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Sirius paced around the small room, glad that the racket from the party would more than mask his incessant footsteps. If someone were to pound angrily on his door and complain about the noise, he might haul off and deck them. He had one nerve left and no one had better get on it.

He had to figure out whom he could still trust. There was only one traitor, after all, or at least he hoped there was only one. He didn't have to bear this burden alone, he could get help... as long has he didn't ask that one wrong person.

Remus and Peter were out. It seemed impossible, but many impossible things had happened that night. He had to consider that it could be one of them. They were certainly in the best position to betray the location of Godric's Hollow.

Sirius forced himself to think about Dumbledore. The Headmaster had warned James that he was being targeted and suggested the Fidelius Charm--and within a week, James was dead. Coincidence? Possibly. Set-up? Possibly. Voldemort had long considered James an annoyance, but suddenly took this specific interest--why? Perhaps Dumbledore had deliberately used the Potters as bait! Dumbledore might have made up this entire "prophecy" business and deliberately leaked it to Voldemort's spies. It was more than a year ago (supposedly) that this so-called prophecy was made, but Voldemort was only acting on it now? Was this because Dumbledore sent the Potters into hiding to entice him?

Dumbledore could have rigged the house to ensure Voldemort would never leave once he went in--which would certainly account for the collapse of the structure much better than a ricocheted Kedavra curse. And it would explain why Hagrid was sent to the Hollow before the dust even had time to settle. That Dumbledore would stoop to sacrifice the Potters was a sickening thought, but no less so than the concept of Peter or Remus betraying them. Sirius had to consider the Headmaster a threat as well.

Not the Ministry, not the Order, not Hogwarts. Sirius began to think that perhaps strangers were his best recourse for help. But Merlin's Beard, tonight's work was too important. Sirius remembered all too well what his brother Regulus had told him, not days before he was killed: that Voldemort was using ancient Dark magic to become immortal. Sirius had scoffed at the time. Everyone knew the closest one could get to immortality was the Elixir of Life, an alchemical process. Dark magic was about death and control, not eternal life. But Regulus had been so certain, and Voldemort had killed him personally...

Sirius peered for the hundredth time at the sleeping baby. He had no doubt in his mind that the scar on Harry's head was magical in origin. It was a perfectly shaped bolt of lightning, without bruising--the odds of some piece of flying shrapnel making such a wound were nil. If Voldemort truly took some Dark precaution against his own death, then Little Harry's body might even now be a vessel to house Voldemort until he recovered from the attack. Sirius bit his lip. This was not a question he could trust any stranger to answer.

Who, then? He had to stop eliminating people; it was getting him nowhere. I don't know who the traitor is. But I can figure out who the traitor isn't. There have to be some people who are absolutely beyond reproach.

"Like Dumbledore or Remus," he said out loud, spite and pain weighing heavily in his voice. The baby stirred, which was almost laughable after he'd slept through a ride on the chopper and a trip through the noisy pub. Sirius remembered James bemoaning the fact that the boy still woke up hungry in the middle of the night, despite their efforts to stuff him with food at bedtime. With a quick glance at his watch on the nightstand, Sirius realized he'd better go fetch some milk.

The kitchen smelled of sausages and Sirius brought back some Welsh currant cakes and butterbeer, but when he was out of sniffing range of the savory aromas, his appetite died as suddenly as it had flared. His stomach felt as tense as a bowstring. He drank the hot butterbeer and fed the grouchy baby milk from a cup. Fortunately, Little Harry nodded back off to sleep when he finished his milk, leaving Sirius free to stare into the bottom of his butterbeer mug and return to his thoughts.

Alastor Moody? Sirius had spoken to him on several occasions. The man knew his Dark Arts, that was certain, but talk about paranoia! If Little Harry had so much as a mote of Dark magic lingering on his pajamas, Moody would probably send the tot to Azkaban. No, this called for a slightly more level head than old "Mad-Eye."

The Longbottoms? They were top-notch Aurors and they had a boy about Harry's age. Of course they were little more than strangers too, even more so than Moody. Sirius buried his face in his hands in frustration--the bottom line was that most of his friends in the Order, like Benjy Fenwick and the Prewett brothers, were dead.

But wait--what about Molly Prewett? Gid and Fabian had introduced him to Molly several times and thought the world of her. She was married but they kept calling her "Prewett" just to annoy her. Her new name was... what, something like Wimbley, Wheatley... Weasley. That's right, her husband's in the Ministry, one of those blokes at the bottom that do all the actual work. In fact, he was a distant cousin who had been similarly disowned by the Most Noble House of Black. That made up his mind; if he couldn't trust Gid's sister and another "black sheep Black," he might as well go live in a cave.

Sirius lit the fire in his room and tossed in some Floo powder. Only after he stepped into it with Little Harry draped bonelessly over his arms did he remember it was nearly six AM. Oh, well, he thought with a shrug. Molly was in for the shock of her life anyway, might as well get off with a strong start.

To his suprise, there were lamps burning cheerily in her kitchen when he reached their fireplace. Six o'clock only came once a day for Sirius Black--he didn't normally stay up this late. Realizing that whoever lit the lamps would probably react unpleasantly to an intruder, Sirius ducked the second he stepped out of the Floo. Sure enough, something ruffled the hair on top of his head; Molly Prewett Weasley stood not three feet away in a long flannel nightdress, the wrought-iron poker from the fireplace still swinging in a backhand arc.

"What the--" "Molly, wait, it's--" "Sirius Black?" The poker remained poised for a second strike, but she had recognized him. He had a few seconds to persuade her not to crack his skull. "Molly, please. I need your help. I'm sorry to barge in like this. There's been an attack." Her eyes softened and the poker slowly sunk into a less lethal position.

"An attack. What? Is that a baby? Alright, come in, come in, dear," she said, motioning him to take a seat at the kitchen table, her maternal impulses finally overcoming her suspicion and shock. She took Harry from him immediately, bundling him expertly in the blanket with one hand and gently pushing his head back onto her shoulder when he tried to have a groggy look around. Harry must have sensed he was in the presence of a master, as he quickly gave up and snuggled down obediently for a snooze.

It didn't take long for Sirius to tell his tale. Molly squirmed uncomfortably and bit her lip as Sirius informed her that she was, in fact, holding the "boy who lived" in her arms.

"Sirius, what are you saying? If this is Harry Potter, then who is the baby in the Ministry?"

