Chapter 17

"You know that writing lines is completely pointless, don't you?" Harry ground out, stabbing his quill into the inkpot for what seemed like the millionth time.

"Would you rather I told Snape about this?" Sirius asked, lazily turning the page in the book he was reading.

Harry didn't respond. He just kept writing.

After what seemed like an interminable amount of time had passed that was more likely no more than ten minutes, Sirius snapped the book shut. Harry looked up hopefully. He raised an eyebrow at his godfather, hoping the punishment would finally end.

"You're right," Sirius said. "I'm bored. Why Moony insisted I supervise the lines is beyond me. Let's do something."

Not willing to argue with that, Harry put the quill down and asked, "What?"

"We-el," Sirius drew the word out playfully. "I know Snape's been training you. It'd be a shame for you to get out of practice. Let's see what you've got."

"Really? Are you serious?" Harry looked at his godfather doubtfully. He wasn't sure Snape would approve, but he also didn't much care. "Let's do it!"

"Of course, I'm Sirius!" The man let out a loud guffaw at the pun. "Did you fall on your head or something?"

With a groan, Harry shook his head and stood up. "What, here?"

"No," Sirius looked around. "I have a better place."

Harry followed as he was led down a series of hallways and staircases farther into the bowels of the big house than he had ever been. "Wicked!" he breathed.

It was a room not unlike the training room in Snape's house, with dark wood floors and walls that were so dark they were almost black. There were no windows since they were in a sublevel, but there were several walls of mirrors. Training dummies were littered around the room, as well as many types of benches and other objects whose uses Harry could only guess at.

"Don't touch anything in here unless I give you permission," Sirius said, his face and tone sterner than Harry had ever heard. "A lot of this is … well …."

"Dark?" Harry suggested.

"Very," Sirius agreed.

"All right, then. Show me what you've got!"

Harry started off easy.

"Expelliarmus!"

"Ha! You almost got me, Pup. Nice try. Predictable though. I was an Auror, remember. I was also raised a Black. You are going to be going against a lot of Dark wizards. I can take it. Dish it out!"

So, Harry didn't hold back. He found that he knew all of the spells Sirius used and decided that if anyone was holding back, it was his godfather. It was still fun. After an hour, Harry was getting tired.

"Furnunculus!"

"Now you're just insulting me," Sirius said mildly, batting the curse away. "Levicorpus! Langlock!"

Harry found himself dangling from his ankle, unable to say a word, a very undignified position, especially when Sirius followed it up with his next jinx.

"Rictusempra!"

Harry wanted to groan and giggle at the same time. Sirius just looked at him pitilessly.

"Where's your wordless? What, Snape didn't teach this to you yet?"

Harry shook his head. His eyes were begging for mercy. He gave his godfather a look designed to make him take pity on the boy he currently was hanging upside down and tickling.

"I will let you down on the condition that you promise not to try to listen in on or crash any more Order meetings," Sirius said, his tone serious despite Harry's predicament.

The look Harry gave him clearly meant, 'have mercy, but he didn't agree.

"Nope. You got yourself into this mess. Shall I send a stinging hex next? Perhaps to target a certain part of your anatomy?"

To make his point, Sirius nonverbally spun Harry around with his wand so that he had a better angle at his target. Harry tried to protest, but his tongue was glued to the roof of his mouth. This was a very undignified position, especially if Sirius was going to start giving out magical spankings with him hanging upside-down in the air. Admitting defeat, Harry nodded.

The spells were lifted nonverbally, and Harry came crashing to the floor. He had been half-afraid he would break his neck on the hard wood, but he found a cushioning charm. He glared at Sirius but also felt a little chagrined at thinking that his godfather would let him get hurt.

"You didn't have to do that," Harry complained.

"You should be ashamed of yourself," Sirius argued good-naturedly, holding out a hand to help him up. "If you had a better shield, you would never have been in that position."

"Or if I hadn't crashed the meeting in an invisibility cloak," Harry asked ruefully.

"Oh, you think I was punishing you?"

"You threatened to aim a stinging hex at my … well, yeah, I kinda do," Harry said.

"We just need to train more," Sirius said with a shrug. "A Death Eater is going to aim more than a stinging hex at you, and it will be aimed at a different part of your anatomy."

"Understood, Sir," Harry grumbled.

