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The Guardians by Chloe Black
Chapter 17 : Some Semblance of Normalcy
 
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Disclaimer: I do not own any of these wonderful characters; they all belong to the magnificent J.K. Rowling. (Except for the original few that you'll be able to recognize yourselves!)

Chapter 17: Some Semblance of Normalcy

Sirius Black never thought he would be walking up these steps again. And what was even more ironic, was that he had this exact thought about a year ago, when they had decided to use his loathed former home as the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. More than twenty years had passed since he ran away and swore never to return to this house, yet here he was again. He followed the rest of the group up the front steps and through the door, expecting to hear his mother's piercing voice from her portrait that was forever stuck to the wall; to see the once pretentious pure-blood loving home in shambles; but what graced his eyes was quite the opposite.

Sirius was almost sure he was walking into a completely different house. The halls were lit with candelabras, the walls were painted in a warm welcoming red, reminding him strongly of the Gryffindor common room, rather than the dark, Slytherin feeling the house had given off previously. It was the most welcoming the house had ever looked. The walls were no longer lined with grotesque heads of the Black's former house elves. And what was most obvious was how quiet the halls were without his mother's echoing shriek.

"Where is she? How did you get rid of her?" He asked grinning wildly.

"What are you talking about, Sirius?" Remus asked.

"My mother! I was sure she put a permanent sticking charm on it!"

Tonks beamed, "It took a while, but we were eventually able to pry her off the wall. I had a little help from a few friends. Just wait until you see the rest of the house!"

Sirius couldn't stop grinning; it had been a very long time since he had felt this elated about anything. They walked up the stairs, entering the drawing room next, which looked friendlier than ever; it too was painted in the same deep red, with gold trimming; the fire was blazing merrily. And what caught Sirius' eyes immediately was the absence of the tapestry bearing the Black family tree.

He rushed over to his cousin, enthusiastically lifting her off the ground in an embrace, "You're bloody brilliant, Dora."

"Merlin's beard. You did it!" came the astonished voice of Arthur Weasley from the doorway. Molly was standing at his side, eyes sparkling with tears.

It wasn't long before she was sobbing, and holding Ginny in a bone crushing hug, saying "I'm so sorry we doubted you! We're so proud, Ginevra, so proud!"

Arthur chuckled, and offered his hand to Sirius who gladly took it, "It's good to see you, Sirius. Welcome back!"

Sirius grinned, "You've got an amazing daughter, Arthur."

"She is something, isn't she?" Arthur beamed, as he faced his daughter.

Molly, who was still in hysterics, came to crush Sirius in a hug next, "I'm so sorry for treating you so horribly before, Sirius!"

He laughed loudly, "Molly, honestly, its fine." He knew they hadn't always agreed on things, but he knew that she only wanted what was best for Harry, as did he.

As he thought of Harry, he turned to his former headmaster, and before he could speak the words, Dumbledore nodded, "I will return to Hogwarts in a moment to retrieve Harry."

Sirius grinned, but everyone else in the room didn't seem as pleased and this puzzled him.

"He might not come too willingly," Hermione began, biting her lip, "He's been very…upset lately." She glanced at Ginny, who looked quite nervous, as she was wringing her hands.

"I'll do what I can. Perhaps I should ask Ronald to escort us, as well?" Dumbledore inquired.

Sirius was about to say that Dumbledore should say or do whatever he felt was necessary, when Molly cut in, and was instantly reminded of why they never got along."Now Albus, don't you think it's slightly ridiculous to drag Harry and Ron out of their beds at this hour?"

"Mum, Harry deserves to know," Ginny pleaded desperately.

"Well then it can wait until morning and in the meantime you and Hermione should return to Hogwarts tonight!" Molly stated with authority.

"And come back here tomorrow? Don't you think that's pointless?" Ginny retorted fiercely, despite her obvious fatigue. "And what about Sirius," she continued with just as much fervor, "he just got home; don't you think he ought to see Harry?"

Molly looked as if she was about to protest, but seemed to remember the apology that she had granted Sirius only a few moments before. "I—oh, all right," Molly Weasley had surrendered, while Ginny smiled triumphantly, catching Sirius' eye in the process. He grinned; he had never realized how much he liked Ginny.

Dumbledore chuckled, "Now that we've settled that, shall I be on my way?"

"Yes!" Sirius cheered joyfully. He was eager to see his godson again; he couldn't imagine what Harry was feeling right now, having just attended what may as well have been Sirius' funeral. He shuddered at the word.

"Then I will see you all…shortly."

Remus laughed, "If Harry doesn't put up a fight, that is. Good luck, Albus." Without further conversation, the Headmaster departed Grimmauld Place, leaving the rest to wait patiently for Harry to arrive.

"Why don't you all come down to the kitchen, and I'll whip up something?" Molly offered, a bit resignedly.

Sirius agreed wholeheartedly with this idea, since it had been a very long time since he had eaten food of this realm; he had mainly lived off of the fruit that grew on the many trees that surrounded Asphodel Meadows. Kingsley and Moody declined, however, and departed for their respective homes. The rest of the group followed Molly down to the kitchen, with the exception of Ginny who tried, yet unsuccessfully to sneak upstairs unnoticed.

"Where are you going?" Sirius inquired, putting a hand on her shoulder.

She jumped at this unexpected contact and turned to face him, guiltily. "I'm exhausted; I thought I'd go to sleep…"

"Don't you want to be here when Harry arrives? After all, it is thanks to you that I'm standing here."

"Er…well, Harry and I haven't really been speaking," she averted her eyes.

"I won't ask, but I'm sure he'd make an exception for this."

"You're probably right, but…I'm absolutely knackered and Harry has a stronger effect on me than everyone else does, which is just going to make me feel worse than I already do." He supposed she was referring to her empathetic abilities.

"It's not that I don't believe that, but I think you're just making excuses." He was quite intrigued by Ginny's ability, and wanted to know more, but decided not to press her further. "But then I suppose you deserve a good night's rest so…thank you. For everything, Ginny, really."

"You're welcome, Sirius…just promise you won't need to be rescued again," she grinned tiredly.

Shrugging his shoulders slightly, he chuckled, "I'll do what I can."

She disappeared up the stairs, and Sirius turned to make his way to the kitchen. Once again he was amazed to see how pleasant it appeared; the countertops and table gleamed as if they were always well taken care of.

"Where's Ginny?" Remus inquired as soon as Sirius entered the kitchen.

Sirius sat on Remus' left, "She decided to call it a night. Don't blame her really; she's done a hell of a lot today." He thought it best to leave out the part about Harry. Remus however, raised an eyebrow, apparently unconvinced; Sirius shrugged.

