Harry sat in the kitchen of Grimmauld place eating breakfast when an owl came tapping on the window. Sirius wasn't up yet so Harry let it in himself. It held a rolled up paper and a small note. Harry untied them from the bird's leg, gave the owl a piece of bread and sent it off through the window. Padding back to the table, Harry unrolled the paper. It was a copy of The Quibbler. He frowned. Harry didn't realize that Sirius subscribed to The Quibbler. Glancing at the messy handwriting on the note, Harry read:
Thought you might want to see this. It's surprisingly accurate.
With a deeper frown, Harry looked closer at the paper. Immediately, he wondered how he could have missed the giant bold headline that shouted from the top of the page.
HE-WHO-MUST-NOT-BE-NAMED RETURNS ACCORDING TO BOY WHO LIVED
By Moira Hollinshead
The tragic death of Cedric Diggory was not all that it seemed, according to 14 year-old Harry Potter. Potter claims that You-Know-Who has returned and was responsible for the Hogwarts Champion's death in the last and most recent task of the Triwizard Tournament. The story told by a reliable source is that with the help of one Gilderoy Lockhart (Five time winner of Witch Weekly's Most Charming Smile Award and proven fraud) aided in the return of the Dark wizard that Potter defeated thirteen years ago. The Ministry of Magic rejects these claims, asserting that Potter was a little mad from spending too much time in the magically-laced maze. Could You-Know-Who really have returned after being banished by Potter years ago? Or is Potter lying or simply mental? We would love to hear from you.
Ron was right. That was surprisingly accurate. And even so, no one would believe it for several reasons, not least of which because it was posted in the Quibbler. He tossed the paper down on the table as Sirius walked in.
"Take a look at this," Harry said, sliding the paper over to him.
"Oh, The Quibbler? I like them better than the Prophet. The reporters are much nicer," Sirius commented absently, pouring himself a cup of coffee before perusing the paper. "Oh my."
"Yeah," Harry said with a slight sigh. "Really accurate, isn't it?"
"Mhm..." Sirius said, taking a large bite of a pastry from the tray in the center of the table.
"I wonder who their reliable source was," Harry mused.
Sirius cleared his throat. "Uh, yeah, I wonder that too."
Harry looked up at him suspiciously, eyes narrowing. "You didn't... did you?"
"Er..." Sirius trailed off, tugging at his collar conspicuously.
Harry gave him a look. "Sirius!"
Sirius looked sheepish. He tossed up his hands. "I didn't really think about it! I mean, this pretty reporter showed up in my office and said she just wanted to ask a couple of questions. I thought that the story would be out soon enough, what harm would it do?" Sirius shrugged. "How was I supposed to know that Ministry was going to try and cover it up?"
Harry groaned. "But The Quibbler, really? Now everyone's gonna think I'm crazy!"
"Aren't you?" Sirius asked jokingly. Harry glared at him. "What? I mean, look at your track record. There was that stone thing a few years ago, something made you think you could handle that yourself. Then going to rescue Malfoy in your second year was anything but sane. And just last year you went after a supposedly maniacal mass murderer-"
"You're not a mass murderer," Harry said, rolling his eyes.
Sirius pointed his fork at him. "But you didn't know that. Then you apparently put your name in the Goblet-"
"I didn't!" Harry protested.
"But it looks like you did. I mean, if everyone doesn't think you're crazy already-"
"Alright, alright, I get it," Harry said impatiently. "The whole world didn't know about those things though," Harry pointed out.
Sirius shrugged. "All I'm saying is that your marred reputation isn't entirely my fault."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Not entirely."
"She was pretty!" he exclaimed helplessly.
"Try explaining that to Severus," Harry said wryly.
"You blithering idiot," Severus said flatly the next day at dinner, back at Spinner's End.
"I do not care how pretty she was," he said, irritated. "I was able to resist."
"You what?" Sirius and Harry asked at the same time.
"Moira Hollinshead?" Severus asked, glancing at the paper. "Yes, she came to ask me questions after the second task."
"Well, what'd you tell her?" Sirius asked.
"To get out," Severus said bluntly.
"That's rude," Sirius replied with a frown.
Severus didn't look disturbed. "I was having a bad day."
"Even so. Anyway, she said she'd owl me so if we hit it off, you better be nicer next time," Sirius said sternly.
Severus raised a brow. "She said she would owl me too. She never did."
"Maybe it was because you were a git," Sirius offered. Harry stifled a laugh.
"Or maybe it was because I told her not to."
"That might have done it," Sirius said.
"Besides, you are certainly not planning on bringing any prospective girlfriends back here for 'family approval' are you?"
Sirius shrugged. "Why not? You guys are my family."
Harry grinned, touched by the sentiment. Severus merely scowled.
"Well, I, for one, would like to meet her," Harry piped up.