"That's the question of the hour, now, isn't it?" he agreed. "There's no mistake, Molly, I'm the baby's godfather. I know this is Harry. I arrived minutes after it happened, before anyone from the Ministry. I took him out of danger and I've had him ever since." Sirius didn't tell her about the Ministry automobile or the dragged-off body; he knew the story already sounded improbable, and Molly's trust in him was surely tentative at best.

She nodded. "Well, of course, that was the right thing to do. And I suppose that when Magical Catastrophes arrived, they must have noticed that the baby was gone and assumed he'd survived. But they say they have the baby! This doesn't make sense!"

"You don't have to tell me, that's been a recurring theme tonight. For all we know, someone kidnapped some little tyke and turned him in to the Ministry, hoping for a reward. Who knows? That can all be figured out later. What's important right now, Molly, is that this baby was the last person to see Voldemort alive, and he has a magical injury on his forehead. Molly, I'm scared. What if Voldemort possessed the boy? What if he's not dead at all, but somehow hiding inside Little Harry?"

Molly pulled her chin in and stared hard at Sirius, cuddling Harry protectively. "Don't be ridiculous, Sirius. No one can do that!"

"Oh, and babies kill full-grown wizards every day of the week, do they?" he barked in reply. Molly glared at him, but she averted her eyes and nodded.

"I suppose both stories are equally ridiculous," she said coolly.

"I shouldn't have snapped. It's been a horrible night, Molly."

Her hand moved to his forearm. "Nothing to worry about," she said kindly, helping him to his feet and guiding him into a soft armchair in the family room. "I'll put the kettle on. Arthur will be down soon and we'll think this through."

Despite himself, Sirius dozed in the chair before the Weasleys joined him with a tray of tea and porridge. Harry hadn't budged from his perch in Molly's left arm, but an even tinier redhead now occupied her right. Sirius shook himself awake. "Another new cousin?" he asked Arthur.

"That's right! Our little girl," said Arthur, beaming proudly. "Ginevra."

"She's beautiful," said Sirius, too bleary-eyed to be sure, but it was never a mistake to say it.

Arthur's tone immediately turned businesslike. "Molly's told me about this little fellow. I'm not sure what to say, Sirius. I'm inclined to bring him in to the Ministry--"

"No," said Sirius bluntly, cutting Arthur off in mid-sentence.

Arthur frowned, puzzled. "They can determine if You-Know-Who has...touched this child, AND it would prove the boy they have is not Harry Potter--"

"NO!" he repeated angrily. Arthur frowned again, and Sirius knew he needed to explain himself. "I don't trust the Ministry. I'm... not sure they didn't make up the whole 'boy who lived' business, and if they did, you can bet they won't appreciate meeting the real boy who lived."

Arthur leaned back in his chair, tapping his fingers on the rim of his porridge bowl. "Sirius, you've been up all night and you've been through a terrible shock..."

"Don't start it, Arthur. I'm not taking Harry to the Ministry and that's final."

"All right, all right, it's your decision. You understand that I do have to let my superiors know they have the wrong baby, and they may not believe me without proof. If they've been deceived about this other baby, things could get very complicated before the truth is found."

"Not my problem," said Sirius stiffly. "They issued a report without confirming the facts, they can flounder and retract and suffer the consequences. I'm sorry, Arthur. I'm not feeling disposed toward your employer at the moment."

Arthur sighed and glanced at Molly, but nodded. "At best, it was very irresponsible to announce that they had the boy without speaking to his guardian first. All right. Well, what do you want from us, then?"

Sirius closed his eyes. They felt dry and sharp, while his wits were dulling by the minute. "I don't know who I can trust. You understand that the boy's parents were betrayed by someone deep within the Order of the Phoenix? It's the only explanation for how they were found and attacked. I don't know how to look into this boy, to find Voldemort if he's there. I need help." He looked imploringly at Molly. "Gid always told me you were stronger than he and Fabian combined. Coming from him, that really meant something. That's why I came to you. Can you help me?"

Molly glanced between the two men several times, then sighed. "I can try. Not here, though, I don't want the children to have anything to do with this. Arthur, can you take a holiday today?"

He gritted his teeth. "They won't like it, but I have a feeling quite a few people will be skiving off the job today. I'll need to go in as soon as you get back, though, and I should report in about this whole wrong boy business." He rubbed his jaw, obviously ticking off a mental checklist, then looked up with deep concern in his eyes. "Where will you go, Molly? If what Sirius says is true... this could be dangerous."

"I know, Arthur, I know," said Molly, shaking her head wearily. "Let me think a minute."

"We can use my place in Bristol," said Sirius helpfully, "or I've let a room in Wales last night."

"What part of Wales?" Molly asked quickly, her eyes sparking with interest.

"Gwynedd. By the coast. I don't know which town."

Molly nodded approvingly and handed the tinier baby to Arthur. "That won't matter. It'll do quite nicely. I'll find the right people there. Let me pack a few things." She bustled out of the room with a determined air and there was a loud crack of Apparation. Within seconds, the ghoul in the attic let out a yowl and five floors down, they could hear her admonish him sternly to be still or he'd have to put all the children back to sleep.

Arthur gave Sirius a grim look. "I hope you're wrong, Sirius, but if you're right... will you be ready?"

"Heh. That's a loaded question, innit? I've been around Dark magic all my life, I think I can defend myself and Molly, but Harry... I guess we'll just have to see. I know what James would do if the worst came to pass." He set his jaw as he regarded the older wizard, and Arthur did the same.

"Good luck, Sirius," Arthur said as Molly Apparated back into the room with a small red bag.

"Arthur, don't forget to make Charlie and Percy work on writing lessons this morning, and don't let the twins get into the kitchen. Or the shed. Or the onions I just planted. And don't leave them alone with Ronnie either, they're trying to teach him how to take off his diaper. Well, what are you waiting for, Sirius? Let's get going!" She marched smartly to the hearth in the kitchen, and Sirius had to hurry to keep up.

They arrived at his room in the Hound and Child covered with soot; apparently the innkeeper did not bother to sweep the chimneys very frequently. Molly quickly dusted off Little Harry and handed him to Sirius. "You stay here with him," she said. "I'm going to have a look round and see if I can find some familiar faces."

As the door clicked shut behind her, the baby seemed to instinctively recognize that the Voice of Authority had departed, leaving behind only a tired, inexperienced pushover. Harry started to grouse, wriggling out of Sirius's arms to wobble over to the desk. He pulled open the bottom drawer and began removing everything from it, one item at a time, gnawing on each one for a moment before dropping it on the floor. Sirius rested on his side and watched wearily, realizing that the child obviously had no intention of going back to sleep. There was nothing but books and parchment in the drawer, and all of those could withstand a little slobber.

