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The next week passed fairly quickly; Harry threw himself into books on magic that were advanced beyond anything he'd encountered, trying to discover how to destroy the horcruxes locked in the kitchen cabinet. Remus had subtly hinted to McGonagall that there might be something in Dumbledore's papers which could be of service to the Order, but she'd been forced to admit that Dumbledore had left no personal papers of any kind. There were several books of his writings, but they were nothing secret and indeed, many of the older ones had become redundant over the years. Whether he had even kept any notes -- which didn't seem like him, Remus had to admit -- or whether they'd destroyed themselves upon his death, Dumbledore would be no help now.

Which was typical, really. When had the Headmaster ever given anyone an answer on a silver platter if he knew that sooner or later they'd work it out for themselves? It was what was so bloody frustrating. Remus knew, as a teacher, that it was the right attitude to take, but it was annoying to be still treated like a student. Adults told each other things. Particularly when it came to defending the Wizarding World from a sociopathic maniac.

So, Harry was left with a mountain of books he only barely comprehended, Tonks was left hinting around to her old Defence Professor at the Academy about ways to destroy powerful Dark objects, and Remus was left browsing the Restricted Section in his off-time. Sirius was a help but Sirius was at work on his own projects as well, and rightly so. McGonagall was demanding weekly updates on his studies to prevent him slacking on them, and Sirius was stubborn enough to want to prove to her that he could do more than she expected of him. He was already combining classes to get more use out of a single project -- Herbology was an aspect of his Potions work, and in Charms he was devising new translation spells for Ancient Runes. He could justify time spent in the Restricted Section with Remus as DADA, and he wasn't even bothering to mess around with Transfiguration. He decided if she asked him about that, he'd just turn into Padfoot for a while and give her a good doggy stare.

And he had gone back to Firenze's Divination class, many times. He was trying to work up the courage to ask the imposing centaur if he would give him astronomy lessons; it wasn't that Sinistra wasn't a good astronomer, but she wasn't very imaginative, better at drilling locations and calculations into young heads than the more...artistic interpretation Firenze put on things.

"Mr. Padfoot," Firenze said to him, as he lingered after the last class on Tuesday. "Still in your red robes, I see."

"Yeah," Sirius said, examining his cuffs. "Well, it's a living."

"Is it?" Firenze asked, looking as if he didn't really expect an answer.

"I was wondering if I could..." Sirius hesitated. "You know who I am, don't you?"

"I know what the stars tell me. The rest can be deduced," Firenze said. "Walk with me?"

"I'm planning to sit NEWTs at the end of the year," Sirius said, walking alongside the centaur as they moved through the false forest that grew in Firenze's classroom. Firenze remained impassive. "I'm taking Astronomy as one of my exams."

"Exams...these are the times when young children are required to demonstrate a year's worth of knowledge in the space of an hour?" Firenze asked drily.

"Or seven years' worth," Sirius answered. "That's the idea."

"I see."

"And I like Sinistra at all, she's a good teacher, but..."

"But you are ambitious," Firenze said, "and you do not wish to settle for second-best."

"It's not that so much as..." Sirius trailed off. Firenze waited. "Well, maybe it is that a little, but why learn less when I could learn more?"

"Do you suppose you will learn more, with me?" the centaur asked.

"You know more."

"Indeed, but that does not necessarily mean you will learn more," Firenze replied.

"Why not?"

Firenze's tail swished, and Sirius had the impression that he was amused.

"Centaurs understand the movements of the stars far more intuitively than humans ever have or, perhaps, ever will. Humans have other concerns in which they surpass us, though it would be death to admit such within the herd."

Sirius waited. Firenze ducked under a low branch before continuing.

"Learning is not a matter of selecting a goal and immediately arriving at it. You would not put a first-year student in a seventh-year class, though that may be the eventual result of seven years' time. There may be an insurmountable gap between what you know now and where your education with a centaur would begin."

The centaur wheeled his body to face Sirius. "To understand if you are prepared to study with me may alone take months. You have a bare year in which to learn how to fool an examiner. Which will it be?"

"I don't understand."

"Choose learning," Firenze said patiently, "Or choose the ability to pass your exam. At times, the two become mutually exclusive."

