As Harry, Ron, and Hermoine entered the Great Hall for the Sorting Ceremony and Welcome Feast, the first thing they noticed is that there was a new teacher.   A woman was seated at the teachers' table, between Professor Flitwick and Professor McGonagall's empty chair.  The woman was engaged in deep discussion with the diminutive Charms instructor, who was animated and excited, nearly to the point of falling off his seat. 

The babble of voices died down as Professor McGonagall led the nervous first year students up the central aisle toward the sorting hat, which was perched, as usual, on a stool directly in front of the teachers.

Harry's mind wandered as the new students were sorted into their houses, reluctantly dragging his mind back to the present whenever the Gryffindor Table erupted into applause at the acquisition of each new house member.   For some reason, he had the strangest feeling about this term, and had been extremely nervous about returning to Hogwarts, more so than he had been even before his first year, when he had found out barely a month before the start of term that he was a wizard; but he wasn't sure if it was a good feeling or a bad feeling.   He was just certain that something highly unusual was going to happen – which in and of itself wasn't too unusual, considering his own history at Hogwarts – he just wished he knew what it was.  Was Voldemort going to return, and attempt to kill him again?  Would the dementors and the Ministry of Magic finally catch up to his godfather, Sirius?   Harry glanced up as the table again exploded into cheers and the last student to be sorted sat down, red-faced at the attention, at the Gryffindor table.   He caught sight of someone staring at him from the teachers' table.  Snape.  The look on his face as he glared at Harry was as loathsome as it had ever been. 

But Snape was not the only one whose gaze was fixed on Harry.   The new professor, the woman, was also looking in Harry's direction, with the most odd expression on her face.  She glanced over briefly at Professor Snape when she saw where Harry's attention was focused, and a small, rather amused, smile crossed her lips.   The sound of a knife being struck against a goblet centered the room's attention on the solitary figure rising to his feet at the center of the table.

"Welcome, students and teachers, to another year at Hogwarts."  Albus Dumbledore's voice carried to the far reaches of the hall, echoing off the walls and ceiling.  "I have one announcement to make this evening, before we begin the feast.  I would like to welcome a new instructor to our school; may I present, Rebekah Black."  The woman who had been speaking to Flitwick gracefully rose to her feet and bowed her head slightly to the students, smiling.  "Professor Black will be teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts, as well as Muggle Studies.  An interesting, if slightly unusual, combination, but her unique background makes her especially suited for both of these classes."  He beamed a smile in her direction.

"Thank you, Headmaster," Professor Black said as she returned to her seat.  The students stared at one another – she had an American accent.  She was a foreigner!

Hermoine was more surprised than the rest.  "Hogwarts has never had a foreign teacher before; they have always been from around here."

"How do you know that?" asked Ron, suspiciously.

Harry answered for her.  "She read it in Hogwarts, A History, isn't that right?"  Hermoine grinned in response. 

"Anyway," she continued, "I can't wait to find out her background.  Defense Against the Dark Arts and Muggle Studies?  What a combination.  I wonder if I can get back into Muggle Studies this term…"

Both Harry and Ron stared at her.  "You're not thinking about using that Time Turner again, are you?" Ron hissed.  "The workload nearly killed you last time!"

"No," she said, "I learned my lesson two years ago.   I'd hate to drop Arithmancy, though."

The subject of schedules was quickly forgotten as the students eagerly dove into the awaiting feast.  When they had all eaten their fill, Professor Dumbledore dismissed them and bid them all goodnight.  Lee Jordan was the new Gryffindor prefect, and he chatted amiably with Fred and George Weasley as he led them up the twisting staircases to their dorms. 

Full of delicious food and drink, Harry had hoped that sleep would come easily, but he lay awake for a long time, listening to the breeze blowing in the open tower window and the gentle hooting drifting down from the owlery.  Why was he so nervous?  What was he so worried about?  He tried to push it from his mind, but it was nearly midnight before sleep finally caught up with him.

The next morning at breakfast, the course schedules were passed out.  Hermoine was pleased that Arithmancy had been moved and was now her first class.  Harry and Ron were not quite as thrilled.

"Do you see what we've got?" Ron practically shrieked.  "First Divination and then double Potions…with the Slytherins again!!  I don't believe it.  Today is going to be the worst day ever."

Harry was inclined to agree with him.  He wasn't sure if he could handle another year of doom-laden predictions from the infamous Sybil Trelawney.   But they finished their breakfast, gathered their things, and started the long, winding trek to the top of the North Tower.   "Bye!" they called to Hermoine.  "See you in the dungeons next hour!"

The Divination classroom was as bad as they remembered it from last year: hot, stuffy, with sickly-sweet incense tickling their noses, and the pale, willowy form of Professor Trelawney sweeping about the room with her gloom-and-doom prophecies.  Lavender Brown and Pavarti Partil were both right at the front of the room again, and the instructor's words were focused on them, with the rest of the class an afterthought.

"Today," she began, "we are going to read the future in the cards.  On each table is a deck of Tarot Cards for your use.  There are some seers who do not approve of the cards, as Muggles are quite fond of them and have even managed to make a few intelligent predictions based on them."  Ron and Harry shot looks at one another, trying not to snigger.  "I would like each person at the table, in turn, to deal the cards using the Celtic Cross spread seen on pages 94-95 of your book Unfogging the Future, and use the guide on the following pages to read the cards.  I will move amongst you to monitor your progress."

Ron shrugged and reached for the cards.  "Harry, I'll read you first," he said.

"Thanks, I think," Harry muttered.  "It's a good thing Hermoine dropped out of this; she'd be having a conniption right about now."

Ron, looking between his book and the tabletop, dealt out the cards, and both he and Harry leaned forward to study the odd pictures.    They could hear Professor Trelawney gushing praise out over Lavender's reading on the other side of the room.

"Gee whiz, Harry," said Ron.  "Look at all this!"  He peered at the first card, flipping between the pages of the book.  "OK, the card in the first position is the primary factor.  You've got an Ace of Wands…guess you're an ace with your wand…" Harry covered his mouth to avoid giggling out loud.  Ron continued, "It means creativity, enthusiasm, confidence, and courage."  He looked up at Harry.  "Let's just hope you won't be needing that courage part any time soon.  I could do with a dull year."

Harry grinned.  He pointed to another card.  "What's this one mean?"

