They'd claimed the boy's dormitory - Neville, Dean and Seamus had taken one look at the three of them and said something about going for a walk.

Ron and Draco sat on their respective beds, and Hermione had claimed Harry's. Ginny ought to be back soon, hopefully with Harry in tow. That Harry hadn't come and found them yet probably meant he was in a mood; Ron figured it was about fifty-fifty as to whether he needed to be made to see sense, or needed comfort and reassurance. Hermione was good at the latter, Malfoy good at the former, and Ron knew he could be good at either, but only if Harry was open to it. If he'd decided to be difficult - as avoiding them for the last three hours seemed to indicate - then Ron would be useless.

Ginny, on the other hand, would be able to knock sense into him or comfort him, and was forceful enough - Ron swore she'd had lessons from Mum - to make sure he listened.

That was the theory, anyway. In practice she'd been gone for nearly an hour, so-

As if summoned by Ron thinking of them, the door swung open and Harry and Ginny walked in, laughing. Ron straightened, nervous, and Malfoy and Hermione did the same.

Harry's mirth faded - he could smell them - and Ron suspected he would have stopped In the doorway if Ginny hadn't given him a gentle push further in.

"Hi," Harry said. "I-" Malfoy had been right; Harry's expression twisted, and Ron knew Harry was blaming himself for last night.

"It's not your fault, Harry," Hermione said, beating Ron to it. "And yes, I'm mad, but I'm not really mad."

"I'm not mad at all," Ron said.

Harry looked both tense - like he wanted to argue - and relieved.

"Told you," Ginny muttered, but not particularly quietly.

"Take a seat, Potter," Malfoy said, expression unreadable. Ron thought that, combined with the words themselves was a bad way to go about things, and sure enough Harry baulked, glancing uncertainly at Ginny.

"We have something we want to talk to you about, Harry," Hermione said, patting the bed beside her. Her tone was all wrong, too; like she was trying to not to scare him. Ron hadn't ever thought of Harry as very wolfish, but watching him now he thought he understood it.

"What about?" Harry asked carefully.

Hermione and Malfoy both looked at Ron. Harry did too.

"V-voldemort," Ron said. It was a struggle to say it - it made his mouth feel dry, and his tongue feel heavy and all of him feel wrong - but he managed it and he knew it would be important to Harry that he had.

Malfoy made an odd huffing sound, and Hermione sucked in a breath. Harry's eyebrows shot up.

"All right," he said, and looked confused, but calm. "What- what about him?"

"What does he want with you?" Ron asked.

"I'm not entirely sure," Harry said, frowning. "Maybe my blood, maybe me dead." He came forward and flopped down onto the end of his bed, making Hermione bounce. Ginny stayed by the door, perhaps intending to block in if Harry tried to leave "Nothing good, though."

"But why?"

"What do you mean 'why'?" Harry's expression had tightened, though, and Ron knew he wasn't the only one to have noticed; Malfoy's eyes had narrowed, and Hermione was biting her lip in a thoughtful sort of way. "He just does. Always has."

"Since starting school I can understand," Ron said. "But why'd he go after you the first time, when you were a baby? You hadn't done anything then-"

"My parents were in the Order," Harry said stiffly. Ron felt like a complete git for making him talk about his parents, but he had to know… "They'd been fighting him, and the Death Eaters." His expression twisted slightly. "Defied him a few times. I suppose that made me interesting to him." Harry set his jaw. "Any other questions about my dead parents, or are you done?"

Hermione's eyes widened, and she looked horrified and guilty. Ron felt even worse. Malfoy - as usual - was hard to read.

"I'm not trying to be a git," Ron said, rather helplessly. "I just- I'm trying to understand."

"Voldemort's-" And though Ron had just said the name himself, he still twitched. "-a murderous lunatic, and he's after me," Harry said. "That's all there is to it."

"Lie," Malfoy said quietly.

Harry looked over and scowled at him, then said, "Go on, then, if you're the expert."

"We're not experts," Ron said, because Malfoy had narrowed his eyes again, and looked set to say something rude and unhelpful. "That's why we're asking-"

"And I'm telling you, there's not much to it." Ron didn't believe him.

"There is, though," he said. Harry eyed him, suddenly wary. "You-Kn- V-voldemort wants you dead, right? He poisoned you with the snitch, and he tried again when he went after the stone, and he tried in the Chamber of Secrets-" Ron hadn't been there, but he'd been in the hospital wing afterwards both times, and in the Chamber he'd been there while Harry and Riddle talked. "But he- you know, he-" Ron struggled to explain his reasoning. "It's- it's like chess."

