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Harry learned of the Order meeting in a roundabout way, when Severus sent him to Hagrid's to collect some slug repellent for a Pest-Be-Gone potion that Professor Sprout had requested he make, some kind of insect or bug was eating her prize Southby Sundials. The Sundials were a magical flower that had a kind of clock in the middle of their petals and if you didn't have a watch, could help a wizard tell time by the sun. Harry transformed into Freedom for the errand and discovered Hedwig winging her way towards Hagrid's hut as well, bearing a letter for him.

Morning, Hedwig! Freedom screeched cheerily, matching the snowy owl wingbeat for wingbeat.

And a fine morning it is, Freedom! Where are you off to at this hour? Hunting a nice plump coney?

I wish. No, Severus sent me to get a potion ingredient from Hagrid. Freedom replied. And I see you've got a letter from him. Who from?

Hedwig clicked her beak at him in mild reproof. You know I am not permitted to discuss the contents and addresses of the letters I deliver, Freedom! Post confidentiality, remember?

Oh, right. That was stupid of me, the hawk said.

Not stupid, merely forgetful, Hedwig said kindly.

The two glided down to a landing in front of the cottage, and Freedom became Harry and knocked on the door of the cottage while Hedwig flew in the open back window with the letter attached to her leg.

"Jus' a minute!" Hagrid called.

Harry waited patiently for Hagrid to open the door and let him in. "Hello, Hagrid!"

"Hullo, Harry! Haven't seen you down here in awhile. Would you like t'have some tea and scones? Twixie brought me a fresh batch." He was holding the letter open in his large hand, and it was at eye level.

Harry couldn't resist peeking at the signature.

SS and next to the initials was a stylized phoenix rising from the flames.

Harry recognized that crest, it was the symbol of the Order of the Phoenix. And the SS was none other than Severus Snape. His curiosity was peaked and he badly wanted to ask the gamekeeper what was in the letter, but he knew it was impolite to read another's mail.

"Um, thanks, Hagrid, I'd be glad to, but Severus wants me to bring him some slug repellent for a Pest-Be-Gone draft that he needs to brew for Professor Sprout. Do you happen to have any?"

"Matter of fact, I do. It's out in the shed behind my house. Vince is out there tendin' to a hurt thestral mare, I could ask him to fetch it for you."

"That's okay, I can get it myself, no need to make him stop what he's doing," Harry said quickly. Then he cast a glance at the letter. "Who's that from, Hagrid? A relative?"

"Nah, don' got no more of them, 'cept a half-brother named Grawp, and he don't know how to write, seein' as giants don't go fer that kind o' thing. My mum left when I was three, she died with her people, an' my dad died when I was twelve. No, this letter's from Professor Snape."

"Why did he write to you instead of just coming down here?"

"Because this's top secret Order business, Harry." Hagrid said calmly. "Now, I know you learned about the Order over the summer, so I can trust you t'keep quiet and if you wouldn't mind tellin' Severus that I'll be at the meeting tonight, but I might be late, seein' as I have a few things t'go over with Vince, all right?"

"Sure, Hagrid. No problem," Harry agreed, his brain buzzing with the information he had just received. There's going to be an Order meeting tonight. At Grimmauld Place, I'll bet. I wonder if I can convince Sev to take me. Then I can finally talk to Sirius, before or after the meeting, since I know they won't allow me to be in the room with them. He frowned, for it irked him that the other Order members tended to treat him like a baby in need of protection. He was almost of age and expected to kill Voldemort and yet no one would let him sit in on a meeting. It was rather ridiculous. Either he was too young to assume responsibility for himself or he wasn't, and if he wasn't, he should at least be kept informed about what was going on.

"Uh, I'd better get that slug repellent to Severus. I'll be back, though, to have tea after my class."

"How's the teaching going, Harry? The kids behavin' any better for ya?"

"Mostly, yes. I haven't had to give any detentions in a week, or take points." Harry told him.

"That's good. Seems like you'll make a good teacher, if that's what you want to do."

Harry smiled. "Thanks, Hagrid." He rose to his feet. "See you soon!" He hurried around back of the cottage, where a small shed rested. Next to the shed was a wooden corral where Harry saw Crabbe tending a black thestral mare, gently sponging and wrapping the injured foreleg in a soft bandage.

Standing off to the side was Jace Witherspoon, quietly observing Crabbe.

Harry blinked, for he knew that only certain people could see thestrals, namely those who had watched someone die. Since Crabbe was tending one, he had to assume Crabbe had seen death up close and also Witherspoon as well. He paused beside the corral and Jace saw and waved shyly.

"Hello, Professor Potter."

Harry chuckled. "Hey, Jace. You don't need to call me Professor outside of class. When I'm not teaching, I'm just a student too."

