Harry had a feeling of déjà vu as he sat outside the courtroom while the people inside decided Sirius's fate. Just last year, he had hoped he would never feel this way again. And yet, here he was. Harry had already given his testimony, but he wasn't certain anyone believed him. He told them that two dementors followed him, chased him to his doorstep, but all he got was a series of blank looks and narrowed eyes. One irritating lady in pink had even gone as far as to call him mental, essentially, as well as a liar. She cited the Daily Prophet of all things, and the sad part was that many of the others seemed to agree with her.
"I'm going for a walk," Harry said. "I can't sit here any longer."
Severus had refused to let Harry sit outside the courtroom alone, given the circumstances, and had insisted upon accompanying him. Now, he looked over at Harry and nodded. "Alright, but stay within my sight."
Harry rolled his eyes. "That's just this hallway."
"Yes. You are welcome to pace," Severus said firmly, if a bit disparagingly.
Harry nodded and set to wandering up and down the hallway. He passed several doorways, not really paying attention to where they lead. Absently, he glanced down a corridor at the far end of the hall, one that was tiled completely in some dark granite. There was a door at the end-
The courtroom door slammed open and the Wizengamot filed out, much like last time. Dumbledore came striding past, glancing at Harry but not stopping. Harry thought maybe he should apologize, being that he now knew the truth; that he had really been trying to protect him.
"Professor Dumbledore!" Harry called through the throng.
Dumbledore's head twitched slightly and Harry thought he heard him. He didn't turn back.
And Dumbledore was gone. Harry searched the crowd for one more moment before turning away, hurrying back to where Severus and-
"Sirius!" Harry cried, hurrying over. "What'd they decide?"
Sirius gave Harry a bit of a smile. "Well, good news and bad news. Good news, I'm not in Azkaban," he said, lip twitching. Then, he frowned and continued, "They decided not to arrest me, but did determine that I was too irresponsible to teach at Hogwarts."
"You...you're fired?" Harry asked in shock.
Sirius nodded sadly.
"How could they find you not guilty but still think you're irresponsible? If it wasn't enough for you to go to jail, why's it enough to make you lose your job?" Harry demanded angrily.
Sirius shrugged. "Someone suggested it and everyone seemed to think it reasonable."
"Yes, no more teaching, what a travesty," Severus said dryly. Harry shot him a look. Severus conceded, "I apologize, that was out of line."
Sirius just shrugged. "Well, it's better than the dementors."
"Yeah," Harry said quietly. "I'm sor-"
"Don't, Harry," Sirius said, cutting him off. "Don't say you're sorry. It'll only make it worse."
Harry bit back an apology for making things worse.
"Come on, let's go home," Sirius said.
Sirius walked ahead with heavy steps, head hung ever so slightly, back bowed. Harry watched him, wishing he could meet the person who came up with this punishment. And he wouldn't stop with that.
"Well, I suppose that is good news," Mrs. Weasley said over dinner. Tonks, Lupin and Kingsley were at the table, along with the usual crew. Sirius was still rather gloomy. "After all, you're still free."
"But what's the point?" Sirius asked desolately. "I loved Hogwarts."
Harry looked down.
"Yes, and I'm sure Hogwarts will be sad to see you go," Lupin offered. "And, from the stories I heard, the students will miss you quite a bit. The faculty, on the other hand..."
"Hey," Sirius protested. "I was what is called a fun teacher! Unlike you, I'm sure."
"I don't know, we had a lot of fun in Lupin's class," Hermione spoke up. "Don't you think, Ron?"
"Well, not as much fun as yours, Sirius, but I stayed awake through them both, so points to both of you," Ron said lightly.
Sirius cracked a smile and Lupin let out a laugh.
"Do you know who they're going to replace you with?" Draco asked bluntly.
"Hardly," Sirius replied sarcastically.
Harry glanced at Severus, wondering idly if he might know. Just as he did so, Severus stiffened abruptly, gripping the edge of the table. He caught Harry's concerned glance and threw him a small smile intended for reassurance. It was this, more than anything, that told Harry something was wrong.
"Severus, can I talk to you for a second?" he asked quickly, purely for the benefit of the others. Harry knew that Severus wouldn't want them to see him betray his pain. "Maybe in your room?"
"Certainly," Severus replied in a tight, strained voice. He rose and headed out, Harry close on his heels trying to mask his worry.
The minute they were in the hallway, Harry leaned close. "What's wrong?"
"My mark is burning," Severus said, hugging the wall for support.
Harry grimaced. "The potion won't be ready for another week. It's still got to set and then harden into a cream. We ought to go check on it soon. My scar isn't burning this time. It's a weird time for him to be calling a meeting," Harry pointed out, rambling in attempt to distract both himself and Severus from the pain.
"He isn't," Severus said with a gasp.
"What?" Harry demanded, helping Severus up the stairs. "What do you mean?"
"It's... different." One more step. "Just me."
Harry blinked. "Jus-just you? He can do that?"
Breathily, Severus replied, "Apparently."
Harry opened the door and guided Severus into his room for privacy. Severus sat down heavily on the bed, cradling his arm.
"Severus, please tell me there's something I can do," Harry said helplessly. He hated so much to be powerless.
Severus shook his head. "Just go." He paused for a moment. "I'll be fine."
"I'm not going anywhere, and don't pretend it's fine," Harry said forcefully. "It's not. You're allowed to be human, Severus. You're allowed to hurt."
"I've had...worse," Severus managed. "I'll be fine," he repeated.
"No, you won't!" Harry shouted. He lowered his voice with difficulty. "You don't have to be strong for me, Severus."
