Mrs. Weasley followed them upstairs looking grim.

'I want you all to go straight to bed, no talking,' she said as they reached the first landing, 'we've got a busy day tomorrow. I expect Ginny's asleep,' she added to Hermione, 'so try not to wake her up.'

They all snorted.

"I doubt that Ginny will be asleep" laughed Sirius.

"Yeah," agreed Tonks "She's probably awake waiting for Hermione to tell her everything we said downstairs."

'Asleep, yeah, right,' said Fred in an undertone, after Hermione bade them goodnight and they were climbing to the next floor. 'If Ginny's not lying awake waiting for Hermione to tell her everything they said downstairs then I'm a Flobberworm...'

They all laughed.

" I'm quite sure he's not a Flobberworm then," said Remus smiling.

"It would be funny to see Fred's face if she was asleep though..." said Tonks thoughtfully.

'All right, Ron, Harry,' said Mrs. Weasley on the second landing, pointing them into their bedroom.

'Off to bed with you.'

"And I doubt that Harry and Ron are going to go to sleep without a bit of conversation first." Sirius said.

'Night,' Harry and Ron said to the twins.

'Sleep tight,' said Fred, winking.

"They're not going to do what I think they're going to do are they?" asked Remus his eyebrow raised.

"Probably," said Tonks "It is the twins we're talking about."

Mrs. Weasley closed the door behind Harry with a sharp snap. The bedroom looked, if anything, even darker and gloomier than it had on first sight.

"And I had to live like that for 16 years," said Sirius gloomily "And now I've got to stay here for who knows how long."

Remus and Tonks frowned.

The blank picture on the wall was now breathing very slowly and deeply, as though its invisible occupant was asleep. Harry put on his pyjamas, took off his glasses, and climbed into his chilly bed while Ron threw Owl Treats up on top of the wardrobe to pacify Hedwig and Pigwidgeon, who were clattering around and rustling their wings restlessly.

"Poor Owls" whispered Tonks sadly "They're not allowed to go Hunting."

"Yeah, but then again would Pig be able to bring much back, I mean he is small." Sirius joked.

'We can't let them out to hunt every night,' Ron explained as he pulled on his maroon pyjamas. 'Dumbledore doesn't want too many owls swooping around the square, thinks it'll look suspicious. Oh yeah ... I forgot...'

He crossed to the door and bolted it.

'What're you doing that for?'

"Kreacher" they stated as though it was obvious.

'Kreacher,' said Ron as he turned off the light. 'First night I was here he came wandering in at three in the morning.

Sirius pulled a face. "We probably should have told them about Kreacher..."

Trust me, you don't want to wake up and find him prowling around your room.

"You don't," said Sirius shaking his head "You really don't..."

Anyway...' He got into his bed, settled down under the covers, then turned to look at Harry in the darkness. Harry could see his outline by the moonlight filtering in through the grimy window, 'what d'you reckon?'

"I knew it!" Sirius cried.

"No one doubted you Sirius!" said Remus sounding exasperated. Sirius stuck his tongue out at him making Remus roll his eyes.

Harry didn't need to ask what Ron meant.

'Well, they didn't tell us much we couldn't have guessed, did they?' he said, thinking of all that had been said downstairs. 'I mean, all they've really said is that the Order's trying to stop people joining Vol-'

Tonks flinched while Sirius rolled his eyes at her.

"Honestly! It's just a name," exclaimed Sirius. She ignored him.

There was a sharp intake of breath from Ron.

Sirius rolled his eyes again.

-demort,' said Harry firmly. 'When are you going to start using his name? Sirius and Lupin do.'

Sirius smiled proudly at this comment.

Ron ignored this last comment.

"Of course he did," said Remus shaking his head and smiling.

"Yeah," said Sirius "You know he reminds me of someone else who did exactly the same thing!" he said looking at Tonks who, once again, ignored him.

'Yeah, you're right,' he said, 'we already knew nearly everything they told us, from using the Extendable Ears. The only new bit was-'

Crack.

"They apparated!" cried Sirius laughing.

"I thought I heard a Crack," said Remus thoughtfully furrowing his eyebrows.

'OUCH!'

'Keep your voice down, Ron, or Mum'll be back up here.'

"Like they didn't make a big enough noise," muttered Tonks.

'You two just Apparated on my knees!'

They all winced.

"Ouch!" said Sirius and then started laughing.

"What?" Remus asked.

"I just remembered," he started "James did the same thing to me when I was staying at his house."

Remus laughed.

'Yeah, well, it's harder in the dark-'

"Not really," said Remus seriously "If you picture in your mind where you want to land you'll land in the right place"

"They probably did it on purpose!" laughed Sirius.

Harry saw the blurred outlines of Fred and George leaping down from Ron's bed. There was a groan of bedsprings and Harry's mattress descended a few inches as George sat down near his feet.

'So, got there yet?' said George eagerly.

'The weapon Sirius mentioned?' said Harry.

"Let slip more like it," muttered Tonks loud enough for only Remus to hear who laughed. Sirius gave them weird look.

'Let slip, more like,' said Fred with relish, now sitting next to Ron. 'We didn't hear about that on the old Extendables, did we?'

'What d'you reckon it is?' said Harry.

'Could be anything,' said Fred.

'But there can't be anything worse than the Avada Kedavra curse, can there?' said Ron. 'What's worse than death?'

"Watching friends or family die," said Remus grimly.

Sirius nodded in agreement. "I would rather die than watch my Friends die... I can't really say the same for my family... Well I wouldn't like to see it happen too Andy or you Tonks" he sighed "Or Regulus..." he said sadly.

Remus and Tonks looked at each other sadly.

'Maybe it's something that can kill loads of people at once,' suggested George.

"They aren't even close," said Tonks smiling weakly.

'Maybe it's some particularly painful way of killing people,' said Ron fearfully.

'He's got the Cruciatus Curse for causing pain,' said Harry, 'he doesn't need anything more efficient than that.'

"He sounds as if he speaks from experience..." said Tonks slowly looking questionably at Remus and Sirius.

"He does," muttered Sirius his head in his hands. Tonks eyed widened. "The night Voldemort" Tonks flinched "returned." Tonks gasped.

There was a pause and Harry knew that the others, like him, were wondering what horrors this weapon could perpetrate.

'So who d'you think's got it now?' asked George.

'I hope it's our side,' said Ron, sounding slightly nervous.

'If it is, Dumbledore's probably keeping it,' said Fred.

'Where?' said Ron quickly. 'Hogwarts?'

Remus shook his head.

'Bet it is!' said George. That's where he hid the Philosopher's Stone.'

"And we learnt the hard way that Voldemort could get too it," said Sirius having heard the story from Dumbledore.

'A weapon's going to be a lot bigger than the Stone, though!' said Ron.

"Size is no guarantee of power." Sirius said seriously.

'Not necessarily,' said Fred.

