DISCLAIMER:  I don't own any of these characters.  They all belong to J.K. Rowling.  I'm only borrowing them for my own writing pleasure.

A/N:  I hope you all enjoy this story because it's going to be a long one.  The rating may go up for possible situations and language down the road.

CHAPTER ONE:  With Heroism Comes Loneliness

          The sun had all but set over Hersham, casting a semi-dark glow over the land.  Seventeen-year old Harry Potter took it as a sign that he should have headed in for dinner an hour or two ago, but instead had opted to remain outside in the vast backyard of his godfather's house.  He sat alone on top of the picnic table that had come with the house when Sirius had purchased it a month back.

        He was still getting used to the idea of Sirius Black being a free man – and he was sure he was not the only one.  That was why Sirius had chosen this place in the muggle community of Hersham, Surrey.  He wanted to keep away from the prying eyes of the wizarding world.  Very few people outside the ministry knew his current place of residence and Sirius planned to keep it that way.  There were still those who looked at him as if he were a guilty man, even after he had been cleared of the murder of Lily and James Potter.  With the help of Remus Lupin, the two had worked together to track down Peter Pettigrew and brought Lord Voldermort's servant to justice.  Pettigrew was now in Azkaban and Sirius had been given a full pardon by the ministry – as well as a pretty hefty sum of money.  Harry knew it was just because the ministry wanted to avoid a full-out embarrassing trial for the wrongful fifteen-year imprisonment of Sirius Black.  He often wished that his godfather had gone after the ministry.  After all, they had stolen more than a decade of his life.  But Sirius had insisted to him that he wanted to forget everything about Azkaban and to try and live out a normal life, and that would never happen if he engaged the court system in what would undoubtedly be a lengthy, drawn out battle.  And all for a few extra thousand galleons that would never get him back the time that he had lost.  He told Harry over and over that no amount of money was worth having to spend day in and day out in court reliving his experience at Azkaban.  Though Harry didn't agree in his decision not to take on the ministry, he accepted Sirius' choice nonetheless.  If anyone deserved a second chance at a happy life it was Sirius.

        He figured he wasn't doing much to add to Sirius' happiness at the moment.  Sirius was the only family he had (the Dursley's didn't count in his opinion) and he loved him very much, yet he found it hard to be around him.  He felt like he couldn't express how he was really feeling around him.  Sirius had already dealt with so much that he hated adding on the extra burden of his growing dread about his upcoming and final year at Hogwarts. 

There was only so much faking a cheery mood that Harry could do.  Sirius wasn't stupid though, he could tell there was something wrong, but he restrained himself from commenting on it thus far.

        It wasn't just Sirius he was worried about keeping up appearances for.  Ron and Hermione worried about him enough as it was without him telling them he knew the end was near.  That Lord Voldermort would pick this school year to strike, and there would be one final battle between good and evil fought.  How could he say all this to them with nothing to back it up but his own gut feeling?  Ron would tell him he was reading too much into some of the recent attacks on muggles.  Hermione would probably say he should talk to Sirius, or if it was bothering him that much to find a way to get in touch with Professor Dumbledore.  Though they were both logical suggestions (would there be any others coming from Hermione?) Harry wasn't ready to do either.  He didn't want to get everyone all worked up over some anxious feelings he was having.

        Ron and Hermione seemed to be a packaged deal these days.  He didn't much like the idea of telling them what was wrong and having both of them discussing his state of mind when he wasn't around – which they were probably already doing anyways. 

        Since the end of fifth year, when the two quarreling friends had finally put aside their pride and admitted their true feelings, things had been different.  He couldn't really blame either one of them because they had never done anything to make him feel like a third wheel.  The problem was he did feel like that, not all the time, but it was there – accompanied by something else.  Envy perhaps, topped off with a bit of loneliness.

What he should have felt was happiness for Ron and Hermione.  He should have been relieved that they had finally come to their senses.  But it wasn't always easy watching your two best friends fall in love, armed with the knowledge that you were likely doomed to spend your entire life alone.

        "You must be starving," said a voice from behind Harry.

        "I'm not really hungry.  I had a late lunch," he lied to Sirius.

        "Even if you were," Sirius said, joining him up on the picnic table, "there's not much left,"

        Harry felt a slight twinge of guilt.  "You guys didn't wait for me, did you?"

        To his surprise, Sirius actually laughed.  "I think Ron would have died of starvation if we had,"

        Harry chuckled.  "That sounds like him,"

        "Hermione wanted to, though," Sirius added.  "She thinks there's something going on with you,"

        Harry shrugged in a noncommittal way, but made no reply.  As of yet, his friends had refrained from commenting on his distant behaviour, but sooner or later they were going to demand he tell them what was bothering him.

