The next day dawned grey and gloomy, as overcast as the mood at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place.
Harry was exhausted, having crawled back to bed soon after Snape's exit, only to be kept awake by his own thoughts. When he had finally fallen asleep, his usual nightmare had returned, only this time Snape was there, taunting Lupin as he held Harry back.
"Last one left now, aren't you Lupin? Been keeping your head down. Maybe Dumbledore shouldn't give you important jobs..."
By the time Harry finally dragged himself down to breakfast, Mr Weasley and Tonks had already left. Various Order members that Harry didn't know were hanging around the kitchen, talking in low voices to Moody, Lupin and Mrs Weasley. They all stared fleetingly at Harry when he entered, but it seemed they had important business to attend to, because after talking earnestly for another ten minutes or so, they all disapparated in a swish of cloaks.
"Order meeting tonight," said Mrs Weasley brightly, seeing Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny's inquiring looks. "I hope the Meeting Chamber's clean. We'd better check that today..."
She put a plate of sausage, bacon and egg in front of Harry. He picked at it unenthusiastically. He was still thinking about the conversation he had overheard the previous night. He stole a glance at Lupin, who was talking to Bill at the other side of the table. Wasn't Lupin angry with Snape, furious at his part in Sirius' death? It occured to Harry that he had never seen Lupin lose his temper.
I suppose he can't afford to dislike people, thought Harry, looking at Lupin's threadbare robes and greying hair. He's got enough people disliking him.
The mood in the house was as preoccupied and unhappy as it had been the previous day. The two things that were uppermost in everyone's minds- the abscence of Sirius, and the looming danger of Voldemort and his Death Eaters, were the two things that were not talked about. Harry suspected that the adults were keeping their feelings about the latter for the evening's meeting, and the former was not discussed in front of Harry. He had a feeling they all thought, after his behaviour on his first night back at Headquarters, that he did not want to talk about it, which was partially true. His mood varied.
After breakfast, Harry entered the Order's Meeting Chamber for the first time. It was a magnificent room which had once been the Black's dining hall. A long, mahogany table with clawed feet took pride of place in its centre. On the walls was a wooden engraving of the Black crest and motto, along with several portraits of members of the Black family, all of whom had turned their backs, undoubtedly sulking at the use their dining hall was now being put to.
Mrs Weasley ran a finger along the table's surface, tutting at the thin layer of dust.
"We haven't used this room for a few weeks, time we gave it a clean..." she waved her wand, and their was a soft flumping noise as all the dust on the table vanished.
Surrounding the long table were about fifty ornate mahogany chairs, and as Harry looked closely, he could see a name engraved upon each. A chair belonged to each member of the Order, he realised. At the head of the table was Dumbledore's chair, decorated with one squashy cushion.
Harry traced his fingers along the top of one of the chairs, and suddenly blurted out the question that had bothered him for days.
"How do you join the Order?"
Moody, Lupin and Mrs Weasley looked up sharply.
"Thinking of joining, were you, Potter?" growled Moody softly, his magical eye now fixed on Harry.
"Well, yeah..." said Harry, feebly. "I mean, you're one member down now, and..." he swallowed.
"No," said Mrs Weasley, her lips pursed. "Absolutely not, Harry, it's far too dangerous."
"I told you last year, Harry," said Lupin, frowning slightly. "the Order is composed entirely of wizards who have left school. It is not something to be taken lightly..." Harry saw his tired gaze rest upon the chair with Sirius Black engraved on it.
"We can join now!" said Fred fiercely. "We've left school!" he and George both scowled at their mother, who shook her head violently.
"We ought to tell them, Remus," growled Moody. "Tell them about the Oath. Maybe then they'll understand it's not a game."
Lupin was still looking hard at Sirius' chair as he began.
"The original Order was hand-picked by Dumbledore. He chose the wizards he knew would not only fight Voldemort with all their strength, but who would go about it in the right way. So many wizards in those days were approving of Crouch's methods, and Dumbeldore knew we were never going to win like that."
"He chose some people who wouldn't normally have got a look in," said Moody, looking sideways at Lupin. "Outcasts."
"The first night we met, he made us swear an oath," continued Lupin heavily. "We had to promise that we were willing to give our lives to the cause of fighting Voldemort. We swore to protect our fellow Order members..."
"...watch each other's backs..." growled Moody.
"...and that if anyone was killed in service, it was our duty to protect the family they left behind." Lupin finished. "Even if it meant paying the ultimate price to save them."
Harry stared at the three adults with renewed respect. So this was the fear they lived with, all of them, that they had promised their lives to the Order if needed. He remembered what Aunt Petunia had said, about the Order's code of honour. This must be what she had meant. That oath was the promise Sirius had fulfilled on the night of his death. He had done his duty to the Order.
"So..." he said hoarsely, forgetting that Fred, George, Ron, Hermione and Ginny were still in the room, "That's the only reason Sirius came after me? To do his duty?"
