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Chapter 1 : Never Let Go
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I bared those scissors in the yellow light
And he told me that'd I'd done alright
And he kissed me til the morning light.
You are my sweetest downfall.
I loved you first.
[Samson - Regina Spektor]
When they fell in love he was seventeen and she was eighteen. She was two months the elder and took great pride in that fact.
When she began to fall, she was only a fourth year. He was the shining star in her adolescent universe. What matter that he was the boy everyone loved? - her feelings for him were different, an uncommon miracle.
It took him three more years to see her, not through the lens of that familiarity which breeds contempt, but through the knowledge that just because his best friend and her best friend were themselves beginning to find each other, they couldn't do the same.
It was quite simple, really. One day, he sat down across from her at lunch, as he'd done perhaps a thousand times before. She turned to Lily with a smile and a little bit of cherry juice staining her lower lip, and when she looked back at him before her big brown eyes dropped to her plate, he realized that she was the prettiest girl he'd seen.
He, of course, told James that there was A Girl, and James took it upon himself to inform Lily. It wasn't very long before she found out, and it was only the high esteem in which she held him that kept her from immediately rushing to his side and declaring her love.
It wasn't until three weeks later that he and she became an us. It was quite simple, really.
They- the seven of them, with Peter's Mary- sat in what had become the seventh year's corner of the Common Room, between the stairs to the boys dorm and the fireplace. He complained that his hair was getting too long: it was one thing to spend half of his time manfully tossing his hair out of his eyes, but quite another when he himself forgot what colour eyes he had.
James suggested that Lily cut it- the last time Sirius had tried to Charm it shorter he'd found himself with pale pink hair for a week before Remus bothered to give him the Counter-Charm. Lily refused, and put forth Charity's name for the job. She thought, of course, that level-headed Charity could run her fingers through Sirius Black's infamous dark glossy hair without any romantic repercussions.
Charity stood, shy and uncertain, the silver scissors in her hand gleaming gold in the firelight, and watched Sirius sit on a low stool before her. Lily cast a Charm to raise the seat to a comfortable level, and wished Charity luck.
Sirius could barely breathe. Her long deft fingers, inadvertently stroking the back of his neck, brushing a stray lock of hair back into place, were more than his besotted heart could take. Adding to that her soft, unconscious whispers (a little more there ... damn) and he couldn't find it in himself to care that she chopped off twice as much as he had wanted her to.
And when she Transfigured a book into a mirror, and looked into it over his shoulder as he inspected his new look, he knew.
She was Something, and he was determined to have her.
He asked her to walk down to the kitchen with him, that he might collect the necessities for a proper Gryffindor party to celebrate the haircut. Really, of course, he merely wanted to get her away from Lily. They talked, and flirted, and blushed when their hands brushed in the Charms corridor, and entirely forgot about the others in order to duck behind the statue of Lavinia the Unlucky. Half an hour later, Remus and Peter were sent to fetch them back.
There was no reason for them to ever break up, and so they didn't. For almost four years, they coexisted in relative bliss, despite the War and the near constant threat of death and suffering.
She found a reason when she found she couldn't accept his ring.
It wasn't that she didn't want to. She'd never wanted anything more than to pledge her life to him.
Charity had been offered a job. The difference in job satisfaction, and the paycheck, between being the Muggle Correspondent for the Wizarding Wireless to working as the Wizarding Advisor to the Muggle Prime Minister, made rejecting the job offer impossible.
But moving alone into an Unplottable house on Downing Street, and working endless days and many nights wasn't conducive to a happy marriage.
After she said no, they didn't see each other for three weeks, and then three weeks turned into thirteen years and she thought just as well.
Charity didn't want to believe he'd betrayed James and Lily, but there was undeniable proof- fifty witnesses and twelve bodies could not be ignored. There was no doubt that she'd broken his heart, and men had been driven to more terrible things than turn to He Who Must Not Be Named for that reason.
