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It had been four months, one week, eight hours, and five minutes from when Sirius Black had kissed Ripley Todd in the Common Room in front of their Head of House. In the four months since then he and Ripley had agreed to disagree about their attraction to one another. They danced around each other, around their feelings, and bollocks to that. And now, his gaze shifted across the train car to where she sat her nose buried into a book about Curses, Counter Curses and Jinxes. And now they were heading to Ireland, to her home--he had never been before, and the fact that she had still gone through with the plan gave him hope. Ripley looked up as if feeling his gaze on her, she offered a small smile. Brienne lay sprawled beside her, head in her sister's lap as the early morning sun shifted in and out of clouds. 

 

“We’ll take a portkey when we reach the station,” Ripley said after a moment. “It’ll take us just outside of Aunt Claire’s cottage.”

 

“What’s the sleeping arrangement looking like?” James asked casually from where he and Lily sat snuggled together. 

 

“I’ll assume the two of you will want to share a bed.”

 

“It would be nice,” admitted Lily with a slight flush. “If we’re able.”

 

“Consider it done.” 

 

“Remus has his own room,” Ripley lifted her eyes finally to Sirius. “Brienne and I have our own rooms. You and I will be bunk mates.”

 

“Will we?” Sirius asked with a hint of a smile. “Lucky me.” 

 

“She snores,” Lily deadpanned in order to break the tension so thick she could have cut it with a knife. “Horribly.”

 

“Ah, feck off.” Ripley tossed the carton of a chocolate frog at her best friend. “She talks in her sleep.” 

 

“So do you,” the red head shot back with a winning smile. “Among other--”

 

 

“All right, all right,” Ripley conceded  with a scowl. “We’re done.” 

 

There was a lapse of silence broken here and there by Lily’s giggle. They were only missing Peter, who had been told firmly by his family that he would spend the holidays at home in England and not with his ‘pals’ in Ireland. No skin of her back, thought Ripley. She didn’t mind Peter, but her closest bonds were definitely in the train car, crammed together. 

 

“Who’ll be cooking?” asked Sirius as his stomach grumbled. She rolled her eyes, and pointed at herself. “You can cook?”

 

“Kitchen witch for a mother,” she reminded him. “I can cook, bake, brew potions. Weird, right?” 

 

“Sarcasm noted.” 

0-0-0

In a few hours slightly unsteady from the portkey Ripley shoved the sturdy wooden door of a stone cottage with thatched roof open. She shouldered her leather weekender bag, and with her wand drawn entered the cottage. Sirius drew his wand as she had, questioning her sixth sense as the cottage appeared normal, minus furnishings, he opened his mouth question, but She tapped the staircase, muttered a word. The lamps on the walls flared to life, the wooden floors gleamed, and the cottage was fully furnished. “She doesn’t like dust on her things,” explained Ripley. “It’s a little spell, but useful. Plus if there’s any squatters they don’t touch her shite.” 

 

“Wise,” Lily nodded in approval. “Powder room?” 

 

“I’ll do you one better and bring you all to your rooms, settle in, do what you will.” Ripley led the way up the creaking staircase. “Lily and James,” she jerked her head to the right, at an open door into the master bedroom painted a warm, sunny yellow. “Ensuite bathroom.” 

 

“Thank Merlin,” Lily sailed through, leaving James behind with the luggage. Brienne had already darted off to her own room. Remus took the smaller room boasting two twin beds across from the master. 

 

“You’ll share the bath with Sirius and I,” Ripley nodded toward one of the doors on the west wall. “We’ll figure out shower times later.” 

 

“Brienne?”

 

“She’ll use the wee bathroom downstairs, she’s young, stairs won’t kill her.” Ripley smiled wryly. “Sirius?”

