Warning & Content: (this is all listed in the prior installment as well) Crude/adult language and themes. Graphic depictions of violence and torture, and major/minor character deaths, since we are set in the midst of a magical war and neither side has much chill.

A/N: This story is the sequel to the original story Red Sorrow, which spans from pre-PS through PoA. Do you need to read it to understand this story? I honestly don't know; it would probably be best if you did, but be warned it is LONG. Things may be a tad confusing if you haven't read the first part (it's 570k words and 82 chapters in total).

If you are an old reader, welcome back, and if you are new, hello! I will start of this note by saying that there is a lot in this story, but if you aren't a fan of Snape or Snily, you should probably click away at this point, lol. I do try and keep these characters as true to character as my ability allows, but obviously they are subject to growth/change, since we are operating in an AU.

I don't want to ramble, so all I can say is I hope you enjoy. X

Part II

"With you in my heart I can bear anything."

— Franz Kafka

It was like gazing down at a light at the bottom of a very deep well.

For a split second, they were very sure that was what it might be, and that the ground would let out from beneath their feet, neither of them aware of the other. The light was rushing up to meet them —

Everything went very still, and then they halted. The light was closer, and brighter, painting shadows on the walls like it was a puppetmaster and the shadows were its puppets. They were at the end of a long corridor, one that seemed endless, as if someone could get lost walking the length of it, even if it was straight and the end was easily seen. Around the edges of their vision, the darkness shimmered and swayed, like it was only a mirage, and the only real piece of the house was the shadow and the light spilling out from the open doorway.

"Where is Nagini?" a cold, high, familiar voice asked; the murkiness surrounding them dissolved at once, as though his voice had caused the scene to snap to attention.

"I suppose she has set out to explore the house, my Lord," another voice answered, laden with silk but with venom at the seams.

"Hm, yes," the first voice said, sounding mildly irritated by this. "I will have one of you milk her before you leave again. The journey has tired me greatly. It truly is a pity Wormtail is no longer at my disposal… I would have had him see to it instead."

"Bellatrix has been playing with her food," said the second voice, obvious that he found this to be very funny, "if that is any kind of consolation to you, my Lord."

There was a dry chuckle from the first voice, like scales rubbing against bare skin. "That is… enlightening."

"How so, my Lord?" The second voice sounded confused — like the puzzlement had been hiding underneath and now felt comfortable crawling out.

"Never mind it, my slippery friend," the first voice said, suddenly impatient. "Have you seen to what I've asked of you?"

"Yes, my Lord. It has been done."

"Were you met with any… obstacles?"

"No, it… went fairly smoothly." The second voice hesitated. "If you don't mind, my Lord, I am curious… how long do you intend to stay here?"

"A week… perhaps longer. It is fairly comfortable, and I am not yet at my full power. We will proceed once the Quidditch World Cup has transpired. With Ministry officials from around the world meddling… surveying… it would be foolish to act prematurely."

"I see." The second voice sounded content with this, like he was somehow relieved. "And after?"

"Patience, Lucius, patience," the first voice mused. "All will come in time, and then… the Potter children will be as good as mine."

For a long, tense moment, there was nothing but the crackle of the fire, and low, shrill, breath-like noises that sounded like they were coming from the man the cold, high voice belonged to. There was the strained creeeak of floorboards under someone's weight, and then —

"My Lord..." The second voice hesitated. "Do we require the both of them?"

"Do you doubt me, Lucius?" the first voice asked mockingly, but there was menace there, like a layer he could easily shed.

"Never, my Lord!" the second voice said vehemently, but it shook around the edges. "I just — you would only require one for the spell you wish to use, yes? Would it not be easier for you to use just one?"

"Don't you think I know that?" the first voice snapped. "I know the veins of this dark magic far better than you or anyone else can dream of comprehending! I want them both there — I will use Harry Potter for the spell itself — but the girl… it will be immensely satisfying for her to watch, I would like to think. I will know when the time comes."

"Then, the girl… she is… useless?"

"Not useless," the first voice said. "Useful."

"I don't understand. Will that not complicate things, my Lord? The girl is under as much protection as the boy is."

"My faithful servant… he will see to it. I am sure of it. He knows what lies at stake."

The second voice fell silent. The firelight grew, danced across the walls, like it was just as pleased with the first voice's plan as much as he was.

"What of the boy?" the first voice asked softly.

