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Author Notes:

Warning: This chapter includes a slash dream sequence.

Harry had given up even pretending to be shocked or dismayed by the burgeoning tradition of drinks with Sirius on Thursday evenings. This time round, unlike the others, he'd been asked to a proper dinner with Sirius and Ron and Hermione instead of spiked tea when Sirius should be working or a late-evening snack on Sirius' day off.

He entered through the floo in Remus' office just as Remus was returning from his last class of the day; he looked cheerful and happy, despite the dark smudges under his eyes. It was two weeks until the full moon, which meant that he was in the middle of a lull -- body recovered from the last change and not yet preparing for the next. Sirius and Ron were waiting behind Remus in the doorway, and Hermione ran up even as Harry greeted them.

"Come on then," Sirius said. "See you tomorrow, Moony. Don't let Slughorn sit next to you at dinner."

"I'm not the one he wants to sit next to," Remus replied with a smile. Sirius shuddered dramatically and dragged the other three off to the kitchens. It took a while to extricate Dobby from his beloved Harry Potter once they'd collected the basket of food the elves had prepared for them, but they finally escaped and fled to Sirius' quarters.

It was an early winter, or rather would be soon; rain fell steadily against the windowpanes. The hearth fire, which had been annoying in the late August heat, was now a welcome warmth. Ron and Hermione accepted the mulled rum Sirius poured without hesitation, so Harry didn't hesitate either; it felt very grown-up and more than a little strange to be drinking mulled rum and eating a roasted chicken dinner in the quarters of the Hogwarts School Tutor, with Ron and Hermione tangled up in each other on the sofa and all four of them talking politics and making plans. They'd exhausted the Greyback trial, some recent Death Eater attacks that had been in the Prophet, and the new horcrux mystery before the conversation turned to the enigma that Regulus Black had left behind him.

"Don't they know anything yet?" Sirius asked from his wing-chair, legs stretched out in front of him indolently. "It's been nearly two weeks."

"Well, Tonks is only looking at it in her spare time," Harry said. "Which...between her job and Remus, I don't guess she has a lot of."

"He keeps her busy," Hermione said with a laugh. Ron quietly emptied the rest of her goblet into his, making a hushing sign at Harry.

"She's only just taken it to the alchemists -- I still don't like it, but at least we might get some answers," Harry said.

"It might just be a rock, you know," Sirius suggested, rather more cheerfully than he otherwise might have. The grey streak in his hair hadn't gone away, but he'd brushed the rest of his hair down over it, which almost worked. "That'd be like Reg. 'Here, have a gift! It's an enigma! It's a mystery! Oh wait, it's just a rock.'"

Ron snorted into his goblet. Sirius refilled his own from the jug on the end-table just as there was a knock at the door.

"I'll get it," Harry said. "I think I'm the most sober."

"But Harry, you're not supposed -- " Sirius broke off as Harry opened the door.

"Harry!" Padma Patil said, startled.

"Hiya, Padma," Harry said, right before it hit him what Sirius had been about to say. But Harry, you're not supposed to know who Nigel Padfoot is...

"Sorry, I was looking for Mr. Padfoot," Padma said, hesitantly. "Is he here?"

"Hi Padma!" Hermione called, waving. Ron anchored her firmly to the couch to keep her from standing up and joining them at the door.

"Hi...Hermione..." Padma said, now thoroughly confused. "I didn't know you knew Mr. Padfoot, Harry."

"Yeah, sorry, we -- have mutual friends," Harry said, as Sirius came to stand behind him in the doorway.

"Clearly," Padma murmured, a trace of Ravenclaw wit shining bravely through. "Mr. Padfoot, I wanted to...uh, Harry, can we...?"

"Oh, it's all right," Harry said, standing his ground. Padma Patil, of all people to come round trying to make up to Sirius!

"I just...I know I didn't have to, but it was sort of a challenge," Padma said. "About the math problem you gave me, I mean. I worked it out -- I had to make some assumptions but it wasn't really all that hard, when you got down to it..."