"Hey," Sirius said gently, waving his hand and conjuring a towel, then tossing it to Harry. "This is just stuff you've got to learn, alright? No one ever said it would be easy."

"I know," Harry sighed. "Sometimes I just wish …. Never mind."

"What? You wish what?"

"I'm going into my fifth year. I should know more by now. Someone should have taught me sooner. Both you and Snape have said I don't know enough."

"That may be true," Sirius said, putting his arm around Harry's sweating shoulders. "But you have us now. And we are going to get you there. You're smart. You can do it." He gave Harry a pointed look. "Isn't that what all that yelling was about when you first got here? How we all let you down? Well, now it's our turn to make it up to you."

That made Harry smile a little. As much as he felt behind, he did feel like he had a good team. "Can I practice in that room with Hermione and the others? Like the twins? They'd love it!"

"As long as there's an adult in there to supervise," his godfather agreed. "I'm sure any one of them would do it. As much as I hate to admit it, you're all going to need skills."

With this thought, Harry quickly went downstairs to find his mates. His godfather and Remus had not told the Weasleys about Harry's misadventure in the Order meeting. He had begged them not to since they well knew that he'd had help. Calling on their background as Marauders might have gotten them to agree to keep it secret, but Remus seemed inclined to forget about the whole thing anyway. Harry wondered why but decided to count his blessings.

He found them in the library playing chess. That is, Ron and Hermione were playing chess. It was one of the few things she wasn't good at, to her ongoing frustration. Ron was trying to teach her. By the looks of things, it wasn't going well.

"This game is idiotic, Ronald!"

"That's just because you can't read how to do it in a book."

"I'm sure you can. I've read three books on chess just this week, and it's not helping!"

Harry leaned against the doorway and listened to them with a grin on his face. He knew it probably wasn't right, but he got no small satisfaction out of Hermione's satisfaction from not being able to beat Ron just by reading a few books.

"Oh, hey, Harry," Ron waved him over. "Want to come see? I've got her in three."

"What!" Hermione scoffed indignantly. "No, you haven't!"

Harry pulled up a chair while they both sat back and laughed good-naturedly.

"How many does this make?" Harry asked.

"Games?" Ron asked. "We've played five, but I've won four." He leaned closer to Harry conspiratorially. "I was feeling sorry for her."

"I heard that, Ronald!"

"It's okay, Hermione," Harry assured her. "Not everyone can be good at everything. It's kind of a relief, actually. It lets us know you're human."

Hermione glared at him and then at the board, letting out a huff of annoyance but otherwise ignoring them. Harry gave her a pitying smile. He turned to Ron. It sounded like interrupting this game wasn't going to matter much anyway.

"You guys will appreciate this," he told them. "Sirius has this really brilliant workout room. Deep down under the house. He says we can practice dueling in it as long as we have an adult to supervise us."

"Wicked!" Ron breathed. "When can we start."

"Well," Harry paused. "I just got out of there. He wiped the floor with me. But you two can give it a go."

That had Hermione's attention. "What'd he use?"

"Not telling!" Harry winked. "You'll find out when you duel me."

She slapped him in the arm with a frown, then stood up. "What are we waiting for!"

"Checkmate!" Ron said.

Harry grinned and followed them out of the room.

They had to look in a few places before they found Sirius and Remus, who were having what looked like a serious conversation in a corner of the kitchen. Harry didn't want to interrupt, but Remus saw them and waved them over.

"Hi," he said. "Sirius said we can use that room downstairs to practice defense if we had supervision. We were wondering if one of you could supervise."

From the looks that they exchanged, Harry wondered what the heated conversation was about. Remus let out a short sigh, though, and nodded. He sent Sirius a look that Harry had trouble deciphering and walked toward them.

"Alright. Let's go. I will supervise for an hour."

"Thanks!" Harry told him gratefully. He looked back at Sirius, who grinned at Harry in a manner that seemed a little less than genuine.

Watching Ron and Hermione duel was almost as fun as dueling himself. He knew all of the spells they were using and had to bite his tongue not to make suggestions. Sirius also refrained, leaning casually against the wall and smirking. He seemed to be enjoying walking the teens' duel.

After about an hour, Sirius called an end to the duel and tossed some towels to the duelers.