The next thing he knew, there was a small, wet hand squeezing his nose. Sirius bolted upright, scanning the room to get his bearings, then cursed. The sun was well over the horizon; he'd slept at least an hour. Thank goodness Molly hadn't returned, she'd have been furious to find him catnapping while the baby was running loose.

He took a closer look at Little Harry and groaned. The child had managed to pull a jar of ink from the desk and apparently tried first to eat it, and when that proved unsatisfactory, attempted to absorb it through his skin instead. He gave Sirius a huge grin, revealing blackened gums and four slightly bluish teeth.

"Harry James Potter!" Sirius admonished, taking the empty jar. He wondered briefly if ink was poisonous, and decided not to risk it. Rather than simply Scourgify the little rascal, Sirius concentrated and performed a complex Vanishing spell to remove all of the ink, inside and out. Harry didn't seem bothered by the process, but having lost the fascinating ink jar that had held his attention for so long, he immediately went on the prowl for some other piece of contraband. Sirius quickly Transfigured the ink jar into an abacus with big, colorful beads and handed it to the boy. Apparently it was deemed acceptable; it went straight into Harry's mouth.

Sirius sat on the floor this time, not trusting himself in the comfortable bed. He watched Harry play and explore, noting with relief that the child acted pretty much the same as he always had. But he's just a baby--even Voldemort himself probably played and grinned when he was only a year old.

Sounds of merrymaking began to carry up from the streets. He peered cautiously through the curtain, squinting in the sunlight. Once again there were throngs of sorcerers parading through the streets and popping off spells in full view. Shaking his head at the spectacle, he heard his name weakly amongst the crowd and spotted Molly Weasley waving at him from the curb. She looked rather unhappy, but gave him a quick thumbs up and motioned that she would be coming up to the room.

"Sirius... What happened to your nose?" she said upon entering. He'd forgotten all about the inky hand that had woken him up.

"Harry did a bit of finger-painting, sorry," he said, wiping ink onto the yellow blanket. To his chagrin, a group of witches followed right behind Molly, all looking rather serious until they caught sight of his nose. One of them picked up Little Harry like a porcelain doll and gazed at him with affectionate awe.

"Ladies," said Molly, "this is Sirius Black, and the baby I spoke of, Harry Potter. These are some... friends of mine, Sirius."

"Friends," said Sirius dubiously. "And do they have names?"

A stooped witch with a long white braid, who looked old enough to be Molly's grandmother, stepped forward with a scowl. "We aren't acquainted, as you've guessed, but we are all friends here. Don't snap at the hand that offers you help, young man."

"It's all right, Sirius," said Molly. "These ladies and I... well, we belong to a... well, a certain society. We don't normally, ah, include wizards in our proceedings." She looked very uncomfortable, and kept glancing at the other witches almost pleadingly.

Sirius realized he was being granted a rare privilege; this was no time for screwing around. He knelt solemnly on the floor. "I'm honored," he said, bowing his head. "Forgive me if, in my ignorance of your customs, I disgrace myself." He could almost hear the satisfied looks spread to all their faces.

"Oh, none of that, now; get up!" Molly pretended to chide as she helped him to his feet, but she gave him a quick look of deep gratitude for his gesture of humility. I've still got it, he thought privately.

"Fabian was received by the group, but Giddy wasn't ready," continued Molly, removing the last of the ink from Sirius's nose with her wand. "We're the Daughters of Modron, the stewards of Avallocian magic." She peered at Sirius to see if he understood, but the name obviously didn't register. "You and I learned standard Merddynian magic at Hogwarts, but Merlin wasn't the only great sorcerer of his time, not by far. Avallocian magic is a bit different, more feminine, obviously. It's the force behind Apparation, for example; that's why you don't need a wand to Apparate.

"It's hard to control, which is why it fell out of fashion long ago. It generally takes more than one person to complete a spell. For that same reason, it's also harder to corrupt. There simply isn't a Dark branch of Avallocian magic; if your intentions are harmful or evil, the magic simply won't manifest." The other ladies nodded, obviously pleased with Molly's summary.

Sirius bowed his head again, thrilled by the prospect of learning a whole new form of magical power. No wonder his parents despised Wales! He knew Molly was really sticking her neck out by bringing him into the group. "I've never been more honored," he said quietly and sincerely, without the formality he'd used earlier. Molly's eyes sparkled warmly, and even the old crone gave him a wrinkled smile.

The whole group made their way to the seashore, alone or in pairs to avoid attention. Molly walked with Sirius and Harry, explaining that he would have to Apparate about a mile offshore and ten feet above the surface and let himself fall into the sea. "It'll be rough, Sirius; there's normally a series of rituals for novitiates, to lead up to this one. But this is an emergency, obviously, and... Fabian told me about you. You'll handle it. All you have to do is fall in. We'll be conducting the ritual on the beach. If your mind and heart are suitable for Avallocian magic, you'll sink like a lead ingot. When you hit bottom, just walk back to the beach--the magic will sustain you even though you can't breathe."

That made him halt in his tracks. "Sink? What happens if the magic doesn't take?"

She made a face. "Well, you might sink then too, but you won't have to worry about the long walk. You can swim to shore if you have to. You can swim, right?"

Sirius rolled his eyes. "I can dog paddle."

"That'll do, if it comes to that. I'd much prefer if you were able to walk; we really need you to stand by the baby if you can."

When they arrived at the shore, the other Daughters were apparently starting whatever ritual they were going to perform on him, or for him. They were sitting in a circle on a flat rock, chanting and clapping a complex rhythm as a very pretty witch around Sirius's age danced in the center. He recalled Molly's comment about this magic becoming unfashionable and smirked. People could be such idiots.

Molly eyed him narrowly. "You boys are all the same," she huffed. "The first time Fabian saw an enchantment, he said if it were up to him, this kind of magic would be mandatory. As if you don't get to ogle the ladies enough already." She shook her head, but he caught a secret smile when she turned away.

The two of them waited as more witches took their places in the circle, then at some unseen signal, Molly took Harry from him. "Your wand," she whispered, holding out her hand. With a pang of fear, he surrendered it to her. He felt very awkward without it under the best circumstances, but there was apparently no way around it. Well, even if I can't swim back, Padfoot can. He set his jaw.

"Sirius?" whispered Molly as he prepared to Apparate. "Walk uphill."

He'd never intentionally Apparated to thin air before, and he ended up having to focus on a small buoy floating a little more than a mile out and several hundred yards up the beach. He tried to fling himself back on target as the magic kicked in, but he never knew if he succeeded. He reappeared facing out to sea, and before he had time to get his bearings, he was plunged into the freezing water.