He glanced at Remus out of the corner of his eye, and smiled to himself; he was in complete disbelief that he could sit this close to his fellow Marauder again. He was instantly reminded of a similar feeling he had in Asphodel Meadows when he was shockingly permitted to visit with souls that had passed on years and years before he had ever known of any afterlife. His heart panged at the memory; he wouldn't see any of them again for a very long time. For this he felt, that he should have been happy; however, he couldn't help the feeling of longing to be near them once more. But the fact remained that he belonged here in the realm of the living; with Harry.

Realizing that everyone was staring at him, Sirius narrowed his eyes, glancing from face to face, "What's gotten in to all of you?"

"It's just…we never thought we'd see you again," Dora answered.

"And here you are…" Remus added, awe in his voice.

Sirius smiled contently; this was exactly where he was meant to be.

~*~

Harry couldn't sleep, not that this was particularly unusual, but Ron's incessant snores were not helping tonight. He turned restlessly, pulling his pillow over his head in the process, in an attempt to drown out the noises emanating from his best mate. It helped only mildly; Harry reached for his wand, about to cast a silencing charm around his four-poster when he thought he heard a knock on the door. He paused, facing the door; the knock sounded again. He was confused as to why anyone would knock at this hour, but he was almost certain that it couldn't be anyone out of the ordinary (such as a Death Eater), for they wouldn't bother knocking. However, one could never be too certain these days, so holding his wand in front of him, Harry opened the door. He was greatly relieved to find Professor Dumbledore standing on the other side, with a hint of amusement in his bright blue eyes.

"Professor, is everything all right?"

Dumbledore smiled, "Yes, for once, everything seems to be working out quite accordingly."

Harry looked at the headmaster quizzically, "Er, Professor, what exactly are you doing here?"

Dumbledore chuckled, "Ah, excellent question. I'll answer it, but you'll have to come with me first…you might want to wake Mr. Weasley, as well."

"Where—"

"You'll see when we arrive. I'll wait in the common room until you and Mr. Weasley are ready to leave." Before Harry could inquire further, Dumbledore swept down the spiral staircase. Harry knew Dumbledore to be very mysterious, and oftentimes vague, but this seemed to top them all.

It was quite difficult to shake Ron out of his deep slumber, but after about ten minutes, Harry convinced him to get out of his bed, but was unsuccessful in convincing him to change out of his pajamas. "We're probably just going to his office," Ron mumbled as he opened the door and began down the stairs to the common room.

When they entered the common room, Dumbledore was sitting on a sofa, facing the empty fire; upon seeing them he rose, "It's been a very long time since I've spent time in this room…it brings back many fond memories." He glanced around the room one last time, his face looking younger as he recalled his past. "Let's be off then."

Harry nodded eager to accompany Dumbledore wherever he planned on escorting them, while Ron assented groggily.

"I am going to disillusion both of you, and then you'll follow me." He explained, and proceeded to cast the charm on each of them, and exited the portrait hole. They followed Dumbledore down to the entrance hall, and out the oak front doors. The cool air hit their faces and Harry glanced at where Ron was supposed to be, knowing that he surely regretted not putting on a sweater at the very least.

When they arrived at the wrought iron gates, Dumbledore whispered a number of incantations that were inaudible to Harry. The gates creaked open, and the trio exited them, and Dumbledore muttered a string of words once more. "Take hold of an arm, gentlemen, we're going to disapparate."

Harry hesitated at first, but he was more interested in finding out where Dumbledore was planning on taking them to allow worry to take over. The feeling of apparition was by far the strangest thing Harry had ever experienced; if he wasn't holding tightly to Dumbledore's arm, he was almost certain that he would have fallen over when they arrived at their destination. Once his head stopped spinning, Harry realized where exactly that destination was. Harry recognized Grimmauld Square, and as he turned he saw the large, gloomy house, (though invisible to most other people), that was the headquarters to the Order of the Phoenix. He had no desire to be back at this house; it held too much darkness for him. And of all nights to bring him here, Dumbledore chose the night of Sirius' memorial service; Harry couldn't comprehend what Dumbledore's intentions could possibly be. He was brought out of his reverie by a tap on the head from Dumbledore's wand. His body was visible again, and he knew that the headmaster could now see the confused anger that plagued Harry's expression.

Ron looked over at Harry, worry written all over his visage; he knew how Harry felt about returning here.

Dumbledore, however, remained calm, "Why don't we go inside; I am certain you will feel much better once we do."

Harry wanted to protest, but couldn't find the right words to do so; his hands, balled into fists, were beginning to shake as they made their way up the stone steps that led to the house that once belonged to his godfather. When the three entered, Harry was expecting to see the usual dark, filthy house that he had first encountered the summer before his fifth year, but was stunned when he walked into what seemed to be a very different place; one that was much more inviting. Ron seemed to share his sentiments, as he stared in awe at their surroundings.

Harry was about to inquire about the renovations, when he was nearly barreled down by a large black dog, who immediately began licking his face. Alarmed, not by the dog itself, but by the eerie familiarity of it, Harry pushed the dog off and backed away. Harry's mind raced, but what kept popping back into his head was, what were they thinking; getting a dog that lookslike Sirius?

As if on cue, the dog transformed into a man, with long dark hair, and a boyish grin plastered to his face.

"Is this some kind of sick joke?" Harry began, facing Dumbledore, outrage flooding his voice. The man's (for Harry refused to refer to him as Sirius) face fell at this accusation.

When no one responded, Harry's voice began to rise, "Is it?"

"No, Harry…it's me, I promise. It really is." The man claiming to be Sirius stepped closer, as Harry scrutinized him.

"Prove it," Harry said shortly.

Grinning, in that very familiar way, he began, "The very first time we met, I asked you to live with me, and you said that you would. Is that enough?"

"Anyone could have told you that…"

The man made to reply but he was cut off, by the arrival of Hermione, Remus, Tonks, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, all looking unusually energized, seeing as it was about four o'clock in the morning.

Harry's attention turned to them, confused and betrayed that they seemed to be in on such a cruel trick. He turned to Ron, half expecting him to say that he knew all along, as well. But upon being scrutinized by Harry's accusing stare, Ron shook his head defensively, "I promise, mate, I'm as clueless as you."

"Harry," came Sirius' voice, bringing his attention back to the situation at hand.

"How do I know you haven't taken polyjuice potion or something? That this has to do with some twisted mission for the Order…"

"Because he wouldn't be able to transform into his animagus form if he had taken polyjuice," Hermione spoke from her place near the stairs, looking anxiously at him.

"Bloody hell, then it is you…you're alive." Ron's face broke into a grin of amazement.

"But it's not impossible for someone else to learn how to become an animagus…" Harry argued.

"Yes, but what are the odds someone would have the exact form that I have?" Sirius countered.

Harry shook his head, "But how are you…you can't be…alive."

Sirius grinned broadly, "But I am. And I'll tell you everything if you would just let me."

