The golden Potter griffin let the golden Nott jackal bow to it before nodding imperiously. The jackal turned to look at Harry before it dissolved into mist and disappeared completely.

Harry let out the breath he had been holding. Too many odd things had happened with him and family magic for him to be comfortable with using it anymore. Across Minerva's office, Sirius smiled at him reassuringly and Harry didn't think he was making up the matching relief in Sirius's grey eyes that nothing had happened. Finally, Harry glanced at Theo who nodded at him.

"Guess I'm in truly in service to the House of Potter now." Theo said with enough satisfaction that it was obvious even to Harry who sometimes had problems reading Theo.

"Well, welcome?" Harry said with a small smile.

Theo's father interrupted before Theo could reply. "I know you'll take good care of my son, Lord Potter."

Harry stiffened but nodded sharply. "Of course, Lord Nott." He kept his tone polite.

"Sirius, if I may have a word in private before I leave?" Lord Nott asked, turning away from Harry.

Sirius frowned but accepted, gesturing at Harry. "Can you wait outside the room? I'll be with you in a minute."

"Sure." Harry said. He was eager to be alone with Sirius. He had so much to ask him since Sirius had refused to tell him about the tribunals until they were face to face.

"I'll write to you soon, Theo." Lord Nott placed a hand on his son's shoulder. "Be good."

"Of course, Father." Theo said warmly.

Harry led the way out of the room, shutting the door behind Theo once he'd stepped out. Theo hovered and Harry motioned at the nearby stairs.

"You don't have to wait with me."

Theo shrugged and leaned against the wall. "It's Sunday."

It was enough of an explanation. Nothing happened much on Sundays. They were supposed to be homework days. Harry wistfully thought back to the father-son Sundays he'd spent with Sirius during the Summer and felt a pang of disappointment that Sirius would be leaving as soon as they'd talked about the tribunals and caught up.

"Besides if I go back all I have to look forward to is Malfoy sulking about me being in service to the House of Potter and Greengrass debating about whether she should ask you to Hogsmeade next weekend." Theo continued cheerfully.

Harry's eyes snapped to the Slytherin in alarm. "What?"

Theo smirked at him. "You do realise everybody is discussing who you're planning to go with? Are you planning to ask someone?"

"I'm not." Harry replied automatically.

"Great," Theo commented with genuine cheer, "Zabini owes me a galleon."

Harry glared at him, and folded his arms. "I'm going to see Sirius." He paused. "Actually, a bunch of us are going if you want to come along."

Theo blinked at him. "You want me to come along?"

"You're part of my House now, Theo." Harry shrugged. "Ron, Hermione and Neville are all coming along too."

Theo nodded slowly. "Thanks but I have…" he shifted as though he was suddenly uncertain, "I'm going to Hogsmeade with Jeremy."

Harry's eyes widened momentarily in surprise before he realised it was kind of rude to act shocked about it and Theo was braced as though he expected something bad. "Jeremy's a nice guy."

Theo's expression smoothed and he nodded again. "He is." He bit his lip. "I would bet money Daphne is going to ask you. Her Dad is keen for her to make a good match and you…you're the one they all want to date."

"I don't…I'm not…" Harry stumbled over his words. "I don't really want a girlfriend right now?" He settled on.

"So… you may want to say that but you might want to think about dating a few of the girls you trust anyway." Theo advised. "Otherwise the others will think there's hope for them."

"Really?" asked Harry worriedly.

Theo looked at him. "You're kind of clueless."

Harry bristled but he couldn't really argue with Theo's comment. "I just…don't get why they're so interested in me."

Theo's eyebrows shot up. "Potter, setting aside the whole Boy Who Lived thing, and I know you don't think like this but you're Head of your House and you're the Heir to another really powerful House. If that wasn't enough, you're a genuinely nice guy, hero to the rescue type." He waved at him. "And you're not a totally bad Seeker either although if anyone in Slytherin ever hears that I said that, I will deny it."

Harry felt the heat in his cheeks and wished the ground would open him up.

"Look, my advice? Just ask Granger and Lovegood, maybe Bones, to go on pretend dates with you so people think you're dating – Greengrass probably would do it too if you asked. I don't think she's interested in you so much as she's interested in keeping her Dad off her back about making an appropriate match." Theo said.

Harry frowned. He disliked the idea but he guessed it might work to deflect attention from his non-dating and complete inexperience. He'd talk to his friends about Theo's idea. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to go on pretend dates or maybe they could call them practice dates so Harry wouldn't be totally horrible on a real date?

The door behind Harry suddenly opened.

Sirius poked his head out. He paused seeing Theo but nodded an acknowledgement at him before motioning for Harry to enter the office again.

Harry waved a goodbye at Theo and headed straight into the room. Sirius shut the door, perched on the desk and put up a privacy bubble as Harry made for one of the comfy chairs.

"Sorry about that," Sirius said as Harry got comfortable, "Benjamin wanted to give me a heads up that Wenlock's beginning to organise an opposition, as though I couldn't work that out for myself."

Harry nodded because Sirius had already talked with him about Wenlock and the likely political shift. "So what happened at the tribunal that you couldn't tell me over the mirror?"

Sirius grimaced and changed position to fully look at Harry. "Do you remember just before the World Cup when I told you that there had been a sighting of the rat and Voldemort at Little Hangleton?"

Harry wondered why Sirius was mentioning that as he confirmed he did with a nod.

"While they were there they took the bones of Thomas Riddle…"

"Tom's Dad?" checked Harry surprised.

"Tom's Dad." Sirius repeated. "Bertie and Albus suggested that it pointed at a specific ritual to create a body for Voldemort, one that involves the bones of his father and two other ingredients."

Harry felt a sinking sensation in his stomach. "Why do I think I don't want to know what the other ingredients are?"

"One of them has to be taken from an enemy." Sirius said gravely.

"Me." Harry surmised immediately.

Sirius expelled a harsh breath. "We think so." He sighed. "The ritual is very long and very involved. But the final part requires something from an enemy who has been in fear of his life and tested for the majority of the nine months prior to the eve of the Summer solstice which is when the end of the ritual has to take place."

Harry felt his heart beating faster. "Is that why with the death threats and the…the kidnapping attempt…?"

Sirius nodded. "We think that it was a pre-emptive attempt and that entering you into the Tri-Wizard Tournament is likely to be the actual goal. The tournament holds all the right conditions to prepare you for the ritual without them doing anything else."

Harry wet his lips. "So everyone's working out a way to make sure I don't get entered?"

"It's one of the reasons why there's going to be a lot of security around the artefact, the Goblet of Fire, which is used to determine the Champions for each school competing." Sirius agreed.

But security wasn't a guarantee of success, Harry thought worriedly.

"Albus assures me that it won't happen; that Hogwarts is safe especially with all the security that Moody's put in place." Sirius sighed wearily. "But, well, we all know how safe you've been here at Hogwarts in the last few years."

Harry bit his lip at Sirius's scathing tone, knowing it wasn't really directed at him but feeling guilty anyway. But then another thought intruded and he frowned. "Wait, you said Peter and Voldemort picked up the bones when they went to Little Hangleton?"

Which meant that Sirius had known about the ritual and everything and not told him! Hurt shot through Harry like a knife.

Sirius met his eyes without hesitation. "Yes, I made the decision not to tell you about the ritual back then."

Harry surged to his feet, not sure what he was doing or wanted but not content to sit anymore.

Sirius slid off the desk to stand in front of him. "Are you willing to listen to my reasons?"

