Chapter One - Recovery

In Harry Potter's opinion, the Triwizard Cup looked smashing in the sitting room. It was made of intricately wrought steel, with pieces of crystal forming the sides of the goblet. Soft blue light emanated from the crystal, pulsing in no discernable rhythm or frequency. The words "Champion of Champions" were carved into the base.

The prize was Harry's to hold on to for the next five years, until the Tournament came again. It could even be longer than that. The latest attempt to revive the competitions had come after a lapse of two hundred years. Until it was needed again, the trophy rested on a stone plinth that Harry had created from a bit of wooden tree stump.

Harry's Transfiguration skills had improved steadily during the last year, but he still hadn't progressed to the point where he could work well with living tissue (that wasn't his own body). Inanimate objects were another story, as he'd discovered in the first task. However, changing dead wood to never-alive stone was a fair bit easier. After a bit of replication (to increase the size of the stump) and some creative Charm-work (to shape it), he had called upon all his talent at Transfiguration and made his pillar.

Beads of sweat trickled down Harry's face. He was done, at last, but the result was not as fine as he'd imagined. It looked wrong, somehow. He frowned, all the pleasure derived from his successful Transfiguration now gone. He should be ecstatic at being the youngest Triwizard champion in history. He should have been thrilled at beating the best that Durmstrang Institute, Beauxbatons Academy, and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry had to offer, but he was not. He felt cold fingers of fear around his heart, causing the hairs on his neck to prickle. He wanted to smash the thing and run away.

Harry shuddered. The pillar he had created looked quite a lot like the one where the Triwizard Cup had rested in the dark and dangerous maze. He'd faced many challenges there: dementors, sphinxes, sentient vines, disorientation magic, fire traps, and more had tested his skills and determination. Then after fighting and sneaking his way past all of that, Harry had had to duel the other Champions to boot. The third task had taken him to his physical and magical limit. He'd never been so terrified. The dangers had never stopped coming unless the Maze was trying to lull him into a false sense of security. Nothing could be trusted. Harry had been betrayed by seemingly innocuous creepers, simple stones, and ordinary hedges. His mind had been stretched in strange directions. The task had taken him to his emotional and mental limit. He'd left a part of himself there.

Or maybe it had been left at another place. Harry had won the Triwizard Tournament, grabbing hold of the Cup that now stood on the plinth. The Cup had been a Portkey, bringing him to the most dismal place on Earth: Azkaban prison.

Voldemort had seized the island fortress and had made it into his own private residence. It was to this deadly place that Harry had been whisked away. The guards, the soul-sucking dementors, had defected from the Ministry of Magic and taken Voldemort's side. The news of this unholy alliance had sent more than one person groping for the smelling salts. The dementors had freed the followers of Voldemort, the Death Eaters, who had killed and tortured with abandon during the last war. The Aurors stationed on the island had been murdered, their corpses desecrated.

Harry's anger at his parents' betrayer, Peter Pettigrew, had been rekindled. Last year he had personally watched Pettigrew receive the Dementor's Kiss and lose his soul in a feeding most unspeakable. Seeing the traitor walk from the shadows in the courtyard had been like a Bludger to the gut.

The eyes had changed. The once simpering orbs had been empty, but were now filled with a cruel intelligence. An evil soul had taken up residence in the body, and the eyes burned red with the fires of hell that Voldemort was barely staying out of.

Voldemort had tried to kill Harry as a baby and had tried to kill him again that night. If not for Lucius Malfoy snatching Harry from under Voldemort's nose, Harry would now be dead. His best mate's father had taken an unbelievable risk. He'd once bowed down but refused to again, and this defiance could easily get the whole Malfoy family killed. To turn against Voldemort, and to his face, no less, was about as suicidal behaviour as one could get and took a depth of fortitude that humbled Harry. He felt uncomfortable with displays of affection. The only other people who had ever gone to such lengths were his parents and godfather. They had always fought against Voldemort; Mr. Malfoy had betrayed him. Harry was determined to make sure he'd made the right choice.

The war that had been over for a dozen years had been reignited. The assault on the island prison was surely only the first step of his plan to achieve dominion. So far the response of the Ministry had been to give a lot of speeches. The Dark Lord, it was warned, would enslave them or kill them all. Mostly they were patriotic in nature, urging all British wizards to stand up for the values of freedom and self-determination. Surprisingly enough, the Ministry was doing fairly well at it. The Daily Prophet reported that Auror recruitment was on the rise. There were lots of postings in the Help Wanted section as well, mostly Ministry positions. It seemed they were going to be serious about being ready for this fight.

St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries was also hiring. They were advertising for administrative and support positions as well as radically changing the protocol for becoming a Healer. It normally required a great investment of time and money to take many expensive courses, but now those courses were being fast-tracked and offered for free. Of course, the instructors reserved the right to wash out anyone who was pants at it, but the need for Healers was foreseen to be such that the Ministry had paid the tab.

Even the goblins who owned Gringotts, the wizarding bank, thought trouble was coming. The Daily Prophet reported they had begun refusing any new loan applications and quietly upping the interest rates on existing loans. There was quite an outrage over these new practices in the editorial pages (Harry thought the editor must have a loan with Gringotts), but a spokesgoblin was quoted as telling customers to check the fine print and then investigate the definition of 'adjustable'.