Ron flipped madly through the book.  "The High Priestess of the Major Arcana," he read, "symbolizes intuition and mystery – to put it bluntly," he added.  "It's in the Sixth Position, which is for the future.  So I guess we're going to have a mystery.  Great.  I could use a little of that confidence and courage from the first card."  Harry was having a hard time stifling his laughter. 

Professor Trelawney sailed over to their table.  "Well, how are we coming?  Let's see what you have.  Who's reading is this?"

"Harry's," answered Ron.  "I dealt."

"I see," Trelawney said.  She leaned over their table, studying the cards.  "Hmm, courage, yes…there's the Knight of Swords in the Third Position…yes, indeed.  Oh my!"  she looked at Harry, her eyes wide.  She gave him a sly smile.  "Harry, you have The Lovers in the Tenth Position."

The rest of the class looked up, a few of them had wide eyes.  Harry narrowed his eyes at the Professor.  "What exactly does that mean, then?" he asked.

Professor Trelawney's smile grew.  "Why, my dear, there is a wedding in your future!"

The class descended into laughter and catcalls.  Harry could feel his face turning beet red at the proclamation.  "Um, professor…that seems awful…sudden, don't you think?  I mean, I can't imagine why there would be wedding in my future at my age.  I haven't even finished school yet!"

Lavender Brown interrupted whatever answer Professor Trelawney was about to give by raising her hand.  "Professor?  What else do the cards say?  I mean, could it be a member of his family that gets married, or maybe he's in a wedding?"

The teacher's smile returned.  "This card in the Tenth Position means that something relating to love, like a wedding, or something similar, is the final outcome, the end result.  Let me see what else we have here…" she bent back over the low table, murmuring to herself.  Finally, satisfied, she straightened.  "There is someone who is dear to you who is somehow involved…but it is not them directly.  See this card here," she indicated one of the cards, "shows that an enemy will also be involved, but not bringing harm towards you, and certainly not necessarily in a bad way, as we see by this card," she pointed to another.  She looked rather disappointed.  "Ah, well, I guess we shall see what comes of all this!"

They met Hermoine at the entrance to the dungeons for Potions.  She gave Harry a questioning look as a couple fellow Gryffindors softly hummed a few bars of the wedding march as they passed by.  "I'll tell you later," he mumbled, "Just ignore it for now."

Potions was just as terrible as Divination.  Professor Snape was as mean, surly, and ill-tempered as he had ever been, and he started everything off by taking points from Gryffindor because he didn't like the way Harry was sitting on the bench.  "Unprofessional and immature.  Five points from Gryffindor," he said, to the snickers and smirks of the Slytherin students.  Hermoine had to clutch Ron's robes to keep him in his seat.  But Snape saw that, too, and gave both of them detention for "improper actions toward a teacher and fellow classmate."

When class was dismissed, Harry waited as Hermoine and Ron met with Professor Snape to have their detentions arranged.   They came out rolling their eyes and groaning.  "Do you know what he has us doing?" Hermoine whispered to Harry.  "We have to scrub the dungeon floor in two weeks!" 

"And with no magic!" Ron added.  "It's so unfair!  I'm going to complain to McGonagall!"

"No, Ron, you musn't," said Hermoine.  "That'll just make Snape more angry.  Let's just do it, and get it over with.  It's not worth wasting our time trying to get out of it.  Besides," she gave Ron a reproving look, "you really ought to work a little bit anyway.  Scrubbing floors isn't so bad; I did it all the time at home.  It was one of my chores that I had to do."

Ron looked at Hermoine like either she or her parents were crazy.  "How ever do Muggles get stuff done?" he asked, incredulous.

Everyone was looking forward to their first Defense Against the Dark Arts class with Professor Black.  They had caught snippets of comments from the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables during supper, as they had already been, and this new professor seemed like she was definitely worth getting to know.

"She can't be any worse than Lockhart," reminded Ron.

"Or Quirrell," added Harry.  "But of course, we have to wait until Thursday."

"Let's just hope she doesn't get sick like Professor Lupin did the other year," Hermione said, her mouth full of treacle tart.  "I don't think I can stand Professor Snape as a substitute again."

They filed into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom on Thursday afternoon to find Professor Black perched upon the desk at the front of the room.  When they had all taken their seats, she began to call roll.  Harry found himself studying her as she rattled off the students' names.  She was somewhat tall, thin, with dark auburn hair that cascaded down her back, and quite pretty.  She seemed young, but he knew that she had to be at least twenty years old, possibly thirty.  He noticed that she wasn't wearing a hat like the other professors did; it was hung on a coat rack off to the side.  When his name was called, and he responded, she gave him a quick smile before moving on. 

With a snap she flipped shut the roll book and hopped off the desk.  She stood in front of the class and gave them all a beaming smile.  Harry looked over at Ron; his mouth was practically hanging open, as were the mouths of all of the male students.  Professor Black was rather pretty when she smiled – and since she was the youngest professor they had seen since they started at Hogwarts, naturally, the boys were all somewhat smitten.  Harry heard a "Hmph!" from next to him; Hermoine obviously didn't approve of the reactions.

"Good afternoon, everyone," said Professor Black.  "My name is Rebekah Black, and I am your new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor.  I hope that my tenure here lasts a little longer than those of your last few professors in this position."  There were some giggles from around the room.

"I would like to start off by telling you a little bit about myself.  As some of you may have guessed from my accent, I am from America.  I was born here in Britain, but my mother and I moved to the United States when I was nine.  My mother got a job at the Department for the Protection of Magical Interests with the United States Government, so we moved around a lot and saw quite a bit of the country.  I attended several different magical schools there, including Wyllaned in the state of Kansas and Lovecraft Institute in Rhode Island.   I specialized in Dark Magic Defense.

"I worked for several years in the local Dark Magic Protection Agency where I lived, and after receiving several promotions, I landed a job in the Homeland Defense Division of the Department for the Protection of Magical Interests.   When my mother passed away a few years ago, I decided that I would like to return to Britain.  I have family here that I have not seen since I was a child.  When I learned that a position was open here at Hogwarts, I immediately applied."

The class stared at her in amazement.  "You are probably also wondering why I am teaching Muggle Studies as well.  My mother's position with the government threw us into greater contact with Muggles than most wizarding people.  She actually headed up the Division for the Preservation of Muggle Society, which functions like your Muggle Protection Act here.  We lived in an almost all-Muggle community, I had Muggle friends as well as wizard friends.  As a result, I have more insight into Muggles than many people who have studied the subject for more than twice the years, because I grew up with them and had daily contact.  I even attended a Muggle school for a few years."

