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Working as rapidly as possible, Harry Obliviated and marinated Sirius’ other pursuers. The Animagus made his own contributions as well. Harry supposed making it look like Macnair lost control of his bladder added to the effect, but he thought Sirius enjoyed pishing on the Death Eater a little too much.

When they were done, Harry quickly weighed his options. “Padfoot,” he said quietly, “I know you have a lot of questions. If you will follow me for right now, I’ll answer as many as I can when it’s safe.”

The large dog gazed at Harry for a moment, and then nodded his head in a distinctly un-doglike manner.

Harry gave a quick glance left and right at the mouth of the alleyway. Seeing no one, he slid his wand back into his jacket.

“Come on boy,” Harry said in a jaunty voice as he stepped out onto the sidewalk, “I bet I can find you some dinner back home.”

Sirius made an encouraging sound somewhat close to a whine as they set out.

Harry wondered briefly how long it would take before the men he stunned were found. If it were long enough, they could possibly die from exposure. That wouldn’t be a tragedy as far as Harry was concerned – the only reason they were still alive was his desire to avoid stronger scrutiny. Of course, if their deaths looked to be completely accidental, then so be it.

The light was fading and the wind was picking up as they crossed the bridge over the Otter river. Harry looked left and right for any sign of Ron or Percy, but still found no sign of them.

Starting to worry even more, Harry set out for The Burrow at a brisk walk. Sirius paced him easily, warm inside his shaggy coat. Harry supposed the Grim look-alike would give anyone trying to accost them pause, so he picked up his pace to a slow jog.

By the time he reached the two-track lane that led to the Weasley residence, it was nearly dark. Harry knew Mrs. Weasley was probably getting frantic at this point, but his next actions required a certain degree of precision.

As they neared the outer edge of the wards, Harry called out for Sirius to wait. The large black dog paused, and then cocked its head when Harry pulled out his wand again. Muttering the pass phrase under his breath, Harry tapped the end of his wand on the top of Sirius’ head. Harry’s wand vibrated as his godfather was outlined in a flickering glow that disappeared just as suddenly.

“That’s so you can get through the wards without getting cooked,” Harry muttered.

Sirius shook his head like he had an itch in his ears, but stared as Harry nodded.

The moment they stepped onto the property, Harry made a beeline for Arthur’s shed. He opened the door and led Sirius inside, careful not to knock over any of his guardian’s projects.

“Will this be warm enough for now?” Harry asked the dog.

Sirius nodded in a distinctly human-like fashion.

“Good, I’m going to bring Arthur Weasley out here as soon as I get a chance to talk to him alone. He’s been prodding people at the Ministry about what really happened to you, and I think we can trust him. I’ll be back out here in a while.”

With that, Harry stepped back out into the chill evening air and headed for the garden and the house beyond it. He took deep breaths as he walked, trying to calm his trip-hammer pulse. Sirius had been found, and he was safe, at least for right now.

Harry knew he had to tell the elder Weasleys. There was no way really to hide Sirius on the property without their help. It was the reactions of the younger Weasleys he worried about. Percy, with his attitude toward the Ministry or any other authority figure, was worrisome.

For that matter, the younger Weasleys were still subject to having their memories read by Snape. Given the Potions Master’s antipathy toward the Marauders, Harry had little doubt that he’d inform the Ministry at once of his discovery.

No sooner had Harry begun knocking on the door than it was snatched open.

Mrs. Weasley hauled him inside and shut the door all seemingly in one motion. “Harry!” she breathed. “Are you all right? We were starting to worry when Ron and Percy came back without you.”

Harry found himself engulfed in a Mrs. Weasley-sized hug. His arms partially trapped, Harry patted her awkwardly. “So they made it back already?”

Mrs. Weasley let him go, seemingly with some reluctance, and nodded. “Ron wanted to go back out and look for you, but it seemed smarter to give you a bit of time first, especially since the clock said you were all right.”

Harry turned toward the clock as she drew him into the kitchen. It was then that he noticed a hand had been added for him as well, and it was now pointing at ‘home’.

“You do need to be more careful when you cross the street though, Harry dear,” Mrs. Weasley continued. “Your hand changed to mortal peril for an instant.”

Harry nodded slowly. That must have been when Dawlish almost hit me. “How did I miss Ron and Percy?” he asked.

“We took a short-cut on the way back,” Ron said as he walked into the kitchen, a disgusted look on his face. “If it hadn’t been so cold, we wouldn’t have-“

“No harm done, Ron,” Harry said with a smile. It honestly would have been a lot harder to deal with Sirius, not to mention the Ministry flunkies, if he’d been with Ron and Percy at the time.

Ron frowned, but decided to let it drop, for which Harry was grateful. Harry hung his jacket up in the hallway and let Mrs. Weasley drag back to the table for some hot chocolate. Before sitting down, he handed her the jar of marjoram with a flourish.

She frowned at the spice container for a moment, and Harry guessed she’d forgotten why she’d sent him to the village. He was touched that she’d been worried enough to forgot about her cooking.

Ginny was sitting at the table as well, dicing up vegetables with a small knife. Harry didn’t miss the small sigh she let out when he entered the kitchen, so he gave her an especially bright smile. His younger half had never had anyone worry about him, and his older self had missed it as well. Sometimes it was all he could do to keep from collapsing into a blubbering heap. Reminding himself that Tom was still out there was usually more than enough, because that thought always filled him with a cold fury. He was damned if he’d let that bastard hurt them again.

Ginny abruptly looked down, focussing all her attention on her task as Harry took a deep breath. Maybe he wasn’t the only person struggling for some emotional equilibrium, and he wondered if that meant what he thought it might. His mind snapped back to the present as Mrs. Weasley placed a steaming mug in front of him.

“Drink that up, Harry,” she said, visibly fretting, “I would never have sent you, if I’d know it was going to get dark so quickly.”

Harry swallowed, letting the hot chocolate spread a column of warmth down his throat and into his stomach. “It was all right; I just jogged on the way home and stayed warm enough. I missed my workout this morning anyway.”