All of this was running through Harry's head as he looked at his trophy. By Merlin, the coming troubles were enough to make anyone want to do something, but Harry had another reason as well. Voldemort had been the one who killed his parents, leaving him orphaned. It was his mother's sacrifice that had protected him when Voldemort turned his wand on Harry, but it was scant comfort. Harry had a goal in life: to become strong enough to destroy Voldemort.

"Admiring your prize?" came a light-hearted voice from behind him.

Harry smiled and turned to see his godfather, Sirius Black, standing in the doorway. In their will, Harry's parents had named their good and dear friend as Harry's guardian. Though there had been a few hiccups in the plan, everything had eventually worked out. Sirius had given him a real home and shown him genuine love. By Merlin, he loved Sirius right back.

"No, just thinking about what I had to go through to get it," Harry answered quietly. "I'm lucky to be standing here."

Sirius nodded. "I know. I've had quite a few sleepless nights about it, too. I nearly lost you, and there was nothing I could have done."

"I thought I might lose you too," Harry said. The second task had threatened the thing he held most dear. He'd found Sirius on the bottom of Black Lake. His terror that day still haunted his nightmares.

"A person could go mad thinking about this too much. I'm just glad someone was smiling on you."

"Mister Malfoy."

"I'd rather imagine it was your mum and dad." Sirius didn't like Mr. Malfoy; even though he tried not to be too inflammatory, his opinion did slip out fairly often.

"Yeah, all three did." Harry decided to change the subject. He didn't like remembering that night. "Is Moony back yet?"

In preparation for the coming fight against the Darkness, Albus Dumbledore had sent Remus Lupin (Moony to his friends) on a secret mission to alert the "old crowd", a covert resistance group dating back to the first war called the Order of the Phoenix. Its members once included James and Lily Potter as well as Sirius himself. Dumbledore was presently the Headmaster of Hogwarts, but he had once been and was now again the leader of the Order. It was made up of witches and wizards personally loyal to Dumbledore, people he knew he could trust. He was widely touted as the only wizard Voldemort had feared to face, but you couldn't fight the Darkness alone. Many had decided to stand with Dumbledore.

Sirius had shown Harry an old picture of the group. It was wonderful to be able to see his parents, and it filled him with pride that they'd stood up against Voldemort.

"No, not yet. It should be any time, though."

"Good. I want to know what's happening."

"Voldemort has been relatively quiet since his raid on Azkaban. We think he's been reinforcing his position."

"Why haven't the Aurors hit him before he's ready, then?" Harry was eager to strike back at the evil wizard.

"We think they tried that," Sirius said grimly. "They're being very hush-hush about it, but several top Aurors haven't been seen lately, and the rumours are flying thick and furious at the Ministry."

"How do you know what's going on at the Ministry?"

"I got a letter from Dumbledore." Sirius tone was heavy. He didn't sound pleased at the communication.

"What does he say?"

"Not much. There's supposed to be a meeting a week from Thursday."

"A week!" Harry couldn't believe what he was hearing. A week was too long to go without taking action. "Aren't we going to do anything?"

"These things take careful planning, Harry. I would think you'd appreciate that," Sirius joked lightly.

"Yeah, yeah, Slytherins plan everything, but we should be having meetings. Organizing; something, anything other than sitting around."

"Ah, you need some chores to do, is that it? Kreacher might be offended."

"Sirius, you know what I mean," Harry said with a roll of his eyes. He felt his godfather was taking the lack of activity a little too lightly.

Thankfully, Sirius stopped joking. "I do, Harry, but it's okay. He can't just walk into the Minister's office and kill him and start issuing orders. Even the professional bureaucrats at the Ministry might have a problem with that. We have some time yet."

"May I go to the meeting? I want to join. I'll help any way I can." Even though Dumbledore ran the Order, if the Order was against Voldemort, then Harry wanted in.

"I'll pass that along," Sirius said solemnly, "and perhaps I shall be unable to find anyone suitable to stay here with you on the night of the meeting. Perhaps I shall have no choice but to bring you with me."

Harry shot Sirius a conspiratorial grin. "What a shame," he said facetiously.

They smirked at each other for several moments.

"I still can't believe the meeting isn't for another week."

"Apparently there's nothing to report on yet. Damned foolishness if you ask me. Dumbledore says he's waiting on information."

"From whom?"

Sirius looked away. "From someone."

"Someone close to Voldemort?" Harry asked. "Is it Professor Snape?"

"Yes, it's Snape."

"He's still off with the Death Eaters?"

Professor Snape, Head of Slytherin House, had told Harry a tiny bit of his lifestory. It turned out that Snape had been a spy in the ranks of Voldemort's followers. Now he was going to try to continue in that role. It was a dangerous task, fraught with peril of death and torture. Harry had worried about his teacher ever since Voldemort's return.

"Yes. Either it's taking him some time to convince Voldemort he's still loyal, or he's busy spilling everything he knows about Hogwarts. Or he could be dead."