Instinctively, he kicked up toward the surface, where the sun was fractured into a glowing mosaic by the waves. But he was falling through the sea as though it were just more air. Even though Molly had told him that this was supposed to happen, Sirius panicked; every corner of his brain screamed, "You're drowning! Swim for your life!"

Holding his breath became harder by the second as he flailed madly with his arms and legs. He had no buoyancy whatsoever; he could neither swim nor tread water, any more than he could paddle through air to cross the street. I'm going to die! He'd never felt so helpless. Not like this! He landed so hard that he sank in the muck to his knees, and the shock of it knocked his last breath out of him. Or so he thought, until to his utter amazement, he took another one.

Sirius stood in that spot, slowly sinking, for several minutes, gazing in awe about him. The cold and pressure he expected at this depth were absent. The sea around him was clear as air, the surface far above him
a glistening new sky. This must be the way fish and mermaids see the world, he pondered.

Something brushed his fingertips. A silvery fish hovered beside him, apparently wondering whether he was edible. Sirius shooed it away and began the slow process of extracting his feet from the murky sea bed. It was tricky business, for one foot would sink deeper as he shifted his weight to pull the other foot up. He finally wriggled his way to freedom and took a few steps, coming to a sudden halt as he realized he was heading down a very gentle slope. The beach is uphill, he reminded himself, and turned around. Sure enough, the horizon climbed up and touched the sky in that direction.

When his head finally crested over the waves, he realized he was a bit to the west of the circle of witches. He corrected his course before climbing any higher toward shore; he wanted them all to see him walking, not swimming. When Molly met him at the tide's edge, he realized with a start that he was completely dry.

"I knew you'd do it!" she said, giving him a welcoming squeeze. "I so wanted to see Gid emerge from the sea. I know he'd be proud of you." She pulled him into the group of witches, who had broken up the circle and were stretching their legs and backs. Each one held what looked like half of an eggshell filled with wine. The closest took a sip from her strange cup and handed it to him. He took it and drank the rest, which seemed appropriate. The next witch followed suit, until he'd shared wine with all of them. Sirius was glad the group hadn't been any larger, as he felt a bit tipsy when he threw back the last one.

"Well, you're a part of the Sisterhood now, lad," grinned Molly. "Not that you'll notice much difference, since you haven't done any of the required preparation. But this kind of magic is open to you now, and if you want to study it, you can. I can help you meet the right people later. You'll still be able to perform Merddynian magic, of course, but you'll have to be careful to keep your intentions noble and stay away from Dark spells, even jinxes. Avallocian magic is repelled by such things--you'll lose it if you prove to be unworthy of it."

Sirius nodded thoughtfully. "Can I get into mischief now and then?" Molly glanced at him askew, hiding a smile behind her hand.

Avoiding the noisy revelry of the village, the group gradually wound its way to a secluded spot in the nearby wood. Too small to be properly called a clearing, it was basically a huge tree stump, perfectly flat, with enough room around it to congregate. The witches formed a new circle around the trunk, silent and somber this time, quite different from the vivacious ritual on the shore.

Molly pulled him and Little Harry back from the group. "I haven't told them very much, Sirius," she explained in a low voice. "They know the official story about last night, obviously, but I haven't let on who you boys are. I think some of them have guessed the truth, though." Sirius recalled the witch who had cradled the baby so reverently eariler that morning and reckoned she'd figured it out.

"All I said was that an act of great evil was performed near this baby, and you needed to know whether any of that magic had... influenced him. That spell isn't actually very hard; Avallocian magic is very good at revealing Truth. When the group is ready, you only have to set the baby on the tree trunk and the spell will take care of the rest in a few seconds."

She eyed him nervously, then leaned closer to whisper even more quietly. "That's not all, though, Sirius. I asked the Sisters to help you remove any 'influences,' if we find them. They all saw how readily the Sea accepted you, even though you weren't properly prepared. They're willing to do it."

He swallowed hard. "Molly. You're an angel." He kissed Little Harry's forehead anxiously. "I knew only one way to get rid of any 'influences.' I hoped I wouldn't have to."

"It's not simple, though," she said, nodding. "There could be danger. We're talking about particularly vile magic, Sirius. We might have to neutralize it, rather than just destroy it. In other words, something good might have to... suffer, to cancel out the evil."

Sirius nodded, slowly at first, then sharply. "I'm for it. I owe it to James. What do I do?"

Molly suddenly pulled him close, squeezing him and the baby in a tight hug. When she stepped back, there were tears on her cheeks but she smiled bravely. "Gid and Fab were spot on about you, lad. I didn't want any of these good witches harmed, even if they were willing." She gave him a quick peck on the cheek.

"I'm going to join the Circle," she continued. "When we're ready, I'll signal you to put the baby in the center. The Command will only take a few seconds, and then... well, we'll see what comes next. If you're needed, just step into the center with Harry."

When she joined the Circle, her eyes immediately rolled back in her head and her outline became somewhat hazy. Without her chatter to distract him, Sirius took a close look at the proceedings, realizing that all the witches looked eerily indistinct. He stepped back involuntarily, somewhat reconsidering his earlier enthusiasm for this other magic. Knowing that these witches were tapping into a power completely unknown to him was a bit creepy.

To pass the time, Sirius opened his pack and pulled out the battered currant cakes from the tavern. He shared them with Little Harry, who gobbled them up by the tiny fistful. Once he finished his treat, the little fellow became restless and struggled in his lap, determined to explore the forest floor.

When Molly Weasley finally raised her hand, Sirius really didn't want to go through with it. It had to be done, but he suddenly brimmed with questions. Would he be killed if they had to "neutralize" something within Little Harry, or just injured? Physically or magically? Would it hurt the baby? Indecision clouded his intent for a moment, then he looked down at the grumbling boy and clenched his jaw.

Sirius hoisted up his godson and approached the Circle. The two nearest witches leaned to the side to admit the baby. He felt nothing on his hands or forearms as he reached through the magic. Having expected some sensation of the obvious power, its absence was almost worse. Harry, however, wasn't perturbed in the slightest; he toddled to the center of the stump as though he understood his role and sat down with a whump.

Within seconds, the wound on his forehead glowed with an acid green.

NO.

Without hesitation, Sirius Apparated to the center of the circle, scooping up his godson as he rematerialized.

The Lady's face was as clear as day though the roiling mists obscured all else. She was beautiful, tall with long blond hair, but he knew her youth was an illusion. He could see it in her eyes; they were ancient and wise, almost frighteningly so.

