Well. It has been a while, hasn't it? This story has been revised, risen from the dead, really. Hopefully you like the changes, and my writing hasn't suffered too much in the intermittent years. Please enjoy. Oh, and I don't own any of the characters, nor profit from their use with anything close to monetary gain.

Prologue: A Change of Sequence

Not a Dream

Sirius woke, and knew he wasn't dreaming. He stood in the shadows of a familiar office, and amongst the fascinating gadgets and gizmos, a place that had always, without fail, made him feel warm, safe, and amused; and yet, at this moment, the darkness of foreboding hovered near. The stairs ground, the harsh jut of stone against stone, and the door opened. Albus swept in, and-

Sweet Merlin, Harry. Sirius stared aghast at his godson, dirty and bruised and bleeding. And the expression on his face... he looked so damn lost. He couldn't tear his eyes away, even when the headmaster started to talk. He listened in disbelief as his own death was summarily described, and Dumbledore fed the boy a sob story about making the wrong choices- how he was responsible for Sirius' death, how Harry wouldn't have fallen for the trick if he had trusted him a little more. He saw the boy break just before the rage came welling up and he destroyed the better half of Dumbledore's office. Sirius stared. A boy no more than fifteen and at the height of exhaustion had just broken through two dozen wards and countless protection charms and obliterated some of Dumbledore's prize objects. That took a fucking lot of power. He looked at Dumbledore, and didn't understand the look of cunning pleasure on his face, as if he'd just achieved something he found difficult.

And, with a start, he was awake. Not a dream. He knew it, and as he processed it, he started to pick up the details as he went along. Something about the… seeing… jolted something loose, and a memory slammed into him.

"I've failed them, Sirius."

Sirius looked up from the sleeping boy into the face of his old-time headmaster. "Sir?"

"I never should have made the decision to place him with his relatives. They've starved him, of both nutrients and affection- and I think it's locked Harry's magic away. He's nowhere near as powerful as he should be- and it's my fault."

"Get him out of there, Albus. It's not too late, the damage can be repaired- he doesn't deserve that treatment."

But the man sighed, defeated. "It is too late. It's the only place he's safe, Sirius. The blood protection. You know what the Death Eaters will do to him. You know."

And he did. If Voldemort's followers ever caught Harry, the boy would be torn apart, mind, body and soul. But he was already being torn apart. Sirius knew that then just as strongly as he knew it now- but he hadn't given it thought between then- towards the end of third year- and now. Why had he not given it thought?

Cloth thrown over the eyes. Children listen but do not think. Follow blindly, little dog, be a good puppy. No, be bad. Lift the veil. The twinkling liar covers his tracks, but he lies all the same. Look. Listen. Question. It is not what it seems. You saw truth and future, it was no dream. Now see another.

Spells flashed back and forth, and Sirius danced between them, feeling euphoric and invincible. So long since he'd been out of that blasted house, and now... He locked wands with Bellatrix, taunted her, pushed her buttons. He knew better than anyone how to do it. The last spell he knew he couldn't dodge- but it was just a stunner. He would wake again... and he did. But he was no longer in a dark room in the midst of a wizard's battle. The world was bright and hot and dry, and there were monsters there.

The vision froze, and backed up rapidly, until he, watching himself, looked from a different angle as he began to taunt his cousin. Pay attention, the voice whispered. You need to know this, because this is where you and the pup escape Destiny. This is crucial. You separate here and now, both of you will die- but together... The archway stood in the center of the room, foreboding, ominous. It commanded the room, it and the mysterious breeze that fluttered the veil between. A tear, a hole: Another world. The pup fights the demon, and wins, but the twinkling liar doesn't want a live hero- he wants a martyr for the cause. His cause. The final battle takes place here- you will be his right arm, if you trust him to do as he's fated. You'll be with him. The snake will fall, and the liar will turn- get him out. The veil is your escape. Get him out.

"Who are you?" Sirius whispered.

These secrets aren't mine, they're not mine. They're from another and they hurt, hurt so bad. I'm stuck and I can't get out, but the brother's coming. Simon will help. You're the brother, and the pup is me. He's stuck, and he can't get out- you're the only one to help. Simon. The voice trailed off into a whimper. They're hurting us. Get us out.