'Yeah, size is no guarantee of power,' said George. 'Look at Ginny.'

They all looked at each other questionably.

'What d'you mean?' said Harry.

'You've never been on the receiving end of one of her Bat-Bogey Hexes, have you?'

"Oh" said Remus smiling "Yes, I've seen her perform that curse on one of the Slytherins who was teasing her friend. It wasn't pretty..."

"We could make her a Prankster yet!" said Sirius proudly.

"What about me?" Tonks pouted.

"You too, Nymphie"

'Shhh!' said Fred, half-rising from the bed. 'Listen!'

They fell silent. Footsteps were coming up the stairs.

"And here comes Molly" said Sirius tonelessly.

'Mum,' said George and without further ado there was a loud crack and Harry felt the weight vanish from the end of his bed. A few seconds later, they heard the floorboard creak outside their door; Mrs. Weasley was plainly listening to check whether or not they were talking.

Remus smiled sadly "She doesn't trust them..."

Hedwig and Pigwidgeon hooted dolefully. The floorboard creaked again and they heard her heading upstairs to check on Fred and George.

'She doesn't trust us at all, you know,' said Ron regretfully.

They all laughed.

Harry was sure he would not be able to fall asleep; the evening had been so packed with things to think about that he fully expected to lie awake for hours mulling it all over. He wanted to continue talking to Ron, but Mrs. Weasley was now creaking back downstairs again, and once she had gone he distinctly heard others making their way upstairs... In fact, many-legged creatures were cantering softly up and down outside the bedroom door,

"I don't know about you guys but I didn't hear any creatures cantering up the stairs" said Tonks smiling.

"I think he's dreaming..." Remus told her, also smiling.

and Hagrid, the Care of Magical Creatures teacher, was saying, 'Beauties, aren't they, eh, Harry? We'll be studyin' weapons this term...' and Harry saw that the creatures had cannons for heads and were wheeling to face him... He ducked...

"My Godson's dreams are crazy..." said Sirius; eyebrows raised a smile playing at his lips.

"Well at least it's not about Voldemort" admitted Remus causing the smile to slip from his friend's face.

The next thing he knew, he was curled into a warm ball under his bedclothes and George's loud voice was filling the room.

"And it is a very loud voice at that." Remus said making the other two laugh.

'Mum says get up, your breakfast is in the kitchen and then she needs you in the drawing room, there are loads more doxys than she thought and she's found a nest of dead puffskeins under the sofa.'

Half an hour later, Harry and Ron, who had dressed and breakfasted quickly, entered the drawing room, a long, high-ceilinged room on the first floor with olive-green walls covered in dirty tapestries. The carpet exhaled little clouds of dust every time someone put their foot on it and the long, moss-green velvet curtains were buzzing as though swarming with invisible bees. It was around these that Mrs. Weasley, Hermione, Ginny, Fred, and George were grouped, all looking rather peculiar as they had each tied a cloth over their nose and mouth. Each of them was also holding a large bottle of black liquid with a nozzle at the end.

"Doxy spraying time!" exclaimed Sirius loudly clapping his hands.

'Cover your faces and take a spray,' Mrs. Weasley said to Harry and Ron the moment she saw them, pointing to two more bottles of black liquid standing on a spindle-legged table. 'It's Doxycide. I've never seen an infestation this bad-what that house-elf's been doing for the last ten years-'

"Muttering to himself and taking mad orders from my mother's portrait."

Hermione's face was half concealed by a tea towel but Harry distinctly saw her throw a
reproachful look at Mrs. Weasley.

"Can't she just accept that House-Elves like working!" sighed Sirius.

'Kreacher's really old, he probably couldn't manage-'

"You'd be surprised what Kreacher can manage when he wants to," said Sirius.

'You'd be surprised what Kreacher can manage when he wants to, Hermione,' said Sirius, who had just entered the room carrying a bloodstained bag of what appeared to be dead rats. 'I've just been feeding Buckbeak,' he added, in reply to Harry's enquiring look. 'I keep him upstairs in my mother's bedroom.

"Of course you do..." muttered Remus looking exasperated.

"What?" Sirius said indignantly. "I like to pay her back for what she's done over the years"

Anyway ... this writing desk...'

He dropped the bag of rats into an armchair, then bent over to examine the locked cabinet which, Harry now noticed for the first time, was shaking slightly.

"Defiantly a boggart..." declared Remus knowledgeably.

"Of course Professor Lupin!" mocked Sirius.

'Well, Molly, I'm pretty sure this is a boggart,' said Sirius, peering through the keyhole, 'but perhaps we ought to let Mad-Eye have a shifty at it before we let it out-knowing my mother, it could be something much worse.'

"Much worse..." said Sirius.

'Right you are, Sirius,' said Mrs. Weasley.

They were both speaking in carefully light, polite voices that told Harry quite plainly that neither had forgotten their disagreement of the night before.

Sirius growled making Remus laugh.

A loud, clanging bell sounded from downstairs, followed at once by the cacophony of screams and wails that had been triggered the previous night by Tonks knocking over the umbrella stand.

"Why must you remind me!" cried Tonks dramatically.

'I keep telling them not to ring the doorbell!' said Sirius exasperatedly, hurrying out of the room. They heard him thundering clown the stairs as Mrs. Black's screeches echoed up through the house once more: 'Stains of dishonour, filthy half-breeds, blood traitors, children of flith...'

"She needs to think of something new," said Sirius shaking his head.

"Yeah," agreed Remus "It's always the same-"he started but was interrupted by Tonks.

"-Stains of dishonour, filthy half-breeds, blood traitors, children of filth" she mimicked making the boys laugh.

'Close the door, please, Harry,' said Mrs. Weasley.

"And now he's going to try to listen to whatever's happening downstairs..."

Harry took as much time as he dared to close the drawing-room door; he wanted to listen to what was going on downstairs. Sirius had obviously managed to shut the curtains over his mothers portrait because she had stopped screaming. He heard Sirius walking down the hall, then the clattering of the chain on the front door, and then a deep voice he recognised as Kingsley Shacklebolt's saying, 'Hestia's just relieved me, so she's got Moody's Cloak now, thought I'd leave a report for Dumbledore...'

"Told you!" shouted Tonks. Sirius- being the mature adult he was- threw a pillow at her.

Feeling Mrs Weasley's eyes on the back of his head, Harry regretfully closed the drawing-room door and rejoined the doxy party.

They all laughed. "Hmmm," said Sirius thoughtfully "The Doxy Party... I like it!"

Mrs. Weasley was bending over to check the page on doxys in Gilderoy Lockhart's Guide to Household Pests, which was lying open on the sofa.

"She's still got that?" Tonks asked flabbergasted.

'Right, you lot, you need to be careful, because doxys bite and their teeth are poisonous. I've got a bottle of antidote here, but I'd rather nobody needed it.'

She straightened up, positioned herself squarely in front of the curtains and beckoned them all forward.

