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Brave New Hope by ARG

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Format: Novel
Chapters: 66
Word Count: 487,968
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme, Contains Spoilers

Genres: Drama, General, Romance
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Lupin, Sirius, Tonks, Ginny, OC
Pairings: Sirius/OC, Harry/Ginny, Remus/Tonks, Other Pairing

First Published: 03/05/2010
Last Chapter: 06/11/2013
Last Updated: 06/11/2013

Summary:



After surviving the Battle of the Department of Mysteries, Sirius and Mia Black need to deal with the second war against Voldemort at the same time they fight to keep their family safe, including their godson, Harry Potter. 

3rd in the 'Brave New...' series - sequel to 'Brave New World'.
 


Chapter 1: Prophecy
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Title: Brave New Hope 

Author: AnneRG 

Pairings: Sirius/OC, Harry/Ginny, Remus/Tonks, others. 

Rating: 15+ 

Warning: Read the prequels, ‘Finding Our Way’ and ‘Brave New World’, first 

Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling. If it belonged to me, I’d be very, very rich… 

December 1980, London 

“What do we do, James? How do we protect him from this?” Lily Potter whispered as she and her husband stood in the dark in their son’s nursery, watching the infant sleep in his cot.

He shook his head. “I don’t know, Lils,” James murmured. They’d both been caught by surprise when Dumbledore had told them that Voldemort might be after their son. At first, they didn’t want to believe it – why, of all people, would a dark lard see a four-month-old baby as a threat? Why their baby?

Then, the headmaster had explained. It was a prophecy, made over a year ago, that stated that a baby born in the end of the seventh month to parents that had been face-to-face with Voldemort twice would be the one with the power to defeat him. I could either be Harry or Frank and Alice’s boy, Neville.

Lily reached down to pick her son from his cot, feeling a sudden urge to hold him closely. The baby stirred a bit and let out a protesting whimper when he was disturbed in his sleep but quickly settled down, feeling himself in the comfort of his mother’s arms. “It can’t be him, James,” she said, looking up at him watery eyes. “He’s so small…”

“It’s not fair,” he stated. Not fair for Harry or for the Neville, he thought. They were both small, they were both innocent and one them had his fate written in stone already. He felt especially sorry for the other boy – his parents had been caught, Dumbledore had told them. There still wasn’t a sign of Frank or Alice yet but, as it had been Bellatrix Lestrange’s doing, nothing good could come out of it. He felt chills because, just a couple of days before, Lily had mentioned she thought she’d been followed when she’d gone out of the house to visit Sirius and Mia, who lived just half a dozen blocks away.

“It is safer if you all go into hiding,” the headmaster had stated. “To protect yourselves and your son. Professor Flitwick has agreed to teach you how to cast the Fidelius Charm, Lily, to keep your location secured. All you’ll need is a trustworthy secret keeper.” 


Part of him wanted to stay behind and fight but he wasn’t about to risk his son’s life for it. Family comes first, pride comes later, his father had always said. “We should go, Lils,” he told his wife. “We’ll be safer hiding, Harry will be safer. We’re his parents – we’ll do whatever we have to in order to protect him or, though I’m hoping we won’t get to that, we’ll die trying. That son of a bitch won’t touch a single hair of my son’s head if I have anything to say about it.”

“I don’t want to lose him, James,” Lily murmured, rocking the baby.

He reached for her face, wiping the tears running down her cheeks. “We won’t,” he promised and, then, made an effort to give her a smile and reassure her. This time, he’d have to be the strong one. “I’ll get one of the guys to be our secret-keeper. We'll be safe.”

She nodded, letting out a still unsteady breath before looking down at her son. So peaceful, sleeping in his Quidditch-themed sleepsuit, his face flushed from the slumber. She reached down to place a kiss on his forehead, a curtain of bright red hair falling around her face as she did it. “We won’t let anyone hurt you, my little angel,” she murmured against the baby’s warm skin.

This time, James did mean it when he smiled again, proud of Lily and himself. They might be young but they were good parents. She looked up at him, her eyes still red but now confident. “It’s a promise,” he told her as his hand touched her arm. “We should pack – I’ll tell Dumbledore we’re leaving tomorrow.”

---

Present time 

If five years before some random bloke had told Sirius Black that he would be a family man with Mia Davis by his side, he might have bitterly told him to go mock somebody else. He dreamed of it back then, honestly, he did. But being locked up in Azkaban made one faithless sometimes… most of the time, actually. It made any idea of happiness sound like a distant dream. Yet, things had turned out just that way: he was a family man with three children and another on the way with Mia Davis, now Black, as his wife.

And again, if merely a month ago some random bloke had told him that Harry Potter, who for him was no boy-who-lived but just the kid who was as good as his son, had the destiny of either killing or be killed by Voldemort, he would have certainly told him to piss off or he’d seriously considering using his wand to make them. Yet, it was the world’s cruel truth.

“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches.…born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies…and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not.…and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives.…the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…” 

The words were more than clear on themselves and he’d not only heard them from Dumbledore’s mouth but also from Sybill Trelawney’s in his pensieve memory. It sounded cruel, cold, and part of Sirius wanted to yell that Trelawney was just full of crap. But he couldn’t because, deep down, he knew it was completely true. Things made so much sense now: why Voldemort had always been after Harry, why there was a connection between them…

“Padfoot, focus,” Remus whispered after elbowing him on the ribs, awakening Sirius from his thoughts. He saw himself back in the main room of the Order’s headquarters in the basement of the house where Lily and James had lived with Harry before they’d needed to go into hiding to Godric’s Hallow, where the headmaster was holding an order meeting, concerning the new strategies that the order was to adapt, now that the ministry had recognized Voldemort’s return and would be helping them fight him. As much as it might interest him, lately talking about the snake-faced bastard tended to make his mind drift back to the most recent burden that had been placed upon his godson’s shoulders: the prophecy.

It had been a week since he and Mia had learned of it and six days since they’d told Harry about it, meaning the whole thing was still fresh. Still, for the sake of his sanity, Sirius had, along with Mia, been following Dumbledore’s advice and tried not to over-think it and just go on with his life.

As for Harry, his initial reaction had been of mixed disbelief and anger, as expected. What young boy who was told he either had to kill and to be killed wouldn’t be angry? However, after Sirius and Mia’s reassurance and the promise by Dumbledore that he’d personally make sure Harry was prepared for when the ultimate time came, had helped the young boy starting to cope – last time Sirius had seen him, just that morning, as scared as he might be by the fate that seemed to have been assigned to him, the kid was holding strong on his feet like the fighter he was.

“Not very focused today, are you, Sirius?” Remus asked him, several minutes later just as the meeting had reached an end.

“Got a lot of stuff in my mind,” Sirius told him. He didn’t specify what, as he and Mia had still not shared the prophecy with anyone but Harry. He knew they’d tell Moony at some point but, for now, they were still trying to digest it themselves.

“You and Mia are not at odds again, are you?” his friend asked, worried.

Sirius frowned immediately. “What? No, of course not. We’re okay, Moony. Great, actually,” Sirius stated. In fact, his relationship with Mia seemed to have been strengthened since their rough patch – he wasn’t sure if it was due to their near-death experiences or to the fact that the fight had reminded them of how miserable they felt when they were apart. Maybe it was both. “I’m just worried about Harry, that’s all. Everything seems to fall on his shoulders,” he said truthfully, not wanting to leave his friend hanging with the doubt.

The werewolf nodded, though he had a feeling that Sirius wasn’t telling him everything. Still, being his friend for such a long time, he trusted Sirius would tell him whatever was going on with time.

Sirius sighed and tried to keep those thoughts about the prophecy out of his head. Better change the subject, then. “So, are you going to see Tonks at St. Mungo’s today?”

“I’m not planning to,” Remus stated, dismissively. Every day, he told himself he wouldn’t go. Dora was fine, she didn’t need him there, even if she certainly wanted him, and going only made things harder for him. Yet, he always ended up doing it, to his own frustration – the woman just wouldn’t leave his head and he couldn’t bring himself to pull back… He knew he was getting himself hooked to her and, at some point, he wouldn’t be able to pull back. It already felt harder to stay away now, scared as he’d been when she’d gotten herself cursed.

“Do you know when they’re letting her go back home?” Sirius asked.

“Tomorrow,” Remus stated. “Her parents were there yesterday – Andromeda says ‘hi’, by the way – and they were trying to convince her to go home with them and spend a couple of weeks there until she had to go back to work. She said she’d be fine in her own flat.” He paused, unsure if he should tell the rest, knowing Sirius should make a big deal out of it. Still, he thought he’d go mad if he didn’t tell it to anyone… “She asked me if I wanted to go to her flat with her after they left. Go to her flat and stay there… for a while.”

Sirius’s face lit up and he grinned. “Interesting. And what did you say?”

“I said I’d think about it.”

“Hum, no immediate refusal, even more interesting. Shall I drop by later to help you pack?” he inquired playfully.

“Cut it out, Padfoot,” the werewolf told him, looking away in embarrassment. “Just because I said I’d think of it, doesn’t mean I’ll go.”

“Yeah and just because you keep saying you won’t visit her at the hospital every day, that doesn’t keep you from always doing it,” Sirius replied. “Just accept that there’s no use fighting it – you got it bad, mate. A little colour in your life would make wonders to your moods.”

“It’s not fair to her.”

“Not fair? She’s the one who wants you to go home with her and, if I recall it well, she’s of-age, doesn’t have any sort of mental illnesses, is aware of your condition and doesn’t give a damn about it. The only thing that’s unfair in the middle of all this is that you won’t trust her judgement, so take my advice and get your head out of your arse. Now, I’m going home to my woman, I’ll kiss her and tell her that I love her.” He patted his friend on the back. “You should do the same, Moony. It’s one hell of a feeling.”

And, as he watched his best friend leave, Remus felt tempted to do what he’d just said. He let out a sigh and leaned against the back of his chair. Why couldn’t things be just a little bit easier?

---

Sirius peaked through the master bedroom’s door and half-chuckled as he saw Mia sitting up on bed, her dark brown hair falling messily over her shoulders and face, unsuccessfully trying to keep a thick book open with a single hand as her other arm was still secured by the sling Madam Pomfrey and Elizabeth had made her wear until her shoulder was healed, which might still take at least another week. Other than that and a still unsteady knee, she was practically fully healed from all the injuries she’d gotten.

Mia cursed under her breath and just gave up, closing the book and putting it on her bedside table. That was when she noticed her husband there. “I’m bored,” she moaned, making him chuckle some more. “Oh, and this amuses you. That’s nice,” she said sarcastically.

He took a seat on the edge of the bed. “Shame on me,” he said before leaning to her and kissing her lips softly as a way of saying ‘hello’. It was her mouth that deepened it but he didn’t hesitate in following her. There was that newly enlightened passion he’d been thinking about. His hand cupped her cheek, feeling the warmth of it against his palm as his lips moved against hers. He wondered if it would ever end – those little shocks that kissing her tended to cause in his spine, the warmth it brought to his body… They pulled away after a few seconds and he grinned. “Sill bored?”

“Hum… I don’t think so,” she replied.

His hand descended from her face to touch her shoulder softly enough not to make it hurt. “Well, apart from the boredom, how has my wife been feeling since I left?”

“A little achy from being in bed all the time. But other than that and this stupid sling that only gets in the way of everything, I feel fine,” she said. “I got up for a few minutes and the knee feels much better now.”

“Hum, that’s good. And what about my baby?” He placed a hand on her flat stomach, foolishly hoping for his unborn child to give him a sign of being there, despite knowing well enough he or she was still too small to so such a thing.

She smiled warmly. “Your baby must be feeling just great, probably napping all the time in there. I cast the charm to hear the heartbeat earlier and it sounded just normal.” Mia sighed and covered his hand with her own. “It still feels a bit unreal nothing bad happened to him or her after my little adventure in the Department of Mysteries.”

He fought back a shiver at the mention of the place – as far as he was concerned, he didn’t want to hear of it at all for the rest of his life. “Our baby is a strong little one,” he replied, making an effort to not to think of the bad memories. “What do you think we’re having? Boy? Girl? One of each?”

“Well, I can tell you for sure there’s only one in there,” Mia replied. “As for boy or girl, I think I want to be surprised this time around. Don’t you?”

He shrugged. “As long it’s healthy, I wouldn’t mind a surprise. And speaking of kids, Harry and Izzy asked me to say ‘hi’ to you,” he told her.

“You saw them?” Mia asked, surprised.

He nodded. “I dropped by Hogwarts before going to the meeting. Dumbledore had asked me if I could go unseal Umbridge’s office so he could kick her out of the school for good, remember?”

“Ah, and how did it go?” Mia asked in amusement.

He sighed. “Well, we were all shocked to find out that there was a couple of nifflers locked in there with her things all those months – they seemed to have fed on her lovely plants… But seriously, it wasn’t me who put it there – I think it may have been Fred and George before I sealed the office. Anyway, Dolores-dearest is out and we’re back in – Dumbledore asked me to tell you that he will arrange for someone to replace you during your maternity leave, unless you’re planning to keep on going back to work just after the baby is born.”

“Hum, as much as I love teaching, I think my hands will be quite full at the time. But tell me how Harry was. Did he look okay? Did he say anything about the prophecy?”

Sirius nodded. “He sounded fine – the kid has been coping with it. He told Ginny about the prophecy and she’s been there to help him deal with it. He says he’ll tell Ron, Hermione and Izzy about it once he figures things out himself, so I’d say he’s doing as well as someone in his situation can.”

Mia sighed. “Thank Merlin.” She’d been so worried… at this point more worried about his reaction than to his fate. Knowing he was on his way to acceptance, settled her down by a lot – truth was, she’d taken her own conclusions about the matter. “I’ve been thinking about this, you know? About this prophecy. And I realized something.”

“What?” he inquired, curious.

“It’s not completely bad. I mean, yes, it’s terrible that Harry’s condemned to face Voldemort in the end. It’s too much for as a young boy to deal with. Still, he’s been a marked boy for years and we had no idea why before. Now, we do: Voldemort’s afraid of Harry. Deep down, he’d terrified of him, or else he wouldn’t have been so keen to attack him. And now, because of this prophecy, we know Harry has a shot at winning this war. Because he has something Voldemort doesn’t… he has love. He feels it, he understands it and he doesn’t underestimate it. That makes him stronger.”

Her word showed she’d thought about it way father than he had – he supposed it had to do with being stuck in bed with nothing else to do. She’d processed the whole thing and probably managed to find the one thing that could some from that prophecy. “You’re right,” he agreed. “Harry will be fighting for himself and all of us – Voldemort will just be fighting for himself.”

“So, this prophecy… it doesn’t just bring despair. It brings hope,” she stated, positively. “Now we know that if we do things right, if love is enough, one day this will be over and Harry will live through all of it. We know we can all have a future.”

He smiled and leaned closer to her and kissed her lips lightly. Mia had always had a gift to give him peace when he needed it, now more than ever. When he pulled a few inches back, he gave her his hand. “Fancy a visit downstairs, Madam? I think I heard a certain toddler down there raising some hell. He goes by the name of ‘Alex, the destroyer’ and he seems to have a soft spot for his mummy and cookies.”

Her lips curled. “I wonder who that might be,” she replied in amusement. “But actually…” Mia bit her lower lip. “I was thinking of doing something else first.” Her good hand pulled him further to her and her lips touched his again, with such fierce and passion, clearly making an invitation.

Sirius was a little hesitant in accepting it, though. “Wait, are you sure you can… are you sure it won’t… hurt you?”

“Elizabeth said I was good to go as far as she was concerned,” Mia whispered. “As for the rest, I know you’ll be careful not to hurt me… It’s been nearly two weeks and we haven’t made love since before the fight. I need you now. Please.”

Her pleading was enough to convince him and, as his moth captured hers again, they kissed passionately for several seconds without pulling away for air. He helped her taking off the sling just for the moment before she lay back and they resumed kissing in a more horizontal fashion.

“I did miss this,” he confessed against her lips after a few minutes, making her laugh.

And, as they took the passion further, he realized something. He didn’t need a prophecy to give him new hope. He knew that, as long as he had Mia, as long as he had his family, there would always be a chance for a better future.

A/N: Well, with this we jump into another volume, which will pretty much continue straight from where 'Brave New World' left us. It will mostly separate the Before and After the battle of the department of mysteries (not to mention that it will helps me a lot to reorganize my mind). I honestly hope you liked it. Feedback is love :D Review!

Chapter 2: In the Platform
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A/N: Sorry for the little delay but I got the flu this week, so it was sort of complicated to write...

Grimmauld Place, 28 June 1996 


The last Friday of June brought along the last day of term at Hogwarts and the time for Izzy and Harry to come back home for their Summer Break.

For the first time in their lives, Sirius and Mia weren’t sure if they should be happy or worried about it. On the one hand, they were obviously excited to have all their children nearby again as the house clearly wasn’t the same without them; on the other hand, they couldn’t help feeling a bit uneasy because they knew the kids were a lot safer at Hogwarts: there, they could go out of the castle and still be protected by the wards… at home, however, if they left the house, there was nothing to protect them except for themselves. That was one of the many dangers during war-time – whenever people came out of their places, they couldn’t know if they’d make it back in. And even though no attacks had occurred within the wizarding community yet, that fear certainly was hovering over everyone’s heads now more than ever.

As he thought about that, Sirius sighed with his eyes closed and felt a hand softly touching his face, making him open one eye to see Mia looking down at him, her left arm now sling-free. He was lounging on the living room couch, his head lazily resting on his wife’s lap as they waited for the time to pick up Harry and Izzy to arrive. Sirius got hold of her hand and brought it closer to his lips, kissing the back of it.

“You look thoughtful. Care to share?” she asked, smiling down lightly, with the sound of the Muggle telly broadcasting the news of the day in the background. They weren’t really watching it at the moment, they just had it on so there wouldn’t be complete silence in the background…

“Depressive stuff,” Sirius stated with a huff.

“Do you want to be more specific?”

He shrugged. “I was trying to figure out how we’ll manage the kids this Summer with the war… it feels like everything outside of this house will become a battlefield.”

“I know,” she whispered. “But we can’t keep them locked in. I wish we could so they’d be safe but…”

“It wouldn’t be fair,” Sirius stated. “Merlin, this sucks.”

Mia let out a breath and softly touched his hair in a soothing manner. Suddenly, the voices on the telly caught her attention and she turned to watch it – the news anchor was announcing the suspicious death of twelve people in the streets of London in the past two weeks.

“… the police suspects that a serial killer is responsible for all these deaths, though no sign of trauma or poisoning was found in any of the bodies. Dr. Martin Brown from the Forensic Sciences Service is here to give us his judgment in this matter. Good Afternoon, Dr.…”
“I’d bet all the gold I have that it is Death Eater’s doing,” Sirius said, motioning to sit up on the sofa.

Mia nodded. “They’re only attacking Muggles so far.”

“Yeah. Because they want to send us a message: nobody in and out of the wizarding world is safe. Like we don’t bloody know it already.”

Mia reached for him and wrapped one arm around his back as she rested her head on his shoulder. “They can’t even defend themselves against something they don’t even know that exists.”

“It’s sick,” he agreed, taking a deep breath.

This time, he was the one rubbing her long, silky brown hair and pressing a kiss to the top of her head. It was affecting her, the deaths. Last time around, that was the way it had all started – random deaths. Sirius immediately regretted mentioning that. He knew that as much as she tried to cling to the hope she’d managed to get from the prophecy, there was only so much it could hold. And the last thing he wanted was for her to be under more stress than she needed, especially while carrying his child. He felt tempted to just get rid of the Muggle telly, knowing hearing the news from there was bothering her further but, knowing she’d probably call him an overprotective git over it and get her knickers in a twist, he simply turned it off using the remote.

“Let’s not think of this stuff, okay?” he suggested gently as she pulled away from his hold a little, to get a better look at him. “The kids are coming back home today, I’d rather welcome them grinning instead of moping.”

Mia smiled a little at the mention of them. “You’re right. We should make things normal for them. Or as normal as possible.” It wasn’t easy being a parent during wartime. She let out a sigh and forced herself to get in a better mood for their sake and, partly, her own as well. “Have you thought what you’ll say if, by any chance, we get to meet Izzy’s boyfriend today?” she asked, casually.

He groaned. “Please, don’t remind me. Couldn’t she just stay away from boys for one or two more years?”

She raised an eyebrow. “I believe you started snogging girls and going out with them when you turned thirteen. She’s one year older that you were, if my math is correct.”

“Well, I didn’t call any of them my ‘girlfriend’, did I?”

“And that’s supposed to be something on your favour?” Mia asked sceptically. “Look, at least she’s just sticking with one boy and, from what I’ve gathered, the best adjectives she has to describe are ‘nice’ and ‘sweet’. It’s just a little teenage fling.” She looked at him and nearly laughed when she found him pouting like a little kid.

“I still don’t like it,” Sirius mumbled stubbornly.

His wife huffed. “Look, let’s put it like this: if you act like an arse to Terry, she’ll be hurt and angry at you. Do you want that to happen?”

“Of course I don’t,” he replied. “It’s just… she’s our first baby. It’s hard to let go.”

Mia felt a little sympathetic and rested a hand on his shoulder. “You won’t have to let go of her anytime soon. She’s fourteen and has a boyfriend, not twenty and getting married. Believe me, Izzy is still very far from leaving the nest.”

So, I may be dramatizing it a little too much… Sirius accepted. Well, he had the right, hadn’t he? Two years of experience as a father and having a daughter already dating was quite a complicated match. He supposed he hadn’t had that problem with Harry because he was very aware of what went through a boy’s mind at that age in terms of girls and he knew and liked Ginny Weasley. A teenage girl’s mind, however, was rather mysterious to him, not to mention that he had no idea what sort of guy Terry Boot was. He supposed he couldn’t be that bad or else she wouldn’t be dating him. Plus, Harry would have said something if Boot was a git. “I suppose I can give her a little credit,” he mumbled.

“Good,” she said, victorious. “You’re not the only one who gets a sort of clueless with them growing up, Sirius. To me, it seems like it was yesterday that they were little kids asking for cuddling.”

Sirius sighed. “Well, at least Alex is still in cuddling age,” he offered. “That’s good.”

“Yes, and so will the baby on the way,” Mia pointed out, smiling.

He smiled back and didn’t resist resting a hand on her flat abdomen. The poor kid was probably as small as fig at the moment. Mia wasn’t three months along yet, and, apart from her clothes seeming slightly tighter on her and that glow that she seemed to have, one could barely tell she was pregnant so far. Yet, he always thought of it, every time he looked at her. With the matter of Izzy’s boyfriend forgotten, he looked up at Mia and smiled. “Have I mentioned you look even more beautiful when you’re having my baby?”

Mia smiled. “I supposed you’ve said it once or twice already,” she said. “Keep that in your mind when I’m too big to sleep on my stomach.”

“Why would I need to? You’re still beautiful when you’re too big to sleep on your stomach, love,” he told her, faking confusion. “More of you to love.”

“Well, aren’t you the flatterer, Mr. Black?” she asked, smiling at him as her hand reached up to his face. “Kiss me?”

“If you insist,” he said before wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her firmly to him, joining their mouths with fierceness.

She let out a moan against his lips and, let herself enjoy. Kissing him was an indulgence she just couldn’t give up, not even before the two of them had started dating, although it hurt her back then knowing he wasn’t all hers. Teenage minds, afraid to give it all and ruin it all had made them deny their feelings until they’d finally come clean in their seventeenth birthday and started what had bloomed into what they were today. A unit.

After he stranded her under his body, carefully not to crush her with his weight, his lips left hers to tease her jaw, her neck and the bridge that led to her shoulder, making her grip on his side grow stronger. She was nearly lost by the time his lips made their way back to hers but a little voice in the back of her head reminded her that they had other things to do. “Sirius,” she managed to say, her voice muffled by his mouth. “We don’t have…” he interrupted her with another kiss, which she couldn’t help responding “… time for this.”

“Hum?” he mumbled, pulling away, a bit confused.

“The kids. We’ve got to pick them up from the train in…” she reached for his arm and pulled it to her in order to check his watch as she wasn’t wearing one at the moment “… twenty minutes. And there’s also Alex – he’ll be waking up from his nap at any minute.”

Sirius groaned. “Can’t time just take a break until we’re done?”

“I don’t think that’s really possible.” She kissed his cheek as they sat back up. Mia herself felt a little frustrated with the need to stop. Those pregnancy hormones were starting to get to her in what came to moods and… other sorts of moods, tightly related to Sirius, obviously. “There’s always tonight,” she said, giving him a smile, “with no interruptions then.”

“You can bet I’ll take you up on that,” he warned her, getting up and offering her his hand to pull her up too, which she accepted. “Come on, the sooner we get the kids home, the sooner we’ll find an excuse to get ourselves in our room all alone.”

---

Going to Platform 9 ¾ – now with aurors all over it for everyone’s protection – on the days that were marked as the beginning or end of an year at Hogwarts was always an opportunity to run into several old friends, acquaintances or good old foes. Still, as for the latter option, it was safe to say that the odds of it happening had been severely reduced for the simple fact that many of the mentioned foes had been sent to Azkaban, following their altercation at the Department of Mysteries.

Consequently, it was very easy to spot a group of Death Eaters’ wives – without their respective husbands – standing in the shadows waiting for the train to arrive with their children. Narcissa Malfoy didn’t keep herself from shooting Sirius her best glare in the moment she stepped into the platform and headed to meet the other Mrs. Death Eaters. Amused with his cousin’s rage, Sirius waved at her with a grin all over his face, making Narcissa turned her face away.

“Ah, always lovely to see family, isn’t it?” he told Mia, sarcastically. “Should we go there and say ‘hi’?”

Mia gave him a cautious look as she held her son, who looked fascinated by all the people around, by the hand. “Let’s not strike the beehive, especially not when we have a toddler around,” she warned him. “It’s not a secret Narcissa has a mean temper and no scruples whatsoever.”

He shrugged. “I suppose being cursed would ruin the fun of mocking her, after all…”

On the floor, little Alex started to pull his father’s leg in order to get his attention. “Up, Daddy!”

Sirius chuckled and granted his son’s wish, scooping him up and holding him in his arms. “There you go, mate. I suppose you’ll get a better look at girls from up here,” he told his son mischievously. “But I don’t think there are many girls with your age around here.”

“Don’t start giving him ideas already, Sirius,” Mia said, rolling her eyes before she reached for her son and kissed his soft, rosy cheek. “Here, let me take him for a while.” She’d missed being able to carry him while her shoulder was useless and her arm was contained in a sling.

Sirius looked hesitant. “Are you sure you…” He stopped talking when she gave him a don’t-even-try look and just passed her the baby, whom she shifted to carry on her hip.

The little boy immediately resumed looking around, amazed with all the people, pointing every now and then and calling for their attention.

While Mia was entertaining her son by walking around with him, her eyes reached the entrance of the platform and she frowned at the sight. “What is she doing here?”

Sirius turned around to look at the entrance too and was displeased to find one Barbara Lasher – in their Hogwarts days, a Slytherin prefect, Head Girl wannabe, having been beaten there by Lily, and head pain in the arse – making her way into the platform. “Probably has a kid in the school. Moony and I spotted her here back in September too…” he said quickly. “Blimey, don’t look right at her – she’ll spot us with her bat radar and we’ll never get rid of her.”

“Too late, she’s already heading this way,” Mia said under her breath, clutching her son closer as the woman approached.

“The Blacks! I just can’t believe it!”

Her voice had a high-pitched tone that was almost painful to hear. That was just one of the many reasons to despise her. She was exceedingly pretty, too pretty to be natural, all perky features and tumbling coal-black hair. Last time Sirius and Mia had counted, she’d married well four times, become widowed once and gotten separated three times. All of that summed, Barbara was the owner of a very fat Gringotts vault.

She spared them a painfully fake smile and her eyes landed on Alex. “Oh, and a baby. How delightful. Looks just like his father.” She reached to pat the baby’s cheek but he was faster and hid his little face against his mother’s neck, clearly uncomfortable with Barbara’s presence. “Oh, well, not very social.”

“Must be the company” Mia replied coldly, rubbing her son’s back

Barbara ignored her words. “I saw you and just couldn’t resist dropping by to say ‘hello’,” she told them, who deeply wished she had resisted and stayed as far away as it was possible. The woman turned to Sirius and smiled. “I heard you were innocent, of course. I’ve been meaning to call, but I’ve been so busy.” She let out a clearly fake sigh. “All those terrible stories.” Delighted malice flitted around her magically engorged lips. “Why it must have been just dreadful for you. I just can’t imagine the terror of spending such a long time in prison.”

He narrowed his eyes – well, wasn’t it obvious the bloody snake had come around to bite them a little bit? Hadn’t changed a thing since school… unless maybe having grown meaner. “Well, it was no five-star hotel,” he said, not presenting her with the sorrow she’d been hoping for.

“I assume you are here to pick up your children,” Mia said, trying to distract her from the subject.

“Just my daughter,” Barbara corrected. “Romilda started her first year at the same time Sirius here escaped from that awful prison. I’ll have to confess I found it awful that Patterson was the one to commit those crimes…”

“Pettigrew,” Mia corrected.

“…such good friends you all were. A simple lack of judgement – happens to anyone.”

She just can’t keep her mouth shut, can she? Sirius thought, deciding he was done with the pleasantries. “Even to you, apparently. Three ex-husbands. Isn’t that quite a string of lack of judgement? Unless, of course, dumping them was the plan.”

“Oh, what a ridiculous thing to say,” she said sharply.

“Yes, just plain silly. Now, Babs, I’ve just remembered the most hilarious thing. Do you remember that time you got a terrible case of hives after badmouthing Mia?” He glanced at his wife and saw her lips curling – she hadn’t forgotten it at all.

Barbara’s eyes narrowed and she dropped the mask. “I knew it was you, but Dumbledore wouldn’t believe me. Brainless old berk.”

“Actually it was James but only because I lost the draw. It was my idea. Now would you like to leave quietly, or should I get my wand and send you out of here bicoloured and hysterical again?”

Her face was red with fury and her hands clutched so tightly into fists that Sirius bet those sharp nails of hers would break through skin… that was, if she didn’t lunge forward to pierce them through him. “You were always nothing but a second-grade scallywag who managed to get himself kicked out of his own family!” she hissed, turning on her heels and, to their delight, walking far away from the pair.

“Annoying little slag,” Sirius said under his breath, not loud enough for his son to catch. “She tries so bad to be mean but after one’s dealt with Dolores Umbridge, all others seem like novices, don’t they?”

“Now that you mention it…” Mia mumbled, shifting Alex in her arms. “But did you guys really give her hives because she was badmouthing me?”

“Well, it was my first week as your boyfriend – I had to prove myself worthy,” he stated, casually.

Mia smiled and kissed his cheek. “Well, that’s really sweet… in a strange sort of way.”

He grinned in return and wrapped one arm around her waist, letting her rest her head against his shoulder.

“Sirius, Aunt Mia,” they heard Harry calling a few seconds later he approached them, pulling his trunk behind him as Izzy followed him. “Hey.”

“Welcome back,” Mia said in a lively manner, giving them a smile before she passed the baby to Sirius and made her way to the kids, wrapping her arms in a hug around them both at the same time.

Despite being a little embarrassed by being hugged in public, they couldn’t resist hugging her back, glad to see her okay – last time they’d laid eyes on her, she’d been lying in a bed at the Hospital Wing, rather bruised and with an injured arm. Mia pulled away a few seconds later and gave them each a smile before looking straight at Harry. “Are you okay?”

He could see in his godmother’s eyes that she was talking about the prophecy – she wanted to know how he was dealing with it. Izzy realized it too, having been told of it a couple of days before and simply remained quiet, letting him speak.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said, giving Mia a small smile. Ginny had been helping him a lot when dealing with it and he could tell for sure that he wasn’t half as terrified now as he’d been before. Still, he made an effort to show himself more confident than he actually was. “I think deep down I always knew I’d have to be the one to face him. Hopefully it will all work out in the end.”

His godmother’s lips curled. “I’m glad you think that way.”

There were a few seconds of uncomfortable silence until Izzy spoke. “So, do you know the sex of the baby already? Is it a girl? Because we really need to even the numbers back home.”

“Even the numbers?” Harry asked. “For eleven years I lived alone with three women and now you’re complaining about there having two of you and three of us? If anything, it should be a boy to make up for the minority of men that there was in our family for years.”

“Oh, shut it,” Izzy replied before turning to her mother. “So, what is it?”

“We’ve decided to let it be a surprise,” Sirius said as he approached, holding Alex by the hand, only letting go of him so he could toddle to his mother and wrap himself around one of her legs. “Guess we’ll just have to wait until mid January, which is when he or she will be born.” Even though he was curious about it, himself. But he supposed he could live with it, anyway. “Well, did you guys have a good train ride?”

“Yeah, it was nice,” Izzy said before turning to glare at Harry. “Except for that time when I ran into someone snogging at the end of the train’s hall.”

“There was nobody around when we got there!” Harry protested. “And Ginny was the one who started it.” Not that he was complaining about it.

Sirius chuckled – he and Mia used to be the ones that always ended up with people running into them while they were snogging. “Happens to everyone, kid.” He looked back at his daughter, then, and tried to keep a casual tone. “Hum, so where’s that… boyfriend of yours?”

“Terry? Oh, we… we kind of broke up last night after the end-of-the-year feast,” she said, letting out a single sigh. She liked Terry but not in a way that would last – they certainly didn’t have the bond or the chemistry that she saw Harry and Ginny or her parents sharing. “We just realized it wouldn’t work out long distance for us – he lives in Northern Ireland and his parents are Muggle, so doesn’t have a floo connection… I suppose overall we’re better off as friends.”

Sirius was taken aback, surprised. “Really? So there’s no boyfriend now?”

Izzy raised her eyebrows. “Why? Did you religiously hate the idea?”

He knew that if he said ‘no’ straight away it would sound as fake as it actually was… “Just a little,” Sirius confessed. “Would it help if I said I was going to give him a chance to prove himself before scaring him as far away as his legs could take him?”

Izzy smiled a bit at her father’s silliness before reaching for his cheek and kissing it. “You’ll have a chance to do that with the next one, Daddy. I could go find one now and just bring him here for you to scare off.”

Sirius narrowed his eyes. “Little pest, aren’t you, Izzybel?” He turned to Harry. “Isn’t she?”

“Just a little. There are girls a lot worse,” Harry stated, trying to remain neutral in that matter.

“I wonder who she takes after, anyway,” Mia stated, giving Sirius an amused look.

“I have no idea what you’re implying,” he said in a mock-offended tone as he reached for Izzy’s trunk, in order to carry it for her. “Well, shall we go home now or do any of you have something else to do here?”

They all agreed to leave and, after Sirius and Mia had gotten hold of the kids’ trunks and Izzy had picked her little brother up from the floor, made their way to one of the fireplaces so they could floo back to Grimmauld Place.

When all five of them reached the fireplaces, Mia wished they’d waited a couple of more minutes so they’d have avoided ending up right behind Narcissa and Draco Malfoy on the line to take the floo. Narcissa was the only one of the two to notice them but she didn’t even acknowledge them until her son flooed away – Draco would make trouble out of seeing them. Then, with him gone, she turned around and gave them a cold look before speaking – thankfully, both Izzy and Harry were too far behind to hear her.

“The Dementors have left Azkaban,” she said quietly. “Lucius and the others will be out in no time. When they are, they’ll make you all pay for sending them in.”

“We’ll make sure to send you note after we’re done with them,” Sirius stated boldly while Mia chose not to speak. “Oh, and give Bella a message for me: next time I see her, I’ll make her pay for every bruise, every cut and every break she got on my wife.”

“If you have a chance,” Narcissa said, stepping into the fireplace and disappearing into the fire.

Mia’s hand touched his shoulder and he turned to face her. “Do you think she meant it?”

“About Malfoy and his pals wanting revenge? I’m sure she did. But there’s a big difference between wanting something and getting it. If they try, we’ll be ready for then,” Sirius assured her. “Now, come on, let’s go home.”

Biting her lip nervously, Mia nodded. The talk with Narcissa might have been short but it certainly had been enough to leave a mark of fear behind… 

A/N: Sort of a filler but I hope you liked it :D Inspiration is hard on you when one has a headache the size of the moon... Feedback is welcome,

Chapter 3: Fallen
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The three weeks that passed since Izzy and Harry’s arrival home were rather tense. The attacks on Muggles had increased severely with them growing for what the Muggle world called ‘a serial killer’s work’ to ‘a series on unfortunate natural disasters’ that ended up with dozens of deaths at once. Still, there didn’t seem to be any attacks within the magical community yet, which both puzzled and gave a fake sense of safety to the population… Maybe he just wants to wipe out all Muggles this time around, some selfishly thought.

It was around nine in the morning when Sirius woke up in his bed, one of his arms wrapped around Mia’s waist as she slept on her side, facing him. She looked incredibly peaceful, though her hair was a mess and all the covers seemed to have been kicked away to his side of the bed, as she usually felt rather hot due to the raging hormones of pregnancy. He removed his arm from around her and moved his hand to touch the soft bump that was starting to form on her abdomen – every day that passed, he got more and more excited to meet that baby, though he still had several months ahead of him before that happened.

Sirius got up and, carefully enough not to wake her, he kissed his wife’s cheek only to have her mumbling something under her breath and sinking her face further in the pillow, snatching his as well and holding it against her. Beautiful, he thought, looking at her sleeping form. Being pregnant really made her more beautiful than ever, as far as he could tell… It was with a grin that he grabbed a bunch of clothes, going to the bathroom in order to have a shower.

Around fifteen minutes later, he was already making his way into the kitchen, seeing the kids already at the table as soon as he got in. Harry seemed to be busy reading the Daily Prophet, while Izzy sat on the opposite side of the table eating absently and Kreacher stood on top of a little stool opposite the stove, cooking.

“Good morning,” Sirius greeted them.

“Morning,” Harry and Izzy chorused.

“Where’s Alex?”

“Lulu came around ten minutes ago and took him – he was going to spend the day with her and Gabe, remember?” his daughter said.

“Oh, right, I’d completely forgotten it.” He supposed he’d have to leave the usual morning session of tickling his son mercilessly for later that day… “So, is there anything interesting in the paper? Except for the usual rubbish, of course,” he asked, making his way to go take a seat by Izzy’s side.

“Well, apparently, they ‘know’ I’m the Chosen One, so to speak,” Harry told him, apparently indifferent.

“Let me see that,” Sirius requested, reaching for the newspaper Harry was passing to him. Apparently, the kid had once again made the headlines of the day…

HARRY POTTER: THE CHOSEN ONE?

Rumours continue to fly about the mysterious disturbance at the Ministry of Magic last month, during which He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was sighted once more.

Highly placed sources within the Ministry have confirmed that the disturbance centred on the fabled Hall of Prophecy.

Though Ministry spokes-wizards have thus far refused even to confirm the existence of such a place, a growing number of the Wizarding community believe that the Death Eaters now serving sentences in Azkaban for trespass and attempted theft were attempting to steal a prophecy. The nature of that prophecy is unknown, although speculation is rife that it concerns Harry Potter, the only person ever known to have survived the Killing Curse, and who is also known to have been at the Ministry on the night in question. Some are going so far as to call Potter ‘the Chosen One,’ believing that the prophecy names him as the only one who will be able to rid us of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. However, neither Potter nor his guardians accepted to make any comment on this matter. 


Sirius rolled his eyes and stopped reading. “Long story short, they don’t know a thing and are throwing pebbles at the air, hoping to hit a bird. They were bound to start wondering about why you were at the ministry when the battle happened.”

Izzy nodded, agreeing with her father. “I suppose this must be why we kept getting Owls from the Prophet to get interviews or statements.”

“They’d better wait somewhere comfortable because they’re not getting it anytime soon,” Harry stated, reaching for a piece of toast and taking a bite from it. He didn’t want a thing to do with the Daily Prophet.

“They’ll just keep on speculating and writing about it,” Sirius pointed out. “The blokes just want stuff to sell papers.”

“I think I got that fact back in my fourth year.”

“Yeah, with Skeeter following you around all year, we should be worried if you hadn’t,” Izzy stated.

Sirius turned a few pages of the paper, just reading the headlines of the articles. He stopped when he reached the centre page and saw two large moving black-and-white pictures: one of a man with a lion-like mane of thick hair and a rather ravaged face who was identified as Rufus Scrimgeour, Head of the Auror Office, and another one of Amelia Bones, head of the Law Enforcement Department. Over their pictures, there was a headline, naming them as the two favourites to be nominated as next Minister of Magic. Behind their photos, there was a quote from Fudge, entitled as the still acting minister, wishing them well.

Izzy glanced at the newspaper over her father’s arm, raising an eyebrow. “So, if Fudge’s been sacked two months ago already, how come he’s still ruling the ministry?”

“He’s not,” Sirius replied. “Some committee is ruling the ministry until the Wizengamot elects the new minister in tomorrow’s vote. Fudge may still wear the title of ‘Minister’ but he doesn’t have the power to as much as borrow a quill from the ministry’s supplies.”

“I don’t know about the other bloke but I think Madam Bones would make a much better minister than Fudge,” Harry pointed out. She’d rubbed as a fair type of person.

Sirius nodded in agreement. “One thing is for sure, from what I know of her and what Dumbledore has told me about Scrimgeour, they don’t seem the type that cracks easily under pressure like that Fudge dumba…”

He was interrupted by a sound of cracking fire in the fireplace and all of them turned their faces to it to see what it was.

“Must be Ron and Ginny in the floo,” Izzy stated. “We’d told them to come here around this time.” She turned her face to her father. “You’re still taking us to Diagon Alley today, aren’t you, Daddy? You promised you’d take us to see Fred and George’s new shop.”

Sirius chuckled. “I am, Izzybel, don’t worry. As if I didn’t want to see it too… and Moony working in a joke shop.”

“He’s got to have plenty of experience in that area, dealing with you and my dad in Hogwarts for years,” Harry pointed out just as his best mate stumbled his way out of the fire, ashes all over his red hair and face, making Harry snort. “Nice entrance.”

“Oh, come off it,” the redhead said, a little irritably. “I just tripped.”

“Sure you did,” Harry said. Floo and Ron had never seemed to agree much, if he recalled it well.

Before Ron could protest further, the girl in question also stepped out of the fire, though a lot more gracefully than her brother. “Oh, look! It’s the Chosen One,” she said, pointing at Harry with a mock-amazed look on her face, making him raise an eyebrow at her. “I wonder if he’d give me an autograph and a kiss if I asked him to.”

“Very funny, Gin,” Harry said, dryly as he got up to go join them, having already finished his breakfast. “I knew you’d find a way to get a kick out of that.”

She chuckled and kissed his cheek in amusement. “Just doing my job.”

“I’m sure the twins will be more than happy to add their own set of jokes later today,” Izzy pointed out, standing up and making her way to them too.

“It wouldn’t be Fred and George if they weren’t,” Ginny agreed, chuckling.

Harry grinned. He knew that too – what would be of him without his friends and his family? “Is it okay if we go upstairs to the living room?” he asked Sirius.

“Do you even need to ask? As long as you don’t start snogging on the sofa…”

“Not with me around, they won’t,” Ron said, giving both his sister and his best friend warning looks. “Remember the deal? No snogging in front of me or I may change my mind about you guys dating.” That won him a slap on the back of the head, courtesy of his sister. “Hey!”

“That’s for being a git,” she let him know, following Harry and making her way to the stairs that led to the ground floor with Ron following in a protest and Izzy just chuckling behind them.

Seconds later, Sirius heard the kids stop talking to each other and greeted Mia, practically all at the same time. Then, he saw his wife coming through the door, a slightly sleepy expression on her face. “Why didn’t you wake me up?” she asked as she made her way to him, sitting and curling against his side. “I hate sleeping late – it feels like I’m wasting the day.”

“You looked so peaceful,” he said, putting one arm around her and kissing her brow. “Besides, I’ve only been up for half an hour. It’s not that long, love.”

Uninterested in pressing the matter, she pulled away a bit to look at him. “What happened to my ‘good morning’ kiss?”

“Nothing, it’s right here,” he said, reaching for her face with his hand and pressing his lips against hers softly, increasing the pressure as her response got fiercer. When they pulled away, like he did every morning since she’d told him she was pregnant, he leaned down her rounding abdomen.

She smiled when he looked up. “You know, you should start thinking of names for that baby.”

“Me?”

Mia nodded. “Well, I picked the ones for Izzy and for Alex – it’s only fair you get to pick this one’s. But don’t worry, you still have nearly six months ahead of you to decide.”

“So, let’s say I wanted to call it a really awful name like… I dunno, Dolores after our beloved former co-worker. You’d just let me?”

She rolled her eyes. “I obviously have the right to rule out the ones I hate. And, by the way, don’t even think of naming the kid after one of us – that’s just cheating.”

“You’re just trying to make my job harder,” he accused, mock-glaring. “Fine, I suppose I can handle the job of finding a decent name… But for now,” he said, reaching for a fork and the plate of breakfast food Kreacher had placed on the table a minute before and passing it to Mia, “it’s time for you to feed the mommy and the baby. You’re gonna need the energy if we’re dropping by the joke shop like we planned.”

“Or maybe for something else I feel like doing before we leave,” she replied, giving him a suggestive look. “The kids seem too entertained to bother very much about us taking an extra half-hour before we leave.”

“Well, aren’t you feisty, these days?” he asked, grinning.

“Blame it on the hormones,” she said, taking a bite of her eggs.

---

They’d outdone themselves, Sirius had to recognize seconds after he’d stepped into the joke shop. It was colourful, fun and completely out of the ordinary: the paradise for any prankster and an escape from the dark reality that haunted these days…

The shop was, as Ron had described it, packed with people of all ages, though kids were the majority. Still, it wasn’t hard to spot one of the twins in the middle of the crowd, thanks to his Weasley red hair, standing with a little blonde girl behind the counter, apparently helping her registering sales.

“No wonder those guys are swimming in galleons…” Ginny said, nodding in approval, glancing at a bunch of tiny furry animals running inside a cage.

“They’re brilliant,” Izzy said under her breath as she looked around in amazement.

“Well, thank you very much, Miss Black,” a familiar voice said as the other twin approached them.

At the same time Izzy turned to face him, Ginny looked up at him as well. “Hey, George,” his sister greeted him and, before he could hint he wasn’t George, she continued. “Don’t even try – I know it’s you.”

He huffed. “Can’t even give a bloke a chance to pull a healthy joke…”

Sirius chuckled. “Hazards of the job. But really, you’ve done a great job here – Merlin, you’d give us all Marauders a run for our money.”

“That’s what Moony keeps telling us,” George pointed out.

“Well, he’s completely right about it,” Sirius assured him.

“Is he around, by the way?” Mia inquired before she looked at Sirius. “We should drop by and say hello to him.”

“Obviously,” he agreed.

“Last time I checked, he was upstairs handling our negotiations with the ministry– you can there. The stairs are that way,” he pointed at a door behind the counter, indicating the stairs were right behind it. “And tell him that if he gets us a good deal we’ll bloody raise his salary. I swear half the galleons we make are because of him.”

Sirius snorted. “We’ll make sure we pass him the message,” he said, circling Mia’s expanding waist with his arm before they dived into the thick crowd. The elbows sticking everywhere and sweaty people were just one of the many reasons for them to hate crowds with a passion.

They found their way to the office, inside of which their old friend seemed to be having a serious conversation via floo. “… we’ll make sure the products arrive by the end of the week, the werewolf said, apparently finishing the conversation. He only noticed them then he turned around from the fireplace. “Oh, I wasn’t expecting to see you guys here.”

“We thought we might come for a visit,” Sirius told him, sitting on the chair opposite his friend’s desk, Mia doing the same by his side. “What are you guys selling to the ministry? Canary creams for them to feed to all the gits in there?”

“Actually, Fred and George are developing a line of ‘serious products’,” he explained, looking rather proud. “Shield hats, shield cloaks and all sorts of defensive stuff. It’s having an enormous success.”

Mia smiled. “You’re looking really good, Remus. This place suits you.”

Sirius nodded in agreement with his wife. Accepting that job from Fred and George as their accountant/manager/babysitter at times had certainly changed a lot in his friend’s life. He looked a lot less shaggy and sounded even less melancholic, these days – though Sirius imagined that last part might have more to do with a certain pink-haired auror than with the new job.

It was a silent acknowledgement that Remus had ended up accepting Tonks’s proposition concerning him staying with her in her flat while she recovered from her injuries and that, even three weeks after she’d gone back to work, he still hadn’t moved back to his place. Sirius liked to believe he’d given a push to it with the advice he’d given his friend – Merlin knew the guy was self-pitying and pig-headed enough to keep himself away from Tonks, thinking it was the best for her.

“I suppose keeping busy is good for me,” Remus replied, forcing a nonchalant tone as he sat behind the tidy wooden desk, pretending to be tidying a bunch of rolls of parchment.

“We all know it’s not just about being ‘busy’,” Sirius said. “You’ve found the job. Just with the right amount of responsibility for Remus Lupin and with enough mischief for a Marauder. Not to mention that you probably have the funniest bosses that ever lived,” Sirius said with a chuckle. “Comfortable as an old shoe.”

Remus sighed. Sometimes it felt like he didn’t deserve any of that, his life turning around for better in a matter of such short months. He felt genuinely happy for the first time in years, even with the war blowing up all around him. And, he knew, now was too late to give it all up, even if his martyr self kept telling him he should: he felt like he belonged in that job and Dora… well, the fact that he’d moved in with her without even noticing it spoke for itself. He was too far gone to pull away from any of it and happy about that fact. “Hum, so how are the kids?” he asked, changing the subject. “Did you bring them?”

Mia nodded. “Yes, they’re downstairs with Ron, Hermione and Ginny. Lulu’s taken Alex for the day, though. We’ll bring him some other day.”

He nodded. That reminded him that Dora had suggested they babysit Alex together some day – she liked kids, loved them, actually, and that fact made him a little uneasy sometimes… He glanced at Mia’s pregnant belly and gulped, immediately looking away.

Just as he did, there was a knock on the door and it opened, Bill Weasley’s head peaked into the room.

“Sorry to interrupt but I have an urgent message to give Mia,” he said, apologetic as opened the door further and stepped in, closing the door behind him.

Mia raised an eyebrow. “Me?”

He nodded. “Dumbledore flooed your place but you weren’t there and Kreacher told him you were here – I was the closest one to pass them message ‘cause I was at Gringotts. It seems they need you at the order’s headquarters ASAP. As a healer, I mean. They needed someone trustworthy – he said Sirius should come too if it was possible.”

At first, she wondered why they’d called her if they needed a healer, since she wasn’t practicing anymore. But then she recalled there probably wasn’t anyone else available – Elizabeth was on vacation with her family out of the country and Madam Pomfrey would likely be hard to contact, seeing as she was out of the castle enjoying her Summer Break as well.

“What happened?” Sirius inquired, worried. “What do they need a healer for?”

Bill shrugged. “No idea. Dumbledore just asked me to give you the message – he seemed to be busy. I’ve got to get back to the bank… the Goblins are pretty strict about the break times.”

“Sure, sure,” Sirius mumbled. “Thanks for passing the message – we’ll see if we can let you know what it is about later.”

The oldest of the Weasley children nodded and thanked them before quickly making his way out of the room, leaving the three alone again.

“There must have been an attack,” Remus concluded.

Mia and Sirius nodded. “Sounds likely,” Sirius stated. “We should get going, then, if it’s so urgent.”

“But what about the kids? What do we do with them? Send them back home?” Mia asked.

“No, let them be. I’ll keep an eye on them,” Remus promised. “They’re safe here, don’t worry – the shop may be a public place but the twins were careful with the wards: the upper floor where they have the apartment is like a fortress. I’ll make sure they’re safe if, Merlin help not, something happens.”

“Thank you, Remus,” Mia said, getting up at the same time Sirius did the same. “If they ask where we went…”

“…I’ll say you’re running some errands for Dumbledore – that’s all we really know at the moment. Go, they’ll be just fine.”

Leaving their friends and the kids behind, they quickly made their way out of the store through the back door and apparated a couple of streets away from the headquarters. They walked in a fast pace hand in hand, silently comforting each other from the tension they were feeling at the moment, until they reached the pearl white coloured house and made their way to the lower ground floor that was the order’s domain.

The entrance was locked, they noticed, so they knocked on the door. A few seconds passed before they were able to hear steps on the opposite side of the door and, to Mia’s surprise, it was her father’s voice that asked who it was.

“It’s me, Gabe, Mia,” she said. “Dumbledore had me called. I’m with Sirius.”

“You know I’ve got to check,” his voice came through the door. “What’s your mother’s full name?

Mia sighed. “Lucy Kathleen Graham, also known as Lulu, though you usually call her Luce.”

The door clicked as soon as she finished saying it and Gabriel opened it. “Get in. Quick,” he told them cautiously, rushing them in to close the door back behind them.

“I thought you were with Lulu and Alex,” she said.

He nodded. “I was but I got summoned. They’re fine, don’t worry.”

“There’s been an attack, hasn’t it?” Sirius inquired.

He nodded gravelly. “Two, actually. At the same time to specific targets.”

“Who?” Mia asked.

“Rufus Scrimgeour and Amelia Bones,” Gabriel told them.

“They’re the two favourites to become minister,” Sirius said. “It can’t be a coincidence that they were targeted.”

Mia gulped. “Did any of them…?”

“Not yet. Bones is here – they used the Cruciatus on her for a while but there doesn’t seem to be permanent damage but we had you called to make sure. But Scrimgeour… I didn’t see him but, according to Dumbledore, he’s a mess and they had to take him to St. Mungo’s immediately.”

“But how the hell did they get to them?” Sirius asked. Scrimgeour was head auror.

Gabe shrugged. “All I know is that they got Scrimgeour in the middle of the street – witnesses say there were over half a dozen Death Eaters just to get him but that he gave one hell of a fight before they wounded him – and Bones in her own place. According to what she said, she managed to lock herself in a room for a while and sent a Patronus straight to the auror department. Kingsley managed to get there with a team in time and had Tonks bringing her straight here to make sure they wouldn’t be able to finish the job.”

“Merlin,” Sirius said under his breath. “They wanted to start big when changing targets to wizards instead of muggles.”

“Where is she?”

“In one of the smaller bedroom – Tonks is there keeping an eye on her,” he informed her.

“I’ll go check on her, then,” she turned to Sirius. “Maybe you should stay here – she’ll want her privacy.”

He nodded and leaned to kiss her cheek. “I’ll wait for you to get back.”

Like Gabriel had said, Mia found them in the small bedroom that had barely been touched since the times Lily and James Potter lived in that house. She could barely recognize the Amelia Bones she’d met in the previous year in that pale, exhausted woman that rested on the small bed.

“How is she?” she asked Tonks.

“She feels a little shaky but is holding firm,” the metamorphagus said. “Mostly, she’s just worried. We got her out of there just in time – Bellatrix was there. She escaped before we could do anything. She was the one using the Cruciatus, according to Bones.”

“She’s a really sick bitch,” Mia said under her breath, her hand covering the bump on her stomach. Bellatrix might have killed her and her baby little more than a month before. She let out a sigh and approached the pale woman on the bed, trying to keep her voice as soothing as possible. Trying to seem calm for the patient helped them feel calm as well – that was a technique they’d thought her as a trainee.”

“Madam Bones,” she said. “I’m…”

“Mia Black,” Bones finished. “I remember we’ve met before. You’re Harry Potter’s godmother.” She forced a smile. “I wish we’d met again in a more pleasant occasion.”

Mia smiled back softly. “You’re not the only one. How are you feeling?”

“I’ve had better days but I understand my fate could have been a lot worse,” she stated. “Professor Dumbledore insisted to have me checked by a healer.”

“I just need to cast a few diagnosis spells – it shouldn’t take long,” Mia assured her – if she wasn’t too rusty, that was. While that sort of spells had been routine when she practiced healing, it had been a while since she’d used them.

Thankfully, it all went smoothly and, with Bones’s cooperation she was done in ten minutes. While Mia worked, the other woman talked to her: she expressed grief for what the world was turning into and, in a moment of heavier sorrow, told her about her husband, Edgar Bones, who Mia faintly remembered to belong to the first order, being killed during the first war. That made her feel a slight pang in her heart, fearing, like she did when she got herself thinking of the war, that Sirius would share that fate.

The woman ended up sinking into unconsciousness at some point, drained by the fatigue just as Mia concluded there wasn’t be any sort of permanent damage caused by the Cruciatus.

Scrimgeour, however, wasn’t so lucky, as Dumbledore arrived with bad news just as Mia and Tonks had joined Sirius and Gabe in the main room of the headquarters.

“Rufus Scrimgeour didn’t make it,” Dumbledore had informed them, sorrowful. “The healers couldn’t do anything - there was too much damage done to him.”

“So, they managed to kill one of the favourites for Minister,” Sirius said through his teeth, immensely frustrated. “What for? Try to send more messages?”

“I’m afraid this time it was because he knows neither Madam Bones nor Rufus Scrimgeour would be corrupted by him,” Dumbledore said. “Lord Voldemort fears them but, thank Merlin, he didn’t completely succeed in getting them out of his way. It’s almost certain Amelia Bones will be the next Minister of Magic and she’ll protect the Wizarding World in every way she can.”

“She’s a strong woman,” Mia mused. For the first time since Sirius had been arrested due to the ministry’s incompetence, she felt admiration for a minister of potential minister.

“But she’ll need protection,” Tonks pointed out. “We’ll have someone assigned to her permanently – there’s already been one attempt to her life, after all.”

“This is not going to get any easier, is it?” Sirius asked. “Even with her as minister. They’ll keep killing people until that snake-faced son of a bitch has it all.”

“Or until someone stops him,” Mia said, reaching for his hand. Until Harry stops him, she thought, grieving and hoping at the same time. Hopefully, she thought, hopefully he’d be ready when the time came. 

A/N: Well, the first death occurred (don't worry I won't start killing people left, right and centre). I hope you liked the chapter. Next week, however, I'll be going to Paris for the school break and, though I can't promise because I don't know if my internet will work there, I'm hoping to post anyway. Cross fingers for it :D Feedback is very welcome. Review!

Chapter 4: Memory Lane
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Amelia Bones started her mandate as the Minister of Magic in the beginning of August with the support of most of the wizarding community. Everyone knew her job wouldn’t be easy, especially with a war happening, but changes could already be seen in the way the ministry was dealing with the threat of Voldemort’s return: most of the Auror department, now under Kingsley Shacklebolt’s command, was concentrated in finding and catching Death Eaters, as well as patrolling the most populated areas for protection; several new departments were created to deal with the crisis and ‘panic keys’, random everyday objects that were charmed to directly alert the Auror department of the occurrence of an attack, were spread freely among the whole wizarding population.

Still, despite the efforts, attacks kept occurring every other day and people kept getting killed, being the favourite targets unknowing Muggles, though wizards were still thrown in the middle. Emmeline Vance had been the first member of the Order to fall and, so far, the only one, being killed in a battle, while defending a whole village full of Muggles.

Every time Sirius was called to fight on a battle, Mia’s heart clenched, only relaxing once he made it back home unharmed and enveloped her with one of his tight, warm hugs. She loved her unborn baby immensely but sometimes, all of those happening when she had to stay behind while he was in a fight, she wished the pregnancy hadn’t come in such an inconvenient time so she’d be able to fight by her husband’s side…

At the moment, Mia sat on the living room sofa, unsuccessfully trying to distract herself with some reading. She huffed and glanced at the clock that rest near the muggle telly – it was nearly two in the morning. Sirius had been fetched by the order a couple of hours before as an attack was happening near Cardiff and, as far as she knew, he could take two or three more to come back. Yet, she never went to bed without him being back from a battle, even if her eyes threatened to close every five minutes…

Kreacher had already came around twice, trying to convince her to go to sleep, promising he’d wake her up as soon as Sirius was back but she’d preferred to stay the way she was. Just because she couldn’t be at the battle, it didn’t mean she had to sleep right through it. Besides, she was sure she wouldn’t get any restful sleep with her husband out and possibly with his life in danger.

She made an effort not to let her mind drift to those thoughts and closed the book, knowing trying to read at that moment was pointless. Just as she put the book down, Mia heard her daughter’s voice coming through the door, making her turn. “Mom, what are you doing awake?” Izzy asked sleepily.

“Nothing at the moment, really,” Mia replied as Izzy approached, dragging her feet. “What are you doing awake, sweetie?”

Izzy sat on the sofa by her mother’s side and reached to lean her head against her mother’s shoulder like she used to when she was a little girl. “I went to the bathroom and saw the lights on down here. Where’s Dad?”

Mia wrapped one arm around her. “He’s out, doing something for the Order.”

“Was there another attack?” Izzy inquired, a little anxious.

“Yes,” she said, honestly.

Izzy sighed. “It’s like they happen every day, now.”

“It won’t last forever.”

“I know. Harry will beat them all senseless,” her daughter stated. She trusted him completely to beat Voldemort and fulfil his part of the prophecy – Harry was her big brother, after all, and since they were little kids, he’d always been one of the people she looked up to. Izzy needed to believe he’d be the one to win or no one else would. “But it suc… it’s awful while they do happen.”

Mia’s hands soothed her daughter’s long hair that matched hers perfectly. “We’d stop it right now if we could,” she said. “You should go to bed, sweetie. It’s late.”

“It’s late for you too,” Izzy replied, putting her hand in front of her mouth to cover a yawn. “Can’t I wait for Dad to come back?”

“It can take a while,” Mia pointed out. “Honey, you’re tired. Just go to bed and sleep – he won’t come any faster if you stay awake.”

Izzy sighed. “Fine.” She kissed her mother’s cheek before standing up. “Give him a kiss for me when he arrives okay?”

“I’ll give him two,” she replied, smiling warmly at her daughter as she dragged her feet back out of the room.

Mia sighed, then, wondering what she would do to entertain herself. Trying to read was useless as her eyes kept dropping and, according what Lulu said, Muggle telly was terrible after midnight. She got up, knowing that remaining sitting likely wouldn’t help her with anything… She sighed and made her way out of the living room, turning the lights off behind her. For now, she’d go check on Alex.

After going up a few flights of stairs, Mia reached her son’s room and, carefully not to make noise, she opened the door and went through it. The room wasn’t completely dark as either she or Sirius usually left a soft light on so the little boy wouldn’t be scared by the darkness if he woke up during the night.

Alex slept peacefully in his cot, his little arms wrapped around his favourite toy, the black stuffed dog, which he’d christened Shuffas, a toddler version of Harry’s suggestion for a name, ‘Snuffles’. With his face flushed by the slumber, he looked like a little angel, tough, as she saw so much of Sirius in him, he’d probably get some marauder features at some point.

That idea brought her back to thinking of Sirius, though not in such a depressive way. He was up to something, she knew. Lately, he’d go out from time to time, just telling her he had to go ‘take care of something’ with that plotting grin of his all over his face. Then, he’d be gone for an hour or so. She’d inquired him about it a few times but he’d either tell her to trust him or, when the question came during one of her hormonal rages, would seduce her into forgetting it.

He was as slick as a weasel, she’d give him that. And she had a feeling her son would inherit that trait as well, seeing as he could charm anyone into doing nearly anything his one and a half year-old mind wished. Mia reached down and pulled the covers, which had apparently been kicked down to the bottom of the bed, over Alex so he wouldn’t get cold and caressed his soft baby hair. For now, she didn’t really have to worry about his possible future slick ways…

A light knock on the door announced someone else’s presence and she turned to see Sirius had arrived and was standing right outside the door. He didn’t look harmed or grave, just tired, which was a fairly positive sign. “Hey,” he whispered.

“Hi,” she replied softly, glad to see him. Mia gave her son one last look before she made her way to the door, closing it behind her not to disturb Alex. Then, she felt herself relaxing as pressed her body against his in a hug and her head rested on his firm chest.

Sirius’s arms came around her waist and he kissed the top of her head, just letting her hold him in relief for a few seconds. He wished he could make it easier for her but it wasn’t simple… He hoped that little surprise he’d been preparing would help.

She pulled away and looked up at him a few moments later, reaching to kiss his cheeks,. “Izzy asked me to give that to you earlier.” Then, her lips touched his in a loving and welcoming fashion. “That one was from me.”

“Kisses from two beautiful ladies. I’m not worthy,” he said, giving her a tired smile. “I’d keep on trying my luck but I think I’m too weary for something fancier than a kiss.”

Mia moved to his side and gave a little nod towards the entrance of the room. “Come on, let’s get you to bed, then.”

After the made it into the room, she sat on her side of the bed and watched him change out of his clothes. “Did anyone die?” Her tone came shakier than she’d expected as she looked at his face reflected on the full-length mirror that stood in the corner of the room.

He shook his head. “No. Some got wounded but it was nothing life-threatening. They didn’t put much of an effort to it this time – rookie Death Eaters, Kingsley said,” he quoted, his tone sounding rather disgusted. “It’s bad because they’re recruiting but at least those new blokes are as clumsy causing havoc as a teenage boy about to shag a girl for the first time.”

“You’re not making it sound better just so I don’t worry, are you?”

He turned around, still bare-chested and looked her right in the eyes. “I promised I wouldn’t lie to you again and I meant it, Mia. You can ask Lulu if you want to – she and Gabe were there and she’ll tell you just the same.”

Mia shook her head. “No, I believe you.” she got up, making her way to him, and touched his forearm with her hand. “And I suppose I wouldn’t see you trying to shield the pregnant woman from the awful battle as much of a lie. I did believe it when you promised you wouldn’t lie to me again – that fight we had two months ago is more than behind us.”

He visibly relaxed and reached for her cheek, placing a light kiss on it as his hand softly caressed the bulge on her stomach covered by the thin nightgown she was wearing. “I know – I’m just a little edgy. It wasn’t bad but it was still a fight with Death Eaters.”

She made her way back to the bed as he released her from his hold. “Tell me about it,” Mia requested. “Who exactly got hurt?”

“Well, Tonks fell down a flight of stairs and broke a leg – Moony fixed it for her and gave her a scolding for always managing to get herself hurt, she laughed it off and said it was a good excuse for him to feel manly by carrying her all the way home.” He snorted before putting on a grey shirt. “You should have seen him trying to keep a serious face. Also, Charlie Weasley will have a pretty neat scar on his arm to show off when he goes back to Romania – the bloke says those girls at the dragon reservation really have a thing for scarred blokes and I suppose he’ll use that as much as he possibly can to impress them.”

Mia chuckled as he joined her in the bed and lay down by her side. She let out a sigh and rested her body against his, laying her head on his shoulder as he wrapped one arm around her. There was no comparison between sleeping with him by her side and sleeping alone.

“I should tell you now that I have plans for both of us tomorrow.”

“What kind of plans?” she asked, looking up at him curiously.

“That’s for me to know and you to find out, Mrs. Black,” he told her, grinning

“Is it about that secret plotting you’ve been having lately?”

“Maybe. I’ll tell you in the morning,” Sirius promised. “But for now, let’s go to sleep. I’m exhausted, okay?”

Mia just didn’t push it because she could hear the fatigue in his voice. “I’ll make sure you do tell me,” she stated, reaching to his face to press a kiss to his lips. “Good night.”

“’Night,” he replied, grinning as she cuddled back on his side. And sweet dreams for my baby, he thought, gently brushing the tips of his fingers on her stomach. “Love you.”

“Love you too,” she replied. And, seconds after she closed her eyes, sleep took her in gently.

---

In the following morning right after breakfast, Mia inquired her husband about his plans for the day as they carried their son up to his room in order to dress him. Sirius’s answer came as a wide grin and another question.

“What are your plans for the next few days?”

“Nothing specific.” She raised a suspicious eyebrow as Alex reached for her while Sirius carried him up. “Sirius Orion Black, what exactly are you planning to do?”

“I’m trying to surprise you,” he replied and decided to go ahead with the full explanation. “At first, I thought of giving us all a break from this mess of a war by taking us and the kids out for a little vacation in some tropical island like last year. Still, when I asked the kids if they wanted it, they were a little… hesitant.”

“What do you mean?” Mia asked, confused.

“Well, they seem to know that we… we’re very affectionate lately and they’d rather have a good excuse to escape when we have one of those moments, such as going to the Burrow or the twin’s shop.” He coughed, embarrassed with the situation and tried to find something to add. “Besides, Harry’s with Ginny and you know during the first year leaving your other half behind is like leaving a limb. As for this little bugger,” he tickled Alex as he said that, making him giggle and call him ‘Daddy’, “well, he’s still having a little trouble with expressing his opinion with more than three-word sentences.”

“So, no vacation,” Mia concluded as they stepped into the room and made her way to the dresser to get Alex’s clothes.

Sirius sat on the rocking chair with his son, the little boy trying to stand up on his lap and touching his face with his tiny little hands. “Actually,” he started, “they suggested we went instead. Just the two of us.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Sirius, going far away and leaving the kids by themselves…”

“They won’t be by themselves,” he replied. “Lulu and Gabe say they’ll be more than happy to stay here and take care of them, Alex included. You know they’d never let them get hurt, Mia. Besides, it won’t be as long or as far away if the kids are staying here – you won’t even have to leave the country.” Or the city, he added in his mind.

Mia sighed and approached him, watching her son hold himself up by gripping his father’s shoulders. The longest she’d been away from him was a single night… she wasn’t sure how she felt about going on vacation and leaving her little boy behind. “We really won’t have to leave the country?” she asked, just trying to convince herself to give in.

“Nope,” Sirius confirmed. “I knew you wouldn’t want to stay too far away without them and, honestly, neither do I. It will only be a couple of nights now and we’ll just be a fireplace away, though I’m hoping people will leave us alone while we’re out…” he stated, sitting Alex on his lap so she could dress him more easily. “Let the two of us take a break before things get even worse, okay?”

Two nights aren’t that long. And having the floo available… Mia supposed she didn’t have a reason to say ‘no’. She sighed, carefully pulling the pyjama shirt over her son’s head and replacing it with a freshly clean baby blue t-shirt. “If something happens…”

“We’ll be back in a heartbeat,” Sirius promised immediately. “Trust me on this, okay? I’ve been making sure this will go as smoothly as it can possibly go for you. This is something we need to do.”

She felt there was a deeper meaning behind the world ‘need’ that time around… “Alright. But you have to take the two-way mirror. I want to use it to contact the kids and make sure they’re okay.” Mia let out a breath. “So, when do we leave? Tonight?”

“Actually, a couple of hours from now would be the best,” he stated, naturally, making her suddenly stop her task of dressing their little son and look up at him in surprise.

“Merlin, you really have been planning all this ahead, haven’t you?”

He smiled. “It’s something I’ve been thinking of doing for a while. I talked to Gabe yesterday and he said he and Lulu could be here around noon,” he stated.

Mia sighed. The mention of her father had reminded her that he was now ‘alive to the world’, after Bones had taken care of making it official for them with no questions as a way of thanking the Order for having protected her after the attempt on her life. The new Minister had offered to keep the fact that he was alive a secret but Gabe, and Lulu as well, had decided it was time he stopped hiding, as it was likely a bunch of Death Eaters already knew he was alive, from seeing him in the Department of Mysteries, where glamour charms didn’t work. So, as of a week before, Gabriel McKinnon had ‘resurrected’ for the world. Even if he was a target now, Mia was sure he’d give quite a fight to anyone who tried to harm him or his family.

“Mama, shoooo,” she heard her little son saying, his little hand pointing at his bare feet, a tiny frown on his face.

Mia looked down at the rocking chair and saw Sirius looking at her with an eyebrow rose too. “Day-dreaming?” he asked her. “The little man here thinks you’ve forgotten him.”

She reached down and caressed the little boy’s hair. “Mummy hasn’t,” she assured him.

Having the attention back, Alex giggled and this time pointed at his mother’s overgrown stomach. “Bebe!”

“Yep, that’s a baby brother or sister for you, mate,” Sirius confirmed as Mia went to fetch a pair of small-sized shoes. He looked up at his wife questioningly when she made it back to him. “Well and what do you say, Mrs. Black? Will you let me take you away for a couple of days?”

Mia sighed. “Well, I suppose I will.” She reached down to place a kiss on her son’s cheek. “Lulu must be able to handle this one and the other two with Gabe…”

---

When the time to actually leave arrived, as much as she was excited to find out what Sirius had planned for them, Mia felt a little hesitant when leaving the kids at home. While Harry and Izzy had promised to try to stay out of trouble, Lulu didn’t seem to be in a patient mood after her oldest grandkids left ahead of her to go have lunch at the burrow.

“Mia, I’m going to say this as nicely as I possibly can at the moment… Get your pregnant arse of this house before I make you,” Lulu threatened, narrowing her eyes. One thing that had always impressed Mia was that even though her mother was at least three or four inches shorter than her, she was damn intimidating when she wanted to. “Stop worrying, go out with your husband and get laid until you go blind.” That last part made Gabe shiver a little and pretend to be absently looking out the window, which made Lulu raise her eyebrows at him. “Where do think her kids are coming from? Baby-bearing storks? If you do, that bloody well explains how you got me knocked up back in Hogwarts.”

“Me?” he asked in disbelief. “Not that it really matters but you were the one who started it, remember?”

Feeling she wouldn’t want to be there to hear the rest of her parent’s discussion, Mia actually was the one to urge Sirius to leave the room so they could get out and go on their little vacation, leaving the others behind.

“I think I’m ready to go now,” she said under her breath, making her way out of the room.

“Finally.” He chuckled at his wife’s reaction to her parent’s fight and reached for his pocket, removing a silver muggle pen from it. “When you’re ready, just touch the portkey and I’ll charm it to leave.”

She only took time to shrink her suitcase to the size of a wallet and shove it into her pocket before she reached to touch the tiny portkey. Sirius tapped it when his wand, and then, almost immediately, the familiar rather confusing feeling of being pulled at a high speed took over.

When they landed, she was thankful to be on her feet, her eyes still closed, though, as a sudden wave of nausea hit her. Merlin, did she hate Portkeys… She practically hadn’t experienced any morning sickness with that pregnancy but a portkey travel had proved to be too much… She felt Sirius’s arm circling her body as she took deep breaths, fighting back the nausea. It took several seconds, but it got better.

“You okay?” he asked her.

“Hum, hum,” she replied, nodding, still not opening her eyelids.

“Well, open your eyes, then,” he encouraged her softly.

She took another breath and did so. Not a second passed before she recognized her surroundings. “Oh, Sirius,” she whispered.

“Welcome home… or where it used to be,” he said, giving her a small smile and kissing her brow.

They were back in their little lower-ground floor flat, the one they’d shared after leaving Hogwarts. Their first home. She was standing in their living room, where they used to sit with Lily and James for endless hours, talking and laughing. And, despite the years, the room looked exactly the same as it had when she’d last been in it, to her surprise. Not a single layer of dust. She didn’t need to wait more than a moment before Sirius explained how that had happened.

“I’ve been coming here for the past week in order to get it ready for us to spend a few nights,” he stated. “Kreacher stocked the place with food when I mentioned we might need a few meals ready – he said his mistress needed to eat well so her baby would be healthy like ‘young master Alex’. Honestly, I think the little bastard has a crush on you, Mia.”

She had to laugh, still touched by his actions. “I’m sure he’s just trying to be nice, Sirius. But, Merlin, I can’t believe you did all this for me.”

I’d move mountains for you, he thought. “Like I said, I thought you’d want to be near home – it’s just a twenty-minute walk from here, actually, though the floo takes a second. I promise that, when we go back, we won’t take a portkey – I just wanted to surprise you. We needed to do this, come back together.”

Mia smiled at him warmly. “Thank you,” she said, meaning the whole action itself, before she stood on her toes and reached to kiss his lips. His response was, as always, fierce and immediate. How long had it been since they’d last kissed in that room? she wondered. That last night we were together before I had to leave, she replied to herself. He was going to propose that night, she would have certainly said ‘yes’. They pulled away a few seconds later but their foreheads kept touching. “I never really had the courage to come here ever since I came back to Britain. I had Kreacher come here for me and get your things…”

He nodded. “I understand the feeling. Last week when I first stepped foot in here since we moved, the memories were overwhelming. I practically couldn’t move for around five minutes.”

“We could have had a life here,” she whispered sadly. “We could have raised Izzy here – I was pregnant too the last time I was in this flat. With her.”

“Life takes ridiculously unbelievable turns, doesn’t it?” he asked. “But if things had gone in any other way, they wouldn’t be the same.” His hand reached to brush against her cheek. We’re happy, Mia, despite everything. We have great kids, a little boy that who knows if he might exist in another reality and another baby on the way. If I ever had a chance to go back with all the things I know now, I’d probably do some things differently but if I ended up in the exact same place we’re now, I wouldn’t have been disappointed, Mia.”

“Neither would I,” she whispered. “I’ll always wonder, though…”

He nodded. “So will I. We can wonder together. But for now… now I want us to have a break from the world in this place. Just you, me… and, well, the baby.” He added with a chuckle. “I came up with a couple of middle names, by the way. I think I’ll leave the first one to decide when we meet him or her, like we did with Alex.”

“Well, and what did you came up with?”

“Elizabeth for a girl, Harper for a boy,” he said and, before she could express her surprise, continued. “Elizabeth probably saved your life and the baby’s – I suppose that makes her worthy of the title of namesake, as we may have another plans for the one of godmother. What do you think? Are you gonna use your ‘mother power’ to rule out the names?”

“Of course not,” Mia assured him, giving him a little smile. “I love the names. Elizabeth’s going to be thrilled. But let’s make it a surprise, okay? Until the baby is born. I suppose it will have a better effect if we make it that way.” She reached up to kiss him, softly this time. “I knew you’d pick a good name.”

“The middle name is just half the assignment,” he pointed out.

“Halfway great, then,” Mia offered. “You know, sometimes it’s like you just know exactly what’s the perfect thing to do for me. Like bringing me here. I’m really glad you did.” She turned around, pressing her back against his body as he circled her with his arms and rested his hands on top of her baby bump. Everything really did look exactly like she’d let it back when that place was their home. It felt strange, though not in a bad way, to look back and think of the past they’d had there. “So, we’ll stay here for the next couple of nights?”

“That’s the plan.”

“And is there a bed still in our old room?”

“There was yesterday,” he pointed out, his lips curling playfully as he swirled her to face him again. “I’m not sure about the mattress, though. We should give it a try… see if it’s as firm as it used to be. One can never know.”

“Hum, I recall you being smoother when trying to seduce me back in the day, Mr. Black,” she pointed out, faking disappointment as his lips reached to touch a spot right between her neck and shoulder, teasing flesh and giving her goosebumps.

“I’m saving the smoothness for the act, if you don’t mind,” Sirius stated.

She smiled. “No, not at all.”

A/N: Explanation for the very romantic (maybe mushy) content of the chapter: I'm in Paris guys. It's the air... Not really a plot developer chapter but time was short due to the tourist-y activities :D I hope you liked the filler, anyway . Soon, this volume will return to its paralel with the books (btw, Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows are my favourites, so I have lots of plans for them). Feedback is always welcome! Have a great Easter if you celebrate it! Review!

Chapter 5: Gathering
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A/N: I'm dedicating this chapter to one of my first readers and a good friend, Joana, who fought so bravely until the end and will be very missed.

11 August 1996


Bringing Mia back to their old flat had probably been the best idea he’d had in months, Sirius concluded as he woke up with soft, warm lips brushing the bare flesh of his chest. He knew it probably had more to do with the massive amount of pregnancy hormones running through her veins than with his romantic gesture but, Merlin, had she gotten even more affectionate than usual…

Her lips slowly made their way up until they touched his own for a long, passionate kiss. His hands reached up to touch her back, which he found covered only with the thin fabric of her satin nightgown. As she deepened the kiss, he thought for a moment they’d just keep on kissing until one of them passed out due to lack of oxygen. However, maybe for their lives’ sakes, she pulled away a few seconds later, breathing heavily.

He opened his eyes to see his wife’s brown orbs looking down at him, a blaze of loving lust in them. In that exact moment, as he thought of how deeply he could lose himself in those eyes, he wished, really wished, that baby she was carrying would get its mother’s eyes, as both Izzy and Alex had gotten his already.

His hand reached up for her face as her body locked his under hers, though several inches above him in order to keep her bump from being squeezed. “Well, isn’t this a wonderful way for me to wake up?” he asked with a grin.

“I thought it would be.” She smiled back and, in a matter of seconds, that rather fiery look he’d seen in her eyes softened into Mia’s usually warm expression. She shifted her body so she was cuddled against him, clinging to his side the way she had so many times before, back when they lived in that house.

One of his arms circled her and his hand rubbed her back soothingly. He wished he could stay like this forever. “We should get up at some point, shouldn’t we?” Sirius asked. “We’re supposed to go back home today.”

“Hum, hum,” she replied, nodding before she mumbled against his shoulder. “It was wonderful us being here alone but I sort of miss being with the kids already.”

“Yeah, I miss them too,” Sirius replied. “And speaking of kids, we’ve got that thing at the Burrow. Ginny’s birthday. We’re supposed to be there by lunch-time.”

“Yeah, and if we arrive a minute late, Lulu will start joking that we couldn’t keep out of each other’s pants until the last minute,” Mia said dryly.

Sirius chuckled. “Well, that’s actually sort of my plan. Just let me get some breakfast and I’ll be up for another round. I wonder if we still could manage in the shower…”

She slapped his shoulder as she sat up. “You randy git. Can’t think of anything else, can you?”

“You’re one to talk, woman. Last night, you woke me up at three in the morning and quite literally jumped me!”

“Oh, that was just the hormones,” she said, looking away a bit embarrassed. She really hadn’t been able to help it. “They make me feel… turned on sometimes.”

Sirius faked an appalled look. “Using your beloved husband just scratch an itch,” he shook his head in a mock-disapproving fashion. “Shame on you. Now I feel objectified. My own wife…”

“Oh, just shut up,” Mia told him, rolling her eyes as he laughed. “I know you liked it just as much as I did, so, when you’re done with the laughter, we might want to head to the kitchen and have some breakfast, as your unborn child is hungry.”

“Well, if that’s the case…” He motioned to get up and circled the bed, giving her his hand to help her up too. As soon as she was standing, he pulled her body to his and gave her a small kiss on the lips before they left the room and made their way to the kitchen.

When they got there, however, it was to their surprise that they found a brown owl tapping on the window monotonously with its beak.

“Oh, come on, we were supposed to have a few more hours alone,” Sirius complained, pouting like a kid. Why couldn’t people just leave them alone for a little longer?

Mia made her way to the window and opened it, taking the message from the bird that remained where it was, likely waiting for an answer. She closed the window back and made her way to sit by the table, her eyes not leaving the handwriting on the envelope that she immediately identified as Dumbledore’s. At first, she wondered how the headmaster knew where they were but then she recalled that at Hogwarts they always knew exactly where people were. She looked nervously at the envelope, wondering if it brought bad news.

“From Dumbledore?” Sirius asked, peaking over her shoulder, receiving a nod as a reply. “Well, open it, then.”

“I was just going to,” she replied, turning the envelope around and breaking its seal before removing the letter, which didn’t seem long judging by the first glance.

Dear Sirius and Amelia,

First of all, let me assure you that I’m not writing to give you any bad news or summoning you to give them to you face to face.
 

It was like he was reading their minds, Mia thought. Or maybe he just knew the fear of a war well enough to know that a simple letter could cause one’s blood pressure to hit record levels. She drew a small smile with her lips and resumed reading.

If it was convenient to you, I was hoping you could spare me an little time, today if possible, and come to my office so we could discuss a few matters concerning some arrangements for the new school-year at Hogwarts and Harry’s extra-curricular activities. I shall explain this more fully when I see you.

Kindly send your answer by return of this owl. Hoping to see you today,

I am, yours most sincerely,

Albus Dumbledore 


“What do you reckon he means by ‘extra-curricular activities’?” Sirius inquired, raising an eyebrow. “The only one I can think of is Quidditch.”

“I guess we’ll just have to meet him to find out,” Mia said. “We could drop by before we head to the Burrow, Molly probably won’t be serving lunch until one in the afternoon at least. If we leave by noon…”

Sirius moaned. “Looks the vacation is really over.”

Mia shook her head. “Not yet. It’s still ten and we have yet two hours to use, Mr. Black. I hope you don’t intend to waste them, of course…”

A little smile covered his face as he sat by her side. “Well, if you say so… We could do this more often, you know? We can use this place to hide when we just need a break from the world.”

She smiled. “Yeah, I’d like that.” She leaned her head against his shoulder. “This is our little home away from home… well, not that far away but you get my point.”

He placed a kiss on the top of her head. “Yeah, this is our special place.” He let out a huff. “Now, why don’t you go ahead and write back to Dumbledore while I make us some breakfast?” Sirius gave her a suggestive look. “Maybe if we hurry we’ll have time for that last round I promised you.”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll make time if we don’t,” she pointed out.

“What can I say? I take these matters very seriously.”

---

As it turned out, they ended up arriving at Hogwarts a few minutes late, which highly annoyed Mia as she hated being late for anything. Thankfully, according to Hagrid, Dumbledore had also been held up due to a little trouble with the centaurs in the forest so, by the time they got to the headmaster’s office, he still wasn’t there.

They sat on the chairs by the desk and were happy to see that the office still looked the same as it had before Umbridge had ‘taken over’ the position of headmistress. No doubt, the fact that the office had closed itself to her had helped or else Sirius imagined it would have become the same pool of pink, ribbons and lace that her office had been.

All around them, the portraits of the former headmasters lived their ‘painted lives’, chatting among themselves, having monologues – one of those consisting of some dark-looking bloke reciting in verse the most gruesome Hogwarts rules that, Sirius and Mia hoped, had been overruled centuries before – or napping in their frames. One of those portraits, Phineas Nigellus Black, stared at Sirius fixedly with his eyes narrowing. Sirius, noticing the staring, narrowed his eyes back at him. “What now?”

“Well, if it isn’t my worthless, ungrateful great-great-grandson,” the portrait spat. “Had to ship my portrait straight to the attic as soon as you took over my family’s house, hadn’t you?”

Sirius chuckled. “Hum, you waited all this time to be alone with us so you could bug me about it, did you? Merlin, being a portrait must be a damn boring way to live.” He’d almost forgotten how much he loved annoying the old berk when he was a kid – as it was practically the only interesting thing to do when he was home during the school breaks – even if his dear mother would get really mental about him disrespecting his ancestors, which he always replied to with a ‘Who cares? The guy’s dead’.

“Actually, I was the one who had Kreacher shipping your portrait to the attic,” Mia pointed out casually.

“But don’t hold it against her – your presence, even if in a portrait, was always creepy for children,” Sirius stated, grinning before turning to his wife. “Wonder how this bloke made the most hated headmaster Hogwarts ever had.”

“Until Umbridge, of course,” Mia added. “I don’t think even him would be able to beat her there.”

It was amusing how, even being a portrait, Phineas’s face flushed red with rage. “Oh, just wait until I…”

“… get your hands on us?” Sirius finished for him. “I’d like to see that happen.”

“I have never seen such blunt disresp…”

“I apologize for the lateness,” Dumbledore interrupted him, stepping into the room in a rush. “The centaurs seemed to believe they spotted suspicious presences on the boundaries of the forest last night. I had to go check for myself.”

“Did you find anything?” Sirius inquired, worried, receiving a head shake in return.

“If there was indeed someone there, they were careful not to leave leads behind. I’ve reached an agreement with the centaurs, though, and they’ll allow me to stretch the school wards so they cover all their territory. That, I believe, will narrow the chances of any undesirable individual managing to infiltrate Hogwarts through the forbidden forest,” the headmaster explained, taking a seat on the grand chair behind the desk, resting his hands on its surface.

“Albus, your hand!” Mia said, staring at the corpse like aspect that the headmaster’s hand seemed to be presenting. The product of a curse? She’d never seen anything like that. “Holy Merlin, what happened? It doesn’t look good.”

Dumbledore sighed. “A simple moment of recklessness. I’m afraid the damage is permanent, though not painful at the moment.” He gave her the shadow of a smile. “There’s no need for you to worry about it, Amelia. It’s under control.”

He cleared his throat, clearly hinting that he didn’t want to keep discussing the subject – the only thing Mia could do was accept it.

“Well,” he started, “though this wasn’t really the reason why I asked you to come, I’ll use the occasion to tell you that I had a meeting with Minister Bones concerning this new school year. She seems to be worried about the effects that Cornelius’s refusal to allow us to teach the students defence last year will have on their ability to protect themselves.”

“She’s not the only one,” Sirius assured him. “If it wasn’t for the DA, Fudge and Umbridge might as well just have handed those kids to the Death Eaters on a silver platter.”

“Actually,” the headmaster started, “Madam Bones expressed a lot of interest in the DA as her niece, Susan, told her quite a bit about it. She seems to believe it may be a good way to make up for the lack of practical DADA last year.”

Mia raised an eyebrow. “Wait. Do you mean she wants to bring the DA back?”

“In a way, yes,” Dumbledore confirmed. “Madam Bones suggested we adapted it to a more permanent status as a defence club open to students of all houses. She thinks that would be a good way to incite the students to know how to protect themselves. I’m still not certain of how it will work but I’m inclined to follow with it.”

“Well, for the record, I think it is a really good idea,” Mia pointed out.

“A good idea? It’s bloody brilliant!” Sirius said, grinning widely. “The kids will love it.”

“Yes, Minerva thinks so too. I will work with her to settle things for the formation of this club.”

“But was this what you meant by the ‘extra-curricular activities’ you referred in your letter, Albus?” Mia inquired.

“Oh, not quite, actually,” the older man told them, his face taking a more serious expression. “I’d better get to the point, then. I’d promised young Harry when we told him about the prophecy that I’d help him get ready to face lord Voldemort, in case you don’t recall it.”

Both Sirius and Mia nodded silently.

“Well, I believe I should start doing so as soon as the school term starts – we are not in a position to waste time. I thought of doing so in the form of, let’s say… private lessons. Not too often so it won’t interfere with his school schedule or even the time with his friends. There are some pieces of knowledge that I think Harry should be familiar with. Dark pieces, I’m afraid, that I can’t tell you of at the moment with absolute certainty – I’ll need Harry’s help to verify my suspicions. I wouldn’t feel comfortable to take such measures with him without your permission, of course.”

Mia was the first to speak. “Honestly, at this point, we think that the more he knows, the more weapons he’ll have to fight with. All you can offer him will be welcome at least from my part.”

Sirius nodded in agreement. “Like Mia said, we’ll pretty much go ahead with all the help we can get.”

“I was hoping that would be your answer,” Dumbledore stated, looking at them calmly. “I will also need another favour from Harry. It appears the person I have in mind to fill the gap in our staff this year is a bit… resistant. I have a feeling that if your godson had a word with him, he’d be a lot more approachable. It’s nothing dangerous, I assure you.”

Sirius shrugged. “If the kid’s up to it, I don’t think there’s any problem.”

“We’ll write you back with what he says, Albus,” Mia promised.

“Thank you,” Dumbledore said, standing up behind the desk. “Well, I’ll apologize for having bothered your plans for the day with such short notice.”

“It was no trouble,” Mia assured him as she and Sirius have him their hands to shake, avoiding the crippled one.

And just as they were about to leave, Dumbledore called them back and, with a serious face, told them exactly what they needed to hear. “I have much faith in your godson, as well. It’s a great burden he has on his shoulders, especially on his age, but I do believe he can win.” He just wished he’d be able to be there to see it…

---

After lunch, the gathering at the Burrow was, as always, an animated event. The voices were loud all around, mixed with laughs and the twins’ antics with their products, which absolutely drove Molly Weasley mad. And even though there were nearly two dozen people crowding the Weasley home, there was still a feeling of being among family there.

Fred, George, don’t you dare spike the sweets with your products!” Molly Weasley shouted angrily, her hands gripping her hips in a highly threatening position after she’d spotted her sons from the corner of her eye trying to slip a bunch of wrapped sweets from their pockets into the bowl where the others were.