And so she tried to forget, and tried to move on, and wore the ring Remus had found in Sirius' sock drawer on a silver chain around her neck.
And she wondered why Sirius had never been Marked, and why, if he had been spying for Him for over a year, she had never noticed him leaving to rush to His side.
Charity was the first memory the Dementors stole from Sirius, followed within days by the loss of little Harry, and then James and Remus and Lily.
Peter he remembered- Peter, and the knowledge of his innocence, and the belief that he had a reason greater than his own comfort and the intangible ideals of justice and revenge to escape.
Sirius just couldn't discern what that reason was.
The years passed slowly for Charity. A few months after the end of the War, her pretentious job with the Prime Minister was cut, and she found herself homeless and unemployed. For three weeks, she stayed in what had been Remus and Sirius' flat.
It was too hard. Remus had not been particularly friendly toward Charity after she'd rejected Sirius, and as for Charity, sleeping in Sirius' bed that still smelled of the cologne she'd given him for their first Christmas broke her heart again and again.
She moved back in with her Muggle mother, in Manchester, and the Ministry welcomed her with open arms in the Muggle Liaison Office. It didn't pay well, but what need had Charity of wealth?
Charity tried to move on, but couldn't forget. Even in the excruciatingly Muggle cottage on the edge of town, everything she saw reminded her of the only boy she'd ever loved. She had always thought of him as a boy, even in their twenties. He grew older, but refused to grow up.
She loved that most about him, his ability to never lose something she'd barely had in the first place. Charity was always the quiet, mature one, who was never expected to do something so inherently girlish as fall in love with the pretty, popular boy.
But they were perfect together, she knew. She kept him on the ground, and he gave her heart a reason to beat. Her insecurities were relieved by his incessant flattery, and she simply adored him. They were passionate people, in their own ways, and that was enough to contradict their differences.
Too late to think of that now, of course. Too late for second chances, or even regrets.
Charity had many regrets. She wished, constantly, that she said yes. After all, she hadn't needed the job, not if she was getting married to Sirius Black, wealthiest bachelor in London, and the job was just an excuse.
It wasn't that she wasn't ready to commit. She would have said yes to him at fifteen if he only asked. Charity just wasn't sure he was ready to commit to her, or even that he could.
Sirius couldn't remember Charity when he spoke with Fudge and discovered that Wormtail was at Hogwarts, nor would the name Harry Potter spark any kind of recognition. It wasn't until he was running along the beaches near Aberdeen that the memories hit him.
Her big brown eyes that he'd noticed way back in second year, when she was just Lily Evans' friend. Her smile and the way it lit up especially for him. Her quiet passion for everything, her endlessly long legs and the way she always kissed him, as if it was their last kiss. The way tears sparkled down her pale cheeks when she said she couldn't be Mrs Black. The glow of her hair next to Lily's as the two sat side by side in the summer sun, sharing secrets and waiting for their boys to come for them.
The way she would curl up with her head on his shoulder and fall asleep during those Quidditch games he insisted on bringing her to. Those long winter nights when she and Remus played endless games of chess, while everyone else played Exploding Snap, and Sirius always lost because he was too busy watching the way she leaned over the chess board. The never before seen steel in her spine when she sat in on her first Order meeting in the Transfiguration classroom at Hogwarts and agreed to join the ranks of those about to raid You Know Who's current lair, the Rosier house.
The compassion, without pity, that day in early spring when she helped nurse Remus after a particularly horrid full moon without magic, when there were Death Eaters waiting for their wards to pick up on any spells. The way she could always make Harry laugh, even when James failed.
Harry. Harry would be at Hogwarts. With Wormtail.
Sirius ran that much faster, down toward London, because there was still time before the first of September.
Charity was at Hogwarts too, preparing for her fourth year of teaching, though Sirius didn't know that. When Quirinus decided to give up his post in order to travel and learn, Albus had offered her the Muggle Studies class, and she accepted. She loved being back at the place she'd once called home, especially in the summer, when she, Minerva, Albus and Aurora had the entire castle to themselves.
