A Sovereign Summer by DukeBrymin

Summary: Before Harry could treat Ginny like a queen, he had to change.
Rating: PG-13 starstarstarstarhalf-star
Categories: Post-OotP
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: The Making of a King
Published: 2019.02.08
Updated: 2021.05.21


Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Chapter 6: Chapter 6

Chapter 1: Chapter 1

Author's Notes: Part of the Like a Queen and A Princely Sum story arc. Betaed, as always, by the beautiful and talented sassyfrass and rosiekatriona, who've had more patience with me than should be required of anyone.

sov-er-eign: adjective, Self-governing; independent: a sovereign state

It's a curious thing, starvation. After the first couple of days, the hunger pains subside into the background of your consciousness. When that happens, the mind is rather more free to think of things beyond this plane of existence. The body, left to its own devices, starts to consume itself, trying to stay alive. This yields a rather curious smell, rather like the yeasty smell of bread baking. Of course, if the starvation diet also includes lack of water, then death occurs pretty soon. Unless you're a magical person.

Harry Potter had been home from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for 6 days now. In that time, he had eaten three pieces of dry toast, drunk exactly four glasses of water, and slept a total of 13 hours. The rest of the time, he lay in his bed, and contemplated things. It should be stated explicitly that he hadn't any real desire to die from starvation--in all his life he had never really become suicidal, and those who knew what he had grown up with were rather astounded at this. But he just couldn't find any motivation to do anything. Homework, which normally he didn’t mind doing, didn't hold any interest for him, neither did cleaning his room. To be fair, though, cleaning that room never really had. This summer, his apathy extended even to such things as brushing his teeth, combing his hair, or taking a shower.

His Aunt Petunia, after being ignored completely every time she tried to talk to her nephew, had given up, and taken to sliding a plate of food into his room for mealtimes. The plate usually contained the aforementioned dry toast, with a bowl of cold soup, or a cold hot dog, or something similar, which didn't cost too much, and wasn't too much of a hassle to prepare. Hedwig, who was growing rather concerned about her master, was grateful for this regular gift, as Harry hadn't even had the presence of mind to open the window before sinking into his state of despair. The beautiful white owl had tried her best to rouse Harry, but all he had done was raise a hand, stroke her beautiful chest feathers, and apologize for his actions. Hedwig didn't know what to do about this--she had tried once to sneak out through the cat flap that Petunia used for the food, but she was just a smidgeon too big to fit, and her trying to do so had come perilously close to causing rather severe damage to the flight feathers of her left wing. So Hedwig was left to eat Harry's leftover food, hoot piteously, and nestle next to her human, who had, in the past couple of days, become so weak that he couldn't even raise a hand to touch his familiar.

In fact, about the only mortal who intruded upon Harry's thoughts was Hedwig, who currently was grooming Harry's unruly hair, as if trying to get it to lie flat. Harry was saddened by the idea that he'd have to leave Hedwig behind when he finally expired, and distantly displeased with himself for not having thought to send her to Ginny, or Hermione, or Ron. He hoped that eventually someone would come and let her out, so that she could find a new owner.

Hedwig herself was becoming more and more frantic as the days went on. She was sure Harry wasn't aware of the complete details of the bond between a familiar and her human; that Harry didn't know that the owl would choose to follow Harry into that next great adventure rather than remain behind without him. She had tried her best to keep Harry fed and watered, but he was so much bigger than one of her own children would have been that the task had proven to be impossible. She had hoped to be able to open the window, but had no luck in such a massive undertaking. She had even deigned to try to communicate with the hated horse-woman, but she seemed to not be able to understand anything the owl tried to tell her, so Hedwig had finally given up hooting at her.

Harry knew, in a kind of vague, general way, what was happening to himself. He knew that he was becoming weaker and weaker, but he couldn't quite bring himself to care. His mind was entirely caught up in his problems, and he didn't seem able to drag himself out of the despondency that so enveloped him. He was slightly curious as to what death would feel like, as it seemed highly likely that death was what was coming for him. From his entirely Muggle upbringing he had gained a mish-mash of ideas about the afterlife. He had a fuzzy notion of an all-powerful God, who would smite him if he didn't do exactly what He asked him to do. But in all his listening-ins, he hadn't really been able to understand exactly what God wanted him to do. As a result, he was not entirely sure of what would happen, since he couldn't be sure that he was doing whatever it was that he was supposed to be doing. His Uncle Vernon's opinion, which he never passed up an opportunity to express, was that Harry was going directly to Hell, where he would spend the rest of forever burning in a pit of sulfur. Harry discounted this, as he'd realized quite a long time ago that, while his Uncle Vernon had very many, very strong, and very offensive ideas about life, most of them were wrong. What Harry really did want to have happen was to be reunited with the loved ones that he had lost. Sirius most recently, of course, having been lost to the Veil in the Department of Mysteries. But he also had a overwhelming longing to see his parents, whom he didn't really remember.

In Harry's heightened state of detached apathy, he had convinced himself that the only people that really loved him were dead. He didn't remember, or maybe he couldn't remember, the other people in his life who surrounded him, and loved him, and wanted him to be happy. He didn't think of Remus Lupin, who had tried his best to step into the role of godfather. He didn't consider Hermione Granger, who loved him not only as a sister, but also best friend, and confidant. He didn't consider Headmaster Dumbledore, who, while rather misguided at times, still cared for Harry with all his heart. And most especially, he didn't think of the entire Weasley family, who, with the possible exception of Percy because of his prat-itude, loved him as one of their own.

Harry increasingly found his thoughts wandering into more fanciful realms, where he was living happily with his family, maybe some younger siblings, in a picturesque and comfortable home in Godric's Hollow, which he had never seen before but imagined to be a wonderful place.

None of these thoughts, though, served to explain why he was seeing the ghost of Cedric Diggory in his room.

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Chapter 2: Chapter 2

"Harry, what in the name of Merlin's ever-bushy eyebrows are you doing?" the ghost asked.

The look on the ghost's face was one of affectionate exasperation. This look, more than anything else in the experience, served to wake Harry's interest. If Harry had been forced to speculate on what Cedric's face would look like if he were to appear to Harry in a vision, he would have guessed something in the range of anger, hurt, or reproach--some image pulled from the "guilt-inducing" palette. Cedric's look, however, had none of those characteristics. Instead, it seemed as though Cedric were in possession of a great big secret, which he wanted to share, but couldn't do until he'd done some other business which wasn't nearly as much fun.

"Cedric?" Harry weakly gasped. "What are you doing here? I'm so sorry, Cedric--I didn't mean to get you killed! I should never have--"

"Harry!" Cedric interjected. "Stop that right now!"

Cedric's words didn't seem to get through to the sick teen--Harry was caught up in a litany of self-recrimination and apology. Cedric tried again.

"Harry! Will you shut up!?"

Harry still didn't pay any attention. By now he had progressed into apologies for all the other wrongs he imagined he had committed, and promises to try to make up for all his failings.

Cedric thought for a bit, smiled slyly, and said, "Harry, I know who you should marry. . ."

Something in Cedric's quiet, knowing voice sank into Harry's brain. "--and I shouldn't have taken. . . um. . . Ron. . . and. . . What?"

Satisfied that he had finally gotten Harry to calm down, Cedric smiled and said, "What? I didn't say anything."

"Yes, you did--something about my getting married. You said--you said you knew who I should marry. Oh please, not Cho!" Harry just about begged. Then he flinched, realizing that this might not have been the most diplomatic way to approach things. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean--"

"Harry! Stop worrying! I'm not here to punish you! I am here to tell you a few things. And as for Cho, I'm not fussed. I love her, and I know that she loves me. She and you were never really supposed to get together for anything permanent. She needed someone to give her some support while she was mourning me, and you did that."

Harry made as if to interrupt--he hadn't really done anything at all for Cho, just made her upset.

"No! Harry, she never would have been able to get over her loss if she hadn't been able to spend a little bit of time with you. Sure, it didn't necessarily turn out the best it could have. . ." He and Harry shared a wry grin at that, "but it gave her some time to think about me, and that made it so she could move on. I know, it doesn't seem possible, but really, you gave her what she needed at that time, so stop worrying about it."

Harry still wasn't sure he believed that he'd done anything to help, but just nodded. "Well, if it isn't her, then who should I. . . Not Hermione! Ugh! Please, don't say it's her. She's great, and all, but I can't think of her like that."

Cedric, by this time, was laughing. "No, Harry, it's not Hermione. Her role in your life is just what she has been doing. She's your best friend, at least right now, and will support you in anything you need, but by no means is she a romantic match for you. In fact, I suppose I could tell you who she should be with. . ."

Harry thought about this for a moment. It had seemed, for quite some time, that Hermione and Ron were working towards a relationship. In fact, he had three Galleons on "sometime in the summer between sixth and seventh year". But if Cedric had different information, perhaps he should change his bet. . .

"Wait a minute--why would you have any information about our supposed romantic matches? Are you some sort of Cosmic Cupid, or the Angel of Love?"

Cedric blanched. "How do you know what Cho called . . . " Trailing off upon seeing the look of confusion on Harry's face, he quickly changed the subject. "No, it's just that, in the Next Great Adventure, some things are much clearer than others, and one of the things that really stands out is compatibility. You know, who would be the best girl for you to fall in love with. For instance, it's the best-known secret in the afterlife that you should be with--Hold on, I'm not sure I should tell you. Do you want to know who you should be with?"

Harry just about yelled that he did want to know, but then paused for a bit of thought. If he knew who would be best for him, then it would sure cut down on the amount of time he'd have to spend finding her. But then, maybe she wouldn't believe him. And what if they did get together? Would she know it was for the best? Maybe it would be better to just try to find her without guidance.

Cedric just watched as the different sides of Harry's brain argued with each other. Of course he knew whom Harry should end up with, but, as with all seeings of the future, that knowledge could be a curse as much as a blessing.

When Harry finally made his decision, he turned back to Cedric and said, "Don't tell me, please. Just, maybe, could you tell me if I already know her? That would give me something to go on, at least." The hopefulness in his eyes made Cedric almost forgive him for making Cedric lose the betting pool. It's not that he didn't like Lily, but he really hadn't wanted to have to act as her personal servant that week.

"Are you sure you don't want to know the name? It would make things happen a lot more quickly. . ." He held this temptation out in hopes of escaping the sure embarrassment that awaited him.

"No, Cedric, I don't want to jeopardize things. Just, do I know her already?"

Cedric sighed. "Yes, Harry, you do. You've already met the person that you should be together with." When he saw the relief that crossed Harry's face, he had to smile, in spite of the looming prospect of being at Lily’s beck and call.

"But that's not why I came to visit you, Harry. Although it really is fun to discuss people's futures. For instance, I would never have put Parvati with--"

Harry interrupted Cedric, putting his fingers in his ears and yelling, "I'm not listening! I don't want to know! La-di-dah-di-dah!"

Cedric reached over and pulled Harry's hands away from his ears. "Okay!" he yelled. "I won't tell you any more. Just, let me finish my mission, okay?"

Harry cautiously stopped singing and eyed Cedric warily. "Okay, promise? No more future knowledge?"

Cedric grimaced. "Well, see, that's the thing, Harry. I came to tell you a couple of things that you need to know, and some of it really is future knowledge. But, we've discussed it, and we really think these are things that you need to know about now, and accept, or you'll never be able to fulfill the prophecy."

At the mention of the hated prophecy, Harry's face fell and he started to slip back into depression. "Stupid prophecy," he mumbled. "Made Sirius die, and for what? Just so I could get possessed by Voldemort again? I wish I'd never--"

"Don't say that, Harry!" Cedric interrupted. "It was important that things happened the way they did!"

"But, Sirius died! I as good as killed him! How can that be good? He was the only father figure I've ever had!"

"Oh, come on, Harry, you know that's not true!"

Harry looked up at Cedric. "But it is! Uncle Vernon," and his face betrayed the disgust that the portly beast inspired in him, "could never take the place of my father! In fact, I figure I can be a great father by thinking 'what would Uncle Vernon do?' and then doing the exact opposite!"

Cedric couldn't help it; he chuckled aloud at that. "I can just see you with a little bracelet, with WWUVND on it, for 'What Would Uncle Vernon NOT Do?' Harry, if that's the only yardstick you have to decide how to act when you've got your twelve kids, then you'll be a great father!"

Harry's face had gone white. "Twelve kids!!" he squeaked. "Twelve kids?"

Cedric chuckled again. "Just kidding, Harry. Even we don't know how many kids you're going to have." Harry didn't seem to have heard him, as he was still hyperventilating. Cedric sat down beside him on the bed and thumped him soundly on the back. "Breathe, Harry, breathe. In, out, in, out, that's right."

After Harry had finally calmed down, he sat back and stared at his ghostly visitor. "Cedric, why did--wait a minute! Why is it that I can feel you? Sir Nicholas can't touch me; all I feel is a coldness when he tries!" He got a horrified look on his face. "Are you really Cedric? Who are you? Are you here to kill me?" All Harry could think about was that this was some Death Eater, Polyjuiced to look like Cedric. He wished that he were stronger, in case it came down to a fight for his life. He hadn't realized how much he really didn't want to die until the prospect was presented to him in such a straightforward way.

Cedric blinked, then blinked again. "Harry, you have got to be kidding me. Are you hallucinating? First, Polyjuice doesn't work after the person is dead. Secondly, if I were a Death Eater, how would I get inside your house? The blood wards are still effective, you know. And third, if I were a Death Eater, why would I try to make you feel better about my death? But, if you really want me to prove I’m me, I'll tell you that, in the end, in the maze, I told you to take the Cup for yourself, because if you really had been seventeen, you would have been chosen over me in the first place."

Harry thought about this for a bit, then nodded. "Okay, Cedric. It's really you. But then, how can I feel you? Am I dead?"

Cedric grimaced. "Well, Harry, you haven't been taking very good care of yourself. And, while your magic can keep you alive longer than a Muggle can survive, in certain circumstances, you've been really pushing it hard. Now, normally, pushing your magic is a good way to make it stronger, but you've been depending on it to keep you from dying for much longer than you should, and you've come closer to death now than you ever have before. Because you're so close to dying, you can interact more completely with spirits visiting from our realm. But don't be too hard on yourself--it kind of needed to get this bad so that we could visit you."

"What do you mean 'we'? Is there someone else here that I don't know of?"

"No, Harry. What I mean is--well, let me tell you my reason for coming. It has been decided that you are going to have some visitors from the afterlife. Three, to be exact. I was chosen to come and alert you to this fact, so that you could get used to the idea, and not waste too much of their time with the whole apologizing and breast-beating and misery that you tend to engage in. Each of us only has a limited amount of time, and time spent reassuring you about your lack of culpability is time that would be better spent helping you prepare for the future. Understand?"

Harry lay there and thought for a bit. "Yeah, I guess I can see that. Um, can you tell me who is going to visit? Or is it just going to be a surprise?"

"Of course--that would be rather stupid of me--tell you to prepare for visits, without telling you who to prepare for." He shook his head. "Anyway, tomorrow night, Sirius is coming. We all decided that you needed to talk to him first, so you could get some sort of closure in your relationship with him. He's got some good advice to give you, so pay attention--you might want to make sure you have some parchment and a quill handy, as he'll give you some specific directions."

Harry started to tear up, thinking of his dead Godfather, but Cedric continued on, so he shook his head and listened.

"Now, I can tell you who else is going to come, but you have a choice. If I tell you now, it might make it harder for you to pay attention to Sirius. So, you have the option of having Sirius tell you the identity of your next visitor when he's done with his part. Which would you rather it be?"

Harry sat back again, and thought. Cedric patiently gave him the time he needed to reason out the different possibilities and make his own decision. Finally, Harry looked up and said, "If it's that important that I listen carefully to Sirius, then I'd better let him tell me, so I won't be too distracted. Is that okay?"

Cedric nodded. "That's fine, Harry. In fact, I bet that you'd choose that, so at least I'm coming out of this with something." He thought for a bit. "Okay, Harry, I think I've covered everything I need to. Do you have any questions before I go?"

