Chapter 14 : Better Together
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Sirius ran his hand through his hair for the millionth time that afternoon. Remus chuckled at his friend's behavior.
"If you keep doing that, it's going to fall out, Padfoot." he teased. Sirius payed him no attention, instead peaking between the curtains for the billionth time.
"What if something happened?" he asked nervously, beginning to pace. Remus rolled his eyes.
"Pardus knows how to handle herself. I'm more concerned about what's going to happen once she actually gets here." Remus said, reclining in his seat. Sirius sat back down beside him.
"Yea, I know what you mean, but I already talked about it with Harry, and he seems fine with it."
"I wasn't actually thinking about Harry's reaction." Remus said quietly, and they both winced a bit. Sirius felt a bit bad about inviting her here now. The Order members would probably want to ask a million questions and Sirius knew Valora wouldn't answer them.
"She's so secretive now." He said quietly, more to himself than to Remus.
"She needs to tell Harry the truth. I can't believe you let her lie to him." Remus said. Sirius rolled his eyes.
"Moony, for the last time, I'm not going to force her to do anything she doesn't want to. I might trick her or coerce her into telling him, but I won't force her. You know how she is."
"The most stubborn woman on the planet." Remus said with a laugh that was shared by Sirius.
"It's strange that James isn't here." Sirius said quietly and Remus nodded in agreement.
"And Peter, even though if I saw him now I wouldn't hesitate to kill."
"Still. I feel like the marauders somehow survived." Sirius said. Remus raised an eyebrow.
"Was there ever any doubt?" he asked with a smirk. Sirius thought for a moment before cracking a grin.
"No, not really." they both laughed a bit until there was a quiet knock on the door. Sirius's grin widened and he stood to answer the door with Remus just behind him.
Valora didn't even get a greeting out before Sirius swept her up into his arms, half twirling half carrying her into the house. Once safely on the floor again she dropped her bag and threw her arms around his neck.
"Missed you too, Padfoot." She said. Turning she saw a man smiling at her, with scars on his face.
"Moony?" she asked quietly. He laughed and nodded and Valora jumped on him, squeezing him tightly.
"Did I get so old you can't even recognize me?" he asked, keeping a tight grip on her.
"No, you didn't get old, cause that means I did." she said with a smile as she released him from her grip. They all stood for a moment looking at each other before they burst into laughter. Valora was the first to let her happiness burst forth in the form of raucous laughter and the boys soon followed suit, none of the three knowing what exactly they were laughing at, but by the time everyone heard the commotion and rushed into the foyer to see what was going on Sirius was gripping the bannister for support while Valora and Remus held each other up.
"What's going on here?" Molly asked as she came bustling out of the kitchen. The three marauders immediatley straightened a bit. Valora brushed a tear away from her eye while Remus smoothed out his jacket. The kids rushed down the stairs, Ron, Ginny and Hermione wore matching expressions of shock while Harry was just confused. So Professor Nox was staying for christmas, but he hadn't expected Remus and Sirius to be so excited. All three of them reminded him a bit of Ron, Hermione and himself when they'd reunite at the Burrow during summer holidays.
Valora peeked up at Molly with a shy smile and wide eyes.
"Hi, Molly." she said timidly. Mrs. Weasley's eyes widened.
"Valora?" she half-whispered. Valora nodded and was instantly swept up in a bone-crushing hug.
"Oh my dear! I haven't seen you in sixteen years!" Molly said, crying lightly and she hugged Valora.
"Uh, Molly, ix-nay." Valora whispered into the older woman's ear. Molly leaned back and looked from Valora, to Harry, to Sirius and Remus, then back to Valora before realizing that Harry clearly hadn't been told anything.
"Oh." she said simply, clearly displeased, but Valora merely shrugged. Molly could see that there were other problems Valora was dealing with or had dealt with and so she decided not to press it she simply patted Valora's cheek.
"You've gotten much too thin. I'm making a turkey for dinner so I hope you're hungry."
"Starved." Valora said with a smile. Molly smiled back at her.
"Good." she said. It was then that the four adults glanced at the staircase, to where the six teenagers stood.
"Fred! George! Stop standing there with your mouths open!" Molly hissed at the twins who were staring at Valora like she was an apparition. Ginny stifled laughter at that while Valora blushed lightly and turned to Sirius for help. Sirius hid his own smirk by bending down and grabbing Valora's bag.
"Should I show you to your room then?" he asked. Valora smiled and nodded. She gave a small wave towards the kids as she passed them. Once Valora and Sirius were out of earshot both Fred and George smacked Ron.