And as Molly warned them to stay away from the food she’d gotten together for tea, Harry and Ginny, who’d been outside by themselves for a quite a number of minutes, rejoined their friends in a corner of the living room, looking rather flushed and embarrassed.

Hermione was the first one to notice the expressions on their faces. “What happened? Why are you blushing?”

“It was hot outside,” Harry said, all too quickly, blushing even further. “Warm Summer day. Nothing wrong with that.”

“You were always a crappy liar,” Izzy pointed out, almost casually.

“No, I’m not!”

“Oh, even I can see that’s balderdash,” Ron stated. “What exactly did you do?” he paused for a moment, rethinking the situation. “No, don’t answer that question. I don’t want to know about you guys snogging under a tree or something.”

Ginny turned to glare at her brother. “Actually, we did snog against the tree, not under it, but that’s just details,” she said just to spite him.

“I said I didn’t want to hear about it!” Ron shouted as Harry forced himself to look away from his best mate, unable to face him after what Ginny had said. It was just too odd…

Hermione cleared her throat. “Well and… hum, was it the snogging that caused this… embarrassment of yours? Or did someone walk on you?”

“We weren’t the ones who got walked on,” Harry stated, grimly.

“We heard noises from the broom shed and went to check if a cat had gotten locked in it or something,” Ginny explained, turning to Harry. “Well, it was definitely not a cat.”

“Who?” Izzy asked, eagerly intrigued.

“Take a wild guess,” her best friend said. “If you want a hint, here’s one: Phlegm.”

“Bill and Fleur?” Hermione said, beating everyone else in the guessing.

“Oh, Mom would murder them if she knew,” Ron said, amused. “Did they even see you there?”

“Yeah,” Harry confirmed. “Bill just told us to scram and closed the door. My guess is he went on with what they were doing.”

“Well, they’ve just gotten engaged,” Izzy pointed out. “I guess that gives them the right to celebrate.”

Ginny huffed. “Celebrate my arse. Honestly, I’m starting to think that I’m damned to always find my brothers snog their girlfriends: first stupid Percy and Penelope, then Fred and Angelina during the Yule Ball and now Bill and Phlegm.”

“Now, now, that’s such an ugly name to call our lovely future sister-in-law, Gin-Gin,” Fred mock-scolded his sister as he and his twin approached and pulled a couple of chairs to sit along with them.

“Don’t call me Gin-Gin. And you say that because you moved out of the house already,” Ginny told them. “You don’t have to deal with her every day.”

“Oh, well, better you than us,” George said, pulling what looked like a large bottle of pumpkin juice from behind his back before he did sit down. “We’re here to fulfil a very ancient tradition among the Weasleys.”

“With pumpkin juice?” Izzy asked them sceptically as George conjured a glass.

“It’s not pumpkin juice,” Harry told her knowingly. “It’s firewhiskey.”

“Hiding it in a bottle of pumpkin juice was the only way to smuggle it through Mom,” Fred explained, pouring a finger of the gold-tinted liquid into the glass in his brother’s hand. “Like my dear brother was saying, we’re fulfilling a very old Weasley tradition that says a real Weasley shall have his or her first sip of firewhiskey in his fifteenth birthday.”

George nodded. “Of course, us being really nice blokes and all, we usually extend the tradition to a few friends as we did with Harry and Hermione…”

“I refused,” the Hogwarts prefect added sharply. “There’s a reason why the ministry establishes that underage wizards are not allowed to drink it.”

He ignored her. “… and will do with one Miss Black this December,” George continued, winking at his sister’s best friend, whose lips curled slightly. “But for now it’s our dear sister’s turn,” he finished, passing Ginny the glass.

“Bottoms up, Gin-Gin,” Fred urged her.

She looked at them suspiciously. “This really is firewhiskey, isn’t it? Not some potion that will make me blue with green dots all over?”

“Only Ogden’s best,” he assured her. “We’d never prank our favourite sister in her own birthday.”

“I’m your only sister,” she said before looking tentatively at the glass and bringing it to her lips, taking a sip. She made a face almost immediately but did take another sip before giving the glass back to George.

“Well?” he asked.

She took a moment to gather her thoughts, “It feels like I’m about to breathe fire,” she concluded in a rough tone, still frowning at the feeling. “Not bad but I think I’ll stick with the butterbeer for now.”

“Ah, well, at least she didn’t spill it all over us like someone did,” Fred said, looking at Ron accusatorily.

“You didn’t tell me what it was! You just gave me the glass and told me to drink it!”

“By now you should know better than to trust anything we hand you, Ronnie,” George stated.

While the twins kept on mocking their youngest brother (with Hermione intervening by pointing one more time that it was wrong to give an underage wizard firewhiskey) and Izzy’s attention was unceremoniously captured by little Alex (who wanted a source of entertainment than didn’t involve following Crookshanks and pulling his tail), Ginny managed to pull Harry aside so they stood near the door.

“So, what do you say? We go outside, take another walk and snog some more?” she whispered bluntly in his ear.

He raised an eyebrow. “Just how strong was that firewhiskey they gave you?”

“Not enough to get me wild. Though it gave me an urge to kiss you senseless,” Ginny said. “Shall I remind that it’s my birthday and keeping girlfriends happy on their birthday is one of the must do’s in a relationship? If you weren’t the chosen one and your name didn’t show up on the paper every day, I might just dump you for this and go out with Zacharias Smith. I secretly have a thing for his pratish ways.”

He chuckled. “Well, we can’t have that. Poor Smith deserves more than a vixen like you.” Harry liked that they were able to do that – tease each other about things that might otherwise be serious matters. They knew how far they could go out of instinct – maybe it went even deeper than that. It just… fit. “I suppose I can make a sacrifice and take you out for that walk. But with a condition: I don’t want to get anywhere near the broom shed.”

She laughed and tugged his arm, pulling him out the door.

---

“Kingsley is making a lot of changes in the department,” Tonks was saying as she sat on the sofa area with Remus, Sirius and Mia. “Don’t get me wrong – Scrimgeour was a decent bloke, great auror, but there was just too much into bureaucracy. I spent more time filling reports than catching bad guys. That’s just plain wrong.”

“So much for being an auror,” Sirius said with a chuckle. “Kingsley always rubbed me as a practical bloke – he was a couple of years ahead of us in Hogwarts. The legendary leader of the Gryffindor gobstones club, wasn’t he, Moony?”

Remus chuckled. “It’s hard to recall him that way but, yeah, he was an ace in the game. The whole club wept when he graduated.”

Tonks burst into laughter. “I don’t believe it,” she said, turning to Mia. “Are they taking a piss out of me?”

“No, he really was the leader of the Gobstones club,” Mia assured her in amusement. “Elizabeth was in it during her first and second years and – she’ll deny it if you ask her – had this enormous crush on Kingsley, who, in her words, ‘had the best aim she’d ever seen in her life’.”

“Well, he still has a wicked aim, though with his wand,” Tonks said before turning to Lupin. “You’ve been holding out on me, Remus. You never mentioned you had stories as fun as this one from your school years.”

His lips curled slightly. “They’re not as fun when I have to tell them by myself, Dora.”

“Yeah, yeah, feed me with excuses,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Starting tonight, I want to know every bit of dirt you have on any of my superiors. I’ll make you if I have to.”

“You’d do better if you asked Sirius,” Remus warned her. “He’s the one who memorizes every embarrassing detail of just anything.”

Sirius grinned. “A bloke never knows when it comes handy,” he stated. “If you did the same, you might use it to impress your woman.”

His woman, Remus thought, half amazed. Hard to believe sometimes…

“Well, whatever you can tell, it’s welcome,” Tonks told him.

“I’ll see what I can manage to remember,” he promised calmly as he spotted the twins making their way to the table in the centre of the room and recalled he needed to talk to them. “I need to go have a word with Fred and George about their new line of products.” He motioned to get up but not before Tonks grabbed his arm and pulled him down to kiss his cheek.

Sirius couldn’t help noting how amusingly embarrassed his friend got when she did that. He supposed the bloke was still getting used to public displays of affection and the fact that nobody around seemed to be disturbed by them. After his friend was gone, he turned to his distant cousin and grinned. “So, when will you convince that stubborn git to tie the knot?”

“Oh, it takes patience to convince a guy like Remus to do anything,” Tonks said. “And while patience isn’t one of my most powerful traits, I suppose I can make an effort for him.”

Mia smiled. “I can’t even start to say how much happier he is with you in his life, Tonks. I feel like we should thank you. He’s part of our family.”

The metamorphagus’s grin widened. “From what he mentioned, I should be the one thanking you guys. He mentioned how much you bugged him to get his head out of his arse.”

“Always glad to bug, though I’m willing to take more extreme measures to make sure he gets a ring on his finger,” Sirius admitted. “What do you say? You grab his arms, I take his legs and Mia here can bribe some ministry bloke to officiate. Before Moony can even realize what’s happening, it will already be too late and you guys will be in your honeymoon.”

Tonks snorted loudly. “I was hoping to get him to do that by his own free will but if he gets too bitchy about it, I may take you up on that, Sirius.”

“Let’s just hope that’s not necessary,” Mia stated, diplomatically. “He came this far on his own, after all. That’s a point on his favour.”

“Yeah, there’s still hope for him, I guess,” Sirius said before smirking at his cousin. “But the offer will remain open ‘cause we all know how much of a stubborn arse he is.”

Tonks shrugged. “Ah, well, he wouldn’t be Remus if he was easy, would he? Lucky him I’m always up for a challenge.”

A/N: Slightly late update, I know, but the longest so far. It was hard week emotionally, really. I hope you liked the chapter anyway. Next one will likely mark the beginning of the new school year. Feeback is welcome, as always. Review!

Chapter 6: Suspicions
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In the two weeks that followed Ginny’s birthday, the Death Eater attacks seemed to calm down or, at least, become less noticeable. Nevertheless, people –both Wizards and Muggles kept on disappearing and very few ended up being found, even though Kingsley had a third of the Auror Department assigned to the case. Though some of those people were bound to be on the run from the war as had happened last time around, the Order believed that number to be very small, compared to the full list of missing people.

Meanwhile, around a week before the new school year was to start, Dumbledore came to Grimmauld place and took Harry with him to help him with the mission of convincing some guy to come teach at Hogwarts, as he had requested. Hours later, when Harry came back home and mentioned to his godparents that the man in question was none other than Horace Slughorn, they were puzzled.

When told the same in the following day, Remus seemed to share the feeling. “Slughorn?” he asked Sirius.

“Yep,” he confirmed as he sat on the chair in front of his old friends desk at the twins’ shop. Given his dislike for clothes shopping, Sirius had been put in charge of taking care of Alex while Mia was getting new school robes for the kids with Molly Weasley and Hagrid, the latter serving as their guard.

“Are you sure?” the werewolf inquired.

“Yes, Moony,” Sirius confirmed once more, giving a glance to Alex, who was sitting on the floor laughing as he waved around a talking Umbridge doll that one of the twins had handed to him downstairs. He decided the kid was doing a nice enough job distracting himself and turned his attention back to Remus. “Harry assured me the name of the teacher Dumbledore took him to meet was Slughorn and said he was a ‘short, round bloke with an enormous moustache that sort of made him look like a walrus’. Oh, and he tended to gloat. Ring any bells?”

“That does sound like him,” Remus mumbled, nodding in agreement as he scratched his chin. “But why would Dumbledore be hire a new Potions teacher? Unless… oh.” He looked straight at Sirius. “You know what that probably means, right? Snape finally got what he wanted. He’s the new…”

Sirius quickly held up a hand, interrupting him. “No, don’t finish that sentence,” he said. “I don’t want to hear Snape and DADA with any sort of correlation. I’d rather hope that greasy git Snape finally decided he was done with Hogwarts and left, so Dumbledore had to hire Slughorn to replace him instead.” He grinned at his own imagination. “Oh, yes, that would be just brilliant news.”

“And unlikely as well,” Remus said dryly. “Dumbledore trusts Snape, Padfoot. He’s not about to give up a teacher he trusts on to welcome back one he likely hasn’t heard of for years and likely someone else, seeing as in that in the ‘hopeful’ situation you mentioned there would be one more vacant position at Hogwarts.”

Sirius rolled his eyes. “Don’t care. You always were too damn smart for your own good. Just let me live the dream, Moony,” he said, leaning against the back of the chair and closing his eyes to imagine it better.

“You know, one would think you’d have grown out of wishing Snape all the horror in the world by the time you were married and with kids,” Remus stated, shaking his head at Sirius’s dreamy mood.

“Oh, but I’m not wishing him horror this time,” he replied. “No, I’m wishing him the best… just as long as the best is far, far away from me, of course. I can just picture it: Snape went on vacation over the Summer Break, met a woman – a very blind or very tasteless woman – and decides to settle down in Russia… No, not Russia. It isn’t far away enough. They’ll relocate to the Australian desert, become hermits, have a whole litter of greasy haired little spawns and never again return to this little place called Britain. The End.”

The werewolf sighed. “Yes, a tear-jerking story, Padfoot. Let me guess, you’re the one who makes up the bedside stories for Alex.”

Sirius glanced at his little son playing on the floor and grinned. “Mia does help from time to time. Just last night, we were telling him this tale about a perky, colourful princess called Dora who slayed dragons for a living and ended up falling for a knight known by the name of Sir Moony and who seriously needed to get his sense of humour back from wherever he’d left it.”

“You’ve just made that up,” Remus pointed out. “And my sense of humour is just where it belongs, thank you. Fact remains that, despite that very interesting story of yours, Sirius, odds are that Snape got the position of DADA teacher. Have you mentioned that to your kids already? Because, if I recall it well, he had a rather obvious dislike for both of them and DADA happens to be Harry’s favourite subject.”

Sirius stood up, sick of sitting down. “As a matter of fact, Moony, I did tell them and they’re with me, obviously, crossing their fingers for Snape to have moved to the moon. At least Slughorn is a better potions master than that git.” He reached down and picked up Alex, who’d already gotten to his feet and was protesting for his father’s attention.

“And what does Mia think about him being back?”

His face fell a little. “She got really emotional. Not about him, of course. About Lily. She used to be his favourite, remember? Mia just burst into tears when Harry told us the things Slughorn had said about Lily – the usual stuff: great student, wonderful person… It probably has something to do with those mad pregnancy hormones too but, Merlin, she cried on my shoulder for like half an hour. I didn’t even know what to tell her.”

“Sometimes I forget we weren’t the only ones who lost a best friend,” Remus murmured.

“Lily was as much of a sister to Mia and to Elizabeth as James was a brother to us.” A short period of silence followed his words. It was bittersweet thinking of them – what was and what could have been. They had to live with that.

A delighted squeal had them snapping out of it to see that Alex was holding the Umbridge doll by a leg, spinning it around. The doll kept on protesting, citing fake ministry decrees and threatening detentions in a squeaky voice that disappeared every few seconds, not to mention turning purple and red with rage, while the little boy waved it around, highly amused. At some point Alex launched it against the sofa and the miniature Umbridge ended up with its head stuck between the couch cushions. “Bad!”

Sirius snorted at that. “That’s my boy. Such a great judge of character in such a young age.”

“Rebelling early, I see,” Remus observed, taking a moment to observe his godson’s delight before going on with their conversation, taking a more good-natured tone this time. “You know, I’m confident Albus would be more than welcome to clarify your doubts over Snape’s job situation, in case you asked him. That way, you might avoid unpleasant surprises.”

“Not a chance, Moony. As long as I don’t ask, I can hold on to the threads of my wonderful fantasy of a Snape-less Hogwarts,” Sirius stated with a grin.

“Well, are you poetic today… not to mention procrastinating,” Moony declared.

“Says the king of procrastinators, if that word even exists,” Sirius countered, turning to his son. “Can you say how many months it took Uncle Moony to get his hands on Auntie Tonks, mate?”

The toddler gave him a confused look and just pointed at Remus, giggling. “Moooy!”

“That was not procrastinating, Padfoot. That was thinking things thoroughly. Regular people do it a lot.”

“Call it what you want. Took you too damn long,” Sirius said just as someone knocked on the door and Tonks poked her head in. “And speaking of the devil…”

“Wotcher, guys,” the metamorphagus greeted them in a tone as colourful as her pink hair before she turned to Sirius. “Mia’s downstairs looking for you.”

“Mama?” little Alex asked as he heard his mother’s name but couldn’t see her anywhere. He looked at his father with an inquisitive look in his little face. “Whew Mama?”

“Downstairs, mate,” Sirius told him with a chuckle. “Daddy will take you there.”

“I thought you were on all-day service today,” Remus pointed out to Tonks.

She nodded, stepping into the room. “I am. There was a change of plans and Kingsley assigned me to Diagon Alley. Dawlish is covering for me and it’s time for lunch, so I thought I could come by.”

“Ah, that’s sweet,” Sirius teased as he walked closer to the door, summoning the Umbridge doll back to Alex on his way there. “Well, the wife’s looking for me, so Alex and I won’t stand on the way of your booty call. Have fun kids!”

Remus’s face paled immediately. “This is not a booty…” But before he could finish, Sirius was already out the door and had it closed behind him.

“Uncle Moony’s getting frisky,” Sirius told his son as he carried him down the stairs. “Or at least auntie Tonks is making him.”

“Fikky?” the little boy asked, confused.

“Ah, nevermind. I’ve got to stop saying this kind of stuff around you or your mom will kill me.” The sounds in shop were filled with laughter and, from time to time, surprised shouts, caused by some of the products. As he stepped in it from the stairs, it took him several scans around the room to spot his wife standing by a group of her Hogwarts students, who were greeting her, likely glad to have an actual human teacher instead of an undead one back in their classes. He grinned and pushed his way through the crowd in order to reach them. “Mrs. Black,” he said as the students spread around the room.

Mia turned around, raising an eyebrow at the greeting. “Mr. Black,” she replied in amusement before looking at her son and reaching to brush his dark hair away from his eyes. “And little Mr. Black.”

“Up, Mama,” the little boy giggled, reaching for her with his arms.

She smiled and picked her son up carefully, holding him on her hip. He stilled in her arms immediately, resting his head against her shoulder. Sometimes, it was like he knew he had to be careful around his mother and, especially, ‘the baby in the bump’, as Sirius usually referred it to Alex. Her smart little boy, Mia thought, kissing his brow. She looked up at Sirius. “Well, did you have fun while we were out shopping for school robes?”

“I can’t complain,” he said. “Did I miss anything out there?”

“Not really,” she said with a bored shrug. But suddenly, it like something just came to her. “Actually… remember how you noticed Ollivander’s was closed and had its windows covered with broadsheets?”

“Yeah. Kind of weird. I don’t remember the bloke ever remodelling that place. It looks like it’s been exactly the same for the past two or three centuries.”

“Well, he isn’t remodelling this time either,” Mia informed him. “See, while the kids were trying on their school robes, Molly and I ended up talking along with Madam Malkin and when we brought up Ollivander’s, she told us what happened. Apparently, just last night the shop was attacked and Mr. Ollivander just… vanished.”

“Death Eaters? How come the Order wasn’t called?”

“From what she said, nobody heard anything at all. They only found the store completely trashed around seven this morning – that’s why it didn’t show up in the paper or anything because they couldn’t have had the time to write anything. Apparently, the aurors are still there.”

“Hum, so that’s probably why Tonks is around…” Sirius mumbled.

Mia nodded. “It doesn’t seem a random attack at all, does it?”

“Whoever did it, was careful enough not to call attention and to cover after themselves.” He shook his head, closing his hands in fists to relieve the stress. “Damn it, it’s like people are vanishing every week! Is this ever going to end?” His voice raised in frustration when he said that last part.

She clutched her son closer and remained silent, waiting for Sirius to calm down again. She could tell when he needed a moment just to think – this was one of these times. At some point, when she saw he was doing better, one of her hands rubbed his forearm as the other held Alex and finally looked her in the eyes.

“Sorry about the explosion,” he whispered.

“It’s okay. You deal with my mood swings all too frequently, so I’d say we’re even.”

“Mom, Dad,” they heard their daughter’s voice coming from nearby. She appeared by their side less than a second later. “Fred and George asked if we wanted to stay here and help around after lunch. This place is too crowded even for them. Can we stay?”

“Oh, you and Ginny?” Mia asked.

“With Harry, Ron and Hermione if they want to,” she said. “Can we? Please? We don’t have anything else to do back home.”

Mia looked at Sirius, who gave her a shrug and answered for both of them. “Sure, why not?”

“Just don’t stay too late and have Remus take you and Harry home,” Mia added.

“And speaking of him, where is he?” Sirius asked, suddenly curious.

“Around, probably,” she said, not completely honestly. She wasn’t sure where Harry was exactly but she knew what he’d been doing for the past ten minutes… which was following Malfoy around with Ron and Hermione after they’d spotted him acting funny. She and Ginny would be with him if it wasn’t for the fact that they didn’t fit under the invisibility cloak… “I should go. The twins are waiting for an answer,” she excused herself.

Still, not even the quick exit had kept Sirius from guessing she was hiding something. And it was probably related to the fact that the shop’s door opened minutes later and ‘nobody’ seemed to come in. He’d been under James’s invisibility cloak too many times in his Hogwarts years to blame that on the wind. He made a point not to mention his suspicions to Mia, though, knowing she’d have fit over it and, after all, there was a solidarity code among followers of the art of sneaking out…

“Well, I guess I’ll go get the kids so we can go get some lunch,” he told Mia, using it as an excuse to go have a little word with Harry.

Mia, who’d been sharing some relaxed baby talk with her son, looked up at him and nodded. “Okay, I’ll be waiting here,” she agreed as she leaned closer to him and had him reaching down for a soft kiss on the lips.

“I’ll try not to take long,” he promised, walking his way to the corner, secluded from most people’s views by the flight of steps covering it, from where he saw Harry, Ron and Hermione emerge, visible this time around. It was like as soon as his godson laid eyes on him, he knew Sirius was aware of his little trip. “Had a nice walk?”

Harry nodded back at the corner, knowing they probably shouldn’t have that conversation in front of everyone. They all retreated to that space under the stairs, Sirius giving his godson an inquiring look. “Well?”

“We followed Malfoy,” Harry confessed. “I know we shouldn’t have but he was acting really odd. We needed to know…”

“I’m not here to scold you, kid, though there are better ways of handling that sort of thing. What did you guys find out?”

This time, Hermione was the one to talk. “Well… he went to Borgin and Burke’s. It’s this really sinister shop…”

“In Knockturn Alley,” Sirius finished, turning to Harry. That part, as much as he tried, he couldn’t be okay about. “You went into Knockturn Alley?! Just the three of you? Are you mad? That’s the most dangerous magical place you could possibly find in London!”

“We were under the Invisibility Cloak. Nobody saw us,” he replied.

“Still, Harry! I’m fine with a little sneaking out, I really am. Merlin knows I did that myself a lot but you can’t get yourself straight into places like Knockturn Alley,” Sirius told him seriously. “If someone found you there…” He shook his head, trying not to think of what would happen. “I know I don’t exactly have the best record on cautiousness but, for Merlin’s sake, you can’t risk your life like that. Any of you. If your godmother even imagined you went to that place…”

“Okay, okay,” Harry agreed. He knew it took a lot to have Sirius show worry like that. “I won’t go back there. I promise I won’t.”

We promise,” Hermione added, Ron nodding by her side.

Sirius let out a breath. “Well, fine… What did you find out, then?”

“He was talking to the clerk, Borgin, I think, about fixing something, something he couldn’t take to the shop. I have no idea what it was,” Harry told him. “And the he threatened the guy in case he told someone – he said he’d send in some bloke to handle things if he said something and when Borgin heard his name, he got really frightened.” He turned to his friends. “What was he called? I can’t remember it.”

“Greyvle…” Ron said, not completely sure. “No, Greyback. I think it was Greyback.”

Sirius froze immediately. The first time he’d heard that name, was when he was sixteen and James had managed to smuggle a couple of bottles of firewhiskey into the school during Easter break. That night, he and the guys had gotten really drunk in their dorm – drunk enough never to do something like that again, just to avoid a hangover like the one they’d had to deal with in the morning after. But that night was also the first time Remus had felt loose enough to tell them exactly how he’d been turned into a werewolf: how his father had unknowingly offended a werewolf called Fenrir Greyback, how the sick bastard had gotten himself close to him on purpose during full moon and how he’d turned him. Despite being completely smashed that night, none of the marauders – or, at least, neither he nor James – had ever forgotten that name or what he’d done to one of them. Hearing that name again, knowing he was tagging along with the Death Eaters, only made the whole thing more unsettling, more vicious.

“You know who he is,” Harry said, identifying the recognition in his eyes.

“You don’t want to cross paths with that guy,” Sirius told them shortly – he’d leave it for Remus to tell them more if he wanted to. “I’ll warn the Order, okay? I’ll make sure they know what you saw. And if you see something odd like this again – I mean see, not go look for – tell me, okay?”

Harry nodded. “I will.” He knew Sirius, of all people, would believe him.

“Do you think Malfoy may be up to something?” Hermione inquired.

“If he’s anything like his parents, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was, honestly,” his godfather stated. “But then again, I may be wrong.” He sighed. “Let’s just get to Mia before she starts wondering what we’re doing.”

“You won’t tell her, will you?” Harry asked, nervously. “About us going to Knockturn Alley. She’d have my hide. I’ll be washing dishes for the rest of my life.”

He looked as horrified by the thought of her reaction as Harry did. “And deal with the hormonal rampage when she found out that I didn’t ground you for it? I’ll try to leave that part out, don’t worry. I’d rather keep my skin as well.”

---

Several days after Sirius informed the Order of what Harry had witnessed, there was still no word on Greyback, which had Sirius both worried and relieved. Even if he’d like to know of his enemy’s whereabouts, no news was better than any news…

In the first day of September, when Sirius and Mia arrived to Platform 9 ¾ fifteen minutes ahead of time and with no fuss whatsoever that morning, she couldn’t help finding it amazingly odd.

The morning of the first of September was, ever since she’d first taken Harry to the Hogwarts Express five years before, marked in her calendar as the equivalent to a civil revolution: there was confusion, yelling, rush… though, luckily, there were no fatalities. Between misplaced wands and last minute packing, she usually ended that morning glad that the following one was yet a year away.

That time, by the instant she’d woken up – two hours after she’d planned, for her own panic – the kids, who she’d expected to be shouting on the hallway and asking where something or other was, were calmly having breakfast, their trunks unbelievably packed and resting by the fireplace and Alex was already dressed and fed, ready to be taken to Lulu for the day. Tough Sirius hadn’t said a word or hinted it, Mia had a feeling he’d been the mind behind that ‘bizarre’ occurrence, likely with Kreacher’s help.

The Weasleys arrived and joined them a few minutes later, surprisingly bringing the twins along with them to the station.

“We could never miss our first chance to see off our beloved younger siblings and friends while knowing we’re not going anywhere, could we?” Fred stated after he and his twin were inquired by Izzy about they was doing there.

George nodded. “We brought white handkerchiefs to wave at you guys – they give a whole new dramatic degree to the situation.”

“I bet you guys spent years waiting for this,” Izzy said dryly.

“Of course we were. I mean, don’t take this the wrong way – we loved Hogwarts and we had a blast there. Our future just wasn’t compatible with full-time education,” he explained.

“Not compatible…” Molly grumbled under her breath, having heard them. “Didn’t even take your NEWTs! If that joke shop hadn’t made it through, you’d be disgraced!”

As the discussion followed from there with Molly protesting some more and unsuccessfully begging her sons to just go take their exams, Mia stood a few feet away, observing the platform around her.

There were aurors everywhere, some indentified as such, others dressed to mingle with the crowd. Their presence only seemed to identify the feeling of uneasiness that hung over everyone’s heads. Still, the same way she and Sirius struggled to keep things as normal as possible around their home and family, she could see other people fighting to keep normalcy too: by one of the train’s entrance’s, Neville’s grandmother was fussing with the collar of his shirt, making him look incredibly embarrassed; nearby, Luna Lovegood stood kissing her father’s cheek goodbye before boarding the train; finally, by another entrance, Seamus Finnigan was being hugged tightly by a short blonde woman that Mia assumed to be his mother, as his father stood grinning by their side, holding in his arms a little girl with dark blond hair who looked about the same age as Alex. They were all fighting back, or at least, not letting themselves be defeated by the fear around.

A pair of arms surrounded her waist suddenly, resting their hands on her belly. “Knut for your thoughts?” Sirius’s voice filled her ears.

“Hum, they’re not worth that much,” she replied, smiling to herself as kissed her cheek from behind. “It’s just sentimental rubbish. I could kiss you to make up for the lack of decent thought but I think that’s worth a little more than a knut.”

“Name a price, Madam. I’ll see what I can arrange.”

She turned around to face him and smiled as his arms still circled her. “You know what? I think you can get them for free this time. After all, you were so nice and took care of everything so the kids leaving wouldn’t make a mess like it always does…”

“Anything to protect my beloved wife and my baby from a bomb of stress like that one,” he replied. “I believe we were talking about payment…”

“I didn’t say I’d do it now, did I?” she said. “It would just be shameful for two respected teachers like us to kiss in front of all these students. Spoil their innocent minds…”

“You’re a cruel, cruel woman,” he informed her dramatically.

“Yes, I’m a wicked witch,” she confirmed with a smirk, pulling away as both Izzy and Harry approached to say their goodbyes.

The two of them stood with them, talking for a few minutes as they waited for Ginny to finish her farewells with her family so they could go find a compartment on the train together, while Ron and Hermione would be attending a prefect meeting.

“It’s going to suck if Snape does turn out as the new DADA teacher,” Harry told his godfather while Mia spoke with Izzy. “If I even had a chance to ever make an auror without potions, then I’ll be doomed with DADA now…”

Sirius shook his head. “If you made it with Umbridge, you’ll be fine with Snape. Better the devil you know, isn’t it? Besides, I have a feeling you’ll have something else to fill your defence needs…”

“Something else?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “Is that some sort of hint about Ginny?”

“Unless you’re planning to duel with her instead of snogging, I don’t think she would apply to satisfaction of defence needs. Look, I’m not even supposed to be telling you this but Dumbledore’s planning to sort of turn the DA into a more… curricular subject.”

His face lit up suddenly. “Really?”

“Really. It probably won’t be the same as it was but I guess it will be more than nothing. Can’t say more than that. Just, please, can you try to look surprised when he announces it during the feast?” Harry gave it a try and faked a surprised look. Sirius raised his eyebrows. “Hum, maybe you should keep training it on the train.”

“Hey!”

“Don’t worry, James was almost as bad as you. He couldn’t keep a straight face while lying,” he said with a snort before noticing on the clock that it was almost time to board the train. “Now, because I’m a really great godfather, I’ll tell you that the guys at the train keep the key for the luggage compartment hidden in the lamp just by the passage to it. That happens to be a very useful place for certain activities such as snogging that pretty redhead that’s coming in our direction.” He patted Harry’s shoulder before motioning to go join Mia again. “Use that knowledge well, kid.”

The goodbyes that followed were quick, considering they’d be seeing each other again just that night, unlike the other parents, and the kids quickly hoped into the train, waving at them from the windows. Like promised, the twins soon stood by the train, waving white handkerchiefs and wiping fake tears as their mother scolded them for mocking the others.

As they watched the train leave, Mia’s hand linked to her husband’s. “Let’s hope this is just another year. With no tragedies and constant trouble.”

Sirius knew the odds of that happening were minimal at that rate, yet, he didn’t say that out loud. Maybe luck would be on their side that time around – he wouldn’t want to jinx it. “Yeah, let’s hope.”

A/N: Hey, guys sorry for the delay but I had a busy day because, well, it's my birthday (I've just reached the wonderful twenties) and I had a birthday party to plan... I hope you liked the chapter. I basically deleted half of it the day before yesterday and wrote it all over again... Feedback is welcome, as always. Review!

Chapter 7: Protectiveness
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Still in the first of September, it wasn’t until she’d stepped back into her classroom at Hogwarts after lunch that Mia realized how much she’d missed that place… They said home was where the heart was, where a person was happy. She was happy teaching – loved doing it, even – so she supposed that, in a way, that classroom was a little bit of home…

She hated Umbridge for having taken it away from her in the previous year. Even more so for having her replaced by Binns, who certain had a lot of knowledge about history but had no idea of how to pass it along to his students without boring them to death. She’s gone now, Mia reminded herself. And thanks to Amelia Bones’s intervention, not to mention Dumbledore’s, Dolores Umbridge was condemned to spend the rest of her career filling archives in the lowest levels of the Ministry of Magic. She could just picture those pink and green outfits of hers covered with the dust and spiders that were famed to live down there.

Mia let out a breath. That dark period was over and, even though other shadows were more than keen to replace that one, she selfishly wished they’d just stay far away from her and her loved ones… at least for now, as she knew fate had other plans for Harry, at least. In the following day, that room would be full of students and she had other things to worry about instead of that bloody war.

Quickly deciding to start out with setting up her office, she made her way into it through the door that connected both the History of Magic classroom to the respective teacher’s private quarters. The lack of dust in it told her the house-elves had been doing their job cleaning it but, other than that, there was no sign whatsoever of it ever being used in months as everything, from the desk lamp to the cushions on the sofa, rested exactly where she’d left it. She had no idea how a ghost handled its daily life… or death, as it was the case. Apparently, it didn’t involve any sort of interaction with furniture.

“Where do you want me to leave these?” Sirius asked her as he stepped into the room, carrying the boxes where all the possessions she’d needed to remove from her office after being fired by Umbridge were contained.

“Just put them on the floor so they won’t get in the way of things,” she said.

He managed to give her a quick nod as he balanced the boxes before placing them on the floor as she’d said. “Well, where do you want me to start?” he asked.

She raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you have your own office to set up?”

“It’s fine, I can do that later,” he told her with a shrug. “I’ll just stick around here and help you.”

Mia frowned. “It’s just a bunch of books, frames and small stuff. I can perfectly take care of this on my own.”

“Yeah, but some of them are pretty heavy for you. I mean, that collection about the Troll wars… each book is huge and most weight nearly as much as Alex. A pregnant woman lifting the boxes up and putting all these books in the bookcases…”

“I’ll be using magic so that won’t be a problem,” she said, edgily.

“Well, yeah, but magic can wear you out too…”

Her eyes turned into dangerously narrow slits. Not the ‘you’re pregnant so you’re essentially made of glass’ business again, she thought. Did everyone believe she was completely ignorant? She’d been a healer – she knew her limits. No need to act completely condescending! “Sirius, if you know what’s best for you, you’ll stop talking now and get out of this room because you’re just digging yourself a bigger and bigger hole…”

“But…” His eyes widened when he saw her wand in her hand – she wasn’t going to curse him, was she? If that was the case, those damn hormones had just taken a turn for life-threatening when it came to him. To his relief, although, she didn’t point her wand at him but at one of the chairs in front of her desk and, giving it a wave, instantly turned the piece of furniture into a large pumpkin. He frowned and looked up at her, wondering what had been the point of that.

“Honey,” she started, dangerously. “If you don’t stop acting so asinine and get lost in the next twenty seconds, your head will have the same fate as that chair!”

He opened his mouth to say something but closed it right away. Way to piss her off, he told himself. He was pretty sure, for a wide range of reasons, that she wouldn’t actually do it. Yet, he wouldn’t want to test her on that. Maybe that threat might be his cue to leave… He raised his arms up in defeat. “Okay, okay. I’m going. Just don’t push yourself…”

Out!” she ordered loudly. He was quick in making his way out of the door, leaving her alone in the office to sulk.

She’d married an idiot. Well, maybe not an idiot but at least a git. A git she was in love with but who could just drive her mad sometimes. Like that one, she thought as she sat down on the sofa, arms crossed against her chest in irritation. She had to be mad to even consider turning someone’s head into a pumpkin. It was just ridiculous! If he’d pushed her hard enough, though, she might’ve gone looking for a way to shove one into his head without actually hurting him – it was just for the ridicule, after all…

Annoyed, she wasted all the energy she’d gotten from the frustration into putting away all her stuff from the boxes, even without bothering to stand up from that couch. As if she wouldn’t think of reducing the largest books’ size before levitating them into place and them restore them to the normal size. She was pregnant, not completely demented! Distracted, she accidentally let the ink set fly against the wall, leaving there a large black stain. Damn it!

“You know, your father is an overprotective prat,” Mia told her unborn baby, half-heartedly, as she waved her wand around. If she was completely honest to herself, not only being annoyed made her productive, seeing as fifteen minutes after starting putting her things away she was already finished, but also being productive helped her getting over the annoyance. At least a little of it…

Her baby seemed to agree with her statement, since she felt that soft sensation of movement inside her bump – if she didn’t know it better, she’d say there were butterflies flying loose in it. But no, that was her baby stating its unspoken opinion – it had been moving around a bit lately, though it wasn’t strong enough to feel from the outside yet.

If there was any irritation still inside her at that moment, it had faded thanks to her unborn son or daughter. She smiled and got up, rubbing her belly as she started walking around. “I know you agree, honey.” She sighed. “He was much worse when it was your brother in there, you know? Mummy couldn’t take a step without him following around. Silly guy, isn’t he?”

The movements continued for a few more seconds before slowly fading away – she assumed the baby had gone back to sleep or just gotten fed up of moving around. “I suppose I can give him a little break because he loves us all so much, can’t I?” Mia paused. “Do you think Mummy overreacted too much by kicking Daddy out?”

“I doubt he’ll hold it against you,” a voice said behind her.

Startled, Mia turned around all of a sudden to see McGonagall standing by the doorway, her lips curled into a rare smile. “Oh, it’s you, Minerva. Come on in.”

“I didn’t mean to startle you,” the professor said, apologetically.

Mia shook her head. “It’s no problem. Now, you must think I’m mad, talking to myself…”

“I was under the impression you were talking to your child, not yourself. And I believe that is quite normal among pregnant women,” McGonagall said, stepping into the office. “I was wondering if you needed some help out here but it looks like you handled everything on your own…”

She raised a suspicious eyebrow. “Sirius didn’t ask you to come here, did he?”

“Not that I recall,” the older teacher promised her with a smile. “To tell the truth, I’m not really used to being around pregnant co-workers – it makes me feel rude not to come by and offer a hand to you.”

Mia sighed and sat down behind her desk and waved her hand at the chair opposite her that still looked like a chair. “Please, take a seat, Minerva. Now, I feel rude for asking that at all. It’s just he gets so protective sometimes and it’s… well, it’s frustrating.”

McGonagall nodded, giving a confused look to the pumpkin resting beside the chair she was directed to and opting ask about it later. She cleared her throat. “I can relate, actually. Just after I came back from St. Mungo’s a few months ago after that… incident when I got stunned by multiple sources while Dolores tried to get Hagrid shooed out of this school, everyone seemed to believe I couldn’t walk around this school without an escort – I even had a house elf following me around! Just imagine how ludicrous the situation was!”

She chuckled heartedly at the thought. “Oh, I don’t think Sirius would’ve gone that far,” Mia mumbled. “Maybe I was a little too hard on him by kicking him out…” She pointed at the pumpkin resting just by the side or her teacher’s chair. “That used to be a chair a few hours ago. I threatened to do the same with Sirius’s head – I don’t think I’d have done it, though. It would be just mental.”

Genuinely amused, McGonagall let out a joyous laugh and Mia couldn’t help thinking that she didn’t remember her old teacher ever laughing like that. “I don’t think I’d ever heard a threat as creative as that one. Involving transfiguration, no less. And, technically speaking, I believe you’d have succeeded in turning that threat into a reality if you wanted you,” McGinagall continued. “You always were quite talented in my class.”

“I liked transfiguration. Not as much as James, though,” she let out a long breath, thinking of the past. “Do you know he was the brains behind the Marauders becoming Animagi?”

McGonagall let out a huff, then. “I thought so when Albus told me of it. If I’d known it back then… honestly, I’m not sure if I’d have him and your husband on detention for the rest of their lives or proposed their names for some sort of achievement prize. I never knew if I should be fascinated or appalled with half the trouble they came up with.” The teacher shook her head in disapproval. “Quite a handful, they were. I dare say the only ones that were able to reach their level were the Weasley twins.” And had she been proud of the way they’d stood up to Umbridge the previous year and completely humiliated her with their explosive exit of the school…

“They’re doing very well with their shop,” Mia told her with a smile.

The other woman nodded. “Yes, I saw so myself. I couldn’t help dropping by to see it when I went to Diagon Alley, check what I should expect seeing in the students’ hands this year…” And, once more, she’d been guiltily impressed by their success. “Well, I think we can expect plenty of trouble related to Weasley products. Argus has already pined their whole catalogue in his banned-items list.”

“And since when did that ever stop anyone?” Mia asked sceptically. “Anyway, considering the lack of enjoyment that there was last year with Umbridge, I don’t think that the students using Weasley products every now and then will be too bad, actually.”

“Seen from that point of view, maybe not,” McGonagall offered. “I usually make an effort not to despise fellow teachers but that woman…” she didn’t finish her sentence but the narrowing of her eyes said enough on themselves. She sighed. “I was genuinely relieved when Albus told me he’d managed to hire Horace back. He may have his strange habits, yes, but at least he’s proven his trust to us plenty of times already.”

Mia agreed. “So, Snape is really taking over DADA, isn’t he?” she asked. “Sirius has been feeding this little fantasy that Snape had gotten married, quit his job, and moved out of the country… please don’t ask for details, it was a really bizarre scenario.”

The teacher raised her eyebrows. “Well, I can assure you Severus is indeed taking over the position of Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher and certainly not planning to move out of the country anytime soon. As for getting married, I haven’t heard of anything of that sort.” She shook her head in disbelief. “Honestly, I’d like to know where Sirius gets that imagination from.”

“That makes two of us – this was just his way of convincing himself he wouldn’t have to deal with Snape this year, actually. You know how they are, Minerva.”

The older teacher nodded knowingly. “Yes, it’s like they become hostile toddlers when they’re face to face. Severus wasn’t too keen about having Sirius back in the school either. He even suggested we ended the position of Quidditch Coach for good as Umbridge had – Albus took it as a joke, of course.”

Mia saw the reference to Dumbledore as a good opportunity to enquire McGonagall about something that she’d been worried (and curious) about ever since she’d last seen the headmaster. “Minerva, do you have any idea of what happened to Albus’s…”

“… hand?” McGonagall finished for her, her face tensing slightly. “You’re not the first one to ask. I have no idea. He’s been evading everyone’s questions about it and won’t even let Poppy check the hand…”

“No? But he said he’d had it checked – I’d assumed it would have been Madam Pomfrey.”

“Not this time,” McGonagall said. “He just keeps assuring us that whatever happened to the hand, it’s under control.”

“It doesn’t look good, though. It seems… dead. The hand, I mean,” Mia clarified. “It looks like the hand of a corpse. I worked for over ten years as a healer and I never saw anything like that, Minerva.”

“Poppy told me the same and she’s been on the job for over thirty years.”

“It looks like the product of a curse – a very powerful and dark one, I’d say,” Mia said. “Are you sure he didn’t get this in a battle? It might’ve happened in the Department of Mysteries and remained dormant for a while.”

McGonagall shook her head. “I wasn’t there, so I wouldn’t be able to tell. As for any battle after that, I don’t recall him ever being hit by any spell. I suppose we’ll just have to keep on trusting Albus’s words until he decides to clarify us further even if we don’t like it.” The deputy headmistress sighed, then, standing up. “Well, it was lovely talking to you again, Mia, but if you don’t need my help here, after all, I should go down to the kitchens and oversee things.”

Mia stood up as well and gave McGonagall a nod. “Of course. Thanks for offering the help, anyway. I won’t keep you any longer.”

And as McGonagall made her way out of the room, Mia sank back into her chair, unsure of what to do. She didn’t feel like sulking anymore. In fact, she felt more like dropping by Sirius’s office and pay him a little visit. Maybe apologize for her earlier outburst as well if he showed he was sorry for being an overprotective arse…

“What do you say, baby? Do you want to go pay Daddy a visit?” she asked, looking down at her bump, which didn’t show any sign of response. “Not feeling like answering, are you? Well, Mummy’s gonna take that as a ‘yes’.”

---

When the knock on the door caught his attention, Sirius had been sitting in his small office, leaning against the back of the chair he was balancing backwards. His feet were propelled on the desk in front of him while he indulgently read about the winnings of the Tornados on Quidditch Monthly. Before telling whoever had knocked to come in, he quickly straightened himself on the chair, removed his feet from the table and put down the magazine– far from him risking one of his old teachers finding him in the position he’d been on. That would just be weird.

However, Mia was the one stepping into the room instead. He took a second to evaluate the expression on her face, trying to gather whether she was still angry or not. He couldn’t really hold her outburst against her – after thinking for a few minutes, he realized he’d been pretty insistent about staying there and helping her. Maybe annoyingly so. And that added with the hormonal outbursts was explosive. But, looking at her, he quickly recognized the calmer look in her eyes as she stood there by the door and concluded she wasn’t there for a second round of shouting.

“Hi,” she said, almost awkwardly. “Do you have a little time for me?”

Before answering, he stood up and made his way to her. “All the time in the world,” he assured her, offering a smile. His hands reached for hers as he approached her. “Does you being here mean I’m forgiven for my earlier ‘overprotective prat-ness’?”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “Were you listening when I called you that?”

“Not really, but you usually call me names along those lines when you’re angry at me.”

“I wasn’t angry. I was just…” she sighed, letting her hands go of his, “having a tantrum, I guess.” No, that wasn’t the right word. Tantrum. It made her sound like an annoyed four-year-old. “Well, maybe I was a little angry.”

He chuckled. “A little?”

She sighed. “I overreacted. I’m sorry. But you can’t just go all… patronizing on me, okay? It’s annoying.”

“I didn’t mean to make it sound patronizing, Mia,” Sirius said apologetically. “I really didn’t.”

Mia nodded, accepting his words. “And I didn’t mean to jump on your throat like that either. I did want to kick you out, though.”

He snorted. “You get points for the honesty.”

“And for the record,” Mia added with a little glint of gloating in her eyes, “I put everything away in less than fifteen minutes and didn’t get even a little tired. Mostly because I was still running on fumes from being pissed off at you, by the way.”

Sirius laughed. “Well, why don’t we call it a tie this time around then?”

Mia smiled. “A tie would be just fine. And for the record, I promise I wasn’t actually planning to turn your head into any sort of vegetable anytime soon,” she added.

“I had a feeling you weren’t,” he confessed. One of his hands reached up to cup her cheek as the other rested on the side of her bump. “You love me too much to do that.” His face broke into a wider and more playful grin, then, as he decided it was time to add some banter to their conversation. “Besides, it would be sort of difficult to snog a pumpkin, wouldn’t it? With the lack of lips and all. You love snogging me too much to give it up.”

She raised a defiant eyebrow at him. “Don’t be so sure of that. Push the wrong buttons and you’ll see.”

“You’re saying you could spend, let’s say, two weeks without snogging me even though you see me everyday?” he dared her, hoping she wouldn’t take him up on it. The competitive streak on him was just too strong for him to stay quiet.

“Well, I bet I could give it up for a while if I tried.”

“Are you sure?” he asked, leaning even closer to her, less than one inch apart, testing her on purpose.

She could actually feel his breath against hers and it made her feel… Merlin, it made her feel on fire. She wanted to kiss him. Hard. Why did he have to do that when she was trying to prove a point? It was on purpose, obviously.

“Well?” he insisted.

“You’re an arse,” she whispered, accepting her defeat and giving in. Her lips were on his moments later, passionate and demanding, making Sirius groan in triumph. He didn’t disappoint her, responding in the same tone as his hand cupped her face.

He still made her knees go weak when he kissed her, even though they’d been together so long. That was one of the reasons why she’d never be able to win that dare of his. And his hands always touched her so softly, almost reverently. He knew exactly what she liked and where she liked it. More and more reasons for her not to win popped in her head as his lips passionately kissed hers but the most important of all was a constant: because she loved him more than words could say and so did he.

She grabbed the hem of his shirt and gave it a pull, silently urging him to kiss her even more fiercely, which he immediately complied, wrapping his arm around her form harder and pulling her closer. That sent waves of heat all over her body.

At some point, he pulled away slightly so they could catch their breaths back and she immediately felt at loss. “Do you still want to prove your point?” he asked playfully.

She locked her arms around his neck. “What point?”

“No idea.” He gave her lips a peck in satisfaction. “We still have a few hours before the kids arrive. What do you say to us locking these respectful quarters and take this to that bed I never use?”

Mia just kissed him again in response. He really was an arse…

---

Ginny Weasley generally didn’t have a problem with her boyfriend’s innate tendency to go looking for trouble. Harry wouldn’t be Harry without his share of heroics, after all. Plus, there was also the fact that she owed her life to these ‘heroics’, seeing as they were what had led him to go rescue her from the Chamber of Secrets over three years before. She loved Harry for his courage as much as for his troubles or insecurities.

Yet, the fact that, after leaving that painfully long gathering Slughorn had them to attend for some reason, he’d decided to follow Zabini into the Slytherin compartment under his invisibility cloak to go eavesdrop Malfoy and likely gotten himself caught didn’t exactly make her happy. What else would explain that the train had just reached Hogwarts and there was yet no sign of Harry ever since he’d gone on his mission over half an hour before?

“I’m gonna look for him,” Ginny told Izzy, as they stood outside the train, waiting while Ron and Hermione were busy rounding up the first years to send to Hagrid. Nearby, a group of aurors, Tonks among them, was patrolling and making sure everyone got in the carriages. “If somebody asks where we are… well, tell them the truth.”

“Do you think he’s in trouble?” Izzy asked her, slightly worried. “Again?”

Ginny shrugged. “What else?” She reached for the tiny pigmy puff that her brothers had given her, who’d been resting on her shoulder. “Keep an eye on Arnold for me, would you?”

Izzy gave her a final nod before she made her way back to the train’s entrance. She wasn’t sure of which door would lead her to the right coach until she literally ran into Malfoy climbing out of one. He didn’t seem all that pleased to see her there. “Watch where you’re going, Weaslette,” he snarled.

“Go piss in the wind for all I care,” she unceremoniously said, pushing her way into the train without giving him another look.

Which compartment? She thought as she stood in the vestibule. She could count six from there… Yet, the blinds were drawn down on only one of the compartments – someone had been trying to hide something there. She made her way along the hall and slid its door open. It looked empty.

“Harry?” she called, getting no answer. Ginny took a step further into the compartment and her foot hit something on the floor – something invisible. She raised an eyebrow and reached down, trying to grab it. Her hand touched something with a satin-like texture and she pulled it, revealing Harry to be petrified and with a broken nose hidden under his invisibility cloak.

Ginny sighed. “Why is it that you always end up covered in blood, Potter?” she asked, reaching for her wand. “Finite incantatem.”

Immediately, the stiffness he’d been feeling left Harry’s body and he was finally able to move. “Oh, thank Merlin. I thought I was going all the way back to London…”

“You git. Izzy and I were worried sick. Ron and Hermione would be too if they weren’t busy with the first years,” she scolded him, helping him up

“Sorry,” he apologized as his hand tentatively touched his swollen nose. “Ooch.” He reached for a handkerchief and Ginny took it from him, helping him clean the blood on his face.

“Ginny, are you there? Is Harry with you?” they heard Tonks’s familiar voice asking from the vestibule.

“We’re here,” Ginny called back.

The train is about to leave, so unless you guys want to go back home…”

“Come on,” she said, pulling Harry out of the compartment by the arm. “We’ll talk outside.”

The engines were already running by the time they climbed out of the train and Tonks, who was waiting outside, raised her eyebrows at Harry’s appearance. “Well, I never thought you had it in you to knock him around, Ginny. Trouble in paradise?” she asked, amused.

Ginny smirked. “Sure. I punched him on the nose when he grabbed a handful of my arse. No respect for a girl, these days.”

“Ah, wait until I tell that one to Remus and your brothers,” Tonks joked.

“Hey!” Harry spat back. “I respect Ginny just fine.”

Tonks chuckled for a moment before making an effort to put on a serious face. She was on service, after all. “Who did it, really?”

“Draco Malfoy,” Harry said bitterly, avoiding the details around the incident. “We don’t really get along.”

“Yeah, I can see that,” the auror stated. “If you stay still I can fix your nose before Mia sees you and freaks out, thinking you were ambushed by Death Eaters.” He gave her a nod and did as she said, feeling thankful later when he saw that his nose was back together.

Tonks walked then back to the threstral-drawn carriages and, on their way, Ginny kept shooting him inquisitive looks, which he dismissed, telling her in a whisper to wait until they were in the carriage. Just as they arrived, they could see the last group of students, who happened to include Ron, Hermione and Izzy, at a distance, having just left on one of the carriages. They waved at him, seemingly relieved to see him before their carriage slipped out of view in the middle of all the trees.

He and Ginny climbed on theirs and quickly bid farewells to Tonks before the threstral began to pull them. “Well?” Ginny asked, sitting by his side, half turned to him. “Did you find anything?”

He nodded. “I did. Malfoy talks way too much for his own good. He was talking about Voldemort… he bragged he was working for him, Ginny. He all but said it out clear.”

“Maybe he was just talking out of his arse to impress Pansy… You know how he’s always been cocky.”

He shook his head. “No, it makes sense, now. The other day at Knockturn, he showed his left arm at Borgin. It didn’t make much sense then, but now… The dark Mark is branded on the left forearm, isn’t it?”

Ginny was taken aback by his question and her hand reached to his. “Are you saying…?”

He nodded. “I think Draco Malfoy has become a Death Eater.”

A/N: Kind of a filler, except for the last part. It wasn't a very inspired week... Good news is that I got top marks in the presentation I had last Wednesday, so at least the lack of inspiration was worth it. I apologize for the lateness again - real life is a bother sometimes... Feedback is very welcome. Review!

Chapter 8: Normalcy
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14 September 1996 

After coming up with his new theory concerning Malfoy being a Death Eater, Harry hadn’t waited longer than until after the welcoming feast to communicate it to Sirius, who’d seemed rather upset about it, though he’d been open to believe every word.

While that reaction puzzled Harry at first, it hadn’t taken Harry long to understand it: Sirius’s younger brother, Regulus, had also been around that age when he’d joined the Death Eaters, according to what Mia had once told him. He understood then that, even if Malfoy was far from the top of his godfather’s list of favourite people, it hit close enough to home to bring back some bitter feelings back… Yet, knowing enough of his godson’s way and that they’d need better proof to even consider accusing Malfoy of being a Death Eater, Sirius had warned him to be careful if (or rather when) he kept on investigating it, which Harry had promised him to keep in mind as he’d already done with Ginny.

The first day of classes and the ones that followed seemed to go well enough, apart from Harry and Snape’s constant quarrels, which, by the end of the second week of classes had already gotten him two nights of detention and another one to serve. Although, if DADA was a frustrating for many students, the newly created Defence Club, which gathered twice a week after classes, seemed to bring up the spirits of all its members, over half of them formerly affiliated to the DA.

Also, Slughorn’s presence hadn’t come unnoticed. As it had been his habit for decades, Slughorn liked to surround himself with brilliant (or simply well-known) minds, having gathered Harry during his train ride to Hogwarts as well as Ginny and Izzy. In the teacher’s lounge, whenever he found Sirius or Mia around, he’d praise Harry’s ‘innate talent at potions’, which puzzled them both, since their godson had barely made it into NEWT-level potions. When casually asked about it by Sirius, he’d shrugged and blamed it on luck, though Hermione had sullenly said that ‘Harry’s text book was so thorough that year that it practically did all the work’, adding a glare to Harry by the end of it. That improvement in potions and his private classes with Dumbledore, seemed to be the two things Harry was most secretive about that year, though Sirius and Mia hoped he’d get around talking to them about it at some point.

On the second Friday of the school-year, Mia arrived at Grimmauld Place after classes by herself, as Sirius would be supervising the Gryffindor Quidditch tryouts later that day. After Kreacher had thoroughly inquired her about her lunch – he’d grown very insistent that she eat properly ever since she and Sirius had fought back in June and she’d all but completely lost her appetite, causing herself to faint as a consequence of that and an unknown pregnaacy –, he’d informed her that Lulu had gone to the house library after she’d put Alex down for a nap and, with a small ‘thanks’, Mia made her way to go meet her mother.

The Blacks’ library was large, yet far from being half as much as Hogwarts’s, consisting of a single magically enlarged ballroom sized-room on the ground floor. Its collection had suffered several changes over the most recent years, considering Mia and Lulu, and later Sirius, had gotten rid of a large number of dark-themed books when they’d moved into Grimmauld Place.

When she came, Lulu was standing by one of the bookcases flipping the pages of a dusty book. “Looking for reading material?” Mia asked.

She didn’t bother looking up, knowing her daughter’s voice by heart. “Sort of. Your father asked me to check if there was any book on widely spread protective wards here,” Lulu mumbled before looking up. “He and Mad-Eye are doing this job for the Order, trying to find a way to cast village-wide protective spells on Muggle areas without the Muggles in question noticing them, which is probably the hardest part of it…”

Mia sighed. “Well, I doubt you’ll find them here. The Blacks were complete Muggle-haters before Sirius came around, remember? If anything, they might have books on village-wide curses against Muggles.”

“Mad little creeps,” Lulu murmured under her breath, closing the book and putting it away. “Where’s your husband, anyway? Shouldn’t he be following you around, being an overprotective berk?”

She couldn’t help letting out a laugh at her mother’s words. “He’s not that bad now – at least not since I threatened him with a pumpkin head. Anyway, Sirius stayed behind at the school to oversee the Gryffindor Quidditch team tryouts.”

“Harry’s captain this year, isn’t he?”

Mia nodded, smiling as she sat down by a table set between the bookcases. “He’s thrilled about it. Sirius didn’t really need to stay for the tryouts but Harry asked him to – he was a bit nervous.”

Lulu chuckled, sitting opposite her daughter. “You know, in fifth year I was running for Quidditch Captain. Actually, Gabe and I were, though I was for Hufflepuff and him for Gryffindor.”

“Really?” Mia asked. “You were both in the Quidditch team?”

Her mother nodded and snorted at something. “Believe it or not, our relationship started out as a vicious rivalry between chasers of opposite teams – the first time he kissed me was in fourth year just to shut me up when I was yelling at him for having stolen the quaffle from right under my nose. I still say that was cheating.”

“Which part? The stolen quaffle or the stolen kiss?”

She paused. “Both. Of course, it wasn’t long before I kissed him back. You know, this makes me wonder how the daughter of two gifted Quidditch players could end up a hopeless flier like you did,” the older woman said, shaking her head. “It’s just embarrassing!”

“I don’t think that sort of skill is inherited with genetics, Lu,” Mia pointed out dryly as her hand rested on her own pregnant belly. Suddenly, she felt like she couldn’t wait to meet her baby, to know what skills and features it had inherited from her and Sirius. Three and a half more months, she reminded herself.

Lulu sighed. “Well, it should. There’s still time, you know? For you to learn how to stop embarrassing yourself on a broom. Sirius is a Quidditch coach, after all.”

Mia chuckled. “No, thank you. I’d probably end up accidentally impaling my own husband with a broomstick while trying to get it on the air and I’d rather have him around to change nappies.” As if there weren’t enough risks of one getting killed with the war going on for her to add another one… “Anyway, did you ever end up becoming the Quidditch captain?”

“Nope,” Lulu said, casually. “I ended up getting knocked up by the guy who did become the other team’s captain, instead. Didn’t turn out to be that bad of a bargain in the end, seeing as you wouldn’t be around if I’d gotten the position,” she added.

That brought a smile to Mia’s lips. “I’m glad I had you around too, Lu,” she said back.

“Where else would I be?” her mother asked.

“I don’t know… didn’t you have any dreams for the future?” Mia inquired, finally voicing something that she’d always wondered. “Like being a healer or travelling around the world feeding starving children?”

Lulu shook her head. “I had no idea what I wanted to be. Really. I knew what I didn’t want, however: a nine to five job or living in a routine. It was after I’d given you up that I decided what I really wanted: to be there for you. So, I went after you and you know the rest of the story. I got all I wanted.”

“Except for Gabe,” Mia added.

“I have him now, don’t I? We were too complicated back then, anyway, with the whole teenager thing – you were enough for me. You have kids, Mia, so you know what that’s like, now.”

That last sentence worked a switch being pulled. She didn’t want to think of that, a world without Sirius. Not again. “I don’t think I’d be able to live without Sirius,” she whispered. “I don’t think I’d bear it, Lu.”

Lulu reached for her daughter’s hand, watching the shadows hit her eyes. “Don’t underestimate yourself, Mia. You’ve spent twelve years without him, remember? And you lived.”

“I don’t think I’d be able to live that way again – not forever. It was like half of me was empty,” she told her, her eyes clouding with tears. “Every time he goes out to fight or Harry gets in trouble… If something happens to him or one of the kids…”

“Stop thinking of the ‘what ifs’, Mia,” Lulu told her firmly. “Not only will you land yourself in the loony bin if you keep up with that but also your baby will be born depressed. What the point of thinking of what may go badly in the future? It goes the way it goes – there’s nothing we can do to change it. If anything, think of the good stuff. Like that kid you’re carrying. Think of patterns for the nursery walls or its curtains. That will keep you occupied.”

As always, in her own way, Lulu’s words did the job. Mia’s hand moved to her abdomen and she brushed the tips of her fingers against it – the baby was moving, feeling her distress or maybe just throwing a tantrum. It was calming, as always. “I wish I was more like you. That I didn’t worry so much.”

Her mother raised her eyebrows. “You think I don’t worry, Mia? Oh, I do, Mia. Believe me, sometimes I worry so much I can’t sleep. I worried for seven whole months from the time you went into hiding to when McGonagall showed up at my doorstep asking me if I wanted to go stay with you. I worried so much when you got hurt back in June that I wanted to bang my head against a wall to make it go away. Worry comes with the package. The thing is I’m better at hiding it than you are. Maybe at dealing with it too.”

“Really?” Mia asked, surprised. She’d always taken Lulu as the positive-thinker.

Lulu nodded. “Look, people die every day for a million of different reasons. Nobody stays here in the end. There’s just no use ruining your happiness by thinking of it too often. Sirius is fine, your kids are fine. Be happy with that. Have that baby you’re carrying and then go ahead and make a bunch more with him. Hopefully, you’ll get your happy ever after. Now, can we be done with the depressive crap?”

She let out a deep breath. “Okay. Sorry, I was just…”

“… emotional. I know. Your moods swing like a jump-rope when there’s a kid on board. Been there, done that,” Lulu told her, craving for another subject – the environment in the room had just gotten too heavy for her own taste… “Back to more cheerful matters, since Sirius is busy at Hogwarts, what are you doing this afternoon here all by yourself? Don’t tell me you’re going stay locked at home correcting essays or something, that’s just a waste of a good afternoon.”

“Well, I do have a bunch of essays on the Muggle inquisition to correct,” Mia pointed out.

“My own daughter, an annoyingly responsible goody two-shoes,” Lulu said under her breath, shaking her head. "Unbelievable..."

“However,” Mia continued, ignoring her statement, “I have other plans for today.”

“And those plans would be…?” Lulu inquired, suspiciously.

Mia raised her eyebrows and gave her an annoyed look. “Oh, now you want to know? I thought with me being an ‘annoying responsible goody-two-shoes’, my activities were boring to you.”

“Maybe there’s still hope for you if you prove me wrong.”

Mia rolled her eyes. “Since you’re so interested, I’m planning to wait until Alex is up from his nap and then I’ll take him with me to Hogwarts so we can surprise Sirius by watching the tryouts. Happy?”

“As a matter of fact, I am,” Lulu pointed out. “Maybe if you took a little risk and considered leaving Alex with your daughter for a few minutes while you go looking for a broom cupboard for you and Sirius…”

“Don’t you have work to get to or something?” Mia inquired to get her to shut up before that conversation reached more embarrassing themes.

“Nope. I’ve got the day off, since I went helping them last Sunday when I usually don’t work,” Lulu said, grinning. “I can’t stay much longer, anyway. I’ve got a date tonight.”

“A date?” her daughter asked, raising an eyebrow. “But you and Gabe live together.”

“And that’s exactly why we created a new one-date-every-week rule. To make sure we won’t just fall into a routine. Each week one of us is in charge of the planning - last week it was me and we went bowling. We sucked at it, by the way, but it was pretty fun. Hopefully, tonight he’ll take us to the Puddlemore United game – I’ve been sending him hints all week.”

Mia smiled. “I see you guys are having a good time, then.”

“We do what we can,” Lulu said, shrugging like it wasn’t that big of a deal as she got up. Truth was, she’d never been happier in her whole life. “Well, I should probably go – I’ve got stuff to do before the date, getting Gabe to spill his plans for tonight being one of them…”

“Wait, Lulu,” Mia said, suddenly, “Can I just ask you one last thing?”

She shrugged. “You can ask me anything.”

“Will you ever let Gabe make an honest woman out of you?”

“What? By marrying me?” Lulu inquired before taking a moment to think of it. She didn’t think of herself as the marrying type but then again, she’d never thought she’d end up with Gabe again… “Sure, if he ever gets me drunk enough. I’d like to see him try, though – he drinks like a girl. Probably would pass out after the third shot of firewhiskey.”

“I bet he’d make an effort for you, Lu.”

“Auror or not, I’d kick his arse afterwards if he tricked me into marrying him. I’d hex his arse. He’d be bedridden for the whole honeymoon.”

Mia smiled – she might give him a little grief but Mia knew she wouldn’t even think of getting an annulment. It didn’t really matter if they got married or not, as long as they were happy together.

---

“I don’t remember so many people ever turning up for the tryouts,” Sirius told his godson as they stood at the entrance of the Quidditch pitch.

“Don’t say,” Harry said through his teeth as he stared at the insane crowd of Gryffindors that was forming in the centre of the pitch, which only made him more nervous than he already was about being captain. He loved Quidditch, he really did. But what if he ended up sucking at the job? Maybe Katie Bell should have gotten the shield instead… He glanced once more at the mob. “Merlin, if I have to watch every single one of them trying out, I won’t leave this pitch for the next two days. And I have detention with Snape today at half past nine!”

Sirius made an enormous effort not to snort at that – after all, it would sound just cruel to laugh at the kid in such a situation. “Hum, I can’t help much with the tryouts, kid – as the referee for the games, I’ve got to be impartial to all Quidditch teams. Still, if you want my advice, before you actually have people climbing on their brooms, wave a golden snitch in front of them and see how many can even tell what it is. It’s safe to say those who don’t probably won’t do any good for the team…”

Harry looked up at him, impressed. “That may actually work.”

Sirius rolled his eyes. “Of course it will work. I came up with it,” he said in a mock-cocky tone. “Also, James used to have them all fly around the pitch once in small groups. That usually made a good filter too, so you might want to that as well. Those who crash or end up falling probably won’t be promising success either.”

He nodded nervously. “Ask them what a snitch is and have them fly around the pitch. Okay, I can do that,” he said, trying to convince himself. Then, a horrible idea came to his mind. “What if they all fall and crash? Merlin, what if everyone sucks at Quidditch?!”

Sirius snorted. “Kid, stop freaking out. Look at how many people are here to try out – it’s statistically impossible for any of them not to be remotely decent at it.”

“Sorry. It’s just that this is important to me. I don’t want to be a crappy captain…”

“You were the youngest seeker in a century, Harry. I reckon you’ll be just fine as captain,” his godfather assured him in amusement before suddenly being startled by the feeling of something, or rather someone, clutching itself around one of his legs. He looked down and was surprised to see his grinning youngest son was the responsible for that. “And how on Earth did you get here, mate?” he asked Alex as he picked him up, not actually expecting a coherent response.

Nevertheless, it came out clear enough. “Mama!” the little boy squealed, pointing towards Mia’s approaching form.

Sirius grinned as he saw her walking in his direction. “Well, what a nice surprise,” he told her.

She smiled back. “That little rebel escaped just as we were about to get in here and completely ruined my entrance.” She turned to Harry. “I hope you don’t mind having two more fans joining the club, Harry.”

Harry smiled. “You and Alex are part of a restricted group of fans that I actually like to have around, Aunt Mia.”

“I hope I’m in it too,” Sirius pointed out. “Godfather and all. Devoted fan and possibly Quidditch mentor…”

“Not even slightly,” Harry joked, feeling in a much better mood. “I had to pick between you and Ginny and she’d kind of prettier. I hope you’ll understand…”

Sirius mock-glared at him. “I’ll have you know that I deeply resent that.”

Oh his father’s arms, Alex laughed at the look on his face and turned to his surrogate brother. “Hawy queech!” he said, reaching to touch the Firebolt.

“I think that’s supposed to mean Quidditch,” Mia explained, smiling.

Harry chuckled and let him touch the broomstick, which Alex did eagerly. His hand, however, was still too small to completely close itself around the handle and the toddler let out an annoyed grunt. “Baaad,” he complained, sadly, resting his head against his father’s shoulder.

Harry reached to ruffle the little boy’s hair. “One of these days you’ll be big enough to play with it too,” he said before looking at his godparents. “I should probably go or this will never be over.”

“Good luck with the picks,” Mia told him, to which he responded with a rushed ‘thanks’ before walking away and joining the other players on the centre of the pitch.

“Well, let’s find ourselves a place to sit, shall we?” Sirius suggested. His free arm circled her back while the other held Alex firmly. As soon as he saw himself in the deserted stairway that led to the pitch’s stands and out of everyone’s view, he turned to her and, without a warning kissed her lips deeply. As always, she didn’t resist and kissed him back, curling her lips against his.

“What was that for?” she asked him when they pulled away because of their little son’s protests for attention.

“Just a small ‘thanks’ for the surprise. With so many people here, this is bound to take long and I was already thinking I’d get bored being here on my own all that time,” he stated as they resumed going up the stairs.

After they found themselves sits right in the front row, Alex, faced with the unfamiliar surroundings looked incredibly curious, glancing every direction possible and naming everything he could.

Down at the pitch, the tryouts were starting and Harry seemed to be filtering the candidates in the ways Sirius had suggested. Soon, over half the crowd of students that had been trying to get in the team had moved from the field to the stands and others were still down there, protesting for having been refused.

It was with amusement that Sirius noticed one of them, a tall girl with long black hair, seemed to be trying to ‘charm’ Harry into accepting her not only in the team but also in more… personal ways – his godson, however, looked awfully embarrassed and took a large step back for every single one she took further. Suddenly, the girl jumped back and started to scratch herself furiously as if a million ants were crawling over her body. Sirius knew the effects of an Itching Jinx when he saw one and, judging by the fact that Ginny was just shoving her wand back into her pocket and glaring at the girl, he had no doubt she’d been the person responsible for it. Harry seemed to realize that too and shot his girlfriend a thankful look, who smirked in return.

“Who was that little vixen hitting on Harry?” Sirius asked his wife as Alex watched in amazement as the players flew around the field. He knew for a fact that the girl didn’t belong to any of the classes he’d taught as he usually remembered all of their names and faces.

“That would be Romilda Vane,” Mia said, dryly. “Vane as in Barbara Lasher’s first husband… or was it second?”

“Babs’s spawn? Don’t say… seems as charming as her mother. Little question: why is she in Gryffindor?”

Mia shrugged. “Well, not all Gryffindors are saints, Sirius,” she pointed out. “You know, I always thought there was a very thin line between the most arrogant Gryffindors and the tamest Slytherins. Take your cousin Andromeda for an example – she’s far from cunning or conceited and was brave enough to stand up to her family and marry a Muggle-born. She probably walked on that line, though she ended up falling on the Slytherin side.”

“And I fell on the Gryffindor side,” Sirius added

Mia nodded. “Yes, but I don’t think the line-theory applies to you. You may be a bit cocky from time to time and have had your bully moments but you’re very far from the Slytherin house. No line-walking for you.”

He grinned. “I’ll take that as a compliment – I just can’t picture myself as Snivellus’ dorm-mate.” Then, he nodded down at his giggling son. “Where do you think this one will end up?”

Mia caressed the little boy’s soft hair and he looked up at her with a smile, calling her ‘Mama’. “He’s a very smart little boy – could certainly end up as a Ravenclaw.”

“Hum, I don’t see him as the bookish type,” Sirius stated, doubtful. “

“That’s a cliché. Not all Ravenclaws are bookish, Sirius. In fact, Hermione is bookish and she’s a Gryffindor.”

“Well, how about we ask him, then?” Sirius suggested, shifting their son so he was sitting sideways on his lap, half facing him and Mia. “What do you prefer, Alex? Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw of Slytherin?”

The little boy frowned at so many complicated words. “Want bawl!”

“Ball? That’s not a house, mate,” Sirius said with a laugh.

Mia rolled her eyes. “I think he means he’d rather watch the tryouts than answering silly questions like that one. How about we let the Sorting hat choose ten years from now?”

Sirius sighed. “I guess there’s no other way of knowing…” he gave up, turning the little boy to face the game, for his own delight.

Meanwhile, to Harry’s delight, Ginny had scored seventeen times in a row and, without a doubt impartially, gained herself a position as Chaser along with the already Quidditch-veteran Katie Bell and one of hers and Izzy’s dorm-mates, Demelza Robins. Soon enough Ginny, now followed by Izzy and Luna, who’d been watching the tryouts from the opposite side of the Quidditch pitch until then, joined Sirius and Mia on the stands and unceremoniously stole Alex from them for their own entertainment.

At some point, as the sun was starting to set behind the clouds and the number of players trying out was reduced to a mere dozen, the Keepers’ tryouts started and Ron was supposed to face a cocky seventh-year Gryffindor, Cormac McLaggen.

While the two competed, Mia sighed and leaned against Sirius’s arm, closing her eyes. She couldn’t tell why, she just felt like she needed to feel his comfortable warmth. Maybe it was the normalcy – they were sitting together, watching their godson’s Quidditch tryouts and enjoying their time together. There was no sign of war whatsoever in the horizon. Just normalcy at that moment. She realized she wanted it, badly. It was her goal – all she wanted for the future was just that plain, normal happiness… and peace. His warmth completely covered her as his arm circled her and draw soft circled with the tips of its fingers against the side of her belly. The baby seemed to like it too, as it kicked back in approval.

“Are you cold?” Sirius asked her, his voice mixed with Alex’s delighted squeal in the background as Izzy tickled him.

She opened one eye and shook her head. “I’m just thinking.”

“Of what?”

“Happy stuff,” she replied truthfully. “Did you feel the baby kick?”

He grinned and nodded. “I guess he or she likes me.”

“More like loves you,” Mia said. “If this is a girl, she’ll have you wrapped around her little finger. If it’s a boy… well, it will pretty much be the same.”

“I’d be happy to let myself be wrapped,” he pointed out with a grin. “If he or she comes out with your eyes, I’m a goner, love. You’d better watch out.”

Mia laughed. “You silly idiot,” she called him, lifting her head from his shoulder and looking at the pitch. Just as she did, McLaggen, who’d been defending the goal posts, completely missed one of the Quaffles thrown at him, launching himself in the direction opposite to it. There was an echo of laughter and boos. “ don’t know much about Quidditch but that wasn’t good, was it?”

Sirius snorted and shook his head. “He’d either have to be blind or confunded to miss like that.” He shook his head as, down at Quidditch field, Harry seemed to turn suspiciously to Hermione, who sat several yards away from Sirius and Mia at the stands and presented a very red face, which she promptly hid behind a book. Maybe McLaggen had been confunded, Sirius thought. But then again, the guy had sounded like a conceited git when he’d introduced himself to Harry before the tryouts and told him he hadn’t made it to them in the previous year because he’d eaten a pound of doxy eggs in a bet… Nobody wanted someone that smug and stupid in their Quidditch team. “Well, if Ron catches them all, he’ll be in.” He turned to Mia. “How bored are you now?”

“Just a little. I’d be worse if I’d stayed at home,” she pointed out with a smile.

“Hum, and what do you say I make up to you by dumping Alex on his wonderful godmother, Elizabeth, for a few hours just as soon as we leave the school so I can take you for a little romantic dinner that may or may not get me luck afterwards?” he suggested with a charming grin.

Mia smiled – apparently Lulu wasn’t the only getting a date that night. “Actually, I think that’s a very good idea.” And, not caring for the people around, she kissed him softly on the lips. Normalcy indeed.

A/N: Back to the every-seven-days postings. I kind of missed Lulu dialogues - she's probably one of my favourite characters to write, so I used this chapter to make up for the lost time. Time to write was kind of limited as I have weekly projects for one of my classes (not my favourite). Anyway, I hope you liked to read it. Feedback is welcome - Review!

Chapter 9: Destruction
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A/N: Little note before reading - this chapter acts as sort of an intruduction to something happening much later in the story (really much later). Kind of darker than usual, acording to my sister.

17 November 1996


Over two and a half months into the new school year at Hogwarts, the Death Eater attacks kept increasing. If a few months before they’d happened once every two weeks, now not they could happen once or twice the same week… and not always the Order was able to arrive on time. Muggle villages, because of their larger vulnerability and the Death Eater’s hatred for non-magical people, kept on being the most frequent targets, though witches and wizards disappeared all over the country.

Things at Hogwarts, however, went as smoothly as they could possibly go, even if Harry kept getting detentions with Snape every other week. The school was probably one of the most well-protected places in the Wizarding World due to all the wards around it and knowing Izzy and Harry were constantly there, as well as being able to see them every day, gave both Sirius and Mia a feeling of safety in what came to their kids. As for home, that feeling generally remained, being broken occasionally during the tense moments whenever Sirius was called to fight for the Order.

The seventeenth of November dawned as a miserable rainy day that completely reflected both Sirius and Mia’s mood as they woke up. Having been called to protect a Muggle village near Glasgow around nine in the previous night, Sirius hadn’t made it back home until two in the morning. That and Mia fighting back sleep at home until he arrived, just getting the few and short moments of snoozing that her seven-and-a-half-month pregnant body wouldn’t resist, had cause them both to be sleepy and moody in the morning.

“Someone shut that stupid alarm clock up,” Sirius mumbled, his voice muffled by the fact that his face was buried in his pillow as the clock loudly announced that it was seven in the morning.

“It’s on your side of the bed – you shut it up,” Mia responded dryly, stealing the pillow from under his head and using it to cover her ear and muffle the sound as she lay on her side.

“Hey!” he complained. “I’ve got to turn off the alarm clock and you get to steal my pillow?”

She uncovered her face slightly to give him a glare. “Well, I’m sleeping for two, aren’t I? I get to have two pillows, then. Now turn off that thing – it’s annoying the baby.”

He mumbled something about her weird moods under his breath as he forcefully reached for the alarm clock, trying to move as little as was possible. Not a good idea, he concluded. The wretched object ended up falling on the floor and blaring even louder than before. Stupid magical alarm clocks, he thought. If it was a muggle one, it certainly would have broken to pieces on the fall and just shut up – that one only got louder to get back at him. He ended up having to summon it back with his wand in order to finally turn it off.

With the annoying sound gone, Mia gave him back the pillow as a peace offering and he tentatively tried to circle her largely expanded waist with one of his arms, hoping to get a little cuddle out of it – a seven and a half month pregnant belly was certainly no small bump. He took her lack of complaining about his gesture as a sign that her mood had gotten slightly milder in the absence of a blaring alarm clock and decided that maybe they should just start that morning over. Gently, his lips reached for hers in a quick kiss. “Good morning,” he whispered just as he felt a very soft kick coming from inside Mia’s belly hitting his arm. He raised his eyebrows. “Hum, you weren’t kidding – the little one really is annoyed.”

She couldn’t keep a straight face and ended up chuckling at his words. “It’s probably just stretching out a little – I bet it’s getting kind of cramped in there,” Mia said as his knuckles started to brush on her abdomen soothingly.

“Hum… I don’t know. This sounds more like a tantrum to me,” Sirius pointed out, smiling. “I’m starting to think this baby is a girl. You women with your tempers…”

She slapped him on the arm. “We do not have a temper – not unless we are provoked. Besides, I believe the one in this couple who acted out the most in his childhood was you, Mr. Black, not me. It could just as easily be another boy if we follow that line of thought.”

“Fifty-fifty chance, isn’t it?” he stated, though his money was still on the baby being a girl. “I guess we’ll find out soon enough – just one more month and half, hum?”

“It’s getting pretty close,” she said, feeling herself in a much better mood than she had before – she couldn’t wait to be able to hold her baby. “Have you come up with any first names already?”

“Yeah, a couple of them. I need to look the little one in the face to be sure, though. Wouldn’t want it to hold a bad name against me like Tonks holds hers against Andromeda,” he said with a chuckle.

“I think the baby would have a slight problem with expressing its opinion on the name yet,” she informed him with a sceptical look on her face. “Lack of ability to speak and all…”

He shrugged. “Well, if it doesn’t cry bloody murder at the name, I can always say there were no protests from his or her part.” Sirius gave her belly one last pat when the baby stopped moving, likely having gone back to sleep. He sighed. “Am I the only one who feels like staying here in bed until dinner time at least?”

“Nope. Five hours of sleep either on a pregnant body or after coming back from a battle don’t quite seem enough, do they?”

“You could have gone to bed while I was out,” he pointed out, giving her a slightly accusatory look.

She shook her head. “I wouldn’t have been able to sleep decently without knowing you were okay. Don’t tell me it wouldn’t be the same if the roles were reversed.”

“I know but…” Her eyes shot daggers at him and he sighed, defeated. “Well, I guess I should be glad you don’t follow me into the battles at least.”

She would in the future, Mia thought. She wouldn’t risk the baby now but later, if she was needed, she’d go. She kept quiet about it as both of them knew it already – no need for a reminder that might make a fight emerge. “You still haven’t told me how last night was,” she said, shifting so she was sitting up on the bed.

He shrugged as he sat up as well, resting his back against the headboard. “It was a mess, as always, but at least nobody died this time – a few injured Muggles, nothing major. It was almost like the Death Eaters were playing a game with us last night, you know? Apparating from one place to another like it was hide and seek. Only a few were actually causing real havoc, the others were just… goofing around.”

“I wonder if that’s their idea of a night out with their mates,” Mia said, sickened. “Nothing but good fun.”

He nodded. “Who knows? They’re all a bunch of sick bastards. Probably just wanted to show they could do whatever the hell they wished. We caught one, though – Flint Junior.”

“Marcus Flint?” Mia asked in surprise. “Flint was a student of mine – he used to be the Quidditch Captain for Slytherin, I think, and had to repeat his last year at school because he failed every single one of his NEWTs.”

Sirius scoffed. “Well, his intelligence didn’t improve much ever since – Tonks managed to stun him with practically no fuss five minutes into the battle because he’d stopped to go take a leak in some alley.” He rolled his eyes. “That brainless moron had better gather the few active brain cells he has to cooperate or he’s looking at life in Azkaban – not that I think the other Death Eaters would give an airhead like him plenty of important information.”

“Any information can help now, though,” Mia pointed out. “Since the order barely has anything palpable.”

Sirius nodded, huffing. “Yeah, I guess that’s true. Anyway, I don’t feel like talking about the Order, Death Eaters and battles – I’d rather not sour my day before breakfast-time,” he said, leaning closer to Mia’s cheek in order to kiss it. “Well, guess it’s time I took a shower. Care to join me?”

She gave him a sceptical look. “I don’t think so – somehow shower shagging and seven-month pregnant me don’t seem to be a great blend. We’d probably end up killing ourselves at some point.”

“Who said anything about shagging?” he asked, faking innocence.

She rolled her eyes. “Yes, like I don’t know you and your plots long enough, Sirius Orion Black.”

“Well,” he reached to kiss her lips before getting up, “maybe afterwards, then.”

Mia chuckled. “Maybe.”

---

By lunch time, while Sirius and Mia’s moods had increased immensely for a long list of reasons, including their early morning activities, the weather was still as miserable as before, if not even worse in the whole territory that included and surrounded Hogwarts.

After her last class of the day, Mia sat in her own office hearing the pouring rain outside while she finished grading a stack of essays from the third years, hoping she wouldn’t need to take any work home that day. The words seemed to all blend together and her eyes were simply struggling to remain open. The lack of enough sleep was starting to catch up with her now – it wasn’t that she found the essays particularly boring. Maybe she could just take a minute or two to rest them a little. Sirius would be busy for at least the next half hour, since he had a flying class with a bunch or eager first years that had refused to have their lesson cancelled because of the rain.

She put her quill down and soon her eyes were dropping closed. Leaning against the wooden back of her chair wasn’t very comfortable but at least she knew she wouldn’t be able to actually fall asleep there. Just rest her eyes for a few moments and then get back to grading essays…

Before her plan was able to backfire with her actually falling asleep, a small knock made Mia’s eyes snap back open and turn her attention to the office’s door. “Yes?” she asked.

A second year boy shyly made his way in. She practically knew all her students by their names and faces – she liked to know them – and it was easy to identify him. “Yes, Mr. Wick?”

“P… Professor McGonagall asked me to summon you to the headmaster’s office. She asked form you to drop by as soon as you had time, Madam,” the young boy said, slightly nervously. “It is important,” he added.

The word ‘important’ immediately had her feeling uneasy, fearful even. One could never guess when bad news were coming during war time… Despite that, Mia found the strength to give the boy a calming smile while gripping the arms of her chair. “Thank you. I’m going right away. You can go back to your friends, Mr. Wick.” And, as soon as the boy was out, she inhaled deeply.

She was nearly sure it was bad news. Who could it be? Lulu? Gabe? She closed her eyes. Alex? No, not her little boy. He was safe at home, wasn’t he? Grimmauld Place was safe and Lulu was with him. Get yourself together, woman, Mia ordered herself. She was freaking out. Nobody had said it was bad news – she couldn’t just jump into that conclusion.

Steadier, she got up from the chair and took another breath before making her way to Dumbledore’s office. Granted, after walking as fast as her large pregnant frame allowed her to, soon she was standing in front of the gargoyle protecting the secret passage that led up to the office. That was when she recalled nobody had given her the password. Dang! Knowing the headmaster’s habits of using names of popular magical and Muggle sweets as a password, she started throwing their names to the air, hoping one would work. Cauldron Cakes seemed to do the trick as the gargoyle moved away and allowed her to step in.

As she reached the badly lit antechamber of the office, she found it empty and the door that led to the headmaster’s office closed. Even if she really wanted to just burst in and get done with it, she had the good sense to knock first. Not more than ten seconds passed before the door clicked in front of her and a sober-looking McGonagall came out to meet her. Before the deputy headmistress could close the door, Mia heard sobbing coming from inside, followed by an agonized voice of a woman wallowing for ‘her Margo, her baby’.

No, that wasn’t anyone she knew, was it? Maybe she wasn’t the one receiving the bad news that time around. Yet, that thought didn’t make her feel much better. She’d heard that sort of grief before, back when she worked as a healer. They couldn’t always save everyone and bad news had to be given, so her gut told her that the sob she’d just heard from inside the office was the one of a mother crying for the loss of a child. The simple thought made her clutch her own stomach.

“What happened?” Mia asked McGonagall.

“I’m afraid there’s too little time for me to explain it fully to you, Mia,” the deputy headmistress said, her face very pale. “There was another attack less than an hour ago but it had nothing to do with your family. That I can assure you. It happened in an Irish village.”

An attack in broad daylight and less than a day before the previous one? she thought, alarmed. It was getting worse. She barely knew what to say. “Do… do you need help or anything? I can aid with the healing…”

McGonagall shook her head. “It’s not that. In any case, your friend Elizabeth is already in the Hospital Wing with Poppy. What we need, actually, is your parents’ house.”

Mia was confused. “My parents’ house? You mean the Davis house in Wales?”

The older teacher nodded. “Because of the attack, the whole village was reduced to shambles, Mia. The people in Albus’s office, Joanne and Thomas O’Dell, are old friends of ours – they’ve just lost their only daughter and son-in-law in the attack and now have two underage grandchildren, one is a student here in this school, to take care of with their home completely destroyed. If you let them use the house for the time being, you’d be doing us a great favour.”

She nodded immediately. Mia knew what it was like to lose some of the people she loved the most and suddenly see herself with two kids to raise. The same had happened to her years before and, if she recalled it well, McGonagall had been an enormous help by bringing Lulu to her – somehow, she had a feeling Dumbledore hadn’t been the one to come up with that idea. She owed her that much and her heart wouldn’t allow her to give any other answer. “Of course – they can use the house as long as they need. Just floo Kreacher, have him take you there. I haven’t been to the house in a long time, though, so I can’t really tell if it’s habitable right now…”

“Don’t worry about that. I’ll ask Albus to send in a few house-elves to clean it up,” McGonagall said, hurriedly. “I’m so sorry, Mia, I feel like you had a right to know more about the attack since you’re being such a good help but…” she glanced at the office’s door.

“You need to be there for your friends,” Mia finished, feeling sympathetic for that couple that had just lost their daughter – she wished with every fibre of her body never to know what it felt like being in their shoes. “I understand.”

McGonagall nodded. “Thank you, Mia. On their behalf and ours. Hopefully this will make things just a little easier for them.”

But it wouldn’t matter much to their suffering, Mia thought. She couldn’t just picture how deep it would go and wouldn’t dare herself to try imagining it. It felt so wrong parents having to bury their own children… She excused herself to leave moments later, unable to hear the sobbing coming from inside the headmaster’s office, which seemed to be increasing its volume, and made her way back down the stairs, exiting through the gargoyle-protected doorway, only to crash with someone that was getting ready to go up.

“Oh, sorry, Professor. Didn’t see you there,” Seamus Finnigan said, giving her a nervous apologetic look.

She shook her head dismissively. “No harm done.” It occurred to her that it probably wasn’t the best time for a student to pop into Dumbledore’s now. “Can I ask you why you’re heading to the headmaster’s office, Mr. Finnigan?”

Seamus shrugged. “Dunno, ma’am. McGonagall had Peterson, the head boy, calling me there urgently. I reckon I may be getting detention for some reason…”

Mia didn’t even listen to his last sentence as her mind started putting the pieces together: the attack had occurred in Ireland and Seamus Finnigan was Irish… There was no way McGonagall was calling him for a trivial scolding when there was a couple grieving upstairs. He had to be the boy whose parents had been killed.

“… didn’t happen to mention to you what I did, did she?” Seamus continued, oblivious to her spacing out. “Professor Davis?”

She snapped out of it and looked at him suddenly. “I… I think you should probably go talk to Professor McGonagall right now, Seamus,” she told him, letting his first name slip. She couldn’t just bring herself to bother with formalities while talking to a boy who was about to get his world turned upside down.

He seemed to sense something was wrong as his face shifted. Maybe it was something on her face or the way she’d said it – fact was that, as soon as she’d moved out of the way, Seamus sped up the secret passage without another word or looking back. Mia just stood there, unmoving and finally taking in the meaning of her realization.

She remembered seeing the Finnigans at Platform 9 ¾ just a few months before in the first of September – they’d seemed like a happy family, having their little farewell moment before one of their children was to board the train to Hogwarts. She’d felt… proud for them, for seeing someone else fighting for normalcy as she and Sirius were. And now they were dead, just like that. And the little girl, she thought. The father had been holding a little girl, Seamus’s baby sister. She was alive, Mia knew that much – McGonagall had mentioned the grandparents had two grandchildren to watch now, which would make both Seamus and his sister alive. But had she gotten hurt? The mother in her just couldn’t bear the idea of a child getting hurt in that greedy, pointless war. As if it wasn’t bad enough the little girl whose name she didn’t even know was parentless now, at such a tender age. Even if Mia had never really met the Finnigans, she was deep down was grieving for them, for the broken family that could have so easily been her own…

When she started walking, Mia headed towards the Hospital Wing. Elizabeth was helping there, she recalled. It wouldn’t be the first time they used that space it to take care of some of the wounded from the largest Death Eater attacks. And if they needed any more help up there taking care of them, she wouldn’t just stay back and walk away. Her back protested against her rush all the way to the infirmary but she didn’t rest – she might not fight but at least she’d help. One way or the other, she’d help.

When she reached the large doors of the Hospital Wing, she immediately heard a child’s cry coming from the inside just as a loud thunder sounded outside – she hadn’t even noticed the thunderstorm beginning. Her head had clearly been too full of thoughts. When she got in, her eyes landed on her best friend carrying the wailing toddler, who was unmistakably Seamus Finnigan’s younger sister, and pacing along the aisle that was formed between the rows of curtain-covered beds. Her eyes met with Elizabeth’s when the little girl shouted for her ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’ and both of them knew that they wouldn’t come.

