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Albus Dumbledore
May 1, 1997
Hogwarts School

My dear Harry,

If you are reading this letter, then things have grown dire indeed. I am almost certainly deceased, and you have every reason to believe that Severus Snape is my murderer; perhaps you were even witness to the event, considering your aptitude for being in places one least expects of you and seeing things that a man of your few years had much better live without seeing.

I digress from the point, however, which is to put your mind at least partially at ease. If you will consult Healer Abigail Francisco, head of the Spell Damage unit at St. Mungo's, she will be able to confirm that my death warrant has, in fact, been signed and sealed for some time. I am afraid that the reason I cannot instruct you as to the obliteration of the remaining horcruxes (which, I am sure, you will have no trouble locating) is that I have unfortunately given my life in order to destroy the Ring of the House of Peverell. I shall persevere as far as I can, but I doubt I shall finish out the school year. Such a shame; I do love the end-of-year feast.

Do not despair, however! For, as you are reading this letter, you will discover you possess allies in unexpected places. No doubt you believe Severus to be a traitor; Abigail will also be able to confirm (as she was our Bonder) that he was sworn by Unbreakable Vow to assist me to a less painful grave than otherwise. If I am dead at his hand, it is by my own request and through no misdeed of his own. You must believe him to be an ally, Harry, no matter what; as I have trusted him implicitly in life, so do I in death, and wish that you will do the same. Consider it an inheritance, if you will. You will find far richer inheritances in the future, if you hold fast to these convictions now.

Abigail herself has been sworn to secrecy with a similar vow, the exception being if you, Harry, ask her to reveal what she knows of my death. She will assist you in contacting Professor Snape if he has fled to the Death Eaters, which is highly likely if he has managed to deliver to you this letter. He is, if he has escaped your wrath thus far, engaged in discovering what I could not. I have asked him to make himself useful to you; I doubt he will do so without a struggle, but then you are familiar with his ways and will expect this.

Is it not strange, Harry, that your father's generation should produce so many brilliant minds and yet lose or cripple so many, so young? I muse on it often. Your generation, no less brilliant but far less innocent, will face more challenges, I fear. Learn from those who have survived Voldemort's wrath once: believe strongly, love fully, fight with bravery as well as wit, and be steadfast to your comrades.

You will not fail. In this I have faith.

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore


Fourteen Back was unusually subdued, that Saturday evening.

Most of the afternoon was spent patching wounds and making plans; Tonks departed with the letter to speak to Moody and, if possible, track down Abigail Francisco. While Tonks was gone they cooked a halfhearted dinner and then sat around the kitchen table, talking. Sirius was feeding the little phoenix hatchling on dry tinder and mashed up mangoes, which it seemed to appreciate. They danced around the topic of Severus Snape entirely, until Sirius cleared his throat awkwardly.

"Well..." he said. "Snivellus got beaky, didn't he? And old."

"No older than I am," Remus said tiredly.

"No, but he looks older."

Remus snorted.

"He does. You can tell you're still not very old, I can tell I mean, when I look at you," Sirius said. "Everything about him is old and dried up."

"Do you really suppose he's still an ally?" Harry asked, watching the hatchling as it gnawed on a mango rind held in Sirius' fingers.

"We can't know for sure," Remus said.

"He killed Dumbledore."

"On Dumbledore's request, if the letter is to be believed," Remus reminded him.

"The whole time on the tower he never once begged for his life from Malfoy...but when Snape showed up, he told him please..."

"He always was a bastard," Sirius muttered.

"The important thing is that we survived due in no small part to his timely action," Remus said. "And if the letter is valid, we should consider the idea that we now have a deeply trusted agent in the Death Eaters. Dumbledore is right -- Snape will be able to find out from Voldemort how to destroy the horcruxes. If anyone knows, the Dark Lord will."

"Or all he'll do is tip him off," Harry said quietly.

"We must run the risk sooner or later, Harry. We have -- or know of -- all but one; that's something, anyway, and..." Remus bowed his head. "We'll know soon enough -- we ought to know after this moon -- if imprisoning Fenrir has disbanded his pack sufficiently."

