A/N: I am so, so sorry for the ridiculously long wait. I was cut off the internet for the last ten days - ten days!! It was awful, I couldn't check my e-mails, I couldn't update ... so frustrating, since I had this chapter written for ages! Well, now that I'm back, updates will be coming as usual!
The hallway looked just like she had last seen it. No one had bothered to clean up; dust still covered the floor and walls. There was almost no sign of anybody living in the house. “Sirius?”
Rachel heard him come down the staircase and her heart immediately started to speed up, but he stopped at the foot of the stairs, staring her down.
At first, he had refused to move into Grimmauld place. He seemed to hate it; it was, after all, the old home of his family, the family that had never accepted him. However, Dumbledore could convince anyone, and Sirius had moved into Grimmauld place with a lot of complaints. Rachel had preferred not to tell him about who had been the one to come up with the idea of moving him there.
So far, his attitude towards her hadn’t changed at all; but Rachel still foolishly allowed herself to hope, thinking that maybe … deep down … the old Sirius might still be alive.
His eyes flashed angrily at her. “What are you doing here?” he snapped.
She took a deep breath, her insides clenching together painfully at his harsh tone. “I just wanted to see you … wanted to check whether you needed some help …”
Sirius’ grit his teeth together and took an angry step towards her, but stopping immediately. She felt a strange sense of disappointment – she longed for him to be close to her.
“I thought I made it clear before!” he snapped. “I don’t want you here!”
Rachel swallowed, daringly taking a step closer to him. “Sirius, I don’t know why you have changed like that. But you can snap at me all you want. I’m not giving up on you.”
His face hardened, his body very stiff. “Get out”, he whispered.
She didn’t move. “Sirius, I am your wife. I am not leaving you. I love you.”
“Rachel, I do not want you anywhere near me, do you understand that? I don’t want you here, or anywhere near this house, or this neighbourhood. Get out now.”
She pressed her lips together, her feet not moving, a crazy little voice inside of her whispering that if she made him throw her out himself, he’d have to touch her.
“Rachel, I mean it. You wouldn’t understand when I tried to tell you nicely, so I’ll tell you like this. Get the hell out and don’t ever come back again. I do not want you near me.”
The words stung so badly that Rachel automatically took a step back, her fists clenched.
Tears stung in her eyes and she whirled around instinctively, bumping against the heavy black curtain hanging from the wall.
“Stains of dishonour! Children of filth!” A screeching voice filled the hall and both Sirius’ and Rachel’s eyes widened. Bumping against the curtain she had pushed it apart, and a part of the old, ugly woman screeching in the portrait showed behind the moth-eaten cloth.
She could hear Sirius’ short breathing behind her and her heart skipped a beat. She stood, unable to move.
He was behind her … not very close, not touching her, but closer than before.
His grey eyes were fixed on the portrait, and he raised a hand to push the curtains away completely from the picture.
“Blood traitor! Shame of my flesh!”
Sirius jumped backwards as the woman screeched ear-deafeningly at the sight of him.
Rachel’s face paled as she understood – of course, the woman in the portrait was Mrs. Black.
“This is your mother?” she said faintly, staring at the screeching woman.
Sirius didn’t answer. He was ghostly pale, his jaw clenched tightly, staring at his mother’s portrait, unmoving. Finally he gave a sort of jerk of the head that could be interpreted as a nod.
“Blood-traitor! Scum! Creatures of filth!”
Mrs Black’s screeching was muffled abruptly by Sirius using all his strength and managing to force the curtains closed with Rachel’s help, a bitter look on his face. He turned to look at her and for a moment it seemed like he was going to say something, but then his expression hardened again and he closed his mouth. Rachel felt misery well up inside of her as he turned away from her.
At that moment, they heard the doorbell ring. Rachel turned and walked to the door, looking back over her shoulder as she reached it. Where Sirius had been, now sat a big, black dog.
She smiled sadly and unlocked the door and a beaming Dumbledore walked inside briskly.
“Hello Rachel,” he said, smiling brightly at her.
“Hello Albus,” she mumbled.
Behind Dumbledore, Dorcas entered the house, then Remus, Moody, Kingsley, and several other members of the Order. Rachel greeted them all with a nervous smile, the large black dog standing behind her.
Once they were all seated around the table in the dining room, Dumbledore stood up and began to speak.
“As all of you know, from now on, this is the Order of the Phoenix’ headquarters. We already talked over the security measurements, so that should be clear. Any more questions?”
No one answered.
“Good then. There is still another matter of considerable importance to be discussed, the main reason that I told you all to come over here today. Rachel -”
Rachel nodded and stood up, her body shaking slightly as she observed her friends’ faces. She couldn’t fight off the memories of how they had tried to convince her of Sirius’ guilt, of having to stay away from him … she shook herself slightly. This was the past. She had to focus on the future.
“Well, everybody, I think there’s only one way to show you.” She turned to the black dog sitting on the floor beside her. “Sirius – please.”
The shaggy black dog turned into a fully grown man.