Harry folded his arms over his chest and nodded jerkily.

"We didn't know if the ritual was going to happen, whether Bertie's and Albus's suspicion of what the bones meant actually was true. There are a number of rituals that use bones of forefathers not just this one. And yes, it was the most probable but it wasn't certain." Sirius began. "I didn't want to tell you something that wasn't certain especially as you'd received the death threat on your birthday and had enough to worry about between that and the prophecy."

"And now?" Harry asked sharply.

"The bones need to seep in amniotic fluid – that's the fluid that's…"

"I know." Harry said blushing.

"Right," Sirius said hastily, "and so…Amelia had the DMLE put an alert out to Healers requesting they warn all pregnant women that there could be a threat to them but…Amelia found out one pregnant woman was missing on Thursday and at the tribunal we discovered a second pregnant woman had gone missing." He paused. "The brother of one of the missing women was discovered impersonating Dennis Travers at the tribunal. Travers is missing."

"Oh." Harry lowered his gaze as he absorbed what Sirius had told him. He understood in some ways why Sirius hadn't told him and why he was now being told since it was a certainty that the ritual was going to happen. But…

"I could have handled it." He said out loud. "I'm not a kid."

"And you're not an adult either." Sirius shot back. He held up a hand when Harry went to argue. "There is a reason why you're called a teenager, Harry." He shifted as he took a breath. "Admittedly you've been through a lot more than most teenagers and you have a lot more responsibility than the vast majority of your peers, all of which you handle brilliantly most of the time." He caught Harry's gaze again. "But I am not going to apologise for acting like a parent and deciding that my fourteen year old son doesn't need to worry about something that I know will do nothing but worry him, until it's absolutely necessary to tell him."

Harry shuffled a little under Sirius's understanding but unapologetic regard. "I just…" he sighed, "I already have Professor Dumbledore keeping secrets and now it feels like you're keeping secrets too and…" he shrugged unable to properly put into words what he meant.

Sirius took a step forward and tugged Harry into a hug. Harry went a little stiffly but he wasn't immune to Sirius's caring and he slowly put his arms his father and sank into the comfort.

"I know it feels like people are keeping secrets from you and, well, Albus is, at least until he and I have our little chat about the matter, but my intention here, and every time I make a similar decision, isn't to keep something secret so much as to protect you as much as I can from the craziness." Sirius murmured. "You have to know I debate everything a million times before I decide to tell you or not. It drives Moony bonkers."

Harry gave a muffled huff of laughter as he imagined Remus's face after being subjected to Sirius's debating.

"I thought about telling you when we got the second death threat but…" Sirius sighed heavily, "everyone still thought getting you into the tournament was the goal, and I wanted you to enjoy the rest of your holiday and have some fun without having something else to worry about. And truthfully would it have changed anything you did at the World Cup?"

Harry wanted to say that it would have done; that he would have stopped and thought about chasing after Ron to check on the Weasleys or that he definitely wouldn't have charged after the guy who'd targeted them, but his conscience wouldn't let him lie about it. Even if he'd known he would probably have still acted the way he'd acted.

"I'm not always going to get it right, Harry," Sirius admitted, "sometimes I'm going to decide something and get it wrong but…I just hope that I get enough right that one day we both might not need to keep seeing a mind healer."

Harry gave another huff of laughter at Sirius's dry tone. "That's why you moved my appointment with Healer Allen?" He had disliked his early morning appointment being changed to a later time when he might be spotted going to the infirmary.

Sirius rubbed his back. "You've just been told that rather than a vague threat of Voldemort trying to get you into the tournament, there is an actual real threat with a whole nasty ritual involved that already has him kidnapping pregnant women and digging up the bones of his father. So yes, I moved your appointment so you can talk to Healer Allen if you want to about it."

"Do we know more about the ritual?" asked Harry, easing back finally to look Sirius.

"We do but…" Sirius sighed and put his hands on Harry's shoulders, "Bertie is still researching to see what the effect would be of us screwing with it. If I tell you any more of the details than I already have…it may screw with the ritual."

Harry frowned. "Don't we want to screw with it?"

"Say the ritual is like a potion that involves you stirring a cauldron five times," Sirius explained, "so you know you need to stir five times but you purposefully think you can screw up Voldemort's plans by stirring three times or two times. Only three times means that the potion explodes and takes you with it and two times means that the potion not only works but gives the user superpowers. Do you think it was wise to stir less times now?"

Nope. Not at all.

Harry sighed and decided to focus on something else. "What's happening about Travers?" Because it certainly hasn't been reported in the press. The Prophet had run a piece on the tribunals the day after stating all four had gone to Azkaban.

Sirius dropped his hands and nudged Harry back into the chair. "The Rat Squad's been given the task of chasing Travers down and we know Travers was switched the day before by someone pretending to be his solicitor. Identification checks haven't been performed on Ministry visitors to date only Ministry employees – that'll change as of tomorrow. We had everyone in the courtroom swear a vow of secrecy and released a cover story to the press because the guy who was switched said he'd been told they'd kill his sister if he didn't pretend to be Travers. He's actually staying in a safe house now."

"They?" questioned Harry, concern beginning to creep along his spine again.

"Our mystery attacker, Pettigrew and Voldemort." Sirius listed.

Harry nodded. He rubbed his upper arms, feeling suddenly chilled.

"We know the Polyjuice Man is clearly in and out of London – both pregnant women were taken from the Market Place and…and he knows what's going on in the Ministry so he's still getting in and out somehow, although the identification checks on visitors will hopefully eliminate that. He picked Travers who is the only one who didn't denounce Voldemort or say something to the Aurors. We think Voldemort and Pettigrew are hiding out in the countryside somewhere remote where they can keep the women locked up. Travers may have been sprung to help guard them." Sirius said.

Harry shivered. It didn't sound very positive.

"Amelia is doing all she can." Sirius said.

But was it going to be enough, mused Harry. It was a thought that stayed with him as he walked Sirius out, knowing his father was stealing more time with Harry by walking to the gates, rather than simply leaving through the floo like Lord Nott had done.

By the time Sirius had hugged him near to the end of the path, it was almost time for his rescheduled Healer appointment, and Harry made his way to the infirmary as soon as he got inside the castle, managing to avoid being seen by taking a short cut that he'd found on the Marauder's map the year before. The room set aside for mind healing was warm and cosy; a small office with comfortable chairs at one end next to a hearth and a table set up with therapy activities at the other.

Harry greeted Healer Allen quietly as he entered and took a seat. He really didn't want to talk; he'd barely had time to think about what Sirius had told him.

The greying older wizard watched him with kind brown eyes. "Would you like to draw this morning rather than talk?" He asked gently.

Harry poked the floor with the toe of his shoe and nodded. He made his way over to the table and picked up a sketch-pad and pencil. His drawings weren't that good but the process of focusing on trying to get the lines on the paper right let his head clear, his thoughts drifting over everything Sirius had told him.

When he finally came back to himself, the paper was filled with a remarkable resemblance to a certain artefact in his past.

"May I see what you've drawn, Harry?" Healer Allen asked.

Harry walked over and gave him the sketch. He sat and burrowed into the cosy chair opposite the healer.

"Would you tell me about the drawing?" Healer Allen invited softly.

Harry rested his head back on the cushions of the chair and stared at the ceiling. "It's the Mirror of Erised."

"What do you think prompted you to draw it?"

Harry sighed. "What do you think prompted me to draw it?"