"Chess?" Harry repeated, looking baffled. Hermione, Ginny and Malfoy didn't look like they understood either.

"Yeah," Ron said, "chess. You're- you're the Queen, the one the other side really wants off the board, right?"

"Sure," Harry said skeptically.

"And V-voldemort's the King on the other side - important, but not very mobile." Harry laughed at that, but he was the only one; Malfoy and Hermione wore scandalised expressions. Ginny looked grim.

"Yeah, all right," Harry said, shaking his head, amused. "He's the King. What's your point?"

"If he wants you off the board, he has a whole heap of other pieces he could use. Pawns and knights and rooks and the rest. So why's he determined to take you himself? It makes no sense!"

"I guess he's holding a grudge," Harry said. He didn't look amused any more. "But it's not like others haven't tried-"

"They haven't," Ron said. "Not really. And you know why - it's not some secret, evil plan. You're in on it too."

"What? I'm- you think-?" Harry laughed, but it was an offended sort of laugh.

"That came out wrong," Ron said hastily. "I just meant-" He didn't think he could explain this with chess. "With Wormtail last night. He could have killed you - you were wandless - but you both knew he wouldn't. You both knew he'd try to take you for- for-" Ron braced himself. "-Voldemort."

Harry said nothing.

"So if V- if he wants you dead, he wants to do it himself. And you know that, you were sure of it, and so was Wormtail. How? Why?"

"Dunno," Harry muttered.

"Lie," Malfoy said. Harry shot him another look, but said nothing more. He looked uncomfortable now, and Ron traded looks with the others.

"Harry…?" Hermione said carefully. She sounded a little afraid, and Ron was too, now that he knew there was something more to all of this:

"But if there is, he's kept it from us," Hermione had said, biting her lip, when Ron ran the idea of this conversation past her earlier.

"He's probably got a good reason," Malfoy had said. "It's Potter, he's not one to keep secrets lightly…"

"No, but that's my point," Hermione had said. "If it's something he thinks he can't tell us, or trust us with, it must be huge. We know he has dreams about You-Know-Who, and we even know about his wolf. What could be a bigger secret than that?"

Neither Ron or Malfoy had had an answer for her.

Now, Ron watched Harry fidget on the end of his bed and wondered if he was going to give them one. After several long seconds, Harry drew his wand.

"Mutusmuros," he said quietly, drawing a small circle in the air before him. It glowed a pale purple, then expanded out - passing harmlessly through Ron and the others, and the furniture. When it reached the walls, it stopped. The walls glittered for a moment, and then went back to looking normal.

"A silencing charm?" Hermione asked, exchanging another tentative glance with Ron, then with Malfoy. Harry nodded, tossing his wand down. He looked exhausted all of a sudden.

"I- I really don't know how to tell you," he said.

"You must have thought about telling us," Hermione said reasonably. "Just say what you said in your head when you thought about it."

"That usually ends with you all telling me I'm too dangerous to be around, and clearing off," Harry said. He laughed once, but it was bleak and without humour.

"No one's clearing off," Ron said. Hermione nodded.

"I don't want you to," Harry said. His voice was small, uncertain in a way that Ron wasn't used to hearing. It reminded him that - other than Ginny - Harry was the youngest of all of them.

"Then we won't," Hermione said confidently.

"She's right," Ron said. "I think you're sort of stuck with us, mate."

"What they said," Malfoy said. "So stop with the dramatics and get on with it."

"All right," Harry said. He took a deep breath - Ron could see him summoning his courage - and then, rather quickly, said, "Fine: it- it wasn't my parents he was after on Halloween. There- there was a prophecy made-" Hermione made an interesting face at that. "-that made it so- it was me he was after. It's always been me, and it's going to keep being me-"

"Not a body?" Ginny asked.

"A body first," Harry conceded, nodding at her. "Then- then me."

"Why don't they hide you, then, if he's going to keep trying?" Malfoy asked, looking pale. "Send you off to Australia, or Japan or somewhere until the Dark Lord's gone… Properly gone, I mean. Even if you had to wait for him to die of old age, you're young. You'd be back by the time you were thirt-"

"He can't die of old age," Harry said. Hermione, ever curious, opened her mouth at that. Harry glanced at her, and gave a shadow of a smile. "One thing at a time, Hermione." She shut it again, and Harry took a deep breath. "Age can't kill him."