And, just like that, she was gone. Sirius sat down, tiredly rubbing his temples. He believed it. All of it. Why, he wasn't sure. Well, he was. The situation with the TriWizard tournament shouldn't have happened. If Dumbledore was truly doing his duty by the boy, he would have gotten him out- and Sirius should have been more upset about the whole damn thing then he had been when it was happening. Ulterior motives. He knew Dumbledore had them- always had. He walked a different path for his own reasons, and Sirius had always, silently wondered at them. He had an ideal, and powerful people with ideals were dangerous ones, no matter which color they wore. They blinded themselves to everything but the bigger picture and the individuals suffered the most. Why hadn't he been more wary of the headmaster? Why hadn't he questioned Harry's placement with his relatives more? There were hundreds of ways to keep the boy safe. Keep him at Hogwarts. Disguise him; take the tracer off his wand. Train him to stand on his own. No, there was no excuse for that negligence- and it ended now.

"Harry, you've been someplace you shouldn't for far too long. It's time to get out."

Train the pup, 'fore he pees the carpet. Get out of the bughouse, don't belong there. Time to get out.

Chapter 1: Numb

For the first four weeks of the summer after his fourth year at Hogwarts, Harry did little but what was required of him. Dawn often found him awake, staring at the ceiling of No. 4 Privet Drive's smallest bedroom as the orange glow of the streetlight winked out and the pale gray of predawn light gradually stretched into the brightness of day time. The sharp rap on the door would come, and his aunt's sharper voice would cut through the fog of Harry's indifference. "Up."

Obediently he would rise, and chores would fill the hours of his day. Breakfast, dishes, clean the kitchen till it shined and sparkled. Clean the downstairs rooms, and then upstairs, dusting, sweeping, scrubbing, and picking up messes made. Laundry followed, and lunch after that. Then it was into the yard, watering and weeding, mowing and trimming. Wash the car, clean the windows, fix this, straighten that. At first, Dudley tried to make it difficult, tripping him, taunting him, generally attempting tricks designed to make his life miserable. The wooden, unresponsive way that Harry would continue his work was discouraging at best, and Dudley soon gave up his games to find more interesting, and more reactive, prey. The last tasks of the day would be to fix supper, clean up the resultant messes, and then go to his room. The Dursley's would gather before the telly, to zone out as a family as they sought to pretend their freak of a nephew did not exist. Harry might have told them he was happy to indulge them, that he'd much rather pretend they didn't exist as well, but that range of emotion was beyond him. Happiness was lost in a constant, dragging maelstrom, and if Harry thought of how he was feeling at all, he found himself teetering at the edge of an abyss, the roiling darkness of fear, rage and despair far beneath him. Lethargy would then reach out and reclaim him, and his thoughts would once again take a numb glazing.

For the first four weeks, his mind remained shut down as he slowly came back from the shock he'd endured. Everything he did was done through a haze of mute indifference, dismal and detached. Then the nightmares started.

Every night there after Harry came to screaming wakefulness, Cedric's name on his tongue as he lurched from his bed, or tangled in his sheets, or fell to the floor. His uncle threatened, his aunt scolded, and Dudley taunted. Harry changed. Everything before had been done from a place of rote, numb to the rest of the world. The nightmares brought him out of that chilling place, and threw him into a world of chaotic emotions. Rage, fear, despair. Denial, hot and futile, fought ferociously with debilitating bereavement. Fury, at Cedric, at Voldemort and his Death Eaters, his teachers and his friends- but mostly at himself- tore through him. He attacked his chores furiously, finishing them with time to spare. He ran to the park, past the park, around the block, around five blocks. Self-loathing nipped at his heels, guilt snapped and snarled at him, and he feared sleep, feared the nightmares. He couldn't bear to see Cedric fall again, to hear Voldemort's high-pitched, chilling laughter.

Eating brought nausea, so he didn't eat. He worked harder, longer. When he ran out of tasks at the house, he looked outward, doing chores for the neighbors. If they noticed he was running from demons, they them no mind. Weight he could scarcely afford to lose dropped off, and before long, the ill-fitting hand-me-downs couldn't conceal it. Dark circles formed beneath green eyes that seemed half-wild all of the time, and the hollows beneath his cheekbones became gaunt. Exhaustion made him haggard, more urchin in appearance than ever, but the hard, constant work and unrelenting, driving pace was working: the numbness was beginning to come back. Harry didn't notice his condition, didn't care. He was so busy running; he never noticed how far his condition was deteriorating until he staggered into a full collapse. The scenes from the graveyards didn't come to him this time. Something worse did.