Severus inclined his head. "What makes you think it's for you?" he asked, voice less strained than a minute ago. "Hm. It seems the Dark Lord has grown bored already."
Harry stared at his guardian. "How can you be so casual about this? He was torturing you just a moment ago!"
"Still is, as I recall," Severus said dryly. Harry just looked at him in astonishment. Severus explained, "I learned long ago that if you take the Dark Lord's actions as they truly are, you will soon go mad. I am reminded of how to make it more bearable, shall we say."
Harry shook his head. "You shouldn't have to."
"Yes, well there is nothing we can do about it, is there?" Severus asked, a bit of his old snap coming back.
"There's got to be," Harry insisted.
Severus stood now, recovering. "There is no way to remove the Dark Mark," he snapped. "It is not like I have not tried. There is no way. Do you understand?"
Harry felt his jaw tense. Yes, his guardian had definitely recovered from that defensive bit of flippancy. "Yes."
"But don't expect that to stop me from trying," Harry muttered.
Severus rolled his eyes. "Yes, because I am sure there is something that you, a fifteen year old, could come up with that I have not tried."
Harry felt a flash of anger at his guardian and suddenly, his scar burned. Harry's eyes clamped shut and he suddenly had an image of Severus in his mind, but much different than he had ever seen him. He was younger and surrounded by Death Eaters, professing his loyalty.
The image faded and Harry opened his eyes. His scar still throbbed dully. "That was...I just saw you."
Severus scrutinized him. "Perhaps that is because I am standing in front of you."
"No," Harry said, shaking his head. His anger was gone. "I saw you becoming a Death Eater."
Severus scowled at him. "How is that possible?"
Harry shrugged. "Because I'm a conduit for Voldemort?" he asked, not really being serious. Nevertheless, Snape took it as such.
"Did it seem to you that he had figured out your link?" Severus asked. "That he called up that memory to show you?"
Harry bit his lip. "Er, not really?"
"Let us hope not," Severus stated. "Come, we should return before someone starts looking for us."
"They probably haven't even noticed we're gone," Harry said.
"Severus," Harry said, stopping him. "You...You don't really think he can, you know, control me or anything, do you?"
Severus looked at Harry for a long moment, saying nothing. Something in his dark eyes betrayed his total lack of certainty. Harry suddenly recalled the boggart yesterday; the boggart of him. You have failed me, Severus, it had said. Maybe that was really Severus's greatest fear. Failure. Or more importantly, the fact that his failure might hurt Harry. All of a sudden, Harry felt as if he knew his guardian much better. Better then he wanted to, even.
"Occlumency, Harry," was all Severus said. It was less than encouraging.
Feeling sorry for Sirius, the twins had staged an "I'm-sorry-you-aren't-our-DADA-professor-anymore" party for Sirius which Harry was now attending in the sitting room. And they were legitimately sorry. The twins and Sirius had some sort of connection that can only stem from being fellow mischief makers.
"I can't believe they can do that!" Fred said to Sirius.
"They can," Sirius said. "We've been through this a thousand times."
"We haven't," George protested. "We just got here."
Fred shot a glance at his mother whose back was currently turned as she chatted with Tonks. "We were in Diagon Alley buying 'school supplies'," he said in a low voice to Sirius, making quotation marks in the air. "Look at this." He pulled a thin box out of his pocket and handed it to Sirius.
"Open it," George advised.
Sirius gave them a wary look and did so. Harry was glad that Severus was upstairs. Sirius looked at whatever was inside the box and his eyes bulged. "Where in Merlin's name did you get that?" he hissed, closing the box hurriedly and passing it back.
Fred grinned. "Just found it laying around."
Sirius rolled his eyes. "I'll bet."
George frowned. "It's not going to be the same this year without you, Sirius. We had such fun last year."
Sirius matched his frown. "I know. You guys were like my mauraders in training."
"What am I, chop liver?" Harry spoke up.
"Pretty much," Sirius replied easily. Laughter spread around the four of them. "No, really, Harry, Severus would kill us both if I got you to do half of the things these guys did," he said, pointing with a thumb at the glowing twins.
"Right on, Sirius," Fred said.
"You can be our outside source for troublemaking advice, okay?" George proposed.
"Sounds good," Sirius said with a smile.
"Did you tell him about the money?" Harry asked the twins.
Fred shook his head.
"What money?" Sirius asked.
"I gave them my Triwizard winnings to start a joke shop," Harry said. As those words were leaving his mouth, an idea sprang into his head. "Hey, you guys were going to make me partner, right?"
"Of course, Harry," George said. "There wouldn't be a shop without you, mate."
Harry nodded. "Then how about you give Sirius the title for a while? I mean, it's not like I can help, but he can. He can start getting things set up for when you guys are out of Hogwarts. Like a manager."
A spark appeared in Sirius's eyes at the suggestion. The twins brightened also. "Would you do that?" Fred asked excitedly.
His eyebrows shot up. "Would I? Owning a joke shop is the dream of every troublemaker out there," Sirius said earnestly.
Fred and George shared a look. "Then you're hired! Just don't tell our mum."
Sirius grinned widely. "Thanks, guys! This'll be great fun, let me tell you. Excuse me, I've got to go tell Moony..."
As he disappeared with a new bounce in his step, Harry looked at the twins. "Thank you," he said. "That's really what he needed after a day like this."
"What're you thanking us for?" George asked incredulously.
"Yeah, our shop's going to be set up by one of the Marauders," Fred said. "They've been our heroes for years now!"
Harry grinned. "Looks like everything worked out for the best, then."