“Ah, Nora, just the person I wanted to see,” Severus replied pointedly, looking over Sirius’s scowling head to the woman washing dishes at the sink. He didn’t wonder why she was manually doing chores instead of using magic, as Nora frequently did odd things that people eventually just learned to accept.
“Severus!” Her eyes brightened. “Did you learn anything about Archer?”
He frowned, anticipating her disappointment. “No, not yet.” Her face fell and he quickly added, “But I am looking, be rest assured of that.”
She turned back to the sink and submerged her arms up to her elbows in soapy water. “What’s up, then?”
His eyes darted to Sirius for a second, who looked like he’d very much like to swing an axe in Severus’s direction, and Severus took the liberty of striding across the room and standing next to Nora. “So you’ve been back for awhile,” he noted. “How do you like it?”
Nora peered up at him suspiciously. “Like what? Being back at Grimmauld Place?”
“Well – yes.”
Sirius, who could no longer resist lingering on the fringe while Nora and Severus stood so closely, swaggered on over to Nora’s other side and began assisting her with the dishes. “You don’t have to do that,” Nora laughed. “You’ve probably never washed dishes by hand in your life.”
“I have, too.” Sirius tried to look offended, but gave her a smile and a wink. “McGonagall liked to make me do this for detentions. She said all the soap ought to clean up my obscene nature.”
Nora grinned at this, and Severus’s lips thinned angrily. Sirius was forever deflecting the attention to himself whenever he was near, and if Severus wasn’t mistaken, Black must feel threatened. Nora hummed between them, scrubbing a pot and unaware of the friction between the two men. “Actually, Nora, if you could dry your hands for a moment, I would like to show you something,” Severus said at last.
She used Sirius’s shirt sleeves as a towel (“Hey!”), and, smirking, turned to look at Severus. “Yes?”
He swallowed and handed her a folded-up copy of the Daily Prophet from inside his robes. He tried to angle it so that Sirius couldn’t see, but of course Sirius was already reading over her shoulder. Severus pointed at an advertisement circled with a bright red quill.
“Cozy one-bedroom flat for rent in Diagon Alley,” Nora read aloud. “Includes furnishings, a balcony, and hanging plants of knotgrass and flitterbloom. 24-14-1 per month. Contact Tilda Boppleby at Prophet for more info.” She re-read it again to herself. “Only twenty-four galleons, fourteen sickles, and one knut a month,” she marveled. “That’s an amazing price.”
“Bet it’s sodding rubbish, though,” Sirius cut in. “Why else would it be so cheap?”
“Actually,” Severus responded in a sleek voice, and Sirius glared contemptuously at him, “I’ve just been there, and met the landlord. The place is small, which wouldn’t be a problem since you are only one person. But it’s clean and pleasant, and the rent is inexpensive because it used to be inhabited by a rather infamous wizard and no one wants to occupy it for fear of him returning to his old stomping grounds.”
Sirius leaned in closer to examine the paper. “Ha! This is on Flannery Street! You know, I used to live there after I finished Hogwarts. Reckon I left some things…probably all been mucked through by the Ministry, though.”
“Yes,” Severus continued disdainfully. “The very same quarters. It seems – and I can hardly blame them – that no one wants to live amongst the memories of Sirius Black. But as Nora has no fears that you will bludgeon her to death, she could take advantage of this opportunity. It’s on the same block as the Ministry of Magic and Gringotts, and right underneath the flat, Nora, is Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor.”
“Ooh,” she breathed. “Excellent.”
“We can get ice cream here, though,” Sirius was saying. “I could send Kreacher out for it…”
“You would be able to meet lots of new people,” Severus told Nora, ignoring him. “You could spend all day outside if you wanted to, and I hear Fortescue’s hiring. Imagine the commute to work!”
“It’s perfect!” Nora exclaimed, wrapping Severus in a brief hug. Sirius’s face was too livid for words, and Severus flashed a triumphant smile at him while Nora’s head was bent over the paper. “Hestia will be so relieved!”
“Hestia?” Severus asked, just as Sirius said, “What?”
