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Severus looked around at the Order members seated at the table and cleared his throat quietly.  "Since Hagrid is not yet here, we shall have to wait a bit.  He should be along any minute, however.  I do not want to repeat myself."

There was muttering among some of the members, but then Molly said, "No worries, Severus.  We shall all have tea and sandwiches while we wait." She levitated the teapot and poured herself, Arthur, and her two grown sons, Charlie and Bill, some tea, fixing it the way they all liked it.  Then she floated the cups over to them and they thanked her softly.  "Anyone else care for some tea?"

"I'll have some," Remus called from down the table.

The others began to eat the sandwiches set out along with the tea.

Molly levitated the pot over, and Remus poured some tea for himself.  He looked at Sirius.  "Tea, Padfoot?"

"No thanks. I need something stronger than that." Sirius gazed up at Snape, curling his lip like a dog who scents a rival.  Indeed, his reaction to Severus was, at times, reminiscent of a male dog bristling and threatened by a rival dog in his territory. Despite his long use of his Animagus form, he had never quite learned to control his emotions from one shape to another, and sometimes the dog's instincts crept into his human emotions, making him unpredictable.

"Sirius, let it go for now," Remus urged.  "You can go off on me later, when the meeting is over.  I don't see Albus here.  Where do you think . . . ?"

He was interrupted by the sound of the Floo and then very loud footsteps.  Hagrid appeared moments later in the doorway.  "Sorry I'm late.  Got caught up talkin' to my apprentice ‘bout some magical species of snakes in th' Amazon rainforest." He coughed awkwardly.  "Anyway, I'm here now, Severus, so I guess you can start.  What's goin' on?"

"Hold on a minute," Moody began.  "I want to know if anyone's heard anything from Dumbledore?" He looked questioningly at Minerva and then Severus.

Minerva answered, "I have sent messages repeatedly with various owls to him, but they have all returned with no reply, undeliverable."

"Undeliverable?" repeated Arthur.  "But does that mean he's . . .dead?"

"No.  It could mean that the escape spell field Fawkes put up when he took Albus away is still functioning," Minerva explained.  "Or it could mean Albus is turning away all contact with the owl post for fear of being monitored by the Ministry.  Remember, as far as he knows, he is a wanted man.  He doesn't know Umbridge is dead and his name exonerated."

"Aye, that's so," Hagrid agreed.  "He might be waitin' a bit longer, maybe till the end of term, before he comes out of hiding."

"Be that as it may, we cannot afford to wait that long," Severus said.  "My sources indicate that You-Know-Who and his followers are planning a strike against the Ministry fairly soon.  That is why I have called all of you here, so that we may plan to counter it, should it occur."

"Are you certain, Snape?" demanded Moody, all business now. His magical eye whirled and blinked.

"Yes." He turned to look at the red-tailed hawk and murmured, "Harry, change and show them who you are."

Freedom fluffed his feathers in annoyance.  He was content to remain in hawk shape and listen to the meeting that way, but apparently Severus didn't agree with that strategy.  He flew from the Potion Master's shoulder, hovered briefly, and transformed back into a boy.

Everyone except McGonagall, Moody, Sirius, Hagrid, and Remus gasped when Harry transformed.   

Molly was the first to recover, half-rising to her feet and smiling broadly at Harry, as if he was a lost toddler that had suddenly been found.  "Oh, Harry! Why didn't you tell anyone you were an Animagus? How marvelous!"

Harry blushed.  He liked Molly a lot, but sometimes her too-obvious mothering could be awkward.  "I just learned about it this year.  Thought Ron would have told you."

Charlie grinned.  "He told Mum plenty, but not that."

"Hush, Charles!" his mother scolded. She turned back to Harry.  "Harry dear, what are you doing here? You know the rule, no one is allowed at a meeting unless you are of age."

Harry opened his mouth to protest, but Severus gently placed a hand upon his shoulder.  "This once, Molly, I have suspended that rule.  Harry may only be fifteen, but he has seen and survived more than most adult wizards.  It is because of him that I have called you all here.  As you know, His Darkness has made young Potter into a target, trying to destroy him in order to fulfill a prophecy.  The first time he attempted it, he failed.  I intend to see he fails this time as well."

But Molly, ever the overprotective mother hen, was not minded to allow Severus to put one of her chicks, even an adopted one, in danger.  "Severus, I must protest.  He's much too young to be involved in this.  Not even Fred and George are full members of the Order yet-"

Harry interrupted her before Severus could stop him, saying stiffly yet politely,"Begging your pardon, Mrs. Weasley, but I'm not your son.  And while I appreciate you trying to protect me, I'm not a baby or a little child needing to hold your hand.  I faced Old Snake-Face four times now and his Death Eaters too.  I know what they're capable of, how evil they are, and I don't need to be protected from them. Well, not much, anyhow.  If you're going to discuss ways to kill him, then I ought to be part of it." He straightened suddenly.  "If I'm old enough to face the murderer that killed my parents, I'm old enough to sit in on an Order meeting."

"Well said, Harry!" Hagrid boomed, clapping enthusiastically.  "Oops! Sorry."

"This once, I have to agree with you, Mr. Potter," said McGonagall.  "This term, you have displayed more maturity than many seventh years."

"'Tis so, Minerva," said Moody.  "He was the one who called for Auror backup when the old bi-ah, I mean harpy-" he corrected himself at Molly's frigid glare. "-was trying to make a break for it, and I came to arrest her arse.  That was quick thinking.  Very quick thinking, Potter."  He inclined his head to Harry in approval.

Harry nodded back, feeling an unaccustomed flush of pride suffuse him.  Moody was an old warrior, and he, like his mentor, did not give out praise lightly.

"Let him stay," chimed in Bill.  "He's got a good point."

Charlie also agreed. 

So did Remus and Sirius.

"He's not much younger than I was when I started Auror training," Tonks remarked, turning her hair an electric blue.

"I still don't like it," Molly grumbled.

"Leave it go, dear," Arthur remonstrated quietly.  "Harry's not one of ours, we have no right to forbid him anything.  As his mentor, Severus may, but clearly he agrees with his apprentice."

Molly subsided, sitting back down. "As you will. Boys! Always so eager to rush into danger."

"Now that we have resolved Mr. Potter's presence, I shall ask him to share with you some reoccurring dreams he has had over the past week," Severus said.  "Go on then, Harry."

Harry obeyed, feeling a little self-conscious, but nevertheless determined to show the Order that he could be more use to them here in the council room than eavesdropping with Extendable Ears from the upstairs landing. 

The Order listened, spellbound, as he recited how he saw himself walking down a long corridor with dark bare walls until he came to the end and discovered a black door outlined in light.  When he pushed it open, he found himself in a great room with rows and rows of shelves filled with gray crystal globes, dusty and tagged. 

Standing in the middle of the room was Voldemort, holding a globe in one hand, laughing like a maniac.  "At last! The prophecy is mine! And I shall make sure it is fulfilled to my satisfaction.  Harry Potter shall die."

He was surrounded by his loyal Death Eaters-Wormtail, Lucius, Avery, MacNair, Bellatrix and her once handsome husband Rudolphus. 

