SIYE Time:11:14 on 3rd December 2023

Harry Potter and the Ritual of Love's Memory
By Forge2

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Category: Post-HBP
Genres: Action/Adventure, General, Romance
Warnings: Death, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Violence
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 198
Summary: After the horcrux hunt implodes leaving most of those Harry loves dead, he starts a new life with a few fellow survivors far away from wizarding Britain. But the discovery of an ancient ritual that promises to send a single memory back in time sparks hope that maybe things can change. Dark ending to DH followed by a tweaked retelling of GoF through DH. Harry/Ginny. Friday updates.
Hitcount: Story Total: 38027; Chapter Total: 765
Awards: View Trophy Room


The common room was raucous that night as Gryffindor celebrated another stellar performance. Harry felt that his back would be bruised tomorrow from the number of hearty congratulatory slaps it had taken over the course of the evening. Fred and George had disappeared after the task, arriving after the party was underway with copious amounts of delicious food that Harry suspected were courtesy of the House Elves. He was less certain how they'd procured several cases of butterbeer, and did his best to ignore what appeared to be a bottle of fire whiskey being shared by a few older students.

In addition to Harry, both Ron and Hermione had gained a touch of celebrity. Multiple students crowded around Ron to hear his account of being held captive by the Merpeople. With each retelling, his story built into a more grand tale. Harry and Ginny burst out laughing at him as he jumped up onto a couch to reenact being attacked in the dead of night by a swarm of angry guards, thrilling the gullible first years listening in rapt attention.

Hermione didn't join the festivities for several hours and blushed when she ducked through the portrait hole. A few girls surrounded her immediately, bursting with a flurry of questions for her about Krum and how it felt to be who he'd miss the most.

Angelina was seated on the arm of a couch in front of the fireplace, angrily dissecting the unfairness of the scoring at the second task to Katie, Ginny, and Harry.

"You got Ron back a full fifteen minutes before Diggory! It's ridiculous that Karkaroff pushed to have points deducted from you for leaving Ron in the shallows while you went back to help the others, especially since you bailed out his golden boy!" She was clearly fuming at the injustice of it all, as was Ginny.

"And that cheater pushed for Krum to get extra points for his Transfiguration, even though it wasn't a full change and it didn't even last the whole time!" Ginny looked to Angelina, who was nodding gravely.

Katie piped up. "I get why Cedric earned his points since he didn't get any help, but Harry jumped in to help both Fleur and Krum! It's a travesty that you didn't get full points. You should have just left them to fend for themselves, then you and Cedric would be in the lead by even more!"

"Oh, like that would ever happen," said Ginny with a grin while rolling her eyes. "Harry's got a bit of a 'saving people thing,' am I right?" She gently elbowed him in the ribs. Harry chuckled as he rubbed his side.

Angelina's eyes were twinkling. "Says the girl who Harry saved from a gigantic evil serpent…"

Ginny stuck out her tongue at the older girl before continuing. "I'm just saying that expecting Harry to leave hostages behind was a hopeless proposition."

"If I'd been thinking clearly, I would have known that Dumbledore wouldn't have left them down there and that the champions were being monitored. It was stupid of me to think they were going to drown if I didn't help."

"It's hard to think clearly in the moment," replied Angelina. "We make all of our tactical plans ahead of a Quidditch match, but sometimes the heat of the moment means we're just acting on our instincts and doing the best we can. It's not a big deal that you saw someone in distress and wanted to help."

"Oi! What are you lot on about?" George somersaulted over the back of the couch, landing in a seated position next to Angelina.

"Just reflecting on how our Gryffindor champion is leaving points on the table by not being cutthroat," answered Angelina. "If he didn't care so much about being a good person, he'd be far and away ahead of the rest of the pack."

"That may be true," mused George. "But now he's earned extra goodwill from all three of his competitors! Krum and Fleur both owe him for saving their bacon in the lake, and I hear that Diggory's still in his debt from the first task. The points matter a lot, but ensuring that the others think twice before they come after you? That's priceless!"