Harry replayed most of their conversation in his head. Doing so, he realized that Cedric had distracted him from something very important. "Cedric, I'm so sorry I got you killed--I shouldn't have made you come with me." He ducked his head in shame at the memory of Voldemort's high, cold voice: "Kill the spare!" and the green flash that signaled the end of Cedric's life.

Cedric shook his head. "Harry, please, look at me. Harry!" Harry looked up, with glistening eyes. "Harry, there was nothing else you could have done. We've looked at all the possible outcomes in that scenario. In every one where I didn't take the cup with you, you end up dead, and I die soon thereafter anyway. Now, I don't say that to make you feel bad--it's not that I had to die to save the Wizarding World. What this really means is that it was my time to die, and by dying at that time, I was able to help save you for what you needed to do."

Harry looked at Cedric with something like hope in his eyes. "Really? You're not just saying that to make me feel better, are you?"

Cedric shook his head. "Nope, I mean it. If you had left me in the maze, then I would have been one of the first ones killed by Barty Crouch Jr. when he was discovered. Most of the possibilities had me dead within thirty minutes. Two of them had me dying a rather more painful death a little later, but in any case, what happened was the best of everything. The Killing Curse is not fun, don't get me wrong, but it's a lot better than the Blood-boiling Curse, which was one of Barty's favorites."

Harry shuddered at the thought. "Well, I can't say I'm glad that you're dead, Cedric, but if it had to happen, I'm glad it wasn't too horrible." He pondered for a bit longer. "Cedric, I'm still not okay with everything, but. . .Thank you for coming and talking to me. I really appreciate it. Um, do you think, maybe, we could talk again some time? I never really got to know you before, and I find that that makes me sad."

This idea seemed to come as quite a surprise to Cedric. His face showed a mixture of startlement and gratification. "Harry, I don't know what to say. Um, I don't know if I can come back, but I'll ask. And I know we didn't really get to know each other really well, but I've. . . well, I've always kind of thought of you as a little brother. So, if you'd like, maybe you can think of me as a big brother? That might give me some leverage with the Powers That Be, and perhaps I'll have a better chance of being able to talk to you again."

Harry was surprised at how much this idea touched him. He'd never had anyone specifically ask to be considered his big brother before. He knew the Weasley boys thought of him as something like a member of the family--well, at least Ron and the Twins did, but here was someone else who liked him well enough to do the same thing. "Cedric, I'd really like that," he answered, and, surprising both of them, forced himself to sit up, then leaned over and hugged the older boy.

Cedric put his arms around Harry and hugged him back, then they both realized what they were doing and let go quickly, clearing their throats and looking around at the room.

"So, um, yeah. . ." Harry said, trying to cover the awkward moment. "Oh, I thought of something else. You said I was wrong when I said that Sirius was the only father figure I'd ever had. Who else were you talking about?"

Cedric, grateful for the change of subject, latched onto the new topic. "Oh, come on, Harry. Can't you think of another father that you know, who's done an excellent job of raising his many children, whom you could go to for anything?"

Harry thought for a bit. No, not Snape, he shuddered at the thought. As far as he knew, Snape didn't have any children, and what a blessing that was! Um, Dumbledore? No, someone with children that I must know. Hermione's father? No, she's an only child.

Cedric was getting slightly frustrated at how obtuse Harry was being. "Um, Harry, you're working too hard, here. Who's come to rescue you from this prison before?"

"Arthur Weasley?" Harry was rather dismayed at how blind he'd been. Of course he was the father figure Cedric was referring to. "You're right, Cedric. He's been perfect, hasn't he?" Harry thought for a bit more. "In fact, he's been more of a father figure than Sirius, hasn't he?" It hurt a bit to admit it, but Sirius was more like a favorite uncle--someone who loved him unconditionally, but occasionally, or, let's face it, more often than not, had been interested more in the trouble they could get into than in helping Harry grow into a responsible young man.

"Fifty points to Gryffindor, Harry! And might I mention, you could do worse than to tell him how you feel? After all, in the future-- Never mind. So, Harry, anything else you want to talk about? I've got about fifteen minutes left."

Harry smiled, finally at ease, and asked, "So, what do you think of our chances in the Quidditch Cup this year? Especially against Hufflepuff. . ." knowing that this would be the perfect topic with which to end the night's visit.

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Chapter 3: Chapter 3

Author's Notes: Part of the Like a Queen and A Princely Sum story arc. Betaed, as always, by the beautiful and talented sassyfrass and rosiekatriona, who help me so greatly.

When Harry awoke the next morning, it was a rather startling experience. First was the idea that he had actually awoke, which meant that he would have had to be asleep at some time previous. Sleep had become a rather rare commodity, so it was worth noting in and of itself. Secondly, he was actually in a good mood. The guilt, depression, and lassitude that had besieged him over the last few weeks seemed to have backed off a little, allowing him to recognize the dangers he was facing in ignoring his physical needs.

This feeling of hope so invigorated him, in comparison to his prior attitude, that he threw back his covers and sprang out of bed. Well, he tried to do that. What he actually succeeded in doing was slightly push back his blanket, throw himself off-balance, and fall to the floor, bruising his right elbow in the process.

"Okay, that didn't work," he said to himself. "Perhaps I'll take it a little slower next time."

Hedwig, roused by the crash, untucked her head from beneath her wing and hooted at Harry.

"Yes, Hedwig, I'm feeling better."

Hedwig hooted again, an obvious question.

"Cedric visited me last night. Didn't you see him?"

The hooting this time had rather an offended note to it.

"Sorry, sorry, I didn't know whether owls could see ghosts like that."

Hedwig ruffled her feathers and turned away.

"Hedwig, don't be like that. You know you're the best owl in the whole world, and I would never think you're incapable of anything--I just hadn't thought about it."

Hedwig cocked her head to one side, then hooted in an admonitory tone.

“I won't, I promise."

Another hoot.

"Yes, I'm going to go take a shower--I know I stink. But I'd like to eat breakfast first, if that's okay."

Hedwig shook out her wings and glided over to the bed, where she nipped at Harry's fingers, gently, then hooted again.

"I know, I was rather sick there for awhile. But I'm better, or at least, I'm headed that way."

Satisfied the snowy owl took flight and landed on the desk, in front of the window. Looking imperiously back at Harry, she gave a sharp bark.

"I'm sorry. Yes, I'll open the window for you. And I won't close it unless you tell me it's okay to do so. Will that be all right?"

Hedwig hooted cheerfully and waited while Harry carefully pulled himself up and over to the desk, where he struggled with the latch a bit, then opened the window as wide as it would go. Hedwig eagerly took off into the beautiful summer day, and Harry took a deep breath of the clean air. He hadn't realized quite how rank his bedroom smelt before this, and on reflection, decided that it was probably a good thing that Aunt Petunia hadn't deigned to come in.

Spying the small breakfast tray in front of the door, Harry laboriously walked over to it, sat down by it, and ate everything that was on it with a rapidity that would have drawn comparisons to Ron by anyone that had had the dubious pleasure of watching the youngest Weasley boy eat. Harry stifled a small chuckle at that, and found himself wondering whether Ginny ever ate that fast.

Shaking his head at the apparently random intrusion of the red-headed girl into his thoughts, he gathered his things and slowly walked, or staggered, down the hall to the loo.

The shower took more out of him than he would have liked, but he felt much better for having been able to wash off the accumulated stink of a week of lying in bed. Back in his room, after being surprised anew at the still-rampant odor, he decided that he needed to make a list of what he felt he needed to accomplish. It would also be a good time to write down what he remembered from Cedric's visit the night before. Thinking of that reminded him that Cedric had indicated that Sirius would be visiting next, and a warm feeling of anticipation entered his heart. With that in mind, he set about trying to organize his life.

The first thing he needed, he decided, was a better diet. The cold scraps that his aunt had been sliding through the door might have been enough to keep Hedwig alive--and Harry took a moment to be very thankful for that, as he didn't know what he'd do if his owl were to die--but they certainly weren't enough for an almost-sixteen-year-old boy. But he wasn't exactly sure how to go about arranging food for himself. He was sure that Mrs. Weasley would be willing to help out, but there were a couple hindrances to his asking her. First, he didn't want to make her have to stretch her food budget any more than it already was. After all, with Ron home from Hogwarts, their costs must have at least tripled. But secondly, and if he were honest this was the real impediment, he didn't think Hedwig, much less Errol, would be able to carry as much food as Mrs. Weasley was likely to send. He had to admit, though, that there was a third reason buried under the others, and this was a desire to become a little more self-sufficient. He had spent far too much of his life reacting to events, he decided, and now was as good a time as any to make a change. This would be his trial run. If he could arrange his food situation all by himself, then that would be proof that he really was growing up, and turning into the man that he wanted to become.

But where could he find decent food? He had the money--the galleons he had left over from school last year would be plenty, he knew, to last until he was released from his Dursley prison, but there were no merchants anywhere near him that would take Wizarding money. Thinking some more, he remembered hearing his Uncle Vernon regaling his aunt of the time when he managed to knock a delivery boy from a Chinese restaurant off his bike. If Muggle restaurants delivered, then why wouldn't Wizarding ones? The old bartender, Tom, at the Leaky Cauldron, would know the answer to this, and perhaps be willing to work with him on setting something up if need be. Making up his mind, he sat down and wrote a note to Tom, explaining that he had need of at least one good meal a day, delivered inconspicuously to his bedroom, for which he was willing to pay a fair price. Finishing that, he set it aside to wait until Hedwig returned from her first real taste of freedom that summer.

Finding that in his current, rather weak, state, his exertions had tired him out, he lay down for a quick nap.


Five hours later, Hedwig awoke him. From her agitated state, he surmised that she had been trying to wake him up for quite some time. He sat up, rubbing his ear where she had nipped it rather sharply.

"I'm sorry, Hedwig, I was just so tired."

"Hoot!" was her response.

"I know--you were worried. But, I swear, I'm feeling a lot better."

Hedwig then hooted quite a few times, explaining something to Harry at great length.

"Yes, Hedwig, I know. But, I promise, I'm not going to leave you. I don't want to die anymore. Cedric's visit really helped me see that I had a lot to live for."

The hooting from the owl this time carried an almost injured tone.

"I didn't mean that, Hedwig. Of course I have you--you've always been there for me, and, truthfully, you were one of the main reasons I never went through with my plans last summer when I had the knife."

Hedwig clicked her beak loudly at Harry, and her eyes took on an almost McGonagall-like sternness.

"I know--I promise I'll never do that again."

Mollified, Hedwig hooted softly, jumped up onto his shoulder, and started arranging his hair to her liking.

Harry reached up and gently stroked the soft chest feathers of his best friend. "Thank you, Hedwig, you're the best."

Eventually, when Hedwig had either arranged Harry's hair to the utmost perfection, or, more likely, given up for the time being, Harry reached over and picked up the letter he'd written. "Hedwig? I've written to Tom, you know, the barkeep at the Leaky Cauldron? I've asked if we can set up some type of arrangement where he can send us food every day. Perhaps he has some house-elves, or maybe they're called bar-elves. . . Well, anyway, maybe he can send the food with an elf."

Hedwig snapped her head around, gave Harry her Stern Look, and hooted once, rather imperiously.

"Yes, Hedwig, you're very strong, and you could carry it all by yourself, but I need you here with me so I can send other letters, to my friends. You know, Ginny, and, um. . ." His voice trailed off as his mind recognized the fact that, in listing his friends, Ginny's name had popped out, first, foremost, and almost exclusively. "Now, why would she come up right now?" he pondered. It was unfortunate that he hadn't been watching Hedwig right then, as the owl's eyes warmed from sternness at being slighted, to a soft, motherly glow at the mention of the youngest Weasley. By the time Harry came out of his pondering, Hedwig had hopped away and gone to her cage for a drink of water, apparently satisfied with Harry's plans for her that summer.

"So, Hedwig, would you be willing to take this to Tom? Please?" Harry asked. There were times when he was rather thankful to be alone--when he talked at any great length with his owl was a prime example. And Merlin forbid anyone see him having to beg forgiveness from her for having the temerity to suggest that there was anything she couldn't carry!

Hedwig fluttered back over to her human, took the letter, and flew off through the window, winging her way towards London, a visual indicator of Harry’s taking a step along the way towards his virtual emancipation.


Harry sat back on the bed, thoroughly satiated for what was probably the first time ever at Privet Drive. Tom, the barkeep, had come through in style. At precisely 6:30 in the evening, a house-elf had apparated straight into Harry's bedroom, laden down with a miniature picnic basket.

"Hello, Master Harry Potter, sir. I is Scruffy. I is working at the Leaky for Master Tom, sir, and he is sending your dinner now, Master Harry Potter, sir. Where is you wanting to be eating, sir?"

Harry had to stifle a chuckle at the unfortunate name of the poor house-elf, but recovered quickly and motioned to the desk. "Just put it there, Scruffy. And please, just call me Harry."

Scruffy looked scandalized. "Oh no, Master Harry Potter, sir. I is not to be calling you Harry, sir. You is a client of the Leaky, and I is to be treating you in a professional manner. We is being taught that in pub school, sir, and I is not wanting Mistress Barmy to be disappointed in Scruffy's manners, sir."

Harry made to respond, but the diminutive house-elf had continued on.

"Oh no, Master Harry Potter, sir, the desk is not a good place for having dinner, sir. It is much too plain and broken and common for someone as wonderful as you, sir." While he was talking, he had been waving his hands in an intricate manner, finishing with a snap of his fingers, and a beautiful table appeared, spread with a pure white linen tablecloth, fine china, and silver flatware. The goblet had a gold rim, and there was an elaborate candlestick giving a soft, wavering light over the table. Scruffy immediately set about enlarging the basket, taking out a myriad of dishes which emitted some of the most delectable aromas Harry had ever smelt in his bedroom. Which, unsurprisingly, wasn't really that hard of a feat.

When Scruffy had finished, he turned to Harry again. "Master Harry Potter, sir. When you is being done with your dinner, you is to be pushing this knot on the side of the basket, and everything will be cleaned up for Master Harry Potter, sir, so you is not having to worry about anything."

"Scruffy, that's fabulous. But, I don't think I'll be able to eat everything you've brought. This is more than I usually eat in a week!" Harry protested.

"I is being able to see that Master Harry Potter, sir, is not being very healthy. Master Harry Potter, sir, must be eating more and more healthy food, or Master Harry Potter will be weighing less than Scruffy. When Master Harry Potter, sir, has done his best to eat as much as he can, then Master Harry Potter, sir, must press the knot. Master Harry Potter, sir's, basket will store the food inside it, and it can be eaten at any time. Tomorrow night I is coming to bring another dinner, and to be taking away whatever Master Harry Potter, sir, is not being eating." The look that Scruffy gave Harry made it abundantly clear that he would be rather disappointed if a significant portion of the food hadn't been eaten by that time.

Harry decided that discretion was the better part of valor, in this case, and merely nodded. But then he thought of a potential problem. "Scruffy, I'm afraid that this wonderful food, which smells incredible by the way, will attract my Uncle and Aunt in here to see what I've got. And if my cousin smells it, he'll be in here wanting to eat it all for himself. Is there any way that you could, perhaps, place a spell on my room that will make it so they can't detect anything out of the ordinary?"

Scruffy's face split into what had to be a wide smile as he said, "Certainly, Master Harry Potter, sir. I is very good at doing spells like that." And with that, he snapped his fingers again, and Harry felt a small shift in the magic in the room.

"Is there being anything else that Master Harry Potter, sir, is needing?"

"No, Scruffy, you've been wonderful. But, um, I'm not familiar with pub elf protocol. Do I need to tip you?"

Scruffy's face took on a rather puzzled expression. "No, Master Harry Potter, sir, you is not needing to push me over. If Master Harry Potter, sir, wants Scruffy to fall over, all Master Harry Potter, sir, is needing to do is ask."