"Perhaps there'll be a verdict on Monday," Sirius said comfortingly. Dumbledore's death was significant, yes, but in the here-and-now Remus and his worries were more important. Half of the people in Sirius' life had been suddenly dead when he arrived from the map, and he wanted to care more for the living.

"I doubt it. And if there is, they may hold it until after the moon. Scrimegeour's no fool. This close to the moon there will be riots, no matter what."

"Can they do that?" Sirius asked. "Hold the verdict?"

"I have learned," Remus said slowly, "that when it comes to werewolves, Sirius, 'they' can do just about anything they bloody well please."

Sirius scowled and stood up, walking to the kitchen counter. He took down a smallish soup bowl as he spoke, holding the phoenix in his other hand. "Perhaps the Ministry should do its own dirty work from now on," he declared. "Perhaps a riot or two might make them see reason."

"Not if innocent people are hurt, Sirius. I wouldn't wish this curse on anyone else for anything the Ministry could give me."

Sirius put the phoenix down on the counter and took out one of Remus' old shirts, which had gone for dusters when he bought new ones. He began shredding it into tiny strips, arranging them in the bowl. The phoenix, intrigued, ambled over to see what the fuss was about. When the bowl was about halfway full, it hooked its beak over the rim of the bowl and climbed in, fluffing its feathers contentedly as it settled into the makeshift nest.

"Look, it's a night-light," Sirius declared, as it began to glow softly.

"Remus," Harry said.


"What are we going to do? Really, I mean."

Remus ran his hands through his hair, leaning back disconsolately.

"We'll wait until Tonks can confirm that letter is from Dumbledore. Then we'll talk to Abigail Francisco. Then...I don't know. I think we had best leave Snape, like the Fenrir verdict, until after the full moon. In the meantime...we carry on as we have done."

"I don't trust him."

"Neither do I. Not yet., I remember this from last time; covert meetings, assurances disbelieved, accusations made. I know he has done horrible things," he said, holding up a hand to forestall Harry's arguments, "But they may have been necessary things, even beneficial things in the end. And now," he added, "I think we ought to sleep."

Sirius picked up the bowl-bed he'd made for the little phoenix and followed Harry upstairs with it, setting it carefully on the desk under the windows while Harry changed into his pyjamas. Normally he might leap up onto the bed as Padfoot before Harry could get in, starting a shoving war which would end with Harry laughing and Padfoot the happy recipient of many, many pets. Tonight, however, he waited until Harry was situated and then climbed up quietly, taking his customary place in the crook of Harry's legs.

"I think you should have the phoenix," Harry said, one hand idly rubbing Padfoot's ears. "You haven't got an owl. You should name it something interesting too. And at least pick a gender and stick to it, because you can't call a living thing 'it' for the rest of its life."

Padfoot nuzzled up against Harry's hand, licking his palm. Harryharryharry.

"Maybe you should name him Gaunt," Harry said, rubbing the fuzzy spot between Padfoot's eyebrows. "Or Regulus -- no, maybe not," he corrected himself. "Would Dismas be sacreligious? Not that anyone would know..."

He was silent for so long that it seemed as if he'd fallen asleep. Finally, he spoke again.

"Or you could name him Glastonbury. That's a nice noble name for a phoenix."


"Harry, wake up!"

Harry was tugged up out of amorphous dreams by Sirius' urgent voice, calling him. He sat up and rubbed his eyes blearily, finally locating near the desk on the windowsill.

"Glastonbury's gone!" Sirius said worriedly, showing him the bowl that they'd placed the little phoenix in, the night before. "I can't find him upstairs anywhere."

"Ummmh," Harry said. "Padfoot."

"No -- "

"No, find him with Padfoot," Harry said. "Scent?"

"Oh!" Sirius said. "Right!"

A second later both Padfoot and Harry came crashing down the stairs after the scent of the phoenix, only to find Tonks standing in the doorway to the kitchen, her finger held to her lips.

"Where's Glastonbury?" Sirius asked, not missing a beat in the change between dog and man.

"...Somerset?" Tonks said, confused. "Shut up, come look."