She smiled again and clapped her hands once.  "Well, enough about me, let's see what you're all about today."  She started rapid-firing questions to the class, grilling them on all they had learned.  When she ran out of questions, she instructed them to take out their wands for some practical work.

When the left the classroom at the end of the hour, a few of them still showing some slight effects from the various hexes and curses they had been casting, everyone was pleased that they finally had a Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor that was not only good at what she did, but also appeared to be completely normal.

The days flew by quickly, but they were so busy that they hardly noticed.  One Friday morning about three weeks into the term, Ron, Harry and Hermione were eating breakfast and discussing plans for the upcoming weekend. 

"Let's go and see Hagrid this afternoon," said Harry.  "We don't have any class and I've hardly had time to say more than two words to him."

Ron and Hermione agreed and were looking forward to the outing when the owls swooped in with the morning mail.  In addition to her copy of the Daily Prophet, Hermione also got a short note scribbled on parchment; an identical note landed on Ron's plate too.  He read it and groaned.  "Oh, no, we've got to do our detention for Snape this afternoon!"

"We'll have to miss out on Hagrid today, Harry," sighed Hermione, "but why don't you go anyway.  You can tell us all about it when we get finished with the dungeon floors."

"Yeah," said Ron, gloomily, "I'm sure we'll need some cheering up."

Later that day as Ron and Hermione wearily dragged themselves to Professor Snape's office, Harry headed out to Hagrid's cabin.  He knocked on the door, heard the sound of a chair scraping as it was being pushed back, and the door opened to Hagrid's smiling face. 

"Harry!"  he bellowed.  "So good ta see yer.   Come in, come in."  He stepped aside.  When he entered, Harry realized that he was not the only visitor.  Professor Black was seated on Hagrid's oversized couch with Fang's head in her lap and a cup of tea on the low table in front of her.  She smiled when she saw him.  Fang flicked his eyes in Harry's direction and gave his tail a couple of quick thumps, but made no move to get up.  He seemed content to stay where he was.

Harry smiled nervously at the professor.  "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt."  He looked at Hagrid.  "I can come back later, if you like."

"Nah!  No need ter come back, mate.  Just set yerself righ' down 'ere and have a spot o' tea with me an' Professor Black."  Hagrid shoved a chair up behind Harry and poured him a cup of tea.  He took a sip, and Professor Black turned to him.

"You probably didn't expect to find me here, did you, Harry?" she asked.

Harry shook his head.  He didn't know what to say.

She smiled down at the dog sprawled across her knees and scratched behind his ears.  Fang closed his eyes in ecstasy.   "I saw Hagrid and Fang the other day, walking across the grounds, and I just had to come and meet them.  I'll admit that I have an affinity for big, vicious-looking beasts like this one here."  She rubbed Fang's head harder; he gave a few grunts and sighed with pleasure.

She turned her smile toward the gamekeeper.  "But Hagrid is delightful himself, and I'm pleased that I had the opportunity to meet such an interesting person.  He and I have a lot in common, interest-wise."  Her smile became a mischievous grin.  "Did you know that I once raised a blast-ended skrewt myself?"

Both she and Hagrid laughed at the look of shock and horror that was plastered across Harry's face.  Harry didn't feel so awkward in her presence after that, and the three of them enjoyed a lively discussion together, which ended only when they noticed it was dusk; they had chatted straight through supper.

"Yeh'd better be on yer way, Harry.  Don' want you to get in no trouble up at t'school."  Hagrid said.   Harry thanked him for the tea and said goodbye to Professor Black, who now had Fang's entire body in her lap.   She held up her hand.

"I really should be going, too, Hagrid.  If you'll wait a moment, Harry, I'll go with you."  She struggled to extricate herself from underneath the dog's body, and Hagrid had to practically pull Fang off the couch to allow her to stand.  She laughed at the dog, and bid Hagrid goodbye.

Harry walked back to the castle alongside Professor Black, not knowing what to say.  She broke the silence.   "It was very good to meet you on a more personal level, Harry.  I'd like to speak with you some more, in private, when you have time.  Will that be all right?"

"Uh, sure, Professor," Harry stammered.  "That will be fine.  Next week?"

"Next week will be perfect," she said as they walked through the great double doors at the front of the Hogwarts castle.  "I have a few things you might be interested in."

Just then, they heard a voice behind them that made Harry's heart skip a beat.  "Potter!" snarled Professor Snape.  "What are you-" He stopped when he saw who was with him.

"Severus," said Professor Black in a pleasant voice, smiling.  "How are you this evening?"

Snape looked taken aback at her demeanor.  He quickly regained his composure and glared at Harry.  "I didn't see Mr. Potter at supper this evening, and became…quite worried.  I was concerned that something might have…happened to him."  But Harry got the distinct impression that Snape would have preferred if something did happen to him.  Something not-so-very-nice, either.  "Perhaps I should send for an elf to bring some food up to his common room…."

"Harry has been with me since earlier this afternoon," she said.  "We didn't realize that we had missed dinner, but no harm done.  I'll fetch something from the kitchens for him to take up to his dormitory.  Don't trouble yourself about it, Severus.  I'll take care of it.  Good night, now.  See you later.  Come on, Harry, let's get some dinner."

When Harry returned to the Gryffindor Common Room that evening, carrying the large amount of food that Professor Black had given to him, he found Ron and Hermione, just out of the showers, relaxing by the fire. 

"Harry!" Ron cried.

"Where have you been?" asked Hermione, indignant.

Harry told them about how Professor Black was at Hagrid's hut when he got there and the three of them had talked right through supper.  "How did your dungeon cleaning go?"

"Horrid," said Hermione.  "We haven't had dinner either, it was so late when we got done."

The food Harry had been given was enough for all three of them; while they ate, Ron and Hermione described their miserable afternoon scrubbing the dungeon floors with brushes and buckets of soapy water and Snape.

"He just stood over us, the whole time, making nasty comments and threats," Ron said between mouthfuls.  "But Hermione and I just kept our mouths shut and kept working.  It must have frustrated him that we didn't react, so he couldn't find good reason to give us more detention."

"And," Hermione added, "he was going to try to make us stay later, he kept saying the floor was still dirty even though it was practically gleaming."  She smiled.  "Then Professor Dumbledore stopped by to see Snape, and he commented on how nice and shiny clean the floor was.  Snape had to let us go, then.  The look on his face would have curdled milk."

