A/N: This is actually the first story I started writing, but it has taken a while to iron out the kinks in the story. A big thanks goes out to my beta Ministry Malcontent for all of his hard work. He has definitely improved my writing and put up with my indecision over the past year or so while I have tried to figure out the direction of the story. I hope you all enjoy!
Disclaimer: Harry Potter Publishing Rights © J.K.R. Note the opinions in this story are my own and in no way represent the owners of this site. This story subject to copyright law under transformative use. No compensation is made for this work.
December 20, 1995 – January 12, 1996
Harry hesitated outside the door to the room where Ginny and Hermione were staying. He knew he had upset Ginny and needed to talk to her, so gathering up his Gryffindor courage he knocked on the door.
"Ginny?" Harry called out softly.
"Come in," came the quiet reply from within.
Harry opened the door, like most of the rooms in Grimmauld Place, the girls' room was rather dark and gloomy. Two twin beds were set up on either side of the room with a small nightstand next to each bed. Harry noticed with amusement that each girl had managed to put their own stamp on the room. Hermione's side of the room was neat and organized, a few books were stacked neatly on the nightstand and her trunk was closed and stored neatly at the end of her bed. Crookshanks was curled up neatly on the centre of her bed. Ginny's side of the room was much less organized. Her bed was not made as neatly as Hermione's was and her trunk stood open at the end of her bed revealing a jumbled collection of clothes and books.
Ginny was sitting in the centre of her bed with a paperback in her hand. She smiled when she saw Harry. However he noticed it wasn't her normal enthusiastic smile, but more like a less happy copy. "Come on in."
Looking around for a place to sit, Harry sat on the floor leaning up against Hermione's bed. Ginny watched him patiently as she leaned back against the wall with her legs drawn up in front of her.
"Ginny, I want to thank you for what you did," Harry began uncomfortably. He looked her in the eyes while he thanked her, but then dropped his gaze to the floor. "I…I feel like a complete prat for having…forgotten…It's not that I forgot exactly…I panicked. When I saw your father getting bitten by the snake, it felt like I was the snake. And then in Dumbledore's office…I felt…I don't know... almost like I wanted to bite him and then when I heard Moody say I was being possessed it just seemed like that must be what was happening. I didn't think…I wasn't thinking clearly enough to think about asking you what it was like being possessed by Voldemort. I'm sorry."
He finally gained the courage to look back up at Ginny and he was horrified to see she had tears in her eyes. Ginny wiped her eyes hastily as Harry looked up at her, "Harry, I won't deny that what you said hurt. I…I thought we were becoming friends and for you to forget…"
As Ginny trailed off, Harry got up on his knees in front of Ginny's bed. "Ginny, we are friends. I…I guess I don't really associate you with the Chamber anymore. I'm a rather horrible friend now that I think about it. I should have asked you more how you were doing. I thought about you all that summer. Did I ever tell you that?"
Ginny shook her head wordlessly. Harry continued, "Yeah, I even asked Ron how you were doing in one letter. He…he just kind of blew off the question and I didn't ask again. I'm sorry. I should have written to you directly."
Leaning forward Ginny put her fingers over his mouth. "It's okay, Harry. I…I was so embarrassed by what I had done, I probably wouldn't have responded well to a letter from you. I'm just glad that you thought about me."
As Harry sat back down Ginny leaned back against the wall. Harry laced his fingers together over his knees and watched Ginny for a moment before he asked, "Do you still have nightmares?"
"Not as bad as that first summer, but I do get them from time to time," Ginny replied. "That first summer was horrible, I would dream that I had killed Hermione or that you were killed when you came down to the Chamber, or the worst was when you came down and decided that I wasn't worth saving so you left me there to die."
Harry listened sombrely as Ginny recounted her nightmares, he couldn't believe he'd never thought to ask about them before. Why had he been so self - centred that he hadn't even taken the time to ask her how she was dealing with things?
"Ginny," Harry said, "you know that I would never have done that, right? I have done things that I regret, but going down into the Chamber to get you is not one of them."
Ginny nodded with her eyes bright. Harry continued, "If you have any nightmares while I'm here, just come wake me up. I don't sleep so well anyhow. I have nightmares about…the graveyard and I'm getting this weird dream I don't understand. So if you have a nightmare and you want company, come get me."
Harry stood up as he heard Ron yelling his name. He walked over to Ginny and gave her a sincere, but slightly awkward hug. "I better go see what Ron wants. Are you okay?"
Ginny smiled much more sincerely this time. "I'm good, Harry. I'm just going to read for a bit."
Ginny woke with a start and bit back a scream. Taking a deep breath to try to slow her racing heart, she looked about the room and realized that she was in her room at Grimmauld Place. Ginny sank back into the pillow as she replayed the last bit of the dream in her mind. Harry had talked to Riddle and laughed at the nonsense she written about him in her diary. He had looked at Riddle and told him that he wasn't going to stay and risk his life for such a silly little girl.
Ginny sat up abruptly to dispel the remnants of the dream. Peering at the clock she groaned as she realized it was only 2:30 in the morning. She knew from experience that there was no point in trying to go back to sleep. Ginny bit her lip as she thought of Harry's offer of two days ago. Part of her never wanted to face him again, but part of her craved company.
The summer after her first year she had woken nightly with nightmares. Sometimes her parents or one of her brothers would hear her and come to comfort her. While it was reassuring that they still wanted her around, inevitably someone would ask what had happened. She had still never told anyone the whole story. She knew instinctively that Harry would not ask her any questions. Plus there was the added benefit that he had actually been there for the end so he knew what happened.
Slipping out of her bed, Ginny pulled on her faded yellow dressing gown and silently climbed the stairs to the room Harry and Ron were sharing. After hesitating outside the door, Ginny could hear noises coming from inside the bedroom. Pushing open the door, Ginny could see Harry tossing and turning in bed. Glancing over she saw her brother sound asleep. Ginny stood indecisively at the door for a moment before she tiptoed into the room.
"Harry," she whispered.
Harry didn't wake, so Ginny sat down on the edge of his bed and put her hand on his shoulder. "Harry."
His emerald green eyes flew open, a momentary panic showed in them before he realized who was sitting on his bed. "Ginny. Are you okay?"
She waited patiently while he sat up and reached for his glasses. His smile somehow warmed her and made her feel a bit better. He was searching her face and Ginny knew he could tell she'd woken from a nightmare. "Let's go down to the kitchen," Harry whispered.
Ginny nodded and stood up. Harry followed quickly grabbing his dressing gown from the end of his bed.
The two teens snuck down into the basement kitchen. This was their favourite room in the house. This was the least gloomy place in the house. Harry lit the candles on the counter while Ginny stirred up the fire that had been smouldering in the large stone fireplace.