# #

Harry walked down the musty corridor, wondering how he got here, and where 'here' was. The place, wherever it was, was in bad repair, with boards of the wall gaping to the elements, dust, dirt and debris gusting about. The electrical ceiling lights claimed the structure to be a muggle place, though they appeared to be burnt out. One flicked feebly at the far end of the hall, giving evidence to an ascending staircase. At the top of the staircase, Harry saw a shorter corridor, and a partially open door. People were talking in there, so he moved forward. Quietly, because something slumberous inside him shifted, and whispered caution. They know you've come.

The door was ajar, so he peered in. His gaze met a pair of red eyes, and the noseless face split into a pleased smile. "Welcome, Harry. I've been waiting for you." Shocked, Harry jerked back, spun on his heel and sprinted for the stairs. At the bottom, he started down the corridor, but slid to a stop as a shifting heap of scales and sinew resolved itself into Nagini. Trapped. He was trapped again. Where to go?

This way.

The voice in his head was lilting, airy in a way that reminded him of Luna's unusual pattern of speech. A door to his right swung open, and he leapt through it without hesitation. Pain split his head, and he knew Voldemort was right behind him. Fly, fly! This way! Right again, then left. The house changed, became stately, clean-lined and sterile. He wasn't running alone anymore. He and a man pelted into a room on the heels of a wispy, ethereal girl. Neither of them looked at Harry as they all slid to a halt. The older man turned to the girl and whispered, "we can't make it to the surface from the inside. Find out." Quick as a flash the girl climbed the wall, clinging to the ceiling as the man pretended nonchalance. People in white lab-coats and blue scrubs walked unhurriedly through their bit of hallway and out again, taking no notice of the man in military apparel or the teen in sizes-too-big hand-me-downs. As soon as they were out of sight, the girl dropped to the ground, and they were off again. An elevator shaft was pried open, and lift lowered down that had nothing to do with the building, but what appeared to be a space ship instead. Harry leapt on the lift as the glass began to splinter under the onslaught of guards and red beams that came from muggle implements instead of wands began to fill the void beneath them. The lift began to rise, slow at first, then quickly. And suddenly-

Harry's eyes snapped open. The sterile walls and room devoid of color went beyond even Aunt Petunia's fanatical cleanliness, and the needle pumping fluids and something that made his head feel woozy was taped to his arm, connected to a clear tube and a clear, liquid filled back. Muggle hospital. He'd never been in one of these. The brother came, he got me out. The girl's voice floated into his head with the same wooziness he felt.Sacrificed his whole world for me, and now we'll run, run, run, always chased, always wanted. I've lost my way, the woods are thick, the path unclear. Too many voices in my head, too many secrets. A chilling laugh. They wanted a weapon, and they got it. Now they'll scurry like ants cause Simon kicked the anthill, and the weapon's slipped away. You need to slip away, too. Can't be a weapon if you're still locked up. Just a puppy, growling at hoppy bugs and snapping at leaves in the wind. The Stars Dog will help, will teach the pup. Stars Dog is like Simon, he'll sacrifice his world for the pup.

Who are you? Harry thought.

A silly girl. A mad girl. Sleepy, sleepy til its time to wake up. Not for the pup, though; a little sleep, and then the time to wake up will come. Learn well, puppy. Learn fast.

! !

Harry fought, he bled, he struggled. He was so evenly matched with the monster before him, it was so damn close. He knew his godfather was nearby, fighting too, not convinced that a child was born to take the Wizarding World's weight as his own. Thanks for that, Sirius. Thanks for showing me its not my responsibility to fight for those who won't fight for themselves, but for those who do, and those who can't. Thanks for taking my side of this thrice forsaken war. Merlin knows you're the only one.

"You die today, Potter."

The boy, seventeen to the day, smiled as sweet as he could through the caked blood and muck on his face, and fluttered his lashes. "You're such a flatterer, Tom- I bet you say that to all the pretty boys."