Snape dead? Harry hadn't considered the possibility of his Potions Master not being able to pull off his role as spy. He'd managed it during the last war, but maybe roaming around as a spirit had made Voldemort more suspicious. Maybe he'd judged Snape already from the time he'd spent on the back of Professor Quirrell's head. Harry had seen Snape again before school let out, but he'd said that he'd only managed to talk himself back into a kind of probationary status. His words had been accepted. Now he needed to make his actions match his words. If Voldemort decided to execute Snape, how would they even know?

"I'm sure Snape isn't celebrating with the Death Eaters," Harry said confidently. "If anything he's had to talk non-stop to keep his skin, but he can do it."

"Snape could talk the wings off a Chinese Fireball," Sirius said grudgingly, "and then convince it to give him a ride home afterwards. If anyone can lie to Voldemort and get away with it, he can."

"So there's not going to be a meeting until Dumbledore hears from Snape?"

"Right. We need to know Voldemort's plans before we start making our own."

"I know his plan already. He wants to be the bloody Minister for Magic, only I don't think he wants to get there legally."

"Right, and the Ministry and the Aurors will handle that aspect of public security. Merlin, save us all," Sirius added, "but it will ultimately be the Order that lets us bring him down."

"Once they finally have a meeting," Harry interjected.

"Yes, once they have a meeting," Sirius agreed blandly, "but haste makes waste, as the saying goes. Better to take the time to do it properly rather than go off half-cocked and get a bunch of people killed because there wasn't a plan. You should understand that. Slytherins and planning go hand in hand."

Harry chuckled. "If you say so, Sirius."

"You're getting to look a bit shaggy there, young man," Sirius said suddenly. "Isn't it about time for you to start shaving?"

Harry felt himself blushing for no reason. "I guess. I don't know how though."

Vernon certainly hadn't offered to show him. When Harry had been seven, he'd gotten into Vernon's shave kit and made a mess of the bathroom. The thrashing he'd earned that day had been particularly bad, because there was no way to escape in such a small room. His bottom had been bruised for a week, and sitting down had been impossible. Harry had coped by deciding he didn't care anyway. There was a lot that Harry had made up his mind he didn't care about. Now he found himself eager.

"It's really very simple," Sirius declared. "Come with me."

Sirius led Harry to the bathroom on the third floor. He turned the faucets and filled the sink with hot steaming water. He handed Harry a bar of what looked like soap.

"Get your face wet and lather up real well. I'll get the razor ready."

Sirius reached into his pocket and pulled out what looked like a pocket knife. He flipped open the blade, pointed his wand at it, and cast a Sharpening Charm.

"Always cast the Charm anew every time. Nothing is worse for your face than a dull razor. That lather is looking about right. Hold the razor like so," he demonstrated, "and take it in slow strokes. Slow. If you rush this, you will injure yourself."

"Right." Harry was eyeing the gleaming razor with some trepidation. "Isn't there some sort of Shaving Charm?"

Harry had learned that magic could do many things since he'd joined the wizarding world. All manner of mundane tasks could be achieved with the wave of a wand. He was constantly impressed with what magic could accomplish.

"There was a wizard who tried to develop one, but he lacked fine control and slit his own throat at a demonstration panel. He bled to death before anyone from the Committee for Experimental Charms could heal him. Enthusiasm has been rather low ever since."

Harry shuddered. "That's gruesome."

"You asked."

All in all, Harry's first shaving experience went without a great deal of fuss. It took considerably longer than he thought it would, but he had been very mindful of Sirius' admonition against haste.

"Especially be careful around the nose. It can be regrown, but you'll be in for a load of teasing."

"Right."

When Harry finished, his face felt very peculiar. The small cuts he'd given himself were quickly healed with a minor Charm. He'd once had a bad sunburn from being out in the garden too long, and whole patches of skin had peeled off; the feeling was very similar, just not painful. He went to hand the razor back to Sirius.

"Keep it. You'll need it again. Once your beard really comes in, you'll have to shave at least every couple of days."

"How long until that happens?"

"Probably another five years or so, but you'll still use that razor about once a week, I'd imagine. Are you hungry?"

Harry was quiet through lunch. Shaving felt very peculiar because it was such a grown-up thing. Yet there could be no denying that he was getting older. He was going to be fifteen at the end of the month, going into his fifth year at school, where he harboured vague hopes of being made a prefect like his mother had been.

He even had a girlfriend. How that happened, Harry still wasn't entirely sure. He'd gone from wanting to be just friends with his classmate and fellow Slytherin Tracy Davis to dating Padma Patil, one of the prettiest girls in Hogwarts. They'd been together for six months, ever since he'd asked her to the Yule Ball. Her twin sister Parvati was currently seeing Draco in a nice, neat sort of way.

Padma was funny, smart, and fun to snog. He enjoyed sitting next to her in class or walking through the corridors holding hands with her. She made him feel good, and her smile made his stomach do flip-flops.

An owl turned up that very moment bearing a missive from Padma, as if thinking of her had caused it to appear. The owl refused to hand over the letter until it got a reward. Harry reached into his pocket and tossed the bird a treat. The owl crunched down the snack in two huge gulps, and Harry snatched the parchment away. The writing was fancy script and done in blue ink.

