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Chapter 23 : Love Will Lead Us
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Sirius stood in the doorway as Harry packed his trunk. They would be leaving later that morning for King's Cross. Harry sat on his bed and gave a small smile to his godfather who smiled back.
"What was the othert night about?" Harry asked. Sirius shook his head, confused. "You almost killed Snape in the library and probably would have if Valora hadn't stepped in. Then you two whispered and it was suddenly over and Snape left in the middle of the night." Harry elaborated
"Oh, that." Sirius said with a wave of his hand.
"Yeah, that." Harry said as Sirius joined him on the bed.
"I just don't trust him. Never have. He's too close to everything she needs to stay far away from." Sirius said bitterly. Harry tried to process.
"If she's supposed to stay away from him why did Dumbledore ask Snape-"
"I have no idea." Sirius said, cutting him off. "I think Snivellus is up to something."
"Me too." Harry confided. Sirius looked sideways at him.
"I'll keep an eye on him, don't you worry." Sirius said, ruffling his hair slightly.
Severus awoke with a start and glanced at the clock. It was only 8 am. Valora was sleeping soundly beside him, after all she had been tired to begin with and then he had taken whatever energy she had had left. They had only fallen asleep an hour or so ago, luckily the students wouldn't be coming back until dinner. He wiped the cold sweat from his forehead and eased himself gently from bed and pulled his pants on. Valora stirred slightly, turning over and smiling lightly in her sleep. Severus bent over and kissed her forehead before walking into the other room. The fire was lit even though it was early, it was always lit in the dungeons. It helped to drive away the damp chill that constantly clung to the stone walls. The way he was acting now reminded him of how Valora had acted after the Potters died and Black was sent off to Azkaban.
She had been tossing and turning for an hour before she finally got out of bed, slipping on her robe of black silk and walking silently from their bedroom. Severus followed quietly and went to the landing, where he saw her sitting in front of the fireplace reading letters and looking at pictures of her and Sirius. He could see her trembling and sobbing. A mixture of pain and jealousy welled up inside of him and he went back to bed.
As he sat trembling on the couch he realized he had been so mistaken that night. He had assumed she had loved Sirius and was heartbroken. Now he realized she felt then what he felt now: guilt. He wanted to tell her everything. She deserved to know. Still, Dumbledore had made it clear that until she learned Occlumency she couldn't know anything. He prayed that she would re-learn the skill, and quickly, because he had a feeling they were running out of time.
When Harry got back he decided the first thing he wanted to do was speak to Valora. After dinner and Dumbledore's 'welcome back' speech he waited outside of the Great Hall for her to leave. When the last students and teachers had filed out he peeked back in and saw Snape and Valora having a conversation as they walked. Both looked strained and neither looked too happy. Harry walked up to Valora and Severus and smiled briefly.
"Mr. Potter." Snape said dryly.
"Hello, Harry." Valora said warmly. Harry flashed her a brilliant smile and ignored Snape.
"Professor Nox, I was wondering if I could talk to you?" He looked pointedly at Snape. "Privately, of course."
"I don't think-"
"Absolutely." Valora said cutting Severus off. "Professor Snape, you and I can always finish our discussion later." She said, shooting him a meaningful look that Harry didn't notice. Snape raised his eyebrows and walked off without a goodbye. Valora shook her head as he walked away.
"Alright, come along Harry." Valora said, setting off towards her rooms. When they reached the portrait of the woman at the vanity, Valora gave the password and allowed Harry to climb in first, then she followed. Valora's rooms were all a dove grey with dark wood furnishings. The hardwood floor was polished and all the accents were silver. She detested gold. She gestured Harry to a plush looking black armchair before taking a seat across from him in it's twin.
"Now, what did you need to talk about? Here to ask more questions?" She asked with a smile as she waved her wand about, floating over a silver tray of mint tea and cookies onto the coffee table.
"Sort of." Harry said, accepting the cup of tea she offered. Valora looked at him and sighed before sipping her own tea.
"Can't say I didn't expect it. I'll answer what I can, but don't expect the whole story. You won't be getting it." She said bluntly, biting into a cookie. Harry smiled at her. Now that he knew her a bit he realized she was like this with everyone. She didn't try to dance around the point if she could help it.
"So you've known Sirius for a long time?"
"Thirty-two years." She said proudly. "We met when we were four and became instant friends. Our parents had the idea of us together for the longest time but after both Sirius and I got into Gryffindor his parents didn't exactly care what happened to him, though they still let me come over until sixth year. I assume Sirius told you he ran away?"
"Yea, he did."