'When I say the word, start spraying immediately,' she said. 'They'll come flying out at us, I expect, but it says on the sprays one good squirt will paralyse them. When they're immobilized, just throw them in this bucket.'

She stepped carefully out of their line of fire, and raised her own spray.

'All right-squirt!'

"SQUIRT!" yelled Sirius rather like someone yelling 'charge' in a battle.

Harry had been spraying only a few seconds when a fully-grown doxy came soaring out of a fold in the material, shiny beetle-like wings whirring, tiny needle-sharp teeth bared, its fairy-like body covered with thick black hair and its four tiny fists clenched with fury. Harry caught it full in the face with a blast of Doxycide; it froze in midair and fell, with a surprisingly loud thunk, on to the worn carpet below. Harry picked it up and threw it in the bucket.

'Fred, what are you doing?' said Mrs. Weasley sharply. 'Spray that at once and throw it away!'

Remus shook his head. Of course he was...

Harry looked round. Fred was holding a struggling doxy between his forefinger and thumb.

'Right-o,' Fred said brightly, spraying the doxy quickly in the face so that it fainted, but the moment Mrs. Weasley's back was turned he pocketed it with a wink.

It's probably got something to do with their Joke shop" said Tonks knowledgeably having heard Molly yelling at them about it.

'We want to experiment with doxy venom for our Skiving Snackboxes,' George told Harry under his breath.

"What are Skiving Snackboxes?" asked Sirius looking puzzled.

Deftly spraying two doxys at once as they soared straight for his nose, Harry moved closer to George and muttered out of the corner of his mouth, 'What are Skiving Snackboxes?'

"Yeah?"

'Range of sweets to make you ill,' George whispered, keeping a wary eye on Mrs. Weasley's back.

'Not seriously ill, mind, just ill enough to get you out of a class when you feel like it. Fred and I have been developing them this summer. They're double-ended, colour-coded chews. If you eat the orange half of the Puking Pastilles, you throw up. Moment you've been rushed out of the lesson for the hospital wing, you swallow the purple half-'

"That's amazing!" said Sirius looking awestruck.

'"-which restores you to full fitness, enabling you to pursue the leisure activity of your own choice during an hour that would otherwise have been devoted to unprofitable boredom." That's what we're putting in the adverts, anyway,' whispered Fred, who had edged over out of Mrs. Weasley's line of vision and was now sweeping a few stray doxys from the floor and adding them to his pocket. 'But they still need a bit of work. At the moment our testers are having a bit of trouble stopping themselves puking long enough to swallow the purple end.'

Remus and Sirius looked at each other. The Weasley twins could defiantly give the Marauders a run for their money.

'Testers?'

'Us,' said Fred. 'We take it in turns. George did the Fainting Fancies-we both tried the Nosebleed Nougat-'

Sirius was now drooling.

'Mum thought we'd been duelling,' said George.

'Joke shop still on, then?' Harry muttered, pretending to be adjusting the nozzle on his spray.

'Well, we haven't had a chance to get premises yet,' said Fred, dropping his voice even lower as Mrs. Weasley mopped her brow with her scarf before returning to the attack, 'so we're running it as a mail-order service at the moment. We put advertisements in the Daily Prophet last week.'

"I'm surprised they didn't get more OWLS..." said Remus looking impressed at how clever they were.

'All thanks to you, mate,' said George. 'But don't worry ... Mum hasn't got a clue. She won't read the Daily Prophet anymore, 'cause of it telling lies about you and Dumbledore.'

"They defiantly know what they're doing..." admitted Tonks.

Harry grinned. He had forced the Weasley twins to take the thousand-Galleon prize money he had won in the Triwizard Tournament to help them realise their ambition to open a joke shop, but he was still glad to know that his part in furthering their plans was unknown to Mrs. Weasley. She did not think running a joke shop was a suitable career for two of her sons.

"I think they would be excellent at it!" said Sirius smiling at the idea.

"Yeah, I don't think they would have any trouble getting people to buy their products." Remus admitted.

"I am so going to their shop when it opened" declared Tonks while Sirius and Remus nodded their heads in agreement. Sirius didn't know how he would as he was an escaped convict/mass murderer but he would get their somehow, someday.

The de-doxying of the curtains took most of the morning. It was past midday when Mrs. Weasley finally removed her protective scarf, sank into a sagging armchair, and sprang up again with a cry of disgust, having sat on the bag of dead rats.

They all snorted at this.

The curtains were no longer buzzing; they hung limp and damp from the intensive spraying; unconscious doxys lay crammed in the bucket at the foot of them beside a bowl of their black eggs, at which Crookshanks was now sniffing and Fred and George were shooting covetous looks.

'I think we'll tackle those after lunch.'

Mrs. Weasley pointed at the dusty glass-fronted cabinets standing on either side of the mantelpiece. They were crammed with an odd assortment of objects: a selection of rusty daggers, claws, a coiled snakeskin, a number of tarnished silver boxes inscribed with languages Harry could not understand and, least pleasant of all, an ornate crystal bottle with a large opal set into the stopper, full of what Harry was quite sure was blood.

"Most likely is..." muttered Sirius darkly.

The clanging doorbell rang again. Everyone looked at Mrs. Weasley.

'Stay here,' she said firmly, snatching up the bag of rats as Mrs. Blacks screeches started up again from down below. 'I'll bring up some sandwiches.'

She left the room, closing the door carefully behind her. At once, everyone dashed over to the window to look down on the doorstep. They could see the top of an unkempt gingery head and a stack of precariously balanced cauldrons.

'Mundungus!' said Hermione. 'What's he brought all those cauldrons for?'

"Probably to hide them," said Tonks.

'Probably looking for a safe place to keep them,' said Harry. 'Isn't that what he was doing the night he was supposed to be tailing me? Picking up dodgy cauldrons?'

"Yes," said Sirius darkly "He was!"

'Yeah, you're right!' said Fred, as the front door opened; Mundungus heaved his cauldrons through it and disappeared from view. 'Blimey, Mum won't like that...'

They exchanged looks. No, she most defiantly wouldn't.

He and George crossed to the door and stood beside it, listening closely. Mrs. Black's screaming had stopped.

Sirius gave a dramatic sigh of relief. "Good!" he said.

'Mundungus is talking to Sirius and Kingsley,' Fred muttered, frowning with concentration. 'Can't hear properly ... d'you reckon we can risk the Extendable Ears?'

'Might be worth it,' said George. 'I could sneak upstairs and get a pair-'

But at that precise moment there was an explosion of sound from downstairs that rendered Extendable Ears quite unnecessary. All of them could hear exactly what Mrs. Weasley was shouting at the top of her voice.

"They defiantly don't need the Extendable Ears." Sirius laughed.

'WE ARE NOT RUNNING A HIDEOUT FOR STOLEN GOODS!'

"She's defiantly got a set of Lungs!" exclaimed Tonks.