"Good work, you two," he said. "I know you've had a bit of a slippery education."

"You can say that again," Ron said with a grimace. "Our last teacher was a Death Eater."

"Hmm," Sirius made a face. "So was your first, I hear."

"Right," Harry groaned. "Do you know who it'll be next year? Too bad you can't do it. You'd be brilliant."

"Unfortunately, my name's not cleared," Sirius reminded him as they walked out the door and down the hallway. "I don't know who it'll be."

"Snape would be good. I don't think he really likes teaching Potions," Harry mused.

"Where would he go after a year?" Hermione asked. "You don't really want something to happen to him, do you? The job's cursed."

"Right," Harry said. "Back to Potions? It'd be nice to have a decent teacher for one year at least."

"Lupin in third," Ron reminded him. "Anyway, what do you care? Snape's training you anyway."

"Well, yeah," Harry said, feeling the color rise to his cheeks at Ron's slightly accusatory tone. "I do care about the rest of the students, though, you know?"

"Then teach us what you know!" Ron pushed.

"I'm not allowed to, Ron, you know that," Harry said, turning around and looking back at Ron coldly.

"Hey, come on now," Sirius said from the top of the stairs, where the others had just about forgotten he was there. "I'm sure there'll be some time for a few pointers. Harry's right. What Snape's teaching him is off-limits."

As Sirius disappeared through the doorway onto the upper floor, Ron made a face at Harry. Harry just gave him a look that said clearly to bugger off and turned around to follow his godfather. Hermione followed them both with a huff, most likely at their immaturity.

Harry spent the rest of the day in his room, finishing his punishment and his homework. He didn't want to be around Ron or anyone else, for that matter. It seemed like whatever he had, Ron found a way to be jealous of. Whenever things were friendly between them again, it didn't take long for something new to come up. Harry knew his temper was easily set off lately, but he was also wondering if he had just let Ron get away with things a little too easily before in the name of keeping a friend because he was so desperate to have one. Ron had been his first real friend, but that didn't mean he needed to bend over backward to placate him for every little thing.

It occurred to Harry that this was probably the type of thing he was supposed to be discussing with Remus. Harry had been trying to avoid those sessions even while at Grimmauld Place. He didn't want to talk about how he was worried about where Snape was, his upcoming hearing, or what things would be like with Voldemort back. Harry had so many worries that talking about them could not possibly make them better.

"Harry, are you in there?"

Harry sighed when he heard Hermione's voice through the door. He figured he could just stay quiet or tell her to go away. On the other hand, it might be good to keep at least one best friend.

"Yeah, Hermione, I'm here. Come on in."

The door wasn't locked, so Hermione tentatively turned it and entered. Even if it was locked, Hermione would have just unlocked it and entered. They'd all been using magic pretty freely since Harry arrived.

"Hey," she said, sitting down on the bed across from Harry. "Ron was an arse. Ignore him."

"It's okay, Hermione. I'm over it."

She bit her lip, clearly not believing him. "Harry, I think that he's partly right, even though I don't agree with how he said it."

"What, you too?" Harry frowned at her. He wanted to blow up at her, but his heart just wasn't in it. He realized he was more disappointed than angry, so he just said nothing.

"Hear me out, please?"

Harry looked at her and the earnest expression on her face. She was looking at him as if she was afraid he would start yelling at any moment. He realized it wasn't unlikely and nodded.

"All of our Defense teachers have been rubbish, Harry," Hermione said. "We're going into our fifth year. You've had to fight Voldemort three times now, and for real in a body too. We need to do something because he's back, and people are going to die."

"I know, Hermione. I was there."

Harry stood up. He walked to the window, which didn't really look out on anything. Rather than yelling, his voice only showed how tired and defeated he felt. He didn't feel like shouting. He didn't disagree with anything she said, after all.

"Then will you help?"

"How?"

He turned and faced her. She looked so hopeful now; he hated to disappoint her. He didn't like to tell her that there wasn't anything he could do. Snape had barely begun training him and then disappeared, right into Voldemort's inner circle once again. He might never get any more training.

"Teach us! Teach us what you know!"

"Hermione, I don't know anything!"

"Yes, you do, Harry. You knew enough to defeat him in that graveyard. In the Chamber of Secrets. And in first year!"

"That was really all just luck. And I had loads of help, and in the graveyard, our wands connected and did this weird thing …."