Jace shrugged. "Guess I'm used to it. Can you see the mare, Prof-I mean, Harry?"

Harry nodded. "I can. My parents died when I was a baby."

"My grandfather died last year," Jace said softly. "I was there just before he passed the Veil. That's why I can see the thestrals. Actually, I think they're kind of neat, even if some people think they're bad luck."

"Ah, that isn't true, Jace. I tol' you before, that's just superstition," Crabbe said, looking up from his work. "Hagrid tol' me the thestrals are very magical an' aren't all that dangerous, less you annoy them. But then that's true of most critters. Even a dog'll bite if you kick it or tease it." He tied off the bandage and stood up, petting the thestral on the neck. "There, Hella, all done. See, that wasn't so bad, was it?" He fed the mare a piece of raw meat from a pouch he had at his waist.

The thestral dipped her head and took the meat daintily.

"Hi, Potter. What brings you down here? Havin' tea with Hagrid?" Crabbe asked genially.

"Sort of. I need to get some slug repellent out of the shed for Professor Snape. He needs it for a potion."

"Ah. Hang on a sec, I'll get it for you."

Crabbe unlatched the pen and came out, followed by Jace.

"Oh, I can get it myself-" Harry began.

"S'okay. The shed's a bit of a wreck, an' hard to find stuff in if you're not used to it." Crabbe said, then headed over to the wooden building and went inside.

Harry remained outside waiting with Witherspoon, who eyed him a little nervously. "Relax, Witherspoon. I won't bite."

"I know," the other blushed. "It's just . . .you remind me a bit of the professor, how you watch everything. But that's all right."

Harry smirked. Now it looked like he was picking up more from Severus than he knew. "You're not, uh, afraid of Professor Snape then?"

Jace shrugged. "Only a little. When he's angry and he scolds. But he looks out for me sometimes and then I feel . . .safe. Even Malfoy won't cross him."

"I know what you mean," Harry said. Severus always made him feel safe too. Then he studied the small boy, who reminded him somewhat of himself, and asked quietly, "Malfoy's been picking on you, has he?"

Witherspoon looked down at the ground, his ears pink. "He was . . .before I started coming down here with Vince. He thinks I'm . . .useless."

Harry was about to say something rude about Malfoy when Crabbe returned and heard Jace's last sentence. "Malfoy doesn't know dung. He just thinks he does." He walked over to harry and handed him the container of slug repellent. "Here you go, Potter."

"Thanks. You on the outs with Malfoy?"

Crabbe nodded. "Yup. And it ain't likely to change, not unless he gets a major attitude adjustment. Been that way since he . . .uh . . .knocked you off your perch when you were a hawk. He had no call t'do that, it was wrong. But even Professor Snape's punishments didn't really help, since he ain't really sorry for what he did, just sorry he got caught." Crabbe shook his head. "I don't take to hurtin' animals, see? Or young'uns like Witherspoon there. I'm the oldest of four, and I used t'mind my little sibs before I went away to school an' I still do when I go home. I ain't no spoilt brat like Draco."

"I can tell. But then why did you hang around him?"

"'Cause my da thought it would be good for me to spend time with some rich coves, an' Draco's da is a Ministry big shot, got him a job there as a Weapons Specialist."

Harry raised an eyebrow. "Weapons Specialist? What's that?"

"My da's a magesmith-he forges swords and armor and crossbows an' other things like that." Crabbe said proudly. "Family tradition. My grandda was one, an' his da before him, an' so on . . .we're purebloods, but we're not . . .exalted enough like the Malfoys or the Blacks used t'be to get top positions in the Ministry," sneered the Slytherin. "Unless somebody like old Lucius sponsors us. And then he never lets you forget it an' you owe him forever."

Crabbe spat on the ground. "But my da needed the job, with four o' us t'support and my mam, she took sick with a bad case o' wizard pox and we needed t' pay the Healers to cure her, so . . .he kissed Lucius's arse an' that's how come th' likes of me became High and Mighty Draco's friend. Or at least I was." He sighed. "But lately, I'm getting sick of all his airs and his sneering at me and treating me like I'm nothing but his hired hand. Time was, a magesmith an' his kin bowed to nobody. Back in the old days, when smiths were respected. Now though . . .slippery fork-tongued folk like old Lucius call the tunes in the government an' the rest o' us dance to 'em. 'Cept I won't. I won't go for a Ministry post like Da. I want to be a Magical Creatures vet instead. I never was much good with people and I'm only a fair smith, my brother Danny's better than I am, even though he's ten. Malfoy thinks I'm bleeding cracked, but that's only 'cause he thinks animals don't count for much. I don't know who's dumber-him or a dodo bird. Probably a toss up."

