… Owls carry letters all over England."

"It's a post office?" Harry asked, his dark eyebrows scrunching up.

"There is a post office in Diagon Alley," Sirius said with a nod as he tried not to think too hard about all the letters he'd recently written—or the lack of letters he'd received. "We'll stop there later. But this is a shop called Eeylops. They sell owls so that wizards and witches can send letters without visiting a post office."

Harry's eyes lingered on the window as they passed. "How come you don't have an owl?"

"Grimmauld Place doesn't have much space for an owl; they prefer to hunt outside."

"Oh."

Sirius glanced down at his godson; it was the first time Harry had sounded disappointed about anything. He was still gazing at the front window of the owl emporium and Sirius was surprised at his sudden fierce wish that he had a huge plot of land more suitable for keeping an owl as a pet. But Harry's attention was soon diverted elsewhere—to Fortescue's, most especially.

"Would you like to have lunch there when we've finished with our shopping?" Sirius asked, pausing in front of the colorful window; Harry nearly ploughed into him. Sirius steadied him by an elbow with a smile. "Yes, then?"

Harry nodded quickly. "Yes sir… I mean, Sirius."

They'd almost mastered that one… only when Harry was really excited or nervous did he resort to the title.

"Well, we'd best hurry along then. We want to have enough time for ice cream after lunch."

Harry's stared at him with those huge green eyes, and Sirius' smile faltered. It couldn't be possible that the kid had never had ice cream…

Sirius cleared his throat; he squeezed his godson's hand and decided that a sundae was definitely in order—with as much chocolate sauce and marshmallows as Fortescue had. "The wand shop is just across the way," Sirius said, more gruffly than he would have liked. Harry squinted up at him, nodding after a few seconds. "Come on," Sirius said with a quiet smile.

Ollivander greeted them with a scattered wave and an entreaty to wait as he scuttled around the crowded shop, which was just as Sirius remembered, even after twenty years. Albus had sent a post to let the shopkeeper know he would be coming to exchange his grandfather's wand for a new one of his own.

"What's he doing?" Harry whispered.

"Looking for a wand, I think," Sirius said, just as softly. They watched the graying man opening and closing long boxes until finally he pulled a long, dark wand from a stack of boxes in the far corner.

"Ah," he said with a reverent nod. "I do believe this one will do nicely, Mr. Black."

Sirius took the wand and immediately felt the rush of magic from his core, coming up to connect with it. He gripped the wood tightly and grinned. "Feels just right."

"Give it a try," Ollivander encouraged.

Sirius swished the wand. "Lumos." Magic tingled against his palm as the tip lit up. "Perfect," he said with a grin.

Ollivander smiled triumphantly. "I thought it might be." He turned to Harry and said, "Garrick Ollivander. And you must be Harry Potter."

"Yes, sir," Harry murmured.

"I remember both of your parents—the day each one came in for their wands. This one," he said, referring to the he had just given Sirius, "is made of mahogany, the same as your father's." As Harry pressed himself close to Sirius' leg, Sirius put a reassuring hand on his godson's shoulder. "Its core is thestral hair, which is extremely hard to come by…"

Ollivander turned around, a sudden frown on his face as he stared at the row of shelves behind him. A messy pile of boxes along the top shelf was shaking. Unsure of what to make of it, Sirius tucked Harry against his side.

"How unusual…" Peering with narrowed eyes, Ollivander hurried forward. His open palm waved in front of the long boxes, fingers moving as if he were playing a piano, and then with a smile, he plucked one of the boxes from the pile. The box in Ollivander's hand continued to tremble even as the shopkeeper discarded the top on the floor.

"Do you mind?" the old wizard asked.

"Mind?" Sirius echoed, his brows furrowed.

"I do believe this wand has found its master." Ollivander pulled the wand from its home with two fingers and extended it toward Harry.

Harry stared at it.

"He's not even five…"

"The wand wants him," Ollivander said; his eyes were dancing with excitement.

"But he can't use it," Sirius said, mostly because he had no idea what to say.

"Nonsense," Ollivander tutted. "Most pureblooded children are trained in at least basic spellwork well before they ever step foot onto the Hogwarts' Express."

"Well, yes, but…"

Ollivander smiled at Harry. "Go ahead, Harry. It's for you. Made just for you, I believe. Holly, with a phoenix feather."

Harry looked to Sirius. And not having any reason to deny him, Sirius nodded. "Go ahead."

As soon as the wand was settled in Harry's palm, his eyes popped open and Sirius nearly fell over as a rush of magic engulfed the room.

"I can feel it," Harry said, his voice rising with his excitement.

Of course, Harry could have no idea what he was feeling, but the magic pouring from him was instinctive; raw and more powerful than Sirius had ever felt before. Not even in Dumbledore's presence had he felt this.

"Beautiful," Ollivander whispered.

Sirius could only stare down at his small godson, too awed to speak. Harry was grinning and Sirius realized as he gazed at him, that he had never felt so proud.

--

Ollivander wrapped Harry's wand and placed it back in its original box, while Sirius slipped his new wand into his sleeve.

"The phoenix who gave me the feather for Harry's wand gave me only one other," Ollivander said. "It makes sense, I suppose…"

"What makes sense?" Sirius asked as he handed over enough galleons to pay for both wands.

Ollivander glanced down at Harry, whose attention was still on his neatly wrapped wand.

"Its twin," the wandmaker said pointedly, "is in his wand; You-Know Who's."

A cold chill seemed to run through the room.

Ollivander smiled down at the little boy as he handed change to a dazed Sirius. "He is the only one who has managed to defeat You-Know-Who. You have an extremely powerful little wizard here, Mr. Black."

The words stuck with Sirius as they left the shop and continued on their errands.

Their last stop before breaking for lunch was Flourish and Blott's, a shop which excited Harry just as much as Fortescue's and Ollivander's had. His fingers trailed over the covers of the books with more care than seemed natural for an almost five year old to exhibit.

"We have an empty bookcase at home," Sirius told him as Harry was studying a cover with an orange dragon on it. "I'll hold that one while you look for others." He had no idea how many books a child should have. "We should probably have twenty," he finally decided. Twenty sounded like enough that Harry wouldn't get bored too quickly. And they could always come back to get more…

"For me?" Harry asked with a squeak very like the one when Sirius had first mentioned a bedroom; the orange dragon book was already tucked into his chest.

"I don't see any other boys around here," Sirius said as he made a show of looking around the empty shop. He smiled at Harry's confusion. "Of course for you, kiddo. Here, I'll get a basket…"

Harry ducked his head, but not before Sirius caught a smile. He watched Harry poring over the books, and made a mental note to buy one of those overstuffed chairs that his godson was settling into, the dragon book already open in his lap.

"Adorable boy you have there," a short witch with white hair said as she came from the back of the shop. "Your son?"

Startled, it took Sirius a moment to answer. "Yes," he finally murmured. The lady smiled at him as she put several books onto the counter to ring out.

"Looks like my grandson. Black hair as well," she said. Sirius nodded absently. "No, Richard," the lady said sternly to the young man behind the counter, "that one with the red binding is for my niece, so wrap it up separately, would you? She likes the author—Lupin, his name is, but he hasn't written anything in years-"

Sirius drew in a sharp breath as he turned around.

The clerk was holding Remus' book in his hand. The Dark, the novel Remus had sent off to his publisher only days before Lily and James were murdered.

"Are you certain he hasn't written anything since?" Sirius asked in a strained voice. Both the witch and the young man glanced at him, but neither seemed to find anything odd about the question.

"I think his third book is due out in a few months," the clerk said. "The Dark is his second novel. He wrote another one the year before that; I think it was called-"

"Demons," Sirius said quietly. The clerk nodded.

"That's right."

"Oh, do you know his books then?" the old lady asked. "I'd never heard of him but my niece adored the first book."

Sirius shook his head. "Excuse me…" He wandered back over to where Harry was still sitting in the chair. His eyes were glued to the pages as he scanned them, and with each new page, the lump in Sirius' throat grew.

It wasn't supposed to be like this.

Even when Albus and Poppy had refused to let him get up, telling him over and over that he wasn't recovered enough to see Harry—much less secure the necessary paperwork to make the whole thing legal, Sirius had asked for Remus. Remus could have seen him like that. But neither Poppy nor Albus had seemed to know where he was.

And as soon as Sirius was sitting up and could use his hands, he wrote letters. One every single day. And Poppy had promised that she'd sent them off. But there had been no reply. Not even one.

Poppy tried to reassure him that Remus might not be replying for dozens of reasons, but Sirius hadn't wanted to think about what the absence of a response might mean. And now, to hear that Remus was well—at least well enough to have his third book coming out…

Sirius tried to feel relieved that Remus was all right, but his chest was too tight to feel anything.

"Are there really orange dragons?"

Sirius straightened and pushed the dull ache away as he found his godson's bright green eyes. Smiling, he walked over to Harry and sat down on an identical overstuffed chair. "There are red dragons as well," he said, lowering his voice and leaning forward as if telling a great secret.

"Really?"

"Really. Gold ones too. Would you like me to read that to you?"

Harry hesitated, but he did finally slide the book across to Sirius.

"Would you like to sit here?" Sirius asked, patting his knee. "So that you can see the pictures better?"

It took even longer for Harry to hop off his chair, but they were only on the third page before Harry leaned up against Sirius' chest, just as if he'd been doing it for years.


Chapter Text


Harry watched intently as the scroll disappeared with a muffled pop. "Where did it go?"

"To the Hall of Records," the nice witch told him with a smile—the one who had asked him questions about all the things he liked about Sirius. "That way everyone will know you are a family now."

Harry glanced up at Sirius, who was smiling one of those big smiles that let Harry know just how pleased he was. He ruffled Harry's hair and Harry smiled too.

"Thank you very much for all your help, Anna," Sirius said to the lady; they shook hands and then Anna crouched down so that she was eye level to Harry.

"Take care of your godfather; all right, Harry?"

"He already does," Sirius said quietly, and a warm glow spread through Harry's chest as he nodded. Anna stuck her hand out and Harry shook it very carefully, imitating the way Sirius had just done.

Anna smiled and waved as they left her office, and Harry held tight to Sirius' hand; the large atrium was filled with busy witches and wizards. Some of them stopped walking as they passed, while others whispered to each other.

"We'll take the Floo to the Weasleys, all right?" Sirius asked, drawing Harry's attention from the gawkers. Harry didn't like the Floo, and he wasn't really certain he wanted to meet the Weasley children, but Sirius wanted him to so he nodded. Sirius squeezed his hand and Harry felt a little less nervous about the whole thing.

"Sirius," a high voice spoke and Harry's eyes followed the sound. A tall woman with pale hair stopped just in front of them; a boy with hair the same color stood next to her. The woman was gazing at Sirius with a frown and narrowed eyes—eyes that were just a little lighter than Sirius', but hers made Harry's stomach tingle with unease.

"Azkaban was unkind to you," the woman said.

"Hello, Narcissa."

Harry scrunched his eyebrows together as he tried to figure out why Sirius sounded cross.

Narcissa peered down at Harry then. "And this must be your godson."

"Yes," Sirius said shortly, "this is Harry."

"You had already deserted your family by the time my son was born," Narcissa said. "Say hello, Draco."

"Hello," the blond boy said obediently. He was quite a bit taller than Harry was, but he wasn't frowning so Harry didn't really mind.

"Hullo."

Narcissa smiled. "This is Harry Potter, Draco dear," she said, reminding Harry of the ladies in Aunt Petunia's book club who always smiled when they were saying something mean.

"I've heard of you," Draco said. "You defeated You-Know-Who."

Sirius drew Harry toward his side, his arm curling around his shoulders. "We have an appointment." He started to walk away.

"My Father says you have to be very powerful," Draco said; Harry squinted at him, not sure what he meant. "Father is powerful; he and the Minister are friends."

"Now, now, Draco darling," Narcissa purred, "we wouldn't want to make your cousin uncomfortable. After all, Sirius is a blood traitor who rejected his heritage."

Sirius didn't say anything.

Narcissa smiled again. "Do be sure to call on us, won't you Sirius? I think Lucius would like to meet your new son." Sirius' eyes narrowed and Narcissa's lips stretched into a thin smile. "As Draco said, Lucius and the Minister are friends."

"I have an extra broom," Draco volunteered. "Our elf Dobby has been teaching me to ride."

Before Harry could answer, Sirius took his hand again. "We'll be late if we don't hurry along," he said, no longer paying attention to the boy or his mother. Harry obeyed the slight tug on his fingers.

As they walked away, Harry heard Draco ask, "Do you think he'll be in Slytherin, Mother?"

"Well, if he is, my Draco," Narcissa answered, "I believe the headmaster will be most displeased."

"Father would like that, wouldn't he?"

Narcissa's laugh echoed behind Harry and Sirius as they stepped into the Floo.

--

The Weasleys' parlor was nothing like the one at Grimmauld Place; books and toys covered every surface, piled high in stacks that looked like they might topple over at any moment. An enchanted feather duster weaved in and out of the clutter, and a tall broom was swishing a pile of dust under the corner of one of the rugs.

Harry found himself smiling as he looked around; it was a happy sort of room.

"You're here!" an equally happy voice greeted him and Harry.

"Hello, Molly. This is Mrs Weasley," Sirius said, introducing the lady with red hair. "She's going to be your teacher."

Mrs Weasley smiled brightly as she stooped a little so that Harry was looking right into her face. He tried not to press himself too much against Sirius' leg—he wasn't a baby, after all.

"Hello there, Harry," Mrs Weasley said kindly. "The other children will be so happy to see you. They've been waiting all day."

Harry nodded, not sure how to answer. "Thank you," he finally whispered, hoping it was the right thing to say. And Mrs Weasley's smile widened even more, so Harry guessed he'd got it right. She straightened up and nodded to Sirius.

"Oh, I think he'll be just fine here, Sirius."

"I'm sure he will," Sirius agreed, giving Harry's shoulder a squeeze.

"Shall we go outside and meet everyone, Harry?" Mrs Weasley asked, addressing him again, instead of Sirius, which was different than Harry was used to, but he decided he liked it.

Except for Sirius, most grown-ups acted as if he wasn't there.

Harry nodded and Mrs Weasley led them through the back door. Harry slipped his hand into Sirius' as they stepped out into the large yard. It was filled with ginger children, all of them running and shouting.

One of them, the shortest boy, looked over at Harry then. He clutched the small ball he had just caught to his chest and called out, "Hey! He's here!"

The rest of the children turned as well—there were five altogether. Chorused greetings were shouted across the yard, and then they were all converging on Harry. By the time they reached him they were chattering so loudly Harry wanted to cover his ears.

"Now all of you settle down," Mrs Weasley intervened, flapping her hands in shushing motions at the children. "We don't want frighten the poor boy."

Harry stiffened. He wasn't afraid. One of the taller boys was peering down his nose, reminding Harry of Aunt Petunia with her pinched lips.

"This is Percy," Mrs Weasley was saying; Percy with the pinched lips. "And the twins, Fred and George." Fred and George grinned at him. "And my little Ginny-"

"Not little!" the lone girl said indignantly.

"Of course not, darling," Mrs Weasleys said and then focused on the shortest boy, whose eyes hadn't yet left Harry's.

"This is Ronnie."

"Ron," the shortest boy grumbled in a low whisper, making a grotesque face so that his mum couldn't see; Harry smiled.

"He's your age," Mrs Weasley went on, ignoring Ron. "You'll be in the same year at Hogwarts-"

"If they let Ron in," one of the twins said with a nudge for the other one.

"Hush, George."

"I'm Fred."

"Then, hush Fred."

"He's Fred," the twin said, pointing to his double.

Mrs. Weasley glared at whichever twin it really was. "Enough nonsense. Harry brought something to share with everyone."

"What is it?" five eager voices demanded, their eyes zeroing in on Harry. Harry hesitated, worried that they wouldn't like it, even though Sirius had said that they would. He pulled the small box out of his pocket.

Ten eyes brightened.

"Is that a Snitch?" Ron demanded as he pressed closer to peer at the quill and ink illustration of the golden ball on the lid; Harry nodded. Sirius had given it to him for his birthday. His very first birthday present.

"Brilliant," one of the twins breathed. "Is it new?"

"Well, almost," Harry said with a glance for Sirius; Sirius smiled and Harry turned back to the awed Weasleys. "Me and Sirius played with it twice."

"Our brother Charlie has one," Percy said with a prim nod. "He wants to be a Seeker this year, so he took it with him to school so he could practice.

"They're 'spensive," Ginny piped up; Harry didn't know about that so he didn't say anything.

"Let's try it out," Ron said with a grin, and his siblings ran out to the field. Harry stayed close to Sirius' side.

"Go ahead, Harry," Sirius encouraged, and when Harry didn't move, he cupped the back of his godson's head and gave him a gentle nudge. "I'll be right here," he promised.

"Come on, Harry!" Ron shouted, waving his arms. With one more look for Sirius, Harry went to join the other children.

"Here," one of the twins said, thrusting the box toward Harry. "Since it's yours."

"That's all right," Harry said with a shrug. "It's for all of us to play with."

The freckled twin grinned. "Come on," he said. "Everyone spread round and I'll let it out."

Harry watched the other children staking spots on the wide lawn before moving a little ways out. He stole a quick glance back toward the house, relieved to find Sirius still standing next to Mrs Weasley.

Sirius lifted his hand in a little wave; Harry smiled before turning his eyes back to the Snitch.

--

"The Snitch was a wonderful idea," Molly said as her son released it. It hovered for a second and then zipped away across the yard. Ginny squealed in delight and went tearing off after it. Her brothers followed quickly. Harry stood on the sidelines, watching the other children running and shouting.

"He'll join them when he's ready," Molly added quietly, her voice full of a confidence that Sirius didn't feel at all. "He hasn't any experience with so many children; and mine can certainly be a handful," she added with a smile.

Sirius nodded; he had talked with Molly and Arthur for a long time after Harry had gone to bed one night a few weeks ago. Neither of them had thought Harry would have any problems fitting in with their children.

Molly nodded toward Harry, a smile twitching her lips. "He wants to play. See the way his muscles are tensing, as if he's about to spring."

Sirius smiled as he studied his godson; the soles of Harry's feet bounced lightly. Harry just needed a little bit more encouragement, it seemed. And having watched Harry with a Snitch twice, Sirius knew just what might help.

He slipped his wand out of his sleeve and pointed it discreetly toward the zigzagging Snitch. The Snitch abruptly changed direction and made a beeline for Harry. Harry was standing perfectly still, but his eyes had zeroed in on the tiny ball; his head moved back and forth as he tracked its movements and then, so quickly that Sirius wasn't certain he had actually done it, Harry's arm snaked out and snatched the Snitch up.

"Wicked!" Ron crowed from across the field.

"Brilliant!" The twins shouted together, and once more, five redheaded children converged on Harry.

"How'd you do that, Harry?" Ron demanded. Harry smiled as he shrugged.

"Do it again," Ginny ordered, and Harry, with one more glance for Sirius, released the Snitch. It zinged away.

"Go get it, Harry!" the children encouraged. Sirius held his breath and waited. But after a moment, Harry ran off after the golden ball, the Weasley children hot on his heels.

Molly squeezed Sirius' arm; he grinned.

--

As they prepared dinner, Harry chattered excitedly, recounting the entire two hours at the Weasleys, even though Sirius had watched it all with his own eyes.

"Did you see how many times I caught the Snitch?" Harry asked for perhaps the fourth time since they'd started.

"I did," Sirius said with a smile. "You are an excellent Snitch-catcher."

Harry beamed.

Once they sat down at the table, Harry's chatter slowed down.

Harry didn't seem unhappy though so Sirius decided his godson was simply tired after his busy day.

"I think you're going to have loads of fun at the Weasleys," he said as he served his small godson another helping of carrots.

Harry nodded. "I like them. Especially Ron and the twins."

"Me too."

Harry smiled. "Do you think that boy at the Ministry has anyone to play with?"

"Draco?" Sirius nodded. "I'm sure he does." Other Death Eater's children, more than likely.

Harry was silent as he ate one of the carrots slowly. When he was finished chewing he looked up and asked, "Are you my dad?" Sirius' fork hung in midair. "Draco's mum said I was your son."

The image of James' face filled Sirius' mind as he set the fork beside his plate. The goofy look on his best mate's face when he and Lily had announced that they were expecting.

"Me, a dad!" he'd exclaimed. "Can you believe it?"

He and Remus—and Peter, but Sirius banished his face from the memories—had grinned and thumped their friend on the back.

He saw James' smile as he' held his infant son, just after Sirius had been introduced to his godson. James had cradled him in the crook of his arm, cooing to him, "I'm your daddy, Harry."

And later, when Harry had started to babble, James had coached him, "Come on, Harry… say 'Daddy'. Daddy. Can you say it, Harry?"

The delight in James' face when Harry had finally said, 'Da-da'.

Sirius swallowed through the ache in his throat as the images melted away; Harry was gazing at him, a look on his face that Sirius couldn't interpret. He whispered a silent apology to James and said, "Do you remember what Anna said this morning?"

Harry nodded solemnly. "She said that parchment made us a family."

"Yes, it did." Sirius reached across the table and settled his fingers over Harry's. "Since your mum and dad aren't here, I get to take care of you. They'll still be your mum and dad, but now I get to be your dad as well."

Harry tilted his head, his eyes curious behind his glasses. "I have two dads?"

"Yep," Sirius said once the throbbing in his throat subsided. "You're a lucky kid."

Harry stabbed a carrot with his fork as he said matter-of-factly, "But I don't have a mum."

Sirius blinked several times and by sheer force of will, kept the tears at bay. "Your mum can't be here with you now, but she'll always be your mum."

"Does she miss me?"

Sirius stared at Harry, but finally he nodded. "Very much, Harry."

Harry seemed satisfied with that answer. He smiled and put the carrot into his mouth. "I like being a family," he said around the orange mouthful.

The knot of tension in Sirius' chest dissolved. He smiled warmly at his godson. "Me too."

--

Sirius started when he opened his eyes; Harry was standing beside the bed, his small frame shaking.

"Harry?" He pushed himself up, reaching a hand out automatically to feel for a fever, but Harry's cheeks were cold and clammy. "What's wrong?"

Harry shook his head; his teeth were chattering.

"Are you ill?" Sirius asked, sitting up fully now and reaching for his wand to perform a simple diagnostic spell, but Harry shook his head again. "Did you have a bad dream?"

Harry continued to chatter. Sirius pushed the empty side of the blanket down. "Would you like to sleep in here with me?" he asked softly. "It's all right."

When Harry didn't move, Sirius slipped his hands under his armpits and lifted him with ease onto the mattress. He settled the dark head on a pillow and pulled the blanket back up to Harry's chest.

"All right?" he murmured. Staring up at him, Harry nodded. Sirius settled himself again and twisted so that he was facing his godson. "Do you remember what your dream was about?"

Harry shook his head and not wanting to press him, Sirius simply nodded and stroked his fingers along Harry's brow, moving his fringe off his forehead as he did. He kept up the rhythm, hoping it would lull the little boy back to sleep, but Harry's eyes only seemed to become more alert.

"Someone was screaming," Harry finally whispered.

"In your dream?"

Harry nodded. "And there was green everywhere—making everything glow. I think it was a lady… I could hear a baby crying."

Sirius tried to still the frantic beating of his heart. Albus had told him that Harry might remember.

"The memory is there, Sirius," Albus had explained quietly in the days before they had gone to the Dursleys. "I saw it in his mind. He can't understand it but it is there."

Sirius swallowed. "It's all right, Harry. It was a just a dream," he lied. "Just a dream and you're safe now. You're safe."

His fingers continued to soothe Harry's brow and eventually, the tired eyes drooped and Harry's breathing evened out. Sirius stayed awake for a long time, watching his godson sleep.


Chapter Text


Sirius stepped out of the Weasley's Floo and into a shambles. Every lamp in the sitting room was upended; pages of books decorated the furniture, walls and even the ceilings. Two of the chairs were upside down. Before he could panic, Molly came in.

"What happened?" he asked; his voice came out higher than usual.

"There was a little excitement," Molly said.

"Is Harry-"

"Harry's perfectly all right," she said soothingly. "He's waiting for you in the kitchen." Molly turned so Sirius could see past her. Harry was sitting at the long table, his head bowed and shoulders slumped.

"What happened?" Sirius asked again, his words strained with a new sort of anxiety—one which he didn't quite know how to place.

"Sit down a moment and I'll explain," Molly invited and though Sirius wanted to refuse and rush into the kitchen, he sat stiffly on the settee—the only piece of furniture which seemed unscathed.

"Now, this wasn't really Harry's fault, Sirius," Molly began in a quiet voice. "I want to make that perfectly clear. He shouldn't have done it, of course, but it was the twins' doing."

"Harry did this?" His Harry? His quiet, proper godson had destroyed the parlor? Mystified, Sirius gazed around at the chaos. "But how could he have?"

Molly shifted uncomfortably. "Fred and George took one of my texts—I've kept quite a number from my days at Hogwarts. They stole their grandfather's wand as well, even though I've told Arthur dozens of times not to keep it where the children can reach it. They wanted to try out a spell, one they created from a combination of several…"

Sirius nodded impatiently, having no idea what this could possibly have to do with Harry; the twins were in trouble every day.

"But instead of trying it themselves… well, I'm very sorry, Sirius; they tried to convince Ron to try it for them, and Ron knows them well enough to say no, but Harry doesn't, and they pressured him so… and Ron thought it would be funny, so he didn't tell Harry not to do it."

Sirius gaped at her. "Harry did this with a wand?"

Molly nodded. "The spell didn't work the way they were hoping it would, of course, and I actually don't know exactly what they were trying to do." She waved her hands helplessly. "But when Harry attempted it, the room… exploded."

Molly's cheeks were flushed, and she looked far more nervous than she should. Sirius couldn't form a coherent thought.

"Sirius, it was a very dangerous thing for Harry to do, but I'm not convinced he even knew what he was doing. And the twins and Ron have been thoroughly punished, I assure you, but I think perhaps it might be best not to overreact to Harry's part in it."

"Overreact?" Sirius repeated dumbly.

"I don't mean to overstep my bounds, Sirius," Molly said hesitantly. "And I know he needs to be reprimanded so he understands what he did was very dangerous and that he must never play with a wand again, but as it was due to the twins' coercion… and Ron should have warned him-"

"Molly," Sirius interrupted and then found he had to clear his throat, "I'll talk to him."

Molly nodded, still looking flustered, and Sirius tried not take offense at her concern for Harry; he knew very well how fond she and Arthur were of his godson. Though the idea that he might overreact to what had happened was ludicrous. He hadn't so much as told Harry he couldn't have an extra biscuit after dinner. He had no idea what he was supposed to do in a situation like this.

He stared at Harry's bowed head for a moment—he hadn't looked up even once since Sirius had flooed in.

"I hope you won't think too badly of us after this," Molly said quietly. "Nothing like this will happen in future."

Startled, Sirius nodded. "Of course not, Molly. I know boys can be a handful." He tried to smile but couldn't quite manage it. "I'll repair the damage."

Molly shook her head. "The boys will put it back to rights; I've already told them it was part of their punishment." She stood up with a sigh. "I am very sorry about this, Sirius." When Sirius nodded, Molly turned back toward the kitchen. "Harry, Sirius is here," she called quietly.

Harry finally looked up, but he made no move to get off his chair.

"Come on in, Harry," Molly encouraged, and as if he was maneuvered by strings, Harry obeyed; watching the floor the entire time. Molly smiled a little at Sirius.

Sirius cleared his throat twice as he gazed at the top of Harry's head but gave up trying to decide where to begin. "I think we should let Mrs. Weasley start her lunch preparations," he finally murmured; if he was going to make an arse of himself while he fumbled to talk with Harry, he certainly didn't want Molly watching.

Harry nodded mutely; he walked into the Floo without any further prodding and within a few moments, he and Sirius stepped out into the kitchen at Number Twelve.

Sirius cleared his throat again—Harry had not yet pulled out of his slumped stance. "Would you like to help me make the sandwiches?"

Harry's head jerked up, greeting Sirius with wide eyes. Unnerved and trying not to show it, Sirius scooted Harry's chair up to the counter, as was their ritual each day when Harry returned from the Weasleys.

Harry climbed onto the chair, his eyes glued to Sirius, watching him even as they washed their hands at the sink, and then as Sirius fetched the bread and the leftover roast beef and milk from the cold cupboard.

"Do you want a banana or an apple?"

"Banana, please," Harry whispered; Sirius nodded as he came back to the counter. He handed Harry four slices of bread, followed by the beef; Harry arranged everything neatly.

"Would you like some crisps?" Sirius asked after Harry had peeled his banana and placed it next to his sandwich. Harry nodded, smiling a little as Sirius put a small pile on both plates. He carried the plates to the table while Sirius poured the milk.

Any other day, Sirius would have been peppering Harry with questions about his morning. Today though, Sirius simply watched Harry sip his milk and nibble tiny bites from his sandwich. Harry kept sneaking glances at him.

"Did you enjoy your lessons today?" Sirius finally asked. Harry nodded, offering nothing else. "Did you play outside this morning?"

Some of the tension around Harry's shoulders eased. "Me and Ginny and Ron climbed up really high in the trees. Ginny went the highest." Even though Sirius was smiling Harry added, "Mrs. Weasley said it was all right."

"I used to climb the trees at Hogwarts with your dad," Sirius said. With Remus as well. They'd sat sometimes together for hours, usually the day after Remus had transformed, neither of them saying much; not needing to.

It was getting more difficult to ignore the very real pain he felt for Remus' absence. And he refused to 'put it behind him', as a well-meaning Poppy had advised just last month while she'd examined Harry. Beyond the letters he still wrote, and a search by Arthur at the Office of Records for any clues to Remus' whereabouts, there was nothing for him to do. Nothing but hope that Remus would eventually forgive him.

With effort, Sirius clamped down on his grief and focused again on Harry.

"Have a little milk," he encouraged, nudging the cup forward. Harry took several small sips, and having no more topics to cushion them, Sirius said as casually as he could, "Mrs. Weasley said the twins asked you to try a spell for them this morning."

Harry immediately dropped his eyes, and his hands slid into his lap.

"I'm not angry, Harry," Sirius said quickly; Harry continued to stare at the table. "But using a wand is dangerous if you aren't taught how to use it…"

Harry's shoulders were drooping, and Sirius stopped talking. He hadn't meant to lecture. He cleared his throat.

"Would you do something for me, Harry?" he asked quietly. Harry lifted his head enough so that Sirius could see his eyes. "If Fred and George ask you to do something again, would you ask me or Mrs. Weasley if it's all right?"

There was no hesitation; Harry's head bobbed up and down in several swift nods.

Relieved that he'd taken care of that so easily, Sirius let himself relax and took a long drink of his too-warm milk. But when Harry didn't go back to his lunch—his entire pile of crisps sat untouched—Sirius pushed his plate to the side and leaned forward, his eyebrows scrunched in worry.

"Harry… what's the matter?"

His godson's cheeks were flushed, and he looked like he was struggling not to cry, taking shallow breaths in an effort to hold it in. Panic swelled in Sirius' chest. Harry hadn't cried once since he'd been here. Pushing his chair back from the table, Sirius held his arms out. "Come here."

Harry's breathing deepened, and Sirius waited while he made his decision. The legs of Harry's chair scraped the floor boards and Harry came forward, his eyes fastened on Sirius. Sirius lifted him gently as soon as he was close enough, settling him as if they were about to start their bedtime stories. Harry rested his cheek on Sirius' shoulder.

"I'm not angry, Harry," he said again, as he settled his hand on the back of Harry's head and wove his fingers through the strands.

Harry's eyes shone; he was staring at Sirius' collar. "I blew up Mrs. Weasleys' parlor," he said into Sirius' shirt.

"You didn't mean to," Sirius soothed, knowing it wasn't what a proper parent was supposed to say, but he thought his chest might explode if Harry started to cry.

"She won't ever let me come back," Harry whispered.

It took Sirius a few seconds to process his godson's words. "Mrs. Weasley?"

Harry nodded miserably.

Sirius curled his arm around Harry and pulled him in. "Of course she will. She's not angry with you, either."

But Harry didn't look convinced. "She shouted at us," he mumbled; Sirius bent his head to catch the rest of Harry's words. "After the room exploded, she shouted real loud."

"She was just worried, Harry," Sirius soothed in a soft voice, though his stomach clenched at the thought of Molly raising her voice to Harry. "You might have been hurt. Sometimes people shout when they're worried. She didn't mean to shout at you."

"Didn't shout at me," Harry said, pressing himself closer against Sirius. "Fred and George. And Ron too. She shouted all the way upstairs."

"Oh." Relieved for some reason that Harry hadn't been the target of Molly's shouting, he drew circles on Harry's back with his fingertips. "She was cross with the twins and Ron, but not you."

Harry just shook his head. Sirius rested his cheek on Harry's head and continued the lazy circles. As Harry's body began to melt into his chest, he said, "Mrs. Weasley wants you to come back. I promise. She won't make the twins or Ron go away either. No matter what they do, parents always want to keep their children."

Harry didn't answer, but that was all right. He would speak with Molly after Harry was asleep, and they'd sort everything out in the morning.

The next morning, Molly greeted Harry with the same effusive welcome as every other day. Harry answered her only as was necessary and mostly kept his eyes averted. Undeterred, Molly simply kept speaking to him in a soothing voice until she won a timid smile out of Harry.

And then, she marched her boys into the room to apologize for trying to trick him. Even Sirius, as accomplished as he had been at feigning remorse as a kid, could detect no insincerity in their apologies. All three of them, especially Ron, looked miserable.

"We didn't know the room would blow up," George said.

"We were trying to make everything dance," said Fred.

Ron offered Harry a small smile, which Harry returned. "Want to help us de-gnome the garden?" Ron asked hopefully. "It's loads of fun."

Harry nodded, and with a murmur of encouragement from Sirius, he followed Ron and the twins outside.

"Thank you, Molly," Sirius said sincerely as he and Molly watched the children scampering toward the garden. "I didn't expect that to go so well."

"Children are very resilient," Molly said as she patted Sirius' arm. "And Harry is so eager to please, which is to be expected considering his circumstances."

Sirius nodded, guilt keeping his eyes on the children outside. Molly laughed softly; Harry was staring with wide eyes as Fred demonstrated how to twirl the gnomes around.

"You'll be in for a bit of a shock when he begins to test you, I think. I know I always was with mine."

"What do you mean?"

"Children have a natural need to know where their boundaries lie, and Harry, especially, will want to make certain he's safe with you."

Sirius finally tore his eyes from the back garden with a frown. "He is safe."

"Of course he is, Sirius," Molly said with a comforting smile, "but if Harry was as unwanted by the Dursleys as you say he was, he probably doesn't believe that yet."

Sirius pressed his lips together and turned back to the window. "They didn't even protest when we took him away."

"And no doubt, Harry noticed."

Unable to speak through the sudden tightness in his throat, Sirius watched Harry through the glass.

--

He was just as unprepared for it as Molly said he would be.

The next few weeks passed as they always did, although Sirius noticed Harry watching him carefully sometimes, considering him. Considering the Weasleys as well, especially Ron and the twins when Molly scolded them. Always a look for Sirius after that. Sirius smiled at his godson when he noticed it, hoping to allay any fears he might still have. Of course he knew Harry still had them. And yet, he didn't quite believe Harry could ever be anything but perfectly pleasant.

"Would you like to put together that puzzle Professor Dumbledore gave you?" Sirius asked during dinner one night. The puzzle in question was actually a set of flat blocks, charmed to change shape and color according to the constructor's mood; a few nights ago, they'd made a bird out of the pieces, and after they finished, Harry launched into a story about the bird hunt Molly had taken all of the children on that morning.

"Maybe we can convince the pieces to help us make a Snitch."

Harry smiled and nodded.

"Eat up, then," Sirius said, pointing with his chin toward the beans Harry was currently squishing with his fork.

Harry considered the pile of beans on his plate before taking up a forkful. He touched it to his tongue and made a face; he shook the fork until the green vegetables plopped back onto the plate, and then he went back to his potatoes.

"Don't you like your beans tonight?" Sirius asked.

Harry shook his head.

Wondering if he'd added too much salt, Sirius asked, "Would you like something else instead?"

"Ice cream."

Sirius smiled. "We can have some after dinner if you'd like. But I meant, would you like a different vegetable? We have carrots in the cold-"

"Don't like vegetables," Harry said with a frown.

"You like all sorts of vegetables-"

"I want ice cream," Harry repeated.

"All right," Sirius said with a nod. "We'll have some just as soon as we finish-"

"I want ice cream now," Harry said, an unfamiliar scowl on his face. "I don't like these beans," he added, and with a swipe of his fork, the beans were scattered across the table top.

Sirius stared at the beans decorating the dark wood and then at Harry. Harry gazed back at him, his lips set in a firm line. Finding his voice, strained though it was, Sirius said, "We don't throw food-"

"Don't like it," Harry said firmly.

"All right," Sirius said with a nod, helpless to think of what else to say. "You don't have to like them, but I'd rather you didn't throw them." Harry was still staring at him, and Sirius cleared his throat. "Let's put them back on your plate, all right?"

Harry picked up two beans and then stopped to begin squashing them again with the back of his fork. Silently, Sirius reached over and cleared the rest of the vegetables away.

"Can we have ice cream now?" Harry asked, setting aside his fork, his eyebrows up, his face expectant.

Warring only briefly with himself, Sirius nodded. Feeling wary, he scooped the dessert into two bowls and handed Harry his portion. Harry ate his without incident though and they were soon pulling the puzzle pieces from their carved wooden box and spreading them out on the low table in the parlor.

"What do you think it's going to be?" Sirius asked, leaning forward to examine the pieces, which were much darker than the bright yellow they'd been the last time.

"A tree?"

"Too grey to be a tree, I think." Sirius turned a large piece so that Harry could see the wavy outlines. "Looks a bit like a cloud."

"A cloud?" Harry echoed doubtfully. And then that frown appeared on his face again. "I don't like clouds."

"Rain comes from clouds, and you like rain," Sirius pointed out. "Rain makes trees grow."

Harry nodded, staring hard at the chunk of his puzzle. "It's not working," he said with a huff.

"What's not working?"

"You said this puzzle makes what I want," Harry said, raising his head and directing that frown at Sirius this time. Sirius tried not to pay attention to it.

"Its magic knows what you're thinking about -"

"But I'm not thinking about clouds," Harry objected. "I want it to make trees. I like trees. They're fun to climb."

Sirius wasn't quite sure how to explain the concept of a person's moods to a five year old. "Maybe it will make trees next time." He picked up another piece. "These two look like they fit together… and here, the picture is appearing on the lid there for us to copy." Smiling, he held the piece out to Harry, but Harry shook his head.

"I don't want to do this puzzle."

Sirius felt an unwelcome surge of impatience at his godson's petulant tone; he lowered the piece in his hand back to the table. "What would you like to do?"

"A tree puzzle," Harry answered immediately. "Like the big one in Ron's garden."

"We don't have a tree puzzle," Sirius said with a small shake of his head, "but this one will be fun. Or we can build with your blocks."

"I want a tree puzzle," Harry said; his lower jaw jutted out and Sirius was reminded eerily of Lily. Lily had looked just like that just before she delivered a scathing lecture to one of them—most especially James.

"Harry," he said, smiling and hoping it might diffuse whatever was happening, like James' smiles had done with Lily, "we don't have a puzzle with a tree on it. We have a few hours before bedtime though and we can do something else, all right?"

"No!"

Harry's raised voice startled Sirius enough that he dropped the puzzle piece; it thudded softly on the table. "Harry-" he murmured, but Harry shook his head.

"I want a tree puzzle, Sirius. I don't like the clouds!"

"I know, Harry-"

Harry swiped his hand and the piece in Sirius' fingers was dislodged; it hit the wall with a dull thud.

"Hey," Sirius said, too surprised to say anything else.

"I want a tree!" Harry's face had gone red; his voice shrill.

It took almost more effort than Sirius had not to scowl at his godson. "Please don't shout," he managed to say with more calm than he felt. "And remember I asked you not to throw-"

With a swish and a clattering of wood on wood, the puzzle pieces were flung off the table and onto the floor.

"Harry," Sirius scolded, the sharp admonishment stealing out of his mouth before he could stop it. Harry stilled. As he met the wary green gaze, Sirius pulled in a silent breath and forced his muscles to relax. "Don't do that again, please."

Harry stared at him, and then, keeping his face perfectly still, he picked up the box the puzzle had nestled in and flung it across the room. It hit the floor; the lid tore half off its hinges and settled in a lopsided heap.

"I don't want clouds!" he shrieked. "I don't like them-"

Sirius moved almost without thinking and a very surprised Harry was in his arms a second later. Harry's protests abruptly stopped; the silence was jarring as Sirius went up the stairs. He wasn't completely certain what had compelled him, except that he'd seen Molly carting Ginny away in the same manner—Ginny, however, had screamed the entire way upstairs, even after the door had closed.

Harry continued to stare at him as Sirius set him carefully on the bed. He crouched down to look his godson in the eye. "We don't throw our toys," Sirius said, surprised that he didn't have to work to make his voice firm. And even though Harry was no longer shouting, he added, "I want you sit here until you've calmed down. I'll be back in a few moments."

Harry stilled once more, and before Sirius could talk himself out of it, he straightened up and turned around.

"Nooo!" The wail was full of distress this time, and it took every bit of strength Sirius had to leave the room. He stopped as soon as he rounded the threshold.

The wail turned to a sob so anguished that Sirius slumped against the wall. He listened with his head bowed, his hand pressed over his eyes, and tried to force the sound to break as he stood there beside Harry's open door.

But the weeping didn't abate at all, and after what seemed an eternity, but which was actually only ninety seconds, Sirius drew a shaky breath and went back into the room.

Harry was lying face down on the pillow, his small shoulders quaking with sobs. Not caring that he was probably doing everything wrong, Sirius gathered his distraught child into his arms and folded them both into the overstuffed chair beside the bed.

"Shh," he whispered as bent his lips to Harry's messy hair. "It's all right, Harry. Everything's all right. I'm right here."

Harry clung to him, his little fists tangled into Sirius' shirt. Sirius' hand soothed his back as he continued to murmur reassurances, and finally the sobs gave way to hiccups. It was a long while though before only quiet sniffles remained. Sirius kissed the top of Harry's head; his face was buried in Sirius' shoulder.

"All right, now?" he asked quietly. Harry didn't answer, but Sirius didn't really expect him to. Having no idea what he was supposed to have accomplished here, they sat there awhile longer, Sirius drawing circles on his godson's back with his fingertips. When Harry's breathing was back to its measured pace, Sirius ventured, "Shall we put the puzzle away?" Sirius felt a nod against his chest, no hesitation. "We'll need to fix the box before we do."

"May I help you fix it?" Harry asked quietly as Sirius shifted. Sirius looked down at Harry's face, cheeks still splotched and puffy; eyes filled with uncertainty.

"Of course you may." Sirius smiled, relieved when Harry met it with a small one of his own. "You'll be my assistant." Before Harry could acknowledge that, Sirius hoisted his godson up and transferred him to his back. Harry squeaked in surprise. "Hold on," Sirius said with a laugh. Harry giggled as he wrapped his arms securely in place.


Chapter Text

"Don't wanna go home," Harry mumbled sleepily as Sirius shifted him against his shoulder. "... not tired…"

"We'll read a few of your new books before we go to bed," Sirius assured him with a smile. Harry mumbled something else that sounded like an agreement.

"Say goodnight, Ronnie," Molly urged her own sleepy child as she ushered him toward the stairs.

"G'night, Harry," Ron mumbled, rubbing at his eyes. "Happy Christmas…"

"Happy Christmas," Harry echoed through a yawn.

"Thank you for a wonderful evening," Sirius said quietly to Molly, who had succeeded in corralling Ron up the steps.

"Oh, we were so glad to have you and Harry here, Sirius," Molly said, giving his hand a little squeeze. "You're always welcome."

"Thank you, Molly."

Molly smiled before disappearing up the stairs.

"Come on, mate," Sirius murmured as they stepped into the Floo; they emerged in their own kitchen a moment later, and Harry sighed sleepily. It took very little effort to slip his godson's shoes off once Sirius settled him in bed. He tucked the blanket in as Harry curled on his side with a smile—dreaming already, it seemed.

As Sirius bent to press a kiss to his godson's brow, his fingers brushed the black fringe away from his eyes, and then Sirius spent a few silent minutes simply enjoying his quiet child.

Feeling rather lonely—more so than he usually did, it was a long time before Sirius finally left Harry to his rest, stopping in his own room to remove his tie before padding down the stairs and back into the parlor.

The photos on the mantel seemed to be mocking him tonight. The grief that he'd been flirting with all day was beginning to wear a yawning hollow in his stomach—they should be here, instead of him.

He picked up the picture from the mantel. James and Lily smiled out at him, little Harry laughing in James' arms as he bounced the little boy lightly.

Sirius had spent the last four years missing Lily and James, of course, but now it felt worse somehow. Now that he truly understood what they would be missing. He had loved Harry fiercely when he was a baby, but those feelings were nothing compared to what he felt now.

With a sigh, Sirius set the picture back in its place; his eyes strayed to the other photo—he and Remus were in that one along with the Potters; it had been taken five years ago to the day. Sirius —cradling Harry in one arm, the other around Remus' waist, as Lily laughed at James' toast… Remus was smiling, his brown eyes crinkling like they always had when he was especially happy.

Sirius swallowed hard; he set the picture down and turned away from the mantel.

Wishing he hadn't banished his mother's entire stock of liquor, he went into the kitchen and put a kettle on. Maybe he could find a little peppermint for the tea…

The Floo flared as he was rifling through the cupboard. Grateful for the distraction, whoever it was, Sirius turned.

His smile froze halfway to his lips. He took half a step forward and then stopped, dazed. "Remus…"

Remus, his sandy hair disheveled and his face deathly pale, stared back at him. "It's true then," he whispered hoarsely.

"Remus?" Sirius' voice cracked. He cleared his throat and shook his head slowly, trying to make his brain believe what he was seeing.

Remus raised his hand; a newspaper was clenched in his fist. "I…" His voice shook as he continued, "… saw this in a pile of old newspapers… I didn't believe it…" He gripped the edge of one of the chairs with his free hand. "Harry…?"

Sirius could only nod. "You didn't-" he eventually began but then had to press his lips together as the lump in his throat threatened to engulf him. There were accusations on the tip of his tongue, and desperate pleas for Remus to forgive him for each mistake he'd made four years ago.

Remus' lips trembled as he took a step forward. "I knew you couldn't have done it… I tried to tell them…"

Tears obscured Sirius' vision as the words tightened his chest. "Then why didn't you come?" The question scraped his throat. He had waited every day in that cell—wanting Remus more desperately than he'd ever wanted anything.

"They wouldn't let me…" Remus' eyes were shining with his own tears now, and Sirius felt his feet moving forward, wanting to comfort even through the hurt making it hard to breathe.

"I've sent you letters…" he said, "… dozens since they let me go."

"I've been living in France… hiding amongst Muggles... inaccessible even to owls…"

Sirius was close enough to feel the warmth from Remus' lips; they were trembling. His breath hitched as Sirius caressed the faded scar traversing his cheekbone, the movement familiar to both of them. "I've missed you," Sirius breathed.

"I would have come…"

Remus' brown eyes had lost none of their warmth. "I'm so sorry," Sirius whispered, finally saying the words that he could never say to Harry as his fingers stilled on the other man's cheek. "I shouldn't have gone after Peter-"

"You didn't know what would happen," Remus said softly. "It's over now."

"I-" Sirius shook his head unsteadily as Remus gazed at him. "I understand if… I mean, I always knew you might find someone…" He swallowed. "You deserved that much."

Remus leaned in and brushed his lips against Sirius', and Sirius forgot how to breathe. "There's only ever been you."

Relief flooded Sirius, and he didn't care that he had no right to feel that way. With a noise halfway between a laugh and a sob, he gathered Remus to him and kissed him until both of them were breathless.

"You have no idea how much I've missed you," he said as his lips sought every available patch of skin on Remus' face and neck.

"I think I have some idea," Remus murmured against his ear; Sirius grinned. His body responded predictably to that statement, but there would be time enough for that later. Forever, as far as Sirius was concerned. He tightened his arms and pressed his lips to Remus' cheek.

"Do you want to see him?" he asked quietly. Remus pulled his head back, his eyes shining. "He's asleep upstairs."

"We won't wake him?"

"Sleeps like a rock, that kid," Sirius assured him. He nuzzled Remus' cheek for a second longer and then dropped his arms and took the other man's hand. "Come on. He looks even more like James now… he's got a temper to match his mother's though…"

Remus smiled. "He did back then as well."

They walked up the stairs together, Sirius smiling at Remus' look of surprise as he took in the newly decorated surroundings. "I didn't think it could look so…"

"Normal?" Sirius asked with a low chuckle. "Harry helped with the décor… picked most of the paintings out himself."

They paused at the top of the stairs, and Sirius put a finger to his lips, but Remus was already silent. With quiet footsteps, they went together into Harry's room. A soft glow illuminated the walls; Harry loathed darkness almost as much as he loathed a closed door.

They stopped just in front of Harry's bed; he was curled into his customary ball, his knees nearly touching his chest. Automatically, Sirius tugged the covers up around his godson's shoulder. "Beautiful, isn't he?"

Remus had reached a hand out toward the sleeping child, but pulled it back before he made contact; he shook his head slowly. "I despised Albus for what he did…"

Sirius nodded, understanding exactly.

"He's all right?" Remus asked gruffly.

"He is now."

Remus swallowed, his eyes still fixed on Harry's peaceful face. Sirius watched Remus for a moment and then took his hand; their fingers twined in a familiar tangle. Remus looked up and the worried frown melted into a smile.

Sirius gave his hand a gentle tug.

He didn't stop once they reached the parlor, continuing instead to the library, but Remus gave no protest. Sirius closed the door behind them, leaving Remus standing in the middle of the room so that he could weave a charm around the door that would allow him to hear Harry if he woke. He sent a spell to the fireplace next, lighting the room with sudden, cozy heat. When he turned around, Remus was staring at him, his breathing shallow; his face full of pain.

Sirius was in front of him in two swift steps and without a word, he wrapped his arms around the other man. His heart thudded as he absorbed the tremors coursing through Remus' body. "It's all right," Sirius whispered.

"I didn't think I'd ever see you again…"

"I know…"

Remus' arms tightened around him and Sirius didn't think he'd ever be able to let go. He'd dreamed of this moment; dreamed of what it would feel like to hold him again. To feel Remus' hands pressed against his back; those fingers knotted in his hair.

Sirius pulled back only enough to take Remus' face in his hands. Their eyes locked, and then, unable to keep still, Sirius pulled Remus forward and kissed him. His tongue surged forward, finding the warmth it craved. The taste that was so familiar; so needed.

Remus kissed him back with a rare ferocity. He pressed against Sirius until their bodies were molded together, and Sirius felt like he was exploding into a million tiny pieces.

His hands found the clasp of Remus' cloak, unfastening it with clumsy fingers and pushing the fabric away, fumbling with shirt buttons next. Remus' hands were more skilled as they dealt with Molly's Christmas jumper; Sirius closed his eyes as Remus' palms slid over his chest. Drew in an unsteady breath as his own hands retraced a path they had traversed so many times. A soft moan escaped his lips when Remus' hands trailed downward, the kiss changing as they became more desperate to feel only skin. And then both of them were laughing as they grappled with trousers and shoes until no fabric remained between them. Sirius had no idea which one of them moved first but he grinned as they tumbled together to the rug.

--

"Sirius!"

Sirius' head came up at the frantic call from upstairs; he scrambled off the sofa, straightening his jumper as he stood; his eyes felt gritty from lack of sleep—but it was worth it.

He cleared his throat and called out, "I'm coming, Harry!" To Remus he said in a much quieter voice, "We'll be right back."

Sirius jogged up the stairs, nearly crashing into Harry on the landing. He steadied his godson under the armpits and lifted him up easily. Harry immediately cinched him around the neck. "I couldn't find you!"

"You couldn't?" Sirius echoed with mock horror. "I'm right here!"

Harry giggled, but he peeked curiously behind his godfather. "Why were you downstairs?"

"Because," Sirius said with a kiss for Harry's cheek, "there's someone here that I want you to meet."

"Yeah? Who is it?"

"His name is Remus Lupin. You've seen pictures of him. He was a very good friend of your mum and dad's."

"And yours, right?"

Sirius smiled. "A very good friend, indeed. Would you like to meet him?"

A line of worry appeared between Harry's eyes. "Is he nice?"

"Oh, yes," Sirius assured his godson, bouncing him lightly and earning a smile.

"All right," Harry said uncertainly.

"Let's get some slippers on those feet first," Sirius said, keeping his voice overly cheerful. "Accio Harry's slippers," he called, adjusting Harry awkwardly in his arms since his godson seemed reluctant to lose his perch. "There," Sirius said finally. With an encouraging smile, he carried Harry down the stairs.

Remus was standing in front of the sofa, waiting for them; he drew in a breath as soon as they took the last step.

Carding his fingers lightly through Harry's hair, Sirius stopped in front of Remus. "This is Remus."

"Hello, Harry," Remus said, his voice very soft. Harry held himself close to Sirius, though he didn't break eye contact.

"Can you say hello?" Sirius prodded.

"Hallo," Harry whispered; his fingers curled in Sirius' jumper as he gazed at the newcomer solemnly.

"Remus came all the way from France to visit with us," Sirius said, making France sound like a thrilling place.

"Mrs. Weasley showed us where that is," Harry said, still gazing at Remus.

"The Weasleys have an enchanted globe," Sirius explained.

"Do you know where any other countries are?" Remus asked.

"Scotland," Harry said, his face lighting up a bit at the opportunity to share his knowledge. "That's where Hogwarts is… right, Sirius?" he asked with an uncertain frown.

"It certainly is. It's lovely there," Remus answered after an encouraging nod from Sirius. "Would you like me to draw you a picture of Hogwarts? Sirius told me you like to draw."

Harry peeked up at Sirius; Sirius smiled and Harry nodded. "Yes, please, sir."

"You may call me Remus if you like," Remus said, his face and voice filled with enough open warmth that Harry finally gave him a real smile. Looking rather pleased with himself, Remus pulled a writing tablet from his robes. Sirius smiled, a bit relieved to see Remus take the familiar staple out of his pocket. A self-inking quill came out next. Sirius sat next to Remus, Harry in his lap.

It didn't take long, however, for Harry to lean forward so that he could see Remus' bold strokes against the white parchment. By the time Remus finished his sketch of the towering castle, complete with the giant squid, Harry was kneeling beside the short table, his hair spilling over his forehead as he watched.

With several taps and a few whispered words, the squid began dancing along the water's surface. Harry laughed.

"Is there really a squid?" he asked with wide eyes, forgetting for the moment to be nervous.

"Yes, and it's quite a bit larger than this room."

"Wow," Harry breathed.

"Would you like to draw something?" Remus asked, holding out the quill. Harry immediately became timid again, pressing himself back against Sirius' knee.

Sirius reached out to run a reassuring hand through his godson's hair. "You could draw some fish to play with the squid," he suggested. "Maybe Remus will make them dance as well, if you ask him."

Harry glanced up again at Remus.

"I'd be pleased to," Remus assured him with a smile. Slowly, Harry reached out and took the proffered quill. He worked quietly for several minutes, leaning over the table with the tip of his tongue poking out between his lips as he concentrated.

"You draw beautifully," Remus said, bending over in an imitation of Harry that made Sirius smile; Harry beamed as he added eyes to the largest of the three fish he'd drawn.

"This one likes the squid," he explained. "The others are frightened of him; they're too small."

"He's a very brave little fish," Remus said with a little chuckle. "I'm a bit frightened of the giant squid."

"I'm not," Harry said, puffing out his chest. "I'm brave too."

"You are," Remus agreed and was gifted with another smile. "Would you like me to make the fish swim?" A quick nod from Harry and the fish were swimming alongside the squid. Harry watched them happily, and Sirius gave Remus a grin.

A knock on the door sounded and Remus and Sirius turned; Harry paid no attention to the intrusion. "I'll see who it is," Sirius said as he stood. He was unable to stop the frown as he pulled the door open.

"Good morning, Sirius," Albus said with a smile. "How are you on this fine Christmas Sunday?"

Sirius pulled back on his scowl and gave the headmaster a tight smile. "Good morning, Albus."

"I've brought a gift for young Harry," Albus said. He waited expectedly until Sirius stepped back. Albus fairly beamed when he saw Remus, who was now standing. "Well, Remus! This is a surprise."

"Is it?" Sirius asked coolly.

Albus spared him a glance before focusing his attention on Harry. "Happy Christmas, Harry."

"Hi, Professor," Harry said with a small smile; Sirius came to stand beside his godson, and Harry leaned against his leg; it had been almost two months since he'd last seen the headmaster.

Albus crouched down, the cheerful smile still on his face. "I do believe Father Christmas made a bit of a mistake last night and left one of your gifts in my office."

Harry's mouth opened; his green eyes wide as saucers. "He did?"

Albus dipped into his pockets and brought forth a red and gold striped parcel. "For Harry Potter," he read with exaggerated seriousness. "Do you think that's for you?" he asked, his eyes dancing. Harry nodded excitedly. He held the gift to his chest, looking up at Sirius. Ignoring his irritation at Albus, Sirius knelt down and smiled at his godson. "Go ahead and open it," he encouraged with a nod. He leaned forward to help when Harry couldn't quite manage.

Harry grinned as a herd of dragon figurines tumbled out of the parcel. They roared, their tails swishing, and Harry laughed in delight. "Look Sirius!"

"Ferocious little chaps, aren't they?" Sirius said with a smile to match Harry's. Harry prodded an orange one; it scowled at him.

"It's orange!" Harry cried. "Just like the one in my book!"

"And it's just as cross," Sirius said with the chuckle. The story in question was titled The Grumpiest Dragon, and indeed, the little orange figure looked remarkably like the title character. Sirius put a hand on Harry's head, bringing his godson's eyes from the dragons. "Can you say thank you to Professor Dumbledore?"

Harry smiled shyly up at Albus. "Thank you."

"You're quite welcome, my dear boy," Albus said with a fond smile. He patted Harry on the head before turning his attention back to Sirius. "I would enjoy a spot of tea, if you would, Sirius."

Sirius studied the headmaster's bright smile for a moment before nodding. "Of course."

Harry made certain that Sirius was within eyeshot before going back to his dragons. When Sirius returned a few minutes later, he was belly down on the carpet, directing his new toys in a fierce battle.

"Sugar?" Sirius asked, keeping his voice neutral for little ears. He gave the headmaster two lumps as motioned and then sat beside Remus. Remus was staring at the headmaster, looking rather more perturbed than Sirius felt.

"Did you enjoy your holiday with the Weasleys yesterday?" Albus asked.

"I would have enjoyed it more if I had known Remus hasn't been ignoring me for seven months," Sirius said, leaning forward with an intensity that would have snapped him by now if Harry hadn't been in the room.

Albus took another deliberate sip of his tea and then set it down on his saucer.

"Why didn't you tell him where I was?" Remus finally asked, his voice soft and strained.

Albus sighed. "Very simply because I did not know." He held up a wrinkled hand when Sirius would have objected. "It was a modified Fidelius; cast in a way so that even I would not know your exact location."

"But… why?" Sirius demanded; Harry's eyes flicked up in concern. Noticing, Sirius relaxed his shoulders, smiling a little, and Harry went back to his play.

"It was an extremely dangerous time," Albus said; he sounded weary. "Nothing has ever been proven, of course," he said with a small nod for Remus. "There were rumors, however, and I did not want you to be found."

"But the Fidelius wouldn't have allowed you to give up my location," Remus said.

"The charm is not infallible-"

"You could have told me you sent him away," Sirius interrupted, his even tone belying his anger.

"If I had, Remus would have returned no sooner," Albus said, his voice calm and rational, even though his explanation made no sense. It was Albus, speaking in riddles as he always did. Sirius exchanged a glance with Remus and saw the anger that Remus wouldn't give into.

"It would have eased my worries, though," Sirius said plainly.

"Perhaps." Albus sighed again when only stony silence greeted him. "Thank you for the tea," he said and then turned to Harry. "Enjoy your dragons, Harry."

Harry looked up and smiled as his legs scissored absently in the air. "Yes, sir."

"I'll show myself out," Albus said as he stood. "I am very happy to see you here, Remus. Your timing was especially auspicious." He pulled six vials from his pocket. "A gift from Severus," he said with small smile. "He's improved the formula."

"From Snape?" Sirius echoed as he stared at the tiny vials of Wolfsbane. He'd been shocked beyond speech when Albus had casually announced seven months ago that it was Snape who captured Peter. Somehow, providing Wolfsbane to Remus was the more shocking of the two acts, although it was a toss-up as to whom Snape loathed more… not that he didn't have reason.

"He is working on several projects for me," Albus said with a nod. "He will be most pleased to hear you've been reunited."

Remus found his voice first. "Please give him my deepest gratitude."

Albus dipped his head. "Of course," he said. "Though I do not believe he requires it." Albus smiled again, and then with a wave for Harry, he went out the same way he'd come in.

Sirius and Remus stared after him, neither knowing what to make of that.

"What does 'spicious mean?" Harry asked from the floor once the door was closed.

"Auspicious," Sirius corrected absently. He shook his head slightly and glanced down at his godson. "And it means lucky."

Harry cocked his head. "Who's lucky?"

"We are. We're very lucky to have Remus here."

Harry gazed at Remus, his eyebrows scrunched together. "Is he going to stay for breakfast?" he finally asked, turning to Sirius.

"His name is Remus," Sirius told him with a smile. "And yes, Remus is going to stay for breakfast. Maybe he'll make us crumpets. Remus is a brilliant chef."

Harry brightened. "I like crumpets!"

"Yes, I know you do," Sirius said with a chuckle. He reached down and pulled Harry onto his lap. "What do you think, Harry? Would you like Remus to make crumpets for us? They're much better than mine."

Harry nodded. "Sometimes Sirius burns the crumpets," he informed Remus with a solemn nod.

"Does he?"

"Oy!" Sirius protested. "That's meant to be a secret."

"I told Ron already," Harry said; he reclined against Sirius' chest. "Mrs. Weasley too. That's why she makes us dinner sometimes; she's afraid you burn all the food."

Remus laughed, while Sirius stared at his godson's dancing eyes. He'd had no idea that was why Molly routinely pushed warm dishes into his hands, murmuring for Sirius not to protest. Not that he minded; Molly's food was always delicious.

"I would have thought your cooking skills would have improved," Remus said. Sirius resisted the urge to kiss the teasing smile off his face.

"Well, fine then; you can cook for us from now on," he said with a good-natured huff.

Harry's eyebrows rose curiously. "Are you going to make lunch for us too?"

Remus caught Sirius' eye over the top of Harry's head, and Sirius smiled.

"If you like," Remus said. Harry pressed his cheek against Sirius' shoulder; Sirius glimpsed the tiny smile, even though Harry didn't answer.

Sirius kissed Harry's other cheek. "You go upstairs and get dressed, and then we'll help Remus find all the ingredients. And the special pan."

"I want to play with my dragons," Harry said, though to Sirius' ears, the protest was half-hearted at best.

"After breakfast," he answered and then nudged his godsons' back so that Harry slid off his lap.

"Just one more minute?" Harry asked hopefully, but Sirius shook his head.

"Nope." He gave Harry's ribs a playful poke. "Off with you," he ordered. Harry's cheeks puffed out with a breath of laughter as he moved out of reach, and with his new orange friend tucked in his fist, he went upstairs.

As soon as Harry's feet cleared the landing, Remus turned to Sirius and said softly, "You've done beautifully with him. Lily and James would be very proud of you."

A flush warmed Sirius' cheeks at the unexpected praise. "He's exceptionally easy to love."

"And he very clearly loves you." Remus was smiling, but Sirius knew him well enough to recognize pain in his eyes—pain that he had no intention of Sirius seeing.

"He's Lily's child in more than just his eyes," Sirius said quietly. Remus swallowed; he'd been much closer to Lily than Sirius had been; they'd been friends long before James had ever dated her. And Lily had loved Remus as surely as she would have loved a brother.

"I love you, you know," Sirius said, hating the grief in the other man's eyes.

"Yes, I know," Remus murmured with a faint smile. He shook his head. "I don't know how I survived these last four years."

They'd talked all through the night, and though Sirius knew his pain intimately, it made it no easier to accept. Sirius took his hand. "You don't have to simply survive any longer, Remus. We'll take care of you now." He searched Remus' eyes, willing him to believe that everything would be better now. He meant it when he'd said that Harry was wholly Lily's son. He had a capacity for love that Sirius, quite frankly, could not understand—given the wasteland of affection that had been his existence for three and half years.

But Harry already loved the Weasleys; even the prickliest of them, Percy, had earned a place in Harry's heart.

Remus, with a soul as gentle as Harry's, would have no difficulty in winning the little boy's affection. Sirius was sure of it.

Chapter Text

"You missed a spot," Remus said, his eyes sweeping over Harry as Sirius rubbed No-Sun Potion into Harry's arms and shoulders. Sirius squinted up at him, a playful frown on his face.

"Would you like a turn?" he asked, waggling the squat tub of potion. Remus' lips quirked, but he made no move to take the jar; Sirius snorted.

"I want to go in the water," Harry said, twisting away from his godfather.

"As soon as I get every spot," Sirius told him, planting a firm hand on Harry's shoulder. "Hold still or it will be dark before I finish here."

Harry looked up eagerly when Sirius finally capped the jar. "May we go in now?"

"If Remus is ready," Sirius said, turning to the other man with raised eyebrows.

"He is!" Harry insisted, tugging on Sirius' hand. Sirius let himself be pulled along, flashing his brightest grin for Remus, who was trailing behind them with an amused smile. "It's cold," Harry said with a shiver as he ploughed into the water.

"Wade in slowly," Sirius advised; he took Remus' hand as he joined them. "It won't feel so cold in a moment."

"Forgot my pail!" Harry said, his small voice lively along the quiet beach. There were other families—all of them witches and wizards from the seaside resort sprawled along the shore, but there were very few children. The white-haired couple nearby smiled at Harry's eager shout.

Sirius and Remus watched him scrambling back over the sand to their towels.

"His energy is boundless," Remus said. "A bit like you, actually," he mused with a smile.

"I'll pretend you aren't insinuating I'm immature," Sirius grumbled, nudging the other man with his hip, "and accept that as a compliment."

"Exactly as I meant it."

"I'm going to find hundreds of shells," Harry informed them as he came back, interrupting Sirius' retort and grabbing his arm so that Sirius released Remus' hand.

"Hundreds?" Sirius echoed with feigned look of awe. "You'll need a much bigger pail I think."

Harry's face fell. "Oh."

Sirius crouched down beside his godson. "I think we might be able to make that one a bit bigger," he said with a wink. He pulled his wand from the holster on his calf. "Engorgio."

"Thank you," Harry said, his eyes bright as he gazed at Sirius with wonder.

"You're quite welcome," Sirius said, ruffling the wild mop. "See if you can fill it all the way to the top."

"It will hold at least one hundred shells now," Remus added. Harry glanced at him, giving him a faint smile before he began hunting for shells at the edge of the water.

"He's quiet today," Remus observed.

Sirius glanced at Remus; he hadn't thought Remus would notice. Sirius watched Harry combing his fingers through the sand. "He's just excited."

Remus' gaze flicked to Sirius, saying nothing. Sirius reached for his fingers again; giving them a light squeeze.

"Sirius!"

Sirius turned from Remus and lifted his eyebrows in question. Harry made a motion with his hand at the expectant look, bidding Sirius to come closer. Sirius heard Remus sighing behind him as he went over to join Harry.

"Will you help me?" Harry asked as soon as Sirius was close enough.

Sirius knelt beside his godson; his smile eased the anxious furrow between Harry's brows. "Found any yet?" Sirius asked as he leaned over to peer into the empty pail. Harry sat back on his thighs and shook his head.

"Maybe they're hiding," Sirius suggested. Mesmerized by the mischievous suggestion, Harry watched as Sirius made a show of waggling his fingers deep within the pale grains. "Oho!" Sirius crowed. He plucked a pearly shell from its damp cocoon and held it up. He grinned at Harry's cry of delight and handed the shell to his godson, who dropped it into the pail and immediately began scrambling to imitate Sirius. "Look, Sirius!"

"Even bigger than mine," Sirius said as Harry showed off a pale pink bivalve. Harry beamed and continued hunting.

Sirius' eyes strayed to Remus, who had wandered back to the spot they'd staked out earlier. He was brushing sand aside with a palm and settling himself on one of the low chairs. Sirius caught his eye and the corner of Remus' lips lifted in a half-smile.

Turning back to Harry, Sirius said, "Remus always finds the best shells. Maybe we should ask him to help."

Harry's eyes darted up, finding Remus leafing through the pages of his newest manuscript. He ducked his head when Remus looked up; he shook his head. "We can do it," he said, his childish voice determined.

Having not expected the stout refusal, Sirius had no ready response.

"We have ten," Harry said a moment later as he stopped to count the piling shells. His dark eyebrows scrunched together as he squinted up at Sirius. "How many 'til one hundred?"

"Ninety," Sirius said, smiling at the look of concentration on his godson's face. Harry's hands dove back into the wet sand as he scuttled along the beach.

"I hope we can stay all night," he murmured as the fourteenth shell clipped the side of the pail. And then he jerked back with a loud yelp, his green eyes wide.

"What's the matter?" Sirius demanded as he hurried forward, relaxing marginally when he found no blood or tears in the vicinity.

"Something grabbed me!"

And then crashing out of the ground and sending sand flying everywhere, came a house-elf, with eyes as wide as tennis balls. "Dobby is apologizing!" the little elf cried.

Harry leapt back and crashed into Sirius' steadying arms. "It's all right," Sirius said quickly. "He won't hurt you."

"Dobby is very bad! Dobby did not mean to hurt the little wizard!"

Sirius patted Harry's stomach lightly as Harry tried to scrunch himself against Sirius' chest. "It's all right…"

"Is everything all-"

Remus came to a halt, the rest of his worried sentence hanging as he stared at the knee-high creature.

"Dobby!" a vexed voice called out. "You're meant to stay buried!"

Sirius and Remus turned; Sirius immediately frowning as a familiar boy with pale blond hair stalked toward them. Draco paused when he saw them, his mouth losing some of its stern scowl. "Oh," he said in a smaller voice and almost immediately Harry was wriggling to free himself from Sirius' protective grasp.

"Malfoy's kid," Sirius explained out of the side of his mouth to Remus, whose eyebrows quickly rose in surprise. "Draco."

"I remember you," Draco said. "You didn't come to fly on my broom."

Dobby drew all of their attention away from that statement; he was banging his fists into his eyes. Harry stared at him, horrified.

"Draco," Remus said, the word strained; it took the blond boy a moment to divert his attention from his elf. "Perhaps you would ask Dobby not to do that…"

Draco's eyes flicked to the elf. "Dobby, stop that," he said in a bored tone. Dobby stopped instantly, his tiny shoulders hunching down in shame as he blinked at his master.

"It's all right," Sirius soothed Harry for the third time.

Harry was hovering just in front of Sirius. Sirius gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze. It took a minute, but Harry dragged his eyes from the repentant elf and held up his pail for Draco's inspection. "I'm going to find one hundred shells."

"You haven't got very many."

Harry shrugged, taking no offense at the other boy's criticism. "Sirius is going to help me find all of them. How many more do I need now, Sirius?"

"Eighty-five."

Harry nodded firmly to Draco. "Eighty-five."

Draco studied him for a moment. "Dobby's aces at finding shells. I have loads."

Harry craned his neck, trying to see where Draco's stockpile might be. He snuck forward a bit and Sirius found his hands gripping his godson's shoulders. Harry glanced back, a line of uncertainty creasing his forehead. And as Sirius gazed down at his innocent godson, he had to force himself to ignore his almost ingrained hatred of everything Malfoy—and the fact that this little kid's father had probably been a Death Eater.

Sirius gave his godson a little smile and let his hands fall back to his sides. But he didn't move away as Harry and Draco dropped to their knees in front of a regal sand castle, and neither did Remus, Sirius noticed. After a moment, both of them sat down in the sand, keeping wary eyes on Harry.

--

"It's big," Harry said as he stared at Draco's giant castle.

"Dobby makes wicked sand castles."

"I think he might be mad," Harry said quietly as he leaned forward, his hands on his thighs. Draco glanced back at the hopping elf.

"He's always that way," he said with a shrug. "My father doesn't like him much."

Harry studied the frantic little elf and frowned. "He seems to like you.

"We have loads of elves. Mother tells them to keep me safe and make my food. They have to play with me."

"They do?"

"Else Father punishes them."

"Well, I like him," Harry said firmly. He gave the nervous elf a smile, which made the elf even more nervous. "I never met a house-elf," he explained as he watched Draco patting the top of his castle. "Ron doesn't have one either."

"Who's Ron?"

"He's my friend. Mrs Weasleys is his mum; she teaches our lessons." Harry slid his pail across the sand so that it was sitting right in front of Draco. "You can use my shells."

Draco picked the twirly silver shell off the top of the pile and handed it to Harry. "It's a window," he said. Harry pushed it into one of the castle walls, wriggling it a bit to make it stay. "Father doesn't like the Weasleys," Draco said as he plucked up another shell.

"Why not?" Harry asked indignantly. "They're nice!"

"Father says they don't have any money. And Mr Weasley is a traitor."

"What's a traitor?"

"I don't know," Draco said as he scooped sand out of the moat; Harry leaned in to help. "But Mother doesn't like traitors. They have blood, she says."

"The Weasleys are nice," Harry repeated defensively, ready to argue if he had to, but Draco didn't disagree with him. "There isn't any blood in their house. And Mrs Weasley teaches me numbers."

"Dobby teaches me. I can read," Draco said proudly, sticking out his chest a little.

"Me too," Harry said quickly. "Maybe traitors are people that don't have house-elves," he said thoughtfully a minute later. "Mrs Weasleys plays with Ron and Ginny sometimes. And me."

Draco frowned. "Mother is too busy to play with me."

"Oh." Harry sat back on his heels, considering that. "Aunt Petunia never played with me either."

"Who's Aunt Petunia?"

"I lived in her house; with Uncle Vernon and Dudley before me and Sirius were a family. They didn't like me."

"Why not?" Draco asked.

"Don't know," Harry said with a little shrug as he pressed another shell into place.

"Does your new family like you?"

"Sirius likes me. He loves me too."

Draco glanced back at Sirius, his gaze sweeping between both men. "Who is that other man? The one with brown hair."

"That's Remus," Harry said without looking up from the shell he was pressing into the castle.

"Is he your father too?"

Harry's lips became a dash of pink. He shook his head, with enough emphasis that his black hair became even wilder.

"Who is he then?"

Harry glanced up, twisting his shoulders a little so he was looking at Remus and Sirius. His gaze darted between them and then he turned back to Draco's castle. "He's Sirius' friend."

Draco shook his head; he stuck a short stick onto the top of the castle. "But they're holding hands," he told Harry with an important nod. "Mother holds Father's hand." He paused. "Sometimes."

"Well, Remus isn't my dad," Harry said; he patted one of the turrets with a little too much force and it caved in.

"Dobby, fix it," Draco said automatically and the jumpy little elf hopped to.

--

"It is time for Master Draco to leave," Dobby said for the fourth time an hour later; he was beginning to sound frantic. "Little Master's father has dinner reservations."

"Maybe you ought to go," Harry said, worried that the elf was going to start smacking himself again if Draco didn't listen.

Draco heaved a sigh. "You're such a pest, Dobby," he said as he climbed to his feet. Dobby nodded fervently; his ears flapped around his head, though it seemed a bit odd to Harry that the elf didn't seem to mind being called a pest.

"Father will be cross if I'm very late," Draco said to Harry while Dobby scrambled to gather all of Draco's scattered toys.

Harry nodded; Uncle Vernon had frequently shouted about being late.

"Will you be here tomorrow?" Draco asked; his shoulders drooped when Harry shook his head.

"I have to go to Ron's house tomorrow for lessons."

"Oh."

"Maybe you can come play with me and Ron," Harry offered.

"Father doesn't like Mr Weasley," Draco reminded him with a frown.

"Maybe if you tell him that the Weasleys don't really have any blood," Harry suggested hopefully. "I've been in their whole house." Draco dragged one of his bare toes through the wet sand as he shrugged.

"Little Master must come!" Dobby had begun hopping from foot to foot.

"All right" Draco huffed. With his shoulders still stooped, Draco gazed at Harry and neither of them spoke for a minute.

"Bye," Harry said, feeling very sorry that Draco's father didn't like traitors.

"Bye," Draco said quietly. And then as Dobby began to dance with agitation, Draco finally turned and followed him toward one of the largest cottages along the beach; it looked even bigger than Grimmauld Place.

Harry stared after him until Draco and Dobby disappeared into the cottage. Feeling a bit stuffy, Harry turned. Sirius was watching him, his mouth turned up in a soft smile. Remus was smiling as well, and they were sitting very close, their shoulders and legs touching.

With a frown, Harry hurried to his godfather and turned so that he could maneuver between them and wiggle into Sirius' lap, his legs taking up most of the space that Remus had just been occupying; Remus slid backward to make room.

"Did you have fun?" Sirius asked.

"That was a lovely castle you and Draco built," Remus added.

Harry tilted his head up so that he could see Sirius' eyes. "Draco's father doesn't like the Weasleys," he said; the idea still made him feel rather funny. There simply wasn't anything not to like about Ron's family!

"Yes, I heard," Sirius murmured. Harry settled himself so that he was more comfortable in the crook of his godfather's arm.

"What's a traitor?"

"Well," Sirius said slowly after exchanging a glance with Remus; Harry shifted impatiently. "It's rather hard to understand, but some wizards and witches don't like families that are not magical."

"Like the Dursleys?"

Sirius hesitated. "Yes," he finally said. "Some folks with magic only like those who have magic as well."

"But the Weasleys are wizards…"

"Well, yes," Sirius said with a nod.

"Do you know what a family tree is?" Remus asked. Harry nodded against Sirius' collarbone, staring out at the ocean instead of at Remus. Mrs Weasley had showed them their family tree; it was a great piece of parchment that she wouldn't let them touch.

"Some families," Remus went on, "like to be able to prove that everyone on their family tree is a wizard or a witch, especially way back to their great-great grandparents. And sometimes, when a family can't prove that, other families get cross. Does that make sense?"

Harry nodded again and was surprised when Sirius bent his head and spoke close to his ear. "Harry," he said softly, "it's polite to answer Remus when he's asking a question."

Sirius' voice wasn't angry, but Harry's stomach squirmed anyway. Remus didn't look cross either, but neither was he smiling. "Sorry," Harry whispered, turning his face even more into Sirius' shirt front.

"It's all right," Sirius assured him as he smoothed Harry's hair. "And don't fret about Draco's father, all right? The Weasleys are a lovely family."

Harry didn't answer right away. Sirius just let him sit though, and finally Harry asked, "Why didn't my aunt and uncle like me?"

Sirius' arms felt a little stiff for a moment, but then he was was hugging him close. "I think, Harry," he said in a very soft voice, "that they were afraid of your magic… Petunia was afraid of your mum's magic too; she didn't' understand it. And sometimes, when people don't understand something, it frightens them."

Harry didn't say anything. But he did feel very safe in his godfather's arms, so he guessed that was okay.

--

Harry sat in the middle of the parlor the next day, the laces of his trainers bunched in his fingers, scowling at them. "I don't want to go."

"You and Ron are painting today, remember? You'll have fun-"

"I won't!"

"You always have fun," Sirius said, his calm beginning to evaporate but he managed not to sound quite as exasperated as he felt.

"I want to stay here with you."

"I have an appointment this morning," Sirius told him, surprised at the request. "And Mrs Weasley is expecting you." He crouched down and picked up the discarder trainer. "Foot, please," he said as he gave the trainer a jiggle. Harry continued to glower.

"Where are you going?" he demanded.

Ignoring Harry's tone, Sirius explained, "Remus and I are going to meet Remus' publisher for breakfast. You remember I told you about Mr Blacknoose?" He'd managed to encase one of Harry's feet in one of the trainers, but now Harry's eyebrows had scrunched together and he shook his head vehemently when Sirius motioned for the other.

"Harry, we're going to be late," he said, giving in to the stern tone that he rarely had occasion to use. "Give me your other foot."

"I don't want you to go," Harry mumbled, but he did stretch his sock-clad foot toward Sirius. Sirius maneuvered the trainer on and laced it swiftly.

"I'll be back in time for lunch," he reassured his godson. "Just as I always am." He smiled as he helped Harry stand. "And Remus will be here when we get home. All right?" Sirius prodded, trying to get Harry's attention, but Harry was staring toward the kitchen, his brow creased and a frown still on his lips. "Remus can make something special for us," he said, trying to coax the pout off his godson's face, but Harry's expression didn't change.

Keeping his voice light, Sirius put his hand on the back of Harry's head and said, "We don't want to keep Ron waiting."

Harry's was still frowning when they stepped into the Weasleys' parlor.

"Finally!" Ron groaned. "Mum said I had to wait until you arrived! We've been waiting for ages."

Sirius smiled at the overdramatic arm-waving; he crouched down, expecting to see amusement on Harry's face as well, but Harry was simply gazing at his friend. Before Sirius could speak, Molly came in.

"Come along, Harry dear," she said, waving her arms toward the kitchen.

"Jiffy up, Harry!"

Harry had already turned at Molly's urging though and Sirius stood. "Harry?" he called; Harry paused, his hand on the side of the doorway. Sirius smiled and held his arms out, silently calling Harry back for a hug. But Harry ducked his head and spun around quickly, nearly crashing into Molly's back.

"Here you are, dear," Molly said. She ushered Harry over to the table, giving directions, encouragement and admonishments in equal measures as she began divvying up the paints and supplies, oblivious to the fact that Sirius was still standing in her parlor, feeling as though he'd been kicked in the stomach.

--

"I had no idea Nathan was going to ask for so many changes," Remus said with a sigh as he poured tea. "I should have known since he insisted on breakfast. You remember; he always prefaces bad news with food… Sirius?"

A hand squeezed Sirius' shoulder and he started. "Sorry?" he said with a quick shake of his head when he realized Remus had been speaking—and he hadn't been listening.

Remus set the teapot aside and sat next to Sirius at the kitchen table. "You've been somewhere else all morning," he said quietly. "Is everything all right?"

"I'm sorry," Sirius said with a grimace.

Remus' fingers fluttered, dismissing the apology. "What's the matter?"

Sirius sighed as he wrapped one hand around the hot teacup. "Harry had a difficult morning, that's all."

"He did?"

"He didn't want to go to the Weasleys. Was quite insistent about it…"

Did he say why?"

"No; just that he didn't want me to go to the meeting with Nathan."

Remus pursed his lips; he stared into his dark tea. "He didn't want you to go with me," he finally said, his voice strained.

Sirius felt his brows furrowing as Harry's earlier words echoed in his head. How quiet his godson had become when Sirius had told him that Remus would be at Grimmauld Place for lunch. "He didn't sleep well." The excuse, though it was true, made Sirius' stomach tighten as though he'd just told a lie. But he hated the subdued hurt in Remus' eyes. "Remus, he's just a little boy. And he's more insecure than most children..." Sirius fumbled for the right words. "He likes you," he added, almost cringing again at the pathetic offer.

Remus didn't lift his eyes.

"He does, Moony. He loves to draw with you; you know that-"

"It's all right, Padfoot," Remus interrupted softly, looking up from his tea. "I knew it would take time for Harry to accept me. You didn't want to believe it, but you knew it as well."

Sirius leaned forward, his fingers curling in agitation against the wood and tried not to pay attention to the pain in Remus' voice. "He will, Remus," he said, feeling urgent and anxious for reasons he probably couldn't express. "He's just frightened of losing me. He's had so little chance to trust-"

"I know," Remus said with a quick nod. "And I've been infringing far too much-"

"You're not-"

Remus put his hand over Sirius' and Sirius finally closed his mouth. "Sirius, you needn't worry that I won't understand that Harry is your first priority. I don't want to cause him any pain." He shook his head. "Not after he's already lost so much-" The word caught in Remus' throat and he fell silent.

"Remus," Sirius said, his words tense, "you're not causing him pain. Of course you're not. He just needs reassurance. And I haven't been giving him enough obviously."

He wasn't going to explain to Remus how Harry had turned away without a hug this morning—or that the snub had nearly brought him to tears. Bloody ridiculous. Harry would be six in a few months.

"He hasn't had your undivided attention very often since Christmas," Remus said. "And I think perhaps he might need it."

Sirius wanted to dispute his words, but that would be a lie too.

"Maybe if you and Harry have a few special outings…" Remus suggested, his voice and posture nonchalant; as involved in the fiction as Sirius wanted to be. "I ought to pay a bit more attention to my manuscript in any case."

The clerk in Flourish and Blotts last spring, it turned out, had been mistaken when he told Sirius that Remus would soon debut a new novel. And much to Sirius' dismay, he had discovered at Christmas that Remus had written very little in the intervening years.

"Harry does need my attention," Sirius finally conceded. "But I need you too. And so does Harry."

A sardonic smile was Remus' only response.

"He does," Sirius said, leaning forward so that he had captured both of the other man's hands. "He's confused right now, but that kid has the biggest heart of anyone I've ever met. Even more so than Lily. Just give him some time and I promise he'll be all right."

Sirius hoped he wasn't lying.

"It's nearly twelve o'clock," Remus said after a silent moment, glancing at the clock. He stood, his hands already reaching out to take his cloak from where he'd hung it on the back of his chair.

Sirius caught his wrist before he could turn away. "Come back tonight, after Harry goes to sleep?"

Remus' features softened and Sirius pulled him closer.

"I waited four years," Sirius reminded him quietly. He felt Remus smiling against his lips. "And it was much too long."

--

Sirius didn't like the feeling of anxiety that churned through him when he stepped into the Weasleys' parlor for the second time that day. The silence of the house felt ominous. He walked into the kitchen, finding Molly organizing a giant stack of fish paste sandwiches.

She greeted him with a smile and sample from the pile, but he shook his head.

"The children are outside with Arthur; he came home for lunch," she said, glancing out the large window with a fond smile for her husband, who was currently being wrestled to the ground by four rambunctious children. Percy and Harry were standing to the side, neither of them looking particularly amused.

"Harry was quiet this morning," Molly told him, her own gaze falling on the raven-haired boy, who oddly enough, didn't seem out of place amongst the sea of ginger.

Sirius swallowed as he nodded, reminding himself that it didn't matter that Harry had started his day without a farewell hug. "He was reluctant to leave me this morning," he explained.

Molly didn't look surprised. "He said he wanted to go home," she said. "But he said you wouldn't be there, since you were with Remus."

The knot in Sirius' stomach twisted tighter. "I'm going to keep him with me tomorrow," he told her. "Have an outing."

And this time Molly did look surprised. She studied him, her eyes shrewd. And then she nodded. "I think he would enjoy that very much," she said with a smile. With a faint smile of his own, Sirius left Molly to her sandwiches. He opened the back door to the sound of happy laughter, but he barely even noticed that any of the Weasley children were there.

His eyes met Harry's as he stepped onto the grass and then Harry was moving toward him, his feet breaking into a run in the next second. With relief bubbling into laughter, Sirius scooped his godson up right before Harry barreled into him. He couldn't breathe, Harry's arms were wound so tightly around his neck, but he didn't care.

--

Sirius spent the next five days giving Harry his complete attention. They went to Diagon Alley again and spent more time along the same beach they'd visited with Remus. They even spent an afternoon at Hogwarts, where Harry decided that Hagrid was 'the funnest'.

"Do you think the ducks will be hungry?" Harry asked as Sirius tucked him in for the night.

"You don't think we fed them enough?" Sirius asked with a smile. They'd gone to pond in the square across the street after dinner.

"Maybe they want something else to eat… maybe chicken."

Sirius chuckled. "Chickens are birds too. It would be like eating their cousins."

Harry made a face. "That's disgusting, Sirius."

"Yes, it is." Sirius smoothed Harry's damp hair away from his forehead. "And now, my little sir, you need to sleep. Ron will be expecting you bright and early."

Harry yawned as he wriggled his head to find a more comfortable spot on his pillow. "Mrs Weasley is going to take us on a walk in the woods. We have to find all sorts of different animals. And collect potions ingredients."

"Are you going to make a potion?" Sirius asked, even though he already knew the answer.

"We're going to help Mrs Weasley make one! A potion for fixing scrapes, since the twins and Ron are always getting them. Ginny too, even though Mrs Weasley says girls shouldn't have so many scraped knees."

"Why not?"

"Dunno. Mrs. Weasley tells Ginny all the time she's not a boy."

Sirius' lips twitched. "I see."

Harry yawned again and twisted a little so that he was lying on his side. "Is Remus going to make lunch for us after you fetch me?"

Hiding his surprise, Sirius said, "I don't know."

Harry's dark brows furrowed. "Why not? Where is he?"

"He's been writing his stories," Sirius answered, willing himself not to give into the surge of relief at Harry's query.

"Doesn't he like us any longer?"

"Of course Remus likes us… loves us actually. Especially you," Sirius said, nudging Harry's chin with a knuckle. Harry smiled.

"Maybe you can help him with his stories so he can visit us," he said. He yawned again, blinking several times as sleep threatened to take over. Sirius bent down and kissed his godson's cheek.

"Maybe," he whispered.

--

At precisely twelve-thirty the next day, Remus knocked on number twelve Grimmauld Place, his heart hammering in his chest. He was being foolish, of course. Sirius had said that Harry missed him; had asked for him even.

He didn't relax though, even when the door opened and Sirius was grinning out at him. "Not a moment too soon," he said with a chuckle, gesturing for Remus to come in.

"Remus!"

Remus' face froze, startled to hear the exuberant cry. He was even more surprised to nearly lose his balance as an arm wrapped around his leg and a small body skidded against his side. Harry was grinning up at him, his green eyes dancing.

"Look!" he commanded as he shook a parchment in the air. "Draco sent me a letter!"

"Did he?" Remus asked, his laughter having nothing much to do with the parchment in Harry's fist.

"Dobby helped him write it!" Harry exclaimed. "And look, Remus! He sent me a shell! He said he wanted me to have it because I liked it so well! It was the biggest! And Draco gave it to me!"

"It's lovely," Remus said as he made a show of admiring the gift.

"An owl delivered it here while I was at school," Harry explained, hopping up a down a little even though he was still attached to Remus' leg. "I wish I would have seen the owl! Draco says they have loads of owls."

Before Remus could find a suitable answer to that, Harry crowed, "And Sirius says I can write a letter too! Do you think Draco would like one of my dragons? Sirius says he might! But not the orange one because that's my favorite. What color do you think Draco likes?"

Remus caught Sirius' eye as Harry listed every color he knew. Sirius was smiling and Remus nearly laughed at his smug expression.

"Sirius says you might make lunch for us if I ask really nicely," Harry said, releasing Remus' leg but still bouncing on his toes. "Will you, Remus? Please?"

Remus smiled down at him; the weight that had pressed down on his chest for weeks now, finally beginning to ease. "Of course," he answered and Harry beamed. He grabbed Sirius' hand and began tugging his godfather toward the kitchen.

"How do you spell 'dragon', Sirius? I know how to spell 'Harry'. And even 'Draco'. Mrs Weasley showed me. Ron didn't want me to write Draco's name but Mrs Weasley told him to hush. She says that a lot."

Remus smiled as he followed Sirius and Harry into the kitchen, Harry still chattering on.

Chapter Text

The toe of Harry's trainer bounced loudly against the table leg as he glared from under his fringe at Remus.

"Did you enjoy your lessons with Mrs Weasley this morning, Harry?" Remus asked as he speared a piece of lettuce with his fork.

Harry poked at his jacket potato and didn't answer.

"Harry?" Sirius prodded quietly from across the table. Harry blew out a breath, annoyed that he'd have to answer now.

"No."

"No?" Sirius was trying not to smile; Harry scowled. "Why ever not?"

"She talks too much." The skin of Harry's potato was dotted with holes. His scowl deepened as he watched the adults exchanging looks. "She does!" he insisted, pulling his chin up to glare at both of them now.

"Well," Remus said in that tone that he always used when he thought Harry ought to be reasonable about something, "teachers generally do a fair bit of that. Did you enjoy your play time with Ron and the twins?"

Harry had, but he wasn't going to say so. "No," he grumbled and pushed his plate away. "I'm not hungry."

"Are you feeling ill?" Sirius asked, frowning. He stretched a hand across the table, but Harry pulled out of his godfather's reach.

"I want to go play," he said, trying not to look at Sirius' deepening frown.

"Would you like to finish coloring our dragon picture?" Remus asked as he set his fork down. "We may be able to finish it tonight."

Harry wanted to say yes. He and Remus always had fun together; especially when they were working on one of the huge rolls of parchment spread out on the kitchen table. And they were even almost done with the huge dragon colony they'd created with paints.

But as he sat there, watching Sirius smiling at Remus' suggestion and his hand settling on top of Remus' hand, Harry remembered what Ron had said that morning and all he wanted to do was to tell Remus to go home. But Sirius wouldn't like that. So, he simply scowled and shook his head.

Sirius and Remus exchanged glances once more. Harry watched Remus shrug, and then a funny tingle wormed its way into Harry's stomach as Remus put his hand on Sirius' arm and squeezed. Sirius smiled a little before he turned back to Harry. "If you're not hungry, you can be excused—"

Harry slid off his chair before Sirius could even finish his sentence. He turned toward the door, wanting to get away as fast as he could.

"Harry," his godfather's deep voice halted him in his tracks.

He turned around again, slowly.

"Dishes in the sink, kiddo," Sirius said lightly, his eyebrows raised in suggestion toward the sink. Harry didn't know what came over him then. All he knew was that Remus was sitting there, next to his godfather—his Sirius. Both of them watching him with encouraging smiles on their faces. He could feel the tingle growing until his stomach began to burn. He clenched his hands into fists. "I don't want to," he finally huffed. Sirius' eyebrows shot up as soon as the words left his mouth, but they came back down almost immediately, making Harry wish he hadn't said that.

"You need to do it now please," Sirius said quietly. Harry wasn't sure why Remus put his hand again on Sirius' arm, but Harry felt his face getting hot. "Harry," Sirius repeated, his voice dropping a bit in a way that Harry knew promised nothing good. But he didn't care.

"No," Harry said, jutting his jaw out as he glared at his godfather. His palms started to feel a bit clammy as Sirius slowly pushed back his chair and stood up.

"If you'll excuse us for a moment, Remus, Harry and I will be back right back."

"Of course." Remus looked right at Harry and smiled. A smile so understanding that Harry could barely stand it. He didn't want to be understood, especially by Remus!

Sirius came around the table and put his hand on Harry's shoulder, but Harry yanked himself away.

"No!" he said loudly, his eyes still on Remus. "I want to go play!"

"Harry," Sirius admonished as he ducked his head and caught both of Harry's shoulders this time. "Stop that this minute. What has gotten into you?"

"Nothing," Harry retorted hotly; his eyes were beginning to sting. Sirius sighed and then he dropped down so that he was eye-level with Harry.

"What is it?" he asked softly. Harry looked into his godfather's grey eyes and burst into tears.

"Harry…"

Even as he said it, Sirius was drawing him against his chest, and though Harry wanted to struggle… even wanted to pound Sirius's chest with his fists, he let himself be pulled in.

"Harry, what on earth…" Sirius' arms circled him, one of his hands smoothing the hair at the back of Harry's head.

He couldn't put a voice to what had gotten in to him. But he didn't want Sirius to let go, so he burrowed his face into the soft fabric at his godfather's shoulder.

"What's the matter, love?" Sirius whispered as if he and Harry were the only two in the room. And that made Harry cry even harder.

"Ron said you… and, and… Remus are… going to, to be… married," he managed to gulp through his hiccups.

Sirius' arms stiffened, and Harry stilled as well, afraid that Sirius was going to let him go, but he didn't. There was absolutely no sound in the kitchen except Harry's snuffling, and then Sirius stood up, gathered Harry close and strode out of the kitchen.

Harry's head came up, his eyes wild. "Noooo," he wailed. "I don't want to go to my roooom!"

Sirius shushed him softly, his hand brushing through Harry's hair. "It's all right, Harry. We're not."

And it was true; they only walked a little ways before Sirius was arranging them in one of the comfortable chairs in the parlor. He didn't say anything as he sat there with Harry's head tucked into his chest, his hand running up and down Harry's back.

"I don't know why Ron said that," Sirius finally spoke, his voice very soft—and maybe a little bit tired, "but Remus and I are not getting married."

Harry took that in. "Ron said you were," he eventually said, very quietly. "He said that's what people do when they like to kiss and hold hands."

Sirius kissed the top of Harry's head; Harry snuggled closer, trusting his godfather but still confused.

"Sometimes, yes they do…"

"He said you have to love someone an awful lot to marry them," Harry confided.

"Yes, you do." Sirius' voice sounded a little muffled.

Harry pulled away from his godfather, even more confused. "But we love Remus, don't we?"

Sirius was staring down at Harry, his eyes a little bit wide. He cleared his throat. "Yes," he finally said. Harry rested his head on Sirius' chest, and then they were quiet again.

"Are you sure you're not going to marry Remus?" Harry finally dared to whisper. He had to make sure… after all the awful things Ron had said. But he didn't want Remus to think they didn't love him.

"Yes, Harry," Sirius answered in that same muffled voice, "I'm certain."

Harry drew in a shaky breath; Sirius sounded so sad. "Will Remus go away then?"

Sirius' hands stopped rubbing circles on Harry's back. "How do you mean?"

Harry squeezed a handful of Sirius' jumper; he could be brave. "Ron said…" And all of sudden, the words tumbled out in a rush, "…when you and Remus get married that I'd have to go away. He said married people don't like having anyone around, especially children."

Sirius' arms had tightened, and Harry couldn't stop the new tears that dripped onto his cheeks. "Is that what you were worried about?" Sirius asked, his voice scratchy. "That I'd send you away?"

"Ron said you would," Harry whispered. Sirius laid his cheek on Harry's head.

"Ron shouldn't have said that," Sirius said thickly. "I would never send you away, Harry, no more than the Weasleys would send one of their children away. I love you too much to let you go anywhere."

Harry felt a lot warmer as he sat there, tucked in Sirius' arms. "But you love Remus too, don't you?"

Sirius nodded against the top of Harry's head. "Very much."

Harry scrubbed at his eyes as he thought about that. "Do you want to marry him?"

Sirius didn't answer him right away; his hands began circling over Harry's back again. "I think I might like to," he said softly, "if… it wouldn't make you unhappy."

Harry twisted a little so that he could peer up at his godfather's face; Sirius' eyebrows were scrunched together again, but this time he looked worried instead of angry.

"Will Remus live here if you get married?"

"Would that bother you?" Sirius asked as he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket. He slipped it under Harry's glasses and dabbed at his eyes. "Blow," he instructed quietly.

Harry did, smiling a little as he drew cool air in through his nostrils, that stuffy feeling gone. "Where would he stay?" he asked curiously. "Ron said married people sleep together… they can hug more that way, he says."

Sirius coughed, looking like he swallowed something down the wrong way like Harry sometimes did when he tried to swallow too much cereal at once. "Yes," he finally said, his voice a bit hoarse, "he would sleep in my room."

Harry nodded thoughtfully; he picked a stray thread off his trousers. "Would Remus be our family then?" he asked, very quietly that time. Sometimes he thought Remus must be very lonely, living all alone. "Like when we signed that parchment at the Ministry to make us a family?"

"Yes," Sirius answered; his knuckles found Harry's chin and nudged it up. "No matter what happens though, you're always my family and you're not going anywhere… All right?" he asked softly. Harry nodded solemnly; Sirius kissed his forehead and tucked him once more against his chest. They stayed that way for a long time, Sirius finally saying into his godson's hair, "Why don't we go get you dressed for bed and then we'll ask Remus to read stories with us? Would that be all right?"

Harry nodded, a bright smile on his face. Sirius smiled as well and let Harry slide off his lap. Harry gripped his hand as they went up the stairs together. "You get dressed," Sirius said, giving Harry a gentle nudge toward his bureau, "and I'll be right back." He waited for a nod of agreement from Harry before making his way back downstairs. Remus was standing by the front door, fastening his cloak around his shoulders.

"Where are you going?"

Remus stared at his sleeves as he tugged them down. "My manuscript needs work before the deadline."

Sirius studied the stiff line of his jaw before asking softly, "You don't think we should talk about what happened at dinner?"

Remus looked up; his smile was strained. "You don't need to explain anything to me, Sirius. Harry comes first."

"For both of us," Sirius murmured as he walked toward Remus.

"Of course."

Sirius nodded and slouched against the door, silently blocking the other man's exit.

"I do understand," Remus said quietly. "So there isn't any reason to talk about it… and I really ought to go home."

Sirius frowned and folded his arms over his chest. "Do you really think I'm just going to let you walk out of here?"

Remus glanced away. "Sirius—"

"You don't even know why Harry was upset."

Remus swallowed; it took a moment for his eyes to come back to Sirius. "He thought we were going to be married."

