Strangers' Land
As Dumbledore counted down to one, Harry felt the Portkey activate for a bumpy, spinning ride. The world began to melt, rushing past in a vortex of colors and sound before him. Already feeling slightly sick, he closed his eyes, silently wishing for the trip to be over. And then —

There was a loud clang of the frying pan, and Harry's feet hit the ground. He couldn't prevent himself from falling in an unceremonious heap on the hard, wooden floor.

That did it. He was going to pay for a Muggle flight the next time he was to travel. Why couldn't the wizarding folks invent some other means of transportation? One that didn't involve spinning and crashing?

With a grunt, Harry took the hand held in front of him and got up. He glared at Dumbledore and Frank, who were unabashedly chuckling away at his ungraceful display, but the action seemed to only add to their mirth. His glare wasn't even effective on them anymore, Harry thought glumly. He gave it up as a bad job and shook his head at the one adult that bothered to stifle their laughter to help him up.

"Nutters, both of them," Harry muttered under his breath. Looking up, he smiled. "Hullo, Remus. Long time no see."

The werewolf appeared just as Harry remembered him, with a few added gray strands, but otherwise whole and healthy. At least, as healthy as Remus Lupin could ever appear. His robes were tattered and shabby as ever, and there was still that tired look to his amber eyes. However, the man studied him with great amusement. "You've grown, Harry. But then again, I suppose it's only natural. I haven't seen you for three years." Looking a little saddened, he added, "I'm sorry I haven't been able to visit."

Harry felt a stab of guilt at the soft-spoken words. It wasn't Remus' fault that they hadn't met for such a long time. The Ministry of Magic had outlawed the international travel of werewolves five years ago, spouting rubbish about dangerous beasts and world peace. He knew that Remus couldn't visit if he'd tried to. If anything, he, Harry, should have been the one to try.

"You couldn't have, Remus. Don't apologize," he said angrily. "It's those dunderheads at the Ministry who are to blame. No offense, Frank." Receiving a half-hearted shrug from the Auror, Harry continued vehemently, "Uncontrollable Dark creatures, indeed — it's a wonder they can control a Flobberworm with such an incompetent, idiot Minister strutting around like he owns the whole wizarding world."

Remus regarded him with both eyebrows raised.

"What?" asked Harry, feeling a little uncomfortable under the man's scrutiny.

"I was just surprised is all," Remus replied with a smile. "You sounded a lot like the Potions master at Hogwarts. Severus Snape. You know, the one I talked to you about?"

It took a moment for Harry to realize that said Potions master had been the one to spill Remus' secret to the whole school, demanding his resignation from the Defense Against the Dark Arts post. Severus Snape was the one featured in many tales he heard from Remus about his time at Hogwarts, and the image he created was unpleasant at best. When Harry looked at Remus, outraged, the werewolf hastily changed the subject.

"What happened to your glasses, Harry? Aren't you wearing them anymore?"

A bit put off that Remus had compared him to his father's childhood enemy, he shrugged unconcernedly. "I'm using contact lenses now. Useful Muggle invention."

Remus furrowed his brows. "Oh," he said uncertainly.

Although he was fully aware that Remus didn't understand, Harry didn't bother to explain further. He had found out, years ago, that trying to explain Muggle machinery and inventions to a wizard was a vain attempt. Frank and Dumbledore were prime examples.

"So, where are we going?" asked Harry, taking a look around. He realized they were in Remus' house. And if his memory served right, it was located on the outskirts of London.

"Frank and Remus are going to take you shopping first," Dumbledore replied. "You will need to get your wand, but you are free to buy anything else within reason using my gold. You can buy whatever books you'd like at Flourish and Blotts — though knowing you, I highly suspect you plan to purchase a library full of dueling books."

Harry grinned. That was exactly what he intended to do. The rare chance of visiting a wizarding bookstore was not something he would easily pass up, especially when it concerned books on dueling. He didn't care how many times Frank teased him about his obsession; he simply loved the exhilaration of firing off spell after spell, the thrill of dodging and countering the opponent's attack, and the challenge of predicting the next move and of making split-second decisions to turn the fight to his favor.

Harry's fascination with the art of dueling surprised even Frank himself. Through his long career as one of the top Aurors for the British Ministry of Magic, the man had never seen a youth so talented or passionate about fighting. Harry absorbed all of the physical and the magical fighting techniques Frank taught like a dry sponge, much to his joy. "A born fighter," Dumbledore would say with a sigh, as if he was uncertain whether he should be exasperated or impressed with his charge.

