Nora sighed. “I don’t know, I could definitely be over-thinking it. I tend to do that sometimes.”
Tonks narrowed her eyes. “Want to prove it? Twenty galleons says he’s the first one to send a curse at Greyback next week. He’ll probably go back and hide somewhere out front, just to make sure he Stuns him before Greyback gets anywhere near you.”
Nora chewed her bottom lip. “I wish you could have been a fly on the wall, and then you’d be able to judge without being biased in my favor. I can’t reflect properly because my own feelings get in the way.”
Tonks brightened. “Got any pensieves lying around here?”
Nora shook her head. “Oh, we came so close to kissing, Tonks. It was cruel – he got me all set up for it and then he just kissed my hand. Half of me thinks he was doing it on purpose, just to be a tease.”
“Probably was,” Tonks replied knowingly. “He’s such a git.” She paused for a moment, turning her head toward the door. Pressing a finger to her lips, she darted to Nora’s door and threw it open, sticking her head out over the landing.
“Still not spying, pea-brain!” Sirius shouted from downstairs. “You can stop doing that now.”
Tonks retreated, shutting the door behind her and still looking suspicious. “Muffliato,” she muttered at the door, just for good measure. Then she plopped onto the bed beside her best friend, who was looking downcast. “He’s definitely got the hots for you,” she assured. “Dunno why you fancy him. Cargan’s a fox, though. I’m sure that door’s still open…” She sprawled out over the edge of the bed, toying with her earrings and chuckling at her own suggestion.
“Eww,” Nora shuddered. “Don’t even say that. And Sirius is a hundred times more attractive than Cargan, in my opinion. So handsome…with those eyes that look right through my soul…”
Tonks pretended to gag. “Such a git, though.”
“Yes. He is a git,” Nora conceded. “But he manages to make it endearing, somehow.”
“Probably doing voodoo behind your back,” Tonks replied. “Let’s go ransack his bedroom and see if there are any miniature Nora dolls in there. He probably bangs its head into the wall before bed every night, trying to mess up your brains enough so you’ll see through his sordid git-ness and find him charming.”
Nora smiled dazedly. “He is charming…”
Tonks threw her arms up in the air. “I knew it! He’s using voodoo. I’ll bet he’s one of those lunatic insomniacs you hear about, and he comes in here at night and stares at you while you sleep. He collects your hair and puts it in a little metal tin; then he burns it with sage and mallowsweet and chants, ‘You will like me, Nora! I command you to overlook the fact that I am a jerk!’ and then – poof! You’re smitten.”
Nora burst out laughing. “Go ask him if he’s hiding exotic herbs under his mattress and see what he says.”
Tonks jumped up and flung Nora’s bedroom door wide open again. “Hey, shit-for-sense, have you got any mallowsweet?”
“Not even mallowsweet could improve your brain function, so I don’t know why you’re bothering,” Sirius’s voice drifted back up.
Tonks returned once more, pursing her lips cynically. “Sounded a bit defensive, if you ask me. We ought to go have a poke around…”
“Try that, will you?” Nora mused. “Let me know how it turns out.”
“You’re right,” Tonks agreed. “He’d probably turn me into a goose or something.”
“Goose is too nice. You’d be a three-headed slug.”
“Horrid prat,” Tonks muttered under her breath. “Hey, speaking of Remus –”
“No one was speaking of Remus.”
“Oh, just let me prattle on about him,” Tonks admonished. “We’ve been talking about that dunghead for over an hour now and I’m losing my mind. I want to brag about Remus and then after a while you’ll assure me that we’re a match made in Moony heaven; and we can just enjoy some masochistic self-serving conversation until both of us are too giddy to sit still, in which case we’ll go downstairs and binge on Peppermint Toads.”
“I do like Peppermint Toads,” Nora remarked.
And approximately forty-five minutes later, Nora and Tonks were banging around the kitchen looking for something good to feast on, all hopped-up on estrogen and the love-life confidence instilled in each by the other. Tonks especially looked floaty, singing along with the Hobgoblins on the wireless and throwing Sirius dirty looks.
“Fancy seeing you here,” Nora greeted him in what was supposed to be a neutral voice. It came out someone coy, though, and Tonks let out a giggle that she tried to disguise as a cough. Sirius turned to face Nora, and she was momentarily distracted by his long, lean-muscled body, and the memory of how sinuous it could be…and pleasant when hers was right against it…
Oh, she was in trouble.