"Okay, first of all, Cedric already paid me back by giving me a hint about the egg." George blew a rather loud raspberry at Harry. "Second, I doubt any of them are going to hesitate if they run into me during the third task just because I helped them out a bit."

Fred bounded over the back of the couch, landing in George's lap before resting his head on Angelina's shoulder. "Ah, young Harrikins. You know so little of the world. Owing someone a favor always matters, even if it's hard to quantify."

"Yeah, well, I'm just glad to not have to worry about another task until late June. We won't even know what we're up against until a month beforehand, so I can't do much to prepare yet."

Meet me at the end of the road out of Hogsmeade at two on Saturday. Bring food if you can.

Harry read the short letter he'd received the week after the second task before passing it to Hermione.

"He can't be planning to meet us in Hogsmeade, can he?" she asked.

"Looks like it," replied Harry. "I can't believe he'd risk his safety just to come see me. If he gets caught…"

"But it should be a lot safer for him now that the dementors are gone. He's obviously good at staying hidden, he should be alright," said Ron.

"I feel bad that he's so hungry," said Ginny. "After all that time in Azkaban, I'm sure some decent food would help him out a lot."

"Yeah, I think I'm going to talk to Dobby about getting some food to bring to him." Hermione looked like she was going to say something, but kept it to herself. "You three want to come with me to see him?"

"If he promises not to drag me around by the leg, yeah, I wouldn't mind catching up with him," said Ron. Hermione and Ginny smiled as they nodded along.

A squeal of merriment emanated from down the Gryffindor table, where Lavender and Parvati were thumbing through a magazine. They were giggling every few seconds and casting furtive glances toward Harry.

"What do you think has them going?" asked Harry.

"Ugh. It's Friday, so they're probably obsessing over Witch Weekly again." Hermione rolled her eyes. "It's so hard to share a dorm with them when all they want to talk about is which celebrity is dating now and who broke up and…" She gave an exasperated huff.

Harry had never read an article from the magazine, but he had seen Lavender, Parvati, and many other students deeply engrossed in its pages from time to time.

"Why do they keep looking this way, though?" wondered Harry aloud. He caught Parvati's eye as she glanced up from her reading, and she descended back into a fit of giggles. She whispered something to Lavender before waving at Harry.

"I think you're going to want to read this!" She rose from her seat and walked to the four friends, dropping the magazine in front of Harry. There was a photo of Harry on the front cover from when he was outside the champion's tent with Ginny and Hermione on either side. Both were smiling at him while he looked back and forth. The photo Hermione occasionally stepped forward for an awkward hug. Emblazoned in loopy lettering over his head were the words Harry Potter's Secret Heartaches?

Harry's eyes grew wide as he opened the magazine to the article and began reading.

The Boy Who Lived has successfully faced dragons and merpeople in the Triwizard Tournament this year, but can he conquer his biggest challenge yet? The famous Harry Potter now contends with emotional turmoil as he navigates teenage relationship drama, writes Rita Skeeter.

On the one hand, Harry is seldom seen without steady girlfriend Hermione Granger, a Muggle-born witch in his year at Hogwarts. But sources indicate trouble brewing. Miss Granger opted to accompany Harry's Triwizard rival from Durmstrang, international Quidditch star Viktor Krum, to the recent Yule Ball. The plain but ambitious girl clearly has her sights set on famous wizards and doesn't care how many boys' affections she has to toy with in her devious pursuit. Harry must be heartbroken to learn that Krum had invited Miss Granger to visit him in Bulgaria over the summer and insisted that he has "never felt this way about any other girl."

Speculation about how she has captured the interest of two Triwizard champions has turned to foul play. "She's clearly ugly and not well-liked," says Pansy Parkinson, a popular and attractive fourth-year student. "Granger has to be using some sort of Love Potion. It's the only way she could get someone like Krum to give her a second look."