Harry let his voice trail off. He didn't know how much of his success in the past four years had been luck, how much had been help, and how much had been his own talent. Snape told him he had potential but that he was also lazy and over-confident. He didn't feel confident now. He felt helpless.

"I know you can do it, Harry. People will look up to you," Hermione said firmly.

"Have you seen a paper recently, Hermione?" Harry scoffed. "I'm a liar and a nutter, remember? Even if I don't get kicked out of Hogwarts for what I did to the Dementors, no one will believe me that He's back."

"Some people will, Harry," Hermione said simply. "Those are the people who count."

He didn't know how to respond to that. She was being, as usual, stubborn. He just shook his head slowly.

"Just think about it, okay? And don't worry about people who don't believe you. No one listens to the Daily Prophet."

With a small smile, Hermione left Harry to his thoughts. Part of him wanted to believe her. He imagined himself teaching his fellow students spells and hexes to defend themselves. It was an insane idea. On the one hand, he didn't want to be responsible for other kids' self-defense. On the other hand, Snape would kill him if he found out about it.

With that thought, Harry was brought back to reality. He lay back in his bed and sighed. All he really wanted was to return to school and some kind of normalcy, even another underqualified, half-mad Defense teacher. Being at Hogwarts as the ward of Severus Snape would not be normal. Harry had no idea what that would look like. As he was trying to picture it, he fell asleep.

The next day was full of activity. Harry was sent off to the library before he even made it down to the kitchen for breakfast. Ginny handed him a napkin that held a muffin with two slices of bacon snug in between the halves.

"Eat up, Mum's orders," she said.

Harry shrugged and took the muffin. It was surprisingly good. In the library, he found Remus sitting in his usual spot by the window with a cup of tea and a scone. He offered a cup and scone to Harry.

"Go ahead, Pup. How would you like it?"

Harry was starting to get suspicious. It seemed like everyone was being a little too nice to him today. He eyed the tea, almost as if something might be in it, then gave in.

"Milk and sugar, please."

The tea set popped up on the table in front of Harry, and he helped himself. The tea tasted terrific since he was thirsty from the muffin. He dipped the scone and took a bite. It was blueberry and warm from the oven.

"What's going on, Remus?"

"I should think that's obvious, Harry," Remus said, taking a sip of his tea and eying Harry carefully.

"Nope," Harry shook his head.

"What day is it?"

Harry thought carefully. It took him a minute. Then he realized. Today was July 31st.

"Oh."

"Usually, my friends just send me owls."

"Well, this year, your friends are here. Some of them anyway."

"Pretty much all of them, Sir. The ones that send birthday presents anyway," Harry said a little nervously.

Remus nodded. "Your godfather, being the sentimentalist that he is, wanted to have a party. So you are not allowed in the kitchen today."

"What!"

Harry almost spit out his tea, which was quite uncomfortable because it was still a bit hot. He gaped at Lupin, then realized he must look rather silly. Feeling awkward, Harry put the teacup down and looked at his hands.

"Is something the matter, Harry?" Remus looked concerned.

"Um, it's just that …." Harry didn't even know where to begin. "He didn't have to do that."

"Of course, he did," Remus said, then a shadow crossed his face. "Oh, I see. I'm sorry, Harry. We didn't think about that. You were expecting Severus to give you the party, weren't you? I apologize. I am sure that Sirius did not mean for this to be a reminder of …."

Remus looked terribly uncomfortable, and now Harry felt even worse.

"No!" Harry said quickly. "I mean … I don't know. He probably wouldn't have …."

Tears were starting to form in the corners of Harry's eyes. He hated that. It made him feel weak and vulnerable. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Remus lock the doors and soundproof the room. It was the same thing he did for their sessions to ensure privacy.

"Harry," Remus said gently. "I can see that we have terribly upset you, and I'm sorry. First, I want you to know that if Severus could be here, he absolutely would be. In fact, you can ask Sirius, but I do believe that the two of them talked about your birthday and other holidays in their 'custody' chats about you. So, I know that he would absolutely be okay with your godfather having the party in his stead."

It took Harry a few minutes to process what Remus was saying. Remus, ever the patient one, said nothing and let it sink in. At first, it might as well have been in a foreign language to Harry. He had grown up as an extra unwanted member of the Dursley household. It was hard for him to wrap his mind around people actually wanting him around for holidays.