Mrs. Weasley began blinking rapidly, and Harry wondered what was wrong. Then he realized he’d used the word ‘home’ to describe The Burrow. A little embarrassed, he finished his hot chocolate the set the cup in the sink and grabbed another knife and sat down beside Ginny.

The youngest Weasley was more than happy to split the vegetable preparation with him. As they set to work, she whispered, “Don’t mind Mum, she’s always like this around Christmas.”

Harry nodded and let his hands work while his mind wandered. He could hear Mr. Weasley and Ron talking in the sitting room. His guardian still hadn’t given up on that string of Muggle Christmas lights, but seemed content to while away the day working on them. Harry supposed he’d have a better chance to talk to him alone after dinner.

He decided to approach Mr. Weasley first for a couple of reasons. Molly was still a little turbulent, and Harry wasn’t sure how she’d react if she discovered he’d got into a fire fight with three adult wizards – no matter how easily he’d won. The other factor was his memories of the future at Twelve Grimmauld Place. Sirius seemed to get along a little better with Arthur than with his wife. Harry knew that he was one of the main bones of contention, and he wanted to play this as cautiously as possible.

So Harry sat there, chopping vegetables with Ginny until they were done. Molly shooed them out of the kitchen while she put the finishing touches on tomorrow’s dinner. Harry had come to realize how much she simply enjoyed cooking, so he let himself relax as Ginny led him out of the kitchen.

Ron had evidently talked Percy into a game of wizarding chess, something his older brother looked to be regretting. Of course that regret might have also origins in the fact that Fred and George were watching with great interest, and making commentary like Quidditch announcers. Or at least Quidditch announcers like their friend Lee Jordan – unashamedly biased and funny as hell.

Percy was definitely the most studious of the Weasley brothers, with the possible exception of Bill the curse-breaker. He was definitely the most academically inclined of those still living at home. As such, he was not used to losing in a primarily cerebral match-up with his youngest brother. That, combined with some smart remarks from the twins, had his ears turning an angry pink.

Ron, bent over his pieces, was oblivious to his brother’s growing frustration, but Harry noticed Ginny frowning and chewing at her lip. She evidently didn’t want a blow-up on Christmas Eve any more than Harry did.

Ron finally announced check-mate in that detached voice he used when Harry knew he was well into the game.

George whispered “…and the crowd goes wild!” while Fred made faint cheering noises and tried not to crack up. Percy stood up abruptly, his face starting to flush.

Harry spoke up. “I think Percy set the record, didn’t he Ron?”

Ron straightened up, blinking and stretching. “How’s that?”

“You two must have been going at it at least forty minutes, right?” Harry clarified. “That’s the longest anyone in Gryffindor has lasted so far this year, isn’t it?”

Ron nodded slowly. “Hermione went thirty five minutes once, but she always took a while to make her moves.”

Harry bit back the first reply that came to mind. Instead he turned to Percy. “Congrats Percy, you’re just the latest in a long line of victims, but you made a better showing than I did.”

Percy blinked, but finally managed to master his emotions. “I did?”

Harry nodded. “Ron beats everyone at chess. It’s become almost silly. I’m just waiting for him to challenge Professor McGonagall or Dumbledore.”

Percy nodded slowly, and began to smile. But then he stiffened and gave Harry a piercing look.

Whatever the prefect wanted to say was interrupted by Mrs. Weasley announcing that dinner was ready.

~+~

As Ron had explained to Harry earlier, dinner on Christmas Eve at The Burrow was usually light fare – sandwiches and a hearty soup. This allowed Mrs. Weasley time to go all out for her Christmas Day feast.

When know one was looking, Harry slipped a dry sandwich into his pocket for later. He ignored the pointed look Crookshanks was giving him.

As he and Ginny cleared the table, Ron and the others began heading upstairs, obviously planning to make an early night of it. Harry smiled to himself. The sooner they went to sleep, the sooner Christmas morning would come.

Ginny seemed tired as well, but she was also looking at Harry a little oddly as well.

“You must be tired,” Harry suggested, “you were working half the day.” He yawned. “I’m going to sleep after I ask your dad something.”

Ginny frowned a little, but just nodded and went upstairs.

Molly was in the kitchen and Arthur was in the living room, regretfully rolling up the string of lights that never actually lit up, no matter what he tried.

“Are you taking those back out to the shed?” Harry asked.

Arthur nodded, obviously still pondering the mysteries of Muggle technology.

“I’ll go with you,” Harry suggested. “There’s something I need to ask you about.”

Mr. Weasley looked up then, no longer distracted. They both collected jackets from the front hall and walked out into the shadowed garden.

“I had a bit of trouble in the village,” Harry said as they approached the shed.

Arthur gave him a quick look, but said nothing.

“I’m all right,” Harry quickly assured him. “In fact, I’m better than all right. I found Sirius.”

Arthur Weasley stopped dead in his tracks and stared at Harry as the boy pulled the door open. A large black dog, curled up comfortably in the corner raised its head sleepily.

Mr. Weasley glanced from Harry, to the dog, and back again. At first he gazed at Harry with some concern in his eyes, but then they widened. “He’s an Animagus as well?” he asked.

Harry nodded, and then turned toward his godfather. “You can show him. I trust him, and you should as well.” He pulled the sandwich from his pocket. “Besides, I think you’d rather eat this with hands anyway.”

Sirius’ outline blurred and suddenly a very thin man in ragged clothing was crouched on the floor of the shed. His hand shook as he took the sandwich from Harry.

Harry felt his eyes prickling. If anything Sirius looked worse than the first time he’d seen him. Before he stopped to think, his wand was in his hand and a simple charm filled the shed with warm air. Another wave and a mug of steaming hot chocolate appeared in front of his godfather.

Arthur’s eyes widened as he watched Harry casually violate the laws on underage magic use. Not to mention the fact that his ward had just performed a dual conjuration on the spot.

“Don’t worry,” Harry said quietly. “The Ministry sensors can’t pick up a thing through those wards. I should have done this earlier.”

“It’s all right,” Sirius said, his voice rusty. “I was more tired than anything, and this shed is plenty warm enough when you have fur.” He took another sip of the hot chocolate and grimaced a little. “I think this is all I’d better eat for a while, anyway.”

Arthur nodded slowly, obviously troubled by the implications of Sirius’ appearance.