“I would say good morning,” Tonks added to him, “but I like to pretend you don’t exist.” She hummed to herself, stirring her coffee and exuding very cheerful vibes.
“Dunno why you’re in such a good mood,” Sirius said aloud. “If my breath was that awful, I wouldn’t be opening my mouth so much.”
“Take your own advice. No one wants to hear anything you’ve got to say.”
“On the contrary, my vermin friend; everyone wants to hear what I’ve got to say. All’s I have to do is open my mouth and the audience is rapt. You do not understand this, you see, because you are so used to hearing crickets when you speak. You must be intimidated by my charisma.” He ran his hands through his hair and closed his eyes, lifting his jaw like the wizards in Sleekeazy for Men ads do, who look like they enjoy their potion-applying just a little too much. “Everyone loves me,” he added, layering on the vanity act as thickly as possible and grinning to himself.
“You’re a disgusting piece of work,” Tonks reproached. He made a face at her. “And so immature.”
“Think I’m disgusting? You should see Remus on a full moon,” Sirius goaded, flicking his wand to make Tonks’s Peppermint Toads gallop away from her. “We go down to the bad parts of London and he mates with all the female werewolves. They scratch each other’s lice and everything. It’s a hot mess; lots of fur everywhere.”
“Nasty liar,” Tonks spat.
“How would you know if I’m lying?” he gloated. “You’re stuck at home, mooning over him.”
“You’re just jealous of his sexiness.”
“And you’re jealous because you’ll never be the recipient of his S.T.F’s.”
Tonks just stared quizzically, unsure if she should be upset about that comment or not, and Nora sighed. She knew better than to think that he would outright explain. He always made them ask, especially when that mischievous light was in his eyes – indicating that he was thinking something cheeky. “Do I even want to know?”
“Sexually transmitted fleas.”
Tonks fired a jinx but he deflected it effortlessly. “You’ve tried to attack me. This means I owe you one. I wouldn’t be turning my back much if I were you.”
Tonks slinked along the wall with weary eyes, hiding behind Nora and making furtive glances at Sirius every so often. He looked highly amused. “No worries, Tonks,” Nora told her. “I’m sure that if Dreamboat shagged other werewolves in London, you would have heard about it before now.”
Tonks still looked mopey, but she placated herself by ducking around Nora and sending a hex at Sirius, which he dodged again. Sirius tipped his head back and laughed. “You’ve got pitiful timing. How in Merlin did you qualify as an Auror? I could do circles around you with my eyes closed.”
“Hey!” Nora reprimanded.
“It’s true! And it’s not your birthday anymore, praise the pixies, so don’t go giving me any of that.” He stopped, furrowing his brow. “Why were you two in such good moods in the first place?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Nora said breezily.
Sirius cocked his head, giving her a Look. Sirius’s Looks never failed to get Nora’s heart started, because he just looked so gorgeous when he was pivoted that way…probably very aware of his attractiveness and abusing the power… “You were glowing like a torch when you came down here, Nora,” he replied. “Care to share the good news?”
“Oh, it’s definitely you,” Tonks told him.
“She’s right,” Nora confirmed. She wouldn’t dare be this bold if Tonks wasn’t here to act as a buffer; to add a dash of ridiculousness to everything, and for a second she worried about how to act once Tonks left. She hadn’t been alone with Sirius since last night… “We were just saying upstairs that you’re God’s gift to women.”
“Well, you wouldn’t be wrong about that,” he mused, leaning back casually in his chair and studying Nora with a roguish fire dancing in his eyes. “Want to be the first to unwrap me?”
She was caught for a moment because that sounded so appealingly seductive, but then remembered that she was supposed to be shooting for sarcasm. “Maybe you should spread some of your ego around to the lowly inferiors,” she suggested. “It’s so overflowing, you could probably sustain a whole country of people.”
“I promise it’s well-deserved,” he said. “Give me one shot and I’ll have you begging for more.”
“Ah, but how would you have this expertise if I were the first to unwrap you?” Nora inquired. “I think you must have embellished a little in the fine print.”
“No fine print. I assure you that everything is very large. You have the guarantee of satisfaction as well as long-lasting use. It’s an all-inclusive package.” He wriggled his eyebrows suggestively.
“You sure know how to sweet-talk a woman,” Nora laughed.
“Arrogant prick,” Tonks scoffed. “No one will ever love you as much as you love yourself.”
