Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter!

The beginning of this story takes place in chapter 24 of OOTP after Harry finds out he is going to be taking Occlumency lessons with Snape.

Chapter 1

Dinner that evening was an unpleasant affair; the sting of Snape's visit hung over me as I picked at my food, unable to suppress the cold knot of dread in my stomach. Ron and Hermione kept glancing at me in pity when they thought I wasn't looking but I pretended to let it go unnoticed. I didn't really feel like talking to them right now. After taking a few bites and pushing the rest of my food aimlessly around my plate, I politely excused myself to go upstairs to "finish packing" and get ready for bed. Mrs. Weasley frowned disapprovingly at my measly appetite but nodded her consent, knowing that we'd be rising early tomorrow morning to return to Hogwarts.

I managed to avoid everyone's gazes as I pushed out my chair and carried my full plate to the sink, then turned and left the basement kitchen. When the door shut behind me I heard the low grumble of voices start up again and somehow knew that they were talking about me. I rolled my eyes in annoyance.

I continued climbing the stairs and had just reached the doorway of the bedroom I shared with Ron on the second landing when I heard a stair creak behind me. I started and spun around only to find myself face to face with my godfather. He was frowning at me.

"Is everything alright?" he asked. I guess my actions down in the kitchen had concerned him.

"Everything's fine, Sirius," I said, avoiding his gaze. If I was being honest with myself I was more worried about him than I was about myself, I just didn't know how to tell him that. I knew that Snape's comments had hurt Sirius despite the fact that he tried to hide it, and I didn't want him to do something stupid.

Sirius hesitated then said, "I know Snape's a git, but I'm sure Occlumency won't be that bad. After all, Dumbledore would have his hide if he did anything… unsatisfactory… in the lessons." I could hear the doubt behind his words even though he tried to make them sound convincing. My heart went out to my godfather for trying to cheer me up though even if it wasn't working.

I just shrugged in response and rubbed my eyes tiredly, wondering why life had to be so complicated all the time. Sirius put his hand on my shoulder and gave it a squeeze, opening his mouth to speak, but then-

He suddenly moved as though he was going to strike me and I jumped back, only to find my wrist captured tightly in his vice-like grip. I gasped in pain and surprise.

"Sirius? What-" I broke off, realization washing over me in cold dread. Sirius was looking closely at the back of my right hand, the hand where the words I must not tell lies were etched permanently upon the pale skin.

"Harry?" he demanded breathlessly. "What is this?"

I kept my face tilted downwards so I wouldn't have to look into his eyes and see whatever emotions might be hidden there- anger, disappointment, fear… I tried to tug my hand back so I could hide it but my wrist was still clenched too tightly in his death grip. My silence seemed to stimulate his anger.

"Harry, tell me who did this to you now." I could hear his voice shaking. My fingers were beginning to go numb.

I knew I had to say something soon, but I really didn't want to talk about this. It hadn't bothered me in weeks, so why should it matter now? "I was in detention, Sirius," I finally muttered, and with one last sharp tug I tore my hand away from him and took a few steps backward, shoving both hands deep into my pockets. With the evidence now out of sight my mind cleared a bit, and I looked up. Sirius looked murderous and was standing rigidly in the doorway of the bedroom, blocking my only escape.

I turned away and began rummaging through my school trunk, as though checking to see if I'd packed everything. There wasn't something specific I was looking for or anything but I thought that maybe if I looked busy Sirius would leave me alone. I wasn't in the mood to have another 'discussion' right now anyway after everything that had happened over the course of the day.

Unfortunately my godfather didn't take the hint. The door shut with a snap and I looked up to see Sirius cross the room to sit down on my bed. He bent over with his elbows on his knees and buried his face in his hands.

I just stood there, feeling suddenly awkward. I'd never seen him show emotion like this before except for that one time in Dumbledore's office after the third task when I was telling them about shadows of my parents coming out of Voldemort's wand. I wasn't sure if I should go over to him or leave him to brood in peace. I was just about to ask him if he was okay when he raised his head and looked at me.

