His uncle had appeared in Sirius’ bedroom with the promise of adventure in a muggle village a few miles outside of town. He called it a carnivale, but it was nothing like Sirius had ever seen. Brightly colored electric lights were strung far above his head turning the moonless night into day. Strange exotic smells made his mouth water and his stomach growl and his uncle gladly let him try each new dish – cotton candy, a spun sugar the shade of pink bubblegum that melted in your mouth; normal apples that had been drenched in a blood red coating of something sweet; and a strange muggle drink called soda that tickled Sirius’ nose every time he took a drink.
Clowns, acrobats, dancers and odd looking women with beards filled the myriad of tents and Sirius happily followed his uncle into each one. As the hours wore on and the darkness got heavier, the crowd became more unruly and the festivities began to pour into the edges of the forest. Mugs of mulled wine and mead began to be passed around and, all too quickly, people were beginning to stagger around in a daze. Belligerent voices called through the darkness as scantily clad women appeared and beckoned men toward them. Sirius noticed the difference in his uncle as the night changed. He began staying closer to Sirius’ side, his arm resting protectively on his shoulder.
With the turn of the night, an array of brightly dressed men and women pushed past Sirius and onto a nearby stage. Their exotic costumes in jewel tones of scarlet, plum, and turquoise caught Sirius’ attention immediately. A few of the men took places at the back of the stage and began playing thunderous music that brought the growing crowd closer and closer. The women and young girls began swaying to the tune, their movements slow and provocative. They gestured to the crowd, who reacted instantly to their dark slithering like motions.
“Who are they?” Sirius asked, his eyes lingering on a young girl so near his own age that was dancing with the others.
“They are gypsies, Sirius.”
“Muggles?” Sirius asked and immediately knew he had said something wrong.
“Does it matter? You talk as if being a muggle is a bad thing.”
“No, I only meant do they do magic?” Sirius whispered. “I’m sorry, uncle.”
“No,” his uncle wrapped his arm around Sirius’ shoulders as they continued to push closer to the stage. “I’m sorry. You act so grown-up I sometimes forget you’re still a boy.”
“I’m not a boy.” Sirius began to argue but was quickly distracted as one of the gypsies’s waved their direction. “Do you know her?” he asked surveying her fanciful and revealing clothing. Like the young girl he had first noticed, her costumes were nearly see through and glittering sequins and baubles shook as she walked.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” he ruffled Sirius’ hair. “Come, we need to get you back before the night turns.”
“What does that mean?”
“Before bad things start to happen.”
As if to prove his point, a soft muffled scream echoed from the gypsy caravan. Sirius looked to his uncle who seemed to be torn between going to see what was happening and staying with him. “I’ll be fine. Just go check on them.” Sirius smiled to reassure his uncle.
The rowdiness of the crowd was unlike anything Sirius had ever experienced. Mocking and curse words began to echo through the night and people began pushing to get closer to the stage. The sudden clang of rocks hitting the metal stage brought Sirius to attention, his senses on full alert. From the corner of his eye, Sirius caught a glimpse of something he recognized and he whirled.
“James!” Sirius pulled James Potter from the midst of the people headed for the stage. “What are you doing here?”
“Did you see what happened?” James’ voice was full of anger and disgust. “They’re calling her a witch.” James’ drew his wand but Sirius jerked it out of his hand and shoved it back in his robe.
“Are you out of your mind?” he hissed. “We’ll be lucky if they don’t stone us as well.”
“Stoned?” James sounded as if he was going to vomit. “Is that what they’re doing?”
Sirius didn’t answer. How could James be so naïve? If the muggles couldn’t find a real witch or wizard to stone, they’d more be more than happy to take a substitute. “We need to find my uncle and get out of here. Come on.” Sirius grabbed James’ arm and pulled him through the edges of the crushing mob and to the back of the stage.
“Sirius –" James’ voice broke and Sirius turned to see what he was staring at.
