On the train home for Christmas break, Harry, Ron, and Hermione managed to get a compartment to themselves. Hermione was reading Hogwarts, A History, while Harry and Ron played wizard chess. Harry was losing so horribly that he had to suspect that his dad let him win all the times they had played wizard chess.
"That's totally barbaric!" Hermione said, as she watched Ron's black queen demolish Harry's white bishop.
"No it's not," Ron insisted. "Cutting people open to mess with their insides, that's barbaric," he said, referring to what Hermione had told them about Muggle 'doctors' and 'surgery'.
Harry nodded. "I think my dad would go crazy if someone tried to tell him slicing him open and jabbing his innards with pointy things was the only way they knew how to save his life."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Muggles don't have magic. If they need to fix something beneath the skin, they have to move the skin to get to it."
"And what about putting someone else's blood in your body? That's just creepy!"
"Not if it keeps you alive, Ron."
"Whatever. So, Harry, did you ask your dad about me coming over yet?"
"Not yet, but he won't mind. You're sure you can't come over, Hermione?"
"No, my parents are taking me to France, and we aren't getting back until the day before the Hogwarts Express leaves."
"How much longer until we get there? I'm starving," Ron said.
"You ate an hour ago," Hermione pointed out.
"Yeah, but not much."
"You finished off everything we got from the trolley."
"There wasn't much left, and Harry had some too."
Thankfully, the train stopped before Ron and Hermione's 'discussion' could turn into another fight.
Sirius smiled when he saw Harry come through the barrier of Platform 9¾ with his two friends. The two young wizards hugged Hermione, and headed straight for Sirius. Harry's face was already flushed from the cold, and snowflakes stuck in his hair and melted on his glasses. Sirius had to grab Harry's trolley when the wheel skidded on ice, almost causing an irritated owl and a heavy trunk to crash into the Muggles Sirius stood near. The Muggles walked away, glaring and Sirius and Harry, muttering about hooligans and parents who couldn't control their children.
"Not very in touch with the Christmas spirit, are they?" Sirius mused, extending his free arm to his grinning son.
After a quick hug, Harry said, "Dad, this is my friend Ron. Can he stay with us for a couple days?"
"Sure, if his parents are okay with it."
"Oh, hi, Mum," Ron said, to a plump witch with the same flaming, red hair as her son. Mrs. Weasley was dragging a young girl by the hand towards Ron.
"Mrs. Weasley, I presume?" Sirius said, in his most charming voice, and offered his hand to Mrs. Weasley. "I'm Sirius Black, Harry's father."
"Oh." She shook his hand quickly, then grabbed her son. "Come, Ron, your father's waiting." As she dragged her children away, Sirius thought he heard something about 'pure-blood maniacs'.
"Well, ready to go home, pup?"
Harry nodded. Sirius made sure no Muggles were in sight and shrunk Harry's trunk, then took Harry and Hedwig, in her cage, to a dark area of King's Cross Station. When Harry had a tight hold on his arm, Sirius disapparated.
"Wow." Harry looked around the living early Christmas morning. The light brown couch, which his father swore was an off-white when he bought it, had been pushed into a corner to make room for the large tree and presents surrounding it. The tree, being the only source of light, was spectacular. Colorful baubles gave the many white lights their hue, and the tinsel covering the tree only intensified the effect. Harry snuck a candycane off the tree, to enjoy before his father woke.
The fireplace came to life, and Remus Lupin stepped out of the flames.
"Uncle Remus?" Harry hadn't seen his uncle since before he left for Hogwarts.
"Happy Christmas, Harry. I didn't expect you to be up."
Harry eagerly hugged the man. "How long are you staying?" he asked, hoping his family would be together for the holiday.
"I just came to put your present under the tree. I'm sorry I can't stay longer." He kissed the top of Harry's head.
"But Aunt Lily's making a huge dinner. She's even letting Dad help."
"Sorry, kiddo, I'm not going to be able to make it this year," Remus said, with a sad smile. "Don't let that stop you from having a great holiday, though."
Harry nodded. "Okay." He was accustomed to the adults in his life having to be absent for days at a time by now.