Harry and Sirius crowded around her through the doorway, curiously. In the kitchen, Remus was sitting at the table with a cup of tea in front of him, another one indicating where Tonks had just been; Hedwig was on her usual perch, the towel rack next to the sink where she could peer out the window any time she liked.

"Look at Hedwig," Remus said softly.

Harry became aware of a soft cheeping noise in the too-silent kitchen, and after a second Hedwig's downy belly appeared to move. Slowly, a small orange-red head poked out from underneath the white fluff.

"I guess she likes Glastonbury after all," Sirius said, grinning. He came forward to pick up the little phoenix, but Hedwig spread her wings and hissed warningly.

"Easy, Hedwig," Harry said, reaching out to stroke her head. She allowed it, warily, and even folded her wings as Sirius moved closer and cautiously reached underneath her, picking up the rather ugly, scraggly-feathered chick she'd been protecting. Glastonbury nibbled on his thumbnail.

"I thought Sirius was going to have a heart attack," Harry said amusedly, allowing Hedwig to crawl up his wrist and perch on his arm. "Do you suppose she came up in the night and got him, or he flew down?"

"Didn't smell her in our room," Sirius said, taking down some sausage with his free hand and dropping it into an instantly hot pan. Tonks raised an eyebrow and glanced at Remus, mouthing 'our?' at him. Harry squinted, not quite catching on; Remus dismissed whatever it was with a shake of his head, and Harry went to help Sirius tend to breakfast-making.

"I have news about the letter," Tonks said, shrugging it off. "From what I can tell, the signature is real. There are no glamours and no forgery charms; there's a second magical signature that emerges when you try to test the real one, but it's Dumbledore's too. The Healer he mentioned," she added, consulting a sheet of parchment, "is unfortunately away on holiday, but she'll be back next Monday and when I spoke to her through the floo, she said she thought she knew what this was all about. And I've put in a request for the Headmaster's medical records, so I should have those by Tuesday or so."

"Do you think I should talk to her sooner?" Harry asked, as Hedwig decided that hot sausage grease was not a pleasant morning experience and flapped back to her perch.

"Well..." she glanced at Remus, who leaned forward.

"If he is acting on Dumbledore's orders -- if he's loyal to our side -- then he'll keep on as he has done until we need him or until he can't take it any longer. Severus has a great tolerance for distasteful jobs; I can't see him quitting when he's finally managed to get a message through to us. If he has betrayed the Order..." Remus spread his hands. "There's no need to rush into his arms and put our own necks further in the noose."

"I set George to find him," Harry murmured. "So that we could kill him."

The others took this with an almost eerie equanimity.

"Then it's a rather good thing he didn't, don't you think?" Remus asked.


There were moments of brightness in the week that followed, but on the whole the days passed with a sort of expectant silence. Sirius marked his hours by feeding times for Glastonbury (morning and evening with regular Hogwarts meals and a few segments of mango around two in the afternoon) and by how quickly the little phoenix grew. Harry moved through Fourteen Back in a rather ghostly fashion, spending most of his time buried in books Hermione had asked him to read because, despite her drive to actually read every printed word by the age of nineteen, there were still only twenty-four hours in a day and you had to sleep for at least a few of them. Tonks continued to study Dumbledore's letter and search for ways it might have been forged in her off-hours.

For Remus, the time passed in a series of physical inconveniences which grew slowly but steadily worse as the moon worked its way towards the evening of the full. He taught until the last class on Wednesday, when he simply collapsed in his office afterwards and hadn't the strength to go down to dinner. Sirius brought him up a plate of food when he didn't show and took away his class notes so that he could start teaching the following day.

On Thursday evening, Firenze made Sirius recite the myths associated with every constellation, star, and planet that was in the sky above the school. Sirius got about two thirds of them, and the displeasure on Firenze's face sent him scrambling for his magical mythology books to look up the other third, later that evening, when he should have been getting enough sleep to be coherent for class the following day.