Taken aback, Harry hastened to clarify his question. "No, Scruffy, in the Muggle world, when someone goes to a restaurant, it is customary to give the waiter a little bit of money all for themselves. I didn't know if I needed to give you a little bit too."

Scruffy looked aghast. "No, Master Harry Potter, sir! Scruffy is not wanting to receive anything extra from Master Harry Potter, sir. I is being very happy with my job, and it is my pleasure to serve the great and noble Master Harry Potter, sir. I is not needing anything else!"

Harry grinned wryly. "Scruffy, are you friends with Dobby, by any chance?"

House-elves, as a rule, are not built to look anything other than honest and subservient. So, the shifty look that Scruffy adopted was quite out-of-place. "Scruffy does not know what Master Harry Potter, sir, is meaning, but I is needing to be going now. If Master Harry Potter, sir, needs anything else, then Master Harry Potter, sir, need only press this hinge two times." And with a muted pop, the pub elf had left.

Harry shook his head and turned his thoughts to what Cedric had told him the previous night. Assuming he hadn't been taking the mickey, Sirius was going to be visiting him some time soon. Harry didn't know how to feel about that. Thoughts of Sirius brought up such a massively muddled mess of feelings that he decided that it would be better to just wait until Sirius arrived to figure out how to handle things.


The food really had been wonderful as the smells had promised and Harry wiped his lips with the linen napkin, and let loose with a tremendous belch. After pressing the knot, as directed, he put himself to thinking about what he wanted to do next.

Deciding that he'd probably have to fall asleep to allow Sirius to arrive, Harry forced himself to lie down on his less-than-comfortable bed, and closed his eyes. Then he turned on his left side. His arm itched, so he scratched it. He turned onto his right side. The covers were a little too warm, so he stuck one of his legs out. His other arm itched, in the same place, so he took care of that. Hedwig raised her head and gave him a baleful glare for disturbing her, and decided that it might be a good time to go for a flight.

One of the small muscles above Harry's right eye went into spasms, which served to distract him for 34 seconds.

Harry sat up. This was ridiculous. Obviously, he wasn't going to be able to fall asleep. Maybe he should write a letter to one of his friends. Sitting down at his desk--he could have chosen to sit, instead, at the table that Scruffy had conjured, but wasn't really sure how long it would last, now that it had served its purpose--he took out parchment and a quill. Who should he write to? Well, it wasn't like he had that many friends. In fact, he really only counted Ginny, Ron, and Hermione, with Neville and Luna moving towards that status. Harry didn't pay any attention to the fact that Ginny's name came first to his mind, but when he noticed that he had started his first letter Dear Ginny, it startled him enough that he sat back and put himself to thinking on the phenomenon that was Ginny Weasley.

Harry had always figured that with two best friends, Ron and Hermione, he was content. After all, with his history, to even consider the prospect of having one best friend was rather astonishing. And to have two! Wealth beyond imagining! And so he had been happy in his relationships. There were even quite a few other students at Hogwarts who would, when The Daily Prophet wasn't dragging his name through the mud (or casting him as the villain in a melodrama), greet him in the halls. So, he had never really gone looking for anything more, until he started noticing girls as girls. Cho Chang had been the first to really clue him in to the differences between "those students who slept in the girls' dormitory" and "girls as objects of attraction". Harry took a moment to shudder a bit in the recollection of the one disastrous date they had gone on. Due to Cedric's visit last night, he no longer felt horribly guilty about how he had treated her, but it still wasn't a relationship that he'd look back on with a great deal of fondness. That fiasco had been enough to make him rather gun-shy of further boy/girl relationships. And then, at the end of the year, when Dumbledore had revealed to him that he was going to either kill, or die by the hand of, Voldemort, any thoughts of getting a girlfriend, or looking at a future that would include a wife, had gone completely out of his head.

In fact, would it even be fair of him to involve a girl in his life? It was patently obvious that it was not very safe to be around him--look at all the injuries his friends had sustained over the years! And Cedric and Sirius had both been killed due to their relationships with Harry. Harry thought quite a bit on this point; perhaps it wouldn't be a good thing to go looking for female companionship. Hermione didn't really count. After all, she was his best friend first, and a female second, so Harry felt safe in not including her in his internal debate. Reluctantly, he decided that he was probably better off not worrying about dating until after the final confrontation was over, when he would actually be free to pursue something besides killing Voldemort. He chuckled wryly. Of course, he could also be dead, in which case the point was moot.

But, there was one glaring fly in the ointment. Ginny Weasley had insinuated herself into his life, and he didn't know how to deal with her presence. She wasn't a best friend in the same category as Ron and Hermione--she had spent most of the previous years squeaking and running away from him. And, truth be told, he had developed the habit of pretending she wasn't around. In all honesty, it wasn't because he didn't like her, or feel she wasn’t important--it was a conscious effort to allow her to stop being so shy in his presence. If he didn't talk to her, sometimes she had been able to stay in the same room as him for large periods of time. But it had become habit, and Harry found himself saddened by that thought. This last year she had suddenly stepped forward. It was as if he had been seeing the world in grey, and all of a sudden, Ginny Weasley had come on stage wearing a brilliant red dress. Or, he reflected, a brilliant red jumper and jeans, as he could only count one time he’d ever seen her in a dress. And just like that, she had become part of his life. Yanking him out of his depression over the last Christmas break, risking Madame Pince's wrath by sharing a chocolate egg in the library, helping him talk to Sirius through Umbridge's Floo connection, and then, the final demonstration of her spirit, defying him outright by coming with them to the Department of Mysteries, and, he now realized, acquitting herself better than most in the ensuing battle.

Harry didn't have much experience with girls, he was the first to admit it, but he knew that he needed to decide what to do about her. Throughout the past couple of days her name, her face, and thoughts of her had been coming up with a rather surprising regularity, capped by the unconscious decision to write to her first. It was at this point that a small little voice spoke up in the back of his brain.

"Harry, she'd make a thumpin' good girlfriend."

Harry froze in surprise--he'd never really thought of the red-haired girl in that way before; she'd been just Ginny for so long, that he hadn't ever thought of her as a girl. Now that the idea had presented itself, though, he couldn't seem to get it out of his head. In fact, it seemed to gain importance, and take up more and more of his concentration. But then another voice in his brain spoke up, this one darker and more sinister.

"Everyone who gets near you dies. I'm sure Voldemort would be overjoyed to know you have a girlfriend, especially a blood-traitor."

Harry's happy Ginny thoughts instantly evaporated. That was right! He couldn't start anything with Ginny--in fact, she'd be much better off if he pushed her away and broke off the friendship that they'd been developing.

Harry's depression returned full-force. For a moment, one glorious, fleeting moment, he had allowed himself to contemplate a relationship with the beautiful (he could admit that now) fiery girl. But the realization that to get closer to her would likely doom her to an early, painful death was too much. Blackness seemed to encroach on his vision, as he sank deep into his own mind, until unconsciousness overtook him, and he knew no more.


Somewhere in the haze that had invaded his brain, there was a voice calling for him. It seemed. . . familiar, somehow. But the rational part of his brain, which was really just waking up itself, argued that it couldn't possibly be the voice he thought it was, because Sirius had died.

"Harry. . . Oh Harry. . ." the voice came again, wavering and fading in and out.

The spooky voice seemed to be getting closer. Or perhaps, louder. Harry devoutly hoped that the rest of his brain woke up soon--a small part, in the back, was insisting that it really was Sirius, and that it was okay, because someone had warned him that Sirius would be visiting soon.

"Harry. . . Wooooooooh. . . Why are you sleeping on your desk?" A bark of laughter accompanied the question; a sound rather like what a dog would produce if it knew how to laugh.

Harry jerked upright, and immediately regretted such a precipitous movement, as his stiff back muscles exploded with pain. But there was no mistaking that laugh. He had last heard it in the middle of the battle near the Death Arch, just before Bellatrix had cast the spell that had knocked Sirius through the veil and into the afterlife. Forcing himself to concentrate, in spite of the pain, he looked around for the source of the voice. Over on his bed, sitting there with what looked like a smile on his face, was the very fuzzy image of Sirius Black.

"Sirius?" Harry asked, cautious and hopeful in equal measure. "Is that. . . Is it really you?"

A fuzzy hand reached towards him, holding his glasses. Harry took them, put them on, and found himself staring at the face of his dead godfather.

For a moment, Harry just sat there, staring, not quite sure whether to believe his eyes. But then he threw himself into Sirius's arms, and broke down into tears.

"Sirius! I'm so sorry! If I'd only listened to Hermione, or tried harder to learn Occlumency! Please forgive me, I didn't mean for you to die."

Sirius wrapped his arms tighter around the distraught teen, pulled him into his lap (with some difficulty--even with all the trials Harry had been going through, he was still a growing boy), and rocked him back and forth.

They sat there for quite awhile, as Harry cried out all the pain he'd been feeling ever since that fateful fight in the Department of Mysteries. Sirius, for his part, found himself in the unaccustomed role of comforter and care-giver. He wasn't exactly sure what to do, so he just patted Harry when possible, and murmured nonsensical words of comfort; "There, there" was the most common.

Eventually Harry moved back a bit, and Sirius let him sit up by himself.

"I'm so sorry, Sirius--" he began, but Sirius didn't let him finish.

"Codswallop, Harry, there's nothing to be sorry for."

"But, it's my fault you died! If I hadn't believed the dream about you being tortured, then--"

Sirius interrupted again. "Then Mr. Weasley would be dead. Is that what you'd prefer?"

"What? That. . . It's not even the same thing!"

"Listen, Harry. Let's look at things rationally, okay? First, you dreamed about Mr. Weasley being attacked by the snake. Was that a true dream?"

"Well, yes."

"And if you hadn't believed it, what would have happened?"

"He probably would have died."

"Right," Sirius continued. "What would have happened to the Weasleys if Arthur had died? Think about that for a bit."

Harry sat back, surprised. He knew the Weasleys didn't have a lot of money; what they had was solely from Mr. Weasley's job at the Ministry. If they didn't have that income, how would they be able to buy what they needed? He had a sudden vision of Ron wearing robes with big, gaping holes in them, working in Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor, after having dropped out of Hogwarts, to try to support the family. Next came the image of Percy, who would still have his low-level assistant job at the Ministry, but whether he'd feel enough familial loyalty to help out was a big question. Perhaps the twins' joke shop would bring in enough that they could support the family, but that hadn't really gotten off the ground yet, and Harry knew they were still depending heavily on Molly's cooking so they could eat well. Bill and Charlie, happily working in foreign countries, would probably have to come home and help out. But then, with a rather sharper pain in his heart, he thought of Ginny, having to take a job in Madame Malkin's to get by, and never being able to play Quidditch again. The image of her flying around the pitch, swooping in and out of the defenders, and making another score came to mind, and the pain in his heart got even more acute at the image of her never flying again like that.

Harry sniffled a bit at his sad thoughts, and looked up at Sirius. "I. . . That. . . that would be horrible! They'd be so much worse off. They'd all have to get jobs, quit school!"

Sirius smiled a bit, and said, "Not only that, what if they lost their house? Where would they live? Maybe Ginny would have to get a job as a maid for the Malfoys. . "

"No!" Harry yelled. "I'd never let that happen to the girl that I. . ." He stopped, rather surprised at the thought that had suddenly presented itself to his brain.

"The girl that you, what?" Sirius asked, mischievously.

"Nothing," Harry mumbled. "I'm glad I could save Mr. Weasley. They couldn't do very well without him, could they?"

"No, Harry. They would have been devastated if he had died. So, that experience taught you what about your visions?"

Harry grudgingly answered, "That they were real."

"100 points to Gryffindor, Harry. That's right! Every experience you'd ever had with visions like that had led you to believe they were real."

"That's not really true, though, Sirius. I kept having visions of the hallway leading to the Hall of Prophecies--they weren't true."

"Yes, Harry, that's right. But they didn't really fall into the same category as your visions, did they? They were dream-like, and really didn't have any information that you could act on. But, and here's the key, when you saw a vision of me being tortured, there really was something you could do about it. So, you'd been conditioned to act on the visions in whatever way you could, right?"

"Well, yes, but--"

"I know, you're going to say that there were other ways you could have checked to see if it were a true vision, right?"

Harry just nodded his head.

"Okay, well, let's talk about that. First, you risked yourself, and Ginny, too. . ." Sirius slyly added, taking careful note of Harry’s blush. He continued, "You used Umbridge's fire to floo-call Grimmauld Place, right?"

Harry nodded again.

"And Kreacher told you that I wasn't there, right?"

"Yes, but I should have known he would lie to me--the filthy elf!"

"Harry, why would you ever think that a house-elf would lie to you? You'd never had one do so before, right? And you know that elves can't disobey their masters. So you'd been taught that house-elves were trustworthy, hadn't you? Or at least, had to be completely honest, right?"

Harry thought about that. It was true that it had never crossed his mind to disbelieve anything a house-elf told him. Even Dobby, when he was trying so hard to help Harry by hurting him, had never lied to him. Slowly, he started to nod again. "Yeah, you're right, I never thought he would have lied to me."

Sirius nodded again. "Right, so, after finding out from Kreacher that I was supposedly not there, what else did you do to try to take care of things?"

Harry shuddered. "I told Snape that you were being held there."

"And what kind of response did you get from him?"

"Nothing. He just said he didn't know what I was talking about and stalked out."

"And has Snape ever given you a reason to trust him with something important?" At Harry's head shake, Sirius continued, "and you certainly had no reason to believe he'd start then, when the situation dealt with one of his least-favorite people, right?"

Harry agreed with the line of reasoning that Sirius was presenting, but couldn't quite keep from feeling guilty nonetheless. "But, the mirror! I should have called you on the mirror!" The part of his brain that wanted him to wallow in his guilt was rather pleased that it was able to come up with that little tidbit.

"Ah, yes, the mirrors. And, of course, you and I are so used to using the mirrors. I mean, we spent practically every night chatting until rather late, right? And you called me any time you had a minute free, and we discussed politics, and the Irish National Quidditch League, and which of the Harpies is sexiest, right?"

Harry had been shaking his head the whole time. "No, of course not. I don't think we ever used them." Then, in a much lower voice, he said, "and I don't think the Harpies are that sexy."

Sirius suppressed a smirk at this last comment, but went on. "Of course not, Harry, we hadn't been using them. So, why in the world would you expect yourself to remember all-of-a-sudden, 'Oh yeah, this weird mirror that my crazy godfather gave me--I should pull it out and use it to contact him!' Be realistic, Harry, you did everything you could to figure out what was going on. And then, when you had done that, you made a plan, got back-up, and did what you could to solve the problem, right?"

Harry grudgingly agreed with that. But then he said, "We could have died! Sirius, we were so underprepared, and almost everyone got hurt, and Ginny broke her ankle, and it was a fiasco!"

Sirius reached out and laid a hand on Harry's arm. "Yes, Harry, it was not a good situation." Harry snorted at the massive understatement. "But, listen, there's something you have to understand. Sometimes we aren't given a good situation. Sometimes we just have to take the crappy hand that's dealt, and play it out the best way possible. Yes, I got thrown through the arch. Yes, most of you kids got hurt. Even some of the Order got hurt. But the only one that died was me. And, Harry, let me tell you a secret."

Harry looked up at him questioningly.

"It's not bad, being dead. Don't get me wrong!" he rushed to explain, before Harry jumped to conclusions. "I'm incredibly sad that I didn't get any more time with you. But, when it comes right down to it, you're really the only reason I was sticking around.” He paused. “Well, and Remus too, but he didn’t really need me like you did. And besides, James and Lily were waiting for me, and it has been wonderful to be with them again. You know I hated being stuck in that horrible old house--now I have freedom, and peace. And, I don't think you know it, but those hellish thirteen years in Azkaban didn't do me any good. My body had some serious problems. Oh, I hid them well enough, but I hurt most of the time, and Madame Pomfrey, after a rather thorough examination last year, told me that I probably only had five to seven more years before I would have died anyway."