She offered Sirius a sheet of parchment, folded in half. Sirius opened it and examined the calculations carefully. "It's just a matter of space and how many people are in the space, and what percentage of those people are have to account for rural areas...and I, um. I took into account werewolves who don't run loose, like Professor Lupin."

"Yes, I see," Sirius said, finger following the line of the calculation. "This is good work. I'll make sure Professor Vector gets a look at this. Thanks, Patil," he finished. Padma batted her eyes. Harry wanted to kick her shins even as Sirius held the paper out to her, pointing to a circled number at the bottom. "So that's it?"

"Eight point eighteen times ten to the negative fourteenth power," she said. "The odds are...pretty minuscule."

"Hmm, yes. Beatrice will be underwhelmed, I'm afraid, but I appreciate the work," he said with a smile. Padma smiled back. Harry felt action was called for.

"Good seeing you, Padma," he interrupted. She took the hint.

"You too, Harry. See you later, Mr. Padfoot," she added, even as Harry was closing the door. Behind them, Hermione giggled.

"She fancies you. That was an excuse to come by your rooms on your day off," she said to Sirius. "What was all that about werewolves about, anyway?"

"Just a little theoretical exercise," Sirius said, downing a large gulp of his rum as he returned to his chair. "Apparently the odds of a given human encountering a changed werewolf on the full moon are uh....small. And you could have been nicer to her, Harry."

"It's your day off, she's supposed to leave you alone," Harry retorted, although he realised that Sirius was probably right. Sirius folded the parchment again and tossed it the short distance between his chair and his nearby desk. "Why were you setting Patil to do sums about werewolves?"

"Some of the Slytherins were showing an unhealthy interest in the Greyback trial, that's all," Sirius answered. He stretched and sighed. "Ugh...I have to be up at some ungodly hour tomorrow to help Sprout chaperone a bunch of Slytherins on a toadstool hunt. More powerful if gathered by dawn my arse."

"We should go too," Hermione said. "It'll be bedtime soon enough."

"Hermione, you're Head Girl and I'm a Prefect," Ron complained. "I think it's all right if we're out a few minutes past curfew!"

"It's a bad example," Hermione insisted, pulling him up off the sofa.

"No worse than showing up tipsy in the Gryffindor common room," Sirius observed with a grin. He offered her a Predica Mint and she kissed him on the cheek before popping it into her mouth. Ron scowled, so she kissed him on the mouth and laughed.

"I gave you my mint," she said. "Sirius, give us another."

Sirius rolled his eyes and handed her another mint while Harry made gagging noises. Hermione called back a thank-you as they left, and after the door slammed Harry pushed himself up out of his chair.

"I should go too, I guess," he said. "I can sneak back into Remus' office..."

"There's no rush," Sirius said. "You don't have a curfew."

"Yeah, but you have toadstools at dawn," Harry said with a grin.

"Well, you know what the solution to that is," Sirius replied gravely.

"What's that?"

"Stay up all night."

Harry laughed and sat on the sofa, reaching for his half-empty glass. "You're not seri -- oh, bollocks...."

"Yes I am," Sirius said, just as gravely. Then he burst out laughing too. "What do you say, Harry? Going to help me push through until dawn?"

"Remus would worry. He'd probably come looking for me," Harry said.

"Good, he can help."

Harry shook his head even as Sirius dropped to the floor and sat with his back against the sofa's arm, refilling Harry's cup. Harry held it up to the light.

"I wonder what Helga Hufflepuff would have thought of it," he said.

"Of what?"

"Well, it must have been one of her favourite things, her cup. And here some overblown descendant of old Sally Slytherin is using it to stash his soul in."

"Dunno, don't Muggles venerate that kind of thing?" Sirius said. "Like the Holy Grail. Only not..."

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, you know. See the knucklebone of Saint Whosis the Patron of noseblowing; kiss the skull of the great martyr Soandso who died by the hedgehog," Sirius said, drinking directly from the jug.

"Reliquaries," Harry said. "I don't think they're quite the same thing."

"I've read my history. If you see a thing that's holy, you're more holy by association."

"Yeah, but it's not a bit of soul."

"No. Box with a mouldering old bit of bone or flesh in it. Much less hygenic than souls, really."

