Chapter twelve:

Hestia's fingers traced the outlines of my body softly. Her cold touch sent electric shocks against my sensitive skin. Her delicate fingers moved from my throat to the dip in my collar bone before working their way down my arm. I felt her hesitate over the cusp of the wasted muscle tissue, where the old tendons came down and met bone. A series of black numbers and letters glared back, permanently marked into my pale skin.

I had expected to see a look of disgust on Hestia's face when she saw such an ugly, shameful reminder of what I used to be. A convict. A man less than human. I watched her carefully, ready to pull away at any moment. I tensed underneath her, waiting, my heart beating furiously.

Hestia traced over the branded mark gently, fingertips barely grazing the surface of my skin. Then she bent down and I felt the unmistakable touch of her lips—soft and warm—against the exposed mark. Her dark hair grazed my forearm and I felt an electric shock course through me.

Hestia's warm lips found the dip in my throat, the sensitive crest of my jaw. I ran a hand down the smooth skin of her shoulder, fingers tightening around her arm as she adjusted her weight on top of me. I found the delicate nape of her neck and worked my fingers through her damp hair, pulling her closer. Our bodies were intertwined, and it was impossible to say where my heartbeat stopped and hers began.

I wanted to disappear inside her. I wanted to be filled with her scent, her touch, to melt into the safety of her body and dissolve.

I had no idea where I was when I woke up. This happened regularly, but for those first few seconds it was still annoyingly terrifying. I looked around me, and saw a familiar dark head poking out from underneath the duvet. As my heart settled I began to recognize the bed as my own, and remembered where I was.

I untangled my legs and sat up, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes. I stood up and searched for dry clothes. Hestia rolled over in my bed, wrapped up in the duvet, still asleep. I fished for our discarded wet clothes from the hallway and bathroom, taking them downstairs to get washed. While the machine ran its load, I put on a pot of water for tea. Somewhere in the other room I could hear the grandfather clock chime the time.

Four in the afternoon.

Yawning, I pulled the day's copy of the Daily Prophet toward myself and fished out the crossword. I was halfway though it when Hestia appeared in the doorway, dressed in one of my old t-shirts. I watched her sit down at the table across from me, and the air suddenly felt electrified. Hestia brushed her hair off her neck, exposing the delicate white skin again. Something in my chest began to ache, to yearn for the touch of her body a hundred times over.

It was like a hunger deep in my soul, bubbling up to the surface.

Hestia poured herself a mug of tea, taking a delicate sip of the hot liquid. She twirled the string of the teabag around her finger and looked up at me, dark eyes searching.

"I hope you don't mind I stole some of your clothes," she said.

I unstuck my throat. "Not at all—I've got the rest of our stuff going through the wash right now."

She nodded silently, biting her lower lip for a split second. Hestia stretched wide, and I watched the cotton t-shirt glide smoothly over the bones of her frame, places where my hands had been just hours before.

Spaces where I wanted to be again.

"Are you hungry?"

She shrugged. "I could probably eat something."

We fell quiet again, neither sure what to say.

I pushed my half-finished crossword aside and stood up to check on the washing. Down the hall, I could hear Hestia moving around in my kitchen.

We met up again in the hallway, drawn to each other like an unstoppable force. My fingers worked their way through Hestia's hair, down her back, over the soft curves of her body. Her own hands explored me with equal anticipation. I could never get close enough to her.

Hestia removed my shirt with the fervor of a hungry wolf. Our legs were tangled, our hands gripping skin that felt as familiar as our own. In a blur we moved from the wall to the floor, exploring every inch of each other's bodies with a greedy hunger. I pressed Hestia against the wooden floor, our mouths locked.

I could never get enough of her.

The air was cold and full of static, biting against my bare face. I dragged my trunk roughly behind me, hunching my shoulders tighter around my scarf. The train was still running, steam blowing all around the platform. I caught sight of Sirius standing off to the side, wrapped so heavily in layers that I almost didn't recognize him.

When he caught sight of me he pulled his scarf off his face and smiled. "Ready to go home?"

"You have no idea," I said as Sirius helped me load my trunk onto a trolley. "The homework so far has been ridiculous—all I keep hearing about is rubbish about the O.W.L.s."