Sirius grinned, whipping a newspaper in front of his face for theatrical effect and pretending to be immediately absorbed in its contents. “Play nice or I’ll go spill the beans to Moony.”
Tonks glared at him. “You probably already do that, anyway.” Sirius merely tried to look innocent, but didn’t do a very good job of it. He was smiling hugely several minutes later, to no one’s surprise, when Remus Lupin himself came trundling into the kitchen. Tonks backed up against the sink, looking like she might be sick, and Nora tried to silently communicate with Sirius that he’d better not say anything out of line. Of course, Sirius could not be depended on to behave.
“Excellent,” he breathed. “My dear Moony – wind in my sails, light of my life – how spiffing it is to see you on this fine, fine morning. We’ve just been having a lovely little chat and your name’s come up.”
“Oh, has it?” Remus responded, forcing himself to be polite even though he knew Sirius was about to make a mockery of him. “That’s nice.”
“Join us, won’t you?” Sirius inquired merrily.
“Um…” Remus seemed uncomfortable, and Nora suspected that he was avoiding Tonks’s gaze on purpose. “Actually, I’ve just come by to get a good look at that bloodstone. There are several types, and I want to be sure Severus has given Nora the right one.”
Sirius’s expression darkened for a fraction of a second, and then he smiled. He could have such a fabulous poker face when he wanted to. “Right. Tonks, would you kindly dash upstairs and retrieve the stone for our beloved Remus?”
“I believe you’re the mutt,” Tonks shot back. “Isn’t fetching a part of the ‘package’?”
“Moony’s a werewolf,” Sirius pointed out, and smirking slyly, added, “Wonder what comes with his package?” Tonks blushed, swerving to face the other wall and drowning herself with coffee. Lupin was also a bit pink in the face, more unsettled than ever.
Nora rolled her eyes. “Accio bloodstone!” The galleon-sized dark green stone speckled with red came sailing through the door after its journey from the drawing room table, right into Nora’s open palm. She tossed it to Remus, who was plainly grateful for a diversion, and set to examining it immediately.
“I like those robes, Remus.” Sirius chimed, reveling in making Tonks nervous. “Are they new?”
“No,” Remus replied carefully. “But I’ve had them tailored.”
“Well, I think they look amazing. Don’t you think they look amazing, Tonks?”
Tonks all but bared her teeth at him, and Remus flashed his friend a warning glance. Sirius, however, was in his element. “Shame,” he dramatically sighed, “that I’m busy tomorrow night. Tonks offered me an extra ticket to a Weird Sisters concert. Wish I could go…hey, Remus, aren’t you free? Tonks could take you!”
“No, I can’t!” Tonks squeaked.
Sirius raised his eyebrows in phony astonishment. “Why not? I thought you considered Moony a close friend?” He clutched a hand over his heart. “Don’t tell me that you’re still prejudiced against werewolves! I thought you’d changed your ways.”
“I’ve never been prejudiced against werewolves, you deranged jackass. And you know I haven’t got any concert tickets.”
“Now you’re lying about having tickets just because you don’t want to take poor Remus?” Sirius made ‘tsk tsk’ noises with his tongue. “Really, now! I’m just floored by how rude you are. And after all those nice things you’ve said about him. Such lies! Such deception!”
Tonks made to retort, but it ended up as a gargle stuck in her throat, and she pleaded with Nora using their best-friend-mind-connection. “How’s the bloodstone inspection going?” Nora questioned desperately.
“It’s from South America,” Remus answered, locating his voice again. “One component of Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder is crushed bloodstone, as a matter of fact. This looks like it could either be Atclore or Bitaxe, as they’re so similar…but I’ll need to know for sure. Not that I doubt Severus’s ability to distinguish, but I’d feel better if I knew with certainty, all the same.”
“I never noticed how fluffy your hair is,” Sirius observed. “Nymphadora, don’t you think that Remus has exceptionally good hair? Not quite as good as mine, admittedly, but still worth noting.”
Tonks was tomato-red at this point, and in trying to manually re-adjust her skin tone, she messed it up and flushed a strange lime green color. When she caught sight of herself in the kitchen dresser’s glass doors, she tripped over her shoe and conked her knee on the sharp edge of an open drawer; she then hopped about, cringing in pain and willing herself to dissolve into the floor. Nora tried to pin the focus on herself while her neurotic friend collected herself, and deliberately threw a china cup at a wall. It didn’t break, unfortunately, so she stepped on it. Sirius had witnessed all of this and took it in with great humor etched all over his smug features.
