Cheers sounded and horns blew as Harry, Draco and Angelina walked into the Gryffindor common room. Completely shocked, Harry read the banner that hung across the ceiling flashing "Welcome back!" in Gryffindor gold and red. He grinned.
"Oh, Harry, I'm so glad to see you okay!" Hermione said, rushing over for a tight hug. Over her shoulder, Harry glanced at Draco apologetically, noticing that he had shifted his gaze.
"It's good to see you too, Hermione," Harry said sincerely, pulling away. As an excuse to give Draco time for greeting, Harry called across the room to Ron. "Ron!"
Harry's ginger friend came over immediately, grinning broadly. "Well, did you win?" he asked in lieu of greeting.
"Wha- Oh. Uh. I don't actually know who won," Harry admitted.
"What do you mean you don't know?" Ron demanded, looking at him as if he was thick. "Wouldn't it be obvious?"
Harry looked at him, realizing with a jolt that they didn't know. They hadn't been told about Cedric, much less about Voldemort. Now what was he to say?
"Er, hang on," Harry said, moving back over to where Draco and Hermione were catching up. "Draco, I think that the four of us should go somewhere private."
"Why?" Hermione and Draco asked at the same time.
Harry locked eyes with Draco. "They don't know."
"Come on," Harry said, pushing towards the portrait hole. "Let's find an empty classroom or something."
"You're joking," Hermione accused half heartedly, expression that of a wounded puppy.
"Sadly, no," Harry replied. "He really is back."
"And Cedric... Oh, Merlin," she breathed.
"I always knew Lockhart was trouble," Ron said matter-of-factly. "What are you going to do now?"
Harry shrugged. "What can we do? Voldemort's back. We'll do whatever we have to."
They started walking back to the common room, not speaking much. It was a lot for Hermione and Ron to take in, Harry understood. Soon, the news that Cedric had not returned would be circulating through the school and Harry wasn't sure he could take it. He supposed it would be addressed at dinner but that was a few hours off. The Hufflepuff house was probably in a state of mourning at the moment. Once the news spread, the others would join in, Harry knew. He sighed deeply.
"Hey!" Sirius said, turning from the portrait hole. "I've been looking for you," he said with a wide grin.
Harry couldn't resist feeling cheerful at seeing his godfather again, a bright contrast to the more recent events. He smiled. "Hi, Sirius." He turned to his friends. "I'll catch up with you later."
They nodded in understanding and entered the common room. Harry and Sirius started off down the corridor, probably to Sirius's office.
"How've you been?" Sirius asked, looking down at Harry with bright eyes. "I haven't talked to you in a while."
Harry shrugged. "As well as can be expected, I guess. I'm certainly glad to be back."
Sirius gave Harry a one-armed hug. "I'm glad you are too. It's been too quiet without you here to get into trouble."
Harry looked away for a moment, thinking of his most recent spot of trouble. To cover his lapse, he asked quickly, "What, the Gryffindor house too tame for you? Maybe next year you should try for Hufflepuff," he said sarcastically.
Sirius laughed. "Yeah, well, now that Dumbledore's back, I probably won't be Head of House any more."
"Sad about that?"
Sirius shrugged. "I think it's for the best. A bit overwhelming, all those responsibilities."
Harry grinned. "You never were one for responsibilities, were you?"
"Nope," Sirius chirped.
Sirius turned to the stairs that headed down to the Dungeons and Harry hesitated.
"Where are we going? Not to your office?" Harry asked, brow furrowing.
Sirius glanced back at him. "I thought you and Severus and I could have tea. You know, catch up a bit."
Harry studied him for a moment before determining that he was sincere. He smiled broadly, "I'd like that."
They continued on their way. After a few moments, Harry glanced over at Sirius. "You've changed, you know that?""What?" he asked indignantly. "Surely not! I haven't become one of those dull teachers have I? A Binns?"
Harry laughed. "No, of course not. It's just that a year ago, would you have even considered sitting down voluntarily for tea with Severus Snape?"
Sirius frowned. "Oh goodness. James would be so ashamed."
Harry scowled. "I'd like to think he would be proud."
"That'd be for your mother," Sirius replied flippantly. He glanced sideways at Harry who still bore a disturbed expression. He clapped him on the shoulder. "Hey, don't worry about it. Your dad was a great guy but he was a bit hard headed. Happens to the best of us."
"I guess," Harry replied, knowing that Severus was much the same in that respect. He had warmed to Sirius though, so that was points in his favor.
Sirius arrived at Snape's office door first and knocked.
They entered and found Severus hunched over a pile of papers on his desk, scowling and scratching vigorously with his quill. "Can I- oh, hello Harry, Sirius."
"Hi," Harry said. "We though maybe you'd stop for a tea break."
Severus laid down his quill and surveyed the stack of papers. "I suppose. There is no chance I will finish this today anyway, so I suppose a break will not make any difference."
"Great," Sirius said. "I'll get the house elves to send some up."
"I can brew it. I have a kitchen," Severus pointed out."Yes, but do you have biscuits?" Sirius asked with a raised brow.
"Maybe, you would have to check," Severus replied, opening the door to his chambers.
"Or we could get some of the elf-made ones. They're unimaginably good," Sirius said dreamily.
Severus rolled his eyes. "Do as you like."
Harry collapsed into the couch with a sigh and closed his eyes.
"That was dramatic," Severus commented dryly.
Harry cracked an eye open to look at him. "I just explained everything to Ron and Hermione. Does everyone else know yet?"
"They will be told at the Leaving Feast tonight," Severus informed him.