"Mae govannen, Helluin," she said, then raised her hand to reveal a glittering knife.

Sirius made no effort to resist. He knelt and bowed his head, clasping his godson tightly to his chest. He hoped with all his heart that whatever she did wouldn't hurt Little Harry.

"Adarmeleth," she said warmly, raising his chin with her fingertip. "Fear not," she continued in an accent he'd never heard, musical and rich, as though the only proper way to speak his native language. "This is Angrist. Forged by the finest smith to walk this earth, it was used to cut a stolen treasure from the crown of an evil king. It will destroy the dark talon piercing the boy."

Up close, he realized her eyes were filled with stars, as though a whole universe existed behind them. He felt unworthy to speak to such a powerful sorcerer, but she gazed at him expectantly. "Command me, Lady," he finally intoned, his voice tiny and insignficant compared to hers.

She opened her arms to receive Little Harry with a pained, wistful expression. He held up his arms willingly, though he didn't usually care to be passed to strangers. She tucked him into the crook of her elbow, which emphasized her height and long, graceful arms. She held out the knife in her other hand.

"Take it, Helluin. If you would spare the child from suffering, let the pain flow from the blade into you."

Sirius furrowed his brow, uncertain how to do what she was asking, but her gaze was so serene and confident, he knew she would guide him if his instincts weren't enough. He raised the point over Harry's wound and hesitated. The green glow was already flickering as though it could sense the presence of the blade and struggled to escape. He tilted his head thoughtfully, then on pure instinct, he placed his hand on the wound and plunged the knife deep into his own chest.

A cold wave of pain passed through him with a green glow, then the Lady smiled and vanished. The last thing to disappear were her eyes.


Stars. Definitely stars. Sirius sat bolt upright, realizing halfway up that Little Harry was asleep on his chest. The witches were gone, the Circle was gone, but he was still atop the giant tree stump, and it was night. How long have I been out? he wondered.

"What was it like?"

Sirius spun to the owner of the voice, shaking his head in surprise at the pretty chanteuse from the night before, sitting not ten feet away astride the chopper of all things! Once the initial surprise wore off, he found that he still couldn't answer, because his experience had been too remarkable for words.

She waited for a moment, then chuckled. "They told me you wouldn't answer, but I had to give it a try. You were such a smooth talker last night, I hoped you'd manage to tell it. Don't worry," she said as she dismounted the motorbike, "no one ever talks about the Lady. Some secrets just aren't meant to be shared, I suppose!"

"How long?" he finally croaked, his voice thick.

"Just a few hours, handsome," she winked. "The sun only just set. I was asked to keep watch, but there was no real need--and certainly not for the whole Sisterhood. When that green light burst from your heart, we knew the Lady herself had answered you. She left you something."

Following her gaze, Sirius looked beside him on the tree stump. He found a duplicate of the knife, Angrist, though small enough to put in a pocket. He reached for it in awe, and heard her voice in his mind when he touched the handle. "It will cleave iron and open any door; you will need it soon."

The witch peered curiously at the knife. "You know you must keep all of this secret? There are plenty of 'purists' out there that think the Daughters of Modron are even worse than the one who was killed last night. You understand, don't you?"

"Perfectly," he coughed. "They don't call me a 'blood traitor' for no reason." She laughed.

"I've left you a bit of food," she said, "here, in your pack. You can rest in the glade as long as you need to; you're quite safe here. Nothing with ill intent toward you or the boy can come near."

Sirius nodded. "We won't be long."

With a smirk, she replied, "Of course not. Saviors of the Wizard World always have some important duty to attend, I'm sure." She smiled merrily. "However, if you ever find yourself in the dull backwater of Gwynedd again, my name's Igraine. Ask around; someone will find me." She winked, then made her way down some invisible path through the wood.

In the chill quiet of the forest evening, Sirius breathed a deep sigh and Conjured a little mattress for Harry. Whether the tot was asleep or unconscious, Sirius couldn't tell, but after all he'd been through, he undoubtedly needed the rest. He pulled the little teddy-bear blanket from the tavern over him, making a mental note to return it at some point.

Watching the peaceful baby, all Sirius really wanted to do was snuggle down beside him and sleep off the horror of the last twenty-four hours. But ridding the boy of Voldemort's filthy touch was only the first task he'd given himself.

He pulled his parchment out of his pack and unfurled it. So many questions, none of which had been answered--and the longer he waited, the cooler the trails to the answers would become. "What magic can repel the Kedavra?" That one had been rendered a moot point. Whatever it was, it had worked, even though Voldemort still had time to sink a hook into Harry--some form of postmortem posession. A shiver ran along Sirius's spine as he remembered the malicious force that had passed through him in the Lady's realm. It made his stomach turn to know that abomination even touched Little Harry.

But it was gone now, and good riddance; it was time to move on. Who stole Voldemort's body and announced his death to the world? Sirius sighed; he'd probably never know the answer to either question. The Ministry was such a pit of vipers, for all he knew they'd had to draw straws to see who won the privilege of driving Voldemort to Godric's Hollow. The elder Blacks had loved to play games, spinning false realities out of lies and seeing how far they could take their stories without getting caught, but Sirius had no taste for it. He was a simple, direct man, and he preferred to challenge his adversaries head on, rather than scrabble around trying to trip them with lies.

How did the Ministry know about Harry--or did they make up a "phony" Boy-Who-Lived? It seemed like just the sort of feel-good tripe the charlatans at the Prophet would come up with. Far be it that the Ministry should admit its incompetence at battling Voldemort. Instead, they could make up some fabulous tale of a supernatural hero to show that really, the Ministry had done all it could. If it took a miraculous force to put an end to Darkness, then none could blame the poor Ministry for its series of pathetic failures. Claiming that a baby had killed Voldemort even had the advantage of exonerating the Ministry from future repercussions. If they took credit for the act themselves, then the next time another Dark power came along, they might be asked to repeat their success. How convenient to claim that a baby had done it through some unknown magic; the child couldn't counter the claim, and if he failed a second round, well, that would be just another sad twist of fate.

At least that they wouldn't get away with it. Arthur Weasley and his few honest colleagues would do their best to straighten out this lie in the Ministry. Sirius knew better than to expect any actual justice in the end, though. After the blame storm, a few scapegoats would lose their desk jobs, while the masterminds would have to abandon their plan and spawn a new pack of lies. But at least the baby, whoever he was, would not become the Ministry's symbolic Last Resort Against Darkness, and with luck would just return to his parents and be forgotten by history. And Harry, the real Boy Who Lived, well, what would become of him was yet to be seen.