Meanwhile, with Granger galavanting with the enemy, Harry was forced to ask a younger student to the Yule Ball instead. Jenny Weasley is the younger sister of his dormmate Ronald and is described by Miss Parkinson as "obsessed" with Harry. "She wrote him a creepy poem in her first year, and he's been trying to avoid her ever since. "

Other students also question whether Miss Weasley might also have ulterior motives for chasing after Harry's attention. "Their whole family is dirt poor," notes Draco Malfoy, another student in Harry's year. "She's probably just trying to get in good with Potter since his family has got a bit of gold to their name."

Already plagued by the loss of his parents and the trials of the Triwizard Tournament, now young Harry is thrust into a love triangle between Miss Granger and Mr. Krum while other students are attempting to cozy up to him for his fame and fortune. Mr. Potter's well-wishers can only hope that he chooses his friends and romantic partners more carefully in the future.

By the time Harry had finished reading the article, his hands were shaking with frustration. He heard Ron utter a series of escalating swears as he and his sister looked on from either side of him. Both were red in the face by the time they finished reading. Hermione took several deep breaths as she attempted to compose herself.

"How dare she print this garbage? Dragging your name in the mud, making baseless accusations, insulting the Weasleys…"

"Hermione, she made you out to seem like some kind of… you know… some scarlet woman!" exclaimed Ron. "And she acted as if our family was just trying to be near Harry for his money!"

"It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever read in my life," stated Harry flatly, trying to prevent himself from using his wand to turn the magazine into confetti. He scanned the room quickly, noting with frustration that multiple sets of eyes were glued to him and his three friends.

Pansy looked as if Christmas had come early, and a gaggle of enthralled Slytherins surrounded her as she read aloud from her copy of the magazine. "Skeeter didn't use some of my better quotes. I told her that everyone hates Granger and that the only people who put up with her are the ones too stupid to do their own classwork, but I guess it was cut for space." She sneered toward the Gryffindor table. "I explained more about Weasley throwing herself at him, but maybe she's saving it for the Daily Prophet."

Harry was vaguely aware that his hands had clenched into fists at some point, but he didn't remember when. He started to push himself up from the table when the clatter of a plate falling to the ground broke him from his trance. He turned to see Ginny darting away from the table, her face buried in her hands.

Ron's gaze followed his sister before turning back toward the Slytherin table, a murderous look etched onto his features. He leaped to his feet and looked ready to vault the table to charge the entire Slytherin house when Hermione's hand grabbed his sleeve.

"Ron, we've got to go after Ginny! I can't remember seeing her this upset, we need to follow her!" She tugged at his sleeve, urging him to let it go.

Chest heaving and nostrils flaring, Ron gave a terse nod. He shot a look towards Pansy, who was gleefully pointing his direction and laughing, then turned to follow his sister. "You coming, Harry?"

Harry thought that pummeling Malfoy with Ron while Ginny and Hermione went after Parkinson seemed a much more productive way to sort out this whole affair, but gave a grunt of assent and stalked behind his two friends.

"Poor little Potter!" called out the voice of Draco Malfoy over the murmur of the Great Hall. "How will he ever deal with the emotional trauma of being rejected by a Mudblood?"

Ron and Harry froze in place. Hermione looked back at them imploringly, but there was no use. Both boys had already turned around and sprinted toward the Slytherin table. Neither paid mind to the professors at the head table yelling out warnings or the faces of the Ravenclaw sixth years who scattered out of their way as they ran toward a suddenly wide-eyed Malfoy.

Before either Gryffindor could reach the table, however, the blonde-haired boy found himself suspended in midair upside down by his ankle. Harry and Ron skidded to a stop, staring blankly at Draco's face, which was already turning red from the rush of blood.

"Vat did you call Herm-Own-Ninny?" The hesitant, almost-shy demeanor of Viktor Krum had evaporated, replaced by steely resolve and an angry gleam that flickered in his eyes.