"He thought we were going to get rid of him," Sirius corrected, his voice exuding a calm he didn't feel. Remus' brown eyes widened.

"But why?"

"Because Ron told him that married couples like to be alone."

Remus' gaze flicked to the stairs. "And that's why he was angry with me? He thought I was replacing him? But you convinced him it wasn't so, didn't you? Of course you did," he said with a little shake of his head. "Silly question…"

Sirius studied Remus' face—the compassionate lines of worry and anxiety etched around his eyes and lips. Worry for Harry. The thoughts that had refused to leave Sirius' head since dinner overwhelmed him.

He pushed himself off the door, his stomach tingling with nervous anticipation. "He asked me if I wanted to marry you," he said, his voice dropping to a quiet murmur.

Remus pulled in a breath through his nose. "Did he?"

"Yes, he did," Sirius answered, his gaze unwavering. He caressed Remus' jaw; fingertips memorizing the lines of his face.

Remus closed his eyes. "What did you say?"

"Yes."

Sirius smiled as Remus' eyes popped open.

"You want to marry me?" he demanded, his voice hoarse. Sirius leaned in and kissed him as hard as he could.

"Yes, you twit," he said as Remus gasped for air. "How can you even ask me that? I've wanted to marry you for as long as I can remember—" Remus frowned, stilling Sirius' effusive rambling. "What's the matter?"

"What about Harry? We can't—"

"Harry will be just fine," Sirius broke in. "He was very concerned that you would leave if I didn't marry you." He narrowed his eyes in sudden appraisal. "Which seems not to be far off the mark."

Remus flushed. "I didn't know what else to do. If Harry doesn't want me here…"

"He does," Sirius said firmly. "He reminded me how much we both love you."

Remus smiled slowly.

"Face it, Moony, the kid adores you." Remus' entire face lit up and Sirius smiled as he pulled him close. "Do you think Molly would be offended if we had the ceremony in our back garden instead of hers?" he asked thoughtfully.

"Yes," Remus said with a chuckle. "She would never let us hear the end of it."

Chapter Text

Harry stayed as still as he could while Sirius knotted his tie. "All done?"

"Almost. Hold still."

But Harry was much too excited to hold still; if Sirius didn't hurry up, he was going to burst. "Do you think Remus is ready yet?" he demanded.

"I hope so," Sirius answered with a smile as he tugged Harry's tie straight. "Otherwise, you might jump right out of your skin before we even begin."

"I will not. Are you done yet?"

Sirius' grey eyes were crinkled with amusement. "Finally," he answered with a grin and an exaggerated sigh. "Here, take a look at yourself." He straightened and turned Harry toward the long mirror near the end of Mrs Weasley's bed.

He put his hands on Harry's shoulders as he and Harry studied their reflections.

"We look dashing," Sirius said, catching Harry's eye.

Harry squinted at himself, wriggling his shoulders to adjust the weight of the fabric. "They feel funny…"

"You look lovely, Harry dear. Very handsome."

Harry and Sirius turned to find Mrs Weasley smiling at them from the doorway.

"It's ten o'clock," she told them. "Everyone's ready."

"Thank you, Molly. Just give us one minute, all right?"

Mrs Weasley smiled softly. "Or course, Sirius." She dipped her head and backed out of the room, closing the door behind her.

Sirius dropped down in front Harry again; his grey eyes no longer held any amusement. "How are you feeling?"

"Hot," Harry answered seriously. "And maybe a little chokey," he added, with a tug for his collar. Sirius chuckled.

"Well, the ceremony will be short, and then you can take them off as soon as Mr Weasley takes the pictures." He squeezed Harry's shoulders.

"All right," Harry said reluctantly. "And then we're gonna have lunch, right? And cake!"

"Lots of cake," Sirius assured him, still smiling. "Mrs Weasley won't be able to get you to eat dinner, I bet."

Harry stopped smiling. His fingers found Sirius' tie; he smoothed it between his thumb and first finger as Sirius' hand settled on the back of his neck.

"You'll be back tomorrow?" Harry asked quietly as he stared at the tiny gold lines zigzagging the dark fabric.

"Right after breakfast."

"Do you promise?"

"I promise," Sirius said solemnly.

Harry stared hard at the gold lines and tried to be brave.

"You'll bunk with Ron…"

Harry nodded, and tried not to let the sting in his throat grow bigger.

"I used to stay overnight at your dad's house when we were younger."

Harry looked up. "You did?"

Sirius smiled as he nodded. "All the time. Your grandpa gave me a camp bed, just like the one in Ron's room, and we used to stay up all night."

"All night?"

"Your grandma used to come in and scold us for being so loud… She said we were keeping the portraits awake. "

Harry smiled.

"And we'd try to be quiet for a little while after that, but your dad would always start giggling and that would be that. Your dad had a contagious laugh." Sirius was smiling fondly, his eyes shining. "Sort of like yours," he said, nudging Harry' chin.

"Yeah?"

"Definitely your dad's." He gazed at Harry for a long minute. "You'll have loads of fun and probably won't even want to come home. I never did…" Sirius' voice sounded a little foggy, so Harry put his arms around his godfather's neck and squeezed hard.

"Don't forget to come get me," he whispered into Sirius' shirt.

"Never."

--

Remus was waiting for them when they came down the stairs, looking spiffy in his dark brown robes. His face broke into his familiar soft smile as soon as he saw Sirius and Harry.

"Well, don't the two of you look dashing?"

Sirius nudged Harry. "See?"

"You look handsome, Remus," Harry said with a big smile.

"Why thank you, Harry," Remus said, his brown eyes dancing. Harry didn't think he'd ever seen Remus so happy.

Sirius was staring at Remus; he had a goofy smile on his face. "You do look striking in those robes," he said in a voice that seemed to be deepening even as he spoke. Remus' cheeks flushed and Harry watched with a smile as Sirius bent his head and kissed Remus, his fingers brushing Remus' face.

Both of them were grinning as they broke apart. Remus put a hand on Harry's head and tilted his face up. "Ready?" he asked. At Harry's nod, Remus and Sirius took up places on either side of him, both tucking one of Harry's hands into their own.

Together, they walked out the back door and into the garden. The small, gathered crowd turned expectantly in their chairs, every single one of them smiling. Ron and the twins waved enthusiastically from their seats near the front; Harry beamed.

Soft music was playing, floating out of the charmed instruments on the dais where Dumbledore was waiting for them. The trio walked down the short aisle while some of the gathered witches and wizards dabbed at their eyes with hankies; Hagrid, the half-giant Harry had met several times and liked very well, blew his nose with an enormous striped square of fabric.

"This is a very special day," Dumbledore said as soon as they stopped walking and the instruments stilled. "Remus and Sirius have asked us here to today to celebrate their decision to join in marriage. And as a part of that," he added with a wink for Harry, "to bond Harry to them."

Both Remus and Sirius smiled down at him then and Harry felt his chest filling with warmth.

"Harry," Dumbledore said, "if you will join Mrs Weasley for a moment."

Harry glanced up at Sirius uncertainly; Sirius squeezed his hand gently and gave him a nod and Harry didn't mind too much when he and Remus let his hands go. Mrs Weasley put her arm around his shoulder and pulled him close to her side as Dumbledore directed Sirius and Remus to join hands. He spoke to them for a few minutes and waited while both of them nodded solemnly, each of them sliding a ring over the other's third finger. And then Harry watched, fascinated and forgetting to be worried as the headmaster waved his wand in circles and loops around their clasped hands. A blue, glowing rope that looked like it was made of clouds, twisted itself out of the tip of Dumbledore's wand and wound like a snake around their wrists.

"You are now unified in marriage,"Dumbledore said and both Sirius and Remus grinned, their fingers winding even more securely together.

Mrs Weasley squeezed Harry's shoulder. "Go ahead, Harry," she whispered even as Dumbledore beckoned. Harry went slowly forward and Sirius took his hand again.

He wrapped Harry's fingers around their joined wrists, and whispered, "Don't let go."

Harry held on tightly, his eyes wide with wonder as Dumbledore continued the chant that Sirius had said would make them a family. The ends of the rope lengthened and started climbing over Harry's fingers and trailing down his wrists. It felt soft and warm.

"Familia Iunctus…" Dumbledore said quietly and the blue ropes glowed brighter for an instant and then the blue glow seemed to be melting right into their skin. "United in family," Dumbledore translated, and Sirius, with a giant grin leaned right over Harry and kissed Remus soundly. A cloud of gold sparkles erupted over their heads and the gathered crowd began to clap enthusiastically.

"Well?" Harry demanded as he tried to see between Sirius and Remus, "are we married yet?"

There was laughter from the audience. And as Remus and Sirius broke apart, they were chuckling as well. Sirius bent down and scooped Harry into his arms. "Yes," he said happily as he hoisted him up, "we are."

"And you're our family now, Remus?" Harry asked excitedly as Sirius pressed his cheek to Harry's. Remus' smile was even happier than it had been in the kitchen. He leaned over and kissed Harry's other cheek.

"I am."

Harry could feel Sirius' smile as Sirius reached an arm around Remus, sandwiching Harry in the middle of a huge hug.

--

After the cake had been eaten, and the champagne drained, Sirius collected his over-sugared godson for a farewell hug. Harry didn't seem to notice that the four youngest Weasley children were watching him; he held tightly to Sirius' robes and showed absolutely no sign that he ever meant to release him.

And if Sirius was being honest with himself, he was rather reluctant to leave. He caught Molly's eye though and she smiled, her eyes understanding. Sirius knew Harry would be well cared for. And that in all probability, this overnight visit would be good for his godson.

"The other children are ready to start Gobstones," Sirius said quietly, his hand running lightly over Harry's hair. "Mrs Weasley will use the Floo if you need me," he added; softly so that no one else could hear. "And I'll be back before you know it." Harry finally nodded and pulled his head from Sirius' shoulder.

"Be a good boy," Sirius added, not because Harry would need the reminder but he was too nervous to think of anything else to say.

"Have fun," Remus said from above them; he smiled at both of them and Sirius relaxed a little even though Harry still looked uncertain.

"We'll have loads of fun, Harry," Ron said, coming up to stand near Harry. He leaned in close. "Dad says we can sneak downstairs and fetch food from the cold cupboard after he and mum go to bed," he whispered. "Don't tell mum though."

The twins had moved quickly behind Harry and Ron. George nodded fervently. "Mum keeps all sorts of treats in there."

"Delicious treats," Fred whispered, "guaranteed to keep you up all night."

"Does anyone want popcorn while we play Gobstones?" Molly asked as she turned toward the kitchen; Sirius could see her trying to hide a smile.

"Popcorn, Harry!" Ron said, grabbing Harry's arm. "Come on!"

Harry looked back as he was dragged along to the kitchen. Sirius and Remus both smiled, Sirius lifting his fingers in an encouraging farewell. Harry smiled and then was surrounded by Weasleys, all of them talking and laughing.

"He'll be all right," Remus assured. "Molly and Arthur will look after him."

Sirius nodded, not quite trusting himself to speak. Remus took his hand and gave it a gentle tug. Sirius obeyed the pressure and let himself be led into the Floo. He went through first, sighing as he stepped into his own kitchen. It was already much too quiet in here without Harry.

He turned around as the Floo deposited Remus next, intending to lament that very fact, but Remus was stalking toward him, his eyes dark and hungry. Before he could speak, Remus was kissing him.

"Bloody hell, Moony…" he finally panted as Remus began tugging impatiently at his robes, "…let me catch my breath…"

"You'll have plenty of time to breathe later," Remus retorted and with a swift jerk that nearly toppled Sirius over, the robes were ripped from his shoulders. A strong hand against his lower back kept him from falling. Before he could straighten up, he was shoved roughly against the bricks and Remus was kissing him hungrily.

Sirius wasted no more time worrying about his clothes or the fact that he still wasn't being allowed to breathe; he wound his fingers through Remus' sandy hair and used his other hand to cup Remus' arse; he brought the other man sharply toward him.

Remus gasped and Sirius grinned. "At least you're as out of breath as me now…"

"Are you planning to talk all night?" Remus growled, though he was so breathless it was completely ineffective. Sirius pulled back a little and drew a line along Remus' jaw with his tongue, savoring the way his new husband's lips trembled.

"I'm not really in the mood for talking," Sirius breathed; he nibbled Remus' earlobe, teasing with his teeth and an occasional flick of his tongue, quickly turning Remus' muscles to jelly and soon it was Sirius who was supporting him. As he sucked the juncture where Remus' neck met shoulder, he realized that where he really wanted to be was upstairs; in the bed that they would now share. "Let's go up to our bed," he whispered. He smiled when Remus grew still beneath his lips.

"I do like the sound of that," Remus eventually murmured. Sirius twined his fingers through the hair at Remus' nape and tugged until Remus was looking up at him, his lips swollen and parted just a little. Sirius kissed him slowly, until Remus' eyes were glazed and then with a smirk, Sirius led him up the stairs.

--

"No!"

Sirius gasped as he bolted up, panic clawing at his chest as the darkness reached out for him. "Harry!" he rasped. He flailed against the restraints he could feel pressing him backward; caging him in. "No!"

"Sirius," a low voice breathed next to his ear as strong fingers curled around his wrists, fingernails digging into his skin until the pain stilled his wild thrashing. "Sirius… it's me… it's Remus. You're safe… Harry's safe."

Remus.

The room swam into focus slowly and yes, there was Remus, sitting beside him, his handsome face marred by a frown. His hair tousled from sleep; brown eyes filled with worry.

Sirius took a deep breath, his heart beginning to settle as he realized he was not in a tiny cell. He was home. And it was Remus who had been holding him.

Remus, who now shared his bed. And had just witnessed one of Sirius' frequent nightmares. He had known this would happen, of course. Though, perhaps he had hoped it might be different with Remus here. But apparently, even Remus' warm presence beside him during the night was not enough to keep the shadows at bay.

"Sirius," Remus murmured, his fingers gentle against Sirius' thigh. Sirius tensed and straightened.

"Sorry," he said gruffly, running a hand over his face. He shifted so that Remus' hand fell away. "Forgot where I was."

Remus studied him, but made no move to touch him again. Feeling like he couldn't breathe, Sirius turned and swung his legs over the side of the bed. "I'll just go check on Harry," he said as he stood.

"Harry isn't here."

Sirius swallowed; it took a moment for that to process.

Harry not here.

He couldn't go into his godson's room. Couldn't take his mind off the memories while he pulled the covers up to Harry's shoulders; couldn't watch the soft rise and fall of his chest to soothe the hollow ache the nightmares always caused. To reassure himself that Harry was all right and that none of the intervening years mattered now—that he was no longer utterly alone.

Not knowing what else to do—how else to make the darkness recede, Sirius sank onto the mattress again, his hands dangling between his knees; staring at the wall.

Gentle fingertips grazed over his hunched back and Sirius tensed again. "I'm here," Remus said quietly, leaving his hand where it was but coming no closer. "I'm here," he said again, the soft words full of a resolve that eased the ache in Sirius' chest.

He could feel the warmth of Remus' skin, the other man was so close. Sirius leaned back and strong arms wrapped around his chest. Sirius rested his head against Remus' shoulder; neither of them spoke and Sirius closed his eyes as Remus kissed his cheek.

He wasn't alone. And he wouldn't be; not ever again.

Chapter Text

"Did you really follow him all the way into the mountains?" Harry asked as he stared at the dragon heartstring.

"I certainly did," Ollivander told him, his eyes sparkling over the memory. "Dragons are very particular about their final resting places."

"But he knew you were following him, yeah?"

Sirius smiled as he watched Harry's face, upturned to the wand maker and full of excitement.

"Yes," Ollivander said. "A good wand maker only takes what he is freely given. A wand with a stolen core is not as cooperative as those gifted to the maker."

"But how do you ask the dragon to give the heartstring to you?"

"Ah," Ollivander said with a smile "Every magical creature communicates in a unique way. The trick is to understand how." He ran his fingers along the bottom edge of the glass case where the heartstring was suspended. "This particular dragon was a Romanian Red; very temperamental. One must announce himself to the Red, unlike Hungarian Horntails; they prefer to be outsmarted. I track them for days sometimes to find their nests."

"But aren't you afraid they'll eat you?" Harry asked, his eyes wide.

Ollivander chuckled. "Haven't been eaten yet, have I?"

"Don't any friendly magical creatures give you cores?"

"Certainly." Ollivander swept open the large book where he kept photographs and clippings of his journeys.

"Unicorns are very gentle … and unfailingly generous. They often give me several hairs at one time. And thestrals are kind creatures," he said as he flipped the page. "Although, I don't suppose you can see that one," he mused. "I don't usually use thestral hair in my cores, but this girl was very unusual. Thestrals stay in their herds and very seldom wander on their own. This one was all by herself; not a family member in sight and she was very insistent that I take one hair—just one, mind you. That's the one I put in your godfather's wand."

Harry peered at the photograph. "Where is it? Is it standing near that black horse? The one with the wings?"

Ollivander looked startled. He glanced behind them and Harry twisted his neck to follow the old wizard's gaze.

Sirius stared at him. "You can see that?" he asked quietly.

Looking nervous at Sirius' hushed voice, Harry nodded wordlessly. Sirius put a hand on his back and brought him close, patting him several times. Harry squinted up at him in confusion and Sirius cleared his throat. "Do you have a picture of a phoenix perhaps?" he asked, glancing at Ollivander. Ollivander was slow to take his eyes from Harry, but finally he nodded and thumbed through the book.

"Here we are," he said, his voice changing to one tinged with the reverence he always spoke with when discussing his wands. "This is the phoenix who gave me the feather for your core. He is Albus Dumbledore's familiar."

"The Headmaster has a phoenix?"

"Oh indeed. And quite a magnificent bird he is, though he has refused my every plea for another of his powerful feathers. In fact, he began refusing after he gave me the first. It wasn't until a little over five years ago that he offered me another … in the first part of November as a matter of fact … 1981."

Sirius and Ollivander exchanged glances over Harry's head and it was clear what the wand maker was thinking. And Sirius didn't like the implication at all.

Ollivander, still looking thoughtful, turned the page and explained to Harry why he never used Hippogriff feathers in a wand, while Sirius tried to decide how best to broach the subject with the headmaster again. This time, with Remus' help.

--

After Ollivander bid them a good afternoon, and told Harry to return anytime, Sirius and Harry walked down Diagon Alley's cobbled streets hand in hand—Sirius lost in his thoughts.

"Was I bad, Sirius?" Harry's small voice finally broke Sirius out of his reverie. He looked down at his godson, confused.

"What do you mean?"

"Ollivander said I wasn't supposed to see the black horse," Harry said, his green eyes shiny. "I didn't mean to see it."

Sirius stopped walking, paying no attention to the low grumbles of complaint from the people around him as he crouched down in front of his godson. "Oh, Harry, no, no," he said quickly, his voice low and comforting, "of course you weren't bad. Ollivander just didn't think you would be able to see the thestral … most people can't."

"Why not?"

"Thestrals are special," Sirius told him carefully."And they usually like to keep to themselves."

"Can you see them?"

"Yes," Sirius answered quietly, wishing as he did that neither of them could see the black, winged beasts. He shut his mind to the faces of the murdered Muggles he'd watched Peter kill; the ones that often haunted his dreams. He banished Lily and James from his thoughts as well as he cupped Harry's chin in his hand.

"You're a very special kid, Harry," he said. "Do you know that?"

Harry's face transformed as he smiled. And very seriously he said, "You're special too."

Sirius chuckled. "Why thank you, Harry." Harry wriggled from Sirius' grasp and put his arms around Sirius' neck, squeezing hard.

Smiling through the sudden clog in his throat, Sirius hugged him back. "Shall we go to Flourish and Blotts and see if we can find Remus?"

They found Remus almost immediately, but Sirius could barely see him behind the queue of young witches and wizards waiting to meet the very handsome author of the new novel, Canis Aluri. Remus caught his eye; he smiled before his attention was pulled away by an eager fan. Sirius smiled to himself, almost as happy as Remus that a third book had finally been published. Almost as happy as he'd been when he'd read the long-anticipated novel's inscription: To Sirius and Harry, for giving me a reason to live again.

"Would you like to play with the train set?" Sirius asked Harry, who looked like he was searching for Remus through the throng of people, and having as little success as Sirius had. It was just as well, since Remus' editor had suggested—quite innocently—that being married to the man who adopted the Boy-Who-Lived could be quite the boon to Remus' sales; not to mention his career. Sirius' reply to that had been less than polite.

He kept a palm on the top of his head as they walked back to the children's corner where the shopkeeper kept a train set—exactly like the one Remus gave Harry for Christmas, with train cars to match the Hogwarts' Express perfectly.

"Look, Harry," Sirius said, as they entered the cozy, cushioned corner, "another little boy…" Sirius closed his mouth slowly as the boy in question turned around. He should have recognized the nearly-silver hair at once of course; and the jibbering house-elf at the boy's side.

Harry had stopped walking as soon as Draco turned around, his back pressing up against Sirius. Draco was smiling—the expression as shy as Sirius imagined Harry's was. They hadn't seen one another in six months; not since last year when they'd met once again on the same stretch of beach, though they still exchanged letters quite frequently.

"Good morning, Draco," Sirius said; he'd already resigned himself to Harry's fondness for Malfoy's son, which was made easier to accept by the likelihood that the two boys would be eventually be drawn apart by house rivalries.

"Good morning, Mr. Black," Draco said, so automatic was the response that Sirius wondered just how often the boy had been drilled in social minutiae. And even though it was Lucius' son offering him the polite use of his surname, he didn't care for it; the formality didn't fit his childish voice.

"Sirius," he corrected and Draco's silver eyes narrowed in confusion. Dobby began wringing his hands nervously. Sirius ignored both responses and patted Harry's shoulder. "Harry, you remember Draco, don't you?"

Harry nodded.

"Would you like to play with him?"

Another nod and Sirius stepped back. Harry took his time approaching the low tracks, which wound around the shelves and chairs, suspended so that Draco could easily reach them from where he was kneeling. Harry stood across from the other boy, both of them staring.

Until finally, Harry said, "Did you really see a dragon?"

Draco nodded, sitting up a little straighter as he grinned. "Just like I told you in my letter," he said. "We went to Romania … Mother had to visit her old Auntie. She's very old and Mother wanted to see her before she couldn't any longer. The dragons were the best part; Great Auntie smelled like stale tea."

"Did the dragons breathe fire?" Harry asked, his green eyes shining with excitement.

"Loads," Draco told him. "And one of them roared so loudly that Mother had to leave; she almost fainted. Dobby and I stayed a real long time after that."

Draco chattered on and on, answering all the questions he'd already answered in his letters. But Harry didn't stop asking him questions and Sirius eventually sat in one of the overstuffed chairs and kept watch. Dobby watched as well, though he seemed to be keeping a careful eye on Sirius just as much as his young master. Lucius and Narcissa had probably filled Draco's head with tales of the filthy traitor who had disgraced his family, Sirius thought with a sour twist of his lip.

"Well, well, what do we have here?"

Sirius' spine straightened as the smooth voice interrupted the peace. He turned his head and found Lucius Malfoy in dark green robes too resplendent for this rumpled bookshop. His smile was as cold as ever.

"Sirius," he greeted, those velvet tones smothering all of the Sirius' good intentions where Draco was concerned. "I did not expect to find you here … and what is this? You must be Harry Potter," he said quietly, turning so that he was gazing down at Harry. Sirius stood up so quickly, he nearly tripped over his own feet.

Lucius chuckled. "Clumsy fellow, your godfather," he said to Harry. Harry, who had not been so carefully schooled in social pleasantries, frowned up at Lucius.

"No, he isn't," he said, his lower jaw jutting out as Sirius moved carefully this time, his fingers close to his wand. Lucius glanced at Sirius, smiling once more.

"I would have expected a member of the noble House of Black to have better manners. Though I suppose his blood is no purer than his mother's."

Sirius could feel his pulse pounding through his veins, roaring into his temples as his jaw flexed. Before he could calm himself enough to reply without violence, Lucius turned to Dobby, his thin smile flipping immediately into a scowl.

"I gave you specific instructions that my son was to read, not play on the floor like a Muggle." Giving no chance for the elf to reply, Lucius snapped, "Go find Mistress Malfoy and then return home and give yourself a severe punishment for your incompetence."

Dobby nodded frantically as he popped out of existence.

Harry was staring at Lucius, his lower lip trembling. As he stood, Sirius put an arm around his godson's shoulders.

"Draco," Lucius said imperiously, "stand up like a proper wizard." He snapped his fingers impatiently even though Draco was already obeying. "Read a book with Harry while I speak with his godfather. And do be quiet."

Draco sat obediently on one of the chairs, pulling a book from a shelf without even looking at the cover.

Harry looked up at Sirius then, his eyes no longer filled with fear, but crinkled in a way that was very familiar to Sirius; the look that told him that Harry was very worried, but not for himself. Though he wanted nothing more than to get away from this horrible man and his son, Sirius smiled and gave his godson's shoulder a few soft pats. Harry's face relaxed. And instead of choosing the empty chair beside Draco, he hoisted himself up right next to the blond boy on the oversized chair, until their knees met and half of the large book fell onto Harry's lap. Draco didn't speak, but even Sirius could see some of the tension leave his strained and nervous frame.

"Look Draco," Harry said in a quiet voice that he rarely used, "that girl's broom dumped her right off." Draco smiled as he leaned in; his blond locks in sharp contrast to Harry's dark hair as they bent their heads over the book.

"Have you seen any of our old school chums, Sirius?" Lucius asked as he sat in one of the other chairs, not sparing another glance for the boys. Sirius sat on the edge of his seat and didn't answer. Lucius smiled and crossed his legs, his free hand settling primly on his knee. "Frank Longbottom's son, perhaps? Another poor child living without his mother."

"His name is Neville," Sirius said quietly as he gripped the armrests of his chair to keep them from curling into fists. He didn't mention that Neville and Harry had played together on more than one occasion as babies. Or that he would have liked Harry to play with him again, had Neville's grandmother not made the location of their home a secret.

"And how does Augusta find herself these days, do you know?"

"As well as can be expected for one who lost her son and daughter-in law, I'm sure" Sirius said, his tone forcibly cool. Lucius smiled.

"Such a tragic situation," he said with a soft tsk. "Even more so to you, perhaps? Since it was your mother's niece who committed the despicable act."

Sirius glanced at his godson and said nothing. Lucius was still smiling.

"You certainly haven't seen the fourth of your little quartet," he went on, his fingers curling around the silver snake's head at the top of his cane while Sirius planted an image of both Harry and Remus in his mind and refused to rise to the bait. "Perhaps then, you've had an opportunity to see Severus Snape. You remember him, don't you, Sirius? Regulus was quite fond of him."

Sirius counted silently to twenty in Latin and back again.

"Severus owns a small shop in Knockturn Alley," Lucius went on. "It was rumored that Albus Dumbledore attempted to recruit him for a teaching position but Severus prefers his solitude, as you know. My Draco is quite fond of Severus and his apothecary."

"You must be very proud," Sirius drawled, breaking free of his anger as they moved to safer topics. Lucius' silver eyes hardened but the smile didn't leave his face.

"Draco is a fine son," he said. Out of the corner of his eye, Sirius saw Draco's head jerk up, but Lucius didn't notice. "How do you find fatherhood?" he queried, one of those snobbish eyebrows raised. "Without Draco's breeding, you must find Harry rather tiresome."

"I've never been happier than I have been since Harry came to live with me," Sirius said evenly. Harry had stilled at Lucius' words and Sirius smiled warmly at his godson. "We enjoy each other quite well just the way we are, don't we Harry?" he asked with a wink. Harry smiled a little as he nodded. "Remus is probably just about ready," Sirius said, keeping his features as relaxed as he could. "Are you finished with your book?" he asked, standing and crooking his fingers toward himself.

Harry nodded and slid off the chair; Draco clutched the book to his chest. Harry glanced at him before sidling up to Sirius' side and tilting his face up once more. Sirius bent down and Harry whispered, "Can I play with Draco again?"

Startled, Sirius' gaze flew to Draco; the little boy was watching them.

"Maybe we can go to the beach again?" Harry whispered, rather loudly that time.

"An excellent notion," Lucius said, standing now as well and snapping his fingers in Draco's general direction. "I do believe it will be in everyone's interest for the two boys to become better acquainted, don't you, Sirius?"

Harry was grinning at Draco, the expression so innocent, that Sirius couldn't deny his godson's request.

--

"I don't like it," Remus said that night after Harry had been tucked into bed.

"Neither do I Remus," Sirius sighed as balanced his elbows on his knees, his chin resting on his clasped fingers. "But I don't know how to explain to Harry that he can't be friends with Draco. I can't exactly bring out the family tree and tell him that my mother would have hated him."

Remus shook his head and finally sat down, though he didn't relax. "You're going to have to explain something to him, before Draco starts putting ideas into his head. Ideas which are coming straight from Lucius and Narcissa."

"He already asked me why he doesn't have any 'breeding'." He shrugged as Remus raised both eyebrows. "Something Lucius said."

"And it's only going to be a matter of time before one of them brings up the Weasleys again," Remus said as he frowned. "We already know that Lucius has made it plain to Draco how he feels about Arthur. Draco is bound to become poisoned by him, if he's not already."

Sirius nodded as he stared into the low fire. "I know." He smiled a little and shifted his eyes sideways as Remus' fingers combed through the hair at his nape, but Remus didn't ask anything of him, his eyes warm and without judgment. "I don't want to be my parents," Sirius finally said as he watched the reflected flames dancing in Remus' brown eyes.

"Your parents' intolerance of Muggleborns and anything 'impure' was completely irrational," Remus said. "This isn't the same at all. Lucius was a Death Eater."

"So was my brother."

Remus didn't answer as he slid closer so that he could wind an arm around Sirius' shoulders. Neither of them spoke after that; soaking in the comfort of words that didn't need to be said.

--

"Mummy!"

Sirius shot up, sleep drained from him in an instant. He threw the covers aside, knocking into Remus' legs as he scrambled off the bed. He was across the corridor in three steps, moving without thought toward his godson's bed, where Harry was sitting, his eyes wide; screaming for Lily.

"Harry," Sirius breathed as he pulled his stricken child into his arms, patting all over his back as he tried to shush the broken litany and still the tremors. "It's all right," he whispered. "You're all right. I'm here. It was a just a dream. Just a dream, Harry."

The frantic cries had abruptly stopped as soon as Sirius' arms came around him, but Harry was still sobbing, occasionally hiccupping, 'Mummy,' as he cried.

"Shh," Sirius whispered. "I've got you," he promised, hating himself in that moment for not being Lily. "It's all right. Shhh."

He could feel Remus beside them now, crouching down beside the bed. And when only soft gasps and hiccups remained, Sirius rested his cheek against Harry's tangled hair. "Everything's all right," he said again, desperate to make Harry believe it. "It was a just a dream…"

"It was green," Harry whispered into his chest. It had been a few months since Harry had last had that dream and Sirius held him closer. "Mummy," Harry whispered again and this time, both Sirius and Remus stilled.

Their eyes met as the awful realization settled between them. Just as Dumbledore said he would, Harry was beginning to understand; his mind beginning to unravel the terrible things his toddler's eyes had seen that night.

"I'm sorry, Harry," Sirius said softly, pulling Harry as close to him as he could. "Your mummy isn't here. But you're all right. Remus and I are here. We're here and you're safe."

He said the words over and over as he rocked his godson, as much for himself as for Harry.

Chapter Text

"I'm afraid I have no answers for you," Albus said, shaking his head as he turned away from the window—where he'd been watching Harry tending to the pumpkin patch with Hagrid.

"Then you didn't ask Fawkes to give another of his feathers to Ollivander?" Sirius asked, already prepared to disbelieve the him, especially as he'd been mysteriously busy for months while Sirius had stewed over this question.

"Fawkes is a singular bird, Sirius," Albus said. "And as I'm sure Ollivander himself told you, magical creatures give up pieces of themselves only on their own wish."

"Do you think it's significant though?" Remus cut in before Sirius could point out that the headmaster hadn't actually answered the question. "It is a rather strange coincidence, wouldn't you say?"

"Not so very strange," Albus said with smile. "Harry did defeat Voldemort, after all."

Sirius and Remus shared a glance and Dumbledore sat down before pinning both of them with solemn eyes. "Harry is obviously extremely powerful. I've always suspected as much, but it became much clearer after you explained what happened when Harry first visited Ollivander's, Sirius. Voldemort, as you both know very well, was one of the most powerful wizards of this, or any, time."

Disturbed by the headmaster's words, Sirius said sharply, "Voldemort's power was dark."

"Yes," Albus agreed. "And it was always dark—from the moment of his birth most likely. Harry is nothing like Voldemort; that is not what I meant, Sirius. But I do believe Harry is matched in power. And it is very rare," he went on, "to find a phoenix feather in a wand. The one who wields its power must be very strong."

"If Harry is … as powerful as you say," he began and then shook his head when he couldn't decide how to finish. Dumbledore nodded, understanding as only he could.

"Harry has Lily's magic embedded in him," he reminded them. "Her goodness as well; he will not be enticed by the lure of dark magic. And he will be well-trained at Hogwarts, Sirius. And you and Remus are both well-suited to channeling any bouts of magic, accidental or otherwise."

Sirius nodded jerkily. "And his dreams-"

"I can only assume they will continue until he fully understands what happened that night," Dumbledore interrupted, his voice sorrowful.

Even though Sirius had suspected that Albus would say that, it was no easier to accept.

--

"Did you have fun?" Sirius asked as he helped Harry arrange the massive pumpkin on the kitchen table after they returned to Grimmauld Place. Harry grinned as he nodded.

"I really like Hagrid," he said. "And he knows loads about magical creatures. Maybe even more than Ollivander!"

"Well that certainly is impressive," Sirius said, smiling.

"Do you know he's seen unicorns too? They live in the Forbidden Forest. He's allowed to go in there but he said you and Remus wouldn't like it if he took me in there with him."

"No, we wouldn't," Remus said, turning from where he was taking things from the cupboard to start dinner. He gave Harry his most serious look. "You aren't to go in there."

"I won't," Harry said hastily, already turning back to Sirius to continue on. "Hagrid says there are thestrals in the forest too. And Minotaurs and Centaurs—I wish I could see the thestral. They have scales just like a dragon you know."

"Yes, I do know," answered Sirius. Remus had paused again, frowning a little now. Sirius took Harry's shoulder and drew his godson against his side. Harry tilted his head up until he was looking at Sirius. "And sometime, if you like, we can go to Hogwarts and see them—they often come onto the school grounds, but the Forbidden Forest is a dangerous place and we don't want you to get hurt. You are never to go in there, not even with another adult. Do you understand?"

Harry's grin had faded from his face and Sirius' stomach swooped with a momentary guilt but Harry was nodding solemnly in the next second. "I won't," his small voice said again, but this time it was a promise.

Sirius smiled, which eased the tension in his godson's shoulders. He ruffled Harry's dark hair. "Good boy," he said, his voice deep with affection and Harry smiled softly at the praise. "What shall we do with this pumpkin?" Sirius asked as he gave Harry's shoulder a squeeze. "It would make an awful lot of pumpkin pasties."

But Harry shook his head as he wiggled out from under Sirius' arm and knelt on one of the chairs. "I want to carve it," he said, his excitement restored. "Mr Weasley always makes really spooky faces. Will you help me draw one, Remus? Even scarier than Mr Weasley's?" he asked over his shoulder and Remus smiled.

"I don't know, Harry," he said, furrowing his light eyebrows. "Mr Weasley's pumpkins are rather frightening."

"We can do it, Remus," Harry pressed, already leaning over the pumpkin, his finger drawing an imaginary face. "We'll draw eyebrows. You know, ones that turn down. And we'll put a whole mess of candles inside!"

"I think you've got yourself a challenge, Moony," Sirius said with a chuckle.

"You can help too, Sirius," Harry said. He twisted around so quickly that Sirius had to catch his elbow before he toppled onto the floor.

"That's why chairs prefer bottoms to knees," Sirius said with a smirk. More seriously, he added. "Sit properly so you don't crack your skull."

"Or better," Remus interjected, "go wash up. You're filthy."

Harry studied his dirt-caked fingernails. "Do I have to wash under my fingernails?" he asked, eyes hopeful.

"Yes," Sirius said, and smiled as he watched Harry's shoulder's deflate. "And your face."

Harry sighed but he slid off his chair, his feet plonking on the floor with two loud splats. "Not behind my ears," he negotiated as he lingered by the table. "That's only in a bath."

"You can skip your hair as well," Sirius agreed with a smile, giving his godson a light, backhanded crack on the seat of his pants to move him along. Harry giggled as he dodged out of reach.

"Don't forget the soap," Remus reminded him as Harry rounded the corner.

"I hate that soap," Harry grumbled as his trainers squeaked against the stairs.

"Harry," Sirius called out.

"Okay, okay," he heard Harry grumble before the door to the lav closed.

"Cheeky little bugger, isn't he?" Sirius said, chuckling as Remus shook his head. Sirius slid his arms around Remus' waist, nuzzling his neck before resting his chin on the other man's shoulder. "What can I help with?"

Remus didn't answer right away, instead turning his head enough that Sirius had easy access to his lips. Remus was smiling when he pulled away. "Those apples that Hagrid gave us need to be peeled if you want a crumble for dessert."

"Mm," Sirius murmured in agreement as he kissed his husband one more time and it was with great reluctance that he released Remus a moment later to slip his wand from his sleeve. He found the peeler and cast a spell on it. Apples rose from the basket, forming an obedient queue behind the utensil.

Harry came in as one of the curls of apple peel propelled itself toward the rubbish bin; he had to duck to avoid being smacked in the face.

"Hey!" Harry protested, glaring at the next curl until it skirted around him and flung itself into the bin after its mate.

"Hmm," Sirius mused, "I don't think they like being tossed out."

"Apples can't be angry," Harry told him as Sirius gestured for him to hold out his hands for inspection. He clambered up on the stool beside Remus when Sirius pronounced him clean, only to turn around again when a light rap sounded against the back window—an owl was peering in at them.

"Berenices!"

Draco's eagle owl hooted softly; impatiently but Harry was already scrambling off the stool.

"Alohomora," Sirius chanted before Harry reached the window. Harry opened it easily and Berenices swooped inside, coming to rest on top of the pumpkin's tall stem. She tipped her beak down once in greeting and hooted again. Harry grinned as he stroked the brown and black feathers.

"Good girl," he said quietly and the owl nibbled gently at Harry's cheek. Harry snorted out a soft breath of laughter as he untied the scroll from the contented owl's ankle. Remus tucked an owl treat into Harry's palm which Berenices ate neatly. "Will you help me, Sirius?" Harry asked, already unrolling the parchment.

Once Harry was seated on Sirius' knee and the letter was smoothed flat on the table, Harry leaned over to decipher it. Sirius read over his shoulder and was soon frowning.

"What is this word?" Harry asked, pointing with furrowed brows.

Sirius had to clear his throat. "Paris," he supplied. "Would you like me to read it to you?"

"I can do it," Harry said so Sirius sat back, helping only when Harry asked and read the words silently again.

Dear Harry, the letter began in Draco's familiar, tidy print. And as usual, it was clear that the little boy had either been coached by Dobby or he had used a spell-correcting quill. Not one word was misspelled. Mother and Father finally came home. I wish I went with them. Mother says Paris has a street just like Diagon Alley with even more shops. They brought me a new broom. I wish I could show it to you. I asked Mother but she told me she and Father would discuss it. I know what that means. They had a row last night. They don't shout, of course, so I had to be very quiet so I could hear them. Dobby says I mustn't listen because it's private but I ignored him. Mother says Sirius is a traitor and that she doesn't care if it is good politics for me and you to be friends. I don't know what politics are but she says Sirius will teach me all about being a traitor. Dobby isn't supposed to help me write letters to you, he says, but I don't care. Father told mother they would discuss it later, when she wasn't hysterical. I'm not sure what that means either, but Father didn't like it. He patted her hand and told her I would never betray them. I think betray is something about a traitor too. Dobby made me leave then but I don't think I can see you until Mother says so. I asked Dobby to shrink one of my favorite books. Maybe Sirius can make it big again for you. It was signed, Your friend, Draco Malfoy in a loopy flourish.

"You aren't a traitor," Harry said with a scowl when he came to that particular section. "What's politics?"

"It has to do with the Minister of Magic and those that help him," Sirius answered. "Mr Malfoy and the Minister are very good friends."

"Why doesn't Draco's mum like you?"

Sirius didn't want to answer that, but just as Remus had said, the difficult questions did need to be answered by them before someone else did it instead.

"You remember I told you that the Malfoys are my cousins?" Harry nodded and Sirius went on, "When I was a kid, I decided not to do some of the same things that the rest of my family was doing. It upset my parents and my brother very much. Mrs Malfoy's family was angry with me as well."

"Why didn't you want to do what they were doing?" Harry asked, looking extremely worried for some reason so Sirius smoothed his godson's hair and made himself relax.

"Some of my family members believed that nonsense that all families should only be made up of people with magic," Sirius said. "And I didn't believe that. But you see, Harry, my family didn't like my disagreeing with them. But I couldn't agree with that, even though it made them angry. If I had I couldn't have been friends with your mother … or Hagrid," he added with a smile. "Or you dad, since he loved your mother very much and she comes from a non-magical family. It isn't right to dislike people because they don't have magic or because they're not exactly like you. All of us are different and that's as it should be."

Harry was quiet as he leaned against Sirius' chest, his fingers curled around the tiny book in his hand. "Mrs Malfoy doesn't like me, does she?" he asked, his voice nearly a whisper.

Sirius wrapped his arms around his godson and was very grateful when Remus sat down beside them; it made this easier. "Mrs Malfoy doesn't know you, Harry, and it isn't that she doesn't like you. She doesn't want anyone to be different than her. I know that doesn't make any sense," he added, realizing he was bollixing this all up.

"But then," Harry said in a tremulous voice, "Draco doesn't like me either?"

The answer to that was automatic, before Sirius even had a chance to think about it. "Of course he does, Harry," he said. "He signed the letter 'your friend', didn't he? And he sent you his favorite book. He knows how much you love to read."

"But they called you a traitor!" Harry's indignation was clear on his face as his jaw set. "I don't like them!"

Feeling ridiculous buoyed by his godson's childish declaration, Sirius kissed the top of his head. "You like Draco," he assured his godson. "It's all right if his parents don't like me much; you can still be his friend. Even if you can't see him very often," he hastened to add as Draco's letter taunted him, "but you can still write to one another and maybe someday, Mrs Malfoy will change her mind."

"But what if Draco says you're a traitor too?"

"Well," Sirius hesitated, "you don't have to be his friend if he does." He exchanged glances with Remus and was relieved when Remus gave him an encouraging smile.

Harry swiped a fist across his nose.

"Draco is already your friend, Harry," Remus added softly. "He won't necessarily think Sirius is a traitor because his parents think so."

It took Harry a moment but he finally nodded. "Draco's mum and dad aren't very nice," he said resolutely.

"They aren't behaving very nicely, no," Remus agreed, patting Harry's knee. "But I think it's probably best that you don't tell Draco that you don't like them."

Harry scowled, but he didn't contradict the suggestion.

"Harry," Sirius said, patting his godson's stomach to get his attention and Harry twisted his neck round. "If there's ever anything that Draco says that you don't understand, I want you to ask Remus or me about it. Or anything that makes you feel funny. It's very important," he said seriously. "Can you do that?"

"Uh huh," Harry answered, still frowning a little. "Why is it important?"

"Other than not liking some people because they're different, Draco's mum and dad might have other ideas that are not very kind," Sirius tried to explain; it was rather difficult since he felt like he was speaking in cryptic riddles. "And Remus and I don't want them to teach you things like that. You, Harry, are a very kind boy and we always want you to be kind to others just as you are now."

Harry smiled. "Draco's nice too," he said as he turned around again and flipped the little book over and over in his fingers. "Can you make this big for me?"

"I'll do it," Remus volunteered, ready with his wand. "And then why don't you work on your letter back to Draco so Berenices doesn't have to sit all night long on that pumpkin. I can't think it makes a very comfortable perch."

"I think she likes it," Harry said, pointing to the owl; her head was tucked under her wing. "She's asleep!"

Sirius chuckled. "She certainly is."

Sirius summoned quill and parchment for his godson. He helped Harry sound out words while Remus went back to the dinner preparations. Berenices hooted softly in her sleep, making all three of them laugh.

Chapter Text

"It's a car, Harry!" Ron said eagerly as he and Harry peered in through the passenger side widow, their fingers making goggles around their eyes. "Muggles use them to get from place to place."

The awe in Ron's voice puzzled Harry a bit, especially as he knew his friend had seen a Muggle car a time or two. "I know."

"Right," Ron said, his breath puffing a mist on the window as he glanced sideways at Harry. "Did you ride in one with your aunt and uncle?"

Harry shrugged. "Sometimes." He mostly remembered being alone in his cupboard and feeling hungry. There were a few times riding in the backseat with Dudley, while his cousin whinged that his ice cream wasn't big enough, all while it dripped down his arm.

Harry hadn't had any.

"Brilliant," Ron breathed. "Do you know how to drive it?"

"Kids can't drive," Harry told him. "I don't think."

"You start it with a key, just like a door," Ron said excitedly; Harry rolled his eyes. "It's inside," Ron told him. "In the innation; that's what my dad called it." Ron was grinning at him and bouncing on his toes. "Come on, we'll sit in the front seat."

Harry pulled back from the fogged glass. "We better not. You said your mum doesn't like it."

"She doesn't like any of Dad's Muggle things. We'll just sit there. There's loads of buttons and switches!"

"Well, I'm going," Ron said when Harry hesitated. He pulled the handle and the door swung open with a loud creak. He slid onto the vinyl seat with a huge grin. "Look at this, Harry!"

Harry leaned in slightly and Ron beckoned him closer. Harry glanced over his shoulder, hoping Mrs Weasley wasn't behind him. The field was clear all the way to the lopsided house, so Harry cautiously walked on his knees toward the steering wheel.

Just a quick peek.

"It's a radio," Ron explained, pointing to it. "Did your uncle have one?" When Harry nodded, Ron turned the ignition and the car started with a racing whir.

"What are you doing?" Harry demanded, trying to scramble back, but before he could, Ron jabbed one of the dials on the radio and the car began to move. "Ron! Stop!"

"I'm not doing anything!" Ron's hands flew away from the radio. But Harry wasn't paying attention to Ron any longer; the car had rolled all the way out of the garage and was rising into the air.

"Harry..." Ron whispered; his eyes were wide.

"Make it stop!" Harry shouted, but Ron only shook his head. Harry's heart raced as he began jabbing at the radio's buttons.

"Harry!" Ron gasped, his face turning red and then purple as the car began to buck, lifting higher and higher until Harry could see the Weasley's pointed roof.

Harry grabbed the seat as the car jerked, and as soon as he stopped pressing the controls, the car smoothed out and simply hovered; the soft putt-putt of the engine was loud in Harry's ears.

"My mum is going to kill me," Ron gulped.

Yes, Mrs Weasley was definitely going to kill Ron. And if Sirius and Remus caught him up here... Harry gripped his trouser leg in a nervous fist. "Take the car back down," he ordered.

"I don't know how."

Harry gestured with his hands, not caring what Ron did or did not know. "Drive it!"

"We're in the air!"

"Just do it, Ron!" Harry said, the words practically a screech. "Your mum might come outside!"

"All right," Ron huffed; his face was bright red again. "Hold on..."

Harry's stomach jolted as Ron turned the wheel sharply. And then he was tumbling toward the open door. His hands scrabbled for purchase against the slick seat.

"Harry!"

Ron grabbed the edge of his sleeve, and before Harry could sail out of the car, Ron jerked the wheel again and Harry smashed into his friend; the slamming car door reverberated around them.

"Geroff!"

"You made me!"

Ron shoved him hard in the ribs and Harry fell back, momentarily unable to breathe. But in the next second; breathing no longer mattered.

"Harry!"

"Ron!"

The two names merged into one high-pitched scream. Harry cringed as he shrank back against the upholstery.

"I'm dead," Ron whispered.

One of those voices was too deep to be Mrs Weasley's. Let it be Ron's dad, let it be Ron's dad, Harry prayed silently.

"They have their wands out," Ron reported, since Harry was still smushed into the cushion. "Remus looks like he's about to faint..."

Remus.

Harry's heart began to thud in his chest and his ears grew hot. He didn't want Remus to find him in here. But as the car began to descend with tiny jerks, Harry knew he had no choice.

The car landed back on solid ground with a groaning thump, and before Harry even realized they were down, Ron's door was wrenched open.

"Ronald Weasley," his mother shrieked, "you could have been killed!"

"Mum," Ron tried to defend himself, but Mrs Weasley gripped his arm and hauled him out of the car.

"Get inside that house, Ronald Billius!" she continued to shout as she dragged him away. Each word was punctuated by a sharp crack, and Harry could only guess that it was the dreaded wooden spatula that Mrs Weasley sometimes threatened the twins with.

Harry's face was flaming by then, his stomach screwed up into tiny knots. His door was pulled open as well and Harry could still hear Mrs Weasley and the echoing cracks.

"If you ever do that again-" The back door slammed.

Harry stayed very still, and hoped that maybe Remus wasn't really here. His eyes opened wide when Sirius stuck his head inside the car.

The knots in Harry's stomach burned; Sirius was staring at him, his lips pressed tightly together.

"Harry James," he said in a low voice, "come out here right now."

Harry was moving even before the words had left his godfather's mouth. There was no way he was going to make Sirius tell him again.

"What were you thinking?" Sirius demanded hoarsely, capturing Harry's arms and crouching down so that they were eye to eye. "Have you any idea how dangerous that was?"

Harry's voice came out high, "We didn't mean to--"

"You didn't mean to?"

Harry flinched at Remus' harsh voice, the words almost shouted. He didn't look up, unexpected tears making his eyes sting. Sirius shifted so that he was looking up at Remus.

"Remus, he's all right," he said, a voice soft in counterpart; Remus closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Silence surrounded them until, finally, Sirius cleared his throat a little, his hands twitching against Harry's arms. He sighed and brought Harry in for a hug, his lecture forgotten. "Merlin, Harry," he said quietly, "you scared me half to death. I'll be completely gray by thirty..."

Harry had no idea what that meant, but he didn't care. No was shouting and Sirius was right here, and it seemed, in no hurry to go anywhere.

--

Harry was sitting in the middle of his bed in his favorite striped pajamas, his hair and face freshly scrubbed, when Sirius came in.

"All ready for bed?"

Harry nodded; an hour earlier than usual, just as Sirius decreed when they returned home from the Weasleys.

"I found your book," Remus announced, holding Harry's current favorite in his hand. "Oddly enough, it was in the bread box."

"Oh, right," Harry murmured.

"Are you keeping the bread in your bookcase these days?" Sirius asked with a lopsided smile as he dropped onto Harry's bed. Harry smiled a little and shook his head. Sirius motioned with his head for Harry to move toward his pillow and then pulled the blanket over him when he was settled.

"Chapter five, wasn't it?" Remus mused, settling himself in the chair alongside Harry's head. He flipped through the pages with an expert thumb.

"Quincy was about to go into the cave with the house-elf," Harry told him.

"Twinkle," Remus remembered with a quick nod. He cleared his throat and began to read.

Harry let his head fall against the wood, staring at the ceiling as he imagined Quincy quaking with fear, as Remus had just described.

"Why doesn't he just let Twinkle go first?" he asked when Remus paused for breath. "Twinkle can use magic."

Sirius chuckled. "That would take all the fun out."

Harry thought about that as Remus continued on, and by the time Quincy was dodging a fire-breathing dragon, he had decided his godfather was right. Much more fun this way.

"Eight-thirty," Sirius announced just when the dragon had Quincy cornered; Harry frowned.

"But we have to find out if Quincy gets past the dragon."

"We will find out tomorrow," Remus assured him as he closed the book and set it on Harry's bedside table.

"It's not dark yet," Harry said, glancing out the window.

"That's because you are going to sleep an hour earlier than you usually do," Sirius said, his eyebrows rising pointedly. Harry bit his lip and didn't argue further. Sirius held out his hand for Harry's glasses and handed them off to Remus, who placed them next to the book.

Harry settled his head on his pillow and allowed Sirius to tuck the blanket around his chest.

"What if I can't fall asleep?"

Sirius brushed Harry's fringe away from his eyes. "Then you can lie here quietly and think about what you'll do the next time someone asks you to do something you know you are not supposed to do."

"Tell them no?"

"And then find an adult if you need to," Remus added firmly. At Harry's hasty nod, Remus stood up to extinguish the lamps. When a soft glow had illuminated the walls, he said in a voice, nice and quiet again, "Good night, Harry."

"Night Remus."

Sirius smoothed the blanket and then stroked his fingers lightly along Harry's forehead until his eyelids began to feel heavy. He leaned down and kissed Harry's scar gently. "Night kiddo."

"Night..."

Sirius joined Remus by the door; they stepped out quietly together, leaving the door open as they always did. Harry was glad about that.

--

Sirius sighed as he accepted a cup of tea from Remus. "Wasn't kidding about being grey before my time..."

"You were a great deal more restrained than I would have been."

Sirius glanced up, raised an eyebrow at the pointed tone but Remus only matched it. Sirius sighed. "I worry about him."

"I know."

"It's been three years, but I can see it in his eyes sometime-the worry-"

"And as soon as you do," Remus said quietly as he sat across the table, "you show him just how cherished he is."

"I know-"

"Sirius." Remus leant forward to catch his gaze. "At some point, you are going to have to let go of your guilt. You couldn't have known events would unfold as they did. Dumbledore's insistence is what took Harry away from you in the first place. And you did not make Petunia and her despicable husband treat Harry as something unwanted."

It was an old admonishment, but one that never seemed to sink in.

"If I had just refused Hagrid; I should have..."

"You have no idea what would have happened," Remus interrupted calmly; he covered Sirius' hand with his own. "What matters is that we're here now... all three of us. And Harry is growing up with as much love as a child could ever need."

Sirius smiled, his eyes glued to their intertwined fingers. "He's a great kid, isn't he?"

"He is," Remus agreed when Sirius finally looked up at him. "But what would you expect? With Lily and James' genes?"

"Yeah..." Sirius brought Remus' hand to his lips, grazing his lips over the knuckles. "He's more like Lily, you know."

"And he's got some of you in there as well," Remus murmured; Sirius' face lit up with a grin.

"He does, doesn't he?"

Remus chuckled. "Absolutely."

Still grinning, Sirius stood up and asked, "Do we have any more of those chocolate biscuits you and Harry made yesterday?"

"They're in the pantry, behind the tinned beans. But don't eat all of them or Harry will know you found his stash..."

Chapter Text

"Step back a bit, Harry, if you would," Nathan Blacknoose instructed, gesturing with his fingers. "We need to rearrange a few of the books here."

Sirius put a hand on his godson's shoulder and tugged him backward when Harry didn't move. "Come on, Harry," he said. "We'll walk around a bit and come back when they're ready."

Harry sighed but he obeyed the slight pressure and turned to follow Sirius out of the shop. "How much longer is it going to take?" he huffed when they were outside.

Surprised at the whinging, Sirius glanced down at him. "Only another hour or so I should think. They want to make certain everything is perfect, and then the pictures shouldn't take very long at all."

Harry sighed. "But we're supposed to look at the Quidditch shop," he said, his feet beginning to drag along the cobbled stones. "And I wanted to visit Ollivander; I wrote to him that we were coming to Diagon Alley, remember?"

"Yes, I remember," Sirius said patiently. "And we'll have time for all of that just as soon as we've finished with Nathan."

Harry kicked a loose stone. "We've been waiting forever."

"Hasn't been longer than thirty minutes," Sirius said, hiding his amusement.

"Well, feels like forever," Harry muttered. Sirius reached over and mussed his hair. Harry allowed it for only a second before ducking his head. "Why do we have to take pictures anyway?"

"Wizard Weekly is writing an article about Remus and they asked him for a family photograph," Sirius explained even though Harry already knew it. Sirius and Remus had discussed Nathan's request for weeks before finally agreeing. Even though Harry was the Boy-Who-Lived, he was part of Remus' family first.

And Nathan had agreed with the two stipulations; only the witch writing the article and the photographer would be allowed access, and the photographs would be taken somewhere other than Grimmauld Place, though Nathan hadn't been told about the Fidelius Charm. It was enough that they didn't want their home invaded.

"Would you like to visit Ollivander for a few minutes now?" Sirius asked after studying Harry's hunched shoulders. Harry shook his head. Sirius frowned, trying to find a reason for Harry's mood. He'd been tense all morning, even earning an elusive look from Remus when he'd grouched at Sirius over breakfast. He'd been mostly silent since then.

"You didn't eat much this morning," Sirius said as they stopped in front of Eeylops. "Are you hungry?"

Another negative shake of Harry's head was his only answer.

"We have time to go over to Fortescue's. They'll be serving lunch by now."

"Not hungry," Harry said quietly, not looking up.

Sirius slid his hands into his pockets and watched two owls scuffling over a treat. "Are you feeling well?" Sirius asked when Harry didn't look up from the display window, but he shook his head again. "Are you unhappy about something?"

Sirius was convinced of the answer when Harry picked at the seam of his trousers instead of responding. Though he wanted to insist that Harry tell him exactly what was bothering him, Sirius simply waited. He saw Harry peek up at him quickly but didn't comment.

Once he was staring at the owls again, Harry said quietly, "Promise you won't be angry?"

Hiding his surprise, Sirius looked down at his godson, who was very nervously twisting his fingers together as he met Sirius' gaze. "Well," Sirius said slowly, "I can't promise that until I hear what you have to say. But I do promise I'll listen to whatever it is and that I'll be calm."

Harry sucked his lower lip between his teeth, but he didn't look away. Finally, he nodded, pushing his lip back out with a heavy breath. "I invited Draco."

"Here?" Sirius asked, gesturing in surprise to the air around them. "Today? You invited Draco," Sirius repeated after Harry nodded, wanting to make certain he'd heard correctly.

"It was sort of his idea," Harry said, his voice almost too quiet to be distinguished from the noise of the crowded streets.

Sirius sighed. "Harry," he said gently, and his godson's shoulders immediately relaxed, "just tell me exactly what happened, all right? I'm not angry."

"I told him we were coming to Diagon Alley today," Harry finally explained, looking miserable. "And he wanted to meet me here…"

"And his mother wouldn't allow it," Sirius guessed.

Harry shook his head and peeked up at Sirius through his fringe. "He wasn't going to tell her. And he didn't want me to tell you and Remus."

"Why didn't Draco want you to tell us?" Sirius asked, wanting to know if Harry understood precisely why Draco had asked him to withhold information.

"He thought you'd tell his parents," Harry said in a small voice. At least Draco had been honest about that.

"I would have," Sirius said. "Do you know why?"

Harry didn't answer, but Sirius didn't press him, recognizing that tears were probably not far off.

"It's dangerous for Draco to leave without telling anyone where he's going," Sirius explained, keeping his voice quiet and calm, and Harry didn't look away. "Something might have happened to him and then his parents wouldn't know where he was. They wouldn't be able to help him if he got hurt," Sirius continued.

Harry was silent.

"How would you feel if that happened?"

"Awful," Harry admitted softly.

"I would have spoken with Draco's parents on your behalf," Sirius went on; he could hear the disappointment in his own voice, and as Harry fidgeted in front of him, Sirius knew his godson could as well.

"I told Draco you would … but he said you might not."

Sirius raised his eyebrows and asked, "Who knows me better, do you think? You or Draco?"

Harry stared at his trainer as he drew an invisible line along the stones underfoot. "Me," he whispered.

Sirius brushed the hair away from his forehead and gripped it as he blew out a frustrated breath. Harry peeked up at him again but looked down just as quickly. Keeping the rest of his frustration to himself, Sirius put an arm around his godson's shoulders and pulled him in. Harry's cheek rested on his shirt and Sirius said quietly, "Thank you for telling me."

Harry didn't answer, but he did press himself a little closer. Sirius' thumb grazed back and forth over the back of Harry's head for a moment as he tried to figure out how to handle the fallout from his godson's error in judgment.

"Where were you supposed to meet him?"

"Quidditch shop…"

Naturally. "What time?" Sirius asked.

"Eleven o'clock," Harry whispered. Sirius sighed again.

"It's nearly eleven now. We'd best go over there." He patted Harry's shoulder when Harry didn't move away. "Come on, kiddo," he said gently. "I don't want Draco wandering about alone."

Harry swiped a hand across his nose as he pulled away. "Are you going to Floo his father?" he asked.

"Their Floos are probably warded." Sirius kept his arm around Harry's shoulder to steer him toward Quality Quidditch Supplies. "If they're even connected to the Network…"

That statement usually would have elicited a question from his godson, and though it pained him to do so, Sirius allowed Harry his guilt, hoping it would make an impression.

Draco was already in the shop when they stepped in. His look of surprise was so exaggerated that Sirius nearly snorted.

"Harry?" he said, his eyes wide. "Is that you? What a surprise."

Harry stuffed his hands into his pockets, glancing up at Sirius' carefully-composed features and back again at Draco. "Erm," he said in a low tone, "Sirius knows about our … er, plan."

"Why, Harry," Draco said, not missing a beat, "I have no idea what you mean."

"Draco," Harry said firmly, frowning a little now. "I told him, so you can stop pretending."

Draco scowled very suddenly; he pushed his pale fringe out of his eyes as it fell forward. "Why did you do that?" he demanded.

Harry shrugged.

Draco lifted his chin and focused on Sirius when Harry didn't answer. "You can't make me go home."

"I am quite capable of Apparating with a passenger," Sirius returned evenly, gazing squarely at the miniature Lucius. He had no intention of stepping foot anywhere on the Malfoys' property, but Draco didn't need to know that.

Draco's shoulders drooped. "I don't want to go home. Mother and Father aren't there anyway," he said sullenly.

"Where are they?" Sirius asked, holding back a sigh.

"Iceland."

"How did you get here?" Sirius asked as he wondered how much time Draco actually spent with his parents. Draco turned his eyes to the silver snake cufflinks decorating his sleeves.

"Dobby brought me."

"Where is he?" Sirius glanced around, a bit relieved that Draco wasn't completely alone here.

"I needed a few things," Draco said, plucking absently at the fine silk of his sleeve.

"He's running errands?"

Draco looked up again; the scowl didn't hide the uncertainty in his eyes. "I don't need a babysitter. I'm nine."

"Nine, you say?" Sirius mused, putting a hand to his chin. "Old enough to know you shouldn't sneak here to meet Harry, then?"

Draco's eyes slid to Harry, who didn't seem to have any support to offer; Sirius was rather glad of that.

"Maybe," Draco finally admitted.

"Absolutely," Sirius countered. "Do you have a way to contact Dobby?"

"I have an amulet on a chain," Draco said quietly, "but I forgot it."

Sirius narrowed his eyes as he attempted to assess the validity of the statement, but either Draco really had left it at home or he was an exceptional liar.

"You're going to take me back home, then," Draco mumbled as he kicked at an imaginary rock with his toe. Sirius glanced at Harry, who was looking nearly as dejected as Draco.

Sirius raked his fingers through his hair again and decided he was complete pants at this parenting thing. "You should probably stay with us until Dobby returns so that you're not home alone-"

Draco's head jerked up. His surprise was genuine this time. "You're not going to make me leave?"

Sirius shook his head, grimacing slightly. "I don't feel comfortable leaving you alone." It was partially true, after all. "Harry and I need to meet Remus at Flourish and Blotts. You'll come with us, and then we'll all have lunch afterward."

Draco sneaked another glance at Harry. Harry gave him a little smile, and Draco finally nodded. "Thank you."

Surprised by the gratitude, it took Sirius a moment to respond, but finally, he nodded. "I expect both of you to be on your best behavior," he said, giving his godson a particularly stern eye. Harry nodded, flushing a little. "All right. Let's be on our way, then." He gestured for the boys to precede him. Draco turned without further prodding, though it took a few extra seconds for Harry to pull his eyes from Sirius and join his friend.

"I can't believe he didn't send me home," Draco whispered as soon as Harry fell in step beside him. "My father wouldn't care if you were left all alone. He would have said it was a 'suitable consequence for your misdeeds'." He shrugged when Harry glanced at him. "He always says that when he sends me away after I misbehave."

Dismayed, Harry echoed, "Sends you away?"

"Only for a day or two," Draco said. "When I do something that doesn't befit wizards of our breeding."

"But … where does he send you?" Harry asked, his voice weak, and Sirius hated to hear it.

"One of the elves stays with me in my wing until Father sends for me again."

"And you're just all alone?"

"Dobby or Minxa are there with me."

"Oh," Harry said quietly. Draco nudged him as they passed Gambol and Japes, the joke shop that had been around since Sirius' Hogwarts days. "Do you think Sirius will let us go in there?"

"If we ask him," Harry said; Sirius smiled. "But we have to go to the book shop first."

"It won't take long, will it?"

"Sirius said it won't."

"Here we are," Sirius said; he reached over Harry's and Draco's heads to push the door open. Remus looked up as soon as they came in; his eyebrows shot up as his gaze swept over the two boys.

"Long story," Sirius murmured.

"Ah," Nathan said, "you're here. And who's this?" he asked, smiling at Draco. Draco's gaze traveled up and down the tall wizard. He must have decided Nathan was as worthy as he.

"Draco Malfoy," he answered. "And you are?"

With an amused smile, Nathan introduced himself.

"Are you related to Thomas Blacknoose?" Draco asked eagerly. "He was my mother's great-great grandfather through a marriage to the Firths."

"A cousin, a few generations removed, I believe," Nathan said; he shared a glance with Sirius. Lucius would be most displeased to see his son speaking with Nathan, a blood traitor if ever there was one. He had been an Auror during the first war with Voldemort. He'd left after a Ministry cover-up led to the deaths of three innocent Muggleborns. "Sirius, if you would come over here, Evelyn will begin. We'll need Harry in just a moment; he and Draco can sit right here," he said, pointing to a low bench near the camera.

Sirius nodded. He turned to his godson and settled a hand on the back of his head. "You and Draco wait right here, all right?" Harry nodded. "We'll just be a moment," he added with an encouraging smile as Harry continued to gaze up at him. And then, Harry's arms were tight around Sirius' middle, squeezing him hard. Sirius' response to the unexpected embrace was automatic. Neither of them said anything, and Sirius found his throat aching a little as Harry squeezed harder.

Sirius caught Draco's eye then as the blond boy moved into his line of vision. His eyebrows were scrunched together as he watched Harry hugging Sirius. And then he swallowed and turned away to stare out one of the large shop windows.

--

"Twenty minutes," Sirius said to the two excited boys after they finished lunch. They were standing just inside the joke shop and Harry nodded obediently. He had already been in enough of a fix today.

"Don't leave the shop," Remus added firmly.

"We won't," Harry promised; he nudged Draco since the other boy didn't seem to be paying attention.

"We won't," Draco echoed impatiently.

Remus nodded, with a smile from Sirius as well, and Draco grabbed Harry's arm and dragged him away.

"Have you ever seen the fireworks here?" Draco asked excitedly. "We had some at our house a few weeks ago; one of Father's friends brought them."

"The Weasleys have them at their house sometimes," Harry said as they inspected a bin full of bright green ones. "Mrs. Weasley doesn't like them much."

"Mother doesn't either. Look at these, Harry," Draco breathed. "I saw one once; it makes a huge dragon when it explodes."

"Yeah?" Harry leaned over Draco's shoulder to get a better view. "They come in all sorts of colors!"

"I think I'll buy one … three or four maybe."

Harry glanced over at his friend. "Do you have enough galleons, do you think? They look awfully expensive."

"I always have plenty of money with me."

"You do?"

"Don't you?"

"Not usually," Harry said with a shrug. "Sirius and Remus give me an allowance but I don't usually bring it-"

"An allowance?" Draco demanded. "But why?"

"I don't know. Ron has an allowance," Harry said, with a shrug.

"But the Weasleys haven't any money to speak of," Draco said. "And you have nearly as much as we do."

"I just told you; I don't have any money with me-"

"Not with you," Draco said, waving his hand impatiently. "At Gringotts. Father said your parents left you all of their money, and the Potters had loads of galleons—the Blacks as well. Your vault is probably overflowing with gold."

"I've never seen it."

Draco's eyes popped even wider. "You've never been to your vault?"

Harry shook his head and Draco sighed.

"Really, Harry, you're not a proper pureblooded wizard at all, are you?"

Irritated, Harry frowned. "Sirius says that whether or not someone is a pureblood isn't important. My grandparents weren't even magical. And Sirius says they were fine people," he said stubbornly. "If you don't like them, then you can't like me either."

"Well, I didn't say they weren't nice," Draco huffed.

"You said they weren't proper."

"No I didn't. I said you weren't proper."

"Oh." Confused, Harry shook his head. "Well, it's the same thing."

"No it isn't," Draco insisted. "And I didn't say I didn't like your grandparents."

"Well, you don't like Ron, and he's my friend too."

"Mother wouldn't like me to be friends with Ron," Draco said, a line forming between his eyebrows. "She doesn't want me to be your friend either. But you're still my friend … aren't you?"

"Yeah," Harry said, smiling a little. Draco's forehead smoothed out and he smiled too. "Let's go see if they have any of those hollowed-out books with the secrecy charms. Ron's brother Percy has one."

"What does he keep in it?" Draco asked.

"Something that Mrs Weasley is never allowed to see. The twins said she found Charlie's once and she was hoarse for two days after she finished shouting at him. At Mr Weasley too, but I'm not sure why."

"Mrs Weasley shouts a lot, doesn't she?" Draco asked.

Harry grinned. "She frightens Sirius sometimes, I think. He gets really nervous when she shouts."

Draco laughed and together they went up the stairs.

Chapter Text

"Did you know a werewolf lives in the Shrieking Shack in Hogsmeade?"

Remus' fork hit his plate with a clatter.

"Who told you that?" Sirius asked, after a quick glance for Remus.

Harry looked between them before answering, "Fred and George said so. And Charlie said it was true; he's going to be a seventh year..." Harry closed his mouth. Remus and Sirius were staring at him.

"It's … an old story," Sirius finally said. "One that's been around since we were children," he added with a faint smile.

"Charlie said kids used to hear the wolf howling sometimes when they went to Hogsmeade, but no one's heard it in a really long time. The twins haven't been yet but they said they want to explore it when they do."

Remus' hands had fallen into his lap, and he was breathing strangely, staring at Harry as if he'd never seen him before. Sirius took one of Remus' hands.

"You don't need to be concerned about it," he said, using the voice that Harry easily recognized; Sirius didn't want to be argued with. And since Harry wasn't concerned, he didn't argue.

"Bill was at the Weasleys today, too," he said. "And he told us all sorts of stories about working at Gringotts with the goblins. Don't you think that sounds like a brilliant job?"

"Yes, it does," Sirius answered with a small smile. Remus didn't seem to notice that Harry had spoken.

"He's training to be a curse-breaker, Remus," Harry said, leaning forward to try to capture Remus' attention. "Isn't that wicked?"

Remus nodded. "That sounds lovely, Harry," he said quietly. "Finish your vegetables," he added, glancing at Harry's plate.

Harry scooped up a forkful of carrots, chewing them before continuing, "And Charlie's going to work on a dragon reservation when he graduates. Ollivander told me that even he would like that job—if he wasn't a wand maker."

"It certainly would be exciting," Sirius agreed.

"Yeah," Harry said with a smile. "Maybe we can go visit the dragon reservation once Charlie starts his app—what's it called again, Sirius?"

"Apprenticeship," Sirius murmured. "If he invites us, we may certainly go visit."

"Draco's been to the one in Romania. More than once, I think."

Sirius nodded. He glanced at Remus, who was staring at his uneaten chicken. "If you're finished," he said when he turned round again, "you may go wash up."

Harry pushed back from the table slowly, his eyes on Remus. Neither of his parents reminded him to put his dishes in the sink, but he did it anyway, taking extra care to put them in quietly, even as he wondered why they were acting so strangely. Sirius smiled at him on his way out, but that didn't answer anything.

--

"Remus, we knew we'd have to tell him eventually," Sirius said quietly as soon as Harry was up the stairs. Remus stood up abruptly.

"He's too young."

"I know that. And I don't mean that we should to tell him now, but you needn't be upset-"

"Oh no?" Remus demanded softly as he pushed the chair back under the table. "I've been scaring children for years, and even when I no longer spend full moons there, I still scare them."

"Harry isn't going to be frightened of you," Sirius said, as calmly as he could; he recognized the self-loathing in his husband's eyes.

Remus stared at the back of the chair. "I knew this was a mistake."

"Remus," Sirius said, his voice barely above a whisper, but before he could continue, Harry's trainers squeaked on the stairs. Harry paused in the doorway, looking between Remus and Sirius with uncertainty. Remus straightened up, pulling his hands away from the chair.

"That was a rather quick wash," he remarked as he collected dishes from the table. Harry shrugged and Remus didn't press the issue.

"Can I help?" Harry asked, coming up to the sink where Remus was filling it with soapy water. Giving no sign that he found the request unusual—which it was—Remus simply nodded.

Sirius cleared the remainder of the dishes and didn't comment on the fact that Remus wasn't using magic to do the washing up.

"Will you help me finish my essay, Remus?" Harry asked, glancing up from the plate he was drying. "It's the last bit of my summer project."

Remus glanced down at him, his eyes faraway. "I have a lot of work to do tonight."

Harry settled the plate on the stack in the cupboard, his eyes fixed on the tea towel in his other hand. "Oh."

"I'll help, Harry," Sirius offered. Harry threw him a glance over his shoulder; Sirius smiled gently. "Why don't you go get everything together and I'll be up in a moment."

Harry pivoted slowly as he wadded the towel in his fist. He glanced up at Sirius through his fringe. Sirius gestured with his head toward the stairs, and with a sigh, Harry plunked his fabric wad on the counter and obeyed the silent command.

Sirius watched Remus as he drained the water from the sink, spelled the last dishes clean and sent them to the cupboard. Then he picked up Harry's abandoned towel and began wiping the countertops in tight circles.

"Harry won't care," Sirius finally said as he put a hand on the other man's shoulder and squeezed lightly. The muscles in Remus' back stretched his shirt taut as he scrubbed viciously at the spotless surface. "I know it's painful to even talk about-"

Remus spun around; Sirius' dislodged hand fell back to his side. "Then let's not, shall we?"

Sirius tried not to take offense at the curt tone. "We need to, Remus, if-"

"We agreed that Harry doesn't need to be burdened with this secret," Remus cut him off again. "And since I haven't said otherwise, we don't need to."

"We also agreed that eventually we'll have to tell him."

"Eventually," Remus echoed tightly. "Which is not right now."

"All right," Sirius conceded softly. "Do you want to help Harry with his essay? I think he'd like that."

But Remus was already turning away. "I have work to do," he said, his voice gruff. "You can help him just as well as I can."

Sirius stared after him until he disappeared into the library. He closed his eyes and massaged his temples, only looking up again when he heard a thud from upstairs, followed by a loud oath. He took the stairs two at a time, halting just inside Harry's room, a slow smile taking over his worry.

"What are you doing, you nutter?"

A nearly upside down Harry swiveled his head around and nearly lost his precarious perch across the desk. Sirius lunged forward and caught a leg before Harry could slide over the edge—headfirst onto the floor. He grasped his godson's arm in his other hand as Harry used his palm to scrabble backward.

"All right?" Sirius asked once Harry was on solid ground; Harry nodded, scrubbing a hand over his pink cheeks. "What were you doing?"

"I was trying to reach my notes; they fell behind the desk."

"Why didn't you just move the desk?" Sirius asked, trying to hide his laughter and failing. Harry shrugged, looking sheepish. "Barmy," Sirius muttered with a smirk as he shook his head. "And blasphemous," he added with a raised eyebrow when his godson smiled.

"I was about to crack my skull!" Harry protested.

His lips still quirked in amusement, Sirius moved the desk and plucked the scrambled sheets of parchment from the floor. Once they had them straightened and the desk back in order, Sirius asked, "Did you decide which questions you want to include from Ollivander's interview?"

"I think so," Harry answered, his nose and forehead wrinkling in thought. "There were an awful lot though; not sure I should put them all in the essay."

Sirius steadied himself with a hand on Harry's shoulder as he leaned over to peer at the interview which was scrawled in Harry's untidy script. "Which answers were the most interesting?" he asked, glancing down at his godson, who was peering at the parchment along with him.

"Dragons," Harry answered immediately and Sirius grinned. Harry's interest in the fearsome creatures hadn't diminished at all over the years. "Ollivander said that unicorn hairs are easier to put into the wands than the heartstrings are."

"Why is that?"

"The unicorns are gentler, he says. And that dragons are stubborn by nature."

"Does using different sorts of wood make it any easier?"

Harry nodded eagerly, using his finger to point out that very same question. "I asked Ollivander that. He said Bowtruckles only let you take the best spec-speci-"

"Specimen," Sirius supplied.

"Yeah, they let you have the best specimens from wand-trees. But even so, the woods that are more bendy-"

"Pliable."

Harry nodded. "Pliable wood makes it easier to put the core inside."

"Like my mahogany, then?"

"Yeah. Ollivander says wands made from mahogany are easiest. Ash as well. It takes loads of magic for a wizard to put the core inside the wood, no matter what sort of wood it is."

Sirius nodded thoughtfully. "And does the type of core make a difference in how well a wand works?"

"Sure," Harry answered. He pointed to his own drawing of a phoenix feather. "Ollivander says phoenix feathers usually make the most powerful wands. And he won't use veela hair, because he says those wands are inferior."

"Your wand has a phoenix feather," Sirius said casually.

"Ollivander said I'd have to work really hard to be as cape-capable as my wand thinks I should be."

Sirius straightened and twisted so that he was sitting on the edge of the desk. "Did he?" he asked, making his tone casual. "Did he explain what he meant by that?"

"Not really," Harry said with a shrug. "Just that the wizard who killed my parents had a feather from the same phoenix in his wand's core."

Sirius silently cursed the old wand maker for sharing that bit of knowledge, though he wasn't entirely certain why he preferred his godson not know of the twin cores. He wished now that he had insisted on sitting in on the interview instead of remaining at the front of the shop, only within eyesight of the two.

"He wouldn't tell me the wizard's name," Harry said, a line creasing his forehead. "He just kept saying You-Know-Who."

Sirius ran a hand over his face as he sighed. "His name was Voldemort," he said quietly, wishing as he did that Remus was a part of this conversation. "And most people don't use his name because they are so frightened of him."

"But he's dead, isn't he?"

"Yes. But people are still afraid, and with good reason."

Harry angled his head to the side as he studied Sirius. "But you're not?"

"Oh, I wouldn't properly claim that," Sirius said calmly. "It would be silly not to be afraid of someone who's killed so many people."

"But you called him by his name."

Sirius nodded solemnly. "Professor Dumbledore told me once that being frightened of a name only makes you more fearful."

Harry considered that, his green eyes intent. "Do you think that's true?"

"Yes, I do."

"Do you think Mum and Dad were afraid? When Voldemort killed them?"

Sirius swallowed. He squeezed Harry's shoulder, keeping his fingers against his godson's neck as he explained, "Both of your parents were very brave. And it's normal for people who are to be frightened. In this case, however, I think that they were more frightened for you than for themselves." He had no idea if he should elaborate. By and large, he and Remus had avoided this subject with Harry; it was easy to do since he hadn't had the 'green light' nightmare for years.

"Ollivander said I have this scar-" Harry's finger trailed the faded lightning bolt, "-because Voldemort couldn't kill me."

Sirius managed not to clench his fists; he would have strong words for the wand maker the next time they met.

"That's true," he finally said quietly.

"But if Voldemort killed so many people, why couldn't he hurt me?"

Sirius quickly sorted through Albus' muddled explanation—he had seemed not to understand it very well. "Your dad held Voldemort off for as long as he could, and your mum gave you her magic so that Voldemort couldn't hurt you. Her magic made you more powerful than Voldemort. She loved you very much."

Harry smiled a little and Sirius couldn't help but smile as well. "Let's get this essay sorted, shall we?" With a bit of concentration, he transfigured one of Harry's books into a suitable chair, and the two of them bent over the parchments.

An hour and a half later, Harry's yawn signaled an end to the evening's work. He grumbled of course when Sirius announced it was time for a bath. "Do I have to?"

Sirius gave him a nudge toward the lav, not even bothering to answer. Harry rolled his eyes as he went across the corridor; he paused before he disappeared inside, his thumb running over the knob's edge as he asked quietly, "Is Remus going to come up to say good night?"

"I'll go tell him you're ready for bed. Go on," he urged, and with a small smile, Harry did. Sirius sighed as he treaded down the stairs. He knocked lightly on the library door, opening it at Remus' quiet invitation.

Remus was bent over the oak desk, his quill hovering in the air, waiting for him to continue speaking.

"Harry's in the bath," Sirius said, frowning as Remus stayed hunched over his work.

"Did he finish his essay?" he asked; his voice was hoarse and Sirius hoped it was from whatever he was dictating to his quill and not from emotions that still had not settled.

"Barely started," Sirius murmured. "We got all his notes in order though … and a theme."

Remus nodded; still staring at the inked words in front of him.

"He'd like you to say goodnight," Sirius said, coming forward; he ran his fingers through Remus' sandy hair.

"I haven't quite finished…"

Sirius' fingers stilled. "Harry asked for you."

Remus stood, his steps agitated as he went to stand in front of the glowing hearth, but his voice was very soft when he spoke again, "I heard you, Sirius. Please tell him I'm-"

"How long are you planning on hiding from him?" Sirius demanded, crossing his arms over his chest.

Remus' head came up and Sirius saw with a pang how haggard his features were. "I'm not hiding," Remus said quietly. "I haven't thought about how this will affect Harry in quite some time. I wasn't prepared-"

"It won't affect him," Sirius said. He kept his voice calm as he continued, "You didn't think James and I would be your friends once we found out, do you remember?"

Remus didn't answer.

"It didn't change anything," Sirius went on. "And it won't with Harry either."

"Harry's a child-"

"A child who loves you. A full moon doesn't change that."

But Remus shook his head. Though Sirius never considered the man stubborn, in his own feelings of self-worth, Remus was immoveable.

"Harry's waiting for you to come say goodnight," Sirius said, his tone sharper than he intended when Remus went back to staring at the fire. "Remus," he tried, softening the edge, but even that didn't encourage the other man to move. Finally, too frustrated to cajole any longer, Sirius went back up the stairs.

Harry was lying sideways on top of his quilt, his head dangling over the edge of the mattress, his feet propped against the wall; he turned his head when Sirius came in.

"Bare feet," he declared, wiggling his toes against the wall, heading off Sirius' off-repeated refrain that he was leaving tracks against the paint. Sirius swatted the dangling head, eliciting an "Oy!" from his godson as he plopped on the bed.

"Can't leave tracks," Harry told him with a grin when Sirius simply shook his head.

"They can if your feet are filthy," Sirius retorted.

"They're not!"

"No?"

"I took a bath!"

"Did you use soap?"

"You only tell me to every other breath," Harry sniffed. "And Remus the rest of the time."

"Cheeky tonight, aren't we?"

"You say that every night."

Sirius rumpled his godson's damp hair. "So I do. Hint, perhaps?"

Harry smiled as he rolled away from the wall and straightened up. "Not a very good one, I guess."

Sirius chuckled. "Just get under the covers."

Harry did, sliding along the mattress and worming his way underneath the quilt a second later. "Where's Remus?"

"Downstairs. He wasn't quite finished with his work," Sirius answered, trying with an effort to keep his tone light. "You can show him your essay in the morning though. He'll want to see how much you accomplished tonight."

"All right," Harry said. "Do you think Ollivander will like my essay too?"

"I'm certain he will; he was rather excited that you asked to interview him, remember?"

"Yeah. He has the best stories and I think he really likes to tell them to me."

"He does like to talk," Sirius agreed with a smile as he sifted through the stack of books on Harry's bedside table. "We'll make a copy-"

"With your wand?"

Sirius nodded. "We'll bring it to him next time we visit Diagon Alley. How does that sound?"

"Brilliant," Harry said with a grin.

"Do you want to read before you sleep?" Sirius asked, jiggling the book Harry was in the middle of.

Harry wriggled until his head was nestled in the middle of his pillow. "Will you?" he asked through a yawn. "Knackered."

Smiling, Sirius began to read.

Chapter Text

"What if it doesn't come?"

"It will," Remus said, smiling at Harry as he bounced on his toes and continued to peer out the back window. "Come help me finish your cake."

Harry glanced over his shoulder, distracted for only a moment. "Ron got his at breakfast on his birthday. So did Draco. Maybe they forgot."

"They didn't forget," Remus assured him. "It'll be along."

"Maybe I won't get one," Harry said, his eyebrows scrunched together.

"Of course you will," Remus said, gesturing with his hand for Harry to come closer. "You already have your wand. Ollivander wouldn't have given it to you if you weren't magical. The Weasleys will be here soon," he added when Harry came over. "Would you like to help me with the icing?"

Harry nodded, and Remus demonstrated the proper way to spread the gooey chocolate. "Give it a go," he said, smiling.

"Like that?" Harry asked, tilting his head and giving the cake a critical eye.

"Exactly so, yes. You're doing wonderfully."

Harry grinned, a pleased flush decorating his cheeks as he bent once more to his task. Remus smiled as he turned back to the sugared model of Hogwarts he and Sirius had been crafting with their wands for days now, though he was on his own now as Sirius wrapped a few last-minute gifts upstairs.

"It's a bit lopsided," Harry said after a few intent minutes.

"Perfect cakes haven't any character."

"This one will have plenty of character," Harry said with a smirk. Remus chuckled and then both of them turned at the sound of Sirius' feet pounding down the stairs.

"I spotted an owl!" he crowed as he burst into the kitchen. "Through the window upstairs!"

"You did?" Harry dropped his icing-coated spatula with a loud thunk; the icing splattered across the table top but not one of them paid a bit of attention. Remus spelled the window open and then all of them sighed. "It's only Berenices…"

Berenices hooted indignantly, pausing to grab a tuft of Harry's hair and give it a sharp tug.

"Ow!" Harry glared at the brown owl as she struck a regal pose on the top rung of one of the chairs.

"You all right?" Sirius ducked a bit as he soothed his fingers over the abused scalp. Harry nodded and Berenices hooted again, this time demanding someone release her from her burden as she shook her leg. "Impatient thing, isn't she?" Sirius muttered.

"Probably best not to call her impatient," Remus said, sotto voce and Sirius snorted.

"That wasn't very nice," Harry scolded as he untied the scroll from the owl's leg; Berenices clacked her beak. "Well, I'd refuse you a treat, but since you did have an awfully long journey..." The owl hooted again, this time in approval and Harry smiled and stroked her neck. "All right. Wait while I read this, yeah?"

Berenices shook out her feathers a little and settled in.

Remus and Sirius shared a smile.

Harry unrolled the scroll and began reading, frowning after a moment. "He asked me if I got my letter," he relayed. "He says, 'You did get one? You're not a squib, are you?'" He looked up, his eyes crinkled with worry. "I haven't got it yet."

"You will," Sirius reassured him this time. Harry didn't look convinced but he finished his letter, finally smiling as he held up a tiny book. Remus already had his wand out so he enlarged it.

"For my birthday!"

"What is it?" Sirius asked as he leaned over Harry's shoulder to get a better look. "Oi!" he said, snatching the book up to get a better look. "Gladius Gobstone and the Instruments of Doom! That series was my favorite. I think I made your dad read it about fifteen times—and act out most of the scenes; especially … well, I won't spoil it for you but wait until you get to chapter eight!"

"Draco says it's his favorite too," Harry said, turning around to get a look too, when Sirius didn't hand the book back; he was flipping through the pages, oohing and ahhing over various illustrations.

"I always played Gladius, of course," Sirius said, looking rather proud of that fact. "Your dad was Pelligren, Gladius' best mate-"

"Pelligren?" Harry echoed, peering down at the picture of the two fictitious friends. "Sounds like a bird."

"That's pelican."

"Well, what about you, Remus?" Harry asked. "Who did you get to play?"

"Oh, that was before we went to Hogwarts—I think I was nine when I read that book," Sirius said, nodding as he remembered. "One of my cousins left it at our house—she was twelve and I couldn't put it down; your dad and I read it every time I went to his house. We'll read it tonight," he said happily, finally relinquishing the book to Harry.

Harry only stopped scouring it long enough to write a thank you for Draco, before sending a calmed and fed Berenices off again. He was in the middle of chapter one—reading out loud at Sirius' insistence—while Sirius and Remus were putting the finishing touches on the cake, when a soft rap sounded against the window.

"An owl!" Harry said excitedly, closing the book with a snap as he jumped out of his seat. Sirius opened the window with a quick spell this time, and not even pausing, a very somber-faced black owl swooped in. He dropped a letter from his beak. With a loud hoot, he swerved and flapped out the window and away.

Harry stretched up and snatched the envelope from the air. All three of them stared at the green ink, huge smiles on their faces.

Mr. H. Potter, Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, London

"It's for me!" Harry squeaked.

"Of course it's for you," Sirius said, nudging him with an excited elbow as he and Remus chuckled. "Open it!"

It took a few moments of Harry fumbling with the well-sealed flap before the letter was shaken out and Harry was reading with wide eyes. "Dear Mr. Potter, we are pleased to inform you that you have a place at Hogwarts-"

But that was as far as he got; Sirius let out a whoop and lifted Harry off the floor, spinning him several times in great circles. Harry's breath was whisked away as he tried to keep the parchments from falling from his fingers. And then Sirius was crushing him to his chest in a hug, while the room continued to spin around them.

"Sirius, he can't breathe," Remus finally said, laughter clogging the admonishment. Sirius planted his hands on Harry's shoulders before pushing him backward until he was at arms' length.

"I don't think I've ever been prouder," Sirius said, a little breathless himself and as Harry grinned, Sirius released him abruptly. "We have something for you. Don't move," he ordered and then he was dashing out of the kitchen and back up the stairs. Harry stared after him for a second, his lips still turned up; black hair wild from the impromptu whirl.

He used his knee to iron out the wrinkles in his letter; as he did, he glanced up and caught Remus' eye. Remus put an arm around his shoulders and pulled him close to his side. "We are both very proud of you," he said. Harry smiled and Remus patted his shoulder before releasing him. "There should be a list of supplies as well," he added, nodding toward the letter.

"Wow," Harry breathed as his eyes skimmed over the letter. "We need loads of books." Remus smiled at the excited gleam in Harry's eyes.

"You might ask Ollivander for some texts to go with your History of Magic book; I believe you'll explore the basic history of wand making this year."

"Yeah?"

"You'll have to wait to take Care of Magical creatures until third year, but I think you'll enjoy Potions and Charms—Professor Flitwick makes the Charms lessons very exciting."

"Did you have all the same teachers?" Harry asked curiously.

"A fair few, yes. The Defense Against the Dark Arts professor is new this year, I believe. The Potions Professor isn't new—Professor Aarons; he was in the year ahead of Sirius and me."

"Was he a Gryffindor?"

"Ravenclaw."

Harry and Remus turned as Sirius came back down the stairs. He was holding his hands behind his back, a huge grin on his face. "We've been waiting ages to give this to you," he said and with a flourish, he brought his arm around—and something large and covered in black fabric. "Well?" Sirius demanded excitedly. "Take off the cover!"

Sirius' excitement was infectious; Harry whipped the cloth off without any further prompting. His entire face lit up as he gazed up at Sirius. "For me?"

"Just for you," he said, still grinning. "Though it's a bit of a selfish gift, really. You'll need a way to send letters to us once you're at Hogwarts, after all. We'll be expecting many more now that you have such a lovely owl," he said, his tone teasing.

But Harry nodded solemnly, his eyes still shining. "Loads," he promised. Sirius chucked his chin fondly and finally Harry turned his attention back to his new familiar. "A snowy owl," he said, his voice reverent.

"You probably don't remember," Sirius said as he unlatched the cage, "but when we went to Diagon Alley for the first time together, you admired the owls. You especially liked one just like this—because he looked different from all the other fellows there, you said."

Sirius was smiling fondly as he recalled the memory; Harry as well. Remus felt a pang even as he enjoyed the sight of the two of them so happy; what he wouldn't give to have shared those first few years with them.

"I remember," Harry said. Though it didn't seem possible, Sirius' grin widened. He set the owl's cage down on the counter and he and Harry bent together to coax her out.

"Snowy owls eat rodents mainly—mice and lemmings in particular," Sirius was saying as the beautiful bird wrapped its strong claws around his forearm. "Fish are a treat."

"Won't be able to find those at Hogwarts, will she?" Harry asked, concern tingeing his young voice.

"She'll hunt," Sirius assured him. "And she'll probably enjoy an owl treat or two. Here," he added softly, "hold out your arm … that's right and be still for a moment to let her adjust."

Sirius stroked the white feathers and spoke quietly, encouraging both Harry and his new familiar to bond; this ease with magical creatures was something Sirius and Harry shared—an interest cultivated at every opportunity by Sirius, and Remus was convinced that Harry would have no trouble bonding with the owl.

"It's all right, girl," Harry said, his own voice taking on Sirius' gentle cadence when the owl peered at him. "I'm Harry." The owl hooted softly and stepped onto Harry's proffered arm.

"Stroke her back," Sirius said. "Just like you do Berenices."

Harry did. "You and I are going to go to Hogwarts," he told the owl. "I'll write loads of letters and you can deliver them for me, yeah?" In response, the bird nibbled Harry's cheek gently.

"I think she likes you."

Harry grinned at Sirius.

"Oh," Sirius added, snapping his fingers. "We bought you a book about post owls as well; there's a section all about snowy owls. Apparently, not many people use them to deliver post though; it says most of them don't bond easily." He withdrew the small book from his trousers pocket and handed it over.

"Wicked! Thanks! Should we see if you're in here, girl?" he asked the owl, who leaned over with interest when Harry sat at the table and began flipping through the pages.

"What are you going to name her?" Remus asked.

"Dunno." Harry looked up from his reading for a moment to study the owl; she studied him right back. "What do you think?" The owl hooted and Remus and Sirius chuckled. "Don't worry," Harry said, quite seriously, "I'll think of something brilliant."

Perched on the arm of the sofa hours later, full of cake and much too excited to go to sleep, Harry made a face when Sirius announced it was nine o'clock and time to get ready for bed.

"It's my birthday," Harry reminded him, his face hopeful. Sirius smiled. "Just a little bit later?"

"You can skip your bath if you want," Sirius answered. "You'll have more time to read about Gladius."

"I'll have even more time if I stay up until ten," Harry pointed out.

"And even more if you stay up all night." Sirius shook his head at Harry's grin. "You're not staying up all night, nutter. But I suppose ten o'clock may be in order."

Harry grinned. "Eleven would be even better."

Go upstairs," Sirius chuckled, palming the back of his godson's head and giving him a little nudge. Harry slid off the sofa, still smiling. Sirius put an arm around his shoulders as they walked together toward the stairs. "I'll be up once you're dressed," Sirius said. "I'll just see if Remus needs any help." Harry nodded but he didn't move away, instead leaning into his side as they paused at the bottom of the staircase. Sirius brushed his godson's dark fringe from his forehead with a palm, content to wait until Harry was ready to release him.

"Do you think I'll have fun at Hogwarts?" Harry asked after a moment. Sirius caught his eye and smiled.

"Of course you will. You'll have all your classes, and Quidditch matches to watch; games with all the new friends you'll make. You and Ron will have loads of fun together. And you'll be able to see Draco whenever you want as well."

Harry smiled a little, but still he didn't move away. Sirius squeezed his shoulder.

"Remus and I will miss you," he said, smiling again as Harry squinted up at him and he knew he'd discovered the real reason for Harry's sudden quiet. "I'll have to find something to do with myself all day long."

"Maybe you can visit," Harry said. "If they let you do that…"

"I'm certain Professor Dumbledore wouldn't mind at all. And you can come home whenever you like."

"Yeah?"

Sirius pulled Harry close and Harry's arms came up to hug him tight. Sirius' throat tickled as he thought about all the things he'd miss; especially the things they did together—just the two of them. Flying over the same empty fields where Sirius and James had always flown as children, poring over a book about Harry's latest favorite magical creature, playing wizard's chess—particularly when Harry won.

"It's only a short trip through the Floo," he said gruffly. Harry nodded, but he didn't let go. Sirius bent down and kissed the top of his head and they stood together for a long while, bedtime and Gladius Gobstone forgotten.

Chapter Text

"Is that Harry Potter?"

"It is! And look! It's Sirius Black! You've heard the story, haven't you?"

"He's married to Remus Lupin, you know. My sister and I simply adore his books…"

"Hasn't everybody heard the story of Sirius Black? And that poor boy!"

"Ignore them," Sirius instructed, taking Harry's shoulders and steering him toward the scarlet train.

"It actually looks just like my train set," Harry said, grinning as his gaze travelled down the track. "Even the smoke looks the same."

"Only the best for my godson," Sirius said; his voice was muffled as he leaned over Harry's trunk, checking that everything was secure.

"Remus bought that for me," Harry reminded his godfather's back. "For my sixth birthday."

"My idea…"

Harry looked to Remus for confirmation, but Remus shook his head, his lips quirked in amusement; Harry grinned.

"Is something the matter with Harry's trunk?" Remus asked Sirius a second later, bending a bit and cutting off Harry's view of the platform.

"Do you think Draco's here?" Harry asked, trying to see around his parents.

"I'm sure he is," Remus answered, righting himself again while Sirius continued to fiddle with the fastenings.

"Where are the Weasleys?"

"They'll be here," Remus assured him as he shrugged at Harry's questioning look for Sirius' back. "They probably had a late start."

"We'd have had a late start as well if we had five children," Sirius said, finally straightening up. "It took forever as it was this morning. Can you imagine if we multiplied this one times five?" he asked as an aside to Remus, hooking a thumb toward Harry.

"Oy!" Harry objected. "It wasn't my fault. You couldn't find your shoe!"

"And you couldn't find your wand," Sirius retorted.

"Which," Remus added with a sudden frown, "we never finished discussing—the reason it wasn't with the rest of your supplies."

"Erm…"

"Trying it out?" Sirius guessed with a small smile. Harry glanced at Remus and judged that he wouldn't launch into a lengthy lecture right here in front of the Hogwarts' Express.

"I was trying a spell Ron's brothers taught us," he admitted.

"Did it work?" Sirius asked with interest.

"Sirius," Remus scolded; on principle most likely, since it had been Sirius who had taught Harry his first spells and Remus hadn't objected—much anyway.

"Right," Sirius said with a quick nod and a wink. "Very bad form; using your wand outside of Hogwarts, Harry."

Remus shook his head and Harry tried not to smile.

"Harry!"

Harry grinned at the chorused shout.

"We're finally going to Hogwarts!" Ron crowed as he grabbed Harry's arm and pumped it up and down.

"Our baby brother, an ickle firstie," George said in a high-pitched voice.

"Can't believe he actually made it," Fred chimed in.

"Shut it," Ron muttered.

Fred shoved him and then he and his twin clamored to secure their trunks.

"Maybe we should try for a different house," Ron said to Harry, making a face.

"Not be in Gryffindor?" Percy echoed; he frowned down at his little brother. "All of the Weasleys have been in Gryffindor House."

"Don't talk nonsense, Ronnie," Mrs Weasley said as she brushed invisible dirt off his shoulders. "And of course Harry will be in Gryffindor, what with Lily and James… And Remus and Sirius were in Gryffindor. Don't you want to be with Harry?"

"Yes mum," Ron grumbled.

"Good boy." Mrs Weasley patted Ron's head and then began waving her hands frantically as one of the twins leaned too far out one of the train car windows and nearly fell out.

"George!" Mrs Weasley ushered her three remaining children toward the train and Ron had just enough time to roll his eyes before he was out of sight.

"Well," Sirius said, looking as mystified as he usually did after a loud interlude with the Weasleys, "we'd best get your trunk on the train."

Remus flicked his wand and guided the trunk toward a tall man in a fuzzy orange cap. The man nodded briskly and the trunk disappeared.

"Ready Harry?" Remus asked, still holding Hedwig's cage.

"Harry?" Sirius prodded when Harry didn't answer. "What's wrong?"

Harry looked up at his godfather, his eyebrows scrunched together. "What if I don't get sorted into Gryffindor?"

"Sirius and I will be proud of you, no matter which House you belong to."

Harry gave a fleeting smile to Remus and resettled his eyes on his godfather. Sirius smiled. "We will always be proud of you, Harry. Gryffindor or not."

"Even if I was sorted into Slytherin?" Sirius very rarely talked about his parents or his brother—he didn't like to, but Harry knew that all of them had been in Slytherin and none of them had been very nice to Sirius. And he knew too, that Voldemort had been in Slytherin. No matter that his parents had explained that Slytherin wasn't an evil house, Harry still didn't think he'd much like being in the same dorms where Voldemort had once slept.

Sirius crouched down so that they were eyeball to eyeball; his hands curved around the tops of Harry's arms. "You are my kid, Harry. And no matter what else you are, or what you do, that won't ever change. I won't ever stop being proud of you. Do you understand that?"

Harry nodded jerkily but he still had to ask, "Even if I'm a Slytherin?"

"Yes," Sirius said with a solemn nod, "even if you're a Slytherin."