“Hestia Jones,” Nora reminded them joyfully. “Remember, her house got blown up? She moved in with Emmeline Vance, but she could only afford that because they were splitting the costs. She can’t afford that place on one person’s salary alone, so this will be a stroke of luck.”
Now it was Sirius’s turn to grin snidely, and Severus felt his face flush somewhat. “I was actually suggesting this for you,” he admitted.
Nora frowned, puzzled. “Me? But why? I’ve already got a stable roof over my head.”
“Yes,” Severus responded tersely, “but perhaps you’ve gotten a bit tired of each other. Black might consider you a burden, and he’s scarcely benefiting you. As Mrs. Weasley’s pointed out many times, you’re practically living under house arrest here.”
“I don’t see it that way,” Nora confided warmly. “I think I would be lonely living by myself. I wouldn’t run into the other Order members half as much – especially Remus and Tonks – and I wouldn’t be able to see Sirius at all aside from meetings. Add to it the depletion of legroom and the absence of a Fidelius Charm, and it’s really not a step up.” Her eyes locked with Sirius’s for a long while, and she added, “Unless Sirius thinks I’m a pest in his pants and wants me out.”
“Absolutely not,” Sirius chimed. “I want you in my pants. Er –” He blushed crimson. “You belong here, I mean. At Grimmauld Place.”
“Yes, and what a prize this house is,” Severus spat in a nasty voice. “The very walls protest half-bloods and Muggle-borns, and your charming mother never fails to call Nora a filthy tart every chance she gets. You’ve got a house-elf who mutters rude names at her; there are foul-smelling hippogriff feathers in one of the bedrooms, and I heard a boggart in the drawing room cabinet on my way in.” He sneered, stepping back a foot. “Belongs here, indeed.”
“You don’t think I would make my mother’s portrait shut up if I could?” Sirius demanded heatedly.
Nora touched Sirius’s arm, which made Severus feel sick. “I don’t even notice it anymore,” she told him softly. “Walburga and Kreacher do not bother me.”
“You’re selfish!” Severus snapped, looking Black directly in the eyes. They were relatively the same height – Sirius was taller by just a fraction – and the only thing separating them from lunging at each other was Nora, caught in the middle. “You don’t want better living conditions for her. You want her here to suffer right along with you.”
“She’s not suffering,” Sirius shouted back. “I’m not forcing her at wand-point to live with me, am I? She stays of her own free will.”
“Of course I do,” Nora interjected. “I love it here.”
“It doesn’t make sense why!” Severus cried. “He’s arrogant and ignorant and has nothing. Nothing!” He addressed Sirius now. “Why did you even bother breaking out of Azkaban, Black? Your life benefits no one. You’re useless with the Order –”
“Yes, and you work around the clock for the Order, don’t you, Snape?” Sirius replied, his voice growing dangerously louder and more hostile. “And then you turn right around and climb into Voldemort’s pocket. You think you’ve fooled everyone into believing you’re a man of value, you poisonous little paradox, but I see right through your guise. All of the hate you still have for James, the hate that you’ve in turn placed upon his son so that you can mercilessly bully him – you are a sad, small person. All you are is hatred, Snape – all stone and no real emotion.” His grey eyes were sharp and furious. “There is nothing inside you.”
“Or perhaps I’m just not stupid enough to wear my emotions on my sleeve,” Severus hissed. “And Harry Potter has inherited his father’s pompous, prideful attitude, acting for all the world like everyone is beneath him when he has done nothing to warrant the kind of attention and devotion he expects to befall him. The only thing that saved that boy was his mother, not his own grit and intellect! If it wasn’t for Lily’s protection, he would have been blown to pieces.”
“You still can’t stand it that Lily didn’t choose you,” Sirius retorted, his face inches from Snape’s. “Still hung up on her, I see. She loved James, and no wonder. James didn’t try to drag other men through the dirt to make himself look better. She wanted him based on his own merits. People who wear their emotions on their sleeves, Snape, tend to be human. You can’t love a person who doesn’t know how to love you back. And my God, enough with insulting James. He’s dead!”