Harry reached into the pantry and grabbed two butterbeers. They sat at the table in companionable silence watching the fire. Ginny watched Harry carefully. He didn't seem to be upset at being woken up at 2:30 in the morning. He also wasn't pushing her to talk. For some reason, this made her want to talk.
Clearing her throat slightly, Ginny looked up at Harry. He smiled over at her and as though he'd been waiting for a sign from her asked, "Bad nightmare?"
A shudder ran through her as she remembered the bone-chilling cold of the Chamber of Secrets and the horror as her supposed friend came out of the diary. "Yeah, I was back in the Chamber and…he was telling me how everyone would hate me for what I'd done and I was weak and spineless and he looked forward to killing you."
Ginny was not even aware of the tears streaming down her face as she shared her nightmare. Harry watched in silence as Ginny shared her dream, to his horror she started crying. For some reason, unlike when Cho cried, Harry seemed to know what to do when Ginny cried. He dug into his dressing gown pocket and came up with a crumpled but clean handkerchief. He handed her the handkerchief.
"Gin, Riddle said a lot of things, but I hope you realize most of them weren't true. To have resisted him for as long as you did, that takes an amazing amount of strength and courage."
Taking the handkerchief from him, Ginny wiped her eyes. "You think I'm strong? I was so scared. I kept thinking the Sorting Hat had made a mistake by putting me in Gryffindor, that I wasn't brave enough or strong enough to be a true Gryffindor."
Harry chuckled softly. Ginny's eyes flew up to his face and he realized how bad that must look. "I'm only laughing because I've thought the same thing about myself. Ginny, you are definitely a Gryffindor. I never told anyone this, but the Sorting Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin. Ron and Hagrid had told me such horrible things about Slytherin, so I begged the hat not to put me there."
Ginny was looking at him with astonishment written all over her face. "Slytherin? But you are so…you are so good and so brave…Are you putting me on?"
"No," Harry replied, "it said I could do great things in Slytherin, but I was horrified at the idea. I didn't feel like I truly belonged in Gryffindor until after the Chamber of Secrets. Remember the sword?"
Ginny nodded and Harry continued, "That was Gryffindor's sword. Professor Dumbledore told me it would take a true Gryffindor to pull that out of the Sorting Hat."
"Harry, how did you end up in the Chamber of Secrets? I've never really heard the full story. Everyone always stopped talking about it when I entered the room."
"You know I'm a Parselmouth, right?" Harry asked.
Ginny nodded. "That news flew through the school like wildfire."
"I'm sure it did," Harry made a face before continuing. "I could hear the Basilisk as it moved through the school. It would say things like 'Kill' and it just sounded so evil. I didn't realize I was hearing Parseltongue, it sounded like it was speaking English to me. That's how I ended up so near the victims when they were found, I was following the Basilisk."
"Hermione, Ron and I were sure that Malfoy was in on it somehow, so Hermione came up with a plan to confront him. She brewed Polyjuice Potion and we used it to sneak into the Slytherin common room."
"You did what?"
Harry and Ginny both jumped at the new voice from the doorway. Sirius stood there looking at his godson in astonishment.
"Sirius," Harry said.
"What are you two doing down here?" Sirius asked, sitting next to Harry as he joined them at the table.
Exchanging a glance with Ginny, Harry replied, "Nightmares."
Sirius gave them a tired half smile, "Me too. Please don't let me interrupt your story."
Harry laughed. "Anyhow, Ron and I used the Polyjuice Potion to impersonate Crabbe and Goyle. It was very weird being in the Slytherin common room and being nice to Malfoy. It turned out to be kind of a waste as he didn't know anything. The only thing we found out was the Chamber had been opened before."
Harry told Ginny and Sirius about finding the diary and Riddle showing him the capture of Hagrid as the culprit behind the Chamber of Secrets. Ginny giggled as Harry told them about their trip into the Acromantulas' lair.
"I'm sorry, I know it isn't funny," she gasped, "but I just keep thinking of poor Ron's face as he's walking into all of these giant spiders."
Harry laughed. "It sounds funny, but trust me it was not." Harry told the other two how they figured out what the creature was and where it lived. He started to tell them about Lockhart when Sirius interrupted.
"Who is Lockhart?"
Harry jumped; he'd forgotten Sirius was there. "He was our useless Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. We got to his office and he was packing to leave. That's when he confessed that he'd not done half on what was in his books. He just stole other people's stories and Obliviated them so them wouldn't complain."
"I never liked him," Ginny said. "I think I always felt he should have known what was going on or be able to figure it out."
"He had no clue," Harry said slightly bitterly. "I disarmed him and we went into Myrtle's bathroom and found the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets."
Ginny shivered slightly as Harry told them about Ron's wand causing the cave in and Harry journeying on to the Chamber alone. Ginny didn't even notice when Harry's hand came down on top of hers and he held her hand while telling them of his confrontation with Riddle.
"When he called the Basilisk, I thought I was a goner. It was huge. I don't know what would have happened if Fawkes hadn't come along," Harry explained.
"Fawkes?" Ginny asked.
"Dumbledore's Phoenix," Harry replied. "He came and brought me the Sorting Hat and through that Gryffindor's sword. I still am not sure how I killed the Basilisk. It was just luck that I was able to stab it through the roof of its mouth. I felt the stab of the fang just as I realized I had killed it. I pulled the sword out and started towards you…I felt so dizzy. Basilisk venom works really fast. I kind of collapsed next to you and Fawkes came over and cried onto my wound healing it."
Subconsciously Harry rubbed the spot on his arm where the Basilisk had bitten him years earlier. "Riddle became angry when he realized I wasn't going to die. Fawkes swooped over and grabbed the diary from you and somehow I knew what to do. I grabbed the Basilisk fang and stabbed the diary. Riddle just…I don't know... he screamed and disappeared. That's when you woke up."
Sirius listened to Harry's story in growing astonishment. He had heard bits and pieces of what his godson had been through, but hearing it in Harry's own words made it so much more real. He watched the young couple sitting at the table. He didn't think they even realized he was still there. In some ways he felt like he was intruding on something very personal.
"Thank you," Ginny said simply when Harry finished. "I don't think I ever thanked you for saving my life."
Harry blushed, "You're welcome."
Watching them Sirius made up his mind, with a wave of his wand he summoned a bottle of Firewhiskey and three glasses. Blue-white flames played around the inside of the bottle and as Sirius opened the bottle, a small flame shot out. The teens looked up in astonishment as he poured them each a glass.
"Have either of you ever had Firewhiskey?" he asked.
They both shook their head and Sirius laughed slightly, "It burns a little going down."