Sirius steered my cart off platform 9 ¾ and we navigated our way through the muggle part of the train station. Large Christmas trees were everywhere, and an enormous wreath hung around the center clock.

"I didn't really study for my O.W.L.s," Sirius admitted as we pushed through the crowd.

I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, but weren't you and dad geniuses or something?"

I saw Sirius smirk at that. "Is that what they've been telling you?"

"Professor Lupin insists it's the only way the professors let you guys get away with causing so much trouble."

"You still call him 'professor'?"

"Okay, Remus—you know who I meant," I said, pulling my coat tighter around me. "I'm supposed to call him professor at school."


"What did you do to your hair?"

Almost instinctively Sirius's hand went to his head. "Oh, I cut it," he said distractedly. "Why, do I look like a wanker?"

I chuckled at that. "No, but I'm pretty sure every woman here is staring at you in appreciation."

We had exited the crowded station, and Sirius led the way to his parked motorcycle. After countess trips where I complained about apparition, Sirius finally agreed to pick me up in a less nausea-inducing way. Sirius loaded my trunk into the sidecar, which was comically oversized. I watched as Sirius glanced over his shoulder before Shrinking the trunk to size.

"Don't let the muggles catch you."

Sirius handed me a purple helmet. "Safety first."

"What happened to the black one?" I wanted to know. If the purple was a dark violet it wouldn't be so bad, but this was almost neon.

"I left it at Hestia's, and the purple is the only other one I had," said Sirius, putting on his own sleek black helmet.

My face split into a wide grin. "Hestia?"

Sirius determinedly ignored me. He started up the engine to the motorbike. "I promise not to laugh at you until we get home."

"You're hilarious."

Sirius took the muggle way out of London, but quickly took the motorbike into the air as soon as he was sure we were out of sight. The air was bitter cold up here, and I could swear ice crystals were forming on the sidecar. The only thing keeping me from freezing to death was the warmth of the engine between our legs.

Finally we reached the familiar treeline leading to Sirius's property, and he landed the bike on a snowy drive. I pulled my helmet off as Sirius cut the engine, tossing it into the back of the sidecar. I yanked my trunk out roughly so Sirius could walk the bike into the shed.

We made a beeline across the frosted ground toward the house, which was wonderfully warm.

I hauled my trunk into my room while Sirius busied himself with something downstairs. It was in the same state of disarray I had left it in at the end of summer, and my souvenirs from the World Cup were still sitting on the top of the bed. I pulled off my coat and scarf, tossing these onto my trunk.


I jumped, banging my knee into my trunk in the process.

"Sorry, didn't mean to startle you—" Sirius offered a weak smile as he sat on the edge of my bed. Sirius had the ability to move through this old house without stepping on a single creaking floorboard, and it was usually impossible to hear him coming.

"Er, it's all right," I said, massaging my knee cap. I sat down on the trunk. I could tell instantly by the worried look on Sirius's face that he wanted to talk. "What's up?"

Sirius didn't speak right away, as though deliberating how to begin. His face was unreadable, but I noticed the way his fingers played with the frayed corner of his shirt, and the way his heel tapped against the floor. Examining Sirius's body language was the only way to tell what he was feeling most of the time; I guess Azkaban must have done that to him. Sirius hated talking about what he was thinking most of the time.

"What?" I said, more alarmed now. "Is something wrong?"

"Not…exactly. No," he finally decided, changing tactics almost instantly. He took a deep breath. "But we do need to talk."

I frowned. "Okay," I said slowly. "But can you just come out with it? You're going to make me think someone's died—"

"No one is dead," Sirius said flatly, clasping his hands together tightly. I hadn't seen Sirius fidget this much since we first met. Something must definitely be wrong to have him on edge this badly. "I just think you ought to know the truth…"

My frown deepened. "About?"

Sirius sighed, as though frustrated with himself. "Okay, I'm not sure where to begin… Do you remember in your second year, that diary that belonged to Voldemort?"

How could I forget? "What about it?"

"When Dumbledore explained it to you, what did he say?"

This was definitely not what I had been expecting Sirius to talk about. "Er, just that Voldemort's…spirit, or something, lived inside it. Like a memory. From when he was in school."

For some reason Sirius rolled his eyes.

"Sirius, what does this have to do with anything?" I asked, brows knitted together.