“You’re the one who brought him up –”
“You look into Harry’s face every day and see his father,” Sirius said, more exasperated than angry. He backed away, grazing a hand through his hair and looking quite shaken. “James is dead. Don’t you get it? You’ve won. Just let it go, already! You’re still alive all these years later, and James will always be twenty-one; he’ll never get to grow old, he’ll never get to watch his son get married and have children of his own. You’ve got the pleasure of living and breathing and James is never going to do either again. You’ve wasted away all this time competing with a man who’s been dead for fourteen years! So grow up and stop trying to vicariously pick fights with your schoolboy nemesis through his son, because Harry’s innocent in all this. Your resentment is misplaced; he is not James, and he is not me. The way you treat him is just…it’s shit. It’s absolute shit, and he did nothing to deserve it.”
“He’s just like both of you, and you’ve done everything possible to encourage it,” Snape responded. “Do you think I haven’t heard about their little Defense Against the Dark Arts club? It could get him expelled, but what do you care? I know you’ve actually cheered it on. Really thinking in his best interests now, are you?”
“What the hell do you care about Harry Potter’s best interests?” Sirius roared. “You bloody hate him! And it’s better he were expelled and able to defend himself than playing pet to a corrupt Ministry official. Harry’s not going to hide under the tyrant’s skirt like you did, Snape. He’s got morals and courage and damn it, he’s Lily’s son! Lily would be turning in her grave if she thought Harry was kissing up to the very people who blindly allow this death and destruction to occur right under their noses. Not everyone’s concerned about saving face, you know. Some people just care about doing what’s right.”
Snape’s face was white, his nostrils flared. “You don’t speak for Lily!” he snarled.
“We’re really at the heart of it now, aren’t we?” Sirius countered quietly. And then, suddenly, he exploded like a malfunctioning firework. “Get over it, you daft reject! She despised you from the moment you called her a mudblood. She didn’t want you. No one wants you!”
Both plunged inside their robes at precisely the same moment, patting themselves and looking flustered. Neither could find their wands. Slowly, Sirius and Severus turned to look at Nora, who was now leaning lazily against the kitchen table and twirling both men’s wands in one hand.
“You boys about finished?” she asked in a calm, wintery voice, focusing on a spot somewhere above their heads.
“Give me my wand,” Sirius said evenly. “I want to fight him. I deserve to.”
Nora analyzed her nails, as though this was the most boring thing she’d ever witnessed. “So fight him, then. You’ve got fists. I’m not cleaning up any dead people, so the wands stay in my custody. I’ll thank you not to get too much blood on the floor, either. I just mopped it this morning.”
Sirius and Severus stared coldly at each other, and the latter sneered. He would never physically duel like a Muggle. Sirius had no problems whatsoever doing that – he’d been in more than one bar scrape in his day – but the expression on Nora’s face seemed to kick some sense back into him. He had quite the temper; it was a rather dominant personality trait. But it wasn’t moving this situation forward, and the two of them would never, ever see eye to eye.
“You’re not worth it,” he said disgustedly, moving away from Snape.
Severus raised his eyebrows. “Backing down, Black? But that’s so unlike you. Usually you jump all over any chance to show off, so it does make one wonder why the sudden change of attitude… Perhaps you are just a coward?”
“You can leave now,” Sirius replied serenely, but Nora knew that beneath the collected voice he was a ticking time bomb. “I won’t ban you from my house because I know Nora considers you her friend, but I’ll warn you now that I’m not going to let you speak that way about Harry or James ever again, not under my roof. If you utter so much as a single syllable against either of them, I won’t need a wand for what I would do to you.”
Severus laughed bitterly and pushed the newspaper towards Nora. “If I were you, I would devote some thought to moving out. The man you’re living with is unhinged.”
Sirius refrained from saying anything as Severus collected his wand and left, silently casting Shield Charms behind him as his back was turned. Sirius, however, would never attack an opponent whose back was turned. He rather enjoyed seeing the faces of victims he hexed, and was not an underhanded dueler. But when Snape was gone and it was just him and Nora standing there in the kitchen, Sirius sank into a chair, his face in his hands.
Nora sat down next to him. “Right about what?”