Lupin shook his head empatically. "No, Harry...Sirius' duty that night would have been to remain behind. What he did that night he did purely to save you, for your own sake, not for the Oath's."
Harry nodded, his throat tight. Mrs Weasley blew her nose loudly.
"Come on," she said in a muffled voice. "We'd best do some cleaning."
Feeling that he'd done enough eavesdropping the previous night to last him for a long time, Harry once again declined to lean over the banister with Fred and George to try and listen in on the Order meeting. From about seven O'clock onwards, large numbers of witches and wizards began arriving at the house, and Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny and the Twins were shooed upstairs.
"It's not fair," moaned Ron as he slumped on his bed. "We always get sent upstairs whenever anything interesting happens."
Ginny put her ear to the floor and lay still for a few minutes before declaring gloomily, "You can't hear them through the floor. They must have put a charm on it."
"Dear, dear," said Fred with mock sadness. "We don't have to grovel in the dirt to hear what's being said."
"No," said George. "Not when we've got..." he pulled an extendable ear out of his pocket. The twin's faces lit in identical grins, and they disapparated. Harry knew they were now crouching on the stairs, but he didn't have the heart to join them.
"What did you think of that...Oath thingy?" asked Ron, sitting up and looking at the three of them.
"I thought it was frightening," said Hermione at once. "Knowing that you've promised to die if you have to..."
Harry didn't reply. He hadn't yet plucked up the courage to tell them about the Prophecy. He didn't know if he ever would in the near future. If they thought the Oath was frightening, how would they feel if they knew that Harry's destiny was to be either murderer or murdered?
After a few hours, the voices downstairs still rumbled steadily, and Hermione and Ginny left for bed. Harry and Ron stayed up, talking in lowered voices. They were both waiting for Fred and George to return. Sure enough, at quarter past eleven when the sound of the Order members disbanding could be heard downstairs, the twins reappeared, clutching their extendable ears.
"Well?" said Ron eagerly.
Fred and George were both looking curiously at Harry.
"We didn't understand a lot of what they were saying," said Fred.
"But they were talking about you, mate," said George, nodding to Harry. "About who's your guardian and stuff, now that Si-"
"So, who is my guardian now?" said Harry quickly.
"They didn't decide anything," said Fred. "In fact, they said they'd come and get you in a minute, to ask you..."
There was the sound of footsteps on the stairs. Fred and George froze, before disapparating with two tiny pops.
Mrs Weasley stuck her head around the door. Her eyes looked slightly pink, and she gave Harry a watery smile.
"Harry, dear...you wouldn't mind coming downstairs for a minute, would you?"
"N-no, of course not," said Harry, casting Ron a questioning look. Ron shrugged, and Harry followed Mrs Weasley downstairs and into the kitchen.
Mr Weasley was stood by the fire, looking somehow more subdued than usual. Lupin was sat in his usual chair, and though he smiled at Harry when he entered, there was something unreadable in his tired face. Tonks and Moody were both sat at the kitchen table, looking slightly awkward, as if they weren't sure if they ought to stay.
"Sit down, Harry dear," said Mrs Weasley gently. Harry sat rather awkwardly and looked around at them all. What was it they wanted to ask him?
"Harry-" begun Mr Weasley. "I know you might not want to talk about this, but it's something we need to decide. You see...Sirius left no will-"
Harry winced. He should have guessed.
"-and so we've no way of knowing what he wanted for you once he was...gone."
"He wasn't expecting to die," growled Moody. "The young and the reckless never think of these things."
"We thought it was best to consult you before deciding anything, dear," said Mrs Weasley, looking worriedly at Harry. "We need to decide who your legal guardian is, and who all Sirius' possesions are going to go to."
Harry looked at the floor. All this made Sirius' death seem so final, so utterly real. He didn't want to have this conversation. Nobody could replace Sirius, ever...Sirius had been the best guardian anyone could have wished for.
Mr Weasley cleared his throat rather awkwardly. "We-that is, us Weasleys- want you to know that you're as good as a family member already, and we'd be honoured to be appointed your guardians."
"Er- thanks," said Harry, rather hoarsely. Mrs Weasley had said before that he was as good as a son, and it made him feel warm, wanted. What would it mean, to have the Weasleys as his guardians? Perhaps he could spend shorter lengths of time at Privet Drive, return to the Burrow sooner each summer...
"It's not just us, though," said Mrs Weasley hesitantly, interupting his thoughts. "We think...that your parents might have wanted..."
There was a pause, and everybody looked at Lupin.
"I realise," said Lupin, very quietly, "That it would be extremely impractical, given my...condition."
Harry looked at Lupin, feeling the now-familiar stab of guilt. Of course, he should have remembered...his father's other best friend.
"It wouldn't be impractical," said Harry quickly. "I could look after myself once a month..."
Lupin shook his head, smiling sadly. "No, Harry, you don't understand...whoever looks after you must be able to watch you at all times. You have a deadly enemy. It is not enough just to give you a place to live."