"That diary was something called a horcrux," Sirius said bluntly. "It's a very Dark piece of magic wherein a wizard conceals part of their soul in an object. Though their body may die, their soul continues on."

I felt my eyebrows rise. Okay? I didn't get the significance.

"Voldemort made several—at least three for certain, and likely five," Sirius continued quickly, rushing over his words now. "This is why he didn't die the night his curse rebounded. Voldemort is still out there, and parts of his soul are hidden all over England. And the latest rumors are that Voldemort is gaining strength again—"

"What?" I interrupted. "You think he might come back?"

Sirius gave me a pained look. He suddenly looked very weary. I hated seeing him like this. "It's possible," he finally said. "Dumbledore has reassembled the Order—"

"The what?"

"Order of the Phoenix. It's the resistance group your parents and I used to work with, before," he said hastily. "So everyone is on the lookout for these two other horcruxes so they can be destroyed."

"D'you know where they are?"

"Not exactly," Sirius said slowly. "But we have a pretty good idea what we're looking for. It's just a matter of doing this all secretly—if Voldemort, wherever he is, catches wind that his horcruxes are in danger, then the whole plan is ruined."

I had to process that for a minute. "So what you're saying is that I can't tell anyone about this."

Sirius could practically read my mind sometimes. "I don't doubt you'll share it with Ron and Hermione," he said knowingly. "But please, please be cautious. Dumbledore didn't want me telling you myself—"

"Why not?" I said, suddenly heated. "I've faced Voldemort three times!"

"I know," Sirius said hastily. "He just thinks you're too young—"

"I'm fourteen!"

"Harry, I know," said Sirius placatingly. "Just listen—no one outside of you three can know, and I mean that. Don't talk about it if there's even the smallest possibility that someone is listening. Portraits, ghosts, even mice—I don't care. This is very serious."

I took a deep breath. "Okay," I said slowly. "So what happens when all these horcrux things are gone?"

Sirius shrugged. "I'm not sure. Obviously Voldemort will be mortal again. Maybe he'll finally just die off."

I laughed humorlessly at the prospect. "That'd be nice."

There was a brief pause.

"So how did you find out about all this? Did Dumbledore tell you?"

Sirius gave a derisive snort. "No. No, I told him."

"Really?" I said in surprise. "Okay, so how did you find out?"

Sirius hesitated again. "That's the other part you have to keep a secret," he said carefully. He paused, collecting his thoughts, then continued, "Do you remember that man you saw at the World Cup?"

"Yes," I said automatically.

"Well, your observation was spot on," he said, looking almost uncomfortable now. "It was my brother," he added as clarification.

My brain felt like it had hit a wall. "But you said he was dead—"

"I thought he was dead," Sirius interrupted. "And so did everyone else." Sirius ran his hands through his hair distractedly, suddenly looking very tired. "My brother joined the Death Eaters before he had left Hogwarts. He and I fell out of contact after I ran away—I had no idea he was working for Voldemort so young. I might have been able to stop him." Sirius swallowed, looking down at his hands now. "Anyway, Regulus worked his way up into Voldemort's favor—I guess close to the time when we all thought he had died, my brother discovered Voldemort's secret about the horcruxes. He thought it was just the one, and so he went after it in the hopes of destroying it. I guess Voldemort's trap got the better of him, and Regulus didn't realize he had survived until everything was over.

"So he hid himself away to fake his death—he said it was to protect the family from retaliation. He had no idea that our father was already dead and I was in prison. He says he got wind that Voldemort had returned to England, and realized that there must be more. So he came back."

Sirius looked up at me. His handsome face was smooth and expressionless, but his grey eyes were just as haunted as I've always known them to be. Everyone always remarked how "normal" Sirius was for having spent so much time in Azkaban, but I often wondered if he suffered much more than he let on. Not that he would ever tell me.

"I found him at our parents' house, after I dropped you off at the train. That's when he told me everything. Regulus made me swear not to tell anyone he was still alive, so you and Remus are the only two that know," he added.

"Where's he at now?" I asked, head heavy with all of this new information.

Sirius gave a half-shrug. "Gone. He went to go destroy the horcrux we found—"

"You found one?"