They all laughed.  "So that's why he looked so unpleasant when Professor Black and I got back from Hagrid's hut," Harry said.  "He thought he had caught me alone, but Black put him in his place.  It was funny to see him so frustrated."  They laughed again.

On Monday morning, during breakfast, Harry got a letter.   It almost went unnoticed, as Ron was still complaining about cleaning the dungeon floors for Snape, but Hedwig nipped Harry's hand before flying off.  He picked up the letter and ripped it open.  A huge grin lit up Harry's face.  "It's from Sirius!" he whispered.

Ron choked on his bacon.  "Sirius?  How is he?"

"Where is he?" asked Hermione.

Harry folded the letter up and slid it in his robes.  "Not here.  We've still got time before class starts.  Let's go up to the tower where we can have some privacy."

The three of them bolted down the rest of their breakfasts, grabbed book and quills, and hurried back to the tower.  Their progress was cut off mid-way by a looming, dark figure.

"Potter, Granger, and Weasley, in such a hurry?"  purred Snape, his dark eyes flashing.  "Where might you be going that you need to run?"

Harry spoke up before Ron got himself in trouble.  "We're just heading back up to our Common Room before class, Professor," he said, in the calmest, most rational voice he could manage.  "We don't want to be late."

Snape scowled.  "And why do you all need to go dashing back up there?  If one of you left something, then only that one need go.  I can't imagine that all three of you forgot some crucial item in your dormitory…unless it was on purpose."  The word was almost a sneer. 

The three students stared blankly at him, not knowing what to say.  Snape nodded his head.  He was leaning threateningly over them, his eyes blazing, his hands twitching.  "I thought as much.  I think that I will have to- "

Snape was suddenly silenced when a hand appeared on his shoulder and a sweet voice floated to their ears from behind him.  "Calm down, for goodness' sake, Severus.  You're going to give yourself an ulcer."

Snape turned, and they all stared.  Professor Black stood there, hatless as usual, beaming one of her award-winning smiles at the four of them.  Snape looked startled, but masked it quickly.  "These young Gryffindors were running about the hall; I thought it necessary to…caution them on the hazards of not watching where they are going."  His eyes were no longer blazing, but they could hear the contempt in his voice.

"Oh, they meant no harm, I'm sure.  Let them go on their way, it will be time for their class soon, and we wouldn't want them to be tardy, now would we? No, of course not.  Besides, I have a favor to ask of you, Severus, if you don't mind…" She looked back at the three of them quickly and winked as she took Professor Snape by the elbow and steered him toward the staff room.

"I was so sure we weren't going to get out of that one without another stint in the dungeons," said Hermione as the Fat Lady swung her portrait open, revealing the door to the Gryffindor Common Room.   "Thank goodness for Professor Black."

"That's twice now she's saved my skin," agreed Harry.  "I should thank her."  He pulled the letter out of his robes.  "Let's see what Sirius has to say…" They all crowded around the parchment to read.

Dear Harry, Sorry that I haven't written in so long, but I have been busy and moving around quite a bit.   I had hoped to be able to contact you before the start of the school term, but I just couldn't manage it. 

You'll have to let me know when your next Hosgmeade weekend is; perhaps we can meet again.  By the way, Remus Lupin asked me to tell you, Ron, and Hermione hello.   He may come to your first Quidditch match, so be sure look for him there. 

One other thing, Harry – tell my sister I said hello.


They all stared at the last sentence.  It was Ron who found his voice first.  "Sister?  He's got a sister?!  Who is it?"

Harry could only stare, wide-eyed, at the letter.  Hermione broke his train of thought, tugging on both his and Ron's robes.  "Come on!  You've got ten minutes to get to the top of the North Tower for Divination!  We can talk about it later!"  All three scrambled out the portrait hole; Hermione headed off to Arithmancy while Ron and Harry dashed up the tower stairs.

They were still on Tarot Cards with Professor Trelawney, who was focusing her attentions on Lavender and Pavarti, which gave Harry and Ron time to have a whispered discussion about Siruis's latest revelation.

"I can't believe he never told you he had a sister," Ron said as Harry dealt the cards into the table.  "Why isn't he staying with her, then, instead of on the run all the time?"

"Dunno," said Harry.  "Open your book, though, so we look like we're doing something over here.  Maybe she's under guard because the Ministry thinks he'll try to hide out with her or something."

"She's not under guard; she's here!  -Oh, look, Page of Cups, Harry - he wouldn't have asked you to say hello to her if he didn't know she was at Hogwarts.  How else would you be able to find her?"

"I still don't know who she is, though," Harry said, miserably.  "Look, Ron, you've got the Death card here.  Better call Trelawney over, she'd love to see this."  They chuckled under their breath. 

Ron shook his head as they continued to decipher the cards.  "I just can't understand why he just asked you to say hello to her like you knew her or something, and he never told you.  It's not like you can just walk up to everybody here and say, 'Excuse me, but are you Sirius Black's sister?'"

Ron and Harry stared at each other across the table.  A shock like a lightning bolt ripped through them as the lovely new professor's last name registered in their brains.  "Professor Black!" they both said aloud.  Professor Trelawney, along with the rest of the class, jumped at their outburst. 

"Sorry," Ron and Harry muttered, embarrassed.  They bent back over their cards studiously.

The rest of the class passed in a blur for Harry as his mind kept wandering back to the enigma that was Rebekah Black.  Was she really Sirius's sister?  Why hadn't she said anything?  She must have told him she was going to teach here.  Unless it was Dumbledore.  Harry shook his head.  He realized he would just have to speak with her himself.

Harry and Ron flew down the stairs to the dungeon as soon as they got out of Divination.  Hermione was waiting for them.  They drew up, breathless, panting; Ron managed to get out, "Professor Black…sister…"

"I know," said Hermione, "I figured it out just as I got to Arithmancy.  Are you sure?"

"No," gasped Harry, holding his side, "but I can't think of who else it could be.  I'm going to go see her after Potions.  She asked me to stop by sometime this week anyway."  Just then, Snape appeared in the door to the dungeons, glaring at them.   They scurried into the room, even though there were still a few minutes left before the start of class.

Professor Snape settled himself in front of the class and swept his gaze over the students.  "Today," he began, "we are going to start making a very complex potion.  Who can tell me what Polyjuice Potion does?"

Ron, Harry and Hermione all raised their hands; Snape looked surprised.  When nobody else volunteered to answer, he snapped, "Very well, Weasley, what does it do?"

"It makes whoever drinks it look like another person.   One of the ingredients is hair from the person you want to change into." Ron said.