"Dumbledore probably could," Ron said. "He's getting on a bit and he's never struck me as a killer, really, but he beat Grindelwald-"

"He can't, Ron."

"He can't be un-killable," Hermione said, sounding affronted by the idea that You-Know-Who couldn't die. "There's got to be something-"

"There is," Harry said.

"Well, good," Hermione said. "What-"

"Me."

The dormitory was silent.

"How- how do you know?" Hermione asked eventually.

"The prophecy said so," Harry said tiredly.

"The prophecy said so," Hermione repeated, eyes narrowing a little. "And how precisely, did the prophecy say so?"

"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches," Harry said, "born to those that have thrice defied him… born as the seventh month dies… and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not… and either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives."

Ron couldn't help it; he glanced at Harry's scar, half-visible through his messy fringe.

"So that's why he wants you for himself," Malfoy said. "Because he's the only one that can kill you."

"What- no," Harry said. "He hasn't even heard that part… it's- it's a pride thing, I think."

"He hasn't…?" Malfoy shook his head. "Never mind. My point is that if you take that to mean you're the only one that can kill him, the same's true for him and you."

Harry stared at him.

"Not necessarily," Hermione said. "At his hand could mean on his orders, which would mean a Death Eater could do it." She was wearing her thinking-frown; Ron wished he knew what she was thinking. "And there might be a thousand other ways to interpret it all that none of us are seeing - Divination's notorious for being entirely about interpretation rather than definites." And she was, somehow, a little skeptical; Ron knew her well enough to know that much. For once, though, he didn't think Hermione was right.

"What's the power the Dark Lord knows not?" Ginny asked. She'd left her place by the door and come to sit on the end of Ron's bed.

"No idea," Harry said. "I don't think he knows about my wolf yet, so it might be that, but it might not be. It could be anything." He glanced around at them all, a little nervously. "You- none of you have cleared off."

"Would you leave if it was one of us?" Ginny asked.

"Of course you wouldn't," Hermione said briskly, before Harry could answer. "And I told Professor McGonagall earlier that I'm your friend - danger or not. I'm not about go back on that because some seer's made a woolly prediction about your future."

"I'm just relieved to know it's been a prophecy driving your heroics all this time, and not insanity."

"Dunno about it being insanity," Ron said, glancing at Malfoy, amused, "but you going up against Voldemort's nothing new, mate. If we were going to run off, we would have years ago."

"I- I appreciate it," Harry said, "I really do - I don't think you'll ever know how much-"

"Here comes the 'but'," Ron said, glancing at Malfoy, who smirked. Hermione sighed.

"-but this- this isn't going to get any better," Harry said helplessly. "It's going to get worse. There might be another war, like there was when he had a body, and if you're with me you'll be right in the middle of it. It's- it won't be safe-"

"We're mudbloods and bloodtraitors, Harry," Hermione said, gesturing to herself, and then Ginny, Ron, and Malfoy. "If there's a war, we're not going to be safe anyway, and I'd much rather fight than be a victim."

"And if we're fighting," Ron said, "we might as well do it properly - from the middle. We're with you, mate." His resolve to not be useless, to not need saving, strengthened, and he grinned at Harry.

"If there's a war, I'll end up in the middle of it regardless," Malfoy said quietly. "I'd much rather be in the middle on your side."

"But your family," Harry said. Ron felt a guilty surge of gratitude for his family being decent. "Draco-"

"I'd rather not fight them directly," Malfoy said. "But I won't fight for a side I don't agree with, and if that puts me on the side opposite theirs, so be it. I'm used to being different from them." He gestured, smiling slightly, at the Gryffindor banner hanging on the wall.

"I- you're-" Harry didn't seem to have the words to express what he was feeling, but Ron understood; they weren't trading their life for his, like he had for Ron, but they were - with full understanding of the dangers involved - throwing their lot in with him. Harry was probably feeling as overwhelmed as Ron had been all day. Hermione reached out and squeezed his hand. "Right," Harry managed, and Ron saw him squeeze her hand back. "If- while we're here having difficult conversations, we might as well have all of them." He tugged his hand free of Hermione's and ran a hand through his hair. "Have any of you heard of horcruxes?"