Harry smiled slowly. Sirius straightened up and then Harry was being squeezed so hard he was afraid his lungs would pop but he squeezed back anyway—for a few seconds before Sirius planted a kiss atop his head.

"Sirius," he grumbled as he squirmed away.

His godfather chuckled as he released his hold. "This is another thing that won't change."

Harry made a face. "I'm eleven, you know."

"Are you?" Sirius asked, his dark brows high in mock-surprise. "I had no idea…"

Harry rolled his eyes and turned to Remus. Remus was smiling and he hugged Harry as well, though he wasn't nearly as embarrassing; no kiss.

Harry faced his parents as he stepped back; his stomach was heavy.

"Don't forget to write," Sirius said, nodding a little; his grey eyes were shiny.

"I won't," Harry promised.

"You have your wand?" Remus asked, his voice gruffer than usual; Harry patted his sleeve to make sure. "And your coin purse?"

Harry jingled his full pocket.

Sirius cleared his throat. He pulled a brown-wrapped parcel out of his pocket.

"You got me a gift?"

Sirius shrugged. "It was your dad's…"

Harry swallowed the lump in his throat and pulled the paper off carefully. He stared down at his own reflection, confused.

"It's a two-way mirror," Sirius said; Harry looked up. "I have the other one; you say my name and I'll hear you through mine. Your dad and I used to talk to one another with them when we had detention." Sirius cupped Harry's chin. "If you need anything..."

Harry could only whisper his thanks. And this time, he launched himself at his godfather and hugged him as hard as he could.

"Love you, kid," Sirius whispered into his hair.

"Love you too."

His hug for Remus was just as tight.

Sirius' arm circled Remus' waist as Harry climbed the steps into the train, and Harry waved until they were out of sight.

--

"Have you seen a large toad?"

"A what?" Harry asked as he pushed his glasses back up his nose.

"A toad," the bushy-haired girl said with a slight frown. "A boy named Neville lost one."

"We haven't seen any toads."

The girl nodded, but her eyes narrowed a little. "You're Harry Potter, aren't you? I've read about you. My parents took me to the library in Diagon Alley when we went for my supplies and we looked through old copies of the Daily Prophet."

Harry sighed. "Yeah, I'm Harry Potter. This is Ron Weasley," he added for his grumpy-looking friend.

"Hello," the girl said primly. "I'm Hermione Granger. That's a very handsome owl," she added, stepping closer to inspect Hedwig.

"Thanks. My parents gave her to me for my birthday. Her name is Hedwig."

"Oh," said Hermione brightly, "you've already read your copy of History of Magic, then?" Harry nodded and Hermione went right on, "I've read mine as well, of course. All of my school books, actually."

"Bully for you," Ron muttered. Hermione didn't even spare him a glance.

"Sirius Black adopted you in 1985," she said to Harry. "And I assume you mean him, and Remus Lupin, when you refer to your parents? Even though Mr Lupin didn't adopt you."

"I-"

"The papers weren't very clear on that point, though of course they had a full story when your godfather married Mr Lupin. And someone—I can't remember who at the moment—mentioned that Mr Lupin adopted you through the Familius ritual so that you're magically bound to him as a father is to a son. Your godfather did as well, even though in legal terms, you were his son already-"

"You sound like an encyclopedia!" Ron finally exploded.

Hermione's brows furrowed as she turned to Ron. "There isn't any need to shout."

"Well, there isn't any need to tell Harry about what you read in a newspaper about his parents," Ron retorted. "They're his parents!"

"I was only trying to clarify what he meant," she sniffed.

"He meant exactly what he said. His parents gave him Hedwig as a present." Ron made a face at her. "What else could he mean?"

"You are rather unpleasant, aren't you?" Hermione said, with a peevish toss of her bushy hair. "It was nice to meet you, Harry," she added and without waiting for an answer, she pivoted around and left them alone.

"Bloody hell," Ron muttered as the door slid closed behind her. "I hope she isn't in Gryffindor!"

Harry didn't answer, feeling a bit muddled after that encounter. He'd never heard anyone talk so fast.

"So, where's this Malfoy bloke you've been nattering on about for years?" Ron asked, switching gears as easily as ever. "Maybe he didn't make it in." He sounded rather hopeful about that, Harry thought.

"He did; he sent me a post when he got his letter."

"He'll be in Slytherin for sure," Ron said, nodding his head. "My dad told us, remember, that the Malfoys have been in Slytherin for hundreds of years."

"So were Sirius' family," Harry reminded his friend with a frown.

"Well, Sirius is different."

Harry's frown deepened. "You've never even met Draco."

Ron shrugged. "Dad gets that sour look every time he mentions Mr Malfoy; you know the one. They don't get on."

"Just because his father's a prat, doesn't mean Draco is. And he's not, by the way."

"Yeah, yeah, you always say that," Ron grumbled.

The door slid open again; a boy stuck his head in. "Have you seen a toad? I've lost mine."

"Neville?" Harry guessed. The boy flushed.

"Erm, yes."

"Nice to meet you, Neville," Harry said, smiling. "I'm Harry and he's Ron. We haven't seen your toad though; sorry."

"My gran's gonna kill me," Neville said miserably. "It was a gift from my uncle. They were all so excited when I got my letter … because I wasn't a squib and all."

Harry didn't know what to say to that, so he said, "I'm sure your toad will turn up. Someone's bound to find him."

"If they don't step on him first," Ron offered. Neville blanched and ducked out of the compartment.

"Prat," Harry said, shaking his head at Ron.

"I was only trying to help," Ron objected. "Someone might step on it!"

"How would you like it if someone suggested Mo was going to get trampled?"

"Oy!" Ron shielded the striped owl's cage with his arms. "Don't say that in front of him; he's sensitive."

Harry snorted. "He nearly pecked Percy to pieces the other day."

"Because Percy insulted him! Sensitive, like I said."

Harry smirked as Ron stroked the glossy feathers while Mo snapped his beak, either in appreciation or resentment, Harry couldn't tell. The large owl had been a gift from Harry, Sirius and Remus on Ron's eleventh birthday. And while Harry and everybody else learned quickly that the black and cinnamon-striped owl was a bad-tempered bird, Ron wouldn't hear a thing against him.

"Come on," Harry said when Ron finished soothing his owl, "let's go help Neville find his toad."

Ron sighed gustily, but he stood up anyway and followed Harry out of the compartment.

Neville's toad was discovered in a compartment filled with squeamish Ravenclaw second years. One of them—a girl with long dark hair and a very pretty face—knocked Harry over in her haste to get away; he stumbled against another body while Ron and Neville raced after the surprisingly quick toad.

"Well, look who we found," a voice said from over Harry's left ear as a hand steadied him. "If it isn't your best mate, Harry Potter."

Harry pulled himself away from the restraining arm, twisting as he righted himself. He smiled when he found Draco standing next to a weedy-looking boy with dark hair. "Thanks," he said to the new boy, who simply nodded. "Hi Draco."

"Hello," Draco said with a small smile. He glanced over at the other boy and added, "This is Theodore Nott."

"Hi."

Theodore's scrutiny of Harry was interrupted by a shout from further along the train car, "Harry! We found him!"

The three boys turned to see Ron waving wildly at Harry, with a relieved Neville beside him; clutching Trevor to his chest.

"Briliant!" Harry called back, giving Ron and Neville a thumbs-up. Ron gestured to Neville and with a shy smile, Neville followed Ron back to his compartment.

Still smiling, Harry turned back to Draco and Theodore.

"So," Theodore said, his eyes narrowing just a little, "you really are friends with Weasley."

"Ron's my friend, yeah," Harry said, nodding. Theodore's nose wrinkled, just as if he had smelled something funny.

"Well, that's all right when you're kids," he said. "But now that you're at Hogwarts, there will a lot more suitable friends."

Harry glanced between Theodore and Draco. "Nothing wrong with Ron."

Theodore just shook his head. "Come on, Draco," he said, jerking his head toward one of the farther compartments.

"I'll be there in a minute," Draco murmured. Theodore rolled his eyes before he walked away.

"He's your friend?" Harry asked quietly as soon as the other boy was out of earshot.

"Our fathers are friends."

"He's a git."

Draco shrugged and the two boys stared at one another.

"You told him I was friends with Ron?" Harry asked after an uncomfortable stretch.

"He asked about you," Draco said, shifting as he spoke. Harry frowned at him.

"Did you tell him Ron's unsuitable?" he asked, feeling a strange tingle in his stomach.

"His father doesn't like the Weasleys either."

"So, is that what the two of you do together?" Harry asked, his eyes narrowing a little. "Talk about how much you hate the Weasleys?"

Draco stuffed his hands into his pockets; he stared at his well-polished shoes. "I don't hate them."

Harry gazed at the top of his friend's blond head, unable to stop a smile at the quiet words. "We're sitting a bit further up," he said. "Want to sit with us? I brought Gobstones."

Draco lifted his head; he glanced uncertainly in the direction Theodore had gone. But then he straightened his shoulders and nodded. Grinning, Harry led the way.

--

Stunned silence.

McGonagall stood in the Great Hall, her fingers over her mouth. From his place behind one of the twins with long black hair, Harry stared at Draco along with everyone else. Draco, whose face was as pale as bone; his lips slack with shock.

And finally, the headmaster cleared his throat from the head table and the hall seemed to come alive again—whispers swept the room and McGonagall unfroze. Harry didn't hear what she said to Draco as she plucked the Hat from his head and motioned him away from the tall stool. Draco stiffened and McGonagall frowned; he shook his head.

"Now, Mr Malfoy," she said, loudly enough that the waiting first years could hear her. With jerky movements, Draco stepped down from his perch and walked to his new house table. He sat at the very end of one of the long benches, so close to the edge that he looked like he would topple over. The rest of the Gryffindors farther down the table were the only silent ones in the room as they stared at the blond intruder.

"Nott, Theodore," McGonagall said, her voice sharper than it had been all night. Nott approached the stool with trepidation. And when the Hat shouted, "Slytherin!" McGonagall's relieved sigh could be heard across the room. The sorting continued on.

Dumbledore and McGonagall both smiled at Harry when he was called. As soon as the Hat touched his hair, it was already shouting, "Gryffindor!" Harry shared a grin with Ron as he slid off the stool. He fingered the mirror in his pocket as he went to join the other Gryffindors, wondering how soon would be too soon to use it to tell Sirius and Remus the good news.

Harry slid in beside Draco, still beaming. "We're both in Gryffindor," he said excitedly. "Can you believe it?"

Draco turned to face him and Harry's smile immediately disappeared.

"Are you mad?" Draco demanded. "This is a nightmare!"

Harry stared at him. "Well, I know you thought you'd be in Slytherin, but now we're together-"

"I can't be a Gryffindor," Draco hissed, his grey eyes wild.

"Well, why not?" Harry whispered back, though he had no idea why they should try to hide their conversation. "I'm in Gryffindor."

"No one in my family has ever been in Gryffindor," Draco said, shaking his head furiously. "Through our entire family tree, only Sirius and my aunt's daughter haven't been in Slytherin. And they were both disowned!"

"Your parents won't disown you-"

"How would you know, Harry?" Draco demanded; the spots of pink against his cheeks were spreading. "It's your parents who won't disown you, not mine! I told you; you're not a proper wizard at all! You don't know anything!"

Draco's voice had risen so that the entire Gryffindor table was staring at them. Stung, Harry turned away. He heard Draco's robes swishing sharply beside him and his silverware clanging loudly against plates and table, but Harry didn't look over at him again.

He turned his head when Ron's name was called, smiling weakly when his best mate joined him with a great plop onto the bench.

"Gryffindor," he crowed with a grin; his brothers all jostled him in their excitement—even Percy. Harry had a hard time joining in. Ron didn't seem to notice, as Dumbledore quickly announced it was time to tuck in. And Ron, as usual, dove into his food as if he hadn't eaten in days.

Across from Harry, Neville was frowning. And next to Neville, Hermione was switching her gaze between Harry and Draco; she looked like she was trying to see inside their heads.

Harry didn't eat anything and after conversations resumed around him, he didn't join in. Neither did Draco.

Feeling altogether glum, Harry wondered what Sirius and Remus were doing. It was nearing what would be his bedtime at home. What would they be doing now that they no longer would sit beside him, either reading to him or listening to him read? Harry bit the inside of his cheek and willed himself not to cry. He was eleven, after all; not five.

His eyes roamed the cavernous room as he tried to distract himself. The Slytherins kept darting glances toward the Gryffindor table, though the other students seemed to have forgotten that Draco apparently didn't belong in Gryffindor House.

Harry smiled at Dumbledore as the old wizard caught his eye. McGonagall gave him a rather stiff nod as his gaze travelled along the table. The new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor was staring at him too—Quirrel, Dumbledore had said.

As Harry's eyes met the professor's, Harry felt an unfamiliar sting blossom in his forehead. Harry's fingers scrubbed at the lightning-shaped scar—the sting erupted and Harry winced. Professor Quirrel's lips quivered and his gaze dropped back to his plate.

The burning sensation faded away and Harry's fingers fell back to the table.

"Are you all right, Harry?"

Harry's head jerked up. Hermione was squinting at him, her head tilted.

"Er, yeah … headache."

"You should ask one of the prefects for a Headache Potion."

"Right," Harry said. "Thanks."

Hermione nodded and went back to her meal. Harry sneaked another look at Quirrel and found the professor's gaze on him once more. The same burn seared his scar and Harry quickly looked away.

Dumbledore stood up then, announcing the night at its end and encouraging all of them to sing the song of their choice as they went off to bed. Harry smiled at the strangeness in the suggestion; Ron nudged him, rolling his eyes.

He and Harry queued up near the end of the line, only Draco behind them with Percy leading the way out of the great hall and up the enchanted staircase. The other first years—Ron included—were chattering excitedly as they took their first trip up to the seventh floor and even though Harry knew he was supposed to be excited about everything, he wasn't. He wanted to turn around and see if Draco would talk to him—and he wanted to take out his mirror and talk to Sirius.

But he simply trudged along after Ron, and after what seemed like hours, they finally came to a portrait of a lady in a pink dress.

"Caput Draconis," Percy said after a boring speech that Harry only half-listened to. The portrait swung open and Harry followed along with the rest of the boys as Percy directed them toward their dorms. They had to climb all the way to the top floor and as soon as the six first year Gryffindor boys entered the room, they halted.

"Five beds?" Ron said in confusion; he turned around and did a quick head-count. "There are six of us!"

"All of our trunks are here," Seamus pointed out. And there they were; six trunks piled in a corner. And three owls' cages, along with Neville's toad and Dean's cat. Berenices and Mo were glaring at one another.

"What are we going to do, then?" Dean said, glancing around at the other boys.

"Flip for it?" Seamus suggested, but Draco was already walking toward the bed farthest into the corner of the room. He grabbed Berenices' cage and threw himself on the mattress. He drew the curtains with several jerky tugs until he and his owl were concealed.

The other boys stared at the maroon and gold curtains.

"I could sleep on the floor," Neville said in a small voice. Seamus and Dean shrugged and went toward their respective trunks.

"You sure?" Ron asked Neville.

"You can't sleep on the floor," Harry objected when the other boy began to nod.

"We could each give him a pillow. He can make a bed-"

Harry shoved his friends' shoulder and Ron shut up. "I'll sleep in the common room," he said to Neville. "There are sofas down there."

"I don't think you'll be very comfortable," Neville said with a frown. "I could sleep there-"

"I don't mind," Harry assured him. He'd rather sleep in a bed, of course. But if one of them had to take the sofa, might as well be him.

"You sure, Harry?"

"Yeah," Harry said with a shrug.

Ron patted Neville's shoulder. "You can give him one of your pillows," he said.

"You could give me one too, you know."

"Right," Ron said, smiling sheepishly. A pillow was tossed at Harry's head a moment later.

"Thanks loads," Harry grumbled to his friend. "I really don't mind, Neville," he said since Neville was standing in front of the only empty bed, looking very worried. "It's only one night; we'll tell McGonagall in the morning and I'm sure she'll fix it." Neville smiled a little and Harry bent down to search through his trunk for a pair of pajamas.

Chapter Text

Screaming—a woman screaming and green light spilling everywhere, making everything glow.

Avada Kedavra!

"No!" Harry cried out. He gasped as he realized he wasn't in a green-glowing room, but in his new common room, staring at the high ceiling above his head. His heart was beating so wildly that it felt like it would hammer right out of his chest. And he was cold; or maybe he only thought so because he was shivering.

And all alone.

Wishing he hadn't sent Hedwig out into the night to hunt, he swallowed as he stared into the cold fireplace across from the sofa. Rolling slightly, he pulled his mirror out of his pocket. He had stared at it for a long time earlier, knowing it was babyish to want to call his parents to say goodnight. No one else seemed to mind that they were away from home. In the end, he'd slipped it back into his pocket and curled up on the sofa, his throat filled with tears he was too old to shed.

Harry's thumb traced the straight edge of the mirror as he tried to convince himself that it was all right to use it now. Not that Sirius would mind … even if it was the middle of the night. After inhaling slowly, Harry whispered, "Sirius."

The surface of the mirror seemed to waver a little; as if it covered in a thick fog and then there were muffled sounds, one of which sounded distinctly like an oath.

Sirius' worried face appeared in the frame. "Harry?" he asked breathlessly. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah," Harry answered with a swift nod but his voice cracked and gave him away.

"Harry, what's the matter? Where are you?" Sirius demanded, his voice gaining volume.

"Shh," Harry told him quickly, putting a finger to his lips. "I'm in the Gryffindor common room."

Despite the deep lines of worry framing Sirius' eyes, he smiled. "You're in Gryffindor?"

And despite the nightmare, Harry smiled too. "Yeah."

"Congratulations!" Sirius' glanced away for a moment and then said, "Remus sends his along as well."

"Thanks."

Sirius' brows drew together as he gazed out at Harry. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing … it's stupid." Harry could feel a flush creeping up his neck; he caught sight of a clock over the mantle and grimaced. "It's two o'clock—I didn't meant to wake you-"

"Hey," Sirius cut him off, his voice soft, "when have I ever complained about that?"

Never. Harry smiled a little but it soon faltered. "I had a nightmare," he admitted. "The one about Mum-" He shivered, "-and the green light."

Sirius frowned and his face took up more of the frame as he leaned forward. "You did? It was a just a dream," he said quickly when Harry nodded jerkily. "You're safe."

"I know," Harry whispered, feeling like he was going to cry again. "It's just … I haven't had it in so long. I forgot what it felt like."

"I'm sorry," Sirius said gently. "I know it hurts." Harry swallowed hard. "Would you like me to come?" Sirius asked, his grey eyes full of all the warmth they always had. And Harry wanted to say yes. But he shook his head, his throat aching even more.

"I'm all right…" He wasn't, but Sirius knew that anyway. He smiled gently.

"You don't have to be, you know," he said quietly. "It's all right to feel upset when you have that dream."

Harry nodded. He knew that, but there was no way he was going to cry in the common room; on his first night.

"Were you thinking of your mum tonight?"

"A little, I guess," Harry answered. "All of you," he added. It gave him a warm feeling to know that his mum and dad, and his parents, had called this room home once. "Our dorms are on the top floor of the tower."

Sirius grinned. "Are they? You dad and Remus and I were up there. Is Ron in Gryffindor?"

"Yeah," Harry answered, smiling as that thought made him feel better. "Oh, and Draco as well. And Neville Longbottom; remember you told me his parents were friends with mum and dad?"

"Draco is in Gryffindor?"

"Yeah. He was pretty upset over it. Said his parent would disown him." Harry's brow furrowed when Sirius didn't say anything. "You don't think they will, do you?"

"They probably won't be pleased that he's not in Slytherin."

"But it's not his fault."

"No, it isn't," Sirius agreed. "But I don't know that they'll go so far as to disown him."

"I don't think Draco's speaking to me," Harry said, still feeling miserable about that. "Because I didn't understand why he had to be in Slytherin."

"Give him a bit of time to adjust to it. He'll be confused, I'll bet. It'll sort out," Sirius assured him and Harry nodded. He hoped it would. "Did you enjoy the feast?" Sirius asked.

"Draco was angry at me already and I had a headache. It was really strange," Harry added at Sirius' look of surprise; he very rarely had aches. "They sort of just came and went and it only hurt right around my scar."

Harry heard Remus murmuring something and Sirius slid his eyes away for a few seconds; he nodded to Remus and then turned back to Harry. "Can you show me where it hurt, exactly?"

Harry traced his scar with a forefinger. "Sort of stung a bit."

"That's odd," Sirius mused. "You've never felt that before, have you?"

Harry shook his head.

"What were you doing when it happened?"

"Well, I was trying not to look at Draco so just glancing around the hall—looking at the head table mostly. The new professor kept staring at me."

"The Defense teacher?"

"Quirrel, yeah. It only happened twice, but both times he was staring at me."

Sirius pinched his chin between thumb and forefinger as he thought about that. Remus' hand reached into the viewing plane and the scene shifted away from Sirius.

"How do you feel otherwise?" Remus asked, his face now filling the mirror's smooth surface.

"My neck has a crick in it," Harry said, twisting his neck a bit.

"Your neck?"

"I'm sleeping on the sofa in the common room-"

"Here, let me try something," Sirius voice interrupted and the mirror tilted crazily so that Harry felt like he was upside down. Sirius said some Latin words that Harry didn't understand and suddenly both Remus and Sirius were in the frame; upright. "There," Sirius said with a nod. "Now, why are you sleeping on the sofa?"

"There were only five beds in the dorm."

"The house-elves must have been confused," Sirius said, shrugging. "Well, be sure to tell Professor McGonagall in the morning."

"I will."

"Did you eat?" Remus asked, his eyes narrowing as if he was going to be able to tell just by studying Harry's face.

"A little."

"There are loads of sweets in your trunk, if you get hungry," Sirius reminded him.

"Forgot about that," Harry murmured. He was hungry.

"Eat a big breakfast. And some fruit, especially," Remus said firmly. "You can't live on chocolate frogs and sweet rolls."

"I know," Harry said, smiling. "I'll eat a banana first thing at breakfast."

"Good," Remus said with an approving nod.

Harry gazed at his parents, still smiling. But then his smile faltered a little. "Do you think it means something; the twinges in my scar, I mean?"

"We'll speak to the headmaster first thing tomorrow morning and ask him if he knows anything about it," Sirius said quickly. "But you're not to fret over it. It's likely nothing."

"All right," Harry said uncertainly. "Even though I dreamed of Mum?"

"It was years ago that you last had that dream about your Mum," Sirius said, after glancing at Remus. "I don't know if you felt pain in your scar at the same time; you were little, but it's possible."

Harry let himself relax then. That made sense, since it had been Voldemort who had gave him the scar after he'd killed Mum. "Thanks," he said; his throat was feeling scratchy again.

"That's why I gave you the mirror," Sirius said, smiling. "Whenever you need anything. Even if you just want to say hello."

"Even if I want to say goodnight?" Harry asked, only sort of joking.

"Especially then."

Harry nodded and tried to convince himself that the lump in his throat was only because he was so tired.

"We love you very much, Harry," Sirius said softly. Harry gave them both a watery smile but he managed to say goodnight without crying. He folded the mirror to his chest after his parents disappeared from its frame. A loud squeak made him turn swiftly enough that he wrenched his already-sore neck.

"Blimey," he breathed as he found Hermione frozen in mid-step toward the girls' dorms. She turned; her fingers were clamped over her lips.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I didn't mean to eavesdrop. You were asleep when I came down here and then when you began talking, I couldn't leave without you seeing-"

"It's all right," Harry said hastily as he sat up, not knowing how long another speech might last. It wasn't really, and he knew his face was on fire. He hoped she hadn't heard all of that; him going on and on about his mum, and pain his scar.

"I'm really very sorry," Hermione said again.

Harry shrugged and hoped she couldn't tell that his cheeks were glowing. "Did you come down to use the Floo or something?" he asked to distract her from his embarrassment. Hermione glanced toward the fireplace.

"The Floo? Oh, you mean to contact my parents? No, my parents are Muggles so they're not connected to the Floo Network. I don't think many students use the Floo in the common room anyway. It wouldn't be especially private. Well, unless it's the middle of the night, I suppose."

Harry nodded, wondering if Hermione realized she gave a speech every time she spoke.

"You're lucky to have that mirror," she sighed. "I really miss my parents."

"You do?" Harry asked, unable to still his surprise. Hermione cocked her head.

"Of course. Don't you miss yours?"

"Well … yeah," Harry admitted. "But nobody else seemed to."

Hermione smiled a little as she sat on the chairs facing the sofa. "The first year girls all miss their parents. Parvati even misses her dog. I'm sure the other boys miss their parents as well," she added, "even if they won't admit it."

"Maybe."

"This a significant change, Harry. It would be odd if we didn't miss our families."

Harry smiled as he thought about that. "Do you have any pets at home to miss?" he asked, settling in a little against the sofa cushion.

"No. I've always wanted a cat though."

"Why didn't you bring one to Hogwarts? You're allowed one."

"My parents took me to the Magical Menagerie but they didn't have many cats. My dad promised to take me again over Christmas to look for one again."

"Must have been weird to get your Hogwarts letter, wasn't it?" Harry asked. "Since you didn't know you were magical."

"Professor McGonagall brought mine personally," Hermione explained. "My parents were a bit shocked at first, but I've been doing accidental magic for years so they were relieved to finally have an explanation and McGonagall was very nice. My parents liked her right away."

"I met her when I was five, right after I went to live with Sirius. We were going to Diagon Alley."

"Were you?" Hermione leaned forward as she folded up one leg under the thigh. "That must have been so interesting to go there when you were so little. I couldn't believe half the things I saw there. I can only imagine how in awe you must have been."

"I met Ollivander for the first time then too," Harry said with a grin. "The wand maker. He's knows everything about wands and magical creatures."

"My mum was a bit nervous of him," Hermione said, smiling at the memory. "He's a bit intense about his work, isn't he?"

"Yeah," Harry said, chuckling a little. "He's the best though. I wrote an essay about his work last summer. Interviewed him and everything."

"Really? Oh, I'd love to read it," Hermione said, looking as though the ideas was the best she'd heard in ages. "Do you have it?"

"At home."

"Oh," Hermione sighed as she leaned back in her chair.

"I do have some books that Ollivander gave me; about wand making."

Hermione was leaning forward again, her hands clasped together eagerly. "Have you?"

"Remus said we were going to study the basics this year in History of Magic so I asked Ollivander for extra books. Would you like to borrow them?"

Hermione's head bobbed so vigorously that Harry was afraid it might snap right off.

"I have two," Harry told her. "You can read one while I read the other and then we'll switch."

Hermione beamed and Harry felt altogether better about everything.

--

Draco's curtains were still drawn when Harry came into the upper level dorm a few hours later, rubbing the grit of exhaustion from his eyes. The rest of the boys, except Neville, were fast asleep in their beds.

"Did you sleep all right, Harry?"

Harry turned, finding Neville coming out of the bathroom, his damp hair wild and his shirt sticking to him in wet splotches.

"Yeah," Harry assured him, though he hadn't slept much after Hermione finally went upstairs. And that couch had been bloody uncomfortable.

"Do you think one of us will have to be resorted?" Neville asked worriedly. "There doesn't seem to be enough room for another bed."

"If they're looking for volunteers," Seamus said through a wide yawn as he rolled over, "Draco can take the empty bed in Slytherin; they must have one."

"I don't think they resort students," Harry said, frowning at Seamus. "And Draco's every bit a Gryffindor as the rest-"

Draco's head popped through a break in the heavy curtains. "If my father has anything to say about it, I'll be where I belong before this evening is out."

"Your father?" Ron echoed, rubbing at his eyes as he pushed himself up on his elbows. "Did you Floo him or something?"

Draco didn't answer as he slid off the bed and gave the other boy a disdainful sniff, but Harry could see that Berenices' cage was empty. Draco must have ordered her to make record time to Malfoy Manor.

Ron narrowed his eyes at the back of Draco's head as the blond went into the lav without another glance. The door thudded loudly behind him.

"Oh, he's not a git at all," Ron said, rolling his eyes toward Harry as he swung his legs over the mattress.

"I think he's just shocked is all," Neville said. "My gran says the Malfoys have always been in Slytherin; his mum's family as well … except for Sirius."

"Sirius?" That was Dean, who had been observing the entire exchange; he looked confused.

"Harry's dad," Ron said as he rummaged through his trunk for clothes.

Dean didn't look any less confused as he turned to Harry.

"Sirius is Draco's cousin," Harry explained.

"You call your dad by his first name?"

"Sirius isn't his real dad," Seamus piped up; he was doffing his pajama top and wadding it up into a ball; Harry frowned. Sirius was as real as any dad. "Me mam read all about it."

"All about what?" Dean asked, even more mystified as he looked between the other four boys.

"Harry's parents were killed a long time ago," Seamus explained and Harry wished he would stop talking. "By a dark wizard, and so Harry was an orphan. Sirius is his godfather."

"So your godfather adopted you, then?"

"Yeah."

"Oh." Dean nodded a little. "My dad isn't my biological father either. He left when I was little and my mum got married again. Why did the wizard kill your parents?"

"Harry killed the wizard," Seamus volunteered before Harry could answer. "He's famous in wizarding Britain."

"You are?"

Harry shrugged as his face grew hot.

"It's almost breakfast," Neville said quickly and Harry shot him a grateful smile. "We'd better hurry."

Draco emerged from the lav then, dressed in a crisp white shirt and black trousers.

"I think you have to wear the rest of your uniform," Seamus said, eyeing the robes and tie over Draco's arms.

"They're maroon and gold," Draco said as he tossed them onto his rumpled bed.

"Of course they are," Ron said, shaking his head. "Those are Gryffindors' colors."

"And since I won't be Gryffindor much longer," Draco said, "there isn't any reason for me to wear them."

"There isn't anything wrong with being a Gryffindor, you know," Ron said, taking the stance which told Harry that his friend was ready to fight.

"There is if you're a Malfoy," Draco said simply and though both Ron and Seamus looked offended at that, Draco hadn't even included a sneer in the words. "You're not Malfoys, so you wouldn't understand."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Ron demanded.

"It means exactly as I said. My family expects certain things from me and whether you like it or not, that does not include being in Gryffindor."

"There isn't," Ron began again but Draco cut him off.

"How would you feel if you were in Slytherin?" Draco smiled a little, lifting his chin as Ron abruptly shut up. "There isn't anything wrong with being Slytherin either."

"You-Know-Who was a Slytherin," Seamus interjected. "And me mam says all his followers were Slytherin too. That's who killed Harry's parents," he added for Dean's benefit.

"Can we stop talking about my parents?" Harry grumbled, and Seamus shrugged.

"It's true, isn't it? And no one except a pureblood maniac wants to be a Slytherin."

"There isn't anything wrong with being a pureblood," Draco said, beginning to scowl. He gestured sharply to Neville and Ron. "They're purebloods, and so are Sirius and Harry's real father-"

"Sirius isn't some sort of fake father!" Harry finally exploded. The other boys stared at him.

"He isn't your biological father," Draco said, huffing a little.

"So what?" Harry demanded, feeling his face growing hot all over again. "He's still my father. I have three fathers, no matter who adopted me or performed a ritual or married my mum!"

"Three fathers?" Dean echoed and Harry groaned.

"Can we just drop this? All of this. It doesn't matter how many fathers I have and it doesn't matter who's in Slytherin or Gryffindor."

"Well, of course you'd say that," Draco said, making a face. "You're in Gryffindor just like you wanted."

"The Hat put you in Gryffindor," Harry retorted, trying not to be angry, but failing miserably. "So, that must be where you're meant to be. McGonagall said it's the Hat's job to put students where they belong."

"I belong in Slytherin," Draco said stubbornly.

"So then go tell the Hat," Ron said sharply.

"Exactly my plan," Draco said, lifting his chin a little.

"But I don't think the Sorting Hat listens to students," Neville said, his voice timid as his eyes darted over to Draco.

"My father is a very powerful man," Draco said. "He and the Minister of Magic are good friends."

"You really think the Minister is going to care what house you're in?" Dean asked doubtfully.

"If Draco's dad has enough money, he'll care," Ron muttered.

"At least my father has money."

Ron stiffened and Harry intervened before he could. "Draco, I don't think-"

"Oh, of course," Draco said, whirling on Harry. "Defend Ron, but don't say a word when he insults my father."

"Draco, come on," Harry said quietly, "this is a stupid argument. Let's just get dressed and go down to breakfast."

Draco's lips were mashed together and after a silent moment, he shook his head. "I'm dressed already."

"Draco," Harry tried to halt his friend's exit but Draco paid no attention to the summons, disappearing down the stairs.

"Finally-"

Harry turned on his best mate, scowling. "You didn't have to say that."

Ron's ginger eyebrows scrunched together. "It's true though, Harry. My dad says Draco's dad keeps the Minister's pockets lined with gold."

"Doesn't mean you had to say it. I already told you that Draco's not his father-"

"Wants to be, looks like," Seamus said as he and Dean made their way into the lav. Dean nodded.

"How does Harry have three fathers, then? Did his second one die too?"

"Nah, Sirius married Remus Lupin—he writes books. Me mam's gaga over them..."

Harry blew out a breath and turned away from Ron to dig through his trunk for his clothes. Neville and Ron followed suit, neither of them speaking either.

--

"It doesn't say anywhere in the regulations that a student has to wear coloured ties or robes with patches," Malfoy was insisting to a pinch-lipped McGonagall when the rest of the first year boys arrived in the Great Hall.

"It is assumed, Mr Malfoy."

"Assumed, but not specified," Draco said with a little nod. McGonagall opened her mouth and then closed it again.

"Very well, Mr Malfoy. But you will receive the same timetable as the other Gryffindor first years. Even in black tie and plain robes, you are still a Gryffindor."

"Professor Sinistra will have to give me a new time table tomorrow," Draco said swiftly, "when I'm resorted-"

"I have told you once," McGonagall said firmly, "you will not be resorted. And despite your own wishes, Professor Sinistra will not be your Head of House."

"My father," Draco started to say, but McGonagall simply plunked down a piece of parchment from a pile she was holding and pivoted away.

"Ah, just in time to receive your timetables," she said to Harry and the others. "You have Charms first this morning. Eat quickly, so you won't be late." She handed out timetables to each of them and continued on her way down the table.

Draco stood where he was, staring at McGonagall's ramrod back. He swallowed and then turned on his heel and left the hall. Harry set his pack and his timetable down next to the spot where Ron had already dropped onto the bench and followed Draco into the corridor.

Draco's timetable was clenched in his fist as he stalked toward the enchanted staircase.

"Where are you going?" Harry asked as he caught up with his friend.

Draco didn't answer and before Harry could ask again, the gargantuan entrance door opened with a loud bang. Both Harry and Draco jumped and then Draco drew himself up, his shoulders straightening as his entire posture stiffened.

"Father," he said politely. Lucius Malfoy narrowed his eyes and was silent for a long moment.

"It seems your mother was right to be concerned about a friendship with Harry," he finally said icily as his gaze swept over Harry. "I have not yet told her of your disloyalty."

Disloyalty?

Lucius' cold lips sneered at Harry's confusion. "The Sorting Hat does not place students where they have no desire to be."

"I don't want to be in Gryffindor-"

"Silence, Draco."

Draco bowed his head.

"Come," Lucius commanded. "We have an appointment with the headmaster."

Lucius turned away and Draco followed, his eyes still on the stones beneath his feet. Harry watched them traverse the enchanted staircase until they were out of sight.

"Do you think he's right?"

Harry turned to find Ron and Neville behind him, Ron holding out Harry's pack.

"That Draco wanted to be in Gryffindor, I mean?" Ron clarified.

"I don't suppose Mr Malfoy would lie about it," Harry said. "He seemed pretty angry with Draco."

"If the three of you continue to dawdle," Hermione's impatient voice admonished them as she strode by, "you're going to end up losing points for Gryffindor."

"Is she ever annoying," Ron muttered as they fell in step behind her.

"She has a point," Harry said, shrugging. Ron muttered something else, but this time even Harry couldn't decipher it.

--

McGonagall stopped behind Harry just after he slid onto the bench beside Ron for dinner, startling him as she rapped his shoulder with three fingers. "Potter, you and I have been requested in the headmaster's office."

"Me?"

"Yes, Potter, you," McGonagall said as she waved an impatient hand toward the exit. "Now, if you don't mind, Potter. I have a full schedule this evening. And Professor Dumbledore is waiting."

"Yes, ma'am," Harry mumbled; the rest of his housemates were staring at him, Ron with a sympathetic grimace, Hermione with curiosity and Neville with fear. Draco, even though Harry had searched for him between classes, had been missing all day.

"Quick-smart now, Potter," McGonagall admonished when they were hurrying up the moving staircase, though Harry was going as fast as he could. When they finally reached the gargoyle guarding Dumbledore's office the professor said, "Enchanted Fizzies." A whirling set of stairs was revealed and McGonagall ushered Harry up ahead of her. She knocked sharply on the wooden door at the top and it swung open.

Harry grinned. Sirius and Remus were standing in front of Dumbledore's desk, Sirius holding out his arms already and Harry dove into them. Sirius chuckled as he hugged him tightly.

"We missed you too."

"How are you?" Remus asked.

"We had Charms this morning," Harry told him, still grinning as Sirius released him. "And Professor Flitwick is brilliant, just like you said. Hermione and I—that's one of the girls in Gryffindor—were the only one who could manage to transfigure our matches at all. Hermione's was better than mine, though; more pointy. We were trying to make needles."

"Well done," Sirius congratulated him, slinging an arm across his shoulders.

"Thanks." Harry glanced around, finding Dumbledore behind his desk with a warm smile and McGonagall still standing by the door. "What are you doing here?"

"We came to speak with the headmaster about those pains you felt in your scar," Sirius said.

"Have you felt them again since last night, Harry?" Dumbledore asked as he motioned toward the empty chairs in front of his desk. Harry sat beside Sirius, glancing at his godfather, who smiled encouragingly.

"At lunch, sir," Harry answered with a quick nod. "And, erm … on my way back from class this afternoon."

"Was Professor Quirrel nearby at either of those times?"

"Yes, sir, both times."

Dumbledore folded his hands on the desk. "Can you tell me exactly what happened each time, Harry?" he asked quietly. "Sparing no detail."

So Harry explained that he'd met Quirrel's gaze at lunch and he and the other Gryffindor first years had seen him on their way back to their dorms later that afternoon; Quirrel had been coming out of an unmarked door and as soon as he turned around, Harry's scar had begun to burn.

"And this happened during the feast as well?" Dumbledore queried, leaning forward slightly. "Only when you and the professor looked at one another?"

"Yes sir."

"Tell me," the headmaster said softly, "have you ever felt such a pain near your scar? Even a twinge?"

"No sir."

"And you are certain that is where you felt it yesterday evening and again today?"

Harry's fingers went to the spot where it had burned. "Yes sir." Realizing he was running his fingers over the lightning bolt, Harry dropped his hand. Dumbledore smiled gently at him.

"Thank you, Harry."

"Erm, you're welcome, sir," Harry said, flushing little. He wasn't sure what the headmaster was grateful for. But Dumbledore simply continued to smile as he stood up. "I will attend to the matter, immediately," he said, addressing Sirius and Remus. "We will speak again in the morning. And Harry," he added, "I should like to know if you feel pain in your scar again."

"Yes sir."

Dumbledore nodded and then gestured for McGonagall. "I will leave you to Professor McGonagall," he said. "Good Evening."

Sirius and Remus watched Dumbledore leave, both of them with furrowed brows before McGonagall came to stand in front of the desk, capturing their attention.

"Harry had his first flying lesson this morning," she began and she actually smiled, which Harry hadn't been certain she was capable of. "He is quite gifted," she went on. "His housemate, Neville, lost control of his broom during the lesson and it went berserk. He dropped his Remembrall while he was whizzing about and Harry captured it, while hanging upside down, I might add."

"Upside Down," Remus said, his eyebrows disappearing under his fringe.

"It was going awfully fast and I had to chase it a bit," Harry explained quickly, hoping Remus wouldn't lecture him about safety, though of course that's why McGonagall had probably told them. "I didn't mean to break any rules," he added, hoping that might help. Technically, Madame Hooch hadn't given him instructions to tail the lost Remembrall.

"Oh, Harry didn't break any rules," McGonagall said, making Harry scrunch his eyebrows in confusion. Why was she telling them, then? "The children were all in the air, under instruction. Harry simply dove for the Remembrall when Neville dropped it; quite by instinct, I imagine. He reminded me of his father."

Both Remus and Sirius smiled.

"James was brilliant on a broom," Sirius agreed, squeezing his godson's shoulder and Harry relaxed a little.

"Gryffindor's Seeker graduated last year," McGonagall continued, "and I would like to recruit Harry for the position. Judging by what I saw this afternoon, his talent is unrivaled by any other student I have ever seen."

"He's had that particular talent since he was little," Sirius said, obvious pride shining in his eyes and Harry felt his chest expanding with warmth.

McGonagall smiled again. "First years don't usually play on the House teams, of course, though it is not expressly forbidden. The headmaster has given his permission."

Harry watched as Sirius and Remus held a silent conversation with their eyes. Finally Remus nodded. "It's up to Harry, of course, whether or not he'd like to play."

"Your choice, mate."

Harry, his stomach dancing with excitement, nodded. The twins had been telling Harry for years that he had to try out for Seeker the moment he stepped into Hogwarts.

"Excellent," McGonagall said, clapping her hands together. "He can use one of the school brooms, of course-"

"We'll buy him a new one," Sirius interrupted. "The Nimbus 2000 models are out."

McGonagall nodded, looking very satisfied.

"But I already have a broom."

Remus smiled. "I think a new one is certainly in order."

"What do you say, Harry?" Sirius said with grin. "Would you like to take a trip to Diagon Alley this weekend to buy it? And you'll need proper Quidditch gear."

Harry nodded eagerly, but then he glanced at his Head of House. "Am I allowed to do that?" McGonagall patted his shoulder.

"I don't see why not, Mr Potter. You are hardly a prisoner here. You enjoy your parents now," she said, "and I'll go tell Wood the good news—Gryffindor's team captain. He will be delighted. Gryffindor hasn't won the cup in several years." Still smiling, McGonagall left the office.

"I don't think I've ever seen her so cheerful," Sirius remarked as the door closed behind her.

"Quidditch always made Minerva cheerful," Remus said with a smile. "Especially if Gryffindor won." He and Sirius shared a look of amusement but then they became serious again as they turned back to Harry.

"How was the rest of your night?" Sirius asked.

"I didn't have another nightmare. Hermione—the girl who almost transfigured her match—was homesick too so I talked to her. Her parents are Muggles and she can't contact them except with a school owl."

"If she'd like to arrange a time with her parents," Sirius said thoughtfully as he nodded, "perhaps I could visit with them and you could use your mirror to contact me. So she could talk to them for a little while, at least."

"Yeah?"

"Absolutely."

Harry grinned. "Thanks, Sirius! She'll be really pleased. Did Dumbledore know what made my scar hurt?" Harry asked, remembering that Hermione had been very interested in that after they'd finished talking about wand making.

"He agreed that it might simply go along with your dream, as we discussed," Remus said. "But he also suggested that your scar might be interacting with Dark Magic. Professor Quirrel spent a great deal of time this summer around Dark Magic; as part of his studies."

"That just means that because your scar was created by Dark Magic, other forms might affect it," Sirius explained. "Professor Dumbledore is going to assist Professor Quirrel in cleansing the magic if he does indeed find some."

"Oh. So then, it won't happen again, right?"

"Not unless it accompanies your dreams," Sirius said, shaking his head. "But either way, if you feel it again, I want you to tell us, all right?"

Harry nodded, glad it wasn't anything to worry over.

--

Albus took his gaze from the dead body at his feet as the classroom Floo flared. "Severus," he said solemnly as the younger man stepped through the flames. "Thank you for coming."

"Your wish, Headmaster," Severus said, his head dipping with respect.

"Did you bring the potion?"

Severus reached inside his robes and withdrew a vial of puce liquid. "How long has he been dead?" he inquired clinically as he bent on one knee beside the stiff man.

"He died just before I sent my Patronus along—ten minutes," Albus said wearily.

Severus glanced up, his eyes narrowing a little. He flicked his wrist and a chair drew itself behind the headmaster. Albus sat in it, murmuring his gratitude. Severus went back to his study of Quirnius.

"There should be no problems," Severus said. At Albus' nod, Severus spelled the contents of the potion directly into Quirnius' veins. "Even to an expert, he will appear to have had a heart attack. Unusual at his age, but not unheard of."

"Thank you," Albus murmured again. Severus nodded as he stood and Albus sighed. "I'm afraid I have very bad news, Severus."

"The Dark Lord is not entirely dispatched," Severus said and Albus smiled despite the circumstances.

"You can feel his magic," he guessed.

"I spent too much time in his presence not to recognize it," Severus said with a small nod. "The Dark Lord remains, as you have always asserted? And Quirrel was possessed? You should not have expelled his spirit alone," Severus added at Albus' confirmation. "You might have been killed along with him."

"Who should I have summoned, Severus?" Albus asked, his eyebrows high. "I could not allow whatever remains of Voldemort to recognize you. You are entirely too valuable to me."

Severus frowned as his eyes flicked to Voldemort's latest victim. "Then, you believe he will return again?"

Albus sighed deeply as his gaze followed Severus. "I have long suspected it," he said quietly, "and now I am certain of it. He will not rest until he kills Harry." He forced his eyes away from the body. "I must ask something else of you, Severus."

Severus met his eyes.

"Draco has been sorted into Gryffindor and as you might guess, Lucius is not pleased. He has threatened to remove Draco from Hogwarts."

"This was your doing, Headmaster?"

"I believe Draco will be an asset to Harry." Which was not an answer at all.

"Draco will not be able to assist Harry in fulfilling the destiny you insist he must if he is attending Durmstrang; that will no doubt be Lucius' first choice."

"I admit I am uncertain how to proceed."

"Perhaps you should not have interfered with the Hat's wisdom," Severus said dryly.

Albus allowed himself a small smile, but said nothing.

"What is it you wish of me?" Severus asked into the ensuing silence.

"Convince Lucius that there are some things more important than Slytherin House."

"And while I am convincing him," Severus said with a nod of agreement, "you may wish to discuss with both Minerva and Aurora a solution to foster Draco's associations with the other Slytherins. Draco will be of little use to you if he is shunned by those who will most certainly serve the Dark Lord."

Albus clasped his hands in his lap, studying the sharp planes of Severus' features. "You make a good point," he agreed.

Severus inclined his head. "I will contact you after I speak with Lucius."

"Thank you, Severus," Albus said again and with another nod, Severus went back through the green flames. Albus slumped in his chair, his heart heavy as he stared at Quirnius' empty eyes. He regretted the half-truths which he had told Sirius and Remus, but there was little point in frightening them. They did not need to know. Not yet.

Chapter Text

"Surely, you have realized the benefits of such a close association with Harry Potter," Severus said as he sipped his dark wine. "He will always be known as the Boy-Who-Lived. And we both know how powerful the Dark Lord was, Lucius. If the boy was capable of defeating him at barely a year old, just think of the power Harry must possess."

Lucius drew a slow breath, his eyes lighting with the idea of such magical prowess. "It is exactly as I told Narcissa," he said with a nod. "Although she was not enthusiastic once Sirius Black was given custody of Harry."

"Sirius Black is owed a great deal by the Ministry, as you well know," Severus said, as if the fact had just occurred to him. "He has not taken any of their offers of compensation for wrongful imprisonment, but he may yet." Severus watched Lucius frown as he considered that.

"There has been talk of offering him a position on the Hogwarts' board," Lucius said and Severus' eyes widened in feigned surprise. Lucius grimaced as he concentrated on his own wine. "And as you know, Dumbledore is quite fond of him."

"He may well wield more power than you, in that case."

Lucius looked up sharply.

"Fudge will surely take to Black," Severus continued. "He enjoys keeping company with those who have money and power. Were he to take the position, Black would have both in ample supply."

Lucius refilled his wine glass, his eyes shadowed in thought. "It would not serve any of us to have Sirius in too close an association with Cornelius."

"No," Severus agreed, though he himself had no such associations with the Minister. But as he had Lucius hanging onto every word, he leaned forward a little. "By all accounts, the Potter boy is a loyal as he is intelligent. As things remain now, Harry's greatest future ally will undoubtedly be a Weasley."

Severus held in a smile as Lucius' pale fingers tightened around the stem of his glass. With an inelegant thump, it was relegated to the table beside Lucius' chair.

"Dobby!" he called, the single word laced with several layers of impatience and the nervous elf popped into existence at his master's feet.

"Master Malfoy is calling Dobby?"

"Bring Draco," Lucius command, his fingers clicking to emphasize the order. Dobby popped out again even as he nodded. Less than a moment later, Draco's head appeared around the corner of the study; he smiled a little as he caught sight of Severus. He straightened up as he came forward.

"Dobby said you wanted to see me, Father."

Lucius turned a little so that he was gazing over his progeny. "Have you forgotten your manners, Draco? A proper greeting for Severus, if you will."

"Good afternoon, Severus," Draco said obediently, coloring a little under his father's rebuke.

"Good afternoon, Draco."

"That is better," Lucius approved with a small smile; he bid Draco closer. Draco came to stand alongside his father's chair. "I was just telling Severus-" A thin-lipped smile in Severus' direction. "-how clever you were to think to choose Gryffindor."

Draco looked between them. "Sorry?"

Lucius chuckled as he patted his son's shoulder. "Do not be modest, Draco. Severus knows that you understand how important our family's status is. And Harry Potter is a very important wizard, is he not?"

Draco nodded, the movement uncertain.

"You will be an excellent friend for Harry, Draco. And I am certain you will continue to make your mother and me very proud."

Draco's fair cheeks flushed again, this time with pleasure. "Yes, Father."

Lucius patted his son's small shoulder again and Draco fairly beamed. "Dobby will help you pack your trunk," Lucius said. "We will leave for Hogwarts within the hour."

--

"A whole foot," Ron moaned as he slumped back in the cozy chair by the fire. "It's only the second day of classes. McGonagall's mad!"

"We have two days to finish it before we have class again," Hermione said from the low table where her books and parchments were neatly organized—almost halfway across the room.

"We've written more for your mum loads of times," Harry interjected quickly before Ron's scowl could find a voice.

Ron turned his disgruntled glare from Hermione and back to his Transfiguration text. "Well," he huffed, "I suppose so. But it is only the second day of lessons."

"We didn't get any homework for Defense Against the Dark Arts, so it evens out," Harry said. He gave his friend an encouraging smile and Ron sighed in acceptance.

"We'll be sure to have homework next class," Hermione murmured, her bushy head bent busily over her half-filled scroll. "Once Dumbledore finds a replacement for Quirrel."

"Dumbledore should go on teaching it," Harry said as he dipped his quill into ink. "He was brilliant."

"Funny too," Ron said, grinning. "Did you see the way he made Nott's hair stand all on end like that?"

"Lessons aren't supposed to be entertaining," Hermione said quietly.

"He was showing us a spell," Harry said with a shrug. "Mrs. Weasley always made our lessons fun when we were kids."

Hermione cocked her head as she gazed at Harry and apparently having no answer, she bent back to her work. Ron smirked at her bowed head before going back to his reading. Harry sighed, wishing Ron would at least give Hermione a chance. He caught Neville's eye across the table and Neville shrugged.

Harry glanced around the room as Neville hunched over his text. Most of the students had class now and the common room was mostly empty except for the first year girls who were talking on the other side of the room. Well, all except Hermione. Harry watched her glance over at them, lips pinched as their laughter echoed through the stone room. She looked down when she found Harry looking at her.

Harry chewed the inside of his cheek for a moment and then stood up and walked the few paces toward her. He dropped into the chair opposite. She looked up, her quill poised over her parchment.

"Want to join us?" Harry asked before he lost his nerve; he saw Ron's head jerk up but Harry ignored it. Hermione looked confused and her quill descended slowly back to her essay.

"Do you need help?" She nodded in understanding though she paused again when Harry shook his head.

"We have an empty edge," he said with a shrug, gesturing to the unoccupied side of the low table. Hermione's taut eyebrows slowly relaxed and with a small smile, she nodded. Harry picked up her bag as she gathered her books and parchments. Neville smiled at her as she sat down across from him.

She and Harry were just settling back into their work, when Seamus and Dean appeared at the bottom of the stairs leading to the boys' dorms.

"Oy," Dean said with a frown, "another bed just appeared out of nowhere."

"Can't move a centimeter in there now," Seamus groused as he flopped into the closest chair.

Before anyone could find anything to say, the portrait swung open and a familiar blond head ducked inside.

"Draco!" Harry said excitedly, surging to his feet. The rest of Draco's body came through the hole. He straightened up, his grey eyes uncertain as they darted around the room.

"Hi Draco," Neville said quietly. Parvati and Lavender echoed his greeting and after a moment, Dean did as well.

"Are you back then?" Seamus demanded. "There's a sixth bed upstairs and you can't even walk into the loo without breaking a toe!"

Draco didn't say anything for a moment but finally he murmured, "The elves should be able to enlarge the space."

"Elves? How can we contact them?" Dean asked, looking around the room.

"There are house-elves at Hogwarts?" Hermione asked, her eyes wide.

"Of course there are," Ron said, rolling his eyes. "Who else do you suppose makes all that food?"

"There wasn't anything in Hogwarts: A History about house-elves," Hermione protested, suddenly looking very upset. "I thought only very rich wizarding households kept them as slaves."

"House-elves aren't slaves," Draco said, frowning a little. "They're servants."

Hermione sat up; her eyes were flashing. "Do you pay them?"

"Of course not. House-elves don't accept money."

"Then that's slavery!"

"Hermione, I think house-elves like their work," Neville interjected, smiling apologetically at her. "Ours does; Gran has tried to give him clothes dozens of times but he won't take them."

"Give him clothes?" Dean echoed.

Hermione opened her mouth to make her retort to Neville, but Harry said quickly, "Maybe we can rearrange the furniture a bit. Or maybe Professor McGonagall knows a spell."

"Do you think she knows you're back, yet?" Seamus asked Draco curiously.

"Yes, she's-"

The portrait hole opened once more. McGonagall ducked through and immediately found Draco. "Ah," she said pleasantly. "Good to see you again, Mr Malfoy. Now, I've been told we're short a bed."

"Not anymore," Seamus called from his chair. "Now we haven't enough room."

McGonagall frowned. "Well, we'll have that taken care of in a moment. Come along, Malfoy." And with that, she swept up the stairs. Draco hoisted his pack over his shoulder and with another uncertain glance at the clustered first years, he trailed along behind her.

"Be right back," Harry said to his remaining friends and hurried up the stairs after Draco.

When he stepped into the dorm, there were four house-elves in the room, doing something—McGonagall was nodding in satisfaction. As Harry and Draco watched, the room seemed to grow, the walls expanding as the elves applied some variation of a Displacement Charm.

"Why didn't they do this after the sorting?" Harry asked. McGonagall smiled slightly.

"It seems Draco hadn't made up his mind yet."

Harry wasn't certain what she meant, but it didn't seem to matter since there were six beds now and Draco didn't seem to mind terribly much that he was here.

"There we are," McGonagall murmured as the elves finished. "Thank you."

The elves nodded and popped out of existence.

"Malfoy," McGonagall said, turning her attention once more to the blond boy, "it seems you have two days worth of homework to attend to. I'm sure your housemates will be happy to assist."

"We'll all help," Harry assured her.

"Very good, Potter," she said with a nod. "Oh," she added as she turned to leave, "and welcome back to Gryffindor, Malfoy."

"Thank you, ma'am."

The boys watched their Head of House leave. "Everything's all right with your parents, then?" Harry asked, turning to his friend once they were alone.

Draco frowned as he opened his trunk and began sorting through his textbooks. "Mother is still upset, I think."

"Your father isn't?" Harry asked; he nodded when Draco held up his Transfiguration text questioningly.

"He was," Draco said slowly. He paused to put his D.A.D.A. text back into its place when Harry shook his head. "He told Dumbledore he would remove me from Hogwarts altogether."

"What made him change his mind?"

"Not sure," Draco said as he slipped his books and parchments into his backpack, along with several self-inking quills. "A friend of his paid a visit this morning and Father told me he was proud of me."

Harry tried not to look too surprised. Draco's fingers smoothed one of his quills. Harry got the feeling that there was more to Mr Malfoy's sudden ease, but he didn't want to force Draco to tell him things he didn't want to tell. So he smiled.

"I'm glad you're back," he said. Draco looked up, his face relaxing until he was smiling as well. "Come on," Harry said. "We better go downstairs and get to work on our homework. You have loads to catch up on."

"Father said Quirrel had a heart attack," Draco said as they jogged back down to the common room together. "Who's the new D.A.D.A professor then?" he asked when Harry nodded.

"There isn't one yet. Dumbledore taught our class this morning," Harry said and told him all about Nott's hair standing on end. And just like Ron had, Draco chortled at the image.

--

"Why did you have to invite Hermione?" Ron groused as Harry stooped to tie his trainers Saturday after breakfast. Harry shrugged.

"Why not? Hermione's nice enough."

"She's a bloody terror."

"Maybe Harry's sweet on her," Seamus said with a snicker from where he was sprawled on his bed.

"Don't be a prat." Harry swiped a jumper from his bed and pulled it over his head; Sirius had reminded him twice yesterday that he'd need one. The mirror conversations had been a regular occurrence since his parents' visit earlier in the week and once the other boys had found out about them, they'd all been envious—except Ron, who said his mum's nagging letters were quite enough.

"I asked Ron to come and I'm not sweet on him," Harry added with a smirk. Ron feigned a look of offense and Harry threw a pillow at him.

"Good aim," Dean approved as it hit a sputtering Ron square in the face.

"Harry can go on an outing with someone without it being romantic," Draco said, not looking up from penning a thank you note to his mother; she'd sent a parcel of sweets and chocolates that morning. "Perhaps he simply prefers the maturity Hermione offers."

Seamus and Dean stuck out their tongues. Draco glanced up at them and smirked. "Precisely." He dipped his quill neatly in his ink bottle and went back to his letter.

"Don't you ever have any fun, Draco?" Dean asked sarcastically.

"Fun and immaturity are not one in the same."

"Well then, why didn't Harry ask you to come along, if you're so mature?" Seamus demanded, sitting up and plucking a chocolate frog from the box Draco's mother sent.

"I have an appointment with Professor Sinistra in an hour," Draco murmured.

"What for?" Seamus asked around his mouthful; bits of frog spewed over his coverlet. Draco wrinkled his nose and didn't answer. "You have detention, already?"

"Of course not," Draco said, not even looking up. "My mother and the professor were both in Slytherin at Hogwarts."

"So?"

Draco's head came up slowly; his grey eyes were narrowed. "So," he said slowly, as if speaking to a rampaging mountain troll, "Professor Sinistra and my mother are friends and she wishes to speak with me. I've known her since I was a child."

Seamus' lips twitched. "Are you having tea together or something?"

Draco shook his head. "Add uncivilized to the list."

Seamus shrugged and chomped down on another frog. "So all the purebloods around here have tea with professors then?"

"I don't," Ron said as he peered into the overflowing box of sweets.

"If your parents had long associations with a professor, you might," Draco said.

"With whom?" Ron snorted. "McGonagall? Most of the professors are ancient."

"Sirius and Remus have had Dumbledore over for tea loads of times," Harry said as he slipped his wand into his sleeve.

Seamus paused in mid-chew. "You have to have tea with the headmaster?"

"He already did," Ron said as he swiped up a rat-shaped mint and stuffed it into his mouth. "Yeshtadawy."

"Yesterday," Harry clarified.

"What do you even talk about with the headmaster?" Dean asked.

Harry shrugged. They'd mostly talked about Quirrel and his tragic heart attack. And Harry had assured Dumbledore that he hadn't felt any pain in his scar since. Neither had he had another nightmare.

"It's nearly nine-thirty," Draco informed them; he was just signing his name to his letter.

"I'm surprised Hermione hasn't stormed up here to fetch us," Ron said as he wiped a sleeve across his mouth. "Are you certain she has to come?"

"She's coming, Ron," Harry said, grabbing his friend's elbow. He waved to the other boys as Ron made a face. But he followed Harry anyway.

"She doesn't even like Quidditch," he pointed out as they thundered down the steps. "She'll be bored while we pick out your broom."

"I'm going to introduce her to Ollivander."

Ron rolled his eyes, but didn't say anything more even though he had never understood Harry's fascination with wand making and the old master. They found a pacing Hermione in the common room a moment later.

"We're going to be late," she said as soon as she spotted them. "Sirius said nine-thirty, didn't he?"

"Yeah," Harry said, elbowing Ron to keep him quiet.

"We're going to be late!" Hermione pivoted around, her mane of hair swishing about as she hurried to the portrait hole. "Hurry," she scolded them as they started down the stairs at a normal pace.

"They're not going to leave without us," Harry said, as unworried as she was frantic. "They're coming here just to pick us up."

"Well, it's awfully rude to be late, Harry."

"They're my parents, Hermione. They're not going to give us detention or anything."

That slowed her down, but only just. And as soon as she made it to the bottom of the stairs, where Remus and Sirius were waiting, their backs turned and their heads close together, she blurted, "We're late!"

Sirius and Remus turned, their brows creased as they gazed down at Hermione. Hermione stuck her hand out between them. "Hermione Granger; how do you do?" Before they could answer, she added, "I was ready fifteen minutes ago but I had to wait for Ron and Harry."

Sirius' lips twitched as he took Hermione's small hand in his own. "Good morning, Hermione," he said solemnly. "Sirius Black; and that's quite all right. We've been reminiscing."

"Oh." Hermione deflated a little and Harry figured she didn't know what to say now that he and Ron hadn't been scolded for their tardiness.

"It's good to meet you, Hermione," Remus added after introducing himself as well.

"Punctuality isn't really Harry's strong suit," Sirius told Hermione with a wink. "Ron either, unless you're serving food."

Hermione smiled.

"I'm never late for dinner," Ron agreed as he hopped off the third step and landed with a loud thump in front of her. She pursed her lips but otherwise didn't acknowledge that he'd spoken.

Harry followed Ron's exuberant landing, grinning at his parents as they turned to him. "Hi!"

Sirius chuckled. "Hi," he greeted, reaching out to rumple Harry's hair.

"It certainly sounds like you've had a good week," Remus said with a smile.

"He's just happy we don't have to do any homework today," Ron explained, smirking.

"It will still be there tomorrow," Hermione said critically. "Unless, of course, you thought to finish it last night."

"Of course not," Ron said with an emphatic shake of his head. "We played chess last night."

"Well, of course you did," Sirius said, smiling as they turned for the door. "Fridays nights are the perfect time for chess matches, and Sundays are much better suited to homework.

Harry bit back his laughter at Hermione's look of shock, which she quickly covered when Sirius nodded very seriously.

"Thanks for letting both of them come," Harry said when Hermione looked away, sliding in a little closer to his godfather as they walked.

Sirius smiled down at him and squeezed his shoulder before turning his head to watch Hermione scold Ron for aiming for a puddle instead of skirting it.

"They don't seem to like one another," Sirius said, though Harry could see the crinkling lines of amusement around his eyes.

Ron made a show of walking far around the next puddle and then sidled up next to Remus and pointedly ignored Hermione.

--

"I'm surprised you did not think of it yourself," Lucius drawled; he crossed his legs elegantly while Nott Sr. frowned. "The Potter boy is quite taken with my Draco."

"It is good that he did not think of it," Severus said, the rehearsed words sliding easily from his tongue. "Even Dumbledore, as aged as he is, would have been suspicious to find himself with two unexpected additions to his lauded House."

"He is not suspicious, even with a Malfoy in Gryffindor?" Nott demanded, his dark eyebrow high on his wrinkled forehead.

"Dumbledore has high hopes of saving him," Lucius said with a curled lip, and Nott settled back with a contemptuous smile. "Fancies Draco another Sirius Black."

"Fucking blood traitor," Crabbe spat and beside him, Goyle nodded.

"That's a head I'd like to see on the end of my wand," Yaxley murmured quietly, his fingers fondling his hawthorn lovingly. Dark chuckles echoed round the circle.

When Severus emerged from his shop hours later, he blinked as he adjusted to the relatively brighter light of Knockturn Alley. His guests had all left through the Floo, Lucius as puffed up as Severus had ever seen him and Severus was glad to be rid of them. Just when he began to despise the company of his former comrades, he could not be certain.

Severus side-stepped the witch with the never-dwindling supply of fingers and shook his head at a proffered flask of eyeballs—still blinking—and made his way up the narrow steps which led to the more respectable side of the wizarding street.

He paused as he reached the top, pulling himself against the side of a stone building, even though he was still hidden in the shadows stretching out from the dark alley. The very subject of Yaxley's morbid fantasies was just across the street, walking along the cobbled street with an arm round a young boy's shoulders.

Severus narrowed his eyes. A boy with black hair, as wild as his father's had been. Both of them were laughing. And … yes, the sandy head of hair bobbing along beside Black's belonged to Remus Lupin. There was a redhead with the trio—a Weasley, no doubt, and a girl with bushy hair and a nervous mouth.

Severus watched them as they crossed the street. He had only seen a handful of pictures of Potter's son in the years since he'd captured Pettigrew. And each photograph had seared him with guilt—with regrets he'd never managed to assuage, no matter how many acts he attempted to absolve himself with.

Severus' fingers curled around the edge of the stone, the wall supporting him as he saw Lily's son for the first time. When the child smiled, the expression stabbed Severus. It was Lily's smile. And it seemed to come as easily to her son as it had to Lily.

Harry Potter was obviously very happy.

Just as Albus had told Severus dozens of times when the guilt threatened to undo him time and time again. Lily's son was happy. And that had to be worth something to her.

Still grinning, Harry and his group went into Fortescue's.

Severus peeled himself off his wall and continued on his way.

Chapter Text

"Ron, stop it," Harry whispered.

"She started it-"

"Sprout's gonna take points," Harry interrupted fiercely. "She already told the two of you to quit quarreling."

"And you already lost five points in Aarons' class this morning," Draco added from the other side of the long, dirt-filled trough.

"Thanks for that," Nott said, smirking. "Aarons was too distracted to take points from Crabbe and Goyle for fouling up their potion."

"Oh, shut up," Ron grumbled.

"Crabbe lost those points anyway," Draco said as he dug his trowel into the dirt. "He ploughed into McGonagall in the corridor after lunch; nearly sent her sprawling."

Nott snorted. "Wish I'd seen that."

"It wasn't funny," Hermione said with a frown. "She could have been hurt."

"You have no sense of humor, Granger," Zabini said from further down the trough.

"You wouldn't have thought it was so funny if Crabbe had run into you."

"We would have," Ron said under his breath, setting off laughter from Dean and Seamus.

"That simply proves you're both immature," Hermione retorted.

"Have you all finished planting your Jinn Vines?" Sprout's voice interrupted whatever Ron would have said; she peered over Harry's shoulder. "Very good, Mr Potter. More dirt around your roots, Mr Goyle. Excellent, Longbottom; help Mr Crabbe if you would." Sprout moved on and Neville and Crabbe were left staring warily at one another.

"I'll help," Draco volunteered, and Neville quickly moved out of the way. Crabbe managed a clumsy imitation of Draco's instructions before the blond simply leaned in and completed the task for him.

"Clip your leaves now," Sprout called out, capturing everyone's attention. "Cut two centimeters from each leaf's tip, but do not slice into the vein."

"Blimey," Ron complained as he wielded his miniature scissors toward the plant. "This is—Aughhh!" Laughter erupted around the trough as Ron found himself with a face full of black ink.

"Mr Weasley," Sprout scolded over Ron's sputtering as she hurried over, "I told you not to slice into the vein!" The ink disappeared with a slurp, though a tinge of light pink remained on Ron's skin. "I'll get some salve to ease the burn. Now, now," Sprout chided the rest of the children, "that's enough. Back to work."

Harry pressed his lips together to cap off his burbling laughter when his friend scowled at him. "You looked awfully funny," he said, excusing himself, but Ron wasn't at all amused.

"It bloody well hurts!"

"If you keep your hand at this angle, more to the left than you had it before," Hermione explained tartly, "you'll be able to keep away from the vein. That way, you won't get ink all over-"

"Oh, be quiet," Ron snapped. "I can hold a pair of scissors as well as you."

"Obviously not," Nott said, nudging Zabini, and they both snickered over their plants.

"I was only trying to help," Hermione said primly.

"I don't want your help." Ron's face darkened as the snickers continued.

"Calm down, Ron. She didn't do anything," Harry said quietly, but Ron just scowled more fiercely.

"She's a nightmare," he muttered as he rubbed gingerly at his sensitive skin. Sprout came over then with a jar of green salve which she promptly smeared all over Ron's face amidst hissed breaths of laughter while Ron struggled to get away.

"Really, Mr Weasley," Sprout huffed when she finally finished. She shook her head, recapped the jar, and went back to supervising the students.

"Looks like he's about to explode," Zabini whispered.

"Would you both just shut up?" Harry hissed at the pair of Slytherins, driving the point of his scissors into the damp soil as he glared. Nott and Zabini stopped laughing.

"No need to get your pants in a twist, Potter," Nott drawled.

"Sprout's coming," Draco cut in smoothly before Harry could retort. Harry scowled and clipped his leaf, no longer paying attention to what he was doing. He dodged out of the way before the black spray could hit him and cringed as Sprout cried out.

"Bloody hell, Harry," Draco murmured; he and the rest of the class had to clamp their hands over their mouths to still either their horror or amusement as they all stared at their professor's inky face.

"Sorry," Harry whispered, his face flaming.

Wordlessly, Sprout cleaned the mess with her wand, glaring at Harry the entire time. "Ten points from Gryffindor," she said icily as she reached into her pocket for the salve. "Leave your scissors in the trough," she continued stiffly. "Class dismissed."

As she turned away, the Slytherins were all grinning.

"It isn't funny," Pavarti said, shaking her head at the gang of Slytherin girls as they laughed. She and Lavender hooked arms and left together, both looking very disapproving over the whole affair.

"It was even better than McGonagall trying not to land on her arse," Crabbe tittered.

"I think you're all just beastly," Hermione added as she re-packed her bag.

"Oh, did the nightmare say something?" Zabini mocked.

"Don't you mean Mudblood?" Nott asked with a smirk.

Harry stiffened, and both Neville and Ron looked up sharply from their packs. Draco froze as well, and then he quickly stuffed his textbook in his bag and joined Dean's and Seamus' noisy exit.

"Don't call Hermione that name," Neville said, but his voice trembled as he spoke, and Goyle gave his shoulder a shove. Neville stumbled into Harry, sending him into the long branches of a nearby towering tree. There were sharp spikes adorning the trunk, and Harry winced as they pierced through his jumper and into his side.

"Sorry," Neville mumbled; Harry shook his head in dismissal.

"Or else, what, Longbottom?" Goyle sneered as they straightened.

"We'll hex you, that's what," Ron said, sticking his neck out as he reached for his wand.

"Ron, don't," Hermione said in a strained voice. "You'll get in trouble."

"Come on," Harry said, tugging on Ron's elbow as he did his best to ignore the stinging in his side.

"You scared, Weasley?" Crabbe taunted.

"Of course not," Harry spoke right over Ron. "Sprout's right in her office. Haven't you lot got any brains?"

"Is he calling me stupid?" Crabbe demanded of his fellows. Goyle shrugged.

Harry tugged Ron's elbow. "Come on," he said, pulling Ron along behind Neville and Hermione.

"Thought Gryffindors were supposed to be brave." The muttered words irritated Harry, but he didn't stop.

"Sprout'll give us detention for days," he said urgently as Ron tried to twist back to answer the insult. Harry had never had detention, so he had no idea how it worked, but he figured brawling in the greenhouses would have to merit some detention at least. Neither did Harry think Sirius and Remus would be particularly pleased to hear he'd been in a fight.

"Stupid Slytherins," Ron muttered, but he didn't try to turn back. Harry was too busy grimacing over his encounter with the plant's spikes to agree with him.

"You all right, Harry?" Neville asked worriedly.

"Just smarts a bit…"

"What did you do?" Ron asked, peering over at Harry curiously. Harry shook his head. Ron shrugged at the dismissal, but it was Hermione's silence that surprised Harry. She was staring ahead toward the castle and she appeared as though she hadn't even heard Ron.

"It doesn't matter if your parents are Muggles or wizards," Harry said as they crested the last hill; Sirius and Remus had said so often enough. "My mum's parents were Muggles."

Hermione gave him a faint smile.

"They're just gits," Ron added with a scowl. Harry glanced over at him, surprised at the interjection. Hermione looked surprised as well. "Well, they are," Ron insisted. "Everyone knows it doesn't matter if you're Muggleborn." As an afterthought, he added to Harry, "You should have let me hex them."

Harry, Hermione, and Neville all laughed as they made their way up the castle steps.

--

"Harry, you've got bright red dots all along your side," Draco said as Harry tugged his shirt over his head. Harry paused, his other hand stilling on his pajama top as he twisted. He couldn't see over his shoulder particularly well, so he went over to the glass near the door.

"What did you do?" Dean asked as he peered in for a better view.

"A plant attacked him in the greenhouse."

"It didn't attack me, Ron," Harry said, pulling a face. "I bumped into it."

"I knocked into him," Neville explained. "Goyle shoved me."

"Yeah?" Seamus asked, sitting up in the middle of his bed. "What for?"

Neville shrugged, his face turning an interesting shade of pink.

"They called Hermione a foul name," Ron said, scowling a bit. "And Neville told them not to."

Seamus leaned forward eagerly. "Which foul name?"

Neville, Ron, and Harry looked uneasily between themselves.

"Mudblood," Draco murmured, and the other boys all turned to look at him. Draco shifted uncomfortably. "I, er, heard it as I was leaving." He turned back to the buttons on his shirt, which he seemed to find extremely interesting; Harry frowned, remembering how quickly Draco had left the greenhouse.

"What does that mean?" Dean asked.

"Dirty blood," Draco answered without pause, though he was still engrossed in his buttons. Again, the other boys all turned to stare at him, and Draco finally looked up. "Well, it does."

"It means someone who has Muggle parents," Harry explained to Dean after he dragged his eyes from Draco. "But it's not a nice way to say it. They were insulting Hermione."

"Oh," Dean said quietly, nodding a little. He got under his covers, looking thoughtful, and Seamus and Neville soon followed. Draco took his time getting into his own bed, and Harry perched himself on his mattress, facing Draco.

"You shouldn't describe it like that," he said quietly.

Draco pursed his lips. "It's what my father says," he answered in a low voice and then turned on his side so that he was facing the wall, the covers hiding most of his face. Harry slid under his blanket slowly; he caught Ron's eye on the other side, and Ron raised his eyebrows and nodded in a knowing way. Harry sighed and extinguished his light. It took him a long time to fall asleep, and not just because those little dots along his side were itching.

--

"Is my lecture boring you, Potter?"

Harry jerked his head up from where it had been resting on his arms; McGonagall was frowning at him. "Erm… no, ma'am."

"Then kindly pay attention," she said crisply. Harry nodded obediently, but still his shoulders were sagging and he sneaked a hand up to rub at his eyes. He'd been tired all morning, and those spots were itching even more now; he scratched at them discreetly.

"Maybe you ought to see Pomfrey," Draco suggested, his pale eyebrows critical as he whispered.

"It's just itchy." Harry straightened his shoulders and tried to listen as carefully as he could, but the professor's voice droned on and on, and Harry was so terribly sleepy. Maybe she wouldn't notice if he closed his eyes and kept his head up this time…

"Harry!"

Harry opened his eyes unwillingly, but at least the finger quit poking his arm. "What?" he demanded when he found Draco's grey eyes so close.

"Potter, are you feeling all right?"

Harry blinked as McGonagall's face took Draco's place. "Yes, ma'am," he said quickly, but McGonagall frowned.

"You're looking peaked, Potter," she said. "Weasley, Granger, escort him to the infirmary."

Hermione and Ron each took one of Harry's arms. Harry knew he was upright, and his feet were even moving, though he felt a bit like he was walking through a cloud.

"Blimey, Harry, you look like a ghost," Ron said as they walked.

"Your arms are so hot, Harry," Hermione said in a hushed voice. "You must have a very high fever."

"You don't think he's contagious, do you?" Ron sounded alarmed.

"Oh, hush, Ron."

"Well, I don't want to be ill. Do you?"

"Ron, don't let go of his arm! He'll fall down the stairs!"

"I'm not going to let him fall," Ron said indignantly.

Harry moaned; he was entirely too tired to listen to his friends' squabbling. "I can make it on my own," he told them tiredly.

"Don't be silly," Hermione chided him. "You can barely keep your head up. Come on, Ron; hurry before he faints."

"Not gonna faint…"

"He's looking a little green, Hermione."

"Quickly, Ron. We're nearly there, Harry."

Harry concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, and he sighed in relief as Ron pushed open the infirmary doors.

"What's this?" Pomfrey demanded worriedly. She lifted Harry with ease onto one of the beds before he could protest.

"We don't know what's wrong with him," Hermione said.

"Tired," Harry complained as Pomfrey waved her wand over him, but he was too knackered to try to move away.

"Mr Potter, your body is full of Nodding Tree toxins," Pomfrey said, her voice full of surprise. "Were you pierced by one's thorns?"

"Some thorns poked him yesterday," Ron volunteered. "In the greenhouses … his side," he added, pointing. Pomfrey frowned.

"Thank you, Mr Weasley, Miss Granger. I'll take care of him now." She made a shooing motion with her hand. Harry's friends waved at him, but Harry made no effort to return the gestures. "Lie back, Mr Potter," Pomfrey instructed. She lifted his shirt when he complied and tsked. "You should have come here immediately after it happened," she scolded him. "You're going to be very ill."

Harry didn't care. All he wanted to do was sleep. Pomfrey made him drink some potions and then arranged the blankets around him.

"Just rest now, Mr Potter," she instructed in a soothing voice. "Is there anything I can get for you?"

"Sirius," Harry mumbled as his eyes closed.

--

Sirius left Remus by the door with Pomfrey and made his way quietly over to the bed where Harry was sleeping. He stood there for a long minute, gazing down at his peaceful godson as the soft conversation went on behind him. Harry's cheeks were flushed, even in sleep: a result of his fever, no doubt. Sirius pressed the backs of his fingers to the warm skin, and Harry's eyelids fluttered open. His lips lifted in a lazy smile.

"Hey, Sirius," he whispered.

Sirius' fingers brushed Harry's fringe off of his clammy forehead, and Harry blinked up at him. "Hey, kiddo," Sirius echoed, smiling as well. "Heard you weren't feeling well."

Harry shook his head slowly. "'m tired," he murmured. "McGonagall's gonna be sore… fell asleep in class…"

Sirius' thumb continued to stroke Harry's brow as he tried not to look too amused. "I think she'll probably let it slide this once."

"Hope so," Harry mumbled as he licked dry lips. "I heard her detentions are awful…"

Sirius' lips quirked. "I'll write an excuse," he said quietly.

Harry smiled again as he closed his eyes, mumbling something that sounded like an agreement.

Remus joined them, thanking Pomfrey as she went back into her office.

"What did she say?" Sirius asked.

"Classic symptoms of exposure to Nodding Tree thorns. They are more severe though since it went untreated. She says he'll be better in a few days."

"And his fever?"

"It will ease as the day goes on."

Sirius tucked Harry's blanket more securely round his chest. "Has she given him a fever reducer?"

"And a potion for the pain," Remus said, nodding. Sirius' eyes flicked up. "Poppy said he was complaining of aches."

Sirius frowned as he returned his concerned gaze to his godson. "Bloody plant," he muttered. Remus squeezed his hand. Sirius sighed and ran a hand down his face. "Did you tell her we're staying?"

"She assumed we were," Remus said with a smile. Harry shifted a little, mumbling nonsense, and Sirius stroked his brow until he quieted. "She said we're welcome to take him home; there isn't anything she can do for him here that we can't."

Sirius nodded, and Harry stirred again.

"Sirius?" he whispered, his eyes still closed.

"I'm here."

Harry licked dry lips as his eyes fluttered open. "Can we go home, Sirius? It smells funny in here…"

Sirius chuckled. "Does it?"

"Don't like it; wanna go home."

"If you like," Sirius said quietly. He glanced up at Remus and Remus nodded.

"I'll let Poppy know. Do you think you can walk?" he asked Harry. Harry nodded, his eyes glazed. Sirius took his elbow and helped him sit up while Remus went into Poppy's office.

They emerged a moment later, the healer's arms full of potions. She was speaking rapidly to Remus, giving him instructions and tutting over Harry when she came closer. She performed a diagnostic spell and then nodded.

"He'll be perfectly well in a few days," she assured them. "Nothing out of the ordinary in his symptoms." She smiled and handed the vials and flasks over to Remus. "Get well, Mr Potter."

Harry smiled vaguely, his head drooping toward Sirius' shoulder. "Tired, Sirius," he mumbled and Sirius simply scooped his boneless godson into his arms, seeing no reason for a stroll to the floo.

"At least he's eating," he said with a smirk as Harry's weight settled against his chest; Remus smiled. Harry was asleep by the time Sirius transferred him to his bed and didn't stir as blankets and pillows were arranged gently around him.

Remus put the vials on Harry's desk and then summoned Sirius' book and his own current manuscript from the room across the hall.

"Thanks," Sirius said, accepting the book as he settled himself at the foot of Harry's bed. Remus dropped a kiss on his lips before taking the desk chair and flipping through his parchments, both of them content to wait until Harry woke again.

--

"Do you think you might be able to tolerate some broth?" Remus asked, much later that evening after Harry finally awoke. "I'll fetch it," he said when Harry shrugged.

Sirius carefully positioned three pillows behind Harry's back. "How do you feel?"

"Knackered..."

"Does your head still ache?" Sirius uncorked three of the vials that Poppy had given them. "Go on," he said with a smile when Harry gazed at the potions with a wary eye. "They'll make you feel better."

Harry took the vials reluctantly, making three consecutive faces as each one met his tongue. "They're vile," he said, his voice still weak but Sirius was encouraged by the complaint.

"All potions are vile," Sirius agreed. "Hold on," he said as Harry ran a hand over his sweaty forehead. Sirius retrieved a damp flannel from the washroom. "Put your head back a bit," he instructed when he returned. He placed it carefully on Harry's forehead and Harry sighed.

"Feels good…"

"His colour's improved," Remus said, coming back in with a tray.

Sirius nodded as he placed a hand on Harry's cheek. "Fever's gone down a bit as well." He gave Harry a mock-serious look. "I'd say you're going to live."

Harry's lips lifted.

Remus held out a glass of pumpkin juice. Harry sipped at the juice but then let his head fall back on the pillow.

"Would you like to try the broth?" Remus asked gently as he took the glass back. Harry shook his head. "A bath might make you feel better," Remus said, cupping the back of Harry's neck briefly to feel for fever. "Make you feel a bit more comfortable?"

"Guess," Harry murmured. Sirius collected clothes from Harry's bureau while Remus helped Harry untangle his legs from the blankets. Remus put a steadying hand on Harry's arm and helped him down the short corridor and into the loo.

Sirius handed over the bundle of clothes while Remus spelled the taps on. "Don't fall asleep," Sirius said with a smile.

--

Harry emerged from the bath to clean sheets and felt much better for it. He wriggled under their warmth, agreeing this time when Remus offered him broth.

"How did you manage to get gouged by a Nodding Tree?" Sirius asked between spoonfuls. "Madame Pomfrey didn't know."

"Goyle shoved Neville into me," Harry said. "And I stumbled into the tree."

Remus frowned. "Why did he push Neville?"

"Nott called Hermione…" Harry gestured vaguely as his stomach twisted, "…you know, the bad way to say someone's Muggleborn."

"Fear of a name," Sirius reminded him gently. Harry nodded.

"He called her a Mudblood and Neville told him not to say that."

Sirius and Remus shared a glance. "Were you fighting with them?" Remus asked.

Harry set his spoon back in the bowl and shook his head. "Ron wanted to hex them and I think the Slytherins would have—Goyle and Crabbe mostly, but…" Harry shrugged and fiddled with the spoon.

"You told Ron not to, is that it?" Sirius asked.

"Hermione and me, yeah. He would have gotten into trouble."

"You did exactly right," Remus said; both of his parents were smiling at him. "Fighting with them wouldn't have solved anything. You shouldn't be embarrassed about ending it."

"I'm not," Harry said as he pushed his bowl away; Remus waved his wand and it disappeared.

"Something else happened?" Sirius guessed.

Harry rested his head against the pillows. "Draco left as soon as Nott said it; he heard Nott, I know he did. And then he was acting strangely in the dorm that night. Can't explain it exactly…"

"I think Draco's heard that word quite often in his home," Sirius said.

"But he doesn't seem to dislike Hermione," Harry protested. "Or Dean, even though Dean doesn't know if his father was a wizard or not."

"Do you remember when I said that it might take awhile for Draco to sort out his feelings; now that he's in Gryffindor and away from the ideas about purebloods being superior?"

Harry nodded and Sirius went on, "Draco was taught that witches like Hermione are not his equals. And even wizards like you and Seamus. I don't think Draco wants to believe that because he likes you so well. But it's difficult to teach yourself new things."

"I wish Draco hadn't learned those things," Harry said. "I think it makes him sad."

"Continue on being his friend," Remus said, patting his shoulder as he moved away; Harry yawned as he nodded.

"Does Mudblood really mean dirty blood?" Harry asked; his parents glanced at each other again. "That's what Draco said."

"Yes," said Sirius. "Or tainted blood, I suppose."

"It sounds loads worse that way."

"Yes, it does," Sirius agreed softly; he combed his fingers through Harry's hair. "I think you'd best get some more sleep."

"All right..."

"We're very proud of you for walking away from a fight," Sirius said. Even as drowsy as he suddenly was, Harry smiled. "Go to sleep," Sirius whispered. "And we'll be right across the corridor if you need us."

Harry nodded and yawned again, still smiling as he drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

"Oy, I can't see anything out there; there's so much snow!" Ron said excitedly; he had his nose pressed against the fogged window.

"I hope it keeps up," Hermione said with a smile. "My dad and I always make an army of snowmen every Christmas."

"Charlie's going to make a dragon this year," Ron boasted, but Hermione didn't even bother to frown at him; she was too busy looking out the opposite window.

"Thank Merlin we're leaving England for the holidays," Draco said with a shiver. He turned away from the snowflakes and burrowed himself deeper into his fur-lined coat.

"How can you hate snow?" Ron demanded, for perhaps the fifth time.

"Because it's cold."

"Harry, you're going to miss all the snow as well," Hermione said as she twisted round.

"We'll be back before Christmas," Harry said as he tried to get a look over Hermione's shoulder. "I can't see the station yet…"

Hermione pressed back against the seat so that Harry could see the thick snowflakes. "It's so exciting," she said, her eyes gleaming when Harry pulled back. "Imagine tracking a herd of unicorns through the mountains."

"When are you leaving, Harry?"

Everyone turned their attention from the snowflakes at Neville's question.

"We're Apparating home from the station and then taking a Portkey from there."

"Remus must be so disappointed to miss it," Hermione said, sighing a little and Harry grinned, knowing it was really Hermione herself who was disappointed not to be coming along.

"The unicorns are in charge of the schedule," Harry said, repeating what Ollivander had written in his letter. "So we have to go now. The young ones will be moving away from their herd tomorrow, so Ollivander says. He's been tracking their movements."

Hermione sighed again, her eyes wistful.

"The train's slowing down," Ron said, peeking out the window again. "I can barely see the platform there's so much snow…"

They began gathering their belongings and a few minutes later, the scarlet train whistled to a stop. Harry was jostled along with the rest of the students, down the long train and out onto the platform, where a grinning Sirius and a more solemn Remus were waiting for him.

"Harry!" Sirius' arms gathered him up in a tight hug and Harry grinned into his godfather's shoulder as he was lifted off solid ground. "Oy, you're getting too big for this," he said into Harry's ear as he squeezed and Harry laughed.

"Think you're just getting old," he said. Sirius set Harry back on his feet.

"One more crack like that," he said, his features scowling while his voice held only amusement, "and it's going to be a very lonely expedition for Ollivander."

"Ease up on your godfather, Harry," Remus said with a smile. "It's the weather, you know. Wreaks havoc on the old bones."

"Oi!"

Harry smirked as he leaned against Remus' side and Remus slipped an arm round his shoulders. "Shouldn't argue with Remus, you know," Harry said. Sirius harrumphed and Remus shared a smile with Harry as he patted Harry's shoulder.

"We'd best find your trunk so that you and Sirius will be able to leave before nightfall." Keeping his arm securely round Harry's shoulder, they turned toward the queue of students and parents waiting for luggage.

"Harry!" a familiar voice called and the trio turned to find Mrs Weasley, with Ginny in tow; they were both waving. Mr Weasley was walking behind with his four boys; all of them talking excitedly to their father. "It's been too long," Mrs Weasley cried and though Remus seemed reluctant to let him go, Harry soon found himself enfolded in Mrs Weasley's arms. "You're so thin!" she exclaimed as she smothered him. "Nothing but skin and bones!"

Harry nodded obediently and she released him. He accepted a half-embrace from Mr Weasley and then a quick squeeze from Ginny.

"Hi Gin," Harry said with a grin.

"Mum's been saying for weeks that she needs to fatten all of you up," Ginny explained. "Don't know why she thinks the elves at Hogwarts don't feed you."

"Hush Ginny," Fred said with a frown and a nudge. "We've sent her dozens of artfully-crafted letters, telling her how much we were missing her mince-meat pies and lemon tarts."

"Because the elves couldn't keep up with the likes of us," George chimed in.

"Makes her feel appreciated, you know," Fred explained to Harry.

George grinned. "Can't help it if we benefit from it as well," he said as he patted his stomach.

"You two are dolts," Ginny said seriously, which of course, made the twins, and eventually Ron, pounce on her with fingers that tickled her breathless and when that descended into a four-way Weasley sibling spectacle—with Harry being dragged in by Ginny for support—Mrs Weasley finally intervened with threats to withhold pudding.

"Oi!" Sirius protested as he attempted to extract Harry from the twins' headlock. "At least let him live until after the holidays!" Fred and George, reluctant to release their quarry, held fast until Sirius suggested an Aquamenti Charm. "Freeze your clothes right to your skin," he said solemnly and the twins looked alarmed, but only for a second before a gleam of interest lit their eyes.

"Your dad's a right clever one," George said to Harry as he and Fred backed away and let Harry straighten his cloak.

"Mrs Norris would hate that little charm," Fred said, nudging his brother.

"Really, Sirius," Mrs Weasley clucked. "Don't give them any ideas! Now, all of you come along this instant or I'll feed my chocolate cake to the garden gnomes!"

And it was with a great deal of protests and promises to be good, that the Weasleys finally cleared the platform, all of them waving to Harry and his parents even as they continued to talk at the top of their lungs.

"One would think Molly and Arthur might have learned to control their offspring by now—having so many to practice upon."

Harry turned with his parents at the smooth voice. Mr Malfoy smiled as he looked down his nose. Mrs Malfoy' features were considerably more reserved. She nodded though and beside her, Draco's lips were pinched together, his grey eyes wary.

"Good afternoon," Mr Malfoy said, nodding to Sirius and Remus in turn.

"Good afternoon," they murmured. Sirius' arm draped over Harry's shoulder and Harry had to take two steps backward until he butted against his godfather's chest.

"Draco tells us that your first term was a success," Mr Malfoy continued. "And of course we saw your fine match against Slytherin last month. You have considerable skill on a broom, Harry."

"Er… Thank you," Harry said, after glancing up at his godfather and receiving a small smile.

"Quite like your father in that regard," Mr Malfoy. "Though I do not believe I've ever seen a Seeker catch a Snitch with his mouth…"

Harry flushed. "Er… yeah," he said. "I didn't really mean to catch it that way…"

"He did catch it though," Sirius said and Harry could tell he was speaking through a tightened jaw. "And that's what matters."

"Yes," Mr Malfoy agreed. "Quite right, since the points you earned allowed Gryffindor to best Slytherin in the match—for the first time in some years, I might add. Sinistra was most disappointed with the result."

"There's always Hufflepuff to win against," Sirius said, his voice falsely pleasant.

Mr. Malfoy smiled slightly. "Excellent notion."

"If you'll pardon us," Remus interjected, "we are in a bit of a rush and we still need to collect Harry's trunk."

"Of course. It was pleasant to see you again. Come along, Draco."

Draco gave Harry a small smile and after the adults exchanged farewells, the Malfoys—with Dobby directing Draco's luggage—Disapparated. Sirius and Remus shook their heads; their gazes locked for a few seconds before all three went toward the wizard in the furry orange cap in search of Harry's trunk.

"I think that one is my daughter's," a man's voice said hesitantly as Remus reached for one that looked like Harry's.

"Dad, that's Remus."

Harry peered around Remus' back, recognizing Hermione's voice immediately; he grinned. "Hi!"

"Hi Harry," she said brightly as soon as she saw him. "Hi Remus," she added.

"Hello, Hermione. And you must be Hermione's father," Remus said; Mr Granger nodded and they shook hands.

"Stephen," he said with a warm smile. He put an arm around the tall woman standing next to him and added, "My wife, Jean." Remus exchanged pleasantries with Hermione's parents and then the Grangers greeted Sirius with more smiles; he'd visited with them three times with his mirror in the last few months so that Hermione could talk to them.

"And it's lovely to finally meet you, Harry," Mrs Granger said. "We've heard so much about you, we feel as though we know you."

Harry smiled, not knowing what to say to that, but the four parents began talking so it didn't matter.

"You're going to have so much fun, Harry," Hermione said as she pulled her gloves on. "We went to Majorca last Christmas but that's the most exciting holiday I've ever had."

"Maybe someday you'll be able to come with us."

Hermione grinned at him and then began telling him all about the usual migratory patterns of young unicorns. Harry knew all about it, but he let Hermione talk anyway. Her mother finally ran a gentle hand over Hermione's bushy hair and as if Mrs Granger had used a Silencing Spell, Hermione stopped talking. She looked up at her mother and the two of them shared a smile.

"Sirius and Remus have invited us for Christmas dinner," Mrs Granger said. "Doesn't that sound lovely?"

"Yes," Hermione said, all of her teeth showing as she smiled. "Then Harry can tell us all about his trip. And you'll take pictures, won't you, Harry?"

"Several rolls," Sirius promised, his eyes shining with amusement. "Maybe you and Harry might even like to write an essay about it … for extra credit perhaps. Surely the Care of Magical Creatures professor would like to see it."

Harry goggled at his godfather, but Sirius' solemn expression didn't change.

"Do you think we could?" Hermione demanded excitedly.

"He was joking, Hermione," Harry said quickly, squinting at his godfather to make sure and found Sirius' eyes twinkling. "And anyway, we don't take Care of Magical Creatures yet-"

"Well, maybe Professor Grubbly-Plank would accept credit before we even take the class. We'll start out with full marks, Harry!"

"Hermione," Mrs Granger said with a smile, "I think we'd best let Harry and his parents be on their way. They don't want to be late."

Hermione relented but after they'd said their farewells and were walking toward the divider, Harry could hear her explaining to her parent the advantages of presenting a new teacher with a full essay on the first day of class.

"Oy Sirius," Harry said as he and his parents walked a bit away from the crowded train. "You nearly assigned me homework over the holidays!"

Sirius chuckled. "Hermione seemed excited about it."

"She's Hermione," Harry said, smiling in spite of himself. "Of course she did."

Sirius and Remus shared a smile and then Sirius beckoned Harry close and once Harry was secure in his arms, he turned on the spot and Disapparated.

Though he was well accustomed to the sensation, it took him a moment to regain his equilibrium. "All right now?" Sirius asked. Harry nodded and stepped back. He smiled at the familiar surroundings. "Good to be home?" Sirius asked, even though Harry had spent at least a third of his weekends at Grimmauld Place.

"Yeah."

"We could always skip the trip and just stay here."

Harry smiled at his godfather's teasing.

"Home will still be here in three days," Remus said. He was hanging his cloak on its peg but Harry could see his small frown.

When he turned around again he was smiling though. "Your tent and supplies are already in Sirius' pockets; I'll unpack your trunk after you leave, Harry."

"Thanks."

Remus smiled and without waiting for him to hold out his arms, Harry went to him and hugged him tightly. "Maybe you can still reschedule your meetings," he said. Remus sighed as Harry stepped back.

"I wish I could," he said, his voice wistful. He put a hand on Harry's shoulder and said seriously, "Mind your godfather. And remember what Ollivander said about safety."

"I will," Harry promised. Remus smiled and squeezed his shoulder. Then he turned to Sirius but before he could speak, Sirius was hugging him. He said something into Remus' ear; something Harry couldn't hear and then after Remus nodded shakily, Sirius kissed him.

"Take care of yourself," Sirius said softly as he stepped back.

"I always do," Remus murmured. Sirius' smile looked much too sad for a three day trip, but Remus simply smiled. "Go on," he said, giving Sirius' shoulder a nudge.

Sirius nodded. "Ready, mate?" He took a chipped teacup out of his pocket and at Sirius' second nod, Harry put a finger on the edge.

"Have fun," Remus said before they were whisked away.

The Portkey deposited them in a small clearing, with towering trees forming a circle around a single tent. Ollivander's head came through the tent's flap.

"I haven't spotted the herd yet," he said without greeting. "It's nearly dark but you should have enough time to put your tent to rights before you turn in. We'll leave at daybreak to scout the herd." With that, Ollivander disappeared back into his tent.

"Well," Sirius said with bemusement as he stared at the spot where Ollivander's head had just been, "I suppose we'd better do as he says. We don't want him to leave without us in the morning."

"You don't think he will?" Harry asked worriedly as Sirius pulled a small olive cube from his pocket.

"No," Sirius said with a smile. Reassured, Harry helped his godfather turn the tiny cube into a spacious tent.

--

But as it turned out, the herd had other ideas and according to Ollivander, had yet to make it as far as he hoped. "Tomorrow, perhaps," he'd said that morning, and unflappable as ever, he suggested they visit an old friend of his. The old friend, it turned out, was a Bowtruckle. And both Sirius and Harry were excited for the chance to climb a tree. Ollivander seemed pretty excited himself.

He went first, Sirius bringing up the rear so that Harry was safely between them.

"It isn't poisonous," Ollivander said some time later, barely glancing at the snake that blocked Harry's trek upward. "Move it along the branch and out of your way."

Sirius nodded when Harry glanced at him for confirmation. "We'll just move you a bit, little snake," Harry said quietly as he closed his fingers gently around the cold coil. "Hope you don't mind."

"Ssssertainly not," a lazy voice answered him. "Find a sssspot in the sssssun, if you would."

Harry looked up at Sirius in surprise. "I didn't know there were any snakes that could talk… What?"

Sirius and Ollivander were staring at him, their mouths hanging open.

"You…" Sirius opened and closed his mouth twice before he continued. "It spoke to you?"

"Erm, yeah," Harry said, switching his gaze between the two men. "Didn't you hear it?"

Sirius shook his head mutely. "What did it … say?"

Harry glanced at the snake; it was watching Harry. Harry looked slowly back to Sirius. "He wanted to sit in the sun. Didn't you hear?"

"He wanted to…" Sirius cleared his throat. "Harry-"

"Parseltongue," Ollivander whispered. "He's a Parselmouth… Have you any idea how dark-"

"Garrick," Sirius interrupted sharply and the older wizard seemed to remember Sirius was there. He stopped staring at Harry to turn urgently to Sirius.

"It's rumored that You Know Who had the same power. As the heir of Slytherin... Sirius, you must have heard the-"

"I have," Sirius answered brusquely. "But this isn't the time to discuss it."

Harry's gut tingled at the anger in his godfather's voice. Sirius' jaw was clenched as he glared at the wand maker.

"Sirius," Harry said quietly, but Ollivander was staring at him again and Harry couldn't help but inch back at the scrutiny—at the questions burning in the wand maker's eyes.

"It is a very rare talent," he whispered reverently. "I've never heard anyone speak in Parseltongue, of course. Will you do it again?"

Harry had no idea what he meant. "I don't-"

"To speak with a snake, Harry. It is not something an ordinary wizard can do."

Harry looked to Sirius. "It's not?"

Sirius sighed. "No. The ability to speak with snakes is very rare. I've never met anyone who can."

"But you heard him, yeah? He said he wanted to sit in the sun…"

"All we heard was hissing. You were hissing as well; when you touched him."

"I was hissing? I wasn't," Harry said as he shook his head. "I just said I was going to move him."

"You weren't speaking English." Sirius massaged his temples for a moment while Harry stared at the snake in confusion. "I think we ought to go back to the tent for a bit."

Harry's head jerked up. "But why? Ollivander was going to show us how he collects the wood!"

"Harry-"

"Please Sirius?" Harry interrupted swiftly. "Just until he shows us how to collect the samples? I promise I won't speak to any more snakes."

Sirius' eyebrows furrowed and he frowned. "Harry, that isn't-" He shook his head. "You haven't- " Sirius stopped speaking and glanced over at the now-silent snake. "Yes. All right," he agreed with a quick nod. "We'd best keep climbing then."

Feeling nervous, Harry glanced back at the snake. It raised its head. "The ssssun, if you please." Harry moved the snake as quickly as he could and didn't answer when it thanked him.