“How is she?” Mia asked, approaching the blonde healer while Madam Pomfrey sniffed against a paper tissue as she sat by her desk in a corner, crying – Mia guessed she’d lost someone in the attack as well.

“Terrified, confused… She’s not harmed physically, though,” Elizabeth said, rocking the little girl as she sobbed and called for her parents. “Her name is Darcy. Darcy Finnigan. Her parents were…”

“Killed. I know,” Mia whispered. She tentatively reached to rub the toddler’s back soothingly for a moment, though it didn’t seem to have any effect in her. She just looked so small and helpless… “Have her grandparents been here to see her?”

She nodded. “Yes, they stayed with her for a few minutes. Long enough to calm her down and put her down to sleep. But then the thunders started and she just woke up and freaked out. It was thundering during the attack, I think. It must remind her of it.”

“You sure she didn’t get hurt at all? Sometimes people just don’t show signs until later. Maybe she’s crying because she’s in pain too.”

Elizabeth shook her head as little Darcy’s cries subsided slightly at the same time the thunderstorm was showing signs of disappearing. “Kingsley Shacklebolt and I were the ones who found her – I couldn’t help yesterday night with the attack because I had an emergency at the hospital, so I went on this one instead. Darcy was as safe as anyone could be in the middle of that mess. I examined her from top to bottom there, used every diagnosis charm I remembered. I barely found any bruise on her. She’s just traumatized, I guess. Hopefully, she’ll get better.”

Mia seemed to be more satisfied with that answer and gave her friend a nod. “What about the other wounded? Do you need help with them? I can do that.”

“Mia…”

“I know I don’t practice anymore but that doesn’t mean I don’t still remember how to do the healing charms,” she insisted.

Elizabeth shook her head. “It’s not that, Mia. There are no wounded.” There was a silent pause during which Mia tried to make sense of the meaning of her words. “She was the only survivor of the attack.”

Mia wanted to say something but her mouth couldn’t bring itself to move. No other survivors, she thought. None. They’d just wiped out the whole town? What for? Fun? How was that possible? “But… her grandparents…”

“They were spending a few days with an ill cousin here in Britain when this happened. It was small village, mostly Muggles, though there were a few Wizards and Squibs too. Of the forty-two people in the village during the attack, only Darcy lived. When the Order got a wind of it, it was too late – the Death Eaters were already gone when we arrived and everyone was… dead. We thought nobody had lived until we heard the crying coming from the middle of a house’s shambles and found her in the basement, hidden inside a wardrobe. It had to be her mother hiding her there – her father was a Muggle, so he couldn’t have cast all the protective charms that were around the basement. Only Dumbledore was able to break them all. She protected her daughter with all she had.”

Mia covered her mouth in disbelief, feeling a chill shooting through her body. The simple thought of it, the destruction, the death, the mother doing all she could to save her child’s life as Lily had… “Dear Merlin,” she whispered.

“She was one year behind us at school. Her mother, I mean,” Elizabeth mumbled. “I recognized her. Her name was Margaret O’Dell back then – she became head girl the year after we graduated. People usually called her Margo.”

Hearing her mother’s name seemed to have calmed the last of Darcy’s cries, maybe by giving her a false hope that Margo was coming, and they were reduced to soft sniffing. Elizabeth made her way to a bed to put the little girl down again, hoping she’d fall asleep. Darcy’s dark blonde hair was all tangled in knots instead of pristinely brushed as it had been back in king’s Cross and her eyes, a blue-green shade that reminded Mia of the ocean, were rimed with red from the tears. Poor baby, she thought, brushing the child’s hair. She really was no older than her Alex.

She sat there with Elizabeth for several more minutes while young Darcy Finnigan finally fell asleep in the bed. By the time her grandparents, a grief-stricken couple in their mid-sixties, arrived with a numb Seamus, Mia decided it was time to leave quietly and give them some privacy. She felt like she’d be intruding if she stayed.

Sirius was waiting in her office when she arrived, standing up from her sofa as soon as she stepped in. She didn’t say a word at first and just walked closer to him, wrapping her arms around his form – with difficulty due to her large belly – and held on to him, surprising herself by not crying like part of her had been craving to do for the past hour. Suddenly, she realised that those bastards – Voldemort and his Death Eaters – didn’t deserve her fear or her tears. All she wanted was for them to pay for everything they’d done: threatening her godson’s life over and over, killing harmless Muggles and Wizards that were brave enough to stand up to them, destroying happy families like the Finnigans…

“Are you okay?” Sirius asked in a worried whisper after holding her for nearly a full minute.

Was she? That was a good question. Physically, she felt fine. Still a little tired, though, and her back did hurt a little. As for her mind, she really wasn’t sure. “I don’t know,” she confessed, pulling away slightly. “I’m angry, though. I’m just so angry.”

“This is about the attack to that Irish village, isn’t it?” he asked her quietly. “I’ve just ran into Dumbledore – he was leaving for Flint’s trial and told me a about it.” Holding her hand, Sirius had them both sitting down on the sofa. “Those sons of a bitch had to be planning it all along. They’d never attacked twice in the same day – they were just baiting us last night so we’d have the guard down today. That’s why they were acting so stupid. It was part of the bigger plan.”

Her hand gripped one of the sofa’s cushions. That realization only made her angrier than she already was… “Sirius.”

He turned to her immediately. “Yeah?”

“Tell me we’ll win this war,” she requested, looking down. “I don’t care if we don’t know that for sure. Just… tell me what I need to hear. It will be enough for now.”

“We’ll win this war,” he said as his hand reached to lift her chin up. “And I’m not telling you this because that’s what you want to hear, I’m telling you because we will win this war, Mia. I don’t need to lie to you about that. I trust Harry to win this thing. Don’t you?”

“You know I do – it just feels so unbelievable sometimes…”

He shook his head. “Many years from now, when we’re old and grey, our kids have kids and Lulu is still around and kicking – because we all know that one is going to out-live every one of us with that wit of hers, we’ll look back and think of how we enjoyed making those bastards pay for every miserable moment they made us go through.”

She sighed. “You really think that, don’t you?”

“Of course I do,” he said, trying to give her a smile. “A storm is always followed by the good weather, isn’t it?”

A/N2: Sorry for posting this late. Field trips, studying, annoying teachers... take your pick. I really hate this semester at college. Anyway, I know there was lots of narrative this chapter but it really was about the feelings more tha the dialogues this time. Now, I'm going to bed because I'm deadbeat. Feedback is so very welcome. Review!

Chapter 10: Celebration
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20 December 1996
 

The cold winds of December announced the upcoming school break and the arrival of Christmas time. All over, Hogwarts had been heavily decorated accordingly to the season, even more so than in the previous years, under the orders of Dumbledore himself. Hopefully, the headmaster had thought, the Christmas spirit would smother temporarily that dark cloud of war hanging over everyone’s heads, especially after Katie Bell had ended up badly cursed by a necklace during a November Hogsmeade visit. The enhanced Christmas spirit did seem to work mainly with the youngest students, though some of the older seemed pretty affected as well.

Fact was, the number of Death Eater attacks had decreased after Flint’s arrest and trial as he’d spilled his guts and given away nearly two dozens of Death Eater’s names in exchange for being exiled to a secured location instead of sent straight to Azkaban. After that little betrayal, several of Lord Voldemort’s servants had gotten too busy (either by being sent to jail or being on the run from it) to bother with taking part in attacks.

Along with the extra Christmas decorations, the holidays had brought Slughorn’s Christmas party. In the Gryffindor common room, Ginny Weasley sat in one of the armchairs waiting for Harry to finish getting ready for the party. It crossed her mind that usually it was the other way around – the guy waiting for the girl to get ready. But then again, usually the guy didn’t come out of detention just fifteen minutes before the party in question and sped all the way to his dorm in order to change into his dress robes.

A hysterical burst of giggling coming from the portrait hole’s direction had her turning her face to it. She wished she hadn’t. Pressed against the wall was Lavender Brown, who happened to be busy getting snogged by Ron. It looked more like a face-sucking match than anything else, Ginny considered, feeling all the appetite she might have had earlier going down the drain.

It had been her fault… sort of. She’d been the one who’d dragged Harry to some secret passage a couple of weeks before in order to give him a victory snog after their first Quidditch game together and gotten herself caught by her brother. She’d also been the one who’d gotten really pissed off when he’d started blabbing about ‘revoking his permission’ for them to date if they kept on snogging in front of him, venting her fury by mocking him for never having snogged a girl and throwing to his face that even Hermione had done it with Krum. He seemed to have fixed that last part fast enough with Lavender’s aid, which had caused an enormous rift between him and Hermione, who’d not only been supposed to have him as her date to Slughorn’s party but also, though she wouldn’t admit it, had been pining over him for a while.

And now, in the middle of it, Harry had the hard task of having to split himself between his two best friends, his girlfriend, his family, Dumbledore’s lessons and his detentions. It made Ginny wonder if she should have just told Ron to piss off instead of provoking him – not that the git wasn’t asking for it but she did feel bad for Harry and Hermione.

“Hey, you ready?” she heard Izzy as she came down from their dorm.

“Yeah, just waiting for Harry,” Ginny replied without turning as her best friend sat on one of the sofas.

“Hum, I see Ron’s having a good time,” Izzy pointed out dryly, her tone rather sickened as she spotted the snogging couple at the entrance of the Common room. She was okay with a little kiss or maybe some light snogging in public but that seemed to belong right inside a broom cupboard.

“It’s like they’re trying to suck each other’s faces off,” Ginny whispered furiously, turning to her friend. “It makes one wonder if Ron’s feeding himself right since he’s trying to make a meal out of Lavander.”

“I can’t believe you’ve just said that.”

“Well, it’s true, isn’t it? Don’t tell me it’s not!”

Izzy rolled her eyes. “It does seem like they need to improve their technique,” she offered diplomatically. “But it looks worse than it is to you because he’s your brother. It’s disgusting seeing him snog by principle. Kind of like me with you and Harry…”

Ginny didn’t want to look but her eyes wouldn’t obey and turned to face Ron and Lavender. Where was a prefect when she needed one to break it off? Oh, that’s right, he was standing right in front of her giving them all a show – so, maybe Izzy was right. Ron being her brother only made it worse.

But she certainly wasn’t the only one bothered by it. A group of first years were doing gagging sounds at the couple and Seamus Finnigan, who’d been unusually quiet ever since he’d returned to the school after spending three weeks at home mourning the loss of his parents, appeared to be a bit green while looking at the couple as he sat with Dean Thomas. Then again, Ginny thought, she’d always suspected he had some crush on Lavender Brown.

“Hey, Ginny, Izzy, have you seen Cormac anywhere?” she suddenly heard Hermione asking as she walked down the girls’ staircase. Her words were enough to make Ron jump away from Lavender and look straight at her in confusion. “You know, that guy who nearly made Keeper for Gryffindor,” she added in a spiteful tone.

Ginny nearly clapped at the intervention but found it more satisfying to watch her brother’s face change from confusion to infuriation, though he didn’t breathe a single word.

“McLaggen?” Izzy asked, pretending to be surprised, as Hermione had already informed them of her plans. “No, not lately.”

Hermione slapped her own forehead, in a fake self-scolding fashion. “Oh never mind. I completely forgot we’d agreed to meet downstairs so he could escort me to Slughorn’s party. Thanks anyway.” And, with that said, she made her way to the portrait hole, passing right in front Ron without a single acknowledgement.

“Brilliant,” Ginny mumbled under her breath as a pouty Lavender left to go sit with Parvati and Ron made his way to the boy’s staircase, looking annoyed to the bone. Hermione couldn’t have picked a better date to get back at him than the pompous Cormac McLaggen. Letting out a satisfied breath, she turned to her best friend, feeling in a chatty mood. “So, where’s Colin? You’re still going with him, right?”

Izzy nodded. “Yeah but just as friends.” Colin had wanted to go to the party but didn’t get an invitation and she’d wanted a date so she wouldn’t look pitiful. Since he was a friend and far from a prick, the deal had seemed good at the time. “He said he’d wait for me by Slughorn’s office. He was hoping to snap a bunch of pictures of famous people.”

“You sure that’s nothing more than that? Just friends?” Ginny asked her best friend, curious. Ever since she and Harry had gotten together, Izzy appeared to have gotten pickier in what came to guys. If in the previous year she’d settled with Terry Boot easily even though what they had was a far from love, that year she’d already gone out with Dean Thomas once, another with Jimmy Peakes and finally with some Hufflepuff whose name Ginny couldn’t remember, all those times saying something about ‘no chemistry’.

“Just friends,” Izzy assured her, referring Colin.

“Maybe you’re being too picky with guys,” Ginny suggested.

“I’m not.” She paused, noticing the redhead’s doubtful look. “Okay, maybe I am. I’m just… looking for something.”

“And that something would be…”

She shrugged. “I dunno… a guy who can make me laugh without trying too hard. Just by being himself, you know?”

“Well, too bad there isn’t a comedy club here at Hogwarts,” Ginny joked.

Izzy shook her head. “It’s not just that. I want someone who I can lean on and really talk to. Like my parents do.”

“And you expect to find that guy among all the randy minds here at Hogwarts? The odds are against you, Isabelle.”

“Well, you did,” she pointed out.

Ginny didn’t have any weapons against that point and couldn’t help grinning because of it. “I’m lucky.”

“Maybe I’m be lucky too. And since the product of your luck has just walked in, this conversation will have to be finished later,” Izzy informed her as her Harry hurried towards them.

“I’m ready, let’s go,” he told Ginny.

She stood up from her seat and turned to him, smiling. “Your tie is all crooked,” she informed him with a chuckle. And his hair was completely messy but that was impossible to fix and, honestly, she had a thing for that look.

He huffed, trying to fix the tie. “I hate dress robes.”

She slapped his hand away from it and straightened it herself. “There you go. You look just like a big boy,” she said in a tone that one would use with a five-year-old, poking his nose when she was finished.

He frowned. “Hey! I’m not a kid.”

She chuckled and kissed his cheek right before he turned to glance at Izzy.

“Where’s your date?”

“Colin’s waiting for me outside Slughorn’s office. I thought I’d walk with you guys, unless you’re planning on making any detours…”

He ignored the last part. “Colin as in Creevy?”

She raised an eyebrow. “Do you have a problem with that?” She didn’t even bother mentioning they’d be going as friends, all ready for a shouting match with the git for meddling with her dating life.

“Not unless he chases me around with his camera,” he stated, making her face soften.

“Colin promised he’d behave,” she assured him.

Harry gave her a doubtful look but just shrugged and urged them to get going. The long corridors of the castle were rather cold and empty, seeing as many students were probably already in the Great Hall, getting ready for Dinner. As soon as they reached the fifth floor and started to approach Slughorn’s office, the music coming from it started to fill their ears, getting louder along with the voices for every step they took. A group of important-looking individuals walked by them and showed their invitations to Filch, who was serving as a porter that night. Colin Creevy also stood by the entrance, though he was distracted snapping a picture of a couple of seventh-years.

“Remind me again why we have to go to this thing…” Harry asked under his breath, staring at the lights coming through the open door.

Izzy was the one to answer. “Because you’re the chosen one, my father was the first person to ever escape Azkaban and Ginny has wicked bat-boogey hex, which she happened to be aiming at Zacharias Smith’s face when Slughorn was walking by.”

“Damn,” Harry cursed under his breath. He really had no way to escape the party without looking completely rude. Just a couple of hours, three at the most, he thought. Then, he’d claim to be exhausted, escape with Ginny, hopefully get a great goodnight kiss and go to bed. When he woke up in the morning, it would be time to catch the Hogwarts Express and go home for Christmas. He turned to Izzy. “Do you think you can convince Colin to go distract Slughorn by having him pose for a bunch of pictures? Maybe that way he’d forget about me for a while.”

She raised an eyebrow. “And what would I get in return?”

“My eternal gratitude?”

Izzy wasn’t convinced. “We’ll have to renegotiate that later. Wait out here a minute while I take care of it. Hey, Colin!” she called the mousy brown-haired boy before reaching him and taking him into Slughorn’s office.

“You know, you can always fake some sort of injury,” Ginny suggested. “Fred and George once taught me this spell that gives the illusion of an exposed fracture. You should have seen Mom’s face when Fred used it on George’s neck and she saw him with his spine hanging out… She screamed bloody murder before realizing it was all bollocks.”

Harry made a face. “Merlin, that’s… that’s completely morbid, not to mention disgusting. I’ll have to pass. Besides, it can’t be that hard to live through the party, right? If we go back to the common room, odds are we’ll run into Ron and Lavender going at it.”

“Again,” she added just as Izzy showed up by the door, signalling it was safe for them to go in. “Ready?”

He shrugged. “Guess I am.” He offered Ginny his arm to hold as they made their way into the party and she smiled as she cordially accepted it. Harry took a moment to observe the room, realizing easily it had been magically charmed to seem larger than it was, which, with the drapes all over, made it look like an enormous tent.

He spotted Hermione at the opposite side of the room, sipping from a glass and apparently not paying any attention to what McLaggen was saying by her side, simply giving a nod every now and then. Izzy had settled herself nearby, chatting with Luna Lovegood, who Ginny informed him that Neville had brought as a friend. Slughorn was proudly getting his picture taken as he stood laughing with a familiar-looking sturdy, dark-skinned woman.

“Holy Merlin. Harry, look, that’s Gwenog Jones!” Ginny whispered frantically, staring at the woman.

Hum, so that’s why she looked familiar, he thought. The very well-known Beater and captain of the Holyhead Harpies, Ginny’s favourite Quidditch team of all times, usually had her picture in the sports section of the Daily Prophet every week.

If he hadn’t known that being professional Quidditch Player and playing for the Harpies was Ginny’s dream job, he might have laughed at that amazed, admiring look on her face as she looked at Jones – it kind of reminded him of the look Alex wore whenever he was impressed. He reckoned someday Ginny would be the one receiving the praises from every Quidditch publication in the country – she was a brilliant chaser already. Suddenly, an idea came to his mind – he realized it might turn out to be a pain in the arse for him but it would be worth it if it made his girlfriend’s night. It was Christmas time, after all – one ought to be generous. “Hey, Gin, would you like to meet her? Gwenog Jones, I mean.”

His girlfriend’s face turned to him in a flash, disbelieving. “Are you kidding? Of course I would! She’s my Quidditch hero!”

He smiled at her, then. “Let’s go, then. I bet Slughorn is just looking forward to introduce Harry Potter to every single one of his protégés, Gwenog included. Guess if you stick with me, he won’t mind introducing you too.”

Before he could take a step Ginny pulled his arm so he’d look straight at her. “Wait. You’re going to pull the Harry Potter card? But you’ve just gotten Izzy to get Slughorn off your back!” She knew how much he hated his fame and all the attention that it brought. Her mind just couldn’t help thinking of how he was going to bring all of it onto himself just so she had a chance to meet her idol… just because of how much it meant to her.

In response to her question, Harry shrugged like it wasn’t that big of a deal. “I guess if I have to use the fame every once in a while, it might as well be for you. See it as a Christmas gi…”

She was kissing him, very publically, before he could finish. Someone in the room – Ginny assumed it was Romilda Vane since she’d managed to infiltrate herself into the party as Zabini’s plus-one – reacted to the kiss with a piercing shriek, which the couple ignored. Then, pulling away, she clutched his arm. “I love you, you know?” she kissed him again. “Now take me to Gwenog Jones!”

It occurred to him, as he made his way to Slughorn, that it was the first time one of them said it out loud – I love you – though it had been implied in their actions for months. “Love you too,” he said very softly and, if it wasn’t for Ginny looking up, giving him a brilliant smile and telling him that she knew, he might have believed she hadn’t heard him at all.

He grinned. Maybe that party and getting himself in the middle of everyone’s attentions for once might not be so bad, after all.

---

At 12, Grimmauld Place, Mia reached inside a cardboard box to get a star ornament that was destined to the top of the Christmas tree in her and Sirius’s room. They’d grown used to having plenty of trees in the house: one in their room, which usually was only up to the two of them to decorate, other in the living room for the whole family to take care of and another in the dining room, Kreacher’s responsibility although Izzy usually ended up helping him with it. It had originally been Sirius’s idea to have them all over the place. ‘Christmas is everywhere, love, so should trees’ he’d claimed. At least, she thought, only the one in the living room was an actual tree, while the others were Muggle plastic ones, or else someday there wouldn’t be trees left for anyone.

That year, since she was almost too large to even reach the higher branches without bumping her belly into them, Sirius had recruited Alex as his personal assistant during the decorations, while she was in charge of sitting on the bed, picking the decorations and dictating where they went. It had, by far, been the best time she’d had in months, watching her little boy giggling in delight every time Sirius lifted him up to place the ornaments sloppily on their respective branches.

“There you go, honey,” she said, passing the star ornament to Alex and placing a kiss to his chubby cheek. “Remember that’s not to eat, baby.”

With an oddly serious expression on his face, Alex nodded. “Tate bah,” he said thoughtfully.

“Cookies are so much better, aren’t they, mate?” Sirius told his son, picking him up. “The crispy ones with chocolate chips.”

“Whew cookies?” the little boy asked, looking around for them.

Mia shook her head. “Not here, honey. You can have one after dinner if you’re a good boy,” she promised.

“Now, how about we put that star on top of the tree?” Sirius suggested, pointing at the specific location, which was only a foot opposite his face. “Right there.”

“Up?” the toddler asked.

“Up-est,” Sirius told him in their own code.

After the successful placing of the star, Alex looked rather proud of himself and ran to Mia just as Sirius let him down. “Baby!” he said, looking at Mommy’s big belly, resting the side of his face, trying to listen to what his little sibling was up to.

Mia rubbed his hair. “I think the baby’s napping right now, honey. Just a little longer before it comes.” According to Elizabeth, two or three more weeks at the most, though there shouldn’t be any problem if the baby came at any point from there. If Mia didn’t trust her best friend as a healer and hadn’t been trained as one too, she could have called her a liar and said the kid should have arrived at least two weeks before. She couldn’t see her own toes or carry her son anymore since she was so big, not to mention those blasted back aches and swollen ankles. She felt like an elephant lately.

“Can pway?” he asked, looking up at her hopefully. “Like Dashy?”

He actually meant Darcy Finnigan. Her grandparents, the O’Dells, had come over earlier that afternoon in order to thank them for letting them use the Wales house, bringing the little girl in a tow. Even if there was still something sad about her, little Darcy looked a lot better than she had before, right after her parent’s deaths. She didn’t quite understand, her grandmother had said when they’d talked bit. But one thing was for sure: she’d gotten much more cheerful after she and Alex had gotten over the shyness and taken to play with each other for a while. Though she was four months younger than Alex, Darcy was nearly as fast on her little legs as he was and the youngest Black appeared to like having a competitor of his own size. Later, the O’Dells had left with a promise of bringing their granddaughter over every once in a while, concluding a friend was exactly what she needed.

“Not yet, honey,” Mia responded. “The baby will be really tiny when it comes out. You’ve got to wait for it to get bigger.”

Alex didn’t have a chance to be too disappointed about that as he got more interested in the lights that Sirius had cast all over the tree before he came to stand against one of the bed’s posters.

“The little bugger’s having the time of his life,” he said with laugh.

“He’s not the only one,” she said, smiling back as she raised a hand to him. “Help me up?” she requested. Simple tasks just as that one were starting to become a problem. Her maternity leave had arrived just in time or else she’d end up humiliating herself at Hogwarts by getting stuck on a chair or something.

He promptly assisted her, pressing a soft kiss to her lips just as he succeeded on getting her to her feet. “There you go, love. The little one is getting kind of cramped in there, isn’t it?”

“Very,” she confirmed. “I love being pregnant, I really do, but I wouldn’t mind getting this kid out of me before Christmas so I wouldn’t be so useless.”

“You’re far from useless, love. Just a little… conditioned these days. It’s not like you can’t help around – Molly promised she’d let you peel the potatoes on Christmas Eve,” he pointed out. Due to Mia’s condition, Molly Weasley had offered to have them all over for Christmas and New Year’s, an idea that had been very welcomed by the kids and the Weasleys in general, who loved a good old messy Christmas.

She huffed. “That’s as good as nothing. I’m a witch. I can have potatoes peeled without lifting a finger.”

“Well, maybe you should use the Muggle way this time around then, then,” he suggested mildly, winning himself a glare from Mia in return

And suddenly, as Sirius was about to say something else, there was a knock on the open door, which had then both turning to face it and Alex running happily to the people standing there. It was Remus and Tonks.

“Wotcher, guys,” the Metamorphagus greeted the cheerfully, reaching down to pick up the little boy, placing a kiss on his cheek, which initiated a fit of giggling from his part.

“Kreacher told us to just come in,” Remus said. “Hope we’re not interrupting anything.”

Mia shook her head. “Never mind that. Come on in.”

“Nice tree,” Tonks said, grinning at the Christmas tree standing in the corner of the room. “Ours is nicer. Tell them what it’s got on it, Remus?”

He huffed and gave Sirius a don’t-you-dare-laugh warning look. “Half-naked Father Christmases.”

“They sing dirty Christmas carols when we ask them,” Tonks described proudly.

Ignoring his friend’s earlier warning, Sirius didn’t even try to hold his laughter at that, same with Mia. That was about the last thing they’d ever picure being in Remus Lupin’s flat. Only Tonks… “Where on Earth did you get them?” Sirius asked.

His cousin grinned as Alec grabbed a handful of her hair. “Charlie Weasley gave them to me last year – he brought them from Romania.”

“Priceless. Just priceless. So,” he let out a breath, ending the laughter, “what brings you guys to our humble residence?”

“Just dropping by for a visit,” Remus replied, slightly nervous.

“Just a visit my…” she glanced at the toddler on her arms and concluded profanity might not be a good idea “…behind,” she finished, turning to Sirius. “Remus here wants to talk to you about something and doesn’t want me to know about it.”

“It’s not that I don’t want you to know, Dora…”

“Yeah, yeah,” she said dismissively. “You’re lucky I have a thing for mysterious blokes.” But she knew that if it was too serious, he’d tell her.

“Well, since we’re not welcome here,” Mia said, making her way to her husband’s cousin, “we’ll just go downstairs to the kitchen and smuggle some of today’s desert before dinner. I think Kreacher was making an apple tart…”

“Apple tart… I’m so in,” the Metamorphagus said as she and Mia left the room along with little Alex, leaving the two Marauders behind by themselves.

“Well?” Sirius inquired.

Remus reached for his wand and pointed it to the door, closing it and casting a Muffliato charm. Then, there was a moment of silence before he spoke. “I got her a ring.”

“For Christmas?” Sirius asked, not quite getting the meaning of his friend’s words. “If you want my opinion of it, I don’t know that much about jewellery. You might want to ask Mia…”

“An engagement ring,” the werewolf specified.

“Oh. That sort of ring.” More silence. “When are you gonna ask her?”

“I have no idea. I didn’t even know I was going to do it in the first place until I went into Gringotts this morning to make a withdrawal and came out with my mother’s engagement in my pocket. This is mad!”

“No, it’s not. She’s your girlfriend, you live with her, you love her and she’s great. Sum that all together and you want to marry her. What’s mad in that?”

“I’m a werewolf – werewolves don’t get married,” Remus stated.

Sirius rolled his eyes. “Please tell me we’re not going down this road again, for Merlin’s sake. She doesn’t give a damn you’re a werewolf and there’s nothing in the law against them marrying. I checked.”

Remus was surprised for a moment. “You did?”

“Yeah. When I first noticed you went all gooey-eyed for Tonks, I got curious and asked Dumbledore about it. And if he knows it, so do you. Who cares if werewolves don’t usually get married? Neither do formerly escaped convicts and here I am with an eight-and-a-half-month pregnant wife.”

“Many people may care. This may get Dora into trouble at the ministry…”

“Then tell them to piss off. You’re freaking out, mate.”

“I know!” Remus said. Everything had seemed so simple when he’d picked up the ring from Gringotts: he loved Tonks, he wanted to stay with her forever. Marrying her would be just great. But as soon as he’d come out, the real world had hit him like a train.

“You don’t have to ask her today or tomorrow just because you’ve got the ring,” Sirius told him. “I had a ring for weeks before I decided to ask Mia. And I freaked out too – James got an earful out of it, believe me.” And even then, he hadn’t even been able to ask her because she had to go into hiding… “Anyway, my point is that it’s okay to freak out for a while. Just don’t over-think it. Everyone knows she lives with you, anyway – if Tonks had to get problems at the ministry, that would have already happened, don’t you think?”

Remus couldn’t counter that logic. And that made him calm down slightly. “So, you think it’s a good idea?”

Sirius grinned. “I think it’s a brilliant idea. Want my advice? Get her to the ministry and marry her just as soon as she accepts the proposal. Before you’ve got a chance to over-think it again, you know? I suppose I can work with a post-wedding bachelor party.”

“Here we go…” Remus said under his breath. “Last time you arranged a bachelor party, James spent the whole morning of his wedding day getting to know a toilet getting acknowledged with a toilet.”

He snorted at the memory. “I know. I should have probably watered down that firewhiskey… Amateur’s mistake. Won’t happen again.” There was a silent pause when the werewolf looked thoughtful. “She’ll probably ask you herself if you don’t,” Sirius pointed out. “Tonks is the type that isn’t afraid of taking matters into her own hands.”

“I know,” Remus admitted, letting out a sigh.

“You’ll be ready to pop the question when you’re done freaking out, mate,” Sirius assured him. Proud of his own advice, Sirius clapped his old friend’s back. “Now, since the ladies are downstairs already attacking desert, it's only logical that you guys stay over for dinner too. I suppose we start discussing the numbers for that bachelor party afterwards.”

“I’m not having a bachelor party,” Remus told him. “I’m not even engaged.”

Sirius rolled his eyes. “Yet. And it’s not like you have a choice, Moony. I’ll have the twins drugging you if I have to.”

“That’s illegal.”

“Only if we get caught,” he pointed nonchalantly as he headed out, whistling the tune of a wedding march, for his friend’s frustration.

In only all the problems in the world involved wedding proposals… 

A/N: As promised, a lighter chapter this week. Hope you all liked it. Now, i've got to go back to write the most boring school paper ever. Feedback is welcome, as always! Review!

Chapter 11: New Year
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Spending New Year’s Eve sitting on a sofa doing essentially nothing but being pregnant would have been boring for Mia Black if she hadn’t been right in the middle of a Weasley celebration at the Burrow. Honestly, she thought, who could have been bored with all the shouting, laughing and the million conversations that happened at the same time everywhere?

Between herself, Sirius and the kids, all the Weasleys (excluding Percy and Bill), Remus and Tonks, Lulu and Gabe and a handful of other people, which included dates and more friends of the family, the welcoming of the year of 1997 had had been one hell of a mess and Mia had loved every minute of it. She’d spent some enjoyable time talking to her friends, taught, along with Lulu, a Muggle card game they used to play when she was little to Arthur Weasley, and even had a chance to snog her husband when midnight sounded and the New Year started. By the time it was over and most people had already gone home, she was both delighted and exhausted.

“Maybe you should stay until the morning and rest a little,” a concerned Molly Weasley told Mia half an hour into the New Year as she stood in front of the Burrow’s fireplace, ready to go back home. “I just don’t think it’s safe for you to take the floo if you’re tired, dear.”

Mia smiled and shook her head. “I’m not that tired, Molly,” she lied, not very smoothly. “My back just hurts a little, which I suppose must be normal because of all this weight,” she told her, patting the large bump.

“It can’t be much longer, can it?” the redhead asked her.

“Elizabeth calculated the due date for next Saturday but we all know babies don’t usually care about that,” Mia pointed out.

“I was nearly two-weeks overdue when it was Ron’s turn,” Molly told her. “Lazy even to be born, that boy. Anyway, one day I just got up and said ‘young man, either you get out of there on your own will or I’ll have to make you!’ Less than a day later, he was born.”

Mia chuckled. “If this little one gets that far, maybe I’ll give your way a try,” she promised. “But there really is no need for me to stay, Molly. I’m perfectly alright. Besides, you’ll have your hands full with Harry and Izzy staying here tonight.”

Molly waved her hand dismissively. “Oh, you know they’re no trouble. Bill is in France with the Delacours – you and Sirius can perfectly take his room for one night. No need to risk a bad landing out of the fireplace – Merlin knows that wouldn’t be any good for the baby…”

“Sirius hasn’t let me floo anywhere alone for the past weeks, Molly. He’ll side with me as soon as he comes back,” Mia assured her. Sirius had headed home ahead of her with little Alex so he could put their sleeping son to bed before coming back to get her. She might have complained about that side-flooing arrangement a few months before but, honestly, nowadays magical transportation in general made her a bit nervous since it wasn’t infrequent for people to end up sprawled on the floor after a missed landing – not a good idea with a bump as big as hers. “You know how protective he gets of the baby.”

Molly sighed but nodded. “Ah, well, if you’re sure…” she said in defeat. “Just promise me you’ll send a Patronus back as soon as you arrive. It would give me a little peace of mind knowing you’d gotten home safely.”

“I promise, Molly,” Mia told her with a smile just as the sound of vibrant shouts coming from the outside increased, followed by a bunch of high, mocking voices.

“Oh, don’t tell me they’re still not done with that blasted snowball fight,” the redheaded woman said, shaking her head as she made her way closer to the kitchen’s window, followed by Mia. “It’s past midnight, for Merlin’s sake!”

“It’s New Year’s, Molly. They’re having fun,” Mia replied with a smile.

Looking out the window, she saw Harry and Ron reconstructing a partly ruined snow fort as, several feet opposite them, Charlie Weasley and one of the twins hurriedly made snowballs, dropping them on a large pile by their side. Izzy and Ginny weren’t far away, the first hiding behind a tree covering from attacks and the other carefully moving towards her older brothers, clearly planning to ambush them. Mia imagined Harry, Ron, Ginny and Izzy were forming a team against Charlie and the twins, though one of them was still missing.

At some point, Ron grabbed a handful of snow and made it into a ball, throwing it tamely at his brothers, who laughed at the attempt, which revealed itself as a distraction when Ginny literally jumped on top of them. At the same time, the missing twin – Mia has no idea if he was Fred or George – showed up behind Izzy out of nowhere and grabbed her by the waist, lifting her from the floor and bringing her to the centre of the battlefield to use her as a shield. Izzy didn’t remain passive, though, letting out a scream and kicking and elbowing her kidnapper.

Huffing, Molly opened the window, letting out a breeze of freezing winter air, and poked her head out as Mia let out a laugh. “George, you put that girl down right now! You’re twice her size – you’ll hurt her!”

“No, I won’t, Mom – she’s a light-weight. One barely needs to use force to lift he…”

A successfully placed elbow in the ribs and a head-blow against his chin had him biting his own tongue and shouting a string of profanities out loud, which had Izzy grinning triumphantly and asking ‘who’s the light-weight now?’, though the older boy still didn’t drop her.

If I ever hear those words come out of your mouth again, George Fabian Weasley, I’ll jinx your tongue together with the roof of your mouth!” Molly yelled furiously before turning to Ginny, who was busy pinning Fred on the ground, over what used to be her older brothers’ fort, and yelling at him to forfeit as Charlie struggled to escape the snowballs thrown by Harry and Ron.

“What did I miss?” Sirius’s voice came from behind Mia, who hadn’t even noticed him flooing over.

“The snowball fight has just turned into a vicious battle,” Mia whispered with a smile as he wrapped one arm around her back, standing by her side.

“Well, look at that,” he said in amusement. He reached for the window and gave his best to make himself sound angry as he shouted outside. “Hey, Weasley! Whose daughter do you think you’re using as a shield?! I ought to go out there and kick your arse!”

Instead of George, who was too busy avoiding Izzy’s kicks, Charlie was the one replying for his brother. “All’s fair in war, Sirius!” And following that thought, he reached for his wand and pointed at a tree behind Harry and Ron, causing all the snow that had been piled on the branches to fall on top of the two boys, catching them by surprise.

“Hey!” Harry yelled as he dug himself out of the snow pile. “That’s cheating!”

“Yeah! We’re underage – we can’t use magic!” Ron agreed.

Charlie snorted. “Too bad! You guys had an extra team-member!”

Ginny, unsatisfied by her brother’s reasons, used Charlie’s distraction to pull the back of his winter cloak, creating a gap between his clothes and his skin, and shoved a handful of snow down his back which had him jumping at the cold and cursing her very existence.

Fuming, Molly Weasley yelled at them. “Alright, everyone inside and to bed! Now! I can’t believe I have raised a bunch of savages!”

Outside, both teams groaned and unsuccessfully tried to change the matriarch’s mind. They ended up promising a rematch for the following morning when they concluded they wouldn’t be successful and had to break the fight up temporarily.

“Your hair is all covered with snow,” Ginny said with a laugh as she approached her boyfriend on their way into the house.

Harry grunted. “I know. It’s melting all over my neck,” he mumbled with a shiver, trying to get it out.

“Head down,” she ordered in order to help him get the snow off and then using the Gryffindor scarf around his neck to dry it a little. “There. We’ll get them back for that tomorrow,” she promised him before they walked arm in arm into the warmness of the Burrow.

“Lil’ minx almost had me hacking half my tongue out,” George was complaining, mock-glaring at Izzy as Harry and Ginny closed the door behind them.

Sirius proudly rested a hand on his daughter’s shoulder and grinned. “That’s my girl. Give ‘em a fight,” he told his daughter as Molly left the kitchen, hurrying Charlie into the nearest bathroom to help him dry the melting snow all over his back. “You know, next time you guys make a snowball fight and I’m around, I want in,” he informed them all.

“Fine by us,” Fred told him. “We’d never refuse a chance to have a Marauder in our team.”

“You mean our team,” Ginny corrected. “He’s Izzy’s dad and Harry’s godfather, which naturally would give us the first call.”

“Except you guys already have four members,” George pointed out.

“Well, you can keep Ron if you want to,” she stated.

Her brother was caught by surprise. “Hey! Why me?!”

“Because you’re the oldest of our side and, honestly, because our team doesn’t care for guys with lame nicknames such as Won-Won and annoying girlfriends,” his sister spat back. “It’s a matter of principle.”

Mia chuckled. “Well, I guess we’ll just leave you to fight over Sirius and tell us the results later. We were just heading home.”

“Oh, right now?” Harry asked.

“It will be one in the morning in twenty minutes,” Mia told her, rubbing her stomach. “The baby needs a little rest, I reckon.”

Bidding them goodnight, Izzy took a step to approach her parents, pressed a kiss to each of their cheeks and wished them a Happy New Year and Harry did the same, though he replaced the kisses with a couple of more boyish hugs.

After a bunch of warnings to behave directed to their kids and a quick farewell with the Weasleys, Sirius stepped into the fireplace, his arms firmly circling his wife’s form in order to provide her with support, and the two flooed away, headed home. They successfully landed straight into the kitchen and only then he loosened his grip on Mia, picking her up from the floor instead and pressing a kiss to her lips. “Happy New Year,” he whispered as he took her up to their room.

“Hum, I was under the impression we’d already had our ‘Happy New Year’ kiss,” Mia pointed out, smiling. She would have protested about him carrying her but it felt so comfortable and she was so sick of walking…

“One can never have too many of these, can they?”

“I guess not,” she agreed. “Is Alex all tucked in? Did he wake up when you brought him?”

“Yes, he’s tucked in, and no, he didn’t wake up. That kid sleeps like the dead – didn’t even notice when I changed him into his pyjamas,” Sirius informed her, entering their room. “And now, I’ll change his Mummy into her nightgown and I’ll tuck her into bed. How about that?”

“Doesn’t sound all that bad,” she agreed as he sat her down on the edge of their bed. “This is gonna be a rough year, isn’t it?”

Yes, it will be, Sirius thought. Everything seemed to be pointing that way. “All years are rough,” he offered, looking down as he helped her out of her shoes. As his mind came up with a silver lining, he looked up and gave her a smile. “We sure will have our hands full between the nappies and the sleepless nights, hum?” As he motioned to stand, he pressed his lips to her belly softly.

The corners of her mouth curled and, for a moment, he was sure he had succeeded in getting her mind off the dark thoughts. “Two teenagers, a toddler and a newborn,” she said. “That’s going to be quite a challenging ride.”

“I always liked a good challenge. I’m sure I’ll especially like this one.”

She smiled even more widely. “Yeah, me too.” And minutes later, when they lay together in bed and the lights were turned off, Mia slept peacefully with no sign of the other, darker, challenges that were ahead of them.

---

She woke up suddenly at half past three in the morning, probably in the most uncomfortable way possible. Through the shock of gaining complete consciousness so abruptly, she noted that her lower back felt as if somebody was breaking it as did her abdomen. It didn’t take her more than a second to realize she was having a contraction – a ridiculously painful and long one. “Crap,” she managed to gasp through her teeth before it started to subside several seconds later and let herself take a long, deep breath.

It had been unbelievably strong, considering she’d just started feeling the labour pains – could she have slept through the whole first part of it? No, of course not. She wasn’t such a heavy sleeper. It was happening fast, that was the only explanation. And she wasn’t sure if she should feel relieved or nervous about it…

Glancing at the Sirius’s form in the bed, she felt her head boiling with anger. He’d slept through the whole thing! “Bastard,” Mia hissed bitterly. How unfair was that? She was right there, still catching her breath from one hell of a contraction caused by the impending birth of his kid and the guy was just lying by her side, enjoying the delights of calm, careless sleep. Well, if she’d gotten a rude awakening, so was he, she decided, shoving her elbow into his ribs so hard that he nearly rolled out of bed with the shock. Mia imagined, in spiteful delight, that in whatever dream he’d been having, her husband had all of a sudden been ran over by the Hogwarts Express or a herd of centaurs.

Sirius’s eyes were startled when he came awake, suddenly looking everywhere, completely confused. “Wha… what the… where’s the attack?” He looked at his wife and saw her glaring, which only confused him further. “What?”

She didn’t let herself soften up by the label of ‘cute’ that she gave to his confusion in the back of her mind, keeping the glare intact. “There’s no attack, you idiot!”

“Then what? It’s three-something in the morning,” he mumbled, still not quite alert.

“What do you think?! I’m in labour!” she snapped.

“In… oooh,” he mumbled, realization dawning. Then, his face lit up slightly. “The baby’s coming.”

“What are you smiling ab…” She suddenly pursed her lips and her whole face tensed, her hand grasping the bed sheets as another contraction hit her. She felt the bed moving and, before she knew it, Sirius was sitting on the edge of her side of the bed, one arm around her back as he pulled her against him for comfort and his hand in hers so she could grasp it. It didn’t help much with the uncomfortable pain but it did ease her nerves and her temper a bit. When she let out another relieved breath, afterwards, he was shoving his pillow behind her back and looking at her in concern.

“You okay?” he asked her, his face half-buried in her hair.

“Been better,” Mia replied, not letting go of his hand. “Get Elizabeth here, okay? Tell her to hurry because I don’t think this baby is going to make us wait very long. It’s coming fast.”

“How fast?” he asked nervously.

“Fast,” she repeated.

He really didn’t want to leave her side for a single second in an occasion like that – he wanted to make sure she was alright – but he just couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact that she might end up having the kid without Elizabeth there to help. “Okay. I’ll go downstairs and floo her.” He didn’t even remember he could simply send her a Patronus from right where he stood…

“And cast an imperturbable charm around Alex’s room. I don’t want him to wake up with me screaming bloody murder.”

“But will you be okay here by yourself? I can call out for Kreacher…”

Mia shook her head. “No need. Just don’t take long and get your arse back here as soon as you’re done,” she added firmly as he was about to get up. “Hey,” she called him back before he had a chance to actually do it. “Whatever I say from now on, remember that I’ll probably love you again by the time this is all over.”

He smiled and couldn’t resist having his lips touching hers in a very soft kiss. “I know.” Then, he pressed another kiss to her forehead. “I’ll be right back, love. If you think the baby’s about to come out…”

“I’ll use all the insults I can remember,” she tried to joke.

“Yeah, you do that,” he mumbled.

And as he hurried out of the room, Mia’s hand softly caressed her belly and she let out a sigh, followed by a smile. That baby was about to get out of her. Thank Merlin, she thought. Another week feeling like an enormous walrus and she’d have sold herself to the nearest zoo for a bargain. A new year followed by a new baby – she should have known. Blacks did have a tendency to make grand entrances into the world right around special occasions: Izzy a few days before Christmas, Alex in the eve of hers and Sirius’s birthday and baby number three in New Year’s Day. “Be a good baby and come out just easily, okay? Mommy’s tired.”

The answer was another contraction and she groaned, not sure of how to interpret it. A temper, she thought. Typical…

---

“You were in a hurry, weren’t you, little one?” Sirius asked in a whisper as he rocked the tiny blanket-wrapped form, pacing along the hall right outside his and Mia’s room. “Gave Mommy and Daddy quite a jolt.”

The baby let out a little whimper but didn’t start crying, instead opening those sleepy newborn blue eyes to look up at Sirius, making him smile. He might have been kicked out of the room by Elizabeth so she and her trainee (Melanie? Mabel? He just couldn’t remember the girl’s name) could help Mia ‘freshen up’, but at least they’d let him come out in good company. His heart had one more owner now – that tiny little bundle of joy, so soft and warm that it seemed to melt in his arms. A hundred times worth the wait, he thought with a proud grin.

A miniature arm managed to sneak out of the yellow blanket, revealing the soft white bodysuit the trainee had dressed the baby with, and flung itself against the air above before Sirius got a hold of it, admiring how little the hand seemed. Poor thing – the baby had looked rather stunned right after being born so fast. The little one had waited a couple of seconds to figure out what the heck had just happened before showing him and Mia what a great pair of lungs it owned by wailing like there was no tomorrow. His soul had shaken all over at that sound, pride and elation running through his veins.

When she opened the room’s door and poked her head out, Elizabeth Harper smiled at the picture in front of her. She could never accuse that guy of not loving his children. The look in his eyes right then was of pure adoration. “Hey, you with the kid,” she called Sirius. “Mia’s demanding the baby back, since she was the one who had to go through those very painful three hours of labour.”

“She wasn’t the only one who was in pain – she actually broke my hand this time!” he replied in a soft tone, trying not to startle the newborn, who he kept observing with delight.

The healer laughed. “Yeah, and you didn’t notice until I told you so – hopefully she won’t remember any of this and conclude that you’ve clearly numbed your hand… again.”

He looked up in alarm. “Shh, Harper! Mia may hear you!” Sirius warned her, walking his way into the room as the blonde chuckled at his terror. “Sadist,” he hissed at her.

“Yes. I live to give you grief,” she replied sarcastically.

When the bed came into his view, Mia was lying in it, smiling tiredly as she saw him arriving with their baby. “Can I hold my daughter now or will you simply monopolize her for the rest of her life?” she asked, forcing an annoyed look onto her face.

He smiled as he sat on the edge of their bed. “I think I’m hooked for life all over again.” There was that little girl, barely half-an-hour old, and he knew he could die for her. He could kill for her. He wanted her to be around forever. “This one will never… ever date.”

“That’s what you used to say about Izzy when you learned about her,” Mia pointed out as her husband passed her the baby. She looked down at her daughter and, once again, counted the little girl’s fingers just to make sure she’d been right the first time and there were actually five on each hand… It seemed unreal that the baby she’d carried round for nine months was right there in her arms – even more unreal that that had been the baby she’d feared having lost because of that battle at the Department of Mysteries. Miracle or not, now she had a perfectly healthy baby in her arms.

“Well, Izzy already owned a wand when we met,” he said. “As much as I love her, I have a feeling that one possesses a hidden nerve that would allow her to hex me, her beloved father, if I pushed the wrong buttons…”

Elizabeth joined in and snorted. “Well, she’s your daughter – it’s only natural Izzy may have inherited part of your lack of respect,” the healer told him with a pointed glare, continuing before he had a chance to spit back some answer. “Well, I’ll leave you guys alone for a moment to enjoy your daughter. I need to take Mabel to the fireplace so she can go home and to make a floo call or two…”

“I’ll give you the lack of respect…” he mumbled as the healer shook her head and exited the room along with her trainee, leaving the two of them alone with the baby. “She’s all annoyed at me because I nearly walked in on her with some bloke. It’s not my fault she wouldn’t answer the call and I had to physically floo her home… it was an emergency. I had no idea her father had taken her kids to his place so she could have her 'date'.”

Mia looked interested. “Did you see who it was?”

He shook his head. “I didn’t actually enter the room… Though I think his voice sounded familiar. Can’t place it, though…”

“It wasn’t Ludo Bagman was it?” his wife asked, recalling that it wouldn’t be the first time her friend ended up in bed with her ex husband.

“I don’t think so…” He shrugged. “You know what? Let’s quit talking about Elizabeth’s… ‘adventures’. It will corrupt our little Mary.”

Mia looked at him in surprise. “Mary?”

“Well, you said I would be the one to pick her name. It took me a while, but I settled with Mary. After one of my favourite women in the world and probably also one of the first I’ve ever loved.”

She gave him a doubtful look – hadn’t the guy been telling her for years she’d been the first he’d ever loved. “Is there something I should know about?” she asked stiffly.

Sirius grinned. “Don’t get all jealous, woman. I meant Judy Potter, James’s mother. She was as good as mine too.” He sighed thoughtfully. “Hell of a woman, that one. Anyway, as Judith sounded kind of old-fashioned, I went for her middle name, which is always classic. Do you like it?”

Over the little burst of jealousy, she felt touched by his reasons. “I think I do. Mary Black has a nice ring on it.” Her daughter… Mary. Yes, it sounded perfect. She reached down and placed a kiss on the newborn’s forehead, making the baby shift slightly. “What about the middle name? Are you still sticking with Elizabeth?”

He frowned slightly. “Yeah, about that… I kind of changed my mind. Mary Elizabeth just makes her sound so… goody two shoes. Blacks are far from goody. What do you think of Mary Harper Black instead? It still counts as naming her after Elizabeth.”

“Merlin, you are a mess with the naming thing, aren’t you?” his wife asked in an amused tone.

“Yeah, I guess,” he admitted with a laugh. “Well, you’re the one who made me do it. And you still haven’t said if you liked it.”

“I love it, Sirius.” Carefully holding the baby with just one arm, Mia used her other hand to cup his face before reaching to kiss him. “I love you. And our babies: every single one of them. I’m just so happy right now.”

He chuckled. “Join the club, love,” he told her. “And now that we’ve named this little princess, what about her godparents? We didn’t really speak of that before.”

“No, we didn’t. But why do I feel like you already have a couple of candidates in mind?”

He grinned, stretching by her side on the bed so he was lying down too. “Which couple that we know and love is in need of a push to get themselves into a deeper stage of commitment?”

Mia sighed. “Remus and Tonks . You’ll never leave them alone, will you?”

“That’s exactly what makes me a great friend to them. Come on, nothing says ‘just go ahead and propose to her already’ like handing them a goddaughter to share,” he said, reaching to offer a finger for his little girl to grasp when she started whimpering for attention. “Plus Tonks will make a great godmother – Mary here will have the time of her life with her around and since Moony is Alex’s godfather too, he’ll tag along. Free babysitting all around. What do you say?”

Mia sighed. “Well, Tonks is one of the few members of your family that I like and I suppose she’d be a positive influence around Mary…”

He sighed, looking proudly at the girl in question. “Our little girl’s a beautiful baby. Despite the wrinkling and the reddish colour, I mean. The kids are in for one hell of a surprise – bet they weren’t expecting to get a sister for New Year’s.”

“You should probably owl the Burrow telling them.”

Sirius shook his head, smirking. “Oh, I have a much better way planned to tell them.” He looked up to face her. “You look tired, love. Why don’t you sleep a little now and let Daddy handle the parenting for a while?”

She was about to deny that she was tired but the yawn that came out of her mouth gave her away. “Alright, maybe I could rest a little,” she offered, lying further down after Sirius carefully removed the baby from her arms. “Wake me up when Alex gets out of bed, will you?”

“Hum, hum,” he said, nodding.

“And don’t let Mary get cold,” Mia added, full of motherly worry. “Keep the blanket around her.”

“Don’t worry, Mommy,” he said, tightening the blanket around the little girl just in case. It occurred to him how amazing it was that less than five years before, he’d been a desperate bloke running away from prison hoping, only hoping, that the woman he loved had waited for him. Now, there he was with her lying by his side, holding his newborn child for the second time in his life. “It’s great having a family, you know, Mary?”

The baby yawned, relaxing against her father’s arms and drifting slowly to sleep as her mother had, oblivious to what he’s said.

He wished he could be that innocent and careless and not know how messed up the world they lived in was. Maybe it wouldn’t be so messed up by the time Mary was old enough to walk. Maybe she and Alex would grow in a peaceful world. Certainly, if he needed another reason to fight for it, he was holding her right now. He couldn’t really complain, Sirius concluded – he had more than enough reasons to fight and to hope, he had complete trust in the boy in whose hands the fate of the world rested on and, all in all, he was a pretty happy bloke.

And with that thought in his mind, Sirius black watched his newborn daughter sleep with a smile on his face. 

A/N: So, after around eleven chapters of pregnancy, the youngest Black makes an entrance into the world. Hope you all liked it! Feedback is welcome. Review!

Chapter 12: Home
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The beach was nearly deserted around him and the only sound that could be heard beside the waves crashing on the sand was the soft murmur of children’s laughter somewhere in the distance.

Sirius grinned as he rested stretched on the sand, wearing a faded black pair of swim shorts. He could probably live like that forever – with his family in that calm, warm world under the bright sun and right by the water. Yes, that would be one hell of a life: Izzy would be far way from boys, Harry would be far away from trouble, Alex could run around on the beach as much as he wanted, his little Mary… well, she’d have to wait a few more months before enjoying a relocation to the beach-side home. As for him… well, that’s wasn’t a hard one to guess.

As if an answer to the thought in his mind, he felt the touch of warm, satin-like skin against his own. He didn’t need to move his face an inch in order to know what it was – who it was. His body had been built to recognize Mia’s for a long time.

“Knut for your thoughts,” she whispered playfully into his ear before shifting her body so, while she was kneeling in front of him, her legs would straddle his outstretched ones.

His breath caught for a second as he watched her right in front of him in wonder. Her dark brown hair came tumbling in soft waves against her pale skin and, under the loose white dress flowing with the wind, her curves were soft against her firm – impossibly firm for someone who’d had a baby so recently, though he wouldn’t think of it until later – body. “How about you keep the knut and I take the rest for myself?” he asked her suggestively as his hands gripped her hips gently.

Mia smiled, the brown of her eyes sparkling as it met his grey ones. “You can take anything you want,” she replied, reaching to press her lips fervently against his.

He let himself fall until his back was resting against the sand, bringing her down with him so her body was fully covering his. Sirius’s hands roamed up and down her sides as his lips kept moving against hers passionately, like he’d been starving for her for months – it felt like years, actually.

Just as he was about to reach for the zipper of her dress, an odd sensation of suddenly being shaken awake took him over. What the hell? He thought, pulling his lips away from Mia’s. Was that an earthquake? No, Mia didn’t seem to have felt that at all…

As the feeling persisted, the sensation of his wife’s body over his began to weaken and she started to fade in front of him. In fact, the whole picture of the beach and the shinning sun begun to fade away, only to be replaced by his and Mia’s darkened room, making him groan.

He’d been dreaming. Of course he had. Unless he’d somehow managed to get himself on some tropical island all of a sudden, sunny beaches would be impossible to find anywhere within apparating range on New Year’s Day, not to mention that Mia had just had a baby – no shagging for Daddy during the following six weeks, he thought dramatically. Such an interesting, delightful dream… he and imaginary-Mia had been so close to heaven… Why did it have to be over? Why?

When he noticed the one responsible for that unfortunate awakening standing right opposite him, Sirius turned on his best – or was it worst? – glare, shooting daggers at the blasted living thing. It had to have been Kreacher, obviously…

“I am going… to kill you,” Sirius murmured through his teeth, noting from the corner of his eye that the alarm clock indicated it was 9 in the morning. He’d slept little more than two hours, totalling around five if he counted the ones he’d slept before Mia had gone to labour.

The house-elf seemed to be pretty immune to his intimidation as it was common sense that, these days, Sirius’s nearly inexistent threats to him were never really meant. Most of the time, they merely acted rudely to fill in the role of each other’s adversary – it was a matter of habit, after all. “Young Master Alex be awake,” Kreacher informed him simply. “Master ask Kreacher to warn.”

Seeing there had been a valid reason for having been woken up didn’t soften Sirius’s temper much – deep down, he believed the little bastard had been somehow watching his dream, only to wake him up exactly in the worst moment. “Fine, I’ll go take care of him,” he murmured irritably before glancing over his shoulder.

Real-world-Mia was peacefully asleep on her side of the bed, right next to the bassinet that he knew to contain their two-and-a-half-hour-old baby girl. It occurred to Sirius, as he motioned to get up from the bed, that having… hot dreams Mia while their newborn daughter was in the room felt sort of unholy. You really are a shameless pig, aren’t you, Black? he thought for a moment before forcing himself to simply forget that matter.

When he turned to Kreacher again, planning to warn him out of making noise on his way out, Sirius saw that the house-elf was already gone. How the hell had he left without him noticing? “Freaky bastard,” he mumbled under his breath as he stood up and reached for his black robe before circling the bed in order to go check on Mary.

As he moved to stand right next to the bassinet, he saw his baby daughter sleeping peacefully in it, dressed in a warm footie pyjamas, with her little arms raised up over her head. That lovely picture had him smiling widely immediately. She just looked so tiny, so perfect and he really, really felt like picking her up and just holding her for hours. But he didn’t – waking up the baby would probably not be a very good idea at that moment, not to mention that he had a little boy in the room right next to that one waiting for him to show up and to tell him that, as of a few hours ago, he had a baby sister.

Softly, he brushed his thumb against his daughter’s unbelievably small curled fist, giving her a final smile as he turned his attention to her mother. Mia was also asleep, likely still exhausted from the labour even though it had happened surprisingly fast. Moving the bassinet carefully so he could reach Mia, he pressed a soft kiss to his wife’s forehead, which had her mumbling his name under her breath and shift her head in her sleep so it was slightly facing his side of the bed just as he walked out feeling in a pretty great mood.

As he stepped into his son’s room, Sirius quickly concluded that Alex’s mood was more to the daring side that morning, as he stood up in his cot, apparently getting ready to try to climb out of the rail, his face with a very concentrated expression on it.

“Ah, not so fast, you little monster,” Sirius said, mock-glaring at his son. “You know the rules mate: just because Daddy broke out of a big bad prison, doesn’t mean you’re allowed to do the same with your cot. Little rebel.”

“Shwaffas fall,” the little boy said, pointing sadly at his favourite toy, the black stuffed dog that mimicked his father’s animagus form. “Gimme, Daddy.”

So that was why the kid was trying to escape, Sirius thought, picking up the toy from the floor and offering it back to his son, who grinned as he accepted it. “Bet you wish you could make a summoning charm, hum?” His son seemed confused at the meaning of ‘summoning’. Then again, the kid was still far from being able to do magic. Even the accidental kind rarely happened before a child turned three years old.

Suddenly forgetting his own confusion, Alex looked around. “Whew’s Mama?” he asked. She usually always came with his father what it was time for him to get up

“Mummy’s asleep, mate,” Sirius said, lifting Alex to let him out of the cot. “Guess what, mate? You’re a big brother now.”

“Baby home?” the little boy asked, receiving a nod from his father in return. He’d learned, from the bed stories that Sirius and Mia had been reading to him lately, to relate the idea of being a big brother to the arrival of the new baby. “Whew?”

“She’s sleeping like Mummy,” he told Alex. “She’s a girl, you know? Your little sister. Her name is Mary.”

“Sissy Mawy?” he asked, curious.”Baby!”

Sirius nodded. “That’s right, mate. Do you wanna go and see her?”

The little boy nodded eagerly. “Wanna see baby, Daddy.”

His father grinned proudly, carrying Alex out of the room. “Then see her, we will. But you have to be really quiet, okay? Mummy’s tired and she needs to sleep a little longer.” He lifted his index finger to cover his lips. “No noise.”

Alex mimicked his father, covering lips with the same finger and blowing a quiet ‘shhhh’, which let his father know he’d understood.

“That’s my boy,” Sirius proudly said before reaching up to ruffle his son’s head, making him giggle and then, once again, lifting the finger to remind him of the silence-rule.

He quietly opened up the door of the bedroom and stepped in with Alex, closing it behind him. When they approached the bassinet, Sirius immediately saw his son’s grey eyes looking down at that oddly perfect little creature sleeping in it – Mary hadn’t moved an inch since he’d last seen her – hopefully, he thought, she’d keep on sleeping like a rock for the rest of her baby-hood.

“Tiny,” he heard Alex whispering to him like it was a big secret, though he didn’t seem very impressed. She looked sort of boring in the little boy’s book, clearly too small to be fun, while a little part of him did feel curious about her. Holding his beloved stuffed dog with his left hand, Alex outstretched his right arm towards the baby, though he was certainly too far away to reach her.

With a sigh, Sirius convinced himself one little touch wouldn’t wake Mary up. “Careful, mate,” Sirius warned his son. “Mary will be upset if she wakes up.” He leaned further closely to the baby and kept one of his hands holding Alex’s outstretched arm, not trusting that he’d be able to judge the amount of strength that ‘careful’ involved.

It lasted only a moment but it was enough to have Sirius grinning for the rest of the day: his son brushed his little hand against the baby girl’s cheek, making her twitch in her sleep but not wake up, and his lips formed an ‘o’ of surprise, which later shifted to a smile of approval.

“So, what do you think, Alex?” Sirius asked him after they exited the room.

“Baby soft. Smaw,” the little boy replied in all seriousness a toddler could have.

His father chuckled. “I’ll take that to mean ‘I like her’,” he decided, walking down the stairs, directed to the kitchen. “And since you like her and she’s your baby sister, Alex, you’re supposed to protect her from all the wankers that will be following her around in about a decade and a half when she turns out as pretty as your Mom.”

“Wanka?” Alex asked in confusion.

Sirius stopped walking, narrowing his eyes. He was trying not to use bad language, he really was, but sometimes he didn’t even notice the words leaving his mouth. “Honestly, kid, you’re killing me. Why is it that you always pick up the bad words?”

Alex laughed like that was really funny.

He cleared his throat and resumed walking, hoping that if he kept talking, the kid would just forget it. “Anyway, when you’re old enough, Daddy will teach you wicked hexes to keep the…” What suitable name should he call them? “…badly-intended young men miles away from her. Bet Harry would help us if we asked him.”

“Merlin, he does start corrupting the kid awfully early in the morning,” Tonks’s familiar voice sounded from the ground floor hallway, to his surprise, just as he was about to reach the last flight of stairs. The surprise faded moment later as he faintly recalled earlier sending them, as well as Lulu and Gabe, an owl telling them the baby had been born.

“Well, it’s Sirius, Dora. What do you expect?” Remus was asking as his best friend reached them, glaring, at the same time Kreacher disappeared with a ‘pop’ to the kitchen. “We hear congratulations are in order.”

“Double that because it’s a girl,” Tonks said in triumph, smirking at her boyfriend. “Which reminds me that you owe me… something from that wager we made a few months ago. You can pay me back at home.” That last part had Remus looking away in embarrassment.

Sirius’s earlier glare shifted into a smile and he chickled. “Do I want to know what you guys bet?”

“Probably,” she said, winking. “But I don’t think Remus here wants me to share that piece of information.” Her hair was blonde that day, with pink, purple and blue highlights on it and her colourful look seemed to reflect her very colourful mood. “We came as soon as we found your owl. How does she look like? Mary’s her name, isn’t it? At least she won’t have to spend her whole life hating you for it.”

“She looks beautiful,” Sirius said, proudly, ignoring her last sentence. “Like a little cute doll.”

“And she clearly already has you wrapped around her little finger at less than half a day old,” Remus added.

His friend sighed. “I know… But don’t worry, mate, give her a few more hours and she’ll have you two wrapped around it as well. After all, one’s got to know how to skim their godparents for all the spoiling they can get…”

Tonks looked confused. “Her godpa…” Then, realization covered her face and she smiled. “Remus and I? Really? I mean… I’ve got a goddaughter?”

“Assuming you accept the position, yes, you do,” Sirius confirmed, glad to see the delight all over his friend’s face. Remus, he noted, also seemed pleased from seeing Tonks that happy.

“But Mia’s friend. Elizabeth…”

“… was already honoured by having her last name as Mary’s middle name. Will you accept it or not, woman?”

Suddenly, without a warning, the metamorpagus walked up to him and wrapped her cousin and the toddler he happened to be holding in a tight hug. “Thank you! Just… thank you, Sirius!”

“Don’t thank me. This only means you’ll have extra babysitting duties,” Sirius joked as she pulled away.

She grinned in return. “I’ll take it gladly. Honestly, Sirius, this means a lot to me – I never had a goddaughter before!” Still delighted and feeling like she was about to start sounding mental, she picked up Alex from Sirius’s arms – talking to a toddler would give her a good excuse to sound mental. “Hello, handsome,” she greeted the little boy before he started blabbing happily as she began pacing around with him.

As Tonks entertained Alex, Sirius turned to his old friend with a smirk. “You realize that having two of my children as godkids gives you the duty of giving me at least one at some point,” he said in a tone so low only Remus could hear. “I don’t care if it’s your first, second or eleventh child, but you, Moony, owe me and Mia a godchild. By the way, if I could pick the mother,” he pointed at Tonks, “I’d pick that one.”

Remus rolled his eyes. “You were planning to use that argument for a while, weren’t you?”

“Clearly,” he confirmed, patting his friend’s shoulder. “I had this other thing about morally wanting all my children’s godparents to be married to each other but then I remembered you are also Alex’s godfather with Elizabeth and, well, as polygamy is sort of illegal…”

“Well, how very thoughtful of you to take that under consideration.”

“Oh, yes, I’m widely known for my thoughtfulness. So… have you asked her yet? New year’s is always a good occasion.”

“No, not yet.”

“Why not?”

“Because… just because. Now shut up,” Remus told him just as Tonks was re-joining them, now with Alex on the floor, holding her hand as he toddled his way to them.

“So, when do we get to see that baby, anyway?” she asked eagerly. “Alex here says Mary is ‘tiny and soft’. And speaking of what he said, he also muttered a word that sounded awfully like wan…”

“No, don’t say it out loud! I’m hoping he’ll forget that one before Mia hears it,” Sirius told her quickly before clearing his throat and changing the subject as Remus gave him a confused look. “Anyway, Mia and the baby are still asleep right now but I don’t think it will be long before they’re awake. Newborns get hungry often,” Sirius explained. “But anyway, come along – Alex and I were heading for breakfast now. I’m sure Kreacher will manage to get you some bacon as well while we wait.”

“We’ve already had breakfast before we came here,” Remus pointed out.

“Yes, and it was awful because I was the one cooking it,” Tonks said, rolling her eyes. “I’m a train-wreck in the kitchen – salted the eggs three times and then burned them because I got distracted, as if they weren’t bad enough already.” She looked up at Remus. “What on earth were you thinking to even let me try cooking? I could have set the flat on fire!”

“First, because I have faith one day you’ll be able to cook slightly decently, second because you’re an auror and I’m sure you know how to put out a fire if it was necessary,” he replied, diplomatically.

She snorted. “Maybe you’re right about the second part but I‘d lose my hopes on the first one if I were you, Remus.” She reached down, picking Alex up from the floor. “When you’re done gossiping like old ladies or whatever it is you grown up males usually talk about, please join me down at the kitchen.” And with that, she headed down the stairs, enjoying another silly chat with Alex.

“You know, crappy cook or not, you’ll be an idiot if you don’t ever ask her to marry you,” Sirius pointed out.

“Padfoot…”

He rose up his arms in defeat. “Just saying, mate. But you still owe me a godchild.”

And, grinning, he went down the stairs after Tonks while his friend remained behind, huffing. He really needed to ask her.


---

It was past lunch-time when Izzy and Harry made it back home from the Burrow, flooing into Grimmauld Place’s empty kitchen, battered, exhausted and amused to the bone.

The re-match of the snowball fight had been even more vicious than the first, involving chases across the Weasley’s yard (which had resulted in Izzy falling face-first on the snow once, sending everyone in a fit of laughter), fake kidnappings followed by fake ransoms or rescue missions and massive snow forts. It occurred to them that maybe they were dramatizing the whole snow war a little too much mostly because, once again, Mrs. Weasley had stopped them before they were able to finish and declare a winner.

“Thank Merlin it doesn’t snow every day of the year,” Harry said, roaming near the kitchen counter, trying to get his hands on one of those cookies Kreacher always kept around for Alex. “We’d get ourselves killed in a couple of months if the snowball fights kept happening.” And yet, he wished they did. It was unreal how he could just forget everything bad when he was having that much fun with his friends. “So… wanna go back there later and convince the others to do it again tomorrow?”

“What, for you and Ginny to get yourselves snogging behind the snow fort instead of having my back when I was trying to help Ron escape? I’ll have a snowball-shaped bruise on my back because of it – Charlie’s a bloody brute.”

“We’ve already said we were sorry…” though they hadn’t meant it in the slightest. “You were supposed to give us a signal.”

“I gave you a signal! What do you think the waving was about? Physical exercise?” she replied just as steps sounded down the stairs and Sirius showed up by the door.

“Ah, there you are. I thought I’d heard noises down here,” he said, raising an eyebrow at them. “What are you fighting about?”

“Snowball war,” Harry said.

“Oh, who won this time?”

“Nobody,” Izzy said. “Mrs. Weasley hauled us all in to peel potatoes for lunch before we had a chance to finish.”

“But I’m pretty sure our team was farther ahead,” Harry pointed out.

Sirius snorted. “Well, there’s always next winter, kids.”

Izzy chuckled. “Fred and George are planning to make a tradition out of this snowball fight thing – say they can’t wait until we’re all allowed to use magic outside of school.”

“I bet Molly will love it,” he observed sarcastically.

“They’ll never hear the end of it. Anyway, where’s Mom?”

“Upstairs in the room,” he informed her. “Actually, now that you mention her, we’ve been waiting for you two to arrive so we could give you your… New Year’s gift.”

Harry furrowed his brows. “Now we get presents in New Year’s as well as Christmas? That’s a new one.”

His godfather snorted. “Let’s just say we weren’t really sure of when it would arrive, so you can consider it a late Christmas present. Not to mention that you two will have to share it with the rest of us at home.” With an interior snicker, Sirius made a wager against himself, trying to guess whether they’d figure out he was talking about the baby in the next couple of minutes or if he’d get a chance to lead them on a little longer.

“What is it, Dad?” Izzy asked.

“You’ll just have to wait and see, Izzybel. But first, I need to enlighten you about the responsibilities that come along with this… little – and I literally mean little – present: whenever you’re around it, you’ll be in charge of playing with it when it gets big enough to enjoy it, helping when it gets noisy and, well, cleaning its messes. In fact, that last part will be yours exclusive.”

His daughter’s eyes opened wide and, for a moment, he thought she’d figured it out. In less than one minute, he thought proudly. His daughter was a smarty-pants. “Daddy…” she started, “did you… did you get us a dog?”

Or maybe not… Apparently, the game was still on. “Love, there’s only a place for one dog in this house and that dog happens to be me.”

“An animagus doesn’t count,” Harry stated.

“I say it does, kid. Besides,” he said, planning to be blunt. “It would be a handful taking care of a dog with the new baby coming.” Now, he was just daring them to put the pieces together.

There was a silent pause, during which both Izzy and Harry looked thoughtful. “A cat, then? They’re a lot more independent,” Harry inquired tentatively.

He rolled his eyes. “What would we want a cat for? We’re dog people at this house.”

“Then what?” his godson asked, intrigued. “It sure sounds like a living thing. Maybe a hamster?”

“I don’t think hamsters are noisy,” Izzy pointed out. “Let’s see: it’s little, it will like to play at some point and it’s messy and noisy.”

Harry chuckled. “Kind of sounds like Alex when he was a ba… oh. The baby.”

“Finally! You were starting to get me worried, you know?” he told them

Izzy’s face was like Christmas had just happened all over again. “Mom really had the baby? When? Is it a boy or a girl?”

“Yes, she had a baby. It happened last night and as for the gender… well, it’s actually a boy but we named him Mary and plan to raise him as a girl, since you wanted a baby sister so much, Izzybel.”

“I know you’re lying, Daddy,” she said, her voice taking a warning tone.

He gave her a mock-hurt look. “I am not. Not completely, at least. I assure you the baby’s name is Mary and that we intend to raise her as a girl, Izzybel.”

Her lips curled widely. “So it is a girl.” She turned to Harry and gave him a ‘Suck it! I was right!’ look, settling their constant gender discussion for good before turning back to her father. “Can we go see her now? Please?”

“Sure. Just don’t make too much noise – Alex is having his nap.” And while he’d barely just finished the last word, she was already making her way upstairs, leaving him and Harry behind, staring.

“They just go mental when there are babies around, don’t they?” his godson muttered, thoughtfully. “Girls, I mean.”

Sirius nodded. “Usually, yeah.” But then again, so did he…

By the time they reached the room, Izzy was already sitting on the edge of her parent’s bed, cooing the baby on her mother’s arms as little Alex slept, obliviously cuddled against Mia’s side. Harry approached to take a look at the little girl too, who stared back at him and Izzy, probably trying to figure out who the heck they were.

The matter was settled less than a minute later when little Mary let out a yawn and closed her eyes, drifting off to sleep easily as she gripped the index finger Harry had offered her to hold.

“She’s so cute, Mom,” Izzy was saying.

Sirius chuckled. “Let’s see how cute you find her when you and Harry are changing her nappies, Izzybel.”

Both teenagers turned their faces to him in a flash.

“Changing her nappies?” Harry asked in alarm, carefully removing his finger from his baby sister’s grasp.

“What, you thought I was kidding earlier when I said you two were supposed to always clean her messes whenever you were around?”

Mia quickly joined into the joke. “Sweeties, you got off the hook last time with Alex because, well, there was the triwizard tournament and the school was a mess. A little diaper changing doesn’t kill anyone.”

“But… but I…” Harry tried to find an excuse. Yes, Mary seemed like a sweet baby and he already had a soft spot for her but changing her nappies… no, that was just weird. He needed an excuse to pass that. “I’ve got NEWTs next year. I need to study… a lot if I ever want to be an Auror. Just ask Hermione – she says it’s vital I start doing it right now. I guess that leaves me no time for changing nappies.”

“And I’ve got OWLs this year,” she said, mentally thanking Harry for that save. “In less than six months, actually. It’s not that I don’t want to…”

“I’m sure you’ll be able to fit it in your busy schedules if you, for example, take turns at it,” Mia suggested, turning to Sirius, who seemed to be fighting hard not to burst into laughter as he leaned against the doorway. If she’d had any doubt before he was joking, now it was gone. “Don’t you think I’m right, Sirius?”

“Absolutely,” he managed to agree.

Suddenly, Harry stood up from where he’s been sitting on the bed. “I should go floo the Weasleys and tell them about the baby. You know, before I… go study.”

Izzy nodded and stood up as well. “I’ll help you with that.” And, like a flash, the two of them disappeared from the room.

“We’ll call you over when she needs a change!” Sirius shouted into the corridor as they seemingly ran for their lives and then, finally, allowed himself to snort, though he was careful not to do it too loud and wake the children. “Hum, isn’t it amazing how fast they run when faced with nappies?”

“That was a good one,” Mia offered with a smile as she supported the sleeping Mary in one arm in order to pull the covers further onto Alex. “When are you going to tell them you were kidding?”

He shrugged. “I’ll let them stew for a while. Who knows, maybe they’ll end up actually doing it.”

“Who knows,” Mia mumbled, looking down at her daughter. “She’ll be down for a few hours. Can you put her in the…?”

Even before she was done asking that question, Sirius was already taking the sleeping little girl from her arms, taking a few moments just to look at her before he kissed her brow and placed her down in her bassinet. “Seems like all she does is sleep, hum?”

His wife smiled. “Well, she needs to, doesn’t she? So she can grow up to be a beautiful girl.”

“She already is a beautiful girl,” he pointed out, sitting on the edge of the bed, by her side and reaching to kiss her lips. “And so is her Mommy. I kind of love you, you know?”

“I kind of do,” she replied with a smile before peaking over the bassinet to check on Mary and then looking down at the still napping Alex. “We make beautiful babies – I guess marrying you wasn’t such a bad idea, after all.”

“We’ll just have to keep on making pretty babies, then,” he told her, chuckling before she frowned. “Too soon?”

“I’ll personally hex your bits if you dare impregnating me again anytime during the next year.” She paused. “Actually, make that two years.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Try me,” she dared him, leaning against the pillows, a defying smile that she’d clearly picked up from him playing on her lips as she rubbed Alex’s hair. “Still love me?”

He shrugged, trying to sound casual. “I suppose I do. It’s a chronic sickness, really. I’ll just have to live with it.” He reached for her hand and lifted it to her lips, kissing it. “But then again, there are much worse things to live with.” 

A/N: Well, not much to say. It was a mad week about to get even worse and I've got two ora presentations tomorrow, one of which to be made in french, which I honestly am not any good at... Hope you at least liked the chapter. Feedback is more than welcome! Review!

Chapter 13: Banquet
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5 January 1997 

The welcome-back-to-school-after-the-holidays banquet at Hogwarts had turned out to be the perfect excuse for Mia to shoo Sirius out of the house.

It wasn’t that she’d gotten sick of having her husband around all the time already – it was just that, since Dumbledore had given him a couple of weeks off to take care of the baby, she wanted to make sure Sirius knew that Alex and the baby didn’t specifically need him at home all the time to be well-taken care of. If everything went right, he’d know it was okay to go out every now and then and wouldn’t spend those two weeks driving her mad with fussing and pampering to the point of her wanting to use those residual hormones of hers to kick his arse. Badly.

Shooing Sirius out of the house for that day had just been for the greater good, she concluded as she lounged on her living room’s sofa with her eyes closed, Mary resting in her portable cradle by her mother’s side. Only there was a problem: she felt bored without him around.

The soft knock on the door had her snapping her eyes open and turn to face the door only to spot her father standing there. Someone to talk to – thank Merlin! “Gabe, come on in,” she invited him with a smile, sitting up. “Lulu didn’t mention you were dropping by.”

“I didn’t think I’d have time – Order business,” he explained shortly, stepping into the room. These days, he was one of the few Order members that worked full-time for it.

Mia gave him a worried look as he approached the sitting area. “Something bad?”

“Not particularly. Mad-Eye wanted us to go raid a location where we’d been told a couple of escaped Death Eaters had been spotted in – turned out to be a fake lead, after all, and we wasted a whole day preparing the raid for nothing. Don’t worry, Mia,” Gabriel said, sitting down on an armchair right by the side of the portable bassinet where his little granddaughter slept. “I’d say you have better things to occupy your mind,” he pointed out, smiling as he saw the little girl.

She smiled. “I suppose I do,” she said in a happy whisper.

“So, where’s everyone else?” he asked.

“I’ll assume that by everyone you mean Sirius, Lulu and Alex, since Harry and Izzy are currently on the train headed to Hogwarts.”

“You assume correctly.”

“Well, Sirius is at Hogwarts to attend the banquet tonight – he didn’t feel like going but I made him. As for Lulu, she took Alex out to the playground for a while – he was a little jumpy today – most have something to do with those cookies that Kreacher keeps handing him.”

“And how’s he dealing with the new little sister?”

Mia chuckled. “He adores her. Especially after finding out the amount of racket she can cause, which apparently fascinates him. Yesterday he spent a full hour just watching her with his friend, Darcy – she came here for a little play date. One of them would come call us every time Mary moved an inch. I have a feeling he’ll get over this adoration by the time she starts stealing his toys, though. I remember it happened just that way with Harry and Izzy.”

“They’re kids. I remember my older brother and I were in and out of each other’s graces more often than one could possibly register,” Gabriel agreed with a sad smile – it was still difficult thinking of his family gone, so he tried to skip the subjects. “Hum, so now you’ll spend a few months on maternity leave...”

“Yes, until Easter Break,” she confirmed. “Speaking of which, you and Moody were the ones who ran a background check on my substitute for Dumbledore, weren’t you? Samantha Lawrence from the British Society for the History of Magic?”

Gabriel nodded. “Nothing bad about her popped out, don’t worry. She’s replaced you before, when you had Alex, hasn’t she?”

Mia nodded. “Yes but back when she first replaced me, there wasn’t a war going on. One can never be too careful these days…”

Gabriel nodded, knowingly. “That’s a fact – like moody tends to say, constant vigilance is essential. Anyway, as I said, she came completely clea…”

His sentence was interrupted by a tiny, moody wail coming from the cradle where Mary called for their attention, waving her little arms angrily on the air.

“She can’t be hungry already – I fed her half an hour ago,” Mia mumbled, leaning to check on her fussy daughter. “Just want a little spoiling, don’t you, sweetie?”

“Do you mind if I…?” Gabriel said, reaching for the bassinet, making a motion that told Mia he was intending to pick the baby up.

Mia smiled and nodded. “Go ahead,” she said, leaning back against the sofa, trusting her father would have it under control.

As she watched, Gabriel reached to get a hold of his granddaughter, stiffly at first. It wasn’t the first time he held her but he certainly recalled her being much stiller last time he’d done it. She’d grow up to become a little spitfire, he concluded. After a few seconds of awkward rocking, Mary’s fussing seemed to show signs of calming down as she suddenly became very interested in staring up at him instead. It was amazing, he noted, how many she memories she brought back.

“She likes you,” Mia told him with a smile. “Just hold her for a little while and hopefully she’ll be out like a light soon.”

Gabe nodded and looked up at his daughter. “You look tired,” he noted.

She shrugged. “It’s nothing – I’m still getting used to her schedule. She’s worth the trouble, believe me.”

Her father smiled. “She’s going to look a lot like you, you know?” he pointed out, glancing down at Mary. “Mark my words, she will.”

“How is it that you can tell that already?” Mia asked, raising an eyebrow. “She’s still a shrivelled little thing.”

“She may be but she looks almost exactly the way you did when you were born. Your eyes, for instance, were exactly the same shade of dark blue as hers are now – I’d bet anything they’re going to turn brown like yours did. You also had this peach-fuzz hair – very light brown, almost blond, like Mary’s here. Lucy was convinced you’d get blonde hair like mine but turns out she was wrong – it got dark like hers and so will this little one’s.” When he looked up Mia, he noted she was staring at him with a look of half-surprise, half-delight. “What?”

“You remember what shade of blue my eyes were when I was born? And exactly how my hair looked like?” she asked in a very low tone. Lulu had told her they’d been allowed to keep her for themselves for a single night before giving her up. And from that night, he could remember such small details as what shade her eyes and had hair had been… “I never thought you could have… absorbed so much in a single night.”

“You can memorize a lot of things when you think that may be the only chance you’ve got to do it,” he told her simply as Mary’s eyes slowly dropped as he held her. He’d loved his daughter enough for a whole lifetime that night and then gotten the chance to do it all over again.

“Thank you… I guess,” she replied, not sure of what was the right thing to say right then – it touched her more deeply that she could explain. “It means a lot that you’d remember those things.”

“You don’t have to thank me for that, Mia,” he pointed out. “I needed to remember those things.”

She smiled at his words. “How about you and Lulu stay for dinner tonight, since Sirius is out? It’s time I spent some quality time alone with my parents… and, well, a toddler and a newborn too, if you don’t mind. What do you say to that?”

He smiled. “I say it seems like a very good idea.”

---

Spending a couple of hours in the empty Hogwarts staffroom, which he very rarely frequented for some reason, until it was time for him to attend the banquet had seemed like a pretty decent idea by the time Sirius had arrived to the school, rather annoyed from having been shooed away from his home by Mia. Of course, if he’d known who’d join him there later, he probably would have picked some other place to go read the Daily Prophet.

“Well, well, look who’s decided disgrace us with a visit,” a slow voice – one of the most annoying sounds on Earth, in Sirius’s book – spoke. “And here I thought, when the headmaster mentioned he’d given you, Black, two weeks of leave, that this school would be shielded from your unwelcome presence for at least that time.”

Sirius didn’t even need to look up to know it was Snape. He simple kept on reading – or pretending he was, since the newspaper article on the finances of the ministry didn’t interest him whatsoever –, not bothering to remove his feet from the table he’d propelled them onto. “I knew there was a reason why I don’t come to the staffroom very often,” he said, casually. “As reckless as people seem to think I am, I don’t like risking running into sources of greasy hair – who knows, it might be contagious and I’d end up afflicted for life.”

“Your sense of humour is just astounding, Black. Makes me wonder how your wife can spend long enough without laughing to conceive yet another Black, let alone give birth to one,” Snape said, making his way around the table Sirius was sitting at in order to reach a counter at the opposite side of the room and serve himself with a cup of tea.

Sirius smiled at the opportunity he’s just been given. “You see, Snape, I’m not sure how acquainted you are with that… lovely act that leads to the conceiving but I can assure you that, speaking in theory since it never happened to me personally, laughter wouldn’t really get in the way of the mechanics of it. I’m sure a lot of books in the restricted section of the library can confirm that…”

“I see your lack of shame is just as astounding,” Snape told him flatly. “What, I wonder, possessed the headmaster to even let you and your questionable… morals near the students?”

“Ooch, that one hurt,” he replied sarcastically in an exaggeratedly fake tone. “I’d say it was the that possessed him not to have sacked you already for bullying your students in a regular basis, but since I have no idea what it is, I’ll just let you wonder… Go wash your hair with Hippogriff shampoo in the meanwhile, would you? I heard it keeps the flies away.”

“I heard the same thing about Dementors keeping criminals away from the general population but it seems to be wrong.”

Sirius glared over the newspaper – if he didn’t know how Shape’s mind worked, he might have let that one pass as a reference to the previous year’s massive breakout from Azkaban. “You know, denial doesn’t change the fact that, for your disappointment, I was proven innocent. It also won’t change the fact that you have the one-year curse that troubles the DADA teacher’s position hovering over your head. The odds are not on your favour: one dead, other with permanent brain damage, another kissed by a Dementor and two sacked… the precedents don’t look good at all, Snape.”

“I suppose that has you rather excited, doesn’t it?”

“Very,” he confessed. “I’m cheering for the sacking, honestly – I’m good enough not to wish you dead or a vegetable.”

Snape narrowed his eyes. “Really? I wouldn’t know. Your actions a couple of decades ago didn’t show that at all.”

Sirius felt the muscles on his neck tensing, folding the newspaper and putting it down. “Oh, you really want to go there? Because all I wanted at fifteen years-old was to have someone’s blood in my hands, especially yours,” he said, his tone simmering in sarcasm as he slowly stood up, towering a few inches over Snape. “James saved your life that night – least you could do was not treating his son like he’s the devil himself and not giving him detention for so much as breathing…”

“That boy thinks that because he’d famous, he can rule this school and get everyone to do as he wishes…”

Aiming for his godson seemed to hit a nerve. “That’s crap and you know it! How many times have you heard him announcing his name out loud to open way through a crowded corridor?”

“… he’s a disrespectful, attention-seeking, conceited troublemaker. Just like his father…”

“Oh, shove it, would you, Snivellus?” Sirius shouted, angry enough to reach for the wand on his pocket.

What is the meaning of this?!” McGonagall’s raised voice came from the doorway before he could get the wand out.

It was only when he turned to the door that Sirius noticed the small group of students – not quite half a dozen of first and second years – witnessing his and Snape’s… altercation. Behind them, the deputy-headmistress, hands on her hips as she gripped a roll of parchment, glared at them with blazes on her eyes.

“To the Great Hall, children,” she ordered the students in a tone firm enough to have them speeding away immediately. Then, very slowly, in a way that only engorged the tension in the room, McGonagall stepped into the room, closing and locking the door with a silent wave of her wand, likely casting imperturbable charms on it as well. When she spoke, her voice came out furious and heavy. “Never in my teaching life… brawling! Two teachers! Like hormonal teenage boys… Just childish! Unbelievable!” The fact that it sounded quite incoherent only made them realized just how pissed off she was. McGonagall never sounded incoherent.

Sirius couldn’t even bring himself to use her first name as he usually did these days – he felt like a teenage boy again, being scolded for getting in trouble. “Professor, I…”

“Quiet, Black!” she ordered, turning to Snape almost immediately. “You too! I don’t want to know why this pitiful scene was taking place, I don’t want to know who started it! You are teachers for Merlin’s sake. What example are you giving to your students with that childish shouting match?! It’s unbelievable.”

Snape tried to speak. “I’d just like to point out…”

“I said quiet, Severus! I don’t want to hear anything,” she pointed her wand at the door, opening it. “You are needed down at the Great Hall to keep an eye on the children. As for you,” she continued, turning to face Sirius (as Snape left the room with a not-so-happy look on his face) and handing him the roll of parchment she was carrying, “that’s the list of the students that are returning to the school on the train. Go down to the gates and check the names of every student that arrives.”

“But isn’t Hagrid the one who usually does that?”

The older teacher narrowed her eyes dangerously. “Do I need to spell it as a detention the way I used to do when you were sixteen, Sirius?”

“What… I’m in…” He gulped. “I’m going right now.”

“Hurry up! The train is about to arrive,” she called after him as he sped away, feeling the hair on the back of his neck standing up.

Merlin, if he’d ever had a flash back to his teenage years, that was it. Even decades after he’d graduated, McGonagall could still give him the chills. There he was, a married man, father of four – Four? When did that happen? – and a teacher, doing the walk of shame towards yet another detention. And why was it that he had to stand outside while authentic buckets of snow fell from the sky while Snape got to serve his punishment under the warmth of the Great Hall?

He huffed as he dressed his cloak before walking out of the castle’s doors and stepping out into the freezing grounds. Maybe he should have just ignored Mia’s insistence and remained home. He’d probably be tickling Alex mercilessly by then or cuddling his little Mary by the fire…

Hagrid was easy to spot by the gates, standing in his winter tent-like fur cloak with the old, lazy dog, Fang, peaking his saggy head from under his owner’s cloak, covering the rest of his body from the snow. “Evenin’, Sirius,” the gamekeeper greeted as he reached him. “What are yeh doin’ down here? Waitin’ fer the kids?”

“Professor Black got himself grounded by old McGonagall for brawling with Snape,” Filch, who seemingly hadn’t been too far behind Sirius on the way there, announced with a sadistic snicker before he could even greet the half-giant. “She had me coming here to make sure he does his job checking the kids into the school.”

If there had been any hope of convincing Hagrid to let him off the hook, the hateful caretaker had just crushed it like a bug. “Hope you freeze solid down here,” Sirius told the caretaker through his teeth as the man smiled, showing his half-black teeth.

McGonagall had been right in saying he should hurry. A group of students was already climbing out of one of the Thestral-ridden carriages and approached the gates in a hurry. Thankfully, he thought, there weren’t as many kids arriving then as there had been in the first of September – many had already been brought via apparition by their parents and others had simply not left the school for the holidays.

Eight or nine carriages later, he finally spotted Izzy and Harry climbing out of one, followed by Ginny, Hermione, Neville and Luna. “What are you doing down here?” Harry asked him as he approached with a curious look on his face.

Sirius half groaned in annoyance, using his quill to tick his godson’s name off the list, followed by his daughter and the rest of their friends, with the half-frozen quill he’d been given. “Checking everyone in, as you can see,” he said in a flat tone.

Ginny gave him a confused look. “Why? Isn’t it usually Hagrid who does it? Or Filch?”

Sirius shrugged, trying to escape the subject. “Filch is obviously happy enough with annoying everyone by rummaging through their things, trying to find anything either illegal or from the twin’s shop.” He rolled his eyes. “As if they didn’t find fool-proof ways of masking their products.” Sirius looked up, trying to spot the students coming after them. “Isn’t Ron with you?”

