Author's Note: Hooray! It's Wednesday (Hump Day!), I am done working, and I've finished the next chapter!

Supreme amounts of thanks go out to Elenaiel, my awesome beta, who rocks my socks right into the dryer.

Supreme thanks also goes out to Tootsie and Snickers, my kittens, for being adorable.

Oh, and inspiring. Yes, they're inspiring. :3 But mostly adorable.

I hope everyone enjoys this chapter (I had a lot of fun writing it), and I look forward to hearing what you think. As always,

Live long. Live well. Write.


THE SEARCH FOR LIFE AND DEATH

XIV

The Return


Dear Minerva,

I am writing this letter to you, because if I let Jack do it, he'd take up the entire parchment complaining about this, and never get around to telling you anything. Except maybe flirting a little – you know how he enjoys doing that.

We told Jim that the decision was his entirely, and he's decided that it's best we return to Hogwarts. We're planning to wait just a few days, as I know there are a couple people who will need to be prepared – that is, told and given time to calm down. I do apologize if this task happens to fall to you. I rather hope it doesn't. In fact, I think you should let Albus be the one to tell them. It seems a fitting punishment.

I am content to wait for your reply, to tell us when the best time is to arrive, and where we should reappear. Please note that Jim is anxious to see his friends again, but also, I believe, rather nervous. Perhaps a lot of people is not the best of ideas?

I hope all is well with you and look forward to hearing from you soon.

Yours truly,

Jacob


August 5th found Minerva McGonagall back at The Crooked House, for what she estimated to be the final Monday she would eat there. This brought some manner of regret, as she was rather fond of both the establishment and its food. Still, it would be good to have her three students back, as they were meant to be.

She watched as the muggles began to filter out of the restaurant, the spell having been shut off that made them believe the place had always been there. As the last of them wandered out, the rugged Jack Sparrow bounded over to her with a grin on his face. He grabbed hold of Minerva's hand and began to pull her into a dance.

"Honestly, Mr. Black, do behave yourself!" she cried, trying so very hard not to laugh as he twirled her around. Had she been wearing her cloak, it would have spun around her legs as effectively as a skirt, but the smart brown slacks and emerald green blouse she was wearing held no such extravagance. Still, they allowed her to blend in nicely in the Muggle World, and she was rather fond of them, to be honest.

"Oh, but Minnie, you bring out the worst in me, you know!" Sirius declared, completely giving up the pretence that his transfigured form suggested. He finished spinning her about and pulled her to him, grinning devilishly at her.

"Really now," Minerva said, pressing both hands against his chest and pushing away from him. She'd recognized that grin. It was a look he had given to many a girl at school during his days as a practicing student, either trying to coerce them into something, or distract them from one thing or another. She had ceased to be fooled by such smiles around the middle of his third year, and time had not dampened her awareness of the danger they held when present on his lips.

Sirius merely smiled at her with a mixture of happiness and apology. It was a good look to see. She had worried for a time, after learning of his innocence, that the years he spent in Azkaban would have completely destroyed him. While she could see some of the damage they had left on his soul, burning like coal-fires in his eyes, she was glad to see that the spark of mischief which had always caused her as much amusement as exasperation was still glimmering like a lit firecracker in his gaze. She hoped it never faded. Merlin knew their world needed the humor people like Sirius could bring them, and it was good to have him near Harry, childishness and all.

Minerva and Sirius both turned when the door to the kitchens opened and the second half of their party appeared. Harry and Remus had removed their transfigurations, and Minerva watched from the corner of her eye as Sirius followed suit, waving his wand over his body with practiced elegance and removing his own with ease. The dark-haired marauder grinned at both Remus and his godson in turn, and she was delighted to see that there was laughter burning in Harry's green eyes. She hoped that lingered, as well.

"Are we ready?"

"I believe so," Remus said, squeezing Harry's shoulder. "The Crooked House has been turned off, and everything is locked down so that it's protected. I don't think there's anything else we need to do, except return."

"Where are we going, Minnie?" Sirius asked, grinning at her.

"As you said in your letter, Remus," Minerva said, rolling her eyes in expected exasperation at Sirius, "the fewer people, the better. The Headmaster agreed to allow you the use of the castle for two weeks, until the meetings currently going on at Headquarters have been dealt with."

Sirius grimaced in distaste, but Remus was looking at Harry, who was moving his hands slowly, finger-spelling the word Headquarters out as a question.

"We'll explain about that a bit later, Harry," Remus said, the words appearing in the journal Harry had opened in his hands. "It'll be easier for you to see it, but it's where the people Dumbledore has on his side are planning out their part of the war."