They finished the climb without discovering that Harry had any other strange talents.

"There he is," Ollivander said after a few more branches had been scaled. He bowed his head respectfully and greeted a small being made entirely of sticks, as far as Harry could tell. "As you know, most bowtruckles will not allow anyone to take wood or leaves from a tree. This fellow though has known me for years and I always bring him a present in exchange for samples." He reached into the small pocket in the front of his cloak.

"Fairy eggs?" Harry said as he watched Ollivander unwrap a tiny parcel; the old man nodded. He extended his hand slowly for the bowtruckle's inspection. Very slowly, Harry noticed, and the Bowtruckle gazed at the moving hand with wary concentration. When it was only a centimeter from its face, the bowtruckle leapt back, its sharp fingers gripping a narrow branch so that it didn't fall.

"Thank you," Ollivander whispered. He settled the tiny parcel near the Bowtruckles clawed feet and slipped his wand from his sleeve. "Watch carefully, Harry."

Harry nodded and he felt Sirius' hand against his back as he leaned forward, steadying him. They watched together as Ollivander uttered a cutting spell and the branch that the Bowtruckle had been standing on fell neatly into Ollivander's hand.

The ritual went on three more times, with the Bowtruckle leading Ollivander toward the specimens he was willing to part with, after each gift of fairy eggs; it was a very slow process. The bowtruckle disappeared with the eggs as soon as the fourth branch landed in Ollivander's hand and Ollivander sighed.

"He allowed me six during my last visit," he said, shaking his head. "Finicky little twig."

"May I watch you carve them?" Harry asked eagerly.

"If your dad doesn't mind," Ollivander murmured absently; he was already beginning his backward climb down the tree. Harry looked down at Sirius and Sirius patted his hip.

"Sounds fun," he agreed and Harry was glad his godfather didn't seem angry about the snake any longer. He still didn't understand how he'd been the only one to hear the snake but he'd make certain he didn't do it again.

Since it needed to be done as soon as the wood was taken from the tree, the wands were carved immediately, though the entire process took several hours and Ollivander hadn't stopped for lunch, though Sirius had insisted that Harry had to eat. He scarfed his sandwich in record time and with his eyes crinkling in amusement, he and Sirius went back outside.

Harry sat close to Ollivander as he worked and nodded eagerly when the wand maker allowed him to take a turn near the end.

"You did very well," Ollivander told him; his fingers were caressing the wood gently, learning the feel of its magic, deciphering, as he explained, what sorts of cores would be suitable for each. He declined Sirius' offer of dinner after the wood was put carefully away.

"I may have better luck with those unicorns in the dark," he explained; they hadn't managed to spot the herd yet. "Best go on my own though. Too dangerous without the light…" His mind already with the unicorns, Ollivander patted Harry's shoulder vaguely and left Harry and Sirius to their dinner.

Sirius paid little mind to warming the soup they'd brought, instead watching Harry as he set the table. He'd been unusually quiet since they returned from collecting the wood, even when he'd been carving with Ollivander. Harry had enjoyed the activity, Sirius was certain of that, but without his usual animation—or his endless stream of questions.

"You did quite well with Ollivander's carving knife," Sirius said as he set the tureen of soup and a loaf of crusty bread on the prepared table. Harry smiled.

"Ollivander said I could help him put one of the cores in place when we go back to his shop."

"Yes, I heard."

Harry nodded; he ducked his head and concentrated on his soup. Sirius swallowed a few spoonfuls before setting the spoon down and leaning forward. "Harry," he said and his godson looked up. "The ability to speak with snakes isn't a bad thing."

Harry stared down at the hunk of bread beside his soup bowl. "But Ollivander said it wasn't normal-"

"He said it was rare," Sirius corrected gently. "And it is, but that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you."

Harry looked up again and Sirius knew he'd read his godson correctly; he smiled. "You are perfectly normal, Harry. You simply have a talent that most wizards don't." He went on when Harry's green gaze remained uncertain, "I was surprised when I heard you do that. I didn't mean to make you think you'd done anything wrong. You haven't."

"But Ollivander said that Voldemort was the only other wizard who could do that," Harry said, his uncertainty shifting to a worry that Sirius wasn't certain how to contend with.

"I very much doubt that Voldemort is the only other Parseltongue. But because he was," he added when Harry shook his head in confusion, "people associate the ability with dark magic. It is assumed that Salazar Slytherin could speak to snakes as well."

Harry's spoon stirred lazy figure eights in his soup.

Even though he was feeling out of his depth, Sirius still wanted to explain what this might mean. "Some people might be uncomfortable if they know you can speak to snakes; frightened even."

The figure eights came to a clattering halt. "Why? Because Voldemort could do it," Harry answered his own question, his entire posture becoming gloomy. "But it isn't my fault I'm a…" His face scrunched up as he struggled for the word.

"Parselmouth," Sirius murmured. "And no, it isn't. But you shouldn't think of it as a fault, Harry. Even if Voldemort was a Parselmouth, that doesn't mean it's bad. Voldemort was a Slytherin but that doesn't mean every Slytherin is evil."

Sirius didn't particularly like Harry's obvious surprise. He sighed. "Neither my parents nor my brother were particularly nice people. And many Slytherins fought alongside Voldemort, but to be Slytherin isn't to be evil. In the same way that not all Gryffindors are good." He was thinking of Peter with that addition, though Harry wasn't privy to those details.

He shook his head at Harry's questioning look. "Never mind that. I just want you to be aware that your friends may not react well if you tell them."

"Do you think I shouldn't tell them?" Harry asked, the line of worry between his brows deepening.

Sirius didn't answer for a moment, wishing that Remus was here and that this trip hadn't coincided with a full moon. Not that Remus would have any better answers, but it was always easier together. "I don't want you to feel ashamed of who you are," he finally said; he reached across the table and curled his fingers over Harry's. "And I certainly don't want you to lie … Oy," he said on a sigh as he rubbed his fingers over his forehead. "I'm not making much sense, am I?"

"Not really," Harry said quietly.

Sirius gave him a small smile and tried to figure out what he was trying to say; how much he wanted Harry to understand. "Ollivander mentioned that it's been rumored that only the descendents of Salazar Slytherin can speak Parseltongue—an Heir of Slytherin." Harry nodded and Sirius continued, "Voldemort is thought to be Salazar's descendent. His great, great—many times—grandson. Wizarding family trees are complicated, as you know. My own line intersects several times with the Potters and with the Malfoys—and the Longbottoms and Weasleys. Most wizards with pureblood ancestors are related in some distant way. People will suspect that you too are descended from the Slytherin founder."

"What if I am?"

"You are not related to Voldemort," Sirius said firmly, knowing that's what was contributing to Harry's look of horror. "At least not recently enough to matter. You've got Black genes in you somewhere, though. And the Blacks are probably more closely related to Slytherin than the average wizard. The Malfoys as well—and Mrs Weasley's family, but don't bring that up to Mrs Weasley."

Harry smiled and Sirius relaxed a bit. "Have I muddled you even more?" he asked and Harry shrugged, still smiling. "The ability to speak to snakes is nothing to be ashamed of; many wizards have unique talents."

"Like an Animagus?" Harry asked and Sirius kept his face carefully straight as he nodded. "Have you seen McGonagall in her cat form?" Harry asked eagerly.

"Yes. Animagi aren't quite the same as being a Parseltongue, however. Wizards train themselves to change form, though I suppose a wizard might have a natural talent in that regard," Sirius said thoughtfully; something to think about further. "A Metamorphmagus, on the other hand, is born with the ability to change their physical appearance. And some wizards are more talented than others. We're all different."

"But even though it's all right that I'm a Pars-parselmouth, others might be worried that it's because I'm like Voldemort? Frightened, like the Dursleys were of me and my magic?"

"Yes, exactly so," Sirius said, feeling pride for Harry's easy understanding; his logic and simple acceptance. "You don't have to pretend you can't speak Parseltongue; not that anyone would probably think to ask…"

Harry smiled a little. "Aren't you supposed to be less confused than me?"

Sirius grinned. "That's what adults like to claim, but it isn't true. Most times, kiddo," he said with a wink, "I have no idea what I'm talking about."

Harry snorted.

"Drink your soup," Sirius said, gesturing with his chin. "And tell me what it was like to carve a wand. I might like to try it."

Harry obliged and in between slurps of tomato soup, he shared his excitement with Sirius.

--

The following morning, Sirius sat up, his mind groggy from sleep.

"Harry?" he called when he found his godson's bed empty, the covers rumpled. He put his legs over the edge of the mattress when there was no answer and pushed the blanket away. He padded over to the kitchen, found that empty as well and went to the partitioned sectioned that served as a loo.

"Harry?" he called again, but the tent was uncomfortably silent. Pushing aside his exasperation—Harry must have gone outside already—Sirius slipped his feet into his trainers and went into the clearing.

It was empty as well.

Ollivander's olive tent sat sedately across from theirs. Wondering what had possessed his godson to leave without telling him, Sirius traversed the short stretch of grass and knocked on the fabric door. "Garrick?" Feeling irritated with both of them now, Sirius pushed open the tent flap.

Empty.

Mote, Ollivander's house-elf appeared from around a corner. "Master Ollivander isn't here, Master Sirius."

"Where is he?"

"Master Ollivander thought he spotted a dragon near the mountain-"

"Harry!" Sirius called loudly as he pivoted. His panic soared as an unmistakable roar pierced the air. "Harry!" Sirius began running toward the trees ringing their tents, his wand already gripped in his hand and extended in front of him. The second roar made the ground tremble.

Sirius skidded to a halt as he broke through the trees. Ollivander was climbing the towering mountain; Harry was several meters behind him on solid ground, close to where Sirius now stood. And a dragon—a Hungarian Horntail from the looks of it—was perched on an outcropping of rock near the top of the mountain, beating the air with its massive wings.

His heart pounding wildly in his chest, Sirius crept silently forward, whispering his godson's name when he was close enough. Harry started, jerking his head toward Sirius. The dragon roared again. But this time, as Sirius watched in horror, it pawed the ground as he glared down at Ollivander and a shower of huge rocks began to rain down.

"Ollivander!" Harry shouted as the wand maker tried to scramble off his precipice and stumbled. Harry wrenched himself out of Sirius' sudden grasp and began sprinting toward the old man now sprawled at the bottom of the mountain.

"Harry! No!" Sirius' voice was lost in the rocks' rumbling as they cascaded down the mountainside and Sirius was certain he'd never run so fast in all his life, but Harry didn't slow down. He was tugging at Ollivander's limp hand when Sirius reached him. "Get down!" Sirius shouted and when Harry didn't obey, he pushed Harry down to the ground with one hand and flung his body over the smaller one as he pointed his wand skyward and screamed, "Protego!"

He felt the magic surging through his fingers and into his wand and then the shield erupted above them. The rocks—some of them big enough to be called boulders—bounced off the protective magic and rolled harmlessly into the grass beyond. The dragon screeched once more and took flight, its powerful wings taking him quickly away.

Leaving the shield in place, Sirius pulled himself up, turned Harry quickly to face him and with his worry making his voice hoarse, demanded, "Are you hurt? Anywhere?"

Harry shook his head; there was dirt smeared over his forehead and nose … but he was whole. Trembling all over, but alive. And trying to sit up. Sirius helped him, his own hands shaking.

"Sirius…" Harry whispered and for some reason, the plaintive word made the worry spike into anger.

Sirius gripped his godson's arms as soon as he was upright. "What were you thinking? You could have been crushed by those rocks!"

Harry's lower lip trembled but Sirius' emotions were well out of control and he went on furiously, "I told you to stop! Do you have any idea what might have happened to you?"

"I … was trying to help Ollivander," Harry whispered. "When he fell…"

Harry's words stilled Sirius' anger. Drawing in a slow breath through his nostrils, he released Harry's arms and walked on his knees toward the wand maker. He could feel Harry close by his side, accompanying him. Ollivander was groaning softly, but at least he was awake. And alive.

"It wasn't a very long fall," Sirius said to no one in particular. He knew only basic diagnostic spells, but it didn't seem that anything was broken. He was probably concussed… "Damn it," he muttered to himself. Harry shifted beside him and Sirius sighed. He squeezed Harry's shoulder, as much to remind himself that Harry was whole as to reassure his nervous child. He summoned the medical kit all the way from their tent and once it flew into his hand, he gave a the pain relieving draught to Ollivander; sighed in relief when the other wizard stopped moaning.

Though he wanted to demand several explanations, Sirius simply helped Ollivander sit. "How do you feel?"

Ollivander winced. "Head…"

"You fell from the precipice." And my godson was nearly killed by a rock avalanche, Sirius didn't add.

"Yes," Ollivander said quietly. He looked with confusion between Harry and Sirius. "What are you doing here?"

Sirius glanced sharply back at Harry; Harry's lower lip was wedged between his teeth. "Did you come out here on your own?"

"You thought I brought Harry out here to see a dragon?" Ollivander asked, incredulous even with his voice as faint as it was and Sirius' narrowed-eyed gaze switched to the wand maker. "I may be a bit old, but I've not lost my mind."

The anger stoking swiftly, Sirius clamped down on his urge to begin scolding his godson in earnest. What the hell had Harry been thinking?

"We need to take you back to your tent," Sirius said, focusing on that for the moment. "Do you think you can walk?"

"I should think so," Ollivander said, shifting gingerly. "I've had worse."

Bloody brilliant.

"Harry, help me, please." Sirius was aware of the curtness in his tone but found it hard to soften the edge. Harry did as he was asked without a word, though Ollivander scoffed at their assistance, so Sirius cancelled his spell and the three walked very slowly back to the clearing.

"I don't think you should sleep," Sirius began but Ollivander waved him off.

"I appreciate the concern, Sirius, but I've been taking care of myself for years. And Mote will attend me." Mote was one was one of a rare collection of house-elves who had training as a healer. Ollivander eyed Harry. "I expect you need a bit of time alone with Harry in any case."

Harry flushed and ducked his head from Ollivander's gaze. Ollivander pursed his lips, looking nearly as upset as Sirius felt but he said nothing further before he went with stiff movements into his tent.

Somehow, Ollivander's own anger deflated most of Sirius' own, or perhaps it was simply the affirmation of how much danger Harry had really been in that drained it. He pulled a confused Harry to his chest, his fingers tangling in his godson's mud-flecked hair.

"Have you any idea how much I love you?" he demanded quietly. "As soon as you saw that dragon, you should have turned back," Sirius went on, his voice surprisingly stern to his own ears. "You shouldn't have followed Ollivander in the first place."

"I heard him moving outside and I wanted to see where-"

Sirius put his hands on Harry's shoulders and pulled him away. "That was a Hungarian Horntail, Harry! Which you know perfectly well is an extremely dangerous creature."

"I know," Harry said, his tone giving no indication that he was sorry for what he'd done. Sirius raised incredulous eyebrows and Harry scuffed a toe along the dry ground. "Why did you have to shout at me in front of Ollivander?" he mumbled. "I just wanted to watch him."

Ignoring Harry's embarrassment from being scolded in front of his mentor, Sirius demanded, "And you didn't think he would have asked you to come along if he wanted you to?"

"I was only watching," Harry said again; stubbornly. "And you knew we might see a dragon."

"Yes. And we discussed the possibility and what you were to do if we did see one. Do you remember?"

Harry glanced away at the rhetorical question.

"Do you?"

"Yes," Harry mumbled, still looking at trees instead of Sirius.

"What did Ollivander and I say you were to do in case of any danger?"

Harry's gaze came back. "You already know what you said, Sirius."

Sirius met the unexpected challenge in Harry's face with a glare. "I don't care for your attitude."

Sirius' sternest voice had absolutely no effect. Harry frowned right back at him. "I just wanted to watch. I wasn't even close to Ollivander!"

"Ollivander himself explained that there might be things that were too dangerous for you to be part of," Sirius said, not bothering to filter his exasperation. "An enraged dragon is certainly one of those things. And I don't care that you only meant to watch," he added as Harry began to protest again. "It was foolish, Harry. You could have been hurt!"

"But I wasn't-"

"Why are you arguing with me?" Sirius suddenly exploded and Harry's mouth shut abruptly. Sirius forced himself to take a deep breath and said much more quietly, "You were nearly crushed by an avalanche of rocks. And if I hadn't reached you when I did and erected that shield, you would have been."

Harry's defiant glare faltered. But his frown was back just as swiftly. "Well, you still didn't have to yell at me in front of Ollivander-"

Sirius gripped Harry's shoulders. "Are you even listening to me?" he demanded. "This isn't about my scolding you-"

"It is," Harry insisted as he twisted away. "Ollivander will think I'm a big baby now," he said angrily. And then without waiting for Sirius to respond, he turned and stomped off toward their tent. It took Sirius a moment to realize that he'd completely lost control of the situation somehow. Harry flung the tent flap aside and ducked inside. Scowling and not having any idea how to fix this, Sirius followed.

"Harry James," he warned in a low voice as soon as he was inside the tent and Harry turned around, his glare still firmly in place, "do not walk away from me when I'm speaking to you."

"I'm eleven," was Harry's mysterious response.

"And I'm thirty-one," Sirius retorted. "What has that to do with anything?"

Harry made a vague gesture, full of frustration, but it seemed he could come up with no explanation. "I just wanted to see what Ollivander was doing!" He threw himself on the bed, face turned to the wall.

Giving in for the moment, Sirius told him curtly not to leave--debated charming the tent flaps to keep him inside and went to change. When he came out, Harry was still on the bed.

"I'd like to check on Ollivander before we have breakfast," Sirius said quietly. "Would you like to come?" He thought Harry would refuse but after what looked like an internal struggle, Harry turned over. He didn't look at Sirius though and after his own struggle with what to do about that, Sirius gave up and led the short trip across the clearing. He knocked on the tent flap.

When the flap was pulled aside by Mote, Sirius and Harry ducked inside.

Ollivander looked up when they came in. Mote went back to the bed where his master was lying and began fluffing the pillows behind Ollivander's head.

"How are you feeling?" Sirius asked. Ollivander grunted.

"I told you I've had worse," he said dismissively. "No concussion. Not even a broken bone."

Mote nodded in agreement and Sirius breathed a bit easier.

"You weren't hurt, were you?" Ollivander asked with narrowed eyes. "Either of you?"

"No," Sirius answered and the wand maker's face relaxed. But Ollivander wasn't finished. His sharp eyes zeroed in on Harry.

"I asked Sirius if you were mature enough to come on this trip," he said. "Did you know that?"

Harry's look of surprise in Sirius' direction was answer enough. But still Harry said quietly, "No sir."

Ollivander shook his head. "Sirius said you were. And I believed that. You've never given me any indication that you would do something as foolish as you did today." Harry's neck and ears began to glow and he ducked his head, staring at his shoes now and Sirius ached for him, unable to intervene as Harry was scolded by his mentor.

"This isn't a game, Harry," Ollivander went on, his voice heavy with his disappointment. "And you not only put yourself in danger, but that dragon as well. This sort of work is not meant for wizards who want a thrill. Or some sort of entertainment. The magical creature comes first, Harry, and you forgot that this morning when you chose to disobey the rules. Your actions were selfish, and I'm disappointed in you. I imagine your godfather is as well."

Harry's shoulders hunched further with those words and Sirius could see Harry's lips quivering.

"If there's one thing you should learn, Harry, it's that you must think before act," Ollivander said as he shook his head. "There was nothing you could have done when I fell. If Sirius hadn't been there and acted as swiftly as he did, you would have been crushed. It's an admirable quality to want to help me, but it's foolish to attempt a rescue when you're not capable. Rushing blindly into a situation as you did today only made things worse; Sirius could have stopped the rocks much more swiftly if you hadn't come after me. You'd best be very grateful to your godfather today, Harry. I am."

Harry swallowed, and Ollivander shook his head again.

"I think Sirius had best take you home," he finished quietly; Harry's head came up quickly but Ollivander went on as if the words hadn't been a surprise at all. "Sirius was wrong when he told me you were ready for this."

Harry seemed to shrink at the words. But he didn't argue; his flushed face clearly showed how mortified he was; how distressed he felt to have been dismissed by the wand maker.

Ollivander closed his eyes and dropped his head back on his pillows.

"Mote will take good care of Master Ollivander," the elf said positively when Sirius hesitated. He shooed them toward the door with his hands.

"Come on," Sirius said quietly, resting a hand briefly on Harry's shoulder to move his attention from the wand maker. They crossed to their tent silently and once they were inside, Sirius raked his fingers through his hair and gazed at his dejected godson. Feeling unsure and idiotic because of it, Sirius did as instinct dictated and put an arm around Harry's hunched shoulders.

Without a word, Harry pressed his face into Sirius' chest.

--

Sirius leaned against Harry's doorframe, watching his godson sleep. He massaged his forehead slowly, trying to stem a burgeoning headache before it required a potion. This day had been one of the worst in quite a long while and the fact that he could see the full moon through Harry's window wasn't helping. He was half-tempted to Floo Molly and ask her to sit with Harry while he Apparated to Remus' cottage-prison as Padfoot.

He hated full moons; hated them with a passion he reserved for little else, except perhaps Peter Pettigrew. And Voldemort…

Sirius sighed and turned away toward his own bedroom. Silly to be so anxious over the day's events but there you are; he was. Silly to be annoyed with the wand maker for the reprimand as well. Harry had needed to hear that, no matter that no one should be allowed to scold his godson. Being a parent was much too confusing, Sirius decided as he lay down atop the quilt, still fully clothed. Who could sleep with so many thoughts tumbling about anyway?

But he finally did sleep. He woke hours later to a loud pop, followed by an echoing crash. Bolting upright, Sirius had his wand in hand as he scrambled off the bed. The light of dawn was creeping through Harry's curtains and Harry was sitting up, looking around in groggy confusion.

"Whatszat?" he mumbled as Sirius crossed into his room.

"Nothing," Sirius murmured quietly; he pushed Harry back down to the mattress with a gentle hand. "Go back to sleep…"

Harry mumbled incoherently and rolled over, pulling the edge of the blanket with him to create his familiar cocoon. Sirius paused only long enough to pat his shoulder and then went quietly down the stairs. His initial panic had faded into concern as he realized that it could only be one of a very small circle of people who could have Apparated in, Sirius peered into the kitchen and when he found it empty, he went to the library.

"Remus?" he whispered as he pushed the door open. Remus, clothed only in a cloak that wasn't even fastened, turned sharply from where he was leaning on the desk. His red-rimmed eyes widened; he took a step forward and stumbled. Sirius caught his elbows before he could fall.

"What are you doing here?" And then in a hoarse panic, "Harry?"

"Shh," Sirius soothed softly as he folded his husband in his embrace and rearranged his cloak. "Harry's fine; we just came home early." He could see the questions burning across Remus' face like fiendfyre, but Sirius shook his head. "I'll tell you all about it later… Come lie down."

Moving slowly for exhausted muscles, Sirius helped him to the sofa. He pulled the afghan off the back and covered Remus, who was already shivering; he added a warming charm. "Why did you come back so soon? It's barely dawn."

Remus shook his head; Sirius stroked his cheek. "You shouldn't have apparated so soon after you transformed back," he chided. "You might have been hurt."

"Hate that place," Remus whispered as he closed his eyes.

"I know…"

"…worse now," Remus struggled to explain.

"I know," Sirius said again. "Shh," he murmured, running his fingers slowly through Remus' shaggy hair and Remus stopped trying to speak.

He had stayed by himself at the cottage given to him by Dumbledore every full moon for the last six years. Sirius had gone with him since Harry had been at Hogwarts, of course, and it seemed being alone again had taken its toll.

"Go to sleep, Moony," Sirius said quietly. "I'll bring you some soup in a few hours…" But Remus was already asleep, his chest rising and falling evenly. Sirius leaned down and kissed his forehead. Feeling altogether more cheerful, he put a locking charm on the door so that Harry wouldn't accidentally stumble in, and went into the kitchen to make coffee.

--

He went back into the library two hours later with mushroom soup—Remus' favorite—and various potions. Remus was half-awake already; Sirius perched on the sofa near his waist. "How do you feel?"

"Like I've been hit by the knight bus," Remus muttered.

"Hmm. Better than a herd of hippogriffs, then."

Remus smiled. "Oh, infinitely."

Sirius kissed him, lingering for a moment when Remus seemed reluctant to let him go. "Feel like a nosh?" he asked when he pulled back. "Mushroom soup."

"For starters."

"Ready for a steak, already?" Sirius said with a chuckle, quite happy that Remus was feeling that well.

"Mmm."

"Here," Sirius said; he slipped an arm under his husband's back and helped him sit up; the hastily-arranged cloak slipped from his shoulders. "You're starkers, you realize."

"Am I?"

Sirius had only been teasing; his brow furrowed. "Didn't you realize you hadn't dressed?"

"I wasn't thinking straight. I just wanted to get out of there. I had no idea I despised that cottage so much."

Forcing an easy tone, Sirius said, "Perhaps you simply missed Padfoot."

"Padfoot would have been most welcome," Remus murmured; he ran a thumb lightly down Sirius' face. Sirius leaned forward and kissed him again, briefly this time and then he handed over the potions.

"Are you planning to explain why you're so morose?" Remus asked when his color had returned to a semblance of normal and three spoonfuls of soup had disappeared.

Sirius gazed at him, surprise lifting his eyebrows. "How do you mean?"

"You and Harry came home early," Remus reminded him. "And you look terrible. Oh," he said as understanding dawned. "You and Harry quarreled."

Sirius sighed.

"What happened?" Remus pressed, his exhaustion shifting aside easily. "Why did you come home?"

So Sirius explained that Harry had followed Ollivander, unauthorized, yesterday morning, stopping at length to assure Remus that Harry had emerged from the rockslide unscathed.

"Thank God you found them when you did! Why are on earth did Harry follow after him?"

"I think he was entertaining the notion that he's eleven now, off to Hogwarts and therefore parental authority is obsolete," Sirius explained. "He was quite insistent that he hadn't done anything wrong."

"So you brought him home."

"It was Ollivander who ended the trip." That took a fair bit of explanation, though Remus was far less indignant on Harry's behalf.

"I have a feeling Harry won't easily forget Ollivander's words, or how he felt when he realized how disappointed you both were," he said.

Sirius rolled his eyes. "Why are you so rational?"

"One of us has to be."

"Your soup is getting cold," Sirius told him with a feigned scowl.

"Have you forgotten you're a wizard?"

Sirius kissed the teasing smirk off Remus' lips and dutifully warmed the soup.

--

Remus was asleep again when Sirius went upstairs hours later to rouse Harry. He stopped in his room first and with a wave of his wand, sent a set of clothes to the library. Glancing at the clock and wanting to give Harry a few more minutes, he straightened the bed's quilt. When he looked up again, Harry was standing in the doorway, one of his hands holding the opposite elbow loosely as his big toe made an aimless pattern on the wooden floor.

Sirius smiled. "Morning."

"Morning," Harry echoed but he continued to hold up the frame with his shoulder. Sirius sat on the just-made bed and patted the empty space beside him. Harry dropped his hand and came in.

"Sleep alright?" Sirius asked.

Harry nodded.

"I should hope so. It's nearly ten."

"Is it really?" Harry twisted round to eye Remus' antique clock and then shrugged sheepishly. "I was tired, I guess."

Sirius poked his godson's ribs. "Hogwarts has made you lazy, kid."

Harry nudged him with an elbow. "I have an eight o'clock class every day," he said indignantly.

"I see." Sirius he pretended to ponder that. "Then I suppose a lie-in or two won't hurt." Harry smiled. Silence reigned for another few minutes as they listened to the tick-tock of the clock behind them. "Are you hungry? I could probably manage to make a few crumpets without Remus' help."

Harry snorted and they went downstairs together. The library door was still closed, which Sirius hoped meant that Remus was still sleeping.

Harry collected the ingredients for crumpets. He stirred the batter while Sirius lit the stove with a spell.

"I think it's hot enough," Sirius said after a moment and looked up when Harry didn't answer; he was frowning down at the batter. "Harry?"

Harry looked up, his fingers still around the spoon's handle. "Do you think Ollivander will ever let me go with him again?"

"Yes; I do."

Harry looked down and tapped the spoon against the bottom of the bowl a few times. Very quietly, he asked, "Will you?"

"Do you think I should?"

Harry's eyes darted up. He flushed but he nodded. "I won't go off on my own again."

"I'm glad to hear that."

Harry was quiet for a moment before he slid the batter toward Sirius. "I really like learning things from Ollivander."

Sirius gave his sad godson an encouraging smile. "I know you do."

"It would be awful if he didn't let me any longer, Sirius."

Sirius rested his hip against the counter and gave Harry his full attention. "Ollivander only said those things because he was worried about you. He doesn't want you to be hurt. And I know it wasn't much fun to be sent home, but Ollivander and I were very clear that the most important aspect of this trip was your safety."

"I know," Harry said in a small voice.

"I am positive Ollivander didn't intend that you should never be allowed to visit with him again," Sirius said gently, "and I do believe that once you've proven that you will be more responsible, he'll allow you to come on another of his trips."

Harry swallowed as he nodded jerkily. Sirius brushed the floppy hair off Harry's forehead and smiled gently. "Why don't you pour the batter?" he said. "It looks perfect."

With more patience than Sirius had, Harry filled each crumpet mold and then watched with extra concentration as the little rounds cooked.

"Something else on your mind?"

A small smile brightened the morose features and Harry nodded.

"Well?" Sirius prodded, trying not to sound too amused. Harry's eyes flicked up.

"Will you teach me how to do that spell?" he asked slowly. "The one you used yesterday morning to stop the rocks?"

"Protego?"

His lip captured between his teeth, Harry nodded.

Surprised, it took Sirius a moment to process that. "You want me to teach you a shielding charm? Whatever for?" He nudged Harry aside as the crumpets browned about the edges and flipped them while Harry struggled with his answer.

"Ollivander said I made it worse … because I tried to help when I couldn't." He twisted the hem of his shirt in his fingers. "I didn't mean to."

"No," Sirius agreed. "I think he simply meant that I could have used the charm to stop the rocks sooner. It was a bit close."

"You saved Ollivander," Harry said after a moment. "And me too."

Feeling oddly self-conscious, Sirius nodded. He cupped Harry's chin and tried for a light tone, "I wasn't about to let anything happen to you."

Harry didn't respond; his eyebrows were making a pensive line above his eyes. Deciding the crumpets were done, Sirius released Harry, slid them out of the pan and set the steaming plate in the middle of the table.

"Fetch the butter?" Sirius said, breaking Harry from his reverie. Harry nodded absently and went to the cold cupboard. "Pumpkin juice as well," Sirius added as he grabbed plates and glasses.

Harry set the butter and juice down and slid into his chair. Sirius watched him fiddling idly with his crumpet and wondered if his wish to learn the charm was some sort of penance. "I'll show you how to cast a Protego after breakfast."

Harry looked up quickly. "Yeah?"

Sirius smiled. "It's a bit advanced but I don't think you'll have any trouble with it. I'll show you a few other useful spells if you'd like. Now, eat before the crumpets are cold."

--

Sirius left Harry at the kitchen table after the dinner dishes had been cleared that evening and went into the library. Remus was slumped in one of the chairs. He looked up when Sirius closed the door and smiled.

"How are you feeling?"

"Well enough to say goodnight to Harry," Remus said as he straightened. It sounded like a question however, as if he was afraid Sirius might argue.

"And then straight to bed?" Sirius suggested with a smile and a raised eyebrow.

"Absolutely," Remus promised, his brown eyes dancing in amusement.

"In that case," Sirius said as he offered his husband a hand, "come on out now. Harry is writing a letter to Ollivander; his idea."

"An apology?"

"He's hoping Ollivander's found the unicorns and he'll be in a better mood," Sirius explained with a chuckle.

"Clever," Remus said dryly. Sirius helped him put his cloak back on, keeping up the fiction and carefully didn't mention that this could be the perfect opportunity to explain certain things to Harry. He kept his thoughts to himself as he kissed Remus' cheek and slipped out of the library.

"You don't think Ollivander will be annoyed by a letter, do you?" Harry asked as soon as he came back into the kitchen. "He's probably busy."

"Then Hedwig can give the letter to Mote."

"Yeah," Harry said with a nod. "Good idea."

Remus opened the library door a few minutes later; he came into the kitchen slowly, looked extremely tired. Harry didn't notice his presence until a hand settled on top of his head. Surprised, Harry twisted.

"Hi there," Remus said with a quiet smile.

"Hi Remus." Harry smiled, but it turned to a frown a second later; he cocked his head as he studied Remus' haggard face. "You look tired. Were you ill on your trip?"

Remus smiled slightly. "A bit, I suppose."

"Oh. Are you better now?"

"I am," Remus said. "Sirius tells me you talked to a snake," he added and Harry nodded solemnly. "And you met a Bowtruckle? That must have been quite exciting."

Without further prompting, Harry told Remus all about collecting the wand wood. Remus listened attentively, giving no sign of how exhausted he was.

Chapter Text

"You didn't get to see even one unicorn?"

Harry shook his head, keeping his eyes on the carrot he was pressing into the snowman's round face.

"Harry?" Hermione persisted. "Why did you have to leave early?"

There was no way he was going to tell her that he'd been sent home but since he really couldn't lie, he settled for at least half of the truth. "There was a rockslide—when Ollivander was studying an Hungarian Horntail on a mountain—and we almost got hurt."

Hermione stopped tying the scarlet scarf; her eyes widened but they narrowed just as quickly. "Sirius let you so close to a Hungarian Horntail?"

"Er..." Why did Hermione have to be so clever anyway?

"You went without permission?"

"Maybe… yeah."

"Harry!"

"I know," Harry said, irritated at her scolding tone. "I already got shouted at plenty."

"Well, I should think so! Sirius must have been terrified. You were sent home, weren't you?"

"Can we not talk about this?"

"Well, all right, Harry, but I hope you aren't going to be so foolish again," Hermione said, looking worried as she went back to the scarf. "That was really dangerous."

"I know," Harry said quietly. Hermione glanced up, and gave him a small smile.

She stepped back, nodding with satisfaction at the neat scarlet scarf. "It was really nice of Sirius to make those mirrors for my parents and me," she said. Harry smiled and handed her the pointed blue hat—Dumbledore had donated it for the cause; he was having tea with Harry's parents and the Grangers. "I can speak with my parents whenever I want now."

"He's been working on it since November. The magic is really tricky, he says."

"It's because my parents are Muggles," Hermione said with a nod. "Do you think the hat should sit straight or at an angle?"

"Straight; looks drunk the other way."

Hermione smiled and righted the hat. "The mirrors wouldn't have taken so long to create if Sirius hadn't spelled them so that my parents could activate their mirror even though they're not magical. Did you see how impressed Dumbledore was?"

"Sirius is brilliant," Harry said with a grin and Hermione nodded. "He saved me from being killed by the rocks," he said after another moment. It seemed safe to tell Hermione that now.

"He did?"

"Shoved me out of the way and cast Protego."

"Oh…"

"Yeah." They were quiet as they took turns adding chestnuts to make eyes and a grinning mouth. After awhile, Harry said quietly, "I think it was my fault that the dragon knocked all those rocks down."

Hermione paused. "Why do you think so?"

Harry shrugged. He moved one of the chestnuts so that the smile was more upturned than down. "Ollivander wouldn't have climbed up there if he expected the mountain to come tumbling down on him, so it must have been me."

Hermione turned to him; she had her familiar thinking frown in place. "I suppose that might be true," she said slowly. "But you don't know, do you? Not for certain?"

"Well, no. They didn't tell me it was my fault or anything, but it's a funny coincidence; don't you think so?" He didn't know why it was so important but it was somehow. "I don't think they wanted me to feel worse."

"I broke my dad's leg once," Hermione said abruptly.

"You did? How?"

"My mum and dad were teaching me to ski last Christmas. I lost control of the skis and my dad tripped over me. He had a plaster all the way up to his thigh."

"But you didn't break a rule," Harry pointed out. "It's not the same thing at all."

Hermione sighed. "No, I suppose not."

Harry smiled at her and was about to thank her for trying to make him feel better anyway, but the back door opened and Sirius stepped out. "It's cold out here," he said, giving his arms a brisk rub.

"It's winter, Sirius," Harry said with a small smile.

"You don't say."

"Yeah," Harry said as he nodded. He gestured wide with his arms. "The snow's sort of a dead giveaway."

Sirius smiled at him and then turned to Hermione. "Is he this cheeky at Hogwarts?"

"Oh no," Hermione said earnestly. "He'd be given detention straightaway and Harry's never had detention."

Harry could tell his godfather was trying not to laugh as he nodded. "Well, I certainly am glad to hear that," he said and Hermione looked relieved.

"Look," Harry said to Sirius, who was still smiling. "We finished our snowman."

"It's lovely." Sirius snapped his fingers. "Wait right here," he said and went back into the house. Hermione looked to Harry for an explanation but Harry could only shrug. Sirius came out a moment later, holding up a camera. "Well?" he said excitedly. "Stand next to it and I'll take a picture."

"Oh! Will you give a copy to my parents?" Hermione asked as she stood to the side of Dumbledore's snowy doppelganger. "They don't have a magical photograph yet."

"No? Well," Sirius said as he gestured with his head for Harry to move over, "we'll have to take one of all you together before you leave then."

Harry smiled at Hermione's huge grin.

"Say Merlin's pointy hat!" Sirius said and they did, both of them trying not to laugh.

--

"It mightn't have any significance at all," Albus said, still sitting in the parlor after the Grangers had gone home and Harry was getting ready for bed. "We already know that Harry will be a very powerful wizard some day."

"Very few powerful wizards are Parselmouths," Sirius said.

"Any wizard with the ability would not advertise the fact," Albus pointed out. Sirius frowned.

"It doesn't concern you at all?"

"It concerns me a great deal, my boy, but not for the reasons you are assuming." Albus shook his head. "Harry is hailed as a hero—as a boy more powerful than Voldemort was. It is just as easy to vilify him as it is to worship him."

"Harry didn't even kill Voldemort," Sirius said, grimacing his frustration. "It was Lily's sacrifice that killed him."

Albus smiled gently and Sirius was simply irritated by it. "Harry saw several snakes just before Lily and James were killed," he said; he hadn't remembered until Remus had reminded him the day after the full moon. "James took Harry out because Lily wasn't feeling well and I suggested the zoo. We saw pythons and a boa constrictor. He didn't hiss at any of them."

"He was still very young," Albus said, sounding surprised.

"He was talking a little by then," Remus murmured. "He was an early talker, I remember Lily saying. He said hi to each of the snakes."

"Hi was his favorite word at the time…" Sirius pressed his teeth together and blinked several times. Grief snuck up at the oddest of times. Remus put a hand on his shoulder blade and Sirius gave him a small smile. "If he was born a Parselmouth, it would have manifested itself then," he went on without another surge of sadness. "Wouldn't it?"

"I should think so," Albus said slowly.

Remus and Sirius exchanged a glance.

"Is it possible," Remus began hesitantly, "that Voldemort somehow gave that power to Harry?"

"Transferred any of his magic," Sirius added. "The same way Lily did?"

"But Lily's magic was transferred through her sacrifice," Albus said. "A sacrifice of love, which Voldemort would not have been capable of; even if he had wanted to."

"But some of his magic must have gotten through," Sirius pressed. "Harry's scar is proof of that. He didn't come out untouched."

"Are you suggesting that Harry retains some essence of Voldemort's magic?"

Put that way, Sirius suddenly wanted nothing more to do with this conversation. "Is it possible?" he asked anyway; he wasn't a Gryffindor for nothing.

Dumbledore took a moment to answer, "Impossible is a Muggle convention."

"But what does that mean?" Remus asked quietly.

"It doesn't necessarily mean anything." Dumbledore sighed. "The idea is alarming because it implies that Harry has somehow been tainted." Dumbledore paid no mind to Sirius' objection to the word. "But as you pointed out," he went on, "Harry already has Voldemort's scar because Voldemort's magic hit him, but Lily's sacrifice stopped it before it could kill him. If some of Voldemort's magic did interact with Harry's before that, it means nothing more than it did a week ago."

Nonetheless, it was disturbing to think that such evil had touched him. "If Voldemort wasn't dead," Sirius said tightly, "I'd kill him myself."

Albus said nothing and with a sigh, Sirius offered him more tea but the headmaster shook his head. "I best be on my way," he said. "I do have a gift for Harry, though. Give it to him for me, would you?"

Surprised, Remus asked, "Wouldn't you like to give it to him yourself?"

"I believe it would be better to open it without me," the old wizard said mysteriously and handed Sirius a squishy parcel, wrapped in gold paper. And then Albus stood, thanking them for the hospitality while Remus fetched his cloak.

"Oh," Remus remembered as he handed the heavy fabric over, "your hat is still outside. I'll-"

"I have plenty of hats," Albus said with a smile. "Too many, actually. Wish Harry a Happy Christmas for me, won't you?" And with that, the headmaster turned on the spot and was gone.

"What sort of gift is better to give without Albus here?" Sirius asked as he gazed down at the innocent-looking parcel.

"You guess is as good as mine," Remus said. He waved his wand to clear the tea service and then they went upstairs together; Harry was just coming out of the loo with droplets of water slipping from his fringe.

"Accio towel," Sirius said; he tossed it to his godson when a blue one flew into his hand. "Did you forget where we kept them?" he asked with a smile.

Harry made a face and scrubbed the towel quickly through his hair. "Is that for me?" he asked with interest as he spotted the parcel in Sirius' hands.

"Yes," Remus answered. "Hang the towel and then you can open it."

Harry put the towel to rights in record time and Sirius handed the gift over. Harry made himself comfortable in the middle of his bed and tore the wrapping off.

Sirius and Remus gaped at the silvery fabric in Harry's lap.

Oblivious to what he was holding, Harry plucked a small piece of parchment from the center of the cloak. "It's from Dumbledore. He says this belonged to my dad!" Harry looked up at them, his young face full of excitement.

"It's an invisibility cloak," Sirius said, coming to sit beside Harry. "Your grandpa gave it to your dad."

"Yeah? What does it do?"

Sirius smiled. He lifted the shimmering, slippery material and draped it over his shoulders. Harry's eyes popped.

"You're invisible! "Your whole body! Can I try that?"

Sirius handed the cloak over and Harry was bounding up from the bed and in front of the mirror a second later.

"Cool!" he cried as he disappeared. "It doesn't even show my reflection! Look at that! Now my head's just floating there!" Harry laughed excitedly and proceeded to disappear each part of his body in turn.

"Ron has got to see this! Seamus and Dean will love it too!"

"It will be the hit of Gryffindor Tower," Sirius agreed. Both he and Harry looked at Remus when he cleared his throat softly.

"You can show the cloak to Ron when we visit the Burrow tomorrow evening, but I think it would be best to leave it here when you return to Hogwarts. It's quite valuable."

Harry turned round; half of his body was still vanished. "But, I promise I'll take really good care of it; I won't lose it or anything. Sirius?"

Remus frowned, and Sirius found himself unwilling to countermand the decision, much as he wanted to. "I think we'll leave it for now," he finally said and Harry sighed. To his credit though, he nodded.

"Yeah, all right. But I can show it to Ron?"

"Yes, you may," Remus answered.

"Can I show it to Ollivander tomorrow; we're still going to see him tomorrow, aren't we?"

"I'm sure Ollivander will be suitably impressed," Sirius said; he reached forward and tugged at the cloak, rearranging it so that only Harry's head was visible. "Bit creepy," he decided and Harry laughed. He'd talk to Remus later about the cloak. After all, James had kept it with him for years at Hogwarts, and no great harm had been done.

--

"How come Ollivander asked you to help him with his books?" Harry asked as he and Sirius walked toward the wand maker's shop the following morning; Remus was with his editor and was going to meet the two of them for lunch when he finished.

"I offered a few weeks ago when he complained of not having enough time to keep the books the way he likes them," Sirius said with a shrug. "Mote used to do most of the bookkeeping but he's been accompanying Ollivander on his trips instead of staying behind. Besides which, Ollivander guessed I was bored," he added with a smile.

Harry didn't like to hear that. "Draco said the minister asked you to be on the board of governors—for Hogwarts. Maybe you ought to."

Sirius looked down at him in surprise. "How did Draco know that?"

"Dobby probably told him. Dobby tells him lots of things he isn't supposed to know."

"Such as?"

Harry tilted his head as he thought about that. "Mr Malfoy went to visit some really old friends in Knockturn Alley, Dobby said. But then he started banging his head against a wall and saying he wasn't supposed to tell. I think Dobby is just lonely, now that Draco isn't home; I don't think Draco's parents talk to him much."

"No, I don't imagine they do." Sirius patted his shoulder; they'd reached Ollivander's and he opened the door and ushered Harry in.

"Wow," Harry said as he looked around the usually-chaotic shop. "Everything's so tidy."

"Your godfather has been busy."

Harry turned; Ollivander was just coming out of the back room. He wasn't smiling as he ordinarily was and Harry felt his stomach swoop. Ollivander looked him up and down and Harry had to force himself not to fidget under the frowning scrutiny.

"You missed an impressive group of young unicorns," he finally said and Harry felt his face heating. "I trust," Ollivander said after another mortifying moment, "that you've learned your lesson."

"Yes sir," Harry said quietly.

Ollivander squinted down at him. "What did you learn then?"

Heat continued to prickle across Harry's cheeks. "Well, er…" Ollivander raised his eyebrows and Harry straightened his shoulders. "To think before I rush off," he said with a bit of courage, "even if I'm trying to help. And Sirius told me I can't always help, even if I want to. But he taught me some important spells so when I'm older and know even more, I'll be able to help just like he did."

Harry's face screwed up in concentration for a second and then he nodded. "Oh, yeah, and I won't follow along where I'm not supposed to be; without permission. Being a wand maker can be dangerous so you have to know how to be safe and I wasn't being safe enough. I will be next time," he added earnestly.

Ollivander pursed his lips, studying him again and then he nodded curtly.

"I've saved one of the pieces of wood for you," he said; he smiled when Harry was unable to hide his surprise. "The one you helped carve. Would you like to help me put the core in?"

"Yes sir!" Harry said eagerly, all of his embarrassment vanishing.

"Well, come along then," Ollivander said, the usual gleam restored to his eyes. "You too, Sirius," he said impatiently. Sirius smiled and trailed after them. Ollivander brought Harry to his workbench, where the wood and three cores—under suspension charms—were waiting.

"Do you remember what type of wood this is?" Ollivander asked and Harry nodded.

"Yes sir. Ash."

"And ash is a springy wood," Ollivander said and Harry nodded again. "What core do you think you might like to try first?"

Harry looked over the two unicorn hairs on display and then at the dragon heartstring. "The heartstring?"

With careful hands, the wand maker transferred the core closer to the wood. "Take out your wand," Ollivander directed. "You've watched me several times, and wrote an essay on the procedure," he said. "Give it a try."

Harry licked his lips as he recalled the long string of Latin that would allow him to transfer the heartstring to the wood. Without thinking about it, he reached a hand out and ran a finger lightly along the textured wood; he could feel Ollivander's eyes on him but the wand maker didn't object and Harry was too mesmerized by the feel of the wood along his skin to really care that maybe he shouldn't be touching it. His hand moved along, hovering over the heartstring. He didn't touch it and his hand drifted back to the wood.

Frowning, he looked up at Ollivander, who was watching him with narrowed eyes. "I…" He felt stupid but he said anyway, "It doesn't feel right."

For some reason, Ollivander clasped his hands together, his face lighting with excitement. He stepped back and gestured to the two unicorn hairs. "Which one?" he asked quietly.

Uncertainly, Harry stepped forward. He glanced up at Sirius; his godfather smiled his familiar encouraging smile. Harry lowered his fingers toward the hairs, not touching them but as soon as his hand passed over the shorter of the two, magic tingled over his palm. He smiled. "That one," he said positively.

Ollivander let out the breath he'd been holding and beamed. "Very well done, Harry," he said. "There are almost no wizards who can do that. Very well done indeed."

Harry's chest swelled at the praise; even more when he saw Sirius' smile. Sirius patted his shoulder and smiling now as well, Harry turned his attention back to turning that silent piece of wood into a wand.

Chapter Text

"I think you must have grown at least nine centimeters in the last year," Remus said as he tugged at the hem of Harry's new robes. Harry waited impatiently for Remus' final nod to indicate to Madame Malkin that the new robes would do. "Hold still please," Remus said as he straightened. Harry obeyed, forcing himself not to roll his eyes.

"That should do," Remus finally said, nodding to the shopkeeper. Madame Malkin smiled. She waved her wand in an intricate pattern up and down Harry's body, and then flicked her wrist and a set of numbers appeared on the parchment with Harry's name on it.

"A cloak as well?" she asked.

"Two."

"Very good," Madame Malkin approved. "Everything will be ready in two days. I will take that one, Harry."

Remus thanked her and Harry shrugged out of the black robes, handed them over to the dressmaker before following Remus out of the shop. Sirius was just coming toward them, holding a bag full of parchments and quills.

"How was it?" Sirius asked. "Not too torturous, I hope?" he added, winking at Harry.

"I hate getting fitted for robes," Harry said, pulling a face. "Madame Malkin is so fussy." Remus was as well, but Harry wasn't going to add that. Sirius smirked at him and Harry had to duck his head to hide a smile.

"I am not fussy," Remus objected anyway as he looked between them.

"Sure you're not," Sirius said with a grin. "You were in there for nearly an hour."

"There was a queue, thank you very much. And Harry wouldn't hold still."

"Oh sure, Moony, blame the kid."

Remus smiled, the lines around his brown eyes crinkling with amusement. Sirius kissed him over Harry's head.

"Do you have to do that in middle of the street?" Harry grumbled when they pulled apart. "Anyone might see you."

"And?" Sirius said with a smirk. "There's no law against kissing in a street."

Harry ignored that. "What does that mean anyway?"

"What does what mean?" Remus asked while Sirius took all of the bags and shrunk them.

"Moony."

Sirius paused in his spell work and Remus frowned slightly.

"I mean I know it's a nickname," Harry went on, "but how did you get it?"

Remus glanced down the street. Harry followed his gaze, but he didn't see anything interesting.

"I started calling him that when I was about fifteen," Sirius answered, drawing Harry's attention. "And I've been using it ever since." He smiled a little. "Silly, I suppose."

"Padfoot's weirder," Harry said, smirking. "Hermione told me it's the name of a spirit—a dog ghost that supposedly haunts a small town."

"We're a weird lot, Remus and me," Sirius agreed with a smile.

Harry snorted and Sirius put an arm round his shoulders as they started down the street again. "Did my dad have a nickname for my mum?" he asked after a minute.

"Hmm," Sirius mused. "He called her Lils sometimes; she liked that."

"What about Dad?" Harry asked through his smile. "Did Mum have a nickname for him?"

Remus and Sirius shared an amused glance, but both of them shook their heads. Harry was about to ask what was so funny, but Draco and his father were just coming up the stairs leading from Knockturn Alley; Harry grinned.

"Hi Draco!"

"Hi!"

"Good afternoon," Mr Malfoy greeted them with a slight nod; he was frowning but not at anyone in particular. Sirius and Remus murmured their own greeting and then no one said anything.

"We're going to Flourish and Blotts to get our books," Harry said to Draco. "Want to come?"

Draco's grin didn't quite make it to the surface as he turned to Mr Malfoy. "May we, Father?" His father nodded distractedly and led the way. Draco fell in step beside Harry with Sirius and Remus close behind them.

"Have you read your supply list yet?" Harry asked. "We have loads of books for Defence."

"All of them written by the professor."

"I know; he has the same publisher as Remus."

"Have you met him?"

"No, but Remus said he'll be at Flourish and Blotts." Harry lowered his voice, not wanting his parents to know he'd overheard them talking last night when he was supposed to have been sleeping. "He writes about all sorts of adventures he's had—battling dark creatures, but Remus says half the stuff in his books can't be true," he whispered with a grin. "And Sirius said the headmaster must be losing his mind to have given him the job."

It was just the sort of information Draco appreciated; he snorted softly. "He can't be worse than Emmettweller though; he was stupider even than Hagrid."

"Hey," Harry objected, giving his friend a nudge in the ribs, "Hagrid isn't stupid."

Draco's knowing look said otherwise. "Well, even so, Emmettweller was an idiot; Lockhart has to be better than him."

Emmettweller, Quirrel's replacement, had turned out to know very little except that children should be as quiet as possible and that class should end only when he was ready—even if it meant all of the students missed half their lunch. No one had been particularly sad when he got sick at the end of term and was never heard from again. Especially not the twins. They'd spent almost all of their spare time pranking the hapless professor.

"At least his books will be interesting," Draco added. "Battles with dark creatures."

"If they're even true."

"Even if they're not, they can't be as dull as our first year text. Hermione was the only one who didn't fall asleep when we had to read it. Even you thought it was boring."

"That's because Emmettweller read it out loud in class; I don't know why he assigned the chapters at all."

"Didn't I just say he was an idiot?" Smiling at his own cleverness, Draco ducked into Flourish and Blotts behind his father, but Harry immediately lost sight of both of them; he'd never seen the shop so crowded. Harry yelped as someone trod on his foot on their way past.

"Watch where you're going, young man!" a lady cried as she continued past, using an elbow to crowd into a very loud clutch of witches.

"Are you all right?" Sirius asked while Harry glared at the woman's back.

The trampled foot quickly forgotten, Harry stood on tiptoes and tried to see around the crowd. "Why are there so many people here?"

"To meet Gilderoy Lockhart, I imagine," Sirius said; he nudged Remus and Remus chuckled. Harry had no idea why his parents had to be so weird. He turned back to scanning for Lockhart.

"He's just standing there, talking about himself, though," he said, finally catching a break through the hordes of women; and a few scattered men. "Hey, look, it's Mrs. Weasley. She's staring at him and smiling; she looks sort of goofy. She must really like his books."

"Oi Harry! Up here!"

Harry twisted and found Ron leaning over the stairs to the upper level.

"Didn't know you'd be here," Harry said, grinning.

"Mum had to see the new professor. She thinks he's handsome."

Harry glanced up at Lockhart again, studying his face. But he couldn't see anything special about the new professor. He had a really big smile, with loads of teeth, but that seemed more creepy than handsome.

"Ronnie, come down from there."

Harry turned to see Mr Weasley coming in with Ginny.

"Oh, hello, Harry," he said, smiling brightly and then greeted Sirius and Remus before turning back to Ron. "Where are your brothers?"

"Dunno," Ron said with a shrug as he leaned against the banister and inched down slowly. "Percy went to look for… something; not sure what. And the twins went upstairs."

Mr Weasley sighed and gestured for Ron to hurry along; Ron rolled his eyes and did, stopping to give Harry's shoulder a shove. "The twins are poring over some secret parchment," he whispered.

"Yeah?" Harry asked with some interest. Whatever the secret was, the twins were bound to get in trouble over it. "What sort?"

"They won't let me see it," Ron said with a huff. "Fred practically tossed me down the stairs when I tried to get a look. Wankers."

"You could wait until after they go to sleep and steal it," Harry suggested with a smirk, only half-serious but Ron brightened considerably.

"They've probably booby-trapped their room," Harry warned him, not really wanting his best mate to end up with flashing green and silver hair after breaking into the twins' room.

"Yeah, they would do that," Ron grumbled and added another insult under his breath.

"What are you so cross about?" Ginny wondered, sidling away from her father and leaving the three adults to their chatting.

"None of your business," Ron retorted grumpily.

"The twins have a secret parchment," Harry told her, earning a frown from Ron. "Oh, don't be a twat," he grumbled to his friend.

Ginny's brown eyes sparked their interest and Harry knew she's have the secret out of the twins before the night was out. They shared a grin while Ron continued to frown.

They all became sober though as Mr Malfoy pushed his way through Lockhart's fans. "Simpletons," he muttered to himself; his eyes narrowed as soon as he saw Mr Weasley; his fingers tightened on a tattered book he was holding close to his side. "Well, well, Arthur," he drawled. "I wouldn't have expected you to be here today; after your late night last night."

Mr Weasley's jaw tightened and his smile was strained. "Lucius."

"Buying supplies for your children?" Lucius asked with a sneer. His eyes raked over Ginny and Ron. "Ah; your youngest. Second hand books, I see." He slid Ginny's books from where they were stacked in her cauldron and fingered them distastefully. "The ministry doesn't pay you enough to terrorize Pureblood families, Arthur?"

Sirius stepped around Mr Weasley as Mr Weasley clenched his fists. "I don't think this is really the place, Lucius," he said, smiling in a way that didn't hide his irritation very well—at least not from Harry. Mr Malfoy seemed to have no response to that and with very little fuss, Sirius took the stack of books from him and tucked them back into Ginny's cauldron.

"Molly's trying to get your attention, Arthur," Remus spoke quietly. His features still tense, Mr Weasley turned. Mrs Weasley was making her way through the crowd, smiling and waving.

Sirius patted his shoulder and said Ginny and Ron, "Run along to your mum."

Ginny took her father's hand and Mr Weasley's face finally relaxed a little. With Ron beside him, Ginny led the way to her mother.

"Have you seen my son?" Mr Malfoy asked as they walked away.

Harry shook his head. Mr Malfoy, smiling slightly now, nodded curtly. He ordered several people to move as he went off in search of Draco.

"That would not have ended well," Sirius said in low voice—mostly to Remus but Harry nodded anyway. He'd never seen Mr Weasley angry before. "We'd best get your books and be on our way."

"Upstairs," Remus said, nodding toward the giant sign indicating where they could find Hogwarts' textbooks.

"Lockhart's books are through there though," Harry said, pointing at the crowd. Remus sighed.

"I'll fetch those. You and Sirius go upstairs for the rest."

Remus disappeared into the fray just as the Weasleys found their way out. Mrs Weasley was beaming. "Hello there, Harry," she said cheerfully. "Did you see the new professor? Quite charming; he'll be an excellent teacher."

Harry couldn't really see how someone needed to be charming to teach Defence, but he nodded anyway.

"Where are the twins?" Mrs Weasley asked the air in general as she looked round the bustling shop. "And Percy?" Not waiting for an answer, she took Ron's arm and dragged him away, presumably in pursuit of her missing offspring.

Sirius leaned in close to Mr Weasley and Mr Weasley frowned as he nodded.

"Did your mum get all of Lockhart's books?" Harry asked Ginny. She nodded, prodding her cauldron forward a bit to show how full it was.

"There were nine of them! And every one is written by him."

"Bit much, yeah," Harry agreed. "Hey," he said, reaching down to pull a tattered book from the pile.

"That isn't mine," Ginny said, leaning over to squint at the book.

"Draco's father had one like this. He was holding it when he stopped to talk to your dad. He must have put it in here accidentally. We'd better give it back to him."

Ginny wrinkled her nose. "Not me," she said as she shook her head.

"I'll ask Sirius to send it to him," Harry said with a shrug as he pocketed the book.

"I really hate Draco's father," Ginny said as she brought the cauldron close to her chest. "If Draco's anything like him-"

"He's not," Harry said hastily. At least he tries not to be, he almost added but decided it wouldn't help. Ginny nodded though, as easy-going about things as Ron wasn't.

Sirius interrupted them anyway, "Remus should be finished soon and we still have to go upstairs for your other books."

Harry nodded and ent up the stairs alongside Sirius, glancing up when his godfather tousled his hair. "I think you'll have more Defence. books than all of your other books combined."

Harry smirked and led the way to the Charms section. He grinned when he found the proper book. "Hermione's excited to read this one. She told me in her last letter."

"Has there ever been a book that Hermione hasn't been excited to read?" Sirius asked, his grey eyes dancing with amusement.

"Probably not."

Harry spotted Draco's blond head behind a tall stack of books as he searched for McGonagall's assigned book next. "There's Draco," he said, pointing for Sirius' benefit. "I'll tell him his father is looking for him."

Sirius nodded and Harry went over and tapped his friend's shoulder.

Draco smiled as he turned, not startled in the least at the unexpected interruption. "Hi, Harry. Look at this; it's a Quidditch book, but it's told with photographs instead of words."

"Yeah?" Harry crowded in to see and Draco shifted to accommodate.

"See?" he said, pointing. "They're just releasing the Snitch; it goes through the whole game like this."

"There must be hundreds of pictures," Harry marveled, transfixed as he watched the game unfolding through the pictures. "Look how fast the Seeker is going—and you can even see the wings of the Snitch; brilliant."

It took a few minutes before Harry remembered he was supposed to be telling Draco about his father. And when he did, Draco sighed.

"He's probably still downstairs."

"Yeah," Draco said as he put the book back on the shelf.

"You're not going to buy it?"

Draco's eyebrows furrowed and he looked back at the spine, considering but finally he shrugged. "I'd better go; Father won't like waiting. He'll send Dobby if I take too long."

"All right. Oh," Harry said as he remembered the book in his pocket. He took it out and Draco's nose wrinkled in distaste.

"Where did you get that? It's as old as Merlin."

"Your father accidentally gave it to Ginny; we saw him downstairs."

Draco's blond eyebrows rose. "My father? But it's disgusting."

Harry shrugged. "It's his; he must not have realized he gave it to her. Just give it back to him," he said impatiently.

"Ugh. Oh all right," Draco said dramatically. Harry rolled his eyes as his friend took the book between two unwilling fingers and dropped it in a pocket without a second glance. "Sirius is fighting with a book," he said, already distracted; he pointed and Harry grinned. Sirius was struggling to close a book that kept shouting at him to keep reading.

"What is that?" Harry asked as he Draco moved over to him.

"Stupid book won't let me close it," Sirius muttered. "Hi Draco," he murmured even as he tried to squash the covers together.

"Maybe if you tell it to belt up?" Draco suggested; his lips were twitching as he tried not to laugh.

"Already tried that. Oi, you daft book! I'm not interested in how many zipheraries there are in a muskel!"

"You will be!" The book screeched. "Once you read it! Open the pages immediately!"

"Why don't you just put it down?" Harry asked, a breath of laughter escaping; Sirius frowned at him, but Harry's lips wouldn't be still.

"I tried that and it stung me. Ow!"

"Throw it or something," Draco said, backing away from the book as a spark made Sirius jump. The book sailed through the air in the next second and it screamed so loudly that patrons scrambled from around the stacks of books to see what the commotion was about.

Two heads of ginger hair darted up from a far corner. "What's all the noise?" Fred complained.

"We're trying to work here," George added with a harrumph.

"Just a book shouting at Sirius," Harry said, glancing at his godfather; his smile faltered as Sirius stuck his abused finger in his mouth.

"I'm all right," Sirius said with a wave of his free hand. "Draco," he said to the blond, "your father's looking for you."

"I know," Draco said on a sigh. "See you in a month, then," he said to Harry. "Bye Sirius."

Harry said goodbye reluctantly to his friend and then followed Sirius to where the twins were sequestered again. "Your parents are ready to leave," Sirius said and then frowned as Fred tried hastily to shove the parchment he was holding behind his back. He wasn't fast enough; Sirius swiped it up before either of the twins could even protest.

"Where did you get this?"

Fred and George exchanged furtive glances. "It's just a spare bit of parchment," George said and Harry could tell he was lying. George certainly did it often enough. Sirius raised a single eyebrow and George let out a gusty sigh. "Found it in Filch's office."

"Found it?"

"Well, we may have borrowed it," Fred said.

"Just to study it," George chimed in, putting on his best innocent face. "It's a joke parchment, see. Some clever blokes named Padfoot and Prongs—we expect so anyway, charmed it to insult anyone-"

"Padfoot?" Harry interrupted, glancing swiftly up at his godfather.

"Yeah," Fred said before he could say anything more. "There were these four chaps—Moony and Wormtail were the other two, but all it does is insult people. I'll show you if you like-"

"But that's what you call Remus," Harry interrupted again; his interest peaked enough that he pulled the parchment from Sirius' hand. It was folded but there wasn't any writing. "How do you know who made it?" Harry asked the twins.

"Well, if you tap it, it'll insult you, but we don't have our wands-"

Sirius withdrew his wand, touched the parchment and said quietly, "I solemnly swear I'm up to no good." Words began to bleed onto the parchment.

"Oi!" The twins scrambled up from the floor. "How did you know?"

"Messrs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs," Harry read out loud, "purveyors of aids to magical mischief-makers, are proud to present the Marauders Map…"

"It's you?" George demanded, looking excitedly up at Sirius.

Fred beamed. "You made it?"

"Which one are you?"

Sirius smiled slightly. "Padfoot."

"Who are the others, then?" Fred asked. "One of them is Remus, yeah?"

"And Harry's dad, I'll bet."

"My dad?"

Sirius turned to Harry, still smiling in that way that he always did when he was remembering something that made him happy. "Your dad and Remus, yes," he said. "We made it. Your dad was Prongs."

Harry grinned at the parchment. "What is a Marauder's map?"

"A map of Hogwarts, of course!" Fred said, as if that should have been obvious.

"But wait," Harry said, cutting Fred off once again. "Who's Wormtail? That's an awful name-" The smile immediately left Sirius' face and Harry knew the answer. It had to be Peter Pettigrew, the man—the friend—who had betrayed Harry's parents. Sirius and Remus explained years ago, after an excited wizard had asked him for his autograph in Diagon Alley, saying that he hoped Peter Pettigrew would suffer for many long years for what he'd done.

Sirius nodded tightly, knowing that Harry had understood. Not really noticing until his fingers were curled in his godfather's robes, Harry had stepped close to Sirius. Sirius swallowed, tapped the map again and said gruffly, "Mischief Managed." The words faded away and Sirius settled his fingers over Harry's.

"Wait," George objected as Sirius put it in his pocket. "What are you doing?"

"We need that map!"

Sirius shook his head. "Sorry chaps," he said. "Your mum and dad are looking for you," he added as their faces fell. "Come along and we'll find them." He gestured for them to go ahead of him and both of them scowling, they did.

It was only when they were down the stairs and had deposited the twins with their parents that Harry realized he'd slipped his hand into Sirius'. He left it there and together, they waited for Remus.

Chapter Text

"I can't find my wand!"

"It's on your bed," Sirius said, not turning around from where he was re-checking to make sure Harry's books were all together. "Where's your History of Magic book?"

"I don't know," Harry said, impatient as he swiped his wand from the covers which had never been put to rights after he woke up. "I don't even know where my trainers are!"

"Right here," Sirius said, scooping them from the desk and handing them over to Harry, who took them and laced them swiftly, not even looking up. "Accio History of Magic textbook," Sirius said and with hurried fluttering, the book slid out of the under the bed and flew into Sirius' palm. "All right, that's all of them.

"We're going to be late, Sirius," Harry said, his anxiety over the prospect driving his voice up an octave.

"We won't be late."

"We need to move along," Remus said as he came in holding a stack of clothes which had somehow found their way downstairs. "Or we'll be late."

"I told you!"

"Harry, mind your tone please," Remus said. Harry fell silent and looked away from Remus' small frown. "Are we ready, then?"

"Looks like we found everything," Sirius answered, plucking a final pair of socks from the top of the bookshelf; he handed it to Harry with a bolstering smile. "Oh! Let me fetch you some galleons for the train."

He went across the corridor and came back a moment later with the promised coins. He halted just inside Harry's room. Remus was holding the Marauders' Map and James' cloak.

"I didm't," Harry was saying quite emphatically.

"Harry-"

"I didn't," Harry insisted as he shook his head.

"What's going on?"

Harry and Remus turned.

"What are those doing in here?" Sirius asked. Despite Sirius' best efforts, Remus wasn't keen on Harry taking either with him to Hogwarts, and Sirius had decided it wasn't worth the fight.

"I didn't take them!" Harry exploded.

"Hey," Sirius said with surprise. "I wasn't accusing you-"

"Remus already did," Harry said; his arms crossed over his chest with jerky movements.

Sirius refrained from glancing at Remus as he said quietly, "Where were they?"

"They were in my trunk but I didn't put them there."

"And you don't know how they got there?"

"I didn't take them, Sirius," Harry said, looking up again; his arms were stretched taut at his sides.

Having never been confronted with a question of Harry's honesty, Sirius didn't know what to say. He didn't really think Harry wanted either the map or the cloak badly enough to sneak them from Remus' cupboard; and it wasn't very clever besides as there would be no one else to blame it on.

"All right," he finally said, most of all not wanting to believe that Harry would lie to them. "I suppose they just got mixed in with all the packing yesterday." Sirius could easily see that Remus wasn't of the same mind, but they'd agreed long ago that it was best not to argue in front of Harry. There would be plenty of time for that after Harry was safely on the train. "We'd best be going," Sirius said and got no response; Harry wandered to his bookshelf and began idly running his fingers over the bindings. Remus went across the corridor, presumably to put the cloak and map away.

Harry watched him walk away and Sirius tended to securing the trunk. "Anything else?" Sirius asked. Still mute, Harry shook his head. Sirius sighed.

Remus stopped in the doorway and took a final look around Harry's room. "Is everything ready?"

"Seems to be," Sirius answered.

Remus nodded and with a quiet command, the trunk and Hedwig's cage were floating along after him and down the stairs. Once they were all in the parlor, Sirius remembered the galleons he'd collected—in his pocket now—and then Harry had to go back upstairs to fetch the coin purse he'd left on his desk.

"I don't think he would lie to us," Sirius said in a low voice once Harry had cleared the stairs.

"I didn't accuse him of lying," Remus said just as quietly. "But the map and cloak were in his trunk; how else would they get there?"

Sirius didn't have an answer to that, and if he was honest, Harry's reticence made him wonder if Harry was feeling guilty. But he just wasn't willing to believe Harry would lie to them.

"But why would he lie?" Sirius finally asked, glancing up the empty staircase.

"So he wouldn't be punished."

Sirius pursed his lips as he immediately rejected that reasoning. Harry had never been unwilling to accept the consequences of his actions. Remus sighed.

"I know you like to think the best of Harry, but he's like any other normal child and obviously he wanted the cloak and map badly enough that he took them. Why wouldn't he want them? Especially as they belonged to James."

That made Sirius pause his protest. "You think he took them because they make him feel closer to James?" The words made his chest ache, though he knew it was a childish reaction. It was stupid to be jealous of the father who would never get to see his son grow up. Making certain his tone would be light, Sirius called, "Harry!"

A second later, looking a bit breathless and adjusting the pack over his shoulders, Harry emerged from the landing.

"Did you find it?" Sirius asked and Harry patted his pack.

They Apparated to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters with only minutes left to spare. Remus took the trunk to the man in the furry orange cap while Sirius checked that Harry had his wand and mirror, and then wasted no more time in giving Harry a hug. "Write to us in the morning and let us know how the train ride went," he said. Harry nodded into his shoulder. He seemed reluctant to let go and when he did, he didn't go immediately to Remus.

The whistle sounded then. "Come on, Harry!" Ron shouted from a window where he was leaning out.

--

Suddenly panicked, Harry grabbed Hedwig's cage and yelled, "Bye!" as he leapt up the three steps into the train. The train lurched and Harry nearly toppled back onto the platform, only just managing to catch himself. "I'm all right!" he called, watching as Sirius shot forward as though to catch him. He relaxed a little and Harry waved once more before ducking inside.

He readjusted his bag, shifting its weight more evenly against his back. The bloody thing weighed a ton. He was still panting a bit from the impromptu jump into the train—he couldn't believe they'd almost missed it. Of course, if Remus hadn't demanded an explanation about the map and cloak, they wouldn't have been quite so late.

So if Remus hadn't gotten a hug, that was his own fault, Harry thought grumpily and then immediately regretted thinking it even though he was still irritated with Remus. As if he'd ever go into their room and snoop around. He didn't even know where they kept the map and cloak.

Even though the cloak did technically belong to him.

Harry tried to squelch his irritation; no need to make Hermione start asking questions already. He waved at Ginny as he passed a compartment where she was sitting with a blonde girl Harry didn't recognize. The girl smiled dreamily at him.

The rest of the compartments were mostly filled and Harry smiled as Ron's head poked out of one further down the car. But before he could make it very far, Draco stepped out of a different compartment and stopped short when he saw Harry.

"Hi," Harry said, feeling suddenly more cheerful.

Draco's pale eyes darkened, his mouth instantly scowling and Harry took an involuntary step back. "Draco…" But in that same instant, Draco's face cleared and he tilted his head, looking confused to find Harry standing in front of him.

"Hello Harry. Did you just come aboard?"

"Er… yeah," Harry said, eyeing his friend carefully. "We nearly missed the train."

"You should get yourself a house-elf. Remus and Sirius can certainly afford one."

"My trunk was turned over this morning after breakfast. That's why we were late," Harry said with a shrug as he followed Draco down the train to where Ron, Hermione and Neville were already comfortable. "Sirius spelled most of it back in."

"House-elves are faster," Draco said prosaically.

"Wizards don't need elves to do things we can already do," Hermione said with a small frown. Draco sighed in that put-out way of his and dropped into the empty seat across from her, but he didn't argue the point and Hermione immediately launched into a lecture about the correlation between Muggle slavery and house-elves.

Ron groaned while Neville and Harry exchanged resigned looks. Draco was staring at the window and didn't even seem to notice that Hermione was talking, but Harry was too busy wishing Ron trying not to laugh at the faces Ron was making to pay much attention to his blond friend.

--

The Gryffindors made their over-excited way up to the dorm many hours later, with full bellies and mouths that would not be quieted; no matter how many times Percy ordered it. And though Harry had enjoyed the train ride with his friends and riding in the carriages pulled along by the great winged thestrals that nobody else could see, the mirror in his pocket seemed to weigh more than it had when he'd started out on the Express.

He supposed that it had looked rather suspicious that the map and cloak had just been sitting there in his trunk, but honestly how stupid did Remus think he was? If he was going to steal them, he'd have hidden them better! But more importantly than that, Sirius had believed him.

So why didn't Remus?

"Harry?"

Harry blinked, finding Ginny surrounded by a group of other first years; she was tapping his arm. All of the other girls were giggling. The portrait had already swung open and Percy was waiting impatiently.

"Oh," Harry said, wishing he wouldn't blush. "Er, sorry. You first," he said to the girls which set them off into peals of laughter for some reason. They brushed past him and he heard one of them say, "Harry Potter… Can you believe it?"

"Ron said some of the other kids were weird when they find out you're Harry Potter," Ginny said as she ducked past him; she smirked. "I didn't believe him..."

Harry sighed and turned quickly away from the girls as they continued to goggle at him and went up to his dorm. The other boys were already in various states of undress, except Draco who was taking neatly-folded pajamas from his trunk.

"Where were you?" Ron asked as he hopped into his bottoms.

"Talking to Ginny."

Ron paused, starkers from the waist up. "She wasn't crying or anything was she?"

"Ginny?" Harry scoffed as he dragged his trunk over to his bed. "Ginny doesn't cry."

"Yeah," Ron said and felt around blindly for his shirt. "Thought she might be homesick."

"Don't think so."

"One of the first year boys looked like he was about to cry when we came in," Seamus piped up from across the room. "That Creevey kid who kept asking for your autograph," he said to Harry.

"We were all homesick last year," Harry reminded them.

"Not me," Ron said definitely.

The other boys rolled their eyes but didn't argue.

"Hey Draco," Ron said as the blond headed for the loo, "did your mum send along one of her brilliant parcels with sweets?"

Draco continued on toward the loo without answering, his eyes unwavering.

"What's his problem?" Seamus asked as the door closed behind him.

Harry shrugged, eyeing the door. "I don't know. Maybe he's tired."

Seamus snorted. "You sound like me mam."

"Shut it," Harry said with a grin; he gave the other boy's shoulder a playful shove, which Seamus returned. Harry's grin quickly faded as he lifted his trunk's lid. Right on the top sat the Invisibility Cloak and the map. Before he could process that, Ron snatched the map away.

"You brought it!"

"What is it?" Dean asked, leaning over from his bed on the other side of the room.

"It's a map of Hogwarts! With all sorts of secret passages-"

"Really?"

"Where did you get it?" Neville asked.

"Ron, give it back," Harry interrupted the other boys quickly but even though he reached out for it, Ron spun away and went to pore over it with Dean and Seamus.

"He's got a cloak that can make him invisible too," he said excitedly. "We'd be able to sneak around Filch for sure."

"I can't believe Remus and Sirius let you bring it," Seamus said. Harry was too busy staring at the Invisibility Cloak, sitting calmly on the top of his neatly stacked clothes to bother with answering. Two thoughts rioted around his brain: one, there was no way they could be in his trunk; and two, Remus was going to kill him.

"Let's see the cloak," Seamus. Harry shook his head numbly, his fingers already tangled in the slippery material. What was he supposed to do now? Contact Sirius with the mirror and tell him? Because surely they'd notice it was missing even though Harry had no idea how it had got in his trunk—twice now. But what if Sirius didn't believe him this time?

Seamus was leaning over his shoulder now, trying to see what was so special about the shimmering fabric. But before he could demand to try it out, Percy's head came around the door. He cleared his throat and all the other boys turned to look at him.

"What do you want?" Ron asked with a scowl.

Percy's eyebrows made a disapproving line before he turned to Harry. "Remus is outside the portrait hole, Harry. He wants to speak with you."

Harry's stomach dropped. "Remus is here?"

"Yes," Percy said, gesturing him forward with an impatient hand. "He couldn't come in through the portrait hole, of course, since he doesn't have the password. And it's nearly past curfew but since he is your guardian-"

"He gets it, Percy," Ron grumbled. "We don't need a lecture about the rules."

Percy's eyes narrowed. "All of you should be in your beds," he snapped. "Harry, come along now."

Harry vacillated as Percy stood there in the doorway. Should he bring the cloak and map down with him? Remus would be even more irritated if he didn't—even if Harry hadn't taken them. He swallowed and gathered the cloak close to his chest. Ron's eyebrows shot up as Harry took the map clumsily from the bed. Harry pursed his lips and was grateful that Ron didn't ask any questions.

He trailed down the long flight of stairs after Percy and found himself wishing that Percy was still next to him as the portrait swung open and Harry stepped through on his own. Remus was waiting for him on the other side.

He frowned as his normally calm brown eyes travelled over the loot in Harry's arms.

"I didn't take them," Harry blurted, his cheeks already beginning to tingle. Remus folded his arms over his chest.

"Then would you care to explain how they came to be at Hogwarts?"

The items in question were clutched tighter to Harry's jumper. "I don' know."

"You don't know?" Remus echoed. He shook his head, then took Harry's shoulders and leaned down so that he and Harry were eye to eye. "Harry, Sirius and I put the cloak and map away for a reason; though neither of us considered that you weren't responsible enough to have them, you've proven otherwise now."

Harry's stomach burned, with anger this time. "I didn't," he tried to insist but Remus narrowed his eyes, something that Harry had never seen him do in anger and though it made him more indignant he didn't know how to respond.

"Harry," Remus said in a tone that was unusually exasperated, "you have them in your hands. And yet, you're lying to me- ."

"I'm not-"

"Enough." Remus' soft command cut off the protest. He straightened but Harry didn't tilt his neck to meet his eyes again; not until Remus said quietly, "Look at me."

Harry looked, his fingers wrinkling the map as they clenched.

"I want you to tell me the truth," Remus said in that same, hard tone. "Right now."

Harry felt the muscles in his gut coiling and he wanted to shout that he hadn't done it; to release the tension there, but all he could do was stand there and said in a voice full of whispered vehemence, "I am." And then when Remus didn't look any closer to believing him, he mumbled, "Sirius would believe me."

Remus dropped down again so that his face was only centimeters from Harry's and his fingers gripped more firmly. "Sirius believed you earlier. But I know he'll be very disappointed that you're not willing to admit your mistake."

A hot flush burned Harry's cheeks as the words kicked him soundly in the stomach.

"Unless you want to tell me the truth," Remus went on in that same low tone, "you'll miss Gryffindor's first match."

Harry slowed his breathing as tears burned his nostrils. But he didn't argue. "Fine," he said hoarsely and then before Remus could see him cry, Harry pushed the bundle of fabric and the parchment into Remus' hands and half-dove through the portrait hole. The portrait thudded behind him.

His breath hitched as he stood there staring at the fireplace without really seeing it. But he forced himself not to cry, no matter how his sinuses burned. He hadn't taken the stupid map and no matter how much he wished he could have his dad's cloak, he hadn't taken that either.

They were supposed to believe him. Especially Sirius.

Hurt easily made way for resentment, until it made his temples pound. He yanked his mirror from his pocket, all of the anger he couldn't unleash on Remus, about to explode.

--

"Sirius."

The hissed syllables startled Sirius from the numbers he was tabulating. Ollivander lifted his head from the piece of wood he was carving, his eyebrows high.

"Is that Harry?"

Sirius nodded even as he twisted round in his chair and pulled the mirror from his cloak. Harry glared up at him from the surface.

"Harry? What's the matter?"

"I didn't do it!"

"What?" Sirius said blankly. "Didn't do what?"

"Remus said you wouldn't believe me but I didn't take them, Sirius. I didn't!"

"Hey," Sirius said gently, "slow down. When did you speak with Remus?"

Harry's face—already flushed—deepened to a cherry red as he pulled in a few quick breaths. "He was here."

Confused, it took Sirius a moment to respond and when he did, he tried not to let his irritation with Remus show. Why would Remus go to Hogwarts to talk about what had happened this morning? "Remus came here to ask if you took them?"

Harry shook his head. "They were here." He was still agitated, but some of the anger was draining from his face.

"I don't understand. Remus brought the map and cloak with him?"

So Harry explained that he'd found them in his trunk after he'd arrived in his dorm and how Remus had come to demand an explanation. "But he wouldn't believe me."

Sirius didn't respond immediately, as he tried to figure out what had possessed Remus to storm in here in the first place and then to just leave Harry on the verge of tears?

His hesitation brought back some of the flush to Harry's cheeks. "I didn't Sirius. I swear."

"I know. It's all right, Harry." The words came automatically to Sirius' tongue and once said, he realized that it might not have been the best answer. But one look at the relief on Harry's face and he didn't care that he and Remus were supposed to present a united front. He smiled gently. "We'll sort it out, all right?"

Harry swallowed. He brushed at his nose, but he was calming when he said, "I didn't even have my trunk until we went upstairs. That's where I found it; you can ask the other boys and then… maybe Remus will believe me."

He sounded so hopeful that Sirius felt another rush of irritation for Remus. "I'm sure it was just a misunderstanding," he said. It sounded stupid and Harry peered at him with doubtful eyes. "I'll explain it to him."

That wasn't much better but Harry nodded. "Thanks."

Hoping to distract his godson, Sirius said, "Tell me about the train ride and the feast. Did you have fun?"

"Guess so," Harry said with a half-shrug.

"You only guess so?" Sirius echoed with a teasing smile. "Didn't you stuff yourself full of sweets and play Gobstones until your fingers wore off?"

Harry shook his head, looking only vaguely amused. "We ate a few chocolate frogs—Ron and me. But Draco was acting weird."

"How so?"

Sirius waited while Harry frowned. "Dunno. He didn't talk nearly the entire ride on the train… or at dinner."

"Maybe he's homesick."

"Yeah. Maybe."

"All of you were getting on well at the end of last term, weren't you?" Sirius asked.

"Sure. Seamus likes to gripe at Draco and Ron still thinks he's a snob but we're all friends. I don't think he's angry or anything."

"I'm sure he'll be back to his chipper self tomorrow."

Harry yawned through is nod, but since he made no move to end the conversation, Sirius didn't suggest it. "Why were you at Ollivander's so late?" he asked when he was no longer pulling in oxygen.

"Remus has a deadline at the end of the week," Sirius reminded him. "No distractions." Sirius tried another smile; both of them well knew how focused Remus became near a deadline. Harry didn't respond to Sirius' attempt at humor and Sirius floundered for a moment before he said, "Ollivander was carving his new batch of walnut."

Harry's eyes were suddenly bright with interest. "Yeah? Which cores was he going to put in? Had he tested them yet?"

The questions ran together and Sirius grinned. Harry peppered him with as many other questions as he could think of, and Sirius was more than happy to provide both of them with a distraction.

--

Remus wasn't in the kitchen when Sirius Flooed in awhile later and Sirius was grateful for that. He didn't want to shout at Remus any more than Harry did, but that's what he would do if he didn't give himself a few moments to calm down. He couldn't believe Remus had gone to Hogwarts. And worse, had left him upset. Sirius didn't care that Remus certainly hadn't meant to do that. And he didn't care that Remus had as much right as he did to lecture Harry. But surely Remus should have seen that Harry wasn't lying?

Why else would he be so upset that Remus didn't believe him? He'd been practically hysterical. Well, perhaps not hysterical, but he had been adamant that he hadn't taken the bloody cloak and map. Lying about it made no sense; not when he'd been caught with the evidence.

Sirius sighed and raked his fingers through his hair. He wasn't going to feel any less irritated, he realized as he stared through the doorway into the parlor. Drawing in a breath that he hoped would calm him enough, he went to the library door and knocked lightly.

He pushed the door open. Remus looked up and immediately frowned in confusion. "You're home early. Is everything all right?"

"No, it isn't," Sirius said, coming no further into the room. "I just spoke with Harry. Harry contacted me as soon as you left."

Remus frowned, surprise evident in his eyes. "He did?"

"Yes. What did you say to him?"

"I found the map and cloak missing; I told him I was disappointed that he'd taken them-"

"He didn't take them."

Remus sighed. "Sirius, he had them with him when he met me outside the portrait hole and then he stood there and lied to me."

"He was near tears when he contacted me."

"He was?"

"Yes," Sirius said and folded his arms across his chest. "He was."

Remus grimaced but then the guilt cleared from his face and he shook his head. "He was probably upset because I punished him."

Sirius' back straightened indignantly. "Punished him?"

Remus set his quill down; it left a splotch of ink against his parchment. "He lied, Sirius and he stole from us-" Remus paused and tilted his head. "He didn't tell you that he's not allowed to play in the first Quidditch match?"

Confused, Sirius let his arms fall from where they were secured to his torso. "You banned him from Quidditch?" He shook his head and waved away a response though, ploughing on to more important things. "Do you even hear what you're saying, Remus? Harry wouldn't steal from us. And lying about it doesn't even make sense. Why would he bring the map and cloak down with him and then pretend he hadn't taken them?"

"If he was feeling guilty…" But the words were without conviction and Remus simply looked confused.

"He was distraught at the thought that you wouldn't believe him," Sirius said, doing his best not to allow more anger into the discussion. "I told him I would explain it to you, and I think that helped…"

Remus' quiet brown eyes flashed and Sirius trailed off.

"So you just went in there and told him you'd fix it?" Remus shook his head as he pushed himself to his feet. "Completely undermining what I'd just said?"

Sirius didn't want to admit that that's exactly what he'd done. "What was I supposed to do?" he demanded quietly. "He was insisting that he hadn't taken them."

"I had the situation well in hand-"

"You left Harry nearly in tears," Sirius countered. "He called me because he was upset and I wasn't going to ignore that."

"I didn't know he was so upset." There was an edge in Remus' soft voice. "He threw the cloak and map at me and stormed back into the dorm. If I had known he was so distressed, I wouldn't have left."

Well, you should have known, was the immediate retort that Sirius wanted to make. But it would have cut Remus deeply, so he said nothing. And he and Remus stood, staring at one another.

"But you knew," Remus finally said, speaking the words that Sirius had wanted to avoid. Remus pressed his lips together, the hurt settling in his features.

"He was near tears when he contacted me," Sirius told him, Remus' pain amplifying in his own chest; wanting to explain away the incongruity. But Remus was too adept at seeing his own failings.

"You should have contacted me," he said. "Harry will only be confused if you and I say two different things."

Sirius' automatic sympathy was immediately trod upon. "You still don't believe him?"

Remus picked his quill up, clenched it briefly in his hand and set it down again before he said, "I want to believe him. Of course I do, but how else did they get in his trunk, Sirius?"

"I don't know," Sirius admitted, "but he's never given us any reason not to trust him. And I can't believe he'd lie after you told him he'd have to miss Quidditch. What would be the point?"

Remus had no answer for that.

"You can speak with him in the morning," Sirius said and again, Remus frowned. "Perhaps let him know you've thought it over and you believe him-"

"I know how to speak with Harry without coaching."

Offended by the curt rebuff, Sirius said, "I didn't say you don't. But you were wrong tonight. Harry didn't take anything."

"Is that the only reason you're angry, Sirius?" Remus asked with narrowed eyes. "Or are you irritated that I scolded Harry at all?"

"Of course I'm irritated," Sirius said, feeling grumpier by the second. "He didn't do anything and you stormed in there and didn't even listen to him. How is that supposed to make me feel?"

"I dealt with the situation as best I could, Sirius," Remus said in a low voice, "and you had no right to interfere."

"You didn't see how upset he was!"

"How could I have?" Remus retorted. "Harry didn't contact me!"

Sirius didn't answer the accusation. How could he?

Once again, the two men stared at one another, both of them hurting for different reasons.

"I can accept that you and Harry have a bond that I'll never be part of," Remus finally said, subdued now.

"Moony-"

Remus swallowed and shook his head. "You rescued him, Sirius. Gave him his first home, his first unconditional love. I can't compete with that… I don't want to, but don't make it even harder for me." He glanced briefly away. "Even if I did make a mistake."

Sirius didn't know what to say. He moved aside so that Remus could walk past and up the stairs. Sirius stared after him, wanting to follow and do something to make everything all better, but he didn't know how.

He stayed in the parlor for a long time that evening, staring at words in a book and making no sense of them. When he went upstairs, Remus was lying in bed; still awake. He turned his head when Sirius came in, watching while Sirius swapped his trousers and shirt for pajama bottoms.

But neither of them spoke as Sirius slid under the covers. They stared at the ceiling together and after long, unbearable minutes, Sirius reached for Remus' hand. Their fingers twined effortlessly together, the ceiling still holding their attention.

Chapter Text

"Harry, are you finished yet?"

Harry looked up and then frowned when a drop of ink splashed from his quill and blotted out part of the first paragraph he'd written.

Hermione sighed and with a small swish of her wand and an impatient spell, the blotch disappeared.

"Thanks…"

"We have Defence first this morning," she aid in response.

"I know, I know."

"Jusht let him finwhish hish lettah, Hermimee," Ron said through a mouthful of toast and pumpkin preserves. "We shtill have ten-" He finally swallowed the toast, "-minutes."

Hermione frowned at Ron as he slathered another slice of toast. "Can't you eat like a person, rather than a starved animal?"

"Nope."

Hermione made a face.

"I'm nearly finished," Harry assured her before she could start in on him again. He signed his name quickly to the end of the letter and attached it to Hedwig's leg, who, unlike Hermione, had been waiting patiently. "Thanks, girl," he said quietly and brushed his fingers down her soft back. Hedwig hooted in response, accepted her fourth piece of bacon and took off.

"Where's Draco?" Neville asked as all of them began gathering up their belongings. "He said he'd meet us down here, didn't he?"

Harry glanced up the enchanted staircase as they trooped out of the Great Hall. Draco had said very little when they woke up and he'd waved the rest of them on to breakfast, even though he'd been fully dressed before any of them were even awake.

Draco wasn't in the Defence classroom when they arrived. And neither was Lockhart. Though the classroom was filled with portraits of the wavy-haired teacher.

"Where do you think he is?" Ron asked as he took out Lockhart's towering stack of books.

"Lockhart or Draco?"

"How long do you think we have to wait before we can skive off?" Seamus wondered. Ron grinned, but his excitement came too soon. The office door flew open and there Lockhart stood, framed in the rectangular opening, the sconces behind making him look like he was glowing. There was a collective sigh and Harry's eyes darted around to see most of the girls—even Hermione—gazing up at the professor with dazed eyes. A few of the boys as well.

"Get a load of him," Ron muttered as Lockhart swept his velvet lilac robes out of the way and glided down the stairs.

"As you no doubt know by now," he said with a gleaming smile as he took center stage at the front of the room, "I am Gilderoy Lockhart, famed explorer and expunger of dark creatures."

"Expunger?" Seamus said with a low guffaw but Lockhart seemed not to notice he'd spoken.

"I have travelled the world and lived to tell about it," he said grandly. His smile flashed again and his admirers sighed. "And this year," Lockhart continued on, "I will teach you to be more like me."

"Do you think he's gonna teach us the charm to make his hair swoosh like that?" Ron whispered and then oomphed indignantly as Hermione elbowed him in the ribs.

"Hush," she scolded. Ron glowered at her but Hermione's attention was already back on the professor, who was explaining that they were going to have a surprise quiz on the reading material.

"We were supposed to read already?" Neville asked, glancing around with worried eyes.

Harry had already read the assigned book, Magical Me, but even so he was unprepared for the questions Lockhart handed him.

"What is Gilderoy Lockhart's favorite color?" Ron mouthed.

"Who cares?" Dean mouthed back.

Harry goggled at the list of questions that had nothing at all to do with Defense Against the Dark Arts. He watched Hermione scribbling in answers as if the book was right in front of her and gave up all hope of passing this particular quiz.

"Draco must have heard about this," Ron mumbled under his breath. "This guy's even worse than Emmettweller."

"The twins'll have loads of fun this year," Harry snorted.

"No talking during a quiz, Mr-" Lockhart leaned in and immediately his eyes widened. "Harry Potter! Well, my schedule said you'd be in this class, of course, but I suppose I expected you to be… well, a bit more of a standout." He showed his teeth. "A bit more like me!"

Harry didn't know what to say to that, though he was pretty sure the professor was insulting him. But in the next instant, Lockhart was gesturing for him to stand.

"Never mind your quiz now, Harry," he said cheerfully. "Come stand up here and we'll take a few photos, shall we? Harry Potter, an eager student of the famed Vampire-slayer Gilderoy Lockhart. Has quite the ring to it, don't you think?"

"Er…"

Lockhart put an arm round his shoulders and all but dragged him up to the raised dais where he turned Harry this way and that and shouted, "Smile, Harry!" while a camera with wings to match Lockhart's garish velvet robes snapped at least a dozen pictures.

Harry stumbled back to his desk a few minutes later, half-blind from the camera's flash and someone grabbed his arms before he landed arse-up on the floor. He blinked dazedly as Lockhart prattled on about something or other and then realized it was Draco who had stopped his fall.

"When did you get here?"

"Just now," Draco said and turned back to listen to Lockhart detailing the programme for the class this term.

"Definitely worse than Emmettweller," Harry said but got no reaction from Draco save a faint smile.

"What were you doing Draco?" Seamus asked. "Taking a swim in the lake?"

Draco's gaze flicked over to Seamus, looking surprised to see him sitting there. "Beg pardon?"

"Yeah, else you stepped in an awfully big puddle." Dean rolled his eyes. "Your shoe is soggy… it's dripping."

Draco—and Harry—looked down and indeed, water was dripping from Draco's laces in a lazy trickle. Draco yanked his shoe out of sight and scowled. "We should be paying attention," he snapped and while the other boys stared at him in surprise, he raised his hand and asked for a quiz, which a beaming Lockhart happily provided. Draco bent his head to his work and didn't speak again.

--

Sirius looked up from the sock he was tugging on when Remus emerged from the shower; he offered a smile. "Another day with the deadline?"

"Until lunch," Remus said, nodding as he crossed to the bureau; his own answering smile was perfunctory. "And then I have a meeting with Nathan."

Sirius' gaze traveled over Remus' bare back, his heart aching a little over each of the scars decorating his skin. "How are you feeling?" Sirius asked quietly; it was only four days until the full moon.

"Just a bit more tired than usual." Remus slipped on a shirt and the evidence was hidden. "I think I'll work in Nathan's office this afternoon," he said as he chose a pair of pressed trousers.

Stung, Sirius said nothing; Remus almost never resorted to the absolute solitude of Nathan's sanctuary.

"I'll try to be home for dinner," Remus added, his hands occupied with his buttons, his gaze on his fingers. "Unless…" Remus softly cleared his throat, "… you'll still be at Ollivander's."

Sirius' jaw worked for a moment. "Do you want me to be?"

Remus turned, surprised. "Of course not."

"Hiding at Nathan's is for my sake then?"

Remus sighed and ran a hand through his damp hair; it was already beginning to lengthen as it always did in the week before the full moon. "I'm sorry," he said heavily. "I don't know why I said all those things."

Sirius twisted on the rumpled bedcovers, making room for his husband and after just a second, Remus sat. "You were right," Sirius said, "though I didn't mean to undermine you or make it seem as though Harry and I were teaming up against you. Harry was upset and I just acted instinctively."

"I know…" Remus' fingers twitched restlessly against his trousers. "That isn't what I meant though. You've never interfered in my relationship with Harry; quite the opposite. It was a silly thing to say. I just wish…" Remus shook his head, swallowing over the regrets.

Sirius took his hand, squeezing it lightly. "I know." It sounded hollow, but what else could he offer?

Remus finally met Sirius' gaze; sighed again. "If Harry didn't take the map or the cloak-"

"We'd best find out why they are following Harry around," Sirius finished with a frown. "I've thought about it all night. But…"

"You don't think that's a bit far-fetched?" Remus' tone was tinged with worry and Sirius was relieved by that.

"For the map, perhaps," he said with a reluctant nod. "But that cloak belongs to Harry; it's his inheritance. It sounds unlikely, I know, but what other explanation is there?"

Remus shook his head and asked, "You checked to see if they're still in the cupboard?"

Sirius nodded; he'd checked while Remus was in the shower, anticipating this question. "Yes, and they are."

Remus pursed his lips thoughtfully. "And you're absolutely certain that Harry was telling the truth?"

Sirius thought back to his godson's face—his insistence that he hadn't taken anything. And his willingness to allow Sirius to question his friends. And mostly his distress that he wouldn't be believed. "Yes," he said firmly. "Absolutely certain."

For answer, Remus sighed.

--

"He's written dozens of books, Harry," Hermione scolded as she and Harry maneuvered around Madame Pince and the giant stack of books she was guiding with her wand.

"I didn't say he didn't write them," Harry said, and then ducked below the teetering books. Hermione grabbed his arm and yanked him away just as one tumbled down, narrowly missing Harry's head. "Thanks. Just that he didn't actually slay that vampire."

"But that's ridiculous. No one would write an entire book of lies."

"Maybe someone would. And some books don't tell you the whole truth." Hermione looked skeptical so Harry reminded her, "Hogwarts: A History didn't say anything about house-elves, did it?"

Hermione immediately frowned. "That's right, it didn't." She finally shook her head though. "But that doesn't mean Professor Lockhart made up his entire life's work."

Harry just shrugged. "Well, that's what Remus and Sirius said."

Hermione pursed her lips as she looked around for a ladder to reach the book she needed. She didn't comment on his eavesdropping but he could see she wanted to. "Where is the ladder?" she muttered.

Harry sighed and pulled his wand out. "Accio Who Am I?." Lockhart's novel flew from the highest shelf and into Harry's outstretched hand. He made a face. "I can't believe you want to read this."

Harry handed the book to her, but she was too busy gaping at him to take it. "When did you learn to do a summoning charm?"

"Sirius showed me this summer," he said with a grin.

"But, we aren't scheduled to learn summoning charms until fourth year…"

"Yeah, but doesn't mean we can't learn them sooner, does it? Sirius taught me the shield charm too, remember?"

"Well, yes but…"

"You can learn it too if you want," Harry assured her. "Here, I'll show you how to do it."

"Show me?" Hermione shook her head, her brown eyes wide. "Oh no, Harry, I'll find a book. I think the fourth year Charms' text has the instructions-"

"Hermione," Harry interrupted, "you don't need to read the instructions in a book. I already know how to do it."

Hermione gestured vaguely. "But the book will have illustrations to follow; so that I'll know exactly how to use my wand."

"Yeah," Harry said with exaggerated slowness. "Or… I could show you exactly how to use your wand."

She looked around the library, filled to the ceilings with tomes—all of them apparently disapproving. "Without a book?"

Harry's lips twitched. "Yeah."

Hermione chewed her lip while she vacillated, but finally consented. It had taken Harry four tries to get it right, but after only two, Hermione was holding the fourth year Charms text in her hand. They grinned at each other. "Do you want to see what other charms we can learn?" Hermione asked, her eyes shining now with excitement.

They were just perfecting a banishing charm when Ron plopped down beside Harry with a scowl.

"There you are," Hermione said, setting her wand carefully on the table. "Where were you?"

Ron let his bag fall onto the table with a heavy thump. "The girl's toilet on the second floor flooded. A river in the middle of the corridor!"

Madame Pince shushed him and Ron slumped in his chair. "My shoes and socks were soaked," he complained in a quieter voice. "And Filch was shouting at everybody to stop walking through and Mrs Norris was hissing. McGonagall finally came." He waggled his perfectly dry feet. "She dried them for me."

"Moaning Myrtle probably flooded it again," Hermione said with a sigh. She took out a parchment from her schoolbag; ready to move on to the homework they'd gathered to complete.

"How many feet did Binns assign?" Ron asked as he rooted around for his own parchment.

"Eleven inches."

"Oh, good. Short."

Hermione ignored him bent her head to her work. Harry thumbed through the Charms text for awhile longer, uninterested in the history of Gringotts essay; he wished they would get to spend more time on the history of wand making instead.

"Be right back," he said, deciding to see if there were any books here on the subject that Ollivander didn't have, though it seemed unlikely. Ron was doodling on the top of his parchment but he flapped a hand in answer; Hermione didn't respond.

Madame Pince told him with sour lips to try the shelf of apprenticeship manuals, which were in a dusty old corner at the back of the vast library.