Hermione’s reaction, which involved a frown and an annoyed sniff reminded him that she and Ron weren’t in speaking to each other and Harry now had to split himself between the two. He guessed now would be Hermione’s turn to have Harry’s company at the moment.

“Hiding behind a tree with Lavender, for all we know,” the prefect girl said flatly.

“Er… right,” he mumbled uncomfortably.

“But you still haven’t told us why you’re standing here at the gates, checking in students,” Izzy pointed out, more interested in the potential story behind it – she knew her father enough to be sure that he wouldn’t volunteer for a monotonous task such as ticking names from a list.

Sirius gave his daughter a quick – yet not quite meant – glare, wishing she hadn’t brought it up again. Yet, it didn’t take him long to give in. “I may or may not have had a semi-public altercation with Snape in front of a few students who stayed behind for the holidays and it may or may not have irritated McGonagall to the point of her sending me down here and making me check the students in.”

“McGonagall grounded you?” Ginny asked in an amused tone.

Sirius gave her an offended look. “What am I? An eight-year-old kid? She just wanted me to cool-off a little, which is quite literally working in this forsaken weather…”

“A time out it is, then,” Izzy concluded with a chuckle.

He directed another glare to Izzy. “Do I have to remind you that I have the power to ground you both at home and at school?”

She chuckled. “You never ground anyone, Daddy. The troublemaker in you doesn’t believe in that sort of thing.”

“Maybe I’ll give it a try just for hell of it, Izzybel,” he said, making her shake her head doubtfully.

“Did you at least get to curse Snape?” Neville asked.

“Neville!” Hermione scolded. “Snape’s a teacher.”

Ginny was the one to respond. “He calls you an insufferable know-it-all. He’d have it coming!”

“He says I’m a delusional airhead,” Luna pointed out dreamily. “I think he was attacked by Nargles when he was very young – that might cause the bitterness.”

“I’m fairly sure he was born that way, Luna. Unfortunately, though, I didn’t get the chance to whip my wand out at all,” Sirius pointed out. “Now, you kids go inside – I’ll tell you the rest of the story in another time.”

“Actually,” Harry, who’d been very silent ever since Sirius had mentioned Snape, said. “Can you take a break? There’s something I should probably tell you…”

Sirius raised an eyebrow but, seeing from Harry’s face that it was serious, signalled at Hagrid to take over his place for a few minutes, ignoring Filch’s protests. While the other kids made their way up to the castle, Ginny stayed behind, chatting with Hagrid by the gates as she waited for Harry.

“So?” Sirius asked his godson.

The young boy gulped in hesitation. “During the Christmas Party… the one that Slughorn organized… I heard Snape and Malfoy talking. About Voldemort.”

“About Vol… wait, but that party was back in December! Why didn’t you say something before?”

“I didn’t want to ruin Christmas…” the young boy explained. “I was planning to say it right after New Year’s but then Mary was born and it just slipped my mind…”

Sirius sighed. “You could have said something anyway… what did you hear, then?”

“Well, Malfoy’s definitely a Death Eater… he has some sort of mission for Voldemort and Snape… he says he made an unbreakable vow to help him with it!”

His eyes narrowed. “An unbreakable vow…” He pursed his lips. That son of a bitch. “He’s been playing us all along….”

“Hermione says he might be bluffing in order to find out whatever Malfoy was planning but still…”

“He could be bluffing,” Sirius noted flatly, clearly not buying it. “But why is it that I find it so much easier to believe that bastard has been selling us to You-Know-Who? When I get my hands…”

“No! You can’t!” Harry said, alarmed. “You can’t say anything to him – not before talking to the order! He could try something or if you jumped on him and he was really bluffing, it might get you into trouble, Sirius…”

He had to admit the kid had a point. It would take all the strength he had to face Snape and not ram his fist through his face but he’d have to make an effort. “Fine,” Sirius said, looking down at his godson. “But if you find anything else, Harry – anything – you tell me right away okay. Never mind if it is a public holiday or someone’s birthday – just tell me, okay?”

Harry nodded. “I’m sorry I only told you now, I just…”

Sirius shook his head. “Never mind, kid. But, remember, next time…”

“I’ll run to tell you,” Harry promised.

“Good. Now go get your girl and head to the banquet. I’ll be there when I’m done here,” Sirius told him, receiving a nod in return before Harry started walking towards Ginny and they headed to the castle together.

Then, for the first time that day, Sirius felt thankful to McGonagall for his ‘detention’ – a little time outside doing a boring task would give him the chance to cool off. And deep down he hoped, just hoped, that Snape was bluffing or else the order would have been fooled by a spy again.

---

Later, when he stepped into his room at Grimmauld Place, he found his wife already lying down, the baby sleeping peacefully across her chest as Mia rubbed her little back. She smiled up at him as he dragged himself in and circled the bed silently to let himself fall down on the bed by her side, groaning with his eyes closed.

Very softly, he felt her hand caressing his face before moving up to rub his dark, rather messy, hair. “How was your evening?” she asked him softly.

He opened his eyes and sighed as he felt her soothing touch. “Well, I went to the banquet the way you wanted me to, got in a fight with Snape, was grounded by McGonagall for it, then was mocked at by the kids for being grounded and, finally, was told by Harry that he has reasons to believe Snape literally is a traitorous bastard… I’ll develop that part in the morning if you don’t mind. All in all, same old thing.” He let out a breath and reached to touch Mary’s tiny fist, which gripped his index finger even in her sleep. “What about you? How was your evening?”

“Are you asking me or the baby?”

He chuckled softly and shrugged. “Both.”

“Well, Mary mostly napped, ate, cried and got spoiled. As for me, I watched her, got visited by Gabe, had dinner with my parents and then Lulu helped me give this little lady a bath afterwards – that is, before she threw one hell of a tantrum. Alex though that part was just hilarious, by the way, since he was watching from the sidelines.”

Sirius grinned. “That’s my boy,” he said proudly. “A little Marauder.”

“Clearly,” Mia replied. “It seems both of us had interesting evenings, then. I suppose I don’t need to ask what you and Snape fought about, do I?”

“He’s a smarmy git and I have no patience whatsoever for him,” Sirius said shortly. “Of course if I knew about the traitorous bastard part, I might have put some used to my wand… but like I said, I’m not in the mood to talk about that now. Tell me something new.”

“I’m thinking of letting the O’Dells, Darcy’s grandparents, keep the Wales house,” Mia told him. 

"Really?"

She nodded. “I spent today’s dinner talking to Lulu and Gabe and felt happier spending that little time with them then I ever felt when spending time with Susan and Phillip Davis for the seventeen years I lived in that house – their house. It was beautiful but it was never mine, so it doesn’t make much sense for me to keep it now after I haven’t been there in years. Last time we talked, the O’Dells were thinking of moving definitely here to Britain in order to be within apparition reach of Seamus at Hogwarts, so if they want to keep that house, it’s theirs. Even if they want to pay for it, I’m sure we’ll reach an agreement – hopefully, they’ll be happier there.”

“You’re getting rid of your Wales house,” he repeated.

She nodded, rubbing the baby’s back. “I’m getting rid of it. Do you think it’s stupid?”

He shook his head. “No. I just think it is your own way of telling Susan and Phillip to shove it. Besides, I’d say three properties are more than enough for us.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Three?”

He nodded. “This one, our old flat and the beach house that I’m planning to get us after the war is over so we can escape there whenever we feel like it – I even had a dream about that last one the day Mary was born.”

Mia smiled. “Tell me about it.”

“Well, the sun was shining and I was lying on the sand, listening to the waves crashing and the kids playing somewhere. It was kind of great. Then, you showed up, beautiful as ever, in this flowing white dress and quite literally jump me. I’d get into more detail but I’m afraid there are impressionable little ears in this room,” he added, nodding at Mary.

“I hope you realize there will be no jumping for at least the next five and a half weeks,” Mia pointed out with a smirk.

“I know. I’ve got a calendar somewhere – I charmed it so it would count the days until the time arrived…”

“How practical of you,” she told him. “Though, of course, by the time the time arrives, you’ll also have to hope I’m in the mood. And don’t forget that little agreement about not getting me pregnant for the next three years.”

“Hey, you said two before!” he protested, loud enough to have Mary shifting in her sleep.

“Well, that was before Mary threw that huge tantrum during her bath,” she pointed out, shifting on the bed so she could sit up and reach to place the baby in her bassinet. “Depending on how much you, Izzy and Harry help around and on my future wishes, I may or may not be open to renegotiation.”

He sniffed, shaking his head as she lay back down. “Renegotiation my arse…”

“And speaking of ‘arse’ and other non-adequate vocabulary for a nearly two-year-old boy, why did our son utter the word ‘wanker’ during dinner today?” She pinched his arm, making him let out a muffle whine.

“Ooch, that’s gonna leave a mark…” he complained, rubbing his own arm. Little traitor, he thought. When he believed that, after four days, the kid had already forgotten the damn word. He cleared his throat, facing his wife, whose eyebrows were rising in inquisition as her eyes shot bullets of accusation. He took a moment to gulp. “I’m sure there’s a perfectly valid explanation for that…”

A/N: After a veeery long week (it felt like a month to me), you get a very long chapter. Almost didn't make it posting tonight... Anyway, I hope you liked this chapter - feedback is appreciated, as always. Review!

Disclaimer: Some of the dialogue in this chapter was quoted from JKR's books.
 


Chapter 14: Commitment
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12 February 1997 

Looking at Diagon Alley these days nearly made Sirius feel like he was watching a ghost town compared to what he remembered of its past, he observed as he exited the Quidditch-supplies shop. Along the length of the alley, which used to be so packed that one could barely walk without being bumped or stepped into, Sirius could hardly spot more than two or three dozen of – all hurrying – folks, at least three of which with an auror vibe all over them. That, the many walled up shops and the rather shady look all around simply gave him the chills… The whispers – more like screams now – of war really were all over.

He remembered that the first time he’d been to Diagon Alley, when he was six or seven years-old, he’d found it the most fascinating place he’d ever been to. All the people, the loud voices, the movement… it was nothing like the Grimmauld Place he’d grown up in. Sirius hadn’t even cared that he was being carelessly dragged around by his nutcase of a mother, so fascinated the environment of that simple – lower, as Walburga Black liked to refer – magical London location. He remembered even better the first time he’d gone there without his parents, right in that summer after he’d run away from home and moved in with the Potters. It had been like the place had become even more magical.

Now, ironically Grimmauld Place had become his home and Diagon Alley had become a ghost of what it had once been. How much life could change over the years… how much the world itself could change and yet remain the same.

“Are you planning to stand here on the street for the rest of the day or are you counting on going home anytime before sunset, Padfoot?”

Sirius didn’t even need to turn to know that the owner of the voice behind him saying those words was Remus. “Just taking a moment to think, Moony,” he mumbled as his old friend joined his side, finally turning to face him. The werewolf looked in a very good mood – the sort of good mood that Sirius could barely recall ever seeing in him. “Back from your lunch break? It’s a bit late, don’t you think? Past four in the afternoon. I’ll be shocked if you tell me you’re slacking on your job.”

Remus rolled his eyes. “It’s the opposite, actually. I got caught up with the work at the shop and ended up eating late – Valentine’s day is coming up and everyone seems to think joke products are the perfect gifts, imagine that. Plenty of accounting to make, plenty of shelves to re-stock. And I’m getting the twins’ lunch as well,” he added, nodding at the large bag he was carrying. “They’re even worse than I am. I swear if I didn’t remind them of meal times or bring those to them, those two would forget to eat more times than not, so entranced they are with that shop and their experiments.”

“Acting as their nanny as well as their shop-manager, aren’t you, Moony?” Sirius joked.

“I’m starting to believe I am – I wonder how long they are going to live with the amount of trouble  they cause. This morning when I arrived, they were putting out a fire they’d caused when developing their ‘indoors non-damaging fireworks’,” Remus informed him dryly.

Sirius snorted. “Well, I see that’s not going so well,” he stated the obvious.

“Clearly,” Remus repeated. “And what are you doing here on Diagon Alley, alone, right in the middle of the afternoon? Don’t tell me you’re hiding from Mia.”

“Why would I want to hide from my beloved wife,” he replied. “I’ve just left Hogwarts, actually, and came by to leave my broom here at Quality Quidditch Supplies for the guys to check. There was a game today – Slytherin-Hufflepuff with the little snakes catching the snitch ten minutes into the game, let me add – and the broom was a little twitchy while I was refereeing – some charm must be working wrong… or Snape has finally decided to off me by sabotaging my broomstick. One can never know.”

Remus let out a frustrated huff. “Sirius, we’ve talked about this…”

“Yeah, yeah, and Dumbledore says that crap with him helping Malfoy was a secret favour to him, that Snape was just trying to get information out of him and is on your side, that he is a bloody saint and should have a hospital named after him, blah, blah. I still think Snivellus is a shady, fake bastard and that one day we’ll get a pretty bad surprise from his corner but that’s just me, apparently… Anyway, I don’t want him ruining my day, so we’d better change the subject.”

Yes, that was probably for the best, Remus accepted. Insisting would only irritate him and an irritated Sirius was a reckless one. “How about we get to the shop and move this conversation altogether? It’s freezing out here,” he suggested

Sirius nodded. “Seems like a good idea”, he agreed, following his friend to what seemed to be the most – if not the only – crowded shop in Diagon Alley. “How do you guys pull this off? Filling the store with people when the whole street is practically empty?”

“We’ve got a floo connection to one of the back rooms open to the public during working hours. People seem to be more comfortable with flooing directly into the shop,” Remus explained as walked in the shop’s direction. “Besides,” he added when they reached it, “people need cheerful stuff. Outside of a joke shop, what else can they find that for sale?”

“Got a point there,” Sirius admitted, stepping in and frowning at the thought that he’d have to dig his way through that forsaken mob crowding the inside or the shop. Thankfully, because he was already used to it, Remus led the way through the tight knit of people, leaving the bag containing Fred and George’s lunches with the blonde girl at the counter, whose name Sirius just couldn’t remember. Then, they made their way up the stairs behind the counter, which led up to the upper floor where they could find Remus’s cramped office, as always with books and piles of parchment all over it.

“So, how’s Mia? And the children?” Remus asked him, removing his cloak and placing it on the back of his chair before sitting down by the desk.

“They’re good,” Sirius said, taking a seat opposite him. Like a charm, the mention of his wife and kids put him in a high mood. “They’re great, actually. Mia is her same old self – no hormonal explosions these days, thank Merlin –, Harry and Izzy are doing fine at school, Alex is running all over the place and Mary is as happy as a little baby can be.”

“Keeping you and Mia awake, then?”

Sirius’s grin flashed. “I forgot what a full night of sleep feels like. It’s amazing. She smiled at me this morning – Mia said it was probably gas but I don’t think so. She’s turning six-weeks-today. Kids can smile from that age on. I read it somewhere.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Remus told him, rather amused. He’d never imagined back when he’d met Sirius Black in his first train ride to Hogwarts that that daring, slightly unhappy boy would grow up to become such a proud, happy dad. “Any incidents involving teaching Alex bad words lately?”

Sirius visibly gulped. “No, thank Merlin. Blimey, Mia threatened to put a censoring hex on me if Alex ever learned some sort of curse word from me again. You know what that thing does to you? It gives you a jolt every time you even think of something slightly inappropriate! I can’t have that, Moony – this is me. I am always thinking of something inappropriate!”

Remus raised an eyebrow. “Who told you a censoring hex worked like that?”

“Mia did,” he said. “Why do you ask?” But before his friend could answer, Sirius realized the truth, immediately feeling awfully dumb. “Oh, she was lying wasn’t she? She was just trying to scare me.”

The werewolf nodded. “The censoring hex just silences any inappropriate word you say – there are no jolts involved, as far as I know.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Damn, that was well-played. I should have known it was bogus – it sounded way too sadistic for Mia to consider.”

“Rather impressive, actually,” Remus stated, to his friend’s annoyance. “Not everyone can fool a Marauder like that…”

“Oh, shut up,” Sirius replied in a touchy tone. “Anyway,” he said, emphasising the fact that he really wanted to change the subject, “I noticed you didn’t drop by this weekend, which I found odd since Tonks always drags your sorry arse to Grimmauld Place every Sunday afternoon to spend time with your godkids…” The silly smile that covered Remus’s face for a single moment had Sirius raising an eyebrow. Interesting, he thought. “I’ll assume it wasn’t because of some auror emergency for Tonks – a more horizontal emergency, maybe…”

“We just got busy,” Remus said quickly, the smile inadvertently flashing again for another moment. “We’ll drop by tomorrow or something, don’t worry.”

Sirius narrowed his eyes at him. “For Merlin’s sake, Moony, tell me that stupid grin means you asked her to marry you already,” he begged his friend who, to his disappointment, shook his head in a ‘no’. Faced with the denial, Sirius gave him a frustrated look. “Are you kidding me? You’ve been carrying the bloody ring around for over two months! You know, I’m her cousin, mate. That gives me the right to hit you – and I mean hit you as in punch you and not hex you – if I think you’re starting to lead her on!”

A moment of silence followed that threat, during which Sirius glared at his oldest friend, trying to observe his reaction. The fact that Remus didn’t look even slightly afraid was nearly offensive – hadn’t he looked scary enough? Sirius asked himself. Probably not. If anything, his friend looked… amused with his reaction.

Remus cleared his throat before speaking, hoping he’d be able to hold the laughter. “You know, punching me would probably hurt you more than it would hurt me – one of the very few perks of being a werewolf is the fact that I’m generally less hurt-able than most people.”

Sirius shrugged. “Like I’d care – it would be worth proving the point. What the hell is wrong with you? Why won’t you just ask her? I thought we’d already reached the conclusion that you’re right for her.”

“If you’d let me explain instead of throwing a fit, maybe you’d already know why by now,” Remus replied.

“Fine, tell me then. I can’t wait to hear it,” Sirius told him, leaving back against the chair.

Lupin sighed before speaking. “I didn’t ask Dora because… well, because she beat me to it,” he finally said.

Sirius’s first look was of disbelief towards his friend. Then, minutes later, the disbelief shifted into amused joy. “She asked you?”

“Last Friday afternoon. She knew about the ring,” Remus explained. “She saw it weeks ago but decided to wait for me to ask without telling me she knew about it. Apparently, she got sick of waiting and just took matters into her own hands. It’s safe to say it completely caught me by surprise.”

Like a candle, Sirius’s face lit up. “Go Tonks! I told you she was the perfect woman for you, didn’t I? If you tell me you refused, Moony, you’ll have to give me a few minutes to fetch Fred and George so they’ll help me beat the crap out of you.”

“I don’t think you’ll need to worry about that,” his friend pointed out in a very low, slightly embarrassed tone.

Sirius shook his head, snorting. “Well, I’ll be damned. You got engaged. Finally!”

“I did, yes… and that’s not quite all of it…” Remus swallowed hard. “Remember the advice you gave me when I first told you about the ring?”

He shrugged. “Stop freaking out and ask her? Don’t worry, mate, there’s no shame in being the girl asking – it leads to the same end, doesn’t it?”

“No, I’m not talking about that part. I mean what you said about afterwards, Padfoot. What I should do after the proposal…”

He scratched his chin, trying to recall it but there seemed to be a large blank spot named ‘my best friend just got over the commitment issues and got engaged’ over all his memories. “Sorry, mate, it’s been a few months. I’m just can’t rem…” But before he could finish his words, the memory came and he stared at Remus in disbelief. “You didn’t.”

“We did.”

“You eloped?!”

“We did,” Remus repeated, not quite able to hide a nervous smile now.

“You got married?” Sirius asked again, disbelief still all over his voice as he slowly stood up. “As in… right exchanging, husband and wife married? Are you mocking me, Moony? April’s fool day is more than a month away.”

The werewolf shook his head. “I am not mocking you, Padfoot. I promise. It happened right after the proposal – it was sudden, yes, but felt right and we just… knew we had to do it then or else one of us – probably me – would over-think it and ruin everything. Still feels hard to believe to me too, actually. But it’s true. I am… married.”

Sirius had to laugh at that. “Well, congratulations, I guess. I’ll confess I didn’t think you had it in you to go ahead with it but, Merlin, it feels great to be wrong,” he said, circling the desk to approach his friend, who stood up too for a quick ‘manly hug’. “Honestly, mate, I’m thrilled about you guys. But you could have said something sooner, you know? It’s been a few days.”

“We were… occupied. You’re actually one of the first to know. We’re only telling Ted and Andromeda tonight after work. I hope they take it well…”

“Well, they’d better, since they eloped themselves,” Sirius pointed out, making his way back to his seat and sighed. “Merlin, an engagement, a wedding… What’s next? Tonks is nine-months pregnant and has been hiding it with her Metamorphagus powers?”

Remus visibly paled. “No! I don’t think that’s even possible.”

“Just saying,” he replied, lifting his hands up for a moment in defeat. “By the way, I’m still your Best Man. Count on a bachelor party when you least expect it – just because you’re not a bachelor anymore, that doesn’t count as an excuse. I’d take care of it tonight but I’ve already got plans for myself and Mia.” That night, he thought happily, it was the end of those six miserable weeks of abstinence after a woman had a baby. And he just couldn’t wait to get his hands on Mia… He cleared his throat, hoping to clear the now-so-appropriate thoughts that were fogging his mind too. “So, why are you here working and not still enjoying your honeymoon? That’s just shameful.”

“I haven’t told Fred and George about the wedding yet. Besides, there’s a lot of work to think of now: there’s Valentine’s Day and then the twins are thinking of opening a new branch of the shop at Hogsmeade… Dora is also buried in work at the ministry.”

“Shameful,” Sirius repeated. “Well, get your arse of that chair and follow me, at least,” he instructed him, getting up.

“What for?”

“We, my friend, are going to the Three Broomsticks and we’re grabbing a butterbeer. It’s not every day my best friend, a marauder, announces he eloped – we’ve got to drink to it. Besides, I believe I still have a Best Man toast to improvise.”

---

“Where’s Mia?” Sirius asked his mother-in-law when he arrived at home and saw her sitting in the living room on her own reading the Quibbler, Mia nowhere to be seen. “And Alex?” he added, noting his son was missing too.

“Gabe took Alex out for a walk and Mia went out,” Lulu mumbled, not looking up from the magazine. “She and Elizabeth decided to have a girl’s night out tonight and are probably arriving late. Gabe and I will stay over to help you with the kids.”

Shocked, Sirius opened his mouth and closed it again seconds later. “But… she… tonight? She went out tonight? Tonight of all nights?!”

Lulu calmly looked up. “Is there anything special about tonight?”

“We… well, yes! We’re finally allowed to…” He stopped, recalling he was in fact talking to his wife’s mother and that mentioning shagging Mia would probably be awkward. To him, at least, since Lulu hardly found anything remotely awkward. “We had plans,” he said plainly.

“Did you even tell Mia about those… plans?” she asked

“I…” No, he hadn’t. But, what the hell, it wasn’t a hard one to figure out, was it? “It was implied.”

“On what?” Lulu asked again, feigning innocence.

“On… nothing.”

“You’re not making any sense at all,” Lulu pointed out.

He huffed. “Oh, fine. It’s been six weeks since she had the baby. That’s all I’m saying.”

“Ah, so your plans were to shag my daughter, then,” his mother-in-law stated casually. “About that… you should probably know that Elizabeth advised her during today’s appointment to extend that abstinence period for a couple more weeks. Just to be safe. That’s why Mia went out with her tonight – to… avoid temptation, so to speak.”

Sirius’s look was of horror. “No…”

“It’s just two weeks. If you managed thirteen years without her, two weeks will be nothing,” Lulu pointed out with a shrug.

“But… but I…”

“Oh, she did leave you a note, by the way,” Lulu said, reaching for the left pocket of her jeans and handing a folded piece of parchment to him, which he accepted with a grunt. However, as soon as he started read the short note, there was relief.

“Waiting for you at our old flat…Bring a change of clothes and don’t be late.

Love you,

Mia.”
 

His glare was immediately directed at an amused Lulu as he looked down at her, shaking his head. “That was just cruel.”

Lulu grinned in amusement. “What? Did I get the message wrong? Was it three weeks instead?”

Sirius kept on glaring. “No, I don’t think you did get the wrong message. You’re just a horrible, sadistic mother-in-law sometimes, you know? I wonder why I even like you at all.”

“I’m very likeable – just ask Gabe. And you make it too easy for me by believing just anything.”

“I do not!”

“Yes, you do. Especially when you’re thinking with your lower brain, which is most of the time.”

“Oh, just shut up,” he said irritably, especially recalling the fact that he’d been well fooled by his own wife with the whole censoring hex thing. “You know what? Stay here mocking yourself while I’m going upstairs to get my things for tonight and check on Mary.” And, just as he said that, he gave Lulu another narrow-eyed look, which had her laughing, and walked out of the room.

I don’t think with my… ‘lower-brain’ all that much, do I? Sirius wondered as he climbed up the stairs. He was just madly in love with his wife and couldn’t get enough of her. He couldn’t help it, honestly, not even when she’d so cruelly been fooling him for the past six weeks with thought of a fake hex.

Clearing his mind of those thoughts, he was quick enough grabbing a few of his clothes from his and Mia’s room and shoving them into a bag, whose size he reduced so he could carry it in his pocket. Then, leaving the room, he stepped into the nursery and smiled when he saw his daughter awake in her bassinet.

She was punching and kicking her little arms and legs on the air and seemed to be in a verge of crying – clearly Mary wasn’t too happy with being alone and awake, so throwing a temper seemed to be a fitting reaction. Hurrying, Sirius picked her up before she had a chance of starting a fit and the little girl seemed to be happy enough in her father’s arms.

Sirius grinned down at her. “Hi there, baby,” he greeted little Mary, who reached towards his face with her little arms and stared up with curious little eyes. “Had a good nap?” As expected, he didn’t get any response from her as the baby just kept on looking up. “Not in a chatty mood, hum? Alright then. I suppose it’s no use asking you for another smile, is it, little girl? Because we both know that was not gas. You’re probably the nicest girl to Daddy in this house.”

Uninterested, Mary yawned and closed her eyes as her little hands curled into fists and she apparently went down for another nap. Typical – she might be a delightfully good baby during the day but at night… at night the beast came out, so to speak.

He kissed the baby’s brow again and placed her back in her cradle, exiting the room silently so he wouldn’t wake her back up. When he reached the first floor again, he poked his head back into the living room in order to talk to Lulu.

“Hey, if you need something with the kids…”

His mother-in-law shot him a ‘get lost’ sort of look over the magazine she’d resumed reading already. “I’m sure we’ll be able to handle them just fine. And, for the record, if you and Mia go obsessive on me and start flooing every half hour to check on the kids, I’m turning off the connection. I swear I am.”

“We’re not that bad,” he replied. “It’s just… Mary’s still very little.”

Lulu raised an eyebrow at him. “Did I not raise your wife, Sirius? Mary will be fine, I’ll floo if, Merlin forbid, something bad happens. Now, I was under the impression you were more than eager to get your hands on Mia so,” she waved her hand towards the door, “shoo.”

He rolled his eyes but didn’t bother insisting on the matter – if there was someone he knew he could trust his newborn baby with for a night, it was Lulu, no matter how much she could annoy him from time to time.

On his way down, Sirius was glad to run into Alex and Gabe, who were just arriving from their walk, which gave him a chance to have slightly senseless chat with his son and kiss him goodnight before he left. Also, he was relieved that, unlike Lulu, Gabe didn’t make a point of letting him know he was aware of what was happening between him and Mia that night. The ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ strategy worked well enough between them.

At the kitchen, he reached for the pot of floo powder resting over the fireplace mantel, grabbing a handful of it, which he used to materialize himself into the fireplace of his and Mia’s old flat. The living room was the first thing he saw, noting the already set, candle-lit table before his wife made her way opposite him, coming from the kitchen. She was wearing a simple knee-length black dress which looked just right on her.

“Hi,” Mia greeted, approaching him lazily.

“Hey,” he replied as he cupped her face with his hands and brought his head down so their lips could meet in a long, sweet, greeting kiss. “This was a nice surprise.”

“Well, I figured doing this at home with a baby waking us every three hours wouldn’t be such a good idea,” she explained, her hand reaching for his before they laced their fingers together. “Lulu said she didn’t mind babysitting for a night. Besides, you’re always the romantic one, so I decided this time would be on me to plan us a date.”

He pressed a soft kiss on her lips again. “I think it’s a wonderful idea. I take it this means Elizabeth actually gave you a clean health bill.”

Mia nodded. “Of course. Why wouldn’t she?”

“Well, you should probably ask your mother about that. Let’s just say the initial information she gave me about tonight involved you going out with Elizabeth because we weren’t allowed to shag for another two weeks,” he said.

She gave him a sympathetic look, caressing his face softly in a supportive fashion. “Was that thought scary?”

“Terrifying. I’m afraid you’ll have to… wear me out tonight so I can get a decent night of nightmare-free sleep,” he told her in his best mock-serious tone. “I’m traumatized.”

She kissed his cheek before they walked towards the sofa. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you later.”

“You’d better,” he said, pulling her onto his lap before she had the chance to sit down by his side, her legs stretching along the sofa. “So… I’ve got news.”

“Good news?”

“Good and bad,” he said. “I’ll start with the bad – so… today I came across a certain piece of information concerning censoring charms and, guess what I found out, Mrs. Black? They don’t involve any painful jolts whenever a person thinks of something ‘inappropriate’ like you told me they did. What do you have to say in your defence?”

She crossed her arms against her chest. “You inadvertently taught my son a handful of curse-words – that entitles me to make up anything I want to enhance the effect of any threat concerning that fact. Besides, it worked. You’ve been too scared to even think of uttering a curse around Mary, who’s still very far away from speaking, much less Alex.”

He glared. “Now I see how you take after Lulu,” Sirius pointed out. “You can be just as bad as she is when you want to.”

She smiled and kissed his cheek. “Quit being so dramatic – Lu’s not even bad. Now get on with it and tell me about the good news if you’re done with the ‘bad’ ones.”

“Oh, the good ones. They’re nothing, really,” he said, casually. “Moony, you know, that old pal of mine who has tons issues about being a werewolf and who’s been dating this really nice Metamorphagus?”

“Doesn’t ring a bell,” Mia joked.

“Well, then you probably don’t care that much that he and the aforementioned really nice Metamorphagus eloped in the Ministry of Magic last Friday,” Sirius said like it wasn’t a big deal.

Mia’s face shifted to disbelief immediately and she stood up. “You’re kidding me.”

“I said something along those lines too,” Sirius pointed out. “But you’d better believe it. Our friend, Remus John Lupin got married. To Tonks. She was the one who proposed and everything. I swear it’s true.”

“I… wow,” she said as she allowed Sirius to pull her back down onto his lap. “I don’t know what to say. That’s wonderful.” She paused. “Should we go there now and congratulate them in person?”

Sirius shook his head. “You can do that tomorrow – they’re coming by Grimmauld Place. Right now they’re probably at Andromeda’s breaking the news to her and Ted. Just leave them be for now.”

“It’s just… Merlin, I’m so happy for them,” Mia said with an enormous smile.

“You’re not the only one. Moony got the girl in the end. Or the girl got him, in this case,” Sirius pointed out, brushing his hand along her leg. “Makes me think back to when I got the girl. Seems like such a long time ago.”

She wrapped her arms around his neck. “Which time? When we first got together or when we got married?”

“Both times. Did I ever mention that giving us a try as something more than friends was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life?” he said, giving her lips a peck.

“Can’t remember. But it’d the same with me,” she replied, pulling his back by the collar of his shirt and deepening the kiss they’d shared before, sinking into it, even.

He felt like a teenage boy as he pulled his legs onto the sofa and felt Mia’s body pressing over his while their lips moved together and their hands roamed everywhere, soon entering a full blown snog like those they had when they were young students at Hogwarts. Of course, their technique had improved in the meanwhile as had their knowledge of each other’s bodies. They knew what to do, where to touch and when to do so. It was one of those good old snogs multiplied by a dozen in terms of enjoyment.

“Do you think dinner can wait?” he breathed against her lips at some point as they broke apart for a moment or two.

“Kreacher sent Cottage Pie – we can always heat it back later…” she told him in a breathy voice. “Take me to the bedroom. Now.”

She didn’t need to say that twice as he immediately lifted her body, picking her up with his arms, and hurried when carrying her to their small old bedroom, crossing every obstacle – from doorways to furniture – with determination. When he reached it, he saw the only light in the room was coming from the dozens of candles that had been spread all over it, causing a dim, yellowish and romantic environment. She’d put quite a work on it…

“Perfect,” he whispered as he motioned towards the bed, placing her down on top of the dark red duvet.

“Kiss me,” she demanded as soon as he let go of her. “I missed this. Come down here and make love to me, Sirius.”

He grinned down at her, both warmly and playfully. His hand reached for her face, caressing her cheek with an incredible softness. “I promise, love, there’s nothing else I’d rather do right now.” And so he did.

A/N: Well, I hope you all enjoyed the chapter :D It was honestly the best part of my week, between exams and presentations - tomorrow it's french, which I'm not so great at, so wish me luck. Feedback is welcome. Review!

Chapter 15: Poison
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1 March 1997 

Hogsmeade was quite cold that morning even though it was less than a month away from spring, Mia thought as she walked, arm in arm with Sirius through the little village’s empty streets. The visit from the students of Hogwarts had been cancelled. Again. She couldn’t say it wasn’t to be expected after Katie Bell had ended up badly cursed by a necklace she’d mysteriously acquired during one of the visits. Last McGonagall had told her, the young girl was just beginning to recover after having spent months comatose in St. Mungo’s but it would still be weeks before she was able to come back to school. Now that Mia thought of it, she wasn’t sure if she should be sorry for the kids not coming or relieved they’d be staying within the school grounds… Things had been frighteningly quiet lately.

The lack of attacks lately had kept them, the order and the newspapers wondering what Voldemort was planning next: some sort of massive catastrophic attack? A deeply covered infiltration? Over a month with nothing but three victim-free amateurish moves against muggles wasn’t normal at all. They were being played – that was the truth. And no news felt much worse than bad news. Even now as she walked, she knew that, by her side, Sirius had his hand shoved into his pocket, where he clutched his wand, ready for any eventual attack. The simple thought that they had to be alert all the time was just revolting.

“You’re awfully silent,” her husband pointed out lightly, tightening just a little the arm that was wrapped around her. “Don’t tell me you’re worrying about the kids. Uncle Moony and Auntie Tonks will manage them on their own for sure. Or at least they’d better – see it as training for any future little Lupins.”

She looked up at him and smiled. “I’m not worried about them. Kreacher’s there, he’ll help them if they need it. I was just thinking about this Hogsmeade visit having been cancelled,” she said.

Sirius groaned. “I hated when that happened in our time. All those weeks planning…”

“… making sure you didn’t take the same girl twice as your date…”

“… thinking what the guys and I needed to restock at Zonko’s and Honeydukes,” he said, ignoring her last addition. “It just sucked seeing it all ruined.”

“I should probably point out that many of these times you couldn’t come to Hogsmeade was because you and James had done something that had gotten you into detention,” Mia stated with a smile as they walked beyond the village’s limits.

He groaned. “Detention during Hogsmeade weekends should be forbidden by law. But I was referring to visits altogether cancelled, not those when only James and I couldn’t come. The kids are probably all frustrated in the castle. Especially Ron, according to what Harry told me – it’s his birthday today.”

“Well, there’s a good reason for this one to have been cancelled,” she said with a more serious expression on her face. “You wouldn’t want another one stuck in St. Mungo’s for months the way Katie Bell has been, would you?”

“Of course not,” he quickly assured her. “I’m just saying it sucks the kids can’t do something they really like because of this… You-Know-Who crap. Anyway, I still wonder who gave the necklace to Katie. The aurors had been watching the village all around – it would be nearly impossible for a Death Eater sneak into Hogsmeade. It had to be done from the inside.”

Mia sighed and stopped walking as they approached the Shrieking Shack, knowing what was coming. “And the top of your list of possible responsibles goes for…”

“Malfoy and Snape,” he said plainly.

“The usual suspects,” she said, dryly. “I’m shocked.”

“Well, it’s not my fault they’re pretentious bastards who seem shady as hell all the time,” he told her. “Harry agrees with me.”

“Well, you’re both biased by the fact that you don’t like either of them at all,” Mia told him simply. “You especially with Snape. Dumbledore trusts him – don’t you think you should give him a chance?”

He looked annoyed. “Why is it that, all of a sudden you’re defending Snape?”

She sighed, sitting on a large boulder. “Look, you know I’m not particularly fond of him either – he’s bitter towards everyone, an awful teacher and treats my kids like criminals. But he was Lily’s friend. Alright, I accept that maybe Dumbledore was capable of trusting too much but Lily… she wouldn’t be friends with a completely awful person.”

He took a deep breath, knowing that was a dodgy matter. “They stopped being friends long before she was killed, Mia. She wouldn’t have ended a friendship lightly either. He called her a Mudblood – that doesn’t seem to me like something a good friend would do.”

“I think he regrets it – he gave Malfoy the detention of a lifetime in Harry’s second year for calling Hermione a Mudblood. That sounds significant to me,” she stated.

“Too little, too late.”

Mia huffed in frustration. “Well, you lied to me and risked your life last year in a way that hurt me enormously and I still forgave you, Sirius.” She immediately regretted saying that, seeing him visibly tense. She got up and approached her husband, remaining behind him as he stood still and rested one hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”

“It’s fine,” he mumbled without looking at her. “I get the point.”

She could tell he was upset and moved in order to stand opposite him. “No, I really am sorry for bringing that up. I had no right.” She tentatively wrapped her arms around him and rested her head against his chest. She was hoping the physical contact would confirm to him the fact that she was really sorry. “I didn’t do it to upset you – I’m just trying to prove the point that people do hurtful things without thinking and they still deserve forgiveness.” She sighed against his chest, feeling his tension disappear slowly. “Can this be one of these times? I meant every word when I told you we’d put what happened past us. It just… seemed like a good example. Stupid.”

His hands finally moved to her, one resting on her back and the other on her hair. “It’s okay. I do get what you were trying to say but…” He sighed, trying to think of what to say next and she pulled away slightly, just enough so she was looking up at him. “Look, I love you for everything you are and trying to give Snape the benefit of the doubt even though he’s always been an arse to you is, well, part of you. But not of me. I guess he and I are just this kind of people that are born to hate each other – if I ever considered trusting him, Mia, it would have to be for a very good, life or death, reason. And I’m pretty sure it’s the same with Harry and Malfoy. Some things you cannot change.”

Mia sighed. “I guess I knew that deep down,” she mumbled. “I still say Lily wouldn’t have been his friend of there wasn’t good in him.”

He sighed. Some part of him – the part where his loyalty to Lily and James lay – hopes it was true. “Well, even I know it would be awfully tasteless to make a wager on his allegiances, so how about we drop it instead? Moony mentioned the twins would be here this morning to check on Zonko’s old shop for their new branch – we could drop by there and take a look ourselves and then a grab a butterbeer with them at the Three Broomsticks before we go pay the kids a visit at Hogwarts.”

“Hum, since it’s still ten in the morning and way too early to grab a butterbeer, I’ll have to insist we visit the kids first and then go meet the twins,” Mia pointed out.

He sighed. “You’re no fun at all.”

She smiled. “Sure I’m not.”

He chuckled. “Fine, we’ll go see the kids first. But can I at least have butterbeer for lunch? Only butterbeer? I’m in a drinking mood today.”

Mia rolled her eyes as he wrapped one arm around her and they resumed walking back to the other side of the village, where the Hogwarts gates were. “You’re such a kid.”

“Well, aren’t we all?”

---

Someone had to be kidding him – someone really had, Harry thought as he and Ginny all but dragged Ron all the way from the Common Room to Slughorn’s office.

Sure, he’d known things between Ron and Lavender weren’t all that good lately. It was ridiculous how only a few weeks before they’d been snogging every waking moment and now his best friend had turned to see Lav-Lav as some sort of plague to avoid most of the time. Not that he felt at all saddened by that fact. Truth was, as Ginny kept saying, being around Lavander was like swimming in a pool of the most mushy and annoying traits a human being could possibly get. The fact that she wasn’t evil was a point in her favour yet he hoped, for Lavender’s sake, that she’d grow become a less… flashy person. But for now, why Ron wouldn’t just go ahead and break up with her instead of avoiding her was a mystery to him…

However, no matter how bad Ron’s relationship with Lavender was, the last thing he would have expected his best friend to be doing in their dorm in the morning of his birthday was a love declaration… directed to an absent Romilda Vane. If he’d thought something was wrong by the time he heard the desperate and pitiful pledges of love, he was sure of it in the minute Ron attacked him because of believing it was a very elaborate joke. Who could blame him, really? It sounded like a joke.

By the time he had Ron restrained just so no fists would hit his face that day, the answer to his best friend’s odd behaviour came in the form of Chocolate Cauldrons – love-potion-spiked Chocolate cauldrons. Harry could barely remember when Romilda had offered those to him – certainly before Christmas. He vaguely recalled her intercepting him on his way to the dorm after an exhausting Quidditch practice and accepting those chocolates just to get her off his back, only to throw them into his trunk and never think of them again. It was irony in its best form – if Ron hadn’t been such a glutton and launched himself at the chocolates when Harry had taken them off his trunk while looking for something in it, he wouldn’t have gotten himself in that pickle.

So, after he’d managed to calm Ron down, convinced him to accompany him to Slughorn’s office under the cover that Romilda was there, Ginny – who he was supposed to have been hanging out with instead of his love-stricken best friend – offered to accompany him and Ron down to Slughorn’s office. That was, after she and Izzy mocked the redheaded boy for some good ten minutes – he had to admit it was hard not to…

“You know, I still think we should have just set him loose and had a laugh with whatever he did,” Ginny whispered to Harry as she walked by his side. “He had it coming for all the bad imagery of him snogging Lavender that has been haunting my nightmares.”

As he firmly secured Ron’s arm with his hand – Merlin knew what a bloke under the influence of love potions past its expiration time could do if they lost him – Harry allowed himself to laugh for a moment before he felt a pang of sympathy for his best friend. “It’s his birthday, Gin. We should be hexed for letting him make more of a fool of himself than he already has.”

She sighed. “Let me tell you you’re too nice for your own good, Mr. Potter.” But then, despite the disapproving tone of her voice, she smiled up at him for a moment. “I suppose we could be merciful for a day. But if the twins got him in a situation like this instead of my magnanimous self…”

“I can imagine how that would turn out,” Harry said with a laugh before pulling Ron back to the right way as he started to move the wrong one. “Down the staircase, mate, not up,” he told him.

Ron mumbled a ‘thanks’ and eagerly returned to the right path – he seemed to be jumping between ecstatic and thoughtfully-silent modes, though he’d been sticking with the latter since Ginny had lied to him and said Romilda liked contained blokes.

Harry turned back to his girlfriend. “Where were we? Ah, the twins. If it was up to them, he’d be proposing to Romilda by the end of the day.”

“Eloping if they found a way to pull it off,” she added with a grin. “I ought to pay back that little tart for this. Trying to drug my boyfriend with love-potion – drugging my brother. Bloody minx. When I get my hands on her, she’ll he sniffing bats for a week!”

He spoke dryly. “We’ll have a detention date, then. How’s your Tuesday? Snape’s got me cleaning the detention files again. I’m about to reach the hundredth detention slip on Sirius and my dad together and I haven’t gotten past their fourth year yet.”

“Prolific detentioneers, I see,” she observed with an amused smile.

Ron suddenly turned to face the couple. “What are you two whispering about? Is it Romilda? Did she say something about me?”

Ginny nodded, a mocking glint in her eyes. “No, Harry and I were only discussing the colour of his robes for your wedding with Romilda. The best man has to look good.” She turned to her boyfriend. “You’d look lovely in green.”

Even though he knew she was kidding, he blushed. “Thanks. Er… so would you.”

Ron sighed dreamily and returned to thoughtfully-silent mode, likely imagining Romilda in white… Just as they reached Slughorn’s floor, they quite literally ran into Sirius and Mia, who were climbing up.

“Wow, hey, kid. We were just going up to say hello to you. Hi there, Ginny,” Sirius said.

“Hi,” the redheaded girl replied with a smile.

“Er… Izzy’s upstairs at the common room. We need to take care of a small thing now but it shouldn’t take long. We’ll meet you there,” Harry said quickly, hoping they wouldn’t notice Ron’s state. It would only be more embarrassing for him…

He wasn’t so lucky, as Mia quickly saw it. “What’s wrong with him? Is he ill? Ron?”

“I’m in love,” he said in a deliriously happy tone.

“Good for you,” Sirius said, clapping him on the back. “Finally put the pieces together with Hermione?”

Ron shot him an appalled look like Sirius had just implied he was in love with the giant squid instead. “Hermione?! No. Romilda. My sweet, pretty…” He stopped talking and sighed, leaning against the stair’s novel post before letting out an overly dramatic sigh.

Sirius turned to Harry with a confused look on his face. “Hum? Romilda? As in Vane?” Babbs’s daughter, he thought in disgust.

“Long story. He accidentally took some love potion,” Harry explained. “We’re taking him to Slughorn for some antidote.”

Mia looked at Ron with concern all over her face. “I don’t know, Harry, maybe Madam Pomfrey would be more adequate for something like this.”

Harry shook his head. “No, the seventh years were brewing the antidote for love-potions in Slughorn’s class last week – he probably has plenty of it stashed. No need to go bother Madam Pomfrey – she’d ask too many questions and it would be too embarrassing for him…” Also it would give him a good excuse to talk to the old teacher and ask him for the bit of information Dumbledore had requested from him, which had Slughorn avoiding him lately…

“More than it already is?” Sirius asked with a grin as Ron was all sighs right opposite him – he could almost see the heart-shaped smoke coming out of the boy’s ears. Sirius snorted. “Boy, he’s got it bad… Why don’t you improvise some poetry for her, Ron? I bet she’d be impressed.”

“Poetry… I…” He paused, seemingly composing the poem in his head.

“Merlin, please don’t give him more ideas – he wouldn’t shut up earlier,” Harry said with an exasperated tone

“You know, you could just leave him like that for a while longer, fetch a camera and snap a few pictures of what he does.”

“I completely agree,” Ginny pointed out. “But Harry insists it’s wrong doing that on his birthday.”

“Because it is,” he stated, turning to Sirius. “Did you ever do that to my father? Snap picture of him drunk?”

He grinned. “You should try a revealing charm on those ‘empty’ pages of his wedding album, that’s all I’m saying. But I’m sure Fred and George would pay a good price any of those pict… ouch!” he complained as Mia shoved her elbow into his ribs. “What was that for? I wasn’t saying anything wrong…”

“Of course you weren’t,” Mia said sarcastically. “This is serious! He could hurt himself or do something really stupid.”

Ginny huffed. “Like praising Romilda’s buttocks in front of me and Izzy, not to mention Hermione who’d just walked in? Yeah, he’s already done that.”

“I reckon Hermione’s handprint won’t leave his face for a few hours,” Harry mumbled.

“Hermione doesn’t understand our love,” Ron said, lamely. “It’s so beautiful, so…”

“…nauseating,” Ginny offered under her breath.

Still worried, Mia lifted two fingers in front of him. “How many of these do you see, Ron?”

The redhead let out a sigh. “Two. I see just fine – I just don’t see Romilda…” He turned to Harry. “Can we head to Slughorn’s now?”

Harry shot his godmother a look that clearly begged her to just go along with it.

She sighed. “Fine. Take him to Slughorn. But if he doesn’t get better…”

“Madam Pomfrey. We got it,” Ginny assured her, grabbing her brother’s arm before he had a chance to start walking there on his own.

Sirius looked rather disappointed. “Is there at least any chance you could provide some memories for pensieve screening?” he asked, earning a disapproving look from his wife. “For study purpose, only, of course. The twins need to be aware of the consequences of their love potions…”

“Study purposes my arse. You really need to start working on your excuses, Sirius. If Mary could speak already, even she could say that was rubbish,” Mia told him with a sceptical look on her face.

“It was not that bad…”

“Well, I guess we’ll leave them here to discuss that on their own,” Harry mumbled to Ginny as they motioned to walk away. “Meet you guys later, then,” he told his godparents with a chuckle before they told him to meet them in the kitchens later in stead of the Common Room – it would probably make a few students uncomfortable having two teachers hanging out in their Common Room.

Later, just as they were reaching Slughorn’s office and Ron was nearly impossible to put up with due to all the excitement of seeing Romilda, Harry turned to Ginny and whispered in her year. “So, how long are you planning to tease him about this love potion thing?”

“Oh, longer than any calendar can mark,” she said with a smile.

Little did they know that, in a matter of minutes, laughing would be the farthest thing away from their minds…

---

Mia couldn’t help finding it odd that one hour had already passed since Harry and Ginny had taken Ron to Slughorn’s office and they still hadn’t made it to the kitchens. But then again, Slughorn could talk for hours and hours with no end – or at least that was with Elizabeth said. Mia wouldn’t know since, unlike her two best friends, she hadn’t been a member of the Slug Club.

“… and apparently, since the owner of Zonko’s has vanished and the shop was closed, the twins want to buy it and make a new branch in there,” Sirius was telling his daughter as they sat by a long wooden table.

“Oh, are they moving here?” Izzy asked eagerly. “It’s nice having them around. George mentioned over the holidays that Fred and Angelina are getting serious. He joked that sometime this year he might end up getting kicked out of the flat for her to move there.”

Sirius snorted. “Well, unless Fred and George are planning to still share a house after they’re married and have kids, they will have to start warming up to the idea of moving away from each other. But it’s them – living together or not, they’ll always be the twins. Now, give me that,” he said, nicking the plate of treacle tart he and Izzy had managed to charm away from the house elves and taking a spoonful of it. Then, he glanced at Mia, noting how silent she was, not even having scolded him and Izzy for spoiling their lunches with the tart. “Your mom is not with us,” he whispered Izzy, who chuckled.

“Doesn’t look like she is,” she agreed with a chuckle. She cleared her throat and raised her voice. “How’s the view from the moon, Mom?”

Mia turned to them, confused. “Hum?”

“Welcome back,” Sirius said with a grin. “We’re assuming your mind was just lost somewhere in deep space since you looked so absent.”

“I was just thinking,” she said, turning her face to the portrait-covered doorway, which had just suddenly open. McGonagall stepped in, looking pale and grim and Mia knew immediately that something was wrong. “What happened? Is it Harry?”

McGonagall shook her head. “Miss Weasley. Ginny. She was poisoned.”

At the table, Izzy immediately dropped her fork and got up in a flash, paling as well. “Ginny? What…? When…? Is she…?”

“Poppy says she should be alright thanks to Harry. He fed her a bezoar just in time,” McGonagall assured her before Izzy or anyone else had the time to ask if she was even alive. “He mentioned you were here and I thought you ought to be there with him for…”

They were already heading to the Hospital Wing before she could finish, Sirius leading the way, his arm supporting his daughter’s frame. It didn’t matter that McGonagall said she was going to be fine – they needed to know. Ginny was family, she was the best thing that had happened in Harry’s life. It was their duty to be there when she needed and to be there when Harry needed them.

When they reached the Hospital Wing’s corridor, not more than four or five minutes after having left the kitchens, it was easy to spot their godson. He silently sat on the stone floor in front of the infirmary’s large doors with his knees bent and his back supported by the wall while a bench lay forgotten only a few feet away. His face was awfully pale and tense, not to mention he appeared to be looking at the infinite, no doubt terrified from having just seen his girlfriend nearly die. Sitting with him were Ron and Hermione, any sign of hostility between the latter two gone in benefit of helping each other and Harry through Ginny’s situation.

“Harry,” Mia called as she approached.

Her godson lifted his head to see them and immediately motioned to stand up. Before he could even think of saying anything, Mia took a step in his direction and wrapped him in a firm, motherly hug, rubbing his back as she held him. He held back just as strongly.

Harry seemed to relax a little against her, recalling that, as far as he could remember, Mia had always been there to give him a hug when he needed. Before, when he was little and only bad dreams or easily solved matters haunted him, that simple gesture used to make everything bad go away. Now that the world had revealed itself to him – the bad and the ugly taking the lead – his godmother’s hugs were only a temporary fix. Yet, he’d always be thankful for them. He’d needed one especially then.

“Are you okay?” Mia asked as she pulled away and saw from the corner of her eye McGonagall slipping discretely into the Hospital Wing.

He nodded faintly. “She… it was so fast. One minute we were laughing, the other she was just…”

“It’s okay, honey. She’ll be okay,” Mia told him softly, quietly nudging him in the direction of the bench while Sirius followed her along with Izzy. While she sat down with Harry, the other two remained on their feet. “Can you tell me how it happened or would you rather not?”

“I… It was an accident. Or at least I think it was. Slughorn looked shocked too,” he rambled. “After he fixed Ron with the antidote for the love potion, Slughorn offered us all a drink of mead because, you know, it’s Ron’s birthday and it was already going pretty badly… I don’t think the bottle was ever opened before – it looked sealed before he opened it, you know? We all got served a glass of it and Ginny took a small sip right away just to know what it tasted like…”

“She always does that when she’d drinking or eating something she’s never had before,” Izzy said as she stood by her father’s side.

Harry nodded. “Says it’s to avoid bad surprises.” The irony… “Then, Slughorn had barely started to say a toast and she just started breathing really shallowly and then dropped to the floor convulsing.” His body went cold just by remembering that. “Slughorn just stopped thinking and Ron kneeled near her, shouting her name. Then I remembered the book – it said a bezoar could cure any type of poison and I knew there was one in Slughorn’s potion kit… Ginny got better when I gave it to her.” He gritted his teeth. “I should have just listened to you, aunt Mia. I should have come straight here and not to Slughorn’s.”

Instead of Mia, Sirius was the one to intervene by shaking his head. “It would’ve happened sooner or later, kid. Maybe not to Ginny but probably to Slughorn himself. You know the old guy loves his booze – someday he’d have downed the whole bottle by himself and there wouldn’t have been anyone around to shove a bezoar down his throat and save his life. Don’t even think of blaming yourself for that, Harry.”

“You saved her life,” Izzy said in a low, respectful tone. “Again.”

Harry sighed, thinking he’d been so close to freezing like Slughorn had, and then gulped. “They won’t let me go in and see her. Madam Pomfrey said I had to wait. I need to know Ginny is really alright.”

“I’m sure she is…” Mia started.

“But I need to see. I love her.” All the times he’d allowed himself to imagine a future with Ginny, he’d only allowed himself to think that if they didn’t get a chance was because he hadn’t made it through the war – he’d never considered she might not make it. “I can’t lose her.”

“It probably won’t be long before you’re allowed in,” Sirius said. He felt sympathetic about it – not so long before, he’s been the one craving for news. He’d been the one feeling his heart unsteady because the woman he loved was in bad shape. “It’s Ginny – sooner than you’ll know, that one will be here shooting bat-bogey hexes at anyone that dares annoy her.”

They spent several more minutes waiting until Mia managed to get herself inside Madam Pomfrey’s domain in order to get some news from how Ginny was doing. Arthur and Molly soon showed up with the twins escorted by Dumbledore, their faces blank as well, and, even before going in to see their daughter, the plump redhead woman enveloped Harry in a tearful tight hug, thanking him over and over for saving her daughter’s life.

“Harry, what can we say? You saved Ginny in the chamber… you saved Arthur from the snake last year… now Ginny again…” Molly sobbed as he awkwardly patted her back. “We owe you so much…”

Mia approached, coming from the infirmary and gave them a smile. “She’s starting to wake up. Poppy says a couple of people can come in. Molly, Arthur, I suppose you want to…”

Arthur nodded. “Yes, we’ll go. But Harry’s coming with is. We’ll talk Poppy into letting us all in.”

“Yes, Ginny will want to see you, dear,” Molly told Harry, drying her eyes with a handkerchief her husband had gave her earlier. “Come along.”

“She’ll be alright,” Mia assured him one more time, gripping his shoulder before Harry followed his girlfriend’s parents inside. Then she looked around and took a breath. Izzy seemed to be calmer too, sitting with Ron and Hermione talking in hushed tones as a group of curious students watched from the end of the corridor. Things had turned out well… that time.

Only a few feet away from them, Dumbledore spoke with Slughorn about the incident and one single sentence concerning the poisoned bottle caught their attention. “…got it from the Three Broomsticks last December as a present… for you, Albus.”

Sirius and Mia’s eyes met for a moment and they quietly left for an empty balcony just around the corner.

“First the necklace, now the bottle,” Sirius said. “They really are trying to off Dumbledore.”

Mia nodded, feeling chilly and not just from the wind. “And they don’t really care if anyone else is harmed for it.”

“Well, looks like the attacks haven’t stopped, after all,” he said.

“No, they’ve just gotten subtler,” Mia agreed, worried.

“Can’t tell which is worse, honestly,” Sirius said. “This or the other attacks.” The not knowing, the unexpected… he hated it. He feared it, he admitted with a sigh. “And I’m not sure I want to find out…”

A/N: So sorry for the late chapter but, well, I had no way of updating later. I'll just say this: dumb anti-virus, contamined laptop that was useless for a few days, several files currupted among which was the original version of the chapter... no backup. Backup your files, people. take my advice... Anyway, I hope you like the chapter even though this version was written in little more than a day. Feedback is welcome. Review!

Disclaimer: Some of the dialogue from the books during Ron's infatuation is quotes from Harry Potter and the Hlf-blood Prince (chapter 18 birthday surprises)
 


Chapter 16: Bludger
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The news of Ginny’s poisoning seemed, for the first days after the incident had taken place, to make an appearance in every conversation that took place in the school. Some people were shocked and fearful, which seemed to combine with the most recent wave of student-withdrawals the school had suffered, others were mainly indifferent mostly because they barely knew her and others – a group mainly formed by classic ‘bad Slytherins’ and spiteful young girls helplessly developing crushes on Harry – were pleased.

Over the years Harry had gotten used to the not-so-whispered nasty comments about him coming from Slytherins such as Malfoy’s closer group of friends that was formed by Crabbe, Goyle, Parkinson and Zabini. Yet, that developed resistance didn’t seem to apply to when those comments – though still directed to him – concerned pitying the fact that there was a bezoar in the room to save Ginny in time – each time he heard that, Harry saw himself clenching his fists so one of them wouldn’t end up buried in one of their faces. Surprisingly, he hadn’t been the one losing it – Izzy had. After a particularly malicious comment about her best friend, she had ended up casting a furnunculus hex on Pansy Parkinson right in the middle of a hallway, hardly caring about the dozens of Slytherins witnessing it or the three days of detention that Snape had given her. Though he’d tried – really tried – to drag Harry along into the accusation, lack of proof hadn’t allowed the spiteful teacher to do so…

Romilda had also been another issue to deal with. The three weeks of detention McGonagall had given her for messing with Love Potions – ‘…an invasion of one’s mind and a shameful twisting of a person’s feelings that should be seen as a criminal act in the Wizarding World,’ Harry recalled the head of his house shouting at Romilda loud enough for all the school to hear– didn’t seem to have destroyed her hopes concerning a romance with Harry. Clearly there wasn’t a drop of shame in her: she’d started following him everywhere, very eager to know if Ginny was going to be okay because ‘she was such a dear friend’ and constantly offering him a shoulder to lean on, which he kept awkwardly refusing. It all culminated to an afternoon when she’d had the nerve to try and follow him into the Hospital Wing when he was visiting Ginny and he’d ended up yelling at her – as odd as it seemed coming from him – and telling her with no flourishes whatsoever that there was no chance he’d ever consider going out with her after she’d tried to slip him a love potion. He wasn’t sure if it had been pride wounded by him yelling at her or pure heartbreak but, from that day on, Romilda had most definitely left him alone.

Meanwhile, the Order was worried and the meetings had grown increasingly tense since Ginny’s poisoning, which had revealed a quiet attempt on Dumbledore’s life. The main issue involved the new position Dumbledore should take in terms of protecting himself.

“You need protection, Albus,” Mad-Eye advised during an Order meeting taking place five days after the incident with the poisoned bottle of mead at the headquarters that used to be the basement of Lily and James’s old house. “Someone tried to kill you – we can’t just leave you unprotected. Kingsley has already said he can provide an auror to keep an eye on you. That and having your food tested should do it.”

“Thank you, Alastor, but I don’t think I want a bodyguard or my food to be tested every time I’m hungry,” the headmaster calmly dismissed. “There is no reason for alarm.”

“No reason? This is the second time someone tries to kill you this year!”

As he and Mia sat at the long rectangular table around each all members remained, Sirius could swear he saw a vein on Moody’s forehead thumping hard, which made him realize just how angry Dumbledore’s lax attitude made the former auror.

“Alastor is right at some rate, Albus,” McGonagall stated. “Your life is endangered. That is something we can’t ignore.”

“Everyone’s lives are in danger, Minerva. Why should I have someone always ready to protect me when all others don’t?”

“You are the head of this movement! The Order needs you,” Mad-Eye stated.

The headmaster stood up from his chair, towering over everyone. Sirius noted that his expression, which had been calm until then, had shifted to… disappointment? Sadness? Somethign along those lines. “What I am, my friends, is an old man. And like every man, sooner or later I will meet an end as the human condition dictates. This movement – the Order – doesn’t need a leader – it needs people who believe in it. And, sooner or later, the world will have to live without me in it, fight without me in it. So I keep my opinion, Alastor. I don’t need extra protection – I will manage on my own as everyone else does.”

There was a long moment of silence after his words, during which everyone wondered about the meaning of them – to Sirius and Mia, it sounded like a warning. To what however, they didn’t know. They didn’t even want to try and guess.

Mad-Eye was the first one to speak and his tone didn’t seem happy at all. “That’s plain reckless,” he said bluntly as Dumbledore sat back again. “You should…”

A fake cough coming from Snape interrupted him and the former potions master spoke. “If I may, I believe the headmaster is right.”

“Of course you do,” Sirius mumbled, loud enough for half the table to hear. He had a feeling Mad-Eye mirrored his thought: agreeing with leaving Dumbledore unprotected sounded awfully catty coming from a known ‘reformed’ Death Eater.

“Sirius,” Mia hissed by his side. The look she gave him clearly warned him not to make a scene.

At the opposite side of the table, Snape seemed to ignore him. “As I said, I agree with the headmaster. I’d say not trusting him to protect himself after such a long, fulfilled life is simply insulting.”

“I am not insulted,” Dumbledore assured. “Though, as Severus is declaring and which I agree with, I like to believe I am capable of handling my own protection.”

The discussion went on for several more minutes with a number of other members of the Order stepping in and out of it with suggestions and diplomatic words and, in the end, it was decided that, though Dumbledore wouldn’t be getting any extra protection, several Aurors would be assigned to protect Hogwarts and its boundaries for the students’ sakes, a matter that Molly had been understandably insistent about after what had happened to Ginny.

Afterwards, as everyone was leaving the headquarters, only Mad-Eye remaining back to argue some more with Dumbledore, Sirius and Mia ended up standing with Remus and Tonks near the fireplace waiting for everyone else to floo away before they did.

“Was it me,” Tonks started, her tone inquisitive, “or Dumbledore’s speech about the ‘world needing to fight without him in it’ had a deeper meaning than it showed?”

“Nope, it wasn’t just you,” Sirius confirmed. “Do you think he’s ill?”

“Not ill particularly,” Remus responded. “But it sounded to me like he doesn’t expect to live through this war.”

Mia swallowed hard. “That’s not good. Of all people… of all people I think Dumbledore is among those with the largest odds of living. With everything he’s done, all the battles he fought. You-Know-Who fears him.”

“Well, that’s probably why he’s trying to get him out of the way,” Sirius stated. “Look, maybe we’re overreacting, trying to find meanings in his words that are not there. Maybe the guy was just feeling depressed today.” How funny was it that even he doubted his own words?

“Maybe,” Tonks mumbled, not buying it either. Dumbledore had been acting too odd. And he hadn’t seemed depressed at all. Disappointed, maybe. But not depressed. She sighed. “Well, the two of us should get going,” she stated, looking up at her husband. “You need your rest tonight – rough night tomorrow.”

None of them needed to ask why – full moon would take place in the following night. Despite the shadow that surrounded that occasion for Remus, Mia felt glad that now their friend had someone – his wife – to look after him during such a hard time.

“Your girl is right, Moony,” Sirius pointed out. “Go home and just forget this. Tomorrow I’ll meet you at the usual place.” By usual place, Sirius meant the little country house that had once belonged to Remus’s parents, which, beside the Shrieking Shack, was still the safest place for Remus to transform, having a shed that had been built by Remus’s father for that sole purpose.

After Remus and Tonks left to their flat, Sirius and Mia followed to their own home and the matter of Dumbledore’s words was quickly dropped, though hardly forgotten. Of one thing Sirius was sure – if Dumbledore didn’t tell them about it, they’d never have the nerve to ask. All that was left was waiting.

---

While the members of the Order disbanded to their homes, Harry sat by the side of Ginny’s bed in the Hospital Wing along with Ron and Hermione, worrying about more trivial matters, such as the Quidditch team. There was a game in two days and Madam Pomfrey had just told them that not only wouldn’t Ginny be fit to play but also she couldn’t go to the stadium and watch. They were missing another chaser.

“Dean Thomas is already replacing Katie and he’s the only backup chaser,” Harry told Ginny.

Ginny grunted. “We should have picked two or three backup chasers just in case,” she said, irritably. “Maybe if I work smoothly enough, Madam Pomfrey will let me play.” Apart from a persistent lack of appetite and ‘slight’ lack of strength, she felt perfectly normal – she could be fit for a game with a few strengthening potions and days of training.

“No, she won’t and neither will I,” Harry told her, surprisingly firmly. “Your health comes first, Gin. That’s not negotiable. I’m captain.”

Before Ginny could protest, Hermione jumped in her best friend’s defence. “I think losing a game wouldn’t be as bad as being stuck in the Hospital Wing for another week if anything went wrong,” she offered before turning to Harry. “What about Izzy? I’ve seen her flying at the Burrow. You could ask her to play after her detention is over.”

Harry shook his head. “She’ll refuse. She doesn’t like to play ‘real’ games – too many rules, she says. Plus, well, she misses more than she scores as a chaser – it’s aunt Mia’s side of the gene-pool. If anything, she can play a remotely decent keeper when she’s inspired to it,” Harry said.

“Well, Ron will have to do it, then,” Ginny stated, leaning back against the pillows of her bed and crossing her arms.

Her brother opened his eyes wide in disbelief. “Me?”

“Yeah, you. You always played Chaser in those three versus three Quidditch games you used to play with Bill, Charlie, Percy and the twins when we were younger.”

“Because Bill and Charlie wouldn’t let me be the Keeper,” he pointed out before turning to Harry in order to explain. “The game pretty much only had Keepers and Chasers because we didn’t own a snitch for a Seeker to catch and Mom wouldn’t let us anywhere near Bludgers.”

“He was decent enough. His team usually won,” Ginny stated.

“Well, the problem is solved, then,” Hermione easily declared.

Ron shook his head. “Not so fast – my team usually won because Percy was always in the opposite team and he couldn’t score to save his life.”

Ginny gave him an accusatory look. “If you weren’t such chauvinistic gits and had let me play…”

“You’ll never let that go, will you?”

She shook her head and glared some more. “When I’m a professional Quidditch Player and some reporter asks me if my dear brothers supported my love for Quidditch from a young age, I’ll be more than happy to respond with a huge ‘no’. Still, Ron, you’re playing chaser the day after tomorrow. Gotta take one for the team.”

Ron groaned but didn’t protest. There just wasn’t time to organize new tryouts and pick someone remotely good from all the candidates… He’d have to do it, as much as it annoyed him.

“But who’ll be the Keeper, then?” Hermione asked, though she suspected she knew the answer.

Harry sighed. “McLaggen.” As soon as he said that, there were four simultaneous groans, yet nobody tried to change his mind – they all knew that, as unpleasant as the seventh year might be, he’d been the second best at the tryouts – maybe the best if Hermione hadn’t confunded him…

“You’d better tell that git not to warm up to the position,” Ron told his best mate with narrowed eyes. “And if I suck as a chaser…”

“… nobody will blame you,” Harry assured with a huff. “Our team seems like a patchwork quilt already. Odds are against us, anyway.”

Ginny punched him lightly on the arm. “Stop moping, Potter. If we lose this game, we’re still on the run for the cup. Next game I’ll be there and we’ll win.”

“Pretty sure of yourself, aren’t you?” Harry asked her, half-grinning just as Madam Pomfrey approached Ginny’s bed, carrying a glass of a greyish steaming liquid with her.

His girlfriend frowned immediately. “Not again. That stuff tastes like sewage water.”

Madam Pomfrey didn’t seem amused or insulted, keeping a firm look on her face. “Well, Miss Weasley, if you were brave enough to taste sewage water, I’m sure you’ll do just fine with this potion.” She handed Ginny the potion and remained by the bed, arms crossed, apparently waiting for her to drink it. “Well?”

With a huff, the redhead took a sip knowing it was hopeless to fight back. As soon as the taste of the liquid touched her tongue, she made a face. The following sips were just as painful and, by the time the glass was empty, Ginny looked absolutely disgusted. The healer seemed satisfied enough, picking up the empty glass and walking away  – but not before reminding Harry, Ron and Hermione that they had ten minutes before curfew in order to leave, a fact that all ignored. “I can’t believe that stuff is actually appetite-enhancing potion. The taste alone makes me want to jinx my mouth away.”

“Doesn’t look as disgusting as polyjuice potion,” Ron commented. “That one tasted like mud.”

“Well, you should try this one, then,” she said, dryly. “Anyway, where were we before?”

“Ron’s playing Chaser, McLaggen will replace him as Keeper,” Harry reminded her.

“Right, well, don’t let the fact that he’s made it into the team get it McLaggen’s head. Cocky as he is, it will swell so much people will have trouble flying near him. Then again, his big head might come handy defending the goal posts… Just be careful with him – overconfident prats often end up causing trouble.”

“I don’t doubt that,” her boyfriend agreed as Madam Pomfrey returned, once again reminding them of the curfew.

While Hermione stepped out dragging Ron along against his will, Harry stayed behind a little longer. “Have I mentioned I’m really sorry Madam Pomfrey won’t let you play? You’re our best chaser.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “We both know you only want me to play because you want someone around to share a victory snog with you as soon as the game is over.”

“Well, anything involving victory is unlikely this time around…”

“An end-of-game snog, then,” she stated.

“How about a goodnight snog for now instead?” he suggested, noting Madam Pomfrey had busied herself messing with the potions cabinet.

Ginny smiled. “I could live with that.”

Their lips barely managed to remain together for two or three seconds before the hectic school matron’s voice sounded again – great time she’d picked to turn her attention to them again. “Potter! Unless what Miss Weasley is doing to you right now is some sort of mouth-to-mouth reanimation technique because you’ve stopped breathing, you’d better be out of this infirmary in the next ten seconds before I banish you from entering here again!”

He groaned. “We’ll resume this tomorrow, then.” And then, he headed off.

---

Two days later, in the morning when the Quidditch game took place, it was clear Ginny had been right about McLaggen: less than thirty minutes into the game, not only had he attempted several times to step over Harry and act as the team’s captain but also managed to somehow get his hands on a beater’s bat and, while ‘showing some moves’ to said beater right in the middle of the game, aim a Bludger straight to Harry’s head. Accidentally.

After getting over the panic of watching her godson falling down several feet from his broomstick until Sirius had caught him by flying as fast as he could on his broom, Mia, who’d been watching the game from the stands as she did every time Harry played, had become immensely frustrated.

“You know, I feel like I should be surprised when this kind of stuff happens to Harry but, honestly, I don’t think I can anymore,” Mia told her husband as they stood in the Hospital Wing by the window, leaving Ginny alone by Harry’s bed, talking to his yet unconscious form – Ron, Hermione and Izzy had been there earlier until Madam Pomfrey had shooed them away to the Great Hall, saying it was lunch time. “Does that make me an awful mother? Seeing Harry in the Hospital Wing and being annoyed because it happened again instead of desperately begging him to wake up?”

Sirius shook his head – he was still wearing his Quidditch Referee equipment, not having had time to change in the middle of all the confusion. “Of course not. First of all, you know he must be waking any minute. Second, the kid certainly spends more time in the Hospital Wing than anyone else I know – I’d say being annoyed about it is not wrong at all. Besides, we’ve been here in this infirmary way too many times lately.”

Too many,” she agreed. Just in the previous week it had been Ginny. Now, even before the girl was out herself, there was Harry. Again.

“Most of the time it’s not even his fault. Trouble does chase him around, as he says…”

“I wonder how this will end,” Mia mumbled. She didn’t mean the constant visits to the Hospital Wing – she meant Harry’s… fate. Because that was what everything was leading up to, right? They knew he was supposed to face Voldemort. They knew one of them would live and the other wouldn’t and she wouldn’t dare herself to believe Harry wouldn’t be the one who lived. But when would it happen? How? Would it be a battle? Or something incredibly sudden like an ambush? And would Harry get hurt somehow? Would other people? So many questions and almost no answers at all. She didn’t even know why she was asking them now. Maybe Harry having gotten hurt in a simple Quidditch game had reminded her of his mortality or maybe Dumbledore’s rather unsettling words the other day had gotten to her more than she’d realized. She looked up and saw her husband’s eyes on her, observing. “What?”

“You’ll go mad if you keep thinking of it, Mia,” he told her and she didn’t have any doubt he knew exactly what was going on inside her head, what she’d meant with her earlier words. It was hard to explain how he knew it. He just did.

“Sometimes I can’t help it,” she said. “Don’t you? Think of it, I mean”

He nodded – he thought of it more than she thought. “Gets me as far as you’ve gone – nowhere. It doesn’t matter what we imagine or try to guess – what matters is that the kid is ready for anything. We’re doing our parts; Dumbledore is helping him too with those lessons of his…”

He was so secretive about those lessons, Mia thought. She hoped it was because there was nothing important to say yet – she trusted he’d tell them anything he learned if it was important. Then again, he was growing up, becoming his own person – who knew if the secrecy wasn’t just one of the traits that had arrived along with his teenage years.

“You know,” Sirius told her, hoping he could change the subject as he looked at Ginny and the still unconscious Harry – the subject needed to be changed, “a few years ago – or more like a couple of decades ago – I happened to be the knocked out patient with the cracked skull and you were the pretty girl sitting by the side of my bed. If I recall it well, we weren’t dating yet.”Memories, not sad memories, usually had a positive effect in her mood.

“No, we weren’t. I was terrified when I saw it – thought the Bludger had broken your neck,” she said with a sigh. “James and I stood outside until Poppy let us in. Then, I stayed here until she kicked me out.” Mia managed a small smile. “You’re not going to go all cheesy on me and tell me that was the moment you fell in love with me, are you?”

He snorted. “That was one of many. It’s safe to say that me falling for you, Mrs. Black, was a gradual process.” Sirius turned his face to the younger couple. “I bet she’s bullying him awake. Let’s listen.”

Because Harry’s bed wasn’t very far away from their spot near the window, Ginny’s voice wasn’t hard to distinguish if they were silent.

“…don’t wake up in the next hour or so, I’m afraid I’ll have to dump you,” that one had Sirius covering his mouth in order to hide a chuckle. “Really, Harry, it’s not me, it’s you. Comatose blokes just don’t do it for me,” Ginny continued playfully. “Maybe I’ll give McLaggen a try – he’s roguishly handsome, after all, and he’s tough enough to put the Chosen One drooling in a hospital bed.”

Then, a grumbled response came soon enough. “’m not drooling.”

“Well, look at that,” Sirius told his wife with a grin. “It worked. He’s awake.”

Mia sighed but her lips curled too. “Should we give them a little time alone before checking on Harry?”

Sirius nodded as he observed the young couple speaking in hushed tones. He and Mia modestly turned to observe the view out the window when Ginny started leaning towards Harry in a way that indicated a kiss was about to take place.

“You know,” Sirius pointed out, “as teachers we should frown upon displays of affection between students, not turn our backs to them…”

Mia turned to him with an eyebrow rose. “As if you’d ever enforce that thought…”

He chuckled. “Sometimes I just get myself thinking of how the heck I – Sirius Black, likely among the top five on the list of the worst troublemakers this school has met – ended up as a teacher. My teenage self would have laughed his head off if he ever thought of it. Sometimes I feel like mocking myself.”

“Technically speaking, the Quidditch Coach and Referee isn’t a teacher. More like an instructor or something. But I suppose your point concerns working as a member of the school staff. Having McGonagall as a co-worker…”

“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that. Half the time I expect her to fetch me into her office and give me one of her lectures. Well, she did a couple of months ago…,” he mumbled just as they heard Ginny calling for them.

“He’s awake,” the redhead told them with a smile as they approached.

“So we see,” Sirius said with a grin, turning to Harry, who was struggling to move into a sitting position. “I know you’re always complaining about Pomfrey’s rules on limited visiting hours but getting your skull cracked just to spend more time with your girlfriend? That’s dedication.”

Ginny nodded, covering her heart with her hand, faking emotion. “He shouldn’t have.”

“Well, you can thank your ‘roguishly handsome’ backup boyfriend for it,” he told Ginny before turning to face his godmother. “In how much trouble am I?”

“For the fact that you’ve just taken another decade of life from me with this scare?” Mia asked casually. “I suppose we can lay this one’s fault on bad luck and McLaggen alone.”

Harry groaned. “As soon as I get myself out of here, I’m going to kill him,” he said.

“Not so fast, Harry,” Mia warned him. “Poppy wants to keep you here overnight to make sure everything is okay. No overexertion. How does your head feel?”

He groaned. “Feels like an idiot threw a Bludger at it.”

“I know the feeling,” Sirius offered. “By the way, if you’re interested, the final score of the game was three hundred and twenty to sixty. I’ve heard of worse.”

“Brilliant,” Harry said through his teeth “Really brilliant! When I get hold of McLaggen…”

“I doubt you’ll need to worry about it – the rest of the team wasn’t happy. They might’ve dealt with him already,” Ginny told him, unable to hide the hint of sick satisfaction in her tone.

“Oh, he’ll be dealt with alright. You can bet your money on that,” Sirius murmured under his breath, which had Mia turning to him with a suspicious look on her face.

Her eyes narrowed. “What did you do?”

“Me? Nothing. I swear I didn’t,” he said, lifting his hands up in a display if innocence. “I was here with you the whole time, wasn’t I? I promise I didn’t do anything.” He might have suggested a few ideas to Ron and the two burly beaters while they were visiting Harry earlier, though… Ideas that involved McLaggen’s food being spiked with enough Pucking Pastils to have him leaning over the so-called ‘porcelain throne’ for quite a while… When he looked back at Mia, he noted the suspicious look was still on – she could see right through him in what came to pranking.

“If McGonagall gets wind of whatever you did…” Mia started.

“Whatever I did? But I’ve been here with you all afternoon, love.”

“I’ve known you long enough to be aware that you have your ways,” she said

As they spent a several more minutes there, talking to Harry and Ginny, their godson’s mood seemed to improve bit by bit, mostly after taking Madam Promfrey’s potion that had helped with his headache. Soon after, as Ron, Hermione and Izzy joined them again – bringing news of McLaggens’s sudden stomach crisis – they saw it fit to leave the group of friends to talk on their own and left to mind their own business at home.

“Well, another crisis solved and all ends well,” Sirius said, throwing the bag that contained his regular clothes into a corner just after he and Mia had flooed into the kitchen. The house was completely empty apart from them and maybe Kreacher, he knew. Alex was spending the day with his young friend Darcy in Wales and little Mary was under the care of Arthur and Molly, who were bound to be spoiling the little girl rotten to make up for their nearly empty nest.

“Yeah, all ends well,” Mia mumbled. “Do I want to know how you managed to get McLaggen sick to his stomach without leaving my side? Fred and George’s products were involved, no doubt.”

“I’m afraid I can’t claim anything more than the idea this time around,” he said with a grin. “Young minds put it into practice. Don’t tell me you don’t think he had it coming. The git acted like a smartass and ended up knocking Harry out with a Bludger on the head.”

She felt tempted to remain quiet but simply couldn’t. “Let’s hope it teaches him a lesson.”

“Let’s hope,” he repeated, approaching her and resting his hands firmly on her hips. “You look stressed.”

“It was quite a fright, Harry getting hurt. Watching it from the stands is worse than from the field, believe me. Anyway, everyone in the Wizarding world is stressed out lately,” she replied. “You’re stressed too – you just hide it well.”

He nodded, knowing there was no use denying it. “Tell you what. Since the house is all ours for the next few hours, how about I go upstairs and run you a bath in that huge tub and we just soak there for a while.” He grinned. “See where it leads afterwards.”

“We both know where it leads, Sirius,” she mumbled, resting her forehead against his shoulder.

He shrugged. “Well, you can’t deny that would be a great stress-reliever…”

A/N: Sorry for the lateness again... My exams have just started and I'm drowing in stuff to do. Also, inspiration was low this week... Anyway, tomorrow I have an interview for a Summer internship - gotta get ready, so wish me luck! Feedback is very welcome. Review!

Chapter 17: Darkest Magic
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After the disastrous Gryffindor-Hufflepuff Quidditch game that has led Harry to forcibly keep his girlfriend company in the Hospital Wing for a couple of days, weeks passed incredibly fast.

The two eventless weeks of Easter Break – during which Harry had seemed mysteriously gloomy, though he insisted ‘it was nothing’ when anyone asked him about the long face – came and gone, ending Mia’s maternity leave and, by the time classes were to resume, April was already past its second half. The morning when the first day of classes in Hogwarts’s third term was to start dawned with Sirius comfortably dreaming while sleeping in bed.

It was a pretty nice dream though this one didn’t involve Mia. How could a dream about Quidditch involve her since she so obviously thought the sport was pointless? He saw himself flying high, surrounded by an enormous Quidditch pitch so full that it might have been the World Cup itself. And his team, well, it was anyone’s dream team with, besides himself and James Potter as two of Chasers, the best Quidditch Players in History. Oddly, though, Moony was refereeing, though Sirius didn’t remember the Werewolf ever being very interested in the game. Oh, well, it’s a dream, he thought since, oddly enough, he seemed to be aware he was dreaming.

Suddenly, he woke up in a shocking and highly unpleasant fashion. He wasn’t sure what had caused that. Hurricane? Earthquake? Lightening hitting the house and causing it to fall on him? Maybe the last one was close enough because he could certainly feel something weighing on him and, though that fact might be explained by the fact that his mind was still foggy, it felt like that thing weighed a ton. When he opened his eyes, however, it wasn’t rubble that he found all over him but a 27 pound, two-and-something year-old boy instead.

“Geoup, Daddy!” Alex shouted in a giggly tone as he used his beloved stuffed dog to playfully hit his father across the shoulder. “Mowenin!”

Sirius groaned, carefully nudging the little boy off him so he’d stop bouncing on top of his chest and move to the mattress instead. “What did Mommy tell you about jumping on people, mate?” he asked, covering his mouth with his hand to yawn. When the little brat giggled some more, completely unashamed, Sirius mock glared and reached to mess up his hair. “Little monster,” he grumbled. Yet, it was just too hard to stay angry at the damn kid despite the rude awakening. It had probably been that little creep Kreacher who’d set the kid loose on purpose so he’d jump on him, anyway.

A glance at Mia’s side of the bed let him know she was already up and gone – he groaned. One could call him a cheesy sod but he had a thing for watching her sleep, even if it was for just a couple of minutes. There was something about it – the ease, the purity of it, maybe – that attracted him enough for him to put himself through the effort of waking up earlier than his wife – quite a task since she was a natural early riser – just to watch her for a few minutes, even if he ended up falling back asleep at the end of it. He hadn’t been so lucky that time, apparently.

“You wouldn’t happen to know where Mummy has gone to, would you?” Sirius asked his son, not expecting any coherent response – there was only so much a two-year-old could say, anyway.

The little boy giggled in reply. “Mama! Kishh Mama mownin, Daddy!”

Sirius couldn’t help chuckling. “Wanna give her a good morning kiss? Well, so do I. Tell you what, how about we start a search mission to find Mommy after Daddy’s taken a shower?” he asked his son playfully, who nodded surprisingly solemnly – sometimes, this one included, he could swear Alex got a kick out of imitating a small-sized adult. “Alright then,” he said, ruffling Alex’s hair again before pushing the covers away and getting up, leaving him and the stuffed dog, Snuffles, to play on their own. He headed to the loo just after fetching Kreacher to keep an eye on the toddler while he was in the shower and was done little more than ten minutes later, fully dressed for the day.

The task of going down the stairs took longer than usual since little Alex insisted with a lot of fuss to climb all the way down the stairs to the basement on his own, only holding his father’s hand. The little boy, to his father’s pride, successfully managed to succeed at it until they reached the first floor and the sweet smell of breakfast downstairs filled his nostrils, causing the young boy to become more interested in his stomach than in showing off, giving in to being carried by his father…

“Now,” Sirius told his son before they went down the last flight of stairs leading to the kitchen, “be a pal and let Daddy get a pretty decent kiss from Mummy before you go all cute on her and she forgets about me, okay mate? I’ll sneak you an extra cookie as payment.”

“Chowat cookie,” the little boy said, grinning widely. “Thew yummy.”

“Yummy chocolate cookies it is, as long as you keep your side of the deal,” he said, offering his hand for the little boy to shake, even though odds were Alex hadn’t understood half the ‘no cuteness before Daddy gets a French one out of Mummy’ deal.

In response, Alex let out a small giggle and mimicked him by muttering the word ‘Fwench’ while his father placed him back on the floor just outside the kitchen. Then, the little boy ran off to go bother Kreacher.

Looking into the kitchen, he found Mia standing by the table, balancing a fussy Mary in one arm and somehow a cup of tea and a quill in the opposite’s hand while seemingly reading something from a pile of parchment rolls that remained on the table. He grinned at how… oddly busy she looked – her hair was clumsily pinned up by a clip, several strands escaping from it (one of which their three-month-old daughter was apparently trying to reach up for), and she seemed to be muttering something to herself, though not in a loony person sort of way, while brushing the feather of her quill against her chin.

No, no, this won’t do. Need a class to review…” she murmured to herself, putting the cup of tea down and using her quill to scratch something on her parchment and write something else. She was deep in teacher mode, probably kind of jittery about going back after maternity leave.

It made a cute messy view, he thought with a grin before knocking on the open door which had Mia turning around to face him, the busy look all over her face at the same the baby fussed and she rocked her.

“Oh, I was just going upstairs to wake you up but then the I guess got distracted finishing the changes in my class-planning…” she huffed and used her hand to brush a dark strand of hair that had been blocking her view. “Merlin, I probably look like a slo…”

She was unable to finish what she was saying as her husband, walked towards her and, in a sudden movement, pulled her closer, pressing a deep kiss to her lips, which caused her to wonder what she’d been rambling about all that time while parting her lips for him…

It wasn’t long before the baby, sandwiched between her parents, began to protest against the lack of attention, as did her energetic older brother by pulling Mia’s robes from the floor.

The ‘busy look’ was gone when they broke apart, replaced by a smile. “I guess I’d forgotten the ‘Good Morning’ part,” she said, reaching to place Mary on her father’s arms so she could pay Alex some attention instead.

“What an awful way to greet your beloved husband, woman. I’m afraid it has in a bad way changed my feelings for you forever,” he said, half grinning while held the little girl, ticking her belly and causing her to let out a small giggle. “Then again, I suppose the kiss wasn’t all that bad and we make fairly decent kids, so no need to end this marriage…”

Mia nudged him on the arm. “Hey!”

“What? Can’t a bloke just think out loud?” He turned down to Mary while Mia turned her attention to their little son, who greeted his mother with a squeal and a sloppy kiss on the cheek. “You girls just can’t take a joke sometimes,” he told Mary in a sing-sung tone.

Unable to respond, Mary just stared up at him with huge brown eyes that mimicked her mother’s perfectly and waved her arms around trying to grab the air, which made him laugh while leaning against the kitchen counter with that precious baby in his arms.

“I don’t suppose you’re worried about this new term for the kids at Hogwarts,” Mia said, placing Alex in his high chair.

Sirius shrugged, looking up at her. “Can’t be much more dramatic than the previous ones can it? Students cursed, love potions, poison, bludgers smashing heads… how much worse can it get?”

“Not much, seen from that perspective,” she replied, approaching him and leaning against the counter too. Her head rested against Sirius’s shoulders. “Is it awful for me to wish Alex and Mary get pretty boring years at school? Maybe not boring boring but hopefully with no dark lords involved.”

“I’d say it would be pretty awful not to wish that,” Sirius pointed out, looking down at Mary. “Hopefully Quidditch will be your biggest excitement at school, little girl.”

“And dating,” Mia added playfully, smiling as his eyes narrowed. “You know, you’re just adorable sometimes,” she said with a laugh.

“Nope. Not adorable. I’m big, scary and dangerous… or at least that’s what I want the guys who dare look at my little Mary to think. No funny business around her.”

“Well,” she said, “let’s hope boys chasing Mary will be the worst of your problems then…” 

---

All good so far, Mia mused as, later that day, just before she was to leave the school and head home after lunch, she dropped by the library to request a couple of books to prepare a class for the following week.

Madam Pince’s desk was empty and it wasn’t hard to spot her near a table scolding a bunch of students for making a racket in the library, which led Mia to figure she might as well go look for the books on her own instead of asking for them since the librarian’s lectures tended to get long. She chuckled, thinking back to one time in their seventh year when, while she was there in the library studying for her NEWTs, Sirius had pointed out after being scowled by Pince for some reason that the librarian and the caretaker, Filch, had to be a match made in heaven for their ‘sparkling personalities’. Sometimes, she couldn’t help agreeing though there wasn’t any sign of a romance between them.

She headed to the History of Magic section of the library, near the studying tables and quickly rummaged through the books on the shelves of the large bookcase. It was while doing that that Mia recognized her godson’s voice, as well as Ron and Hermione’s, coming from a table on the other side of the bookcase, which made her lips curl. She’d been intending to go look for them later in order to wish Ron and Hermione good luck for their apparition test and them being right there was just fitting. She was about to drop the book-search for a few minutes in order to go talk to them when she noticed an odd sound, sort of like a buzzing, a static-like noise cutting off the trio’s voices momentarily as they spoke every few seconds.

“… look, I still can’t find anything about… not a word about them in the regular sect…” she could hear Hermione saying.

It didn’t take her long to realize it was a Muffliato charm. It couldn’t have been correctly cast, though, or else she wouldn’t be able to make out anything Harry, Ron or Hermione said instead of hearing the wireless-with-bad-reception-like conversation.

Suddenly, a question came to her mind. Why were they using Muffliato at all? Apart from her and a couple other students that weren’t anywhere near the trio’s table, the Library was practically empty. Whatever they were talking about had to awfully important. She wondered if it was about why he’d been so… melancholic and secretive lately.

Mia felt tempted to try and remove the Muffliato spell altogether, which shouldn’t be hard since it had been miscast, in order to hear whatever Hermione said in the gaps but her conscience wouldn’t let her. Truth was she felt bad enough listening to her godson’s private talk even though she couldn’t bring herself to stop doing it and walk away.

Hermione kept on talking. “… keep looking… might find something.”

“What for?” Harry asked. “You s… the entire library months ago when I first heard of th… didn’t find out what… until Slughorn gave the memory…”

Hermione spoke again. “I’m trying … Professor Vector into giving me a pass… has to be something in the restrict sect…

Mia raised her eyebrows. They were talking about something bad enough to possibly be locked inside the restricted section? More and more, she doubted that was about school work and believed they were taking about the mysterious fact that had Harry worried lately… Unable to resist, Mia moved the books opposite her slightly in order to create a small gap between them that would allow her to see the trio’s faces without them noticing. Their expressions were sober, incredibly serious to be seen in kids their age. They looked awfully worried.

“…think he’ll give it to you?” Ron asked, his expression doubtful.