“You’d be better off in that flat in London,” he confessed, and then let his hands fall into his lap. They gazed at each other. “Molly’s said it and said it and I tried to convince myself otherwise on the matter, but it seems I am overruled.”
Nora, for the first time that day, looked peeved. “Don’t you dare, Sirius Black.”
“Don’t I dare what?”
She shook her head vehemently. “Don’t forget that I’ve still got your wand, plus my own. If you tell me to move out, I’m going to curse you and it won’t be pretty. I belong here.” Those were her words, but she meant them as ‘I belong with you’. “I don’t care about what Severus or Molly thinks. I’ve come to regard this place as my home, and I want to stay for as long as you’ll let me.”
Sirius looked shocked. “I would never throw you out, Nora. I just –”
“Good,” she replied over him, cutting him off. “Now if you don’t mind, I think Severus mentioned a boggart earlier. I think I’ll go have a shifty at it.”
He watched her get up, and she slowly, purposefully returned his wand to him. “Want some assistance?” he muttered.
Her answer was startlingly quick. “No.”
When Nora sauntered upstairs, he was overtaken with curiosity. Nora had looked scared when accosted with the notion of Sirius watching her handle a boggart. Could it be that she was embarrassed about what shape the boggart would take? Sirius could not resist the opportunity for insight into Nora’s mind. Very softly, he tiptoed up the stairs and down the hallway, muting his footsteps with a Silencing Charm. Poking his head around the drawing room doorway, he saw himself.
He was wearing a grimy old Azkaban uniform and sitting on the floor against the wall, knees tucked to his chest. His hair was matted and filthy and his eyes… His round, sunken eyes were alarmingly vacant, the pupils constricted because they took in no light. There was such an unmistakable air of lifelessness about him that Sirius knew the doppelganger of himself had been given the dementor’s Kiss.
So this was Nora’s greatest fear?
He couldn’t see her face, as her back was turned to him, but she very calmly said, “Riddikulus.” He didn’t find out how she managed to make the boggart humorous because he was carefully backing out to sneak downstairs before she could catch him.
Later that night before they retired to bed, Sirius approached her about the boggart. “So, you got rid of the thing, eh?” he wanted to know.
“Yeah,” she replied, her hand on the doorknob to her bedroom.
Sirius shifted his weight, nervous about what he was preparing to ask. “Just out of curiosity, what is your boggart?” He tried to sound as innocent as possible.
Nora grinned, cool as a cucumber. “A bird hunter,” she responded without skipping a beat. “He had a rifle and everything, it was creepy.” She gave a little shudder. “Night, Sirius.”
He smiled to himself as he entered his bedroom, closing the door behind him and feeling loads lighter. So this was good, right? Nora’s worst fear in the whole world was for Sirius to receive the dementor’s Kiss, which translated to his being hurt as the worst possible scenario in her eyes. But what did that mean? Was it because he was more apt to do dangerous, reckless things than Tonks, so Nora didn’t have to worry about her? Nora didn’t have that many people in her life to fuss over and was too selfless to worry about herself. So, in short, Nora either loved Sirius or she thought he had really bad judgment. She had lied about the boggart’s shape to him, so wasn’t that a positive sign? Could it possibly mean that Nora cared about Sirius more than anyone else? Surely the Weasleys were in danger, as blood-traitors, and Tonks, as a Dark wizard catcher.
Or maybe, Sirius thought with sudden disquiet, Nora lied about it to him because she thought he’d be frightened to know the truth. After all, the dementor’s Kiss was not such an impossibility for Sirius’s future. She might just be sparing him the haunting image that she’d seen so that he wouldn’t be going around thinking about what he’d look like with his soul sucked out. It was a rational threat, and a person probably did not require romantic feelings for Sirius to realize he may indeed end up Kissed.
Sirius’s bones seemed to chill at the recollection of those giant, billowing black creatures with their rattling breath and scabby, decaying hands. He’d almost been Kissed two years ago, on the banks of the Black Lake at Hogwarts, but Harry Potter had saved him. Harry Potter, who had been the ripe old age of thirteen, had repelled a swarm of dementors and prevented them from making off with Sirius’s soul.
