Sirius surveyed their surroundings, beaming his brilliant megawatt smile. “This is amazing,” he said. Nora was also in a tremendously good mood, but more because she was moving towards her goal, rather than just admiring the general scenery. It was pretty, though, everything covered in snow. She sometimes forgot that Sirius had only been outdoors a handful of times since taking up residence at Grimmauld Place. The light dancing in his eyes told her that his mind was far, far away from his parent’s house.
“Keep moving!” she laughed.
He shook his head in wonder. “You have no idea how great this feels – breathing natural air, feeling sunlight… Granted, it’s cold sunlight, but I’ll take what I can get.”
“It’ll be dark soon,” she warned. “And I see lights up ahead. We’re getting near the village. You know what that means.”
Sirius refused to feel anything less than ecstatic. “Fine by me. No one’s going to recognize you or even me in my dog form, not this far from London. Should’ve brought Buckbeak, now that I think of it.”
“He’ll be happier with Hagrid,” Nora pointed out. “Don’t feel bad about telling him to fly back to Hogwarts – he’s been missing the company of other hippogriffs for months. Hopefully we put a strong enough Disillusionment Charm on him to last the whole journey, not that Hogwarts is too terribly far from here, just a bit more north.”
“Where exactly are we, anyway?”
“Roughly thirty kilometers west of Newcastle,” she supplied. “This village is called Windstaff, and it’s where Alecto and Amycus Carrow lived until they were in their mid-twenties. After that, the trail runs cold.”
“Why are we here, then?”
She sucked in her cheeks, her attitude firm and resolute. “We’re starting from scratch, for lack of other options. I’ve been here loads of times, naturally, but never with quite as much drive. I have a powerful incentive for finding Alecto now, and I think there’s something in that.”
“So what do we do?” Sirius wanted to know, clearly joyful at just being free and not really caring what difficulties may be on the horizon.
“We lie low for tonight – get a room at the pub. I know the owner. He’s a wizard. And then at first light, we begin retracing Alecto’s steps. Hopefully we’ll run into someone the Carrows knew.”
They reached the edge of the woods and stared across the flat expanse of snowy village, its lights twinkling merrily in the windows as the dusky purple sky blinked with its first scattering of stars. Nora raised an eyebrow meaningfully at Sirius, who sighed under his breath. She knew how awful it must be, that even this far removed from society Sirius had to disguise himself and could never mingle with different people. But Sirius was at least liberated from Number Twelve, and wasn’t about to complain. Quickly and quietly, he transformed into man’s best friend and allowed her to tie a collar and leash around his neck.
“Sorry,” she murmured in the dog’s ear, and he gazed at her with those daunting pale eyes. “I know how degrading this must be, wearing a leash. But it’s going to look odd otherwise. And if it helps, I think you make a lovely pet. A little smelly, but we can’t all be perfect.”
He pretended to growl and she grinned, patting his head condescendingly. “Behave or I’ll take you to a veterinarian’s office and get you ‘fixed’.” Nora wrapped the end of the leash around her right arm and stowed her wand in her pocket. “Alright, Snuffles,” she declared cheerfully. “Onward!”
As if to get even with her, Sirius took off with great speed and sent her flying after him, scarcely able to catch up. “You – bad – boy!” she huffed, and several bystanders on the pavement in front of a row of shops moved out of their way as the giant black dog came streaking through, pulling poor Nora along mercilessly. “Stupid dog!” she yelled. “Slow down. You’re going to miss the bloody pub!”
Immediately, he skidded to a halt and Nora bounded into him, collapsing on the ground and almost knocking her head into a streetlamp. She glared at him, and could have sworn that he winked. A brunette girl around her age was looking charily at the dog, perhaps wondering how he understood Nora’s words. “Our destination is called Anchors Aweigh,” Nora muttered so that no one else could hear. “It’s the grey stone place on the left, two buildings from the corner.”
Sirius obediently led the way to the grimy little pub across the street. It was crowded inside – someone was throwing a stag night – and the dirty yellow lights hanging from the ceiling were swinging back and forth with the ruckus. Nora elbowed her way up to the counter, where she caught the attention of a pleasant fellow with a halo of curly auburn hair encircling his mostly-bald head.