Something sparked across the back of Harry's brain, but he didn't quite catch it in time. Sirius was talking, anyway, his voice a pleasant low hum.

"Maybe that's the sixth horcrux, you know. Tom Riddle was raised Muggle, wasn't he? He'd know about requisitionaries."


"Sure. Wouldn't he think it splendid to use one?"

"It'd have to be some sort of special one, though. Besides, we've got to figure out how to destroy the ones we already have," Harry said. Sirius rested an arm across Harry's knees, tipping his head back so that he could see Harry upside-down.

"You're so grown-up sometimes," Sirius said.

"You're the one with the paying job," Harry answered.

"Yeah, but you never stop thinking. I wish you would take a break, it makes my brain hurt."

"You never do either."

"Sure I do. I'm not thinking at all," Sirius said. "Not a blessed thought in my empty mind. Hey, why is the rum gone?" he added, looking mournfully into the bottom of the jug.

"Well, that might be true," Harry allowed. "But I'm not thinking all the time. It's just...important. When the war's over, I'll have time to do what I want."

"What if you're over before the war is?" Sirius asked, hoisting himself up using one of Harry's thighs as leverage. Harry sucked in a breath at the warm weight of his fingers.

"What do you mean?" he asked. You're just bloody lonely, that's all it is....

"Well, I mean, what if you die first? Or die in the final attempt? Dumbledore didn't live to see the end, did he?"

Harry considered this. "It's still more important. Maybe even more important, if I think I'm not going to survive. I have to do all I can."

"Sounds like a half-life to me. Like mine was. The other me," Sirius said, putting the jug carefully on the table. He began unbuttoning his Hogwarts shirt without a hint of self-consciousness, shrugging it off his broad shoulders. Harry watched the flex of muscle across the shoulderblades as he tossed it to one side and rummaged for a pyjama shirt.

"Sirius knew there were things worth dying for," Harry said. "He said so. He had a row with the Weasleys over it once."

"So? If I'm going to die for a cause, I'm going to drink and eat and fuck first," Sirius said, then paused. "Er. That didn't quite come out the way I intended. I may have had just a bit too much rum."

"Well, then you've satisfied one out of the three requirements," Harry said sardonically. Sirius grinned at him over his shoulder. "Anyway, I need to go." He stood and picked up the cloak, wrapping it around his shoulders. "I'll see you this weekend?"

"Saturday morning," Sirius answered. "Take a mint on your way out!"


Harry returned to Fourteen Back in good spirits, but he kept turning the conversation with Sirius over in his mind. It was confusing for any number of reasons. Something in what Sirius had said about horcruxes -- cruces -- whatever -- something had been important, but he didn't know what. It kept getting pushed to one side by Sirius' remark about the war. Was it a boast, or...just a statement, or was it an invitation?

If I'm going to die for a cause, I'm going to drink and eat and fuck first.

Was that to say he already had? He wasn't allowed to sleep with students, but if the people in Hogsmeade thought he was older -- Sirius wouldn't. Would he? He knew his father and Sirius had been the wild ones at school, but -- no. Surely not. Sirius would have told him. They were friends.

So then was it simply something Sirius wanted, or was it something Sirius wanted from him?

Ridiculous. Harry told himself that it was just that he was seventeen and he'd dumped his girlfriend and he hardly even wanked anymore because when he did either he started thinking about the war, which was just upsetting, or he'd think about Sirius, which was hardly better. Or worse -- some other boy, Ron or even Colin and he didn't even like Colin.

Harry Potter was not about to tell anyone he fancied a boy, let alone boys as a species. He could see how that conversation would go with any number of people. Ron would stammer and stutter and flee, the Twins would send him naughty pictures, and Molly would say it was just a phase (which would be a comforting thought, but Harry didn't much like the idea of telling Molly at any rate). Hermione didn't even bear thinking about. Remus would probably give him tips or something, a thought too horrifying to contemplate. Tonks would tease him. Augustus Pye would lecture him about diseases. Sirius was utterly out of the question. Ginny would stab him with something dull and rusty.