Harry nodded. "All right. Aren't you coming too, Albus?"

"I am, unfortunately, unavailable for the day, as I will have to organize the new term's curriculum with the staff and go over the list of new students," said Dumbledore with only slightly exaggerated disappointment, "which, more unfortunately, will not include Harry Potter's name."

"Tough luck," Harry shot back.

Dumbledore smiled benignly. "Well, there's always next year," he said, making Harry roll his eyes.

And so, with a promise to meet at Hogwarts for dinner, Dumbledore Apparated back to Hogsmeade as Harry, Remus, and Frank made their way over to the fireplace. After a whole minute of fruitless pleading and puppy-dog eyes (they worked so well when he was younger, Harry remembered with a sigh), Harry finally succumbed to the two adults' decision of taking the Floo to the Leaky Cauldron.

The trio's first stop was at Gringotts Wizarding Bank, where Harry withdrew a pouch full of gold Galleons from his guardian's account — a sum he wouldn't be able to spend in a single day, as Frank pointed out. Harry shrugged half-heartedly and dragged Frank and Remus outside to take a tour through Diagon Alley.

They had a small lunch back at the Leaky Cauldron before they headed outside again. Their tour soon came to a halt, however, when Harry entered the bookstore and flat-out refused to come out.

"Come on, Harry. Leave the bloody books! You already cleared a shelf full of them, for Merlin's sake!" Frank found himself saying after two hours of being stuck in the same corner of the same store.

Harry acknowledged Frank's call by waving his hand distractedly, rather like swatting away an annoying fly, but made no move to comply. He remained standing in front of a large bookshelf in the dueling section of Flourish and Blotts with a book in his hand, occasionally flipping the pages with a thoughtful frown on his face. Remus and Frank traded weary glances. It was exactly as Dumbledore feared.

"Harry?" tried Remus, smiling weakly. "Come out and we'll get you ice cream."

This time, Harry snorted, but only shook his head. Remus sighed, and sharing a helpless nod with Frank, they resigned themselves to yet another hour of sitting at a nearby table to read.

About ten minutes later, however, Harry looked up at the noise of an approaching group of people. A very noisy group of people. Harry glared in the general direction of where the voices were coming from, annoyance etched onto his features at being disturbed from his avid reading. But Remus had perked up at the sound of voices and was gazing in the same direction with a curious look on his face, as was Frank.

"Don't see why we've got to take Potions again —"

"Because it's your OWL year. Now, stop whining and start looking for your new Defense books! And you, Fred, George! Return that awful pranking book back to where it was. We need to hurry if we're to finish shopping today, thanks to all your dawdling in the Quidditch shop. Oh, look. Ginny, dear, there's that new novel you were saying you wanted to read. Do you want it?"

"Aww, Gin-Gin wants that dreadful book with the flashy cover?"

"Mum, you wanted that book. I don't want to read… what is it? Lovable Lockhart: All About my Charm?"

"And to think you won't let me buy that Quidditch book! It's loads better than reading Lockhart's crap. Oh no, don't you dare take her side, Hermione; you saw what a big fraud he was —"

"Ron, shh! You're in a public bookstore, not a Quidditch pitch!"

"There, that's the Defense section. Think there's any good pranking material in there, Fred?"

The voices were getting closer and closer. As the group turned a corner, Harry caught the first glimpse of a herd of redheads, followed by a girl with bushy, brown hair. The plump, red-haired woman at the front halted when she saw Harry snap his book shut and turn to them with a raised eyebrow. But as soon as she found the adults sitting at a table behind him, her face broke into a smile.

"Frank! What a pleasant surprise," she said, making her way over to the Auror. That was when she noticed Frank's company. She hesitated for a split second before approaching Remus with slight apprehension. "And Professor Lupin, I presume? I heard so much about you from my children."

Remus smiled back, but the way his shoulders squared and the way the teenagers trailing the redheaded woman fell silent at the sight of their former teacher did not go unnoticed by Harry. His eyes hardened. As Remus opened his mouth to utter some pleasantries, Harry interrupted him by setting his book down on the table with a deliberately loud slap, drawing a scandalized look from the only brown-haired girl in the group.