Harry was instantly reminded of the night that he first met Sirius. That night, he had accused Sirius of things that were untrue, based on misunderstandings he had heard from others. But this time, Harry was basing his assumptions on something that he witnessed with his very own eyes; however, he reflected that no one was certain about the properties of the veil, so if he allowed himself to hope then maybe…

Harry looked Sirius in the eye for the first time since he had walked through the door of number twelve Grimmauld place, "So that veil, it didn't…kill you?"

"Apparently not!" Ron voiced, grinning broadly.

Sirius laughed briefly and was about to respond but Dumbledore spoke first, "We would all like to hear what occurred on the other side…but I think Miss Weasley should be present."

"Ginny? What does she have to do with anything?" Harry asked.

"Everything!" Sirius began brightly, "She saved my life."

"That's what she was hiding from you, Harry," Hermione announced before Harry could react. He sensed that she was probably trying to help patch things with him and Ginny before they went further. Even though he didn't need Hermione's help with fixing his problems with Ginny, or anyone for that matter, he had to admit that it was a relief to finally know what she had been hiding from him for the past few months. His heart sunk when he realized what a prat he had been to her; she was only trying to help, and all he did was accuse her of being too friendly with Malfoy.

"Where is she?" He had noticed that she wasn't present, but didn't think much of it until they mentioned her involvement.

"Sleeping," began Mrs. Weasley, "and I think it's best to leave her until the morning. She's had a very long night."

Sirius sighed, "I'll have to agree with Molly on this one. She needs to rest."

"So can you tell the rest of us, and then we'll fill Ginny in?" Ron asked hopefully. Harry grinned for the first time since he arrived at his godfather's home. Leave it to Ron.

"No, you heard the Headmaster, it is only fair to wait for Ginny. Off to bed then, all of you," Mrs. Weasley instructed.

Harry looked at Sirius, hoping he would defy Mrs. Weasley's orders, for it should be up to him, but Sirius' eyes were averted and Harry was almost certain he was frowning slightly.

"Sirius," Harry started.

His godfather caught his eye, smiled, but shook his head in dissent, "No, I'd rather recount the story as little as possible."

Harry nodded, but couldn't help but think that Sirius was agreeing with Mrs. Weasley, not for the reasons given, but for his own private reasons. Ron and Hermione began to climb the stairs, making their way to the bedrooms they had stayed in last summer. Harry made to follow, but Sirius caught his arm.

"You're not angry, are you?" Sirius asked his eyes filled with concern.

"About what?" Harry asked incredulously. He had absolutely nothing to be angry about; if anything he was beginning to become ashamed of the way he treated Ginny, and everyone else in the last few months. And most of all, he felt relief and utter happiness that Sirius was alive and well. At this last thought, he smiled genuinely for the first time in weeks.

Relief washed over Sirius' face as he took in Harry's smile, "I just thought that…well because this was kept secret from you and the fact that I've been gone for so long. You'd have reason enough to be angry."

"It's not your fault that you've been gone, Sirius. I was never angry at you."

"Well you shouldn't be angry with Ginny either, not that it's any of my business or anything…"

Harry laughed, "Er…I'll work it out with her. But thanks for the concern…and erm, I'm sorry for reacting the way I did. I mean, how would you react if someone who you thought was dead walked into a room?"

Sirius' eyes clouded, "Oh believe me; I know exactly what you mean. No harm done, Harry." Harry assumed he was referring to their encounter with Wormtail back in his third year.

"It is wonderful to see you again though," Harry said, a lump forming in his throat unexpectedly, just as Sirius embraced him in a fatherly hug, and Harry could feel himself really truly relax for the first time since the previous June.

~*~

Sirius was the first to wake up (and last to go to sleep the night before, for Dumbledore had requested that they speak of Sirius' last few months since he wouldn't be present the following morning), though it was well past noon by the time he did. The house was quiet, but not in the eerie way that had been customary for this house. The curtains were open, allowing sunlight to diffuse brightly through every window. Taking a seat at the head of the kitchen table, he pulled the mornings Prophet closer, opening to the crossword. He summoned a quill from the countertop and began to fill in some answers. He always loved crossword puzzles; they were challenging enough to keep his mind occupied, and throughout his years at Hogwarts, he frequently used it as a way to avoid thinking about his problems. But right now it was mostly an attempt to return to the routine he had left behind last June.

He leaned back in his chair, as he contemplated a particular clue; he happened to look up, and noticed that Remus was standing in the doorway, a look of pure amazement on his face. Sirius smiled, knowing that his best friend was still completely astonished to see him in the flesh. He knew the feeling all too well as he recalled his brief reunion with James, Lily, and Regulus during his stay in the Meadow. Repressing a sigh, he greeted his old friend, "Morning, Moony!"

"I'm still in shock…" Remus voiced, proving Sirius' musings correct.

Sirius nodded, that he understood, "I woke up this morning half expecting to be in that meadow." He laughed, and let the legs of the chairs slam back onto the tiled floor. When everyone went off to bed the previous night, he lay awake contemplating his luck. Because that's all he could attribute it to; he was given yet another chance at life, something he hadn't fully appreciated when he escaped Azkaban. And he was sure that if he hadn't had the privilege of speaking to Regulus, James and Lily during his stay in Asphodel Meadows that he would still not fully appreciate it this time. He knew that he still had many demons to face, but he hadn't realized just how much he avoided them until very recently. He still had a long way to go, but Sirius had made a promise to them that he wouldn't waste any more time, if he was ever given another chance.

"A knut for your thoughts?" Remus said, taking a seat near Sirius, bringing him out of his reverie.

"I'm just…feeling much better than I have in a very long time." He wanted to tell Remus about his encounter with their old friends, but he also remembered the warnings that Tartarus gave him when he left. He wasn't to reveal secrets, but he wasn't sure if this fell into that category. During his brief conversation with Dumbledore the night before, in which he revealed as little as possible, Albus had told him that he should take his time and not reveal anything that he didn't feel was necessary. He was grateful that at least someone had understood.

"You look better too…I can't really explain it. Happier, healthier. More like…" He trailed off, casting his eyes away from Sirius. "But I wasn't sure if it was just the excitement of being back, so I didn't want to say anything right away."

"And you're quite easy to be around. I expected you to be worse than Harry. No offense or anything, it's just that you've got a lot of darkness in your life," Ginny's voice sounded from the doorway, as she made her way into the kitchen.

Sirius chuckled, "Well, I'm turning over a new leaf. I won't let my 'darkness' affect anyone quite as negatively as I've done in the past."

Remus made a choking noise that almost sounded like a laugh. Sirius raised his brow, "You don't believe me, Moony?"

"Did I say that?" Remus tried to look innocent.

"So," Ginny began, turning the subject away from Sirius' vow to lessen his brooding, "How did it go with Harry last night?" She appeared nervous at the mention of his godson.