Healer Allen hummed in agreement ignoring Harry's surliness because it was fairly obvious that Voldemort threatening his life was the easy connection between what Sirius had told him and the Mirror.

"All my first year here Voldemort tried to kill me." Harry said out loud. "And now…"

"And now he's doing it again." Healer Allen stated gently. "What did you see in the Mirror when you looked the first time?"

"My parents." Harry said with a lump in his throat. It always hurt to think about the nights he'd spent in front of the Mirror just looking.

"What do you think you'd see now?"

It was a good question, though Harry taken aback a bit. He'd wanted so desperately to have a family back then and his parents had been mythical creatures that he wished would ride to the rescue and save him from the Dursleys. But he hadn't known about Padfoot then or Moony; hadn't realised his stern Head of House had once changed his nappy and babysat him when he'd been a few months old. Harry didn't yearn for his parents anymore and, while he was sad about that, he knew it was because Padfoot loved him and Padfoot was who his parents had wanted to take care of him; he had a family. He might wish occasionally that his parents were alive to be part of it but…he loved Padfoot.

But despite the fact that he had a family now, one thing hadn't changed…

"I want to be able to have a life without thinking about Voldemort, without him trying to kill me." Harry said out loud. He shifted position to look at Healer Allen. "Every time something good happens to me, he's there screwing it all up again."

Neither can live while the other survives.

"It feels inevitable." Harry said slowly.

"The prophecy?" prompted Healer Allen.

"Like I can't stop it and I can't get what I want until…" Until he vanquished Voldemort for good with some power that Harry didn't even know about but which might or might not be the Hallows, or might or might not be the family magic. And everything had a price, Harry thought again tiredly. The prophecy didn't actually say he would live in the aftermath.

Wasn't that part of the reason why he'd drawn the Mirror? Because in the end the Mirror had been destroyed.

"And what you want is to live without Voldemort constantly threatening you."

And the people he loved because his parents had died to protect him from Voldemort and he didn't want that to happen to Padfoot. And Padfoot would do it; he'd step in front of Harry to protect him and…

Harry couldn't bear the thought of losing Padfoot.

The session ended and Harry made his way back to Gryffindor tower with his thoughts still churning. He walked through the portrait and into the Common Room and paused when the conversation stopped dead at his arrival.

He felt his cheeks heat a touch but there was nobody who he knew to explain what he had supposedly done to become the centre of gossip so he quickly strode across to the staircase and went up to the dorm, trying to convince himself he wasn't really running away from the strangeness in the Common Room.

He came to a halt just inside the dorm room at the sight of Hermione and Neville in front of Harry's trunk, carefully repacking it, Dean and Seamus hovering beside them and occasionally handing them something.

"I can't believe Ron did that!" Hermione complained. "He had no right to just…"

"What's going on?" Harry asked bluntly.

All four of them froze.

It was almost comical.

Dean looked at Seamus who looked at Neville who looked at Hermione who sighed and closed her eyes.

Dean pushed Seamus towards the door. "We should…we have that…"

"Yes, yes. That thing." Seamus said emphatically. He pushed the bundle he was holding – Harry's spare robes – into Hermione's arms and dragged Dean the rest of the way, past Harry, out of the room and down the stairs.

Harry folded his arms and stared at Hermione and Neville.

"OK," Hermione began, "but you have to promise me you won't freak out?"

"You know you saying that kind of makes me want to freak out." Harry said.

Hermione glared at him.

Harry waved a hand at her.

"So, Ron thought you'd come straight back to the tower after the loyalty vow with Nott," Hermione started to explain, "and when you didn't, he started to think maybe Lord Nott had done something, or Theo had done something or…" she gestured weakly in Harry's direction, "someone had done something."

Harry walked over to them and sat down on the bed. Ron getting worried wasn't unusual. "I guess he took my trunk apart trying to find the map then?" He pointed at the parchment by Hermione's knee. "So he could find me?"

Hermione and Neville nodded.

"And he realised I was in the infirmary." Harry continued and sighed, falling back on his bed with a groan.

This was bad, Harry thought frantically; this was very bad.

"He, uh, thought you'd been injured?" offered Neville.

"Neville worked out why you were in the infirmary since the map showed you with Healer Allen," Hermione said gently, "and tried to stop Ron from leaving the dorm but…"

"He wouldn't listen." Neville finished with a sigh.

"So I tried talking to him too but I think I made everything worse?" Hermione said in a small voice that made Harry sit back up and look at her.

She looked chagrined, her bushy hair falling all around her face to hide her embarrassment.

"Basically, Ron then thought you'd told us about seeing your, um, healer but not him and…" Hermione continued.

"And he stormed out." Neville completed.

"After hitting Neville and accusing him of trying to steal his best friend." Hermione added, outrage stealing back across her face.

Neville flushed. "He just kind of pushed me. I'm fine."

Harry frowned at him but he did seem fine.

"I fell on my bed." Neville said pointing across to his bed.

"The thing is, Harry," Hermione began nervously, "well, the thing is…"

"Ron was kind of yelling." Neville said with a visible wince and pointed at the open door.

Harry quickly added up the strange looks he'd gotten in the Common Room and the fight and the yelling and groaned, slumping back again. "Everyone thinks I'm crazy?"

"Yes."

"No, of course not!"

Harry peeked at his two friends as Neville and Hermione glared at each other. Hermione turned back to Harry with a chagrined look.

"It's not that people think you're crazy," Hermione cast another stern look at Neville, "but just…"

"I'm nuttier than a fruitcake?" Harry said dryly.

Neville snorted.

"There's nothing wrong with seeing a mind healer." She offered in a small voice, brushing her hair back out of her face. "Some people can't appreciate that it doesn't mean that there's something wrong with you. They just don't understand why."

There was a hint of curiosity in her voice which meant Hermione wanted to know why Harry was seeing the mind healer.

He felt irritation skate across his nerves. "You'd think the fact that I've received death threats would be some clue as to why, Hermione."

She grimaced and lowered her gaze.

"Bugger." Harry sat up again and rubbed a hand over his face.

What was he supposed to do?

What he wanted to do was close the curtains on his bed, hide and hope the whole thing went away. But he knew that was not going to happen. He needed to deal with Ron too. Ron was stubborn as a mule when he got something into his head and Harry was very tempted just to let his friend stew since he was primarily responsible for everyone now knowing he saw the mind healer. Ron probably wasn't talking to him anyway.

But…they did have an alliance of friendship and Ron's initial motivations had been good. He should probably go and sort it out with him. And then he should probably call Sirius on the mirror and warn him that the Prophet was probably going to run 'Boy Who Lives is Nuts!' as its headline the next day.

He gestured at the Marauder's map and it flew into his hand. He didn't see Hermione's and Neville's awe at the display of wandless magic as he unthinkingly released his wand to tap the parchment and give the password. He quickly spotted Ron down by the Quidditch pitch.

Harry sighed and shut the parchment down, tossing it back into his trunk. "You guys don't need to keep repacking my trunk. I'll do it when I get back from talking with Ron."

Hermione and Neville exchanged a look and shook their heads.

"We'll do it." Hermione said firmly. "I mean, we are partially responsible for the whole…" her hand made a circular gesture which Harry took to mean 'letting the world know Harry Potter is crazy' debacle.

Harry shuffled off the bed and out of the door. He flushed brightly as everyone stopped talking again as he walked through the Common Room. He hurried out and down the stairs.