"You heard nothing bad, I hope," Harry said, immediately modifying his American accent. There was a smile plastered on his face, one that didn't quite reach his eyes. Frank and Remus turned sharply, surprised at the coldness of his tone. "Professor Lupin is a great teacher. I wouldn't want your blind prejudice towards lycanthropy to ruin his reputation."

"Harry," Remus chided quietly, but Harry continued to stare defiantly at the woman.

At first, the plump matron stared back at him with an expression of mild shock, but recovering quickly, she looked at Harry appraisingly. If Harry was a little startled to see affection in her eyes, he didn't outwardly show it. But he had to admit that he had expected the woman to be furious for his display of open hostility, not proud.

"And who might you be, young man?" she asked, and Harry gazed at her blankly for a moment before cursing his thoughtless butt-in. Who was he, indeed? He couldn't possibly pray that the woman wouldn't have heard of Harry Potter. He desperately searched for a name to use.

"Harry Cormack," came a voice from behind him.

Harry jumped and turned to see Frank rise from his seat to stand next to him. The Auror patted his head — something he knew Harry resented — for the second time that day. "He's a distant relative of Dumbledore's. Has him visiting for the week, and being the mighty Headmaster he is, Dumbledore managed to persuade us into babysitting little Harry while he's having a meeting with his staff."

Harry grimaced at the word 'babysitting,' but refrained from arguing, settling instead for a mute glare. When the woman appeared convinced, however, he gave a small nod to Frank to show his appreciation for the fast thinking.

"You know the Headmaster?" the girl with the bushy hair spoke up, curiosity lighting her brown eyes. "You look about our age, but you don't attend Hogwarts, do you?"

Harry shook his head. "I'm home-schooled."

"Oh." The girl frowned, but did not press the issue. Instead, her eyes traveled over to the mountain of books stacked on the floor next to him, widening like saucers as she realized that he had purchased all of them. There must have been over fifty volumes, all of them Defense-related. Without much caring for his privacy, Harry noted in annoyance, the girl flew to the books' side and began to examine their titles. Noticing the girl's interest, the other children began to crowd around as well, leaving the adults to converse on their own.

"Bloody Hell!" exclaimed the youngest redheaded boy, stepping away with a dumbfounded look on his face. He stared at Harry as though he was crazy. "All of them are about Defense. What are you, a Defense maniac?"

The smallest of the group — a petite girl with flowing red hair — smacked the boy's head none too gently. "Ever heard of politeness, Ron?" she said scathingly.

Harry cleared his throat to cut off the verbal spar he could see coming up between the two siblings. "Speaking of politeness," he began, arching an eyebrow, "you do realize that you've yet to introduce yourselves? You seem to know both of my… ah, babysitters."

"I hadn't realized — I'm sorry, I'm Hermione Granger." Predictably, it was the bushy-haired girl that spoke first, extending a hand. Harry took it and shook briefly. "This is Ron Weasley, his sister Ginny, and their twin brothers, Fred and George. All of us attend Hogwarts, so we were all taught by Professor Lupin. We're also in Gryffindor and are friends with Mr. Longbottom's son. We would know about Mr. Longbottom even if we weren't, though; everyone knows he's a splendid Auror."

Harry gave a small smile. "I see. Believe it or not, my Defense mania comes from him. Both Remus and Frank taught me Defense Against the Dark Arts. I do wonder, though; do you all still see Remus as a Dark creature?"

The group of students glanced at each other uneasily. Finally, Hermione spoke.

"I have to admit, we were all a little scared of him when we heard that he was a werewolf," she began, looking ashamed, "but looking back, I realize we've never had a better teacher in Defense. Professor Lupin was the one that taught us the basics of the subject, since he was the first decent Defense teacher in our Hogwarts years."

Ron nodded fervently. "The first two were complete rubbish. The only thing Quirrell did was stutter and whimper — he wore a bloody turban, for Merlin's sake. Said he couldn't stand the horrors of students anymore and quit, the poor bloke. That's mostly Fred and George's doing. As for Lockhart," he cast a sidelong glance at his mother, who was engaged in a conversation with Frank and Remus, and pulled a face. "Well, he was a fraud if there ever was one. Messed up in class so bad near the end of the school year that Dumbledore fired him."