"I think we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves," Sirius admitted. "Though, I can't see how anyone can resist this," he said, flipping his hair arrogantly.
Harry laughed while Severus replied, "Those years in Azkaban have addled your brain."
"Years in brain have addled my what?" Sirius asked blankly. Harry chuckled again.
"So are you done at Hogwarts?" Harry asked Severus after his laughter had died down.
"For the most part. Everything else I need to do, I can do here," Severus said. "They have given me a nice long list of potions that need restocking in the Hospital Wing."
"Sounds fun," Harry said earnestly.
"Hardly," Sirius scoffed.
"How was your time with Black?" Severus asked of Harry.
"Great," Harry replied immediately, glancing at Sirius who grinned.
Severus's eyes narrowed. "What did you do?"
"Oh, nothing much," Harry hedged.
"Why don't I believe that?" he muttered.
A few minutes later, Harry couldn't resist asking, "Do you think I'm crazy?"
Severus considered Harry for a moment. "Perhaps. Ridiculously hardheaded, impulsive and reckless, that is for certain."
Harry glared at him. "Thanks a lot."
Severus gave a half shrug. "Don't be offended; the same goes for the rest of the Gryffindors."
Harry lifted a brow. "I was almost put in Slytherin, you know."
"I know," Severus replied.
"Wait, what?" Sirius asked. "You couldn't have been!"
Severus scowled at him. "And why not? Is there something wrong with Slytherin?"
Sirius backtracked. "Well, no, of course not, but I mean Harry Potter in Slytherin?"
"What'd be wrong with that?" Harry challenged.
Sirius opened his mouth, then shut it with a snap. He'd obviously lost. "You guys just ganged up on me there, didn't you?"
"Yep," Harry chirped. "Head of Slytherin and honorary Slytherin make a pretty good team."
"But we're both Gryffindors," Sirius said to Harry.
Harry shrugged. "We'll get him next time."
"Will you?" Severus asked skeptically.
"Sure," Harry replied.
Later that night, after a few games of chess and a rich chocolate cake courtesy of Midgy, Harry turned in. Severus watched him leave the room and waited until he was out of earshot. When the door upstairs closed with an audible click, and Severus turned to Sirius.
"Dumbledore has asked to see you when you get a chance," he said.
"About what?" Sirius asked worriedly.
"Thankfully, your teaching skills have not been called to question," Severus said snidely. "Rather, I believe he would ask for use of your house."
"My house?" Sirius repeated. "For what?"
Severus leaned forward, lowering his voice unnecessarily. "The Order is being reinstated."
Sirius's eyes widened. "Wow. And he wants to use my house as...as..."
"Goodness," Sirius breathed. He shook his head numbly. "I had hoped, as futile as it may be, that it wouldn't be true. I mean, I know He's back but I hoped we wouldn't have to resort to... well, this. Gathering the Order seems so..." Sirius searched for the right word. "Final."
Severus nodded. "We all hoped that would be the last time."
Sirius scratched his head. "Well, anything I can do to help. If he wants my house, he can have it."
Severus nodded. "I had told him you would agree. Dumbledore still wants to speak to you though."
"Alright," Sirius said. He stood with a sigh. "I think I should be heading home then, it's late."
Severus nodded. "Sirius. One more thing: Harry is not to know."
"Harry's not to know what?" Sirius asked, turning back from the fireplace.
"Anything?" Sirius repeated.
"That is correct. He is not to know that the Order is meeting at your house. Quite frankly, he is not to know of the Order itself," Severus stated.
Sirius blinked at him. "That's hardly fair! Harry's just as much a part of this as anyone else is, more even! Why did you agree to that?""Dumbledore made several good points. This is in Harry's best interest. We are not to share any news concerning, well, anything. I would not have agreed if I didn't believe it was the best for Harry, you know that," Severus said a bit defensively.
"You know he won't be happy about this," Sirius warned.
"He does not have to be. Besides, if he doesn't know, he will not have a cause to be unhappy."
"Won't his friends tell him, though? I mean, the Weasley's are in the Order."
"They will be forced to swear secrecy," Severus supplied.
Sirius shook his head in disapproval and headed for the Floo. "I'll talk to Dumbledore tomorrow. See you then."
Severus nodded sharply and Sirius Flooed away. Severus stood facing the empty room. He remembered having a night very similar to this one, many years ago. He remembered being alone in a darkened house, fearing for the safety of those he loved and knowing that he could do next to nothing to protect them. But he would try.
Severus's arm began to burn. The Order was not all that was gathering.
It had begun.
AN: And so ends Child of Innocence. Thank you so much to everyone who has been reading/reviewing faithfully, it means a lot! Sparks of the Tempest, the next book, can be accessed through my profile page. I implore you to keep reading! I can't thank you all enough :)
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