Harry looked at the still smoking liquid and back up at his godfather. He took a drink and promptly started coughing as he felt his face turning red. Sirius laughed as he tossed back his own glass. Ginny stared at her glass before she took a generous gulp of the whiskey. Like Harry, she started coughing and spluttering a bit, but she bravely took another sip.
"You know, I had my first drink with your dad," Sirius told Harry.
Sirius nodded. "We were sixteen. I had just run away from this place and I showed up at your grandparents' place. Prongs and I broke into your granddad's stash of whiskey."
He laughed as he remembered. "I thought your grandmother was going to kill us."
The teens both laughed as they finished their Firewhiskey. As Sirius poured out another round, Ginny asked, "Why do you call Harry's father Prongs?"
Sirius glanced over at Harry. "She doesn't know?"
Harry looked confused. "I thought she did…but I guess not."
Impatiently Ginny looked from one to the other before Sirius took up the tale. "James Potter and I became best friends on our first ride on the Hogwarts Express. I was disappointed to hear him talk about Gryffindor because my whole family had been in Slytherin so I just assumed that's where I would go as well. I couldn't believe it when the Sorting Hat yelled out Gryffindor. My parents were furious when they found out. Anyhow, we soon met two of the other boys in our year: Peter Pettigrew and Remus. Peter was…it's hard to think about it, but he was always so eager to please. He wasn't very good at magic or good at his studies, but he always tagged along with me and James. Remus was quiet and kept to himself, but we soon all became friends. It was towards the end of our first year when James realized Remus always became 'ill' around the full moon."
Sirius took a drink before continuing, "Over the summer, James did some research and we were convinced that Remus was a werewolf. We confronted him at the beginning of our second year. While doing his research, James found out that animals are not in any danger from a werewolf. So James and I came up with the plan to become animagi to keep Remus company during the full moon. Our nicknames come from our animagus forms. I'm a dog, so James dubbed me Padfoot. Peter is a rat, so he became Wormtail. James became a stag so we named him Prongs."
Harry nodded. "That's why my Patronus is a stag."
"Really? Can I see?" Sirius asked eagerly.
Laughing, Harry called up his Patronus. A large silvery stag cantered across the kitchen before coming back to stand next to them. Sirius stared at it in amazement. "It really does look like Prongs."
Ginny stared in amazement at the silvery stag before turning to Harry. "Are you going to teach us to do that?"
Glancing uncertainly at Sirius Harry answered, "I'm planning to in the spring."
As Prongs faded away Harry turned to Ginny. "Do you know about Scabbers?"
"Ron's rat? Only that he died the end of my second year," Ginny replied.
Sirius let out a harsh barking laugh. "Died? Unfortunately not. He's the reason I'm stuck in this bloody house. I went to prison for killing the damn rat, but he's still alive."
Looking from one to the other Ginny quickly put the pieces together and gasped, "Scabbers is Wormtail?"
Harry nodded. "That's why Sirius escaped from Azkaban. He saw that picture of your family in Egypt and recognized Wormtail because he is missing a finger. He realized that Wormtail would be at Hogwarts with me so he escaped."
Ginny felt her eyes pricking with tears. "You escaped from Azkaban for Harry?"
Sirius nodded. "I couldn't let Wormtail finish the job he'd started so many years earlier. I'd already failed James and Lily once, I couldn't let him get Harry as well."
Seeing the confusion in Ginny's face Harry explained, "Peter was my parents' Secret Keeper."
Sirius threw back another glass of whiskey. "Another one of my brilliant plans. I was so sure that it would work. Everyone would assume James would pick me; after all we'd been best friends for years. So Voldemort and my dear cousin would come after me while Peter was hidden safely away protecting James and Lily."
Sirius looked at Harry with tear filled eyes. "I'm so sorry Harry. I would give anything to change what happened. I shouldn't have talked Prongs into changing Secret Keepers. I shouldn't have gone after Peter. I should have been there for you."
A little unsteadily Harry said to Sirius, "You have nothing to be sorry for. You know it's not your fault, right? Changing Secret Keepers may have been your idea, but my parents agreed and Peter is the one who decided to become a traitor. You heard him that night in the Shrieking Shack. He said he did it because there was nothing to be gained from resisting Voldemort. He didn't even seem upset that he caused my parents' death. It was Peter, not you, who betrayed my parents."
Sirius reached over and pulled Harry into a rough embrace. Harry hesitantly returned the hug. As Sirius pulled back he said, "Thank you, Harry."
Sirius woke up late the next morning with a pounding headache and an angry werewolf standing over him.
"What did you do?" Remus asked in an angry whisper.
Sirius tried to bury his head under his pillow, but Remus vanished all of the pillows and blankets from his bed.
"Sirius, the only reason I'm not yelling is I don't want the rest of the Order to worry. I came downstairs this morning, luckily just before Molly, to find an empty bottle of Firewhiskey and three glasses. Who were you drinking with? No one came in late last night, so that only leaves the kids. Were the twins drinking with you?"
Sirius sat up groggily. "Moony, calm down."
"Calm down? Sirius you can't treat these kids…you are the adult here. You shouldn't be drinking that much with the kids in the house much less letting them join you. Molly would kill you if she knew."
"It wasn't the twins." Sirius said quietly as he reached into his nightstand and pulled out three smoking vials of potion. He downed one before turning back to Remus.
Remus sat on the end of Sirius's bed. "So who were you drinking with?"
Sirius winced as he felt the hangover potion flooding through his veins.
"Harry and Ron?"
"Well you were closer that time," Sirius commented, "Harry and Ginny. Before you start yelling, they were already downstairs when I came down. Harry was telling Ginny about…about the Chamber of Secrets from his point of view. My godson is fifteen years old. Twice now I've heard him talk about being in life threatening situations. After the Tri-Wizard Tournament I was there when he told Dumbledore about Voldemort coming back to life and last night I heard him talking about slaying a fifty foot Basilisk with a sword and outwitting Riddle when he was twelve years old."
"Was it bad?" Remus asked in a whisper as if he was afraid of the answer.
"He was bitten by the Basilisk. If Fawkes hadn't cried in his wound, he would have died. Those two kids came a few seconds away from dying in that horrible chamber. I know it wasn't the most responsible thing to do, but I gave them each a glass of Firewhiskey," Sirius explained.
"A glass of Firewhiskey doesn't empty a bottle," Remus said a little less severely.
"Ginny asked why I called James, Prongs. That led back to Peter. Do you know that Harry doesn't blame me? I don't know why, but he doesn't blame me for what happened." Sirius still couldn't believe that.
Remus shook his head at his oldest friend. "I know, Padfoot. Harry has an amazing capacity to forgive. But now you need to give him some hangover potion and get him to give some to Ginny."