"Do me a favor, and don't tell your dad I was here, okay? Tell him I sent an owl." He handed Harry a small parcel wrapped in shiny green paper with a red bow.
"Why?" Usually whoever was being sent on a mission wanted their well-being to be known. "Did you and Dad get into a fight?" He thought about Ron and Hermione, how they were always bickering.
"Don't worry about it. Love you."
"Love you, too," Harry said, hugging his uncle again.
Christmas dinner was amazing. Only a quarter of the turkey, some stuffing, gravy, and an assortment of vegetables remained, but the meal had been too heavy for anyone to eat more without exploding. Perhaps they could have finished it if Remus had been present. Sirius hadn't seen the werewolf since he overheard the 'traitor talk' with James. Having seen the look on Remus' face when Sirius accused him, Sirius couldn't help but feel a little guilty. Not enough to let go of his suspicion, but enough to not go to Dumbledore until more concrete evidence against Remus could be found. James, Sirius knew, had tried apologizing within the week that it happened. Remus had listened at the door, said it was okay, closed the door in James' face, and had only spoken to Lily since then. Whatever Remus said to her though, caused her to forgive Sirius and start treating him the same as ever again, for which Sirius was grateful—Lily's silent treatment was more unnerving than her yelling.
Sirius smiled at Harry when the boy yawned into his plate, then relined on the back two legs of his chair. He, Harry, James, Lily, and Peter were taking a break from food before dessert. As full as he was, Sirius was still looking forward to the pumpkin pie. But when the Headmaster knocked on the front door and let himself in, thoughts of pie were forgotten. Sirius knew from the look Dumbledore gave him that his news was not pleasant.
"Death Eaters have been sent to infiltrate Hogwarts," Albus said, once Harry had been sent from the dining area to his room.
The front two legs of Sirius' chair fell to the wood floor with a clang. "Did they get in?"
"As far as I can tell, their efforts have been unsuccessful," Dumbledore said. "I do not know what they are after. There are many artifacts in the school Voldemort could twist to his own purpose."
"Should I keep Harry home?" Sirius asked.
"I do not believe such a precaution is necessary," Dumbledore said, slowly.
"But if Voldemort is targeting the school—" Lily insisted.
Peter excused himself from the room.
"He waited until Hogwarts was mostly empty to send his servants in. I do not believe it is the children he is after. Not yet, at least."
"Then why are you here?" Sirius wanted to know.
"I wanted to give you these, in case there was ever a reason your presence was required at Hogwarts." Dumbledore pulled three wooden coins out of his pockets. "These are Portkeys to my office. The activation code is 'Fawkes.' Please keep these with you at all times." The sad twinkle in his blue eyes suggested the Headmaster knew more than he was willing to say.
To say that Sirius Black was unhappy about sending his son back to a school he knew Death Eaters were actively trying to gain access to was an understatement. True, he always knew Voldemort would target Hogwarts sooner or later, but he never planned on keeping Harry there when that time came.
But Harry had wanted to return to Hogwarts (even more so when he learned that Mrs. Weasley forbade Ron from visiting until she had a long meeting with Sirius to be sure he wasn't a dangerous maniac like most of his family turned out to be, however, she never responded to Sirius' owls inviting her and her husband over once the kids were back at school). Sirius had told Harry what Dumbledore said, and made him swear on his new broomstick—a Nimbus 2000 James had given him for Christmas that he'd had to leave at home—to stay inside the castle, except for classes, and not to leave the Gryffindor Common Room after curfew.
As Sirius watched the Hogwarts Express begin its trip to Hogwarts with Harry on board, he hoped he wouldn't need that Portkey Dumbledore had given him.
"This is a mistake," Lily said. "We should go to Hogsmeade, pick Harry up there and bring him home."
"James is with him," Sirius reminded her. James had been one of the Aurors Dumbledore had asked to be stationed at Hogwarts during the upcoming term. Since no news of the attempted break in to Hogwarts in the Daily Prophet, Sirius doubted Albus told the Ministry the truth, but he supposed that Dumbledore didn't really have to. After all, how many angry letters and Howlers would the Ministry get from enraged parents who learned security had been denied to their children when the Headmaster asked?
"That really makes you feel better?"