My darling Harry,

I know it's the first day of hols, but I wanted to send you a quick note to say I'm thinking of you. I didn't see you on the train, and I missed you. I know you and Sirius have a lot to catch up on, but give me a firecall soon.

Yours,

Padma

P.S.: Shiva likes toast.

Harry had not taken the train because Sirius was waiting for him at the platform with the motorbike, so they could fly back to London. He supposed Padma might be a little bit upset with him for that. They hadn't planned to sit together on the train, per se, but Harry knew that eventually they would have found each other. He hadn't even managed a proper goodbye. There had been no long snog to make them both dizzy.

"Sirius? How bad is it going to be this summer? With the war, I mean. Will we still be able to go places and do things?"

"Like what?"

"Well, I've got this girlfriend. I may have mentioned her a time or two. Pretty Indian girl named Padma. I would sort of like to see her a few times. Snog a bit. You know."

"Ah, yes, the endless days of summer. How well I remember them," Sirius said with a sudden far-away look in his eyes. It lasted only a moment as he looked somberly at Harry. "I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed, Harry. Now that Voldemort is back, the world is a very dangerous place. You don't have the blood protections you once did. That's my fault, and I'm sorry."

"Sorry?" Harry yelped. He'd expected Sirius to reluctantly enforce house arrest but had never imagined he'd blame himself. "Don't you dare be sorry!"

"The protections were broken when I offered you this home last summer." Sirius sounded sorrowful.

Harry was determined to stop Sirius' guilt trip. He declared flatly, "The protection was broken when I walked out two summers ago. I took my things and left. You saw me that night. I swore never to go back."

Sirius heaved a great sigh. "You should never have had to live with the Dursleys. I'm so sorry. I should never have given you to Hagrid that night. I let my thirst for blood get the better of me and I forgot my responsibility. It'll never happen again."

Harry felt himself start to choke up. Sirius' guilt was still so raw. He wrapped Sirius up in a manly hug.

"It's not your fault," he said when he could speak. "It's Voldemort's fault."

"Right. Right," Sirius said, clearing his throat. "Now he's back. The world is a risky place. Without your mother's protection, you are vulnerable to him. We can't risk you. You're safe only as long as you remain here under the Fidelius Charm. As you're not the Secret Keeper, you won't be able to speak the name of this destination, so you can't Floo in. I've left the connection open so that we might use it to escape if needed."

"I can't go out at all?"

"Not without a guard - myself and Remus. Since he won't be around much, that limits that."

"Why two?

"One to take on Voldemort, and one to Apparate you to safety."

"So I have to stay here all summer?"

"I'm afraid so. We'll be able to arrange one trip to Diagon Alley for school shopping, but that's all. It's just too dangerous."

"How do I tell Padma? She's not going to take this well."

"Frankly, Harry, you have more important concerns than your love life. You can deal with your girlfriend being mad at you. It's not as bad as Voldemort being mad at you, and he is absolutely furious with you."

Somehow, that thought failed to terrify Harry. Maybe he was being a bit cavalier, but having escaped him three times, Harry was more afraid for his friends and family than himself. "Because I got away."

"Right. Few people survive his fury, and I intend that you're going to be one of them."

"That makes two of us."

So he wouldn't be able to leave Grimmauld Place all summer. Harry chaffed just a little bit at being restricted, and it made him want to kick something. Wasn't he nearly fifteen? He was a Triwizard Champion. He could take care of himself.

"Well if you're going to keep me holed up for the whole holiday, I hope you at least planned some activities."

"I figured we could do a fair amount of weight-lifting. Got to get those muscles as big as possible before you go back to school. We don't have any new music, I'm afraid, as I haven't really had much of a chance to go shopping. Don't forget that we still have a bunch of music crystals we haven't listened to yet, and we can play all our favourites.

"Plus I want to see how well you can duel. I want to see every bit of those duels you had with Delacour and Diggory."

"I'll tell you all about it."

"Not quite what I meant. Have you ever heard of a Pensieve?"

"No. Should I have?"

"No reason in particular why you would. I just didn't know if you'd heard the term before. It would save a lot of explaining on my part. As it is, a Pensieve is basically a cauldron full of memories. You use a particular spell to extract a memory from your mind and deposit it in the Pensieve. Then you are able to enter that memory as a third-party observer. It's extremely helpful when trying to remember things or notice things you maybe didn't fully notice at the time."

"Do you have one?"

"No. They're quite difficult to make, and thus quite expensive. It's not the sort of thing you can just pick up in Diagon Alley. That's custom work. No real demand for them, because they cost so much. I think I'll make a few inquiries and see if I can't find a crafter."

"You want to see what happened that night?" Harry felt a little strange about the idea of Sirius seeing the Maze - or Azkaban.

"Only as much as you want to show me."

"Thank you."

"We'll get your duelling technique a bit more polished, and what would you say to learning how to Apparate?"

"Apparate?" Harry exclaimed.

"Apparate."

"But I'm underage."

"So you are."

"But it's against the law."