Tears came to Harry's eyes. "But, wasn't there anything that could be done about it? Couldn't Dumbledore do some magic, or Fawkes heal you, or something?"

"Harry, there's no cure for the Dementor's Kiss, Moony taught you that, right? Well, spending so much time in Azkaban is kind of like a prolonged Kiss--every day leeches away another tiny bit of your soul. Thirteen years of losing little bits of my soul is not something I could have gotten over. That's part of the reason that the Death Eaters who spent so much time in Azkaban are a little bit cracked, you know? They are lacking parts of their soul--and the parts that go first are the light parts. So, in someone who doesn't have a whole lot of light left in them, like my darling cousin Bellatrix, the craziness really comes to the front."

"So, you would have died anyway? But, but, we could have at least had some time together!" Harry cried.

"Yes, we could have. But, Harry, if you take everything into account, things are actually much better this way than they would have been. Cedric told you that we can view alternate outcomes to major events, right?"

Once again, Harry just nodded.

"Good. Well, in the fight in the Arch Room, one of the good guys had to die. And I don't mean just anyone, I mean someone close to you. Who would you choose? Moony? Dumbledore? Arthur again? They've all got rather important parts to play in the upcoming year, not to mention that poor Tonks' heart would have been destroyed at losing Moony. I was the most expendable of them all. I'm sorry that I don't get to be down there taking care of you--like I said, that's my major regret. But even that's not necessarily a bad thing. If I were still around, then there are certain things that wouldn't happen in your life that will be very beneficial in the fight."

Curiosity consumed Harry. "Like what? What couldn't have happened if you were still around?"

Sirius grinned. "I thought you didn't want to know whom you should marry?"

"What? Your being here would interfere with my romantic life? What would you have done?" Harry was rather exasperated with the grinning Marauder; his brain started coming up with all sorts of pranks that someone could have played on his girlfriend--stinksap in her red hair being the one that stood out to him, for some reason.

"Oh, let's just say that my influence over you wouldn't have been very appreciated by the young lady's parents, shall we?"

Harry nodded, remembering how famously Sirius and Mrs. Weasley hadn't gotten along--as just an example of a random mother who didn't approve of Sirius, of course, not for any other reason.

"Wait, what was that about Tonks?" Harry asked.

"You mean, you don't know? Oh, what to do? What to do? Should I keep this a secret?" Harry knew that Sirius wasn't really being too serious about this. "Okay, I'll let you in--she and Moony have been performing the always-entertaining dance of flirtation. I expect them to finally get together in about three years, unless, maybe, you could give them a push?" Sirius had a rather hopeful grin on his face at the end of this last sentence.

"Um, well, you know how good I am at romance, but I'll see what I can do."

They both sat in silence for a bit, to allow the heaviness in the room to abate somewhat.

Harry stirred first, and looked at Sirius. "So, Cedric said you were going to have some specific instructions for me, and that I should write them down. What is it that you were really sent here to teach me? It couldn't have just been about whether or not you had to die."

"You'd be surprised, Harry. That was a major part of it--you need to be able to let go of the guilt you've been carrying, and move forward. Yes, you've got a sucky job to do, and it's not going to be easy. But it'll be infinitely harder if you're carrying around all this emotionally-damaging baggage because of the deaths that Voldemort has caused around you. But, you're right, there are a few things I'm supposed to teach you. Are you ready? Or do you need a break first?"

Harry thought a bit, and realized that it really would be a good thing to take a quick trip to the loo. He excused himself, and slipped down the hall.

Back to index

Chapter 4: Chapter 4

Refreshed, and much more comfortable, Harry returned to his room to find Sirius in deep conversation with thin air.

“But, I told him that!” Sirius exclaimed, a frustrated look on his face. A moment later, a look of chagrin came over him. “Oh, yeah, I remember.” Pause. “No, I won't forget again.” Pause. “No, you don't have to–Ow!” he yelled, and ducked. It was about that time that he noticed Harry's return.

“Oh, there you are! Back so soon?”

Harry blushed a bit. He was definitely not used to anyone taking any sort of interest in any of his comings and goings while in residence at the Dursleys'.

“Yeah. Um, who were you talking to?”

“Harry, didn't you learn any grammar? What did they teach you in primary school, anyway? The correct word is 'whom', not 'who'. Honestly, 'whom' is an object.” He paused. “Direct object? No. Well, maybe. We’ll call it an object. 'Who' is a . . . well, I'm not really sure, but it's not . . . the same. . . kind. . . of object, and you can't use it in the same situations as 'whom'. Now, say it right!” If Harry had taken the time to notice, he would have seen the shiftiness in Sirius' eyes, as the older dead man tried very hard to distract Harry from the conversation he'd walked in on.

“Okay. Whom were you talking to?”

“Harry, Harry, Harry,” Sirius said, unknowingly throwing Harry's mind back to the thoroughly unpleasant experiences he'd had with the absolutely useless Professor Lockhart in his second year. Not coincidentally, he remembered also the battle he'd fought in the Chamber of Secrets, to save Ginny's life. A rush of some kind of warmth spread through him at the memory of having saved her. Thinking about her, he decided that he should really offer to talk to her about her experiences being possessed by Riddle. He felt really ashamed at having forgotten about her possession, and maybe this year he could try to make amends for having ignored her for the larger part of three years after having saved her. His mind started envisioning possibilities for talking to her, perhaps they could visit the Room of Requirement, and have a nice, peaceful place to chat. Or, and this idea sparked something deep within him that he wasn't prepared to investigate fully, he could take her to Hogsmeade!

During the whole time that Harry's mind had been wandering down strange paths, Sirius had been, at first, trying to get his attention, then, seeing it was futile, continuing his argument with the unseen voice, hoping to conclude it before Harry came back from wherever he had gotten to.

'But what about Dean?' Harry's traitorous mind interjected. 'She said she had chosen Dean. What do you think she meant by that?' And with that, Harry's spirit, which had been soaring high above the room on wings of speculation, flew too close to the sun, melted the aforementioned wings, and crashed to earth in a paroxysm of despair.

Sirius, having concluded the argument, noticed the crestfallen look on his godson's face, and moved over next to him. “What's wrong, Harry?” He thought desperately about their conversation, trying to pick up the dropped threads. “Did something happen in the bathroom? I'm sorry if I bothered you, I was just teasing.”

Harry forgot about the grammar lesson, and the one-sided argument he had walked in on, and looked up at Sirius. “Nothing, Sirius, I just realized that Gi–this girl that I was thinking about probably already has a boyfriend. I was thinking maybe I'd ask her to Hogsmeade this year, but I guess that's out of the question now.”

Sirius smiled. This wasn't so bad. He knew what was in store for Harry the next night, and figured that if it didn't help him in precisely this situation, then nothing would.

“Well, Harry, I don't really know what to tell you. I'm not the best example when it comes to advice about your love life–I messed up the only relationship I ever really cared about, and the only lesson I can tell you about it is that you should never, ever, no matter what the supposed reason, lie to the one you love.” Sirius' face fell at the memory of his lost girlfriend, and Harry was tempted to ask for more details. But Sirius looked up again and continued. “But, Harry, your next visitor is supposed to talk to you about love and all that stuff. He'll come tomorrow night, and you could really learn a lot from him. So, cheer up, and hopefully James will--”

“James? You mean my dad is coming tomorrow night? Please tell me you're not kidding again. Please–is he really visiting?” Harry was ecstatic at the idea that he'd finally be able to meet his father. It would be a dream come true.

“Oh, Merlin! I wasn't supposed to tell you yet. Okay, um, you have to promise to pay attention to the rest of what I have to tell you, okay? Yes, your dad is coming to visit tomorrow, and he has a lot of fun stuff to teach you. But I have some stuff I have to tell you too, so, can you concentrate?”

Harry tried, he really did, to let go of the smile that seemed to have taken up permanent residence on his face, but no matter what, he couldn't. He settled for nodding, and saying, “I promise, Sirius. I'll pay attention. See? I've even got a pen and paper. Oh, I hope that's okay. I find them much more usable than parchment and quill, and if Uncle Vernon ever looks in here, he won't be as upset to see them.”

“That's fine, Harry. It doesn't matter, as long as you can write things down. Okay, let's get started.

“Now, the first thing you need to do is get some new clothes. I know that you don't really pay attention to what you're wearing, but you've been wearing those tents that Dudley's grown out of for way too long. I'd been planning on taking you into Muggle London to do some shopping–after all, your trust vault has more than enough money to allow you to get a pretty decent wardrobe–but we never seemed to have the time to do that, did we?”

Harry thought about this. It was true that he hadn't really thought about the clothes he wore, but he couldn't help, now that it had been brought to his attention, comparing his apparel with that of even Ron, or Dean (curse his name). “Okay, Sirius, I can see why it might be nice to have some clothes that fit better, but why did you come back from the dead to tell me this? How is it in any way important to what I have to do?”

Sirius smiled. “You'd be surprised, Harry. The way a man dresses has a lot to do with how he conducts himself. You may not realize it, since you haven't known any different, but your clothing affects your self-image. You have been raised to believe you're worthless. Do you still believe that?” Sirius genuinely wanted to know the answer to this, as it would give him a rather good gauge of Harry's psychological state.

“No,” Harry responded, after thinking for a moment. “I have some good friends, and they must like me for some reason, even if it's only because of my fame. So, I'm probably worth at least a little bit.”

Sirius sighed. He was grateful that he didn't have to completely rebuild Harry's self-esteem, but there was still a long way to go. “Well, whatever the Dursleys might have said, you are a wonderful young man–you are talented, brave, honest, and trustworthy. You are worth more than any ten Grunnings employees any day of the week, and about 72 Malfoys.” As he'd been hoping, this drew a laugh from Harry.

“So, what you need to do tomorrow is send Hedwig to Madame Malkins and ask for her Muggle clothing catalog. That will give you some idea as to what she can provide for you, until you have the opportunity to take someone shopping with you.”

“Why do I need to have someone go shopping with me?”

Sirius grinned. “Well, Harry, it's a well-known fact that the female of the species always has better dress sense than the male. So, when you're ready to go replace your whole wardrobe, take a girl along. Surely you know some young lady that would be willing to accompany you? Maybe Hermione?” Seeing the contemplative look on Harry face, Sirius decided to drop a little hint. “Or perhaps Ginny could go?”

Harry blushed scarlet at the idea of Ginny shopping for clothing with him. Maybe she'd help him see if things fit right–he abandoned that line of thought immediately. After all, she was just a friend, right? He really had no right to go thinking such things about someone who most likely had someone else she really cared about already.

“Yeah, um, maybe Hermione could go with me.” Even Harry could hear the lack of excitement in his voice as he said this.

“Well, whoever you choose, just make sure it's a girl, and that she's willing to let you spend some money on her too as a thank-you.

“Anyway, ask Madame Malkin to send a measuring tape too, so you can order the right size of things. Make sure you get enough to last you until the first Hogsmeade weekend, okay? Then you can go shopping with your girl,” Harry blushed, “and get whatever else you need. Trust me on this–wearing nice clothes makes you feel better about yourself, no matter what else is going on in your life.”

“So, the first thing to write down is to get better clothes, right?”

“Right,” Sirius responded. “And get started on that tomorrow.”

Harry scribbled away on his paper, then looked up at Sirius. “Okay, what's next?”

“All right. The next one is kind of a future thing to think about, okay? Cedric mentioned that you talked a little about my role as a father figure in your life. Is that true?” Sirius knew it was true, but needed to get Harry thinking about it.

“Yeah, we did. Let’s see, we were starting to talk about it, and then we got sidetracked into a discussion of Uncle Vernon's being a bad example.”

The grimace on Sirius’ face showed his complete agreement with that.

“And we decided that Arthur Weasley was a great father.”

Sirius chuckled. “That’s right, Harry. Now, you have a couple of other people in your life that would make good examples for you also. In fact, there is at least one, and perhaps two, besides Arthur, that would even make better fathers for you than I would have. Let's face it–I was never the fatherly type. I would have loved to have raised you as my own, and hopefully I wouldn't have screwed you up too badly. But I have always been much more of a rake. Well, not always I guess, but after I lost Rebecca, I didn't really see the need to settle down.” Sirius seemed to lose himself in his thoughts for a bit, then shook his head and refocused. “Anyway, I would have been a much better favorite uncle for you–someone to teach you pranking, and the best parts of dating, and where to take a girl to be alone for awhile. But teaching you responsibility, and maturity–I've not proven to be really good at that.”

Loyalty and honesty warred inside Harry. He really wanted to reassure Sirius that he would have been a great father, but judging from all the stories of the Marauders, and having seen Sirius' life himself for those few brief years, he found himself having to agree with the sentiment. “But, you would have been the best favorite uncle!”

Sirius laughed delightedly. “Thanks, Harry, that means a lot to me. Maybe you can see your way clear to, occasionally, mind you, pull a few pranks in my name this next year?”

Harry agreed rapidly. He hadn't really been too interested in pranks before, but this seemed like a good way to remember Sirius, and honor that memory. He just wished Fred and George were still at school–they could have helped him out. That little voice in the back of his head spoke up again. 'I bet Ginny knows how to prank really well. . .'

Sirius looked questioningly at Harry's blush, which seemed to have appeared for no reason, but Harry refused to elaborate.

“So, um, who are these other fathers?” Harry asked, in an effort to avoid more questioning.

“Well, you’ve already been told about Arthur, but I wanted to really emphasize him. I mean, what other family can you think of that is as incredibly loving, very well-run, well-disciplined, yet fun-loving?”

Harry thought about that for a moment, and Sirius continued.

“And no other family has more of what's important than anyone else that you know, right? Something the Malfoys, for example, will never understand. I mean, the Weasleys have their struggles, but they’re still able to provide a loving home for a skinny, black-haired boy every summer, and make him feel a complete part of it.” Sirius wasn’t sure he needed to talk up the Weasleys more than he already had, but figured that the more he pushed Arthur as a father figure, the more Harry would think about being a part of that family.

Harry sat back, thinking again about his best mate’s family. Yes, they were poor, no doubt about that, but they had so much love that they were able to spare some for him. They took him in as much as possible, and treated him as one of their own. They sent him Christmas presents–Weasley sweaters that warmed him more than mere wool ever could. It was true that Arthur wasn't the highest-paid department head in the Ministry, but he was happy with what he did, and made sure that his family had what they needed. Harry had the feeling, deep inside him, that if he ever had a serious problem, he could take it to the Weasley patriarch, and receive honest, intelligent counsel.

Sirius continued. “Arthur Weasley is one of the best men I know. I can't think of anyone better you could model your life after. I know he already thinks of you as one of his own. I think he'd be delighted to have you actually tell him what you think about him.”

“So, what's my assignment for this? Just, I don’t know, think of Mr. Weasley every so often?”

“No, Harry, your assignment is to sit down with Arthur, one on one, and tell him how you're really doing, and ask for his advice.” Seeing Harry about to protest, he rushed to forestall the outburst. “I don't mean you have to tell him the Prophecy if you don't want to, although you could do a lot worse than to share that with him. I just mean to tell him your worries, and your thoughts, and ask for some guidance. You'll be surprised, I think, at just how much he understands growing boys and their issues. After all, he's got six of his own, most of whom have turned out pretty wonderfully, Percy notwithstanding.”

Something inside Harry rebelled against the idea of sharing his burden with anyone–after all, it seemed to hurt the people around him. But there was another, larger part, that whispered that it would be really nice to have an adult that was in his corner, supporting him without reservation. And maybe Mr. Weasley could be that for him.

“Okay, Sirius, I'll talk to him. See? I'm writing it down.”

“Good boy, I knew you could do it. You won't be disappointed, Harry, he loves you like his own sons, and will never let you down. Besides, maybe this will help you with any other, shall we say, relationship goals you might have?”

Harry blushed again, but refused to rise to the bait.

“Okay, so, Mr. Weasley should be one of my father figures, I can see that. Who else are you referring to? You said there was more than one.”