Harry found himself grinning at the other boy. He had never spoken so many words to the other wizard ever, and in fact was surprised Crabbe could hold a conversation, since he never said much before in Draco's company. But perhaps that was Draco's fault and not Crabbe's, he mused. Maybe he didn't want Crabbe to have a mind of his own or any opinion save his own. That would fit with what he already knew of Malfoy.

"Can't argue with you there. Malfoy's always been a prat. Maybe you ought to teach him a lesson, Crabbe, in how to treat people."

"Maybe I will, at that. Would you like to help, Potter?"

"I would . . .but I'm a little busy right now with Professor Snape and my classes," Harry said.

"We've got time," Crabbe said easily.

"After OWLS then," Harry decided quickly. "We'll prank him good. And call me Harry."

"Okay, an' you can call me Vince."

"Me too," Jace spoke up suddenly.

They turned to stare at him.

"Kid, you're crazy. Malfoy will pulverize you." Crabbe began.

But Witherspoon shook his head. "Not if he thinks I'm bait."

Vince chuckled and clapped the slender boy on the shoulder. "You got brass, kid. Awright, we'll talk more about this later."

Harry glanced at his watch. "Merlin! I gotta run, or else Snape's gonna skin me. I should have been back ten minutes ago." He tucked the container of repellent in his pocket, then blurred into Freedom.

He hovered over the two Slytherins and then shot back to the castle at lightning speed, praying Severus wouldn't strip the hide off him for being late. Crabbe's not so bad once you get to know him. Or Witherspoon either. It ought to be fun, to get some of our own back on Malfoy, for once. That is, if Sev lets me live.

Actually, he wasn't all that afraid of Severus since becoming the man's familiar. He had learned that Severus's control over his temper wouldn't allow him to truly harm a student, and even less his apprentice and ward. But that didn't mean he would hesitate to give Harry the rough side of his tongue, and Harry discovered that Severus's disapproval stung worse than a slap.

Upon reaching the potions lab, Harry shifted and entered the lab rather noisily. "Sorry I'm late, sir . . .I lost track of time . . ."

Severus looked up from where he was grinding something in a mortar. "Hagrid have you stay for tea and scones, Mr. Potter, or were you just dawdling?"

Harry could have taken the easy way out and let Snape assume Hagrid had kept him, but he knew better than to lie to his mentor. Severus detested students who lied to him to avoid taking responsibility for their mistakes. "Not exactly, sir. I went to get the repellent and ended up talking with Crabbe and Witherspoon."

Severus raised an eyebrow, though inwardly he was pleased to see Harry getting along with some of his snakes outside of class. "And how is Vincent getting on with his new apprenticeship?"

"Very well, from what I could see. He was fixing a thestral's leg. He told me he wants to be a Magical Creatures vet."

"He had informed me of that also, when we met for career discussions."

"Bet that won't please his dad though, considering he's a Death Eater."

"Most likely not, but Vincent does not necessarily have to follow in his father's footsteps. Given the choice, I believe he would renounce the dark path." Severus said, his face stark and grim. "Whether or not he gets that choice depends on slaying a mad necromancer."

Harry glanced around, then recalled that Severus's lab was warded from prying eyes and ears just as his apartments were. "Then . . .he can be killed?"

"Oh, yes. He may call himself death's master, Harry, but he is not immortal. He has spent two lifetimes searching for the key to it, but he has not found it. It is very difficult to slay him, but it can be done."

"How?"

"That is a discussion we must save for another time. For now, Professor Sprout needs her potion. Where is the slug repellent?"

"Here, Severus." He handed the container to the Potions Master. "Would you like some help?"

"Yes, if you wouldn't mind." Severus showed him the formula. "Fetch me the container of lacewing flies and toad spleen."

Harry summoned them, then recalled the other part of Hagrid's message. "Severus, Hagrid told me to tell you that he would be at the meeting, but would probably be late, since he had to go over some things with Vince."

Severus looked at him sharply. "I see. We shall have to wait for him then."

"You're having an Order meeting at Grimmauld Place, right?" Harry asked.

"Yes."

Harry hesitated, then said in a rush, "When you go, may I come with you? I'd . . .like to speak with Sirius again and if this meeting concerns me . . .my dreams I mean . . .I should be there."

Severus studied the young man keenly, noting the stubborn set of the boy's jaw and the glint in his emerald eyes. "You wish to see your . . .godfather and sit in on the meeting?"

"Yes, sir. Sirius and I have some things we need to talk about. And if I'm going to kill the Dark Lord, I deserve a chance to know what's going on, so I can prepare. I'm not a child, Severus, to be kept in the dark anymore. I deserve to know what everyone else does. Forewarned is forearmed."

He met Severus's eyes squarely.