Harry stared at the smoking vial of potion his godfather was holding. His head was pounding and his stomach was heaving, he really didn't think he could keep down anything much less this noxious looking potion. He looked up at his father's two best friends. "Are you sure?"
"Trust me, Harry," Remus said. "You'll feel a lot better after you've taken it."
Harry sighed and took the potion from his godfather. He stared at the potion for a second and then tossed it back. For a moment Harry thought it would be coming right back up, but to his relief it stayed down.
"Okay, you have a few minutes to shower and change and then you need to give a vial to Ginny," Sirius explained.
"You gave her the Firewhiskey, why can't you give her the potion?" Harry asked as he rummaged through his clothes.
"Because, if Molly catches me or Remus in her fourteen year old daughter's room, she will kill us first without asking for an explanation. She at least would let you explain before killing you," Sirius explained.
Harry glared at his godfather as he straightened up with some clothes in his arms. "Okay, give me a few minutes."
Sirius was eyeing Harry's clothes distastefully. "Don't you have any clothes that fit?"
Harry shook his head. "No, all my clothes are hand-me-downs from Dudley. He's about five times bigger than me."
The two older wizards exchanged a look as Harry headed off for the shower.
Ginny burrowed deeper into her pillow. "Go way."
Harry smiled, she really was cute. He stopped smiling, where had that thought come from? He shook his head, she was cute. He was allowed to think a friend of his was cute.
"Gin, you really want to wake up before your mum comes up here," Harry said as he peeled her covers back.
Ginny opened one eye. "Don't wanna get up. Hate you."
Harry laughed and held the potion in front of her. "Take this and you'll feel better. Besides, you shouldn't hate me, you should hate Sirius."
Considering that Ginny agreed, "I hate Sirius."
Harry watched as she took the potion, for a minute he wasn't sure if it would stay down, but then she relaxed. Harry pulled her up into a sitting position. Ginny leaned forward and put her head on his chest, Harry laughed and rubbed her back while the potion started working.
Later that afternoon, Harry wandered down to the kitchen. Tonks, Remus, and Sirius were sitting around the table.
"Hey pup, feeling any better?" Sirius asked as Harry helped himself to a glass of pumpkin juice.
Harry made a face at Sirius. "I'm fine, but I'd steer clear of Ginny for a while if I was you."
Remus laughed at his long-time friend. "You should know from experience you don't want to make the red-heads angry."
Tonks snorted into her drink before she turned to Sirius. "Is there anything else you need?"
"Where are you going?" Harry asked.
"I'm finishing up my Christmas shopping on Diagon Alley," Tonks replied.
"Oh, can I come?" Harry asked, his face lighting up. "I'll be really good, I haven't been allowed to go to Hogsmeade to go shopping. Please."
Tonks exchanged an uncertain glance with Remus and Sirius. "I don't know, Harry. I don't know how safe it would be."
"But I've been going to St. Mungo's every day and I'd be with a fully trained Auror," Harry implored. "Please."
He looked over at his godfather. "I've never been Christmas shopping in London before. I promise if there is any trouble I will come right back here. Please, Sirius."
Sirius groaned inwardly, he couldn't resist the pleading in those big green eyes. He looked at his cousin, "Would you mind taking him to a few shops? He's right, we've been letting him go to St. Mungo's. It's not like the Death Eaters will be looking for him Christmas shopping."
Tonks looked between the two Marauders. "If Remus comes with me, I will take Harry shopping."
Harry immediately turned to Remus. "Will you? Please."
Smiling Remus agreed. "Go grab your coat, you can come with us."
With a shout Harry hugged his godfather before he ran for the stairs to grab his coat.
Watching his godson leave, Sirius laughed. "Remember how we always used to give Prongs such a hard time for turning to mush when Lily turned those big green eyes on him?"
"Yeah, I think we owe him an apology," Remus said as Harry jumped down the last few steps.
Remus turned to Sirius. "It would be better if Molly doesn't know Harry's out of the house."
Sirius rolled his eyes. "Yes, Mum.
Diagon Alley was full of holiday shoppers rushing around. Harry smiled as he took in all of the hustle and bustle. Their first stop was Gringotts, the Wizarding bank.
As the goblin took Tonks and Harry down into their vaults a thought occurred to Harry. "What happens if you want to buy something really expensive, but don't have the money on you?"
"As long as you have the money in your vault all you have to do is sign for it," Tonks replied.
"Why doesn't everyone do that?" Harry asked curiously.
"It is only available if you have a certain balance in your vault." Tonks explained, "I don't remember exactly, but I think you need at least a 5000 Galleon balance in your account." Looking over at Harry, she gave him a cheeky grin. "Don't worry, you qualify."
As the cart stopped at his vault, Harry got out and filled up his money bag. Tonks did the same at her vault and they re-joined Remus in the lobby of the bank.
Tonks led the way out onto Diagon Alley and swept Harry and Remus along in her wake. Three hours later, Harry was sure they had hit every shop on Diagon Alley. He had gotten Ron a broom compass and Hermione a new book she had wanted. With Remus's input he had gotten gifts for most of the Weasleys and Tonks. To Harry's embarrassment, Tonks had insisted on getting new clothes for him. They were an early present from Sirius, she had explained it away.
"I want to head into Janice's Garden," Tonks said.
"What kind of store is that?" Harry asked.
"It is the coolest store, they sell a little of everything," Tonks replied enthusiastically. "I want to look for a present for my Mum."
As they entered the store, a cloud of perfume enveloped them immediately. Remus made a face, but didn't say anything. Harry looked around the store. In one corner was a display of small statues of animals. Harry was reminded of the small Hungarian Horntail he'd been given prior to the first task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament. The statues were a mix of domestic and magical animals. There were dogs and cats, lions and tigers as well as dragons and phoenixes, and fire crabs and unicorns. All of the statues were animated. Harry laughed at the antics of a small shaggy black dog. It was running in its tiny enclosure barking and jumping.
Harry picked out the little black dog for Sirius, a wolf for Remus, and he even found a Hippogriff for Hagrid.
Tonks was browsing at the display case containing necklaces. Harry joined her while Remus looked through the candle display.
A golden lion pendent caught Harry's eye. The lion was beautiful with flowing golden mane and its tail standing up. It had small green gems for eyes. He thought of Ginny telling him she didn't feel like a true Gryffindor. Maybe this little lion would remind her that she truly a Gryffindor.
"May I help you?"
Harry startled slightly as the salesclerk came up to him. She was an older witch with a pleasant face.
Harry blushed slightly but asked, "Can I see that?"
Smiling the clerk pulled the little lion from the case. "This is beautiful. The eyes are made from emeralds."
Harry picked up the necklace, it was perfect. He looked up at the clerk. "I'll take it."