"Well, it was actually the summer before sixth year. A few days after his birthday. I think it was actually the day after I'd left to go home. He went straight to your dad's."
"Yea, he said he was always welcome there." Harry said, remembering Sirius telling him this last year.
"Oh, he was." Valora said with a smile. "Your dad used to complain they liked Sirius better than they liked him."
"So you and Sirius are really close?"
"Of course. He's like my brother. A big stupid, brother." She said with a laugh.
"So, you two never...dated, or anything?" Harry asked seriously. Valora burst into laughter and shook her head.
"Merlin, no. That would be terrible. I love Sirius but he's...he's not my type. It would never have worked. I think it would be like you dating Hermione." She said seriously. Harry made a face and Valora laughed again. "Exactly."
"So were you as close to my dad and Lupin as you were with Sirius?" Harry asked, moving on to the next topic.
"Yeah, I was. They were my very best friends. Peter too." She shook her head sadly. "I don't know what happened to him." She paused to stir her tea.
"So you were friends with them all through school?"
"Yeah. Since day one..."
Valora's mother, Ava Laramie Nox, stood holding her young daughter's hand. They looked so alike. Same skin tone, same eyes, same hair. If Valora was older, or her mother slightly younger, they could have been sisters. A little ways away Sirius Black stood with his parents and his younger brother Regulus.
"Mummy, can I get on now?" Valora said, tugging on her mother's gloved hand. Ava smiled down at the anxious young girl before looking up and nodding a hello to the Blacks.
"Darling, don't you want to get on with Sirius? You Slytherins need to stick together." She said. Valora pouted.
"What if I don't get into Slytherin?" She asked nervously. Ava bent down, not caring if she got dirt on her plum colored dress. She looked into her daughters topaz eyes very calmly. Before she spoke she made sure nobody could overhear her.
"Valora, you are not your house. No matter where you are sorted you are still my little girl. I wouldn't care if you were a squib or even a muggle, I would love you just the same." She said, her own golden eyes twinkling.
"But Daddy says-"
"You leave your father to me." Ava said Straightening her daughter's jacket and smiling. Valora smiled and threw her arms around her mother, hugging her tightly. Ava felt again the cold stab of guilt for having given her precious baby a father like Cassius Nox. The man was thick-headed and completely concerned with his image at the ministry. All Ava had ever been to him was a plaything, a trophy wife. He had ignored her and their daughter, which in truth she didn't mind so much, but Valora suffered the lack of a father's love. Little Sirius Black was the only man in her life.
The train whistle blew and Valora kissed her mother's cheek and hugged her again before Sirius walked over. He took her hand protectively and they walked onto the train. Valora took the first compartment she saw and stuck her head out the window, waving until her mother was no longer visible. In a moment a boy who looked their age with messy, jet black hair and glasses walked into their compartment.
"Hello." he said, sitting across from Sirius and beside Valora, who smiled at him.
"I'm Valora Nox."
"James Potter." He said holding out his hand to her. Sirius introduced himself as well and pretty soon they all got caught up in talk about Quidditch. They were laughing and joking when two people walked in and joined them. The girl had remarkable green eyes and red hair, while the boy was thin and pale with long black hair that looked like it needed to be washed. The girl smiled nervously at them but the boy kept his eyes on the ground. It reminded Valora of how she would act when her father was in the room.
Sirius and James got caught up talking about houses and the boy mentioned wanting to be in Slytherin. Apparently James and Sirius weren't too thrilled with the idea of that house. The girl and boy got offended and left, leaving Valora to wonder after them.
"What's so bad about Slytherin?" She asked. James looked at her like she was crazy and even Sirius raised an eyebrow.
"Have you met my parents?' Sirius asked with a smile. Valora laughed.
"I just mean, even if the three of us were put into Slytherin, would that mean we suddenly become bad? It seems kind of silly to think that your dormitory decides your personality for the rest of your life."
The boys both looked at her like she was insane. Valora shrugged and decided a change of topic was probably the best way to go.
"So what position do you play, James?" she asked, steering the conversation to a different area.
Valora stood patiently in line. She could feel the eyes of the older students on her and so she kept her shoulders back and chin level to the ground, determined not to show fear. Her eyes widedened as Professor McGonagall called Sirius up to the tiny stool and placed the hat on his head. It seemed to contemplate for a moment before shouting out,
Valora's jaw dropped. Both she and Sirius alike threw a terrified glance to the Slytherin table where his cousins stared at him with murderous gazes. Sirius looked pale as a sheet as he sat down at the Gryffindor table. She heard a slight scoff from behind her and turned to see the boy from the train with a smirk on his lips.