“Nora, don’t you agree that Tonks should invite Moony to the concert?” he instigated.
“That depends,” she told him solemnly. “Do you reckon they’ll accept invisible tickets?”
“Dinner would be nice, too,” he went on. “Tonks was just saying earlier that she wanted to try that new pasta place in Diagon Alley. Did you know – Remus absolutely adores spaghetti! How ‘bout it, Tonks? Time to bite the silver bullet?”
“Speaking of Nora, my marvelous friend,” Remus piped up over Sirius’s voice, “I hear she likes spaghetti as well. Maybe I should give Snape some tips?”
Sirius shut up.
“Well, I better run,” Tonks chirped, stowing her wand in her pocket and rushing hurriedly toward the door that led upstairs. “See you later, Nora, Remus…obnoxious pig.”
Remus noticeably relaxed after Tonks was gone, and excused himself for a moment to grab his briefcase, which he’d left in the entrance corridor. The second the door shut behind him, Nora flew over to Sirius, who jumped to his feet. His face was a mixture of mild apprehension and delight. “You and your innuendos!” she hissed. “You’re going to give the poor woman a complex.”
“Good,” he countered, displaying a megawatt smile. “Maybe it’d make Nymphomaniac a little less insufferable if she wasn’t so boring. A pinch of naughty is just what she needs. Trust me.”
She shook her head. “Incredible. Oh, you wait. You just wait, Sirius.”
He cocked an eyebrow. “Are you challenging me?” Nora was suddenly aware of how tantalizingly close they were to touching, and how his breath felt so cool on her skin, his eyes enticingly pretty with their blue flecks and his hair still damp and gleaming from a shower… His lips were parted slightly as he analyzed her, and then he leaned forward, dimples forming around his mouth. “You know, I wouldn’t blame you if you’re just standing there picturing me naked right now. Tell me – is the view to your liking?”
She wrinkled up her nose. “I think Tonks is right and you glory in being as obnoxious as possible. It’s a wonder you still shock me at all.”
His eyes flashed and he unzipped Nora’s jacket in one swift movement. “Oh, darling, I could shock you all day if you’d let me.”
Remus interrupted them then, coming through with his battered briefcase and pausing when he noticed Sirius and Nora standing about three inches apart. His eyes widened and he contemplated how to back out of the room without drawing attention to himself, but Nora swiftly turned on her heel, re-zipping her jacket all the way up to her throat; and then she set to brewing another pot of very, very strong coffee. She could certainly use a decent slap to the senses. Remus glanced incredulously at Sirius, who winked.
Lupin unlatched the briefcase and began pulling out assorted equipment, and then flipped through a thin booklet entitled Minerals of the Magical World. Nora sat down and started another letter to the only relative left who hadn’t yet been interrogated about Archer – her third cousin twice-removed, Matilda Sweetley. It was an unlikely long-shot, but all of her other efforts had turned up fruitless. Molly was just as shocked as Nora had been about the unknown member of their family, and told her that the Prewetts had kept aloof during the last couple of years before their deaths, not wanting to taint the Weasleys by association. Gideon was a viciously hunted man in his day, and the only other person Petula and Gideon decided was condemned enough to stay in their life was Fabian. The brothers were a dynamic pair, as Molly had declared many times through her tear-stained handkerchief, and fought ‘til the very end. Nora, of course, already knew this.
She had not seen Matilda since a birthday party when she was four, and any fondness she may have harbored for the distant relative was promptly blemished from the memory of being whacked in the face by a drunk uncle lobbing Quaffles everywhere. Matilda probably didn’t know Archer any better than the rest of the world did, but Nora determinedly penned the letter, anyway. Remus leafed through his booklet, content with silence, and Sirius frowned, drumming his fingers on the table. He kind of hoped Remus would leave because then maybe Nora might bring up last night, and then discover her dormant love for him. She would fall spectacularly into his arms, like those swooning women from old Muggle films, and he’d carry her up to his bedroom and….
Sirius looked sideways at Nora, watching her make progress on the letter. She bit her lip slightly, eyebrows knit together in concentration. He couldn’t stop ogling her mouth. “Sirius, do you agree that this looks like Atclore?” Remus inquired.
Sirius didn’t pry his gaze from Nora. “Sure.”
Remus rolled his eyes. “How ‘bout one more time, and you actually look at it?”