"Moody wasn't so bad, though," said one of the twins. Harry immediately labeled him as George. "He was paranoid, sure, but at least he had some real experience dealing with the Dark Arts. Right, Fred?"

"Aye. Still, hearing 'Constant Vigilance!' around every corner was a tad wearing on our nerves."

"Mad-Eye Moody, eh? I've heard of him," said Harry, remembering Frank telling him about a trigger-happy ex-Auror, who was also an old friend of Dumbledore's. "So do you still have him this year?"

Ginny shook her head. "No. He retired, saying he was getting too old to teach."

"Well, he did say it was a one-year contract," Hermione pointed out. "If I remember correctly, he only accepted the post as a favor for Professor Dumbledore. But whoever is going to teach Defense this year, I hope they're better than the first two."

By that time, the three adults had finished talking. Harry started when he felt a hand on his shoulder, and he turned to see Remus standing beside him with a considerably more relaxed smile on his face. He was pleased to note that none of the Weasley children or Hermione had shown any ill feelings or discomfort at seeing Remus this time. Frank walked up to them with Mrs. Weasley, still chatting animatedly.

"Well then, Molly, we must get going now. We've other business to attend to," Harry heard Frank say. "I'll see you all in a couple of days."

The Weasley matron smiled. "I look forward to seeing Alice and Neville. Oh, and Remus, Harry, do come and have dinner as well. We are having a get-together in two days. The more, the merrier, and I daresay Arthur would love to meet you both."

Remus looked a little startled. "You're sure, Molly?" he asked, and Mrs. Weasley looked at him incredulously.

"Of course! It's a small gathering with just the Grangers, the Longbottoms, and the Weasleys, and the meal is homemade — nothing formal or fancy — but the two of you are always welcome. Please, do come if you have no other plans," she insisted. For a moment, Remus and Harry looked at each other. When Harry gave a small nod, Remus smiled and turned to Mrs. Weasley.

"We're honored," he replied. "Thank you for the invitation. We'll be there."

Frank clapped them on the back and began to shepherd them away from the Defense section. Tapping his wand on the mountain of books, he lightened and shrank the load to fit inside a bag. "Let's move it, shall we? You still have that wand to buy, Harry… and you owe me ice cream for wasting two hours of my time. See you later, Molly," Frank called to the Weasleys, waving a hand over his shoulder.

The last thing Harry managed to utter before he was pushed past the doors was an indignant protest of, "Hey! I was going to buy that book, you know!"

The warm rays of afternoon sun streamed into the small, shabby wand shop as the trio entered, making the bell ring through the silence. Ollivander's sure was an old — not to mention creepy — place, Harry thought, remembering the sign over the shop's window and taking in the rows upon rows of boxes, all covered in dust. Frank and Remus also seemed a little nervous, though mostly, they were relieved to have finally succeeded in reaching their destination.

Still terse from being dragged out of the bookstore, Harry glared at his company as though to blame the lack of inhabitance in the shop on them, and stalked over to the counter to call for the shopkeeper. However, he jumped back in fright when an old man with large, silver eyes appeared right next to him from behind the shadows of a large shelf.

"Ah. Welcome to Ollivander's, Mr. Potter. I have been expecting you."

Harry looked at the old man in shock, momentarily wondering if he'd somehow messed up with the glamour on his scar. Ollivander seemed to sense his panic, however, and gave a reassuring smile, which only looked eerie and served to further unsettle Harry.

"You needn't worry, Mr. Potter. Your secret is safe with me," the man said, and Harry nodded uncertainly despite his mind doubting the words. "Headmaster Dumbledore told me you were coming today; otherwise, I would not sell a wand to an unnamed wizard. Of course, I would have recognized you just by your appearance." At Harry's inquiring look, he explained, "I remember every wand I ever sold, Mr. Potter, and every client I sold the wand to. Oh, yes. I remember the day I sold your parents' first wands like it was yesterday. You look exactly like your father, but with your mother's eyes."

Harry didn't know how to answer to that, so he shrugged and kept silent. To his relief, Ollivander seemed to spot the two adults lurking at the door.

"Mr. Lupin!" he addressed Remus, making the werewolf jump. "I remember your wand well, Mr. Lupin. Twelve and a half inches, beech, with the core of powdered unicorn horn. Very sturdy. And you, Auror Longbottom." Ollivander looked at Frank, and his nostalgic expression was replaced with slight disappointment. "Your wand used to be a combination of pine and dragon heartstring, I believe? Nice and supple, a unique combination. Shame it was destroyed in your duel with the Lestranges."