"And then the dream ends and I wake up," he finished.  He rubbed his scar idly.  "Whenever I dream that dream, I wake up and my scar . . .burns a little.  Because I've dreamed that dream so much, Severus thinks it's not just a dream, but a sending.  Kind of like a . . .premonition."

Several of the members looked uneasy at that. 

"A premonition? But neither of your parents had any sign of the Sight," Sirius pointed out. 

"Wrong, Black.  Lily had a flicker of the gift.  Enough to cast a protective web about her child before the Dark Lord came calling at Godric's Hollow." Severus stated.  "I came too late, my warning was undelivered." He shook his head, the ghost of an old pain flickering in his eyes and then vanishing.  "Her son may have inherited more than just a flicker.  I believe the dreams are a sending . . .and that our adversary will stage a hit upon the Department of Mysteries, specifically the Hall of Prophecy."

"You think," Sirius pointed out sharply.  "But you don't know for sure, Snape.  I can't believe you summoned us all here on a . . .possibility."

"Possibilities become reality if you wait long enough, Black.  Do you want to gamble our lives on the off chance that I am wrong? The last time I was with him, the Dark Lord spoke of finding out more about the prophecy . . .he only knows part of it, you see, and in order to get the rest he must go to the Department of Mysteries.  There have already been multiple attempts to infiltrate the Department.  Rookwood disappeared,  Bode was killed, Arthur was attacked by what I believe to be his snake familiar, what more evidence do you need, Black? A written statement by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named himself telling you his plans?" sneered Severus.  Merlin spare me from oblivious idiots!

"If Harry's vision is true, we should act before it's too late," Bill spoke up.  "Set guards about the Department of Mysteries, strong wards and maybe a dragon or something."

But Snape and Moody were shaking their heads. 

"That's been tried before, lad," Moody said.  "Your dad was nearly killed during his stint at guard duty.  Plus, that'll tip our hand."

"Right, Alastor.  This operation calls for stealth." Severus said, thanking all the angels that at least one among the Gryffindors besides McGonagall showed some sense of tactics and strategy.  "I think what we need to do is create a blind, the way Muggle hunters do when they hunt ducks."

"They hunt ducks?" Tonks wrinkled her nose.  "Whatever for?"

"For food," Harry answered, amused.

"Really? How do they prepare them?" Molly asked, the chef in her suddenly rearing its head.  "Do they roast them with an orange glaze or spice them with garlic and pepper like I do chicken?"

"Uh, yeah, I guess." Harry said uncertainly, having never cooked duck before.

"Molly," Severus sighed.  "How Muggles cook duck isn't important."

"How do we create this . . .blind?" Arthur wanted to know.

"We set a trap for him, of course.  We allow him access to the Department, or who ever he sends there first, because he will always send followers before entereng anywhere himself, and plant the prophecy out in the open.  Then we lie in wait for whoever it is and steal back the prophecy and arrest them.  The purpose of the blind is to hide the hunter from the duck and trick it into thinking all is safe.  We will do the same here, and allow the Dark One to think we are imbeciles and that the prophecy is unguarded.  And then, blinded by arrogance, he will stumble into  our trap and we shall have him."

The Potion Master's eyes glittered with an odd eagerness, like a hawk excited to be released on a hunt. 

"Sounds like a good plan to me," Hagrid approved.

"Yep.  Sure and stealthy is the way to go," Moody seconded.

"But Severus, there's just one problem," Minerva realized.  "Only the person the prophecy is about may remove it from the shelf.  And the prophecy you speak of is about You-Know-Who and Mr. Potter.  Which means-"

"I have to be there," Harry interrupted.  "It won't work unless I am.  I have to look like I'm retrieving the prophecy, and when he thinks  I'm there alone, unguarded, he'll come and try and kill two birds with one stone, get me and the prophecy.  It'll be the one thing guaranteed to draw him in."

Severus frowned.  "Minerva is right, much as I hate to admit it.  None of us could remove the prophecy from the vault."

"Surely you cannot be suggesting we let Harry accompany us," Molly began.  "It's far too dangerous . . ."

"I am none too find of the idea myself, Molly.  However, we don't really have a choice." Severus began. Of course, he knew it wouldn't matter if Voldemort did get the false prophecy, since it was not a true one, but since it was authenticated by a Seer, Dumbledore had gotten it placed in the Hall of Prophecy that long ago night, where it remained to this day.  And since he could not reveal the truth to the other Order members, he had to keep up the pretense that the prophecy mattered. 

"No!" Sirius shouted abruptly, standing up and glaring down the table at Severus.  "He's not going anywhere near there! You're not risking my godson's neck, Snape! I don't care what it's for, I forbid it!"

The other Order members just stared at the angry wizard in astonishment.  They hadn't seem Sirius lose his temper that way in a long time. 

Severus glared right back, saying softly, "You have no authority over Potter, Black."

"You can't forbid me anything," added Harry sharply, incensed that Sirius would treat him like a child, especially after what had gone on before.  "You're not my father, Sirius.  This has to be done.  If we do it right, we could defeat him for good and all.  I'll be surrounded by Order members-you, Remus, Moody, so you don't have to worry about me getting killed. It makes sense-"

"Absolutely not!" Sirius roared.  "You'll go to the Ministry over my dead body.  Find another way, Snape."

Severus's eyes narrowed, he was fast losing his patience.  "There is no other way, Black.  Now quit going all hysterical."

"You bloody damn git! You could care less if he gets killed, so long as you complete your damn mission objective, you cold-hearted son-of-a-bitch!" Sirius was reaching for his wand, but Remus grabbed him by the wrist.

"Sirius, stop and think, for once in your life!" the werewolf ordered angrily.  "Don't start a war you can't win."

"I'll win it, all right, Moony! He's not putting Harry in the line of fire." Sirius snarled.

"Sirius Orion Black!" Molly cried.  "What do you mean, addressing an Order member that way? Severus is-"

"Not to be trusted," Sirius put in.  "Tell me, Snape, what will you be doing while the rest of us battle dark wizards? Hiding in a corner? Giving your dark master the latest news as you kiss his feet?"

"I shall not compromise my position as the top spy in the Order just yet, Black.  But have no fear, I shall be closer than your shadow, in a way you cannot possibly fathom."

"Just what the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Figure it out, if you're so smart.  And furthermore, I would never risk Harry's life.  He shall be protected, by my own wards and the rest of the Order.  How dare you imply otherwise?"

He matched Sirius glare for glare.

"How dare you throw my godson into the middle of a battle?"

"Hey! I'm right here, you know! Don't discuss me like I'm invisible!" Harry cried, unable to keep silent any longer.  "First off, Professor Snape's not throwing me into anything, Sirius.  I volunteered."

"Well, you just un-volunteer yourself, Harry James Potter." Sirius ordered.

Harry shook his head.  "I can't do that.  Without me, the plan will fall apart."

"It was a lousy plan to begin with," mumbled the other wizard. 

"It wasn't! Stop treating me like a child, Sirius! I already faced Moldy Voldy before-and I was on my own without any Order member to defend me.  Or have you forgotten what happened last year? In Little Hangleton? Because I sure haven't."

"That's why you're not going to the Department of Mysteries."

"Yes, I am.  Sirius, please.  This time is different.  This is the best opportunity to catch Old Snake Face off guard we've ever had.  We can't miss this.  Now quit arguing with Severus and just accept it. I've survived worse."