"It will be 25 galleons," the clerk replied.
Harry handed over the money and turned to see Tonks and Remus had finished their shopping.
As they left, Tonks teased Harry, "Get something for your girlfriend?"
Harry blushed. "No."
Intrigued by his blush Tonks exchanged a look with Remus. "So who is it for?"
Harry stared ahead, not answering the question.
Remus cleared his throat, distracting Tonks. "Do you need to go anywhere else?"
Christmas morning, Ginny woke to the sound of her brother yelling 'Happy Christmas!' throughout the house. She rolled over and tried to go back to sleep when the door to the room burst open.
"What are you two doing still asleep?" Ron yelled. "It's Christmas! Wake up and open your presents!"
"Ronald, get out!" Hermione yelled as she pulled up her covers.
But he had already turned and bounded out of the room to roust others who had managed to sleep through his yelling.
Ginny turned over and sat up and out of the corner of her eye saw Hermione do the same thing. "Happy Christmas, Hermione."
"Happy Christmas, Ginny," Hermione replied as she reached into the small pile of presents at the foot of her bed. She picked up the pile and carrying them to Ginny's bed, she sat down next to Ginny. The two girls took turns opening presents. Hermione opened the jeans and sweaters from her parents along with a note that they had bought her a new CD player and some music which they had at their house. She smiled as she read that, her parents always tried to get her presents she could use in the Muggle world as well as the Magical world. She thought it was their way of reminding her where she came from.
A disgusted sound from Ginny made her look up. Ginny was holding up a garish pink bracelet and looking at it in disgust. Holding back a giggle Hermione asked, "Who is that from?"
"Michael," Ginny replied. "It's awful. I've told him I don't know how many times that I hate pink."
Hermione dissolved into giggles, "I'm sorry, Ginny. It is pretty awful."
Ginny threw it on the bedside table and looked over at Hermione's gifts. She spotted a dark brown bottle.
"What's that?" Ginny asked pointing to the bottle.
Blushing slightly Hermione responded, "It is perfume from Ron."
Ginny looked over at Hermione, but didn't say anything. She knew Hermione had a crush on Ron for a while, but who was she to tease someone about crushing on someone who didn't seem to know you were alive. "That's nice. What did Harry get you?"
Beaming Hermione said, "He got me the New Theory of Numerology. I've wanted that for a while."
Ginny rolled her eyes, "Well, I'm glad you like it."
Ginny searched for the present labelled with Hermione's neat handwriting and tore open the wrapping. It was a paperback book called Pride and Prejudice. Hermione watched her anxiously. "It's one of my favourite books. I thought you might like it."
"Thanks, Hermione," Ginny said as she hugged her friend.
Hermione opened her gift from Ginny and was pleased to find several different skeins of yarn. "Thanks, Ginny. I was running out of yarn."
Hermione started looking through her new book while Ginny finished opening her gifts. She received a traditional Weasley sweater from her Mum, this year it was a soft blue. Ron and the twins had taken the easy route and given her candy. Bill sent her a beautiful pair of fire gem earrings and Charlie sent her a new winter cloak that was black with a deep green lining.
Sirius, Remus and Tonks had gotten each of the girls some stationary and quills. While Hermione's stationary was an elegant creamy blue, Ginny's stationary was a dark gold edged with red. There were tiny griffins along the bottom edge.
"Ginny, I'm headed downstairs," Hermione announced as she donned her new lavender Weasley sweater.
"Okay, I'll be down in just a minute," Ginny said as she gathered up the wrapping paper from her bed.
Ginny was surprised to find a small box wrapped in festive gold paper under all of the others. She opened the box and found another flat, black box inside. She opened it and a note fell out. She picked up the note. It read:
For times when you don't feel like a Gryffindor, this is to remind you that you are one of the strongest and bravest witches I know.
Ginny tore her gaze from the note to the box. Inside she found a beautiful golden lion with sparkling green eyes. It was attached to a thin gold chain.
With shaking hands, Ginny lifted the necklace from its box. She headed over to the mirror and held it up in front of her.
"Do you like it?" Harry's voice from the corridor made her jump.
"Harry, it is beautiful. Thank you." Ginny threw her arms around him. Startled, Harry awkwardly wrapped his arms around her. While he had not expected this reaction from her, she seemed to fit well in his arms.
"I'm glad you like it." Harry said shyly.
Blushing Ginny pulled back. "Will you put it on me?"
Ginny pulled her hair aside and handed the necklace to Harry. Taking in a deep breath, Harry was assaulted by the intoxicating scent of flowers. He shook his head slightly as if to clear it. This was Ginny, his friend – he needed to remember that. Hermione had told him that she had gotten over him.
Harry fumbled with the clasp for a moment before attaching the necklace. Ginny looked down at the necklace, she lifted up the little lion. She smiled up at him. "Thank you."
"No. That is my way of thanking you," Harry replied with a smile.
A few days after Christmas, the Weasleys plus Harry and Hermione returned from visiting Mr Weasley at St. Mungo's to find Remus and Sirius pouring over a photo album.
Mrs Weasley bustled around getting tea and biscuits for everyone. Sirius beckoned Harry over to join them on the large sofa.
Harry smiled, he wasn't used to seeing Sirius in such a good mood. "What do you have?"
"When Hagrid contacted me at the end of your first year asking for pictures, I…I didn't include any of Sirius for obvious reasons. I threw them in an old trunk and forgot about them until I found this album today," Remus said with a smile.
Sirius was a little misty eyed as he ran his finger over some of the pictures. "This has always been my favourite," he said as he handed the picture over to Harry. Taking the picture, Harry felt a sharp sting of tears in his eyes. It was a picture of a black haired toddler taking a nap while lying down on a large black dog. As Harry watched, he saw his younger self petting his godfather.
The Weasleys looked over Harry's shoulder at the picture while Sirius turned to Remus. "Was that taken the day…"
Sirius trailed off as Remus started laughing, "Yup. That was the day.
"What happened?" Harry asked as he looked between his father's best friends.
Remus smiled. "This picture was taken when you were just over a year old. James and Lily were both working on you trying to get you to say your first word. So that afternoon, when I got to their house for tea it was 'Come on Harry, say mama' or 'Say dada, for me.' You were looking back and forth between them like they were nuts. Sirius arrived a little late, so he walked in and you immediately went over to him."
Remus laughed. "You always went straight to Sirius. If Lily or James couldn't get you to sleep, Sirius could do it. If you wouldn't stop crying for your parents, you would stop for Sirius. So that day you went right up to Sirius and held up your arms. As soon as he picked you up you said, 'Doggie.' I thought James and Lily were going to cry on the spot."
Harry blushed slightly, but smiled as everyone started laughing. He was always glad to hear stories about his parents.
