Harry woke early the next morning and dressed quickly in a T-shirt and jeans, strapped his new wand holster on to his right wrist and slotted his wand into it. After a few tries he was able to catch his wand as it popped out, so he left the room and headed downstairs.
The Dursleys–with whom Harry had been forced to live since the death of his parents at the age of one–were all in the kitchen when Harry entered a few minutes later. Uncle Vernon and his cousin Dudley–whose massive form had unfortunately converted more of itself into muscle over the course of the year–were seated at the table eating cereal. Uncle Vernon was reading the newspaper, while Aunt Petunia was frying bacon and eggs at the stove. Uncle Vernon looked up and scowled, but said nothing as Harry helped himself to some cereal and a couple of slices of slightly burnt toast. While in previous years the Dursleys had been unkind–even nasty–to Harry, a warning delivered to them by Mr Weasley, Lupin, Moody and Tonks on the last day of term made them too scared to do so now and had make do with scowls and frowns.
After cereal, toast and a very smallportion of bacon and eggs he decided to return to his room, there was only so much of the hostile atmosphere pervading the room he could take. It was lonely up in his room but at least Hedwig liked him.
When he got back to his bedroom he noticed that Errol and Pig had left and Hedwig was perched inside her cage with her head under a wing, sleeping. He lay back down on his bed and cracked open Curses and Countercurses and began to read.
About three hours later, just as he was finishing the page on the Tongue-Tying Hex and the Tooth-Enlargement Curse, he was startled by Aunt Petunia's shrill voice calling up to him from downstairs. Harry hopped off his bed and reluctantly headed downstairs.
Uncle Vernon and Dudley had disappeared, but Aunt Petunia was standing outside the sitting room with a very sour look on her face. "There are some of them in there. They want to talk to you," she sniffed in disapproval and returned to the kitchen. Harry grabbed the door handle, opened the door, and entered the room.
Several familiar faces were standing or sitting in the room–Mad-Eye Moody, Dedalus Diggle, Elphias Doge, Emmeline Vance and Hestia Jones–the only ones missing from the 'advance guard' who had picked him up almost a year ago were the Aurors, Nymphadora Tonks and Kingsley Shacklebolt.
"What's wrong?" asked Harry. "No-one's died or anything?"
"No," Moody assured him. "But something has come up, you need to come with us now."
"Okay," said Harry, quickly moving to the door. "Oh, by the way Professor... What did you get me for my birthday?"
Moody chuckled, "You've got good instincts Potter, I got you a Pocket Foe Glass. You'd make an good Auror actually."
"Your impostor said that too," Harry admitted, and turned to go upstairs. When he reached the door he turned round and added. "And Professor McGonagall agrees with you." Harry admitted and left.
When he returned to the living room a few minutes later, he was wearing his new floor-length jacket. "Nice coat, Potter," commented Moody. "Dragonhide?"
Harry nodded, "Hungarian Horntail. Bill and Fleur sent it for my birthday. They thought it might come in handy."
Moody nodded. "Tonks borrowed a Portkey for us from the supply at Auror Headquarters, it'll take us to the alley behind Purge & Dowse Ltd."
Harry frowned, "We're going to St. Mungo's and I'm supposed to believe that everything's fine. I may be only sixteen, but I'm not stupid, Professor!"
"I wasn't suggesting you were, Potter," growled Moody. "I haven't lied to you, and you'll find out what's going on once we get there. Now take hold of the Portkey so we can go. Now!"
Once all six of them had a finger on the Portkey, a battered old pocket-watch, Harry felt a familiar jerk in the vicinity of his navel, and they disappeared from Number Four Privet Drive.
As Moody promised they appeared in the alley behind the Purge & Dowse building. After Doge checked that the street was clear, they moved towards the shop front with Mad-Eye Moody and Elphias Doge in the lead, Emmeline Vance and Hestia Jones to left and right of Harry, with Dedalus Diggle bringing up the rear.
When they reached the window display of Purge & Dowse Ltd., Doge leaned forward and addressed the single dressmaker's dummy–which was now wearing a bright pink sundress. "Hello, we're here to see the patient in the High Security Ward." The dummy nodded and beckoned them forward. The six obeyed and passed through the 'window' into the reception area.
Harry was rather surprised at the crowd they walked into. There must have been at least one hundred-and-fifty people crowded into the small hall. Moody ignored the crush around the welcome-witch and strode towards a small door opposite the main double door into the main wards.
"Why is it so busy?" Harry asked. "It wasn't even a quarter as busy last Christmas."
"Because there are a lot more patients than there were last Christmas, Potter," Moody growled.
"The Death Eaters started launching raids and surgical strikes against Muggleborns and high-ranking Ministry officials about a week after Fudge announced Voldemort's return," explained Emmeline Vance, seeing that Harry was still confused. "The Order is also keeping watch over other known supporters of Dumbledore, like your Defence class from last year. All except for the ones who've left school, of course."
"They're all okay, aren't they?"
Moody nodded. "Bill Weasley and our new Curse-Breaker Henry Neal are checking the wards and protections Lady Meredith and Stewart Kylan have been putting up."
"Who are they?"
"Two of the new recruits we've picked up since Fudge went public about Voldemort's return. Lady Meredith is a Spell-Weaver, she uses wandless magic and builds spells from scratch. Kylan's a Magistructor."
"What's a Magistructor?" Harry asked.
"They use spells to design and build wizarding buildings," added Diggle. "It's going well. Bill Weasley says they've put up the strongest wards he's seen outside of Hogwarts."
The group reached the end of the corridor. The unmarked door in front of them was flanked by Kingsley Shacklebolt, who was wearing the cream and gold uniform of the Dark Force Defence League, and a stranger in the blue and silver uniform of the Hit Wizard Division of the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol, who Moody identified as Jason Draper.