Before the second voice could reply, there was a hissing sound filling the air, sending goosebumps up and down their arms. Their eyes met —

"Nagini tells me there is an old Muggle man standing outside," the first voice said. "Invite him in Lucius, and let me show you what I plan to do to the Potters."

Severus' Mark was itching, and his daughter's light was on.

Normally, this would have irritated him greatly, since Ariel had the extraordinary talent of doing things that made him want to smash his head into the wall, but he couldn't ignore the timing between her bedroom lights flicking on and his Mark bothering him again. It had been doing that since the beginning of the summer holiday, when Severus thought he and Ariel could leave their troubles behind for a few months, but it seemed that the Dark Lord had other plans.

Severus gritted his teeth and threw his legs over the side of the bed, rolling up his sleeve. The Dark Mark had begun to darken — he'd felt it, sensed it in his bones and heart, like the Mark had reestablished a direct line to it. It was only affirmation that he was nothing more than the tattoo on his arm, but nevertheless, something was happening, and it was nothing good.

As the sound of footsteps pounded against the wooden floor, Severus quickly hid his Mark from sight and lifted his eyes. Ariel appeared in the doorway of his bedroom at Spinner's End, where they had lived together for the past thirteen — almost fourteen, now — years. She took up more of the frame than she had in summers past; she'd had a growth spurt towards the end of the year, her body more legs than anything else, like himself when he had been her age. She wouldn't be tall, but she'd reach a normal height by the time she was done growing. Auburn hair brushed across her shoulders, which she had decided to cut just after Christmas, the freckles around her nose scrunching together as she winced, dropping her hand.

"What is it?" Severus asked, already leaning over the side of the bed. If Ariel found him already being awake suspicious, she didn't say so aloud. Instead, she rubbed her forehead, right where her lightning bolt scar lay.

"My scars hurts," Ariel croaked, "like with Quirrell… and Tom. It's never done that before if he's not near."

It took Severus a moment to comprehend what she was insinuating. He felt a chill run down his spine and to the ends of his fingertips.

Ariel hurried over to him and grabbed his forearm — the one without the Mark. He noticed that she'd brought her wand as her eyes locked onto the windows behind the bed. He grabbed her wrist in response, pulling it down so that her wand was not pointing itself at any kind of target. The last thing he needed was Ministry owls tracking them here and word getting out that the Girl-Who-Lived was being held captive by Severus Snape, notorious Potions Master and Death Eater.

"The Dark Lord is nowhere near here." Severus placed both his hands on her shoulders. "It's impossible for him to even begin tracking your whereabouts."

"How do you know?" Ariel asked, her dark eyes searching his own. "I… I could… feel him."

"I have an arsenal of wards surrounding this house," Severus said softly, brushing his hand across her forehead and lingering over her scar. "We're undetectable, I promise you."

"But the scar… the dream…"

"Dream?" His eyebrows furrowed. "Tell me."

Ariel's mouth opened and closed several times before she looked away, her eyelids fluttering like she was straining to see something he couldn't. Severus studied her expression, trying to decipher the curve of her mouth and the confusion in her black eyes.

The last time Ariel had told him she'd dreamed of the Dark Lord, she had opened the Chamber of Secrets.

"Come," Severus said quietly, his heart, held together by the girl's own hands, shuddering.

She gripped his arm — the one with the Dark Mark — as he wrapped an arm securely around her shoulders. He sent a quick glance at the window, the early morning light trickling in like droplets.

(the Mark was darkening)

Severus flicked on the lights with his wand, leading them both down the narrow hallway and into the kitchen. Ariel leaned against the half-wall that separated the kitchen from the living room, her arms tucked securely under her armpits as Severus drew the curtains back from the window. He stood there dumbly for a moment, wracking his brain — tea seemed like a good idea. Ariel looked cold, but then again, she was always cold, like he was. They were both products of their environment, Severus supposed, the dungeons being what they were, and Spinner's End not exactly being the warmest either, even in summertime.

A few seconds later, the kettle was on, and Ariel was falling into a chair at their cramped table. She hadn't looked a mite this distressed since the night Black had come to confront Severus on what was going on between the girl and her brother. He didn't know which situation he preferred more — he supposed the former, since he could dispose of Black… no, he couldn't… not with his newfound fame…

He wanted to crush her pain — her fear — especially if she was trying to suppress it. Ariel was not the type of person who could bury things and continue to function like a normal fourteen-year-old girl. Her scar hadn't bothered her for a very long time, and Severus had taken that with a grain of salt. The Dark Lord had been quiet for nearly a year now. It had been a false lull — Severus had anticipated it, had known something was brewing when his Mark had begun to itch, and day by day, it had darkened.