Perhaps Nora thought him weak and his odds of long-term survival poor. In dark times like these, just like during the first war, one couldn’t be sure who was up to scratch and who was going to get blown up. He pictured the boggart with its vacant, hollow expression in his mind’s eye and wondered what his own boggart might be.
Probably Nora snogging Snape.
Kingsley Shacklebolt managed to draw up a vague history of Amycus Carrow’s doings while he went by the name of Amos Cafferty. It seemed he lived comfortably in London for about six years, and was paid well by the Ministry with the job of redirecting Merpeople out of the Thames River. Now that Voldemort was back in the country, though, he was back to living as Amycus Carrow again, and couldn’t be found. Even Severus Snape did not know where the Death Eaters were hiding, as they moved often and did not involve Severus with their escapades. After all, his job was to remain at Hogwarts and supposedly spy, so he did not see the other Death Eaters or hear any news from them. Sirius was convinced Snape was lying about this and that he knew exactly where Alecto was located.
And on a side note, Dumbledore had almost been arrested.
In one easy stroke, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was passed into the hands of Dolores Umbridge, and subsequently, Cornelius Fudge and Lucius Malfoy. At the very beginning of April, Harry’s secret Defense Against the Dark Arts group was found out, and as it turns out they gave themselves a rather flamboyant title: Dumbledore’s Army. Not wishing to get Harry into trouble, Dumbledore took full responsibility for the large group of students and claimed they were acting on his own orders. Kingsley was able to give a scant report of how Dumbledore knocked them all out and escaped like a puff of smoke, and Sirius even heard details straight from the horse’s mouth.
Nora was very miffed with Sirius.
She’d asked him repeatedly to tell her what Dumbledore had said. It was around midnight when she came tumbling down the stairs at the sound of voices, and caught a swift glimpse of Dumbledore’s long, silver beard before he quickly left. “What was that all about?” she’d wanted to know. “That was Dumbledore!”
She had no idea where Dumbledore was hiding out now. The High Inquisitor had transitioned into Headmistress overnight and Nora knew even less than many Hogwarts students did about the situation. She couldn’t understand why Sirius would choose to keep any information from her.
Nora had been avoiding Sirius. Between the time Dumbledore was sacked and Sirius and Nora got into a row, she’d behaved civilly as a perfunctory gesture – answering questions with one-word replies and acknowledging his presence with a stiff nod. Then, out of the blue, she exploded on him.
“I can’t believe you’re not going to tell me!” she blurted out. “It’s been five days and you’re still holding your silence. I want to know where Dumbledore is – I could be helping in some way.”
“The more people who know where Dumbledore is,” Sirius replied, “the more liabilities there are who can be tortured for information.”
“You’re just as likely a candidate as I am,” Nora declared. “I’m always here with you. Why should you know and not me?”
“Maybe because he knows me better,” Sirius countered, “or because he knew you’d run off and try to help him like you’ve just alluded to.”
“You must think I’m an idiot, then,” she yelled. “I’m well aware that other people are looking for Dumbledore, but that’s not even the issue here. I’m just a little surprised that after being your closest confidante for the past several months, you can’t share this tiny piece of knowledge with me. You’re keeping secrets from me about the Order and I hate it. I have every right to know, too.” Sirius had never seen Nora looking at him that way before, and it scared the hell out of him. He felt her affection for himself diminishing, but instead of shrinking back he stepped forward so that he was closer to her, and then yelled right back.
“Do you think I like having this damning secret in my head?” he shouted. “Why would I want to damn you, as well? If you know nothing, you can divulge nothing. I don’t like being the only person who knows what Dumbledore’s up to, believe it or not.”
“Then tell me,” she demanded. “Anyone else would, and you’re supposed to be my friend.”
“I’m starting to feel like the last bloody person who cares about your preservation!” he hollered, smashing a lamp. Nora glanced at the broken glass, disgusted, and kicked it out of her way. “All I’m trying to do is decrease your chances of being hurt,” he raved. “I don’t give a damn what anyone else would tell you if they were in my position. You happen to be very important to me and you don’t seem to realize exactly what kind of danger accompanies people who are closely associated with Dumbledore. You’re part of the Order and you do leave this God-forsaken place every now and then. You just went to Hogwarts two days ago! Anything could have happened to you on that journey while you were exposed.”