"Black, quit barking and just shut your mouth," Severus growled.  "You have no say in the matter."

"Like hell I don't! I'm declaring you an unfit mentor, Snape."

"To whom? Your mother's portrait? You can't report me without getting arrested for Pettigrew's murder, since Fudge refused to believe you're innocent."

"I'd gladly risk it in order to get Harry away from you-you miserable-"

"Stop it!" Harry yelled, his green eyes blazing.  "It's my damn life and I'll decide what I'm going to do with it. And I say I'm going to the Ministry and helping to get the wicked bugger that killed my parents and Cedric.  Tough luck if you don't like it."

Sirius gaped at him.  Then he said, "Harry, you don't know what you're doing . . ."

"Yes, I do. I learned when I was Freedom that sometimes you have to lie in wait before your prey shows itself.  Sirius, I know you don't want me to get hurt, and neither does Severus, but that's a risk you two take all the time.  Now it's my turn."

  Sirius opened his mouth again, but Remus pointed his wand and hissed a Silencing Charm.  "Sirius, that's enough! Keep pushing and you're going to drive him away forever, you stupid mutt!" snarled the werewolf. 

Sirius gestured angrily to his mouth, his eyes flashing, and then he went for his wand. 

But Molly snapped a quick "Expelliarmus!" and his wand was knocked out of his hand. 

"Knock it off, all of you! This is a meeting, not a brawl.  Act your age, for Merlin's sake!"

She gave Sirius, Remus, Severus, and Harry a glower that rivaled the worst Severus could do. 

They all winced. 

Charlie and Bill exchanged knowing glances.  They knew exactly how the others felt, having been on the receiving end of that look more than once.

"All right.  Let's do this the democratic way, like our American cousins.  We'll put it to a vote.  Everyone write down yes or no on a piece of parchment.  Then hand it to Arthur to tally.  Majority wins."

"But-" Harry began.

"Hush," Severus ordered, writing rapidly upon a piece of parchment.  He slid it over to Arthur.

When they had all voted, Arthur turned away, he had a larger parchment pad that wrote down the votes on.  After seven minutes all the votes were tallied.  Arthur cleared his throat.  "It appears that Harry will be going to the Ministry after all.  There were only two against and the rest were all for it."

Harry fought to keep from grinning.  Sirius lapsed back in his chair, a mulish scowl upon his face.  Remus clapped his friend lightly on the shoulder and whispered something, but Sirius's scowl did not abate.

The talk then turned to who would accompany Harry to the Ministry, for obviously not everyone in the Order could go.  And also how they would hide from Voldemort once they were there.  To that end, Severus suggested several disillusion and concealment charms, all of which he was expert at. 

It was decided that Moody, Sirius, Remus, Shacklebolt, Tonks, Charlie, Arthur, and four others, not counting Severus, who assured them he would assist if needed, though covertly, would be inside the Hall of Propehcy along with Harry.  An even dozen if you counted Severus. 

The rest of the meeting consisted of possible spells they could use to immobilize and stun Death Eaters, or hurt them if need be. Harry let that talk flow around him, he was still seething from Sirius's comments both before and during the meeting.  He understood that his godfather wanted to protect him, but he also suspected some of Sirius's insistence that Harry stay behind was not just concern, but pure bullheadedness.  Severus had agreed that Harry should go, therefore Sirius would insist the opposite, because Merlin help them if they ever agreed on something.

He felt torn and weary and irritated all at once over Sirius's reaction to both Severus and his own new attitude and independence.  He had expected Sirius to react badly to the news that Severus was Harry's mentor and guardian, given their past history, but he had thought he could get his godfather to listen to reason.  He had not expected the other to be so totally close minded and so focused on his old schoolboy enmity that he ignored virtually everything Harry had told him about the similarities between his early life with the Dursleys and the Marauders treatment of Severus.  To Harry, the parallel was so obvious it hurt, but Sirius had not even tried to see his viewpoint, or even think about what it meant for Harry to have endured such abuse for years, all he seemed concerned about was that Harry had "turned Slytherin" and trusted Snape and liked him.  And then his godfather's ultimatum over Harry not going to the Ministry just was the icing on the cake.

Now's a fine time to start treating me like a little kid, when before you treated me like a friend, and actually listened to me, Harry groused, embarrassed.  I've got to talk to Remus.  He'll know how to make Sirius understandI hope. Understand not only about Severus, but also that I'm not my father reborn.  I never really noticed, but Sirius kind of expected me to act just like James, maybe because I look a lot like him, and remembering my dad kept him sane in Azkaban.   It's sort of like the same problem Sev had, only in reverse-Severus kept seeing me as representing all the bad qualities and things Dad did to hurt him, and Sirius sees me as his best mate and expects me to act the way he would.  Only he forgets, I'm not James, but Harry.  My own person.

After the meeting, he would try and speak to Remus alone for a few minutes, and hope that the werewolf was more understanding and could talk some sense into Sirius.  Then he wanted to go back to the castle, work out with the heavy bag for fifteen minutes, so all of his pent up anger was sated, shower, and go to sleep. Tomorrow would be a busy day, teaching and attending classes and then studying at night with Severus and marking papers.

Harry focused back on the meeting abruptly when Moody asked, "What's the timetable for our little rendezvous, Severus?"

Snape considered carefully.  It would not do to move too quickly, and from his own intelligence gathering he knew Voldemort was unlikely to move against the Ministry until he had settled on a plan and his followers were secure in their place with the Death Eaters.  After the second Summoning, the Dark Lord had bid him wait and watch, and by that Severus knew he had a plan brewing.

"I will let you know, Moody.  Though I wouldn't expect anything to happen for another two weeks.  He is still "cleaning and putting his house in order" so to speak.  I would estimate he will not make a try until OWLS are over or nearly so. I will alert you if plans change."

After that, the meeting began to break up, and several of the Order members to depart via the Floo Network. 

"I need to speak with Lupin for a bit, all right?" Harry told Severus softly. 

"Very well.  But do not take forever, it is getting late and you, for one, need your rest.  You teach tomorrow, yes?

Harry nodded.  "I won't be long." Then he slipped off to find Remus.

He found the werewolf speaking quietly to Tonks, who was mending a plate she had dropped, and not seeing Sirius anywhere, rushed over to them.  "Can I talk to you for a bit, Remus?" he queried when the werewolf appearedto have finished his discussion with the young Auror and she had waved goodbye before departing.

"Certainly, Harry.  What about? Though I think I can guess."

They moved into the kitchen, and Harry cast quick Muffliato over them before  telling Remus his version of events and the quarrel he had with Sirius. He left nothing out, but he stressed to Remus that Severus was more than what he seemed and Harry had agreed to the guardianship, it had not been forced.

Remus listened attentively anger blazing in his eyes when Harry described his treatment from Dudley and Petunia and Vernon's indifference.  "Wicked coldhearted Muggles! Why Dumbledore left them to raise you I will never understand."

"Neither will I," Harry sighed.  "Please try and make Sirius understand.  He was so insane with anger over Severus being my friend and guardian that I don't think he heard a word I said."