“Well, look who the cat dragged in!” he boomed with a thick accent, and doing a double-take at Sirius, added, “or dog, rather.”
“Hello, Michael,” Nora greeted. “Got two rooms for me, by chance?”
“What do you need two rooms for?” he laughed. “You’re always alone. Blimey, it’s been at least a year since I seen you last, Prewett. Thought you might’ve given up on Windstaff’s splendor, but they always come back.” He winked, flipping through a few pieces of paper attached to a clipboard. “Ah, let’s see…I’ve only got the one room left. I reckon your dog doesn’t need a room all of its own?”
“Oh,” she responded, aware of her blush. “Erm – alright, then. I’ll take the room.”
He tossed her a key and inclined his head as a signal, then extended his hand subtly for her to pass two galleons into. “Glad to see you’ve got a pet now,” he confided, pocketing the gold and glancing around to make sure none of the Muggles noticed anything amiss. “Always thought it wasn’t healthy, in my own opinion – a young lady being all by herself.”
“Thank you, Michael,” Nora managed, and led the dog upstairs. The wizard watched them with shrewd brown eyes, but then a string of customers entered the shop, bells tinkling, and he was sidetracked once more.
Nora studied a tag clipped to the key-ring, which labeled their room number as 5, and she unlocked the smooth pine door. Sirius leapt inside, and as soon as she shut the door behind them, he became a person once again. Both stared awkwardly at the single twin bed in the center of the small room. Sirius ran a hand through his hair, smiling at her nervously. “Don’t suppose you’ve packed an extra bed in your bag, eh?”
She laughed. “Fancy drawing straws?”
He looked horrified. “Of course not! You’ll get the bed, of course.”
Nora rolled her eyes. “Don’t you dare get all chivalrous on me. You’re just as much entitled to comfort as I am.”
“I spent twelve years sleeping on the floor of a prison with less-than-desirable sanitation standards,” he reminded her. “And for another two years I slept on rocks in caves.”
“Which is exactly why you deserve the bed,” she said. “I’ll just turn into an owl and perch up on the wardrobe.”
“No,” he rebuked flatly. “I’m not spending the night with an owl. Sorry, Nora, but I find company that can’t talk to be very boring. You can have the bed and I’ll just take a pillow, if you don’t mind.” He snatched one of the downy pillows from against the headboard and dropped it at his feet. “I was built to sleep on floors.”
Nora shook her head incredulously. “Sirius Black…stalwart gentleman.”
“You bet.” He grinned. “Unless you care to split the bed with me.”
Nora felt her face heating up, and he seemed to take great delight in it. “Shut up, Sirius.”
“Just pretend I’m Cargan Dearborn,” he teased. “You’ll be curling up to me in no time, whispering sweet nothings in my ear.”
“Ha. Ha.” She stripped out of her cloak and threw it at his face. “I’m going downstairs to get something for me to eat. Maybe if you’re lucky I’ll find an old bone you can chew on.”
The moment Nora was gone, Sirius began to feel himself panic. He was going to sleep in the same room as Nora! It was something he’d wanted very badly for a long time…but admittedly not quite in this way. The thought of anything actually transpiring between them made him want to hyperventilate. A million ideas flitted through his mind – Nora becoming upset or sad and crying into his shoulder; Nora confessing some deep secret and melting into his arms; Nora laughing with him and them kind of just falling together…
He paced back and forth, staring at his apprehensive reflection in a mirror on the wall. He looked wild. “Pull it together!” he urged himself. “She isn’t going to magically fall in love with you just because you are sleeping in close proximity to each other.” Yeah,right, he thought inwardly. I’m not going to be getting any sleep at all tonight.
“Stop talking to yourself!” he demanded. “You dunderhead, she’s going to be right back and if you can’t shut your yap, she’s going to think you’re a tosser. Stop talking! My God, why can’t I close my mouth? It’s like it’s got a life of its own. I’m just going on and on and she’s going to be back soon and looking beautiful and we’ll be together all night and shut up, Sirius!”
Just then, the door opened and Nora cocked an eyebrow at him, balancing a tray of fish and chips on her left hand. “Am I interrupting a monologue of some sort, or have you got company in here?”
He tried a smile, feeling stupid. “Just chatting up a ghost. He’s gone now, though.” He averted his gaze as if to look around for the imaginary ghost.