"Learning," Sirius said immediately. Firenze nodded.

"Then we shall, at the least, gauge your worth," he replied. "Two days from now, meet me here and we will see what you are capable of."

Sirius almost opened his mouth to protest that Thursday was his night off and Harry always came to see him, but he saw Firenze's expression and realised that it would almost certainly end his lessons immediately if he said that.

Well, he'd chosen learning. Now he was stuck with it.

He apologised to Harry in a note sent with Lupin, and Harry wrote back that it didn't matter, they'd see each other on the weekend anyway. Sirius was mildly put out by this; the least Harry could do was complain a little.

Firenze was waiting for him in the hallway outside his Divinations classroom that Thursday, unshod hooves ringing hollow on the stone. He nodded at Sirius and led the way out of the castle without a word, through a side door which opened directly onto the dirt paths and turf.

"We dare not venture too close to the forest," he said as they crossed the grounds at an oblique angle to the treeline, apparently heading for the lake. "My brothers and sisters in the herd would be displeased to see me, let alone with a human walking at my side."

"Displeasing my family -- that would've been enough reason for me to do it, once," Sirius answered.


"I've grown up a bit."

"As do we all, when we are separated from our rightful place. We must find new places to inhabit."

Sirius wasn't sure what to say to that, so he was silent. When they reached the lake's edge, at the furthest point from the trees, Firenze waved a hand at the utterly still water. The moon, a bare week from being full, illuminated it brightly.

"What is the difference between the lake and the sky?" he asked.

Sirius was ready to retort with a quip about them both being in trouble if Firenze didn't know that, but he paused.

The sky was the sky and the lake was the lake, that was all. But...that wasn't really saying anything, was it? And he was fairly sure that a person who lived in a forest by preference was not asking him about the chemical properties of air and water.

So he looked at the lake, and he looked at the stars, and he looked at the reflection of the stars in the lake, and the reverse-image of the moon-hare that was just beginning to emerge as the moon waxed towards fullness. His father had always said that the man-in-the-moon was for Muggles, and Sirius had never been able to see it anyway -- it was a hare, ad aeternitas, world without end.

"The stars in the lake are backwards," he said.

"What does this mean?"

Sirius looked down at the lake and pictured the stars wheeling above them, held on their axis by Polaris, the north star, the constant. If the movements of the stars showed the fates of men --

"The split isn't definite; not positive-negative, not like a scrying mirror might work," he said slowly, trying to work it out in words. "The stars are the stars. All it means is that you have to remember, if you're looking at a mirror of the stars, to think backwards."

Firenze was regarding him with solemn eyes. Sirius blinked.

"Which means that if the stars reflect the events on earth -- in big terms, anyway -- sometimes a presence can mean an absence," he said. "Just because there's a sign of peace in the sky...doesn't mean it's good peace. You can't put value on an event. It's just an event."

"Be seated, Nigel Padfoot."

Sirius sat crosslegged on a rock outcrop, his eyes still almost level with Firenze's, and turned his attention from the lake.

"Show me the constellations and the planets," Firenze said. "Until they are as familiar a face to you as a lover's, you cannot possibly hope to apply what you have just learned."

"But they change," Sirius said. "I mean, I can pick them out, no problem, but they're not always in the same place."

"And does a man's face become unfamiliar because he smiles instead of frowns?"

"Oh." Sirius rested his left hand on his knee and then, after a second, hesitated. "But if I'm sitting I can't see the whole sky at once."

Firenze said nothing. Finally, Sirius lay back on the rock, drawing his legs up so that his knees were crooked at the stars.

"There," he said, pointing. "Polaris, the north star. Everything wheels around it. And there's Sirius, the dog star. And -- " he hesitated. "It's known as the Nile Star too, isn't it?"

"It is," Firenze answered.

"But -- " Sirius pushed himself up onto his elbows, staring at the bright southeastern star. "There are two of them. Do you see that? Clustered close together?"


"That's not right -- or wasn't, twenty years ago."

"It is neither right nor wrong; it is simply what is," Firenze replied. "It is the twin of the Nile Star, and it is dying -- some would call it dead already."

"But it's so bright!"