 

“Last but not least.” He said and opened the door at the end of the hall. He smelt--her--he realized when he opened the door. It was wonderfully furnished, polished oak furnishings, deep sage green walls that brought to mind relaxation. The smell, lemon and beeswax, a hint of lavender. She set her bag down on the ivory chaise that lay at the foot of the bed. “We’ll figure out where we’ll sleep--”

 

“Oh, fucks sake, Rip,” Sirius turned to her with a scowl. “I’m perfectly capable of sharing a bed with you without being overcome with lust.”

 

“Noted.” She replied with a slight smirk. “I sleep on the side closest to the door.” She went to move past him, to make a list for the market, but he stopped her with a gentle hand on her pelvis. 

 

“Ripley, have you been avoiding me?”

 

“Four months later and you’re asking that?”

 

“Call it a hunch.”

 

“I’m not avoiding, I’m distancing--there’s a difference.” She patted his hand, a hint to let her pass. “There’ll come a time,” she continued to the door, placed a slender hand on the frame, turned her head to look at him over her shoulder. “Where I will be ready--but it’s not now Sirius. Not when we’re eighteen, not during a war, and not before I’m an Auror.”  She left the room, leaving the scent of rosemary and spearmint from her hair potions. 

 

“We’ll see about that.” 

0-0-0

 

The cottage boasted a large kitchen, it was the heart of the home afterall, with its big hearth of stone, thick slab table with benches, and a bowl of fruit always stocked. Ripley listened to the muggle radio, her aunt lived as a muggle to fit in more, with the occasional magical touch. It would help her in the long run, when she stayed with Claire she learned the ways of muggles, to act like them, talk like them. Live like them. A perfect spy for the Ministry, capable of fitting in and protecting both worlds. So, she kneaded dough for bread by hand, it calmed her, relaxed her as cooking always had. The scent of the drying herbs that hung from the exposed beams above the four paned window above the sink comforted her.

 

She gazed out at the mist covered hills, and when a favored song came only smiled softly, and let her voice lift in song. “I don't know if you can see the changes that have come over me.  In these last few days I've been afraid that I might drift away. I've been telling old stories, singing songs that make me think about where I've come from, that's the reason why I seem so far away today--”

 

“I always knew you could sing,” Remus spoke for the open doorway of the kitchen that led to the mudroom, she turned her head, smiled softly as she continued to sing softly under her breath. “It’s a sad song?”

 

“Tis about coming home,” said Ripley as she turned the dough into an oiled bowl, covered it with a linen towel to rise. “About Ireland, change and growth."

 

“Naturally,” his ears perked up as a reel began to play from the radio. “Do you know this?” 

 

“It’s called The Reel Around The Sun.” She dusted her hands off from flour, held out her hands with a smile. “C’mon then.”

 

“Oh Ripley, I don’t know…” Remus looked doubtfully at her even as she grabbed his hands and began to swing him around the kitchen.

 

“I don’t know how--”

 

“I’ll teach you,” she spun him in three quick turns, and led him down the length of the flagstone floor. He managed to catch on a little, she was rusty at it--it had been a long time since she had danced or sung, yet here she was. 

 

Sirius watched from the doorway, James and Lily flanking him as she tossed her head back laughing, her brown eyes shining as Remus took a turn to spin her in three tight circles, catching her round the waist. Her curls, longer now from her hair cut, spun out as they turned, her feet executed what he knew were ‘Irish steps’, quick and graceful.

 

“Oh Hell.” He murmured as her peal of laughter sent a warm shiver down his spine. 

 

“And there it is,” muttered James as he watched his best mate fall in love before his eyes. Lily hummed softly beneath her breath, and held onto James’ hand, cherished the moment. The song ended and Remus breathless landed hard on a bench at the table. Ripley, cheeks flushed, smile wide turned, and froze when she saw her audience. “Brie is taking a nap.” Lily broke the silence. 

 

“Traveling tires her out easily,” stated Ripley. She got a kettle on the boil, moved to the fridge and put together a little cheese and meat tray to carry them through until dinner. Sirius stoked the fire, putting more peat on, while Remus, Lily and James sat down at the table. 