“Oh.” Her face changed. “I don’t remember any being here last time. Hopefully no one died in this room.” She shuddered. “Are fish and chips okay? It’s all he’s got right now that’s fresh.”
“Lovely,” he responded amiably, and accepted his portion. They slid down against the wall next to each other and ate in silence. Sirius could sense her thinking deeply, and when he was finished, said, “Something bothering you, Nora?”
“I’m just thinking about Alecto,” she responded after a long pause. “Wondering what kind of mother she would be to Archer…hoping that he’s happy and safe. We can deduce that he’s not at Hogwarts, because Dumbledore ruled out all of the students as prospects. Which means that he’s with her.” She sighed. “And it means that he’s been with her for sixteen years and isn’t likely to jump ship.” She stood up and brushed the crumbs from her trousers. “He might be a Death Eater. He might try to kill me.”
Sirius watched her loiter anxiously about the room, straightening already-straight pillows and smoothing the duvet. He felt relieved that Nora was considering this bleak reality, allowing herself to realize that Archer might not be the godsend she’d previously envisioned. He didn’t want her getting her hopes up just to become crushed. It was very true that Archer Prewett could be a budding Death Eater. And if push came to shove, Sirius knew he might be forced to kill him if he tried to attack Nora.
Murdering Nora’s own brother…
Nora gazed at Sirius as though she knew what he was thinking, but she remained quiet. It felt still in the room; heavy. Sirius got to his feet and began to rummage through his black leather suitcase. “Ahh,” he said with a grin. “Here we are.”
Nora turned curiously to see him lift up a large bottle of Ogden’s Old Firewhisky, showcasing it like a prize. She shook her head wryly. “Who packs firewhisky? You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Oh, get off it. Let’s have a nightcap.”
She laughed. “I know what you’re doing. You want to get me drunk so that I’ll stop stressing about Alecto.”
“Never!” he exclaimed, pretending to be astonished. “I only wish to intoxicate myself. I always tell the best jokes when I’m pissed.”
Nora sat down against the wall again. “Alright, then. But I’m not getting out-of-my-senses-drunk. Don’t let me have more than three.”
He conjured two glasses and filled them, and then joined Nora. She took a sip of hers. “Oooh,” she breathed, wrinkling her nose and closing her eyes. “Strong, this is.” The liquid stung at first, but then abruptly warmed her whole body. It felt good. By her second sip, Sirius was already on his second glass.
“Thought I ought to do the thing properly,” he said. “I haven’t been rip-roaring drunk off my arse since James’s stag weekend.” He swallowed, eyes bright. “What about you?”
Nora’s mouth twitched. She hoped he hadn’t noticed, but of course Sirius always noticed everything she wished he wouldn’t. “Erm – never been drunk,” she told him unconvincingly.
His grin broadened. “Oh, do tell.”
She groaned, watching the bottle of firewhisky tip its contents into her glass by magic. “Okay,” she agreed. “But you can’t mention it to Remus.”
“Remus?” He looked perplexed. “Why?”
“Because of Tonks,” she elaborated. “It would embarrass her.” Nora grabbed Sirius’s sleeve – emboldened by the firewhisky – and said, “If you repeat a word of it to anyone, I will curse you into the fiery pits of Hades.”
His eyes glinted deviously. “This sounds like it’s going to be delicious.”
She laughed. “When we were in our fifth year at Hogwarts, Tonks and I decided we needed a little pick-me-up because of all the O.W.L.s angst. We’d spent weeks holed up in the library, studying; but when we decided that it was too much information for a person to possibly remember, we tried to enhance our memories by using illegal products that the seventh-years were peddling. We were trying to buy some enchanted unicorn dander or something else preposterous from a seventh year when Filch found us out. We were huddled behind a few suits of armor on the third floor and Filch came running, yelling that he was going to string us up by our toes for ‘engaging in illicit activity after curfew’. So we made a break for it.” Sirius was smiling, trying to imagine fifth-year Nora dashing around the castle with blockhead Tonks, trying to get their hands on black market O.W.L.s contraband.
“The seventh year boy went and hid in the Trophy Room, but he was clanging around so loudly that Tonks and I couldn’t really hide in there, too. We raced off to the Charms classroom instead and bolted the door behind us. It was dark, so we lit our wands, and then we realized…” She took a hesitant breath, suppressing a giggle. “We had knocked the door right into Professor Flitwick, and he was passed out on the floor.”
