"Harry, are you all right?"
Harry snapped his eyes away from the spot on the carpet he'd been staring at for the last thirty minutes and looked over at Remus. "Yeah... Yeah, I'm fine," he said quietly and unconvincingly.
Remus nodded and continued to watch the teenager, who turned back to the carpet. In four days, Harry would be turning sixteen, and he didn't seem nearly as excited as he ought to be. In fact, Harry looked as though he was coming down with a summer cold. Emmeline had felt his forehead at breakfast that morning, but she said he'd felt normal. Even Molly Weasley was worrying about him—well, more than normal, that is. Harry'd gone over to the Burrow the night before while Sirius, Remus, and Emmeline had gone for their stake out duty. She hadn't allowed him to go out and fly with the others, so Harry had spent most of his evening under a tree reading over Hermione's shoulder. Originally, Remus had thought Harry was only worried about Sirius, but even Sirius was noticing something was wrong with his godson.
"Did you finish your summer coursework?" Remus asked, attempting conversation.
He wasn't sure if Harry had even heard him, though. Finally, the boy nodded silently.
Remus sighed. "Hagrid will be here for you birthday," he tried again.
"That's nice," Harry said tonelessly. He seemed to shake himself from his daze moments later and looked up, smiling. "Hagrid's coming, eh? Brilliant... I missed him."
Remus narrowed his eyes and frowned at Harry's sudden change in mood, but before he could say anything, Sirius popped his head into the living room. "Dinner's ready. I had to make it the Muggle way, so if you don't like it... Well, I don't give a damn. Come eat."
Remus and Emmeline entered the Leaky Cauldron the next afternoon and found that Tom had finally gained back a few of his patrons. Though the witches and wizards inside the pub looked over their shoulders nervously every few seconds, Tom had never looked happier. He positively beamed when he spotted Remus and Emmeline and cheerfully led the couple to a table in the corner. They ordered their meals, though they hadn't planned to eat out, and sipped at the butterbeers Tom had given them on the house.
"How could you possibly turn him down?" Emmeline whispered to Remus, looking over his shoulder at Tom who was whistling gleefully. "He probably hasn't had a customer in months, and now he's got ten people to take care of."
Remus smiled. "Tom is a good man. Sirius, James, Peter, and I used to get a room here for the last week of the summer holidays, and Tom pretended to turn a blind eye whenever Sirius and James decided to prank the others staying here. Come to think of it, I think Tom may have actually been involved in some of those pranks... What's wrong?" he added, noticing Emmeline's face harden and turn into a glare over his shoulder. He slowly looked over his own shoulder and spotted Naomi at the bar, loading up a tray of food.
Remus sighed and turned back to the table. Emmeline and Naomi seemed to have had a silent feud of wills going on between them of late. After an Order meeting one night, Remus had walked into the drawing room of Number Twelve and found the two witches very red in their faces, as if they'd just had a long, heated argument. Emmeline hadn't told him what had happened between her and Naomi, and Remus didn't press the subject, unsure if he even wanted to know.
Naomi walked over to their table gracefully, carrying their tray of lunch, and sat it down between Remus and Emmeline. She didn't make any sign of acknowledgement to either of them except a glare over her shoulder to match Emmeline's as she went back to the bar.
"Do you ever plan on telling me what happened between you two?" Remus asked quietly.
"Nope," Emmeline responded lightly, taking a bite of her salad and smiling.
Remus raised an eyebrow. "Okay, then," he said before starting his own meal.
They finished their lunch in semi-silence and Remus paid before they went into Diagon Alley to pick up Harry's birthday present. Sirius and Remus had always known what they were going to get Harry for his sixteenth birthday. Actually, this gift had been planned since before Harry was even born. Lily and James had worked on it the entire time Lily was pregnant. Naomi, Julia, and the other Marauders had helped with it as well, and Harry was sure to love it. James had always hoped Harry wouldn't have to even get the gift—he was only supposed to receive it if something happened to his parents. But as the war lessened their chances of survival, Lily made Remus, Sirius, and Peter promise they would give it to her son on his sixteenth birthday and not a day earlier. Peter obviously could no longer participate, but Remus and Sirius had been looking forward to going into the Potters' Gringotts vault to retrieve it for years.