“I saw some men chasing him in the village,” Harry explained. “When I saw one pull out a wand, I knew they were up to no good. When I saw what they were chasing, the memory came back of a big black dog that looked after me when I was a baby and I put it all together.”

“But how did you get away from the Aurors?” Arthur asked worriedly.

“Only one of them was an Auror I recognized,” Sirius corrected. “And I didn’t do anything. Young Harry here came up behind them and stunned all three.”

Arthur stared at Harry, who was suddenly seized by a desire to sink into the floor. “How long before they come here looking for you?” he said turning back toward Sirius.

“Quite a while,” Sirius said affably. “Harry Obliviated them and left them soaked with alcohol in an alleyway. Even if they did eventually remember what happened, no one would believe it. James couldn’t have done better himself.”

The compliment caught Harry off guard and he coughed as his throat suddenly constricted.

“I see,” Arthur Weasley said. “Well, I am glad to you seem to be all in one piece. We were getting a little worried when you disappeared.”

“You were not the only one,” Sirius agreed. “A few days after your visit I was moved into another cell block. I wasn’t concerned at first, but then I realized that they weren’t feeding me anymore. When it became clear this was deliberate, I decided to risk getting caught by the Dementors and snuck out as a dog.” He shivered. “The sea is damn cold this time of year. I almost didn’t make it.”

Arthur looked furious. “Did you recognize any of the men who moved you to your new cell?” he asked.

Sirius shook his head. “They were all new to me,” he sighed.

“Maybe you will get an opportunity to identify them later,” Arthur said in an encouraging tone of voice, “But I’m not sure I understand why Harry didn’t bring you into the house already.”

Harry let out a frustrated sigh. “Remember that book I showed you?”

Arthur nodded as his face turned grim.

“One of the few people Snape hates as much as me or my father is Sirius Black,” Harry said flatly. “If he picked up from Ron or Ginny that he was staying here, well, there would be Aurors here in minutes. You and Mrs. Weasley can avoid him until you’ve mastered what’s in that book.”

Arthur nodded. “That seems possible. But what about Dumbledore, you said he can do it was well.”

Sirius appeared to following this conversation easily enough that Harry began to hope. “Professor Dumbledore knows that Sirius is innocent. Moreover, he knows that I know. If he gave Sirius up to the Ministry, he knows I’d likely leave Hogwarts forever and maybe even let him deal with Voldemort on his own.”

Both adults went silent at this.

“I don’t think it will come to that,” Harry reassured them. “He’s even cut back on the legilimency since he knows I can sense it. And I doubt it’ll be that easy to duck out of a prophecy.”

“You know about that?” Sirius asked quickly.

Harry nodded. “He finally told us last term.”

“Prophecy?” Arthur asked.

Harry sighed. “There was a prophecy made, right before I was born. It’s going to come down to me or Voldemort, ‘for neither can live while the other survives’.”

Arthur looked ill. “So there really isn’t any way out, is there? No way to avoid fighting him again.”

Harry shook his head. “I appear to be the only one who can stop him, at least permanently. Otherwise he will come back and start killing again.”

“And he told you this?” Arthur asked incredulously. “How could he do such a thing to a twelve year old boy?”

Harry grunted. “Maybe because I asked him to. Voldemort mentioned a prophecy in passing when I met him before, and I wanted Dumbledore to tell me. If it’s my destiny, then I have a right to know. If it’s up to me to take him out, then better I know as soon as possible so I can start preparing. I already knew I was a target, now I just know why.”

Arthur nodded, but his face was a little grey. “Doesn’t… doesn’t it bother you, to know what you have to do?” he finally asked in a sick voice.

Harry considered his response, noticing that Sirius was also watching him closely, his sandwich eaten and his hot chocolate drunk. “Mr. Weasley, do you remember when you and Mrs. Weasley heard about Fabian and Gideon?”

Arthur swallowed and nodded.

“Mrs. Weasley hasn’t been quite the same after that, has she?” Harry asked softly. “I saw her looking at her ornament,” he explained in little more than a whisper.

Mr. Weasley seemed to have found his voice again, for this time he answered aloud. “No, Harry, she hasn’t.”

“Voldemort has killed so many people, and blighted the lives of so many more…” Harry’s voice trailed off as he groped for the words. “It’s almost, a privilege, to know that I’m the one who gets to stop him. My parents, Ron’s uncles, Sirius’ brother.” Harry noticed his last addition garnered a sharp look from Sirius. “I’ve done a lot of reading about that bastard’s reign of terror. He has a lot to answer for.”

Mr. Weasley nodded slowly, his jaw tightening as his colour returned. Harry supposed he had just dropped a lot of nasty shocks on him. A less charitable person could interpret his reticence as manipulation, so Harry threw a bone to his conscience. “I’ll understand, you know, if learning this makes you feel differently about our living arrangements,” he said quietly. “You didn’t sign up for all of this, and you have your own family to look out for.”

Arthur Weasley frowned, and Harry thought he detected a flash of anger in his eyes. “Harry, I will decide what I need to look out for. When Molly and I signed those papers, you became a member of this family. Are you saying that you want to leave?”

Harry shook his head quickly.

“Good. Then let us never speak of that again. For that matter, I agree that the Dark Lord has a lot to answer for, and it could also be a privilege to help the one who is supposed to bring him to justice.” Arthur’s anger faded as he spoke, and Harry felt a little ashamed. He’d been feeling so guilty and so concerned about making sure of his welcome that he’d inadvertently insulted the man.

“Now,” Arthur continued, “I think our guest could do with a meal and a hot bath. I think I’ve got some clothes-“

“Er,” Harry spoke up. “Remember, we can’t let anyone in the house know he’s here. Percy is very sharp, and he hasn’t had any Occlumency training at all.” He didn’t miss Sirius’ eyes dart towards him when he mentioned Occlumency, and he began to entertain a small, frail hope.

“Right.” Arthur nodded, frowning. “I suppose we could rig up something out here then. It doesn’t seem very hospitable though… Molly would clout me if she knew I let you stay out here in the cold.”

Sirius chuckled again. “It seems to be quite warm in here right now,” he said, nodding toward Harry. “Honestly, this is better accommodations than I’m used to, if you know what I mean.”