After a long moment, his mentor nodded. "So it is. And you are right, the more you know your enemy, the better prepared you will be to meet him in combat. I will protect you as best I can, but even I cannot be everywhere, and he will seek you out. Very well, you may come. But be warned, you are to listen closely and speak only when spoken to. This will be, for all intents and purposes, a council of war, and as the least experienced, it would be best if you held your tongue."

"I can do that, Sev." Harry reassured him, happy that his mentor was taking him seriously.

"I would hope so. You are old enough to practice discretion," Severus told him. "Now then, pay attention. The scarab carapaces must be ground to a fine powder, thus . . ." he showed Harry the blue powder inside the mortar. "To them, you must add one eighth of a teaspoon of lemon juice . . ."

Harry remained attentive as Severus showed him how to brew the Pest-Be-Gone, though a part of his brain was jumping up and down and shrieking like an excited toddler I'm going to Grimmauld Place for a meeting! Finally, I'm not being treated like a little kid or helpless baby anymore. I can't wait until I see Sirius again. I just hope he doesn't freak when I tell him Severus is my guardian. If he'll just let me explain how it happened . . .why it happened . . .then maybe he'll understand why I trust Severus more than almost anyone.

* * * * * *

12 Grimmauld Place:

Mrs. Black's portrait began shrieking epithets the moment Snape and Harry set foot in the foyer.

"Unclean, scummy, half-bloods! How dare you taint MY house with your filthy presence? Out, I say! Leave and never darken my door again! I shall not have the likes of you tromping with your smelly boots all over my carpet and eating my food and drinking my wine. Just who do you think you are, cretins? You are not welcome here. I, Walburga Casseopia Black, order you to depart! Well? Why are you not gone, imbeciles? Do you not understand English? GET OUT! Or I shall call the Aurors! All your kind belong in Azkaban anyway, you should have never been allowed to breed, you miserable wretched-"

Severus pointed his wand abruptly.

There came a muffled protest from Mrs. Black, and Harry covered his mouth to keep from bursting out laughing.

The portrait's narrow lips were covered in a sticky mask of spiderwebs, effectively gagging her, and her hands were bound and tied above her head, she wriggled and thrashed like a worm on a hook but could not free herself from Snape's binding.

"Shut up, harridan." Severus told her sternly. "Tell it to someone who cares." He swept past the now silent portrait, his cloak billowing, Harry in his wake. "Come, Potter. Your dogfather must be around here somewhere. Let us hope he has at least prepared the room like I asked, and provided some refreshments as well, if the others haven't eaten yet, they will be hungry."

Harry and Severus were full from dinner, and Harry was happy to not have to grade anymore homework tonight. He had managed to work out an effective system so he could spend less time grading and more time teaching potions. He had introduced his students to the Re-do spell, as Severus had suggested, but then took it one step further and informed them that any papers which were handed in with poor grammar, punctuation, and illegible would be marked down a grade for each day they were late and not only that, but they wouldn't be graded by him, they would be graded by the other class of first years, and whatever grade their classmates gave them would be the one put in his grade log. "You have access to a dictionary, a thesaurus, and grammar and punctuation texts in your common rooms, I know as I've used them myself. Learn to use them to help you write better, because handing me papers that look like this is just being lazy and sloppy, and you will get the grade you have earned."

At first, there had been the usual protests over that decision, but eventually most of the students decided to use the resources provided and turned in assignments that were readable and grammatically correct. And, for the most part, he made sure the students graded each other fairly, he hid the names from them with a Notice Me Not charm, so no one knew whose paper they were grading and had to be honest. Once he collected them, he re-read the comments over and then recorded the grade or returned it to a student to re-do.

Severus had complimented him on his ingenuity and that alone made Harry feel awesome. Praise from an adult he respected was rare in his life and he treasured each and every compliment, storing them up to savor on a day when he was out of sorts.

They walked through the foyer and up the stairs to the living room, and found Sirius sprawled in front of the fireplace, idly twirling his wand in his palm. He jerked up when he heard their footsteps, and greeted Severus with a scowl and Harry with a smile.

"Snape. You're early."

"Black. I came early at the request of your . . .godson," sneered the Potions Master.

"Hiya, Harry!" Sirius fairly grinned at his godson. "How are things at school? How did you persuade old Gloom and Doom to bring you? Threaten to wash his hair while he slept?" he chuckled uproariously at his own wit, not noticing that Harry wasn't laughing, and Severus was rolling his eyes heavenward.

"One would think, Black, you would come up with something else after all this time. Then again, you never were one for using your brain for anything except seducing women and playing pranks."

Sirius flushed, and he sat up and leveled a killing glare at Severus. "At least I can get a woman, Snape. When's the last time you had one, twenty years ago, when Lily kissed you out of pity?"

Severus clenched his jaw and refrained, by the slimmest of margins, from drawing his wand. He knew if he did so, he might just end up killing the other wizard, and Black wasn't worth going to Azkaban for.