"Again, you are correct, Harry."

"But you could get in trouble!"

"Gee, I've never been in trouble with the law before," Sirius scoffed. "Besides, do you think I care about trouble from the Ministry? What are they going to do to me? Put me in Azkaban? I've already taught you to be an Animagus. I think I might be looking for laws to break at this point."

"What's next, the Unforgiveables?"

Sirius stopped laughing. "No, but if you wanted to learn them, I'm sure you could find a willing teacher without too much effort. I doubt I could stop you."

"You mean Mister Malfoy."

"I do."

"Professor Moody already showed us all the spells. I know the incantations."

"Magic is more than the words, and you know it."

"He told us that too."

"Ah. Well I hope you're never in a situation where you need to use them. The Aurors were granted the authority to use them in the latter days of the last war, and some good did come of it, but only when wielded by a moral sort of wizard. The ones who enjoyed it often became more of a problem than they were solving."

"Me too, Sirius. Yes, I would like to learn to Apparate. Will you please teach me?"

"Absolutely."

The first week of house arrest wasn't all that bad. He and Sirius settled into a routine of breakfast, either homework or duelling or weight-lifting, lunch, Animagus practice, dinner, more Animagus practice, and bed.

Learning to Apparate was a nifty prospect, but Harry's first goal this summer was to attain Mastery of his animal form. He was now attempting to sleep while changed. A true Master could do that, holding the shape effortlessly. Harry still had to work at it, so he wasn't quite there yet. Hours and hours of nothing in particular to do lent themselves perfectly to simply being an animal. He explored all of Grimmauld Place from top to bottom in his alternate form. Padfoot often joined him, and they raced up and down the halls and stairways. It was fantastic fun, and Harry couldn't wait until he was strong enough to maintain his shape around Moony so they could all do this together.

Homework was always looking him plain in the face whenever Harry was in his room. He'd unpacked his trunk and placed his assignments prominently on his desk so he wouldn't leave them to the last minute. He hadn't looked at them properly, but what he'd peeked at had been scary stuff. The O.W.L. examinations were coming up in only eleven months. He'd seen some of the older students studying frantically for the tests. He firmly resolved that he wasn't going to find himself in that situation. He would not goof off. He would study every night. He had enough time to learn it all if he applied himself. It was only if he fell behind that he would get in trouble. Seeing his books reminded him of it every time, and with a sigh of resignation, Harry would sit down, open his Potions book, and begin reading. He might as well get a head start.

Harry had always enjoyed the experience of lifting weights. He'd first started with Elan Malfoy, his best mate Draco's older brother. Harry had gotten a set of weights for Christmas and had started lifting back at school with Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle. When he'd moved in with Sirius, they had turned one of the rooms on the first floor into a weight room. Harry and Sirius had lifted together as part of his Animagus training. The body needed to be strong.

Whenever they lifted weights, they always listened to very good music. Harry was partial to the hard sounds of Wand Smasher and the Weird Sisters. He actually knew the members of Wand Smasher personally. Sirius had appreciated Harry's taste, but the songs and artists he'd exposed Harry to from his own youth were very brilliant as well.

The duelling room on the second floor had been used a few times since the grand cleaning and restoration of Grimmauld Place. Now Harry and Sirius were in there nearly every day. The stage had been sunk into the floor, the lines and designs of the deck still visible in the wood. There was no stage in duels with Death Eaters. You had to be free to move around. Sirius had conjured a number of obstacles and such that could be redistributed around the room with a wave of the wand. All manner of different scenarios could thus be played out.

Harry had done quite well against two or three of his friends, but a fully trained wizard was a whole other matter all together. Sirius knew a lot about magic, and he was very quick with his casting. Several times he would slip non-verbal spells into the mix, just to test Harry. The first time it had happened, Harry had barely snapped a Protego Shield up in time to block the red bolt. It had looked like a Disarming Charm, but he couldn't be sure. The wrong counter to a curse was worse than useless, so it was better to be safe. Sirius put Harry through his paces and found him not bad. It was a good place to start.

It had been one week exactly since the holiday had started. Shortly before lunch, Harry went down to the sitting room to have another go at making a stand for his trophy. Over the past year, his ability at Transfiguration had grown exponentially, a consequence of his Animagus training. He had nearly mastered the transformation, and that was the pinnacle of the discipline. If he could achieve this, there was nothing else to challenge him except old McGonagall's essays.

He started again with a bit of wood taken from the stump in the back yard. First he had to make more of what was already there. That was easily done. A wizard named Gamp had codified some of the laws of Elemental Transfiguration, and his Fourth Law stated that if a small amount of something was present, an unlimited amount could be reproduced from it. The wood grew in height to nearly reach his chest and was nearly as big around as the pillar he wanted.

A quick Rotation Charm set the wood spinning in place. Harry knew that Muggles had a machine called a lathe that would rotate pieces of wood or metal on an axis. Applying a blade to the spinning wood let one shape it. Harry didn't have a blade suitable for this task, but a Cutting Curse worked well enough. It smoothed the wood to a cylinder.