Harry looked around the shed. “I’m sure we could rig up a tub or something if you wanted to get cleaned up… and there’s plenty of food in the house.

Arthur clapped his hands together. “Let’s see to that and I’ll have a quick word with Molly. I will, however, need to tell her more when it’s prudent to do so.”

In short order, Sirius was looking remarkably better. His filthy prison clothes had been burned while he was soaking in a magically-expanded washtub. Using a wand he’d ‘acquired’ after his escape, Harry’s godfather managed to trim his matted hair and beard. Now, sitting on a transfigured cot, dressed in some of Arthur’s old clothes that fit his wasted frame, he looked decades younger.

Arthur was a little concerned when Sirius politely declined more than another small sandwich, but Harry’s eyes narrowed. “They were starving you, weren’t they?”

Sirius nodded. “Long enough that it hurts if I eat too much.”

Arthur’s face purpled and Harry briefly felt sorry for the people responsible for his godfather’s condition if his guardian ever got hold of them. Harry distracted himself from the darkening course of his thoughts by taking out his wand and reinforcing the warming charms on the shed.

“Harry,” Arthur asked after a moment. “I know the Ministry can’t tell you are using magic, but why did you insist on doing all the conjuring and spellwork in here.”

“Well, partially I wanted to feel useful, but mostly I wanted to clear my wand.” He admitted. “Priori Incantatem will only show the most recent spells cast with a wand. As far as I know, no one should suspect me having anything to do with those stunned wizards, but I don’t want to risk someone checking my wand and seeing stunning spells and memory charms.”

Both men gave Harry a long look and he supposed he was displaying an unusual degree of caution. The problem was that for someone used to fighting Voldemort and his Death Eaters for well over a decade, the idea of ‘excessive caution’ was almost laughable.

Arthur looked from Harry to Sirius and back again. “Well, Molly and I have some things to attend to in the house. I’m sure you two have a lot to talk about.” He paused with his hand on the door. “Harry, do try to get some sleep tonight.”

Harry smiled at his guardian. “I will. And thank you --for everything.”

Arthur smiled back, and a lot of the evening’s awkwardness was banished. “You’re more than welcome. Happy Christmas to you both.” He opened the door and stepped out into the chill night.

Sirius broke the silence that descended after the door shut. “He’s a good man,” he said.

“The best,” Harry agreed.

Sirius looked at Harry for a long moment. “Lilly hardly ever let me around you when I was a dog. She was worried I’d give you fleas or something.”

Harry sighed. “Just a moment.” It was inevitable that one of his invented early memories would eventually be found out. But there was a chance it wouldn’t be necessary. Locking eyes with his godfather, Harry reached out with his Legilimency and felt for the mind behind those dark eyes.

Harry almost cheered aloud as the probe skittered off of a sphere of blackest obsidian. He dug in again, working from multiple angles, but his strongest efforts glanced off the hardened barrier without leaving a mark. Finally, he smiled in genuine relief. “You’re an Occlumens,” he said with a note of wonder in his voice.

“You’re a Legilimens?” Sirius asked.

Harry nodded. “It’s not natural, is it?”

“No,” Sirius shook his head. “They were worried some of my family members might try to get information out of me, even though I avoided them for the most part. There were a few who still sought me out, we weren’t sure why – either to try and convert me or because they wanted out as well.” He shrugged. “It would have been easier to just keep me ignorant of anything important, but James wouldn’t hear of it.”

“Who trained you?” Harry asked curiously.

“Dumbledore, after James talked him into it,” his godfather answered.

Harry suppressed a surge of jealous anger. Dumbledore had also trained Sirius in the less subtle method that seemed to work better for Harry as well. He wondered how much misery could have been averted if Dumbledore had been willing to train him before. But the old man had his reasons for sending Snape instead, and he paid for it was well.

“It also helped, a little, in Azkaban,” Sirius added tonelessly. “It wouldn’t completely shut them out, the Dementors, but it did take the edge off.”

Harry swallowed. Sirius had also paid for his training, in ways unimaginable to others. “I’m sorry about that. I wish I knew how I could have got you out of there faster.”

Sirius looked at him, a little confused now.

Harry took a deep breath in and blew it out. “With Snape and… other people… running around using Legilimency on everyone, I’ve had to be careful what I shared with anyone else. You’re the first full Occlumens I’ve met here that I can trust.” He pulled out his wand. “Let’s get this out of the way first. I, Harry James Potter, solemnly swear on my magic and my life, that everything I am about to reveal to Sirius Black this evening will be true and factual, to the best of my knowledge.”

Sirius squinted against the glare that Harry’s oath invoked. “Is that really necessary?” he asked.

“I think so,” Harry said. “I’ve got some things to tell you, Padfoot old boy, that I doubt you’ll believe, even with the oath.”

Sirius chuckled. “You’re James son, all right. But you have to be the oddest twelve year old I’ve ever met.”

“That’s just it,” Harry corrected him. “I’m not. Or at least not just twelve years old.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Sirius asked.

“Part of me is twelve year old Harry Potter, part of me is a bit older.”

Sirius’ eyes widened. “James?” he asked in a wondering tone.

Harry felt his stomach cramp into a ball when he realized where Sirius’s speculation had gone. Correcting that false hope would kill him, but Harry’s Oath didn’t leave him much choice.

“I’m sorry, Sirius, but no. The ages are close though, now that I think about it. My older part is the memories of an older version of myself.”

Sirius frowned in confusion, though the disappointment was also plain on his face. “How is that possible?” he finally asked. Harry’s oath made saying it was impossible an exercise in futility.

“The memories… along with the spirit, and maybe the magic, were sent back in time from the year 2010.”

Sirius’ mouth dropped open. “Twenty years? That’s impossible. A time turner can only do a few hours.”

“It wasn’t done with a time turner,” Harry corrected him. “I set up a temporal transit field with enough energy for a nineteen year jump.”

“But why just your memories, why not send all of you back?” Sirius asked, but the leery expression on his face told Harry he already half-expected the answer.