'I love hearing Mum shouting at someone else,' said Fred, with a satisfied smile on his face as he opened the door an inch or so to allow Mrs. Weasley's voice to permeate the room better, 'it makes such a nice change.'

They all laughed.

'-COMPLETELY IRRESPONSIBLE, AS IF WE HAVEN'T GOT ENOUGH TO WORRY ABOUT WITHOUT YOU DRAGGING STOLEN CAULDRONS INTO THE HOUSE-'

'The idiots are letting her get into her stride,' said George, shaking his head. 'You've got to head her off early otherwise she builds up a head of steam and goes on for hours. And she's been dying to have a go at Mundungus ever since he sneaked off when he was supposed to be following you, Harry-and there goes Sirius's mum again.'

They all laughed again. "The twins can defiantly make you laugh!" said Sirius wiping a tear of mirth out of his eye.

Mrs. Weasley's voice was lost amid fresh shrieks and screams from the portraits in the hall.

George made to shut the door to drown the noise, but before he could do so, a house-elf edged into the room.

"Oh no! Can't we skip this bit?" pleaded Sirius.

"No! We're reading the book word from word." Remus said firmly.

Except for the filthy rag tied like a loincloth around its middle, it was completely naked. It looked very old. Its skin seemed to be several times too big for it and, though it was bald like all house-elves, there was a quantity of white hair growing out of its large, batlike ears. Its eyes were a bloodshot and watery grey and its fleshy nose was large and rather snoutlike.

"Great description!" laughed Tonks.

The elf took absolutely no notice of Harry and the rest. Acting as though it could not see them, it shuffled hunchbacked, slowly and doggedly, towards the far end of the room, all the while muttering under its breath in a hoarse, deep voice like a bullfrog's, '...smells like a drain and a criminal to boot, but she's no better, nasty old blood traitor with her brats messing up my mistress's house, oh, my poor mistress, if she knew, if she knew the scum they've let into her house, what would she say to old Kreacher, oh, the shame of it, Mudbloods and werewolves and traitors and thieves, poor old Kreacher, what can he do...'

"Shut UP!" yelled Sirius.

"Um Sirius you do realize you're yelling at the book?" Tonks laughed. Sirius blushed.

'Hello, Kreacher,' said Fred very loudly, closing the door with a snap.

The house-elf froze in his tracks, stopped muttering, and gave a very pronounced and very unconvincing start of surprise.

'Kreacher did not see Young Master,' he said, turning around and bowing to Fred. Still lacing the carpet, he added, perfectly audibly, 'Nasty little brat of a blood traitor it is.'

Sirius glared at the book and started muttering under his breath.

'Sorry?' said George. 'Didn't catch that last bit.'

They all smiled at this.

'Kreacher said nothing,' said the elf, with a second bow to George, adding in a clear undertone, 'and there's its twin, unnataral little beasts they are.'

"I think he might have gotten the last bit right," admitted Tonks "They can be little beasts when they want to be"

"Don't agree with Kreacher!" Sirius yelled but she just laughed.

Harry didn't know whether to laugh or not. The elf straightened up, eyeing them all malevolently, and apparently convinced that they could not hear him as he continued to mutter.

"He's nuts!" said Sirius shaking his head.

'...and there's the Mudblood, standing there bold as brass, oh if my mistress knew, oh, how she'd cry, and there's a new boy, Kreacher doesn't know his name. What is he doing here? Kreacher doesn't know...'

"Like we would tell him..."

'This is Harry, Kreacher,' said Hermione tentatively. 'Harry Potter.'

Kreacher's pale eyes widened and he muttered faster and more furiously than ever.

"Harry's famous even among house elves" said Tonks smiling slightly.

'The Mudblood is talking to Kreacher as though she is my friend, if Kreacher's mistress saw him in such company, oh, what would she say-'

"Don't call her a Mudblood!" they all shouted.

'Don't call her a Mudblood!' said Ron and Ginny together, very angrily.

'It doesn't matter,' Hermione whispered, 'he's not in his right mind, he doesn't know what he's-'

"He knows exactly what he's saying," said Sirius darkly.

'Don't kid yourself, Hermione, he knows exactly what he's saying,' said Fred, eyeing Kreacher with great dislike.

Kreacher was still muttering, his eyes on Harry.

'Is it true? Is it Harry Potter? Kreacher can see the scar, it must be true, that's the boy who stopped the Dark Lord, Kreacher wonders how he did it-'

"Don't we all,"

'Don't we all, Kreacher,' said Fred.

"Are you sure you're not Fred in disguise?" Tonks asked Sirius "Because you've been saying exactly what he says."

Sirius just smiled mysterious, .

'What do you want, anyway?' George asked.

Kreacher's huge eyes darted towards George.

'Kreacher is cleaning,' he said evasively.

Sirius snorted.

'A likely story,' said a voice behind Harry.

Sirius clapped his hands like a small child "It's me!"he exclaimed gleefully.

Sirius had come back; he was glowering at the elf from the doorway. The noise in the hall had abated; perhaps Mrs. Weasley and Mundungus had moved their argument down into the kitchen.

Tonks and Remus let out a sigh of relief.

At the sight of Sirius, Kreacher flung himself into a ridiculously low bow that flattened his snoutlike nose on the floor.

'Stand up straight,' said Sirius impatiently. 'Now, what are you up to?'

'Kreacher is cleaning,' the elf repeated. 'Kreacher lives to serve the Noble House of Black-'

'-and it's getting blacker every day, it's filthy,' said Sirius.

Remus rolled his eyes at Sirius who smiled cheekily back.

'Master always liked his little joke,' said Kreacher, bowing again, and continuing in an undertone, 'Master was a nasty ungrateful swine who broke his mother's heart-'

Sirius and Tonks snorted "She didn't have a heart!" they said in sync.

'My mother didn't have a heart, Kreacher,' snapped Sirius. 'She kept herself alive out of pure spite.'

"Exactly" they said together.

Kreacher bowed again as he spoke.

'Whatever Master says,' he muttered furiously. 'Master is not fit to wipe slime from his mother's boots, oh, my poor mistress, what would she say if she saw Kreacher serving him, how she hated him, what a disappointment he was-'

"What can I say I'm a rebel!" said Sirius smiling making the others laugh.

'I asked you what you were up to,' said Sirius coldly. 'Every time you show up pretending to be cleaning, you sneak something off to your room so we can't throw it out.'

'Kreacher would never move anything from its proper place in Master's house,' said the elf, then muttered very fast, 'Mistress would never forgive Kreacher if the tapestry was thrown out, seven centuries it's been in the family, Kreacher must save it, Kreacher will not let Master and the blood traitors and the brats destroy it-'

"In that case, I'm destroying it!" declared Sirius.

'I thought it might be that,' said Sirius, casting a disdainful look at the opposite wall. 'She'll have put another Permanent Sticking Charm on the back of it, I don't doubt, but if I can get rid of it I certainly will. Now go away, Kreacher.'