His finger removed a thick layer of dust along the row of alphabetically-ordered spines on the bottom shelf. "Auror… Broom Maker, Curse-Breaker… Dragon Keeper…" But before he'd even made it to Healer, a low sound—as quiet as a whisper—made him straighten up.

But he couldn't make out any words in the nearly silent murmurs. He looked around, finding himself alone. He stilled and strained to hear. "… Blood," the murmurs told him. Harry's brows drew together. Who would be talking about blood in a library? He listened again but the whispered susurration faded away.

Deciding that he'd heard wrong, and after all the library was scattered with students, Harry bent down and continued down the row of books until he found the one about wand makers. He opened to the first page and was already engrossed by the time he made it back to Hermione and Ron.

--

Hedwig hooted softly at the back window. Brightening, Sirius spelled the window open and the white owl swooped in. She landed gracefully on the back of one of the chairs and stuck out her leg. Sirius untied the scroll with one hand and fed her a treat with the other. She swallowed it quickly and nibbled his fingers with affection; hooted once more and went to the bowl of water they kept on the counter for her.

Remus was staring at the parchment in Sirius' hand. Some of the tension left his face as Sirius handed it over. The ribbon was dispatched quickly but as soon as Remus opened it, his lips pressed tightly together.

"What's the matter?" Sirius asked, his anxiety ratcheting up several notches. Remus held the letter out.

"It's for you."

Confused, Sirius took the letter. In Harry's messy scrawl, 'Dear Sirius' was the salutation. Not 'Dear Sirius and Remus', as a letter from Harry always began. Sirius looked up. Remus was turning back to the stove, attending to the dinner which was seconds away from burning.

"What does he say?" he asked quietly as he spelled the flames to subside.

Wincing at the poorly disguised stress in Remus' voice, Sirius scanned the letter. Harry hadn't figured out how the cloak and map found their way into his trunk. And Draco, he wrote, was snapping at everybody except Harry himself.

There was no mention of last night's events beyond that.

I have Defense in a minute, the letter went on. Hermione's glaring at me. So, I'd better go now. Make sure you give Hedwig a treat. Love, Harry

Sirius set the parchment on the table. "Hermione's impatient to get to class." He made his tone light and Remus nodded. "Draco's still out of sorts," Sirius added; he'd caught Remus up before Hedwig arrived.

"He doesn't seem upset any longer?"

"No."

Remus nodded and Sirius was just trying to decide what to say when a brown owl swooped through the open window and dropped the evening's edition of the Daily Prophet on the table. It hooted and was gone the same way it came. His eyes widening as he saw the picture on the front page, Sirius swiped the paper from table.

"Why the hell is Gilderoy Lockhart taking pictures with Harry?"

Remus took the paper and immediately frowned. "The Boy-Who-Lived has nothing but the highest praise for the adventurer Gilderoy Lockhart? His role model?"

"The man's delusional." Sirius peered at the picture. "And Harry's struggling to get away," he said, his face heating with an indignant flush.

Before Remus could agree, there was a muffled thump above their heads. Both men pivoted round, and with a shared glance, they had their wands out and were on their way up the stairs.

Sirius halted just inside his room. "Dobby?"

"Dobby?" Remus echoed as he stepped around Sirius.

The Malfoy's house-elf scrambled off the floor, his huge ears flattened against his skull; he was clutching James' cloak. "Dobby is very bad," he whispered. He began banging his head against their bedpost.

Sirius dropped to one knee and put his hand on the post, cushioning the next blow. Dobby froze; as if afraid his head might be causing pain to Sirius.

"Don't do that," Sirius warned.

"But Dobby must punish himself-"

"First," Sirius interrupted firmly, "tell me why you're stealing that cloak."

Dobby shook his head frantically. "Dobby cannot."

"Who asked you to take it?" Remus asked, cutting off Sirius' retort.

"Ohhhh…." Dobby whispered. "Dobby is very bad… Dobby needs this cloak."

"Dobby," Remus said; he knelt beside Sirius. "Did Draco ask you to steal the cloak?"

Dobby's huge eyes seemed to take over the rest of his face. "Little Master is a good boy," he said fervently.

"Did he tell you to take it?" Sirius demanded.

Dobby took a step back. "Dobby is trying to help Harry Potter." The cloak fluttered to the floor and Dobby began banging his fists into his eyes. "Oh, Dobby is talking too much. Dobby must go before Master comes home. Dobby is very bad!" he cried and with a loud crack, he was gone.

Sirius stared at the spot where he'd been, bewildered and angry in about equal measures. He looked up when he heard Remus sit heavily on the bed.

"I can't believe I was such an idiot."

Sirius straightened slowly, his hand coming to massage Remus' shoulder. "You'll explain. It'll be fine."

Remus shook his head. "I accused him of stealing, Sirius. And lying about it…"

"He'll just be glad you believe him, Moony. It'll be all right," he said again but he knew Remus didn't believe him.

--

Harry glanced up at McGonagall as they walked along the corridor. "Are you certain it's just Remus?" he asked; his stomach was squirming like mad.

McGonagall peered over her spectacles at him. "Quite certain, Potter. Your godfather arrived with him, and then he went to speak with Professor Lockhart."

"Professor Lockhart? Why?"

"I wouldn't know, Potter. Neither of your parents saw fit to offer any explanations, so I can only assume Sirius went to speak to Professor Lockhart about you."

"Me?" Harry squeaked. "But I didn't do anything!"

McGonagall smiled just a little. "It is between Professor Lockhart and your parents, Potter. Now, hurry along. I have a detention to supervise."

Momentarily forgetting that he was probably about to scolded again, Harry asked curiously, "You gave out a detention on the first day?"

"Not everyone is as well behaved as you, Mr Potter," she said crisply and since they'd reached her office, she opened the door and prodded him inside. Remus was waiting for him.

The door closed softly and Harry and Remus stood, staring. Harry looked away first, finding the tops of his shiny new school shoes fascinating. Remus cleared his throat but Harry didn't raise his eyes.

"Harry," Remus said very quietly, "I'm very sorry I didn't believe you."

Harry's head came up swiftly at that and he seemed unable to stop himself from asking, "You believe me?"

Remus gripped one of his elbows and grimaced. He nodded. "Sirius and I found Dobby attempting to the steal the cloak-"

"Dobby?" Harry's voice rose indignantly. "Dobby stole them? But why? Did Draco ask him to?"

"I don't know… Dobby Apparated away before we could ask him too many questions."

Harry could feel his cheeks growing hot as he thought of how much trouble he'd almost got into yesterday evening. "I told Draco about the cloak last Christmas. And I wrote to him about the map! I can't believe he would steal them! And who else did he think would get blamed for it?" he fumed, forgetting for the moment that it had been Remus who had done the blaming. "I can't believe it!"

"Harry," Remus interrupted his rant gently, "I'd like to speak to you… if you'd care to sit for a few moments."

Harry sat down but was too agitated to be silent. "I thought I was mad," he went on. "Hermione and Ron and I tried to puzzle it out all morning—but even Hermione couldn't think of any ideas. Except she suggested that maybe there was some sort of memory charm placed on me and I simply couldn't remember taking them and I thought she was right after awhile, especially when you wouldn't believe me. I was almost sure I'd really done it!"

Remus looked very unhappy, sitting across from him and Harry finally remembered he'd wanted to speak. "Er… Did something else happen?" he asked. His heart skittering a nervous beat in his chest, he rushed to add, "I didn't ask Dobby to-"

"No," Remus said quickly. "That isn't-" He shook his head slightly and leaned forward. In a strained voice he said, "I just came here to apologize. And to tell you that I didn't mean to upset you so. I didn't realize you were…" He cleared his throat. Harry flushed, knowing that Sirius had probably told Remus he'd been close to crying. But Remus didn't mention it. "I'm very sorry for doubting you, Harry," he said softly. "And I hope… you can forgive me."

Remus' throat still sounded scratchy and even though Harry wanted to tell Remus what an awful night he'd had and maybe even say that it had been pretty rotten of Remus not to believe him, he only nodded. "It's all right," he mumbled with a half-shrug.

Remus clasped his hands so that his arms were no longer dangling; he opened his mouth once and then closed it again. Harry dropped his gaze to stare at his own loose fingers. He inspected a bit of hangnail and said, "McGonagall said Sirius is here?"

He thought he heard Remus sigh. He glanced up from under his fringe. Remus was sitting up fully now; he nodded. "He's speaking with Professor Lockhart." Harry almost asked why but he nibbled on the bit of nail instead. "The professor should have asked our permission before he photographed you… One of the pictures was published in this evening's edition of the Prophet. Did you see it?"

Nibble. "Uh huh."

Remus curled a hand around Harry's; the nibbling came to an abrupt halt. They stared at each other again.

"Er, sorry," Harry quietly said. Remus let his hand go.

He rearranged his cloak, finally looking away. "If you'd like to find Sirius before we leave, we can take a walk toward Professor Lockhart's office."

"OK."

They didn't have to go all the way to Lockhart's office, though. As soon as Harry had the door open, he saw Lockhart coming from the other end of the corridor, his steps no longer the pompous gliding of this morning; he walked stiffly and as soon as he saw Harry and Remus, he harrumphed loudly, lifted his nose into the air and stalked past without a word.

Sirius followed behind by several paces, his own gait as relaxed as ever. He smiled when he spotted Harry. "Hey kid," he said, reaching out to muss Harry's hair. Harry smiled up at him.

"Hey Sirius."

"Your professor doesn't like me much," Sirius said, leaning in toward Harry as if telling a very great secret.

"What did you say to him?"

Sirius waved an airy hand. "It's not what I said, Harry, it's how I said it. I can be quite frightening you know." Harry gave his godfather a skeptical squint; Sirius chuckled. "No?"

Harry shook his head, smiling again when Sirius squeezed his shoulder.

"Well, even if I am as sweet as a newborn lamb, he won't take any more pictures with you,"

"Thanks," Harry said. "It was a bit embarrassing."

Sirius nodded in understanding. "He won't bother you with any more of that Boy-Who-Lived nonsense," he promised. "Are you off to find your friends?"

"Yeah… Draco especially," he added with a scowl. He saw Sirius and Remus exchange a glance. "Don't worry," Harry said. "I'll give him a chance to explain first."

Remus turned to study the path Lockhart had just taken. Sirius sighed so quietly it was nearly silent and Harry looked between them uncertainly. But Sirius patted his shoulder and said, "He probably didn't mean to cause quite so much trouble."

"Well, maybe not," Harry allowed with a shrug, "but it was still a stupid idea."

"What was a stupid idea?"

Harry shook his head at Ron, who was walking toward them with Hermione. "Nothing."

"Hello," Hermione said politely to Sirius and Remus, with a pointed look for Ron but he was too busy stuffing the last few bites of treacle tart into his mouth to give a proper greeting.

Harry's parents greeted Hermione in turn and then Sirius turned his attention back to Harry. "Go on with your friends," he said, "and we'll talk to you soon, all right?"

Harry nodded. Feeling suddenly unsure of himself, he vacillated on how to say goodbye. Sirius solved the problem by pulling him into a hug and though part of Harry wanted to groan, he smiled as his godfather's arms squeezed briefly.

Remus got a hug this time too, but the embrace left Harry feeling even more unsure than when Remus had apologized.

"Did Remus come to ban you from the second match?" Ron wanted to know after they left.

"No," Harry retorted, already moving toward the enchanted staircase. This was all Draco's fault—the prat.

"Where are you going?"

"To find Draco."

Ron shrugged but Hermione took the steps two at time and caught up with him. "Why Harry? What's the matter?" she asked breathlessly. "What's happened now?"

"It was Dobby who took the cloak and map," Harry said, his hands balling into fists as he remembered his awful night. "Draco must have told him to. Can you believe that?"

"It was Dobby? But why would Draco want them?"

"Because he's a git."

Hermione grabbed his sleeve as they reached they landing to the second floor and Harry had to stop walking.

"Hermione, let go-"

"Harry, just calm down for a moment," she said, and if anything she grasped his sleeve tighter. "You can't charge into the dorms and start shouting at Draco."

"Why not?"

"You're much too worked up, Harry. And if you and Draco get into a fight, you'll both be in trouble."

"Well, I don't care," Harry said angrily. He tried to shake himself loose, but Hermione held fast. "Draco nearly got me banned from Quidditch!"

"I know," Hermione said softly. "And that was when you hadn't done anything wrong."

Harry blew out a frustrated breath and wished she didn't have a point. Even if Draco had been a giant arse. "Why do you always have to be right?" he grumbled. Hermione squeezed his arm and smiled.

"Come on," she said. "We'll walk around for a bit."

Harry sighed and let Hermione lead him down the corridor, though he did spare a wistful glance up toward the stairs leading to the tower.

"Is everything all right between you and Remus now?" Hermione asked as they walked.

"Guess so."

Hermione glanced at him but didn't press for more. Harry was glad she didn't, since he didn't really think he knew how to answer. He wasn't angry at Remus any longer, but he still wished Remus had believed him—like Sirius had. And banning him from the first Quidditch match had been a pretty mean threat.

"Open," a harsh voice startled both of a them; Hermione halted just a few steps from the girl's toilet.

"What was that?" she whispered. "Sounds like hissing."

"Hissing?" Harry shook his head as he paused beside her. "Someone said 'open'."

"No one said anything."

"It was a boy's voice… didn't you hear it?"

"A boy's voice? In the girl's toilet?"

"Maybe it was Filch—Ron said it had flooded, remember?"

"Massssster, I smell blood," a different voice said—this one soft, like the one in the library had been.

"There it was again," Hermione said. "I didn't think they allowed snakes as student pets… Do you think someone's lost one?"

"A snake?"

"Well, of course. What else could make that hissing sound?"

Harry frowned, remembering that little snake he'd seen on his less than successful trip with Ollivander and Sirius last Christmas—and how Sirius and Ollivander had only heard hissing when he himself had heard words. He still hadn't told his friends that he was a parselmouth. But if he could help a snake find whoever it belonged to…

"Come on," he said to Hermione, "let's go in and see."

"It's the girls' toilet, Harry-"

"Well, do you want to pick up a snake?"

Hermione wrinkled her nose and Harry smirked. He went into the toilet, with Hermione a step behind.

"A boy!" a high voice screeched. "Boys aren't allowed!"

"It's moaning Myrtle," Hermione whispered into his ear and Harry cringed as a ghost with big spectacles and long hair whizzed right through him. "We just came…"

But Hermione trailed off. There was a gaping hole where it seemed the sinks had once been stuck together. And Draco was standing beside it—his back was to them so Harry couldn't see his face, but no one else had hair as pale of Draco's.

"What's he doing?" Hermione asked softly.

"Blood…" that crooning voice said again.

"Draco?" Harry's anger didn't immediately come rushing back and Draco didn't even seem to notice they were there. Harry touched his shoulder.

Draco whipped around and Harry's lips parted in surprise. Draco's eyes were red; he smiled slowly.

"Draco?" Harry whispered. "What's the-"

"Harry Potter," Draco rasped. He grabbed Harry's arm and Harry's scar began to burn, just like it had last year, only this time it didn't stop. He gasped and clutched his head as the pain intensified.

"Draco!" Hermione tried to pull Harry away. "Stop! What are you doing?"

Draco turned his head and the pain faded slowly. "A Mudblood," Draco drawled in that same hoarse voice. "You'll have a meal after all," he whispered and before Harry could try to make sense of that, he was falling through blackness, Hermione's scream echoing behind him.

He landed with a loud crunch, and it took him a moment to realize that it was whatever he'd landed on that had made the sound—not his own bones.

Hermione thumped beside him, followed only a second later by Draco, who stood swiftly and pointed his wand at them.

"Draco-"

Draco's laugh sent a chill up Harry's spine. "As if a mere child could open the chamber," he said. "But then you are a mere child, aren't you, Harry Potter? A mere child who bested me once." Draco smiled. "Never again… My pet?" he called out. "Where are you?"

Harry and Hermione looked around wildly as a deafening sound reverberated all around them. "Harry," Hermione whispered, "look…"

Through the slats in the carved walls, Harry could see something moving. "Blood," he heard again. "Masssster…"

"A basilisk," Draco told them cheerfully. "Come for his dinner."

Harry could see a bobbing head now and only one word would form on his tongue. He grabbed Hermione's hand and shouted, "Run!"

"Look at me", the slithering serpent commanded urgently as it followed their pounding footsteps over slick stones. "Look at me."

"Don't look at it!" Harry screamed, gripping Hermione's hand as hard as he could as they ran down the damp corridor, slipping and almost falling a dozen times before they reached a cavernous chamber.

The thing—the longest snake Harry had ever seen—crashed through beside them and reared up. Harry recognized it as soon as he finally saw it, a basilisk just like the ones in Ollivander's books.

Harry and Hermione tried to swerve around it. Their hands, slick with sweat, slid apart.

"No!" Harry shouted. He watched in horror as Hermione flew backwards and landed with a sickening crack against one of the stone walls.

"Blood," the snake hissed, its forked tongue dancing in glee. It dove for Hermione.

"Protego!" Harry screamed. Magic surged through his fingertips and into his wand. A shield formed around Hermione's fallen body. The snake hissed angrily and swung around.

Sliding and slipping over every step, Harry dodged the beast's head as it lunged to strike, keeping his eyes away from the basilisk's deadly gaze. The statues all around the central pool of water offered the only protection and it was as he dove for one that he saw several small crevices in the wall beyond—it wasn't a wall though, rather a towering carving of a man. Scrambling for the meager protection, Harry stuffed himself into the hole.

The great basilisk hissed furiously and began to slash at the rock wall with both its tail and head. With rocks falling down all around him, Harry wiggled his fingers into his back pocket and pulled his mirror out. His sweaty fingertips left prints all over the surface.

"Sirius," he said hoarsely even as he smushed himself farther away from the fearsome threats coming from the basilisk. Sirius' face appeared immediately in the mirror, but before he could even speak, Harry said, "Hermione's hurt! Draco shoved us down into some big cavern… made of rocks and it's trying to kill us!"

"Harry?" Sirius' voice was thick with confusion. "Where are you?"

"I don't know!" Harry yelled above the din, flinching as the stones rung with each strike of the basilisk's head. "We were in the girl's toilet on the second floor! Aaugh! Sirius! Hermione's hurt! And the snake—Draco said it's a basilisk-"

"A basilisk?!" Remus' cry startled Harry so much that he dropped the mirror.

"Harry?!" Sirius shouted; his own voice going up an octave as it faded away. Harry heard a splash as the mirror plopped into the shallow water below.

"Shit," Harry said furiously and, even though it seemed pretty unimportant compared to the giant basilisk trying to maim him, Harry hoped his parents hadn't somehow heard that.

The walls around him were beginning to crumble; he held his wand in a tight fist but had no idea what to do with it. He really needed to ask Sirius to teach him some hexes! What good was a bloody Summoning Charm-

A Summoning Charm! He silently thanked Sirius for buying him so many books. The basilisk only had two enemies; he remembered reading that. He didn't have a rooster at hand, but the basilisk's own reflection…

Thinking it probably wouldn't work but unable to do anything else, Harry grabbed a chunk of rock and flung it as far as he could. The resultant splash diverted the basilisk's attention. While it was attempting to kill the rock instead, Harry pointed his wand downward and called, "Accio mirror!"

The mirror obliged and Harry stuck it under an armpit for a quick dry. How he was going to get the basilisk to look in the mirror, he had no idea. Especially as he couldn't move-

"Aaugh!" Harry screamed as the great serpent's head swung around toward him, and slammed his tail only centimeters from Harry's hiding place. There was nothing to grab onto and he slid down the wall, crashing with a great spray into the water. Something speared his thigh but he ignored it to scramble up and duck as the basilisk charged again.

He could hear two sets of voices—Draco's telling the basilisk to kill and the basilisk chanting its desire to do just that.

Harry's hands felt in panic along the wet walls, trying to find a place to climb up or a hollow somewhere to hide again.

"Look at me," the serpent begged, as his head weaved back and forth. Harry pressed himself round a sudden break in the wall and squeezed his eyes shut.

There was a great clapping sound, so thunderous it shook the walls again and Harry began to shiver.

"Stupefy!"

Harry felt his body sagging in relief. Sirius and Remus! But their Stunning Spell obviously had no effect on the basilisk.

"Blood," it sang greedily.

"Harry!" Sirius' voice screamed out, so panicked that Harry's heart beat faster.

"I'm here! Behind the giant statue!"

"Don't move!" That was Remus, his voice nearly shrill.

Harry wasn't about to move—not for anything even as he heard the basilisk crashing and raging beyond him. But he had to make sure they knew Hermione was out there. He gathered up as much breath as he had and shouted hoarsely, "Hermione!"

"We see her!"

"Confringo!"

Harry didn't immediately recognize that voice but the half-gasped, "Expelliarmus!" belonged to Sirius only seconds later. A Disarming Spell? Since the basilisk had no wand, he could only think Sirius meant to hit Draco. If they knew it was Draco.

Wanting to help, Harry called, "Draco's here! Something wrong with him and-"

"Harry James Potter," Sirius' furious voice rang out, "don't move one centimeter! Do you hear me?!"

Harry flattened himself against the cold wall and clamped his lips shut, pretty sure Sirius wanted him to shut up too; his wand trembled in his hand as he listened to the sounds all around him, his muscles aching to help. There were several more of those clapping sounds—a woman's voice, more clapping pops.

And then with no warning at all, the statue he was hiding behind exploded and Harry felt himself flying. Pain radiated from everywhere as his body thudded against something solid. He heard himself moaning; hoarse voices screaming his name.

And then everything went dark.

--

"Harry?"

Something cool touched Harry's cheek; his eyelids fluttered open.

Sirius and Remus.

Both of them with eyes crinkled in anxiety.

"Harry," Sirius breathed, full of relief. He touched Harry's face again, soothing. "Don't move, all right?"

"Madame Pomfrey's checking you for injuries," Remus added in a voice that sounded like it had been scrubbed with rocks.

"What happened?" Harry asked, feeling groggy.

Sirius' fingers brushed his fringe aside as Remus answered quietly, "Part of the statue exploded. You hit your head."

Reminding Harry of several things, he struggled to sit up. "Hermione…"

"Shh," Sirius admonished gently as he held Harry's shoulder so that he couldn't move. "She's in the Infirmary."

"Something's wrong with Draco-"

"We know," Remus assured him. "The headmaster is taking care of him."

Harry didn't think that sounded good. "But-"

"Be still, Mr Potter."

Harry blinked, noticing Pomfrey for the first time as she frowned severely at him. But he didn't want to be still. He wanted to ask the million questions that were swarming around in his head. About Draco; and if Hermione was going to be all right. And how they'd stopped the basilisk. And-

"My mirror…"

"I've got it," Sirius told him. And then a little firmer, "Hush now."

Harry subsided; he was too tired to argue anyway.

"There are no spinal injuries," Pomfrey finally declared after waving her wand for a very long time. "We can move him to the infirmary; with a Levitation Charm if you-" Sirius and Remus glared at her and she sighed. "Very well then."

Sirius cupped Harry's face, gathering Harry's attention. "Fawkes is going to take us to the infirmary, all right?"

"Uh huh..."

Sirius slid his arms under Harry's knees and shoulders. "Put your arms round my neck," he said. Harry winced as he obeyed and Sirius frowned. "Do you have a stronger pain-killing draught, Poppy?"

"In the infirmary," she said crisply as Remus gave her a hand up.

"We'll be there in a just a minute." Sirius patted Harry's leg lightly as he hoisted. "Feel all right?"

Harry nodded, though he had to bite his lip so a groan couldn't escape. But the dull aches radiating throughout his body made him yawn instead. He rested his head against Sirius' shoulder, grateful for the warmth. Sirius smiled down at him. "Hold on..."

Remus grasped Sirus' arm with one hand and Fawkes' tail with the other; they were standing in the infirmary in the next instant. Fawkes flashed away once more, returning with Pomfrey who quickly ordered Sirius to transfer Harry to one of the beds.

Harry's heart thumped as he saw Hermione lying in one of the other beds. "Is she all right?"

"She will be," Sirius said as he set Harry down and fussed with the pillows so that he could sit up comfortably.

"She's asleep," Remus added. "She's perfectly fine."

"You're sure?"

"Yes," Sirius said with a solemn nod and Harry believed him. Pomfrey gave him two vials and Harry drank them without protest. The aches began to subside.

All of them turned their heads to watch the healer as she went to Hermione's bed to perform diagnostics and adjust the blanket.

"That was your Shield Charm, wasn't it?" Sirius asked quietly.

Harry nodded; his insides danced as he remembered how frightened he'd been. "Couldn't let the basilisk get her."

Sirius threaded his fingers through Harry's hair. Harry squinted up at him. "You saved her," Sirius said with a soft smile. "You know that, don't you?"

Overwhelmed, Harry nodded.

"We're very proud of you, Harry," Remus added, his hand coming to cover one of Harry's. Harry shifted to look at Remus, a flush heating his face.

"Yeah?"

"Yes."

"Well, now that we've settled that," Pomfrey interrupted with pursed lips, "it's time for Mr Potter to rest."

"But what about Draco?" Harry protested, indignant for a dozen reasons and willing to ignore the throbbing in his limbs and head. "Where is he? How did you stop the basilisk?"

"Mr Malfoy is perfectly well," Pomfrey said. "And the rest of your questions will wait until later."

"But-"

"No protests, Mr Potter. And I know your parents will agree that your full recovery is their first priority?"

She leveled Sirius and Remus a very stern eye; they nodded obediently and Harry knew he'd lost; his reluctant sigh turned into a yawn. Pomfrey handed him two vials—one a Sleeping Draught.

"All right," he said, already beginning to think sleep sounded brilliant, "but you promise you'll tell me everything when I wake up?"

"We promise," Remus said, gesturing for him to swallow the potion.

He yawned again. "And you know Draco… well, he wasn't normal."

"Yes, we know," Sirius told him. "Now take the draught and go to sleep."

Harry swallowed the potions and settled himself more comfortably on the pillow. "You're not going anywhere, are you?" he mumbled as his eyelids began to feel heavy. Even heavier as a thumb slowly dragged over his forehead.

"No," Sirius assured him softly. "We'll stay right here."

--

Severus looked up from the asphodel he was crushing with delicate twists of the glass pestle.

Fawkes.

In all his maroon and gold-plumed glory.

Severus scowled at the singular bird, but Fawkes simply gazed back, unperturbed—and as patient as ever. Severus sighed. The headmaster always called at the most inconvenient times—as if he thought Severus would only be helpful if he was in the middle of a twelve hour long continuous brewing session.

But it didn't matter. Severus had made his promise eleven years ago. And truly, the headmaster had been more generous than he deserved. Funding the small potions shop after Severus captured Pettigrew, and offering him words of encouragement when necessary. Friendship, the elder wizard had called it, though Severus couldn't think of the headmaster in those terms.

Severus didn't have friends. Except for Lily, he never had.

Forcing thoughts of Lily from his mind, Severus waved his wand to extinguish the flames below the cauldron and dutifully took Fawkes' tail. They reappeared in a place that Severus didn't recognize—a cavern of some sort. With pillars carved to resemble snakes…

Severus froze.

The headmaster was kneeling beside Draco Malfoy—his form prone and silent. But Severus could see the slow rise and fall of his chest. And beyond them, as dead as Severus was living, a basilisk.

A rooster sat calmly near its head.

"Do not touch anything," Albus said. His back was to Severus; he gestured with a raised hand for Severus to join him. Severus went toward the headmaster slowly; dropping to one knee beside him.

"The Chamber of Secrets?"

Albus glanced at him, a tiny smile briefly lighting his lined face. "You never fail to impress me, Severus."

Severus ignored the pleased spark that ignited somewhere near his breastbone and drawled, "Don't tell me; young Malfoy is the heir of Slytherin."

"It would certainly make his father proud," Albus murmured, his eyes tracing the fallen boy. "I'm afraid though that Draco was possessed."

"Surely not."

Albus turned his gaze on Severus again. "If he was not, then he is guilty of attempted murder."

Severus' brow furrowed as he stared between Draco and the headmaster. Severus had known Draco since he was a child. And though Draco was spoiled and often arrogant, he was also insecure and loyal to those who'd earned it. Capable of murder, he was not.

"Whom?"

Albus' blue eyes clouded as he turned his gaze back to Draco. "Harry," he said softly. "And his friend, Miss Granger. They are in the infirmary."

Severus drew in a slow breath. Harry Potter. An attempt on his life had been made twice now. "Draco opened the chamber?" Albus nodded. Concentrating now, Severus could feel the presence of the Dark Lord's magic crackling all around them; his earlier shock had masked it. "Another Quirrel?"

But Albus shook his head and indicated the book in front of him. "I believe this diary once belonged to Tom Riddle, and it somehow came into Draco's possession. I have examined it closely," Albus added at Severus' curious look; using his wand, he slid it closer to Severus.

Severus chanted several spells over the leather, closing his eyes as he felt the dark magic calling to him. The darkest magic—evil that could only have belonged to the Dark Lord. The same magic that was embedded in the tattoo on Severus' arm. The same magic that had exchanged Lily's life for her son's. And the very same that was in the reminder emblazoned on Harry's forehead.

"Severus."

A light touch on his arm brought Severus back. He opened his eyes. "It must be destroyed."

"I have tried," Albus said, sounding old again; as he often did these days. "It will not be torn; or burned. And I have tried every blasting curse I can think of. Draco is connected to it," he added, underlining the urgency.

Severus stared at the leather-bound darkness. "I can focus Fiendfyre."

"No."

Severus glanced up, finding steel in his old professor's eyes. It had been many years since Severus had cast a dark spell and he knew very well why Albus wanted to keep it that way. He dipped his head, accepting. Albus touched his shoulder.

"Something more powerful than the Dark Lord?" Severus murmured, making it a suggestion as he held the headmaster's gaze. "Since it was cursed by him."

Albus' blue eyes flicked to Draco; calculating something though Severus couldn't have said what. And then the headmaster extended a hand toward the fallen basilisk. With an echoing crack, one of its great fangs tore away from its gums and flew into Albus' palm.

He plunged it into the diary.

A scream rent the air as Draco's body convulsed several times. The scream faded, Draco grew still again and a plume of black smoke drifted lazily from the hole, now gaping in the center of the diary.

Severus' heart was settling back to its normal pace as he stared at the blackened edges of the hole. Finally, he turned his gaze back to Dumbledore. "I've never heard of a cursed object screaming when it was destroyed," he said quietly.

"No," Albus agreed.

"And you are not going to elaborate."

"Not yet."

Severus checked Draco's pulse, since the headmaster seemed unable to tear his eyes from the diary. "If Harry is injured," Severus said as he released Draco's wrist, "Black and Lupin will expect an explanation. You cannot hide what happened this time-"

"It is not yet time for them to know."

"They would likely disagree," Severus said dryly. "They will resent you for keeping it from them."

Albus looked up; he smiled. "And you wish to protect me from their wrath?"

Instead of answering, Severus said, "I have been the target of Black's wrath."

"Sirius is not the same man he was when you knew him," Albus said after a quiet moment, reminding Severus of something he already knew. "He's more than paid for any crimes against you. And," he added gently, "he has expressed his desire to thank you—and apologize—on several occasions."

"I do not wish to be thanked," Severus said gruffly; they had discussed this many times. "Nor do I want an apology." How could Severus want that? His own crimes had been far greater.

And what would he say in return—It is because of me that your godson no longer has his parents?

"You have paid for your crimes as well, Severus," Albus said in answer, reading things that Severus hadn't even said. And he nodded because the headmaster wished him to believe it. There were, however, crimes that could never be paid for.

"You wish me to speak with Lucius?" Severus asked, diverting the conversation.

Albus' snowy eyebrows drew together as his gaze roved over Lucius' son. "I wondered if you had ever seen the diary among the Malfoys' possessions."

"If Lucius stole from the Dark Lord, he would not advertise the fact."

"No," Albus agreed. He sighed and then turned his attention back to Severus. "If you could arrange to be in Lucius' company when I bring him news of Draco, I would be most appreciative," he said. He didn't explain why, but that didn't stop Severus from agreeing instantly

"As you wish, Headmaster," he said, inclining his head. Albus nodded, lost to his thoughts.

--

Sirius looked up from the book he was reading when the infirmary's door opened. He set it on the table and put a hand on Remus' shoulder, waking him with a gentle shake. Sleep cleared from Remus' brown eyes as he lifted his head; he straightened as he saw Albus padding toward Harry's bed.

His eyes on Harry, Albus asked softly, "How is he?"

"He had a few cuts and bruises." Sirius' hand strayed to Harry's brow as he spoke. "Nothing terribly serious."

"He was lucky…" Albus drifted over to Hermione's bed; he ran an aged hand over her hair. "Her parents will be most distressed."

"I've already contacted them," Sirius said. "With Hermione's mirror."

"Ah. Yes. How did they take the news?"

"I didn't tell them any details," Sirius explained. "Poppy spoke to them as well; told them she's doing well now. They were both very worried, of course."

Albus nodded. "It is difficult for Muggle parents to send their children to Hogwarts. You and Remus are both very fortunate… You know that, of course…"

Sirius frowned.

"Are you quite all right, Albus?" Remus asked, frowning as well. The headmaster's words were closer to a ramble than either of them was used to; and his old blue eyes were dull, his skin pale.

He smiled, turning back to them. "Of course, my boys," he said, reaching out to squeeze Sirius' shoulder and then he rested the back of his fingers against Harry's cheek. "You gave us quite a scare…" He cleared his throat and withdrew his hand. "I know you must have many questions-"

Sirius stood, and the headmaster paused as he was offered Sirius' chair. He smiled again and summoned another from across the room, though he sat in the one Sirius had offered.

"I'm afraid however," he continued once he was settled, "that I do not have many answers. Draco was possessed by a cursed book."

Sirius and Remus traded glances; they'd already worked out that Draco had been possessed; his red eyes and attempts to murder them had made that clear.

Sirius leaned forward to ask, "Did Draco summon the basilisk?"

"Yes."

"How?"

Albus didn't answer for a moment; he was gazing at Harry. And when he did, his voice was strained, "The book was cursed by Voldemort—many years ago, though I cannot be certain of his exact purpose. I destroyed it, and Draco was released."

"And how in hell did Draco get his hands on a cursed book?"

Albus shook his head. "I do not know."

"I do."

Sirius glanced down in surprise; Harry's eyes were open and they were darting between the three men. "You do?" Sirius echoed.

Harry gave a tiny nod, but his lips were pressed tightly together so Sirius leaned in. He brushed a thumb over the worried creases in his godson's forehead and said, "It's all right, Harry."

"Mr Malfoy had it that day we were in Flourish and Blotts this summer," Harry explained. Sirius glanced at the headmaster, who didn't look particularly surprised. "Remember he took Ginny's books from her cauldron?" Harry asked. When Sirius nodded, Harry continued, "Well, the book must have gotten mixed up with them…" He hesitated again.

"And then what happened?" Remus prodded.

"I saw it in Ginny's cauldron," Harry said; he was gripping the top of his blanket. "And so I gave it Draco. But I told him to give it back to his father," he rushed to add. "I really did-"

"It's all right," Sirius assured him quickly, stilling Harry's panic with a gentle pat to his shoulder. "You didn't know it was so dangerous. Draco wouldn't have either," he added when Harry didn't look any less disturbed. Lucius, on the other hand…

"But why did Mr Malfoy have that book?" Harry asked Albus quietly. "If it was cursed?"

"I don't know."

"But you said Voldemort cursed it." Harry pushed himself up, his green eyes turbulent. "Why would Mr Malfoy have it?"

No one answered, Sirius because he didn't want to explain that Lucius had probably been a Death Eater. "I do apologize," Albus said. "I should have cast a Silencing Spell-"

"Why?" Harry said, his spine straightening indignantly.

"Harry, don't interrupt," Sirius said, shaking his head slightly. But Harry frowned at the headmaster, as if Sirius hadn't even spoken.

"Why didn't you want me to know about the book?" Harry demanded. "I'm not a baby-"

"Harry," Sirius said in a voice low with warning and Harry stopped speaking. He turned back to Sirius, his cheeks turning pink. Not wanting to embarrass him further, Sirius cocked an eyebrow. It was enough; Harry dropped his eyes.

"Sorry Professor," he mumbled.

"It's quite all right, my boy," Albus murmured. He patted Harry's hand. "I did want to tell you about Draco."

Harry lifted his head; his eyes were wary. "Is he all right?"

"He has been taken home," Albus said with a nod. "He is no longer possessed, as far as I can tell, though he is being seen to by his parents' healer."

"Oh." Harry picked at the blanket's hem. "Is he… coming back to school soon then?"

"I don't know," Albus said. "I had best allow you to rest though, or Madame Pomfrey will most be displeased with me."

Sirius wanted to demand more information about Lucius, but it would have to wait until Harry wasn't listening.

"I'd enjoy a spot of tea tomorrow afternoon," Albus said. Sirius and Remus nodded and Albus took his leave.

After he'd left, Pomfrey bustled through. She clucked her tongue over Harry, handed him a Pain-relieving Draught and then went to Hermione's bed with an admonishment that Harry should be sleeping.

But Harry shook his head when Sirius echoed the sentiment.

"You must be tired," Remus said, eyeing the smudges under Harry's eyes. Harry nodded, but he didn't lie back.

"What's the matter?" Sirius asked. And then a little more anxiously, "Does something hurt?"

Harry shook his head. "It's… well, it's silly."

"It isn't silly if it's bothering you."

Harry tugged his blanket to his stomach, holding it there in bunched fingers. "But it is silly," he insisted. "Because it was only Draco..."

Sirius sat on the edge of the bed and wrapped an arm around his godson's shoulders. "It isn't silly to be frightened. I was frightened when I saw Draco."

"You were?"

"We both were," Remus added, resting a hand on Harry's blanket-clad knee. "Being possessed made him do things that he wouldn't have otherwise. He couldn't help what he did."

Harry turned his face to study Remus, his cheek resting against Sirius' chest. "But how do you know?"

"When something possesses a person, you are no longer in control of your own actions," Remus explained, his voice careful but Harry still shivered. "It's very dark magic."

"But why would Voldemort curse a book?"

"We don't know," Sirius answered, regret weighing his voice down. "We probably won't ever know."

Harry's body sagged as he sighed out his tension. "Draco said… Hermione was going to be the basilisk's meal. He meant for it to eat her, Sirius!"

Sirius gazed down at his godson's face—no longer innocent. "I know, kiddo," he murmured softly.

Harry chest heaved twice. "But that's..." He couldn't finish and Sirius folded him into his arms as Harry relived the nightmare and Sirius didn't know whether or not to be concerned that his godson didn't cry.

He was shivering slightly though, so Remus cast a Warming Charm and Sirius tightened his arms. "You're all right," he whispered, and hoped it was true.

Hours later, Sirius untangled Harry's limbs and settled him carefully on the bed. All three of them had dozed off at some point, though Remus was awake now and speaking with Poppy near her office.

Harry mumbled something that Sirius couldn't decipher. Sirius pulled the blanket up to his shoulders. He sighed as he watched a sleepy smile tug at the corners of Harry's mouth.

"It's easy to forget he's twelve when he's asleep," Remus murmured, joining Sirius by the side of the bed.

Sirius smiled, nodding his agreement and winding his fingers through Remus'. "He wasn't supposed to grow up so fast…" He sighed and shifted so that he was looking at Remus. But before he could speak, a soft groan made both of them turn. Hermione was awake, and blinking dazedly up at the ceiling.

Poppy was at her side in an instant, soothing her as she handed out various potions and explained what happened.

"Is Harry all right?" she finally whispered. Sirius and Remus stepped to her bed, both of them smiling down at her.

"He's asleep," Remus told her. "And he's just fine."

Hermione closed her eyes and smiled. "He's very brave, you know," she mumbled. "Oh," she said, her eyes popping open again. "Tell Harry he can punch Draco in the nose now; I won't try to stop him…"

Her eyes drifted closed again, and her breathing deepened with sleep, leaving Remus and Sirius to stare down at her in confusion.

Chapter Text

Draco shook his head at the third offer of soup. His mother waved Dobby away and caressed Draco's warm cheek.

"Draco, my darling," she coaxed softly, "you must eat. You'll be ill."

"Not hungry," he mumbled. He felt like he was going to sick up again; just like he had when he woke up here in his bed. He still felt like he was trapped in someone else's nightmare. Especially when his mother had held a cool cloth to his neck, telling him that everything was going to be all right.

But it wasn't going to be. He could remember everything now, although it was like looking through a Pensieve full of memories that weren't his own. Except that Dumbledore had assured him that he had

done all those things—he'd really shoved Harry and Hermione down that hole in the girls' toilet.

He'd tried to kill both of them.

And though nothing should have been worse than that; it was. His father hadn't spoken to him since he woke up. Not even once. He'd stared at Draco, eyes filled with shock and then he turned his back and walked away.

Severus had followed him, leaving Draco with his mother and a consistently-twitching Dobby.

"What can I get for you, love?" his mother whispered, still stroking his brow. He stared up at her, his throat aching and willed himself not to cry. Malfoys didn't cry. No matter how awful it was. No matter that Harry would never speak to him again. He wouldn't cry.

His father wouldn't.

So he just shook his head again and tried to swallow the burn away, concentrating on his mother's melodic murmurs.

--

Narcissa stayed beside her son until he was asleep. She brushed his blond fringe aside with gentle fingers. "Stay with him," she whispered to Dobby, her hand lingering for a moment and then she stood up and slipped out into the corridor, closing the door carefully behind her.

Low voices were drifting up from Lucius' study. Not even pausing to consider, Narcissa went downstairs and without knocking, entered. Lucius and Severus looked up, both surprised at the intrusion.

"All of this for revenge?" she asked quietly, her eyes for her husband alone.

She expected a cool answer or a subtle rebuff. She did not expect his fingers to tremble. With uncoordinated movements, Lucius set his quivering glass on the table.

"Draco explained that Harry found the diary in Ginny Weasley's cauldron," she went on, "where you misplaced it."

"Narcissa," Lucius said quietly, "it was-"

"Draco nearly didn't wake up," Narcissa cut in, her own harsh tone surprising her. "Do not attempt to placate me."

Lucius' hand convulsed on the stem of his wine glass. "It was meant for the Weasley girl."

Blood pounded through Narcissa's veins as she stared at her husband. "And that is all you have to say? You knew it was likely that she would be in Gryffindor—where Draco lives. Even if Harry had found it, you had already endangered our son."

Lucius closed his eyes. "I only meant to discredit Arthur," he whispered. "I did not know it was capable of possession."

"It belonged to the Dark Lord!"

"I did not consider-"

"Consider this then," she said coldly. "You nearly killed your son. Our only child."

The only sign that he had heard her was a tremor along his jaw. Too disgusted to look at him any longer, Narcissa turned away and went back to Draco.

--

Hours later, with darkness cloaking the house, Lucius emerged from his study. He swayed as he climbed the stairs and had to grasp the handrail or stumble back down into the parlour. He grimaced, not quite drunk enough not to realize he'd had far too many glasses of his finest wine.

When he reached the landing, he stared at Draco's half-open door. The alcohol had dampened all the consuming emotions that churned his stomach when Dumbledore crossed the threshold with an unconscious Draco in his arms. Churned it violently when the old man explained that Draco had been under the influence of a cursed diary.

Draco was unconcious for hours, his magic nearly drained by the possession. Had it continued for much longer, the healer had told them tonelessly, your son would be dead.

And as soon as Draco opened his eyes, Lucius had looked into his son's haunted eyes and fled.

Draco was silent again now, his eyes closed as Lucius stepped into the room. Narcissa was stretched out on a conjured bed beside his, sleeping; Dobby curled into a ball on the floor.

Dizziness rolled through Lucius as he stepped to his son's bed and crouched down, peering at the pinched lines of Draco's face. There was no hint of peace there; not even in sleep. And Lucius wondered whether he was plagued with nightmares.

He hadn't watched his son sleep for many years—not since he was a baby, he supposed. Once or twice later, perhaps… when Draco had been ill with fever. But for now, he couldn't seem to make himself rise. The moonlight streaming in from behind his curtains was lighting a rectangle along Draco's cheekbone, his pale lashes nearly blending into his complexion, the sweep of fringe obscuring his eyebrow.

Of their own accord, Lucius' fingers stretched out and brushed the hair aside. Draco stirred and his eyelids fluttered open.

"Father?"

Lucius' lungs squeezed painfully at the faint query; Draco's eyes were glazed with confusion. "Sleep," Lucius murmured. "Your mother will worry if you are not rested…"

A drowsy smile lightened the tense features briefly and then Draco's eyes were closed once more, his chest falling gradually into the rhythm of sleep. And still, Lucius could not find the will to move away.

--

Harry woke up with a jerk, his heart racing; just as if he really was back in the Chamber of Secrets, Draco's blood-red eyes staring into his. He shivered. As his eyes adjusted to the single flickering sconce, Harry found Sirius in the chair beside the bed, legs stretched out, his head propped on his shoulder as he slept.

He didn't look very comfortable.

Not wanting to wake him, Harry felt around for his glasses, finding them on the table after a moment. He wriggled out from under his blankets and slid to the floor as quietly as possible, squinting in the near-blackness toward Pomfrey's office. He'd never spent the night in the infirmary but he was almost certain Pomfrey had mentioned the toilet was next to her office…

Ignoring the way the shadows reminded him of the basilisk's looming fangs, he padded slowly toward Pomfrey's office, stumbling twice since he couldn't properly see.

And then a hand settled on his shoulder from behind and he jumped and let out a strangled cry.

"Hey," Sirius said softly, his voice coming nearer as he crouched down in front of Harry, "it's just me."

Harry's heart was thudding so loudly, he imagined Sirius could hear it. He let his breath out as Sirius' grey eyes steadied him. "I didn't mean to frighten you," his godfather said in that same quite tone.

"Didn't." Harry's chattering teeth gave him away.

Frowning slightly, Sirius chanted a Warming Charm and then gave Harry's arms a brisk rub. "Where were you going with no light?" he asked as warmth spread to the tips of Harry's fingers.

"Loo," Harry matched the whisper.

"Lumos," Sirius said and held out his own wand. "Bit tricky in the dark."

"Thanks…" Harry gave his godfather a half-smile and went into the toilet. Sirius was waiting for him when he emerged, his back propped against the stone wall. He was twirling Harry's wand between his fingers. He smiled and straightened up when Harry stopped uncertainly in front of him.

"Feeling all right?"

Harry nodded, though he wasn't really. He felt sort of ill. Nauseous, maybe.

Sirius stepped forward and cupped the back of Harry's neck. "You don't have a fever. Let's get you back to bed." He smiled, dropping his palm a bit so that he could guide Harry back to the bed. Instead of heeding the slight pressure, Harry twisted, dislodging his godfather's hand.

"I'm not tired," he said quickly before Sirius could question him.

"But it's not even half past three…" And then Harry had no idea how Sirius knew, but he nodded slowly. "Nightmare?"

"I keep seeing Draco's eyes…" Harry knew it sounded stupid, especially since the basilisk had really been much worse than Draco. Unable to stop it, he shivered again. Sirius put an arm round his shoulders and Harry relaxed, grateful that his godfather didn't comment on the absurdity of having bad dreams about red eyes.

"Would you like to take a walk?"

"Yeah?" Harry glanced back toward Pomfrey's office. "Are we allowed?"

"Probably not," Sirius said with a wink, "but I think we'll take our chances." Harry smiled. They stopped so that Harry could put his trainers on. "Even if we're sneaking out, you still need shoes. And a jumper," Sirius decided, whisking one from the neat pile of Harry's clothes beside the bed.

"Where's Remus?" Harry whispered as they passed Hermione's bed; she was sleeping peacefully but the rest of the beds were empty.

Sirius closed the door softly behind them. "He went for a walk earlier; stretch his legs a bit."

Harry nodded, thinking it was a bit odd that Remus was wandering around the castle by himself. But then, Remus did tend to be up at night more than Sirius was.

Making patterns against the floor with the light shining from Sirius' wand—which he was still holding—Harry asked, "Do you think Dobby stole the cloak and map so that Draco could use them?" Harry wasn't exactly sure what Draco would use them for though.

"I don't know," Sirius said, his lips turned down in thought. "Dobby said it wasn't Draco that ordered him to take them."

"Can house-elves lie?"

"I should think so; to protect their masters."

Harry thought about that; about why exactly Voldemort's book had possessed Draco. "It's odd, isn't it?"

"What is?" Sirius was gazing down at him, a crooked smile lighting his face now. Harry found himself smiling as well, despite the questions milling around in his head.

"Well," he said slowly as he danced a lazy figure eight with Sirius' wand, "that Voldemort's book possessed Draco. Because that means it was almost like Draco was Voldemort for awhile, doesn't it?"

Sirius was frowning again. "In a way…"

"But it's a bit strange that Voldemort knew me, isn't it? Or was it because Draco knew me-"

"What?"

Harry stopped walking, only to find Sirius no longer beside him. When he turned, his godfather was gaping down at him.

"How do you mean, Voldemort knew,/i> you?"

Harry paused before he answered, unnerved by Sirius' tone. "Er… Well, if he wasn't just Draco, I mean... because he was talking about how I'd defeated him. And before he pushed me, he called me Harry Potter in that different voice just before my scar stopped hurting and-"

"Your scar was hurting?" Sirius stepped forward, his face full of confusion as Harry nodded. Sirius smoothed the floppy hair away from Harry's forehead, his eyes narrowing as he examined the scar. "The same way it was last year, do you mean?"

"Yeah."

Sirius looked down at him, his hand sliding down to cup Harry's chin. "Exactly like that? It may be important," he added when Harry screwed up his lips as he tried to decide.

"It hurt more," he finally admitted, not liking the way Sirius' face became sort of pinched.

"How much more?" he asked, his voice strained.

And only because Sirius had said it might be important was Harry able to answer, "Sort of like someone lit my head on fire."

Sirius' hand fell away and without a word, he pulled Harry against his chest. His breaths heaved in and out, Harry's head moving with them. He waited for a moment but when Sirius didn't say anything, he finally looked up.

"Sirius?" he whispered, as if he might disturb something vital. Sirius broke himself out of whatever trance he'd been in, turning his eyes down to Harry's face.

"Sorry," he said, just as quietly. "When I heard you through the mirror yesterday…" He cleared his throat, smiling ruefully. "I'm not quite recovered, I don't think."

Harry wondered then if Sirius had had a nightmare too. Not wanting to ask, Harry hugged him, hoping it might make his godfather feel better; just like a hug always did for him. Sirius kissed the top of his head after a minute and let Harry step back. He looked less worried, at least.

"Come here," he said, guiding Harry's shoulder, "and sit with me for a moment."

They reached the top of the stairs and together they plopped onto the first step, both of them sighing as they slouched. Sirius massaged his shoulder briefly. "I know it isn't fun to talk about it," he said, "but I think I need to know everything that happened; exactly as you remember it, all right?"

His eyes were searching, and Harry nodded and started at the beginning. Sirius listened without interrupting, only squeezing his shoulder a few times when Harry faltered. His heart was hammering by the time he finished describing having to listen to what was happening around him, without being able to see anything.

"Thank you for obeying me," Sirius said very softly once he'd finished, leaning over to rest his cheek on the top of Harry's head. "We wouldn't have been able to concentrate if you hadn't."

Harry smiled, glad now that he'd stayed put, instead of giving in to the urge to try to help. He'd learned that lesson last Christmas, after all.

"How did you stop the basilisk?" Harry asked, remembering that they'd never answered him.

"Rooster's crow; Dumbledore summoned one of Hagrid's." Sirius straightened and smiled at Harry, his eyes crinkling around the edges. "You were very clever though to think of a mirror."

Harry flushed, pleased again. "I read it in one of Ollivander's books… remember, we read it together last summer?"

Sirius nodded, still smiling but it faded quickly. "Did you feel pain in your scar while you were in the Chamber?"

Harry shook his head, not needing to think about it. The awful pain wasn't exactly something you wouldn't notice. "It was only when Draco grabbed me."

"And it faded when Draco…" Sirius cleared his throat, his voice wobbly as he finished, "…pushed you?"

"Right before that. When he said Hermione would be dinner." Harry shivered again even though, with both his jumper and Sirius' Warming Charm, he couldn't be cold. Sirius' arm tightened.

"Hermione's all right," he murmured. "Draco will be as well…"

Harry nodded jerkily. He still couldn't stop seeing those red eyes. If only Draco had given the book back to his father… Which brought him back to why Mr Malfoy had had the book in the first place. Listening to the calming thrum of his godfather's heartbeat, Harry asked, "Was Draco's father a Death Eater; like Peter Pettigrew?"

He was almost certain Sirius' heart beat a little faster and he immediately regretted the question. Sirius didn't like talking about anything to do with his former friend. "Sorry," he whispered, trying to straighten up but Sirius shook his head and Harry stilled.

"Don't be," Sirius told him. "I don't want you to ever be worried about asking me questions… or telling me something when you think it might upset me." Sirius was gazing down at him, his eyes unusually solemn so Harry nodded.

"It's just that I know you don't like to talk about him…" he had to explain anyway, even though really he never worried too much about saying things to Sirius.

"I don't," Sirius agreed. "But that doesn't mean you shouldn't ask if you need to." He smiled a little, his eyebrows lifting expectantly. "All right?"

"OK."

Sirius nodded. "As for Draco's father," he said slowly. "I can't tell you for certain that he was a Death Eater. We don't really know much about who was and who wasn't. Peter, we know about… only because he betrayed your mum and dad."

"But if Mr Malfoy was…" Harry squinted up at his godfather, trying to sort out his thoughts. "If he was, how come nobody found out?"

"Sometimes, when people are very powerful—or they are friends with powerful people—their misbehavior is ignored."

Harry considered that. "But he had the cursed book," he pointed out and was surprised when Sirius shook his head. "I saw him-"

"I know you did, kiddo," Sirius said, with a gentle smile. "But it would be rather difficult to prove it was his-"

"He was holding it!"

"I know," Sirius stressed and Harry bit the inside of his cheek to let him finish. "Even if he was holding it, we can't prove he didn't pick it up in Flourish and Blotts… or that someone else hadn't given it to him."

"Prove? You mean, in front of the Wizengamot?" Harry couldn't stop his eyebrows from knitting together. "Will Draco be in trouble too?"

He couldn't decide whether or not to be relieved when Sirius shook his head. "I don't know that anyone will be in trouble…" He sighed. "It's probably one of the things the headmaster wants to speak to Remus and me about."

"May I come with you when you have tea with him?" Harry asked

Sirius looked surprised at the question but he shook his head all the same. "I'm afraid not."

"But why not?" Harry asked, knowing his voice was close to a whinge, but Sirius didn't even call him on it. He simply sighed again.

"I don't know exactly what he wants to say to us. And," he added when Harry tried to protest again, "the headmaster didn't invite you."

"That's because he didn't even want me to know Draco was possessed by Voldemort's book," Harry said, indignant. "But you would have told me, wouldn't you?"

"Yes."

"Then why can't I come? Especially if you're going to be talking about me?"

"Because Harry James," Sirius said, his voice deep with affection, "you can't. And it would make me very happy if you would accept that as my final word on the subject."

A bit startled by the use of his middle name in that affectionate tone, it took a moment for Harry to remember to respond. And when he nodded, Sirius leaned down and kissed the top of his head again.

"Thank you."

Harry didn't really know what to say to that, but Sirius didn't seem to expect a response. They sat quietly then, both of them listening to the whispering of the few portraits who were still awake. Footsteps farther down the staircase shifted their attention.

"Bet it's Filch," they said at the same time; their eyes met and they chuckled.

"Still stalking the corridors?" Sirius asked with a grin.

"He'll probably try to give me detention," Harry said, making a face. But it wasn't Filch at all. It was Remus, his drawn features highlighted by the halo of light from his wand tip. He finally noticed them when he started up the staircase that they were inhabiting. His startled gaze immediately changed to worry.

"Are you all right?" he asked, his eyes zeroing in on Harry as he continued his climb.

"We fancied a walk," Sirius explained; neither he nor Harry straightened out of their slouches and after looking between them for a few seconds, Remus sat on Harry's other side.

"Trouble sleeping?" he asked and Harry shrugged; he didn't really want to explain the red eyes. "I think Madame Pomfrey would consent to another Sleeping Potion, if you'd like."

Since a Sleeping Potion wouldn't stop the red eyes, Harry shook his head.

"We'll order a cup of warm milk from the kitchens," Sirius said, squeezing his shoulder. "I suppose they'll even make us a few biscuits; if we don't let Madame Pomfrey hear us," he added with a wink.

"Chocolate?"

"Absolutely."

Harry smiled and allowed his godfather to pull him up.

--

A glass of warm milk, and two biscuits later, Harry was asleep once more. Sirius massaged his forehead and tried to still the anxious thrum of his heart, which had not settled since Harry mentioned the pain in his scar.

"What's the matter?" Remus asked quietly. Sirius sighed and motioned him away from the bed, where he wove several privacy charms around them and explained everything Harry told him. And before he'd even finished, Remus paled and took an abrupt seat on one of the empty beds.

"I don't know what to think," Sirius said as he sank down beside his husband. "His scar… twice now."

Remus only shook his head.

"How can it be a coincidence?" Sirius asked the world in general. Remus looked at him sharply.

"But Quirrel had nothing to do with Voldemort," he said. "It was the dark magic he'd been interacting with."

"I know…" Sirius turned to look at Harry. His throat scraping over the words, he whispered, "He could have died."

Remus gripped his hand until it was almost painful. "Thank God he had his mirror…"

Sirius closed his eyes, grateful for the first time in many years that he and James had spent so many hours in detention.

Chapter Text

When Harry opened his eyes, another set was staring back at him.

"Aaugh!" Harry bolted upright and his forehead met another with a loud thwack. "Ow…"

"Oy, Potter…"

"Harry?"

"What's the matter?"

"What is going on? Mr Wood!"

Bed sheets rustled and feet thumped on the floor as Oliver rubbed his forehead and straightened up. "Right; sorry 'bout that, Potter. Heard you were in the infirmary and as we have tryouts next week-"

"Mr Wood, really," Pomfrey scolded as she took her wand out. And then she and Sirius and Remus were all bending down to peer at Harry.

"Are you all right, Harry?" Hermione's anxious voice carried from the other bed.

"Oh, he's all right," Oliver told them. "Just a tap to the head. He's had worse in practice, haven't you?"

Harry rubbed the unwelcome ache in his forehead and nodded; not that it didn't hurt but he wasn't about to say so.

Sirius frowned at Oliver. "He's had a concussion."

"Oh, I know," Oliver said, his head bobbing a nod. "That's why I came, of course. I had to make certain our Seeker would be able to practice with us."

"Mr Potter will be perfectly recovered by then," Pomfrey told the Quidditch captain crisply.

Oliver gusted a sigh. "Well, that's certainly a relief, isn't it?"

"Yes," Pomfrey said, huffing. "Now, if you're quite finished handing out bruises, Mr Wood, I believe it's time you went to breakfast."

"Actually," Oliver said with a small frown in Harry's direction, "I heard Weasley talking to Longbottom and he said something about your being banned from the first match…" His gaze switched to Sirius and Remus. "Now I know it's important to keep discipline and all, but certainly banning Harry from his best talent isn't the way." Oliver swished his hand through the air as if holding a whip, cutting off whatever Sirius had wanted to say. "I don't know what he did, but a good belting will do the trick, I'll wager. Harry wouldn't mind taking one for the team, would you Potter?"

Harry's face grew hot as he gaped.

"After all, we need you out there, Potter and isn't that worth a bit of a sting in your-"

"Oliver!" Sirius interrupted rather loudly, though his voice was strained. The team captain paused mid-spiel. Sirius cleared his throat. "Harry will be playing in the match."

Oliver stared at him for a few seconds. "Right," he finally said firmly, covering any surprise. "Good, good. Well, you just rest up there, Potter and don't do anything foolish in between, yeah?" With a critical glance over Harry, he added, "Not sure how many thrashings you'd be able to take." He clapped Harry's shoulder cheerfully, and was whistling as he walked away.

Mortified beyond speech, Harry could only stare at his retreating back. He turned around when Sirius spluttered, "Of course we're not going to thrash him!"

Madame Pomfrey was glaring at Harry's parents with narrowed eyes. But with Sirius' indignant protest, she sighed and turned back to Harry. "How are you feeling, Mr Potter?"

His face burning, Harry shook his head and slumped back onto his pillow. Stupid Oliver and his one-track mind.

Pomfrey tsked impatiently and took several scans. "He's in sound health," she said to his parents. "You may take him home whenever you wish." She walked over to Hermione. "And you, Miss Granger; I think you're well enough to go with them. As long as you continue to rest."

Harry forgot his mortification; his head came up quickly. "You're coming home with us?"

But Hermione was staring at Pomfrey. "You want me to go to Harry's house?"

Pomfrey smiled. "Sirius and Remus have a bit of surprise for you," she said; she gestured for Hermione to slide off the bed, and looking even more confused, Hermione did. She turned her attention to Sirius and Remus, but neither of them seemed to have heard the healer. Remus was staring at the far wall, his hands clasped together.

"Sirius?" Pomfrey prodded, pulling Sirius' attention from Remus. "Hermione's ready," Pomfrey added, raising her eyebrows a little. "Shall we step through?"

"Oh," Sirius said, some of the cloud clearing from his grey eyes. "Absolutely. Everything's ready."

"What's going on, Sirius?" Harry asked as he twisted out of his blanket and yanked trainers on; Sirius gave him a mischievous smile.

"Socks," he said instead of answering. Harry sighed, but he pulled his trainers off and tugged socks on. By the time he straightened up, Hermione and Pomfrey had already gone through the Floo.

"Why is Hermione going to our house?"

Sirius merely waved Harry toward the Floo, still smiling, and a second later they stepped out into their own kitchen. Hermione was wrapped in her father's arms, her feet not even touching the floor. Mrs Granger's arms were around both of them; tears tracking down her cheeks.

Harry grinned up at Sirius and with a soft chuckle, Sirius put an arm round his shoulders.

Remus was whisking a bowl of eggs into a hot pan by the time Hermione was back on her feet, though neither of her parents let go; each of them holding a hand as they turned to Harry, who was setting the table with Sirius.

"How can we ever thank you?" Mrs Granger asked; tears were welling in her eyes again. Confused, Harry didn't answer.

"Madame Pomfrey told us you saved Hermione," Mr Granger added shakily. His hand cupped the back of Hermione's head as he pulled her close to his side. Hermione was smiling at him too, and Harry felt himself flushing. He didn't know what to say.

But before he could figure it out, Hermione's mom was hugging him, the embrace even more crushing than one of Mrs Weasley's; her arms were shaking. "Thank you," she whispered.

Harry tried to nod and after a few minutes, she let him go. Remus announced breakfast then, and Harry was grateful to lose the attention, although he turned his face up to smile at Sirius as his godfather ruffled a hand through his hair.

The adults sat around the table but Hermione came to stand in front of Harry. Harry shifted; she was staring at him, her brown eyes as intense as they were during a lecture. "That was brilliant, Harry," she finally said and then she squeezed him so hard he couldn't breathe. She released him just as abruptly and went to sit beside her mother, her face a deep red as she turned her attention to her plate.

He slid into his seat across from Sirius, his face flaming.

"Toast?"

Sirius winked at him as he passed the slice over, his eyes full of mirth as Harry crunched.

--

Sirius watched the last of the cold tea swirling around the drain. He sighed as it finally gurgled its way down, and then turned away, resting his lower back against the counter. He gave his wand a half-hearted wave toward the line of teacups adorning the surface. The cleaning charm worked anyway, but instead of banishing the cups and saucers to their cupboards, he let his arm fall back to his side and glanced at the clock on the wall. Midnight was far too late to be cleaning the kitchen anyway.

Pushing out of the awkward position, he padded into the parlour. He smiled as he found Remus still asleep in the chair where Sirius had left him only minutes ago to bring the tea service into the kitchen. He bent over the back of the chair, steadying himself with a palm on each armrest, and kissed the top of Remus' head.

Remus stirred, grunted softly as he came fully awake. He twisted his neck a bit so that he was looking up at Sirius; blinked in sleepy confusion. "Did I fall asleep?"

"A few minutes ago… The Grangers went upstairs."

"Stephen was talking…" Remus frowned. "I fell asleep while he was talking?"

"Jean was half-asleep as well," Sirius reassured him as he stroked his fingers upward through Remus' hair. "It's been a long day."

Remus sighed and closed his eyes, allowing Sirius to massage the back of his neck. Neither of them mentioned how close it was to the full moon.

"It was good of you to think of them," Remus murmured as Sirius' continued to work his stiff muscles. "Hermione was certainly happy to see them."

Sirius' shoulder lifted in a self-conscious shrug. "It would have killed us not to be able to see Harry after he was hurt… I only wish there had been a way for them to go to Hogwarts."

"They were pleased enough to see her here; and they'll be able to have breakfast with her before she goes to her morning class." He shifted and clasped Sirius' fingers in his own, catching Sirius' eyes again. "They were very grateful. And so was Harry."

Sirius smiled. It was hard to gauge who had been the more excited of the two children, though Harry's had dimmed considerably after Poppy returned for Hermione after dinner so that she could be monitored through the night once more.

"You don't think we're being unreasonably anxious?" Sirius asked, glancing up the stairs, his thoughts with his godson.

Remus stood, his eyes following Sirius' gaze. "Harry didn't object to coming home for a few days."

"I think he was relieved," Sirius said as they took the stairs together. "And I suppose since Dumbledore didn't even question the idea of a Portkey…"

"And if he had?"

Sirius gave his smirking husband a sideways glance. "I would have told him to sod off." He smiled at Remus' chuckle, though he sobered almost instantly; thoughts of their meeting with the headmaster had plagued him all day. "I still don't believe there isn't any connection between that book and Quirrel."

"What possible reason would Dumbledore have to lie to us?"

Sirius shook his head. "I don't think he was lying, although I think he probably would if he felt it was necessary."

Remus stopped walking before they reached Harry's door. "Do you?"

Sirius paused as well and let his shoulders touch the wall. "He did once; he could have told me that you were safe after I was released from Azkaban." Anger rose at the memory but Sirius pushed it away; it would do little good now. "He didn't lie technically, but he kept the truth from me."

Remus considered him in thoughtful silence. "He never really did explain that, did he?"

Sirius folded his arms out of the way, fighting harder to keep the emotions at bay; it was easier if he stared at a spot just beyond Remus' shoulder. "I don't think he trusted me."

"Of course he did," Remus said immediately. "He allowed you to take Harry, didn't he?"

Sirius refocused on Remus, snorting as he did. "Allowed me? Harry belonged with me; he couldn't have fought James' and Lily's will after I was freed."

"But he might have tried if he didn't trust you. He knew you would take your responsibilities to Harry seriously."

"I don't think he did," Sirius said. "Not for certain." At Remus' confusion, he explained tightly, "I think he was worried that I'd leave Harry to find you. So, he let me believe you didn't want to be found." The thought hurt as much as it had seven years ago. "After all, he sent Hagrid to take Harry in the first place. He obviously wasn't certain I'd make a better guardian than Petunia."

He smiled wearily though as Remus frowned. "It doesn't matter any longer," he said, not wanting to remind Remus that he'd allowed Hagrid to take Harry; he preferred not to think of it—ever. "My point is that if Dumbledore thought it was best to lie to us, he would."

Remus was still frowning, his thoughts obviously still with Dumbledore's distrust.

"The only problem," Sirius went on, "is that I can't figure out what he might want keep from us."

Remus shook himself, his brown eyes focusing once more. "He didn't tell us anything that we didn't already know; dark magic obviously interacts with Harry's scar, more so the darker the magic." He ran a hand through his shaggy hair and shook his head resignedly. "Actually, I don't understand why he wants to speak with us at all."

Sirius tucked his fists under his armpits, feeling unduly chilled. "He did explain that he thought it was Draco who recognized Harry through whatever haze he was in; I don't see how it could be otherwise. It wasn't really Voldemort possessing him; an echo of him, I suppose. Although when Harry told me about it…"

"It's impossible, Sirius," Remus said firmly. Sirius stared at the dark pattern in the wooden floorboards as he replayed his middle of the night conversation with Harry.

"But it's a bit strange that Voldemort knew me, isn't it? Or was it because Draco knew me?"

Harry had been badly frightened. Sirius, even more.

More frightened than he ever had been. And now, when Harry was tucked in his own bed, Sirius' heart was drumming a frantic beat again.

Of course there was no connection to Quirrel. How could there be? It made no sense. He was dodging ghosts.

Sirius untucked his hands and looked up. "Right," he said with a firm nod. "Impossible."

Remus let out a slow breath, his own nod a little bit uneven. He circled Sirius' bicep with his hand and they stood in the quiet for a moment longer. "Are you going to accept one of the two seats on Hogwarts' board of governors?" Remus finally asked.

"Do you think I ought to?"

"Albus thought it would be best," Remus answered, which wasn't exactly an answer; Sirius quirked an amused smile and Remus lifted his shoulders in a shrug. "If it might actually balance negative influences… give us a bit more control of what's happening, then yes."

"Hm."

"You don't think it will?"

Sirius mimicked Remus' shrug. "I suppose it will." He pushed off the wall. "But no, I was thinking Molly would be the perfect choice to fill the other seat."

"Molly?"

"That entire board is made up of snobs. And Molly Weasley's had seven kids through that school. Who better?"

"I can't exactly picture Molly at a table alongside Lucius…"

Sirius couldn't either; not really. But in the interest of keeping Hogwarts safe, he was willing to bet Molly would be happy to sit next to Lucius. "Come on," Sirius murmured; this discussion would wait. He took Remus' hand and led him into Harry's bedroom.

Harry was curled into a ball, of course. The same way he had been since his first night in this room. The blanket was off his shoulders; lying in an unhelpful puddle to the side. Sirius smiled and tugged it back up.

Harry's head shifted against the pillow, his eyelids fluttering open. He smiled as the sleep cleared for a moment from his eyes. Sirius crouched down, his hands making the blanket a bit snugger. "You looked cold," he murmured as he thumbed his godson's fringe aside.

Another lazy smile and Harry was burrowing under the warmth. Sirius bent and kissed his temple, creaking back to stand a moment later. He turned a smile to Remus and stepped back to allow him to take his place, but Remus' feet were very firmly planted; his hands holding opposite elbows. Sirius brushed his lips against his husband's flushed cheek as he passed and Remus' hands fell out of their protective pose.

Sirius propped a shoulder against the door frame, smiling as he watched Remus stoop beside Harry's head. He brushed a hand over the tousled hair, murmuring something about happy dreams as he pressed a kiss to the dark head. Harry mumbled in sleepy agreement and yawned widely. Remus smiled softly as Harry blinked and pulled the blanket over his shoulder; Remus tucked it securely in place before smoothing Harry's hair once more before standing.

He and Sirius crossed the corridor together, stopping just inside their bedroom where Sirius took Remus' face in his hands and kissed him. They'd been entirely too tense during the past few days. Apparently Remus thought so as well, his own lips eager against Sirius'. When they broke apart, Sirius rested his forehead against Remus', smiling as Remus pulled him closer and they just stood there enjoying the peace. Remus wouldn't sleep well, tonight, Sirius knew—not so close to his transformation.

"Have a shower with me?" he asked, his voice soft against Remus' ear. Remus smiled and brought Sirius' lips back to his.

"I've never been able to resist you, have I?"

The fond words warmed Sirius as Remus led the way.

--

Barefoot and slightly chilled, Harry padded down the stairs before the sun was fully up the next morning. The red eyes had invaded a rather pleasant dream about Quidditch. Pleasant except that Oliver had had a starring role and he'd been shouting at Harry from across the pitch. "Catch the bloody Snitch!" And then Oliver's eyes had begun to glow and Harry had been startled off his broom; waking up as he'd tumbled through the sky.

Unwilling to go back to sleep, he headed for the kitchen, though he paused before he hit the parlor, still on the stairs. Remus was hunched over on the sofa, his face in his hands. He looked up as Harry squeaked the last step.

"I was thirsty…"

Remus let his hands fall between his knees and he nodded; he smiled a little but he didn't say anything so Harry went into the kitchen. After he drank a full glass of water, he stood there for a long minute, staring at the shiny metal as he clinked the glass against the side, finally letting it rest on the bottom. Not in any hurry to go back upstairs, he wandered to the cold cupboard and peered inside for several long minutes, lazily swinging the door while he tried to decide if some of Sirius' leftover roast would be good in a sandwich.

Even though he wasn't hungry.

Blowing out a loud breath, Harry pushed the door closed again with a muffled splat, sat on the edge of the table and squinted at the clock. Five-thirty was too early for roast anyway.

"Harry?"

Harry twisted on his perch; Remus was gazing at him with quizzical eyebrows.

"Did you have a drink?" Remus asked, the soft words blending into the dawn's quiet. Harry nodded, realizing belatedly that he was still sitting on the table—and that Remus hadn't even told him to hop down. He slid off anyway and then wished he'd thought to put socks on as he slide a chair away from the table and plopped into it, drawing one of his legs up while the other dangled.

"Are you cold?"

Harry dropped his arms; he hadn't realized he'd been hugging them around himself. "Guess so."

"Hold on…" Remus ducked into the small laundry room adjacent to the kitchen, popping back a second later with a jumper and a pair of grey socks. "They're Sirius', but they'll do," he said with a small smile as he handed them over to Harry.

"Thanks." He pulled the jumper over his head and then leaned over the bunched fabric around his middle to tug the socks on. He wiggled his toes, feeling just a little better.

"Are you hungry?" Remus pressed his lips together when Harry shook his head. "I could make you something."

Harry stretched the folds of Sirius' jumper, covering his knuckles as he shrugged in near acquiescence. He wasn't hungry at all, but Remus looked sort of intense and Harry thought he'd probably just ask again. Besides Remus liked cooking… "Waffles?"

Remus' shoulders relaxed. "Strawberries? Or syrup?" he asked, turning to the lower cupboards.

"Strawberries."

"Fetch them for me, please?"

Harry made the trip back to the cold cupboard. He set the bowl on the counter where Remus was setting out ingredients and then wandered back to his chair. As he listened to Remus measuring flour and sugar, his thoughts strayed back to Draco. He wouldn't be frightened of Draco, he supposed; when he saw his friend again. It wasn't Draco's fault.

Why then, did those red eyes keep haunting him?

"Would you like to slice the strawberries?"

Harry started, having forgotten Remus was in the kitchen. Remus was gazing at him, obviously worried that Harry was losing his mind. And for Harry's part, he was a little bit worried as well. And even though he knew that Remus could slice up the strawberries with a few swishes of his wand, he nodded and went back to the counter, not saying much though Remus glanced over at him occasionally with his quiet smile.

And when the waffles were ready, they arranged themselves at the table and Remus filled his glass with pumpkin juice. "I think you'll feel better if you eat," he said as Harry poked at his waffle with a fork. "Did you dream of Draco again?"

Harry nodded, not taking his eyes off the tiny squares filling the waffle's surface. He didn't even have to ask how Remus had known he'd dreamed of Draco before; even though Harry hadn't told him.

"Would you like to talk about it?"

"I know Draco didn't mean it."

"But it's hard to think of him without thinking of the Chamber," Remus said gently. Harry ripped a chunk of waffle away from the rest and squeezed it between thumb and forefinger. "It will get easier; especially when you see each other at school again."

Harry looked up. "But you said Dumbledore said he might not be back for a long time."

Remus nodded, but his eyes were suddenly thoughtful. "Do you wish he'd return sooner?"

Harry put the bit of waffle in his mouth and shrugged. "Dunno. I'm not exactly angry-" He shrugged again, not sure what he was even trying to say.

"You can write to him if you like."

Harry nodded and tore off another hunk of waffle. He didn't think he could write a letter though; not just yet. "Do you think he's all right?" he asked.

Remus smiled. "I'm sure he is. Eat now," he said, gesturing to Harry's full plate. His stomach not quite as twisted as it had been when he woke up, Harry attacked his waffle while he watched Remus cutting his neatly with a knife and fork.

"Look at this," Sirius' amused voice drawled from the doorway. "Waffles before sunrise and no one invited me?" He gave Harry's ribs a poke as he passed behind him. "Lovely dress, kid. Matches your eyes."

Harry glanced down at the jumper, which actually did look like a dress, and stuck his tongue out. "It isn't even green."

"It's got little emerald flecks," Sirius said, peering closely at it. "Very subtle." He smiled while Harry made a face. He plucked a strawberry from the waiting bowl, perched on the edge of the table beside Harry's chair and popped it into his mouth. Remus gave him a look and Sirius mouthed a what? in his direction.

Remus rolled his eyes and with a snort of amusement, Sirius plopped down beside Harry. His reach toward the warm plate of waffles was interrupted by a tapping at the window. Sirius and Remus shared a glance and with a small nod from Sirius, Remus waved his wand and the window opened.

"Berenices?" Harry was half out of his chair but before he could move away, Sirius grabbed his shoulder and pushed him back down again. "Sirius, its-"

"I know; hush," Sirius said, applying pressure to Harry's shoulder even as Remus began chanting more revealing spells than Harry had known existed. Berenices squawked her protest, her glossy black feathers ruffling indignantly. But finally, Remus set his wand on the table and approached Draco's owl.

"Ow!" With another squawk and an angry clack of her dark beak, Berenices swooped to the far counter and hunched down, glaring round at all of them. "Damn bird," Remus muttered, which made Harry smile despite the surprise of seeing Draco's owl; he'd never heard Remus swear.

"Are you all right?" Sirius asked. Remus nodded, holding his hand awkwardly as he passed the parchment square to Sirius.

"Can't I read it?"

"It isn't for you," Remus murmured.

Harry turned to Sirius, who looked rather confused. "Draco sent you a letter?"

"I don't think it's from Draco…"

Harry squinted at the folded square, which was labeled neatly with Sirius' whole name, including some Latin words below which Harry didn't understand, but he recognized Mrs Malfoy's handwriting from all the boxes of sweets she regularly sent to Draco. "What does that say?" he asked, pointing to the Latin.

Sirius grimaced. "It's a formal way of saying I'm the head of the Most Noble House of Black."

"Oh." Though he understood that it was rather odd for Mrs Malfoy to honor Sirius with the title, Harry didn't understand why she might write him a letter. Sirius glanced at Remus over Harry's head and Harry tried to decipher the look on his godfather's face but couldn't.

Sirius unfolded the parchment with lips pressed tightly together and read the letter silently. His eyes scanned the same space over and over and Harry had a hard time sitting still while he waited. Finally, when Harry was just about to blurt out a demand to know what Mrs Malfoy had said, Sirius glanced up and without a word, handed the letter over to Remus.

"What did she say?"

Sirius shook his head at Harry's question, his eyes on Remus. Huffing in frustration, Harry crossed his arms over his chest and slumped in his seat. Sirius settled a hand on the top his head, though his eyes remained distracted.

"I wouldn't have thought Narcissa could forgo her pride," Remus said, turning Harry's attention.

"Not all mothers are unfeeling," Sirius said, his voice trying to sound nonchalant but Harry knew better. Remus reached across the table to squeeze Sirius' hand, confusing Harry even more. Especially considering Sirius' half-smile.

"What did she do for Draco?" Harry finally asked. Sirius nodded at Remus' questioning look and Remus slid the letter toward Harry. Glancing once more at his godfather, Harry leaned forward.

The letter began again with that long Latin title and Harry skipped ahead to the actual note after the greeting to Sirius.

There is too much history between our families for me to convincingly say that I no longer resent the dishonor you brought upon us, but I must ask that we put that aside for now. My Draco is distraught. I have no other words to describe his state. Though I've never approved of his friendship with Harry, I cannot allow my son to continue to be in pain when I may be able to help him. Even if it means his friendship with Harry will be cemented.

If Harry is willing, I believe Draco will be much improved if he could see him. If only to be certain that Harry is unharmed. I would that you consider that Draco was not in control of his actions. I am not naive enough to expect that you can forgive him, but I ask you as one who loves your own child as much as I do mine to allow Draco to have this. I can conceive of no other way to help him.

Harry head came up slowly, after he read the following suggestion that they meet in a neutral location. "May we?" he asked quietly, the red eyes for once not forefront in his mind when he thought of his friend. "See Draco, I mean."

It was easy to read Remus' answer; the way his lips were squashed together. Harry turned to Sirius, ready to add a please to the query. But he and Remus were having a silent conversation, their eyes locked. Finally, Remus sighed, letting his weight rest against the back of his chair.

Sirius turned to Harry. Raking a hand through his hair, he said, "Go and fetch me parchment… and a quill."

--

The following afternoon, Harry accepted a chocolate from the tin on Dumbledore's desk and jammed it into a pocket.

"Cocoa?" the headmaster offered. Harry shook his head and sat beside Sirius; Remus was standing by the window. Sirius declined the next offer of tea, ignoring the plate of scones as well. "Remus?"

Remus glanced over his shoulder. "No thank you, Albus." He went back to gazing out over the grounds.

"Harry, surely you would like a scone. The elves make a fabulous cinnamon scone."

Draco's favorite.

But Harry didn't think he could force down even one nibble.

"Perhaps later," Dumbledore said, his blue eyes especially gentle. There was a light rapping on the door as he set the tray aside. "Ah." With a wave of his hand, the door opened.

Draco stood on the other side; under the canopy of his mother's sleeve, his gaze meeting Harry's instantly.

Sirius stood, and Harry quickly mimicked his movements. Draco and Mrs Malfoy stepped into the room and Harry thought his friend looked terrible; there were deep shadows under his eyes and he looked fragile somehow—but Harry couldn't have explained why he thought so.

"Narcissa. Draco," Dumbledore greeted them with a smile. He ushered them toward the gathered chairs near his desk but neither of them moved farther than just inside the door. Mr. Malfoy had her gaze firmly fixed on Sirius; her fingers were firmly clutching Draco's shoulder. Dumbledore looked between Draco's mum and Sirius, finally dipping his head and saying quietly, "I have some school matters to attend to." With another smile, he left them alone.

Draco was still staring; Harry stuffed his fists into his pockets, his shoulders hunching up a bit. "Hi," he offered softly.

Something shifted in Draco's face—in the eyes that were simply grey and familiar. And just Draco's. "Hello."

Harry smiled. He gestured with his head toward the headmaster's desk. "Dumbledore's got scones. Cinnamon."

A little smile brightened Draco's pale features. "Butter?"

"Cream too."

Mrs Malfoy, Sirius and Remus watched them from their loose circle near the door as Harry and Draco buttered their scones.

Chapter Text

Harry rested his elbows on his pretzeled legs, chin propped in his hand as he sat on his parents' bed, watching Remus straightening Sirius' tie. "Any tighter and I won't be able to breathe…"

"Hush," Remus said and Harry smiled as he pretended to scowl. "And hold still… Harry fidgets less than you."

Two indignant huffs sounded together.

"I don't fidget!"

Sirius slanted Harry a glance. Harry shrugged. "Well, you do too."

"I," Sirius said with exaggerated dignity, "do not fidget." And to make his point, he held perfectly still while Remus arranged the knot. And when Remus was done, Sirius gestured grandly with his palms up. "See?"

"Yes, well done," Remus said dryly.

Sirius grinned. "Why, thank you." He kissed Remus' cheek before turning toward the wardrobe for shoes.

"And how about you?" Remus said to Harry as he came over to the bed and planted a hand atop Harry's head; Harry squinted up at him. "Have you finished packing?"

"Yeah."

"You have all of your assignments?"

"In my bag."

"And you have your Portkey."

Harry patted the tiny disk hanging round his neck—charmed to be both invisible and immovable, except by his parents.

Remus nodded but didn't immediately let go. He looked like he was going to say something, but instead he sighed and pulled Harry to his chest. His hand brushed through Harry's hair several times. Harry stayed very still and was startled further as Remus said quietly, "I love you very much." He stepped back before Harry could react and then addressed Sirius as well even as he turned to the door, "Breakfast is in five minutes. And we need to hurry along, or you'll be late."

Harry stared after him. He looked up as Sirius' arm settled across his shoulders. Feeling confused and not sure why, Harry tilted his head and got a soft smile in response. He let himself be prodded off the bed.

"Hold on there," Sirius said, grabbing the back of Harry's robes and steering him into the loo. He plucked a comb from the counter.

Harry grumbled as he accepted it and tried unsuccessfully to tame his hair. He made a face in the mirror. "It isn't any use, you know. It never lies flat."

Sirius was smiling. "Just like your dad's…"

No matter how many times Sirius said it, it always made Harry grin. He tossed the comb back onto the counter and raked his hands upward several times, grinning at the result. He really did look like his dad that way.

"Oy," Sirius said dramatically. "Let's not overdo it…" He planted his hands on Harry's shoulders and spun him toward the door. Sparing one last glance toward the mirror, he only moved when Sirius swatted him.

"All right, all right," he said with a grin as he dodged the next bit of encouragement.

--

Draco sighed as he unwound his tie for the third time; he couldn't seem to make his fingers stop fumbling.

"Young master would like Dobby's help?"

Draco glanced at Dobby's twitching reflection and with a small nod, he stepped back. Dobby pushed Draco's desk chair over to the mirror and hopped up.

"Young master looks most distinguished," Dobby said as he maneuvered the silk with expert fingers. Draco smiled half-heartedly but his shoulders were soon sagging again. Dobby was just giving the tie a final tug when Narcissa came in, her footsteps silent on the carpet. She smiled at Draco's reflection and came to stand behind him. Dobby bowed low and moved away.

"So handsome, my darling," his mother said; she reached over his shoulders and ran her fingers down the tie, smoothing it. "Just like your father."

Draco smiled fully that time. His mother bent and kissed his cheek. "Come along, love" she murmured, patting his shoulder gently. "Dobby, his satchel."

Dobby scrambled to obey, hefting Draco's large bag onto his back. He followed mother and son as they descended the curving staircase. Lucius turned from the mirror in the entryway, cane already situated in his hand. Draco looked up at him, wondering idly if he'd ever be as tall as his father.

Lucius took his chin and tipped it up, grey eyes roving over Draco's perfectly parted hair and knotted tie; his small smile indicated approval. "Dobby has packed everything? Your assignments as well?"

"Yes sir."

Lucius nodded and released his hold. "Come along then," he said as Minxa, one of the other elves, draped a traveling cloak over his shoulders. "We do not wish to be late."

--

Harry groaned as the world screamed into focus again. Sirius' arms tightened around him. "You all right?"

"Guess so," Harry said, a little winded. Sirius held on to him for another moment though, until the landscape no longer tilted. "I hate Apparating," he muttered as he shoved his glasses up his nose. Sirius ruffled his fringe, commiserating with a smile. They could have flooed into the headmaster's office but since it was a formal sort of visit for his godfather, Sirius had wanted to apparate to the main gates.

"You don't like the floo either," Sirius reminded him with a teasing smile as he shifted Harry's bag against his shoulder. Harry shrugged; that was true enough.

There was a muffled pop behind them. "Harry! Sirius!"

Mrs Weasley, as if she hadn't just apparated as well, came hurrying over to them, her face lighting with her smile as she pulled Harry in for a hug. She hugged Sirius as well; patting his cheek and telling him he was too thin, which made Sirius laugh. "I don't think I've ever been so stout," he chuckled.

"Oh nonsense," she clucked. "All three of you are thin as rails! Clearly Arthur and I need to have you for dinner more often, and Harry, you need to eat more, especially now that you're not at home." With a gleam in her eye as she led them through the gates, she said decisively, "The board simply needs to speak with the house-elves about proper nutrition. I imagine these children don't touch a vegetable for months on end…"

Sirius and Harry exchanged glances and Harry had to press his lips together as Sirius fought a laugh. Mrs Weasley went on and on, finally stopping for breath when they reached the wide front steps. But only because the steps were cluttered with Weasleys, all of them grinning. Mrs Weasley had her arms full a moment later, doling out kisses and hugs.

"George, you're hair isn't even combed," she scolded, still hugging Ginny with one arm and using the other to dig through her cavernous shoulder bag with the other. George made a face and ducked away.

"Ron's the one with the rat's nest!"

"Hey!" Ron tried to scamper away from his mother, but Mrs Weasley was too fast and Ron's head was soon being attacked by a comb while Fred and George chortled.

"Honestly Ron," Percy said with a sniff, "you'd think you'd have learned by now to at least comb your hair before you leave the dorm."

"I did!"

"Yeah," Fred chimed in. "He spent nearly an hour in front of his mirror, didn't you Ronnie?"

"I did not!"

"Hold still!"

"Mum!"

"Better keep still, Ronnie-kins" Fred began with a grin.

"-or you won't have any hair left," George finished.

"Shut up, you tossers!"

"Now, now Ronnie dear."

"Ugh," Ginny said with a sigh as she came to stand beside Sirius and Harry, who were staring at the fracas. "They're completely embarrassing."

"See how lucky you are?" Sirius said, nudging Harry's ribs. "At least I let you comb your own hair."

Harry smirked, though he did feel a bit bad for his friend. Ron broke free then and launched himself at his brothers. The twins grunted in surprise but before Ron did any real damage, they'd recovered and were attempting to put him in a headlock. Percy squeaked as a rogue leg shot out and made him lose his balance.

Sirius swiftly pulled Ginny and Harry back several paces, saving them from a similar fate just as Mrs Weasley shouted, "Boys!" But they paid her no mind and Ron was rapidly turning an alarming shade of burgundy.

"Oy," Sirius muttered and with an expert hand, he hauled Percy up from the frenzy of feet with one hand and gripped George's arm with the other. "Inside," Sirius ordered, pushing him toward the entrance before George could protest.

Mrs Weasley swatted Fred about the head until he relinquished his hold and with a lopsided taunt for Ron, he followed after his twin. His face flaming, Ron fended off his mother's hands and darted down the stairs.

And nearly ploughed into Lucius Malfoy.

He veered in time to avoid him and tore off across the grass, toward the lake. Everybody watched him go. Harry wanted to go after him, but his feet felt stuck to the ground. His eyes met Draco's then, and Harry wasn't sure whether to smile or not. Neither of them had said very much as they'd munched scones yesterday. And Mrs Malfoy had only spoken twice, to murmur her assent when Sirius offered tea. She had said quiet farewells too, though she had spared a small smile for Harry.

Harry still didn't like her.

Mr Malfoy and Draco continued their aborted journey up the stairs, with Dobby a few steps behind. Harry glanced up as Sirius' arm came over his shoulder. Sirius drew him backward until Harry bumped into his chest.

Mr Malfoy and Sirius stared at one another, Sirius' jaw working just enough that Harry knew he was trying very hard not to speak. Mrs Weasley, whose hair looked a bit like it had been in the fight with her sons, shooed Ginny and Percy toward the castle doors and came to stand beside Sirius as she smoothed her hair. "Harry, dear," she said and Harry unwillingly turned his attention to her. "I think you might have a bit of luck with Ron just now."

Sirius' hand patted against his ribs and when he looked up, his godfather was smiling a little. He gestured with his head, toward a spot away from the little group. When they were alone, Sirius gave Harry his bag and waited while Harry adjusted it over his shoulder.

"You don't have much time before your first class," he said as he loosened Harry's knot, tugged it this way and that and then tightened it once more. "If Ron won't come, you and Draco still need to go. Professor McGonagall is expecting you."

"I know."

"And you have your Portkey. Of course, you'll probably never need to use it, but we'll all feel better this way I think. And your mirror is in your pocket? Good. And you know I always have mine if you need to contact us-" Sirius cocked his head, cutting himself off mid-word as his lips quirked. "I'm rambling."

Harry shrugged, smiling a little too. Sirius shook his head and knelt on one knee so that Harry was looking down at him instead of up.

Sirius took his upper arms in a light hold. "Do me a favor? Stay away from anything that even has a hint of danger-"

"Quidditch?"

Sirius scowled but his eyes were dancing. "You can play Quidditch, but that's as much danger as you're allowed. No more unauthorized trips into Basilisk's nests, understood?"

Harry nodded, a smile bubbling up. "How about enchanted cars?" He was a little surprised that he dared, but Sirius chuckled.

"I'm fairly certain Dumbledore doesn't keep any around." He gave Harry's stomach a gentle poke. "If you see one, run for your life."

Harry grinned. "I can do that."

"Good." And before another word could be uttered, Sirius pulled him in for a hug so tight that it put Mr. Granger's to shame. Draco and his father were still standing near Mrs Weasley—Harry could see them over Sirius' shoulder.

"You and Mr Malfoy aren't going to duel or anything, are you?"

Sirius' eyebrows were climbing into his fringe as he pulled away. "Of course not."

"But you're angry with him."

Sirius glanced back at the Malfoys. "I am. Don't fret over it, though," he added with an encouraging smile. "I have absolutely no intention of dueling with anyone. Now, you go on and find Ron… and don't be late to class."

"I won't," Harry promised.

Smiling, Sirius stood up and tapped Harry's cheek with the back of his fingers. "Have a bit of fun too, yeah?"

Harry smiled. When they rejoined the others, Mrs Weasley' smile seemed strained—like she'd been trying too long not to frown. And Draco was nodding at something his father had said. He paused in his pivot toward the front doors as he found Harry in front of him. The smudges under his eyes weren't as dark as they had been in Dumbledore's office, but there was nothing easy about his posture. Harry gestured with his head toward the lake.

"Help me find Ron?"

Draco glanced at his father, but got no indication of what he should do as far as Harry could tell. But then Mr Malfoy said, "Write to your mother tonight. She will be anxious."

Draco nodded. "Yes sir." Mr Malfoy inclined his head, dismissing him, Harry figured, and Draco left his father's side.

Sirius squeezed Harry's shoulder, sending him on his way with a smile and a wink. Harry lifted his fingers in a wave and then he and Draco loped down the steps together.

"What happened to Ron?"

The question was quiet but Harry was instantly grateful for it. "The twins were being gits… something about Ron's hair." Harry shrugged, empathizing with Draco's confusion.

"Too bad there are two of them, then," Draco murmured.

"There are three of us," Harry said, mostly in jest.

Draco's eyes flicked sideways, the grey clear and startled and then he looked down again. "I don't think I'd better go looking for any more trouble this term." He said the words quickly, spitting them out as if they tasted foul.

"Yeah… guess not."

They were silent until they reached the rocky beach, where Ron was sitting. His hands sifted through the stones and when he found a smooth one, he threw it across the lake. It landed with a heavy plop.

Harry picked his way over the rocks and sat beside his friend, nudging his shoulder. Ron's head jerked up. "Oh… it's only you."

"Thanks a lot."

"Thought it was Mum." Ron picked up another pebble and tossed it away. It skipped a few times before sinking down. "I hate them."

Harry only nodded, having no frame of reference for hating brothers. Ron skipped another stone while Harry examined a rather triangular one. "McGonagall'll kill us if we're late," he said after he attempted to skip it.

Ron sighed. "Yeah." They stood together and as soon as they turned, Ron paused. Draco pressed his lips together and for a minute, Harry was sure he was thinking about bolting.

Harry held his breath, but Ron only dug his hands into his pockets and said, "McGonagall will take more points off you two anyway. Some of us didn't get a holiday." He was half-smirking though, so Harry relaxed.

"A holiday?" he groused. "We still had to do our homework." Harry glanced over at Draco. "Unless Dobby did all of yours." He was immediately comforted by the look of offense Draco was favoring him with.

"Of course not."

"Not ever?" Harry prodded.

Draco smoothed his pin-straight robes; he was flushing.

"I knew it!" cried Ron.

"When I was younger," Draco defended himself as they climbed back up the hill. Harry snorted and Draco shrugged, a faint smile lightening the shadows under his eyes.

--

"Well," Molly said as she fastened her cloak in front of the castle's massive double doors nearly eight hours later, "that didn't go well at all, did it?"

Sirius sighed. "No it didn't." He handed Molly her bag, which she fixed over her arm as she clucked in irritation. "I shouldn't have asked you to join me… I'm sorry-"

"Now, none of that, Sirius," she said briskly. "We didn't expect it would be easy, did we? These old codgers-" Sirius bit back a smile, "-have been warming these seats for decades; and their fathers and mothers before that. We'll just have to keep at it, no matter how many insults they throw at us."

Well, Sirius was hardly worried about insults aimed at him. Molly, on the other hand…

She smiled, her brown eyes suffused with warmth. "Sirius, I do appreciate the concern on my behalf, but I have Prewett blood flowing through these veins, you know." Before Sirius could say anything to that, Molly added, "Well done with Lucius as well."

Amused, Sirius said, "Harry expected me to duel with him."

"Yes, I heard. Telling him you would see him in Azkaban if Harry was ever harmed by his hand again was much more effective, I think," she said, approval in every line of her face. And Lucius hadn't even made a protest. "Now," Molly added firmly, "I must speak to Minerva and then home to tend to Arthur's dinner." She smiled again. "And I'm sure Remus is waiting for you. Say hello for me, would you?" She kissed his cheek and bustled away.

Sirius watched her go, his thoughts already with Remus. He turned when he heard Harry's voice, followed by his distinctive laugh. He was heading for the Great Hall, his friends clustered around him. Draco was even smiling, Sirius was relieved to see. Hermione came up from the other direction then and Harry grinned.

Sirius' smirk faltered a bit as Hermione and Draco eyed one another warily. Harry leaned over and Sirius could see that he was showing her something in a book he was holding. She nodded and a small smile brightened her face as she fell in step on his other side, Draco keeping pace again.

Sirius let his cloak hang loosely over his arm as he felt the tension loosening from his shoulders. Smiling to himself, he went out the great doors and back down the path. As soon as he passed the gate, he turned on the spot.

The world turned itself inside out and then righted again a moment later. He gazed at the bare French cottage of which Sirius was now the Secret Keeper. It was something, this tingle of anticipation as he thought of Remus. And he was grateful for it; every time as if it was the first.

He placed his mirror between his teeth, closed his eyes and trained his thoughts inward, breathing deeply as he felt the familiar warmth and mild discomfort as his body transformed. He let his brain adjust as four feet settled on the cool grass before padding to the door.

Charmed just for this purpose, he touched the doorknob with his nose. The lock sprang open; the door creaked as he nudged it with a paw.

Moony halted mid-step, his massive paw suspended in air. As much as he could with his long snout, Padfoot grinned. What is it with you and the pacing?

Moony's wolf-ears swiveled toward him. You're the one who can't hold still.

Padfoot snorted, an effective sound even like this. He dropped the mirror gently onto the bed, loped forward and nudged the wolf's dark snout, nuzzling when Moony moved forward. How are you?

Tired.

Well, of course you are; if you've been pacing since you got here.

The brown eyes looking out of the wolf's face were every bit Remus and Padfoot wondered how he'd ever lived without him.

Very funny.

Padfoot made a sound low in his throat that was meant to be a chuckle. He nudged Moony again and with a breath through his nostrils, the wolf circled near the fire, finally setting down when he found the perfect spot. How was Harry?

Padfoot went over to him. Perfect. I told him to fit some fun in between classes. Moony shook his head, those brown eyes amused.

Padfoot curled up behind him and rested his snout near Moony's shoulder so that he could hear his husband's heartbeat. The wolf breathed his contentment and Padfoot closed his eyes as the steady thrum soothed him.

Chapter Text

Harry stared at his knees while McGonagall's sharp voice drowned out every other sound. The words had begun to blend together—or maybe it was just because Harry's face was burning and his stomach was screwed so tightly into knots he couldn't make sense of them any longer. He could feel Ron shifting beside him and he had to pull his elbow close to his side so that he wouldn't ram it into his mate's ribs. The tiny movements were only adding to his anxiety, so high now that he was certain he would explode at any moment.

"I said, is that clear, Mr Potter?"

Harry's head jerked up. McGonagall was glaring down at him; Harry's face burned anew. He had no idea what his Head of House had said, but he nodded fervently anyway. "Yes ma'am."

She nodded crisply and then shifted her anger left. "Malfoy?"

"Yes ma'am."

McGonagall pursed her lips, not looking at all satisfied by their agreement with whatever she'd said. "I am extremely disappointed in all three of you."

Draco didn't even flinch at that. Ron did, but since he'd been fidgeting the entire time, Harry didn't know if this movement now was because of the scolding. Harry, for his part, was having a very hard time keeping McGonagall's gaze. And it was even worse as she seemed to be glaring at him the longest… it wasn't just his imagination. He swallowed and pressed his elbows into his ribs until it hurt.

"I think it goes without saying," she went on, pinning Harry with her dark eyes, "that neither of your fellow brawlers will be accompanying you home this weekend."

"But that isn't fair!"

"Fair, Weasley?" McGonagall said cooly. "Perhaps you would care to explain the concept to the Hufflepuffs you sent to the Infirmary?"

"They started it!"

Harry wondered where Ron got his nerve, but McGonagall didn't look at all phased by his outburst.

"I do not care who started it, Mr Weasley. You should not have allowed it to continue."

"We couldn't let them keep saying those awful things about Harry," Ron protested and once again the professor's narrow-eyed gaze was directed at him.

"I do understand that you were trying to defend Harry," she said, her voice not quite as sharp as it had been a moment ago. "But it does not change the fact that you cannot use brute force to solve your problems—whatever those problems may be."

Ron scowled but argued no further. McGonagall crossed to her desk and pulled two crisp sheets of parchment from a neat stack, set them at opposite corners and set a quill diagonally across each. She turned around to face them. "Weasley and Malfoy, you will write to your parents and explain why you won't be visiting Grimmauld Place this weekend."