He lay on his bed in Fourteen Back, staring up at the rafters. He half-wished for a journal like the one in the map, one which could talk back to him in a not-creepy-horcrux sort of way. He could use a little reassurance right now.

His eyes fell on the little silvery bulldog on his bedside table. He picked it up, compact and heavy in his hand. His father's pocketwatchdog, and possibly the secret of his father's success with his mother.

He flicked open one side. Half past midnight. The time when witches were abroad. Or, more likely, the time when any sensible witch was tucked up in bed after a big dinner. He caught his thumbnail on the other side and lifted, staring up at the black circle contemplatively. White words rose wispily into view.

Read the inscription.

"Inscription on what?" Harry asked, annoyed. The pocketwatchdog didn't answer him, and he set it down again with a groan, closing his eyes and trying to sleep. After a while the tension in his shoulders eased along with the tightness in his jaw. The darkness and stillness of this room were nearly perfect; there was not even a single noisy bird in Bowman's garden.

He wriggled into a more comfortable position and encountered Padfoot's warm bulk, his breathing a slow and comforting rhythm. Padfoot woke when Harry's hips rudely invaded his space, but he merely scrambled up and scooted over to make room before dropping back down, head on Harry's thighs. Harry smiled and scratched Padfoot's ears without looking. Padfoot adjusted his head for maximum scratches and his muzzle bumped against Harry's thigh where Sirius' hand had rested earlier that day; Harry squirmed and Padfoot growled, nudging him again. Harry tightened his fingers in Padfoot's fur to stop him and suddenly it was Sirius' hair, and Sirius grinning at him, propped on his hands over Harry's hips.

"Told you," Sirius said, spreading one long-fingered hand over Harry's stomach. Harry pushed himself up on his elbows as Sirius bent and kissed the skin visible between his fingers, then took his hand away, sliding it down over Harry's hip-bone and stroking the growing erection through his pyjama trousers.

"Told me?" Harry asked, breathless. Sirius dipped his head and nuzzled the line of Harry's ribcage. Harry realised, rather calmly, that there was a cup in his belly, just the gold rim visible above his skin, a cup full of water. Sirius lapped at it like a dog, every small sip making Harry's pulse beat louder in his ears. As it emptied it became obvious that the cup was shallow, in fact not a cup at all but a wide gold ring lined with pale white pearls.

"Read the inscription," Sirius said, his fingers tightening almost painfully. Harry cried out and the ring blew away like dust, tickling the sensitive skin of his stomach and leaving behind the pearls, which rolled down into the hollow place between hip and thigh.

Harry woke suddenly and completely to a sunlit bedroom, not as quiet as the dream had been but still quiet enough that he heard his own voice echo back to him for a split second, the hoarse cry which had woken him. His skin felt alive and it was hard to catch his breath; his pyjamas were constricting him rather uncomfortably, and he kicked them off, shoving them away with his feet. Throwing the covers back he curled his legs up and stroked quickly with one hand, one two three and at least it hadn't taken very long.

"Harry?" Remus called from downstairs. "Are you all right?"

"Fine, Remus," Harry called, realising his cry must have been audible from below. "Stubbed my toe."

"Oh! Sorry. Right, I'm off -- I'll see you this evening if you're around."

Harry sighed and crawled out of bed, stretching. Just a dream; a nice dream in some ways, to be sure, but just a dream and anyway wizards didn't go in for all that psychological stuff.

He touched the sensitive skin of his abdomen for reassurance; he could almost still feel Sirius' tongue, catching on the skin as he lapped up the water in the cup -- ring -- whatever it had been.

Read the inscription.

"Life couldn't possibly give me a break now and then," Harry muttered, wandering into the bathroom for a wash.