Sirius scowled and leaned over, examining first the booklet and then the stone. “No,” he replied emotionlessly. “It’s Bitaxe.”
“How do you know?”
Sirius shrugged. “Look at the picture of Atclore. It’s got a rougher texture.”
“Hmph.” Remus turned the booklet upside down and scrutinized it. “So it has.”
Sirius glanced back at Nora, but she was no longer biting down on her bottom lip in that irresistible way. Damn. Ah, and she adjusted her blouse higher so that he now had no chance of stealing a peek. Double damn. He couldn’t believe Moony was still sitting there, hanging around. Wasn’t he fully aware of how much Sirius prized alone time with Nora? Oh, right – he was alone with Nora all the time. And it never got anywhere.
The universe is a cruel place. But did Remus really need to rub it in so much?
“What’s the matter with you, Sirius?” Nora spoke, jolting him out of his cursing mind-rant about Lupin. She was staring at him with those beautiful eyes, like melted honey…he could just get lost in them. “Sirius?”
“Ah – what?” Sirius tried to look casual. Nora raised an eyebrow, undoubtedly thinking that this man was a tosser, and she should get out of here as fast as possible. Probably going through the real estate ads in her head at this exact second.
“You had an angry expression on your face.”
“Oh. I was just…thinking about Quidditch. You know, the Cannons.”
“Yeah?” Nora sounded interested. “I never heard the outcome of that last match. They lost, then?”
“Erm…” Sirius had no idea who had won that game. They’d been listening to it on the wireless and Nora had gone upstairs for something…and of course he had to watch her leave. It’s not like he wasn’t going to jump on an opportunity to admire her from such an exquisite angle. Could anyone judge him? He was a man, after all. So he hadn’t exactly been paying attention to the score…
“They won by a hundred and fifty,” Remus replied with a hint of a smile on his face. Good man, that Remus.
“Yes, that’s right,” Sirius cottoned on, flashing his sexiest smile and hoping it would be good enough to make her forget how much of an idiot he was. Nora returned the smile and went back to her letter, so he supposed it must have worked. Whew. He focused on her lips again, tracing them in his mind’s eye. It might be inappropriate to be thinking like this, with as emotional as she’d been since finding out about having a missing brother, but he couldn’t help it. He was still staring at her mouth when Remus tried talking to him again.
“So you don’t have to worry,” Lupin rambled.
“They’ve got an extraordinary Keeper,” Sirius replied confidently. “So I’m really not all that concerned, mate. Knew they’d win.” He fist-pumped the air. “Go Cannons!”
Remus shook his head, smiling ruefully, and Nora was gazing at him like he was a mental patient or something. Oh, yes. It was definitely time for Moony and all of his chattering to sod off to his own house. “Honestly, Sirius,” he reproached, trying very hard not to laugh. “I was referring to the bloodstone. Snape knows his material; this should definitely repel someone like Greyback, who is half-transformed at all times. Which should ease your mind a little.”
“Of course it does!” Sirius insisted a little too loudly. He scratched his jaw, feeling stupid. “Er…right, then.”
Remus bit his cheek and Nora pressed her lips together, eyes widening slightly as if endeavoring to suppress a laugh, and Sirius found himself wishing Tonks was back. He could distract everyone by taking the piss out of her and no one would be expecting him to pay attention or notice when he was looking too much at Nora’s mouth… Oh, that mouth! She could be a lipstick model if she wanted to. She looked especially delicious when she was biting down on it – she had the whole biting-on-lip thing down pat. It was like an art. And her hair was utterly fantastic – so thick and wavy and it had a way of looking like it was in perpetual motion, like a river.
Ah, river hair. You know, she could make a great hair model as well. And while we’re at it, let’s just dress her up in something slinky for the photo shoot. Strapless black dress, maybe? Or one of those little skirts he’d once seen in a store window. Wait a minute – this was his daydream. Why was he instilling virtues in his daydreams? By all means, let’s make the dress transparent!
Transparent. He gave Nora the once-over with his eyes, trying to look blasé.
Oh, God. He wasn’t standing up for two hours.
“What do you think about that?” Remus interjected, destroying his reverie for the umpteenth time.
Sirius chewed his lip. Might as well take a shot in the dark, eh? “I trust your judgment on that one,” he replied, nodding sagely. “Completely agree with you.”
Remus grinned. “I hadn’t actually asked you anything that time. I was just testing.”