"Yeah, Lily was a bit put out, that I was his first word," Sirius said with a smile. "She kept giving me the evil eye for the rest of the afternoon. She forgave me eventually, but James thought it was great. Harry's first word was 'Doggie'."
Remus reached out for the picture and cast a spell replicating the picture. He handed the copy to Harry. "Here, for your album."
That night after dinner, Harry headed up to his room. He stopped in Sirius's room where the two Marauders were still telling stories and looking through pictures.
"Good night, guys," Harry said from the doorway.
Sirius gestured him into his Gryffindor themed room. "Come on in, kiddo."
Smiling Harry came in and looked around. He laughed at the walls covered with Muggle pictures of bikini clad women. "Your parents must have hated your room."
"That was kind of the idea," Sirius said with a laugh.
Harry's eyes fell on a picture of Remus holding him as a small child. "Remus, how come you never came to see me after I went to live with my aunt and uncle?"
Laughter drained from Remus's face. "I…I was a mess after what happened. Lily and James were dead, I thought Peter was dead and Sirius was responsible for everything. I retreated into the Muggle world. I couldn't keep a job very long…I figured you were much better off with your aunt and uncle. I'm sorry Harry."
Sirius saw the look on his godson's face. "It turned out okay, didn't it?"
Looking at his godfather, Harry knew there was only one answer he could give. "Yeah. It turned out fine. Don't worry about it Remus."
Harry was back in his cupboard, he heard the sound of his uncle's car pulling up. He counted in his head, it usually took Uncle Vernon until the count of fifty to come inside. It was hot and stuffy inside his cupboard, he really hoped he would be let out to use the loo soon. He heard his aunt greet his uncle, serving him a drink. Dinner would be ready soon. He held his breath, maybe no one would say anything. That thought lasted only a few minutes as he heard his cousin thunder down the stairs.
"Hey sport! How was your day?"
"He hurt me." Harry could hear the fake tears in Dudley's voice as he told his father how Harry had caused him to crash his bicycle into the hedge.
Harry wanted to protest that it wasn't his fault. Dudley had been chasing him on his bicycle and hitting him with a stick. Harry jumped out of the way and Dudley had crashed into the hedge. Aunt Petunia had yelled at Harry for wrecking the hedge and the scratch Dudley had gotten when he wrecked, then she threw him in the cupboard without anything to eat or drink.
"What? That good for nothing freak!" Vernon's voice was getting closer to the cupboard. Harry curled up into a ball and flinched when the door to the cupboard flew open.
"Boy! What did you do to my son?" Vernon thundered. He reached into the cupboard and pulled Harry out by the arm. Harry flew across the room and slammed his head on the wall. Harry vaguely registered Petunia leading Dudley out of the room. Vernon pulled him up by the hair and backhanded him.
Harry tried to plead with his uncle, but he knew from experience it would not do any good. By the time his uncle threw him back in the cupboard, he was bloodied and bruised with several broken ribs as well as a broken arm.
Harry woke with a start, cold sweat pouring off him. He sat straight up and he was reassured to hear the sound of Ron snoring. He slowly calmed himself and reached over to the nightstand he grabbed his glasses. He groaned softly when he read the time was 3:00am.
Throwing back his covers he grabbed his dressing gown. He knew after a dream like that he would have no chance of going back to sleep. The house was quiet as Harry made his way down the hall. Without even planning where he was going, Harry ended up outside of Ginny's door. She had never said it was okay to wake her if he had a nightmare, but somehow he didn't think she would mind.
He quietly pushed the door open and peered inside. Both girls were sleeping, but Ginny stirred as soon as the door opened. Lifting her head she caught sight of Harry. She glanced over at Hermione before climbing out of bed. She pulled on her dressing gown and without a word joined Harry.
Ginny kept glancing at Harry as they made their way down to the kitchen. He had obviously had a nightmare. Ginny was surprised to see it looked as if he had been crying. When they reached the kitchen, Harry sat at the table while Ginny made hot chocolate for both of them. As he had done for her, Ginny waited in silence for him to talk.
Harry cupped the mug of hot chocolate for warmth as the last vestiges of his nightmare washed away. He glanced over at Ginny for a moment, silently thankful for her friendship.
"I asked Remus earlier why he'd never come to see me before, you know when I was a kid," Harry said as he stared into the fire. He felt Ginny's eyes on him, but knew he could not look at her as he told her what happened.
"What did he say?" she asked quietly.
"Oh, that he was messed up and lived in the Muggle world for a while. But I was in the Muggle world too and I could have used a friend. I didn't know anything about the Magical world or my parents. I didn't even know their names until Hagrid told me. Anyhow, Sirius said something like well it turned out for the best." Harry took a sip of his hot chocolate before continuing. "What could I say to him? My aunt and uncle hate magic and they hate me. Before I got my Hogwarts letter, I lived in a cupboard under the stairs. It always kind of amused me that Ron was so scared of spiders. There were spiders all over my cupboard, I would play with them."
"The spiders were the only friends that Dudley didn't scare off. I never had any real friends because Dudley would beat up anyone who was nice to me." Harry laughed bitterly. "Do you know that they never call me by name? It is always boy or freak. I've been doing the cooking and cleaning and whatever else they could think of as long as I can remember. When Hermione started going on about house elves I had to laugh to myself. Most of them are treated better than my so-called relatives treat me. My aunt will give me a whole list of chores to be done."
Ginny listened in growing horror, she had known that Harry's relatives did not treat him well, but she had never imagined it was this bad. Harry continued, "During the summer, she will send me out to cut the grass, or weed the garden, or paint. It doesn't even really matter if it needs to be done, she'll let Dudley break the fence so I can fix it or she'll rip up the flowers saying she changed her mind about what she wants. She'll keep me outside all day without any food or water. I will get so dizzy…and if I pass out or throw up I get in so much trouble. Mind you my cousin doesn't need to do chores, he just watches me or messes up the room I've just cleaned so I have to do it again. Once I'm done with the chores she will always find something wrong. If she's in a good mood she'll give me some bread and cheese or water and throw me in my cupboard. If not, well I've skipped more than my fair share of meals. If I did better in school than my cousin, which isn't hard because he's about as smart as Crabbe and Goyle, I would be punished."
Harry took a deep breath before continuing. Sometime while he'd been talking, Ginny had laid her hand on his arm. Without thinking, Harry covered her hand with his.
"My aunt would never hit me or anything. She would leave that to my uncle. I can't tell you how many nights I've waited in my cupboard and listened to him come in and wait terrified for him to come get me. My dream earlier was about my sixth birthday. Of course they never celebrated my birthdays. I didn't even know when my birthday was until I started school. My aunt always told me that freaks didn't have birthdays, but my cousin thought it was great fun to make my birthdays the worst he could. When he got older he would demand presents on my birthday just so he would have some and I didn't."