"Don't know if he does." He heard his godfather call out. "But he sure says it a lot to you. Get's old after a while."

"You'd think," Harry dodged a particularly vicious curse. "That with all the time that's passed, the man would deliver." He heard Sirius' bark of laughter and gave the pale noseless creature a considering look. "Though, we can hardly call you 'man' anymore, can we, Tom?" Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sirius' victim fall, and caught the apparation of Albus Dumbledore. Sirius turned to aide his godson, but Albus reached out a restraining hand.

"Sirius, the prophecy."

"Albus, fuck the prophecy." Sirius snapped, and pulled free. He turned and began to circle Voldemort, counterclockwise to Harry's clockwise. They paced around the man, fending off spells and attacking with spells of their own, each probing for a weakness. Dumbledore stood back, waiting for Fate's hand to fall.

"Can't take me alone, Potter?" Voldemort sneered as he taunted the boy.

"Should I be able to?" Harry queried. "I'm a seventeen year old man-child- I'm supposed to be a match for the most feared Dark Lord of the ages? What nut-job thought that one up? What kind of nut-job are you to believe it?"

"You had plans, Riddle." Sirius took up the bait now, shaking it vigorously. "Large, impressive-type plans that you were going to bring to us, revolutionize our world. You put on hold for a boy. Not so very impressive."

"But I am strong enough to take you on, and survive it, countless times. I kicked you're wrinkly ass as a babe, and again as an eleven year old, and again, and again. I didn't come out on top for all of it, but I lived. This time, you won't. I'm sure of that." Harry leaped forward, vigorously attacking where before he had been passively defending. He was as tuned as he could be to the man's actions, focused entirely on him.

They mess with the Right, play with the World, and think they can make it better. They're wrong, and it costs. Price has come to collect, it's time to die. The voice, one he'd heard only a time or two before, came seconds before a surge of energy Harry had never encountered. Instinctively he grabbed hold and pushed it out with his own. Light, brighter than he could imagine, burst forth, enveloping the Dark Lord and vanquishing him before he could scream. The light flared, and, with a thunderous boom, disappeared. The dark lord was ashes and bones, and there was nothing left but that. Dumbledore started to turn, and Harry darted forward in time with his godfather. They dove for the veil as the Killing Curse flashed from Dumbledore's wand, striking a brilliant green flare where Harry had been standing.

They landed hard on hot, gritty sand and jagged ground, blinking back tears from the fierce and sudden light. Panting, they looked around. A desert landscape expanded in all directions, heat making waves on the ground. They had made it- it was over.

# #

Sirius whirled around, facing the way they came, waiting for Dumbledore to follow them through the Veil. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Harry do a quick and thorough scan of the horizon, his wand held calmly in a ready position, his lips barely moving as he ran through the slew of detection and diagnostic spells the war had taught them so thoroughly. Pride filled him, and he once again sent a thought winging towards his best friend. See what he's grown into, James? He's magnificent- no one was ever able to face down Snake-Face and remain so collected afterwards.

It struck him then, finally. A grin started to tug at his lips, and a laugh began to build in his gut. Harry turned to grin at him as he enveloped him in a bear hug. "You did it, Harry, you won-" He shouted, and Harry laughed aloud. They wrestled in the heat, laughing, crying, bleeding from half a dozen different wounds- suddenly Sirius's form shimmered and a large black dog pelted away, barking uproariously as he cavorted over the hard-packed desert ground. Another dog was on his heels in the next instant. They played hard and furious, letting their play be the release from the battle and the hard years in their past. Finally, they collapsed, panting, sweaty, and exhausted.

Sirius groaned. "Oi, pup, we need to start doing responsible adult stuff now."

Harry hoisted himself into a sitting position, a slight grin on his face. "What's the matter, Padfoot? You're sounding a little tired, there."

"Tired? Me?" Sirius remained prone, staring up at the bright, blue sky. "I'll have you know I'm a Wizard in my prime, and a Black to boot. We don't feel such mortal and plebeian things as 'tired.'"

"Oh, good," Harry said, his voice an odd blend of sincerity and mischief. "For a moment I thought you were starting to show your age." He grinned as Sirius spluttered a protest. "But if you've got enough energy to sound like a poncy-good-for-nothing, stick-up-the-ass Pureblood, you must be okay."