Curled into a ball at the center of the stage, the long haired woman that had waved to his uncle was screaming for help. The crowd had turned on her, though, and continued to pelt her incessantly with rocks and pebbles they found lying on the ground. Shrieks of “witch” and “kill her” flooding into the night and Sirius closed his ears. Grabbing James by the shoulders, he turned him away from the scene.
“Sirius – "
“Shut up, James.” Sirius murmured, unable to tear his own eyes away from the blood now spilling from the woman’s body. Although the crowd hadn’t noticed, her screaming had ceased and Sirius dropped his head. James had noticed the difference, and he struggled to move but Sirius held tight to his shoulders, refusing to let him turn toward the scene.
“Sirius, what are you doing here?” His uncle’s face was filled with worry and it looked as if he was fighting off tears. “You’re that Potter boy, right?” His uncle turned toward James. “Where are you parents, you shouldn’t be here.”
“They are over at the – "
“Go. And go the long way, if I see you so much as pause or turn around – "
“Yes, sir.” Without so much as a backwards glance to Sirius he disappeared.
“Sirius, we have to get you home. We’ll talk about this later, but – " he trailed off, his eyes locked on something far behind Sirius. “Stay here.”
Sirius barely acknowledged his uncle’s orders. Flashes of the woman’s bloody and beaten body kept assaulting his mind no matter how hard he tried to keep them out. He didn’t think he had the strength or energy to move even if he wanted to.
“Sirius,” his uncle whispered heavily making Sirius turn.
His uncle’s weary face exuding something Sirius couldn’t quite comprehend and his uncle stepped aside to reveal the young girl Sirius had noticed earlier. She looked rather stunned, her eyes glazed over as if she was somewhere else. She had wrapped her arms tight around her chest her gaze fixed on something in the distance.
“I’ve made a portkey, Sirius.” His uncle took hold of Sirius’ arm to get his attention. “We’re going back to Grimmauld.”
Sirius nodded, still watching the girl. “Is she – "
“Hold tight to her hand, please, she’s coming with us.”
Sirius nodded and took her hand in his. She looked at him for a moment, as if trying to determine whether he was friend or foe. Whether she came to a decision or not, Sirius couldn’t tell, but the look of resignation on her face was evident.
With a slight jolt to his midsection, the three arrived in front of Grimmauld. The girl stumbled slightly and Sirius reached out to help her straighten herself. She jerked away from his touch, as if the change of location had finally brought her to her senses. She shivered slightly as she surveyed her new surroundings.
Sirius pulled off his cloak and helped the girl pull it on. He waited for her to close it up but she seemed too stunned or scared to do anything. Sirius began fixing the closures, his eyes watching her curiously. He had never known his uncle to take in a stray and he wasn’t quite sure what to do with her. It didn’t help that he knew she was a muggle.
“Thank you, Sirius, that was very kind.” His uncle appeared behind him and placed a comforting hand on the girl’s shoulder then knelt beside her. “What’s your name?” His question met silence. “Do you have any other family we can take you to?” She shook her head and Sirius could see his uncle shiver. “Then, I suppose you’ll have to come with us for awhile. Do you understand?”
“Yes, master.” She bowed slightly and Sirius could see his uncle recoil.
His voice was unsteady when he spoke. “Sirius, take her to your room. Don’t let your parents see her until I’ve had a chance to talk to them, understand?”
“I have to go to the Ministry of Magic to sort this out but I’ll be back shortly.”
Sirius nodded. “I’ll take care of her.”
His uncle ruffled his hair. “I know you will.”
Taking her by the hand, Sirius pulled her into one of the darkened passageways of his house and into his bedroom. Closing the door tightly behind him, the girl began making tentative steps around his room. Her movements unnerved Sirius, who had never had anyone but family in his bedroom. He watched her from paces away, wondering when his uncle would come and rescue him from the whole situation. She seemed to be checking herself for injuries and Sirius became worried. “Are you hurt?”
Although she didn’t answer, Sirius could see blood on her hands and he moved to her. “Let me see.” Kneeling beside her, Sirius pulled down the cloak. “You have a cut on your shoulder. I can fix that if you’ll let me.”