Sirius spent a grand total of three days in the hospital wing under Pomfrey's supervision before getting claustrophobic and declaring he was well enough to go home.

"Mr Black, are you sure…?" the matron asked, watching him tug his robes on over a tshirt and jeans.

"Positive," Sirius said. "Kreacher'll take care of me, and Harry's due home tomorrow, and Moony and Dora are back from France for the holidays on the weekend-"

"It's not you being in your home that I'm worried about, it's getting you there. The Floo's out of the question - an episode in there and you'll miss your grate and end up Merlin only knows where."

"Kreacher can Side-Along-"

"Absolutely not," she said. The Hospital Wing doors groaned open and Snape strode in with a rack of phials of all different sizes and with all different coloured potions inside them; today's doses of the various things he was taking to help him fight off the after effects of the curse. Sirius inclined his head to acknowledge him, but Pomfrey was too busy frowning at Sirius: "If your mind wanders you'll Splinch yourself, and your elf."

Sirius wanted to argue that it wouldn't happen, that Apparition was so quick it wouldn't be an issue, but his episodes came on without warning, and if one did start in the second they were being squeezed between Hogwarts and Number Twelve, Sirius couldn't trust himself not to panic.

"Portkey then. I'll get someone to walk me to the gates. Harry, or Hagrid, or someone."

"And to portkey with you," she said, "just in case."

"Harry, then. And he can Floo back into Dumbledore's office-"

"That's an enormous responsibility for the boy-"

"As his godfather, that's my call, I think-"

"I can accompany Black," Snape said.

"Perfect," Sirius said, then blinked. "Hang on- you're going to help me back to Grimmauld?" Snape glanced at him, expression unreadable. Madam Pomfrey looked as bewildered as Sirius. "But-"

"Lessons are over, so I have no pressing commitments," Snape said. "Take my offer or leave it, it's of little concern to me."

"No," Sirius said with a hasty glance at Pomfrey, who looked set to start arguing again, "if you're willing, let's go."

Snape, at least, wasn't likely to treat him like he was delicate, so Sirius might finally get to hear what had happened after he'd been cursed. Madam Pomfrey had forbidden anyone from talking to him about it so far, worried that it would fuel his curse-induced hallucinations and paranoia. He hadn't even been able to get anything out of Harry, who'd shaken his head and mumbled about Healer's orders every time Sirius asked.

Snape waited patiently - rack of potions tucked under his arm - while Sirius pulled on his boots.

"Can you let Harry know I've gone home - he can get me by mirror if he needs me." He'd be back soon, in all likelihood. Madam Pomfrey gave a short nod, and disappeared into her office.

Snape didn't speak for most of the walk through the castle, which Sirius was grateful for; while he felt well enough to be out of bed, being well enough to tackle flights of moving stairs was another matter entirely.

He was out of breath and a little dizzy by the time they made it down to the grounds. His chest hurt, and his stomach-ache was back, but he didn't press a hand to it, lest he give himself away. Snape's eyes flickered over him.

"I'm fine," Sirius said. "Just been in a bed for too long."

"I didn't say anything."

"You didn't have to," Sirius said. He straightened, wincing but unable to help that, and started off across the grounds. Snape fell into step beside him. "So what happened?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"After I was cursed."

"Ah." They walked in silence for a moment longer. "What makes you think I know the details?" Sirius gave him a flat stare and Snape smirked, but then his eyes grew distant, and his scent was… guilty? "I have a question for you first."

"Sure."

"Was it you that took off half of Pettigrew's hand?"

"Took off- what?" Sirius blinked. "No, it wasn't." He thought of Peter and bared his teeth. "I wish it had been. Why?" Snape's only response was a sour look. "Snape?"

"If it wasn't you, then it was Potter, which puts me in the uncomfortable position of-"

"It can't have been Harry," Sirius said, cutting him off. "When I caught up with them, Peter wasn't bleeding - I'd have smelled it. And Harry went back to the castle after I got there..." Snape snorted. Sirius gave him a wary look. "Didn't he?"

"What do you think?"

"He didn't have a wand," Sirius said; Peter wouldn't have left Harry armed for their walk across the grounds.

"Would that matter?"

"Yes," Sirius said, and was fairly sure of that. After that day in Hogsmeade, Harry would have known better than to follow and make himself a liability.

"Even if he thought you were hurt?" Snape asked silkily. Sirius mumbled a few choice swear-words.

"He heard me get cursed, then?"