 

“Anything I can do to help?” asked Sirius as he leaned on the counter beside Ripley. She shook her head. “Is that you being stubborn?”

 

“That’s me being able to handle a cheese tray,” replied the Irishwoman dryly. She drew down solid stoneware mugs from the open shelves, selected a squat sturdy teapot, filled it with boiling water. Sirius plopped tea bags in the mugs, carried them over without her asking. She pursed her lips, but chose not to say anything, instead she set the tray on the table, passed the tea pot around. 

 

There was a companionable lull of silence, broken now and then only by the crunch of crackers. Finally James spoke. “Any word from your parents?”

 

“They’re alive,” said Ripley darkly. “Da won’t say much in letters, but they’ll floo on Christmas if they can.” She fiddled with the string of her used tea bag, seeking the words. “I think--I know--that what they’re doing, what the Order is doing is the right thing.”

 

“But?” inquired Lily, her hand tensed under James, and he squeezed it to lend comfort.

 

“But they need people--they need soldiers.”

 

“You,” Sirius began, cupping his hands around his mug. “Are not a soldier.”

 

“Neither are my parents,” she shot back, eyes fierce. “And what are they doing? I can’t let them do it alone.”

 

“They are others.”

 

“Oh, aye, there’s always others,” snarled Ripley rising to pace, mug in hand. “There’ll always be others.” She flicked her wand at the lights to brighten the suddenly dim kitchen. “But when they fall, who takes their place?”

 

“Ripley, they won’t…” Lily began but faltered at her friend's distraught face. 

 

“Won’t what, Lily? Get killed? We’re in a war.” Ripley glanced at the door of the kitchen when she heard the stirrings upstairs, lowered her voice. “D’ya think I haven’t come to terms with the fact that my ma and da are doing dangerous missions? I’ve thought of their deaths every night since they joined, I’ve dreamt that I’ve had to bury both parents. I’d rather be there fighting beside them, then sitting in the bloody unknown all the time.” Her voice caught unexpectedly, and she turned her back toward her friends, to strengthen herself, to compose. “The point is,” she continued on, her voice wavering slightly. “When we graduate, when I’m an Auror, I will join the fight.” 

 

Silence hung in the air thick as the fog that had creeped in around the cottage, the peat fire crackled suddenly, and Remus spoke. “I’ll join you.”

 

Lily looked sideways at James, got his node. “We will as well,” she announced, inclining her chin at Sirius’ gawk. 

 

Ripley turned slightly at the sound of Sirius rising from his bench, watched him warily as he moved to the fireplace, tossed more peat in, he held a brick, motioned at her with it. “The Wizarding World may be at war, but we are not.”

 

“We are citizens of the Wizarding World,” argued Ripley, she gestured with her arm at all of them. “We are witches, we are wizards, our students will be targeted if they are Muggleborn. Not too mention this tyrant will target Muggles soon. And then what, Sirius?” 

 

“Why should I stand for them when they’ve done nothing for us?”

 

“Careful Sirius,” warned Ripley coldly. “Your starting to sound like mommy dear."

 

James let out a soft hiss of breath. “Easy Rip.” Sirius smiled slightly at his friend. “Maybe--maybe we should just let this rest.” James suggested helpfully.

 

Ripley scoffed. “War is the only way, it’s come to that now.”

 

“I have no family,” Sirius spoke gruffly now, his throat tight with emotion. “Everyone in this cottage right now is my family. What happens if you go to war?” His eyes latched onto Ripley’s, held. “What happens when that war you so crave to join enters our homes, our school, breaks families apart,” his voice broke, the hoarseness burned. “And the innocent will die with the rest of us. I will not fight, nor will I ask others to fight in my absence.” He departed the room, with Remus and James hot on his heels. Ripley stared after him, brown eyes swimming with tears.

 

Lily moved to her, wrapped her into a hug. “We’ll pull through. Sirius will see.” 

 

“Will he?” asked Ripley quietly, and let the silent tears fall.

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