Frank squirmed uncomfortably under the wand maker's unblinking scrutiny. "Ah, well," he began tentatively, "if that crazed woman hadn't blasted it to pieces…."

"I suppose we should be thankful that your life was spared, at least. Even so, the loss of that wand was most regrettable. Are you having any troubles with your second wand?" Ollivander asked with a pointed look at the light brown wand strapped to Frank's waist. At the shake of Frank's head, the wand maker nodded in satisfaction. "Good. Now, let's get you fitted, shall we, Mr. Potter?"

In front of Harry's wary eyes, Ollivander snapped his fingers. Harry recoiled as a couple of measuring tapes jumped out from behind the counter and launched themselves onto him with unsuppressed enthusiasm. It was with his best self-control that Harry managed to stand still as the tapes measured the most bizarre places — who needed measurement of the length between one's nostrils? — and he was glad when it was finally done with. Little did he know that his woes in the wand shop were far from over.

"Let's see now," Ollivander said as he scratched his chin, looking down at the note of measurements. "There are a few wands that you could try. How about… this one?"

Ollivander carefully picked out a small, thin box from among thousands of others and took out the wand inside. Handing it to Harry, he looked on expectantly as Harry continued to stand there at a loss. "Go on, give it a wave," he said after a moment of awkward silence.

A bit miffed by the wand maker's lack of explanations, Harry waved the piece of wood upwards, just a little too jerkily. He almost dropped the wand in shock when the lighting above him exploded. Ollivander hastily snatched the wand back from Harry's loosened grip.

"No, no, no. Absolutely not… most definitely a mismatch. Here, try another one."

And so it went on and on… and on and on. Harry waved what seemed like half the wands in the entire stock, his agitation adding with every wand he tried. The small shop was almost literally in shambles by the time an hour had passed, and yet he hadn't found the right match. "Remember, Mr. Potter, it is the wand that chooses the wizard," Ollivander kept telling him, but Harry was slowly running out of patience. He had half a mind to give up and leave; after all, his guardian's wand had sufficed for a good part of his life. There was no reason to not keep using it.

Ollivander, who had been ecstatic at first to attend to such a tricky costumer, now looked flabbergasted. He reached for another box, but stopped mid-way with a frown. With a glance at the sight of Harry tapping his foot on the floor, he lapsed into thoughtful silence.

"The wand… Harry Potter…" Ollivander muttered to himself, paying no heed to his client's frustration. "Yes, it might just work. Mr. Potter, there is a wand I want you to try."

Harry suppressed the urge to snort. Like that was new. However, the wand maker had already disappeared to the back of the store and came back carrying yet another box — a box that, as far as Harry could tell, didn't differ from all the others in the store. Taking out the wand, Ollivander handed it to a very dubious Harry. Almost with reluctance, Harry took it in his hand.

And he felt it. Harry almost gasped out loud at the warmth that spread beneath his fingers. There was a sort of power, a sense of rightness and belonging, deep within the smooth wooden surface. Remus and Frank looked up at the sudden breeze that swept through the dusty room, and they couldn't help but stare at Harry's astonished face as he held the wand. Even before he'd tried it, Harry knew this was the wand. His wand.

At Ollivander's encouraging nod, he flicked it with a muttered "Orchideous."

It was not that fancy a spell, he knew. Or at least, he thought. But he was surprised when a magnificent bouquet of flowers shot out of the tip of the wand, surpassing all his previous attempts in its beauty.

Ollivander's enthusiastic applause broke him out of his trance. Harry glanced behind him to see Frank and Remus giving a rather embarrassing standing ovation. Upon seeing Harry's scowl, Frank sent him a grin, but even Harry could see that both adults were unnerved by the show. Harry, himself, was more than a little stumped. He had meant to conjure only a few flowers. How in the name of Merlin did 'a few' become a hundred?

Harry looked back at the wand maker, who clapped his hands one last time before fixing him with his silver gaze. "Very impressive. This wand seems to have chosen you with extra fervor," he said. "That will be seven Galleons. But how curious. How very curious indeed…."

As Harry paid the money, he felt compelled to ask. "Curious?"