Bloody prat. Sirius swished his wand under the table and Lupin’s chair legs collapsed. Unfortunately he jumped up just in time, so Sirius didn’t get to enjoy any nice broken bones or humiliating tea-spilled-all-over-the-face moments. Blast it, he couldn’t get his way in anything, could he? The only thing that could possibly make this day any better was if Snivellus showed up and joined the party.
“I trust I am not interrupting?”
What! Are you kidding? You have got to be kidding! He just had to go and think it. Oh, the fates hated him; it was a personal vendetta. “You are, as a matter of fact,” Sirius piped up. “I think you’re capable of seeing yourself out, then. Goodbye.”
Snape swept the room with his piercing black eyes, appearing more stiff and unpleasant than ever. “Hello, Severus,” Nora chimed, and Sirius winced at her friendliness toward that serpent with legs. Snape, surprisingly, did not acknowledge her.
“I’ve just come to collect the bloodstone,” he told the wall.
“The bloodstone?” Lupin frowned. “What for?”
“It appears I was mistaken,” Severus replied sleekly. “It is the wrong type. I apologize for getting your hopes up, but there is no such mineral that will protect Prewett from a werewolf’s advances.”
“What’re you talking about?” Sirius demanded, whisking Minerals of the Magical World under Snape’s nose. “Says right here that Bitaxe will do the job just fine.”
Severus’s eyes rested on the booklet and his mouth curled up in disdain. “I see,” he hissed. “Ah. Well, that is regrettable, because I have an urgent use for the stone. I must take it at once.”
“More urgent than Nora being smashed into mincemeat?” Sirius countered sharply. “Say, Snivellus – you’re not trying to get her killed, by any chance?”
Severus’s black irises flashed. “Don’t you dare suggest –”
“Oh, I dare,” Sirius responded over Snape’s voice, tilting his chair back onto its two hind legs. “You’re trying to take away her means of safety. I’d say all arrows point to just that conclusion. Was this Malfoy’s plan, perhaps? How’s the old gang holding up these days? Been busy, I’m sure. Do you ever just sit around in a circle together – press each other’s Dark Marks whenever you’re feeling adventurous?”
Severus looked livid beyond words. “I am not a Death Eater.”
“Severus is not a Death Eater,” Remus said calmly, folding up his items and arranging them in his briefcase. “And he is also not getting the bloodstone back until next week.”
“Accio bloodstone!” Snape shouted, but nothing happened. Nora held up her fist, her fingers tightly closed over the lump of green rock.
“You want to take it from me?” she asked evenly. “Come over here and do it yourself.”
Severus finally met her eyes and he hesitated, some of the wrath from his features slipping away. “Fine,” he spat. “Have it back to me as soon as you are finished. I have more important things to do than sit around waiting for you lot to stop playing with it, and it so happens to be a very valuable stone.”
He spun around and reached for the door handle, and just before he turned it Sirius added, “And don’t forget the Veritaserum when you show up at Muriel’s. We have more important things to do than sit around waiting for you to get your knickers out of a twist.”
Severus glanced over his shoulder, the expression on his face positively frightening. “Oh, and Severus –”
His outrage didn’t soften upon being addressed by Nora.
“Thank you for everything. We wouldn’t be able to achieve any of this without your help.”
Sirius snorted and Severus did not respond, looking desperate to get away from them. He darted up the stairs and outside Grimmauld Place, walking briskly down the pavement. He could have just apparated, but he needed to walk for a bit first; let the cold, rainy wind numb his animosity. Nothing had gone the way it was supposed to, but he didn’t regret the turn of events. Staring into Nora’s eyes just a moment ago, he knew he would never be able to take that bloodstone away from her and leave her defenseless. Even if she didn’t want him. Even if she wanted Sirius Black, the most abominable man on Earth.
That night, Nora was not as panicked as she should have been.
The other-Nora, Phantom Nora, was hovering in the corner of the ceiling, her black-smoke hands placed on the walls on either side. She peered down with that featureless, blurry face, gazing intensely at Nora while she dug through Walburga’s room, the room that now held Buckbeak. The giant hippogriff was fast asleep and Nora wished she could be, too – or at least enjoying her sleep. At this rate, she would still be exhausted when she woke up. But it wasn’t so bad, because she knew the dream would transition, as it inevitably did. And she knew she was going to see her mother again.