"You'd better wipe that smirk off your face or I'll remove it for you." She whispered. The boy glared at her.
"I'd like to see you try." He whispered back evilly. Valora at eleven was struck by a strange feeling. It was as though she had just found something, but here she stood just looking at this annoying, greasy boy and suddenly all she could think to do was stick out her tongue. Surprisingly he smiled. She was so thrown off by that smile that she didn't hear when Professor McGonagall called her name. The boy raised an eyebrow at her.
"Isn't that you?" He whispered.
"VALORA NOX!" McGonagall called again sounding annoyed. Valora blushed a fierce crimson then stepped out of line to take her seat on the stool, offering the older witch a sheepish but charming smile. The woman just rolled her eyes and placed the hat on Valora's head. It was big and almost covered her eyes.
"Mmmm, quite cunning aren't you? There's a bright mind here as well and....oh my, most loyal, I see. You want to be strong. You want to be able to stand on your own. Is that it? Slytherin would help you do that you know. If you become a Slytherin you would have your life mapped out and it would be an easy path."
Valora sat quietly on the stool for a moment, listening in horror. A Slytherin, like her father? No, not while her best friend, her brother was in Gryffindor.
"I can be brave. Put me with Sirius. Make me a Gryffindor." She thought to herself.
"Well look at that fire. Can't deny now that you're every bit as chivalrous and daring as the next Gryffindor. Still, if you take this path it won't be easy. You'll have nothing but complications." The hat warned. Valora steeled herself against it's warning and refused to give it another thought. The hat seemed to give up as well because the next thing she knew it shouted,
Valora hopped down from the stool and joined the table of cheering Gryffindors. She sat beside Sirius and threw her arms around him.
"Didn't think I'd let you go through school without me, did you?" She asked with a smile. Sirius gave her a relieved smile.
"My parents are going to kill me." He said quietly. Valora gave him a reassuring smile.
"Forget them." She told him and they continued to watch the sorting. James almost immediatley joined them and Valora was surprised that she smiled. She like talking to him. He was a little bit arrogant but that was how Gryffindors were. She would have to get used to it. Looking up she watched as the boy, Severus Snape, was called up and sorted into Slytherin. He caught her eye and for a moment they looked at eachother before he turned to sit at his own table and Valora was swept up into conversation with James, Sirius and two other boys who had just been sorted. Peter and Remus. They seemed nice and she found herself laughing with them and soon she forgot all about the Slytherin boy. She felt as though the five of them clicked and she knew Hogwarts would be home from now on.
"My dad sounds like a bit of a prat." Harry admitted unhappily. Valora laughed.
"James was a prat, but he grew out of pretty quick. I think your mum helped there." She said with a smile which Harry returned.
"Was your dad really that bad?" Harry asked curiously. Valora's smile was wiped from her face.
"My father was one of the most evil men I've had the misfortune of knowing. The only man to ever top him was Voldemort." Valora said, and immediatley regretted it.
"You know Voldemort?" Harry asked. Valora raised an eyebrow.
Harry rolled his eyes. "It sounded like you met him."
"I have." Valora replied simply.
"Honestly, Harry, did you think I was relearning Occlumency for fun? I was a double-agent and my cover was blown."
"But you don't have the-"
"Darkmark? Yeah, wll I convinced him to let me remain unbranded so I could blend in better with the Order. Stupid prat."
Harry was shocked. Not even Dumbledore spoke about Voldemort as plainly as Valora did. It was confusing but at the same time inspiring.
"So, you were a Death Eater?" He asked.
"Yes, but it was more than that. Tom liked me for some reason I couldn't fathom. He almost treated me like his own child. He pitied me." Valora said calmly. Harry stared at her in wonder.
"Tom?" He questioned. Valora shrugged.
"Of course I didn't call him that to his face, but he's not a Lord, he's not some great mysterious creature. He's a man. He's a crazy murderer named Tom Riddle. All this nonsense about 'He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named' and 'You-Know-Who' is just ridiculous." Valora said brushing the subject matter aside.
"So is that why you faked your death?" Harry asked. Valora nodded slowly. "Where did you go?"
Valora smiled. "Not tonight, Harry. I think I've given you enough to last for a little while at least." She said cleaning up the silver tray. Harry stared at her. She had so many secrets.
"If you know he's going to try and kill you why did you come back?" Harry asked. Valora looked up at him and smiled.
"I had to." She said simply.
"But why?" Harry pressed.