"Put me down! You have no idea who you're dealing with!" Malfoy sputtered as he attempted to squirm out of the jinx. "My father will hear…"

His face hard as stone, Viktor flicked his wand. Draco fell to the ground in a heap, before another flick of Krum's wand returned him to his place in the air.

"I said, vat did you call Herm-Own-Ninny?" Viktor's voice was icy. Harry and Ron were rooted to the floor, unable and unwilling to look away.

"Viktor, no!" Hermione had apparently found her voice after the shock wore off. The young man's hand was still trained on the floating form in the air, but his eyes met hers. "Viktor, he's not worth it!"

Krum released Malfoy and was walking toward Hermione before the boy had even landed. Ron and Harry watched in awe as Krum stopped a few feet from the terrified Malfoy, crinkled his nose as if smelling something odious, and spit at Malfoy's feet. Krum resumed his walk toward Hermione, only breaking eye contact with her long enough to gesture to Harry and Ron to come with him. The Great Hall, which had fallen eerily quiet the second that Malfoy had risen into the air, burst into chattering commotion as the three reached Hermione and walked away.

The four walked quickly down the corridor until Hermione found an empty classroom and they all ducked inside. The heightened emotions that Harry and Ron had been experiencing had greatly diminished, replaced instead by a sense of wonder.

"Her-my-oh-nee, I am sorry you had to see that. I should haf better control of myself." Krum's bravado had also slipped, and he looked more like the tentative version of himself who had been hovering near their table during the previous term.

"Bloody hell, Krum! Why are you apologizing? That was the greatest thing I've seen since she decked Malfoy last year!" Whatever animosity Ron might have felt while reading Skeeter's article had been lost to the camaraderie of mutual Malfoy loathing.

"You didn't have to defend me, Viktor. We all know that Malfoy's just an arrogant bigot, and it doesn't make sense to let him get under your skin." She turned to Harry and Ron. "Same goes for you two. I can fight my own battles, and I'll do so when I deem it necessary."

She looked at the three of them, none of whom seemed persuaded. She sighed with a slight smile. "But I will admit, the look on Malfoy's face when the two of you were barreling toward him was priceless. Then watching him dangled upside down like that? I don't think I've ever seen him so scared."

"You are right, Her-my-oh-nee. You are capable of handling yourself. I apologize for embarrassing you in vront of the school." Ron and Harry hurriedly followed suit.

"I guess there are worse things than having you three defend my honor in front of everyone," admitted Hermione. "Viktor, we were leaving the Great Hall to find Ron's sister, Ginny. A magazine printed a horrible story full of lies, and I think it really got to her. Do you mind if we try to track her down to check on her?"

"You help your friend. I should go speak to your headmaster. I vill accept punishment for my actions, but he must know that I vill not be as kind if the blonde one uses language like that again." Viktor leaned down to plant a kiss on Hermione's cheek before he doubled back toward the Great Hall.

A blushing Hermione watched as Krum walked away before returning her gaze to her friends. "Right, then. Do you think Ginny will be in the tower?" She didn't wait for them to answer before turning to begin briskly walking up a flight of stairs. She called out, "If she's not there, we can use your map to see where she's gone!"

Harry looked over at Ron as they started behind her. "Any idea what spell you were gonna use on Malfoy before Viktor got to him?"

Ron snorted. "I was going to pull a Hermione and clock him in the nose. You?"

Harry smiled as he took the stairs two at a time to catch up with their friend. "Great minds think alike, mate."

"Just one minute, Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley!" The unmistakable tone of the Deputy Headmistress froze them in their tracks. "Get down here, at once!"

Hermione turned to see Harry and Ron trudge back down to Professor McGonagall, whose lips looked to be on the verge of disappearing. "Why am I not surprised that it was the two of you stampeding across the Great Hall, no doubt in an attempt to accost another student?"

"Professor, Malfoy called Hermione a…" Ron began but was cut off almost immediately.