"He probably didn't.  When Sirius's blood is up, he only hears what he wants to hear.  That's why sometimes you have to put a Silencing Charm on him." Remus gave Harry a sympathetic glance.  "I know this is hard on you, Harry.  Sirius can be . . .irrational at times and he's never gotten along with Severus."

"Remus, he doesn't have to like the man, but for Merlin's sake don't condemn me for being friends with him.  I went through all this with Ron, I don't want to have to go through it again.  I love Sirius, he's my godfather, but I love Sev too and I don't want to have to feel guilty for it, Remus! That's not fair.  Severus has done a lot for me, more than I can ever repay, and I'll be damned if I'm going to throw him over just because Sirius has a case of Gryffindoritis!"

Remus chuckled at that last, he had never heard it put quite that way before. Truly, Harry was a remarkable insightful young man.  "You know, Harry, your mother would be proud of you for that.  She was always ragging on James and Sirius to stop being so bloody prejudiced.  On James, her lessons stuck. Sirius, though, I think still has issues because his brother Regulus became a follower of You-Know-Who."

"And he thinks that all Slytherins betray and turn on him?" Harry said.  "Well, that's not so.  I know, Remus, I lived among them for a month and a half and I saw them at their best and worst. Granted I was a hawk then, but I still remember it. It changed me.  For the better.  I see things differently now.  I tried to explain that to Sirius, but he wouldn't listen.  I wish he would just let this bloody feud die! Severus agreed to tolerate him, at least long enough to be in the same room together and not kill each other.  And he has more reason to hate Sirius than anyone, considering what almost happened his sixth year."

Remus's eyes widened. "You know about that?"

"Yes.  I know everything that you did when you were in school.  What Sev didn't tell me, Hagrid did.  I even asked Sirius about some things once trying to find out why he did such things and he couldn't give me a reasonable answer.  Maybe you can.  You were there, Remus.  You watched it happen.  Why didn't you stop it?"

The werewolf shook his head, and his eyes held shame in their depths.  "I should have.  I know that now, hell, I knew it then too.  When did you become our conscience, Harry?"

Harry shrugged.  "I don't know.  I didn't mean to be . . .it's just . . .looking back on what you did . . .it was . . .a lot of it was just . . .wrong . . ."

"You're right.  In the beginning, it was just harmless pranks . . .practical jokes and stuff . . .We thought it was funny, pranking people, especially people like Severus . . .who were loners and not very popular, because everyone laughed when we did it.  We were immature . . .very immature," the werewolf admitted.  "But as we grew older, I don't know how it happened, but suddenly the pranks became . . .less funny and more cruel . . .and Severus was more and more the target of them.  He was this skinny kid . . .all long hair and eyes . . .kept to himself, his only friend was Lily . . .sarcastic and defensive . . .Sirius and James took one look at him and thought "slimeball". . .and "dark wizard". Me, I just felt kind of sorry for him, he was an outcast even in his own House, till fifth year when he started hanging around Avery and Mulciber.  I didn't like what James and Sirius did to him but I never really said anything because . . .I was afraid of losing my friends . . .I was a werewolf and lucky I even had any friends at all . . .I guess, looking back, I saw Severus and thought that could have been me and I'm glad it's not . . .so I kept my mouth shut. I'm not proud of that, Harry.  I hurt Snape just as much as James and Sirius and I didn't cast a single hex.  Because I watched and did nothing and in its own way, that's just as bad."

"Even after the Shrieking Shack?"

"No.  Once I was myself again, I was very angry at what Sirius had done.  I wasn't on speaking terms with him for two weeks.  I wrote an apology to Severus, don't know  if he ever read it though.  Harry, sometimes I look back on my schooldays and I think, we had a hell of a lot of fun sometimes, but it came at the expense of others.  I didn't realize that back then, and neither did James and Sirius or Peter.  Peter was a lost cause, but James eventually realized he was wrong, mostly thanks to your mother.  But Sirius . . .he's stuck somehow at sixteen again in a way.  That could be from Azkaban, or maybe it's just his personality.  I don't know.  But he really cares for you, Harry, and I think part of his problem is that he's jealous."

"Jealous of what?"

"Jealous that Severus can give you what he can't.  It's juvenile, I know, but that's what's really eating him.  I think.  I'll talk to him for you, see if I can wallop some sense into that stubborn head of his, all right? He'll come around, Harry."

Harry was doubtful, but he didn't say so.  He would wait and see. "Thanks, Remus.  I've got to go.   Hopefully I'll see you again soon, before we go to the Ministry."  He stood, hugged the werewolf lightly, then went back out from the kitchen to find Severus waiting for him in the dining room, reading a book. 

"Come, Harry.  It's nearly curfew." He tucked the book inside a pocket of his robes, but Harry just caught the title before he did so.  Finding Your Inner Animagus

Harry's eyebrows went up.  Severus was studying Animagi? That was a new one. But before he could ask anything, Severus had Floo-ed back to his quarters.  Harry picked up a pinch of Floo powder and tossed it down, muttering the password under his breath, then saying "Hogwarts Snape's quarters."

Then he stepped into the flames and followed Severus home.

Severus said very little when they arrived back at the school, except to ask if Harry needed to spar a bit to quell some of his anxiety. 

"Yes.  But I'll just work out with the bag tonight," he answered.

Severus accompanied him, however, just in case he wished to talk about the meeting, or Black, or Lupin. 

But Harry remained silent on those subjects, slamming the bag repeatedly and not saying anything. 

Severus let him be.  He would talk when he was ready, and at least he was getting his frustration out with the boxing instead of keeping it all inside. He could tell that what Sirius had said upset his ward profoundly, and he was angry all over again at the stupid mutt.  Didn't he know better than to lash out that way, especially given Harry's tumultuous emotional state? Harry had not been expecting his godfather to react so vehemently, unlike his encounters with Severus before he became a familiar, Sirius had never displayed hostility towards the boy before.  It had shocked and upset the young Animagus, especially because he regarded Sirius as an adult authority figure.  But now Black had torn that image all to pieces by behaving so childishly, Severus thought with a snort.  If anything, Harry had behaved more maturely. 

The mutt better control himself next time we see him, otherwise I'll do it for him.  I won't have Harry upset by the idiot, no matter what. The Potions Master thought grimly.

Harry finished his workout, bid Severus goodnight, and went to shower and to sleep, exhausted by the night's drama.

* * * * * * *

Remus found Sirius in Orion's study, or at least it had been Orion's study, before he had died.  The werewolf supposed it was now Sirius's study, since he had inherited the house, but Remus still thought of it as Mr. Black's haven, where he came to get away from his wife's haranguing and drink brandy and play chess with Sirius and his friends on occasion.  Remus had liked Orion, finding him quiet and humorous, and often wondered why he had ever married the uptight, never satisfied, pureblood harpy Walburga.  Maybe the marriage had been arranged, as was often the case among the traditional wizarding families.  The marriage had not been a happy one, and was probably one reason Sirius ran away and went to live with James at sixteen.

Right then, Sirius had that same expression in his eyes, as if he wanted to run away, but was unsure of where to go, sulky and angry and hurt.  He held a crystal tumbler of Ogden's Fine Brandy in his hand, and sat slowly sipping it and staring morosely into the flames of the fire on the hearth. 

"You going to drink yourself senseless, or do you want to talk about it?" Remus asked, a faint chiding note in his voice. 