"Hey! Sirius, stop it!" Harry cried, startling his godfather. "We didn't come here to pick a fight."

"We?" Sirius looked suspiciously at Harry. "Since when do you associate with the greasy dungeon bat, Harry?"

Harry's eyes flashed. "Sirius, quit insulting him. He's not your enemy or your rival anymore. He risks his life for the Order and you could at least show him respect."

Sirius's mouth hung open. "What is this, some kind of joke? You're not really Harry, are you? You're somebody else using Polyjuice Potion, right? You're the twins, aren't you? Because Harry Potter would never defend Snape to me."

"You're wrong, Sirius." Harry said quietly. "I told you in the last letter I wrote that I had something important to discuss with you. This is it." He glanced up uncertainly at Severus, who was still giving Black a death glare. "Professor, will you please excuse us?"

"Have your chat with the dog, Mr. Potter. I wish you luck," the Potions Master said, then he spun on his heel and stalked into the kitchen, closing the door behind him.

Sirius gazed at his godson, rising and putting a hand on his forehead. "Harry, are you all right?"

"I'm fine. I'm not feverish or delusional. You know what happened to me after I shifted forms the first time. I broke both wings as a hawk and had to be nursed back to health. You know that I was Severus's familiar during that time. We . . .bonded, I guess you could call it. He . . .confided in me, and while I won't tell you exactly what he discussed with me, I learned enough to know that who he is on the outside is a mask. He keeps his real self hidden, and it's nothing like who he pretends to be. Sirius, he was my mum's best friend."

"Oh, sure he was," Sirius sneered. "He was such a good friend that he called her a Mudblood in front of half the school."

Harry's eyes narrowed. "He apologized for that afterwards. And you and I both know he would never have said that if you and my dad and Wormtail hadn't started screwing with him. He wasn't doing anything to you and you hexed him because you were bored and wanted to have fun and he was your favorite target."

Sirius stiffened, not liking Harry's tone at all, which was accusing and angry. "He tell you that?"

"No, he told Hagrid that, and Hagrid agreed with him. I happened to overhear them talking in hawk form one afternoon. So don't bother to deny it, Sirius. What I want to know is why? Why would you do such things to him?"

"He was a scummy Slytherin, that's why. C'mon, Harry, you're a Gryffindor, you know what the snakes are like. Backstabbing little greaseballs, all of them, they all know Dark Curses and Snape knew more than anyone. Don't let him fool you. He was no innocent angel."

Harry felt his temper start to rise. He took a deep breath. "Neither were you, Sirius. Or my dad either. A curse doesn't have to be classed as Dark to hurt. You can hurt somebody just as bad with words or laughter. And you did."

"This is ancient history, as far as I'm concerned. Why do you want to rehash this?" Sirius asked uncomfortably.

"Because I'm trying to understand how my godfather and my father, supposedly such great upholders of justice, could have been such dumb prats when you were my age? You told me in your letter that you were fifteen and stupid. But that's no excuse, Sirius, don't you see? What you did to Severus was wrong. Don't you feel bad about that?"

"For what? Giving the greasy git what he deserved?" Sirius chuckled.

Harry's eyes blazed. "What he deserved? Sirius, nobody deserves that! Slytherin or whatever, nobody deserves to be hexed and tormented day after day for some kind of . . .sick entertainment!"

"That wasn't the way it was! He hexed us back plenty of times."

"But you started it. And you've never let it go. Not even now."

"Harry, why do you care what we did to Snivellus?"

"Because . . .you treated him the same way my cousin Dudley and his friends did me. You know what Dudley and his gang used to do to me when I was little? They played a funny game. It was called Harry Hunting. They hunted me like an animal down at the park or at school or at home. I had to run and hide nearly every day because if they caught me, they'd beat the crap out of me. I was small, I was skinny, I was the freak cousin who didn't deserve to exist. Sound familiar? Sometimes I managed to escape them, but most times I couldn't, and I ended up with the tar whipped out of me. And do you know what my aunt and uncle said to that-nothing! Like bloody Dumbledore. They let Dudley pound on me because they didn't care-I was the unwanted burden they'd been forced to take in. Don't look at me like that. Want to know how long their games went on? Until I got my Hogwarts letter. Since I was five or six until I was eleven. And my cousin never got in trouble, never once, not even when he broke my glasses or made me bleed. Like you and the Marauders never got in trouble."

"Oh, now wait a minute there. We were never that bad. Snivellus might have ended up with a bloody nose . . ."