"It was Umbridge, wasn't it?" he asked quietly. I hesitated, wanting to shake my head in denial but I couldn't bring myself to blatantly lie to him. "I knew that woman was trouble. I knew something like this would happen, I told Dumbledore! Why didn't you say anything to me, Harry?" His eyes were filled with a hurt that I never wanted to see on his face ever again.

That broke my resolve to stay silent. "I couldn't let her get to me. She was trying to make everyone think I'd been telling lies about-"

"It's not your responsibility to keep silent about this and endure her torture, Harry! You should've at least gone to Dumbledore!"

"He's got enough to worry about without me adding to it," I growled. Sirius's words reminded me of what happened after my nightmare in Dumbledore's office before the holidays and how bitter I currently felt towards the headmaster, but I pushed it to the back of my mind.

Sirius was shaking his head, his brow furrowed. "Listen. I'm not very happy with Dumbledore right now either, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't go to him when you need help. He could have put a stop to this." Sirius paused. "How many detentions did you say you had?"

"I didn't say," I replied shortly.


"I really don't want to talk about this right now," I said, tossing everything I'd dumped onto the floor back into my trunk, making no effort to be neat. My face felt flushed and my eyes were itchy. Not because I was going to cry, but because I was exhausted. It had been a long day and all I wanted was to go to bed.

Sirius made a frustrated noise in the back of his throat. I pretended to ignore him and continued piling the dirty robes and socks that had been strewn across the floor. The silence between us grew awkward again and I self consciously rubbed the back of my neck with my free hand. Then I realized that it was my right hand, the hand with the scars, and I immediately dropped it again.

When there were no more possessions for me to pick up I grabbed my pajamas and muttered something about going to use the loo. Sirius made no move to stop me so I opened the door and slipped out. When I glanced back, I saw him sitting with his head in his hands again.

The hallway carpet muffled my footsteps, for which I was glad. I didn't want any of the Weasleys to come up here if they realized that I was still awake. I shut the bathroom door behind me and stared at my reflection in the mirror. I hadn't wanted Sirius to find out. I hadn't wanted anyone to find out about what really took place during my detentions with Umbridge… and I knew Sirius wouldn't stay quiet about it. He would go straight to Dumbledore, who would demand to know why I hadn't come to him in the first place, which would compel me to ask him for the real reason why he wouldn't look at me and why he'd never told me that Voldemort might be able to read my mind. And I knew that if I asked those questions Dumbledore wouldn't be honest with me. And on top of everything else I would now be taking Occlumency lessons with Snape, of all people…. I shivered, imagining for a brief moment what it would be like to have that man poking around in my head. I immediately felt nauseous.

I turned on the sink and splashed my face with cold water. I didn't want to think about any of this anymore. All I wanted was to go to sleep and pretend that none of this had happened; that Arthur Weasley hadn't been attacked, that I wasn't receiving visions from Voldemort and that Sirius hadn't found out about the scars. I let the water drip off my face slowly as I stared at the drain, my thoughts drifting.

Sirius's anger was worrisome - I knew that he would probably do something stupid like show up at Hogwarts and curse Umbridge if I ever had another detention with her again. And then he'd get chucked back in Azkaban because of me. I exhaled and backed up to lean against the closed door, rubbing my red eyes agitatedly and wishing that for once in my life things were simple. If only we didn't have to go back to Hogwarts tomorrow, and I could have a chance to explain the situation to Sirius once my head cleared a bit….

I returned to the bedroom a few minutes later to find a familiar bearlike black dog curled up on the foot of my bed. He emitted a high pitched whine when I entered and thumped his tail against the bedspread. I stuffed my robes into a corner of my trunk and allowed the lid to slam shut over them. I could feel Padfoot watching me as I pulled back the covers on my bed and got in, setting my glasses on the bedside table and turning out the lights. As I settled myself into a more comfortable position Padfoot whined again. I looked up at him.