She eyed him fearfully but Sirius’ touches were soft and gentle. “What’s your name?” he asked as he slowly removed the cloak so he could get to her wounds.
“No, it’s not.”
“It’s the one I’m telling you,” she returned and Sirius smiled.
“Well, Cat, would you like some tea?” Sirius tapped her lightly on the shoulder with his wand, her wounds immediately healed.
She tilted her head at him, her eyes filled with curiosity. “You’re a wizard then?”
Sirius didn’t answer and began pouring her a cup of tea.
“How old are you?”
“Ten, almost eleven.”
“You don’t act ten, almost eleven.”
He wasn’t sure if she was making fun of him, so Sirius merely shrugged as he handed her the teacup. “That’s what everyone says. You don’t seem old enough to be dancing like you were out there.”
“And you aren’t supposed to do magic underage.” Cat gave Sirius a hint of a grin but it immediately dissolved. “Are you always this direct?”
“Indeed he is.” Sirius’ uncle appeared in the doorway. “Sirius, a word please.” He motioned for Sirius to join him in the hall.
The serious look on his face told Sirius all he needed to know. “Her mum is dead?”
“I’m afraid so. Has she told you anything?”
“A made-up name.” Sirius shook his head. “She was injured but I already took care of that.”
“Good boy. I suppose that will require me to intercept an underage wizard letter from the ministry to your parents?” Sirius started to reply but he waved him off. “Not that the ministry would interfere in what goes on in this house anyway. I’ve brought her some clothes. It wouldn’t do to have your parents meet her when she’d dressed like that. See that she gets cleaned up and I’ll go find your father.”
“Is she staying with us?”
His uncle turned back to him, a dark look washing over him. “I’ll see if your parents will accept her to help around the house. Sirius,” he lowered his voice, “she has seen more than you could ever imagine. She hasn’t led the privileged life you have.”
“That’s a warning,” Sirius stated, knowing but still not quite understanding.
“Be careful how you treat her in front of your parents. She is a muggle, never forget that in their presence. They will not tolerate any friendship between you two,” his uncle said quietly. “Go. I’ll see what I can do.”
Sirius nodded and entered the room much more hesitantly. She was watching him expectantly and Sirius wasn’t sure what to say.
“My mother is dead?”
“My uncle –"
“I didn’t ask him, I asked you,” she said pointedly.
Under her penetrating gaze, Sirius’ cool faltered. “Yes, she is.”
Cat nodded then patted a spot beside her for Sirius to join her. “You had a fun day?”
Sirius sank down beside her, his confusion showing on his face but she only smiled.
“Don’t look so terrified. I’m not going to fall to pieces in front of you. I don’t suppose even you are old enough to face that.”
Sirius let out a breath of relief. “It was my first time. I’ve never seen such a colorful world. The lights, the music, the dancing…”
“Hm.” Cat glanced around. “Your world does seem a bit bleak. Your family, they are dark wizards?”
Sirius wouldn’t meet her gaze, but instead busied himself by waving his wand to start a fire in the fireplace across from them.
“Ah, I see. You and your uncle, then? You two disagree with their beliefs.”
“How did you know that?” Sirius tilted his head in amazement.
“Would you have saved me otherwise?” Cat asked softly.
“Why were they doing those things to your mum?” Sirius asked hesitantly as he watched her begin to untie the jewel colored ribbons that adorned her hair. “Calling her names and throwing things at her?”
This time, Cat hesitated. “You saw those things?”
When Sirius nodded, Cat placed a hand on his arm. “Then, it’s no wonder you act so old. You’ve seen too much to be so young,” she answered. “People hate what they don’t understand, Sirius, but I have the feeling you already know that.”
“Sirius! I asked you to make sure she changed.” His uncle’s voice made them both jump.
“I’m sorry, I – " Sirius began but was cut off.
“Nevermind.” His uncle turned to the girl. “Cat, is it?”
“Yes, master.” Cat jumped to her feet.