Tonks showed up at Fourteen Back right around sundown and insisted on making tarts with the bumper crop of strawberries Bowman had given Harry earlier in the week. Harry wasn't sure why she was making tarts, but he was subjected to an extended lecture on the proper way to bake Muggle-fashion (unnecessary), her father's habit of cooking food while under stress (vaguely informative), and some varied rantings about fate in general and love in specific being very unfair (entertaining). Harry had to admit that chopping up strawberries did at least provide something to do with the hands while he fretted about Remus, who by now must be fully Changed, and Padfoot, who was locked up with a werewolf.

And besides, hot strawberry tarts eaten at the kitchen table with warm apple cider did a lot to soothe frazzled nerves.

"Harry," Tonks said, round about the third tart, "can I ask you something?"

"Course," Harry replied, licking his fingers. "What?"

"You and're pretty good friends?"

"He's Sirius," Harry answered.

"Yeah, but what does that mean, really?"

Harry pondered it. "Well, it's destiny, isn't it?"

Tonks burst out laughing. "What?"

"I mean, all right, he left me once for Azkaban and then came back, and then left to go into hiding and then came back, and then he -- just...left..." Harry shook his head. "But he came back again. Don't tell me that's not...fate, somehow."

"Three times," Tonks agreed. "But does that mean it's fate for him to stay with you...or fate for him to keep leaving?"

Harry scowled. "He's not leaving again. I won't let him. I'm not fifteen anymore."

"But that's what I'm asking. I know he used to be your godfather, Harry, I just wonder...what he is now."

"He's my mate, isn't he? Like Ron and Hermione. Except he sort of...needs me more. You know what Remus said, Remus said he's a second chance."

Tonks studied him for a while, chin resting on her hand. "Remus is very perceptive about these things."

"Are you going to marry him?" Harry asked. She grinned and picked at the last of her tart.

"You're such a girl, Harry," she said, ruffling his hair as she stood. "I'm going to get some rest. Are you coming to the Shack tomorrow morning?"

"I'll come a little later -- bring breakfast and all."

"That sounds good. And don't forget Sirius' book, he keeps leaving it here and Remus said a few days ago that he was looking for it."

"Right, it's in the living room," Harry said. "Night, Tonks."

"Night, Harry," Tonks said, as she closed the door to Remus' bedroom behind her. Harry reached for Animagus Winter, on the side-table, only to find two copies; Remus must have decided to re-read his copy as well. He picked up the one closest to him and opened it, looking for a bookplate. There was no plate, but the blank front page was inscribed with a lengthy letter. He'd borrowed Remus' copy and he was pretty sure this had to belong to Sirius, but he scanned it just to be sure.

My dearest Animus, my soul in the whole of the thing, this is yours and always was; forgive me for keeping a part of your own self from you for so long, but I needed it. I give it back to you now and with it your liberty if you so wish, because youth has not yet left your heart and god forbid it ever should. But I beg this of you, that you remember Wren and do me the honour of tendering your freedom back again, as I promise I shan't take advantage of it.

You made me want to speak into the silences and there is no greater gift to a writer than to be given a reason to use his voice. Your passion and grace, perhaps yet a little untempered, shine out so brightly that sometimes you blind me, beloved. If I am jealous, ungentlemanly, rude, and shy, it is because I am learning how to love your spirit, which is strange to me. But you know better than many that blind men often may be prophets, and that there is a divinity in it. If you are willing to tolerate these intemperances of mine and give me some little affection, please allow me to love you; I will lay whole worlds at your feet and tell you stories in the evenings while the clocks chime the hours.

For as long as there is breath in me, some part of all my stories will be your dominion and your word will be law; you will know how all stories end.

Your own,


Harry stared down at the inscription, cheeks flushing as hot as if he had walked in on Sirius having sex with someone. Ellis Graveworthy, the novelist who died in the last war, and Sirius...?

He had never thought of the other Sirius, his godfather, having sex with anyone, being in love with anyone. He could have -- had, once -- imagined that Tonks might love him, but he had never thought of Sirius loving her back. Sirius must have loved someone once, though. Clearly Ellis Graveworthy had loved Sirius, but there was no mistaking the intimacy of that inscription, even to Harry's untrained, seventeen-year-old eye. This was not a letter one wrote to a stranger or a friend. This was a letter from a man to his lover. Ellis Graveworthy had loved Sirius and --

The plot of Animagus Winter suddenly became blindingly, painfully clear to Harry. He had assumed it was simply the story of a friendship between a man and his mentor, but for Sirius it would be a chronicle of how Ellis Graveworthy had fallen in love with him. And Ellis Graveworthy had died even before Sirius went to Azkaban, which meant that if Sirius had loved him too then Sirius had lost more than James and Lily and his freedom in the war.