“Well, remember that I said that I was more of the fun-loving uncle? There was another member of our little group that was much more responsible than I was, and who's only gotten more respectable as time went on.”

“Professor Lupin?”

“Well, he's not really your professor anymore, is he? I'm sure he'd rather you called him Remus, or even Moony. But yes, he's who I meant. I know that he'd have loved to have raised you just like me. And if you were to write to him, and ask his advice, I think it would make him almost as happy as my cousin could.”

“Okay! Fine! I’ll try to play matchmaker with Prof–Moony and Tonks. I’ll even write it down!” He took pen to paper and did just that. “Why are you ghosts so interested in our love lives? Is it 'cause you can't have your own? You just have to live through us, vicariously?”

Sirius roared with laughter. Finally, after a couple of minutes of eye-watering guffaws, he calmed down. “Oh, Harry, that was great. Thank you!” A couple more chuckles, and he continued. “No, Harry, we don't live vicariously through your romantic escapades. Rather, let me tell you that the most important thing you can do in this. . . well, in life, is to find someone to love. This ranks higher than anything else–yes, even higher than killing Voldemort. Harry, your father will tell you more about this, but it's true–without love we really are nothing.” Sirius' face grew rather solemn at this line of thought.

Harry couldn't understand why his godfather had become so depressed, until he remembered what Sirius had said about this Rebecca. “Oh, Sirius. I'm so sorry–you, you're alone there, aren't you?”

“Yeah, Harry, I'm alone. Yes, I have your father and mother, and all the other people we knew, but I don't have a wife. I told you that I blew my chances with Rebecca, and I never took the time to mend fences, as it were.”

Harry felt his eyes start tearing up. “Does that mean. . . does that mean you'll be alone forever?”

“No, Harry, I haven't completely lost my chance. But it all depends on her, now. If she still loves me, and wants me, then after she dies she can come find me, and we can be together again. But I have to wait, and I'm not sure she'll ever forgive me. And it's not like I can woo her from the Next Great Adventure, can I?”

Harry snickered. “Did you really say 'woo'? Who says 'woo' anymore? That's just perfect, Sirius Black, renowned ladies' man, prankster, and all-around fun guy, wants to have the opportunity to 'pitch woo'!” Harry couldn't take anymore, and fell back on the bed, laughing more than he'd done for quite a long time.

Sirius' face was a study–he was glad Harry was able to find humor and really cut loose with a belly laugh like that, but he wasn't sure he wanted to be the butt of the joke. Finally he decided to take it in good humor and chuckled along with Harry.

“Make fun of me all you want, Harry, but it's really what I need to do. At least, after she dies.”

Harry's laughter finally subsided, and he sat back up. Wiping his eyes, he thought about Sirius' predicament. “Well, perhaps I can help, Padfoot. Where does she live? I could write her a letter or something, you know, plead your case to her. Or, you could tell me what to write. . .”

Sirius, who had flushed with pleasure at Harry calling him 'Padfoot', froze at the idea. “Really? You'd be willing to do that for me?” All kinds of futures seemed to open up in front of him at the idea.

“Of course I would, Sirius. I mean, you're doing this for me, why can't I help you out? After you finish telling me what you need to tell me, you can dictate a letter for me to send to her, and I'll do it, okay?”

Sirius cautiously put his arms around Harry. “Harry, this means–I can't tell you how much this means to me. I'd like to be able to apologize to her, and I hadn't ever thought I'd be able to until she died. Thank you!”

They sat there together for some time, Harry basking in the embrace of his godfather, content to feel that he was loved, and Sirius feeling hope that he'd long since lost.

Eventually Sirius looked at the clock and let go of Harry. “Okay, we have a couple of things we still have to cover, and it's getting late. We talked about your needing to help Moony and Tonks get together. I don't know how to tell you to do it, but help them to spend time together, and maybe mention how happy the other always seems to be after they're together for any length of time.”

“Yeah, okay. I got that. What else?”

Just then, his stomach growled, startling him, and causing Sirius to burst out in laughter again.

“I'd say food is next. Do you have any?”

Harry pulled the picnic basket out of his closet, where it had been hidden to make sure the Dursleys wouldn't see it and confiscate it. As he did so, he told Sirius about his arrangements with Tom and Scruffy.

Pushing the knot on the side of the basket, he pulled out some leftover roast and a bottle of butterbeer. Remembering his manners, he held out a second bottle for Sirius.

Sirius looked at Harry, then at the bottle, then heaved a great sigh. “Harry, I know you can feel me, and it seems like I'm alive, but remember, I'm dead. I can't eat or drink mortal food anymore.”

Harry instantly felt horrible. “I'm so sorry, Sirius, that was so thoughtless of me. I didn't mean to make you feel bad.”

Sirius smiled wryly. “No problem, Harry. It makes me happy that you thought of me, and I'm glad you're not put off just because I'm a ghost. Now, while your hands are otherwise occupied, is there anything in specific you want to talk about?”

“I thought you said there were things for you to tell me?”

“Yes, there are, but one of my directives was to give you the chance to talk about things too, and I’ve been doing most of the whole guiding-the-conversation thing.”

Harry paused in the middle of chewing to think about things. What did he really want to hear from Sirius? He knew his dad would be there the next night, so questions about his parents could wait until then. Well, he could think of two things that he'd like to know more about. Guessing that Rebecca might not be a topic that would bring any happiness into the room, he opted for the other question.

“What was the best prank you ever played while you were at Hogwarts?”

Sirius' face broke out into a huge smile, and he sat back on the bed. "Ouch! What the blazes was that? Something bit me in the . . . What? A bedspring? What kind of cut-rate mattress is this?" He moved over a few inches and found a more comfortable spot, then got a slightly evil look on his face. "Hey, Harry. Do you know what a 'mistress' is?"

Harry thought he knew, but shook his head, figuring that there was a good likelihood that either he was going to get some rather interesting information, or a funny joke.

Sirius grinned again. "A 'mistress' is halfway between a Mister and a Mattress." Then the older man roared in laughter, slapped Harry on the shoulder, knocking him over, and wiped tears from his eyes. "Ah, that's a fun one. Good thing Lily's not here, she always hated that one." Sirius subsided a bit, shaking his head, then relaunched his story. “Well, let me tell you about the prank that involved the capybara, the vat of mayonnaise, three buckets of orange Day-Glo paint, and the Slytherin Quidditch team.”


Eyes watering from laughing so much, Harry was finally able to calm down. “Oh, Sirius, that is classic! Didn't you lose any points at all?”

“The beauty of the whole thing was that no-one could prove it was us! Of course, McGonagall suspected, but with Lily to cover our tracks, there was no evidence.”

Subsiding into an occasional chuckle, Harry put the remnants of his middle-of-the-night feast back into the picnic basket and stowed the whole thing in the closet.

“Well, I just hope you don't expect me to do something like that! I don't think I'm that creative.”

Sirius smirked at him. “Yeah, maybe, but I bet you could find a pranking partner–maybe someone with red hair?”

“I don't think Ron could think of something like that either.”

Sirius just smirked again. “I wasn't thinking of a male Weasley.”

Blushing furiously, Harry cast around for a safe subject. “So, um, how much time do you have before you have to leave?”

Sirius looked at Harry's alarm clock, and said, sadly, “We'd better get on with it–sunrise is in a couple of hours, and I can't stay past that. So, where were we?”

“We were just talking about my playing matchmaker for Moony and Tonks.”

“Ah yes. Now, that may not sound like much, but their being able to express their feelings for each other will prove to be a great strength in the future.

“Now, the next thing is that you need to get better at offensive magic. I mean, you're going to have to get rid of the Dark Idiot sometime, so you need to be able to at least duel him to a draw. Coincidentally, I happen to know that your DADA professor next year will be someone who can actually teach you what you need to know, or at least, some of it. And what she can't teach you, Professor Flitwick can. So, the next item on the list is to ask both your DADA professor and Professor Flitwick for private lessons. They'll probably be delighted to do so, but you should pay them for their time. And yes, your vaults will cover the cost without any problem.”

Harry wrote this down on his list, then looked up at Sirius. “Okay, two questions. First, did you really mean 'she' when you talked about the DADA professor? The idea of a female DADA professor just makes me really worried. In fact, the only girl I can think of who would be a good DADA teacher would be Tonks.”

Sirius just sat there and smiled at Harry.

“Really? Tonks is going to be our teacher? That's way cool!”

Sirius laughed and said, “You didn't hear it from me, but betting on the outcome might net you some nice galleons.”

Harry smiled at the prospect of one of his favorite Aurors teaching what, in Harry's opinion, was the most important class at Hogwarts.

“And, what's the second question?” Sirius asked.

“Oh, um. . . Oh yeah. You mentioned vaults, as in, more than one. I thought I only had the one that I've been using. Did my Mum and Dad have more?”

“The strict answer is yes, they had another one that they used, but that wasn't really what I was referring to. Their other vault was a personal one, where they kept their important papers and what-not. It wasn't for money or things like that. The other vault is the one I gave you.”

“What do you mean? Did you leave a will or something?”

“No, I didn’t have time to update my will, although you'd think I would have, with all the time I spent in Grimmauld Place. But, even if I had, the Ministry wouldn't have accepted it, since I was still officially a criminal. But, what I did do was have Gringotts set up a secret vault for you, and put 200,000 galleons into it, just in case you needed it. Your parents were well-off, but had spent most of their money fighting Voldemort. So, I figured you'd need some money someday. Anyway, Gringotts will give you the key if you give them the password--and I'm sure you can guess what the password is, right?"

Harry thought for just a second, and smiled. "Yeah, I think I can figure it out."

"Good. Now, since we've been talking about vaults, one of the things you need to do is gain access to your parents' personal vault. Because it's not a money storage vault, the goblins won't have any sticky rules about you gaining access. There are some very interesting things in there, but I'll leave that to others to explain to you."

Harry nodded his agreement.

"Harry, are you writing this down? That's why you have paper and a pen, right? Come on, write it down! I don't want to get into trouble just because you forgot something."

Harry grimaced and scribbled down, Get DADA Training and Visit Sirius' and parents' vaults.

"Okay, I've got it. What next?"

"Well, this is more of a suggestion than a have-to, but it’s a pretty strong suggestion. When you get Filius and Tonks to train you, you're going to find out that you need physical stamina to be able to keep up with their lessons. If I were you, I'd start training for that right now. Go for a run each morning, as far as you can. Then do some push-ups and sit-ups. It's not so important to be incredibly strong, but you should work on your endurance."

"But, I thought I was in good shape! I play Quidditch!"

"Harry, do you really think that sitting on a broom is going to equip you for engaging in a long duel? What muscles do you really work in Quidditch? Your butt, and your right arm, right?"

Harry had gotten used to the idea that sports helped one get into better shape. This idea, that Quidditch really wasn't that great for physical stamina, was a startling one to him, so he took a moment to really give it the thought it deserved. "I guess you're right, Sirius. Of course, there has to be a first time for everything. So, I'll make a note for that, too."

Sirius snickered, then took another look at the time, then glanced out the window. "All right, those are the exceedingly important things, that will help you in your fight against Voldemort. Now there's a couple things that I think you should do that will make life a little easier for you. Am I right in saying that most of your years at Hogwarts have been rather painful?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah, you are. I mean, it's better than being stuck here, 'cause at least I have friends, but there's always something that's really horrible."

"Okay, so, here's my first suggestion. Tell Professor McGonagall about Snape's mistreatment of you."

Harry sighed. "But what's she going to do? Nobody has ever really shown that they cared about what happens to me. Last year, when I told her about Umbridge, she told me to keep my head down, and that she couldn't interfere with other teachers' detentions. And any time I've tried to get help, adults have just ignored me. Why would this year be any different?"

Sirius frowned. "I didn't know that about Umbridge--you told Minerva about the Blood Quill and she just told you that she couldn't do anything?" By the time he'd gotten to the end of his sentence, Sirius' voice had become loud enough that Harry was afraid of the neighbors’ hearing.

"Sirius! Don't yell--people might hear you!" Harry whispered urgently.

Sirius immediately calmed down. "I'm sorry, Harry, I didn't mean to get so upset. But don't worry--you're the only one that can hear me during my visit. I am a ghost right now, aren't I?"

Mollified, Harry turned his attention back to the discussion. "Okay, but I didn't tell McGonagall about the Blood Quill. That detention happened after I talked to McGonagall, but I figured I'd get the same answer." Honesty forced him to admit, "Well, that and I figured by that time it was personal between that woman and me. I wouldn't give her the satisfaction of knowing she'd beaten me!"

Sirius grabbed Harry's arm. "You what? You mean you didn't tell anyone because of some stupid power game you thought you were playing against her? Harry, I love you, but that was one of the stupidest things you could have done."

Harry looked rather hurt at Sirius condemnation of him. Sirius relaxed a bit and started to explain.

"Harry, looking back at that incident--specifically the detentions--can you honestly say that she didn't win? I mean, did it really hurt her to have you not complain?"

Harry thought some more. Sure, Umbridge had been disappointed that Harry hadn't reacted strongly to the Blood Quill, but other than that, his defiance hadn't served any real purpose other than to get an ugly magical scar on his hand. "No--she won, and I lost, and it was stupid of me."

"Right you are, Harry. If you'd gone to McGonagall about the Blood Quill, she would have had legal grounds to not only have her discharged, but also taken to appear before the Wizengamot for use of a proscribed device on an underage wizard, which would mean a mandatory sentence in Azkaban! In fact. . ." his voice trailed off as he sank deep into thought. "Okay, Harry, this suggestion just stopped being a suggestion, and became an order. You will tell McGonagall everything about Umbridge's treatment of you. Oh, were any other students forced to use a Blood Quill?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah, a couple. I know of at least two, and I could probably find some more."

"Okay, talk to McGonagall, show her your hand. Maybe you could give her a pensieve memory of one of the detentions. And give her the names of any other students you know who had to go through that. And, while you're at it, tell her the truth about how Snape treats you. You might want to give pensieve evidence about that too. She needs to know what's going on, and, being the Deputy Headmistress, she'll actually be able to do something about it."

"Sirius," Harry asked plaintively. "Why does Dumbledore let Snape get away with so much? Obviously he's allowing him free rein, but it hurts the students so much. I bet no-one outside of Slytherin and possibly Ravenclaw have gotten a passing mark in Potions on their N.E.W.T.s since Snape became the teacher!"

Sirius sighed. "Harry, I can't tell you. Obviously, Snape has come up with some way of 'proving his loyalty' to Dumbledore, enough that he can get away with whatever he wants. But I don't agree with that. Perhaps he really does have a use, and perhaps he's trustworthy, but regardless, he shouldn't be teaching children. I think that with McGonagall's help you can get him sacked, or at least removed from teaching."

Harry allowed himself to contemplate a Potions class without Snape spending his whole time intimidating the students. Perhaps there would be a professor who actually felt the need to explain why things were done in a certain way--or even offer to give the students demonstrations. The smile on his face showed Sirius that his suggestion was definitely going to be followed.

After noting this down on his paper, complete with mention of the pensieve evidence, Harry looked back to Sirius. "Okay, there was another suggestion you had, what was it?"

Sirius grinned. "Okay, this one should be really fun. When I was putting money away for you, I also authorized you to be my representative in a certain matter. It won't matter that I'm dead, or still considered a criminal, because this was a private arrangement between me and Gringotts. What you need to do is go to the bank and ask for Slimefoot. Tell him that the Marauders sent you to do their bidding. That's the passphrase that will allow him to fulfill his side of the bargain. Okay?"

Harry sat for a bit. "Wait, that's it? You're not going to tell me what it is? Sirius, I'm not sure I like surprises like that. Please tell me." The look on his face was enough to melt Sirius's heart, and he wondered where Harry had gotten so good at giving the puppy-dog eyes.

"Okay, fine, just, don't look at me like that!"

Harry immediately smiled, proud of his success.