“First off, don’t ever call me that. Secondly, the Blacks have been kind enough to offer you residence here if you are willing to work for your keep. I can attest for your safety, you won’t find a safer place in the world save Hogwarts. But I can’t attest for your happiness.” He watched her closely for some reaction, but she merely nodded.
“I’d be honored, sir.”
“How old are you?”
Sirius watched as his uncle peered down at Cat. She moved a pace closer to him and, with only a brief sideways glance at Sirius, Cat touched his uncle’s arm lightly. “How old do you need me to be?”
“More experienced than I counted on at any rate,” his uncle answered, his eyes narrowing. Cat immediately withdrew her hand.
“Yes, sir.” Cat stood tall, waiting for what she expected to be the worst requirement of all.
Sirius could tell she was scared; her tiny body was trembling beneath his large cloak. Stepping forward, he touched her shoulder gently as his uncle knelt down to face her.
His voice was kind, accepting with no questions. It was the voice that comforted Sirius most. “Are you alright, Cat?” he asked softly. “Is there anything we can do?”
Sirius wasn’t prepared for the depths of her emotions. While his mother had always kept her sorrows hidden, at his uncle’s soft words, Cat melted. Her sobs and tears were uncontrollable and her body shook as the memories of the night overcame her. In a single move that Sirius neither welcomed nor expected, she had turned and buried herself in his arms.
Sirius’ arms wrapped around her automatically but his eyes, wide with fear, focused on his uncle.
Touching Sirius softly on the shoulder, he smiled reassuringly. “Everything will be fine. I’ll send one of the aids along to help get her situated.”
Sirius nodded, wishing frantically that his uncle wasn’t leaving him alone again with this sobbing mushy stranger. He certainly didn’t know what to do with her, so Sirius stood still, embracing her tightly until the maids came to his rescue. With more compassion than he knew they had, they eased her away from Sirius and disappeared down the hall.
Sirius stood stunned for a moment, knowing he should probably go check on her or talk to his parents or something. But more than anything, he just wanted to forget the entire night had ever happened. Too tired to remove his clothes, Sirius collapsed onto his bed in exhaustion. It seemed like only moments before he was being stirred awake.
Rubbing his eyes, Sirius pulled himself to sit up, the worried look on his uncle’s face scaring him.
“What’s happened?” Sirius’ voice broke with exhaustion and fear.
“No, everything’s okay.” His uncle placed a hand on his arm. “I wanted to check on you before I left….to make sure you’re okay.”
“I’m okay.” Sirius smiled faintly.
“The truth, Sirius.” His voice was calm but forceful.
Sirius shook his head, so many questions filling his mind that he didn’t even know where to begin.
“Her mother, you understand she was killed because people thought she was different?” his uncle prodded gently and Sirius nodded. “She has no family. This is now her home, for better or worse. Do you understand that?”
He nodded again, certain that that was the one thing he actually did understand.
“Sirius,” his voice got quieter than even his normal whisper, “you understand she will be in danger here, don’t you? Her future is uncertain?”
“It’s unfair to her.”
“Sometimes keeping someone close to you is the only way to keep them safe. I saw you befriend the Potter boy, Sirius. I know you understand what I’m saying.”
Sirius refused to nod, refused to acknowledge what his uncle was saying but he did exchange a conspiratorial smile.
“Good.” He patted him affectionately. “Sirius, can I ask you something?” he moved to rest his back against the headboard beside Sirius.
“Her touch, it frightened you.”
“No, it didn’t.”
“Sirius,” his uncle chastised.
“Well, what was I supposed to do? She just fell apart!” Sirius argued.
“Had nothing to do with her being a muggle, then?”
His uncle didn’t comment but Sirius could see the relief wash over him. “You gave her what she needed and nothing less. That’s the secret to keeping a girl happy.”
“But why?” Sirius asked exasperated. “You were there. You would’ve known what to do.”
“Because, Sirius,” his uncle smiled as he wrapped an arm around his shoulders, “she chose you.”
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