He was half-way to the Quidditch pitch when he ran into Draco, Crabbe and Goyle. He gave a nod and went to move past them but Draco moved to block his path. He glared at the Slytherin; he had thought they were past that. "Malfoy…"

"I'd thought you'd like to know that Weasley told everyone that you were crazy." Draco's sharp features seemed more pointed than usual. "If this had been last year I would no doubt have revelled in the easy material of Potty is Dotty but as this isn't last year…"

"Thank you for your restraint, Draco, and I was aware of the latest news to hit the Hogwarts gossip network but thank you for making sure I was fully informed." Harry said dryly.

"No problem." Draco smiled sunnily and moved off.

Harry adjusted his glasses and continued onto the Quidditch pitch. Ron sat in the Gryffindor stand. His demeanour wasn't inviting; he was hunched over, folded arms, and his lips were set in a thin unhappy line.

Harry sat down beside him and put a privacy bubble.

"I'm not talking to you!" Ron said loudly.

"You just did," Harry pointed out tersely, "and if anybody should be not talking to somebody, it should be me! You managed to tell the whole world that I'm seeing a mind healer!"

"Well, maybe if you'd told me rather than everyone else…" Ron started back heatedly.

"I didn't tell anyone!" Harry yelled.

"You told Neville! And Hermione!" Ron waved a hand back towards the school. "They both knew!"

"I didn't tell them!" Harry insisted, anger stirring at Ron's dismissal of his words; did he really think Harry was a liar?

"So they just miraculously guessed?" Ron sneered angrily.

Harry was tempted to get up and walk away. If Ron really thought he was lying about it… "Neville said he recognised the healer's name, and Hermione…" he gestured vaguely, "well, she's Hermione." And maybe in hindsight he'd given her enough to work it out when he'd talked to her about his time in the States.

"As if that's…" Ron broke off suddenly and grimaced, swiping a hand over his face and leaving a streak of dirt on his forehead, "well, that probably does explain Hermione." He glanced at Harry quickly before looking away shamefacedly. "You really didn't tell them?"

"I'm not in the habit of lying, Ron." Harry snapped.

Ron flinched but nodded. "I know. I'm sorry, mate." He stared down at his trainers. "And really sorry about the whole…you know."

"Telling the world?" sniped Harry because he was a little irked. More than a little, maybe.

Ron flushed and nodded. "I was just…you didn't come back! And you know Moody said to watch for strange behaviour and Sirius is the closest person to you so if you were going to be kidnapped by anyone…"

"I get it, Ron." Harry sighed and pushed his glasses up his nose. "I thought about telling you last week about, uh, Healer Allen, because I knew I was going to need cover eventually but I hadn't gotten round to deciding about it, because, you know, I didn't really want to have to tell anyone, and then Sirius changed my appointment time today because he thought I would need to speak to Healer Allen afterwards and…" he shrugged.

"Did…why did you need to…uh…" Ron trailed off at Harry's raised eyebrows and he flushed brightly as he registered just how personal his question was.

"Sorry." He muttered.

Harry relented with a sigh. "They've got some credible information which they think means Voldemort is going to get me into the Tri-Wizard Tournament as part of some ritual to give him a body."

Ron grimaced and pulled at his laces. "That's…pretty crappy. Sorry, mate." He paused again. "So, that's the reason then?"

It was hard to keep hold of his want to keep it all secret when he heard the concern in Ron's voice. His best friend wasn't asking to satisfy his curiosity but because he was worried about Harry. And thinking about it, Hermione had probably asked for the same reason.

Harry kept his eyes on the opposite stand as he lifted one shoulder in a gesture meant to convey it didn't matter. "I guess now, yeah. I mean, at the start it was, uh, the Dursleys mostly."

"Oh."

"And, you know, what happened with Quirrell and the basilisk." Harry continued. He made a weak hand gesture. "Then…this Summer…just other stuff and now this."

"Ginny refused to see the mind healer." Ron replied.

Harry knew it wasn't as much of a non-sequitur as others might think; Ron usually had a point to his tangents.

"Mum and Dad dragged her to one but…she didn't want to go." Ron sighed. "I offered, you know, to go with her? I mean, sometimes…sometimes I dream the prat actually obliviated us and Ginny died so you know I thought maybe it wouldn't hurt for me to go too."

Harry nudged his shoulder, unable to talk because that right there was why Ron was his best mate. Because Ron was the type of friend who would confide his own deeply hidden secret thought about needing a mind healer just to make Harry feel better about seeing one.

"She told me no." Ron shrugged as though it didn't matter but Harry knew better. "I was going to ask you to talk to her about it, see if you could change her mind about going but then…well, she turned all stalkerish and," he blew out an exasperated breath, "I don't know what's with her but it wouldn't be fair to you to ask so…"

"I can still try," offered Harry, although the idea of talking with Ginny was excruciatingly painful, "or maybe the fact that she knows I'm seeing one will get her to go to one too."

Ron winced again. "Yeah, I'm really sorry about that."

Harry sighed. "It probably would have gotten out anyway. It's not like people don't follow me around constantly." He shivered as a harsh gust of wind slapped over the stands. "Come on. Let's go inside and see if we can get lunch from the kitchen."

"Yeah." Ron stood up eagerly. "We can get Hermione to come along too."

"You're just hoping it'll get you out of her 'I told you so' lecture which it won't!" Harry got to his feet and poked Ron as he laughed in agreement. "You owe Neville an apology too."

The look was fleeting – just a twist of lips and a glower that shimmied through Ron's expressive eyes for a moment – but Harry caught it. He grabbed hold of Ron and pulled him to a stop as he made to leave.

"OK, what was that?" demanded Harry.

Ron shuffled his feet and avoided Harry's gaze. "It's…nothing."

Harry rolled his eyes, pulled Ron back down so they were sitting again and glared at him.

Ron huffed out a breath and folded his arms across his chest. "Why is Neville always hanging around with us now?"

It wasn't as though he hadn't known the discussion was going to happen at some point, Harry told himself as he wrestled with his irritation at Ron's jealousy.

"Why is it a problem?" Harry asked bluntly. "Neville's a good guy and he's a good friend."

"I know but…" Ron frowned heavily and averted his gaze from Harry's hard glare. "Look, I know it's stupid but I liked it when it was just you, me and Hermione. Now there's all these other people, including Neville and…" he shrugged again.

Harry guessed at what Ron didn't say; that he didn't want to share Harry and maybe even Hermione with other people.

"Those other people are not going away, Ron." Harry pointed out crisply. "I have alliances and responsibilities and…and, you're my best friend, and that's never going to change," he saw Ron's face brighten, "but I also like having more friends than just you, me and Hermione."

He sensed Ron's confusion.

"At the beginning of the Summer, I was thinking about how we stopped talking to Hermione over the Firebolt, you remember?" Harry said.

Ron nodded.

"And I thought if you and I had fallen out, who would I have spent time with? Hermione, sure, but who else? I realised I'd kind of, uh, hidden behind you and Hermione because of all the Boy Who Lived stuff." Harry admitted. "So, there wouldn't have been anybody else because I didn't know anybody else."

"Except Neville." Ron muttered.

"Not really." Harry said simply. "Neither of us have paid much attention to Neville these last couple of years, which was pretty bad of us when you think about it, because we had each other but who has Neville had? He's never said anything but it can't have been great us and Dean and Seamus ignoring him all the time."

"Not all the time." Ron said defensively.