When it was perfect, Harry changed it to stone. This was the most difficult part. Harry grunted, and sweat rolled down his brow, but the result was perfect. The patterns of the wood could still be seen in the stone. It looked nothing like the plinth from the maze. Harry put the trophy on top of it and stepped back to admire his handiwork.

"Looking good, Harry," Sirius said from the door. "You're really something with Transfiguration."

"If only I could write better essays," Harry said.

"Hear, hear. At least you've got the practical part down. You're going to do a bang-up job on the OWL."

"I hope so. Come in. Let's sit." They did. "Speaking of the practical part of Transfiguration, tomorrow night's the full moon."

"It is."

"I'm getting kind of worried about Moony," Harry confessed. "Is he going to be back from his trip? How's he going to get through the full moon while out on the road?"

"Did somebody say Moony?" came a voice from the doorway. "Am I in time for lunch?"

"Moony!" Harry and Sirius shouted together. Sirius got up from his chair and embraced his friend.

"Did you just get back?"

"I made my report, but yes."

"How is the old crowd?"

"Bella's a bit surprised we contacted her. Her assignment was over almost two years ago. Mundungus Fletcher was reluctant, but he's in.

"What was Bella's assignment?"

"Apparently she was watching over Harry."

"At Privet Drive?" Harry interjected.

"Yes."

"Who was this again?"

"Arabella Figg."

"Missus Figg?" he yelped.

"You know her?"

"She used to babysit me sometimes. She's a witch?"

"No, she's a Squib."

Harry shuddered. "Dumbledore had one of his Order people watching me, and he let me rot there?"

"I'm sure Bella didn't know the worst of what went on," Remus hastened to say.

Harry didn't believe that for a second. Mrs. Figg had babysat for him on occasion. She knew what awful people the Dursleys were.

"She knew, and he knew too." Harry had blown up at Dumbledore several times before about the Dursleys. They had made him live in a cupboard under the stairs, only letting him have Dudley's second bedroom when the Hogwarts letters had started arriving, addressed in that fashion. Fear had motivated them to let Harry out, and that same fear had driven them to keep him locked up with iron bars on the window and deadbolts on the door.

"Tosser," Harry said, meaning Dumbledore. Though it still bothered him somewhat, he'd mostly let it all go. Mostly. He lived with Sirius now, and not even an act of God could make him leave. He'd hex anyone who tried.

Sirius did not disagree. He'd nearly lost his composure many times while learning of Harry's life at Number Four Privet Drive. It was impossible to defend Dumbledore's decision to place Harry with his Muggle relatives, even knowing as they did now about the blood protections and ancient magicks that had thus been made possible. Sirius never voiced agreement with Harry's invective, but he did nothing to discourage it.

"It was the best of a lot of bad options," Remus said. "Dumbledore erred on the side of safety, keeping you protected as best he could manage."

"What other options got beat out by ignorant Muggles?" Harry demanded. "Was there a troll interested in adopting me? Or perhaps a giant? Were there any inquiries from the vampires?"

"Harry, that's enough," Remus said. "We can't change it. The other options included letting you be raised in the wizarding world with all the pressure of your fame. How often have you told us about being singled out for being the Boy Who Lived?"

"Plenty. I hate it." He loathed being famous because he had lived while his parents had died. He'd give it all up to have them back.

Remus nodded. "Now imagine having to deal with that every day growing up. An extra ten years of all that rubbish wearing on you."

"I might be used to it by now."

Remus coughed politely. "You'd also have all sorts of mental issues as well. No, I may not approve of the Dursleys, but Dumbledore's decision to exile you I agree with completely."

"Is that why you didn't try to contact me?" Harry had never before asked Remus why they had first met when Harry was thirteen. It was a hurtful thing to say. Harry hadn't wanted to make trouble, but now he had his dander up and was feeling feckless.

Remus, for his part, took the anger in Harry's tone quite well. "I suppose it was only a matter of time before you asked. In fact, I did try to contact you. All of my owls came back bearing my letters. Some sort of spell kept them from delivering the messages. There is a curse that can achieve this effect, and I'm certain that Dumbledore used it to keep you hidden."

"He cursed me?"

"Don't take such a negative view of the word. Magic is magic and the name is all in the intent."

Harry knew that to be true. Heck, plenty of charms were used in duelling. The Banishing Charm could send an opponent crashing through a wall if done strongly enough. Magic was all a matter of symbolism and intent.

"I don't know what might have changed, but I wanted to let you know about me, that I had been friends with your parents. Maybe we could have been penfriends or something. I don't know, but I did try, Harry. Please believe that."

Harry's anger was gone, replaced with shame. Of course Moony had tried to find him. Of course he had. What was Harry thinking to be so stupid?

"I'm sorry, Moony," Harry said sincerely. "I'm being dumb."

"It's called being a teenager," Sirius observed slyly. "They take everything the wrong way."

Harry flushed. "Yeah, I suppose. So about that lunch."

And everything was all right again.

An owl flew into the dining room while they were eating lunch. Harry recognized the pattern immediately. Shiva was the Patil family's owl.

"It's from Padma," he said, holding out his arm to the bird. It landed heavily, and Harry held up a piece of chicken. It gobbled the meat down in two swift bites and hooted happily. It stuck out its leg, and Harry untied the letter.