“The field can’t send back solid matter,” Harry explained, “unless you have nearly infinite energy to power it. As it was, I had to wrap the field around myself and then commit suicide so my spirit would get shunted through the field.”

“You WHAT!” Sirius roared leaping up from his cot.

“Sit down!” Harry snapped.

“How the hell could you kill yourself?” Sirius demanded, his face red and angry. “I never thought James’ son would take the coward’s way out.”

Harry knew Sirius didn’t have the full story yet. He knew the older man was probably reacting strongly because of something that had happened with someone else. But his last statement took Harry’s self control and smashed it to kindling.

“Coward’s way out? Coward’s way out? Damn you Sirius, I won! I killed that son of a bitch. I ripped out Voldemort’s mind and blew his body into fragments. And then I looked around and realized that I didn’t have any reason left to live. Everyone I cared about was dead, starting with you, you careless idiot! How the hell you could let Bellatrix kill you I will never understand!” Harry paused, and realized his chest was pumping like a bellows. “I bloody damn well won my effing war, and then I read about a way to travel back in time, and I came here, so I could do it all bloody over again, and maybe see if I could do a better job of it this time, so maybe Hogwarts would still be standing, and maybe the people I love could still be alive. So why don’t you tell me how that’s the coward’s way out?”

The look of utter horror on Sirius’ face made Harry feel even worse. He turned away and swiped at eyes he just now realized were leaking. He jumped when he felt a hand on his shoulder, and the next thing he knew Sirius had grabbed him in a rough embrace.

Harry held onto his godfather for dear life. Merlin, how he’d missed the man, his father’s oldest and best friend. He also realized that this was the first person he’d ever been able to talk to about his whole ordeal. The bits and pieces he’d had to hold back from his friends had festered, like bits of dirt in a healing wound, and the pressure had built up more than he’d realized.

The next thing he knew, he was sitting next to Sirius on the cot, his godfather’s arm across his shoulders.

“You’ve never been able to talk about this before, have you?” the older man asked.

Harry shook his head. “I’m teaching my friends Occlumency, but it’s hard for them. They don’t even know why, not really. One of them, Hermione, figured out on her own that Snape was using Legilimency, so she bought us a book on Occlumency. Everyone thinks I’m a natural Occlumens, because of the curse-scar, so they don’t question why Snape can’t get into my mind.”

“That greasy git never gets tired of making things hard for everyone else,” Sirius said in a disgusted voice.

Harry nodded. “So I have to be careful what I say to everyone, otherwise Snape might learn it second-hand.”

“I’m surprised you haven’t tried to do something about him directly,” Sirius observed.

“Well, I am trying to get him sacked,” Harry said, “but there aren’t a lot of accredited potions masters willing to teach at Hogwarts.”

Sirius frowned. “Watch out he doesn’t hear about that. He’s a pretty nasty piece of business when he wants to be.”

Harry nodded. “I know, I watched him murder Dumbledore.”

Sirius’ eyes bulged out. “He what?!?”

Harry sighed. “Maybe I’d just better start at the beginning.”

Sirius nodded, so that exactly what he did. He described the original timeline in as much detail as he could remember without using a Pensieve. Sirius sat and listened without saying a word… with a few exceptions.

“The Dursleys?” Sirius demanded at one point. “But Lily’s sister detested her…”

Harry nodded. “It wasn’t pleasant either time, less so this last one. But Dumbledore thought I’d be safer under the protection of the blood wards.” Sirius subsided a little at that, but Harry thought he was still likely to have a few words for the Professor, and few of them polite.

Sirius nodded thoughtfully when Harry relayed the sequence of events that led to Voldemort’s resurrection. Harry was pretty sure he could hear the wheels turning already.

The battle at the Department of Mysteries also provoked an outburst from Harry’s godfather. “Bellatrix? How the hell did she manage to kill me?”

Harry sighed. “You know they have this archway in the department of mysteries, have you heard of it?”

Sirius nodded. “Yes, they used it to execute criminals in the old days, didn’t they?”

“Yeah, well, you were duelling with your cousin, and you stopped to taunt her when you were standing in front of the archway… and she hit you with a stunner.” Harry swallowed. “You fell through.”

Sirius’ jaw dropped open. “That is the… the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard! Killed by a stunner? Because I stopped fighting to taunt her?”

Harry shrugged. He didn’t know why Sirius was acting so outraged, it was hardy his fault it happened. “Try not to do it again, all right?”

Sirius looked offended at that, and then broke down laughing. “I’ll try to remember that, Harry.”

There wasn’t much cause for laughter after that. Sirius’ hand on his shoulder tightened as he choked out the words to describe the Hogwarts Massacre. When he finished describing the clean up of the bodies, Harry paused to collect himself – he was emotionally drained.

“She was the One, wasn’t she?” Sirius asked him in little more than a whisper.

Harry just nodded. He didn’t need Sirius to clarify who he was asking about.

“What is it with Potter men and red-heads?” Sirius mused. The arm across his shoulders tightened and Harry felt the lump in his throat soften a little.

Harry felt a little ashamed that he found it easier to describe the utter destruction of the British Wizarding culture that followed. He still found his chest tightening when he described the fates that found each of their friends. Sirius shuddered at Remus’ pain-filled end. “I’m glad he and Tonks got together, though I never would have pictured it.”

“He said once that she made him laugh, and he hadn’t laughed very much since he became the last of the Marauders.”

Sirius let out a sigh. “Well, she’ll have to find another reason, though I might help her a bit. There are still three Marauders around, and we better not let the number go any lower.”

“I don’t count Peter,” Harry said tightly.

“I’m not counting the little rat either,” Sirius agreed. “Remus, Me, and you, Prongs the second.”

“Me?” Harry asked.

“You.” Sirius said firmly. “Your Patronus is still a stag, right?”

Harry nodded.

“Good. Your Animagus form, if you have one, is likely to be the same, but that’s enough by itself to justify the name. I imagine you gave Remus a good shock the first time he saw it... Anyway, what you’ve described to me sounds like the greatest prank in history, and more than sufficient grounds for your induction into the august ranks of the Marauders.”

“A prank?” Harry asked, his mind refusing to make the connection.