"Most of the time." Harry insisted. He looked away into the distant sky. "I sometimes think it could so easily have been me who ended up without a close friend in our dorm. If you had sat with him instead of me…"

"Weird, mate," Ron commented, "since I sometimes think it could have been me, you know, not having a friend, if you and Neville had grown up together like you were supposed to."

Harry nodded at him, sensing Ron was finally getting it. "Right, but we didn't grow up together and you sat with me so…it's Neville on his own and…" he sighed, "Neville doesn't deserve that when we can all be friends."

"I understand I guess," Ron sighed heavily, "it's…I hate the godbrother stuff you two go on about it? You're my best friend."

"I am," Harry agreed fervently, "but Neville's Mum and my Mum were best friends; his Dad and my Dad were like brothers. If Neville's parents hadn't been attacked I would have grown up with Neville as my brother so…I'm not going to ignore that we were supposed to be family." He stopped Ron with a look when he went to argue. "You have your family, Ron. You have your brothers and Ginny."

"I'm happy to share them with you." Ron said quickly.

"And I really appreciate the sentiment but you can't, not really. They're yours." Harry pointed out. "And you don't get what it's like to not have them, Ron. Not to have them or your parents. You've never had to open presents at Christmas and know there isn't one from your parents – and seriously I hope you never do." He waited a beat. "But Neville knows what that feels like, so if he and I can be family for each other, well, I think that's what our parents wanted."

Ron nodded slowly and heaved another sigh. "I've been a bit of a prat, haven't I?"

"Yeah, but you're my prat." Harry said with a small smile. "Come on; it's lunch time. I'm voting we eat in the kitchen so I can avoid the masses and everyone thinking I'm crazy."

"On the plus side, I haven't seen any stalkers yet." Ron offered cheerfully as they started the climb back down the stands.

Harry brightened. That was true. Nobody had stalked him at all when he'd left the tower. Maybe his craziness would put off the horde of girls wondering if he was going to date them.

Huh.

Maybe every cloud did have a silver lining.

o-O-o

As they stepped into Albus's office at Hogwarts, Sirius considered again whether he should have had Albus stay back in Black Manor after the War Council for their discussion. It might have been better to have talked to him about the whole problematic issue of Albus keeping secrets on Sirius's home ground and with the officialdom of the War Council providing a back drop. But Sirius figured he could sneak a visit to Harry on his way out of the school and in truth he wasn't too intimidated by the Headmaster's office he found himself in.

Fawkes cried out a greeting and swooped over as Sirius took his seat. Sirius patted him and accepted Albus's offer of refreshments.

A house elf popped in immediately with a pot of tea and some English muffins.

Albus played Mum and poured the tea, handing over the delicate china cup with an openly curious expression. "I have to admit that I thought you might want to talk to me about the fallout from the discovery of Harry's mind healing. I was impressed that you managed to keep it out of the Prophet except for some minor hints in Miss Skeeter's article."

"I, or rather Brian, reminded the editor that Harry is a minor and any details about his medical treatment appearing in a newspaper would definitely result in legal action." Sirius said. "When Harry alerted me to the potential problem yesterday, he mentioned that everyone was staring at him?"

"Ah, well, it is not the first time he has been the centre of attention," Albus allowed, "although in this instance I believe our new bullying policy has made it difficult for anyone to be deliberately cruel to him." He smiled briefly, his eyes twinkling. "That, and the fact that Mister Malfoy, and possibly much of the student body, is attempting to remain within Harry's good graces thanks to the political power he now knows he wields."

Sirius hummed an agreement.

"On a positive note, Doctor Jordan reports that five other students have requested mind healing since the news leaked of Harry's treatment." Albus commented.

"How many of them require it?" asked Sirius dryly.

Albus beamed at him. "Three of the five."

Sirius nodded slowly. Well, at least some good had come of it.

"On a serious note, Harry has quietly let it be known that the mind healing is primarily to do with the death threats." Albus continued. "I believe that has been accepted as an understandable reason why a caring parent has insisted upon him seeing a mind healer."

Clever little raven, Sirius thought admiringly. Harry had indicated he had come up with a plan when they'd talked; blaming his getting treatment on Sirius was a good way to go.

"I have to admit I continue to have my doubts that his knowing about the ritual is a good thing." Albus said.

The comment arrested Sirius's attention, the implicit criticism tensing Sirius's gut. He picked up his tea and took a sip to calm himself. "According to Harry I should have told him much sooner." He began. "He pointed out he wasn't a child."

"Do you feel you should have told him sooner?" Albus asked.

Sirius's lips twitched because he had a feeling Albus thought he was comforting him or guiding him. He shook his head. "I'm comfortable that I told him soon enough." He gazed over the desk at Albus. "But this conversation does segue nicely into what I actually wanted to talk to you about in the first place."

"Oh?" It wasn't very often that Albus Dumbledore looked confused and the Marauder part of Sirius took pride in the achievement although the adult part of his brain (the part that sounded remarkably like Remus) remonstrated with him lightly that he needed to focus. He ran over the strategy he and Remus had discussed again in his head. It was a good strategy; it would work to get through to Albus. Sirius was sure of it.

Sirius sipped his tea and set it aside. "Why haven't you offered to tell me the details of the prophecy yet, Albus?"

Albus paused mid-chew of his English muffin and he finished rapidly, patting his mouth with a bright green napkin that matched his robes. "Do you really need to know the details of the prophecy?"

"I'm not sure," Sirius lied lightly, "do I?"

The older wizard picked up his tea and sipped it, evidently disconcerted by Sirius's request and playing for time.

"After all, Albus," Sirius pointed out dryly, "it's rather hard to make that determination when I don't know the details."

"Sirius…"

"Did you tell James?" asked Sirius sharply. "How about Lily?" His grey eyes darkened at Albus's chagrined face. "Did they know the details of why their son was targeted? Why they were in danger?"

Albus paled and his gaze jerked away from Sirius.

Fawkes gave a mournful trill.

"I did not tell them the specifics." Albus admitted when Sirius refused to fill the silence. "I told them that there was a prophecy that related to Harry or Neville; that either boy could be the one to vanquish Voldemort. That there was more but that what I had told them was as much as Voldemort himself knew." He raised his eyes. "It was a war and I could not risk even them knowing more than that."

Sirius sighed heavily and clasped his hands on his lap. "And now?"

"The risk of Voldemort finding out…" Albus began.

"Do you honestly believe that I would tell Voldemort anything if he captured me?" Sirius asked incredulously.

"He is a Master Leglimens." Albus countered.

"And my head is protected." Sirius shot back.

"It is not an acceptable risk…"

"That isn't your decision to make this time round, Albus." Sirius snorted. "It's arguable whether it was your decision alone to make back then."

They both looked at each other. The fire crackled breaking the tense silence.

Albus sat back, defeated. "I can show you the memory of the prophecy in a pensieve. Will that be acceptable?"

Sirius sighed. "The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches, born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies…"

Albus's eyes widened comically fast.

"…and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not ... and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives." Sirius completed.

"How did…" Albus began before he stopped and closed his eyes. "There is only one way that you could have listened to the prophecy."

"Yes." Sirius said simply.

"Harry knows?" Albus's eyes reopened to look sorrowfully at Sirius.

"He knows." Sirius confirmed.

"Voldemort…"

"Harry is trained in Occlumency and has additional protection thanks to his family rings. Besides, if Voldemort is close enough to Harry to read the entire prophecy out of his head then it's likely to be the culmination of the prophecy one way or another." Sirius argued. "The only other people who know are Remus and Bertie, both of whom also have mental protection."