All that remained on his parchment were the names of Peter and Remus. Now those were questions he could answer that night.

"Except I've got a little sprog to see to, don't I, Harry-lad?" Sirius mused out loud. He could hardly leave the little fellow alone in the woods. Even if he Apparated, he couldn't be at all sure of a quick visit to either of them. There was little doubt in his mind that one of them must be the traitor; he would likely face a duel to the death once the truth came out. "Can't just leave you here, knowing I may not ever come back, can I?"

He wrapped his Charmed mirrors in the parchment carefully and stowed them in his pack, along with the Lady's gift. He nearly strapped it to the motorbike, but changed his mind and impulsively jammed the whole thing under a root of the ancient tree. The rugated bark instantly oozed around the pack, hiding it completely as though it were simply more tree. He nodded in silent appreciation to the Lady.

Sirius picked up the sleeping baby, wishing Igraine had stayed a little longer. "Can I take you on the bike, you think, Harry?" He rejected that idea immediately. If he ended up duelling with Peter or Remus, the last thing he needed was Little Harry nestled in his arms. "Nah, I suppose that wouldn't work, would it?" Harry wriggled into a more cozy position with his head on Sirius's shoulder.

Peter. Remus. Tears welled in his eyes again. He'd have to kill one of them. It was unthinkable that either could possibly be the traitor, and yet it must be. Maybe the wolf in Remus was immune to the Fidelius charm. Maybe Peter finally got tired of being the little guy in the group and acted out of jealousy or spite. Kill James just because he's more popular? No man could sink that low, could they? And Remus, despite his lycanthropy (or perhaps because of it), had a moral center a mile wide. He'd sooner gnaw off his own arm than give in to the instincts of the wolf.

His mind whirling back and forth between two unbearable choices and his chest warmed by the trusting, comforting weight of his godson, Sirius slowly leaned his head back against the tree trunk and dozed off.

"All right there, Black? It's jus' me, Hagrid."

Sirius woke with a start, instinctively drawing his wand. He hadn't been sound asleep, so he remembered immediately where he was. "How did--oh." There were Fireflies rubbing his arm; he'd been tracked. Only Hagrid could manage to shepherd Fireflies in October. "Are you alone?"

"Jus' me, an' me thestral," Hagrid said. "Mind if I come over to yeh?"

Sirius set down his wand, knowing that the Lady's magic still saturated the glade; Hagrid would never have found him if he meant ill, Fireflies or no. A few seconds later, the huge gamekeeper produced a rather tired-looking bun from some pocket in his coat. Eww. "No, thanks, Hagrid, I have food, I just can't eat yet. I'm too sick about what's happened."

"We're all sick about it," agreed Hagrid. "Though there's a lot o' rumors goin' roun' about what happened back in the Hollow."

Yeah, so I've heard. "I know what happened."

Hagrid's face grew strained, as it always did when he knew the situation called for delicacy and tact, neither of which he posessed in large quantity. "Listen, Black, Dumbledore's asked me ter come an' fetch little Harry there, an' I have to say, yeh don' look like you're up to carin' for him at the mo'."

Though it pained him to admit it, Hagrid was right. He had to settle this score with the traitor, and Harry couldn't be a part of that. But this was his son now! How could he go and risk his life in a duel, now that his life was bound to this boy? Sirius kissed a rumpled tuft of hair. "I don't want to let him go, Hagrid. He needs me. I'm the only one in the world who knows him."

"Yer a mess, Black," said Hagrid in his tenderly blunt way. "Yeh look like yeh got one foot in the grave an' the other on a banana peel. You know Dumbledore'll take good care of the lad. Don't yeh think he's better off safe in the castle than out here alone in the woods wi' you? Let me take him back to the Headmaster, put 'im down in a nice, cozy bed tonight. We'll figure out what ter do with him tomorrow. Or the next day. If what they're sayin' is true, he's not gonna want for nothin'."

That at least was true. Dumbledore would take care of the boy--unless he was the traitor, of course. But even the Headmaster hadn't known about Peter becoming the Secret Keeper. GAH! It was enough to drive him mad. Enough guessing. I must find out who did this, and the sooner the better.

"I don't want to give him up, Hagrid," Sirius sad, "but you're right. There's something I need to take care of, and little Harry can't go with me. Did you say you came here on a thestral?"

"I did. He's over there... ah, no he's not, hang on." Sirius shook his head; it was almost enough to make him laugh. Leave it to Hagrid to trust a wild beast to stay put in an exciting new forest. It was strangely comforting to see this snippet of normality in the midst of all the chaos of the day.

Sirius held out his hand. "Give me the lead, Hagrid, I could use a ride that's fast and silent. You take my motorbike and bring Harry to Dumbledore. Harry likes it, the sound seems to soothe him a little. I'll come find you as soon as I can, sproggie." As soon as I take out the one who killed your mum and dad.

Hagrid was getting misty-eyed, the big softie. "He'll be okay," he said. "I'll see to him an' then I'll bring yer bike back to yer place in Bristol."

As if I could ever enjoy riding it again, Sirius mused, then made a decision. "Keep it. I won't be needing it anymore." Giving Harry a last smooch, he Enlarged the bike for the enormous gamekeeper. Knowing that every second he delayed would make his departure more painful, Sirius turned smartly and leapt onto the thestral's back. He could fly south in peace for a little while before deciding whom to call upon first.

Peter or Remus? Peter or Remus? Neither one appealed to him. He might find either or both dead, and if not, he might have to kill them himself. In the end, he decided on Peter. Wormy was a friend and cohort, and managed to wheedle them all out of many a harsh punishment with his smooth tongue, but he was never the brother that James or Remus had been. Well, more like a tag-along baby brother, sort of like Regulus--sometimes a fun contributor, sometimes a pest who couldn't be avoided. Of his last best friends, Sirius would prefer to find Peter dead first.

Both Remus and Peter still lived with their parents. Peter hadn't bothered to look for a place of his own, and Remus couldn't afford one with his "furry little problem" keeping him unemployed.

The Pettigrews lived under a bridge spanning the Thames. Their family had lived above the first London Bridge since the 1400's, when it boasted houses and shops over the water between London and Southwark. When the ancient bridge was remodeled in the 1700's and turned back into a thoroughfare, the Pettigrews had simply moved underneath, creating a warren of rooms hidden within the stone arches supporting the roadway. When the bridge was replaced a hundred years later, they felt quite entitled to inhabit it in the same manner, and re-created an even larger home under the new span. They staunchly denied that their magical excavations in the superstructure had done any damage, even when a mere century later, the entire bridge had to be abandoned because it was sinking. When the London Bridge was sold to an American billionare, the Pettigrews finally abandoned their ancestral home and moved upstream to the Blackfriars Bridge. The wrought-iron arches below the span proved an ideal spot for a magical patio and sleeping-porch.