"Maybe I could burn it?" said Sirius thoughtfully.

It seemed that Kreacher did not dare disobey a direct order; nevertheless, the look he gave Sirius as he shuffled out past him was full of deepest loathing and he muttered all the way out of the room.

'-comes back from Azkaban ordering Kreacher around, oh, my poor mistress, what would she say if she saw the house now, scum living in it, her treasures thrown out, she swore he was no son of hers and he's back, they say he's a murderer too-'

'Keep muttering and I will be a murderer!' said Sirius irritably as he slammed the door shut on the elf.

'Sirius, he's not right in the head,' Hermione pleaded, 'I don't think he realises we can hear him.'

Sirius snorted. He knows what he's saying that's for sure...

'He's been alone too long,' said Sirius, 'taking mad orders from my mother's portrait and talking to himself, but he was always a foul little-'

'If you could just set him free,' said Hermione hopefully, 'maybe-'

"I wish..." said Sirius wistfully.

'We can't set him free, he knows too much about the Order,' said Sirius curtly. 'And anyway, the shock would kill him. You suggest to him that he leaves this house, see how he takes it.'

"He'd probably die of shock" said Sirius with a dreamy look in his eyes.

Sirius walked across the room to where the tapestry Kreacher had been trying to protect hung the length of the wall. Harry and the others followed.

Sirius crunched his nose up in disgust.

The tapestry looked immensely old; it was faded and looked as though doxys had gnawed it in places. Nevertheless, the golden thread with which it was embroidered still glinted brightly enough to show them a sprawling family tree dating back (as far as Harry could tell) to the Middle Ages. Large words at the very top of the tapestry read:

The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black 'Toujours pur'

"Always Pure..."said Sirius tonelessly.

'You're not on here!' said Harry, after scanning the bottom of the tree closely.

'I used to be there,' said Sirius, pointing at a small, round, charred hole in the tapestry, rather like a cigarette burn. 'My sweet old mother blasted me off after I ran away from home- Kreacher's quite fond of muttering the story under his breath.'

'You ran away from home?'

"One of the best things I've ever done." Sirius said proudly.

'When I was about sixteen,' said Sirius. 'I'd had enough.'

'Where did you go?' asked Harry, staring at him.

"James' place"

'Your dad's place,' said Sirius. 'Your grandparents were really good about it; they sort of adopted me as a second son. Yeah, I camped out at your dad's in the school holidays, and then when I was seventeen I got a place of my own, my Uncle Alphard had left me a decent bit of gold-he's been wiped off here too, that's probably why-anyway, after that I looked after myself. I was always welcome at Mr. and Mrs. Potters for Sunday lunch, though.'

Sirius smiled at the memory.

'But ... why did you...?'

'Leave?' Sirius smiled bitterly and ran his fingers through his long, unkempt hair. 'Because I hated the whole lot of them: my parents, with their pure-blood mania, convinced that to be a Black made you practically royal ... my idiot brother, soft enough to believe them ... that's him.'

Sirius looked down sadly which wasn't unnoticed by the others. He hadn't really meant that.

Sirius jabbed a finger at the very bottom of the tree, at the name 'Regulus Black'. A date of death (some fifteen years previously) followed the date of birth.

'He was younger than me,' said Sirius, 'and a much better son, as I was constantly reminded.'

'But he died,' said Harry.

'Yeah,' said Sirius. 'Stupid idiot ... he joined the Death Eaters.'

Sirius sighed he should've looked out for him more and saved him from the Death Eaters.

'You're kidding!'

'Come on, Harry, haven't you seen enough of this house to tell what kind of wizards my family were?' said Sirius testily.

'Were-were your parents Death Eaters as well?'

"Nope, but they were as good as..."

'No, no, but believe me, they thought Voldemort had the right idea, they were all for the purification of the wizarding race, getting rid of Muggle-borns and having pure-bloods in charge. They weren't alone, either, there were quite a few people, before Voldemort showed his true colours, who thought he had the right idea about things... They got cold feet when they saw what he was prepared to do to get power, though. But I bet my parents thought Regulus was a right little hero for joining up at first.'

'Was he killed by an Auror?' Harry asked tentatively.

'Oh, no,' said Sirius. 'No, he was murdered by Voldemort. Or on Voldemort's orders, more likely; I doubt Regulus was ever important enough to be killed by Voldemort in person. From what I found out after he died, he got in so far, then panicked about what he was being asked to do and tried to back out. Well, you don't just hand in your resignation to Voldemort. It's a lifetime of service or death.'

A tear trickled from the corner of Sirius' eye but he wiped it away impatiently. How he wished he could talk to his brother one last time.

" I'm Sorry Sirius," said Remus patting him on the back.

"I just wish I could've saved him," Sirius croaked.

"I know, at least he tried to back out."

Sirius smiled "Yeah,-" he started but was cut off by a loud 'POP' and then a boy around 16 years old appeared. He had dark brown hair and a pale face. He looked up, his grey eyes full of confusion. They landed on Sirius who gasped.

"Regulus" he mouthed.

The boy tilted his head in confusion staring at Sirius his eyes narrowed but suddenly widened in realization.

"Sirius..." he whispered.

Sirius nodded and to Regulus' Surprise ran up and hugged him. Remus and Tonks saw his eyes widen and his body tense but after a few seconds relaxed.

"Sirius, you look different..." Regulus said examining Sirius' face. "You look older..."

"Gee, Thanks Reg," Sirius joked but then became ...Serious. "Regulus I don't know how to tell you but... you're in the future..."

Regulus' eyes widened again "What!" he whispered he looked around and saw Remus and Tonks standing there awkwardly in the background and his eyes widened in surprise and comprehension.

"You're Remus Lupin!" he gasped looking at Remus who nodded. He turned to Tonks still looking confused.

"That's Nymphadora," supplied Sirius.

Regulus eyes widened and he smiled. "Little Nymphadora!" Tonks winced when he said this " You've defiantly grown up, you're only 9 years old in my time."

"Yes, but please, call me Tonks, not Nymphadora." She told him glaring at Sirius. Regulus laughed.

"Yeah, I would prefer to be called Tonks too but then I can't talk, I mean my name's Regulus..." Tonks smiled and looked pointedly at Sirius but he just laughed and she glared at him.

" I'm guessing that Sirius calls you Nymphadora?" asked Regulus after witnessing the exchange.

"Yes. He does!" exclaimed Tonks whacking Sirius on the back of the head. "And so does Remus" she said smiling at Remus "But I don't mind him calling my Nymphadora." Remus blushed at this. Something that Sirius and Regulus didn't miss and they exchanged Evil looks.

"Well," said Sirius clapping his hands "Before you arrived we we're reading a book about the future" Regulus gave him a disbelieving look.

" I'm Serious!" said Sirius seriously.

"Yeah, I know..." said Regulus a smile playing on his lips.