Albus drew in a sharp breath and exhaled loudly. "I still cannot agree with your decision to allow Harry to hear the prophecy, Sirius. He should not have to bear such a burden at his age."

Sirius raised an eyebrow. "You don't have to agree since it was my decision to make," he said firmly, "but let me ask you this; before my escape from Azkaban, when were you intending to tell him, Albus?" He shifted forward as Albus's gaze fell once again to his desk. "I know he asked you why Voldemort was after him at the end of his first year. I know you had a second opportunity to tell him at the end of his second year when he fought the basilisk. You could have even told him during his third year had you taken the time to explain to him why everyone thought Sirius Black wanted to kill him."

"He was too young…"

"At eleven I perhaps would have agreed with you. At twelve, having faced Voldemort twice in as many years, he deserved to know why in general terms at the very least. Certainly, at thirteen and with the knowledge that a mass murderer was supposedly wanting to kill him, he definitely deserved to know why even if you didn't tell him the exact words of the prophecy." Sirius argued.

Albus shook his head stubbornly.

"Harry's right, Albus," Sirius continued, "he's not a child and the events of his time in the wizarding world to date have eroded any sense of his having a normal childhood." He stared down Albus. "He saw a man burn and die under his hand. He killed a monster and almost died himself in the effort. He confronted the man who handed him and his parents to Voldemort. As much as I hate that these things happened to him, they did, and because of that, he is not a child."

"He is not an adult either." Albus countered, his hands holding tightly to the edge of his desk.

"No, he isn't," Sirius agreed, his own argument to Harry echoing in his head, "and, accepting that perhaps it was your decision to make prior to my being awarded guardianship officially, as I've already said; what Harry should and should not know is not your decision to make now – it's mine. I also recall a promise to help him that you made at the start of the Summer, Albus. Keeping him in the dark doesn't help him, you have to see that."

He could see that his words were impacting the older wizard to some degree – there was a flush of embarrassment perhaps even shame across Albus's cheeks along with a muscle twitching in his jaw, a strange tension in his body as he absorbed the point Sirius was making.

"Setting Harry aside," Sirius pressed on, "I am an adult. It is certainly not your place to decide what I should know or should not know when it pertains to my son, and given my current position, what I should or should not know when it pertains to the war effort."

Albus sat back, defeated. He nodded slowly. "I confess that I had not considered my silence about the prophecy in the light of our changed positions." He made a small tsking sound. "I forget that I am…"

"Part of a team?" suggested Sirius when Albus failed to complete his sentence.

Albus gave a huff of what might have been agreement.

Sirius took a deep breath. "Let's talk about the prophecy. You've had longer to think about the wording, to try and understand what it means. I'd like to know your view."

He was almost amused that Albus seemed surprised that Sirius wanted his input. Sirius reached for his tea and indicated the abandoned muffin in front of Albus. Albus took the hint and started to eat again, chewing slowly and evidently thinking about what he was going to say.

"Obviously, the first part indicates that a vanquisher approaches and provides the clue to their identity." Albus began. "I considered many different variations of what the words meant – the seventh month, those who thrice defied, and so on – but at the end of July it was clear that Harry and Neville were the candidates, with Harry as the younger possibly being the one."

"Only Voldemort had to mark one as an equal." Sirius said.

"He did not know that part of the prophecy, of course, otherwise it may have deterred him from going after either of them. But he marked Harry as an equal the moment he chose to eliminate Harry as the potential threat, to make Harry the sacrifice for his next horcrux." Albus agreed, rubbing his fingers on the napkin and picking up his tea. "And he chose not the pureblood child but the one that shared a muggle heritage even if for Harry it was once removed."

"So he chose the one who most closely resembled him – a half-blood – because he believed they were the more likely threat." Sirius mused out loud.

"Exactly." Albus confirmed, wrapping his hands around the teacup. "I suppose others might point at the literal scar that Harry received but for me it was the moment the choice was made that marked Harry; his life would never be the same regardless of the outcome of that night."

"No."

"I also believe that night at Godric's Hollow was never meant to be the moment of prophecy – of vanquishing – but the moment of marking." Albus continued. "Tom stood in front of Harry that night believing he would eliminate his prophesised vanquisher and instead created him, literally making Harry his equal in the accidental transference of a shard of his soul."

"And you believe the vanquishing that day wasn't the prophesised vanquishing?"

"Oh no," Albus shook his head, "Tom wasn't vanquished that night, merely reduced to a true equal state with his nemesis. And while no doubt Harry's innate power helped to save him from the Killing curse levelled at him, I think you and I both know James and Lily played a part in his survival. However, from a mark as an equal perspective, Harry was still a baby and the events of that night resulted in Tom assuming a similar helpless condition; after that night, they were equal in all ways."

"And as Harry grows in strength and ability, so too does Voldemort." Sirius thought out loud. It wasn't something he and Remus had explicitly debated.

"Yes," Albus agreed, "so as Harry returns to the wizarding world, so too does Tom. And then this year; Harry gains allies and support, and so too does Tom. Destiny has kept a balance between them."

"But 'neither can live while the other survives,'" murmured Sirius, his hand clenching around the teacup with enough force that he thought it might crack the china.

"Indeed," Albus replied softly, "metaphorical more than literal as both are living as in alive, but to fully live their lives without the threat of the other? No. Until the prophecy is resolved, neither will have the life they want; they will merely survive, eke out an existence." He frowned. "Unfortunately, the prophecy is also open-ended as to who will be the victor between them. Harry has the power to defeat Tom but 'either may die at the hand of the other' and thus the outcome is uncertain."

It was the part of the prophecy that Sirius hated. He wanted it to say Harry would be the one to live; to defeat Voldemort.

Sirius sighed. It was time, he mused, for him to address the main reason for their discussion. "And 'the power he knows not'?"

"Ah, well, I rather thought it had something to do with the ancient magic Lily had invoked," Albus admitted ruefully, stroking his beard, "but I had forgotten the Potter family magic." He raised his eyes to meet Sirius's. "Harry seems to have an affinity for using it and the other family magics allied to him."

Sirius nodded, unable to deny it after the Wizengamot sessions.

"I recall a tale that suggests the most powerful wizard of a generation could call upon all of the family magic?" Albus asked tentatively.

"We've heard the same tale and Harry thinks it's a possibility that he could in dire circumstances call all the family magic to him." Sirius admitted bluntly. "But he believes that he would forfeit his own life in the calling of it."

"Oh." Albus's face fell. "Well, then…"

"As you can imagine, both Remus and I have discouraged Harry from thinking that the family magic is therefore the power Voldemort knows not." Sirius stated briskly.

Albus looked at him understandingly. "Do you think there is another option?"

It was the perfect opening.

"What about the Hallows?" prompted Sirius. "Harry is the last of the Peverells. The Hallows are also a power that Voldemort wouldn't know or have personal experience with."

"I thought we had agreed that the Resurrection Stone should be locked away?" There was a sharpness in Albus's tone that gave away his concern at the subject.

"Did you know my Grandfather spent his final days searching for how Harry could ultimately defeat Voldemort?" Sirius asked idly.

Albus's eyes widened. "Arcturus?"

"Yes," Sirius placed his teacup down, "Lily and he were friends. She confided in him before they went into hiding. The blood wards around Privet Drive came out of a book my Grandfather gave her. The spell for Harry's protection came out of another book he gave her that used to belong to my Grandmother."

"Oh my." Albus murmured.