Sirius caught Remus' eye, and they both grinned, "Well, it could have been a disaster, but we prevented it from escalating too far."

"I think she already knew that, Padfoot."

"Yes, but that's—"

"So he's okay then?" Ginny took a seat across from them, looking noticeably relieved. Just as Sirius was going to reply, Ginny gasped turning towards the entrance to the kitchen.

"I'm great, actually." Harry was now standing in the doorway, apprehension in his eyes as he looked at Ginny.

"How did you know he was standing there?" Sirius asked incredulously, looking between the two of them.

Ginny laughed a little breathlessly, never taking her eyes from Harry, "It's part of my gift."

Sirius' eyes gleamed as he was about to make a teasing comment, and Remus elbowed him before the words could leave his mouth; he reluctantly obliged.

Harry glared at him, clearly sensing Sirius' amusement, and turned his gaze back to Ginny, "Can I…talk to you? In private, I mean." This last statement was said with another quick glance at Sirius, who attempted to hide his smile, but knew he was doing a very bad job of it.

Her cheeks tinged red, "Sure…" She rose from her chair, hurrying out of the room without even a glance at Sirius or Remus.

Harry and Ginny were barely out of the kitchen when Sirius and Remus burst into fits of laughter.

"Brings back so many memories," Remus sighed.

"Except it took Lily and James forever to come to an agreement about how they felt about each other," Sirius added.

"You're one to talk," Remus said giving him a sideways glance, but Sirius avoided his gaze at this remark.

"That was her, not me," Sirius grinned, but it didn't quite meet his eyes. This was something that he didn't voluntarily think about. He knew that seeing her again was very unlikely; they couldn't find her before he disappeared into Asphodel Meadows, so he wasn't going to give himself reason to think that had changed now that he had returned.

Remus rolled his eyes, "I think you're being a bit biased, Padfoot…"

Sirius met Remus' eyes, "I don't want to talk about this." He rose from his place at the table and began busying himself with preparing breakfast, and if he hadn't had his back turned he would have noticed the satisfied grin that appeared on Remus' face seconds later; for his old friend knew that Sirius would soon love to discuss such topics.

~*~

Ginny followed Harry out of the kitchen, and up to the parlor; her heart fluttered nervously at the thought of having a private conversation with Harry. This was the first time they would be alone in weeks. When they reached the parlor, Harry shut the door; Ginny pulled out her wand, casting the muffliato charm around the room. Harry caught her eye, and she replied, "There's too many people lurking in this house, and let's face it…they're all going to be very interested in what we have to say to each other."

Harry laughed at this, and she felt the air around them grow less tense, as they both began to relax.

"Ginny, I was a complete idiot for assuming that you and Malfoy were…well, you know what I mean," Harry was looking fixedly at his hands.

She shook her head, "I just thought you knew me better than that, Harry."

"I do, it's just that you were being so secretive, and I didn't know what to think, and all the stress of having to attend Sirius' memorial, it was all too much for me."

She nodded, "And had I not been so preoccupied with finding a way to rescue him I probably would have confronted you about that Malfoy situation sooner, but I needed to keep my research a secret from you. I couldn't bear you finding out only to be let down if I couldn't find a way to rescue Sirius. So I suppose I used your anger to my advantage, and I'm sorry."

"Don't be ridiculous, you have nothing to apologize for…but Ginny tell me something. Was it really a coincidence that Malfoy was there every time you were…I mean do you think he had another agenda?"

She wasn't surprised that Harry had come to this conclusion, for she too had considered this so she began to tell him the only plausible reason she had come up with, "I think he knows Legilimency…" The look in Harry's eyes proved that he had not been expecting that, "He asked me if I practiced Occlumency, and although I thought it was odd at the time, I've just begun to piece it together." She began telling him how she couldn't feel his emotions when she was around him, and confessed that it was sort of a relief, to not have to consciously block out someone's feelings, but at the same time it was disturbing that he of all people had this trait.

"And then last night, while we were waiting to depart for the Ministry, I realized that I couldn't sense Dumbledore's emotions either. And that got me thinking that maybe Malfoy knows Legilimency, and the reason he asked me about Occlumency was because he couldn't read my thoughts just as I couldn't decipher his emotions."

"But," Harry began, "I'm sure he's encountered quite a few people whose thoughts he couldn't read."

"Well, it's a very precise form of magic…you have to be very practiced in it, and I have never heard of anyone being a natural at Occlumency, so that's probably why he was curious. He definitely wouldn't think that anyone would have taught me the art."

"He was right though, no one did…" Harry said, "So, why is it that he can't read your thoughts?"

"I can only assume that it's got to do with being an Empath, but I don't know for sure," she said a bit guiltily, "because I've only skimmed that book Dumbledore gave me. You know, since I was quite busy with rescuing Sirius."

"You've been…really busy," Harry commented, and Ginny laughed.

"Yes…a little too busy. I'm quite glad to have this over and done with, because it was driving me mad; I couldn't sleep properly, I rarely found time to eat more than a few pieces of toast, and I was falling behind in all of my classes. Snape was ready to hex me, I'm sure of it."

"I'm sure if he knew what you were up to, he really would have hexed you," Harry laughed, referring to Snape's contempt for anything involving Sirius. But then he continued more seriously, "I…really can't express how grateful I am; you're truly amazing."

Ginny blushed, "Hermione did help me, so I can't take all the credit."

Harry rolled his eyes, "Don't be so modest, Ginny. Come on," he said, "Let's go see if everyone else is up; we've all been dying to hear what happened on the other side."

Ginny bit her lip apprehensively, as they made their way out of the parlor, and back towards the kitchen, "Well…I don't know if Sirius mentioned it but we aren't really supposed to talk about it too much. The Guardians of Asphodel Meadow said that we must keep the secrets of the realms. And I'm pretty sure they were talking more to Sirius than to me, considering the length of time he spent there." They arrived in the kitchen (which now smelled deliciously of bacon and eggs) as she said the last bit of this, and she knew Sirius had heard her. He and Remus were now accompanied by a very tired looking Ron and Hermione. The two sat down on either side of them.

"Well that doesn't mean we can't tell them anything…I think what Tartarus meant was that I wasn't to reveal any of the things that Elysium shared with me without his permission."

"How about we start with who Elysium and Tartarus are?" Ron interjected, with a small yawn.

Ginny looked to Sirius, and he nodded for her to continue, "They are the two Guardians of Asphodel Meadows, which is the land on the other side of the veil. They…well, they looked like they could have been gods, but I'm not really sure how they would classify themselves."