A loud commotion erupted around the table. “That’s Sirius Black!” Dorcas shrieked. Moody was staring at Sirius, the look on his face scarier than ever before. Most of the others were just staring, some had stumbled backwards, and fear was recognizable on each face, except those of Remus, Dumbledore, and the Weasleys, whom Dumbledore had told everything at the beginning of summer.
Sirius stood still, his lips pressed together tightly, his eyes dark and the haunted look of Azkaban clearly visible in them.
Dumbledore held up a hand to stop the situation from getting out of control. He walked towards Sirius and stood beside him.
“Please, my friends, give Rachel a chance to explain.”
Rachel smiled tightly at everyone. “Look. I know you never believed me when I said Sirius was innocent, but he is, and none of you is in danger. Just please hear me out. This is going to take a while.
“Everyone believed Sirius was James’ and Lily’s secret keeper, but he wasn’t. In truth it was someone else, the traitor that we were suspecting – Peter Pettigrew. He betrayed Lily and James, and that night, Sirius here was following him, since he was the only one who knew Pettigrew was the secret keeper …”
It took a long while to tell the story. At times, Rachel couldn’t continue anymore, and then Dumbledore filled in. Sirius stayed silent; she wished he would say something and sometimes felt like he was about to, but he never did. After what seemed like hours, they had finally told everything – from the Fidelius Charm to Sirius living in a cave by Hogsmeade.
Tension radiated off Sirius; he was clearly very uncomfortable and slightly scared. And for a moment, Rachel forgot the things he had said to her, the way he and his feelings had changed, and acting on impulse just took his cold hand in hers.
A shiver shot through her as they touched and then a warm sensation erupted inside of her, her eyes beginning to sparkle. He didn’t pull away immediately; surprise making him unable to move for a few moments, a few moments of absolute bliss for Rachel. Then she heard him draw a shaky breath and he pulled his hand out of her grasp without a word.
It took another few hours for everyone to be convinced of Sirius’ innocence. Moody, to Rachel’s surprise, was the first one to understand and believe. He walked up to Sirius’, gave him a thumb on the shoulder, and said in his croaky voice, “Sirius, I am very sorry I believed you were a traitor. I hope you’ll forgive us and work with us.”
Sirius was just as surprised as Rachel, eyeing Moody with disbelief. But seeing the sincerity in the other’s eyes, he smiled and nodded. “Sure. It wasn’t your fault.”
The ice was broken then. One after the other, they walked up to Sirius, shaking his hand, and apologizing sincerely. Sirius accepted each apology warmly, obviously extremely grateful for having people believe him.
Rachel was caught in between two strong emotions – deep sadness as she saw him smile at all of them with a warmth his face didn’t hold for her anymore, and happiness at how the Order finally had to accept that she had been right all along in believing in Sirius’ innocence.
Rachel could clearly feel the awkwardness that was there when they looked at her, talked to her, and she knew that each and every one of them was feeling humiliated at the memory of trying to make her turn away from Sirius, trying to convince her of his guilt.
Knowing that they had only meant well, Rachel mustered a degree of understanding that was very unusual for her, and smiled at them warmly, to show that she didn’t blame them, and the tension loosened a little.
Talking to Sirius, no one except Remus and Dumbledore was yet entirely comfortable, even after everyone had officially declared they believed him. Rachel stayed at Sirius’ side the entire evening, and, surrounded by the other members of the Order, he didn’t say a word to make her leave, although he never once smiled or even looked at her either.
One after the other, the Order finally left at night time, Dumbledore being the last to leave before it was only Sirius and Rachel left. Rachel felt fear closing up her throat – fear of him sending her away again. But there was also a small flicker of hope inside of her – the hope that maybe he would finally let her stay. That maybe things would become better again after all. That maybe, deep inside of him, he might be able to start loving her again.
Her hopes were crushed when Sirius turned to stare at her coldly after Dumbledore had left. She stood in the hall awkwardly, waiting for him to either accept her presence or … or …
“What are you still doing here, Rachel?” he asked flatly, without any emotion, and her hopes crumbled. Tears sprung to her eyes.
“I want to stay …”
Sirius sighed in exasperation. “You won’t. Leave.”
“But I don’t want to leave you alone …”
“I am fine, Rachel, just leave.”
She pressed her lips together. “No.”
“We are married, Sirius! Don’t you remember the time we had? Don’t you … don’t you love me at all anymore?”
Sirius’ face turned to stone. She saw something a flicker of something in his eyes, something she couldn’t understand, but it was gone in a second, replaced by the same, hard, cold look he always treated her with.
But desperation wailed up in her and she lost control, her voice rising. “Answer me, Sirius! Do you still love me or don’t you?”
He walked past her, opening the door. “I don’t want you here, Rachel. Get out now.”
“Why won’t you answer? I’ll tell you something, Sirius. I love you. I do. I love you just like I’ve always loved you. And I don’t know what the matter is with you. But I’m not giving up on you.”
He stared at her, his face hard, controlled.
“Rachel, I want you to leave”, he said finally.
“Not before you look me in the eye and tell me that you don’t love me.”
He stiffened noticeably, and a moment of silence passed. Then he suddenly threw the door closed in a violent, angry motion and stood before her, staring down at her, taking deep, angry breaths.
When he finally spoke, his voice was rough.
“I don’t love you.”