I said… an essay on Arithmancy and Death Predictions… should convince him. Then I can say… scrapped the essay… don’t like lying but it’s necess…

“… need to find them first! … could be anywhere…” Mia heard Harry saying bitterly. “… can’t find where in a book… plus Dumbledore says… not easy to destroy…”

So it was connected to Dumbledore’s lessons, another matter Harry had been making a mystery about, Mia mused.

“Of course they’re not easy…” Hermione agreed with a nod. “…not to mention against nature…

Stabbing it seems simple enough…” Ron stated. “Harry did that… worked, right?”

Hermione shook her head. “… some theory behind destroying them… lucky he could… without knowing it.

“…bledore knows how. He destroyed a Horcrux…” Harry continued. “…ring must be what hurt his…

Killed it, more like,” Ron mumbled.

She couldn’t listen or look anymore. What on Earth was going on? Trips to the restricted section (not that that part shocked her all that much), rings that ‘killed’… a Horcrux? She’d never even heard of that word before… It had clearly been the main theme of the conversation, though. And how important and dangerous it sounded…

Harry was hiding things from her and Sirius, that was a fact. She’d known it already but she’d hoped he’d just get over it and tell them whatever was going on. Judging by the tone of his conversation with Ron and Hermione, it didn’t seem like he intended to do it at all. What was happening in that boy’s head?! Part of her wanted to just corner Harry and not let him leave until he’d spilled every little detail of what he was hiding but she knew that wasn’t a smart thing to do. At least not now… She was angry and far from thinking straight because her head boiled with frustration. Cornering Harry now would only lead to a fight and Merlin knew she didn’t have the patience for a fight!

Teenagers, she thought with a groan. They always thought they knew everything. And there she’d thought that, despite the fact that trouble always clouded Harry’s life, he was rather easy to handle in a teenager sort of way… Not bloody likely if he started hiding stuff from them – stuff that didn’t sound trivial at all.

Still standing near the bookcase, she looked through the gap between the books again and saw as the trio abandoned their table and got up, walking towards the library’s exit. That part of her that wanted to make Harry spill it all had to fight awfully hard to remain where she was instead of following him.

First thing, she told herself, is finding out what’s going on. And that involved finding out what the Horcrux thing they’d been so nervously discussing was. Merlin helped her if she didn’t find it on her own, she’d go straight to Dumbledore and somehow make him tell her. That was her son, after all. He’d been hers ever since the headmaster had handed him to her that Halloween 1981 and she could only back off from his life so much…

With that thought in her mind and her earlier task of finding the History of Magic books forgotten, Mia headed to Madam Pince’s desk in order to get the key to the restricted section – she’d start looking right then. There was no time to waste. 

---

Sirius arrived home later than he’d planned, after having been requested by McGonagall to help out during the apparition tests that afternoon by keeping an eye on the students that were to be tested. Many of them had been showing signs of deep anxiety and that anxiety caused them to act oddly. For instance, he’s witnessed his godson’s ex… crush, Cho Chang, burst into hysterical tears when she was called in, sobbing and shouting that she couldn’t do it – according to Hermione, who’d also seemed quite nervous at the moment, that reaction was due to the fact that it was the third time young Miss Chang took her apparition test, having failed the two previous times. It was more amusing, though, (as well as slightly disgusting) watching Malfoy’s crony, Gregory Goyle, successfully apparating from one spot to another with the small problem of having left every single piece of his clothing behind him…

In the end, it had been an interesting afternoon that had brought his mind back to the day when he and the guys had taken their test, passing with no fuss. That was, except from the traitorous bastard Wormtail who’d had three tests before being able to get through it without splinching major body parts and other four before being able to pass at all.

But as soon as Sirius walked out of the floo fire around half past seven in the evening, he knew something had to be wrong for Kreacher to be diplomatically standing by the fireplace, seemingly waiting for him. There were no accusations or whispered insults from either side.

“What?” Sirius asked him.

“Mistress arrive late today. She be upset.”

Sirius narrowed his eyes, concerned. “What do you mean by ‘upset’?”

“Nervous. Mistress’s mother take young masters home with her for rest of day so Mistress wouldn’t be disturbed,” the house-elf said. “Mistress be in library.”

He nodded and walked there without another word. Reaching the ground floor, Sirius didn’t even need to enter the library to realize just how upset she was. Through its half open door, he could hear and series of ‘damn its’ and ‘hells’, words that she scolded him for saying under normal circumstances. When he finally walked in, his eyes widened. It looked like a hurricane had passed there. There were books everywhere on the floor, piled on chairs, spread all over the tables… If that morning he’d thought her state of disarray in the kitchen, meddling with rolls of parchment all over the table, had been a ‘cute mess’, now, looking at his wife sitting cross-legged on the floor furiously flipping the pages of a book, made that notion shift into a ‘scary mess’. For a moment, he wondered if she was having some sort of mental breakdown.

“Love…” he said softly. “Please tell me this whole mess isn’t over a few classes being behind on the program or something…”

She looked up, her eyes tired. “What?”

“Is this about work, Mia? Because if it is, love, I’d say you’re taking it too seriously…”

“It has nothing to do with it,” she said, huffing and closing the book with a thump before rubbing her face with her hands. “It’s Harry.”

“What about him?” Sirius asked, interested, walking towards her and sitting on the floor opposite her.

“He’s been hiding stuff from us. Of the serious sort, I mean…” She took a breath before telling him about her run into their godson and his friends in the library and what she’d heard them whispering about.

“So, they’re worried about something and researching for a way to destroy these Horcross thingies,” he concluded.

“It’s Horcrux,” she corrected him. “The last part is written as ‘cross’ in latin. Crux.”

“Right. But, well, it could be nothing… You know from experience those three can make a drama out of anything. They’re usually right but… sometimes a drama is just, well, a drama.”

She sighed. “I considered that but then I went to the Restricted Section of the library to make some research on Horcruxes.” Mia reached for a pocket on a side of her robes and removed a folded piece of parchment and handed it to Sirius.

It looked… it looked like it had been ripped from a book. Not just looked – it even had the name of the book printed on the header of it: Magick Moste Evile. Sirius looked at his wife in disbelief. “You realize that if Pince finds out you took this from one of her beloved books she’ll skin you alive, teacher or not…”

Mia shrugged. “That’s very low on my list of priorities. Read this,” she said, pointing at a specific sentence.

He did as she said. ‘Of the Horcrux, wickedest of magical inventions, we shall not speak nor give direction…’ he silently read in his head. Well, that would explain why she was freaking out. “What’s the kid doing messing with dark magic items? Dumbledore destroyed one of these, you said?”

Mia nodded. “That’s what I heard them saying. And Ron mentioned something about Harry destroying one too by stabbing it… As if it’s not bad enough he’s messing with dark items… it just won’t add up! If he’s already destroyed one, how come he doesn’t know how to do it again? Not that I want him to.”

“Could have done it by accident the first time,” Sirius suggested. “But did you find anything else?”

She shook her head. “Hermione mentioned there wasn’t anything in the regular section and nobody does research like her. I even consulted the main inventory book of the library, remissive indexes… nothing. The only mention was in that sentence. Then I figured there might be more here in this library but I found nothing either…”

“Wait but hadn’t you moved the darkest stuff my parents owned somewhere else when you moved here?” Sirius asked, recalling a conversation they’d shared shortly after he’d regained his freedom.

“I…” I’m dumb, she thought, I’m so dumb. She’d been too busy freaking out to remember that little fact. “The attic. I had Kreacher take them to the attic. I mean, only the books that weren’t cursed or that didn’t attack people who approached them – the ones who did it went to Dumbledore so he’d handle them in his own way…”

“Well, let’s check out those we have, then,” Sirius said, motioning to get up and stretching an arm towards his wife to help her up too. “If there’s any book in this house where you might find something about the darkest types of magic, it has to be there…”

With a sigh, Mia accepted the help and allowed her husband to pull her up to her feet before they walked out of the library together and up the stairs after talking Kreacher into going with them to show where the books were.

Though Grimmauld Place was their own, they used the two upper floors of their house, not to mention the attic, very rarely. In Mia’s case, or the kids’ for that matter, it wasn’t for any special reason, only because there were so many stairs to climb – Sirius, however, avoided the last floor especially because there had been his and his brother’s old rooms and, in Sirius’s mind, Regulus was still a sore wound that was to be very rarely touched… When they reached said floor, his eyes averted the dark wooden door that led into his brother’s room, a cranky note to stay out written in his handwriting still pined against the door.

The attic was reached through a narrow spiral staircase connected to a trapdoor on the ceiling of the fifth floor and climbing it was a highly uncomfortable task – a task Kreacher avoided by popping straight into the attic. Past the trapdoor the room was dark and dusty enough for the few thin rays of light coming in through a narrow window to illuminate the various particles of dust floating around.

Kreacher led them to what seemed to be a large chest, which he opened with a simple finger-snap. It was completely full. There had to be hundreds of books in there – we’ll never be done with this, Sirius thought grimly.

“Well…” he started mumbling. “Where do we start?”

Mia didn’t respond – instead, she pointed her wand to the chest. Thankfully, her practical sense didn’t seem to be dumbed down by her frustration as her memory did… “Accio Horcrux books,” she said, causing around a couple dozen books to fly out of the large chest, landing on her feet.

Sirius looked at her, impressed. “I suppose that narrows it down.”

“Not so much,” Mia told him. “This pretty much summons every single volume with the word ‘Horcrux’ on it. There’s still plenty that won’t interest us.”

“Well, at least we don’t have to go through all of them…”

Yet, it took them only a few minutes to realize that though the summoning might have narrowed the search down, it didn’t make it any more pleasant. The books were simply awful, teaching the most cruel curses and potions any of them had ever seen and then detailing every gruesome effect they would cause. Plus, as dark and horrible as they might be, practically every one of them seemed to shy whenever the matter of Horcruxes was mentioned and simply stating how dark and evil they were without explaining why. That only increased their worries…

For every minute that passed, they lost more and more hope of finding any explanation for the apparently tabu word. Asking Dumbledore would be the next step, Mia thought. And if he was reluctant to help them, well, she’d have to convince him one way or the other. Deep down, she felt a slight resentment towards him over the fact that he hadn’t told her or Sirius about Horcruxes, whatever they were…

“I found it!” Sirius announced suddenly, gripping a wide, blood-red-covered book in his hands. “This one has the word all over the index. It has to be about it.”

“What does it say?” she asked, joining her husband in a quick movement.

“Wait, I’m getting there,” he said as he flipped the pages back to the earlier ones. Sirius stopped at the introductory note and gave it a superficial read, looking for anything that said what a Horcrux was. “Here it is. Listen.” He cleared his throat and read out loud. “‘Among the darkest and most captivating types of magic that exist in the Wizarding World, the Horcrux is one of the absolute rulers. A Horcrux consists of an object in which a wizard hides a piece of his soul, which shall be fragmented by the commitment of the act of murder on another human being, wizard or Muggle. The success of the soul-fragmenting will increase with the rate of malice of such murder either in terms of violence or of intent’.” He paused for a moment, staring wide eyes at the book – part of him wanted to throw it into the fire just as he was done reading. Then, taking a deep breath, he continued. “’Among the benefits of the creation of a Horcrux are the decrease of weak feelings such as compassion and sense of conscience and…’” Sirius stopped reading again and looked Mia in the eyes. “I think I know what this is about. Who this is about.”

“Finish it, Sirius,” Mia whispered.

He cleared his throat and looked down at the book again. “’… and, as the most important benefit of all, the concession of absolute immortality to its creator unless the object containing the soul fragment is destroyed beyond repair. As long as a Horcrux subsists, its creator will always have the chance to return to the world of the living…’”

“It’s You-Know-Who,” Mia mumbled. “He’s done this. He’s split his soul and made himself immortal…”

Sirius closed the book and placed it on the floor before they spent several minutes silent. There were just no words to describe how they felt. And not just about the revelation but also about the fact that Harry clearly knew it and hadn’t muttered a word about it to them. Never mind that, several times, they’d made him promise to be honest with the… omission was still a form of lying. With a sigh Sirius turned his face to Mia, who seemed to be staring at the wooden floor. “I think we really need to have a talk with Harry.”

“Yeah,” she mumbled, looking up. “I think we do.” 

A/N: Sort of sulking here because my internship interview last week kind of tanked but never mind that... I hope you liked the chapter. It will continue next chapter with their talk to Harry... I really should be studying for my exam tomorrow... Feedback is welcome, as always. Review!

Chapter 18: Conflict
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As usual on Wednesdays that year, Harry’s first class of the day was History of Magic and, after a whole term without Mia there teaching it, she was back. Her lecture that day, though, sounded rather… off.

Usually, Harry thought, it was the passion she spoke with when telling them about history, her interaction with the students and one or other comparison of complex past events with things right out of their daily routine that got the class interested. That day… well, she sounded like a recording of someone reading an incredibly plain textbook. Was she that out of shape after only a few months not working as a teacher?

“What’s going on with Mia today?” Ron whispered by his side, his head propelled on his arm in a bored fashion that matched the vague look on his face. “She’s sounding like bloody Binns now.”

“Shut up and listen, Ron,” Hermione demanded on Harry’s other side, carefully taking notes of Mia’s words in her parchment – something in her seemed to bide her immune to Mia’s boring lecture that day.

“What? She is,” the redhead replied, peeking behind his best mate’s back to look at her.

Hermione sighed, allowing herself not to pay attention for a moment. “She sounds upset, even looks so,” she said, turning to Harry. “Do you know if something happened?”

He shook his head. “Maybe she’s just tired. I suppose Mary may be keeping her and Sirius awake lately. Aren’t babies supposed to be teething at her age?”

“That usually doesn’t happen before they turn six months old. She’s not even four yet,” Hermione said, doubtfully.

Ron raised an eyebrow. “Do you know everything?”

“It’s called reading, Ronald. You should try it sometime. Now pay attention. This may come in the exam and I’m not lending you two my notes this time…”

Despite his earlier dismissal of it, Harry spent the following minutes wondering if Hermione was right regarding Mia being upset about something… later, he concluded she was. As he paid closer attention to the dull sound of her voice, he noted a tone of anxiety behind it. It was hardly noticeable and he certainly wouldn’t have identified it if he hadn’t known his godmother for so long…

He hoped there hadn’t been an attack and someone had gotten hurt… Or that Alex or Mary weren’t ill or something. Those would be more and more things piling over Mia’s shoulders, as if there weren’t enough already. That thought rather eased that internal battle he’d been struggling with for the past couple of weeks over keeping or not things – important things – from his godparents. He just couldn’t add up more to that weight…

For the rest of the class, Harry tried to pay attention to Mia’s words, taking a few notes so as not to anger Hermione, who elbowed him whenever he got an absent look on his face (and also to have some backup plan in case his friend really kept her promise of not letting him and Ron borrow her notes).

By the time the class had already ended and most of the students were making their ways out the door, heading to the next one, Harry heard his name being called as he, Ron and Hermione finished putting away their things to follow. When he looked up, Mia, who’d been the source of the call, was standing near her desk looked at him with slightly uncertain eyes. It was like she was fighting her feelings right then.

“Would you mind staying a few minutes longer?” she asked quietly.

“Yeah, sure,” he said quickly, turning to his friends for a moment. “You guys go ahead to next class without me. I’ll meet you there.”

They nodded. “I’ll inform Professor McGonagall you’re talking to Mia,” Hermione said as she and Ron grabbed their bags and headed out.

With his two friends gone, Harry grabbed his own bag and approached his godmother, feeling rather uncertain of what might be about to take place. Why did he have such a bad feeling about it? “Did you need something, aunt Mia?” he asked nervously.

“I do, actually,” she said in a low tone, followed by a sigh. “Sirius and I need to talk to you. I’m not sure if you have any free time before I’m supposed to leave in the afternoon but I can…”

“I’ve got a free period right after lunch. At half past one,” he told her quickly.

She nodded. “Alright. That will do. Meet us at your godfather’s office then. We can talk there.”

Her tone was so… disconnected. More and more he believed she was trying to hide what she was feeling. “Is there something wrong?” he finally asked.

Another sigh came. “You tell me, Harry. It seems lately you haven’t been telling me many things,” she said in a low tone before taking a deep breath. “There wasn’t an attack and nobody was physically hurt, if that’s what you’re wondering. We just need to talk to you.”

“Okay,” he mumbled, an uneasy feeling still resting inside his chest. It clicked, then: she knew he was hiding something, Harry realized. He’d been hoping it wouldn’t reach that – he’d been hoping his godparents would either be too busy to notice he was being secretive or that they would just let him be and not corner him about it. He didn’t want to lie to them but he didn’t want to tell the truth either…

A knock on the class’s door made him resurface from his thoughts and Mia turned to look at it as well. Colin Creevy was standing by the door. “Oh, come on in, Colin,” she said, before facing Harry again. “We’ll talk later.”

He nodded. “Later, then,” he mumbled again, turning and heading to the door as several fifth year Gryffindors and Ravenclaws made their way in – Luna Lovegood, among the students, greeted him happily as she walked in. He was still thinking of what to tell Sirius and Mia later in their talk when he very literally ran into a blur of red, leading into a loud crash of books all over the floor. It took him a few fractions of second to realize the blur was Ginny, who stood opposite him with Izzy.

“Well, aren’t you clumsy today?” his girlfriend with an eyebrow rose before reaching down to pick up the school books she’d been carrying.

“Sorry,” he apologized, reaching down as well.

“What are you still doing here?” Izzy inquired with a chuckle. “I saw Ron and Hermione rushing to McGonagall’s class like five minute ago.”

“Oh, I was held back for a while talking to your Mom,” he said quickly, before shooting Ginny a pointed look, which she replied with a knowing one – he didn’t even need to utter a word in order to tell he needed to talk to her alone.

Ginny cleared her throat. “Iz, can you go in and save us some seats at the front before they’re all taken?” she asked her friend. “I’ll meet you there right away.”

“You know, if you guys want me out of here so you can snog, just say so,” Izzy said, shaking her head as she turned to walk away and entered her mother’s classroom.

“What’s wrong?” Ginny asked in a whisper as the two leaned down, picking up her books from the floor.

Harry turned his face to face hers. “It’s Mia. She knows.”

“About the…” she paused, noticing a group of her classmates passing by “…you-know-whats?

“I dunno – about something, at least. She knows I’m keeping things for her and Sirius. She asked me to go talk to them later today,” he informed Ginny.

She took a deep breath. “Well, I’m not going to say I told you so…”

“You might as well,” he mumbled.

“… but it was awfully stupid of you not to tell them right away,” the redhead finished.

A moment of mutual silence followed, during which Harry was torn between agreeing with her and convincing himself he’d done the right thing. “What do I tell them if they ask about it?” he asked while the two motioned to stand up.

There was a momentary flicker of irritation on Ginny’s face and, before Harry could react, she was slapping him on the back of the head with her free hand. “The truth, you idiot!” she told him firmly. “They’ve helped you through… everything, Harry. They’ve always been honest with you – the least you could do was be honest to them too. Honestly, I don’t get why you didn’t tell them about the Hor…” she paused again, “oh, the you-know-whats from the beginning.”

“They have enough to worry about,” Harry told her.

“Well, I don’t think they’d agree. If my Mom found out I’d been hiding something like that from her, she’d keep me grounded until I was old enough to walk with a cane no matter what the reason was,” Ginny told him seriously. “Lucky for you, Sirius and Mia usually aren’t as strict about grounding as Mom is.”

He sighed, her point getting stronger in his mind. “Well, you’d wait for me if they did ground me that badly, wouldn’t you?” he asked as he handed her the books he’d picked up, trying to cheer himself up a little.

Ginny snorted. “Of course I wouldn’t.” She took one step further and kissed his cheek softly. “You know how to do the right thing. And try not to get grounded – it’s bad enough you keep getting yourself detentions.” Then, she walked away and entered Mia’s classroom, leaving him standing alone in the hallway.

He hoped she was right and he’d really do the right thing. Or else he might dig himself a much larger hole…

---

“I just wanted to grab him by the shoulders and ask him what the hell he thought he was doing by not telling us You-know-who had shattered his soul to pieces and gotten himself immortal!” Mia told her husband later that day around lunch time while standing inside his office, pacing with her arms crossed against her chest.

“Well, you didn’t, did you?” Sirius asked her, raising an eyebrow from the sofa where he sat.

She let out a huff and uncrossed her arms. “No, but it took all the self-control I had for me not to. And I didn’t want to cause a scene in front of half the sixth-years…” she replied, using her hands to rub her face. What she’d give for a single hour of rest without a single worry.

Sirius stretched an arm towards her. “Come here,” he told her, seeing she could probably use a little support right then.

She didn’t even bother trying to refuse – instead, she pushed her chair back from the desk and got up, walking towards her husband’s waiting arms and curling against his side on the sofa. Feeling his arms around her soothed her in a way that nothing else could – the short couple of hours she’d managed to sleep in the previous night had only happened due to the fact that he’d been there holding her…

“Why would he keep this a secret from us?” she asked in a whisper. “Why would Dumbledore keep this a secret? We’re his godparents – Harry is our responsibility. We had a right to know.”

Sirius nodded. That part was bothering him as well. “We’ll deal with Dumbledore after we talk to Harry, Mia. Don’t worry about him now.”

She sighed and nodded, taking a few moments just to close her eyes and lean against him, hoping that would ease the tension she had in her body. Then, minutes later as she felt slightly better, she took a deep breath and pulled away a little to look up at her husband. “You’re taking this awfully calmly,” Mia observed.

He sighed – he might appear calm but we wasn’t all that great either… who would be, faced with the fact that an incredibly hard task such as Harry defeating Voldemort had just gotten even harder? But someone had to stay strong and that time that was his task. “No, I’m worried too,” he admitted to her, running a hand down her hair. “I’m just trying not to freak out before I know everything – and to see the, well, positive part of this.”

“There is a positive part?” Mia replied sceptically.

“Well, just because You-Know-Who has a bunch of backup soul fragments, it doesn’t mean he is immortal, does it? I mean, if we keep on getting rid of the Horcruxes, one of two things will happen: either he’ll run out of them at some point and Harry will be able to wipe him out or he’ll just keep making more of them and eventually end up destroying himself in theory by doing it. We all know that people who get their souls sucked out by Dementors become vegetables – it can’t be all that different for people who shatter it so much they end up with just one percent of it inside them,” Sirius explained to her simply, though he knew that it could be years, decades, before any of those options became part of reality… that part, he’d just keep to himself. “As for the kid, until I hear otherwise coming from his mouth, I just can’t believe he didn’t have a good reason to keep it from us at least in his head. And you know why?”

“Why?” she asked.

“Because he loves you and he’s more… noble than a kid his age should worry about being – he wouldn’t lie to you if he didn’t think it was necessary or he wasn’t desperate enough to do it,” Sirius explained.

She shifted her body in order to get herself lounging along the sofa with her legs resting on his lap. “I hope you’re right on both accounts.”

“That makes two of us,” he replied softly. “Do you want to go grab something to eat before Harry gets here? We can just go to the kitchens and charm the elves into making us a sandwich.”

Mia shook her head. “I’m not hungry now – I’ll eat something afterwards when we get home,” she stated. Food was the farthest thing from her mind right then. “You can go if you want to, though.”

“Nope, I’ll stay,” Sirius told her, rubbing his hands softly on her legs.

With a sigh, she leaned her head against the back of the sofa, intending to just close her eyes for a moment and rest a little. The next thing she knew, she was awoken by the knock on the door and felt Sirius tugging her legs away from his lap. Her eyes opened to see him putting down a Quidditch magazine she didn’t recall him having when she’d closed her eyes earlier and getting up. Clearly, she’d been snoozing for a while: ten minutes? Twenty? She couldn’t really tell.

Figuring the visitor was likely Harry, she got up as well and stood behind Sirius looking at the door. He looked awfully nervous, Mia noted as he came in. Nervous and… guilty. Somehow, that last part made her feel slightly better.

“Take a seat, kid,” Sirius told him in a calm, neutral tone. Mia had to give him credit for being able to sound so unruffled when she’d barely been able to keep her cool a few hours before when she’d spoken to Harry.

“Alright,” their godson responded, sitting down on the sofa she and Sirius had occupied minutes before. “So…” he started awkwardly, noting that Sirius seemed to be currently casting an imperturbable charm around the office, “what did you want to talk to me about?”

“We know about the Horcruxes,” Mia heard herself blurting out – well, seemed like the conversation was going to start by there. “We know what they are and we know You-Know-Who made more than one to make himself immortal.”

Harry looked at her, half shocked, half regretful. He’d been expecting them to know only that he was hiding something from them, not to know what – that only made him feel worse and realize that he was in even more trouble than he’d imagined. Harry hadn’t wanted them to know about the Horcruxes but if they had to find out somehow, he’d hoped it would have been by him telling them…

“Why didn’t you tell us, Harry?” his godmother asked, then. “We had an agreement, remember? We made it during the Summer before your fifth year: we would be honest to you about the order if you were honest to us about whatever you found out. Why didn’t you tell us about this or about Dumbledore’s lessons for that matter?”

She sounded hurt and disappointed and that made him feel even more awful than her words did – how odd was it that the agreement hadn’t even crossed his mind during those weeks he’d spent keeping the truth from his godparents?

“Because… I mean…” he stammered at first. “Because I didn’t feel like there was anything to tell at first. In the beginning all I was learning was Occlumency and about Voldemort’s life before he became… what he is now.”

“Learning about him? How?” Sirius asked, seemingly interested.

“Pensieve memories,” Harry explained. “From Dumbledore and other people. It was just memories of Voldemort’s parents and him as a kid, during his Hogwarts years and shortly after. The only point of them was for me to know who I was fighting and it didn’t seem… essential to tell you all about them. You had more important things to worry about than his biography.”

“We wouldn’t be having this conversation if it just involved a biography, Harry,” Mia stated. “When exactly did you learn about the Horcruxes? And how?”

He sighed, knowing his answer would make her. “I first heard about Horcruxes last February…”

“February?!” she shouted, getting up in a jump. “February? As in two months ago, Harry?”

“I…”

“You knew about them for two months and it didn’t occur to you that they might be something worth telling us about?” she insisted in disbelief.

“Mia, let the kid explain,” Sirius told his wife quietly, approaching her to rest a hand on her shoulder, silently telling her to sit back down.

Still looking frustrated and now getting close to furious, she gave in, crossing her arms against her chest in a temper. “Fine,” she mumbled.

“Okay,” her husband muttered, turning to Harry. “Why didn’t you tell us about it then, Harry?”

“Because it was just a word back then,” he told them. “I first heard it in a memory. Voldemort – he was still Tom Riddle back then – was talking to a teacher and suddenly, he asked him about Horcruxes: he seemed to be awfully interested in them even though he couldn’t be more than sixteen at the time. But when it seemed like the teacher was about to answer, he sent Riddle away in a really odd way and I ended up not knowing what they were. Dumbledore told me the end of the memory sounded so odd because it had been tempered with. Hermione looked all over the library, trying to find out what Horcruxes were but she couldn’t find anything there.”

“You should have asked us, then,” Mia said, exasperated. “We might know and if we didn’t, we’d try to find out!”

“I… I didn’t want to bother you with that,” he replied – that was the point of the whole thing, wasn’t it? “Besides, I had another way. After we saw that memory, Dumbledore gave me a mission: I was supposed to convince S…” he paused, recalling Slughorn had asked him for secrecy on that “…the teacher who’d tempered with the memory to give the real one to me so we could know what had really come out of that conversation. It was pretty clear he’d told Riddle whatever a Horcrux was, so if I got the memory, I’d find out too. It took me a while but I managed to get then real memory a couple of weeks ago.”

“Right before the Easter Break, I gather,” Sirius observed, still sounding neutral as he stood against his desk, right behind Mia, who looked more and more frustrated. “And I suppose you were right about it explaining all about Horcruxes – that would explain your gloominess during the whole break.”

“Yes,” Harry replied with a faint nod, followed by a moment of silence.

“Do you know how many he made?” Mia asked at some point.

He was about to ask in return how she even knew Voldemort had made more than one Horcrux but quickly gave up on it – he was in enough trouble as it was. He guessed that now that they knew everything, there was no use hiding the number, then. “Six, according to Dumbledore. He would have split his soul in seven parts, one of which is still in his body – Dumbledore first figured he’d done it when I gave him the diary.”

“The diary?” Sirius asked. “You mean the one that possessed Ginny in your second year? That was a Horcrux?” Dumbledore knew about this all that time? He thought.

Harry nodded. “Yes, I destroyed that one and Dumbledore destroyed another: a ring that had belonged to Voldemort’s grandfather. That’s probably what damaged his hand.”

“So there are four left,” Mia concluded. “They could be anything. Be anywhere. It will be like finding a needle in a haystack!”

“We… Dumbledore and I suspect what some may be through what we saw in the pensieve memories,” Harry told her in a quiet tone. “There were a cup and a locket – they were supposed to have belonged to Helga Hufflepuff and Salazar Slytherin – that Riddle seemed awfully interested in. We suppose they may have been turned into horcruxes because their owner mysteriously died soon after he saw them. And then there’s also the snake…”

“The one that bit Arthur?” Sirius inquired, receiving a nod in return. “Merlin. I didn’t even know one could turn living beings into Horcruxes…”

“See? It wasn’t so hard to tell us this,” Mia said, getting up. “Why didn’t you do it right away? Didn’t you think we could keep it a secret?”

“Of course I thought you could,” Harry replied without hesitation. “I just thought it was for the best. I didn’t want you to have to worry about…”

“We should worry about it, Harry!” she shouted back – his logic just didn’t make sense in her mind. Likely it was because it was clouded by the ever growing frustration and worry that filled her. “We’re responsible for you! You’re our family! Good or bad we want to know what is going on with your life and we want to help you with it! What made you think it would be better hiding something that important from us?! ”

“I don’t know!” he replied, also frustrated. “I get that you are supposed to worry but not like this. Not all the time. Sometimes I just get myself thinking that life would have been a lot easier for you without me in it, Aunt Mia.”

The silence that followed that statement was suffocating. At some point, Sirius had seen himself retreating to the sidelines as the argument shifted between Harry and Mia. Now, his wife just stared, her mouth half hanging open as she looked at their godson. He knew by the look on her face that she had no idea what to say, so the only word that she managed to utter in a chilling whisper was predictable enough.

“What?”

“It’s true!” Harry said, standing up too – he could feel all those moments over the years when he’d caused trouble piling over him and ready to come out. “How many times have you ended up sitting by my bedside in the Hospital wing because I got myself there for a reason or another? How many times did you have to worry because Voldemort or the Death Eaters wanted me dead? You’re right in the middle of this war because they’re all after me and if it wasn’t for me, you all could be far away from here! Safe!”

Mia stared some more before her voice came out again, cold and sharp as an icicle. “Are you out of your mind, Harry? You think you’re a burden to us?”

Suddenly, Harry couldn’t respond. He could see that simple statement had affected her more than him not having told her about the Horcruxes.

“Do you?” she insisted.

“Sometimes,” he admitted.

“Well, you’re not!” she said, furious at his admission. “You’re not now, you never were and you never will be. You’re my son and the day that turns you into a burden is the day when this world stops being worth living in as far as I’m concerned! How can you possibly think that?!” By the time she yelled that last part, her eyes burned as tears of fury wanted to come out but she wouldn’t let them.

“I…” he mumbled.

“Did it ever occur to you that the very thought of you being a burden crossing your head is insulting to me? To us? Did it ever occur to you that we don’t care about how much trouble lands on you because we’ll always love you despite it? That even if one day you got yourself in a mess even more terrible and life-threatening than all the ones you’ve already been in together we’d still love you and wouldn’t stop at anything to get you out of it?”

She might as well have punched him or slapped him or maybe given him that decade-long grounding Ginny had mentioned earlier when they’d met. It wouldn’t have made him feel worse than that. He’d always known Mia loved him like a son – he just hadn’t realized how deeply that feeling went. He couldn’t even find his voice to apologize!

She lifted a hand and pointed at him – her eyes might as well have been as incandescent as burning lava, so angry she looked right then. “If you ever dare thinking like that again, Harry James Potter, I… I will…” But she couldn’t bring herself to finish speaking. Instead, she turned on her heel, headed to the door and walked out after opening it. Then, she closed it with such force that not only did Harry think he heard the wood of the sturdy door crack but also he could swear he felt the millennia-old castle tremble under his feet.

His heart thumped so fast he thought it might explode and for a moment he wondered if his face was on fire because he could certainly feel it burning. He’d never seen his godmother that angry in his near seventeen years of life. Not at him, not at Izzy, not at anyone. Until then, he hadn’t even believed she was capable of it…

When he turned to face Sirius, his godfather didn’t look all that surprised – instead he seemed almost… understanding about it though he clearly wasn’t all that happy either.

“Well, kid, I suppose now it’s our turn to talk,” he said calmly.

A/N: To be continued...

Well, I hope you liked this chapter - I won't even bother about complaining about writing instead of studying when I have an exam tomorrow because, let's face it, I can't help it... Anyway, I felt inspired this week - furious!Mia is surprisingly nice to write. Feedback if very welcome here. Review!


Chapter 19: Blameless
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“Well, kid, I suppose now it’s our turn to talk,” Sirius said calmly as he leaned back against his desk, seconds after his wife stormed out of his office angrily.

He couldn’t blame her at all for it… the look on her face had certainly shown that she needed time on her own to let out the steam. If Mia had stayed there a little longer, she could have yelled until her vocal cords snapped – she might not usually be the screaming type but she certainly had been angry enough to open an exception that one time.

Harry still looked shocked as he sat back down on the couch. “I… I… she’s pissed.”

“Worse. She’s livid,” Sirius pointed out. “And she’s not easy to piss off, kid. I can count with the fingers of one hand how many times she looked that angry, a couple of which were caused by Umbridge.” He uncrossed his arms and sat on the chair Mia had occupied before. He wasn’t intending to give him one of those patronizing speeches, just a little heart-to-heart with banter put aside. “A burden? What’s gotten into your head to say that, kid?”

“I don’t know…” he mumbled, still confused. “Maybe I shouldn’t have said it to Aunt Mia but it’s not entirely false is it?” he asked, trying to justify himself. “I mean, from time to time I get myself thinking that if you weren’t responsible for me, you wouldn’t have been dragged into this mess. You could be living your lives far away from this war…”

“No, we couldn’t,” he said firmly, making Harry look up to face him – his expression seemed very determined… “Look, I’m not going to bother telling you that you didn’t drag us into this mess because you should already know that, Harry. But you know I’m going to tell you instead? That even if Lily and James were alive, Mia and I would still have made a point of dragging ourselves into this mess instead of running away for some safe destination. Because even if you weren’t ours, you’d still be family and we’d still fight for you. That’s what we do, kid, so get your mind out of the gutter. Family is not a burden.”

“Yours was,” Harry pointed out without thinking. “I mean your parents,” he amended quickly. “The way you talk about them – it’s like you wish you’d never met them.”

“Right in all but one account,” Sirius offered him with a dry chuckle. “They might be my parents but they weren’t my family. My real family was the Potters: your grandparents, your dad… even your Mom after they got married and Moony as well.” Wormtail too before he’d betrayed them all, he thought for a moment before continuing. “They were the ones that I picked, just as we picked you even before your parents died – no matter how much trouble you cause, that’s not going to change. So stop thinking of the what-ifs involving you not being in our lives – you can sit right there for years imagining different scenarios and, guess what? That’s not going to change anything and even if it could, we wouldn’t want to. Just… tell me what this sudden guilt is about.”

“It’s not… sudden. It’s been building up for a while, I guess,” Harry explained, twisting his hands on his lap nervously as he looked down. “You know before you came back? When Izzy and I were kids and we lived in Montreal?” Harry asked his godfather, who nodded. “We could see there was something really sad about Aunt Mia back then – she smiled a lot when she was with us but it rarely really reached her eyes. Eventually, Lulu told us it was because you weren’t there with her. She missed you.”

“Izzy told me about that already,” Sirius admitted stiffly – he didn’t like thinking of that time.

Harry continued. “I always thought that when you came back that… that shadow in her eyes would disappear. And it did, for a while,” he added quickly. “After you guys got married and Aunt Mia found out she was having Alex, she was just… so happy. The way she was supposed to be. But then it all came back: the Death Eater attack during the World Cup, the Triwizard Tournament, Voldemort returning, the ministry against me, Umbridge… then there was a shadow again – you being around helped her deal with it a lot but now there is just so much piling up… She’s stressed because of me over and over again and it’s not fair to her. My point is that after all Aunt Mia’s done for me: raising me, giving up her life in Montreal so I could come to Hogwarts, always being available to help… she deserves to be happy and without a care and sometimes it’s like the only thing between her and that is me.”

There was a short moment of silence between them. So keeping the Horcruxes from them had been more about Mia than about both of them. It was understandable, he mused. Mia had raised Harry since he was a baby – he was bound to feel a stronger parental bond with Mia than with him and that made him more protective of her. Sirius himself being protective of her, he couldn’t fully blame the kid for it…

Yet some things needed to be said and when Sirius spoke up, his tone was more sincere and sombre than Harry had ever heard it. “Well, I’m sorry to break the news to you, Harry, but with or without war, happy lives without a care are a myth. Sure, sometimes you have fewer things to worry about than others but there is always something to bug us. All in all, I’d say Mia is as happy as one can be under the circumstances and you have something to do with it: for instance, you said me being here helped. Do you know what I would be if you weren’t in our lives? Nothing. I’d be an empty shell of a person with no soul in one of Azkaban deepest cells. Don’t think I forgot you were the one who helped me escape Flitwick’s office when the Dementors were coming for me and then testified to set me free. You’re far from in the way of her happiness, you’re part of it, actually.”

Harry didn’t respond to that, remaining silent and looking down instead. He didn’t know what to say, actually. Somehow in his mind all bad things that he blamed on himself seemed to overshadow the good ones until someone mentioned them.

Sirius continued, then. “So, you really didn’t say anything about the Horcruxes because you didn’t want to add up her stress even more, hum?” Sirius concluded and Harry nodded silently. “You didn’t have to deal with all of that on your own, you know? You might not tell Mia but you could have told me. Believe me, after a decade in Azkaban, one is able to deal with pretty much anything,” Sirius said dryly. Sure, he would have been in quite a pickle if Harry asked him to keep something that important from Mia but he was sure he could figure something out …

Harry shook his head immediately, his thoughts mirroring his godfather’s. “No, I couldn’t do that, Sirius. Then you’d have to chose between keeping the secret for me or telling Aunt Mia,” he said. “That’s why I didn’t tell Izzy either – I either had to tell the three of you or none. I thought it would be better if I told none…”

“… and now it came back to bite you in the arse,” Sirius finished for him. “You know, that’s the problem with lies and omissions – they often come back to give you grief. Better stick with the truth, especially when it comes to people you care about. I learned that the hard way.”

His godson looked at him curiously, waiting for a further explanation. “Are you going to tell me how you did?”

Sirius groaned internally. There was a reason why he and Mia had never mentioned their big fight to Izzy or Harry: they hated remembering it, let alone mentioning it. But he supposed telling Harry would be a good step towards an understanding. “Last year I did something very stupid and it hurt Mia a lot.”

“What?”

He stood up, not feeling like remaining sitting and walked to stand against the stone wall of the office. “Let me start from the beginning. We’d caught one of You-Know-Who’s pals and I was in charge of watching him before we handed him to the Dementors – the bastard had a big mouth and just wouldn’t shut up. He was provoking me and ended up telling me, among other things, where Wormtail supposedly was.” He purposely avoided saying the rest Rodolphus had said – there were some things Harry just didn’t have to know.

“Why would he tell you that?” Harry asked immediately.

“Most likely because it was a trap, though I’m pretty sure Wormtail isn’t much loved among the death eater community,” Sirius explained quickly. “The fact is that I wanted to go after him even though it sounded like a trap and Mia didn’t want to let me go and asked me to promise I wouldn’t. So,” he said, swallowing hard – that was the hardest part to admit, “I looked her in the eyes and I made the promise.”

“But you still went after him,” Harry guessed easily.

“Yeah. It really was a trap, obviously, and not only Wormtail wasn’t there but also I was pretty close to not being able escape it. When I got back home, Mia didn’t yell or cry – she just turned at me and I could see she looked so… broken. Disappointed. It felt worse than it would if she’d cursed me. We spent a whole week walking on eggshells after that, barely speaking to each other.”

“When exactly did this happen?” his godson inquired. He just couldn’t remember them ever being like that…

“Exactly a week before the battle at the Department of Mysteries,” Sirius told him. “We hadn’t made up yet by the time it happened. I don’t think I need to tell you how… terrified I was of losing her, let alone of losing her before I had a chance to beg her for forgiveness – she eventually did, though. The point of me telling you this is to show you that we all make mistakes. Huge ones. The good thing about mistakes is that we get to learn from them. After that, I promised myself that I would never lie to her like that again. I hope you learn something similar from this.”

“So, you’re not… angry at me for not telling you about the Horcruxes?” Harry asked him tentatively.

“Try disappointed that you didn’t give us a little more credit, kid,” Sirius stated with a sigh. “But next time you discover something this important, we’d better find out about it from you, Harry. Believe it or not, Mia can handle a lot more than you can imagine – yes, the Horcruxes would have scared her at first and made her even more worried about you but she’d deal with it and she’d be fine. She’s a lot stronger than you think.”

Harry sighed. “She’s really hurt now, isn’t she? I thought I was doing the right thing for her. For all of you. But I guess Aunt Mia was right. She has the right to be upset. Especially when I said that about…her life being easier without me there… For all that’s worth, I’m really sorry I did it – I didn’t mean to hurt her.”

“I know you didn’t,” his godfather assured him. “And just for the record, she was right: you being a burden to us could only happen if this world was an uninhabitable mess of a place, so don’t even let that thought cross your mind again. It’s a waste of brain cells.”

“I won’t,” he promised and was surprised when realizing that, this time, he meant it. “I should… probably go apologize to her, shouldn’t I?” he asked, unsure. He didn’t feel all that ready to face her… He turned to his godfather, hoping for an answer. “Do you think I should do it right now?”

Sirius shook his head. “Knowing Mia, you might want to give her a little time to process the fight before trying to apologize or else you’re risking a second round of yelling. At least wait until tomorrow, okay? In the meantime you can talk to your friends and Ginny if you want other opinions on this.”

Harry huffed, annoyed with himself. “Ginny’s been telling me for the past two weeks that I should tell you about the Horcruxes,” he said. “She told me that if you found out in some other way you’d be upset. I should have listened to her – she’s usually right.”

“Well, she always seemed like a smart girl to me,” Sirius pointed out before managing to offer him a smirk. “You’d better marry her one day or I’m fixing up Alex with her when he’s bigger. He can handle an older woman.”

Harry couldn’t help chuckling. “I’ll take that under consideration.” Suddenly, he felt tempted to ask Sirius something he’d been wondering about ever since Mia had told him they knew about the Horcruxes. “Can I ask how you guys found about the…?”

“She heard you, Ron and Hermione speaking about it in the library yesterday afternoon,” Sirius responded before he could finish.

“In the library?” he asked, confused. “But we’d cast a muffliato charm all around us. I mean, I remember Ron doing it.”

“Not very well, apparently – he probably should give a thought to practicing the spell before using it again,” Sirius pointed out. “Anyway, Mia was able to hear pieces of what you were saying through the static of the Muffliato and figured it out.” He left out the existence of the book about Horcruxes in Grimmauld Place, knowing Harry would want it – he still wanted to research a little more before handing it to his godson. “So… what are you planning to do about them?”

“Find them and then destroy them,” Harry told him flatly. “It’s the only way to end Voldemort. Dumbledore promised he would let me help him destroy the next one he found.”

Did he? Sirius thought dryly. The headmaster was another loose end in that argument… “If you need help, Harry, you know you can count on us. And I’m not just offering help so you’ll know it’s available – I’m offering it so you’ll use it. I hope you don’t forget your promise of mutual communication again.”

“I won’t. I promise I won’t,” Harry said. “I’m really sorry I didn’t think of it before, Sirius. I…” he glanced at the clock on the wall of Sirius’s office. “…I’ve got a DADA class in five minutes.”

“Well, we wouldn’t want to get Snivellus worked up because you’re late, would we?” Sirius said with a groan. “Just do me a favour first. Do you have the map on you? I needed to borrow it for a while – I’ll give it back tomorrow, okay?” He imagined that might save him some time of walking around the castle searching for his wife. Merlin knew where she could be after having stormed out the way she had.

Harry nodded, reaching for the pocket of his robes and removing the neatly folded piece of battered parchment, which he handed to Sirius. “You’re going to meet Mia, aren’t you?” he asked, receiving a nod in return. “Can you tell her I’m sorry? I mean,” he added quickly, “not tell her I asked you to tell her – just… please let her know that I’m sorry…”

“Don’t worry about it, kid,” Sirius told him, understandingly. “Now get your arse out of here and go to class before Snape takes a turn at yelling at you too.”

“I’m going,” Harry said, reaching for his bag of books and standing up before he headed to the door. Then, just as he opened it, he turned around to face Sirius. “Thanks. For this talk. It helped,” he said. And then, he was gone, closing the door behind him.

Sirius sighed when he saw himself alone. That had been some talk: he didn’t even know where he should start analyzing it. Oh, well, maybe he should just leave the analysis for later… or give up on it altogether. Now, what he needed to do was finding Mia and deal with her.

He looked down at the yet blank map on his hand. “I solemnly swear I am up to no good.” It was strange how easily the words rolled off his tongue even though he hadn’t said them in such a long time – in fact, he realized, the last time he had used the map had been when Filch had confiscated it from him and James in the last week of classes in his seventh year. Just as the thought crossed his mind, he felt sort of a pang in his heart and instinctively looked over his shoulder – part of him expected all the guys to be there, ready to cause some mischief. But that wasn’t the case. It would never be again with one of them dead and another being a traitor. He shook his head, ordering himself to stop thinking of it – he should just think of searching for Mia now.

Finding her dot revealed itself to be a handful of a task – in some areas of the map there were just so many moving dots and so many names jumbled together that it was hard to tell which was which. To get a wider view of the place, he ended up spreading the whole map open over the mess on his desk, which consisted of an assortment of Quidditch magazines and catalogues, parchment, quills and Merlin knew what else. As he studied the map, he soon realized his wife wasn’t in the places he’d expected the most: either locked in her office or in Dumbledore’s giving him grief for having kept the Horcruxes from them – then again, the headmaster wasn’t there either…

Where else could she be? He wondered. She wouldn’t have just headed home without saying anything, would she? He spent several more minutes searching through the jumbled dots in the map, spotting Izzy’s in the Gryffindor Common Room and in the DADA classroom, before deciding to use logics. Where would he go if he was upset and wanted a moment alone? Likely some secret passageway where nobody could find him. Mia didn’t know the castle that well, though, so he marked that as unlikely. Astronomy tower? No, only the dots of a couple of students were there, probably snogging. Some empty classroom? There were dozens of them and he just didn’t have the time to check them all, so he skipped to the next possibility. Kitchens? Nothing but house-elves’ names there. Suddenly, he felt dumb. The lake. Of course that was where she’d gone, he realized even before he even spotted her dot by the margin of it – the lake had always been sort of a special place for them. A calm place to think.

“Mischief managed,” he murmured, clearing the parchment of all signs of a map in it. He folded it back, shoving it in his pocket and then he headed out of his office, aiming for the lake.

---

Mia realized she probably looked like a madwoman to anyone who would see her right then: she was pacing left and right in a hurried pace, which made it seem like she kept heading somewhere and suddenly changing her mind, her hair was probably a mess because she couldn’t help running her hands through it in irritation and her eyes were red and swollen from those furious tears that insisted on running down her face. In fact, she was so sure she looked like a madwoman that she had not only picked one of the most secluded spots by the side of the Hogwarts’s lake but also cast a disillusionment charm around her so, in case a student of hers happened to stumble upon her sorry self, he or she wouldn’t lose all the respect for the mad History of Magic teacher.

Her mind kept darting between the two big issues that were bothering her: the Horcrux situation and Harry thinking he was a burden. A burden! Simply thinking of it made her jaw clench even harder and the tears fall more furiously. How was it possible that he thought that?

Just then, she heard the sound of footsteps approaching her and looked in the direction of them only to see her husband emerging from the bushes, holding a large piece of parchment that she recognized as the Marauders Map open in front of him.

With an odd look of confusion, Sirius looked right through her and then at the map. Then though her again and back at the map.

What the hell?” she heard him mumbled under his breath. It was clear he couldn’t see her thanks to the disillusionment charm and the map said otherwise – if she hadn’t felt so… distressed, she might have found that amusing. “Hum… are you there Mia?” he asked in a not-very-hopeful voice.

“I’m here,” she responded to his confusion. Her tone came out feebler than she’d expected. That was one of the reasons why she hated crying – even her voice got all messed up by it…

She shook her head absently and reached for her wand to remove the disillusionment charm. By the time she did it, he’d already closed the map and was putting it back in his pocket, making his way to her just as soon as he saw her face.

“You’re crying,” he said, enveloping her with his arms and rubbing her back softly.

“No, I’m not,” she mumbled stubbornly, yet relaxing against his hold, letting herself sink into the comfort of it.

“Well, your eyes seem to disagree with you, love,” Sirius told her softly, pulling back a bit, just to brush her tears away with his sleeve.

“I hate crying,” she mumbled, sniffing before she mentally ordered herself to get back together. “I’m sorry. I was just… having a moment.”

He shifted, sliding a hand behind her back and walking her to a nearby tree so they could sit down on the ground against it. “You can have all the moments you need, Mia. I suppose you’re entitled to them now.”

She nodded silently, resting her arm on her bent legs and looking down at the grass on the floor as they sat down. “So…” she asked, hesitatingly, “where’s Harry?”

“At his DADA class, last I checked,” he told her shortly. He wasn’t sure how much he should press the matter about Harry right now – he wasn’t sure how much she could handle that soon after the fight. “Are you okay?”

“I don’t know,” she mumbled, turning to him. “I just can’t believe Harry would think… do you think it might have been me?” Her throat felt incredibly dry as she asked him that – that possibly was what she’d feared the most ever since she’d stormed out of her husband’s office. “Do you think it’s something I did that made him think he was a… a burden?”

“Of course not, Mia,” Sirius told her immediately. “That’s a ridiculous idea.”

“Is it?” she asked, standing up again and starting to pace once more. “Because lately I haven’t had a chance to act as much like a mom to him and Izzy as I used to before, back when it was just them. I mean, Alex is a handful and Mary is still so little yet… Between the two of them and everything else…” What sort of mother would make her kid feel like a burden? Part of her questioned, making her feel just horrible. Maybe she was the problem. She clenched her job so hard, trying to keep the tears from falling again. This time, she was successful.

“It’s nothing about that,” Sirius told her firmly, reaching for her hand and tugging it back down, asking her to sit by his side again. When she did, he kissed her cheek softly. “Listen, during that time that passed between you storming off and me coming here, I was talking to Harry and, believe me, the reason why he thought he was a burden was far from you making him feel like you’re… alienating him or something. It’s the opposite reason, actually – he thinks that after all you’ve done for him, the least you deserve is to have a happy, unpreoccupied life.”

“What?”

“He just wants you to be happy, Mia. That’s it. And he thought that him ‘dragging us’ into the war is what is keeping you from that blissfully happy life – it took me while, but I think I managed to convince him that he didn’t drag anyone into any war and that he’s far from a burden. Look, all that time I spent talking to him it was clear that he loves you and doesn’t doubt that you love him right back – he only kept the Horcruxes from you trying to protect you and from me so I wouldn’t have to chose between keeping the secret for him or telling you.”

“But he shouldn’t worry about protecting me,” Mia mumbled, half relieved, half frustrated. “From the truth, much less! I’m an adult and perfectly capable of protecting myself if I need to.”

Sirius sighed. “Sometimes it’s just hard for us to help it, love,” he told her. “Listen, the kid is really sorry he hurt you. You could see it from miles away. And it’s also clear he loves you like a parent – that’s a bond only the two of you have.”

She shook her head. “But you…”

“I am more like a… cool uncle or a close mate to him than a dad, Mia. And that’s to be expected: you’ve been taking care of him since he was a baby, I just showed up when he was nearly fourteen and missed out a lot. Same with Izzy but I guess in her case I was lucky she was open to becoming a Daddy’s girl. With all this I’m trying to say that you didn’t do a thing to make him think he was a pain in our arses – he’s just… Harry. Add the teenager factor to that and you’ll have a really confused kid with a knack for blaming himself for whatever bad things happen in the lives of people close to him.” He reached for Mia’s hair, running his hands soothingly through it. “He never meant to hurt you.”

Her eyes were glittering with tears again when Sirius was finished and she reached up to dry them just as soon as she realized it. “That daft boy,” she mumbled under her breath, irritated. “I hope you told him I’m not some… helpless ninny that needs to be shielded from the truth.”

Sirius managed to grin, then, and his arm came down to circle her frame. “He wouldn’t dare think of that but I’m pretty sure I said something along those lines.”

“And what about the Horcruxes? Did he say anything else about them?”

Sirius shook his head. “Only that he intends to destroy them all. Oh, and Dumbledore apparently promised him that he’ll let him help get rid of the next one he finds.”

Mia sniffed at the mention of the Headmaster. “I just don’t get that man. I really don’t. Before starting the lessons, he came to us and asked us if we were okay with him teaching them to Harry. Then, not another word about it! He didn’t even bother to let us know that Harry’s sworn enemy has his soul spread in pieces all over the world, for what we know! All this time we’ve all but trusted him with our lives and he can’t trust us with something concerning our own godson’s life!”

Sirius nodded. “Sounds shady, doesn’t it? I suppose that now that we’re here at Hogwarts, we should use the opportunity to go have a little chat with Dumbledore about it.”

To his surprise, Mia shook her head in a ‘no’. “Don’t bother. I headed straight there when I left your office but that gargoyle guarding his office told me he had left the school to handle some ‘personal business’ and hadn’t said when he was coming back!” She huffed in frustration – he was probably looking for a Horcrux, she imagined. “Of all the times he could disappear…”

“We’ll just have to wait for another day,” Sirius said, rubbing one of her arms. Then, he let out a deep breath. “Well, are you okay now?”

“Almost,” she whispered back – before being completely okay, she needed to talk to Harry and right now she didn’t feel quite ready for that yet… Tomorrow, she told herself.

“So,” he started in a tone of conclusion, “today I had to play a role of the respectable adult in my chat with Harry and then again a little with you. It was interesting.”

“I bet you wish you won’t have to do it again anytime soon,” Mia said, her lips curling slightly.

“I guess it does work better for me in small doses,” Sirius admitted sheepishly. He looked at Mia, then. “Well, do you want to stay here a little longer of do you want to go home?”

She sighed and leaned closer, kissing the corner of his mouth very softly as a way of thanking him for… everything. It occurred to her that decades before it had been somewhere near that spot where they sat together that Sirius had kissed her for the first time. “Take me home,” she whispered. That day, she didn’t want to think of Horcruxes, secrets or burdens. She really just wanted to go home. The rest can wait for tomorrow

A/N: This comes like twelve hours late and I am really sorry but it was inevitable this time.

So, a few days ago one of my teachers got me another intern-ship interview and... long story shot, after hours waiting in some uncomfortable office, the interview went really well (thank god!) and this time I was accepted! I'm starting this Friday. Hopefully, it won't interfere much with me writing this fic as I'll try to manage my time better but I'll be working 8 hours a day for the next six weeks so there may be a delay or two with the chapters (I'm crossing my fingers so that it won't happen)...

Meanwhile, I hope you like the chapter - I spent hours writing and deleting segments because it wouldn't end up the way I wanted until I managed to get it approved by my very self-critic self... Feedback is welcome! Review!


Chapter 20: Promises
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When the day after his fight with Mia dawned, Harry felt like he had a knot blocking his throat. A really big one. He didn’t have class with her that day but he certainly had to at least apologize to Mia – it was just the least he could do, after his asinine performance in the previous day. All night long he’d thought of what to tell her and had successfully come up with a big, heart-touching speech at some point. Little problem, though – he could barely remember a single word of it now… It was like having gone to sleep had deleted that epic speech out of his head (except this little yet very meaningful part that took part after the apology and had come to him like an epiphany) and now there he was, trying to compose it again.

“You don’t need any big shot speech for anything,” Ginny told him, rolling her eyes when he happened to mention the case to her in the morning as he walked with her to the Great Hall. “You only need to apologize to her – tell her what you feel. That will be worth ten times more than some deeply trained speech, Harry.”

“Yeah, I guess,” he mumbled as he walked, looking down with his hands shoved into his pockets. “But last time I went ahead and told Mia exactly what I felt, I ended up saying too much,” he said, recalling his… mishandling of the Horcrux situation in the previous day.

Now, after a long night of sleep, a talk with Ron and Hermione, then Ginny and then Izzy – that last one involving her calling him an idiot repeatedly, which he hadn’t really denied, and kicking him once in the shins like her six-year-old self used to do (Harry had this theory that Izzy tended to downgrade in terms of mental age whenever she was pissed off, which would explain the kicking) before beginning to get over it and proceeding to discuss what he already knew and what he was planning to do about the Horcruxes – he realized that his words about ‘Mia’s life being easier without him there’ had not only hurt his godmother, maybe even more so than the Horcrux situation itself, but also not been true at all.

“Well, bite your tongue if you feel something stupid like that coming,” Ginny told him, rolling her eyes. “A burden… Sometimes I wonder why you guys even have a brain if you clearly forget to use it most of the time. ”

Harry sighed. “Alright, I wasn’t really thinking well at the time but it made sense in my head,” he mumbled lamely. “So, what do I tell her? I just can’t think.”

Ginny gave him a sympathetic pat on the arm as they stopped in front of the Great Hall’s doors. “Start with ‘I’m sorry’. The rest will come as you speak,” she told him. “Take my word – I’m the master of apologies. I’ve had enough training: Mom always made me apologize to that git Percy for completely messing up his room whenever he acted like a pompous prat to the rest of us. Before she grounded me, that is…”

“I’ll go ahead and assume that happened a lot,” Harry stated.

She grinned. “A lot, really. Half the time Mom would end up demanding he apologized back to me because my apologies were sooo convincing – I don’t think I need to tell you I rarely meant them. Anyway, if I managed to pull it off so many times not meaning it, I bet Mia will understand when say you’re sorry and actually mean it. Just don’t overthink it. And speaking of the devil…”

Harry looked in the same direction Ginny was facing and, through the large arch that led to the main staircase, caught a glance of his godmother emerging from the entrance of the first floor, walking up the stairs in a hurried pace with Sirius by her side, apparently as both of them headed somewhere in a rush with rather annoyed expressions on their faces. Neither of them seemed to have spotted him or Ginny standing there as they didn’t turn their heads or stop walking at all, disappearing around the corner a few seconds after Ginny had first spotted them.

“Where do you figure they’re going?” Ginny asked him with her eyebrows raised.

He shook his head. “No idea,” he mumbled, concluding that maybe he should delay his apology to Mia for another couple of hours – she definitely hadn’t seemed in a forgiving mood right now…

“Potter, Weasley!” a very unpleasant voice shouted from behind them all of a sudden. The two of them turned to see themselves facing none other than Snape, as dark and sober as ever. “Are you intending to stand here in the middle of the hall blocking the way all day or are you planning to move at some point to get your breakfasts and go to classes like you’re supposed to?” he asked, even though they were far from blocking the way to anyone – there were at least eight feet between them and the door of the Great Hall and there were several people standing much closer to it than them.

Harry locked his jaw, forcing the spiteful response that had been about to roll off his tongue to remain inside his mouth – he already had detention on Saturday for helping Neville with a spell during his last DADA class and he certainly didn’t need his weekend ruined too…

“Why, we had no idea you needed so much space in order to get into the Great Hall, Professor,” she said in an all-too-sweet tone before taking a step back and gesturing her hand towards the large wooden doors of the Great Hall. “Please, do pass.”

The teacher mumbled something under his breath and, after grimacing at Harry, he walked into the Great Hall on his own.

Harry sighed then. “I just don’t get how you can get away with telling him stuff like that – I think you all but accused him of either being fat, which he isn’t, or not being able to walk in a straight like,” he mumbled. “He’d have given me a night of detention just for opening my mouth.”

Ginny flashed him a grin. “Must be my charms and sparkling personality,” she replied with a bright smile on her face. “Or maybe he just doesn’t want to give you the pleasure of having your girlfriend serving detention along with you.”

He shrugged. “Maybe.”

She chuckled and got a hold of his hand. “Come on, Harry, let’s feed you some breakfast. According to Ron, food heals everything from depression to dragon pox.”

Harry groaned. “If only…

---

“You’re sure McGonagall said he was in his office?” Mia asked as she and Sirius rushed through the hallways of the school, heading to the headmaster’s quarters.

Her husband nodded, following her. “I’m sure. She mentioned Dumbledore arrived from his little mission, or whatever he was doing all day yesterday, a couple of hours ago and headed straight to his office.” Though their chat had been cut short because he’d been on a rush to go and tell Mia about all of it, Sirius had noted that McGonagall had also seemed quite irritated with the Headmaster when he’d run into her only ten minutes before – no doubt because Dumbledore must have refused to share with her whatever he’d been doing on his own during the past day…

“Good,” his wife mumbled through her teeth as her pace became even more slightly rushed, so willing she was to reach the headmaster. “Then I can finally give him a piece of my mind. Did you ask her for the password to get in the office?” Mia asked as she spotted the gargoyle at the end of the hallway they’d been walking along.

He nodded. “Yeah. ‘Chocolate and Raspberry Wands’ – I’d never heard of that one before. Must be some foreign sweet.”

“Must be,” she mumbled absently before repeating the password to the gargoyle, which opened way for them to climb up the narrow stairwell that led up to the antechamber that preceded Dumbledore’s office.

Sirius cleared his throat as they reached it and Mia headed straight to the office’s door. “You should probably knoc…” But he wasn’t able to finish saying that as Mia simply burst the door open and barged into the room. “Oh, never mind.”

“We need to talk,” Mia announced in a firm tone.

The fact that, despite the sudden entrance, Dumbledore didn't seem at all surprised to see her had Sirius wondering, as he walked in after Mia, if somehow the older guy had a way of knowing exactly who was coming up to his office even before they stepped in. The older man simply sat peacefully behind his desk with an unreadable look on his face as he observed Mia. Sometimes the guy was just a downright mystery…

“Amelia, fancy to see you,” Dumbledore said pleasantly before turning to Sirius and giving him a nod. “Sirius.”

“Dumbledore,” he replied, remaining neutral in all that. It felt so weird having to be the rational one for once. Maybe he should start giving Mia more credit for putting up with his antics with Snape…

“Why didn't you tell us about the Horcruxes, Albus?” Mia demanded, leaving aside any sort of build up to her words. She stood a couple of feet away from the desk with her hands on her hips and looking at the headmaster with a rather intimidating expression on her face. “We had a right to know!”

“So, young Harry has told you about them, then,” Dumbledore concluded quietly.

“No, he didn't, actually. I accidentally heard him discussing it with his friends and then he told us,” she replied angrily. “And from what I gather, you've known about them for years!”

He sighed. “Amelia, please sit down.”

“No. I'd rather stay up,” she told him stubbornly, crossing her arms against her chest.

Sirius sighed. Now she was throwing a tantrum or something – for Mia those were rare outside of pregnancy and when they came… well, it was as far as it could be from great. It looked like he'd need to make some damage control before she made anything blow up with her wand…

He approached her from behind, his hand touching her back softly and his lips reaching towards her ear – he figured a gentle approach would be easier on everyone, including himself. “Calm down, love. Sit down and let Dumbledore explain,” he whispered to her.

She turned to him for a moment and, thank Merlin, didn't seem very bummed for him having butted in. Mia just let out a groan and said an annoyed 'fine'. She reached for a wooden chair resting in front of the desk and sat down, while Sirius did the same by her side. Then, she aimed her best glare back at Dumbledore, silently demanding for him to speak.

The headmaster let out a breath, then. “Sirius, Amelia, I never meant to keep this… Horcrux situation from you.”

“You didn’t make a very good job making it seem that way, Dumbledore,” Mia pointed out. “If you have first learned about them after that Chamber of Secrets fiasco, you’ve known this for nearly four years and none of us had any idea until the day before yesterday. If that’s not keeping it from us, I honestly don’t know the meaning of the expression ‘keeping something from someone’ at all.”

Dumbledore sighed. “I realize that, Amelia. Believe me, I do.” He took a moment to weigh his words before saying them. “Harry was twelve… no, nearly thirteen years old back when I discovered this through the diary. He was practically a child himself. If I told you about the Horcruxes back then, I’d have to tell you about the prophecy too. And what would you have done, Amelia, if I had told you that not only Harry was destined to defeat Lord Voldemort but also that it would be a task several times harder than it seemed because he’d split his soul into pieces in order to fool death? Would you have told him? Especially when, back then, you would have needed to deal with it on your own since Sirius was still imprisoned?”

Mia didn’t respond because she didn’t know how to answer that. Back then, the only person that had even remotely helped her with parenting was Lulu – and frankly, Mia was pretty sure Lulu wouldn’t have an answer for that either… What would she do, faced with something like that? Telling him would have been… crushing. Too much weight to put over a boy just growing out of his childhood. But not telling him either… she’d just had quite a row with Harry for that exact same reason. It would be at the very least hypocrital considering doing the same. And how it irritated her that Dumbledore had just made a fair point…

“What I thought and still think I was doing by not telling you back then,” Dumbledore continued, “was choosing between you having to make that choice and facing Harry every day knowing the truth or me doing it instead because it would cost me less, Amelia.”

Mia gritted her teeth, then, annoyance increasing. “I’m a grown person, Albus! I don’t need you or anyone protecting me from the truth. Especially if the truth is about my son!”

She was getting explosive again, Sirius observed. He reached with his hand to touch hers, making her momentarily look at him – it either meant she’d explode at him next or she’d calm down… hopefully, it was the latter. When she didn’t speak and simply closed her mouth, locking her jaw as if trying to keep the words from leaving her mouth, Sirius concluded it was something in between. He turned to Dumbledore himself, then, taking his turn at the conversation. “Look, Dumbledore, what bums us the most isn’t you not having told us back then, it’s you having told Harry and not even mentioning it to us before, during or after you did it.”

“You should have come to us first,” Mia spoke again. “Or at the very least asked us to be there when you told him. Why the hell didn’t you?! Do you think we wouldn’t let him do what he has to do? Destroy those Horcruxes? Because we don’t have any other choice but letting him, knowing what we know!”

“It wasn’t for anything such as that,” Dumbledore told them. “Not telling you myself… I was counting on Harry telling you on his own…”

“But he didn’t! And I’d bet anything that you knew he hadn’t told us, maybe even why he hadn’t and still didn’t say a word, Albus,” Mia replied.

Dumbledore nodded – there was no use denying it to them. He’d done it thinking it was for the best, after all. “Yes, I knew he’d decided not to tell you about the Horcruxes but when I asked him why, he responded saying it was for the best. I had to respect his decision, Amelia. If I didn’t, I might lose his trust…”

“Well, that makes a lot of sense except what about our trust, Dumbledore?” Sirius asked, stepping into the conversation this time. “We put our lives in your hands over and over, tell you all we know and now you’ve pretty much kept us in the dark about everything that happened in your lessons with Harry and the Horcruxes. Let’s put it like this: if he was your kid, wouldn’t you want to know if the lunatic who’d been trying to kill him since he was a baby had split his soul into seven parts? Thinking that would help him beat death in some twisted way? Wouldn’t you be pretty angry if someone you trusted kept that from you on purpose?”

Dumbledore didn’t respond – they were right about that. As much as he didn’t want it to be true, it was. He knew he was growing desperate. The clock was ticking faster and faster for him – he might have months ahead of him or maybe just weeks. It was hard to tell. Though it was unknown to everyone, his death was imminent and as much as he didn’t fear death itself, he feared leaving unfinished business behind, which was revealing itself to be an inevitability. Having Harry’s trust was essential now more than ever because, after he was gone, all would fall on the boy. He felt for him, mourned for the task that had been placed upon him but there was nothing he could do about it. All he could do now was preparing him but maybe he had gone too far trying to keep his trust…

Mia huffed and rejoined the argument. “You should have just come to us or at least hinted something! Harry is not some… completely parentless boy that needs to deal with troubles on his own already. He has us! You had no right to keep us in the dark, Albus. He’s still underage. Until the day he turns seventeen, Sirius and I are responsible for him.”

“I understand,” Dumbledore said, his tone very low, almost timid. “Maybe I didn’t handle this in the best way.”

The look that Mia gave him clearly meant a sarcastic “Don’t say…” She didn’t speak it out loud though, not feeling like upsetting herself further by yelling at the headmaster. It was just bizarre lecturing a guy old enough to be her… great-great-grandfather or something. Especially when that guy was, well, a model and a legend to most of the Wizarding World, including herself.

“So…” Sirius started, intending to avoid the silence that was threatening to arrive, “this Horcrux thing… did you find any other during your absence?”

“I didn’t, no. But I believe I may be close to one… the lead that I’m following is a strong one. Maybe you should know Harry insisted I let him help me get the next one and destroy it,” the headmaster told them, trying to ease the tension by being open to them. “I hope you don’t have a problem with that.”

Maybe they did, Mia thought. But on the other hand, they didn’t really have a choice if they wanted Harry to be ready for whatever was to come, did they?

“Just how hard are they to destroy?” Sirius asked. “Harry said something about your…” he gestured with his own hand, not sure ‘dead hand’ would be a very tactful way to put it. “Is that… usual? Serious injuries?”

Dumbledore sighed and lifted the damaged limb to show it to them – thank Merlin, they thought, it was wrapped with bandages, blocking it from their sight. For a moment, the healer in Mia wondered if it had gotten even worse… if it was even possible, that was. “I’m afraid this was only the product of my own foolishness,” the headmaster told them sadly. “The object that held the Horcrux itself was cursed and I didn’t consider that – I’ve already warned Harry against the dangers of Horcruxes and I’m sure he was already aware of them after all he witnessed Tom Riddle’s diary doing to Miss Weasley, so I’m fairly sure he won’t be tempted to underestimate the danger.” Dumbledore sighed, then. “It’s a lot of pressure to put on a boy of his age but Harry has proven himself capable many times already.”

“We know,” Mia mumbled before suddenly standing up before he had a chance to apologize – she couldn’t deal with letting Dumbledore off the hook just yet. “I’m late for class already. I should go.”

The headmaster nodded and stood up as well like Sirius did. “I won’t keep you any longer.”

Mia responded with another nod and turned around to walk away and get out of the office. It was only after she’d reached the bottom step of the spiral staircase connecting the office to the rest of the castle that she turned to face Sirius. She was about to say something but stopped herself.

“What?” her husband asked.

“Nothing. It’s just… I’ll never figure that guy out. Dumbledore. He’s just… so complicated to deal with sometimes,” she said, looking away again.

“Tell me about it. I spent all the time you were speaking trying to read the expressions of his face and I barely got a thing,” Sirius told her. “It’s amazing how cool he could remain while you were there yelling at him, though there was a flicker of regret once or twice…”

She sighed before looking up at him again. “I’m sorry I took over that fight. I… you probably had stuff to say too. I barely gave you chance to open your mouth…”

Sirius shook his head immediately, letting her know he hadn’t minded. “No, it’s okay. You spoke well enough for both of us, love. Actually, you’re better with the yelling thing than I am – I suppose mocking and sarcasm suits me better, though I don’t think I could pull it off with Dumbledore. He’s just… Dumbledore. Mocking him would be just weird.”

“Well, imagine yelling at him,” Mia replied, taking a deep breath. “Look, I really should go. I’ll be lucky if the second years are still in the classroom waiting for me…”

“Well,” Sirius started, leaning forward and pressing a kiss to her forehead, which made her relax a little, “go and be a teacher. I’ll see you later, then.”

She gave him a small smile and motioned to walk away, heading to her classroom. Somehow, she thought, it was barely nine in the morning and the day already felt endless…

---

Later, during the mid-morning break from classes, she didn’t feel half as stressed or half as upset as she had before. Teaching was good to her… well, unless, like the day before, Mia was just too nervous to concentrate on it, which (to the relief of many students who’d also had class with her in the previous day and witnessed the pitiful lectures) wasn’t repeating itself.

She had been busy behind her classroom desk reading some notes for the next class when a voice sounded in the room. “I’m sorry.”

Even if she hadn’t recognized Harry’s voice immediately, Mia wouldn’t have needed to look up in order to know it was him standing there. She took a deep breath before lifting her face in order to face him: the look on his face was quite unsure and he seemed to be biting his lower lip nervously. Mia sighed, then, putting the roll of parchment with the notes written on it back down on her desk and getting up.

“Come with me,” she instructed her godson, nodding towards the door that led to her office – she figured it might be a good idea not to have that conversation in her classroom since the students for her next class would be showing up in roughly twenty minutes and some tended to arrive far ahead of time – she couldn’t risk them walking in on them talking about such personal matters. It was… personal.

Harry followed her into the office and stood awkwardly in the centre of it as his godmother closed and locked the doors, trying to keep the conversation private. What was he supposed to say now? Ginny had said it would flow out but it just wasn’t happening! Maybe he should say it again… “I’m sorry,” he repeated. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I really didn’t. Not with the Horcrux thing or the burden thing. I just…”

Mia didn’t let him finish – taking an understanding tone. “Sirius told me about what you talked about with him yesterday, so you don’t need to explain it again, Harry,” she declared quietly before letting out yet another sigh and sitting on her sofa, which he also did, putting his book bag down on the floor. She’d spent the past night trying to settle on what to do with Harry and the decision had come eventually. “Just promise me one thing, okay? Promise me next time you’ll just come to Sirius or to me and tell us whatever it is that is bothering you. I know you were just trying to protect me but I deal better with bad news that with no news, Harry.”

He nodded, glad she put it in such simple terms. “Okay… I can promise that. And on what I said about the burden…”

Her face hardened for a moment – that was still a sensitive matter. “You’ll be in big trouble if I ever hear you saying that again or even get a wind that you’re thinking it, Harry James Potter!” she warned him, narrowing her eyes to slits.

He gulped before clearing his throat. “So noted. But I just wanted you to know that… you never gave me a reason to feel like that. It was stupid of me. So…” he started, hesitating, “I’m sorry for it.” There was a silent pause before he spoke again. “Are we good?”

Mia sighed and reached forward, enveloping her godson in a tight hug, which completely caught him by surprise, making him only respond to it after a few seconds. “You silly boy. What on Earth am I going to do with you?” she whispered, rubbing his back for a few moments as she held him.

“I have no idea,” he replied. A few seconds later as they pulled away, Harry glanced at her with a confident look on his face and an expression that seemed to be leaning towards a smile. She could tell forgiveness had been a genuine relief to him. “Can I make you another promise?” he asked her, then.

Mia raised an eyebrow, wondering what it was but gave him a nod. “As many as you want.”

He took a gulp before speaking. “If,” he paused, shook his head and started again. “When this is all over, Voldemort is gone and we can go on with our lives,” he said, hoping, dearly hoping, that time would arrive at some point, sooner rather than later, “I promise I’ll start calling you ‘Mom’.”

She felt her whole body freeze as soon as she heard those words and spent at least ten seconds just staring at him. “Harry…” she started feebly. “You know I don’t mind you not… you don’t have to.”

He shook his head. “But I want to. I never called it to you before because… well, because I just got used to calling you Aunt Mia. That was what you always called yourself when you talked to me.”

Mia nodded and let out a deep breath. “It felt like a betrayal to Lily telling you to call me Mom or giving myself that title when speaking to you, Harry. It was just a title but… it felt important to keep it saved for Lily back then…”

Harry shook his head once again. “She’d understand. I can’t actually remember her but people, especially you, Sirius and Remus, tell me so much about her and my dad that it feels like I really know them. And the Lily Potter that I know in my head wouldn’t mind at all me calling you Mom after you’ve acted as just that since I was a baby. What you said yesterday after I said the… er… burden thing… it really got to me. I never questioned that you were also my mom but what you said… it made me realize I want to call you that. I could start doing it now but it seems more meaningful to do it after the storm is over.” Sort of like a reward, he imagined.

She bit her lower lip for a fraction of a second before sighing and pulling him into yet another hug, making him chuckle. “Thank you, Harry. Just… thank you.” Funny how that gesture meant to her so much more than she’d thought before… Merlin, she hoped she wasn’t heading towards a whole weeping session, Mia thought as she took a deep breath and pulled away from him. “It will be something to look forward to.”

He grinned. “Yeah, same here. So… I’m really off the hook?”

Mia chuckled. “As long as you keep that first promise you made, yes, you are.”

“I’ll do all I can to,” Harry vowed solemnly before getting up and reaching for his bag of books. “So… I should go. I have Potions now with Slughorn.”

Mia nodded and got up as well, leading him to the door that led straight to the castle’s corridor and opening it. Just as he was about to turn back around, she touched his arm, making him look back at her. “Be careful, okay?” she requested. Her tone showed she didn’t just mean during his way to the dungeons

Harry replied by nodding his head. “I always am.” And with that, he turned around and sped away so he wouldn’t be late.

Mia sighed, closing the door again. A smile crept on her face as she sat. Usually, one said that when things seemed like they couldn’t get worse, they did. Now, after earlier that morning she’d thought things were so bad that it would be nearly impossible for them to get better, they had. And that was a pretty good feeling. 

A/N: As I had warned, a delay did happen... sorry guys. Internship is fun but it's also murder... I get home pretty much exhausted and finding time to write is, well, like finding the right numbers for the lottery. But I still managed. I hope you liked the chapter. Feedback is sooo welcome - review!





Chapter 21: Confrontation
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11 May 1997

A couple of weeks passed since Mia and Harry’s reconciliation after the Horcrux situation and, so far, that time had been rather eventless in terms of Death Eater attacks or other sorts of trouble, leaving the Order mostly inactive and worried about the meaning of that eventlessness.

Following the conflict with the Blacks concerning his omission of the Horcruxes, Dumbledore seemed have decided to give them an update on it every once or twice a week mentioning anything he had or not found about that matter. Though lately she’d been holding sort of a grudge against the headmaster, barely acknowledging him with anything other than a polite nod, Mia felt thankful for that since, well, it helped keeping them aware of what was going on. She knew it was sort of a way for Dumbledore to relieve his conscience. But it still helped a little.

The day of the eleventh of May dawned calmly and also remained calm until the time when Sirius and Mia arrived home around two o’clock in the afternoon after teaching their classes of a day and having lunch out in Muggle London. The house was empty when they got there: Gabe and Lulu were taking little Mary, Alex and his friend Darcy to the Muggle zoo and weren’t supposed to come back for a few hours and Kreacher was… well, they simply had no idea where he was.

“I don’t know. Maybe he went out to get groceries for dinner or something,” Mia told her husband when he asked her about the house-elf’s whereabouts while they climbed up the stairs, headed to the living room. “You know he mostly stays out of the way when the kids aren’t around.”

A grin covered her husband’s face as he heard her response. “Hum, good,” he said. “That is good.”

Mia spun around as they reached the first floor and narrowed her eyes at him. “I know that tone,” she warned him.

He forced an innocent look on his face, then. “What tone, love?”

“The one you used when you said ‘good’. Don’t pretend you don’t know what it is, Sirius Orion Black,” she said.

The innocent look remained on its place even as he approached her and rubbed his knuckles softly on her cheek in a gentle caress. “I’m sorry, love, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Lie. “Maybe you’ll have to enlighten me.” But he didn’t even give her a chance to do it. At least not in a verbal way. Instead, he leaned further and crushed her lips with his.

Mia convinced herself it was mostly out of instinct that she responded immediately. Nothing to do with the fact that she couldn’t resist that damn handsome bloke that was kissing her who happened to be married to her. Who was all hers. “I knew that was your ‘I see a good opportunity to shag you in the horizon’ look,” she mumbled in a rough voice

“Is that a problem?” he asked her with a charming look, softly pushing her into the living room, where she dumped the bag she was carrying on a chair.

Well, being Sirius the eager bloke, it was her duty to give him a bit of a fight by acting as the reluctant one. So, Mia let out a worried sigh. “I wouldn’t want you to think I’m the sort of girl that just jumps on a guy without some romantic gesture to build up to it,” she whispered teasingly. “It’s the least he can do, isn’t it?”

“Hey, I recall us having a pretty romantic lunch less than an hour ago,” he told her.

She raised a sceptical eyebrow. “We ate a hamburger sandwich and chips at some Muggle food-chain restaurant, Sirius, that’s hardly considered a romantic lunch,” she pointed out. She wasn’t sure if he really thought of it as a romantic gesture of if he was using it as an excuse. But knowing him, her money would be on the second – Sirius simply wasn’t that dense, was he?

He gave her a grin, pulling her. “But love,” he said, faking extreme innocence, “we shared a dose of chips and one of those chocolate Saturday ice creams or whatever they’re called. I just don’t do that with every girl. Plus, it’s the company that counts, right? Anyway, Muggles seem to like that burger stuff a lot – I imagined it might be nice for us to try it. Wasn’t that bad, was it?” He kissed her lips again and gave her a charming smile. “I promise I’ll work on something better next time.”

That last part, she knew, he meant. She smiled even though all that time she’d known that a special meal or something didn’t matter all that much. Not really. Just as long as he was there, those things didn’t really matter. “You’re lucky I find you so wildly attractive, Mr. Black,” she whispered reaching with her lips closer to his ear.

He grinned. “You’re rather easy in the eyes too,” Sirius told her as she pulled back a little, just enough so their lips were now around a quarter inch apart. “So? Sofa?” He nodded at the piece of furniture a few feet away.

“Hum, there’s nobody else in the hou…” He didn’t let her finish, not resisting kissing her again. They edged closer to the sofa, their lips impossibly remaining together. How they didn’t fall down, knocked something over or stepped on each other’s feet, so entranced they were in the kissing part, was a mystery – the fact was that there neither causalities nor wounded by the time reached down for the sofa, still taking a seating position. But before they got any further, the sound of tapping on the window startled them.

“Ignore it,” he mumbled, seeing an owl through the corner of his eye.

Mia tried to do so at first. Still, the tapping continued, in an increasingly bugging fashion, becoming incessant. It was just bloody annoying! “It could be important,” Mia said finally, pulling away as she felt something tightening within her chest. Could be just an Owl with an annoying personality. Could be news, good or bad… “I gotta check,” she said, standing up.

Sirius groaned, leaning against the back of the sofa and sighing as a pout took over his face – if anyone saw him at that moment, they’d say he looked just like a kid who’d been stolen his favourite piece of sweet. A really pretty one, he thought as he observed his wife rushing to the window, even if her hair a mess of knots thanks to his roaming hands and her face awfully flushed from the kissing. Why was it that, between Lulu, their younger kids wailing or bloody owls delivering messages they ended up interrupted so many times?

She glared at the wretched bird. “This had better be important,” she told the owl under her breath while she untied the little roll of parchment from its leg. With its mission accomplished, the owl flew away just as Mia was unrolling the small note. Small but enough to sour her mood even further… “Oh, not again,” she mumbled.

Sirius stood up from the sofa as soon as he heard the words, expecting the worse. “What is it?” he asked even before having the chance to look over her shoulder and read the words written on the note.

“McGonagall is fetching us to Hogwarts right now because Harry is in trouble. ‘In a disciplinary sense of the word’, according to her,” Mia said, huffing and crumpling the paper into a ball in irritation and throwing it straight out of the window without thinking. “Is somebody kidding me?! More trouble? It’s like we bought season tickets for the whole bloody trouble league!”

“Well, at least if it’s in a disciplinary sense, he’s probably not in trouble in a… life or death sense,” Sirius pointed out, feeling a hint of relief bursting within his chest. “And, let’s face it, it’s probably another one of Snape’s tantrums, since he’s had hundreds of them already in this school-year alone.”

Mia laughed sarcastically. “Well, that’s just mind-settling. And McGonagall wouldn’t have us called if it wasn’t serious.” She sighed and looked up at him. “Looks like we’ll have to leave our plans for later.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You seem pretty upset for someone who was being so difficult at first.”

“Oh, shut up,” she mumbled, huffing and getting the shoes she had discarded at some point in order to put them back on so they could leave.

They ended up using the floo connection to Mia’s office, as usual, and didn’t have to take a long stretch of corridors and more corridors in order to reach McGonagall’s since it was relatively close to Mia’s.

As they were about to turn around the corner and reaching the hallway that led to the deputy headmistress’s office, they started hearing the echo of voices that at some point they recognized as Snape and McGonagall’s – they must be discussing something right outside of the latter’s office, Mia concluded. Before they took the final step that would make them visible to the other two, Sirius stopped and motioned to make his wife do the same – they couldn’t waste that chance to gather a little information from the conversation and avoid being caught by surprise…

“…and I demand you take an action about this, Minerva. Potter can’t get away with this!” they heard Snape saying in a stern tone.

“See? I told you it was one of Snape’s fits,” Sirius whispered to his wife, who sighed in return. Those were happening way too often.

McGonagall’s voice followed Snape’s. “Severus, I will not take any action until Potter’s guardians are here. Since you are so keen on defending Mr. Malfoy’s side and Mrs. Malfoy is on her way here as well, I imagine it’s only fair Potter has a cheering crowd too. And I would advise you to quit making demands.”

It seemed the discussion was ended there since neither Snape tried to reply nor McGonagall continued. Seeing no use in eavesdropping anymore, Mia turned to her husband, signalling for them to just resume heading to McGonagall’s office. He shrugged in return and followed her closely.

Snape was the first to see them, stiffening just as soon as he did and mumbling something under his breath that, even though they couldn’t hear it, appeared to be an insult. McGonagall turned as well a couple of seconds later and sighed when she saw them.

“Mia, Sirius, I’m sorry I ruined your afternoon but I thought you ought to be called for this,” McGonagall told them.

“It’s fine,” Mia told her. “What happened? What did Harry do?”

“Your troublemaker of a godson…” Snape started, more than glad to put things in those terms.

“We’ll leave it for him to explain,” McGonagall interrupted, motioning towards her office’s door, which she opened. “If you’d accompany me…” she requested.

They came in to see Harry and Malfoy with their backs turned to them sitting opposite McGonagall’s desk, their chairs around five feet away from each other like they were being kept apart. Filch was also inside, pacing as he held his precious cat, Mrs. Norris and petting her – he seemed to be in charge of keeping them from jumping at each other’s throats.

“Thank you for your help, Argus. You’re free to go,” McGonagall dismissed the caretaker, who appeared not to happy with it – likely, Sirius thought, the creep had been hoping to get a chance to whip at least one of the culprits, so to speak.

It was only when both Harry and Malfoy turned around to check who had came in that Sirius and Mia noticed the poor state they were in.

“What on Earth…?” Mia mumbled staring at Harry’s split and swollen lip that definitely matched with Malfoy’s swollen eye. “You got yourself into a fight, for Merlin’s sake?!”

“It wasn’t me who started it!” Harry replied to her. “Malfoy was!”

“I did not!” Malfoy replied, lying. “Potter jumped out of nowhere and started throwing curses at me! He’s mad!”

“That’s bogus! If anyone is mad, it’s you! Must be from spending so much time in the Room of Requirement plotting stuff! Conspiracy is bad for sanity – just look at your master!”

“Enough!” McGonagall shouted at both of them. “I will not have a childish fight between two nearly off-age wizards inside my own office! Each one of you, Potter and Malfoy, will speak at his own time. There will be no interrupti…”

“My baby!” The horrified cry came just as Narcissa Malfoy walked in with the same superior fashion she seemed to be such a fan of. Her cold blue eyes darted to Sirius, taking a fraction of second to ‘greet’ her cousin with a glare, and then at Harry, who was terrifyingly reminded of a basilisk’s eyes just as soon as saw the way she looked – at least her eyes didn’t have the same powers to kill or he’d have dropped dead. “How dare you attack my son?!”

“Narcissa, please, calm down,” McGonagall intervened as she moved to stand behind her desk, facing the two young boys.

“How am I supposed to calm down when that filthy half-blood troublemaker attacked my Draco?!”

Sirius raised an eyebrow. “When will you realize that blood-status insults are losing their charms? And what tells you it wasn’t your sweet beloved Draco that attacked Harry, Cissy?”

“How dare you?!” she shouted, outraged. “Unlike your hand-me-down brat, my Draco had a prime upbringing…”

“First of all, the only thing that’s hand-me-down in this room is your bitchiness that came straight from Bella when she decided being a maniac was better than being a bitch!” Sirius replied. “Second of all, prime upbringing? Let’s face it, being raised by a hag like you would hardly give him a decent set of morals.”

The way his cousin’s mouth opened, it seemed like she was about to shout. Yet, McGonagall beat her to it. “That will be enough! Insulting and cursing in front of students?!” Her eyes were blazing and for a moment it seemed like she wanted to strangle them both. “That is unacceptable. Now, either both of you mind your language or I’ll begin to think that calling you to intervene in this matter was my mistake!”

Both Sirius and Narcissa’s response was based in silence. He glanced down at Mia, trying to figure if she was also angry at him, seeing as he’d failed in controlling this tongue – who could blame him? – and was surprised to see her giving him an approving nod. Harry seemed to be enjoying the show quite much, shooting him a quick smile.

“As I was going to do before this pitiful show started,” McGonagall started, shooting another glare at Sirius and then at Narcissa, “I’ll leave it up to Mr. Malfoy and Mr. Potter to give you the full story.”

“I think Malfoy should be the one to start,” Snape suggested in a bland tone. “After all, he seems to be the one who was attacked…”

“That’s a lie!” Harry yelled.

“Five points from Gryffindor for interrupting a teacher!” the head of the Slytherin house said.

Mia gave him a look that clearly said ‘Oh, really?’ “Five points to Gryffindor for successfully correcting a teacher’s mistake,” she said. “Two can play at that game.”

“There will be no point-giving or point-taking in this room until this matter is solved!” McGonagall yelled at both of them. “Have all of you regressed to the mental age of five?! Don’t make me go fetch the headmaster!” She said that last part, aware that Dumbledore was, once again, running his own errands, whatever they were, outside the school. “Malfoy, give your side of the story and be done with it.”

The blonde boy shrugged. “I was in the Bathroom minding my own business before Potter came in and started throwing curses at me. That’s all I have to say.”

Harry gritted his teeth and shook his head. What use was it to shout ‘liar’ again when nobody seemed to be interested?!

“I want that rascal expelled!” Narcissa shouted, then.

“We still haven’t heard Potter’s version,” McGonagall told her before turning to face Harry. “Well?”

Finally they were letting him give his account of the events. He gave a quick glance to Sirius and Mia, who nodded at him, urging him to speak. “I saw Malfoy’s…” He paused. He couldn’t say Malfoy’s dot – then he’d have to explain about the Marauder’s Map and he didn’t want that – they’d take it away. No, he’d make up that part. “I was heading back to the Common Room and happened to see Malfoy going into Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom on his own and found it odd since it’s a girl’s bathroom. So, I followed him there and he was having this… deep conversation with Moaning Myrtle all weepy and everything!”

“I was not crying like some… pansy, Potter!” Malfoy yelled, offended and embarrassed at the same tine.

“Oh, yes, you …”

“Gentlemen!” McGonagall called loudly, her patience reaching its limits, making them both go very quiet. “Mr. Malfoy, you’ve already had your chance to speak, so be quiet now. Potter, continue.”

Harry gulped as the deputy headmistress looked with narrowed eyes at them both. “Oh, I… er… Malfoy,” he said, sending a glare at his school-enemy as he spoke, “was weeping in the bathroom and when he saw me there, he started throwing curses at me. I escaped a few and so did he – it went on for a while like that. That is, until he started saying the incantation for the Cruciatus Curse.” There was a general gasp as soon as he said that and he continued before being interrupted. “I managed to disarm him first and that’s when we started… punching each other… I’m not sure who threw the first punch, though…”

“Wait, what?!” Mia asked in horror, staring at Harry. “He tried to use what curse?!”