Sirius laughed, "Tartarus would like to think so, but Elysium told me the truth-"

"Sirius, isn't that what he—"

He shook his head dismissively, "No, I'm certain he only meant to cover that up because he was embarrassed. They were gods, a very long time ago, but they had fallen from grace, and their punishment was to care for the Meadow and the souls that inhabit it. Tartarus deals with the bad souls, taking them to hell, or the underworld if you will, and Elysium brings the good souls forward…to heaven."

"So there is a heaven and hell?" Hermione said, looking fascinated.

"They're all just titles, but yes…there are separate fates for good and bad souls."

"And the Meadow, that's like purgatory then?" Hermione continued, captivated.

"In a manner of speaking, yes, but as you have obviously noticed, living people can end up there, as well…just not very often."

"And why couldn't they just let you go?" Remus put in.

Sirius smiled wryly at Ginny, "They said that simple humans couldn't come and go as they pleased." She grinned back proudly.

"And what's so special about Ginny?" Ron joked.

"She's an empath, you thick-" Hermione began but she was cut off by Remus.

"Well, is that it, Sirius?"

"I…yes, I suppose." He looked to Ginny, who caught a flicker of sadness from him, but it was gone before she could properly question it.

"So that's all you're going to tell us? You were there for four months and that's it?" Harry looked unconvinced and Sirius looked guilty for disappointing his godson.

"I haven't had much of a chance to sort it all out. I've got to figure out what's alright to share, and what would be considered breaking their rules," Sirius defended.

"Well, you've got until Christmas, considering that's when you'll be seeing us again," Harry said evenly. Ginny could sense his dissatisfaction, but she could also tell that he was trying to cover it up so that he didn't upset Sirius. But she wasn't fooled, and she knew that Sirius wasn't either. Harry's reminder made Sirius sink within himself, his glowing happiness abating.

"Did Dumbledore say what's going to happen now that the entire wizarding world believes that Sirius is dead?" Ron changed the subject as if on cue.

"He didn't say anything about it, but I'm going to assume he'd prefer," and Remus looked at Sirius meaningfully, "that Sirius remains here until the Order discusses it as a whole."

Sirius looked as if he wanted to make a comment but Harry beat him to it, "I think that's best." Seeing Sirius' astonished expression, he continued, "Well…think about it, there were too many Death Eaters that witnessed what happened the night you fell through the veil…if any one of them sees you, they're going to be very suspicious."

"Yes…and Merlin knows what they're going to try to do then. What if they try to get through the veil and do something horrible?" Hermione added eyes wide.

"And do what exactly? They won't be able to get back through without someone like Ginny," Sirius countered.

"Ginny probably isn't the only "non-simple human" out there, Sirius," Remus stated.

"Voldemort isn't very simple…" Harry voiced.

"But, that doesn't mean he's capable of entering Asphodel Meadows…Ginny's an empath not some psychotic immortal dark lord."

"Did they say only empaths can enter the Meadow?" Remus asked skeptically, "Because, immortality may be a perfect qualification for a not so simple human."

"No, but they didn't say that Voldemort would be able to enter," Sirius replied scornfully.

"Still, it's not a risk worth taking," Ginny said quietly. She was almost afraid to speak. She knew that Sirius would be furious about staying cooped up in Grimmauld Place once more, but she also knew that not one person in the Order of the Phoenix would agree with him. But she didn't go through all the trouble of rescuing him, just to watch him walk out the door and risk being captured by Death Eaters. "I'm sorry," she added as she felt his frustration wash over the room.

"Right…well, it's wonderful to know how you all feel on this matter," he said derisively as he exited the kitchen.

"So much for him not brooding anymore," Remus sighed, looking at Ginny who nodded.

"Do you think he…well…is he unhappy that he's home?" Harry looked to Remus with distress dripping from his tone.

Remus sighed heavily, "No…but I do think he expects too much. He should know better. The circumstances aren't much different than they were last time. He'll get over it, just give him some time."

"Just…don't let Snape speak to him whenever he shows up," Harry began very seriously, "He knows just what to say to get on Sirius' nerves. And Sirius always takes it to heart."

Remus smiled, "Your father used to say the very same thing. I suppose some things will never change." Harry returned the smile weakly.

The room settled into a general gloom that Ginny couldn't ignore, and it was only about to get worse as Remus spoke, "Now, I'm sorry to have to be the one to break this to you lot, but you've got to head back to school shortly. Dumbledore requested that you return sometime before the Halloween feast tonight." Remus looked from Ron to Ginny, "And your mother was adamant that you return shortly after you woke up this morning." It was more than clear to all of them that it was well past morning.

Harry, Ron and Ginny groaned in unison, but Hermione said, "It's probably best…since Sirius needs to…adjust to being home."

Remus nodded looking at Harry's sullen face, "She's right…let him wind down. He'll be all right by Christmas." He rose from his place at the table, "I'm going to see if I can at least get him to say goodbye, but in the meantime get yourselves ready and we'll meet back here in an hour and you can floo back to Dumbledore's office."

~*~

They did as they were told, and within an hour they all assembled in the kitchen, where Remus and much to Harry's relief, Sirius were waiting for them. Sirius still looked despondent but he was obviously trying to disguise it as best as possible. They all said their goodbyes to the two men, then throwing a handful of floo powder into the roaring fire, turning it green, shouting "Albus Dumbledore's office, Hogwarts," and disappearing. Harry was last to leave; Remus hugged him, and as Sirius was about to do the same, he grasped Harry by the shoulders, "I'm sorry…I—"

Harry shook his head and stared him in the eyes, "Don't…I understand. But you have to promise you won't make the same mistakes you did last time, Sirius. I mean it…I don't," He swallowed a lump that unsuspectingly began to form in his throat, and continued, "I don't want to lose you again."

His godfather nodded, seemingly speechless, and hugged him tightly. "See you at Christmas then." Harry waved to them both once more, threw his floo powder into the grate, and stepped into the warm green flames, and whooshed out of site at the command to return to Hogwarts. A few minutes later, he was coughing and standing in the familiar office, where his friends were waiting for him. Dumbledore however, was nowhere in sight.

"You all right?" Ron asked, taking in Harry's expression.

He sighed, and allowed himself a smile at the thought of just having left Sirius; he still couldn't believe it, "Yeah, it's just unfortunate that we had to leave so soon…"

"Don't worry, it'll be Christmas before you know it," Hermione consoled. She looked at her watch, "Come on, we should get back to the common room," and she began to walk towards the spiral staircase that led out of the office.

Harry grabbed Ginny's hand as Hermione and Ron led the way. He caught her eye, and they both smiled at each other.

When they arrived in the Gryffindor common room a few minutes later, Neville was sitting at a corner table, hard at work on an essay. When he spotted them, he said as if he'd been searching for them forever, "There you are…I was beginning to think that maybe you all went off on some adventure to the Ministry again and didn't invite the rest of the D.A. this time."