Harry nodded and Remus turned back to Minerva. "Are we portkeying, then?"

"Yes. I have one that should take us directly to the Headmaster's Office. He won't be there," she added, as reassurance, and held out a small wrapped parcel. Each of them touched a finger to it, and with a jerk behind their navels, they were off.

They landed heavily in a circular office all four of them recognized from their own specific times having been in it. As Minerva had predicted, it was empty – even Fawkes was absent from his perch. Harry pushed himself up from where he had stumbled to the floor and turned to head, as he suspected, right down the spiral staircase. Minerva caught his arm before he went too far and waited until he had turned back to face her.

"Harry, I'm afraid I'll have to part with you here, as I need to floo to Headquarters," she said, speaking slowly so that he could follow the movements of her lips. "I wanted to give you your birthday present, before it got even later." She handed the wrapped parcel they had used as a portkey to Harry. Surprised, he took the gift and, with a glance at Sirius and Remus, unwrapped it slowly.

The box under the wrapped paper was only large enough to hold a very small object, like a golf ball. Or, in this particular case, a golden snitch.

Harry glanced up at her, startled.

"Your father had one, I believe. I'm not sure where he got it, but I do know he enjoyed playing with it. For a Chaser, he was rather good at snatching it from the air, though not nearly as good at either Charlie Weasley or yourself. I daresay you don't need the practice, Harry, but I thought you might enjoy it, just the same."

Harry took the snitch from the box and watched in mute fascination as it unfurled in his hand, much like that first snitch he had held, in his first year. The tiny dragonfly-like wings fluttered, buzzed, and then the snitch was airborne, flitting madly about his head. He tracked it perfectly with his eyes, unaware that all three of his companions were watching him with expressions of amusement, nostalgia, and relief.

Merlin, he looks like James in moments like these. James had never been able to keep his eyes on the snitch at all points, of course – he was a Chaser through and through – but he did enjoy making the attempt. Moony had always been the one who could catch the snitch when it got away from the raven-haired youth, but they had never been able to convince their friend to play. Sirius had enjoyed a few years as a Beater, but none of them were as mad for Quidditch as James had been; ironically, of course, except for Lily. Sirius wondered, idly, if Harry knew his mother had also been a Quidditch player on the Gryffindor team.

He can still keep it in his sights… Remus had a thoughtful expression upon his face, unlike the nostalgic half-smile on Sirius' lips, and the Quidditch-crazed grin on Minerva's. Madam Pomfrey had informed them, after doing a full physical for Harry, that his eyesight had been affected by Vernon Dursley's beatings, as well as his hearing and his ability to speak.

Remus knew from his year teaching at Hogwarts and watching him play that Harry was an incredible Seeker, and that his eyes tracked the snitch easily. Just as easily as he is doing now, in fact.

And that didn't really make a lot of sense. If the prescription of Harry's glasses were, as Madam Pomfrey had said, a far cry from what he would need now that his eyes had been further damaged, then Harry should have had a much more difficult time in tracking the snitch. As Remus watched, however, the boy flashed out a hand like a cat attacking a tassel and snagged the snitch easily from the air. Its wings flittered and buzzed futilely in his grip, as Harry kept a firm hold on the errant golden ball, and a blinding smile on his face.

I think, perhaps, I will have to talk with Madam Pomfrey, Remus thought, glancing at both Sirius and Minerva. Both of them were concentrated on Harry and didn't see his glances, and from the looks on their faces, Remus estimated that they had not come to a similar conclusion as he. That was well enough, as he could handle such a simple thing himself. It might require nothing more than asking Harry when, exactly, he had gone to the doctor's to get the prescription for his glasses. As cruel and neglectful as Petunia Dursley had been, Remus didn't think it would surprise him very much if it turned out that Harry had been going so long with the wrong prescription for his glasses, and if that were the case, that was good news. It could be that his eyes hadn't been damaged at all. He hoped so. Perhaps things weren't nearly as bad as they appeared.

Minerva was glad to have been able to give Harry his birthday present, even late as it was. She was even more glad, seeing the smile on his face, that she had asked Albus to allow her to replace the Quidditch balls this year, since they had been having some trouble with a few of them in the past. Filius had been more than happy to look over the old snitch and make sure that it was in tip-top shape and there was nothing wrong with it. As intelligent as he was, Minerva hadn't had any concerns about his talents being lacking, nor that any of her requests for certain charms being placed on the golden ball would become knowledge for those who were not meant to know of them.

