the present
Chapter 10: Manipulation

“You look very handsome.”

Sirius glanced from the mirror as he shaved. Juliette, already dressed in her long pink nightgown, was watching him intently, her head tipped inquisitively to the side as he’d seen Hermione do many times in her youth. Unlike Hermione, though, he couldn’t help but sense the pureblood air about her…undoubtedly instilled by Draco. Her words heralded in memories of his own childhood, where proper language and etiquette were demanded long before you could even walk. He made a mental note to try and rectify her noble upbringing before it ruined the inquisitive part of her he had already fallen in love with.

“Are you going out?”

“As a matter of fact, I am,” he nodded and motioned for her to hop onto the counter beside him. She jumped to the cold marble slab, dangling her feet over the edge, her tiny lace rimmed socks causing him to grin. “And just where have you been all day? I thought we had a date to decorate Grimmauld?”

Juliette frowned and her unusual silence caused him to look her way. Her eyes were downcast, though, not meeting his. Laying down his razor, he tipped her face to his. “That’s a rather serious face you’re making.”

She nodded but still didn’t respond. Tugging a towel off the nearby rack, she began wiping off the foam that still clung to his cheeks. “Are they always so rosy after you shave?” she murmured.

Sirius took her hands tightly in his, pulling them away from his face. “Juliette,” he chastised gently.

He could feel her grip tighten on the towel, her tiny fingers wringing it as if it somehow would calm her. “Draco doesn’t like you very much,” she managed.

Sirius knew better than to laugh at her. As if I care a bit what the Malfoy brat likes, he thought indignantly. “Indeed?” he asked, managing to keep his face expressionless. “Took you away today, did he?”

She nodded, confusion evident on her face. She wrapped her arms around Sirius' neck and buried her face in his chest. After a moment, he folded his arms around her, gently comforting her, uncertain if he was doing it right. She wasn't crying, but he didn't think it would take much, her little fists were clenched tightly in his robes and her face was fearful and guilty. Carrying her into the bedroom, he sank down on top of his jacket, pulling her to settle on his lap.

“Juliette, what do you know of the great war?” he asked, brushing unruly hairs away from her face.

“The good guys won,” she brightened a little. “Mommie was one of the good guys.”

“Yes, she was,” he hesitated, determined to make sure he didn’t confuse her even more. She was watching him intently, pleading with him to tell the truth. He had seen it echoed in Regulus’ face enough times through the years to recognize it immediately and he could almost envision himself wearing the exact same expression as a child- asking only honesty and respect even if someone thought you were too young to understand. Somewhere in the back of his mind alarms blared, warning him that he should probably check with Hermione before discussing this with Juliette, but he dismissed it quickly. No one would give him that look and be denied like he was. “When Draco was very young he was not on the good side.”

“He’s a bad guy?” her brow furrowed immediately and he chuckled.

“No. He made a mistake. You understand about mistakes, don’t you?”

“Oh, yes,” she nodded. “We forgive people for those.”

“Yes, we should,” he faltered, choosing his words with extraordinary care in hopes of containing any bitterness. “Draco was lead to believe I was a criminal. I don’t think anyone has really explained to him what actually happened.”

“Everyone thought you were a murderer,” she whispered, shifting in his lap and intertwining her tiny fingers with his own. “But it was Peter Pettigrew.”

Sirius started, his eyes searching hers. “How—"

She sent him a mischievous smile. “Uncle Remus’ bedtime stories are always based on something,” she shrugged. “I pulled out old newspapers.”

“You are much, much too clever, little girl,” he chuckled, ruffling her head.

She fumbled with the buttons on his dress shirt, her smile calming a quiver in Sirius’ stomach that he hadn’t even noticed. “Can’t you just tell him you’re good?”

Unable to say what was on his mind, Sirius winked at her in response then moved her off of his lap gently, returning to the mirror to finish dressing. She brought him his jacket dutifully and, as he tugged it on, she began brushing off the tiny bits of pink fuzz that had attached to it from her socks.

“Well, I think if we’ve had to forgive Draco for the things he’s done then he should have to forgive you.”

Sirius hesitated, his eyes narrowing. “What do you mean?” he asked in the lightest tone he could manage.

