Sirius stepped into the Potters' living room just as the grandfather clock in the hall was chiming twelve. Remus came out a step behind him. "Hello," Sirius called, "Harry? James? Is everyone still breathing?"
"I'm in the kitchen." James called back.
"Where's Harry?" Remus asked lightly as they came into the kitchen.
"He's in his room. He's out cold."
"You knocked him out?" Sirius asked. "You're only supposed to hit them on the bum, mate."
"He's asleep," James said with mock annoyance. "He had a long night, in case you weren't aware, what with all the basilisk-killing and damsel-in-distress-rescuing."
"You're making jokes. That's a good sign." Remus pointed out.
"But they weren't very good jokes," Sirius countered. "Certainly not your best work. Are you sure Harry hasn't been murdered?"
"I'm sure. Would you like me to get him down here so you can see for yourself? I was just about to call him for lunch anyway."
"Yes, please do, I'm not done scolding him," Sirius said.
"And I haven't had a chance to scold him at all yet," Remus added.
"I think he's been scolded enough." James said.
"If you think he's been scolded enough, it's almost certain that he hasn't." Remus said.
"Leave him be. It's been taken care of. Trust me." James said as he left to wake Harry up. They emerged a few minutes later, Harry yawning and rubbing his eyes sleepily.
"He lives!" Sirius said loudly as soon as he caught sight of Harry.
"Hello," Harry said sheepishly.
"Is that all you have to say to me is hello?" Sirius said sternly, putting his fists on his hips.
"Yes," Harry replied, seating himself at the table.
"No respect, Remus. You see what I put up with from him?" Sirius said, his face breaking into a smile as he sat across from Harry. James was bringing out soup and sandwiches. Remus and James joined them.
"James, are you going to let Harry coming to the feast at Hogwarts tonight?" Sirius asked.
"I don't think so."
"Why not?" Harry protested around the bite of sandwich in his mouth. "It's in my honor! Well, mine and Ron's."
"I'm not mad at you anymore, but I'm not ready to celebrate what you did just yet, either. Consider it part of your punishment."
"But you already spanked me!" Harry said, then he flushed furiously as soon as he realized what Remus and Sirius had just heard.
"You know, it's the strangest thing," Sirius said. "I think I've just gone temporarily deaf."
"Me too," Remus said, following Sirius's lead. "Odd, isn't it?"
"Must be a new wizard's disease that only affects thirty-three year old virgins." Sirius said bluntly.
"Speak for yourself," Remus retorted.
Sirius and James both roared with laughter. Harry turned, if possible, even redder.
"Moony, you made a joke! And it was actually funny!" James said.
"His first joke," Sirius responded. "They grow up so fast."
"Don't worry, I won't let it go to my head," Remus deadpanned.
"I would like it known that I'm not really a virgin." Sirius explained, "I haven't been one of those since I was--"
"I really don't want to hear this!" Harry yelled, clamping his hands over his ears. The men resumed their raucous laughter.
"Have you had the talk with him yet, Prongs?"
"Yes, of course," James replied airily.
"You probably didn't do a very good job. Don't worry, Pronglet, I've got your back. Now, when you see a pretty girl--"
"Are there any cliffs near here?" Harry interrupted to ask, "I think I'd fancy a walk off one."
"I think you should let him go to the feast, James," Sirius said when the laughter had died down. "It is in his honor after all. The school ought to be allowed to thank him properly. I'll keep an eye on him, make sure he doesn't get into any trouble."
"Like the way you kept an eye on him when he was sent on a rescue mission that involved a dragon?" James asked.
"You told him about Norbert?" Harry asked, shocked.
"What?" Sirius responded innocently. "At least I didn't tell him about the mountain troll."
"What mountain troll?" James asked as Harry threw his forehead into his palm. Sirius began to laugh.
"Nothing, there was no mountain troll. Mountain trolls don't even exist. They're a figment of your imagination." Harry replied. Sirius was laughing so hard he could barely breathe.
"What mountain troll?" James asked again, slower.
"It's a long story," Harry said.
"I've got time," James responded, a twinkle in his eye.
"Why is it that whenever I've got a story that I don't want to tell you, you've always got time? Why can't a bunch of dark wizards ever get into trouble the same day I do?" Harry asked, exasperated. This caused James and Remus to join in Sirius's laughter.
"I agree with Sirius," Remus said when they had calmed, surprising them all. "I think you should let Harry go to the feast."
"Fine," James slowly agreed, "but no more exceptions. You're still grounded."
"Thanks, Dad! Oh, by the way, Remus, did you know that Hogwarts exams have been canceled?"
"Have they?" Remus asked, raising an eyebrow. Harry nodded, looking at him expectantly.