"Custody?" Harry finally asked.

Remus nodded, "Severus has custody of you, but Sirius wanted to make sure that he was part of your life. Even if things were not amicable between the two of them, he wanted to see you around the major holidays and your birthday. Of course, Severus would still be the one to spend the actual holidays with you. Since Severus is not here, Sirius is throwing your party."

"Oh," was all Harry could say.

"I am sure this is all a lot for you to take in still, Harry," Remus said carefully. "And since we are under Fidelis, all of your friends cannot, unfortunately, be here. However, anyone in the Order and all of the Weasleys are here."

"Anyone in the Order?" Harry said with a smile. "Hagrid?"

"Of course," Remus smiled. "Hagrid would never miss it."

"He gave me my first present," Harry said offhandedly.

"Pardon?" Remus said.

Realizing what he had just said, Harry decided to continue, even though he'd been pretty careful about what he had said about his home life so far to Remus. "Yeah. On my eleventh birthday, Hagrid took me to Diagon Alley. He bought me Hedwig."

Remus seemed to relax a little. "You mean he bought you your first Wizarding World present?"

Harry slowly shook his head.

"He bought you your first birthday present?"

Harry nodded and whispered, "Hagrid gave me the first present ever. Of any kind."

"Ever," Remus repeated. "I am so sorry, Harry. We should never have left you in that house."

"It's okay, Remus. They used to like to torment me on holidays by giving me things like empty water bottles, coat hangers, or used tissues. I stayed in my cupboard and listened to them open presents. It was okay, though, because when I made the Christmas dinner, I could nick parts when they weren't watching. It was even worth being punished for it later because it tasted so good."

"That's despicable, Harry. You know that, right?"

Harry just nodded again, slowly. The floodgates were open, so he continued.

"Every year, I used to stay up until midnight on my birthday. I figured it out when it was one year in primary when the teacher asked me what I got for my birthday the next day. I lied and made some things up. I learned a lot in school. I didn't know my name until I went to school. The Dursleys only ever called me 'Boy.' When the teacher called me on the first day, I didn't know who she was talking to. She thought I was simple and had me evaluated. They found out I needed glasses. My aunt gave me some she said were from a charity bin. Dudley loved it. He broke them and hid them whenever he could."

Remus looked horrified. Harry could tell, but for some reason, it was as if he barely noticed. He just continued.

"When I started Hogwarts, I tried to stay in bed on Christmas Day. I didn't want to be the only kid without presents. I was shocked that there were gifts for me. I had never had a Christmas present before. There was one from Ron's mom and from my friends, and I got things in the crackers, and I even got my Dad's old invisibility cloak. I always stay at Hogwarts for the holidays. I only ever went back in the summer because Dumbledore made me go. He said I had to. The Blood Wards."

"They might have protected you from Death Eaters," Remus spat out, "but they didn't protect you from your family. Did no one ever check on you?"

"Oh, well, that's the funny thing," Harry said with a mirthless laugh. "The Dursleys never took me anywhere. Not even to a supermarket. I always stayed with this horrible babysitter, Mrs. Figg. Yep, that's the one. She was supposedly keeping an eye out that I was alright. She's great at her job, isn't she? I didn't find out until the Dementor Attack that she's a Squib. Of course, the worst things the Dursleys did to me they did indoors, so the neighbors couldn't see. You wouldn't want the neighbors to know you kept your neighbor in the cupboard under the stairs when you had two spare bedrooms, would you? Nope, that's not normal. You wouldn't want the neighbors to know that you barely fed him, or that you swung frying pans at his head, or tried to strangle him or let your son and his friends beat him up every day. Nope, I take that back. She had to have seen that last one. She just wasn't good at her job."

"I'm sorry, Harry," Remus said softly. "We are all very sorry."

"That's alright, Remus," Harry said tiredly. "I'm fifteen years old. Fifteen today, in fact. I was fifteen months old when I was dropped on their doorstep to fend for myself. I think it's past the time for apologies, don't you? Will you open the door, please?"

Harry stood up, and by the time he got to the door, it was open.

Having no interest in seeing anyone else, Harry went down to the basement to see if an alohamora charm would work on the training room. He was pleasantly surprised to find that the door was unlocked. The adults in this house had too much trust, considering who was in it.