"Watch it, Pup. I can still take your ass. Don't get too cocky." Sirius stood and stretched, staring out at the barren wasteland with a mild frown. "Where in the hells have we managed to land ourselves?"

Harry snorted a laugh. "That wasn't part of the plan, Paddy. Getting here was hard enough." He turned north and cast a silent humano revelo, frowning when his magic reported in the negative. Exchanging glances with Sirius, they began to quarter the space around them, casting in different ranges. "Nothing?" He said in disbelief. His range was two hundred miles if there were no concealments, and he didn't sense magic in the area.

"I'm not getting anything from this direction, either."

"Could we have landed on an uninhabited planet?" Harry asked. They'd shared dreams often enough with the young woman who'd showed them the way out of their world to have pieced together the type of world they were stepping into. Worlds, actually- universe.

"The first time she showed me this place- falling through the veil- there were inhabitants, except I don't think they were people. Humanoid, certainly, but with ghastly injuries, faces peeled back and teeth filed-"

"So filled with rage and hatred they had become an outlet for the emotion itself." Harry finished. "But none are here now. Neither is anything else- Padfoot, if we're stuck on a deserted planet, what do you say we call it a vacation."

It was Sirius' turn to snort. "Vacation? You? You're the most energetic busybody I've ever met; you'd go insane in a week, tops. Pick a direction, Green Eyes: let's see if we can't find ourselves a more habitable place to rest."

They both reached into their pockets, pulling out miniature brooms that they enlarged with a touch. The last two years had been an exercise in preparation- with two family fortunes spanning centuries at their disposal, they'd certainly had the resources to experiment. Never-Full trunks were too bulky, and too prone to malfunctions when shrunk. They'd gone to backpacks, but those hindered movement and were easily forgotten in the heat of things. The storage space in the left pocket of their combat trousers was damn near unlimited: if it fit in their pocket, they could take it- and you could use a shrinking charm on just about anything. It had been an ingenious invention, thought up by a North American naturalist who tired of all the bulk that went with long, arduous explorations into South America in her efforts to discover every type of beetle the Amazon had to offer. The result is that they were prepared to start a new life with nothing but what they had in their pockets.

Mounting the brooms, and simultaneously casting a low powered disillusionment spell, they shot off in search of something other than desert.

# #

Captain Malcolm Reynolds truly hated running. The exercise had never appealed to him, there was just something torturous about the activity, the pumping limbs, the lungs expanding and contracting like a bellows, the absolutely ridiculous way people looked when they ran. He hated it. Hating it didn't change the fact that, at that moment, he was doing it, hell bent on getting back to his ship with enough time that he and his crew could clear Atmo and get lost in the Black before their pursuers could catch up to them. Zoey ran beside him, silent and efficient as always, the grim look on her face not all that different from the one she usually wore these days. Jayne, who was rarely ever silent, ran a step behind them both, apparently still possessing enough wind to unleash an almost steady stream of cursing. Mal could sympathize, he was rutting furious as well.

Another rutting job gone south. He fumed silently. Another trap- Alliance can't wait to have us in their hands again.

"Captain." Zoey barked, drawing him from his inner dialogue. Two men bearing weapons had stepped out on the road about three blocks ahead of them.

"I see 'em. Get ready. Jayne?"

"Four behind us, Mal." There was a pinched eagerness to Jayne's voice that caused Mal to roll his eyes. He couldn't figure out it Jayne was a complete psychopath, or just morally stunted, but the man had an overwhelming desire for violence. The Captain wasn't much into bloodshed at that moment, he just wanted to get his crew to safety, now, before he called a pow-wow and they decided what in the verse they were going to do. This wasn't working.

"We gotta shake 'em before we get back to Serenity." Zoey said firmly, and they heard Jayne sigh. 'Shake 'em' was a lot less fun than 'dispose of 'em' in Jayne's book. His eager ability to kill bothered Mal sometimes, but Jayne had proven his worth and his devotion to this crew. He trusted the man at his back, and he hadn't been able to say that a year ago.

"The Mule's stashed up ahead, if we can get to that we can make it to the ship without resorting to anything fancy."

"Mal, I got the grenades." Jayne said. "Just in case."