The kettle shrieking jolted Severus' out of his thoughts. He quickly summoned two teacups, setting them down on the decrepit table behind him.

Ariel didn't move — she simply glared down at her hands, her fingers curling inwards towards her palms.

Severus curled his hand over her shoulder. "What is it? Does your scar still hurt?"

She blinked, jolting herself out of whatever state she was in. "What? No… no, it's fine now."

He pushed the teacup towards her as he took a seat beside her. Ariel picked it up, blowing away the steam before taking a small sip. Severus could feel his mind tugging, trying to formulate something that would banish the anxious expression of her face, but the Dark Mark awakening him had unnerved him just as much.

A direct line to the both of you, Conscience breathed, and Severus wanted to smash it underneath his heel.

"I'm sorry." Ariel muttered, looking away as she fumbled with the teacup. "I just… heard his voice and all I can think of is the Chamber. It's the first time I've heard him since then."

we mustn't touch what isn't ours —

"You don't need to apologize." Severus focused on the burn in his hands as he wrapped them around the cup.

"I woke you up and now I'm scaring you."

"I was already awake," Severus rolled his eyes. "and you're not scaring me — what am I? A first year Hufflepuff?"

"Close enough." Ariel gave a mischievous smirk.

He growled. "You're lucky I'm still half asleep."

She bit her lip and looked away, her face falling as she spotted yesterday's Daily Prophet on the counter. The cover read: "Sirius Black Makes First Public Appearance Since Exoneration".

"I want you to tell me everything, Ariel." Severus set down his cup. He didn't know why he'd made enough for two; he wasn't going to be able to force anything down with his daughter's haunted face beside him. "You Occluded before you fell asleep, yes?"

"Of course." Ariel's eyes flickered back to him — he noticed that they lingered on the Prophet.

"You're certain?"

"Yes." She swallowed and nodded jerkily. "It's… it's all a mess. There was a dark room in a house… Voldemort was there, with others…"

"Others?" Severus asked sharply. "Who? What others?"

"I don't know," she said, staring at the tea cup like she wanted to crack it in two. "I swear one voice was Lucius… but that wouldn't make much sense, would it?"

His brow furrowed. There hadn't been so much as a peep about the Dark Lord and his whereabouts since the Chamber… and with Pettigrew's trial stirring up the paranoia that had infected the wizarding world during the first war, it had been all the more important that they all stay in the shadows until the papers stopped printing about Peter fucking Pettigrew and their new martyr, Sirius motherfucking Black.

Although… all of the liberation-mania would have provided the perfect cover for one to slip away unnoticed. If Lucius had been talking to Bellatrix in Azkaban like Black had said all those months ago… she would have some idea… and he would have gone under her urges. Bellatrix could be very… persuasive. If she was somehow behind this… she would know how to keep Lucius' mouth shut while getting him to do what she wanted, and once the Dark Lord had him back under his thumb…

It had to be Lucius. No one else would make half as much sense - no one walking free, at least.

If Lucius was sneaking off to meet the Dark Lord, Severus was going to rip his heart out of his chest with his bare hands.

He was long overdue for a visit to Malfoy Manor.

"What were they saying?" Severus asked in a low voice.

"I don't remember everything." Ariel hung her head, glowering down at the teacup. "They were looking for something… or someone, I think, and then they were talking about Pettigrew. I think they were laughing about it…" Her hands tensed around the cup with so much force it began to tremble. "And then they started… Lucius asked about me and H-Harry — that part I definitely remember."

"Ariel," Severus eyed the cup warily — she was going to break it, and get scalding hot tea all over herself.

"Voldemort wants us for something… I don't know what." Her nails scraped against the china, her face as twisted as her words. "Something about… just Harry. He sounded like he was more interested in him, but the idea of the both of us wasn't unwelcome either."

Severus took the cup from her hands, and grabbed her chin. "He's not going to lay a hand on you — on either of you. Do you understand me? Perish the thought now."

"If the dream was real," Ariel said, ignoring him, her eyes burning into his, "then that means he's planning something again… like with Quirrell and the diary."

Severus pinched the bridge of his nose and inhaled deeply. Ariel's pessimism was a side effect of the boy's silence. "Did the Dark Lord see you? Did he make any kind of indication that either of you were there?"