"Go away, Lupin."

"Why? So you can drown your sorrows instead of face them?"

"Are they gone?"

"They?"

"The dungeon bat and his . . .protege," growled the other.

"Your godson, do you mean?" Remus asked bluntly, going to sit in a red and gold fleur-de-lis brocade chair opposite the desk, which Sirius had his boots propped up on.  His mother would have a fit if she were alive to see that, he thought with a half-amused smirk.

"He's not my godson." Sirius mumbled, taking another sip of the golden liquor.

"Of course he is, Siri! Stop being ridiculous."

Sirius set the glass down with a thump and glared at his best friend.  "He's keeping company with the king cobra of Slytherin, Moony! Merlin's bloody arse!"

Remus bit back a chuckle. 

"Something funny?"

"You.  You're acting like you were sixteen again, all pouting and sulky because Harry's found a new friend."

"I am not sulking.  I'm . . .upset.  Because the friend he found is totally unsuitable!"

"Unsuitable? In what way?"

"He's a Slytherin, he's a greasy git, he hated James, he's a former Death Eater, he's a coward turncoat, and he's got no sense of humor-plus he hates Gryffindors.  That makes him the last person Harry should be friends with, much less mentor with, even further still allow guardianship over him. And yet, he stands there bold as you please, and tells me Snape is his mentor! Like it's wonderful and expects me to congratulate him."

Remus just shook his head in disbelief.  "You know, I never thought I'd say this, Padfoot, but . . .you remind me of your mother."

"I . . .what?" Sirius sputtered, nearly choking on his drink.  "Moony, what have you been drinking? I remind you of my mother? The pureblood supremacist who hated bloody Gryffindors and her own son with a passion?  Who, to this day, still screams insults at me as I walk past?"

"That's the one."

"Lupin, you bloody bastard! I am nothing like that bitch! Nothing!"

"No? Think about what you just said to me, Sirius Black.  Didn't it remind you a little of the way your mother used to yell at you for being friends with me and James? How you used to tell me the way she would go off on you for bringing such unsuitable cretins with backgrounds hardly better than a Squib's into her home?"

"Yeah, so? What of it?"

"You claim Severus is unsuitable to be Harry's guardian based on what he is and his past with us.  Isn't that being biased?"

"It's Snape, Moony! What more do you need to know?"

Now Remus glared at Sirius.  "I know that, marshbrain! But maybe the Snape you used to know and the Snape Harry knows aren't the same."

"Huh?"

"I mean maybe he's changed!  When Harry talked with you before and told you about why he let Severus become his mentor, didn't you hear a word he said? About the way Snape cared for him and helped him? The kid was on the verge of a mental breakdown and Severus snapped him out of it.  He nearly got sacked to protect Harry from Umbridge.  He saved Harry's life twice.  Now, does that sound like an unsuitable guardian to you? Like someone who doesn't care about the welfare of his ward?"

Sirius grimaced.  "No, but . . ."

"But what? That's not enough for you?" Remus demanded sharply.  "Maybe Snape ought to offer himself as a sacrifice to the bloody Dark Lord to prove that he really has Harry's best interests at heart?"

"That's a start."

"Oh, for Merlin's sake, Sirius! Get your head out of your arse!" snapped the werewolf.  "Why don't you admit what's really bothering you?"

"Why don't you tell me, Healer Lupin?"

"Fine. You are jealous.  Jealous that Harry found someone besides you to love."

"Harry does not love Snape! He can't!" Sirius cried, horror etching his features.

"Why not? Seems perfectly logical to me.  Severus has been looking out for him for months, helping him face his fears and everything.  Why shouldn't Harry feel grateful and love him for that?"

"Because he doesn't need the greasy bastard when he's got me!"

"Ah.  There, I'm right.  You're jealous.  Yes, Harry does have you, but you weren't available for him and Severus was."

"And because of that he stole away my godson!"

"Sirius, listen to yourself.  You're acting like Harry's a favorite broom or a pet that Severus snatched from you.  He's not.  He's a person, and he has his own mind and his own ideas and you should respect that.  He has the right to choose for himself who is suitable or unsuitable to be friends with.  He's fifteen, Sirius, not five.  Do you remember what you were like at that age? How much you hated your mother telling you who to associate with and how to act?"

"Yes."

"Well, you told Harry that very same thing.  And he told you off good, didn't he?"

"Damn insolent little brat!"

"But he was right.  You might be his godfather, Siri, but you don't have that authority.  I don't think even Snape has that authority, mentor and guardian or not." Remus cleared his throat, then continued.  "We had a nice little chat downstairs ourselves, and Harry made me think about a lot of things that I hadn't thought about in a long time.  Like the way we used to bully Severus and how it became like a habit, a bad one, and it was something that we should have stopped doing, or that a teacher should have stopped us from doing, but no one did, and then it got out of hand with the Shrieking Shack incident.  It was odd, but I've had that in the back of my mind for years, and yet I never really thought about how wrong it was until Harry pointed it out to me again.  He said that a bully might forget how many times he hurt someone, but the victim never forgets."

"Snivellus would never forget anyhow, he's got a memory like an elephant."

"But Harry can relate to that, Sirius.  Because he was a victim too, by his cousin and his aunt and uncle." Remus reminded.

Sirius bared his teeth, his dark eyes glittering with suppressed rage.  "Those damn Muggles.  Somebody should go over there and hex them good! Treating my godson that way!"

"That's interesting, Sirius.  Because, as Harry reminded me, we behaved the same way to Severus as those damn Muggles did to Harry.  So maybe someone should come and hex us good as well, hmmm?"

Sirius blinked.  Clearly he'd never considered his behavior in that light before.  "But, Moony . . .that was different."

"Was it? Or is that how you seek to justify it? Sirius, that night in the Shrieking Shack, you went too far.  You nearly got him killed.  And me too.  You know it and I know it.  James did too, that was why he stepped in before Severus confronted me and I bit him or killed him.  My best friend nearly turned me into a murdering beast."

"It was a prank."

"Not a very funny one.  It was wicked and cruel and I'm not surprised Snape hates you and won't forgive you.  You've never given him a reason not to."

"I don't need his forgiveness!"

"But you should apologize to him, Sirius.  And at least try and tolerate him.  For Harry."

Sirius ground his teeth together.  "Harry never should have chosen a Slytherin for a guardian."

"That's a moot point now.  You know, Harry asked me a good question tonight.  He asked me why can't we let the bloody feud die?  I've been thinking about that tonight.  And my answer is we can let it die . . .as long as we're willing to admit our mistakes and apologize to those we wronged and move on."

"You can go ahead and apologize to the bat if you want, Moony." Sirius began.

"But not you? Sirius, you bonehead! When will you quit behaving like a child? You're thirty-five! I noticed something about Harry tonight . . .he's grown up a lot since we saw him over the summer.  And I think that a lot of that has to do with Snape.  He finally found someone who understands him best and who he can trust. And how to make decisions on his own and live with the consequences." Remus said quietly.  "Now, don't you think it's high time you grew up as well, my friend?"

Sirius did not reply, he was sitting and staring into the glass of half-finished brandy.

Remus sighed and patted Sirius on the shoulder. "Think about it, okay? And remember, Harry's heart is big enough for the both of you. So don't be afraid to share, Sirius.  After all, as my mum used to say-you get what you give."