Ollivander watched him gravely. "Yes. Curious. This new wand of yours is made of holly, with the core of a single phoenix tail feather. It comes from the headmaster's phoenix, in fact," he explained, and Harry nodded. He had met Fawkes before, and had loved the fiery bird. It was indeed curious that his connection with his guardian would surface in this way. But Ollivander wasn't over.

"And it so happens that the particular phoenix has given one more feather to be used as a core of another wand. Another feather, contained within the wand of yew that committed horrifying crimes. It is curious, Mr. Potter, that fate should destine you to a wand whose brother marked the scar on your forehead."

Harry's eyes widened. His wand was a brother of Voldemort's wand? And then the implications hit.

"Priori Incantatem."

Frank furrowed his brows in bewilderment. "Excuse me?" he asked.

"Priori Incantatem… the Reverse Spell Effect," Harry repeated distractedly. "A rare phenomenon that occurs in the event of a duel between brother wands. The wands would reject the casters' command to fight, and one of the two wands would start displaying the last spells it performed."

When Frank and Remus continued to stare blankly, Harry glared at them in mild annoyance. "Honestly. I find it hard to believe you two are an Auror and an ex-professor specializing in Defense. What I'm trying to say is that if I encounter Voldemort, I won't be able to defeat him in a duel." A note of bitterness seeped through his voice at the thought. Ridiculous as it was, Harry had always believed that dueling was his best chance at survival. It was his forte; it was all he had. He turned his glare on his newly-purchased wand. "This is bloody useless."

"I did tell you; the wand chooses the wizard. This wand has chosen you," Ollivander reminded him. The wand maker's eerily large eyes bored into Harry's. "But whether the Priori Incantatem will ever take place or not, I believe we can expect great things from you, Mr. Potter. After all, the Dark Lord has also done great things — terrible, but great."

At those words, Harry narrowed his eyes, his fists clenching in anger. He spun on his heel without another word and stormed out of the shop, leaving Frank and Remus to hurry after him.

There was a soft knock on the door, and Harry curled up on his bed, lying on his side and staring off into space. Whoever it was outside his door, he didn't feel like answering. But the visitor was insistent.

"Harry? Are you in there?"

The slight rasp in the voice was unmistakable. Figures that Remus would be the one to come retrieve him; he was the best out of Harry's three protectors at calming him down, has always been. While Dumbledore was the one Harry depended on to resolve his biggest problems by doing the impossible, and Frank made a witty sparring partner, Remus was the best listener. Since Harry was a small boy, he had always gone to Remus with his petty worries without fearing that it would interrupt important work, or that his views would be compared to other children's.

Another knock, followed by a pause.

"Harry…" A sigh was heard. "I'm coming in."

The door opened to reveal Remus standing in its frame. He seemed to search through the room for a moment before he spotted the figure on the bed and made his way over. Perching himself on the edge of the bed, Remus placed a gentle hand on Harry's arm. Harry, however, remained in his curled-up position, not acknowledging the werewolf's presence.

"You're still upset, then?" Remus asked his unresponsive charge. "I'm sure Ollivander didn't mean it like that."

Harry looked up at Remus' concerned face with the same blank stare he'd been giving the room's wall.

"It's not that. I'm used to people expecting things from me. Expecting me to come out of hiding… to save the whole, effing, wizarding world if Voldemort ever comes back, and keep my morals and sanity at the same time." He let out a humorless laugh. "No, what really bothers me is that I don't have what it takes to answer to those expectations. Even my dueling skills are useless against Voldemort. How am I supposed to pull miracles off? What sort of power do I have that he doesn't already know of?"

Remus smiled down at him, and Harry thought his smile looked a little sorrowful.

"Harry, I know I'm probably asking for the impossible, but try not to feel pressured by what everyone expects of you. It's not right that they're forcing you up on a pedestal and making you uncomfortable." At Harry's unconvinced shrug, Remus added. "And your dueling skills are everything but useless. You have the power to protect your loved ones. Your talent is something Aurors would kill to have… even Frank."

Harry froze and looked at Remus. "You know, I still have trouble imagining Frank killing someone. I've never seen him act particularly vicious."

"I don't blame you. Frank is usually very easy-going. But believe me, he can be vicious when he wants to be." Remus looked away and shivered, as if recalling a long-forgotten memory. "There is a good reason Frank was made the top Auror in the Ministry. You should have seen what he did to Rodolphus Lestrange when we found the group of Death Eaters wandering around his house."