"Oh Shut Up, Reg!"Sirius said throwing a pillow at him which he ducked.

"But honestly, we are reading a books from the future. They're about my Godson, Harry Potter."

"Harry Potter? Is he James Potter's son?" Regulus interrupted.

Sirius nodded and Regulus noticed a painful look had appeared on his brother's face but disappeared as soon as it had come.

"And Lily Evans" said Sirius and another look of pain had appeared on his face. "The one we're reading now is 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' and we're up to about chapter 6."

" OK..." said Regulus trying to take in this new and very unusual information."

"Right, so there are a few things you should know about this book." Sirius said suddenly looking sad.

"Harry doesn't live with Lily and James because... they're dead..." Regulus gasped "They were
murdered by Voldemort on October, Halloween in 1981, when Harry was 1 years old. We're not entirely sure what happened but Harry survived Voldemort's-" Tonks and Regulus flinched. "-Killing curse with only a scar on his forehead. Dumbledore thinks that Lily made a love/Blood sacrifice which forms a shield so Voldemort, who can't stand touching anything so pure, was-was- well he disappeared, ripped from his body, reduced to a spirit and he fled." Sirius growled. "We had been keeping Lily, James and Harry safe and hidden from Voldemort by using the fidulus charm, I was the secret Keeper but we changed, to Peter Pettigrew" Remus and Sirius both had a manic glint in their eyes. "And-and we didn't tell Remus or Dumbledore or anyone else, it was just Lily, James, Peter and I. On the night that they died I had planned to check on Peter, to make sure he was OK. I arrived at his hideout and he was gone, but there was no sign of a struggle. I was scared, so I headed out to James and Lily's house and-and when I saw their house, I knew what Peter had done, what I had done..." tears were now threatening to poor down Sirius' face now and he turned away.

"So Sirius went after Peter" continued Remus "He found him in the middle of a busy, muggle street and then Peter yelled to the Entire street "Lily and James, how could you Sirius" and then with his wand behind his back he blew the street up and killed at least 12 muggles. He then cut of his finger and turned into his animagus which is a rat and ran into the sewers. Sirius was framed for betraying Lily and James and killing all those muggles and was sent to Azkaban but-" Remus started smiling here

"Sirius here, became the first ever person to escape from Azkaban unaided."

"WHAT!"Regulus shouted disbelieving.

"He escaped from Azkaban," repeated Remus smiling. "And he travelled to Hogwarts as a dog which is his Animagus, they, Peter and Sirius are both unregistered and one night Harry and his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger found him in the Shrieking Shack and Sirius told them his story and they believed him. Peter had hidden with the Weasley Family as Ron's pet rat, Scabbers so Sirius had proof but Peter got away" said Remus shortly.

"Well what a life you've had..." muttered Regulus. Remus smiled and continued.

"Harry has been living with his Aunt, Uncle and Cousin, Lily's sister. Apparently they're pretty horrible to him. His been living there ever since his parent's death. So far in this book Harry fought of some dementors that attacked him and his cousin in the summer. We didn't get to read that part but the Ministry threatened to expel him for it but Dumbledore talked to them and he got a hearing. Tonks, Made-Eye moody, Kingsley Shaklebolt, Me and a few other people all went and picked Harry up and took him to Grimmuald Place the Headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix and he was here until the start of term."

"Right" said Regulus nodding his head.

"And there's something else..." Remus said looking at Sirius who nodded gloomily.

"You," Regulus' head shot up and his eyes widened "Died" he gasped "15 years ago" Remus said slowly.

"What?"

"You joined the Death Eaters when you were 16," continued Sirius and then he looked at Regulus suspiciously. "You aren't a Death Eater yet are you?"

Regulus shook his head "I was supposed to join in 5 months..." he said looking as if he was having second thoughts about joining.

Sirius smiled happily "Well, looks like we'll be able save you! Well you joined the Death Eaters and you tried to back out and were killed but we don't know how... no one ever found a body..." Sirius said looking at his feet.

Regulus smiled weakly. "Well it doesn't matter because we'll be able to fix it. Come on let's continue with the books."

'Lunch,' said Mrs Weasley's voice.

"Mrs Weasley?" asked Regulus.

"She's Ron Weasley's mother. In your time her name's Molly Prewett. She has 7 kids. The eldest Bill, Charlie, Percy (Who's ditched his family), Fred and George (They're twins), Ron (Harry's best friend) and the only girl, Ginny."

"Molly Prewett! I remember her!" said Regulus a look of realization on his face. "She has two twin brothers, Fabian and Gideon doesn't she?"
"Yeah," said Sirius laughing but stopped suddenly "but they're... dead"

"Oh," said Regulus frowning. How many people had died in this war?

She was holding her wand high in front of her, balancing a huge tray loaded with sandwiches and cake on its tip. She was very red in the face and still looked angry. The others moved over to her, eager for some food, but Harry remained with Sirius, who had bent closer to the tapestry.

'I haven't looked at this for years. There's Phineas Nigellus ... my great-great-grandfather, see? Least popular headmaster Hogwarts ever had

Sirius snorted "And for a good reason!"

"You know," said Tonks "Whenever I went into the Headmasters office,"

"Which I'm sure was quite a lot." Sirius interrupted.

"Hey!" she exclaimed "Like you can talk!" Sirius stopped talking. She was right.

"Anyway, Phineas Nigellus would always say 'So this is the Blood Traitor's offspring is sit? And then he would start babbling about how I was such a disappointment! It was so annoying!" pouted Tonks.

They all laughed and Sirius said "Don't worry about it...He did that to me all the time"

... and Araminta Meliflua ... cousin of my mother's ... tried to force through a Ministry Bill to make Muggle-hunting legal ... and dear Aunt Elladora ... she started the family tradition of beheading house-elves when they got too old to carry tea trays ...

"I should really get rid of all those heads" said Sirius thoughtfully. "It really creeps all the guests out..."

"No really?' said Tonks sarcastically and then she stopped and laughed "They wouldn't be as creepy with Santa Hats on!"

They all laughed. "Mother would die if she saw that!" snorted Regulus.

"Quick!" said Sirius suddenly "Where are the Santa Hats!" he exclaimed.

"Sirius... Aunt Wulburga is already dead..." said Tonks slowly.

"Really?" Regulus asked shocked.

"Yeah, she died a few years after you did..." replied Sirius unable to keep the smile of his face.

"Oh..."

of course, any time the family produced someone halfway decent they were disowned. I see Tonks isn't on here. Maybe that's why Kreacher won't take orders from her-he's supposed to do whatever anyone in the family asks him...'

Tonks pretended to look outraged.

'You and Tonks are related?' Harry asked, surprised.

'Oh, yeah, her mother Andromeda was my favourite cousin, said Sirius, examining the tapestry closely. 'No, Andromeda's not on here either, look-'

He pointed to another small round burn mark between two names, Bellatrix and Narcissa.