Harry didn't bother animating any of the dummies. He didn't care if they fought back. He just started sending spells at them. He wanted to vent, burning off anger and fatigue that seemed to rest deep inside his bones. He had been at it almost an hour when he heard the sound of someone clearing his voice behind him and turned his head to see Sirius.

"Oh, hi."

"Hi, indeed. You're lucky it's your birthday."

"Why?" Harry asked, sending a stinging hex at the dummy. He had been practicing them at different power levels.

"Why? You aren't supposed to be down here unsupervised, Harry. You are well aware of that," Sirius scolded.

"And because it's my birthday, you won't punish me," Harry asked in what he knew was a cheeky tone, sending another hex at the dummy.

"Harry, stop, now, and look at me," Sirius demanded.

Harry considered continuing, but he was tired anyway, so he stopped, wordlessly accioed a towel, and began drying the sweat from his forehead and arms. "Yeah?"

Sirius raised an eyebrow but did not comment on the spell. Harry was rather impressed with it. It had taken him rather a long time to get it wordlessly. He looked at his godfather with an expression that he hoped projected boredom.

"I am not sure what has gotten into you today, Harry, but you know that you are not allowed in here for rules of safety, and yes, I would hate to have to punish you on your birthday, either for breaking rules or for cheek. So why don't you cut the act and tell me what's bothering you?"

"Nothing," Harry said. "None of you respect me or ask my opinion on anything, so why should you want to know?"

"Hey," Sirius seemed worried and confused now. "What's this about?"

"You're having a party for me," Harry said bluntly.

"Well, yeah," Sirius said. "It's your birthday."

"You didn't ask me if I wanted one."

This seemed to puzzle his godfather even more. Looking at the pained look on his face, Harry began to feel bad for Sirius. He had only been out of Azkaban for a year, and now he was trapped in this house he hated. The last thing he needed was for his godson to treat him this terribly.

"I'm sorry, Sirius," Harry said, all the anger from before wilting out of him.

"Hey, it's okay, Pup," Sirius said, putting his arm around Harry, "whatever it is, you can tell me. I just wanted to do something nice for you. Kind of like a surprise. There's not much joy in our lives lately, you know. I had no idea it would make you this upset."

Harry nodded miserably.

"Remus told me that you guys had a talk, but he said it was confidential. If you want to tell me anything that will help me understand … I'm not asking you to," his voice trailed off.

"I've never had a birthday party before. I guess it just took me by surprise," Harry said meekly.

He knew it was a lame excuse for how he'd been acting that really didn't explain everything. He wasn't sure he could explain everything. Hopefully, Sirius would read between the lines.

He did. His face darkened, and his features took on a murderous expression. Harry could tell he wanted to leave the protection of Grimmauld place and take care of some certain Muggles. Harry wasn't the only one whose protection was also his prison.

"I'm sorry, Pup," Sirius said quietly after a few minutes. "It's all my fault."

Harry didn't know what to say. In a way, part of it was. The fight was gone out of him, though. He didn't want to rehash that argument and make Sirius feel bad about a mistake he couldn't take back.

"Look, Sirius, it's over. The past is the past. I just want to forget about them. I'm almost an adult if I live that long. Time to move forward."

With a crooked grin, Sirius reached up and mussed Harry's hair. "That's the spirit. Whaddaya say you and I go at it since you're already here? Or, better yet, I can teach you a few new spells?"

"Yes!"

Sirius could obviously tell from Harry's reaction, which he wanted. While he loved to spar, he loved learning new spells even more. By the end of an hour, Sirius had taught him two new spells and a variation on a third.

"The finger-removing jinx, the ultra-slippery jinx, and the leek jinx," Harry told Hermione, Ginny, and Ron as soon as he got upstairs.

"What in Merlin's name is a leek jinx?" Hermione asked.

"It makes leeks come out your ears," Harry said with a grin.

Ginny and Ron laughed, and even Hermione couldn't withhold a grin. Harry then explained how the ultra-slippery jinx differed from the slippery jinx and spent the next half hour teaching them all three. Sirius had never said he couldn't.

"Finite Incantatum," Remus said from the doorway. "What in the world?"