"The heart of the mystery," Firenze answered. "Why should a dead star shine so visibly as it ascends? Perhaps it has made way for a second star to shine through in its place; perhaps it is inexplicable. But nevertheless, the second Sirius is rising."

Sirius looked at him sharply. "But you teach that the stars don't guide the fates of individual men. It's all about clans and wars and countries."

"Sometimes a single man so shapes the world that his fortune cannot be avoided in the heavens."

Sirius gazed upwards. Finally, he breathed deeply.

"Should I continue?" he asked.

"Yes. The visible planets first this time, please, then where and at what degree the invisible ones will rise."


When Tonks had said that her contact was in Mardjinn Alley where it connected to Knockturn, she hadn't been exaggerating. Caligula Curios may have been one small shop crammed with odds and ends in a long line of small shops crammed with odds and ends, but it had the dubious honour of standing at the corner of Mardjinn and Knockturn, with doors opening into both streets.

The proprietor was a small man called Mr. Nigenae, who almost looked as if he himself were made of paper; his face was creased sharply with age and his white hair had a dry, crisp look to it. When they visited him on Saturday he was quite ready to explain his deductions to Remus, who seemed to follow the series of sources and references better than the others; when Harry produced the egg once more, Nigenae fixed a jeweler's glass in his eye and examined it minutely.

"I have calculated the rate of exothermic output in a phoenix flame to precision, research of others who have come before and some brief experiments of my own. Of course, the variety from start to finish of the burn is, oh, very great, but I believe with a simple formula we might endeavour to, hm, hatch the little beast," he said, with a conspiratorial grin at Harry. "As I understand it, you lose nothing by trying."

"Is there any way to tell where it came from?" Remus asked. "What its lineage might be?"

"Oh, you want, well, hah, you want an avian expert for that; perhaps, perhaps. To judge from the thickness and hardness of the shell, mmhm, you have likely stumbled upon what is known as a fresh egg, which is to say, the second laying of a phoenix. In essence this is a new bird, never having hatched before, and therefore it does indeed have, ah, a parent. Most phoenix birds, perhaps you are not aware, die not from old age but rather from, aha, youth as it were."

As he spoke, Nigenae bustled around the back room of the shop, gathering up several items: a small bowl, several wads of thick, yellowish paper, a few herbs, and a handful of downy feathers.

"Parrot," he said as he took out the feathers. Apparently he thought this explained things. "As I was saying, phoenix birds, when they do expire, often do so because their shells have grown too thin through repeated rebirths, and thus they are not, aha, allowed to age to a point where self-immolation to once again renew themselves is an option. Tragic, tragic, but such is the way of things."

He set the bowl on the tabletop and began to layer herbs and feathers inside it, building it up with what looked like sticks of cinnamon. When this was done he surrounded the small pyre with wads of paper and picked up the egg.

"Shall we attempt it?" he asked. Remus looked at Harry and Sirius; Sirius gave Harry a nod, and Harry turned to Nigenae.

"Go ahead," he said. Nigenae carefully placed the egg in the centre of the bowl and piled more cinnamon sticks up around it until they formed a sort of cone over the top. He held up his wand and a tiny flicker of flame burst from the tip.

Harry held his breath as the flame was touched to the apex of the tinder. As aware of it as he was, however, he wasn't prepared for what happened next.

He had assumed it would burn slowly but instead it exploded into flames at least a foot high, filling the air with acrid smoke. A second later the smell of burning feathers wafted up, accompanied by a strong odor of cinnamon, not entirely pleasant. It was over as quickly as any phoenix immolation, at least by Harry's limited experience. The ashes gave off little wisps but the smoke was dissipating rapidly even as Nigenae leaned forward.

"Behold," he said in a hushed voice. There was a soft chirruping noise, and a beak poked its way out of the ashes. The shopkeeper picked up a small brush and cleared away the grey dust, revealing a small orange head and two beady black eyes.

Tonks squeaked and Remus glanced at her, startled. She looked sheepish.

"Girl moment. It's over now," she added. Harry put out a finger and stroked the little head, hesitantly.

"It's warm."

"It's a phoenix," Nigenae reminded him.

"What do they eat?" Harry asked. Nigenae held up a book, Onne the Care and Feedynge of Fenexes.