Sirius came wandering back into the room, a tray of beautifully decorated cookies in one hand and a tray of tea and cups in the other.
"Watch out!" he said urgently as the cookie platter teetered dangerously. He set the tea tray down in a hurry, china clinking and clattering loudly. Sirius shifted his free hand to the cookies but it was too late. They toppled over, the pastries scattering across the carpet. Sirius froze, looking sheepish. "Oops."
Harry pushed himself off the couch to help clean up. They piled the cookies back on the plate as Severus poured tea for everyone. Not nearly as pretty now, the biscuits were stacked haphazardly, icing smeared and pieces broken off. Harry picked one up and dusted it off with his hand. He took a bite. It tasted fine.
"I have spoken with Dumbledore," Severus stated, taking a sip of his tea.
Harry and Sirius looked at him, waiting. "And?" Harry prompted.
Severus set his cup down with a clink. "The Minister does not believe that he has returned."
"What?" Harry blurted. "How could he not? I was there! You were there!"
"Apparently the word of a fourteen year old boy and a suspected Death Eater are not good enough," Severus said snidely.
"Why wouldn't they be?" Sirius asked. "I mean, what would be the point in you lying? It'd just draw more attention to the fact that you may or may not have been or still be a Death Eater."
Harry looked at him. Severus seemed almost as confused. "The point is that he doesn't believe."
"But can't Dumbledor-"
"Dumbledore has done all he can. The more he tries, the more the ministry thinks he is after power."
"That's absurd," Sirius scoffed.
"Even so, it cannot be helped," Severus said, examining a cookie and picking off a bit of fuzz. "There is more. They got more out of Barty Crouch Jr. since that night," he said. "He had, indeed, imperiused Cedric Diggory and that transgression has been added to his list of charges. In addition, it was he who encouraged Karkaroff to teach his select group of students a division of Dark Arts dealing with tiered spells. Those are-"
"I know what they are," Harry interrupted. Both Sirius and Severus looked at him in askance. "I was in Dark Arts theory, remember?"
"I had forgotten," Severus said, looking a bit disturbed.
"Well I don't know what they are. Care to explain?" Sirius asked.
"There are two-tiered spells and the more complicated three-tiered. They usually begin with a curse, simple enough. Once it has been forgotten, the second tier will kick in, usually after a set amount of time. Sometimes, it can be triggered at an exact moment with a touch of Dark Magic of any variety," Severus explained. He turned his dark eyes on Harry. "The curse that Gregor hit you with before Christmas was the first phase of a two-tiered spell."
Harry frowned deeply. "So that's why he was able to paralyze me in the maze? He triggered it with Dark Magic?"
"Yes," Severus replied. "It had been exactly six months."
"But why didn't he just curse me there? Why bother with all the tiered stuff?"
"Crouch could not control the maze or the people in it. Had he relied on cursing you in person, as Cedric, someone else might have gotten the cup first, before he could find you. Or something could have happened to force you out of the competition. He needed a sure-fire way to keep you stationary until he could reach you. As it happened, he found you rather quickly," Severus said, seeming to repress an anger at the scheme.
"Wow. They went to a lot of trouble over me," Harry muttered.
"You should be honored," Severus said snidely.
"So who actually won the tournament?" Harry asked curiously. "Cedric wasn't himself, I was incapacitated, Bennet was forcibly subdued and Fleur...?"
"She had to be rescued," Severus supplied. "The last I heard, they were planning on going with the results of the second task, discounting the third."
"So Cedric and I tied," Harry said numbly. "I don't feel right taking the money and all though."
Severus shrugged. "Then don't. Or take it and put it to a good cause," he said with a hint of sarcasm. "Or better yet, put it in your vault for when you truly need it."
"Buy out Zonko's," Sirius suggested.
Harry's lips twisted. "I'll give it some thought." He busied himself with food for a few minutes before asking, "So when do we leave?""I have a lot of work to finish, being that I was gone during final exams. We can still leave tomorrow if you wish, but I will have to return during the day to work," Severus said.
"You could come to my house for a few days, let Severus finish up," Sirius offered.
"Okay!" Harry agreed immediately.
Severus eyed his colleague with suspicion. "You are finished with all of your work? All the grading, all the paperwork?"
"Sure," Sirius replied with a mischievous grin. He said slyly, "My friends and I had a thing with parchment spells back in our Hogwarts days. Some of those come in handy for paperwork." He winked at Harry.
"Ah," Severus said, realization dawning. "So... Padfoot, is it?"
"I wondered if you'd make the connection," Sirius said smugly. "Did he figure out the phrase?" Sirius asked Harry.
"I told him."
"You what?" Sirius asked in astonishment.
Harry looked sheepish. "It insulted him first, if that makes it better."
Sirius gave a slight jerk of his head. "A bit, actually," he said casually.
"Truly it was not that difficult to guess your identities," Severus said, sneering lightly. "'Moony' was a bit obvious and the rest fell into place rather easily."
Sirius shrugged. "I'm just glad it's in the hands of someone who will make good use of it," he said, glancing at Harry.
Harry grinned as Severus shot them both glares. Harry chuckled and Sirius joined in. Even Severus cracked a smile, however small. In that moment, the weight of Voldemort's return didn't seem quite so crushing. It had not lifted by any means, but it had become manageable. Harry relaxed into the easy conversation with the two people that composed his family with one thought rolling around his mind. It was so good to be back.
AN: I'm thinking one more chapter before the story is finished! For those wondering, I am planning on continuing to book five which will be called Sparks of the Tempest, details to follow. Thanks for reading and, as always, I implore you to review!