"I've heard of it," Harry muttered quietly. "It was when Lestrange — Rodolphus, I mean — got a Cruciatus through to Frank's wife, wasn't it? He'd almost killed the brother too, before the crazy Lestrange woman disarmed him and broke his wand."

Remus chuckled. "Yes. But even that didn't stop him from strangling Bellatrix with his bare hands. The reinforcements had to pry him away in order to bring her and her brother-in-law to Azkaban alive."

Harry gave a small smile.

"Say, Harry, how are you progressing with the Patronus Charm? It's been five years since I first taught you, and the charm happens to be the last spell I taught before we lost touch," Remus said with a smile of his own. He was pleased to note that Harry seemed to be feeling better. At least, it seemed that he was no longer feeling as impassive as before.

Harry finally got up from the bed and reached over to the holly wand on the nightstand. The smooth surface of the wood glinted in the lamplight, and for a moment, Harry was reminded of Ollivander's large, silver eyes. He hesitated for a split second, but grabbed the wand and held it at the ready.

"I had a bit of trouble with this charm, but I mastered it just fine," he said to Remus. "I can cast a corporal Patronus now. The problem is that I've never tried casting it in a practical situation. I know it should be a lot harder to call for the Patronus in the presence of a Dementor, but here goes."

Taking a deep breath, Harry used a bit of Occlumency to push away his depression and pictured the first time he beat Frank in a duel. The mere memory of it made him smile. It wasn't exactly a fair duel; more like an eleven-year-old Harry assaulting Frank in his sleep, but it didn't change the fact that he won. At least, not in Harry's opinion. As he grew, and as he gradually acquired more skill and experience, he could occasionally beat Frank in a fairer duel.

Harry raised his wand.

"Expecto Patronum!"

A burst of white light shot out from the wand tip, so intense that Remus had to shield his eyes until his vision adjusted to the brightness. And when it did — as he took in the creature standing regally before him — he couldn't help but gasp. For one dreamlike moment, Remus could have sworn his heart stopped at the sight of his dead friend.

"Prongs," he breathed, his eyes never leaving the silvery form of the stag he was so familiar with. The Patronus tossed back its magnificent head, almost as if it recognized the name. Harry looked at Remus questioningly.

"Wasn't that my dad's nickname?" he asked as the Patronus gave him a final bow and disappeared. The well-lit bedroom suddenly appeared so much darker. "Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs… you never did tell me why you called each other that way. I can understand you being Moony, but the others sound like they're animals as well. Are they?"

Remus seemed to suffer an internal struggle, but in the end, he sighed.

"I did swear secrecy to my friends, Harry, but I suppose this is no longer just my secret to keep," he said resignedly. "You're father, James Potter, was an unregistered Animagus. That's what he — and the rest, also — did to keep me company during full moons. He used to transform into a stag, exactly like the one you've just conjured. It makes perfect sense that your Patronus is your father's Animagus form; James is still alive within you."

Harry felt himself blush under Remus' proud gaze. "Well… thanks. I appreciate that you're sharing your secret with me," he muttered, before he cleared his throat and looked up. "So what were the others? Wormtail and Padfoot, I mean?"

"Wormtail was a rat, named after Peter Pettigrew's Animagus form. And Padfoot —" The werewolf's expression clouded at the name, but he continued. "Padfoot was Sirius Black in his dog Animagus form," he said shortly, his voice and his eyes betraying neither hate, nor pain, that Harry imagined him to be feeling.

"You haven't reported this to the Ministry, have you?" Harry asked shrewdly.

Remus shook his head. "I did debate with myself whether I should, but I doubt this information is important anymore. Both James and Peter are dead, and Sirius… well, he can hardly cause problems with his Animagus transformation in Azkaban, can he? What with those Dementors around…."

"You're keeping this secret out of loyalty," Harry pointed out. "Even with my dad and Pettigrew gone, you haven't told anyone. Isn't that because you still feel you owe it to Black?"

It took a moment for the words to sink in, and when they did, Remus flinched as though Harry had harshly accused him of fraternizing with the traitor. In truth, however, Harry had only asked out of curiosity. The Sirius Black featured in Remus' tales of his Hogwarts days was so different from the cold-hearted murderer that he was infamous for being. Harry had always found it difficult to believe that such close friends — ones who would go as far as to become Animagi for their werewolf friend — could be separated so cruelly. But there it was; reality.