"He was there well before that," Snape said dryly. "Or so he told the Headmaster."

"Of course he was," Sirius muttered. That would mean Harry'd seen him use the killing curse, and Sirius wasn't sure how he felt about that; would Harry be disappointed Sirius had missed? Or would he think Sirius was a monster, a would-be-murderer? How would he have felt to see Sirius use the curse that had killed Lily and James and left Harry scarred? Sirius felt suddenly ill, and dizzy, his head blurry with an awful sort of panic…

What would Harry think? What would Lily think? What would James think? Would he have understood, or would he be disgusted that Sirius had been prepared to see another Marauder fall to the killing curse?

"Black?" Snape's voice was coming from a long way away, and sounded almost concerned. "I think we should go back to the hospital wing…"

"No," Sirius heard himself say hoarsely. "No, no, sorry, I just- dizzy spell. I'm fine." He glanced up at Snape- up, because he was sitting on the ground, hugging his knees. Sirius untangled himself and stood, Snape hovering over him, looking unconvinced. "So- so Harry saw me fall-" The panic was still prickling at him, but he pushed it away as best he could and continued toward the gates. Yesterday, he'd tried to use his mental patronus to deal with the curse, but hadn't had any luck. Padfoot could deal with dementors and a legillimency attempt, but not curses. "-and came and- what, grabbed my wand?" Snape's mouth thinned. "And- and then he cursed off Peter's hand?" It sounded ridiculous, like something right out of his hallucinations.

"Perhaps," Snape said after a moment, rather grudgingly. "Or perhaps that came later. Potter didn't admit to it when he spoke with the Headmaster. Everyone's under the impression that you did it."

"Except you," Sirius said, frowning at Snape. "So why's that?"

"When you told Draco that I was an Occlumens," Snape said uncomfortably, "you did it to help him, did you not? Even though you knew it would likely be against my wishes..."

"What did you do?" Sirius eyed him.

"When Potter left to answer Pettigrew's summons, I gave him a spell," Snape said, not looking at him. "Sectumsempra. It's a cutting curse. Fairly dark, not intent based, and, most importantly, very effective."

"For Harry to use if he had to defend himself, or because you hoped he'd mangle Peter with it?"

"Why not both?"

"Fair enough," Sirius said, sighing. "And you said Harry hasn't said anything about it?"

"Not that I'm aware of."

"Great," Sirius muttered. That was sure to be indicative of a moral dilemma on Harry's part; either he'd been pleased to have hurt Peter, or he was horrified. Either way, he was probably convinced he was a bad person. And, if he'd seen Sirius use the killing curse, he was probably sure Sirius was one too. But then, Harry'd been visiting him whenever Madam Pomfrey allowed, so what did that mean? "I'll… talk to him." Sirius didn't think he was in a state to do a very good job of it, but he'd have to. Snape inclined his head, and Sirius got the impression he was relieved or satisfied, or… something. "What… what else happened?"

"Pettigrew Imperiused the boy-" Sirius' chest seized. "-and he threw it off - couldn't bring himself to leave you, or so he told the Headmaster. Then, as I understand it, Moody and Lupin arrived, Pettigrew blew up everything in sight and conjured fiendfyre. The Headmaster and I arrived in time to stop it, but Pettigrew had already fled. I returned you to the castle, and Potter and the Headmaster retrieved Granger and I'm sure you can put together the rest."

"Fiendfyre?" Sirius asked weakly.

"Pettigrew's learned some new tricks," Snape said.

"And Harry was there, for all of that - the fiendfyre and explosions, and...?"

"If it's any consolation, he was less involved in any duelling and more involved with shielding you from anything untoward."

"That doesn't make me feel any better about it at all," Sirius said. Snape shrugged, eyes heavy on Sirius.

They didn't speak again until they reached the gates, but Sirius could feel him staring and didn't like the feel of it. They were a long way from the school, now, probably little more than specks of darkness to anyone watching from the castle. Pomfrey was the only one that knew they'd gone, and if anything happened to Sirius, Snape could just lie and say he'd run off, or decided to go alone. He could disappear out here and no one would ever know.

Dumbledore trusts him, Sirius told himself. Snape drew his wand with purpose and Sirius dove to the side, drawing his own. His patronus is a doe, he's good with Draco-

"Expelliarmus!" Snape snapped, and Sirius' wand flew out of his hand before he could decide whether to use it or not. Snape's hand went to his pocket again and Sirius flinched into Padfoot, but Snape only pulled out a bent quill and tapped it with his wand. "Portus."