"No, no, not at all." Ariel shook her head. "Although…"

His eyes snapped up to hers. "What?"

"There was an old Muggle man," she rasped. "He was watching from the door… I think… Voldemort killed him."

Her face splintered, for this man she did not know but had seen die. Severus wondered if it was the reality of his death, or the fact that same (presumable) curse had taken him, the way it had taken her mother and Potter.

"Is there anything else you can recall?" Severus murmured, taking her hand in his. "Any other details?"

"I don't think Voldemort had a body," Ariel said, the corners of her mouth quirking upwards. "But he didn't look like a flesh eating slug either."

Severus snorted softly before he hardened his expression. "You saw him?"

"I…" Her mouth set in a tight line. "I think I did, before he killed the Muggle, but it was so fast…"

"He was corporeal?"

"Yes, but he wasn't a man… he was… something else."

Severus suppressed the shudder that passed through him. "Anything else?"

"I saw Harry." Ariel said in a hollow voice, the spaces between her syllables like a stone skipping across a pond. "First time since school ended. A bit messed up, don't you think?"

He touched her cheek. Ariel smiled at him with her eyes.

"What does it mean?" she whispered, her hand fisting atop the table.

"I don't know," Severus admitted, the words heavy in his mouth. "I suppose… if you saw your brother, we'll have to validate that he had the same vision."

Ariel visibly tensed. "What do you mean 'we?'"

"I'll speak to Professor Dumbledore in the morning," Severus reassured her — any mention of the boy either turned Ariel into a stuttering mess or caused her to become temporarily mute. "He'll pay him and the mutts a visit."

"It already is morning," she pointed out. "Let's go now."

Severus blinked — Ariel stared back evenly, her face hard, with something soft floating underneath, like she was trying to take initiative, but was utterly terrified out of her mind. Fear wasn't it though… it was vulnerability, and the realization of what this could mean.

(if he told her about the Mark, she'd have her confirmation, like Severus did)

"You want to go and speak to Professor Dumbledore now?" Severus asked. "Ariel, it's barely six."

"You've always said he's usually up at five." Ariel quirked an eyebrow. "That, or he just never sleeps."

"His sleeping patterns are as ungodly as his wardrobes choices," Severus muttered. "And dietary habits."

"Well, I'm not going to be able to go back to bed." The circles under her eyes begged to differ, but he knew that she wouldn't either way. "And if I don't, then you won't, because you're paranoid that I'll do something I'm not supposed to while you try and sleep."

"It's not paranoia, it's the fact that you don't understand the meaning of quiet and how to do so while someone is resting. You make enough noise to wake the dead."

"That doesn't sound like me." Ariel said thoughtfully.

"Let's agree to disagree then." Severus rose, quickly summoning his cloak, and then Ariel's. He wrapped it securely around her shoulders as she stood, gazing up at him imploringly as she fumbled with the buttons.

"Dad," Ariel said quietly, looking up at him, "if Harry did have the same dream… what does that mean?"

His power is growing —

(do you swear your soul to me, Severus?)

He pulled her to him, and tucked her head under his chin.

"I'll keep you safe," Severus promised instead, and this was a promise he intended to keep.

Harry was trying to tell himself he definitely wasn't outside looking for Lord Voldemort, but there was a definite chance he might be.

The fear inside of him pulled deep, like an undertow. His scar had awoken him, burning like someone had taken a hot brand and seared it against his forehead. Dreaming about Voldemort, a familiar man with blonde hair and a snake killing Muggles was unusual enough, but unusual things were not uncommon for Harry to experience. It was the scar that bothered him the most — no good ever came out of it hurting. When his sister's dark eyes — which he had not seen since the end of the year feast — had met his in the dream, he'd known something wasn't right.

The crack of Apparition ripping through the wilderness nearly sent Harry running for his life. He grimaced, glaring at the grouping of bushes behind him, hiding the house from view. It was probably Remus, returning from wherever it was he'd gone earlier this morning, leaving Harry to watch helplessly as Sirius attempted to cook them both breakfast. Even if it had been edible (and it hadn't been — he'd burned the toast and oatmeal in record time), Harry didn't think he would have been able to force it down.