The tips of Ron's ears went immediately pink and though Draco still hadn't moved, he was pale now. With a terse spell from McGonagall, his and Ron's chair scooted forward until their knees bumped the desk. Harry was afraid to ask why he hadn't been given a parchment.

She rapped her knuckles on the wood. "Now, if you please." She waited until both of them had put quill to parchment before turning back to Harry. "You, Mr Potter, may explain in person why you are coming home alone."

Harry's lips parted, but he was too muddled to voice his protest. She didn't even seem to notice. She opened a connection to Grimmauld Place and stuck her head into the green flames.

"Bloody hell, Harry…"

Harry hunched down in his chair and tried to convince himself it wouldn't be very nice to tell Ron to shut up. After all, Ron had stood up for him today. Which of course, had ended up getting all of them into trouble…

"I'm sorry you're in trouble too," he said anyway. Ron shrugged.

"Mum'll probably send a howler." Which, to Ron, was much better than a visit home to detail his misdeeds. Draco's parents wouldn't send a howler, since they wouldn't want to make Draco's sins public. Maybe they'd send a private rebuke.

"Sorry, Draco…"

Draco shook his head the tiniest bit. "You didn't make me hit Justin."

"We weren't going to just let them get away with saying those awful things to you, mate," Ron said and Draco nodded in solemn agreement.

Harry's gratitude was immediately squelched as McGonagall pulled back from the fire, a severe frown on her face now. "Step through, Potter. Your parents are waiting for you."

But Harry's backside was stuck to the chair, his mouth completely dry.

McGonagall lifted an eyebrow. "Unless you'd like me to accompany you…"

Mortified beyond speech, Harry scrambled to his feet and nearly leaped into the flames, hoping beyond all hope that his professor wouldn't follow him. He stumbled out into his own kitchen a second later. His arm was captured before he could smash his face into the floor.

"For God's sake," Sirius muttered as he pulled him up. "She could have told us he had a black eye…"

Harry had forgot about that. He reached up to touch the tender skin and flinched.

"Oy, don't touch it," Sirius chided. He guided Harry by a shoulder to one of the chairs while Remus wrapped ice chips in a flannel. Sirius took Harry's glasses and Remus placed the ice gently against the raw skin; Harry hissed as the cold burned his skin. "Give it a moment," Sirius said, wincing along with him as Harry held it in place.

Remus sighed and Sirius planted a hip against the edge of the table. He folded his arms across his chest, his dark eyebrows arching and Harry's stomach shriveled. He brushed his clammy palm on his thigh and tried to think of an explanation that didn't incriminate him in every possible way. With considerable effort, he avoided what he was sure was Remus' equally stern gaze and mumbled, "I sort of got in a fight…"

"Sort of?"

Against his will, Harry's uncovered eye shifted to Remus, who actually looked quite a bit angrier than Sirius did. He quickly looked back down at the table.

Sirius nudged his chin up. "What happened?" The quiet question made Harry wish he was back in McGonagall's office.

"Some of the other kids were fighting… I tried not to," he had to add, hoping that might help a little. He had tried to leave in fact, but that just made him sound like a first year.

"Then why did you?" Remus asked. Harry clenched his free hand into a fist on the table top.

"Because," he said as an unwelcome sting erupted in his throat, "the Hufflepuffs were shouting and pushing everyone. And some Ravenclaws came over and they were even worse. Draco and Ron hit them because they wouldn't shut up and then Neville and Hermione came over and Justin shoved Hermione! She wasn't even doing anything!"

Sirius caught the swathed ice as Harry let it fall. Harry only realized how loudly that had come out when Remus and Sirius glanced at one another.

"You were defending Hermione?" Sirius asked quietly. Harry nodded and Sirius brushed his fringe aside and put the ice gingerly back in place. He ducked his head a bit so that Harry had no choice but to look at him. "Of course we understand that; it's a reaction—an impulse to help a friend. But there had to be another way to defend her… What did you do to Justin anyway?"

"Come again?" Remus said, leaning forward when Harry muttered his answer to the table.

"Stinging Jinx…"

"Harry."

Harry cringed at Sirius' sharp rebuke.

"You hexed him?" Remus demanded and Harry nodded miserably. His eyes began to sting as Remus lifted his chin this time. "You're lucky you haven't been expelled, young man."

Harry pressed his teeth together and blinked several times. He hadn't been lucky; McGonagall simply hadn't known about that, or else, yeah she probably would have jumped at an excuse to expel him. "Justin didn't even know it was me," he muttered.

"That isn't the point."

Harry pressed his knuckles over his good eye and pulled his face from Remus' grasp. He knew it wasn't the point; Remus didn't need to tell him. He wished he could have just written a letter—like Draco and Ron. But of course his Head of House would want him in to be in as much trouble as possible after today…

"I didn't do it on purpose." Immediately guilty for the half-truth, he shifted against the hard chair; he had done it on purpose… sort of any way. "It just sort of flew out."

"And you just sort of said the right incantation?" Sirius asked, his voice half-way to exasperation.

"Didn't say it," Harry retorted before he could stop himself and then waited for Sirius to tell him not to be smart. But there was silence instead and once the curiosity outweighed his chagrin, he peeled his knuckles away from his face.

Sirius lowered his hand and the gathered ice went with it. "You performed a silent Stinging Jinx?" he asked very quietly.

"Erm…" Harry suddenly didn't want to answer that, but Sirius raised his eyebrows again, an unspoken warning now. "Yes," Harry mumbled as his shoulders slumped. He didn't even know why he was in even more trouble now.

Sirius straightened, the ice limp in his hand. "Did you do it on purpose? Did you mean to hex him?"

Harry glared down at his hands as he jerked his head in a quick nod, rubbing a palm over the scratches across his other knuckles and wished Hannah Abbot didn't have such long nails. And that one of them would just start lecturing him already.

"Harry," Sirius said on a sigh, "you shouldn't have used magic like that. Not unless there was some sort of danger-"

Harry's head shot up. "He pushed Hermione!"

"Yes, I heard you before," Sirius said evenly. "And I would understand if you had pushed him back, but raising your wand to someone in a situation like this is simply not acceptable, Harry, and you know it."

Heat crawled up Harry's neck, leaving a tingling trail across his cheeks. And for the second time that day, he felt like his insides were going to explode.

Sirius sighed and raked a hand through his hair. "We need to put salve on that eye…" He got up and went over to the cupboard where they kept the healing potions.

"And then," Remus added pointedly, "you'll spend the remainder of the evening in your room." Sirius turned swiftly toward Remus, but Remus wasn't looking at him. He was gazing down at Harry, one eyebrow high as he went on, "Since I expect Professor McGonagall would have at least assigned a detention had she known the extent of your misbehavior."

The tips of Harry's ears burned, but he couldn't even nod. He didn't want to stay in his room. He'd rather face McGonagall and her detention. Except that he didn't want to go back to school either. Back to all those stares… the taunts that had made Ron and Draco angry enough to start the fight in the first place. And Sirius and Remus didn't even care about any of that!

Sirius came back with the salve. Very gently, he smoothed it over the bruised skin around Harry's eye, but Harry flinched even so. "Sorry… almost done. Close your eye for me," he murmured and brushed salve over the eyelid as well. "There… How does that feel? It will take awhile to heal completely."

He handed Harry's glasses over and Harry shrugged; it didn't sting nearly as much as it had before. Sirius' hand settled on top of his head and for some reason, it made his throat ache more fiercely than before. He sat very still and hoped that maybe they'd forget to send him upstairs.

Sirius' fingers combed lightly through his hair, and he said quietly, "Go on up… we'll be up in a few minutes, all right?"

Harry stood so quickly he nearly toppled the chair. And even though Sirius reached out to steady him, Harry ducked away and took the stairs two at a time as soon as he'd cleared the kitchen.

--

Sirius stared after Harry, frowning to himself. "That was a bit dramatic…"

"Harry doesn't do anything by halves," Remus said as he plucked the jar of salve from his hand. "You realize," he added before Sirius could comment on that, "that you practically gave him permission to start a fistfight?"

Sirius pulled his gaze from the doorway. "Oh, I did not. We can't tell the kid not to defend himself."

"He wasn't defending himself," Remus reminded him as he recapped the jar, and despite the chiding tone, Sirius smiled.

"He was defending Hermione, which is more important anyway."

Remus closed the cupboard door and shook his head, not quite disagreeing.

"How many times did one of us get into trouble defending one of our own?" Sirius asked. "James punched Steven Sprocket in the jaw when he started that rumor about Lily and Snape shagging in the Quidditch stands seventh year."

"Lily was in tears."

"Well, I hardly think Hermione enjoyed being shoved."

Remus sighed. "I still don't think you should be encouraging him to fight—even if he has good reason."

"I didn't encourage him, Remus. I said I would have understood; there's a difference. And I wanted him to understand that hexing Justin was a much more severe offense." He watched while Remus dumped the melting ice into the sink and dried the flannel with a quick spell. "We can't leave Harry up in his room all evening," he finally said quietly when Remus was facing him again.

Remus folded the flannel into a neat square. "Yes, I know."

Having not expected agreement of any sort, Sirius couldn't help the look of surprise.

Remus smiled faintly. "I could tell you wanted to argue with me."

Sirius let his gaze wander toward the stairs, his amusement overshadowed for the moment. "I don't want home to be a place he doesn't want to come." He nodded at Remus' small frown as he turned round again. "And yes, I know he broke several school rules, but he's already been punished by Minerva."

"And what about the jinx she doesn't even know about?"

Sirius massaged his forehead. "This was a hell of a lot easier when he was five."

"Was it?"

Sirius' lips lifted at the sardonic question. "No, not really." He grimaced. "He's already lost the weekend with his friends."

Remus nodded and sent the square of fabric to the laundry. With a deep sigh he said, "Shall we go upstairs?"

Sirius stood and together, they went up. Harry's light wasn't even on. Sirius knocked lightly on the frame. "Harry?"

There was no response.

With a glance at Remus, Sirius pushed the door open and went with soft steps to the bed; Remus spelled the lamps a bit brighter. Harry was lying on his side, his face to the wall; though Sirius could see he wasn't asleep. He gave Harry's rump a backhanded pat. "Budge up."

Harry scooted over and instead of turning round to face Sirius, he flipped over so that his face was denting the pillow. Remus raised his eyebrows, frowning at the show of defiance but Sirius didn't think that's what this was. Not completely anyway.

"Harry, turn around please," Remus said quietly and Sirius immediately wished he had anticipated that, but it was too late. Harry did as he was told, blinking up at them with bloodshot eyes.

Sirius' throat tightened and he tried to convince himself that Harry had only been crying because he'd just been scolded, but the kid looked absolutely miserable. And they'd barely even started with the lecture downstairs. "No one's going to expel you," he said, helpless to think of what else could have made Harry look like this. Harry swiped a sleeve across his nose, sniffling briefly.

"She probably wishes she could," he said, his voice thick with recently shed tears.

"McGonagall?" Sirius said in surprise. "Harry, you made some big mistakes today, and she was understandably upset with you, but she's very fond of you. And since you're not going to be causing even a speck of trouble again-"

"It doesn't matter how much trouble I cause now," Harry mumbled as his spectacles began to fog.

Sirius pulled them gently from Harry's face and handed him a handkerchief; the bruising was starting to fade. "Why not?" he asked as Harry twisted the fabric.

"Because…" Without any other warning, Harry balled the handkerchief into a tight fist and exploded, "Because she thinks I'm mental now! Just like everyone else!"

"Harry, of course she doesn't think that," Remus said, both reproving and attempting to comfort in the same breath.

"She does too!" Harry said hotly as he pushed himself up. "As soon as Justin told her I was talking to a snake, she looked at me and I could tell she did!"

Sirius' brows knit together as he stared at his godson.

"You talked to a snake?" Remus echoed.

Everything suddenly making a lot more sense, Sirius' gut twisted. "That's what the fight was about…" Taking a shaking breath, he asked softly, "Why didn't you tell us that?"

Harry blinked a few times, looking suddenly flustered. "I… thought McGonagall told you."

Sirius shook his head. "She only said you were in a fight and that you would explain." He put his hand on Harry's neck, squeezing gently as his chest constricted. "What happened?"

Harry drew his knees up; he looked away. "It was in the greenhouse; the snake. I didn't even realize I was talking to her until Sprout screeched at me-"

"She screeched at you?"

Harry nodded sharply. "Draco said it was like I was in a trance while I was speaking. She dismissed the class then, even though we'd only just begun. And the Hufflepuffs were all staring at me—they were frightened, just like you said they might be. And even the other Gryffindors looked scared. Except Draco and Hermione and Ron; since they knew I was a Parselmouth…"

Remus sat heavily in the chair beside the bed, his face pinched. "Is that when they started fighting?"

Harry scrubbed at his eyes, bringing in a loud sniffle. But he shook his head. "It was before dinner; in the corridor. But all day, people kept staring at me and whispering… they do that sometimes anyway but they kept pointing at me and even the teachers were doing it."

Sirius could feel his neck flushing with anger, but Harry wasn't finished.

"They said awful things," he whispered. "Hannah said I was repulsive and someone else said I wasn't meant to be a Gryffindor and-" Harry's breath hitched, "-then they said that was probably why Voldemort couldn't kill me that night, because I'm just like him."

"What?" Remus and Sirius breathed together.

"And Terry Boot… he said it was a good thing my parents were dead, because they'd be humiliated to have a Parselmouth for a son-" A little sob broke through the scratchy words. Harry pressed his face into his knees, his shoulders shaking and Sirius was unable to be still any longer.

"Come here, love," he whispered, pulling Harry close.

Sirius ignored his impulse to floo to Hogwarts and tell off this Terry Boot and waited until the ache in his own throat subsided before he said very quietly, "Your mum and dad would be very proud of you, Harry. They wouldn't have cared that you can speak to snakes." When Harry didn't respond, Sirius pulled back a little so that he could see Harry's face; he tilted Harry's chin up until his godson was looking up at him with eyes, red and swollen. "Remus and I certainly aren't humiliated to have you as our son."

"Nothing could be further from the truth, Harry," Remus added with a gentle smile; he had taken a seat on the bed as well and Harry glanced at him, sniffling loudly as he leaned into Sirius again. "It doesn't make any difference to us if you can speak to snakes."

"Nor will it to everyone else who loves you," Sirius added as he smoothed Harry's hair. "Professor McGonagall already knew you were a Parselmouth. The headmaster told her after last Christmas. She doesn't think you're mental, I promise."

Harry took that in. "But everyone else does," he finally said. "Even Neville."

"They'll see that you're not any different," Remus assured him as he reached out and put a hand on Harry's knee. "And until they do, keep Ron and Draco close by."

Sirius' and Harry's eyebrows shot up. Remus shrugged, his smile sheepish. "I don't want to hear that you've hexed someone again, but if you do need to defend yourself, I'd rather you had those two by your side."

The corners of Harry's lips tugged themselves into a tiny smile, but it didn't last.

"Most of them will forget about this in a few days," Sirius reassured. "And if they don't, I'm certain Professor McGonagall will be happy to help them along… even if you did get into trouble with her today."

Harry nodded a little. Sirius was confused when he flushed, until Harry slid his eyes toward the wall and mumbled, "I'm sorry about the jinx."

Sirius suspected the apology had little to do with actual regret for his defense of Hermione. But even so, Sirius squeezed his shoulder; they could discuss it later. "A silent Stinging Jinx is rather advanced magic, you know."

Harry shrugged. "Someone was sitting on me and I couldn't breathe… or talk-"

Sirius gaped at him. "Sitting on you?"

"Hannah Abbott—she was knocked over; fell on me."

Sirius was distracted from his indignant huff as Harry rubbed his fingers over the back of his hand. The skin was decorated with deep scratches. Sirius plucked the hand away from Harry's thigh. "What's this?"

Harry stretched his fingers out against Sirius' palm, examining the nicks along with him. "She scratched me."

"Oy… Anything else?" Sirius asked as he sat back to get a good look at his godson. "Cracked ribs? Broken bones?"

Another small smile snuck onto Harry's lips; he shook his head. "Don't think so."

"You don't think?" Remus demanded with a frown. "Didn't any of you go to the infirmary?"

"Nah, just a couple of the Hufflepuffs… and Terry; I think Draco broke his nose."

Sirius and Remus exchanged a glance, both of them forcing themselves not to feel satisfaction at that.

"Well," Remus said and Sirius nearly smirked at his smug tone, "let's gather up more salve, shall we?"

"And you said this happened before dinner?" Sirius said as he gave Harry a hand up. "You haven't eaten, then?" Harry shook his head and Sirius eyed him. "You might have said so, kid, before we sent you off to bed without supper."

Harry glanced up at him, a bit of mischievous back in the green eyes. "I could have sneaked down later for a snack."

"I see," Sirius said solemnly. "Well, as long as you had a plan." He rumpled Harry's hair fondly and the three of them went downstairs for a bit of salve and some dinner.

Chapter Text

"I'm telling you, Lee—"

"Belt up," Fred's voice interrupted his brother's. "We have ears…"

George's head appeared around the shelf. "Well, speak of the devil… and his little side-kick."

Harry frowned as Draco stiffened beside him.

"I never figured you for a snoop, Harry," Fred drawled, joining his brother's head.

Harry made a face. "You only assume we're snooping because you think the three of you are so interesting." He gave the book in his hand a pointed jiggle. "We were looking for a book; you know, since it's a library and all."

Fred and George grinned at him.

"Have you always been so mouthy?"

"Or are you picking up pointers from Ginny?"

"From you, actually," Harry said, feeling smug as the twins' exchanged surprised glances.

"Well, I never."

"He's got a point."

"You hush, Lee," Fred said with a mock-scowl and he gave his friend a shove.

"And for that little insult, Harry," his twin said with a little sniff, "we won't share what we found with you."

"Yeah and I bet I'll regret it for the rest of my life. Let's go, Draco."

"Well, if you're going to insist," Fred said with a grin. He held up a parchment. "We found it in-" He lowered his voice. "-Hogsmeade."

Harry paused, curious despite himself. Anything the twins were involved in could only lead to trouble, after all. "The last Hogsmeade weekend was last month."

"Your point?" the twins chorused together.

Harry studied their freckled faces—their twinkling grins mostly. "You went there anyway?"

"How did you get away with that?" Draco asked.

"Oh, we have our ways."

"Not that we'd tell you."

"Yeah," Lee added, "because then we'd have to kill you."

"Either tell or don't," Harry sighed. "We have class."

"Class?" George echoed. "You're as bad as Hermione."

Harry smiled. "Thanks."

"It wasn't a compliment," Fred said, shaking his head. "Honestly, you'd think that somewhere in there he'd have a bit of Marauder in him."

"What's a Marauder?" Draco asked as he shifted his pack against his shoulders.

"Ah," George said. "So, you've never bragged to your friends about them?"

"What about them?" Harry asked, impatient now.

George sighed in a gusty sort of way. "Remus and Sirius," he explained. "And your dad and that other Wormtail bloke; they made that map, remember?"

"So?"

"So," Fred drawled. "You didn't think they just made it just to show off their magical prowess, did you?"

Harry shrugged.

"They called themselves the Marauders, Harry" George said, leaning forward, his blue eyes dancing with excitement. "Mischief-makers."

"Schemers."

"Pranksters," Lee added with a nod.

"Remus?" Harry said doubtfully.

Fred and George grinned slyly. "True, McGonagall never mentions him when she says we remind her of your dad and Sirius, but he was definitely one of them."

Harry's eyes narrowed as he looked between the trio. "What are you on about?"

With a flourish, George produced a small, dusty, dog-eared book. "They've all signed it, see?"

"Ah, ah, ah," Fred cautioned, waggling a finger as Harry reached out, "musn't touch—"

Harry snatched the book from Fred's limp grasp, turning his back on them; Draco moved with him, effectively blocking any attempts to recapture the prize.

"Bloody Seeker's reflexes," one of the twins muttered.

While Draco leaned over his shoulder, Harry thumbed the cover open. All in distinctive—and recognizable in two cases—script, there were four signatures scrawled across the first page. Harry smiled to himself as he traced a finger over his father's.

"What is it?"

Harry shook his head at Draco's question, but the twins and Lee popped round in front. "It's a diary," George said.

"A log of mischief really."

"Plans and the like."

"Accomplishments too."

"Would you two shut up for a minute? Just let me read it."

The twins snapped their mouths shut, their eyes suddenly full of mischief. "Cheeky thing, isn't he?" George said, nudging his brother.

"Especially because he can't keep it," Fred said with a nod.

Harry raised his head, but Draco spoke before he could. "It isn't yours."

"We found it, didn't we?"

"On an unauthorized trip to Hogsmeade," Draco said with a falsely conciliatory nod. He smiled. "I'm certain McGonagall would like to know about that."

"Oy, he'd turn us in," George said, placing a hand over his heart and pretending to faint.

"And lose Gryffindor dozens of points," his doppelganger added with a dramatic fist to his forehead.

"And just think of the detentions."

The brothers nodded at Lee, both of them feigning looks of horror. "You'd better keep it then," George said, sweeping his arm in a grand gesture and sketching a bow in Harry's direction.

"Yeah, since we've already copied the best pranks anyway," Fred added with a smirk. They grinned at Harry, showing their teeth. Draco scowled at them as they skirted round and scooped up their books, shoveling most into their bags.

"Just don't tell anyone who gave it to you," Lee said as he hoisted his pack over his shoulder.

"Or where we got it," George said.

"You didn't tell me where you got it," Harry pointed out; he hugged the book to his chest. The twins' smiles stopped being goofy as they gazed at Harry.

Fred shrugged his bag on and said with a small smile, "Shrieking Shack."

George patted his shoulder. "It's got some scribbles near the end—your dad's I think, but we didn't read past the first one."

"Thanks," Harry said. Fred and George flashed him another smile before they disappeared with Lee behind a stack of books.

"The Shrieking Shack?" Draco whispered as Harry opened the book again.

"They're always doing things like that," Harry said absently as he glanced through a plan, in Sirius' handwriting, to turn someone's hair into a nest for swallows—a bloke named Slughorn.

"But the Shrieking Shack? Everybody knows a werewolf used to live there."

Harry glanced up at his friend. "But not any longer. Nobody's heard it for years."

"Even if it was ten years ago, what if it came back? What if it still lives there?" Draco shuddered dramatically and then asked curiously, "Are you going to ask Sirius about that tomorrow?"

"Guess so," Harry murmured; tomorrow was the start of Easter Holidays.

"Come on," Draco said, grimacing as he glanced at the huge clock on the far wall. "Sprout will take points if we're late."

Harry fell in beside Draco, his eyes still glued to the text as they walked.

--

Sirius thanked the server as two pints of Butterbeer settled on the table in Fortescue's the following afterrnoon. "So," he said as he slid one toward Harry, "are you plotting something especially mischievous? Or have you already committed the crime and are finding the nerve to tell me?"

Harry let out a breath of laughter as Sirius poked a finger near his ribs. He batted it away, smiling. "The twins gave me something."

Sirius's dark eyebrows soared. "Worse than I thought then." He smiled though, obviously trusting that Harry wouldn't do anything too dreadful. "Going to tell me what it is?" he asked, keeping Harry's eye over the rim of his glass as he sipped.

Harry had debated showing the book to Sirius, mostly because he knew that Remus wouldn't like him to have access to so many pranks—or at least the Remus he knew wouldn't have liked it. But since some of the plans in the book had been in Remus' own writing, Harry had finally decided that he couldn't object too much. So he pulled the leather-bound book from where he'd crammed it carefully into the pocket of his jeans.

Sirius didn't immediately give any indication that he recognized the book; he merely squinted curiously at it as Harry flapped the cover with an idle thumb.

"Fred and George thought I'd like it because it belongs to you and Remus," he finally said. "And my dad…"

Sirius tilted his head. Harry watched the Butterbeer sloshing up the sides of the cold mug, nearly spilling over the top as Sirius set it down. "May I see it?"

Harry smiled at the eagerness in Sirius' tone. "They found it in the Shrieking Shack," he said as he pushed it with his fingertips toward his godfather. Sirius captured it, skirting it around his Butterbeer. He grinned as soon as he flipped the cover.

Just as Harry had done, his thumb swept across James' signature. He looked up suddenly, his eyebrows pinched together. "The Shrieking Shack?" he echoed, catching up with Harry. "What were the twins doing there?" He shook his head before Harry could answer. "Oy, never mind; don't tell me. I don't want to know."

Harry bit his lip to keep from laughing. Sirius smiled at him and turned the page, grinning again as his eyes roamed the page. "Look at this. This one was your dad's idea," he said, pointing to the handwriting that Harry was quickly becoming familiar with.

"You actually made a rain cloud in the Great Hall?"

"Thunder too," Sirius said, his grey eyes dancing with remembered mirth. "We never quite managed the lightning. It was tricky to get rid of the cloud though; Slughorn actually had a little bit of it that followed him for about a month afterward. He finally attached an umbrella to his head."

Harry laughed. "Didn't you get in trouble?"

"Most of the teachers were too impressed with that one to punish us. We did get detention fairly often though," Sirius admitted. "That's why we invented those mirrors."

"What did you get detention for?"

Sirius smoothed out a crease in one of the pages with his index finger. All of the humor was lost from his expression as he sighed. "Not all of our pranks were in fun. There was one bloke in particular who we didn't like."

Harry's finger squeaked as he ran a path through the condensation on the side of his mug. "Why not?"

Sirius frowned, considering or perhaps remembering. "His name was Snape. At first it was because he was in Slytherin. And we were in Gryffindor." Harry nodded, not because he had any particular rivalry with Slytherins but because he didn't really like Hufflepuff these days. Things had never really gone back to normal between the two houses after the brawl last term. "Later it was because he liked your mother." He smiled a little. "Your dad was jealous because they were friends."

"Yeah?" Harry couldn't help the smile.

"Mmhm…" Sirius' face grew solemn again. "I always regretted how far we let the rivalry get. Your dad did as well; and Remus. I'm not proud of the way we behaved."

Harry could understand that. Even though he didn't like Justin, he was sorry for using that curse on him during the fight.

Sirius twisted the warming Butterbeer in his hands. "Snape was the one who found Peter and turned him in."

Harry straightened a little. He didn't think Sirius had ever mentioned Peter Pettigrew unprompted. "Even though you didn't get on?"

Sirius capped his Butterbeer with a palm; he nodded. "The headmaster asked him to help search for Peter. I'm not certain why, but yes, even though he didn't like me, he helped us."

Harry had to draw back a little as plates floated over and arranged themselves in front of them. Sirius closed the book, but before he could put it away, Harry said, "There are a couple pages in the back that Dad wrote. Silly stuff…" He shrugged, his face warming a bit. "… about mum."

"Is there now?" Sirius drawled, a mischievous grin on his face. He nudged his plate away with a knuckle and flipped through the book until he found the page filled with James' doodles. He snorted. Harry smiled, unable to see it enough. His mother's name written hastily over and over again in his dad's bold script. There were even little hearts and a lopsided sketch of a lily.

"He sketched an entire bunch of lilies once," Sirius murmured, a sad smile on his face as he looked up. "For your mum. They weren't very good. But… she loved them."

Harry's fringe flopped onto his forehead as he leaned over for a better look. He glanced up when Sirius brushed the hair aside. Sirius sighed quietly, his thumb sweeping over Harry's forehead a few times, eventually letting his hand drop to turn the page. Another set of doodles and then the pages were blank.

Harry leaned back in his seat, disappointed even though he already knew that was all of them. Sirius though kept turning the pages; he was frowning. "What's the matter?" Harry asked, wiping his chin after a hastily interrupted slug of Butterbeer.

"I think there's a charm on the rest of these pages. To keep anyone from reading it…" Sirius ran his fingers down the length of one of the pages. "I can almost make them out. The spell must be wearing off."

"Can you take it off?" Harry asked excitedly, nearly bouncing in his seat. His eyes still on the book, Sirius deftly moved Harry's plate out of the way as it almost took a nose dive off the table.

"I may be able to." He smiled as he looked up. "Your dad probably didn't want us to know how mad he was for your mum. Don't know how he thought we didn't know; we used to tease him endlessly."

Harry nodded, too impatient to be amused. Sirius did a poor job of hiding his smile as he waved his wand over the pages. His eyebrows drew together in concentration as he muttered several incantations. "Eat your sandwich," he interrupted himself, giving Harry's full plate a pointed look. Harry took a bite, barely chewing. He chased it with another sip of Butterbeer, his attention glued to his godfather's efforts.

"Ah ha!"

Harry abandoned his handful of crisps and wiped greasy fingertips on his jeans. Words were bleeding across the pages, black ink filling them completely. Harry squinted, trying to a get a better look but before he could glimpse any words other than 'hate' and 'moon' Sirius tilted the book up, cutting off Harry's view completely. Sirius' shoulders hunched as his eyes zigzagged the page.

"Did it work?"

Sirius looked up, his eyes startled for the briefest moment and then his features shifted so that he was smiling, but Harry didn't think he was happy.

"What does it say?"

Instead of sliding it over for Harry to see, or even answering, Sirius closed the book; his fingers tapped out a short rhythm against the soft cover. "Your dad didn't write it," he said.

"Who did then?" Harry asked. Sirius smiled again, still not convincing Harry that he wasn't tense.

"Remus," he said quietly. "And it's something I think he would prefer to keep private."

Harry felt his shoulders drooping as his excitement deflated. "Oh." His eyes widened as Sirius put the book into his pocket. "But I wanted to keep it," he protested.

Sirius sighed. "I know. It doesn't belong to us though—"

"Some of it belongs to you," Harry interrupted. "And what about those pages of my dad's?" he rushed on before Sirius could disagree. "Can't I at least have those? And some of the other parts that he wrote?" He didn't mean to whinge; he knew he didn't need those pages and it was stupid… but he had felt close to his dad after he read all those plans; he'd spent hours studying the doodles last night.

It was like he knew his dad a little now.

Sirius had an odd look on his face. Harry didn't have time to decipher it though. His godfather straightened a little, another pasted smile on his face. "I'll tell you what," he said, sounding like he was trying too hard to be cheerful. "Remus will be home tomorrow. He can take his pages out and then the rest is yours. All right?"

Harry crushed one of his crisps with his thumb. He fanned the crumbs out as he nodded. "O.K."

"You won't have anything left in another moment," Sirius said, interrupting Harry's meticulous crushing. Harry glanced up. Sirius smiled, his grey eyes soft. "Ollivander is expecting us," he added as he picked up his sandwich. "He asked me three times yesterday when you were going to be home. I think he's excited to see you."

Harry smiled as he put a crisp in his mouth.

--

"What is this anyway?"

Sirius glanced up at the manky old… something in Harry's hand. He leaned forward, squinting. "Oh. That was my brother's." He plucked it from Harry's hand, turning it over as he examined it. "I think one of his girlfriends gave it to him… not sure what it is though; some sort of hat?"

Harry eyed the squashy gray velvet. "Looks like a dead rabbit."

"Only if you tilt it a bit to the left… Here, let's see how it looks-" Harry dodged, grinning as Sirius reached out to put on his head. "No? Don't fancy a dead rabbit on your head?" Smirking, Sirius flicked his wrist and the hat—if that's what it was—flew through the air and landed with a soft thump on an old dresser, sending up a cloud of dust.

Harry wrinkled his nose and returned to his searching. Sirius watched him with a smile. They had been up here since returning from Ollivander's—Harry with a chocolate dragon's egg from the wand maker. Harry had been unusually quiet during the visit. And the little attic-cleaning excursion had begun as an excuse for Harry to look through the boxes stored here; and a distraction from the book Harry had found. Sirius was enjoying it as much as Harry was though.

"This must have been your mum's."

Sirius leaned in, furrowing his brow as he saw the gold chain dangling from Harry's fingers. "Never seen it before." He squinted as he pulled it from Harry's grip. "I don't think I ever saw her wear a locket."

Sliding closer, Harry said, "Maybe there's a picture inside."

Sirius slipped his thumbnail between the two halves, but the locket stayed firmly closed. Even exerting more pressure did nothing. He shrugged and put it back at the bottom of the box. "Doesn't open… Oy, look at these," he murmured, lifting a small stack of photos that had somehow found its way into Regulus' boxes. "It's your mum and dad." Harry jostled Sirius' arm as he pressed close. "There was a Christmas ball that year. I don't think I've ever seen your mum so excited." He handed the picture to his godson. Harry studied every centimeter of the picture, his lips pursed in concentration as if he was trying to memorize it.

"Do you think I'll look like him—" Harry paused. "How old was he?"

"Seventeen. And yes, I do think you'll look like him when you're older. You've always looked like your dad."

"Except my eyes," Harry said, looking satisfied on both counts. Sirius smiled. "May I keep it?" Harry asked, the words overly hopeful.

"Of course." Sirius squeezed his godson's shoulder. "Now." He looked around the attic. "We still need to find that box I mentioned and then we'll see about dying our assigned eggs for tomorrow's festivities. Mrs Weasley gave us two dozen. Here," he said, pushing himself to his feet and hoisting Harry up alongside, "I think my boxes are over in that corner. Watch out for spiders."

"I'm not Ron," Harry said, grinning.

"Hmm," Sirius murmured, as he batted a large spider away from the corner in question, "good job you're not. Ah, here it is!" Sirius had meant to come up for this particular box for years. "Look," he said, "it's my Quidditch badge. Your dad had one just like it."

Harry studied it closely. "It hasn't changed very much since you played."

"It wasn't that long ago," Sirius said, pretending to be affronted. "I'm only thirty-three you know."

"Well, it's different anyway since you were a Chaser," Harry allowed. Sirius ruffled his hair, amused at the kid's cheek. "May I keep it?" Harry asked.

"Absolutely."

Harry grinned. He stuffed it into his pocket and went back to the box, where he and Sirius rummaged quite happily for another hour before dusting off their hands—with a little help from Sirius' Cleaning Charm—and heading downstairs to Easter eggs and a late dinner of shepherd's pie.

--

"Step back a bit there, boys," Mr Weasley said as he and Bill arranged the last pieces of wood for the bonfire the following evening, an Easter Sunday tradition that Harry and his family had shared with the Weasleys for years.

"I think he meant more than a centimeter," Sirius said with a small smile. He tapped Harry's knees. Harry took an exaggerated step away from the pile of wood. Rolling his eyes, Ron went with him. "One more," Sirius said, smirking now.

"We'll be on the other side of the garden if we move any farther," Ron groused.

"Even better."

Harry pulled a face. "We're not going to fall in or anything."

"Good to hear," Sirius said mock-seriously. "I wouldn't want to have to fish you out."

"There wouldn't be anything left to fish," George said as he came up behind his little brother and gave him a shove.

"Maybe you should put an anti-inflammatory spell on them," Fred suggested, grinning when Ron scowled.

"We're not babies."

George opened his mouth to retort but Mr Weasley interrupted, "Let's try to keep the insults to a minimum today, shall we? It is a holiday, after all. Fred and George, I think your mother may need help?"

George and Fred shrugged and went off toward the house, but not before sticking their tongues out at their brother when they were no longer in their father's peripheral.

Harry and Ron watched Bill and Mr Weasley unload another armful of wood until Ron stumbled as he demonstrated a new Quidditch move he'd seen in Quidditch Weekly and nearly sent Mr Weasley sprawling headfirst into the pile. When Bill helped his father up, Mr Weasley gave Ron a rare glower.

"It's going to be a while yet before we're ready," Sirius interjected as Mr Weasley straightened his shirt.

"You'll call us before you light it?" Harry asked quickly, wanting to get Ron away before Mr Weasley found breath to scold him.

"Have we ever forgot?"

Harry shrugged sheepishly.

"Go play," Sirius said with a smile and a small nudge.

"Why do parents always tell us to go play?" Ron demanded as they wandered around the yard, stopping to peer into Mr Weasley's shed but going no farther than the door. "Do they think we're still five?" he grumbled while they poked around for gnomes in the garden.

Harry was fairly certain that Mrs Weasley at least did think exactly that. Sirius, probably not. But Ron wouldn't want to hear anything positive about parents at the moment so Harry just let his friend continue to complain as they made their slow way toward the house, stopping to throw rocks into the small pond, grinning when they startled the fish.

They stopped in the kitchen for some chocolates, dashing toward the stairs when they heard Mrs Weasley in the parlour. They met Hermione and Ginny just coming out of Ginny's room.

"If you want chocolate, your mum's down there," Harry told them.

"Not before dinner," Hermione said in her typical sensible manner.

"Did you manage to pinch some?" Ginny asked, eyeing her brother's stuffed front jacket pocket.

"You're not getting any."

"Here," Harry said, depositing his stash into Ginny's hands. He shrugged at Hermione's questioning look and hurried to catch up with Ron.

"I should have just stayed at school," Ron muttered as they climbed the stairs to his room. "At least I would have had some privacy there—" He stopped walking abruptly and Harry ploughed into him. "Oof! What are you two doing in here? It's my room—"

"Oh, do shut up," George drawled. He and Fred were crouched on the floor, both of them with their wands in their hands.

"What are you doing?" Harry asked. They shook their heads and Harry thought he heard low voices, though he couldn't make out the words.

"What is that?"

"Hush," George commanded. He leaned forward on his knees and pressed his ear against the wall closest to the door. "We're trying a Listening Charm."

"What for?" Ron asked.

"What for?" Fred's lip curled.

"Eavesdropping," Ginny said as she strolled in, Hermione right behind her.

Forever feeling left out, Ron demanded, "How do you know?"

Ginny mimicked his cross expression. "Mum found out about the one they were using this morning. I heard her lecturing them." She sat on Ron's bed, crossing her legs and propping her chin in a palm. "She'll kill you if she finds another."

"Be quiet," George hissed. "They're talking about Harry."

Harry's head whipped round. "Who?"

George flapped a hand at him. "Remus and Sirius."

"Remus is here?"

"What are they saying?" Ron asked.

"You shouldn't eavesdrop," Hermione said from where she stood beside Ron's desk, arms crossed.

Predictably, the twins ignored her and even Harry couldn't defend her. Of course he knew she was right, but curiosity won out in this case. "What are they saying?" he echoed his friend as he crept closer.

"Well, if you'd shut up," Fred said calmly, "we could all hear."

"We're trying to adjust the volume."

"You're not supposed to use magic outside of Hogwarts," Hermione said, but even she had moved closer to the gathered group, her arms dropping to her sides.

"No one notices underage magic with all the other magic around," George murmured, still distracted by whatever he was doing with his wand. "Bullocks."

"There."

"… Thank you," Remus' tired voice suddenly filled the room, though it wasn't very loud. "I know you think I should tell him, but I am simply not ready for him to know."

Ginger heads turned to ogle Harry. Hermione too.

"They can't mean me," Harry protested, still talking in a whisper. "Know what?"

"I'll take the pages out," Remus went on before anyone could guess.

"He'll be glad to have it back," Sirius said. "He was excited to have something of James'… something he can keep with him."

Remus sighed. "Of course he was," he said, the words sounding strained. "I don't know how…"

Sirius' voice was as soothing as Remus' was haggard. "You're tired," he said. "You'll feel better in a few days, once the moon—"

"Children!" Mrs. Weasley's call echoed up the stairs, hasty footsteps quickly following. The twins stuffed their wands under one of the shirts lying on the floor and the rest of Remus' words were muffled. They scrambled out the door with their siblings. Harry didn't move though, trying to make sense of his parents' words.

What did a moon have to do with Remus?

And more importantly, what didn't Remus want him to know?

It was a job to ignore his conscience but he did, kneeling to unearth the twins' wands. Remus' weary voice said, "I know he is, Sirius. He's more mature than any other child I know, but I can't tell him that I'm a werewolf. Greyback bit me over thirty years ago. Thirty years, and I've never told anyone. I wouldn't have told even you if you and James hadn't discovered it on your own."

"I know," Sirius murmured softly.

"Harry!" Ron burst back into the room, nearly throwing the door off its hinges. "What are you doing? It's time to eat!"

"Come on," Sirius' quiet voice said, echoing off the walls. Ron's eyes widened in surprise.

"Did they say something else?" he demanded. "What did they say?"

Harry stared at his friend, too stunned to speak. But surely he couldn't have heard what he thought he had. It wasn't possible.

Remus couldn't be a—

People just weren't—

Harry shook his head dumbly, trying to clear his thoughts enough to think.

"Nothing," Harry mumbled as Ron continued to stare at him. "I didn't hear anything."

Ron shrugged. "What are you sitting here for then? Let's eat." Harry couldn't seem to move though. Ron heaved a sigh and tugged his arm until Harry was standing and following his mate down the stairs, his legs as numb as his brain.

A werewolf.

Remus couldn't be a werewolf. He was just Remus.

Werewolves were fearsome—howling at full moons and hunting people. Lockhart had devoted an entire lesson to his supposed encounter with one. Werewolves were monsters according to Lockhart—frightening young children and accomplished wizards alike.

Just like that one that used to live in the Shrieking Shack…

Harry's mouth suddenly felt like someone had filled it with sand.

The Shrieking Shack.

That's where the twins found the diary.

An odd tingle coursed up Harry's spine, sending gooseflesh prickling all over his arms and up his neck. The feeling intensified for a moment as he and Ron finally stopped in front of the long tables of food. Remus and Sirius were coming out of the small grove of trees beside the shed.

Harry stood there, rooted to the ground.

"Happy Easter," Remus said as he and Sirius approached. He smiled down at Harry, as if everything was perfectly normal. Gave him a quick squeeze like he always did.

"Hi…" Harry moved away as soon as Remus released him. He sat on one of the low benches circling the logs, ignoring Sirius' glance. He watched Mr. Weasley lighting the fire, his gaze switching after a minute to Remus' face. There were deep shadows under his eyes, his face pale and drawn. His hair a bit too long. And as Harry sat there studying the tired features, he realized that Remus always looked that way after he returned from a trip.

His mind traced through the past months slowly. He'd need a calendar to sort through all the lunar cycles but he could just bet that each trip of Remus' was during the full moon.

The sun was just beginning to set, the lines in Remus' face deepening as the fire crackled to life. A cheer went up, but Harry barely noticed it.

He narrowed his eyes as he stared at Remus, a funny feeling worming its way into his stomach as he watched Sirius saying something into Remus' ear. Remus shook his head, shifting a bit so that he was leaning into Sirius' side; Sirius wound his arm around Remus' waist and guided him onto one of the benches. Sirius kissed Remus' cheek and went to help Mrs Weasley with the food.

Remus' shoulders slumped, a sigh escaping as he rubbed his face. He didn't move after that but Harry continued to stare at him.

"I managed to get some for you before the twins and Ron descended."

Harry's head came up. Sirius was holding out a plate, a grin on his face.

His eyebrows went up as he sat beside Harry. "You couldn't have eaten that much chocolate."

Harry felt his godfather shifting; the plate scraping against wood.

"Is something wrong?" Sirius asked quietly. Harry shook his head swiftly, keeping his eyes straight ahead.

But of course Sirius didn't accept that. Harry shrugged off his godfather's hand though when it settled against a shoulder blade.

"Harry—"

Feeling jumbled up, Harry pushed up from the bench. "I'm going to see if there's any food left." He skirted the other benches, knowing Sirius was probably staring after him—with that look on his face, but Harry didn't care. Or at least he told himself so. He didn't stop until he was at the long table, laid out in mountains of food by Mrs Weasley.

He grunted his thanks when Hermione handed him a plate. Turned away quickly and went along the table, piling food until he needed both hands to keep it from decorating the lawn.

Ron was heading for the bench nearest Remus', but Harry nudged the back of his knees with a toe before he could. He jerked his head to the bench on the opposite side, ignoring Ron's protest that it was too close to his stupid brothers.

"Aren't you going to eat more?" Ron finally asked through his mouthful; bits of potato spewed Harry's shirt.

Harry shoved his plate away. "Too much chocolate."

Ron gaped at him for a moment before he shrugged and went back to shoveling food into his mouth. "Mum'sh lamb isthe besth," he said around the masticated meat. He wiped his mouth on a sleeve and grinned. "Glad I came home." Harry rolled his eyes. He leaned forward, welcoming the heat from the huge fire.

The sun was setting rapidly, the flames beginning to make eerie patterns on faces as they danced. Harry couldn't see Remus and Sirius, but they were probably talking about him, he thought with some bitterness.

Talking and keeping secrets. And lying.

Because they'd lied to him for years, hadn't they? Forever really. Making up stories about Remus having meetings and going on trips.

Well fine. They obviously thought he wouldn't understand; since he was just a kid. Or maybe they thought he'd be a big baby and be scared of Remus. As if anyone could ever be frightened of Remus. Even if he was a werewolf, he was only a werewolf for one day out of the whole month. And it wasn't as if it was Remus' fault that he had been bitten.

Harry wasn't too daft to understand all that. Obviously though, his parents thought he was.

"You all right, mate?" Ron asked. Harry glanced at him, surprised that the words had not been accompanied by half-chewed food.

"Yeah," Harry said with a firm nod. He swiped his plate up from the bench. He flicked his wrist and the tower of uneaten food tumbled into the flames; they crackled appreciatively. "Let's get pudding."

--

Hours later, after all the dyed eggs had been rolled, tapped and gobbled up, Arthur and Bill took the Grangers home. Sirius found Harry and Ron inside the shed, each of them sitting atop a short stack of tyres, considering the sedate blue car in between.

Sirius had very carefully left Harry to his own devices. He had no idea what was troubling his godson. Whatever it was though, Harry had made it clear that he wanted space. As he stood silently in the doorway, Sirius wondered if the two boys had discussed another trip in the enchanted automobile.

Ron noticed him first, his face instantly coloring a deep red. He scrambled off his tyres, making enough noise that Harry's head came up.

"I better go," Ron said as he slunk past Sirius. "Mum… er… probably needs help cleaning." Sirius didn't watch him go, his gaze fixed on his godson. Harry was watching him as well, intently studying Sirius' movements as he stepped into the garage.

"Want to tell me what that was about?" Sirius asked quietly, indicating the hasty path that Ron had just taken.

Harry shrugged. "He just thought you were going to tell us we're not supposed to be in here."

"You're not," Sirius reminded him, confused by the indifference in his godson's tone.

Harry's heel bounced several times against the rubber tyre at the bottom of the stack. "We didn't drive the car or anything."

Sirius took a moment to respond, beginning to feel a bit adrift—liked he'd missed something very important. He kept his voice light as he finally said, "Mrs Weasley has asked all of you not to come in here though, and I'd like you to respect that."

"Don't know why she's so particular about it. It's just a load of junk. Batteries and rubber ducks aren't even dangerous."

"That car is though—"

"I already said we didn't drive it," Harry huffed. He hopped off his tyres. "We didn't even sit in it. I'm not stupid you know."

Sirius' brow furrowed. "I don't think you're stupid—"

"Yeah right," Harry muttered.

Sirius caught his wrist as he tried to pass. Harry glared up at him, the set of his jaw reminding Sirius of Lily at her most stubborn. His carefully composed comment was whisked away for the more exasperated, "What's got into you?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing? You've been brooding ever since you came back from whatever you were doing with Ron."

Scowling, Harry tugged against Sirius' fingers. Sensing a brewing storm, Sirius let go. "We weren't doing anything wrong," Harry said crossly.

"I didn't say you were—"

"You thought it," Harry pressed, sounding so offended that Sirius felt guilty for wondering if his godson had come in here to fly the car. "Because you and Remus think I'm just a stupid kid who can't understand anything."

Sirius' brows knitted as he stared down at Harry, at the inexplicable anger in the green eyes. "I absolutely do not think you're stupid, Harry. You are the brightest kid I've ever met—and that includes both your mother and Hermione."

"Then why didn't you tell me that Remus is a werewolf?"

For a moment, Sirius felt like he was caught in the pull of someone else's Apparition.

When the world righted itself again, Harry was still glaring up at him. Sirius willed himself calm, quickly reviewing the last five minutes. Harry didn't seem bothered that Remus was a werewolf—not frightened at least. He was angry at being excluded. Sirius had known he would be. It didn't make this any easier however.

He took a slow breath, let it out again and said quietly, "Where did you hear that?"

"Fred and George were playing with a Listening Charm."

Sirius' heart beat faster in alarm.

"I kept listening after they left," Harry added, his arms crossed over his chest defiantly.

Relieved that no one else hoverheard, Sirius sighed and pointedly ignored Harry's glare. "I think we'd best go home. Remus is already there—"

"I heard him say he's a werewolf," Harry interrupted; Lily's stubborn jaw reappeared. "So you can't lie about it any longer."

Sirius frowned. "I don't like that tone." Harry stuffed his hands into his pockets, and turned his glare to the dusty floor. "And no one is going to lie to you," Sirius added quietly. He reached a hand toward Harry's bowed head, reconsidered before he made contact; folded his arms across his chest. "I'm sorry we didn't tell you, Harry. But it's more complicated—"

Harry's head snapped up. "No it isn't!"

"Harry, you have no idea—"

"I know all about werewolves, Sirius."

Sirius blew out a breath; let his arms drop. "That isn't what I meant… no, don't interrupt me. We need to go home and have this conversation with Remus."

But Harry didn't lose his belligerent stance. "I know it was Remus that didn't want to tell me."

"It was Remus' choice—a very personal choice," Sirius said, his voice low in an effort to stay calm. Harry had every right to be upset, after all. It was one of the reasons that Sirius hadn't wanted to delay the secret.

"Is that why you wouldn't show me what Remus wrote?" Harry demanded.

"Harry…" Sirius shook his head. "Remus needs to be part of this. We'll go home and I promise that we'll answer all of your questions. Come here."

Harry didn't move.

"Figured out how to Apparate by yourself, have you?"

Harry scowled at him. "Fine," he said through his huff. "But I want the book back."

Sirius' eyebrows rose. "I didn't realize I was negotiating."

"You said I could have it."

His nerves frayed, Sirius snapped, "And I can change my mind."

"No you can't," Harry said furiously. Tears welled in his eyes but he quickly swiped them away. "Those pages that my dad wrote aren't yours. He'd want me to have them."

Regretting his loss of temper, Sirius nodded. "I know—"

"And I bet my dad would have told me about Remus."

It was astounding that a twelve year old's words could gouge so deeply. Especially because Harry probably had no idea how much they would. He was just angry, Sirius told himself reasonably. He didn't know how often Sirius wondered if James would approve of how he was raising Harry.

And Harry didn't know how guilty Sirius often felt for having the privilege instead.

"He may have," Sirius finally said finally, when he could speak without warbling. "Remus has the diary; I'm certain he will give it to you if you ask."

Harry's brow slumped in confusion.

"Are you ready to Apparate?"

Harry stepped closer, holding himself stiffly as Sirius brought him close. Sirius ignored the tickle in his throat as he turned on the spot.

--

Sirius released Harry once the world spun into focus again and they were standing in the parlor. Harry wasn't exactly sure what had changed his godfather's mood so swiftly, but he was too irritated at both of his parents to ponder it. He stepped away from Sirius, frowning as Remus looked up from where he was sitting on the sofa.

Remus' smile faltered as he looked between Harry and Sirius. "What's the matter?"

Sirius grimaced and Harry noticed the taut muscles in his face for the first time. Sirius sat beside Remus, but Harry didn't give him a chance to explain. Without a lick of tact, he said, "I know you're a werewolf."

Remus went absolutely still.

"Harry."

"What?" Harry said, not caring how rude he was being. "You were going to tell him anyway."

"Sit down," Sirius snapped. "And close that smart mouth of yours."

A bit startled by the harsh command, Harry forgot to argue. He dropped onto the chair across from Remus, slumping as deep as he could into the cushions and crossing his arms jerkily over his chest.

Sirius turned back to Remus. "I'm sorry; he overheard us earlier. If you need some time—"

Remus finally moved; just a tiny shake of his head, his focus on Harry. Sirius tangled his fingers in Remus'.

Remus gazed at Harry for a long, weary minute. "I don't know how to begin…"

"Another lie probably," Harry mumbled. Surprise flitted across the shadows marking Remus' face.

"Harry James," Sirius warned in a low voice.

But Harry didn't care.

"Well, it's true, isn't it?" He felt a stab of remorse at the hurt that made Remus' face fall, but he ignored that too.

"Now that's enough," Sirius said, leaning forward to take Harry's upper arm in a firm grip so that Harry had no choice but to sit up straight. "I know you're angry, but do not speak to Remus like that."

"Well, he should have told me!"

Remus winced. Sirius glanced at him and then his face transformed into a scowl as his eyes came back to Harry. "Do not raise your voice to us again," he said. "We will discuss it for as long as you like, but we'll do it calmly. Is that clear?"

Harry glared down at his fingers and didn't answer. Sirius cupped his chin, forcing Harry to look at him. Sirius' eyes narrowed.

"I said is that clear?" he demanded quietly. Heat crept into Harry's cheeks; he nodded.

"This is not something that Remus is comfortable discussing," Sirius went on, "and your attitude is making it much more difficult." Harry wanted to close his eyes so he wouldn't have to see the look of disappointment on his godfather's face. "He deserves better treatment from you."

Shame clawed at Harry's belly; he swallowed hard but he couldn't seem to speak. Sirius finally released his chin. Harry bit the inside of his lower lip, his cheeks still tingling as he watched Sirius lower his head and massage his closed eyelids.

"I didn't want to burden you with such a secret," Remus said quietly, his voice very hoarse. Sirius sighed as he looked up again; he crossed his arms, folding his hands under his armpits as he stared at the wall behind Harry's shoulder.

When he spoke again, his voice was weary, "You can't ever tell anyone." He met Harry's gaze again and Harry's stomach twisted painfully when he saw how unhappy his godfather looked. "It wouldn't have been fair for us to make you carry the secret with you. We weren't trying to exclude you from anything." Sirius leaned forward a little. "Can you understand that?"

Harry nodded, his reticence this time having nothing to do with anger or defiance.

Remus cleared his throat softly into the silence that followed. "Do you have any … questions?"

Harry switched his gaze between his parents, his mind whirling with dozens. He didn't want to ask any of them; amidst all his anger and hurt, he hadn't thought even once about how awful Remus must feel; for so many years. And not just during full moons. As far as Harry knew, nobody liked werewolves; there were even laws preventing werewolves from having jobs.

Lockhart had gone on and on about his encounter with that werewolf. The professor's lip had curled in disgust when he'd described it, emphasizing the description with a shudder. His words were as clear as if Harry was hearing them now: Werewolves are vile creatures … less than human.

"I won't tell anyone," he finally promised quietly. "And I'm sorry, Remus."

Remus shook his head. His hands were clasped tightly together, his knuckles white. "I understand why you're upset. It's quite unsettling to hear-"

"No," Harry said, his throat clogged. "I'm sorry you've been treated so badly."

Remus' head came up slowly; his brown eyes were wide. "I…" He cleared his throat and at a snail's pace his fingers uncurled. "Thank you."

Harry bunched his shirt up, gave it a sharp tug as he said quietly, "I know you didn't want me to know. I didn't mean to find out." He shook his head, knowing that didn't make sense but Remus smiled at him. A sad smile but at least he wasn't angry.

"I've been afraid to tell you," he murmured.

"But why?"

Remus glanced at Sirius; Sirius squeezed his fingers. "I've never told anyone," Remus explained as he turned back to Harry. "Most witches and wizards don't like werewolves; won't associate with them. They are either too frightened or too prejudiced."

"But… er…"

"Whatever you want to ask me, Harry," Remus said, "please do." His face was stiff again and Harry didn't want to upset him; not after what Sirius had said. He hadn't really meant to upset Remus earlier either. He felt terrible for the way he'd acted. For the things he'd said to Sirius as well. Especially because his godfather had only been protecting Remus all along.

His eyes darted to Sirius, wanting to confirm that it was really all right. Sirius gave him a half-smile. "It's all right. I know you don't want to upset Remus," Sirius added softly, "but he truly did want you to know."

Startled by the pain in his godfather's voice, Harry struggled to remember what he'd wanted to ask. "Er… Have you… I mean, you haven't bitten anyone… have you?"

Remus' spine stiffened a little but he shook his head. "I was bitten when I was a child… by a man who had been insulted by my father."

Harry could only nod. "Erm… Were you the werewolf in the Shrieking Shack?"

"I spent full moons there during my years at Hogwarts."

Harry only asked a few more questions before Remus took over, answering questions before Harry thought to ask them.

"Does it hurt?" Harry asked after awhile, when Remus took a breath.

"It is the most painful thing I've ever experienced, though your mother assured me once that having you was much more excrutiating."

"Mum knew?"

Remus smiled. "She guessed one day. She was relieved, I think. She had decided I was dying."

"You're not, right?"

"Absolutely not."

Harry slid to the front of his cushion. "Why did she think you were dying?" he asked, intrigued.

"Well, I was in the infirmary every month… after a full moon. And I almost always reappeared with an injury—"

"Because that was before the Wolfsbane?"

Remus nodded; he'd already explained that bit. "Lily did some research and even pestered Madame Pomfrey until Madame Pomfrey had to take points to make her stop. So, she began spying on me. She eventually pieced everything together." He smiled. "Your mother was exceptionally clever."

"But how did Sirius and my dad find out?"

Remus' gave Sirius a sideways glance. "They were just nosy."

Sirius smiled. "Concerned about our friend."

Remus snorted. "Nosy," he said firmly to Harry. "It was wonderful, though, to have someone to share my secret with. It made the full moon easier. When your mother started becoming suspicious, Sirius used to try to confuse her by telling her false symptoms that I was having."

"Did it work?"

"Not particularly. Sirius isn't a very good actor."

"Thank you very much." Sirius kissed Remus' cheek as Remus tried to cover a yawn. "Tea?"

"That would be lovely. And while he's gone," Remus said to Harry, "I'll tell you all about the time Sirius and your dad attempted to cure me."

Harry watched his godfather walk away, guilt niggling his conscience and settling into his stomach.

"They found an old book in the library," Remus said, bringing Harry's attention away from the kitchen. "With cures for every ailment." He chuckled softly even as he yawned again. "None of them worked."

--

Harry pulled the brown and gold afghan from the back of the sofa. As carefully as he could, he draped it over Remus; it was a bit tricky since he was still sitting up. But Remus didn't even stir and once he was sufficiently protected from a chill, Harry went toward the kitchen.

He almost convinced himself to just go upstairs instead. Remus had given him the book back—minus the parts that he himself had written. But instead of making him happy as it had before, the book made him feel guilty.

Sirius was sitting at the table, waiting for the tea kettle. He looked up. He didn't smile.

Harry shifted the book between his hands. "Remus fell asleep…"

Sirius glanced toward the parlour, his eyes crinkling a bit with fondness. "He's all right," he said. "He's always exhausted after a full moon."

"Oh."

Sirius surveyed him as he closed the tin of tea leaves. "You on your way upstairs as well?"

Harry nodded. "I just…" Gathering his courage, he put the book in the middle of the table, close to Sirius. "Remus gave it to me. He said I could keep it."

Sirius pursed his lips as he looked down at the book and then again at Harry. He slid it back across the table. "Of course you should."

Tears tickled Harry's throat as he brought the diary to his chest. He nodded his thanks. Sirius smiled a little as he pushed himself up. "Go on to bed; it's late."

But Harry couldn't. "Sirius?"

Sirius paused on his way back to the tea kettle. Harry didn't know what he wanted to say, except to ask his godfather not to be mad at him. But of course he couldn't ask that and he didn't know how to apologize. So he shook his head. He turned away, the book digging into his stomach.

"Harry."

Harry pivoted instantly. Sirius had turned the flame off; his arms were crossed loosely over his chest.

"Thank you," he said, and Harry wasn't certain he'd heard correctly. "You made Remus very happy." Sirius smiled again, this time with all his usual warmth. "You're a good kid."

It wasn't the first time Sirius had said so, but all the same, Harry felt warm all over.

"And no matter what you do," Sirius went on, dropping his head a bit to capture Harry's gaze, "or how angry I am, I still love you."

Harry's throat felt too tight again. "Yeah?" He hadn't meant to say it but it was too late to call it back.

Sirius held out his arms. "Come here."

And this time, Harry went right in. Sirius' arms cinched him tight.

"Oy," he muttered into Harry's tangles, "you have no idea."

With his face smushed into his godfather's shoulder, Harry smiled.

Sirius pressed a kiss to the top his head, his voice a bit muffled as he said, "There's something else I want to tell you." He pulled his head back so that he could see Harry's face. "Something else that you can't tell anyone."

Harry nodded solemnly, pleased that Sirius trusted him. "I won't."

Sirius nodded, as if sealing a bargain between them. "When your dad and I… and Peter found out that Remus was a werewolf, we wanted to do something that would make the full moons easier for him."

"What did you do?"

An impish glint lent a sparkle to Sirius' eyes. "We read that werewolves react differently to animals than they do to humans," Sirius said. "And we decided that was the only answer."

"What was—" The rest of Harry's question died on his tongue. Sirius' body was changing; stretching and contorting in directions that it shouldn't.

Harry gaped at the huge black dog standing in the spot where his godfather had just been.

Except that this dog had soft grey eyes. Harry dropped to his knees. "Sirius?" He peered into… his godfather's eyes; the dog's tongue lolled out. And even though Harry knew dogs couldn't grin, this one was. The giant tongue flicked out, leaving a trail of drool along Harry's cheek.

"That tickles!"

The dog made a low sound, his body vibrating. Dogs definitely couldn't laugh! Harry laughed along with him though, unable to stop himself. He watched again, his eyes wide as the dog's fur began to ripple, and almost before he could prepare himself, Sirius was looking down at him again.

"Padfoot," he said, tilting his head as he grinned.

"Wicked," Harry breathed. Sirius took his hand and pulled him up.

"Your dad was a stag… Prongs," he added, making wiggling antlers with his fingers. Harry smiled slowly.

"And Moony because of the full moon?"

Sirius chuckled. "Clever lot, aren't we?"

Harry smirked but he was too excited to dwell on the rather obvious monikers. He grabbed Sirius' sleeve as he bounced eagerly on his toes. "Can you teach me how to do that?"

Sirius studied Harry thoughtfully. "I'm certain I could, but you might need to wait until you're a bit older. It takes quite a bit of magic to manage it."

"How old were you?"

"Fifteen."

Harry made a face. "That's two whole years."

Sirius chucked his chin, his lips quirked in amusement. "You'll live."

"I may not."

"You better," Sirius retorted as he steered him toward the stairs. "It would be a bit tricky to find another godson."

Harry nudged his godfather's ribs. "You'd never find one as brilliant as me."

"Not a chance," Sirius agreed with a quiet chuckle.

Chapter Text

Sirius kneaded the base of his neck as he crossed the corridor to his room, relieved that Harry was already nodding off. He briefly considered going downstairs immediately to wake Remus, dismissed the notion just as quickly. Remus would have a difficult time falling asleep again once he woke up; best to give him as much rest as he could get now.

So Sirius peeled off his shirt, tossed it on the bed and went into the loo. Once he spelled the water on, he watched his reflection in the mirror opposite until it disappeared behind the steam, Harry's accusation playing over and over in his head.

My dad would have told me.

Harry hadn't meant it; silly to fret over words, Sirius told himself firmly. And everything was perfectly all right between them now. Harry had been cheerful as he bounded into bed, asking Sirius again to teach him how to be an Animagus.

Something that James would have loved to do. He had talked of almost nothing else after he found out Lily was pregnant. All the things he was going to teach his new generation of Potters. Teaching Harry to become an Animagus was at the top of his list—right behind taking him for his first broom ride.

James had missed that one too.

Bloody tosser. Getting himself killed.

Sighing deeply, Sirius swiped an arm across the mirror's surface and watched the steam obscure the space again.

At least now there were no more secrets.

It could have been worse, he told himself as he moved away from the sink, finished disrobing and stepped under the shower's spray. He'd always known Harry would feel no differently about Remus once he learned the truth. Sirius was rather proud of the kid, all told. And Remus—well, Sirius hadn't seen Remus so happy in a long time.

Sirius let his forehead rest against the stone wall; he closed his eyes as the water pelted his back for long minutes, finally soaping up when he remembered Remus was downstairs.

Considering the circumstances, he mused as he absently circled the soap over his chest, Harry had been extraordinarily mature about the whole thing once he realized how much Remus was hurting. And Sirius could hardly blame him for the way he'd acted prior to that. Even if Harry's harsh words did still sting.

Bloody tired, that's what he was, Sirius decided as he lathered his hair and rinsed, then watched the bubbles spin lazily down the drain. He needed to wake Remus and then the two of them could curl up in bed. Remus would probably appreciate a massage.

Sirius smiled to himself as he chose a dark green towel, quickly ran it through his hair and then wrapped it around his waist. Massage… a little oil perhaps. And a naked Remus. All in all, a rather brilliant plan.

Clearing another patch of steam off the mirror, Sirius thumbed his chin… a bit of stubble; could definitely do with a shave—

He started as strong arms wrapped around his waist; smiled as he found Remus' reflection next to his own. "Hey," he said softly as he put a hand over his husband's, "I was just about to fetch you."

"Mm," Remus murmured as he pressed his nose into Sirius' damp hair and breathed deeply. "Should have fetched me before your shower."

"Thought you'd like to sleep…"

Remus smiled against his neck. "Rather than share a shower?"

Sirius chuckled. "No?"

Remus swept the long hair away from Sirius' back and pressed several slow kisses along his shoulder. "Absolutely not."

Sirius arched his neck, giving Remus access for another set of kisses. "I did think of something else we could do…"

"Did you?" Remus' warm breath sent goose pimples up Sirius' neck.

Sirius had to concentrate on not letting the words escape. "… massage… might be nice."

Remus' fingers dipped below the towel on either hip. "Might be…"

--

Limbs tangled as they waited for breath to return, neither was in any hurry to move; both murmuring the sorts of nonsense that only worked when two bodies were no longer separate.

And Sirius decided he could stay this way forever, Remus' weight against his back. Except that the tap was digging painfully into his stomach. And the soap dish might be permanently attached to his elbow.

"Moony…"

Fingers trailed through his tangled hair. "Hmm?"

"That was…" Bit difficult to express himself with the edge of the sink attacking his diaphragm.

"Brilliant?"

"Perfect."

"Mm, yes…" Remus kissed his neck again, this time teasing the skin with teeth. "How long until you admit you can't breathe?"

Sirius smiled, no longer caring about the discomfort. "When you stop doing that."

Remus' chuckle vibrated through his skin and after one last slow kiss, he pulled away. A bit of a groan and Sirius was upright and facing Remus again. "Getting too old for that," he said, scrubbing a hand across his abused torso.

"You're thirty-three."

Sirius pulled Remus close, his concerned gaze tracing over the deep shadows under his husband's eyes. "How are you feeling?"

"Not as old as you apparently."

"That's because you're younger than me."

"By an entire six weeks."

"Practically an eternity, Moony… Just imagine how you'll feel when I'm forty and you're still in your thirties."

"Like I'm married to an old man?"

Sirius nodded; feigned a long-suffering sigh. "Well at least warn me before you start looking for someone younger."

"How much notice would you like?"

"At least as much time as it will take me to find someone as ancient as me."

Remus smiled. "That much?"

Sirius kissed his nose. "Funny." He twined their fingers. "I'm cold… let's go to bed."

"I didn't think I would be as relieved as I am," Remus said once he and Sirius had pulled on pajamas and were sliding under the warm quilt.

Sirius smiled. "You're happy he knows then?"

"I wish he hadn't overheard us, but yes, I am happy he knows the truth now." Remus sighed as Sirius adjusted the quilt around them. "I am sorry I wasn't there to help with his initial anger though."

Sirius debated his response as he shifted onto his side and pulled Remus against him, a hand splayed possessively over his husband's stomach; settled on, "He just needed time to adjust."

"I don't think I've ever seen Harry so angry… not like that."

Sirius shrugged; kissed the edge of one of Remus' broad shoulders. "He was a bit hurt that we hadn't told him. He understood though."

"After he saw how upset I was, yes," Remus agreed. "Did you sort things out between you before he went to sleep?"

"I introduced him to Padfoot."

"Did you?"

"He wants me to teach him to be an Animagus."

"He's a bit young, isn't he?"

"His magic is more mature than most children his age," Sirius said. "He could probably manage it." He could feel Remus nodding in the dim light.

"I have no objections," he finally said, sounding confused.

Sirius didn't answer, not wanting to explain that part of him would very much not like to. Stupid to fret over taking something from a man who had been dead for twelve years.

"Sirius? Are you asleep?"

"No," Sirius murmured into his shaggy hair as he concentrated on the rise and fall of Remus' chest. "Just happy you're home. Missed you last night."

Remus turned so that he could see Sirius' face. Sirius didn't really want the scrutiny so he leaned in for a kiss. Remus kissed him back, his thumb tracing a line against Sirius' jaw.

"I thought you would be more excited to finally be able to teach Harry to become an Animagus," he said when Sirius pulled back. "You and James talked of nothing else after he was born."

"I am looking forward to it," Sirius said. "You need sleep," he said, with another quick kiss. "Unless you would like that massage? Accio—"

"Sirius." Remus' fingers caught his hand, lowering it and Sirius swallowed the rest of the spell. Remus frowned in the dim light. "What is it?"

"You're always sore after the full moon," Sirius said with a strained smile, knowing full well that that wasn't what Remus was referring to. "A massage usually helps."

"That isn't what I meant," Remus said quietly.

Sirius sighed. He straightened the quilt as he rolled onto his back. "It's nothing. It's stupid."

"Harry isn't still angry with you, is he?"

Sirius glanced at him, having not expected the affronted pitch of Remus' question. "No, no," he said quickly. "Everything's fine."

"Then what's the matter?"

"Nothing," Sirius said, hoping it would close the matter. "It isn't important."

Remus propped himself on an elbow. "Sirius, I know you have this idea that, near the full moon, I'm fragile somehow—"

"I don't think that."

Remus cocked his eyebrows. "Yes you do," he said, his voice gentle; fond, even though it was also lightly chiding. "You always have, ever since we were thirteen. I transformed last night, and I am exhausted but that doesn't mean I need to be shielded from anything. Especially not when it comes to you. Something is troubling you and I want to know what it is."

Sirius sighed, not entirely convinced that any of this needed to be said. "I don't like quarreling with Harry."

"I know you don't," Remus said quietly, reaching for his hand. "It's one of the things I love about you—"

Sirius smirked. "That I don't like to quarrel with Harry?"

"You don't like to quarrel with anyone," Remus said, smiling. "But no, I meant that I love how much you love him. You told me when I first found the two of you, that loving Harry was effortless, do you remember?"

Sirius nodded. He would never forget any part of that day.

"By the time I arrived," Remus said, "it was as if you had always been his father."

Sirius stared at him, feeling as though he'd just been kicked in the stomach. He turned his face to the ceiling, years of guilt colliding together and threatening to crush him. "James is his father."

"So are you."

Sirius turned his head, found Remus' soft brown eyes and he heard himself whispering words he had never meant to say, "I'm jealous of him."

Remus leaned down until their foreheads met and Sirius closed his eyes, the ache traveling to his throat and lodging itself firmly there. After a moment, Remus lifted his head just a little. "Will you please tell me what happened?"

It took a long minute before Sirius finally opened his eyes. "He was angry that I didn't tell him that you are a werewolf. He… said that James would have."

Remus frowned. "He shouldn't have said that to you."

"He was hurt that we kept it from him," Sirius said, shrugging. "And I had just lost my temper."

Quietly, Remus said, "I'm very sorry that I put you in that position, Sirius; having to lie to him. I should have told him earlier, as you wanted to."

"It doesn't matter now."

Remus' fingers pressed against Sirius' cheek, thumb brushing his lips and down his chin. "He didn't know what he was saying."

"I know."

"And James would not have told him."

Sirius smiled. "I know."

"That kid bloody well adores you," Remus said, nearly scowling.

Sirius laughed, which dislodged most of the sting still clogging his throat. "Come here…" He pulled Remus to him, as close as he could; shut his eyes again as Remus' arms cinched him tight. With absolutely no sign that he was going to let go for the rest of the night.

--

Remus paused outside Harry's door, uncertain if this was the right way to proceed. But he felt convinced that were the positions reversed, it would be Sirius standing here, which made the decision much easier. Drawing in a calming breath, Remus knocked on the door.

The door opened. Harry was hopping on one foot as he tugged a sock on with one hand, the other still on the knob. "Hi," he said, out of breath.

Trying very hard not to smile, Remus asked, "Good morning. May I come in?"

"Sure." Harry hopped backward and plopped onto the bed. He bent over and finished putting on the sock, then looked up expectantly. Remus took the trainers off the desk chair; handed them to Harry.

"Thanks," Harry said as he put his feet on the quilt and pulled the trainers on, tying them swiftly. "Is breakfast ready?"

Remus sat on the chair. "Sirius just went downstairs to make it."

"Oh." Harry looked a bit confused, glancing toward the door and back at Remus. Remus cleared his throat.

"I wanted to thank you," he said, finding an easy tone with little difficulty. Harry's confusion deepened. "For being so understanding about my being a werewolf."

"Oh." Harry shrugged as he pretzled his legs, making himself more comfortable on the bed. "You can't help it."

"But unfortunately, most people would not have taken the news quite as well as you did."

Harry cocked his head, studying him and for a moment, Remus was unnerved. Until Harry said, "But you're just you."

The innocent assessment unlocked a very deeply held store of emotions in Remus' chest. He smiled. "I am very grateful that you understand that, Harry. Though I should have known that you would. I do apologize for not telling you sooner."

"Well," Harry allowed, "I guess I get why you didn't. I mean, it's a pretty big secret." He frowned a little. "I should have figured it out… because everything makes more sense now.

"How so?"

"You were always ill after your trips," Harry said thoughtfully. "And that's why you couldn't adopt me, yeah?"

More than a little startled at the question, it took Remus nearly a full minute to nod while Harry fiddled with his shoelaces. "A werewolf isn't allowed to adopt a child."

"I know."

Remus frowned. "Has it bothered you that I never formally adopted you?"

"I just thought it was because we had the bonding ceremony."

Remus leaned forward a little. "I would adopt you if I could," he said quietly. "I've always wanted to."

Harry nodded, not quite smiling, and Remus sighed as he sat back.

"I'm sorry about that as well," he said. "Sirius worried that it might bother you, but I thought you would mention it to us if it did." He shook his head, wondering how it was possible that he'd been so very wrong. "Sirius wanted to tell you all along. It was solely my decision not to."

Harry didn't say anything. Feeling uncertain again, Remus fumbled with how to begin the conversation that had brought him in here. "It's all right if you still feel a bit upset that I didn't tell you… I know you were angry when you and Sirius first spoke about it." He was surprised when Harry dropped his gaze to his lap; to his knotted fingers.

"Guess so," he mumbled.

"You said some hurtful things to him."

Harry's eyes flew up.

"It's fairly easy to tell when Sirius is distressed," Remus explained gently, not wanting Harry to think his godfather had volunteered the information. "I woke up after you went to sleep and I could see he was still unhappy over your row."

Harry's eyes darted back to his knees, just for a second until Remus went on, "It took a bit of prodding on my part, but he did finally tell me that you said you thought James would have told you about my being a werewolf, when Sirius didn't."

Harry's face burned crimson. Remus frowned. "You knew how hurtful that would be?"

Harry shook his head. "I didn't mean it…"

"You didn't mean what?" The question came out sharper than Remus had intended and Harry immediately looked away; he shrugged.

This was not going as he'd planned it, but Remus bit back a sigh and said quietly, "Do you understand why it would be hurtful to Sirius to be told by you that he isn't doing something as well as your father might?"

His cheeks still pink, Harry nodded.

"Look at me, please." Harry did. "Even if you are angry," Remus went on, "that is not an excuse to say something like that—not to Sirius, especially."

Harry swallowed. "I know," he said, very quietly.

"I don't ever want to hear that you've said anything like that to Sirius again," Remus said firmly, leaning in a bit to make his point.

"I won't," Harry promised, several worried lines appearing as he scrunched his brow.

Remus smiled at him. "Good." He stood and gripped Harry's shoulder briefly. "Breakfast will be ready by now. Shall we go down?"

Harry slid off the bed, his soles thumping softly against the floor. He didn't say anything as they went downstairs together, and Remus hoped he hadn't bollixed this up completely.

"Eggs and bangers," Sirius said cheerfully as soon as they came into the kitchen. "And blueberry pancakes. Morning, kid."

"Morning…" Harry made his way over to Sirius slowly, startling his godfather a moment later as Harry gave him an impromptu hug. Sirius smiled down at him, returning the sideways embrace with his spatula arm and planting a quick kiss to Harry's tousled hair.

"Want to help me with the pancakes?" he asked and Harry nodded, taking the proffered spatula with a smile. "Think they're ready to be flipped."

Remus smiled as he watched them. The two of them; grinning together as they created faces with the blueberries. Both chortling at their clever interpretation of Dumbledore, complete with half-moon spectacles and a triangular-ish pancake hat. He handed them a small tub of clotted cream as he came to stand beside Sirius.

"For his beard," he explained.

Harry and Sirius shared a grin. "Brilliant!"

And once the Dumblecake, as christened by Harry, was properly adorned, the three of them tucked in.

Chapter Text

"Upside down," Harry decided with a firm nod.

But Draco shook his head as he studied the painting. "Looks silly that way."

"It does not," Hermione agued for the third time. "It's meant to be upside down."

"How do you know?" Ron asked.

"Because," Hermione retorted, "it's been that way the entire time we've been here. Probably even before that."

"Then why does it look wrong?"

"Because you haven't an eye for art."

"I have so! I like art!"

"If you two don't quit quarreling, Peeves is going to overhear and alert Filch," Draco hissed, backing up until he bumped the stone wall. His eyes darted up and down the long corridor.

"Would you calm down?" Ron said with a heavy sigh of annoyance. "Filch isn't going to go find your father to tell him you blew up part of the wall."

"It isn't blown up!"

"Be quiet," Harry said quickly, sensing that Draco's head was in danger of exploding. "Ron's right though."

Ron nodded, his chest puffing out a little. "Yeah. Filch isn't even clever enough to realize your father is here with the other governors."

Draco didn't look convinced.

Hermione sighed. "Why don't we just tell McGonagall? It isn't as though you meant to put a hole in the wall."

"Oh brilliant plan, Hermione," Ron said as he leaned against the bits of charred stone which the painting didn't hide. "We'll just explain that Harry and Draco were practicing their dueling and hope she understands."

"She will probably take points or assign a detention." As Ron opened his mouth to retort, she added, "She'll assign more if she finds out some other way."

"No one is finding out," Draco said, his chin lifting in the defiant way it did when he felt insulted. "The last time I got into trouble with McGonagall, my father said it had best be the only time."

"You didn't do it on purpose," Hermione reminded him in her most reasonable tone.

"We're not supposed to be casting spells in the corridors," Harry said with a small sigh. He wasn't particularly concerned about losing a few points—and even though he would prefer not to have a detention, it hardly seemed worth all this fuss just to avoid an irate Mr Malfoy. But then, Harry very seldom worried about irate parents, especially not over such a minor infraction. "Look," he said while Draco fiddled with the large painting—trying to find a way to cover up the gaping wound in the wall, "I'll just tell her it was me. I'll say I was mucking about with my wand."

"Harry," Hermione scolded, "it isn't right to lie—"

"Hermione," Ron moaned. "It isn't like he's going to be telling a real lie."

She crossed her arms over her chest, but Harry intervened before she had a chance to begin a long-winded lecture on the merits of honesty. "It was my fault as well," he said. "I'll just be telling her that part—"

"But it was Draco's spell—"

"Honestly, Hermione," Harry snapped before he could stop himself, "it isn't as though I'm asking you to lie!"

Hermione's mouth closed with a muffled pop as she drew herself up. "Fine," she said in a tight voice. "Go ahead and be foolish, but don't whinge to me when you get yourself into even more trouble." And with that, she spun away and stalked down the corridor, her bushy hair flouncing indignantly against her back.

"Girls," Ron muttered once she'd rounded the far corner.

"Oh shut up," Harry grumbled. Ron's eyebrows scrunched in confusion but he made no further comment. Harry ran his fingers down his sleeve, scratching at itches that didn't exist. "I'll go find McGonagall," he finally said when he realized they were all still staring down the corridor. He saw Ron giving Draco what might have been a significant look, but Draco didn't seem to notice. Or if he did, he paid no mind to it and fell in step beside Harry. Ron sighed and took up post along Harry's other shoulder.

"Draco!"

The three boys twisted as one entity. Theodore Nott was coming toward them. He handed a sheaf of parchments over to Draco as soon as he was close enough.

"Thanks for letting me borrow them."

"Potions notes," Draco explained to Ron and Harry as he folded the parchments over and tucked them under an arm.

"Where are you going?" Nott asked as he joined the trio.

"To find McGonagall," Ron offered. "Harry blew up a wall."

Harry rolled his eyes, which Ron answered with a shrug.

"Just trying to help…"

Nott's black eyebrows peaked. "Why did you blow up a wall?"

"Just seemed the thing to do," Harry muttered.

"So why are you telling McGonagall then? She'll take points, not that I mind Gryffindor losing a few." He nudged Draco's ribs. "Why are you letting Potter turn himself in? Aren't you supposed to be his mate or something?"

"He isn't letting me," Harry cut in before Draco could answer. "And I'm telling her," he said pointedly, "so that no one else will get in trouble."

Nott stared at Harry through quizzical eyes. "You are a right strange one, Potter," he finally declared. "Hey Draco, I didn't know your father was here," he said, as his gaze shifted.

Harry's stomach swooped as soon as he followed Nott's eyes. Because not only was Mr Malfoy standing near the enchanted staircase, but so was Sirius. And McGonagall.

"Still want to confess, Potter?" Nott asked, breathing out a soft chuckle. "That is your godfather, isn't it?"

Harry didn't answer. Draco shifted his eyes sideways, but he didn't suggest that Harry not take the blame for the large, slightly-smoking hole in the wall down the corridor. And, in fact, his silvery eyes were a bit larger—more desperate than usual. Harry had no time to consider how much that irritated him though; Sirius looked up then. His solemn expression melted away—just around the eyes and he waggled his dark eyebrows. Harry smiled, and had to nibble the corner of his lip to keep from laughing.

Not there was any rule against laughing in the corridors.

Closing the distance between himself and Sirius, Harry decided it would probably be better to let Filch discover the crumbling section of castle wall—he could take the blame then just as well. Or perhaps he'd tell McGonagall after dinner.

Lying to her was one thing. Lying to Sirius was something else altogether. Not that he'd be lying to Sirius, really. And it wasn't even a lie. He scowled to himself. It was just like Hermione to leave her words to rap against his brain. When she wasn't even here!

Bloody irritating, that.

"Mr Malfoy," McGonagall greeted with a warm smile when she noticed the four boys, "I was just telling your father how well you performed on your last Transfiguration exam."

A pleased flush immediately coloured Draco's face. His father's smile was so tiny that Harry wouldn't have even known it was meant to express his approval if Draco hadn't made himself a little taller just then.

"Between the two of you," McGonagall added with a nod for Harry, "and Miss Granger, I am never disappointed."

Harry caught Sirius' pleased grin, which sent its own prickles across Harry's cheeks. "Neither are we," his godfather said and Harry ducked his head. Definitely, he was going to have to wait to tell his Head of House about the wall.

"You are doing fine work in my class as well," she said to Ron, who was looking a bit crestfallen. "I told your mother as much not five minutes ago."

Ron grinned, seeming not to notice her praise hadn't been quite as fawning. But at least he'd got some; Nott didn't look like he was waiting for any.

"Harry has something to tell you, Professor," he spoke up, a little grin on his face. "He could hardly wait to find you."

McGonagall's eyebrows went up. "Oh?"

"Erm…" Harry very carefully didn't look at his godfather; wished he didn't have to look at Draco either, who had gone rigid beside him. Or Nott, who was a stupid prat.

Harry wiped his hands along his trousers' seat and nodded. "Yeah. I was coming to find you because… I was practicing a few spells with my wand… in the corridor and I know we're not supposed to," he added hastily, fairly tripping over the words. "But well… the wall sort of exploded a bit." He grimaced at the end, and tried to sort out his shoulders which had a very bad habit of tumbling into his neck when he was nervous. Technically, he hadn't lied. "I'm sorry."

McGonagall's eyebrows rose higher, though honestly, it shouldn't have been possible, with the way they were practically sitting above her hair already. "Exploded?" she echoed, and Harry was surprised that she wasn't speaking in that sharp voice she sometimes used when she was really angry—like that time Draco had broken Terry's nose and Harry had been sent home to detail his own crimes.

"There's a hole…"

McGonagall sighed, the sound gusty but still not particularly angry. "Very well, Potter," she said. "I will tend to it." Her eyes sharpened and Harry braced himself; he could feel Sirius' eyes on him. "This is precisely why students are restricted from using their wands in the corridor."

Harry nodded quickly. "Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry."

McGonagall pursed her lips. "Ten points for disobeying a very clear rule, Mr Potter." Harry felt his face getting hot, but he nodded stoically. She smiled then and Harry forgot to be embarrassed as she added, "And fifteen for your honesty."

Harry's face felt like it was on fire then, especially when he saw Ron's cheeks puff out as he fought with laughter. Harry decided then that it would be very nice to punch his best mate in the jaw. Or at least shove him into the lake.

"You're awarding him points?" Nott sputtered indignantly.

"Honesty is to be commended, Nott," McGonagall said, failing to look anything but cheerful. "I will see all of you at dinner… oh, except you, Draco. Your father has plans for you."

"Minerva," Sirius halted her exit with his soft voice. "I'd like to take Harry for a few hours as well." Harry couldn't decide if his godfather wanted to scold him for blowing up the corridor, but Sirius' wink in the next second silenced that thought. "I'll return him before curfew."

"Certainly, Sirius. Good evening." With that, McGonagall went off down the corridor, toward the hole in the wall.

Draco craned his neck to look up at his father. Mr Malfoy smiled that tiny smile again and settled a hand on Draco's shoulder. "Your mother is shopping in Hogsmeade. I thought you might like to join us."

"Yes sir," Draco said, nodding eagerly, with a grin that looked like it might crack his face, and Harry was glad he'd told the not-quite lie.

Mr Malfoy turned to Nott, "Theodore, would you care to accompany us?"

"Yes, sir!"

"Excellent," Mr Malfoy approved. "We will find Aurora and inform her that you are coming along." Mr Malfoy gestured the way to the dungeons and Sinistra's office.

"He might have at least thanked you," Ron mumbled under his breath. Harry elbowed him sharply in the ribs. "Ow! Bloody hell, Harry… er, sorry, Sirius," he said quickly. Sirius looked like he was trying not to smile, but otherwise made no comment.

"Oy, you two!" Dean's voice called from farther up the stairs.

"Coming to dinner?" Fred called from behind him.

"Hi Sirius!"

Sirius greeted the small contingent of Gryffindors tramping down the stairs, including Hermione who said a perfectly pleasant hello to Sirius and then stomped away without even a glance for Harry.

"What did you do to Hermione?" George asked curiously.

Sirius was frowning again, deeper with confusion, a questioning look for Harry. Harry willed his face—and his neck while he was at it—to keep its embarrassment to itself and shook his head. "Nothing."

Ginny, coming up from behind with a group of first years, gave him a squinty look as she passed.

"She stormed into the common room five minutes ago," Lee piped up, "stuffed about a zillion books into her bag and stormed out again."

"Yeah, we figured it was Ron's fault."

"Nope," Ron said cheerfully. "See you later, Harry!"

Harry adjusted his pack over his shoulders as he watched his chattering friends lope down the same corridor where McGonagall had just gone.

"Here," Sirius said, reaching over to relieve Harry of his backpack. He tapped it once with his wand and it shrunk.

"Thanks…" Harry stuck the miniaturized backpack into his pocket. "You know loads of silent magic," he said thoughtfully as they went out the front doors and down the wide steps.

Smiling down at him, Sirius said, "You'll be able to do just as many nonverbal spells someday; probably more."

"Yeah?" Harry asked, but really he didn't think so. Sirius was brilliant at magic.

"I think your dad performed more silent spells than not," Sirius told him. "Your mum as well." He chuckled. "They spent most of their seventh year trying to outdo one another, I think."

Harry smiled, as he always did when Sirius spoke about his mum or dad. Even lately, when the cozy feeling was accompanied by something else; Harry wasn't really certain what to name it. But it crept up on him now and it had, ever since Remus had scolded him for saying that Dad would have told him about Remus being a werewolf, when Sirius hadn't.

It was a mixed up kind of feeling—something about having four parents did that to a person, Harry guessed. And of course he knew that he shouldn't have said that to Sirius. And not only because he had no idea what his dad would have done. Mostly, it had just been an awful thing to say. He'd tried to explain that to Remus. He'd also wanted to tell Remus that he had already sworn to himself that he would never say anything like it again. But Remus had a way of not really listening. Not like Sirius did. And he knew his godfather understood how sorry he was.

Sirius always understood.

Harry realized they'd stopped walking. He stared at the arms of the Whomping Willow as they slashed the air and then he squinted up at his godfather. "What are we doing here?"

Sirius grinned as he stooped down and plucked a stick from the ground. "I want to show you something."

Intrigued by the mysterious tone, Harry watched as his godfather waved his free hand and the stick hovered in the air for a second and then with a further prompting from Sirius' fingers, it floated toward the Willow. Dodging between the striking branches, the stick wound its way toward the trunk and poked a large knot.

The branches fell silent.

"Wicked!"

Sirius chuckled. "It is, isn't it? Come on," he said and slipped in between the lower branches. Harry followed after, watching with a smile creeping up as Sirius grasped two close branches and hoisted himself up. He offered Harry a hand up as soon as he was perched.

"Is this the tree that you and Dad used to climb?" Harry asked as he circled a hand around a slender branch and levered himself up the trunk so that he was a bit higher than Sirius.

"Remus as well," Sirius answered with a nod.

"Is Remus already at the cottage?" Harry thought to ask; it was a full moon.

"Yep. I'm going there myself later." Sirius squinted against the sun as he craned his neck to study Harry. "Brilliant view, isn't it?"

Harry let his arms dangle over an adjacent branch as he gazed out over Hogwarts' grounds. He could even see Hagrid's hut from here. And the lake. "Yeah…"

"Professor Dumbledore planted this for Remus."

Harry brought his eyes back to his godfather.

Sirius' eyes smiled. "Another secret." He gestured to the roots. "A tunnel leads to the Shrieking Shack. The branches were meant to keep curious students away."

"Is that how you went there… when you were in your Animagus forms?"

"Yes indeed," Sirius answered as he shifted to find a better grip on the branch. "It was foolish of us, I realize now."

"How do you mean?"

Sirius locked his arms at the elbow so that he was steady before answering, "Wandering about during a full moon… with a werewolf. If something had happened, no one would have known how to find us."

Harry swung himself forward slightly and plopped onto a lower branch so that he was closer to eye level with his godfather. He smiled slightly as Sirius relaxed out of his sudden tension, brought on by Harry's abrupt movements.

"But Remus…" Harry wasn't certain what he wanted to say, but he must have looked very confused because Sirius reached out a hand to grip his knee gently.

"We did it for Remus," he reassured. "It wasn't something we did simply in fun—not like the pranks we used to concoct. Remus needed us, and I don't regret it." Sirius smiled, obviously sensing Harry's persisting confusion. "Sometimes you make choices that are both right and wrong."

Harry chewed on the inside of his lip as he thought that over. Sort of like his not-exactly-a-lie to McGonagall. And even though he was thinking about that, he said, "I'll bet Dumbledore knew."

"Why do you say that?"

"Dumbledore knows everything that happens before the other teachers do… it's like he's really three people or something."

Sirius studied him for a long minute. "Well," he finally said, "I did always wonder if he knew. Because you are right… he does seem to know more than most."

Harry thought about that as he and Sirius sat together, enfolded in the temperamental arms of the Whomping Willow. Sirius smiled at him, squeezed his knee and let his gaze wander over the sloping grounds.

And even though Sirius wasn't even looking at him, Harry could feel warmth creeping into his cheeks. "I didn't put the hole in the wall."

When Sirius turned his head, his grey eyes were attentive. "Draco?"

Harry wrinkled his nose as the sun peeked through the leaves and momentarily blinded him. He could tell by Sirius' tone, that his godfather had already known. Relieved, Harry nodded. He twisted out of the sun's reach, answering, "He thought his father would be angry if he was in trouble with McGonagall again."

"I suspect Professor McGonagall would have done the same for Draco as she did for you," Sirius said. "She's rather fond of her Gryffindors," he added with a smile full of memories.

Thinking of the five points he'd unfairly earned, Harry admitted, "Draco was trying out a spell on me when the wall exploded, so it was sort of my fault." He watched his godfather's expression carefully, and ventured, "You're not angry, are you?"

"I'm not," Sirius assured him with a smile. "Don't make a habit of firing off spells in the corridors, though. Wouldn't want you or your friends to be hurt."

"I won't."

Sirius nudged the side of Harry's chin with his knuckles. "And I'm proud of you for wanting to protect Draco."

"You are?"

"I am."

"Hermione didn't think I ought to…"

"Ah." Lips undecided between frown and grin, Sirius tilted his head. "Hermione thinks with her head, rather than her heart. And in most cases, she would probably be right, but in this one, I do understand why you didn't tell McGonagall all the details."

"I shouldn't have got those five points though…"

"You've a good heart, mate," Sirius said quietly, as he settled palms on his thighs. "You were worried for your friend, which is something I love about you." New warmth bloomed on Harry's cheeks. "But I don't want you to feel as though you have to take responsibility for your friends' actions," Sirius went on, "especially if it might hurt you at the end."

Unsure what Sirius meant, Harry asked, "If McGonagall had docked more points?"

But Sirius shook his head. "Do you remember when Ollivander told you that you can't always help, even when you want to? Because you might make the situation worse or harm yourself?"

Harry nodded; he was never going to forget that.

"This is another way that you try to help people." Sirius leaned forward, solemn now. "And you won't always be able to. I am very happy that you care so much about others, but don't forget how important you are." He poked a gentle finger into Harry's ribs for emphasis.

The words made Harry's insides warm, no matter that they also confused him.

"You hungry?" Sirius asked in the next second. "Of course you are," he answered himself with a smirk. "When are you not?"

"Yesterday, nine o'clock," Harry retorted. "We were skinning eels for a potion. I didn't even eat lunch."

Sirius made a face. "No wonder you're so hungry."

"What are we eating?" Harry asked as he flopped to a lower branch.

"I brought a picnic. I thought we'd sit by the lake."

"What did you bring?"

"Oh, you know," Sirius said with an airy wave, "the usual. Frog innards and some of that lovely eel skin."

Harry stuck his tongue out. "You did not."

"Might have," Sirius said mischievously. Harry smiled, unable to help it when Sirius grinned like that.

"I'm glad you're my dad," he said suddenly. Sirius' eyes sparkled and his grin widened.

"Me too."

Harry smiled and slid off the branch, landing on the soft grass with a gentle plop. Sirius landed beside him. He mussed Harry's tangles into greater disarray and slid an arm over his shoulders.

They walked in easy quiet down the hill toward the lake.

"Do you think Hermione will be angry for long?" Harry asked as they crested the last knoll and could see rippling water.

Sirius gave his shoulder a comforting squeeze. "I shouldn't think so. You didn't cost Gryffindor points, after all."

"Yeah…" Harry squinted against the orangey sun. "I was a bit rude to her, I guess. She just kept on about Draco telling the truth," he quickly defended himself but Sirius' placid gaze didn't falter.

"Well," he said thoughtfully, "if you apologize, I'm sure she'll forgive you."

Harry hoped Sirius was right.

But Hermione was nowhere in sight when Sirius returned him to the portrait with a full belly. "Night Sirius!" But before he could leap through the hole, Sirius grabbed a handul of robe and tugged him back. "Oomph… Yeah?"

Smiling down at him, Sirius planted a hand on the top of his head. "I think Remus might like to talk to you tomorrow afternoon, if you have a few spare minutes between classes."

Harry nodded obediently. "OK."

With one last rumple for Harry's hair, Sirius said, "Off with you now, before Professor McGonagall tries to give me detention for keeping you out past curfew."

Harry laughed, and with a wave, he ducked into the common room.

"Look out!" Lavender protested as he skirted around the table she and Parvati were working at. A large blot of ink was spreading over her parchment.

"Sorry!" Without pausing, he waved his holly, chanted a quick "Evanesco," and continued on his way toward the fireplace where Neville and Ron were playing chess.

"Good job you're back," Ron muttered. "Neville's even worse than you."

"Don't be a prat," Harry said as he dropped into the only free chair.

"You can play a round with Harry if you want," Neville offered, but Harry shook his head, and gave Ron a pointed glare.

"Just ignore him," he advised his nervous blond friend. "He's a git."

"You're a git," Ron retorted, though his focus was on the move that Neville had just made. "Oy…"

Harry snorted. "Worse than me, eh?"

"Oh shut up."

Harry shared a grin with Neville, who took the game in another two moves. Ron flopped against the cushions in front of the fire, groaning, "Bloody hell."

The portrait swung open and Draco stepped through. He came over to them, pausing to glance at Ron before he sat on the couch. "Finally killed Ron, did you?"

"You wish," Ron said lazily. "Did you bring us anything from Honeydukes?"

"Mother insisted," Draco answered with a smile very like his father's. Ron bolted upright, grinning hugely as Draco deposited a large box on the table and began handing sweets around to everyone in the common room.

"Here," he said to Harry once everyone else was happily munching. "Know you like these."

Harry caught the almond toffee with a grin as it was tossed through the air. Draco smiled as well and the two of them settled in to watch the rematch between Neville and a very determined Ron.

--

"Because you're lazy," Harry explained patiently to Ron the next morning, after his ginger friend had demanded to know why Harry wouldn't quit poking him. "And if you don't get up, you'll be late to Defence."

"I'll just ask Lockhart how I can make my hair as shiny as his, and he won't care," Ron mumbled as he rolled over and smashed his face into the pillow.

"You'll miss breakfast," Draco called from in front of the mirror where he was combing his hair. "The elves always make sticky buns on Wednesdays."

Ron sat up, a bright grin on his face. "I knew you were useful for something, Draco," he said cheerfully and gathered up his uniform. He clapped Seamus on the back on his way into the loo with a boisterous, "Sticky Buns!"

Seamus gazed after him, finally shaking his head when Draco and Harry burst into laughter.

The four of them, with Neville trailing behind, trying to scribble the last of his essay for Defence, met Dean in the Great Hall for breakfast. Hermione was there as well, her attention on a tattered book as she ate toast and jam with the hand that wasn't turning pages.

"You should have finished that already," she said to Neville without even looking up. "Lockhart will be able to tell you hurried through it."

"He won't care," Dean said as Neville stared forlornly at his parchment, his quill limp in his hand now.

"Yeah, just add a sentence about how much you love his hair," Ron chortled and then shoved a sticky bun in his mouth.

Frowning, Hermione glanced up from her book. "That isn't funny."

"It's a little funny," Draco said as he chose a bun for himself from the platter. "Lockhart's a dimwit."

"If you say that just a bit louder," Hermione said icily, "maybe you will have your detention after all."

"Oh, leave off, Hermione," Ron scoffed. "McGonagall didn't even care about the wall." He licked a line of icing off his first finger. "Why are you so angry anyway? Harry earned five points."

Hermione didn't answer. "I'm going to class," she said pointedly. And with that, she swept her book up and left the table.

"She's awfully sore over a little lie," Neville said in between nibbles on his bun.

"She's sore at Harry." Ron gulped his milk and shot Harry a lopsided smile. "He shouted at her."

"I did not."

"Did so. You told her to mind her own business."

Harry didn't correct him. Maybe he hadn't used those exact words, but close enough.

Neville was frowning in obvious disapproval and Harry sighed. Seamus and Dean didn't seem to find any problem with the exchange and even Draco had no support. Probably because all of them had told her the same thing at some point or another.

"First class in five minutes," Percy reminded them importantly as he strutted past. All of them pulled out innocent faces as a sticky bun bounced off his head.

--

"I'll be up in a minute," Harry said as his friends scraped their books off their usual library table and tossed them into backpacks. He jiggled his mirror. "Sirius asked me to."

"Ask him if he knows how to spell a quill to write an essay by itself," Seamus said, adding one final book to his heavy pile. "I'll never finish this Potions essay."

Draco closed his backpack with a quiet schlip. "You have two days."

"Only two!"

"Term's only two more days," Ron said, rolling his eyes. "Sixteen inches by Thursday."

"Sixteen!"

"Mr Finnegan," Madame Pince scolded in her perpetual whisper, somehow popping up out of nowhere, "this is a library."

"Er, sorry," he said, jumping a bit as she made a shooing motion with her hand.

"See you at lunch, Harry," Ron said, sotto voce, as he and the other boys scrambled away. Pince eyed Harry disapprovingly but since she couldn't accuse him of being a nuisance, sitting by himself in a far corner of the library, she slipped back amongst her stacks.

Wanting to be safe from Pince, Harry waited for a few minutes. He added a few more lines to his Potions essay, before righting his mirror and calling quietly for Sirius.

He frowned when there was no answering disorientation across the mirror's face.

"Sirius," he repeated, a little louder. His own reflection stayed firmly fixed in front of him. He stared at his own face and tried to figure out if it could be broken. "Sirius." Nothing.