Nora stared at him, eyes resentful, and he kept going. “Death Eaters know Dumbledore’s gone and they’re going to be on the lookout to try and kill him. He’s always been at Hogwarts under its protections and now he’s not. Can you imagine the power Voldemort would have if Albus were dead? Voldemort’s men are going to be hunting everywhere – they’re probably outside this street right now, just waiting – and if they saw you, they would take you. More than take you, Nora – they would tip Veritaserum down your throat and force you to tell them whatever they wanted to know. There’s a chance that your being ignorant could save your life, and you might get away with memory modification or be lucky enough to turn up somewhere Imperiused. But if you do know anything, Nora, they’re not going to let you go. They would murder you and then pretend you were still alive, try to use you as leverage like they did with Dorcas and Caradoc and so many others.”
“You don’t know that,” Nora protested, her pitch shrill. Not really caring what her reaction might be, Sirius folded her into his arms and rubbed her back soothingly. “I hate war,” she sniffed into his shirt, the sobs finally breaking free. “I hate all the confusion and the deaths and missing people. I hate that they’re just destroying families and getting away with it.”
“Me, too,” he murmured into her hair. “And you know I want to tell you everything, Nora. But it would be selfish of me to tell you about what Dumbledore’s doing now. I would never forgive myself, even if nothing bad ever came of it.” He gently wiped her tears away with his thumb. “Don’t cry, love. You are going to kill Alecto Carrow someday, and I will watch you do it. I’ll drive the getaway broom.” She smiled, and he beamed at her, eyes soft. “I know you’re frustrated, but I just want you safe,” His voice was low and brutally sweet. “Or as safe as I can manage, when we’re surrounded by all of this evil.”
She hugged him. “Oh, Sirius. I think I’ll let you have Lucius Malfoy, after all.”
He laughed. “You’re very generous.”
Nora pulled away from him, wiping her face with the back of her sleeve. “I’m a mess. I think I’ll go upstairs for awhile, try to sleep off some of this insanity that’s been wracking my brain.”
She turned around and slowly exited the room, going upstairs. Sirius gazed soberly after her and turned to clean up the shattered lamp. He’d lost track of the amount of times he’d smashed that thing. He then cleared off the table and the leftovers of their dinner – she’d sat at the opposite end of the table instead of next to him, ignoring his entreaties at conversation. “Stubborn woman,” he said under his breath, smiling. Sirius was thankful she was at least speaking to him again, because Andromeda was hosting a birthday party for him at her house on the twelfth – which was only a few days away – and most of the guests had decided to pair up as dates. He very much wanted Nora to go with him, as his official date. Now that things appeared to be smoothing out, the odds of her saying yes were higher.
Sirius trooped up the stairs, pausing outside Nora’s door. It was slightly ajar, and he could see her form under the blankets, dim in the twilight. He watched the coverlet rise and fall with her easy breathing, mentally tracing her peacefully sleeping features.
He went into his bedroom and slipped off his shirt. Before he could undress any further, however, the door opened and a woman stumbled inside. He fell back against the bed in alarm. “Hestia?”
Hestia Jones, a pink-cheeked witch with short brown hair, gasped in embarrassment. “Oh, it’s you, Sirius! I thought this was Nora’s bedroom.”
He shook his head, eyebrows furrowed. Why didn’t anyone ever knock around here? Grimmauld Place wasn’t a clubhouse. It was Headquarters, sure, but people lived in this place for crying out loud. When was the last time he had just barged into anyone else’s homes? But he only said, “Are you okay?”
She burst into tears.
“Erm…” Sirius didn’t know what to do. “What happened?”
“It’s Emmeline,” Hestia said. “Or have you forgotten all about her?” He was taken aback by the venom in her voice. “She was my best friend. Everyone else is just going along with their lives like nothing happened, and now I’m completely alone. I have no one to talk to – my parents are Muggles and they don’t understand anything about the problems in our world, no matter how many times I try to tell them. I have no one, Sirius. I just…I needed a girlfriend to talk to.”