"Humph! I love my godson and all he gives me is grief!"

"Ah, well he's a teenager.  They all do that. Think on it, Padfoot."

The werewolf left the study, going back downstairs to get a drink and the book he had been reading.  He didn't trust Kreacher to bring him anything unless Sirius ordered it.  He hoped that his little discussion had caused Sirius to stop reacting like an emotional teenager and start thinking about what he had done, both past and present, and regretting his actions.  The Animagus was a good man, if stubborn and argumentative and impulsive.  And he had a bit of the Black arrogance as well, though he would never admit it. It was what made it so difficult for Sirius to apologize, for that would mean admitting he was wrong, and the Blacks hated to be wrong about anything.

Still, one could always hope, Remus reflected, pouring himself a glass of chilled wildberry cordial and drinking it down.  He had done all he could do, the Quaffle was in Sirius's hands now and it would be up to him if he scored with it. Remus sincerely hoped he would.

 

* * * * * * *

 Back in the study, Sirius drank the rest of the brandy in his glass, then poured himself another.  But then he just sat there, with the drink in his hand, staring at the fire, recalling what Remus and Harry had told him, and for the first time, really thinking about what he had done that long ago night.  He had always prided himself on the fact that he was nothing like the rest of his arrogant pureblood family, after all he had been Sorted into Gryffindor and not Slytherin.  But now . . .for the first time he wondered if Remus was right, and he was more like his family than he ever thought?

* * * * * *

Nearly two weeks later:

Ironically, Harry had just finished taking his Defense Against the Dark Arts written examination when he received an owl from Sirius requesting that he come to Grimmauld Place, that he wished to speak with both him and Severus.  Harry's heart began to pound.  He had not heard from Sirius since that night of the Order meeting, and had feared that Remus had failed to convince Sirius to get over his prejudice and accept Harry's choice of guardian.  But now, perhaps . . .he ran all the way down to Severus's private lab, where he knew his mentor was brewing batches of Wound Repair potion for the Hospital Wing, as he did at the end of term every summer.

"Severus, did you get a letter from-" Harry began.

"Black? Yes, I did." Severus looked up from the cauldron he was stirring.  "You also, I presume?"

Harry waved it.  "I had just finished my exam when the owl came."

"How do you think you did on your exam?"

"I think I did fine.  Defense is one of my best subjects, you know." Harry said confidently.  "I have the practical part of the OWL this afternoon.  I was wondering, could you review a bit with me, if you have time, that is?"

"Yes, I am almost done with my brewing.  You have three hours inbetween exams, that should be plenty of time for us to review."

"Good.  What about Sirius? Are you going to go and see him?"

"I . . .have not decided yet," Severus said honestly. 

"I think I ought to go and at least see what he has to say," Harry said.  "Maybe he's changed his mind."

"How magnanimous of him," sneered his mentor. Then he softened slightly.  "Does it really matter that much to you, fledgling?"

Harry met his eyes.  "Yes, Sev.  I don't want to feel like I'm walking into a war zone every time you two get together.  I just want . . .both of you to . . .tolerate each other."

"Very well.  I shall see what the m-Black has to say.  And if he draws his wand, I will only disarm him." Severus agreed reluctantly.  "I will never be able to call him a friend, but I will work with him to bring down His Darkness."

"That's good enough for me," Harry said, giving his mentor a small smile.  "Do you need help finishing up here?"

"As a matter of fact, apprentice, I do.  Go and stir cauldron number six ten times counter clockwise."

"Yes, sir," his apprentice said, and moved to do as his mentor had instructed.  He just prayed all would go well at Grimmauld Place.  He was more worried about that than he was his DADA OWL.

* * * * * *

After reviewing some of the more basic defense spells with Severus, Harry felt much more confident and went to his exam without butterflies threatening to become dragonflies and burst out of his abdomen. 

To his surprise, his examiner was Order member Kingsley Shacklebolt.  "Well then, Mr. Potter, shall we see what you know of Defense?" the big black man asked.

"Yes, sir." He drew his wand.

Kingsley fired off a Stinging Hex, but Harry countered it with a Shield Charm.

"Good reactions, Mr. Potter.  But what if I do this?" Shacklebolt pointed his wand and went to cast the Body Bind spell.

But Harry, recognizing that spell, quickly blurted out, "Expelliarmus!"

Shacklebolt's wand was knocked form his grasp.  The big Auror's eyes twinkled as he said, "Excellent, Mr. Potter.  Full marks.  Last question, Mr. Potter.  What would you do if I cast the Killing Curse?"

Harry paused for a bit before answering, "I'd run away and hope you couldn't catch me, sir."

Kingsley chuckled.  "Very good solution.  When faced with overwhelming odds, the smartest solution is a strategic retreat.  See that you remember that when we keep our appointment at the Ministry."

"I will, sir."

"Good job! Your exam is concluded, Mr. Potter."

Harry left the room feeling very good about himself,  and saw Ron and Hermione waiting for him. 

"Well, mate, how did it go?" Ron asked.

"Good.  I'm sure I passed.  You?"

"I think I did okay. Least I didn't get knocked out like Neville did."

"Say what?"

"When Shacklebolt cast the Body Bind on him, Neville got caught and fell down and hit his head and got knocked out," Hermione explained.  "Kingsley had to revive him.  Poor Neville! He has the most rotten luck."

"Yes.  Look, I need to get going.  I'm supposed to meet Professor Snape and go to Grimmauld Place with him to talk with Snuffles."

Ron and Hermione's eyes grew wide.  "You mean, Snape and him are going to be in the same room together?" Ron squeaked. 

"Well, yes, because Snuffles wants to talk to him."

"Uh, Harry?" Hermione said softly.  "If I were you, I'd bring along a hose."

"A hose?"

"Yes. To separate them before they kill each other."

Harry groaned.  "Hermione, they're not going to fight."

"Says who? They're like a cat and a dog. Natural enemies," Ron put in. 

"Good luck, Harry," Hermione said.  "I think you're going to need it."

"Thanks.  But hopefully you're wrong."

"If we're not, we'll be sure to send flowers for the funeral," Ron joked.

Harry pretended not to hear that, though a part of him wondered just whose funeral Ron was referring to. 

* * * * * * *

Sirius was close to pacing before the fire in the den flared green and spat out a rather mussed Harry Potter.  Harry dusted himself off and gave Sirius a sheepish look.  "I, uh, really never got the hang of Floo powder.  Don't get to practice much at home."  He stepped away from the hearth to allow Severus to come through.

"A fact which we shall have to remedy ths summer," said his mentor, as he came through gracefully, like a cat running between raindrops, somehow managing to avoid all but a few specks of soot, unlike his apprentice, who came out of the Floo looking like a chimney sweep. 

For a moment, Sirius scowled at the reference that Harry would be staying with Snape for the summer.  How could the kid want to stay with the snarky bat of the dungeons? Stop that! You promised Remus you'd be . . .civil, the Animagus scolded himself.  He drew in a deep breath, striving to look casual, as if he invited his godson and his worst rival to his home every day.

He pulled his hands from the pockets of his trousers and gestured at the couch behind him.  "Have a seat, if you don't mind?"