"I have no doubt that there was disgusting filth spewing from the boy's mouth, Mr. Weasley, but you two were the only ones who decided to take up arms about it."

"Umm, Professor McGonagall?" Hermione was half-raising her hand as if she were in class, but wasn't sure if she knew the correct answer. "Technically, Ron and Harry didn't do anything wrong, since it was Viktor who jinxed Malfoy."

"Do you take me for daft, Miss Granger? Of course I know what happened. What I'm interested in is why two of my Gryffindors were acting in such a manner."

"We just saw that Rita Skeeter, the one who wrote about Hagrid, published a story about Hermione, Ginny, and me." Harry's eyes didn't meet his professors. "She basically accused Hermione of chasing after me and Krum for our fame and said Ginny went to the ball with me because their family wants my money."

Professor McGonagall started to open her mouth, but thought better of it, opting instead to clutch her hand over her chest.

"Yeah, and the story quotes Malfoy and Parkinson backing her up. We were just leaving the Great Hall to find Ginny, because she got really upset when she read it, but then we heard Malfoy call Hermione that word and we…" He looked to Harry for help.

"We didn't think. We just reacted."

McGonagall took a long breath in before slowly releasing it. "Very well," she said, staring at one boy and then the other. "Given the circumstances, and the fact that you did not physically accost Mr. Malfoy, you will not lose house points for your outburst. However, you will make sure to avoid any such altercations in the future. Do I make myself clear?"

Harry and Ron nodded enthusiastically, thrilled to have absconded without serious punishment.

"And a week's worth of detention for you both." Their faces fell. Her stern look let them know that the matter was settled. "I believe the three of you were looking to console Miss Weasley? Perhaps it would be best to attend to that. I would hope the three of you could handle walking to the common room without finding any more trouble." Harry thought he heard Professor McGonagall mutter "bull-headed" under her breath as they went their separate ways.

As Ginny rushed up the stairs to her dormitory, her eyes burned with the tears she was desperately fighting to hold back. She hadn't felt this way since the first term of her second year when many of her classmates still watched her with uneasiness if she spoke up. She shuddered remembering how many students were staring at her as if she was an exhibit in a carnival, a freak to be gawked at.

Things had been going so well. She had made real, meaningful connections with others in her year, especially Colin and Luna. Classes were going well, and she wasn't struggling to keep up as she had during her second year when she was attempting to make up for her disastrous first. She had started spending time building friendships with older girls like Angelina, Alicia, and Katie through their chaser training sessions and joking around with the twins. She'd even gotten over her crush on Harry enough to spend time with him, Hermione, and Ron, and felt like she belonged when the four of them hung out. But this article threatened to undo all the progress she'd made.

Ginny flung herself onto her bed, punching her pillow a few times before covering her face and screaming into it. She lay on her bed for a few minutes, chest heaving, trying to contain her fury and frustration. Her face heated as she thought of the implications of Pansy's accusations.

She was well aware that her family didn't have much money. Her hand-me-down robes and lack of new books weren't especially hard to spot. But she loved her family and wasn't about to trade them for anything. She wasn't nearly as sensitive as Ron about their finances, but it still stung to have your relative poverty thrown in your face like that.

Beyond that, though, was the accusation that she was a gold digger chasing after Harry's money. She emitted a growl as she thought about it. She'd sent one stupid, childish poem two years ago at the urging of her devious older brothers to a boy she had a crush on. Was that really so bad? Sure, she'd gone to the Yule Ball with Harry, but it was just as friends. And HE had asked HER!

She threw the pillow savagely across the room toward the door to her dormitory, which she hadn't closed all the way. Her accuracy was off due to her emotions, but her velocity was improved if anything. It collided with the wall with a satisfying thump.

Harry had invited her to go to the damned ball! What was she supposed to say? Of course she wanted to go and of course she was going to say yes if Harry asked her! He said he wanted to go just as friends, so she steeled herself against any sort of ideas her heart might have had. She made sure to stay casual and not let herself get swept up in the moment, even though there were a lot of moments to get swept up in!