"Well, technically I stole it," Sirius said slyly, a small smirk playing around his face. "I inherited all the Black family wealth, it turns out. This includes all the Gringott's vaults of my dead or imprisoned family members who supported Voldemort. My cousin, Bellatrix, was one of Voldemort's top Death Eaters. She's in Azkaban with her husband Rodolphus. So Regulus and I agreed that we should investigate her vault—I didn't actually think anything was going to be there," he added, straightening up. "But I couldn't just leave it there."

"Didn't the goblins say anything?" I asked. I remembered Hagrid telling me that it was impossible to break into Gringott's.

"Well, they can't really, you see," said Sirius. "The vault is technically mine now, and the horcrux never belonged to Bella anyway. The magic only protects wealth rightfully owned by the witch or wizard who holds the vault. Goblins have all kinds of loopholes to screw with wizards."

I had to admit, I was impressed by Sirius's bold recklessness. "So your bother has it now?"

"Yeah," said Sirius. "He's supposed to let me know when he's destroyed it."

I was silent for several minutes, processing everything Sirius had just told me. I decided to ask the nagging question that was in the back of my mind. "So could Voldemort actually come back? Before all the horcrux things are destroyed?"

"It's possible," Sirius said slowly. "But I want you to know that we're doing everything possible to prevent that. I will never let anything harm you."

I felt overwhelmed by the force behind those last words. I had a sudden urge to hug my godfather, but he looked like he would shatter if I did. "I know," I said softly, frowning.

"Now, that's enough bad news," said Sirius with great effort to sound casual. "How about some dinner? You hungry?"

"Starving," I admitted, standing up and following Sirius downstairs to the kitchen. Now that Sirius wasn't dressed in his heavy coat, I could see his frame better and realized he had finally filled out some. I nagged Sirius to eat a real meal every time I was home, but he insisted he had a small appetite. I was glad to see Sirius looking better, and wondered what the cause was.

"So this Hestia," I said when we had entered the kitchen. "Who is she?"

Sirius was careful not to look at me.

Was he embarrassed?

"A friend," he said vaguely.

I sank into one of the chairs at the table, eyebrow raised. "A very good friend?" I asked pointedly.

Sirius gave me a sardonic look. "Do I have your permission to date her?" he asked in sarcasm.

"If she's the one who's been feeding you, then yeah."

Sirius gave me a look before putting on a pot of tea.

"So where did you meet her?" I continued, genuinely interested. Sirius had never given any indication that he had an interest in dating in the time that I've known him. This was new.

And good for him.

Sirius shrugged, biting the inside of his cheek as he turned on the stove. "Well, if you really want to know, she was the only mediwitch brave enough to come into my room when they pulled me out of Azkaban and everyone still thought I was a murderer. We've sort of kept in touch off and on—just more so lately."

I couldn't help but grin at that.

"Shouldn't I be asking you these things?" Sirius said, turning the conversation around. "Who's your girlfriend?" he asked, crossing his arms.

"I don't have one," I said truthfully.

"Okay, then who have you got your eye on?"

"No one." I felt my face flush and knew it betrayed me instantly.

Sirius grinned. "What's her name?"

"She hasn't got one, because there isn't one—"

Sirius laughed. "Harry, it's all right—you're a teenager! You're supposed to look at girls! Or guys, too, I guess," he added, as though suddenly aware of something. His brows knit together as I slapped my palm against my forehead.

"Stop it."

"Whatever you like is fine," Sirius continued earnestly. "Really—"

"Oh my god, stop!"

Sirius shrugged, pulling the now-whistling kettle off the heat. "Okay, so no girls. What else are you not going to tell me about?"

I tried not to roll my eyes. "Believe me, this school year has been rather boring—there's nothing worth telling."

"While I'm not sure the excitement of fourth year at Hogwarts could compete with the thrill that is clearing my garden of dead plants, I'd still like to hear about it."

"Just…normal stuff. We won our first game against Hufflepuff," I said, taking the tea Sirius offered me. "But barely—their Seeker is really good."

"Who is it?"

"Cedric Diggory?"

"I know of his father," Sirius said. "I'm pretty sure he works for the Ministry."

"And Snape's a huge git," I continued. "I don't think he realizes O.W.L.s don't start until next year."

"At least you have Remus at the school," Sirius offered.