The Captain's eyes ticked slightly. "Let's not use 'em in a city street with civilians, you savage." They put on an extra burst of speed as the mule came in sight, stripping off the covering and leaping in. Zoey took the driver's seat, eyes steely as she mowed two of their pursuers over. A barrage of bullets followed their exit, causing Mal to wince. "Kaylee's gonna have our ass for messing up the Mule again."

"She's turned into a damned monster ever since getting knocked up." Jayne grunted, returning fire.

"Kaylee's as sweet as ever," Zoey retorted, "just has considerable less patience for stupidity."

"Zoey's got a point, Jayne." Mal scanned the dusty streets as they swerved through the thinning traffic as they neared the edge of town. "It don't help you none that you point out to her every day, several times a day that she's getting bigger."

"Well, she is! I thought that was a compliment for pregnant women."

"It's never a compliment for any woman. And its only acceptable when you're talking about her stomach, not her breasts. Honest, Jayne, Simon's liable to accidentally kill you next time you come in for a patch up if you keep it up."

"Let's not have it come to that." Mal felt the tension racket up as he spotted Serenity hovering in the distance. There were advantages to having a psychic as a pilot- when the job went South you didn't have to worry about your get-away not being prepped to go. Unfortunately the psychic was also a mentally unstable 17-going-on-18 year old girl, which made things plenty interesting at times. "You're a different breed of man, Jayne, I'd have to score the 'Verse to find someone to replace someone as interesting as you." He patted the man on the shoulder as he hopped out of the Mule, rushing over to close the hatch. Jayne straightened with a goofy grin at what he heard as a compliment- Mal caught Zoey's amused smirk as he went and added it to the very short list of things that went right today- getting Zoey to smile was damned near impossible in the eight months since Wash had died.

"Captain, you've gone and put holes in the mule again." Kaylee scolded as she and the doctor came into the hull.

"Holes happen when people shoot at us, Little Kaylee. We'll just be thankful none of the people don't have holes in them."

"You will if you keep getting my stuff shot up." They young mechanic groused, running her hands over the mule. Mal caught Simon's wide-eyed look and shook his head. Simon and Kaylee had a boat full of love for eachother, sure'nough, but Kaylee constantly caught Simon off guard with her honest and earthy ways, and these moods of hers often left him gaping after her without a clue what to do. Not so different from when he was trying to court the girl, and just as amusing.

"'Nough chit-chat. Kaylee, I need the Mule patched and ready for another go before we hit the next planet. Jayne, you help her out, you're the muscle when she does jobs like this from here on out- Kaylee don' need to be lifting heavy things, right Doctor-" That look, the one that meant he'd just put Simon on the spot and the Tam brother was about to panic, was what made having the Doctor onboard so much fun. Since the bastard didn't have a sense of humor to speak of, it was good enough. Mal didn't wait for confirmation, he headed for the Brigg. "Doctor, best make sure your prep is ready, we might be needing it today." Right on cue the ship lurched to the side, sending its crew scrambling. Missile fire boomed just outside the hull, shaking the metal under their feet.

River's voice floated over the intercom as the ship righted. "Captain, need your help up here."

"Zoey, you're with me. Let's move. Kaylee-"

"I'll get the Mule ready, you go keep those Bun tyen-shung duh ee-dway-ro from putting holes in my poor Serenity." Kaylee snapped.

Zoey shot Jayne a downright cheerful look. "See? Sweetheart." And followed Mal up the ladder while Jayne eyed Kaylee as if he thought she might try to stab him. Considering his luck with the women aboard this ship, it wasn't too unlikely a turnout.

Mal burst into the brig and threw himself into the copilot's chair. "What's it looking like, Darlin'? We gonna lose them?"

"Coulda lost them by now f'we had another pilot." River shot back, putting the bird into a dive that pushed her ability to stay in the air in atmo. "You're too slow."

"And you keep me honest." Mal replied gamely. "It's kinda risky picking up new crew when I've got two of the 'Verse's most wanted on board."



"Six most wanted. Since Miranda, since they know. Alliance wants the whole crew."

"And how long have you known that?" Zoey asked, her voice even pitched and calm.