She never had much to do with Harry; she watched him, saw Lily's soul and James' heart in the child she had once rocked to sleep, but never thought to introduce herself. He didn't take her class, and perhaps it would only be painful for the boy, to know someone who knew his mother when he couldn't.
It would only be painful for Charity, and so she kept to herself.
Harry would have all the link to his parents he needed when Remus came.
Padfoot sat, his tail slowly snapping from left to right, and watched Harry sleep.
Through the silence came the brisk clicking of boots on stone, and the heavy door swung open. A female, judging by the smell, with one arm cradled in the other. Padfoot listened, uninterested but bored, as she explained that in the mob, her wrist had been hurt, not badly, but the pain only increased with time, and he wondered why the voice sounded vaguely familiar.
After a while, the soft conversation from Pomfrey's office ended, and to Padfoot's surprise the clicking boots moved closer, and a small, thin figure pulled aside the curtain hiding Harry and Padfoot from the rest of the Hospital Wing. She said nothing, merely looked down at the sleeping boy, and sighed.
As she again pulled the curtain aside, the light falling on her fair features, Padfoot recognized her, a soft, benign growl escaping his canine throat.
During the first meeting of the revived Order, Sirius watched Charity as surreptitiously as he could manage- which is to say, not very subtly at all.
Afterwards, Sirius did not go upstairs to spend some quality time with the twins, as he was in the habit of spending his evenings, ever since they discovered his alter ego, Padfoot, and he found out about the thousand galleons they'd received from Harry to start their joke shop. Instead, he waited in the entryway for Charity to appear.
It didn't take very long, and it only took a glare at the recently arrived Hermione- earning a knowingly smug look in exchange- to ensure their privacy, at least for the few moments they needed.
Neither spoke. Sirius pulled a pair of scissors out of a pocket in his robes, and passed it to the woman he had lost so very long ago, and she reached out and gently tugged on his long dark hair.
And she fell into his open arms, and he knew that he never wanted to let go.
It was hard, being apart during the school year, but after thirteen years of the deepest kind of separation, they found they didn't mind so much. It was enough, really, that each knew that the other was, and that every three or four weeks Charity could slip back to London for an Order meeting.
Charity prayed for the end of the war so that she could make good on the ring that now sat on the third finger of her left hand. Sirius, when thinking of the end of the war, thought more about how Harry would be affected.
He also thought he'd like a son of his own.
Charity did not go to the Ministry.
She didn't know to.
She hadn't a clue anything was going on until dinner, when she noticed that there were a few students, including Harry, missing from the table. Assuming that they were privately celebrating the end of their OWLs, she thought nothing of it. But when she realized that Severus and Albus were also missing, a vague unease flit through her mind. It was rare for both of the wizards to be absent from the school at the same time, though often one or the other had business elsewhere.
Charity spent that evening grading the sixth year final exams. Dull, monotonous work to calm her nerves, until her eyes fell shut all on their own and the soft brown hair unwound onto the parchment, and Remus shook her awake with tears in his eyes.
Charity knew Severus couldn't do anything for her, whether her head or her heart had the right of the matter. Either he was Voldemort's- in which case he wouldn't want to save her- or he was still, after everything, Albus', in which case she knew well that her life wasn't worth risking his cover.
In the end, her Gryffindor bravery deserted her. Severus, please, she said, just as Albus had said to that same wizard a month before. She begged for her life, even though she knew she was lost.
As He Who Must Not Be Named raised Malfoy's wand, Charity's eyes met Bellatrix Lestrange's. I don't want to die looking at her, she thought, and then- Sirius' eyes are that exact shade of grey, but he never looked at me with such hatred.
Sirius. The name pounded through Charity's soul, pulsing with her heartbeat, until in a flash of green light her heart was eternally silenced.
And then- peace, and an eternity in his arms.
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