Remus and Emmeline walked up the white stone steps of the wizard bank and were greeted by Bill upon their entrance. The eldest Weasley child led them to the bank's carts and took them to what was now Harry's vault. Harry had never had any reason to visit the vault left to him by his parents—Sirius and Remus provided his pocket money and took care of Hogwarts expenses. Sirius wanted Harry to have the gold for after he left Hogwarts so he'd never have to worry about living on his own when he chose to move out of the cottage.
Bill took Harry's vault key from Remus, unlocked the vault door, and allowed the wizard to enter. Remus found the box in a corner of the vault and smiled, thinking of Harry's reaction when he laid eyes on its contents. Remus and Emmeline thanked Bill for taking them to the vault, knowing full well the goblins' security measures shouldn't have allowed Remus to enter another's vault. Bill said it was no trouble, and he'd see them at Harry's party in a few days. He'd be bringing his girlfriend for everybody to meet—apparently, he'd been teaching her English for a few years since she was from France, and he couldn't wait to introduce her to his friends and family.
Sirius sat at the kitchen table in the Burrow drinking tea with Molly and Arthur. The Weasley children, Harry, and Hermione had gone out for a fly, even though Molly had wanted Harry to stay inside and lay down.
"And you're sure he's not ill, Sirius?" Molly asked worriedly for the tenth time that day, glancing out the window over her husband's shoulder.
Sirius shrugged as he sipped his tea. "He says he's fine, and Emmeline looked him over twice last night and this morning—she says he's fine too. I honestly don't know what's wrong with him. One minute he's stuck in daze, and the next minute, he's back to normal."
"Has he been practicing his Occlumency?" Arthur asked, reaching for a biscuit in the middle of the table.
"Yeah, Emmeline increased his lessons, and says he's getting much better—she can barely get into his mind before he throws her out. In fact, the other night he actually pushed her out so forcefully that she was thrown back against the wall." Molly gasped. "She was fine," Sirius said dismissively. "She seemed impressed by it actually..."
"I wish he'd let me look him over nonetheless," Molly said.
Sirius grinned. "Molly, Harry is just as stubborn as James was. He doesn't like being fussed over, and the only time he'll see a Healer is if he's unconscious."
Harry skidded to a stop on his broomstick, looking around for a glint of the golden snitch while his friends continued to play below him. He'd noticed the adults in his life—Sirius, Remus, Emmeline, the Weasleys—had been watching him with worried expressions when they thought he wasn't looking, and he wasn't sure why. He'd been asked more times than he could count if he felt okay, and though he assured them he did, they didn't stop glancing at him every few seconds.
Squinting at the bright sunlight, Harry absentmindedly rubbed at his lightning bolt scar as he searched for the snitch. On the far end of the Weasley's orchard, Ginny flew around a charmed hoop that moved on its own, making the Keeper work hard to protect it. Ron flew around an identical hoop on the other end, trying to keep George, who had possession of the quaffle, from scoring. Fred was dodging a bludger charmed to chase him as he chased his twin.
Harry looked down automatically to a tree where Hermione sat under shady branches, reading a book. Hermione kept mostly to herself these days, and though she had put up a good show when Harry and Sirius arrived earlier in the day; she obviously hadn't been the same since her parents' deaths. She'd told her friends that she'd decided to remain in England so she could continue to attend Hogwarts. Her remaining family tried to convince her otherwise, but she felt safer staying with her friends. Besides, if she was to move to France, she'd have to transfer to Beauxbatons, and Hermione hadn't been too fond of any of Madame Maxime's students when they'd visited Hogwarts during the Triwizard Tournament.
"Harry! Look out!" Ginny shouted from her hoop. Harry snapped his head up from Hermione's tree and spotted a bludger coming straight towards him. His eyes widened as he pushed the tip of his Firebolt down, and began to dive away from the bludger. He heard the black iron ball soar over his head and pulled back up to steady his broomstick. He sighed, thinking how close that had been, when he felt something hard hit him in the small of his back, sending him falling to the ground.