Snape scowled.  "Correct," he said grudgingly.  "This potion will take the better part of one month to finish.  Your cauldrons will remain here under my supervision."  He glared at the room.  "Well, what are you waiting for?  Get started!"

Snape seemed especially irritated that Harry, Ron and Hermione were showing no signs of difficulty with the potion.  He didn't know, of course, that they had secretly made Polyjuice Potion three years earlier, to try to get information from Draco Malfoy about the Chamber of Secrets.  The three of them were very careful about their attitudes during the class; none of them wanted to face detention with Snape for stepping out of line.  As the hour drew to a close, Snape became more and more irritable, presumably for not being able to punish any of the Gryffindor students, but also because several exploding cauldrons showed that the Slytherin students were having quite a bit of trouble.

When the hour was up, Snape instructed them to move the cauldrons to tables lining the walls.  When their cauldron was settled in its new place, Harry, Ron, and Hermione raced to get out the door.  They wanted to speak to Professor Black about Sirius.  But the sound of Snape's voice stopped them in their tracks.  "Just where do the three of you think you are going?"  he snapped at their retreating backs.

They skidded to a halt.  Harry decided to use his promise to visit Professor Black as a means of escape.  "I promised Professor Black I would see her this week; I wanted to go before lunch today."

Snape's black eyes narrowed suspiciously.  "And your two friends?  Did they also make such a promise?"

"Er…no," Harry admitted, "but they did want to come with me.  They, er, wanted to talk to her about Muggle Studies."

Snape was glowering.  "Granger has no need of such things, she grew up as a Muggle.  As for you, Weasley….  Neither of you have any business with Professor Black.  Granger and Weasley will go straight to lunch, and I had better not catch you trying to double back.  Potter, you will wait a few moments for me, and we will go see the Professor together."  Snape turned on his heel and marched into his office. 

Harry turned to Ron and Hermione.  "You'd better go.  I'll catch up with you at lunch, OK?  Go now, before he gets back."   The two turned and ran out of the room.

Snape returned with a stoppered glass decanter filled with a ruby-red liquid.  "Let's go, Potter, I have things to do today."  There was no conversation as they navigated the Hogwarts hallways to Professor Black's office.  Her door was open and they stepped inside.

She was seated behind her desk, her hat, as usual, hung behind her on a coat rack, her feet were propped up on the desk and she was engrossed in a huge book.  She looked up when she heard them enter and smiled.   

"Severus!  Harry!  How lovely to see you both!"  Her smile became radiant.   She closed the book and pushed it off her lap and onto her desk.  She swung her feet down from the desk, leaned forward on her elbows, still beaming, and raised her eyebrows expectantly. 

Snape didn't respond right away, and Harry was reluctant to speak for fear of irritating him.  He looked somewhat flustered for a moment, but soon regained his composure.   Harry got the feeling that he wasn't used to gorgeous women flashing equally gorgeous smiles in his direction.  "I have the potion you requested, Professor."  He handed her the small bottle.  "Am I correct in assuming that you will require more?" 

"Ah, yes, thank you so much, Severus, I do appreciate it.  Yes, I will need some more, but not just yet, I don't think.  I'll let you know."  She took the bottle from him and set it on a small shelf behind her.   She turned back and gave another small smile.  "Perhaps you could instruct me in its preparation, then I would not need bother you for further batches."

He seemed taken aback by that.  "Of…of course.  That would be wise.  Just, uh, come by when you need more, and I will show you."  He cleared his throat.  "Another thing.  Mr. Potter here claims that you had requested that he see you.  Is this true?"

She chuckled.  "Yes, it is, Severus, I did ask him to come see me.  I need to speak with him…in private, if you don't mind.  Thank you again for the potion.  See you later," she gave Snape another smile and waved as he left. 

When he had gone, she shook her head slightly in exasperation, sighed, and turned her smile to Harry.  "Harry, dear, have a seat.  I'm pleased you came to see me so soon, but if we get to talking, you're going to miss lunch."  She laughed.  "I seem to be destined to make you go hungry!"

Harry gave her a nervous smile.  He wasn't too sure how to phrase this.  "Um, Professor, can I ask you a question?  I don't want to offend you or anything…"

"Of course, Harry. Ask away." 

"Um…are you related to Sirius Black?"  Harry blurted it out in a rush.

Professor Black looked shocked for a second, then looked long and hard at Harry.  She suddenly got up, crossed the office, looked out into the hallway, then shut the door.  She turned to face him, folding her arms in front of her.  "What ever gave you the idea to ask that question?"

Harry didn't want to betray Sirius if he could help it.  "Well…uh…you have the same last name…." He answered lamely.

"Black is a rather common last name, Harry," she replied quietly. 

Harry sighed.  "OK, OK.  Sirius is my godfather, and, well, we keep in touch.  I got a letter from him this morning and in it he said, 'Tell my sister I said hello.'  I didn't know he had a sister, and you were the only possibility I could think of…" he trailed off.  

Professor Black sighed and slumped her shoulders.  She went back and sat behind her desk.  "So he all but told you, did he?"  She gave Harry a rather lop-sided grin.  "Yes, Sirius is my brother.  Half-brother, actually.  We have the same father."

Her eyes became distant for a moment.  "Sirius's mother died when he was seven.  His father remarried – my mother.   Sirius was ten when I was born.  We were always so close.  Neither of us had any other brothers or sisters, it was just the two of us.  Just after he left Hogwarts, my mother and father started arguing and fighting a lot.  I think my mother wanted to leave because she was afraid of Voldemort – don't look so shocked Harry, it's just a name."

"Oh, no," said Harry, "I'm not scared or anything; I was just surprised that you weren't afraid to say his name like most people are." 

"Anyway," she continued, "my parents separated when my mother got the job in America.  She left with me, and my father stayed behind with Sirius."

"Where is your father now?"  Harry asked, curious.

"Dead," she replied.  "When Sirius was sent to prison without a trial it…it destroyed him.  He was questioned as well, of course, but he had no knowledge of anything.  He died about two years later."

She sighed and continued.  "He wrote to me the day Sirius was taken.  He told my mother to not return to Britain in case they tried to question us, too.   Of course, in America, nobody really worried about Voldemort.  In fact, there were a lot of wizards who had never ever heard of him before.   I was so surprised when I got an owl from Sirius two years ago, telling me he had broken out of prison.  I knew in my heart he was innocent – he loved your father like the brother he never had.   I've been trying to get a position here ever since." 

