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SIYE Time:18:28 on 17th October 2021


A Sovereign Summer
By DukeBrymin

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Category: Post-OotP
Characters:Harry/Ginny, Hermione Granger, Other, Ron Weasley
Genres: General, Romance
Warnings: None
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 34
Summary: Before Harry could treat Ginny like a queen, he had to change.
Hitcount: Story Total: 11403; Chapter Total: 1329
Awards: View Trophy Room




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.




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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.

oooooooooo

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.

oooooooooo

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.

oooooooooo

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.

oooooooooo

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.

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