Harry recounted his dream to Ginny while tears slipped unheeded down both of their cheeks.
"That was one of the worst beatings, but it certainly wasn't totally out of the ordinary. When I first got my Hogwarts letter it was addressed to me at the 'Cupboard Under the Stairs'. My uncle got scared that they were watching him and gave me Dudley's second bedroom and left me alone for a while. Once he realized that the Wizarding world really didn't give a damn about me and I couldn't do magic outside of school…he takes great delight in beating me whenever he can. This summer after the Dementors…he hasn't beaten me that badly in a long time. I think that was part of the reason I was so angry when I first got here this summer. I felt so let down by everyone. I mean…Dumbledore had people watching the house, but where were they when the Dementors attacked or when my uncle beat the crap out of me? It's a good thing my guard didn't come to rescue me that night, I wouldn't have been able to move."
"Didn't you ever tell anyone?" Ginny asked after a moment of silence.
"I did once when I was in primary school. My uncle convinced them I was lying and when we got home that night…he beat me. I think he broke some ribs, he just threw me in my cupboard until I healed." Harry explained miserably.
"You should tell Professor Dumbledore," Ginny said gently.
Harry shook his head. "No. Professor Dumbledore is mad at me. I think he is mad at me letting Voldemort come back and blames me for getting Cedric killed."
"What? Harry, no, Professor Dumbledore couldn't blame you for that," Ginny said in surprise.
"He hasn't talked to me since then," Harry replied. "He wouldn't even talk to me at my hearing. He was at Grimmauld Place the night before my hearing and didn't say a word to me. Once the hearing was over he just walked off. When we were in his office when your dad was hurt, he wouldn't look at me. If he doesn't blame me, why is he ignoring me?"
Ginny couldn't answer that. "What about Sirius? Why haven't you told Sirius?"
He looked up with tears in his eyes. "I don't want him to go back to prison," he whispered. "I'm afraid if I told him about my uncle he would go after him. I mean he went after Peter and ended up in Azkaban for twelve years. I want him around so that when this mess is sorted out, I can live with him. I don't want him to do anything that might jeopardize that."
Unable to think of anything to say, Ginny reached out and pulled him into a hug. Harry was startled at first but soon relaxed in her arms.
Outside the kitchen door, unbeknownst to the teens, Sirius stood with tears pouring down his face. He had heard Harry come down and had planned to talk to his godson when he heard Harry's story to Ginny. He was outraged that anyone would be treated like that, much less his beloved godson. Listening to Harry's story, Sirius felt the full impact of his rash actions of that Halloween night so long ago crash down on top of him. If he hadn't gone after Peter, he could have raised Harry. He felt a fire light inside him, just as the thought that he was innocent had sustained him while he was in Azkaban, the thought that Harry needed him took a hold of him now. For Harry, he could change.
Remus made his way downstairs the next morning a little worse for wear, but he figured Sirius would be much worse off than he. Molly and the kids were eating breakfast and of course Molly immediately served him. After thanking Molly, Remus turned to look at the kids. Harry and Ginny both seemed a little tired, but Remus knew they were both still prone to nightmares from time to time.
"What are you planning to do today?" Remus asked.
"I want to help Sirius," Harry said.
"Help Sirius do what?" Remus asked. He tried to remember if Sirius had mentioned any plans for today, but failed.
A noise behind him made him turn and look, Sirius was not only up, he was dressed and working. Remus was shocked. He had been concerned that the effects of being back in his family home were not good for Sirius, but this morning Sirius was bright eyed and there was something different about him.
"Remus, old friend. Just the person I was looking for," Sirius greeted Remus as he dropped onto the bench next to him. Sirius reached into his pocket and slid two sheets of parchment towards Remus. "Do you think you could get these supplies for me? The Apothecary will just charge my vault, but for the Muggle supplies you can use this."
Remus was surprised when Sirius slid a large stack of money his direction. Curious he looked at the lists. One list was as Sirius said for the Apothecary, it was a rather extensive list of potion ingredients. The other was for Muggle exercise equipment. Before he could say anything Hermione said, "Remus, can I go with you? It might be easier with two people."
Remus looked up at her. "Of course Hermione, you can come with me." Looking at his best friend with astonishment, he asked, "Sirius, where were you planning on putting all of this?"
Sirius grinned. "Well, there is a potions lab on the first floor. I checked in there this morning and it is actually in fairly good shape, just needs some cleaning and restocking. There is a room off the kitchen here that is pretty big. I had Kreacher move the furniture to the attic. The kids are going to help me clean it up and I thought it would make a great training room."
"Okay." Remus was still trying to figure out what was going on. While he was glad to see Sirius so motivated, he was surprised and a little confused. Before he could say anything else, Molly broke in. "That is an excellent idea, Sirius. I am going to head over to St. Mungo's, but if you need anything, please let me know."
As they finished eating the kids went upstairs to change and came down ready to work. Ron and Ginny started in the potions lab, cleaning beakers and vials and generally tidying up the place while Sirius and Harry started on the new training room. Remus decided not to question, but left with Hermione to go shopping.
By early afternoon, Harry was exhausted, but happy. When Sirius had come down that morning so full of plans, Harry had jumped at the opportunity to work with his godfather. They had talked the whole time they had worked. Sirius was full of questions about Harry's school career. He asked about Harry's favourite classes and his Quidditch matches and in return Sirius shared some stories from when he was in Hogwarts.
Harry looked around the room, in the past few hours he and Sirius had cleaned out years' worth of dirt, dust and neglect. The room Harry could now see was a big with stone floors that were now clean and bright without the years of grime collecting on them. The walls had been cleaned, but they were still a rather gloomy grey colour. Looking over at his godfather, Harry asked, "Can we paint the walls? This wall colour is horrible."
Sirius looked at the walls as if really seeing them for the first time. "Of course, Harry. Do you have a colour in mind?"
Harry laughed, "Not really. I figure anything will be better than that horrible grey."
"It should be a cheerful colour," came a voice from the doorway. "Like a bright yellow."
Harry and Sirius turned to see Ginny looking around the room. "Remus and Hermione just got back, they are in the kitchen."
The three found Remus, Hermione and Ron opening bags in the kitchen. Remus had obtained all of the requested potions ingredients and well as some new cauldrons, knives and vials. Together they all went up to the newly cleaned potions lab to put the new materials away.
"Ginny, you and Ron did an excellent job," Sirius said as he wandered around the room. "Thank you."
"So what are you going to be using it for?" Ron asked.
Sirius smiled as he pulled a dusty potions book off the shelves. "I am going to brew some Polyjuice Potion."