A clock in the office chimed three in the afternoon, and Minerva glanced at the fireplace, as though expecting someone. Sighing, she turned to find Remus watching her, while Sirius was still studying Harry playing with the snitch.

"Ron and Hermione are currently the only two of Harry's friends present in the castle. They are waiting for you in Gryffindor Tower, where you are all permitted to sleep. It is likely that you will all be joined later by Ginny Weasley, and perhaps a few others. I have mentioned to Albus that a large number of people is not a wise idea, however, and he has agreed to allow only a few people to be present.

"Madam Pomfrey has been staying in the Infirmary, although I believe she had been making periodic visits to St. Mungo's. Filius Flitwick will be returning in a week to prepare for his classes. Should you need anything, however, Elena Morely is currently staying in a room near Gryffindor Tower. You may wish to speak with her, as she is Harry's secondary guardian now, despite your disappearance."

"And how many people know of that?" Remus asked nervously.

"Fortunately, it somehow managed to escape the media's attention. I am grateful to whatever forces have managed to keep Rita Skeeter away from our current troubles, though I fear it won't last." The fireplace chimed and Minerva glanced at the flames. "I'm afraid I have to leave you now, but Gryffindor Tower is ready for your arrival. The password is Kappa, as per Miss Granger's request."

Remus smiled. "Indeed. Very well, then, Minerva. Thank you for your help."

"And thank you for returning, Remus, Sirius." She smiled at the raven-haired boy standing before her, a smile on his face, despite everything. "I'll see you soon, Harry."


Harry kept the golden snitch clutched firmly in his hand as he walked down the corridors of Hogwarts with Remus and Sirius. He tried to ignore the fluttering in his stomach that was leading to a queasy sensation that bode no good will, but he couldn't quite shake the feeling that he might be sick. Really, it was just Ron and Hermione, and they were his best friends in the world. Why was he nervous?

He knew why, of course. He'd been missing for nearly the entire summer. He'd just disappeared without a word to either of them, and he hadn't sent either of them a letter to say that he was even all right. What if they were angry at him? What if they didn't want to be his friends anymore, not just because of his disappearing, but because he couldn't hear or speak to them? Would they just cast him aside?

Not Ron and Hermione. Harry shook his head gently, willing away the doubt. Not his two best friends, no. They wouldn't turn him aside just because he couldn't do something. They'd been friends since their first year, and they'd accomplished so much together – faced so much. They weren't petty, and he shouldn't doubt them.

And he was glad he would be able to see them again. He'd missed the two of them. Of course, over the holidays, he always missed his friends, but this summer it was even more noticeable. He wasn't around the Dursleys – he'd been somewhere where he was safe and cared for, and he'd wanted to share that with his friends, but he couldn't, because they were hiding.

I'm back now, though, he thought, and maybe next summer, we can all spend time together. It would be nice, Harry thought, to have a summer like other kids did, where he could spend time with his friends and have fun. He looked forward to it, almost as much as he looked forward to stepping back into Gryffindor Tower.

Sirius glanced over at the graying man walking beside him. Remus' lips were turned down slightly in one of his less-noticeable frowns of concern. "You're worried."

The werewolf's eyes flicked to the left, taking in the tall, dark-haired man who was rolling his eyes at him. Multiple times, of course.

"I can see you rolling your eyes, Sirius."

"Oh, good, then I can stop."

The two walked in silence for a while, before Sirius spoke again. "Why are you worried, Moony?"

Remus sighed softly. "There's always that chance…" He trailed off, shaking his head softly.

"Remus?"

"I always worried, when we were in school, that you would find out that I was a werewolf. I told myself that one day, when I was ready, and when I thought you were ready, I would tell you, but I'm not sure I really believed myself. In all honesty, I probably would have kept putting it off for as long as I could, because as long as you didn't know, things could stay as they were. I would be fine with things staying the way they were. You were all my friends, and that meant more to me than… than I think I can express." He frowned. "I wish I could explain it."

"I know what you mean, Remus," Sirius said softly, his voice losing the playfully teasing tone it usually carried. "Before I met James, and then you, I didn't have any friends, either." He left out Peter, since both of them knew where that friendship had gone. "There was just Regulus, and the children of my parent's rich friends. Having friends meant that I suddenly had a lot more to be thankful to Hogwarts for. It also meant I had a lot more to lose." He glanced at Remus. "That's what you're worried about, isn't it? Him losing his friends."

"It's what I'd worried about. What I had worried about."

"You worry about everything, Moony." Sirius gave his friend a sideways grin. "I see where you're coming from, but I don't think you have to be concerned. You did see Ron in the hospital wing when the Weasleys came to visit, didn't you?"