Harry nodded and moved up to stand at Moody's left.
"Password?" asked Draper.
"Apollo's Chariot," Moody replied.
Kingsley nodded, then cast a complex unlocking spell on the door and stood to one side so they could pass him.
Moody opened the door and walked in with Harry following a step behind. Professor Lupin and Tonks were there, standing at the end of a broad king-size bed. The room itself was richly decorated in blue, white and silver. Lupin turned to look at them as they entered and a smile crossed his old face. "You got him then, Alastor?"
Moody nodded, "It was easy, Mrs Dursley was quite helpful."
"That would be a first," muttered Harry. "Why am I here, Professor?"
"There's someone here who wants to say hello, Harry," explained Lupin and he moved to one side.
The patient was a thin, gaunt man with long, tangled black hair. He smiled. "Happy Birthday, Harry."
At first Harry didn't know what to say. He's alive! Sirius is alive! After a minute or two, he managed to pull himself together enough to speak, more or less. "What... how... I thought you were dead... How did you?"
"That would be me," said a strange voice behind him.
Harry's nerves had been as tight as a violin string ever since he left Privet Drive. He spun round immediately to see who had spoken, flicking his wand into his hand as he turned.
Two men were standing by the small door on the right-hand side of the room, which Harry supposed led to a bathroom. One, an elderly long-haired, long-bearded man with half-moon spectacles, was Harry's headmaster Albus Dumbledore; the other, whose pale, massive frame seemed even larger in the small room, was the man he would soon know as Lord Aduro of Caelum.
"What... I mean, who are you?" asked Harry. "No offence."
"None taken," Aduro assured him. "My appearance often startles mortals."
"You're not a mortal?"
"No, I am not," confirmed Aduro. "I am not even of this realm. Though my siblings and I have visited often over the span of your race's existence."
Harry paused for a moment, and then repeated his original question. "So, who are you?"
"My name is Lord Avatar Aduro Deunatus, servant of High Lord Auctor Deupater, ruler of the pan-dimensional realm known as Caelum."
"So how did you find Sirius?"
"Our realm encompasses dimensions of many different kinds, including those where mortal souls travel to when they have lost their connection to the mortal world. One of our number, Lord Sentinel Fatalis Mindeus, saw that your godfather had ended up in one such realm before his time and asked me to return him to his proper location," explained Aduro. "I have also been asked to help deal with this Dark Lord that has plagued you recently."
Harry thought he detected a hint of sarcasm in the flame-thrower's voice when he said 'Dark Lord'. "You mean Voldemort."
"Yes, I do." confirmed Aduro, with another of his disconcerting grins. "He challenges what separates the wizards and the divine. This is no longer acceptable."
"So you will help us fight him?" asked Harry.
"Yes, I will."
Ginny and Ron were in the middle of a fairly intensive Quidditch practice–which Hermione was half-watching from the ground while paging through Jinxes for the Jinxed –when Ginny spotted a familiar snowy-white bird flying towards the Burrow. She grinned, dropped the apple she was using as a Quaffle, and headed for the ground. "Ron, Hermione! Hedwig's coming!"
"Are either of you expecting a letter?" asked Hermione curiously, marking her place in her book and standing up as her two friends touched down.
Ginny and Ron both shook their heads. "Hedwig brought Harry's reply to the last letter three days ago, on her way to pick up Harry's presents from Tonks and Professor Lupin," confirmed Ginny, holding out her leather-covered arm for Hedwig to land on. She did, and Ginny quickly removed the small roll of parchment from her leg. Hedwig took off and headed for the open window of Ginny's room, intending to get some rest on the rough perch that had been rigged up for her by Bill the week before.
Ginny tore open the note and Ron and Hermione listened while she read it out aloud:
Dear Ron, Hermione, and Ginny,
I've just found out the most amazing news. Sirius is alive! Apparently the portal he went through sent him to somewhere called Caelum.
The three of them were stunned. Ron summed it up best. "Wow."
"I've been reading about that place," commented Ginny. "There are some very powerful people living there."
"In what way?" asked Hermione.
"Who cares?" scoffed Ron. "Keep reading, Gin."
One of the guardians of that realm, Lord Aduro, found Sirius and brought him back. He's a little shaken up, so he's under a Healer's care at the moment, but he'll be fine by tomorrow morning.
Ginny paused to take a breath. "Is that it?" asked Ron. Ginny shook her head.
And that's not all. Apparently Wormtail and five other Death Eaters attacked Sharon Bones and her family earlier today. Two of the Order were there and they managed to capture Wormtail and another Death Eater with the help of Madame Bones' bodyguards. Wormtail has confessed to committing the crimes Sirius was accused of and Madame Bones has agreed to give Sirius a public trial to investigate what happened between Sirius, my parents and Wormtail.
The trial will be in Old Courtroom Ten at eleven o'clock tomorrow morning. We're trying to get it done without Fudge or Percy getting wind of it. Even though the Ministry is supposed to be on our side now, we don't want to take any chances. All three of you, and the other Weasleys are welcome to come and I'll be there with Professor Lupin, Moody and Tonks. If you can get hold of Neville or Luna, tell them they're invited too.
See you then.
Ginny let go of the parchment and it fluttered to the ground. She dashed towards the house, yelling for Mrs Weasley. Hermione bent down and picked up the fallen letter. "That's really good news isn't it?" she asked Ron, and grinned widely.
"Yeah it is," agreed Ron, slipping his arm into the crock of his friend's elbow. "And Merlin knows Harry could do with some."
Hermione nodded and the two friends walked briskly towards the house, arms interlocked.
A/N: Please review. Chapter Three is already complete and it will be up as soon as it has been beta-ed.