"Melrin, boy, you are a bottomless pit of questions!" She told him with a smile. Harry scratched his arm and for the first time Valora noted the white on the back of his hand. "What is that?" she asked reaching out and grabbing his hand.
I must not tell lies.
Valora's mouth dropped open and she was unable to form the question but Harry answered anyway.
"Umbridge. Last year. It was my detention." He explained. Valora bit her bottom lip and then went into her room to grab a tiny black book before coming back into the sitting room. She grabbed up a quill.
"What's her name?" She asked.
"Dolores Umbridge. Why?" Harry asked.
"I'm going to kill her." Valora replied simply. Harry laughed nervously until he realized Valora wasn't laughing. He nodded to the book.
"Is that just a list of people you need to kill?" Harry asked, slightly appalled. Valora laughed.
"It's just a notepad." She said, showing him the page that was blank except for Umbridge's name. "But I don't want to forget the name so if I do come across her...well, let's just say it's so I won't forget the name." She said with a slightly sadistic smile.
"You're a little crazy, you know that?" Harry asked. Valora shrugged.
"Yea, but it's better to be crazy than boring." she said with a smile. Harry smiled back.
"I still don't understand why you left though. After Voldemort's fall, I mean. Why didn't you just come back?" He said as she sat back down, returning to the previous topic.
"I couldn't handle my life. I felt like I couldn't be myself. It was like I was alone; nobody wanted me or needed me." Valora explained. Harry looked at her seriously.
"I needed you." he said simply. Valora bit on the inside of her cheek and drew Harry into a tight hug and much to her surprise and delight he hugged her back just as fiercely. Valora kissed the top of his head.
"I promise. You'll know everything soon, but some things need to be sorted out first." She said quietly. Harry mumbled something that sounded like an 'okay'. Valora just sat there for a moment with her arms around him. The last time he'd been this close her was little more than a year old, now here was her sweet godson all grown up. She pulled herself back and smoothed his hair a bit, same way she used to with his Dad.
"Have noticed that Malfoy has been acting-"
"-strange? Yes, I have, actually." Valora said.
"I think he and Snape are up to something." Valora allowed her face to remain unchanged but her body had tensed at the idea of Severus being involved, especially since from what she had seen it wasn't that far of a stretch to include him.
"I'll keep an eye on them. Don't worry." she said. "Now I have a question for you."
"Yeah, sure." Harry said with a nod and a smile.
"Why the late-night meetings in the Headmaster's office?" Valora asked with a raised eyebrow. Harry took a deep breath. This could take awhile.
Valora sat staring at the fireplace in the Shrieking Shack. Sirius had just left after getting a good stern scream from Valora about not telling her that Harry was hunting down the Horcruxes. Now she was waiting for Remus to show up. She knew that she owed him ana explanation. When she spoke with Harry earlier that evening all those nostalgic feelings of comradarie and friendship had come down on her along with a wave of guilt. Remus deserved the truth. Marauder to Marauder. A loud pop alerted her that he had arrived.
"What's this about?' Remus asked cooly. Valora managed a tender smile.
"No, 'hello' for an old friend?" she asked, standing. Remus couldn't help but smile at her as she stood and opened her arms for him. She was as beautiful as ever, all smiles with her golden eyes sparkling mischieviously. He begrudingly walked forward and wrapped his arms around and soon found himself enveloped in a pleasant cloud of vanilla and mint. She always had that intoxicatingly delicous smell to her. He pulled back and gave her a weak smile.
"Why am I here, Valora?" He asked delicately. Valora sat back down and patted the seat beside her. Remus obligingly sat.
"I wanted to talk about where I was. I realized that your more important than my pride, which was the the main reason I've been keeping things from people. I just need your word that you won't repeat anything. Your absolute promise that nothing said here will be repeated, cause if it is I swear Moony, I'll hunt you down and-"
"Valora! I promise not to say anything. now just tell me what the hell happened to you." He said shortly. Valora took a deep breath and tried to think of where to begin.
"Do you remember how after I joined the Order I kept dissapearing? How nobody ever seemed to know exactly where I was or what I was doing, or if they did know pretended that they didn't?" She asked tentaively.
"Yes." Remus urged. Valora ran a hand through her hair.
"I became a Death Eater. I was a double agent for the Order." She admitted slowly. Remus's eyes just about doubled in size.
"But, you don't have the-"
"Darkmark? Yea, I convinced them that it would make me a tad suspicious so we worked out other forms of communication." She said with a sad smile. Remus scratched the nape of his neck and then made a motion for her to continue.