"Yes, of course I did. Everyone saw him. However, have you considered the possibility that the truth hadn't sunk in yet?"

"Please, Remus, don't insult him."

"I'm not insulting him, but I had Ron as a student. He's not the brightest crayon in the box."

"Crayon?"

"Oh, shut up, you know what a crayon is, you pure-blooded heathen."

Sirius chuckled at him. "Remus, next to Hermione Granger, are we not all dimwitted fools. Except you, of course." Remus sent him a half-hearted glare. "Come on, Remus. When we were in school, you told me I could get straight Outstandings in probably every class except History of Magic if I really tried. So why did I suffer through, attaining nothing but Acceptables and Dreadfuls?"

"Because you're a lazy mutt."

"Because school is better spent pissing off, doing something fun. Not sitting in a library, reading countless old tomes. I know you enjoy it, but we've discussed before how I think your wolfish dichotomy has rattled your brain in more ways than one."

"Ass."

"My point is, Ron is outshined by Hermione. Before that, I've no doubt he was outshined by his brothers. He has five of them. I only had one and I know people saw Regulus as better than I was in school. Can you imagine how Ron has lived, hidden behind five older siblings? And his only younger sibling is the only girl. James was no dimwit either, and he was pretty good about doing his best. He certainly managed some high level scores on his OWLs. In the face of your genius, though, who saw James for his intelligence other than his parents."

"You?"

"The Great Potion Blunder of Fourth Year was never to be brought up again!"

"I never agreed to that," Remus said, laughing. "And technically, it wasn't a potion blunder. The Lustful Love Elixir was, somehow, brewed to perfection. It's just a pity that it was you who drank it, instead of Lily." He smiled at the annoyed look on Sirius' face. "I think I still have pictures somewhere. I should tell Harry about that sometime."

"Don't you dare."

"It'd be a great lesson as to why one should not experiment with volatile ingredients."

"You don't shut up and I'm going to experiment with your face."

Remus snickered, but shook his head. "All right, all right, I promise I won't say anything. That was embarrassing for all of us, I assure you. And I doubt Minerva would wish to be reminded of the incident."

"She'd probably give me detention again. Scrubbing toilets. In the second floor girl's bathroom."

Remus burst out laughing at the thought. "Do you think Myrtle still has a crush on James?"

"I don't know, but I don't want to go back there and risk having her talk about him for hours on end. Once was enough."

The two laughed until their silence returned for a while. "You're right, of course," Remus said, finally. "I shouldn't judge him based on a teacher's perspective, or at all, really. I know he's not stupid. You saw his face, too, when I told him I'd contact Arthur when we'd relocated Harry."

"Yeah. He'd pretty much figured it out straight away. I'd thought you had caught onto that."

"I did. I don't think he's stupid, by any means, I just… worry."

"Like usual." Sirius smirked. "Things are rarely as bad as you tend to think, Remus, but if it turns out that they do reject him, then we'll be there to straighten it out. We'll whisk Harry off to America and start over. We'll have a happy life."

"I thought that was our plan if the Headmaster goes against his word."

"It's a general Plan B."

"Sounds to me like you're just hoping we get to use it."

"When we get to America, I'm changing my name to Cozmo, and I'm dying my hair green."

"For a pure-blood, you watch way too much of the telly."


"Kappa," Remus said, as they neared the Fat Lady's portrait. She spared only a moment to glance at them, before swinging open.

"I had wondered if she would refuse to let me by."

"Oh?" Remus asked.

"Yes, well, I did do quite a number on her when I was trying to get into Gryffindor Tower." He smiled sheepishly at Remus. "I wasn't exactly in my right mind at the time."

"That's completely understandable," Remus said defensively. "In any case, if I'm not mistaken, I believe the headmaster may have wiped the memories she'd held of that time, since it was apparently rather traumatic for her. I believe she'd threatened to resign her post at the time."

"Resign her post as a guardian of the towers? Has any portrait done that before?"

"I don't believe so."

"Wow. I must have been really scary."

"You were," Remus assured him, deadpan. "The memory of your wretched scent will frighten dormice for years to come."

"Harry!"

Remus made the wise decision to take a large step back and barely avoided the blur of brown hair that rushed past her and engulfed the raven-haired young man standing just behind him. Harry let out a sound like an "oof!" as he was nearly tackled by the bushy-haired young witch. It was a frequent occurrence he should have come to expect by now.