“I did not!” Malfoy lied

“My son did no such thing!” Narcissa yelled, taking a threatening step in Harry’s direction as her son sat on his chair with his arms crossed and a pout on his face as if he was throwing a fit. The blonde woman was stopped by Snape, though, who lifted his arm to create a barrier between her and Harry even before Sirius and Mia had the chance to take a step towards her. Narcissa looked at the former Potions Master, irritated at having been stopped and he shook his head.

“Don’t make a show, Narcissa,” he told her firmly before turning to Harry himself and cleared his throat. “That is very interesting, Potter,” Snape said in a low tone. “But do you have any proof for those accusations?”

“Oh, and Malfoy has for his?” Sirius replied, leaning against the wall of the office, only a few feet away from their godson.

“I was there! I saw it! I heard it!” Harry told Snape and, on the chair next to him, Malfoy seemed to go even paler than he usually was. “I can show my memories in a pensieve, can’t I? If you Professor McGonagall gives me my wand back and tells me how to get them out…”

“Pensieve memories can be altered!”

“By a sixteen-year-old?” Sirius asked, laughing mockingly. “Well, that would be a feat since I’m thirty-seven and I can’t do that myself. Why don’t you go grease your hair some more and leave the thinking to the big kids?”

“Sirius!” McGonagall shouted, her left eye apparently twitching at how angry she was. “There are students in the room! If you want to go and trade childish insults, take it outside! And as for proving what happened,” she turned to Harry, “Potter, you are making very serious accusations involving an unforgivable curse that could give Mr. Malfoy several years of prison-time. However, accusations aren’t enough to prove it and your pensieve memories won’t be enough to do so as well, I’m afraid.”

“They were enough to free me!” Sirius replied.

“Unfortunately,” Narcissa mumbled under her breath.

“Oh, bite me, would you?” he replied explosively.

“That was a different case,” McGonagall explained, interrupting the squabble. “There were two sources of memories at first, Potter and Miss Granger, that later were joined by Mr. Weasley and Mr. Lupin – it would be impossible to allege that so many people, especially being three of them third-year students, had tempered with their memories or that all of them had misunderstood the situation…” She sighed and shook her head, forcing herself to move on from that matter. “As for the punishment for fighting,” McGonagall started, “both of you will serve a week of two-hour detentions at five sharp starting tomorrow. Potter, I’ll arrange for you to serve yours with Professor Slughorn,” she said, making Harry groan – it wasn’t that he didn’t like Slughorn. It was just that the guy could be pushy sometimes…

“Minerva,” Snape intervened immediately, “may I suggest Potter serves those days of detention with me instead?”

“Yes, you may but it won’t change my mind,” the older teacher told him. “Potter will be serving those detentions with Horace. Period. As for you, Mr. Malfoy, you will be spending your detentions with me.”

“This is an outrage!” Narcissa shouted. “Detention! My Draco…”

“Your Draco took part in a fight that I am inclined to believe he was the one to start,” McGonagall told her former student, “thus, he received exactly the same number of hours in detention as Potter did. And if I ever find proof that Mr. Malfoy did indeed try to use an unforgivable, I’m afraid detention will be the least of his problems.”

Narcissa’s usually sickly pale complexion became red with anger, so incredibly red that it contrasted heavily with her blonde hair. “This school is going more and more downhill every year. I’m leaving. Draco, walk me to the gates.”

McGonagall didn’t protest at her rather rude exit and Malfoy got up, not before sending a half-angry, half-threatening look at Harry, following his mother outside.

“Excuse me,” Snape said. “I need to have a word with Mrs. Malfoy.” And with that he left as well, leaving Sirius and Mia alone in the office along with McGonagall and Harry.

Mia was pursing her lips in frustration but tried to keep her mouth shut. Sirius was the first to notice her tension and McGonagall was quick to follow him.

“Potter, would you mind standing outside for a couple of minutes while I have a word with your godmother?” the teacher asked. It was not that she was trying to keep some sort of secret – it was just that she had a feeling she knew what Mia was going to say and her response, well, wouldn’t just be something appropriate to say in front of a student…

Harry gave her a nod and motioned to stand up, heading to the door. To his surprise, though, Sirius did the same. “I’ll keep him some company,” his godfather told the deputy headmistress, figuring Mia could tell him whatever was spoken in there later – he just wasn’t about to leave Harry alone outside the office when an angry Narcissa might still be out there ready to throw her anger at someone…

McGonagall nodded before the two of them exited. Then, she turned to look at Mia. “Alright, Mia, let it out. I know you want to.”

She really, really did want to, Mia thought as she sat on the chair Harry had formerly occupied. “So, Malfoy tries to use the Cruciatus Curse on Harry and he just walks away with a pat on the head, the same days of detention as Harry and a ‘don’t do it again’?” Mia asked, a hint of accusation behind her voice.

“Believe me, Mia, no one is more horrified that I that a student in this school would ever try to use an unforgivable on a fellow student – even more horrified that I am inclined to believe Harry was speaking the truth.” If there was one thing she was sure of, was that Harry Potter wouldn’t lie about something like that. “Yet, an attempt on something is a matter hard to prove even with pensieve memories, Amelia. We might send them to the aurors but the fact that Malfoy is an underage wizard wouldn’t leave them inclined to believe Harry’s memory. Odds were they would say he had misunderstood the incantation.”

“Can’t Moaning Myrtle say something? I know she’s a ghost but…”

“But if I know her well, Myrtle would have ran just as soon as a fight broke out. She probably didn’t hear a thing. I’ll try to find her and ask her, though,” McGonagall promised. “As for the detention, I know it seems unfair they got the same number of days but my choice to have Harry spending those hours with Horace wasn’t random.”

“What do you mean?” Mia asked, raising an eyebrow.

“How many times do you recall Horace monitoring a detention? In your days as a student or now?” McGonagall asked.

Mia’s face took a thoughtful look. Now that she mentioned it… “Never,” she said. “I have no memory at all of him doing that.”

“Exactly,” the deputy headmistress said. “And that happens because Horace, well, has an… unorthodox way of handling detentions. Especially when the one serving it is one of his favourites, which is Harry’s case.”

“I don’t understand,” Mia said, confused.

“Well, I only recall him monitoring detentions in my first year teaching in this school – that would be Dumbledore’s first year as a headmaster too – and let’s just say that once he organized a small tea party to be held at the exact time of the detention so the ‘poor boy who was serving it’ wouldn’t get bored.” McGonagall sighed and shook her head. “Horace is very fond of Harry, as you know, and having him spending detention with your godson was the most I could do to make it easier on him…”

“So, you really believe him? When he said Malfoy started the fight and tried to use…?”

The other teacher sighed. “Mr. Malfoy hardly ever refrains himself from showing his nasty personality to anyone in this school. I’m afraid in my mind I could picture him doing any of the things your godson said. Besides,” she added, “Harry’s explanation for the fight was more extensive than his, not to mention more believable, as much as I find it hard to imagine Draco Malfoy crying over anything.” The older woman sighed. “Mia, I’m telling you most of this as a fellow teacher and even as a friend. So, I’ll ask you that when you talk to Harry you don’t go much further than telling him I’m inclined to believe his side more easily than Malfoy’s and that a detention with Horace won’t be very hard to handle.”

Mia nodded. “Of course. I… thank you, Minerva. For owling us before dealing with this on your own.”

McGonagall nodded. “It seemed only fair. Severus went running to Narcissa as soon as he heard of what happened and, as it looked like the two of them were about to take Mr. Malfoy’s side. It was only fair Harry had two people on there on his side if I wanted to remain neutral.”

Mia nodded again and stood up. “Well, I think I should go, then. Sirius and Harry are waiting for me.”

“Of course,” the deputy headmistress replied as they started shaking hands. “And don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on Malfoy to make sure he doesn’t try anything.”

“If anything happens…”

“… you’ll be summoned right away,” McGonagall promised, giving Mia a final nod before the younger woman turned around and headed to the door.

As soon as she opened it, Mia was surprised to find a furious Narcissa Malfoy just storming away from where her husband and Harry stood. Looked like the show had actually been resumed outside in her absence. Pity she hadn’t been there to witness it. 

To be continued...
A/N: Well, finally the queue is back open here and I was able to post. *sigh* I missed posting in this site for a week... Next chapter should come tomorrow or something. I really hope you liked this chapter. Feedback is welcome. Review!

Chapter 22: Hidden Things
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Outside Professor McGonagall’s office – a few minutes earlier 

“Sorry about the detention, kid,” Sirius told his godson as he exited McGonagall’s office after him, closing the door behind them. “But on a more positive note, at least it’s not with Snape, which is always a victory.”

“At least it ends just before the team’s last Quidditch game,” Harry added in relief. “They’d murder me if I couldn’t make it to the game…”

“I’m sure Ginny would step in your defence before they had the chance to kill you,” Sirius pointed out. “After all, she needs you alive in order to snog you.”

“Are you kidding me? She’d be the one leading the angry mob towards me,” Harry corrected him. “She might not want to kill me but she’d at least hex me badly for missing the game. Ginny really doesn’t mess around when it comes to Quidditch.”

Sirius let out a fake emotional sigh. “Ah, redheads. Hair as bright as lava; fierce as a volcano.” He clapped his godson’s back, grinning. “Perfect for you, isn’t she?” But before he could say anything else, loud voices coming from somewhere on his right on the opposite side of the hallway – a supposedly empty classroom – caught his attention.

He turned to Harry with an inquisitive expression on his face and the young boy nodded, confirming he’d heard it too. They casually took a few steps to the right until they had a visual through the open door of what was going on. “Looks like someone is hearing it,” Sirius whispered to Harry, who nodded. Inside the classroom, they could see a red-faced – not from embarrassment but from anger instead – Draco Malfoy being scolded by none other than Snape.

“Am I seeing things?” Harry mumbled as he stood by his godfather’s. “Is Snape actually lecturing Malfoy?”

“Seems like it.” Next thing you’ll know, Sirius thought in disbelief, pigs will be flying over our heads. He wasn’t close enough to hear what the scolding was about (not to mention the slight ringing sound coming from the room indicated the use of a Muffliato) but the fact that Severus Snape was giving a lecture to someone from his house, let alone Malfoy who was undoubtedly one of his favourites, was definitely… weird. Narcissa was in the room as well, though she seemed to have chosen to remain silent, only intervening from time to time – her face was blank like whatever was being discussed bothered her.

The lecturing went on for a few minutes more, growing more and more tense by the second. At some point, Draco even started to shout back at the teacher, though neither Sirius not Harry could make out his words though the Muffliato barrier… In the end of it, the youngest Malfoy stormed out of the classroom angrily and quickly disappeared from their view – he neither acknowledged Harry and Sirius, leading them to believe maybe he hadn’t noticed them there, nor his own mother’s voice, yelling at him to come back.

If she had looked freaked out earlier, now Narcissa seemed furious. She took it out on Snape first, yelling at him with an accusing look on her face and poking his chest with her index finger repeatedly. And then, after storming out of the classroom as her son had, she noticed her cousin’s presence along with Harry’s. They couldn’t have been in a worse place at that moment.

From the spot where he stood, Sirius raised his eyebrows at Narcissa’s staring and found it fitting to give her a mocking grin and a wave. At that, the blonde gritted her teeth and deepened her glare – and then, to Sirius’s surprise, started making her way to them. Well, damn, he thought – provoking her had definitely been a very bad idea…

“Keep your hand on your wand, kid, looks like we’re about to get company. Let me do the talking,” he told Harry under his breath, who nodded and reached for his pocket keeping his hand in it. Then, after taking a breath, Sirius took a few steps forward, towards Narcissa, hoping that it would show his cousin that she’d have to go through him if she intended to have a one-on-one with Harry.

Narcissa’s eyes were blazing when she reached him and stopped only a few feet away from him. He’d known that face back when they were kids – it was her I’m-not-done-with-you-yet face. “Don’t you dare stand there looking so smug,” she hissed.

“You know, if the way I look bothers you, maybe you should do what normal people do: look away,” he told her without humour in his voice. “Actually, do even better: go away.”

“You always thought you were so good, didn’t you? Defying the family, our beliefs… ” she asked him with hostility. “All smug about your little blood-traitor friends and your blood-traitor new family.”

It was like she was actually trying to cause a fight. Of course she is, Sirius thought. Narcissa was looking for somebody to throw her anger at and there he was… might as well be wearing a bow and everything. Well, she wouldn’t be so lucky with him.

“You’re so proud, aren’t you? That your brat,” the woman continued, looking at Harry standing immobile, not a few feet behind Sirius as he had intended but instead by his godfather’s side, and glared some more, “got my Draco in trouble.”

“Well, not that you mention it, Cissy, yes, I am. I really am,” Sirius replied matter-of-factly. “Pity all he got from trying to use an unforgivable was a week’s worth of detention. But, really, keep your son going that way. Worse that can happen is him sharing a cell at Azkaban with his daddy. Speaking of which, how’s Lucius enjoying the five-star treatment from the Dementors? They’re a bit cold to their guests but you can’t blame them – it’s just their nature.”

His cousin’s face went even more furious and she lifted her hand, intending to slap him. He got a hold of her arm first, though, stopping her midway. “Who do you think you are to slap me? My mother?” he asked her in an ice-cold tone.

She gave him a nasty look, pulling her arm away. “Auntie couldn’t have made a better choice when she kicked you out,” Narcissa hissed.

His eyebrows raised in genuine surprise. He felt as amused as one could feel in the middle of a fight like that. “That’s what she told you? Oh, that’s just… typical. So typical. Well, sorry to destroy your illusion but I ran away,” he told her. “Nobody kicked me out. And that is to this day one of the best choices I’ve ever done in my life.”

Her lips pursed together and seemed to lose all the red in them. Sirius knew that look too – wounded pride or at least something close to it. She seemed tempted to leave but what was left of that pride wouldn’t let her walk away without having the last word in that fight. Her eyes aimed at Harry, seeing as she had no more stones to throw at Sirius, and she glared. “You stay away from my son, Potter.” And then, Narcissa Malfoy walked away before giving either the chance to respond.

“Why doesn’t she tell her precious son to do the same?” Harry mumbled under his breath as the woman walked away in a superior fashion, apparently returning to the classroom where she, Snape and Draco had been having their dispute in order to get the things she’d left behind. He turned to his godfather, whispering. “Was she always this…?” He gestured in frustration with his hands, unable to find a word suitable enough to define her.

Instead, Sirius came up with several. “Superior? Bitchy? Snobbish? A pain in the arse?” Sirius suggested. “Take your pick.”

“Merlin, you sure have a lot of names to qualify her,” Harry mumbled.

“Narcissa has always inspired me in what came to profanity,” he informed his godson. “But, answering your question, yeah, she was always like that, though the reasons for it varied along the years. See, when we were kids, she was also insufferable all the time as she thought she was the best because she was blonde and nobody else in the family was. Said she was ‘gifted’,” he stated, rolling his eyes. “I say she’s blonde because Auntie Druella went apple-picking outside of the family orchard, if you know what I mean…” And just as if he’d been timing it, Narcissa exited the classroom again, carrying a horrid crocodile-skin bag along with her right when he was about to finish his statement. Because he felt daring at that moment, Sirius raised his voice a few decibels when he spoke again making sure his words came out just as she was walking past them. “Maybe it is no coincidence that out of that wretched brood, Andromeda was the only one that came out normal.”

Narcissa only hurried her pace as she walked away, not looking at Harry nor Sirius as she muttered something about Bellatrix teaching him a lesson someday soon, which made Sirius bite his own lip.

“What did I just miss?” the two of them heard Mia’s familiar voice asking from behind them. Both turned around to see her watching Narcissa’s retreating from McGonagall’s doorway with a confused look on her face.

“Nothing worth witnessing,” Sirius told her shortly. “Cissy and I only had a mild exchange of words.”

“And she tried to slap Sirius,” Harry pointed out.

Mia nodded, an unconvinced look on her face. “Awfully mild, I see.”

Her husband shrugged. “It was nothing.” Discretely, he reached with his hand to touch hers, recalling how upset she’d seemed earlier. “Are you okay?”

She nodded. “I’m fine,” she replied shortly before turning to Harry. “Let’s go to the kitchens. I suppose we should have a little chat in private.”

Harry swallowed hard in a way that made his already aching lip, product of his altercation with Malfoy, sting in an even more uncomfortable way. “In how much trouble am I, really?”

Mia shook her head. “None with me, actually,” Mia replied with a sigh. “I don’t expect you not to defend yourself when some spoiled bratty kid attacks you. And speaking of which…” she said, her eyes fixed on his split lip. She used her hand to shift his jaw slightly to its left, where the cut was. “That ought to be painful.”

“Just hurts a little,” he said bravely.

She shook her head. “Don’t be silly.”Mia reached for her wand and pointed it at the cut. Harry didn’t need to think twice in order to recognize the healing spell Mia whispered – back when he and Izzy were little, his godmother using it to fix their scraped knees and elbows was as much part of their routine as bathing or having breakfast. “Most of it is healed but it will still feel tender.”

“Sounds like there will be no snogging with our favourite redhead for the next few days,” Sirius told him in a mocking tone as they started walking towards the kitchens.

They reached the main staircase and made their way down to the entrance hall before taking the usual way to the kitchens through the little door behind the Great Staircase. The proceedings were also the usual from then on, involving Sirius tickling the pear in the large fruit bowl portrait that covered the entrance to the kitchens, which opened to let them in.

Mia gestured towards a table in the corner and Sirius and Harry followed her there. They sat, unnoticed by most of the elves that too were busy cooking and preparing dozens of platters for the dinner banquet that was to happen around three hours from then to mind them. When Harry tried to place on a chair the book-bag he’d been carrying all that time, which was getting rather heavy on his shoulder, he missed it by a few inches and it fell down, sprawling his books all over the floor. “Oh, damn it,” he cursed under his breath, reaching down to the floor to pick up the books. Before he could pick them all up, Sirius leaned down too and picked one of them, bringing it up. It was his copy of ‘Advanced Potion-Making’, Harry realized with a gulp – seemed like his secret weapon to triumph in potions about to be revealed.

“Blimey, kid,” Sirius mumbled, noticing the heavy scribble all over the textbook’s margins as he placed it opened on their table. “Have you been possessed by Moony or Hermione to take this many notes?”

“Er… I…” He had no idea what to say.

“Let me see that,” Mia requested, getting a hold of it. It didn’t take her long to look up at Harry and raise an eyebrow. “This is not your handwriting.”

“Ah, the typical the-exams-are-starting-in-two-weeks-let-me-borrow-all-your-notes act,” Sirius concluded. “Classic. Don’t be ashamed, Harry, we’ve all done that. Some more than most”

It would have been so easy to just go along and not tell them that was actually his book… or rather the book that he’d switched with his real one because it had oh-so-great notes all over it that made him for once do anything decent in his potions class… But going along would have been lying and, Merlin, after the issue with the Horcruxes, he couldn’t just do it flat to Sirius and Mia’s faces. Worse that could happen by telling the truth was him getting a lecture… and well, Mia taking the book away by using the same logic Hermione did and assuming it was cheating… But it was still the right thing to do. He gulped once and spoke. “Actually,” he said, “that’s my book.”

Mia raised her eyebrows. “Than whose handwriting is this? It’s not Ron’s or Hermione’s. I’ve corrected enough of their essays to know that. So whose is it?”

“I don’t really know,” he confessed. “Those notes were already in the book when I got it.”

She raised her eyebrows. “When you got it?” she asked as Sirius got a hold of the book again and started examining its pages. “That book came straight from Flourish & Blots months ago and I’m pretty sure they don’t sell books that have stuff written by hand all over them.”

“Well…” Harry started. “Remember how I thought that because I got an E in Potions, I wouldn’t be able to attend the NEWT level class because Snape only accepted people with an O in his class so we didn’t get me a textbook for it?” He said that part awfully fast, causing Sirius and Mia to only make some sense out of what he’d said a few seconds later, just as he continued. “And how it turned out that after all Slughorn took over the class, he let me in it so I had to borrow an old textbook from his stash?”

Sirius looked up from the pages he was reading for a moment. “I’m gonna take a wild guess and say this is actually the book you borrowed and not the one we got you later,” he said, finding Harry’s story rather intriguing in a good way.

Harry nodded slowly and turned to his godmother. “Er… sorry?”

“Oh, no you’re not,” Mia replied, her eyes narrowing. “Why on Earth would you switch an old book for a new one?”

“Because this book is bloody brilliant,” Sirius replied before his godson had a chance to speak, pushing the open book in front of Mia. “It has instructions all over, tricks, tips… stuff that makes your life a lot easier.”

Mia covered her face with her hands and huffed. “Aw, Harry,” she said in frustration. “So that whole success at Potions… it was actually cheating?”

It was almost like hearing Hermione’s lecturing all over again. “Not cheating. I was just… following slightly different recipes than the ones the other people were.”

Mia didn’t seem very convinced while Sirius… well, he didn’t seem to see anything wrong about the book, so fascinated he was with it. “Merlin, I would have killed to have a book like this one. It would’ve saved me a lot of trouble…” he mumbled as if he were a kid delighted with a new Christmas present.

That one had Harry confused. “Trouble? According to McGonagall, you aced at most of the subjects without really trying,” Harry replied, his eyebrow raised.

“‘Most’ being the keyword. Potions was by far my worst subject, which is probably related to the fact that most of my cooking experiences involve coal-like food in the end…” he mused, giving Mia a sheepish look that made her roll her eyes. “But, Merlin, I was bad at potions. There was this time during class in my fifth year when the fumes of a potion actually burned off your father’s eyebrows.”

Harry stared, his mouth hanging open. “No way. I don’t believe it. Neville is bad at Potions and not even he has done something like that,” he said in disbelief.

Mia sighed, allowing herself to let go of the cheating matter for just a little and relax. “It’s true,” she confirmed, turning to her husband. “Though I’ll point that it had less to do with your lack of knack for potions and more with the fact that you were busy playing hangman with…” she paused for a moment, recalling it had been Wormtail that Sirius had been distracted with, and chose not to say his name out loud. “You were playing hangman instead of paying attention to your potion.”

Sirius seemed to remember that too as he tensed, even though she hadn’t said the traitor’s name out loud. He did his best not to let it bother him, though. “It might have had something to do with that,” he admitted, clearing his throat and looking back down at the book, rummaging through the pages some more in silence.

“But Harry, about you using that textbook…” Mia started.

“You don’t think it’s a good idea,” Harry guessed easily.

“Can you even imagine who wrote all those notes, Harry?”

“Sort of,” he said. “It says on the last page of the book that it belongs to some bloke who calls himself the Half-Blood Prince.”

“The Half-Blood Prince?” Mia asked sceptically.

“The kid is right. It’s right here,” Sirius declared as he opened the book, showing its last page to Mia. The words were clear in it: This book is the property of the Half-Blood Prince. “That must have been a cocky bloke to call himself a prince…”

“Harry, you know there’s no royalty in the Wizarding World,” Mia said, then.

“I know but…” He sighed. “Look, whoever it belonged to, this book – the notes in it – saved Ginny’s life. If it didn’t say that a Bezoar could fight most sorts of poison, I wouldn’t have used it back in March when she was poisoned and she would have died. I also know it’s not cursed because I had Hermione checking it herself and if she said it didn’t have dark magic, it’s because it didn’t – she doesn’t like the book much either.”

“Still, Harry…” Mia started before sighing and pausing, letting a long moment of silence flow, leaving both her and Harry awfully uncomfortable. There were just so many reasons for her not to let him keep that book…

“Hey. What’s this spell? I never heard of it,” Sirius said at some point, pointing at a specific piece of scribble on one of the books’ pages. It said Sectumsempra, a word that was followed by little note, pointing out that it was meant to be used on enemies.

Harry shook his head. “I don’t know. I never tried it.”

Both his godparents looked at him in surprise. “You never tried it?” Mia asked, astonished. That was so unlike Harry: as much as she told him to be cautious, he usually always ended up giving in to curiosity instead…

“Not even in a tree or something just to see what it does?” His godfather added, receiving a head-shake in return. “Why not?”

Harry sighed. “It’s a long story.”

“Well, shorten it up, then,” Sirius urged him.

He looked at them uncertainly at first but then went ahead and spoke. “It’s Ginny,” he told them. “At first she freaked out about me using the book. I mean, you now what the diary did to her – it’s pretty understandable she’d freak out over me using a book that told me what to do. After Hermione checked it and it turned out not to have any dark magic in it, Ginny calmed down a little but just in case, she asked me to promise her that I wouldn’t use any spell or any weird ingredient in it that book that I didn’t know already and wasn’t mentioned in any regular textbook.”

“And you kept that promise,” Mia finished for him, her lips curling slightly – somehow knowing he’d done that for Ginny eased some of her doubts about the book…

“I figured that even though it might be really fun to use that spell on Malfoy and cause his toenails to burst into flames or something, it wouldn’t be worth it if the cost was having Ginny freaking out over it…”

Sirius just looked at him for a few moments, his arms crossed over his chest. “Boy, you’re really arse over elbow in love with that one, aren’t you?” he observed.

His godson blushed slightly even though he knew that already.

“Alright,” Mia started in a conclusive tone. “So, the book is not cursed and it helped Ginny. I get it, Harry, I really do. But even if I’m willing to let you get away with it as your godmother,” and she wasn’t all that much, “as teacher I simply can’t .”

“Why not?” he asked in a mumble. “Wait, are you going to tell Slughorn…”

“For all intents and purposes, outside this kitchen I’ll have no knowledge of you ever using that book before today,” she assured him at first. “But I can’t let you keep it. If you used it in your exam, it would be cheating. You know it would, Harry.”

“So I have to get rid of it?” Harry asked weakly, his hand reaching protectively for the book – he really didn’t want to do that after all the help the Prince had provided him with.

“We could just take it home and let you have it back when the year is over,” Sirius suggested – he found the book too brilliant to end up in a trashcan… He turned to his wife. “We could, couldn’t we?”

Mia sighed. “Alright. We could do that,” she accepted before looking at Harry. “Honey, you know it’s the right thing to do. I’ll be damned if you can’t ace that potions exam without some smartarse book with a few more instructions than the other ones. That ‘E’ you got at Potions didn’t come out of thin air. You don’t need to cheat to be good at potions.”

Harry sighed. She did seem to have a point. “Alright,” he said, handing his godmother his copy of ‘Advanced Potion-Making’. “But I’ll still need a textbook for the rest of the year and I can’t get the one I switched for this one. I mean, Slughorn keeps the books in his ingredient stash and he always keeps it closed. Either I’d have to break in to get it or ask him for it – Merlin knows he’d start asking questions if I did…”

“Well,” Sirius suggested. “I do know where your father’s old book is, if you’re interested. It’s right in this school, by the way.”

Harry’s face turned to him in surprise. “It is?”

Sirius nodded. “James sort of had this end-of-the-year ritual. First thing he’d do right after his last exam was grabbing the books he wouldn’t use anymore and dumping them in the Room of Requirement’s place to hide things, hoping to never lay eyes on them again. His old Potions book is most likely there too and if you want it, it’s yours.”

“Thanks,” Harry said, a small smile on his face. Sure, he was still a bit annoyed for having to let go of the Prince’s book but it seemed like a pretty good deal getting his father’s old one instead…

“Great, let’s get it now,” Sirius said eagerly, motioning to get up before his wife stopped him.

“Wait,” she said. “We were supposed to come down here to talk about Harry’s fight with Malfoy, weren’t we?” Mia turned to her godson. “And there’s no way I’m letting you walk away without at least telling us what you were actually doing to ‘run into’ Malfoy in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. Because I don’t buy it the way you said it.”

“Oh,” Harry mumbled. Sometimes she could see right through him so well that it was… well, it was scary. “I… I was watching him through the Marauder’s map. Just to see if he would vanish from the map again, that is. I couldn’t help going to check what the guy was doing just when he walked into a girl’s bathroom alone. I didn’t know he was weeping.”

“What were you expecting to find him doing? Cosmetic charms in front of a mirror?” Mia asked in return. “I’m not going to say you shouldn’t go on those spying missions because there’s just no use doing it – but you still shouldn’t go alone, Harry.”

“If Ron or Hermione had been with you, they’d have had your back,” Sirius agreed with his wife. “Not to mention it would have been much easier to prove he had actually tried to use the Cruciatus curse on you…”

“If I took Veritaserum…”

“Kid, as long as you believe in something, Veritaserum would deem it as the truth,” Sirius told him. “They could have just said that, because you felt threatened by Malfoy, you imagined one of the curses he used to be an unforgivable. Do you realize how many suspected Death Eaters have pull within the Wizengamot? Malfoy would be protected in there…”

Harry huffed. “Well, seems like I’ll just have to get used to another week of detention…”

“McGonagall believes you,” Mia told him. “That’s why she arranged for you to serve detention with Slughorn – apparently his detentions are a joke. She won’t be so nice with Malfoy.”

“Still sucks,” Harry mumbled.

“Aw, get that pout out of your face, kid,” Sirius told him, clapping his back. “See the positive side: Malfoy is serving detention with McGonagall. She can be really mean when she’s pissed off. Believe me, I know. Once made me scrub the whole floor of the Great Hall by hand.Took me days to finish it.”

Harry sighed. “Let’s hope she has him scrubbing every toilet in the castle instead,” he mumbled.

---

When the door of the room of requirement – now acting as the room of hidden things – opened, Harry’s jaw nearly dropped. It’s size seemed to have tripled and inside the large room, there hundreds… no, thousands of the most varied sort of objects one could possibly imagine.

“Neat, isn’t it?” Sirius asked with a grin as he stepped in after Harry and closed the door behind him. Having ran into Izzy on their way up, Mia had stayed back chatting with her daughter while the two of them took care of getting the book in the room of requirement.

“Merlin, I’m pretty sure this place is even a bigger mess than it used to be,” Sirius mumbled under his breath as he had to step over what seemed to be a birdcage in order to make his way to where he believed his late best-mate’s books to be. “You should probably be careful while wondering around here,” Sirius told his godson, knowing he was following him. “You never know what could jump on you coming from a pile of rubbish.”

“You think there’s… living stuff in here?” Harry said, stopping as he stood in front of some mysterious cabinet – likely one of many in that room…

Sirius turned around and shrugged. “Who knows? I mean, nothing happened to me or the guys when we were in here but it’s probably safer to have your wand in hand just in case if you’re planning on exploring or something while I try to find your father’s books in here. If something does jump on you, well, yell.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “You’re joking about the jumping, right?”

His godfather grinned. “Guess you’ll have to wait to find out.”

Harry being Harry couldn’t help the urge to actually explore, though he was cautious to keep himself close to his godfather, not more than a few yards out of his view. There really were all sorts of stuff in there: moving portraits; a skeleton of a five-legged thing; creepy-looking jars that, Harry saw at a distance, had things floating in them… And then his eyes landed something golden and sparkly: it was a diadem.

What such a valuable piece of jewellery was doing in that room was something he couldn’t phantom… It was carelessly shoved into a half-open drawer of a damaged dresser and Harry couldn’t help feeling temped to get a closer look at it. He pulled the drawer further open and reached with his hand to grab the diadem from inside it.

When his fingers touched the jewelled piece, he felt a sudden excruciating pain in his scar. It felt like someone had just shoved a knife into his forehead. For a moment, he thought that whatever had happened to Katie Bell after touching the cursed necklace in the beginning of that year was happening to him too – yet, that thought slipped out of his mind when he was able to pull his hand away from the diadem and the pain vanished. He had no idea of what had just happened but it occurred to him that maybe he should think twice before touching pieces of jewellery from unknown sources again.

Ah, found’em!” Sirius’s voice echoed in the room, making Harry’s attention snap back to him. “Harry, did you get lost?”

“No, I…” he paused and walked towards the source of his godfather’s voice, finding him only a few yards away, lifting what seemed to be a heavy box made out of paper and placing it on top of an arch. “I’m here.”

Sirius raised an eyebrow when he saw him. “You okay, kid? You look kind of pale.”

“I’m fine,” Harry said almost too fast. “I was just… people hide weird stuff in here.”

“Oh, let me guess: you ran into that jar full of pickled eyeballs,” Sirius said, making a disgusted face. “I was almost sick when I saw that one too.” He shook his head, looking down as he opened the paper box and cleared the dust out of the air. “Merlin, there were some freaks in this school…”

“Yeah,” Harry mumbled, glad to have an excuse for his paleness other than his odd reaction to the golden diadem. He approached the box and saw dozens of books in it: there were textbooks starting from the first-year charms manual to a runes dictionary. He’d used half those titles himself, which made him feel strangely… connected. They seemed something so insignificant… his father’s school-books. Yet just looking at them felt so important to him – his father had actually touched those books, studied then….

Sirius rummaged trough the box until he found the book he was looking for. “Here it is. A copy of ‘Advanced Potion-Making’. Use it well, mate.”

As he handed it to the Harry, a crumpled piece of parchment fell down from the book and Harry reached down and picked it up. It seemed to be one of those little notes one passed in class and, from the looks of it, it had circled between his parents. The first line, written in a boyish messy handwriting had ‘Wanna be my date to Hogsmeade this weekend, Evans?’ written on it, to which another handwriting, this one neat, responded. ‘How about the one that falls on the 30th and 31st of February instead?’. Harry snorted as he read his father’s clearly annoyed response saying ‘Very Funny’ and then his mother replying by telling him to stop passing notes and pay attention to class.

“Well, that’s pretty much the sentiment of Lily and James: the early years,” Sirius said with a chuckle as he read the note over Harry’s shoulder. “Tell you what, how about I go ahead and take this box home so you can check it for more pearls like that one when you have a little more time?” Sirius suggested, understanding just how important those little things might be for his godson.

“I think I’d like that,” he said, folding back the little note and putting it back inside the potions book carefully. “We should probably go. Aunt Mia is waiting.”

Sirius nodded and closed the box of books again, shrinking it with his wand to a smaller size and putting it in his pocket. “Let’s go – I guess we’re done here.”

And as they left, Harry didn’t give another thought to that mysterious diadem he’s so unpleasantly run into earlier. Little did he know that less than a year later, he’d be desperately trying to find it again…

A/N: Came late again, sorry. I went out for the weekend - spent a little time at the beach... Anyway, here it is, the new chapter. Hope you noticed some 'easter eggs' in the middle, hinting for future things... Feedback is always welcome! Review!

Chapter 23: Troubled
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A/N: First of all, sorry about the later chapter guys but there was no way around it. Second of all, this chapter is dedicated to my little sister and very first fan, Belle whose birthday is today! (Features her favourite character and namesake as requested)

The second day of June started out promising it would be a lazy day for Sirius and by mid afternoon it seemed to be willing to keep that promise up. No owls bringing worrying messages, no floo-calls fetching them somewhere and leave them stuck there for hours… just a Saturday – no, a weekend – in all its glory. So much glory, Sirius mused, that he feared that just by thinking it was so glorious he might jinx it and he definitely didn’t want that.

If he was honest, he’d have to admit that week-days weren’t that much of a pain for him. His work at Hogwarts couldn’t be farther from stressing, after all: besides the flying lessons, a few hours aiding the house teams every week and occasionally keeping an eye on the Defence Club for Dumbledore, he had plenty of time for himself. Only bad thing about that: Mia was usually busy during those many free hours of his and without her around, well, his wide range of activities to occupy his time, so to speak, were narrowed down to little more than half a dozen different choices that weren’t half as exciting… Pitiful how ninety percent of the entertaining activities that would run through his mind were based on Mia… undressed if possible, he thought sheepishly.

He didn’t have the time to feel bad for his thoughts as suddenly he felt something wet and sticky splashing him on the face, followed by a baby coo.

There was a five second pause during which Sirius registered what happened before he slowly turned his face down to his lap, where his youngest daughter (whom he was supposed to have been finishing feeding her mid-afternoon meal) sat supported by his arm. There, Mary Black was apparently entertained with sticking her tiny hand into her mouth. A hand, he observed, that had clearly found its way into the apple mash bowl that he’d placed on the chair next to his for a moment while lost in thought, splashing the gooey substance all over his face, her own and the nearby furniture – no doubt, if it wasn’t for Kreacher’s habit of using basic stain repelling charms on everyone’s clothing when doing the laundry, his clothes and the baby’s would have been added to that list of casualties.

“You think that was funny, don’t you?” he asked the baby, who replied with a look as confused as a five-month-old could manage after her father carefully moved the bowl of food to somewhere out of her arm-waving radius. “Like to see Daddy with food all over his face, hum?” He shook his head with eyes narrowed in disapproval and pointed her finger at her warningly. “Bad baby.”

It was pretty obvious Mary hadn’t understood the scolding since she innocently gave her father a radiant smile and giggled, reaching up to his arm with her food covered little hand, making his heart melt a little.

Sirius sighed and couldn’t help smiling back as he reached for a napkin lying on the kitchen table that he used to clean his daughter’s tiny hand. “How’s it possible for you to make such a mess being as small as you are? No, worse, how can someone possibly stay angry at you, little girl?” he asked – not expecting any answer – as he cleaned some splashes of apple mash that had landed on her face before taking care of removing the gooey substance from his own face, nevertheless missing several of the splash residues. Sirius sighed. “You’re going to give me trouble one day, aren’t you? If I’m not careful, one of these days you’ll show up on my doorstep with some brainless punk telling me you two want to elope in the Maldives and all it will take for me to book and pay you the portkeys myself will be that smile of yours …” He shook his head and looked down at Mary, sighing. “There should be some sort of way for you babies to stay babies forever.”

Mary cooed and shoved her little hand back into her mouth to chew it, looking up at her father with wide open observing brown eyes that matched her mothers’ in every way Sirius could think of.

As he felt himself melt a little more, Sirius sighed. “I’m so doomed,” he murmured as the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs that connected the kitchen to the upper floors reached his ears. When he shifted his hold on Mary and turned his face to the door, Mia was stepping into the room and getting ready to place Alex on the floor, which the little boy seemed to be rather happy about, running straight to Kreacher, who’d been busy doing Merlin knew what by the kitchen sink.

“Have you finished feeding her already?” Mia asked casually, distracted with keeping one eye on their son just to make sure he was entertained with the house-elf.

“Practically, yeah,” Sirius told his wife as she turned to look back at him. Suddenly, an amused look seemed to cover her face, which made Sirius raise a suspicious eyebrow. “What are you grinning at?”

She approached the chair where he sat and settled herself on the one next to his. “I was just observing my husband’s handsome face. I mean, handsome when it doesn’t have unidentified substances all over it,” his wife told him, chuckling.

It took him a fragment of a second to realize what she meant. “Oh, that… well, you can blame it your daughter,” he replied, nodding down at the baby on his lap. “Mary here thought it was funny to give herself and Daddy and apple mash facial. Does wonders to your skin.”

The smile only widened on Mia’s face as she reached for a napkin. “I’m sure it will revolutionize the cosmetic industry. Here, let me take care of it. Turn your face sideways,” she commanded to her husband, who promptly obeyed, allowing her to swipe the little splashes of food from his face.

“You done?” he asked her several seconds later as she pulled the napkin away from his face.

She pretended to consider it. “No, not quite yet. Look at me.”

He did as she said and, seconds later, saw her placing the napkin down on the table and reaching with her hands for his face, cupping it before she leaned towards him and touched his lips softly with her own. The kiss lasted for several seconds – maybe minutes even – and tasted, as always, sweeter than the best treat he’d ever had. Just like it had as long as he could remember kissing her. It’s was Mary’s annoyed whimper on her father’s lap that made them break apart a few seconds later.

“Okay, I think I’m done now,” she whispered against his lips.

“You sure?” he asked, feeling rather feisty. “I think Mary here can handle a few more seconds before resorting to full-blown crying to get our attention. I think I still have a little bit of apple mash right here.” He pointed at his own lips for illustration and grinned.

Mia chuckled and gave him a quick peck there instead, which was far from what he intended. “Let’s not risk it. We both know she can be pretty loud if she wants to,” she told her husband before pulling further away from him in order to look down at the annoyed little girl and pick her up, holding her against her chest while she rubbed her little back.

Sirius groaned, pouting half-heartedly before he noticed something else on the opposite side of the counter: Alex trying to reach up the kitchen counter in order to lay his hands on the cookie jar. Chuckling, Sirius stood up and motioned to approach the culprit. “You know, mate, you either need to figure out chairs are handy objects to climb on when you want to reach high stuff or to grow a few more inches to get your hands on the cookies.”

Alex squealed and looked up at his father with a grin that so closely matched his. “I wanna cookie, Daddy!” the little boy asked.

“What’s the magic word, mate?” Sirius asked him back.

“Chauwclat cookie!”

“I think what your Mom keeps telling you to say is ‘please’ but never mind it,” he replied dryly, picking his son up from the floor and reaching inside the cookie jar to fetch one for his son. “Don’t tell your mother I gave you that.”

Mia snorted from her seat. “That might actually work if I wasn’t sitting six feet away and watching you feed junk to our son.”

Sirius turned and gave her a shameless grin, getting a cookie for himself too. “They taste too good to be junk, love. Want one?” he offered, putting the little boy back on the floor.

She sighed, knowing that was a hopeless matter, and dropped it, changing the subject. “Elizabeth owled earlier inviting us for dinner today at the Leaky Cauldron with her and her kids,” Mia told him, placing Mary down on her push chair, allowing little Alex to stand by it, watching his baby sister which he seemed to still find highly intriguing as, from time to time, he could go on doing it for hours.

Sitting back, Sirius groaned for several reasons. “Today? I thought today was supposed to be our lazy day. We’d just stay in the house enjoying a little time with the kids and then when they were napping enjoy a little time on our own.”

Mia rolled her eyes. “Isn’t a lazy morning enough for you? Because I’m pretty sure that only leaving the bedroom after eleven because Mary was crying her lungs out classifies this morning as lazy.”

“I dunno if it’s a good idea, Mia. I mean, are you intending to take the kids too? In case you don’t know, the Quidditch League finals are today and, if I recall it well, the Leaky tends to get pretty crowded with the people celebrating afterwards. Doesn’t seem like a great place for two kids under three-years-old.”

“Well, I’m sure we’ll be out of there by the time the game is over but I guess you’re probably right about it not being a good idea taking the kids and risk us getting stuck in the celebrations…”

“So, what? We leave them with Lulu?”

She shook her head. “She and Gabe are out for the weekend and I definitely don’t want to contact her unless it’s an emergency. Molly’s been asking me for weeks to let her borrow the kids, though. I’m pretty sure she won’t mind watching them for the evening today,” she said, giving him a little smile – one they scarcely missed was babysitters, thank Merlin. “Come on, Sirius. Today looks like a pretty good day, prefect for us to go out for a walk outside.”

“Except it’s cloudy all over,” he replied. 

It was cloudy all the time, now that he mentioned it. And that brought him back to the main reason why he was reluctant to go out. Muggles blamed the constant cloudy weather on the climate, Wizards, though, knew better, and blamed it on the dozens of Dementors lurking around London. Last sighting had been only a couple of days before not far from St. Paul’s Cathedral and the aurors had needed to intervene in order to keep one of them from kissing a barmy homeless bloke. It was a miracle nobody had their soul stolen yet. Or at least that there was no record of it. Summer was three weeks away and those bastards had even taken the sun away… They were the reason why it had been a few weeks since he, Mia or the kids had last walked around muggle or wizarding London. And knowing that, he simply hated how those… faceless Dementor bastards could freak him out and make him feel like a bloody coward.

“Well, it’s not getting much better than this, Sirius,” Mia replied, her voice tense as she spoke. “It’s actually warm enough to walk outside with your arms bare, which is more than we can say about the past few weeks.”

“I know, love, it’s just…”

She rested her hand on top of his on the table. It was time for her to be the one to comfort him. “Sirius,” she started, “I know you have reasons to hate and to fear the Dementors more than anyone else I know.” It gave her the chills to think of how he’d been so close to be kissed by one if Harry hadn’t helped him escape back when Sirius was on the run. “I really understand. But we can’t stop going outside in London just because some of them have been sighted lately. It’s not healthy and, honestly, it feels sort of like you’re letting them win by avoiding them.”

It annoyed him that she was right in every word and it annoyed him even more than he hadn’t figured out her conclusion on his own…

“Besides,” she continued, “you know Kingsley has aurors stationed all over Diagon Alley for protection. I’m pretty sure if they managed to pass their auror training, they must be decent enough making a Patronus. As both of us are, by the way. So, knock it off because I’m going to floo Molly now and ask her to keep the kids and intend to be out of this house in a half hour.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Wait, I thought you’d said dinner. It’s four in the afternoon – a bit early, isn’t it?”

“I did say dinner,” she confirmed casually. “But I was counting on you being a gentleman, Mr. Black, and entertain your wife around Diagon Alley for a little bit. Plus, I haven’t seen Elizabeth in weeks, so she’d meeting us there at half past five. We need to catch up, don’t we?”

“Oh, so I have to give up my lazy afternoon in order to go to Diagon Alley and follow you and Elizabeth around while you catch up?” Sirius asked in a sceptical tone. “I’ll take a wild guess and say you’d drag me there if you had to, wouldn’t you?”

Mia smiled at him, absently helping Alex climb up to her lap as he turned his attention back to his parents. “Sure – I’ve already sent the owl back saying we’re going and everything. Don’t act likr it will be a bummer for you. Doesn’t Remus work on Saturdays? You can hang out with him while Elizabeth and I spend time together. I doubt you’re willing to let such a good opportunity to make a few sexual jokes about him and Tonks slide by so easily.”

That last part made him chuckle in amusement. “It wouldn’t be like me to ignore that, would it?” he agreed. And now that he thought of it, it did seem interesting… Now that Remus had already gotten married to Tonks, he kind of missed tormenting him for that purpose… All that was left were the you’re-shagging-my-cousin jokes. “Alright, I suppose I can live with that arrangement – as long as I receive the proper payment for such later, Mrs. Black,” he added suggestively.

“I’ll be sure to bake you a pie later, then,” she joked, reaching to place a kiss on his cheek and then another one on her little son’s, making him giggle and call her ‘Mama’.

“Not the kind of payment I was referring to,” Sirius pointed out, forcing a frown.

She rolled her eyes. “I’ll take that under consideration, depending on the quality of your company this afternoon. Now lighten up. You’ll see this will only improve the day – a lazy afternoon wouldn’t be half as fun.”

Yet, unknowingly to them, no matter what they did in their afternoon, that day would always be remembered by the dark events that would take place later that night.

---

“I hate this, I hate this, I hate this,” Izzy Black said as she closed her Muggle studies book with a little too much force as she and Ginny studied together in the Gryffindor common room. Although neither was terribly keen to do so, they had no choice with yet another OWL coming up just a couple of days away.

Ginny figured she might as well use that time before Harry came back from his detention with Snape, whose reason was too stupid for her to remember, followed by a meeting with Dumbledore to study as Hermione had been lecturing her about never taking a break to focus on her studies. She had to remind herself that Hermione was at the library with Ron in order to keep the lecture from playing in her head again. “You hate Muggle Studies?” she asked her best friend, unsure after she heard her statement.

“No, I actually like Muggle Studies. What I hate is that we have to know some stupid Muggle economics theories! What sense does it make that I have to know about Muggle economics when I don’t even know, or care for that matter, about Wizarding ones?! And you want to know what I hate even more than that? OWLs. They’re stupid.”

“Did you know that usually when you’re frustrated about something you tend to start insulting it?” Ginny observed out loud as she closed her book too, causing Izzy to give her a far from amused look in return. “Anyway,” she continued, “you should probably know that the twins share your pain and your beliefs. Well, shared, actually, back when they were taking their OWLs.”

“I didn’t know they had taken Muggle studies,” Izzy stated.

“Oh, they did, not that they are as interested in the subject as Dad. Let’s say their criteria to pick their optional subjects wasn’t based on how interesting they sounded,” Ginny explained. “They picked Care for Magical Creatures because they figured they could see some wicked creatures that might come handy for their business in the future in there and Muggle Studies because Fred had a… let’s call it crush on Professor Burbage.”

Izzy snorted at the simple thought. “Really? Professor Burbage? She’s old enough to be you guys’ mom.”

“I know,” she said, reminiscent. “But he thought she had the nicest pair of legs he’d ever seen in his thirteen-year-long life and other equally interesting pairs, if you know what I mean. I don’t even know how he knew if these looked good or not since her teacher robes generally cover plenty… Anyway, seeing as he wanted to keep admiring her… attributes, he signed up for the class and of course George followed.”

“He didn’t have a crush on Burbage too?”

Ginny shook her head. “They may be twins but they usually don’t go for the exact same type of girl. See Fred for an example: he likes warrior-like girls. Exotic in a way, stubborn, bossy… pretty much the way they describe the amazons without the man-hating trait – just like Angelina and, well, Professor Burbage too. You see that look she gets when everyone’s talking during her class – you can almost expect her to grab a bow and aim an arrow to someone’s forehead so they’ll shut up.”

Izzy nodded. “I guess that does have a point. And what about George?” she asked, suddenly curious. “How different is his type?”

“Well, It’s hard to describe – he hasn’t dated much lately and, when he does, it rarely lasts long enough for me to even meet her – the biggest references I have are his Hogwarts-time girls and their cashier at the shop, Varity, that he went out with once last year. He goes for the smart, friendly type if you take Varity under consideration. Also brave and a bit daring too since here at Hogwarts he mostly went for Gryffindors. It’s hard to say for sure… sometimes it’s not that clear and only the person in question can define it. Like you, for example.”

“Me?” she asked.

“Sure. Earlier this year you told me your ideal guy would be someone that could make you laugh by being himself. I suppose that defines a type for you. And you’re also finding closer fits to it, if you take the,” she cleared her throat and lowered her voice, “most recent events under consideration. Or should I be more specific and say the words ‘Seamus’ and ‘Finnigan’? I still can’t believe you snogged him. I know in normal circumstances he’d a pretty funny bloke but you know he has a thing for Lavender. I was under the impression you’d gotten pickier at blokes lately.”

“It was just once at the party after you won the Quidditch House Cup. Can you blame us? We were festive.”

“Yeah, and half of you were also tipsy on Butterbeer.”

“He was just chatty-tipsy,” she replied. “We only snogged for five minutes until you walked in on us and then we decided it just didn’t feel right, so we talked instead. He was really sweet – even thanked me for my mom letting his grandparents keep the Wales house after what happened to his parents… But why am I even telling you this? I’m not the one who got detention for inappropriate behaviour with Harry under the bleachers right after the game!”

“Snape exaggerated it!” Ginny replied, blushing slightly at the memory. That had been some snogging with the whole adrenaline of the game pumping through their veins…

“Not that much, judging from your blush,” Izzy pointed out casually, making her friend glare. “I don’t suppose I need to hear a description of your type of bloke. Let me guess: brave, way too selfless, messy black hair, green eyes and a lightening bold-shaped scar on his forehead?”

The redhead chuckled. “Well, I found just the perfect fit, didn’t I? And speaking of whom…” Ginny whispered as she saw her boyfriend stepping into the Common Room through the portrait hole, his face incredibly pale. She stood up immediately, as did Izzy. “Harry, what’s wrong? You look awfully pale.” He kept walking and, for a moment, she wondered if he’d gone deaf… and blind for that matter since she was staying only a few feet away from him and he wouldn’t answer. “Harry!”

At her shout, he turned his face to her for a moment and nodded towards the spiral staircase leading up to his dorm, telling her to go up.

Ginny turned to Izzy, then. “Give us a moment,” she said, receiving a short nod in return from her equally confused friend. When she turned to the spiral staircase, Harry’s feet were already disappearing up the stairs and she quickly followed him, wondering what all the hurry could be about. Her gut told her it couldn’t be good – it never was. Seemed like the trouble that happened every school year always converged to those last weeks right by the end of it, causing some sort of catastrophe or massive trouble to happen… She had a feeling it was almost inevitable that whatever had gotten Harry in such a hurry was the beginning of said catastrophe.

Harry was kneeling on the floor, his hands rummaging through his possessions in his trunk when Ginny entered the dorm. He looked up at her immediately. “Close the door,” he told her.

Ginny nodded and did so, approaching her boyfriend’s tense form, then. “Harry, what the hell is happening? Tell me anything! Is this about that meeting Dumbledore called after your detention?”

“Partially, yes,” he told her, his eyes fixed in the trunk. “I haven't got much time. Dumbledore thinks I'm just getting my Invisibility Cloak.”

“Well, get on with it, then,” she urged him.

He stood up, then, apparently bringing the invisibility cloak from inside the trunk and placing it on his bed. “Dumbledore found a Horcrux and we’re going to get it.”

“Right now?” she asked.

He nodded. “Right now.”

“Okay. Alright,” she mumbled. “That’s good, right? There will be one less Horcrux for you to worry about after tonight…”

“Yeah, but that’s not all. Not even close,” he told her. “When I was heading to Dumbledore’s office, I ran into Trelawney being very literally kicked out of the Room of Requirement by someone who sounded to be celebrating in there. Wanna know who I think it was?”

Ginny sighed. “Malfoy.”

“Malfoy,” he confirmed, nodding. “Whatever he’s spent doing all that time in the Room of Requirement, I’m pretty sure he succeeded at it… So you see what this means?”

“Dumbledore is not going to be here tonight,” Ginny said, understanding.

“Malfoy's going to have another clear shot at whatever he's up to and I don’t even want to start to imagine what it might be. The school will be unprotected.”

Ginny shook her head immediately. “No, it won’t. You may not be here but we are, Harry. Me, Izzy, Ron and Hermione… at least a few members from the DA too. We can keep an eye on him,” she said confidently. “That slimy ferret will have plenty to worry about with us on him.”

In any other occasion, Harry might have smiled from all the pride he felt for his girlfriend at that moment but, between the worry thickening the air around him and the feeling of ants crawling over his skin for being so close to destroying another Horcrux, a nod had to do the job. Suddenly, something occurred to him and Harry reached down for the trunk again, getting a hold of the folded piece of parchment that contained the Marauders Map and one of his socks before handing the former to Ginny. “That’s the map. You’ll probably need it more than me now. And one of you should also watch Snape.” Harry chose not to tell her now what he’d found out about his so detested teacher at the moment – that he’d been the one to tell Voldemort of the prophecy. There was just no time and as much as he wanted to let that weight out of his chest, it would have to wait for later. “I don’t trust him one bit. Dumbledore says he’s put extra protection in the school, but if Snape’s involved, he'll know what Dumbledore's protection is, and how to avoid it. He won’t expect someone to be on the watch, though, will he?”

“Harry, stop worrying and leave that for us to handle,” she told him. “You need to calm down before going with Dumbledore. Going after a Horcrux with your head full of worries about what may or may not be happening here in the school won’t do you any good.”

He sighed, looking at her. “You’re right but… I just feel like this is all a setup for things to end up going on in a very bad way…” He shook his head to himself and looked down at the sock he’d fetched from inside his trunk before starting to tug at it until a little glass vial with golden liquid inside fell from it into his hand. “There, take this as well,” he said, thrusting the vial into her hand.

“What is this for?” she asked, confused

“It’s the Felix Felicis. There isn’t enough of it for everyone, so one or two of you should take it and use it to steal more from Slughorn’s stash. Share it with the people from our side as much as you can. It should keep you protected. I’d give you the invisibility cloak but I told Dumbledore I was…”

“No,” Ginny said, before he could finish saying that as she thrusts the vial of potion back in his hands. “I don’t want it. You take it. Who knows what you’re going to be facing?”

“I’ll be with Dumbledore, Ginny,” he told her, trying to hand it back to her only to be refused. “Gin, please…”

“No. You said it yourself – I can steal some more from Slughorn.”

“He always keeps his potion cupboard very well-locked. If you want to break into it, the Felix is your only chance, Ginny,” he said, exasperated.

She pursed her lips. “Well, I’m not letting you out of here before you take at least one gulp of that potion. It’s bad enough I have to stay back and let you go with Dumbledore to Merlin-knows-where do something Merlin-knows-how-dangerous! So take a swallow of it now before I pin you to your bed in a very unpleasant way and shove the whole vial, glass and everything, down your throat, Harry James Potter. Drink the bloody potion!”

Just as she placed her hands on her hips and narrowed her eyes at him, Harry seriously wondered if his girlfriend was channelling her mother at the moment. Nevertheless the reason why he did take a sip of the potion a few seconds later wasn’t because she intimidated him or anything (though if he was honest, he’d admit his girlfriend could be bloody scary when she wanted to), it was because he saw she needed him to do it, to know he was as safe as he could be, in order to worry about keeping herself safe too. Still, the sip he took was so small he doubted its effects would last for more than twenty minutes – after all, he wanted them to have enough for at least get their hands on more Felix Felicis. She didn’t seem to notice how little of the potion he’d drunk when he handed it back to her. “There. Happy?”

She nodded. “Happy enough.” And then, taking a sigh, Ginny took a couple of steps further, close enough to wrap her arms around his neck and pull him down slightly until their lips met in a kiss. It was exactly what both of them needed and Harry silently praised his girlfriend for so often knowing exactly what he needed. When they broke apart, she gave him a warning look. “No funny stuff, Potter. This was good-luck kiss, not a goodbye one.”

He nodded. “I figured,” he mumbled, just as a knock sounded on the door and it opened without waiting for an answer.

Izzy stood in the doorway, one eyebrow rising. “It’s always snogging with you too, isn’t it?” she asked in a dry tone. “Here I thought you’d fetched Ginny for something actually important in some we’re-in-trouble sort of way.”

“I did, actually,” Harry replied, his tone free of humour as he pulled away from his girlfriend.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, suddenly tense.

“No time to explain. Ginny will do it for me. I'd better go, Dumbledore's waiting,” he told her, giving Ginny’s hand a final tug before letting go of it and grabbing his invisibility cloak. On his way out, he stopped for a moment and reached for his pocket, removing the two-way mirror Sirius had given him and handed it to Izzy. “If things get sticky, call your dad and have him bring in the Order.” Then, he sighed and gave a quick hug to the girl he saw as a sister ever since she’d been born. “Try not to do anything too stupid, Iz. I’m supposed to be looking after you.” And then he was gone.

Izzy raised her eyebrows as she turned to Ginny. “Alright, what the hell is going on?”

Ginny sighed and sank down to a sitting position on Harry’s bed. “Trouble, that’s what’s going on.”

A/N: To be continued...

And so the end of sixth year madness starts. I hope you liked the chapter - it was a struggle writing it because I had so little time this week... Feedback is welcome! Review!


Chapter 24: Felix
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A/N: Sorry for the delay guys but I've got a surprise this week: a two-part chapter! And no, I didn't split it up this time - two different POVs, one chapter. And so I give you the biggest chapter I've ever posted in my life... 17 pages, 8k words worth.

 As soon as Sirius and Mia stepped foot on Diagon Alley, they were amazed by how much it had changed since the last time they’d been there, three or four weeks before. While one might have thought that it could only get worse with more shops getting closed, abandoned or vandalized and even less people walking around, it had actually gotten better.

It seemed the absence of Death Eater attacks in the past few months had brought a little bit of its life back to the Wizarding area of London: there were people – several hundreds of them – walking around window-shopping or simply strolling and a few shops and pubs that had been closed seemed to be open again and ready to receive the celebrations that would take place after that night’s Quidditch League finals. Some pubs were already full of noisy Quidditch supporters, ready to hear the wireless commentary of the game in groups.

Witnessing those dynamics suddenly made Sirius thoughtful. It was bittersweet watching life return to Diagon Alley: in a way, it showed people weren’t letting themselves be crushed by the war and giving up on their little indulgences such as watching the most important Quidditch game of the year in a pub with their friends; in another way, it felt just like the calm before a storm had come by to turn everything back to shambles – and that storm had a very well-known name: Lord Voldemort. He liked to play that game more than anyone: letting people think that maybe everything was going to be okay for a while, allow themselves to put their guard down… and then one day out of nowhere show back up and break the illusion like it was made out of a thin layer of glass. And the worst part was that so many people fell into that scheme over and over again.

Of one thing Sirius Black was sure: he wouldn’t believe everything was okay and let his guard down until his godson had sent the snake-faced bastard back to the place where he belonged, which was nowhere better than hell.

“You look awfully serious,” Mia observed, bringing him back from his thought as they walked along the pavement of Diagon Alley together. “Don’t tell me you’re still crabby about having given up your lazy afternoon.”

He shook his head. “Nope, it’s none of that. I was just thoughtful – I didn’t expect to find this place so… alive. At least not until the Harpies won the game and came here to celebrate.”

Mia looked sideways and raised an eyebrow at her husband. “How can you possibly know the Harpies are going to win? Not that I really care about who wins but I was under the impression that Quidditch game hadn’t started yet.”

“Honey, first rule for Quidditch’s common sense: with Gwenog Jones on the lead, the Harpies always win,” Sirius told her like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “It’s as inevitable as Snape’s hair having enough grease in it for him to sell by the pound.”

His wife gave him a doubtful look. “Oh, I was under the impression the first rule for Quidditch was ‘watch out for the bludgers’. You know, you the whole risk of ending up with a cracked skull or, worse, a missing head…”

“No, love, that’s the first rule for Quidditch safety, not the first rule for Quiddich’s Common sense. It’s completely different,” he said like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Mia gave her husband a sceptical look as they walked. “Completely different how? That just doesn’t make any sense…” She huffed and shook her head. “Oh, never mind. I’m perfectly happy with not understanding Quidditch at all.”

Sirius sighed dramatically. “Well, that’s just sad. Of all the women I could have fallen for, the one that I ended up marrying had to be completely clueless when it comes to my favourite sport.”

Once again, she raised her eyebrows at him. “Is that a complaint, Mr. Black?” she asked, forcing an all-too-sweet tone into her voice. “Because do you know who is a really good listener for complaints? The living room couch, which is where you’ll be sleeping tonight and possibly for the next two to three nights if you keep it up.” She was bluffing, of course, but hopefully he’s swallow the threat and be done with it…

“No complaining here,” he assured her immediately, reaching closer to her to place a kiss on her cheek as a way of asking her for a truce. “I happen to be very fond of your other qualities, not to mention pitifully in love with you. It’s almost embarrassing, really.”

She smiled. “Slick as a weasel, aren’t you, Sirius? That was a good save.”

He grinned in return, wrapping one arm around her waist as they walked – it occurred to him that coming to Diagon Alley that day might have not been such a bad idea after all. He didn’t reckon he might have the chance to so shamelessly flirt with his wife at home with the kids to worry about. “You know I am. And by the way, it had been a while since you’d last threatened me with a night on the sofa.”

“Clearly too long,” she agreed.

“Can’t say I agree. Though I should probably remind you that our house has about half a dozen unoccupied rooms with perfectly comfortable beds that would spare me from sleeping on the living room couch.”

She gave him a defying look in return. “I should probably remind you that we have a house-elf that is not your biggest fan and would jump at the opportunity of keeping you locked out of those half a dozen unoccupied rooms with perfectly comfortable beds so you’d really have to sleep on the living room couch.”

Sirius narrowed his eyes at his wife. “You’re a devious little thing, aren’t you, willing to set Kreacher on me like a wild dog?”

She looked quite proud. “Well, I had to inherit something from Lulu’s genes, hadn’t I? Oh, look, there’s Elizabeth,” Mia said just as she spotted her friend at a distance, walking out of a shop called ‘Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment’, followed by her children. She tried to wave at her but Elizabeth didn’t seem to react at all.

“I don’t think she’s seen you, love,” Sirius pointed out, noting that the blonde seemed to be busy enough paying attention to what her daughter, Evie, was saying at the same time she got a hold of her son’s arm before he had a chance to sneak his way into the Quidditch supplies shop, so amazed he seemed to be with the broomsticks exposed behind its windows. “Wonder if it will be like that with our kids in a few years.”

Mia snorted. “Knowing their father, I’d say keeping them under control will be even more challenging. And you still insist you want a couple more…”

“Sirius Black doesn’t back-out on any challenge,” he happily informed his wife, who sighed and shook her head in disbelief.

“Come on,” she said, urging him to follow her as she approached their friend, moving through the groups of people walking along the path.

“…Mummy? Please? Can we go get my wand now?” Evie Bagman seemed to be begging her mother when Sirius and Mia reached them. “It’s almost time for me to go to Hogwarts!”

Elizabeth huffed. “Evie, you won’t be starting there until September. That’s almost three months from now and you know you’re not allowed by the ministry to use a wand outside of Hogwarts before you turn seventeen,” she told her daughter, exasperated at her excitement and very aware that with Ollivander’s trashed, there was no other wand-maker in Wizarding London.

“Aw Mummy…”

“The ministry really knows how to take the fun out of things, don’t they?” Sirius asked the young girl, who turned to face him immediately, recognizing her mother’s friends. “Look at the bright side – at least you can still use a broom.”

The young girl smiled. “Daddy took me flying when we visited him last month.”

“And me! And me!” her younger brother, six-year-old Harper Bagman, insisted, unwilling to be left out of the conversation.

“Yeah, Harper went too,” she declared. “He let us ride on his camel and took us flying afterwards. Then, he said I might make it to my house’s team in a few years.”

Camel? Sirius thought to himself – it was no secret Ludo Bagman was overseas still on the run from the goblins for owing them money. Was the bloke now covering as a Bedouin somewhere in Arabia or something? Never mind, he told himself. “Well, we’ll see how good a flyer you are next September since I’ll be the one giving you flying lessons,” Sirius told her. “Mia here will be teaching you too. I bet if you ask her nicely she’ll tell you all about Hogwarts later.”

Evie smiled at the prospect and Elizabeth gave Sirius a thankful smile, glad he’d distracted her daughter from her near-tantrum.

As Elizabeth and Mia started chatting, Sirius took a moment to observe his surroundings, searching for Auror presences among the people. He spotted a few serious yet nervous-looking young men standing by the entrance of Gringotts that were easy to identify as fresh-out-of-training aurors. Soon, he also saw more experienced ones such as the always unlucky Dawlish and other two who he recalled being named Savage and Williamson and had gotten into the Auror training one year after James had. They all seemed to be ready for any trouble and Sirius deemed it safe for him to leave. “Well, ladies,” he said, before lowering his gaze to Harper, “and gentleman, it appears I have to go.”

Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. “You’re not sticking around?”

“Not until dinner time,” he told her. “There’s no way I’m letting you all use me as your personal shopping cart, Harper. I meant your Mom,” he added, seeing the youngest Bagman’s confused face at the use of his name. “So,” he said, reaching to place a kiss on wife’s cheek, “if you need me I’ll be the one annoying the life out of Remus in his own workplace. Shameful, isn’t it?”

“Awfully shameful,” Mia agreed.

“Tell him bring Tonks and join us for dinner too,” Elizabeth said. “I don’t think I’ve seen him since Mary was born. That was over five months ago.”

Sirius nodded. “I’ll be sure to bring them along, dragged if I have to.” And then he walked away, leaving Mia and their old friend behind to do their catching up on their own.

When he arrived at the joke shop, seeing it clattered with people was definitely no news – Fred and George ought to be millionaires by the end of the year with the amount of clients they had… that was, if they weren’t already. That day, Lee Jordan seemed to be in charge of the sales along with the pretty blonde girl the twins had hired, Varity, who, as soon as she saw Sirius, signalled to the door behind the counter, telling him he could go right upstairs. It was like he was already an honorary part of the staff, Sirius thought as he climbed up the stairs – it sure helped he was the godfather of the twin’s main investor and silent partner, Harry.

As he stepped into Remus’s office, Sirius was surprised to note that his friend was nowhere to be found. Instead, though, he was greeted by the sight of someone lounging on his friend’s sofa, seemingly busy reading a magazine. Someone whose pink hair – with bright red highlights that day, it seemed – was peaking from behind the magazine-barrier covering her face.

When she spoke, Tonks didn’t take her eyes away from the magazine she’d been reading. “Hey, there’s a Weird Sisters concert in Cardiff next month. I’ve been thinking that it’s a shame that we’ve been together for practically a year and I still haven’t taken you to a concert of my favourite band – what do you say the two of us pack a bag, head to Cardiff for a little romantic weekend then and go see that concert since we’re already there?”

Sirius barely managed to hold his laughter before responding. “Why, Tonks, dear, I’d just love to but I have a feeling our respective spouses would have one thing or two to say about us having a romantic weekend together…”

Tonks suddenly looked over the magazine, closed it before putting it aside, and raised her eyebrows at her cousin, who shot her a grin. “I thought you were Remus,” she told him, stating the obvious. Then, her face became amused. “I hope you realize that offer doesn’t apply to you.”

He gave a dramatic sigh. “Aw, well, one can hope… Anyway, speaking of Remus, why isn’t he sitting at that lovely desk elbow deep in paperwork or something?”

“He needed to go upstairs to the twins’ flat to get their signature for something. Apparently they’ve been up there all day doing experiments and blowing up stuff,” she declared. “There was black smoke coming out of their window when I arrived – Remus said it was normal.”

“Sounds like they’re having plenty of fun,” Sirius replied in amusement, taking a seat on one of the chairs in front of his friend’s desk, resting his feet on the other one. “So, Tonks, I was under the impression you worked on Saturdays too. You know, as a way to keep your mind occupied and away from the sorrow of being unable to spend the first day of the weekend with your beloved husband.”

The metamorphagus chuckled. “Seems impossible to handle the heartbreak. I’ll have you know I only work on some Saturdays, though – always in Diagon Alley patrol duty, by the way. Today I’m not on full-duty but I’m supposed to be ready to step in if there’s trouble with the Quidditch finals festivities and they need reinforcements here or at the stadium.”

“What? It’s been getting that bad lately?”

“You have no idea. Last year I had to drag a naked bloke to the auror department because he’d seen it fitting to thank the Harpies for winning the game by flashing them. Believe me, by the looks of him, if anything he was getting back at them for the other team. It gets mad out there.”

“You don’t need to say that twice,” Sirius mumbled, shuddering at the thought. “Anyway, how did you manage to get assigned to Diagon Alley patrol every Saturday you work? Coincidently so close to where your better half works… What sort of twisted pact did you make with your boss to get such an arrangement? Sold him a kidney? A lung? Maybe your soul?”

She snorted. “What use would Kingsley have for a spare organ or a human soul? He’s not much into creepy keepsakes the way some people – sadly some of them related to us – are…” The metamorphagus shivered and for a moment her hair showed a hue of green before turning back to the initial pink and red colour. “Maybe I have some dirt on him and am using it for blackmail.”

“Yeah, right, you’re too nice to blackmail anyone,” her cousin told her without a doubt.

Tonks sighed. “Alright, I’m not using it for blackmail. Let’s just say it’s been months since Head Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt has filled at least half of the paperwork he should be filling, leaving that task for his favourite former trainee: me. I can actually fake his signature perfectly now.”

“Ah, so Kingsley gets his paperwork filled and you get an arrangement that is just perfect for booty calls,” Sirius concluded with a grin.

“Perfect for what?” The two of them turned to the source of the voice by the door and came face to face with a wide-eyed Remus staring at them in disbelief. “What on Earth are you two talking about?”

“Booty calls, mate,” Sirius repeated, grinning. “Or, you know, Tonks here dropping by ‘casually’ leading you two to… you know.” He shook his head. “Shame on you, mate. Right in the middle of a work day…”

“Says the bloke who happens to work in the same place as his wife,” Tonks pointed out. “How many times have you dropped by her classroom for said purposes?”

Sirius casually grabbed a paper from his friend’s desk and pretended to be paying it every bit of attention he had to spare. “A gentleman doesn’t shag and tell, Nymphadora.”

Tonks narrowed her eyes at him. “Don’t call me Nymphadora!”

Her husband cleared his throat. “I think the main question here is this: since when have you been a ‘gentleman’, Sirius?” Remus asked in return, sitting at his desk.

“Oh, I resent that,” Sirius said, faking offence. “A bloke comes by to pay a visit and all he gets is bashing and not even a greeting word. That’s sad, mate.”

Remus shook his head and chuckled. “Well, fancy seeing you here, Sirius. How can I help you?”

“See? That’s better. Now, let’s get to business, mate: it’s seems you are in debt to me.”

Remus raised his left eyebrow. “Am I? I don’t recall borrowing money from you lately. Or ever, for that matter.”

“Oh, not that sort of debt, Moony. I’m not talking about money – I’m talking about a godchild,” Sirius informed him.

Remus’s right eyebrow joined its left neighbour, slightly above its usual level. “A godchild?”

“A godchild,” Sirius confirmed. “See mate, since I’ve already given you two of those, Alex and Mary, it’s only fair you give me at least one godchild. No, not just any godchild – a goddaughter. With Harry, that would give me one of each. I enjoy variety.”

“You want a goddaughter?”

“That’s right, Moony. Now, if you have a boy first, I won’t mind another godson too… as long as you eventually get me a goddaughter to add to the team.” He grinned and turned to Tonks, who seemed to be amused enough watching the show. “Back me up here, Tonks.”

“Oh, I think I’ll sit this one out. It’s funnier watching it from out here. But go on, really,” she urged them.

Sirius mumbled something that sounded a lot like ‘traitor’ under his breath before turning back to his friend. “Well, when am I getting my godkid, then?”

“I am not even going to consider answering that question,” Remus told him dryly.

“Say all you want, mate, but I won’t rest until I get it. I managed to get you married, didn’t I?”

“Shut up, Padfoot.”

“Just warning you, Moony,” Sirius told him casually, leaning back against his chair

On his own chair, Remus let out a deep breath and shook his head, telling himself his friend was mad for even considering the thought of him being a father. “So, why is Mia not here to keep your madness under control?”

“Oh, she’s busy outside catching up with Elizabeth and her kids,” Sirius told him, going along with the break from the goddaughter matter. “We’re supposed to be having dinner later at the Leaky Cauldron, though my money is on us switching to somewhere else in Muggle London because it will be too cluttered with people wanting to celebrate the game by then. Oh, and by the way, you two are coming too.”

Remus sighed. “Are we?”

“I promised Harper I’d drag you if I had to, Moony, so yeah, you are coming either you want it or not,” Sirius informed him matter-of-factly before turning to Tonks. “I expect I won’t have to drag you too, do I?”

“Are you kidding? I’m all for going out with you guys,” she replied just as the sound of a loud explosion came from the flat upstairs, making all three look up as dust fell from the ceiling.

“I’m assuming that is normal,” Sirius mumbled

Remus huffed and headed to the door. “Boys?” he yelled to the corridor.

We’re still in one piece!” one of them yelled back from upstairs, proving no major harm had been caused

The sound of footsteps coming down the stairs filled their ears, then, and the two redheads came into the room, their faces darkened by what seemed to be ash covering them everywhere except from around their eyes, likely die to them wearing protective glasses.

“No need to go running to Mom telling her we blew ourselves up. I think we’re done experimenting today, anyway,” one of the twins said as he brushed the ash away from the battered Muggle jeans he was wearing before noticing Sirius’s and Tonks’s presences. “Oh, hey guys!”

“Hey. Seems like you’ve been busy upstairs,” Sirius told them. “What are you up to?”

“Classified order from the auror department,” the other replied, winking conspiringly at Tonks. “For all intents and purposes, we are trying to find a formula that will make Pigmy Puffs glow in the dark.”

“Fred, George, listen,” Remus requested. “If you show up for Sunday dinner with another scar, your mother will have my hide for not keeping an eye on you. I don’t need to remind you how loud she yelled when you got that scar over your eyebrow, Fred.”

“She shouldn’t be complaining,” Fred said, rubbing his eyebrow absently – Sirius did notice a half-inch long scar marring the skin over the redhead’s right eyebrow. “Now it takes her just one look to tell us apart. Besides, Angie says it’s sexy. Girls love a bloke with battle scars, don’t they?” he asked Tonks.

“Most definitely,” she assured them, smiling back and winking at her husband, who looked away in embarrassment.

Sirius snorted at his friend’s reaction. “Oh, isn’t he just adorab…”He paused, feeling something warming up in his pocket, which he immediately reached for – it was the two-way mirror. “Hold that thought – I’ve got to take this. It’s probably Harry saying Snape got him in trouble again,” he mumbled, still half-grinning while tapping his wand on the mirror to activate it. To his surprise, it wasn’t Harry’s face on the mirror but Izzy’s – and she looked far from calm.

“Iz?” he asked her, feeling himself goingtense. He knew it was something bad.

Death Eaters have just infiltrated in the school, Daddy. You’ve got to send the Order now!” she said

And just like that Sirius was proven right: all the life bursting in Diagon Alley had been nothing more than the calm before the storm. A storm that was about to spill its rage.

---

Hogwarts – One hour earlier


“This isn’t enough for all six of us to take a dose that will last long,” Hermione said, observing the little vial of Felix Felicis as she held it in her hand before placing it down on the library table in front of her.

It hadn’t been more than five minutes since Ginny and Izzy had burst into the library – sending the stiff-necked librarian, Madam Pince, in a rampage over it – looking for her and Ron s, followed by Neville and Luna who they’d found on their way there and found fitting to bring along, looks of alarm all over their face. After casting several imperturbable and repelling charms around themselves to evade being interrupted or eavesdropped, the news Izzy and Ginny brought along were even more unsettling than their facial expressions: Harry had just left to chase a Horcrux along with the headmaster and now, with the school left without Dumbledore’s physical protection, they had reasons to believe that whatever Malfoy had been planning all year would take place that evening. Of one thing they were sure: given the events of that year, it couldn’t be good, whatever it was.

“So Harry was right. We have to steal some more potions,” Ginny concluded as they all sat around the library table.

“That’s easier said than done,” Hermione stated. “If there’s anything Slughorn is careful about, it’s about not leaving potions laying around for students to grab when they fancy.” She sighed. “Do you really think we’ll all need the Felix Felicis?”

“Are you willing to risk finding out?” Ron asked in return. “Maybe I’m only speaking for myself but if I know I have the chance to get really lucky when trouble is coming, I take it without a doubt.”

“How… how do we do it then?” Neville inquired.

“Well, maybe we could all split the Felix in that little vial among ourselves now. It wouldn’t last long but we could always drink a bigger dose we get Slughorn’s,” Izzy suggested

Hermione shook her head immediately. “No! No way.”

“Why not?” Ron asked in confusion. “It would be perfect.”

“No, it wouldn’t! Didn’t you read what it said in your book about the potion?” she asked the redhead, indignated.

“Only that it would make you lucky. Not all us read a textbooks as if it were a novel,.”

“Guys, quit picking on each other and get to the point,” Ginny reminded them, exasperated. “For all we know, we don’t have time for this.”

Hermione nodded. “Drinking multiple doses of Felix Felicis within a three day long interval of time severely brings up the risk of the potion’s effects being inverted. It means…”

“If we take Felix Felicis more than once in a three-day period, it can make us very unlucky instead of very lucky,” Luna finished for her in her usual dreamy voice. “It does make sense. Recent studies Daddy has ordered proved the same happens with the Drought to Repel Magical Creatures – we were thinking of using it next year to attract Crumple-Horned…”

Izzy cleared her throat, trying to stop her friend’s ramble. “I don’t think we can risk getting unlucky under the circumstances.”

“So, what do we do, then? For how many people is there enough potion?” Neville asked.

Hermione grabbed the vial and studied for a long moment. “I’d say there’s about thirty millilitres in here. It should be enough for two people at the most, lasting for about three to four hours after they take it. Maybe a little longer if Slughorn brew it with freshly-caught ingredients,” Hermione told them. “They’re said to enhance the potion’s effectivity.”

There was a moment of silence then, when they all thought the same. Ginny was the first of them to speak it out loud. “So… who’ll take it?”

“Well,” Hermione started, “Harry gave the vial to you, Ginny… he’d want you to take it.”

“What? Beacause I’m his girlfriend? Don’t even think of it. Izzy is his sister, you and Ron are like his family too, Neville and Luna are his friends… I’m not taking it over that logic, Hermione.”

“Alright, alright,” the older girl said. “But if you don’t take it over that logic, at least take it over this one: whoever goes into Slughorn’s classroom to steal more potion should already have a dose of this one to make sure the odds of getting caught are smaller. It’s been clear from the beginning that you want to be there to do it. So, you should take the potion.”

Nobody countered Hermione’s logic and not even Ginny was able to do it. “Fine. I’ll take it, then,” she gave in. “But we still have to decide who else takes it.”

Luna cleared her throat. “I think Hermione should be the one to do it,” she told them softly.

“Me? Why me?” the brunette asked in surprise.

“Because you’re the smartest person we know,” Luna told her. “A bit sceptic when it comes to Naturalism but still smart.”

“I may be smart but I’m certainly not sneaky enough!”

Ron shook his head. “Not sneaky wnough? You were the brains behind the DA. Practically ran half of it with Harry last year! And don’t make me mention how many times you saved the day for me and Harry.”

Izzy nodded in agreement. “Your brains and the Felix Felicis are exactly what we need. And if you’re still not convinced you’re sneaky, Ginny can be sneaky for both of you.”

“Looks like, you’re outnumbered,” Neville told her.

Before she had the chance to bring up another argument, Ginny was already handing her the open vial of Felix Felicis. “You first,” she declared.

“But…” she faintly tried to argue.

“Hermione, we don’t have the time to discuss this further,” the redhead told her.

Hermione sighed in defeat and accepted the bottle. She drank the liquid almost as if she was measuring and when she stopped, there didn’t seem to be a bit more or a bit less than half the initial quantity. After the older girl was done, Ginny drank her share and waited to feel some sort of effect.

“Well?” Ron asked.

“Nothing,” she mumbled.

“Nothing? It’s not working?”

“No, it’s working,” Hermione said. “I think someone should go keep a watch on the Room of Requirement to see if something happens in there. I think something will happen.”

“You think?” Ron asked sceptically.

“It’s a feeling,” she said.

“I can go there, then,” Luna offered.

“Me two. Leave the Room of Requirement to Luna and I.”

One less thing for them to worry about, Ginny thought. Snape, a voice sounded in her head. “And Snape. We can’t forget him. Harry seemed to be convinced he was in on this…”

“I can watch him,” Izzy offered.

“No,” Ginny told her. “You’re coming with Hermione and me.”

“Why?”

The redhead shrugged. “I dunno. I just have a feeling we’ll need you nearby,” she said, turning to her brother. “Ron, you can keep a watch on Snape, can’t you?”

“Sure. Harry left you the Marauders Map, didn’t he?” he asked in return. “‘Cause I have no idea where he may be right now.”

Ginny nodded and reached for her pocket, removing the Marauders Map and spreading it over the table’s top. After mumbling the words to reveal the drawings in it, all six of them quickly started searching for the former Potions Master, who was found by Hermione in the teachers’ lounge a few seconds later.

“Oh, crap,” Izzy said suddenly, pointing at a specific dot on the map’s surface. “Slughorn is in his classroom. How can we do this with him in his classroom?! We’re doomed.”

“No, we’re not. We’ll have to get the potion while he’s in there,” Hermione told them in tone that sounded way too clam to have come out of her mouth at all.

“Are you insane, Hermione?” Neville asked.

“No, I have an idea, actually. Keep the map, will you?” she said, smiling as she got up and reached for her wand in order to remove the charms surrounding them that had been keeping eavesdroppers away. “Izzy, Ginny, let’s go.”

---

Isabelle Black wasn’t sure how to describe the effects that the Felix Felicis was causing on her friends. All she knew was that they most definitely freaked her out – it was like they knew how things would turn out before even doing them! She damn well hoped their ‘feelings’ were leading to something or they might very well end up expelled… Hogwarts didn’t look kindly on students who were caught stealing potions from teachers.

When they reached Slughorn’t classroom, initially Izzy had thought Hermione would somehow find a way to use a spell that would make the teacher oblivious to them at all as they sneaked into his stash but as soon as she’d seen the older girl advance to the door of the teacher’s classroom and bluntly knock while telling her and Ginny to hide, she knew she was wrong.

“What is she doing?” she asked Ginny as they hid behind the same statue.

Ginny shrugged, not seeming bothered at all by the lack of information. “I don’t know.”

“Then how do you know what you’re supposed to do?”

She shrugged again. “I’ll just know.”

A couple of yards away, Slughorn opened the door to Hermione, pleasantly greeting her. “To what do I owe the honour of your visit, Miss Granger?”

Professor, I believe I have come upon a revolutionizing discovery about the Elixir to Induce Euphoria. I was hoping I could share it with you, Professor, so you could give me some advice,” Hermione lied confidently, to Izzy’s surprise. Did Felix Felicis go that far in terms of confidence or was she just possessed?!

Why, of course, Miss Granger,” he said, moving out of the way and letting her in. When the older teacher moved away from the door it was surprisingly left fully open.

“Just look at our luck,” Ginny said, grinning, walking from behind the statue in order to move closer to the door.

Izzy followed her there and saw that, inside the teacher’s classroom, Hermione was suggesting she brewed the Elixir in front of him for the older man to note the changes, which the he accepted, seemingly curious about Hermione’s ‘discoveries. Where she was going with that, Izzy had no idea at all…

And then, Hermione started explaining her ‘discovery’: how stirring the potion counter-clockwise after every seven turns clockwise would reduce the four hours the potion had to spend stewing to simply two, how reducing the dose of castor beans by one would soften the taste. “And if you add a sprig of peppermint to it, it will counter the excessive singing and nose-tweaking side-effects!

Listening to every word, both of their jaws dropped and they stared at each other – Hermione was quoting the prince’s notes! She, the person who’d so widely criticized the book, was actually using it to do whatever she was planning! The irony of it!

They still weren’t sure how Hermione’s story would get them into the still-locked stash until she suddenly declared in a very sorrowful tone she’d completely forgotten her ingredients in her dorm. “If you give me a moment, I’ll just run to get them.”

Oh, nonsense, my girl. You can borrow some of mine, for the sake of progress,” Slughorn told her happily. “Let me just get my ingredient suitcase…” And then, he headed straight to his the closet where stash was located to fetch the suitcase. That was it!

This time, they weren’t even surprised when the older man forgot to close the door of closet, leaving it half-open as he brought the large compartmented suitcase on top of the working table Hermione was using. It was the Felix Felicis in its best. And as Hermione started to get the ingredients ready to start brewing the potion, the Professor settled himself by her side, his back conveniently turned to their direction. Pretending to be fetching a piece of parchment from her bag, Hermione turned back and gave Izzy and Ginny a signal, silently telling them start putting the plan into practice.

“Come on,” Ginny whispered.

“Me too?” Izzy asked in disbelief. “But I didn’t take the Felix!”

“I know,” her friend told her. “But I think you’ll be needed in there. Trust me.”

Izzy didn’t really have another choice… Ginny was the first to walk in, taking each step very softly to make sure she wouldn’t be heard. Her friend made an effort to do the same just as she followed her and the two managed to slip right through the half-open door without making a single bit noise.

The stash was enormous. There were at least four lines of shelves on each wall and each shelf full of aligned queues of potions. They had no idea where to start. And that wasn’t the worst. As they browsed the vials of various sizes filled with potions, they realized something alarming: they were not labelled with the names of the potions. Instead, there were codes, all starting with a letter and followed by six numbers. J091354, M121910, A030910… The codes might be organized by order of letter and number but they still had no idea what they meant. It seemed pretty clear Slughorn did that to avoid having his potions stolen and consumed as they intended to do

“Ginny…” Izzy mumbled.

“I know,” the redhead said – this time, she had no idea what to do. The Felix was supposed to give her luck. That wasn’t luck, that was doom. Had she made a mistake by bringing along someone who hadn’t taken the potion too?

Suddenly, her eyes landed on a pile of parchment. “Maybe there’s a list of the codes and their names,” she suggested in a whisper, approaching it. But there was still no sign of the Felix Felicis’s doing and no mentions to the codes in any of the pieces of parchment in the pile. They really were so doomed…

It was in the midst of the desperation that Izzy noticed something. Another piece of parchment was hanging from under a flask on the edge of one of the shelves, right by a quill and ink. The ink on the flask’s label was still fresh and she concluded Hermione had interrupted the teacher in the midst of labelling some potion. She carefully lifted the flask and pulled the piece of parchment from under it. It was the copy of a book’s page, which she quickly browsed through.

One particular sentence caught her attention. “The Dreamless Sleep potion was invented by Charles Hawthorne in June 1645…” The letter H from Hawthorn was underlined and the numbers 0 and 6 were written over the word June. And, Izzy noted, the vial of potion was labelled H061645. She smiled triumphantly to herself. “I got it. The letter is the surname of the creator, the numbers are the date. Hawthorne June 1645.” She turned to Ginny, who was still rummaging through the shelves. “Do you have any idea who invented Felix Felicis and when?”

“No,” Ginny replied, turning around and showing her the copy of Advanced Potion-Making – that one Harry had switched for the Prince’s – she had just found. “But I bet this does.” If it wasn’t for the Felix, she might have been surprised that the first page she opened was the one concerning the potion in question. “Let me see… Felix Felicis, a highly awarded miraculous potion, that is documented to have been first brewed by the Italian Lord Paolo Felix Duomo in Rimini in the first day of November 1755. That would make it… D111755.”

“D111755… D111755…” Izzy mumbled to herself to make sure she wouldn’t forget the code as she started looking through the shelves.

She located D soon enough and a few seconds later the slightly golden liquid inside a bottle labelled D111755 right at the very end of the shelf. There was at least a pint of it, certainly enough to give to a few people, though not all of them. She reached across the shelf with her hand to reach the bottle but as she started pulling it out, her elbow accidentally knocked over one of the bottles near the edge – for a fraction of a second, she could swear her heart stopped and she cursed herself for not leaving the job of getting the bottle to Ginny, to whom nothing could possibly go wrong.

But before the glass hit the floor, Ginny reached for her wand and pointed it at the bottle, whispering the word Silencio, causing it to break without a single sound. She and Ginny looked at each other, then, half disbelieving that had actually worked, and breathed in relief.

“That was a close one,” Izzy whispered as her friend repaired the broken bottle with her wand, returning it to its shelf before she banished the liquid from the floor – Slughorn would have to live without it…

“I have a feeling we should get out of here right now,” Ginny told her.

Izzy nodded and handed her the vial of potion, fearing she might break it too. The two peaked through the opening of the door and saw Slughorn was still entertained with seeing Hermione brewing the potion. The older girl spotted them and gave them an inquisitive look, which Ginny replied to by showing her the bottle. She gave a nod and turned her attention back to the potion.

So, very carefully, Ginny and then Izzy made their way back through the opening of the door and walked towards the door without making a single sound. As soon as they saw themselves out of the classroom and in the empty corridor instead, there was relief.

“It worked,” Izzy mumbled, staring at the vial in Ginny’s hands. “I can’t believe it worked!”

“Well, drink the potion, then,” Ginny urged her, shoving the bottle into her hand.

“Let’s hope there’s wasn’t another bloke with a last name starting in D creating a potion in November 1755,” she mumbled before uncovering the bottle and bringing it to her lips and drinking one single gulp of it.

Hermione was just leaving the classroom by the time Izzy was closing the bottle back. “Let me see it,” she requested immediately, reaching for the bottle with her hand. She frowned. “D111755?”

“Long story,” Ginny told her. “We’re pretty sure it’s the Felix, though. Izzy has already taken it and everything. How did you escape Slughorn so fast?”

“Oh… I… I obliviated him,” she admitted guiltily, to her friends’ shock. “I know, it’s awful but something told me we’d still get in trouble if I didn’t… I only deleted a few minutes from his mind, I think. When I left, he thought I had just come by to say hello…”

“Using the Half-Blood Prince’s notes, lying like a pro, obliviating a teacherwho are you?” Ginny asked her.

Hermione sighed, looking down. “I do feel awful about it…”

“Let’s just move on, guys, there’s no time to feel guilty now,” Izzy said. “We should go give the potion to the others.” No, just Ron for now, a little voice – that Felix Felicis feeling – told her. Going to Neville and Luna right now is not a good idea. She couldn’t do that, though. Neville and Luna were her friends. What could she do? “Ginny, do you still have Harry’s vial with you?”

The redhead nodded, removing it from her pocket. “It’s empty, though…”

“It’s perfect,” she countered, reaching for her wand and pointing it to the little vial and muttering the engorging charm, making it several times bigger that it had been just seconds before. “Can you open them?” She asked Ginny, nodding at both containers.

“You’re going to split the potion?” her friend asked as she complied.