Nora smiled, which seemed to antagonize the phantom. The hazy figure was more life-like than ever before, growing perceptibly more three-dimensional and clearer with every dream. What had started off as only a metaphor, or a subconscious warning, had manifested into an actual living form. It was now pointing vigorously at the ceiling, but Nora chose to ignore it. She sensed all the terror and agony of the creature, and yet was apart from it. She was going to be reunited with Petula soon, the real Petula as she had known her from years ago. It was only a matter of time.
Nora picked up a book and tossed it aside. She was only searching now to humor the obsessively-watchful other-Nora, most of her mind preoccupied with waiting for the change of scene. Usually it didn’t take so long…
She could feel the misty figure with its rattling breath protest against it, but Nora knew that she was in charge. This was her unconscious life, after all, and she dictated the turning of the pages. She considered shooting other-Nora a smug look, but then thought better of it. After all, the creature did still scare her enough to make Nora regard this as a nightmare.
Nora prepared to be segued into the warm, blissful summer’s day from her childhood, anticipating the soft green grass and her mother’s secret smiles. Other-Nora reached out and suddenly grasped her arm. “Otcher.”
Nora rapidly blinked her eyes. The phantom was dissolving – no, it wasn’t a phantom at all. It was Petula, and her eyes were wide with fear. “Archer,” she said in a low, urgent voice. “Give him to me.”
Nora was almost eight years old – small and spindly, wearing a thin white nightgown with her hair tied back in a long plait. The only illumination in the dark, dank cellar was emanating from a missing chink in the ceiling, where a small strip of light fell across Nora’s bare feet. She was reminded of something her Dad had told her before, about the name Lenora. He said it meant ‘light’, and that it seemed to define her in a way because that’s exactly what she represented to everyone she met – a light in the darkness that could never be extinguished. Presently Nora stepped back, clutching the warm bundle to her chest.
“I can’t,” she whispered. “I’m not leaving you.”
Petula seized the sleeping newborn from Nora and pressed his cheek against hers. A tear trickled down her face. “You’ve got to go, Leni. And he’ll cry if you run with him, so I can’t ask you to take Archie...” The light suddenly dimmed and Petula glanced up at the ceiling less than a foot from the top of her head. She clapped a hand to her open mouth, looking horrified. Nora followed her gaze and shoved her fist in her mouth to keep from shrieking.
Uncle Fabian’s face was settled on the floor right above them, his eye peering through the gap. He was looking straight through Nora, not seeing her…
Gideon’s voice was still ringing loudly in her ears, mixing with the echoes of so many other terrifying strangers. Nora scrambled over to the edge of the cellar, her toes crunching over cold gravel until she reached a stack of wooden crates. Climbing up onto the top crate, she pressed her face to a crack in the ceiling.
There were two women amongst the three other men, and the taller female was absolutely petrifying. She had thick black hair and heavily-lidded eyes, her jaw square but still somehow regal. If her face hadn’t been alive with a twisted menace, Nora might have reckoned her pretty. She was darting in between two of her fellows – one tall, with a silver goatee – and the other with sneering, pale features. “Dolohov,” Petula breathed, and Nora jumped. She hadn’t noticed her mother ducking over to join her.
Petula wrapped an arm tightly around the small child. “You need to go,” she whispered into her daughter’s hair. “I don’t think you’re going to get another chance, love, and I don’t have my wand. I can’t help us.” Nora was shaking uncontrollably as the men whipped and slashed their wands through the air, all of the furniture tearing apart and the shouting reverberating off the walls. Her father was dueling for his life against five strangers, each of them cloaked in black, the hoods pushed back from their livid faces and glistening with veneers of sweat.
“You think killing me is going to bring him back?” Gideon boomed, his usually cheerful face contorted with fury and gleaming red from the radiance of firing curses. “He’s dead! He’s finished! Your master is no more.”
There was a blinding flash of emerald-green light, and then his body flew against a wall, smashing into the mirror above the Prewett’s fireplace. He keeled forward, dead, and fell in a heap onto the floor with a heavy thud, slumped over the body of his brother. Petula’s fingernails dug into Nora’s ribs, hurting her, but she didn’t seem to notice. Nora was biting her own arm to refrain from screaming – mother and daughter staring at each other with tears trailing down their blotchy, stricken faces. She tasted blood coating her tongue but could not loosen her jaws – if she cried out the people above would certainly hear her.
“The others!” the man called Dolohov shouted. “There is a wife and daughter!”