Sirius transformed. Embarrassingly, he was trembling, but Snape said nothing as he picked himself up off the ground. He passed Sirius' wand back with a warning glance. Sirius pocketed it.

"Are you well enough to travel?"

"I'll be fine," Sirius said. Snape studied him for a moment, and tucked the phial rack more securely under his arm. Then, he offered him the other end of the quill. Sirius reached out and took it, and Snape reached out and caught hold of Sirius' forearm.

"Just in case," he said, and Sirius nodded. He could hear dementors rattling, and see dark shapes in the trees beside the gates, and hear Wormtail's shrill, breathy voice.

Sirius was just lucid enough to know he was in the beginning stages of an episode. He glanced at Snape.

"How long-"

"About a minute," Snape said, and Sirius started to nod again, then smelled the lie and turned, but Snape's face was suddenly covered by a flash of blue and Sirius was being yanked away.

They landed just inside the doorway at Grimmauld, and Snape's grip on Sirius' arm was the only thing that kept him upright.

"Bloody liar," Sirius snarled, yanking himself free.

"I didn't think you ought to have any time to build it up in your head," Snape said curtly. Sirius' snarl was wordless this time, and he took two steps, only to throw himself backward as something exploded in front of him.

"Master?" The explosion twisted and became a burning mass, twisting the way fiendfyre did, but shapeless. So Pomfrey had been right; hearing Snape talk about the night he was cursed did affect his episodes.

"Kreacher?" Sirius asked warily, trying - to no avail - to make out the elf through the flames.

"Master isn't looking well, oh no, Kreacher will take-"

"I'm fine," Sirius said, well aware that he wasn't. "I'm going to rest, so if you can see Snape-" He glanced at where Snape had been, but it was his father staring at him with disapproving eyes. Sirius backed away towards the stairs. "-to the Floo..."

"I'll leave these with the elf," Sirius' father said with Snape's voice, and hefted the rack of phials. "That'll see you through the rest of today and the night, and I'll send tomorrow's lot through the Floo in the morning."

"Great," Sirius said. "Thanks. Bye." He scrambled up the stairs.

His mother was waiting for him on the first floor landing. Sirius cringed and skirted her.

The second floor landing seemed clear at first, until Regulus wandered out of the library. Sirius froze, staring at him, and then hundreds of rotting, dripping hands pushed through the carpet and caught Regulus' legs. They dragged him, screaming through the floor.

"Not real," Sirius muttered to himself, but did his best to pick his way around the hands anyway. A proper inferius burst from the stairs between the third floor and the fourth, and Sirius decided he didn't need to sleep in his own bed - it was his house, and he was entitled to any of the beds in it.

He barricaded himself in the bedroom opposite Moony and Dora's, and the inferius screeched at him through the door. Sirius shuddered, and then a different sort of screech came from inside the room with him. Sirius turned around and saw his mind had conjured - of all things - a hippogriff.

Sirius stared at it for a few moments and it stared back, rather haughtily.

"Not real," he muttered, but didn't approach the bed. The room smelled oddly animal-like, which was unusual for his hallucinations; usually there was sound and images, but there hadn't been scent before. The hippogriff clicked its beak at him, and Sirius cocked his head at the familiar gesture. "Hedwig?"

The door opened then and Sirius yelped and scrabbled toward the bed. The hippogriff panicked too - which made sense, since it was part of Sirius' mind - and flapped its wings as Snape and Kreacher strode in, looking, thankfully, like themselves, though Sirius wasn't sure he'd ever seen Snape show so much emotion - disbelief - before.

Before Sirius could ask why, the hippogriff's flapping wing clipped his shoulder, and with considerable force.

Not Hedwig.

Kreacher scurried forward with his hands up in a deferential sort of way, and Snape edged close enough to drag Sirius back, eyes on-

Surely not...

"You can see it too?" Sirius asked. Snape nodded once, nostrils flaring. "The hippogriff?"

"Yes, Black," he said tersely.

"There's a hippogriff." Sirius tried not to sound hysterical, but didn't do a very good job of it. It should have been funny. He should have been laughing, but instead he was choking on panic. "Kreacher, why's there a hippogriff-"

"Should have left you in the hospital wing," Snape muttered. "Dormio."

And everything went black.