"Well, someone, probably Peter, gave me away. They somehow figured out what I was doing and blew my cover completely. I know alot about Voldemort, things that he told me in complete confidence, things that nobody else would know about him and his childhood. He favored me above everyone else. It drove Bellatrix crazy." She remembered with a smile. "So, when it turned out that I was betraying him he was beyond livid."
"I can imagine." Remus said quietly. Valora laughed lightly and continued.
"So after I was discovered Severus and Dumbledore helped me fake my death. I couldn't let anyone know I was alive or they, the Death Eaters, would have put them under immediate questioning and killed them. I was doing fairly well too, until I saw Sirius at the graveyard where I had been 'buried'. He was crying and I felt so terrible that I couldn't help myself. I went over and told him I wasn't dead. He was so...elated that he immediatley apparated to Lily and James' house with me still in his arms.
"We arrived and I tried to get away but they recognized me immediatley and before I knew it the truth came falling out of my mouth. I made it very clear that nobody else could know. They agreed as long as I visited and promised to keep coming around. I couldn't refuse. I was selfish and kept seeing Harry and Sirius and Lily and James. It was dull for a while but I kept myself occupied when I was alone. Then Lily and James were killed, and Sirius was accused of being the traitor. I knew he wasn't. He hadn't even been the secret keeper. I knew Pettigrew did it, but what could I do? I was dead, and if I came out I risked Harry."
Tears were running unchecked down Valora's face as she remembered the unhappy memories of her life all those eyars ago.
"I managed to see Sirius that morning before he was caught. I told him I knew he was innocent and I promised to tell everyone but he made me promise not to come out of hiding. We both knew that just because Voldemort was gone it didn't mean that there wasn't still going to be residual Death Eater activity. So for two years I just sat around, getting drunk and trying to forget everything. Everyone I touched got hurt and it was all my fault. If I had just stayed away they might have had a chance. If I had just had the common sense not to get in so deep Harry would still have his parents, but now he's an orphan with a murderer hunting him at every turn. And I...I...-"
She found Remus's arms wrapped around her as she began to sob against his shoulder. He whispered calming words into her ear but she didn't hear them. Instead she buried her tear stained face against his dark sweater and tried to breathe evenly. when she finally was able to regain composure and pull away she dried her face with the back of her hand. Remus conjured a box of tissues and offered them to her and then pulled out a chocolate bar. She laughed and accepted both.
"So why are you afraid to tell everyone this?" He asked quietly. Valora rolled her red and swollen eyes.
"Because Moony, not everyone is as understanding as you and Harry seem to be." she said taking a bite of the chocolate bar.
"You told Harry?" Remus asked softly and Valora nodded as she chewed.
"Not that exact version, but I told him I was a Death Eater and that I was forced to fake my death for everyone's safety. I know too much." Valora said slowly. Remus nodded in agreement.
"I would assume this is why Dumbledore wants you to re-learn Occlumency?" He checked. Valora nodded again. Moody frowned at her and cocked his head to the side. "What did you do for the other fourteen years?" He asked. Valroa blushed deeply in shame.
"I stayed in Knockturn Alley, living off some of my savings I had in a seperate account. Can't exactly access a dead woman's account. My family vault was left in Dumbledore's care. I didn't want to be recognized so I started going to muggle bars, worked various 'odd jobs' to get the money I would need. From there I hitch-hiked to Paris and then to Italy. Somehow, I'm not quite sure how, I made it to a wizarding hospital. When they asked for a family contact I just gave them Dumbledore's name. I spent the next year in rehab and also classes to re-learn some of the skills I had forgotten. I haven't been able to practice my Animagi yet, since I'm not registered, but I highly doubt I can still do that. So when I first came back I still had to spend some weekends in St. Mungo's to have my liver repaired, and then Dumbledore told me they had an opening in the DADA department. How could I say no? It's the only place I can be safe." She said. Remus nodded, taking all the information in and then sighed.
"I take it Harry and Sirius don't know about your travels?" He asked.
"No, they don't. I'm sure I'll tell them eventually but that's not something they need to know yet. I'm only telling you because, well, I don't think you'd be quite as dissapointed in me as they would." She admitted sadly. Remus squeezed her shoulder and they hugged again.
"Thank you." He said quietly. Valora raised an eyebrow.
"For coming back." He told her. Valora smiled wide at him and spent the next hour or so discussing what he had been up to since they last saw each other. When she finally made it back up to her room she fell into bed exhausted. Then she sat bolt upright. She had missed her Occlumency lesson with Severus. Valora cringed and then laid back down. He was not going to be pleasant tomorrow.
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