Ignoring the gasps from the others he continued, "I was thinking that we should have a cauldronful available for the Order. Plus this way I can actually leave the house now and then and do something useful."
"Brilliant," Harry said excitedly. "That's great, Sirius."
Remus eyed his old friend, it was a brilliant idea. The question was, what made Sirius so ambitious all of a sudden? Knowing Sirius as he did, he didn't ask. Sirius would eventually tell him.
"Hermione and I found the exercise equipment that you wanted," Remus started. "The salesclerk had all kinds of suggestions, so we picked out a few extras."
Hermione drew the brochure out of her purse and showed Sirius what they had chosen. While Remus explained, "We told them we would pick everything up tonight. We rented a truck, because we couldn't figure out a better way to get everything without raising their suspicions. I'm going to ask Bill if he can help us, we'll load everything up and pull into the alleyway in the back."
Sirius smiled as he watched his godson jogging on the treadmill next to him. He and Harry had started working out together regularly. Ginny frequently joined them as did Bill when he was around. Ron was fascinated by the Muggle machines, but he didn't enjoy exercising as much as his siblings. Hermione liked using the exercise bike, but she didn't like to work out when the others were there. This morning it was Sirius, Harry, Ron and Ginny working out. Sirius and Harry were jogging while Ron rode the exercise bike and Ginny was jumping rope.
As Harry moved his hand up to wipe the sweat off his forehead, Sirius saw a flash of something on his hand. He stopped jogging and motioned for Harry to do the same. Once Harry had stopped moving, Sirius reached over and grabbed Harry's right hand.
"What the bloody hell is this?" Sirius growled as he brought Harry's hand up so he could see it better. Harry tried to pull his hand away, but Sirius wouldn't let him.
"Nothing," Harry mumbled, he could feel his face heating up.
"It's not nothing, Harry," Sirius said patiently. "What happened?"
As he watched, Sirius saw Harry looking to his friends for help. To Sirius's relief, both of them seemed to feel Harry should talk to him.
Harry sighed, "It happened during detention. Umbridge gave me detention for saying that Voldemort was back. She had me write lines, but instead of using ink it…it carves it in my hand."
From Ginny's gasp, Sirius guessed that she didn't know about his detention, but Ron seemed unsurprised.
"She used a blood quill on you?"
"I guess," Harry replied nervously. "I don't know if that's what it's called, but that sounds right."
"Harry, why didn't you say anything?" Sirius was upset that Harry hadn't felt he was able to come to him with any problems.
Harry shrugged, "I don't know. I haven't had any detentions in a while."
"You have 'I must not tell lies' carved into your hand. Didn't that seem to be an issue?"
"But it was Umbridge," Harry protested. "She does whatever she wants. I didn't want to say anything because I figured whoever I talked to would get in trouble or I'd get more detentions."
Saddened that Harry felt he had to do this on his own, Sirius reached out and hugged his godson. "It doesn't matter, you should still tell me. Okay?"
Harry seemed to be seeking confirmation in Sirius's face and he must have found it for he smiled and agreed.
"Let's take a break," Sirius said and he led the three teens into the kitchen. Hermione was sitting at the table reading, but no one else was there. Ginny grabbed four waters from the cold pantry and threw them to Ron, Harry and Sirius before joining them at the table.
"So tell me about Umbridge," Sirius said. He listened outraged as the kids told him about her Educational Decrees and her prejudice against those she called "half-breeds."
"Have McGonagall or Dumbledore said anything about her?" Sirius asked concerned.
Harry snorted, "Not Dumbledore, he's still ignoring me. Professor McGonagall did tell me to be careful, she said I could get into a lot of trouble by antagonizing Umbridge. I didn't want her to get in trouble because of me. She didn't know about my detentions." He hastened to add.
"I want you four to be careful when you get back to school," Sirius said. "Keep up with your lessons and the D.A. I think it is a great idea to practice as much as you can. Be careful, though. Umbridge is in tight with Fudge and I don't trust him at all. I've heard rumours of him accusing people of dabbling with the Dark Arts to discredit them. If you have any problems, let me know."
It ended up being the best Christmas break ever for Harry. He wasn't exactly sure what had changed for Sirius, but the change was quite obvious. He and Sirius had been working out in the gym every day, talking and getting to know each other. It was great spending time with his godfather just hanging out. Mr Weasley had come back from St. Mungo's and had fully recovered from his injuries.
The last night before they were to return to Hogwarts, Harry was having trouble sleeping. For once, he really did not want to return to Hogwarts. With Professor Umbridge not actually teaching them defence and no Quidditch, he would really rather stay with Sirius. The only bright spots were his friends and the DA. He really enjoyed teaching and knowing that he was doing so against Umbridge's decree made it even better. Blushing, he thought back to the last DA lesson before the break. His first kiss somehow wasn't quite what he had imagined it would be. He liked Cho, but something was missing.
A creak outside his door made him look up. He smiled, it was Ginny. Getting up he left the room he shared with Ron and together they made their way downstairs. After they arrived in the kitchen, Harry made the hot chocolate while Ginny sat at the table.
"Were you having a nightmare, too?" Ginny asked softly.
"Me? No, I was just having trouble sleeping," Harry replied as he sat down next to Ginny, sliding her a cup of hot chocolate. When Ginny didn't say anything he continued, "For the first time ever, I don't want to go back to school. I mean, private lessons with Snape, what did I ever do to deserve that? It's been so nice not having to worry about Umbridge and…I like hanging out with Sirius." Harry blushed slightly as he admitted that.
Ginny smiled. "It's been really nice watching you two. He really loves you, you know."
Harry's smile lit up the room. "I know. It's amazing, I have someone there for me. I've never had that before."
His smile faded as he looked over at his companion. "Nightmare?"
Ginny gave him a half-hearted smile, "Did you ever notice how many damn snakes there are in this place? They are all over the bloody place – on the sinks, on the wallpaper, our room even has snake drawer pulls. I guess I just…I was in the Chamber and I can still see that Basilisk."
Harry reached out for her hand while she continued, "This time I let the Basilisk loose on the whole school and…Hermione died and Colin died…at least this time I woke up before you died."
Harry squeezed her hand comfortingly. "I hate nightmares."
Looking around the kitchen he smiled. "Too bad you didn't mention the snakes before, we could have had a snake hunt."
Ginny looked at him for a moment before laughing. "I can just see that now. We could sneak up on the bathroom taps or drawer pulls and attack them from behind."
"I'd let you kill as many as you want, I know Sirius wouldn't mind." Harry laughed.
It was with mixed feelings that Harry boarded the Knight Bus the next day. Looking around at his companions, he thought at least he was surrounded by friends.