Sirius nodded. “You go back in time to screw with Voldemort’s plans, using all the knowledge you gained in nearly twenty years of fighting him. Once you are here in this time, you fool everyone, including Dumbledore, which I’m not sure James and I ever really managed to do. Wherever he is right now, your father has to be grinning like a maniac.”

Harry just stared at his godfather, who was smiling broadly now. Nothing fazed the man:the news of his own demise;the destruction of the world; the deaths of his remaining friends. And here he was, smiling in appreciation of what he saw as an especially good prank. Harry felt himself smiling back.

“I imagine you are making a few changes this time around?” Sirius asked with a raised eyebrow.

Harry found himself describing his first year at Hogwarts in rather greater detail than he expected. Not unexpectedly, Harry found himself giving a play-by-play breakdown of the Quidditch matches, which Sirius relished. Harry’s foiling of Quirrell’s attempt at the stone with a single stinging hex had the man laughing out loud again.

Sirius also reassured Harry when he wondered aloud at the ethics of how he was manipulating his friends. “Look Harry, do you honestly think that are doing better this time than they did their second year, er, their first second year?”

Harry thought it over and slowly nodded. “Yes, I think they are.”

“Are they happier, better grades, better able to defend themselves?” Sirius prompted him.

Harry nodded again.

“Maybe you are just being a better friend than they realize?” Sirius suggested. “It’s odd, but you remind me a little of Lily in that. She was always trying to get people to do what was best for them and the people they cared about. I think she was responsible for half of the good relationships in our house. I’m not saying she was a match-maker or anything, but she was good at getting people to realize if they really cared about someone or not.” He smiled faintly. “Of course, her talent was completely useless where she and James were concerned. In that, you have a leg up on her, though I suppose you do have an unnatural advantage.”

Harry gave a weak laugh, but his voice was so shaky it sounded more like a hiccup. He just hoped Ginny, Ron, and the rest agreed with Sirius when they finally could be told the truth.

“I also think,” Sirius continued, “that you are letting the Dursleys off too lightly. But I can take care of that while I’m running a few errands.”

Harry frowned. Sirius’ voice was a little too deliberately light for that to not be significant. “Errands?” he asked.

“Well, you’ve got these Horcruxes to gather, but you’re a little young to be travelling alone, let alone Apparating all over creation. I, on the other hand, as a dashing escaped convict, can go wherever my feet lead me. And if the course of my evasions leads me through Little Hangleton, or near Twelve Grimmauld Place, or near any other hidey-holes… well, no one would suspect a thing, would they?”

Harry felt his stomach tighten, but didn’t voice his initial protests. Instead he thought it over as rationally as he could. He had been wondering when he’d get a chance to do all these things, and now Sirius was offering himself as a surrogate to gather the Horcruxes before Voldemort grew wary and moved them. “The Cup needs to be last,” Harry finally said. “There was some kind of charm on it that alerted him when we touched it. That led him to attacking the school. Also, be careful about that ring. Something around it destroyed Dumbledore’s hand when he removed it.”

Sirius nodded. “Tell me everything you can remember about them, and that little ceremony you described when Voldemort was resurrected. I may be up for a bit of grave robbing as well.”

~+~

It was close to three in the morning before Harry finally got to bed. He felt utterly drained, like an old husk. Sirius pumped him for every detail Harry could recall, and there were more than he suspected at first.

Confiding everything in his father’s best friend had also acted to drain Harry of his own doubts and ethical concerns. Sirius listened to him castigate himself for manipulating everyone around him, the told him he was being too hard on himself. Harry had no idea how freeing that could be.

He fell asleep the instant his head touched the pillow.

An instant later, Ron was shaking him awake. Harry blinked blearily at his friend.

“Every other day of the year, you’re awake before the sun, Harry. But on Christmas you want to sleep in?” Ron shook his head. “You’re barmy.”

Harry scrubbed at his eyes and sat up. The light filtering through the curtains was proof it was daylight, even though it felt like no time had elapsed. As he sat up it hit him. He hadn’t had any nightmares, even though he’d been asleep more than long enough for them to start.

Harry pondered this as he looked dully at the stocking full of brightly wrapped packages laid across the foot of his bed. He’d left his presents in Mrs. Weasley’s care, all wrapped and neatly labelled under the tree. He just wasn’t sure how she distributed them so neatly, and without waking anyone.

The first present was a book, oddly enough, from Percy. Wizarding Duelling Code was the title, and Harry set it aside for future reading - but not before noticing the bookmark placed in the section regarding ‘targeting of spectators.’

Charlie had evidently heard about the duel as well, because he sent Harry a pair of dragon hide duelling gloves. They were fingerless, with a metal plate sewn onto the back and small metal ridges over the knuckles. They were reputed to make one harder to disarm, but Harry was more impressed by how much damage they would do with a punch. He hoped Charlie enjoyed the Playwizard subscription that he’d clubbed up with Ron and the Twins to get him. Arranging to have an American wizarding periodical shipped to Romania once a month was a little more expensive than anyone anticipated.

Bill sent Harry a book as well, Wards: Construction and Disruption, along with a short note explaining that the eldest Weasley brother learned more about the basics of curse-breaking from that book than almost anything else he ever read. Harry chuckled to himself when he recognized the title. It was one the Ministry had placed on the restricted list, meaning only licensed professionals could purchase it. He wondered if Bill knew that… then he realized that was probably what had prompted his decision. I hope he’s enjoying his new job even more than tomb-raiding, Harry thought to himself with a smile.

Ron and Ginny’s names were on the next package. Inside, Harry found an adjustable leather wand holder. The instructions indicated that it could be attached to one’s belt, or strapped around the forearm. Harry looked up at Ron, who was smiling.

“We figured that one of these days you were going to wave your arm and have your wand come flying out of your sleeve,” Ron said. “Plus, we couldn’t see you wearing long-sleeve shirts all summer. Ginny couldn’t anyway…”

Harry was too happy to allow himself to be baited. “You going to put those pads to good use?” he asked.

Ron frowned. “I’d like to, but it’s a bit early, innit?”

Harry shrugged. “I talked to Oliver about starting up a reserve team again, and he seemed interested. If nothing else, you’ll get some serious practice before he graduates. I don’t see anyone else in Gryffindor stepping up to take his spot.”