Harry squinted up at the clock along the far wall. Remus would have been fully human for six hours. Though he supposed Remus could be sleeping—maybe Sirius as well. Sirius had said to contact them in the afternoon. And it wasn't quite lunch. Sighing, Harry slung his bag over his shoulder and gathered his parchment and books, along with the mirror. He was halfway through the library when the mirror slid off his Potions text. "Shit," he muttered under his breath and nearly dropped the books as he bent to retrieve it. He teetered, but before he could fall, a familiar hand grabbed his wrist, steadying him. "Sorry," he breathed, not really knowing why that particular word emerged but Hermione didn't even seem to notice. She released his wrist and bent quickly to pluck the mirror from the floor. "Thanks…"

She tilted her head as she studied him. "Are you all right?"

Scrubbing a hand along his cheeks, now prickling with unwelcome warmth, he nodded.

She glanced down at the mirror as Harry shoved it into a pocket. "Were you talking to Sirius?" She didn't need to add, 'in the library?' for Harry to hear it in her tone.

"Yeah," he said, sorting his books so they'd make a neater stack. "Well, I was trying to," he amended. "He didn't answer."

Hermione's eyebrows peaked. "Did you check to see if it's broken?"

"Don't really know how to tell…"

A slow sparkle lit Hermione's eyes then, but she didn't ask to see it.

Harry shifted awkwardly and finally asked, "Do you want to try?"

Hermione was nodding eagerly before he even finished the question. He smiled and dropped the mirror into her waiting hands.

She traced the mirror's edge with her wand. "Rimore!" They waited, but the mirror did nothing but glow a faint blue.

"What was it supposed to do?"

Hermione looked up. "That means it isn't broken."

Harry smiled despite his frustration. "Detection spell?"

Hermione brightened. "I found it in an old text. It searches an object for broken magic—magic that isn't working as it should."

"Yeah?" Harry asked, intrigued.

"I have the book here," she said, her voice full of excitement. He reached out to take her bag, holding it while she flipped through the books inside. "Thanks. Here it is!"

She set it on a nearby table and they leaned over the text together when she found the right page. "Looks like you cast the spell correctly," Harry said. "Look at this spell, Hermione. It lets you see inside an object."

"It's like an x-ray machine. Muggle way to look inside things," she explained for him.

"Really?"

"My parents have one. For teeth. Maybe Sirius could bring you to see it over the summer."

Harry grinned.

She smiled.

He handed her the book so she could put it away. "What happened to your finger?" he asked, catching sight of the makeshift bandage wrapped around the first digit.

"Oh, just caught it in my trunk this morning." She held it up for his inspection. "My healing spells aren't quite proficient enough…"

"Why didn't you ask Pomfrey to mend it?" he asked as they walked out of the library and down the corridor toward the Great Hall.

"I went to the infirmary this morning, but she was just leaving… some sort of emergency. She was in a real state—frantic with worry about something. She told me to ask McGonagall."

"Wonder what the emergency was."

"I don't know," Hermione said with a little shrug. "Dumbledore was with her and they were both acting strangely."

"Well," Harry said, putting that aside, "we have Transfiguration after lunch so you can ask McGonagall then."

She nodded; glanced sideways at him. "Are you going to try your mirror again?"

"After lunch."

--

The mirror stayed silent.

"It's awfully strange, isn't?" Hermione asked as she attempted to turn her book into a jumper. Harry took a half-hearted go at his own book, his thoughts not on the lesson.

"Sirius usually keeps his mirror with him, doesn't he?" Draco added; he sighed when his book didn't as much as twitch.

Harry nodded, trying to ignore the flicker of unease in his gut.

"He probably went somewhere and left it at home," Neville said. He was having no luck with his assignment either. Harry didn't answer as the unease grew. Sirius wouldn't have gone out though; not today, after a full moon when Remus would be recovering.

Seamus grunted in annoyance as he swished his wand. "This is too hard," he complained.

"You might have more luck," McGonagall admonished as she came to stand by Harry's desk, "if you concentrated on your work, instead of your conversation. All of you."

Heads nodded, except Hermione who glanced at the professor and said to Harry, "Maybe you could ask Professor McGonagall for permission to use the floo."

McGonagall peered down her nose at Harry. "Why do you need to use the floo?"

"Er, I don't really," he said. The professor narrowed her eyes and Harry scratched his nails against his scalp as he considered. "Well, it's just that Sirius wanted me to contact him today, but he isn't answering when I use my mirror."

McGonagall stood a little straighter. "I am certain he is perfectly well, Mr Potter." In a rare display, she patted his shoulder. "No need to fret."

"But may he use the floo?" Hermione pressed as she turned away. McGonagall pivoted.

"No.." She sighed as Harry and his friends started at the rebuke. "You only have twenty minutes to transfigure your books," she reminded them, in a softer tone. "Please return to your work. And no more conversation."

Harry stared after McGonagall. He ignored Ron's prodding finger against his shoulder.

Why had McGonagall said no? He'd never been denied access to a floo.

"Harry, she's looking at you," Ron hissed.

Harry focused, and found his Head of House gazing at him. She pointed at the silent book on the table in front of him and Harry turned back to concentrating on his assignment. At least he hoped she would think he was concentrating. Instead, Sirius' words were floating through his brain. Sirius had said that Remus wanted to speak to him after the full moon. So why weren't either of them answering his summons?

Words about right and wrong jostled for space as well. Sirius' words as he'd explained that sometimes choices could be both right and wrong.

It was definitely wrong to use a school floo without permission.

But he probably wouldn't be able to use it anyway. He'd have to sneak into a professor's office for that. Maybe Dumbledore…

But Hermione said that Dumbledore left with Pomfrey this morning, and he hadn't been at lunch.

Harry's fingers strayed to the hidden pendant against his chest, his fingers tracing the outline through his shirt. Of course, he wasn't supposed to use it except in an emergency.

And this wasn't.

Except that something was clearly off here. Sirius never ignored a summons through the mirror. Not even the few times when Harry had called in the dead of the night.

His eyes darted to McGonagall again; she was busy showing Hannah Abbot how to hold her wand.

Why doesn't she want me to go home?

He could come up with nothing. And the pendant around his neck grew heavier as class wore on. It would work in the castle—Dumbledore had helped Sirius charm it so that it would, even though Portkeys didn't usually work on the grounds.

McGonagall couldn't forbid him from using his Portkey. It was his own personal property, after all. And he'd only be gone long enough to make certain Sirius and Remus were all right…

Harry excused himself from his friends' company as soon as McGonagall dismissed them, offering little by way of explanation except to gesture to his mirror. He ignored Hermione's sharpened gaze and went down the corridor until he found an empty classroom. He left his book bag on the table and tried the mirror one more time. When he got no response, he grasped the amulet and said clearly, "Portus."

The amulet warmed against his palm and before he was expecting it, the classroom dissolved around him. The world spun, faster and faster and then his arms and legs flailed as he was dropped unceremoniously onto a hard surface.

He pushed himself to hands and knees, his eyes sweeping over the dark space he'd landed in. Except it wasn't a dark space at all. Murky light spilled from above. It was crowded. And definitely not Grimmauld Place.

He had to scramble out of the way as someone nearly trampled him. Wasn't quite fast enough to keep his left foot out of harm's way. "Ow!" He jerked back as a scraggly-faced witch thrust her face close to his.

"Are you lost, boy?" she croaked. Harry stared at her, unable to speak. Her hand whipped out and latched onto his arm, not moving at all as he tried to twist away.

"Leave off!"

The witch squinted at him and then without warning, her long fingernails scraped along his forehead to push the fringe away. "It is," she breathed. "Harry Potter!"

"Harry Potter?" another crackly voice demanded and Harry was grabbed by another hand, spun around to face a tall wizard with black teeth. He leered down at Harry. "What have we here?"

Harry tried to pull away. The witch said shrilly, "I saw him first!"

There was a commotion behind them and a flash of wood in front of Harry's face. The point of a wand gouged the wizard's long neck.

"Let him go," a soft voice growled. Sudden relief made Harry's muscles limp.

The wizard's dark eyes widened. "S—Sirius Black…" He stepped away before he even finished speaking.

Sirius' strong arm cinched Harry's chest, and in one swift movement, he was pulled close. Sirius' wand hadn't moved. "Get out of our way," he said quietly. The stilled crowd parted. Sirius drew Harry close to his side, leaving the gawking witches and wizards behind. After several shop fronts passed by in a blur, Sirius ducked under a low awning and shoved a door open to the sounds of a cat hissing.

"Sirius?" an unfamiliar voice spoke over it.

Harry tried to look around, but Sirius didn't move his arm, where it was held like a manacle around Harry's chest. "Needed an escape," Sirius answered the query.

"Take your time," the man grunted. "That your son?"

"Yes," Sirius answered impatiently and then he turned Harry to face him. He gripped Harry's upper arms as he bent at the waist. "What happened?" he demanded; his face was stark white, except that half of it was covered in a purple bruise; Harry stared, too surprised to answer. "Are you all right?"

Harry nodded; the grip on his arms was uncomfortable; it didn't help that Sirius' fingers were trembling.

"How did you get here?"

"My portkey," Harry whispered.

"What happened?" Sirius asked again, in a voice high with fear this time.

"N-nothing," Harry stammered, feeling incredibly stupid now as he stared up at Sirius. At his haggard expression, the dilated pupils. Forehead dotted with perspiration. "You didn't answer when I used the mirror."

Sirius stared at him, his lips half-parted with confusion, or surprise, Harry wasn't certain. His mouth closed and opened twice before he found his voice. "You used the port key because I didn't answer your summons?"

Harry nodded, knowing he should explain that it had been more than that. About McGonagall and an odd feeling. And Dumbledore and Pomfrey being gone. Except all of that sounded idiotic now. He was about to apologize, but Sirius wrapped him in a fierce hug before he could.

"You frightened me out of ten years of my life," he murmured; still shaky. Harry listened to Sirius' heart pumping blood at twice its normal speed, and guilt quickly took over. "Did they hurt you?" Sirius demanded suddenly. He pushed Harry away, his grey eyes sweeping over every centimeter even when Harry shook his head. "You're certain?"

"Yeah."

Sirius hugged him again, this time crushing Harry's face into his shirt. He was about to protest that he couldn't breathe when Sirius muttered against the top of his head, "You are in loads of trouble." Sirius loosened his grip before Harry could think of anything to say to that.

The man in the shop didn't even appear to notice them. He was in a far corner of the dim room, scribbling something onto a parchment. Sirius kept a hand on Harry's shoulder as he cleared his throat. The man turned around.

"Carad, this is Harry. Harry, an old friend of Remus', Caradoc Dearborn."

Caradoc nodded, but he extended no hand in greeting. "Pleasure to make your acquaintance," he said in a gruff voice. Harry took an involuntary step backward into Sirius when the man stepped out of the shadowed corner. His face was a patchwork of scars, three of them traveling down his neck like twisted vines. His left eye was half-closed, the eyelid sutured together by a thick rope of scar tissue.

"How do, sir," Harry managed weakly.

Sirius' other hand came to rest on Harry's free shoulder. "Would you mind if I sent out my patronus, Carad? And then we'll be on our way."

"As you please."

Sirius bent down again, his breath tickling Harry's cheek as he whispered, "I assume that you didn't tell anyone you were leaving the castle?" He sighed when Harry shook his head. A moment later, Harry watched the great silver dog erupt from Sirius' wand. It darted through the bare back wall.

"Thanks Carad."

The humourless man nodded. "You'll send word of Remus?"

"As soon as I'm able," Sirius said quietly. "Come on, Harry."

Caradoc grunted once more and returned to his dark corner.

Sirius smoothed Harry's fringe over his scar. "Stay close," he murmured; his fingers gripped Harry's as they went out the hissing door. He held his wand at the ready once more.

"Sirius?" Harry finally dared to whisper once they had walked past several grimy shops—and one crazed-eyed witch holding a tray of fingers. "Where are we?"

"Knockturn Alley," Sirius answered in the same low tone. "Don't worry," he said in the same breath, "you'll be safe."

Harry wasn't worried though; not with Sirius beside him.

"Why did that man ask you to send word of Remus?"

"Hush now," Sirius said instead of answering. They had stopped in front of another dingy shop. "I can't answer all of your questions just yet," he said as he put a hand on the knob, "but Remus was injured and I need—"

The door in front of them swung open then. A tall man in never-ending black stared down at him. His eyes, as dark as his robes, flicked to Sirius and then back again to Harry. "You have your mother's eyes."

The words were an accusation and Harry was tongue-tied. The dark man stepped back, pulling the door open wide as he moved.

"Quickly," he ordered and Harry was pulled along with Sirius over the threshold. Sirius didn't loosen his grip once the door was locked with a spell.

"I apologize for the—"

The man in black cut Sirius off with a sharp wave of his hand. He held out two vials. "I will deliver the new potion to the headmaster when it is completed. Along with an explanation for the failure of the first; if there is one. You should not have come."

Sirius didn't answer straightaway. But when he did, his voice was scratchy. "I needed to. Remus is—"

"Knockturn Alley is not safe for him," the man interrupted, with another flick of eyes toward Harry.

Sirius swallowed. "I know…" His knuckles were turning white from his grip on the vials. "I wanted to thank you—"

"Don't." The other man's voice was cold; flat. Sirius gazed at him, his lips pinched in their most worried line. "My shop is often watched," the dark man went on in that same methodical voice. "There is a floo in the back."

He pivoted before Sirius could answer. After a moment, Sirius followed, with Harry alongside. The hand on his shoulder tightened when they reached the floo. "This is Severus Snape," he said.

Harry blinked up at the stranger. The stranger who had been friends with his mother. "You were friends with my mum?"

Severus' lips clamped together. He gave a sharp nod.

"And you found Pettigrew for us," Harry said, eagerness radiating through him.

Severus' lips were quickly turning white. He thrust a cracked pot at Sirius. Some of the glittering powder seeped through Sirius' fingers as he took a handful. He ran the back of the clenched hand along his upper lip, caught the line of moisture and left grains of powder near his nose. "Thank you," he said against the damp skin.

The other man said nothing. An odd sort of sigh escaped Sirius. He nudged Harry into the floo. Severus had already turned away. In a crackly voice, Sirius called out, "Number Twelve Grimmauld Place!" and they were whirled away.

Dumbledore was waiting in their parlour. He gave Harry only the barest of glances. His gaze zeroed in on the vials in Sirius' hand. He waved his fingers, and they wiggled out of Sirius' grip and whizzed out of the kitchen.

"Is he awake?" Sirius asked.

"No."

Sirius closed his eyes and with a brief nod, said quietly, "Snape says he will contact you when the new potion is ready. I need to speak with Harry."

"I will rejoin Poppy," Dumbledore said quietly. Harry watched him go, understanding finally filling in the gaps in his brain.

"Remus was hurt in his werewolf form?"

Sirius didn't answer. He bowed his head, the weight of his laced fingers making his neck droop further. "Yes." He let his hands fall, looking up when Harry didn't say anything. "The Wolfsbane wasn't as effective as it should have been."

Remembering that Remus could hurt himself when he hadn't had the Wolfsbane, Harry's stomach curled. "Is he…"

"Madame Pomfrey is taking care of him. He'll be well in a few days. You can't see him just now," he said, answering the question before Harry asked. Harry knew it must have been because they didn't want him to see any of Remus' injuries—especially if they were awful enough to leave scars like the ones Remus already had on his face.

Sirius sat heavily on the sofa. He hung his head into his hands, balancing arms on his knees. Uncertain, Harry stayed near the stairs. After a few minutes, Sirius straightened with another deep sigh and let his back fall against the cushions.

"Come here," he said tiredly. Harry hesitated for only a second before settling in beside his godfather. Sirius captured his head and tilted his face up. "Now," he said in that same weary voice, "explain to me what was going on in that head of yours."

Out of all the things that Harry wanted to talk about, leaving Hogwarts didn't even make the list.

"I don't know," he said, knowing that Sirius wouldn't accept that and hoping for a miracle anyway.

His luck diminished swiftly when Sirius pulled a disbelieving face. "You don't know why you used your portkey?"

"You didn't answer when I used the mirror."

Sirius sighed again and released him. "I'm sorry about that. I left it at the cottage." He closed his eyes as he let his head fall against the back of the sofa. Harry twisted so that he could properly see his godfather's face. It looked dreadful —that purple bruise was actually angry black. And it stretched down his stubbled chin.

Sirius cracked an eye, took in Harry's intent gaze and smiled a little. "It looks worse than it feels."

"Looks awful…"

Sirius squeezed the back of his neck, and then nudged Harry toward him. Harry let himself relax into Sirius' side, both of them propping their feet onto the low table—something Remus never liked them to do.

"What happened?" Harry finally asked.

Again that half-smile. "Nothing terribly exciting, I'm afraid. Bit clumsy is all."

Sirius didn't seem angry, Harry decided as he chanced another glance up at his godfather's face. He had closed his eyes again and Harry wondered if he'd fallen asleep. But his breathing was too uneven. Maybe Sirius was waiting for him to speak first.

If he was, Harry was staying well clear of the bottom of his list. Taking a breath, he dove in. "That was Severus Snape?"

Sirius' eyes opened, nodding when he found Harry's gaze. "Severus Snape," he recited slowly. "He is trying to find out why the Wolfsbane didn't work."

"I don't think he liked me."

"He doesn't like me," Sirius corrected. "Has nothing whatsoever to do with you. And Snape isn't the most effusive man. He doesn't show his emotions easily."

"Oh." More like Remus then. Harry fiddled with the edge of his school robes as he thought about that. "Why wouldn't he let you thank him?"

Sirius' fingers combed absently through Harry's hair. "I don't know."

Harry considered all the questions he wanted to ask; knew there was even more than he could think of. He didn't want to ask about Remus' injuries. Mostly because Remus had explained what had happened to him before the Wolfsbane. And he'd seen the look on Sirius' face when the headmaster had said that Remus wasn't awake.

"Are you certain Remus will be all right?"

"He's banged up a bit," Sirius assured him quietly. "He'll be just fine."

Harry accepted it because Sirius said it was so. He looked down when Sirius weighed the amulet on two fingers.

"May I?"

Harry leaned forward so that Sirius could lift the chain over his head.

"It was supposed to bring you to Grimmauld Place…" Sirius turned the amulet over and over in his fingers. "Do you have any idea how frightened I was when I heard your voice in Knockturn Alley?" He looked up, clearly waiting for an answer.

"I didn't know it would take me there," Harry said, hoping that might alleviate at least some of the sternness in the grey eyes.

"You aren't supposed to use this—" He gave the Portkey a pointed shake. "—unless there is an emergency."

The sofa was beginning to feel rather hard; Harry shifted. "I know—"

"I know you know," Sirius said, weariness laced through his tone. "If you were worried, why didn't you simply use the floo?"

"McGonagall said I couldn't."

Sirius frowned, but his eyes softened. "She shouldn't have," he said. "You can always come home, you know that."

"Well, she said I couldn't," Harry said sullenly.

Sirius sighed. "I think she misread the situation. But even so," he added with a leveled gaze, "you shouldn't have left Hogwarts."

Harry flicked his thumbnails together and didn't answer. He wanted to ask how much trouble he was in. Sirius had said loads. Trouble was, Harry didn't know how much loads might be.

Sirius was resetting the Portkey though, his brows furrowed in concentration. He handed it back to Harry after it shimmered, indicating it was ready.

"Go into the kitchen and activate it," Sirius said as Harry slipped it over his head. "I'll go to the library."

"It's supposed to take me in here though," Harry said as his godfather stood.

"I know," Sirius said. He tapped Harry's thigh with the back of his hand. "Do as you're told please."

Harry tried not to frown as he obeyed. Sirius' tone wasn't promising.

Once he reckoned that Sirius had had enough time to walk into the library, Harry touched the amulet for the second time that day and chanted the spell. The sensations were the same—the disorientation as well. Except this time, when Harry looked up after being dumped on the floor, Sirius was standing above him. He offered Harry a hand and hoisted him up.

"It didn't work," Harry said, giving his bum a quick rub.

Sirius examined the amulet between two fingers. "I think the magic is bringing you to me. Don't know why though." A heavy breath escaped between his lips as the amulet settled back against Harry's shirt. Sirius drew a weary hand over his face, smoothing the lines of stress for a second. "We'll need to fix that when you return home. But for now," he said, dropping his hand as well as his voice, "do not use it unless you are in danger. Understood?"

Unsuccessfully ignoring the swoop in the pit of his stomach, Harry nodded quickly.

Sirius accepted that with a nod of his own. After resetting the Portkey for a second time, he said, "The headmaster should take you back to school. If he told Professor McGonagall that you left, she's probably waiting with a detention."

"But—" Harry didn't know what he meant to say.

Sirius slid his hands into his pockets; raised his eyebrows in question. "But what?"

Harry dug a toe under the corner of the rug, watching as the fringe fanned across his shiny shoe. "You said she should have let me come home."

"And I said you shouldn't have left Hogwarts."

Harry's eyes darted up; Sirius was frowning, his entire expression more exhausted than irritated. Harry pressed a little. "It's like the wall though, isn't it? And sneaking out to meet Remus…" He trailed off. Sirius' eyes were wide with incredulity.

"It isn't the same at all," he said, standing straighter but still slouching. "And I didn't tell you those things so that you would think you are allowed to ignore your professors."

Harry ducked his head when Sirius' gaze began to burn through him. "You didn't care that I lied," he couldn't help muttering.

"What was that?"

He probably could have helped it. If he'd tried a little harder.

Very quietly, so that the words nearly melted into the walls, Sirius asked, "Would you like me to add that to the list of things you're about to be punished for?"

Harry's head jerked up. "What list? I only used my portkey!"

"Fine," Sirius conceded with a sharp nod. "Would you like me to add that to the one thing you're about to be punished for?"

"No," Harry mumbled.

Sirius gripped the top of one of the desk chair, leaning heavily on it. "There are times when you have to make choices about right and wrong, but you need to use your head, Harry. There were other things you could have done before portkeying off to only god knows where—"

"I thought it was just going to bring me here!"

"Don't shout at me," Sirius said, not quite snapping the admonishment. He rested a hip against the desk, looking for all the world like he was going to topple over without it. "Even if you had arrived here, you didn't need to use it. You could have asked McGonagall to use the floo herself. I would have told her to send you through."

"But she might have said no."

"She might have," Sirius said tiredly. "And then you would simply have had to wait."

"But you just said—"

"I know what I said, Harry."

Harry stuffed his hands into his back pockets, frowning as he lapsed into silence, but Sirius didn't even seem to notice he'd snapped. There was a soft knock against the wooden doorframe.

Dumbledore cleared his throat. "I don't mean to interrupt…"

Sirius waved off the apology.

Dumbledore glanced between them. "Poppy wishes to speak with you."

Sirius nodded. "Would you escort Harry back to Hogwarts?"

"Yes indeed," Dumbledore said, with a smile for Harry. "I do believe your Head of House is expecting you shortly."

Harry's cheeks burned at the news.

"If you would excuse us for a moment, Albus?" Sirius said, scrubbing a hand over the back of his neck; the palm glistened when he pulled it away.

"Certainly," Dumbledore murmured. "I will be in the kitchen, Harry."

Harry didn't answer.

Sirius stepped in front of him. Harry had to crane his neck to see his godfather's face. "Go on with Dumbledore," Sirius said, quiet now; even. "Term is over in two days; we'll finish this then."

Finish it?

He'd used a Portkey, not blown up the school or anything just as awful. Sirius hadn't even been angry when he'd blown up a wall! Even if it had really been Draco…

"It wasn't my fault the Portkey took me to Knockturn Alley." He knew it wasn't the brightest thing to say, but his confusion was rapidly spiraling into resentment.

But Sirius didn't even retort. "I need to go upstairs," he said. "Go with Dumbledore."

"But—"

Sirius took his arm and turned him toward the door. "Go."

Harry looked back at him as he was released, but Sirius wasn't even looking at him. He was massaging his forehead, his head bowed to the floor.

Turning away quickly, and trying to ignore the hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach, Harry went into the kitchen

"Ready, my boy?" Dumbledore was smiling at him, the family pot of floo powder already extended.

Harry nodded mutely and took the powder. "Hogwarts!" he called out, and then realized he had no idea where it might deposit him. To Dumbledore's office, he found out a moment later. Where a very grim-faced McGonagall was waiting.

"Potter," she said tersely, "welcome back. Mr.Filch has set aside an entire lavatory for you. And he does not like to be kept waiting."

Harry hung his head, and followed after his Head of House.

--

Sirius climbed the stairs slowly, hoping time might slow. Or stop completely.

But of course it didn't. And Poppy was waiting for him at the top of the stairs. "He's awake," she said in a low tone as soon as he reached the landing.

Sirius couldn't tell if it was relief or fear which made his heart skip a beat.

"Sirius…" Poppy caught his arm gently as he stepped around her. "He's very upset…"

Fear. It was fear making his heart pound erratically. "I know," he told her; he couldn't help the way his voice shook.

"It may be best to wait…" She hesitated and Sirius turned fully to face her. She made a fluttery gesture toward his face. "Until the bruise is less… noticeable."

"The salve didn't work," Sirius reminded her.

"It is a very deep bruise," she said; apologetically.

Sirius nodded because he didn't trust himself to speak. He squeezed her hand, and unwilling to wait for another protest, he went to his husband.

Remus didn't turn his head when the door opened. He was staring at the ceiling. Angry red slashes decorated every expanse of skin not covered by blanket. Fresh wounds, closed only hours ago by Poppy's and Albus' frantic hands. There had been too many for Poppy to do alone.

Too much blood to slow.

Afraid to jostle him, Sirius knelt beside the bed. "Hello," he whispered. He tried to think of something witty to say, but memories of Remus' blood pooling around his limp body were too sharp in his mind. "You're awake…"

Remus turned his head. His eyes focused slowly, but as soon as they did, his lips parted on a strangled gasp.

Sirius' hand immediately went to his husband's chest, his fingers barely brushing the blanket. "Shh, it's all right—"

"Dear God," Remus breathed, eyes only for the bruise on Sirius' face.

"It doesn't hurt," Sirius tried to soothe him.

"Sirius…" Tears glazed Remus' eyes. "I'm so sorry…" The words themselves were inaudible, only formed as Remus struggled not to cry.

"No," Sirius whispered, leaning in as close as he dared, afraid to touch the battered skin. "It wasn't your fault."

"Your face… I did that… Sirius…"

Sirius pressed his lips to Remus' shaggy hair. "No, don't do this," he breathed, his own voice cracking with tears he refused to give in to. "It was the wolf... It wasn't you. You're going to be all right, Remus, do you hear me?"

Remus didn't answer. His chest rose and fell, so unevenly, it shattered the rest of Sirius' forced calm. "Moony?"

A shudder ran the length of Remus' body. Sirius stumbled as he stood. He yanked the door open, gesturing wordlessly for Poppy to enter. Her face echoing Sirius' anxiety, she rushed in.

"Breathe," she commanded her patient briskly while Sirius wrapped his arms around himself and tried to be still. "Remus, you must calm yourself. Your wounds cannot withstand further stress."

Remus clamped his lips together, his fingers and arms straining as he tried to obey.

"Slowly," Poppy said in that same soothing tone. "In and out… in… out… slowly now…"

The rise and fall of Remus' chest met the rhythm of her directions… the slow, methodical cadences.

"Good," she whispered as he continued to calm. "Your body is healing on its own," she went on quietly. "Severus gave me a few potions, specially designed to aid your own healing powers. You'll be out of bed and walking tomorrow," she told him with a smile. "You are doing quite well."

The words—optimistic though they were didn't lighten the expression on Remus' face.

"Sleep will heal you even faster," she said briskly. "I will give you a potion to make you drowsy. Natural sleep will be more productive." Poppy lifted his head gently and tipped a potion at his lips. "There now," she murmured. "Don't fight it," she instructed and then stepped away from the bed, taking Sirius' arm. "Now that he's stable, I will move him to Hogwarts," she said so that Remus would not overhear. "I will want to monitor him through the night."

Sirius nodded, though his eyes were on Remus, watching as his husband slowly succumbed to sleep.

"You will speak with him again in the morning," Poppy said quietly. "When he is feeling stronger, he will be more reasonable."

Sirius didn't answer. Because he knew very well that Remus wasn't going to be reasonable.

His fingers grazed the bruised skin along his cheek as memories overwhelmed him.

The feral light in the wolf's eyes—Remus' eyes—as he charged at Padfoot. The crack of bones as Moony's body struck Padfoot's, sending the great black dog flying across the room and into the stone fireplace.

Padfoot's whimper, loud in his ears as pain lashed through his snout and radiated over his skull.

The deeper pain as Padfoot had watched the monster drain from Remus' eyes. His futile attempts to stand as the wolf howled in despair and sunk his claws into his own chest.

And Padfoot hadn't been able to do anything but watch in horror, through cloudy eyes, as his husband tore himself to shreds. And he'd watched until everything faded to black.

--

"How are you, my boy?"

Sirius looked up, his hand stilling its caress through Remus' hair. Albus smiled at him as he stopped at the foot of the infirmary's metal bed frame.

"Poppy reports that Remus is doing well," Albus added.

"His wounds are healing," Sirius agreed.

"He will forgive himself," Albus said softly.

Sirius said nothing; the sudden swelling in his throat wouldn't allow him to. Albus pressed no further, simply standing with him in the silent infirmary. Until Sirius found his voice. "Did Minerva assign a detention?"

"With Mr. Filch," Albus said, an amused glint breaking through the solemn eyes. Sirius winced at the news. "He is cleaning the fourth floor boy's. And he is nearly finished, I do believe."

Sirius nodded, having already decided that he needed to speak to his godson before Harry arrived at King's Cross the day after tomorrow. He'd only realized after Remus was settled in the infirmary that he'd sent Harry off in the middle of a quarrel.

To Filch, no less.

"I will stay with Remus, if you wish," Albus broke the quite once more. Sirius gave him a faint smile.

"Thank you…"

Albus patted his hand as he took Sirius place. "It is no trouble at all."

Slowly, Sirius pulled his hand away from Remus' hair , his eyes tracing over the scars as they traveled over his husband's face and down his neck.

He blinked several times and turned away.

He found Harry a few minutes later, sitting on the stone floor in the loo with his back against the wall. A scrub brush was dangling from a hand, between his outstretched legs. Sirius' heart constricted as he gazed at his forlorn kid.

"You look like you could use a break."

Harry's head came up, eyes surprised behind his spectacles. "What are you doing here?"

Sirius grimaced, had to shift it quickly into a smile. He hadn't expected a warm welcome, after all. "Madame Pomfrey decided to bring Remus to the infirmary," he said as he crossed the space between them, "so that she could monitor him during the night." He lowered himself beside Harry, echoing his stretched legs and slight slouch.

Harry twisted to look at him. "But I thought you said he was getting better."

"He is," Sirius assured him. "Madame Pomfrey likes to be thorough. And he'll be able to sleep without any fuss."

Harry swatted at the scrub bush. "Oh."

Sirius glanced around the lav, at all the shiny surfaces. "Spotless," he noted with a smile. "Filch will be pleased."

Harry shrugged, obviously in no mood for Sirius' humour. Sirius rested a hand on Harry's knee, letting his fingers curl around the cap. "I shouldn't have sent you back to Hogwarts so abruptly," he said quietly. Harry squinted up at him, trying to read things he couldn't possibly understand. "I was worried about Remus… and distracted." Before Harry could decide whether or not to respond, Sirius palmed his head, leaning over to drop a quick kiss amongst the tangles. "I'm sorry," he murmured before releasing him.

Harry ducked his head, but not before Sirius noted the small smile. The tension melted from Harry's spine, and in the next moment he was slouching again, his shoulder propped against Sirius'. Several minutes went by, the two of them simply sitting with the quiet, Harry occasionally tossing the scrub brush between his hands.

--

Sirius stayed in the infirmary for the rest of the day, only leaving when Pomfrey insisted he do so.

"I will take very good care of him," she told him quietly as he stared down at his sleeping husband.

"I know," Sirius said with a sigh.

"He is healing very well," Poppy assured him when he didn't move. ""These are not the worst injuries he's ever had."

Sirius looked up sharply, his insides twisting painfully at her blunt words. Her face was gentle though, as was her hand as she squeezed his.

"He will be out of bed in the morning," she assured him. "Severus' potions were very effective. Go home," she said firmly. "Sleep."

But sleep didn't come easily. He drifted, waking up several times from the depths of the same nightmare.

He finally gave up when dawn broke. He stumbled downstairs after a quick shower. His shirt was open at the neck, his clothes full of wrinkles, and he hadn't shaved in two days. But he was more or less clean and that was as much as one could hope for—

He halted as soon as he stepped into the parlour. Remus was speaking with Poppy in low tones near the front door; he was wearing his traveling cloak and he was leaning on the cane he sometimes used after a difficult full moon.

"Remus?"

Remus' spine stiffened. He didn't turn around.

Sirius made no sound as he traversed the distance between them. "You left the infirmary?" he asked in confusion, though the news cheered him since it meant Remus had been feeling well enough to travel through the ploo.

Poppy was a holding a large case filled with vials. Sirius had never seen such a severe frown on the healer's face. Not even after he and James had melted three of the bones in Peter's legs during an experiment gone horribly wrong.

"I will wait on the stoop," she said in a clipped tone. She slipped through the door, closing it behind her. She took her vials with her.

"Remus?"

He turned slowly; his face was held stiffly, his brown eyes dull. But that didn't stop the grimace that pulled at his muscles when he was greeted with the bruise. "It looks worse," he croaked. He brought a hand up, but he clenched the fingers into a fist before he made contact. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "You have no idea how sorry…"

"You have nothing to be sorry for," Sirius said softly. "It wasn't your fault."

"I could have killed you."

"You didn't." It didn't matter that it wasn't so simple. Sirius wasn't going to let Remus hate himself for this. "I'm all right," he said as he stepped forward and brushed a thumb down his husband's cheek.

Remus closed his eyes, but he pulled away before Sirius could feel relieved. Remus gripped his cane and opened his eyes. His jaw flexed. "I'm leaving," he said flatly.

Sirius knew he hadn't heard that right. "Leaving?" The echo was faint to his own ears.

"I'm sorry," Remus said again, this time his voice breaking. "But I can't stay here and continue to pretend that I am not a monster—"

Anger surged up without Sirius' permission at the old refrain. "You are not a monster!"

"Look at your face. I did that to you."

"You didn't know what you were doing. You were a werewolf—"

"I know what I am!" Remus said, hoarse now. "I could have killed you!"

"No—"

"Yes," Remus said with sudden calm. "You're lucky I didn't break your neck. I'm not going to allow anything like that to happen again, Sirius. I can't."

Sirius stepped forward, but Remus only stepped back. "Fine," Sirius said, knowing how desperate he sounded and not caring. "I won't spend full moons with you, if that's—"

"No," Remus said in a soft whisper, full of finality. "I have to leave."

"And what about Harry?" Sirius demanded, his voice suddenly harsh as his lungs stopped working. "You were just going to leave without even saying goodbye?"

Remus turned away. "I'm sorry if it will hurt him—"

"If?" Sirius gaped at his husband's back. "He'll be devastated!"

Remus' shoulders curled around his ears, but he was already reaching for the door. "I'm sorry," he whispered again. "You know that I love you both—"

"No," Sirius said hoarsely, something breaking then as he realized that Remus wasn't going to listen to reason. "No," he repeated, "don't you dare say that. If you can walk out that door…" He couldn't finish.

Remus' cane thunked against the door as he struggled to open it. "I'm sorry," he gasped and then he was gone. The door clicked softly behind him.

Sirius stared at the blurred wood, refusing to believe that Remus was gone.

He wouldn't leave. He couldn't.

Because Sirius couldn't live without him.

But the door didn't open again.

And without knowing how he got there, Sirius was slumped in a chair, his fingers numb, his mind empty.

The room didn't stir until the floo roared and soft footsteps padded toward him.

"Sirius," Poppy said gently but he shook his head; shook off her arm.

"Where did he go?" Tears stung his sinuses.

"Caradoc's shop," she said after a pause. "In Knockturn Alley. I don't know if he means to stay there though. I'm very sorry, Sirius."

Sirius didn't answer.

"I'll make tea," she said quietly.

She touched his arm, but he drew it away, curling his hands into his lap. "Harry," he said, his voice scraping over the syllables. "Harry wanted to see Remus… after his first class."

"The elves are serving breakfast," Poppy said after a quick glance at her pocket watch. "I will fetch him—"

Sirius pressed his palms together and wondered what it would be like to walk into an empty bedroom. "He has an exam."

Poppy vacillated, and finally sighed. She took a roll of parchment from her pocket. "Remus wanted me to give this to you when you arrived this morning."

Sirius stared at the offensive scroll.

He had known that Remus had meant to leave without telling him. But this… To leave him only a piece of parchment to explain the gaping hole in his chest.

He didn't take it from her hand; he could barely see through the new haze of anger. And after a moment, she set it on the low table.

"Rest," she ordered in her soft, brisk voice.

Sirius made no acknowledgement that she had spoken. He listened to her floo away a moment later.

When Sirius finally moved, he went into Remus' library.

The room was dark.

Silent.

Every single one of Remus' manuscripts was gone.

Sirius was alone.

It hurt to stand here, in Remus' library, the naked desk taunting him.

And the stairs as well, where he and Remus had walked so many times, often with Harry pounding up in front of them—or between them.

A sob caught in Sirius' throat as he stepped into their bedroom. And as he brushed his fingers lightly over Remus' pillow, he couldn't hold the tears back any longer. He sank onto the soft mattress and gathered the pillow to him, breathing in the scent of the man he'd loved for two decades.

--

Sirius was newly shaven and in a fresh shirt when he stepped into the infirmary hours later. He nodded in response to Poppy's smile before she slipped into her office and closed the door. Sirius ignored the empty bed where Remus had slept last night and perched on the one closest to the door to wait.

Harry came in soon after, his robes slung haphazardly over his book bag. "The potions final was a breeze," he said cheerfully. His grin faltered slowly when Sirius lifted his head.

Sirius tried to speak, to say something to ease the anxious frown now marring his godson's face.

Harry's eyes darted around the empty infirmary. "Where's Remus?"

And even though he'd rehearsed this for hours now, Sirius had no idea how to explain. How do you tell a kid that one of his parents has abandoned him?

He chose the truth. Or the closest he could come to it, without explaining that Remus had thrown him into a wall. "The Wolfsbane usually tames the werewolf, and it can be… aggressive without it." Sirius paused to force his voice calm. "Even with the Wolfsbane next time," he explained quietly, "he is worried something might happen and he—" His throat burned as he swallowed. "—went away for awhile."

"But when he is coming back?"

Sirius shook his head.

Harry stared at him and Sirius watched him struggle to understand. "Why is he worried something might happen? To you, do you mean?"

Sirius couldn't do this without incriminating Remus. But he couldn't lie to Harry. "To me," he answered softly. "Or to you."

Harry was staring at the dark bruise obscuring Sirius' face. His voice wobbled as he said, "He's not coming back, is he?"

"I don't know," Sirius whispered. And his heart tore in two as Harry's face crumpled. "I'm sorry," he breathed as he pulled Harry in. "It'll be all right," Sirius promised as his voice broke. But he knew he was trying to convince himself more than Harry.

--

Harry stepped onto the platform as the scarlet train whistled to a stop.

"See ya, Harry!" Ron shouted as he dashed into the crowd after his brothers.

"I'll let you know when we're going to the dragon reserve this summer," Draco said as his father and mother approached with Dobby. "Maybe your parents will let you come."

"Yeah maybe," Harry answered with a little nod and as much of a smile as he could manage.

"Are you certain you're not feeling ill, Harry?" Hermione asked when Draco had disappeared. She'd asked the same question at least a dozen times since Sirius had left him with his friends in the Great Hall yesterday. "Sirius or Remus should really perform a diagnostic."

"I'll ask Sirius," Harry assured her. She smiled and then waved excitedly as her parents emerged from the crowd.

"Write to me," she said before she too was gone.

"Sorry!" a fifth-year apologised as he stumbled into Harry. Harry heaved a breath full of too much tension as he righted himself and made his way through the throng of witches and wizards, his eyes scanning.

Sirius was waiting for him. And even though he'd known that Remus wouldn't be beside him, it made Harry's stomach tingle anyway.

Sirius smiled as soon as he saw Harry. "Hey there, kid."

Harry ignored the tickle in his throat; he'd never seen Sirius look so sad. No matter that his smile told a different story altogether. Before Sirius could move forward, Harry threw his arms around his godfather, startling Sirius into a brief chuckle.

"One of these days, you're going to knock me flat."

Harry smiled into his godfather's shoulder as Sirius squeezed. "You fed me too many vegetables."

Sirius mussed his hair as Harry stepped back. "How about an ice cream to even things out then?"

"From Fortescue's?"

"Where else?" Sirius checked his watch. "Would you like to visit Ollivander first? Or we could stop in at the Quidditch shop. You have a birthday coming up. I know you've been eying the new Firebolt. Or there's always Gambol and Japes. That might be fun."

"Ollivander's," Harry decided.

"We can do everything else as well. We have plenty of time…" Sirius cleared his throat of the warble and looped an arm round Harry's shoulder. "Come on," he said, his voice steady now as he smiled.

And with a miniature trunk stowed safely in Sirius' pocket and Hedwig hopping between them, Sirius and Harry walked through King's Cross and on into London.

Chapter Text

The headmaster accepted Severus' offer of lemon tea with a smile. "And how did you find young Harry?" he asked.

Severus paused in pouring a second cup for himself, grateful that the headmaster couldn't see his face. Once he was seated with cup in hand, he said neutrally, "He is as you said."

Albus stirred his tea, took a delicate sip and eyed Severus over his spectacles. "Most say he is the spitting image of his father."

Severus didn't immediately answer. He had noticed the resemblance, of course. It would have been impossible not to. But it had been Lily's eyes which had held Severus' attention. Vivid green, and full of curiosity and warmth—just as Lily's had been.

"He is an exceptionally kind boy," Albus added over the rim of his cup, still holding Severus' gaze. "I imagine he was most excited to meet you."

Severus concentrated on the heat of the tea as it slid over his tongue and down his throat. "I imagine so," he agreed, voice still carefully blank.

"To find a connection to his mother," Albus murmured with another smile, "when he has so few."

"I do believe Lily considered Lupin a dear friend."

Albus nodded. "Yes indeed. Though it is hardly possible for a child who has lost his mother to have too many connections to her." He paused with the cup poised halfway to his lips. "Wouldn't you agree?"

Resentment surged up from somewhere deep in Severus' belly. He dutifully tamped it down and said with a little nod, "If the connections are positive ones, yes."

He regretted it as soon as he said it, for the headmaster rested his cup on its saucer and lost the smiling pretense. "I do think Harry would disagree that your connection with Lily was a negative one, Severus."'

A sardonic smile hid the despair touching Severus' heart, and the sudden pressure of his clenching fingers around the cup. "And when he learns that I killed her?"

And finally the headmaster frowned. "You did not kill Lily."

"Her son would likely disagree."

Albus set his tea completely on the table, leaning forward a little with his sudden intensity. "You made a mistake, Severus, one which no doubt had permanent consequences—"

"The death of the boy's parents," Severus cut in tightly.

"Yes," Albus said in that quiet, forceful voice of his. The one that exuded more calm than it should. "But you did not know it would happen."

"I knew the Dark Lord." Severus set his own cup down, the movement abrupt enough to send tea sloshing over the rim. "The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches," he recited without effort; the words had been seared into his brain. "What else," he spat, "did I believe he would do if not kill the one who threatened him?"

"I do not deny that it was a mistake, Severus," Albus said gently. "All of us have made mistakes."

"All of us," Severus snapped, "did not cause people to die."

Albus did not answer immediately and it took Severus that long moment to realize he'd lost his temper. He pursed his lips and took in a slow breath. "I apologize for my outburst," he said quietly. It was very difficult to keep the headmaster's eyes when his blue eyes softened like that.

"You need not apologize for your emotions, my boy. I did not mean to upset you. I only wish you would allow yourself to be forgiven."

How many times had the old man uttered those words? Did he not realize by now that Severus did not deserve anyone's forgiveness? Most especially from the boy he'd orphaned. But the headmaster was still watching him, so Severus inclined his head.

Albus sighed, the wrinkled face filled with inexplicable sorrow. "You gave Harry his godfather," he finally said. "You must realize what a gift that is to him?"

Severus picked up his tea cup. "I gave him his godfather, as you say, because you asked me to, Headmaster."

"If I remember correctly, Severus, I only asked you for one year's effort to locate Peter Pettigrew. I do believe I even offered to finance your potions shop after the year was up, as you had given it your best effort."

Severus said nothing.

"You searched for him for another two and a half years," Albus said over another delicate sip of tea. "It took you a year and a half after you found his trail, is that correct?"

"Yes," Severus murmured into the rim of his cup,

"Then why did you keep searching after I had already offered to uphold my end of our bargain?"

Severus couldn't fight the tide of grief as it welled up in his chest. There was really no reason to try. "Because," he said softly, "Pettigrew was still free."

--

Harry tossed a handful of socks over his shoulder and went back to digging through the mountain of laundry on his bed. How many clothes did a bloke need anyway? Frustrated, he kicked at his desk chair and then swore under his breath as a jolt of pain shot through his toe.

And still, he couldn't find his stupid cloak.

Giving up and with his voice louder than necessary shouted, "Where's my traveling cloak?"

From across the corridor, Sirius' voice floated over, "Downstairs!"

"I don't see it!"

"You're still in your room, nutter!"

Harry launched a wad of pants toward his open rucksack and retorted, "I was just down there!" A moment later, a bundle of fabric was dumped on his head, making everything dark. "Hey!"

He yanked the cloak off as he turned around. Sirius was leaning against the doorframe, smiling. "Looks like you found it."

"Very funny."

"Yes, I thought so."

Harry rolled his eyes and twisted to stuff the cloak in amongst the rest of his clothes.

"Anything else you need me to find for you?" Sirius was still smiling but at least his tone was a bit more serious now. "How many pairs of pants did you pack?"

Harry made a face as Sirius peered over his shoulder. "Sirius," he complained, "you don't need to count my pants."

"Think you can manage that on your own, do you?"

Harry settled for rolling his eyes again. Sirius held his hands up in surrender. "Fine," he said. "I can see I'm not needed here. I'll just go back to my room and finish my own packing. I need to find my trainers anyhow."

"Don't forget your pants. At least ten," Harry said in response. Sirius poked his ribs, muttering about children and their cheek as he left the room. His irritation drained now, Harry smiled to himself and went back to his packing. Pants, jeans, t-shirts, socks… where were his trainers?

Not under his desk.

Only dust bunnies under the bed.

"Have you seen my trainers?" he called as he slid backwards. Sirius' response was too muffled for him to understand. "What did you say?" he shouted.

Sighing when there was no answer, he pushed himself up and went into Sirius' room. His hand on the doorknob slowing his entrance, Harry frowned. Sirius was sitting on the edge of Remus' wooden chest, staring out the window.

Sirius noticed him a second later and a small smile peeked through the clouds. "Did you finish packing?"

"Can't find my trainers," Harry said as Sirius stood and crossed to the open bureau.

"Maybe they're with mine. Accio Harry's trainers!"

Harry had to duck as they whizzed in from the corridor.

"Here we are." Sirius passed them over.

"Thanks."

A stray smile. "What else do you need to pack?"

"Erm… think I'm finished. Packed loads of pants."

"Good," Sirius said with a renewed glint of humour in his eyes. "Lace up and I'll finish here."

Harry sat on Remus' chest, drawing up a leg to tug a trainer on and lacing it swiftly. He gave the other foot the same treatment and then let both legs dangle as he slid his bum back and slouched against the wall. His fingers flicked at the hem of his shirt while he watched Sirius folding grey track bottoms.

"I think that's it…" Sirius glanced around the room, his fingers threading through the hair at the top of his hair as he pursed his lips in thought. "You have your wand?"

Harry patted the special pocket on the side of his jeans.

"Good… oh, wait." Sirius clicked his fingers and went into the toilet, returning a moment later with the kit they kept for emergencies—the one with plasters and various healing potions. "Now we're ready," he said as he set the kit on the top of the track bottoms and closed his pack. He hoisted it over his shoulder and gave Harry's back a gentle scratch as he stepped toward the door. "Let's go."

"Think we'll find the unicorns?" Harry asked after they'd retrieved his rucksack and were padding down the stairs side by side.

"Ollivander seems to think so."

"Hope so," Harry said. He hopped off the last step and turned his face up to grin at Sirius. "Ollivander said I could pluck a hair if the unicorn will allow it."

Sirius winked. "I'll hope for a friendly one then," he said. They froze as the floo roared. Though actually, Sirius looked more like he was trying not to freeze, his muscles twitching as he veered for the kitchen, with Harry scrambling to follow.

The bubble of excitement in Harry's chest burst when Sirius murmured, "Good morning, Albus."

"A wonderful morning it is," Dumbledore agreed with a warm smile as he stepped into the kitchen. "Are you enjoying your summer, Harry?"

Harry swallowed the sudden lump in his throat and nodded. "Yes sir."

Dumbledore eyed their gear. "I didn't know you were planning a holiday."

"Ollivander heard news of a unicorn herd near the Kazan Forest," Sirius explained. Harry glanced at him, his forehead wrinkling as his godfather cleared the frog from his throat. "He invited us along."

"Did he?" Dumbledore's eyebrows peaked in interest as he swept his robes aside to sit in the chair Sirius offered. "That is splendid news. Remus is well enough to accompany you, I hope?"

Sirius turned his attention to the tea things on the counter. "Remus isn't coming with us," he said gruffly. "Tea?"

Harry's eyes were darting between his godfather and Dumbledore. He slid into his chair, his knuckles curling against the table top as he watched Dumbledore frown.

"Thank you, no; I've just come from Severus, with news of the Wolfsbane. If Remus is awake—"

"He isn't here." Sirius had folded his arms across his chest, the fists tucked securely under his armpits. Harry bit the inside corner of his lip, trying not to notice that Dumbledore was the one taking in the scene now, his kind blue eyes searching first Sirius' face and then Harry's.

"I could return later to discuss Severus' hypothesis?" he finally asked in a softer voice.

"I don't know when he will be returning," Sirius said, his own voice was flat now, his bent arms tighter somehow.

Dumbledore pinched his half-moon spectacles between thumb and forefinger, adjusted them carefully. "Severus brews Wolfsbane for several others," he finally said. "I don't know if you were aware? He has for several years, though of course his customers must remain in anonymity."

Sirius gave a curt nod.

"Severus has received confirmation from four of his clients who drank from the same batch of Wolfsbane as Remus; all of them without incident."

Several muscles in Sirius' face jumped, but as soon as he noticed Harry's gaze, he smiled a little. The expression only excited Harry's jitters.

"Severus believes it is possible that Remus may have developed a partial immunity to the Wolfsbane," Dumbledore said. "He has been using it far longer than the others."

Sirius let his arms drop. His lips parted for a second and then he shook his head; gave the hem of his shirt a sharp tug. "What does that mean?"

"Severus is working on a new formula; one which he hopes will have the ability to adjust itself so that immunity will not be a problem again."

Sirius tilted his head, interest suddenly lighting his eyes. "Polypore Spores?"

"Yes." Dumbledore smiled. "He believes they will lend the right metamorphic property to the potion. He hopes to have it ready in four days' time."

Sirius' thoughtful nod abruptly ended. "Please give Snape my gratitude. Actually, perhaps you had best not, as it seemed to irritate him when I was in his shop." He gestured vaguely to the air around them. "I apologize for the short visit, but Ollivander is expecting us."

"Yes, of course," Dumbledore murmured. He shook his robes out as he stood. "I have had some time to ponder Harry's portkey as well."

Sirius kneaded his forehead with his fingertips, nodding with the other hand poised on his rucksack. "The reason it didn't work?"

"On the contrary, I believe it worked just as it was meant to."

Sirius squinted at him. "How do you mean? I set it to bring Harry home when he activated it."

"Your exact choice of words, yes?"

"Yes…"

Dumbledore smiled. "If we may try it again? You have a Portkey to your destination with Ollivander?"

Still looking confused, Sirius nodded.

"Harry can activate his after you activate yours."

Sirius glanced at Harry. "That all right with you?"

"Sure," Harry said with a shrug.

Sirius sorted both of the heavy packs over his shoulders and with small smile for Harry, he was gone.

"Ready, my boy?"

Harry pulled his eyes from the empty space where Sirius had just been and pulled the amulet from under his shirt. Dumbledore touched his finger delicately to Harry's portkey, nodding when he was ready.

The world spun around them and then Harry was sprawled on the ground, inhaling dew-soaked grass.

"We need to work on your landings."

Harry lifted his head, spitting out blades of green as his crouching godfather smirked at him. "How come the headmaster landed on his feet?" he groused as Sirius helped him up.

"Years of practice, my boy," Dumbledore said cheerfully while Sirius plucked a stray piece of grass from Harry's hair.

Harry sighed. "It didn't work," he said, giving the disk around his neck a flick.

"Oh, but it did," Dumbledore disagreed. "Sirius spelled the Portkey to take you home." He smiled, his blue eyes sparkling. "And in your heart, home is where Sirius is."

Startled, Harry's turned to stare at his godfather. Sirius, dumbfounded, stared at Dumbledore for a long moment and then a slow smile lit his face. It was the first genuine grin Harry had seen in days and he grinned too as Sirius caught his eye.

The moment was shattered just as quickly by Dumbledore.

"I'll bring Remus' potion to Grimmauld Place when it is ready, shall I?"

Sirius immediately frowned. "Albus, I don't—"

"Almost a week has passed," Dumbledore interrupted gently. "More than enough time for him to remember what life was like without you."

"Or at least enough for him to realize that he is being a fool."

Harry turned to see Ollivander coming out of the stand of trees behind them. Sirius closed his eyes briefly, and didn't respond to either of them, though Harry thought he looked like he was considering it even as he took the tent from his rucksack and gestured for Harry to help him.

"It has been too long, Garrick," Dumbledore greeted the wand maker.

Ollivander sighed at the use of his given name, but otherwise greeted Dumbledore pleasantly enough. Harry had already stopped listening. He hadn't wanted to believe Remus had gone for good.

Even if he was the reason for Sirius' bruise.

Trying not to be too obvious about it, Harry peeked at the misshapen patch of yellowed purple on Sirius' face. His godfather hadn't said it had been Remus' fault, but it wasn't difficult to guess. And as far as Harry could tell, Sirius didn't blame Remus for hurting him.

No one did.

And Remus would realize that soon. Harry just knew it.

"Hold this corner for me?" Sirius asked, breaking into his thoughts.

"Sure," Harry agreed and feeling decidedly more cheerful, he scrambled to help.

--

"Reckon I've had enough."

Remus stared at his friend through bleary eyes, his head lolling to one side as he reached for the bottle between them. "Enuffofwhat?" He shook the bottle, shrugging when he could hear no comforting slosh of gin. He frowned when he tipped it upside down against his lips.

"It's empty," Carad told him in his habitually gruff voice. Remus squinted at him.

"Couldve saved someovit for me," he complained.

Carad's lips were pulled in a frown, but then Carad was always frowning. Or at least Remus thought he was. It was difficult to remember right now. But that's exactly why they'd come to this pub, wasn't it? To forget. Though what Remus was supposed to be forgetting was equally difficult to remember at the moment.

"Another bottle?"

Remus blinked slowly as he raised his head; too bright. When had they moved the moon inside?

"Gin," Remus spoke before Carad had a chance, grinning at the squat server. "More," he said heavily, waving the bottle and then grinning sloppily as the server pried it from his fist. "Wonnerful man…"

"Remus—"

"Carad…" Remus echoed as he leaned on the table. His friend was still frowning. It made his scars stand out. "Whadjaget the scarsfor?"

The trio of scars down Carad's neck pulsed as he snorted. "Even pissed off your arse, you have to remember that."

Remus flapped a hand. "Notthose…" Tried to shake his head and explain but all he could do was set his cheek to the table and flick his fingers in the general direction of Carad's ear.

"One of my boarders."

"Course," Remus muttered into the pitted wood. Where else would Carad get a scar like that? Not enough for his old friend to give himself scars during full moons, had to be mauled by other werewolves. Ones he was trying to help no less. "Bloody ingrates…"

Carad shrugged. "Can't be picky."

Remus' attention was diverted from an answer as the waiter thunked a new bottle of gin on the table. Remus grasped it, sloshing liquor down the squat glass neck as he raised it in a salute. "To thewolf," he declared as he drowned the words in gin.

--

"When did you learn to do that?" Harry was leaning over his godfather's shoulder, crowding him. But Sirius didn't seem to mind. He smiled and held up the carved wood as crickets chirped to announce the night.

"Had to find something to do with all my free time while you were at school, didn't I?"

Harry took the wood, reverently running his fingertips along the length. "You should have told me you learning to carve," he said, awed at how well his godfather had managed.

Sirius glanced up at him, his eyes more relaxed than they had been in days. "Thought it might be a fun surprise."

"You didn't even realize you were learning something," Ollivander snorted from where he was sitting on a log across from them. "Been giving me a hand here and there when I ask."

Sirius smiled at the wand maker, but he didn't argue, no matter that Harry knew Sirius wasn't that oblivious.

"Turns out he's rather helpful to have about," Ollivander added. "Ought to apprentice him."

"Isn't he too old?" Harry asked. He smiled when Sirius nudged an elbow into his stomach.

Ollivander's chuckle was cut off by his low whistle. "What have we here?"

Harry and Sirius followed his gaze. "Wow," Harry breathed as all three of them stood as one. "Look at that, Sirius."

"Move slowly," Ollivander warned, stepping quickly in front of them. "Do you have any idea who that is?"

"It's a thestral," Harry whispered.

"Not simply a thestral… she gave me the core for your godfather's wand."

"It can't be."

Ollivander flapped a shushing hand at Sirius. "Of course it is. Don't you think I recognize one of my own core bearers?" he asked irritably. Sirius wisely didn't answer. Harry kept pace with him as they crept behind Ollivander.

The thestral hadn't moved, not even her great black head. Or her dark eyes, which reflected the moonlight like the lake at Hogwarts, opposite of the usual, glittering white of most thestrals.

When Ollivander stopped five paces from her front hooves, she snorted softly.

Ollivander dipped his chin, his hand help out in welcome. The thestral pawed the earth, seemingly in agitation but Ollivander cocked his head as if he was listening to something only he could hear. "Harry," he said softly, the single word an order and after a quick glance at Sirius, who nodded, Harry joined Ollivander.

"Concentrate," the older wizard said. Harry worried his lips, unsure what he was supposed to be concentrating on. "Look into her eyes and concentrate."

Harry's nose scrunched as he did as he was bid. The thestral's head bobbed, another soft snort sending warm breath over Harry's face. Her eyes seemed endless, and as black as velvet night. That one, the eyes were saying; over and over again. And the hoof pawing the earth wasn't simply restless, it was pointing behind Harry and Ollivander.

"Sirius?" Harry whispered, surprising himself with the query. Another huffed breath through the huge nostrils and a soft, shrill cry.

Harry slanted his eyes to Ollivander, who was watching him with a smile. Together, they parted. Sirius was staring at the winged beast. Its leathery head bobbed again, the quiet shriek breaking the calm night once more. With brows collided, Sirius stepped forward and as soon as he was close enough, the thestral's nose bumped him gently under the chin, the huffing breath more like a sigh now.

Mesmerized, Sirius brought his hands up and stroked lightly up her long snout, under her eyes and down her neck.

"This is exactly where I found her all those years ago," Ollivander said quietly, but Sirius didn't even acknowledge him. He rested a cheek against the thestral's and that same quiet shriek made him smile.

"Want to go for a ride?" he asked, turning his head to Harry. Startled, Harry gaped up at the huge horse-dragon. "I think she wants to take me."

"And me?" Harry squeaked.

Sirius ran his fingertips over her withers as her head bobbed. "Would you like to?"

Did Sirius even need to ask?

"Yes!"

Ollivander grinned broadly while he gave Sirius a leg up and then helped Harry up in front of him.

"Hold tight to her mane," Sirius said into his ear as his arms came around his waist.

His heart thumping wildly with excitement, Harry wound his fingers through her bristly mane. The thestral gave a triumphant screech, like a hawk stalking its prey and took off at a gallop, rising into the air before Harry had even prepared himself for it.

The great wings beat the air several times and then they were gliding, high above the trees, so high it seemed they would touch the moon.

Chapter Text

It took Remus a moment to realize he was the one groaning.

"Hangover potion will work a treat for that headache."

Remus squinted, but it was too dark to see Carad's face.

"Where are we?" he whispered, but even the soft question thundered against his temples. He groaned again, which only made it worse.

A small lamp came to life. "France."

The news was more unwelcome than the headache; the nausea as well, he realized as he pushed himself up on his elbows.

"Why?" he croaked.

"You were beginning to frighten the cats," Carad grunted from somewhere off to Remus' left. He rolled as much as his leaden muscles would allow, gave up sitting fully and fell back against the pillow.

"What day is it?"

"Monday."

Remus tried to sort that out, but he had no idea what day it should have been. Fuck, he was going to sick up. Gin and sick would look lovely all over the small shack.

"Just take it, Remus," Carad said, and a phial was pushed under Remus' nose. "You can figure out another way to punish yourself."

Remus blinked at his friend, but he was either too drunk or too hung-over to understand what he meant. "How long have I been…?"

"You've been drinking for the better part of the past two weeks, just take the damn potion."

With shaky hands, Remus did. He forced the tide of sick down his throat and tried twice to swallow the slimy potion, finally gave up and dropped his hand. The glass shattering against the floor sounded like an explosion.

Remus moaned and covered his head with his hands, trying to blot out all the sensory assaults.

"Christ…" Carad grabbed his arm, and it took all Remus had to pull it away.

"Go away," he breathed, doubled over now as the nausea continued to assault him. Ignoring him, Carad put another phial to his lips. "No…" Remus batted the helpful hands away. "Just go away."

"Not until you take the potion," Carad said tightly, "then I'll be more than pleased to. If you want, I'll shove it down your bloody throat."

Remus abruptly stopped rocking to stare at his friend. Now that his eyes had had time to adjust to the light, he could see the anger in the normally placid eyes. The proper response eluded him. "What?" Even through the haze of days' worth of alcohol, he knew he sounded like an idiot.

Carad's scarred lip curled. "The potion," he repeated sourly. "It wouldn't do to have you falling over something and breaking your neck."

"I'll be fine," Remus mumbled, confused by the sarcasm. More confused by the way his voice seemed to be echoing in his head.

"You were nearly murdered yesterday evening."

"I… was?"

"Minions of You Know Who don't like to be threatened at wandpoint; even former ones."

Remus shook his head slowly, but the memories wouldn't present themselves. At least not those memories. His eyes were glued to the fireplace. He could see dried blood on the stones.

Sirius' blood.

"You don't remember?"

Remus didn't answer, undecided if he wanted to roll over and go back to sleep or summon a bottle of whatever was in this godforsaken hole. The phial was hovering near his chin again. Remus shoved it away once more and lurched forward, managing to catch the edge of the mattress and pull himself up until he was more or less sitting.

"Accio…" He paused, with his hand poised in mid-air. He wasn't exactly certain that there was any alcohol here. He spent only one night here every month, always out as fast as his body would allow. There wasn't a reason to keep much in the way of food in the cupboards. Though of course, he'd lived here for years before…

He set his teeth and refused to finish that thought. If this shack was going to be his home from now on, might as well get reacquainted.

"What are you doing?"

Remus shoved past his burly friend. "I'm parched," he said loudly. He stumbled twice before he made it into the tiny kitchen and then couldn't think where he might have once kept the alcohol… wine… he used to buy the local wine.

"For God's sake, you'll kill yourself if you go on this way."

"If only I would be so lucky," Remus muttered as he yanked open one of the cupboards.

And before he could even look inside, the door was slammed shut, nearly catching Remus' nose.

"You are pathetic."

Remus turned too quickly and had to swallow another mouthful of bile. Carad was still standing near the bed; he didn't even have his wand out. "What?"

"Pathetic, Remus," Carad spat. "I'm certain you know the meaning."

Remus curled his fingers around the nearest counter as Carad's meaning—along with the reason for his scowl—seeped into his soggy brain. With great effort, he found the words, "You can't understand—"

"I can't?" Carad's face contorted until the old scars took over his features. "My wife left me after this happened." He dug his fingernails into the twisted scars, scraping down the length of his neck while the acid boiled in Remus' stomach. "She took my daughter from me. And you," he went on harshly, "you left your family voluntarily!"

Remus shook his head, sending waves of pain down his cheekbones and through his jaw. "I didn't have a choice—"

"No," Carad said, his voice very soft now. "I didn't have a choice. Jane didn't give me a choice. And if I remember correctly, Sirius didn't secret your kid away in the middle of the night."

Remus' sinuses were burning now. He didn't want to think about Harry. And Carad had no right to remind him of things he couldn't allow himself to remember. He turned away and resumed his search, found a dusty bottle of dark wine in the lower cupboard. His mumbled spell took care of the cork with a loud pop.

"You are the only werewolf I know who has a family," Carad said to his back, "and yet you don't seem to understand how lucky you are."

"Lucky?" Remus demanded, slamming the cupboard himself this time. The cascading pain that lanced through his head only stoked his anger. "So lucky to have mauled my husband."

"That's a lovely excuse," Carad said softly; mockingly. "You're a coward, Remus, that's what you are. And it isn't any wonder Sirius hasn't come after you."

Remus spun around, nearly unbalancing himself and the bottle of wine. "Fuck you, Carad," he said so softly, he wasn't actually certain he'd said it.

The scars pulsed again. "Enjoy your solitude," Carad said through a thin smile and then without another word, he was gone.

Remus stared at the empty space where his friend had been while his insides burned with guilt and shame.

Coward.

The word reverberated through his skull, outdoing the headache and the tingling numbness spreading to his fingers. Of course he was a coward. He'd always been a coward. What other way was there to describe a man who leaves his family? Even if it had been to protect them. To keep them from this monster that lurked inside him. Except that now, it didn't simply lurk. He was the monster. One far worse than the wolf.

The blood mocked him from the fireplace and before he had decided to do it, he stumbled toward the stones. He ran his fingers over the smooth surface, his breath hitching as he heard Padfoot's whine in his head, the sound echoing deeper than Carad's words.

He had broken Sirius' jaw. The bruise…

Just a little harder and Sirius would probably be dead.

And then what would Harry have done?

At least this way… now, they were safe.

His throat jerked with another silent sob as he slid down the stones, coming to rest with a painful jolt on the hearth.

Too much pain. Too many thoughts.

Remus' lifted the bottle of wine to his lips; it felt like fire, nearly choking him as the liquid sped down his throat.

Make it go away, he pleaded, but of course there was no one to hear him.

--

Sirius kept his arms around Harry until they were both steady and the parlour had fully materialized around them. "All right?"

His eyes scanning the room, Harry nodded.

Sirius set their packs on the sofa and started for the kitchen. "I'm starving. What sounds appealing?"

But there was no answer. Sirius turned to see Harry going into the library. He reappeared a moment later and without pausing, he went into the small room they'd never quite found a use for off the front door, swiveled round and made for the kitchen.

Sirius followed, watching curiously as Harry ducked into the laundry room and then poked his head out the back door.

"Harry?"

Harry paused, already on his way past Sirius and back into the parlour. "Yeah?"

Sirius cocked his head, caught between amusement and confusion. "What are you doing?"

"Looking for Remus."

Sirius' stomach lurched.

"Do you think he's upstairs?" Harry asked, eyes darting in that direction. "It's nearly dinner so he probably isn't sleeping. And if he knew we were coming home today, he would have gone to the market, yeah? He likes to shop in Diagon Alley when it isn't so crowded, so maybe he went there."

Harry's face was expectant, green eyes wide and… there was no other way to describe them… hopeful.

Sirius struggled to keep his expression upright, to keep his face from betrayimg the tangled hurt he'd kept so well at bay for the past few days. Too well, apparently.

"Harry," he began quietly; gently. He reached out and settled his palm against Harry's flushed cheek. "I… don't think Remus is here."

"But…" The green dimmed, but only for a second and then Harry shook his head resolutely. "Dumbledore said he would come home; once he realized how much he missed us. Remus has to miss us."

Though it felt as though his vocal cords had been scrubbed raw, Sirius nodded. "I'm certain he does—"

"But then he has to come home," Harry said firmly. "Even Ollivander said so."

"Harry…"

Harry stared up at him, his face pinched. "He didn't even say goodbye, you know."

"I know…"

Harry's face screwed up, and Sirius tensed as he waited for tears, but Harry swallowed hard and shoved his hands into his pockets. "Could we make lemon treacle?" he asked, his head tilting to the side, expectant in an entirely different way.

It took Sirius several seconds to form a response that wouldn't betray his surprise. "Absolutely… sounds fun," he finally said, smiling a little.

"Yeah." Harry scrubbed a hand over his nose. "I'll go wash up."

Sirius wanted to hug him, but Harry's posture said he wouldn't tolerate that well, so Sirius simply nodded. "I'll find the recipe."

Harry nodded, did something with his lips that was probably meant to be a smile and went upstairs.

Sirius blew out a breath. How had he not realized that Harry would take Albus' words straight to his heart? He had been trying so hard to keep everything as normal as possible.

None of this was normal.

Remus had left them, for God's sake.

Sirius slumped into the nearest chair, crossed his arms on the table and let his head fall. Fuck. He hadn't allowed himself to think about Remus for days.

He should have been paying better attention to Harry, should have known that Harry needed to talk about this—

A sound like a small explosion; shattering glass and popping metal brought Sirius' head up with a jerk. He shot to his feet, and without even deciding to run, he was taking the stairs three at a time, careening to an abrupt and winded halt just inside Harry's door.

Harry was standing in the middle of his room, staring at the bits of metal and glass gathered around his trainers. Magic crackled in the air.

His chest heaving, Sirius breathed, "Harry..."

Harry lifted his head, staring at him as if surprised to see him there.

Sirius could feel his brows colliding as he took a step cautious step inside the room. "What happened?"

"Nothing," Harry muttered, with a well aimed kick at the largest chunk of metal. Sirius spread his hands in bewilderment.

"What—"

"It was just that stupid train I used to play with." Glass crunched loudly under Harry's foot.

"Train?" Sirius stepped back as Harry brushed by him and stalked over to his bookshelf, yanked his dog-eared copy of Bilius Bottlebee's Famous Flying Raptagon from the third shelf and plunked it on the desk. Sirius stared down at the mess; at the familiar bits of scarlet and black. "The model of the Hogwarts Express?" he asked, crouching down to lift the large piece—which looked like it used to be a smokestack. Tilting his head up to look at Harry he said very quietly, "The one Remus gave you for your sixth birthday?"

Harry didn't answer. He pushed the book aside and pulled out another one. "Never liked it anyway..."

Sirius stood slowly. The air had settled, but he could still feel Harry's distinct magical signature hovering like an angry swarm of bees; it had been many years since Harry's last bout of accidental magic.

He put a tentative hand on Harry' shoulder and his godson deflated; the magic along with it. Sirius gripped his shoulder and with a quick indrawn breath, Harry turned his face into Sirius' chest.

Sirius gathered him close, his heart squeezing painfully as Harry gripped handfuls of his shirt. "Hey now," he whispered, "it's all right."

"No it isn't," Harry said, the words interrupted by hitched breaths. "He didn't even say goodbye."

Harry's chest heaved with soft, silent tears—the worst kind as far as Sirius was concerned, and tears stung his own eyes as he gazed down at his godson… his kid—his son in all but blood, and wished more than anything that he could fix this.

It was a long time before Harry's silence turned to sniffles. Sirius pressed a quick kiss to his hair before he let him step back and led him to the bed, skirting the wreckage. He offered a handkerchief and sat beside Harry, their legs in twin pretzels.

Harry finally spoke once he had squashed the damp handkerchief between his palms. "Why didn't he say goodbye?"

Sirius grimaced, somehow unprepared to answer this question. "I don't know…"

"I thought maybe…" Harry shook his head; the handkerchief was twisted mercilessly. "Dumbledore said…" Harry' chin wobbled. "…and Ollivander."

Sirius sighed. "I know they did," he said quietly. "But neither of them really understands Remus. It's very difficult to explain… and I'm not certain you will understand—"

"I'm not a baby."

Sirius smiled down at him, at the indignant frown on his tear-splotched face. "I don't even understand half of what I am trying to explain to you," he said, squeezing Harry's shoulder and earning himself a set of raised brows.

"Why not?"

"Because it's difficult to put into words, especially when it isn't me who is experiencing these feelings. I don't know that even Remus himself could explain it."

Harry's nose wrinkled as he tried to puzzle that out.

"Remus was bitten when he was a child," Sirius said, finally coming to a compromise with himself. "Which means that he grew up seeing himself as a werewolf and only a werewolf; defining himself that way." He paused, thinking how best to explain. "Much like Draco defines himself as a pureblood, and Hermione as clever. And many of the things they say and do are centered round those things, does that make sense?"

Harry hugged his legs, the soggy fabric still clutched in a fist. "But, if Remus…" He swallowed hard, blinking several times.

Sirius soothed his thumb over the back of Harry's head and prompted gently, "If Remus?"

Harry clenched his jaw and then in a burst of words, he demanded, "Why is that more important than us?"

Sirius stilled. His automatic denial died in his throat. Put like that…

"Draco likes me," Harry said, straightening up. "He wanted to be my friend even when he wasn't supposed to because I'm not a pureblood and you're a blood traitor." He spat the word as if they tasted foul. "Draco didn't stop being my friend. He was sorted into Gryffindor!"

Before Sirius could find a response to that, Harry plowed on, "And I know it's not the same because being a werewolf is awful, but it's still bollocks! He shouldn't have left!"

"You're right," Sirius agreed softly; it was difficult to manage even that. The fierce scowl on Harry's face suddenly faltered.

"Maybe…" He worried his bottom lip.

Sirius closed a hand over one of Harry's. "Remus does love you, Harry. I don't want you to think that he doesn't. And I don't know how to explain this any better—I'm bollixing it, I know…" He swallowed, wishing he was strong enough to have this conversation.

Harry leaned against him. He didn't say anything, but Sirius was grateful for that. He couldn't speak either.

Neither of them spoke for a long time, not until Harry said very quietly, "I didn't mean to blow up the train."

"I know… it's all right." Sirius considered the strewn glass and bits of metal. "Would you like me to fix it?"

Harry shrugged.

Slipping his wand from its holster, Sirius incanted a silent Reparo. He and Harry watched as the pieces lifted off the floor in a flurry of movement; the smokestack wiggled out of Sirius' grip and joined its mates. A wandless summoning charm brought the reconstructed train to Sirius.

"Not bad," he said with a smile that he hoped was encouraging. In truth, the engine looked exactly like it had been shattered and forced back together again. He offered it to Harry.

Harry weighed the mangled engine against his palm.

Digging for some sort of inspiration, Sirius asked, "How would you like me to start giving you Animagus lessons?"

Harry's eyes flew up. "Yeah?"

Sirius smiled. "Yes, then?"

Harry straightened, his green eyes bright with eagerness. "Can we start tonight?"

"Reading about it, yes," Sirius agreed as he stood and pulled Harry along with him. "The actual attempts to transform will have to wait until you've learned the basics of the magic behind it."

Harry grinned. "Do we have to eat dinner first?"

"Yes," Sirius chuckled, ruffling his godson's hair. Harry sighed dramatically. He tossed the train onto his desk as they passed; it slid to the floor with a dull thud.

--

Hours later, with Harry tucked into bed, Sirius stood in the frame of the back door, looking out into twinkling blackness, nursing a cup of cold tea. He had never been particularly prone to claustrophobia, but it wasn't claustrophobia he was feeling anyway. The house felt entirely too large.

He sighed and pushed off the frame. Sleep sounded better than this, even if it was only half nine. A soft sound paused his pivot. He had his wand out in the next second, the tea sailing away into the kitchen with a silent, wandless command.

He stood still, wand out in defensive posture while his eyes scanned the night. Another soft shuffling and Sirius let out a startled chuckle. "Oy," he said softly as he dropped his wand and watched the great black beast step from the small group of trees. "I don't think I've ever heard of a thestral following a person home…"

The thestral snuffled out a deep breath, which Sirius imagined could have been laughter. He slipped his wand into its holster and stepped forward to meet her. As soon as she was close enough she bumped him under the chin as she had done the first time and then shrieked softly.

He stroked her neck, feeling himself smiling. He felt this way each time she was near; as if all the cold places inside of him were warming. "I would let you take me for a ride," he murmured as she nuzzled his neck and spread her wings outward, "but Harry's asleep upstairs."

She lifted her head, her eyes reflecting the stars. After a moment, she folded her wings against her side and snorted. Her hot breath tickled Sirius' nose.

"In the morning," he said, feeling lighthearted and foolish, "I know Harry would like another ride." They'd taken four while on holiday—the thestral had been a frequent visitor to their campsite.

The thestral shrieked softly, her head bobbing up and down. Sirius smiled, running his fingertips along her shoulder and down the tip of her wing as she stood absolutely still. She snorted after a moment, just before a familiar hoot broke the quiet.

It was Hedwig's indignant hoot. Sirius turned around. He could see her agitated flapping through the open kitchen door. He looked up then, another soft hoot calling his attention. A brown owl swooped down from far above the roof, its wings spread wide as it glided over Sirius' head and dropped a scroll at his feet.

Sirius scooped it up, patting the thestral absently as he rolled it open one-handed. He drew in a slow breath as he read, tingles spreading outward through his limbs.

Remus is going to hurt himself, Carad's bold script screamed out at him.

The parchment bent under the stress of Sirius' fingers.

Remus had already hurt himself. Tried to claw himself to pieces. And this—the drinking to excess that Carad was describing—was more of the same. Remus' own brand of self-punishment.

He read the last line again. He's a selfish bastard, but I reckoned you'd want to know.

Yes, he wanted to know.

Sirius crumpled the parchment. He realized then that he'd tangled his fingers in the thestral's thick mane. "I need to go," he whispered. She snuffled her agreement, her endless eyes glinting as she melted into the trees. Wondering vaguely if she would still be here tomorrow, Sirius went back into the house. Hedwig hooted again, still cross at the intrusion of another owl.

He scratched her head as he reached for the floo powder and threw it in the fireplace, calling for Ollivander. He stuck his head through the green flames.

Ollivander's shaggy shock of white hair appeared around the corner, from the back of his shop. "Sirius?" he demanded, his eyes sharpening. "What's the matter?"

Sirius shook his head. "I need someone to sit with Harry… if you wouldn't mind?"

"Of course," Ollivander said, already pulling his apron over his head. He waved his fingers impatiently and Sirius pulled back. The wand maker stepped out a moment later.

"Thank you," Sirius said as the older wizard brushed soot from his hair. "I need to go to France… to see Remus, and I didn't want to make up an explanation for Molly Weasley… I could have asked Albus, I suppose, but…"

"No need to explain, Sirius," Ollivander said with a smile. Sirius nodded, knowing that he hadn't needed to, but he felt a bit like he had just woken up in the middle of his deepest sleep. He was probably far too muddle-headed to be taking a trip to France.

But if Remus needed him…

"Go on," Ollivander broke into his thoughts.

"Right…" He ran a hand through his hair, and wished his stomach would be still. "I will floo you if it will be more than a few hours… I'll be back long before Harry wakes up…"

"Harry will be perfectly fine," Ollivander said patiently.

Sirius nodded. "I'll have to open the floo once I get there… don't know if it's open and then just use that if he needs me—"

"Sirius," Ollivander interrupted gently. Sirius closed his mouth, swallowing hard, suddenly feeling very foolish. And young. Ollivander squeezed his shoulder. "Go," he said quietly.

So Sirius went.

He stepped inside the shack a moment later, without really knowing what he was expecting to find, and decided as he saw Remus half-sprawled against the fireplace with an empty bottle of wine in his hand, that this was much worse.

Neither had he expected to be so angry, when clearly worry should have won out.

Finding it difficult to move, Sirius walked with clipped steps to his husband, but Remus didn't even notice him until Sirius crouched in front of him. And even then, Remus blinked several times, his brain taking its time to connect back with reality.

"Whatsthat?" he slurred, his head flopping wildly to one side as he tried to peer at Sirius with squinted eyes. Sirius had no idea what Remus meant with the question.

"It's me," he said quietly, keeping his voice low and surprisingly it took no effort. "It's Sirius."

Remus' arms flailed as he leaned in closer. Sirius caught him before his bristled chin smashed into the wood floor, lifting him under his armpits until Remus was staring at him with bloodshot eyes. His complexion rapidly shifting to something that looked like the split pea soup at The Three Broomsticks, Remus whispered, "Sirius?"

"Yes," Sirius said, and though he wasn't inclined to be patient, patience was woven through his tone. "Come along," he murmured, prying the bottle from Remus' grip, "let's get you up and into the bed."

"Sirius?" Remus moaned it this time, the word mournful and Sirius' stomach twisted painfully.

"Hush," he whispered, collecting Remus against his side, taking on his full weight easily. "Into bed."

"Cantgotobed…"

"Yes," Sirius said, firmly this time. "To bed, with several potions."

Remus struggled against Sirius' ribs, his head wagging back and forth. "… you don't unnerstand…"

Sirius grasped his husband's arms, exerting enough pressure that Remus had no choice but to sit on the bed. "I do understand," Sirius told him in that same tone, the one that Remus had absolutely no right to at the moment. "You've got yourself absolutely shitfaced because you feel guilty for being a giant arse and abandoning your family."

Remus stared at him, though Sirius couldn't be certain if that was from shock at Sirius' bluntness or simply because Remus had never been so drunk.

"We can talk about all of that when you are sober," Sirius went on calmly as he hoisted Remus' legs onto the mattress and tugged his shoes off, not stopping to untie the laces. "And believe me, we will. For now though, trousers off; you'll sleep better that way."

"Sirius…" This time the word was mauled by sick. Sirius sighed, his fingers automatically catching the back of Remus' neck as he emptied his stomach. Once Remus had quieted, he waved his wand in three swift arcs and the muck was whisked away, followed by a freshening charm for his mouth.

He ignored Remus' piteous moans as he worked through the buttons on his shirt. Sirius' throat burned as he glimpsed the scars so recently healed. He blinked several times and returned his attention to peeling the sleeves off, finally pushing Remus gently back against the pillow.

The trousers came next, with Remus fighting to keep his glazed eyes open.

Sirius drew the covers to Remus' chest, smoothing them as Remus mumbled things indecipherable. "Go to sleep," Sirius whispered. Remus gazed up at him through droopy lids, his lips working as if he wanted to say something and couldn't quite remember how to speak.

And no matter that Sirius had never been this angry with him, he couldn't stand to look into Remus' pain-filled face and do nothing. So he bent over and pressed a kiss to the clammy forehead, fingers brushing through the damp locks at his temple. "Just sleep, Moony," he murmured as he felt Remus relax beneath his lips. "We'll sort everything out later."

--

Remus opened his eyes and waited for the pain to slice through his head; for the nausea to turn his stomach. But he felt only twinges where there should have been throbbing. He turned his head cautiously and then froze.

Sirius.

He hadn't been dreaming…

How was it possible that he hadn't been dreaming?

But Sirius was here, sitting in the chair next to the fireplace; reading by lamplight. The half of Sirius' face that Remus had bruised was obscured by dark hair. Remus' throat burned as he imagined the dark patch of skin.

Turning a page, Sirius' fingers swept the fall of hair away.

The bruise was gone.

Sirius lifted his head then, his eyes meeting Remus'. His lips pressed together, only for a second. Then, closing the book carefully, he set it on the table beside him. "How do you feel?" he asked softly.

Remus swallowed, several emotions clamoring for attention. He ignored all of them and levered himself up. Sore muscles made it difficult, but Remus did it anyway, pushing aside the quilt, only realizing he was nearly naked when he was fully sitting. He felt his face growing warm, no matter how stupid that was.

Sirius was already crossing the space between them. "Here," he said, bending and reappearing with a dressing gown in his hand. He shook it out with a flick of his wrists; offered it. Remus stared at him, his stomach doing wild things that it ought not be allowed to do and then he stood and pushed his arms into the sleeves.

"Thank you," he murmured as he pulled it around him and tied the belt at the waist.

"You're welcome." Sirius folded his arms loosely over his chest. "How do you feel? Do you need more potions?"

Remus took stock of the dull aches now asserting themselves. "No, I don't think so… Sirius…" He didn't know what he meant to say. Sirius waited with his head tilted for a moment, sighing when Remus couldn't find his tongue.

"You ought to eat something," he said, dropping his arms. "Toast, perhaps? I don't think anything else will agree with your stomach at the moment."

"Sirius, wait… I..."

Sirius turned back; those grey eyes holding his—eyes which should have been storm clouds and instead were calm as winter skies.

Remus still couldn't make his brain work. For the better part of two decades, he had known and loved this man. And he could think of nothing to say.

Wishing he was fully clothed, he adjusted his dressing gown, tightened it. "I don't know what to say..."

Sirius slid his hands into his pockets, shoulders hunching. "You don't need to say anything. I didn't come here to talk you into coming home."

Remus' stomach tingled unpleasantly at the unexpected words.

"You made your feelings perfectly clear," Sirius went on in that same soft voice—the one that was devoid of any emotion at all, and the numbness was beginning to spread to Remus' limbs. "Carad sent an owl… said you were intent on destroying yourself." The muscles along Sirius' jaw twitched. "I needed to make certain you didn't."

Remus swallowed through the sudden swelling in his throat, wanting more than anything to touch Sirius then—his face, his hair… something. He couldn't have explained why he didn't. But Sirius turned away again, and each of his quiet footsteps seared Remus' heart.

He watched Sirius unwrap a baguette, wondering where he'd got it. "You don't have to... do that," he said, still standing like a helpless dolt in the middle of the floor. In a dressing gown and pants.

"It's only toast, Remus," Sirius said, not looking up from the knife he had collected from a drawer. "I've made you toast hundreds of times."

Remus could find no response to that. Sirius looked up, those eyes somehow even calmer. "Why don't you have a shower? I saw clean trousers and shirts in your satchel."

How Sirius could know that he couldn't speak properly without his trousers, Remus had no idea. But it made the twisted ache in his chest worse somehow. Sirius turned back to the baguette, his knife sawing through the crust.

When Remus reached the door to the toilet, he paused. He watched Sirius slicing a second piece of bread. "Where is Harry?" he asked quietly.

Sirius' fingers dented the hard baguette. He didn't look up. "Ollivander is sitting with him."

Remus gripped the door frame, closing his eyes. "How… is he?"

The dull thunk of metal against the countertop broke the silence. Remus opened his eyes.

"How do you think he is?" Sirius asked, fully facing Remus now, his eyes no longer calm. "You left without a word to him, Remus. How did you expect a twelve-year old to understand that? He doesn't understand, and neither do I," he added, the words just as quiet but full of so much pain that Remus flinched.

"He asked me why you didn't love us enough to come home, and I couldn't…" Sirius took a deep a breath, shook his head and turned to stare out the tiny window and into the darkness. "I couldn't even answer him. You weren't supposed to do this. You, of all people, Moony. I never thought…"

Tears stung Remus' sinuses as shame washed over him like a tide. The only thing Sirius had ever wanted was not to be alone. And without a thought for that—for his own husband—Remus had done just that. Abandoned him, just like Sirius' parents. His brother. Peter. And even though it hadn't been their fault—Lily and James as well. The entire wizarding world had turned on Sirius in an instant of insanity.

Remus did not want to be part of that list.

He didn't want to be the third person lost to Harry either.

"I didn't want to hurt you," he whispered as he stepped cautiously toward the kitchen.

"You made a fairly poor job of that," Sirius said flatly, still speaking to the window.

"I know…"

"You hurt Harry."

Feeling like he had been socked in the gut, Remus could only breathe, "I'm sorry…"

"I'm not the one who needs to hear that."

More unsure than he'd been even in the moments before Sirius had given him his first kiss, Remus grazed his fingertips along Sirius' shoulder. Sirius tensed again but he didn't move away. "Yes you are," Remus whispered. He slid his hand around to fit it against Sirius' chest. There were dozens of reasons he could give for leaving; so many excuses.

Each one sounded hollow. Selfish.

"There's no excuse," he said. "I know that—"

Sirius turned. Remus' dislodged hand fell uselessly to his side.

"I understand why you were so upset, Remus, of course I do," Sirius said. "I can't imagine what it would feel like… if I had hurt you; it would be unbearable. Except that I had to watch you as well… nearly killing yourself. Do you have any idea what that did to me?" he demanded softly. "When there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop you? And then, instead of talking to me, you left."

Remus had to look away from the grey eyes—so clear; cold steel now, piercing him through.

The sound of Sirius swallowing was loud in the small space. "Why didn't you talk to me?"

Remus' hands clenched. "Because," he said, struggling to keep his voice from breaking, "I broke your jaw. I could have killed you."

He nearly jumped when Sirius took his hand and pulled it against his own cheek. "Look at me."

With fingers trembling against his husband's face, Remus pulled his gaze from the wall.

"I know you didm't mean to hurt me," Sirius said quietly when Remus was held captive by the grey eyes once more. "Did you think I would blame you?"

"No," Remus said, shaking his head emphatically. "Of course not, I…"

Sirius twined their fingers together and inexplicably, tears climbed Remus' throat. "Why then?" Sirius said intently, anger finally seeping in. "Why did you leave?"

Remus shook his head, unsure how to explain, not knowing even if he understood it himself. "My worst nightmare," he finally heard himself to say. "Everything I've always been afraid of—hurting you, or later… Harry. Carad—" He tried to clear the blockage in his throat. "—he said… I already knew, but I'm the only werewolf either of us knows who has a family."

He wanted to look away but now, this time, he wasn't going to be a coward. "I've always felt that I was cheating somehow; that I shouldn't have been allowed to have you. And when I realized what I had done to you," he went on, no longer able to keep the moisture from finding his eyes, "I couldn't put you through that again—"

"You put me through worse."

Remus pressed his teeth tightly together, gave a tight nod. "I know, Sirius, and I'm sorry…" A low sound escaped his lips and he told himself it wasn't a sob. "I am so sorry."

Sirius' hands shifted and Remus felt a chill run through him, but instead of stepping away, Sirius wound an arm round his waist and pulled him close. His fingers tangled in Remus' hair, tugging gently until their eyes met.

A sad smile pulled at the corner of Sirius' lips. "I don't think I have ever been this angry with you… but I do love you. It's absurd how much I love you."

Remus' automatic response wavered on his tongue, reminding him of the first time Sirius had said those words to him; the harsh retort that Sirius couldn't possibly love him. The same belief taunted him now, but he wasn't going to hurt Sirius again.

He traced the edge of Sirius' face, down his strong jaw. "I love you too."

A spark of pleasure lit Sirius' eyes. Shame washed through Remus again; the realization of how much he'd hurt his husband, if those simple words could mean so much to him. But then Remus didn't say them often enough, even when everything was normal between them.

Selfish was too mild a term for what he'd done. "I was wrong to leave," he said gruffly. "I don't want to stay here... live without you and Harry." Remus' heart thumped as he watched the small smile fade.

Very quietly, Sirius finally said, "You can't do this again." His eyes were calm again, voice as grim as Remus had ever heard it. "I want you to come home, but only if this is it."

Remus nodded, unable to speak. He wasn't certain which of them moved first but there was no longer space between them. Sirius breathed deeply, his nose buried in Remus' hair.

--

Harry pushed his glasses up to his forehead, rubbing his fists into his eyes as he padded down the stairs in search of water. The parlour lamps were still lit. He glanced around for Sirius and then halted abruptly as he saw Ollivander in one of the chairs, his eyes closed and his head leaning to one side; snoring lightly.

He squinted at the clock over the mantle. It was half three; what would Ollivander be doing in his parlour in the middle of the night? Unless… Harry's stomach twisted unpleasantly. But where would Sirius go in the middle of the night?

Torn between dashing upstairs for his mirror and waking Ollivander, he frowned. It would be entirely more sensible to wake the wand maker up, instead of jumping to all sorts of mad conclusions. He really hated being sensible.

Sighing, he crossed to the chair in front of the fireplace anyway, wrinkled his nose as he tried to figure how to wake Ollivander. If it had been Sirius… or Ron, he would simply shake them awake. He wasn't sure that was the proper etiquette for waking Ollivander though. In the end, he touched his shoulder lightly and whispered, "Sir?"

It took three tries before the wand maker's eyes fluttered open. "Harry?" he questioned, voice rough with sleep as he straightened up. "What time is it?"

He settled his spectacles on his nose, craning his neck to peer at the clock even as Harry answered, "Half three."

"So it is…" Ollivander returned to silver gaze to Harry. "Why are you awake at this hour?"

Harry goggled at his mentor, thinking that wasn't the most important question. "Where's Sirius?" he said instead of answering, then decided that might have been impolite so he added hastily, "I was thirsty."

"Sirius had to tend to some things—"

"What things?"

Ollivander raised a bushy eyebrow.

"Sorry sir," Harry apologized quickly for the interruption. Hoping he sounded calmer, he asked, "Do you know where he went?"

"I do."

Harry sat heavily on the low table. He squashed his fingers beneath his thighs. "Did Sirius tell you not to tell me where he went?" he asked quietly. When Ollivander shook his head, Harry pressed, "But then why can't you tell me?"

"Because," Ollivander said with a pointed frown, "it is none of your business. Now, I think you had best fetch your water and then to bed."

Harry only considered arguing for a half a second. Arguing with Ollivander wasn't something he could really bring himself to do though. So he sighed and slid off the table. "Yes sir."

"Goodnight," Ollivander said as he turned for the kitchen.

"Night..." Harry paused before he stepped into the kitchen. "Sir?"

Ollivander twisted. "Yes?"

"Did you mean Remus… when you said Sirius had things to attend to?" He twisted his shirt between two fingers when Ollivander's sharp eyes narrowed. "I mean… Remus is all right, isn't he?"

The silver eyes softened the tiniest bit. "Yes," the wand maker answered quietly. "Your parents are both perfectly well. Off with you now," he added when Harry didn't move. Reluctant, even with the reassurance, Harry nodded and slipped into the kitchen.

Lifting her head from underneath her wing, Hedwig greeted him with a soft hoot.

"Hey girl…" He smoothed a finger down her soft feathers, smiling a little when she nibbled at his finger. He looked up as he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. His eyes widened when he stepped to the window.

Quickly, he pulled the back door open. "What are you doing here?"

The thestral snorted.

Harry stepped forward cautiously, holding his hands out like Ollivander had showed him and whispered, "Sirius isn't here…"

The thestral let out a breath, her head bobbing a nod. Harry smiled as she nudged his hand with her nose.

"Are you hungry? I don't really have any birds for you to eat… Hedwig isn't food."

The thestral warmed his hand with a long breath, making Harry wonder—as he had when they were in the forest—exactly how much she understood.

"I don't think you would like minced beef… too cold. I have apples, but you don't eat apples, do you?" he whispered; she butted his hand again. She seemed to respond best to low tones. "What are you doing here, eh? I bet you were lonely."

The thestral answered only with her snort, but that was enough.

"I see you found our visitor."

Startled, Harry spun around. Sirius was leaning against the door frame, smiling.

"You knew she was here?"

Sirius pushed off the frame. The thestral gave a soft shriek in greeting, already moving toward him. "She was here just after you fell asleep," Sirius said, draping an arm across Harry's shoulders as he ran his palm up the thestral's inky muzzle.

"How did she know where to find you?"

"Don't know," Sirius murmured. "Thestrals do have a keen sense of direction though…" He glanced down at Harry, one eyebrow quirked. "It's a bit early for you to be up for the day, isn't it?"

"I was thirsty."

"And you thought the thestral might have water for you," Sirius said with a solemn nod. Harry smiled. Sirius smiled as well, though the humour drained from his eyes almost immediately. He squeezed Harry's shoulder. Very quietly, he said, "Remus is here."

After a stunned moment, Harry's eyes darted to the back door. "He is?"

"Mmhm."

Harry couldn't see anything except the cold cupboard from this angle. He lifted his eyes back to Sirius.

"He came home with me… went straight to sleep though. I was a quite startled to find your bed empty," he added, his fingers tapping against Harry's arm.

There was a wrinkle in the middle of his forehead as Sirius gazed down at him. Harry knew his godfather was waiting for him to say something. Realizing they had probably Apparated straight to their bedroom, Harry felt himself frowning as he asked curiously, "Is that where you went? To fetch him?"

"No," Sirius murmured. "He wasn't feeling well… He needed potions."

Harry considered that. "Did Remus ask you to bring them?"

Sirius' face wavered and Harry wondered why it was such a difficult question. "No," he finally said. "Carad sent me a message; Remus was with him."

"Oh." Harry didn't know why it should make a difference how Remus had got here, or why he had come home. But the burning in his stomach told him it did. Screwing up his face as he dealt with the unpleasant sensation, he asked, "He's staying, then?"

"Yes," Sirius said softly. He took Harry's chin in his hand, tilting his face up. "I know how difficult this has been… it has been for me as well. It's perfectly all right if you still feel angry, even though Remus is home. And if you want to talk about anything… I'm right here to listen."

Ignoring the tickle at the back of his throat, Harry nodded. Sirius squeezed his cheeks gently, smiling a little.

"Let's go inside," he said. "You don't even have anything on your feet."

Harry wiggled his toes against the cold grass. "Do you think she'll still be here in the morning?" he asked, his fingers tickling the thestral's neck.

Sirius patted her muscled flank. "I hope so."

--

Harry took the stairs slowly, his hand squeaking along the banister as he neared the last step. The door to Sirius' room had been open, the bed neatly made. Considering it was nearly eleven, Harry wasn't surprised.

The parlour was empty, and he could see Sirius rummaging through the cold cupboard. Remus was nowhere in sight.

Sirius looked up as he padded into the kitchen, smiling. "Well, good morning, sleepy-head."

"Morning…" Harry reached back to scratch at a shoulder blade and yawned. "Guess I was tired…"

"Remus and I only woke up an hour ago," Sirius said, reaching over to ruffle Harry's hair as Harry came over to slouch against the counter beside his godfather.

Harry's eyebrows peaked at the mention of Remus. Sirius smiled and crooked his head toward the window; Harry's gaze followed the gesture. Remus was in the yard beside the thestral, stroking her mane; Harry's stomach danced.

"Annwn seems rather taken with him."

Harry pulled his eyes from Remus. "Annwn?" he echoed, giving his godfather a lopsided smile. "Like the thestral who saved Merlin from Morgan le Fay's Inferi?" It was one of Sirius' favorite tales. He'd read it to Harry at least five hundred and twelve times.

"She needed a name, didn't she?" Sirius answered with a smirk. He gave Harry a gentle nudge toward the back door. "Go say good morning."

Harry didn't know if Sirius was referring to the thestral or to Remus, but he obeyed. He was halfway across the yard when the thestral—Annwn—lifted her black head, her neck bobbing a greeting.

Remus turned. A huge smile lit his face, startling Harry for an instant.

His own smile was quite a bit smaller. Stuffing his hands into his pockets, he ducked his head briefly and finished the trek.

Remus' smile had calmed a little, hovering now. "Hello, Harry."

"Hi."

"How are you?"

Harry shrugged. He squinted as he studied Remus' face; it was especially pale, and there were dark shadows under his eyes. Grey, Mrs. Weasley would have described him. "Are you better now?" he asked. Remus' brow crumpled in confusion. "Sirius said you weren't feeling well…"

"Oh. Yes... much better."

"Good." Harry took up Remus' post next to Annwn and began combing his fingers carefully through her mane.

A faint smile this time. "Sirius told me that you saw a herd of unicorns?"

"Yeah."

"You plucked a hair from one?"

Twisting the strands of mane into awkward braids, Harry nodded.

Remus' chest rose and fell, but he didn't quite sigh. "Sirius learned to carve… Did he show you?"

"Yep."

"He enjoys working with Ollivander almost as much as you, I think."

Harry smiled, thinking of how Sirius had listened so carefully to Ollivander's instructions about approaching the herd, his head tilted in concentration as he asked questions. "Yeah."

"I am glad you enjoyed your holiday," Remus murmured.

Harry stopped petting Annwn, his lips turning down without his permission as he stared at Remus, wanting to tell him that they hadn't enjoyed it as much as Remus wanted to believe. Not that Sirius had moped, but Harry could just tell.

They stared at one another for what seemed like a very long time, while Remus wound his fingers around his wrist; unwound them again. Finally, he cleared his throat. "I wish I had been with you. I missed you both very much."

Harry didn't nod this time. Not because he didn't believe that Remus had missed them, but it seemed too difficult to do anything but stare.

"Harry…" Remus put a hand on his shoulder and he ducked his head. "It was very wrong of me to leave, especially without speaking to you first."

Harry shrugged. "S'allright… I mean Sirius told me you were worried about hurting us; because the Wolfsbane didn't work."

"Yes, I was," Remus said softly. "It was still wrong though… I'm very sorry."

Harry nodded, not knowing what to say.

Remus searched his face, his eyes and lips pinched. "I know that Sirius didn't tell you that he was hurt. The wolf…" His voice faded out for a second, but then he set his jaw. "Because the Wolfsbane didn't work, the werewolf took control of me… it was only a few moments until I regained control. But when I realized that Sirius was hurt, I didn't think I could to stay here, knowing that one of you could be hurt again. But I should have considered your feelings before I left."