His stomach accompanied that thought with a deafening growl; Harry wouldn't have been surprised if it had been the reason for a flock of birds darting noisily in the canopy above instead of the Apparition. That was one of the big differences Harry had gotten used to, as opposed to last summer. There was always someone coming and going. A year ago, it had only been Harry, and even before then, no one had ever come to see him, except for —

He rubbed his scar, and tried to block out the dream — the dream with Voldemort, and a man who looked an awful lot like Lucius Malfoy, and his sister —

Harry sighed, squinting up at the light filtering through the treetops. Sometimes, if he was in the right frame of mind for it, he'd imagine himself shooting off the ground and catapulting into the sky. He'd wondered how far out the wilderness stretched. Sirius liked to say that they were in bumblefuck nowhere whenever Remus voiced caution to Harry going off by himself, but he didn't know just how true that really was. It was apparently impossible to actually pinpoint their location on a map — charms and wards the Black family had put in place centuries before made it virtually nonexistent to the outside world. Remus had gauged that they were somewhere south of Dalbeattie, Scotland.

Bumblefuck nowhere looked a lot like the same kind of trees and bushes — Remus had wanted to start his own garden at some point, he recalled, since they quite literally had an entire forest to use. Harry had offered to help, and Sirius had said he'd liked the idea of it, but not enough to put any manual effort into it.

It was the Black's cabin they were living in, although the name cabin didn't really fit — it was more like a small mansion in the middle of the woods. They'd come here for the summer holiday to avoid the story-hungry press after Pettigrew's trial and Sirius' overturned conviction. Somehow, Dumbledore and the Ministry had managed to keep it quiet for the first couple of weeks, but once the wrong person caught wind of it, the news had spread like wildfire. The morning after the news had broken out, Harry had received nearly fifty letters from journalists begging for an interview on his reaction — they'd been dumped on him in the middle of breakfast just after he'd been swarmed by the largest flock of owls he'd ever seen. One of them had gotten stuck in Hermione's hair.

Sirius had apparently inherited several properties, one in London that Dumbledore had voiced using originally, but Sirius had been adamant that they come here instead. When he'd asked why, Sirius had quickly deflected that it was so that Remus could have somewhere nearby to prowl during the full moons — there hadn't been a supply of Wolfsbane offered to him since school had ended, and Remus had resigned in order to help Sirius out with all of the legalities that were apparently needed when one was having a conviction overturned. Sirius had come to Hogwarts to see Harry as often as possible the remainder of the school year, but it had been nothing less than chaos with the buzz that surrounded Sirius' name now.

They'd thought everything might have calmed down by now, until Sirius had tried accompanying Harry to Diagon Alley. People had swarmed to them like moths to a flame — they'd barely made it out without being trampled. Everyone seemed to want to congratulate them on catching the Potters' real betrayer… wanted to offer their support and ask questions. Sirius didn't seem to want or care about any of it. They'd only moved aside once he'd started throwing Hexes, and Harry had insisted that they leave.

Remus had then decided that it would probably be best to lay low for the rest of the summer, and so any visitors came to them. Most days Ron and Hermione came, their days spent out by the lake that was a short walk from the cabin. They'd even set aside a room for Hermione for when they stayed the night. Sirius had offered Ron his own, but he'd insisted that rooming with Harry was more than alright. Harry had the sense that the enormity of the house made Ron uncomfortable for some reason.

(Sirius had set aside a room for his sister)

Harry didn't know how far away bumblefuck nowhere was from his sister and her dad, but he hoped there was at least an ocean between them.

He sighed, looking down at a bushel of cloves nestled beneath the trunk of a tree so high that Harry had to strain to see the top. They were very close to the color of his own eyes, which were his mum's. That thought had once brought a warmth to his chest he couldn't recreate with any other. Now, it made him feel numb, neither cold nor warm. Harry didn't feel anything at all when he thought of his parents.

(or his sister)

Remus had told him that if he'd been a girl, his name would've been Holly, like the color of his eyes. James had apparently wanted to coordinate their names at some point, but Lily had convinced him that if they did that with the two of them, they would have to do it with any future children they had, and she'd hated that idea. Remus said James had liked the name Alexander — it was what they were going to call his sister, if she'd been a boy —

It was hot, Harry thought, the heat sitting on the surface of his face like the thin film of a paper mask. He tried to focus on that, the feeling of the heat filling him up to the point where he could no longer think about anything but how uncomfortable he was.

With that thought in mind, Harry resolved that it was time to head back inside.

"Jesus, Harry," Sirius greeted him as he loped up to the back door, "I thought we'd have to send the dogs after you again."