        "Harry, I've tried not to push or intrude on your privacy," his godfather began, "but it's killing me to see you inflicting some sort of self-imposed exile on yourself.  I can't help you if you don't let me.  Neither can Ron or Hermione,"

        He hated it when people took it upon themselves to assume he needed help.  "I never asked for anyone's help,"

        "Is this about protecting other people?"  Harry's silence was all the answer Sirius needed.  "Damnit Harry," he swore, "we've talked about this.  Making yourself miserable isn't helping anyone, all it's doing is hurting the people you care about,"

        Harry detected the anger in his voice, and considered for a moment that Sirius was right, until he remembered why he was acting like this in the first place.

        "Voldermort will come for me at Hogwarts," Harry said darkly.  "I don't know when it's going to happen, but it will,"

        Sirius' entire attitude changed.  "Has your scar been hurting?"  He asked concerned.

        Harry shook his head.

        "Then maybe it's not him, Harry.  There's been no activity from him since school ended," he pointed out to his godson.  "You can't spend every day worrying about it, otherwise Voldermort's already won,"

        Harry wanted more than anything to believe him, but something in his voice made him doubt that his godfather was being completely honest with him.

        "You know something," Harry accused.

        "No, I don't,"

        "You're lying, Sirius,"

        The older man sighed.  "I've been in contact with Dumbledore recently," he began.  "I wrote him about how you've been acting and he seemed to think the same as you.  He thinks that because you and Voldermort are connected somehow it explains why you know the final battle is coming.  I didn't say anything," he continued seeing the look Harry was giving him, "because I was hoping you would come to me on your own and tell me what was going on, but I guess I got tired of watching you sulk around this place,"

        Harry was silent for a time, absorbing what Sirius had said.  "Did Dumbledore say what I should do?"

        Sirius' eyes softened.  "He knows telling you not to worry is pointless, so he just wants you to be careful and not take any unnecessary risks,"

        "Is that you talking or Dumbledore?"  Harry asked more sharply then he intended to.

        "Both of us," Sirius replied.  "For once, don't try and be the hero, Harry.  You're not ready to face him – not yet.  And so help me if you try and go after him yourself you're going to wish I was still in Azkaban,"

        He sounded so serious that he actually had Harry frightened for a moment.  Sirius didn't mention the wizard prison often, and Harry didn't need to ask to know that he wasn't joking. 

        "I know it doesn't mean very much with everything going on," said Sirius a moment later, "but this is your last year at Hogwarts, and if you don't take at least a bit of time to enjoy it you'll regret it.  Harry, seventh years rule the school.  You have to take advantage of that, trust me on that one.  Tell me what good is saving the world if you don't get to have a bit of fun out of it?"

        He was right, of course, even if Harry wouldn't admit it out loud.  There was no one better suited to lecture him about the importance of having a proper balance of fun.  Sirius had told him enough stories about the pranks he and the other Marauders had pulled during their school days.  Some were so bad Sirius had told him he'd have to wait until he was older because Lily would have murdered him for telling them.

        "I think I have some news that should cheer you up," Sirius told him.

        Harry regarded him with utmost curiousity.  There wasn't much that could lift his spirits these days.

        "Remus is coming back to teach,"

        Except for maybe that.

        "Really?  Professor Lupin is coming back?" Harry exclaimed, excited.  "But I thought after it got out that he was a werewolf that he would never be allowed to teach again,"

        "Dumbledore's already made up his mind.  He wants a Dark Arts teacher he can trust, and most importantly that the students trust,"

        Harry found only one flaw with the good news.  "What about Lucius Malfoy?  You know he'll find some way to prevent Professor Lupin from coming back,"

        "Don't you worry about the Malfoy's," Sirius said dismissively.  "Old Dumbledore already took care of that.  He told all the concerned parents that he has inside information from a trusted source that Voldermort may be planning an attack on the school and he needs the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher there is.  That was more than enough to convince most of them.  Malfoy's antics won't last if he's got no one to follow him,"

        "I'm Dumbledore's information source, aren't I?" Harry asked.

        Sirius nodded.  "He trusts your feelings even if he can't prove them,"

        If Albus Dumbledore trusted his instincts then he really hoped he wasn't getting everyone worked up for nothing.

        "If you wouldn't mind, Harry, would you be able to keep to yourself what I just told you?  Remus wanted it to be a surprise and he bet me ten galleons I would crack and tell you before the summer was over,"

        "My lips are sealed," Harry promised.

        "That's good to hear," said Sirius, jumping down off the picnic table.  "Now do you want to come in and see if Ron left you any scraps?"

        Harry doubted there would be anything worth eating left, but he followed Sirius inside regardless.  He had done enough brooding for one night.

As always, I appreciate any constructive criticism or comments.

I'm busy with exams right now but I wanted to get the first chapter posted.  I'll try to have chapter two up within the next couple of weeks – maybe even sooner.