“I imagine that did not go over well,” Sirius guessed, watching her with a transfixed expression.
“No,” she chuckled, raising the glass to her lips. “But what made it worse was that Tonks had this brilliant idea of knocking over all of Flitwick’s cabinets and pretending Peeves had come and destroyed everything – you know, put the blame on him. So we were just dumping the last of his stuff all over the place and breaking random things when Flitwick came round. Tonks tried to escape and she stepped on Filch’s cat, but in the end we were caught. Lost fifty points each and had to serve detentions every evening for a month.”
“Filch had a cat?” Sirius asked. “Back in my day, he carried around a fat bullfrog called Mr. Tebbins. I had a little…er…run-in with Mr. Tebbins one night while I was racing James down the corridor…and suffice it to say that you can’t really attach frog limbs together after they’ve already been squished.”
“That’s gross, Sirius.”
“Should’ve seen Filch,” he smirked. “Thought it was James. Prongs had to polish the shed’s broomsticks for the rest of the year – not that he minded. He liked to steal one of the prefect’s brooms – she had a Silver Arrow that he loved sneaking rides on. But I digress; continue with your story.”
Nora grimaced. “We were set to all kinds of detentions, pretty much doing whatever any professor wanted of us. One night, we were both supposed to be hunting for eggs in an ashwinder’s tank, and then freezing them. Tonks used some sort of detection spell she’d overheard an older student talking about, and it backfired and killed the ashwinder. So she decided to stuff the dead snake in a jobberknoll’s cage, hoping he’d eat the snake so that there wouldn’t be any evidence. But she’s clumsy, you know, and knocked the cage over…” She sighed. “And the jobberknoll got loose. It was a mess. But to get to the point, we found a whole stash of mead.”
“Mead?” Sirius’s eyes were huge. “In a classroom?”
“Our Defense Against the Dark Arts professor that year was a bit…off,” Nora explained flatly. “We always suspected as much – she was so tipsy half the time that she kept confusing terms and slurring her words – gave everyone great marks, though.”
“And I’m assuming you and Tonks pilfered this stash of mead?” Sirius pressed.
“We stole two bottles each and snuck it down to our common room. I got sick after a few drinks and threw up everywhere, but Tonks just kept at it…by one in the morning, every boy in Hufflepuff had seen Tonks in her underclothes, dancing on the table and singing that she was in love with Professor Kettleburn.”
Sirius coughed on his firewhisky. “Don’t hold it against me if I use this to torment her,” he warned.
“Hades,” she reminded him. “Lots of fire. Your pretty hair will get all crispy.”
He shook his head. “The opportunity’s too rich. I’ve got to bring it up.”
Nora sighed, unsurprised. “You’re such a sadist.”
“Oh, Mr. Kettleburn!” Sirius chirped in a high voice. “How I adore you! Let’s go into the Forbidden Forest and take each other as lovers!”
“The worst part is that a few Ravenclaws got wind of it – the Ravenclaws always thought Tonks and I were weird – and they told Kettleburn,” Nora said. “He was very awkward around her after that, and Tonks begged her parents to let her transfer to Beauxbatons.”
“And that was your last experience with alcohol?” Sirius wanted to know.
She nodded. “First and last. There’s just something unsavory about the memory of lying in a pool of my own sick. The smell of it didn’t leave my hair for a week – I never heard the end of it. If you ever meet any of my old classmates, the first thing they’ll address me by is Vomit-Head.”
Sirius laughed. “Don’t feel bad about it. Moony wouldn’t want anyone to know, but the first time he got plastered, he ended up snogging a gargoyle statue something fierce.”
Nora tried to picture Remus kissing a gargoyle and found she couldn’t. It was such a foreign concept, Lupin as a teenager. For some reason it was easy for her to imagine Sirius as young and untamed, but not Remus. There was such an old-soul quality about Remus that made it impossible to imagine him as anything other than careful, rational, and shrewd. Sirius, on the other hand, was just the perfect combination of wildness and common sense. He was reckless, yes, but Sirius was also wicked sharp. She told him so.