"I'm fine, Sirius. Really," I told the dog. He blinked at me sadly for a moment, then curled into a tighter ball around my feet.

It took me a while, but eventually Padfoot's snores lulled me to sleep.

Morning seemed to come far too quickly. I was jerked from my light sleep when Ron dropped the pile of books he'd been carrying to his trunk, one of them being his battered copy of the Monster Book of Monsters. It took us twenty minutes to round it up, and by then the rest of the house was a flurry of activity. Shouting could be heard downstairs from both Mrs. Weasley and the portrait of Sirius's mum; apparently Fred's trunk had burst open in the hallway and his entire stock of Filibuster Fireworks had gone off. As I hastily squashed the lid of my trunk shut over my belongings and locked it I briefly wondered where Sirius was; he hadn't been on my bed this morning when Ron woke me up.

Ron helped me drag my trunk out onto the landing and called down to Tonks, who came up and levitated my belongings down the stairs for me. I had doubled back to help Ron with his stuff and to get Hedwig when I literally ran into Hermione.

"Oomph- Sorry Hermione-"

"There you are, Harry! Sirius is looking for you- I think he's in the drawing room," she said breathlessly, looking rather hassled. She went to help Ron persuade Pig to come down from the top of the wardrobe without waiting for a reply. I figured they'd take care of Hedwig for me as well so I changed direction and set off in search of Sirius instead. When I got to the drawing room I cautiously peaked in, and found him standing beside one of the cabinets we'd cleaned out over the summer, scowling at the Black family tree.

When he noticed me watching him he sent me a grim smile and beckoned me over. I reached his side and opened my mouth to speak, then paused. After yesterday I wasn't quite sure what to say.

Sirius held up his hand. "I know we don't really have time to talk about anything right now, Harry, which is why I'm giving you this." He held up the badly wrapped package in his hands, which I hadn't noticed until now. "Open it when you get to Hogwarts- I don't think Molly would approve." He held it out to me.

I hesitated before reaching out to accept the gift. "Er. What is it?" I asked uncertainly. I wasn't sure if I wanted to use it, whatever it was, especially since Sirius had flat out told me that Mrs. Weasley wouldn't want me to have it. I tried to formulate a guess as to what such a small, square package could be but my mind came up blank. Fortunately Sirius solved this problem for me.

"It's a mirror," said Sirius.

I raised an eyebrow at him. "Why would I need a mirror?" I asked, now entirely confused.

Sirius chuckled and clapped me on the shoulder. "You'll find out once you open it at Hogwarts," he said mysteriously and playfully mussed up my hair. "Keep that someplace safe." I scowled at him before allowing my lips to break into a thin smile and slipped the package into my pocket where I knew I wouldn't forget about it.

We walked out of the drawing room and down the stairs together. As I'd expected, Ron and Hermione had put Hedwig in her cage for me and given her a few owl treats for the journey. Lupin and Tonks were helping the twins and Ginny drag their trunks over the threshold of Grimmauld Place while Mrs. Weasley ushered them all out like a mother hen, wishing them a safe journey. I watched it all for a moment, suddenly a bit reluctant to leave. I had a bad feeling about this parting that I couldn't explain. I didn't want to say goodbye to Sirius.

I turned to my godfather, intending to voice my fears only to find myself enveloped in a bone crushing hug. To say I was surprised at this show of affection was an understatement. I stood stiffly as he rested his hollowed cheek against my hair, his hands gripping my back tightly and I could feel him shaking slightly with suppressed emotion. I returned the hug the best I could and tried to ignore the sudden lump in my throat.

Sirius abruptly pulled back and placed both hands on my shoulders. He looked me straight in the eye and said tightly, "Take care of yourself, Harry." I only had time to nod before Mrs. Weasley seized me and pulled me towards the door after Ron and Hermione. She hugged me as well and after one last shout for the twins to "Behave yourselves!" the door slammed shut behind us and we were on our way.