She danced with Harry Potter in front of the whole school. He treated her really kindly and like a true gentleman. Ginny kicked her feet wildly on the bed as she thought of how close she'd come to giving him a goodnight kiss in the common room before retreating to her dormitory, but instead, she held back. Would a quick peck have been so wrong? She mentally cursed the universe for allowing her to believe that her restraint might be rewarded someday, only to have this rubbish published instead.

Now, the whole school was likely to be buzzing with ideas about what kind of girl Ginny was. She flipped onto her stomach while clutching her blanket, rolling over until she was wrapped into a burrito of frustration. She sniffled a few times as angry tears fell.

"Hey Ginny? Are you in here?" Hermione's voice was gentle.

"Go away, Hermione. I'm going to melt into my bed and never see anyone again."

"In that case, can I have your books?" Hermione sat down on the end of the bed next to Ginny's feet.

"Ha ha. That's so funny I forgot to laugh…"

"You missed quite the scene in the Great Hall. Not that I blame you for getting out of there, of course. I thought your brother and Harry were going to start an all-out brawl with the entire Slytherin house."

Ginny peeked out from her blanket burrito, curiosity getting the better of her. "What happened?"

"Pansy was being her usual cow of a self, but I'd just about convinced the boys to follow me up to the tower to make sure you were alright when Malfoy decided to insert himself into the situation."

"Of course he did…" muttered Ginny darkly.

"Well, he made a crass remark about Harry having to get over, how did he put it? 'The emotional trauma of being rejected by a Mudblood.'"

A small gasp escaped Ginny's lips.

"Ron and Harry were both running at Malfoy before I could stop them, but someone else got to him before they could." Ginny extricated herself from her blankets and sat spellbound as the older girl told the story. "Viktor levitated Malfoy into the air by his ankle, and said, 'What did you call her?"

Ginny couldn't help herself as she let out a squeal of excitement. "Hermione, he didn't!"

"He absolutely did, right there in front of everybody!"

"And what did Malfoy do?"

"Exactly what you'd expect. Started on about 'Do you know who I am?' and all that. So Viktor dropped him onto the floor, then picked him back up and asked again."

"Do the voice! You've gotta do the voice!"

Hermione giggled before making her face as stern as she could muster. "Vat did you call Herm-Own-Ninny?" Both girls immediately burst into laughter.

"Oh my gosh, Hermione, did you swoon right then and there?"

Hermione's face was tinted pink. "My knees felt more than a little weak, but I didn't want him to get in trouble on my account, so I told him to stop and the four of us left together."

"That's incredible!" Ginny sighed wistfully. "I'm sad to have missed it."

"Me too. I'm just glad that Ron and Harry didn't get into too much trouble. Professor McGonagall was really upset, but they managed to avoid losing points. One week of detentions isn't too bad, all things considered."

Ginny's ears perked up. "Wait, isn't Harry supposed to meet Sirius in Hogsmeade?"

A look of concern flashed across Hermione's face. "Oh, I hadn't thought of that! Let's head down to the common room and talk with them about tomorrow."

Before Hermione could stand up to leave, Ginny grabbed her by the arm. "Wait, wait, wait. I don't think I'm ready to go down there yet."

Hermione looked at Ginny sympathetically. "I know that the article was terrible, but I promise that Harry doesn't believe a word of it. It's by the same woman who wrote about Hagrid, and it quotes Parkinson and Malfoy. The only way Harry would find it less credible is if Professor Snape was quoted, too."

Ginny laughed weakly. "I guess. I just don't want him to go back to not noticing me. I like spending time with the three of you, and I don't want things to be weird."

"Well, the least weird thing you could do right now is come with me to laugh at Malfoy with them. I think Ron's finally warming up to Viktor now!" Ginny rolled her eyes as she got off of her bed, washed her face, and followed Hermione back down the stairs.