Harry saw Ginny and Hermione exchange an amused glance, but Ron spoke jesting, "Don't be ridiculous, Neville, of course we'd invite you."

Neville grinned, "Anyway, would one of you be willing to help me with this…it's that essay Snape assigned on Polyjuice Potion and I'm a bit lost. Cassidy said she'd work with me on it, but I haven't been able to find her. And then I thought that she was with you, until you just showed up…"

"Of course we'll help you, Neville," Hermione replied.

"Yeah, the three of us are experts on Polyjuice, isn't that right Harry?" Ron grinned at him.

Harry returned the smile, and Hermione shot them both reproving glances. Ginny looked between the three of them curiously. Harry shook his head, and bent close to her ear, "I'll tell you later…"

The afternoon went on quickly, as they relaxed in the common room. Ginny began to catch up on the work she had been missing the last few weeks, while Hermione assisted Neville with his potions essay. Ron and Harry played a few games of wizard chess, while Hermione would occasionally nag them to begin their own homework, which they blatantly ignored.

When it was time for the feast, the five of them departed for the Great Hall. They took their seats and began to load their plates with the many foods that crowded the Gryffindor house table. They were all truly enjoying themselves, and Harry caught Dumbledore's eye at one point, who winked at him. Dessert followed as usual, gracing the table with an abundance of sweets and cakes. When the feast was over, they made their way back to the Gryffindor common room, their bellies full and their minds free of any gloomy thoughts.

It wasn't until they entered the common room that Hermione voiced concern, "You know…Cassidy wasn't at the feast. Didn't you say that you hadn't seen her all day?" She said turning to Neville. They all exchanged uneasy glances.

"You don't think…no, never mind, someone would have realized by now." Ginny was biting her lip, no doubt hoping that Cassidy hadn't somehow encountered something or someone sinister.

"I'll be right back," Harry said, and he raced up the staircase to the boy's dormitory. He rummaged through his things and pulled out the Marauder's Map, tapping it with his wand, "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good." He scanned it quickly.

"Come on," he muttered, "Where are you, Cassidy…" Finally, he located the dot labeled, Cassiopeia Lestrange in the corner of the owlery. He cleared the map, folded it and shoved it into the pocket of his robes.

He returned to the common room where his friends waited expectantly, "She's in the owlery." The four of them looked relieved, and Neville looked a little confused, but didn't question how Harry knew.

"Do you think she's all right? I mean, if she hasn't been around all day…" Ginny asked worriedly.

"There's only one way to find out," Ron said. And they traipsed back through the portrait hole (eliciting a complaint from the Fat Lady, "But you just got back!") in the direction of the owlery.

A few minutes later they arrived at their destination; it was quite chilly and the lamps were dim, but it didn't take long to spot Cassidy. She was sitting near an open window, a letter clutched in one hand. She didn't seem to notice their arrival until they were a few feet away from where she sat and was visibly startled by their sudden appearance.

Upon closer inspection, it was clear that she had been crying because her eyes were red rimmed and her cheeks tear stained.

"Cassidy, what's wrong?" Ginny said, kneeling next to her.

She shook her head, and averted her eyes, "It's nothing, don't worry…I'm just being childish."

Harry couldn't see Ginny's face from where he stood, but he was sure her expression displayed that she was not at all convinced. "Don't be silly, we're your friends…you can tell us, and we won't judge you. I promise." She turned to look at the rest of them, and they nodded reassuringly.

Cassidy's eyes filled with tears, and she buried her head in her knees, and uttered something inaudible. "What was that, I couldn't hear you," Ginny said softly.

Cassidy lifted her face, "It's my birthday…"

"We're bad friends," Ron muttered, but Hermione shushed him.

"No, that's not why I'm upset," Cassidy choked, "I'm not an idiot; I can't expect you to know that it's my birthday without having told you first." She took a deep breath, "It's just that I haven't spoken to anyone from home since I left, and I know that it's impossible to, but I—" and she broke off into a fresh wave of sobs.

Ginny didn't say anything, but instead wrapped her arms around Cassidy's curled up form.

"Can't you send them letters?" Neville suggested.

Cassidy shook her head miserably, "My parents…they don't even remember who I am."

Hermione, Ginny, and Neville were all very surprised to hear this, but Cassidy had told Harry and Ron a few weeks earlier, when Bellatrix's identity was revealed to a quite shaken Cassidy.

"Dumbledore cast memory charms on them after Cassidy left for Hogwarts," Harry explained so that Cassidy didn't have to voice her distress.

"Well what about your friends, couldn't you write to them?" Hermione suggested.

Cassidy sighed heavily, "There's one friend I would like to write to. But am I even allowed? What would I even be able to tell him?" She absently folded a corner of the parchment that was still clutched in her hand, "He doesn't know that I'm a witch, he doesn't know anything about where I am; just that I had to leave. What could I possibly say?"

"I think you already know," Ginny said, pointing to the letter that became increasingly more wrinkled as Cassidy fiddled with it.

Shaking her head, Cassidy replied, "It's so vague, he would just be confused. Besides it's not like he can write back to me…he doesn't have an owl."

"You can just instruct the owl to wait around for it," Ron suggested.

"Yes but, he's a muggle, he wouldn't understand how owl post works," Hermione added.

"It doesn't matter," Ron pressed on, "As long as the owl takes the letter, it won't matter if he understands it; just that Cassidy gets a response."

Hermione looked skeptical, but Neville nodded, "I think that's the best idea there is."

"There's only one other problem," said Harry, "What if that letter gets intercepted? You don't want to risk putting your friend in danger." Harry knew that if any Death Eater (namely Bellatrix) who was aware of Cassidy's existence happened to intercept that letter, they would no doubt track down this friend and torture, if not kill the boy, just for the sake of murdering a muggle.

Hermione smiled, "That's actually not a problem at all. There's a simple spell that we cast on everything that we sent to you over the summer. It causes the parcel or letter to burst into flames if it lands in the wrong hands."

Harry was impressed; he hadn't known about that at all. Of course, it made perfect sense for there to be such a spell, but he never gave it any thought before.

"Well hand over the letter then," Ron said, motioning to Cassidy. She looked apprehensive, but handed the parchment to Ron, who handed it over to Hermione. Hermione traced her wand over the enter paper, muttering the incantation; the parchment glowed red for a moment, and then returned to normal.

"You can borrow Pig," Ron said, and just as he did, the tiny owl fluttered over from a perch above them, racing in circles around Ron's head excitedly. He fastened the parchment to the tiny owl, and firmly told him, "Now wait for him to reply, and make sure he sees you with the letter on your leg so that he knows what to do." Pigwidgeon hooted in response, and took flight out the window.

Cassidy stood up, and watched the tiny owl disappear, then turned to her friends, "Thank you…it's great to know that you all cared enough to look for me."