Ron blinked and coughed. “Really? I mean, you don’t?”

“You’ve already got the eye,” Harry said nonchalantly, “and if you keep growing the way you are, you’ll have more than enough armspan to do the job.”

Ron was quietly thoughtful as Harry emptied out the stocking. Mrs. Weasley had knitted him another jumper in emerald green, which seemed to be his colour as much as maroon was Ron’s.

Under the jumper was a small box from Fred and George. Inside the box was a small container of chocolates labelled ‘veritamints – eat one and tell nothing but the truth for five minutes’ and a newspaper clipping.

It seemed that one Vernon Dursley, formerly of Surrey, had appeared at his scheduled labour board hearing to protest his dismissal from Grunnings. At some point he caused a disruption of the proceedings and not only had his petition dismissed, but was found to be in contempt, fined fifty pounds and spent the night in jail.

Harry laughed out loud as he read this, prompting Ron to ask what was so funny. When he explained, Ron was amused, but even more he was in awe of how his brothers managed to sabotage Vernon’s court appearance without getting caught leaving Hogwarts.

The last object in the toe of the stocking was a small box. Inside, Harry found a silver pocket watch with a note:

                  Dear Harry,

                  In the course of my ‘checking up on a few things’, I went through the crime scene materials from Godrick’s Hollow. As you have no doubt been told, there wasn’t much left of your parent’s cottage after the fire, nor were their personal effects spared. However, one of the evidence bins did contain this watch, which had been ruined by the fire. There’s a rather good clock-maker on Diagon Alley who specializes in custom work. She was able to replace the mechanism and restore the exterior. I don’t know if this belonged to your father, your grandfather, or someone completely unrelated to you, but I thought you might like to have it.

                                                                        -Merry Christmas,

                                                                        Arthur Weasley

Harry had some difficulty finishing the note. He ran his fingers over the cover of the watch, which was engraved with the image of a stag.

~+~

It was a while before Harry was able to shower and get dressed. As an early riser, he wasn’t so used to having to wait for the plumbing. Of course, he was very aware of how long he had to wait; because he was frequently looking at the silver pocket watch that he knew had been his father’s.

By the time he was done, Mrs. Weasley was already setting out the light lunch intended to tide everyone over until the planned Christmas feast. Harry found Fred and George at the bottom of the stair, talking intently as they passed a thick black soft-cover book back and forth between them.

“Hello gentlemen, I must say that your gift was highly appreciated, and Ron is losing his mind trying to figure our how you pulled it off.” Harry said in a grand tone. “I see that you have also found my gift to yourselves. Have I perchance altered your appreciation for fine Muggle literature?”

George was visibly biting his tongue, so Fred took up the gauntlet. “It might be slightly amusing,” he said in a bored tone. He shrugged. “We’ll let you know. We do appreciate those ingredients though; they should prove right useful for the coming term.”

Harry made a clucking sound and shook his head. “I suppose I loose the bet then. Here, I’ll take that back and use the money to get you some more asphodel, or-”

“Let’s not be hasty now,” Fred interrupted quickly, intercepting Harry’s hands with his raised palm. “We really should at least give it a chance, you know, to be fair and all.”

“That’s all right,” Harry said smoothly, reaching again for the book. “You don’t need to spare my feelings. Ginny and I won’t die of embarrassment. I’ll just take that worthless Muggle book back and…” He tugged on the book, but George refused to let go.

“He’s not buying it, o’ brother of mine,” George said, breaking his silence.

Fred let out a defeated sigh. “I suppose he isn’t.”

Harry smiled, feeling a trifle smug. “I had you the second you saw the title, didn’t I?”

Fred made a face, but George just nodded- a trifle morosely.

“Well, you’ve got until January twenty fifth before you can pull another prank,” Harry said, smiling. “Of course, it’ll take you almost that long to read 1001 Practical Jokes and Dirty Tricks.

George nodded more cheerfully and Fred looked thoughtful. “You know, Harry, you could, er, not mention the terms of our bet. That way everyone would go spare over the next thirty days wondering what we’re up to. In a way, you’d be pranking the whole school.”

I’m already doing that, Harry thought to himself. He mulled it over for a minute, and then nodded. “All right, but only as long as you two behave yourselves.”

“Harry!” Fred said in a shocked voice, “when have you ever known us to misbehave?”

~+~

Christmas dinner was just as big a production as Harry expected. Mrs. Weasley’s kitchen table, magically expanded for the occasion, literally groaned under the weight of the dishes it supported.

Remus arrived by Floo at precisely five o’clock on the dot. From the way the man’s eyes bulged out, Harry didn’t think he’d ever seen anything like a Weasley Christmas either.

Harry felt momentarily bad for Sirius, stuck out in the shed. He’d taken it upon himself to slip out of the house and bring his godfather some breakfast, only to find that Arthur had already beaten him to it. Harry tried to keep the man company as long as he could with raising suspicions, until finally Sirius himself sent him back inside.

“Harry, I’m warm, I have food to eat, and there are no Dementors around. This is the best Christmas I’ve had since 1981. I’m serious.”

“And I’m Harry. I still wish…”

“Hearing you make lame jokes about my name, something only James would stoop to, I might add, makes it even better. Now get back in that house before you make someone suspicious. You’ve got a new family waiting for you in there, and not many people get that precious a second chance.” Sirius’ voice softened for a moment. “Don’t blow it, Harry.”

And so Harry found himself taking Remus’ cloak and hanging it in the hallway. When he returned, he found Remus asking Arthur if there was any word on Sirius.

“Oh, er, yes. Well, no new word at the Ministry,” Arthur replied carefully.

“I imagine he’s doing well, wherever he is,” Harry added quietly.

Remus looked from Arthur to Harry and back again. “I… see. Well, I do hope he’s staying out of trouble.”

“That’s hardly likely,” Harry said, “unless he’d travelled as far away as America.”

Remus’ eyes widened and Harry felt like a heel. While nothing he said was a literal lie, he still hated to mislead the man. Unfortunately, if he still ended up teaching at Hogwarts next year, he’d be in close proximity to Severus Snape, especially during the disorienting after-effects of his ‘monthly problem’. Harry didn’t want to let him worry needlessly, but he also knew that being too direct would put Sirius’ neck in a noose.