"I got to thinking," Sirius continued, "that it's a crying shame that Slytherin house is flying on better brooms just because that git Malfoy bought his way onto the team. So, I set aside a certain investment that the family made, in the Swiftair Broom Company. It will be held in perpetuity for the use of the Gryffindor Head of House. The earnings from this investment should be used to make sure that the other three houses always have the best brooms on the market--well, given the limitations of the money available at any one time."

"What's the Swiftair Broom Company? I've never read of them in Which Broomstick."

"Ah, well, they're a South American company--they are very popular in the area around Montevideo and Buenos Aires, but they don't export their brooms, so nobody around here knows of them. They are usually comparable with the top of the line Nimbus models. So, the Gryffindor Head of House also has the option of asking the company for a complete set of brooms, rather than having to go buy some other brand. It's more cost-effective that way, and with the extra publicity they'd get, they might be persuaded to try their hand at an export business."

Harry was at a loss--he'd never thought of doing something like that. Of course, having been brought up all his life to think of himself as poor meant that thinking of anything that took money was against his nature. Witness the lack of proper clothing, when he'd had the money to correct that situation in his vault the whole time he'd been attending Hogwarts. He supposed that some of this attitude had come from the Weasleys, who had never had much money either. Their frugality had most likely rubbed off on him.

Having finished processing, and writing down, this particular chore, he looked back at Sirius, only to find him with a rather curious expression on his face. He looked as if he were having an internal argument. Harry tried to get his attention, but Sirius ignored everything, so Harry just waited. Eventually it seemed that Sirius was able to come to a conclusion.

"Okay, Harry, I think that’s all except..."

“Except what?”

“Well, there’s that letter I was going to send to--”

"Rebecca?" Harry interrupted.

Sirius nodded. "Yeah. She's the only girl I've ever really loved, and I screwed up our relationship something awful. Are you sure you’re okay with doing this for me?" Sirius looked rather hesitant, as if he were afraid that Harry would refuse something like that.

"Of course, Sirius!" He hurriedly got out a parchment and quill, figuring that Rebecca might believe it more if it weren’t on lined notebook paper.

Sirius smiled, relieved. "Okay, here's what I'd like you to write. . ."


Letter finished, and sun just barely ready to creep over the horizon, Sirius pulled Harry into a hug. "Harry, thank you for all you've done for me. Even back when I was in Grimmauld Place all alone, knowing that you were alive and had accepted me, and even cared for me, was enough to help me stave off the incredibly bad feelings that my old home exults in. And thank you for being willing to write Rebecca. Who knows, maybe you and she will hit it off."

Harry blanched. "Sirius, she's too old for me! Bleagh!"

Sirius laughed. "That's not what I meant, Harry. I just think she'd be a good person to have in your corner. She could kind of act like an unofficial godmother to you. But then," he said, his mood dropping again, "maybe she doesn't want anything to do with me or my family." Forcing a smile back onto his face, he continued, "And besides, you and she could never be interested in each other like that, she doesn't have red hair!"

The blush on Harry's face was truly spectacular, and Sirius fell on his back, chortling at how embarrassed Harry had gotten. "Harry, you have to tell her how you feel. She deserves to know, after having waited so long for you."

Harry groaned. "I don't want to talk about it, okay? Even if I did like Ginny like that, I couldn't ever be with her. Haven't you seen how dangerous it is to be around me?" Then he gasped, horrified at what he'd let slip.

Sirius was not stupid. "Harry, you do realize that I never mentioned any names, right? So, at least you know who the girl in question is. As far as being dangerous around you, I disagree. But it's not my assignment, I'll let your dad discuss that with you. Now, I'm going to have to be going soon, so, is there anything else you need to talk about? Maybe you need The Talk?"

Harry blushed again, and stammered out a "No--no, th. . . that's okay. Um, I-I don't--uh, there's no reason."

Sirius laughed uproariously again, then beckoned to Harry. "Come here, Harry. I have to leave soon, and I wanted to tell you how proud I am of you." Harry moved over, and Sirius wrapped him in a tight hug. "I love you so much, Harry. I'll be watching over you, although I don't think I'll be able to do much for you. But always remember that I'm there. You mean so much to me, and to your parents, and we love you so much. Don't ever forget that, okay?" Sirius' eyes were suspiciously shiny, and Harry had started to sniffle too.

"Sirius, please don't leave. I miss you so much!" Harry couldn't keep the sobs from coming now. "I don't want to be alone again, please, stay with me!"

"I'm sorry, Harry, I can't. But you won't be alone--Ron and Hermione will always be with you. They love you too, and there are a lot of others who will be with you. Arthur and Molly love you as their own, and I'm sure you can think of someone closer to your age who loves you even more than they do. We'll always be with you, even if you can't see us."

Harry just sat there, wrapped up in Sirius's arms, crying out the pain and loss he felt. As his sobs started to finally fade, he felt a change in Sirius--he looked, and saw that the previously-solid man was starting to fade. The grip that Sirius had on Harry started to loosen too, and Harry knew it was time. "Goodbye, Sirius. Thank you for coming. I, um, I love you." Sirius' eyes widened, then softened as he smiled back at the boy who had, for the first time in his life, told someone else he loved them.

"I love you too, Harry. Thank you for everything."

And with that, Sirius faded away completely, leaving an emotionally exhausted teenage boy, who promptly fell into a deep sleep.

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Chapter 5: Chapter 5

Harry was startled awake that evening by the muted 'pop' of Scruffy, bringing a newly-filled picnic basket. With a shock, he realized that he had slept most of the day away. Upon reflection, he decided that it wasn't very surprising--after all, he and Sirius had spent the whole night talking, and his body had needed the rest.

"Hello, Master Harry Potter, sir. How is you doing this evening?" Scruffy said, as he quickly set out the contents of the new picnic basket and packed up the remnants of the old one.

"I'm just fine, Scruffy, thank you. What did you bring for me this evening?"

"Oh, Master Tom is making a wonderful beef stew this evening for Master Harry Potter, sir. And the pudding tonight is a surprise, but Master Tom is very sure Master Harry Potter, sir, will enjoy it. Is there being anything else Master Harry Potter, sir, needs from Scruffy this evening?" The restaurant elf had not paused in his work while talking to Harry, and, since the food situation had already been taken care of, he had been working on tidying up Harry's room.

"No, Scruffy, I'm fine. Um, thank you for cleaning my room, what do I owe you for that?"

"Oh no, Master Harry Potter, sir, Scruffy is being happy to clean your room for you. Master Tom is very pleased to provide food for Master Harry Potter, sir, and Scruffy is very happy to help out in any way he can too. You is owing nothing for cleaning. Master Tom said it was on the house, although Scruffy is not sure what that means."

"Oh, well, thank you then, Scruffy. You've done a wonderful job, as always."

"Scruffy is happy to have helped, Master Harry Potter, sir. Please be enjoying your meal now." And with that Scruffy popped back to, Harry supposed, the Leaky Cauldron.

Harry made to sit down and eat, but decided that it would be better to visit the loo first. He went to gather up some clean clothes so he could take a shower, but that sparked the memory of the first item on his list, sending off for new clothes from Madame Malkin's.

Looking at the time, he decided that he should probably get his shower over with quickly, before Uncle Vernon finished eating the horse-and-a-half that he managed to consume every evening. Harry chuckled to himself at the mental image brought up by that, and went off to the loo.

Feeling much refreshed from his shower, he sat down and quilled a note to Madame Malkin. Hedwig flew down while he was doing this and watched him finish writing. Note attached, she gave Harry a soft 'Hoot' and flew out the window.

The meal turned out to be every bit as good as Scruffy had promised. Harry surprised himself by eating every bite. And then cleaning up the pudding too. Huh, he thought. Looks like being able to eat regularly is becoming a habit. He quickly cleaned up his dishes and stowed everything back in the basket.

Having done everything he could think of, Harry found himself on tenterhooks. He wasn't sure what the rules were for his nightly visitations, and this one was supposed to be his father. Were they only able to come after nightfall? He couldn't remember when Cedric had appeared, and Sirius had shown up while he was unconscious. He tried pacing for awhile, but that just frustrated him, due to the small space he had in which to do it. He thought about trying to sleep, but he'd slept all day, and didn't feel tired at all. Were there any letters that he could write? Judging from the lack of letters from his friends, he thought maybe Dumbledore had forbidden them to write him again this summer, which would be something to be discussed with the Headmaster when he had the opportunity. Maybe he'd write to Ginny. . . He still wasn’t used to having her pop up in his thoughts so often, but was starting to think it was a sign.

And that finally made Harry give up trying to ignore his feelings for the red-headed girl. Somehow, over the past year, she had become her own person, separate from Ron, separate from "those fourth-year Gryffindors", even separate from the Quidditch team. She had stepped to the forefront of his consciousness, in full, blazing color, and demanded he pay attention to her. Not in so many words, of course, she was not the type to demand things like that. But it was undeniable, she had taken up residence in his mind, and refused to be dislodged by any pretensions of obliviousness on his part.

So Harry sat down on the bed, leaned up against the wall, and forced himself to consider the enigma that Ginny had unknowingly presented to him. The first thing, he decided, was to really figure out how he felt about her. He closed his eyes and imagined her. This was much easier than he'd expected--she immediately sprang into his mind, full of life, vibrantly there in the forefront of his consciousness. Seeing her, in his mind's eye, he felt warm inside. That has to mean at least friendship, right? he thought. Then, unbidden, came the picture of her holding hands with Michael Corner in the Hog's Head when they were organizing Dumbledore's Army, and the contented feeling lessened, and was replaced by something that felt a lot like jealousy.

She should be holding my hand! Harry started at the voice that had once again popped into his head unexpectedly. Okay, part of me wants to hold Ginny's hand. How would that be? He remembered the library, where she had come and shared a chocolate egg with him. Taking control of the imagined scene, he visualized reaching over and taking her hand, imagined feeling it slip into his, perhaps interlocking fingers. He imagined looking at her when he did this, and seeing that infectious grin spread across her face. Warmth infused Harry's soul as he sighed deeply. Yes, he thought, I really do want to hold her hand. But, sometimes Hermione takes my hand, if she's trying to comfort me. Would this be different? Harry visualized Hermione holding his hand. It seemed kind of weird, but not bad. Not great either. He didn't mind her touching him like that, but it didn’t seem as warm as his thoughts of Ginny’s hand. He had even gotten used to accepting a hug from her every so often. Having grown up in the Dursley family meant that he was rather familiar with touches that were cold and uncaring. Hugging Sirius was something that he had done instinctively--and it had been okay. But it had taken him a long time to accept Hermione’s affection--he hadn’t been sure what she meant by it.

Mrs. Weasley sure hugged a lot, too. Harry had come to accept that Molly hugs were a part of being a friend of the Weasleys, and put up with them too. He knew Molly wouldn't purposefully hurt him, but it was still a little uncomfortable. Taking this knowledge, he applied it to the situation with Ginny. How would he feel if Ginny hugged him? Color instantly rose in his cheeks as he visualized her small figure pressed against his, with her arms tightly around his neck, with her brown eyes--when had he noticed the color of her eyes?--looking up at him, sparkling with the good humor that always seemed to characterize her interactions with anybody. Again a feeling of warmth invaded him, and he almost groaned when he realized that she wasn't really there, holding him.

He really did groan when he realized what this all meant--he fancied Ginny. For more than a friend, more than a Quidditch team-mate, and especially more than Ron's little sister. In fact, it seemed to him that he was more interested in her than he had been in Cho. Sure, Cho was very beautiful, but he had liked her solely because of that beauty. Once he had really gotten to know her, the attraction had faded precipitously, and they had ended up in a disaster of a date, and a cordial, but distant, acquaintanceship. In contrast, the more time that he had spent with Ginny, the more interesting she had become.

Okay, so he fancied Ginny. The next step was trying to figure out what to do about it. He remembered that she had said she was no longer together with Michael Corner, but then, she had mentioned on the Express on the way home that she had chosen Dean Thomas. What had she meant by that? It was patently obvious that they weren't incredibly close--if so, why had she been riding in their compartment instead of with him? Was she just pulling Ron's chain? Trying to get a rise out of him? That idea seemed likely to Harry, and his heart rejoiced at the possibility. But it was equally likely that she and Dean had tentatively decided to write each other. After all, didn't some relationships start out slowly like that? Especially if there was a long summer holiday approaching. Considering the options, Harry decided that he'd hope for the first one, but plan for the second one, just in case.

It was at this point that he realized that his left leg had fallen asleep. Sighing again, he levered himself up, and started staggering about the floor, dreading the agony that was going to come. Sure enough, once he started to get feeling back into the offending limb, the muscles started protesting, screaming that they had been very happy, thank you, to be asleep and didn't appreciate being awoken in such a manner. The pain got to be so bad that he froze in place, trying to keep from moving the leg at all, but then overbalanced, fell to the floor, and let out a pained shriek.

The sound of laughter filled the room. "Harry, my boy, that has got to be the funniest thing I've seen in a long time. I'm so glad I got to see it, thank you!"

There, sitting on his bed, was what looked like an older version of himself, complete down to the cowlick in the back of his hair.

Harry, stunned, lay on the floor staring. Finally gathering his courage, he propped himself up on his elbows and whispered, "Dad?"

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Chapter 6: Chapter 6

"Dad? Is that really you?" Harry asked again, incredulous. Sure, Sirius had told him, but now that it was happening, he couldn’t quite believe it.

"You were expecting the Ghost of Christmas Present, perhaps? Of course it's me, Harry! I fought hard for the right to come visit you. Your mother was rather peeved that I beat her at Wand, Shield, House-elf, but she'll get her chance tom--- I mean, um. . . aw, bugger, I wasn't supposed to tell you."

Harry's face had grown a humongous smile. "Mum's coming tomorrow night? Oh, I hoped and I hoped, but I wasn't sure. I mean, there wasn't really anyone else that I could think of, but actually getting to see her! And Sirius had said you were coming, but after all, he is a Marauder, and I wouldn't put it past him to make it all into some sort of joke."

James laughed. "Yeah, he always was the Marauders’ worst prankster, but even he wouldn't have been so mean. So, stand up, let me look at you. Turn around. Okay, Sirius already talked to you about getting new clothing, right? Those tents you're wearing now certainly don't make you any more attractive to your future wife. And exercising, right? Got to get into better shape so you can off that evil git and live happily ever after with the red-headed girl of your choice. And, having a definite shape to your body--other than a stick, I mean--helps in the whole romance department. So, what's her name?"

Harry was rather dazed by being babbled at by his long-dead father, and blurted out, without thinking, "Ginny Weasley". Whereupon he turned a brilliant scarlet and started stammering. "I mean, um, not that I've. . . But there's this other guy. . . Uh, bollocks!" he finally yelled and sat down hard on the bed.

James sat down by him, put an arm around him, and pulled him close. "Forgive me, son, please. I didn't really want to trick you like that, but we really need to start this conversation on an honest footing. Now that you've admitted it to me, and to yourself--you have admitted it to yourself, haven't you?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah, I was just sitting here thinking about her, and trying to decide what to do, since I really do fancy her."

"Good. It's nice to know my timing isn't far off. Now, we'll get back to her in a bit, but I really want to talk to you, father-to-son. We never really had that opportunity before Voldemort attacked, you know. Mostly it was father-to-baby-who-wasn't-a-very-good-conversationalist."

Harry giggled at that, which served to embarrass him yet again, but his dad just smiled. "I don't really know what to say, Dad. You've been watching my life, right?" James nodded. "So, you know what my life has been like. And all because of the Dursleys.” He continued, his voice getting louder. “And I just wish you and Mum were still alive. And then Sirius went and died too. Why did you have to leave me? Why did everyone leave me? I hate my life! I hate you!" Harry stopped, shocked at what had burst out of his mouth. What had he done? He looked up, horrified, into what he knew was going to be a look of disgust and loathing. What he saw was a face almost a mirror of his own. Tears were streaming out of James' eyes, and the grief on his face revealed a pain as acute as Harry's.