Harry took a seat, but Snape remained standing.

Sirius started to bristle, thinking that Snape was refusing his hospitality, but then he saw the way the professor was standing-warily as if expecting an attack.  He doesn't trust me.  Fair enough, I'd not trust me either were I in his place.

He opened his mouth, but before he could get a word out, Snape spoke, his words crisp and clipped.  "Why have you called us here, Black? I am assuming it is not to have tea and scones."

"No.  I . . .er . . .have been doing some thinking about . . .what we discussed last time, Harry," Sirius began awkwardly, feeling as if his tongue had suddenly swelled up two sizes.  Damn, but this was harder than he thought. He directed his gaze to the fifteen-year-old, sensing that he would be the more receptive of the pair. 

Harry eyed him warily, much to his surprise.  "And?" was all he said.

You're not making this easy, kid.  Damn it all, but I hate apologies! All right, just get it over with, why don't you? He chastised himself mentally.  He cleared his throat then said, "And . . .I realized that . . .I was unfair to you, Harry.  You were right . . .I was comparing you to James and expecting you to be like him . . .and I got upset when you didn't agree with me about . . .your professor." A barely disgused snort came from behind him, and Sirius stiffened. Keep your pants on, Snape, your turn's next. He brushed a lock of hair away from his eyes and continued.  "I thought a lot about what you said . . .and I . . .I'm sorry I lost my temper and said your father would be ashamed of you.  He wouldn't.  He'd be ashamed of me, for acting like an idiot, and trying to tell you what to do.  You're old enough to make your own decisions about who you want to . . .live with.  And apprentice with.  And if you want to have Snape as your mentor, I . . .can deal with that."

"Good.  Because that wouldn't change, Sirius." Harry said evenly.  "Thank you for understanding."

"Right." Sirius drew in another breath.  Hard as that was, he felt better now that he had gotten that burden off his chest.  Perhaps this apology thing wasn't as overrated as he had thought.  "And I . . .just want you to know, Harry, that you're welcome here any time.  You don't need an invitation."

"I know," his godson said, and gave the other wizard one of his quiet smiles.  "Maybe someday I'll take you up on that offer." Then the boy's gaze hardened.  "But just one thing, Sirius.  This time, I'll forgive you for what you said about me and Severus.  But go off on me again like that, and I'll be gone quick as that." He snapped his fingers for emphasis.  "I'd like to spend more time with you, but not if you're going to badmouth my guardian and treat me like a five-year-old. Let's agree to disagree on certain topics and not bring them up.  You might not like the choices I made, but learn to deal with it.  Agreed?"

"Agreed." Sirius was relieved that Harry was willing to compromise a bit and that he forgave him for his temper.  Mostly. Then he turned to Severus.  "I called you here for more than to just witness my apology to Harry.  I . . .owe you one too, Snape."

"Don't fall all over yourself with remorse, Black," drawled Severus sarcastically, unable to help himself. 

Sirius stiffened.  "Look, Snape . . .this isn't easy for me . . ."

"Do tell.  It isn't easy for me to stand here and not hex you to bits and pieces, yet I manage to do so."

"Bloody brilliant, you-" Sirius broke off mid-sentence.  "Will you just shut your damn mouth and let me apologize, okay? I never liked you, Snape, and the feeling was mutual.  But I never should have done what I did to you.  I was out of line, I treated you worse than dirt because you were a Slytherin and for no other reason.  That was wrong.  I never should have lured you into the Shrieking Shack, it was a stupid, immature, irresponsisble thing to do and I really have no excuse for it.  It never should have happened, and . . .I apologize.  Will you forgive me?"

Severus fought to keep from gaping.  When Black had summoned them here, he had expected the Animagus to apologize to his godson, Black really did care for Harry, and probably felt badly they had parted on such a sour note.  But this . . . apology to him was . . .unexpected to say the least.  Downright shocking if he was being totally honest.  But it wasn't a dream.  Black had actually said he was wrong and apologized. 

Severus looked right at the other wizard, trying to see if Black really meant what he said or was he just putting on a show to get back in Harry's good graces.  But Sirius did not look away, meeting his eyes squarely.  He was not lying. It was not a trick. Ha! Finally, a Marauder who actually feels remorse for a Slytherin.  It's a bloody miracle.   His lips tightened as he considered Black's question.  Could he bring himself to forgive Sirius? Forgive the one who had been his chief tormentor, the man who had made his schooldays a living hell, who had almost caused his death?

There were years of anguish and pain within him that the man standing opposite him had caused, him and Potter and Pettigrew and even Lupin.  Was he just supposed to forget it had ever happened? No.  I can never forget.  To forget would be to absolve them of their responsibility.  But . . .what is done is done.  You cannot change the past, Severus.  And it does no good to wallow in it either.  He slid his eyes sideways, peering at Harry, who was giving him a hopeful look. Bloody hell, fledgling, don't look like THAT.  Those eyes . . .so like your mother's . . .I could never refuse her anything . . .anymore than I can . . .her son.  Dammit, Snape, where's your backbone? How can you be an effective guardian when one look can make you into a sentimental puddle of goo? I agreed to tolerate the bastard, I never agreed to forgive him.  Green eyes met obsidian.  Ah . . .Merlin help me! I can't believe I'm doing this.  I'm insane, I'm losing my edge, I need to be committed . . .Harry, blast it, stop looking at me that way! Fine! Anything to wipe that pathetic expression off of your face.  I'm going to regret this, I just know it . . .

"The last thing you deserve, Black, is my forgiveness.  However, discord is bad among allies, and so I shall . . .accept your apology.  It is more than I expected." Severus said through clenched teeth.  "After I do this, that is."

Before Harry could protest or Sirius move, Severus had drawn back his fist and snapped a lightning quick punch to Sirius's face.  He pulled his blow at the last instant, so he did not kill, but there was a sharp crunching of snapped cartilage and Sirius gasped and yelped, falling backwards onto the floor in an undignified heap. He put a hand to his face, his nose was streaming blood, and cried, "I think you broke my nose, Snape!"

"I did.  Now I can forgive you.  But I will never forget.  See that you don't either.  I will tolerate you for the sake of my apprentice, but only just."

"Severus!" Harry cried. "You said you wouldn't hurt him." He gave Sirius a handkerchief to staunch the bleeding.

"I said I wouldn't curse him," the professor corrected.  "I never said anything about a right hook to his nose. Which he has earned ten times over." He scowled down at his former tormentor unsympathetically.  "Were I truly the Death Eater you paint me, I would be breaking more than just your nose, Black.  Thank your godson for small mercies." He turned to Harry.  "When you are finished helping him, meet me back at my quarters and we can review for your next OWL." 

Then he spun away, his black cloaking billowing, muttered the password and Floo-ed back to his quarters, leaving Harry to tend Sirius, who was swearing colorfully as Harry tilted his head back and applied pressure to stop the bleeding.

"Quit moving! You'll make it worse," Harry ordered.

"It hurts, damn it!" Sirius growled.  "Next time I see the bloody git, I'm hexing his hand off."

"You did deserve it."

"Aw, shut up, Harry."

Harry did, conjuring a cloth filled with ice a moment later and putting that on Sirius's nose. 