“Oh.” He bit his lip. “Nora’s asleep, I’m afraid. She’s not feeling her best right now. I could tell her to pop by your place tomorrow.”
Hestia’s face exuded severe disappointment. “No…never mind, I guess. Sorry to intrude.” She turned around and made to leave.
“Hey – wait,” Sirius spoke up. She looked over her shoulder, eyes blurry with tears. “You need someone to talk to, and I daresay I can be just as sympathetic as Nora. More so, actually; my best mate was murdered as well.”
Hestia crossed the room and sat down next to him on the bed. “That’s right,” she sniffed. “I haven’t thought about that.”
“When our friends die, it feels like nothing will ever be right again,” he murmured. “There is the guilt of surviving while your friend did not, of course, and wondering if you could have prevented it somehow. But even more damaging is the hole left in your heart, which will never heal all the way, and can’t ever be filled. That’s the risk of loving people and opening yourself up to them – you’re never the same again once they’re gone.”
“I met Emmeline on the train to Hogwarts in our first year,” Hestia replied, clasping her hands in her lap. “We both brought toads, which weren’t very popular, and we kind of bonded over it. Ever since then, I’ve been able to go to her about anything. I didn’t think I needed any other friends; we were so wrapped up in the acceptance of each other. After seven years at Hogwarts and then all these years later, Emmeline’s still the only person I could really call my friend. I didn’t bother to make more, because I didn’t feel I needed to. She understood me – it…it…” she broke down again, sobbing onto Sirius’s bare shoulder. He felt like a wet blanket with all these crying women.
“I know,” he told her, patting her on the back awkwardly. “I had other friends at Hogwarts, myself – Remus and that damned Pettigrew – but James was like my brother. Time can make you less angry, less sad, but it won’t take away the fact that a piece of you is gone forever. But sometimes…” He picked his brain carefully, choosing the right words. “Sometimes we meet people who kind of put us back together again. Someday, Hestia, you won’t feel such horrible pain. Just keep your chin up and keep moving forward.”
“You mean falling in love?” she asked. “How does that fix it?”
“It doesn’t really fix it,” he amended. “The hole in your heat will always be there, no matter what. But when you find someone else who makes you really, truly happy, your heart gets bigger. The hole is there, but it’s much less noticeable – you can bear it. It’s not overwhelming anymore and the pain isn’t constantly gnawing at you. You become yourself again.”
Hestia wiped her eyes and Sirius wished he could towel off the salty wetness on his shoulder, but didn’t want to look rude. The woman was staring up at him with large, watery eyes. Something about the expression in them made the pit of his stomach clench in discomfort. He knew that look.
She delicately slid her fingers along his collarbone and down the smooth contours of his chest. Sirius’s eyes widened and his muscles went rigid. What the hell is she doing?
Hestia licked her chapped lips. “I…I never noticed how handsome you are.”
Sirius tried to scoot away from her, but she was curving over him now, a hopeful smile dancing on her face. She must have been a bit touched in the head with all her grief, and had lost her good sense. “You’re so sweet,” she purred. “I know you have a thing for Nora Prewett, but maybe just once…”
“You’re distressed,” he rushed, trying to think of a way to let her down without making her even more upset. “I don’t think you realize what you’re doing.”
She placed her hands on his chest, exerting pressure to get him to topple back onto the bed – which he had no intentions of doing. He was brainstorming how to get her off of him when Hestia moved her head out of his line of vision. Nora was standing there on the landing, watching them through the open door with a horrified expression on her face.
Hestia noticed Sirius’s panic and turned to see what he was looking at. Nora clamped a hand over her mouth. “Oh, God,” she whispered, backing away and looking somewhat disoriented. “I’m so sorry, excuse me.”
She was gone in an instant and Sirius stood straight up. “You should go,” he told Hestia in a throaty voice.
She nodded, looking ashamed of herself. “I don’t know what got into me, Sirius, I just…”
He didn’t wait to listen, he was already out on the landing, trying Nora’s door. It was locked. “Nora?” he called. “Can I come in?”
But inside there was nothing but silence.
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