"Stop calling him that!" Harry snapped, incensed. "And how would you remember what you did to him anyhow? I know if I asked Dudley if he remembers how many times he pushed me or hit and what happened afterwards, he wouldn't remember. Want to know why? Because bullies tend to forget after awhile, they've hurt someone so much. But the victim never does. Never. I remember everything. And so does Severus, I'd wager. So don't try and laugh this off, damn it and act like it wasn't a big deal, Sirius. Because it bloody damn well was!"

"Harry, calm down. Why are you so upset over Snive-Snape?"

"Because he's my friend and my mentor and I care about him. Why aren't you upset, Sirius? I'll tell you why. Because you think you were right to treat him that way-he was a slimy snake and he deserved it. Right? Bullshit! You and Ron are so blinded by your own narrow view it amazes me. All Slytherins are bad and all Gryffindors are pure as the driven snow. Ha! How quickly you forget about Pettigrew-the Dark One's left hand, the one who betrayed my parents and me to him. And Barty Crouch Junior was Gryffindor too, and he was as sick and twisted as they come. Looks like the polish is coming off the brass wouldn't you say?"

"Harry, Slytherins had the worst wizard of all in their House-You Know Who himself. Not to mention a whole host of other dark wizards, most of them Sn---Snape's former school buddies. Hell, kid, Snape was a bloody Death Eater once upon a time! So why are you defending him?"

"I know he was once a Death Eater. For two weeks, before he came back to the Light. And he spent the rest of his life atoning for that mistake. But you never give him credit for that. To you he's still the Greasy Git. Well, I don't feel that way about him anymore. Maybe I did once, before I knew what I do now, before I was his familiar . . .but I was wrong too. He's a good man, Sirius. A good man."

Sirius burst out laughing. "A good man? Snivellus? What'd he do to you, kid? Cast a Confundus Charm on you? Slip you a Friendship Draft? He turned spy to save his own neck and he can't be trusted."

"You're wrong. Dead wrong. He saved my life. Twice this year alone and God knows how many more times the previous years. I trust him, Sirius. With my life. He's my guardian."

Sirius froze. Surely he couldn't have heard right. Severus Snape was Harry's guardian?

"Would you mind saying that again? Because for a minute there I thought you said Snivellus was your guardian."

"He is. I signed the papers when he became my mentor. That way I would never have to go back and live with the Dursleys ever again. We swore Wizard's Oath, so Dumbledore wouldn't be able to send me back there this summer."

Sirius was dumbstruck. He remained with his mouth slightly agape, his eyes wide with shock.

Then he found his voice. "That son-of-a-bitch! I'll kill him! What did he blackmail you with, Harry, to make you agree to this? Because it had to be something bad, to make you agree to go and live with him. What was it? He threaten to kill your owl, or fail you in potions, or hurt one of your friends?"

"Sirius, for Godsake! You're bleeding cracked if you think that. Wizard's Oath will fail if you're forced, don't you know that?"

"Oh. Right." Sirius was silent for a moment. Then he said, "But that would mean . . .you wanted to go with him."

"That's right. I feel safe with him, Sirius. He'd never do what my relatives did to me. He's not all snarky and nasty to me anymore. He teaches me things . . .like boxing and potions and Occlumency. He helped me with my nightmares and he'd die to protect me."

Sirius's head was spinning. When he had seen Harry standing there, he had assumed the boy would discuss something innocuous, like Quidditch or how cool it was to be an Animagus, not read him chapter and verse on how mean he'd been to Snape when they were in school, much less drop the bomb that Snape was his guardian! "I don't believe it. Snape is . . .he's Snape. He was your father's worst enemy at school. How can you want to have him as your guardian?"

"Weren't you listening?" Harry cried, exasperatedly. "I just told you why. We . . .understand each other. Sorry if Dad and Severus didn't get along in school, but how much of that was Dad's fault? A lot. And anyhow, I'm not my dad, Sirius. I don't hate Slytherins and think they all follow You-Know-Who. I spent a month and a half as a Slytherin's familiar, and I saw more than you or my dad ever did. I saw the truth. They aren't all dark, they're people, like you and me. People, light and dark together. That's all."

Harry was gazing at him earnestly, hoping his words were finally striking a resonance within his godfather's heart. But he hadn't reckoned with Sirius's pride and Gryffindor stubbornness. One of Sirius's greatest flaws, besides his impulsiveness, was that he hated to admit he'd been wrong.

"I don't believe this. The son of James Potter-a Slytherin lover!"

"So what? Does it really make a difference, Sirius? My mother loved a Slytherin too!" Harry defended, his teeth clenched.

"She came to her senses. And married a Gryffindor. In the end, she saw him for what he was-a viper."

"No! She forgave him for being a Death Eater and saw that he was still a decent man. Damn it to hell, why can't you see that? Or is it just easier to blind yourself to the truth, so you can just go along and be blameless for everything you ever did to him, huh? That way you don't have to own up to nearly killing him in the Shrieking Shack either, because you'd have done the world a favor, right?" Harry was shouting now, his control finally snapped by Sirius's refusal to see the truth.