Sirius shrugged. He knew Lily wasn't having a go at James, but he still didn't want to tell her it didn't make him feel better at all. James would protect Harry like his own son, but that didn't make Sirius feel any better about not being able to see that Harry was safe with his own eyes, or not being able to protect his son himself. Apparently, Lily felt the same.
"What was Dumbledore thinking?"
"Kids still need an education. And even with that lovely tidbit Dumbledore dropped on us, most of them are still safer at Hogwarts than at home." Sirius hoped Lily would drop the subject soon. He was finding it almost impossible not to simply agree with her and head off to the Three Broomsticks until the train got to the Hogsmeade station.
"Would you mind if I stayed with you? I'll go crazy if I'm in that house by myself day and night for the next month."
Sirius smiled and wrapped an arm around her. "No problem."
"How do you do it?" Lily finally asked.
"Your life. You're a single parent fighting in a war against your crazy relatives who'd love nothing more than to hurt you and Harry in every way they know how. But you're still the same Sirius Black I met at Hogwarts."
"I'm hurt, Lily. You hated the Sirius Black you met at Hogwarts." He pouted.
She laughed. "You know what I mean," she said, lightly punching him in the chest. "You are a better man now than you were then, but you're still every bit as caring and loyal. How do you hold it all together?"
"Apparently not too well. I recently accused a lifelong friend of plotting to kill us all, or did you forget?"
"So you agree you were wrong about Remus?"
"No. Not quite. But I don't think I should have said anything without something more substantial than conspiracy theories to back it up."
Lily huffed. "There really is no changing you."
"Really, though, I'm not holding together. I keep having nightmares of Bellatrix with her disgusting fingers around Harry's throat. Not being able to check on him is killing me."
"Have you gotten any more letters?"
"No. And before you ask, I haven't shown it to Dumbledore." He still had that threatening note crumpled in his pocket, but he hadn't shown it to anyone after Lily.
"He could help."
"Yeah, help put Harry and me into hiding. Bellatrix already made it clear she wants to purge the family tree. This war's not going to be won any sooner with us holing our own people up. And I'm not raising Harry like that. He's sheltered enough. Our house is already Unplottable, we've got protective wards up, no one outside of the Order knows where we live. All that's missing is the Fidelius Charm. I've considered it, I've considered it a lot recently, but I'd rather not resort to it, and as long as Harry's at Hogwarts I see no need to do so."
"What about over the summer? Someone inside the Order is a spy."
"I'll talk to Dumbledore after Harry takes his exams."
"Good," Lily said. "I do wish you would use the charm sooner though. James isn't the only one who'd be upset if anything happened to you."
"I've got a better idea. Why don't we rent a couple of rooms in Hogmeade? Just for a few months."
Lily raised an eyebrow. "If Dumbledore wanted us that close to Hogwarts he would have asked."
"He doesn't have to know. He still doesn't know about the Marauders being Animagus."
"Yeah, you guys, not me."
"Lily. I'm living proof that Dumbledore doesn't know everything that goes on at Hogwarts. We'll fix up a couple rooms in the Shrieking Shack and camp out there. No one will know, the village still believes that place is haunted."
Lily pulled away from him. After a moment, she said, "All right. I must be insane, listening to you, but all right. Let's do it."
Sneaking into the Shrieking Shack with shrunken cases of clothes, food, and other necessities had been easier than Sirius expected. He grinned madly, looking around the old Marauder hangout filled with dust and broken furniture, just how he remembered it. Except for the footprints in the dust. He drew his wand and pressed a finger against his lips.
Lily took out her wand.
A cackling laugh carried down from upstairs. Bellatrix, Sirius was certain. He hoped she was alone. He and Lily turned towards the exit, but a masked Death Eater blocked their path. Sirius and Lily let a stunning and a disarming spell fly at the one blocking their path, but a third Death Eater magically bound them both from behind and took their wands.
Bellatrix entered the room, her heels kicking up dust. She laughed gleefully as she took her enemies' wands and ennervated her stunned fellow Death Eater.
A/N: Sorry for not getting this up as quickly as I have been. Had a couple of papers I needed to get done. Not nearly as fun to write as this.