He looked like a different person compared to the man Harry had met in the Forbidden Forest almost a year ago. There was a youthfulness to him again, like the one he'd seen in his mum and dad's wedding


photos. A healthy color filled in his cheeks, his hair shoulder length and healthy. He'd even shown the remarkable ability to tan well, which had certainly helped a great deal.

"Can you clone yourself, then?" Harry quipped, dodging Sirius as he tried to ruffle his already unruly hair.

"Not yet, but I'm working on it." He held the screen open as they both stepped inside.

"So that's what you're doing when you think I'm asleep."

"Can't pull one over on you, can I?"

The cabin — and Harry used that term loosely — seemed even bigger from the inside. It was old (Remus liked to joke that he was surprised the stove wasn't just a bunch of sticks and rocks) but magnificent, like it had been preserved through time and never once lost a single piece of its original grandeur. Whenever someone spoke, there was an echo that disappeared deep inside the house, lining the walls with its cadence.

Remus had made some more modern adjustments, like working electricity and such, while Mrs. Weasley had come to purge it of dust and other inhabitants — they'd found three Boggarts and a swarm of Wood Pixies inhabiting the first floor alone. It had taken them almost a week to make sure the house was magical-creature free, even with the help of Fred, George, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny. Sirius and Remus had set to Transfiguring the furniture into something that fit the century they were in. The first week had made Harry feel like he was living in a time capsule.

As he and Sirius entered the kitchen, Harry found Remus, just as he'd expected, unloading groceries onto the table. He did most of the shopping — and cooking, and cleaning, although Mrs. Weasley sometimes came by just to make sure things were up to her standards.

"Well, you're a sight for sore eyes," Sirius said, crossing his arms. "You missed breakfast."

"There was breakfast?" Remus raised a disbelieving eyebrow. "You attempted to cook?"

"He burnt the toast," said Harry, whose stomach gurgled at the thought of food. "He would've burnt the orange juice too, probably, if I hadn't poured it myself."

"It's called artistic experimentation." Sirius waved them both away. "Your palettes aren't developed enough to appreciate my style of cooking."

"Is that what you call it?" Remus smirked. "I thought it was just pyrokinetics."

"Oi, shut it," Sirius said, quickly wiping a leftover scrap of charred crumbs off the counter. "I tried, alright?"

"Whatever you say, breakfast burner."

That's Mr. Breakfast Burner to you." Sirius wagged a finger at him. "Who, by the way, wouldn't have made an appearance if you had been here to cook, like you usually do. Where'd you go?"

"I was in at Ministry," said Remus, setting down the paper bag, most likely filled with groceries, "until I was spotted. I should've gone under Polyjuice, but I was hopeful my furry little problem would put people off."

"The Ministry has groceries?" Sirius raised a skeptical eyebrow and he sifted through the bags.

"No, Muggle London does." Remus smacked his hand away. "And no touching — I won't have you putting things where they needn't be. Mind giving me a hand instead, Harry?"

"Sure." He hopped up from the stool and began unpacking them, smirking at what he found. "Had a feeling we'd be starving this morning, yeah?"

"I fed you!" Sirius protested, eyeing the brand new carton of eggs Harry placed on the counter mutinously. "What kind of godfather would I be if I didn't at least try?"

"It's the thought that counts, I suppose," Remus chuckled, summoning a frying pan from the one of the shelves above the counter. "However, Harry does need something that hasn't had all of the nourishment sucked out of it."

Sirius grumbled, falling into one the chairs at the counter as Harry snickered.

"I ran into Arthur Weasley at the Ministry," Remus said as Harry climbed up onto the counter to put away the jam jars, wobbling as he reached up. "He told me he and his brood all going to the Quidditch World Cup. He managed to snag some cheap tickets."

"Brilliant!" Harry grinned. "Do they have a tent too?"

"Arthur said he was going to borrow one from the Ministry."

"Can he do that?"

"Well, he's no Fudge, but I don't think the Ministry would notice one missing." Remus smiled, his amber eyes glimmering in the morning light.

"We're going to have to buy one," Sirius said, snagging an apple from the bag Remus had begun unpacking. "That'll be a two-hour affair — three at most, if every man, woman, and child flocks to see Sirius Black, Exoneration Extraordinaire and Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived."

"Better make that four," Remus chuckled. "Harry has yet to give Skeeter a word, and she's persistent."