After a long silence, Remus finally found his voice. "Perhaps I am. Perhaps I should have reported it," he replied quietly. "I'm sorry, Harry. It's just that he was once my friend. Not anymore, of course… not after the things he did… but it is true that I still feel some degree of loyalty to the friend he was back then. To his more-preferred memory. If you want me to, I promise I will go to the Ministry with the information."

"Not if you don't want to," Harry said with a deceivingly casual shrug. There was a restless feeling — a sense of wrongness — in the pit of his stomach. As he carefully watched the conflicting emotions on Remus' face, he came to a decision.

"In any case, weren't you supposed to retrieve me for Albus?" Harry suggested lightly. Remus looked up, startled, and gave him a sheepish smile. Harry rolled his eyes. "C'mon, Remus. I'm starving. Let's go down to the Great Hall."

However, as Harry led the way out of his quarters and through the Hogwarts corridors, stealing occasional glances at Remus following him, he couldn't help but wonder who really was the 'babysitter' here.

Frank glanced at his watch and then back at the table where Remus, Harry, and Dumbledore sat. It was almost ten in the evening, and the four of them were still relaxing in the Great Hall. Remus and Dumbledore appeared to be having a heated debate about the pros and cons of using enchantments on a sherbet lemon; a sure sign of Firewhisky intoxication. Harry looked on, clearly amused, but refraining from interrupting the conversation.

"Well, I should be getting home now," the Auror said, standing up and grabbing his coat. "Thanks for the dinner, Albus. I'll be back tomorrow."

Dumbledore smiled at his leaving guest. "You're welcome, Frank. I'll be waiting. Good night."

With a nod, Frank left the table and strode through the great oak doors, heading for the castle's exit. Just as he was about to reach the Entrance Hall, however, he halted in his steps. Giving a sigh of exasperation, he turned to face the darkened corridor.

"You're not planning to launch another one of your surprise attacks, are you, Harry?"

There was a soft rustle of cloth as Harry stepped out, with a sheepish grin, from behind one of the statues. "Guess I need to work a bit more on my stealth, then," he said with mock disappointment before he sobered. "Seriously, though, I'm not here to jump on you. I wanted to ask you something."

Frank raised an eyebrow.

"I wanted to know if it's possible for me to visit Azkaban."

Frank blinked, startled. He fixed Harry with a calculating look. "And why would you want to do that? It won't be a field trip, Harry. There are Dementors in there, not to mention extremely dangerous individuals and Death Eaters who were caught after the war."

It took some amount of willpower not to avert his eyes from Frank's stern gaze, but Harry nodded, his face resolute. "I'm aware of that. But I wanted to see Sirius Black." Frank's expression immediately darkened, and Harry hastened to continue. "There's something I need to clear up. I know you and Remus don't want anything to do with him, so I'll go alone if it's possible. So, can I?" he asked hopefully.

"Don't be ridiculous, Harry," snapped Frank. His voice echoed through the empty corridor, making Harry shrink back. Just as Harry was about to give up on his endeavor, Frank let out a sigh. "I'll have to come with you, if that's what you really want. A visitor can't enter Azkaban unless they are accompanied by an Auror."

Harry beamed.

"I hope you have a good reason for the visit, because I don't like it one bit," said Frank, wearily rubbing the spot between his eyes. "If I had my way, you won't be seeing the murderer in your lifetime. But knowing you, you'll come up with some crazy scheme if I'd refused. I suppose you don't want Remus or Albus to know about this?"

"You know me too well," Harry said, grinning widely.

Frank shook his head. "Sometimes, I wonder if that's a blessing or a curse." He reached out and opened the door. "I'll call the Ministry and see if I can secure the visit. Good night, Harry."

"Good night," Harry called after him, and with that, the door closed. Harry turned and began to walk at a brisk pace back to the Great Hall, a smile playing on his lips. Perhaps this trip to Britain wasn't a fruitless one, after all.

A/N: As always, thank you for all your wonderful reviews! I hope you're enjoying Harry's trip as much as I am.

Oh, and it might be a bit late to mention, but I've created a Livejournal to keep readers informed of how my writing is progressing. You can check it out (and also some random ramblings of a teenager) by clicking the link foundin my profile page. Feel free to post if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions... or just to say hi!