River shrugged. "We're almost out." They didn't speak again till they broke atmo, the minutes ticking tensely by. Finally they left the planet's atmosphere and slammed on full burn, shooting into the black and out of range.

Mal let out a sigh of relief, and met River's glare. "That was some damn fine flying, darling."

"We need another pilot." The teen said, her jaw picking up a mulish line.

"You're right." It was hard to argue with a psychic when you agreed with them. Annoying to play devil's advocate when the other party could read your thoughts and pick out the flaws of your argument before you uttered them. Even more annoying when the other party was ten times smarter than he could ever dream of being.

River smiled at that; he'd gotten good at making her smile lately.

"You're right," he said again. "But you've just told my my whole damn crew is wanted cross the 'Verse, which means I can't trust a damned person I pick up. I gotta be able to trust my pilot, and, River, you're it for now. We're on the ruts, gotta make due without."

"You know we can't keep this up." Zoey said flatly. "We're more than on the ruts, Mal, we're up against the wall. Alliance is gunnin' for us, and they're getting closer. Too close. We gotta change something up, gotta give ourselves some room to maneuver- That means keeping River with us on jobs, not manning the bird."

It wasn't a new argument, and Zoey was right- she had tactics down better than anyone he knew. Alliance was cracking down; not just on them but the whole 'Verse. Things were getting very uncomfortable for anything not government run, and for a lot of those people things were already unbearable. Two planets when up in arms against the alliance not a month after they'd aired the footage about Miranda and the Reavers. The first one was a planet on the Rim, and the Alliance was able to outman and outgun them in a matter of days. The peace treaty between the two was televised, and the Alliance made sure the planets knew they were pulling the noose tighter. The second planet was closer to the core, with a large supply of Alliance Ammunition and plenty of military experience. The idiot's went off half-cocked and the Alliance blew the whole damn moon out of the sky.

Out of all the stupid things they could have done, that was one of the worst. People near the core thought they were privileged and safe. Privilege was a poor comfort when safe went out the window, so now a lot of those people that had power were thinking twice about the control the government had over their lives. They would have been smarter to send their operatives in, but thanks to the betrayal of the operative they'd sent to silence the Tams, the Alliance was thinking something might be wrong with the make-up of their brainwashed soldier=assassins. It was all painting a very familiar picture for the two retainers. War was brewing, and the fight for independence was threatening to rise again.

It made him glad Inara had decided to leave. He didn't want her in the middle of a war, not out on the brink. Though what made him think she was safer off the ship when they were blowing up planets, he didn't rightly know.

"I know where we can pick up more crew."

Mal pinned River with a look. Over the past few months she'd been a guiding star in the black, keeping them out of traps and steps ahead of the Alliance. Psychic was good, the fact that she was a damned sight smarter than anything they sent after them also helped. But she wasn't whole, not by a long shot. What was done to her while she was in the Facility damaged her mind, made it a little tricky to get sense out of her sometimes. They'd had some close calls, and she'd bugged out in moments they'd needed her lucid. The line between asset and liability wavered constantly, nearly impossible to get a fix on. "How many?" He asked. Details were a way to see how well she was tracking.

"Two." She replied, proving she was about as lucid as she got. One word answers were pretty shiny.

"Why do you think they would help us?"

"I freed them from Fate." River's gaze drifted off with a stray thought. Mal wasn't expecting to keep her long. Flying required intense concentration, especially the tricky stuff, and usually resulted in her almost complete relapse for a time. She was struggling to hold on, which indicated how much this meant to her.

"Even the people you help can betray you, River. What makes you think we can trust them."

"They fight for the right, all the time. Different world, different fight, but the rules are different here, so they'll fight for the right as hard as you." She closed her eyes and hunched in on herself. "Couldn't stay- not what their world needed, not anymore. We need him, him and the Dog Star. I know where we can get them."

"Alright, Darlin, where?"


Mal stared at the girl as she slipped into a fitful sleep, exhausted and strung out. He missed Zoey's reaction in his own shock, by the time he looked at her, her face was emotionless, the soldier waiting for her Captain's order. He missed the friend she'd grown into in the year's since the war, but he understood her immersion into the soldier. Its easier to follow orders, to shut off emotions and give up the responsibility of making decisions. It meant she trusted him to lead them as best he could, that was something, but she was still mourning Wash something terrible, and until she could get some distance from that, he wasn't going to get the friend back.