"Hermione, let him breathe, will you?" Ron asked, poking his head over the couch.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Harry," Hermione said, pulling away from him. "We've just missed you so much, and we were worried." Ron rolled his eyes. "Well, I was worried. Ron has the emotional range of a teaspoon." She bit her lip suddenly. "And you didn't hear any of that, of course."

Harry grinned suddenly and made a motion with his hands.

"Oh!" Hermione bounced on her heels giddily, grinning widely. "You're learning Sign Language! Oh, that's wonderful, Harry! We can practice together. I know the whole alphabet, of course, and some words, but I doubt the Hogwarts library has any books on it, since it's a Muggle-designed language. We should order some books from a bookstore near my house, or have my dad mail them to us."

"Here we go," Ron muttered. "School hasn't even started yet and we're gonna be back in the library."

"That sounds familiar," Sirius said, glancing at Remus.

"Shut up, Padfoot."

Hermione dragged Harry over to sit on the couch with her and Ron, so Remus and Sirius stood back at another part of the common room, watching the trio. Harry was showing Ron and Hermione the book that Remus and Sirius had created for him. Sirius snickered when Hermione nearly squealed in delight and started talking about how great an idea it was.

"I think you have a fan."

"Nah, she knows I'm one of the creators of the Marauder's Map. I'm safe." Remus watched as Hermione gushed over the detail put into the spellwork around the journal, while Ron rolled his eyes and huffed indignantly when Hermione started berating him about his horrible penmanship.

"Hermione, Harry's handwriting is worse than mine!"

"Yes, but Harry hasn't been using a quill his entire life, Ronald." Ron grimaced. "If you took a little more time, your writing might even be legible."

"Yes, Mum."

"I think they're going to be all right."

"Told ya. You worry too much, Moony."

"Yeah, so you've said."

"Did I?"

"Getting senile in your old age, Padfoot?"

"Hey, I'm not the one with the grey hairs, Mister Lupin."

"No, you're the one who dyes theirs with magic."

"Do not."

"Do so."

"Furry ape."

"Flea-bitten mongrel."

The two let their insult banter die off, as Ron burst out laughing, drowning out Hermione's indignant mutterings, but doing nothing to quell the smile on Harry's face.

"I'm glad they're back together. Harry needs his friends as much as he needs us."

"He needs his friends more," Remus said quietly. He glanced at Remus. "He's been alone so long, they were the first people who showed him safety and comradeship. They'll be the ones that will stick with him through the rest of it."

"Yeah. You and James were the same way for me, Moony."

The two watched in silence for a long time as the three friends laughed and talked and caught up.

"Thanks, Remus."

"You're forever welcome, Sirius."


Is there going to be a pairing for Harry?

Harry will be paired with Ginny eventually.

Fascinating...I get the impression that the chapters before this were merely the setup, and that now the story truly begins.

Yes, that is precisely the way I am working this. :) I'm glad you were able to gather that.

I'm so confused - and I can't even begin to imagine how much planning you must have put into this story.

Sometimes, I find that I, too, am confused. And that's when I realise that the characters are writing the story and I am merely the vessel. :) I'm glad you're enjoying it, confuddled dizziness aside.

Bleh... the 'mother' of dementors

After weeks of having initially read this review, I am still trying to determine the emotion behind this sentence. Disgust? Exasperation? Fear? Are you terrified of my mad skillz as a writer? So am I, more of the madness than the skills... but I am curious.

BTW if Harry is having such a hard time writing, why is he still trying to write with a quill? Couldn't they make him an ever-full ballpoint pen or something?

The Magical community has, in my eyes, always had one thing above all that it found exceedingly important. Tradition. I doubt they would allow anything Muggle-esque within the walls of their society without throwing an outrageous fit. This excludes photos and posters and such, often brought by muggle-borns or half-bloods.

Or maybe a pen spelled to write words he thinks?

I happen to have considered something to that affect at one point. However, it occurred to me that Legilimency, the magic through which one may read the mind of another, is considered one of the greyer magics, even though it can be used for good purposes (mental communication, for instance). Regardless that it would be used to aid an impaired child, the magics of mental viewing dance on that fine line that has people raging and roaring in fits.

I have recently started a Formspring account! For those of you who are unaware, Formspring is a site on which one may start an account and people may ask them questions that they can reply to. Because I answer questions on the following chapters, which often takes weeks, the fastest way to get an answer from me short of mugging me on the street would be sending me a question on Formspring. Not only will I answer it as promptly as permitted, but I will also enjoy it. :D My penname there is UmbraeCalamitas.

Many thanks to all who read and reviewed, and will review. I look forward to comments, and your questions, wherever they can be found.

As always,

Live long. Live well. Write. Read. Dream.