"Did your mother ever want to come home?"  he asked.

"No, she was afraid to, I think, though there is nothing at all to tie her to Sirius, since she divorced Father and wasn't his real mother anyway.   I knew she'd never come back here, but I always wanted to.  I wanted to see my brother again, and maybe help get his name cleared.  Also," she looked pointedly at Harry, "I promised Sirius when I accepted the position here that I would keep and eye on you, and make sure that Professor Snape doesn't give you too hard of a year.  He seems to think that Severus will try to make your life…problematic."

Harry snorted and rolled his eyes.  She laughed at him.  "Don't you pay any attention to him, Harry.  Severus is the way he is for a reason, and it's never going to change until he decides to do it himself and lets go of the past."

"That'll be the day," Harry muttered under his breath. 

"Ha ha!  You are so funny, Harry, you really are.  I can see why Sirius is so very fond of you.  He is, you know," her eyes softened.

"Yeah," Harry said quietly.  "I know.  I'm fond of him, too."

"Good.  I'm glad you are, because I think we are going to be seeing a lot of each other, Harry.  And of Sirius, too, hopefully.  Oh, and that you for the message from him, though I expect the only reason he did that was to see if you could figure it out on your own.  There was no need for you to pass on a greeting from him; I got one just yesterday myself."  She grinned at Harry.  "Now, you best run along and get some lunch.  I think I will, too, teaching is hungry work, just like learning."

Harry got up to leave when he suddenly thought of something.  "Professor, uh, if you don't mind my asking…what is that potion that Sn…Professor Snape gave you?"

"This?" she asked, pointing at the bottle.  "That is a little something that I am going to use in a week or so, for a little personal project of mine.  Don't look so shocked, Harry.  I'm not sick or anything, and Severus isn't going to try to poison me – it's not a potion to be drunk, anyway."

Harry stared at her.  How could she have possibly known what he was thinking?  She laughed again.  "Silly.  Sirius and Lupin told me all about the Wolfsbane potion two years ago.  Lupin knew that you thought it might be poisoned."

"You know Professor Lupin, too?"  Harry asked, incredulous.

"Yes, I do, though only through Sirius.  I'd met him a few times, long ago, when I was younger and Sirius was here at Hogwarts.  He came to visit during holidays.  We kept in contact after Sirius's arrest.  I stopped by his house when I first got back in the country, but he had already moved on.  Come on, then, it's almost lunch time.  I'll talk to you later, Harry."  She got up and ushered him toward the exit.

She put her hand on his arm to stop him, just as he reached the door.  She looked directly into his eyes.  "Harry, I'd very much appreciate it if you didn't say anything to…certain teachers at this school about Sirius and I.  You know how some of them feel about him."  Harry had no doubt whom she was referring to.  "When the time is right, I would like to be the one who says it.  Can you do that?"

Harry smiled at his godfather's sister.  "You can count on me, Professor."

Quidditch season was fast approaching, and Harry was delighted to get out his Firebolt and start flying again.  The Inter-House Quidditch Cup had not been held last year due to the ill-fated Triwizard Tournament, and the only flying Harry had done was during the first task against the Hungarian Horntail dragon. 

Angelina Johnson was Captain this year, and she was every bit as militant about practices as Wood had been.   Harry's Firebolt led to a whole new playbook for the team, but one that everyone was sure would secure a victory for them in their first match, and hopefully the Quidditch Cup again.  But what excited Harry the most about the upcoming game was the letter he had received about two weeks before the match.

He, Ron, and Hermione were at breakfast when the owls arrived with the morning mail.  A large screech owl deposited a letter on top of Harry's toast before swooping back out of the Great Hall.  Harry looked at the unfamiliar writing and ripped it open.

He nudged Ron.  "It's from Professor Lupin!"  Ron and Hermione leaned in closer.

Harry read, "Dear Harry, I just wanted to let you know that Professor Dumbledore invited me to attend the upcoming Quidditch match between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw.  I should be easy to spot, as Snuffles (you remember my dog, Snuffles) will be with me.   Be sure to stop off and have a word with me after the game.  See you then, Remus."

Harry grinned.  "It will be so good to see Lupin and Snuffles again," he said as he folded the letter up and stuck it in one of his textbooks.  "I wonder if Professor Black knows that they're coming?"

"I'm sure Lupin will tell her," said Hermione.  "Come on, it's almost time for class.  I'll see you for Potions – the Polyjuice potion should be ready today, I'll bet we'll have to test it out with each other."

Ron grimaced.  "Ugh.  That stuff is enough to make a troll vomit; I don't think I can stand to drink it again!"

"We have to," Harry reminded him.  "We can't let Snape know that we've made it before.  We'll just have to force it down."  He shuddered.  "Only I don't know how easy that's going to be."

Ron squeezed his eyes shut again and shook his head.  "Yuck.  Say, Hermione, make sure you get human hair this time, all right?"  They all laughed as Ron dodged Hermoine's punch and they headed off to class. 

Divination let out early, much to their relief, so Harry and Ron were waiting for Hermione outside the hall that led to Professor Snape's classroom in the dungeons.   Hermoine waved eagerly when she saw them.

"I ran into Professor Black on my way to Arithmancy.  She said that the three of us should stop by her office this afternoon; she has something to show us."

"What do you think it is?" Harry asked.

"Maybe it's Snuffles," said Ron.

"I doubt it," said Harry.  "I'll bet it's that 'personal project' that she mentioned when I went to her office with Snape.  He took her some potion, and she said it was for something special."

"I can't wait to see what it is," said Ron, as they seated themselves around their smoking, bubbling cauldron, "and-" He was quickly silenced by Hermione's elbow in his side; Snape had come into the classroom from his office and was glaring at them all.  He waited, an unpleasant look on his face, until the last few students filed in. 

He cleared his throat.  "The Polyjuice Potion you have been making is now ready.  The final step before drinking is to add the hair from the person whose form you wish to assume."  He watched as the students' faces turned various shades of green, and a few swallowed hard, at the smell of the noxious liquid. 

"However, because the effects of the potion last for one hour, you would not be able to change back in time to leave this class, and it would be…shocking…for other students to see this in the hallway or at lunch." A collective sigh of relief rose from the listening class.

He leveled a sharp look at them.  "However, it would be a waste indeed of a learning opportunity, so each of you will be consuming some of the potion, with pieces of you own hair in it.  This way, you will be able to experience some of the effects of the potion without actually undergoing a full transformation."