"Honestly, Ron, if you don't hurry up and finish eating, we're going to leave you here!" said Hermione irritably. The lunch rush at the Three Broomsticks was beginning to thin as students wandered toward various shops to occupy their time before heading back to the castle. Ron had cleaned his own plate and was now polishing off the remnants of Hermione's sandwich. Ginny finished the last of her butterbeer before standing up from the booth.

"Just bring it with you," suggested Ginny. "We've only got fifteen minutes and I'm sure Harry would rather not be late."

Ron dutifully grabbed the remains of the sandwich and followed as they moved to the exit. Harry held the door and waved to Madam Rosmerta as she wished him luck in the tournament.

The four walked through the snow-dusted streets, passing store windows decorated with wares the shop owners clearly thought would attract students with spare spending money. Zonkos was especially full, with a plethora of patrons filling the store.

Harry walked at a brisk pace, even as he hefted an overfilled duffle bag of food that Dobby had packaged for him. Shops gradually gave way to small cottages as the street became more residential. The four students had never explored this part of the village before, and Harry thought they were unlikely to encounter any of their classmates this far off the beaten path.

Near the end of the street sat a large, black dog that began wagging its tail as the four students approached. He bounded forward and jumped onto Harry, placing his oversized paws on the boy's shoulders.

"Hey Sirius!" exclaimed Harry. "Great to see you! I brought you some tasty treats. You hungry, boy?"

The dog barked in response, then started walking away from the road up a rocky slope leading toward a mountain.

Harry and his friends clambered up the mountain for nearly a half hour before following the dog into a cave that was hidden behind an outcropping of boulders. Their eyes took a few moments to adjust to the lower light, but soon they could see a haggard but smiling man standing before them, petting Buckbeak's feathery neck.

Sirius was still in what he'd been wearing when he escaped Azkaban: tattered grey robes that looked completely threadbare. His long, black hair was untidy and matted in a few places. He was painfully thin, but the smile on his face was genuine. It only grew larger when Harry dropped the bag of food to the ground and unzipped it.

"Harry, that smells delicious!" He grabbed a large chicken leg and began devouring it with speed and fervor that was impressive to even Ron. "I've been subsisting on rats, mostly. Can't draw attention to myself by stealing too much food."

"What are you doing in Hogsmeade?" asked Harry. "The whole of wizarding Britain is on the lookout for you, and you're staying this close to a magical village?"

"I'm here being the best godfather I can be, under the circumstances. There's no chance I'd be anywhere else, especially with all the fishy things that have been going on. Your name coming out of the Goblet of Fire isn't the only strange thing that's been happening." He pointed to a small pile of newspapers that had been tossed to the ground as he tossed a chicken bone to Buckbeak. Their headlines chronicled the disappearance of Bertha Jorkins and the mysterious illness that had befallen Barty Crouch.

"But before we get into all that, though," Sirius chomped into a roast beef sandwich with gusto. "We need introductions!"

Harry had almost forgotten that Ginny was there, or else forgotten that she hadn't been a part of the misadventures of their previous school year. "Oh, sorry! Sirius, this is Ginny Weasley, Gin, this is my Godfather, Sirius Black." He noticed that she still looked a bit hesitant. "I promise he's not actually a mass murderer."

Ginny tentatively took a few steps forward and offered her hand. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Black."

Sirius' bark of a laugh echoed through the cave as he bowed expertly before taking her hand and planting a kiss on the back of it. "Miss Weasley, the pleasure is all mine." He raised her hand above her head and twirled her before giving her a roguish wink. "And if you call me 'Mr. Black' again, I won't tell you any of the embarrassing stories about Harry that I'm sure you came here for."

"Sirius isn't what I'd call a 'typical adult,'" offered Hermione.

"Too true!" replied Sirius. "Harry mentioned you in a letter, but left out some details. I should've guessed you were a redhead, though. It's a well-known weakness of Potter men."