Nymphadora Tonks stared with narrowed eyes over the top of her cubicle wall as Dawlish entered Sirius' office with Rufus Scrimgeour. Despite Sirius' decision to keep Scrimgeour far away from his Aurors, it had only taken a month for Dawlish to convince Minister Bones that the former British Auror was much needed. According to a few higher-ups in the Auror squads, Bones was completely behind Sirius' decision concerning Scrimgeour, but Dawlish had a good argument: without Sirius, the "heart and soul of the Aurors," the Ministry needed everyone they could get. Tonks knew for a fact that Dawlish didn't give a damn about the status of Sirius' health; he'd wanted the Head Auror job for years, and Tonks had heard him talking to another Auror about what he would do as Head of the Department.
Tonks was reporting to her cousin twice a week about the goings on in Auror Headquarters, but if she told him Scrimgeour was there to meet with Dawlish, Sirius was liable to rush into the Ministry and curse both wizards all the way back to Australia. Well, he couldn't really curse them, but he could definitely put them in St. Mungo's for a few weeks. Tonks knew some good hexes, and she wouldn't hesitate to use them to help out her favorite cousin.
"You know, spying in the Ministry is illegal," said a quiet, amused voice from behind her. For a flash, she thought of Kingsley, but her stomach filled with lead when she realized it was only Remus and Emmeline standing in her cubicle.
She turned around and sat in her desk chair, glaring playfully at her two fellow Order members. "I'm on orders from Sirius to keep an eye on Dawlish, thankyouverymuch. And it's a damn good thing I am, when the first thing that idiot is doing as temporary Head Auror is overruling Sirius' decision about Scrimgeour."
Remus frowned. "Rufus Scrimgeour is here? Why?" he asked sharply.
"I think Dawlish is trying to bring him back. They've been in a meeting all day with the Minister, and when they got back in here fifteen minutes ago, they were both wearing very smug looks on their ugly faces that I wanted to hex right off," Tonks said. "But of course I can't, since Dawlish technically has the power to have me sacked."
"Sirius isn't going to like this," Emmeline said quietly. "Dawlish can't bring Aurors in, can he? He's only acting Head Auror..."
"Dawlish can't, but Bones can. Scrimgeour worked under Bones when she was still head of the DMLE. From what James and Sirius told us when they first came into the Ministry, Bones wasn't ever too fond of Scrimgeour, but in public she acted the part to keep from having to explain why she didn't like him. Scrimgeour was nominated to be Bones' successor when she got the Minster post, but Mad-Eye was able to veto that, and put Emerson as the DMLE head and Sirius as Head Auror," Remus explained. "That's when Scrimgeour left. He'd been passed up twice and apparently, that didn't sit too well with him." He looked over at the closed door of Sirius' office. "If Bones does bring Scrimgeour in for whatever reason, don't be surprised if Sirius comes in here ready to fight—he can't stand Scrimgeour."
Tonks grinned. "Sirius called him a dirty, sad excuse of a lion, with that beard and hair of his."
Remus nodded thoughtfully. "That about sums it up, actually," he said.
"So what are you guys doing here?" Tonks asked, still grinning.
"We were just checking into our departments to make sure no one's screwing off in our absence," Emmeline began.
Remus raised an eyebrow at his girlfriend's choice of words. "You've been spending too much time with Sirius," he muttered amusedly.
Emmeline continued with a smirk. "Also, we've been asked to inform you of an Order meeting tonight," she said in a whisper so she wouldn't be overheard. Tonks nodded and changed the subject to Harry's upcoming birthday party immediately as Dawlish and Scrimgeour exited the Head Auror's office.
"Honestly, Molly," Sirius said, lowering his godson's unconscious form into the boy's bed at the cottage. "Harry's fine. You fixed his broken bones, and now the most he'll have when he wakes up is a nasty headache from the fall. And we've got plenty of headache potions to take care of that."
Molly bit her lip, her eyes filled with concern. "Perhaps I should just stick around for a bit. The kids are perfectly fine at home with Arthur and they can fend for themselves for dinner."
"Molly," Sirius said patiently. "I do appreciate the concern, really I do, but Remus and Emmeline will be home soon, and I think myself perfectly capable of watching an unconscious teenager."