Harry nodded, his throat tight. True, Lupin was very different from Sirius, but he was still a part of Harry's father, the last faithful link to the Marauders. Living with him might have been strange at first, but would somehow mean more than living with the Weasleys. But no- it was impossible.
"So, that's sorted then," said Mrs Weasley timidly. "We're to be your guardians then, Harry."
There was a heavy silence.
"I want it understood," said Lupin, still looking at Harry, "That even if I am not to be Harry's guardian, I have my own duties to him. I did not just make promises to the Order- I made promises to Lily and James."
The silence was rather guilty this time. Harry looked at Lupin, wondering what he was talking about. Lupin was staring into the fire, a distant look in his eyes, as though he could see something beyond the flames...
* * *
The firelight gleamed on Lily's hair, bringing out highlights of gold among the red. She was curled in her chair, Harry sleeping in her lap, completely absorbed in watching her contented son.
James was pacing the room restlessly, occasionally taking a gulp from the glass of wine in his hand.
"Relax, Prongs," said Sirius, who was lounging on the sofa, his hands behind his head. "You're safe for the moment. Your secret is in the keeping of Yours Truly, remember? Just sit down."
James groaned and sank onto the sofa next to Sirius. "I can't relax, you idiot. I keep getting these bad feelings, like..." he seemed to be searching for words. Then he shrugged, frustrated, and took another gulp of wine.
Lily looked up. "Do you think it's time, James?" she asked quietly. "Time we asked them?"
Remus, sitting outside the circle of firelight, a little away from the Potters and their Secret Keeper, looked up in surprise.
"Ask us what?" said Sirius curiously.
James and Lily exchanged glances.
"Go on," said James. Lily stroked Harry's tousled dark head, then began, hesitantly.
"I don't know how to say this, it makes me feel so- afraid. But I have to ask you, or else I wouldn't be doing what was best for Harry. Me and James want to...to make sure that you two will look after Harry if..."
"...if anything happens to us," finished James, putting one arm around his wife's shoulders. Lily grasped his hand tightly, and continued.
"I know it seems- oh, silly, to be thinking like this when there's no way he could find out where we're hiding, but I just can't get the thought out of my head."
"I'm his Godfather!" exclaimed Sirius. "You know I'd look after him!"
"We're not just talking about the legal side," said James. "And you're included in this too, Remus. You're Harry's guardian just as much as Sirius."
Remus looked up at him, surprised but gratified.
"We're asking both of you," said Lily emphatically. "Please...just be there for him. Keep our memory alive for him."
"Don't talk like that," said Sirius roughly. "Nothing's going to happen."
Lily stood up. "That's just the problem though, Sirius. What if something does happen?" She looked at James. "Shall I go and get it?"
James nodded tiredly.
"Get what?" said Sirius distractedly.
"We...we want you to sign a contract, so it's all legal," said James, who was suddenly smiling slightly despite himself. "I liked the idea of a contract, it kind of reminded me of something. Eh, Moony?"
Sirius and James both grinned at Remus.
Lily who had made towards the kitchen, held Harry out to Remus. "Here, hold him a minute, will you?"
Remus stared at her. "Who, me?"
She smiled. "I wasn't talking to the wall. There- make sure you hold his head..."
She slipped into the kitchen, leaving Remus holding Harry as nervously as though he were a primed grenade. James and Sirius laughed.
"He doesn't bite, you know," said Sirius. "Unlike some people I could mention."
"Very funny," said Remus, who was now grinning too. He shifted his grip on Harry, who had now woken up, and was lying perfectly still, looking up at him with those wide, green eyes.
"Hey, that's not fair," said Sirius with mock indignation. "He never sits still for me."
"That's because you never sit still either," said James. "He must like you, Remus, he normally screams his head off when he's woken up."
Lily came back in, holding a piece of parchment. Sirius' frown returned.
"Look, I don't need to sign a piece of paper saying that I'd give my life for Harry. I'd do it anyway," he said, angrily.
Feeling Harry's slight warm weight, so tiny and so perfect, Remus knew that he felt the same way, even if, unlike Sirius, he was too shy to say it.
"We know that," said Lily earnestly. "And we can't tell you how grateful we are. But if you sign, it makes it legal."
"Is Wormtail included in this?" asked Sirius.
"We did invite him tonight," said James, rummaging for a quill, "But he said he was busy."
It was very late by the time Sirius and Remus finally left. James saw them to the door, and Sirius bid him and Remus hearty farewells before mounting his motorbike and zooming off into the still night air.
"See you soon then, Moony," said James, shaking Remus' hand.
"In a while," said Remus. "It's the full moon next week."
James nodded sympathetically. Remus stood awkwardly for a moment, unsure what to say. He felt strange, suddenly afraid.
James, picking up on his worry, embraced him tightly.
"Don't worry. Lily and me will be fine. We're just...taking precautions."
"I'll always look after Harry," said Remus shyly. "Always."
"I know you will," said James, smiling. "I know."
* * *
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