Both Ginny and Harry blushed so furiously that they seemed to be competing to see which of them could most closely resemble a tomato.

"I missed out on thirteen years of embarrassing you, so I've got to make up for lost time, right?" Sirius' eyebrows were waggling in a manner most reminiscent of Fred and George. "But enough about that for now! Give me the update on the tournament!"

The four students regaled Sirius with updates and pressed him with questions for the better part of two hours. Sirius proved both knowledgeable and forthcoming, answering questions about Crouch and Jorkins as well as giving details about Professors Moody and Snape. He was also particularly interested in Harry's assertion that Ludo Bagman had offered to help him in the tournament.

The five talked out strategies for communication, including using school owls and referring to Sirius as "Snuffles" to avoid detection. The marauder was impressed with Harry's preparation so far and resolved to help plan out options once the third task was revealed.

"Keep up the training with your professors, Harry. I'd prioritize McGonagall and Moody, though extra time with Flitwick wouldn't hurt. Until we know what you're up against in the third task, just ask them for help preparing more generally. Work on upper-level spells that they think might come in handy. Even if they don't know what you're facing, they could have heard something about the task that they can use in your training." Sirius stared at Harry and Ron. "If you've both got detention with McGonagall all next week, she might be willing to get you started then. She's a strict disciplinarian, sure, but she's got a soft spot for students who want to learn. One of the reasons your dad and I had such good marks in Transfiguration was because we sometimes turned our detentions into practice sessions."

"Okay, I'll see if we can convince her," replied Harry.

"You three," he directed his comments at Hermione, Ron, and Ginny. "I don't want Harry wandering off alone at any point. I need one of you with him anytime he leaves the common room. His invisibility cloak and the map make it easier to wander around, but neither is foolproof. We don't know who put Harry's name in the goblet, but it's likely they're still around the castle. Worst case scenario is someone wants him dead and finds him alone."

Sirius thought for a moment. "And as much as it pains me to say it, I don't want you using secret passages to visit me here in Hogsmeade. It'd be too easy for someone to get the drop on you. Stay in touch via owl."

Harry was growing frustrated, in part due to how vigorously Hermione was nodding along. "After all the trouble you got into in school, you're telling them to be my minders and forbidding me from using the passages you discovered?"

Sirius chuckled. "I'm definitely not saying to stay out of trouble. I'm all for you doing a healthy amount of troublemaking." Hermione looked appalled. "But there was never a time when I was a student where someone was trying to kill me, so I'm prescribing a bit of caution. So if you're craving a late-night snack, just be sure to bring Ron with you. If you need to break into the restricted section of the library, let Hermione tag along. And if you're interested in exploring a broom closet or two, maybe invite Ginny to join." Sirius' mischievous grin and waggling eyebrows were on full display as Harry blushed again.

"Okay, okay! I get the idea. I'll stick close to them when I'm not in the common room."

"Excellent!" Sirius clapped Harry's back heartily. "Looks like you're all running out of daylight. We should head back to the village."

Ginny's cheeks were still flushed when she asked, "Would it be alright for us to send you food with a school owl? It might be suspicious if Harry was the only one doing it, but if all four of us took turns maybe you wouldn't have to eat so many rats."

A grin spread across Sirius' face. "I think you and I are going to get along famously." He transformed into his animagus form and trotted up next to her. She reached down to scratch behind his ears.

"I like your godfather, Harry, although he's a little easier to deal with when he's like this. It's still weird to pet a dog that's really a person, though."

The trek back to the village was less tiring since they were headed downhill. When they reached the road where they'd met Sirius hours earlier, the students each took a turn patting the dog on the head and saying their goodbyes. Harry had a fleeting thought that he should explain his odd future memory to his godfather but thought it better to hold off until they had more time and fewer others around. With as much teasing as Sirius had directed his way after meeting Ginny, he had a feeling things would only escalate once he shared about having an unexplained memory of them together in the future.
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