The entire room was full of leeks. They were all over the floor and the beds. One was still sticking out of Ron's left ear.

"Is this a cooking class?" Remus asked hesitantly, knowing full well it wasn't.

"We're, uh, playing, with my birthday present," Harry said with a grin.

"Uh-huh," Remus said. With a sigh, he waved his wand, and all of the leeks vanished.

"Should have saved some. Mum might've used them," Ron said with a shrug.

"If you three are quite done and have all your fingers, Molly would like you downstairs," Remus said with a smirk.

"Fingers," Ginny giggled.

"I know how Sirius's mind works, regrettably.

"Uh, we didn't really try that one," Harry said. "He had me do it on a dummy."

"Good," Remus said.

The kitchen smelled wonderful. Molly knew that Harry loved her Shepheard's pie, and she had made plenty of it. There were also plenty of puddings and biscuits. Harry was barely in the room before she had him at one end of the table with plates laden with more than he could eat in three dinners. On the counter was a massive cake in the shape of a Hungarian Horntail.

"Really, Mrs. Weasley, this all wasn't necessary!" Harry protested.

"Nonsense!" she scoffed and added rolls to his plate.

Soon Fred and George were on either side of him, and Hermione was next to Fred. People were added to the table every which way. Harry wanted to get up when Hagrid came in, but the big man just waved to him. All the Weasleys were present, along with his Head of House, Dumbledore (Harry wasn't sure how he felt about that), and even Mrs. Figg. He supposed Sirius had just invited everyone Harry knew who was in the Order.

Harry decided that he might as well enjoy himself and try not to be angry at anyone. He had a right to hold a grudge against most of the people here, but it would do no good. Other than Dumbledore, he needed to forgive most of them eventually because they were more or less pawns, as he was. He'd sort out his feelings about Dumbledore later. The man had come but hadn't even looked at him, and that was fine with him. Perhaps the man knew he was still angry.

Just as he felt he could eat no more, Mrs. Weasley used her wand to clear a spot in the middle of the table, levitating bowls and plates out the way, and then levitated the giant cake over. It really was a masterpiece. Harry was thinking it was a shame to cut it open.

"I wish I had a camera," he said, almost not realizing he said it out loud.

"Well, here, boy, open this first, then," Mrs. Figg said, passing her gift down.

Since it was no mystery what the gift was, Harry thought it somewhat ironic that the woman who used to torture him with pictures of her cats was giving him a camera. He unwrapped it quickly and saw that it was not just a camera but a magical one.

"Thank you, Mrs. Figg," he said genuinely. "Do I have to do anything differently?"

"No, dear, it's a special potion," she told him kindly. "I am sure Severus can help you."

Harry nodded and swallowed a lump in his throat.

"Go ahead, take your picture," she urged, "film's already loaded."

Harry did so, realizing as he did so that this was a truly fantastic present.

"Really, thanks," he told her, realizing he was blushing as he did so.

"Now ya' can add pictures of your friends and family to yer album," Hagrid told him.

He could, Harry realized. He never had before. He also had a family now. Something he'd never had before. He nodded.

"Alright, let's cut the cake!" Mrs. Weasley broke in, perhaps realizing he was getting sentimental and not wanting to embarrass him.

She cut and distributed it magically, and it went out far faster than Harry could have imagined. It had a delightful layer of strawberry jelly in the middle, but the whole cake was delicious. Harry was still glad he had a picture of a cake made for him.

"Well, then, open ours next!" Fred exclaimed.

"Then be sure to hide it from Snape," George said.

Harry laughed and said, "I should open this later then, so no one sees?"

The twins exchanged glances, then threw back their heads in laughter. "Nah!"

So, Harry opened it. It was a wooden box full of tiny vials with labels that said things like "instant darkness" and "upside-down potion." All he could say was, "Wow."

"Like we said," Fred began.

"Hide it!" George continued.

"Will do," Harry agreed.

Shaking her head, Molly handed him a large box, "I am not even going to ask. Here, Harry dear. You will always be like a son to me. I wish I had done more for you over the years." Her eyes were misty as she said it.

With slight trepidation, Harry opened the box. Inside was a tin of biscuits, which she told him was charmed to remain fresh for six months, and a book of household charms. He thanked her. He had never learned any of those and now seemed like a good time. She kissed him on the head.