"That's one way to call it." Sirius made a face. "She's a menace — how many owls has she sent you, Harry?"

"At least a hundred," Harry growled — he'd never met Skeeter himself, but he already disliked her greatly. "Ron kept a tally. I'll ask him later."

"You could always give her a word or two and put this two rest," Remus offered. Sirius rolled his eyes so hard that it was a wonder they didn't stick to the back of his head.

"Yeah, she can have a word," Harry muttered. "'Bugger off.'"

Sirius' face brightened. "I like the sound of that."

"Of course you do." Remus gave him a strongly disapproving look. "It's your bad influence talking."

He gave a look of mock offense, holding a hand over his heart. "Moi?"

Remus shook his head, doing an awful job at hiding a smirk. "Perhaps it's a good thing we're going to the Cup, then. It'll put you both in the public eye, but everyone will be so Quidditch-crazed that they'll likely not take so much notice this time."

"Let's just invite them all here for the lad's birthday and get it over with early." Sirius threw his hands up. "We could certainly fit everyone here."

"Well, speaking of guests," Remus paused, in that way that Harry knew he was suddenly trying to be cautious, "since your sister's birthday is so close as well…"

there's something I need to tell you —

Harry immediately stiffened — his brain clicked off.

"… Sirius and I thought she could… come here, for the day, so we could celebrate altogether," Remus said slowly, his amber eyes looking him over, like he was trying to defrost him with his stare. "With the Weasleys and Hermione too, of course, but we," he gave Sirius a look, like he was annoyed he hadn't said anything yet, "Would like to invite Ariel as well, since your birthdays are so close…"

no no no —

"What do you think of that?" Remus asked. He'd stopped moving — Sirius looked like he was tensed to bolt. Harry hated how they were both watching him, like they were expecting him to burst into tears. He wouldn't cry over this — he wouldn't react at all, because all he felt was anger and emptiness. It was an awful combination, because without one there was only the other, and it was never enough to make Harry feel like he was in control. He could lose himself so easily to the anger, or to the emptiness —

"I had a dream last night," Harry said instead of acknowledging him, "about Voldemort. My scar was hurting when I woke up."

Remus dropped the bread he was holding — Sirius nearly fell back in his chair, which he'd been rocking on.

"You — your scar?" Sirius frowned. "Harry, why didn't you tell me this when you woke up? You went all morning without saying a word of this to me."

Did Severus tell you that was the last time he spoke to Mum?

"I didn't want to worry you." Harry shrugged, his hands going numb.

That wasn't true

"Worry?" Sirius looked to Remus, his face utterly confused — Remus looked pained, and Harry didn't know why. "Harry, I'm your guardian now — it's my job to worry."

And nine months later I happened

Remus was staring at him like he knew what he was doing, but Harry couldn't think about his scar, or his sister, because that meant he had to —

"I just remembered Ron sent me an owl earlier," Harry said, flying around the table before Sirius could stop him.

He hurried around the first corner, relieved that he didn't hear any footfalls behind him. He didn't know what he'd do, if they'd followed — Harry knew they meant well, and they always knew not to push, but they kept bringing it up —

Was that a lack of tolerance, or the emptiness?

Harry didn't care to know.

Remus looked at Sirius.

Sirius looked back at Remus.

"Well, that was a bloody disaster," Sirius said, falling into a chair.

"I wouldn't call it a disaster," Remus offered meekly, but broke off when Sirius sent him a dark look.

"It was a solid plan," Sirius sighed, covering his mouth with his hand. "I really thought temporary starvation would keep him long enough."

"You expect me to believe that you consciously burnt your godson's breakfast?" Remus asked, even though he knew for a fact Sirius was terrible at plans.

"I expected it to work." Sirius rested his chin up his propped-up elbow, scowling at the floor.

"You can't trap him into talking about it, Padfoot," Remus tried to say gently, but it came out frustrated, which they both were.

He couldn't help but think he was to somehow blame for all of this. Remus knew Sirius certainly carried the brunt of the guilt, with missing twelve years in Azkaban for a crime he hadn't committed, only to be pulled away during a critical time in Harry's life they hadn't known had happened. Remus' life had turned into a ping-pong match between Hogwarts and the Ministry and his full moons. He'd almost been grateful for the distraction, at first, which had taken his mind off of the guilt of forgetting his Wolfsbane the night they had all caught Peter and nearly mauled his godchildren.