Sirius pulled a face at these names.

'Andromeda's sisters are still here because they made lovely, respectable pure-blood marriages, but Andromeda married a Muggle-born, Ted Tonks, so-'

'Bam!' yelled Sirius and mimed blasting the tapestry with his wand.

Sirius mimed blasting the tapestry with a wand and laughed sourly. Harry, however, did not laugh; he was too busy staring at the names to the right of Andromeda's burn mark. A double line of gold embroidery linked Narcissa Black with Lucius Malfoy and a single vertical gold line from their names led to the name Draco.

"They had a kid?" asked Regulus.

"Yeah, Draco, he and Harry are enemies from what I've hear...He'll probably be in this book." Sirius told his brother.

'You're related to the Malfoys!'

"Sadly," said Sirius... sadly.

'The pure-blood families are all interrelated,' said Sirius. 'If you're only going to let your sons and daughters marry pure-bloods our choice is very limited; there are hardly any of us left. Molly and I are cousins by marriage and Arthur's something like my second cousin once removed. But there's no point looking for them on here-if ever a family was a bunch of blood traitors it's the Weasleys.'

But Harry was now looking at the name to the left of Andromeda's burn: Bellatrix Black, which was connected by a double line to Rodolphus Lestrange.

Sirius scrunched his nose up at this.

'Lestrange...' Harry said aloud. The name had stirred something in his memory; he knew it from somewhere, but for a moment he couldn't think where, though it gave him an odd, creeping sensation in the pit of his stomach.

'They're in Azkaban,' said Sirius shortly.

"And I had the great pleasure of having Bellatrix in the cell across from me!" whined Sirius.

Harry looked at him curiously.

'Bellatrix and her husband Rodolphus came in with Barty Crouch, Junior,' said Sirius, in the same brusque voice. 'Rodolphus's brother Rabastan was with them, too.'

Then Harry remembered: He had seen Bellatrix Lestrange inside Dumbledore's Pensieve, the strange device in which thoughts and memories could be stored: a tall dark woman with heavy-lidded eyes, who had stood at her trial and proclaimed her continuing allegiance to Lord Voldemort, her pride that she had tried to find him after his downfall and her conviction that she would one day be rewarded for her loyalty.

'You never said she was your-'

'Does it matter if she's my cousin?' snapped Sirius. 'As far as I'm concerned, they're not my family. She's certainly not my family. I haven't seen her since I was your age, unless you count a glimpse of her coming into Azkaban. D'you think I'm proud of having a relative like her?'

"No, I am defiantly not!" snapped Sirius.

'Sorry,' said Harry quickly, 'I didn't mean-I was just surprised, that's all-'

'It doesn't matter, don't apologise,' Sirius mumbled. He turned away from the tapestry, his hands deep in his pockets. 'I don't like being back here,' he said, staring across the drawing room. 'I never thought I'd be stuck in this house again.'

Harry understood completely. He knew how he would feel, when he was grown up and thought he was free of the place for ever, to return and live at number four, Privet Drive.

"Merlin, he must really hate the Dursleys..."

'It's ideal for headquarters, of course,' Sirius said. 'My father put every security measure known to wizardkind on it when he lived here. It's unplottable, so Muggles could never come and call-as if they'd ever have wanted to-and now Dumbledore's added his protection, you'd be hard put to find a safer house anywhere. Dumbledore's Secret-Keeper for the Order, you know-nobody can find Headquarters unless he tells them personally where it is-that note Moody showed you last night, that was from Dumbledore...' Sirius gave a short, bark-like laugh. 'If my parents could see the use their house was being put to now ... well, my moth;'ers portrait should give you some idea.'

He scowled for a moment, then sighed.

'I wouldn't mind if I could just get out occasionally and do something useful. I've asked Dumbledore whether I can escort you to your hearing-as Snuffles, obviously-so I can give you a bit of moral support, what d'you think?'

Remus and Tonks smiled sadly at Sirius who just frowned.

Harry felt as though his stomach had sunk through the dusty carpet. He had not thought about the hearing once since dinner the previous evening; in the excitement of being back with the people he liked best, and hearing everything that was going on, it had completely flown his mind. At Sirius's words, however, the crushing sense of dread returned to him. He stared at Hermione and the Weasleys, all tucking into their sandwiches, and thought how he would feel if they went back to Hogwarts without him.

'Don't worry,' Sirius said. Harry looked up and realised that Sirius had been watching him. 'I'm sure they'll clear you, there's definitely something in the International Statute of Secrecy about being allowed to use magic to save your own life.'

"The Ministry of Magic has really gone to dogs," said Tonks.

"HEY!"Shouted Sirius. "Don't insult Dogs!"

'But if they do expel me,' said Harry quietly, 'can I come back here and live with you?'

Sirius smiled sadly.

'We'll see.'

'I'd feel a lot better about the hearing if I knew I didn't have to go back to the Dursleys,' Harry pressed him.

'They must be bad if you prefer this place,' said Sirius gloomily.

'Hurry up, you two, or there won't be any food left,' Mrs. Weasley called.

"FOOD!"

Sirius heaved another great sigh, cast a dark look at the tapestry, then he and Harry went to join the others.

Harry tried his best not to think about the hearing while he emptied the glass-fronted cabinets that afternoon. Fortunately for him, it was a job that required a lot of concentration, as many of the objects in there seemed very reluctant to leave their dusty shelves. Sirius sustained a bad bite from a silver snuffbox; within seconds his bitten hand had developed an unpleasant crusty covering like a tough brown glove.

'It's OK,' he said, examining the hand with interest before tapping it lightly with his wand and restoring its skin to normal, 'must be Wartcap powder in there.'

He threw the box aside into the sack where they were depositing the debris from the cabinets; Harry saw George wrap his own hand carefully in a cloth moments later and sneak the box into his already doxy-filled pocket.

Sirius and Tonks had a proud look on their faces while Remus and Regulus were trying to look disapproving,

They found an unpleasant-looking silver instrument, something like a many-legged pair of tweezers, which scuttled up Harry's arm like a spider when he picked it up, and attempted to puncture his skin. Sirius seized it and smashed it with a heavy book entitled Nature's Nobility: A Wizarding Genealogy. There was a musical box that emitted a faintly sinister, tinkling tune when wound, and they all found themselves becoming curiously weak and sleepy, until Ginny had the sense to slam the lid shut; a heavy locket that none of them could open; a number of ancient seals; and, in a dusty box, an Order of Merlin, First Class, that had been awarded to Sirius's grandfather for 'services to the Ministry'.

"It means he gave them gold" muttered Sirius.

'It means he gave them a load of gold,' said Sirius contemptuously throwing the medal into the rubbish sack.

"My God Sirius, Our families going to be rolling in their graves!" exclaimed and exasperated Regulus.

Sirius' face lit up at this.