It took a little less than an hour to reach the bridge. Sirius cast a Disillusionment spell upon his mount, just in case there were any Squibs about that might meet all the requisites to see a thestral. He trotted slowly over the top of the bridge, pausing at the front entrance to Pettigrew Manor on the second piling. Tying his mount to the bright red railing and giving it half a chicken that Igraine had left in his pack, he finally tapped the sculpted pier in the proper sequence to announce his presence.

After five minutes, he began to suspect that no one was home, though he knew quite well that one of the carved seabirds had a magical eye through which they screened their visitors. He repeated the doorbell sequence on the stone and did his best to grin convivially at the stone gull.

He started the sequence a third time when a man's voice interrupted. "They ain't in, you know." Sirius wheeled about, wand in hand, to discover a man in rather shabby Muggle clothing straddling a bicycle with no tires. "Easy! Easy!" shouted the man, backing away with his hands in the air. "Don' jinx me 'ead off, I'm only tryin' ta 'elp!"

"You a wizard, then?" said Sirius, who was a little too tired and stressed to think clearly.

"Wouldn' know the Pettigrews if I was Muggle, would I?" said the man. "I deliver the Prophet roun' the neighbor'ood. The Petties've been out all day. I 'eld their evenin' edition for 'em. Lots o' people up in the Alley tonight. Didja try there?"

"I haven't. Are you sure they're all out? I'm looking for Peter."

"Well, I ain't seen nobody today, an' I been by at leas' a dozen times. I fly besides the bridge when I cross, you know; the wheels what I got ain't much good for ridin' the Muggle way." He grinned, revealing a dark void where all the teeth on his right side should have been.

"Indeed. Could you do me a favor, mate? Think you could swing down past the porch and have a quick look for me?"

"Fink you wanna buy a paper firs'?" said the man bluntly but politely. When Sirius dug in his pockets for a coin, he added, "Two tonight, innit? Only this bein' a Special, wiv Wossname bein' killed an' all."

"Voldemort, right," said Sirius thoughtfully as he smiled and handed him the two Knuts. The man cringed and eyed him nervously. Sirius hoped he'd intimidated the Cockney from simply disappearing with the coins.

The man launched into the bridge traffic without even looking, apparently using the same sort of magic as the Knight Bus to keep from being both seen and crushed. His bike immediately took to the air and he soared gracefully over the railing, barely clearing the doubly-invisible thestral. A few minutes later he reappeared over the other side of the bridge, pedaling over the traffic and coming to a smooth but noisy landing beside Sirius.

"Nope. Not in. Not a single ligh' on. I even poked me 'ead up through the ironworks, to get a good look-see. If 'e's 'ome, 'e's layin' real low, inee?"

"Laying low... could be." The man grinned nervously, muttering something about needing to get on his way. Sirius waved him off as he turned and leaned against the railing to think.

Wormy, his parents, and his fat, jolly aunt (who liked to drop things onto unsuspecting Muggles as their boats passed under the bridge) could have been attacked and left for dead. It didn't seem right, though; if Voldemort or his forces had attacked and killed the Pettigrews, they would have left a Dark Mark, either on the bridge or under the water.

Without thinking about it, Sirius opened the newspaper he'd just purchased and startled at the headlines. The entire front page was devoted to articles about Godric's Hollow. He skimmed over them briefly. Amazingly, most of the facts about the attack were accurate, although there was not so much as a mention of the promised photographs of the Boy Who Lived. Frowning, he flipped through the entire edition until he discovered a small box on the inside of the back page stating that, in the interests of protecting the child's privacy, the editors decided not to run any photos of Harry Potter. Sirius let out a single bark of cynical laughter; Arthur Weasley had done well.

He missed Little Harry already.

Sirius spent the next four hours riding the thestral to every place he could think of, hunting for Peter. He came from an old family and had lots of relatives, all of whom were apparently joining the rest of wizard society in celebrating Voldemort's demise. He finally caught a distant cousin (who was actually more closely linked to Sirius himself through various pureblood marriages than he was to Wormy) just as she was heading for bed at three AM. Standing in her door in a long purple nightgown, she told Sirius that the extended Pettigrew family had gathered for a celebratory picnic at a beach across the Channel... but oddly, Peter hadn't accompanied his parents and aunt. "I saw his mum," she said, yawning, "and Auntie Bess hit me on the head with a peanut--she's a bit odd, that one--but I'm quite sure Peter wasn't there. Why in Merlin's name do you need to find him at this hour?"

"We, uh, both knew the Potters," said Sirius hesitantly.

"THE Potters?" she said with a gasp. "Good heavens! Is it true about the baby?"

Sirius winced, in no mood to discuss all that he'd seen with a near stranger. He wriggled out of the conversation as quickly as he could, declining her eager invitation to come in for tea; her sleepiness wore off immediately at the prospect of top-rated gossip. As he darted through her garden, the witch reappeared with her candle in the doorway. "You know, I remember one thing!" she called.

Fearing this was just a ruse to lure him back for more prying, he simply turned around and called, "What's that?"

"Aunt Bess did mention that Peter was planning a trip as of last week. She told me the name, but I couldn't quite hear the last part. It was 'Little something...' I suppose that's not much help at all, is it? Does it jog your memory at all?"

Sirius smiled grimly, though he doubted she could see him from that distance. "It just might. Thanks, luv."

Little something. That narrowed it down enough. There were only so many towns of that name in Great Britain. Releasing the thestral with a smart thwack on its rump, he Apparated inside the public library and opened the first encyclopedia he found.

Little Abington. Little Addington. Little Altcar. Sirius had never Apparated so much in one night. There were twenty-two Little B's alone; by the time he reached Little Bytham, he was beginning to wonder if this wasn't such a good idea. These were all Muggle towns and villages, or just rural zones lumped together under the parish name.

Since it was the middle of the night, he could Apparate at will without worrying about being spotted, but once he arrived, he often couldn't find a single Wizard establishment at which he could inquire about Peter. The few taverns he found were generally filled with drunken revelers and surly, footsore barkeeps who had run out of butterbeer hours before. None of them had seen a stranger, none of them knew Peter Pettigrew.