“Perhaps,” Remus said carefully, “some of us have more to be grateful for during this holiday season than they realize.”

“Perhaps,” Arthur agreed.

Following tradition, the Weasley children were seated around the table in order of their ages. This left Harry between Ron and Ginny, which he did not mind in the slightest. She wore the copper butterfly hairclip he gave her above her left ear, and it flashed with glints of candlelight.

The meal which followed set even Hogwarts’ best to second place in Harry’s reckoning. Mrs. Weasley, and Ginny as her mother reminded everyone, had outdone themselves. The enormous goose that Arthur carved was as flavourful as it was juicy, and one bite of the chestnut stuffing convinced Harry that it was worth any number of long walks into Ottery St. Catchpole.

Lingering over pudding, Mrs. Weasley asked Remus how he was doing.

“Quite well,” he replied, “in fact, I understand that the Defence Against the Dark Arts position may be opening up after this year, so I’ve Owled my curriculum vitae to Professor Dumbledore with an inquiry.”

Percy gave Remus a long look after hearing that. Harry couldn’t tell if it was disbelief that the shabby-looking man was applying, or respect that he was qualified enough to think he even had a chance of becoming a Professor.

“Well, I think you’d be brilliant,” Harry said.

“It’s not like he’s got a tough record to beat,” Fred added.

“Not with the ‘great fake’ and ‘what’s that in the back of my head’ as predecessors,” George agreed.

“We’ll keep Hermione off your case,” Ron volunteered.

“From what I’ve heard, I think she’d be a delightful student,” Remus said with a laugh.

“I’ll bet you used to nag your schoolmates about studying, didn’t you?” Ron asked warily.

“Well, sometimes,” Remus agreed. “James and Sirius weren’t always the most focussed of…” His voice trailed off as he looked from Ron to Harry, who was having difficulty keeping a straight face.

“There’s at least one in every generation,” Harry said with a smile at his friend.

“I suppose there must,” Ron said gloomily. “Now I just know he’s going to replace Lockhart this fall.”

Harry smiled at his father’s friend. “I’m sure you and Hermione will get along splendidly.”

“I’m just not so sure about the rest of us surviving next year,” Ron said.

“Be nice,” Harry chided his friend.

“All right,” Ron agreed. “But remember we’ve only just got her calmed down a bit. If he encourages her too much, we’ll be back to the beginning of first year again.”

“Ron,” Harry asked airily. “Have you ever known Hermione needing to learn the same lesson twice?”

Ron frowned. “Good point.”

“Besides,” Harry continued, “if you keep working on her with her flying, that’s less time for her to get worked up about her revising, right?”

Ron nodded, and Harry turned back to Remus, who was frowning in confusion. “We have a friend,” he explained, “who is just a bit mad about her grades.”

“Just a bit,” George added.

“Like Hagrid’s just a bit large,” Fred chimed in.

“Boys!” Mrs. Weasley said in a warning tone.

“Anyway,” Harry continued, “she’s picking Lockhart to pieces every class, pointing out inconsistencies in his books and asking questions about them. We’re just saying we’re sure you two will hit it off.”

“Which is good,” Ron added, “because she’s scary brilliant.”

Remus smiled faintly. “I’m sure we will.”

With that, the dinner conversation moved on to lighter topics. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley told about their first Christmas together with baby Bill. Remus relayed a time he and his classmates had all been stranded at Hogwarts over Christmas by a nasty blizzard and a collapse in the Floo network.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable dinner. All too soon they were clearing the plates and Remus was thanking his hosts.

As he shook Harry’s hand, Remus said, “I hope a certain reprobate is having a good Christmas, wherever he is.”

“I’m fairly certain that’s exactly what he’s doing,” Harry replied, looking the werewolf directly in the eye.

Remus gave that faint smile again, one that almost seemed to a trademark of his. “We’ll have to get together and discuss our sources of information some day,” he said with no small amount of irony.

“Some day,” Harry agreed, deadpan.

After their guest left, Harry and Ginny began clearing the table with help from her brothers. With the extra hands Mrs. Weasley drafted, the table was cleared and the dishes washed in no time. This proved to be providential, because the short sleep the previous night, and the excitement of the day left Harry stumbling over his own feet.

Harry was lurking the in kitchen, wondering if too many people were still awake for him to bring Sirius a snack, when Arthur walked in with his jacket still on from outside. The man started, but relaxed when he seemed to recognize Harry. From under his jacket, Arthur produced a bottle and plate that he quickly placed in the sink.

“I see we had the same thought,” Harry observed.

Arthur nodded. “Makes me sick to think someone in the Ministry gave orders for him to be deliberately starved.”

“It is a disturbing thought,” Harry agreed. He felt a little sick as well, watching the anguish on his guardian’s face. “By the way, I never got to thank you for the watch. Sirius said he gave it to my father when he got married.”

“Really?” Arthur asked with a pleased smile.

“Yes,” Harry confirmed. “It was actually a present for both of them, because my mum used to get after him about being late all the time.” Harry was annoyed to find his voice getting constricted as he repeated Sirius’ words.

“I - well…” Arthur seemed to be getting a little choked up as well. “I’m glad you liked it, Harry. I had a watch like that once. I passed it on to Bill for his seventeenth birthday. It just - felt right that you should have your father’s watch as well.”

Harry Potter stood there, on the evening of Christmas, with his father’s watch in his hand, staring at another man who’d become much the same to him in a very short period of time. “Mr. Weasley, don’t take this the wrong way, but if it weren’t for people like you and your family - well, I’d probably be in Australia, or America, or some other place where Voldemort would never find me.”

A/N:

As discussed in my previous author notes, I am now working full time and my update pace has taken a serious hit. 50-55 hours a week I was spending on writing and editing are now being spent as a spreadsheet jockey and on my unpleasantly long commute.

Plot discussions and individual Q&A will be addressed on my yahoo group (viridian_dreams, see my author profile for the link) A lot of interesting discussions are taking place there as well, as well as some looks at my original fiction.

Thanks for reading!

-Matthew

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