Harry sat on the stairs up to his room with a thump, stunned and bewildered. Remus had known them during the first war; Remus must know. Remus must know that Sirius Black was gay, or at any rate fancied men at least as much as women.

He turned it over in his head. His godfather had fancied men. And he had never, ever discussed it with Harry or anyone else. Had he fancied someone in the Order, before...before he died? Had he fancied Remus? It wasn't beyond the pale. Harry himself would have picked Bill Weasley, but --

He hadn't felt a pang of grief for Sirius this powerful in months, nearly a year. Sirius would have understood this confusion, this feeling that what was right for everyone else was somehow wrong for him. Sirius had been like him. Harry could have asked him about it and Sirius would have understood and explained things.

But his godfather was dead. In his place was this young, fearless Sirius who was the axis of all of Harry's confusion.

Oh, god. Sirius. Sirius fancied men, this Sirius in this place and time. This Sirius. Confusing, handsome, comforting Sirius who slept on his bed, who had saved him from the Crypt King, who had promised that he didn't want Harry to be something he wasn't.

Harry left the book on the stairs and walked upstairs with the thoughts turning over and over in his head in a dull sort of rhythm. He didn't recall changing into his pyjamas or crawling into bed; once there, however, he lay perfectly still long into the night, staring through the window at the full moon until he finally drifted off, exhausted by his own confusion. He did not dream.


Harry was shaken awake after only a few hours' sleep by an insistent hand on his shoulder.

"Harry, wake up. Harry, please wake up." Tonks' voice. Harry yawned and opened his eyes, focusing on Tonks' heart-shaped face, now a mask of worry.

"Wossit?" he asked.

"It's Sirius," she said. "He's been hurt."

Harry sat up so fast he nearly collided with Tonks. For about two seconds he had no idea where he was or what was going on, but if Sirius was hurt, he had to help him. Why hurt? Why such worry, unless it was a bad injury, or --

-- oh, the full moon. Padfoot and the wolf, locked up in the Shack together. Harry tumbled out of bed and hastily pulled a pair of trousers on over his pyjamas. Tonks handed him his coat to wear over his pyjama shirt, and he stepped into his shoes without any socks on.

"It's his arm. I don't know what it is; I just went to get help from Madam Pomfrey and then came here to get you."

"Wolf bite?" Harry asked, terrified.

"I don't know," Tonks said in frustration as they descended the stairs. "He's lost some blood, but not too much, I think. When I arrived, Remus was trying to get onto the bed; he's had a bad knock on the head, I guess he was on the bed and fell off during the change. Padfoot was on the bed, bleeding all over the blankets."

Harry passed the book on the stairwell, where he'd left it last night, and a whole new set of memories nearly sent him reeling down the rest of the steps. He half-suspected the entire thing had been a dream, and he had the presence of mind to grab the book and shove it in his coat pocket even as he followed Tonks into the floo, crying "Lupin's Office, Hogwarts!" almost before she'd vanished.

They ran out into the hallway and nearly bowled over Madam Pomfrey, who was carrying a large metal basin piled with medical supplies.

"Ah! You're in good time. I was just taking this down to Mr. Padfoot," she said with a broad wink.

"Is he all right?" Harry asked.

"Harry! Hello, what a pleasure. Yes, he's quite all right; he's resting in his room. He told me the whole story as I was helping him back -- while I was there I checked up on Remus too, dear," she added to Tonks, "and he's fine, though very fretful."

"Harry, I'd better go -- "

"Go on," Harry said. "Can I come with you?" he asked Madam Pomfrey, as Tonks bolted.

"Of course. It's not serious at all; merely a scrape. I'll have to be quick, however. I have a ward full of magical flu victims waiting for breakfast and their morning potions..."