"Eight sickles," he said. "A man has to make a living, you know."

Harry gave him a Galleon and cupped his hand down in the bowl, lifting the little bird out. It shook itself, sending ash everywhere, and coughed piteously.

"Hedwig'll be furious, you know that, right?" Sirius said.

"Maybe you should take -- it?" Harry said. "How do you tell what sex a phoenix is?"

Sirius picked up Onne The Care and Feedynge of Fenexes and thumbed through it.

"Um. Maybe they don't have a gender," he said. He glanced up to find that Remus and Tonks were deep in conference with Nigenae, standing out of earshot. Nigenae glanced at Sirius, eyes wide, and then quickly looked away.

"Don't have a gender?"

"Well, they don't have sex, do they?"

The little bird ruffled its feathers again and bit Harry's thumb. "Ow!"

"Nigel, would you mind stepping over here for a moment?" Remus called. Sirius obeyed, scowling. "We've been discussing the map with Mr. Nigenae."

"You can't have it," Sirius said firmly.

"Padfoot," Remus warned.

"May I, at least, examine it?" Nigenae asked. "The idea of imprinting an item such as a map with, ah, an actual personality is unusual to say the least."

Sirius took the map out of his pocket, but when Nigenae reached for it, he pulled away.

"I'll do it," he said, spreading it out on an antique desk that happened to be handy. "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good," he said, under his breath so that Nigenae wouldn't hear the passphrase. The lines of the map began to appear on the surface. Nigenae looked delighted.

"What wonderful craftsmanship! What ingenuity! What detail!" he cried.

"What a load of rubbish," Sirius muttered.

"And you say you were actually able to reproduce a significant portion of yourself within it?" Nigenae asked. Sirius nodded. "Strictly through the cartography?"

"Er...well, no," Sirius said. "We -- I -- kept a journal in it too."

"I see, I see. May I -- no, of course not," Nigenae said hastily, when Sirius glared at him.

"What we're wondering is how it could occur inadvertently and whether it is damaging to the individual," Remus said. "The reproduction was not intentional, although it took a great deal of power to complete the charm."

"H'm, well," Nigenae said, examining the map with his jeweler's glass, poring over a section of the Gryffindor tower. "There are myths, of course, and certain, hah, figures in history. Let me see, let me see..." he tapped one finger against his lips. "Are you aware of the belief held in the early part of the century by certain witches and wizards averse to, ah, photography?"

"That they thought the camera would steal a part of them?" Tonks asked.

"Yes yes, the very one, this was when cameras were quite new to our world, of course -- funny, isn't it, that a camera functions quite well and yet a ball-point pen breaks down in areas of high magical charge..." Nigenae trailed off for a second and then seemed to relocate his thread. "Mysticism aside, consider that it is possible to place one's own self within a work of, if I may call it such, considerable art as this item."

He tapped the map with his finger, gently.

"It is not precisely division as we understand it but replication, as with offspring, resembling a phoenix in nature if it comes to that. To replicate a complete person would be a labour of considerable effort, yes, and also would require terribly complete honesty. But were such a person to be replicated...well, who can say what power they would have? They might themselves possess the ability to touch the heart, the very soul of another."

Sirius felt gooseflesh rise on his skin. He didn't like being talked about as if he were a theory, but there was something...right about Nigenae's last suggestion.

"You are quite certain you refuse to leave it with me? Temporarily?" Nigenae asked, hand caressing the map. Sirius shook his head and began to gather it up, clearing it with a quick "Mischief Managed!" and placing it in his pocket once more. At that moment there was the sound of a bell from the front of the shop, and Nigenae bustled out to serve his customer.

"I'm not sure we learned anything we didn't already know," Remus said regretfully.

"I don't care," Sirius retorted. "it doesn't matter anyway -- I'm here now, aren't I?"

"It's all right, Padfoot. I'm not scolding you," Remus answered. Sirius turned away, ashamed, his eyes lighting on Harry at the other end of the room. Harry had picked up the book on "Fenexes" with one hand, still holding the little creature in the other.

"Come on, Harry," Remus said. "I think we're finished here."