James pulled Harry into his lap--no mean feat--and rocked back and forth soothingly. "I'm so sorry, Harry. I would do anything to have been able to raise you. Your mum and I love you so much. We didn't want to leave you. Please believe that.”

James sniffed, then continued. ” The years we've had to sit and watch you deal with the abuse of your aunt and uncle, and Voldemort's continual attacks on you--we felt so helpless! Your mum has cried herself to sleep more times than I can count after seeing a particularly bad day. Please don't hate us, Harry. We love you so much."

Harry squirmed around in his dad's arms until he could wrap both arms around him, hugged as tight as he could, and just cried in his father's arms for the first time in his life that he could remember.

When men cry together, it's a good thing. Emotions are released, catharsis happens. Society, however, tends to disapprove of men showing such supposedly weak emotions. Which means that after a good crying session, the men involved are embarrassed, and there's a lot of harumphing, and coughing, and averting of eyes, and "hey, did you catch the football game yesterday?" being said. Luckily, when Harry's and James' tears finally calmed down, they skipped right past the embarrassment, and went straight to the bonding.

Harry leaned back a bit, so he could look James in the eyes, and said, "I'm sorry, Dad. I don't really hate you--I don't know why I said that."

James smiled a watery smile. "That's okay, Harry. I imagine there was a lot of pain and anger that you needed to let out. I have to say that I'm very glad you don't hate us, me in particular, because it would make the rest of my visit somewhat awkward."

It wasn't really particularly funny but they laughed more than was really warranted.

Eventually, Harry climbed off his father's lap and sat down in the desk chair. "So, Sirius came to tell me some things I needed to do to get my life in order. Cedric came, I guess, to help me get over the guilt I felt at his death. What's your reason for coming?"

James affected a very elderly tone. "What, I can't come see my son when he's home from school? I haven't heard from you in fifteen years, and all of a sudden you're wondering why I'm here? Kids these days--they just don't understand family!"

By this time Harry was laughing so hard he was having trouble breathing, and James silently congratulated himself for getting that strong a reaction to his teasing. He thought that maybe, just maybe, this visit would turn out even better than he'd hoped. Lily, of course, had had no doubts--such is the prerogative of mothers, to be absolutely certain of events involving their children. But fathers seem to just muddle along sometimes, mucking things up occasionally, but hopefully reaching the goal in the end.

Harry brought James out of his reverie by reaching out a hand, cautiously, and touching James' hand. "Dad? Did you and Mum. . . Did you really love me? Everyone tells me you did, but I've never really heard it, and the Dursleys. . . well, they told me that no-one would ever love me, that I was a freak and should have died with you."

James stifled the pure rage that rushed through him at the reminder of Harry’s hideous treatment at the Dursleys' hands. He gripped Harry's hand in his own. "Harry, let me tell you something about family, okay? Now, you might want to get comfortable, and see if there are any biscuits in that picnic basket, 'cause this is going to be a long talk."

Harry reluctantly pulled away from his father and went to the closet. He pulled out the picnic basket and opened it up. Sure enough, inside were chocolate biscuits, a jug of ice-cold milk, and a pair of mugs, just the right size for dipping. He distributed the goods, then they both made themselves comfortable.

James looked at Harry, after swallowing a bite of biscuit. "Now, I need to give you some history about your mum's and my relationship first, is that okay?"

Harry, anxious to hear anything at all about his parents, nodded and uttered a very muffled "Yef" through a mouthful of biscuit.

"When I first saw your mother on the Hogwarts Express, I was amazed. She had the prettiest hair I'd ever seen. I didn't really know what I felt at the time, after all, I was only eleven, and boys usually don't have a clue what it means to like a girl at that age, right? Well, I saw that long, deep red hair, and decided that I wanted to see the girl that it belonged to. I followed her to a compartment, and invited myself in. She was sitting with a couple of other girls, I assume. I didn't rightly notice--I only had eyes for her. She turned to me to tell me off for barging in without an invitation, and I saw those incredible eyes."

"Yeah, just like mine, right?" Harry asked.

"Well, it's interesting to see them, Harry. Your eyes have the same almond shape as your mother's. And they're both very green. But both your and her eyes change from dark to light, depending on your moods and what's happening in your life at the moment. Hers were the brightest green when she held you for the first time. She was so happy. The joy seemed to flood out of her body and fill the room when they placed you in her arms. But I've also seen them dark, and that's rather scary. She's gotten angry at me a time or two, and I can always tell how much trouble I was in by how dark her eyes get. Well, remember that I went into her compartment and she was going to start yelling at me? Well, that's when I fell in love with those eyes. Of course, I didn't know, at the time, what it was--I just knew that my life had a new purpose; bothering Lily Evans."

"You bothered her? What, you mean, like kicking her chair or something?" Harry asked while precariously balancing his mug of milk and reaching for another biscuit.

"Or something. I would try to sit by her in every class--I swear when we got to third year she made sure to pick every elective I didn't, just because she wanted to be away from me. And I'd show off in front of her--and let me tell you, that didn't work at all. Showing off can impress some girls, but the ones that are worthwhile aren't impressed by childish stunts."

"I saw something once--I accidentally saw into Snape's pensieve, and there was a scene of you and Sirius and Professor Lupin tormenting Snape, and Snape’s calling Mum a Mudblood. I. . . I didn't know what to think about that."

James' face grew a little red. "That was, I think, in my fifth year, right? I'm rather embarrassed about having done that. Don't get me wrong, Harry, Severus and I hated each other, well, still do, I reckon. He's always been a greasy git--" Harry laughed at how similar his dad's opinion was to his own, "--and much too involved in the Dark Arts. He gave as good as he got, though. We were on the receiving end of some rather well-planned-out pranks, and they definitely weren't fun. But let me tell you a little about what was going on in my life at that time. It was at a time when I was pretty angry. Looking back on it now, it doesn't seem as bad, or at least, not so upsetting, but at the time it was horrible. My mum had just owled me to say that she'd suffered yet another miscarriage, but that this time it had made her sterile. I was devastated that I wouldn't be able to have the little brother that they had been trying to give me for so long. And I was thinking about it, and it was eating at me, so when the opportunity to do something to let out my anger came, I didn't hold back."

"What did Mum think about it? She seemed pretty upset in the pensieve."

"Yeah, that wasn't a fun time for her either. See, she had started being more friendly towards me--I had toned down my showing-off, and started to try to be a real friend to her, and we were actually on pretty good terms. But she saw me do that, and gave me the cold shoulder for about two weeks. Later on she told me that she was so mad at me for being a git again--she said she had really started to like me. But Remus finally got her alone and told her what had been going on. I think I owe my marriage to him--don't tell him I said that--because she came around the next day and apologized. I ended up spilling out everything that had been bothering me, and she just hugged me. Surprisingly, that was what really cemented our future. I realized that not only was she beautiful, and smart, but that I could tell her everything going on in my mind, and she wouldn't laugh at me or spill my secrets. I guess what I really found out was that she was someone I could be myself with, and not worry about acting a certain way. I trusted her with my heart, and she took care of it.

"Harry, that's one of the things I wanted to talk to you about. When you go looking for someone to love, look for someone that, first and foremost, you can be friends with. If you can't be friends, then it's no use trying to fall in love. Do you think your Ginny could be that for you?"

Harry blushed bright red again. "Dad! She's not my Ginny--she's probably dating someone else right now."

"Harry, that's not what I asked. I just wanted to know if this person about whom you're so hot and bothered--" Harry blushed harder, "--could be your best friend. So, can she?"

Harry thought about it, but in truth didn't have to think too hard. She had stepped into the role of good friend without hesitation over the last year, finagling a way to let him talk to Sirius, standing up to the Inquisitorial Squad, insisting on helping at the Ministry. "Yeah, Dad, she could."

"Good, son. That's important. If you feel that way about her, then you have a better-than-average chance of getting together with her.

"Okay, now, I think your original point was to ask if we loved you, right?"

Harry just nodded, mouth full of milk and biscuit mush.

"And you're wondering how long it's going to take to get to that point, right?"

Harry nodded again, sheepishly.

"Well, we're almost there, so hang on. Where was I? Oh, yeah. So, after that incident that you saw--well, really after she came and hugged me, we were what you would call inseparable. I asked her to be my girlfriend," James laughed a bit here. "Want to know what she said?"

The look Harry gave James was the same as any teenager would give any parent--James was happy to see such a normal response.

"She said no. She said that she had promised herself a long time before that she would never be one of those girls that depends on a guy for everything, that waits around and swoons over the most meaningless romantic gesture. In fact, she had gone so far as to make a promise to herself to never say yes to a guy who asked her to be his girlfriend."

Harry was dumbfounded. "But, weren't you. . .? Didn't you two date or anything?"

"Of course we did--we went steady for the rest of our time at Hogwarts, and married rather quickly after graduation."

"So, you went steady, but she wasn't your girlfriend? I'm confused." Harry's face did, indeed, reflect that bemusement.

"So, after she turned me down and explained all that, she turned right around and asked me to be her boyfriend."

Silence reigned. Then they both broke out into gales of laughter. Eyes streamed tears, and ribs ached by the time they were done.

"I think I really want to get to know Mum--she seems just the person to help me understand Ginny. I mean, how do I know she likes me? How do I let her know I like her? Hermione said she'd gotten over me, but sometimes I think she still cares about me." Harry was starting to look a little frantic, but his dad put his arm around him again and pulled him close.

"Harry, son, don't worry about it. We'll talk about that a little later too, okay? Just be patient, and I'll try to answer all your questions, and give you some advice, and maybe, just maybe, you'll be ready for the rest of the summer."

Harry sniffled a bit. "Okay, Dad. I'll try."

"Okay, so, your mom and I were married right out of Hogwarts, and I joined the Aurors right away. The entrance requirements had been relaxed then--the Minister actually looked like he wanted to fight against Voldemort, so they were recruiting more Aurors--not like your idiot Fudge, who's more interested in lining his pockets than in actually doing his job."

"Wait a minute. I thought Mum was an Auror too? She was in the Order of the Phoenix, wasn't she?"

"Of course she was in the Order! She was one of the most important members! But she went to work in the Experimental Charms, Hexes, and Ink Section of the Department of Mysteries. She wanted to develop stronger shields and better protections for those of us who had to fight. Don't get me wrong, she was crazy good in a duel. I remember this one time Sirius asked a rather inappropriate question about just what we had been doing out after curfew, and she formally challenged him. Since it was formal, he couldn't back down, even though he knew he was going to lose in the most humiliating manner possible. We kept it a secret, and went to the Come and Go Room the next day, where she proceeded to disarm him, tie his hands to his ankles, give him elephant ears, a bad case of intestinal discomfort, and a shaved head. She then vanished his shoes, painted his toenails and fingernails glowing pink, hexed his shirt to say, in glowing orange letters, I'm the world's worst git, please hex me! then made him crawl down to Professor Binn's classroom where he had to sing "I Feel Pretty" before convincing Binns to release him. As I recall, it took about half an hour to just get Binns' attention."

"Did you get any pictures?" was the only thing Harry could manage to squeak out.

"Am I a Marauder or am I a Marauder? Never fear, they're in the personal vault that Sirius told you to get access to."

"Oh, if only I'd known about that before he came! I'll never get the chance to take the mickey out of him! Say, Dad, could you do it for me? I mean, you'll see him again, right?"

James just nodded, then tried to grab the reins of the conversation again. "Well, anyway, she was brilliant at her work, and developed some rather intriguing protections. But I'll let her tell you."

Harry's face brightened at the reminder that he'd get to finally talk to his mum the following night.

James continued, "So, she and I worked on stopping Voldemort, and we were pretty effective, I might add. But then, one day, she told me that she was pregnant. Now, Harry, you have to understand that I was very happy. I was head over heels in love with your mum and she was the same for me. Aside from a megalomaniacal madman running around trying to kill people, we were living a blissful existence. In fact, I had believed, firmly, that I couldn't be any happier than I was. But when your mum told me that we were going to have a baby, I realized how wrong I had been. The idea that we two, together, had created a new life was just. . . wondrous, I guess."

Harry's eyes were getting suspiciously moist, so he cleared his throat and rummaged for another biscuit. Instead, he found a banana, and decided that if Scruffy thought he should be eating more fruit, he might as well humor the little elf.

James smirked at the banana, and continued the story. "Now, the pregnancy wasn't perfect, don't get me wrong. Lily had pretty bad morning sickness for a while, until she managed to invent a charm that lessened it. She was pretty happy to have found a practical charm that could be put to wide-spread use. In fact, she's probably helped more people with that charm than all the other charms she invented put together. After that, the only problem the pregnancy caused was making us have to try other positions to---" James abruptly stopped, turned an alarming shade of red, and cleared his throat. "Well, anyway, we were so happy then that we figured we could never be happier. I just knew that the love I felt for your mother, and the love I felt for the little lump that was you, could never be surpassed. But then, you were born, and I thought my heart would burst. I think that as we add more people into our circle of love, our hearts grow to accommodate them, and the amount of love we can feel increases too. The first time I held you, I just knew that that was the happiest I had ever been. Lily said the same thing, later."

James' eyes were getting a little watery too, so he sniffed a bit and rubbed them dry. "Well, anyway, the answer to your question is that we loved you more than we ever thought possible. I don't think anyone can really understand the depth of love a parent feels for their child until they have one of their own, but it's just incredible."

"It almost sounds like you loved me more than you loved Mum. . . Is that true?" Harry asked.

"Yeah, it kind of does, doesn't it? That's kind of a hard thing to explain. The type of love I feel for your mum is drastically different than the love that we feel for you. That's obvious, right? And comparing amounts doesn't seem to be very useful. I love your mother more than anything, but I also love you more than anything. One thing that I've noticed, as I've watched you and your friends, is that if there isn't a solid, loving relationship between the parents, then it's really the children who suffer. Take, for instance, the happiest family you know. Who is it?"

"Ginny's family," Harry answered, without any hesitation. Then, of course, he blushed at having worded it like that. "I mean, the Weasleys."

James grinned. "Okay, now, tell me what you think of the way Arthur treats Molly, and the way she treats him."

Harry thought about this. He had watched them quite a bit, as they were the nicest married couple that he knew, although that really wasn't saying a lot; there wasn't a lot of competition. "Well, to me it seems like he's always complimenting her, and he always kisses her when he sees her, whether it's the first time that day, or the seventeenth. Ron and the twins always groan and pretend to gag about it, but I've always thought it was rather sweet." He thought about mentioning that Ginny never carried on like the boys when her parents were kissing; in fact, she always had a certain almost wistful look on her face.

"Have you noticed anything else about them? Do they ever talk bad about the other, or talk down to or demean each other in the slightest?"

"No, at least, I've never heard of anything like that. They always seem to have this, I don't know, respect for each other, even though they've been married forever."

"And I'll bet that they also teach their children to respect their parents, don't they?"

Harry thought back to the previous summer, when he'd witnessed a rather telling demonstration of the normally placid Arthur's temper. They had been cleaning Grimmauld Place, as always, and Ron had mentioned something about his mother being a hag for making them work so hard. Unfortunately, he had said that just as Arthur was walking by the room. Harry had thought that nothing could make Arthur mad; that day he realized that beneath Arthur’s calm, happy, peaceful mien was a fiercely protective, courageous, and, surprisingly, rather scary man. Ron's ears hadn't stopped ringing for the rest of the day, and Harry, Ginny, and Hermione had found themselves free for the next three days as Ron had been informed, in rather loud and forceful words, that he would be cleaning all by himself until he saw the error of his ways.

Harry told the story to his father, causing him to remember the many times that Molly had talked about Arthur while he was at work. She always showed pride in her husband, even though he was generally ridiculed for his obsession with Muggles, and his rather less than favorable position in the Ministry. She must have known how others talked about him, but she never showed any sign that she was anything but bursting with pride for him.

James easily followed Harry's line of thought, and smiled as Harry refocused on his dad. "And how do you think their children turned out?"

Harry smiled. "She's just. . . um. . . they're really happy. They're probably the best kids I know."