"I can do it," Harry said. She gave him a skeptical look. "Please? Between him and me, we're sure to get everything healed quickly. And you can get back to the hospital wing."

She considered it for a minute, then placed the basin in his outstretched hands.

"Thanks, Madam Pomfrey," he said, running down the corridor to the Tutor's rooms. He stopped outside the door, with the ridiculous urge to try and flatten his hair before he entered, and transferred the basin to his left hand so that he could knock with his right.

"Sirius?" he called, worried. Surely if it were a werewolf bite, Madam Pomfrey would not have trusted him; then again, people had a bad habit of trusting Harry Potter when they shouldn't, and mistrusting him when he was just trying to do what was right. "Sirius? Are you there?"

"Come in," a voice said, barely audible. Harry entered to find Sirius lying on his side on the bed, shirtless, his broad back to the door. Torn strips of fabric were badly knotted around his right arm from shoulder to elbow.

"Sirius?" Harry said softly, passing the sofa and wing-chairs, then the worktable. He brought the chair from the worktable with him, setting it on the braided rug next to the bed at the far end of the room. Sirius stirred. "I've brought proper bandages from Madam Pomfrey."

Sirius rolled over slowly until he was staring up at the ceiling, sleepily. "Remus. He all right?"

"I think so." Harry set the shallow basin on the bedside table. "Do you need help?" he asked cautiously.

"No," Sirius said, drawing his left arm back to push himself up with. The movement obviously hurt his arm, but at least it seemed to wake him up. He drew his legs up against his chest, leaning on them for support. Harry hesitated.

"Can I take the bandages off?" he asked. Sirius nodded. "Do you want -- " he reached into the basin for a vial of clear amber liquid. "For the pain?"

"I'd rather not. That stuff makes me sick," Sirius said, against his knees. Harry began to untie the crude knots as carefully as he could. He peeled back each strip carefully, while Sirius concentrated on his blanketed knees and sucked in the occasional breath against the sting of air on the wounds.

"I think it looks worse than it is," Harry said, taking in the mass of dried blood and torn flesh that was Sirius' upper arm. "He...didn't mean to do it, did he?"

"He didn't do it at all," Sirius said tightly, as Harry took the proper bandages out of the basin and filled it with water. He dipped one of the cleaner strips of cloth in it and began washing off the skin. He had to stop occasionally to pick out slivers of wood. "Moony would never hurt me."

"These look like claw marks."

"Caught myself on an exposed board. Jagged," Sirius said, through gritted teeth. "He loves Padfoot. We're all -- sffft!"

"Sorry," Harry said, dropping a particularly large sliver on the nightstand.

"We're all his pack, but Padfoot -- looks like a wolf," Sirius said. "Deep down he knows it isn't proper for a wolf to go running about with a great bloody stag and a rat...oooh Merlin," he sighed, as Harry dabbed another bit of cloth into a small jar and rubbed the blue goop in the jar onto the wounds. "That feels better."

Harry unrolled the gauze Madam Pomfrey had given him. It was self-sticking; all he had to do was wrap Sirius' arm in it. "Hold out your hand."

Sirius obeyed and Harry started at the shoulder, working his way down to the elbow.

"He was nervous," Sirius said. "About what Fenrir's old pack would do. Any news?"

"I don't know ," Harry said, tearing off the end of the gauze and smoothing it over. It stuck firmly. "All right, I think you're patched up," he said, gathering up the splinters and dropping them, along with the bloody strips of cloth, into the basin.

Sirius turned his head as he leaned forward. "Thank you," he said.

"Nice to feel useful," Harry answered. He didn't lean back, and Sirius didn't turn away. Harry was afraid to breathe.

"You look worried," Sirius said in a low voice.

"I was, a bit," Harry agreed. "You're hurt again."

"You worry about me."


Sirius dropped his gaze, cutting his eyes away. Harry, desperate that he not turn away, leaned forward and kissed him before he'd even thought about it.

Oh bloody hell you are in for it now his brain said even as the rest of his body was saying this is nothing like kissing Ginny.