Several times Kreacher sidled into the room and attempted to smuggle things away under his loincloth, muttering horrible curses every time they caught him at it. When Sirius wrested a large golden ring bearing the Black crest from his grip, Kreacher actually burst into furious tears and left the room sobbing under his breath and calling Sirius names Harry had never heard before.

'It was my father's,' said Sirius, throwing the ring into the sack. 'Kreacher wasn't quite as devoted to him as to my mother, but I still caught him snogging a pair of my father's old trousers last week.'

Tonks scrunched up her nose.

"How long has he been alone in this house?" Regulus asked.

"I dunno, ever since mother died, 11 or 13 years?" replied Sirius.

Regulus shook his head. "I think he's gone insane..."

"Yeh think?"

Mrs. Weasley kept them all working very hard over the next few days. The drawing room took three days to decontaminate. Finally, the only undesirable things left in it were the tapestry of the Black family tree, which resisted all their attempts to remove it from the wall, and the rattling writing desk. Moody had not dropped by headquarters yet, so they could not be sure what was inside it.

"It's a boggart" Declared Remus going into Professor Mode.

"Yes, we know Professor Lupin" teased Sirius.

"I think it's cute!" said Tonks blushing.

Regulus and Sirius were both trying to hide their laughter. Regulus was successful by turning his into a hacking cough. Sirius was not which resulted in receiving a glare from Remus.

They moved from the drawing room to a dining room on the ground floor where they found spiders as large as saucers lurking in the dresser (Ron left the room hurriedly to make a cup of tea and did not return for an hour and a half). The china, which bore the Black crest and motto, was all thrown unceremoniously into a sack by Sirius, and the same fate met a set of old photographs in tarnished silver frames, all of whose occupants squealed shrilly as the glass covering them smashed.

Sirius cackled evilly.

Snape might refer to their work as 'cleaning', but in Harry's opinion they were really waging war on the house, which was putting up a very good fight, aided and abetted by Kreacher.

"Now that is an interesting way of putting it..." said Remus smiling thoughtfully.

"I agree whole heartily!" declared Sirius.

The house-elf kept appearing wherever they were congregated, his muttering becoming more and more offensive as he attempted to remove anything he could from the rubbish sacks. Sirius went as far as to threaten him with clothes, but Kreacher fixed him with a watery stare and said, 'Master must do as Master wishes,' before turning away and muttering very loudly, 'but Master will not turn Kreacher away, no, because Kreacher knows what they are up to, oh yes, he is plotting against the Dark Lord, yes, with these Mudblood and traitors and scum...'

Sirius growled.

At which Sirius, ignoring Hermione's protests, seized Kreacher by the back of his loincloth and threw him bodily from the room.

"You know you should be nicer to Kreacher..." Regulus told Sirius shaking his head. "He's going to do something one of these days..."

Sirius ignored him.

The doorbell rang several times a day, which was the cue for Sirius's mother to start shrieking again, and for Harry and the others to attempt to eavesdrop on the visitor, though they gleaned very little from the brief glimpses and snatches of conversation they were able to sneak before Mrs. Weasley recalled them to their tasks. Snape flitted in and out of the house several times more, though to Harry's relief they never came face to face; Harry also caught sight of his Transfiguration teacher, Professor McGonagall, looking very odd in a Muggle dress and coat,

They all laughed.

"She sure did!" said Tonks laughing.

and she also seemed too busy to linger. Sometimes, however, the visitors stayed to help. Tonks joined them for a memorable afternoon in which they found a murderous old ghoul lurking in an upstairs toilet,

Tonks smiled remembering that afternoon .

and Lupin, who was staying in the house with Sirius but who left it for long periods to do mysterious work for the Order, helped them repair a grandfather clock that had developed the unpleasant habit of shooting heavy bolts at passers-by.

"One of those bolts shot me in the forehead!" said Sirius grumpily.

Regulus snorted with laughter.

"What?"

"I-I was the one w-who set that up!" said Regulus shaking with laughter making Remus and Tonks join in too.

Sirius glared at his brother who merrily looked at him innocently.

Mundungus redeemed himself slightly in Mrs. Weasley's eyes by rescuing Ron from an ancient set of purple robes that had tried to strangle him when he removed them from their wardrobe.

"Sometimes I think that our house if more dangerous than the occupants!" admitted Regulus.

"I dunno, Mother and Father are pretty dangerous..."

Despite the fact that he was still sleeping badly, still having dreams about corridors and locked doors that made his scar prickle, Harry was managing to have fun for the first time all summer.

They all smiled sadly at this.

As long as he was busy he was happy; when the action abated, however, whenever he dropped his guard, or lay exhausted in bed watching blurred shadows move across the ceiling, the thought of

the looming Ministry hearing returned to him. Fear jabbed at his insides like needles as he wondered what was going to happen to him if he was expelled. The idea was so terrible that he did not dare voice it aloud, not even to Ron and Hermione, who, though he often saw them whispering together and casting anxious looks in his direction, followed his lead in not mentioning it. Sometimes, he could not prevent his imagination showing him a faceless Ministry official who was snapping his wand in two and ordering him back to the Dursleys' ... but he would not go. He was determined on that. He would come back here to Grimmauld Place and live with Sirius.

Sirius smiled to himself. He was glad his Godson loved him as much he, Sirius, loved Harry.

He felt as though a brick had dropped into his stomach when Mrs. Weasley turned to him during dinner on Wednesday evening and said quietly, 'I've ironed your best clothes for tomorrow morning, Harry, and I want you to wash your hair tonight, too. A good first impression can work wonders.'

"Trust me, a first impression won't change what the Ministry think of him..." sighed Remus.

"And nobody's going to be able to tame his hair" added Sirius laughing.

Ron, Hermione, Fred, George, and Ginny all stopped talking and looked over at him. Harry nodded and tried to keep eating his chop, but his mouth had become so dry he could not chew.

'How am I getting there?' he asked Mrs. Weasley, trying to sound unconcerned.

"I seriously doubt that worked..." said Regulus.

'Arthur's taking you to work with him,' said Mrs. Weasley gently.

Mr. Weasley smiled encouragingly at Harry across the table.

'You can wait in my office until it's time for the hearing,' he said.

Harry looked over at Sirius, but before he could ask the question, Mrs. Weasley had answered it.

'Professor Dumbledore doesn't think it's a good idea for Sirius to go with you, and I must say I-'

'-think he's quite right,' said Sirius through clenched teeth.

Sirius huffed angrily and glared at the book.

Mrs. Weasley pursed her lips.

'When did Dumbledore tell you that?' Harry said, staring at Sirius.

'He came last night, when you were in bed,' said Mr. Weasley.

Sirius stabbed moodily at a potato with his fork. Harry lowered his own eyes to his plate. The thought that Dumbledore had been in the house on the eve of his hearing and not asked to see him made him feel, if it were possible, even worse.

They all looked down sadly.

"Well next Chapter The Ministry of Magic"