"Come on," Harry said, "I bet if we go down to the kitchens, Dobby will be glad to find us some cake that we can use to celebrate your birthday."

"Yeah, I can't believe you missed your first Halloween feast!" Ron said incredulously.

"Ron! Don't rub it in!" Hermione scolded, but Cassidy laughed. It was quite obvious that she was just glad to have company after hiding out in the owlery all day.

They made their way down to the kitchens, remarkably without meeting a single teacher, and just as expected, Dobby was thrilled to supply them with the left over desserts from the Halloween feast. He squeaked many Happy Birthdays to Cassidy from the moment Ron told him that it was her birthday, to the minute they left. They hurried along to Gryffindor tower, and spent the remainder of the night celebrating.

~*~

(Two weeks later)

It was Thursday evening and Alix was spending time with Aurora; they were reading from her favorite book of (muggle) fairy tales. For her age, Aurora was quite a good reader, because Alix had been teaching her simple words since Aurora could talk. After all, it had always been just the two of them, so Alix had no problem devoting her entire life to her daughter.

"Now you're turn to read one to me," Aurora suggested as they finished Cinderella.

Alix smiled, "Alright, but just one more. Which one would you like to hear next?"

"Beauty and the Beast!" Aurora said enthusiastically, "Is the beast a werewolf, mummy?" She asked her blue eyes wide.

"I—well that's a good question. Why do you ask though?"

"He looks like a werewolf," she said matter-of-factly.

"And how do you know what a werewolf looks like?" She was even more perplexed that she knew what a werewolf was, since she had only known of the wizarding world for a few months.

"Dobby told me! I was showing him my book and he said," And she made her voice high pitched to imitate her house elf friend, "Muggles know how werewolves looks!"

Alix laughed, but Aurora continued, "Is the beast a werewolf, mummy?"

"I suppose he could be," she began, "But the beast stays a beast until the spell is broken…while werewolves are only, er…beasts during the full moon and they are men or women for the rest of the time."

Her eyes widened at this last statement, "So anyone can be a werewolf?"

"Well, only if they were bitten by one," Alix informed. She was always hesitant to fill her daughter in on such gruesome topics, but Aurora was quite curious as most five year olds were.

"Well the beast wasn't bit by a wolf," Aurora said matter-of-factly, "A witch changed him! Can real witches do that, mummy?"

"They can turn people into creatures, but not werewolves. Werewolves are only made by other werewolves."

Aurora nodded thoughtfully, and Alix smiled at her and asked, "May we begin the story now?"

"Yes, please!" And Alix began to read, but barely made it past the second page when they were interrupted by an owl tapping on the window. Placing the book face down, as to not lose their page, Alix strode across the room to let the owl in; she quickly untied the letter, and the owl wasting no time, immediately took flight out the open window. She unrolled the small piece of parchment that read,

Mandatory meeting tomorrow night; promptly seven o'clock.

She'd received notes like this at least once a week, but never before had they been mandatory. She had yet to attend an Order meeting, mostly because she didn't want to leave Aurora alone with the house elves at night. And Alix felt guilty sending her daughter off to spend the night with either her parents or her sister, Victoria. It wasn't so much that they or Aurora complained (for Alix's parents adored their granddaughter now that they had learned of her existence), it was more due to the fact that Alix's mother made at least one unpleasant comment about her fifteen year absence every time they were together.

Throwing the parchment into the fireplace (a rule that she was taught during the first war), she went back to reading fairy tales with her daughter. She would just have to speak with Dumbledore tomorrow, explaining to him her predicament.

~*~

"Enjoy your weekend," Alix said as her sixth years left her classroom. She began to neatly arrange their essays into a pile, when Harry approached her desk.

"I've already told everyone that the D.A. meeting would be canceled for tonight," he said.

"Oh?" She asked, not quite understanding why.

"Well, because you've got an Order meeting, so I figured, the rest of us would take the night off too. Which reminds me," Harry reached into his pocket and pulled out a slip of parchment and handed it to her.

She took it from him, and read Number Twelve Grimmauld Place is the headquarters to the Order of the Phoenix. Something about the address seemed familiar, but she couldn't quite place why. "I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to attend," she said, meeting his eyes, "I haven't got anyone to look after Aurora."

Harry smiled, "But it's mandatory, and trust me, you wouldn't want to miss it. And I'm certain they wouldn't mind if you brought your daughter with you…there's plenty of room there."

Alix scrutinized him; the look in his eye reminded her strongly of James, "What are you up to, Harry?"

He grinned, but didn't budge, "You'll have to wait and see. Enjoy your weekend, Professor." And with that, he exited the room.

Her eyes scanned the parchment several more times, until she had it memorized and then tossed it into the fire, and watched it wither to ash.

~*~

Alix fastened Aurora's red cloak, wrapping her old Gryffindor house scarf around her neck, and pulled her matching hat over her ears, much to her daughter's contempt. "Mummy," Aurora asked pushing the hat up slightly so her eyes were more visible, "where are we going?"

"A meeting," Alix replied as she fastened her own black cloak.

"Will there be other children there?" Aurora questioned, hopefully.

Alix sighed, "No, I'm afraid not." Aurora's face fell, but Alix continued, "Remus and Dora will be there though. You like them, remember?"

"The lady with the colorful hair?"

Alix smiled, "Yes, that's the one."

"Okay," Aurora said, "But can I bring my crayons?"

"I think that's an excellent idea." Alix waved her wand, and Aurora's crayons packed themselves back into their box, and then into a rucksack. She waved her wand at a stack of fresh parchment, and they too packed themselves. "Anything else?" She asked her daughter.

"My book of fairy tales!" Aurora said excitedly; she was always very keen to see magic performed. It was all still quite new to her, even living at Hogwarts.

"All right, are we ready to go then?" she said, taking Aurora's small mitten clad hand, and holding the rucksack of Aurora's things in the other. The five year old nodded enthusiastically.

They made their way to the entrance hall, and out into the cold November air. The sun had already set, and the sky was an inky black, filled with thousands of tiny stars.

"Mummy, are we walking there?"

Alix laughed, "No, sweetheart, we'll be apparating once we leave the Hogwarts grounds." Alix was a bit apprehensive about being unprotected once she left the grounds, but she was comforted when she saw Dumbledore a few feet ahead of her, exiting the wrought iron gates, as well.

"Good evening, Alixandra," Dumbledore greeted, "oh and little Aurora, how are you?"

"I'm going to a meeting," she said importantly. Alix attempted to stifle her laughter.

Dumbledore replied, "As am I!"

"Shall we?" He added, holding out his arm. Alix picked up Aurora, and took Dumbledore's proffered arm gratefully; she knew the general location of the headquarters but apparating somewhere for the first time without being entirely confident could be dangerous. Within seconds, the three of them appeared in a quiet London square.