Molly sighed. "Well, if you're sure."
"I'm sure," Sirius said with a smile, leading the Weasley matriarch to the fireplace. "We'll see you at the meeting tonight and Harry will be just fine."
Molly nodded, still visibly concerned, and took some Floo powder from the bowl Sirius offered her. She stepped into the fireplace and clearly said, "The Burrow," before throwing the powder at her feet and disappearing in a whirl of green flames.
Sirius shook his head and sighed. He really did appreciate Molly's concern when it came to Harry, but sometimes she did overreact. Of course, Sirius hadn't acted too calmly when Hermione came running to the Burrow to tell the adults that Harry'd fallen from his broom. Harry had a few broken bones, and probably a concussion, but Molly had patched him up on sight. The boy had endured much worse injuries during Quidditch before—when he was nine, he'd decided he wanted to fly during a strong wind and fell nearly thirty feet to the grass; when he was eleven, just three weeks before he'd left for Hogwarts, George had accidentally hit him in the head with a beater's bat; before his third year, he'd been concentrating so hard on catching the snitch that he hadn't seen the tree until he ran into it headfirst. All of these incidents had resulted in nothing more than a few broken bones, a bad headache, and a lecture from Remus about being careful when he was flying.
Sirius retrieved a bottle of butterbeer from the kitchen and went in to check on Harry. His godson seemed to be sleeping quite peacefully. Sirius pulled off Harry's glasses, folded them, and laid them beside Harry's wand on the bedside table.
Sirius still couldn't see how this boy, his godson, was to be expected to defeat Lord Voldemort. There'd been many late-night discussions between Remus and Sirius, too many to count, about how Harry would manage it and live to tell about it later. So far, they hadn't come up with much—the prophecy hadn't exactly given Harry clear instructions on what to do. There was no "point wand here" or "use this spell." Sirius wouldn't let Harry use Avada Kedavra unless there was no other way.
Sirius hadn't ever used the Killing Curse in all his years as an Auror, but James had used it once, just before Harry was born. A Death Eater had found Lily in one of the Order's safe houses, and James burst into the room as the Death Eater started to use the same spell on her. Afterwards, James said there had been no decision to make—that Death Eater was about to murder his wife and unborn child. Back then, it was legal for an Auror to use Unforgivables against Death Eaters, so there'd been no repercussions against James. He made Sirius swear not to tell anybody, not even Remus or Peter, about what he'd done. Mad-Eye and Dumbledore were the only ones besides Sirius and Lily who'd known. James felt no guilt for killing that Death Eater, only because Lily had been in danger. If that hadn't been the case, James would have just stunned the other wizard and taken him to Azkaban as he'd done with other Death Eaters before that night.
After making sure Harry was comfortable, Sirius went back to his own room for a nap. Remus and Emmeline would wake him when they got back, and he hadn't gotten much sleep the night before anyway. He took his wand, which he only carried out of habit anymore, out of his back pocket, checking to be sure both buttocks were still in place, and sat it on his desk. He lay down with a sigh and got comfortable before closing his eyes.
It only seemed like a few minutes since he'd fallen asleep when Sirius snapped his grey eyes open again. He could see the sun was beginning to set outside, meaning he'd slept longer than he'd intended. His brow furrowed and he frowned as he stared straight up at the ceiling—something wasn't right... When he heard the heavy, raspy breathing, Sirius lifted his head and looked towards his door, fear setting in. He sighed in relief and laughed a little when he saw was it was only Harry standing before him.
"Hey, kid," he said, sitting up fully. "How're you feeling?" Harry didn't answer, but stared at Sirius blankly. Sirius raised an eyebrow. "Harry... maybe you should go back and lie down. You're still looking a bit peaky..."
Harry, it seemed, had another idea. The teenager slowly lifted his right arm, as if he was fighting a losing battle with himself, and pointed his wand at his godfather. "Harry," Sirius gulped, eyeing the wand warily. "What are you doing? Lower your wand, please." Sirius looked up to his godson's eyes and felt his heart stop beating. He'd just seen what Dumbledore had explained to him years ago—he'd just seen a flash of red pass through Harry's emerald green eyes. "Harry," Sirius said urgently, scooting forward on the bed slowly. "Harry, listen to me. Whatever's going on, you can fight it, you have to fight it! Harry, it's me... it's Padfoot. Please, Harry, lower your wand..."