Harry swallowed, managing to ease the burn in his throat. "What if the Wolfsbane can't be fixed?"

The knot in Remus' throat bobbed. "I will stay alone at the cottage in France during full moons… I would need to do that for at least the first two months even if Snape can brew a different formula. But either way, I won't leave again."

Harry wanted to believe that. He knew that Remus wouldn't say it if he didn't believe it himself. And Sirius had said Remus was staying, so Harry ignored the worried tingles in his stomach. "OK," he finally answered, almost a whisper.

Remus attempted another smile, not quite succeeding. The tingles in Harry's gut grew louder, even though he knew it was rather silly to feel guilty over the sad expression on Remus' face.

Toeing the soft earth with his trainer, Harry said quietly, "I'm glad you're back."

A smile touched Remus' eyes; eyes which were watching him carefully. Very slowly, he stepped closer and curled his arm around Harry's shoulder. "Me too," he murmured. Harry let his head rest against Remus' chest for a moment, concentrating on the hand smoothing his hair.

"Did Sirius tell you that we rode her?" he asked as he pulled back, indicating the newly christened Annwn. "It was brilliant."

A small breeze ruffled Remus' hair, sending it up at bizarre angles. He combed it off his forehead. When it looked its tidy self again, he said, "Yes, he did."

"She must be hungry, don't you think so?"

"I don't know…"

"She'll hunt when she's hungry," Sirius said, coming up behind Remus with two full glasses in hand, and a third floating beside him. "Water," Sirius said, smiling as he gave one of the glasses to Remus. "And lemonade for you," he said, sending the other glass to Harry with a waggle of his fingers.

"But what if the neighbors see her?" Harry asked, poking a large piece of ice until it was submerged.

"Already took care of it," Sirius said, his lips puckering after a long sip of lemonade. "I placed a charm on her so that she will be invisible once she leaves our wards." He winked at Harry. "Anyone riding her will be as well."

"May we?" Harry asked, the excited words burbling into his glass.

Sirius took Remus' hand. "After lunch. Unless you would like to continue our Animagus research…"

Harry chewed a lip, considering as he loped along beside them toward the house. "Can't we do both?"

Sirius feigned a dramatic sigh. "If we must…"

"We must," Harry said, dodging around them and into the kitchen. "I can't wait to find out what my Animagus is."

"Well, we won't find out this afternoon," Sirius said with a soft chuckle, "so why don't you lay the table while I finish these sandwiches?"

"I'll do that," Remus offered, already moving to the cupboard where they kept the dishes.

Sirius handed Harry the pitcher of lemonade, interrupting his study of Remus. Harry cradled the pitcher to his chest as he caught his godfather's eye. Sirius smiled. A real smile, even though there were still shadows lurking. Harry smiled a little too, glad that Remus was home.

Chapter Text

Remus watched Sirius knotting his tie with deft fingers, the way he ran his hands over the silk to make certain it was smooth. He was about to turn away from the mirror when Remus stepped behind him, Sirius' robes already in hand. Smiling, Remus draped the grey fabric over his shoulders, reaching around to fasten the clasp.

His hands trailed down the edges of the robes, smoothing just as Sirius had done with his tie a moment before. Sirius was watching him as well, smiling after a moment.

Keeping his gaze, Remus skimmed the tips of his fingers over Sirius' wrist and down his fingers, finally catching a hand and bringing it to his lips, relieved as Sirius pressed against him in reaction. Sirius had been far too generous, as far as Remus was concerned. Even when Remus could see the shadows of hurt or anger in his face—moments which seemed to have nothing to do with Remus' leaving—Sirius never said a word.

He seemed content to forget it had ever happened. And since Remus had vowed never to hurt him again…

Remus pushed the guilt aside and swept Sirius' hair away from his neck to press a kiss against his skin. Sirius said quietly, "We'll be late." Remus could see his apologetic grimace in the mirror. Sirius cleared his throat softly. "To see Snape."

And he was right, of course, but that didn't stop the twist of guilt from resurfacing. "Right," Remus agreed as he stepped back, giving Sirius the space he apparently still needed; even if he wasn't willing to admit he needed it.

Sirius straightened his robes before they left the room. Remus paused in front of Harry's open door. "He left his lamp on," he explained when Sirius threw him a questioning look. Sirius slouched against the frame as Remus stepped over to the desk and turned the lamp down and then stooped to retrieve a crumpled shirt from the floor.

He frowned when he saw the Hogwarts' engine wedged between a desk leg and the wall. Harry usually kept the model on his shelf…

Remus ran a finger over the crooked smoke stack before he picked it up. It looked like it had been run over by the life-size Express. Turning to Sirius as he straightened, he held it up. Sirius' face shifted away, and Remus was at a loss to understand it.

"What happened?" he asked quietly.

Sirius didn't answer immediately, instead coming into the room, his gaze fixed on the misshapen engine. "Harry was very upset when he realized you weren't coming home," he explained softly. "I hadn't seen him lose control of his magic in years. It exploded."

Remus' throat tickled at the news. "I didn't realize…" Sirius lifted his eyes and Remus wanted to look away from the emotions that Sirius was trying so obviously to hide. "He didn't seem angry," Remus explained as his chest tightened.

"He doesn't like to quarrel anymore than I do," Sirius pointed out, gently for all it made Remus feel about two centimeters tall. He should have realized… of course, he had known that Harry was hurt.

But this…

"Sirius!"

Remus nearly lost his grip on the train at Harry's shout. He blinked back the unwelcome moisture that had climbed up his sinuses. Harry's pounding footsteps echoed on the stairs.

"Sirius?" he called again. And before Remus could decide what to do with the engine, Harry careened into the room, his cheeks lightly flushed and his hair messier than usual. "Oy," he breathed with a grin, "Annwn can't run as fast as I can fly!"

Sirius' pinched features melted into a smile. "You were racing her?"

"Yeah!" Harry grinned. "She likes it. I want to take her out to fly against my broom. The garden is too small. Can we try that?" he asked eagerly. "Over in the field where we play Quidditch?"

"We could bring her to the Weasleys on Friday, if Mrs Weasley doesn't mind."

Harry's eyes had strayed to Remus though, and he didn't answer. His happiness drained away in the same way Sirius' had a moment ago and Remus felt like he'd been kicked. But before Remus could think of something helpful to say, Harry flicked his eyes back to Sirius.

"Are we still going to Hogwarts?"

Sirius nodded. His grey eyes were soft as he murmured, "The headmaster is expecting us."

Harry flattened his hair with a palm. "Now?"

Sirius reached a hand out to smooth the rest of Harry's wayward tangles. "Yes. We'll apparate, I think?" he said, glancing at Remus. Remus nodded, his fingers still gripping the model.

For a moment, Sirius looked uncertain. It was only in the quick glance between Remus and Harry—and the line between his eyes. And Remus knew he should say something, but he had no idea what might end the awkward détente.

So, in the end, he set the model on Harry's desk and tried a smile. "Shall we?"

Harry pulled his eyes away from the train, flattened his hair once more and turned back for the stairs. "Friday, yeah?" he asked over his shoulder, tearing Sirius' attention from Remus.

"I think Annwn will like that," Sirius said, falling in step beside Harry. Remus straightened his cloak, ignored the squeezing sensation around his heart and followed.

--

"Can't I just come with you?" Harry asked as Sirius opened Hogwarts' iron gate and gestured for him to go ahead.

"That's the third time you've asked me," Sirius reminded him, not quite chiding but Harry sighed anyway.

"But I'll be quiet," he promised. "I won't ask any questions."

"You'll have more fun with Hagrid," Sirius said as he and Remus began walking up the path toward the castle. Harry dragged his feet, the unfairness of the world settling in to make them heavy.

It wasn't that he didn't want to see Hagrid—he did. And he knew it wouldn't really make sense to just sit quietly in Dumbledore's office when what he actually wanted was to ask Snape about his mum.

"The conversation will be dull," Sirius spoke again, this time in a tone meant to reassure him. They had stopped halfway down the path to castle's main door. Harry could see Hagrid's hut in the distance.

Harry squinted up at his godfather, gauging the likelihood that Sirius would agree to let him go along to Dumbledore's office. Found patience in the grey eyes, but patience would only do so much. He pushed his hands into pockets and kicked a stray pebble back into the grass.

Sirius smiled gently. "Hagrid has new Puffskein pups."

Harry dug a toe into the dusty path. "Yeah."

"You've never seen a newborn," Remus added. Harry glanced at him but didn't answer.

"We won't be gone long," Sirius assured him. "Less than an hour. And then we'll have lunch and work on your Animagus lesson. Your first go at transforming," he added in an encouraging sort of tone.

Harry sighed. He allowed Sirius to muss his hair, didn't bother to smile though as he mumbled his farewells and began his trek down the long hill to the hut, which looked entirely too cheerful.

He picked his way through the tiny pumpkin vines, being careful not to step on any of them. As soon as he cleared the patch, Hagrid's door was flung open and Hagrid burst out, with Fang bounding down the few stairs after him.

"Harry!" Hagrid greeted breathlessly, "Bit of an emergency with Buckbeak!"

"With what?"

"Buckbeak!" Hagrid called over his shoulder as he charged toward the Forbidden Forest. "Jus be a minute! Have a cauldron cake!"

Harry stared after him until both Hagrid and Fang were swallowed up by the trees.

Cauldron cakes. Baked rocks, more like. Scowling, he plopped on the top stair. He could see Gryffindor's tower from here. Couldn't see much else.

Not that he needed to see anything stuck down here. And now he was stuck here, waiting for Hagrid. Hagrid—doing something with a buckbeak…

When his legs began to twitch from impatience, Harry pushed himself up. If Hagrid wasn't going to come back, he wasn't going to just sit here, staring at pumpkin blossoms. He could be just as bored sitting next to the gargoyle that guarded Dumbledore's office.

--

Sirius took the seat offered by Dumbledore, murmuring his thanks when the headmaster held out a cup of tea.

"And for you, Remus?"

"Thank you, no," Remus said, shaking his head slightly at Albus' next suggestion of orange biscuits.

Albus busied himself with sugar and lemon, while Sirius watched Remus fidget beside him. Hoping to bolster, he slipped his hand into Remus. Remus' eyes flickered a brief smile before giving him a brief squeeze and then pulling away and folding his hands in his lap.

"Now then," Albus said, the words punctuated by the soft clink of china, "Severus, if you would care to begin?"

Sirius' gaze shifted to Snape, who was sitting, ramrod-straight, across from them. He pursed his lips, a gesture Sirius recognized from their student days. It was comforting, in a childish sort of way, that Snape was nervous as well.

"The new formula," Snape began, giving no further indication of his emotional state, "will need to be tested. There is no other way to be certain it will be more effective than the last."

"How many months would you recommend?" Remus asked softly.

"Three, at the very least."

Sirius read the lines of distress in his husband's jaw as Remus nodded.

"I should like to be kept apprised of your reactions," Snape continued on in that same detached voice. "For my research."

"Of course…"

"If the new formula is successful," Albus added as he adjusted his spectacles, "it will be most useful to Severus' other customers." He smiled at Snape, but Snape did nothing more than incline his head. It was eerie, this statue-version of the boy who had sparred with Sirius and Remus on a regular basis when they were children.

"However I can help," Remus agreed softly.

Snape reached into an inside pocket of his black robes and extracted three flasks. "If the first doses do not produce sufficient results, I will need to know that as well."

Remus accepted the proffered potions with a nod. "Thank you."

"I believe that you were hoping Remus might detail his experience with the failed potion, Severus?" Dumbledore said into the following silence.

Beside Sirius, Remus' hands clenched; his face paled a shade. Sirius wound his fingers in the edges of his robes, stilling the urge to slip his hand into Remus' again.

Snape slid his eyes to the headmaster. Dumbledore smiled, but prompted no further.

"Is that…" Sirius cleared his throat when Snape's gaze snapped to him. "... necessary?" he finished, gesturing feebly.

"No," Snape said, the word barely audible.

Straightening his spine, Remus flattened his palms against his thighs. "If it will help…"

Snape kept his eyes on Sirius as he answered with an impassive, "It will."

"Very well," Remus said quietly, interrupting Snape's skin-prickling study of Sirius.

But even when Snape's eyes were no longer boring into him, Sirius' nerves wouldn't settle as he listened to Remus' soft voice.

--

After skipping rocks across the lake and wandering in aimless patterns through the lower corridors, Harry took the stairs to the seventh floor two at time, only just managing to avoid Filch two floors below. No matter that it was summer, Harry had decided in a split-second dash that the caretaker would find some way to order him to a detention.

"Mr Potter!" a sharp voice rang out.

Harry nearly lost his balance as he came to a tip-toed halt on the top step. McGonagall was coming around a corner with a square-jawed wizard with hair the color of straw.

"Hello Professor…" He took the last step slowly, his face already warming under her dark stare. "My parents," he explained, gesturing to the gargoyle guarding Dumbledore's office, "are with the headmaster."

"Yes, I know, Potter," she said with a nod. "And even though term is not in session, I would prefer you not run pell-mell up the stairs."

"Yes ma'am, sorry."

Smiling, she gestured to the man beside her. "This is our new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, Sturgis Podmore. Sturgis, Harry Potter."

Podmore was already grinning—quite cheerfully. He stuck a hand out. "How do, Harry? It is a pleasure to meet you. You look remarkably like your father, did you know?"

Harry half-smiled at the question, but he nodded seriously. "Yes sir."

Podmore's grin widened. "I knew your father quite well. And your mother. Lovely people, both of them."

Any discomfort drained. "You knew my mum and dad?"

"Oh yes," Podmore said with several bobs of his head. "James was two years behind me—I was in Gryffindor as well. He bested me out of the Chaser position his second year." He didn't look too heart-broken over it though and Harry grinned.

"He had the best ideas for mischief, your father. The tower was much more fun with him and Sirius Black around; because of course you would never see one without the other," he added, chuckling. McGonagall cleared her throat, and Podmore glanced at her.

"Yes, well," he amended as color darkened his cheeks, "of course I don't condone that sort of thing—the mishief—any longer, you understand, Harry. As a student at this fine institution, the utmost discipline is required…" His hand flapped in a vague circle as he trailed off.

McGonagall's eyes were crinkled with amusement, though her mouth kept itself dutifully sour. "Quite so, Sturgis."

Podmore nodded, embarrassment still dusting his cheeks.

"Potter," McGonagall said abruptly, her dark eyes appraising, "you were to be visiting with Hagrid."

"Yes ma'am, but he had to go find a buckbeak."

Podmore cocked his head. "A buckbeak?"

"I've never heard of one either," Harry admitted. "But Hagrid knows loads more about magical creatures than I do."

"You are in third year next term?" Podmore asked. "Third years study dark creatures," he added when Harry nodded. "I have several if you would care to see them."

But before Harry could answer, the wall behind Dumbledore's gargoyle parted, revealing the familiar spiral staircase.

"Of course he is, Severus," Dumbledore's deep voice could be heard faintly. A rumbling response that Harry couldn't quite make out. "It would be much simpler," Dumbledore answered, "if you would simply allow them to thank you. Sirius has been attempting to contact you for years."

"You know why I cannot," a deep voice replied. One which Harry thought he recognized, and since it wasn't either Sirius or Remus, it was obviously—

A sigh. "I know why you think you cannot, Severus. And—" Dumbledore's feet appeared in Harry's line of vision, followed swiftly by his bright yellow robes and in sharp contrast-the deep black of Severus Snape's. Dumbledore smiled. "Good afternoon, Harry. How did you enjoy your visit with Hagrid?"

It was difficult for Harry to pull his gaze from Snape. "He had an emergency with a buckbeak."

Dumbledore nodded. "Ah." He extended a hand toward Snape. "You remember Mr Snape, I think?"

"Yes sir." Harry smiled. "Hello sir."

His face staying just as still as it had in Knockturn Alley, Snape inclined his head. "Good afternoon."

"I see you've met the new Defence teacher, Harry," Dumbledore went on. "And Sturgis, I believe you and Severus were acquainted during your student days."

Podmore was no longer smiling. He nodded stiffly. "Yes," he agreed, no trace of enthusiasm in his voice, "we were. In the years after as well."

Snape's jaw had tautened. "Podmore," he said just as tightly. And then to Dumbledore, "I have an appointment, Headmaster. Thank you for the tea."

"I will walk with—"

"No need," Snape interrupted the headmaster's offer politely. "I believe I know the way. Madame," he said with quick bob for McGonagall. He skipped over Podmore, his eyes flicking briefly to Harry once more before he turned away and swept down the staircase.

Once he had disappeared from view, Podmore murmured, "I didn't realize you were well acquainted with him, Albus."

"He provides the potions for the school," Dumbledore said, something about his expression not inviting more discussion. Podmore frowned, but Sirius and Remus appeared on the spiral staircase then, drawing everyone's attention.

"Harry?" Sirius asked, his eyes crinkled in confusion as they emerged. "What happened to Hagrid?"

"He was having a bit of difficulty with one of the magical creatures for his class," Dumbledore explained.

"His class?" Sirius and Harry echoed together.

"Oh yes," Dumbledore said with a smile. "Hagrid is taking over Care of Magical Creatures this year. It should be a wonderful year. Sturgis, you remember Sirius and Remus, of course. And now if you will pardon me, I have a staff meeting to prepare for. Minerva, if you are ready?" He offered an elbow to McGonagall, who made her farewells and the pair disappeared up the stairs.

"Podmore," Sirius said, grinning as he extended a hand."It's been too long."

"Much too," Podmore said with a matching grin. "I was just telling Harry how much fun we used to have in Gryffindor tower with you and James running amuck."

"Amuck? Now, now," Sirius chided as he slung an arm around Harry's shoulders, "you'll give my godson the wrong idea."

"Or precisely the right one," Remus said with quiet amusement. Harry smiled as Sirius pretended to be insulted.

Podmore chuckled. "You were nearly as mischievous as they were, Lupin," he said. "Though I admit you was better at hiding it."

"Remus has always been the sneakiest of us," Sirius said, sending a smile to Remus, who accepted the backwards compliment with a nod of his head.

--

Once they returned from Hogwarts, and after a short lunch, Harry made his first attempt at an Animagus transformation.

"I'll never manage it," he moaned after his fourth go. Sirius tapped the back of his fingers against Harry's head.

"One more time, and then we'll call it a day."

"Why is it so difficult?" Harry asked, but he'd already straightened up and set his lips in concentration.

"Because," Sirius said as he moved back a few paces, "usually you force your magic up from your core and out of your body. And right now, you're asking it to rearrange you while it's till trapped. And, it's a form of wandless magic."

"And non-verbal," Harry pointed out.

"Yes," Sirius said with a smile, "and both of those require a tremendous amount of control."

"Right," Harry said with a nod.

"Close your eyes," Sirius said quietly. "Visualize your magic," he murmured when Harry had obeyed. Harry nodded again, pursing his lips as he concentrated. It was a very strange thing, he decided. To visualize magic. Because, as far as Harry knew, magic didn't really look like anything.

But each time he closed his eyes and did as Sirius asked, he pictured something sort of white and very sparkly. Why magic seemed sparkly, Harry didn't know. But it always did as he pictured it gathering in his core, which he imagined was somewhere in the vicinity of his stomach.

"Pull it up," Sirius directed softly. "Slowly now…"

Harry took a deep breath, visualizing a sparkly pulse coming up with the breath, slowly, just like Sirius had said.

"Again… bring it all the way out until you can feel the magic through your entire body…"

Another breath and the sparkly white began to fill him, through his lungs it crept. And outward it spilled until he could feel the familiar vibration in his fingertips. The same one that usually seeped into his wand or exploded outward when he used to lose control of his magic.

He could feel it through his legs and in his toes. His skull tingled with magic.

"Don't let it go," Sirius' soft voice washed through the magic; it was sort of like a dream, but it reminded Harry that he wanted this magic to do something. Wanted it to change him. Transform him.

"Imagine that your arms don't have to be arms... Your legs are just one way to be. Feel how insignificant they are." He felt his godfather's fingers pressing into the crook of his elbow. His magic gathered there, dispersing just as quickly and making the white magic tumble when Sirius shook the weightless elbow. "Do you feel that?"

Sirius' voice was right next to Harry's ear, low and deep. Harry nodded. He could feel it. It almost felt like his arms were made of jelly. Almost.

It was a bit like floating.

"Tell the magic to change you… allow it to change you…"

Harry focused on the sparkling threads, imagined each one had the power to turn his limbs to liquid. Or something else—something he couldn't even dream of yet.

His arms and legs—his entire body—was hot. Cold somehow as well. He felt nothing but the magic. Silver now.

Silver and power, blended into one as his legs trembled.

And all at once it was gone, the magic fading to a low thrum as it seeped from his skin and trickled back into his core.

He barely managed not to curse as he opened his eyes, settling instead for an overdone sigh that heaved his chest. "It didn't work."

But Sirius was staring at him, a mixture of delight and confusion making his eyebrows look like they had been cursed by a mad scientist. He was still holding Harry's arm. Grinning, he held it up. "Look at that!"

A surprised squeak from Harry and Sirius was laughing. "Look at that," he said again, crowing now. "Remus, look at this!"

Remus joined them with soft footsteps. All three stared at the black fur covering Harry's arm. Or was it hair? Harry ran his fingers tentatively over it. Whatever it was, it was soft. And as black as his own hair. As if something had rubbed Hair Growth Elixir all over his arm.

"It's on your other one as well…" Sirius grasped his other arm, turning both to inspect them, his eyes narrowed.

"Looks like fur," Remus said quietly, joining in the inspection.

"Certainly not feathers," Sirius said, still grinning. "Do you realize how hard that should have been?" he demanded, his smile bringing one to Harry's lips as well. "You managed… fur! Before any of us did, you little bugger." He tilted his head, nodding as he gazed solemnly at Harry. "Harry James, I do believe you are some sort of prodigy."

The proclamation, no matter how exaggerated it might have been, sent a flush over Harry's cheeks. "Sirius," he grumbled, not quite able to still his smile.

Sirius released his wrists and with a renewed gleam in his eyes, gestured to Harry's feet. "Let me see your legs." He waved his fingers impatiently when Harry stared at him. "If you've sprouted fur on your arms, your legs might have as well."

Frowning as he realized his legs did feel a big strange, Harry hiked up a trouser leg. Sirius chortled. "Oy… puts us to shame…"

Fur… No matter that it was completely bizarre. "What do you think my form is going to be?" he asked, letting his trouser fall in place around his ankle as he straightened up excitedly. "Padfoot is black!"

Sirius pulled his gaze from Harry's arm, still shaking his head in wonderment. "Animagi tend to have the same features as their human forms," he said, "so if your animagus animal can have color variations, it would make sense it would be black. Padfoot has grey eyes. And your dad… Prongs had freckles under one of his eyes, just like James did; Prongs' weren't really freckles, I suppose, but darker bits of scattered fur."

Harry didn't ask about any of Wormtail's defining features. "McGonagall's cat form looks like it is wearing spectacles," he said instead, adjusting his own without thinking about it. "Do you think I'll be a cat?"

Sirius cocked his head. "You could be…"

"Or a horse?"

Harry glanced at Remus, already shaking his head. "Horses have hair. Annwn does."

Remus nodded.

"It could be hair though," Sirius mused. "It's short and black… I suppose we will simply have to wait." His tone was wistful.

"Let's have another go," Harry said, bouncing a little on his toes.

"Not a hope, kid," Sirius said, mussing Harry's hair. "You would collapse into a puddle of sparkly magical threads and black fur."

Harry made a face. "It wasn't that hard."

"No?" Sirius' eyebrows met his hairline. "Take out your wand and cast a Lumos."

Harry felt his brow scrunching. "Why?"

"Go ahead," Sirius said, dipping his head in a little nod.

So Harry pulled his wand, moving his fur-wrapped wrist in just the right way. "Lumos."

Absolutely nothing happened.

Frowning, he put more force behind his swish. "Lumos!"

Not even a tiny spark of magic against his palm.

"What happened?" he asked, his voice rising in panic.

"You overtaxed your magic," Sirius explained, though he was still studying Harry's furry arm and didn't look at all concerned that Harry couldn't cast a spell which he had been able to cast since he was nine.

"But where is it?"

Sirius raised his gaze from Harry's arm. His easy smile didn't do anything to alleviate the twinge of nerves in Harry's stomach. Neither did the crinkle of amusement around the grey eyes. "It hasn't gone anywhere. You simply need to let your core rejuvenate. You remember I told you that your magic might not be quite mature enough—"

"But what am I supposed to do about this?" Harry asked, holding up his arms for emphasis. "I have fur!"

Sirius looked like he was trying very hard not to laugh.

"It isn't funny!" He barely noticed Remus' slight frown.

"Easy, mate," Sirius said, his lips finally stilling mid-twitch, "don't panic. Here…" He took Harry's hands in his own, twining their fingers together and ordered quietly, "Visualize your magic again; it will be more difficult this time, but you can do it… deep breaths..."

Sirius' voice lulled the panic into hibernation, and once again as Harry concentrated on the place where he thought his core resided, he could imagine the white magic. Less white now, filmy as though it had been stretched until it was ready to snap.

"Feel that?" Sirius' soft query mingled with the lazy sparkles. "Your magic is exhausted." Harry was about to ask how his godfather knew that, but then he could sense a silvery white wave surging through his fingertips, coming from Sirius.

Familiar magic; the same magic he always felt when Sirius cast spells, especially ones specifically aimed at him—years' worth of warming charms and healing spells.

He relaxed as the familiar warmth coursed toward his core to collect his spent magic and draw it upward again.

Harry opened his eyes as his own magic took control again, pulsing to his fingertips before Sirius' drew away.

"There," Sirius said, smiling as well. "Feel better?"

Harry flexed his fingers, grinning. "Yeah, thanks. Er…" His arms were still furry. "Should I—"

"Just a moment…" Sirius drew his wand, pointed it at Harry's chest and uttered a soft spell. "Homorphus charm," he explained as they watched the fur ripple and sink into the skin.

Harry scratched his fingernails over the bare skin to relieve the sudden itch, shivering a little. "That was…" He struggled for a word. "… weird."

"Just wait until you transform completely," Sirius chuckled. "Still want to try again?"

Harry shook his head, his hand running absently over his wrist. "Not just now, I think." He nudged his smirking godfather with an elbow. "Not funny," he muttered.

"If you had seen your face," Sirius said, his eyes dancing.

Harry smiled. He supposed his panic had been a bit much.

"Well," Sirius said as he holstered his wand and set his hands to his hips, somehow managing to look at least as proud as he had when he first noticed Harry's fur. "I would say that was a successful first go, wouldn't you Remus?"

Harry shifted, only remembering then that Remus was in the room—had been the entire time.

Remus cleared his throat as he nodded. "Yes," he agreed with a smile. "That was very well done."

Harry scrubbed a hand over his forehead, pushed his fringe away from his scar. "Thanks." Realizing he was still holding his holly, he slipped it away, then wasn't quite sure what to do with his hands so he hooked his fingers into his back pockets. "Do we have any of the roast from yesterday's dinner?"

"In the cold cupboard… are you hungry?" Sirius' eyebrows had peaked in surprise. They had only just had lunch before beginning the lesson.

Harry's stomach grumbled its answer. "I'm starved."

"Maybe your Animagus is a bear," Sirius said as he bent to collect his book on human transfiguration from the table.

"Or a really big, scruffy black dog…"

"Scruffy?" Sirius echoed, his face filled with exaggerated offense as he straightened and gave Harry a one-eyed squint. "Padfoot is not scruffy."

"He is a bit scruffy," Remus murmured, so quietly Harry almost didn't catch it, except that he wouldn't have been able to miss Sirius' sudden grin. Remus smiled, the lines around his eyes deepening the way they always did when Sirius smiled like that.

Remus turned his amusement to Harry. Harry quirked a smile of his own before he turned for the kitchen. His parents trailed behind, Sirius insisting that Padfoot was adorable, and that anyone would be thrilled to have him for a pet. Remus chuckled at that while Harry made his way to the cold cupboard.

--

Sirius peeled off his shirt as soon as he stepped into his room, sending it with a wave of his fingers to the hamper. He had sat with Harry until he'd fallen asleep—a newfound habit which he supposed he would need to break. Remus was already in bed, probably asleep as he usually was by the time Sirius came in these days. Sirius could see him beneath the quilts through the darkness.

He toed off his shoes as quietly as he could, nearly toppling as he bent to tug at a sock. Rustling sheets interrupted his go at the other one. Grimacing, Sirius finished pulling off the sock and then stepped out of his trousers gingerly, foregoing his usual pajama bottoms and stepped silently to the bed.

Remus' eyelids fluttered open as soon as he slid under the quilt. "Sorry," Sirius whispered. "Didn't mean to wake you… go back to sleep."

A drowsy smile was his answer.

Instead of closing his eyes as he usually did, tentative fingers brushed Sirius' cheek, tracing the outline of the phantom bruise, as if the shape had been burned into Remus' memories.

Sirius watched the expressions on his husband's face, vivid even in the moonlight filtering through their curtains. The pain and sadness; love was mingled in there as well, but mostly it was… concentration. It was the only way to describe it; Remus was memorizing his face.

His eyes were carefully taking in every angle, flickering with a smile when Sirius returned the study with a furrowed brow. The deliberate fingers slid to his neck, running upward against his nape as the other hand joined the exploration, skimming over his chest, collarbones… his neck; Remus' thumb followed the curve of Sirius' lips. It was a study Sirius wasn't used to, especially now. When they hadn't shared more than a few touches since Remus came home. But Remus didn't insist even now, simply kept up the reverant ministrations.

Unable to be still any longer, Sirius propped himself up. He hooked a leg over Remus' hip and tugged, winning himself a startled smile as he settled against Remus' chest. Sirius twined their fingers together; pressed Remus' knuckles into the soft mattress as Remus gazed up at him, his pale brown eyes shining in the soft light.

Sirius kissed him.

Slumbering nerves wakened slowly; with gentle prodding and quiet persistence. Sirius had never cared for lovemaking in the dark; in quiet either, but this—this was an intensity that he had never before experienced. The dim light only heightened his senses as they rediscovered one another.

Sirius drank in every sigh, every soft breath.

Relished the wonder on Remus' face, the warmth in each one of his touches. And when Remus was curled into his side, their legs still tangled, chests heaving in tandem, Sirius closed his eyes, searching for the tension that had squeezed his chest for the past weeks.

But Remus' hand was swirling lazy circles in the soft hair at his belly, sending pleasant tingles over Sirius' skin, and, at least for the moment, there wasn't room left for anything else.

Chapter Text

There are fifteen transfigurative properties of Gemini Milkweed during daylight hours, but only three in moonlight…

Harry stared at the opening sentence for his summer potions essay; he had been staring at it for twenty minutes. He knew what came next—identify and explain the properties of the four varieties of milkweed. It was a simple assignment. The answers were waiting in his open potions text. But no matter how many times he dipped and re-dipped his quill, he couldn't put the next words to parchment.

It shouldn't be this difficult. There certainly weren't any distractions.

And any minute now, Remus would be leaving for the cottage in France. And any minute now, Sirius would stop staring at Remus like Remus was going to explode. Or Harry imagined Sirius was still staring at Remus like that; he had excused himself to his bedroom after breakfast.

Thirty minutes ago.

Maybe if his stupid clock didn't tick so loudly, he might be able to write.

Milkweed picked in sunlight…

Who cares about sunlit milkweed?

Professor Aarons would probably care… Too bad he couldn't explain to Aarons that Remus was about to spend the night in France.

It was only one night.

And then Remus would come home.

He would.

Harry paused in dipping his quill for the hundredth time when he heard footsteps on the stairs. He wiped the tip slowly against the lip of the jar as he watched Sirius and Remus go into their room.

… is not as potent…

Sirius was gripping Remus' satchel and cloak when they emerged a moment later.

Remus' soft knock jarred Harry's nerves as he let the quill's tip sink into the midnight liquid.

Behind Remus, Sirius smiled a little before disappearing. His footsteps echoed on the way down.

Remus cleared his throat, his fingers sorting his already-tidy hair into even tidier order. Harry continued to push the pile of the quill's feather the wrong way.

"I need to leave for the cottage," Remus said quietly.

Harry nodded. At least Remus was the one telling him this time.

"It is early," Remus went on after a pause, "but I don't want to risk leaving too close to nightfall… and the night generally progresses more easily if I rest beforehand."

Harry let the feather go; it was beginning to look rather pathetic. "Is Sirius Apparating with you?"

"Yes," Remus said, nodding. "He will be just a moment—"

"OK."

Harry had pushed away from his desk, vacillating between flopping on his bed and tugging a book from his shelves. Remus didn't leave though, so with a hand on his dog-eared copy of Hogwarts: A History, Harry asked, "Can you tell if the new potion is working yet?"

"It is too early to make much of a difference," Remus said as his fingers restlessly tugged at a cuff. "The… wolf will be more aware as night approaches."

"Oh." Harry moved a thumb over the colorful spines. "You won't know how well it works until tomorrow then?" he asked, peering up through his fringe as he waited for an answer.

Remus gripped opposite elbows, folding his arms as if he was cold. "Not until I wake with the sun, no."

Harry turned his attention back to the gold letters marking his favorite book about dragons; Sirius had given it to him on his first birthday here. He had written Harry's name on the inside cover—in permanent ink. Harry had peeked under the cover for days afterward just to make certain it was still there.

He heard Remus clear his throat, but it took a few seconds until Harry could make eye contact. Remus smiled the world's tiniest smile. "Would you… like to come with us?" he asked, the words careful somehow. "To see the cottage?"

Harry stared at him, not sure he'd heard correctly. "Yeah?" he ventured when Remus' fingers began tapping a nervous rhythm against his elbow.

Losing his taut posture, Remus nodded. "Would you like to?"

"Sure," Harry said, letting his hand fall from the dragon book.

Remus smiled a real smile. "It's a bit small," he said as they walked out of the room and down the stairs. "Tiny… but the mountains are lovely."

Harry glanced up at him. "It's in the mountains?"

"Yes. There is a Muggle village in the valley below but the cottage itself is isolated."

Sirius was waiting in the parlour, sitting in one of the chairs with his hands tangled between his knees. He smiled when he looked up, but he didn't look any more cheerful than he had all morning. "Ready?" he asked, standing.

"Harry is coming with us with us," Remus answered with a quick glance for Harry. Sirius' eyebrows shot up, his smile brightening along with it.

"You'll like the mountains," he said. "They're probably full of dragons."

Harry smiled.

Sirius gestured him over. "All right," he said, "the property is under a Fidelius Charm." Harry nodded. "Dumbledore was the secret keeper when he first secured it for Remus, but I am now, so all you need to do is repeat after me: Remus Lupin's Cottage, Corbières, France."

"Isn't it usually an address?"

"Bit hard to give an address to the middle of nowhere," Sirius said as he tucked Harry close. "Go on and repeat it."

So Harry did, and then he and Sirius were sucked into a vacuum of nowhere and everywhere, reappearing a moment later in a forest thick with trees. Remus followed shortly with a loud crack. A worn shack—there was no other word for it—stood in front of them.

"It's…"

"Not quite as awful inside," Remus murmured.

"The mountains are nice," Harry said. Nice was an understatement. He had never seen mountains like these, with peaks stretching into the clouds in every direction.

"They are breathtaking, aren't they?" Sirius said. He opened the door to the shack, stepping back to allow Harry and Remus to go inside. There was only one room, but it was much better than the peeling walls outside, with nice furniture and rugs. A stack of books on a small table and cozy-looking pillows. Curtains as well.

"Dumbledore gave you all this?"

Remus made a noise that Harry would have guessed was a snort if anyone else had made it. "Sirius replaced all the furniture."

"Had to," Sirius murmured as he set Remus' satchel carefully on the bed and hung the cloak on a hook. "It was rubbish… what little there was."

"Look around if you like," Remus said, probably noticing that Harry didn't know what to do beyond standing by the door. Sirius gave him an encouraging smile as well, so Harry crossed the room into the very small kitchen; he could see the mountains out the window.

And even though it really was beautiful out there, it was hard to believe that Remus had ever wanted to live here. "Were you going to live here again?"

Remus' half-smile immediately vanished. "I… hadn't thought it through…"

Harry didn't answer, instead moving to the short stack of books on the table. He flipped the topmost cover with an idle thumb while he looked around the room, took in the door to what was probably a toilet. The entire cottage couldn't have been bigger than the parlour at home.

"It's gloomy here," he finally decided. Whatever word meant worse than gloomy. Harry thought he would go spare if he had to live here. No wonder Sirius hadn't wanted Remus to stay.

"Would you like to go outside?" Remus asked.

At Harry's shrug, Sirius said, "We could take a walk."

Harry looked between his parents, took in their twin expressions of worry. "You said you needed to rest," he said, squinting across the space to Remus.

"A short walk will be all right."

"Let's go, mate" Sirius said, tilting his head toward the door. So Harry left the stack of books to their silence and went outside.

"Are you looking forward to visiting with the Weasleys today?" Remus asked after several twigs had been crunched under Harry's feet.

"Guess so."

"Do you and Ron have any special plans?"

"Nope." Not unless you counted Ron's insistence on trying one of the Marauders' pranks on the twins. Even if Harry had tried to explain that the twins had read all of them and had probably already prepared counter-pranks.

"Did you have any success with your potions essay?"

"Not really," Harry answered.

"I could help you with it tomorrow evening," Remus offered.

If you come home.

Remus didn't say anything after Harry's shrug. Harry listened to the sounds of the forest—birds calling to one another, the soft susurrations among the carpet of pine needles and leaves. And nearly camouflaged by a fallen trunk, the soft rustle of a little green snake as it poked its head out of a crack.

The snake stretched, its forked tongue darting upward as if in greeting. Wondering if this snake could talk to him like the other two he had spoken with, Harry crouched. The snake did not recoil.

"Hello," Harry said quietly. He sensed more than saw his parents pausing alongside him. The snake's tongue darted out again; its head bobbed up and down.

"A ssspeaker?"

"Don't be frightened," Harry said quickly.

"Of you?" The snake's tongue slanted upward again. "Or of them?"

Harry smiled. "They're my parents. We won't hurt you."

"Are they ssspeakers as well?"

"No, just me."

The snake studied him, its black eyes so expressive that Harry wondered how Muggles had not yet realized snakes were intelligent.

"It is nervousss…"

Harry cocked his head. "You are?"

The snake slipped slowly from its hole, winding carefully upward until it was resting on top of the log. "That one," it observed, its head bobbing in Remus' direction as Harry stood up.

Harry eyed Remus, who didn't look particularly anxious; both he and Sirius looked more interested in the snake than anything else. "How can you tell?"

The tongue flickered. "The sssmell."

Harry wasn't sure what the snake meant, but he didn't press for more details. "May I touch you?" he asked.

"Sssertainly…"

He extended a finger, uncurled his hand after a moment and let the snake cross his palm and circle his wrist. Harry smiled, enjoying the cold touch of the scales.

"Better than the sssun," the snake told him appreciatively. It twisted until it was coiled in Harry's palm, only the tail around his wrist, the tip of its head poking out from the middle of the spiral. "Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"Did it thank you?" Sirius asked curiously, coming to sit beside Harry on the log.

"Yeah, says I'm warmer than the sun," Harry said, looking up and finding his godfather smiling at him. Harry relaxed his spine, watching the snake along with Sirius as it closed its eyes. The pink tongue flicked out occasionally.

"What else did it say?" Sirius asked.

"Just wanted to make sure we were safe. And it said being nervous was a smell. Isn't that weird?"

Sirius' brow wrinkled. "It was nervous?"

"No." Harry brushed the coils with a knuckle. "It said Remus is. Because of the full moon, I reckon?"

Sirius lifted his gaze to Remus, his grey eyes in silent communication until Remus nodded jerkily a moment later. He hugged his arms to his chest just like he'd done in Harry's room and sighed. "Harry," he began, the word soft and awkward enough that Harry shifted. The snake lifted its head, weaving as it watched Remus. Remus blinked as he was studied. "I…"

"It is very nervousss…"

"I know," Harry assured him, taking the words as a warning. "It's all right, he won't hurt me."

Seemingly satisfied by that, the snake sunk back into its coils, though it kept its eyes open this time.

"I think he senses nervousness as a danger," Harry explained. "But I told him you wouldn't hurt me."

Harry was so startled by the strangled noise from Remus, he almost missed the whispered, "Moony…" from Sirius.

With a deep sigh, Remus sat beside Harry. "Harry," he began again, this time in a calmer tone, "I need you to tell me if you're angry with me."

Harry tried to ignore the sudden tempo of his heart. "I'm not!" The immediate—and loud—denial brought a wry smile to Remus' lips.

"You certainly are."

"I am not," Harry insisted, not quite as loudly this time but it didn't really help that he could feel a flush creeping up his neck. The snake in his palm was more alert now.

Remus sighed. "Please don't lie to me," he said softly. An unexpected wave of irritation burned through Harry's chest at that.

"I'm not," he snapped.

"But you were?" Remus asked, even more gently if such a thing were possible. "You were angry enough to lose control of your magic—"

"I didn't mean to do that!"

"I know," Remus began but Harry shot to his feet; the snake unwound itself hastily and dropped back to the leaves with a muffled plop, which for some reason annoyed Harry further. "I wasn't accusing you of—"

"You were the one who left," Harry said crossly. "And you didn't even tell me or say goodbye! You can't punish me for blowing up the train. You were the one who left!"

The shock on Remus' face halted the rush of words. "Harry," he said, "of course I am not going to punish you. I understand why you were angry—"

"Bully for you," Harry muttered as he turned away. He kicked a large stick out of his way and shoved his hands deep in his pockets, glaring at the snow-capped mountains visible through the trees. He nearly jumped when a hand settled on his shoulder.

"Harry," Remus said in a voice that was hoarse, "I know I hurt you. What I did was inexcusable. I know that. But I don't know how to make amends. And if you won't talk to me…"

The painful silence wrapped Harry's stomach into knots. "You didn't say goodbye," he mumbled. "You were going to be gone forever and you didn't even—" He refused to cry, so he shook his head and pressed his lips tightly together.

The leaves whispered their disturbance as Remus moved around to face him. He lifted Harry's chin. "I'm sorry," he whispered, scraping over the words. "I have no excuse except that I was so muddled—and hurting so much, that I was not thinking clearly." He shook his head. "I wasn't thinking at all. And by the time I realized what a mistake I had made… I didn't know how to fix it."

The words hurt even worse. Harry pulled his face away. "So you wouldn't have come home if Sirius hadn't come to fetch you." He knew it. He wished he had another stick to kick.

"No," Remus said softly. "I was attempting to find the courage to come home on my own. And failing miserably, but I couldn't have stayed away."

Harry stared at the icy peaks again. Yeah right, was what he wanted to say. But the anger had burned through, fizzled to something else that was much more difficult to understand.

"Do you know why?"

Harry didn't answer. Didn't even shrug. Tried to tell himself he didn't care, but even he had to accuse himself of lying then.

"When you and Sirius agreed to become my family… that was the happiest I have ever been. Do you remember that day?"

Still unwilling to pull his eyes from the mountains, Harry nodded.

"A family is something I never thought I would have; something a werewolf is not usually privileged to have. And that's what I am—a werewolf. And in those brief moments of madness after I saw what I did to Sirius, that's all I was. It consumed me until I let myself forget everything else."

Harry blinked several times, thinking how easy it would probably be to forget again.

"I am very sorry, Harry," Remus said. "And I know it's difficult for you to believe, but I promise I won't leave again."

Harry nodded, because what else was there to do? "OK," he found his voice when Remus continued to watch him. "Thanks." He chafed at his arms, even though he wasn't cold.

Remus looked like he wanted to say more, but he only asked, "Shall we go inside?"

And with Harry's nod, that's what they did.

--

Harry plucked the topmost Quidditch magazine from the tall pile. He tossed it to Ron, who was stretched out on the floor in a perpendicular fashion with his head somewhere near Harry's knees.

"I still can't believe Dad won all those galleons." Ron's voice was muffled under the pages of the magazine.

"Can't believe you get to go to Egypt," Harry said, more than a little envious. Not that he hadn't been on some brilliant holidays himself. "Think you'll get to go in the pyramids?"

"Course." Ron levered himself up and rested on an elbow. "Bill and Charlie are coming along as well. It'll be brilliant."

Harry smiled at his friend's wide grin. "Take pictures of the mummies."

Ron flapped a grand hand. "I will. Bill's there all the time and he's promised to take us to all the sorts of places where normal people don't get to go-he knows everyone, you know. And Charlie went with him last year."

Ron's chest was puffed to about twice its normal size as he went on about his brothers. And Harry found himself wondering what it might be like to take a holiday with six brothers and sisters. Grimmauld Place would certainly be much louder.

"What do you want?" Ron suddenly grumbled. Harry craned his neck so he could see over Ron's magazine. Ginny was standing in the doorway, frowning down at her brother.

She addressed Harry instead, "Sirius asked me to tell you it's time to leave for Diagon Alley."

"Thanks," Harry said as he hopped up.

"Yeah, thanks loads," Ron said in a mimicking voice. "You can go now."

Harry kicked his friend's foot. Ron scowled and swatted at him as he stood. Ginny had already turned; her footsteps clipped the stairs ahead of theirs.

Sirius was waiting, just finishing the last of Mrs Weasley's coffee. Harry peered at his godfather, but Sirius didn't look anxious. He did, however, notice Harry's scrutiny. He smiled and Harry hoped he really was relaxed as he seemed. It was probably impossible though. Even Harry couldn't stop wondering how Remus was faring.

"Remember to behave yourself," Mrs Weasley was saying to Ron.

"I will mum," he said, in a tone that said he had said the same thing hundreds of times before.

"We'll be just fine," Sirius assured her as she took his cup. He nudged Harry and Ron toward the trainers waiting by the door.

"Don't worry, Ginny dear, we'll have plenty to keep us busy this afternoon."

Harry glanced up from his laces. Mrs Weasley was patting Ginny's cheek. Her shoulders slumping, Ginny sighed.

"You can come with us," Harry said, straightening. He glanced quickly at Sirius, ignoring Ron's flopping mouth. "That's all right, yeah?"

Sirius smiled. "Absolutely."

Ginny's face lit up. Her brown eyes were sparkling as she turned to her mother. "May I?"

"If you're certain you don't mind an extra one?" Mrs Weasley said, her brows drawn together.

"The more the merrier." Sirius tossed Ginny her trainers. She grinned and bent quickly to put them on.

"But-"

"Hush Ronnie," Mrs.Weasley chided. She came over to smooth his collar. "Now, behave," she said, this time including both Harry and Ginny in the admonishment. "Mind Sirius."

"We will," Ginny said, while Ron scowled alongside Harry.

"Bring them straight home if they give you any trouble, won't you, Sirius?"

"I'll toss them through the first Floo," said Sirius solemnly while he winked at the three kids. Ginny and Harry exchanged a grin.

Ron elbowed Harry in the ribs as they trooped into the parlour. "Are you mad?" he demanded under his breath. "Why'dya ask Ginny along?"

Harry extracted his ribs from his best mate's pointy elbow. "Because I wanted to. Now, be nice," he muttered, but Ginny had already heard; she narrowed her eyes but before she could comment, Mrs Weasley was chivvying them through the Floo.

Ron huffed his way through Zonko's and the sweets shop and he was still complaining as they made their way to the Quidditch shop. "Why did she have to come with us?"

"Would you quit being a prat? Why do you care?"

"She's a pest," Ron insisted, but at least this time Ginny didn't hear him. She and Sirius were walking ahead of them.

"She hasn't done anything."

"You wouldn't understand," Ron grumbled. "You don't have a sister."

Harry shrugged. He always thought it would be rather nice to have a sister. Or a brother, but he wasn't going to say so.

"Look," Ginny's voice carried back to them as she pointed through the window into the Pet Emporium. "They're adorable."

"Adorable?" Ron echoed, making a face.

Sirius cupped his eyes and peered into the glass alongside Ginny. "Let's go in, shall we?" he said, grinning down at her when she smiled and nodded. He glanced back at Ron and Harry. "Coming?"

"No thanks," Ron said. He made a face at his sister when Sirius could no longer see him. And even though Harry would have liked to look at the animals, he shook his head.

"We'll meet you at the quidditch shop, yeah?"

Sirius nodded. "We'll be along in a moment."

"OK," Harry said while Ron scowled beside him. Harry caught Ginny's gaze. She rolled her eyes and he had to hide his smile. Looking like he was trying not to smile as well, Sirius put his hand against Ginny's shouler and guided her into the shop.

"Adorable," Ron repeated, shaking his head.

"It's a Puffskein, Ron; they are cute."

"Come on," Ron said, forgetting all about Ginny as soon as he saw the quidditch shop. "Look," he said reverently, "it's a Firebolt! It can go from naught to one hundred and fifty in ten seconds! And do you see that handle? It's made of ash and the twigs are birch!"

They were debating how much of an edge they would have over the other teams with Firebolts for the entire Gryffindor team when Sirius and Ginny found them.

"You'll take the cup again this year even without it, Harry," Ginny said, but even with that observation, her hand still ran a reverent circuit over the wood. "It'll be years before any of the team graduates," she sighed.

"You're too young," Ron scoffed.

"Oh, I don't know," Sirius said mildly. "Ginny knows how to handle a broom."

Ron didn't respond, but it was clear he wanted to disagree.

"You and the twins did lose to Harry and me this morning," Ginny said, smiling sweetly.

"Only because they're gits and wouldn't pass the Quaffle to me," Ron retorted.

"Can't blame them for wanting to win," Ginny said with a shrug. Ron straightened, an angry flush creeping up his cheeks.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Ginny rolled her eyes. "What do you think it means, Ron? You're not exactly on the Quidditch team, are you?"

"Yeah, well, we can't all be as talented as your precious Harry, can we?"

Ginny's cheeks lit up.

"What did I do?" Harry asked, stung by the sarcasm he could detect in Ron's remark.

"You invited her, didn't you?"

"All right," Sirius interjected before Harry figured out how to answer that. Ginny and Ron were standing miles apart now, Ginny with her arms tight over her chest and Ron with his hands stuffed into his pockets. Sirius sighed. "I feel like ice cream... anyone else?"

Harry caught his godfather's raised eyebrows. Knowing a row between the siblings wouldn't help keep Sirius' mind off Remus, Harry took the hint. "Me," he volunteered.

Ginny and Ron didn't look particularly interested, but Sirius herded them toward Fortescue's anyway. And after a round of sundaes and four exaggerated stories involving Sirius, Harry's dad and Hogwarts' giant squid, Ron and Ginny were no longer glaring at one another, although Ginny was much quieter for the rest of the afternoon. It made it easier for Ron to ignore her.

And when they returned to the Burrow, Harry didn't really mind.

"Bye mate," Ron said; he was already ensconced in the freshly-baked raspberry pie in the kitchen.

"Have fun in Egypt."

"I'llbringyouasoofaneer..."

Harry smiled and sketched a wave on his way out the back door to find his broom before he left. Ginny had left the parlour as soon as they'd Flooed in, but he was still surprised to find her sitting against the side of her father's shed, Ron's broom, and a pair of tail-twig clippers, in her lap.

"I thought you went upstairs... What are you doing?"

Ginny glanced up briefly. "Ron's broom needed a trim," she said. One of the twigs snapped loudly as she snipped through it at a sharp angle.

"Does... er, Ron know you're doing that?"

"I'm sure he won't mind," she said calmly. Another piece of twig joined the small pile near her knee. Tiny pieces that Ron would never notice were missing. Until he tried to fly straight.

Smiling slowly, Harry said, "I don't think the shaking will help him keep hold of the quaffle, Gin."

Her head tilted to meet his gaze, brown eyes sparkling once again. "Nothing will do that except a sticking charm. And at least then the twins will let him play." She imitated Ron's voice, finding the perfect pitch as she said, "Because they're gits and won't pass it to him any other way."

Harry grinned and settled in next to her. "He was being a bit of a berk, wasn't he?"

"No worse than usual," she said. She studied the twigs, turning the handle over in her palms. "That should do it, I think. Just enough for a bumpy ride."

"Don't want him falling out of the sky," Harry agreed.

"Yeah," Ginny said, passing the broom over for Harry's inspection. "It would kill Mum and Dad."

--

Harry rubbed at his eyes as he padded down the shadowy stairs.

"What are you doing up?"

Harry squinted into the dim sitting room. Sirius was sitting on the sofa, a thick book on his lap.

"Dunno," Harry mumbled. He dropped onto the arm of the sofa. Sirius closed his book, his fingers coming up to scratch between Harry's shoulder blades; Harry yawned.

"Couldn't sleep?"

"Not really…"

"You look like you need to," Sirius said, a smile twitching his lips. Harry shrugged.

"So do you."

"Mm, feels like I do."

Harry tilted his head. "Why are you still up then?"

"Same reason you are, I expect. Come here." Sirius patted the cushion beside him and Harry slid off the arm to plop beside his godfather. "I think I've read the same paragraph nine times now."

Harry flipped the cover of the book up to get a better look at the title. "Mortimor Gamp's History of the Canary Wars… When did you get this?"

Sirius glanced at the gold lettering. "A gift from Remus this morning; it isn't the distraction he hoped it would be, unfortunately."

"Probably because most people are sleeping at midnight."

Smirking, Sirius rumpled Harry's hair. "Probably. And it seems you've picked up your bad habits from me," he added with a pointed poke to Harry's ribs.

"I could hear you flipping the pages," Harry teased. "This is the thickest book I've ever seen…"

"The Canary Wars lasted two hundred years, nutter, so I should think so."

"Only a hundred and ninety-seven."

Sirius chuckled. "Smart alec."

Harry smiled as he settled in more comfortable against his godfather's side. Sirius' bare feet joined his on the coffee table; the book a moment later.

"Remus gave you a book last week," Harry mused, nudging the binding with his toe.

"Yes," Sirius answered with a single raised brow, "and I was looking forward to reading it, but it seems to have gone missing."

Harry smiled sheepishly. "I'm almost finished."

"It was you, eh? Is it good?"

"Brilliant," Harry said enthusiastically. "Ollivander told Remus you would like it; when we visited last week. I like it better than your other one. This one tells about the fight with the inferi from Annwn's perspective instead of Merlin's, even though of course a thestral can't tell a story. But it's sort of brilliant, don't you think?"

Sirius was smiling. "I do. I have another one of that author's books in the library; one of the only ones he wrote on a subject other than Merlin."

"The one about Ruknak?"

"Oy, did you steal that one as well?"

Unable to dodge his godfather's tickling fingers, Harry hissed out a puff of laughter. "The Goblin Wars are boring," he said when he could finally breathe again.

"You only think so because Binns is as dry as an old turkey carcass."

"Maybe you should teach it; you'd have to be better than a ghost."

"Thank you ever so much for your confidence," Sirius drawled. "Imagine it, you would have to call me Professor Black and yes sir this and no sir that…" He waggled his eyebrows. "Think I could get used to that."

Harry wrinkled his nose at his smirking godfather. "Professor Black? Dunno, Sirius, it's bit stuffy, even for you…"

"Oy!" Sirius said indignantly. "You have a cheek. And just for that, it's off to bed with you."

Harry groaned as he was prodded up. "'m not tired."

"That's because you're still young—"

"And you're about as ancient as Binns," Harry supplied helpfully.

Sirius gave him a gentle push toward the stairs, following right behind. "To bed," he said once they reached the top of the stairs.

Harry grinned, and it was with a fairly obnoxious nod that he said, "Yes sir."

"You have entirely too much energy for midnight," Sirius muttered, seating himself on the edge of the bed after Harry slid under the covers. "And if you ever call me sir again…"

Harry burrowed under the covers, still smiling as he tried to find the best spot. "I won't," he promised. "Reckon you're not stuffy enough."

"Have you always been this cheeky?"

A sudden yawn claimed Harry's retort.

"Never mind," Sirius chuckled. He waved a hand at the lamp, extinguishing it and bringing up the soft glow along the walls at the same time, not that Harry needed a nightlight any longer, but the low light was sort of pleasant. "I don't think you've been up this late since… well ever," Sirus said, his voice low and soothing in the darkness.

"Astronomy class," Harry said, not quite able to keep the yawn under control.

"That's right… That was one of my favorite classes."

"Because you're named after a star?" Harry teased.

Sirius smiled. "My family had an odd habit of using constellations for names, didn't they? I just enjoyed being outside at night."

Harry nodded. That was true; even now, Sirius preferred to do almost anything by moonlight, including flying their brooms or on Annwn these days. "Can we go flying tomorrow?" he asked, propping himself up on elbows.

Sirius pressed his fingertips to Harry's chest and Harry let himself be pushed back down, his eyebrows still questioning. "After dinner, if you like," Sirius agreed. "Once Remus is asleep."

Harry deflated a little at the mention of Remus. He chewed the corner of his lip, but before he could say anything, Sirius patted his hip. "I'm sure he's perfectly well. Snape knows what he's about with the Wolfsbane."

Harry considered that. "But this is a new one, isn't it? Sort of?"

"Not completely, no. A variation on the old one."

Harry forced the rest of his questions down; Sirius' face was beginning to line with anxiety even though Harry could tell he was trying not to let it show. "Will you wake me before you fetch him?"

"Dawn is less than six hours from now. You'll be dead to the world."

"Just to tell me you're leaving? I promise I won't ask to come."

Sirius had already told him that Remus might not be in the best state and Harry had guessed that Sirius didn't want him to see Remus like that.

Sirius sighed after a long moment. "Just to tell you I'm leaving and then right back to sleep."

For some reason, Harry could only answer with a nod.

--

Sunlight was just beginning to bleed through the curtains when Harry opened his eyes again. He could hear the shower across the corridor, the slight creak as it was turned off. Sirius hadn't left yet.

Pushing himself up, Harry fumbled for his glasses on the table, pushed them into place and winced as his feet hit the cold floor; they should put a permanent warming charm on the floorboards.

He made a quick detour at the loo before starting down the stairs; he could hear Sirius opening and closing drawers. Harry frowned as he heard the floo roar to life. Wondering who would be calling so early, he jogged the last few steps. He froze as soon as he turned the corner into the kitchen.

Remus was curled on the floor. A cloak was clutched tightly around him, and his eyes were open and glazed. Jagged red lines slashed his face and neck.

Harry's mouth moved several times but no sound emerged. Remus blinked up at him and as soon as Harry heard his name, whispered in hoarse distress, he woke from his trance. "Sirius!" The scream seared Harry's throat and he was blinking back the accompanying tears as Sirius' frantic call echoed from above. Pounding feet on the stairs.

"Harry," Sirius breathed as he skidded into the kitchen, grabbing Harry's shoulder as he came, "what—" He broke off with a gasp, let Harry go and dropped to his knees in front of Remus. "Remus…"

Harry took in Sirius' half-dressed state, his unbuttoned shirt and lone sock, but he couldn't process it. Even his godfather's murmurs made no sense.

"…foolish…"

Sirius' hand was brushing Remus' hair; over and over. "Yes, it was," he agreed with the cracked mumble, in that very soft voice he reserved for Remus. "Hush now. We're going to give you a Sleeping Draught and get you into bed… hush," he chided even though Harry hadn't heard a protest.

He somehow kept hold of Remus' hand as he summoned the floo powder, tossed it into the fire and called for Pomfrey. Looking perfectly ready for the day, the healer stepped out of the fireplace a moment later. She began waving arcs over Remus with her wand.

"Don't apologize," she said tartly to Sirius when he began to. She tipped a vial at Remus' lips and began chanting healing spells.

Remus' face was deathly pale, several of the gashes still bleeding freely. Harry's mouth was so dry he couldn't even swallow.

He had pressed himself up against the wall at some point. Sirius frowned when he turned round. And without a word, he pulled Harry into his arms, absorbing the tremors that Harry hadn't even realized were there. "Hey now," Sirius whispered against the top of his head, "it's all right… nothing to fret about, love… it's all right… shhh…"

It had to be true, if Sirius said it was…

Angry crimson gashes danced on Harry's lids as he closed his eyes. With a deep shudder, his eyes popped open. And this couldn't have even come close to what had happened last month.

Harry didn't know why that was important.

Sirius was patting his back, shushing him still.

He bit the inside of his lower lip and forced himself to tug against the hold. Sirius didn't let him go though. He was smoothing Harry's hair, just like he'd done to Remus and Harry tried to let the tension ease from his shoulders.

Pomfrey's calm voice finally broke the long silence, "I've closed all the wounds now."

Sirius squeezed tightly before he let Harry go.

"He will be perfectly fine," Pomfrey said with her usual crispness. "Shall we move him upstairs?"

"Just be a moment," Sirius murmured, cupping the back of Harry's head. He and Pomfrey very gently helped Remus to his feet; Remus' lips pressed together but it didn't stifle the moan. Harry flattened himself against the wall again as they passed, his lips so mashed they hurt.

With their arms tight around Remus' waist, Sirius and Pomfrey half-dragged him up the steps.

Still shivering, Harry watched them until they disappeared and then he allowed his legs to give way. He sat on the bottom step and hunched over his knees, arms pressed into his stomach as he listened to them settling Remus into bed, drawers opening and closing again and finally footsteps on the stairs.

He blinked up at Pomfrey as she stopped beside him. She smiled gently.

"He will be well by tomorrow," she told him quietly. Harry nodded, because there was nothing else he could do. She patted his shoulder, gave her smile a little boost and went back through the kitchen. He listened to the floo take her away. Soft footsteps followed shortly after that and Sirius was sitting beside him. "I'm sorry you saw that," Sirius said very softly, his arm going around Harry's shoulders as Sirius knew he was cold. "I know it's difficult… it always was for us, but he is just fine. He'll sleep most of the day, which will help."

Harry swallowed, the movement not much easier as he nodded. "It… it didn't work?" he croaked out. Sirius' chest moved in a deep sigh.

"We'll try again next month; Snape will adjust the formula again—"

"But what if it still doesn't work? What if he can't ever—"

"Hey," Sirius interrupted softly. He shifted so that he caught Harry's gaze, his eyes calm as Harry stopped talking. "I don't want you to fret about this. We'll sort it all out, I promise." His hand gripping Harry's neck, he gave him a gentle shake. "All right?"

Harry nodded, and taking in the Sirius' calm expression, his own anxiety eased. Sirius smiled and that made things easier too.

--

Sirius finished ladling soup into a bowl. He glanced over his shoulder at Harry, who was spooning up the last drops. "Would you like another bowl?" Sirius asked. Harry shook his head, working his way now through one of his ham sandwich halves. Sirius refilled his empty glass, rumpled the dark hair on his way back to the cold cupboard with the milk.

"I'll just be a moment," he said as he picked up Remus' tray.

Harry's mouth was too full of sandwich and milk to answer. Sirius smiled at him and went upstairs. At least he had his appetite back; making up for his lack of breakfast, no doubt.

He had been much quieter than Sirius would have preferred, but Sirius could remember how upset he had been the first time he saw Remus after a full moon; the image haunted him all month. It was the first and only entirely detention-free month for him and James. At least until their sixth year, when they all had more important things on their minds.

Pushing the propped door open with his foot, Sirius padded across to the bed. Remus was awake, but only just, his brown eyes still glazed with sleep. "Good morning…" Sirius set the tray on the bedside table and sat carefully beside his husband. "How do you feel?" he asked, cupping Remus' pale cheek; no sign of a fever. "Are you hungry?"

The slight paling of Remus' face answered for him. Sirius leaned over and kissed his forehead, lingering to breathe in the comforting scent, overwhelmed by the knowledge that Remus was here; and he was safe.

"Want to explain what the hell you were thinking?" he asked quietly when he found the will to pull away.

Remus grimaced. "I didn't think Harry would be awake." His voice was still hoarse.

"Not what I meant. You should have waited for me."

"I know…" Remus' throat rippled. "I didn't want you to think—" He shook his head, his lips taut. "The Wolfsbane didn't work."

"I know," Sirius assured him. Remus' eyes were bright and as the unspoken words penetrated his brain, Sirius smiled. "I didn't think you were going to stay away."

Remus glanced away; his cheek warmed beneath Sirius' fingers. "You're too bloody forgiving," he muttered.

Unreasonably stung by the assessment, Sirius pulled back. A moment of silence persisted before he said, "Does your shoulder still hurt?"

"Poppy's pain potions never fail…"

Sirius gave up his stiff expression and brushed a thumb across his husband's cheekbone. "Hey," he murmured when Remus was looking at him again, "I don't want to do this again."

Remus sighed. "I just had to come on my own," he said, catching Sirius' fingers as they caressed his face again.

When Sirius nodded, Remus slid their twined hands behind Sirius' neck and pulled him close, the kiss deep and insistent. They were both smiling when Remus let his head fall back to the pillow.

Sirius propped himself up a little with his palm. "I'm going to see Snape. To tell him the potion didn't work," he explained at Remus' upshot eyebrows. "And offer to help, though I assume he will refuse."

Remus didn't ask why and Sirius was grateful not to have to explain. He couldn't sit here for another month and do nothing. "I managed to convince Albus that he doesn't need to chaperone," he said with a small smile. "He's going to be here in case you need anything; Harry as well."

Remus' forehead creased. "How is he? I didn't mean to frighten him."

"He's just fine and you need to rest," Sirius said quietly. He straightened the covers. Remus was struggling to keep his eyes open. "Sleep…"

Sirius smoothed the covers and left him to it.

Harry was sprawled on the sofa in the parlour, Sirius' book tucked against his chest and one foot touching the floor. Sirius pulled the book away; Harry only grunted and continued to sleep.

Once Harry was covered with the soft afghan and rearranged in a more orderly fashion on the cushions—or at least one that wouldn't spill him off completely, Sirius straightened the already-neat pillows, re-stacked the short pile of books on the table and then went to the kitchen to wash up the lunch dishes.

--

The muscles around Snape's mouth twitched but he didn't quite make it to a scowl.

"May I come in?" Sirius finally asked. Technically, he was already in—at least over the threshold and in front of the closed door. Snape had nearly dragged him by an elbow. But now, Snape was in front of him, a great wall of black; completely immovable. "Or, if you'd rather—"

"You should not be here," Snape cut him off, his lips barely moving in that way that was all Snape. He must practice it in front of the mirror.

"You said that last time."

"And yet, you're here."

Sirius nearly rolled his eyes and then decided that might not convey the years of maturity he had gathered since their days at Hogwarts. "This is a potions shop, and it's hardly out of the realm of possibility that I might need a potion—"

"Still enjoy the sound of your own voice, I see."

Sirius snapped his mouth shut. Though he found it was due less to annoyance than embarrassment. Grateful he didn't blush easily, he shrugged. "Sorry, I just meant… Never mind." Damn Snape and his withering stare; he had perfected that.

"You are here about the Wolfsbane?" Impatience made Snape's voice sharp. The first sign of emotion. Still so different than the boy Sirius had known. "It didn't work."

"No, at least not enough to keep him from..." He folded his arms over his stomach and forced himself not to lean against the door. "… hurting himself."

The scowl appeared very suddenly and without a word, Snape turned and stalked away. Left with little choice, Sirius followed.

"The polypore spores are highly temperamental." Glass bottles clinked as Snape sorted through a cupboard in the backroom. "I will need to begin right away."

Sirius had to take several steps backward to avoid a collision as Snape strode to one of the benches with an armful of ingredients.

"How can I help?"

Snape's movements ceased. But then he was flicking his wand at the base of one of the many cauldrons and Sirius thought he must have imagined the pause. "I don't require assistance," Snape said, not turning. "And since a personal message was not necessary, I will look for your owl next month."

"I didn't mean to imply you needed help," Sirius said quickly. "But I was quite competent in potions—"

"Nevertheless," Snape said in that same clipped tone, "I require silence to work."

"Ignoring all evidence to the contrary, I can be silent."

Snape turned and Sirius stopped smiling.

"Solitude as well."

If Sirius hadn't felt absolutely useless, he would have simply left. Instead he said quietly, "This looks like it's going to be a long process to sort out, if the potion worked so poorly—" Snape scowled again and Sirius rushed to add, "Of course you're doing everything possible and I simply want to be of some help—"

"Then leave so that I might begin."

"Look," Sirius sighed, "I know you don't like me. And of course, you have no reason to, but I am truly sorry for everything that happened at Hogwarts and I know it must have galled you when Albus asked you to help me. You never did let me thank you for that. All of us and especially Harry are grateful…"

Snape had paled beyond his natural pallor. His jaw was taut, his fingers in fists at his sides.

Sirius cleared his throat softly. But before he could make a farewell, Snape was crossing the room, his boots snapping against the floorboards. Instead of reaching for the pot of floo powder, he swiped a large jar and a pair of gloves from another cupboard. Sirius squinted as Snape rapped back across the room—acromantula hatchlings danced in a viscous liquid.

Snape brushed past him and plunked the jar on the nearest workbench. "Three," he said, his voice low and harsh, but as even as when they'd begun. He summoned a knife and held it between them. "Diced. Legs first."

Silently, Sirius took the knife. Snape was back at his own bench in the next moment, adjusting the flame beneath his cauldron and measuring ingredients. Sirius straightened his slack expression and with more confusion than he cared to examine, he unfastened his traveling cloak and found a spot for it on a hook near the back wall.

Unbuttoning his cuffs and folding the sleeves carefully up to his elbows, he went silently to his jar of spiders, put on the gloves and opened the lid with a quick—and silent—spell. The hatchlings were difficult to extract from the jar, but at least they were dead. Knowing the legs would aid in the metamorphic properties Snape was trying to increase in the Wolfsbane, Sirius took great care with them, unbothered by the crunch of each slice. The innards he gathered into a stone bowl.

Neither of them spoke, both lost to a rhythm familiar to any potions lab.

Once Sirius was finished, Snape wordlessly summoned the neat sections of leg to his bench. He summoned the innards as well and after six precise stirs, he dumped them into the boiling cauldron. They landed with a satisfying plop.

"It must be stirred counter clockwise, 212 times," Snape said, still not glancing at him, but it was clearly a do it or leave sort of invitation. So Sirius picked up the glass stirring rod and began to count.

--

When Sirius stepped into his kitchen an hour later, Albus was just pouring himself a cup of tea. The headmaster smiled at him as he draped his cloak over the back of a chair.

"Harry is still asleep," he reported. "The visit went well?"

"Better than I expected," Sirius admitted. Even though neither he nor Snape had spoken beyond their first exchange. Or that Snape had ordered him out abruptly and without explanation when an unidentified visitor called.

Albus was smiling. "I am pleased to hear that," he said. "Perhaps Harry might enjoy a visit when you meet again?"

"I imagine so," Sirius said, taking the cup he was offered. "Snape was rather displeased that Harry was with me the first time, though. And he said I should send an owl with the results of the next batch of potion."

With a sigh, Albus set his cup down. "Severus is a remarkably stubborn man," he said, almost to himself. He shook his head as he stood. "I had best be on my way. Give Remus and Harry my regards, won't you?"

"Of course. Thank you for coming."

"No need to thank me, my boy." Albus smiled warmly. He patted Sirius' arm on his way to the floo. He was gone a moment later, leaving the fireplace embers with an orange whisper.

Sirius blew out a breath. He shifted the hair from his eyes as he sat on the edge of the table and stretched his legs, enjoying the feel of moving muscles that had been forced to stand for too long. Ignoring his exhaustion, he straightened and went into the parlour, finding Harry curled into a tight ball under the afghan.

Reluctant to wake him, but knowing his godson needed a proper night's rest tonight, Sirius leaned over and grasped a shoulder, gently shaking. Harry mumbled, but didn't wake. Smiling, Sirius shook his shoulder again and at the increased mumbling, he fluttered a hand through Harry's hair.

"Hey," he said quietly as an eye cracked, "time to wake up…"

"Donwanna," was the muffled response. Harry shifted to plunk his face into the pillow.

"Bad luck, mate," Sirius chuckled. He poked a finger to Harry's ribs, eliciting a grunt of displeasure. But Sirius persisted, chanting a series of annoying, 'Up, up, ups," as encouragement. And Harry finally lifted his head.

"Do you have to do that?" he demanded with a scowl. Sirius gave his godson a few bolstering pats to his hip; smiled.

"Not if you get up."

"I'm bloody tired," Harry answered, though it was clearly meant to be under his breath. But after another second, he was sitting up; scratching at his hair and belly as he yawned. His hands were clumsy as he slipped his glasses on and blinked at the room in general. "What?" he asked grumpily when Sirius continued to gaze down at him. "I'm awake."

"And cheerful …"

Harry didn't respond. He plucked his book from the table.

"I'm going to check on Remus."

Harry's answer was more grunt than real words. Trying not to look amused, Sirius went upstairs.

Remus was just levering himself up from the bed. Moving swiftly, Sirius crossed the room and hooked an arm around his husband's waist. Remus leaned into the support with the ease of the years. Without having to ask, Sirius helped him limp into the toilet, where he splashed his face, sighed at the new scars greeting him in the mirror and sank onto the edge of the tub. Sirius sat beside him, neither of them speaking for a long time, Remus simply watching as Sirius took his hand and began tracing the lines crisscrossing his palm. He shivered as Sirius' fingers skated over his wrist, up to his elbow and back again.

"Did you see Snape?" Remus finally asked.

"He let me dice the Acromantula hatchlings."

Remus smiled. "An absolute peace offering."

"I think he told me not to come again, although that was before the spiders…" Sirius shrugged, not entirely certain what to expect from Snape now. "He still wouldn't let me apologize or thank him. I thought he was going to curse me when I tried."

"But he gave you poisonous spiders instead."

Sirius smirked and gave Remus a hand up. "Something like that." Remus sighed and allowed Sirius to pull his shirt off. "What's the matter?"

"Just wishing I hadn't been a complete berk last moon. And no, I don't mean to you," he said with a small smile at Sirius' frown, "since I'm not allowed to speak of it again."

Sirius gave him a light swat as he folded Remus' pyjamas and turned the water on as hot as Remus preferred it after a full moon. "You are allowed to," he corrected, "but you needn't. You've apologized at least fifty-eight times."

"Carad and I haven't spoken since that night," Remus murmured, not even smiling at Sirius' teasing. "I was awful…" He shook his head as if trying to force the memories away. "I practically told him he doesn't know what it's like to be a werewolf, as if he doesn't understand and he's the one that actually lost his family…"

Sirius had known about the exchange since the morning after Remus had returned, but he let Remus talk anyway; let him repeat the familiar story of how Carad had been bitten while on a mission for Dumbledore and how his wife had screamed when she heard the news.

She and their daughter were gone before the son came up the next morning.

"God, I'm a bastard," Remus muttered.

"You are not a lovable drunk, there's a difference."

Remus tried to smile but he just looked pale and exhausted. And lost. Sirius wound his arms around him and pulled him close. "Go see him," he said against Remus' ear. "The two of you have been friends for years."

Remus didn't agree, but he did press his lips to Sirius' neck. "I am very sorry," he whispered. And before Sirius could tell him it wasn't necessary, Remus' breath tickled his skin, "Just the one last time."

"You'll feel better after a shower," Sirius promised. "I'll fetch you something to eat; you haven't had anything all day."

"How is Harry?" Remus asked when they separated.

"Grouchy. He was asleep. Didn't sleep well," Sirius added for the look of concern as he helped Remus into the shower. "Don't fret."

Remus sighed, but the hot water was already working its way into his wrecked muscles and he simply closed his eyes and let it.

Once the shower had done its work and Remus was settled in bed once more, Sirius went back down the stairs. Harry was drinking a glass of milk in the kitchen, his upper lip coated white as he pulled the glass away.

"You've a mustache," Sirius commented, flicking a shoulder as he passed. Harry swiped a sleeve over his mouth and let the glass plunk onto the table. "Hungry?" Sirius asked. "I'm warming Remus' soup."

"Biscuits?" Harry asked hopefully.

Sirius smiled and sent the jar to him with a wave of his fingers. Harry munched as Sirius arranged another tray for Remus.

"Is he awake?" Harry asked around a mouthful of shortbread.

Balancing the tray, Sirius nodded. "Come up. He wants to see you."

He could hear his godson plodding along behind him but when they reached the door, he was alone. Remus was sitting up, flipping through a manuscript. He looked up and frowned in confusion as Sirius turned back to the corridor. Harry was standing in his own doorway—hovering, more accurately.

Halfway in and out of his room.

"Harry?"

His fingers were holding his elbows tightly, though oddly he didn't look as though he quite remembered what to do with any of his limbs at the moment.

"Wait here," Sirius murmured, and then ducked back into his room and settled Remus' tray on the bed.

Remus was trying to get a view beyond the angled doorway. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing," Sirius assured him, probably unconvincingly. "We'll just be a moment."

Harry had settled on the corridor at least. Remembering his own fear after he had first seen exactly what a full moon did to Remus, Sirius tugged Harry into his room and sat on the bed, keeping his grip on Harry's hands. He shook them for emphasis, anchoring Harry to the present.

"Remus had a difficult transformation," he said, his voice quiet and even while Harry gazed at him with worried green eyes. But he was clearly listening so Sirius went on honestly, "The potion didn't work so he was fully a werewolf. Do you remember that Remus explained that he sometimes hurts himself during a transformation without the potion?"

Harry nodded.

"It happened every full moon while we were in school, but he always recovers quickly; werewolves have self-healing magic and he is perfectly all right. I know it didn't look that way this morning, but he stepped through the Floo just after he transformed back and he was exhausted. He's walking around now though, and talking and everything else. He's the same Remus he was yesterday."

He waited for Harry to process the words, squeezing the fingers lightly again. "I know it's frightening to see him that way, I know it is. And worse because you weren't expecting it, yeah?"

"Yeah," Harry agreed, with just a bit of a tremor. Sirius didn't press and after a moment Harry said, "I didn't… I mean I knew he was werewolf, I believed you but…"

"But it wasn't real," Sirius finished softly. Swallowing loudly, Harry nodded.

"I'm not frightened of him," he said quickly, the words rushing out as his face tinged pink.

"Of course you're not," Sirius assured him.

"I know he's just Remus—"

Sirius pulled his confused godson into a hug. "I know you do." He didn't say anything else but Harry didn't seem to need him to; he leaned against Sirius for a long moment. His forehead was still creased when he stepped back but he did return Sirius' smile. And he led the way across the corridor this time, needing no encouragement.

Remus' hands were tangled together, anxiety etched in the deep lines around his mouth and eyes. His spine a ramrod.

Sirius smiled at him over Harry's head. Remus looked between them for a second and then his face relaxed into a warm smile. "How are you?" he asked. "I didn't mean to frighten you this morning."

Sirius couldn't see Harry's face but he watched him shrug. "It's all right. I wasn't expecting you," he said, echoing Sirius' words. He had taken a few steps closer to the bed. "You looked pretty awful. Are you feeling better?"

"Much," Remus assured him. "Did Sirius tell you he diced acromantula hatchlings?" he asked, turning an amused eye at Sirius. Harry snapped his head round, his eyes saucers.

"You did? At Snape's shop?"

"I'm surprised you didn't smell the venom all over him," Remus said, wrinkling his nose. "It's worse than rotten eggs."

"Well, I didn't want to say," Harry said with a smirk as he wandered closer to the bed. He took the biscuit Remus offered him and ignored Sirius' indignant protest. "Were they alive?" he demanded, sitting sideways on the end of the bed and drawing up a leg. He sighed when Sirius answered in the negative. "Bad luck. Aarons says we won't use live ones until seventh year."

"We used them once; we were supposed to boil them live," Sirius said. "Remus' got away."

Harry's eyes sparkled with morbid interest. "Yeah? Did it bite anyone?"

Remus laughed. "No, Sirius stunned it before it got farther than a few desks. Slughorn gave me detention for a week though. He nearly had heart failure."

"I don't know why," Sirius said, smiling as he sat on Remus' other side. "The hatchlings can only make you sick for a week or so. And he had anti-venom."

Harry grinned and while Remus ate his soup, he and Sirius told Harry about the time they were assigned a detention specifically to collect acromantula eggs.

--

A cat's low hiss greeted Remus as he pushed open the dingy door in Knockturn Alley the next day. The shop was cast in shadows, as it always was, the only candle on the table in the far corner. Carad emerged from the narrow staircase, grunted a greeting and then paused when he looked up. And though his eyes were as hooded as the room, Remus could clearly see his surprise.

"How are you?" Remus asked eventually, when the silence felt overwhelming.

"Can't complain."

Remus watched him cross to the table. He rifled through the parchments stacked there, carried a few to his desk at the other end of the room and lit another stubby candle with his wand.

"Any boarders this cycle?" Remus asked quietly. Carad shook his head, not looking up from the parchments he was reading; and occasionally marking with a quill.

"One. She left just after dawn yesterday."

Remus felt himself nodding. Feeling silly, he cleared his throat. "Carad…" But even in the best of times, his friend was a man of few words and he only grunted, flicking his eyes up in brief question. "I... wanted to apologize—"

Carad waved the words away; he pushed a chair toward Remus. "Did the potion work?"

Remus paused before he sat. "No. Snape is adjusting the formula again."

"He'll make a fortune off this."

"Probably," Remus said with a half-smile. Carad shook his head and went back to his columns. "Carad," Remus tried again.

Carad looked up. His voice was typically brusque as he said, "You were sloshed."

Remus wanted to argue that being too drunk to remember most of what had happened was a poor excuse, but Carad's face was pinched and it was clear he was ready to leave their exchange in the past. But there was still part of it that wouldn't let Remus alone.

Tentatively, he said, "Maybe if you tried contacting Jane again… maybe this time…"

"If the last 624 letters haven't made any difference," Carad rumbled, "I don't think one more will."

Remus stared at him.

"A letter every week for the last thirteen years," Carad said in a flat voice. "Every one returned unopened; undeliverable."

Remus had already known that Carad's daughter was no longer listed anywhere in Great Britain with her given name; neither was his wife's. But to hear that Carad had been writing in vain for all these years…

"Perhaps… Dumbledore would help you. He has contacts at the Ministry." Remus' voice sounded thready; his heart felt like it was beating too fast. Carad didn't answer. Forcing his anxiety away, Remus asked in an easier voice, "Care for lunch? My treat."

Carad finished adding up the column of numbers he had been working on. He set his quill down and nodded. "You were banned from the pub round the corner, so we'll have to venture up to Diagon Alley."

"I was banned?" Remus echoed as Carad retrieved a light cloak from a peg near the door.

"You still don't remember trying to hex Snape?"

Remus stared.

"He was with Yaxley," Carad explained. "And you were nattering on about Snape and his selflessness. I thought he was going to strangle you. He finally said Sirius was unfit to raise a dog, let alone a child, and you pulled your wand. Not effectively, mind; you fell on your face."

As Remus followed Carad out the door, he couldn't decide which of that was most disturbing. He was still mulling over the knowledge that Snape was carousing with another former Death Eater when he returned home after lunch.

He smiled at the scene that greeted him. Sirius was on the couch, book in hand, legs stretching the length. Harry was flopped on his stomach on the floor, lost in his own book.

Sirius smiled as Remus joined them on the other end of the couch, resituating his legs to use Remus' as a footrest. Harry flapped a hand in greeting, his scissoring feet stilling when they bumped Sirius' knee.

Smiling at his family, Remus summoned his manuscript from the library and settled in.

Chapter Text

"Why can't I go?"

Sirius sighed as he picked up his teacup. "I didn't say you couldn't—"

"Mrs Weasley is letting Ron go and she doesn't let Ron do anything."

"Yes, well—"

"It's only to Diagon Alley, Sirius," Harry said, pulling a face. "Next month, I'll be able to go to Hogsmeade all by myself, you know."

Sirius eyed him over his teacup. "I don't care for your tone. Or that face you keep making."

Harry scowled at his unfinished treacle instead.

Remus came in then, balancing a stack of parchment and a quill in one hand and a book in the other. He paused halfway to the table. "What's the matter?"

Sirius sipped his tea, glancing sideways at Remus. "Harry wants to go to Diagon Alley with Ron and the twins tomorrow. Alone."

"Ah."

"What's the big deal?" Harry huffed. "I'm thirteen."

"Your age has very little to do with it," Sirius said. "Fred and George and the very little sense they possess—"

"You're acting like they blow up buildings for sport or something," Harry sputtered.

"Interrupt me again, and you won't be going anyway near Diagon Alley tomorrow."

"You're not going to let me go anyway," Harry retorted.

"Not like that I'm not," Sirius replied evenly and then when Harry's irritated expression didn't change, he added in a harder tone, "If you can't find a better attitude in there somewhere, you may be excused."

"Fine," Harry huffed as he shoved his chair back. "You're worse than Mrs Weasley."

"Good to know," Sirius muttered. Harry scowled. His footsteps pounded up the stairs.

Remus stared after Harry. "What was that?" he asked, turning back to Sirius.

"He's been in a foul mood all day," Sirius sighed, massaging his temples.

"Just over Diagon Alley?"

"He woke up irritated." Sirius stood abruptly and swept his and Harry's dishes from the table. "Don't think he slept well. Did you eat?"

"I did."

"Did you finish your chapter?"

"Needed a break." Remus cleared the remaining dishes and met Sirius at the sink, where he ran a light hand over his back. "Why are Ron and the twins going to Diagon Alley?"

"No idea."

"They're leaving for Egypt in two days?"

"Yes."

Remus skimmed his fingers up Sirius' neck, kneading the taut muscles until Sirius sighed. "Sorry… It's been a long day." He accepted Remus' kiss.

"I'll wash up," Remus offered, nudging Sirius with a hip. "You relax."

"I should contact Molly first," Sirius said, though he did move aside with one more nudge. "Which is what I was trying to tell Harry I wanted to do before agreeing. Not to mention speaking to you about it."

"You don't have to say yes," Remus commented as he sent soap tumbling from his wand and into the sink. He shook his head as Sirius reached for a tea towel. "Go on outside. Annwn is out there."

Sirius glanced out the window and indeed the thestral was waiting in her usual spot in the middle of the garden. It had been a week since she last visited.

"I don't really have a reason to say no," Sirius said instead of going outside; he pushed his hands into his trouser pockets. "The twins' tendency to blow up buildings notwithstanding."

"Oh, I don't think they've blown up anything as large as a building," Remus said with a smile. "And if Harry's stomping upstairs, that's probably reason enough."

Sirius sighed again. "I'll go up and talk to him. I don't think he slept well."

"You already said that."

Sirius swiveled his head, smiling a little at the indulgent crinkles around his husband's eyes. "Yes, well…" Having no brilliant response, he shrugged. Remus gestured with his head toward the back door.

"Go on. Harry will keep."

Blowing out the day's stress on a quick breath, Sirius conceded with a nod. Harry was probably in no mood to be reasonable just now, anyhow. As Remus made a shooing motion with his fingers, Sirius gave up offering to help and went to greet Annwn.

--

Harry was scowling anew as he came down the stairs. Technically, Sirius hadn't sent him to his room, so he didn't have to stay there. Stealing himself for just this argument, he rounded the corner into the kitchen. Finding Remus instead of Sirius, Harry ducked his head and mumbled, "Forgot my book."

He was halfway back to the door, his book crammed under an armpit, when Remus' soft query stopped him. "What have you got there?"

Unwillingly, Harry paused. "Quincy Quillaby."

"The one Sirius brought home yesterday?" Remus asked, folding the tea towel he was holding into neat squares. "The latest in the series?"

"Yeah." Another mumble, this one accompanied by heat crawling up his cheeks. He had forgotten that Sirius had given him the new book; for no reason at all.

Remus nodded. And before Harry could retreat upstairs, Remus gestured to the sudsy water in the sink—and the waiting dishes. "Would you help me with these? It shouldn't take long."

Deciding not to remind Remus that his wand would make certain of that, Harry reluctantly set his book on the counter but couldn't reciprocate Remus' smile.

"Wash or dry?" Remus asked.

Harry shrugged. Remus handed over the tea towel. Harry watched him circling the flannel over a plate; they would be here all night.

"Are you enjoying the book?" Remus asked when he had finally rinsed the plate and given it to Harry.

"Haven't started."

"You and Sirius must have been busy today."

Harry shrugged again as he polished the ceramic with the towel. He moved it along to the cupboard where it settled against its mates with a soft scrape. They hadn't been too busy; he had been too bloody… irritated to read.

"Perhaps to bed when we're finished?"

Harry took the next plate, frowning. "We just ate dinner."

"You're not tired?"

"No."

"Sirius didn't think you slept well," Remus said, turning his gaze to Harry instead of picking up another dish. "You don't usually quarrel with him."

Harry studied the lines twisting their way around the edge of the plate, unsure how to counter that. He wasn't tired—at least he didn't think he was. And he hadn't meant to quarrel… not exactly.

"Unless there's something else bothering you?" Remus asked; a gentle prod.

"I just wanted to go to Diagon Alley." Flicking his eyes up, he mumbled, "Ron's going."

"Did Sirius tell you that you couldn't go? Before you told him he was worse than Mrs Weasley, that is?" Remus clarified when Harry opened his mouth to answer.

Snapping his lips together, Harry frowned as he replayed his conversation with Sirius over in his mind. "No…"

"No?"

Harry shifted under Remus' questioning stare as he tried to remember Sirius' exact words. "Erm… he said he wanted to discuss it with you first... and speak to Ron's mum…"

"Hmm," Remus murmured as he picked up a glass and let the water run into the sink, leaving a trail of bubbles along the side. "And that seemed unreasonable?" He raised his eyebrows and Harry dropped his eyes.

"I dunno," he mumbled while his fingers twisted the empty tea towel. "I guess not."

"Sirius worries a great deal about you," Remus said, his attention on his work again when Harry peeked up. "I think you know that?"

Feeling foolish and uncertain why, Harry nodded but couldn't help but point out, "I'm thirteen."

Remus glanced at him, smiling just a little. "Yes, I know. But that doesn't mean we stop worrying about you."

Harry's eyebrows pinched together as he sorted that; couldn't quite. "I just wanted to go with Ron."

"I don't think Sirius enjoys saying no to you. He likes quarrelling even less," Remus added quietly, "especially with you."

Harry sighed. "I know."

Allowing the admission to linger, Remus held out the glass. Harry fumbled with it. It slipped from his grip but Remus managed to catch it before it fell.

"Sorry," Harry muttered as he took it carefully this time. But Remus just smiled. His hand settled on the top of Harry's head before returning to the suds. Harry watched him for a moment.

"I didn't really mean that," he said eventually. Remus' eyebrows rose in question and Harry half-shrugged. "Sirius isn't at all like Mrs. Weasley… not that she's horrible or anything." Not sure what he was trying to say, he mumbled, "Ron is always complaining about his mum." Which mostly made Harry want to scowl and tell him a shrill mum was better than no mum at all.

The smile lines around Remus' eyes deepened. "Most children do. I used to complain about my parents," he admitted, "and truly they didn't deserve that; not in the least."

"What did you complain about?" Harry asked. He'd seen pictures of Remus' parents, of course. And Remus talked about them sometimes. Always with a fond smile, and some sadness too, just like the expression Remus was wearing now.

"Minor things, I suppose. Fairly unimportant ones like my bedtime which was far too early. A curfew, which they always enforced—" he said; a twinkling eye roll accompanied the statement, "—even when every other child was staying up until all hours; during the summers."

"Sirius and Dad?" Harry guessed, a smile making its way to his lips. "Sirius spent a lot of time at my dad's, didn't he?" Harry asked as Remus set the water spinning down the drain. "Before he lived there permanently?"

Remus considered him, his expression straightening. "After that first year at Hogwarts, yes. Usually during August."

Harry folded the small towel, his fingers restless again as he thought that over. Sirius almost never talked about his family, even now. "Did he like it there, do you think?"

Remus' smile was sadder even than when he talked about his parents. "Very much. Your grandparents were very kind to him."

The opposite of Sirius' parents, or so Harry figured. Guilt flared in Harry's chest as he thought about his earlier words to his godfather. He didn't even know why he'd been so irritated.

"Sirius is outside with Annwn," Remus' quiet voice broke through Harry's regret.

"Annwn is here?" he echoed, twisting to catch a glimpse of the thestral through the window. "I don't see her."

Remus followed his gaze, his forehead wrinkling when he found only the empty garden. "Perhaps they went flying."

But just as he said it, they heard Annwn's triumphant screech, saw her wings as they dipped past the window. She landed without a sound, disturbing not even one leaf on the buoyant tree. Sirius was laughing as he patted her neck; she nodded her dark head in approval. Still grinning, Sirius swung his leg over her shoulder and slid to the ground. He said something to her that Remus and Harry couldn't hear and jogged toward the house.

"Moony," he called as he swung the door open, "you should have seen us—" He half-halted when he saw Harry, waggled his eyebrows in greeting and gestured to the black thestral outside. "We made it to King's Cross and back in about thirty seconds. I think she could fly to Hogwarts and be home within the hour."

"She does enjoy a challenge, doesn't she?" Remus said with a smile. Sirius grinned at him.

"I think I will to take my broom and race her tomorrow afternoon. What do you say, Harry?" he tossed over his shoulder as he went to retrieve a glass. "Want to come along?" He flicked the tap on. "After you return from Diagon Alley?"

Unsure if he had heard correctly, Harry took an extra second to answer. "Erm, yeah."

Sirius smiled. "Why don't you fetch our brooms and we'll toss the Quaffle around before bed?"

Still confused, Harry nodded anyway. Flying with Sirius sounded loads more fun than sitting in his bedroom.

"Good. Go on out and say hi to Annwn," Sirius said once he'd set his glass in his sink. "I'll be out as soon as I've flooed Mrs. Weasley."

Already at the broom cupboard, Harry paused back with his hand on the knob. Sirius was tossing the powder into the fireplace. He stuck his head into the green flames as the sprung up.

Harry retrieved the brooms and went outside. Annwn greeted him with an enthusiastic snort. "Hi girl," Harry murmured; ran his knuckles up her leathery nose. "You and Sirius raced to King's Cross, eh? He really likes you, you know."

She blew out a breath in agreement.

Smiling, Harry rubbed the spot between her eyes. "Bet you haven't any complaints. Not that I do, either."

Annwn's midnight eyes glittered as she tossed her head. "Do you remember your parents?" Harry asked thoughtfully. "Ollivander said you were all alone when you gave him the hair for Sirius' wand. And thestrals usually live with their families…" He frowned as he thought about that. "Did something happen to them?"

She couldn't answer of course, but Harry could feel it anyway; just like he had known that she wanted Sirius that first time they'd met. "I didn't know my mum and dad either." He combed his fingers through her hair and hoped somehow she understood. He looked up then as the back door opened.

Sirius patted Annwn as he came over. "You're to meet Ron and the twins in front of the Floo exchange straight after breakfast. And Ginny is positively not coming this time." He smiled. "Ron made me promise to make that clear to you."

Harry rolled his eyes. "He's a real berk sometimes."

"Maybe having a little sister is more trying than we realize," Sirius suggested, his eyes crinkling with amusement.

"Doubt it." He shrugged when Sirius raised his eyebrows. "Ron's always complaining about his family."

"He seemed excited about going to Diagon Alley with his brothers tomorrow," Sirius pointed out.

"They only said he could come because he gave them his allowance."

"Ah. Thought it was a tad suspicious."

Harry half-smiled. "The twins aren't always so awful. Ron exaggerates."

Sirius nudged him with an elbow. "For someone who was practically turning cartwheels to go with Ron, you don't seem very keen on him."

Harry considered that, but couldn't really explain the knot of annoyance for his best mate. Sirius retrieved the Quaffle from the ground, but instead of going for his broom, he settled cross-legged on the ground. Harry watched him balance the ball between elbow and knee as he pulled off his shoes and socks.

"I think if we replaced our floors with grass, I would be quite happy," he said, squinting against the setting sun and wiggling his toes in the green blades. Unable to still his smile, Harry caught the Quaffle when his godfather tossed it up.

Dropping in the cool grass beside Sirius, he spun the ball round and round on his fingertips.

"Have you any specific plans for the morning?" Sirius asked. "Or is this more of a wandering sort of trip?"

"Dunno… Zonko's probably."

"Of course. The twins need to spend as many hours there as possible if they are going to have their own joke shop some day."

Harry bounced the Quaffle off his knees a few times. "Mrs Weasley thinks they're mad."

"I think she's simply worried about them," Sirius said, tilting his head as he balanced his palms on the grass. "It isn't easy to open a business; not always stable either." He waggled his fingers; caught the Quaffle neatly as Harry threw it over. "Ollivander had an advantage with his shop being in the family for so many generations."

Harry drew his knees up and rested his chin at the caps. Sirius smiled at him, none of the earlier disappointment evident in his eyes. "You ready to take our brooms up? Remus is going to join us as soon as he puts his manuscript away."

Harry considered his broom waiting patiently in the grass while Sirius laced up his shoes.

"Don't feel like flying?" Sirius asked, following his gaze. Harry shrugged. "Care for a walk? Stretch your legs a bit? We haven't visited the ducks in the square for some time. They probably miss you."

Harry smiled into his knees before he brought his head up. "I don't think they remember me."

Sirius sent the Quaffle toward the house with a wave of his fingers and stood up in one fluid movement while it hovered. "Never underestimate a mallard."

Harry took Sirius' outstretched hand and let his godfather hoist him up, not resisting as his godfather put an arm round his shoulder. Relaxing into Sirius' side and staring at the white and grey threads running through his shirt, Harry found himself saying quietly, "I dreamt about Mum last night…"

Sirius' hand gripped his upper arm, squeezing just enough. "The same one?"

"The green light and… the voice—" Harry swallowed the prickles in his throat. "—it sounded just like Draco's… in the chamber. I remember it, Voldemort's in the dream, not Draco's…"

Sirius' chest was rising and falling unevenly now and when he spoke, his voice was the one that was trying not to sound alarmed. "You haven't had that dream in… not since your first night at Hogwarts?"

Shaking his head, Harry mumbled, "Not that one…" He'd had various dreams about the Chamber of Secrets and basilisks and Draco's red eyes for weeks after he and Hermione had almost become dinner for the giant serpent. And once or twice again…

But his mum had stayed silent.

"You should have woke me." Sirius' hand was brushing over his hair.

"I…" But Harry couldn't explain that he had wanted to. Or that he'd sat paralyzed in his bed instead. Walking across the corridor had seemed impossible. "That part wasn't so awful," he finally said; it was always awful but he told himself he was used to it at least. "I could still hear Mum screaming but it wasn't the green light any longer. Or maybe it was just a different room. I can't really remember, I guess…"

He blinked up at Sirius as his chin was angled up. "You had a different dream?" Sirius asked. His eyebrows were pinched, his grey eyes searching Harry's face as if the nightmares would scroll across. "About your mum?"

Harry shook his head as best he could in Sirius' grasp. "It was just the voice… the same spell, another voice, but—" He shivered as the same cold needles as last night pierced his skin. "—I can't remember anything else."

"Is this what has been troubling you all day?"

Harry shrugged, but Sirius understood anyway. He sighed. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Harry couldn't answer that either. It was stupid. Stupid to be frightened of a dream. Stupid to be sitting in his bed with chattering teeth and memories of his scar burning when he'd looked into Draco's red eyes. "It only felt real," he tried to explain. "I know it wasn't."

"Dreams often do feel real," Sirius agreed, giving his back a sympathetic scratch, but Harry shook his head.

"It was only because I remembered how much it hurt I think—"

"What hurt?"

"My scar—"

Sirius pulled back. "Your scar hurt?" Before Harry could answer, Sirius swept the fall of hair from his forehead. "Does it hurt now?"

"No—"

"Did it wake you last night?" Sirius asked as his thumb ghosted over the raised skin.

"I…" Harry narrowed his eyes, but it was difficult to sort out which part had been real and which nightmare. His fingers rubbed absently at his scar… his hand had been clamped over his forehead when he'd woken up with his heart slamming against his ribs; he remembered that much. "I don't think so," he finally mumbled, feeling foolish.

"It's all right," Sirius assured quietly. "Dreams seldom make sense. Next time, wake me."

"I will," Harry agreed. It had been silly to just sit there. "I don't know why it's bothering me so much if I can't even remember it."

"Because you miss your mum."

Harry looked up, squinted behind his spectacles. "But I don't remember her either." Except her screaming and that was a nightmare, not a proper memory.

"That doesn't mean you don't miss her," Sirius said gently. "You wish she was here."

"Do you miss them?"

"Every single day."

Sirius' eyes shone the truth in that, and Harry put his arms around his godfather, hugged him tight. "Me too."

"Come on, mate," Sirius finally said," let's find Remus, and visit those mallards. And if we can convince him, perhaps the ice cream parlour nearby? They make pistachio."

As Harry returned his godfather's smile, Sirius hooked an elbow about his neck and after farewells to Annwn, they went inside.

"Fetch us some bread, won't you?" Sirius greeted Remus, who was just coming into the kitchen, this time without parchment and quills.

"Are you hungry?" Remus asked, looking between them in confusion.

"We're going to visit the ducks in the square," Harry explained as he ducked away from Sirius to collect the bread waiting on the counter.

"Are we?"

"And then ice cream." Harry glanced at Remus over his shoulder. "If we can convince you."

Remus smiled, slid his eyes to Sirius and got a set of waggled eyebrows in return. "Am I such a bore?"

"I would never say that, Moony," Sirius said, reaching for Remus' hand and giving him a