His pulse jumped when Sirius made an urgent little noise in the back of his throat and he could feel Sirius' tongue slide along his lower lip, just like he'd imagined. He opened his mouth in surprise and Sirius took advantage, tracing his tongue across Harry's and tilting his head for better leverage. Harry, off-balance, gripped the bed with his right hand and Sirius' arm with his left, strong enough that Sirius winced.

"Oh -- shit, I'm sorry -- " Harry said, as Sirius pulled back. The other boy simply stared at him, eyes huge, his left hand rubbing his arm where Harry had grasped it. "Are you all right?"

Sirius was breathing heavily and Harry noticed that he was too, and that the steady thrum of yes this is right more please in his body was making for an uncomfortable tightness in his trousers.

"I -- did you mean to -- " Sirius stammered, licking his lips. He really was going to have to stop that before he did permanent damage to Harry's brain somehow.

"If, did I -- did you -- was that all right?" Harry asked. "I mean I didn't expect you to...lick...that's all."

"No, it was." Sirius took a deep breath. "Good. You are good."

"Do you want to, um, try it again?" Harry hesitated. "With less of me grabbing your arm this time maybe?"

"Do you want to?" Sirius asked incredulously.

They stared at each other for a moment, both at a loss. Finally Sirius moved, sliding closer to Harry, reaching out hesitantly with his injured arm to touch the side of Harry's throat just below his ear, thumb exploring the line of his jaw curiously.

"I thought you fancied girls," he said, as Harry's eyes closed. He slid his thumb over Harry's chin and up across his lower lip.

"I thought I did too," Harry replied.

"I'm not a girl, Harry."

Harry laughed against his thumb, which was resting on his lower lip. "No."

Sirius closed the few inches between them and kissed him again, a little less intensely this time, moving his hand up to ruffle his fingers in Harry's messy black hair. "You don't seem to mind," he said, against Harry's lips. In reply, Harry opened his mouth and deepened the kiss -- awkwardly, perhaps, but Sirius seemed to be perfectly happy with what he'd got. Harry carefully touched his chest, wanting to be sure Sirius was quite real. The skin was smooth and warm under his fingers.

There was a knock on Sirius' door, and Sirius jerked back. Harry had a bare second to pretend he'd been mucking with something in the basin before Hermione burst in.

"Harry, I was visiting Ron in the flu ward and Madam Pomfrey told me Sirius was hurt -- " she looked at the boys worriedly. "Is everything all right?"

"Fine, Hermione," Harry said, because Sirius seemed to be convulsively and nervously swallowing. "Just an accident, that's all."

"Well, does he need to go to the -- "

" -- no, I'm all right, really," Sirius answered. "Honest, Hermione, Harry did me right up -- "

He stopped, horrified, and Harry had the singular experience of seeing Sirius Black blush from hairline to navel. Hermione didn't appear to notice; she was fussily cleaning up some of the bandages Harry had missed.

"I'd better go tell Remus you're all right and it's not his fault," Harry said, half-regretfully. Sirius nodded and looked away, and Harry realised that Sirius was, in an exhausted and injured state, badly misreading things.

"Hermione, can I have a word with Sirius alone?" he said, as Hermione butted in between them.

"Oh...sure, Harry," she said, slightly confused.

"Tell Ron hello, and I hope he feels better," he added. She smiled, warmly.

"Of course," she said. "I'll take this back to Madam Pomfrey," she called over her shoulder as she left. When the door had closed behind her, Harry spoke down again.

"Sirius," he said, then more forcefully, "Sirius."

Sirius turned to look at him, regretfully.

"I'm coming back," Harry said. He almost thought better of it, but decided that if he was going to make a fool of himself it had better be a thorough job. He leaned forward and kissed Sirius for the third time, quick and rough enough to send fire licking along his nerves. "I'm coming back," he repeated, then ran from the room, twitching the invisibility cloak around his shoulders as he went.

He ran all the way to the Shack, trying to leave the nervous energy from that kiss -- those kisses -- behind him; when he finally reached the top of the stairs he stopped for breath, clearing his head before he went to find Remus and be the reassuring, competent, mature adult that he didn't feel at all like he actually was.

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