"Yes! It was a bloody prank and he didn't even get so much as a scratch before James pulled him away from the door." Sirius shouted back. "Nothing happened!"

"And that makes it all right? Holy hells, Sirius! What if something had happened? Would you have cared? Would you?"

Sirius glared at him. "I don't know! Just leave it be, for Merlin's sake!"

"I can't. I can't. You nearly killed someone, and if you can't regret that . . ." Harry began breathing hard, he was so upset. He blinked back tears. "Then maybe you . . .belong in Azkaban."

"WHAT?" Sirius reached out and grabbed Harry, shaking him hard. "You don't mean that! How dare you say that? Over bloody Snivellus! James must be turning over in his grave to hear you say that! He'd be ashamed to call you his son!"

"Well, you know what, Sirius?" Harry yelled right back, not at all intimidated. "Right now I'm ashamed to be his son! And your godson! Severus admitted he was wrong to me, you know. He even apologized to me for treating me so badly at school. Why can't you do that?"

"Because I can't stand the bloody bastard!" Sirius cried. "What the bloody hell happened to you this year, Harry?"

"I grew up," Harry said bluntly. "Put me down, Sirius."

"Snape has some kind of hold on you-"

"I said put me down!" Harry snarled. When Sirius still didn't release him, the furious Animagus shifted into hawk form and slipped free of the older wizard's grasp, soaring up into the air, shrieking in rage and anguish.

Before Sirius could move, Freedom dove at him, talons closed.

Severus had been lingering in the kitchen, trying to ignore the shouting in the next room. But when he heard Freedom's furious cry, he sprang up and raced into the living room, unable to ignore his familiar's anguish. He burst into the living room just in time to see the red-tail dive bombing Black.

Sirius never stood a chance. Freedom hit him right on the head, slamming him a good one. The tall wizard's knees buckled and he yelped. Then he shook his fist at the hawk and cried, "What the bloody hell was that for, Harry? Damn it, that hurt! Knock it off, before I really lose my temper."

I'm trying to knock some sense into you, you bloody git!

"Hex him, Black, and you'll wish you'd stayed in Azkaban with the dementors," Severus growled warningly.

Sirius whirled upon him. "This is all your fault, Snivellus! You turned him against me!" He reached for his wand, but Freedom dived at him again, shrieking, and nipped his hand sharply.

"Oww! Harry, stop it!" Sirius shook his hand, it was bleeding slightly.

Freedom drew level with his face, hovering, eyes whirling angrily, and hissing in disapproval. No! You stop being an idiot and trying to hex Severus, damn it!

"You stop that right now, Harry James Potter! Bite me again, you rotten brat, and I swear I'll tan your arse just like your father would if he were here!" Sirius blustered.

Ha! You'd have to catch me first and for that, you'd need wings. And you're not my father, Sirius, so don't even go there!

"Touch him, Black, and I'll hex your bloody fingers off," threatened Severus silkily, but there was steel beneath the silk and an unmistakable warning.

"Who the bloody hell do you think you are, Snape?"

"I'm his guardian, Black and it's my place to discipline him, not yours. So keep your hands to yourself for once." Severus spat, his eyes glittering. "What did you do to him to make him attack you? Because he wouldn't have done so for no reason."

Sirius clamped his jaw shut. Then he growled, "I'm not answerable to you, Snape! This is my house, and if you weren't a damn member of the Order, I'd kick your arse right out of it!"

"You needn't bother," drawled Snape. "I will leave as soon as the meeting is over. I have no need to linger here in this dilapidated wreck. Freedom, to me!"

Freedom circled the two before finally coming to rest on Severus's shoulder.

Sirius went pale. "What spell did you cast on him, Snape?"

"Black, what are you babbling about?"

"Don't bother to deny it! You've been poisoning Harry's mind against me!"

"You are an imbecile. We haven't even discussed you, Black. We have had more important topics on our minds."

"Liar! You made him like you and he always hated you!"

"Really? Is that why you're screaming like a maniac?" Severus smirked. "Because he defended me to you?"

"Damn straight! My Harry would never have done that!"

Severus's eyes narrowed. "Your Harry has changed from when you last saw him, Black."

"You've made him into a Slytherin sympathizer, you bastard!"

"And what is wrong with that? It's about time you dunderhead Gryffindors realized the truth."

"What truth? That all of you are in thrall to You-Know-Who?"

Severus's lip curled. "No, idiot. That Slytherins are both good and bad, the same as everyone else."

"Like you?"

Severus looked right at him, his eyes glittering. "We all have darkness within us, Black. I acknowledged mine a long time ago. Perhaps you would do well to do the same. Or don't. It's your choice. But you'll have only yourself to blame if it consumes you."