Everyone eyed their cauldrons with a mixture of dread and disbelief.  Malfoy raised his hand, a smug look on his face.  "Professor Snape?"

"Malfoy?" he replied.

"I was wondering, Professor, if there was any way that we could see the transformation in action?" He looked sincerely interested; Ron rolled his eyes at the condescending tone.   "I mean, drinking it with my own hairs might give me the experience of the taste, but I won't get to experience of seeing or feeling the actual transformation.   It seems like we could learn a lot more by watching someone actually drink the correct formula."  His eyes were wide and innocent, and he looked pleadingly at the teacher.

Snape pursed his lips and thought for a moment.  "I do see your point, Malfoy.  It does seem a shame to waste such a valuable learning opportunity."  He swung his gaze away from Malfoy to the front table. 

"Granger, bring me a cupful of your potion and come up here," he ordered.  Hermione blanched, but did as she was instructed.  Malfoy and the other Slytherins snickered and watched with undisguised glee.  She handed Snape the cup filled with the bubbling potion; he pulled out a small knife, reached out, and carefully cut a few pieces of hair from Hermione's head.   "Malfoy, front and center," he snapped. 

Malfoy came forward, looking confused.  Snape turned abruptly and held the cup out to him.   "Here," he said shortly.

"Wh-what?" said Malfoy, his voice trembling.  "You want me to drink it?"

Snape looked hard at him.  "You said you thought you would learn more by experiencing the full transformation.  So, you will learn."

Malfoy looked horrified.  "I didn't think you'd make ME drink it!"

"Then why did you speak up?" Snape glared at him.  "You have two choices; drink what you requested, or face detention."

Harry and Ron were having difficulty hiding their smiles.  It was amusing to see Malfoy so utterly dumbstruck, and even more amusing to see Snape doing this to one of the students from his own house.  Just as Malfoy was reaching out a trembling hand to take the cup, there was a noise at the back of the room.  Professor Black was standing in the doorway, her hand over her mouth, trying unsuccessfully to stifle her laughter.   Everyone turned to stare at her.

"Really, now, Severus, that's not very nice," she said, trying to fight back giggles.  She moved forward into the room.

Snape shrugged.  "He requested it."

She smiled, still trying to hold in her laughter.  "Not that it's any of my business how you run your class, but I think your original idea was better.  They should just drink the potion with their own hairs; the transformation is somewhat painful, you know."

The Gryffindors had been shocked and surprised – in a good way – at how Professor Snape was now treating Malfoy like he usually treated them; they were equally shocked at Professor Black's sudden appearance and defense of Malfoy.  The looked uneasily at one another. 

Snape considered this for a moment.  "I do tend to agree with that, however, as Mr. Malfoy so cleverly pointed out, they will learn more by seeing or experiencing the full effects of the potion."

Professor Black reached out, took the cup from Snape, and set it on the desk behind him.  "Surely there is a better way to do that?"  She turned and faced the class, folding her arms across her chest. 

The class gasped.  Malfoy began slowly backing away, terrified.  The two teachers standing before him were shifting, slowly changing, their features dissolving and mutating – and before their minds even grasped what was happening, Snape was suddenly Black and Black was Snape; they were wearing each others' clothing.  The real Snape was scowling somewhat; the real Black had finally given into laughter.   Out of the whole class, Harry, Ron, and Hermione had been the first to recognize the metamorphosis taking place as the Polyjuice Potion wore off – Snape and Black had each taken a draught of potion and turned into each other for the class.  The three students broke into applause and cheers; the rest of the class soon followed. 

"That was brilliant!" said Hermione.  "You acted the parts so well, we had no idea that you had switched!"

"That is why I asked Professor Black to assist me," said Professor Snape, "so you could see for yourselves that it's more than just the look that makes the person; you have to act the part as well."

Black grimaced.  "That's even harder than drinking the stuff.  Well, if you don't mind, Severus, I'm going to go and get the taste out of my mouth.  Here's your robe back."  She pulled the robe off; she had put it on over her own clothes.  Snape did the same.  "Enjoy the rest of the class, kids!"  She waved and as she turned to leave, she looked at Harry, Ron, and Hermione and whispered, "Remember to stop by my office today!"  She closed the door softly behind her. 

The class was still stunned.  Snape wasted no time in getting the class back on track.  "Don't think you're getting away so lucky today.  You WILL drink the potion, with your own hair in it.   Hurry up, let's get going."  He handed Hermione's cup back to her.

Ron sighed and reached for a cup of the potion.  "Here we go again."

Their last afternoon class let out early, so Harry, Ron, and Hermione decided to stop in and see Professor Black.  On the way to her office, they excitedly discussed the upcoming Quidditch match and seeing Lupin and Sirius again.  They weren't really paying attention to where they were going, and when the rounded a corner, they collided with Professor Snape.

"What are you doing out of class?"  He snapped at them.

"Herbology let out early today," said Hermione, "and we're going to see Professor Black."

Snape frowned.  "She's not in her office; I just passed by there.  You three would do well to turn around and head back to your dormitories."  He swept past them without another word.

Harry sighed.  "Well, let's go."

"You don't believe him, do you?" asked Ron.

"I think we'd best just do it and not ask any questions, unless you want to scrub floors again, Ron," said Hermione.  The three turned and headed back toward the tower.

They had not gone very far when they met Professor Black.  She waved cheerily.   "You didn't forget about me, did you?" she asked.  "Still planning on stopping by, I hope."

Harry told her about their meeting with Snape.  She rolled her eyes and sighed in exasperation.  "That man.  He's more trouble than he's worth sometimes." She shook her head.  "Well, if you've got time now, come on back with me."  She turned them around and herded them back to her office.

"What is it you have, Professor?" asked Harry as they walked down the hallway.

"You'll see in a minute," she said, smiling a mysterious smile.  "You'll love it," she added, as they drew up to the office.

She tapped the door handle with her wand, and it unlocked with a faint click.   She pushed the door open and ushered them inside.  Just inside the door, they all gasped.

Along one whole wall of the office was an enormous tank filled with water.  Swimming placidly inside was a huge lionfish, its tendril-like fins spreading out like long grindylow fingers, undulating gently with the current.   A few large rocks decorated the tank bottom and suddenly, from underneath one of them, a head appeared – a snowflake moray eel. 

"An aquarium!" said Harry and Hermione at the same time.

"What are those?" asked Ron.

"A lionfish and an eel," said Professor Black, "my own personal pets."

"What do they do?" said Ron, amazed, as he approached the tank. 