What Remus hadn't realized, however, was what Ariel had decided to tell Harry that James wasn't her father. No one had mentioned it to him, until he'd begun to notice that Ariel had ceased her visits to his office. Suspicious, Remus had gone to Snape, but he'd been met with his customary "fuck off and die", which had only been fueled by the fact that he'd nearly killed his daughter. Nevertheless, he'd gone to Harry, only to find that when Ariel's name was mentioned, the boy turned into a pillar of stone.

He'd been utterly gobsmacked by all of their behavior — he really hadn't had a clue what in Merlin's name was going on, until he'd tried to force both Harry and Ariel into the same room. He'd invited them both for tea separately, and when they'd shown up —

Ariel had avoided him like the plague after that. Remus could only begin to venture a guess that she periodically holed herself up in Snape's quarters as refuge. He'd gotten the gist of how Harry had taken the truth about Ariel's parentage when Remus had tried to force them together — it was not a wound easily healed.

And then they'd had to tell Sirius, but that was another matter entirely.

(he didn't like to dwell on that memory)

"I just wish he'd tell me how he felt," Sirius said in a defeated tone, averting his eyes to the abandoned groceries, like he wanted to rip apart the paper bags. "There's nothing from him about it, Remus. It's not normal."

Remus didn't know how to respond to that, so he didn't. It was certainly unusual — especially in Harry's case, because he knew for a fact that that boy had his mother's temper, and there had been absolutely nothing repressive about it. It was like he was channeling a different part of himself. Sirius had voiced that it was very much what James had used to do. He'd hidden and brooded in silence until someone had come to coax him out — usually Sirius was enough to break the trend. Harry, however, seemed to have the talent for acting as though Ariel and Snape did not exist. Remus couldn't tell if it was a coping mechanism, or just denial.

Both were cause for concern, really. Lily and James would be heartbroken, if they could see them now.

"So where were you really this morning?"Sirius asked, not missing a beat as he eyed the half-emptied groceries. "You were gone way too long to just be shopping."

Remus sighed, falling onto a stool. "You're a lot more perceptive than Lily ever you credit for, you know that?"

Sirius smirked. "She eventually realized that I was the smartest one in the group."

"Yeah, right after she started dating the giant squid, like she used to threaten to."

"Stop avoiding my question."

Remus leaned against the countertop, recalling his conversation this morning. He hadn't known what it had been, but he'd found himself needing Hogwarts, if only for a moment. In a place where he had formed so many friendships, it had seemed inconceivable that Harry and Ariel's relationship could end so abruptly. In some way, he'd needed to know it was still there, even after they'd left for the year. Albus had summoned himself shortly thereafter — Remus couldn't help but wonder if the timing had really been as coincidental as he'd made it sound.

"I went to see Albus," Remus said quietly.

"Albus?" Sirius' eyebrows hit his forehead. "About what?"

"Severus was there this morning," he said. "What Harry said about his scar… Ariel woke him up this morning to tell him the same exact thing. He was… concerned that Harry had too. She said she saw Harry in this dream… Voldemort was there."

"What happened, in this dream?" Sirius' eyes flickered in the direction Harry had disappeared off to.

"He didn't say," Remus shook his head. "He said he didn't want to speculate… but it is cause for concern. Apparently, Voldemort mentioned something starting after the World Cup."

"Fucking Christ — starting what?"

"It was very vague, from what Ariel told Albus."

"Is that why Harry didn't tell us, then?"

"I don't know, Padfoot," Remus said, exhaling loudly. "I really don't."

Sirius brought his hand to his forehead. "If they were together, they would've… Harry would've said something. I knew something was off this morning… he bolted out the door the first chance he got."

"You can't force him open."

"Why doesn't he talk to us?" Sirius asked, and there was an ache in his voice Remus knew all too well.

"He does," Remus said gently, taking the seat across from him. "It's just… it's not in the way you want him to."

"It's bad enough Ariel thinks… whatever Snivellus has —"

"Ariel is afraid of your reaction," Remus interrupted. "If she doesn't see you, then there's no way she can…"

He let his silence speak, in that space between what he really thought, and what Sirius had said.

A/N: Some time has passed, and obviously there's a lot here that is left unsaid.

Will it all be covered in the upcoming chapter? I honestly don't know; I do have more info on my tumblr, lupinlaughed, if you're interested enough (even then, I would take a look because I don't want to write a really long author's note so I've put most of my info there).

Until next week! X (reviews would also be awesome)