"Bugger off, Snivellus! I don't need advice from the likes of you!"

"That wasn't advice, it was a warning."

"I'm not a dark wizard, Snape! I never was! That was your line, Death Eater!"

"No? Would you call almost killing a fellow student an act of good? Look to your own soul, Black, before you presume to judge me!" He turned to walk away, Freedom still perched upon his shoulder.

Sirius reached out and grabbed his arm. "I want an answer to my question!"

Severus whirled about. "Don't touch me!" he hissed, his wand in his hand. "I don't owe you anything, Black, much less an answer to your idiotic question. You should know it already, without me having to spell it out, if you ever used your brain for anything constructive."

"Tell me, damn you!" Sirius howled. "Tell me what you've done to my godson!"

Snape jerked free from the other's grasp. "Nothing, Black. Except become his mentor and guardian. And keep a promise I made long ago. Like mother, like son."

Sirius trembled, raking Snape from head to foot with a terrible glare. "I hate you. You stole him from me."

"No. He was never yours. He belongs to himself and his choices are his own. You cannot cage a hawk, Black. You are a fool to even try."

Sirius drew his wand. "I should hex you into pieces."

Severus was not fazed. "You won't."

"How do you know?" rasped the other.

"Because you will not risk earning his hatred, Black. And if you hurt me, he would hate you." The hawk upon his shoulder remained silent, gazing at Sirius with hurt angry amber eyes.

Listen to him, Sirius, please! For once in your bloody life, shut up and LISTEN! Freedom squawked angrily.

Sirius swore furiously and shoved his wand back in his pocket. "Damn you, Snape! Why did it have to be you? I could have handled anyone else."

"Too bad." Snape said unsympathetically. "As my students say, Black-get over it."

Sirius flushed. "You're enjoying this, you greasy bat! This is your revenge upon me for all those times I hexed you at school."

"You're delusional, Black. My revenge would have been far worse than this, and far more painful than befriending a fifteen-year-old boy."

"It wasn't supposed to happen this way. I was supposed to be his guardian, not you!"

"That's a moot point now. It is done, now deal with it."

"I can contest this! You're a former Death Eater!"

"And you're an ex-convict. Both of us would be considered unsuitable, you dunderhead, according to Ministry standards. He has made his choice, Black. Respect it."

"Why should I?" Sirius demanded petulantly.

"Because that is what he deserves. Whether or not you agree with it." And with that, Snape turned on his heel and left Sirius standing in the middle of the room, to stew and ponder and grind his teeth over his godson's new attitude.

* * * * * *

Fifteen minutes later, the fire flared, and Remus Lupin came through the Floo.

"Hello, Padfoot," he greeted his old friend.

Sirius rushed up to him. "Thank Merlin! You've got to talk some sense into Harry, Remus!"

"What? Why?"

"Because he's become Snape's ward, that's why! He's gone mad, Moony! He defended the bastard to me!"

Lupin arched an eyebrow. "Is that why Snape called this meeting?"

"I don't know and right now I could care less. You've got to help me convince Harry that Snape's untrustworthy."

"Sirius, you've always had a blind spot the size of the Atlantic when it comes to Snape . . . Start from the beginning, please."

Sirius did, telling him what Harry had said reluctantly. They had almost reached the end when the Floo flared again and again, and the rest of the Order members Snape had contacted came through. All except the Headmaster and Hagrid.

Remus laid a hand upon Sirius's shoulder. "We can talk more about this later. Let's see what was so urgent Severus had to summon nearly all of us. He's never done that, it must be pretty important."

"Like I care what he has to say."

"Sirius," Remus reproved. "Are you an Order member or a sulky child?"

Sirius did not bother to answer, simply followed Remus into the dining room, where the meeting was going to be held. Kreacher had placed refreshments and drinks out on the table.

"What's this about, Siri?" asked Tonks, her hair changing from bubblegum pink to violet.

"Hanged if I know. But Snivellus better make this worth my time, that's all I have to say." He pulled out a chair and sat down, at the end of the table furthest from Snape.

Tonks sat next to him and Remus on his other side. The other Order members, the Weasleys, Moody, Fletcher, Shacklebolt, McGonagall, and the rest, seated themselves along the table. Then they all looked up at Severus questioningly, waiting for him to begin.


 



Chapter End Notes:


Well, what did you think? Things are quite rocky between Sirius and Harry right now, aren't they?

Next: Severus tells the Order about Harry's dreams and Voldemort's possible plan to attack the Ministry. Can they get a counter plan together to foil him? What role will Harry play in it? Will Sirius manage to work with Severus without hexing him? And think about what Harry said? Will they finally face Voldemort? Find out next chapter.

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