"Oi! What's that for?" He asked, rubbing both shoulders where the twins had smacked him.
"Why didn't you warn us?" Fred asked.
"That your teacher was bloody gorgeous!" George said, leaning back to see if he could still glimpse Valora.
"Makes me kinda wish we still went to Hogwarts." Fred said, elbowing George and winking conspiratorily.
"Alright, that's enough of that. Go wash up for supper. It'll be ready soon." Molly said shooing the children upstairs. Harry, however, stayed behind. He walked over to Remus and Molly who were whispering, not realizing he was there.
"Why doesn't the whole Order know she's back?" Mrs. Weasley asked Remus.
"I don't know. Sirius doesn't understand it either."
"Did you know she was still alive?"
"Not until this afternoon. There are huge gaps in the story she told Sirius, and then there are things he says he 'can't' tell me. She's become quite the enigma."
"Enigma? She's more than a enigma, Remus. We've spent 16 years thinking she's dead and now she suddenly returns and Dumbledore and Sirius seem to have been in on it. I don't understand it at all." Molly whispered hotly.
"The real question is why she faked her death in the first place." Remus said quietly.
"She faked her death?" Harry asked, unable to keep the shock from his voice. Molly and Remus both turned with wide eyes at the sixteen year old boy in front of them, looking unbearably guilty.
"Harry, dear! I didn't even see you there. Are you all washed up?" Molly asked, pressing a warm hand to the side of his face. Harry didn't relent.
"Professor Nox faked her death? She lied to all of you and you're still just hugging her and welcoming her back like it never happened?" Harry asked angrily. Remus 'shooshed' him, glancing up at the stairs to make sure neither Valora or Sirius could overhear.
"Come in here." Remus said, pulling Harry into the kitchen followed by Molly. Harry sat down in one of the chairs while Molly busied herself stirring something. Remus sat down across from Harry.
"Valora was supposedly killed about a year after you were born. No body was found but it wasn't rare in those days so we had a funeral and things went on as usual. Clearly, since she's still alive, the entire thing was a fake. I don't understand why and I don't know if I'll ever learn the whole story." Remus said carefully, Molly nodded in agreement while she checked on the turkey. Harry furrowed his brow.
"And you don't care about it? You don't mind that she lied?" Harry asked. Molly sighed and Remus looked to her to handle this one. Molly turned, shaking the wooden spoon in her hand for emphasis.
"Valora Nox is a good woman and a brilliant witch. Whatever she did, Dumbledore has forgiven her, if he wasn't in on it the whole time that is, and if she has Dumbledore's trust she has mine, and she should have yours as well." Molly said before going back to stirring the stuffing.
"Harry, " Remus began "Valora would never betray her friends. Losing her was terrible. Those first few weeks when we all thought she was gone Sirius was a mess. He didn't eat, didn't sleep, we all thought we'd lose him next. Then suddenley he was back to his normal self. It was strange but we all so happy that nobody questioned it. Now that he has Valora back he's the happiest I've seen him since, well, since he found you."
From the stove Molly sniffled then muttered something about chili powder.
"Why didn't Sirius tell me all this?" Harry asked. Remus grabbed his shoulder, making him look him in the eye.
"Do NOT tell Sirius we told you this." He said seriously.
"Why not?" Harry asked, immediatley defensive.
"He wants Valora to tell you this on her own terms. He's very serious about it too." Remus told him gently. Harry rolled his eyes.
"I wish they would both just tell me the truth already." he said, clenching his fist under the table.
"The truth is a funny thing, Harry. You think you want it, and then once you have it you want it to go away forever."
"That's not true, Remus." Molly chided him. "There's nothing wrong with the truth, it's just alot to swallow sometimes, but everyone deserves to know it, just some later than others."
"Why do people make you wait for the truth then?" Harry asked quietly.
Remus and Molly answered him at the same time, thinking the same thing.
"To protect you."
Valora set her bag down on the bed that was in the old guest bedroom. She hadn't even turned fully before Sirius caught her up in his arms again and spun her in a little circle which made her squeal in surprise.
"You're officially back!" He said, setting her down on the bed before plopping next to her.
"I guess.' she said shrugging before laying down on her back. Sirius leaned back to lay beside her.
"So, since you're here does this mean you'll be re-joining the Order?" he asked innocently, but Valora knew it was a loaded question. If she said no he'd want to start talking about the past, and besides that she'd already made the descision to re-join, not that she'd had much of a choice.
"Of course. You can't work without me, Padfoot. We're partners in crime." She said poking him playfully in the side. Sirius abruptly grabbed her hand before looking into her eyes.