Harry didn't seem to be listening, though; a dark grin spread across his face, filling Sirius' insides with a haunting chill. "You've interfered with my plans for much too long, Black," Harry said in a cold, high-pitched voice that wasn't his. By now, Sirius was shaking horribly, unable to protect himself with magic—should he try and tackle Harry? "It's now time for you to join the Mudbloods and blood traitors you tried to protect... Farewell, Sirius Black." Before Sirius could decide what to do, Harry raised his wand, pointing it directly at Sirius' heart. Harry opened his mouth again.
A red jet of light shot from the hallway and Harry fell to the floor, his wand rolling under the bed. Sirius remained on the bed where he stared straight ahead, wide-eyed and breathless. Remus and Emmeline rushed into the bedroom looking exactly how Sirius felt.
"Are you all right?" Remus asked breathlessly to Sirius. Sirius could only nod, unable to find his voice.
He tried to process what had just happened—his godson had tried to kill him—as Emmeline floated the boy's once again unconscious form onto his bed. "He just... He tried..." Sirius croaked. "Harry..."
"Shh," Remus said, sitting beside Sirius on the bed. "Just... Just try and relax, eh?"
"I saw..." Sirius tried again, ignoring what Remus was saying. "There was red... his eyes... I think... I think Voldemort possessed him..."
As he slept, Peter Pettigrew did something he hadn't done in years: He dreamt. He was dreaming of a past life, in which he was happy, and he had people who cared for him, even loved him. There were animals in his dream: a stag, a wolf, a dog, and a rat. The four animals were running through a forest under the light of the full moon, and Peter felt a serenity like no other overcome him. He hoped he would remember the dream when he woke—when he slept he was free; but when he was awake, he was in a dark prison with no means of escape—but chances were high that he would not. The only memory he had was of a white-haired woman who spoke to him sometimes. He felt as if he'd known her many, many years ago, but he wasn't sure. He liked her, though, and hoped she would visit again soon.
The woman on Peter's mind entered her dark London flat just past two in the morning. She desperately wanted to sleep in her own bed for a change—for the past week, she'd been staying in the Dark Lord's hideout, working on mission plans. She'd known the Dark Lord would attempt to break into Harry's mind, but she hadn't known when—the Dark Lord said he was waiting for the "right time." Apparently, the right time meant when Sirius was defenseless and Remus was conveniently absent. She noticed the Dark Lord meditating the last few day—at least she thought he'd been meditating…...
All of the Death Eaters, including Lucius Malfoy, had been instructed not to interrupt him. Doing so would bring a severe punishment upon the offender. Naomi should have known that something horrible was going to happen, but she'd been so busy pouring over maps that she hadn't had a chance to find out what that something was. Some of the others were growing suspicious of her—particularly Bellatrix Lestrange. Of course, Bella was suspicious of any Death Eater who left the Dark Lord's hideout for more than a day. Naomi had to be careful how she did things when it came to gathering information for the Order from now on—Bellatrix was infamous for acting rashly against though who double-crossed her...
Draco Malfoy tentatively touched the blackened skin on his left forearm, still tender and bleeding from the application of the Dark Mark a few days before. The Dark Lord had marked him as one of his followers and Draco already had his first assignment—no one else would be able to pull this off and Draco felt better about his decision every time he thought about the trust the Dark Lord had put in him.
His mother hadn't been so thrilled with the news, but Draco suspected she'd get over it with time—she'd have to; the only way to stop being a Death Eater once one had the Dark Mark was death. Death would be a very high risk in this mission of Draco's, but he was prepared to do whatever it took to see it was completed perfectly, and the more Mudblood lovers he took down on his way, the better. The war was only beginning, and Draco Malfoy would be there every step of the way, right beside his father, fighting for the right side of the war. The war was only beginning and Draco Malfoy was ready...