Between the usual mess Remus always made of his own papers and the piles of things Tonks had brought back from Auror headquarters with her, the kitchen was becoming a disaster area. Harry, while never the tidiest of people, decided that it had reached near-critical mass, and devoted most of his morning to cleaning up the piles of papers. He found no less than four pots of black ink and two of red, along with innumerable bits of ribbon used to tie parchment scrolls shut with. The Auror files went into a series of heaps on the kitchen counter, which at least cleared off the table for the most part. He put anything from Hogwarts on Remus' bed, noticing how quickly Remus had put his own stamp on the place -- at Grimmauld Place Remus' rooms had always seemed rather sterile and temporary, but now there were clothes strewn around, more papers, and even things hung on the walls. There were photographs in cheap frames, and books everywhere. Granted, the shirt in the corner reading Aurors Do It Vigilantly was probably Tonks', and the skirt nearby had better be, but Remus had merely stayed at Grimmauld Place -- he lived at Fourteen Back.

Outside in Godric's Hollow it was overcast and chilly, but from the kitchen windows Harry could see the sun shining warmly down on the garden. The mango harvest was in full swing and Bowman was standing on the upper rungs of a ladder holding an enormous basket. Every so often he would give the ladder an order and it would shuffle around to a better position; sometimes it overshot and he swore at it. Harry grinned as he straightened the last pile of parchment and moved it out of the way. Underneath, Sirius' copy of that Graveworthy book was sitting out; Harry put it in the living room where he'd see it when he arrived tomorrow evening.

He had made one rather uneven heap on the table -- parchments he wanted to look through again, the inventory list of Regulus Black's pockets on top. A wand, a self-inking quill, two rings, a coin bag; the belongings of a wealthy young wizard.

His eye caught the second ring, and he paused. Ring - right front pocket. Band, gold; inscribed with foreign lettering....

Read the inscription.

Harry hesitated. He would not bolt for the floo again, like he had last time; he would stop and think. Why would Regulus Black own a ring inscribed with something in another language? Why wouldn't he be wearing it? Was it some sort of Death Eater symbol? Like the coins that they'd used to gather the Dark Arts class in fifth year...

There was a crash in the living room, and Harry ran through the kitchen door, wand out. It was Tonks; she stumbled forward as she dusted ash from her clothing.

"Harry!" she said excitedly. "They've figured it out!"

"I have too!" Harry blurted.

There was a pause.

"What?" they asked in unison. Tonks shook her head. "Me first."

"Okay, what?" Harry asked, impatiently.

"I took the little rock thing to one of Kingsley's contacts -- not really legal, you know, he runs a pawn -- right," she said, as he gestured for her to get on with it. "He had one look at it and gave me this book -- the rock is an egg," she finished.

"It is?" Harry demanded, holding out his hand. She set the egg in his palm, holding out a book as well.

"It's a phoenix egg," she said. "He's never seen anything like it, but he's read about them. If you snatch a phoenix egg from the fire before it really gets going, you get a phoenix egg. They're hard as anything, impossible to crack, and the book says," she took a deep breath, "that you can hatch it if you put it back in a fire. It's a survival mechanism."

Harry held the egg up to eye level and stared at it, fascinated. "Why would Regulus leave a phoenix egg for Voldemort? That'd only be helping him. They're really useful."

"I dunno, but sometimes they lay two eggs, and if the second egg is black -- I mean I know that one isn't -- but if it is, it's supposed to hatch out something awful. They don't even know what," she said. "Now you, what did you find out?"

"Oh -- right, I need to go to headquarters," he said breathlessly. "I think I -- well, it's just a hunch..."

"You need to see his things?" she asked, knowingly.

"Yeah -- the ring he wasn't wearing. I don't know if it'll lead us to the horcrux, but I need to see it anyway," he said. "Can we go now?"

"Oooh -- I think so." She checked the grandfather clock in the corner. "He should be back from lunch by now."

"He?" Harry asked, tucking the egg into a pocket and shoving the book into his old schoolbag, sitting near the hearth.

"Yeah -- we'll need special permission, but I have contacts...need anything else?" she asked. Harry ran upstairs and grabbed the pocketwatchdog, shoving it in with the phoenix egg. She offered him the bowl of floo powder as he settled the bag across his shoulder.

"Auror Administration Office," she told him. He tossed the powder in, stepped inside, and called out the name; the world spun for a moment before he tumbled out onto the hearth of a small but rich-looking waiting room. A wizard behind a desk looked up in surprise, then smiled as Tonks emerged behind Harry.