"Promise?" he asked, those puppy dog eyes of his boring into her own tawny orbs. Suddenly she had a feeling that this question was just as loaded as the first but she didn't know what it was loaded with. Valora gave a light laugh before gently removing her hand from his and shoving him while sitting up again.
"Quit acting like such a girl." she said, running a hand through her hair. Looking out the window it was getting darker and supper was supposed to be almost ready. Sirius must have been thinking along the same lines as her.
"We should go help Molly with dinner. Bill and Fleur are coming any minute and Arthur will probably be with them. Tonks might stop by as well." He said, pulling her to her feet.
"Tonks? Merlin... she must be all grown up now, huh? Bill as well." Valora said, biting her cheek in thought. Sirius smiled at her and rubbed her shoulder gently.
"C'mon, Pardus." he said, gently guiding her out the door by placing his hand on the small of her back.
"Alright, but answer me this."
"Anything." Sirius promised.
"Who in the name of Merlin's baggy Y-fronts is Fleur?"
Dinner was quiet, with a million unspoken questions hovering in the air, and not all of them pertaining to Valora. Tonks was very funny and had Remus smiling most of the night, against his will by the looks of it, because whenever she closed her mouth to eat he had this look of tortured pain on his face. Tonks too looked a bit drawn and was constantly throwing subtle glances at Remus. At one point in the meal Valora turned to raise an eyebrow at Sirius and he simply shrugged. After knowing someone over half your life it became easy to communicate these kinds of things without speaking.
After dinner, Valora helped Molly with the dishes while everyone else went into the other room. The entire house was decorated for the holidays and there was a large christmas tree taking up most of the parlor but somehow everyone managed to find a seat. Harry and Ron sat off to the side, absorbed in a game of wizard's chess while the twins whispered nearby.
"What are you two on about?" Ron asked as Harry knocked a pawn off the board. Fred and George gave an evil smirk.
"Just discussing things." George said calmly.
"What kinds of things?" Hermione asked, looking up from her book, having taken a sudden interest in the conversation.
"Well, we can't tell you, Hermione. You'll only get offended." Fred said knowingly as George nodded in agreement.
"Which means they're talking about Professor Nox." Ginny said calmly as she flipped a page in her quidditch magazine. Harry smiled at her non-chalant way of joining the conversation.
"Honestly, you two. She's almost old enough to be your mother." Hermione said, burrowing her nose in her book.
"I think she's already with someone." Ginny commented, turning another page of her magazine. This made all five perk up.
"Who?" George asked angrily which made both Harry and Ginny smirk.
"Sirius, maybe. I'm not sure or anything they just seem really...close." She said. Fred and George nodded in agreement.
"I think this calls for a little experiment, Georgie." Fred said, as Valora appeared in the doorway where she and Sirius began talking about something.
"I couldn't agree more, Fred. Shall we?" he asked subtly pointing his wand at the doorway.
"We shall." and within seconds there was a small sprig of mistletoe above the heads of Valora and Sirius. Arthur looked up from his book at that exact moment.
"Go on, you two. It' tradition." He said pointing at the tiny piece of green. Valora looked up and her eyes bugged a bit. Sirius caught her around the middle and placed a delicate kiss on her cheek. Valora laughed and smiled, happy that he hadn't actually 'kissed' her in front of everyone, or at all really, because for that half-second all she could think about was Severus and the note he had left that morning. 'Be Good'.
It was much later when Remus walked into the library to find Valora flipping through dusty old volumes, clearly unable to sleep. She glanced up when he walked in and smiled warmly.
"Can't sleep?" she asked, putting the book down. Remus smiled back and nodded before sitting next to her on the worn red divan.
"How does it feel to be beack from the dead?" He asked. Valora shurgged.
"I don't know." she said, avoiding his gaze.
"So you're re-joining the Order?"
"Of course. How could I not?" she asked.
"I don't know. How could you disspear for 16 years?" he asked bluntly. Valora strongly wished she could conjure herself a bottle of bourbon but instead settled for summoning a mug of her mint tea.
"You really cut to the chase, don't you, Moony?" she asked as a tiny cup and saucer came zooming into the room. Remus watched her take a tentative sip before continuing.
"I just don't get it. You let all of us think you were dead, and now you're lying to Harry."
"Omitting. I'm omitting my identity to Harry. Not that it's really any of your business. Besides, my death was probably one of the best things I ever did for any of you." she said roughly before biting her tongue. Remus's eyes narrowed.
"What the hell does that mean, Pardus?"