Izzy nodded. “Yeah,” she said, pouring about half the liquid into the now bigger vial before handing it to Ginny so she could close it back. “You and Hermione… you guys should take that one and go find Ron. Share it with whoever you see fitting,” she told them. “I’ll go to Neville and Luna instead.”

“Izzy, that’s…” Hermione started, looking apprehensive.

“I know, I felt it too,” Izzy said – she knew she was risking her luck by not listening to the Felix. “But they’re still our friends. I’ve got to go to them anyway, especially if they may be in trouble.”

Hermione sighed and nodded understandingly just as Ginny handed her the vial of potion.

“I’m going with you,” the redhead told Izzy. “If they’re in trouble I want to help too.”

“Ginny…”

The redhead looked determined. “And that’s final.”

That left no room for arguments. Hermione sighed once more. “Be careful, alright?” she advised them.

“We will,” Izzy replied, right before the other brunette turned around and headed to the nearest flight of stairs.

Seconds later, Izzy and Ginny left too, taking a secret passage that they knew would lead straight to the seventh floor, only a few corridors away from the Room of Requirement. The secret passage consisted of a very long ladder inside what seemed to be one of the castle’s tunnel-like air conducts, which made it very cramped and uncomfortable to climb up. A few minutes later, they saw themselves coming out of a hole on the floor inside a little compartment hidden behind a tapestry and knew they had reached the upmost floor of the castle.

“Were people that much thinner a millennium ago when they build this castle? ‘Cause there barely was space for us to breathe in there,” Ginny mumbled, coming out from behind the tapestry as Izzy checked on the bottle of Felix Felicis, making sure it hadn’t been smashed on the way up.

“Look at the bright side at least Crabbe and Goyle will never be able to use this passage,” Izzy mumbled, following her friend as they started to head to where they believed their friends were.

They found Neville and Luna a couple of minutes later and were surprised to discover Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnigan and Terry Boot with them, all five of them hiding behind a statue located on the opposite side of the corridor that led to the always-changing room.

“Hope you don’t mind,” Neville told them when he saw them. “But they wanted to help.”

“Are you kidding? The more, the better,” Ginny told him, glad to see at least some members of the DA were still active, after all. “Have you guys seen anything yet?”

He shook his head. “Nobody has been in or out since we’ve been here.” He reached for his pocket, handing her back the blank parchment that was the Marauders Map. “Ron said that if we can’t find Malfoy in there, it means he’s still in there. We’ve already checked a dozen times…”

Ginny nodded. “He’ll come out – can’t stay in there forever, can he?” she told him just as Izzy was handing the Felix to Luna.

“One gulp each,” Izzy instructed. “That’s all we can afford right now.”

“What’s that?” Seamus asked her sceptically, looking at the liquid.

She gave him a small smile. “Liquid luck.”

“No kidding…” Terry Boot mumbled in wonder. “Where did you get that from? Did you brew it yourselves?”

“No, we didn’t,” Ginny told him. “And where we got it is just for us to know, Terry. Sorry to desap…”

She wasn’t able to finish what she was saying though, as Neville elbowed her, pointing to the large doors that had appeared at the end of the hallway. Someone was coming out now of the room of requirement. But before they had the chance to see what Malfoy was up to, the boy with platinum blonde hair threw a handful of some sort of dark powder to the air, making the whole room become completely black.

Oh my…” Izzy heard Luna mumble in the midst of the darkness surrounding them.

Dean was the next to speak. “What the…”

Shh!” Ginny’s voice demanded. “It has to be Peruvian Darkness Powder. My brothers sell it in their shop. Now be quiet!”

They did as she said and several seconds of complete silence followed, during which they could practically hear their own heartbeats. Footsteps started to sound then. Many of them. And suddenly, they heard a voice speaking somewhere nearby – not more than twienty feet away. A familiar, chilling voice. “Well done, Draco, well done. I knew you wouldn’t disappoint the Dark Lord,” it said in an almost silky tone with s hint of instability in it.

Be quiet, Bella!” an unfamiliar voice said sternly.

Each and every one of them felt cold at that moment. Bellatrix Lestrange was there… at Hogwarts. Somehow, Malfoy had let her in. And Merlin knew she’d brought her friends along. Hogwarts had been infiltrated by Death Eaters – maybe even Voldemort himself and right now, none of them could react because of the thick darkness that was surrounding them. The footsteps kept sounding and sounding, becoming more and more distant by the second. By the time the darkness started to dissipate, seconds later, no Death Eater was present. Who knew where they might be hiding…

“That was…” Neville started, his voice shaking at hearing the voice of his parents’ attacker.

“We know,” Ginny finished for him, placing a supportive hand on his shoulder.

“What do we do?” Dean Thomas asked.

“We summon the Order of the Phoenix,” Izzy replied, already reaching for the two-way mirror that Harry had given her earlier, remembering what he had told her then. She called her father’s name and waited. Seconds later, her face reflected in the mirror was replaced his half-smiling one – it took a fraction of a second for him to see something was wrong with her expression and to the smile to disappear.

Iz?”

“Death Eaters have just infiltrated in the school, Daddy. You’ve got to send the Order now!”

A/N: To be continued...

I hope you liked the chapter guys - don't get used to the size by the way. I just kept writing and writing and writing... it wouldn't let go of me! Thus the delay... So, I hope you enjoyed the extra-large chapter :D Only one more week of internship and then I have my deserved well-vacation... Feedback is welcome! Review!

 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 25: The Last Dive
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Later, thinking back to his reaction to Izzy’s alarmed statement, Sirius would wonder how so many feelings and thoughts had managed to compress their way through such a short period of time… the one that preceded his response. Had it been one second? Two? It couldn’t have been more than two, he was sure. At first he thought he might have heard it wrong but the look on the reflection of his daughter’s face on the mirror told him that wasn’t true. The next thought was that he might have imagined that, in a nightmare, maybe: soon enough he would wake up with Mia’s soft form by his side and shake his head at how silly the idea of Death Eaters infiltrating Hogwarts – Hogwarts of all places! – was. That school’s protection was known as nearly unbeatable, after all.

Nearly, he thought. It wouldn’t be the first time a threat – himself having allegedly been one of those not many years before – slipped through Hogwarts’ wards and threatened its students, namely Harry. Deep down he knew Izzy might very well be right. “Izzy,” he started, feeling his throat as dry as if it had been covered with parchment, “are you s…?”

Yes, Daddy!” she replied before we could finish. “They came through the room of requirement somehow. We couldn’t actually see them – they used Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder to make everything dark – but…

Those bloody bastards used our Instant Darkness Powder?!” Sirius heard one of the twins ask in outrage behind him, just as Izzy continued. Had to feel like a punch right in the gut.

… we heard them talking,” his daughter said. “Bellatrix was congratulating Malfoy for managing to get them in!

A chill ran down his spine as he thought of his cousin – that bloody bitch who’d very nearly killed his wife and his baby last time he’d come face to face with her – standing in the very same building as his daughter. And Harry, he added. As paralyzing as it felt for the first few seconds, that thought helped him snap back to reality – there was just no time to be fearful and he needed to do something about it! “Alright,” he told his daughter, trying to even his voice, “is Harry there with you?”

She shook her head. “He’s not here in the school. He and Dumbledore… they had some business to solve outside.”

They’d gone after a Horcrux. “Crap,” he cursed under his breath. Could it get any worse? The school was under attack and the headmaster was out with Harry doing a task that to this day Sirius still had no idea how dangerous might be… If there was anything positive out of it, it was that at least Harry wasn’t at the mercy of the Death Eaters now. He took a deep breath and turned his attention back to the two-way mirror. “Find a teacher, then, tell him what you heard… no, tell him you saw – it will be easier to believe – and have the message passed to McGonagall. Then go to the Common Room and stay there. I don’t want you in the middle of that mess.”

On the mirror, Izzy frowned. “I already am in the middle of it,” she retorted in a slightly edgy tone.

“Izzy…”

Just send the order, Daddy. Don’t worry about me. I’ve got a feeling luck’s on my side today,” she said just as her face vanished from the polished piece of glass.

“Damn it!” he immediately cursed out loud. It didn’t take a genius to know his daughter was most definitely not going to stay in the common room as he’d commanded. The damn kid was too much like him – she’d go running straight into the fight, where she thought she could help. She’d better be right about luck being on her side.

They couldn’t rely on luck, though. They needed to act fast. “Tonks…” he started, motioning to turn to the Auror in the room and noting she was already on her feet and ready for action – it was clear he hadn’t been the only one hearing his daughter’s words as all others were alarmed too.

“I’m on it,” she replied before he could finish – if there was something she could never be accused of, was of not being quick on her feet even if from time to time that would cause her to trip on stuff. “I’ll go and alert the Auror team stationed in Hogsmeade and call for reinforcements.” Then, she turned to her husband and gave him a look that clearly warned him to be careful, to which he responded with another look bearing the same meaning right before the pink-haired metamorphagus grabbed her wand and apparated out of the room.

“I can contact a few members of the Order and have them spread the word,” Remus offered as the echo of the cracking sound caused by his wife’s disapparition still sounded in the room.

“Make that silent calling thing too if you know how,” Sirius mumbled.

“I will,” Remus told him in a sure tone. “You should go find Mia and Elizabeth now. They have healing training, so they might be needed. Also, I’m sure they’ll want to know about this.”

Sirius nodded. “That’s what I was just going to do.”

“Hey! Hey! Wait up!” Fred stopped them as Sirius started heading to the door. “What about us?” he asked, pointing at himself and his twin.

“Yeah, you can’t expect us to stay back here and do nothing,” George added. “Those bastards used one of our products to cover after themselves!”

Remus sighed. “Fred, George, you’re not aurors, you’re not part of the Order… you’re too young.”

“The hell we are,” Fred replied, narrowing his eyes. “We’re of age. We can join whenever we want to!”

“Your mother…”

George rolled his eyes. “Mom would still walk us around in our prams if she could,” he said, turning to Sirius too, who’d been silent ever since they’d started protesting. “Ron and Ginny are at Hogwarts and so are a handful of our friends,” he turned to Sirius, hoping to increase the effect of his words, “Izzy included. Plus, we know that school better than most people – every secret passage, every quick escape…”

“We’re just as useful there as you Marauders are,” Fred finished. “You can’t actually believe we’ll stay behind even if you order us to.”

It seemed like the discussion was over right there – they’d indeed be fooling themselves if they honestly believed Fred and George would listen to them telling them to stay behind… Besides, they had a point about knowing Hogwarts and being old enough: it was a fact that both Sirius and Remus had joined the Order when they exactly the same age as the twins, nineteen.

“Alright, then,” Sirius told them, resigned with the argument. “Honestly, the Order needs to use all the help it can get. You two can start by helping me find Mia.”

---

“What do you think of a cat?” Elizabeth asked as she observed a litter of small grey kittens snoozing inside a large willow basket by the shop’s counter.

When, about ten minutes earlier, Elizabeth had declared that she just ‘needed to drop by a shop’ and insisted she came along, Mia had cringed and felt her blood turning into ice. She imagined the plush inside of Twilfitt and Tatting’s Dress Shop and recalled one horribly long afternoon that had taken place many years before, during which a recently employed Elizabeth had dragged her best friends, Mia and Lily, into that very same shop in order to burn out half her first pay-check in an outrageously expensive. A dress, she recalled, intended for a date Elizabeth had been planning with her then boyfriend, later husband and current ex-husband, Ludo Bagman, father of the two blonde children standing a few feet away, entertaining themselves observing a cage full of hyperactive mice.¬

To Mia’s relief, though, the shop Elizabeth had mentioned wasn’t Twilfitt and Tatting’s at all but instead the much more pleasant pet shop on Diagon Alley, where she wanted Mia’s help to decide which pet to give Evie in her birthday, only a couple of weeks away.

“I suppose Evie might like a cat,” Mia mumbled, looking at the kittens as well. “They’re not as messy as dogs can be, I think. Not to mention that dogs cannot be taken to Hogwarts while cats can. It will save you from having to look after it for ten-months a year.”

Elizabeth looked at her and smiled. “Says the experienced dog-owner in you, hum?”

Mia raised her eyebrows at first and it took her a couple of seconds to realize what her friend was saying. “Oh, I’ll make sure to mention to Sirius that you called him a dog, though I doubt he’ll feel insulted. Personally, I like to be referred as the wife of a guy who can turn into a dog at will – sounds more politically correct.”

Elizabeth chuckled. “Of course it does. How is he doing, anyway? I barely had time to ask earlier. He seemed pretty eager to escape any chance of me dragging him into a shopping spree.”

“Naturally. But he’s alright,” Mia said, sighing. “A bit edgy about the war, though, but who isn’t, these days? The Dementors are what bother him the most. This is practically the first time he’s here at London outside of the house since the attacks became more often.”

The blonde sighed and nodded. “I heard about them. The auror department is having trouble keeping up with them all – they’ve already pulled the best trainees from the academy early because they’re short-handed. I mean, you’ve seen the ones stationed here in Diagon Alley for crowd control today: half of them look like they belong in a classroom at Hogwarts.”

“I noticed – I assumed they were still in training,” Mia told her.

Elizabeth shook her head. “No. All legitimate aurors fresh out of the academy. It was like this last time too, wasn’t it? James was pulled from training sooner as well, wasn’t he? Lily wrote to me about it.”

Mia nodded. “I remember – he was. Lily only wasn’t pulled too because she got pregnant with Harry and they couldn’t risk putting her in the front lines.” She let out a low sigh at the memories before suddenly looking up at her friend with an eyebrow rose as a thought occurred to her. “Wait, how do you even know all of that? Did it come out in the newspapers?” She didn’t recall hearing about that at all.

Elizabeth bit her lower lip. “No, it wasn’t published. The reason why I know that is actually related to one of the reasons why I asked you to come here and meet me today, now that you mention it,” she confessed.

“I thought you wanted to catch up.”

“I did too. But I also needed to tell you something… and I guess there’s no time like the present. Please don’t be upset I didn’t tell you earlier – it’s more complicated that you think.”

“What is it, then?”

The blonde took a deep breath, gathering her courage. “I’m…” she started.

Elizabeth wasn’t able to finish, though, as suddenly their attention was turned somewhere else: one of the Weasley twins had just abruptly burst into the pet shop, apparently searching intently through the many present costumers until his eyes landed on Mia and he breathed in relief. Mia raised an inquisitive eyebrow at that.

He made a signal for her to approach before he took a step back through the still-open door, standing outside the shop for a moment, and shouted something that Mia could swear to be ‘She’s here!’ to someone outside. Then, after the redhead stepped back in, Mia did approach him, with an equally confused Elizabeth on her heel.

“Hum… Fred?” She asked, unsure of which of the twins she was speaking to.

“George,” he corrected, his voice rather humourless – strange, considering who it was…. “You’d got to come with me. Something happened.”

Mia felt herself tense. His facial expression mixed with his words were enough to unsettle her. “What’s wrong? Is it Sirius? Is he…”

He shook his head. “It’s not Sirius. He’s fine. Death Eaters. They’re at Hogwarts,” he told her shortly.

Holy Merlin, how’s that possible?” Mia heard Elizabeth saying by her side as she felt the tension become a dagger-like pain in her heart.

She swallowed hard. “Harry and Izzy…?” she dared herself to ask.

“Harry’s not in the school: went somewhere with Dumbledore – no idea what or where, though. Izzy’s fine as far as we know – she was the one who warned Sirius,” George explained. “He’s looking for you so we can all go to…”

“Take me to him,” Mia requested before he was finished talking. She’d been expecting Harry to have to have to chase a Horcrux at some point, which was likely what he was doing at the moment; she also hadn’t been naïve enough to believe the Death Eater attacks would be gone for good just because they’d been quiet lately and that the illusion of peace would last long either. She hadn’t been expecting, though, for those two things to overlap…

George nodded and, before following him, Mia turned her face to Elizabeth for a moment – she could barely recall what they’d even been talking about before the news had came. “Are you coming?”

“Just as soon as I drop the kids at Ludo’s mother’s place,” she said, nodding at the two children standing by the shop-keeper’s side, petting a fluffy white rabbit in her arms.

Mia nodded, then, and without another word followed the redheaded boy outside. Thankfully, she didn’t have to bother about needing to search for Sirius through the crowds of people celebrating the Harpy’s first goal: her husband was already approaching with Fred when they left the shop and immediately reached for her hand.

As soon as he reached her, he spoke. “Hogwarts…”

“George told me,” she assured him.

“You sure you want to go?” he asked her tentatively. Part of him hoped she’d stay home, safe, waiting for him to come back with good news.

“Don’t even try to convince me otherwise,” she warned him in a firm, no-nonsense tone. “Our daughter’s in there. Harry may be arriving too any minute…”

Sirius shook his head – how could he bring himself to tell her to ignore those things when he felt just the same? “I won’t. I won’t try to change your mind.” And with that, his arm snaked its way around her back and held her against him in a mutual-comforting fashion as they walked together.

They ended up apparating straight into Grimmauld Place with the twins and Remus, who later joined them, and, from there, they used the floo connection to Hogwarts that very few people were aware of in order to reach the school. Mia’s office, where the connection ended, was dark now that dusk reigned outside and seemingly untouched by any sort of attack. They didn’t let themselves hope it was a false alarm, though. They knew better.

“I need to go and find Dora,” Remus announced as he reached for the door, turning to them for a moment. “Before she manages to get hurt again…” Merlin knew she did nearly every time she took part in a battle – he hoped one of these days it wouldn’t be more than sprains, cuts and broken bones…

Sirius nodded understandingly – he’d do just the same if he was in his shoes. “Go, mate.”

The twins ended up taking a different way from theirs too, opting to use the thick net of secret passages that served Hogwarts, hoping to locate the Death Eaters faster through there. “We’ll send a message through a Patronus when we find them,” one promised before they sped away, leaving Mia and Sirius behind to search on their own.

“Where do we start?” Mia asked her husband. There was no sign of any fight, battle or duel around but then again the school was enormous and they were only in the first floor…

“The main staircase,” Sirius told her. “We can go anywhere from there.”

He grabbed her hand and they ran towards it together. It felt foreign to cross those corridors and not run into a single student as it was usual – they hoped that meant they were hiding safely in their common rooms. They hoped Izzy was among those students, though Sirius still had a feeling that wasn’t the case.

When they reached the main staircase, it became obvious a battle was really occurring, though it seemed to be taking place mainly in the upper floors for some reason. The sound of explosions, threats and mad fits of laughter echoed all over and, if they looked up, they could see the colourful lights of spells being cast at a distance – some were followed by screaming, others by sounds of objects shattering or exploding. They could only imagine the mess going on up there.

They resumed climbing up the stairs and, on their way there, ran into some members of the Order: Hestia Jones, Sturgis Podmore, Dedallus Diggle… Turned out, Dumbledore hadn’t left the school without warning the Order and, just in case, he’d made sure a few Order members were monitoring the school grounds – what they hadn’t been expecting was the Death Eaters infiltrating the school from within, which they hadn’t realized until receiving the Silent Calling Remus had made.

By the time they reached the fourth floor, Mia noticed something odd through the archway that lead to that floor’s main corridor, which seemed to be completely empty. A large statue of a hog was moving, revealing a small door underneath it – a secret passage that she didn’t even know to exist. Then again, she didn’t know many… Alarmed, Mia grabbed the sleeve of her husband’s shirt and stopped his motion, giving him a quick glace and nodding at the statue. He saw it too. “It leads upstairs,” Sirius mouthed since he apparently was aware of that passage.

They quickly, yet as silently as they could, approached it pointing their wands at the door as they half-expected some Death Eater to emerge from the other side of it – instead, seconds later they saw themselves pointing their wands and ready to attack their own daughter.

“Mom, Daddy,” Izzy called as soon as her eyes landed on them and they lowered their wands.

“Oh, thank Merlin,” Mia said as she reached forward and enveloped her daughter in a bone-shattering hug. Izzy was okay.

“Merlin, Izzy, you scared the living daylights out of us,” Sirius told his daughter. “Didn’t I tell you to go to your common room and stay there?”

Izzy sighed as she pulled away from her mother. “Daddy, I…”

“Er… can we leave that discussion for later? We sort of need to come through here,” a voice came from behind Izzy’s form, revealing there was someone else with her.

She moved out of the way, revealing Neville standing behind her with Hannah Abbot, supporting a second-year Ravenclaw boy whose leg seemed to be badly broken. The two moved away from the little door and sat the boy on a nearby stone bench as a group of about a dozen other students ranging from first to fourth year and from every house exited the secret passage too. All of them were presenting small injuries consisting of several cuts, bruises, not half as serious as the boy’s leg – mostly, they looked frightened and pale.

“Holy Merlin, what happened to them?” Mia asked

“Shrapnel,” Izzy explained. “They were in a Gobstones club meeting up on the seventh floor, pretty close to where the battle’s taking place. We ran into them and figured we should get them out of there before some Death Eater found them and did Merlin-knows-what with them.”

“Yaxley saw us on our way here, though,” Neville added, sighing. Both he, Izzy and Hannah had had a feeling that they should have waited a few more minutes before making their escape but they hadn’t wanted to waste time when a battle was happening barely yards away – maybe they should have listened to the feeling since it came from the Felix Felicis, after all. “He tried to hit us with a few blasting hexes but missed. They hit the windows and a few lamps, though, and made them explode…” He nodded at the other students. “They were hit with some of the shrapnel.”

“And none of you weren’t?” Sirius asked in disbelief, looking at Izzy, Neville and Hannah who didn’t have a scratch on them.

“We were lucky,” Izzy told him without humour in her voice.

“What about the others?” Mia asked suddenly. “Ron? Hermione? Ginny?”

Izzy shook her head. “I don’t know. Last we saw of Ginny, she’d gone to warn Ron and Hermione of the Death Eaters.” She tried not to worry about them because they’d all taken the Felix and Ginny had the Marauders map with her… she couldn’t help wondering where they were, though. “They were patrolling Snape’s office…”

Sirius frowned – did that son of a bitch have anything to do with that attack? “Why?”

“Because Harry told us to – he doesn’t trust Snape,” Izzy said simply, not feeling like going further into that matter.

Mia looked down at the injured boy’s leg. “He needs to go to the Hospital Wing,” she said – the boy didn’t say anything – he simply sat, very pale.

Neville shook his head, then. “We tried to get there. It’s a mess near there. Curses flying everywhere, explosions… Running into the middle of that would be suicide.”

“Where are you going then?” Sirius asked. “The great hall?”

“No, to my house’s common room,” Hannah Abbot announced. “We’re trying to get everyone outside of their own dorms there. I ran into Professor Sprout and she said they were setting up a shelter down there. It should be safe – it’s far from away from the battle, one needs a password to get in… Susan Bones and Ernie Macmillan went to get a few House Elves to help out with the injured.”

“We could probably use someone who used to be a healer with us to fix them better, Mom,” Izzy said, nodding at the group of students behind her.

“I…” she turned to Sirius and pulled him aside for a moment, standing a few steps away from their daughter. They had made a promise to each other: they’d walk into any fight together and they would look after each other while in it. Deep down, she knew the right thing to do was going with Izzy and help those kids – there was no question in her mind about that as there was no doubt that she’d end up doing just that. It just terrified her, thinking of Sirius being out there, fighting on his own. Last time they’d been in such a battle, she’d nearly lost him just as he’d nearly lost her.

“Go with Izzy,” he encouraged her.

“You just want me out of the way during the fight,” she replied flatly.

It was true. He couldn’t deny it. “Sure I do,” he confirmed it. “But that doesn’t change the fact that they need you more. Also doesn’t change the fact that this way you can keep an eye on Izzy.”

Merlin, she knew that. “Promise me you’ll be okay, then,” she demanded.

“You know I can’t. I promise I’ll do all I can to try, though,” he offered instead.

She sighed and nodded, reaching to place a kiss on his cheek. “You’d better not.”

He forced himself to give her a little smile and prepared to leave, shooting Izzy a warning look before he did so. “Stay with your mother. Don’t do anything stupid,” he warned her.

“Wait,” she asked, approaching him as she reached for something inside her robes and removed a glass vial which seemed to be leaking through a crack. “Damn it!” she mumbled, only then noticing the dampness of her shirt wasn’t sweat as she’d imagined. Between the leaked amount and what she’d shared with most of the DA and the Order, there was just enough for little more than one person… “Drink this,” she said, handing it to her father – hopefully, since her mother was coming with her, she wouldn’t need as much… “Just one gulp.”

“What is it?” he asked her sceptically.

She shook her head. “Just trust me. I’ll tell you afterwards,” Izzy declared. “Please, Daddy!”

He seemed hesitant. “Tell me something first,” he said cautiously. “What did you do when you saw me for the first time?”

It wasn’t a random question. Being handed an unknown potion to drink during a battle was odd enough – he needed to make sure who was offering it to him was really someone he trusted and not an imposter that had taken polijuice potion, thus asking his daughter something only them and their most trusted friends knew – Izzy understood that herself. “I helped you escape from the Gryffindor tower. You were still on the run and Percy had gone to call the teachers because you had snuck into Harry’s dorm room with a knife – when I helped you, you had no idea who I was.”

He nodded and, satisfied with the answer, took a full gulp of the potion. Then, he waited a couple of seconds to see if anything happened and when nothing did, he handed the bottle to Mia, who drank the rest after Izzy gave her a nod. “Well? What was it?”

“Felix Felicis.”

Sirius raised his eyebrows. “Then why didn’t you say it right away?”

“Because you’d have told me to give it all to Mom and she’s not to one who’s about to walk into a battle,” Izzy explained.

“She has a point,” Mia agreed.

He narrowed his eyes. “Did you drink this too?” he asked Izzy.

“Yes,” Mia told him. “Most of the old DA did. Some members of the Order too.”

Sirius nodded, relieved – at least that comforted him a little about their safety. “Alright, then. All of you, be…”

“…careful,” Mia finished for him. “You too.” She reached for his hand and gripped it one last time before letting go of it.

As she watched her husband speed away, Mia gave herself a moment to take a deep breath and pray he would be alright. And then, gathering her strength, she turned to Izzy the group of students behind her. “Alright, let’s get you all safe and fixed.”

---

He’d never taken Felix Felicis before that day, though he couldn’t tell he and James hadn’t been tempted to sneak some of it from Slughorn’s potions stash back in the day – that was, right before the Marauders Map had been confiscates in their seventh year… It was amazing, yet so very risky. Some said if one didn’t follow the whispered advice the potion gave them, if one became too confident… all could go wrong. Luck could become doom. Risk too much and handle the consequences. He wasn’t sure if it was that strict but he wouldn’t test it right now.

That was why he religiously followed every whisper, every ‘feeling’ he got. He wasn’t sure why the potion told him to turn left when the staircase that led up to the battle’s floor was on his right or why it made him go down one floor just so he could take some secret passage that landed him on the sixth floor little less than ten yards away from where the stairs would but took twice the time to do so. He didn’t quite understand why his instinct was to disarm the first Death Eater that showed up running in his direction, some bloke name Gibbon, instead of stunning him until the guy was struck by a killing curse that another Death Eater, Rowle, had cast towards someone else – someone else who happened to be Remus Lupin and who would certainly be dead if it wasn’t for the Felix.

After that, he didn’t hesitate in aiming his wand towards Rowle, casting a stunner exactly at the same time as Remus did too and sending the Death Eater flying for several feet until he hit a wall.

“That was close, mate,” Sirius told his friend, who was still staring at Gibbon’s body on the floor.

He nodded. “I know. I… I’ve got to…” he pointed at Tonks, who was busy duelling with two Death Eaters at the same time a few feet away, meaning he needed to go help her.

Sirius nodded, intending to make his way to the seventh floor, as he recalled someone telling him that was where most of the Death Eaters were. He turned around, planning to make his way to the stairs and then, at the very end of the corridor, he saw him.

The rat, the traitor, the man who, for so long, he’d allowed himself to hate even more than Voldemort himself. Because unlike Voldemort, Sirius had once trusted this man, even loved him as a part of his family and one of his best friends. And what had he gotten in return? Betrayal. Death. Nothing would ever taste as bitter.

For a second or two, Sirius stood there unmoving, as dangerous as it might be right in the middle of a battle, just watching, trying to register that the great opportunity to get back at that bastard (as he’d been wishing to for so long) might have finally arrived. Why the other Death Eaters had brought him along was something he couldn’t fantom... odds were that, like Rodolphus had, they didn’t give a rat’s arse if he lived or died. Most likely, they were hoping for the latter.

And they didn’t seem to be the only ones: there, at the end of the corridor, Wormtail was fighting McGonagall… or rather trying to hide from her continuous curses and hexes behind some statue of a highly praised twelfth century headmaster of Hogwarts.

It all happened very fast from then on. Praised or not, seconds later the stone headmaster was blown to pieces and Wormtail had nowhere else to cower behind. He went almost as blank as thick December snow and his next movement, brought recognition to Sirius’s eyes: he was trying to turn into his animagus form. Unsucessfully. Dumb or not, Wormtail should have realized he was duelling with an expert on transfiguration: if there was anyone who knew exactly how to stop an animagus from morphing, it was Minerva McGonagall. And that was exactly what she did. One might have thought it was a stunner since it was just as red but the traitor didn’t fall down inanimate, he just looked at McGonagall in horror, unable to morph and then at Sirius, finally taking in his presence. Not a second passed before he motioned to run.

Sirius hadn’t realized he’d been running towards Pettigrew and McGonagall, urged by the whisper of the Felix Felicis in his mind, until he saw himself passing in front of the latter and shouting that ‘Wormtail was his’. There was no reply of protest from the deputy headmistress and Sirius simply kept running after him.

Wormtail wasn’t very far ahead of him – ten, eleven yards’ way, that quickly reduced to not more than five as Sirius was faster than Pettigrew at any rate. If he didn’t get any closer was because Wormtail knew he was being followed and kept using his wand to throw all sorts of objects into Sirius’s way, which he kept having to dodge. They went up the stairs, ran along corridors after corridors, passed by a number of duels whose intervenients Sirius didn’t really have a mind to recognize… his eyes were set on the goal and that goal was Wormtail.

Courtesy of his little dose of liquid luck, any curses aimed at him missed him – some by several feet, others by a mere inch. It was only later that he would realize how many of them were emerald green. Wormtail wasn’t so lucky to escape them all… At some point his silver hand, replacing the one he had sliced to bring his master back to the world of the living, was hit by some sort of orange spell which caused it to melt and sent his wand flying for several yards until it hit a wall and broke in a half. He was unarmed now.

Desperation seemed to cloud the traitor’s mind even further as he took a turn to a seventh floor corridor that was known by everyone to be a dead end: no exits, not even secret passageways…. He wasn’t just unarmed – he was trapped.

By the time Wormtail realized that too, he was already in some classroom with Sirius standing between him and any chance of a successful escape. In a last attempt to run, he tried once more to morph into his rat form, which didn’t work. McGonagall’s spell was still active.

“What, Wormtail? Can’t turn?” Sirius asked him in a spiteful mocking tone. It was really happening: he couldn’t escape now. Between McGonagall’s curse and his lack of a wand Peter Pettigrew was finally at his mercy. This time, Sirius thought, he would get what he deserved.

But what did he deserve? It would have been so easy to kill him. Yet this time he was sane enough to know doing that wouldn’t be right… Not because of any mercy for Wormtail but because of Sirius’s own family. If they hauled him to Azkaban because of it, this time they would have a real reason to condemn him – he’d never see his wife and his kids. What would Mia think of him doing it? Killing Wormtail. He’d hurt her enough last time he’d tried to do so… One thing was killing someone out of need or self defence. Another one was doing it out of revenge. It tainted the soul. Harry had once told him his father wouldn’t have wanted his best friends to become murderers for him – he was right. And why kill him, Sirius thought, when spending years in the hands of the Dementors would be so much worse to bear…

“How does it feel, Wormtail?” he finally asked his former friend, watching every little movement his face made, forming expressions of fear, hate… but never regret. That simple fact disgusted him. “How does it feel to know that, so soon, you’ll finally end up where you should have been all this time? In Azkaban.”

Wormtail trembled at the very name and his tiny beady eyes opened wide. Sirius could tell he was fighting not to look terrified. “The… half the Dementors… are on our side…” he stuttered.

In return, Sirius shrugged. “There’s always the other half,” he told him casually. “I promise it will be almost as painful as if they were all there.”

“Why… why don’t just… kill me?” the traitor asked, trembling. He knew pleading wouldn’t do him any good that time – he’d already used that card back when Sirius had blown his cover as the Weasley boy’s pet rat. He’d rather die than spend the rest of his life in that horror within Azkaban. “Kill me… be done with it…”

“I might just,” he told him. “But I don’t think I want to make it that easy for you. Tell me something first. Is it true what Lestrange told me? Did you put a hit on Mia? Did you want her dead just to make me suffer?”

Wormtail was very quiet, then – there was surprise in his eyes, not denial. Sirius imagined he had no idea Lestrange had spilled his guts and given him away before being kissed soulless. He also knew an admission of truth when he saw it. He wondered if it was the Felix what was making him so sure of that.

“Did you know she was pregnant back then?” Sirius spat. “I didn’t but it wouldn’t have mattered. If those bloody Death Eaters had managed to get her, you’d have been guilty for ending two innocent lives, you son of a bitch.” He took a threatening step further and Wormtail took one back. “I lost thirteen years of my life because of you. I missed my daughter growing up.”

The other man gulped. “Kill me, then, if you hate me so much.”

He might just. He really might. But he was rational enough to know that wasn’t what he really wanted. “Like I’d let you have it that easy… Why? Why did you hate us so much? We always had your back, we taught you pretty much all you know about magic because you were too thick to learn it in classes. What the hell was your problem?!”

Pettigrew pursed his lips together. “You had it all and I had nothing. Especially you and James. You were smart, you were popular, people loved you. And what was I? Nobody. Your charity case, many said.”

“And how is that our fault?! We offered you friendship – you didn’t have to take it if it made you feel bad!”

“The Dark Lord offered me power.”

Sirius chuckled disdainfully. “Well, I hope you enjoyed it, then. ‘Cause after all you did I’m handing you to the Dementors on a silver platter.”

This time, Wormtail didn’t hide the fear in his eyes. He looked around the room, searching for a miracle, a weapon… some leverage that might let him escape. There was nothing.

“Cheer up, mate,” Sirius told him. “If you’re lucky they’ll kiss you before locking you up and then you’ll be too empty to care where you are.”

Wormtail shook his head over and over. And his eyes became fixed on the window. It was the only way out but they were on the seventh floor. He’d never live through a fall… but he’d never go to Azkaban either. So, the choice was made. He turned to Sirius one last time. “I’m not going to Azkaban.” And he made a run for the window, jumping and breaking his way through the glass.

Disbelieving, Sirius ran towards the window after him, looking down through the hole on the glass. He was there at the bottom dozens of feet under the window illuminated only by the light of the first quarter moon – quiet, unmoving… dead. The bastard was dead. “Son of a bitch!” he shouted. Pettigrew had gotten his easy way out in the end, after all: he was dead and he wouldn’t be going to Azkaban. It didn’t really feel like justice to Sirius – even seemed pale, compared to the thirteen years Sirius had spent in what he could only compare to hell. “I hope you rot for all eternity, wherever you go now,” he snarled, looking down at the body. And then, he motioned to get away from the window.

Something caught his eye before he could, though. A green light up on the Astronomy Tower followed by something falling down, moving downwards through the darkness of the night. No, not something. Someone. An endless moment passed before he realized who it was, through the glint of the long silvery beard reflecting the moonlight. That night, not only Wormtail was meeting his death, Sirius concluded, watching in disbelief as the limp form fell its way through the air like a rock.

So was Albus Dumbledore.

A/N: Finally the internship is over and I'll be enjoying the rest of my Summer (not really Summer) break, which only ends this October. I hope you liked the chapter - I deleted half of it and rewrote it a few times. Hard one to come... Feedback is welcome! Review!




Chapter 26: Loss
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1 September 1971

 The hat had chosen and young Sirius Black was happy to comply. Gryffindor, he thought happily as he sat for the first time at the house’s table in the Great Hall. It couldn’t have landed him farther from Slytherin, could it? Maybe it was a sign of what he’d always felt deep down – he really didn’t belong in his family. The so called ‘Noble and Most Ancient House of Black’. The title itself made him roll his eyes.

 Of one thing, Sirius was sure – he already felt like he fit there. In Gryffindor. He actually liked his fellow house-mates, though he had only met a few: the boy with messy black hair he’d sat with on the train whose name he recalled being James; the pretty brunette girl sitting by his side, Mia, who’d been the first to speak to him at the table and seemed rather nice; even those two other boys who’d sat opposite them on the table and he’d only exchanged a few words with so far, Remus and Peter… He was aware that only time would tell which relationships would last and which wouldn’t – regardless, he could actually picture himself being happy as a Gryffindor.

 His parents… well, they’d be another story. The simple thought of them filled his young mind with insecurities heavy enough to make him lose his appetite, no matter how delicious the feast opposite him looked. ‘Upset’ couldn’t even begin to describe what they would feel when they heard the news. And that was bound to be soon, he thought, seeing as Narcissa was already sending him glares from the Slytherin table as she whispered something in a hushed tone to her older sister, Andromeda, who couldn’t look less interested in what she was saying – unlike Narcissa, she gave Sirius an encouraging smile before hissing at her sister to shut up. He’d bet his whole share of the Black fortune that the first thing Cissy would do when she reached her dorm would be writing to his mother with a full report on his sorting into the house of Godric Gryffindor.

 As long as he could remember, a very firm theory concerning magical segmentation had always been preached within his family – it could be described as sort of like a pyramid, now that he thought of it. At the top of it, were the oldest pureblood families, his own included, followed by the other purebloods in general but never (never!) the blood-traitors like the Potters or the Weasleys. While the first two made, so to speak, the class of the ‘good ones’, the third was bumped down to the lowest class of the ‘bad ones’. The organization of those ‘bad ones’ was quite different: there was a level for the half-bloods and then another one that gathered muggles, muggle-borns, blood-traitors, squibs and all those sorts of wizard that they just didn’t care for. Gryffindors, he recalled, usually were in the same pool as the latter ones with very few exceptions…

 They did have that one coming, Sirius had to admit, especially after his parents had handed him in the previous night a list of the students he ‘absolutely had to be acquainted with’ and a list of those he wasn’t supposed to even acknowledge. He’d been planning to do just the opposite but it seemed being a Gryffindor was an even bigger kick in their arses than doing that. He tried to see that as the bright side of the thing. What will they do? He wondered. Demand he was re-sorted? Show up in the school to make their outrage known? He sure knew he should expect a howler by the following morning as he recalled mentioning to Mia earlier when they’d spoken.

 But the slightly twisted pleasure he’d gained from trying to picture their outrage didn’t last long. He knew his life at home would be even worse now. Bellatrix would never let him get away with being a Gryffindor without turning his life into a living hell. Could he live with it? Probably. It was just two months a year he had to spend at home, after all. Would it be easy on him? Hell no. Maybe they’d just kick him out, burn him out of the family tree like they’d done to members of earlier generations. He wasn’t sure how to feel about that – maybe it was good because he’d be rid of them. But then again he’d have to fend for himself if that happened and he was just eleven, for Merlin’s sake. What if they sent him to some creepy orphanage?

 The feast passed and his plate remained practically untouched, leading his new colleagues to ask him if something was wrong, to which he responded by saying an upset stomach was the problem. While they seemed convinced enough, the headmaster, who’d noticed his behaviour from the staff table, wasn’t.

 “Mr. Black, a word please,” Albus Dumbledore requested later as the first years were about to be taken to their new dorms for the first time.

 Sirius found it odd that the headmaster was addressing him already, yet didn’t hesitate in approaching him. After all, if his parents didn’t like him at all, he must be a pretty good bloke. But then, it occurred to him – his parents. Had they been so quick to learn about his sorting that they had already contacted the school demanding a re-sorting? During the meal? How did they even hear of it? “P…professor?” he asked as he joined the headmaster near the staff table

 “I couldn’t help noticing you seemed troubled during your meal,” Dumbledore stated in a peaceful tone. “Did you not feel comfortable here at Hogwarts, Mr. Black? Or is it that you don’t like the house you were sorted into? I understand most of your family became a part of Slytherin…”

 “I’d much rather be where I am,” Sirius told him bluntly without any hint of hesitation.

 Dumbledore looked happy with his admission. “Oh, I see, then, Mr. Black. You are afraid your family won’t accept the house the hat sorted you into.”

 Can the man read minds? he wondered. The smile he got in return from the headmaster after his unspoken question only led him to believe maybe he could… He nodded faintly, feeling fairly embarrassed and waited for a reaction.

 “Why, I’m sure I’ll be able to reason with them if necessary, Mr. Black,” the older man assured.

 “They’re not easy to reason with,” Sirius warned him almost casually.

 “Then we’re lucky I’m a patient man. One thing I can assure you, Mr. Black – any student’s sorting is definitive. Nobody will be able to take you away from your house once you’re in it. I’m afraid your family will have to get used to it – after all, what else can they do?”

 “Kick me out?” he spoke without thinking.

 The headmaster laughed, making Sirius feel further at ease. It was unusual – when someone laughed at him back home, he tended to feel uncomfortable, so much was the scorn behind it. “Oh, Mr. Black… I’m sure with time you will realize that some things just cause too much scandal for a respectable pureblood family such as yours to wish to deal with. Kicking their eleven-year-old firstborn out of their house is one of those things. I’d say being sorted into Gryffindor is not enough for them to risk it.”

 That point of view settled Sirius’s mind, he had to admit – his mother was mental about keeping the family’s image squeaky clean, though her notion of a ‘clean image’ was pretty different from a regular person’s. Apparently, he wouldn’t become homeless that night. He thanked Dumbledore for saying that – the bloke did know what he was doing as a teacher at least when it came to reassuring new students. His parents’ view of the man was that he was ‘too old to think straight’ among some other non-flattering nicknames. Funnily enough, now, talking face to face with the man, Sirius couldn’t help thinking that he was more sane than most of the people he usually dealt with daily.

 “Yes, Mr. Black?” the headmaster asked as if he could once again hear his thoughts.

 “Oh… I… it’s nothing,” he said, embarrassed.

 “Oh, I’m sure ‘nothing’ wouldn’t make you so contemplative, would it? Go on and say it, Mr. Black. I won’t be offended.”

 Sirius was silent for a moment, under the headmaster’s piercingly curious look and eventually concluded he might as well be honest and just say it. “My parents say you’re…” he swallowed hard “… kind of a nutcase. I was just thinking they were wrong. I swear I was.”

 Dumbledore laughed again as if he’d just heard a good joke and patted his shoulder amicably. “Why, I’m very glad you think so, Mr. Black. You should join your classmates now. They are just about to walk out,” he stated, nodding at the Great Hall’s door.

 Sirius nodded too and did as the headmaster said. As he rejoined the other Gryffindors, he couldn’t help thinking that the old man was a hard one to figure out. Yet, he might just be one of the most brilliant people he would ever know.

 ---

 Present time

 Dumbledore was gone.

 The thought itself seemed so foreign that, for a moment, as he stared out of the window, Sirius allowed himself to believe it was a joke. Dozens of scenarios crossed his mind in a matter of seconds: himself being wrong and the person falling not being Dumbledore but someone else remarkably similar to him… somebody using polijuice, maybe; an illusion created by the Death Eaters to mess with their heads; Dumbledore having somehow faked the fall and standing right there at the bottom of the tower, gathering himself and heading straight to the fight… but he wasn’t. His body was down there, lifeless – at the bottom of the tower, the illumination was good enough for him to recognize it even at a distance, completely unmoving and awkwardly positioned.

 Then, the truth was hard to deny: Albus Dumbledore was just as dead as Peter Pettigrew was. So far, three lives had ended at that battle. Likely only one, Wormtail’s, would not be missed by any of the sides fighting…

 Both were gone and there was little time to deal with the shock of it because if Dumbledore was in that school, despite dead, so would be Harry Potter – Sirius knew well enough the headmaster wouldn’t have let Harry out of his sight until they were both somewhere safe. He wasn’t sure how long he had spent in his initial disbelieving stupor (One minute? Ten? He couldn’t tell – his notion of time passing seemed to have vanished sometime during his chase after Wormtail) but when the realization that Harry was nearby kicked in, everything happened very fast for Sirius.

 The Felix guided him once again through the hallways, leaving behind the stage of his last confrontation with the (now dead) traitor and he hoped at every turn and every step that it was leading him to his godson or at least to something that would end up helping him get the boy to safety.

 When he reached the seventh floor, he saw it was a mess of destruction. They hadn’t been kidding when they said that was where the battle had been the hottest – the signs of it were clear: pieces of decorative armor spread everywhere, large bits of stone missing from the walls and cluttered all over the floors, curtains turned to ashes from having caught fire at some point… Apart from the signs of destruction it had left behind, the battle seemed to be reaching an end with only a single duel still taking place there on the corridor as far as Sirius could see: that one was featuring the Weasley twins fighting together against a Death Eater that was easily twice their size – the fact that there were two of them against him seemed to even things out. All in all, the situation looked handled, so Sirius decided to move on from there, heading to the sixth floor, then – there was no time to waste.

 When he reached the nearest stairs, he looked down through the well formed between the staircases mostly to check if there was any sign of the battle having moved down to the lower floors, which didn’t seem to be the case. Instead, before he had a chance to resume heading to the sixth floor, he saw a familiar flash of long red hair going down the stairs at the bottom, near the third or second floor, apparently heading to the castle’s exit – it must be Ginny, he concluded, though he couldn’t imagine why she was running down there apparently on her own. He didn’t have the time to figure it out either, he thought, hoping the Felix Felicis would be enough to keep his godson’s girlfriend protected during whatever she was going to do.

 Heading to the sixth floor at some point while following the Felix Felicis’s whispers, Sirius saw himself on the same hallway where some time ago he’d nearly coincidently saved Moony from being hit with Rowle’s Killing Curse. Neither Remus or Tonks seemed to be there at the moment.

 Instead, he spotted Bill and Charlie Weasley engaged in a duel each a few yards away, as well as Ron and Hermione, also close, managing to dodge with finesse the last curses aimed towards them by the Carrows who seemed to be retreating and finally… He felt something shifting inside him as he saw her and nearly smirked, pleased at the chance to take a hit at her. It was Bellatrix.

 She stood near a doorway on the opposite side of the hallway, ready to leave with the others. By the time she saw him from the corner of her eye, it was too late for her to even try and attack him without risking being blown to pieces as his curse was already making its way to her. This time, he hadn’t hesitated as had happened in the previous year. “Reducto!” he’d shouted loudly a fragment of a second earlier, aiming his wand towards his most detested cousin.

 She managed to escape the curse itself by a few inches – he’d had a feeling she would from the angle he’d cast it. That was exactly why he hadn’t used a stunner: unlike the Reductor Curse, stunners didn’t cause an explosion and one of those was exactly what he wanted. Because while Bellatrix might have been quick enough to escape the curse itself, the impact of it blowing up part of the nearest wall, as well as a considerable amount of shrapnel that it released, sent her flying a few feet, hitting the floor violently before she was showered with the debris. It wasn’t even close to how long she’d sent Mia flying but he wasn’t about to waste his freedom by using dark magic to blow her apart. He’d gone through that dilemma with Wormtail already and the decision would be the same. The reducto-induced explosion was enough payback. For starters, of course.

 Starters were all he got, though, as all of a sudden everything turned pitch black. For a moment, he thought he’d gone blind and wondered if he’s been hit by some sort of spell without noticing it – the Felix wouldn’t allow that, would it? He’d followed its feelings and whispers religiously! But soon he realized he wasn’t the only one in the dark as he heard Charlie loudly cursing and calling them cowards for doing such a lame escape with Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder. For the second time this bloody night, Sirius added in his mind.

 By the time the darkness dissipated, a couple of minutes later, all Death Eaters (Bellatrix included, probably carried by one of the others since he was positive he’d injured her wnough for it to be a while before she could make such a fast escape) were gone from the hallway and Merlin knew how far they might have gone already.

 “Damn it!” he cursed under his breath. At least that group of Death Eaters – Bellatrix, her brother-in-law, Rabastan, the Carrows and Yaxley, he recalled – were surely way beyond their reach now, even though Bill and Charlie didn’t waste time before leaving on a pale attempt to still find and catch them…

 “You two okay?” Sirius managed to ask Ron and Hermione when they approached him.

 Ron was the one to nod. “They missed every time they tried to curse us,” he stated. “Did Izzy give you the Felix?”

 Sirius nodded. “Yeah, she did. Not quite the effect I’d expected, though.” Felix or not, that day was not going great for him. First Wormtail had escaped being captured by offing himself, now Bellatrix had escaped with her pals! Didn’t sound like much luck to him…

 “Well, the potion isn’t widely used in battle-scenes with so many unexpected dangerous situations, not to mention that it doesn’t always make things happen in the most obvious way…” Hermione explained quickly. “I’m sure if you look at the big picture, you’ll see you were pretty lucky today. I mean, all three of us have been in the middle of a violent battle and none of us got a single scratch.”

 He couldn’t deny she had a point. In the previous year at the Department of Mysteries, practically everyone had gotten injured in some way, which he definitely wasn’t the case at the moment. Bella couldn’t say the same. Even if she’d escaped, he’d at least gotten a chance to leave a mark on her with that little flight… he hoped every bruise and every break would sting like the bitch she was for weeks and give her a little bit of that payback he wanted her to get so much. Later, he might think that, in essence, the Felix had done its job too in Wormtail’s case too, though at the moment he found his fate harder to sawllow. Faced with that, he changed the subject. “So, the Death Eaters… what made them start to retreat? Doesn’t sound like them to leave us without causing major injuries…”

 Hermione sighed. “I know. They just started retreating a few minutes ago. Someone shouted ‘it’s done’ and they started backing off and getting ready to leave. Can’t tell what they meant with that massage, though.”

 Sirius had a feeling he could. Dumbledore, he thought. Killing him must have been what the Death Eaters had come to the school for, their master’s orders. Mission accomplished: get the hell out like the bloody cowards they were. He couldn’t bring himself to explain that to the others, though – it was hard enough to believe in his head that the leader of their movement was gone, much less saying it out loud. “Have you seen Harry?” he managed to ask instead.

 It was a relief when Ron nodded. “He passed here running about fifteen minutes ago. He was chasing after Snape and Malfoy.”

 There was an angry pause, then. “Snape?”

 “He was really fighting on their side the whole time,” Hermione announced in an angry, yet resigned tone. “Stunned Professor Flitwick right under our noses too.”

 He pressed his lips together and his hands closed into fists. The double faced son of a bitch. He’d known it. He’d never trusted the bastard and he’d always had a feeling that doing it would only lead them to being kicked badly on the arse at some point. How right had he been? Just thinking Dumbledore had trusted him all that time… “And Harry was chasing him? Alone?” he asked, feeling the weight of fear within him.

  “Yeah,” Ron replied before pausing. “I mean, no. Tonks went after him to make sure he wouldn’t… you know, get killed. It was like he was possessed. Barely stopped to say anything – only took the time to stun some bloke who was trying to curse the wits out of Ginny. She went looking for him a few minutes ago when the Death Eaters started to retreat. It was impossible to get through them before.”

 “I saw her going,” Sirius told them shortly, motioning to walk away – Harry must be downstairs if Ginny was heading there. He vaguely remembered Izzy mentioning the redhead had the Marauders map with her, so she would know…. “You guys should go somewhere safe… the Hospital Wing is probably reachable now – the Order can handle the rest if the fight. I’ll go looking for Harry.”

 They were tired enough of the fight to simply nod without arguing, heading in opposite directions from Sirius as he sped away, heading downstairs.

 That time, the only presence of Death Eaters he was able to note was the one of the unconscious and tied up ones, around half a dozen, that a couple of Aurors were keeping an eye on, somewhere on the fifth floor. Down at the third one, he ran into Bill and Charlie again and didn’t need more than their faces to know that, as expected, they hadn’t been able to catch up with the group they’d been chasing.

 More and more stairs followed. They seemed endless, he thought. He just wanted to reach the bottom of them… When he did and reached the entrance hall, he saw a group of students being guided upstairs by Porfessor Sprout, all of them emerging from the door that he remembered leading to the corridor where both the kitchens and the Hufflepuff dorms were located. He made a mental note to go look for Mia there later, after he’d located Harry.

 He didn’t need to go further than the castle’s main doors to spot him. Right outside, Harry was walking towards the castlewith Ginny by his side and Tonks led the way several yards in front of them. While the eyes of the former two were dry, Tonks’s were red and watery. It occurred to Sirius that he’d seen her injured, he’d seen her sad and even miserable, back when Remus had been rejecting her. He’d never seen her crying, though. The possible meaning of it scared him.

 He stood unmoving, waiting as she approached before asking anything. “Remus?”

 She shook her head. “’t’s not him,” she said, her voice muffled. “He’s with Hagrid outside, helping him moving the bo…” She gulped. “Dumbledore. He’s dead.”

 He nodded soberly. “I know.”

 She wiped the tears with the sleeve of her shirt. “I need to go warn Kingsley and Moody… McGonagall too. She has to reset the school wards to her command. She’d the headmistress now.” She took a breath and gripped her own hips with her hands. “Right. Harry’s pretty shaken up. Talk to him.” And with that, she was gone.

 Harry was already stepping in with Ginny when Sirius turned back to them. His expression numb and lost and the redhead gave Sirius a concerned look as soon as her eyes met his.

 “Are you okay?” Sirius asked his godson.

 “Yeah… no. I dunno” Harry mumbled, his tone almost disoriented – he seemed exhausted, Sirius noted. And had plenty of cuts, scratches and bruises, probably resulting from both his adventure outside of school and the battle itself – had he even taken the Felix? “Dumbledore is…”

 “I know. I saw him falling,” Sirius interrupted him – he didn’t bother to mention he’d just seen Wormtail fall into his death too. It didn’t seem fitting at the moment.

 “Oh,” his godson said faintly.

 “Maybe you should sit down,” Ginny suggested in concern, guiding her boyfriend to a nearby stone bench. She didn’t like at all how pale he looked, how shaken he sounded. She had no doubt he’s get past it – Harry always did. But seeing him like that put a heavy weight in her heart, made her hate everyone that caused him such pain.

 “He was already gone when he fell, though…” Harry added, his hands gripping the edge of the bench as he spoke. When he looked up at Sirius’s eyes, he didn’t seem disoriented anymore. Just tired. And angry. And grieving. “Snape killed him. I saw it.” He said that through his teeth, nearly in a whisper even though Ginny and Sirius were the only ones close enough to hear what he said.

 His godfather froze – that was beyond the worst kind of betrayal he’d imagined coming from Snape. “What?” he asked in disbelief.

 “He didn’t stand a chance,” Harry continued, looking down at his hands now – at how Ginny’s own hands joined his, warming them when he hadn’t even realized how cold they felt. It helped a little, though, at the same time, didn’t change a thing. “He was unarmed and weakened by a potion he had to drink… He wasted his last chance at using his wand before Malfoy came and disarmed him to make sure he and the other Death Eaters wouldn’t spot me up there in the Astronomy tower with him – immobilized me under the invisibility cloak.” His eyes fell to the cloak that was now resting on Ginny’s lap but quickly looked away, remembering those long moments he’d spent watching, unable to act… “Dumbledore had been asking me to fetch Snape to help him like he was his… most trustworthy friend or something. But when he came…” he stopped talking, sighing instead as Ginny gripped his hand.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered to him softly.

 Meanwhile, Sirius was still in disbelief. That seemed to be a recurrent feeling for him that day… One thing was Snape betraying the Order for the Death Eaters… taking their side, whatever. It wasn’t like he hadn’t been expecting it. But killing the man that had for so long put his faith on him? Given him the life he’d had for the past fifteen years… He might have always detested Snape with a passion but that was a whole new level of cruelty that he had never attributed to the guy. The simple thought disgusted him.

 “He’s the Half Blood prince,” Harry recalled, his voice strained with a hint of anger, making Sirius look back at him suddenly. His face looked to have regained a bit of colour already, though he seemed just as exhausted through the expression of resentment on his face.

 “Who?” Ginny asked, worried.

 “Snape,” he said, spitting the word like it was a curse.

 “How do you know?” Sirius asked.

 “That spell for enemies in the book… Sectumsempra…” He turned to Ginny, then. “I used it… or tried to. I just wanted him punished for what he’d done and it came to my mind… I know I’d promised I wouldn’t use any spell from the book that I didn’t know already…”

 She shook her head. “Don’t be stupid. You were in the middle of a battle – neither I nor anyone will blame you for using that spell under the circumstances.”

 Harry nodded, then and Sirius spoke.

 “So, he recognized the spell?” he asked.

 “Yes – he even managed to escape it. Then, he started yelling, asking how I dared to use the spell he’d created himself against him… that he was the Half-Blood Prince.” Just thinking of it made him want to set the book on fire, just as he wanted its old owner to suffer the same fate. “It’s always him, isn’t it? He’s the Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore’s murderer, the one who heard the prophecy…”

 Before Sirius could even ask about what he meant about the prophecy, he heard rushed steps behind him followed by his wife’s voice calling for Harry. By the time he turned around, she was rushing towards them, hugging Harry, who’d gotten up at some point, very tightly as soon as she reached him.

 “Thank Merlin you’re back,” she said before pulling away, her eyes watery, yet not dripping tears as she stepped back. “We were transporting the injured from the Hufflepuff’s dorms to the Hospital Wing when Tonks ran into us and told me you were here. I had to come. How are you feeling? Did you get hurt?” Mia examined him with her eyes from head to toe as she fired the questions.

 “Only a few cuts and scrapes. Nothing serious,” he replied shortly, his tone still lower than usual.

 “What were you doing outside, for Merlin’s sake? And where is Dumbledore? Wasn’t he supposed to be with you?!”

 Her question was answered with heavy silence from both Sirius, Ginny and Harry. Again, the latter looked down, facing his sneakers absently.

 Sirius was the first to speak, afterwards, placing a hand on his godson’s shoulder. “Look, how about you and Ginny head up to the Gryffindor tower? Mia and I will drop by later to check on you, okay?” He didn’t really feel like putting the kid through explaining the whole thing to Mia all over again – they would ask him for the full story later… or rather in the following day. The kid had already been shaken enough for a day, after all.

 Harry looked up and nodded. “Okay.”

 “Come on,” Ginny urged him, pulling him by the arm to walk with her. When they were about to reach the main staircase, she wrapped her own arm around his back and rested her head on his shoulder, hoping the closeness of the gesture would bring him some comfort at least.

 As soon as the pair disappeared up the stairs, Mia turned to her husband, her eyes showing fear. “What’s wrong with Dumbledore? Why isn’t he with Harry?”

 He bit his lower lip before speaking – it was still heard to say it out loud. “Mia… he’s gone.”

 “Gone?” she asked, frowning in confusion. “He had to leave again? Didn’t he just come back?”

 He shook his head – deep down, he knew she wouldn’t even consider he might be dead until he said it bluntly. “Love, he’s gone… as in dead.”

 Silence came and she just stared right into his eyes, waiting for him to laugh and tell her it was some sort of sick joke he’d picked up somewhere or to do just anything that would prove him wrong. He didn’t. “No,” she mumbled. “No… shut up, Sirius, that’s ridiculous! Dumbledore cannot be…” She found herself unable to say the word. “He’s Dumbledore!” She very nearly laughed at the idea.

 “It’s not a joke,” he assured her.

 “It’s impossible!” she replied.

 He closed his eyes for a moment and huffed. “Mia, listen to me. Harry saw it happening,” he told her, knowing it would make an impact on her. “He stood there at the astronomy tower, completely immobilized by Dumbledore himself under his invisibility cloak and watched as Snape killed him. I saw Dumbledore falling from up there afterwards. He’s gone, Mia, whether you believe it or not.”

 “No, that’s…” She stopped herself, taking one step back away from him and covering her mouth with the back of her hand like she was feeling sick. “Oh… oh Merlin,” she whispered, looking her husband in the eyes again, feeling numb. “Snape did…” She closed her eyes and shook her head like she was trying to process so many thought at the same time that they were making her dizzy. “Harry saw it?” she asked as soon as her eyes were back open. “The whole thing?”

 Sirius nodded. “That’s why he’d so shaken up.” He took a breath, then. “I think so. Merlin, Mia…”

 She stopped him before he could refer to it again – she couldn’t think of it. Not now. It was too much. “Has anyone else been killed?”

 He sighed. “From our side, nobody else that I’m aware of was. From theirs… at least two. Gibbon and…” he gritted his teeth, “and Wormtail.”

 Her mouth opened, forming a perfect ‘O’ but she didn’t speak for several seconds. So many thoughts followed that statement, one of which terrified her to the core. She had to ask. “Did you…?”

 He didn’t need her to finish the question to give her an answer – he’d been expecting it, in fact. He was glad he could deny it truthfully, at least. “He did it to himself. Took a flight out of a window – didn’t like the idea of spending the rest of his life with the Dementors. Who does?”

 Feeling a hint of pain behind his voice, she took a step in his direction and rested her hand on his arm, intending to give him any words of comfort she could think of. Nothing came. Her head was a mess, her emotions likewise – it formed a whirlwind that she just wished she could stop. Too much at the same time, too close to driving her mad. She could only hope he had interpreted the slight grasp of her hand around his arm and a little sign of support as the words wouldn’t come.

 He reached for her hand in return, grasping it too, which confirmed her hopes. It didn’t help much bit with the hurricane of emotions going through her mind but at least she knew they were on the same page.

 “We should go… check on Harry,” she said absently a few seconds later.

 Sirius nodded, feeling equally poor in terms of words. “We should.”

 And without another word to clear the air or to ease each other’s minds, they walked together through the signs of destruction left by the battle towards the Gryffindor tower. Neither of them was really feeling like themselves at the moment. 

A/N: Back from a surprise vacation in the south of Spain very refreshed... Sorry for the delay bit I hadn't been expecting it. Anyway, I hope you liked the chapter - it wasn't as fast-paced as the last one but, well, it was needed. Feedback is very welcome! Review!


Chapter 27: Insomnia
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A/N: Well, I’d been intending to add the conversation with Harry in this chapter but then looked at my notes (yeah, I have notes) and realized that part would fit better in the general tone of next chapter (kind of seemed like an appendix in this one). So, here’s a whole Sirius & Mia chapter.

It was clear enough that sleep didn’t want anything to do with her that night, Mia concluded later on the night of the battle as she lay in her bed with Sirius. It was sometime around three in the morning and there were still too many thoughts – the bad kind of thoughts – haunting her mind and not allowing her to rest even though she felt so helplessly tired.

She knew she had to think of something else or she’d go mad. Nobody but… she swallowed hard just from thinking of it. Nobody but Dumbledore had been killed from their side, which was always a positive thing. Some injuries, sure, but they were more uncomfortable than serious: the worst of them had been Kingsley Shacklebolt, who’d broken a few ribs thanks to his stunt of refusing the Felix Felicis so other less-experienced members of the Order and the DA could have it instead. Some had seen his action as selfless and brave while others, namely Elizabeth, who’d been in charge of healing him, had called it a ‘pigheaded and plain stupid move’ – it wasn’t like he’d been the only one doing it, since Mad-Eye among other sounding names within the Order had done the same…

Outside of that, the few injured students that had escaped to the Hufflepuff dorms had been healed by herself and, surprisingly, Izzy too. Her daughter had shown herself quite useful with the healing and had mastered the basic bruise-removing and minor laceration-treating charms, among other ones, quickly enough to both surprise Mia and to help a number of her colleagues. Who knew, maybe Izzy would find her way in the career her mother had grown tired of, Mia mused to herself, feeling slightly proud of her. But while those students had been patched up easily enough, Harry was another case…

There was no denying that he’d been looking better physically by the time she and Sirius had left the school: less pale, bruises and cuts healed and more… reactive. But there was still a haunted look in his eyes – a look she’d seen before, back when he’d watched Cedric being killed in the Triwizard tournament. It seemed almost like a mirror of that situation, except that instead of it being a boy he was slightly friendly with that he’d watched dying, it had been the man who’d essentially become his mentor… He must be feeling terrible, Mia knew. But at least he was getting his rest now, after Ginny had ‘talked him into’ taking a dreamless sleep potion shortly before Sirius and Mia had came back home, around midnight.

Helping with the searches throughout the whole castle to make sure no Death Eater that hadn’t either been killed or captured had stayed behind to surprise them and making sure all students were accounted for (only Malfoy, as expected, had been missing from every count) was what had kept them in the school so late. Some had stayed even later but the need to get Alex and Mary from Molly’s care had spoken higher. It came to Sirius and Mia as a blessing that those two had already been asleep by the time they’d picked them up from the Burrow and, consequently, had made no fuss when placed in their respective bed and cot for the night. And then, with the kids in bed and the house dead silent, they’d had gone to bed themselves.

In normal circumstances, she admitted, she and Sirius would have talked that night’s heavy events through before; they would have made sense of it all together; they would have comforted each other afterwards; then they would have gone to sleep with the weight resting on their chests lighter. Yet, none of it came up. Later, they would ask themselves why. It wasn’t because they were angry at each other or anything – it seemed the most natural answer was that both their minds still needed time to process the events that had taken place earlier before speaking of them… They just didn’t seem to be able to talk about any of it yet and hoped sleep would clear their minds.

Needless to say that wasn’t the case. For her because sleep didn’t come at all; for Sirius, though she didn’t know it at the moment, because sleep came filled with images of Pettigrew laughing at him, glorious from getting his end at his own terms… then, Bellatrix doing the same for getting her chance to escape… and finally Dumbledore’s body being hit by the green light and falling down from the high tower over and over again. Mia sighed – the universe didn’t really seem willing to give them a break, even for just a few miserable hours.

The wakefulness was getting more and more annoying by the second: fighting the urge to keep tossing and turning to try and find a position that would lead her to the so desired slumber was incredibly frustrating, yet Mia didn’t want to wake her husband just so he’d have to go through the same.

At some point, she just couldn’t take remaining immobile in the bed like that any longer and sat up, slipping out of it carefully before pacing a little in the room, trying to stretch her limbs, nearly numbed from the stillness. Walking around didn’t help with the overdrive of thoughts in her mind but at least she could fight the tension that had taken over her body since that afternoon.

Eventually, she approached the window and opened the thick curtain covering it in order to peak through the glass into the street. It was empty, as expected, with several Muggle cars parked by the pavement. Did the owners of those cars have any idea of what was happening to the world? Of the danger they were in? Did they have any idea that the only man who the source of such danger feared had met his end only hours before? Probably not, she concluded, wishing she could be just as blissfully ignorant as they were.

It was like that that Sirius first saw her when he woke up from his unsettling dream. At first, still feeling the tension of the nightmare and with his eyes closed, he’d searched for her form on the bed, only to find an empty space by his side still warm from her recent presence. It had taken him a moment of confusion and opening his unfocused eyes to spot her there, by the window. A mere shadow against the street lights, yet one that he would recognize anywhere.

It wasn’t working for her just as it wasn’t for him, he thought. Avoiding the subject of what had happened that afternoon wasn’t making it easier to deal with – it was just delaying it… That realization was his wake-up call: it was time they went back to dealing with things the way they usually did.

She didn’t see him when he got up, so thoughtful her mind was, or even when he walked in her direction. It was only when he was standing right by her side, his hand reaching towards her cascading dark hair, pulling several strands of it to behind her back and exposing her neck to his soft kiss that she reacted to his presence. He’d almost expected her to tense when she felt him there but she didn’t. Instead, Mia sighed and reached for his hand in order to shift it so his arm would surround her waist to bring them closer together.

“Are you okay?” he asked her in a mere whisper directed straight into her ear like he was murmuring a secret.

Mia didn’t speak – just nodded without looking at him, her eyes still fixed on the outside.

“Liar,” he whispered back – he didn’t need to be facing her to know that was a fact. “If you were okay, you’d be in bed sleeping like everyone else is at this hour of the night.”

“You are not in bed sleeping either. Why aren’t you?” she asked in return, this time turning to face him. Her hand touched his jaw softly in a caress. “Are you okay?”

He shrugged in return, taking her hand into his. “I’ve been better. Troubling dreams.”

“Dumbledore?”

“Among others,” he told her, pulling her towards the sofa so they could sit. He turned on the lamp resting on a table near his side of the sofa but made sure the light was dim – it was just so they wouldn’t be talking in the dark. “Do you feel up to talk about it now? What happened this afternoon…”

She sighed, bending her legs over his lap as she took a lounging position on the sofa. “Not really. But, honestly, I think I need to or else I’ll go barking mad. Do you feel the same?”

“More or less,” he responded, pausing afterwards for a few moments. “It’s hard to believe he’s gone, isn’t it?”

Mia nodded slowly, her face solemn. “I think part of me believed he would outlive us all. I could just picture him there at the staff table, welcoming our… great-grandchildren to the school decades from now. Couldn’t you?”

Sirius smiled sadly this time. “The bloke was timeless. I thought he’d last centuries.”

“Do you think he knew?” Mia asked suddenly, looking at Sirius suddenly. “He’d been so different lately, like he was fighting against time. In a way it seemed he was preparing us all for a world without him. He said it so himself months ago.”

“I dunno. I suppose he didn’t see himself as a… superior entity the way we all saw him. That thing with his… hand.” He motioned with his own, stiffening a little. “The corpse-looking one, I mean. An… ‘injury’ like that must make a person more aware of their…” He gestured again, unable to find the correct word.

“Mortality?” she asked.

“Exactly.”

They remained silent for several seconds reflecting over that, Sirius’s fungers absently tracing patterns on his wife’s knee as he just looked at the infinite. He was brought back by her sigh, just in time to see her brushing a tear away from her face.

“It kills me that the last time I actually had an actual conversation with him was just to yell and accuse him of not being trustworthy because he hadn’t told us about the Horcruxes on purpose,” Mia confessed faintly.

Sirius sighed, seeing that thought was a large part of what was eating her up – he knew it was up to him to make it right for her. “Mia, he kept something important from you concerning your son – you had every right to be angry at him over that. You were hurt.”

“I was too hard on him,” she whispered, resting the side of her head against the back of the sofa. “I should have forgiven him when he tried to make it right by keeping us as informed as possible afterwards. Now I’ll never have the chance to do it.”

Her husband reached towards her hands, then, holding them in his own. “You weren’t too hard on him, love. You were doing your job as a mom. One of the best I know, by the way, and definitely the only one I love with everything I’ve got.” He brought one of her hands to his lips in order to kiss it to prove that fact. “By hiding the Horcruxes, Dumbledore was standing on the way of you protecting Harry, so you told him off and gave him a cold shoulder afterwards – big deal, Mia… If anything, that would have made him proud for having given Harry to someone who doesn’t take crap from anyone, no matter how important they are, when it comes to being there for him.”

She shut her eyes closed for a long moment and then reached forward to wrap her arms tightly around her husband’s neck to keep herself from crying – she just hated doing it. He gathered her close in return, rubbing her back softly without saying a word – the closeness was enough for now.

“I’ll always be in debt with him for that…” she confessed, her breath colliding with the side of his neck as she spoke. “Giving me Harry, I mean. And for so much more too: he saved my life when he sent me away; he was there for me when I came back with the kids; he helped setting you free… I could go on and on with this.”

“I don’t really think he kept track of people’s debts to him,” Sirius assured her as she pulled away slightly, returning to her former position, resting across the sofa. “Especially when they were his friends. But even if he did, I’m sure you raising Harry all this time would have repaid them all. We’ll all keep repaying him by fighting back as hard as we can like we did today.”

She nodded slightly, wiping the few hot tears that had fallen down from her eyes with the back of her hand again. “I always thought Hogwarts was impenetrable,” Mia murmured. The fact that Death Eaters had been able to enter it made her feel so… violated. “I always thought that was the safest place for anyone to be.”

“Who didn’t?” Sirius asked numbly in return – neither the Order nor the Aurors still knew how the Death Eaters had gotten into the Room of Requirement and from there infiltrated the school. Sirius knew Malfoy had been behind it, though, judging by his godson’s year-long suspicions about the blonde boy. How, however, was the mystery behind the whole thing. “They must have been planning the attack for a while. That was why they were so quiet. Calm in the middle of a war is never a good sign…”

Mia sighed. “They’d been intending to kill Dumbledore during this attack all along, hadn’t they?”

Sirius nodded. “Yeah. They started retreating as soon as the word that he was gone spread. It didn’t go so well on their side, though. I heard Mad-Eye saying he’d killed another one from their side and so had one of the Aurors: that makes four Deaths on their side. Add another four captured and that makes one hell of a loss for them. At least we can say that much.”

From her spot, Mia looked at him silently for several seconds before speaking. “I’m sorry I had to ask if you’d been the one killing Wormtail,” she told him. “It wouldn’t really matter if you’d done it after all he’s done.”

“Yes it would,” he replied in a matter-of-factly tone. “Killing someone for revenge changes you. I won’t deny that I was tempted to just do it and be done with it but I couldn’t because I didn’t want to change myself like that. I didn’t want to lose my family.”

“You wouldn’t have lost us,” Mia told him without any hesitation. “You’ll never lose us.”
He smiled a little at her admission, at how much faith it showed her to have in him. But she needed to know the truth. “Would you have looked at me the same way if you knew I’d been cold enough to kill an unarmed man who was trapped in a room unable to defend himself? Because that was what he was in the end, a traitor or not.”

She took a moment before speaking. “I would have still loved you.” That was all she could promise him, faced with that reality. Truth was, she couldn’t even imagine Sirius doing what he’d just illustrated, so she couldn’t imagine her reaction to that either.

“But we wouldn’t have been us, would we? Wormtail wasn’t worth changing that,” he told her, looking away as he absently reached for her hand again. “His blood wasn’t worth tainting my hands with.”

“No, it wasn’t,” she agreed softly. One year earlier he hadn’t thought so and that had caused such a rift between them… It meant a lot for her that he regretted that mistake enough to learn so much from it –it had even made him grow as a person, she believed. Yet, something in his eyes told her he was still troubled – he might have made the right choice but justice had managed to not prevail that day… He needed to share his ghost just as much as she needed to share hers. “Tell me about it. Tell me how it happened,” Mia requested, softly.

And that was what Sirius did. He told her everything he could recall from the moment they had gone on different directions to his final meeting with the enemy he’d once seen as a friend, trying to find his way through the memories that were blurred by the confusion that the battle had generally caused: how the Felix had sent him one way or another, strategically guiding him through the fight; how he had chased Wormtail for Merlin knew how long, only to end up with him trapped; how he had finally confronted him with the facts that had taken place decades before and how Wormtail had justified them with his unrequited hatred; and, finally ,how Peter Pettigrew had decided that death was a more desirable fate than being imprisoned for the rest of his life.

“Maybe I’m just being petty, but him dying doesn’t really feel like justice after all he did to us and to Lily and James,” Sirius said, his tone frustrated as he spoke, his eyes looking down at his lap.

Mia sighed and reached forward to touch the side of his face. No, it really didn’t feel like justice – he’d kept the man she loved locked in a nightmare for over a decade, he’d gotten her best friends killed and had intended the same fate for her. But justice didn’t always prevail in real life – only in fairytales and stories one told their children… “You’re not being petty. At least he won’t be able to hurt anyone else where he is now,” she said softly. “We can always hope that over there there’s a place for people like him to be punished.”

A dry chuckle followed her words. “That’s what I was wishing right before…” he paused, looking at her. “Before I saw Dumbledore falling from the Astronomy tower. I saw it through the broken window. It was so unreal…” He took a deep breath and his eyes darted away. “He was already gone when he fell – Harry told me so himself. Snape had already done his job.” He spat the last part, disgusted at the thought.

It made Mia uneasy too. “I always imagined that, despite him being so nasty to Harry, there had to be some… good in him. Just enough to justify Lily having been so close to him when they were kids,” Mia confessed. “It’s true that a part of me never did and never would be able to fully trust him – not when you and Harry had so strong feelings against him. But this…”

“This was too cruel, even for him,” Sirius finished for her, almost matter of factly. “Even I can see that and I’ve hated the guy since I first lay my eyes on him. Harry said Dumbledore had been disarmed and was clearly weak from something that had happened during their out-of-school adventure. Snape must have seen that too and killed him anyway without thinking twice. He’s got to be an even bigger cold-hearted bastard than we thought he could be to do something like that.”

Mia sighed – either that was the case or something was very wrong with that story… It reslly didn’t matter, did it? They’ve been betrayed, anyway, in the worst of ways. “I can’t even begin to imagine what Harry must be feeling now after having seen that,” she said, concerned. “He looked so… helpless when I first saw him with you. He looked better afterwards but still… a person can only take so much.”

“He feels guilty too,” Sirius stated – he knew guilt batter than anyone didn’t he? For years at Azkaban the guilt he’d felt for switching places with Wormtail as secret keeper, leading to his best friends’ deaths, had nearly eaten him up, so enhanced it was by the Dementors’ presence – it had taken him much longer to realize he wasn’t the one to blame because of them. “I could just tell by his face. He’s blaming himself for this.”

“He shouldn’t feel that way. Nothing that happened could have been his fault,” Mia replied immediately. “If anything, he helped everyone by warning us ahead of time. Saved many lives by coming up with the Felix Felicis strategy.”

“That’s true, love, but it doesn’t matter, as crappy as that sounds. It’s survivor guilt: it doesn’t have to make sense. He lived, Dumbledore didn’t – that’s enough for him to blame himself.” And it didn’t help that Harry had a natural tendency to blame himself for bad things, either they were his fault or not – it came with the burden of the prophecy he had on him and everything that had happened to him so far. Thus, it was inevitable that, after having to stand watching, frozen, as his headmaster was murdered, he’d be projecting scenarios where he could have done something, even the littlest thing, that would have saved him.

Mia knew he was right. She could remember now that it had happened back when Cedric Diggory had been killed too and everything in that memory made her feel so… powerless. “What do we say tomor… I mean, later today when we speak to him about what happened? Do you think he’ll even be ready to talk already?” she asked.

Sirius shrugged and answered both questions at once. “I have no idea. He’s a tough kid, though – hopefully a long night of sleep will be enough for him to get his head back together.” Or at least as close as it could get, he added in his mind.

“He needs to know we’ll be here to help with anything now that Dumbledore is gone,” Mia whispered.

Her husband had to chuckle. “Love, the kid would have to be out of his nut to not know that already.”

She sighed – yeah, she’d always made sure to show him that. “Did he say anything about what he and Dumbledore did outside the school? About the Horcrux?”

Sirius shook his head. “All he did was mentioning some potion Dumbledore took. That was what weakened him.” He huffed. “Why would Dumbledore take some potion that would weaken him?”

“Maybe he was tricked… or didn’t have a choice,” Mia suggested, suddenly becoming worried. “You don’t think Harry drank it too, do you?”

“He didn’t say anything about it,” her husband said, thoughtful. “Besides, if he’s been weakened too, I doubt he’d have been able to chase Snape halfway through the castle the way he did… I think he’s safe.”

“Is he?” Mia whispered, sighing. She sat up on the sofa and reached further to rest against her husband’s side – he was nothing but receptive, wrapping his arm around her and placing a reassuring kiss on the top of her head.

“He’s as safe as he can be,” Sirius said, trying to sound confident, even if just for her. “The school is being patrolled by half the Order and the Auror department. We’ll figure out how the Death Eaters got in and we’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again. You’ll see we will, even if I have to spend day and night working on it by myself.”

Mia didn’t respond. She just remained there, silent. Though part of her still believed that everything was going to change from then on, his reassuring words did their job settling her down. That massive weight in her chest, the one caused by the whirlwind of thoughts in her mind, just felt so much lighter felt after sharing it with Sirius – she should have known trying to avoid those thoughts would only make things worse. It was true that talking about what had happened didn’t change the outcome of it – the fact was that, no matter by how many more deaths, injuries and captured they had topped the enemy, they had lost the battle that night along with their leader – but it made it easier to bear. “Thanks for listening,” she whispered, looking up at her husband.

“Thanks for listening too,” he replied, getting up and offering her his hand to help her up too. “Come on, let’s try and get some sleep – you look exhausted and I’m not feeling all that fresh either. I suppose we weren’t meant to get any rest without talking this through first. The universe seems to agree we’re in this together, no matter what.”

That made her sigh as she accepted his hand and got up, motioning towards her side of the bed as he walked to his own. “You know, I hated it that we had to go on separate ways in this fight despite what we promised each other last year,” she told him as she slipped under the covers. “I couldn’t stop wondering if you were okay.”

Sirius nodded as he settled in bed too, lying on his side, his head propped up by his elbow. “I hated it too, believe me, though I have to admit I was glad to know you were at least somewhere safe where you wouldn’t get hurt like you did last year. And speaking of which,” he added, recalling something he’d completely forgotten in the midst of their talk, “I ran into Bella during the battle – it wasn’t pretty for her.”

Mia blinked at him a few times in confusion. “What do you mean? Was she captured too?”
He shook his head. “I wish. I can assure you, though, that she’ll at least be feeling pretty crappy for a while after the flight I made her take. My money’s on a big contusion in that messed up head of hers, among other equally uncomfortable injuries,” he told her, feeling rather proud of himself for it. His face shifted to a confident look, then. “Nobody hurts my wife and gets away with it. Nobody. It wasn’t nearly enough compared to what she did to you but…”

He couldn’t finish the sentence as she suddenly shifted to her side, closer to him, and interrupted his speech with a kiss. She wasn’t sure why she’d done it but it didn’t really matter – she guessed she was glad he’d made sure Bellatrix paid for what she’d done to her. She’d never forget that short moment when she’d wondered if her baby was dead because of her, which thankfully had been proven wrong.

He ended up rolling half on top of her and the kiss lasted for several seconds, sweet and fierce at the same time and, by the time it was finished, Sirius found it hard to even remember what he’d been talking about.

“Thank you,” she whispered to him, looking up.

“You’re welcome,” he replied absently, a silly smile on his lips.

Only the streetlights illuminated the room as he’d turned off the lamp near the couch but it seemed to be enough for her to see as his hand reached down to touch her face tenderly while he struggled to balance himself on her so he wouldn’t crush her. Soon, his touch became a caress and the caress became an invitation that was silently accepted. Before long, Sirius saw himself bringing his lips down closer to hers until they came together once again. It was amazing how they couldn’t really bring themselves to care about what was going on with the world as their lips moved together. They were each other’s escape – that was no news.

The kiss grew more passionate than before. Hungrier. And then it became much more than a kiss as their clothes started to disappear, giving way to each other’s touch. They could just lose themselves in it, wishing that the passion wouldn’t just make problems disappear from their minds but make them go away altogether. Regardless, together they could let go of it all, even if only temporarily. It was enough at the moment.

Much later, as they lay together on the bed, sleep finally came for both of them, allowing them to rest free of nightmares and worries this time, so deep was the exhaustion.

They couldn’t even care that the rest of that day was bound to be hard in more ways than one…

A/N2: Well, it wasn't half as fast-paced as the last one but, well, Sirius and Mia needed their time to deal with things together (I hadn't intended this to get so long but, well, sometimes scenes get a life of their own...). I hope you all liked it! Feedback is, as always, welcome. Review!

P.S.: I've got to ask so I don't think I have suddenly gone dumb... Did anyone notice that the posting tool here at the side has become weird? It tells you to use double returns but then it doesn't let you... If you noticed this, please say something. It took me one hour to get this posted and it's driving me nuts!

 


Chapter 28: Before and After
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A/N: I had intended to post a 4000 and something word chapter last Sunday. I really had (I even timed it and worked on my internship's report for a few days before getting to the chapter). Only, turns out, the chapter ended up becoming a 8000 and something word one... That said, here's a big one!

 

The morning after the battle dawned grey and rainy like the weather itself was mourning Dumbledore’s loss. The headlines of the Daily Prophet, among other publications in the Wizarding World that had even issued special numbers to cover the events of the previous night, announced it in large and bold font: ‘HOGWARTS TURNED INTO BATTLEFIELD: ALBUS DUMBLEDORE KILLED IN ACTION’.

The words had been brutal and blunt – nothing less than reality was. When she had first read the headline, around eight, not more than an hour before, Mia had wondered how many people had nearly choked while practicing their daily morning routine of picking up the newspaper while taking breakfast… She had also wondered how many angry parents would be invading Hogwarts that day. Thinking back, Mia recognized that she couldn’t really blame them, could she? She was pretty sure she and Sirius would have done the same if they didn’t hold teaching positions in the school there that so easily allowed her to keep an eye on Harry and Izzy in a daily basis.

“Mama?” Mia suddenly snapped out of her thoughts as she heard her youngest son’s voice calling for her.

She turned her eyes back to Alex, only to find him standing on his bed, staring at her with huge grey eyes. There was an annoyed, yet curious look on his little face as he wondered why his mother had stopped the activity of dressing him seconds before and suddenly become very pensive.

“Sorry, Baby, Mama was lost in thought,” Mia told the little boy, trying to give him a smile, which came out rather faint. “Arms up,” she instructed him.

Alex did so, allowing her to dress him in a dark blue short-sleeved t-shirt over the white undershirt he was wearing. Mia raked her fingers through his soft dark hair, afterwards, combing it back into place.

“Mama, you sad?” the little boy asked her in a little voice, with just a hint of concern on it – as much concern as a boy that wasn’t two years and a half old yet could show.

Boy, he was observant, Mia noted. Sometimes little kids just had a way of seeing right through a person… sense their moods like a thermometer reading the temperature. She brushed her hand tenderly against his cheek and couldn’t really deny it. “Just a little, honey,” she admitted softly.

He gave her a tiny frown, then. “Why?” That seemed to be his favourite question lately, curious as he was about the world. Why did it rain? Why weren’t Izzy and Harry home? Why did little Mary just make baby sounds instead of using words like everyone else?

Mia usually made an effort to explain but that time… that time she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. She shook her head at him, then. “Nothing you need to worry about, my little prince,” she told him, cupping his chin affectionately. Nothing he could understand at that tender age, thank Merlin, she told herself. Hopefully by the time he’d be able to understand, the world would be back the way it belonged – in peace. People wouldn’t be killed left and right by a bunch of maniacs with a pureblood complex.

Alex looked at her with inquisitive eyes for a few moments before lifting his little arms again, though this time Mia knew he was asking to be picked up – he usually did that for such purpose. Mia sighed and smiled with a little more determination that time as she lifted him into her arms, allowing him to wrap his arms around her neck.

“Dun’ be sad, Mama,” he told her innocently, his head buried against the crook of her neck.

The little boy’s words helped more than Mia would have thought. She held on to her son tightly, taking in his warmth and the clean smell of baby soap. It reminded her of another little boy she’d once upon a time held like that. Harry.

It was so easy back then… The only things bothering him all those years ago were occasional nightmares and mild injuries he’d get from playing with Izzy. All it took for her to help him was sitting him on her lap and holding him there until everything was okay again. Now, he was too grown for her to hide behind her skirts, so to speak. She heard herself sighing again. “Why can’t you little boys just stay little forever?” she asked her son, not expecting any sort of logical answer.

“Foweva?” Alex asked in return, trying to grasp the notion of the word as he pulled away a little while Mia shifted her position to hold him on her hip.

“So Mama can always keep you away from bad people,” she said, brushing his dark hair away from his forehead so she could kiss him there.

His curious eyes examined his mother for another moment. “Betta, Mama?” he asked her.

Mia nodded and gave him another smile even though the improvement in her mood hadn’t been that great. “Yes, Mama’s better. Thank you, Baby.”

He little boy grinned, pleased with himself, and gave his mother’s cheek a sloppy kiss that made her chuckle before she placed him back down on the bed to help him with his shoes.

As quickly as one would flip a page of a book, Alex’s concern over his mother’s mood seemed to have vanished from his toddler-aged mind and, seconds later, he was already asking where his father was as Mia tied his shoelaces. He ran as fast as his little legs could carry him out of the door, pulling his faithful stuffed dog by the tail behind him, just as soon as his feet hit the floor – Mia followed him to the hallway just to make sure he was heading straight to the nursery, where she told him Sirius was dressing Mary, and it didn’t take more than the sound of her husband imitating the roar of some sort of wild animal followed by massive giggling from both Alex and Mary for her to know her son had reached his father safely.

She’d already made it back into the room and started folding her son’s pyjamas by the time the room was filled with the sound of knocking on the already open door. Mia turned around to face the doorway and was surprised to find her mother standing there.

“Lulu? How long have you been back?” Mia asked, recalling that both her parents had been impossible to contact, as they’d been spending the weekend somewhere out of town and weren’t supposed to make it back until the following morning. She had a feeling their early return meant they already knew about the battle and Dumbledore’s demise.

“A few hours – I was in Hogwarts earlier. Just dropped by the apartment to grab a shower afterwards and came here. McGonagall has already started the repairs,” she replied as she stepped further into her grandson’s room, confirming Mia’s suspicion that she’d already heard the news. “Gabe and I got the silent calling about the attack. We came back as quickly as we could but, obviously, that wasn’t quick enough.” She huffed, frustrated. “Bloody French blokes. Do you have any idea how much time we wasted with their stupid bureaucracy to get a damn last-minute international portkey? I was starting to think it would be faster if we just apparated to the north and swam to all the way through the English channel back to Britain.”

“I’m pretty sure last-minute international portkeys take time everywhere, Lu, not just France,” Mia pointed out mildly. “Besides, it’s not like you being here for the battle would have changed much, Lu. It was a trap – Dumbledore didn’t stand a chance.”

Lulu shook her head. “You don’t know that. You know what they say about a tiny thing happening different in the past changing everything from there on.” She let out a huffing sound. “I can’t believe we missed it. Your father is all broody about it – says he should have known something like this was going to happen.”

“What? Is he related to Trelawney now?” Mia asked sceptically, crossing her arms as she sat down on her son’s bed.

Lulu shrugged, still standing. “You know how some aurors are. Always think that they should know everything like they’re bloody seers. Never mind that Gabe’s been retired for years…” She sighed. “Still, he’s right in a way. Feels bad to know that the old man is gone and we couldn’t do anything to help it.”

Mia looked down, understanding the feeling. “If it serves you any consolation, I was there and I couldn’t do a thing either.”

“Yeah…” her mother mumbled, sighing. “You know, if it wasn’t for Dumbledore, I might still be some loser who had never taken her NEWTs. One day, around the time when you were one year and something old, he just showed up in the doorway of the old Davis house – I was sure by that time that happened that he didn’t even remember I’d been a student at Hogwarts who’d dropped out.”

“You were wrong,” Mia concluded easily.

“Plain wrong,” Lulu confirmed. “I have no idea how he found out where I was living and I still wonder if he knew I was more than your nanny at that time. Anyway, Dumbledore just looked at me and said: ‘Miss Graham, you’ll be taking your NEWTs next June’. Just like that – no chance to refuse, which at the time I was tempted to do just because I felt like it. Then, he handed me a list of the contents I was supposed to study, a bunch of books from the school-library, wished me good luck and left. I think I stood there holding all that stuff for about ten minutes, trying to figure out if that had just happened.”

Mia couldn’t help laughing at the mental image. “That sounds like something Dumbledore would do.”

“You can say that again. From that day until June of the next year, all your bedtime stories pretty much only consisted of me reciting out loud the contents of my History of Magic book while I studied – apparently you loved it. Until you were five, you’d cry your lungs out if I even tried to tell you any bed-time story that didn’t consist of an authentic lecture on the Troll wars or something – it was a pain softening those up for a little kid to understand, you know? That’s probably why you turned out to be such a History freak…”

“Wow, thanks, Lu. That’s exactly what a person wants to hear her mother calling her: a history freak,” Mia stated dryly.

Lulu rolled her eyes. “Oh, quit it. You know what I mean. No need to say I passed all those exams – though a few only barely.” She sighed. “Anyway, Albus Dumbledore was just… something else.”

“He really was,” Mia had to agree.

“But, moving on,” Lulu continued, “McGonagall mentioned you and Sirius were supposed to go to the school today in order to talk to Harry – he still hadn’t come down for breakfast by the time I had to leave.”

Mia nodded. “Ginny made him choke down a considerable dose of sleeping potion last night. He might still be asleep.”