My darling Harry,

It's only been a week since holiday started, and I already miss you terribly. Are you safe? I've been so worried. I feel so cut off from everything here at home. Daddy put security charms on the Floo. Poor Shiva has been flying pretty much non-stop with all the letters I'm sending.

I wish I could speak with you. I wish I could kiss you. I wish I could hold you. Will we be able to see each other at all this summer, or are the adults going to keep us all locked up?

Yours,

Padma

"May I be excused? I want to write back."

"Absolutely," said Sirius. "Wouldn't want your girlfriend to think you've forgotten all about her. Does she miss you? Is her heart just breaking without you?"

"Sirius! C'mon, knock it off!"

Sirius and Remus chortled at his expense.

Harry ran up to his room and pulled out quill and parchment. He uncorked the green ink and nibbled on the end of his quill while he pondered what to write. Something moving, he decided. He hadn't written to Padma yet, and so he should be romantic.

Padma, my enchantress,

The hours have seemed like days since last I saw your beautiful face. I have only treasured memories and imperfect pictures to sustain me in my drought. I long to be with you again. Alas, all my eloquence has thusfar been insufficient to convince Sirius that letting me out of the house is a good idea.

I miss you too,

Harry

Shiva had helped himself to several more pieces of chicken off of the serving platter. He allowed Harry to tie the scroll of parchment to his leg and took off with a great flapping of wings.

After Remus had finished eating, he retired to one of the guest bedrooms to take a nap. He was very tired, having been on the road for two weeks now. He did not join them for dinner.

Harry went to the duelling room and transformed into his animal shape. He had set himself up a little obstacle course to help him learn the limits of his capabilities. After a number of hours of running, jumping, leaping, and scurrying, Harry was quite tired. He padded up the stairs to his bedroom and jumped up on the bed. He curled himself into a ball under the pillow, leaving only his sensitive nose sticking out. He went to sleep, but he woke in the wee hours, having changed back.

Harry swore and flashed back to his animal form. He had to be better. Tomorrow night was the full moon, and he'd been looking forward to spending his first night in the protected cell with Padfoot and Moony since April and the Easter holiday. He hadn't been strong enough to control his shape then. He'd made leaps and bounds of progress since, had worked at it for a year now, in total, but that wasn't far enough for Padfoot.

"Can I go with you tonight?" he asked at the breakfast table.

"Can you keep your form through the night?"

"Almost."

Sirius sighed. "Sorry, Harry. I'm not convinced you're ready."

"But Padfoot!"

"No. It's too dangerous. If you change back, Moony could bite you or scratch you, and then you'd be in a world of trouble. No. I won't take that chance with you."

"Please?"

"No. Please let it drop."

"Yes, Padfoot." Harry wasn't happy about this. He wanted to step into his father's shoes by keeping Moony company during his transformation.

As the hour approached, Harry looked anxiously at Moony, whose face was beginning to grimace with pain.

"It's time, Padfoot," Moony said with effort.

"Let's go."

Harry also stood and followed the two men across the kitchen to the special protected room Padfoot had established to contain his friend when the madness within was summoned out by the full moon. Padfoot glanced back.

"Harry, you're not coming in with us. Now is not the time to talk about it again."

"I know," Harry replied, "but I'm still going to be here. I'll be right outside the door. In my other form, thank you very much. I'm going to prove I can hold it all night."

Despite himself, Sirius laughed. "As you wish, Harry."

The door clanged shut and the retaining bar dropped. Sirius spoke the words that activated the magical containment.

Harry concentrated on his inner animal and focused on the change. When he opened his eyes again, it was as- as- as whatever creature he was. They still hadn't figured it out precisely.

It wasn't that hard to hold on to his form. He barely needed to think about it. So long as he avoided thinking about his human body, he could stay this way. He had to constantly keep the image of the animal in his mind when he thought about how he would move.

Sirius was probably right that he wasn't quite ready yet. He had promised Harry that once true Mastery was achieved, holding the form took no effort at all. Harry still slipped once in awhile - once in a great while - but Sirius wouldn't accept anything less than perfection before he allowed Harry to join them.

The reason for that soon became apparent. The full moon rose, and Moony began to howl in pain as his body transformed not of its own volition. Harry soon smelled a new creature in the cell, and it was all he could do to keep from running away in a bid to preserve his own skin.

No, Harry told himself. There's a magical shield and a thick door between us. I'm in no danger. The panic receded, and he was able to stay by the door.

There was another growl now. Padfoot was talking to Moony. Sit down and be quiet, was the message.

Run, chase, tear, kill. Kill.

Not today.

After a few minutes, the blood-thirsty beast seemed to mellow a bit.

Why no run? Why here in small space?

Protect.

Protect. The real Moony seemed to emerge a bit more. Protect young. Cub.

Puppy, corrected Padfoot.

Harry sat up and chattered irritably at the both of them. I am here! I am not a cub! I am not a puppy!