“Juliette,” Remus’ quiet voice made them both turn. “I believe its time for that story I promised.” His eyes were glazed and he glanced away from Sirius quickly, knowing his emotions could be easily read. Ignoring Sirius altogether, he took Juliette’s hand to tug her away.

Try as he might, Sirius couldn’t control the rage welling within him. He tried to remind himself that Draco was just immature- that he didn’t know better- but that was the Draco he remembered, not the one he was faced with now. He knew Draco had it in him to be manipulative…hell, he couldn’t be a pureblood without at least learning that. But to do so to a child was unthinkable...even Sirius wouldn’t be that deceptive, no matter what the stakes were. The more he thought about it- the more he envisioned the hurt and confused look on Juliette’s face and Remus’ pathetic attempt to keep something from him- the more reckless he became. When she kissed him good night, her trust and innocence overwhelmed him and it was more than Sirius could possibly stand.

He strode into the main hall, pushing past Tonks who was waiting patiently for Remus to return so they could leave. His cloak billowing behind him, his face contorted into a fiery rage, he moved quickly to the kitchen, striding past Hermione. Without even the tiniest pause, his fist plowed into Draco’s face, knocking him to the ground with a single swing.

Draco grabbed for his jaw in shock, blood dripping through his fingers. “What the hell are you doing?”

Sirius dropped his knee onto Draco’s chest, his voice a low growl. “Never again shall I hear you’ve tried to manipulate that little girl. If you want me, Malfoy, you name the day but I will not allow you hide behind a child. Am I abundantly clear on that?”

He lifted his knee slightly, enough for Draco to take a gasp of breath. When he didn’t answer, Sirius shoved it back down, barreling his full body weight into Draco’s ribs. Only a slight crack that echoed in the still kitchen gave any indication of the force he was exerting. “Do I need to repeat myself?”

“No,” Draco choked, his face turning pale white with his pain.

“I thought not,” he hissed then stood up. After straightening his clothing and giving one last glance to Draco’s crumbled form, he offered Hermione a smile. “Are you ready to go, Hermione?”

She glanced hesitantly at his smiling face, her eyes drifting to Draco’s crumbled form. Sirius touched her chin and turned it toward him, an act of supreme confidence considering they were standing within wand’s reach of Draco…she couldn’t decide if it made her angry or excited but she somehow knew reacting to his blind act of masculinity with either emotion would give him the upper hand.

“Do you intend to explain this to me?” she asked quietly, her gaze locking with his.

Sirius considered her for a moment, ignored the worried gaze Draco shot him, and then chuckled. “Now what on earth would possess me to do that?”

“Oh, perhaps, honesty, truthfulness…”

His head fell back in laughter. “You have once again confused me with someone else. I have no intention of spending my evening talking about Draco. Now, do you intend to welch on that bet or shall we get moving?”

Her eyes narrowed at his challenge, a brief thought of how long it would take him to get drunk passing through her mind. It took her only seconds to map out a plan for the evening…a step by step guide to finding out what had gotten him so angry at Draco in just a mere few hours. She took her arm in his and let him lead her away, ideas still teeming across her mind. It was only when they were a few blocks away and his grip tightened around her shoulders that he finally spoke.

“Don’t try, Hermione,” he murmured quietly. “Yes, I intend to drink and yes, you can possibly get me to the point of telling you. But,” he gazed at her meaningfully, “trust me when I tell you it’s something you’d prefer not to be involved in right now.”

“Right now?” she questioned softly, somehow believing him. Unlike everyone else who seemed to be trying to protect her from everything, Sirius seemed willing to let her in…at least eventually.

“I made the mistake once in my life of keeping people in the dark too long, Hermione,” he nodded regretfully, “don’t think I didn’t learn my lesson.”

The silence that hung after his words caused her heart to ache. After a few steps, she stretched up to kiss his cheek. “Enough depressing thoughts for one evening, it’s time to let the world know Sirius Black has returned.”

Author’s Note: Wa-hoo! Everyone ready for a night out? Who do you bank on benefiting the most from any “celebrating” they may do? Think anyone will interrupt their evening out and will Draco plot revenge? Oh! The burning questions!!! I’m having just so much fun with this story and I hope you are, too. Let me know what you think and thanks so much for all the support!

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