“Go,” Petula begged, and Nora couldn’t hesitate anymore. She kissed the forehead of her tiny baby brother, memorizing his peaceful little face under a few wisps of auburn hair. She reached up and meant to kiss her mother on the cheek, but Petula flinched at the stomping of boots overhead and Nora got her ear instead. “Now, Leni!” Petula hissed.
Nora dashed to the opposite end of the cellar. There was a hole here near the ceiling, where rain and snow was always pouring in and gnomes scampered through for protection against the elements. Gideon had tried to mend it several times but it continuously caved in, resistant to being fixed. The opening was just wide enough for a petite child to squeeze through.
“Homenum Revelio!” someone bellowed, and then several seconds later the thin layer of wood separating cellar from sitting room came blasting apart, and it was all Nora could do to wriggle through the hole amidst her mother’s screaming. “There! In the cellar!”
Nora’s palms smacked against dewy grass. She’d scraped her head on the opening – it was bleeding profusely – but she was in the back garden now. The moon was up high in the sky, glowing between swaying branches of the trees. The earth beneath her was hot and cracking apart with fissures from the force of spells inside the house. Bright jets of red light rebounded everywhere from behind, the shouting so loud that Nora clamped her hands over her ears as she raced through the trees into the forest, her footsteps light and frantic.
“NO!” Petula screamed. “My baby! NOT MY BABY! Please, please…I beg you!”
Nora burst into renewed sobs, the salty warmth washing over her skin and clouding her vision. She hastily wiped the tears away so that she could see, but her arm snagged on a thorny branch and she yelped in pain. They were going to come after her. They were going to murder her just like they’d murdered her father and uncle, just like surely they were doing to her mother and brother…
Owls swooped through bony tree limbs above her and Nora wished she was one of them. If she had wings, she could fly away and be safe, and those blood-chilling strangers would never get her. Nora batted branches out of her way, stumbling over tree roots. She ran like the devil was chasing her, her footsteps hitting the earth in sync with her pounding heartbeat. She had to survive.
What had her parents done to deserve this? Why did those people want to hurt an innocent family? Nora’s mind was loaded with questions she couldn’t fathom the answers to, but the number one on her list was: where am I supposed to go? She was lost in the forest. Nora had never been in this far before – she wasn’t allowed – but blessedly found it far less treacherous than she’d always imagined. The black trees with their hazardous traps of vines and tangled branches were cumbersome, but she could maneuver like a pixie when she had the will to; and far ahead through the thinning trees there lay a silver lake.
Three owls followed overhead, dipping around on all sides and hooting softly. Nora sprinted headlong through the woods, the moonlight shining profoundly here in such sparse wilderness. And then, finally, she had reached the lake. Nora wrapped her arms around herself, shivering from the cool night wind fluttering around her nightgown. She gazed at the black waves capped with white light – the moon’s reflection fragmented over the surface like millions of glittering splintered mirrors. It should have been soothing, but her wet face was frozen and the notion of anything mirror-like was a knife plunging into her heart. She saw her father again, soaring into the mirror…
Nora wasn’t alone.
A young man was standing on the edge of the silver lake, his face tilted up to the diamond-flecked sky. He couldn’t have been more than twenty years old, and he was dressed in an eerie black cloak that fastened under the chin.
“Hey!” she called. Nora didn’t know what this person was doing there at such a late hour, didn’t know if he was going to help her or kill her. His presence did not evoke any especially dangerous stirrings inside her, but she didn’t have time to evaluate. It didn’t matter what sort of man he happened to be. He was her only hope.
The man turned swiftly to look at her, his dark eyes large and alarmed. Nora fell at his feet, panting, and then looked up to see him better. His cloak matched those who had attacked her family, but she didn’t feel afraid. Something about him was familiar…as though a Nora from sixteen years into the future was reaching through a veil of sorts, laying a hand on her shoulder and saying you can trust him. “You’ve got to help me,” she pleaded through her tears. “They killed – they killed my dad. They’ve got my mum and brother. They’re going to kill me.”
The man kneeled down to her level, studying her with those black eyes. He had black hair, too, parted neatly down the center and brushing his shoulders. His skin was a pallid white, his nose a hooked shape. “What’s your name?” he whispered.
His eyes flickered with recognition, and he extended a pale, long-fingered hand. Nora pressed her small one into his, and he said, “Come with me.”
Write a Review Curious Happenings at Number Twelve: Of Bloodstone and Homenum Revelio