The night passed in relative predictability, if not quiet. There were long periods of silence punctuated with moments of absolute horror as Moony would lose control of himself and shriek and howl like ten thousand devils. Having Padfoot and Harry there helped him keep his human mind somewhat, but he was still a werewolf. Then he would fight back the madness, push down the beast within, and whimper with pain. Then Moony would manage to control the pain and lay down again to await the next explosion of rage.

Harry's own control slipped a few times, to his deep chagrin. Though it was impossible to sleep when the noise was happening, Harry began to drift off during a particularly long lull. He snored once, and the alien noise in his ears startled him so much that he jumped awake and flashed back into his human form. Berating himself, Harry tried to instantly resume his animal form, and was frustrated to take tens of seconds to get it right. He was wide awake now, adrenaline pumping through his veins. He couldn't fall asleep. Not yet. A true master could sleep in animal shape.

Despite his resolve, as the adrenaline thinned from his bloodstream, his eyes began to grow heavy once more. Harry stood up and began to pace around the area in front of the door. Yes, if he kept moving, he would stay awake. Walking around aimlessly in circles like he was on patrol was very tiring, and he found himself slowing and eventually stopping. He curled up on the floor, determined to just take a small rest.

"Master Harry?"

Blearily, Harry came back to the world. He opened his eyes and choked off a scream as he beheld two gigantic eyes and a gnarled nose mere inches from his face.

"Kreacher!"

The old house elf's skin was a collection of wrinkles, and his huge bat ears had white hair growing out of them. He bowed low, nose to the floor.

"Master Harry, is you wanting breakfast?" Kreacher asked in his gurgling voice that sounded like frogs croaking.

Harry groaned and stretched his sore muscles. Sleeping on the stone floor of the kitchen had done no favours for his back.

"Yes, Kreacher, I would like breakfast. So would Sirius and Remus. Scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, wheat toast with butter, wheat toast with huckleberry jam, orange juice, milk, and coffee." Sirius and Remus would need the coffee to face the day in any sort of good humour.

Kreacher bowed again, touching his crooked nose to the stone floor. "Kreacher hears and obeys," he said, and went to the cabinets where he began to wave his hands around, causing breakfast to prepare itself.

Harry got to his feet and sat at the table. Kreacher served the juice immediately, and Harry sipped at it thankfully.

With a few magic words and a loud clank, the protections of the full moon room were undone. Sirius and Remus walked out, looking haggard and weary. The full moon had set early in the morning, letting the wolf get some sleep, but he didn't change back until sunrise.

"Good morning," Harry said thickly.

The two men grunted and took their cups wordlessly. Remus drank his all at one go. Kreacher refilled the cup instantly and added cream and sugar without needing to ask. He had made Remus a lot of cups of coffee and knew exactly how he took it. It had also been quite some time since he'd tried to slip Remus any silver flatware.

"Good morning, Harry," Remus said, sipping at his fresh cup.

Sirius took a large swig and shook himself, as though he were shaking off water in his dog form.

"Ah, that's the ticket. Good morning, Harry. Sleep well?"

"I wasn't asleep," Harry fibbed, feeling the tips of his ears going a bit red.

"Then I must have heard someone else snoring," Sirius teased back. "Maybe you should have had some of this coffee last night."

"I'm getting better," Harry said.

"That you are. I'm very proud of you, you know. There's not many fourteen year old wizards who could achieve what you've done."

He'd said it before, but it still made Harry feel all warm inside when his godfather praised him like this. It was what a child ought to get from his guardian, what his parents would have given him had things gone differently. It was love.

"I'm not there yet," Harry demured.

"Near enough," Sirius said. "Almost a man. Fifteen in less than a month. Remus, we need to plan his birthday party. I want to do the swimming pool idea this year."

"That could be fun," Remus replied. "Have you figured out how to handle security?"

"No, not yet. I suppose I could Side-Along all the guests here."

"That would be quite exhausting. You'd Splinch in about a half-dozen trips."

"There is that." Sirius did not sound enthused at the prospect of Splinching himself.

"Surely you're not going to tell the Secret to all those guests either."

"No, certainly not." Sirius had put the Fidelius Charm on Grimmauld Place in the week since the return of Voldemort. It was the only magical protection the house had lacked, already being heavily booby-trapped from outside incursions and Unplottable to boot, and now it was their sanctuary. Only Sirius, Harry, and Remus knew the Secret.

"Then really the only way to have a party is outside the house. There's no place that's safe."

"We'll figure something out. Harry's fifteenth birthday should be a wild time. Remember James'?"

"How could I forget?" Remus asked. "Penelope Davis was hanging from the chandelier taking her shirt off when McGonagall walked in. She was not a very happy Head of House that night."

"How exactly did this Penelope get up on the light fixture?" Harry asked.

"James was drunk and thought he'd be funny. I remember we were all impressed at his control even while completely cocked."

"Maybe we could ask Dumbledore to use Hogwarts. It's certainly safe enough."

"Do you think he'll say yes?" Harry asked.

"It can't hurt to try. We'll ask when we go to the Order meeting. That's tomorrow night." Sirius had all but said that Harry would be going to the meeting as well. As Order Headquarters was currently Hogwarts, Harry would be safe there.

They hoped.