"My turn, Harry," Ginny said. Her present was a book of Quidditch moves and a biography on a famous Seeker.

"Thanks, Ginny," Harry smiled.

Ron gave him a box of Honeydukes chocolate, and Hermione gave him a book on Muggle self-defense moves. Harry looked at it with interest. Snape had been trying to help him get physically fit.

"Wow, Hermione. Can you do any of these moves?" Harry asked her.

"No," she blushed. "I took some karate lessons when I was a kid, but I would like to learn."

He nodded. It seemed like a good idea. Hermione really was brilliant sometimes. He always expected a book from her, but this one seemed really clever.

"This is really great, Mione," Harry told her. "Thanks!"

"Here is mine," Remus said gently, with a look at Sirius. Apparently, they had agreed amongst themselves that Sirius would go last. His godfather looked rather put-out by that.

"Thanks."

As expected, Remus's present was a book. It was called Dangerous Creatures and How to Defeat Them. Harry almost wanted to begin reading it immediately. He had more gifts to open. McGonagall gave him a nice set of Quidditch gloves. Bill and Charlie Weasley gave him a gift certificate to Zonkos "to have some fun with."

Harry was enjoying the party and being the center of attention more than he thought he would. Just one guest was missing, and Harry couldn't help thinking of him the entire time and worrying about whether or not he was safe.

"My turn!" Sirius bound forward, clearly unable to contain himself anymore.

Harry smiled. He accepted the package from Sirius with curiosity. He would love anything his godfather gave him, of course, but nothing could top the Firebolt.

"Hmm," Harry said, holding it up as if weighing it. "Not a broomstick!"

Everyone laughed. They all knew the story of how Harry's Firebolt had been confiscated because everyone at Hogwarts was afraid it was cursed. It had been months before he had actually been allowed to ride it. He still treasured it, not just because it was an excellent broom but since it was from Sirius.

"Cheeky!" Sirius cried, practically cackling with glee. "Open it!"

Harry was almost afraid to open it because of Sirius's anticipation. Snape had given him so many new things lately. He was worried that Sirius would be disappointed if this was something he already had. He had gone from having almost nothing to having just about everything he could ever need. He opened the box carefully as if it could bite him.

It was a ring.

Harry looked up at Sirius with confusion. Sirius was looking at Harry hopefully. Harry was clearly missing something.

"You don't have to accept it, Harry," Sirius started to say.

"Perhaps you should explain it to him," Remus said gently.

"Oh!" Sirius said. "Right! Harry, that's my Heir Ring. I am making you my heir."

Harry looked at him in disbelief. "Really? But, um, Snape adopted me. I have a Prince ring …."

Sirius grinned a huge grin that seemed to light up his whole face. "Is that what you're worried about? It's fine! Not a big deal. You can be both. Snape knows about this."

"He does? I can?" Harry looked down at the ring. It was silver and black and did not look pleasant, but then again, not much about the Black family was … except for Sirius.

"So … do you accept?"

"Of course!" Harry said.

"So put it on!"

"Oh, okay.

Harry put the ring on. It immediately resized to fit his finger. He felt strange, which must have been the magic of his inheritance. He shivered a little.

"Welcome to the family, Harry!" Sirius said, coming forward to grab him in a big bear hug.

"Thanks," Harry said. "Wasn't I already? I'm your godson."

"Yes, but now you're my heir. You will inherit if … you know."

"Oh," Harry said. "I'm your son?"

"Not exactly," Sirius said. "Snape has custody … because I'm a convicted felon on the run. All that is, unfortunately, the same as before. Goblin laws and the laws of Old Magic are not the same as Wizard Laws. You have the right to come and go here as you please and access the vault. I will open an Heir Vault for you, not that you need more money."

Harry scoffed. "Snape won't even let me access my vault. He says it's for after I graduate. Until then, I get an allowance. He pays for everything."

"Harry," Sirius said, "that is as it should be. That's what parents are for. Let him buy the boring stuff, and let me spoil you rotten."

That made Harry smile. "I do kinda like the sound of that."

"What Snape doesn't know won't hurt him," Sirius said conspiratorially.

"What was that, Black?"

Everyone turned toward the kitchen doorway in amazement. Apparently, the last guest at the party was late. Severus Snape had arrived, after all, looking none the worse for wear.