"Hi, Asa," she said, walking forward briskly. "Is Knightley in?"

"He's meeting with some section heads about pay rises," the man called Asa answered. "Is it urgent? I'd rather not disturb him. Fifteen minutes at most."

Tonks glanced at Harry. "I think we can wait fifteen minutes."

"Great. Have a seat."

Harry followed Tonks to a low leather-covered bench. "Where are we?" he asked in a hushed voice.

"Office of the head of the Aurors -- what Scrimgeour used to do before he was Minister."

"Who does it now?"

"Julian Knightley. He was my professor in History at the Academy. His family and the Blacks are pretty close, Mum used to babysit him."

Harry grinned. She grinned back.

"Anyway, he likes me. He'll help us out. Regulus' personal things are in a secure archive because they're valuable and possibly Dark, which is why I couldn't take them out in the first place..."

Just then a door opened and a small group of Aurors, most of whom made Moody look like a fashion model, came out. They paid no attention to Harry and Tonks as they grumbled their way through a door at the far end of the waiting room. Asa leaned in through the open door, then beckoned Tonks and Harry inside, closing it behind them.

The office was, like the waiting room, small but well-appointed; bookshelves adorned with odd curios and ancient-looking works of art lined the walls, and there was apparently a game in progress on a small chess table off to the left of the large desk in the middle of the room. The man sitting behind it looked older than he was, Harry thought; he wore deep blue robes and his hair was just beginning to go straight from dark black to white without any intermediate stages. He set his quill down and stood as they entered, gesturing them into two comfortable chairs in front of the desk.

"Nymphadora," he said with a smile. "This is an unexpected surprise. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Uncle Jacky," she answered, shaking his offered hand before seating herself. "I didn't mean to barge in, but I need you to push some paperwork through for me. Oh -- this is Harry Potter. Harry, Julian Knightley."

Knightley grinned at him. "My pleasure, Mr. Potter. I've wanted to meet you for a long time, particularly after Scrimgeour's fits over your unwillingness to cooperate with his public-relations scheme."

Harry, taken aback by his frankness, found himself at a loss for words. "Thanks," he said.

"Paperwork, you said?" Knightley continued.

"Yeah -- we need access to the restricted archives. Just one box, but the sooner the better," Tonks answered.

The man looked from her to Harry and back again, and Harry saw a sharp keenness in his eyes, belied by his friendly expression. "I assume there's at least a tenuous link to Auror business involved?" he asked carefully.

"Well, yes -- I'm doing some unofficial investigation into an unsolved case."

Knightley reached into a drawer for a slip of parchment with official-looking print already on it. "Do you need to remove anything?"

"No -- I don't think so," she said, glancing at Harry, who shook his head.

"How long do you need access for?" he asked, filling in several blank spaces.

"Just an afternoon," Harry answered. Knightley looked up at him.

"Unofficially, can I ask what this is all about?" he said quietly. Tonks and Harry exchanged an uneasy look.

"Sir, with all due respect, it's probably better if you don't know," she said slowly.

"You do understand you'll be thoroughly searched before you enter and after you leave?"

"Yes, sir," Tonks said. He signed the slip of parchment and passed it across the desk to her.

"Don't get me in trouble, Tonks," he warned.

"We'll try not to, sir," she said.

"Very well. If that's all, I wish I could stay and chat, but -- "

"Right you are," she grinned.

"Give my love to your mum. And, Mr. Potter...." he added, as they walked to the door. Harry stopped and turned back.

"Things filter up to me through channels," Knightley said. "I know now's not the time to extend the invitation, but in a year or two, if things work out well and you sit your NEWTs, there's a place for you at the Aurors' Academy. Guaranteed."

Harry blinked. "Thank you, sir."

"Anyone with the guts to stand up to Scrimgeour and tick him off deserves it," Knightley said. "Off you go now, and have fun in the archives. Mind the dust."


Notes: Julian Knightley is an original character in an HP roleplay. This is only a version of him and does not reflect relationships he may or may not have in the roleplay itself, for those that follow hp_dungeons. I couldn't resist slipping him in.

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