"He came across a source about the Hallows – Remus is trying to track it down – anyway, it mentioned that the Hallows were created with the Peverell family magic to help defeat the Dark Lord Severn." Sirius continued. "All three items acting in concert."

Albus remained silent.

Sirius stared him down. "I'm certain your studies into the Hallows must have revealed something similar."

"Uniting the Hallows," began Albus, with an unhappy frown, "is meant to convey the wizard holding all three with the power of Death. It is why the child's tale says the wizard becomes Master of Death. But there is no evidence to substantiate that."

"Apart from the source my Grandfather found." Sirius decided that Albus didn't need to know that his Grandfather had gotten the information from Ollivander. "It apparently made it very clear that all three enabled the defeat of this Dark Lord." His gaze settled on Albus. "We know where the cloak and the stone are…"

"And the wand's location is best kept secret to ensure Tom does not attempt to procure it." Albus interrupted. "You agreed with me that it was for the best when we found the stone."

"I didn't agree; I just didn't pursue the topic. And that was before I had information that the Hallows could be 'the power he knows not' that Harry needs in order to defeat Voldemort." Sirius countered calmly.

"Sirius…"

"Secrets, Albus." Sirius said pointedly. "Haven't we just had this conversation? If you know where the wand is then as the person leading the war effort where that wand could make the difference between winning and losing, and beyond that as the father of Harry, the last of the Peverells who arguably the wand truly belongs to, shouldn't I be told?"

Fawkes flew over to comfort Albus and the old wizard stroked the phoenix on his lap for a long moment.

Albus finally raised his eyes and met Sirius's relentless gaze again. "I assume this is where you inform me that you already know."

"My Grandfather had a theory." Sirius offered, trying to lighten the moment.

There was a soft snort from Albus. He slowly drew his wand out of a large sleeve as Fawkes abandoned him and flew back to his perch. The Elder wand was placed on the desk.

Sirius made no move toward it. "Harry is comfortable that you should have the wand for the time being."

Albus breathed in sharply. "He knows?"

"Yes." Sirius said bluntly.

"But then…"

"We understood why you were keeping it secret, Albus," Sirius said impatiently, "and frankly, Harry and I both agree that the wand is probably safest with you, but we also agree that you need to stop keeping secrets that relate to Harry; relate to how he could defeat Voldemort."

There was another long moment of silence.

"He must hate me." Albus murmured eventually.

"He's annoyed you're keeping secrets about him when you said you wouldn't." Sirius stated firmly. "As am I."

Albus sighed. "I have no defence, Sirius, beyond the truth that for many years I was the one to decide who knew what and when. I fear it has taken me some time to realise the truth that I no longer have that right nor occupy the same role in the war as last time."

Sirius nodded. "Is there anything else that you should have told me by now that springs to mind?"

"Nothing as you say springs to mind but I will review and let you know if there is something else." Albus said dryly.

Sirius nodded.

"What about the Hallows?" asked Albus, motioning at his wand. "Or was that merely an example to prove your point?"

"I wish they were just an example but no," Sirius said, rubbing his hand over his chin. He sighed. "Remus and I are almost convinced that the Hallows are the power that the prophecy speaks about – mostly because when we did Harry's blessing to transfer the blood protection from the Evans' line to the Black, the spirit of Morgana Le Fay turned up and said something about Harry mastering Death."

Albus's eyebrows were so far up his forehead that Sirius wondered if they were going to crawl into his hairline. "The spirit of Morgana Le Fay appeared?"

"Bertie declared the whole thing a magical need-to-know event under the authority of the DOM. Everybody present took a vow not to speak of it." Sirius explained. "Obviously Bertie didn't make me take a vow and I think in the interests of knowledge sharing you should be aware."

"Astonishing." Albus said.

"It was. Anyway, Morgana's words didn't mean anything to us at the time but later when Harry, Remus and I talked about it, in retrospect her words seemed meaningful. To my mind, she pointed to the Hallows as the defining factor which would prevent Harry's death." Sirius gestured across the desk at the wand. "However, Remus and I believe we need to track the original source material that my Grandfather discovered down and see exactly how all three Hallows are meant to work in concert before Harry takes ownership of all three."

Albus nodded. "A sensible approach." His lips twisted. "I will review my own research. It has been some years but I may be able to find something."

Sirius smoothed down the front of his robes. "That would be helpful." He stood up. "I should get home."

"For what it is worth, Sirius, I am sorry." Albus said contritely.

"I think you owe that apology to Harry." Sirius replied.

Albus's blue eyes dimmed and he gave a brief nod. "The password to the Gryffindor Common Room is moonflower."

Sirius inclined his head in acknowledgement of Albus's guess at where Sirius was headed, and left the Headmaster's office. He immediately made for the tower.

He was almost there when he turned a corner and spotted Snape heading in his direction. He had to restrain his urge to dive into an alcove and pretend he wasn't there. Instead, he steeled himself and carried on walking.

Snape sneered as they drew level. "Black."

"Snape."

It was, Sirius considered amused, an almost civil exchange. He carried on walking.

"If you're looking for Potter, he's in the new middle years Common Room next to the library." Snape called after him.

Sirius paused, shot a look over his shoulder to find Snape gazing back at him darkly. "Thank you." He said mildly, and changed direction.

"Black." Snape halted Sirius again.

Snape closed the difference between them. He drew his wand and Sirius immediately released his own into the palm of his hand. Snape arched an eyebrow.

"I merely wish to erect a privacy bubble." Snape said formally.

Sirius gazed at him wondering why but acquiesced, replacing his wand in its holster. "Yes?" He asked as soon as the privacy bubble had formed.

"You are aware that Potter's medical treatment is now common knowledge?" Snape asked brusquely.

"I am." Sirius answered, trying not to feel defensive or that it was his fault for changing the time of Harry's appointment.

"Is he…" Snape stopped and fidgeted with the buttons on his robes.

He seemed unaccountably nervous in Sirius's opinion.

"The rumour is that the sessions are dealing with the death threats?" Snape began again.

Sirius knew his surprise at the question was written all over his face. "I didn't know you cared, Snape." And he had no intention of talking about Harry's treatment with his former schoolyard nemesis.

Snape blocked his move to turn away. "I may not care for Potter but Lily was my best friend."

Anger erupted in Sirius, surging through him with the force of a tidal wave.

"A best friend whose death warrant you signed when you told Voldemort about the prophecy." Sirius looked at him with disgust as Snape's face drained of all colour. "Did you think I wouldn't find out?"

"Does Potter…"

"No," Sirius said crisply, "he said he didn't want to know who told Voldemort if he still had to interact with the person in question. I wish I hadn't found out because frankly every time I see you, I want to hit you and keep hitting you until you're too bloody to move."

Snape's eyes remained affixed on the floor. "You couldn't possibly hate me more than I hate myself."

"Please save me the false regret. If you had any true remorse you wouldn't have spent the last three years making Harry's life miserable." Sirius shot back, taking a step toward Snape. "He is Lily's son. If you cared at all about her, you would have done everything you could have to make up for the fact that you are the reason why he doesn't know her; why the only memory of her he has is of her dying to save him."

Snape went red then white but he remained silent.

Sirius took a deep breath and reminded himself he couldn't kill Snape. "Now, since my son's medical treatment is none of your business…"

"I think the death threats have something to do with Bellatrix and the LeStranges." Snape said as Sirius took a step away from him.

Sirius raised a questioning eyebrow at him.