"Snape keeps…hinting about his condition," I added, irritated. "And Remus just takes it—"

"Well, Remus isn't one to fight," said Sirius knowingly. "And Snape knows he can't actually say anything—Dumbledore would be furious."

"Malfoy's just as bad. I can't wait to play Slytherin so I can wipe that stupid look off his face."

Sirius chuckled at that. "His dad bought the whole team brooms, didn't he?"

"Yes, but they still suck."

Sirius grinned. "Then that'll be an easy win, yeah? Now, what do you want to eat?"

I shrugged. "I'm starving, so I'll eat anything you have."

Sirius leaned back in his chair and lazily pointed his wand at the pantry. The door sprung open, revealing a half-filled cabinet. "I have…cereal," he said, tilting his chair back on its hind legs to get a good look. "And whiskey."

"Oh, definitely the whiskey."

"There's some sort of leftovers in the ice box," he added, standing up now to go look. "Hestia made some casserole last night—"

"Did she?" I asked idly.

Sirius gave me a long look, sighing. "Tell me—are you jealous?"

I laughed at that. "No. Honestly, I think it's great you have a girlfriend. When's the wedding?"

"Don't make me send you to bed—"

"I'm fourteen, you can't send me to bed."

"Yeah, you're right," Sirius said, pulling out a wrapped casserole dish and setting it on the counter between us. "That'd be a waste. I'd probably make you shovel the drive or something. Without magic," he added in a dramatic stage whisper.

"No you wouldn't."

"You know my mum used to make me do sh—I mean, stuff like that?" Sirius said, poking the oven with his wand. "Whenever she would get mad at me—mind you, this was all the time—she'd give me some awful task like remove doxies from the curtains in the spare bedrooms. Now, I don't know whether you've ever tried to catch doxies with your bare hands, but they have quite the bite."

I frowned. "Was your mum insane?"

"I really think she was," Sirius said, closing the oven door on our dinner. "My existence just made it worse."

"Sounds like the Dursleys," I said before I could stop myself. Sirius gave me a fleeting look, and I knew instantly what he was thinking. "'Course," I added pointedly. "they're quite terrified of you turning up and hexing them, so mostly they just leave me alone."

"D'you reckon they'd prefer to be slugs or snails?" Sirius asked in carefully light tones. "Just for future reference."

Our late dinner was a quiet affair. I told Sirius inane stories about school and he laughed at my jokes, but there was no getting rid of the distracted look about him.

It was near eleven when I finally grew tired enough to go to bed. Sirius, as usual, insisted he wasn't tired yet and stayed up reading in the messy living room. I showered quickly and changed into my pj's, swiping all the stuff off the top of my bed so I could get in.

I woke up, groggily, looking around for the source of the noise that had woken me up. I was just about to write it off as nothing and go back to sleep when I heard it again.

Frowning, I sat up straighter, sleep slipping from my mind. I listened hard. A faint whining. It was coming from downstairs.

I hesitated outside of Sirius's bedroom door as a precaution, but it was silent. I made my way down toward the living room, wondering if maybe the owls had gotten stuck or something, when I heard it again.

It was definitely a human voice.

I entered the living room, and could see the silhouette of Sirius on one of the couches, asleep. His book had been discarded on the floor. He jerked in his sleep, letting out a few incoherent words.


I reached out a hand to gently touch Sirius's shoulder—I didn't want to startle him. Sirius fell still and was silent again for so long that I considered just heading back upstairs. Just as I stood up to go, he shuddered again, swinging out wildly with one arm. I ducked the blow, and reached out to shake him.

"Sirius! Wake up-"

Sirius let out a soft noise that almost sounded like a cry. "Noooo…please…"

Heart beating furiously against my throat, I shook him harder. "Sirius!" I said loudly, close to his ear.

In his nightmare state, Sirius took one last desperate swing at me before I smacked him awake. He gasped for air like coming up from underwater, scurrying away from me. I turned on the nearby lamp and Sirius looked around wildly, as though expecting to be somewhere else.

I knew to let Sirius get his bearings before trying to calm him down, so I sat back on the coffee table and waited.

Sirius's eyes found mine and I knew he finally recognized where he was. His breathing had steadied some, but his hands shook horribly when he tried to turn the lamp up a level.

"Here," I said, standing up to do it for him.