"Find anything interesting?" Harry asked. Sirius shook his head, accepting the book from Harry as the other boy tucked the bird carefully into a pocket in his shirt. It squealed and settled down as a lump in the bottom of the pocket. There was the faint odor of burning fabric.

"It never hurts to ask," Tonks reminded them as they passed out into the shop proper. Even as Harry stepped through the doorway, Remus moved in front of him quickly.

"Remus, what -- "

"Shut up," Remus ordered, and Harry lapsed into surprised silence. Remus moved back, forcing Harry and Sirius into the rear office once more. Tonks followed him, her sleeve grasped in his fingers.

"What is it?" Harry asked.

"Death Eaters. Be quiet."

Sirius craned his head around Remus' shoulders, warily. Two men in black cloaks stood in the shop, facing the windows, backs to the doorway.

"Is there another way to leave?" Remus asked. Tonks glanced over her shoulder.

"There's a door," she said, testing it as silently as she could. It opened into a dim, cold space between two buildings, not wide enough to be called a proper alley. As soon as she opened it, a gust of wind blew through and the two men in cloaks turned to the source of the sudden chill.

"Snape," Harry whispered, hatefully. He charged forward but Sirius grabbed his wrist and pulled him off his feet in the other direction, through the doorway. He stumbled down the steps even as Remus pulled the door shut between the office and the shop, locking it with a hasty charm before he followed them.

"THERE!" someone shouted, and three more black-cloaked figures bolted down the passageway after them. Sirius was still hauling him along even as hexes flew past; Tonks and Remus were shouting and turning to return the attack with vigour. Sirius pulled him to the right, headed for the dubious safety of Mardjinn Alley...

Except on this side, the passageway narrowed to nothing as two buildings converged. It wasn't even a wall; they could have gone over a wall. It was just an ending, rising three storeys above them.

Tonks shoved over a pile of empty packing crates for cover, but it wouldn't last long; Harry could see the hooded figures looming before them, wands outstretched, could hear Remus curse softly and felt Sirius grip his arm tightly --

And then, inexplicably, the three Death Eaters stopped.

And then, even more inexplicably, they fell over.

In their place stood an un-hooded Severus Snape, wand outstretched. Harry moved forward again, but Sirius was still holding onto his arm and there was only so far he could go.

"Don't be a fool, Potter -- don't even try it," he snapped at Tonks, who had been about to raise her wand. "There are more on the way. Go now. Go," he urged, when they hesitated. "Idiots!"

Remus laid a hand on Harry's arm and before Harry could protest they were Apparating; he felt a sharp tug on his hair that overrode the usual pain of a side-along. They emerged from nothingness into the sunny garden of Fourteen Back, Sirius and Tonks appearing a split second later, and Harry discovered the source of his pain.

"Malfoy," he growled, even as the pale boy released the back of his head and scrambled away. Remus had to lunge forward and grab Harry by the shoulders to keep him from getting his hands around Malfoy's throat; Sirius joined in, and Tonks put herself between them, wand on Draco but eyes on Harry. "I'll fucking kill you, Malfoy!" Harry shouted, struggling against Sirius and Remus' grips. In his pocket, the phoenix was crying piteously.

"Give me a reason," Tonks said to Malfoy as he moved to stand. He stilled, staring at her.

"There's a letter," he stammered.

"Let me go!" Harry cried.

"It's in my pocket -- take it yourself if you don't believe me," Malfoy continued. Tonks edged forward and reached into his pocket, withdrawing a piece of folded parchment.

"The password is oddment," Malfoy said, and before she could move, he had Disapparated with a crack. Her hex was a second too late, and it killed one of Bowman's rosebushes instead of hitting Malfoy in the chest.

Remus let Harry go. Sirius relaxed his grip as well, much more slowly.

"Why didn't you let me kill him?" Harry asked.

"We're not murderers," Remus answered.

"WE SHOULD BE!" Harry shouted, turning on him. "They don't deserve any better!"

"Ooooh, Remus, you need to read this," Tonks said, staring down at the letter. "Oh, you need to read this right now."

"Who's it from?" Sirius asked. He wiped blood away from his lips, and Harry belatedly realised he must have elbowed Sirius in the mouth in the struggle.

"Albus Dumbledore," she answered.

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