“You flatter me,” he replied. “And it’s Ogden talking now anyway, not you.” He took her glass and made it disappear. “That’s three. No more drinks.”
“Oh, I’m fine,” she protested, feeling like she was swaying even though she remained perfectly still. Vertigo. Fantastic. Next minute she’d be puking all over Sirius. “Better get out of the way, Captain Lover-Boy,” she said. “They don’t call me Vomit-Head for nothing.”
“Captain Lover-Boy? Wow, you really can’t hold your drinks, can you?” he observed with a smile. “Should have done this on Christmas Eve. Would’ve been enchanting to see you throw up all over Dearborn.”
Nora closed her eyes. “You really don’t like him, do you? But I’m fine, I think. This isn’t quite as bad as the mead,” Then she grinned, unable to stop the flow of speech. “Tonks has a crush on Remus.”
Sirius nodded. “Yes. I am well aware of that.”
She giggled as though Tonks fancying Remus was the funniest thing she’d ever heard. “It’s a secret. I have lots of secrets, you know.” She pressed a finger to her lips, eyes large and intense. “Shh. Don’t tell!” Nora dissolved into another burst of giggles, reaching out to smack her hand on the floor for support. She was sitting completely still, but felt quite like the floor was rocking underneath her – like being on a ship.
Sirius removed the bottle of firewhisky from her other hand, which she had managed to Summon without him taking notice. It was nearly empty. “No more,” he ordered firmly. “You said three was the limit, and I don’t want you angry with me in the morning.”
She waved her hand. “Three, shmee. Gimme the bottle or I won’t tell you the secrets.”
“I don’t want to know your secrets,” he said, and helped her to her feet. “Not under these circumstances, at least. Time to sleep it off, lightweight.”
She rolled her eyes, but it felt like they kept rolling in their sockets and she collapsed on the bed in a fit of dizziness. “How is this stuff even legal?” she mumbled. “The way it messes with your…with your…brain? Brain is such a stupid word. Brain. Brrrr-ain. Brain!” She giggled for about three minutes until the hiccups forced her to stop. After that subsided, Nora was quiet for a long time and Sirius thought she fell asleep. Then suddenly she said, “Hippos are really violent when you threaten their territory. Did you know that?”
“I’ll add it to my wealth of knowledge,” he told her, laughing quietly. He was sitting on the floor and watching her, his eyes soft and a curious smile playing at his lips.
Nora rolled over to face him. “I wanted to ask you something, but I forgot what it was.” Her amber eyes studied him for awhile. “You don’t have to sleep down there, you know. We could always share. I don’t bite.” She opened her mouth as wide as it would go and then abruptly snapped it shut. More hysterical giggling ensued, until she realized that she couldn’t remember why she was laughing. Then she pursed her lips, confused.
Sirius felt his skin heating up. She’s not herself, he thought forcibly. “Goodnight, Nora.” He resisted all urges to get up and go over to her, and he began to say something but realized she was already fast asleep. She would not worry anymore about Alecto or Archer tonight.
There would be plenty of that for tomorrow.
Nora woke up with a throbbing headache. “Scrap this whole plan,” she muttered to Sirius as he dragged her out of bed. “Take me to Madam Pomfrey.”
He chuckled and handed her a mug of coffee. “How’d you get that?” she questioned.
Sirius shrugged. “Gave myself a Disillusionment Charm and got it from downstairs. I left a few knuts on the counter.”
She frowned but wasn’t going to hound him like Molly Weasley would have. He didn’t get caught, after all, so there must be something in that. “I figured we would start off at Alecto’s old home, and then move to her grandfather’s house, who was just down the street from her when he was alive. No one lives there anymore because both places are Unplottable, but over the years I figured out the locations.”
Sirius was impressed. Well, Nora obviously had to have been doing something all that time, since she hadn’t been able to kill anyone. He stopped short. Or had she? “Have you…” he began, furrowing his brow.
“Have I what?”
He licked his lips. “Have you ever killed anyone?”
She stiffened. “Yes.”
“Really?” Sirius widened his eyes. “Who?”
Nora shrugged. “There was a man here in Windstaff – I believe he was romantic with Alecto at one time. I tried to weasel information out of him two summers ago and he put up a pretty good fight. Was about to disapparate, which I couldn’t allow – so I killed him.”