Aurora whined that she was dizzy from the trip, and Alix felt much the same, as she didn't apparate quite as often as she used to. When she regained her bearings, she realized why the address had seemed so familiar. She turned to Dumbledore, who understood her query before she posed it, "He donated it to the Order."

She merely nodded as they made their way to the door. She didn't know why, but her stomach fluttered nervously; maybe it was due to attending an Order meeting for the first time in fifteen years, or perhaps it was being in this house. She had only been inside once before; it was during the Christmas holidays of their fourth year; she had accompanied Sirius to a holiday gathering of his family's as a favor to him; she smiled at the memory of what a disaster it turned into when James and Remus crashed it in an attempt to "rescue" them. If her memory served her correctly, the house had been quite dark and unwelcoming, even then with the Christmas decorations, but Alix was utterly surprised when they entered the house. The house resembled nothing to the one of her memory, and she assumed that they had taken liberty in renovating it since it was now home to a much nobler cause.

Dumbledore glanced at his pocket watch, "Ah, we're a bit early, but let's go down to the kitchen anyway. I'm sure you'd like to meet some of our members before the meeting begins." His eyes twinkled behind his half moon spectacles. He led the way down a staircase into a large kitchen. Remus was sitting at a long table with three young men all with red hair. At their arrival, he stood, and grinned, "You finally made it to a meeting!"

She noticed that he was decidedly more cheerful than the last few times they were in each other's company, "Well, I was instructed that it was mandatory…by your owl, and Harry. Which I found rather odd," She raised an eyebrow at him quizzically. Remus smiled, and she detected an air of his old mischief, but he wouldn't let her settle on it for long. Instead he took to introducing her to the red haired men.

"This is Fred, George, and Bill Weasley," Remus said gesturing to the three, and then, "This is Alixandra Callaway…she's the new Defense professor at Hogwarts."

"Ah," one of the twins said, "So how are our lovely siblings doing? Causing any trouble?"

"They're both excellent students…although Ginny was falling behind for quite a while, but she's been improving in the last week or so."

"If we didn't know any better," one twin said, "we'd say it was dear Harry's fault for our sister's lack of interest in school."

"But," continued the other twin impishly, "fortunately for him, we do know better."

Bill, who was obviously older than the twins, rolled his eyes, but was clearly amused. Dumbledore and Remus chuckled.

Alix was positive that they all knew something that she didn't, but took a seat, and decided that she would find out in time.

Meanwhile, Aurora was growing increasingly bored of the conversation in the kitchen, as most five year olds would, and took it upon herself to explore. She quietly crept out of the kitchen, and up the stairs, wandering here and there, until she collided with someone much taller than her.

~*~

"I'm sorry!" Sirius said, looking down at the bewildered little girl who was sprawled at his feet. He offered her a hand to help her up, and she hesitantly took it.

"Are you all right?" he asked her, once she was standing. She nodded quietly. "Not much of a talker, are you?" He continued.

"I talk," she said, her blue eyes narrowed defensively.

Sirius chuckled, "Tell me then, what were you doing wandering around alone in my house?"

"This is your house?" She asked him skeptically as she briefly looked around the parlor.

"Yep. Now will you answer my question?"

"I was exploring," she said matter-of-factly.

"Oh…well then did you just stroll in off the street?" He knew this wasn't likely, but this little girl was awfully secretive for someone her age.

"No, I came here with my mummy and Puffesor Dumbleydorf." Sirius let out a bark like laugh, and the little girl glared (and rightfully so, he thought).

"What's so funny?" The look in her eyes reminded him of someone he knew, but he realized that it was completely ridiculous to make such a comparison.

"What was your name?" He asked her, trying to steer her away from being offended.

"Aurora," she said, crossing her arms, intent on remaining insulted.

Sirius however, enjoyed her stubbornness, "I'm Sirius," he said, putting out his hand. She placed her small one in his, and he shook.

Her expression softened, but she still narrowed her eyes as she asked, "Are you a wizard?"

He smiled, this time biting back his laughter, "Why, yes, I am actually. Why, does that mean you'll be my friend?"

"I don't know," she said scrutinizing him in a manner that seemed much too mature for a five year old. Again, he wanted to laugh.

"Well, I'll let you think about that, but in the mean time, how about I show you something." He knew just how to win her over.

"Is it magic?" Her eager tone suggested that she almost forgot her irritation towards him already.

He grinned, and without saying another word he transformed into the shaggy black dog.

Aurora gasped, "Wow." He licked her face and she giggled loudly.

He transformed back into a man, and he knew he had succeeded, "How did you do that?" She exclaimed in awe.

Sirius grinned, "Years of practice."

"Can I do that when I'm big?" Her blue eyes were wide with admiration.

He allowed himself to laugh this time, "If you'd like to…I'm sure you could study it."

"At Hogwarts?"

He laughed again, "Well…maybe when you're a little older than that."

She looked slightly put out, "How come?"

"Because it's very advanced magic. How old are you anyway?"

"Five," she said proudly.

He smiled, "And you're already thinking about Hogwarts?"

She nodded quite seriously, "I live there,"

Now it was his turn to look at her skeptically, "You do?"

"Yes, my mummy is a teacher."

"Ah," Still, he thought, it was quite odd for a professor's entire family to reside at Hogwarts with them, but he decided not to question her further about it.

"Does your mummy know you're exploring?" He changed the subject.

She shook her head, "She was talking to people in the kitchen."

He chuckled, "Maybe we should go find—"

Sirius began, but was cut off by a distant, "Aurora?"

"Mummy, come meet my new friend! He can turn into a dog!" Sirius grinned triumphantly at being called her friend, as Aurora rushed towards the hall where her mother's voice was coming from.

Her mother's voice was closer, "There you are! You shouldn't go running off on your own, darling." Sirius looked towards the entrance and was entirely unprepared for who stood there.

"This is my new friend Sirius, mummy." She was gesturing towards him, "Show her what you can do!" Aurora said, as Alix looked up, to catch him staring, and their eyes locked.

Her blue eyes widened in sheer astonishment, "Oh my."

~*~

A/N: There were so many places I could have ended this chapter, but I didn't feel it was complete until Alix at least laid eyes on Sirius. I feel like I'm always apologizing for the amount of time it takes me to update, but what am I going to do. Anyway, this was my longest chapter yet, so I hope you all enjoyed it; I'm pretty proud of it. I cannot make any promises as to how long it'll take me to update from now on, as I've got an insane amount of work in every one of my classes. But if you've stuck around this long, I hope you plan on sticking it out until the end (even if it takes me forever to write it)! Thanks to everyone who reviewed before, and don't forget to review now, it's very important to me! Also, I'd love to hear your thoughts about what you like/dislike about this story. If you have any suggestions, feel free to tell me!

Until next time,

xx Chloe


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