He disappeared behind those shaking hands, and I knew instantly that he would be mortified at what had just transpired. I had only caught Sirius in the midst of a nightmare two or three times, and it was years ago. I had a sneaking suspicion he charmed his bedroom so that I wouldn't hear, but I couldn't be sure.

I turned on the rest of the lights in the living room, deliberately getting rid of any shadows. I turned on the ones in the hallway and kitchen while I was at it, and put on a pot of water for tea. When I returned to the living room, Sirius was still sitting on the couch, this time staring straight ahead. I hesitated before taking slow, tentative steps toward him, cautiously sitting down on the couch next to him.

"Are you okay?"

Sirius didn't respond. He gave no indication that he heard me, but I knew he did.

"Is there anything I can do?" I pressed.

Sirius's haunted grey eyes closed for a minute.

"Sirius," I tried again, sternly this time. "I know you have nightmares. I haven't forgotten the first night I was here. Look," I continued, exasperated by his silence. "Locking yourself in your room every night with a thousand Silencing Charms isn't helping. You've always said I can come to you if I need anything, and—well—the same's true for me."

He gave a small inward sigh, looking down at his hands.

I groaned. "Sirius, will you please just talk to me?"

"Sorry, I just—" He stopped as though he was trying to organize his thoughts. "I don't know what to say. I'm mortified, honestly."

I was looking directly at him now, a skeptical look on my face. "Why?" I asked, not understanding.

Sirius shot me a hesitant look before shaking his head and sighing again. "Because I'm your godfather—"

"Sirius, I don't know if you've heard, but being my godfather doesn't mean you have to be some sort of super-human."

"No," he allowed slowly. "But it's my job to protect you—"

"How do you think I feel?" I pressed, almost angry now. "You always tell me I can come to you if I need help, or if something's bothering me—but you can't come to me." An awful thought came to mind. I had come to regard Sirius as my only real family—as an odd mix of brother and father. But perhaps I would always just be his best friend's kid. "Don't you trust me?"

"Harry, that's not it—"

"Then what is it?" I demanded.

He didn't look at me. I caught his throat catching once or twice when he tried to speak. It came out barely louder than a whisper. "Because I'm ashamed of myself."

I fell silent at that. I had an overwhelming urge to hug my godfather, to make him see himself as I saw him. But if I stopped him from speaking now, he might never bring it up again.

"I don't know how to live with myself after—after what I've done," he continued, forcing the words out. His voice was of determined calm, but there was the threat that it might break any moment. It was like running a knife through my chest. "Taking care of you is all I have left."

He finally looked at me then, no carefully guarded mask this time. I had to fight the urge to look away; it hurt to see Sirius this way. His face was a mix of desperate fear and anguish. No wonder he refused to let anyone come too close to him.

I didn't know what to say to that. I just wrapped my arms around his much taller frame, holding him close. I felt Sirius return the embrace; he was hesitant at first, but then his arms were snaked around me tightly.

"Okay," he said after a moment, pulling apart. "That's enough of me embarrassing you." He forced a smile. The guard was back up, the carefully-constructed carefree attitude in place.

I could only hope that I had gotten to Sirius, even a little, in his moment of vulnerability. But for now things would just have to go back to normal. "Want some tea?" I asked. "I've got a pot on."

Sirius raised his eyebrows. "Shouldn't you go back to bed?"

I gave him a look before standing up and heading to the kitchen. I could hear Sirius following me. He pulled two mugs out of the dish rack while I got the milk out of the fridge.

"Is Remus coming over for Christmas again this year?" I asked, careful to keep the conversation light and normal.

Sirius shrugged. "Even if he's not planning on it, I'll make him. So, speaking of…er, how would you feel if I invited Hestia over?"

"I don't mind."

Sirius looked at me expectantly, as though trying to see if I was lying.

"I'm serious," I continued, firmer this time. "I think it'll be a good thing."

"You don't think she'd be…invading our space?"

I did laugh at that now. "I'm not going to get jealous of her," I promised. "I think it's excellent, I do. You need someone in this huge house with you."

"Well, I'm glad you feel that way, because we'll be adding on."

I frowned. "What?"

"I have another godson. And there's not enough room, so I'm afraid I'll have to let you go."

"Shut up," I said, smacking Sirius's arm. He smirked at me.

It was back to normal.