"Miranda." He shook his head. "How the hell did two people get to Miranda?"

Zoey shrugged. "Orders, sir?"

He stared out the windows, thinking rapidly. What choice did they really have? It was safer, now- unable to disprove the rumors about Reavers after the news went out, the Alliance cleared out the Reaver's territory as best they could, taking out what was left from the whole damned fleet of them that had followed Serenity through the ion cloud to Mr. Universe' home, and killing the stragglers. They hadn't reclaimed Miranda, or done any clean up. Not yet. "Set the course and gather the crew." He said quietly.

# #

The month Sirius and Harry spent on the planet was an educational on. They explored the planet, learning as much as they could about the Universe they now lived in. Everyone left on the planet was dead, and with a bit of magic, it wasn't hard to get into the buildings, A little bit of trial and error, and eventually Sirius and Harry were able to access the information in the computers, picking up the tricks and skills fairly quickly with no other distractions handy. They kept to their wartime routine, training daily in combat, mixing in some of the new weapons they'd found. With nearly unlimited access to all the resources, they had no problem finding out what happened to the planet and its people.

Harry stared at the clip, lips pressed in a thin, tight line. His eyes had gone hard, glittering with a deadly inner fire. Sirius put his hand on his shoulder, and asked quietly, "pup?"

"A different world, a different time, but not much difference in the battles, is there?" He asked bitterly. "They're still trying to change people to a perfect image. Still willing to commit atrocities to make it happen."

"We knew we weren't stepping into a perfect world when we came here." Sirius reminded him, keeping his voice soft. "We knew there was something stirring here. The difference is this universe is going to stand up for itself. Its not going to try to hide behind a boy, not going to turn on the boy when its done using him. Wherever you take your stand, here, you'll be standing for your beliefs and fighting your own battles, but that never would have happened where we came from."

Harry took a deep breath. "Its not that hard a decision, is it? Mistake or not, anything that results in this is dead wrong. If they've got the gall to test an entire planet, what else is this government, this Alliance, up to?"

"Our little voice of insanity could answer that. I wonder if we'll get to meet her?" Sirius navigated away from the clip, bringing up a few other pages. "We might as well start reading. We've got a lot to catch up on before we try to make any informed decisions."

The young man let out an explosive sigh. "Work, work, work- you used to be fun. We used to do fun things. Now all you want to do is work, work, work." They both grinned; the statement was as false as could be. Thanks to Hermione Granger, Harry actually could claim some pretty decent studying skills when a subject caught his interest. Nine times out of ten, he was hard at work when Sirius decided there hadn't been enough chaos and went about engineering some. To his credit, he usually made it educational, but there was no denying it was fun, too.

"There was something fun we could do later this afternoon." Sirius said after a while.

Harry 'hmmed,' focused on whatever he was digging through on the net and not really listening to his godfather and mentor.

"It would be a dangerous and stupid thing for us to do, but I figure we need to know it, anyway."

"Sounds nice." The noncommittal tone of voice meant had a hint of a dismissive air to it.

"You see, we've got this entire planet that we've got to repopulate, and seeing as there's only dead women on the planet, we're going to have to see if we can animate corpses to be able to progenate. Do you think you could screw a dead woman?"

The boy blinked, then looked up at him quizzically as he ran that bit of dialogue back through his head. Pinning his godfather with a look of disgust, Harry gagged. "That was so wrong."

Sirius shrugged. "Pay attention sooner, next time."

"You hadn't said anything interesting yet." Harry sighed when Sirius continued to read. "what's this stupidly dangerous fun thing you've no doubt been wanting to torture me with for days now?"

The older man grinned with childlike glee. "Wanna learn how to fly on of these ships?"

# #

"Sirius, they're all broken."

"Which is why we're not leaving the atmosphere."

"That doesn't make it any safer."

"Harry, we're Wizards. Surely we can best a hunk of nonliving metal. What's the worst that can happen?"

# #



"You're not allowed to ask that question ever again."

"What question is that?"

"You know damn well which question."

"This was your driving, pup. Next time don't put us into a building."


"What, no response? Finally, a little respect for the wise and benevolent godfa- are we moving?"



"The building's collapsing."


# #