"Nothing, except – don't put your hand in there, Ron!" said Black as she snatched him by the back of his robes, his fingers inches from the water surface.   Harry and Hermione were watching, biting back giggles.   Black spun Ron around to face her.  "These are not harmless magical creatures like the giant squid, Ron.  That eel will bite your fingers off given half a chance, and the lionfish has venomous spines – they deliver quite a wallop and I seriously doubt if Madam Pomfrey would be able to do much."

Ron's eyes grew wide and they rolled sideways to look at the tank again.  "Why do you keep those things?  You're as bad as Hagrid!"

Harry and Hermione finally broke down and laughed.  Professor Black laughed, too.  "As bad as Hagrid, eh?  I'll take that as a compliment.  I happen to be quite fond of him…and Fang, as well.  Isn't that right, Harry?  You remember what I said that night, that Hargid and I have a lot in common, hobby-wise?"

Harry managed to regain control of himself.  "That's right, you did.  I didn't know you liked…well…Muggle pets."

"Remember, I spent a lot of time in the Muggle world.  I always like going to aquariums and zoos, seeing all the animals – I got a fish tank my first year in America, and I've had one ever since.  A friend of mine has been watching these guys for me; I only recently went back to pick them up. That's what-"

She was cut off in mid-sentence by a voice that came echoed off the walls.  "I thought I told you to go back to your dormitories!"

Professor Black pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed.  She looked up to see Snape standing in the office door.  "I beg your pardon?"  she asked, in a rather restrained tone.

Snape was scowling at them.  "I distinctly told these young Gryffindors to return to their Common Room earlier.  I see they have disobeyed me and come here instead."

Black moved around the three to face Snape.  "I asked them to come see me today, and when I met them on their way back to their rooms, I turned them around and brought them here.  You are not the only teacher here, Severus; if I ask them to come see me, they should be allowed.  It's not after hours, they have no place to be, they are breaking no rules." Her voice softened and her expression changed from irritation to gentle amusement.  "You really do work yourself up too much over the some things."

The anger had left Snape's face, but he still looked frustrated.  "If you don't mind my asking then, Professor, I'd like to know what you wanted to see them about."  He folded his arms across his chest, looking for all the world like he wasn't going to move until she had satisfied his curiosity.

Black stepped back and waved him into the room.  "See for yourself."

Snape stopped short at the sight of the tank and its occupants.  "Is that what you used the potion for?" he asked, sounding incredulous, and a little awed.  The others in the room exchanged glances at the sudden change in his attitude.  He stepped forward for a closer look.

She seated herself on her desk, looking quite pleased with herself.  "Yes, and it worked very well – better than I expected, I should add.  A compliment to your potion-making skills, Severus.  I could never have done this myself; I have you to thank for my little pets being back with me."

"Little?" whispered Ron behind his hand.  "She IS as bad as Hagrid!"

"Professor Snape!" said Hermione suddenly.  He whirled to look at her.  "Don't put your hand in there!"  Harry and Ron clapped their hands over their mouths – they hadn't been paying attention, and Snape's hand was almost exactly where Ron's had been earlier.  Snape leveled a sharp glare at her.

"I'd listen to her if I were you, Severus," said Professor Black mildly.  "Just minutes before you came storming in here, I had to lecture Ron Weasley here on what one should expect if one puts their hand in that tank.  Did I not, Ron?"

Ron nodded, his face red.  

"Well," Snape said.  He paused, his lips pursed.  He seemed unable to find the words he was looking for.  Finally, he shrugged and turned to the door.  "I guess I shall be going.  Good day, Professor."  The door closed softly behind him.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione all turned as one from staring at Snape's retreating back to staring at Professor Black.  She returned their frank looks with little more than raised eyebrows and a small shake of her head.

"Some people…" she trailed off.  She perked back up quickly though.  "So, what do you think of my aquarium?"

"It's amazing!" said Ron.  "I've never seen anything quite like this before.  I have a frog in a small aquarium at home, but this…"

"Few in the wizarding world keep fish like these.  I happen to like them much more than frog spawn," Black replied.

Hermione was examining the setup.  "Professor Black," she asked, "how did you get the equipment to work?  Electronics don't work very well at Hogwarts."

"Ah, Hermione, I'm glad you asked," replied the Professor, "because it's a rather unusual little outfit.  The potion that our dear" – she rolled her eyes – "Professor Snape concocted for me has the interesting property of shielding things from magical auras.  So, I apply the potion to the outside of the equipment, and it allows them to run off electricity without any interference."

"But how do you get the electricity in here?" asked Harry. 

"Ah, that's my little secret.  But I'll show you."  She bent down and opened up one of the cupboards below the tank.  There was a small generator there, humming away.  "It's bewitched; it runs and runs and never needs recharging or a fuel source.  A little thing I rigged up a few months ago, before I got here.  I knew there would be no electricity available, so I had to come up with something if I wanted my fish here with me."

"Is there some of that potion on the generator, too?"

"Well, no, not really.  There needs to be a magical aura around the generator so it keeps working.  I only painted the potion around the little outlets here on the side, and on the cords.  I'll need to have more potion soon, though; it doesn't last very long."  She sighed and pressed her fingers against the front of the aquarium.  The eel stretched its body out from its hiding place and bumped against the glass.  "But it's worth it; I missed these guys, I'm glad that I was able to fix it up so I could bring them here."

Harry suddenly remembered the letter from Remus.  "Professor, did you know that Lupin is coming to the Quidditch match?  He's bringing Sirius with him, too."

Her eyes flew open and she glanced at Ron and Hermione.  When they didn't react, she relaxed a little.  She looked at them.  "You know about Sirius, too, then?"  They nodded.

"Good," she said, "because for a brief second there I was afraid Ron and Hermione would panic at the sound of Sirius's name."

"Oh, not us," said Hermione.  "We like Sirius."

A relieved smile danced across Black's face.  "I'm glad you do; it's about time somebody likes him."  Her smile faded and she looked sternly at the three.  "Harry, I've already told you this, but I'm going to say it again for the benefit of you two."  She nodded to Ron and Hermione.  "Don't breathe a word about Sirius and I.  Dumbledore knows – there isn't much that escapes his attention anyway, but he's known for a long time – but nobody else does except for you, me, Remus, and Sirius.   I'd like to keep it that way.  Understood?"

They all smiled and nodded.  "Good," she said.  "Now, I'm going to have to cut our little chat short, as I have an appointment I must get to. Enjoy your evening."