"It's true, they have," Sirius commented.
"Well then it's very lucky for you that I'm around. I would never deprive you of the joy of exams, especially not after you've just proven that you clearly have far too much free time on your hands."
"That's cold, Moony," Sirius said with a smile.
"Studying will give you something to do while you're grounded," James offered.
"The chamber's closed now, right? So that means I can go back to Hogwarts!" Harry tried. "You said I could as soon as it was safe."
"For all of a week?" James asked. "That's hardly worth it, especially considering how very, very grounded you are."
"Do you reckon Harry's been grounded, Moony?" Sirius asked.
"I think I heard a rumor about that," Remus replied.
"You know what I heard a rumor about?" James asked, trying not to smile. "A mountain troll. Start talking."
Harry sighed and glared at Sirius, who was too busy laughing to notice. "This one really wasn't my fault," he began.
Harry sat with Ron and the newly-restored Hermione at the feast. Practically the whole school came by to congratulate him and apologize for suspecting him. Only the Slytherins refrained from sharing in his triumph. They sat glaring at him from the other side of the hall. He made it a point to smile and wave at Draco Malfoy.
All of the staff except Snape stopped by to offer their praise and thanks. Even Dumbledore made an appearance. "Budge up, you two," he told the Weasley twins, who were seated across from Harry. They moved quickly, making space for the headmaster between them.
"Harry, my boy, it's so nice to see you. I trust your father wasn't too hard on you?" Dumbledore asked as he seated himself.
"He was pretty angry." Harry admitted.
"I know. I had a howler from him this afternoon. He was less than thrilled by my decision to award you points. I also had an earful from my Astronomy Professor."
"Sorry," Harry offered.
"Don't worry, my boy, it's not the first howler I ever got, and I doubt it'll be the last, although it may well have been the most impressive one I've ever gotten."
"Yes, he's very good at shouting." Harry agreed.
"I suppose I should tell you that I expect you to be a little less reckless when you rejoin us," Dumbledore said, turning a stern look on Harry. "I trust you will be rejoining us?"
"Next term," Harry informed him. "My dad says there's no point in coming back for only a week."
"I meant to ask you this morning, how have your lessons with Mr. Lupin been?"
"Really great," Harry told him. "He's a very good teacher, even if he is making me take exams."
"How is he with Defense Against the Dark Arts? I seem to find myself short a teacher."
"He's brilliant!" Harry enthused. "How's Professor Lockhart doing?"
"His memory's completely gone. He's been transferred to St. Mungo's. I lose more Defense teachers there."
"We do seem to go through them rather quickly, don't we?" Fred asked.
"Quite," Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling.
"Isn't the position cursed?" Ron asked, his mouth full of roast chicken.
"That's just a rumor. A person can't very well curse a position," Hermione explained patiently.
"How else do you explain it?" Ron asked, his mouth full of buttered roll.
"Honestly, do you think we want to see everything you're eating whenever you talk?"
"Why wouldn't you?" Ron asked, his mouth full of peas.
Hermione rolled her eyes while Harry laughed.
"Well, Harry, I'll leave you to your feast. I've got an owl to send."
"Do you think Remus will come?" Hermione asked after Dumbledore had gone.
"I bet he will." Ron said, his mouth full of rice.
"Bloody Hell," Harry said as a thought occurred to him, "I'll never get away with anything if he's here. I'm going to end up spending the rest of my life in detention."
"Maybe you should try not breaking the rules," Hermione said.
"Like us." Fred quipped.
"Yes, we never get into trouble," George agreed. "You should come visit us this summer, we'll give you lessons in how to behave."
"If you start taking lessons from them, you'll be expelled within a week!" Hermione said, but Harry wasn't listening. He was too busy laughing.
Two weeks later, Harry, Sirius, and Remus sat in the dining room at Sirius's summer home in Wales. Harry's grounding would be over the next day and Sirius and Remus had talked James into bringing him round for the day so they could spend some time with him while he was still a captive audience. James had been there that morning, but was called into work that afternoon. He told them he didn't expect to be too long, but dinner had been over for nearly an hour when he finally stepped over the grate into the living room, looking exhausted.
"What's happened, mate?" Sirius asked. He recognized the look on James's face as being one that only accompanied very bad news.
"There's been a breakout from Azkaban."
"I thought it was impossible to break out of Azkaban," Sirius said, his face growing pale.
"So did we," James said darkly. "This is the first breakout there's ever been. We have no idea how it happened. We think he must have had outside help. There's simply no other explanation."
"Who was it?" Remus asked.
"Peter Pettigrew," James informed them.
There was nothing but silence until Harry spoke. "What was he in for?"