Sirius fastened his coat, not taking his eyes off her. “Avada Kedavra?” he ventured, trying to keep his voice even.
She shook her head. “A Muggle pistol, actually. I saw how effective they could be when I was living like a Muggle, and broke into a shop and stole one. Those things are dead useful; you’d be surprised.”
“What was the man’s name?” Sirius wanted to know. He found it odd that Nora could say she’d murdered a person and look so flippant about it. Of course, he had done some damage back in the first war, but he had since then learned every detail about each life he took. He could still remember the whites of their eyes, staring out from under the dark hoods…
“No idea,” Nora answered quietly, putting on her own cloak and shrinking both their bags to fit in her pockets once more. “It doesn’t matter – he supported the Dark side. That’s all I needed to know.” She snapped the leash in her hands. “Time for Snuffles to come out and play.”
He glowered. “You’re very condescending, do you know that? And I think you enjoy it too much.”
“Oh yeah, like it wouldn’t amuse you to carry me around in a birdcage,” she retorted. “How’d you get the nickname of ‘Snuffles’, anyway?”
Sirius merely grinned.
Nora rolled her eyes. “Never mind. If you’re going to act all mysterious, then I don’t even want to know. Let’s go.”
Sirius reluctantly sprang forth into a giant dog and allowed her to clip a leash onto him. “For all I know, you might like it,” she teased. “What say you, Sirius? Into the whole bondage thing?”
His bark sounded disturbingly close to a laugh. “I’ll never get used to seeing you as an animal,” she told him, “even though you act like one all the time.” Nora led him out into the hallway and downstairs, stopping only to return the room key and bid Michael goodbye. “Well, Snuffles,” she announced as they crunched through the snowy village. “Are you ready to re-live the past five years of my life with me?
He wagged his tail and pranced about, nipping at pigeons and drawing stares due to his unnervingly laugh-like bark. Of course, she thought to herself. He’s got to be themost obnoxious dog he can possibly manage. They picked their way to the outskirts of the village and along a graveled path, Alecto’s house just within view. Nora frowned in grim concentration. The witch would not elude her this time.
Nora was beginning to grow hopeless over the next few days; Sirius, determined. The latter really did not fancy going back to Grimmauld Place so soon, and kept bringing up other places to look. Windstaff held absolutely no leads to Alecto’s whereabouts, and neither had a shop in Diagon Alley that Alecto apprenticed at for sixteen months following Hogwarts graduation. “This is always where I hit a dead end when it comes to her,” Nora lamented, hurling a rock through an abandoned greenhouse in Surrey and shattering the glass everywhere.
“Then it’s time we stopped sniffing along Alecto’s trail,” Sirius pointed out astutely. “After Voldemort fell and all of their mates got chucked into Azkaban, who was left to help protect Alecto?”
“Amycus,” Nora breathed. “But I checked him. The only knowledge of Amycus is that he briefly worked for Gregorovitch ten years ago, chopping wand trees.”
“Gregorovitch must know where he is,” Sirius pressed.
“No. He was employed under an alias he made up – Amos Cafferty. I already cornered Gregorovitch and he knew pretty much nothing. In fact, he told me that if I ever caught up to Amycus, to give him a nice hexing because he made off with a ton of unicorn hair and dragon heartstring from his shop.”
“Did you look for an Amos Cafferty’s trail?”
Nora sighed. “I’m not Cornelius Fudge, Sirius. I don’t have the greatest connections.”
“Ah.” He perked up. “But I know someone who does – Kingsley Shacklebolt!” He bit his lower lip. “Looks like our little holiday is over. Time to go home and face the music, eh?”
Sirius snorted. “Not bleeding likely. Maybe we’ll get lucky and he’ll have run off somewhere.”
A/N: By the way, you’re all fabulous. Whether you review or not, just knowing that it’s getting read is really rewarding. So thank you. :) And I hope I’m not disappointing anyone by not keeping Sirius and Nora away from Grimmauld Place longer. It’s for a reason, though – this is definitely going somewhere. And in case you haven’t heard me singing about it yet, I am now a Trusted Author. So I can update whenever I want! Woot woot. Major thanks to the HPFF staff – especially to Georgia Weasley – since I have a sneaking suspicion that she was behind the scenes… ;)
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