Little Clevelode. Little Dunmow. Little Eaton. He almost skipped Little Easton because the names were so similar and his eyes were blurring with fatigue. The sun rose as he arrived in Little Finborough, slowing him even further as he was forced to hunt for approved Apparation Points or secluded spots. He found a wizard-friendly bakery in the hamlet of Little Gringley with rich, hot coffee that almost made him feel awake again.

He knew as soon as he approached Little Hangleton that this town was different. A hostile ward threw him off course and forced him to rematerialize in the branches of a tree. Cursing under his breath, he scrambled down and checked carefully in every direction, but there didn't seem to be any Muggles about. Keeping a hand on his wand, Sirius sought the source of the offending magic, finding nothing but a very run-down, abandoned shack in the midst of an overgrown thorny hedge that must have been carnivorous at some point in its lifespan. The wards on it were just as dilapidated as the shack itself, more of a nuisance than a danger, but something about the whole scenario raised his hackles. Who would invest in such magic to shield such a worthless old hovel? He was sure there was more to this town than met the eye.

Sirius hacked his way through the thinnest part of the hedge and found a road heading into the valley of Little Hangleton. Like the shack, the village appeared disused and neglected, though there were still some inhabitants; he could see automobiles moving along the main street. Spotting an empty lean-to behind an old stone wall, he Apparated the rest of the way to town and began his search in cautious earnest.

The main road was completely Muggle, and even more haggard-looking up close. Many of the store fronts were boarded up, and the remaining businesses had a seedy, hard look. There were no restaurants or taverns, or shops full of frivolities like ladies' clothing or gifts. He passed a grocery with half-empty shelves and a hardware and repair shop with an ancient forge and anvil right in the center as though time had ignored it. The only place that seemed to be thriving was a carpentry guild, which had a display of caskets in the window.

When Sirius realized that it all felt like some cheesey Muggle movie set, he shrank into the nearest alley and took a deep breath. He knew he was in the right place. Only Voldemort would be so trite as to use a little Muggle town as his personal playground, terrorizing the inhabitants into bare subsistence like an American outlaw in the "Old West." He would find Peter here, he was certain of it, and what's worse, he might just be outnumbered when it happened. Adrenaline rushed through his jangled nerves yet again, though it did not energize him so much as make him realize how exhausted he truly was.

He stayed off the road at that point, slinking from alley to alley when he could, prowling behind buildings and in the shadows. Where would Peter go? There was a run-down manor house on the hillside that also reeked of Voldemort, though Sirius couldn't pinpoint why; there were no magical wards or sigils that gave it away as a wizard's abode. But he was absolutely certain that Peter was either up there, or would return there shortly, and he quickly found a secluded vantage point to watch for him.

He waited less than half an hour.

"Peter."

"Si-Sirius? What--"

"Shut up."

"Siri... help me. I'm in trouble--"

"I said shut UP!"

"What are you going to do?" It was all there in his face, every last admission, except why.

"What would you do, Peter? You tell me."

He took a step backward. "I-I-I'd get to the bottom of things before I did anything rash--"

"Oh, you're at the bottom, all right!" Sirius bellowed so loudly that heads began poking out of windows and doors along the lane. "Don't you DARE try to explain it away. How long, Peter? How long have you sided with HIM?"

"A-A year, Siri. He caught me a year ago, I had no choice, he said he'd--"

"A YEAR?" He hadn't expected that--a month, maybe two at most. The thought that Peter was duplicitous enough to maintain a loyal appearance for a whole year while secretly serving Voldemort was enough to paralyze him with rage. He brought his wand out in the open, not caring how many Muggles were now watching in concerned fascination.

"Sirius--"

"You've been the spy all along! You gave up Gid and Fabian too, not just James! Did you give him my little brother? Did you?"

"I couldn't stop him! He would have killed us all; I steered him away from the rest of us!"

Sirius had never killed anyone before, and he needed to concentrate. "SHUT UP!" he screamed, steadying his hand.

He never even saw Peter move before the explosion blasted him into the air, hurling him some twenty feet down the street before he smashed into the cobblestones.

Sirius rose clumsily to his feet, his ears ringing painfully from the shock of the blast. He'd struck his head when he landed and couldn't quite remember exactly what he was doing there at first. There was a huge crater in the middle of the street, which helped jog his memory. Ah, yes. Peter. He'd come to kill Peter, and it looked like he'd done a fine job of it.

He didn't remember setting off an explosive spell, though. I must've hit my head pretty hard! He staggered to the rim of the crater, finding Peter's empty robe at the edge. I blasted him right out of his clothes? He started laughing, though it wasn't really funny at all.

The sewer main below the street had cracked open in the explosion, leaving a secondary chasm in the center of the crater. Sunlight glinted off the current of filthy water flowing through the bottom of it. His memory was becoming clearer by the second. He hadn't set off any explosive spell. The Killing Curse had been at the tip of his tongue, but he hadn't...

The last thing he saw before the Aurors pinned him to the ground with at least a dozen restraining spells was a familiar pink tail disappearing into the broken main.




"Harry? Harry, can you hear me?"

"Nnguh."

"He's awake." There were several sighs of relief. Harry opened his eyes, though they were burning and heavy, like a dollop of some caustic potion had been slapped onto each eyelid.

"Dijahsihoohimee?"

"Here, drink this." It was Remus's voice. Harry felt the cup against his lips and accepted the contents. Cool, clean water spilled down the inside and outside of his throat, but it felt wonderful. He wondered if he'd had some sort of terrible fever. After he drank, he coughed a few times, clearing his voice and his mind.

"What happened?" Harry finally managed to enunciate.

Lupin shook his head. "Not sure, Harry. Sirius said you came in his room to talk and ended up doing Legilimency with him. But it backfired somehow... he said after he came to, he found you on the other side of the room, still sliding down the wall like you'd been thrown against it. He had no idea how it happened; all he could remember was reliving the worst day of his life."

Harry nodded. "Yeah," he said, still a bit too frazzled for coherence.

A few sips of water later, his head was clearer. "I don't know what that was. Something threw me out of his mind, I've never seen anything like it. It wasn't Occlumency, I don't think. It was more like an orangutan, really," he noted as an afterthought.

Lupin sighed and sat back in his chair, plainly relieved by Harry's recovery. Only then did Harry realize that there were others in the room; Viktor and Tonks were both milling behind Lupin's chair looking concerned. "Where's Sirius?" Harry asked, finding it quite strange that his godfather would be missing when these other friends were obviously so worried.

Lupin smiled warmly. "That's the good news, Harry. He's asleep."

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