"Your cousin taught me Occlumency and I stayed in the LeStrange mansion for a month." Snape explained. "She placed a notice-me-not on the memories and I discovered it when I felt there was something familiar about the first death threat note. So far my reconstruction has only shown Bartemius Crouch Junior in the mansion but is it possible she or Rodolphus had a lover?"

"Maybe." Sirius grimaced. "I'll look into it." He refused to thank Snape; he'd grovel before Voldemort first.

Snape bowed his head and stepped away, taking down the privacy bubble. He disappeared around a corner in a billow of black robes.

Sirius walked away with alacrity, wanting to get away from Snape and the words they'd exchanged as fast as possible. He paused at the entrance to the Common Room to catch his breath and calm down. He didn't want to alarm Harry.

He spotted him quickly; Harry sat at a large table, flanked by Hermione and Ron with Neville, Hannah and Susan on the other side. The table beside him was filled with Slytherins – Blaise was passing notes back and forth with Neville while Draco and Theo seemed involved in some discussion. A seating arrangement behind Neville was filled with girls of various Houses all trying to bat their eyelids at the boys rather do any work.

Sirius wandered in and pulled up a spare chair to budge in between Harry and Ron. "Well, this is very industrious."

"I know." Ron said sorrowfully, casting a look at Hermione who sniffed and carried on reading.

"Getting your homework out of the way is good practice, Ron, especially now you have Quidditch." Hermione lectured briskly.

"Transfiguration essay." Harry explained in reply to Sirius pulling the parchment closer towards him. "I'm just done. What are you doing here?"

"I was just talking with Professor Dumbledore. Want to walk me out?" asked Sirius brightly.

"Sure."

Ron grabbed hold of Harry's arm. "Hold up. How do we know it's Sirius?" He smiled apologetically at Sirius but didn't relent.

Harry rolled his eyes but explained. "Moody says we should check every time we're asked to go somewhere alone with someone else."

"Constant vigilance!" Sirius echoed cheerfully. "OK, so ask me something only I would know." He trusted that Harry wouldn't ask him to change into his animagus form in front of people who didn't know.

"Where did you say Remus was going next in our last communication?" Harry asked immediately.

"Germany." Sirius replied promptly. They'd had that conversation the night before through the mirrors.

Harry beamed at him and started to gather his stuff. They set off without further ado. Sirius put up a privacy bubble just in case anybody followed them before he started talking.

"So Albus and I talked." Sirius began.

"And?" Harry asked impatiently.

"He says he'll do better." Sirius shrugged and Harry nodded as though it was enough of an answer because maybe it was; Albus had promised to do better once before and he'd failed. He was on his last chance with them.

"He thought I wanted to talk to him about the fallout of your treatment going public." Sirius said, nudging Harry as they got outside and smacked straight into the brisk Scottish wind. "I understand you blamed it on me."

"Worked like a charm." Harry grinned before his face fell. "Apparently it hasn't put the stalkers off that much. Hermione says that my being crazy is attractive?"

Sirius chuckled at Harry's bemused expression. He poked his son. "Wounded birds are to be cooed over. I've had my fair share of that since we came back from the States." Nora Zabini was still intent on making him her next husband.

"Brilliant." Harry muttered despondently. "I guess I should rethink Theo's suggestion."

"What suggestion was that?" asked Sirius.

"He thinks I should pretend date a few of the girls I trust like Hermione and Susan? Maybe Luna and Daphne? If the girls agreed to it, I mean."

Sirius hummed as he considered the idea. "It's not a bad suggestion. I'm not sure it would put the more tenacious of your stalkers off though."

"It could be good practice though, right?" Harry replied. "If I'm pretending to date then I'd have to go on dates so…practice."

"You make it sound like Quidditch." Sirius teased.

Harry grimaced. "Quidditch is a lot easier than girls."

"That's true enough." Sirius slung an arm around him. "I think if the girls know up front and agree then I say go for it. Practice never hurt anyone. But I don't think it'll solve the stalker issue entirely. If they haven't been put off by your apparent craziness, I don't think competition is going to do it."

"I know," said Harry morosely. He gave a deep sigh and pushed his hands into his pockets. "You managed to stop the Prophet from printing anything."

"Well, Brian did." Sirius admitted. "Skeeter still managed to get a few comments into her latest article about the continuing lack of progress on the death threats about what a toll it must take on you so we'll keep an eye on her."

Harry nodded. "There's no news at all about the death threats?"

"No, although…" Sirius made a face. "I encountered Snape in the corridor on my way to find you and he mentioned something he remembered which might give Amelia another avenue to explore."

"Wow," said Harry, "I'm impressed. You and Snape talked and nobody was hexed."

Sirius laughed. "It was a close-run thing. Your Potions lessons going OK?"

Harry shrugged. "He hasn't taken any points or put us in detention for breathing so…mostly? I preferred Madame Longley and thanks to her I understand why things need to be stirred or crushed or whatever so he hasn't marked me lower than an Acceptable this year." He bit his lip.

Sirius frowned. "But something is up with the lessons?"

"Not Potions so much as Transfiguration, Charms and DADA." Harry confessed with a sigh. "I'm just…the practical stuff is too easy. I mean, with all the practice I did for controlling my power during the Summer, I get whatever exercise is set first go and…" he coloured a little, "I usually help the others and the Professors have started to give me more advanced stuff but…it's awkward?"

And boring for Harry to feel unchallenged, Sirius concluded. "What about the theory side?"

"Some of it's difficult – stuff I haven't covered before but some of it is easier." Harry said. "I know it's early days but I've gotten outstanding on all my essays so far." He looked embarrassed.

"That's wonderful, Harry." Sirius stopped their progress towards the gates. "I'm very proud of you." He pulled Harry in for a quick hug, before he eased back, set his hands on Harry's shoulders and watched amused as Harry rolled his eyes. But he could see how Harry glowed with his praise and it warmed Sirius from the inside out. "Do you want me to speak to Minnie about your classes? Work something out to challenge you more?"

Harry stilled under Sirius's hands as he considered the idea before he shook his head. "Maybe it'll get better? The Professors are giving me other things to do so…not yet?"

"We'll give it a month." Sirius said firmly. "If you're still finding things too easy, we'll talk with Minnie then; agreed?"

The look of relief on Harry's face spoke volumes and Sirius gave him another quick hug.

"Right," Sirius cast his eyes up to the sky and the light drizzle that had started, "you run back to the school. I'll watch from here before I head home."

It was Harry's turn to hug him briefly; hard and tight. Sirius cast an umbrella charm to keep the rain off while he watched Harry run back up the path. It was getting easier to say goodbye to Harry, Sirius realised. There wasn't the gut-wrenching agony of remembered grief and pain anymore, just a quieter ache of missing and wistful longing that he wished he didn't have to say goodbye; a want to be with his son mitigated by the knowledge that Harry's education at Hogwarts was important both for his socialisation and his independence, and Sirius was doing the right thing as a parent letting him go.

It concerned him though that Harry wasn't being challenged educationally anymore. They should have expected it, Sirius considered wryly. After the lessons during the Summer, they should have realised Harry's power increase and his abilities would place him ahead of his peers and the usual fourth year classes.

Still…he'd promised Harry that they'd give it a month to see if it improved and he'd keep his word. Harry wouldn't want special treatment but if it was necessary, it was necessary. He couldn't see Albus having a problem with coming up with an individual learning plan for Harry; the old coot would probably be delighted.

Sirius sighed as Harry disappeared into the school, safe and sound, and finally headed home.