“I figured he might. Anyhow, when are you and Sirius heading to the school?”

“Well, we’d talked of heading there as soon we left the kids with someone. Who, however, we were still trying to figure out,” she confessed.

“What am I? Chopped liver?” Lulu asked, trying to sound offended.

“Well, we didn’t exactly know you were back,” Mia replied dryly.

“You do now,” her mother said. “Problem solved. That’s what I came here for, anyway. I figured Hogwarts could handle its repairs without me there while you and Sirius probably needed someone to relieve you a little from the massive weight on your backs. Go take care of your big kids, I’ll keep an eye on the little ones, as usual.”

Mia smiled at her mother – Lulu was always around to give her a hand when she needed. “I can’t thank you enough, Lu.”

“Mia, I’d much rather be here babysitting your kids than being bossed around by that old bat, Mad-Eye, at Hogwarts. At the rate he’s going, I think you’ve just spared my foot from kicking the living hell out of his ugly arse,” Lulu said unceremoniously.

Because she was so thankful, Mia restrained herself from pointing out that maybe the problem in that matter was more Lulu’s temper than Mad-Eye’s bossiness.

Ten minutes later, with Alex entertained doing some draws in the living room and Mary dozing in her portable bassinet, both under Lulu’s watchful eye, Sirius and Mia were free to head to the kitchen’s fireplace in order to catch the floo to Hogwarts. Yet not everything went according to plan when the latter stepped into the fireplace.

“Hogwarts,” Mia shouted, releasing the handful of floo powder she’d been holding and waiting for the wave of non-hot fire to transport her to the destination she’d invoked. Nothing happened, though. She raised an eyebrow and saw her husband doing the same as he stood opposite her. “Did I do it wrong?” she asked.

“Not that I noticed,” Sirius told her, equally confused. “Maybe you should just try it again.”

She did so but the results were the same – for some annoying reason, the floo wasn’t working.

“What the hell?” Sirius mumbled, approaching the fireplace too.

Confused, Mia stepped out of the structure and reached for the pot of powder to fumble with it a little. The colour was right, the texture was right… it looked like floo powder. “Kreacher,” she said, turning to look at the house-elf, whose attention already seemed to be on the fireplace instead of the dishes that were washing themselves in the sink, “did you change this floo powder? Or did the Alex somehow get his hands on it?”

“It be powder masters use all week,” Kreacher responded, apparently also surprised. “And Kreacher always keep powder away from young master Alex. Mistress’s mother use floo only minutes ago.”

“Weird,” Sirius mumbled. If the floo was working one way for Lulu, it had to be working the other too, right?

“Perfect,” Mia said sarcastically. “The floo just had to be broken today of all days when we need to get to Hogwarts…”

“It would be worse it if had been broken yesterday.” After all, they wouldn’t have been able to get into the school as fast as they had without it. “Guess we’ll have to apparate to Hogsmeade instead like everyone else does.”

Mia huffed in frustration and nodded. “Hopefully someone will be there to open the gates for us.” She turned to Kreacher. “Try to find out what’s wrong, would you?”

The house-elf nodded. “Kreacher find out and fix it for Mistress.”

She thanked the house-elf and turned to her husband as both reached for their wands. “Right in front of the gates,” Sirius said, indicating their meeting point just in case they ended up landing farther from each other than planned.

Mia nodded and braced herself for the uncomfortable sensation that followed: it was like being pulled very fast by some sort of invisible rope to her destination. By the time she landed, she felt rather dizzy and kept herself from opening her eyes at first until the feeling vanished, a few seconds later. When she felt something touching her arm, Mia looked up and found Sirius was already by her side.

It was only a fraction of second later that their brains registered how noisy and crowded the area was. It took them yet another fraction to note that, in fact, the noisy crowd seemed to be constituted of students’ parents and was blocking the way to the gates and into the castle.

“Oh my…” Mia mumbled.

“Someone’s got to be kidding me!” Sirius said out loud. “What is this? A riot? Is today ‘let’s get in Sirius and Mia’s way’ day?!” Could it be some sort of new side-effect to the Felix Felicis he’d ingested in the previous day? A really annoying wave of bad luck?

“How are we getting through…” Mia pointed at the mob, a clueless expression on her face “…that?”

That was a good question. “I guess we’ll have to push through the crowd,” he said, as unpleasant as the thought sounded.

And as unpleasant as it sounded, it was even worse when done. People pushed and yelled, kicked and cursed, bumped and complained even when they explained they were teachers at the school as they passed. Later, Sirius would wonder if, out of all parents, only the coarsest and dumbest ones had landed in that wretched mob. All he knew was that, by the time he reached the front of the crowd and saw himself in facing the closed gates, he simply had no patience to put up with any more of that. So, when the little bald man on the other side – some ministry official accompanying the aurors stationed the gates, none of which he or Mia were acquainted with – lifted difficulties for them to get into the school, showing himself sceptic when they told him they were teachers, Sirius felt tempted to punch him through the gates, if that was possible.

“Oi, Smith! Quit bein’ an idiot an’ let ‘em in,” Hagrid’s loud and gruff voice came from several yards away as he approached the gates. “Those’re Harry Potter's godparents! An’ they work here!”

Embarrassed, the short man asked an auror to open the gates just enough for the couple to pass and stiffly wished them a nice day, to which Sirius replied with a not-so-flattering comment. Outside, several people protested, asking why they weren’t allowed to go in when Sirius and Mia just had. A nearby auror proceeded to inform the mob that the school wards were being resettled and that only authorized people could get in until that task was finished for security purposes, so they’d have to wait a little longer.

Relieved for finally being within Hogwarts’s territory, Sirius and Mia walked together towards Hagrid, who was blowing his nose on a table-cloth sized handkerchief. “Tha’ little plunker Smith. ‘s berk-y as they come.”

“Can’t disagree with that,” Sirius commented dryly, shooting a glare to the bloke at the gates. Truth was, he was more annoyed at their apparent lack of luck that morning than at the guy himself.

“Do you know what’s wrong with our floo connection?” Mia asked. “It wasn’t working.”

Hagrid nodded. “Mad-Eye’s been messin’ with the wards and mornin’. Probably turned it off fer the time bein’. ‘t’s been a mess ever since the Prophet came out. Parents owlin’ like mad; campin’ outside the gates… Reporters. Can’ let ‘em in until Mad-Eye's done with the wards. Security measures, he says.”

“Outside of this, everything’s calm, right?” Mia asked.

“Think so. McGonagall would’ve said somethin’ if it wasn’,” Hagrid told them.

“And Harry?” Sirius asked.

“Ran into him when I was comin’ down. Was with Ginny, Ron, Hermione an’ yer girl. Said they were headed to the kitchens fer breakfast. Too crowded in the Great Hall, it seemed,” the half-giant informed them. “The lad looked good, considerin’. Tough one, tha’ kid. Takes after his parents. Gonna meet him now, aren’ yeh?”

“That’s the plan,” Sirius stated.

“Good. Grand fer the lad to have yeh two around. And Ginny. The girl’s good fer him - spitfire like her brothers, she is. No nonsense with her,” he stated. “Well, I should get goin’. McGonagall asked me to find a nice place in the grounds... to put Dumbledore.”

“He’s… They’re burying here in the school?” Mia asked, surprised.

“Tomorrow. Man like tha' belongs in this school. It was his home. Taught here fer over ninety years,” Hagrid declared, grief on his own voice.

Sirius was taken aback for a moment. “Ninety… just how old was he?”

That had Hagrid reaching for his enormous handkerchief again. “Would’ve been 116 next month. I’d already bought a bottle o’ mead fer him an’ everthin’.” He was sobbing by the time he finished.

Sympathetic, Mia rested her hand on the half-giant’s arm, which made hers look incredibly small in comparison, and gave it a supportive tug. “There, there, Hagrid. Dumbledore… he had a long and full life.”

Hagrid nodded but kept on sobbing even as he walked away from them, muttering something about what a great man the former headmaster had been under his breath.

Mia looked helplessly at her husband as their friend walked away, feeling the grief starting to come back to her again. Sirius shook his head and surrounded her with his arm. “It’s okay, love,” he mumbled.

“Poor Hagrid,” she whispered. “He’s taking this so hard…”

“He is,” Sirius agreed. “But you can’t take this that hard too – at least not now right before we talk to Harry. You don’t want him to see you like that.”

She nodded and took a breath, firmly ordering herself to let go of it. Deep, slow breaths. Don’t think of it now, Mia told herself as she walked with Sirius towards the castle’s doors. “Yeah,” she finally said by the time they were reaching the doors, “you’re right. Harry shouldn’t see me like this.”

He nodded and kissed her forehead softly. “Come on,” he said, guiding her to the door located behind the grand staircase that led to the kitchen’s corridor. As they walked through the entrance hall, they glimpsed the interior of the Great hall and noted Hagrid was right – it was very crowded with students indeed.

They quickly made their way to the kitchens, walking along the dark hallway behind the stairs and through the large portrait of the bowl of fruit that conceded them passage after Sirius tickled the pear.

Inside, Harry was easy to spot, sitting at the only occupied table of the kitchen, along with Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Izzy, and certainly the only one with hair that messy. All five seemed to be talking in rather hushed tones, Harry absently poking his eggs with a fork as he did so. He looked much better than the previous night – it seemed the night of rest had indeed done its job as he didn’t looked as tired or disoriented as before, though a haunted look still shadowed his eyes.

As they approached the table, Mia couldn’t help noticing Ginny shoving her elbow into Harry’s ribs and nodding at his plate, apparently urging him to eat its contents, which he didn’t look so keen to do, choosing to nibble on a piece of bland toast instead. It was only when his godparents were less than four or five yards away that he registered their presence, putting the toast down.

“Good morning,” Mia greeted the group, who promptly replied with a series of mumbled ‘good mornings’ before she turned to Harry. “How are you feeling?” she asked him.

He shrugged. “Fine.”

Mia didn’t quite buy it but nodded. “Is it a good time for us to talk?”

Before he even could answer, the rest of the group, except Ron who was too worried about finishing the pile of bacon on his plate, was already standing up from their places at the table and getting ready to leave. It seemed to be a mutual agreement between all three girls, and probably Ron too, that Harry needed to talk to them.

“Well, I’ve got to… hum, return a book to the library,” Hermione said, making herself an excuse to leave as she shot Ron a series of warning looks. “You should come with, Ron,” she suggested, “it’s a heavy book. I could use a hand with it…”

“But I’m still finishing…” he nodded down at his plate.

Ginny was the one who solved the problem, reaching for her wand and pointing it at the plate and banishing the bacon away. “Not anymore,” she said as Ron gaped at her in horror.

“Well, come along!” Hermione urged him, pulling Ron by the arm and making him stand up, all but dragging him out of the kitchens behind her afterwards.

Ginny cleared her throat, then. “Well, I guess we should go find Luna,” she suggested, motioning to walk away. “Haven’t seen her since the battle last night.”

Izzy nodded. “We probably should,” she agreed, giving each of her parents a hug as she walked away. “I’ll see you later?”

Sirius nodded. “We’ll find you, Izzybel,” he told her.

“You’d better eat those eggs,” Ginny warned her boyfriend, eyes narrowed, one last time.

Exasperated, Harry grabbed a forkful of them and shoved them into his mouth even though he didn’t really feel like eating them. “There,” he said after swallowing them.

The redhead shot him a smile. “Good boy. Now keep doing that,” she said before walking away with Izzy.

Seeing themselves alone with Harry, leaving out all the house-elves who seemed to be too occupied to listen to them, Sirius and Mia sat down on the seats previously occupied by Harry’s friends, settling themselves face to face with him.

“That one takes after her mother in what comes to trying to shove food down your throat,” Sirius commented.

Harry’s face shifted to something close to a smile. “She gets protective when she’s worried,” he replied. “I wish she wouldn’t have to.”

“Even couples without the baggage you two have worry about each other, Harry,” Mia told him. “It’s part of loving someone.”

He nodded wordlessly, not entirely convinced and absently took another bite of his eggs as if his girlfriend’s voice demanded him to in his mind. “I heard about what happened to Wormtail,” Harry mumbled, turning to Sirius. “He threw himself out of a window?”

His godfather nodded evenly, still feeling slightly bitter about the matter. “He did.”

“Hum,” Harry mumbled, detached. He’d imagined he’s feel some sort of victorious feeling knowing the man who’d betrayed his parents to Voldemort was gone but instead he didn’t. Wormtail was just dead and he didn’t really feel sorry or glad – if anything, he just felt like he was one less bastard for him to worry about. After the previous day, Wormtail had been bumped down several places in his list of ‘most hated’, compared to Snape, who was right up there with Voldemort. “I never pictured him ending his own life,” he heard himself saying. He’d always found Peter Pettigrew too much of a cowards to even consider he might choose to end his life not knowing what would happen to him beyond death.

“I don’t think anybody did,” Sirius told him. “He only did it because the other option sounded even worse to him, honestly. He was a selfish coward right up until the end.”

Mia cleared her throat, then, calling their attention. “So, Harry… do you think you can walk us by what happened yesterday?” she asked her godson. “It’s okay if you need more time,” she was quick to assure him.

He shook his head. “No. I think I can do it now,” he said, eating yet another bit of his food before pushing the plate away. “Ginny and I… we’ve already talked about it earlier this morning. Before McGonagall came by my dorm, that is.”

“You’ve already talked to McGonagall?” Mia asked, surprised.

He nodded. “It was only for a few minutes. I left out everything related to the Horcruxes, if you’re wondering,” he told them. “If Dumbledore didn’t tell her himself, it didn’t seem right for me to do it unless I really had to… I mostly told her what Malfoy had said up in the Astronomy Tower.”

“What he said?” Sirius asked.

Harry nodded again. “He couldn’t help gloating to Dumbledore about what he’d done all year. According to what he said, Malfoy had kept Madam Rosmerta imperiused since September. She was the one who gave Katie Bell the cursed necklace and who spiked the mead that poisoned Ginny.”

Mia gasped. “Oh my…”

“He also said how he got the Death eaters into the school last night: apparently, there’s some sort of travelling cabinet in the Room of Requirement that was connected to another one in Borgin & Burke’s. The one in the school was broken, so he spent all year trying to fix it until he got it right yesterday.” Harry paused, then, taking a breath. “He was supposed to have been the one killing Dumbledore. That was the mission Voldemort gave him but he couldn’t do it… so, Snape did.”

His words were followed by several seconds of silence between all three of them – the only sound heard was the one of the house elves messing around with the cutlery at a distance. He could see the whole scene in his head in detail. Sometimes, he felt like he was watching something out of a Muggle telly.

At some point, Sirius cleared his throat. “Why don’t you tell us the whole thing from the beginning, Harry?” he suggested.

His godson nodded. “Okay give me just…” He took a few seconds to put the thoughts together in his mind and decide where to start. “You know I had this detention with… with Snape but before I got there, Dumbledore sent a message asking for me to meet him in his office after it.”

“For another one of your meetings,” Mia said.

“That’s what I thought,” Harry told her before he proceeded to tell her about the scene he’d witnessed after the detention, during which Trelawney had been unceremoniously kicked out of the Room of Requirement by a celebrating individual that he’d immediately assumed to be Draco Malfoy, making him reach the conclusion that something bad could be on the way. “Trelawney was all freaked out… rambling. She said some things that didn’t make sense at the time but now…”

“What things?” Mia asked him, concerned.

Harry gulped. “She mentioned something about seeing a lightening-struck tower in her future readings. That it was connected to some sort of disaster approaching. I think she meant…”

“The astronomy tower,” Sirius finished for him. “What happened to Dumbledore up there.”

His godson nodded sombrely. “And that wasn’t all she said,” he stated, feeling himself tensing. “At some point, she started talking about her first meeting with Dumbledore – her job interview. That was the night when she made the prophecy.”

Mia’s face went pale for a moment. “She told you more about the prophecy?”

Harry shook his head this time, his expression hardened. “No. But she told me who’d eavesdropped it and told Voldemort about it.” He bit his lower lip for a moment, looking at his godparents’ faces. They looked expectant, yet fearful at the same time as they waited for him to tell them. “It was Snape. It’s always him, isn’t it?”

The expectant looks became shocked ones. Severus Snape didn’t cease to surprise them lately with his actions.

“That son of a bitch,” Sirius hissed under his breath, covering his mouth with one hand as Mia remained speechless. He didn’t even know what to think. How to feel. Snape had never been his friend. He’d never owed him everything unlike Wormtail had. There was no betrayal that time, just a world-class bastard screwing them over further than he already had… But one they had in common: their actions, Wormtail’s and Snape’s, had been what had sent Voldemort after Lily and James. Snape and his big mouth had been the ones to start it all: to make Voldemort constantly torment Harry until, as the prophecy said, one of them ceased to exist. Nothing could change that fact just as he couldn’t think of anything that would take his blame away.

“I went to Dumbledore, then,” Harry continued, his tone raising as he spoke. “He was there when the prophecy was made so he had to know! He had to know it was Snape, so I asked him how on Earth he could have trusted him to teach here after he’d sent Voldemort after my parents!”

“Wha… what did he say?” Mia managed to ask through her shock. The same question echoed in her mind. How could it be? How could Dumbledore have trusted Snape so blindly knowing what he knew?

“He said Snape had made a mistake. That sending Voldemort after me and my parents was the biggest regret he had in life – as if it makes things any better. As if he’d even regret it!”

“Harry…” Mia started. He wasn’t seeing the whole picture and maybe that was her fault. There were things she’d never told him about, not because she’d wanted to keep it from him but because they had never seemed… relevant after all that had happened.

“… he hated my Dad. Everyone knew it…” he continued.

“Harry!” Mia repeated.

“… must’ve been a really good liar and an even better occlumens to fool Dumbledore like tha…”

“He used to be your mother’s friend,” Mia told him bluntly – there was no other way, was there?

The young boy stopped speaking and stared at her in shock. “What?” he asked, turning to Sirius, then, expecting him to say it wasn’t true.

“It was a long time ago,” Sirius mumbled in a detached tone, confirming the truth. “Way before Snape evolved from a creepy little bastard to a creepy little bastard who wore a Dark Mark on his left forearm.”

“My mother was friends with him?! Why haven’t I heard this before?” Harry asked, disbelieving.

“Because not many people know about it,” Mia told him. “It was over long before you were born, Harry, and for a long time, Lily didn’t even want us to mention it around her. She chose to leave it in the past and we respected that. It broke her heart when he became what he became even though by then their friendship was over. They met before Hogwarts – their families lived near each other – and were good friends for the first years at Hogwarts. They became more distant from third year on, when he started mingling with the wrong Slytherin crowds, and then in our fifth year…”

“He called her a mudblood,” Sirius finished for her, his tone filled with disgust.

All three remained quiet for a long moment, then. There was so many questions in Harry’s mind. He could only voice one of them, probably far from the most relevant. “Why would he call her a mudblood if she was his friend?” The simple notion confused him – he just couldn’t picture himself doing that to someone like Hermione for instance.

Sirius shook his head. “We can’t tell you about the ‘why’ – that only he knows. The best we can tell you is the ‘how’.” He took a deep breath, then. “Look, you already know that your father and I… we liked to ‘mess’ with Snape. Well, that was what we were doing one day and Lily stepped in to defend him – apparently, he didn’t like her fighting his battle, so he told her to go mind her own business with the not-so-pleasant term thrown in the middle. Maybe part of it was our fault. Probably. But that’s just not something you call a friend, even you’re messed up.”

“And… she put an end to their friendship when he called her that,” Harry concluded, trying to put the pieces together. He was still struggling with the notion of his mother being friends with Snape – for all he knew, they couldn’t have been more different.

Mia nodded. “Him calling her a mudblood was the final straw for her after a long list of dark stuff he’d been doing with his new friends. Lily could never forgive him for that.” She sighed and reached with her hand across the table for his own. “I’m not telling you this so you think more highly of Snape or feel sympathetic for him. I’m not saying that he was being sincere over regretting having told Voldemort about the prophecy. But, if anything, this may have been the reason why Dumbledore believed he regretted what he did and why he trusted him. Dumbledore was no fool but he always tried to see the best in people.” That had been his Achilles heel, she thought, pulling her hand back… “Maybe he thought your mother’s death had changed him.”

Harry bit his lip further, looking down. It made sense what Mia said about Dumbledore – he’d always tried to see the best in anyone. His last talk with Malfoy, during which he’d offered the blond boy sanctuary only proved that. But if he even had any inclination to wonder whether Snape’s regret was genuine or not, it vanished with the memory of him using the killing curse on the defenceless headmaster without a blink of an eye. He’d tricked everyone, his mother and Dumbledore included. “It doesn’t change what he did,” Harry said. “He started this whole thing when he told Voldemort about the prophecy. And now he’s killed Dumbledore too and we’re all doomed!”

“Harry! Don’t say something like that!” Mia told him, horrified.

“It’s the truth, isn’t it?” Harry replied. “Dumbledore died before he could reach the point when he told me how a Horcrux was destroyed! If I don’t know how to destroy them, what do I do?”

“Kid, just because he didn’t teach you how to destroy them, doesn’t mean we can’t find out on our own,” Sirius told him.

“How?”

“I dunno. We’ll figure it out. Research, trial and error… I mean, we can start testing right now. Didn’t you get a Horcrux last night when you and Dumbledore left?” his godfather asked him.

Harry stunned then both by shaking his head in denial. “It was a fake. The Horcrux was supposed to have been a locket that had belonged to Salazar Slytherin himself but someone switched it by another. We went through all that stuff for nothing. Dumbledore had to die for nothing.”

“Harry…” Mia started.

“We went to a cave,” he started before she could finish what she was going to say – he figure he ought to tell them the rest before they could start convincing him that he hadn’t been at fault. “Voldemort had been there when he was a kid and Dumbledore thought that was where he’d keep one of his Horcruxes. Inside it, there were barriers that required… sacrifices.”

Even though she cringed at the expression, Mia forced herself to remain quiet as Harry spoke, gripping her husband’s hand instead. Sirius looked down at her and she could see he didn’t look all that calm either.

“The first was blood,” Harry continued. “One of us would have to give some blood for a barrier that was blocking the way to open. I offered to give mine but Dumbledore refused – he said my blood was more precious than his, so he gave his own. And then we were in this big chamber inside the cave. There was a dark lake with some sort of island in the middle – that was where the Horcrux was supposed to be – and a boat to take us there. When we got to the island, we saw a stone basin on a pedestal: it was filled with some sort of potion and we were pretty sure the locket would be at the bottom of it. The problem was that we couldn’t get through the potion – some sort of force, kept us from touching it, let alone reach the locket. Dumbledore concluded it had to be drank so we could reach the bottom of the basin.”

“So, that was the potion that you said had weakened Dumbledore,” Sirius concluded, recalling Harry’s ramblings from the previous night.

Harry nodded. “That was the potion. Dumbledore started to drink by his own hand. He managed three or four goblets of it before he started faltering. It made him see things. Bad things. Sometimes he sounded like a little kid – a terrified kid – other times he’d apologize to someone over and over again. He’d made me promise I’d make him drink the rest if something like that happened, so I made him…” he paused, closing his eyes and sighing. “Maybe if I’d drank the rest myself…”

“You would have both been weakened and defenceless,” Mia told him – she could never repay Dumbledore for making the sacrifice for Harry. Maybe in another life… “You did what you were told and it was the right thing, Harry.”

“You don’t know, that! If we’d split the potion, he wouldn’t have been as bad… I’m younger than him. Maybe I’d have taken it better than he did. He would have been able to be faster and defend himself in the astronomy tower.”

“Kid, use your brains,” Sirius intevened. “Voldemort had to know anyone would be too weak to drink the potion until the end. He had to know that if someone wanted to get their hands on the Horcrux, there would have to be a second person to make the first drink the potion. You actually think he didn’t have any trick up his sleeve like the basin filling itself all over again with the full dose or something like that if the two decided to share a drink? You wouldn’t be able to cheat him so easily, Harry.”

Harry sighed, silently recognizing that was something that Voldemort was very capable of.

“So, what happened from there?” Mia asked him.

“I got the locket from the bottom,” Harry told her. “I barely had time to see it before a few dozens of Inferi started to emerge from the lake.” He couldn’t help noticing the look that Mia gave him then, which clearly said something along the lines of ‘you actually think you should have drank half that potion with an army of Inferi right around the corner?!’. He resumed narrating it, looking away from her – alright, maybe he hadn’t thought that through.

Ahead, he told them about how Dumbledore, likely in a rush of adrenaline, had managed to set the Inferi on fire despite his weakened state and how Harry himself had all but dragged the headmaster out of the cave so he could apparate them both to Hogsmeade. How they had used Madam Rosmerta’s broomsticks to reach Hogwarts as fast as they could when they’d spotted the Dark Mark hovering over the castle and, finally, how Dumbledore had pleaded for Harry to get Snape for him, only to petrify Harry under his invisibility cloak for his own protection before he could do so. In the end, it all culminated to the appearance of Malfoy, then the Carrows, who’d urged the younger Death eater to follow his mission and, finally, Snape.

“It was all for nothing in the end,” Harry said. “The Horcrux was a fake.”

“Harry, are you really sure?” Mia asked him. “I mean, can’t you be confusing things? Maybe you remember the one in the pensieve memories differently…”

Harry shook his head. “It’s a fake. There was a note inside it. Someone saying he or she had realized what the Horcrux really was and stolen it to have it destroyed so Voldemort would be mortal again. I… it said more but I can’t remember the rest.”

“Do you have any idea who may have written it?” Sirius asked him. Who would have been brave or suicidal enough to steal a Horcrux from Lord Snake-face?

Harry shook his head. “None. All I know was that it was signed with some initials. R.A.D or R.I.P. No, not R.I.P. – I’m sure it started with an R, though. Maybe R.A.B.?” In normal circumstances, he would have known each letter by heart. He wouldn’t have rested until he knew which each of them meant. None of that was the case, though. He didn’t care so much about the contents of the note since the fact that the Horcrux was a fake had pretty much taken over his mind when he’d landed eyes on it – the note had carelessly been thrown into his trunk along with the locket, yet the feeling of failure remained loose in his head. It had been a pointless adventure… that search for the Horcrux. A pointless sacrifice of Dumbledore’s strength and a pointless end to the headmaster’s life… He knew that, sooner or later, he’d have to put some effort into studying the note to track down the fate its writer had given to the real Horcrux and destroy it if the person in question hadn’t already. But, honestly, he was in too much of a funk at the moment to care – too many dilemmas in his mind, some harder than others. Too many things to give him grief… Too much. Merlin, he just wished he could just… take a break. “I’m sorry,” he apologized to his godparents. “I just…”

Mia stood up slightly, pulling the chair she’d been occupying closer to Harry’s and sitting back. “It’s okay, Harry,” she told him softly, pulling him into a hug. She couldn’t bring herself to push him any further than they’d already gone. She couldn’t make it any harder on him. “You’ve been through a lot yesterday. You’re bound to feel confused. Just take your time. You’ve said enough today.”

He nodded against her shoulder and sighed, relieved. “Thank you.” He thanked Merlin or whoever higher power that was listening too for letting his godmother understand what he needed. Didn’t she always? he wondered.

When she pulled away, Mia rested her hand on his shoulder. “You know that nothing that happened was your fault. It isn’t.”

Harry didn’t respond to her – he knew she wouldn’t like what he had to say if he spoke.

“She’s right kid,” Sirius added as the boy’s gaze turned to him. “You’ll probably take a while to realize that – that’s okay. But nothing you did could have changed what happened. Things happen the way they happen, no matter what guilt tells you. Believe – I know quite a few things about it.”

“I… hum… okay,” Harry mumbled awkwardly. Maybe part of him wanted to believe his words but the other refused to let go of the guilt…

“Well, what are you planning to do for the rest of the day?” Mia asked, not-so-subtly changing the subject.

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Ginny and I had thought of helping with the repairs – I think Ron, Hermione and Izzy wanted too… to keep ourselves occupied with something useful. But then I heard McGonagall didn’t want the students on the most damaged floors to avoid accidents…”

“Tell you what,” Sirius said, “how about you go fetch the others and your godmother and I will talk McGonagall into giving you something not accident-prone to do?”

Harry took a moment to think and then nodded in agreement. “Sounds good, I guess.”

“Great. We’ll meet here in twenty minutes?”

Their godson checked his watch and agreed with the meeting time as he stood up from his chair, motioning towards the portrait-covered doorway.

Sirius waited until he was sure the boy was gone from the room before turning to his wife, looking at her inquisitively. “So, what did you think of him?”

Mia sighed, thoughtfully. “I think he’s trying very hard to remain strong about everything that’s happened; he really is,” she said softly. “And he’s managing, most of the time.”

Sirius nodded. “Yeah. I could see that too. That’s bound to be a difficult thing to pull off when his world’s been shaken to its very foundations… he never had to consider fighting without Dumbledore to back him up before.”

“Yes, that’s hard on him. But we’re still here. He’ll manage,” Mia said, more to convince herself than to anything else. “He has to. He always does.”

“He will,” Sirius assured her, covering her hand with his. He knew the kid would put himself back together soon enough. But he also knew that, by the time he did, things were about to change.

Though he didn’t say it out loud, Sirius felt almost certain that, with Dumbledore out of the way, it was only a matter of time before Voldemort made a major move. And he feared that, from then on, nothing would ever be the same. 

A/N2: As I said, big one... quite a ride to write - thank God today was a national holiday here or I'd never have had time to edit it. I hope you liked the chapter - for those wondering, yes, R.A.B. will be covered later by the time Harry had put his thought back together. Worry not. Feedback is welcome! Review!


Chapter 29: Request
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It hadn’t occurred to Sirius just how many people would want to pay their last respects to Albus Dumbledore. It really hadn’t. Somehow, whenever the thought of the funeral crossed his mind, he’d always pictured only Hogwarts’s students and staff and the Order. Yet, all it took for Sirius to realize how wrong he’d been was looking out the window of his wife’s office – shortly after arriving to the school through the recently re-connected floo –, which allowed him to see the hundreds of people huddling near the spot facing the lake where Dumbledore’s body was to be buried. Never mind that the ceremony wasn’t supposed to take place in less than an hour at least…

“… and I’m not even counting the ones that must be camping outside the gates by now,” Sirius narrated to his wife while he looked out the window, shifting as he unsuccessfully tried to find some sort of angle that would allow him to spot the gates.

“We all know Dumbledore was always a very popular man, despite the latest criticisms,” Mia mumbled absently behind him as she picked up from the floor what seemed to be a note that had been slipped under her door. As she opened it, Mia immediately recognized McGonagall’s pragmatic handwriting.

Mia,

There are a few things I needs to discuss with you and Sirius as soon as possible. Please come to find me as soon as you read this.

Minerva McGonagall

“What’s that?” Sirius asked as he turned around saw the little note in her hands.

“A message from McGonagall,” Mia said. “She wants us to meet her – says she needs to discuss something with us.”

“Does she say where she is?”

Mia shook her head. “Probably in her office.”

“Yeah, but which one? Her usual office or… you know, Dumbledore’s old one.”

That was a good question, Mia observed in thought. It still felt foreign thinking of the transfiguration teacher as the school’s headmistress but, truth to be said, that was her role now. Dumbledore’s office was hers. But something told mia she hadn’t taken up that right yet, though… she’d seemed too devastated, too busy in the previous day to even care about… trivialities such as moving to a new office. Mia ended up shrugging. “We can just ask around,” she suggested.

“Yeah, I guess,” Sirius agreed, shrugging too. Sometimes he just wished he had his own copy of the marauder’s map… it would save him so much time sometimes.

It seemed they were lucky that day, since, barely a minute after leaving Mia’s office, they ran into the Head Girl, who was running an errand for McGonagall and confirmed that the headmistress was indeed in her old office and not in Dumbledore’s.

When they reached the office, the door was open as the older woman busied herself attaching a little note to a school owl’s leg before sending it flying out of the window. Though McGonagall didn’t look as bad as she had in the previous day, when she had barely seemed like a shadow of herself – pale, reddish swollen eyes and oddly silent – the headmistress still looked rather down that morning with dark circles under her eyes, which revealed her sleeplessness.

Mia cleared her throat before she and Sirius stepped in. “Minerva, is this a good time?”

The teacher looked up at them, startled for a moment. “Oh, Mia, Sirius. I was just finishing what I was doing. Please, come in,” she told them, sitting down as they stepped into the office with Sirius closing the door behind him. She gestured with her hand towards the chairs in front of her unusually disorganized desk – parchment cluttered all over it –, indicating for them to sit down too.

“We saw your note,” Mia told her. “What is it you need to talk to us about so urgently?”

McGonagall sighed and, before uttering any word, reached for her wand and pointed it to the door. The sound of the lock being shut echoed in their ears at the same time the voices of a few students walking and talking outside ceased suddenly. Satisfied, she lowered her wand. “Two things, actually,” the headmistress said, sighing. “I’m not sure if Harry has told you that I’ve already talked to him yesterday morning.”

Sirius nodded. “He mentioned it,” he stated.

“Then you may already know that Potter was rather… secretive concerning why he and Albus left the school in the evening of the battle,” McGonagall said – judging by her tone, both Sirius and Mia cold tell that that fact annoyed her. “I have to ask… if you’re aware of what they were doing, I would like to know about it.”

That one caught them by surprise. Maybe they should have predicted that McGonagall might drill them for answers but, for some reason, they hadn’t…

“Minerva…” Mia started, uncertainly. It seemed ironic that the secret that had bugged her so much for being kept from her, the Horcruxes, was now the one she had to refuse to reveal. “We can’t… We can’t tell you that.”

“So, you know what they were doing,” the other woman concluded.

Sirius had to nod. “We do. Harry told us”

“It might be important,” McGonagall told them.

“It is important,” Mia confirmed. “And, believe me, it’s not because we don’t trust you that we can’t tell you. It’s just… it’s safer this way. And it’s something you and everyone else do better not knowing. We made a promise to Dumbledore and it’s not the sort of promise that… expires after death.”

The headmistress pursed her lips for a moment and sighed. “It’s not just about what they had to do when they left, is it?”

Sirius shook his head at that. “Not even close. It’s a lot more complicated than you think.”

There was a silent pause after his words, which was only broken by McGonagall’s voice about thirty seconds later. “Is it dangerous?”

“Yes,” Sirius confirmed. He couldn’t even imagine how much himself…

McGonagall decided to make just one last plea before completely giving up on the matter. “Maybe if the Order knew, we could help with that,” she said.

“If he thought the Order could help, Dumbledore would have told you about this himself,” Mia told her. “I’m sorry, Minerva, but neither us nor Harry can tell you about this. The least people to know it, the better.”

It seemed to McGonagall that she had no other choice but to trust them, as much as it bugged her. “Very well,” she said stiffly. “Promise me at least that, if a time comes when you need my help in this matter, you will tell me about it.” That was the most she could demand – she knew better than not to trust Dumbledore’s judgement after so long knowing him...

This time, Sirius nodded. “I think we work with that,” he said.

“So,” Mia said, then, anxious to change the subject, “you said you had something else to talk about…”

McGonagall nodded, resigned. “Yes, yes. That other thing I mentioned is about the Order. I have a… not so easy request to make of you, I’m afraid…”

“A request?” Sirius asked, curious.

The other woman nodded. “As you know, Albus was the secret-keeper of the Order’s headquarters. But with his… death… well, the arrangement of secret-keepers changed. Dangerously.”

“What do you mean?” Mia inquired, confused.

“I mean that now everyone who’d been told about the Order’s headquarters became a secret-keeper,” McGonagall explained.

Everyone?” Mia asked in disbelief.

“Everyone,” the other teacher confirmed.

“Snape included,” Sirius concluded, receiving a sullen nod in return. “Damn it. Just when you think that creep can’t screw us over further…”

McGonagall cleared her throat disapprovingly before she spoke. “As you can imagine with a… Death Eater as a secret keeper, meetings can no longer safely take place in Lily and James Potter’s old house in London or any of the other locations we usually use for that purpose, such as the Shrieking Shack.”

“So, where can we meet now?” Sirius asked. “Hogwarts?”

She shook her head. “That thought occurred to me but I had to refute it. Aurors are now constantly watching the gates and the borders… it would be impossible for the whole Order to get into the school without being spotted and raising too many suspicions… It’s too much of a risk when we all know that there may be hidden You-Know-Who-sympathizers within the ministry…”

“So, where, then?”

“Well, Arthur and Molly have offered their shed, which seems like a fitting solution. Nonetheless, Alastor insists that we need to reinforce the Burrow’s wards before risking meeting there and that’s where we have a problem,” McGonagall said, huffing. “The Order needs to meet urgently – even today, if possible – to figure out what to do now that Dumbledore is… gone and that gives us no time to completely reformulate the Burrow’s wards on top of everything we already have to do. We need to meet somewhere else and the only place that Alastor finds safe enough for us to meet in right now is… well, is your house.”

There were a few moments of silence, during which Sirius and Mia simply stared at her. “Our house?” Sirius eventually asked uncertainty.

McGonagall nodded. “It was Alastor’s idea, not mine and please don’t feel pressured to go along with this. We only considered it because, well, your father made that house into a fortress back when he lived there and then Albus himself did his share in reinforcing the protection. After Hogwarts, Grimmauld Place may very well be one of the most well-protected places in the Wizarding World. It would just be for this one meeting…”

For a moment, Sirius and Mia glanced at each other and it didn’t take them more than a second to figure out that one was just as hesitant about the matter as the other. Grimmauld Place was their home, the place where their kids lived and played – where little Alex and Mary were at the moment being watched by Andromeda Tonks, whose babysitting services had been offered by her daughter for that afternoon. They weren’t sure if they were comfortable with a group of people meeting there to plot against You-Know-Who…

But then again, they knew it was a necessary thing… Losing Dumbledore and the attack to Hogwarts changed a lot of things – they needed to figure out what they had to do from then on, how to control the damage already done and that needed to happen soon, as McGonagall had said. It wasn’t like they didn’t trust the people on the Order to be in their home.

“What do you think?” Mia asked her husband at some point.

“I think… I think that if we want to organize ourselves to fight back, we can’t make a huge issue out of this,” Sirius decided, before turning to McGonagall. “I mean, as long as everyone is careful not to be followed and reveal the meeting is there to someone outside the Order…”

“Of course, of course,” McGonagall said immediately, nodding. “We’re considering only revealing the location of the meeting to most members a few minutes before it takes place as a precaution – we trust everyone, of course, but we can never be too careful.”

Mia nodded slowly – well, at least the fact that they were taking so many precautions soothed her fears. “So… tonight. Meeting at our house,” she mumbled flatly, looking at Sirius, who nodded in return.

“Tonight it is,” he said.

McGonagall sighed. “We can’t thank you two enough for agreeing with this in such a short notice,” she said. “Hopefully, this will be a productive meeting. Merlin knows we have quite a number of matters to discuss.”

“I imagine we do,” Mia agreed absently.

“Well, I suppose this matter is solved, then, only a few dozens more for me to handle now…” the older teacher concluded, saying the last part under her breath, probably not even realizing she’d said it out loud. She huffed and grabbed a few of the rolls of parchment from her desk as if she’d just realized how messy it was, shoving them into her drawers, frustrated.

“Minerva, do you need some help?” Mia asked, realizing just how overworked the headmistress seemed. She could only imagine how many letters and crisis situations she’d answered that morning already – although keeping busy usually helped getting one’s mind off things, maybe McGonagall was going a bit too far.

The other woman shook her head, more stubbornly than anything else. “No need. I’m just still getting used to the…” she hesitated while picking up a few more pieces of parchment, giving them a quick read before either shoving them into the drawer or putting them on a ‘to do’ pile, “headmistress duties. And then there are the owls from parents and the… funeral too…” She said that last part in a slightly strangled tone, like she was fighting very hand to keep herself together at the moment, on top of all her old and new responsibilities – Minerva McGonagall might be known for being a tough woman but even she could only take so much… Her eyes suddenly feel on a little note resting on the desk that had been covered under all that mess. “Oh, for the name of Merlin…”

“What is it?” Sirius asked.

“Madame Maxime!” McGonagall said, standing up with a jump and causing the ‘to do’ pile to fall on the floor, creating yet another mess, which she really didn’t seem to care about. “Oh, I completely forgot about her! She should be arriving any minute for the funeral and I forgot to warn Alastor… make sure her carriage can pass through the school wards… It will be a disaster if she can’t…”

Mia stood up too and got in McGonagall’s way before she could speed out of the room. “Why don’t you let me handle that, Minerva?” she suggested softly. “I’ll find Moody and pass on the message for you, and then I won’t mind accompanying Madame Maxime to the funeral site. Maybe you need to… delegate a little more.”

McGonagall hesitated for a moment but sighed a few seconds later, realizing she’d probably sounded like a madwoman only seconds before, and nodded. “I suppose you’re right. Thank you, Mia.”

“No need for that,” Mia replied before turning to Sirius. “I’ll meet you later at the funeral, okay?” The look she gave him after that, together with a soft nod towards McGonagall, was clearly a request for him to stay with the headmistress for a few more minutes just to make sure she wouldn’t flip or something.

“Sounds good to me,” he told his wife just as she used her wand to unlock the door and remove the silencing charms McGonagall had placed on it, before walking out.

Just as Mia closed the door behind her, awkwardness filled the room. So, he was supposed to stay there, making sure McGonagall wouldn’t throw a barking fit, which sounded like a ridiculous thought on itself for him… but what was he supposed to tell her? McGonagall wasn’t just the type of person one talked about the weather with or any other small-talk-related topic… He was too used to only sit in that office when he was being lectured to oblivion.

“Sirius, you don’t have to stay here,” McGonagall said at some point as if she could read his mind, sounding much more composed than before. “I’m fairly sure I am not about to have a mental breakdown as Mia seems to believe. Though, I have to agree with her about delegating.” The older woman stated, sighing. “I believe that in a few weeks you and Mia will have to be back in this office to discuss which one of you will take over the position of Head to the Gryffindor house.”

Sirius looked surprised. “Really?”

McGonagall nodded. “I’m afraid with these new… headmistress responsibilities I’ll have to give that up. And since you and Mia are the only members of the school staff that came from Gryffindor other than me…”

“No, I wasn’t asking about that. You’re actually considering me as well as Mia to be the Head of Gryffindor? I was under the impression my… not-so-squeaky-clean record at this school sort of pulled me out of the pool of choices.”

“Well, I’ll admit that in terms of… behaviour, Mia would be my obvious choice. Not to mention that you have some very… lax criteria to give out detentions, which we would certainly have to work on. But, out of the two of you, Mia has a much busier class schedule than yours, which would give you more time to deal with the position,” McGonagall explained before taking a breath. “Truth is, Sirius, that you have grown to become a much more respectable person than, I confess, I would have expected, considering your… ‘rabid troublemaker’ years. Merlin knows there are a handful of Gryffindors who need to do the same.”

Sirius’s lips curved into a smile at his old teacher’s words. “Did I mishear you or you’re actually wishing that some kids would follow my example, Professor? Can I get that in writing? Nobody will ever believe me when I tell them if I don’t bring proof.”

The headmistress’s eyes narrowed as she gave him a stern look. “Wipe that smile of your face, Black, and quit gloating.”

For some reason, her tone still freaked him out the way it did back when he was the so-called ‘rabid troublemaker’, so he really couldn’t help obeying her and remaining quiet.

The older teacher sighed – she’d always had a soft spot for troublemakers even though she had always made sure that wouldn’t make her go soft on them. “You turned out well, Sirius,” she ended up offering. “That’s something you should be proud of. Without gloating.”

Sirius grinned again. “Well, since we’re in a complimenting mood, I should point out that you were always my favourite teacher… after Binns, I mean. James and I could never play exploding snap in your classes the way we could play in his.”

McGonagall shook her head disapprovingly. “You had some nerve, Black. Now, get out of my office – I have work to do.”

He did as she said, standing up and chuckling on his way out. Yet, his good mood disappeared as soon as he opened the office’s door to step out and had to groan at the sight opposite him. Rita bloody Skeeter apparently getting ready to knock. Why hadn’t he left a minute before?

“Well, well, Mr. Sirius Black. It’s been too long,” the reporter said, shooting him a fake smile as her hand rubbed the lapel of her own deep-purple suit.

“Really? Then why do I feel just the opposite?” Sirius replied.

Her smile widened, as she reached for her dreadful crocodile-skin purse, pulling out a note-book and a hot-pink quick-quotes quill, which was apparently replacing her previous acid-green one, which Mia had snapped a couple of years before. “How about a quick one-on-one? How’s young Harry? I hear he’s had a sort of mental breakdown over the death of poor Dumbledore. Do you have any comments on that? Is it true you and your lovely wife are considering committing him to St. Mungo’s?”

Sirius narrowed his eyes at her. “Skeeter, the only person who’s going to have to be committed to St. Mungo’s is you if you think I’m going to comment any of that sh…”

“Sirius!” McGonagall’s voice came warningly from behind him. He turned around and saw the headmistress glaring at him as she approached. “There are students in this hallway!”

It was only then that he recalled that fact. With a quick glance around as he stepped away from the doorway, Sirius noticed a bunch of giggling third-year Ravenclaws and a few seventh years unsuccessfully pretending that they weren’t trying to listen to the conversation. As McGonagall sent all of them away with one single look, he made a mental note to try and control his language from then on, even if the most annoying reporter that there was record of in his mind was standing right opposite him.

“Rita,” McGonagall started, standing just outside her office with a not-so-pleased look on her face – this time, not directed to Sirius but instead the reporter in question, “I don’t recall allowing your presence here in the school today.”

“Oh, well, you cleared the presence of one reporter for the Daily Prophet,” Rita said, smiling as she reached for the media pass she was wearing on the breast pocket of her suit. “As it happens, I work for the Daily Prophet and was sent to cover poor Dumbledore’s funeral.”

“Really?” Sirius asked, doubtfully. “Because I recall hearing you’d taken an extended leave of absence due to some… personal bug issues.” When Rita smiled, daringly showing him her perfect white teeth and apparently not caring one bit about his implied threat, Sirius decided he’d had enough. Why not be blunt? “You know, with you being an unregistered beetle animagus so you can eavesdrop on people and write sketchy articles about them.”

McGonagall’s face was filled with outrage. “I beg your pardon?!” she all but yelled, looking between him and Rita. “An unregistered animagus… using transfiguration for such unethical purposes?!”

“Why, but that’s where Sirius here is wrong,” Rita said, awfully calm. “I’ll admit that I am indeed an animagus and can take the form of a beetle at will but I would never use that fact to spy on people.” Judging from the tone she was using, it didn’t seem like she was even a bit interested in sounding believable to him or to McGonagall – she knew well enough neither had any love or respect for her, so why try? “And as for being unregistered, as it happens, I filled the paperwork for registration years ago but it appears it… got lost. Those papers weren’t found until last week when a very helpful clerk at the ministry just happened to find them misplaced in this old archive. Can you believe it?”

“Not for a second,” Sirius replied dryly.

Rita ignored him, though. “Now, thankfully, everything was officialised and I am no longer at fault to the ministry. I mean, not that it was my fault when I was… Seemed only fitting to go back to my regular work now that I have nothing to lose.”

She might as well have made a victory dance and sang ‘You can’t blackmail me anymore,’ in a childish tone, Sirius thought as he gritted his teeth. “I can only imagine how much you paid to put little fairytale in motion,” he said through his teeth.

“Who needs money when there are clerks in the ministry so needy for some… loving?” she asked casually under her breath.

Sirius shook his head slowly. “Wow, Rita, that’s a whole new level of dirty for you.”

McGonagall cleared her throat before she spoke. “Now that we are sadly enlightened about Rita’s return to work,” she started, turning to the reporter in question, “I’d like to know what you were doing right outside my office. I hope it wasn’t eavesdropping.”

Rita smiled unpleasantly, snapped her fingers, casing the hot-pink quill to ready itself to start quoting. “Well, Minerva…”

“It’s Professor McGonagall for you,” the teacher said coldly, “Minerva is only for friends and colleagues.”

Go, McGonagall, Sirius observed mentally, grinning daringly at Rita, who seemed to be shooting arrows with her eyes.

“Well, Professor McGonagall,” Rita corrected herself, clearly displeased, “I was hoping for a statement from you, concerning what happened in this school the day before yesterday and Dumbledore’s fate at the hands of Severus Snape. If you could give me a minute in your office with you…”

“There will be no need for that,” McGonagall said quickly. “Here’s my statement: The attack to Hogwarts was unexpected and unfortunate, yet, thanks to quick interference of several aurors and other individuals, the consequences were minimized. We guarantee the parents of our students that we are taking all measures we find necessary to ensure their safety. As for Professor Dumbledore, his death was a great loss to the Wizarding World and he will be mourned and remembered by all of us here at Hogwarts, starting today with his funeral. I have no comment about Snape or anything else. And you’d better quote me word by word, Rita, because if you don’t, I may have a certain talk with our minister about your animagus registration. You’d be surprised at how interested Amelia Bones can be about small matters like this one…” And with that, McGonagall took one step back and slammed the door on Rita’s face.

Still grinning, Sirius turned to the reporter one last time. “Isn’t it great when you’re treated just the way you deserve?” And with that, he walked away. As tempted as he felt to turn around and see just how pissed of Rita looked – and boy, she had to be royally pissed –, he stopped himself in time. One could only poke a wild animal like Rita so much without getting mauled…

---

Around one hour later, most of the crowd that had been attending Albus Dumbledore’s funeral was already dispersing.

It had been a tragically beautiful ceremony: the weather seemed to have been mocking them, forming the most beautiful near-summer day, contrasting with the previous one; the merpeople sang from the lake in some unintelligible, yet enthralling language; hundreds wept for the fallen headmaster, from the bass-player of the Weird Sisters (who Tonks, likely among the top 10 fans of the band, didn’t even have the mind to acknowledge, clinging to her husband through the whole ceremony instead) to Amelia Bones, the Minister of Magic herself; and finally, near the end, Elphias Doge, someone Sirius and Mia saw from time to time in Order meetings and who was, apparently, a friend of Dumbledore that knew him since his school days, said the most heartfelt eulogy they had ever heard. Afterwards, all there was left of the headmaster was the white marble tomb covering his eternal place of rest.

A few groups of people started to form, then, as everyone walked away from the tomb and Sirius and Mia ended up seeing themselves being approached again by McGonagall and a limping, grumpy (as always) Mad-Eye, who apparently wanted to discuss that night’s Order meeting with them.

“You two saved us a lot of trouble by allowing us to meet at your place,” Mad-Eye told them. “I suppose I should thank you for that or something.”

“Yeah, or something,” Sirius mumbled. “Just as long as you don’t make a party out of it… Remember we’ve got impressionable kids under the age of three at home.”

The other man grumbled something under his breath about trying to keep that in mind in response. “Anyway, I wanted to know if it’s okay for me to drop by your place a little earlier to take a look at your wards, though,” the former auror told them.

“Why? Is there something wrong with them?” Mia asked, alarmed, turning to McGonagall Hadn’t she just told them less than one hour before that those wards made Grimmauld Place one of the safest places in the Wizarding World?

“How am I supposed to know that without checking?” Mad-Eye replied grumpily.

“Alastor!” McGonagall scolded the man. “I think that what Mia wants to know about is what makes you think the wards need checking at all.” Judging by her tone, she didn’t really know it herself.

The other man shrugged, turning back to the couple. “Look, odds are that they’re fine but with Dumbledore gone, I need to make sure the share of protection he created for the house is still standing. You know some spells vanish after its caster’s death – this sort of protection charms usually last but we need to be constantly vigilant.” He seemed ready to extend his words into a full lecture about constant vigilance – as if they actually needed another one… – when suddenly he straightened himself up for someone behind them and gave whoever it was a respectful nod – or as respectful as he could manage. “Minister.”

Sirius and Mia turned around at the same time to find Amelia Bones standing there on her own, apparently having ordered the aurors who usually guarded her personally to stand back, out of earshot. “Alastor, Minerva,” she acknowledged the older two, “and Mr. and Mrs. Black. It’s good to see you again. I wish we could have met under less tragic circumstances.”

Mia nodded. “It goes both ways.”

“Is there something we can help you with, Madam Bones?” McGonagall asked her.

The Minister of Magic nodded. “Actually, there is. I would like to join your… organization.”

Sirius and Mia raised their eyebrows – they were fairly sure that the organization she was referring to was none other than the one that would be meeting in their home in a few hours.

“I beg your pardon?” the headmistress asked, stunned.

“The Order of the Phoenix,” Bones stated in a casual tone. “Minerva, I am no Cornelius Fudge. I may spend my days sitting at a desk in the ministry filling paperwork but I keep my eyes open to what is happening around me. I know Dumbledore re-instated the Order over a year ago and I know you were the ones behind saving my life last year back when Rufus Scrimgeour was killed. My late husband took part in the first Order and, now, I want to join too. I’d been meaning to approach Dumbledore himself or Kingsley Shacklebolt for a long time, since I thought they would be the most receptive to the idea of me joining as they’ve known me the longest. For obvious reasons, Dumbledore is out of question now and Kingsley is still recovering from the injuries he sustained in the battle. I don’t think there’s time to waste now.”

Mad-Eye just stared at her for a moment. “Why that’s just… you’re the Minister. We can’t have the Minister in the Order!”

“And why not? Is that a rule?” the woman countered. “Shall I remind you that, as Minister, I have access to resources nobody else does? Resources I am very much willing to share with all of you?”

“It’s too risky for you,” he countered. “Probably even considered illegal by some law.”

“As a matter of fact, it isn’t. I checked. I want to do my fair share at protecting my people and just sitting behind a desk certainly won’t do for me!”

The argument continued between Mad-Eye, McGonagall and Bones for several more minutes with Sirius and Mia acting as mere viewers through the whole thing until McGonagall decided to move that discussion to her own office as it was getting too loud and they found it fitting to stay behind.

“Bones is winning that squabble, anyway,” Sirius pointed out as they watched the trio walk towards the castle, following by Bones’s pair of aurors. “As if Mad-Eye could ever out-argue her – it’s no coincidence she was the youngest person to even make Head of the Law Enforcement department, not to mention Minister. Whether Moody likes it or not, she’ll be joining the Order today.”

Mia noted. “I’m fairly sure this is the first time since the establishment of the Ministry of Magic that a Minister has showed herself willing to risk her neck in the front lines of the battle,” she stated.

“Yeah, well, that’s because most politicians are major woosses,” Sirius pointed with a huff, looking around to see who was nearby. Several yards away, he spotted Harry alone with Ginny standing together under a somewhat isolated tree, talking with serious looks on their faces, like they were plotting something or just having some sort of heavy heart-to-heart. “And what are those two up too?”

“No idea,” Mia responded, raising an eyebrow. They looked altogether odd: Ginny’s eyes were fixed on the floor as Harry spoke to her about something at the same time he glanced at the groups of students near them and then at them, looking away just as he saw himself being observed.

Sirius and Mia dared themselves to approach the couple but didn’t get the chance to get very close to them, standing on a path just close enough to be able to see their lips move at a distance but not enough to hear them, before something unexpected happened. First, Sirius could swear he saw a flicker of movement on Ginny’s mouth as she looked up at Harry that could have either been a beginning of a smile or a sneer. And then, she yelled. Loudly.

You what?!” the redhead shouted at their godson.

He said something in return and, though his tone was much lower and impossible to understand, they got the feeling that he was trying to calm her down. It didn’t work.

You want WHAT?!” Ginny yelled again, her tone so murderous that it caught the attention of everyone in a hundred-yard radius.

Harry seemed to be about to speak again when Ginny made yet another move, this one with her hand. She slapped him. Hard. He looked genuinely surprised by that, even more so than by the yelling, rubbing his cheek as he watched her speeding away like a red-topped hurricane.

In a rushed pace, Ginny reached the path where Sirius and Mia were standing, walking in their direction, headed to the castle.

“Ginny, what happened?” Mia asked her when she passed right by them.

The redhead looked at them, tears apparently of anger running down her cheeks. “Your godson is a bloody jerk. That’s what happened!” she spat as she sped away, practically with smoke coming out of her ears.

That wasn’t good, Sirius thought. That wasn’t good at all.
 

A/N: Another chapter - not 8k word-sized, though... I hope you enjoyed it. Senior year of college is catching up with me - didn't think it would be this different from the other years... Anyway, at least I can still find time to write (thank god!), though not as much as I'd wish. Feedback is welcome! Review!

 
 


Chapter 30: Illusory Confinement
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A/N: So, I sort of merged two chapters into a really big one because next week I'll have a two-day field trip and it may cause yet another delay... Enjoy that 8000+ words!

“Kid, what did you do?” Sirius asked as Harry walked towards them, face-down and with his hand shoved into his pockets.

Now that the red-headed hurricane that was Ginny was out of sight, everyone’s staring had shifted to Harry’s moving form. There were groups of girls whispering among each other, a few Slytherins snickering at Harry’s public humiliation and several people who’d just come for the funeral simply looking curious. And then, there were Remus and Tonks, who stood witnessing the scene from several yards away, looking just as confused at the others.

“Can’t talk about it here,” Harry said as he reached them. “There are too many people around.”

His godfather narrowed his eyes – he had a feeling he knew exacty what had just happened. “You didn’t. Just tell me you didn’t do what I think you did, Harry,” Sirius said, not receiving an answer in return. “You dumped her, didn’t you?”

Harry looked down, his expression awkward. He couldn’t bring himself to respond to them because… well, because it was too complicated to explain truthfully with so many people around. He really didn’t want to have to lie to them just to avoid it. He should have thought they’d ask.

He didn’t need to lie, though, as his god-parents took his refusal to speak as an admission of guilt.

“Merlin, Harry, why would you do that?” Mia asked him, dumbfounded – what was going on in that boy’s head? “You and Ginny are so… you and Ginny. Is this because of what happened to Dumbledore? Some sort of … self-punishing act?” She took a deep breath – she vaguely remembered hearing about those in some Muggle TV show that aired on their telly back when she’d been stuck at home with a newborn Mary. “Oh, Merlin, it’s worse than I thought.”

“What? No, it’s not some self-punishing thing,” Harry said, furrowing his brow like she’d just said the weirdest thing he’d ever heard. “Look, it’s just… complicated. Can we please go talk somewhere else? People are staring.”

“Bet your arse they’re staring,” Sirius said. “You weren’t on this side watching the show you and Ginny put up.” He sighed, mentally recognizing that he was indeed very curious about what Harry had to say and started considering where they should move that conversation to. His and Mia’s offices were in the castle and he really didn’t feel like going all that way – with all the people cluttering the school, it ought to take about ten or fifteen minutes to get there, between greetings and people pulling them aside to talk about completely pointless matters. Where else could they go and get some privacy? Maybe the opposite side of the lake? No, that was too open. Maybe… Suddenly, an idea occurred to him and he found it just perfect. “Follow me,” he told Mia and Harry, motioning to walk along the path they were standing on, exactly on the opposite direction of the castle.

“Sirius, where are we going?” Mia inquired.

“You’ll see in just a moment, love.”

And as promised, just a couple of minutes later, they did see where Sirius was taking them: The Quidditch Pitch.

Harry stopped walking and raised his eyebrows. “Er… I actually meant we should talk somewhere private, Sirius,” he pointed out.

Sirius nodded and removed a bunch of keys from his pocket. “Just trust me, kid.”

They ended up not actually entering the stadium but heading to a door on the side of it, which Sirius opened with one of his keys – it was a supply closet.

“Private enough for you?” he asked Harry. As Quidditch instructor and referee, he had access to pretty much everywhere in that pitch, including the places that were off limits to the students. He could say that was his domain.

Harry shrugged before stepping in. “I guess.”

The closet wasn’t very big and its ceiling was crooked, making the height of the room more and more reduced until it reached barely four feet when the ceiling met the wall opposite the door. Only a lamp on the ceiling illuminated it after Sirius turned it on and locked the door again, casting the usually silencing charm to avoid eavesdroppers.

“Well?” he asked Harry, sitting down on sturdy chest piled on top of another by the door. Mia also managed to find a pile of cardboard boxes to sit on, as did Harry. “You can start explaining what happened between you and Ginny.”

Harry hesitated. “It’s a long story.”

“Start from the beginning, then,” Mia suggested.

Their godson sighed. “Alright but just… don’t interrupt me until I’m done telling you.”

---

The night before

Illuminated only by the small light-spot at the end of her wand and making as little noise as she could, Ginny made her way down the girl’s staircase headed to the Gryffindor Common Room. Harry had asked her, shortly before she’d headed to bed little more than an hour before, to meet him down there at midnight, when they could talk without interruptions and being overheard as everyone else would be in bed.

As she walked down, step by step to go unnoticed, Ginny wondered what that was about. They’d been alone plenty of times that day, though he certainly had looked lost in thought most of the time – no wonder, since little more than twenty-four hours before he’d watched his headmaster and mentor be murdered in front of him. It hurt her that she couldn’t help him more with that…

When she reached the last step and walked into the common-room, the fireplace was lit, illuminating the room with tones of orange. And oddly, she noted, the room also seemed to be empty. Had Harry forgotten about the meeting? He’d better not or she’d kill him for having made her spend a full hour lying in bed, bored and fighting sleep for nothing. “Er… Harry?” she called in a hopeful whisper.

“Here,” she heard him respond before he stood up, revealing he’d been sitting on the floor in front of the couch.

She sighed. “I was starting to think you’d stood me up.”

He shook his head. “Of course not. You’d go upstairs to my dorm-room and drag me down here if I had, anyway.”

“You got that one, right,” she said, approaching his spot behind the couch. She might have kissed him, even if only as a soft greet, but something in that solemn look on his face told her that might not be the moment. “I take it you asking me to come down here wasn’t code for ‘let’s take a shot at snogging on the Common room sofa’.”

“No, not really,” he said, motioning to sit back down on the floor as she did the same. “I actually meant to talk.”

“About what?” Ginny asked – she felt the tickle of nerves in the back of her throat. He seemed too serious for it to be good.

“Stuff,” Harry responded, her arms crossed over his bent knees. “Decisions and… things.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Could you be a bit vaguer?” she asked sarcastically. “You’re spoiling the whole talk with so many details.” She paused for a moment and noted she might have been a bit too harsh. “Sorry. I’m a little edgy. What’s going on, Harry?”

“I’ve been thinking a lot today,” he told her. “About many things – too many to even start telling you about all of them unless you have a week to spare.” He sighed, looking down at his knees.

“And?” Ginny asked, urging him to speak. “Any conclusions?”

He spoke in a thoughtful and detached tone – entirely too normal for the matter in question. It seemed like he was just stating a regular fact. “We shouldn’t be together, Gin.”

Ginny felt her blood freeze inside her veins and stared at Harry. “What?” she asked, her tone with a hint of shock and disbelief. “You’re joking.”

“Ginny…”

“No,” she said, lifting her hand to interrupt him – she was trying very hard to remain cool even though her mind was racing. He wanted them to break up? Just like that? And he was saying it in that blasted casual tone that made it sound like he was asking her to fetch him a sandwich instead of asking her to end their relationship? “Just… what sort of… completely demented train of logic led you to that conclusion?” She needed to know.

Harry sighed. “It’s not demented, Gin. Voldemort uses people his enemies are close to. He’s already used you as bait once in your first year, and that was just because you were my best friend’s sister. Think how much danger you’ll be in as my girlfriend. He’ll try and get to me through you and Merlin knows I’d do anything, not matter how… stupidly risky it was to make sure you were safe.”

She closed her eyes and huffed in frustration. “I knew it was for some stupid noble reason,” she mumbled under her breath. “Just being a Weasley puts me in danger – we’re blood-traitors and all that nonsense, remember? Almost as bad as Muggle-borns for them.”

“You’re not actually trying to compare the amount of danger of being a Weasley to the amount danger of being Harry Potter’s girlfriend, Ginny, are you?” he asked her in disbelief.

“So, what if I am?” she defied. “It’s still danger, isn’t it? Every month, he makes people vanish – people who don’t even know you and whose odds of being targets are minimal. That should show you that, in this war, the amount of danger one’s in doesn’t really apply to much more than numbers. What if I don’t care about those numbers?”

I care,” Harry replied. “How do you think I’d feel if tomorrow I was going to your funeral instead of Dumbledore’s? Because Voldemort had killed you to get to me?”

“So that’s what you asked me here for?” she asked, looking down at her crossed legs, since she couldn’t really face him at the moment. “To end things?”

There was a long moment of silence and at some point, Ginny dared herself to look up at him just to try and guess what was on his mind. He seemed guilty and ashamed as his eyes remained on the fire. “No,” he said at some point. “I don’t want to end things.”

Ginny let out a frustrated breath. “Then why on Earth did you just say all that crap about why we shouldn’t be together?!” she asked, her voice filled with disbelief. What on earth was going on inside his head? How she wished she knew how to practice Legilimancy… “Merlin, Harry, are you okay?” she asked, noting how troubled he looked.

“I’m fine,” he replied, looking up at her to see an unconvinced look covering her face. “I really am.”

“Then tell me what this is all about, for Merlin’s sake,” she requested, tentatively resting a hand on his shoulder.

He sighed and nodded. “Okay. I said we shouldn’t be together for… for all those reasons I’ve just told you.”

“Which are rubbish, as I pointed out,” Ginny corrected him flatly.

“Maybe you have a point but you can’t deny that so do I,” he offered diplomatically. “But the thing is… no matter how much a part of me thinks that we shouldn’t keep this up… I’m too selfish to let you go. I spent the whole day convincing myself I should but the truth is that I don’t want us to not be together. The past year has been… hell between all the messes Voldemort keeps causing. But it has also been one of the best ones of my life because of what we have together.” He huffed before turning to Ginny. “Does that make any sense or am I just going mad?”

For the first time since she’d sat there, Ginny managed to give him a shadow of a smile as her hand descended to his own. “You’re not mad – at least not more than usual, as far as I’m concerned. And I understand what you meant by what you said – it’s been a bittersweet year for me too.” She sighed. “So, what did you ask me down here to if it’s not to break up, then?”

He hesitated. “Er… that’s the complicated part.”

Ginny narrowed her eyes, foreseeing complications. “Harry…”

“Just listen, okay,” Harry requested. “Just let me say what I have to say and then we can talk… or you can yell, depending on how you take it. Please?”

Her eyes remained narrowed to thin slits. “Get to the point, Potter.”

“Alright,” Harry said. “We’ve already established that I don’t want us… I don’t want us to break up. Yet that doesn’t change the fact that you openly being my girlfriend puts you in major danger, Ginny. If we weren’t together anymore, though…”

Ginny huffed in frustration. “For Merlin’s sake, Harry, have you hit your head or something? Because now you’re starting to sound a bit mad.”

“No, Ginny, listen up. Let me rephrase it: if everyone thought we weren’t together anymore, the risk for you wouldn’t be as big,” he said.

The redhead furrowed her brows in realization. “You want us to make everyone believe we’re broken up.”

“Before you say anything, I’ve got to tell you that I don’t… love the idea. I really don’t. Part of me tells me I should do it for real. An even bigger part tells me not to do anything, to just let us be the way we’ve been all year. But… if anything happened to you, it would kill me and it would feel even worse if I didn’t know that at least I’d tried something to keep it from happening. That I wasn’t completely selfish.”

Ginny didn’t say anything for several moments and simply looked at him, thoughtful. She was in a dilemma herself. “What will you do if I refuse?” she asked

“I don’t know, Gin. I really don’t know.” He sighed. “I know you deserve more than some… top secret relationship and if you want out, I won’t blame you…”

She chuckled dryly. “You’re an idiot,” she said.

“What?”

“I said you’re an idiot,” she repeated. “You told me you couldn’t break up with me because you were selfish. Well, guess what, genius? I’m selfish too and I’ll be damned if you’re going to talk me into breaking up with you myself.”

“I wasn’t trying to…”

“Yeah, I know you weren’t. Consciously,” Ginny said. “Now shut up and listen. A few minutes ago when you started talking about us not being together, you nearly gave me a heart attack. And if you hadn’t fixed it in time and told me you weren’t actually talking about going ahead with it, you wouldn’t be returning to your dorm-room in a very good shape.” She sighed like she was ashamed for admitting that. “Look, months ago, when what we had was still fresh, I could have been the understanding Ginny who accepted that her boyfriend was breaking up with her to protect her with a really cool face. I really could and Merlin knows that would have hurt like hell. But now… now I wouldn’t have been able to pull that off to after we’ve been together for over a year and that has been the best year of my life too, despite the mess the world is in. Maybe it’s because this relationship has spoiled me or because today I’m even more arse over elbow in love with you than I was one year ago. But if you’d really called me down here to break up with me for some stupid noble reason, you’d have bat boogies flying out of your nose right up until you realized just what a stupid thing you were doing.”

“I figured you might do something like that,” Harry mumbled.

“Good,” Ginny said, pleased with herself. She sighed, then, and reached softly for his hand. “And about that fake-breakup… I’m not a big fan of it but I’m willing to go along with it anyway.”

There was a silent pause, then, only ended by Harry’s “short question. “Why?”

“Because it will make things easier for you,” she told him simply. “And because, if something happened to me – which it won’t –, I’d want you to know it wasn’t your fault because we’d tried.”

He should be happy she was going along with it, yet he didn’t really feel that way. Maybe it was because he still had confessions to make. “Before we put that plan into practice, there’s something you should know, Ginny.” He had only told that to Ron and Hermione before her and it was only because… well, because he hadn’t been able to stop the words before they came out of his mouth. Now, he was telling it to Ginny. “Next year… next year I don’t think I’ll be coming back to the school. Too many people are getting hurt while I’m here at Hogwarts – the Horcruxes are out there and I need to find every one of them fast so I can stop him and end this stupid war.”

Ginny looked away from him, into the fire and Harry’s eyes remained on her – her reaction was a mystery to him. He’d imagined she might yell at him for that, look shocked for a while or maybe hurt that he’d be leaving her behind. It was none of it.

“I can't say I’m surprised,” she confessed faintly – the thought might make her nervous but she’d always known it was coming. “I knew this would happen sooner or later – that you’d have to leave. I knew you… we wouldn’t be able to be really happy until Voldemort was gone.” She faced him again. “Will Ron and Hermione go along?”

Harry nodded, surprised she was taking that so… coolly. “I mentioned it to them and they said they would. I tried to convince them not to but it didn’t work.” He sighed. “Ginny, please tell me you’re not planning to join us too.”

“I’d be lying if I told you that,” she confessed.

“Gin…”

“You can’t change my mind from this,” she told him before he could finish. “Just as soon as I turn seventeen and am free of the trace, I’ll be off to join you if you’re still out there.” He seemed surprised she’d thought of the underage magic problem – he’d been ready to use that argument if she insisted on going. “I’m not stupid, Harry. It’s still more than a year before I turn seventeen but I know better than to go with you before it comes: if I did, I’d be a risk to you if I used magic and a burden if I didn’t.”

“You’ve given this a lot of thought, haven’t you?” he realized.

She nodded. “I’ve seen this coming ever since you first told me about the Horcruxes, Harry. I even was blunt enough to go to Dumbledore and ask him if there was any way around the trace – he told me that if there was one, he’d failed to find it when he’d searched back when he was young. I’ll have to wait until it goes away on its own and, in the meantime, I’ll keep an eye on Hogwarts for you.” She paused. “Of course, I’m hoping that I won’t have to join you in your quest at all because you’ll be back by the time I turn seventeen.”

“I’m hoping for that too,” Harry confessed.

She gave him a little smile that didn’t last more than a second. “So, I take it you’ll wait until your birthday too before you leave. We still have that time, don’t we?”

“I don’t think I can put it off much longer than that, Gin,” Harry said.

She nodded. “Well, you could wait for Bill and Fleur’s wedding – it will be on the day after your birthday,” she said. “It will be a good way to end this… chapter of your life and start the new one where you hunt Voldemort. Plus, I really wanted a chance to dance with you. To make up for the Yule Ball.”

“If we go along with this fake breakup, we shouldn’t really be seen close together in public,” Harry pointed out.

Ginny shrugged. “We’ll find a way around it.”

“So, you really will go along with this?”

She nodded. “I’ve already told you I would do it for you. Did you change your mind?”

Harry shook his head. “I was just thinking it will be a pain to have to pretend we’re at odds all the time.”

“On a more positive note, I’ve always heard that sneaking out is pretty fun,” Ginny stated with a nervous laugh. “We can always meet like this every now and then. And we have just a couple more weeks here at Hogwarts. I suppose at home we don’t have to pretend because, well, we can trust our families to keep it a secret, don’t you think?”

Harry nodded. “Yeah, I guess. We shouldn’t tell anyone we’re planning this, though. Only afterwards. If they don’t look surprised, it might make hard for other people to believe.”

“Honestly, Harry, I think that the people who know us will find it hard to believe anyway if we just tell them we’ve split up,” Ginny said.

“Well, we should put up quite a convincing public show for them then, shouldn’t we?” Harry suggested. “How good are your acting skills?”

Her lips curled. “Well, we can say the twins and I have a lot in common on that,” she said proudly. “I can put up a good show.”

Harry nodded. “Alright, then. So, just to make it official…” He shifted his position so he was face-to-face with her and reached for both her hands. “Ginny Weasley, will you fake-break up with me?”

She had to smile – how stupid was it that the stupid question sounded so romantic to her? Ridiculous. “Just say the place and time.”

“Tomorrow at Dumbledore’s funeral?” he suggested. “After it, I mean.”

So soon, she thought. But it had to be done that way. And it would not be real. “It’s a date, then.” She leaned closer to him. “I’m going to kiss you now.”

“Okay,” he said wearily just before his girlfriend’s – soon to be know publically as ex-girlfriend’s – lips touched his own. He hoped everyone would buy it as he simply didn’t know what else to do.

---

Present time

By the time Harry was finished explaining the whole thing to his godparents, leaving out a few details such as his plans not to attend the school in the following year – he couldn’t bring himself to do it as he was still gathering courage to break those news to them – Sirius seemed to be tempted to laugh.

“It was an act?” Mia asked him, her tone tinted with disbelief. “The whole thing?”

Harry nodded. “And apparently it was convincing enough,” he said, satisfied.

Sirius snorted. “Convincing? It was brilliant, kid. Maybe a bit too loud with the yelling but just enough so it would catch everyone’s attention.” The news would be all over the school in less than an hour and, if the kid was lucky – or really unlucky – Skeeter would be typing an article about him being the newest bachelor at Hogwarts to Witches’ Weakly by the end of the day. He had to chuckle. “You do realize her handprint is still all over your face, don’t you?”

Harry groaned and rubbed his own cheek again. “That part wasn’t really planned. I’m assuming she was trying to improvise…”

His godfather snorted. “It was worth the look on your face.”

Mia sighed from where she sat. “Merlin, Harry, you really had me worried,” she said. Ginny had been his rock for so long… The thought of him ending things with her just like that had made her more fearful than she liked to admit. “You know you didn’t have to do that, don’t you? Fake a breakup? You know there are so many people around who’d do anything to make sure Ginny is safe. Her parents, her brothers… even us.”

Harry nodded. “I know but… I don’t want to risk it, okay? It’s safer this way.”

“So, what are you going to tell people if they ask you why you broke up?” Sirius asked him.

Harry shrugged. “We’re still trying to figure it out. We’ll probably say that after what happened to Dumbledore, I didn’t feel like I could deal with being tied up to a girl. Everyone thinks I’ve lost a few bolts over it, anyway – makes sense us ending things would be my fault.”

“And are you sure that Voldemort himself will believe? Or even care?” Mia asked. “Honestly, Harry, I don’t think he cares much about teenage romances.”

“No, but he cares about who he can use as leverage against me. An ex-girlfriend, especially one I broke up with in such bad terms wouldn’t be of any use to him. I’m sure a few Slytherins will make sure the news reach him soon enough, probably with a few dark rumours attached to make it sound even worse.”

“And what about your…” Sirius paused and pointed at his own head “…connection thingy? Don’t you think he can see it’s a lie through it?”

Harry shook his head. “Dumbledore taught me Occlumency all year in our lessons after what happened in the Department of Mysteries. I’m a lot better at it now – he could barely enter my mind the last time we tried it,” he stated. “Look, I’ll keep practicing every waking moment if I have to but Voldemort won’t enter my head ever again if I can help it.”

“So you’re really sure you did the right thing?” Mia asked.

Harry nodded. “I know I did,” he said, sighing. “Look, I’d do the same with you all – the two of you, Izzy, Alex and Mary – if I could but it’s harder to fake-break up with your family and, honestly, that Voldemort would never buy.”

“Harry!” Mia said, livid. “Don’t even think about that!”

“You worry about protecting yourself and let us worry about ourselves,” Sirius told him more evenly. “Seems only fair, doesn’t it?”

Harry sighed. “I guess,” he said, standing up. “So, I probably should go back to the castle before people start wondering where I am.”

His godparents nodded and got up too. Before any could reach for the door, Mia took a step further and wrapped her godson in an unexpected hug.

“You’re too selfless for your own good, you know?” she asked.

Harry sighed before pulling away a bit. Funny, he thought just the opposite…

---

Later that day at Grimmauld Place, everything was ready – or as ready as it could be – for the Order meeting that was to take place there. And as agreed, around five that evening – roughly a half hour before the meeting was scheduled to– Mad-Eye was ringing the doorbell of the house and Sirius was already making his way to open it.

Yet when he did, his face shifted into a frown. “What is he doing here?” Sirius asked, his eyes narrowing at the sight of Mundungus Fletcher standing by Mad-Eye’s side on his porch – it was no news that one caused trouble wherever he went and not the sort of fun trouble Sirius, as a respectable Marauder, appreciated.

Mundungus looked ready to protest Sirius’s question. “Oi, I’m part of the ord…”

Mad-Eye smacked him on the back of the head. “Be quiet, you slimy crook,” he said before turning to Sirius. “Caught this one plotting in Knockturn Alley to smuggle a bunch of stolen fake jewelry and sell it as protection amulets in Diagon Alley.”

“That was a misunderstanding. I was just…”

“Shut it, Fletcher!” Moody barked at him – if his words hadn’t been what had done the job shutting the other man up, certainly the I’ll beat-you-to-a-bloody-pulp look in his mangled face had.

“And you brought him here because…” Sirius inquisitively said.

“Figured I should keep an eye on him in case he tried to skip the meeting and put the plan in action instead – would you rather have a few dozens of fools walking around exposed because they thought they have some bogus amulet to protect them?”

Sirius groaned. “Fine,” he said, stepping away from the door so they could get in.

Mia was coming down the stairs by the time Sirius closed the front door and raised an eyebrow at her husband, also confused by Mundungus Fletcher’s presence along with Moody – it hadn’t occurred to her that, being part of the Order, he might show up for the meeting, never mind show early with Moody.

Sirius shrugged and pointed at the former auror. “His fault,” he said.

“Well, will you show me where the centre of the wards is or what?” the former auror said.

“The what?” Mia asked, confused. She’d never actually heard of it.

“The centre of the wards!” Mad-Eye said. “It’s where the core of a house’s wards is.”

“And how are we supposed to know where it is?” Sirius asked. “We never messed with the wards ourselves.”

“Don’t know where…” Mad-Eye mumbled under his breath in disgust.

“Maybe I could go look for it,” Mundungus suggested all too innocently.

“To get your hands on a bunch of heirlooms while you’re on it, no doubt,” Mad-Eye barked in return before turning to Sirius and Mia. “Just take me to the house-elf – he ought to know where it is.”

Mia nodded. “He’s just upstairs, keeping an eye on the kids in the living room.”

“Maybe I could just stay in here…” Mundungus suggested – so much stuff around that he’d love to get his hands into… “Busted a knee the other week and all those stairs…”

Moody grabbed him by the collar. “Nice try. I’m not letting you out of my sight for a moment.” And with that, he pulled the man behind him up the stairs.

As expected, they found Kreacher in the living room, who informed them that the centre of the wards was located in the house’s attic at the same time he helped little Alex build some sort of tower with his construction blocks, which was rapidly becoming almost as tall as him.

Satisfied, Mad-Eye once again pulled Fletcher up the many flights of stairs that led up to the attic, guided by Mia, who offered to take them up there as Sirius usually avoided going up to the topmost floors of the house where his old room as well as his late brother’s one were located.

While the three were up there, Sirius spent a few minutes watching little Mary as she attempted to sit up inside her portable bassinet, squealing in delight when she succeeded, and then helping Alex reach the top of his tower, now definitely taller than him, to place one last block up there before he decided to make his way back down to the ground floor, leaving the kids under Kreacher’s watchful eye, as people were bound to start arriving for the meeting soon enough.

It wasn’t more than five minutes after he reached the ground floor that he first heard the sound of someone flooing downstairs in the kitchen– and since most of the Order didn’t have a floo-connection to the house, Sirius figured it ought to be someone they had over frequently like Remus, Lulu or Elizabeth.

He was right the third time as only four or five steps into the stairwell, he heard the blonde healer’s voice. Only she wasn’t alone in there.

…I told you should have stayed home! Floo travelling isn’t good for healing, especially when it comes to ribs and other bones,” she was scolding someone. “Keep this up and you won’t be back to active work for the rest of the month.”

Curious, Sirius descended further down the stairs – it was more than clear she wasn’t talking to her father or her kids since, as far as he knew, none of them had injuredribs. In fact, the only person he could recall that had taken a rib injury lately was…

Relax, Beth, it’s just a little twinge. Didn’t land quite the way I’d planned.” The other person replied. And if the rib injury hadn’t given him away, the slow, deep voice that said those words certainly did. A few more steps down the stairs allowed Sirius to peak through the kitchen’s door and spot by the fireplace not only Elizabeth Harper but also Head Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt. Now, why those two had arrived together, was something he could only imagine…

You’re just a stubborn arse, you know?” she was telling him. “I could have easily discussed the matters you want to bring into the meeting myself and then tell you about it when I got home. I’m very articulate with words, you know?

Kingsley chuckled, motioning to stand up. “I know you are, Beth, but I’d rather argue my own points. I’m fine, really. I just need to find Moody to have a word with him.

Elizabeth sighed. “Just don’t let me hear you’re putting too much strain on those ribs or else I’m holding you hostage in my place for the rest of the month.

And as she finished saying that, she leaned further and kissed him. Really kissed him. Well, Sirius thought, this is an interesting turn of events. Elizabeth Harper had a boyfriend and it was actually a pretty decent bloke unlike her ex-husband who still was on the run from the goblins for owning them a small fortune lost in gambling.

He didn’t have the chance to go on with his thinking as, just as soon as she pulled away from the kiss, Kingsley started to motion towards the kitchen doorway, probably headed to the stairs – and then meant he’d run straight into Sirius and see he was eavesdropping. That would be bad.

Quickly, he improvised and made a little noise with his feet to make it sound like he was just coming down the stairs and, just as Kingsley as about to reach the doorway, Sirius pretended he almost ran into him. “Oh, sorry about that Kingsley. Didn’t know you were here,” he lied.

Kingsley shook his head. “No harm done. I’ve just arrived. Moody doesn’t happen to be here already, does he?”

“He’s in the attic messing with the wards,” Sirius informed him. “But if you wait for him in the dining room, I figure he shouldn’t take much longer up there.”

“Yeah, I’ll do that, thanks,” the auror replied, walking up the stairs with difficulty.

Just as soon as he was gone, Sirius decided to enter the kitchen, only to find Elizabeth standing there raising her eyebrows at him. “How much did you hear?”

“Oh, more than enough. So,” he said, grinning, “do you treat all your patients with such… affection?”

She smiled and shook her head. “Only the ones I’m engaged to.”

Sirius’s eyes opened wide. “The ones you’re what to?”

“Engaged. As in ‘fiancée of’,” she said calmly. “It happened a few days ago and, before you ask, no, Mia doesn’t know about Kingsley and I. I was going to tell her a couple of days ago but then there was the battle… Please do me a favour and let me tell her myself, okay?”

“I… sure. And congratulations, I guess,” Sirius said awkwardly. “Little question, though: is Kingsley the bloke I almost caught you with in New Year’s when Mary was born?”

Elizabeth blushed. “Yeah, that was him,” she admitted, embarrassed. “Only my dad and the kids know about us being together other than you and, well, hopefully Mia soon. We’ve been keeping it quiet because he’d the head Auror and there are risks inherent to his position. We’d like it to remain that way.”

Sirius rolled his eyes. “These secret relationships for the sake of safety are becoming a really lame trend,” he commented.

She raised her eyebrows. “What makes you say that?”

He shrugged. “Never mind. My lips are sealed if that’s what you want. But another question: why does he get to call you Beth and us common mortals can’t even use a nickname without you trying to bite our heads off?” Sirius asked.

Her lips curled. “For the same reason he gets to shag me and you don’t.”

“Who gets to shag who?” Mia asked as she stepped into the room, her expression slightly confused.

“Long story,” Elizabeth told her.

“Well, Mad-Eye said the wards were fine,” she announced.

“Good, that’s good,” her husband responded, noting that Elizabeth was giving him a ‘get lost’ look, intending to use the opportunity to share the news with Mia. He cleared his throat, taking a step back. “Why don’t I leave you girls to talk?”

Mia gave him a strange look as he retreated but didn’t protest against his quick exit.

People started arriving quickly in the minutes that followed and gathering inside the dining room, waiting for the meeting to start. It was slightly odd to see the Minister of Magic entering his house as a regular guest when she arrived with McGonagall, who’d offered to show her where the meeting was, and sitting at his dining table. If she weren’t talking to Kingsley with such a serious look on her face, one might have believed she was there for a dinner-party of some sort.

Mia and Elizabeth joined everyone in the dining room minutes before the meeting took place, arm in arm and all secrets and smiles like two girls in their teenage years – seemed Mia had taken the news of the engagement well. When the ‘assembly’, as Mad-Eye referred it, started, everyone sat around the table and remained quiet.

The meeting started with Madam Bones’s formal introduction to the Order and her explanation of her reasons behind joining the order. Ironically maybe, the Minister confessed not to fully trust the Ministry itself and to believe that likely there were moles in several departments, though she wasn’t sure who they were. Furthermore, she informed them that she was in negotiations with several foreign ministries to create secret refugee protocols to help several witches and wizards escape the country in the eventuality of Voldemort taking it over.

“And since I am tempted not to fully trust my staff, I’ll only disclose any information concerning these protocols to the Order, hoping you will help me putting them into practice,” Bones told them.

Other matters followed that one, such as the Muggle Prime Minister’s protection, which was made Kingsley’s responsibility as soon as he was fully healed, as well as the arrangement of rotating patrols in Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade and other important places in the Wizarding World.

It wasn’t until Harry’s name came to the discussion that it had Sirius and Mia’s full attention.

“Alright, not that this is solved, we need to discuss Potter,” Moody stated. “He’s our main concern here.”

“Yes, Alastor is right,” Kingsley added. “Dumbledore said it himself. His last words to me were: ‘Harry is the best hope we have’. We have reason to believe that his safety is essential in the middle of all this.”

“Well, this house is a fortress,” Mad-Eye stated. “I checked it myself earlier. If he stays here until the school re-starts, nobody will be able to get him.”

“You don’t actually expect Harry to remain locked in this house the whole summer, do you?” Mia asked sceptically. “Even if his friends visited him here, he’d be bored by the end of the first week. There’s no way we’ll make him stay here until school starts again.”

“You’d rather put him in danger so he can have a little freedom?” the former auror said.

“We’d rather he wasn’t miserable and that’s how he’ll feel like if we let you turn his home into his prison,” Sirius said icily – he knew his share about prisons.

“Well, at least he’d be safe!”

McGonagall was the one to speak. “Alastor, calm yourself,” she told the other man. “Sirius and Mia are as good as Harry’s parents and, more than anyone else in this table, they have a say about what is decided about him. Not to mention that they are right.”

“Minerva…” Mad-Eye started.

“It’s unthinkable to put a sixteen-year-old boy in house-arrest for something he’s not even guilty of – being a target,” the headmistress. “As a teacher, I can’t support that idea and I’m sure we can find a better solution.”

“Harry is always welcome at the Burrow,” Arthur Weasley told them. “And since Moody is already reinforcing our wards to turn the shed into our new headquarters, I think it would be safe for him to spend time there too.”

“Didn’t he and Ginny just break up after the funeral?” Tonks pointed out suddenly, unaware of the truth behind the scene she’d witnessed. “I’m not against the plan, I’m just saying it ought to be awkward for her to have her ex-boyfriend around all the time after such a… bad breakup.”

While many seemed pretty uninterested about the matter, three of four members, manly women, nodded in approval. Sirius had to fight the urge to grin – yep, the dramatic fake breakup had indeed worked: if people in the Order had bought it, he doubted many students wouldn’t.

Molly cleared the throat. “Well, yes, but Ron is still Harry’s best friend. The Burrow is a big place. I’m sure there’s plenty of space for him and Ginny to avoid each other. It won’t be an issue, I’m sure. He’d be safe there,” Molly said – her tone was so unconcerned that Sirius guessed Ginny might have already explained hers and Harry’s act to her parents.

“Or, on the contrary,” George said, eyes narrowed, “maybe he won’t. Merlin knows him being there will give Gin-Gin a chance to get back at the little prat for dumping her. We’re more than inclined to help.”

“Nothing deadly, though,” Fred added as if it was a soothing thought. “She’ll enjoy watching him squirm.” He turned to Sirius and Mia. “No offence.”

This time, and judging by the looks of agreement shared by Bill and Charlie, he guessed Molly still hadn’t come around to telling her sons that the breakup was bogus. Sirius could only hope she’d do it soon, before the twins mailed Harry some sort giant dung-bomb as payback.

“Boys!” their mother said warningly. “Mind our own business! This is not the time or place.”

The twins shrugged and leaned in synchrony against the back of their chairs with their arms crossed, plotting looks on their faces.

“Fine! He can stay either at home or the Burrow. Period,” Mad-Eye accepted. “See? Problem solved: Potter’s not confined to one place.”

“No, that’s still not fine, Moody,” Mia stated, her tone edgy. “Now he’s just confined to two of them. Are you even listening to yourself? Harry’s not your property or anyone else’s – not even mine and I’ve raised him from the time when he wore diapers. You… no, we don’t get to just sit around a table and decide where he can and cannot go like he’s some pet – Harry will be off age as of the end of next month, for Merlin’s sake!”

“According to what Dumbledore believed, he may also be essential to defeat Voldemort!” Mad-Eye spat back. “He can’t just parade around unprotected, all but asking to be killed!”

“And he won’t,” Sirius told him. “The kid’s neither a moron nor suicidal, Moody. But he’s not some puppet that’s supposed to be shut in some box until someone needs to use him. He’s a person with brains who gets to have a choice about his life. If anything, Mia and I can have a talk with him about where we think are the safest places for him to be and then it will be up to him to follow our advice. Either he does or not, we’ll always be around to protect him.”

“They have a point, Moody,” Kingsley agreed. “You’re going too far with this protection thing. From what I’ve seen, Harry’s a very smart kid – need I to remind you that it was his idea to spread Felix Felicis among the fighters in the battle two days ago, which may have spared our side from countless injuries and deaths?” He might not have taken the potion himself but it had certainly soothed him knowing that everyone else had better odds of being safe because of it.

“You got that right,” Bill Weasley mumbled diplomatically – as bummed as he might be with Harry over ‘breaking up’ with his sister, he couldn’t deny that it was nothing short of luck that had made some chandelier suddenly fall down right between him and Greyback when the latter had been about to jump him to do Merlin-knew-what. He owed Harry for that.

“Then what do your enlightened brains say about what we’ll do if Potter decides he doesn’t want to follow our advice,” Mad-Eye finally asked.

“I honestly doubt he’ll want to cause much trouble, Moody,” Remus vouched for Harry. “Harry is a good kid. He’s not that rebellious.”

His wife nodded in agreement. “Remus is right,” Tonks said. “If anything, he may want to go out on Muggle London or Diagon Alley a few times. We can form a small guard to accompany him. I wouldn’t mind joining it.”

“That seems like a good idea,” Kingsley agreed. “A small guard should keep him safe enough if they took, for instance some sort of emergency Portkey to get him to a safe place quickly in case of attack. I’d also o