Though he hated to admit it, Harry was right.  He had been lucky Snape hadn't broken his jaw as well as his nose.  The man had better control than he would have given him credit for.  Or perhaps he simply wanted to set a good example for his ward. 

Harry managed to numb the worst of the pain and swelling with the ice pack, and then  fixed the other's nose with a quick Bone Mend Charm, the same charm that Lockhart had tried to cast on him second year and failed miserably at.  Harry had learned the charm from Severus and wished he had known it back then. 

"How's that?"

"Much better.  You're a fair hand at healing charms.  Like your mum.  She was the best in our year.  And your dad was an ace with Transfiguration.  He was the one who taught Peter and I how to find our Animagus forms, so we could go with Moony on the nights of the full moon."

"How could you let him out of the Shack? From what he told me, he was insane until he fed."

"Well, your dad would make him chase him into the forest, with me behind him and Wormtail riding on my back, and once we were in the forest, Moony usually found something to hunt and once he'd eaten, he calmed down and recognized us a bit, enough so he wouldn't attack or bite us.  Then we would chase each other or run through Hogsmeade and scare all the naughty little kids still not in bed that happened to be looking out their windows."

"Sirius . . .that's like . . .utterly insane! You all could have gotten killed."

"We didn't think about that.  We just . . .thought about how fun it was to be roaming around after curfew, transformed, it was like a rush . . .Looking back on it now, I guess we were pretty dumb.  And if we'd been caught, there would have been holy hell to pay.  But we never were."

"You were so lucky it's not even funny.  And Severus thinks me and my friends are bad," Harry snorted. 

"I dunno, kid.  Fighting a crazy dark wizard and a basilisk seem pretty risky to me."

"True, but Sirius, I had to fight them or they would have killed me and other people.  It was self defense.  I didn't do it for a lark.  Severus says I shouldn't have had to do it at all, but it's done now."

"Well, when we go to the Ministry, kid, you keep your head down once the fighting starts, you hear? Don't do anything stupid, because if you get killed, Harry James Potter, Severus and I will come through the Veil and take turns walloping your sorry arse.  Got me?" Sirius waved a finger in front of his face.

"I'll be fine, Sirius. Don't get your shorts in a knot."

"Do you talk this way to Snape?"

"What way?"

"Like a cheeky brat?"

"Umm . . .sometimes."

"C'mere, you!" Sirius mock-growled, and before Harry could move he pulled the younger wizard into a headlock and tickled him till he begged for mercy. "There, that ought to teach you respect for your godfather."

Harry snickered, then squirmed from his grip. "That was cruel. You didn't even warn me.  I nearly wet myself."

Sirius laughed.  "All's fair in love and war, kid." He clapped Harry on the back. "Take care of yourself, Harry.  I mean it."

"I will.  And you too.  Watch your back."

"Always." He glanced at his watch. "Guess you'd better get back to school, before Snape shreds you for being late. I'll see you soon, in about three days, since that's when Snape thinks Old Snake Face will make his move." He gave Harry a brief hug, then released him, as if embarrassed at displaying so much emotion.

"See you, Sirius," Harry waved, then Flooed back to school.

* * * * * *

But not even a master spy can predict the comings and goings of a mad wizard accurately.  For reasons known only to himself, Voldemort chose to send some of his inner circle to the Department of Mysteries a day earlier than anticipated.  The first anyone knew of it was when Harry developed a splitting headache during his History of Magic OWL.

He nearly fell out of his chair, it was so bad.  Hermione noticed first and informed the proctor, who was Professor Vector.  "Professor, I think he's having a migraine."

Vector peered over at Harry who was a shade of white tinged with green that looked terribly unhealthy.  "Hospital Wing, Potter.  Miss Granger, escort him, if you would. Then you may return and finish your exam."

"Oh, but I'm finished already." Hermione said quietly.  "Come, Harry.  Can you walk?"

She helped Harry to his feet, he managed to walk out the door before he slumped against the wall.  His eyes were shut tightly, though not from pain.  A vision formed inside his head.  Suddenly his eyes popped open. "Death Eaters at the Ministry!" he exclaimed.

"How do you know that?"

"Saw it.  Hermione, get Professor Snape! Hurry!"

"Snape, but why not McGonagall?"

"Just do it! Bring him here, tell him I need a potion for a migraine and what I just said.  Run!" He cradled his throbbing head in his hands, spots were dancing before his eyes, but when he shut them he could see, in vivid color, Death Eaters standing before Voldemort, and him bidding them to infiltrate the Ministry. 

"The prophecy! I must have it now! Clear the way for me, my loyal ones. I shall follow as soon as you have secured the area.  Now . . .go!"

A combination of anticipation and sadistic glee infused Harry all at once and he groaned as pain stabbed the back of his eyeballs. He tried to Occlude, whimpering as the pain built.  Surely this time his head was about to burst.

He felt himself sway, then he was falling, only to be caught by a pair of familiar arms.

"Easy there. Hitting your head against a stone floor will not help your migraine go away," Severus remarked dryly, pulling Harry against him and lowering the boy gently to a sitting position.

"Ah . . .think I'm gonna be sick . . ." Harry warned.

Then he was, humiliatingly so, all over the floor.

Strong hands held him until the spasm passed. Then felt himself leaned back against something soft yet firm and a cup held to his lips. "Swallow."

"No . . ."

"Swallow.  Now, Harry."

He knew that voice.  Severus.  He obeyed and swallowed the minty flavored potion.

Once it hit his stomach, he felt vastly better.  He slowly opened his eyes.  The light was too bright, it hurt, and he quickly shut them again.  A second vial was placed against his lips.  "Now this one.  Open." He did and recognized it for a Severe Headache Remedy.

Once he had taken that, he could open his eyes, and he did.  He was leaning against Severus's shoulder, and Severus was holding him . . .on his lap . . .he realized with a blush of shame.  But when he started to move, Severus tightened his arm about him and said sternly, "You are staying right here, Mr. Potter, until that Headache Remedy has a chance to work fully. Here.  Drink some more Stomach Soother."

Harry tried to protest that he didn't need anymore, but Severus was adamant. He reluctantly took the potion.  "Severus, did Hermione tell you what I Saw? He's sending Death Eaters to the Ministry to secure the Department of Mysteries so he can get the prophecy. We've got to stop them!"

"Relax.  Are you certain this is what you saw?"

"Yes! But we've got to hurry!"

"All right.  I believe you.  That connection you share with His Darkness can be useful at times." He looked down at his ward, who was pale and sweating, hs hair mussed, green eyes bright with urgency and embarrassment. "Will you be all right to accompany us?"

"Of course. I'm feeling a lot better now.  Sorry I . . .uh . . .puked all over."

"I expect that with a migraine.  You have no need to apologize." Severus reassured, waving his wand and Scourgifying the mess before helping Harry to his feet.   "Come.  We shall use the fireplace in the Headmistress's office to contact those who were to accompany us to the Ministry.  Time is of the essence.

Then, keeping a hand lightly on Harry's back, Severus led Harry up the staircase to the office.  Their plan to outwit a Dark Lord was now in play.




 





Chapter End Notes:




Well, some of your questions were answered, weren't they?

Hope you all liked and thanks for all the reviews!

Next: Will the Order's trap to snare Voldemort succeed? Find out next time!

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