"It doesn't mean anything, just let it go. Can't you just be happy I'm back?" she asked, looking up at him with pleading eyes.
"Sorry, I'm not Sirius. I'm not going to blindly accept this. Of course I'm happy you're alive but you've changed, and you won't tell me how or why."
"Because it's none of your business, Remus." She said flatly, taking another sip of her tea. Remus just stared at her for a moment. Not his business? She was one of his best friends and he'd been mourning her for 16 years of his life.
"You're unbelievable. Everything that's happened and you act like it DOESN"T MATTER!" He said beginning to raise his voice.
"Shhh, you'll wake the kids!"
"Like you give a shit about the kids, Valora." he said before storming out of the library, slamming the door, which sent a gust of wind to blow out the candles, leaving Valora alone in the dark on the verge of tears. She took a breath to avoid tears and blindly felt her way out of the library and up to the thrid floor until she came to Sirius's door where she knocked softly. When no one answered she pushed the door open with a tiny creak and walked in, making sure to shut it firmly behind her.
"Padfoot?" she asked softly, walking over to his bed where he was snoring deeply. She poked him lightly in the shoulder.
"Padfoot?" she tried again, only to be met with another loud snore. Valora rolled her eyes before shaking him slightly.
"Sirius!" she said a little louder. Sirius sat bolt upright, his hands gripping Valora's tightly.
"What's wrong, what's happened?" he asked seriously. Valora shook her head.
"Nothing it's just- Moony and I had a bit of a row and I- and I-" she didn't get to finish the statment before the tears came. Sirius immediatley cradled her in his arms, rocking her gently, not quite sure how to handle this. He let her cry until she looked up at him, tears still in her eyes.
"Can I stay here? I know it's stupid but I'm too lazy and too tired to walk downstairs. Please?" she asked.
"'Course." He said, throwing the covers back so she could climb in beside him. It was a familiar feeling. They'd shared a bed dozens of times before. In fact when Mr. and Mrs. Nox sent her to Grimmauld Place for weekends she would sneak out of the guest bedroom and stay with Sirius, utnil his little brother caught on and told on them which earned them a severe talking to from Mrs. Black. Sirius curled himself around her and in no time at all they had both fallen asleep. Valora dreamt another memory.
Valora was walking to her 6th year Care of Magical Creatures class. It was March and still quite cold as she walked across the grounds. This was was of her most stressful classes because she shared it with the two people who meant the most to her: Sirius Black and Severus Snape.
When she reached the rest of the class she immediatley stood next to Sirius who was bouncing slightly. Valora raised an eyebrow at him.
"Do you have to use the toilets or something?" She asked. Sirius laughed a bit and his teeth chattered.
"No, it's bloody freezing." He managed to say before crushing her in a hug that had her face crushed against his shoulder.
"Oi! What are you doing?" she mumbled while getting a mouthful of his robes.
"Conserving warmth! Although to do that properly we shouldn't be wearing clothes." He said smiling down at her and wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. Valora groaned and pushed herself away, raking a hand through her hair.
"You're so bloody cheeky." She said, glancing across the class to see Severus eyeing her subtly and carefully. She also noted just how tightly he was gripping his books. Sirius chuckled and slipped his arm over her shoulders.
"So midnight in the common room then?" he asked softly.
"Huh?" she asked, confused.
"Oh, forget what time of the month it is, did we?" He said with a smile. Valora's eyes widened.
"Excuse me?!" She asked, angry now. Sirius looked confused at her reaction then burst into laughter, leaving Valora to stare at him like a fool. When he finally regained composure he leaned down to whisper in her ear.
"It's a full moon tonight, genius." He said. Realization came over her.
"Oh." Of course. She was the one who came up with the bloody idea. Well not the whole idea, but a good bit of it. "Yeah, midnight then - oh, crap wait."
"What?" Sirius asked. Valora glanced at Severus who was still sneaking subtle glances. She had promised to see him tonight. He wouldn't be too happy if she didn't show up.Still, Remus needed her, and maybe she could sneak off for an hour or two...
"Pardus? Are you okay or is the midnight slot on your schedule already filled?" Sirius joked. If only he knew how true what he was saying was.
"I-no. I'll be there." she said glancing up at Severus with a sigh. She wondered if it would always be like this. Having to choose one or the other. If she would always have to sneak and lie and maneouver her way around the people who loved her most.
"Good. I mean I know we don't all of us need to be there just to keep him in line, but, we're better together don't you think?" He said rubbing her shoulder a bit. Valora smiled and poked him in the side.
"We're definetely better together."
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