"Right. Now, think of your aunt and uncle." Both of them cringed, then chuckled at each other. "All right, do you see anything in their relationship with each other that indicates any sort of love? Any of those traits that Molly and Arthur show? Any touches, kisses..." James pantomimed vomiting at this thought, "any words of endearment?"

Harry shook his head. He honestly couldn't remember seeing anything that showed that Petunia and Vernon did anything but tolerate each other. It was as if they were roommates sharing custody of a whale-sized son. "I suppose they must have something between them, after all, they managed to have Dudley." The thought of what that implied was enough to make Harry throw up a little in his mouth. He swallowed with difficulty, and wished for some butterbeer to chase away the bitter taste.

"Right. And you know how wonderfully Dudley turned out. He's spoiled rotten, and honestly has no idea how to relate to other human beings. Either he sees them as bugs to be squashed, as Vernon does, or people to be coddled and sucked up to, as Petunia does.

"Now, these are two rather extreme examples, but that doesn't mean they're wrong. The point is, if the parents truly, deeply love each other, the home they provide for their children has a chance at being a wonderful environment. Conversely, if the parents don't have that bond of love, then it doesn't matter how they treat the child, they have almost no hope of having a secure self-image."

Harry flinched at this. "Um, Dad? What does. . . what does that mean about me? I spent most of my growing-up years with the worst kind of role models. Does that mean I won't be able to ever feel good about myself? From what you're saying, I should be a git, just like Dudley. Well, maybe not just like Dudley, but certainly messed up."

James sighed. "Harry, you're a somewhat special case. For the first year of your life, well, a little more than a year, you had the best kind of home. Your mum and I tried our best to teach you well and help you be secure and know that you were loved. And we've watched as you've been mistreated, and scorned, and ridiculed, and, to be honest, we wouldn't have been surprised if you had turned out every bit as cruel and hateful as Voldemort. You know he was an orphan too, don't you?" Harry shook his head. "Well, he was, and really, the only difference in your upbringing was that you had parents who loved you for the first part of your life and he never did. All we can guess is that you have an incredibly strong spirit that took in the atmosphere in our home and made that a base for your life. That spirit and subconscious memory of life with me and your mum seems to have protected you from the hate and anger in the Dursleys' home and made you into what you are today; a kind, selfless, loving boy, who just wants everyone to be happy."

Harry ducked his head shyly as his father described him. He really didn't see himself as anything special, but if his dad said it, it must mean something, right? It was in that instant that Harry made a resolution. He thought hard, then looked at his father. "I want to have that kind of family; the kind that you and Mum had; the kind that Mr. and Mrs. Weasley have. Sirius and I talked about who I should model my life after, and I want to be like you." Shyness overtook him, and he mumbled, looking down, "Um, if you don't mind, that is."

The next thing Harry knew, he was being pulled into the tightest embrace yet. "Harry," James said, through sniffles, "nothing makes me happier than to think that we're worth emulating. Merlin knows I wasn't perfect, your mum could attest to that, but you make me proud to call you my son. Although, it might also be helpful to follow Arthur's lead, and, who knows, perhaps you'll really be able to call him Dad one day. . ."

Harry blushed again, then said, "But, um, wouldn't that be dishonoring you? I mean, you're my dad, isn't it unfair to you if I call someone else Dad?"

James laughed. "Harry, you worry too much. Remember that talk about having more people to love? It doesn't mean you love me any less if you choose to call Arthur, or anyone else, for that matter, Dad. You're not replacing me in your heart, right? You're just adding to the group of people that you love and respect."

Harry thought about this, then nodded. A different thought struck him, and he leaned back in his father's arms. "Dad, you keep talking about love, but I'm not really sure I know what love is. Can you, maybe, tell me about love? I mean, I know you love me, and Sirius loves me. But, how do I know if I love someone else?"

James sat back on the bed, lost in thought for about an eighth of a second. "Ouch!" he yelled and stood up rapidly. "What did I sit on?"

Harry looked over. "Oh, that's the broken bedspring. Funny, Sirius sat on it too. I wonder if it's getting worse?"

James looked disgruntledly at the bed, and chose a spot by the window where he gingerly lowered himself.

Harry took the opportunity to visit the loo. It was an unintended, but pleasant, side effect of the lateness of his nightly visitations that he was able to use the facilities without worrying overmuch about anyone banging on the door chivvying him to hurry up. When he returned to his bedroom, it was to see his father looking out at the night with a somewhat pensive expression on his face.

"Dad?" he asked. "What's the matter?"

"Oh, Harry, I just. . . I just hope everything came out okay. . ."

"Bad joke, Dad."

"I know, blame the lateness of the hour. So, you wanted to know how to recognize love, right?"

Harry nodded, idly looking through the picnic basket to see if there were anything else he wanted to nosh on, then seated himself on the bed.

"Well, to give you a somewhat abbreviated way to tell, I read an author who wrote; Love is when the happiness of the other person is essential to your own. I haven't been able to come up with any better explanation of love than that. I know that it doesn't seem to matter how I'm doing, if Lily isn't happy, then I'm not either. It's also true that if she's happy, then I'm happy, regardless of what else is going on in my life. And when you were born, it just proved it all over again. I would come home from a tough day at work, and just seeing you lying there, smiling, blowing spit bubbles and messing your diaper was enough to make me grin for the rest of the evening."

"Dad! Did you have to say that about diapers? That's embarrassing!" Harry interjected.

"Well, of course I did. I mean, it's not like I'm ever going to have the chance to embarrass you in front of your girlfriend now, is it? I have to take all the opportunities to embarrass you that I can." He grinned smugly at his son, who tried hard, but couldn't keep up his irritation in the face of the irrefutable proof that his father loved him.

"Fine, whatever. Just don't. . . don't go appearing to Ginny and telling her stories, okay?" Harry asked.

"Oh, I won't, son. Your mum's doing that right now, so I don't have to."

"What!!??" Harry yelled in consternation. "Mum's visiting Ginny? Just what is she telling her? Oh no, I'm never gonna have a chance with her now!"

"Calm down, son, it's not a bad thing, trust me. Your mum and I approve of your Ginny; we don't think you could have picked a better girl to fall for. And no, your mum isn't visiting her like I'm visiting you. Because she's not a blood relative, and hasn't spent the last week, um, becoming closer to the spiritual plane, if you get my meaning, she is only able to appear in her dreams. So, your red-headed girl won't remember everything as clearly as you will be able to do, but she'll remember enough to help her in the future."

"Well, what's Mum telling her? I need to know!"

"No, you don't. They're things that will help her to be strong in her future relationship with you, and probably things that we men aren't supposed to ever find out. Trust me, there are parts of a woman's life that are just not good to understand too fully.

"Now, back to your worry. Do you understand what I'm saying about love?"

"Yeah, I think so. But, I don't feel that way about Ginny, or anyone. Does that mean we're not supposed to be together?" Harry's heart sank at the thought that maybe he and the red-haired girl weren't really suited for each other.

"Harry! Harry! Snap out of it! Of course you don't feel that way yet; you have barely even gotten to be friends with her. You do fancy her, right?"

Harry nodded.

"Then just spend time getting to know her. If you and she are meant to be, then you'll find that you'll enjoy your time together, you'll find things about her that you never knew, that make you fancy her even more. She needs time to get to know you better, too, right? A crush, which is what she's had on you for a very long time, is not a stable basis for a long-lasting relationship. She needs to spend time getting to know you as a person, too. Granted, she's probably further ahead in this than you, as she's been watching you for the past five years, but she still needs to interact with you. This summer is the perfect time for you two to take the time to become good friends. From there you'll be able to see whether you'd be a good match."

"But you and Mum already think we'll be good together, right?"

"Yes, Harry, we do. But our opinions don't really matter, now, do they? If you try it, and it doesn't work out, then that's just how life goes. We'll love whomever you love, don't worry." James felt entirely free to say that, as he and Lily knew, beyond any doubt, that Harry and Ginny were perfectly suited for each other, so he wasn't worried. But Harry had already had so many things pre-ordained for his life that letting him think this wasn't set in stone was probably a blessing.

"Okay, Dad, I'll do that. I wanted to get to know her better anyway, so I'll just work on that. I'm just a little worried about Dean."

"Dean? The guy you share a dorm with? I wouldn't be too worried. The best thing to do in this case is to let her make the decision."

"You mean, just sit back and wait?" Harry was rather depressed at thinking he would have to bide his time until Ginny and Dean broke up, if they ever did. Who knew? Maybe he'd get a chance to sneak in a kiss or something in the middle of a Quidditch celebration or the like.

"Oh, Harry, you're a Gryffindor, aren't you? You can be courageous about this, without coming on too strong. I mean, really, the girl has to make a choice, right? And in order for her to make a choice there has to be at least two. . .” He paused for a long moment. “Come on, you fill in the blank."

Harry thought. "Well, I guess there needs to be options--"

"Exactly," James interrupted. "She has to know she has options. So, instead of sitting around on your bum, waiting for her to get tired of someone who's obviously not well suited for her, let her know that you're available and interested. Once she knows that, she can make up her own mind."

"But, what if she chooses Dean?"

"Ah, that's the hard part, Harry. You absolutely have to respect her decision. If she decides that the time isn't right for her and you to be together, then you need to allow her to have space until she's ready. Don't put your life on hold for her, if some cute girl asks you to Hogsmeade, feel free to go, but remember, if you're unavailable when she's available, that's just more time you have to wait."

"So I just, what, tell her, 'Hey, Ginny, whenever you're ready, you can snog me senseless; I'm waiting for you!'?" The sarcasm fairly dripped from Harry's words.

James laughed, saying "No, probably not like that. But there's nothing wrong with casually mentioning, 'Hey, Ginny, I'd like to take you to Hogsmeade sometime. Will you let me know when you're available?' See? That's very low-key, no pressure, just letting her know where you stand."

Harry scrunched up his eyebrows in thought, then closed his eyes and tried to envision the conversation. No, it wouldn't be pushing too much, and she could always just not be available, although that thought stung his heart a bit.

"Okay, I see what you're saying. I'll. . . I'll try to do something like that. Do you. . . do you really think it'll work?"

James' heart just about broke seeing the shy, insecure boy his cheery baby had become. How he wished he had been able to raise his son, rather than have to watch as the Dursleys did their level best to ruin him. "Come here, Harry," and Harry climbed on James' lap again. "I really do. I know you, and I've watched her. I think she'll at least give you a chance to win her heart, and I think. . . no, I know you have the courage to do this. You'd be surprised at how impressed a girl gets when the guy she likes shows his confidence. And even if she makes you wait for awhile, I think she'll come around in the end."

They sat there in silence for awhile longer. James stirred, then spoke again. "So, Harry, we're assuming that, at some time in the not horribly distant future, you've gotten yourself a girlfriend. Do you know what to do with her once you have her?"

Harry's blush easily rivaled any of the Weasleys on a good day. "Well, um, I kissed Cho Chang once, but I'm not sure I did it right, as it didn't really feel all that great, and she was crying at the time." His voice had pretty much dropped into inaudibility by the time he finished the sentence.

James laughed again. "I remember that. . . we placed bets on how long you two would last. I won, I'm happy to say."

"You were watching?! Oh, why can't I ever have any privacy?" Harry buried his face in his hands. Then he thought of something. "Dad, is there a way I can make sure that none of you dead people can watch me, at certain times?"

James smiled. "Planning on doing a little surreptitious snogging, are you? Well, let me tell you, the only ones who can watch you are the people who have a deep love for you. And those of us who love you like that will always listen if you ask us to turn away for a bit. Does that make you feel any better?"

"Can I, like, say 'Okay, guys, can you give me privacy for the next half-hour'?"

"Yeah, that'll work just fine. And trust me, we aren't watching you every minute of every day--we have our own lives, or rather afterlives to live up there, but we do check in on you occasionally."

"Okay, that's cool. I suppose I should tell Ginny about that so she can get her people to stop watching."

"Sounds like a good idea. But back to the original question. I know they taught a little bit of biology in grammar school, but they didn't really discuss the mechanics of making love, or anything like that, right?"

Harry just squeaked, shook his head, and found something very urgent to study outside the window.

"I thought so. Now, Harry, I need to give you some information and advice about making love. I know you don't need it right now, but you will in the future, and this is something so special, so important, that you owe it to both yourself and your wife not to mess it up, okay?"

Harry reluctantly looked back at his father and nodded.

"So, pay attention. Feel free to take notes, but if you do, make certain sure that you don't let anyone else see them, especially the pigs you live with. Now, the first thing to know. . ."


Harry's blushing fuse had blown out about one and a half minutes into The Talk, and after about three minutes he had passed through embarrassment into absolute mortification. Nevertheless, he paid strict attention (while carefully avoiding his father’s gaze), and took what notes he needed to help him remember The Talk, as, Merlin knows! he never wanted to have to go through it again!

The Talk over with, Harry and his dad passed a very pleasant time discussing Quidditch, with Harry teasing his father about needing two other people in order to do his job, while Harry could take care of his responsibilities all by himself. James, in turn, teased Harry about being too scared to try any shots on the goal.

James eventually looked out the window to the faintly grey light that presaged dawn, and heaved a great sigh. "Harry, my time here is almost up. Is there anything else you want to know before I leave you?"

"Um, well, I'm worried about that stupid prophecy. It means that Voldemort is going to keep targeting me until one of us is dead. And that means that my friends will be in danger too. I've been thinking about Ginny, and Ron and Hermione, and I really don't want them to die. Wouldn't it be best if they kept far away from me? I'd miss them, and they'd probably be mad at me, but at least they'd be alive." Harry's face showed exactly how little he liked this idea.

James took a moment to marshal his thoughts. "Well, Harry, at first glance, that does seem like a logical thing to do."

Harry's heart fell as he heard his father confirm his deepest fears.

"But it's dead wrong."

Harry's head shot up. "What?"

"It's wrong, Harry. Let's think for a minute. What kind of philosophy does Voldemort teach, love or hate?"

Harry looked at his dad in disgust. "Hate, of course."

"All right, so in order to counter the hate that he spews forth, what kind of philosophy should we be pushing, love or hate?"

"Um, love?" Harry half-asked, half-stated.

"Right. Otherwise, we'd just end up becoming like him. So, if we need to strengthen our love, does that mean pushing your friends away, or drawing them closer? And, if you need further hints, what has the Sorting Hat preached for the last few years?"

"I guess, love and unity. But, won't that make them bigger targets than they are?"

"Harry, in the short run, perhaps. But let's look at what would happen if you succeeded in pushing Ginny, Ron, Hermione, Neville, and all the others away from you. I can guarantee that you'll lose. You are only as strong as your support network, and that's how you're going to win. And, if you lose, then your friends will die anyway, as Voldemort hunts down all the people who fought against him. Now, if you draw your friends close, and your Ginny closer still. . ." Harry blushed again, but James just smiled and went on, ". . . then you'll have the power, the ability, to accomplish your goal. You can get rid of Voldemort and have your own life, free of the prophecy, together with your loved ones."

Harry thought hard about this. It certainly felt like a much more enjoyable solution. "I like that idea, Dad, but are you sure? I just want them to be safe."

"Harry, I don't know what more I can say to convince you, but I promise, if you draw your friends in and work on building up the love in your life, you will be much more successful than if you did the opposite. This is something we can see all throughout history; evil people succeed by sowing division, hate, and intolerance, while good people triumph by spreading love and goodwill."

Harry nodded in acceptance. "Okay, Dad. I'll do it; I'll work on showing more love, and I'll try to let Ginny know how I'm feeling towards her."

"That's my boy, I know you can do it. Now, come here and let me give you a hug--I don't have a lot of time left."

Harry curled into his dad's embrace, and held him as tightly as he could, reveling in the feel of a father's love. But as the sun peeked its head over the horizon, his father kissed him on the top of his head, and Harry found himself sitting alone, on his bed.

With the love of his father fresh in his heart, and a few tears at the shortness of their time together, Harry slipped into a peaceful sleep.

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